Sorry, We're Closed

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Silly Words

Here are some more words that make me laugh...










What about you? Which words just seem silly to you?

(Another post about this kind of thing from last year.)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Brief Respite

Damn, these are good.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Life After Baseball

The recent death of former All-Star pitcher Rod Beck, 38, brings into focus the oft-discussed problem of what happens to some athletes after the cheering stops…when they leave the world of sports and enter the everyday sphere inhabited by the rest of us.

Starting in high school (or even before), star athletes are the hottest thing around. They’re constantly told, and can constantly prove on the field, that they’re better than other people at what they do. Even some of the “worst” players in the major leagues were big stars in high school and/or college.

Once an athlete gets to the big leagues, playing front of crowds of thirty or forty thousand a day, life just gets tougher. Sure, most baseball players have guaranteed contracts, and that’s not an insignificant consideration. But along with the financial security comes the constant fear that you’re going to lose your skills, that someone else is going to take your job. Contracts be damned—at the very core professional athletes are competitors who do what they do because they love to win. Or, perhaps better stated, they HATE TO LOSE—on the field, in contract negotiations, anywhere.

And as a result, some (okay, many) (okay, most?) ballplayers take uppers, steroids, what have you to give them a competitive edge, knowing full well that such behavior is fraught with risks. Players want to win (and earn the bucks) so much that they do things they know are dangerous and are more concerned with getting caught than with the resulting physical peril.

Rod Beck seemed like a repudiation to that entire culture. He was big, with a beer gut, a mullet, a Fu Manchu mustache, and what seemed to be a genetically attached beer can and cigarette. Hard to imagine steroids in his body.

He was a fine pitcher in his day, even though his role in the majors was not what he’d prepared for. A starter for most of his minor league career, he converted to closing at Triple-A in 1991 and was an immediate success. He saved 48 games for the 1993 Giants, and five seasons later nailed down 51 more saves for the Cubs. Good in the community (especially when he pitched for the Giants), and apparently a great teammate, Beck would habitually hang around the clubhouse after a game and talk baseball for hours.

Fans also loved him for his approachable nature. He camped out in the parking lot of the Iowa Cubs' ballpark while in the minors in 2003, hosting fans after games in his RV. Even reporters liked and respected him for his straight talk.

Beck liked beer and smokes and fishing and comfortable clothes…and he loved baseball. So when his career began to wind down in the early 2000s, the pain must have been overwhelming. Not too many star athletes, set for life financially, would go back to the minors in their early thirties to try for another bite of the apple, as Beck did in 2003.

Beck’s decision seemed to work out extraordinarily well, as the Padres signed him that summer and he converted 20 straight save opportunities, surviving on great control and guts more than on stuff.

But even at that high point, Beck was struggling with his demons. His arm worn out, after years of pitching, having undergone elbow surgery in 1999 and coming back from it too soon, he knew that his days as a pitcher were numbered. Perhaps as an attempt to cope, Beck began overindulging. In spring 2004 he went into rehab, and after throwing 24 poor innings for the Padres later that season, his career was over.

Rod Beck had been playing professional baseball since age 17, in 1986. Eighteen years later, he was done. He had plenty of money, plenty of friends, and a wife and two kids. But it wasn’t enough.

God only knows what life was like for Beck, but he—like many other athletes for whom the glory is gone—had no way to adjust to “real life.” As he almost certainly learned, drinking beer and fishing is a lot more fun when it’s a respite rather than something you do every day.

Beck seemed to have a hard time adjusting to real life. He became estranged from his family and moved to Phoenix, out of baseball, away from the clubhouse that he needed so much, away from the shared experience that athletes at the top levels feel.

He did make some forays into acting, likening his recent work in the soon-to-be-released film Work Week to baseball, saying that he was acting all the time that he was pitching anyhow.

It’s hard to know if Beck would have been able to rescue himself with screen work, which could have eventually put him in an even faster-moving party lane than baseball did. We’ll never know.

