Monthly Archives: March 2014

Friday Evening Videos: “Thing Called Love”

in the summer of 1989, which seems a lot nearer in my mind than it really ought to, I took my then-girlfriend to see the Steve Miller Band at a place called ParkWest. She didn’t care much for the classic-rock stuff I’ve always loved, but Steve Miller was a particular favorite of mine at the time — like a lot of dorky young guys with delusions of coolness, I’d adopted “The Joker” as my personal theme song — and she indulged me.

ParkWest was located in the mountains above Salt Lake, only a couple miles outside Park City. Its main function was as a ski resort, but for years it hosted outdoor concerts during the summer months. It was a beautiful setting for live music, if a little on the rustic side. As I recall, there was no permanent seating, only grass that rose up a steep hillside with the stage positioned at the bottom. All shows were general admission, and if you wanted to be at all close to the stage, you had to show up early in the day and wait until the gates opened. Most people brought picnic lunches and a party attitude to pass the time. The worst aspect of the place was the parking — there really wasn’t much, at least nothing formal, just empty fields accessible by a two-lane road that led back to the main highway. If you did arrive early for the show, you’d find yourself waiting around again after the show for the traffic jam down below to clear out, a process that sometimes took hours. And of course, being outdoors, the venue was susceptible to the weather… something my girl and I learned in a pretty spectacular fashion the night of the Steve Miller show.

Miller had only been on a stage a short time — it seems like he’d only played three or four songs — when heavy, slate-colored clouds started boiling up over the mountainside behind us. When the wind started gusting high enough to set the hanging light rigs swaying, Steve announced that he and the band were going to go backstage for a few minutes and wait for things to blow over. Except they didn’t blow over. A few minutes later, a roadie rushed up to the microphone and said something along the lines of, “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re very sorry but the Weather Service has just announced a major lightning storm is about to hit. The show is cancelled. Be safe going home.” And just to emphasize the point, a tremendous crack of thunder split the air as he finished speaking.

My girl and I hadn’t even made it out of the fenced-in seating area when the first drops of rain started to pelt down. And then it was like someone opened a sluice gate. We were soaked to the skin by the time we reached my car, a VW Rabbit with a sunroof that served as my commuter special. Between the blinding rain and the parking lots rapidly transforming into muddy bogs, the traffic jam was worse than usual, and it soon became obvious we weren’t going anywhere for some time. So we passed the time as passionate teenagers have from time immemorial, steaming up the windows to the crackling music of a distant radio station and the drumming of rain on the car’s roof, shivering from both the cold and our own raging hormones, the outside world occasionally glaring white as lightning stitched across the sky…

The Steve Miller portion of the evening may have been something of a bust, but I certainly got a fond memory out of the evening. And I also discovered a new musical artist that I would soon become obsessed with. The opening act that night was a woman named Bonnie Raitt.

I was dimly aware of Bonnie before that night — I’d heard the name at least — but I really didn’t know much about her, and neither, I’d dare say, did many other people. She’d been around a long time at that point, chasing after the brass ring but never quite catching it, never quite breaking through to mainstream popularity. What I saw in her hour-long set prior to Miller’s, though, told me I wanted to know more. Her music seemed curiously timeless to me, as if it had just always been there waiting for me, and I liked how it resisted categorization. Rock, certainly, but heavily infused with blues and country… it was a sort of music I found myself gravitating more and more toward in my college years, music that was stripped down, authentic and human. It was music that suggested smoky juke-joints and long-neck beers, a mileau that was at once familiar and comfortable even though I’d never really experienced anything like that, like the sprung and duct-taped seat-back of a booth in a roadside diner. I found Bonnie Raitt’s music and the atmosphere it conjured deeply seductive… and Bonnie herself was incredibly sexy, a mature woman who knew her way around the world, leaning way back and smiling a playful smile as the bottle on her fingers slid across the strings of her guitar… all of which is nicely captured in tonight’s video selection. Which, for the record, I had not seen yet when Bonnie’s music filled my head with all those images:

“Thing Called Love” was first written and recorded by John Hiatt two years earlier, in 1987. Bonnie’s version appeared on her tenth album, Nick of Time — the album that would finally bring her the attention and acclaim she’d worked so long to find, as well as three Grammy Awards. A couple days ago, I saw on the Ultimate Classic Rock blog that Nick of Time was released this month 25 years ago. Twenty-five years. Incredible. As I said, ’89 doesn’t seem so far away to me.

