Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Being for the benefit of...

...benefits. I just wrote about two such for Flavorpill, The Second City That Never Sleeps: Letters to Santa and the Old Town School of Folk Music's 50th Anniversary. The two events have much in common, as each is (i) a fundraiser for, inter alia, kids (ii) thrown by a local arts institution (iii) this week (iv) featuring Robbie Fulks, Jeff Tweedy, and Jon Langford.

The Fab Four reference in the above heading reminds me of Frisbie, the Beatlesy power-popsmiths who put a button on their monthlong Schubas residency tonight. They finished with a flourish, cranking out the catchy melodies and gorgeous harmonies from their new record. As good as the originals were, Frisbie's bracing, authoritative cover of "Fool in the Rain" kicked ass generally and mine specifically.

It has been a week of peas in pods. First I met a woman at a party on Friday who was born the same day I was, a cool and unexpected moment. Then my two writeups for Flavorpill appeared, looking kind of exactly alike if you squint. And finally I go see Frisbie tonight, and what with guitarist Liam Davis, opening act Howie Statland, and various members of the crowd including yours truly, it was a de facto North Shore Country Day School reunion.

As Jim Anchower once said: "Wheels within wheels, man."

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Passing thought

...about Blogger, the Google-owned and -provided software that I use to maintain this blog.

Due to my abiding love for you, my literally tens of readers, Ben Bass and Beyond accepts and displays your comments. When there's a total of one comment to a blog entry, Blogger says there's "1 comments."

"One comments?" A $202 billion market cap and none of your hundreds of handpicked tech geek all-stars can spare five minutes to write a few lines of code so Blogger says the word "comment" when there's only one comment? Despite its literary aspirations (by which I may only mean its general inclination to avoid typos and grammatical errors), my blog sounds like Borat telling how he "met the David Lettermans in the New York Cities."

I mean, I appreciate the free blog software (not to mention the blog hosting, the so-good-it's-a-verb Google search, the also massively good Gmail, Google Reader, Google Text, Google Maps, Google Earth, Google Groups, Google Docs, YouTube, and the other Google products I haven't used yet but may someday), but come on. Sergey. Larry. I'm just saying.

Monday, November 19, 2007

In honor of my late grandfather...

...some of his puns: "Are you Hungary?" "Yes, Siam, Iran here." "Then Russia to the table and I'll Fiji." "Put the Greece in Japan and the Turkey on the China." "Sweden my coffee and Denmark my bill." "You can write a Czech, that's Finn with me." "I don't like your front door, is there a Norway out?"

I'm reminded of that old chestnut by my latest Flavorpill writeup, found here. If you're looking for something to do this weekend, and have no aversion to gratuitous kitsch, you could do worse.

Editor's note: a fuller version of the international pun routine is found here.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Quote Week, Day 5

Another Brit sounds off: the wisdom of Oscar Wilde.

"It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious."

"Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future."

"I am not young enough to know everything."

"As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular."

"Bigamy is having one wife too many. Monogamy is the same."

"Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes."

"Life is never fair, and perhaps it is a good thing for most of us that it is not."

"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go."

"Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike."

And a fitting conclusion for Quote Week: "
Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit."

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Quote Week, Day 4

Breaking it down with Winston Churchill.

"The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."

"A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on."

"The power of man has grown in every sphere, except over himself."

"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."

"There is no such thing as public opinion. There is only published opinion."

"Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put."

"I am easily satisfied with the very best."

"A prisoner of war is a man who tries to kill you and fails, and then asks you not to kill him."

"However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results."

"Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."

"Everyone has his day and some days last longer than others."

"History is written by the victors." ... and its less famous corollary, "History will be kind to me for I intend to write it."

