If you read this blog and live in Massachusetts and are not already aware, there is a ballot initiative question when we vote on November 8th regarding the expansion of charter schools in the Commonwealth by up to 12 new schools per year. The initiative offers no means for paying for this expansion so it would inevitably result in further defunding existing public schools and school closures.
So far, 120 school committees, 8 city councils, the Massachusetts Democratic Party, The Massachusetts Municipal Association, and the NAACP have come out in opposition to this ballot initiative. Even people who are big supporters of charter schools, such as Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, believe that this particular initiative is fiscally irresponsible, and are voting no.
As usual, other people who are far more informed and eloquent than I am are better about writing about this issue, so I encourage you to read these articles that explain why the ballot initiative is bad for Massachusetts and who is behind funding it. The first post listed is the best, concise summary if you’re short on time, but they’re all worth reading and sharing with your friends and on social media.
Having read all that, I hope you will join me in voting No on 2 on November 8th. Remember to tell your friends and if you want to get more involved you can volunteer with Save our Public Schools and/or make a donation.
The Canadian author W.P. Kinsella died on Friday, September 16. H’es most famous for the novel Shoeless Joe which was adapted into the film Field of Dreams. From the mid-1980s to the early 1990s, if you’d asked me my favorite author, I would’ve said Kinsella. It’s been a long while since I read a Kinsella book and the last time I read him as an adult I found it wasn’t as good as I remembered, but still a key figure in my reading life.
I was introduced to W.P. Kinsella in an odd way when I received his short story collection The Thrill of the Grass as a Christmas gift from my grandmother. It seemed an example of my grandmother being clueless since I actually didn’t like baseball at this point in my life. Also, it was clear she hadn’t read the book since there were many depictions of sexual activity that I’m sure she didn’t want a 10-year-old reading. But maybe Grandma was a conduit for something because within a year I had become an avid baseball fan. And Kinsella’s sex scenes were not bawdy fantasy but depictions of the complications and conflicted feelings of people in committed relationships, something a boy should learn about.
And so I became a devoted Kinsella reader, getting every book of his I could find at the library or the bookstore. His baseball stories were easier to find than his stories about Native Americans, although I read some of the latter too. My favorite W.P. Kinsella story is The Iowa Baseball Confederacy which involves the 1908 Chicago Cubs, time travel, an endless baseball game and a torrential downpour, and a statue of an angel (which was creepy long before Doctor Who made angel statues creepy). Here are some other memories of Kinsella’s work:
Long before I read anything by Toni Morrison and Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, this was my first exposure to magical realism.
A story of how the Catholic Church hierarchy is so removed from the people of the church, and the harm it causes.
Stories of First Nation people in Canada, including one where a couple disguise themselves as Indians from the subcontinent because they’d be treated better in Canada.
A swindler using the distance between the pitcher’s mound and home plate to win a bet.
Baseball fans use the 1981 strike to replace the artificial turf at the local baseball stadium with real grass, one square foot at a time, and the community that forms to tend the grass.
Tributes to J.D. Salinger, Richard Brautigan, and Janis Joplin, among others, in his works.
A manager has to deal with the knowledge that the Cubs will win the last pennant before Armageddon and there’s nothing he can do to stop it.
A story in which a bunch of male friends share punchlines of jokes and the protagonist reveals to himself that he is gay, through a punchline.
And my favorite story of all, “How I Got My Nickname,” which is the ultimate bookish nerd fantasy in which a bookish nerd gets a spot on the 1951 New York Giants (as a pinch hitter because he can’t field, throw, or run) and discovers that all the other Giants are readers who have literary discussions in the clubhouse.
I remember being a bit irritated that Field of Dreams deviated from the book – especially regarding J.D. Salinger and the oldest living Cub – as well as being cheezy and melodramatic, but yeah, I liked it too.
Here’s to W.P. Kinsella, and the stories we tell and the memories we share.
Today, we are halfway to St. Patrick’s Day as celebrated on the Irish & Celtic Music Podcast. Thus this week’s song is an Irish folk tune from halfway around the world in the Czech Republic, where the band Poitín is one of the most prominent members of the Irish pub music scene.
I can related to the subject matter of this tune “Tired By Kids” as related on the band’s website:
Tom (concertina) wrote the last tune in this set and named it after his own experience as a father of three kids and owner of a very boisterous dog. Celebrating the ups and downs of parenthood!
Beer: India Pale Ale Brewer: Goose Island Beer Company Source: Draft Rating: ***(7.4 of 10) Comments: I generally shy away from IPAs, but apparently I’ve listened to Sound Opinions enough times to give Chicago’s flagship craft beer a try. This copper ale had a thin head and a grainy, floral aroma. The taste was a sweet flower with the expected bitter afteraste, but not overpowering. For an IPA, I like it!
