Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Bob Dylan's Balls

Not long ago, I came across a recipe for meatballs that Bob Dylan had included on his Theme Time Radio Hour. At a loose end for something to cook for tonight's diner, I grabbed Bob's
ingredients and threw them together.

They were delicious. Best meatballs I've ever eaten.

The Perfect Meatball
3 minced cloves garlic
¼ cup vegetable oil (for frying)
1 pound ground meat (equal parts beef, pork, veal [I used only beef--ground pork is icky])
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
9 Saltine crackers, finely crushed
½ teaspoon salt
black pepper
dried basil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup water
1 egg
1 teaspoon tomato paste

Heat the oil over a low heat in a large Dutch oven. In a big bowl, add the meat, garlic, cheese, crackers, and spices. Mix lightly with your fingers. Don’t be shy—get into it. In a small bowl, whisk the water, the egg, and the tomato paste. Add the egg mixture to the meat mixture. Mix it lightly with your fingers. Form it into drum shapes, or balls. Cook in batches, over medium high heat, until it's browned on both sides. That will be about five minutes total. Serve 'em up with some potatoes, or some spaghetti, or just make a sandwich out of them. You're gonna love 'em.
Only thing missing: Gravy. Threw a tablespoon of flour into the pan, hotted it up, after the balls were cooked and staying hot in a 300-degree oven. One cup of beef broth, stir constantly until it's reduced by half and thickened. One cup of cream goes in, cook till it's just on the edge of boiling. Serve separately, with mashed potatoes. A nice vinaigrette salad, mebbe some bread...

GREAT balls. Bob Dylan makes DELICIOUS balls.

Best thing is, as you're cooking, you are not only free, but encouraged, to spend the whole time talking like Bob Dylan. "Well, you jis' th'ow in 'em cracker crumbs an' spices, en you jis' getcher fingers innat ground meat an' mix it awl up, don' be afraid, getcher fingers awl greezy..."

And when you're done, be sure to send any leftovers to tax-de-duc-tible char-i-ty or-gani-za-tionnnnnnnnns!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

G'Phwarg-Glarb-Flang -- ROCK!

Alexi Laiho of Children of Bodom. Freddie got this one off the DiamondVision; the live ones were not so good.

Merriwether Post Pavilion, Columbia, Md, April 26, 2008: Gigantour. Headliners: MegaDeth; openers (in order of appearance): High on Fire, Job for a Cowboy, Children of Bodom, In Flames, Megadeth.

When I was in college, my then-girlfriend left our school to go live in Boston. She ended up sharing a house with members of a struggling New Wave band called the Zoo Types.

(Wow. Here's a kick in the stomach: Googling the Zoo Types, I found out that their leading light, Tas Calo, died just last month. The guy who posted the linked announcement, Screeg Neegis, was a fixture around the house. Jesus. Memory. Th' fuckin' Internet and its psychic powers... Tas was one of the Good Ones. I'm slightly devastated.)

At any rate (now that I have my emotions under control), I have a memory of the Zoo Types, one of those recollections that plant themselves into your consciousness and then expand and flower as time reveals their fundamental truth. They decorated their house with marvelous band memories, little bits of flotsam that had crossed their path, the mementos of rock-n-roll veterans.

Taped to the refrigerator was a manifesto written by that very selfsame Tas Calo, the band's bassist. It read, in part, "I will never again play in a band in which the bass parallels the guitar."

(I mean, holy fuck! The guy crosses my mind for the first time in nearly thirty years, and I find out he died a month ago! Please, let me regain my composure...)

What Tas meant by his slightly gnomic declaration, was that, in the Post-Punk Era, the era of Rock-and-Roll Dumbness was over. If the bass plays the root note of the chord the guitar is playing, in essence, the band is playing "In-Na-Gadda-Da-Vida." The whole band is playing one stupid blooze riff in unison, and the results. while providing a nicely satisfactory heavy sound, are boring, boring, bow-ring.

The New Paradigm, according to Tas' manifesto, was what Paul McCartney, James Jamerson and Brian Wilson had already been doing for years: Creative rock-bass playing, choosing notes that somehow comment on a harmony, or widen the sonic palette of an arrangement. Take a listen to Colin Moulding's bass playing with XTC: Pure bass heaven. That's where Tas Calo wanted to go. Intelligent bass. Sophisticated bass. Bass that's been to college.