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Quote Week, Day 3

"It wasn't until I saw Rickey that I understood what baseball was about. Rickey Henderson is a run, man. That's it. When you see Rickey Henderson, I don't care when, the score's already 1-0. If he's with you, that's great. If he's not, you won't like it."
—Oakland Athletics teammate Mitchell Page

"The Rickey Rally—a walk, two stolen bases and a sacrifice fly—was purist baseball at its best."
—Sportswriter Allen St. John

"I did a lot of study and I found that it's impossible to throw Rickey Henderson out. I started using stopwatches and everything. I found it was impossible to throw some other guys out also. They can go from first to second in 2.9 seconds, and no pitcher-catcher combination in baseball could throw from here to there to tag second in 2.9 seconds, it was always 3, 3.1, 3.2. So actually, the runner that can make the continuous, regular move like Rickey's can't be thrown out and he's proven it."
—Baseball scout Charlie Metro

Ed.: Nicknamed "the Man of Steal," Henderson is baseball's all-time stolen base king. His 1406 career steals are 50% more than the 938 of the all-time runner-up, Lou Brock. Henderson led the American League in steals 13 times, including every year from 1980 to 1991 except his injury-shortened 1987 season. He stole 100 bases in 1980, his first full big-league season, and an unbelievable 130 bases in 1982. There were nine entire teams that stole fewer than 130 bases that year.

"This is Rickey, calling on behalf of Rickey. Rickey wants to play baseball."
—Henderson, leaving a voicemail message for San Diego Padres general manager Kevin Towers

"Just because I believed in what I was doing on the field, and dedicated myself to playing the game, does that mean I'm cocky? Does that mean I'm arrogant? People who played against me called me cocky, but my teammates didn't. I brought attention, fear. I wanted to beat you in the worst way. If that made me cocky, so be it."
—Henderson, on his reputation

"Which one of you bad boys got some hits in you?"
—Henderson, to his bats

"I hit it out, but it didn't go out."
—Henderson, on why he broke into a home run trot on a long fly ball that bounced off the outfield wall in a 2001 game; he ended up on first base

"Scoring the most runs in major league history. You have to score to win."
—Henderson, on his greatest accomplishment

Ed.: He's right. Although the runs-scored statistic gets less attention than the home run (any given run scored being less dramatic and telegenic than any given home run), and lacks the home run's cultural resonance, in pure baseball terms it is more crucial to the success of a player's team and therefore more important.

The home run is one-dimensional, a function of a player's power, not his overall game. There is only one way to hit a HR, and it in turn is only one way to score a run. There are, however, numerous ways to score runs, each of which helps win a game, and Henderson excelled at all of them (and could also hit home runs). He averaged over 100 runs scored per year for his entire career.

Scoring more runs than anyone else in baseball history is a rare feat, made possible by the varied aspects of Henderson's greatness: his iconic base-stealing; his 2190 career walks, which eclipsed Babe Ruth's all-time record (since passed by Barry Bonds); his 3000+ hits, in themselves a ticket to the Hall of Fame; his career .401 on-base percentage; his power at the plate with 297 home runs, good for a spot in the all-time top 100 at the time he stopped playing, and a record 81 HR to lead off a game; and his longevity and fitness, with 3081 games played (fourth all-time). He also drove in 1115 runs himself, remarkable for a career leadoff hitter.

Henderson broke Ty Cobb's career mark en route to the all-time record of 2295 runs scored. Bonds, third all-time with 2227, could surpass Henderson in 2008. Babe Ruth and Henry Aaron, the last two players Bonds passed on the career home run ladder, are tied for fourth at 2174 runs scored. With 1501 runs already scored at age 32, Alex Rodríguez could have the last word among today's players.

With all that said, "Baseball isn't statistics, it's Joe DiMaggio rounding second base."
—Jimmy Breslin

The last word on a diamond gem: "Without exaggerating one inch, you could find fifty Hall of Famers who, all taken together, don't own as many records, and as many important records, as Rickey Henderson." Is Henderson a Hall of Famer? "If you could split him in two, you'd have two Hall of Famers."
—Baseball statistician Bill James

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Quote Week, Day 2

"Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."

—Benjamin Franklin, An Historical Review of the Constitution and Government of Pennsylvania (1759)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Quote Week, Day 1

''Under capitalism man exploits man. And under communism it is just the reverse.''

—John Kenneth Galbraith, A Life In Our Times: Memoirs (1981)

Friday, November 9, 2007

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Illinois smoking ban

Illinois' stringent statewide ban on smoking in public places takes effect January 1, 2008.

Smokers, barkeeps, and restaurateurs are up in arms, as they were when the Chicago City Council passed such an ordinance in 2005.