In case you’re wondering, yes, that is the actor Dennis Quaid giving Bonnie the eye in the video. If I remember my trivia, they were an item for a while.

As for that girl I took to the concert, our relationship was over by the time Bonnie accepted her Grammys in April of 1990. ParkWest underwent a number of ownership and name changes — it was called Wolf Mountain for a time, and is currently known (rather unimaginatively, in my opinion) as The Canyons. I can’t remember when they stopped hosting concerts up there, but it’s been a very long time… decades, I believe. I can’t recall the last show I saw up there… but man, I still remember the Bonnie Raitt/Steve Miller show, the night of that huge rainstorm.


Star Wars Played on the Mighty Wurlitzer!

I’ve written before about one of Salt Lake City’s hidden treasures, a nifty little establishment called The Organ Loft, which is a monument to one man’s lifelong fascination with an outmoded technology:

So the story goes, Lawrence Bray fell in love with the sound of the pipe organs that once provided musical accompaniment for many old-time silent-movie theaters and, beginning in the late 1940s, he started acquiring components of these old organs as they were scrapped out of Salt Lake moviehouses. He assembled them in his uncle’s chicken coop, adding onto the building several times over the years as his instrument grew. Today, that much-enlarged (and improved) chicken coop is The Organ Loft. Owned and operated by Lawrence Bray’s nephew, Larry, it is one of the few venues in this country, and probably in the whole world, where you can see a silent movie in something close to the way our great-grandparents must’ve experienced it.

Thanks to Anne’s and my long patronage of the Loft, I’ve developed quite an appreciation for these theater organs myself. They’re amazingly complex instruments, capable of generating sound effects and taking the place of an entire orchestra. But the sound they produce is decidedly old-fashioned. When you hear one, you immediately think of a more buttoned-down age, when automobiles had crank-starters and men always wore hats. One consequence of that effect is that more modern, familiar pieces of music become unexpectedly novel when played on a theater organ. Case in point: the Main Title from the Star Wars Symphonic Suite, played on an absolutely beautiful Wurlitzer at the Sanfilippo Foundation‘s “Place de la Musique” in Barrington, IL. Give this a listen and tell me it doesn’t make you smile to imagine my favorite movie as it might have looked in hand-cranked sepia tone, with no spoken dialogue and inter-title cards explaining what’s going on:

Incidentally, Anne and I were lucky enough to see the organist, Jelani Eddington, in person at The Organ Loft a number of years ago. He’s an incredibly talented young man, who was honored by the American Theatre Organ Society when they named him the 2001 Theatre Organist of the Year. I can’t remember what film he accompanied when we saw him, though. I love middle age…

Hat tip to our colleague Jaquandor, who first posted this video over on Facebook…


Leonard’s Turn


I can’t let this long and hectic day end without attending to one final duty, albeit a pleasurable one, and that’s wishing the unsurpassable Leonard Nimoy a very happy 83rd birthday. (He is unsurpassed, in my opinion, despite a new generation thinking his signature character — the logical Mr. Spock — now belongs to a kid named Zachary Quinto. Despite all the fuss people have made of Quinto’s performance as in the Abrams-Trek movies, I can’t see that he’s doing anything more than an impression of Nimoy’s Spock. And Chevy Chase did that much in that old SNL sketch some 40 years ago!)

Sadly, Leonard is not quite as hale and hearty as his castmate, Bill Shatner. “Grandpa,” as Nimoy has taken to calling himself on Twitter, has lately been seen in public toting around an oxygen tank, the consequence of a lifetime of smoking. It saddens me to think of time and unhealthy choices catching up with my childhood heroes, and I sincerely hope he’s not in too much discomfort…

(I also hope there’s a chance he might show up at the Salt Lake Comic Con FanX convention next month, as I suspect I may be running out of chances to meet him…)


Ever Have One of Those Days?

angry-tuskenI seem to be extra surly today, owing to too much work for the allotted number of hours in my day, and a threatening headache that’s lurking just on the fringes of my perception. Apologies to anyone who’s found out the hard way.


