Monday, November 28, 2005

The Truth About De-Evolution

I work as a librarian at a public library in Baltimore. Sometimes librarians are asked questions that test the limits of human comprehension. This is one such encounter. The following is a verbatim account of a telephone query that a co-worker experienced firsthand and later recounted to me. If anyone out there is seriously considering a career as a public Librarian, be forewarned that one day you may have to answer questions like this.

Librarian: Hello? Could you tell me what you're looking for?

Patron: I need to know what instruments I can use to stop evolutionary processes.

Librarian: Um... OK[?]. What sort of evolutionary processes?

Patron: Animal diseases! The evolutionary processes cause disease and I need to know what equipment I need in order to stop it!

Librarian: Hmm.... well, we uh have books on animal health and books on evolution. Would those interest you?

Patron: Not really. All I need to know is what EQUIPment I need to stop this animal disease. They just won't respond to anything, you see. It causes psychiatric disease.

Librarian: [lying] I see. [/lying] Um... let me go get some books

Patron: OK! But don't take but 10 minutes!

[I go to shelves, hoping to find some info on home veterinary equipment that will satisfy this lunatic.]

Librarian: [hoping he's hung up the phone] Hello, sir?

Patron: Yes?


Librarian: I'm looking, but not finding anything here... I don't know that I can answer your question. I think the general recommendation is to leave uh..invasive care of animals to veterinarians... professional veterinarians. Maybe I just don't really understand what you're looking for. It might be best if you could look at the materials yourself. I can send some books to a branch for you.

Patron: OK.

Librarian: Where would you like me to send them?

Patron: My house.

Librarian: Um, we can only send books to private homes of people who are registered for this service with the Circulation Department. Are you registered?

Patron: I don't know, but I don't have a library card.

Librarian: OK, I'm not going to be able to send you books.

Patron: Listen, I JUST NEED TO KNOW WHAT EQUIPMENT I NEED TO STOP EVOLUTIONARY PROCESSES. It's as simple as that. Can you just print a couple of pages and send them to me?

Librarian: [desperate to get off the phone with him, this actual conversation has been going on for about 20 minutes] Um, Ok. Could you tell me the address?

Patron: Yes! It's 6847 Parsons Avenue, but keep in mind that might not be correct. I don't know whether it's in the city or county. Now, do you know the zip code there?

Librarian: Um, no.

Patron: Well, it might be 21217, but that might not be right. OK, now
information on equipment for stopping evolutionary processes and animal
disease, OK?

Librarian: [lying again] Sure sure. OK, have a good morning.

Patron: You, too.

Scientist shown stopping evolutionary process of feline

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Get Your Kicks on Dylan 66

Blame it on Robyn Hitchcock. Ever since I picked up Robyn Sings, his tribute to Bob Dylan in general and the Bard of Hibbing, Minnesota's legendary 1966 "Royal Albert Hall" concert in particular, I've been obsessing over vintage Dylan circa 1966. All week I've been reading his bestselling biography Chronicles, Vol. 1, watching Martin Scorcese's great PBS "American Masters" documentary No Direction Home, and listening to the original 1966 "Royal Albert Hall" Concert album (actually recorded at Free Trade Hall in Manchester, England - but with a bootleg so storied in legend, glossing over such petty concerns as geography seems rather fitting).

And I started musing...Was any pop musician cooler than Dylan in 1966?
  • Maybe Elvis in '56. (But Dylan would never have later joined the Army or gotten fat.)

  • Maybe The Beatles conquering America in 1964.(But the Beatles - at least John Lennon - always wanted to be Dylan, and without him there would have been no change in direction from cute to cool as evidenced in Rubber Soul; what, after all, is "Norwegian Wood" but a Dylan song wanna-be, or "I'm a Loser," for that matter? The Beatles were at the top of the game in 1966, but were cautiously looking over their shoulders to see what Dylan was doing. If Bob smoked pot, they had to try it. If he added country twangs to his repetoire, they had to answer with, I dunno, Ringo singing "Act Naturally."

  • Maybe Marc Bolan in 1972. (But Bob had the frizzed out fro hair and the suits way before T. Rexmania and - been there, done that - had already made the shift from folkie to Electric Warrior that Bolan was to replicate in his transition from Tyranosaurus Rex to T.Rex.)

But looking at Dylan on the 1966 UK Tour - playing in his green checked suit with his wiggy fro and Raybans and tab-collared polka dots shirts - I don't think so.

Maybe only the Dylan of 65 came close.

Get Your Jive On Dylan 65
This was the period when he first went electric on Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited and caused the big ruckus at the Newport Folk Festival that turned peacenik Pete Seegar almost violent (see Robert Shelton's description: "Dylan Goes Electric"). '65 was a dry run, in terms of attitude, fashion, and music for the climactic finale of 1966, when Dylan ruled the world. Besides going electric, he also went eclectic (having lost interest in the narrow, topical vision of the Folk/Protest Movement). It was the year when he first toured England to go head-to-head with their folk-rock troubadour, Donovan, and came out the clear victor. And it was the year he had his first No. 1 record ("Like a Rolling Stone" - OK, technically it only made it to No. 2 but it was behind the Beatles, who were untouchable immortals then, so it was virtually No.1 for a mere mortal!).

