Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Biking is life

I’ve been thinking about a number of things this week. One of the advantages that attend biking is its capacity to slow your world down. In my opinion, this slower pace puts you in a positive place more conducive to thought and rumination.

About 15 years ago, I would bike to work in Brunswick. My commute was about 15 miles from home. Two days per week, I’d make the trek on my bike. It involved some effort, mainly making sure my backpack had my work clothes, a towel to shower, deodorant, and other supplies necessary to prepare for my work day. My employer had a locker room with a shower, so that was a plus. One time I forgot clean underwear, so I spent the day free and easy inside my work jeans. Other than that, I enjoyed this interlude in my life, one that was too brief.

Rather than zipping to Brunswick by car in 20 minutes, the ride took about an hour on my bike. Slowing down from 50 miles per hour to 15 helped me to notice trees, markers along the road—a stone wall erected many years ago, a small family cemetery—things that are just a blur whizzing by in your car. Instead of rock music blaring from my speakers, I was alone with the sounds of the morning—birds chirping—and my thoughts.

Over the past 15 weeks, I’ve reconnected with my physical self. I’ve come to notice how my previous neglect put me on a path that might have resulted in negative health consequences. Granted, flying over my handlebars two weeks ago left me scraped, bruised, and scabbed over in a few places, but I survived, possibly because I had been training for three months. I weathered the incident with a few Band-Aids®, and being sore for a few days. I started a soul patch on my chin that I think I’ll keep. It covers up some of the new pink skin that forms after an abrasion. When I shave in the spring, I’ll be none the worse for my chin plant.

I’ve been wondering what would happen if Americans adopted a lifestyle like the Danes, and other countries that choose alternatives to the automobile. What if we embraced a way of living that was actually sustainable? It’s possible if we recognize that having fewer things is preferable to having stuff, but being increasingly unhappy.

My friend Anne moved to Portland, Oregon a few months ago. She just wrote to tell me that she is heading up a cool organization called the Community Cycling Center, where they dedicated to bikes as tools of empowerment. She’s in a great city that has worked diligently to make the bicycle an important part of their overall transportation policy.

In Maine, despite efforts by groups like the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, resistance to bikes is widespread, with many drivers viewing us bicyclists as adversaries, standing in their way. Rather than slowing down, and waiting, or deferring to bicyclists, these idiots swerve into the path of oncoming cars, drive too close to cyclists (Maine law requires three feet clearance between cars and a cyclist at the edge of the roadway, btw), and generally exhibit the mindset of a 10-year-old, while yielding an instrument of death that is in excess of 3,000 pounds, and an SUV might exceed 4,000. My bike and I weight about 250, so there’s not much competition should the driver clip me—I’m dead, or seriously injured.

Still, every night, at least one driver insists on boorish behavior, all because they’re too selfish to tack on a potential 15 seconds to their commute by courteously sharing the road with me. I’m sure it’s even worse in Maine’s larger communities, like Portland.

All in all, it’s been a great 15 weeks, and as the days grow shorter and darkness descends earlier and earlier on the roads I’ve grown fond of during summer’s longer days, I know this portends that my biking season is coming to a close sooner than I would like.

It looks like a membership at a local gym is in order for me to maintain my progress. My hours on the Lifecycle® and Stairmaster® all winter will be tolerated, only because I know I’ll be hopping back on my Diamondback as soon as the roads are cleared come springtime.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Ken Burns-Race and space in America

Noted documentary filmmaker, Ken Burns, is on C-SPAN's Book TV talking about The National Parks: America's Best Idea, with best friend and collaborator, Dayton Duncan, discussing the new documentary.

On how he and Duncan came to take on this project, which took 10 years to complete:

It's right in our wheelhouse, and I want to stress "our." In the formal sense, [writer and longtime collaborator Duncan] came to me 10 years ago and said, "Let's do the national parks," and it took me a nanosecond to say, "Of course." About that same time, 10 years ago, we were in the middle of producing our film together on Mark Twain, and we were talking to the novelist Russell Banks about Huckleberry Finn. Banks was saying—and we certainly agreed ourselves—that this was Twain's greatest work. And then he said, "It's our Illiad and our Odyssey." He went on, "Though most of us share a common European ancestry with those who wrote The Iliad and The Odyssey, we Americans were grappling with two new themes that Twain alone, among writers—but also among politicians and philosophers and artists of the 19th century—was willing to deal with honestly and openly. And those twin themes were race and space." Those are all I've been focused on for the last 30-plus years.

The six part series begins today on local PBS stations and will continue for five additional nights. Don't miss it!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Rush weighs in with Leno

I missed the Rush Limbaugh interview with Leno, Thursday night. Apparently, Rush has lost a great deal of weight, 82 pounds in fact, over the past five months. He's not revealing many details, however, since he says it's much too complicated and even someone with "talent on loan from God" doesn't quite understand it.

Since I've been on my own quest for a healthier lifestyle for the past 14 weeks, having lost 39 pounds, I'm always interested in the success of others in their own journey to shed pounds and embrace a better way. Given that Limbaugh is a celebrity magnifies the effort and attention being given to it.

Being overweight is not healthy, so given that he's shed weight, I'm pleased for his own longterm health. I am concerned, however that he's not doing this by combining healthy eating with exercise and a focus on fitness.

I know that Limbaugh has an aversion to exercise. I've heard him speak about it, saying that he hates to walk from the car to enter a building. Granted, this was several years back, but I doubt that he's running, walking, or even biking as part of his new weight loss routine.

He did mention he's using Quick Weight Loss Centers to shed pounds. Limbaugh has lost large amounts of weight in the past. I remember that he mentioned he had his own personal chef preparing healthy, low-fat meals for him. I think he was married to Marta at the time, who apparently couldn't cook. This was the longest of his three marriages.

I wish him success in keeping the weight off. It is a fact (since he insists on being fact-based on his show) that losing weight and keeping it off isn't about diets, or special programs, particularly complicated programs like the one that he's not sure of the details about. It involves burning fewer calories than you consume. This requires attention to what you eat, and a regular program of exercise.

That's why I'm a proponent of the weight loss occuring with this gentleman in Texas, and continue to concentrate on my own routine of healthy eating, combined with exercise.

