Sunday, July 26, 2015

Mellencamp & Carter: New Concert, Old Memories

John Mellencamp & Carlene Carter
Paramount Theater, Oakland, CA
July 25, 2015

John Mellencamp gets no respect. I know because I'm as guilty as anybody when it comes to under-estimating this rock icon. I want to review the concert of his that I saw last night, but first I need to go back 33 years or so and issue an apology.

In 1982 I was a manager for the Music Plus chain of record stores. One fine day I was at the home office attending one of our regular managers meetings when they rolled out a TV, dimmed the lights, and played us a video of a new song we would be promoting.

We thought it was a joke. We recognized the artist from his prior poor-selling albums, but this little ditty about teenagers sucking down chili dogs behind Tastee Freezes in the heartland (among other things) did not impress us. I get it now, but back then I was just too cool to relate. We laughed through it and made rude jokes about his height and how Pat Benatar's cover his previous single, "I Need A Lover," had outsold his.

The lights came up and the bosses said, "And now we'd like you to meet Mr. Cougar..." When the song had started he had apparently slipped into the room and was seated right behind us. Oops. If he overheard anything he didn't let on and very kindly spoke with each of us and signed all our copies of American Fool.

In the decades since I've slowly come to respect him more and more. While I've never been a super fan, I have bought a couple of CDs, and appreciated him as a thoughtful person, and a dedicated musician. Still, when the Mrs. suggested we see him in concert I was slow to jump on it, until she told me the opening act would be Carlene Carter.

By the time of my Johnny Cougar faux pas, Carlene Carter had already become my secret country crush. Back around 1979 I'd slip on Musical Shapes or Two Sides to Every Woman between the Ramones, Who, Deep Purple, and Kinks records that were my norm. I've followed her career off and on since then, but never had a chance to meet her or even see her live until last night.

Her performance was worth the 35 year wait. Just her and her guitar (and occasional piano) was enough to fill the hall with raw country emotion and rock 'n' roll power. Her new CD, Carter Girl, is a tribute to her family, so the show was full of stories of learning to play guitar from grandma, Maybelle Carter, getting songwriting advice from her mother, June, and watching them perform with the rest of the Carter Family. She shared how her life changed when her mom married "Big John" (Cash), growing the family, but keeping the roots close to home and their music.

Most of the Mellencamp audience may not have known who that Carter Girl was when she stepped out on stage, but by the time she was done they were cheering every song, laughing at all her stories, and singing along with (her great uncle) A.P. Carter's version of "Can the Circle Be Unbroken (By and By)."

After her set she took a table in the lobby, signing pictures and CDs, talking with the fans, and smiling for pictures with every one of us. Getting that hug from her will stand as one of my favorite "brush with greatness" stories for many years to come.

That would have been enough for the night, but the lights were dimming in the theater, and Mr. Mellencamp was taking the stage, so we re-took our seats.

Did I mention that John Mellencamp gets no respect? I mean, I knew he'd put on a good show. I didn't know he'd put on a great one. The man, and his six-piece band, are professional rockers. They are note perfect, powerful, and play off each others' strengths like a well-oiled machine. And why shouldn't they be tight? Guitarist Mike Wanchic has been with Mellencamp for 40 years! Violinist Miriam Sturm for over 20.

There were (most of) the hits you'd expect (or demand) to hear - after all these years you kind of forget just how many he's had - and plenty of new songs too in the nearly two hour set. While most of them were played seriously, even he's now laughing at "Jack and Diane," doing it solo acoustic, while the rest of the band took a quick break.

"I don't know why I even play this thing anymore, other than that you expect it," was part of the intro. He then let the audience do most of the work, laughing and correcting them when they launched into the chorus after the first verse. "No, the chorus doesn't come until after the second verse! If I'd known then that you wanted to go right to the chorus I could have saved a lot of time and trouble coming up with that second verse."

Miss Carter came back on to join the band on a couple of numbers from Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, a musical that Mr. Mellencamp wrote with Stephen King (yes, that Stephen King). Rumor is that once the tour is over, Mellencamp and Carter will be recording a duets album together.

The show continued and rocked some more. I thought it was coming to a crescendo when the Walls Came a-Tumblin' Down, but it just continued to build from there. The entire audience were on their feet screaming along with the last several numbers. He Fought Authority, and I swear this time he won.