Taken together, 1965-1966 was a double A-side, a time capsule that provided the creme de la creme of the footage for the two great documentaries made about him - D.A. Pennebacker's cinema verite classic Don't Look Back (chronicling 1965's first UK Tour) and now Scorcese's No Direction Home. Pennebaker said he wanted to make a film about Dylan because everytime he hear or saw him, he found himself wanting to know why this musician inexplicably held his attention.

Of the film's fly-on-the-wall "as is" style, Pennebaker commented, "Dylan's great strength is in the questions he leaves unanswered. It never occurred to me to supply information in the film." As Dylan said at the time, "You are what you think you are." The essence of existentialism, and Dylan was living it, not just writing and singing about it.

The highlight of Scorcese's film is the found footage, specifically Pennebaker's 1966 UK Tour footage with Dylan backed by The Hawks (the nascent form of what would become The Band) - footage previously only seen in Dylan's incomprehensibly edited (with Howard Alk) would-be-TV-special fiasco Eat the Document (barely viewable bootleg copies of which have been in circulation for years). Fittingly, Scorcese's film comes to a stop with Dylan's career ascendant in '66.

Don't Look Forward
By 1966, Sisyphus had rolled his stone to the top of the mountain and there was nowhere else to go but down. Icarus had flown too close to the Sun and gotten burned out. Stunned by the booing of his split acoustic-electric fans - Dylan's 1966 tour of Europe created more controversy and artistic debate than any other tour to date - Orpheus had looked behind him (Don't Look Back!) and was seduced by Death, ready to self-destruct. Dylan had become iconic, the stuff of myth and legend - at one point a reporter actually asked him to explain the meaning and "message" of the Triumph motorcycle t-shirt he wore on the cover of Highway 61 Revisited (a la Bowie's "Space Oddity": Ground control to Major Tom, the Press wants to know whose shirts you wear)! - and like all mythological heroes, he had to suffer the inevitable punch-line, his tragic come-uppance. He was a fait accompli, a done deal. A natural stage actor, he was now cracked actor, and he wanted to recast and reinvent himself, to understudy new roles. And he did. He became invisible and disappeared at the height at his career. To Woodstock. It may have taken a lot to laugh and a train to cry, but it took a motorcycle accident (July 29, 1966) to put out the flames of this wheel on fire. But don't worry Ma, he was only bleeding.

Blonde On Blonde was Dylan's only 1966 studio recording (the 1966 "Royal Albert Hall" Concert was a bootleg and even Columbia/Legacy Recording's 1998 CD reissue of it is officially called Bob Dylan Live 1966: The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert—The Bootleg Series Vol. 4) and it's not my favorite by any means. But it does contain "Visions of Johanna" and "Fourth Time Around" (which the paranoid John Lennon thought was a spoof of "Norwegian Wood") and that great photo of Dylan looking cold (literally way beyond "cool") in his checkered scarf. But otherwise, it was too long, a double album that found Dylan exhausting the possibilities of the electric sound to excess and while lyrically still showcasing his mad skills, some songs just seemed like exercises in cleverness without meaning, empty gestures ("Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again"). I mean, what was "Rainy Day Women #12 and 35" but a self-indulgent throwaway tune? I know I'm talking heresy to Dylanologists, but there was always something in this record as a whole that just didn't do it for me.

It's better to remember Dylan Vintage '66 by his Live 1966: The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert—The Bootleg Series Vol. 4 performances. After being called "Judas" by a folkie heckler, he retorts "I don't believe you!" and then tells The Hawks to "Play fucking loud!"

It's better to burn out, than to fade away. My my, hey hey. So Dylan 66 went out with a bang, not a whimper. And while all the King's horses and all the King's men - if not uber-manager Albert Grossman just by himself! - may have been able to put the post-crash Dylan back together again, there really was no point. The King had lost interest and already abdicated his Throne.

Related link:
Like the Night (C.P. Lee's account of the May 17, 1966 Manchester Free Trade Hall concert)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Tennis? Anyone? Please?

How does it feel to be on your own, a complete unknown, like a rolling stone?

It feels like me trying to play tennis in Baltimore, City of Ravens, City of Orioles, City of...Round Robins? I love tennis, but seemingly can't find anyone to play with in Charm City. In fact, I was so deperate to play with anybody on Planet Earth, that I went to an open Round Robin event sponsored by Baltimore Tennis Patrons, the Mid-Atlantic affiliate of the United States tennis Association (USTA) a week ago and promptly injured my totally-out-of-shape self playing against middle-aged soccer Moms. 15 minutes into my match, I got the worst Charlie Horse of my life and started hobbling around the court like Tim Conway doing his 100-year-old man walk. By the end of the day, I was so sore that I didn't think I'd make it the next night to my most eagerly awaited sporting event of the year - Pam Shriver's 20th Anniversary Mercantile Tennis Challenge at the 1st Mariner Arena, featuring the Northrup Grumman Tennis Legends doubles match with four former World No. 1 and Tennis Hall of Fame players: John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova, Jim Courier, and Martina Hingis.