Losing weight is easy. There are a plethora of fad programs available, particularly if you have the money to pay for them. Success in keeping the pounds off are much harder and require daily, if not hourly vigilance.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Shuffle play Friday-Workout mixtape (or songs to shake your ass to @ 5:30 a.m.)

I’ve detailed my reconnection with the physical, completing the body, soul spirit continuum in several posts over the past 14 weeks. This isn’t yet another post about me and my new body shape. No, it’s time to rock out for this week’s Shuffle Play Friday. I am loosely tying it to working out, however. It's what I do now.

With the days growing increasingly shorter, light to bike is becoming precious. It’s hard to get a ride in each morning before work, now that the sun comes up around 6:30. As a result, I’m back on the treadmill, ramping up my minutes from 15-20, to 35 to 40 several mornings per week, spending most of the time alternating between running/walking.

I hate the treadmill, and the fact that it’s located in my dark basement doesn’t help things. What gets me through my period of torture? You guessed it—rawk!!

Here are a list of five songs that can make any workout pass by with minimal discomfort.

The Smiths-How Soon Is Now? (12-inch)/The Sound of The Smiths

The Smiths are being rediscovered by a new generation of music fans as result of the vapid summer movie hit, 500 Days of Summer. Haven’t seen it and don’t plan to.

I’ve been a Smiths fan since I scored The Queen Is Dead from Columbia (on cassette) as part of one of their “6 tapes for a penny” offer. It was just after my fundamentalist crash and burn.

This particular track’s propulsive nature and atmospheric guitar riffing by Johnny Marr makes it a good track to lock in and turn up the speed control to.

Joe Satriani-Surfing With The Alien/Surfing With The Alien

Satriani is a guitar shredder extraordinaire. This was his best selling disc, solid from start to finish. The title track, however, is a classic for those that like kick ass rock with frenetic fretwork.
I’ve had this on cassette for years, and somehow, it ended up in the bottom of a box that nearly got discarded at last Saturday’s Durham Trash Disposal Day. Fortunately for me, Miss Mary saw it before handing over the box to the guy that dumps things into the trash compactor.

Monday morning, guess who was in the tape player of my basement boom box, propelling me onward?

Stereolab-Metronomic Underground/Emperor Tomato Ketchup

This song is a departure from the other more straight-ahead rock tracks in this week’s SPF.

Stereolab is a band I first got turned onto during my ‘BOR years. Eclectic

This particular track has a hypnotic groove, locked in by synthesizer, rather than guitar and a repeating bass line. That and the lyrics sung in French by Laetitia Sadier creates an ambience where picking up and putting down my New Balance 720s sync with the beat, and running in place is no longer difficult.

Interestingly, my father’s best friend in high school knows Stereolab’s Tim Gane’s dad, Reuben, and as a result, I scored a personally signed photo courtesy of Tim.

Prisonshake-Bedtime Beats You Senseless/I’m Really Fucked Now

I drove to Princeton in 1994, to catch Guided by Voices. That’s the kind of thing I once was willing to do in order to connect with music that had meaning for me. Label mates at the time, Prisonshake were on tour with GbV, and I met Robert Griffen, guitar player, and Scat Records maestro.

The show was at one of the houses (think frats) on the Princeton campus. I was early and Prisonshake was loading in their gear before playing. I introduced myself. I learned later that Griffen could be a tough guy to get next to, but he was great to me. I guess he figured that if I was crazy enough to drive six hours to catch a show, he could at least be cordial. We had a beer.

The Shake have always done things their own way. Scat was based in Cleveland before Griffen, tired of the post-industrial dreariness, drunks, and crack whores for neighbors, relocated to St. Louis, where the label is now based.

I just found out this weekend, listening to Mike Lupica’s show via the archives on WFMU that Prisonshake has just released a new album, a double one at that, their first one in eons. If its as good as any of the old stuff (which Lupica say that it is), then it should be one hell of an album (it’s available in vinyl only).

Caspian-Moksha (track 1)/The Four Trees

In my day job with the workforce investment board, I meet new people all the time. Much of my work involves putting together partnerships, leveraging resources, and piecing together a variety of funding sources to offer training programs, primarily to help job seekers gain new skills, upgrade their skills (if they've been laid off), and on a personal level, possibly help some find the path to do what they were meant to do with their lives.

In the course of my efforts, occasionally, I connect on a more personal level with individuals doing similar work in the community. I happened to have a chance to have lunch a year ago with a young man involved with the Caleb Foundation. Caleb is an interfaith organization that develops, preserves and manages rental communities so as to provide safe, decent housing to low and moderate income residents.

We got talking about books, writing, and ultimately music. Long story short, he gave me a CD of a band that his girlfriend's brother plays in. The CD I have was an original, but the jewel case was a generic Maxell one, sans song titles, and without band name, with just the disc title, "The Four Trees." I just knew the songs as track 1, track 2, etc.

The band is Caspian, from Beverly, Mass. They might be characterized as post-rock, and their music is instrumental. Think church of sound, with waves ebbing and flowing in intensity, inducing a sort of spiritual state.

Track 1, which I learned is titled "Moksha." Most of this CD, including this track is loud, angular, with anthemic dual guitar structures, and mostly muscular drumming. As a band, Caspian doesn't create mere sounds, they create sonic landscapes that you get lost in.

Well, please forgive me, but I've got to wrap this up as I'm due for my morning appointment with Mr. Treadmill.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Heroes are hard to come by

My fitness focus continues. I’m entering the 14th week since June, when after being disenchanted with my excess weight, and deteriorating physical state, decided to do something about it. I’m now down 39 pounds. Even better, I think I’m in the best shape I’ve been since high school. This new me, committed to riding my bike, lifting weights, and on off days, hitting the treadmill hard is scaring me. I’ve been taken over by the spirit of Jack Lalanne!

Shortly after deciding to shed excess pounds, I was at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast in Auburn when The Dempsey Challenge was mentioned, and registration packets handed out. Not giving much thought to it at the time, I stuck this in with the assortment of other materials they bombard you with at these kinds of events. Later, going through these at the kitchen table, I mentioned it in passing to Mary. She seemed much more interested in it than I was. She actually when online to the site and got the idea that we should form a team and participate. Since we were already both biking, I figured I could do the 25-mile ride slated for October 4, and even mix in some fundraising.

