Monday, May 29, 2006

The Fourth Boy

We all know the story. They were just about to hit the big time. They had conquered their home town and beyond and with every appearance the legend began to grow. Four cheeky lads. But behind the scenes there was discontent. The rhythm guitarist and the bass player, who shared singing duties, were said to be jealous of the drummer's dark brooding handsome good looks. Or that's what the drummer's mom said when asked to explain why the rhythm guitarist and the bass player ended up firing the drummer and replacing him with a sickly (and somewhat homely) lad.

We'll never know if the Beatles would have been as big, or bigger had Pete Best remained the drummer and Ringo Starr had been left to bum around back in Liverpool. We'll never know if Pete was a better drummer than Ringo. We may never know the real reason for the personnel change.

Whatever. This past week may have been just as momentous as the one where the Beatles switched drummers. This was the week where the three boyz of a certain Hamline Avenue brick abode were joined by a ghostly fourth finally shedding the baggage of being part of an involuntary quartet where the parts of the trio added up to a much greater sum than being lumped in with the spare wheel who wasn't one of their own species.

The aquatic newbie may not have the graying good looks of who he's theoretically replacing in the group but he is much more likely to add charisma to the chemistry.

For those of you in need of a program in order to keep track of the players here's a quick run down: Thompson and Diego-san are the skilled duo that were originally brought together through a quirk of fate. Diego-san is the cute charmer with multiple, if at times cloying talents. Thompson is the neurotic edgy one. Together their differing personalities blend into something magical.

Theo is younger than Thompson and Diego-san and sometimes follows the two around like a lost little brother. But Theo has his own abilities that can't be overlooked even if sometimes they're overshadowed. He's also probably the most likely to return to his eastern spiritual roots in search for answers.

The newcomer? He's Bucky the beta fish. The auburn hair lass was kind enough to buy Bucky to give him a new home. And granted he isn't an actual resident of the household that holds the other three boyz, rather he's an absentee member who lives a ways down the street in the Hennepin County Government Center. Bucky isn't a flashy beta fish- he's mostly silver with flashes of a spectacular shade of blue. He seems to perk up when the overhead lights are turned on and the dour and increasingly sour office holder finally appears in the morning.

Bucky's small goggle shaped tank with a plastic plant and purple rocks sits right next to a photo of the late great Mr. Max- the Elvis Presley of cats (without the self indulgence and self destruction). Bucky seems leery of the image of Max and yet often spends a lot of time on that side of the tank as if curious about that sweet face looking in on things.

It's quite possible that the group of four will never be in the same location at the same time but the bond is there in spirit nonetheless. Each provide a great reminder to one not always keen on life itself, that this moment, this shared time, maybe the best of all, no matter what has gone down before.

And like the Beatles' manager Brian Epstein, the one responsible for bringing this group of four together has his manic moments but nothing is ever enough to overwhelm how proud he remains of all these special beings and how lucky he is to know them. Yes the group may not have the ability to surpass the Dixie Chicks (the 21st Century answer to the Beatles) as the most popular group of the day. And yes everyone involved has to tip their caps or beanies or hats to the country trio's great new song, "Not Ready to Make Nice" that channels anger and hurt in such a searing way, proving an artful testament to the knowledge that time doesn't really heal all wounds. But this is not to say that one day the four won't find the way to do something just as big, just as impressive. Just you watch.

Monday, May 22, 2006


One gets a false sense of exercise from scooter riding. You're out in the fresh air moving rapidly and yet riding on a scooter hardly qualifies as cardiovascular activity in any way other than the scares you get from being amongst inattentive drivers.

That's unfortunate for those of us who love scooter riding and who also are increasingly aware of how tight the old pants are getting. Besides scooter riding the closest thing I get to exercise these days is spinning the dial of my iPod.

Thus I was rather glad when the softball season started a couple of weeks ago. Every season the fear exists that this will be the year that the key to my softball game, my legs/speed will finally give way to my advanced age. I do not have enough power to be an intimidating batter though I do have to say my hand eye coordination all but makes up for my poor eyesight. My glove is above average but my range is about as good as a satellite radio placed in a Panic Room.

The part of my game that gets the other team's attention is my speed. Other than Greg Gagne I'm not sure there's a human alive that in his hey day was quicker in going from first to third. (Part of that is knowing the proper angles to take to get from here to there even faster.) The first two games of the season have proven that my game isn't entirely behind me quite yet. I haven't quite been consistent in my hitting (too many popups) but I've nailed a couple pitches on the button. More importantly despite not using my legs at all this winter, I still find there's some juice there when I turn on the jets.

