Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas

I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas!

After a crazy end of the semester, we managed to get out of town for the holidays. Will catch up with everyone's blogs when I get back.

Meanwhile, one of my new favorite Christmas songs. If you don't own the Vince Guaraldi Trio's original soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas, I highly recommend it. The sound quality on the new, remastered version is simply stunning, and the music itself may be the most beautiful Christmas jazz ever created. Here's "Christmas Time Is Here," from the original show.

May you all have a beautiful and and joyful (and hopefully relaxing) holiday season.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Gershwin Friday: The Gershwin Playlist

George Gershwin, working on the score for Porgy and Bess, 1935.

I've totally been Gershwin-ing out the last two weeks. If nothing else, my obsession produced a Finetune playlist of over 500 performances of Gershwin compositions.

If you like Gershwin, give it a listen and let me know what you think.

It includes some of my all-time favorite Gershwin performances:
  • Billie Holiday and Lester Young on "The Man I Love," which many consider their best work together.
  • Chet Baker singing and playing "But Not For Me."
  • Janis Joplin doing "Summertime."
  • Thelonious Monk's solo turn at "Nice Work if You Can Get It."
  • John Coltrane's two Gershwin cuts - "But Not For Me" and "Summertime" - from the same album that produced his famous version of "My Favorite Things."
  • Willie Nelson's acoustic version of "Someone To Watch Over Me," from his wonderful album Stardust, which basically introduced me to Gershwin.

The playlist contains a virtual who's who of jazz musicians, from the early days until now: Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Joe Henderson, and on and on. It also includes a number of great singers: Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Caetano Veloso, Tony Bennett, Dinah Washington, Ray Charles, Rosemary Clooney, Sarah Vaughan, Judy Garland, Aretha Franklin, etc.

And, of course, it includes a lot of Fred Astaire, as many of the songs were originally written with Fred in mind, and sometimes with Fred on hand, either for Broadway musicals like Lady, Be Good! and Funny Face, or Hollywood films like Shall We Dance and A Damsel in Distress. The critic and musicologist Wilfrid Sheed wrote in his new book, The House that George Built, that, after all this time, Fred Astaire is still probably Gershwin's greatest interpreter.

You'll find all of the well-known songs - "Summertime," "They Can't Take That Away From Me," "Our Love Is Here To Stay," etc. - along with more obscure Gershwin songs, some of which I had never heard of until I started doing research for the playlist. One interesting tune I discovered is called "Mischa-Yascha-Toscha-Sascha," which, according to Wikipedia, is "Gershwin's only finished work based on a Jewish theme, and the title is a reference to the first names of four Jewish-Russian violinists, Mischa Elman, Jascha Heifetz, Toscha Seidel and Sascha Jacobsen."

There are also many of Gershwin's classical works, including Leonard Bernstein's well-known versions of "Rahpsody in Blue" and "An American in Paris." And I've got Oscar Levant, Gershwin's friend (though that's probably not the best work for Oscar) and his most famous interpreter for the classical compositions.

And there are even a few piano rolls of Gershwin playing his own tunes.

Oh, a word of thanks to Paul Wiener, whose own Finetune playlists actually inspired me to go Gershwin-crazy: Dylanesque, with 147 Dylan songs, and Summertime, with 115 versions of Gershwin's most recorded tune. [Q: How many jazz muscians does it take to play "Summertime"?
A: All of them, apparently.]

Hope you enjoy the Gershwin Fest!

Meanwhile, since we're about to get hit by a major winter storm, I decided I needed some "Summertime." Ella and Louis doing one of my favorite versions of the song from Porgy and Bess.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Pieces of Eight

Steve Caratzas has tagged me with this meme thing.

"The assignment: To write about certain topics in blocks of 8."

I've added two questions, so that there are now EIGHT. (Symmetry!)

8 passions in my life:

La Reina
French music

8 things to do before I die:

Spend time in Buenos Aires
Spend time in Ireland
Do the Camino de Santiago again
Learn French
Learn to play the piano
Play (on the piano) and sing Fats Waller songs
Figure out what I want to be when I grow up
Finish this bloody post

8 things I often say

I don't understand.
That's interesting.
You've never seen _____?!?!?
Te quiero
What about turkey burger?
Brooklyn Lager
Oh, for Christ's sake, TACKLE the guy!

8 books I read recently

Jonathan Gould - Can't Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain, and America
Stephen Colbert - I Am America (And So Can You)
Robert L. Mitchell - The poetic voice of Charles Cros: A centennial study of his songs
William Rees (ed./trans.) - Penguin anthology of French poetry, 1820-1950
Kenneth Rexroth - One Hundred Poems from the French
Lee Server - Ava Gardner: "Love Is Nothing"
Mark Maske - War Without Death: A Year of Extreme Competition in Pro Football's NFC East
Thomas Merton - Zen and the Birds of Appetite

8 films that mean something to me


Top Hat

To Have and Have Not


Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Pierrot le fou

Christmas in Connecticut

El Espíritu de la colmena
[Spirit of the Beehive]

(And for 8.5 . . . 8 1/2)

8 songs that mean something to me

Bob Dylan: "Blood on the Tracks"
John Coltrane & Eric Dolphy: "Spiritual"
Jerry Jeff Walker: "London Homesick Blues"
Lester Young: "Blue Lester"
Fats Waller: "My Very Good Friend the Milkman"
The Beatles: "Tomorrow Never Knows"
Maurice Ravel: "Pavane pour une infante défunte"
George Gershwin: "Rhapsody in Blue"

8 living people I'd like to have as dinner guests

(Taking for granted that La Reina would be co-hosting . )

Charlotte Gainsbourg
Jim Jarmusch
Subcomandante Marcos
Juliette Gréco
Hank Jones
Penélope Cruz Sánchez
Jetsun Jamphel Ngawang Lobsang Yeshe Tenzin Gyatso
Bob Dylan
(or Willie Nelson if Bob seems like he's gonna get all aloof and nasty that night.)
(or Tom Waits if Bob's gets all aloof and Willie's too stoned to find the house.)

8 people who I'm passing this on to

I don't even know eight people to pass this on to. How about 4?


Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Meet the Beatles . . . Mr. Ginsberg

Currently reading Jonathan Gould's Can't Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain, and America, which has received favorable reviews. It's pretty good, though not as good as expected. A little too much about the 19th century industrial history of Liverpool and not enough about the Byrds hanging out with the Beatles in 1965.

At the height of Beatlemania, the Fab Four wound up meeting several important cultural figures from the United States. Some of these encounters wound up influencing the group both artistically and personally.

In August 1964, Bob Dylan came to their room at Hotel Delmonico in New York City, where they shared a joint, the first time the Beatles had ever tried marijuana. Over the next year, John Lennon's songwriting became increasingly influenced by Dylan's work. And George Harrison and Dylan would go on to become lifelong friends.

In July 1965, the Beatles spent a week in Los Angeles, resting in a luxurious and secluded house in Benedict Canyon, off Mulholland Drive. Roger McGuinn, David Crosby and other members of The Byrds paid a visit to the group, along with Peter Fonda. John, George and Ringo tried LSD for the first time (though John and George had experienced LSD inadvertently earlier that spring when a dentist spiked their coffee with the drug at a party.) Lennon, in particular, became profoundly influenced by the drug, taking it "as often as twice a week" over the course of 1966. It also had a big impact on Harrison, though he became disillusioned with the whole drug scene after visiting Haight-Asbury in 1968. Ringo rarely took it again. McCartney didn't take the drug until a year and half later, though he would become the first Beatle to publicly acknowledge that he had turned on.

That same week, they were invited (after a year of arrangements) to the Beverly Hills mansion of their idol Elvis Presley. This encounter didn't go over as well. Gould says it was marked by "little warmth" between the group and Elvis, who obviously "resented" the Beatles. One of the guys in the Presley entourage couldn't tell the guests apart and kept addressing them: "Hey! Beatle!" George, however, "shared a joint and discussed Hindu philosophy with Elvis' hairdresser and spiritual adviser."

Allen Ginsberg reading at the Royal Albert Hall in London, June 5, 1965. Over 7,000 people attended the event.