They need not worry. When I was a kid, people eventually got over the passage of a similarly controversial law called No Punching Anyone You Want in the Face.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Suggested listening

Thanks to this man for recording a Ben Bass and Beyond soundtrack. The second volume, "Ben and," drops next week.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Arts, updated

1. Live music, tonight. Beloved local power-popsters Frisbie are the November artist in residence at Schubas' popular "Performance Space" series, performing there every Monday in November. Their stint kicks off tonight; opening acts vary. My Flavorpill writeup is here. You can't miss with a prodigiously talented band in a great room, for less than the price of a ticket to Good Luck Chuck.

2. Live music, this week. Against significant odds, Curt and Cris Kirkwood are back in fighting shape and the Meat Puppets are on tour with a new album under their belts. America's answer to the Kinks (i.e., a tuneful rock 'n' roller-coaster led by embattled brothers), the Pups have outwrestled their demons for the time being and play the Double Door this Wednesday and Thursday. My Flavorpill writeup is here.

3. Live music, coming weeks. Schubas' concert calendar includes two other upcoming shows of note. The Spares bring their tasteful Americana sound on Wednesday, November 28, and rising locals Canasta deliver the melodic chamber pop on Friday, December 14. You would enjoy attending these performances if you are into things that are good.

4. New Yorker Festival video. The New Yorker magazine has posted more event video from the 2007 New Yorker Festival. Among events previously discussed in this space, David Denby's interview with Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen is here, David Belle's parkour demonstration and conversation with Alec Wilkinson are here, and documentary filmmaker Errol Morris and writer Philip Gourevitch's discussion about Abu Ghraib is here. Other video worth checking out, including conversations with or between Steve Martin, Sigur Rós, Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis, Orhan Pamuk, and Seymour Hersh, is here.

5. Chicago Humanities Festival. The 2007 Chicago Humanities Festival is in full swing. But why are you trying to learn about it on my blog? There's a whole website about it, found here. That's the site you should be looking at, not this one. You need to reëvaluate your life. Seriously.

6. "The devil is 6."

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Sound of Young America

...is a coolly named NPR show "about things that are awesome," heard in various cities other than this one. With a curious host, hip guests in the creative arts (think WFMU), and a laid-back vibe, it's Fresh Air for the Facebook generation. Chicagoans can catch it via podcast.

The show rolled into town last night to record an episode at The Second City's ETC stage. Three local comedy troupes represented Chicago: Schadenfreude, who interrupted the show intro with a visit from Ald. Ed Bus (D-53rd); Team Submarine, a promising, baby-faced Scharpling and Wurster-style two-man attack; and Second City's National Touring Company, who roasted a few chestnuts including a Scott Adsit/Adam McKay classic. Hannibal Buress, who just won the Lakeshore Theater's Funniest Person in Chicago contest, handled standup duties with his usual soft-spoken command.

The main feature was an interview with iconoclastic recording engineer Steve Albini, knob-twiddler to rock groups like Nirvana, Pixies, PJ Harvey, Breeders, Page & Plant, Jesus Lizard, Low, and Cheap Trick. His strong opinions and ascetic sensibility are familiar to anyone who's followed his running commentary on the music industry over the past twenty years. A longtime lightning rod on the local and national music scenes, Albini also provided grist for countless barroom debates by engaging inhighly public squabbles with the likes of former Chicago Reader music critic Bill Wyman (no, not that Bill Wyman).

Albini's aesthetic is founded on an appealing modesty about the role of the recording engineer. As he recently posted in an online forum: "I don't really think the recording is that important to a great record. Great records would be great under almost any circumstances. Mediocre records that might otherwise have been unlistenable, well, yeah, I guess it matters then. An excellent recording can make a crappy record into one that is merely unremarkable. What kind of accomplishment is that?"

Albini is widely admired for his egalitarian ethic. Where many people, having midwifed the likes of Nirvana's In Utero, would coast on their big name and roster of famous clients, working infrequently and charging dearly, Albini chooses to make records nonstop for an affordable $650 day rate. As a result, he's engineered literally thousands of records for generally obscure bands, all of whom appreciate it.

In his interview, Albini was thought-provoking and funny, less acerbic than the rep that precedes him but thrilled at the death rattle of the sclerotic music industry he's long disdained. He may have mellowed just a little as he enters his dotage, but there's still fire underneath the placid surface.

Did I attend the event dressed as an elf? I did. Imagine my surprise to learn that it also happened to be Halloween.

Memo to WBEZ's Torey Malatia: How about adding The Sound of Young America to your lineup?