Saturday, March 31, 2018

Look for the Silver Lining (Leslie Odom Jr) with Lyrics

And then there's Leslie Odom, Jr., who can sing up there with the best of them, and who also sings with sincerity and enthusiasm, and who does also obviously have respect for the material. 

What is that, a Hat-Trick-and-a-Half? I'm pretty sure that we are still allowed to say out loud that we love Leslie Odom, Jr.'s singing. Well, I'm saying it anyway. Did I break some new rule? It's hard to keep up. 

Chet Baker "Look For The Silver Lining"

Are we still allowed to say that we like Chet Baker's singing? We live in strange times. I wouldn't want to throw racist triggers around. 

I'd definitely agree that old Chet didn't have a conventionally great voice, but I would still say that he was living proof that there was more to a great song than a great voice. Sincerity and enthusiasm and love for the material do count for something. 

I'm pretty sure that it was Ornette Colman who said something like, "what can you say about a guy who can't sing for shit, but when he sings the song, he makes you cry." Something like that. 

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Remaining Alive: Little Richard - "Long Tall Sally" 1956

From the "Remaining Alive" file, here's Little Richard tearing it up. Richard isn't feeling well these days, but no one quite feels like themselves anymore at the age of eighty-five. Word (Wiki) is that he's still got his wits about him (there's a few good jokes in there, but I'm not here to deliver them).

My own favorite Richard moment was him in an interview in about 1990, reciting the list of drugs that he didn't do anymore. The list went on forever, and included things that most people hadn't even heard of. He sang a tune that day too, accompanied by a friend playing a guitar, I believe. It was a church song, I think. He sang the hell out of it, which I suppose is how church songs are supposed to work.

Alert the media! Little Richard remains alive as of this writing. Somebody should get down there quick and get another little chat on video. Richard always delivers a good time.

In Los Angeles, Part II: Traffic

Evidently, if you’ve done enough driving in your life, you can forego the pleasure for many years and yet safely take up the practice again at will. I rented a car in Los Angeles the day after arriving, and before taking the wheel it had been three years since I had touched one, a steering wheel, that is. I am happy to report that as soon as the car starts to move, it’s as though you have been driving all of that time on a daily basis. 

Street scene on Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills.

I have friends in Los Angeles that I correspond with, and they love to complain about how terrible the traffic has become. They complain specifically about recent developments, like bike lanes. They complain about the huge volume of cars, as though it were a sudden phenomenon. I can now report that it is indeed terrible, and that trying to get around town does take more time than one remembers. But honestly, I didn’t perceive it as being much different from anything that has gone before.

There was perhaps more road work in evidence, and that does slow things down. But the differences in the volume of traffic, and the increase in the time that it takes to get anywhere, have been INCREMENTAL. There hasn’t been any sudden jump in the difficulties. I got to Los Angeles in the mid-1970s, and I can tell you that it has gotten worse every single year since then.

I’m sure that people who lived in L.A. before me had the same experience, probably since the advent of the automobile. In the late 1970s, you could drive anywhere and park pretty much out front, on the street, which seems like a lost dream of paradise by now. Parking was free, or almost free. Outside of rush hour it was all free sailing. Those days are long gone. 

Lincoln Boulevard, showing the old Fox Venice Theater, which was a great re-run house showing great films from all periods and genres. It is now a carpet store of some kind.

My advice to those who must deal with this new situation is to enjoy it while you can. It will only get worse. Look for the good! 

In Los Angeles, Part I: The Homeless Are Still With Us

I was in L.A. for two weeks in early March. I always enjoy my trips to my old stomping grounds; I lived there for almost thirty years. I enjoy visiting, but it’s not like the enthusiastic enjoyment that a child feels at Disneyland. It’s more like the semi-nostalgic Gemuetlichkeit* of walking again in the steps of prior life experiences. I walked again where I had walked many times; I drove again on roads that I had first driven on before my thirtieth birthday; my phone number from thirty years ago still got me the discounts at my old supermarket; I saw houses and stores that by now have taken on new lives. I took the pulse of the city that I called home for three decades. The city seemed okay, and it was certainly still very attractive, but it wasn’t all lollypops and roses.

