the memories will linger on; the good old days, they’re long gone

I still sit in dumb amazement, sometimes, at the power music has over me.

Standing in Johnny D’s on Saturday, watching the Ravens lose, Bobby pointed out a particular Beatles song that Beatlejuice was covering. It reminded him of the old shareware game Scorched Earth, which he used to play for hours with a friend while listening to Beatles albums. I saw his reminiscence and raised: one of the first CDs my parents got, when they upgraded to a CD player and a full stereo, was Revolver. I remember listening to it while playing my dad at Conquest of the Empire.

“It’s odd, the associations we make,” Bobby observed.

After the Ravens finished failing, I stumbled home. A sudden wave of nostalgia for Baltimore and childhood overtook me, and I turned to the surest remedy: The Band’s self-titled 1970 album.

As a scientist, I have to discount the effect that nostalgia may have on me. I remember listening to Levon Helm’s crooning on summer road trips with the family: Baltimore, MD to Cape Hatteras, NC in eight hours or less. I’ve always had a facility for lyrics and rhythm: it only took a few times for the songs to be ingrained on my consciousness.

And yet Martin Scorsese agrees with me: there was something about The Band that made them uniquely talented. They displayed the same penchant for odd but touching harmonies that the Beach Boys had. Combine that with the folksy strains that resonate with half of the American continent and you have a factory for classics. Rolling Stone, always a tough audience, was amazed that “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” wasn’t a century-old spiritual. It wasn’t. It was written by a Canadian. That’s how fucking good The Band was.

Blend once-in-a-generation talent with the lure of nostalgia, and you get a powerful brew. I would learn to play the guitar just to cover half of these songs, and I could never do it as well as Robertson. As it stands, I could never see myself turning to drugs so long as music like this exists in the world.


we’re so glad you could attend; come inside, come inside

Last September, I realized that I’d bought tickets to see three shows in three consecutive months: Psychedelic Furs in October, Girl Talk in November and Ted Leo and the Pharmacists in December. The monthly spacing hadn’t been deliberate; it was just one of those coincidences you read about.

But I stay in Boston, or I tell people I do, because of the thriving art and culture scene. I could probably keep the pace of “one live show a month” up for some time. The question: for how long?

And thus began The Show That Never Ends: my quest to see one live music act every month in Boston for as long as I possibly can.

My only rules:

  • They have to be a moderately big name. No open mic nights, no local bands chomping at the edges of the scene. The band doesn’t need to be internationally known, but, if they’re local, they need to be top of the list.
  • I have to want to see them. January was a tough month to shop for; I had Cheap Trick and Timbaland as options, but neither thrilled me.

This Saturday, I’ll be seeing Beatlejuice – the late Brad Delp’s Beatles cover band – at Johnny D’s in Somerville. Beatlejuice is about as far down on the “local” spectrum as I’d go. Fortunately, that’ll be less of an issue in coming months. I’ve got the Editors in February and Spoon in March.

My one dilemma: I set this date before Baltimore got in the running for the AFC title. They’ll be playing the Indianapolis pseudo-Colts on Saturday night. I know Johnny D’s has a TV, but it sort of defeats the purpose of seeing a band live if I keep one eye on the stage and one eye on Ray Rice’s 5.3-yards-per-carry ass. But if I don’t see Beatlejuice, I’m out of options for January. And the whole point of an arbitrary bit of blog fodder like The Show That Never Ends is so I don’t miss a month.

So let’s hope the Ravens put this one away early. There is precedent, after all.

tis here that truth is known

Professor Coldheart’s Keys to the Game
Ravens games don’t usually get picked up by New England stations. I could go to a sports bar and ask someone to switch a TV over, but this doesn’t always go over well. Also, it ties me to that particular bar for three hours and twenty dollars worth of drinks. Of course, this would not have been an issue this past Sunday – when the Ravens played the Patriots at GIllette Stadium – except that I would have been the only guy in the bar in a Joe Flacco jersey. Even the usual crew who I can plead to come watch a Baltimore game with me (Fraley, Hawver, Michelle) would have spurned my treachery.

