Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Gradual Relief

I haven't written much about what has been going on in my personal life, since quite frankly things haven't been a party lately with work, my family, a brief return visit from Chuck last Friday, and the never-ending pressure to keep some money set aside for what I hope to be a new used car sometime in the first half of next year. However, one of the bright spots to the last few weeks has been the continuing easing of the prices at the gas pump to a point I actually thought we might not see again. While doing some finances and updating of the bank account tonight, I created a list of my last few visits to the gas pump and the totals accrued each time (and keep in mind that I only get gas when I'm nearing empty and I always get a full tank):

September 17: $58.01 (my highest gas reciept of the year, after 4 months in 54-57 range)
October 1: $51.51
October 14: $44.00
October 28: $36.00
November 14: $28.25
November 24
: $26.50

Monday, November 24, 2008

Universal To Charge For Viewing Online Music Video?

While perusing headlines on Billboard.com earlier this morning after a cleaning appointment with my dentist, I came across an interview with Interscope Records chairman Jimmy Iovine earlier, mostly concerning the decisions made to delay some of the label's biggest expected fourth quarter hit albums into 2009 (as if the music industry needed any more woes).

Other topics were briefly touched on as well, including the increasing trend of major labels/acts offering their new releases exclusively to such big boxes as Wal-Mart and Best Buy, and this interesting little nugget:

I've always felt, and this is just in general, that there's an oil well for the record industry in their music videos, and so does Doug Morris. Universal Music Group had 3 billion views on YouTube and we are so underpaid for those videos. Now, we'll set up an infrastructure, and Doug's in charge of this. We'll make a deal where we really see the value. We have the most perfect content for the Internet. People love to watch them and they watch them over and over again. If Saturday Night Live gets 100,000 views on the Internet, they throw a party. Soulja Boy, on his site alone, got 500 million! It's nuts. The Lady GaGa video has 25 million views.

This is all going to be turned back toward the labels. That value has to be achieved.

Sooo help me out, here: does Iovine honestly think Soulja Boy would have had 500 million views if he charged, say, a buck a view for his video clip? How about Lady GaGa? Or how about those 3 billion views for Universal artists on Youtube? Am I over-reacting or is this the absolute nuttiest thing I have heard from the music industry this year?

Jesus, you guys can't even do catalog reissues right anymore without somebody fucking something up and now you want to start charging people to watch promotional videos that were made exclusively to sell your records and mp3s?

Sorry, MTV, looks like your cool new venture might crash before it ever achieves full flight.

Catching Up With Rex

Last night, 60 Minutes did a follow-up report on a blind, disabled kid named Rex Lewis-Clack, who has an absolutely incredible gift for music. I watched this report with the sound off while we were at Outback Steakhouse with my brother and my niece and, my curiosity piqued, decided to hunt it down online this afternoon.

If you haven't seen this segment (and have fifteen minutes to kill), you might it very worth your while. On one level, it's a fascinating (and moving) human story, while on another it raises all kinds of interesting questions regarding the apparent connection between blindness, mental disability, and prodigious musical talent.

I think what I find most fascinating about cases like Rex and Rachel Flowers is that we all have the same minds, more or less, and yet it seems that when "higher" functions are lost (or never gained) in a small group of people, an amazing, brilliant part of the brain that the rest of us never access is magically unlocked. Watching Rex and Rachel play, it's impossible not to feel the awesome, still untapped potential of the human mind.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Comedy Of Errors Continues

It's bad enough for the music industry's long-term health (assuming such a concept still exists) that an ever-decreasing number of people are buying CDs in ever-decreasing amounts, but when record companies seemingly go out of their way to piss off the remaining people who are still actually paying for physical product, you have to wonder sometimes at the point of it all.

The breaking New Order reissue debacle is only the latest in a series of self-inflicted PR black-eyes suffered by what's left of the Big Four distributors over the last few years. What is particularly disturbing in this instance is that the company at fault here is the once-mighty Rhino Records, who were at one time considered the best reissue label on the planet, with a reputation for sonic and packaging excellence recognized by consumers and retailers alike. Granted, the brain trust that made the label great has long since bolted the coop, but for this same label to not only release such a shoddily-created product with no input whatsoever from the band itself is one thing, but to then go ahead and release it in the United States (despite numerous complaints had already surfaced overseas) and then not even acknowledge that there is any problem until most die-hard fans have already impatiently snapped up their copies is simply inexcusable. In effect, what we have here is yet another example of labels seeking to squeeze maximum profits wherever possible while whittling down manpower and tossing previously trumpeted standards of quality and worksmanship right out the window.

It's bad enough that we're being conditioned as a society to accept slapdash plastic doo-dads rushed to market to meet quarterly expectations for their parent multinationals (how often do we pick up buggy cell phones and video game systems that don't always work correctly and accept this crap in order to be among the first to own them), but now this cynical attitude is spreading to "deluxe" reissues of 25 year old records, as well. With catalog departments being systematically pared down to skeleton crews, the job of researching and remastering old recordings has become far more of a major undertaking than it was in headier times, and time-saving shortcuts such as using sub-par quality LP-pressing masters or even vinyl records themselves as source material have become a more common practice as of late, particularly in Europe.

Another victim of this new corporate reality is the hatchet job done by EMI on the Pink Floyd box set Oh, By The Way last Christmas. What was already shaky idea to begin with ("Hey, let's put every Pink Floyd CD ever made -- not including any live albums, bonus tracks, singles or non-album cuts -- into a super-expensive, but cheaply made cardboard box and then market it to people who already own all the albums!"), was made far worse when thousands of irritated customers began reporting mis-printed CDs ("Hey! Why does Wish You Were Here suddenly sound exactly like Obscured By Clouds?"), doubled-up CDs ("Hey! I have two copies of Ummagumma, Disc 1!") , or even completely-wrong pressings ("Hey! This isn't Pink Floyd at all!"). For a list price of $299.99, you might think that some level of quality control was observed somewhere along the production line, but apparently even that is too much to expect these days. Silly us.

Perhaps the worst industry practice that is making even hardened music dorks such as I think twice about plunking down money for new CDs is the ongoing race to create the loudest, most unlistenable CDs possible. There was an infamous quote in Rolling Stone magazine a couple of years ago from no less than Bob Dylan that summed up the state of the art in music in no uncertain terms: "(modern albums) have sound all over them. There's no definition of nothing, no vocal, no nothing, just like ... static."

While it's certainly debatable at what point the loudness wars started in the 1990s, it was The Beatles who initially set the bar for increased volume in 1986 when their early catalog appeared on CD for the first time, with all of their discs mastered nearly twice as loud as any other rock titles on the market.

It took a few years for modern rock to catch on, but it started to happen around 1992-1994, when albums by Metallica, Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails, Stone Temple Pilots, and Alice In Chains seemed to leap forth from speakers with real, tangible ferocity, especially when compared to the rest of the market at the time. Of course, many of their competitors (or the heads of their labels) heard these records and then asked their producers and engineers why they couldn't make records that sounded just as loud (if not more so) as Metallica, In Utero, The Downward Spiral, Core, or Dirt did, and the race was on.

