May 10, 2012

Police Reporter: Right Man, Wrong Look

Check out this piece by David Simon on The Baltimore Sun night editor, David Ettlin.

"His great sin is that he never looked the part:

The ruddy complexion and the insubordinate hair and that godawful mustache that should never have belonged to anyone with more solemnity and poise than an East Baltimore Street pimp, drunk and luckless, down to his last working girl.

The wardrobe was disastrous. He made the rest of the slumming metro veterans look almost plausible. His laugh was a cackle, employed liberally against the farts and foibles of the important and famous. From humanity, he expected farce and scandal at all points, adoring an absurd, senseless murder most of all. He never lost at Scrabble, he had 10 different ways of saying anything in print, and yeah, if he acted as if he'd seen it all without ever leaving a newsroom, it was only because he had.

David Michael Ettlin taught me to be a reporter at The Baltimore Sun, which is to say, I love the man for everything he is, and everything he isn't."

Read the story here.

A Thursday in May

I'll be working a few night shifts this upcoming week, an altogether different pace when it comes to newsrooms. But aside from leaving late at night to check warrants at the jail before returning home, these shifts mean I have a good portion of my afternoons free. Such was the case this afternoon. This playlist was a result:

A Thursday in May by Chase on Grooveshark

01. "I'm Yours and I'm Hers" - Johnny Winter, Johnny Winter
02. "Turtles Have Short Legs" - Can, Cannibalism 2
03. "Anything Could Happen" - The Clean, Anthology
04. "Sour Times - Portishead, Dummy
05. "Paranoid - Black Sabbath, Paranoid
06. "Panda" - Dungen, Ta det Lugnt
07. "This Will Be Our Year" - The Zombies, Odessey and Oracle 

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May 8, 2012

Inside the New York Times’ Photo Morgue

WNYC recently reported on The New York Times morgue, which has gained much notoriety via the popularization of the Times' new Tumblr called The Lively Morgue. I presume a lot of people have already run across this gem. If not, you should add it to your RSS reader and/or bookmark it. The content is almost always fascinating. The article, and particularly the video that accompanied the article, stood out to me, in part, because they feature the morgue's caretaker, Jeffrey Roth.

I really liked the commentary provided by the Times photography and reporting staff, especially this:

"I don't know that I would say the morgue is a diamond in the rough, I might say it is a rough in the rough. It is as unpolished as the world we inhabit now, that's what makes it invaluable. It is a reminder that we are not leading a life for the first time. We've been here before."
 - David W. Dunlap, New York Times reporter.

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May 7, 2012

Mint condition

It took a Michael Chabon essay from Manhood for Amateurs to remind me just how much baseball card minutiae I packed into my brain between 1993 and 2000. I got my start on my seventh birthday, when my parents decided to give me the collecting bug. Instead of buying me the complete set of that year's Topps set, they bought me a whole bunch of packs. Up on my bunk bed, I spread them out and began tearing at the wrappers. It didn't take much to get me hooked, especially since that year included my favorite player, Frank Thomas, holding three big black bats.

I didn't know then, but the three bats were sort of the thing for The Big Hurt, a la Babe Ruth and all the other boppers, and had actually been featured in the oddly illustrated Fleer set of the year before (top).

But the first card that really enchanted me was for an as-of-yet not hated Chicago Cubs player. I was OK with the Cubs at that point, so when my dad came home with the Ryne Sandberg rookie card, which was the first card of value to come into our home, I started to get a feeling that might be equated with Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. It was part loving the card, part feeling lucky to have it, and part possessiveness. We had it, and nobody else.

Later, through "bidding" at the local card store, my dad would make almost weekly purchases of famous cards. As odd as it is to describe now, the bidding was just the real-life early-90s version of eBay, where cards would be put up on the wall with a bid sheet, and my dad would stop in periodically to check on the cards he wanted. One of my favorites he got was Harmon Killebrew's 1955 rookie card, which besides the really old cards, came out in the first five years of Topps' modern batches cards.

The Killebrew card, at least a little bit, also reminds me of one of the "biggest pickles" I ever got myself into with trading cards. Really, it was more of a screwup than a pickle. It had to do with this card, the Derek Jeter rookie card:

Because my parents bought me packs in my first year of collecting, that brought me many, many duplicates of the same card. We called them "doubles." I had doubles of just about everyone, except for, in a way impossible for me to grasp then, those cards that were by intentionally produced to be more elusive than all the rest. (I never did collect the full set this way, but I came damn close.)

Jeter, overrated superstar that he is now, was not elusive in 1992 card collecting. I had like eight Derek Jeter rookie cards. As you can see, it wasn't a card with a lot going for it. Some scrawny guy standing kind of goofy over a clip art baseball diamond ...

I put my doubles into a special box dedicated purely to doubles (card boxes are special as it is, with their terrific shape and lids). A couple years later, I didn't want those doubles. I wanted more Eric Karros and Carl Pavano cards. I did collect legit players too, like Manny Ramirez and most badassedly nicknamed "Crime Dog" Fred McGriff (that swing!).

Anyway, I offered up a box of about 500 doubles in exchange for a few embossed and faceted (I assume) specialty cards. That day, I probably lost my heirs a few hundred dollars. But looking back on the deal, I'm glad to know that, even as a child, I wanted nothing to do with the Yankees.

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May 6, 2012

Documentary: "Under African Skies"

There was a small op-ed in today's New York Times about a forthcoming documentary entitled Under African Skies, which looks into the making of Paul Simon's Graceland 25 years after its release. I've shared, albeit briefly, here before my love for this album and the impact it made on my childhood. It is, I think, my all-time favorite album because of its abstract themes, poeticism, and its placement as one of the singular musical works I muse upon when I think about my youth and my mother. It's a perfect summertime album as well. I look forward to seeing this documentary.

