Monday, October 29, 2012

Completely Conspicuous 250: Pictures and Sound

Part 2 of my conversation with guest Jay Breitling as we discuss movie soundtracks. Listen to the episode below or download it directly (right click and "save as").

Show notes:
- Recorded at Chez Breitling
- John Hughes championed synth-pop in his movies
- Cameron Crowe's Singles was timed perfectly with the emergence of Seattle scene
- The Repo Man soundtrack featured some classic punk tracks
- Concert soundtracks can be hit or miss
- Pink Floyd's The Wall soundtrack differed a bit from the album
- This is Spinal Tap is a classic
- Floyd's music appeared on some late '60s/early '70s soundtracks
- Wang Chung did the soundtrack for To Live and Die in LA
- Soundtracks can bring out some truly awful songs
- Bryan Adams/Sting/Rod Stewart did "All For Love" from Three Musketeers soundtrack
- Plenty of bad soundtrack songs from Cheap Trick, Seger, ex-Eagles
- Dirty Dancing was a monstrous success
Kumar: Reality Bites was annoying
- Breitling recommends Urgh! A Music War

Music:
Parquet Courts - Borrowed Time

Two Gallants - My Love Won't Wait
Lefty's Deceiver - Horizon is Faster
Sonic Youth - Dirty Boots

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

The Parquet Courts song is on the album Light Up Gold on Dull Tools Records. Download it for free at RCRDLBL.
The Two Gallants song is on the album The Bloom and the Blight on ATO Records. Download the song for free as part of the ATO Records 2012 Fall Music Sampler (in exchange for your email address) at ATO Records.
The Lefty's Deceiver song is on the album Process Junior on My Pal God Records. Download the song for free from Epitonic.
The Sonic Youth song is on the album Goo on Geffen Records. Download the song for free from 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.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Big Cheese

It's been nearly 19 years since Kurt Cobain decided to end his life, but his legacy still looms large even if it's more of a cultural touchstone than anything else. Musical trends have come and gone and the angst-ridden, punk-tinged indie-rock revolution he led is alive and well in the music collections of those of us who were of age back then, but kids today lump Nirvana in with the classic rock their parents dig. Today, the music charts are all about hip hop, country and pop. Which is fine.

But the commercialization of Cobain lives on. Every few years, there's a new box set or hits collection released. You can buy any number of horrendous Kurt Cobain-esque Halloween costumes. This week, news broke that CBS had purchased a sitcom called, yep, Smells Like Teen Spirit, about an 18-year-old Internet entrepreneur who clashes with his '90s indie-rock parents blah blah blah. Then a few days later, it was reported that Cobain's widow Courtney Love was working on a Nirvana musical for Broadway or a motion picture. I suppose we can thank Green Day for that.

Of course, all this has led folks to moan about the death of so-called alternative culture, but really, it was beaten to death long ago. After all, when Nirvana and Pearl Jam et al hit it big in the early '90s, there was a huge run on lame-ass products and programming targeted at "Generation X." There was Reality Bites. OK Soda. Grunge fashion (aka douchebags paying $150 for flannel shirts). We were done with all that shit even before Cobain decided it was better to burn out than to fade away. So the fact that people are hoping to cash in on that nostalgia is no big shocker.

It's not even worth getting angry about anymore. Just laughable, really. And the description of the sitcom is funnier than anything that will actually make the air, and not for the reasons the show's producers hope. It's funny because it's pathetic and eminently predictable. Same as it ever was.




Thursday, October 25, 2012

Champagne Year

It was 20 years ago yesterday that I had my greatest moment in sports fandom...watching my beloved Toronto Blue Jays win the 1992 World Series over the Atlanta Braves. And of course, they won it again the following year on a dramatic Joe Carter home run. But the first win was the most rewarding because it came after 15 years of futility for the Jays.

I got into baseball in the mid-1970s when I was a little kid growing up in Toronto...rooting for the Montreal Expos and learning about the game. In 1977, the Toronto Blue Jays made their debut...and man, were they awful. Of course, they were an expansion team and as such were made up (along with the Seattle Mariners, who joined the American League at the same time) of the castoffs of other teams. I didn't really care that they sucked, though; I was just glad to be able to go see professional baseball. I used to take the commuter rail from our suburban town to the big city, where I'd see the Jays play at old Exhibition Stadium on Lake Ontario. Bleacher seats cost $2 back in the late '70s. My favorite player in those early days was Bob Bailor, who hit .310 in the Jays' first season and was a scrappy utility player who busted his butt all the time.