It was also right around this time that the first "remastered" CDs started to appear in record stores. The argument for the existence of these refurbished albums was that either a.) many CDs of older albums were initially rushed to market in the mid 1980s with little regard to making sure that the original master tapes had been sourced for optimum sound quality (hmm, sound familiar?) or b.) advances in sound reproduction technology since 1983 had made it possible for CDs to sound even "better" than before as a "warmer," more analog-feeling ambience of sound was now becoming possible.

I would be remiss not to mention that the real point to this wave of upgraded classics was, of course, to force die-hard fans to buy their favorite CDs all over again (which some maintain was the true reason for all of this in the first place). Now, it would have been fine and dandy to remaster these older albums once and then let the upgraded, "corrected" copies stand at that, but some records have been now been reissued and remastered multiple times, with differences in sonic quality and mastering on each different iteration. This practice certainly gives credence to those who feel that all of this is just a way to part fools from their money one more time, especially as these same records get progressively shittier sounding with every new appearance on the market.

I had been aware of this loudness war for years, especially since I used to make mix tapes for myself and my friends constantly, and learned early on what recording levels certain CDs from which time periods or musical genres needed to be set at for the best sound quality (and smoothest listening experience) on a finished TDK SA-90 cassette. My frustration with wildly varying levels of output (try making a full-career hits mix tape sourced from old and new Bruce Springsteen CDs to get an idea of where I'm coming from) had me solidly in the "remaster everything!" corner for years, and the first instance where I can recall a new record being "brick-walled" to the point of distraction was Oasis' 1997 release Be Here Now: though I wrote off a lot of my displeasure with that record at the time as being subpar writing and mixing more than anything else. After all, this was the same summer that Radiohead's similarly-mastered classic O.K. Computer had taken over the world, and that record was just great, thank you very much.

My first real animosity against this practice of level compression and peak-limiting came along five years later, when Rush released their absolutely unlistenable reunion album Vapor Trails. After years of earth-shaking build up from sundry rock and pop acts across the spectrum, here at last was a record that was so invasively and unbelievably shrill that it wasn't so much a "listening experience" as a buzz saw to the forehead.

These days, CDs with no dynamic range whatsoever are commonplace, especially at the major label level (indies either can't afford the software, or somehow just know better). Some of the blame is certainly attainable to the race to be as loud as the competition, yet other factors like a sea change in listening habits amongst music buyers away from expensive rack stereo systems and towards iPods, cell phones, and tiny PC speakers also have done their part to alter the way music is presented. While many consumers don't really seem to care that they no longer need volume knobs on their car stereos, enough have banded together in online communities that a whole secondary market of people actively searching out, say, older editions of Led Zeppelin and Genesis CDs has emerged in the underground, claiming that these CDs were actually done right the first time around and have only been marred by any remastering done since the mid-late 1980s. Even younger music fans have noticed recently how much better the video game version of Metallica's Death Magnetic sounds than the actual CD (a graphical comparison can be seen here).

Perhaps the most darkly amusing (nevermind ironic) side effect of these shenanigans is that a new generation of music buyers have embraced the once-comatose format of vinyl LP records as a superior alternative to compact discs. Once they realized what was happening, labels cynically began cashing in: even going so far as to issue record bags emblazoned with their laughable new catch phrase "because sound matters."

The best part? Out of this vinyl resurgence comes a new ridiculous extreme embodied by the bonus CD packaged with vinyl copies of Lindsey Buckingham's new album Gift Of Screws. Now, the idea of throwing in a "bonus" CD copy of a release with the vinyl LP is a nice idea, sure, but the sticker on this album proudly proclaims:



What the hell? I've heard many times before the old argument that vinyl sounds better than CD, but this is something new. If I am reading this correctly, Warner Bros, Records is now implictly admitting that modern mass-marketed CDs sound like dog shit. Even if you think this reaction is over the line, doesn't the very existence of a specialized "audiophile" pressing (available only when you buy the vinyl copy, no less! ha ha!) make you wonder what the hell the regular version is supposed to be?

One funny thing about modern "brick-walled" CDs: they make average bit rate-quality mp3s sound even worse than they already do (as if that were possible). We used to joke at work that the sudden leap in CD volume across the board in the last decade was actually a deliberate and subtle sabotaging of the mp3 format by the major labels, but in light of recent events, it appears that is giving the suits far too much credit.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

(Youtube): Ah L'amour

Submitted for your approval: a vicious, dispirited, disturbed, and absolutely hilarious piece of stick figure animation for the perpetually lovelorn (or cynical):

Thanks for the heads up, Keith. :-)

All Palin'd Out

You know, it has been (and continues to be) my belief that we have not seen the last of this woman, but is there really going to be a Sarah Palin story in the news every day for the next four freaking years?

Is it just me or have we not missed a day since November 5 without some kind of article about the ex-VP candidate appearing in the news?


November 6:

November 7:

November 8:

November 9:

November 10:

November 11:

November 12:





Not to be silly, but I almost feel like I need to double check with everyone: Barack Obama did win this election, right? Sometimes it sure doesn't feel like it.

The way things are going, we'll soon be seeing headlines like these in our near future:


November 28:

December 25:


January 1:

Come on, "mainstream liberal" media! Enough, already!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Chill Of An Early Winter

Willowick, Ohio. Today. 3:00 PM.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Mission Accomplished

I started this blog almost exactly four years ago in a fit of righteous anger over the results of the last presidential election, but I couldn't feel more differently now as I sit here tonight banging out a few semi-drunk thoughts into the ether at half past three in the morning, buzzing with excitement and satisfaction in the afterglow of the biggest presidential election in 48 years.

This is truly a moment for the history books: for the first time in its 240 year history, The United States Of America has elected a black president. This is an event I never thought I would never see in my lifetime, and I admit wondering to myself over the last few weeks if this country really had the stomach to go out and vote for the change it so clearly wanted, especially in the aftermath of some of the slimiest shadowy campaign stunts in the modern political era. Make no mistake: racism is still a blight on America that may be generations (if ever) away from disappearing for good, yet in the end, Barack Obama prevailed.

The issues facing our President-Elect over the next four years are some of the most formidable this country has faced in nearly a century. That Obama will take on these problems while contending with a jittery, sharply divided electorate and an economy teetering on the brink of collapse certainly isn't going to make his job any easier, yet I sense he is truly up for the challenge. The lack of experience cited by Obama's opponent John McCain during the campaign is a true concern, and I hope that with some careful administrative selection and a true willingness to reach across the ideological divide and create some kind of lasting, centrist unity, that some kind of headway can be forged.

As for the Republican Party (particularly "the base"): welcome to what the Left felt like in 2004. In this case, however, the race wasn't stolen from you, though I'm sure some of you will convince yourselves otherwise. Go ahead and blame Obama, ACORN, and MSNBC (not to mention the rest of the so-called "mainstream media"), but eventually you'll have to look in the mirror and realize that this time the fault rests squarely with you and your candidate.

As much as I admired McCain's concession speech last night, he was fully right to shoulder the blame for his failure to win the White House. Where was this guy over the last 10 months? I believe McCain might have made a good president, but in his desire to win the prize, he let his campaign be hijacked by the same mindset that brought the incumbent President to power. Thus, McCain found it near-impossible to dodge accusations of being a clone of George W. Bush, especially when he found himself bending over backwards to rally his skeptical base instead of trying to win over anyone to the left of, say, Jean Schmidt.