Is It That Time Again? Already?


It’s become kind of a silly little tradition — admittedly observed somewhat sporadically — for me to honor the birthdays of two of the greatest pop-cultural icons of my generation who, by a strange coincidence, were born within days of one another. I’m referring of course to the actors William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, best known even after all these years as Captain James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock on the original Star Trek series… shipmates, colleagues, and, most of all, friends, as these men apparently are in real life as well.

Shatner preceded Nimoy into the world by just a few days, and today he is 83 years old. Eighty-three! So stop whatever you’re doing, pour yourself a cordial glass of Saurian brandy (the captain’s real favorite, before somebody dreamed up that silly Romulan ale stuff for the movies!), and raise a toast to the One True Kirk…

Happy birthday, Bill!


Superman’s-Eye View

One of the reasons why the character of Superman has endured for 75 years, in my humble opinion, is that he embodies a huge dose of wish fulfillment. All superheroes do, of course, but the Last Son of Krypton is a special case, because he was the first of these characters, and probably remains the most well-known outside the hardcore comic-book community, even with all the superhero movies of recent years. He’s also a special case, I believe, because his defining powers — flight, strength, speed, and invulnerability — are both the most basic and the most universally desired extraordinary abilities that human beings fantasize about having. Who hasn’t imagined being able to stop a bullet or lift a car? Or fly, the ability we all enjoy in our sleeping dreams and envy the birds? Don’t we all want to know what it would be like to fly like Superman?

Well, there’s a very fun little viral video burning up the InterWebs today that will give you a taste of precisely that. The premise of this mini-epic is simple: Supes has gotten hold of a GoPro, one of those tiny, wearable,  high-definition video cameras that have taken the extreme sports world by storm in recent years, and is recording his daily activities. I have a couple of little quibbles with the video (don’t I always?): I don’t care for the song that’s been laid over the action, and I prefer the Chris Reeve style of magical, weightless take-offs and landings over crater-generating ka-booms like we see in Man of Steel… but hey, at least this Kal-El is wearing his traditional, brightly colored outfit instead of that drab wetsuit-looking thingie…

Oh, and for the record, I love the idea of Superman doing something like this… he may be god-like, but he’s still, in his way, one of us… and that too is a big part of his appeal…


The Alternate History of Buddy Holly


You probably wouldn’t guess this from my constant prattle about Rick Springfield and all things 1980s, but I’m a big fan of rock and roll’s early period, i.e., the decade between the genre’s emergence in 1954 with “Rock Around the Clock” up until the Beatles arrived in America in ’64 and kicked off the British Invasion. In particular, I enjoy the music of the late, great Buddy Holly.

I think it’s a real shame that Holly is probably better remembered these days for his untimely death in a plane crash — which also took the lives of two other musicians, J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and Ritchie Valens, along with their pilot, Roger Peterson — than for his music. There was so much more to him than his misfortune of becoming one of rock’s very first fallen heroes. In only a year and a half between 1957 and that fatal February day in 1959, Holly charted 12 singles (both as a solo act and with his band, the Crickets), and recorded many, many more, quite a few of which became posthumous classics. That’s an almost astounding level of output for such a short timeframe. In addition, he wrote much of his own material, which was very unusual for that period (Elvis, for example, never wrote any of his own stuff). And Holly was involved in producing his own music, too (another rarity for the ’50s), and was fooling around with ahead-of-their-time methods such as multi-track recording, which wouldn’t really attain fruition until The Beatles’ landmark Sgt. Pepper album. He was an impressive talent, and fans like me have long wondered where he might have gone had he lived beyond the tender age of 22.

So naturally I couldn’t resist the challenge posed by science-fiction writer David Gerrold on his Facebook page yesterday:

Assume you have access to alternate timelines. (The divergences begin anywhere after the mid fifties.) In those alternate timelines Heinlein wrote different books, the Beatles recorded different albums, Disney made different movies.


