Saturday, February 23, 2008

A Bottle of What?

I feel compelled to respond to the overwhelming flood of enquiries regarding the title of my blog “Bottle of Smoke”. No it’s not the latest spice mix from Alton Brown, it’s one of my favorite Pogues songs.

I first heard about the Pogues back in 1984. I used to pick up copies of NME, the British music magazine. It had all kind of insider references that I couldn’t follow, but they kept printing articles abut a bunch of drunken Irish reprobates who were tearing up every music pub in the UK. I was able to find a copy of Rum Sodomy and the Lash and Red Roses for Me at the mall. Yes, at a chain music store in a mall. In Syracuse New York. Don’t ask me how those two chunks of vinyl found their way to the "Imports" section in the whitest of whitebread cities, I’ve always suspected divine intervention.

It took more than a few spins (and a few dozen beers) to get what they were trying to do, but I was hooked. Shane’s voice was still strong, his lyrics were amazing and the rest of the band had enough energy to reach right into my head and give everything a good spin. While they might have come out of the London punk scene, they could actually play their instruments, not always a given back then.

Now after a lifetime of whiskey and cigarettes (and no teeth) Shane sounds like Ernest Borgnine with a bad cold, but it almost doesn’t matter. His songs are beautiful, but never pretty.

For the last few years I have been celebrating my birthday at Belmont Park. It’s a surprisingly pleasant place to have a picnic, though I have always wanted to bet on “A Bottle of Smoke”
Bottle Of Smoke
By Shane MacGowan / Jem Finer (1988)
Thanks and praises
Thanks to Jesus
I bet on the Bottle of Smoke
I went to Hell
And to the races
To bet on the Bottle of Smoke

The day being clear
The sky being bright
He came up on the left
Like a streak of light
Like a drunken fuck
On a Saturday night
Up came the Bottle of Smoke

Twenty fucking five to one
My gambling days are done
I bet on a horse called the Bottle of Smoke
And my horse won

Stewards inquiries
Swift and fiery
I had the Bottle of Smoke
Inquisitions and suppositions
I had the Bottle of Smoke
Fuck the stewards
A trip to Lourdes
Might give the old fuckers
The power of sight
Screaming springers and stoppers
And call out coppers
But the money still gleams in my hand like a light

Bookies cursing
Cars reversing
I had the Bottle of Smoke
Glasses steaming
Vessels bursting
I had the Bottle of Smoke
Slip a fifty to the wife
And for each brat a crisp new five
To give me a break on a Saturday night
When I had the Bottle of Smoke

Priests and maidens
Drunk as pagans
They had the Bottle of Smoke
Sins forgiven and celebrations
They had the Bottle of Smoke

Fuck the Yanks
And drink their wives
The moon is clear
The sky is bright
I'm happy as the horses shite
Up came the Bottle of Smoke

Saturday, February 16, 2008

REM's Latest

I really, really want to buy the new REM record (yes, I still call them records- I’m a geezer, I admit it). I also really, really don’t want it to suck. But I’m not hopeful.

I don’t know what happened in 1991, maybe it was bad juju stemming from their fight with Peter Holsapple, maybe they just ran out of ideas. Did Bill Berry leaving take something away? My theory is that huge amounts of money mixed with universal critical acclaim generally produces crappy Rock and Roll.

Have they recorded one good song in the last 17 years? “What’s the Frequency Kenneth?” and “E-Bow the Letter”, just ain’t making it folks.

REM meant quite a lot to me, over the years. Growing up on Long Island in the 70’s , I had been bombarded with 70’s Classic Rock, mostly supplied by WBAB. This was back when Stairway To Heaven was considered the greatest rock and roll song of all time, and Southern Rock (just typing it makes me want to retch), was at the top of the charts. About halfway through my senior year of High School, I tuned into this radio station that was playing stuff that was completely different, WLIR. While the AOR stations were not only playing the same songs, but even playing them at the same time EVERY FREAKING DAY, ‘LIR was playing Blondie, The Clash, The Ramones, and every once in a while these guys from Athens Georgia. I was so bored with pop music and suddenly there was something new and alive- some if it was actually intelligent too.

My friend Pete was really the first one who turned me onto REM in a big way. He even bought a 12-string and could do the opening riff to Pretty Persuasion. It took me about a year to admit I had no idea what their lyrics were about, then I found out that the guys in the band probably didn’t understand all the lyrics. Who cares, it still sounded great. I was lucky enough to catch them live a few times, including once in the Onondaga War Memorial. Michael Stipe wore a dress- a Lenny Bruce inspired tribute to the anti-war movement. I had a hunch that the band would be staying a few blocks away at the Hotel Syracuse and I was right. Have to confess to a HUGE fanboy rush when Peter Buck and Michael both responded politely when I complemented them on the show.

