Monday, September 30, 2013

No. 248 – A Quick One, While He’s Away

Performer: The Who
Songwriter: Pete Townshend
Original Release: A Quick One
Year: 1967 *
Definitive Version: The Kids Are Alright, 1979. The version on The Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus is the same, of course, but TKAA came out first. Besides, The Stones were going to sit on that show forever, because they were miffed that The Who basically blew them off the stage.

* Released originally in the U.K. in 1966

How does my life resemble Raiders of the Lost Ark and Back to the Future, I mean aside from the treasure-collecting and time travel, of course? When it comes to Indy 500 barbecues: The first one was a classic, the second one was bad and the third one was decent although not as good as the first.

OK, the second of the Indy 500 barbecues that Scott and I held wasn’t bad, but it couldn’t compare with the original. The third one in 1995 ended the trilogy nicely, although we didn’t know at the time it was going to be just a trilogy. Outside forces, however, had a different plan.

So, yeah, Memorial weekend, 1995. By this time, Scott lived in Louisville, and you can’t have a proper Indy 500 celebration unless you’re back home again … Fortunately, Shani still was at Ball State, living in a house off-campus with a big backyard, so we had our destination.

Also in 1995, both the emcees had dates for the first time, so wouldn’t that seem that the dynamic of the event and the day’s pageantry and festivities might be lost? Of course not. Debbie knew how Scott and I were together, and she knew it would be futile to try and restrain that in any way, so she didn’t bother trying.

We ran the BBQ pageantry same as usual, complete with tickets that resembled those at the Speedway, “No Pass Out” signs, “Parking $10” signs and a yellow flag for when someone’s grill got a little too hot or he, say, dropped a brat on the ground.

We still had the winners circle ceremony complete with milk-swilling and hat-swapping, but this time Scott added another twist—a 500 queen. Just as he had with Danny Sullivan years before, Scott got a cardboard cutout of Kathy Ireland, his all-time favorite SI swimsuit model. (For the record, mine was Elle Macpherson.)

As the first one in the circle, resplendent with my Keep Your Hands Off My Buns smock (stolen from Debbie), I Lettermaned it with the faux Ms. Ireland: Leaning in to give the cutout an overly dramatic extended-lips smooch. Yes, everything at our Indy 500 barbecues was done for comedic effectalmost all of it purely for me and Scott’s benefit.

We ended up borrowing a page out of the 1993 event, by accident. Whether it was the pageantry or the refreshments, I don’t know, but the women (Debbie and Shani) ended up crashing inside, just like in 1993, which meant the guys could go out.

Scott wanted to use The Mitt, so we went to a nearby field to have a catch. The Mitt suffered an unfortunate accident when the ball snapped the string that held the thumb to the rest of the fingers. (It was 60-year-old leather after all.) That retired The Mitt to the Baseball Room.

Then we went to the nearby mall to play video games. Scott and I played a T2 shooter game that requires a ton of quarters to get to the end, which we succeeded in doing, only to watch humanity be destroyed when we couldn’t prevent the T-1000 from killing John Connor, alas.

After all that, how could the race itself measure up to the events of the day before? It couldn’t. Debbie went to visit friends in Kokomo while Scott, Shani, Shani’s brother, John, and I went to the race.

That’s the one that Jacques Villeneuve won when Scott Goodyear blew the restart. It also was the last one before Tony George in a fit of xenophobic hubris destroyed what had been The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, which is why there was no 500 Barbecue in 1996—there was no race, or at least one that featured major-league drivers.

Maybe it’s just as well. 1996 might have proven to be me and Scott’s Crystal Skull, and no one wants to see that.

OK, so how does A Quick One fit into this particular miniopera? As is tradition, Scott and I went to the campus record store in Muncie, Ind., to buy new music for the shindig. In 1993, it had been Robert Plant; in 1994, The Allman Brothers Band. For 1995, I picked Voodoo Soup, said to be an attempt (the first on CD) to re-create Jimi Hendrix’s lost fourth album.