Streaming Internet radio saved the day, though the only station I can reliably get online is Washington DC’s Air America affiliate. They do great game day coverage, picking up the WBAL broadcasters live: a more competent crew than four of the last five Monday Night Football lineups. So I sigh when Air America does its “roll call” every hour, running down a list of local businesses that want to advertise their progressive values. A slew of farmer’s markets, massage therapists and small law offices, announced in alternating sing-song.

My Ravens played their hearts out this past Sunday, leaving two men on the field – Jared Gaither and Brendan Oyanbedejo – and keeping it close throughout. Joe Flacco played like the Tom Brady of four years ago, going 8-for-11 on third down. And Baltimore shut down New England’s running game. Unfortunately, several bad ref calls, as well as competitive play by Brady, Maroney and Welker, cost Baltimore the game.

I still submit that the Patriots winning this game earned them less cred than the Ravens lost by losing. The Ravens are now a 3-1 team, eminently respectable with a sophomore QB and coach, and stayed within one touchdown of a well-favored team. The Patriots clawed their way to 3-1 in a close game today, still not having won by enough of a margin to reaffirm the world’s faith in Brady Christ. The power dynamics of dealing with low-status rivals plague even the canniest diplomats.

Hail, Alma Mater
I saw my first (and probably only) Boston College home game of the season this past Saturday, watching the Eagles scramble past FSU. Casey O. and I screamed in frustration at Spaziani’s prevent defense, stared at each other in shock when BC scored and tried to keep the fans around us classy.

Limited success on that front: a BC Superfan got in a shoving match with a Seminoles fan one section over. Two ambitious, collegiate pushes: both arms to the flat of the chest, no follow-up punch. Stadium security came by and summoned the cops. I didn’t hear the ensuing discussion, but I saw the Seminoles fan shaking his head. The cops left without ejecting the BC pugilist, who slumped into a seat two rows away next to his embarrassed girlfriend and stared somberly at the field for the remaining quarter and a half, his dignity shredded beyond repair.

pressure gonn’ drop on you

Go out of your way for your friends and it usually turns out to be worth your while.

On Saturday, I drove to Bukowski Tavern – not a huge jaunt from my house, but farther than I might normally drive – to catch Heather C. on a rare trip to Boston. She spotted me before I saw her and swam through the crowd to catch me. I chatted her up for a bit before running into Dana J. and TC, whom I shared beer and hot dogs with while talking about the scene. I had soaked at Inman Oasis for half an hour before hand; loose muscles and craft IPAs inspired me to speak more than I usually might.

Later that evening, Misch needed a ride back to Jamaica Plain after the trains stopped running. We talked art in the car ride home. “You seem to already be composing the review in your head when you see something,” she said. And though I have a profound tendency to get immersed in whatever I’m seeing – a TV show, a movie, a good play – this is true. I think about what I view in critical language. I had done this earlier in the evening watching a sketch duo called Tango, who I suspect are about four months of work away from being the funniest sketch performers in Boston. Call me on it.

And on Sunday, Fraley invited me to his place in Newton to watch the ball game. Snow was falling and more was expected, and the warm embrace of the couch tempted me. Or hell, my choice of sports bars within a few blocks of my front door. But I realized I’d rather watch the Ravens’ triumphal victory – or regrettable loss – in the company of good friends and nourishing food. Fraley and Melissa have always been generous in providing both.

I’m not much of an extrovert. But it’s good to know that when I choose to step outside my shell I usually choose right.

how young are you? how old am I? let’s count the rings around my eyes

I don’t want to talk about it.*

What I will talk about, instead, is Battlestar Galactica’s season 4.5 debut this past Friday. I will talk as circumspectly as possible, to avoid spoilers, but the ultra-sensitive may want to wait until Tuesday.