I made it, but alas, couldn't find anyone to go with me except my nagging ex-girlfriend. You would have thought she was doing me a favor getting her in for free on an all-access Press Pass to an event whose courtside tix were going for $100. I mean, how hard is it to sell this match to somebody? I repeat: John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova, Jim Courier, Martina Hingis. LEGENDS! Four former No. 1 players. The two greatest lefthanders, for my money, in the history of the game. The greatest volleyer in the history of the game in Johnny Mac (though Federerer is still developing). The greatest female player of all time in Martina the Elder. One of the all-time cutest in Martina the Younger (does she ever stop smiling?)

Let's review the numbers. Between them, these four players have had:
  • a combined 1,294 weeks ranked No. 1 in the world
  • 601 career titles
  • 93 Grand Slams titles
  • 31 Wimbleton titles
  • 25 U.S. Open titles
  • 16 French Open titles
  • 21 Australian Open titles

Yet only 7,000-plus fans showed up Monday night, November 14, at the Arena. Pam Shriver had just had a baby who was still in the hospital back in L.A., yet even she flew back to be on hand at the event she has never missed since its founding in 1985. And it was worth it. The doubles match pairing the legendary lefties, McEnroe and Navratilova, was intense - they won in a tie-breaker!(old-timers are very competitive!). It was also a clinic in textbook volleying - just amazing touch at the net by all parties concerned. Martina the Younger (I never realized how cute this 25-year-old retiree is - she's really rather charming and still could probably beat most of the women tennis pros today) beat Martina the Elder (who just turned 49). And Jim Courier - still in great shape at 35 and a fun, entertaining, good-hearted player (and one of the best tennis commentators ever, along with Patrick McEnroe) - beat the 46-year-old McEnroe in a VERY competitive match, 8-6. Courier is funny. When a fan yelled "C'mon Johnny Mac!", Courier retorted, "Thanks Mom!" Alas, more people showed up to see Maria Sharapova play Lindsey Davenport the year before - sure, Maria is cute and popular and has that one Wimbleton title and Lindsey has a few, but are they LEGENDS? Have they stood the test of time?

Mad About the Wrong Boy(s)
The best audience ever at Pam's Tennis Challenge was about 10,000 for the 2001 Andre Agassi-Andy Roddick match but, while I can understand the appeal of this match to tennis dilettantes, let's get real. Roddick has one Gram Slam title and after his performance at the most recent U.S. Open, losing in the first round (much to the embarrassment of pegged-their-whole-ad-campaign-on-Andy sponsor American Express), is hardly on the road to becoming a legend (big serves and dating Mandy Moore are not locks for getting in the Tennis Hall of Fame). And I still remember Agassi before he reinvented himself as Humble Spokesperson for The Game, when he was the brash, out-of-shape brat who, when down in matches "tanked' and gave up, showed up opponents in Davis Cup matches (can anyone forget when he caught his Argentinian opponent's serve to patronizingly "give him" a token game?), blew off Wimbleton and the U.S. Open for years, and was guilty of tennis fashion crimes (especially off-court with his unforgiveable Las Vegas casual wear ensembles - sorry, Rhinestone-on-Denim cannot be forgiven - ever! And I won't even comment on his rock star earings, an obvious visual distraction from his balding pate). It's good that Andre is Mr. Nice Guy now, because his early years were a waste. He had all the sponsorships, but he never won a major title; all the guys in his Young American Hopefuls class - Jim Courier, Michael Chang, Pete Sampras - won Grand Slams before him. He wasn't sure if he wanted to be a rock star or a tennis star. Fortunately, he commited himself to the latter and the results speak for themselves - better late than never.

But I hard is it to sell this event?

And how ungrateful a wench can my grouchy ex be? She complained about the parking, so I ended up splitting it with her. She wanted to stand courtside the whole match when I plead with her to sit down, due to my still sore Charley Horse from the day before. She complained about the seats we eventually sat in and had sit closer. She complained about the food in the V.I.P. Lounge where - for free! - there was unlimited beef, tomato cappelini, salad, bread, deserts ("I don't eat sweets" she whined as I asked her if she cared for any of the delectable brownies and cookies on hand), not to mention unlimited beer, wine, and Bailey's coffee! She complained that her favorite, Agassi (natch!) wasn't there (I just groaned!) Then she made me leave early when I had scored autographs from McEnroe, Navratilova, and Hingus and only needed one more from Jim Courier.

All it cost her was $10 for parking. For all of the above.

And she didn't even thank me.

If anyone is out there listening, contact me if you wanna go next year. The company's got to be better! And you don't even have to put out! Just don't nag, that's all I ask! And let me sit down if I have another Charlie Horse!

