Last night we went out for dinner with the Zs and Ds, and took them to a restaurant called Udipi that is quickly becoming a favorite. A good indicator of the high quality of the food is that I really enjoy going there even though it serves only vegetarian Indian cuisine and I hate vegetables. But, the food is very flavorful and filling, so I’m willing to overlook the disturbing fact that they serve no meat. I try to stock up on dishes with lentils, peas, and potatoes, with some rice wafers and bread, and it is all delicious. I really like the interesting presentation, too. One dish has the appearance of a big wheat balloon, and another looks like rolled up brown paper filled with potatoes and peas. It also is the only restaurant I’ve ever been to that has cream of wheat on the menu as part of an entree. A final positive — it is extraordinarily reasonably priced, even when a few Kingfishers are tossed into the mix.

It’s fun to go to a new place with old friends. It’s even better when I can take Dr. Science and the Purple Raider, who tend to know everything about the local restaurant scene, to a place they haven’t heard of and have it get accolades.

The Best American Band: The Case for the Cars

The Cars broke into my consciousness in college, when they released their first two albums — albums that were just about flawless. Their music fit perfectly into the time and place. People were tired of disco but still interesting in dancing. Older supergroups like Led Zeppelin and CSNY were winding down, and lots of different kinds of music were in the air — punk, country, heavy metal, folk, synthesizer rock, and some music that was impossible to really categorize, like Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell album. The Cars somehow captured and reflected a lot of these different kinds of music, and produced a sound that was at once catchy, and bouncy, and totally identifiable as The Cars. My roommate Skip and I hosted a lot of rock ‘n’ roll dance parties during that time period, and songs from The Cars were guaranteed to get even the crappiest dancers off their butts and out onto the dance floor to shake it. For exactly that same reason, when I was played pinball with my friend Nasher we always hoped that a Cars tune would be played on the jukebox, because the rhythm helped you knock the machine around and increase your score.

I’m no music historian, but I think The Cars really helped to move popular music forward and influenced a lot of ’80s music. It was the first rock ‘n’ roll band that I remember where the synthesizer and keyboards were such an important part of the beat, as opposed to setting the kind of space-type mood you find on Dark Side Of The Moon. Take a listen to It’s All I Can Do and Candy-O and see if you don’t agree with me. When you combined that with excellent guitar riffs, a heavy bass line, great drums, and interesting vocals, you had an irrepressible, highly layered sound that really stuck with you. (I remember flying to Europe after graduating from college and having Don’t Cha Stop run through my head for the whole flight.) And The Cars weren’t just two-album wonders — in fact, their 1980s album Heartbeat City was their best-selling album of all.

I’m not sure precisely what the criteria should be for deciding which is the Best American Band, but I think one of the factors should be producing great music that helped to define the sound of an era. The Cars easily pass that test. Not surprisingly, they are well-represented on the Ipod, which includes classics like My Best Friend’s Girl, Just What I Needed, Don’t Cha Stop, Moving In Stereo, All Mixed Up, Let’s Go, Candy-O, Lust For Kicks, Shake It Up, and Magic.

Edited to add: Time to Vote for your choice for Best American Band!

Focus on the Fall (II)

Well, the Cavs are out of the playoffs, and the Tribe is awful. So . . . .

It seems awfully early to be publishing Top 25 lists for the upcoming college football season, which is still three months away, but here is one site’s take on the Ohio State Buckeyes and their prospects for the fall. I think it is silly to rank teams before they even begin camp, but this piece did remind me of one thing — it will be a joyous day in Columbus when the Buckeyes finally beat an SEC team and the pundits have to shut up about that topic.

Ads and Subtraction

This article argues for an antitrust exemption for newspapers, so that all newspaper owners can get together and collusively decide to begin charging for on-line content at the same time. What’s interesting about the article is not the opinion — after all, every struggling industry could argue that the path to salvation is allowing participants in the industry to engage in price-fixing or other, similar joint behavior at the expense of consumers — but rather the statistics about the stunning declines in classified ad revenue and display ad revenue for daily newspapers. No wonder newspapers are struggling!

The Best American Band: Credence for Creedence

When you start to think about great American rock ‘n’ roll bands, it doesn’t take long to realize that the spectrum of American rock music is broad, encompassing country rock, blues rock, hard rock, and more avant garde rock music. Creedence Clearwater Revival is one of those bands that moved around on that broad spectrum. People tend to associate the group with country rock (or, more precisely, the sub-genre low country swamp rock) and that is a fair characterization of some of their music — but then where do songs like The Midnight Special or the CCR cover of I Heard It Through the Grapevine fit in?

CCR was hugely popular in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and according to the Wikipedia entry it is the band with the most Billboard #2 songs — five in all — without ever getting a song to #1. Its popularity continued to the end of the 1970s, and it was a stereo system staple during my college years. CCR was another band of choice for my college roommate, Skip, probably because songs like Green River reminded him of the Cheat River and New River in West Virginia, where he worked as a whitewater raft guide. I liked listening to CCR, too, because I admired the diversity of their music. They played great straightforward rock ‘n’ roll — My Baby Left Me is an excellent example — and songs that you would start to sing to before you even realized it, like Bad Moon Rising. And, many of their songs had an intriguing, kind of ominous sound and quality to them — songs like Run Through the Jungle and I Put a Spell on You.