Here's the funny thing: as much as they openly revile the evil "mainstream media," the Republican Party used them relentlessly throughout the campaign, cumulatively branding Obama as an inexperienced, unpatriotic, racist Socialist Muslim of indeterminate origin. All of the networks, even the hated MSNBC (the anti-Fox News, if you will) gave plenty to airtime to discussing every insult, attack, accusation and insinuation the Right could manufacture. Only this time, instead of ignoring the attacks as they had in 2004, the Democrats actually fought back, which seemed to catch the Right off guard. While Obama relentlessly stuck to his message, McCain seemed to switch tactics on a weekly basis.

The man who conceded the race last night was a man I liked: he came off as humble, decent, intelligent, contrite ... a leader. Pity he let himself be managed by a bunch of second generation Lee Atwaters. Rather than seriously reaching out to the Left, McCain's campaign pandered to the worst elements of human nature (primarily Hate and Fear of The Other), which alone made any speech given by Obama feel like a warm ray of sunshine in comparison. If McCain had made his run as the person he was in 2000, he might very well have been the guy doing the victory speeches last night instead of Barack Obama. Instead, Rick Davis and Team McCain opted to run this campaign focusing on personalities (and the differences in such between the candidates) rather than issues, and in the end they got steamrolled. Lesson learned? I guess we'll see in a few years ...

Further Proof That Your Vote Always Counts

Wow. According to CNN, the margin for Obama's victory in Lake County, Ohio last night was 125 votes. One hundred and twenty five.

Obama: 52,556
McCain: 52,431

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Brokers With Hands On Their Faces Blog

Have you ever noticed while reading news that after any day that is even moderately shitty on Wall Street, you will always see a photo of some poor trader looking like he needs a couple Excedrins? Well, this guy has, and with events in the world's financial markets being as dire as they've been recently, a great idea for a new photoblog was born.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Monday, October 20, 2008

This Is Not A Political Post

For a lark, and because I was interested in how this whole "early voting" thing was working, I went and voted today at the Board Of Elections in downtown Painesville.

For those thinking of doing so, I'd only recommend this if you are certain you are going to face a long line at the polls on November 4, or if you have a pretty busy schedule on that day, as the process took a little bit longer than I'd anticipated (probably a half hour from when I walked in the door to the BOE to the time that I left). After filling out a page or so of "who are you, anyway"-styled paperwork and then cross-checking a couple of details with the attending clerk, I was given a pen, a yellow envelope, a two-page ballot and went off to do my voting thing.

This last bit was a bit of a surprise: I'd figured we'd be using one of those newfangled electronic voting machines instead of being handed an absentee ballot, but this being my day off, I wasn't in any kind of hurry. That said, I think next time I'll just stick with voting on Election Day.

Maybe There Is A God, After All ...

Wow, I guess good things can happen in this world, after all. I haven't been this chuffed about watching the Fall Classic since, well, 1997 ...

My heartfelt congratulations go to the Tampa Bay Rays in their vanquishing of the hated Boston Red Sox in an ALCS Game 7 for the ages, setting up a World Series Game 1 against the National League champion Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday night.

At last, I can look forward to a World Series with no "bad guy" and just enjoy some good postseason baseball between two teams who I'd both like to see win it all. If pressed, I might admit to a bit of a hankering to see Phillies skipper Charlie Manuel win the Big One for old time's sake, but honestly, I just hope the series goes seven games.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Meditating On Matters Of Wood And Porcelain

OK, so I'm watching playoff baseball (despite the lack of total lack of ball clubs from Cleveland being involved this year) and, of course, there are ads for Viagra and Cialis during every single commercial break.

Well, alrighty, then. I guess Erectile Dysfunction is now a plague of biblical proportions judging by the amount of air time these ads chew up on a nightly basis, though I suspect a lot of our national shrinkage problem has to do with ever-increasing amounts of able-bodied males watching the Boston Red Sox in high definition widescreen. Really, drug companies, what the hell do you expect to happen down south of the belt line when such genetic abominations as Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis fill our television screens? Contrary to popular opinion, we're not all Red Sox fans out here.

Anyway, to the question at hand: it has come to my attention that nearly all of these erectile dysfunction ads at some point will feature a middle-aged (and ostensibly naked) couple sitting on a beach or in a forest, gazing at the sunset or rolling waves from the comfort of two separate bath tubs. What the hell?

Who sticks these bath tubs in these areas and for what purpose? Is there some kind of juicy symbolism I am failing to catch here? Where does the hot water come from to fill these tubs? How is sitting naked in two separate tubs romantic or erotic? Wouldn't a Jacuzzi built for two be a better idea?

Color me stymied.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Chinese Democracy Is Finally At Hand

Billboard's Jonathan Cohen is reporting the release of the fifteen-years-in-the-making Guns N' Roses album Chinese Democracy, which will (of course) only be available through everyone's favorite neighborhood record store, Best Buy. Oh goody.

The set ... will be available Sunday, November 23, rather than the usual Tuesday.

Gosh, how clever and daring, Axl. Nice to have you back. I hope your shitty new record tanks.

This spring, soft drink manufacturer Dr Pepper offered to send a free can of the beverage to "everyone in America" (excluding ex-GNR members Slash and Buckethead) if "Chinese Democracy" were to arrive anytime during the calendar year 2008. A Dr Pepper spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.

Crap. Dr. Pepper? Ewww. Can I ask for a Pepsi or Mountain Dew instead?

The Road: November 26

Here's a movie that might be worth looking forward to.

I picked up this book on a whim last summer and was completely blown away. Relentlessly downbeat and drenched in misery, The Road is a shattering, striking read. I can't imagine how they're going to do the movie adaptation "right," but I am totally psyched regardless.

Thanksgiving, huh? Boy, this'll attract families in droves ...

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Life Is Just A Fantasy/Can You Live This Fantasy Life?

I suppose it would surprise absolutely no one that I have a "Google Alert" set to "Pink Floyd," which sends me a nice little daily rundown of all the most popular new stories on said subject to appear on the web (whether through so-called "mainstream" news sites or blogs). 98% of the time, these alerts e-mails are either full of false-positives or plain old chaff, but one link came up last week that caught my eye: drummer Nick Mason will apparently be one of the instructors at a "Rock N Roll Fantasy Camp" in England in early November.

I researched this "fantasy camp" further and the details offered in the package are quite interesting indeed: you (the participant) will practice at the famed Abbey Road Studios and then perform with your band at the (rebuilt) Cavern Club (across from the old location shuttered years ago) in historic Liverpool!

Live the dream! No experience necessary!
trumpets the official website. You'll be treated like a rock star. You'll live the rock n' roll lifestyle day in and day out, learning or perfecting your knowledge of an instrument, practicing and jamming with your band mates and learning the ins and outs of the music business - all in the company of some of music's brightest stars.

Funny, I was under the impression that the life of a rock star was more along the lines of frequent anonymous sex, binge drinking, recreational drug use, malnutrition and cultivating a healthy love/hate relationship with your audience. Sure, practice and jamming is certainly involved and all, but the rest of that sounds suspiciously like a community college course.