I already knew those stories. The one I had never heard before concerns an astonishing cultural encounter between the Beatles and Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, which also took place in 1965, only weeks before their journey to Los Angeles.

According to Gould, the birth of the countercultural movement in London, which came to be known as the Underground, "could be traced back to June of 1965, when a group of poets including Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, and Christopher Logue gave a reading at the Royal Albert Hall that attracted an overflow crowd of more than seven thousand people, most of whom had never imagined that there were so many other kindred spirits living in London at the time."

As it turns out, Ginsberg was staying at the the home of Barry Miles, whose book shop Indica (after cannabis indica) served as the hub of the counterculture scene. Miles, who was a friend of Paul McCartney's, "had developed at least a nodding acquaintance with every scuffling poet, writer, artist, filmmaker and avant-gardist in the city . . . [and] he began to serve as a kind of staff intellectual and librarian to McCartney and his fellow Beatles."

By this time, Ginsberg had already become good friends with Bob Dylan. It was an important relationship for both men, as well as for the broader cultural milieu of the 1960s, as it allowed Dylan to meet other important poets and artists, which gave him a certain intellectual cachet, while Ginsberg would have access to one of the key figures in the world of rock and roll, which helped bring his counterculture message to a broader audience. The two remained friends until Ginsberg's death in 1997, working on several projects together over the years. So, if the shape and feel of Rock and Roll and the Sixties were fashioned in large part by the connections - both artistic and personal - between Dylan and the Beatles, the Dylan-Ginsberg connection also played an important underlying role, fusing popular and intellectual culture.

Robbie Robertson (of the Band), poet Michael McClure, Dylan, and Ginsberg in front of City Lights Bookstore, 1965.

So, did a kind of triangle of influence develop between the Beatles, Dylan, and Ginsberg?

After the enormously successful Royal Albert Hall event, Ginsberg asked Barry Miles to invite the Beatles to a birthday party for himself.

It's interesting to note that the meeting with Ginsberg took place a few weeks before the Beatles took acid for the first time. Perhaps the outcome would've been different if they had met him after the trip to LA.

Here's Gould's report on the encounter between some of the 20th century's cultural giants - The Beat Meets The Beatles:

As it turned out, the meeting was very brief. John Lennon and George Harrison accepted the invitation and arrived at the party with their wives. . . .
So far, so good. John and Cynthia. George and Patti. A famous American poet. A swinging party in London. But . . .

[They] beat a hasty retreat
when they were greeted
by Ginsberg,
who was naked
except for
a "No Waiting" sign
that was hanging by a string
from his genitals.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Greatest American Rock and Roll Songs

This is my final installment in a series of posts on American Rock and Roll. In the first one, I took at look at the 20 Greatest Musicians. [See also: Jeff's list at Aún Estamos Vivos.] In the second, I came up with a list of 20 Greatest Albums.

Trying to determine the Greatest Rock and Roll Songs is an impossible task for one person. There are simply too many possibilities to come up with a good list. That didn't stop me, of course, but I recognize that the process is flawed.

UPDATE: Normally, I'm not one to come up with a list of the "Greatest" anything. As Steve suggested in his comment, it may be better to stick with a "Favorites" list. But I wanted to explore something different in this series of posts. To go beyond myself, if possible. There's a different thought process involved in trying to determine the "Greatest." The idea was to be more critical in my thinking about the music. To see if I could overcome personal prejudices and be more objective. I didn't fully succeed in the end. (Let someone else argue for Madonna!) But I enjoyed the experiment. [I'm also not comfortable dealing in strict categories like "rock and roll," as opposed to Soul, R&B, Blues, etc. Nor do I like nation-specific lists. Again, though, it was an experiment to challenge my normal thought process.] So, while it may be impossible for one person to come up with a list of the Greatest American Rock and Roll Songs, I'll say that these 50 choices would be the ones I would submit to a group of people trying to determine such a list. And just for the record, a list of my favorite songs (or musicians or albums) would look very different from what I've offered.

In the end, it looks like I've come up with a playlist for a Classic Rock station, which is the last thing I wanted. But, really, some of these tunes have been played to death for a reason: they were great. Still, I'm particularly interested in getting suggestions from the rest of you, especially for more recent tunes. (That is, after 1974.)

A lot of great rock and roll comes from musicians who weren't necessarily our best artists. And maybe they never produced a consistently fantastic album. But they had moments of brilliance, blessed little epiphanies of kick-ass rock and roll. Maybe that's due in part to the early and powerful influence of radio and the singles format, I don't know. Few people probably remember Mountain, and fewer still could name one of their albums, but as soon as you hear "Mississippi Queen," you know the gods of rock and roll were working overtime that day.

I've chosen 50 songs, because it was impossible to limit myself to 20. Also, I wanted to give you a chance to hear the songs yourself, so I created a Finetune playlist, and that requires a minimum of 45 songs, with no more than 3 songs per artist. I could've easily chosen more than 3 by Dylan or Hendrix, but it seemed like a reasonable limit to work within.

I don't have any numeric order this time - I'm just giving you the playlist, which is alphabetical by musician. And I'm not discussing any of the songs.

With one exception.

I've included Hendrix's version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" from Woodstock. Obviously, Jimi produced many other songs that were musically superior. But there's always been something profound to me about this performance. Here was an African-American musician, only a few years after the abolition of Jim Crow laws, and only 16 months after the death of Martin Luther King Jr., taking the national anthem - at the height of the Vietnam War - and transforming it into something utterly and uniquely his own. It's as if he had imagined a new America and by sheer creative force poured out a sketch of it through his guitar. This was a new country. A more inclusive country. A rock and roll country. This was the America where I wanted to live. I still play it on the fourth of July when I can. It's truly a revolutionary song.

[Marvin Gaye's version may even be better. Recorded during the "Sexual Healing" period, he gave us a recording of "The Star-Spangled Banner" that you could make love to. I kid you not.]

One other note - I was considering: Link Wray's "Rumble," but Finetune didn't have it. (That's terrible!) I haven't heard it in a while, but in my memory, it seems like it was a pretty damn good song. According to Wikipedia, Pete Townsend said of Wray and the tune: "He is the king; if it hadn't been for Link Wray and 'Rumble,' I would have never picked up a guitar. . . . I remember being made very uneasy the first time I heard it, and yet excited by the savage guitar sounds." So, there you go. I need to get a recording of it again.

So please offer 5 or 10 of your own "Greatest American Rock and Roll Songs." If they aren't on my own list of 50, I can add them to the Finetune playlist. (As long as they have them.)

Rock on!

Original List of 50 Songs

Aerosmith: Back In the Saddle
Bill Haley & His Comets: Rock Around The Clock
Bob Dylan: Like a Rolling Stone
Bob Dylan: Tangled Up In Blue
Bob Dylan: Visions Of Johanna
Booker T. & The MG's: Green Onions
Bruce Springsteen: Born To Run
Buddy Holly: Peggy Sue
Chuck Berry: Johnny B. Goode
Chuck Berry: Roll Over Beethoven
Creedence Clearwater Revival: Born On The Bayou
Creedence Clearwater Revival: Fortunate Son
Creedence Clearwater Revival: Susie Q
Elvis Presley: Heartbreak Hotel
Grand Funk Railroad: I'm Your Captain/Closer To Home
Grateful Dead: Uncle John's Band
Iron Butterfly: In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida
James Gang: Funk #49
Janis Joplin: Me and Bobby Mcgee
Jefferson Airplane: White Rabbit
Jerry Lee Lewis: Great Balls Of Fire
Jimi Hendrix: Star Spangled Banner
Jimi Hendrix: All Along The Watchtower
Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
Little Richard: Good Golly Miss Molly
Lou Reed: Walk On The Wild Side
Lynyrd Skynyrd: Free Bird
Mountain: Mississippi Queen
Nirvana: Smells Like Teen Spirit
R.E.M.: It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)
Ray Charles: What'd I Say Parts I & II
Roy Orbison: Oh, Pretty Woman
Santana: Black Magic Woman
Sonic Youth: Kool Thing
Steely Dan: Deacon Blues
Steely Dan: Reelin' In the Years
Steppenwolf: Born To Be Wild
Talking Heads: Psycho Killer
The Allman Brothers Band: Ramblin' Man
The Allman Brothers Band: Statesboro Blues
The Beach Boys: Good Vibrations
The Byrds: Eight Miles High
The Byrds: So You Want to Be a Rock 'N' Roll Star
The Doors: Light My Fire
The Doors: The End
The Ramones: Blitzkreig Bop
The Velvet Underground: Heroin
The Velvet Underground: I'm Waiting For The Man
Yo La Tengo: Heard You Looking
ZZ Top: La Grange