Since June, I’ve sent out appeals to friends, family, and a handful of business associates, and other colleagues. My fundraising has been a fraction of Mary’s. While I’ve raised slightly more than $250, she’s near $1,000, and I have no doubt she’ll surpass that total.

I’m participating in this ride for The Patrick Dempsey (yes the actor) Center for Cancer Hope & Healing at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. The Dempsey Center provides free support, education and wellness services to cancer patients, families and caregivers.

I’ll be participating as part of Team Tarazzmatazz, in memory of my late father-in-law, Joe Tarazewich, who lost his battle with cancer, 10 years ago this summer.

My father-in-law was a heroic individual. Our team name is one part his last name, and also part “razzmatazz,” which indicates a play to confuse, or dazzle an opponent. Joe was a former football player at Drake University , and he loved to compete, and in particular, demolish an opponent.

[Joe T. at a Drake practice, 1949]

When I first started dating Mary, and visiting her house, Joe intimidated the shit out of me, and I’ve never been easily intimated, probably less so then, when I was full of blather, and not much else. Maybe that’s why he seemed so imposing.

It wasn’t just his physical presence, which filled the room. It was his penetrating blue eyes, and his questioning nature that always managed to get at the crux of any matter.

A man that was fully engaged in his world, Joe might reference Emerson or Thoreau, while commenting on an article on business from the Wall Street Journal. This would be while he had one eye on "All Creatures Great and Small," on PBS, simultaneously working on the crossword puzzle from the Portland Press Herald, a daily ritual of his. He was the first intellectual I’d encountered that wasn’t an academic egghead.

Not only was he erudite on most subjects, he also managed to maintain his 100 acre property, work on a dry stone wall from rocks lying around his property, run his own business, and also find time to do accounting work on the side.

I was stricken by his daughter, so I continued to come back and endure his questions, and began coming back with a few answers. One time he sent me home with a book of Emerson’s essays. When I came back and could hold a semi-literate discussion with him, I thought I caught a twinkle in those deep blue Polish eyes that may even have contained a trace of respect for something he saw in me.

Years later, while in my mid-20s and now married to his daughter, and the father of his grandson, he offered to support our young family if I thought I wanted to pursue a professional baseball career. He had read about an independent league in the Midwest and thought I had the talent to see if I could reconnect with a baseball career derailed by injuries initially, at the University of Maine, and then sidetracked by fundamentalist religion.

He had seen me pitch in a league now long defunct, and dominate hitters with a combination of fastballs, guile, and feistiness that has never desserted me.

At that stage of my life, I knew that baseball was a pipe dream, but I’ve never forgotten that offer, or the fact that he may have been the first person to see my potential, fifteen years before I began to finally harness it, as I approached the age of 40. By that time, Joe had passed away, and it’s one of the regrets of my life that he never saw me publish my first book, or get to see the work I’m currently doing helping people find their own pathways to success in the workplace.

I often think of Joe, as I continue to learn new things, have several books going at once, and never tire of increasing my intellectual capacity.

There is the tendency to romanticize individuals after they pass away. Death can make us overlook people’s shortcomings, and airbrush away their defects. Like any other human being, Joe had his flaws. He could be cantankerous (particularly when he knew he was right), overly opinionated, and even downright difficult to tolerate, especially when we were living with Joe and Joan for 14 months, while beginning construction on our own house. Possibly the reason Joe and I butted heads as often as we did was that in many ways, we had similarities in that we both held on vigorously to our opinions.

Family gatherings have never been the same for me since Joe passed away. Oh did he and I love to argue on any subject—religion, politics, sports—it didn’t matter. We’d get into very heated debates, causing the rest of the family to move outside of our sphere of argument. We both loved it, however, and rarely missed an opportunity to verbally spar and parry.

The measure of a man’s life is often summed up by what others say or write about you after you die. This is particularly telling when it comes from people with no vested interest in enhancing your legacy.

Rex Rhoades has been the executive editor for the Lewiston Sun Journal for well over a decade. On the morning of July 18, 1999, he penned a fitting tribute to my late father-in-law, a man he had never met, until reading his obituary.

Rhoades was struck by all the things Joe had done in his life, and I think by those rare qualities of a true renaissance man.

He wrote,

Roll the highlight film. A boy, born to immigrant parents in Saco, Maine, in 1925, industrious and studious, he learns English and begs to go to school. Service in World War II aboard a submarine, the USS Piper, in the Pacific. Returns, attends Drake University where he quarterback the football team. Wins the “Salad Bowl” against Arizona in 1950.

Graduates with a business degree, majoring in accounting and economics. Teaches and coaches at St. Louis High School and Thornton Academy (his alma mater). Works as an accountant and controller for several businesses, and is president of Building Materials, Inc. in Lisbon Falls.

Town manager in Greene and Wayne, he eventually becomes administrative assistant to the Durham selectmen—plus plumbing inspector, assessor, and code enforcement officer as well.

Built his home, enjoyed building stone walls and using computers (before they became the norm), and the study of philosophy. He stood up for things that he believed in, like education.

“He will be remembered for standing up at the 1998 Durham town meeting and declaring, ‘I’m through being a cheapskate,’ and leading a vote to pass a school music program,” said his obituary.

Rhoades went on with his touching tribute to Joe, which captured the man so well.

My father-in-law was a hero and he is an inspiration to me today to keep doing what I do, not always receiving accolades and the spotlight, but working diligently for what is right and good.

I’m honored to be riding in his memory, October 4. There may be readers that aren't already supporting a rider, walker, or cyclist that would like to support my efforts and help support a great cause. If so, you can make a donation by following this link to my online fundraising page.

[Drake football, circa 1950, Veterans Stadium, Wichita, KS; Joe is #36. All-American, Johnny Bright, is directly behind Joe.]

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Bullies, sadists, and the right-wing

It’s still difficult for many on the left to come to terms and fully understand the hijacking of their country by right-wing zealots, even after three decades of lies, misinformation, and the ever-present shroud of fear that now blankets the nation. Max Blumenthal has written a guidebook for you and anyone else that would like to get at the true root of what ails America.

