Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Belle & Sebastian

Sometimes I wonder where the hell have I been? How did I miss this? I find something great and then I realize it's been right in front of me for ages. It's taken me this long to discover Belle & Sebastian and now I'm asking these very questions again.

The NY Times once described Belle & Sebastian as music Laura Bush could love. It's brainy, insular, ambient folky music set amid complex production with bookish lyrics that you simply can not stop thinking about. This music is moody but understated, melocholic but filled with hooks that warmly reel you in. Belle & Sebastian are considered Post-Rock, the substantive supplanter of the convential 20th Century paradigm of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll now that such ambitions have proved trite and obsolete.

This music has slid right into a groove I'd been experiencing lately. The past few weeks have been filled with grey overcast skys and a damp chill that deceives you into thinking Spring will never come. At work, I've been toiling with a number crunching rut that I can only describe as a disengaging confinement. This music stimulates my brain but still feels warm and cozy.

But something else has drawn my affections. Despite the band's Glasgow roots, their primary songwriter Stuart Murdoch and I have a common mental deficiency. Murdoch (for reasons I can not identify) is a huge New York Mets fan. Some years back, when the New York Times wished to interview the band, they had to do so in the Upper Deck of the late Shea Stadium. My God, the Scots love to suffer.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bob Horner, The Braves and Everything

In the mid-1980’s, our neighborhood finally got cable television. For an easily distractible young boy with a marginal work ethic, this event was like a life-altering visitation by a religious deity. TBS and WGN were among the roster of stations that now fed into our boxes thus providing Braves and Cubs games to complement the Mets games that came our way via WWOR.

There was something mesmerizing about the Braves. At home they played in that UFO known as Fulton County Stadium. Away, they played games while clad in awful baby-blue uniforms as worn here by Bob Horner. He looks like a Norse god squeezed into a child’s pajamas. But after 1986, those uniforms would be gone and so would Bob Horner.

In August of 1987, my family moved from New York to Memphis. But a few weeks before leaving, I had the privilege to go see a game at Shea with my friend Cliff and his family. Cliff’s parent’s were German and knew little of baseball and cared even less. But Shea was (unimaginably) the place to be seen in the mid-80’s so they went with me in tow. They sat through the game with patented Germanic stoicism, probably mulling how or why they’d toted along this peculiar skinny boy with the Irish afro who screamed through the game like the worst of their homeland’s deranged bundasliga fans.

I felt I was in for a treat – the championship roster took the field. Hernandez, Strawberry, Carter, Backman, Wilson – even Gooden was on the mound. They were playing the Braves who’d just unveiled their return to traditional uniforms which they still wear to this day.

But the Mets, perhaps still hungover from the World Series they captured nine months earlier, would lose that night 8-3. Clearly they didn’t take this foe seriously, this dog of a team that would become the Team of the Nineties.

Perhaps what I didn’t realize was that the new Braves uniforms were a harbinger, an omen of change that wasn’t simply cosmetic. The Braves were leaving behind the days of powder blue pajamas and with that passing, the Braves were likewise parting with the fruitlessness that had plagued them. In the decades that have followed that night at Shea, the Braves have systematically bullied and flummoxed the Mets with no relief in sight. On occasion, I can resolutely say that the Braves have ruined entire patches of my 20’s and unquestionably done irreparable damage to my nervous system and liver.

But back to that night at Shea - I want to go back to that little boy with the afro and take the seat next to him. I want to look him in the eyes and say – ‘things are going to change’ and not just the fortunes of the Mets. I would tell him that his impending move down to the American South would be a bizarre, trying odyssey. I would tell him that he was leaving childhood for the random and often ridiculous world of adulthood, rife with enigmatic ambitions and problematic relationships. Our conversation would only be broken by the sound of a crack – Dale Murphy at bat, hitting what would be the most amazing line-drive homerun I’ve seen achieved over the vacuous outfield of Shea, as if to usher in the Braves new era of domination, and for me, childhood’s end.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Sooners. Our Betters.

Well, clearly I don't know jack about college basketball.

Maybe next year, guys...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Great Kate Jennings

Expressing rage at AIG executive compensation is like arriving at the final moments of a riot, grabbing the cuff of a young looter who has managed to swipe the last item on the last shelf in the last gutted department store, throttling said looter and then blaming him for the entire riot.