Parting Shot:
Oh, almost forgot...During a pre-game teaser for Comcast SportsNet, former pro-turned-broadcaster Luke Jensen said, "Stay tuned, it's happening here tonight - what could be better than to be here in Boston, home of great crabcakes and great tennis!" The producer yelled at him, "We're in Baltimore, Luke! Do it over!"

Parting Shot, Deux:
Subsequent to this Tennis Legends match, two of the legends were back in the news again. In the year-end Shanghai Masters Cup final between World No. 1 Roger Federer and his arch-nemesis David Nalbandian, Federer had a shot at tying John McEnroe's all-time best 1984 season record of 82-3. Federer had missed 6 weeks with an ankle injury, giving him only a chance to tie - and to extend his all-time best finals record of 23-0. Up two sets, Federer lost in five sets to Nalbandian (now 6-4 lifetime against Federer), to finish 81-4 and end up 23-1 in finals. In failure there is humility, in this case a testament to how great Johnny Mac's 1984 season truly was (one of those losses was to Ivan Lendl at the French Open when Mac was up two sets to none; the loss haunted McEnroe and he never won another Grand Slam). Mitigating Factors for Federer: Of his 4 losses, one was in the semi-finals to eventual 2005 French Open champion Rafael Nadal, one was to Nalbandian in a 5th set tie-breaker (with Roger serving for the match at 6-5 after rallying from 0-4), and Roger had match point in the other two losses (one being his 5th set tie-break loss to Marat Safat in the 2005 Australian Open semifinal)!

And today, November 30, I just read that the still-in-her-prime Martina Hingis has decided to return to the women's professional tour she left because of ankle injuries in 2002. Martina, who has been staying fit by playing regularly in the Team Tennis league, tried an unsuccessful comeback once before in 2004, but it was too soon after her ankle surgery. We may get to see her as soon as January in the 2006 Australian Open (she was extended a wild card invitation).

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Gruppo Sportivo: A Brilliant Mistake

Gruppo Sportivo isn't a world championship soccer team, a line of expensive men's sportswear or an exotic disease. And it's not any run-of-the-mill rock band. It is an energetic and slightly outrageous Dutch sextet that sports an italian name, effects a continental image and serves up wholly original and imaginative pop tunes in english. - Sire Records bio (June 1979)

For a brief moment in the late 1970s, Sire Records embraced a Dutch New Wave band called Gruppo Sportivo and released a record that changed my life, 1979's Mistakes, which also came with a 6-song EP called More Mistakes. Then, the band's statewide presence disappeared like an expired Green Card and they thence became strictly a Continental act, a Dutch treat.

But last night I received my Gruppo Sportivo import CD in the mail from Amazon and now I'm so excited and I just can't hide it. I'm about to lose control and I think I like it. Of course, the band that made the US release Mistakes - which took the best tracks from the group's first two LPs, 1977's 10 Mistakes and 1978's Back to '78, for the US market - continues to have record companies compound mistakes in their back catalog reissues. Mainly sin-of-ommision mistakes. Since the Sire album isn't available on CD, the closest match I could find to most of the tracks appearing in it - and the More Mistakes EP - was 1987's Back To 19 Mistakes compilation. But the song order was so random that I immediately felt like Dr. Frankenstein, compelled to tweak the order as much as possible to make it over into Mistakes image. Do you know how certain album tracks end and lead into the next track perfectly, as if "Intelligent Design" were being applied to music sequencing? So much so that when you hear a particular song, it triggers something in your memory banks to anticipate the opening notes of the song in sequence? Like the second side of the Buzzcocks' A Different Kind of Tension? Like the Beatles' entire Abbey Road? (Or, for an audio-visual analogy, the cue-perfect synchronization of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon with The Wizard of Oz?) Well, side two of Mistakes had one such moment and what that aforementioned Intelligent Design engineer joined together, let no man tear asunder! I'm talking about the segue from side 2's opener "Blah Blah Magazines" into "Beep Beep Love." Why anyone would mess with that perfect match is beyond me, but I had to fix it.

Along with "Superstar" - which featured the Lumpy Gravy rendition of Frank Zappa & The Mothers' "Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance" (and hence had everybody claiming that Gruppo Sportivo lifted the lick from Zappa, though the Mistakes liner notes clearly attribute the riff to Frank) - these are probably the two best known stateside Gruppo tracks. "Blah Blah Magazines" cleverly answers the critics who, because they played danceable pop and featured two girl singers (the Grupettes, Meike Touw and Josee Van Iersel), called the group a cross between "Abba and ah..." (a list that the band sings includes Blondie, Ian Dury, and so on). Or, as the excellent review at Dan Bryk's Vanity Press describes the sound on Mistakes:
The Grupettes' trademark doo-wop harmonies evoke sixties girl groups and Annifrid and Agnetha. the overall sound is somewhere between (UK) Squeeze and the Blockheads with a smidge of the Zombies, the Monkees and the beat gruppes in general. This really ought to be considered a classic...Actually, they are a cross between (in blah-blah magazines) ABBA and
ahhhh.... ABBA!
And maybe even a lick of Dan Hicks, who also featured two great female vocalists, The Hot Licks: Naomi Eisenberg and Mary Ann Price. But Gruppo Sportivo's aural aura is perhaps best summed up by Daniel Silverman, who described it as "retro-kitsch for the intellectual elite," where the glory days of post-war American pop culture represented in Happy Days and Norman Rockwell meet the tongue-in-cheek cheesiness of Roy Lichtenstein, as filtered through Dutch eyes. And sung about in English! It always amazed me that Gruppo Sportivo songwriter Hans Vandenburg's lyrics could comment on American culture so astutely and cleverly without losing anything in translation.

