Album Review: Unlovely by The Ballroom Thieves


Album: Unlovely
Artist: The Ballroom Thieves 
Release Date: February 12, 2020
Label: Nettwerk Records
Favorite Tracks:

  • Unlovely
  • Tenebrist
  • Homme Run
  • Begin Again
  • Pendulum

Thoughts:

I first learned of Boston-based trio The Ballroom Thieves a few years ago when they were the standout performers at a festival I attended.  Their new album speaks to our times with lyrics that address personal relationship and social movements, and often both at the same time.  The band is described as folk rock and Americana, but I don’t think those genres quite capture the infectious pop sound of the songs that also draw upon classic rock, soul, and even a touch of metal.

Calin “Callie” Peters (vocals, cello, bass), Martin Earley (vocals, guitar), and Devin Mauch (vocals, percussion) are all excellent instrumentalists and the recording captures their performances as well as their tight harmonies.  I tend to get lost in music at the expense of the lyrics, but I was drawn into the chorus of my favorite track “Tenebrist” which is both inspirational and sarcastic:

We all muddy the water
To make it seem less shallow
And if our grief grows like a shadow
In the morning that’s alright
We need the dark to know the light

The music hides anger, frustration, and exhaustion with our political present in the lyrics, so it’s worth a deep listen.

Rating: ****

This performance from WGBH leads off with “Tenebrist” and some older tracks.

The Paste Studio performance includes “Homme Run,” “Love is Easy,” and “Pendulum.”

 

Documentary Movie Review: Sacco and Vanzetti (2006) #atozchallenge


Title: Sacco and Vanzetti
Release Date: April 6, 2006
Director: Peter Miller
Production Company: Willow Pond Films
Summary/Review:

This documentary tells this history of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, a pair of Italian immigrants active in the anarchist movement who were convicted and executed for murder in Massachusetts in the 1920s.  The movie is Ken Burns style with lots archival photographs and film and modern day experts talking about the case, including Mary Anne Trasciatti, Howard Zinn, Studs Terkel, Nunzio Pernicone, Arlo Guthrie, and David Kaiser. Tony Shalhoub and John Turturo provide the voices of Sacco and Vanzetti.

I’m familiar with the case but learned a lot of new things from this movie:

  • the men became anarchists due to sympathy towards the plight of poor and working people, although they were actually more prosperous themselves than typical Italian immigrants of the time
  • the defense lawyer Fred Moore took on prominent leftist labor cases and stirred up a lot of publicity around the case which provoked a lot of retaliatory anger from the justice system
  • their case was tried at Norfolk County Courthouse in Dedham, which is still in use
  • Judge Webster Thayer was very prejudicial and allowed the prosecution to allow evidence of Sacco and Vanzetti’s anarchist ideology and WWI draft resistance even though they did not pertain to the trial
  • at least one of the bullets presented as evidence in the case was not actually one found at the scene of the crime but fired later from Sacco’s pistol
  • the witnesses who placed Sacco and Vanzetti at the scene of the crime were unreliable at best
  • motions for retrial were denied by Judge Thayer, the same judge who tried their case
  • In 1925, Celestino Medeiros confessed to the murder.  Thayer still denied a retrial.
  • despite their names forever linked together, Sacco and Vanzetti were isolated from one another for the entire 7 years of the case.

The issues of how the United States mistreats immigrants and fails to uphold civil liberties for all remains a relevant issue in our time.  The 100th anniversary of the arrest of Sacco & Vanzetti will occur on May 5th.  If you are unaware of their case or want to learn more about it, this documentary is a good place to start.

Rating: ***1/2

Massachusetts Primary Elections – VOTE EARLY! VOTE NOW! JUST VOTE!


Hey there fellow Bay Staters!  It’s Primary Election time in Massachusetts.  You can vote early NOW and every day until Friday, February 28.  Details for the City of Boston are below and or you can check on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts website for Early Voting opportunities in your community: https://www.sec.state.ma.us/EarlyVotingWeb/EarlyVotingSearch.aspx.

Keep in mind that Early Voting is available for all voters at specified locations  in your community that will not necessarily be your designated polling location.