What are some of the titles of alternate Heinlein books, Beatles albums, and other great works you might find in alternate timelines? What if Buddy Holly had lived? What other artists’ albums or books or movies would you go looking for?

Emphasis mine, as that was the segment that caught my eye. Given my enthusiasm for Buddy, I couldn’t resist replying to that. Originally my intention was just to dash off one or two smart-alecky lines and call it good, but once I started in, the words really started rolling and, well, I ended up with something I’m kind of proud of… just for fun, here’s my alternate history of the life and career of Charles Hardin Holley (slightly revised from the off-the-cuff Facebook version):

After miraculously surviving the plane crash that killed several others, Buddy Holly largely disappeared from public view for an eight-year period of self-reflection, only to re-emerge for a brief on-stage appearance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. Backed by the Rolling Stones (long-time fans of Buddy’s), he performed “Peggy Sue” and a new composition dedicated to his late friends, Ritchie Valens and JP Richardson.


Stunned by the overwhelmingly positive reception, he immediately set to work on an album of new material that was widely hailed as a masterful updating of his signature sound. Holly would become one of rock music’s most inventive artists, continually evolving and experimenting. His next project, a collaboration with Ray Charles and other black artists from the world of soul and gospel music, fulfilled his longtime dream of bridging the race gap through music.


Following that, his album of classic pop standards, “All of Me,” liberated him from the rock genre and enabled him to record pretty much anything he wanted.


In the 1970s, he enjoyed a successful run at the Las Vegas Hilton, as well as occasional appearances on television game shows and series such as “The Love Boat” and “Fantasy Island.” The arrival of MTV made Holly nervous — in his words, “Who’d want to look at an old guy in nerdy glasses like me?” — but he became something of a cult phenomenon in the network’s early days. Later in the ’80s, Holly recorded “The Travelin’ Wilburys, Vol 5” with his contemporary Roy Orbison and, with Bruce Springsteen and Willie Nelson, co-wrote a rock opera exploring the plight of the American farmer. His on-stage reunion with The Crickets at Live Aid was one of the highlights of that event.


By the 1990s, when most of his contemporaries were long since retired, Holly was still going strong, writing new music that would be recorded by acts as varied as Madonna, Hootie and the Blowfish, and Sting. As of this writing, Holly, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Lee Lewis are headlining one of the most lucrative concert tours of all time…


Wouldn’t that have been something?


The Year of the Beard

Isn’t this just like me? Only last night I was waxing pretentious about writing more substantive pieces and saving the silly stuff for Facebook, so what do I decide to post as my very next entry? A video of a ukulele-playing gamine extolling the awesomeness of beards.

What can I say? As a proud member of the Clan of the Beard for over 25 years now (save that one terrible, ego-crushing week back around 1995 or thereabouts, when I thought I’d “try something new,” like a colossal dumb ass), and as someone who has frequently had to defend my hirsuteness as a perfectly acceptable fashion choice in a highly conservative culture that frowns on too much individual expression (that would be Utah, kids), I can’t help but support the cause whenever I see an opportunity. So, in that spirit, allow me to present to you Molly Lewis and… “The Year of the Beard.” (Keep your eyes peeled for appearances by fellow beardites John Scalzi and Wil Wheaton, from whom I ganked this clip in the first place… )


Ten Years of Blogging… More or Less

Hey, kids. Sorry to be such a tease, making a big announcement that I’m back in business and then leaving you hanging for several weeks. Evidently it’s going to take me a while to get back into the swing of this blogging thing.

On a somewhat related note, I had hoped to get things put back together around here in time to begin posting new content again by February 14th. That was the tenth anniversary of my very first post, you see, and I liked the idea of my re-entry into the world of blogging taking place on that momentous date. Alas, as you may have noticed, I missed the deadline. I’m just not very good with those things. As the late, great Douglas Adams once quipped, “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.”

Still… ten years. Can you believe that? Well, ten years, more or less. There is that little matter of the eight-month vacation I’ve just concluded. But considering that the break wasn’t my idea, I’m willing to call it an even decade if you are. And a decade spent on the same continuous project really demands to be acknowledged, whether you get around to doing it on the proper date or not.