It was two years ago that I had last visited L.A., and then only in passing. I like to plan rest stops into long trips. Traveling from South East Asia to Southern California is enough of a slog. It’s between twenty-five and thirty hours already. I refuse to collect my bags and go straight to another terminal to check in for a flight to another American city. Two years ago, I went to this hotel from the airport, and then back to LAX the next day for a flight to Tucson. And not too early, either. Returning to Bangkok from Tucson, I planned a similar buffer. 

Two years ago, I thought the hotel was fine. After all, all I did was collapse on the bed and sleep. This time? Maybe it’ll get its own post next week.

This trip was about twenty-six hours in the same clothes by the time I arrived at my LAX-close hotel. I took a cab, not wishing to drive a car for the first time in three years after all of that dizzying travel hassle. It was only about two p.m. when I checked in to my room. I was resolved to stay awake until at least eight p.m., nine would be better, so I fiddled around in the room, unpacking, making notes about the trip, reading a bit, and getting to know the cable TV. I recalled from my first stay that it was a considerable walk from the hotel to anything to eat, but I thought that the walk would do me good. I set off about six p.m., intending to visit a convenience store and a McDonald’s. That was kind of the choices; it would have been another quarter of a mile to a Taco Bell.

I walked north to Century Boulevard. There’s a long block of sidewalk outside a big self-storage facility. Two years ago, there was nothing there but the sidewalk, a strip of grass, and some trees on the almost bare sub-lawn (between the sidewalk and the street). This time the whole length of the grass area was taken up with a semi-permanent homeless encampment. That’s the preferred terminology in L.A. now, “homeless encampment,” and they seem to be all over. It was a big news item on all media. This one ran for at least two hundred feet from the fence to the sidewalk, a diameter of about ten feet across. It consisted of makeshift tents made from plastic sheeting or tarps. I could make out chairs and beds and shopping carts full of people’s belongings. The biggest tarp structure had a gasoline generator, and the inside featured electric lights and a TV. And some heaters, no doubt. Don’t let anyone fool you, L.A. is pretty cold at night, even in March.

After that block and across a small, dead end street was a gas station with driveways on La Cienega and Century. There’s a big convenience store there. There were two homeless people flanking the door. Both had obviously been outdoors for a long time. On one side was a tall man of uncertain age whose face was hidden by a large hood. He did not move or speak, at all. On the other side was a woman who appeared to be about sixty years old. Some of her teeth were missing, which you could notice because she got eye contact and smiled as you walked by. She offered me a greeting and asked for any spare change. Both were bundled up in clothing on that chilly evening. I wondered if the silent man was her bodyguard. He was younger and built for the task.

These are very bad signs, but you’d need a scorecard to follow all of the bad signs in America right now.

*Gemeutlichkeit: a word unique to German which conveys a meaning that combines the feeling of walking in well broken-in shoes with the pleasant experience of one’s favorite things.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Damned - New Rose

Somehow, I thought that I needed a palate cleanser at this point. I can be as sentimental as the next guy, but I try to get over it as soon as possible. 

Love, Look Away! - Reiko Sato, James Shigeta!

Marilyn Horne singing the song, but Reiko Sato dancing the hell out of the dream sequence. 

Love Look Away - Johnny Mathis

It's so easy to forget about Johnny Mathis, because he has disappeared so completely from our collective notice and memory. Dude could sing, though, and guess what? He's still alive as of this writing. 

A quick trip to Google confirmed that he remains alive, that he's only eighty-something, that he sold a shit-ton of records in his long career, and that at last count he was sitting pretty on about four hundred million dollars. That being the case, maybe he doesn't care if anyone remembers who he was. 

Not Too Horrible

There was a time when I didn't mind at all getting my picture taken. That time lasted quite a while, too, and I was lucky in that way. The party started to slow down at about the time that Apple and IBM cloned home computers first became popular. It's been all downhill since then, and by now I absolutely dread the sight of the front side of a camera. The photos themselves I find mostly disagreeable and sometimes actually shocking. This one, though, is not too horrible.