Terry Gross interviewed Blumenthal about the new book, Republican Gomorrah: Inside The Movement That Shattered The Party, a week ago. I highly recommend that interview as a starting point, although I’m hoping ultimately that those that really care about changing the direction of the country will buy the book. Heck, wouldn’t it be nice if Blumenthal’s book woke people from their slumber and stopped the downhill slide to the right once and for all?

It’s interesting to hear Blumenthal speak (during his interview with Gross) and tick off details that constitutes a who’s who of right-wing Republicanism, many of them born-again evangelicals, and their strangely twisted theology and personal mistreatment of scripture. One of these figures is Sarah Palin. Blumenthal writes about going undercover at gathering at a small house, with members of the Wasilla Assembly of God, the church where Palin was baptized and spent 20 years as a member. Blumenthal is there when Thomas Muthee visited the group. Blumenthal actually feigns speaking in tongues to get inside and get a bird’s eye view of the bat shit crazy fringe element that is part and parcel of who Palin really is (quite funny, really and worth finding on the Fresh Air clip, around the 31:00 minute mark). Strangely, while this information was available briefly, it never gained much traction, or was widely disseminated even by the “so-called liberal media” during the presidential campaign of 2008, when Palin came close to being vice president of the U.S.

Blumenthal talks about “fringe elements,” which control large portions of the AM dial, talkers like Alex Jones, who spews conspiracy theories so whacked that it really makes me wonder whether or not we haven’t descended into a kind of bipartite seperation in the U.S. between not right and left, but sane and insane.

Jones warns listeners that President Obama is going to “create concentration camps for right-wing dissidents,” and “implement massive gun seizures,” which Blumenthal contends is all designed to create fear and mobilize grassroots opposition to all things Obama (like healthcare reform) support for far right Republican causes, and fill the coffers of right-wing organizations that have become depleted during the eight years of GW Bush.

While both Blumenthal and others use the term “fringe” to describe many of these elements of the right, they are, however, not unpopular. Talk radio figures like James Dobson, Michael Savage, and even Jones, command enormous audiences of several million Americans, and regularly influence mainstream reporting on news and aspects of the Obama administration, and the Democratic party.

Blumenthal delves into the psychology that is part and parcel of the right-wing playbook and in fact supports its framework. Jane Smiley’s review of Blumenthal’s book gives considerable space to this element of the book, and I think it is an important aspect of understanding how all the various elements and the vast network of seemingly disparate organizations connect.

From Smiley’s review:

Blumenthal does two things that no one else I have read manages to do–the first of these is that he organizes the network. He shows how Ted Bundy is connected to James Dobson is connected to Gary Bauer is connected to Erik Prince is connected to Ralph Reed is connected to Jack Abramoff is connected to Tom Delay is connected to Tony Perkins is connected to David Duke is connected to Mel Gibson, and so forth, and in the course of tracing these connections, he informs us, or reminds us, of the crimes and misdemeanors these people have committed.

It appears that Blumenthal deftly connects the dots and ties this “vast right-wing conspiracy” (sorry, couldn’t resist Hillary’s terminology on this) to the Christian Dominionists, a group that almost no one on the left knows anything about, but wield power and influence, followers of the late RJ Rushdoony, and Gary North.

More from Smiley’s review regarding this movement, which Blumenthal details in his book, whom he equates with the Taliban, quite accurately, I might add:

Many of the Evangelicals Blumenthal discusses are Christian Dominionists–that is, they differ from the Taliban only in their choice of doctrine. Their uses of that doctrine (to dehumanize women and other groups, to never share power, to control every aspect of every life within their power, and to create society as a steeply hierarchical structure with them at the top) are those of the Taliban.

It’s an eye-opener to read about R.J. Rushdoony, son of Armenian immigrants who fled the Armenian genocide of 1915. You would think that a man whose family escaped mass murder would go on to espouse peace, love, and understanding, but Rushdoony went the other way, taking literally the 613 laws in the Book of Leviticus. In his book, The Institutes of Biblical Law, he advocates capital punishment for “disobedient children, unchaste women, apostates, blasphemers, practitioners of witchcraft, adulterers,” and homosexuals. Gary North, the Presbyterian Christian Reconstructionist, is his son-in-law, and, while not backing down on the mass death penalty, advocates stoning rather than burning at the stake, because stoning is cheaper (and of course that is a factor, because there would be a lot of people to exterminate). As for who would be doing the killing (of you and me, if they could catch us), well, Christians would, but not because they wanted to. Ever unable to accept responsibility, they assign agency to God, who wants us killed, who will beat us until we “crumple” on his “loving” breast, a God who has given us all sorts of talents, skills, and interests, but is, like these Christian Dominionists, interested only in power. I believe his motto is “Adore me or I will hurt you.”

I think one reason that the right continues to gain support and that those who don’t subscribe to their doctrine underestimate their staying power, is that they have never been up close and personal to this craziness and succumbed to its power, even for a short period, like I have.

Having seen its darkness, and been in its clutches, and broken free, might be one of the reasons why it concerns me so much and continues to motivate me to warn others.

I’ll be picking up Blumenthal’s book sooner, rather than later. I urge others to do the same.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Shuffle play Friday-Songs about superheroes

It's time for another Shuffle Play Friday, my weekly homage to a handful of songs that I’ve discovered, or become reacquainted with over the previous seven day. I try to keep it light, or lighter via these posts.

This week, I was thinking about leadership, and the lack of it wherever you look—locally, at the state level (the two areas where I get to stare this paucity in the face), and following the healthcare debate, it’s quite apparent that the election of Mr. Obama hasn’t done anything to change the corporate stranglehold on power and politics. If you aren’t one of America’s elite powerbrokers, you are SOL and without an advocate for the things that matter to the working or middle classes.

We need Superman in the worst way, but he seems to be unavailable at the moment.

Larry Norman-Reader’s Digest/Only Visiting This Planet

I’ve written about Larry Norman before. This morning, I heard another song that made me thing about this track of Norman’s from a 1973 album.

Norman sang, “It's 1973, I wonder who we're gonna see
Who's in power now? Think I'll turn on my TV,
The man on the news said China's gonna beat us,
We shot all our dreamers, there's no one left to lead us.
We need a solution, we need salvation,
Let's send some people to the moon and gather information.

spoken: They brought back a big bag of rocks.
Only cost thirteen billion. Must be nice rocks.