I got overruled, however, so the music for most of the BBQ was Blues Traveler. Anyway, at one point, Scott, one of Scott’s friends and I were discussing glorious rock lyrics from history, and, naturally, A Quick One came up. In my estimable opinion, it features the greatest non-sequitor lyric of all time.

If you don’t know the history, at the point when the song kicks into overdrive toward the end, Pete wanted to hit the final part of the miniopera with a huge symphonic flourish. Unfortunately, The Who were flat broke, so they couldn’t afford the string players. In a fit of genius, instead, The Who just sang the parts where they should go, leading to the bridge, “cello, cello, cello, cello, cello, cello, cello, cello, cello.”

For full effect, sing the lines whilst head-banging and pogoing. That magical moment was caught with me a full 2 inches off the ground (hang time, brah!) on camera by Debbie. If you have no idea what’s going on in the picture, you’d think I looked like an idiot.

Then again, you might think that looking at any picture of me.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

No. 249 – Calling Elvis

Performer: Dire Straits
Songwriter: Mark Knopfler
Original Release: On Every Street
Year: 1991
Definitive Version: On the Night, 1993

On Every Street was a regular play in the Fall of 1991. Something about the sound of it just got me right from the first listen. I played it recently, and it still sounds good.

So I wasn’t going to pass up a chance to see Dire Straits when they toured (for the final time as it stands) to support the album. They were scheduled to be at the Palace of Auburn Hills in January 1992.

I went as part of a foursome. It was me, Dave, Dave’s wife, Julie, and Dave’s unborn child. It wasn’t close to being born—due in the summer—but it was far enough along that the news of Julie’s pregnancy was known, to me at least.

I got tickets in one of the corners of the lower bowl, fairly decent seats. It turned out that our seats, by an amazing coincidence, were right behind those of Brendan from Sports.

This led to some discomfort, considering the bad blood between Dave and Brendan from softball and then Rotball. Being in Sports now, I had to navigate both rivers at once. So what was it going to be like at the show?

No problem at all as it turned out. Dave was concerned Brendan was going to get soused and be a jerk. He wasn’t at all; he loves a good Guitar God as much as anyone and was too busy watching Mark Knopfler work to bother with starting anything—or even getting up to go get another beer, let alone another dozen.

The show was OK, although, honestly, it could have used more On Every Street. I know. I know. Dire Straits was touring the States for the first time since the mid-Eighties. They HAD to load up on the olden goldies, and they had only so much time. The show started off with a bang—Calling Elvis—which featured an intro before the band launched into the song that seemed to go on for five minutes as the band was led on stage and the curtain was raised.

As an answer to my ever-changing bulletin board over my desk in Sports, Brendan at about this time began to make a collage on the door to Features of a collection of pics from paste-up after they were used in the newspaper. One was taken at the Dire Straits show—a really cool pose of Knopfler punching a fist for “oomph” emphasis. It became the centerpiece of Brendan’s door, and I’m certain it was taken during Calling Elvis, because newspaper photogs typically were allowed to shoot pics in the front of the stage only for the first few songs.

That concert also was the last time Dave and I went to a show together. That in and of itself wasn’t significant, but it wasn’t long before we stopped doing things together completely, outside of softball. Actually, I didn’t pay much attention to this at the time.

Dave and I started the card column soon after the Dire Straits show, and then I became so smitten by a certain waitress at the White Horse that—outside those two things and softball—I couldn’t think of anything else. By the time the distractions eased, I realized that the dynamic of our friendship had changed to the point where I began to question why it still existed.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

No. 250 – Thru the Eyes of Ruby

Performer: Smashing Pumpkins
Songwriter: Billy Corgan
Original Release: Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
Year: 1995
Definitive Version: None.

Debbie’s most excellent 1995 birthday surprise of tickets to the Monet exhibit at the Art Institute in Chicago went over as big as I’d hoped. The celebration at BW-3, however, was short-lived, because we had to get up early the next day to make our flight.