I don't understand why people are criticizing Obama for not initiating a pro-wrestling style raging rant about AIG. We live in a nation where outsized executive compensation has been the norm for the past twenty-five years. In 1982 CEO compensation was 42 times the comp of their related lowest compensated workers. That ratio has increased over tenfold since then. All the while, our nation's wealth continues to be centralized and polarized. And all the while democracy dies a little.

I know...blah, blah, blah, Slimbo. Bring back the baseball cards, already!

Well, I could go on and on but I'll stop here and share something worthwhile. Over the years, I've kept a manila folder that's now fat with articles and clippings that have caught my eye. In 2002, I swiped this article from the New York times by Kate Jennings.

Like me, Jennings is a Wall Street exile. Unlike me, she now has a successful career as a writer. In this article, titled "The Hypocrisy of Wall Street Culture", she beautifully demonstrates how Wall Street firms, long revered as the bastions of pure capitalism, actually function on a day-to-day basis within an autocratic, Stalistic paradigm.

This article came out in 2002. Keep in mind that this was when we were all reeling from 9/11. With our economy in the doldrums, we were all to be good little cogs in the 'ownership society'. We were all out to keep the economy afloat by shopping till we dropped. And most of all, we were to let Wall Street do it's thing, baby. Remember? Jennings was a nice dose of reality during those days.

Pop Tunes, Summer Avenue

A recent post about WERW had me thinking a bit about Memphis but moreover, about Pop Tunes, the store where I’d stock up on blues LP’s.

The Pop Tunes chain kept the name of its original store, where The King used to shop, as it was located downtown on Poplar Avenue.

My favorite branch was on Summer Avenue, a main artery that runs east-west on the northern side of the city. It had this magnificent round sign that featured neon musical notes that would dance around the perimeter (which you can barely make out in this picture). At night, you could see it a half-mile away. It was beautiful.

Pop Tunes was a great place to shop in the early nineties as traditional record stores were beginning to disappear. Today, on-line downloads of music and amazon.com have killed the traditional record store. But even before this technological extinction, a record shop existing as an independent entity within a standalone building was on the decline. Music stores had become abbreviated occasional nooks in soulless anesthetized malls before disappearing completely.

When you entered Pop Tunes, worn linoleum was under your feel, faded wood paneling surrounded you and a musty smell hit your nostrils. It was like walking into a friend’s basement lounge: plain, familiar and welcoming.

Pop Tunes was the last store I’d seen in the early nineties still devoted to the LP. In my trademark repulsion of technology, I was stocking up on blues LP’s rather than embracing the compact disk.


By 1994 I’d leave Memphis for good. I haven’t been back in a decade or so. As you can see from the picture, the store is now Title Max, a place that offers title insurance and payday advances. Like Pappy & Jimmy’s, another unique landmark is gone.

DC United

It is in homage to When Saturday Comes and their weekly WSC Howl, that I am embarking upon the "Major League Soccer Badge of the Week". Yes, I am one of maybe three or four people in these Fifty United States who follows American professional soccer. Upon seeing WSC's scathing analysis of the Columbus Crew badge, I felt the need to take care of the rest of the league myself. This will now be a weekly feature on Slimbo's Shelf.

DC United was one of the original MLS franchises. At the time, it was the only team to adopt a team name that sounded like an authentic footie club. In England, it would seem every third team carries the name ‘United’ after its city (Sheffield United, Manchester United, West Ham United – I could go on and on). But being Americans, we don’t share such things as team names, lest we pursue that other very American of pastimes – suing the bejesus out of one another. Also, why give a club a classy name like Tampa Bay Athletic Club, when you can call it Tampa Bay Mutiny?

So as MLS franchises have since gratefully ditched their earlier mascot names, opting for more authenticity as of late, DC United has stayed plain old DC United.

Of course, none of this explains why they’ve adopted this totalitarian looking black and red eagle badge. I can understand our nation’s capital taking to the eagle, but the black and red motif conjures the image of an extremist American regime that might take over in an Orwellian, post-apocalyptic world.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sketches from the Train - Part 2



Remembering Duane



Springtime in New York brings its rituals. The days meander between deceptively warm and righteously cold. The local papers begin their adolescent obsession with baseball, New York's alpha-sport. And of course, Springtime also brings The Allman Brothers Band for their fifteen night run at the Beacon Theater on Manhattan's West Side.



