Thursday, August 30, 2012

Turn the Key

One of the great things about getting older (or so I'm told) is the accumulation of wisdom. Which in turn allows you to blather on about how things were different when you were a kid. But it's true. Things were VERY different when I was the age my daughters are now (they're 8 and 10).

Specifically, the whole latchkey kid deal. Both my parents worked, so when I got home from school (to which I walked about a mile--yes, yes, backwards uphill in the snow), I had my own key to get in. I would let myself in, fix myself a snack and then either watch TV (reruns of Happy Days or Gilligan's Island or Alice) or go out and play street hockey with some friends in my driveway. My little brother would be at a babysitter's house until my parents got home from work. It all seemed to work pretty well. There were never any problems or issues with creepy adults. That's not to say there weren't any creeps in the late '70s; I just never had to deal with any.

Of course, nowadays we won't let our kids walk anywhere except maybe down our dead-end street by themselves. I can't even imagine letting them come home and stay here by themselves--even though they get dropped off by the school bus at the end of our street and I know they'd be perfectly fine on their own. That's not really the point, I suppose.

Is a society of latchkey kids better than one where parents know their kids' every movement? In some ways, yes, but it really is a different world now. My parents, who were extremely overprotective, would go hours in the summertime without knowing where I was, and it was no big deal as long as I was home for dinner. Now we're in such a paranoid society that we have to know where our kids are at all times, and even then that may not be enough. So those idyllic childhood memories will remain in the past, relics of a seemingly kindler, gentler age.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Travel As Equals

One of the great things about living where we do is you can drive a few hours away and literally be in another country. Our trip to Montreal was fun and quick. We did a ton of walking, which was a little rough on my mom. It was good to see my brother and his wife, who flew in from Milwaukee. A few observations from the four day trip:

  • It's a tense time in Quebec, which is gearing up for a big election on Sept. 4. The Parti Quebecois, which in the past has called for Quebec to secede from the rest of Canada, is leading in the polls. There was a big debate Sunday night when we arrived in town, and the signs are everywhere, along with the corresponding graffiti on said signs. It's unclear whether PQ will push for another referendum on secession; it's happened in the past in 1980 and 1995 and was shot down, albeit by a very close margin last time. Doesn't make any sense to me, especially in these economic times. We'll see what happens.
  • We visited the Montreal BioDome (no signs of Pauly Shore anywhere), which replicated the various ecosystems of North America, complete with vegetation and animals. One of the exhibits featured bats in a cave, which was ironic since we got home and two days later (last night) a bat appeared in our living room. I spent a half  hour trying to knock it down with a broom before I finally was able to smack it and knock it silly; we then relocated it to the outdoors. The last time we were blessed with a bat was four years ago; hopefully it'll at least be that long before another one gets in.
  • On Wednesday, we walked a mile from our hotel up to Mount Royal, which is a big hill/national park that you can climb and look out over the entire city. It was pretty cool. We later walked down to Old Montreal for a cruise and then dinner. Deb estimated that we walked about six miles that day. Incidentally, as we were walking back to the hotel after going to Mount Royal, we stumbled upon a demonstration in the park across from the hotel. Apparently, this happens on the 22nd of every month as students protest against various societal ills (tuition hikes, animal abuse, etc.). It actually extended throughout the city, as we discovered in Old Montreal (see photos for some evidence of this).
  • The drive back was uneventful...until we were 20 minutes from home and Lily puked in the back row of the minivan. Poor kid. She gets carsick every so often. Oh well. Good to be home.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Completely Conspicuous 241: Go It Alone

Part 3 of my conversation with guest Brian Salvatore as we discuss our favorite solo artists. Listen to the episode below or download it directly.
Show notes:
- Re-recorded via Skype
- Jay: Robert Plant's music has evolved since Zeppelin's breakup
- Brian: John,  Paul and George in a three-way tie

- Harrison's All Things Must Pass is a standout
- McCartney's good when he works with others (Elvis Costello, Youth)
- Jay: Favorite solo artist is Pete Townshend
- His three early '80s solo albums were excellent
- Last 25 years have been focused on Who tours
- Brian: Top pick is Frank Black
- He's consistently made good records since Pixies split- Jay: Rod Stewart's solo career has been mostly awful
- His work in Faces, Jeff Beck Group and first few solo releases was strong
- Brian: Jagger should not be allowed to make solo albums
- Jay: Keith Richards' solo work is good
- Jay: The four guys in Sloan should each release solo records simultaneously a la KISS
- Brian: Steven Drozd would make an interesting solo album

- Brian: Rivers Cuomo should make a stripped-down, non-Weezer record
- Bonehead of the Week