And while I love Nick and all, I can't say I consider him or Bill Wyman to be among "music's brightest stars," but I suppose they can't have Slash available for these kind of things 24/7.

By the way, that "no experience necessary" part looks absolutely horrifying, doesn't it?

Depending on your skill level and interest, you may try picking up a Peavey guitar during your time at camp, or you may spend your time singing backup vocals or playing tambourine with the band.

Terrific. How many acolyte tambourine players can a live amateur performance of The Wall support before the universe starts to collapse in upon itself?

So, what can a paying customer expect from his experience? The site goes into a point-by-point list:

• Small group instruction from celebrity musicians (campers are placed in a band with a rock star counselor for the entire camp duration)

Good lord, this just sounds like someone's awful idea of a reality series.

• Play and write your own original song

Hey, Brian and Rob! This is your chance to get "Butterflies In The Wind" professionally recorded at last! Can y'all write me a bass part?

• Perform live on stage to a sold out audience at a major rock venue

What, the (second iteration of the) Cavern Club? What's the capacity there? 300 people? Boy, I'll bet they are chomping at the bit to hear a bunch of inexperienced musicians tackle a Pink Floyd double album.

• Counselor-led master class sessions in drums, bass, guitar, songwriting, etc.

Sooo, will Nick Mason be teaching power chords and organ riffs, then?

• A souvenir DVD of you jamming at the final night's Battle of the Bands

Sweet Jesus Mercy, there will be more than one band performing? This is cruel.

• 10+ hours of daily jam sessions with your bandmates and rock star counselors

Good. You're gonna need it if you have any hopes of not embarrassing yourself.

• Daily meals with celebrity musicians and campers

If they are offering the true rock star experience, these meals will come straight out of the ass end of the nearest drive-through burger joint.

• Rehearsal time at professional rehearsal studios (you'll play where the stars play!)

Makes you wonder which engineers at Abbey Road drew the shortest straws to land this gig.

• Plenty of opportunities for photos and autographs as guest stars walk through the camp all week (so be sure to bring your camera!)

"Wow! Chris Slade! Wassup, homey!?"

"Hey, Kip Winger! Can I get a picture with you?"

"Hey, look! It's that guy who was once in The Beach Boys in the 1970s! Awesome!"

At first, reading the article and then perusing the website made me feel sad and embarrassed: my god, is this what our ex-rock stars have sunk to? Teaching a bunch of rich kids whose parents paid $15,000 so that their little Dominics, Dantes and Dillons can learn how to perform The Wall from a guy who, quite honestly, didn't have an awful lot to do with the creation of the piece in the first place (and, considering Pink Floyd's increasing use of session musicians around that time, who knows how much he had to do with the actual recording anyway)?

The more I chewed this program over, the more disturbed I became by what I was reading. A school of rock? We're now giving trust fund brats and aging baby boomers professional seminars on how to be a rock star? What kind of post-Reagan cultural dicketry is this?

Has rock music become so safe and homogenized now that it has completely lost any semblance of artistry or danger that it once held? OK, I'll look the other way on adults working their way through midlife crises (since Goat knows I'm due for mine anytime now), but when exactly did kids growing up in the hopes of becoming a rock star become an agreeable career goal for their parents? Hell, when did joining a rock band become something you went to camp for (and with your parents chaperoning, to boot)?

Maybe I missed something over the years, but I was under the impression that a rebellious teenager joining a rock band was the antithesis of a respectable career choice. If anything, trying to become a professional rock musician was more like running off to join the circus: something that horrify your parents and either turn you into a drug-addled guitar god or at least a spotty, chain-smoking roadie. Not anymore, though! These days, living the rock star lifestyle is as cute and tame an idea as a day at Disneyworld.

The more you think about it, the more Rock 'N Roll Fantasy Camp becomes a vaguely creepy homage to an era that really does feel a century old. Be Amish for a week and raise a barn! Join the Union and be a Civil War soldier for a week and then fight in a real mock battle! Join a rock band and learn to play Pink Floyd's The Wall!

"Lookit me, Darian! I'm a rock star! I can play 'The Thin Ice' on drums!"

Sickening. And we wonder why rock music has seemingly lost much of its meaning and impact on people over the last fifteen years.

Look, it's either this or politics ...

A Warning To CD-R Collectors

One of my big projects for this year has been going through and listening to every CD I own in order to clear some space on my shelves, thin out the overgrown herd a bit, and make a few bucks from selling the oldies but goodies on Amazon. Currently, I'm nearing the end of the R section (lots of Rolling Stones, Todd Rundgren and Rush in the air lately) and hoping to get through the end of the alphabet by Christmas.

Anyway, while going through this marathon endeavor, I've been making the disturbing discovery that a lot of old CD-R titles have deteriorated a lot more quickly than I'd anticipated, especially titles that have some kind of labeling or silk screening done on the top side of the disc. I'd heard before that some CD labels were notoriously prone to ruining CD-Rs over time (Goat knows how), and it appears that has been quietly happening in my shelves the last few years. Ick.

For me, this is not a major problem: nearly all of the music I own on CD-Rs is bootlegged live recordings, as that particular segment of the music market went nearly all CD-R around 1998 or so. Thankfully, this means much of this music is replaceable (and perhaps even upgradeable) if I know where to look (and I do). What I've found is that not every CD-R I own has gone bad, but enough have become undependable that I've been backing everything up to FLAC in hopes of keeping at least some of these recordings in playable shape.

So, to anyone out there who has placed a fair amount of your music on CD-Rs, whether in musical or data form (particularly those of you who then added some kind of fancy colorful label to the top): you might be well advised to start checking some of your archives and making sure everything is in playable shape. Hopefully, you'll be spared an unpleasant surprise.

Monday, October 06, 2008

End Of Discussion. For Now.

Not that you would ever notice it here since I rarely go political on this blog, but my complete avoidance at all costs of the vice-presidential debates the other night made me realize that I've reached my personal fill of political discourse for this term. My mind is made up, and I'm dead tired of this subject coming up several times a day every single day at work. It's time to step back, affect an air of blissful ignorance, and let whatever happens happen at the polls.

Thus, with one month to go until Election Day, I hereby state for the record that I am taking a break from all discussion, comment, and riffing on political affairs in all forums, whether we're talking about e-mail lists, blogs, shooting the shit at work, or any other public venue where the subject can possibly come up.

Ohhhh, damn. Almost forgot. One last thing before my promise officially goes active ...

Hee hee. Don't forget to vote on November 4!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Richard William Wright 1943-2008

No one can replace Richard Wright. He was my musical partner and my friend.

In the welter of arguments about who or what was Pink Floyd, Rick's enormous input was frequently forgotten.

He was gentle, unassuming and private but his soulful voice and playing were vital, magical components of our most recognised Pink Floyd sound.

I have never played with anyone quite like him. The blend of his and my voices and our musical telepathy reached their first major flowering in 1971 on "Echoes." In my view all the greatest Pink Floyd moments are the ones where he is in full flow. After all, without "Us and Them" and "The Great Gig In The Sky," both of which he wrote, what would The Dark Side Of The Moon have been? Without his quiet touch the album Wish You Were Here would not quite have worked.