The Jays were terrible until 1982, when new manager Bobby Cox led the team to a 78-84 record and a new crop of young stars were emerging: pitchers Dave Stieb, Jim Clancy and Luis Leal and an exciting outfield of George Bell, Lloyd Moseby and Jesse Barfield. The Jays started coming into their own in 1983 and two years later won the AL East and were up 3-1 in the ALCS before the Royals came back and won the series. There was a horrific choke in the last week of the 1987 season when the Jays seemingly had the division sewn up before the Detroit Tigers swept them in the last weekend and won the East. Then in 1989 and 1991, the Jays won the East but were knocked off easily by Oakland and Minnesota, respectively.

But in 1992, things were different. The Jays added free agents Jack Morris and Dave Winfield to a powerful nucleus of stars including Roberto Alomar, Joe Carter, Kelly Gruber, Jimmy Key and Tom Henke. The team had a swagger right from the start and added top starter David Cone at the trade deadline. I lived in Boston area by this time and went up to see the Jays win some big games in late September. As we were driving home, I stopped at the Beer Store (that's what the province-run stores are called) and picked up a 6-pack of Labatt's Blue, which I would hopefully drink to celebrate each time the Jays made it to another level of the postseason. When they won the division with 96 games, I had a few of the Blues.

They faced the powerful Oakland A's in the ALCS, a team that featured Dennis Eckersley coming off an MVP and Cy Young season and the scary bats of Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire and Rickey Henderson, among others. Nobody gave the Jays a chance, especially after Oakland won game 1 4-3. But the Jays took the next two games and then in game 4, the series totally shifted in Toronto's favor when Alomar hit a 2-run homer in the top of the ninth off Eckersley to tie the game; the Jays won it 7-6 in 11 innings and never looked back. I still remember going nuts after that Alomar bomb. It was hugely symbolic, both in the way it put the Jays over the top and eventually into the World Series, but also it marked the last gasp of the Bash Brothers (aka steroid-aided) era of the A's, who wouldn't make the playoffs again until 2000. I had a few more of the Blues.

The World Series was tense and exciting. I watched the Series every year, but this was different. My team had never been there before. Every pitch was nerve-wracking. The series started in Atlanta, and it was light-hitting Braves catcher Damon Berryhill who got Atlanta off to a good start with a big homer in game 1. But game 2 featured another amazing clutch moment, when pinch-hitter Ed Sprague hit a two-run homer in extra innings that eventually won the game for Toronto. Between the fans doing their stupid Indian chant and shots of Jane Fonda "praying" next to Braves owner Ted Turner in the stands, I was sick of the Braves, who were essentially assumed to have the Series in the bag. The Jays went back to Toronto and won games 3 and 4 to take a commanding 3-1 series lead before losing game 5 and having to go back to Atlanta.

Game 6 was unreal. I sat in my living room in the same spot I watched all the other games. The Jays led 2-1 in the 9th before Henke uncharacteristically blew the lead and the game went to extra innings. In the 11th, Dave Winfield hit a two-run double to give Toronto a 4-2 lead and I was going nuts. It was after midnight and I just had to hope the Jays could retire the side and preserve the victory. Of course, the pesky Braves got baserunners immediately and scored to make the game 4-3. Manager Cito Gaston comes in and shockingly took Key out of the game, bringing in untested rookie Mike Timlin to face Otis Nixon with two outs and the tying run on third. Nixon bunted and Timlin fielded and threw to first baseman Carter for the win. Carter started jumping around and so did I, hooting and hollering and going nuts (as I would do a year later when Carter won the Series for the Jays again). I was watching the postgame show drinking that last Labatt's Blue when my buddy Eric showed up around 1 a.m. with a bottle of champagne. It was a pretty damn thoughtful gesture given he liked the Red Sox, but that's the kind of guy he is. And the champagne tasted mighty sweet that night.

In the years since, I saw the Jays win again but then fail to make the postseason every year. My even more beloved Toronto Maple Leafs had a few good runs over the years but never made it past the semifinals in the NHL playoffs, but the last seven years have been just horrendous. And the New England Patriots, who I started following in the early '80s after moving here, won three Super Bowls in the last decade and are consistently good, so there's that. But barring a Leafs Stanley Cup win (which seems sadly a long ways away, especially with this season locked out and on the brink of cancellation), that 1992 World Series win will always be my favorite sports moment.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Completely Conspicuous 249: The Sound and the Fury

Part 1 of my conversation with guest Jay Breitling as we discuss movie soundtracks. Listen to the episode below or download it directly (right click and "save as").