I’m a fan of soul, funk, and R&B of the 1960s and 1970s, so naturally I’m drawn to Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. The band keeps alive the sounds of an earlier music with new songs that sometimes sound eerily as if they’ve been hidden in a vault for decades. Nevertheless, there’s a strong musical talent in Jones and the band that makes this more than just a nostalgia trap. Jones’ off-told story of resilience against a reluctant music industry as well as her battle with cancer also lends the music a poignancy.
A documentary released recently called Miss Sharon Jones! documents her life and struggles. I hope to see it soon and to prepare for it, I listened to the full catalog of brilliant music.
Album: Dap Dippin’ with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings Date: 2002 Favorite Tracks: “What Have You Done For Me Lately?,” “The Dap Dip,” “Ain’t It Hard,” and “Pick It Up, Lay It In The Cut” Thoughts:
The debut album sounds more like it could have been from 1972 than 2002. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings are built on a retro soul and funk sound, but it sounds ever more retro here, if that makes sense. Effects like a James Brown-style introduction and inter-song banter add to the effect. And then you wonder if Janet Jackson covered Sharon Jones rather than vice versa. Rating: ***1/2
Album: Naturally Date: 25 January 2005 Favorite Tracks: “How Do I Let a Good Man Down?,” “My Man Is a Mean Man,” “How Long Do I Have to Wait for You?,” “This Land Is Your Land,” and “Fish in the Dish” Thoughts: If the debut album is a time capsule holding a lost album from the early 1970s, Naturally is more of a compilation of an lost soul band’s hits over the course of the 1960s and 70s, echoing stylistic changes of Motown, Stax, Atlantic, et al. It includes an Aretha Franklin-style ballad (“You’re Gonna Get It”), an Otis Redding/Carla Thomas-style duet (“Stranded in Your Love” ) and even a Civil Rights Era folk crossover (“This Land is Your Land”). Rating: ***1/2
Album: 100 Days, 100 Nights Date: 2 October 2007 Favorite Tracks: “100 Days, 100 Nights,” “Nobody’s Baby,” “Let Them Knock,” and “Answer Me.” Thoughts: This album oozes with confidence with Jones’ voice stronger than ever, and the Dap-Tones tighter than they’e been before. The inspiration is still retro, but this album feels more contemporary than its predecessors, evolving a sound that’s been lost over the decades. Rating: ****
Album: I Learned the Hard Way Date: 6 April 2010 Favorite Tracks: “I Learned the Hard Way,” “Mama Don’t Like My Man,” and “The Game Get Old” Thoughts: If we lived in a just world, or maybe if this was released 40 years earlier, this would be the album remembered for containing the big hits that dominated the airwaves all summer long. The album is less cohesive than its predecessors, but at its best moments it knocks you out. Rating: ***1/2
Album: Give the People What They Want Date: 14 January 2014 Favorite Tracks: “Retreat!,” “Stranger to My Happiness,” “People Don’t Get What They Deserve,” and “We Get Along” Thoughts: This album has a more melancholy air to it than its predecessors although there’s a strong resilience to it as well. Seems appropriate that it comes from a time when Jones was stricken with pancreatic cancer yet perseveres and not only keeps a musical style alive, but also vital. Rating: ***
Album: It’s a Holiday Soul Party Date: 2015 October 30 Favorite Tracks: “8 Days of Hanukkah,” “Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects,” and “Silent Night” Thoughts: Holiday albums can be a cynical cash grab where an artist records new renditions of old standards with maybe a treacly original tune and the guarantee that the songs will played one month a year for eternity. Fortunately, you can tell that Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings put their heart into this. I don’t know if anyone in the band is Jewish, but the opening track is an authentically celebratory – and funky – celebration of the Festival of Lights. That’s followed by the touching story of a mother’s love at the heart of Christmas. The rest of the album is a mix of standards and originals that are worth putting on at a holiday party. Rating: ***
Album: Miss Sharon Jones! Date: 16 August 2016 Favorite Tracks: “Longer and Stronger,” “Genuine Pt. 1,” and “I’m Still Here” Thoughts: This is a soundtrack rather a compilation so I assume it follows the needs of the film rather than being a comprehensive overview of the band’s career. Surprisingly, it contains no live performance tracks which is disappointing. Nevertheless, it’s a good introduction to the newbie of the power and beauty of Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. And it includes some songs previously unreleased on albums including the new, autobiographical song “I’m Still Here.” Rating: ***1/2
One final song I love – and one that made me first aware of Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – is only available on the compilation album Dark Was the Night, a cover of Shuggie Otis’ “Inspiration Information.”