I'm almost as fast as Theo the cat who displays his speed daily on a regular basis as he races Thompson, Diego-san and myself up the stairs in an impressive fashion.

I continue to love playing softball. My attempt to transition into becoming a curler knowing that my years as a softball player are numbered but my years as a curler could conceivably go on for awhile, have gone down with mixed results. I like playing curling but I dreamingly lose myself playing softball.

Of course a lot of that loves comes from my lifelong love of the game of baseball. That love is the only love of my love (with one rolling exception) that has continued to grow with time. Last year my friend asked me to join his fantasy baseball league. I had participated in another league a couple of years ago and had a decent time so I was glad to be asked to play again. It's a National League fantasy league (plus the Twins) with a few other American Leaguers included from years past when teams were made up of players from both leagues.

I inherited a team that included Joe Mauer, Alfonso Soriano, Mark Buerhle, Billy Wagner, and Torii Hunter. Before the season began we had a draft with a certain amount of dollars to spend on our entire roster. The draft involved each owner throwing out the name of a player and everyone having the opportunity to bid on the player.

I wasn't too happy with the team I ended up with after the draft. I was forced to take some players I never liked much (like Raul Mondesi and Doug Mientkiewicz) but by watching the waiver wire and free agent pool I was able to mold my team into something much better as the season progressed. I found myself in first place for much of the year even though I didn't have a single National League all star. (Soriano and Buerhle made the American League squad.)

The Grey Duck Fantasy League has been around for nearly a decade and in my first season I was able to do what several owners that had been around for years had never done- I won the league. No one in the history of the league had repeated as champs so this year I have my work cut out for me. (Who issued the truism that says that it's much more difficult to repeat than win in the first place?)

I like the team I started with much better than last year. Right now I find myself mired in second place far behind the leader. I don't have enough pitching to win this thing unless youngsters like Francisco Liriano, Scott Olsen, and Gavin Floyd can put together solid seasons. I find myself checking the National League boxscores first thing in the morning and have become somewhat obsessed with the players on my fantasy team.

Having been a critic of the geekiness of fantasy sports (football in particular that has its participants far too obsessed with statistics rather than unpredictability of the sport) I never thought I'd find myself so involved in what's going on with other teams in other towns. I maybe the only person in Minnesota who gets upset when Hanley Ramirez of the Florida Marlins has an OHfer game. I love that my team, the Osaka Cat's Meow continues to perform at a high level validating my hunches about certain players. I love scouring newspapers trying to find the next great player. Still I realize fantasy baseball is to real ball what scooter riding is to real exercise. Yet the benefit of this game is that it gives me something to think about during my free as a bird scooter rides.

And in a matter of the media finally getting it right...

Monday, May 15, 2006


By far the best birthday gift I ever got was back in the fourth or fifth grade when Mom and Dad gave me a home radio station play set that I spotted in the Sears' catalog. It was a package set complete with a turntable, microphone, headphones, and marker board that allowed me to set the radio station's schedule and songlists.

A short while later I got a recordable 8-track player that allowed me to spend most of my weekends creating radio shows that featured my not so good radio mimicry voice and burgeoning 45 record collection.

My station featured the stone solid Stoney Duncan's new show in the morning and the wacky Figgy Figueroa noon time stint, a show that was a bit too close for comfort to WCCO-AM's Steve Cannon's. The day's highlight however was probably Shotgun Smalley's drive time show featuring all the latest hits from Barry Manilow to Paper Lace.

Somewhere in my Father's house are a bunch of 8-track tapes featuring the last broadcasts from WQSR's many talented DJs. I'm sure if listened to now they would fall neatly in line with the hall of fame tapes of Eddie Cantor, Fred Allen, and all those other classic radio shows.

It should be clearly stated that one of my many cocky misconceptions about my own abilities (and it ranks right up there with my belief my baseball abilities are of Major League caliber) is that my few talents rise above even the given geniuses of this world. I've never shaken the belief that the few things I do well, I do better than anyone I know.

Among these hidden talents lay the DJing skills that could light up the radio dial like no one from here to Topeka. Up until this past week, my favorite DJ was the Current's Mary Lucia, who is among the few people left in this world who has the ability to make me chortle aloud.