All You Need Is (Beep Beep) Love
But I digress...let me segue back to the second part of the group's aforementioned great Mistakes segue. "Beep Beep Love" is a rollicking tale of alien romance powered by a riff so strong that resistance proves futile (even US radio couldn't resist playing it). She landed on my roof, mad love from Venus / Her ship went out of gas, fast as light, love came between us / Flashing girl, out of space I’ll never turn you off / future love. I remember being in a punk band in college and we actually attempted to cover this song in an effort to become more melodically "New Wave." We didn't have the chops, so our singer-guitarist tried to teach us the similarly-themed "Robot Love" by Scottish punk rockers The Valves (with a chorus of "Beep-Beep, Beep-Beep"), but even those three chords proved too much for us. (Our band was Thee Katatonix - and you thought Gruppo Sportivo was unheard of stateside?)

Anyway, this was the original track sequencing I am attempting to bring back from the dead:

Mistakes LP:
mission a paris/dreamin'/henri/hey girl/i said no/i shot my manager | blah blah magazines/beep beep love/p.s. 78/superman/one way love (from me to you)/bottom of the class/the single

More Mistakes 7" EP:
bernadette/tokyo/disco really made it | girls never know/are you ready?/rubber gun

Alas, my dream mix still lacks the great "Dreamin'" and "Henri" from side 1 of Mistakes, "The Single" from side 2, and "Are You Ready?" and the gay bar scene spoof "Rubber Gun" (Switch on the jukebox and let Louie sing/About his underwear and his rubber loving thing) from More Mistakes. So now it looks like I'll have to get those tracks on yet another import CD compilation, 10 Mistakes/Buddy Odor Is a Gas. Only then will I finally have put back the Mistakes album as I remember it on Sire Records and complete my Humpty Dumpty jigsaw puzzle repair job! Did I mention I'm anal-compulsive? Do I really need to?

Gruppo Lineup (classic edition, circa Mistakes):
  • Hans Vandenburg - vocalist/guitarist/songwriter
  • Peter Calicher - keyboardist
  • Eric Wehrmeyer - bassist
  • Max "Climax" Mollinger - drummer
  • Josee Van Iersel - vocalist
  • Meike Touw - vocalist

  • Gruppo Trivia:
  • "Mission a Paris" starts with the piano intro from B.B. and the Stingers "Nutrocker"
  • Zappa isn't the only Yank rocker referenced in "Superman"; Peter Calicher also channels Del Shannon's "Runaway" in his keyboard solo
  • "I Shot My Manager" cleverly spoofs Eric Clapton
  • Gruppo main man Hans Vandenburg is often listed as Vandefruits in songwriting credits
  • Vandenburg broke up the band in 1979, then reformed it later without the girls
  • Deaf School singer Bette Bright (real name: Anne Martin) sings on half the tracks on the 1980 Gruppo Sportivo album Copy To Copy
  • Vocalist Meike Towe formed her own band and released Tutti Fruitti in 1980
  • Grupette vocalists Josée Van Iersel and Meike Towe reunited in 1982 in the Tweeters, and also later joined the German group Spliff
  • All the members of Gruppo Sportivo were from The Hague, the home of Dutch rock (Golden Earring and Shocking Blue got their start there, and today Kane and Anouk carry on the tradition)
  • Gruppo got their first big break opening on tour for Golden Earring. Earring singer Barry Hay produced Gruppo Sportivo's first single "Out There In The Jungle," which became a small hit.
  • You can still get Gruppo's first two European releases on import CDs that couple them with other albums: 10 Mistakes/Buddy Odor Is a Gas and Back to 78/Copy Copy
  • Gruppo Sportivo is still alive and kicking in 2005. Their latest release is the import CD Topless 16 (2004), which also includes a DVD (but you'll need an all-region DVD player to play it)
  • The Gruppo Sportivo DVD is called Career Moves
  • Gruppo's 2000 single I Don't Think So/Click Here contains the original Atari version of the game Centipede for PC
  • "Beep Beep Love" was covered by Incredible Moses Leroy (Ron Fountenberry) on 2001's Electric Pocket Radio
  • Gruppo's leader Hans Vandenburg has his own Web site (it's mostly in Dutch!)
  • This is The Official Gruppo Sportivo Web Site (also mostly in Dutch)

  • Gruppo Lyrics:
  • Click here for lyrics to all the songs on Back To 78 (Hey Girl/Bernadette/P.S. 78/Tokyo/I Said No!/Real Teeth Are Out/Are You Ready?/The Booby-Trap Boogie/Blah Blah Magzines/One Way Love (From Me To You)/I'm a Rocket/Shave/The PogoNever Stops/Bottom of the Class)
  • Beep Beep Love
  • Disco Really Made It
  • Rock 'n' Roll

  • For more information see:
    Vanity Press: Lasting Forever - this is the best English-language Gruppo Sportivo site I've found on the Internet. Everything you need to know or find is right here, courtesy of fan Dan Bryk , himself a musician.