Things haven’t changed much since 1973 in that while we haven’t had a major leader gunned down recently in the U.S., we still have no one left to lead us.

Who can we call upon, if as Norman sings, we have no one to lead us out of the wilderness.

Crash Test Dummies-Superman's Song/The Ghosts That Haunt Me

I remember when this song first made its way onto the playlist of our local adult ontemporary station, WCLZ. The lyrics painted Superman as a world weary everyman, albeit one with extraordinary powers. It was an interesting twist on the superhero take coming from Hollywood.
Brad Roberts’ signature voice singing the song’s quirky, but outstanding lyrics make one pine for someone with super powers.

Our Lady Peace-Superman Is Dead/Clumsy

Another Canadian band with a song about Superman—is there something in the water supply to the north that promotes songs about superheroes?

I read that the song was making a statement about television, and the influence that it has on children, and the unrealistic expectations that it engenders. The band’s lead singer, Raine Maida hearkened back to the simplicity of the television he remembered—black and white images of the original Superman, and then, he contrasted it with the two popular cartoon morons of the moment, Beavis and Butthead.

The Rosebuds-In The Backyard/Lifelike

One of my favorite online stations that I listen to is KEXP, out of Seattle. This station is a great example of what FM radio should be, a freeform station hearkening back to the days when the FM dial was about unpredictability, and catching music that you weren’t expecting. It’s all so predictable today, by-and-large, as corporations have wrung most of the vitality from the radio band.

Quilty 3000 does a great Sunday afternoon show that I try to catch every week. The KEXP site allows me ease of access of Q3000’s shows as they archive the streams and I usually go back and listen.

I liked this one by Raleigh, North Carolina’s, The Rosebuds, a band I had never heard of before last Sunday. They also happen to be on Merge, which is always a positive endorsement in my book.

Mason Jennings-The Field/Blood of Man

The first Mason Jennings song I ever heard wasn’t played by Jennings, but by my niece’s husband, at the Tarazewich (Mary’s family) Christmas gathering two years ago. He and I had our acoustic guitars out late at night in front of the fireplace, alternating takes on songs we could play. He began picking out the chords to “Forgiveness,” an extremely poignant song about family relationships.

Jennings new album is getting solid reviews and I think I’ll end up picking it up. Jennings plays all the instruments himself, and it represents Jennings stripped down and raw, which is how I like him best. He is also scheduled to play Portland in October, I think.

This particular track is about a soldier in a war far away (Iraq?) who loses his life and the perspective of a parent’s sense of loss and memories that remain. It also touches on the responsibility of our leaders (“If I was the president…”) and how they’ve failed our lost sons and daughters. The father goes out to “the field,” a place that obviously holds meaning according the Jennings, and tries to connect with the disappeared son.

Five more tunes for this week are now in the can, and another SPF is posted for readers that love music. Long live rock!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Leading with my chin

I’m proud of the weight I’ve lost (36 pounds), as well as ramping up my fitness routine and achieving some positive gains from the lifestyle changes I’ve made.

Over the past 13 weeks, I’ve gone from being someone who never walked away from a plate of nachos, an extra cheeseburger, or a second helping of ice cream, to exhibiting the kind of discipline I once had, but had set aside once I segued into my 30s and 40s.

I’ve been talking about “losing 20 pounds” to anyone that would listen for about 10 years. Making the shift from talking about it to doing something about it puts me in select company in America, because we’re a country of whiners who rarely do more than sit on our fat asses and complain about _________________ (fill in the blank), without doing a goddamned thing to change the mix, or play a different hand.

For the past two months, I’ve upped my training from 3-4 days per week of 12-15 miles on my bike, to where I’m now biking five days/nights per week and logging over 100 miles weekly. Usually, Saturday, and/or Sunday involve rides of 25+ miles. I’ve also signed up to participate in The Dempsey Challenge, a member of Team Tarazzmatazz.

Given my newfound fitness focus, and given the very demanding work schedule staring me in the face for the week, with three events scheduled beyond my normal 8:00 to 5:00 daily routine, I knew I had to get out on my bike early, pre-work, if I was going to get in five days on the bike this week.

This morning, I was on my Diamondback at 5:45 a.m. just prior to sunrise. I was well equipped with a bright fluorescent vest, and two new lights that cost me about $70 last week, to aid in visibility now that I am battling shorter days for road time.

About 45 minutes into my ride, an awesome early morning with the sun just coming up on the horizon, my front tire caught one of the ubiquitous pavement fissures that populate Maine’s back roads. Our roads are a mess, as the cash-strapped legislature and our do-nothing governor continue cutting corners on road maintenance in order to deal with budget woes. In a matter of seconds, my front fork had been spun around and my 223 pound frame was being hurtling over the handle bars. I think I hit my right knee first, and then began a bumpy landing, first touching down on both hands, then my elbows, and finally coming to a rest on my chin. As I lay on the pavement, I was afraid to reach up and feel my throbbing chin, thinking that I’d be feeling stands of shredded skin.
Gingerly hoisting myself up and on my feet, moving my neck and flexing my wrist and arms, I knew I was sore and banged up, but it didn’t seem as though anything was broken. My biggest concern was my chin at that moment. I grabbed a paper towel stained with chain grease out of my gig bag on the back of my bike to dab my chin. After putting pressure on my scraped chin and pulling it away, I was surprised that there wasn’t much blood at all. I was a afraid to glance in my rearview mirror, however, not sure what horror I’d come face to face with.

I dialed my cell phone (which I always carry) and called Mary.

“Mary, I just took a bad spill off the Shiloh Road. I’m pretty banged up and shaky,” I stammered. “Can you come pick me up?”

Mary had just left the house for work, but she immediately turned around and motored my way.

I managed to work up the courage to look at my chin. Amazingly, there was no fragmented laceration, or jagged gash—just a nasty looking case of road rash—a serious abrasion. I was lucky!

I twisted my front fork back around and into place. My bar ends on my handle bars were badly bent. My hands were shaking, but I got on my bike and started cycling towards the intersection where I’d eventually rendezvous with Mary and her Rav 4.

I was never so glad to see her vehicle when she turned the corner and I dismounted near the lighthouse, just off east of Route 125 in Durham.

We managed to wedge my bike into Mary’s SUV, after removing the front tire and doing a bit of tugging to fit it into the back.

