Tunesday video

Tunesday : 1988 Revolution Music–Tracy Chapman

1988 was probably the most pivotal year in my developing taste in music. Until that point, I’d pretty much been a bit of a drifter, taste-wise, taking what I liked from what 51jMBp+m6pLmy friends exposed me to–I could still remember being excited for months before the first “Asia” supergroup album came out in when I was junior high, and a year later I was sitting in my friend Andy’s room, blown away by bands I’d never even heard of before, like Husker Du, The Minutemen and The Jam.  Thanks, Andy!

The radio soundtrack to my youth was vintage Pittsburgh Classic Rock, pretty much the same three dozen songs iconic radio station WDVE still plays today: Journey. Zeppelin. Styx. That shit. I knew all the words to way too many Kansas songs, and like a lot of people  I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for Journey.  Those summer nights are callin’.  Don’t stop believin’ , man.

In college I listened to what the local college radio played–some cool stuff and some not so cool stuff.  We joke in hindsight–it was the eighties, but on the other hand, it was the eighties.  Billy Joel was the King of Rock, and Bono was just some Irish Dude with a bad haircut standing in the snow--not the most earnest dick in rock spending the rest of his career trying to match that big, perfect anthemic single.

In 1988 a lot of things changed.  I’d been listening to more hippie music thanks to a room-mate in that old yellow craftsman bungalow on South Sixth Street, a great college house with beautiful woodwork and a ping-pong table that we nicknamed “The Slaughterhouse” after meeting Kurt Vonnegut, who was an both an unapologetic asshole and just as magnificent as I’d hoped.  We thought it was a cool name, but it never stuck–not even with us.  We called it “the house.”

1988 was the year of N.W.A.’s eye-opening and mind-blowing album Straight Outta Compton, the subject of Part 3 of this post (coming next week at this time), and the equally fantastic Eric B. & Rakim album Follow The Leader, the playing of which earned my a “what the fuck are you listening to?” from another roommate.  This, of course, made me want to play it again.  And louder, if only to drown out his John Cougar Mellancamp.

It was against that background that I stumbled into some very different revolutionary music–a friend and I took some girls to see my favorite band, Cowboy Junkies (another 1988 band, deserving of their very own post), in the Dormont Theater, and the opening act was an unknown folk singer named Tracy Chapman.  None of us knew the first thing about her, and we were curious.  Now, our idea of what a folk singer should be was an amalgam of, say, Joni Mitchell or Joan Baez filtered through the only contemporary folkie getting any college radio play at the time, Suzanne Vega.

We expectied a soft spoken little pale girl–not a waif, but maybe a sprite. Probably in a little sundress. What we didn’t expect was a powerful, yet quiet and unassuming young black woman who stunned us to near silence for the entirely of her too-short set.  She was dressed all in black, like Johnny Cash. I still remember the uncertainty in her eyes, the embarrassed smile at our applause, and the way single spotlight reflected off the frets of her acoustic guitar.  I’d never before seen an audience demand an encore from an opening act, but we couldn’t get enough.

I also remember thinking: and this is what regular people get from church.


The Boston Bomber–To Kill or Not To Kill

I found myself, once again, over at Jonathan Turley’s always compelling and substantive blog, where he’s been writing about the decision to allow an image of convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, in his orange prison jumpsuit, defiantly raising his middle finger after his arrest.  Mr. Turley raises the legal question: was this evidence prejudicial or probative and, by extension, should it have been allowed?

It’s a tough call; one that, given my absolute lack of legal training or experience, I am very comfortable making. However close to the line (and it is very close) the simple fact is that this gesture is how he chose to represent himself–unrepentant and defiant.  Separate from the heinousness of his actions, his defiance is almost amusing, coming just hours after he was found cowering in a parked boat.  He had scrawled out an equally defiant note with all the usual, juvenile junior jihadist rhetoric—blah, blah, blah.

Let’s not forget how the younger Mr. Tsarnaev had escaped his previous encounter with law enforcement–by engaging in a furious firefight that included home-made bombs and semi-automatic weapons, before fleeing in a stolen vehicle, running over his older brother and dragging his body 25 to 30 feet down the street on the way. I think a raised middle finger is not only a concise and illuminating view into this young man’s soul but quite literally the least of his worries. That said, I’m hoping for life in prison rather than death, because the latter is too easy. This guy wouldn’t last a week in the general prison population, and he’s an infamous mass murderer, making Super Max isolation for the half century or more he’s got left fits the bill. I know a lot of folks are screaming for justice, and I get that. Does it take much to imagine my hands around the neck of a punk-ass like him?  Absolutely not–my blood pressure rises each time I see his face in the news.

But I like to think I’m savvy enough to distinguish emotion from reason.  I don’t think the hypocritical “it’s bad to kill so we’ll kill you if you do” brand of justice is morally compelling. If the state holds that the taking of life is an unpardonable crime, the state should not take a life as reprisal. That’s not justice, it’s revenge. The death penalty, likewise, does very little if anything to discourage others.

Mr Tsarnaev gave little thought, beyond the abstract, to the fact that he might die for his barbarism.  At best, he had whimsical daydreams of fantastical rewards–but it’s not the rewards that inspire monsters like this–it is the notoriety, because the man who raises his middle finger as he did is, at his core, a trembling narcissist. He longs for fame–and that’s how we take him.

These guys, we kill them and they become martyrs. Lock ’em up forever and they’re forgotten–and that’s pretty fine punishment indeed. We lead by example, and they end up as examples to no one.

Funny and/or Strange Photo I Like sheer awesomeness

The Boston Yeti.

There are things I don’t like about Boston.  Like the Patriots and…well, just the Patriots, really.  The Boston Yeti pretty much remedies the city–just goes to show you there’s no limit to what one man, or one Yeti, can accomplish.

It is things like this that undermine my goal of absolute misanthropy.  I’m dangerously close to feeling that, at this particular moment, I think people are pretty great sometimes.  I’m not saying that, but I’m dangerously close.  Perilously, even.
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And of course the Yeti has a Twitter account.




My Favorite Christmas Recordings # 18: A Christmas Festival with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops

Bitter, cynical, and borderline misanthropic for most of the year, I reform for the holiday season and from mid-November to the last minute of Epiphany I’m all about the season.  Readers of Old Road Apples will find themselves under a constant barrage of holiday fare this season–from themed essays to book reviews to a countdown of my very favorite Christmas recordings.


I’m largely ignorant of the specific differences between music that I otherwise deem as “orchestra” music–pops, symphony, brass–some of it sounds a lot different than others, but it’s pretty much a large group of people in similar black suits sitting in a semi-circle, holding brown or silver or golden instruments, with the people with the most awkward, ungainly instruments hidden in the back, making loud sounds while some sumbitch on a Harry Potter trip waves a magic wand at them like a traffic cop would.  I usually think this sounds good, even when I can’t tell it apart from one song to the next.

At Christmas, I have the advantage of recognizing most of the music, which helps.  This Fiedler guy, and his Pops (is that a kind of orchestra, or is he just waving that stick at his old dad?) are really good at this music thing. I listen to their album over and over again, just like a kid–it’s bright, cheerful, and it absolutely meets even the most demanding expectations.

Click to make song list bigger.