Robert Plant - Little Hands

Frank Black and the Catholics - Nadine
Sloan - Coax Me

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The Robert Plant song is on the compilation More Oar: A Tribute to the Skip Spence Album on Birdman Records. Download it for free from Epitonic.
The Frank Black and the Catholics song is on the album Show Me Your Tears on SpinART. Download the song for free from Epitonic.
The Sloan song is on the album Twice Removed on Geffen. Download the song for free (in exchange for your email address) at NoiseTrade.
The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his fine music blog Clicky Clicky. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his site PodGeek.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Ooh La La

Checking in from another vacation--this time around, we're up in Montreal. We drove up this morning with my mother and met my brother and his wife later in the day. Along the way, we stopped at the Ben and Jerry's location in Waterbury, VT, to do the factory tour. I finally got to try Stephen Colbert's Americone Dream and Jimmy Fallon's Late Night Snack. Both of them are pretty good. The girls had fun checking out the Flavor Graveyard, where discontinued Ben and Jerry's flavors are documented on actual headstones.

The border crossing was uneventful and we got into Montreal around 3:30. It's a bit of an adjustment...not the language but the fact that I've got my Droid on airplane mode so I don't get charged roaming fees for data. At least we've got free Internet in the hotel or I'd really be jonesing. I've resolved to use my phone as a camera/watch the next few days.

We're going to do some touristy stuff. I'd been here a few times as a kid but more recently my Montreal visits have been more, ahem, adult in nature. Perfectly happy to do the family thing this week. Our hotel's across from the Bell Centre, where the Montreal Canadiens play, so we might do a tour. We're actually meeting up with friends from Massachusetts tomorrow night and then seeing a friend of my mom's on Tuesday and some relatives Wednesday. And then Thursday, we head back home. I'm actually working on Friday.

And here's a classic slab of rock from Montreal's finest...

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Completely Conspicuous 240: One Man Mutiny

Part 2 of my conversation with guest Brian Salvatore as we discuss our favorite solo artists. Listen to the episode below or download it directly.
Show notes:
- Re-recorded via Skype
- Brian: Ray Davies has made two great solo albums
- NBC cut Davies from Olympics closing ceremony broadcast
- Jay: Ted Leo has been consistently great for the last decade
- Brian: After Roxy Music, Brian Eno went on to long and interesting career
- Jay: Neil Young has been erratic, but when he's on, he's great
- Brian: Jonathan Richman has moved from post-punk hero to troubadour
- Jay: Peter Gabriel is much more than "Sledgehammer" and "Solsbury Hill"
- Moved past the crazy costumes he wore live with Genesis
- Brian: David Byrne continues to make interesting music
- Jay: Mark Lanegan's post-Screaming Trees career has been varied and uniformly excellent
- To be continued
- Bonehead of the Week

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists - Under the Hedge

Peter Gabriel - Here Comes the Flood (live)
David Byrne - Fuzzy Freaky (remix)

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The Ted Leo and the Pharmacists song is on the album The Tyranny of Distance on Lookout Records. Download it for free from Epitonic.

The Peter Gabriel song was recorded for the Guitar Center Sessions in 2010. Download the song for free at

The David Byrne song is on the album Visible Man on Luaka Bop. Download the song for free at

The Visible ManDavid Byrne
"Fuzzy Freaky" (mp3)
from "The Visible Man"
(Luaka Bop)

Buy at Napster
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Stream from Rhapsody
Buy at Puretracks
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More On This Album

The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his fine music blog Clicky Clicky. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his site PodGeek.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Lock It Up

I like to think of myself as a reasonably intelligent individual. But every once in a while, I do something so incredibly stupid it confounds me. Tonight I drove into Harvard Square to meet up with some folks from the Notch Session running team, which I ran with recently in the Vert Sasquatch trail race. I pull into the same parking garage I always use, get my stuff together, open the door, lock it and start walking to the elevator. Then I notice that I don't have my keys. I go back to the car and sure enough, they're still in the ignition. At least the car wasn't running, but holy crap, what an awful feeling.

I've only locked my keys in my car once before, sometime around 1990 when I had driven my brother back to Dartmouth for the semester. We were done moving his stuff in and I was about to leave when I noticed my keys were locked in my Hyundai. A campus security guy was able to open my door with a "slim jim" and I was on my way, but it was kinda humiliating.

So it's been 22 years since it last happened. I was kind of shocked at first, wandering around looking for a cop. I finally found one and asked him if he could jimmy the lock, but apparently they don't do that anymore because people sued after their cars were damaged. I called AAA and waited for another half hour or so before the owner of the falafel shop next to the garage suggested I ask the garage attendant, who sure enough was able to open my door in about a minute.

