Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Odds and Ends

As Jailb- ah, Peggy pointed out last night, I haven't been blogging at fhb as I should, and that's true. So, here's a compendium of stuff I would blog about if I was blogging, as indeed I am right now.

I'm in serious conflict about Twin Peaks, The Definitive Gold Box edition, a 10(!!!) DVD box set that collects just about everything the TP completist would want in one place (except Fire Walk With Me, which like so much else TP-related has some weird rights issues affecting its re-release). On the one hand I have deep fan boy lust for the set, even though I already own Seasons 1 and 2 on DVD.

On the other hand, I already own Seasons 1 and 2 on DVD, and know, just know, that eventually they'll release the Twin Peaks, the Absolute Positive Final Edition We Promise, We're Not Fooling You This Time a year or so down the road with Fire Walk With Me and some other must-have items included. Don't believe me? Yet another - 5-disc positively, absolutely definitive Blade Runner set is being released this December. Downstairs I have a VHS of the original, theatrical U.S.-released Blade Runner and DVDs of the "international" version and the first "director's cut" version. I can now go spend even more on a new director's cut version (Ridley Scott has made something of a cottage industry releasing new director's cuts every few years) and the "work print" version.

If I had Uncle Scrooge's Money Bin, I wouldn't have all these "I Want" problems.

Just to prove to my wife and sister-in-law that I do have interests other than Bob Dylan, the Red Sox swept the World Series the other night.

And let's see, news to take care of on the family front. We went to our niece's Bea's wedding reception over the weekend, which was as much a family reunion as anything else and as complete a gathering as we've had since our other niece's - Christina's - wedding.

Not that I really needed evidence of the fact, but my unofficial son, Robbie, has officially grown up. We were at the bar together and he looked at me and said, "What are you drinking, Fred?" I later ended up doing tequila shots with him and his older sister, Mimi, much to the general horror of his mother and Peggy. Robbie's girlfriend - Molly, who is one hot pistolero - now calls me "Jack," as Mimi has done exclusively for years, for reasons I've now forgotten, except that Mimi didn't think I was a "Fred"-type I think. I also promised Meaghan I'd blog the event with the title I Twirled Mimi, after successfully spinning her in a slow dance without stumbling over my own feet, but I think that was the tequila shot, salt, and lime talking.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Greatest Soul Singer You Never Heard Of

Episode 43 of Dreamtime features Sterling Harrison, a soul singer who never quite made it out of South Central, but whose legacy lives on, thanks to Eddie Gorodetsky, Bob Dylan, and in a small measure, maybe even me. I also found one low-quality video of Harrison performing live at M&M Soul Food which I posted over at Dreamtime's sister site A Series of Tubes. To paraphrase Dylan, who was speaking on another subject, I figure if one person gets curious about Harrison and his music thanks to Dreamtime, I've done my job.

The podcast continues to pick up its Season 2 legs, the blog now getting about 4,000 visitors a month; somewhere between 100-200 a visitors each day. The shows themselves get around 500-600 downloads in the first couple of weeks of their release, and then hit a steady-state of around 50 downloads per month respectively thereafter. As far as I can measure: iTunes is a total black hole as far as measurement is concerned. But if I had to make a guess, I'd say Dreamtime had around 500 regular listeners, and wouldn't be shocked - gratified, but not shocked - if it had around 1,000. Much more than 1,000 and I would be shocked.

One of the things I want/need to do this year is improving - and then freezing, if possible - the podcast recording production values, which frustrate me no end. Every time I think I finally have the recording quality stable, it falls apart again in the next podcast. It shouldn't happen. The equipment and settings are the same. But one show I'll sound okay. The next as if I'm broadcasting from under a rock. I'm never going to have a radio voice, and I'm okay with that. But Jesus, I should be able to get a consistent recording.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Whoo-Hoo - The Summary

Update: A photo of Dylan and the Cowboy Band at concert close in Ypsilanti, MI, a few days ago. Dylan is making the same hand gesture he used in the NH concert, which has been variously interpreted as a thumbs-up gesture (me), an acknowledgment of the crowd's applause, his version of applauding the crowd, or his acknowledgment of a hot session by the band - or all of the above. The Dylan "Eye" logo is displayed as backdrop during the show encores. The Oscar is blocked by a fan's head, but resides on the red case which can be seen at far right. Also note Dylan's keyboard. fhb