UPDATE: I kept wanting to fiddle around with the damn list. After being taken to task by Steve for my first two changes, I've decided to go back to my original 50 songs. Instead of changing that list, I offer some additional possibilities as suggested by others or by myself. These have been added to the Finetune playlist:

Creedence Clearwater Revival: Run Through The Jungle [Had to replace "Born on the Bayou" because of the 3-song-per-artist limit.]
Eagles: Hotel California
Janis Joplin: Piece of My Heart
Simon & Garfunkel: Bridge Over Troubled Water
The Stooges: I Wanna Be Your Dog
The Mamas & The Papas: California Dreamin'
The Velvet Underground: Sweet Jane
The Violent Femmes: Blister in the Sun

Simple rock song? Or explanation for the origin of the universe?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Huckabee Rising

According to a new Rasmussen poll of likely GOP Caucus Goers, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee has taken the lead in Iowa, with 28% of the vote, just ahead of Mitt Romney, who has 25%. (Rudy 12%, Thompson 11%, Ron Paul 5%, everyone else <5%.)

Hendrik Hertzberg's article on Huckabee in this week's issue of The New Yorker is one of the Most Read on the magazine's web site.

The New York Times featured three articles on Huckabee over the last few days, including yesterday's "Success Is Testing the Huckabee Campaign" and Michael Luo's article on Wednesday: "In Iowa, Mormon Issue Is Benefiting Huckabee.

"Mr. Huckabee’s rise in Iowa — some recent polls now put him in a dead heat with Mr. Romney, who had led surveys for months — has been fueled by evangelical Christians, who believe Mormonism runs counter to Christian orthodoxy."
This morning's Associated Press's article "Huckabee Hopes for New Hampshire Boost," starts off thus:
"Barely a blip on New Hampshire's political radar screen a month ago, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is generating buzz, curiosity and speculation that a decent showing here could secure his spot in the top tier of GOP presidential contenders."
In fact, Huckabee is suddenly all over the media, with everyone talking about his sudden rise in Iowa - he was polling around 2% in Iowa back in May. Longtime political analyst Mark Halperin, now at Time, said Huckabee did the best at this week's Republican debate, and other conservatives agreed. National Journal has even come up with the term "Huck-a-mania" to describe what's happening. Everybody, it seems, now hearts Huckabee.

Oh yeah, he's also got Chuck Norris campaigning for him. Chuck's in Huckabee's new ad, and he showed up at the debate the other night as well, drawing more attention to Huckabee. The Norris angle is interesting enough that the Los Angeles Times wrote about it yesterday: "Is Chuck Norris Huckabee's secret weapon?" [First line: "Chuck Norris doesn't endorse candidates, he kicks them into the stratosphere."] Author Tina Daunt says that after Chuck announced his endorsement,
"Huckabee became the presidential example of tough-guy cool. You thought Fred Thompson was going to be the law-and-order candidate? He was looking like a worn-out hound dog Wednesday night as Huckabee strode into the debate with the still buffed-up, 67-year-old Norris by his side."
I've been puzzled all along why Huckabee wasn't doing better, especially when you look at the other Republican candidates. For months there were media reports about Evangelical "leaders" like Dobson not knowing which Republican to support. These hypocrites wouldn't even consider Huckabee, even though he's a Baptist minister and solid evangelical, because he didn't have enough money. Look for stories in the next week or so about God suddenly telling them to endorse Huckabee.

What's interesting is to see how many Liberals actually respect Huckabee, even though they disagree with him on various issues. He's been called likable, thoughtful and well-spoken (though not "articulate"). This has been going on for months in the Liberal blogworld, and the trend has carried over into the mainstream media pieces on Huckabee. I recommend reading Hertzberg's article for what he has to say bout Huckabee - it's a good introduction to the man - and how he says it. His conclusion, for example:
To all appearances, Huckabee’s gentle rhetoric is a reflection of temperament, not a stylistic tactic. Arkansans caution that he is capable of churlishness. But his history suggests that he prefers consensus to confrontation, that he regards government as a tool for social betterment, and that he has little taste for war, cultural or otherwise. He seems to regard liberalism not as a moral evil, a mental disease, or a character flaw—merely as a political point of view he mostly disagrees with. That may not seem like much, but it makes a nice change.
The money issue is real - Huckabee hasn't been able to raise much at all. Despite going up against Romney's millions, however, he's now in the lead in Iowa or close enough in other polls to call it an even race. More importantly, he's getting serious media buzz at just the right time. What might he accomplish if he does start to raise real money?

A likable and conservative white male versus Hillary Clinton. Evangelicals energized by a Baptist minister running for President and Hillary being the opponent. A large group of Democrats and Independents discouraged by Hillary getting the nomination. (And I'm sorry - it's not just me. I talked to about a dozen people over Thanksgiving - New York area liberals from various backgrounds, many of whom didn't know each other. Not a single one liked Hillary. Her high "unfavorable" numbers don't come from the vast right-wing conspiracy alone - they often come from within her own party.) Could Huckabee actually be competitive against Hillary in the general election? In a Zogby Poll released this week, Huckabee defeats Clinton in a head-to-head matchup, 44% to 39%. Hillary actually loses to all five major Republican candidates, but she loses to Huckabee by the widest margin. [Obama beats all five Republicans, including Huckabee 46%-40%. Edwards beats four of the five, tying with McCain.]

I'm not sure Huckabee can win the Republican nomination. His lack of money will hurt him in the long run. He's going to need a win in Iowa, a good showing in New Hampshire, the fists of Chuck Norris, and the continued love of the media. But the Republican rank and file are still looking for someone they can get behind. That much is clear. Would it really be that surprising to see them turn to Huckabee?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Romney Leads All Candidates in Surprising New Poll

It's really hard to keep track of all the policy positions of the various Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, or to remember who's leading who in whichever up-to-the-minute and totally inconsequential poll. I hope this report helps clarify your choice for the next Godfather President of our country.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Happy Birthday, Mr. Hendrix

He would've been 65 today.

"Machine Gun"
January 1, 1970 at the Fillmore East

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Greatest American Rock and Roll Albums

When I record an album,
I'm trying to get as close as possible
to that perfect moment.

Lou Reed

After tackling the Greatest American Roll and Roll Musicians, it's time now to explore the Greatest American Rock and Roll Albums. What are the major artistic works of this music in our culture?

The concept of an "album" really belongs to the rock and roll era. Before the mid-1950s, you could only put a few short songs on one phonograph record. Then the LP (Long-Playing record) appeared, and musicians could suddenly expand the length of their compositions. The oeuvre of an early blues or jazz giant like Robert Johnson or Bix Beiderbecke, for example, consists entirely of two-to-three minute songs. Compare that with the works of a later jazz figure like John Coltrane, who recorded a 57-minute version of "My Favorite Things." LPs also allowed for the creation of the "rock opera" and the "concept album," unique and longer-format artistic efforts. I'm not sure compact discs, despite being a major technological change from analog to digital, affected the structure of creative works like LPs did. Now, however, with the rise of mp3s, iPods, etc., the "album" as a discrete unit of artistic production may be coming to an end. So it seems like a good time to look back and see what masterpieces of rock and roll we as a culture created.

In my previous post, I said the musicians had to be primarily rock and rollers. Mainly to keep the discussion focused. But that's not the case for Greatest Albums. I'm open to works by people who were better known for other genres. Thus, to continue with my examples from the other post, Marvin Gaye's What's Going On? has to be considered, as do some of Johnny Cash's recordings for Rick Rubin, not to mention At Folsom Prison.