Naturally, I took the cheapest route possible, so that meant Southwest. (It was $140 per person round trip.) There’s nothing wrong with Southwest except that it flies in and out of Midway exclusively. If you’ve never flown into Midway, it can be a little harrowing. The runways are short, and it seems to have been built where the wind swirls ferociously.

On this particular November Saturday, the hawk was flying, and we arrived to find Chicago covered in a nice sheen of ice—at least the airport runway was. The plane was real quiet as the pilots wrestled the plane to the ground, skidded along the runway with a bit of a bounce and finally brought it to a stop.

When they did, one of the flight attendants gave a big “WHEW!” over the pa, which broke the tension in the cabin. Everyone laughed and then cheered. It ended up being a good start to our windsprint weekend in Chicago.

Even though our first trip to Chicago was barely a year before—our first vacation together over Labor Day weekend—Debbie’s birthday was already our third trip to my favorite city on the planet. That meant a return to The Allerton, becoming our home away from home, with rooms still less than $100 per night on the Mag Mile. Yup, rooms still closet-size, too, I see.

And because it was our third time in Chicago in the past 15 months, we could keep to a narrow agenda. We didn’t have to run all over town just to cram in Ann Sathers or Gino’s East or Too Much Light.

After checking in at The Allerton, we went to the exhibit at the Art Institute, which, appropriately enough, took up the entire day. The Art Institute, of course, has an impressive enough collection of Monet’s works, but the exhibit was overwhelming.

Our favorite painting was titled The Ice Floes, although if you Google it, the one we saw wasn’t the one that comes up in the search. Monet, of course, produced many versions of different scenes, and I haven’t been able to find the one we saw. The Ice Floes we saw had a lot of pink and purple in the water and sky. We loved it and were somewhat disappointed that the gift shop didn’t have a print we could take home to add to our faux collection. Oh well.

After that, it was time to clean up and head to dinner. Debbie was a little disappointed that we wouldn’t make a Penny’s run, but I had a slightly different plan in mind for her birthday dinner. Instead, I took her to a place I had heard mentioned in passing many years before on the Steve and Garry show. I checked it out online, and it seemed good—and expensive. The name of the place was Avenzare, and it’s long gone now.

But for a while, it was one of my favorite meals. It was located just off the Mag Mile, a short walk from where we were staying. I had scallops that were the best I’d had until G Michael’s came along years later in Columbus. I also had the biggest restaurant check I’d ever paid by a mile. It was $250, including tip. That record stood until another birthday celebration years later.

It was worth every penny, as had been the plane tickets, hotel and—certainly—the Monet exhibit. I had enough points in the bank to keep me out of trouble for months after—even if I were to, say, make a “scouting trip” to Windsor’s dance establishments to prepare for Scott’s upcoming nuptials …

Friday, September 27, 2013

No. 251 – Insignificance

Performer: Pearl Jam
Songwriters: Eddie Vedder
Original Release: Binaural
Year: 2000
Definitive Version: 6/16/00, Spodek, Katowice, Poland, 2000

The Fall of 2000, as I mentioned, marked the beginning of a significant change in my life. That timing, I’m certain, made a couple of small, unrelated incidents that happened during that time stand out more than they might have otherwise.

The first one had to do with the hate-hate relationship I had with spiders. Whether it was the light over the door to the deck or the motion light, Debbie and I had a light shining on the deck one night, and a huge spider sat in its massive web on the edge of the upper level of the deck. This spider was the size where you had to hit it a few times with a baseball bat just to subdue it.

Yuck! Off went the lights. We couldn’t see it, but we knew it still was there, lying in wait. Going outside to use the grill meant certain death, as the spider would spring from its web and sink its blood-dripping fangs into your face.

The next day, I went outside to do lawn work, and no trace of the brute remained—or of its web. I figured the spider just moved beneath the deck, ready to reach out and pull me in if I went to mulch the rosebushes. Nothing.

The next night, the spider was back in the same place—its dozen eyes trained on me as it licked its lips in anticipation. The day after I looked outside, and again it was gone.