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May 4, 2012

Catchy, disagreeable lyrics (with playlist)

If I'd ever gone on a first date with Vampire Weekend's "Oxford Comma," we never would have made it to a second meeting. The central lyrical thesis, "Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?" would have been the deal breaker. Because it's me. I am the one who cares about the Oxford (serial) comma. Strunk & White do too, and I side with them often.

Despite the disagreement, I still sing along with that song. So I started thinking about lyrics that I love and hate, or that I find disagreeable and catchy. I turned to the Sadbear beacon, called out for more ideas, and we came up with this playlist, leaving out the obvious M.I.A. shoot-you-for-cash and other crack-dealing songs that we hold so dear. Thoughts follow below.

Troublesome Lyrics by Tony G on Grooveshark

Mark says: "Most of the music I listen to is a contradiction. I should probably be more concerned about this," and he lists Okkervil River's The Black Sheep Boy album, the song "Bukowski" by Modest Mouse, and most of Control by Pedro the Lion, as examples. He too called attention to Vampire Weekend.

"But above, before, beyond all: The Mountain Goats," Mark said. "I love them. I sing them, passionately. I identify with and get emotionally worked up over them. Even though, you know ..."
It took all the coke in town to bring down Dennis Brown // on the day my lung collapses we'll see just how much it takes

Hail, Satan

I hope that our few remaining friends give up on trying to save us // I hope we come up with a fail-safe plot to piss off the dumb few that forgave us // I hope the fences we mended fall down beneath their own weight... 
Jack says he finds some Wilco and Elvis Costello lyrics to be well-stated and sincere while espousing ideas he doesn't necessarily agree with.

"The one I thought of immediately was 'Passenger Side' by Wilco. Seeing as how it's about Jeff Tweedy's DUIs, I don't think it's a song that even he would agree with — something of a cautionary tale." That song includes the lines:
You're gonna make me spill my beer // If you don't learn how to steer

Can you take me to the store, then the bank? // I've got five dollars we can put in the tank // I've got a court date coming this June // I'll be driving soon // Passenger side // I don't like riding on the passenger side
The second song from Jack is Elvis Costello's "Accidents Will Happen," including:
There's so many people to see // So many people you can check up on // And add to your collection // But they keep you hanging on // Until you're well hung // Your mouth is made up but your mind is undone
Finally, Jack said, the entire Joy Division catalog is "pretty nihilistic, and I pretty much agree with none of what they are actually saying. But I still love moments like 'Transmission,' in which Ian Curtis encourages the listener to dance to the silence of the void of humanity of the radio."

Chase went deep, so I'll stay out of the way and let him handle this:

"No apologies ever need be made // I know you better than you fake it to see"
- "1979" by The Smashing Pumpkins

The Smashing Pumpkins came into my life at the perfect time, as I came into my own as a teenager and began to grapple with ideas of growing up, being my own person, and, at times, pushing back at certain authority. Every time I sit down and think about it, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was the first album that I was ever, truly, obsessed with, and the themes that lace through the album are terrific. I connect to it a good deal, but to claim my feelings mirror Corgan's own "farewell to youth" ideas would be a lie. I wish they did, but I think there's a line I cannot cross when it comes to rebuffing authority to a strong degree, especially out of boredom. It's just not me. Put simply, Billy Corgan's idea of how he would have cured teenage boredom was way more hardcore than my own. As exhibited in the (I feel safe saying) iconic "1979" music video, teens are depicted pissing off neighbors and wreaking havoc at an LA convenience store, all set to the (amazing) song about a youth gone by. I totally get caught up in the spirit, but no. The fact of the matter is that I do apologize, I probably cared too much about what people thought of me, and I kept in line because of it.

Kyle says he had trouble thinking of a single song because entire albums can be troubling. But he chose "Repatriated" by the Handsome Furs. "I hate to harp on the Furs again (no I don't), but their latest album made a significant impression on me," he said. "The album is extremely coherent, so I'll choose these lyrics out of a hat (a handsome, furry hat):"
I've seen the future and its comin' in low/ I've seen the future, I will never be repatriated
"The album expresses a kind of underground romantic revival based on a global experience of humanity. I like to think of this sentiment as a kind of vertigo-shot: two conflicting camera movements using imbalance to create a sensation of perpetual motion. Thus, the Handsome Furs seem to exist in a sort of constant flight (related to global air travel), having no "homeland" to land in. This is why Vanessa's word for their musical quality is "soaring." But it's imbalance, whereas the Furs seem to want to believe one can stop and abide there, as though it were the next level of human maturity.
"It's a winning myth, which is why I'm so attracted to the album. Soaring is good. Furthermore, I think its just the kind of fiction that should be present in art, but as fiction. To treat it as reality seems to me contrary to everything we humans seek and build around ourselves; and it doesn't account for the purpose and presence of fiction in art."

Tony says: In addition to the Vampire Weekend line, which is not a particularly soul-testing item, there are a number of lyrics from Modest Mouse that I find beautiful and disturbing. For example, I'm not a downer, but I still like: "I'm trying to drink away the part of the day I cannot sleep away," in "Polar Opposites."

I'm also put off, and drawn to, the of Montreal song, "One of a very few of a kind," which includes:
I doubt that you're the only one like you that I'll find // But for sure you're one of a very few of a kind
And how about some second-guessing after a few rounds of singing along with The Toadies on their 1990s mega-hit "Possum Kingdom"? Yeah, that line repeated over and over is: "Do you wanna die?"

We've written about lyrics quite a bit, by the way. Click here to see those posts.

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