I was able to make it for the last half hour of the get-together, so the night wasn't a total loss. I suppose I should be happy my bouts of stupidity are few and far between. Here's hoping it's another 22 years before I do it again.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Terrible Lie

There's a lot of talk about lying these days. As the presidential election creeps ever closer, Obama and Romney take turns daily calling the other guy a liar and much worse. But you expect that from politicians. Unfortunately, the lying has increasingly popped up in the worlds of journalism and literature. The latest controversy is swirling around author Jonah Lehrer, who resigned from his staff writer position at The New Yorker after admitting he invented Bob Dylan quotes in his new, ironically-titled book Imagine: How Creativity Works.

Lehrer was found out by Michael Moynihan of Tablet Magazine, which published an article about Lehrer's made-up quotes, and indeed, Lehrer admitted lying when initially confronted by Moynihan. He's hardly alone in the literary sin bin: Just a few hours ago, Fareed Zakaria of CNN was suspended after an article he wrote for Time magazine on gun control plagiarized from an article in The New Yorker by Jill Lepore.

And of course, there are many authors and journalists who have been disgraced by their actions either plagiarizing others or straight out making up shit: James Frey, Mike Barnicle, Stephen Glass, Jayson Blair. What I don't understand is why they do it. What makes a respected journalist or author risk their livelihood for a juicier story or a better quote? Especially when they know that what they're doing is wrong and if and when it gets out, they're screwed.

Recently, I listened to the episode of This American Life that featured monologist Mike Daisey talking about his trip to a Chinese factory that produced parts for Apple products. The episode featured excerpts of Daisey's one-man show "The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" and was one of the most popular This American Life episodes...until the show later retracted the episode after it was discovered Daisey had fabricated entire characters and quotes. TAL ran an entire show dedicated to the retraction and digging into why Daisey did it and it was fascinating, if often painful, listening. Host Ira Glass apologized early and often for letting Daisey's journalistic miscues make the air, but to me, the most interesting part was hearing Daisey himself try to explain why he made up facts. Even as he admitted to fabricating huge chunks of the story, Daisey refused to concede that he had intentionally done anything wrong. Ultimately, it came down to what made for a more compelling story--and it was compelling, how he described underaged workers at the FoxConn plant and his tale of workers who had been poisoned by toxic chemicals in the plant (all of it untrue).

Sometimes the lure of a good story is too much, even if it's one you just made up. Janet Cooke won a Pulitzer Prize in 1981 for her Washington Post article about an 8-year-old heroin addict. Only problem was, she invented the whole thing and the truth came out just two days after she won the Pulitzer.

Back in my days as a newspaper reporter, I never felt the need to make anything up. Although an intern at the paper was sent packing after she was found to have invented quotes for some silly feature she wrote. We were all shocked at the time. Another time, we realized a reporter for a rival paper was basically rewriting our articles a few days after our stories ran because he didn't attend the same meetings we did. He didn't put a byline on the articles. We were outraged, but there wasn't a whole lot we could do about it.

Twenty-two years later, I'm a hell of a lot more cynical about stuff like that. People have lied since the beginning of time. There's no reason to think they're going to stop any time soon.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Completely Conspicuous 239: Solo Flights

I celebrate six big years of podcasting with part 1 of my conversation with guest Brian Salvatore as we discuss our favorite solo artists. Listen to the episode below or download it directly.

Show notes:
- Recorded via Skype
- Brian contends that Bob Mould's work in Sugar is better than Husker Du; Jay vehemently disagrees
- Jay: Elliott Smith went in a different direction after Heatmiser
- Are Josh Homme or Dave Grohl considered solo artists?
- Jay: Lennon and McCartney both made great albums on their own, but also some clunkers
- Jay: Michael Jackson became probably the biggest artist of all time
- Ozzy's early solo work was terrific
- The ridiculous story behind Sabbath's Born Again album
- Paul Simon's still going strong
- Phil Collins was huge in the '80s
- Brian: Mike Nesmith's early solo work was excellent
- Jay: Nick Cave forged a dark path after The Birthday Party
- Brian: Ryan Adams made a classic album and several good ones
- Mike Watt's soldiered on over the years
- Jay: Stephen Malkmus has been consistently good since Pavement
- Brian prefers the later Pavement albums
- Bonehead of the Week

Bob Mould - A Good Idea (live)

Ryan Adams - Shakedown on 9th Street (live)
Mike Watt - Against the '70s (live)
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks - (Do Not Feed the) Oyster
Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!
The Bob Mould song is on the EP Live at the Bottom of the Hill. Download it for free (in exchange for your email address) from
The Ryan Adams song was recorded live at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston on 2/21/09. Download the song for free at
The Mike Watt song was recorded live at the Metro in Chicago on 5/6/95. Download the song for free at
The Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks song is from the album Pig Lib on Matador Records. Download the song for free at Epitonic.
The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his fine music blog Clicky Clicky. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his site PodGeek.