Arriving back home around 7:30, I began peeling off my biking attire and apprising the damage. Beside my asphalt-stained chin, my right knee was badly bruised, with some abrasions and showing signs that it was beginning to swell. Fortunately for me, the weather was cold enough that I donned a windbreaker and as a result, my only injuries were a few abrasions on my left elbow, and a very sore neck and back. After calling into work letting them know of my incident and that I wasn't going to be in for the day, I spent the rest of the morning icing my knee, and trying to lose the shaking in my hands.

Twelve hours removed from my brush with a serious injury, I’m pretty sore, slightly bruised, and my chin is already scabbing over. It certainly could have been much worse.

[Bike helmet and gloves--don't leave home without them!]

In addition to escaping a brush with broken bones and something even worse, my bike was virtually unscathed. Feeling a bit better this afternoon, I was able to make adjustments to my bar ends, putting them back in place. My front tire needs to be re-trued, as it was slightly warped, but other than that, I think I’m ready to get back out on the road, although I may take tomorrow off for some recovery time.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Writing prompt

Successful authors routinely find their way into elite MFA programs. At least that's what I've been told. My son is now at Brown, enrolled in their MFA program for writing so I guess he'll become a successful author. Even better--he's blogging about the process, at least the first 10 days in.

Apparently other Brown MFA'ers blog, as evidenced by this blog by Amish Trivedi, a poet who comes to Brown by way of Iowa City. He occasionally displays a political side, weighing in on Glenn Beck, healthcare, and capitalism.

Ah, to be young and enrolled in an MFA program, instead of hopelessly wedded to work and the daily saga of the adult treadmill/hamster wheel.

Here's a list of some of the more prestigious writing programs, from Atlantic Monthly.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Shuffle play Friday-forget the past

[I’m getting this week’s musical post up a tad early (yes, Shuffle Play Friday is back for another week).

On Sept. 10, 2001, which is now eight years ago, I started work at UnumProvident Insurance (now just plain UNUM). The next day, during training class, the Twin Towers came down and they sent all us trainees home, as well as the rest of the training department. People were freaking out, crying hysterically; I was glad to be home, processing all of the news coverage by myself, and later, with Mary, when she came home from work.

In many ways, I had hit a wall at that point in my life, knowing that I had to make some different choices. Since then, I've in embarked on a new path, in essence, reinventing myself. It's been a long arduous journey and I've done things in parts/sections. My physical transformation/metamorphosis has been the last to arrive, lagging far behind the other changes. My weight ballooned, even while other aspects (my soul/spirit/intellect) had gone through some serious growth and development. It feels good to experience some sense of completion nearing, and have equilibrium restored.—JB]

This week, I discovered that Canadian rock is more than The Tragically Hip and Bachman Turner Overdrive. Actually, I already knew that, but I’ve been listening to CBC Radio 3, and a host of new music that’s from our civilized neighbors to the north after being linked there through an interesting web search journey one night, a journey that reconnected me with Julie Doiron, former singer for Eric’s Trip, a band I was a fan of during my WBOR days.

Back when I was doing my radio gig, I often stopped by the station mid-week after working my day shift job for the local power company. I’d want to preview new stuff that always seemed to arrive around Wednesday. Seeing that my shows were usually Saturday nights and wanting to be the freshest DJ on the air, I’d spend a couple of hours going through the “new” CD bin. It was usually a night when student DJs like Colin Decker and Alec Thibodeau (from Car and later, Lincolnville) had their shows. I’d gotten to know them and we’d talk music and I’d get a sense about what they were digging. Pete Hodgin, who is now a teacher and not long ago was still DJ’ing on WMPG (Portland’s stellar community station), with a Friday rock show supreme. Hodgin was another student that I enjoyed trading music preferences with. He’s the DJ that got me into some great Midwestern rock on the Faye Records label, like Ditchwitch. He also turned me onto the lo-fi geniuses, Guided by Voices, circa Vampire on Titus, and before Spin and other indie rock mags picked up on the Bob Pollard story.

Those were good times!

Doiron, btw, is now performing solo and has been putting out stuff for a decade after Eric Trip’s demise.

Grand Analog-I Play My Kazoo/Metropolis is Burning

In an age where there seems to be so little that’s new and wondrous, I’m really enjoying a whole new batch of artists that I’m not familiar with, via the world of new Canadian music. As a big fan of all things Canadian, having someone like Grand Analog pounding in my headphones, while writing late at night has been one of this week’s guilty pleasures.

The Junction-My Love Was There For Me/Another Link in the Chain

Another Canadian artist that I’ve been grooving to this week; when The Junction sing the refrain, “In a time of doubt, it’s easy to feel sorry for yourself,” I say “fuckin’ yeah,” as I nod my head to the frenetic beat of the tune and the chorus of “sing along, sing along.”

Tune in, tune out the sorry world, and push the problems of the world outside the cocoon of sound emanating from my computer.

Sometimes all we can hope for in this world of disappointment is that one person who “is there” for us. Check out the YouTube video and have a get happy moment.

Superchunk-100,000 Fireflies/Incidental Music 1991-95

It was the summer of 1994. WBOR usually was off the air during the summer months when most students returned home. For whatever reason, the 50 watt college blowtorch stayed on the air most of the June, July, and August. I happened to have the Brunswick/Bath area for my service area as CMP’s meter installer extraordinaire, which meant that my improvise sound system in my truck (a cheap Sanyo AM/FM cassette deck stayed tuned to indie rock all summer, as I completed my orders, which included disconnecting the power for many of the area’s low-income residents that had failed to pay their utility bills. What can I say—it was a host of shitty jobs I held for much of my 20s and 30s as I struggle to locate a truer path.

Almost every DJ on ‘BOR played this killer Superchunk (originally penned by Stephen Merritt and recorded by his band, the Magnetic Fields) track that still packs a wallop and sounds great a decade and half later.

It’s debatable if there was a band more emblematic of American indie rock during the early to mid-90s than Chapel Hill’s Superchunk.

Julie Doiron-Heavy Snow/I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day

A member of the aforementioned Eric’s Trip, a Moncton, New Brunswick four-piece named after a Sonic Youth song.

Eric’s Trip were one of a slew of lo-fi, four-track wonders that populated the indie scene during the early 90s. Doiron played bass, guitar, and sang.