So, on with the show . . .

The 20 Greatest American Rock and Roll Albums

1) The Eagles: Their Greatest Hits (Asylum 1976) - Hey, don't blame me for this one. YOU chose it. WE ALL chose it. America is the greatest country in the world because: a) The invisible hand of God the market dictates everything, and b) We are a free market democracy. So, can there be a more American way of choosing the greatest rock and roll albums than by selecting the ones that sold the most right here in the good ol' USA? Of course not! And this collection of rock anthems is the biggest-selling album of all time in the world. I know some of you pooh-pooh The Eagles, but if someone (probably another American) put a gun to your head and made you choose between listening to "Hotel California" for the millionth time or something un-American and un-rock-and-roll like Celine Dion, you know you'd pick Don Henley & Co. every time. So, eat your broccoli; it's good for you.

2) Michael Jackson: Thriller (Epic 1982) - First you complain about my selection method, and now you complain that the King of Pop isn't even rock and roll. Well, you're wrong. The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences gave Mr. Neverland an award for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Male for "Beat It." In addition, this album single-handedly made MTV the rock and roll success story it is today. Without him, we'd have been left with five maladjusted college kids watching Skinny Puppy videos all day. Not to mention the fact that Michael recorded with one of the Beatles, and, like Bob Dylan, was nominated for a Nobel Prize. And Jackson's was even for Peace, which is much more rock and roll than Dylan's nomination for "Literature." Finally, the guy owned elephants. Outside of a circus, only rock and rollers own elephants.

3) Billy Joel: Greatest Hits Volume I & II (Columbia 1985) - Hey, it's still rock and roll to me.

4) Boston: Boston (Epic 1976) - You can't get more rock and roll than Boston. I mean, "More than a Feeling" is being used for TV commercials and everything.

5) Hootie & the Blowfish: Cracked Rear View (Atlantic 1995) - "Hootie," get it? Heh, heh, heh. And the Blowfish. We all know what that means! See, like I said, real rock and roll.

So, there you go - The United States of America's legendary contribution to the universe of rock and roll, which, with the exception of one or two British bands, IS American anyway. We started all the noise, and these five albums prove that America is still THE KING OF ROCK AND ROLL!

Okay, maybe not. Perhaps, just perhaps, the market isn't always the best indication of artistic accomplishment.

[UPDATE: PLEASE READ THIS. Just to make it perfectly clear, the five albums listed above are the biggest-selling American "rock" albums, according to Billboard. My including them as the "Greatest" American rock albums was meant as A JOKE. Humor. Satire. A failed attempt, evidently. Sigh.]

The album that single-handedly killed American rock and roll.

I have to say, it was much more difficult to come up with 20 Great Albums than it was for 20 Great Musicians. There are so many more possibilities. And my lack of knowledge became even more apparent. I've read a lot about MC5's Kick Out the Jams, for example, but I've only listened to it a couple of times - and that was many years ago. I felt comfortable excluding the group from the list of 20 Great Musicians, because they didn't really do much else, but I can't say the same about their album. So, it's a list based on limited knowledge and my being something of a numbskull at times. Take it for what it's worth.

The first five albums are listed in order. After that, it's any body's guess. I wrote about four more albums for reasons mysterious even to myself. Just felt like I wanted to say something about them. They're in chronological order, as are the eleven titles that follow them. The four I wrote about are not meant to be "better" than the eleven I simply gave titles for.

There are many great albums I couldn't include. (I'm still wrestling over ZZ Top's Tres Hombres. Whatever my feelings about their later incarnation, that's a classic rock and roll album.) Tell me what I stupidly missed.

The Greatest American Rock and Roll Albums (take 2)

Five for the Ages

Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited (Columbia 1965) - You could flip a coin between this and Blonde on Blonde. Actually, I did. The gods of rock and roll were probably right. The drum blast that opens the album, in "Like a Rolling Stone," feels like a cannon shot to announce the beginning of a revolution. Several forces of musical history came together in a perfect storm. This is what it had all been leading to. Robert Johnson, Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie, Elvis, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, the Beatles, Dylan's folk period - they all collided in "Like a Rolling Stone." Not only did the sound and the lyrics blow everything out of the water, but a six-minute radio single had never been attempted before. Everything up to then was basically 2:59. The Revolution had won. The King was dead and the peasants had taken over.

Though Dylan had already gone electric at Newport and on the first side of Bringing It All Back Home, this marks the starting point of modern rock and roll. "Like a Rolling Stone" was chosen as the best rock and roll song ever by Unnamed Corporate Music Magazine, which said of it: "No other pop song has so thoroughly challenged and transformed the commercial laws and artistic conventions of its time." And when Bruce Springsteen was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he said, "The first time I heard Bob Dylan, I was in the car with my mother listening to WMCA, and on came that snare shot that sounded like somebody had kicked open the door to your mind." To be honest, I’ve always been more partial to “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.” (“When you’re lost in the rain, in Juarez, and it’s Easter time, too.” What kind of a journey are we on? Crossing the border, getting lost, finding our way again.) Or "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry," one of the best song titles ever. And the operatic “Desolation Row” can’t be dismissed either. One of the greatest memories of my life thus far is of Liam and I performing"Desolation Row" together in front of a giant bonfire in a bullring near a small village out in the middle of nowhere Castilla. What better setting for this poetic masterpiece? And, yeah, the other songs are pretty good, too.

Bob Dylan: Blonde on Blonde (Columbia 1966) - How do you follow up the Greatest American Rock and Roll Album of all time? Well, you crank out the second greatest one. Highway 61 feels more historic, and it was certainly a tighter, more controlled album. But Dylan was bursting at the seems with creativity and needed to spread out, so he came up with another innovation: the first studio double-album.

I would argue that there have been few if any periods of creative expression among American artists as feverish and fertile as Dylan's hell-bent-for-leather epoch that started in Greece in the summer of 1964, as he finished writing the songs for Another Side of Bob Dylan, his last folk album, and the summer of 1966, when he cracked up on his motorcycle in the rain and came within an inch of losing his life with a broken neck. He produced five LPs (Another Side, Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and the 2-album Blonde on Blonde), all of which were much longer than normal LPs of the time. [The first two Beatles albums clocked in at 26 and 22 minutes respectively; Highway 61 is over 51 minutes, Another Side is 50 minutes.] Even more amazing is the amount of high-quality material that went unreleased at the time, only surfacing decades later on Biograph and other collections. Add in his tour of Europe tour of 1965 and the famous one with The Band in 1966, the controversial Newport Folk Festival performance, and a film (D.A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back, still probably the best rock and roll movie ever made). It’s a truly astounding artistic achievement. And Blonde on Blonde marks the end of the whirlwind. It’s all over the place in terms of mood and tone – that “thin, wild mercury sound,” as Dylan described what he was after – from the rambunctious, drunken Salvation Army Band feel that opens the album in “Rainy Day Women (#12 & 35),” to the snarling rock-blues of “Pledging My Time,” the pop stylings of “I Want You,” the classic rock of “Stuck Inside of Mobile (With the Memphis Blues Again),” and the epic surrealist ballad, “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” which takes up all of Side 4.

Oh, yeah, and then there's the greatest work of rock artistry ever recorded. The song that Dylan fans perennially vote as his best (which it is) : “Visions of Johanna.” I don’t care what anyone else says, “A ghost of ‘lectricty howls in the bones of her face” is still the most amazing line in rock and roll.

May you never hear surf music again.