If you’re not able to participate in Early Voting, or you’re a traditionalist, make your way to your local polling location to vote on Super Tuesday: March 3, 2020!

This excellent tool on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ website will help you 1) Find out where you can vote on the Primary Election Day on March 3, 2020 and 2) Show you who is on the ballots for your district.  Registered voters may chose to vote on ONE of the four party ballots: Democratic Party, Republican Party, Green-Rainbow Party, or Libertarian Party.

https://www.sec.state.ma.us/wheredoivotema/bal/MyElectionInfo.aspx

Make a plan to vote! Bring your family, friends, and co-workers! Let’s make this election reflect the will of the people!

Book Review: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott


Author: Louisa May Alcott
TitleLittle Women
Narrator: C. M. Hebert
Publication Info: Blackstone Audio, Inc. (2010) [Originally published in 1868 and 1869]
Summary/Review:

I want to see Greta Gerwig’s new adaptation of Little Women, but despite living most of my life in New England, and the past 22 years in Massachusetts, I’ve failed to read this book. So I’m filling in that gap in my cultural experience.

As is often the case with classic novels, I find it hard to write a review that says anything that hasn’t been said before.  But I did enjoy this book, which could be old-fashioned at times, but startlingly progressive for its era and still relevant in many ways.

The novel is the coming of age story for the March sisters – Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy – living in a fictionalized version of Concord, Massachusetts in the 1860s.  When the story begins, their father is away from home, serving as a pastor in the Civil War, and even when he returns he is a benevolent background characters.  As the title clearly states, this is a women’s story, which only seems fair since many novels set in time of war exclude women entirely.  The only prominent male character throughout the novel is the boy next door, Laurie, who becomes a close friend of the March sisters.

Meg is the oldest, who takes a lot of responsibility for raising her younger sisters and maintaining the household. She’s married in the second part of the book and has some very relatable problems dealing with toddlers who don’t want to go to bed. Jo is the second daughter, who struggles with the limitations placed on girls and women of the time, and expectations to marry.  She loves literature and drama, and becomes a writer over the course of the novel.  Not surprisingly, she is the character who is most similar to Alcott herself.  Beth is sweet and shy, and something of the family’s conscience.  She has a very close relationship with Jo.  Beth contracts scarlet fever early in the novel and remains very sickly.  The youngest, Amy, is vain and materialistic as the story begins, but matures considerable over the course of the novel.  She becomes a talented artist.

I shan’t summarize further, but should you be like me and not have read it yet, I suggest you give it a try.

Recommended books:

Rating: ****

TOMORROW 9/24: Boston Preliminary Election #BosPoli #GOTV


All my readers who live in the city of Boston, please set aside the time to vote in the Boston Preliminary Election at your local polling place between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. Candidates are running for Boston City Council for At Large offices and in Districts Five, Seven, Eight, and Nine.  The other districts are sadly uncontested.  Your vote tomorrow will help decide which candidates advance to the General Election on Tuesday, November 5, 2019.  If you need help determining were to vote use this handy online tool.

Municipal elections are often overlooked in Boston allowing candidates who don’t represent the best interests of Boston’s people to gain off.  Please take the time to participate and make sure our city gets the best representation possible.  If you’re not sure who to vote for – and lord knows the local news media doesn’t help – here are some resources I’ve found with the candidates’ statements on various issues (note: I’m sharing these for informational purposes and not as an endorsement for any candidates).

If you find this post useful, please share it on social media, and encourage everyone you know to Get Out The Vote!

Book Review: The Ultimate Entrepreneur by Glen Rifkin and George Harrar


Author: Glen Rifkin and George Harrar
Title: The Ultimate Entrepreneur
Publication Info: Rocklin, CA : Prima Pub., c1990.
Summary/Review:

This is a book I read for research at work.  It is part biography, part business management book focusing on the career of Ken Olsen, the founder of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC).  Digital was a post-WWII start-up that took advantage of new computing technology from MIT and the military and brought it to the commercial market.  DEC basically invented the minicomputer in the 1960s.  Minicomputers are huge compared to microcomputers (aka – personal computers), about the size of a refrigerator, but they provided users with real-time interactive capabilities they could not get with the massive IBM mainframes.  DEC’s minicomputers sold like hot cakes to corporate and research clients, and by the 1980s the company was the second largest computer company after IBM.  Olsen promoted participatory management at the company which made a lot of engineers loyal to the company because of the creative freedom, although working at DEC also involved heated arguments to defend one’s ideas.  It was a Massachusetts company, part of the Route 128 Tech Corridor that was the center of the computing industry before Silicon Valley took over.  Sadly, Digital didn’t survive the transition to personal computers but this interesting book tells of an innovative company that made great products through unique management strategies.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***1/2

Podcasts of the Week Ending June 1


Futility Closet :: The General Slocum

The grim history of the worst maritime disaster in New York City.

Best of the Left :: Our built environment shapes society and vice versa

The issues of increasing urban density, building social housing, and deprioritizing the automobile in cities are near and dear in my heart. And yet, even Leftists tend to fall into the pro-car/pro-sprawl trap, so it’s good to hear these arguments for a more livable urbanism.

Hub History  ::  Love is Love: John Adams and Marriage Equality 

It seems like yesterday, but 15 years have passed since Massachusetts became the first state to perform legal same-sex marriages.  Here’s the history of how that came to be.

Sound Opinions  ::  De La Soul’s Three Feet High and Rising

I have a lot of nostalgia for De La Soul’s debut album which came out when I was a nerdy high school student.  The Sound Opinions crew explore how the album was created and explain why it’s so hard to find the album today.

Hit Parade :: The Invisible Miracle Sledgehammer Edition

If you turned on the radio in the mid-1980s, you were likely to hear music by members of Genesis (Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, and Mike and the Mechanics) while the band Genesis continued to make hits.  Chris Molanphy explains this unusual situation in pop music history.

Running tally of 2019 Podcast of the Week appearances:

Movie Review: Titicut Follies (1967) #atozchallenge


This is my entry for “T” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “T” documentaries I’ve reviewed are 13th, Tower, and Trekkies.

Title: Titicut Follies
Release Date: October 3, 1967
Director: Frederick Wiseman
Production Company: Zipporah Films, Inc.
Summary/Review:

This is a hard movie to watch and its even harder to believe it exists.  Frederick Wiseman filmed his first verite-style documentary with a single-camera and only existing light sources over 29-days at the Bridgewater State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.  Bridgewater  State is far more prison than hospital and Wiseman documents how the patients are frequently stripped of clothing and left in bare rooms (reportedly as a cost-saving measure).  Guards mock and taunt patients. In a particularly grueling sequence, we see the prison staff rather indifferently force feed a patient.  The same patient died later on and images of his body being prepared for burial are intercut with the force feeding segment.

Not surprisingly, Massachusetts banned this movie and it was not made viewable by the general public until the 1990s.  The argument that it violates the patients’ privacy has its merits, but more like it was a cover your ass measure to hide the cruel treatment at Bridgewater State. In the decades after this movie was filmed there were cases of wrongful death as well people being held at Bridgewater past the end of their sentences, and some people sent there who never should’ve been there at all.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

This film documents another instance of how the word “criminal” can be used to justify the cruellest treatment of human beings.  A psychiatrist frequently appears in the film, but he seems only interested in agitating the prisoners and often he speaks nonsense.  The point is made that if you weren’t insane when you arrived at Bridgewater State, it is the type of place that would drive one to insanity.  Whatever your thoughts on crime and punishment, I hope you can agree that the cruel treatment documented in this film doesn’t do anyone any good.  I’m certain that even though this movie is 50 years old that there are prisons and “hospitals” that still function like this in the United States, and we need to work past incarceration and towards transformative justice and treatment.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

“Like” may not be the right word in regards to this documentary, but if you feel moved to do something to help the incarcerated, I believe the Prison Book Program is an excellent cause to support.

Source: Kanopy

Rating: ****


2019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films, Part II

A: Amy
B: Being Elmo
C: Central Park Five
D: Dear Mr. Watterson
E: The Endless Summer
F: F for Fake
G: Grey Gardens
H: High School
I: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice
J: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
K: Kon-Tiki
L: The Last Waltz
M: Man With a Movie Camera
N: Nanook of the North
O: Obit.
P: Pelotero
Q: Quest: A Portrait of an American Family
R: Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan
S: Soundtrack for a Revolution

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.