This is a professionally taken photo that I found on the public relations site for my university. It was the first day of our commencement ceremonies, which go on for an entire week. The place was abuzz with security and photographers. School photographers, Royal photographers, media photographers. I was the only foreign professor there that day, so I saw a lot of cameras aimed my way. I'm very camera-aware, so I had a moment to compose myself before the click. This is the only picture that I found, not that I was even looking.

It's a good one, isn't it? I'll take it! How do you like my new glasses? I got them while I was in L.A. I'm such a creature of habit that I flew across nine time zones to buy glasses at the same place in my old neighborhood where I have bought all of my glasses for the last thirty-five years. They're Ray Bans. Do they make me look younger?

Progress On Some Fronts

My sons have decided that it's time for them to start talking to me again. And quite civilly, I must say, I felt like I was really back in the club. Nothing was said about the years of silence, but that's how it goes, this life-on-earth routine. I was grateful, and I remained gracious throughout.

Here's a nice picture of the three of us, with a very nice pizza in the foreground. This was at Alejo's, a Mexican owned and run Italian restaurant on Lincoln Boulevard in Manchester, just north of LAX. I highly recommend Alejo's to anyone who may find themselves in the area. Los Angeles is famous for great restaurants featuring cuisine from all of the countries of the world, but if you look in the back you find out that it's mostly Mexicans doing the cooking (and, more commonly known, the cleaning up). A Thai restaurant that I like, Ananjak Thai, on Ventura Boulevard in Encino, has an entirely Mexican kitchen staff. All of the dishes on the extensive Thai menu are excellent and totally authentic. It's owned by a Thai couple, but the rest of the staff are Mexicans.

Somehow this post became about Mexicans, or I should say, Mexican-Americans. That's not a bad thing. I love to give Mexicans a shout on this here blog, as long-time readers know. Mexicans are very hard working, decent, versatile, and friendly people. They can cook my Italian food anytime.

And it was nice to see the boys, too. I saw my granddaughter as well, and that was wonderful. Forgive me if I don't show off with a picture of her. I believe that pictures of children are best left in family albums.

Sunday Morning Getaway

The "portrait" photo is me approaching the beach on Imperial Highway, along the southern edge of LAX. Turn right and your on the road above Dockweiler State Beach, dare I say, Dockweiler . . . Road? Boulevard? Something like that. Dockweiler, anyway. The view from my car in the "landscape" photo is very familiar to me. I took these pix two weeks ago. 

My old house in L.A. was very close to this spot. Just a hop, skip, and a jump, seven minutes in the old days, long ago, before the traffic got crazy. On some Sunday mornings, after breakfast, I'd take some of the Sunday papers and park down here for a while, listening to the radio or a CD, alternately reading and watching the planes take off over my head from LAX, or looking at the oil tankers offloading at pipeline connections about a mile out to sea. (There's a big oil facility in El Segundo.) Not only on Sundays, I was liable to show up here almost any time that I had an hour to kill. Maybe read a couple of chapters of a novel; maybe just listen to All Things Considered. Seeing it again was a high point of this trip. 

It's still a beautiful spot, as you can see. The land jutting out in the distance is the northern curve of Santa Monica Bay, with Malibu more or less in the center of the section of distant coast that we can see here. So Cal really is a very nice place. 

Just One, Honest

I was in L.A. for two weeks, and I really did max out my burger and pizza time. The food in Thailand is great, and I'm not complaining, but Thailand isn't a burger country. Half of the Thai people think that beef is poisonous, an attitude that has been prevalent in China for millennia.

I had (single, not double) cheeseburgers from In-n-Out Burger four times. Those are smallish, and you can eat them without feeling guilty at all. No bacon, lots of tomato and (grilled for me) onions.

The burger in the photo is from Fatburger, a small franchise chain that is owned by Magic Johnson. This is the Rolls Royce of burgers, with plenty of bacon and cheese. One time every couple of years is okay, though, don't you think? Whatever, who cares, it was worth it.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Love Look Away

Okay, so I've been in Los Angeles for almost two weeks now, and I'm loving my old radio stations. I heard this one on KJAZ, 88.1 FM, today, and I pulled over to the curb to write it down so that it would not just fade from memory. This cut is worth listening to every so often, pretty much forever.