You can call me a philistine if you want -- I can take it -- but Heavy Metal has always shrieked to me of bass-paralleling-guitar. It's actually an unfair, knee-jerk judgment: Listen to the bass in "Smoke On the Water" -- it's actually doing some pretty interesting things, for all the song's Spinal Tap dumbness: Playing eighth-notes to the guitar's quarter-notes, Roger Glover actually takes the riff to nice places, commenting on it, embellishing it.

Which brings me to the concert under review. When my son brought Heavy Metal back into my roots-and-jazz-obsessed life, I didn't appreciate its presence. I think the last time I came into contact with it was a late-night "Headbangers' Ball" episode in the Eighties -- perhaps I'd fallen asleep in front of Saturday Night Live, I don't know. I do remember thinking that hair-circles were pretty fucking stupid, that the relentless hair-thrashing must lead to sore necks in the morning, and that the music was all parallel bass-and-guitars.

My eyes have been opened, and yet they remain closed. The first two acts, High On Fire and Job for a Cowboy, just couldn't have sucked worse. High on Fire -- granted, they did thank MegaDeth for even including them on the tour, so that was kinda sweet, I suppose -- but good Lord, did they suck. Job for a Cowboy, a quintet, had a fine drummer, but the stagecraft was hilariously overdone: every sixteen bars, the four-man front line would switch positions so that each instrument was playing to a different section of the theater -- Cordless Clusterfuck Choreography, I think we could deem it without cavil. The first time I laughed at it, I looked cautiously over at Freddie to gauge his reaction: To my immense relief, it was clear that he understood just exactly how jive the whole thing was too. Good kid.

Then, the great revelation of the night: Children of Bodom were fuckin' excellent! I raised the devil horns! They suffered ever so slightly from the destroyed-vocal-chords school of HM singing -- H'm flarg-m-grbl-blag! delivered from the throat of Cthulhu Himself -- but that seems to be pretty much the Way You Do It these days. But I was able, amid the Sturm und Drang, to detect actual lyricism -- moments of, like, actual melody radiating forth. And Alexi Laiho can fuckin' shred! I was quietly pleased that my son, the flesh of my flesh, showed the excellent taste to pick a quite fine band to go teenaged-gaga over.

I do have to say, I was impressed by the drumming in every minute of five-and-a-half hours of Heavy Metal. The boys in the audience (about 90% of the house, average age about 20) were glomming onto the guitar shreddage; I was most impressed with the drumming. So that's where all the great modern drummers went! Seriously, keeping sixteenth-notes going on two kick-drums is seriously athletic work, and every one of these guys kept it up for minutes at a time.

In fact, that's what started me thinking about bass playing in HM in the first place. That concert-space was rigged to let those sixteenth-note kick-drums just roar; the bass guitar was pretty much a sonic afterthought. So if the Kick-Drum Is King, why, the thought occurs, not let the bass do some independent work? Why not let it reach for color notes, for non-root component notes? It's not like the bottom end is gonna suffer, with all that enormously compressed Heavy Metal Thunder coming from the kick drum?

Oh, and, by the way...

...MegaDeth can just suck my cock.

Calculated, slick, professional, whatever you want to call it, it was exactly the same fucking show I saw in 1976, at the already-washed-up Uriah Heep's gig at the Koncertgebauw in the Hague. My first rock show. All of 16 years old, I walked away nauseated. Same smarmy showmanship. Same self-satisfied rockstar chest-puffing. Same fuckin' stage moves, even: On prearranged cue, the bass and the second lead guitar skip across the stage and switch places, play to alternate sides of the house. Yecch. Lame shreddage, feeble audience-puffery, clearly rehearsed "sponteneity." Revolting.

They did open the bass up, though. Oh -- and the only harmony singing of the night -- if limited to about four bars in the opening number. That's why they're the pros.

I'd like to see the same audience turn out for Gid Tanner and the Georgia Skillet Lickers. See what happens. Yes, sir.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Pray For Me

Or at least my precious, precious eardrums...

I am taking Freddie this afternoon to see Gigantour at Merriwether Post. Perhaps you have not been privileged to know of this phenomenon that is sweeping the nation's youth; I know I hadn't heard of it until Freddie started following me around the house, making sighing noises, and muttering, "I wanna see Children of Bottom!"


Turns out Children of Bodom, a hard-rockin', not-talkin' Finnish outfit, is touring with In Flames (Sweden) and MegaDeth (The Eighties) this summer. This is what I have voluntarily subjected myself to, for the love of a son.

Ah, well. You'll find me cowering behind the concession stand, fingers in my ears, humming Buddy Holly songs to myself as I gently rock back and forth. You know. Self-comforting behavior.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Gimme Some o' That Technology!