Having just received my XM Satellite radio, I have fallen under the spell of a new favorite DJ whose skills I have to admit go far beyond my own. The second installment of Bob Dylan's "Theme Time Radio Hour" proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that it's possible to hear something brand new that still sounds as if it has existed forever beyond time.

There are several things to recommend about Dylan's show. First and foremost is his obvious knowledge and love of music. This has been evident before in the covers of songs he has done over the years. The songs DJ Bob plays from Ruth Brown to LL Cool J, reinforce the man has a great ear. The other thing that has been a delightful reminder is Dylan's wicked sense of humor. In the first theme time hour that featured songs about weather, he introduced a Judy Garland tune saying something that Ms. Garland was from Minnesota, "just like Prince."

His second theme time hour featured songs about moms and included a wonderful opening poem about all the things moms do for their kids. "M is for all the things mom has done; O is for the other things mom has done; T is for all the things mom has done..." My favorite part of the mom show was Bob's introduction to Julia Lee's "Mama Don't Allow It." "This is Julia Lee, one of those singer/piano players. Lots of double entrendres, making her very popular in Kansas City." HUH?! It reminded me of the first week's observation that Chicago really isn't the Windy City but rather that distinction should obviously go to Dodge City, Kansas.

It's a long road that carries one from the days young dreamers used to hide a radio underneath their pillows late at night to try and catch the 50,000 watt stations located throughout the country to now where we have satellite's beaming down independent channels providing an alternative to the generic stations that one dials up on a regular radio. That new/old road crosses with another that has someone somewhere losing himself in dreams on a system advertised in the Sears catalog.

Monday, May 8, 2006

Mad Town

"Remember when I revealed myself to you in the car/Listening to 'Rock 'n Roll Animal' as the night got dark/Your mother called up and said/'Go ahead girl and get yourself free...'"
-Ike Reilly

I've learned to live my life via the George Costenza method. I like my life circles to remain separate. I don't like my circles colliding. I see life as a great big snowman where the three big body parts represent different life cycles and one is placed on top of the next. There of course is some leakage as things get too hot and one's form starts to melt and dissolve. But no matter how it ends up, spiritually the parts are meant to be separate and distinct because that's the way we are built.

The last time I stayed in Madison, Wisconsin was the summer between my junior and senior years of college. I remember walking around Lake Michigan late one evening, near the student union (the only student union in the country that sells beer to its patrons). I was slowly/rapidly inevitably falling in love having just gone to my first Bob Dylan show, the one where the songs were nearly indistinguishable as the echoes bounced around inside the Metrodome. I also was falling into a sea of trouble with the girl who according to a daily Google search may have been swept away lost in the Tsunami.

This time, the trip to Madison (Scootertown, USA) wasn't in any way meant to recapture or re-experience anything that's gone before. Who remembers all that? This time it was truly an excursion in getting out of here, getting away to somewhere/anywhere if only temporarily. Despite a four hour delay caused initially by a flat tire and ultimately by a full four tire replacement and brake repair to the tune of over $1000, believe me (if you can) by the time we reached Madison I was glad to be there again and quite looking forward to the weekend.

"Trample on your yesterdays/But never on your tomorrows..."
-Ike Reilly (again)

My soon to be graduated graduate school friend and I spent Friday night finding a place to stay (and eat). We planned on dining at an Ethiopian restaurant her friend had recommended but ended up next door through a confusing door alignment at an impressive Afghani restaurant instead.

The next day began with a continental breakfast served at the converted dorm/meeting center that fell into our price range. We overheard the conversation of a table of people who were in town to celebrate their 50th anniversary of some moment of life, either a high school graduation or a college reunion.

I don't really have a lot of time these days for the marking of time. I could never have even a ten year plan because after all that has gone down (and wrong) I never figured I'd live this long.

We spent all of Saturday doing a lot of walking- around the Farmer's Market and the lovely university campus. Originally when this trip was planned the reason we gave was I had heard from an up and comer/two timer that Iron Chef Morimoto had a restaurant in Madison. That was enough reason to drop and run. Our end goal then was to find his restaurant even though it was a rumor stirring the fumes we were driving on. We ended up spending our last meal at an impressive Japanese restaurant named "Restaurant Muramoto" that was so well designed (and the food so great, especially a duck based sushi roll) that it just had to be connected to an Iron Chef despite the spelling discrepancy.

We returned home, me thankfully with a new be-bop hat on head (dispelling my Dad's notion that I never wear hats anymore) and a hand made clay clock that features the many positions of a black cat (who resembles Diego-san's shadowy self) spaced out across the face to count down the time that passes away each and every day.