    See also Holland Rocks (the Encyclopedia of Dutch Rock Music)

    Gruppo Updates (Dec. 2007): Dan Silverman's excellent Gruppo page is back online. Check it out at 10 Mistakes Gruppo Sportivo.

    Monday, November 07, 2005

    In Vine-o Veritas

    I Saw It Through the Grapevine
    I went to a film screening last night at my new favorite record store, Hampden's True Vine Records (1123 W. 36th Street), and afterwards I felt an epiphany. Anyone who's ever read Daniel Pinkwater knows what I mean. It's that feeling you get when you discover an alternate universe, or whatever you want to call a niche emporium - be it a bookstore, record store, coffee shop, bistro, or movie theater - that is off the beaten path, decidely non-mainstream, and supported by a devoted cognescetti. I felt like the characters Walter Galt, Winston Bongo and Rat in Pinkwater's Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death upon discovering the joys of "snarking out" to watch cool movies at the Snark Theater.

    The film program, Visions of Excess, was organized by Peter Zahorecz of the Maryland Institute, College of Art (MICA), who, along with True Vine owner Ian Nagoski and a collective of area cineastes (Megan, Catherine Pancake, et. al.) take turns screening films of interest to the underground/hipster/art school crowd (pictured at right). Anyway, Peter is very knowledgeable about the films he screened, which are rare to the point of being virtually impossible to find anywhere but Canyon Cinema, and then only for rent. I had never seen a Kenneth Anger film before, but 1954's Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome impressed me with its visuals (including a rare screen appearance by Anais Nin) even if the plot left me bewildered. And I had never seen a George Kuchar film before, either, and appropriately lost my Kuchar-virginity to Eclipse of the Sun Virgin, which seemed to be a parody of the very type of (Kenneth Anger) film that preceded it. Great stuff, and very funny - it's obvious why everyone from Martha Colburn to John Waters is a fan.

    To get on the True Vine mailing list, send an e-mail this way:

    I Heard It Through the Grapevine
    But mainly True Vine this is a cool record shop (and I do mean records- the vinyl stuff, though the Vine does stock a great collection of eclectic CDs as well) that reminds me of Atomic Books sans books and Normals sans books and with less vinyl. (Aesthetically, they are all on the same page. It's a belief that, as in The X Files, The Truth Is Out There. And it's in all fields - art, music, literature, what have you. The emphasis is on desemination of information of all kinds, and learning about the new, the unknown, the unsual.)

    Anyway, True Vine has a nice bargain CD rack that I sorted through and found a $1 greatest hits compilation by Britain's powerpop Korgis (they really only had two hits, 1980's "Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometime" - which was covered by Beck for the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind movie soundtrack - and 1979's "If I Had You," which was notable for the presence of Alan Wilder, later of Depeche Mode) and, better yet, Robyn Hitchcock's Robin Sings, in which Dylan devotee Hitch (he was hooked from the minute he heard "Desolation Row" as a teen and decided to write songs after being inspired by "Visions of Johanna") pays homage to The Master by re-enacting the legendary 1966 Royal Albert Hall concert in Manchester, England, when Dylan was touring with The Hawks (later to become The Band). This was the infamous "Judas" concert in which Dylan was taunted by a folkie heckler for "going electric" in the second set. Unfortunately Hitch doesn't re-enact Dylan's caustic retort, "I don't believe you, you're a liar!" Likewise, True Vine, like Dylan, is no false prophet; it's the real (cool) deal. Believe in it.

    Saturday, November 05, 2005

    A Series of Unfortunate Events

    I've lost my mojo. Specifically, my good luck amulet, my Guardian Angel coin from Baltimore's legendary St. Jude's Shrine. And now, faster than you can say Lemony Snicket, a series of unfortunate events have occurred.

    OK, maybe I'm not suffering as much Young Werther. And maybe I haven't faced as many trials and tribulations as Biblical sad sack Job, but in the last two days:

    • I came to work without any money in my pockets, causing me a lunchtime panic (I didn't notice until a bum asked me for money for a cup of coffee)

    • I cut myself shaving in a very intimate area this morning (right after posting a blog about "manscaping" in that area)

    • I accidentally deleted a Word Document I had worked on all day

    • Last night I had a power outage right in the middle of digital video editing on my computer

    • My alarm clock died, making me late for work. Now I have to use a back-up alarm clock, an obnoxious Hello Kitty clock an old girlfriend gave me that blares a Japanese-accented, endless loop Karaoke Kitty Ditty of "Hello hello hello!"

    • I ran out of Baby Wipes (it could be worse - thank God I don't have a baby!)

