Monday, September 24, 2018

Buh-bye, NFL

2018 will go down as the year I was liberated from the NFL's Sunday stranglehold on my attention. I still love sports and athletic achievement (Tiger Woods back in the winner's circle, unbelievable), but the game of professional football has lost me. I don't know what is holding, I don't know what is interference, I definitely don't know roughing the passer--and apparently, do few of the officials--but I do know a grab-all-the-money-you-can-while-you-can, and that's the NFL in 2018.

For 40 years of my life, I ranked NFL football first and all other sports second. Now, baseball (Go Brewers!), basketball (the Bucks oBuh-f 2018/19 are the team to watch), PGA golf (I still play golf and, hey, at least I understand the rules), and a bunch of other things (World Cup Soccer?) come before the NFL.

Proof? The Packers lost yesterday and I don't even care. If my social media feeds are any indication, I am not alone. The 30-year waiting list for Packers' season tickets ought to be down to four and a half years by seasons' end.

(P.S., I'll still watch sometimes, but with unequivocal ambivalence.)

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Don't be a Woo! Guy

There’s a concert-goer who draws my ire more than the Freebird-yeller guy or the video-the-whole-show girl-—it’s the Woo! guy. He does not bellow Woo! at song’s end, he cries out Woo! mid-tune, repeatedly, and particularly during a song’s more poignant (Woo!) moments. Sometimes the Woo! guy is so distracting that even the performers become aware. Tersely, they glare steely eyes towards Woo! guy, commanding him to STFU, but oblivious Woo! guy adores the attention--I'm noticed!--and another Woo! is elicited.

My modern songwriting idol, Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, is playing tonight at The Pabst Theater. I've seen him many times, so I'm sitting this one out. But that's not the only reason. A Jeff Tweedy solo acoustical show is like a calling to all the Woo! guys within a 98-mile radius. It becomes an absolute flock of Woo! birds. Tweedy, too, may be the only person who dislikes Woo! guys more than me--he is a master of verbally slamming Woo! guys at his shows--but unless he has the power to turn that six-string Martin into a 10-gigawatt laser beam shooter--Tweedy's ability to quiet Woo! guys is mostly vanquished.

If you go, I dare you to take the Woo! guy challenge: every time you hear a Woo! guy, take a sip of your PBR. It doesn't have to be a big one--just enough to wet your tongue. If you can make it down the steps at show's end without assistance, you really should consider entering a beer drinking contest.


Monday, February 19, 2018

Happy Presidents' Day, James A. Garfield

"No federal legislation prior to 1812 placed any restriction on the right of suffrage in consequence of
the color of the citizen. From 1789 to 1812 Congress passed ten separate laws establishing new Territories. In all these, freedom, and not color, was the basis of suffrage."

"All free governments are managed by the combined wisdom and folly of the people."

"I will not vote against the truths of the multiplication table."

"I am a poor hater."

James A. Garfield (1881) is known for all the wrong reasons: he only served as President for six months and fifteen days before he was assassinated by a wingnut from Cedarburg, Wisconsin. He was an absolutely brilliant man who stood for civil liberties and capitalistic progress. I read about him in Candice Millard's wonderful book "Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President." Almost every time James opened his mouth, a timeless quote fell out. I recommend Ms. Millard's book, but for an abridged version of the greatness of Mr. Garfield, check out his Wikiquote page. It's chock full of brilliance.