Jimi Hendrix: Are You Experienced? (MCA 1967) - Almost another coin toss between this and Electric Ladyland, and for similar reasons. Are You Experienced? is another revolutionary proclamation, whereas Electric Ladyland is a sprawling, too-loose-at-times double album that shows the full breadth of Hendrix's creative vision. Both are essential. But Jimi's first album has a special sense of urgency and surprise. He keeps you off-kilter, like all great rock and roll should. After ripping up the place on "Purple Haze" and "Manic Depression," Jimi offers up a slow, dangerous folk-blues tale about killing your woman and running from the law. Later on, there's a beautiful ballad, "The Wind Cries Mary," a straight-ahead rocker, "Fire," and then - woah . . . what in the hell is this? . . . science-fiction? . . . avant-garde experimentation? . . . What kind of a trip are we on here? Impossible to tell, but it takes place on "The Third Stone from the Sun." Jimi heads into outer/inner-space on a voyage that he explores more fully and beautifully in "1983," on Electric Ladyland. This is more freaky and fun, however. Then it's back to all-out sex-driven rock and roll, with "Foxey Lady," before capping off the adventures with the awesome backwards guitar / tape-loop manifesto, "Are You Experienced?" The album came out 40 years ago, but I'm still asking myself that question. It's a lifelong journey. ("Not necessarily stoned . . . but beautiful.")

The Velvet Underground: The Velvet Underground and Nico (Verve 1967) - Okay, I have to admit, I’ve never been a big Nico fan. I understand the concept, but she never really moved me. (I do dig the neo-Nico sounds of Stereolab, however.) But if her songs remind me too much of Yoko Ono on some of those Lennon albums (the whole bloody side 2 of Live Peace in Toronto, which, otherwise, would be one of the best live albums ever made), there’s just no escaping Lou Reed’s masterpieces. “I’m Waiting for the Man,” “Venus in Furs,” and, most of all, “Heroin.” Plus, with CDs, I can skip the Nico songs when I feel like it. This was, though, definitely one of the most revolutionary albums ever. And it’s one of the mythic examples of artistic influence despite capitalist failure. As the saying goes, only 1,000 people bought this album - But every single one of them started a band. And it only grows in stature as the years go by.

Jimi Hendrix: Electric Ladyland (MCA 1968) - Like Dylan's Blonde on Blonde, this album reveals an artist bursting at the seams with creativity. Opening up with some aural experimentation, the almost opera-like overture of "...And the Gods Made Love" / "Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)," Jimi then bursts out with a straight-ahead rock and roll AM radio single, "Crosstown Traffic," which sounds like it could've been on his first album. But that frenetic trip through traffic comes to an abrupt halt at the edge of a wide, deep lake, as he takes us on an epic blues pilgrimage with his 15-minute wonder, "Voodoo Chile." Side 2 of this double-LP is more rock and roll, highlighted by the beautiful and haunting, "Burning of the Midnight Lamp." Side 3 is something else altogether, an 18-minute journey into Hendrix's own mythological space-sea world. We sometimes forget how much science-fiction imagery and aesthetic played in Hendrix's work, and it reaches its fullest expression in "1983 . . . (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)." Side 4 takes us back to his rhythm & blues roots with "House Burning Down," and the album closes with what I believe are his two greatest songs, "All Along the Watchtower" and "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)." Hendrix takes Dylan's simple but majestic country-folk song from John Wesley Harding and remakes it into something completely his own, more, perhaps, than any other cover song has ever done. He stays true to Dylan's vision in the original but heightens the myth-making effect through his mastery of rock instrumentation. And he continues his almost alchemical transformation process with "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)," turning his own blues epic on Side 1 into one of the best rock and roll songs of all time. So country, folk, and blues have all been turned into gold by Hendrix on these last two tunes, which would be the last songs released while he was still alive.

Four I Felt Like Writing About

James Gang: Rides Again (ABC 1970) - If you love classic, early 1970s rock and roll, I don’t know if there’s a better overall example than Rides Again. The group started out with a funk-influenced "heavy" sound similar to Grand Funk Railroad or The Jeff Beck Group, but added in acoustic rock elements that gave them a broader, more interesting palette. Their first three albums, with Joe Walsh as principal singer-songwriter and axeman, are somewhat forgotten rock gems these days, and this one, their second effort, shows the group in peak form. The album kicks off in high gear with “Funk #49,” which features one of the best opening licks of any rock song ever, and stays in high gear throughout Side 1 with "Woman" and “The Bomber.” Side 2 shows the other face of the group, with a series of slow and mid-tempo numbers that work together almost like a rock-chamber concerto. (Basically, Side 2 is the stoner side.) Taken together, both sides add up to a true rock and roll classic.

Steely Dan: Countdown to Ecstasy (MCA 1973) - A lot of people might pick Aja as the strongest Dan album, and it definitely took rock and roll to a new level of sophistication, but I think Countdown best represents all of the aspects of the group. Who else but Steely Dan could turn Buddhism into a great rock song like "Bodhisattva," which opens up the album with a bang? Tunes like "Show Biz Kids" and "My Old School" continue the pure rock assault, along with some of their best New York wit. "Razor Boy" and "Your Gold Teeth" mark some of their first jazz-influenced pieces, and both hold up well over time. Country-rock elements come out in "Pearl of the Quarter,"and the album closes with "King of the World," which seems to pull all of the elements together. The songwriting on the album is first-rate throughout. Katy Lied would be another possible great album, and the aforementioned Aja. But I like them rocking out on Countdown to Ecstasy.

Tom Waits: Rain Dogs (Island 1985) - You could argue that Swordfishtrombone belongs here instead, because it established Tom Waits as a truly groundbreaking rock and roll artist, but I think his follow-up album was even better. If nothing else, it wins on the strength of “Jockey Full of Burbon.” I still remember hearing the song for the first time during the opening sequence of Jim Jarmusch’s Down By Law. I think I went out the next day and bought the album. And then there’s, “9th and Hennepin ,” which contains one of the other most poetic lines in rock and roll: “And all the rooms, they smell like diesel / And you take on the dreams of the ones who've slept there.” Plus, hey, Keith Richards shows up on “Big Black Mariah.”

Pavement: Slanted and Enchanted (Matador 1992) - This is where the Velvet Underground wound up. 25 years later, and it almost feels as revolutionary. Except that it references rock and roll rather than creating it anew. The form had been cannibalizing itself ever since the punk revolution, but it really reached a peak in the 1990s. One last gasp before all the meat was picked off the bones. Though Pavement started out producing some serious noise songs, they had a knack for coming up with amazing pop hooks, and they scatter them throughout Slanted, always perfectly timed and placed. Songs like "Summer Babe" and "Zurich Stained" are so perfect that they feel like they've always existed. Lyrically, you're never really sure where you're at, as the words sound so great together, but it's hard to figure out what's happening. That is, you're on a poetic journey. Stephen Malkmus puts on his best world-weary Lou Reed voice and attitude, and takes us on a ride through a strange, glorious early 1990s landscape. This is where America wound up.

Some Other Greats

Hey, where's that other guy? After Mr. Mojo Risin' couldn't rise out of the bathtub anymore, The Doors kept recording. This 1971 effort did not make my list of Greatest American Rock and Roll Albums. And just for the record, I have listened to it.

The Doors:
The Doors (Elektra 1967)
The Byrds: Younger Than Yesterday (Columbia 1967)
Creedence Clearwater Revival: Bayou Country (Fantasy 1969)
Grateful Dead: American Beauty (Warner Brothers 1970)
Allman Brothers Band: At Fillmore East (Capricorn 1971)
Bob Dylan:
Blood on the Tracks (Columbia 1975)
Bruce Springsteen: Born to Run (Columbia 1975)
Ramones: Ramones (Sire 1976)
Talking Heads: Remain in Light (Sire 1980)
Sonic Youth: Daydream Nation (Enigma 1988)
Nirvana: Nevermind (DGC 1991)

For those of you who need to: Substitute The Beach Boys' Pet Sounds for one of these last 15.

See the third part of my trilogy on American rock and roll: The Greatest American Rock and Roll Songs.

UPDATE: I woke up this morning and realized I had forgotten Talking Heads' Remain in Light. So I've added that to the list and withdrawn Yo La Tengo: Electr-O-Pura (Matador 1995), which was a more obviously personal choice to begin with.

The back cover of James Gang Rides Again. A great album, and one of my favorite rock and roll photos. It captures everything about the music: a top hat (showmanship, the song and dance man), snowy woods (rural/nature), the muddy road (the endless American road), choppers (speed, the highway, Don't Tread On Us), hippies (hippies), laughter (joy - or at least being stoned), solemnity (damn it, this is serious business), and a guitar hero [Joe Walsh] in black leather jacket and aviator glasses (cool).