I've never been to Katz's Deli. I've never been to the top of the Statue of Liberty. I've never taken a carriage ride around Central Park. But I'm proud to say that an Allman Brothers show at the Beacon is on my list of New York accomplishments.

Last night Eric Clapton joined the band for the last six songs of the set. Clapton is universally connected with his anthemic "Layla", an aching love song written in 1970 for a woman who at the time happened to be married to one of the Beatles. What often is forgotten, however, is that Clapton is only 50% of the mesmerizing guitar work on that recording. Another guitar weaves in and out of his now iconic progressions and was played by the late Duane Allman.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Allman Brothers Band, an amazing band that thankfully carried on after they lost Duane to a motorcycle accident in 1971. As I read this review of last night's show, it feels like it was a fitting tribute to a great musician long gone but not forgotten.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

You saw it here first....

Final Four:
Pitt
Syracuse
Memphis
Louisville

Final:
Memphis vs. Syracuse - (Syracuse 88, Memphis 83)

The fact that I am refraining from any pool participation will enhance the chances of the above.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Players

One of my favorite books is Don DeLillo's, White Noise which came out in 1985. Similar to White Noise, Players (from 1977) focuses on the isolation brought on by consumerism, television and mass culture: DeLillo's holy trinity.

DeLillo's characters often try to substantiate their existence by taking on serious vocations which we might find farcical. In White Noise, a woman gives classes in posture. In Players, the farcical becomes, unfortunately, very real for us. One of the characters, Pammy Wynant, works for a company that specializes in grief counselling. I don't know if DeLillo knew how spot-on he'd be with this stab at the future.

A chill went down my spine when I read how Pammy Wynant's grief counselling firm is located in the World Trade Center. The following passage nearly knocked me out of my chair:

"To Pammy, the towers didn't seem permanent...it was her original view that the World Trade Center was an unlikely headquarters for an outfit such as this. But she changed her mind as time passed. Where else would you stack all this grief? Somebody anticipated that people would one day crave the means to codify their emotions..."

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sketches from the Train

I commuted on the train into Manhattan from Westchester everyday for about five years.  Sometimes I'd do drawings of the things I'd see in the way that I saw them.  Needless to say, when people took in the sight of an android suit-clad suburbanite in the act of drawing, they found it quite unsettling.


Friday, March 13, 2009

The O'Slimbo Factor

In light of the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day, I suppose it’s time I address my least favorite Irish American. I recently purchased a copy of Bill O’Reilly’s The O’Reilly Factor (and I will not show the book here lest this should be advertised or promoted in any fashion).

My reasons for this purchase were thus:

1. Some weeks ago, I was playing in a late night poker game at a local country club.

2. It was really late.

3. I had enjoyed a few beverages.

4. Upon perusal of the club's card room book selection, I noticed a copy of The O’Reilly Factor among the many golf and financial planning selections. I pulled out said selection and tossed it into the fireplace. It went quickly.

When I woke up the next day (painfully), I immediately felt like an impetuous adolescent schmuck and quickly set out to make a replacement purchase. Upon reaching the cashier, I placed the book face down in the hopes that the cute young girl (goth, obviously a liberal arts major) would NOT see the title. It was as though I were purchasing porn. Actually, she might have preferred that it had been porn. She ended up flipping the book over, looking at the title and then gave me the sneer I anticipated.

My reasons for making the replacement purchase were as follows:

1. I destroyed someone else’s property. This is something I teach my children not to do.
2. We are blessed with freedom of speech…Nazis burned books. The Taliban burn books. So it is wrong to burn books…even books written by the Irish-Catholic equivalent of a Taliban Nazi.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Dublin


“Observers of human character, when they have turned their attention to Dublin, have isolated with remarkable unanimity the distinguished mark of its true-born citizen. It is this. Whatever his racial origins (and his roots could be many) whether Gaelic or Norman, Danish or English, Norseman or Jew or Huguenot, he will share with his fellow citizens a characteristic philosophy, the essence of which is a serene and fatalistic composure.” – from James Plunkett’s introduction to Ian Finlay and Mike Bunn’s DUBLIN.