None of this would have made any sense whatsoever of course if not the thankful appearance of a newly released Ike Reilly EP, The Last Demonstration. The six song mix is a combination of demos of already released songs and songs that weren't included on Ike's last CD. What is learned upon this latest release of our most underrated (God why aren't people listening to him) artist? Only that it's wonderful to hear sketches of songs that Ike has since more fully developed.

Another what the hell does this mean question that comes to mind is how Ike's last two CDs (Sparkle in the Finish and Junkie Faithful) have been named from lyrics to songs that were ultimately left off the full length CDs in favor of subsequent EPs. Not all may agree but I love the rawness, and the weariness, and the unpolished vocals Ike gives us on The Last Demonstration. This is a naked soul creating something new from something that's soon to be rather than what ever was. And that's exactly what a scooter riding Mini Cooper owner blindly sees as the route to take, the way to go, even if he has no clue as to what a ten year plan may or can look like ever again.

Monday, May 1, 2006

Satchel Paige May Have Been Right

As a long time sufferer of a bout of Agoraphobia I now think I'm the premier text example of a brand new affliction, Rearendaphobia.

My fear of leaving my home was at its very worst during the late '80's/early 90's (my so called "Blue Period") when working myself up to drive myself to work was a chore unto itself. Somehow I survived all that and didn't find myself one who stayed safe at home at all times with his 20,000 cats (not yet) and have forced myself to do my share of traveling and getting out over the years.

So I allowed myself to feel some pride over time mostly overcoming one of my gazillion phobias. That was until this past week when I discovered I've come down with another crippling fear. Having been hit from behind twice in the past month, I find myself every time I'm at a stoplight looking in my rearview mirror clenching up whenever I see a vehicle coming up from behind at a speed I think maybe too fast to stop.

This new fear was at its worst on Thursday when I planned to stop after work at Circuit City (my personal boycott of Best Buy continues thank you very much Jennie Haire), to buy myself a satellite radio. In the preceding days I had the pleasure of hearing a sample of Bob Dylan's new XM Satellite radio show via the Internet. The show was quite entertaining, as Dylan featured folk and blues songs revolving around the theme of weather.

Listening to Dylan in this new format I couldn't help but picture the image of a young Bob tuning in to his scratchy portable radio while growing up in Hibbing trying to listen to Hank Williams and Odetta. This image pretty much has been influenced by the same imagery presented in the early scenes of Walk the Line where the young Johnny Cash/Joquin Phoenix sits transfixed by his family's radio trying to tune in the Carter Family's radio show.

Just as I was about to leave my house for Circuit City I decided I didn't want to chance getting rear ended once again. So I got online and ordered the radio from the XM website complete with the additional $11 shipping charges.

Having this new fear as the kids say, bummed me out. I have enough trouble sleeping at night without worrying about the next time someone will crash into me and my vehicle. (If only I could keep moving maybe then no one will hit me). That's when the following day I climbed into my now scarred shiny red Mini-Cooper and plopped the new Susanna Hoffs/Matthew Sweet (Sid and Susie) CD, Under the Covers Vol. 1 into my car's CD player. The music that blasted out of my speakers made me crack a rather broad smile.

Back during my self inflicted and so called "Blue Period" I discovered this obscure LP called Rainy Day that was as sunny as could be despite the name, featuring many L.A. musicians including members of the Bangles, the Dream Syndicate, Three O'Clock, and the Rain Parade. Susanna's cover of Dylan's "I'll Keep It With Mine" and Lou Reed's "I'll Be Your Mirror" was the fuel that kept me going for a month or two.

Under the Covers is kind of a sequel to Rainy Day. Sweet and Hoffs cover a whole bunch of 60's tunes with such love and sun that the music glimmers. Among the many great songs covered are the Beatles' "And Your Bird Can Sing" that swings with a great deal of fun, and the Velvet Underground's "Sunday Morning" that almost matches the magic of the original version.

Hearing the bugged eyed Susanna's lead vocals on Dylan's sad "It's All Over Baby Blue" and backing vocals on Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl" was almost inspiring enough to reinvigorate me to get over my Rearendaphobia and hit the road no matter the costs, no matter the consequences. As the CD closed with a cover of the Bee Gees' "Run to Me" sung with such sweetness and passion, I couldn't help but get over myself if only for a moment or two.