    OK, snicker if you must, but according to Old Testament doctrine, God's angels were at times given special commissions regarding men and mundane affairs, and while the aforementioned series of unfortunate events may seem trivial to the undiscerning eye, they have shaken the foundations of my belief system to the point where I am leaving work early to head straight over to St. Jude's Shrine. We all know what could have happened to good ole George Bailey in It's A Wonderful Life without guardian angel Clarence by his side!

    Sure, lucky charms and amulets may sound hokey, but who can forget how KISS lost their super powers in Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park when their talismans were stolen by a mad scientist and only when recovered could Ace once again teleport, Peter move like a cat, Paul shoot laser beams out of his eye, and Gene breathe fire. Yes, I'm more than a little superstitious. Don't even get me started about the fear and trepidation July 4th instills in me!

    Friday, November 04, 2005

    Smooth Operators

    I missed the earlier ruminations about ball shaving and Tidy Testicles in Atomic Book's MOBTOWN SHANK, so I'm weighing in on SHANK #310's recent reader commentaries. First off, I totally agree with Dr. Evil when, in AUSTIN POWERS, he observed that "There really is nothing like a shorn's breathtaking." And I agree with Ms. V that, because this is a "work area," it should be kept clean and professional if you expect someone to, well, work around there. And yes, pulling a hair out of your mouth is never sexy, whether you're slurping soup at a greasy spoon or eating out "downtown."

    Me and "The Boys"
    Like "Harry N. Winter," I did not become a Smooth Operator and decide to tidy up my testes until I hit 40, and then only after I had an epiphany watching porn videos. Unless you happen to be watching Ron "Hedgehog" Jeremy, you may notice that contemporary male porn stars never have hairy nut sacs. I wondered why they always looked so smooth down there and didn't find out until 1997, when me and my ATOMIC TV cohorts hit Atlantic City to interview adult film stars at the East Coast Video Show. There I met legendary cockswain Peter North, who told me that he, and many of his fellow woodsmen, shaved their testicles in response to requests "from the ladies we work with." North, who takes massive doses of vitamins and mineral supplements to boost his geyser-like projectile ejaculations (no actor has a greater "range"), takes care of his work area like a classic car enthusiast who is constantly washing, waxing and polishing his prized possession. But no wax off technique for the whack-off domain! North said that adult film stars tend to use a regular Bic or Gillete razor (no guts, no glory!) and to be VERY careful during their grooming "Moment of Truth." We were instant converts and from that time on, the entire ATOMIC TV crew was "clean shaven." (Plus, once you hit your 40s, you'll notice that stray hairs down there tend to turn gray - now who wants to dip their balls in shoe polish to cover up the Salt 'N' Pepper Effect?)

    Sex A-peel
    Going by my girlfriends, the extra effort is appreciated immensely. It's the difference between eating peeled shrimp and un-peeled shrimp (insert small penis joke here, if you must), between a messy meal and an easy, smooth, succulent one.

    Pube Topiary
    However, I would like to comment about Mr. Winters' assertion that you have to shave the entire area. I would say, you only should shave everything around your dick if you want it to look bigger. If you have a wee little Willie, then chop down the forest around it to make it look bigger (Peter North certainly does not shave for this reason). Otherwise, you may start to look a little too androgynous like an airbrished model in Japanese porn videos or one of those marble fountain cherubs one sees outside of art museums. And you will start to get the "itchy owwies" within a few days when the Stub Factor kicks in. I know because I tried this with an ex-girlfriend that friends said looked a lot like me, so the whole David and Angela Bowie/Mirror Image effect was a little too weird, even for me. Now female strippers tend to shave the whole area there, even around the anus and perineum, because they are on display and a stray hair or stub can potentially ruin their tip intake for a night. Some even bleach their backseat area, a la Lara Flynn Boyle, but that's a topic for another day.

    Bladerunners: Cutting Edge Picks For Avoiding Nicks:

    • Gillete's Mach Turbo 3

    • Schick's Protector - The Schick Protector Razor is the perfect safety razor for shaving your most intimate areas. This razor uses ultra-fine safety wires to prevent your skin from getting cut. These wires effectively wrap the blades to keep them evenly spaced and keep loose skin from getting caught between the blades The Protector also uses ultra glide comfort strips to help you get a smooth shave with minimal irritation.

    Further Resources for the Shaved Ball Cabal:

    Thursday, November 03, 2005


    According to the "Asian Heroes" article in the April 28, 2003 issue of Time magazine, Hideki "Godzilla" Matsui isn't just a New York Yankees baseball superstar - he's also an avid collector of porn tapes, which he often trades with Japanese reporters! It's considered the workaholic baseball star's lone eccentricity. Otherwise, the (highly priced) Salaryman is just a steak-eating average Joe. His love of meat no doubt stems from his affinity for such Japanese cultural institutions as the no-pan shabu-shabu (steakhouses where the floors are mirrored and the waitresses wear short skirts sans panties). But it is Matsui's weakness for raw meat that led one Japanese journalist to observe, "Matsui is a horny guy. All of us are horny, more or less. But Matsui doesn't attempt to hide the fact."