The radio here really is pretty good. KJAZ plays a lot of blues on the weekend. Then there's KXLU, 88.9 FM, the Loyola University station. They play the music of the cool kids, I'm not even sure what you'd call it anymore. It's more rock than pop, that much I can say. On the weekend they're mostly Salsa, and that's a rocking good time, too. KCRW is still very good (89.9 FM). Their thing is playing music for the cool adults. KPFK, Pacifica Radio, is the center of World Music activity, which fits in with their aggressive political posture. There are weekend shows devoted to African pop/rock/jazz music. It's all good stuff.

For all of those stations, there are no commercials, unless you catch them in a pledge drive. It's a good radio town, and a good restaurant town, and a great weather town. Just remember to bring a lot of money, because L.A. is also a very, very expensive town.

Go-Go Dancers 60's. 1960's Little Betty Boop Also Appears.

Life on earth has several redeeming characteristics, but there's only one of them that never gets old. I am constantly humbled by the experience, and grateful. Say amen, somebody!

J.J. Jackson - But, It's Alright

Loving songs like this makes me some kind of semi-retarded geezer I suppose, but it could be worse. I actually am a semi-retarded geezer.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

My Country

My country, right or wrong. I never believed it myself, but you used to hear it all the time. I mean back in the "Cops of the World" days, the days when meaningful protest changed the course of the country and slowed down wild-assed, counter-productive government policies.

I'm in America now, staring it directly in the face instead of checking in on the Internet from time to time. I don't like a lot of what I see. The United States of America: I love this country and its flag. This love forces me to strongly disapprove of much that is going on these days.

For one thing, construction sites are flying American flags, big ones, just like during the anti-war days of the Vietnam era. (The photo shows the construction of a commuter rail project. This flag flew uninterrupted for the entire two weeks of my visit. Day and night, rain or shine. That, by the way, is contrary to the rules of etiquette regarding the flag.)  Other flag motifs are common as well. Those flags do not mean, "we love our country." They mean, "we hate the people who disagree with us regarding the current government's policies and the direction that our society should take going forward."

The country is dangerously divided, both politically and financially. Divided in terms of the security of its citizens. These divisions are getting worse. The income inequality is startling, not only between the very wealthy and everyone else, but also between the still prosperous and the desperate poor. These things are self-evident; they require no explanation.

"What can be done about it?" would be a good question, but a better question, I think, is, "can anything be done about it?" We live in a speed-of-light communications environment that has never existed before. Many voter's bad attitudes have been created and are being constantly massaged on a minute to minute basis. The information that bombards people is a mix of the true, the dubious, and the intentionally misleading, and people have less and less ability to tell the difference, even if they cared to sort things out according to their reality quotient. It may be too late to do anything but ride this tiger and see where it takes us. Maybe all we can do is hold on and hope for the best.

What would "the best" look like? It might be a realization by the power elite that THEIR best interests lie in keeping the rest of us relatively comfortable and secure. Allowing people to have lives that feature some degree of meaning and security. It is highly possible that such a world would generate a much bigger total financial product that would make the very wealthy and powerful even more lavishly well-off than they are today. I don't think that will happen, though, because it is not necessary. Ninety-nine point something percent of a world full of insecurity and desperation is already more than enough to provide the bosses with more than they could ever spend or benefit from controlling. So why bother? The power-elite is nothing if not practical. Selfish and practical.

"Oh, say, does that star spangled banner still wave?" Well, yes. But the rest of those words don't apply anymore. This isn't that land anymore.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Other Earthly Paradise

I am out of the office, and I will remain so for another week or so. My temporary base is Los Angeles, which was my home for about thirty years. It's still very nice.

American TV is interesting. It's like an education in the fine points of pharmacology. Here are two fascinating things that I've learned about prescription drugs:

1. The new selling point for legal drugs is, "may cause weight loss;" and
2. If you are allergic to a certain medication, you should avoid taking that medication.

Oh, three fascinating things:

3. Virtually all medications have the potential to make you dizzy, and probably nauseous as well.

The only time that I watch regular TV "channels" these days is in hotels. It's just as big a waste of time as I remembered it. Between streaming, and YouTube, and all of the many other options, it's no wonder that the viewership for this year's Oscars was down. I only watched the whole thing because I was trapped.