For me they may have hit their peak at the MTV Unplugged session they did back in 1991. I recorded it onto a VCR and a cassette, then later bought a bootleg CD of the show from some company in Singapore. If I remember correctly I actually mailed them cash. Since I have bought at least half a dozen of their albums twice, once on vinyl again on CD, I don’t feel too guilty about cheating them out of royalties just that once. Mills, Stipe, Berry and Buck (along with Peter Holsapple) played a fabulous mix of newer and older tunes. Perfect Circle can still get me choked up, even though I can’t articulate why. My wife and I danced to their cover of “Love Is All Around” at our wedding.

And it’s been downhill ever since.

After all this blather I’ll probably still take a chance and download the new album from I-Tunes. I may even spring for the extended version with some live tracks. Fanboy wins over the cynic in me--- this time.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Why I can't do comics

The "Graphic Novel" seems to be the next great idea for both Hollywood and publishers. I've read a few, I liked Alan Moore's "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" and "V for Vendetta" though both ended up as mediocre films. I haven't seen the film version, but Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis was amazingly brilliant.

I started reading "Y: The Last Man" a couple years ago, the plot twist grabbed me right away, every last man on the planet except for Yorick Brown (Y) suddenly drops dead of some unknown plague. Y was originally released in a series of comic books (yes I know 43 is a little bit old to still be reading comic books), but I didn't pick it up until the first two years or so were collected into softcover books.

I enjoyed them enough to continue reading the series right on through to the end, issue number 60 which I just finished. Even though I stuck it out until the end, it reminded me why I could never become a true comic geek. I simply don't have the patience.
I can bang through an issue in about 15 minutes. Then I'm supposed to wait six weeks for the next chapter? Not happening, think I'll wait for the thing to be collected in book form.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Most Annoying Children's Book

On Sunday mornings my oldest daughter Megan takes a cooking class. This morning Debbie took her to class while I went to Barnes and Noble with Devon, our youngest. Barnes and Noble is probably Devon’s favorite spot. She loves to pick out the books and have us read to her. A nice father and daughter morning--- UNTIL. . . she picked up Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity. When I started reading it seemed like a normal NYCentric kids book. Drawings superimposed of what looked like Park Slope. The plot was pretty simple, girl (Trixie) goes to pre-kindergarden carrying her favorite toy, Knuffle Bunny. That should have set off warning bells, (what kind of parent sends their kid to school with a stuffed animal?), but I read on. It seems another girl has the same bunny. Since Trixie and her bitter rival can’t agree on who has the correct pronunciation of “Knuffle”, they end up fighting and the teacher confiscates both rabbits.

The teacher returns Trixie’s rabbit at the end of the day and she heads to the park, then home and later, to bed. However (and I’m sure you didn’t see this coming), Trixie realizes that “her” bunny has been switched. She comes into her parents’ room screaming “This is not my Bunny!!” Little Trixie demands that her parents IMMEDIATELY call their counterparts and arrange a hostage exchange.

At 2:30 AM.

Now in any civilized part of our planet, said child is, at best ignored, and at worst, well ACS has definite “Views” about that sort of thing nowadays. But in Park Slope Dad gets out of bed and is actually about to phone the other set of parents (AT 2:30 AM) when the phone rings. It’s the other parents calling to get their little princess’s bunny back. I’d say it must be something in the water, but since I used to do NYC DEP’s budget I know I’m drinking the same stuff. And no way in hell am I making that call at 2:30 AM. And I made sure to tell Devon that too.

I’m already on a bit of a rant here, so I don’t want to go overboard here, but who thinks that calling another family in the middle of the night is anything other than an
act of war? Or more accurately, an admission that you never should have reproduced in the first place.

What kind of person writes a book like this with a straight face? Mo Willems, that’s who. And I can’t tell you how disappointed that makes me. I absolutely LOVED Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! Cute illustrations, the bus looked like it was Ralph Kramden’s ride. And when you have to read the same book fifty or sixty times, trust me, it’s nice to actually enjoy what you’re reading. I guess there’s a market for everything and someone has to write books for the “I’m raising a little god/goddess” crowd, but I wish someone else had picked up the gauntlet on that one.