I picked Peggy up at 4:30 Friday afternoon, and we headed over to our first early-bird special since we stopped visiting my parents in Florida many moons ago. Peg had booked us at the Piccola Italia Ristorante in downtown Manchester, a couple of blocks walk from the Verizon Wireless Center. We had a waitress used to serving people who were later heading to a concert, and she was quick and efficient without making us feel rushed. If you like up-scale Italian and are in the Manchester area, go check out Piccola Italia. Great food. We were surrounded by graying Dylan fans, so we - or at least me - fit right in. I may have just been having my own flashback, but I swear to God the woman seated at the table next to me, who was at least in her mid-50s, said to her companion, "I'm starting to peak." Maybe it was the martini.

By 6:45 we were in our 3rd-row-from-the-stage seats, with a helluva lot better view than we had when we last saw Mr. D almost six years ago. That had been one very strange concert, a couple of months after the release of "Love and Theft," after 9/11. November 2001, the night before Thanksgiving. I was unemployed, laid off about three weeks earlier, paranoid about my future. Peggy had a family dinner to prepare the next day. We went anyway.

We enjoyed ourselves during that 2001 concert, but we were all the way back by the soundboard, disappointing me because I hadn't known that "G" was an entire section away from the double-letter first row seats. The view had been lousy, not helped by the audience being on its feet for the entire 2-hour show and Himself a tiny unmoving figure on stage the entire night. The music was good, but all-in-all - especially from the perspective of this recent show - it was a subdued performance, ending with Dylan's apparently unhappy arms-by the-side stare at the audience after the encore, frozen, not acknowledging the applause with any look or gesture.

Many differences six years later in 2007, not least that Dylan had two opening acts before his set. Amos Lee opened promptly at 7:00 with a half-hour solid folk-blues set that could have been improved by bringing down the thumping bass a bit for his mostly gray-beard audience. Three rows from the stage and directly under the overhead speakers, we levitated from our seats each time Lee's drummer hit the bass pedal. Fortunately, both Costello and Dylan's people had a less bass-emphatic sound mix, or we'd probably still be going "What?" several days later. At closing Lee thanked the sparse early audience for coming to see him, and turned the stage over to Elvis Costello.

"Oh, I'm in fine voice tonight," Costello laughed midway through his set, and it was a good prediction for things to come. Armed with solo guitar, Elvis marched through a 45-minute set of standards from his playbook, opening with a powerful "Radio, Radio," blasting through "Watching the Detectives," crooning a mournful "Alison," and leading the now much larger and appreciative crowd through a "do-do-doo-doop" call-and-response during a Van Morrison cover medley.

And then it was the Cowboy Band's turn. The Verizon's lights were dimmed, leaving only a small flood on stage lighting Dylan's "Things Have Changed" Oscar. The recording announced the presence of the man who had forced folk into an unnatural relationship with rock. And Dylan and Company launched into a pretty "Cat's In the Well."

Staging for a Bob Dylan concert: Song finishes, lights go down; Dylan walks over to a playbook next to his Oscar, studies it; lights come back up; band launches into next number. Repeat 16 times.

After "Cat's" came the only stumble of the evening, a raspy-voiced "Lay, Lady, Lay" that was so difficult to listen to that I was frightened about what the rest of the night might be like. Dylan seemed to be struggling after the first verse of the song, seemingly realizing that it had gotten out of his control. He tried different phrasing, different timing. Nothing worked, and the song sounded as if an embarrassingly old man was pleading with a 15-year-old hooker for a free piece of action. Dylan looked as relieved as I felt when it finally finished. "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" and "Positively 4th Street" followed. Both on-target, nothing like the horror-show of "Lay, Lady, Lay" but not all that energetic either.