Show notes:
- Recorded at Chez Breitling
- Breitling: The Rocky soundtrack was big in his childhood in Philly
- Soundtracks went from simple scores to multiple artists
- Hulk Hogan's sex tape nearly ruined the Internet
- "Rock Around the Clock" made its mark
- Elvis, Beatles both used soundtracks well
- Having kids forces you to listen to children's movie soundtracks
- Kenny Loggins built his career around soundtrack hits
- The '80s saw numerous videos for soundtrack songs featuring clips from movie
- Journey contributed to the Tron soundtrack
- Heavy Metal soundtrack featured two different songs called "Heavy Metal"
- Soundtracks were a way for artists to keep their name out there between albums
- Breitling: Fond memories of the Xanadu soundtrack
- Kumar: Remember digging Frankie Valli's title track of the Grease soundtrack
- Rap and rock met in the Judgment Night soundtrack
- Jon Cafferty and Beaver Brown became big thanks to the movie Eddie and Cruisers
- Elliott Smith's contributions to Good Will Hunting made him a household name
- Rock artists like Mark Mothersbaugh and Danny Elfman became film composers
- To be continued
 Music:
Ty Segall - Femme Fatale

Spider Bags - Friday Night
METZ - Headache
Mission of Burma - 2wice

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

The Ty Segall song is on the compilation The Velvet Underground & Nico by Castle Face and Friends on Castle Face Records. Download it for free at Stereogum.
The Spider Bags song is on the album Shake My Head. Download the song for free at Bandcamp.
The METZ song is on the band's self-titled debut on Sub Pop. Download the song for free from Sub Pop.
The Mission of Burma song is on the album The Obliterati on Matador Records. Download the song for free from 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, October 19, 2012

Glad to Be Here

Everybody's got their favorite bands. One of mine is Sloan. They've been cranking out top-notch power pop for nigh on 21 years now and I make sure to see them nearly every time they come through Boston. Last year, they hit town twice on the Double Cross tour (I saw the first show) and this Tuesday they returned on a quick tour celebrating the deluxe edition of their classic 1994 album Twice Removed.

The album was the band's second, following their 1992 debut Smeared, and it marked a serious departure from the feedback-laden shoegaze-inspired predecessor. Twice Removed was a subdued effort that leaned more on pop songcraft, catchy melodies and clever wordplay, and it was met primarily with blank stares by the band's label, Geffen, which had no idea how to market it in the grunge-hungry era. As a result, the album sunk like a stone in the U.S. (I recall hearing "I Hate My Generation" once or twice on rock radio) and Sloan was subsequently dropped from the label. The band took an extended hiatus that some took as a breakup before reconvening in '96 and forging a moderately successful indie career stateside (while enjoying greater success in their Canadian homeland).

At Brighton Music Hall, Sloan eschewed an opening act, instead playing two sets. While the second presidential debate and the Yankees-Tigers game played on TVs in the back bar, the band forged through Twice Removed front to back, kicking off with "Penpals," which was written by bassist Chris Murphy after reading some of then-labelmate Nirvana's fan mail in the Geffen offices. All four members write and sing their own songs, so the band would occasionally switch instruments so drummer Andrew Scott--who with his completely gray, shaggy mop and goatee resembled a younger, leaner Kris Kristofferson--could sing his two contributions to the record, "People of the Sky" and the extended jam "Before I Do." As entertaining as Scott's songs and guitar playing is, it's almost as fun to watch Murphy's exaggerated Keith Moon impression on drums. Murphy was a playful goofball throughout, making goofy faces, high-fiving fans and cracking wise. Pentland and Ferguson provided excellent guitar work, with the former generating heavy riffs and ripping solos while the latter played melody lines and rhythm parts.


Much of the audience sang along to "Generation," "Coax Me," Jay Ferguson's "Snowsuit Sound" and Patrick Pentland's album closer "I Can Feel It." Murphy played solo guitar on his "Deeper Than Beauty," backed only by Scott on drums. Pentland had some fun after singing his downbeat "Loosens," asking "Is that anybody's favorite song on the album? Didn't think so."

The band then took a 20-minute break before returning to play a 70-minute career-spanning set that included several songs from The Double Cross but also older favorites like "The Good in Everyone," "Chester the Molester," "Take Good Care of the Poor Boy," "Keep on Thinking" and the traditional Sloan show-closer "Money City Maniacs." For the encore, the band broke out "Glad to Be Here," a Pentland composition that came out on a 1999 compilation album, "The Lines You Amend" and "I am the Cancer," which dates back to the first album.