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

Don't eat too much. Eat a lot! Give thanks. Enjoy time together with your families. (Or without them, if that works better.) If you're traveling, safe journey.

A list of things I'm thankful for this year:

1. Being alive in this incredible world.
2. I have a beautiful, loving, funny, intelligent, sexy and wonderfully creative wife.
3. I have a great family, even if we are a little scattered and dysfunctional at times.
4. My aunt continues to recover from cancer.
5. My friend Peg continues to recover from cancer.
6. My jobs - even if I have to have two of them.
7. Seeing my youngest brother Juan doing so well in his new job and being able to buy a new house.
8. I have a magnificent and, in the Glenn tradition, thoroughly handsome nephew, Isaiah Jose Daniel Glenn.
9. Seeing Liam and Romell get married and for them and Lukas to be so good together.
10. I have some great friends who are very supportive, interesting, caring, and cool.
BONUS. Getting to know you guys better over a year of blogging.

And here's some classic Peanuts Thanksgiving for you:

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

News You Can Use

Good news for New Jersey squirrel eaters

NEW YORK (AFP) - Squirrel eaters in the US state of New Jersey have been told that the bushy-tailed rodents are likely safe to eat, after earlier being advised the unlikely delicacies could contain toxic metals.

The Environmental Protection Agency said earlier this year it had discovered high levels of lead in a squirrel taken from near a waste dump in the Ringwood area and advised people to eat the rodents no more than twice a week.

Officials have now said the test results were an error.

"A blender that was used to process the tissues into usable samples was defective and was identified as the source of the lead contamination," the Environmental Protection Agency said in a statement dated Monday.

The New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife describes squirrel as "good table fare," offering recipes for squirrel chowder, stew and barbecue.
Good table fare . . . Well, hell, I could've told you that. Any self-respecting Texan has eaten squirrel at least once in his or her life. My great aunt Era cooked up a pretty good squirrel. (Though nothing beat her homemade chicken and dumplings, the likes of which I'll never encounter again.)

Unfortunately, the article DID NOT GIVE A LINK to the NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife Squirrel recipes. (See, I've done the work for you.) That will take you to "Late Season Squirrel Hunting in New Jersey," By Jon Kline, Natural Resource Interpretation Technician for the NJDF&W. Before giving recipes, Jon offers this advice:
Hunters who ignore late-season squirrels are missing a great hunting opportunity. Squirrel populations are thriving and abundant in the Garden State. . . .

Shotgun season for squirrels in New Jersey runs to February 17, 2003.
Okay, two things here. First, The New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife must be facing some real budget problems, because they haven't updated their squirrel recipes in about five years. So that craving you have for wasabi-encrusted squirrel - you're on your own.

Secondly, come on . . . a shotgun for squirrel? Yeah, I know some people do it, but real squirrel hunters use a .22. The Connecticut Outdoorsman website backs me up on this in their section on Connecticut Squirrel Hunting:
For starters, have you ever eaten a shotgun-killed squirrel? Pellets can be a pain to keep removing and there is no need to damage more meat than need be.
Amen, brother. Same goes for rabbit and quail. You start with a limited supply of meat to begin with - why mess it up with pellet? I remember one restaurant in Spain that didn't even bother taking the pellets out. I almost broke my teeth trying to get through a fried . . . well, some small dead thing.
Second, a shotgun blast will alert the whole woods to your presence. Though a .22 can sound loud in the quiet woods, the effects will not be nearly as serious. I've shot many consecutive squirrels with a .22, but getting more than one at a time with a shotgun is rare.

Third, a long shot with a shotgun can cripple better than kill. A well placed .22 bullet will rarely fail in its mission.
There's nothing more traumatizing to a young sportsman than crippling a small, innocent animal instead of landing a good, clean head-shot. Believe me, I know. My career as a hunter pretty much ended on a rare hunting trip with my father out in West Texas. I shot a rabbit but only managed to wound him (or, probably her - a mother, no doubt). All we discovered was a bloody trail disappearing into the tumbleweeds. I was so upset, I haven't shot at an animal since.

But I'm getting off track. The New Jersey squirrel recipes weren't bad, especially the one for squirrel chowder - we don't do much squirrel chowder in Texas - but I offer some alternative recipes from Texas A&M University.

Now, many people from Austin who are alums of the University of Texas (Hook 'em Horns!) might make fun of A&M, but I've never had anything but the utmost respect and admiration for the Aggies. (By the way, did you hear the one about the Aggie who locked his keys in the car? He called up the locksmith in a panic and said, "You've gotta help me! I've locked my keys in the car, and my family's trapped inside and can't get out!") It's true that their football team plays like girls and their overall level of intelligence can be counted on one finger, but if you want real Texas squirrel recipes from a scholarly (cough) institution, I can't think of a better source:


Squirrel is one of the most tender of all wild game meats. The rosy pink to red flesh of young squirrel is tender and has a pleasing flavor. The flesh of older animals is darker red in color and may require marinating or long cooking for tenderness.


After cleaning, cut up for frying, soak overnight in salt water. Before frying (like chicken exactly) put squirrel in cooker oven with water and "par boil" until meat is tender when stuck with fork. Don't cook until meat falls off bones - as you want to batter it with flour to fry (not too fast) like chicken. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.

Rinse skinned squirrel in cold water and pat dry, dip in buttermilk and then in seasoned flour and fry in hot fat just as you would a chicken.

If the squirrel is young, you probably will not need to steam the meat. If there is any doubt, drain off excess fat in the skillet, add about a cup of water or wine if you prefer, and steam covered for about 15 minutes. Or you may wish to pressure cook the meat for an additional 5 to 10 minutes.

Make gravy in the frying fat by adding the leftover seasoned flour and milk or water. Serve over rice or with hot biscuits.


1 young squirrel, cut in pieces
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup shortening
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Mix salt and pepper with flour. Shake pieces of squirrel in flour mixture and brown in melted shortening in a heavy skillet. Lower the heat after browning and cover the skillet tightly. Cook over low heat for 1/2 to 1 hour or until well done. Remove cover during the last 10 minutes to crisp outer surfaces.


1 young squirrel, cut in pieces
3 slices bacon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sliced onion
1/8 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup beef or chicken broth

Rub pieces of squirrel with salt and pepper and roll in flour. Pan fry with chopped bacon for 30 minutes. Add onion, lemon juice and broth and cover tightly. Cook slowly for 2 hours. Just before serving, remove squirrel and make gravy by adding water or milk and flour to the pan drippings.

Variations: Add l tablespoon paprika, 1/8 teaspoon cayenne, l sliced tart apple and 2 cups broth instead of bacon and lemon juice called for in this recipe.


Use a cleaned and skinned squirrel cut in serving size pieces.

4 ribs of celery, cut diagonally
1 small bay leaf
Small whole onions
Small whole potatoes
Salt, pepper and Worcestershire to taste

Place squirrel pieces in Dutch oven or heavy skillet with a lid. Cover with water and steam until the meat is nearly tender. Add the vegetables and seasoning and cook until just tender.

If a thickened gravy is desired, add l tablespoon of corn starch dissolved in one-half cup of water just before serving.

This is good served with corn bread [Editor's note: Damn straight!]. One squirrel will serve two or three people.


3 squirrels, cut in serving
1 cup chopped onion pieces
4 cups or 2 No. 303 cans tomatoes
3 quarts water
1/4 cups diced bacon
2 cups diced potatoes
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 cups lima beans
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups corn
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Place squirrel pieces in a large kettle. Add water. Bring slowly to boil; reduce heat and simmer 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until meat is tender, skimming surface occasionally. Remove meat from bones and return to liquid. Add bacon, cayenne, salt, pepper, onion, tomatoes, potatoes and lima beans. Cook l hour. Add corn and continue to cook 10 minutes. Serves six to eight.

Note: This recipe is particularly suitable for older, less tender animals.