Recently, the All Songs Considered podcast rebroadcast an episode called Breaking Up With Your Favorite Bands. It’s all about the moment when your realize that the band or artist you loved so much, you just don’t love anymore. It could be them, it could be you. You might still love the old stuff, or you might make a clean break.
So here are some of the bands that I broke up with and the reasons why.
eddie from ohio
Through the 1990s I was a huge fan of this folk-pop band who are actually from Virginia and I saw them in concert more times than any other performer. They were an energetic and fun live band with great banter between songs. Their songs were introspective and witty (some songs made me laugh every time I heard them), they alternated vocals among three singers, and everything was powered by a unique percussion of Eddie Hartness’ drumkit. Then in 2001 they released an album called Quick, the music sounded more light rock and the funny bits made me laugh once if at all. Worst of all, in concert they seemed to abandon all the old songs I loved as well as their silly personas to become more button-down. I think they’ve only released one album since our breakup and don’t tour much anymore, so maybe the time was up for them as well.
Dave Matthews Band
Another band I came to like when I went to college in Virginia. During my freshman year they were playing bars in college towns, but by my senior year they were doing national arena tours. In between that I saw them open for a concert at William & Mary for Toad the Wet Sprocket (who were actually a big deal at the time). Their sound was unique for the mid-1990s and I liked the emphasis on the virtuoso performances of the fiddler, saxophonist, and drummer. Then I went to New Year’s concert in 1997 and realized that Dave Matthews himself was a obnoxious dudebro. But what really brought an end to our affair was that after the first two albums, the sound of the band turned more into the typical bland, post-grunge sound that was common in that era. I broke up and didn’t look back.
I first became aware of Sting and The Police when their Synchronicity album came out in 1983. My sister was a big fan but I could take it or leave it. But something about Sting’s …Nothing Like the Sun album appealed to me and I went back and discovered the earlier Police albums and I became a fan. For a bit. I was excited when The Soul Cages came out and it seemed profound that it was all about the death of his father at the same time that my own father died. But the more I listened to it, the less I liked it. Ensuing Sting releases were increasingly bland and I reverted to my earlier take on Sting.
Let Love Rule came out in 1989 and I randomly selected the tape from Columbia House. While the music is deeply derivative of 60s and 70s psychedelia and soul, it also didn’t sound much like anything else released at the time. Add to the fact that I was coming out of my Klassik Rawk phase and it was nice to have a currently released album I could enjoy. Perhaps it was a bridge to more contemporary released music for me? At any rate, subsequent releases by Lenny Kravitz were cheezier and poppier, and I quietly stepped off the Kravitz bandwagon.
Speaking of the Klassik Rawk period, I suppose there’s a time when many a teenager starts listening to The Doors and thinks that Jim Morrison was a tragic poet. I didn’t get too deep, although I did read No One Here Gets Out Alive. Nevertheless, it didn’t take me long to realize that after their debut album, most of the music released by The Doors was crap, a view I still hold to this day.
Fishbone was the first band I ever saw in concert, and wow – what a first concert. Intense music, dancing, moshing, crowd-surfing (I was nearly dropped on my head, naturally). Lead singer Angelo Moore even inducted concertgoers into the Fishbone family. So it was very hard when Give a Monkey a Brain and He’ll Swear He’s the Center of the Universe came out in 1993 and the band seemed to have abandoned their consciousness-raising ska/funk/soul for something that sounded like metal with nonsense lyrics. Apparently the band was going through a troubled stretch and maybe I shouldn’t have abandoned them at such a hard time, but I still love what we had in the good days.
They Might Be Giants
Here’s a band I broke up with but then got back together again. I was a huge fan in high school and college, and TMBG ended being the second band I saw in concert (back when it was the two Johns and a drum machine). I listened to Flood and Lincoln endlessly, and their other albums slightly less often. Then their album John Henry came out in 1994 and it left me cold. The magic was gone. Fast forward about five years and I randomly picked up their live album Severe Tire Damage, and suddenly, the magic was back. I saw them in concert again and it was awesome. They started releasing family/children’s albums and they were awesome. I went to one of their family/children’s concerts and it was awesome. We are now happily growing old together.
Probably one of the most painful breakups. I became of fan of REM in the late 80s and basically got all of their albums at once. There was a long break, it seemed, between their last album of the 1980s, Green, and their first album of the 1990s, Out of Time. When it finally came out, I was excited, but after hearing “Losing My Religion” for the umpteenth million time on the radio I was tired of it and realized I didn’t like much else on the album. I had big hopes for the next album Automatic for the People, but I liked it even less. Worse, at the time I was growing disillusioned with REM, the rest of the world was falling in love with them and making these two albums best sellers. I may have said some nasty things, like “corporate sellout.” But ultimately, we were just going in different directions. We get back together now and again – I even liked UP at the time it was released – but mostly REM is pleasant memory of my youth in the 1980s.