Happy Presidents' Day, James A Garfield. We could use you right about now.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Jim, a Real American Hero

While barehandedly hooking up a battery charger to our car this morning, my rapidly-numbing fingertips reminded me of my friend's super-human brother, Jim. Jim was not only a role model to me, but he was also a great friend to my family (shown here with my mother celebrating a New Year's Eve circa 1980). On numerous occasions, Jim helped my mother out. I recall one time our car not starting on one of the coldest days of an up-north Winter. Mom called him and asked for his assistance. I bundled up in my snowmobile suit, face mask, hat, chopper mitts, and lined boots. I went out to help. Jim, wearing only a crooked knit cap and a jean jacket clasped by only two buttons, painstakingly fumbled with bare wires for nearly an hour. Bundled as I was, I could not take it. I had to retreat to the indoors periodically for a quick warm-up. I felt bad doing it -- leaving Jim alone like that -- but, no kidding, Jim was super-human. Perhaps it was because Jim was one of the last adults living in the U.S. with polio and was used to adversity and overcoming it, but his ability to put his mind past pain will always awe me in memory. We'd go fishing on calm Summer nights when the mosquitoes were positively unbearable. I'd be one more swat away from insanity and jumping into the lake to escape their torment and I'd look over at Jim and there he'd be, intently reeling and pausing and reeling and pausing while the buggers rested on his face and hands. Like they were not even there. I honestly think it made me a little bit tougher because I'd think, "If he can do it, so can I." But only a little bit tougher, because I'd finally say, "Jim, I can't take it anymore. We have GOT to get off this lake," and he'd relent. Leaving the trophy bass to be caught another day.

This post is getting longer than I intended, but I cannot close without telling one last, epic Jim story, especially since it happened on this day, January 2nd, nearly 40 years ago.

Jim graciously let me use his four-wheeled ATV as though it were my own. Anytime I wished, I could walk to his house, hop on, startup, and take off. And I did this a lot. On a frightfully frigid January 2nd, my cousin, Andy, was visiting and we paired up on Jim's ATV. Two miles from home, we disrupted the tranquility of Porcupine Lake and spun around on its frozen, glass-like surface. After doing this for a while, we headed for the lake's outlet, which becomes the northern branch of Little River, the river that Kay lived next to only 10 miles downstream (we wouldn’t meet for years yet). As we zipped across the frozen river, I, driving, spied open water ahead. The rapids prevented the river from freezing. I slammed on both the front and rear brakes with all my might causing the ATV to pull a 180. We were now gliding backward towards the open water. I released the brakes and accelerated, but to little avail. We continued our backward skid. Then, just as we were approaching the zenith of our direction change, we heard a crack. And then another. And then crack, crack, crack and the next thing you know, we were underwater. Positively terrified, Andy and I scrambled frantically to get ourselves on solid ice. Fortunately (or not, depending on how you look at it), the depth was only about three-and-a-half feet, but the bad part was the bottom was muck. In trying to get out, one of my boots got sucked off my feet and stayed submerged at the bottom. I can’t remember, but I think this happened to Andy too. Anyway, we were finally able to get ourselves on solid ice and, even though panic was setting in, we commanded ourselves: do not stop moving and progress as quickly as possible to the ice fishermen on the other side of the lake and ask for help. And that we did. We hastily sloshed our soaked-to-the-bone selves to the first fisherman we could find. I stuttered, “Sir, can you please help us? Our 4-wheeler went through the ice. We are freezing and we need your help. Can you please give us a ride to my mother’s?” He replied by querying where was my mother’s, and I replied by telling him, “Goatsville Tavern.” To my disbelief, he said, “I’ll give you a ride, but only if you agree that your mother gives me a 12-pack of beer.” Deal! I said, in a complete non-position to negotiate. (When my mom found this out later she wanted to strangle him.)

Finally warmed and in dry clothes, my attention turned to the fear of letting Jim know what I did to his ATV. It remained submerged, wheels up, in the frozen river. There was no beating around the bush: I had to tell Jim exactly what happened and accept the consequences.

So what did Jim do? He laughed boisterously. “Oh you crazy kid, you’re lucky you didn’t kill yourself! Don’t worry about the ATV. We’ll get it out and I’ll take it to my shop and dry it out.”

Whew. You have got to be kidding me. What a guy. I thought he was going to string me up like he would a slain buck, but he did exactly the opposite.

Every day I think of him. He was as an important of an influence on young me as nearly anybody else.