Doiron, who veered away from electric music for a period after Eric’s Trip broke up, choosing quieter melancholy arrangements, has again embraced elements of electric guitar, the pace changes, and the more stripped down sound that her first band was known for—oh, and that voice!

Keep on rockin’ in the free world!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Biking before dark

Today was my third day over the past four of biking vigorously. Saturday, I rode 26 miles, Sunday, it was just over 20. Yesterday, I gave my legs a rest, and then tonight, I raced the sun as it was setting after work, to bike a route just shy of 21 miles.

It’s been awhile since I’ve pushed my body physically like this. At 47, I thought my days of intense physicality might be past, but apparently, I still have some tiger left in my tank.

I enjoy the physical changes that losing 35 pounds, and rounding into shape are bringing to bear 0n me. I think our physical condition influences who we are and our outlook about life much more profoundly than I’ve considered before.

[I snapped this 15 minutes before the sun set; this is about 6 miles from our house, along the power lines in Pownal.--JB]

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Question authority

It's nice once in awhile to come across a well-written opinion piece making perfect sense. Like Reason Magazine's Jesse Walker sharing a few thoughts about Mr. Obama not being our nation's guidance counselor, as well as other cogent points, like this one.

Children shouldn't be taught that the president—any president—is a beloved paternal figure with a grand plan for everyone. (From the original lesson plan: "Students might think about: What specific job is he asking me to do? Is he asking anything of anyone else? Teachers? Principals? Parents? The American people?") Children should be taught the truth: that presidents are polarizing figures who are constantly dogged by controversy. That Americans don't always agree about proper public policy, and sometimes they disagree enough to do something as drastic as keeping their kids home from school. That politics is about conflict, not listening in unison while a friendly face on a TV screen dispenses instructions.

I also liked the link out to McLuhan and the phrase, "the medium is the message," something I've been rolling around in my head of late.

It puts some of the political craziness of the past week into some kind of manageable context. Maybe that's why the magazine he writes for and manages is named Reason.

Monday, September 07, 2009

You call this change?

I happened upon this while doing some late night internet reading and was struck by a portion of the post:

With Kennedy gone, we are at the mercy of a weak, squabbling, visionless Democratic party and a President whose domestic reform policies are adrift–sliding towards the horizon with each passing day: The lost battle for Afghanistan. (Seriously– the British, then the Soviets, and now us?) The phony victory on Wall Street, one bubble replacing another. Health care reform being taken over by right-wing screwballs at the town meetings. The very idea that amidst all this, Obama is vacationing on a huge estate on Martha Vineyard’s is smack out of the George Bush playbook (except that with W, it was the Texas chainsaw vacation).

It appears that for the many who had hopes and dreams that the New Jerusalem would be ushered in during an Obama presidency, reality has finally begun to set in for all but the Kool-aid camp.

If the Van Jones debacle isn't another example of Obama's inability to stand beside and defend anyone or anything that might tarnish his ties to the establishment, then I don't know what is.

I was struck once again by the political bait-and-switch represented by Obama and his faux leftism, despite what the idiot choirboys (like Beck, Limbaugh, et al) spew about Marxism, as I listened to Jonathan Kozol speak for three hours on BookTV about education in the U.S.

The interview with C-SPAN's Connie Doebele was wide-ranging and touched on Kozol's books about our failed "segregated" system that creates educational haves and have-nots, typically along racial lines, excluding blacks and Latinos.

Kozol talked about being “stunned” by the large number of what he termed “devout liberals,” all living in major U.S. cities like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles—these are mostly privileged white people, self-identified liberals that refuse to face up to the fact that they’ve abandoned poor African-Americans and Latinos to what Kozol calls “apartheid schools.”

Obama, the nation's most prominent African-American abandoned public schools for his own two daughters.

Progressives were duped once again, as they usually are when they pull the lever for a Democrat.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Spouse's Jose Ayerve featured on SistersTalk

I'm keeping the rock and roll theme going here at WordsMatter. Spouse front man, Jose Ayerve, gets a nice feature interview at SistersTalk Radio.

SistersTalk is a Gay/Lesbian podcast, highlighting artists/musicians, authors, entertainers, and others from the Gay/Lesbian community.

Jose talks about his music, his influences behind Spouse, and some of his other music. Beyond music, he also shares his own personal coming out story, and the response of his own parents and others. You also get to hear a couple of Spouse songs, including one of my fave tracks, "Are You Gonna Kiss, Or Wave Goodbye?"

Attention Brooklyn-area music fans!! Jose will be part of a CD release party for "Ciao My Shining Star: The Songs of Mark Mulcahy," at the Williams Music Hall of Williamsburg, September 20, an interesting disc he was part of with some other big name rock and rollers.

Great interview!

Friday, September 04, 2009

Random musings during the Friday nocturne

Rather than continuing my recent Friday routine of Shuffle Play Fridays, I leave you some random thoughts I’m ruminating on during the early AM on Friday. The coyotes nearby have roused me from my sleep with their barking and calls to one another, so I decided to leave the comfort of my bed, albeit one that had me lying there fully awake, to visit my office and spend some time in front of my computer screen.

-Writing blues

There was a time when I considered my personal pool of energy to be unlimited. What I’m discovering, based on my current experiences is that our individual reservoirs are more likely finite, and we are able to shift resources around, depending on what our focus and priorities are.

Last spring and early summer, I’d work a full day, come home, have dinner with Mary, and retire to my “hobbit hole” and work another three to four hours (and occasionally longer) on what eventually became Moxietown. That wasn’t a sustainable routine, but I did manage to maintain it for six months, or so. Once the book was released and the Moxie Festival completed (which is where the bulk of my sold out title got dispensed), I took some needed time away from serious writing.

Over the winter and during the early spring, I ramped up my writing and began what I thought would be book #3, a book that I intended to be a compilation of my experiences of my sojourn into fundamentalist Xianity during the early 1980s. After completing about 25,000 words, I found the writing becoming mechanical and devoid of much vigor. About February, I came to recognize that for whatever reason, that project needed to be moved to a back burner because I had hit a wall. It has remained on its own SanDisk in my desk drawer since.