So what bands did you break up with? Let me know in the comments.
I never got up my AOTM post for August, so here’s a two for one.
***** – An all-time classic album (highly recommended)
**** – Great album (recommended)
*** – Solid album (consider buying or streaming/downloading top tracks)
** – Weak album (only consider streaming/downloading top tracks)
* – Poor album (not recommended)
ARTIST: Elza Soares ALBUM: A Mulher do Fim do Mundo (The Woman at the End of the World) RELEASE DATE:3 June 2016 RATING: **** COMMENTS: At 79-years-old, Elza Soares is an iconic samba performer in Brazil. Her voice is gravelly, but it captures perfectly the emotions. I don’t understand Portequese but I can understand the feeling in these songs about poverty, domestic violence, and the political strife of her native land. Musically there are traditional samba elements, but also fuzzed-out electric guitar and a bass line sometimes reminiscent of Primus. It’s an innovative fusion, unlike anything I’ve ever heard and a voice at once defiant and celebratory. OUTSTANDING TRACKS: “Dança,” “Benedita,” “Pra Fuder,” and “Maria da Vila Matilde”
ARTIST: case/lang/veirs ALBUM: case/lang/veirs RELEASE DATE: 18 June 2016 RATING: ***1/2 COMMENTS: Three artists come together and form a more cohesive band sound than I would’ve expected. Some great tunes and harmonies, the best tracks seem to be loaded toward the front of the album. OUTSTANDING TRACKS: “I Want to Be Here,” “Honey and Smoke,” “Georgia Stars,” “Blue Fires,” and “Atomic Number”
ARTIST: The Avalanches ALBUM: Wild Flowers RELEASE DATE: 8 July 2016 RATING: *** COMMENTS: The band’s 2000 album Since I Left You is an all-time classic. Is the follow-up as good? Not really. Was it worth waiting 16 years? Probably not. Nevertheless this is a delightful cacophony of sounds that feels like a journey through American music played on the radios of passing cars or spilling out of a nightclub down the block. OUTSTANDING TRACKS: “Because I’m Me,” “The Noisy Eater,” and “Frankie Sinatra”
ARTIST: Angel Olsen ALBUM: My Woman RELEASE DATE: 2 September 2016 RATING: *** COMMENTS: Indie folk rock with ethereal vocals is my bag. The early part of My Woman is peppy, almost punk with 50s/60s girl band thrown in, but as the album proceeds the songs slow down and stretch out, each showing varying degrees of optimism and melancholy. OUTSTANDING TRACKS: “Shut Up Kiss Me,” “Never Be Mine,” and “Intern”
ARTIST: Clipping. ALBUM: Splendor & Money RELEASE DATE: 9 September 2016 RATING: ***1/2 COMMENTS: Clipping. is an experimental hip-hop group featuring Daveed Diggs of Hamilton fame. This hip-hop space opera is reminiscent of Afro-futuristic works of PFunk and Janelle Monae. Gospel melodies are paired with rapid-fire rap. OUTSTANDING TRACKS:
Author: Jim O’Connor Title: What Were the Twin Towers Publication Info: New York : Grosset & Dunlap, an imprint of Penguin Random House,  Summary/Review:
Following on the Hurricane Katrina book, my son and I read this history of the World Trade Center in New York City. The book is a full history of the Twin Towers dating back to its conception by David Rockefeller in the 1960s and deals with controversies such as the removal of Radio Row by eminent domain. There’s a lot of detail about the design and construction of the buildings, and fun stories such as Philipe Petit’s walk on the wire. The book also dedicates a chapter to the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. The September 11 attacks are of course a major subject of the book, and again done in a clear manner appropriate to the age of the reader. There is also a chapter on the memorial, museum, and new One World Trade Center building. On the 15th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, this was a good way to remember the events of that day with someone to young to remember it himself. Rating: ***1/2
Author: Robin Koontz Title: What Was Hurricane Katrina Publication Info: New York New York : Grosset & Dunlap, An Imprint of Penguin Random House,  Summary/Review:
I find it easier to work through difficult issues through books so I was impressed when my son picked out out this history of Hurricane Katrina written for children. The book does a good job of setting up the history of New Orleans’ location and the necessity of levees as well as a primer on hurricanes and other storms. The details about the storm and the flooding are clear and not sugar-coated (without being overly graphic) and it does not shy away from the poor decisions of political leaders. There is also a chapter on the role that climate change played in the disaster. All in all it’s a good introduction for children to one of the great tragedies of recent years, but something that may seem a long time ago to them.