    Dirty Dining
    By the way, shabu shabu is Japanese for "swish-swish," and refers to the swishing sound made when whisking thinly sliced pieces of beef through a boiling pot of water. It is also Japanese slang for fellatio. According to an article on the practice in the Mainichi Daily News, no-pan shabu shabu joints offered guests as much alcohol as they could drink (namihodai) and other perks.

    Side dishes of skin were on offer. For a 5,000 yen tip, one of the establishment's young waitresses would stand up and collect a bottle of whiskey stored in a rooftop rack. As she did so, guests were treated to a glimpse underneath the ultra-short miniskirt covering her naked flesh.

    To make sure nobody missed out, as the woman stood a gust of wind was forced out of a fan in the floor, sending her skirt skyward a la Marilyn Monroe.

    For an additional tip of an unspecified sum, the girl would cover the lower half of her body with a quilt. The guest was given a penlight and permitted to flash around under the quilt to look up the waitress's skirt.

    Where's the Beef?
    At the famous members-only Roran restaurant in Tokyo's Kabukicho district, video cameras built into the tables enabled diners to leer at the waitresses legs while they dined. (And, following a Mad Cow Disease beef panic in 2001, the addition of steamed crustaceans to the menu actually meant that pantyless waitresses had to ask diners if they would "care to have some crabs tonight?"!) Alas, the practice had to go on the down-low following Japan's 1998 financial scandal when it was revealed that Finance Ministry officials were being bribed with lavish spreads at no-pan shabu shabu dining establishments.

    Too bad Matsui didn't land a "Beef, It's What's for Dinner" endorsement from the National Cattleman's Beef Association.

    What's In a Name?
    OK, now about Matsui's nickname...the former Yomiuri Giants All-Star apparently got it while growing up as a pock-marked teen in Japan.

    It was at Seiryo High School in Kanazawa, one of Japan's famous baseball factories, that Matsui was first nicknamed "Godzilla"—a moniker which, at the time, was as much for the severe case of adolescent acne that plagued him as it was for his tape-measure blasts.

    Too bad his skin didn't get him a Pocky Sticks endorsement, either.

    See full Time magazine article: Godzilla Vs. the Americans

    My Favorite Scientologist

    is Beck...

    the only guy who gives any credence to the religion of Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Juliette Lewis, Anne Archer, Jenna Elfman, Leah Rimini, Giovanni Ribisi, and so many other Hollywood wackos.

    It's amazing how many celebs belong to the Church of Scientology. Here's a partial list of celebs in addition to those already mentioned, courtesy of Scientology Kills...

    More Celebrity Scientologists
    Catherine Bell (J.A.G.)
    Chick Corea (jazz-rock fusioneer)
    Corin Nemac (No! Not the star of my fave cult TV show Parker Lewis Can't Lose)
    Edgar Winter (Albino rocker)
    Greta van Susteren (formerly crooked-mouthed TV legal analyst)
    Isaac Hayes (Godfather of Soul)
    Jason Lee (skater-slacker turned actor, current star of My Name Is Earl)
    Judy Norton (Mary Ellen on The Waltons)
    Kelly Preston (Mrs. John Travolta)
    Lisa Marie Presley (daughter of The King, ex of Prince of Pop)
    Nancy Cartwright (No! Not the voice of Bart Simpson!)

    Back To Beck

    Anyway, I'm musing about Beck because my friend Ray - one of a new, elite breed of Hipster Librarians (who knew?) - recently blessed me with a copy of Mr. Hansen's earliest release, 1993's "MTV Makes Me Wanna Smoke Crack." Only 2000 copies of the EP single were pressed on Flipside Records in April 1993, in an array of clear to green to blue vinyl (the A-side's other Beck song was "To See That Woman of Mine," and the flipside of this Flipside release was Bean's "Privates On Parade" and "Rock>Scissors>Paper"). The version Ray burned me of "MTV" is the folk/lounge one featured on the 1994 Loser UK EP, but it still stands the test of time.

    mtv makes me wanna smoke crack
    fall out of the window and I'm never comin back
    mtv makes me wanna get high
    can't get a ride no matter how I try
    and everything's perfect
    and everything's bright
    and everyone's perky
    and everyone's uptight
    I love those videos
    I watch 'em all day........

    (For complete lyrics, click here.)

    Anyway, this slice of primal Beck made me reassess and reevaluate my main man. Beck's one of what Turner Classic Movies calls "The Essentials." TCM is talking about classic cinema of course, but in rock and roll parlance, Beck is one of the essentials of Rock 'n' Roll's Hall of Fame of Cool. Like Devo. Like Ric Ocasek. Like The Beatles. Like Louis Jordan, Bo Diddley, Little Richard, Link Wray, Johnny Cash, and Elvis.

    So if Beck's into Scientology, I can't just dismiss it out of hand like Republicans or Jehovah's Witnesses or people who believe in UFOs or Bigfoot or that Elvis is still alive. Right? Damn you Beck, why'd you have to be a Scientologist!