In our middle years, for many reasons he lost his way for a while, but in the early Nineties, with
The Division Bell, his vitality, spark and humour returned to him and then the audience reaction to his appearances on my tour in 2006 was hugely uplifting and it's a mark of his modesty that those standing ovations came as a huge surprise to him, (though not to the rest of us).

Like Rick, I don't find it easy to express my feelings in words, but I loved him and will miss him enormously.

David Gilmour, posted to his website.

OK, this one hurts. A lotlot.

The "magic circle" has been broken at last: granted, there was never much of a chance for any kind of significant Pink Floyd reunion (with or without the involvement of Roger Waters), but any irrational hopes or fantasies of that great colossus rising once again are now completely dissolved.

While I felt the passing of Pink Floyd's original founder, guitar player, songwriter, and vocalist "Syd" Barrett two years ago in a kind of disconnected, intellectual sadness, the unexpected death of founding member and longtime keyboardist Richard Wright hits much closer to home. Barrett had been ousted from the band in early 1968, thus the songs and sounds he had created were nearly at total odds with the Pink Floyd that had conquered the world five years later. Wright, on the other hand, was a central pillar of the classic "Pink Floyd sound" and while his shadowy, guarded personality kept him well below the radar for all but the most reverent of their fans, his contribution to the band's classic works cannot be overstated.

For a seventeen year old kid who had been utterly fascinated for years by the use of synthesizers in modern pop/rock music, hearing something as unbelievably exotic as Wish You Were Here on a spring night in 1987 was perhaps as life-changing an event for me as reading A Catcher In The Rye or Atlas Shrugged might have been for someone else at that point in those stormy, impressionable teenage years.

Considering that it was that 3 minute intro to "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" that almost single-handedly turned me into an obsessive fanboy from that night onwards, it's kind of funny that I dedicated nearly all of my hero worship over the years to David Gilmour instead, but then again why not? Gilmour was a far more affable, talkative, and charming focal point for the band, whereas Wright tended to be withdrawn to the point of invisibility, when he was interviewed at all.

Yet listening now to the band's catalog, it becomes terribly obvious than even moreso than Gilmour's precise, piercing guitar solos, the delicate, jazz-influenced touch of Wright's hands on piano, organ or synth was vital to the sound of Pink Floyd. Almost entirely from Wright's chair at stage left came that crucial space between the beats that lifted the band's music into that rare air occupied by no one else. Looking over the Floyd's early years, where his influence was almost certainly at its peak, I can't even imagine where the band might have ended up (or if they would even have gone anywhere at all) without him in the band after Barrett was out of the picture. Without his deceptively simple, swirling Hammond chords and eerie Moog sketches to lay the groundwork over which Gilmour soared, it just wouldn't have been Pink Floyd.

It's much easier to imagine Wright out of the equation a decade later, for that is exactly what happened as he marginalized himself out of the lineup after Animals. Creatively listless during the recording sessions for The Wall, Wright was forced out of the band following the tour for that conceptual monster, and was completely absent for the making of Waters' last stand The Final Cut and the Gilmour-led A Momentary Lapse Of Reason. With Wright gone (and Waters firmly in command), Pink Floyd's music grew ever more strident, invasive and confrontational. This was even true of the comparatively lush Momentary Lapse, which was certainly no slouch in the volume department. Consciously or not, Wright was a calming influence that often gave the band's music a feeling of weightless, soaring grace.

Pink Floyd's music has made so much of a mark on me and my psyche that Wright's death is almost like losing a close friend. Becoming a fan of Pink Floyd widened my musical horizons immeasurably, and their music (and perhaps more importantly, the way it was presented and recorded) influenced my personal tastes to an extent that I am still coming to grips with over twenty years later.

Goodbye, Richard, and thank you for some of the best listening experiences of my life.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

(Flickr Post): Cliff Gets #20

20080901 62
Going into September. the 2008 Cleveland Indians season is all about reduced expectations and winning a few little battles in lieu of the war ... save for the amazing ascent into Baseball Valhalla of longtime Cleveland starter Cliff Lee.

Exactly one year after he was called back up to the Tribe from the minor leagues (where he had been banished for half the summer following an awful, injury-plagued 2007 start), Lee faced the front-running Chicago White Sox and shut them out with nine innings of incredible, pinpoint location.

Like every other Tribe fan this year, I had been following Lee's exploits all year following his absolutely inhuman April start, watching as he came slightly back down to Earth in May and June, yet never relinquishing his new position as baseball's most dominant pitcher. Scheduling conflicts had kept me from ever seeing Lee pitch in person, and it was with great delight that I realized that the game I would finally see him pitch in person would be such a historic occasion. Everyone at Progressive Field was there to see Lee become the first twenty game winner for the Indians in nearly 35 years, and the atmosphere was electric with excitement the entire night.

What a fantastic night, and what an incredible achievement for a pitcher that many, including myself, were all too ready to part with after the 2007 season. In a season that has given Indians fans precious little to cheer for, Lee has become a superstar. This was a night for the ages.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

(Flickr Post): Swept

20080831 75
What the hell is it with the Indians lately? With the 2008 season all but lost, they jettison three of their most popular and talented players (all of them respected clubhouse leaders, to boot), and then start to play some of their best baseball of the year in the weeks afterward. Of course, whenever they start to get too good, and the fans start to wonder if maybe they just might mount some kind of Hollywood rally, the Indians have to go out and remind everyone just how badly they can suck when the occasion warrants ... and you don't get many more occasions than this one.

With the '08 season about to enter its final month, my brother and I hatched a nutty plan to catch three games in three days at the Prog. Two of those games would be against the pathetic Seattle Mariners, arguably the worst team in baseball this year. The third game would be against the far tougher (and AL-Central leading) Chicago White Sox, but would feature our staff ace Cliff Lee, gunning for his league-leading twentieth win.

Seattle, though, came first ... and my god, those games were ugly, including this one. Suddenly hapless in the face of such utter mediocrity, the Cleveland Indians team lost all three games to Seattle. All. Three. Games.

Luckily, as was the case last Labor Day weekend, the Cleveland Air Show was going on above our heads, and we were offered plenty of opportunities for distraction as groups of military jets thundered about in the atmosphere around the park on another incredible, crystal clear day.

Monday, August 11, 2008


Wall-E: another summer and another new classic from Pixar. Ho-hum.Another summer and another new classic from Pixar. Ho-hum.

The title character of Pixar's latest triumph, Wall-E (an acronym for Waste Allocation Load Lifter: Earth Class) is the last of an army of worker robots dispatched to clean up the titanic mess left behind by the previous tenants of Earth generations before. Possessed of a timid, yet curious disposition (and a huge fan of the musical Hello, Dolly!), Wall-E secretly collects odd pieces of junk he comes across while doing his work, decorating his little converted home with such jetsam as Zippo lighters, hubcaps, plastic eating utensils, Rubiks Cubes, traffic cones, and iPods.