1 squirrel
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fat
Lemon wedges

Clean squirrel. Rub with slat and pepper. Brush with fat and place on a broiling rack. Broil 40 minutes, basting every 10 minutes with drippings. Squeeze lemon on squirrel before serving. Serves two to three.

[Editor's note: You'll find the section "PREPARATION AND COOKING OPOSSUM" just below this on the same page. And no, I didn't title that section. They really did leave out the preposition.]

If you're in New York City or Long Island, Squirrel Hunting Season (for black, gray and fox squirrels) begins November 1 and runs through February 29, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. For upstate New York, the season opens earlier, on September 1. The daily bag limit is six squirrels.

An important note, though: "Red Squirrels are unprotected, and may be hunted at any time without limit."

Red Squirrel. [Editor's note: "Dude, you are so screwed."]

From my own experience with squirrels in the city, I'd stay away from the ones in Brooklyn. They're scrawny, kind of sickly looking, and they've got attitude. If you're gonna hunt squirrels in the City, I'd stick with Queens or Staten Island.

For readers in the Boston area, The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife says:

"Gray squirrels may be hunted in Wildlife Management Zones 01 through 09 from the second Monday in September to the following January 2.

Hunting hours for gray squirrel begin at ½ hour before sunrise and end at ½ hour after sunset, except on wildlife management areas stocked with pheasant or quail where the hunting hours are from sunrise to sunset.

The bag limit for gray squirrels is
5 daily and the possession limit is 10.

For whatever reason, the bag limit in Massachusetts is less than that of New York. So you folks up in Beantown take it easy on the trigger, eh? You don't wanna kill more than you can eat at one time.

All joking aside, I've never felt as close to the Northeast as I do at this moment.


Tex Fritter
ZONE's Natural Resource Interpretation Technician

UPDATE: Crystal brings up an important point - Squirrel burgoo, which is made from squirrel brains and is mainly eaten in Kentucky, may be linked to mad-cow disease. (Shouldn't that be mad-squirrel disease?) Even though I didn't post any recipes for squirrel burgoo and, in fact, had never even heard of it before now, I want to state unequivocally that ZONE DOES NOT RECOMMEND EATING SQUIRREL BURGOO, OR SQUIRREL BRAINS IN ANY FORM. Thanks, Crystal, for your broad knowledge of squirrel cuisine and your obvious concern for those who enjoy eating squirrel.

Which brings up a point I forgot to mention earlier - What, exactly, is the nutritional value of squirrel?

Squirrel is lower in fat and calories than beef, lamb, or pork. It's also lower in cholesterol than other wild game such as deer or duck. According to, which has a very nice chart of the nutritional value of wild game, "the combination of more lean body tissue, less saturated fat and significantly higher % of cholesterol-reducing polyunsaturated fatty acids makes wild game a heart-healthy choice."

Squirrel has half or even a third less saturated fat (the bad kind) and a much higher level of polyunsaturated fate (the good kind) than many other animals. Wild boar is the one you want to avoid - it has a seriously high saturated fat level. And beef isn't much better. So the next time you're at Burger King, you might want to stop and think: a squirrel burger is much better for you than a Whopper!!

Don't give in to mass media manipulation. Do you know how much money Unnamed Golden Arches Hamburger Corporation and the other planet-killing hamburger corporations spend on advertising? Every time you eat a hamburger, you've basically wiped out a virgin Amazon rainforest the size of Brazil. You're killing the planet. By yourself. Put . . . the . . . burger . . . down.

Go natural and go American: Eat Squirrel!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Recent Screenings

Michael Clayton (2007) - Written and directed by Tony Gilroy. Starring George Clooney, Tom Wilkinson, Tilda Swinton and Sydney Pollack.

George Clooney's new film has received a lot of positive reviews, and I have to say, it lives up to the hype. I'm a sucker for intelligent political-legal thrillers, and Michael Clayton is one of the best I've seen in a while. Mostly because of a fine script and some excellent work by its main actors.

George Clooney plays Michael Clayton, a lawyer at a big New York law firm whose job it is to go into bad situations and fix them. The work is thankless, and it's starting to get to him. In one of the best lines of the movie, Clayton is trying to help an arrogant executive who has just hit a pedestrian with his fancy car and driven away. He's furious that Clayton's advice, for which he's paying the firm a huge amount of money, is simply to call the police and report the accident. The client was led to believe that Clayton would perform wonders. "I'm not a miracle worker," Clooney says. "I'm a janitor." The client finally realizes just how far up the creek he really is, while the audience realizes how bad Clayton feels about his job right now. In addition to his professional work, which constantly keeps him in the murkier areas of morality and ethics, Clayton has tried to start a bar with his irresponsible brother, but it failed, and now he owes some tough people a lot of money that he doesn't have. There's also been a gambling problem. And he's divorced. In the midst of this mid-life crisis, the firm's biggest crisis ever suddenly unfolds. It's premier litigator, a legend in legal circles named Arthur Edens, has stopped taking his meds and strips down naked during an inquest, proclaiming his love to a young farm girl involved in the case he's working on who he sees as being pure and innocent. Clayton is sent off to fix the situation, because the firm is trying to merge with a giant English entity.

Clayton and Edens, played by Tom Wilkinson in a terrific performance, know each other pretty well, and after a while, Clayton starts to believe that his friend's proclamations about an ugly conspiracy on the part of a giant agri-chemical corporation involved in the case may not just be the fantasies of an unmedicated bipolar mind. Strange things start to happen, people die mysteriously, and Clayton gets wrapped up in the case.

Clooney does well in a great role, one that gives him the ability to stretch out and show his various strengths as an actor and star - toughness, shrewdness, emotion, elegance. I'm not sure there's another actor right now who reminds me so much of the stars of classic Hollywood, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him nominated for Best Actor when Oscar time rolls around. At one point in the story, after a particularly rough night, Clayton shows up at the office and Sydney Pollock, playing his boss, says, "You look like shit." Yeah, right. George Clooney looking like shit in the morning, which means he's slightly rumpled and looks even sexier. Sydney's obviously never seen someone like me in the morning.

Tilda Swinton also gives a strong performance, capturing the progressive slide into becoming an unethical person, with all of its tortured emotion, and in her case, sweaty arm pits in a company bathroom freak-out. Even Pollock delivers what may be his best performance ever.

The writing holds everything together. I wasn't expecting much, knowing that director-screenwriter Tony Gilroy was responsible for . . . writing, is that really the correct word? . . . the Bourne trilogy. But I was pleasantly surprised by the high level of his screenplay, as well as by Gilroy's direction. The ending may be a little too easy, but I went with it, bacuase it stayed true to the rest of the film in a certain way. If his debut is any indication, I look forward to seeing more work from Tony Gilroy in the futrure. This is a very good film. RECOMMENDED.

Control (2007) - Directed by Anton Corbijn. Starring Sam Riley, Samantha Morton and Alexandra Maria Lara.

The first half of Anton Corbijn's debut film, Control, may belong with the best movies ever made about rock and roll. He does such a wonderful job of capturing what it's like to be an ordinary teenager in love with rock music, so much so that you want to start a band. In the beginning of the movie, Ian Curtis, a working-class kid from a dreary town outside of Manchester, walks home from school clutching some treasure wrapped in plain brown paper. It turns out to be the new David Bowie album, which at the time was Aladdin Sane. Who doesn't remember the excitement of bringing home a new LP by your favorite musician? Curtis lays in bed, smoking a cigarette and just listening. But eventually he rises from his lazy reverie and starts posturing in front of the mirror while his hero rocks out. On Curtis' desk, you see notebooks labeled Poetry and Novels, and we watch him scribbling his songs as well. Ah man, it just brought back so much of my youth.

I have to admit, I was afraid to see Control. The film is based on the true-life story of Curtis, who wound up being the singer and songwriter of the influential post-punk band Joy Division. After struggling with epilepsy, and torn up over events in his personal life, Curtis hung himself on the eve of the band's first tour of the United States, just as they were making it big. This tragic backstory, and the band's dark, emotionally powerful music made Curtis a cult hero - my generation's version of Jim Morrison - and proved an early inspiration for the Goth movement. (Sadly, and unfairly, as the band was always better than that.) But the myth surrounding Curtis is pretty powerful. Lord knows, I thought, what a movie about him will be like.