Healthy people, even those with a beer gut, usually don’t die at age 38 unless they have some sort of pre-existing genetic condition. Until all the information comes out, the more skeptical among us will hope for the “best” and assume the worst.

Beck had an agent, who issued loving comments in his memory. He had friends and family and former work colleagues, all of whom mourned his passing. But nobody could help get him out of the abyss, despite their efforts. It’s not clear how much, if at all, Major League Baseball did to help Beck, or ever attempts to help its former employees adjust to life away from the game.

He died Saturday, alone, in his house in Arizona, his body discovered by two female friends—most likely girls who came by to party with the guy who used to be a major league baseball player.

Bill James once wrote, though in a very different context, that ballplayers are paid too well for tragedy. I think this case is an exception.

Friday, June 22, 2007

James Finn Garner on the Darwin Exhibit

My friend, the distinguished satirist and essayist Jim Garner, has an article in the Huffington Post concerning the Charles Darwin exhibit at Chicago's Field Museum. You can read it here. Good stuff to chew on.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Today's tops

Here's the audio that's rocking my mind these days. If you're interested in hearing any of the stuff you may not know, write me.

Trizo 50 (self-titled album), 1973. Post-psychedelic pre-glam proto-power-pop done by kids growing up in rural Missouri. A little like Big Star's material but without even the modicum of sophistication enjoyed by those seminal Memphis figures. There is some truly lovely music on here, and, on about half the cuts, a real "down to the bone" sound quality too. In general, I find that lo-fi music sounds better when it isn't done purposely to be lo-fi. The group pressed fewer than 100 copies of this album originally, and the remaining ones can fetch up to a thousand bucks on the market. Although the album as recorded is not available, World in Sound (out of Germany) recently issued a collection of Trizo 50 music on vinyl and CD.

Painter, "West Coast Woman," 1974. This fantastic, catchy hard-rock single by Painter (an outgrowth of celebrated 60s Canadian punkers 49th Parallel) was a minor hit in the U.S. It's totally obscure now and deserving of rediscovery.

All India Radio, Echo Other, 2006. This British duo began by overdubbing instruments onto Indian radio broadcasts (hence their name). Now, they're doing superb hangout music that perfectly fuses the mind expanding sounds of psychedelia with the open spaces of fresh air itself.

I hear echoes of all sorts of rock on here--Seefeel, The Charlatans, Duane Eddy (!) and even early Pink Floyd--but the overall sound, marinating in reverb, tremelo, and echo, takes me back to ambient chill stuff from the early 1990s like Psychedelic Research Lab, Higher Intelligence Agency, FSOL, and even the Orb. This truly fine CD is on the local Minty Fresh label.

"Out of My Hands," The Endd, 1966 or 1967. I think. Still one of the great garage-rock songs of all time.

The Shadoks Music Compilation. A German label that reissues out obscure psychedelic records from the 1960s and 1970s, Shadoks has been responsible for spreading the word about a lot of terrific music. This 18-song CD compilation has introduced me to some fabulous material by groups like Peacepipe, Shiver, Framework, Fate, and The Spoils of War.

"Waterloo," ABBA (1974). Because it's one of the best pure pop songs ever recorded.

Brief political rant

I am so tired of this dickweed smug pseudo-President of ours. If it isn't starting a ridiculous war that has killed thousands of Americans (and Iraquis), it's balancing the budget on the shoulders of the working class, or today vetoing a stem-cell research bill that even most of Congress was able to agree on (in a rare show of bipartisanship).

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Goodbye, friend

An old friend passed away yesterday. It was not unexpected, but tragic and untimely nonetheless. While this poem, written by William Logan, doesn't speak directly to her (or my) situation, I thought it appropriate for this quite sad time.


Lying on that blanket, nights on the seventh green--
in the dry air the faint scent of gasoline,

nothing above us but the ragged moon,
nothing between but a whispered soon...

Well, such was romance in the seventies.
Watergate and Cambodia, the public lies,

made our love seem, somehow, more true.
Of the few things I wanted then, I needed you.

I remember our last arguments, my angry calls,
then the long silence, those northern falls

we drifted toward our newly manufactured lives.
Does anything else of us survive?