It's so rare and welcome to have a modern film let moviegoers piece together what is going on without any title cards or narration, and Wall-E is all the more impressive since it doesn't ever underestimate its audience. Even while the circumstances of Wall-E's existence and situation are made clear, the near-total lack of dialogue in the opening act of the movie lets you sit back and drink in the rich, intoxicating visuals, some of which are among the most astonishing yet produced by Pixar (even if they happen to depict the Earth as a hazy, dessicated megalopolis left completely uninhabitable by its previous tenants).

During one otherwise unremarkable day, Wall-E witnesses the arrival of a huge spaceship, which drops off another, far more advanced robot before blasting off back into the skies. This robot, named Eve (for reasons that become clear as the story progresses), is a sleek, egg-shaped probe with a nuclear-tipped right arm. Starved for any substantial companionship after 700 years of compacting and stacking trash, Wall-E is so taken with Eve that he manages to stow away when events conspire to lead her back heavenwards, and this is where the real "adventure" in the film begins.

Wall-E on the surface is an old fashioned sci-fi-tinged romance with many thematic undercurrents running underneath. Interestingly, most of these elements appear to be sourced from other genre classics: the opening sequence recalls the eerie, melancholy solitude of The Road Warrior, the character of Wall-E brings to mind the sweet innocence of E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, the movie's second act is set on a massive spacecraft that recalls in part the soulless, dehumanized future seen in THX-1138, while the inhabitants of the craft (and the overall state of the Earth we see at the film's beginning) seem influenced by the blistering, righteous anger of Idiocracy. While it is certainly not uncommon for Pixar films to keep adults interested with cultural references and clever writing while entertaining the kids with antics, Wall-E is striking in how "grown-up" most of these underlying messages are (I certainly can't think of many contemporary animated movies that so fiercely send up the effects of "dumbing down" and runaway consumerism).

One could certainly make a case that the third act of Wall-E plays the "green" card in an almost heavy-handed fashion, but director Andrew Stanton's remarkable achievement of actually making you care about the fate of a gaggle of robots by this stage of the game easily makes up for any sense that we're being preached at for a scene or two. That said, I suppose this kind of thing rubs off easier with some people than with others, so your mileage may vary.

I've said it before and I'll repeat it until I finally jinx these guys once and for all, but Pixar never ceases to amaze and delight me. Especially in the wake of such movies I went into with great skepticism as Cars and last summer's surprisingly affecting Ratatouille, I have come to expect nothing less than home runs from this company, and they continue to knock them out of the park, with Wall-E representing yet another new peak in an already fearsome repertoire of greats. Without any hesitation, I proclaim this to be the best movie I've seen in 2008.

Wall-E rating: 5/5

Thursday, July 31, 2008

(Flickr Post): Diamond Vision

20080731 035

I had a couple of days of vacation left over after Sarah went back to work, and decided to take in a weekday game down at The Prog. Since only I was going, I decided to look for the best seats I could find, and brother, did I find something special: Section 151, row F (in the so-called Diamond Box seating, first row, just to the side of home plate, and at the very edge of the safety netting). No contest, these were the best seats I'd ever had to a game, not to mention the most expensive by some distance, but oh were they worth it.

The day itself was damn near perfect for end-of-July-baseball: blue skies, a slight breeze, and blazingly hot (sunscreen and a steady supply of liquid refreshment were a must). Having never attended a weekday games before, I was pretty surprised at the large turnout. The atmosphere at the park was great: the people seated around me were a riot and we had a roaring time razzing the visiting batters as they took their practice swings in the on-deck circle. It felt like the crowd as a whole was equally energetic and into the game throughout: made easier, I suppose, by the Tribe delivering a sound thrashing to the Detroit Tigers and their ace, Justin Verlander.

Just seeing the Indians winning a contest for a change made this one the best games I'd seen all year, but this day was more than that: for me, this was easily the best day of the year, and certainly the peak of a too-brief one week vacation from work. Driving down E. 9th Street after the game, I literally felt more relaxed, recharged, and at ease with things than I have in a long time. This is what a good vacation is supposed to do, isn't it?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

(Flickr Post): Mezzanine

20080729 078

I had deliberately chose my vacation week to coincide with a competitive homestand, so that I could go see a game on almost any night the urge struck me. With attendance stagnant following the team's downward trajectory over the early summer, an offer was floated to Indians fans for free tickets redeemable in exchange for any purchase of $40 or more at a team gift shop. The only "catch" in this deal was that the free tickets would be for seats in so-called "Pronkville" (the mezzanine level behind right field, named for an Indians player I seem to remember being quite dominating a couple of years ago).

As it turns out, the mezzanine seats weren't bad at all as the photos in this post's gallery will attest (though I can't imagine getting any farther away from the action and still feeling any sense of involvement in the game). You get blasted in the face with sun for a few innings, yes, but our slightly elevated perspective was a new vantage point and that enough proved worthy of the trip.

Unfortunately, the game itself was just more of the same in this unending trudge through despondent sub-.500 mediocrity that we Tribe fans call the 2008 season. Indians emergency pitcher Matt Ginter put up a decent fight for a while, but was eventually chased off the mound after giving up 4 runs, followed by Detroit plating an additional 2 off reliever Juan Rincon.

Cleveland tried to make a late comeback off the Tigers bullpen to at least make this game look a bit more respectable in the end, but the final of 8-5 is really all that matters in the long run. We had already left by that point: Sarah wasn't feeling well as the evening grew late, and we both had seen this particular movie a few too many times before.

It hit me at some point before the game that Sarah and I hadn't attended a night game in some time, certainly not this year at least, so I also used this opportunity to get some night-time shots of the downtown Cleveland area with my new camera from the upper deck concession areas. I hope y'all will find them as fetching as I did.

Monday, July 28, 2008

(Flickr Post): Revisiting Mentor Headlands State Park

20080727 57
I headed back to Mentor Headlands Beach Park a few hours after the Twins game finished in order to get some more sunset pictures, this time under much calmer conditions than my last visit.

Here's the best of what came from that excursion. Enjoy.

(Flickr Post): Indians Vs. Twins 7/27/08

20080727 13
Strange as it may seem, especially in this season of discontent and disappointment, the baseball fever that Sarah and I contracted over the last couple of years has now managed to infect my brother and my niece.

My brother and I had recently been hitting a couple of Sunday afternoon games that Sarah had opted out of attending, and he apparently enjoyed the experience so much that it piqued his daughter's curiosity as well. With her cousin in tow and Sarah wanting to go to today's contest, the five of us took in a game against the Minnesota Twins.

For five remarkable innings, Cleveland starter Jeremy Sowers was literally perfect: he allowed no base runners at all until the sixth, which is when Minnesota managed to pull ahead by a run, ultimately winning in the ninth with two additional runs scored against the Tribe's unremittingly terrible bullpen.

On the brighter side, however, these regular Sunday excursions are turning into a kind of regular family outing, and I couldn't be happier about that. If nothing else, it helps to further alleviate a truly depressing year to be a Cleveland Indians fan.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

(Flickr Post): Another Cruise On The Goodtime III

Looking back towards shore from the observation deck of the Goodtime III.For those of you always on the lookout for a new word to keep yourselves on the bleeding edge of hip, apparently "staycation" is the buzzword of the season. As skyrocketing fuel prices have left people of modest means suddenly re-thinking their hypothetical vacation plans in the current economic reality, many are opting to take it easy around the house (or immediate area of which) instead of, say, taking that long dreamed-of road trip adventure to dearly missed Northern Michigan or the exotic California coast. Sigh.