BSG has always shined in characterization. This is an outstanding feat, given that BSG comes to us via the Sci-Fi Channel (the station that brought you … um … hang on …). The characters and their interests seem so real that I find it jarring whenever the writers adopt a Capricism (“frak”, octagonal paper, pyramid ball). The characters may do things for stupid reasons, but they rarely do them for jarring reasons. They’re no stupider than the rest of us.

Of course, you can throw all that out the window whenever prophecy rears its ugly head. But that’s understandable. After all, prophecy is the dumbest literary device ever to enter fiction.

In fantastic literature, prophecy comes in one of two flavors: retroactive or precognitive:

  • Retroactive prophecy looks backward and justifies the present. Hey, the sky’s missing some constellations? Funny, there’s an old prophecy that says that sort of thing might happen during a big war. Oh, you saw some snakes this morning? The Scrolls of Pythia mention that you might have seen snakes. I guess things are happening according to prophecy now, aren’t they?

    Retroactive prophecy’s dumb because it doesn’t add anything. It takes zero effort on a writer’s part to invent a prophecy, paint it over recent events Texas sharpshooter style, and then produce the resulting turd with a flourish. Ooh, ominous, right?

  • Precognitive prophecy looks forward and outlines the future. The creepy teenage girl muttered some nonsense rhyme – and now there are guys with blue hands coming after us! The Scrolls tell us that we have to park at this planet, then turn left – and look, a glowing on-ramp in space!

    Precognitive prophecy’s dumb because it strips the protagonists of their role in the story. Either the future has been laid out, in which case the central questions of “what do the protagonists want?” and “what obstacles lie in their way?” no longer matter. Or the future is still undetermined, in which case why are you wasting our time with these paltry attempts at mysticism? Most stories never commit one way or the other, unfortunately, generally straddling a middle path until the events prophesied have come and gone. At that point, the precognitive prophecy becomes retroactive (see above).

It doesn’t help matters much that none of the prophecies unearthed on BSG so far have been particularly ominous. Half the time, they foretell the most mundane shit imaginable. I remember some episodes in Season 2 where Roslyn and Boomer are literally consulting the Pythian Scrolls on whether to turn left or right at the top of a hill. The rest of the time, when they do get the plot moving, the results could just as easily have been achieved by accident. I remember one “prophecy” that came true when someone spotted a reddish star in the sky, and another that came true when the Final Four Cylons just happened to be standing in the same place at the same time. The Arrow of Apollo had a neat payoff, I thought; can’t think of anything else.

I bring all this up because I think the Season 4.5 premiere does right by discarding prophecy as quickly as possible. Several characters who have relied on prophecy in the past – both human and Cylon – see their visions turn to literal ash. A few very vivid scenes depict this – some overwrought, some subtle – and the Fleet stumbles for a while. Not only do I like the divorce from mysticism, personally, but I think it makes for a stronger story. The protagonists are once again active. They have agendas and obstacles. They’re people, not pawns.

As for some of the episode’s plot twists and revelations: a couple of them were clearly done for shock value alone. That doesn’t make them any less effective, but they don’t indicate a strong writing craft. Still, no one behaved in a way that struck me as innately wrong. The revelation of the fifth Cylon at the end of the episode works for me, especially given the Fleet’s habit of leaving important things several planets behind (see: Arrow of Apollo, above).

Overall: I liked it well enough to give the rest of Season 4.5 my attention. Nice work so far, writers – now don’t screw it up.

* Okay, I’ll say this much – Joe Flacco had a phenomenal rookie season, especially on a team that’s never been known for its offense. Especially in the ultra-competitive AFC. He got to the conference playoffs, and then made the mistakes I would expect a rookie to make against the #1 defense in the league. I have nothing but pride for my Ravens and expect the Flacco/Harbaugh era to produce plenty of trophies in the future.

That being said, it would have been fun to watch Terrell Suggs jack Kurt Warner, right?

don’t mess with the professor

I updated the “About” page (props to Marie for the link).