That day in Paris, perhaps, when you swore
our crummy hotel was all you were looking for--

each cobbled Paris street, each dry baguette,
even the worthless sous nothing you'd forget.

Outside, a block away, the endless Seine
flowed roughly, then brightly, then...

Then nothing. Nothing later went quite that far.
I remember that spring. Those breasts. That car.

---William Logan

Upcoming family show brother Tom will be appearing with the band Patent Medicine this Sunday, June 24, at the Pick-a-Cup Coffeehouse, 1813 Dempster, in Evanston. (Lots of parking close by.)

They go on at 4:00 PM. You can learn more about Patent Medicine here.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Chuck Panozzo's Grand Illusion

If you grew up in Chicago in the 1970s and listened to pop music, you knew all about Styx. Their hits—“Lady,” “Fooling Yourself,” “Renegade,” “Lorelei,” “Come Sail Away,” “The Grand Illusion,” “Babe,” ad nauseum, and I do mean nauseum--were all over the radio.

Aside from being, at times, decent radio fodder, Styx never did much for me. Dennis DeYoung's vocal histrionics were matched by guitarist James “JY” Young's self-conscious rocking out, while Tommy Shaw, who wrote many of the group's better songs, turned out to be a right-wing cheeseball, chewing raw meat with Ted Nugent in the unnecessary Damn Yankees combo.

For me, the best thing about Styx was the rhythm section, brothers John (drums) and Chuck (bass) Panozzo. The two began playing music together in their early teens, finding success in the band TW-4, which in the early 70s evolved into Styx.

But at the same time Styx was making its run to the top of the charts, bassist Chuck Panozzo was hiding his sexuality from his brother, the rest of his family, his other bandmates, and the world at large. Chuck was gay, trying to make sense of his life at a time when being gay was bad enough; being 1)a rock star, 2)from the south suburbs of Chicago, and 3)being part of a traditional Italian catholic family just made his hell that much deeper.

Chuck Panozzo's new book, The Grand Illusion: Love, Lies, and My Life With Styx (Amacom Books), co-written with Michele Skettino, tells his story from birth to the present day. The book is strong in many ways, weak in others, but I found it an engaging and often affecting read.

Styx' career is described in alternately deep and remarkably shallow detail. We learn plenty about the band's troubles with their first label, Wooden Nickel (including some good stories about label head Bill Traut, a seminal figure in Chicago rock history), and some tidbits about groupies (the band generally abstained), along with the story of how “Lady,” recorded two years earlier, finally became the band’s first hit in 1974.

Unfortunately we get very little sense of what influences, visions, or inspiration lay behind Styx' music. From what we read in Grand Illusion, it's as if the music just happened, which clearly isn't true. The band's arrangements and production were always detailed, to the point of fussiness, but we get very little sense of the creative spark that fueled their albums.

There are hints of the personal discord between band members, but it’s almost as if Panozzo doesn’t want to really talk about why Styx imploded—although he drops enough hints to let us know that Dennis DeYoung’s ego played a major role.

But if you want a personal story, this is the book. Panozzo takes the reader through his discovery of the gay scene in Chicago, at times humorously and often with heartbreaking results. His relationships, and those of his friends, before and during the time of AIDS, form much of the book's emotional center.

In addition to dealing with his own identity problems, Chuck Panozzo also had his mother's fatal illness to shoulder, which was then compounded by his brother John's out-of-control drinking habit, which got worse after Styx broke up in the 1980s and led to the drummer’s death in 1996. Again, these episodes are discussed in wrenching detail.

Chuck Panozzo himself was diagnosed HIV-positive during the nineties, and then with full-blown AIDS in 1998. Having watched many of his friends deny the disease and die in agony, Panozzo decided to become a survivor. He's become stronger physically and emotionally, wrestling his demons, finding a supportive partner, and getting back on the stage with a reunited Styx, first in 1999 and continuously over the years.