Despite her mortal fear of water (large bodies of it, anyway), I somehow got Sarah to accompany me on the Goodtime III on the first day of our vacation. While the standard cruise route downriver wound up being altered midway through due to the appearance of some unexpected river traffic (a large freighter was being towed northbound, necessitating a quick turnaround and default to Plan B for our ship), the hazy views of downtown Cleveland from a few miles out on Lake Erie were every bit as magnificent as before.

Interestingly, I found myself wobbly in the knees a bit faster than my last time aboard, probably due to the stiff wind that was pushing heavier waves against the hull of the ship, and I had an amusing chat on seasickness and "staycations" with a guy on the observation deck while I snapped some more pictures of downtown Cleveland. The sun on my shoulders, the wind in my hair, and the view before me was an absolutely incredible feeling ... maybe the closest thing to true inner peace and an approximation of transcendence you can get around here for fifteen bucks, in my opinion.

I'm going to have to try this trip at night sometime ...

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Dark Knight

"Some men aren't looking for anything logical. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn."

Let's get this part out of the way first: I am not going to join the hordes of delirious fanboys on IMDB who have unanimously claimed The Dark Knight to be the best movie ever made (and I suspect their collective afterglow will last only until The Hobbit comes out). Yes, this was a very good movie and certainly one of the best comic book themed films in the long history of the genre, but it's also nowhere near as flat-out enjoyable as genre benchmarks Superman, Spider Man II, and, yes, Batman Begins.

If nothing else, you haveAs was the case with Batman Begins, this is primarily a deadly serious exercise: whole reels of The Dark Knight feel more like a "straight" crime film where the protagonist just happens to wear a full body black kevlar costume with a flowing cape than any comic book movie I have ever seen. It's also oddly thoughtful for a summer action flick: returning director Christopher Nolan has no problem steering the movie into discussions on the natures of heroism, vigilantism, and that post-September 11 perennial: privacy versus security.

Before your eyes begin to glaze over, The Dark Knight always remembers after a few minutes of dialogue that it is a summer movie after all (and one based on a long-running comic book character to boot). Thus, every scene of indulgent, chin-stroking rumination over sundry aspects of the human condition is generally followed by people in costumes kicking each other's asses around the block and/or blowing shit up.

Unless you've been in a cave the last seven months, you're probably aware that most of the media hype surrounding The Dark Knight centers on the late Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker. Just how much of an effect Ledger's untimely death had on the absolutely insane box office this film is presently pulling down is impossible to know for certain, but I'm pleased to report that the acting does, for once, live up to the advance notice. Ledger gets some of the biggest laughs to be had during the movie (he is playing The Joker, after all), but his Joker is far less a jolly buffoon than a shambling, vaguely reptilian escapee from a supermax prison. The eerie thing about Ledger's Joker is that this repulsive, pitiless sociopath manages to get under your skin in the same way Anthony Hopkins' turn as Hannibal Lecter wound up in your head after The Silence Of The Lambs: it's a magnetic, disturbing performance and alone worth the price of your ticket.

Elsewhere, the acting on the whole in The Dark Knight is arguably on a higher plane than Batman Begins, with Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, and Morgan Freeman as dependable as ever, with Maggie Gyllenhaal making a fine impression as Bale's old flame and Aaron Eckhart playing the most overtly comic-booky role of the bunch as the Sir Galahad-styled Gotham City D.A. Harvey Dent.

Now comes the spoiler-proof rub: for the first time since I've started following his work, Nolan over-reaches during the course of The Dark Knight and tries to pack just a bit too much plot into what is initially a near-faultless work. It almost feels like Nolan realized that "oh, hey, we have a movie to wrap-up here" about two hours in, and the epic ending sequence that follows unfortunately starts to feel tacked-on and increasingly unnecessary (and perhaps a bit similar to Spider Man 3).

One last tangent: this was one of the "hardest" PG-13 films I've ever seen (I had to check the promotional poster in the lobby as we left to make sure this wasn't an R), and the fact that kids quite plainly below the age of 10 were in the audience and watching this movie gnawed at me on the way home afterward. Times and kids have changed, sure: when I was 7 or 8 years old, I remember being taken to see some Ray Harryhausen-animated version of Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger and being scared out of my freakin' mind all the way through. Goat knows what I would have made out of The Dark Knight, especially when Two-Face makes his dramatic appearance (looking an awful lot like Griffin Dunne towards the end of An American Werewolf In London) or when Batman interrogates the mob boss of Gotham City after first breaking his ankles.

These same thoughts came back to mind a few hours later while I was surfing around on the web and came across a page selling all sorts of tie-in merchandise for the movie, including a batch of children's toys. Incredulous, I looked over these poseable Joker action figures, shirts and posters and wondered if we were only a couple of steps away from trying to get these same kids to bug their parents for Saw play sets or Red Dragon action figures.

Then again, I guess we did have Alien trading cards when I was in fifth grade ...

The Dark Knight rating: 4/5

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

(Flickr Post): Fausto Carmona Pitches At Classic Park

Fausto pitched four innings of shut out ball in his first rehab start. Too bad he couldn't have hung around for three or four more ...The Lake County Captains haven't quite managed the same winning pace in the second half of their season as they had during the first, but their playoff appearance is still secure, which is a lot more than can be said for the Cleveland Indians these days.

Anyway, with Indians starter Fausto Carmona set to make his first rehab appearance since coming off the Disabled List only a couple of miles from my front door on my day off (which also happened to be yet another wonderfully gorgeous summer's day), this was going to be a must-see game.

Thankfully, Carmona did not disappoint this evening ... those duties were handled instead by Captains reliever Josh Judy during a disastrous seventh inning. The Fautastic One racked up four innings of near-spotless work, allowing only one double and reminding everyone present just how much he is missed at Progressive Field.

Oh yeah, and none other than Dick Goddard sang the "The Star Spangled Banner" at the game. Bonus.

Monday, July 14, 2008

(Flickr Post): A Windy Sunset At Headlands Beach

20080713 107
As yet another perfect summer weekend wound to a close, I felt the desire to capture another sunset on Lake Erie, this time from Mentor Headlands State Park, a few miles down the freeway from where I live, and a far more picturesque location than Willowick's Lakefront Lodge.

An added bonus that really helped make these pictures interesting: a high-pressure system had started moving in over the area earlier in the day, and it was very windy when Sarah and I reached the beach about a half hour before sunset. The scene that awaited us as we walked over the small hill (and suddenly were able to see the whole beach before us) was breathtaking: the normally calm lake was roiling and churning with restless energy: the waves crashing onto the beach as if it were late November instead of mid July while the trees and grass swayed and bent around us in the steady wind.

Enough from me. Enjoy the pix!

(Flickr Post): Sweep!