Before our children came along, my wife was a flight attendant. Along the way, she has seen many places and made many friends. Among the people she’s met, however, no one can truly compare to her friend Gerri. Despite having lived in New York City since her late teens, Gerri is a Dubliner through and through, by which I mean that she possesses the attributes I always associate the Irish of Dublin: savvy, lyrical, tough, loving, resilient and overwhelmingly charming. Among the many books Gerri has sent our way is this amazing 1976 book of photographs by Ian Finlay and Mike Bunn titled, Dublin. These pictures capture a Dublin that is jarringly earthy, textured and moving.

Through perseverance and economic galvanization, Ireland became The Celtic Tiger. Once the melancholic, poetic underdog of Europe, her capital, Dublin became vibrant, sophisticated and materially successful. I visited Dublin twice, in 1995 and 2001. Like any Irish-American, I visited Ireland hoping to experience something of my own expectations. This is impossible, of course and completely at odds with what Ireland wants to become. The Ireland of my mechanization has moved on to the better things of its own dictates. In my own opinion (and God knows every Irishman has one), the Dublin of these pages is, for better or worse, no more.

Still, the current economic crisis is hitting Ireland hard and it now appears to be headed towards a potential unemployment rate that will exceed its peers and neighbors. There was once a time where Ireland’s unemployment rate was in the double digits. There’s a mood in these pages that could make a return.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Don't Try

The established literary world always feels to me to be an impregnable culture, a self-rewarding network of publishers, agents and journalists. Simply existing as a smart writer with good ideas (yet no inside connections to this culture) often leaves you on a par with your pet rock when it comes to the chances that your work might be blessed with recognition, no matter how many query packages you send out and no matter how relentless your self-promotion.

Yes, yes, yes….we all know J.K. Rowling walked the earth with the first Harry Potter manuscript in a battered shopping bag, and blah, blah, blah, blah…. But seriously, a good writer getting a book deal is as random as a trailer home getting obliterated by a tornado while the other three hundred neighboring trailers watch.

In light of such Sisyphean obstacles, Chuck Bukowski’s philosophy was ‘don’t try’ (it was also his cryptic choice for his epitaph). But despite choosing obscurity, Bukowski became the Legend of Bukowski – the postal worker novelist, the tramp, the poetic drunk portrayed by Mickey Rourke in the film, Barfly. Like Harvey Pekar, Bukowski is the average guy who has given a voice to the disaffected outsider, to those who have either shunned or been run over by the American Dream.

A strong sense of Pekar comes through The Captain is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken over the Ship as this memoir was illustrated by Pekar's ally, Robert Crumb. I’m sure if Crumb were commissioned to illustrate Henry James’s work, he’d easily turn Portrait of a Lady into a sour, soiling experience. His touch then, is perfect for the contents of Bukowski’s mind.

But in this series of journal entries, we are seeing Bukowski in his last days where he lives a life that is materially comfortable and artistically recognized. Still though, Bukowski’s thoughts seem to rumble and grapple with the Greater Question of Life, and here, in his life’s coda, he mulls that there is perhaps no answer.

It’s best encapsulated by the following episode: Bukowski attends a function with his wife. He goes to the bar to order a drink. He orders and then challenges the bartender to a fight out in the alley after he’s completed his drink. To his disappointment, the bartender declines by saying, “Oh…hey, you’re Chuck Bukowski…I love your work!”

CD Cover

Saturday, March 7, 2009

When Red is Black

I've been reading Qiu Xialong's When Red is Black in fits and spurts. It takes place in modern day Shanghai and as a mystery, I'd say it's...okay. The best thing about it is how it gives you a sense of the bizarre world that is modern day China. Some people are getting rich. A lot of people are just staying the way they are. A still overwhelming bureaucratic state hovers but likewise enables unfettered free enterprise in select pockets.

A writer with deep ties to the atrocities of the Cultural Revolution has been murdered. Towards this writer's later years, she had turned 'dissident' by government's standards. An enormously likable detective Yu must solve the case. Yu embodies the dilemma many Chinese must face in their shape-shifting economy. He plays by Party rules yet watches with bewilderment and resignation friends get rich.