His interactions with his family and band members around the disease are telling. Almost to a man (and woman), those close to him accept him for who he is and love him for who he is—a lovely thing, but painful, perhaps, to learn after having shouldered guilt and fear of rejection for so long.

When he publicly outed himself in 2001, Panozzo provided us with a great lesson in the art of being yourself. The support Panozzo received from fans, friends, and bandmembers Shaw, JY, and even the curious DeYoung was clearly a source of strength.

One comes to the end of the book with an admiration for Panozzo's strength, but also a sadness that suffering has suffused so much of his story. I also wish that we got more of an insight into what made Styx' music, because it sure was popular for a long time, and some of it has endured.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Love, Peace, and Poetry

This series of LPs, the first of which was released back in 1998, is already known by most truly dedicated psychedelic, garage, and beat fans out there.

Of which I thought it was one...but until learning about this series, I didn't know what I didn't know...or what I was missing.

The Love, Peace, and Poetry series is dedicated to spreading the word about the best work of obscure psychedelic bands from around the world. While some of these groups were well known in their home countries of Mexico, Japan, Brazil, etc., most remain prophets without honor 40 years later.

In fact, many of the songs on these compilations were released in such absurdly small quantities--try maybe a hundred copies pressed--that there was no chance to ever be successful. Much of the music here is as good as the best mainstream, celebrated 60s rock, and the best songs on these albums deserve their place in the pantheon.

Not that fame was necessarily the point, of course. Some of these bands just wanted to put out a record and have some fun. Others pressed up albums as a sort of audio business card in order to get jobs playing at clubs. Others had high hopes of stardom, and may have spent a lot of money on musicians, production, etc., but had financing fall through, or lost distribution deals, or in the case of some of these groups, fell afoul of the law or of their own personal habits.

One interesting thing to note is the lag time involved in some of this music. Independent bands like these were making music on the psychedelic fringes all the way through the 1970s. Some of the most '66-sounding things in this genre of music were recorded as late as the mid-seventies.

Rather than being alone in a vast wasteland of hippie singer-songwriters and pompous ELP cones, then, 60s-style bands like Badfinger, Big Star, the Raspberries, and Blue Ash actually had compatriots both in the English-speaking countries and all over the world--but those other bands exploring the pop/psych cosmos didn't have the luck to get signed.

Whatever the story (and all of the artists on this series of albums have fascinating stories), these compilations are essential for fans of psychedelic and late 60s pop music. I'd recommend starting with the American volume, although my first was the Asian LP, which hooked me immediately.

These releases (there are now nine in the series) are thematically linked by cover photos of Cheryl Strode, a 1967 Playboy cover girl whose whereabouts are unknown. The gatefold sleeves are works of art unto themselves, both on the outside and in.

A great deal of information about the bands on these albums has been uncovered since 1998, and most of the groups represented in the series have had their albums re-released by labels like Little Indians (later known as Shadoks) in ornate limited vinyl editions and also on CD.

Okay, enough of me. How about some music? We could start with an unknown Cambodian band whose music was accidentally discovered by a Westerner in Cambodia during the 80s...the title of the song translates to "I'm Sixteen." Any sixteen year old girl who could sing like this, fronting a combo that sounds more like German psych-funksters Can than seems possible, is all right by me.

I find this stuff just fascinating. Who were these people? What was their situation? What music had they heard that influenced them? They couldn't have actually heard Can, could they?!? We may never know...which is exciting in a way, but also makes me sad. I'd love to hear how these folks' lives turned out. This is from LP&P's third volume, one covering Asian psychedelic music.

How about something equally obscure, but in English? The American band Jungle recorded a demonstration album in 1969, but nothing is known about them to this day, the efforts of collectors to the contrary. This demo album featured no contact info, no names, and no publishing, production, or pressing information. (Seems like it would have been difficult to hire them without any of that.)

This cut, "Slave Ship," from volume 1 of LP&P, just blows my mind, from its gorgeous guitar opening to the frenetic drumming and impassioned vocals to an ear-shredding fuzz guitar solo...just remarkable. This stuff is as good as the Stones, Who, Doors, what have you.