A Sloan show is always entertaining, and two decades into their career, the band hasn't lost a thing. If they keep touring, I'll keep going to see them.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Completely Conspicuous 248: Take Off, Eh?

Part 2 of my conversation with guest James Gralian as we discuss the latest NHL lockout. Listen to the episode below or download it directly (right click and "save as").

Show notes:
- Recorded via Skype
- Check out James' blog Jerseys and Hockey Love
- The Bruins may lose much of the goodwill they gained from their Cup win
- The Panthers fired their mascot, the NHL's cutting staff hours
- Preparing for post-lockout play
- Fantasy hockey leagues are on hold
- James is certified to be a hockey ref
- Watching other sports instead
- Going to rock shows is a nice alternative
- Jay: Saw PiL open for INXS at Radio City, 1988
- James: Good college hockey in the Denver area
- Players are more bitter this time around
- Lockout impacts many people beyond players and owners
- Hockey bloggers gained prominence during last lockout
- Life goes on
- With no hockey, fans are finding they're saving a lot of money
- Jay: I'm okay with shorter regular season
- James recommends the movie "Goon"
- Kudos to the Red Wings
- Bonehead of the Week

Music:
The Hush Now - The Flapper

Wintersleep - Martyr
Benjamin Gibbard - Teardrop Windows
METZ - Wet Blanket

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

The Hush Now song is the band's 2012 Halloween single. Download it for free (in exchange for your email address) from Bandcamp.
The Wintersleep song is an unreleased track available for free download at Wintersleep.com.
The Benjamin Gibbard song is on the album Former Lives on Barsuk Records. Download the song for free from Chromewaves.
The METZ song is on the band's self-titled debut on Sub Pop. Download the song for free from Pitchfork.

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.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Don't Look Back

Ever run into somebody you haven't seen in a while and then remember the first time you met him or her? Yesterday morning, I was out for a run when I passed a runner going in the opposite direction. I nodded my head to acknowledge him as I usually do to fellow runners when I realized I knew him from somewhere.

I continued running for a few minutes before I realized how I knew him: At a raucous post-softball party at the house I shared with two roommates 14 years ago, I poked my head into one of my roommates' rooms to find this guy and another doing lines of cocaine off a glass table. Now this may not be that bizarre of a tale coming from a party of youngish adults in the late '90s, but nevertheless, I didn't know these people and they were doing drugs in my house. I'm no prude and my roomies and I drank a LOT back then, but none of us did drugs, especially the powdery stuff. I didn't take immediate action, other than to go downstairs and say to my roommate, "Do you know there are dudes doing coke in your room right now?" Then I proceeded to continue with the partying and such.

I don't remember what my roommate did then, if he did anything, but I never saw those guys in my house again. If I recall correctly, we had gone to a now-defunct bar called Crackers for the traditional post-game libations and spent several hours there before coming back to our place and inviting a bunch of people with us. Those guys must have tagged along. I did run into both of them at different points in the years that followed, but we never made mention of the coke incident. Hey, everybody's done stuff at parties they don't necessarily want to be reminded about.

But it's probably been a decade since I saw the guy I passed yesterday. As I ran, I wondered if he remembered that little incident or if it was just a blip on the radar screen of his life. I certainly hadn't thought about it in many years. My partying days are way behind me; Deb and I probably party more in New Jersey with her brother Matt and his friends than we do up here. Now, when we do imbibe with friends, it tends to be a much more low-key gathering because we all have kids and have responsibilities beyond ourselves. And we've hosted our share of BBQs, but I can't remember the last time we held a party. Which is fine with me. Some things are better left in the past.


Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Completely Conspicuous 247: Locked Out

Part 1 of my conversation with guest James Gralian as we discuss the latest NHL lockout and why we still give a damn about hockey. Listen to the episode below or download it directly (right click and "save as").


Show notes:
- Recorded via Skype
- Check out James' blog Jerseys and Hockey Love
- Seems like we just had a lockout...wiping out 2004-05 season
- NHL cancelled first two weeks of regular season
- Players are heading to play in Europe
- James: Annoyed at the NHL, still love the sport
- Plenty of other teams to support: Minor league, college, high school
- Jay: Went to more college games during last lockout
- Looks like this lockout could be a long one
- Jay: The burden of being a Leafs fan
- During lockouts, fans find other things to do
- Fans will come back, but lockouts are costly
- True fans really love the game
- Possibility of a new team in the Toronto area
- Support for the Leafs in Toronto is similar to Red Sox popularity in New England
- The strange journey of Tim Thomas
- LA Kings won the Cup and have to wait to raise the banner
- Replacement players have been tried in NFL, MLB before
- NFL just had embarrassing episode with replacement refs
- Will non-NHL hockey players want to become scabs?
- New minor league team in Denver
- Hard to say whether NHL season will be saved
- NHL commish Gary Bettman is very powerful
- Hard for fans to sympathize with either side
- To be continued
- Bonehead of the Week