But something happened mid-way through the fifth song, "The Levee's Gonna Break," and the night just went golden from that point on. I'm still not sure what went on. Dylan had switched to keyboards by this point and he began exchanging sly grins with Donnie Herron, on pedal steel behind him. You could almost see the band's energy rising as Dylan began to attack - there's no other way to describe it -the keyboard for that one and for each song that followed, charging into it, shaking his hips like Jerry Lee, raising his legs. I kept expecting him to break free from the keyboard and start dancing around the stage at some point during the evening. The complaints of hard-core fans notwithstanding, it seemed from our vantage point that Dylan was much more comfortable the moment he put down the guitar and took his center-stage keyboard position. And the man is not going through the motions. He was hammering those keys, with the diamond-encrusted ring on his wedding finger flashing in the stage lights as he waved his hand above the keyboard.

Great versions of "Spirit On the Water," Honest With Me," and a beautiful rendition of "Beyond the Horizon," followed in close succession. And then an extremely spooky version of "High Water." That, and an equally powerful "Nettie Moore" following a blistering "Highway 61," had me thinking that I really want to hear a commercial live Dylan album that includes songs from "Modern Times." You have to hear how radically these songs have evolved from the studio versions to understand what Dylan means when he says that to really hear the music he has in his head you have to go see him live.

"Summer Days" was next on the slate, and then came the old warhorse, "Like a Rolling Stone."

I have mixed feelings about hearing Dylan doing this - my favorite song of his - these days. While I like, appreciate, his having it still in his portfolio some 40-odd years after his writing it, I can't hear it live without thinking of the blistering, acid-thrown-in-your-face performances of the `60s. I always see ghosts on stage, battering their way through the music, in defiance of everything, the audience, the day, the world, young, old, while I watch the contemporary Dylan weave around among those shadows, performing his slower, near-waltz-like modern version. But having said that, this was one of the best contemporary live LARS I've ever seen him perform, fast tight, grooving. Dylan was grinning like a Cheshire Cat throughout the song, leaning into the How does it feel? chorus like he was cresting a wave.

"Thunder on the Mountain" began the encore, and a surprising and very pretty "Blowin' in the Wind" ended it. Lights down for the final time, and Dylan and Band walked to the front of the stage, where a visibly happy Dylan gave thumbs-up to both the audience and band members as the floods turned on.

Sixty-six years old, the man looked as if he could be in no other place or time than where he was right at that moment.

After the show, not feeling that I had contributed enough to keeping the economy healthy, we stopped at the Dylan bling table where I bought the world's most expensive - but cool- t-shirt. I also bought the concert poster for that night, which is pretty much what you see above, except with the venue and dates changed, of course.

It wasn't till the next day that we noticed that the poster listed Dylan as playing in "Manchester, MA." A collector's item.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Jesse and Janna

The internet, as I've said before, is not only stranger than you imagine, but stranger than you can imagine. The L.A. Weekly has a long article by Josh Olson on an internet romance gone bad, which is well worth the time to read to its conclusion.

If you've spent any time on these here series of tubes, you'll probably find the story itself is fairly stock. I suspected who "Jesse" would turn out to be by page 2, and you probably will too. But Olson's writing is excellent - although weirdly imitative of Harlan Ellison's style in his non-fiction heyday - and Ellison himself plays a major role in the cast of characters.

And because the internet is the internet, there's more of course. You should read the article first to get the full impact, and then you can go watch - I kid you not - the YouTube video of Janna's eviction, and then you can go read "Audrey's" current blog. This is not the "I saw a cloud. It looked like a giraffe. Jesse would have liked it" blog that Olson refers to in his article, but a post-Janna blog that links to various pieces and snippets of other older blogs - both by "Audrey" and "Janna" and "Jesse" among a ghost cast of thousands, which will probably confuse the hell out of most readers as it did me.

My first reaction to all this was that it was some elaborate Ellison & Friends LonelyGirl15 statement on the sad state of the internet, of which Harlan is no fan. I mean, why is the writer of the screenplay of A History of Violence producing an article that reads so much like an Ellison pastiche that it could be called Valerie, A True Memoir - Part 2? Do all of "Audrey's" friends have such a lousy relationship with her that they have to haul in a writer who she barely knows - albeit admires - for an intervention? I mean, hell, I was a great admirer of the late John D. MacDonald, but I'd be a little weirded out if he called me on the phone, told me I needed to go to his house right now, and then have him tell me that I was being misused in a personal relationship.