I’d be surprised if any real music fan would argue that CCR should not be seriously considered as one of the great American rock ‘n’ roll bands. Consistent with that status, a lot of their songs can be found on the Ipod — songs like Born on the Bayou, The Midnight Special, Before You Accuse Me, My Baby Left Me, Bad Moon Rising, Down on the Corner, I Heard It Through the Grapevine, Lodi, Lookin’ Out my Back Door, and Run Through the Jungle.

Edited to add: Time to Vote for your choice for Best American Band!

Safe From Remote Controls and Excedrin Bottles

Our dog Penny typically has a happy, placid disposition. If a masked villain entered our home bent on doing bodily harm, Penny would likely trot up to him, tail wagging, and lick his hand. If, on the other hand, a large remote control unit tried to enter the house, Penny would quickly attack and render it inoperable with but a few strategic bites. I know this to be true, because Penny already has disabled four remote controllers that were carelessly left within her reach.

So, it is safe to say that Penny has advanced chewing abilities. If she had gone to Canine College, she probably would have dismally failed every subject except Oral Fixation, where she would be performing at graduate school levels. Dog training literature says that pooches are supposed to lose their chewing impulse after their first year or so, but Penny is rapidly approaching her third birthday and the joy of chewing nevertheless remains a song within her heart. Every time we leave the house, we have to move all chewable items (except her designated chew toys, which she of course ignores) to unreachable areas. If we fail to do so, when we arrive home we are confronted with the grim evidence of the latest chewing incident. Last night we returned to find that Penny had dragged down Kish’s purse, strewn objects therein around the living room, and attacked an Excedrin bottle, gnawing off the top of its child-proof cap.

Kish theorizes that Penny is especially attracted to objects that still retain the scents of our hands, which is why remote controls are so irresistible. I’m a bit skeptical of that theory. Instead, I think one of two possibilities is true. First, Penny simply likes chewing plastic the way some people like chewing ice cubes, and delights in the satisfying crack and crunch of a good chew job. Second, when Penny attacks a channel changer, breaks up the laser feature, shatters the plastic shell, and leaves the unit covered with telltale bite marks, she hearkens back to her feral ancestry when the object between the jaws was a small animal and the items being gnawed and splintered were flesh and bone.

The Best American Band: Experiencing Nirvana



I lost touch with current music in about 1987 and stayed out of touch until 1994 or so. We had moved back to Columbus, Richard and Russell were infants, then toddlers, then little kids, we didn’t have a lot of money to devote to CDs or concerts, and life just seemed too crowded to pay much attention to the latest trends. I listened to NPR while commuting and, when I listened to music, I listened to “classic rock.” It was not until shortly after Kurt Cobain’s death in 1994 that my friend Dr. Science ripped me for living in the past and encouraged me to reconnect with new music. I grudgingly had to admit that he was right, so I started listening to CD-101 and buying CDs — one of the first of which was Nevermind by Nirvana. That one, exceptional album was enough to reignite my interest in current music.

There’s lots to like about Nirvana’s music. For one thing, it is about as stripped down as you can get — lead guitar, bass, drums, vocals — and it produces great power rock. In my view, Nirvana’s best songs have tremendous musical “hooks” that make the music impossible to resist, like the meandering intro to All Apologies, or the quiet, minimalist beginning of Something in the Way. Then, you had Cobain’s extraordinary, raspy, emotionally charged vocals singing lyrics that were different from the standard fare — sometimes troubled, often amusing, and almost always thought-provoking. You’d listen to a song like Heart Shaped Box and wonder what the hell those lyrics really meant. Many of their songs left me, at least, with lingering questions at the same time I was enjoying the beat.

The faithful Ipod includes 19 Nirvana songs. My favorites are Heart Shaped Box, Rape Me, All Apologies, Mr. Moustache, Lake of Fire, Smells Like Teen Spirit, Lithium, On a Plain, and Something in the Way, and Smells Like Teen Spirit is one of those rare songs that has become a bit of an anthem of a time and place. Nirvana wasn’t around very long, but it had a big, and I think continuing, impact.

Edited to add: Time to Vote for your choice for Best American Band!

A Five-Day Boondoggle

Why in the world should the American taxpayers be footing the bill for the Speaker of the House and five members of a House committee to travel to China? People may disagree about Speaker Pelosi’s musings on climate change and the need for Americans to subject every aspect of their lives to an “inventory” so as to cut back on their carbon footprint, but I imagine there is broad consensus for the notion that sending the Speaker to China for a five-day junket is a wasteful expenditure of federal funds. At a time when so many Americans are losing their jobs and tightening their belts, can’t members of Congress endure just a little belt-tightening of their own?

The Best American Band: Lynyrd Skynyrd Consydyrd

As I gave some thought to the question of identifying the best American rock ‘n’ roll band, I decided to consult an unimpeachable source of information — my Ipod. Upon doing so, I realized that it includes a lot of Lynyrd Skynyrd songs. Cognito, ergo sum: I have many Lynyrd Skynyrd songs on my Ipod, therefore they must be a great rock ‘n’ roll band.