What gives? I went outside to do something and noticed that a trace of the web remained. It was just one thread connecting the deck railing and a post that formed the trellis overhead. Another thread bisected the larger right triangle into two perfect 90-degree triangles.

It was a few days later when the mystery was solved. I happened to flip on the lights earlier in the evening and saw the spider building its web. It was working fast, with purpose and precision. The more Debbie and I watched, the more the spider seemed to shrink in size as we got over the ick factor. Watching it create this intricate and ornate beautiful thing was fascinating.

I realized right away that the spider built its web every night to catch its prey and then took it down in the morning, only to rebuild it the next night. Debbie thought maybe the web was destroyed over the course of the night from various bugs that got trapped, but I doubted it. No, the next day there was always the perfect-triangular strands. If something wiped out the web, those would have snapped, too.

Maybe they did, and the spider rebuilt its basic foundation before it went off to hide during the day. I like to think that the destruction of the web was as carefully and purposefully carried out as was its creation. I left the spider alone. As long as it wasn’t jumping on my face, we were cool.

And with that, we’re three-fourths of the way home.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

No. 252 – On a Plain

Performer: Nirvana
Songwriter: Kurt Cobain
Original Release: Nevermind
Year: 1991
Definitive Version: The studio version, I guess.

As I might have mentioned, to me, Nirvana is the sound of Fall 1994, them, Smashing Pumpkins and Soundgarden … and Pearl Jam, of course. But Nirvana more then anyone else. As I’m sure I mentioned, my love of their music was in bloom after it was too late.

As I mentioned … nearly two years ago (good ol’ No. 899), in November 1994, Debbie and I took our second overnight trip together, to Toronto. The reason behind the trip was to see the Barnes Exhibit—a collection of rarely seen paintings from Impressionist masters. Toronto was the closest it apparently was coming to Columbus. After glorious trips there with Scott in 1991 and 1992, I didn’t need a second reason to visit Toronto once more.

After our tumultuous arrival, a good night’s sleep and a great morning’s wakeup, we headed from our suburban location into the city. The first order of business was to head to the Art Gallery of Ontario for the Barnes Exhibit. Actually, the first order of business was lunch in nearby Chinatown, but you get the idea.

The Barnes Exhibit was pretty cool. I’ve done some reading since and learned that the collection wasn’t totally unknown, but at the time, I didn’t know anything about it. I liked the idea that there were all these paintings by Monet and Van Gogh and Matisse that I’d never heard of or seen anywhere, even in a book.

Debbie, who adored Monet, loved the exhibit more than I did, although she said later she would have preferred to have seen a bit more Monet. Who wouldn’t? Before we left, we visited the gift shop, and Debbie bought me a present that she had me open after we got outside. It was a framed print of Cezanne’s The Card Players. Debbie said I should have it for my poker group.

That was a good surprise; another came after we left the gallery. We were hiking back to my car to put away my painting before heading to further sights downtown, when we were accosted by a couple of people. They explained that they were filming a movie and were looking for extras to be part of the crowd in the background.

Well, that would be fun. We agreed, except the shooting would take place tomorrow—Sunday—and Debbie and I had to be back on the road due to my lack of vacation time after joining The Dispatch. So we had to decline. To this day, I have no idea what movie it was or whether it even saw the light of day.

We walked over to Toronto Eaton Centre to do a little shopping before heading to The Fish House for dinner by way of SkyDome. We bought a couple of Christmas ornaments at the late, great Eaton’s—miniature replicas of an old Christmas catalog and shopping bag. Surreptitiously, I also bought Debbie a jade otter that she had oohed and aahed over earlier, for her upcoming birthday.

We had an excellent seafood dinner at The Fish House, which Scott and I found in 1992, and, all too soon, our Toronto weekend was over. It was a seven-hour drive home the next day, so we had to get going almost as soon as we got up. It had been my fourth trip to Toronto in the past five years—my second-favorite city behind only Chicago.

What I didn’t know was that, until further notice, it was the last time I visited the city. A return is long overdue, but I don’t have anything scheduled. Time just slips away …