Massachusetts & Me: Two Decades Together


20 years ago today I drove a rental truck down the narrow streets of Winter Hill in Somerville and officially became a resident of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Nine years later almost to the day, I moved to Boston proper in my present home in Jamaica Plain.  20 years is by far the most time I’ve resided in any state (compared with 15 years in Connecticut, 7 years in Virginia, and 2 years in New Jersey), and close to half of my life.

Living in Massachusetts this long means making many friends, some of whom have moved on to other states, and then meeting new, interesting people.  I’ve developed annual traditions, found favorite restaurants (sadly, many of which have closed), gone to tons of concerts and sporting events, visited museums and historic sites, participated in protests and celebrations, and settled into comfortable routines.  And yet there’s so much more to see and do and explore.

It’s all gone by so quickly, so let’s look back at some of the highlights of my 20 years in the Bay State:

1998-2000 – I work sundry temp jobs at GTE, Genzyme, and MIT, and also spend some time unemployed. FUN!

1999-present – began commuting around Boston & environs by bicycle, and while I don’t ride nearly as much as I used to, it’s still a great way to get around the city.

1999 & 2000 – Participated in the Boston –> New York AIDSRide

1999-2006 – Not really in Massachusetts, but living in day trip distance of New Hampshire’s White Mountains meant I could do a lot of hikes of 4000 foot peaks.

2000 – Started working at a library, where I’m still working 3 job changes, 7 offices, and 12 supervisors later.

2000 – Begin leading historical walking tours as a guide for Boston By Foot.

2001-2013 – Participate in a wonderful church community at the Paulist Center in downtown Boston.

2002-2004 – Studied for my Masters in Library and Information Science at the Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science.

2004 – Witnessed the Red Sox win their first World Series in 86 years.

2005 – Married Susan!

2007 – Saw the Red Sox win the World Series again.

2007 – Peter Born!

2008 – Spend a couple of weeks suffering from crippling sciatica and missing work. :(

2009 – I performed in the annual Christmas Revels show.  I even sang a solo!

2010-2011 – I write and lead a new tour for Boston By Foot for the Avenue of the Arts.

2011 – Kay Born!

2011-2012 – I create and lead another Boston By Foot Tour in Somerville’s Davis Square.

2012 – 2013 – Sang in a family chorus in JP.

2012-present – Our kids attend a wonderful Boston Public School and we get to meet lots of cool teachers, kids, and parents (and become public education activists).

2013 – sang as part of a 50-voice choir in Somerville Theatre bringing the music of Beck to life with burlesque dancers.

2013 – Horrified by the Boston Marathon bombing but touched by the many people who helped save lives and the spirit of the community in the ensuing days.

2013-present – Our kids play in the wonderful Regan Youth League

2013-present – become active in another fantastic church community closer to home, Hope Central.

2013 – Watched the Red Sox win yet another World Series, this time with a 5-year-old superfan

2014-2015 – I write and lead yet another new tour for Boston By Foot of Cambridge Common

2015 – Four consecutive blizzards in a matter of weeks bury Boston in a 108″ of snow.

2017-2018 – Yet again, I’m involved in creating a new tour for Boston By Foot, this time of the SoWa District.

Double Dose of Walking Tours: Boston’s South End and SoWa District


Are you interested in exploring two different parts of Boston’s historic South End neighborhood?  If yes, come out and take two Boston By Foot walking tours I will be leading.

First, tomorrow night, Thursday, September 20, 6 pm-7:30 pm, the South End tour leaves from the plaza opposite the Back Bay MBTA Station on Dartmouth Street.

Next, there are two opportunities to explore SoWa: South of Washington on Sunday, September 23, 2018 (a members preview tour – you can become member online or in person) and Sunday, September 30, 2018. Both tours start at 2 pm from Broadway Station on the Red Line.

Tickets are $15/person ($5 for BBF members) and can be purchased online or in person before the tour begins on Sunday.