In fairness, some of those songs are on my Ipod because that are particularly evocative of a time and place. In this instance, the time and place are a crappy two-bedroom apartment on the bottom floor of a two-story stuccoed building at 101 West Eighth Avenue, about four blocks from the Ohio State campus, in the late 1970s. Although I had heard Sweet Home Alabama and Free Bird in high school, I wasn’t really introduced to Skynyrd until college, where my roommate was a Skynyrd freak. We constantly played the first album (called, simply, “Pronounced” at 101 W. 8th) and Second Helping and, when it came out later, Street Survivors. Basically, then, any Skynyrd song gives me a strong sense of the college years. Later, when I was in law school, I adopted Call Me The Breeze as a kind of theme song and played to get me fired up before every first-year law school exam. I question whether any better air guitar (or, for that matter, air piano) song has ever been recorded.

So, I’m biased. Nevertheless, I think Skynyrd can objectively be considered one of the best American rock ‘n’ roll bands even though their career was tragically cut short in 1977 by a plane crash that killed several band members. They had a strong Southern flavor, a striking multiple-guitar sound, wonderful keyboards, and excellent lead vocals — but their songs also reflected an interesting perspective and, in some cases, strong political views. Things Goin’ On, for example, is an excellent protest song, and Sweet Home Alabama, of course, featured a notable reference to the Watergate scandal. And, their music easily passes the car radio test — the volume inevitably got cranked when Gimme Three Steps and I Know A Little were played on the local rock station. When Ronnie Van Zant said “turn it up” at the beginning of Sweet Home Alabama, people listened and obeyed.

The Ipod doesn’t lie, and it includes 19 Skynyrd songs. Some are there because they remind me of specific college moments (like The Ballad of Curtis Loew, a name that was strikingly similar to the name of an older man who was a classmate in the Journalism 202 class my roommate and I took), but most are there because they are just great tunes: songs like Sweet Home Alabama, I Ain’t The One, Tuesday’s Gone, Gimme Three Steps, Simple Man, I Know A Little, Swamp Music, Things Goin’ On, and Free Bird. Skynyrd did not invent Southern rock, but it sure did a lot to advance the genre. I think Skynyrd clearly deserves careful consideration on any “best American band” list.

Edited to add: Time to Vote for your choice for Best American Band!

Nothing New Under the (Chicago) Sun (Cont.)

Here’s a story on the latest problems for Illinois Senator Roland Burris and how he came to be appointed to the Senate seat vacated by President Obama. You just have to love any politician who, having failed to disclose an incredibly incriminating conversation despite being asked to provide information on multiple occasions, responds that he wasn’t asked a question sufficiently specific to elicit that response. Now, there’s someone we can trust!

The Best American Band: The Doors Response

The Doors

The Doors

When I innocently mentioned the other night that I thought a case could be made that Aerosmith is the best American bank, ever, Richard gave me an incredulous look and said: “What about The Doors?” Richard, Russell and I then launched into an extended discussion of potential candidates, and the more I think about it the more candidates I come up with.

I have to say, though, that The Doors are a pretty strong choice for an off-the-cuff response to my observation. The Doors are ones of those bands that changed the sound of popular music. What did listeners think when their favorite top-40 radio station first played Light My Fire? Their songs featured excellent keyboard music, strong guitar work, weird lyrics, and a great deep singing voice. The Doors is a terrific album, as are Morrison Hotel and L.A. Woman — these were staples of the apartment stereo system when I was in college. although I never cared much for The End, there were particular times when you just felt an urge to listen to a song like The Cars Hiss By My Window — “with a sonic boom . . . boom” — or the dreamy mood created by Riders on the Storm. Their music was so different that the name The Doors has always seemed particularly apt.

As you might expect, the Ipod features a number of Doors tunes: Break on Through (To the Other Side), Light My Fire, L.A. Woman, The Cars Hiss By My Window, People are Strange, Hello I Love You, Roadhouse Blues (Live), Riders on the Storm, and Touch Me. Although it has been almost 38 years — 38 years! — since Jim Morrison died the traditional rock star’s death, this music still stands the test of time.

Edited to add: Time to Vote for your choice for Best American Band!


Today I met with the new class of summer clerks at our Columbus office and, in discussing legal research, used the word “grok.” Of course, none of these clerks had heard of the word, or the book Stranger in a Strange Land from which the word came, or its author Robert A. Heinlein. Well, what do you expect? These folks didn’t graduate from high until after 9/11.

For the record, “grok” means to understand at a complete, intuitive level, and I’m glad to see that on-line dictionaries, at least, recognize the word. It is hard to believe, though, that Stranger in a Strange Land has faded into obscurity. The book was popular among kids when I was growing up, and the word “grok” was used with some frequency in everyday conversation. (Hence, the saying: “I grok Spock.”) What’s next? Will people forget Jonathan Livingston Seagull, or Watership Down and the joys of silflaying under the moon?