# # #

CVS occasionally spits out a coupon worth using, like five dollars off a purchase of $25 or more. Monday last week I decided to save myself a trip to Shaw’s and do my grocery shopping at CVS. I pushed a full-size grocery cart down the pharmacy’s narrow aisles, stocking up on bread and milk and some heat-and-eat entrees.

Come Wednesday evening, when snow fell in showers and I had nothing to eat but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or Tyson breaded cutlets, I no longer felt so clever. And I’d already had PB&J for lunch.

Things grew so desperate that, by Thursday evening – New Year’s Day – I was willing to hit up the Davis Square McDonald’s for variety. Fortunately, it was closed, compelling me to trudge a few more blocks until I found that Mr. Crepe was open.

# # #

My friend Aaron, a professional bartender, took a look at the Jack Benny and promised to work on it. After a few test drives and some customer feedback, he came up with the following:

1/4oz Benedictine
1/2oz Lime Simple Syrup
1/2oz Dolan Dry Vermouth
1 3/4oz Old Overholt Rye Whiskey
No Garnish

Stop by Drink at Fort Point and let me know how it tastes. I’ll be there myself soon.

# # #

With the crazy changes in weather lately, and more trips across the Charles than usual, I’ve spotted the weather lights atop the Hancock Tower a few times this past week. For non-Bostonians: the lit spire atop the Hancock lights up either red or blue, and either steady or flashing.

There’s a mnemonic that supposedly helps you remember what these lights mean:

Steady blue, clear view
Flashing blue, clouds due
Steady red, rain ahead
Flashing red, snow instead.

The problem: this is one of those useless mnemonics where the worthwhile information isn’t encoded in the rhymes. You can remember the rhyme scheme perfectly and still forget what the code means. I can never remember whether flashing blue means rain or clouds (“flashing blue, rain due?”).

Homer Simpson gives us a similar example:

When the fire starts to burn,
There’s a lesson you must learn.
Something something, then you’ll see:
You’ll avoid catastrophe!

As such, I ignore the old rhyme and remember the following:

Blue is better than red
Steady is better than flashing
Flashing red in the summer means the Sox game is canceled

# # #

Ed Reed! Pick six, baby!

christmas is for children

Let’s not overlook the most important gift I could ask for this season: the Ravens in the playoffs. Expect to see a lot more of the #5 jersey over the next few weeks.

I’d say something clever in anticipation of the next playoff round, like, “I hope this year’s Dolphins play like last year’s Dolphins when the Ravens face them,” but the Ravens were Miami’s only victory last year. So … um … let’s just have a good game, yeah?

# # #

I sat down on December 24th to talk wedding details with Matt and Lydia, who I will marry in June 2009 (not to be confused with John and Melissa, who I will marry in May). Man, there’s a lot that goes into a wedding ceremony. How many readings, what kind of readings, who’s going to read them. Will there be a song? Who’s handling the vows? What’s everyone wearing? All sorts of crazy nonsense.

# # #

The TSA riles me up every time I fly through Baltimore, and I’ve finally laid a finger on why: it’s the “Simplifly” video that runs on constant loop while you stand in the security line.

The implied message – people who want to get where they’re going on time disrupt the system; people who docilely comply with the latest bizarre directive are quiet heroes – bothers me. What are you doing to make the TSA’s job easier? Does your packing style accommodate the Administration’s needs? Are you a cooperative citizen?

At about the 0:30 mark, a woman – the recurring villain in this video – sifts through sheaves of airline paperwork, looking for what the TSA demands of her this week (boarding pass, one form of ID). The scanner waits patiently for her to produce it, while the person in line behind her shoots her an, “Are you serious?” look. The nerve of these people! Not anticipating what they’ll be told to do before they’ve been told.

I’ve flown four times in the last forty days, as do many Americans around this season. No two trips through security were the same for me. For instance: despite being told repeatedly – through voice, sign and video – to put all liquids in a clear plastic bag for inspection, I never did. I only got stopped for it once: a thrower pulled my overnight bag out and rifled through my toiletries. If they can’t keep their own restrictions straight, why should I?