Friday, August 03, 2012


It's hard to escape the all-encompassing reach of the London Olympics. NBC and its umpteen channels are broadcasting and streaming events all day and dominating prime time with tape-delayed coverage of the so-called big events: gymnastics, swimming and anything else U.S. athletes are good at. Which, combined with the fact that the results are available online the second they occur, inevitably leads to cries of "Spoiler Alert please!" from folks who want to watch the events without knowing the results ahead of time.

NBC's taken a lot of heat for its insistence on showing events on tape delay in prime time, while networks in pretty much every other country show them live. The reason, of course, is ratings and NBC is, of course, reaping the benefits. But there are also folks who, like me, work during the day and can't watch events live either online or on TV and have to essentially avoid the Internet, radio and TV until they get home and watch the prime time coverage to maintain any kind of suspense. That's not an easy thing to do since many of us are online all day long at work.

The call for spoiler alerts is understandable and a fairly common refrain these days, given the fact that many of us are constantly on social media and can't resist posting about what we're watching. When there's a new episode of Breaking Bad, Mad Men or The Walking Dead on and I'm not watching live (I often DVR and watch later, even if it's 20 minutes after the show starts so I can fast forward through the commercials), I steer clear of Facebook or Twitter because there's always someone posting key plot points.

It starts to get a little ridiculous when somebody writes about a key moment in a movie or show that came out years ago and gets criticized for spoiling it for someone who hasn't seen it yet. Now that you can watch entire series on DVD or Netflix in one sitting, many folks are going back and watching shows like The Wire, Lost or The Sopranos that they missed the first time around. And some of them still insist on spoiler alerts.

With current shows, the Web has ushered in the trend of TV critics (and regular shmoes) writing recaps of current shows (as well as some older ones). Just about every popular show (and some not-so-popular ones) are analyzed in great detail each week on sites like The Onion's AV Club,, and many more. The writers are usually careful to avoid revealing any big spoilers and post the requisite "SPOILER ALERT" when they do, and commenters are admonished if they're deemed to veer into spoiler territory. Things can get tense at times.

The spoiler alert culture reminds me of a co-worker (and good friend to this day) when I worked at the old Beverly Times. I would do my reporting during the day, go home for dinner and go back in the evening to write my articles. The sports guys would be in the newsroom making their calls and writing up game coverage and other stuff for their pages, and my buddy Paul at the time was the sports editor. But in the event of a Celtics game being on TV, he would go into what he called "blackout mode." Even though the game was on the set directly behind him (with the sound off), he insisted that we not talk about the game because he was taping it and would go home and watch it after work. We would comply because he was a good guy and everybody liked him; if the request was made by a jerk, we probably would have spoiled games early and often.

This was the late '80s/early '90s and there was no Facebook or Twitter to ruin things, but we had access to the Associated Press sports wire on our computers, so Paul had to be careful to avoid game stories. It seemed to work for him most of the time. Every once in a while somebody would forget and blurt out a comment that spoiled the game, but Paul never got upset.

As a diehard Leafs fan, I torture myself by purchasing the NHL Center Ice package and watching pretty much every game during the regular season. Sometimes if I'm out for the evening, I'll DVR the game and stay off Twitter (since I follow a lot of Leafs and NHL sources) and avoid looking up scores. Then I'll get home at, say, midnight and watch the game, either in its entirety or if I'm really tired, just fast-forwarding through to the goals. Sometimes my cousin or my brother will text me with comments during the game and I'll have to ask them not to reveal any scores because I'm DVRing the game. Unless the Leafs are playing the Bruins, I don't have to worry about anybody else blowing the game for me because nobody else around here gives a damn. Which is great, really.

But with the Olympics this year, I haven't been watching much and I haven't tried to avoid any spoilers. I'm more of a Winter Olympics fan and I also have little patience for the sappy, jingoistic NBC coverage of the Olympics. I'm happy when American athletes win medals, I just don't need the back stories and manufactured drama that goes along with big network coverage. So spoil away.

That said, do NOT tell me anything about Breaking Bad after 10 p.m. on a Sunday. I'll be in big-time blackout mode.