20080713 045
Initially, I had resisted buying tickets to today's game, wondering what positive gain could come out of watching what was left of the Cleveland Indians getting steamrolled by the hottest team in baseball. Then, from out of nowhere, the Indians improbably won the first 3 games in this 4-game series (and by a decisive margin at that), and I suddenly had to make the trip downtown to see if they could somehow pull off the sweep, even with Jeremy Sowers on the mound.

Guess what? Even though Sowers remains winless on the year (despite five perfect innings of work to start off this particular game), the Tribe somehow came out on top yet again and the sweep (sweep?!) of the Tampa Bay was complete.

Into the All-Star Break we go, our 2008 season a wreck, our ace traded off to a National League team in the midst of a pennant race, and we have just taken four in a row from the biggest surprise team of the year (in a positive sense, at least).

This is the weirdest season ever.

Monday, July 07, 2008

(Flickr Post): Another Perfect Day

20080706 199
Though my first real vacation from work in nearly a decade doesn't start for another three weeks, the promise of a clear, sunny day on Sunday (coupled with Sarah needing to use my car all day on Monday) presented an opportunity to do some local photography that was too good to pass up.

I slept in a bit later than I'd have liked (forgot to set the clock for 10 AM instead of 10 PM), but I was still able to take full advantage of the weather and arrived downtown at the old municipal parking lot on the south side of the Shoreway just after 1 PM and set about wandering the area, eventually heading over to Burke Lakefront Airport, the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, the U.S.S. Cod, the Great Lakes Science Center, and the William G. Mather, taking pictures of whatever caught my eye.

While relaxing for a few moments at the end of a long brick walkway that juts out into North Coast Harbor from behind the Rock Hall, a much larger vessel appeared from behind the William G. Mather and approached the inlet. It was the Goodtime III, which I had glimpsed occasionally over the years while gallivanting around the Flats, but had never seen this close-up. I also didn't know that its mooring was directly behind the Rock Hall, across that little man made bay from where I was sitting. Since I was going to be walking underneath the Rock Hall and down the brick pier at the end of E 9th Street anyway, I decided to investigate the ship's fares and tour schedule up close, and when I realized that another two-hour cruise would be departing in a half hour, made a snap decision to go along for the ride.

Once out of North Coast Harbor, the Goodtime III hugs the Cleveland shoreline for a mile or so before entering the Cuyahoga River and cruising six winding miles upstream under countless bridges and between dozens of old factories, warehouses and supply dumps. Upon reaching the gigantic Mittal Steel Mill just south of Interstate 490 (whose riverfront is apparently the hangout for every seagull in the Northeast Ohio area), the Goodtime III executes a 180 and retraces its path to the mouth of the Cuyahoga. From there, the ship cruises straight out past the breakwaters and into Lake Erie proper, where it then describes a long, slow, circle, allowing sight seers a half hour of amazing panoramic views of downtown Cleveland (not to mention miles of shoreline to either side) before finally returning to its home port.

Incidentally, I had heard that The Flats were being redeveloped over the years, but I was utterly gobsmacked when we steamed past what was left of the East Bank. Granted, I had not been down in this area at all since the fall of 2000 (and not regularly since maybe 1998 or so), it has been razed almost completely flat and looks as depopulated and forbidding as a weapons testing area. The old Watermark seemed intact, though it looked to be abandoned or in disrepair. The West Bank, on the other hand, looked pretty much the same as I remembered, though the Plain Dealer Pavilion (formerly Scene Pavilion, and before that, Nautica) looked significantly more "tarted-up" than it had been since my last concert experience there a decade earlier. It was difficult to ascertain from my angle looking in if the old clubs and restaurants (Metropolis/Trilogy, The Spaghetti Warehouse) I used to frequent in my mid-twenties were still around behind Tangiers and the Powerhouse: that might have to be an excursion for a future date.

Having expected nothing more than a pleasant ride around the harbor, I was completely awestruck by the number and massive scale of the structures that lined the once-thriving Cuyahoga River. It was also fascinating to see areas of the Flats I had only previously glimpsed while driving around aimlessly in the middle of the night a decade and change before, and taking in the shoreline and skyline from an unobstructed, peaceful vantage point a couple of miles offshore was fantastic.

Full disclosure to those with a propensity for motion sickness: it was only towards the end of the ride when we were heading out onto Lake Erie proper that I started feeling a bit off-balance. My camera battery had just run out, and while replacing it with the backup (and changing out the memory stick for safety's sake), I suddenly realized that it was taking a conscious effort for me to sit up straight. Puzzled, I leaned back into the chair I was sitting in, sitting myself straight up and feeling a strange sensation like some invisible force was pulling my body a few degrees towards the right and I had been subtly leaning to my left to counter it. I stood up and a slight wave of wobbliness pass through my legs.

At no time during the voyage on the Goodtime III did I ever felt outright seasick, but I definitely experienced a mild dizziness that kept at me until I was on walking on land about an hour later. Having been aboard a few high-speed ferries bouncing happily across the Straits Of Mackinac as a kid, I know what true seasickness feels like, and this was certainly nowhere near that level of nausea or imbalance, but it is something a few people might want to keep in mind before climbing aboard.

Thoroughly blown away with the trip and elated at the pictures I had taken so far, I drove back home in a lighter mental state than I had felt in weeks. My day wasn't quite done yet, however: part of my original plan had been to locate a place I had come across a few years before in order to get a picture of Lake Erie from one of the highest elevations in the area just a few miles inland. After a stopover at the condo to let Sarah know I was still alive, I set off into Concord Township: the premier district in all of Lake County for people who want to live in fenced-off monster homes that scream "get the hell off my lawn and leave me the fuck alone."

At first, my destination eluded me: I knew it was on King Memorial Road somewhere south of Little Mountain, but a few rolling miles of southbound travel brought me to the border of Chardon Township with no evidence of the view I had been looking for. Mystified, I turned around and retraced my route backwards, wondering if I might have forgotten an important turn or landmark. As I climbed the last rise before the Little Mountain Road intersection, right at the entrance to the Lake County Historical Society and I suddenly found the view and nearly drove off the road in surprise. Sadly, by that time, the sun was too low in the sky for the image I wanted to obtain, and the glare off the water largely obscured the intended effect of the shot, but at least I know where to go when I return in a few weeks for a better-composed second chance.

I had promised Sarah I wouldn't be more than an hour and change when I left the condo around 1:30, but now the sun was setting and it seemed suddenly obvious that the best way to end the day would be with a lot of sky/sun pictures from the beach as well (there had also been a striking crescent moon over the last few days as well, which factored into my desire for some additional captures). My obvious choice from where I was would have been Mentor Headlands State Park, but I decided to stop home first, see if Sarah wanted to come along, and then go to Willoughby Lakefront Lodge instead. Since Sarah wasn't feeling well, I headed up alone and managed to get some pretty good images of the day's end, along with a few of what I call "texture" shots of sand, rocks, waves, water, and the like. It sounds a bit silly, perhaps, but I felt honestly drugged as I headed back to the car a short while later: it was a beautiful, serene end to another perfect summer's day.

For those who have never done so (and don't have an aversion to being afloat for a couple of hours), I highly recommend an afternoon trip on the Goodtime III: without question the highlight of a leisurely, gorgeous, breezy sunny day that did wonders for the soul. I really needed this ...