This book gives you a fantastic glimpse, not just into the big picture changes China is experiencing but also into the lives of everyday folk. There are fantastic descriptions of the street vendors, the local restaurants and the shikumen - the ancient traditional housing structure turned communal residence.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Ragas and Talas


If it weren’t for the late George Harrison, I (like any other suburban numbskull living in Western Civilization) would have no clue who Ravi Shankar is. A few years ago, my friend JB gave me the live CD of George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh as a gift.

The whole thing is pretty spectacular but for me the highlight is when Harrison comes out at the beginning and tells a rowdy (and undeniably stoned) NYC crowd that the evening will start with some traditional Indian music, “…so settle down!”

The voice of Ravi Shankar soon follows and (unbelievably) asks an audience in 1971 to extinguish their cigarettes. Incredible.

His band then do an extended version of the raga, ‘Bangla Dhun’, a beautiful building and arching song. Dhun is also featured on this Ravi Shankar album Ragas and Talas.

I don’t want to portray myself as being even marginally knowledgeable as to the subtle meanings seeped in this music. And I certainly know that my featuring this work aligns me with pretentious venti-drinking yuppie dickheads who stock up on ‘world music’ to fit upcoming cocktail parties.

But to me when these sitars and sanods dialogue amonst each other amid these works, they create three pillars that I seek in music: melancholic beauty, meditation and indigenous expression.

I'm Here

The Leisure Class


Something indefinable yet immeasurably awful has happened to The Leisure Class.

A man has completed his tennis game yet he lingers, emptily pondering his racquet. Is he merely trying to stretch out these last moments before he must put down his racquet and join the men behind him or is he so paralyzed by terror that he is entirely unaware of their presence?

The man in white seated at the far left bores a look of accusation into the man who shares his table. Why didn’t you order ME an iced tea? Why did you sleep with my wife? This man he confronts writhes in his seat, too filled with shame and loathing to meet this gaze.

The other two men seated at the adjacent tables want nothing to do with each other or the argument brewing in the foreground. They don’t drink their beverages because they never wanted them in the first place. They are not waiting for someone to join them because no one is coming. They don’t leave because they don’t know how.

Though they wallow in The Leisure Class these lives before you are devoid of meaning and they have lost the capacity to feel love, to feel joy, to feel anything.

Seconds turn into minutes, minutes turn into hours. Nothing will happen today. They know this. Everything must erode like the dying light of the afternoon sun behind them. And then there will be nothing but the bleak, black sleep which calls us all home.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Oh, thank God for the Sunday Styles Section !@$#!

I guess I didn’t need another indicator of the ironclad stagnation of my career progression. Still, there is no adulation like self-flagellation. Enter the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times. My favorite is the “Vows” section as each couple tries to outdo one another to become New York’s next big mega-merger:

“The groom has a PhD from M.I.T and is a senior consultant with The Magnanimous Group, a New York based private equity firm. He has completed the New York City marathon 3,867 times. The bride is the chief surgeon of all major tri-state hospitals. While simultaneously graduating from Yale and Harvard, she invented the human lung. She completed her doctorate while walking across the surface of the English Channel carrying a wounded lamb in her healing hands.”

Okay, so I’m jealous that these people are blessed with the holy trinity of youth, success and recognition. If I’d had one of these write-ups on my wedding day, the man they’d describe would be pretty damn unremarkable. “The groom works anonymously in middle management and has written a novel that is not getting published. He plans to continue working, progressing laterally and writing more unpublishable novels. Actually, he may or may not continue writing unpublishable novels. But he will continue working laterally, though.”

The Sunday Styles section also features a kind of kaleidoscopic array of pictures taken of attendees at big name black tie events. Last Sunday, there were a slew of pictures from an event ironically named ‘Hedge Funds Care’ (shouldn’t that name have a tail tag like ‘…no, really we do’). Among these pictures, I saw a guy I worked for years ago when he was a partner for Arthur Andersen and I was a drone fresh from college. I recalled this guy as being the type of man everyone thought I was going to turn out to be – brash, smart, confident, energetic, decisive, and relentlessly successful. I even envisioned myself this way when I caddied during college. Rich men at the country club that employed me used to say I was destined for big things (each proponed that he was a great judge of character).

A few years into working for this schmuck from the styles section, I realized that I was not destined for The Magnanimous Club. I was learning that I lacked a lot of core competencies that seem vital for success. Maybe I also learned that lacking those things might not be a bad thing.