RIP, Jim. And thanks for not sending me to heaven first the day I put your ATV through the ice.

P.S. - A shout-out and thank you, too, to my Uncle Lynn for helping and directing us how to get that ATV out of the ice!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

My Favorite Albums of 2017

Everybody loves a list. So here it goes… Here are my Top 10 albums of 2017.

10.  The Rural Alberta Advantage – The Wild. This recently released album would likely move up in my rankings, but I have not had enough chances to give it a thorough listen. However, from my first few spins, it reminds exactly of the music they released on their prior two albums – Mended with Gold and Departing – that I positively adored. Big sounds, rapid-fire percussion, well-crafted songs – they’ve done it again. Not sure of their touring schedule as of December 27, 2017, but when they come to town, I’m goin’.

9.    Brother O’ Brother – Neon Native. Indianapolis rock-fuzz duo deliver the goods on Neon Native. I’ve seen these guys somewhere between seven and a hundred times and it’s impossible for me to listen to this rocker without seeing them perform in my mind’s eye. 16 Flowers is certainly one of my favorite tracks of 2017. Plus, their LED, remote-controlled vinyl version of this record is one of the coolest things you’ll see all year.

8.    David Rawlings – Poor David’s Almanac. Saw David and his musical partner, Gillian Welch, from the first row at Madison’s Capitol Theater where they played nearly every song from Poor David’s Almanac. At the time, I was familiar with a lot of their music, but Poor David was new to me. Since then I listened to it many times and this thing will be up for a Grammy. Mark my words. It’s great, and David's an absolute beast on the acoustic guitar. 

7.    Strange Americans – Borrow You, Brother. These Rocky Mountain Americana rockers’ third album grew on me over months of listening after seeing them perform a raucous noon-time show at Mile of Music. Their show ended in a sumo battle between two charging guitarists. Honestly, how they didn’t break their collarbones I’ll never know. Aaron Rodgers got knocked out with a lot less contact. Borrrow You, Brother has no filler; I think every track has a reward for the listener.  What sets them apart from other Americana artists is they’ll toss in a big, anthemic rocker or two on each album. I fell in love with the song Till You’re Told and that’s the song that kept me listening to the whole album. (Yep. I’m old school – not a single’s buyer like those darn millennials. For me it’s always the whole album.) Great stuff.

6.    The Regrettes – Feel Your Feelings Fool! At Milwaukee’s Summerfest, I saw The Regrettes perform (probably) every song from their debut album on a friend’s recommendation. They didn’t disappoint. Lead singer, rhythm guitarist, songwriter, Lydia Night, is all that and a bag of chips. She’s got stage confidence normally reserved for the Aguileras of the world. She may be small, but cross this riot grrrl at your own peril. Her pen is mightier than your sword.

5.    Fast Romantics – American Love. Another band of Canadians come down here and tell us all about American Love, eh? They did, and they did it well. American Love is filled with clever, wall-of-sound…um, sounds (?) that would make Phil Specter swoon. Matthew Angus leads the band with a big, radio-friendly voice that makes one wonder why they have not heard them yet. Well, some of us in Milwaukee have: 88Nine RadioMilwaukee has had the good sense to start putting them in the rotation. With any luck, the world will hear them all soon. (Oh, and this video. It's a doozy.)

4.    Lucy Dacus – No Burden. Okay, maybe this album came out in 2016, but it was pretty late in 2016 and I didn’t hear of her until 88Nine RadioMilwaukee started playing her cleverly crafted hit I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore. It was that song that hooked me, and I continued to listen to No Burden after the first track and was rewarded with a mélange of melodic swirls, chunky guitar riffs, and pointed lyrics. No Burden is another album that sank itself deeper into my core with every spin. Looking forward to seeing what Lucy’s got in store for her fans next. 