But it's probably real - although sad for all involved. And whatever their motivations, "Audrey" and friends getting heavily into revenge on Janna with the public video and blog just make the story sadder.

I originally found the story on BoingBoing where, I'm happy to say, the insufferable Cory Doctorow also recently got his comeuppance from Ursula K. LeGuin. I'm not a particular fan of LeGuin from a personal standpoint - she's as prickly and intractable in person as Joanna Russ - but it was nice to see her turn her not minor energies on Doctorow, who had posted a one-paragraph story of hers from another source complete on BoingBoing, and had even removed the original copyright notice.

Doctorow's "apology" is full of self-justification and rationalizations including my favorite: "...how would one quote a double-dactyl or a haiku [then]?" And the answer is, you can't Cory, unless you're given permission. It was nice to see him taken down a peg or two.

Zero Traction

I placed 315th out of a field of 1300 in yesterday's PokerStars Blogger tournament, whose little flashing ad graced the upper right column for the past week or so. Unfortunately 315th and 2 1/2 hours of play equaled 1299 position and 2 1/2 minutes of play - at least from a monetary standpoint. That is, nada. I played as well with as bad a run of cards as I ever have in a 2 1/2 hour period. Small pairs that didn't improve at the flop and had to be folded against any significant raise. Middlin' pairs that would be cracked by larger pairs. Aces with bad kickers. Mostly unplayable hands.

We started with $10,000 in chips, and I think the best shape my stack was in during those 2 1/2 hours was around $12k. Ironically, I was seated next to Troublecat at my first table, who may or may not have recognized me as a one-time opponent and backer. In any case, he successfully played the bloggers' signature hand against me - THE HAMMAH - to his great delight and generally unacknowledged by the rest of the table.

Troublecat and Maudie would place a little behind me in the 300s too. One of the people from my initial table would place in the top 10, earning him a digital camera. A few of the names in the top 80 or so -winning prizes ranging from iPods to duffle bags - were familiar from the Wheaties, but except for the Cat I played with none of them at my two tables.

There are probably many more things more frustrating than playing well with no cards and no luck, but it's No Fun for over two hours, let me tell ya. By Hour Two, with a stack ranging from $2k to $6k, I was pleading to the poker gods to give me a hand that I could use to double up or at least go out with dignity, as it was highly unlikely I was ever going to catch up with the leaders, who had stacks in the six figures by that point. Down to around $2k and in danger of being blinded out in two rounds, I doubled up with AK, and then doubled my stack again to around $8k when I pulled a flush out at the River.

But the trouble with needing to go all-in repeatedly to stay alive is that sooner or later your luck will fail. And you only need to lose once when you're the smallest stack at the table. An extremely tight player on my left, who only involved himself in hands that he was likely to win, had his pair of Aces cracked by an improbable straight. The next hand put me in the dealer's slot and with a pair of Kings. I went all-in, hoping to double yet again, and then only needing to do so twice more to have in a slight chance to survive to the final table. But, that same player called and flipped over the same hand he had before, Aces, which cracked my Kings, and that was that.

I'm afraid "that was that" may be the epitaph for the Tuesday evening Monkey - successor to the Wheaties - too, unless we start building a more sizable field. I offered to take over the administration from an overburdened and in-a-funk ISS Spock only to discover that Stars, in its wisdom, refused to let the Frequent Player Point-shy ricoM do so. Even though I've been contributing to PokerStars coffers for 2+ years, I haven't apparently contributed enough, and they were unmoved by my email asking for a waiver on the FPP requirement.

I see that Spock is taking one last shot for this Tuesday so, if my thousands, hundreds, tens, or ones of readers are so inclined, you're invited for what may be the last Monkey this Tuesday, the 16th, at 8:30 sharp ET. Password is "monkey." It'd be nice to see the old gang there one more time - I miss the Atlanta platers, xkm, Iggy, and Maudie - if for nothing else than to give this long-running tournament a proper send-off.