Monday, October 31, 2005

Peradventure, Somebody's Confused Miracle in the Backyard

I was enjoying another scooter ride to work when the oil light came on. Being a scooter novice I'll be the first to admit I don't know thing one about scooter maintenance. I'll further admit that even when I become a scooter riding veteran given my history with automobiles and other mechanical items I'll likely remain quite ignorant about scooter maintenance. I do know enough that when the oil light comes on it's probably a good idea to add some oil and not ignore the warning.

On my way home I stopped at Scooterville in Dinkytown and as I was adding oil to my bike I mentioned to Bob, the owner of the store, that I likely was going to upgrade to a better scooter next summer. Bob said that he had just gotten in an used scooter the very model I'd likely upgrade to- and it only had 600 miles on it. When asked why the owner had sold it Bob said that the guy had gotten cancer after buying the scooter and had died shortly after. After Bob and I worked out the details, I bought the used scooter. It has bigger tires than my old one and has a top speed of around 45 miles per hour as opposed to the 40 miles per hour of my first bike.

It's a much smoother ride- and when I hit the gas the power is evident where my old scooter no matter how hard I tried to accelerate I always felt like I was puttering along.

The first night I had my new used scooter I couldn't get it started. When I finally got it fired up the next morning it kept stalling every time I came to a stop. So as I had the guys at Scooterville clean out the fuel intake tube and look at the carburetor I was mindful that maybe the bike wasn't as good as advertised- no matter all the unanimous glowing reviews I had read on the Internet before I decided to buy it.

Sure enough every morning I rode it to work the scooter stalled at nearly every stop light. It isn't a pleasant feeling to be there in the middle of traffic and when needing to scoot finding yourself at a complete standstill. Worse yet- the electric starter on the handlebar didn't restart the bike so instead I'd have to put it up on its kick stand and kick start it.

Somehow I kept not only the bike but my faith that it would one day be a smooth running machine. As I cycled through fresh gas the bike began to run better. Sure enough once it ran on a couple of tanks of fresh gas, the stalling problem went away. Turned out it merely was bad gas- and who among us hasn't had bad gas a time or two?

The first day the bike was running smoothly I went out to my garage, inserted the key to lift the seat to get to the storage area of my scooter. The key turned but the seat would not lift. This wasn't only a matter of inconvenience at not having access to the storage area- it also meant I couldn't get to the gas tank. On my ride to work all I could think about was that given the timing of this latest setback it was almost if my scooter was haunted. Maybe its original owner wasn't so keen on someone else riding his bike.

I brought my scooter into Scooterville once again and Bob monkeyed with the latch. He got the seat up and found that a screw to one of the brackets holding the latch in place came loose and the bracket was holding the latch in a crooked position. Problem solved although Bob admitted he had never run across that particular problem before.


I thought about riding my scooter to the Paul McCartney show at the Xcel Energy Center last Wednesday night but given that I still lacked confidence that it wasn't somehow haunted I decided I didn't want to get stranded in downtown St. Paul late at night.

I got my McCartney tickets the day they went on sale not really wanting to spend as much as I did ($144 for a single ticket!) because after having seen Paul twice before, I knew this show wasn't going to be all that different from the other two. I don't need to hear his versions of his most famous Beatle songs ("Get Back," "Back in the USSR," "Let it Be," "Yesterday,") again. The original versions were quite adequate thank you very much. Still I knew that if I didn't go I'd regret it the day after the concert.

The show seemed to take forever to begin. I didn't have my watch on but I'm assuming it was a little before eight when the piped in classical music stopped and this guy came on to the side of the stage and stood behind what looked like a large computer console. He began to do a DJ dance mix of several songs from the McCartney catalog that likely weren't going to be played later on in the evening including "Old Siam Sir," "Oh Woman, Oh Why," "Morse Moose and the Grey Goose," and "What's That You're Doing?" The thumping electronic bass pulsated rhythmically throughout the mix and a barrage of colors filled the overhead scoreboard screen flashing patterns like a screen saver gone wild.

After about fifteen minutes of this a film about McCartney began. Good God Paul, enough is enough already. When the man and his band finally appeared they opened with a lackluster version of "Magical Mystery Tour" but quite honestly just about any song would have been appreciated and sounded fine after the long wait.

I clearly was in the minority but I was glad that the second song was the less predictable "Flaming Pie" from his 1997 CD of the same name. I love the piano part and the song had a momentum that was irresistible (even though I've found the recorded version to be quite resistible).

The rest of the show followed this jarring pattern. The crowd clearly got into the show whenever Paul played a familiar Beatles or Wings song like "Good Day Sunshine," or "Band on the Run," but the energy level of the Energy Center took a dive when a lesser known song was played. Yet it was in those moments that I absolutely enjoyed the concert more than any other I've seen in a long long time. I never thought I'd get a chance to be in the same room when Paul sang songs like "Til There Was You" or "Helter Skelter" or "Please Please Me."

As I was getting more and more into the concert it struck me that more than any other artist, Paul McCartney has written a song that has been the soundtrack to just about all of the significant moments that have made up my life. As he sang an energetic "I'll Get You" I couldn't help but remember how that song was the one I heard in my noggin in 9th grade math class as I secretly snuck glances at Sue Weiss, the girl I was madly in love with at the time, as she worked on her problems. "Imagine I'm in love with you, it's easy 'cause I know/I've imagined I'm in love with you, many, many, many times before..."