I've been snuffling around at Wikipedia, trying to figure out the answer to a conundrum for my book. Not to quote it or anything (oooh, you naughty boy!) but just to understand the thing.

I've "known" as a matter of received knowledge that these old Victor 78s I've been listening to rather obsessively could be no longer than three minutes, because that's how much a 78 side could contain. But as I look at the timings of these things in digital format (because, pout pout, my editor won't buy me a Victrola and a stack of eyewateringly rare and expensive 78s, the catchpenny swine), many of them are quite a bit longer than that. In particular, "Darlin' Cora," recorded by B. F. Shelton with Ralph Peer in 1927, is 3:50 long, according to iTunes.

At any rate. My problem to solve. But reading a Wiki article on the history of recording technology, I came across this paragraph, which elicited a hearty guffaw. Also, I laughed.
In the 1930s radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi developed a system of magnetic sound recording using steel tape. This was the same material used to make razor blades, and not surprisingly the fearsome Marconi-Stille recorders were considered so dangerous that technicians had to operate them from another room for safety. Because of the high recording speeds required, they used enormous reels about one metre in diameter, and the thin tape frequently broke, sending jagged lengths of razor steel flying around the studio.
Yes, I can see why it didn't catch on....

George Martin, on the talkback mic: I'm afraid we've a spot of trouble, lads.

John Lennon: What is it, Georgie?

Martin: Well, you see, we've had to call an ambulance for Geoff Emerick; I'm afraid there's a spot of blood on the tape op's chair. And on the ceiling, too, now that I look. Oh, dear, and splashed about the studio walls, too, rather higgledy-piggledy. It's going to take ever so long for EMI to have the cleaners in.

Paul McCartney: It's that bloody Marconi machine again, innit? That's the fourth tape op we've lost this week!

Martin: Yes, the razor-sharp, high-tension recording medium wrapped itself around his head and torso a right treat. Rather looked like a Chinaman undergoing the Death of a Thousand Cuts three months in. Well, bright spot: Geoff's screams of agony have died away somewhat. Don't know if that's because it's stopped being quite so dreadfully painful, or because he's weakened from loss of blood. Blessing for the rest of us, at any rate. Shall we run though that new one, then? What is it? "You Should Know Your Mother"?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

He Takes the Call

Time: Perhaps 2004.
Scene: Men's room, Former Employer. A four-seater.

Your Correspondent is in Seat One, enjoying the Morning Excremeditation, with a copy of perhaps a Dilbert book, or some other light reading. I am alone, as is my earnest wont. (I cannot make Those Noises with anyone else in the room. I just cannot. I will wait till somebody leaves before committing those mortifying, though, I recognize, thoroughly human, noises. I have experienced physical pain in order to avoid this mortification. Call me an eccentric.)

Somebody comes in. Ah, nuts. Maybe he's just in for a Number One. Maybe he'll just wash his hands and go.

Nope. Stall Four. Down go the pants. In for the Long Haul. Boogers.

A chirping sound comes from Stall Four. His cellphone goes off.





Before he could even get to the second syllable of "Hello?" I was pants up and gone.

He! took! the! call!

If you want to grow old with me, if you want to sit with me in a rocking chair on a porch in our dotages, drinking moonshine whiskey, smoking cheap cigars and telling whoppers about girls we've had and cars we've boosted, you will never -- that's never -- have taken that call. You will have perhaps fished it out of your pocket in the pool of trouser at your feet, flipped it open, seen who it was, and flipped it shut -- and the reason you will have done that is to shut the fucking thing up, so others can go about their business in peace without a fucking cellphone ringing six feet away.

You will not have taken that call.

Jesus Suppurating Christ on a frying pan. Civilization's over, kids. We're headed for a New Dark Age. A Nude Ark Age. Blame cellphones. I know I do.

Freddie Amuses

Driving home from soccer practice yesterday. The news is on the radio -- the Pope dominates (as he does). Freddie (14) muses, "When he was young, do you think the Pope wanted to grow up to be the Pope? Like, he aspired to be the Pope?"

I thought for a bit. "I don't know about the current guy. I do think the last one, John Paul II, did want to be Pope when he was pretty young."

"So do you think that when he was a kid, he'd be outside in the back yard, like, pretending to be Pope? Blessing stuff? Waving to imaginary crowds?"

The ensuing mental picture was worthy of a chuckle...