Or for something more garagey, try the Music Emporium, one of the first truly gender-integrated bands, with a female drummer and bassist and a male guitarist and keyboardist. Original copies of their 1969 album are worth a king's ransom, but happily, the music has been re-issued on CD by the folks at Sundazed. The package includes photos and voluminous liner notes.

"Nam Myo Renge Kyo," also on LP&P's volume one, is the Music Emporium album's leadoff cut, and it's a stone classic. Combining vaguely spiritual lyrics with a fierce garage attack, it's unlike anything I've ever heard.

Other tracks by bands and artists like Justin Heathcliff (yes, a band), Mogollar, Los Dug Dugs, Trizo 50, Sal Ul Lim, and Darius are as good as what I've posted here. Do some digging and listen to a couple of songs. If you find this stuff as fascinating as I do, why not get these compilations?

(Thanks to Carlos for his generous tech support and for his encouragement to get these records in the first place!)

Friday, June 08, 2007


Hey, folks.

I invite you to click on

Jim Garner (author of Politically Incorrect Bedtime Stories and the new Recut Madness) and I have joined forces in an attempt to revive the art of baseball poetry. No, not long, pretentious allegories about how Troy Percival's career rivals a Greek tragedy, but rather the kind of doggerel and light rhyme that once graced newspaper stories about the game in the early part of the 20th century.

For example, here's a new poem about the Florida Marlins:

Squish, squish, squish!
Let’s beat up on the Fish!
Nobody comes to their games anyhow
And you may find grilled marlin delish!

Our goal is to document every major event of the 2007 season through, players, scandals--nothing is off limits.

We'd not only like your eyes...we'd like your poems as well. Be they haiku, silly schoolyard rhymes, or even our special category--limericks about Barry Bonds--we want your words. You can do this as well as we can, and maybe even better! Please come on by, check it out, leave a few words, and come back to see who else is posting.


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Recommended Reading, Part 1

I'll be posting several book reviews over the next couple of days.

The Card: Collectors, Con Men, and the True Story of History’s Most Desired Baseball Card, by Michael O’Keeffe and Teri Thompson (William Morrow)

Those with even a cursory knowledge of baseball memorabilia collecting consider the 1909 Honus Wagner card, produced in a small quantity by the American Tobacco company, the “holy grail” of the hobby. This book discusses how the card came to be so rare (it was pulled from the market at Wagner's request), who has, in recent years, owned the best copy of the card in the world, and what the card’s ramifications are for the baseball memorabilia business.

New York Daily News investigative reporters O’Keeffe and Thompson also discuss the life and times of Hall of Famer Honus Wagner, the superstar Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop and perhaps the most beloved man in baseball prior to 1920, and how the attention given to the card has, in some ways, eclipsed the memory of the man whose face adorns it.

The description of Wagner is cursory—but then again providing a biography isn’t the authors’ mission. What they’re really doing is casting some much-needed light on the dark and often disgustingly corrupt baseball collectibles business, one that operates largely through the faith of the buyer since dealers are not effectively policed, either by the industry itself or by federal or state authorities.

The authors uncover the Wagner card’s recent history, in the process tracing the past 30 years of baseball card collecting. Their investigation leads the reader through a maze of deception and greed to find underhanded dealers, shady auction houses, vested-interest "card grading services," assorted hoods, a few whistle-blowers, and some very odd (and usually very wealthy) collectors.

O'Keeffe and Thompson also show us that Wagner’s home town barely celebrates him; that many of the Baseball Hall of Fame’s treasures were stolen and ended up on the market; and that celebs like Wayne Gretzky and Billy Crystal may have been ripped off by unscrupulous dealers looking to cash in on baseball fans’ love of the memorabilia associated with the game.

I learned a lot reading this book. (One thing I didn't know is that the "Pittsburg" on the front of Wagner's jersey isn't even part of the original photo--it was added on by the card company back in 1907.)

As in any great baseball book, there are heroes and villains, and as in any great book of any subject, you’re left wanting to know more about the subject. This book is recommended.