Saturday, November 13, 2004

More stuff

Isn't that what Chuck Barris used to say on "The Gong Show"? Anyway, Back With Interest has an exciting new feature: a book log over there on the right. Check out what I've had my nose in.
Cover brand

My obsession with television jingles brought me to this small collection of jingle covers. I can only recommend the Juicy Fruit one, which is truly inspired. The other two are, well, um. But check out that Juicy Fruit one.

Much as I loathe them, public radio fundraisers like the one going on now are good for me. They force me to change my habits and explore the dial, which I need to do since I recently started writing an irregularly scheduled radio column for Isthmus.

Fortuitously, I just bought a terrific radio for browsing the spectrum, the GE Superadio III, an inexpensive but powerful and great-sounding device that's very good at picking up weak signals. I'm a giant fan of the "Grand Ole Opry," and after dark this radio pulls it in on Nashville's WSM (650 KHz on your AM dial) like nobody's business. (The "Opry" also is broadcast on the Internet, but it sounds better on the radio.) I also can pick up 105.9 FM out of Janesville, a great hip-hop station that also is the area's sole outlet for the fabulous sex-advice show "Loveline," of which I also am a giant fan.

The thing is, although my column is about Madison radio, when I'm not tuned to public radio I most enjoy listening to big AM powerhouses out of Chicago, especially WGN-AM at 720 KHz. WGN is an example of the venerable "full-service" format and has lots of breezy, nonpolitical talk, as well as shows about current events, dining, travel, film, music and sports, including Cubs baseball games. I'm a big fan of WGN from way back.

But when WGN isn't working for me, I tune into a station only a Chicagoan or former Chicagoan could love: WBBM Newsradio 780, from which I learn all I need to know about the Windy City's latest scuttlebutt. I relish having this radio connection to my former hometown, 150 miles distant.

And even though they have no direct bearing on my life now, I retain a nostalgic fondness for the traffic reports WBBM delivers every ten minutes. Back in the day it was point of pride when I was finally able to decipher these, which every Chicago station provides. Radio reporters, all of them affiliated with a mysterious entity called Shadow Traffic, deliver these updates at methamphetamine tempo, and they are filled with arcane roadway lingo that's meaningless to the uninitiated.

So say it with me, everybody: inboundedenstwentyfivelakecooktothejunction.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Terrible news

I'm devastated to learn that Iris Chang committed suicide. Chang, the 36-year-old author of The Rape of Nanking, suffered from clinical depression, and although it's impossible to say whether her work documenting wartime atrocities contributed to her illness, I know from my own labors that spending a lot of time thinking about violence and mass death is not good for the spirit. I've gotten away from those kinds of inquiries, but I strongly identify with the fascination and outrage that drove Chang's writing.

I'm really sad about this.
End of an era

Check out this beautiful article about the closing of an important bar on Nashville's Music Row. I've never heard of the place, but then I never much hung out on Music Row when I lived in Nashville.

The story quotes a song one of the regulars wrote about the place's demise:

Does anyone know where the memories will go
When they give the last last call?

Wow. That's good.
Reading is fundamental

What I learned last night reading the National Examiner at the Walgreens magazine rack:
  • Liza's on a bender
  • You can buy wigs for $29.99 from a company that advertises in tabloid newspapers
  • George Strait is country music's most reticent star because two family tragedies turned him inward. One was his parents' divorce when he was quite young, and the other was the death of his 13-year-old daughter in a car accident in 1986. The pain made him throw himself into his work. But his 35-year marriage is rock solid

Sometimes when I am goofing off at a newsstand I scan the mass-market paperback books to see if there is anything I could bring myself to read. The only thing I came up with this time was John Grisham's comic 2001 novel Skipping Christmas, which is the basis for the upcoming film comedy Christmas with the Kranks. The book is available in a new movie tie-in edition with a picture of Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis on the cover. I've seen the preview for Christmas with the Kranks several times and it looks incredibly lame, but John Grisham novels are OK.

I have this thing for movie tie-in paperbacks. My copy of Less Than Zero with Andrew McCarthy, Robert Downey, Jr. and Jami Gertz on the cover is one of my most prized possessions.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

The critics speak

Hey, look what's on page 28 of the November 2004 issue of Rick's Cafe, the Madison music trade monthly: a review of the Junkers' 2003 release Live Characters Nightly! It's a pretty good review, too: 16 out of 20 stars. I don't see Rick's reviews online, so I'll key it in fer ya.