Friday, April 11, 2008

Thank You, Donnie G.

Don Geronimo, half of the Washington afternoon-drive radio comedy team of Don and Mike, retired today after 23 years with Mike O'Meara, and over 40 years in radio. His last show this afternoon was a somber affair, in which he revealed that doing the show after the violent and untimely death of his wife Freda Sorce a couple of years ago was simply too full of painful reminders. He hasn't been psychically right since then, and I wish him all the best in his healing.

Don could be a spoiled child on the air. He could be painfully cruel to idiotic callers. He could bore the listener with his petulance at the station's management. But when that show was hitting on all cylinders, when it was really working, it was unquestionably the funniest thing on the radio. I don't listen to something daily for 17 years without being convinced of its quality.

Other shock-jocks who try to be funny just get the formula wrong, wrong, wrong. They are aggrieved. They are sarcastic. They seek victims. The Don and Mike Show first repelled me when I heard an early incarnation of it in the late Eighties, at WAVA. They too were cruel and sarcastic and aggrieved.

When they moved to WJFK in the late 80s, something truly clicked. The show became utterly compelling listening. The personalities of the hosts and their coterie of side-men gelled. They learned the subtleties of sarcasm, what attracted and what repelled the listener. The show became, rather than a series of preplanned "bits," simply a four-hour-long conversation among three or four people in the studio and unscreened callers, reacting to events of the day. The show they put on on Sept. 11, 2001, will go into the record books as one of the most cathartic and healthy things ever broadcast on radio. If for nothing else, I'll be eternally grateful to them for talking me down off the windowsill that day.

Don began his radio career, he revealed today, at the age of 11, as a volunteer for Armed Forces Radio. He is roughly my age, and I know what I was doing at 11. It wasn't radio. He came to the radio comedy business late, after a long career as a wandering record-spinner. His contempt for what radio has become -- a marketing-driven sarcasm of its former self -- was daily palpable. In his chest there beats a rock-n-roll heart. He is a patriot.

He got his first job as a radio deejay at the age of 16, after lying about his age. He became an astonishingly adept board-operator -- a skill he put to great comedic use on the Don and Mike Show, assembling and playing sound-clips that ran into each other surrealistically. One of their best late bits was a huge assembly of quotes from John Wayne movies, which they would use as a kind of Magic Eight-Ball, asking the Wayne Oracle questions and playing the clips at random. Very funny, very Dada.

But Geronimo's talking about his experience as an itinerant deejay provided, for me, the finest and highest moments of the show. He would adopt an exaggerated deejay voice to "talk in" records (the Don and Mike Show didn't actually play records, this was all for comedy's sake). You "talk in" a record by doing deejay patter over its opening strains. The best deejay knows how to time his patter to end the instant the vocal begins; absolutely no one in the world is better at this than Don Geronimo. Don is very proud of the fact that he once "talked in" "Stairway to Heaven"; the opening recorder-and-guitar passage is about two minutes long. You never talk in "Stairway to Heaven." It's a Deejay Law.

Don's funniest radio story? I think it was the time that he described losing a job in some podunk town for getting the phrasing just wrong in his patter: "It's a beautiful Saturday, highs in the nineties, so wear something flimsy, gals... Traffic and weather together on the eights here on KRCG, and now, everybody Come On Eileen!"

He did it on purpose, of course. I told you, a rock-and-roll heart.

I had to listen to today's farewell show in my car, as that's where I've heard the huge majority of the show over the last 17 years. In his last segment, he spun a couple of records, just for old times' sake. The first he dedicated to his family: Jimmy Buffett's "Come Monday." I was picking up a pizza for the fam, and I listened to that segment sitting in the pizzeria's parking lot. The second song, which, of course, he talked in perfectly, was dedicated to the fans. The Beatles' "In My Life."

I'm afraid I blubbed a bit.

Don, I'm going to miss the shit out of you, you imperfect, petulant, childish bastard. God Speed, Radio God!

I highly recommend popping over to hear some Don Geronimo air-checks from the late 70s and early 80s. And ask yourself as you're listening to them, What have they done to my radio?

Saturday, April 05, 2008

OK, You Rock-and-Roll Patriots...

Draw me a connection between Frank Zappa and "Jesus Christ Superstar."

You need only two degrees of separation.

These degrees may include song lyrics, band members, musical passages, or biting and chewing poodles.

Two degrees shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be two. Three shalt thou not enumerate, neither enumerate thou one, excepting that thou then proceed to two. Four is right out. Two degrees. Of separation.