Today would have been my father's 82nd birthday. He's been gone for nine years now, but I can visualize him at age 82, only a little bit older than he was at the end of his life.
Unlike my Mom Shirley, who suffered with cancer, Jer was here one moment and gone the next: He had been running early in his final day and was working on a family member's car late in the day--the same things he always did.
Anyway, I miss him terribly and think of my parents practically every day; only an intense stretch of trying to juggle the bills or more than one major errand bumps them off my brain for awhile.
Dad was one of those awesome people who kept evolving, especially in his later years.
Growing up, I was often afraid of him because he was quite strict. And yes, he could get really angry at us. Can't remember what we did (possibly it was putting dents in the garage door by playing field hockey), but I recall him picking up a bat and any baseball or tennis ball in the vicinity and smacking it a long ways to keep us from using it, far into the brush across the street; this was before there were any houses there. Sometimes we couldn't find those balls again. But at the same time, he was so loving and helpful for the vast majority of our time together.
The Dad I remember hated my rock'n'roll when I was just getting into it but wound up going to see my 1980s band many, many nights in-a-row.
He was the guy who said, "soccer will never make it here" but became the greatest soccer grandparent that my nieces ever knew. He was the man who taught me all about baseball, which I am gaga over to this day. Dad also said, "mark my words" a lot.
See, I'm still doing it.
He was the guy who "only" liked dogs but took care of my daughter Mirelle's cat, the
pet who loved my Dad so much that he would gently pat my father's face. It was hell when Dad died, because I was there in Michigan that summer and the cat walked around the house, so lost. How do you convey to an animal what happened?
Dad made such a beautiful connection with my wife and stepdaughter when we all traveled to Michigan in 2002. That seems like many decades ago, not just one.
I even miss when Dad was impatient and would bark out "c'mon, c'mon, c'mon" with the words running together (hmmm, I do it to my cats nowadays). I loved how he'd say, "You snap the whip and I'll make the trip," which I found out much later was from one of those great boogie woogie records of the late '40s; my guess is that the source of that jive phrase was his hip friend, Bernie. Or when we were really little, Dad would tell us, "Jump!" And then: "Who told you to come down?"
Damn, Dad, I wish you could come from wherever you are and visit your son again. I hope you're having a happy birthday.
Neil Young & Crazy Horse--Americana (Reprise): Young hasn't paired up with Crazy Horse in over eight years, so their romp through mostly traditional American folk songs unleashes a combined raw energy that has been bottled up for too long. The opener, "Oh Susannah," works, but when you realize that the next track, "Clementine," is built on the same formula (noisy guitar, continual chanting), Americana gets old rather quickly.
Neil's version of the Silhouettes' "Get a Job" is funny enough--I guess he couldn't find a Stephen Foster piece about unemployment--and I like how "This Land Is Your Land" includes Woody Guthrie's fantastic couplet about the No Trespassing sign, "and on the other side, it didn't say nothing/that side was made for you and me." Young made sure that verse was in there... twice. As a whole, Americana is a bit of holding pattern: rowdy, somewhat repetitive.
Tweed Funk--Love Is (Tweed Tone): It's easy to tell that this is no big budget LP, but what's wrong with that? Love Is is full of passion and rocking funky grooves from the Milwaukee band. You've got tough and then smooth singing from Tweed Funk frontman Smokey, tight horn charts, a call to strut your stuff in "Dancemaker" and even a cover of Johnny "Guitar" Watson's "A Real Mother for Ya" to make it all worthwhile.
Rachel Harrington--Makin' Our House a Honkytonk (Skinny Dennis Records): The followup to Harrington's wonderful Celilo Falls is problematic. Where the previous album was full of little victories in the face of tough times, Honkytonk features a few too many sunny, 1950s-style songs that pale next to the real thing. "Get You Some" (where the prominent character unlocks the front door and is ready to put on some records because her "cool rockin' daddy" is arriving) is, sonically speaking, a terrific and haunting track, but it's rather tepid underneath. Makin' Our House a Honkytonk is a Rachel Harrington record that is less arresting than her other albums.
Dan Bern with Common Rotation--Doubleheader (Dan Bern): I thought I'd lost all interest in Bern (saw him when he only had a couple of records out), but here is a collection of baseball songs with more pathos and melody than both Baseball Project albums (and I love the Baseball Project, the group led by Steve Wynn and Scott McCaughey). Bern always threatens to get a little too clever, yet when he deftly balances the extremes of emotion (as when a dying Babe Ruth is visited by someone who is thankful for all the thrills Ruth brought to his life) with heartfelt singing and fine playing from Common Rotation, he is captivating--like seeing a doubleheader in Detroit in the 1960s when you know that part-timer Gates Brown will be in left field for game two.
Can--The Lost Tapes (Spoon/Mute Records): One of our KAOS programmers (Aaron Kruse) used to say that life is too short for prog rock, yet Can (who are mainly from Cologne, Germany) is one of the few bands to transcend the genre. If you're not one of their rabid fans, that may happen after you've heard 1971's Tago Mago, or the new three-disc The Lost Tapes, a superb collection of their studio work and live performances. Think of it as experimental music with a sense of drive and even swing, with strange and exotic tone poems and a hypnotic barrage of sound. Disc two includes some remarkable tracks, such as "Dead Pigeon Suite," several minutes of stately music played on what sounds like multiple recorders before it morphs into a James Brown-ish funk rhythm. Although they practically lived in their studio in the 1970s, Can played bold, inventive music onstage, as evidenced by "Spoon" and "Abra Cada Braxos," both lengthy, well-received pieces. Disc three is for those who love moody and atmospheric touches. This group knows no borders; indeed, Can transcends prog rock the way Hendrix transcended psychedelia and the way the Allman Brothers Band transcended the jam genre.
Of course, I still love my CDs, and of course, they continue to go the way of the Edsel.
(Recently, I was frowned upon--intensely--by a longtime friend because of my
"misguided bias" against MP3s.)
Okay, the compact disc is all but dead. I still treasure them, especially all the improvements that were made by the 1990s. But how is a company allowed to copy an existing disc to an everyday blank disc?
To my astonishment, I was looking up that roaring collection of Flamin Groovies demos called Slow Death (Norton Records) on Amazon.com. when I noticed the craziest notation. Their words: "This product is manufactured on demand using CD-R recordable media. Amazon.com's standard return policy will apply."