Bottom line: It was a thrill to hear and meet Carlene Carter after all these years, and John Mellencamp deserves our respect as one of the hardest working rockers we've got. John, I'm sorry for making fun of your video. And your name. And your height. You rock, sir. Thank you.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Democrats Against Democracy

Last week Allen Clifton, co-founder of Forward Progressives, wrote a column with the terrifying title Bernie Sanders Is Already Making It More Likely Republicans Win The White House In 2016.

How dare Bernie do such a thing! Hasn't Senator Sanders read any newspapers over the last six or seven years? Didn't anybody tell him that Hillary is going to be the nominee? Or is the grumpy old Senator from Vermont under the mistaken impression that the primaries have any other purpose than to reinforce what the party leaders have already determined to be our preference? (note: that was sarcasm you just read.)

Geeeshhh! Give me a freakin' break! What is Clifton so terrified of? This...
.. what I ultimately fear Sanders is going to do is get liberals worked up just enough to where when he eventually loses the Democratic primary election to Hillary, it's going to cause many to become apathetic and refuse to show up in 2016 to vote for the "not liberal enough/basically a Republican" Hillary Clinton.
Well, guess what, Mr. Clifton: It didn't take Bernie Sanders officially entering the race for many of us on the left to recognize that Hillary is no progressive. There were reasons why we didn't support her candidacy in 2008, and nothing since then has convinced us that we were wrong.

Let's get this clear from the start: If Hillary is nominated and loses, she will have lost it on her own accord, and not because she will be forced to debate an actual liberal before facing the Tea Time Circus. As Harry Truman so perfectly put it, "When a Republican runs against a Republican, the Republican will win every time."

Please continue the rest of this rant at Daily Kos....

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Farewell HTML

I created my first web pages back in 1994. The local ISP I had my dial-up service through at the time included web space in the package, so I figured why not? I learned some basic HTML and I was off and running.

HTML at that time was pretty basic. I don't even think the table tag was available until a year or so later. Essentially, it was just about knowing how to change the background color, insert a link or an image, using H1 and H2, and how to turn on (and OFF) the annoying blinking text that was all the rage back then.

Over the next decade or so I hand-coded many websites, and my skills grew along with it, but stayed mostly in the realm of HTML. I'd played with a few pearl scripts, but when CSS came to dominate, I knew I was on the trailing edge of my learning curve.

This blog, created on Blogger in 2001, back when the company was owned by Pyra, long before Google thought to purchase it, has gone through many different designs and transitions. Now, this (and I believe every blog on the platform) is using one of their templates, but there was a time when I even hand-coded the HTML for these pages.

The last site I maintained by hand -- and to clarify, what I mean by that is typing out the HTML in a text editor, no WYSIWYG editors for me -- was my consulting home page. I'd started that site in 2003, and while I regularly modified layouts and added (or deleted) pages, it was always my own HTML. Of course, that got sloppy too. There was probably still some of that original 2003 code still running the site until this week.

Yep, until this week. I'd known this day was coming, mostly because mobile. My site looked like hell on a smart phone. But I'd managed to keep telling myself "I'll get around to fixing that later" until this week. Google is now officially penalizing sites that are not "mobile friendly" in their search results. It was time to make a serious change.

This week has officially relaunched with my all new template-driven responsive design hosted by Google Sites. There's still some work to do to make it "just right," and a few more sub-pages to add, but it's looking pretty good already.

And with this change, there's no more HTML for me to write or trouble-shoot, and no need to FTP the pages from my hard drive up to the servers.

It's all so easy, but just a little bit sad.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Only Seven Deadly Sins

Wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and everybody's favorite, gluttony. You've heard this list before. You know 'em, you love 'em, you either fear committing them or treat it as a to-do list. It's the "seven deadly sins," also known as the capital vices or cardinal sins.

I've been thinking about this lately, and reading up on the Seven Deadlies thanks to our good friends in Indiana. Had I missed something? Had buggery finally been added to the list?

... Continue Reading on Daily Kos ...

Friday, March 20, 2015

Cloud Noir (short story)

"It's kind of like LinkedIn, but for wise guys."

I looked at him the way I usually do, eyes squinted, mouth puckered like I just ate a fucking lemon. You'd think I'd be used to it by now, but this kid always gets me like that. All the kids. Fuck them. Think they know so fucking much just because they have a computer in every fucking pocket.

Like I said, I looked at him, "What the fuck you talkin' about?"

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