I was glad he sang my three all time favorite Beatle songs, "Hey Jude," "For No One," and "I've Got a Feeling." "Hey Jude" has been his sing along closer since 1990 and for me it never loses its power as Paul aptly shows (and tells) how to make a sad song better. This evening's version of "For No One" was stunning and inspired. Accompanied only by his piano playing and Paul Wickens' synthesizer (recreating the wailing french horn part) I again was taken back to a moment from the past when I heard the song for the first time and was grateful how it captured so clearly my feelings for another Weiss lass, Sue's younger sister Karen. "And in her eyes you see nothing. No sign of love behind the tears cried for no one..."

"I've Got a Feeling" was a song Steve Olson, my best friend in junior and senior high and I used to belt out at the top of our voices on bus trips in the dark. "I've got a feeling, a feeling I can't hide" I'd sing as Steve sang the counterpart "Everybody had a hard year..." part.

There were other highlights as well. I loved Paul's live versions of "I Will" and "I'll Follow the Sun" which are essentially the same song only with different words. The latter featured four punchy coda/reprise endings that Paul explained were because the song was so short.

The song that made the price of admission more than worthwhile however was "Too Many People" from Paul's 1971 LP, Ram. It's long been one of my favorite McCartney songs because it's full of anger, an emotion he doesn't express very often. "Too many people holding back this is crazy and not like me..." Fans and critics took the lyrics of the song to be a slap at John Lennon (among them Lennon himself) especially the line, "Too many people preaching practices, don't let them tell you what ought to be..." especially since the cover of the LP featured a picture of one beetle fucking another.

The live treatment of the song was full of venom and joy. God I was glad I was there to hear it.

The live versions of the four new songs he did from his latest CD Chaos and Creation in the Backyard were full of an intimacy and immediacy lacking in most of the rest of the show. He dedicated "Follow Me" to his wife Heather and the song expressed the inspiration and guidance she has provided in the years that have included significant losses to a man who has always been about getting back, and yesterday, and finding a way back home.

I even enjoyed yet another performance of "Maybe I'm Amazed." This time I appreciated how the lyrics accurately reflect how I feel about the one I'm currently in love with- the one that has taught all about feeling the power. "Maybe I'm afraid of the way I love you/Maybe I'm amazed at how you pulled me out of time/Hung me on a line/Maybe I'm amazed how I really need you..."


I was in the still new to me upper wing of my house (formerly known as the attic) listening to the new Bob Dylan song "Tell Ol Bill" from the North Country soundtrack. The song is a foot tappin' country stomp. I broke out into an impromptu jig as my three cats all sat wide-eyed watching me. Diego-san was closest, standing by my bed. Thompson was further away standing outside the bathroom and Thelonious stood farthest away at the head of the stairs. The boyz couldn't take their eyes off of me. "This is new" their perplexed faces seem to say. As I sashayed over near Thompson he bolted away in fear. I guess it was a little too new and thus scary to him.


Liz Phair and Paul McCartney may not seem like they do but they do share a lot in common. Both had extreme early success that they have ever since tried with mixed success to overcome. In other words their early work has haunted and shaped every thing they have done since. Liz's first CD Exile in Guyville received so much deserved critical acclaim and fan devotion that every thing she has followed with seems lacking in every way.

That Liz's Thursday First Ave show featured so many songs from her first CD and only three from her newest effort Somebody's Miracle was more than a little surprising. That the older songs display so much more power and depth can't be lost on Liz. She did open with a sterling "Everything to Me" from the new CD and in its live context it was a compelling choice for an opener. "I bet it makes you laugh/Watching me work so hard to reach you/You never gave a damn/ About all those things I did to please you..." The CD version of the song to me seems like an insipid broken hearted love song to a lost love. By opening her show with a song that features the chorus "Do you really know me at all?/Would you take the time to catch me if I fell..." she framed the song in a whole different light- a slap at her fans/critics who don't seem to appreciate her music anymore.

The acoustic arrangement of "Everything to Me" featured Liz alone with her guitarist. The following song, "Baby Got Going" with similar backing was a great example of how if you listen to Liz's voice you can't help but marvel at how perceptive she can be (even in moments like last Saturday's dreadful off tune version of "God Bless America" at the first game of this year's World Series). After "Polyester Bride" Liz made a point that her guitarist had been singing the wrong words to the song for a couple of years. She may have been justified when she accused the male portion of the human race of not caring about the lyrics of songs. Given the reaction towards her new CD one has to wonder if those listening are really hearing what she is singing or if the gloss of the production leads to selective deafness. Her performance of the new songs (and she didn't even do my favorite- "Got My Own Thing") demonstrated that although the artist is in a very different place in her life- her ability to express what she is thinking about is as skilled as ever.

Standing with the Blue-Eyed editor in the (thankfully) non-smoking First Ave crowd I felt like we were with an old friend again. The only part of the show I didn't like so much was standing next to the world's two worst dancers, two women who were not only jerky but who didn't seem to have a clue about moving to the beat of the music. I wished I had a video recorder so I record them and show Thompson the three legged cat that in comparison I'm a blippin Fred Astaire. It's all about perspective. These women were there with a man/woman, a hulking being dressed in a dress and no adam's apple and with very masculine hands and features who kept backing into my dear friend who was doing her best to get into the concert

Perhaps the best part of the show was the seemingly off the cuff moments like when Liz sang a great version of "Girl's Room" without her band as her guitarist was taking care of some technical problems and her acapella version of Sixpence None the Richer's song "There She Goes."

Liz closed the show with a mesmerizing version of "Chopsticks" that contains the, this is an artist with something clever to say, about "doing it backwards" and the devastatingly confessing that after all is said and done, deep down she is "secretly timid."

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