Looking back at a decade of Simple Tricks and Nonsense, I’m painfully aware of its shortcomings. I’ve never achieved the same level as John Scalzi or James Lileks — both of whom were very much my blogging role models in the early days — in terms of either quantity or, to be honest, quality. Those guys have a knack for really saying something in nearly everything they post, and they post a lot. Especially Lileks, whose Daily Bleat comprises 1,000 or more words per day. My own meager output doesn’t begin to compare, even with my occasional “tl;dr” pieces. (That’s “too long, didn’t read,” if you’re not hip to the lingo.)

Of course, those guys have the advantage of blogging in a semi-professional capacity, i.e., their blogs can be considered a facet of their careers (especially in the case of Scalzi, who got his big break as a novelist because of his blog, and who now uses his online presence to promote his fiction). That means they have time to devote to their blogs, and they can easily justify taking that time to do things the way they ought to be done. I, on the other hand, am merely a hobbyist, as much as I wish I could say otherwise, and I have to fit this thing in whenever I can, in between the obligations that come with working for The Man. And as I’m sure my Loyal Readers are aware (based on all my grumbling about it), fitting Simple Tricks into my day has become considerably more difficult in recent years. (It doesn’t help that it takes me so damn long these days to finish whatever I’m writing. I suspect Scalzi and Lileks are pretty fast at putting their thoughts together in some kind of coherent and entertaining fashion, whereas I agonize over every… bloody… word. Years of tapping my abilities for the day job have taken some of the wind from my sails. That may sound melodramatic, but it has been my experience.)

If you’re interested in the numbers, I’ve published 2,385 entries in my decade of blogging. And I suppose that’s not too bad, considering I initially had no idea what the hell I was going to do with this thing, if I was going to find anything to say or anyone who would want to read it, or even whether I’d stick with it beyond the first few days or weeks. Some of those entries are even pretty good, if I do say so myself. A few, anyhow. There have been a lot of dumb time-wasters too. But one thing I noticed as I was working my way back through the archives during my recent troubleshooting: many of the silly activities that used to be such a big part of blogging — quizzes to determine what sort of pasta you are, for example — seem to have migrated over to Facebook, as has much of the social aspect of this medium. (Of course, in my particular case, it hasn’t helped that the commenting feature was out of action for so very long).  Linking to articles and items of interest have gone there too, or to Tumblr. In fact, in many ways, blogs seem to have become passe’, that there are other, more efficient ways of doing what they used to be primarily used for. Many of the folks I used to read and interact with have curtailed their blogging activities, or gotten offline altogether. And there has been a lot of chatter lately to the effect that blogging is over, that people no longer have the interest or attention span to read longer pieces (reference the tl;dr slang I mentioned above).  It almost seems like there’s little point in starting it up again.

And yet, here I am. Why?

Partly it’s just a habit. Simple Tricks has been part of my identity and my leisure life for a very long time. Being without it for so long was… weird. But also, to be honest, I like writing and reading longer pieces in which I can really spread my wings and tell a story, or think about an idea that’s bothering me. Facebook and Twitter have their place, and I enjoy them greatly for what they are, but they don’t encourage anything of any real substance like the best blog writing. Now, whether or not anybody out there still likes reading these longer pieces… well, I guess I’ll find out. Ideally, I’d like to keep doing this for another 10 years… and I’d like to keep striving toward the goal I feel like I’ve rarely attained, to actually say something with this thing. Or rather, to do it more consistently than I have previously.

I’m thinking I may post less frequently than I did before, and I hope that’s all right with my Loyal Readers. That’s just the reality of the demands on my time these days. But hopefully you’ll be getting something a little more worth your time in return. As for what I plan to post about… well, in some ways it feels like I really am starting all over again. I’m not sure what I’ll be doing in this reborn Simple Tricks and Nonsense. I would still like to take a stab at that recurring feature I suggested so long ago, i.e., reviewing the entire oeuvre of my main man, Rick Springfield. And I have a couple of other ideas for regular features, too. But really I guess I need to do what I did way back in 2004, which was to just jump in with both feet and see what happens…