I see the reviewer's point about "(Baby Let Me Be Your) Desert Storm" not fitting the CD, but one of the things I was trying to do with the track was update the long country-music tradition of war ballads, like "Battle of New Orleans" and "Ballad of the Green Berets."

Being compared to Lester "Roadhog" Moran and the Cadillac Cowboys is the highest praise I can imagine.

Remember, Junkers CDs make great holiday gifts! Write me for details about how to get your Gramma copies of Live Characters Nightly and the Junkers' 2001 release Hunker Down.

Live Characters Nightly
2003 Self-Release

Style: Honky-tonk country
Titles: Tie One On (2:16) Friend of the Family (2:38) I Always Cry at Divorces (3:19) Cowboy La Cage Aux Follies [sic] (2:22) Grizzly (3:43) Pretty Cups and Saucers (3:35) Bad Dog (2:40) Saturday Morning Cartoon (2:39) It's Only Funny (3:00) Too Drunk For Church (2:51) Hollow Log (3:58) Desert Storm (2:56)

Musicianship: ***
Composition: ****
Lyrics/Interpretation: ****
Production: ***
Packaging: **
Total 16

The Junkers were a great country band and it's really unfortunate that they broke up. They played honky-tonk country like nobody else. You can almost hear the scratches on your grandma's Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb, and Hank Thompson 78s while listening to this CD. A real treat would be to hear this on vinyl.

Live Characters Nightly is a pretty straightforward recording without a lot of Pro Tools tricks. Start the tape and let it roll, boys! The musicianship is not first-rate like most recorded country today, but it's suitable for this style of music, with the drums appropriately audible.

Two cuts that truly stand out are "Tie One On" and "Too Drunk for Church," with suberb instrumentation and very funny, classic country lyrics. Other tracks such as "Cowboy La Cage Aux Follies [sic]" (about cross-dressing country singers), "Grizzly" (swamp rock licks a la James Burton), and "Friend of the Family" are well-crafted songs that could have been recorded in the early fifties yet do not sound dated. This album is like taking a trip back in time to hear the way country music started out, and why it was called "hillbilly" music.

The only clunker is "Desert Storm," a song about service people in love in the Middle East, which doesn't seem to fit the CD. The packaging is minimal like the recordings. If readers loved Lester Moran and the Cadillac Cowboys they will love Live Characters Nightly.

Mighty fine, boys, mighty fine!

Andy Ziehli

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

What will they think of next

Speaking of my Russophilia, you oughta know that now you can get your favorite rock bands in Russian doll form. Check 'em out here. I like this set best.
Gorby's gettin' old

The birthmark on Mikhail Gorbachev's head looks like just another liver spot now. Check him out in this picture of his Gorbatude giving a peace prize to Yusuf Islam, a/k/a Cat Stevens. I think Misha might be starting to look a little like Malcolm Forbes, which would be the ultimate irony.

Has it really been 13 years since the USSR collapsed? Speaking of which, I could use a little perestroika myself. Mostly in the abdominals.
All natural

How I love the Willy St. Coop. Just now I overheard a young mother say to a toddler, "No, honey, we have some at home." At what was the child gesturing frantically? Candy? Cookies? No. Frozen baked tofu.

I don't think that last blog conveyed what I was thinking very well, but I'm not going to worry about it right now.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

What the world needs more of

Radio promos with little snippets of an exuberant Homer Simpson. Yes, that's what the world needs more of.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Point taken

As we learn from Lisa "Blair on 'Facts of Life'" Welchel's web site, Christianity means always having something to blog about.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Way back when

As I've reported before, I'm obsessed with TV theme songs and commercial jingles, so I was really excited to run across a web page that has an abundance of both, and all from my period: What's staggering to me is that the site features the theme from "Thinkabout," an educational program I watched at school in fifth grade (the link is on this page, about four-fifths of the way down). The "Thinkabout" theme, played dazzlingly on a Minimoog, has stuck with me all these years, and I nearly wept to hear it again.

The site's comedy page has multiple versions of the "Alice" theme (you did remember there were multiple versions of the "Alice" theme, didn't you?), as well as the theme from the first season of "Facts of Life," which featured the vocal talents of Charlotte Rae.

On the action page, I'm pretty jazzed about the theme from the 1982 season of "Trapper John, M.D." (was that an action show?), and the page devoted to network promos nearly gave me a heart attack. I love tacky network promos more than just about anything. Of particular interest is a video clip of David Letterman on the "Tonight Show" talking about NBC promos.

Thank you, webmaster, whoever you are.