It didn't help that Corbijn was directing. Better known as one of rock's premier photographers (you've seen a lot of his photos, including U2's Joshua Tree cover), he had directed a posthumous music video of Joy Division's "Atmoshpere," which I found silly and pretentious. But positive reviews of Control by Anthony Lane in the New Yorker, A.O. Scott in The New York Times, and Roger Ebert gave me enough courage to seek it out one Friday afternoon while I was in New York. And to my very, very pleasant surprise, Corbijn has crafted a wonderfully simple and straightforward film that blows all the superfluous Joy Division myth right on its ass.

What's completely missing from the Goth aesthetic is what made Joy Division such a great band - the muscular, working-class punk background that gave them their start. And that's mostly what the movie is about. Curtis and a few mates from a gritty little town, starting up a band after seeing the Sex Pistols in concert. Meanwhile, Ian, who's just a teenager, marries his girlfriend Deborah. She's a normal girl who likes living in her little British town and wants to raise a family. The film is actually based on her autobiography, Touching from a Distance. Cobrijn shows what's it's like for young kids in this situation, practicing their music, going off to work at their jobs, and being married young. There's no glorification of the process. And, in fact, you don't need to know anything about Curtis or the band to appreciate this movie. It's much more universal than that.

Unlike most star biopics that strut their Hollywood big-budget glamour across the screen, Corbijn has gone after something completely different. Shooting on black and white film, Control feels at times like a small nouvelle vague film from the 1960s. And it works very well. Also, Corbijn infuses the film with a lot of sly humor. Mopey Joy Division fans hoping for some dark, depressing film, are not going to be happy with the results (if they can ever be happy). Actually, I've read some comments by fans who don't think the film captures the band or Curits very well. But that's not true. Corbijn knew the band. He actually left his home in Holland and moved to England because he loved their music so much - that's how he got his start, by photographing them just before Curits died. What these fans are upset about is that Corbijn has shattered a lot of the myth surrounding the band. In one of the best lines of the movie, Ian and Deborah are at a small party at the home of some neighbors, and one of the women says to Deb, "Wow, Ian's kind of famous now, isn't he?" "Not to me," Deb says, looking at him across the room. "I still have to wash his underwear."

The film also features some great scenes of the band playing their music. Curtis had an unusual, jerky dancing motion when performing live, which some say may have been related to his epilepsy, and he was a very powerful presence on stage. Sam Riley, who plays Curtis, not only looks a lot like the singer, but he does an amazing job of conveying Curtis' intensity while performing. The rest of the actors also do a fine job playing the music.

One interesting note, the film never makes mention of the fact that the three remaining members of Joy Division changed their name to New Order after Ian died and went on to tremendous success of their own. That's always amazed me, for he was such a powerful songwriter and performer. How many bands survive the loss of such a pivotal front-man? Look at those albums by The Doors after Morrison died. Not exactly the stuff of rock legend. (What, you didn't know The Doors made two albums post-Morrison? Well, there you go.) The surviving band members were involved in the production of the film, however.

Alas, the second half of the film starts to drag, as Curtis encounters the second love of his life, a woman journalist from Belgium. He's genuinely torn between Deborah and his new love. He knows that Deborah has been a good wife and loves him, but he feels restrained with her. He desperately wants out of the environment he grew up in, whereas she's content with it. Meeting an intelligent and sensitive women from the Continent only heightens his confusion. The triangle is handled well, thanks in part to the great job Samantha Morton does as Deborah. But the second half, trying to build up to the inevitable sad ending, seems to lose its energy as it turns away from the music. All in all, however, it's an impressive film, even for those who know nothing about the band. If you like rock and roll, this is definitely one to watch. RECOMMENDED.


La Belle et la bête [Beauty and the Beast] (1946) - This magnificent film deserves an entire post, but I'm running out of energy. La Reina and I turned on Turner Movie Classics one night just as this started. We'd both seen it multiple times, so we said, "Well, let's just watch a few minutes while we eat dinner." An hour and a half later, we floated away from the TV, having been caught up once again in this most fantastic of films. There is simply nothing in cinema like the works of Jean Cocteau. He created a delirious, beautiful and poetic world that has never been equaled on film. And what was interesting this time, was to see how simply it all was constructed. The surreal images are very transparently produced - those are obviously actors behind the curtain holding candelabras - but that doesn't lessen their incredible impact. In fact, it's fascinating to try and figure out how Cocteau achieved his magic. And it is magic. Just goes to show that you don't need CGI to create a highly imaginative universe. If you've never seen this, watch it. If you haven't seen it in a while, watch it again. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Shooter (2007) - What a Rambo movie would like if directed by a liberal. A Special Forces sniper, played by Mark Wahlberg, is betrayed by his government, then set-up to take the fall for an assassination attempt on the president. (Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.) What saves the movie is some decent writing, and some pretty angry but accurate political analysis. A lot of people get shot in the head by sniper fire. (No, I mean, a lot.) Michael Peña does well in a supporting role. Not bad for a video night. You'll enjoy the Bronson-like vigilantism, then spend the next day concerned that you enjoyed it so much.

The Lady Vanishes (1938) - The first of two Hitchcock films I watched recently that I had never seen before. (Well, evidently I had seen this one, because I remembered some of the scenes.) This won't go down as one of my favorite Hitchcock films, but it's very good. It seems somewhat predictable now, but that's because Hitchcock was developing so much of the vocabulary of cinema during this time. All of the plot devices he uses here you've seen dozens of times. Just keep reminding yourself that films like this one were the beginning of it all. It helps to have Michael Redgrave (yes, the father of Lynne and Vanessa) in it, as well as Dame May Whitty who plays Miss Froy, the old lady who disappears on the train.

Frenzy (1972) - After a series of commercial and critical duds in the last part of the 1960s, Alfred Hitchcock returned to England to make Frenzy, which was hailed at the time as a return to form. I don't know about that. What I see is a great filmmaker sadly trying to keep up with the times, and not really succeeding. The only R-rated effort of his career, and the only one to feature nudity (a very disturbing scene, be forewarned), Frenzy made me realize how important subtlety was when Hitchcock was slyly dealing with sexual tension/perversion, which was most of the time. There are some great moments - the man was a master of cinema - but my friends and I figured out the storyline about five minutes into the film, and, worst of all, there's just no suspense. There are some dark comic moments, including a police investigator forced to eat his wife's experimental cooking, and one brilliant cinematographic piece, a long, silent shot coming out of the apartment building where a murder is taking place. Other than that, it's a pretty sad and dreary affair.

Deja Vu (2006) -
I was skeptical about this one after reading the back of the DVD - I mean, time-travel, terrorists, police investigation, romance - it sounded like a recipe for a pretty bad flick. But after considering the DVD several times and always putting it back on the shelf, my respect for Denzel Washington won out, and so I gave it a chance. Actually, I enjoyed the first 4/5 of the film. Is it just me, or is there an epidemic of bad endings going on right now? This one wasn't as bad as some others, but it went from relatively reasonable (I mean, as reasonable as time travel and terrorists can get - it made sense in its own world) to dropping the ball at the end. If you don't expect much and can deal with Tony Scott (Crystal, take note), it's not totally bad. Hey, it's got Denzel Washington.

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead (2003) - I love the title, although it had to be changed from its original: I'll Sleep When I'm Watching This Film. Director Mike Hodges and actor Clive Owen team up again after their wonderful Croupier to bring us this dark, lifeless effort. Some interesting parts here and there, but even Clive can't save this from being pretty damn dull.

Premonition (2007) - This is what happens when you're married and have to give in sometimes to your partner's wishes. If only La Reina had had a premonition about how boring this film was going to be. (Or just listened to me.) I mean, come on, has Sandra Bullock made a good film in the last ten years? It's like watching a girl you're infatuated with go out with one jerk after another. "Why's she going out with him?" "Why's she making that film?" Okay, maybe it wasn't that bad, but it's just not that good either.