Music:
Ceremony - Everything Burns

The Mountain Goats - Cry for Judas
Allo Darlin' - Capricornia
Yo La Tengo - Stupid Things

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

The Ceremony song is from a split 7-inch with Titus Andronicus. Download it for free from Matador Records.
The Mountain Goats song is on the album Transcendental Youth on Merge Records. Download the song for free from SoundCloud.
The Allo Darlin' song is on the album Europe on Slumberland Records. Download the song for free via IODA Promonet:
EuropeAllo Darlin'
"Capricornia" (mp3)
from "Europe"
(Slumberland Records)

More On This Album


The Yo La Tengo song is on the EP Stupid Things on Matador Records. Download the song for free from 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, October 05, 2012

Playing the Game

I'm lucky. I've never really had to battle with my weight. The only time I really felt like it was an issue was after I got out of college and was kinda pudgy from years of boozing and junk food. I started working out and lost about 25 pounds in three months. My weight went up when I started getting into free weights, but it was muscle, not fat. And in the last 12 years, I've been running regularly, which has kept me pretty fit, and I've eaten mostly healthy food.

But last fall, I stopped running because of Achilles issues and put on about 10 pounds over the holidays. I started the year at 176 (the heaviest I've ever been) and set a goal of losing 15-20 pounds this year. Once I started running, I dropped about eight or nine pounds almost immediately, but I've been kind of stuck around 167 for a few months. I'm sure part of the reason is my affection for high-alcohol craft beer.

Last week, Deb mentioned that she was doing something called the Game On diet with some friends; it's not so much a crazy diet as it is a monthlong diet challenge. You have a group of friends that splits into teams and you all have to stick to a diet plan that awards you points for staying with the diet and deducts them for cheating. You eat five times per day, and each meal has to include a lean protein, healthy fat and a carbohydrate (whole grain or fruit). Two of the meals must have two fist-sized portions of vegetables. No sugar, no alcohol (two of my favorite things!). You get one day off per week as well as a meal off and you can have 100 calories of anything each day. You also must drink 3 liters of water (about six 16 oz. glasses) and get points for exercising 20 minutes per day and sleeping at least seven hours per night. The goal is lose at least 1% of your body weight every week.

I've never done a diet before. But I realized I was treading water with my weight and figured why not try something like this to see if it worked. So at the last minute, I decided to do it. We're nearly done with the first week and I'm already down four pounds. I've been getting into it, even though it's meant giving up some of my favorite things like my daily Nantucket Nectars Half and Half iced tea and cereal for breakfast. Most bread is off-limits because it has sugar. And of course, no beer (except for one I had after hockey the other night). I've even gone to bed earlier. Tomorrow is my "off day" but I'm going to stick with the diet for all meals except dinner, and even then I'm not going to go overboard. I'll have a couple of beers, but I don't want to blow my progress on one night.  I set my goal weight for the end of the month to be 160, but I'm hoping I can get into the mid-150s, where I haven't been in at least 10 years. And that, hopefully, will translate into faster race times.

At the very least, I'll be healthier...and the beers will taste better.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Completely Conspicuous 246: Once in a Lifetime

It's a new installment of Driving with Kumar as I celebrate another birthday and reflect on my 45 years of existence. Listen to the episode below or download it directly (right click and "save as").

Show notes:
- Driving to NH to run a half marathon
- Another birthday has come and gone
- Facebook changes the meaning of "friend"
- Turning 21 is a big deal
- 30 was a milestone
- Dealing with parental expectations
- Wasn't ready for marriage and/or fatherhood in my 20s
- Got married at 32
- Living alone has its pros and cons
- My job isn't my life
- Didn't take a lot of risks in my work life
- Kind of fell into a journalism career
- No regrets
- Watched a good friend take a chance, turn it into career
- Can't spend much time wondering about what ifs
 - Bonehead of the Week

Music:
Jason Collett - I Wanna Rob a Bank

Rye Coalition - Communication Breakdance
Girls Against Boys - Super-Fire

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

The Jason Collett song is on the album Reckon on Arts and Crafts. Download it for free from SoundCloud.
The Rye Coalition song is on the EP Jersey Girls on Tiger Style Records. Download the song for free from Epitonic.
The Girls Against Boys song is on the album House of GVSB on Touch and Go 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.