3.    Charly Bliss – Guppy. What can I say? I’m an absolute sucker for masters of the power-pop genre. I didn’t even know of Charly Bliss – a four-piece band hailing from Brooklyn – until they opened for Wolf Parade at Turner Hall. Lead singer and rhythm guitarist, Eva Hendricks, is a tour de force. Since they were the opening act, I was able to secure a spot front and center and watch Eva put on one of the most animated and energetic performances I’ve seen this year. Her voice, which, I’ll admit, might take some getting used to, floats over some of the most well-structured pop songs I’ve heard in a few years. I don’t think I’m alone in noticing. Guppy appears on many critics’ Best-of-2017 lists. I particularly like NPR music reviewer, Mike Katzif’s, words about Eva and her band: At its most potent, a pop song can lift your spirits while belying the intimacy and sadness at its core. That's especially true when the singer is Charly Bliss' Eva Grace Hendricks. With her bubbly voice and rapid-fire, sugar buzz phrasing, the frontwoman and guitarist regularly sounds downright overjoyed as she unleashes with youthful abandon over a relentless jolt of distorted guitar hooks. Scratch just below the surface, however, and Hendricks' wide-eyed charm melts away in favor of a pissed-off sneer. She flings off razor-sharp one-liners aimed at anyone who may have mistreated her ... but also at her own insecurities. Embedded amid the impossibly catchy hooks of Charly Bliss' new album, Guppy, her words are vibrant and real.

2.    King Leg – Meet King Leg. I’ve only recently discovered Meet King Leg as it was listed about a month ago on some Best-of list. While modern FM county nauseates me, this isn’t that country. This is Bakersfield country. The kind made famous by the late, great Buck Owens and Buck Owens understudy, Dwight Yoakam. In fact, so drenched in the Bakersfield sound are King Leg that Dwight himself produced the album. I’ve noticed, too, that King Leg is the opening act for many of Mr. Yoakam’s shows. When you listen to King Leg, you hear so many influences that your mind will bounce forth and back debating what legendary artist you’re hearing. The Byrds? Tom Petty? Roy Orbison? Dwight Yoakam? Buck Owens? Oh, the heck with it. Just enjoy it!

1.    Terra Lightfoot – New Mistakes. Another Canadian, and another woman-lead quartet. But Terra Lightfoot sounds nothing like Charly Bliss, The Regrettes, or Lucy Dacus. She’s a straight-forward rocker, song-writer, lead guitarist, rhythm guitarist, blues guitarist, and band leader with a voice that could knock down a brick wall. She was my number one must-see artist at Mile of Music. I saw her perform three times and was enthralled with every show. I learned of her by listening repeatedly to her 2016 album Every Time My Mind Runs Wild. At her shows, she’d drop in a track or two from the then-upcoming new album, New Mistakes. Instantly I enjoyed the new tracks, and they proved to be an accurate preview of what turned out to be a most excellent album. Terra’s another one of those artists that have me wondering why major fame eludes her, but she seems to be doing alright. After Mile of Music, she toured vigorously throughout Japan and Australia before returning to Canada. This album, too, is garnering lots of critics’ attention. PopMatters reviewer, Sarah Zupko, said of Terra, "get ready to adore Terra Lightfoot, a roots rocker with a powerful voice and a badass Gibson SG that she plays with consummate ease. Yep, she could be your new rock ‘n’ roll hero. Drawing from rock, soul, and blues, Lightfoot is a monster talent that will be gracing the world’s largest festival stages in no time."

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Dog Lovers, Beware of This Product!

If you love your dog, do not buy or use this product. In the span of less than 30 hours, I've had the string or tape break on two units. The consequences could have been tragic, fortunately, we were able to avoid serious consequences.

The product is the flexi retractable leash.