After taking a month off, I got reengaged by writing some longer essays, releasing a few snippets, portions and samplings via an occasional blog post here at Words Matter. There have been weeks when I’ve been as prolific as any period that I’ve experienced as a writer. Unfortunately, the summer months (what we’ve had of a summer) have found those bursts of fury spaced further and further apart.

Blogging by and large has been easy for me. One of the reasons that I’ve persevered as a blogger is that I find 1,200 to 1,500 word posts relatively easy to crank out. This blog has become my veritable semi-regular column on a variety of topics, my most recent inclination to write about being music, although music writing and the recent development of Shuffle Play Fridays have been more about creating a weekly blog placeholder, or a means of putting up something that might draw readers back from time to time, as I sometimes get fixated on things like blog stats and return visits. Stupid, eh?

This past week, however, I think my physical fitness focus has caught up with me. The past three or four days, I haven’t had my usual flurry of blog post ideas flooding my head during my work day. Often I jot them down on a scrap of paper or notebook I keep for idea generation during a 90 minute drive to Skowhegan, or some other remote outpost that I serve in my day job. Hence, there has been a paucity of posts here this past week. My work blog has also languished for a much longer period. An occasional idea has floated by, but I’ve been lacking sufficient energy/passion to post it.

I attribute this to channeling so much energy into the physical side of things, which has siphoned off some of my creative energy and fire of late.

Is this a reality for any other writers out there? Does one have to sacrifice being fit and in some semblance of being in shape if they want to become wildly successful, or at least a prolific practitioner, toiling in relative obscurity?

-MOB rules

I can’t abandon Friday morning music musings entirely. Partly, this is a result of my current reading, which is Michael Azerrad’s excellent book about indie rock, Our Band Could Be Your Life. One of the 13 bands that Azerrad highlights is Mission of Burma that seminal Boston-based band that has influenced so many other bands that followed their blazing of the musical trail.

Only rock obscurantists like me care about MOB (my own preferred acronym, although it’s not unique to me, as I’ve seen the band’s name represented as MoB) and their music has receded into the musty corridors populated by vinyl and cassette tapes, both of which I have a deep affinity for.

Formed in Boston, MA in 1979, the band consisted of Roger Miller, Clint Conley, Peter Prescott and Martin Swope. Musically, they were as intense as any punk band, but they were also able to separate themselves from regular three chord crowd through their use of unusual time signatures and chord progressions, as well as tape effects (courtesy of Swope).

A truly groundbreaking outfit, their music was destined to be ignored, or cited long after the band broke up, like most artists that hit the scene too early, or inaccurately time their 15 minutes, only to be a mere wisp of smoke in some grander scheme, a mere rock and roll footnote.

Actually, I’m being a bit hyperbolic concerning MOB (or MoB) because in 1981, they actually signed a record deal with Ace Of Hearts, a Boston-based label run by Rick Harte. Harte was a producer of some local renown and he took a liking to the band after hearing seeing them play live in Boston. As local labels went at the time, Ace of Hearts was a great place of the band to be. Harte cared deeply about his artists and his product. Like most indie labels, small press book publishers, and other creative endeavors operating outside of the mainstream (read, popular, mass-produced culture), distribution tends to be an issue. It was for MOB and Ace of Hearts, which at that time was one of the few indie labels out there.

Their first single, “Academy Fight Song / Max Ernst” single actually sold out very quickly and both songs have become fan staples of the band.

Next came the EP “Signals, Calls And Marches,” which also sold out its initial pressing of 10,000. It was later was reissued by Rykodisc (with six remastered original songs and two bonus tracks – both from their first single) and Matador (with video material and even more bonus tracks). I own the Rykodisc CD version.

Later, the band released the full-length "VS," which is generally considered to be one of their best works, and has been recognized by several critics as one of the best albums of the 80s.

Despite developing a strong following in Boston, and a few other indie outposts at the time, MOB broke up in 1983, partly because of Miller's worsening tinnitus, due in large part to the band’s notoriously loud live performances. The band went out for a farewell tour and released a live album “The Horrible Truth About Burma,” which came out on Ace Of Hearts in 1985.

During the 90s, it was rare to read an interview with a member of a variety of post-punk outfits without them dropping a MOB reference, citing them as a key influence.

The band reformed in 2002, playing a bunch of reunion shows. They garnered rave reviews, drawing old fans, and new acolytes alike. Bob Weston (who plays in Shellac, a math rock outfit, with Steve Albini) had replaced Swope at the mixing board and on tape manipulation. OnoffOn was released in 2004 on Matador, as well as a new live recording. 2005 brought another new record, with several tentative titles, but finally was christened "Obliterati."

There is a new record in the works set to be released next month, on Matador. Recorded in Boston back in March, "The Sound The Speed The Light" has an October 6 release date.

-Front running in Tampa Bay

I’ve chronicled my personal hatred of the team formerly known as the Devil Rays here at Words Matter. My antipathy for the club has a back story that’s hard for me to let go of. Last fall’s AL final between Boston and ball club with its front running fan base that couldn’t go away soon enough, is still fresh in my mind.

Despite a lineup that virtually has no center, and another sub par outing from Josh Beckett (is he injured again?), Boston managed to take two of three important games from TTFKATDRs, hopefully finishing them off, one year after baseball’s dumber prognosticators were hailing them as the AL’s team of the future. Oh yeah—I owe Clay Buchholz an apology, as the young hurler sucked it up last night and gutted out six innings to log another quality start—Buchholz may actually be rounding into a major league pitcher after all.

Tampa Bay is America’s professional sports armpit in my opinion. An overbuilt southern city, devoid of much in the way of culture (typical of much of the “new” south), fans of TTFKATDRs have to be some of the worst bunch of bandwagon riders in all of MLB. For the past three nights, each time NESN’s cameras would pan the crowd (of what should have been a sellout), we saw a wash of empty blue seats, as the good folks of Tampa Bay couldn’t muster enough enthusiasm to even half fill the ugliest and most user-unfriendly professional sports venue in North America (Tropicana Field makes the Big O in Montreal look like Camden Yards), in what was the ball club’s watershed series of the 2009 campaign.

So long Tampa; you got a sniff last year, but now it’s back to being suck city all over again, you foreclosure wasteland, and Siberia of an American urban area, masquerading as a viable place to live and conduct business.