Unit #1, the one with the string. This unit is about 5 years old. It was only used a time or two since the passing of our dog, Bailey, who left us two years ago. We adopted sweet Neala three days ago and immediately began using Bailey's former leash. On my second morning with Neala, around 6:00 AM, she ran to the leash's fully length. However, when she got there, I felt nary a tug and she just kept on running. The string at its termination point within the product's body, snapped. Because it was early and quiet, there was little traffic and I was able to run down the loose string still attached to Neala's harness. Disaster averted, I scooped her up and hand-carried her back into the house.

Unit #1 - the old unit; note the string break
I imagine the folks at flexi would say something like, "Well, the leash is old. You should replace the leash once per year to avoid the string from weakening." It doesn't say this on flexi's paperwork and, even if that was their approach, I'd call it BS. I've got a nylon tie-our rope that Bailey used that I tested with all my might before trying it with Neala. That 5+ year-old rope is plenty strong enough to support my full 200 lbs.

To replace the broken flexi, my wife headed to our local pet store and purchased a new one (Unit #2). The string has now been replaced by a ribbon or tape. Apparently the string was causing rope burn injuries to people and the hazard was lessened by used of tape-like rope. The unit is said to be good for dogs to 33 lbs. Neala is 10. I took her to a park today and gave the new flexi its first good test. Neala spied a squirrel and took off running. I pressed the button on the unit to halt her progress and SNAP, the tape broke right near her harness. Again, I ran like the wind to catch up to her and scoop her up before she had a chance to enter harm's way.

Whew. Again, tragedy averted.

Unit #2 - the new one; tape snapped within 20 hours of purchase
This flexi has only been out of the package for less than 20 hours and has already broke. What has me most upset is only five minutes before breaking, I had her near a busier street and I had my full faith in the leash to hold her from crossing it. I shudder to think what would have happened had it broken then. I would have dashed after her -- traffic be damned -- just the same as I did when it broke in the wooded park.

This is a faulty and defective product and in my opinion should be recalled from the marketplace immediately. If you use this product on your small dog, you are taking an unacceptable risk. Right after authoring this post, I am returning to the store with the broken leash and my story and will urge them to take the product off of their store shelves.

Sweet Neala in my niece's arms. She is NOT 33 lbs -- 11 tops!

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Columbus, Indiana

Inside Eero Saarinen's North Christian Church;
picture by me, Sept. 5, 2017
I'm totally freaked out right now. Three days ago we never even HEARD of Columbus, Indiana and we "discovered" it while flipping through the pages of NUVO Indy -- Indy's Alternative Voice -- while sipping a beer at Fountain Square Brewery in Indianapolis. NUVO was highlighting an exhibit of pop-up art on the streets of Columbus, home of Cummins Engines about 45 miles south of Indianapolis. On our return from Cincinnati, we decided to take a detour to check out the exhibit in Columbus. We had no idea what we were in for. COLUMBUS IS A MECCA OF MODERNIST ARCHITECTURE. I. M. Pei, Eliel (dad) & Eero (son) Saarinen [Milwaukeeans, you know Eero's work: he designed the War Memorial; he also designed the Gateway Arch in St. Louis], Myron Goldsmith, Romaldo Giurgola, César Pelli, Gunnar Birkerts, Harry Weese, Robert Venturi, and many more designed buildings for Columbus. We wandered the streets for hours admiring the architects' work and the vision of magnate Joseph Irwin Miller. Now here's the really freaky part: a friend of mine let me know that a selection in the upcoming MKE Film Festival takes place in Columbus. It's called, appropriately, Columbus. The trailer shows many of the same structures that we visited only yesterday and it starts out with the interior of the North Christian Church (Eero's design) which was the very last building we visited! [Side story: the people of Columbus were so friendly. We were peering into the front door windows of the church when the pastor came out. She said, "We're closed, but I'll show you how to turn out the lights and you can come in and have a look around." She did just that and let us to ourselves inside this architectural jewel. So trusting.]

If you're Jonesing to see something different, hop in the car and visit Columbus. It's about a four and a half hour trip from Milwaukee and totally worth it. Now here's the trailer...