Friday, June 14, 2019

A Window Above: You'll Be Back

Song: "You'll Be Back"
Composer and Lyricist: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Musical: Hamilton: An American Musical
Premier: January 20, 2015, New York

I don't really need to explain about Hamilton, do I?  The Broadway musical about the founding father, Alexander Hamilton, based on the biography by Ron Chernow?  It feels almost as silly as trying to summarize Hamlet a few months back (see here).  Crazy comparison?  I don't think so.  The broad cultural impact of Hamilton far exceeds that of anything to come out of the theater world in 30 years, maybe longer.  We're talking Beatles/Star Wars/Harry Potter-level. Will people still be talking about this show in 400 years?  Yes.

I first learned about Hamilton from my wife.  That alone is an indicator.  My drama teacher colleague going on about a Broadway show would not be noteworthy.  But my wife?  As a rule, she hates musicals.  Not only had she heard about it but she was listening to the cast album on near-endless repeat.  It was first shared with me on our road trip to Nova Scotia a few years ago (see here), by which time she and our daughter both knew the show by heart.

King George's big number, reprised twice (you get all three songs in the video above - you're welcome), is admittedly out of step with the rest of the show.  While most of the music is based on hip-hop, R&B and soul, "You'll Be Back" is based on Lin-Manuel Miranda's other great love: British Invasion rock.  Appropriate to the story, right?  Is it any wonder that the song I fell hardest for is the one closer to my beloved Beatles?  Besides, it's hilarious.

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

On the Coffee Table: Aya: Love in the City

Title: Aya: Love in the City
Author: Marguerite Abouet
Artist: Clément Oubrerie
Image result for aya love in yop city
via Amazon
I had my introduction to the Aya series four years ago (reflection here).  Aya: Love in the City collects the last three of six bande dessinée, originally published in French.  Aya is a young woman struggling along with her friends to figure out her place in late-'70s Ivory Coast.  Aya's academic career is jeopardized when she spurns the advances of a lecherous professor.  Her own story revolves around plotting her revenge against him.  In another thread, a friend tries to make his way as a gay African man in France.  We see the conflicts between city Africa and village Africa, between the European concept of Africa and reality. 

The book is enjoyable though the switches between one storyline and another are frequent and abrupt.  I was grateful for the diagram at the beginning of the book outlining the relationships between all of the characters.

I have now read books 1, 4, 5 and 6.  I definitely missed a few details in between so I may well seek out the others, collected with #1 in Aya: Life in Yop City.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Squid Mixes: Bronx Cocktail

A Bronx Cocktail combines gin, orange juice, dry vermouth and sweet vermouth.  I got my recipe from Eric Felten's How's Your Drink?  It might be better with fresh OJ but otherwise it's fine, though uninteresting.  It tastes like orange juice with some stuff in it.  The booze brings a little bitterness.  While I enjoy Felten's book immensely, he tends to leave the garnish out of the list of ingredients, in this case an orange slice.  I didn't have an orange so we went without.

I find my personal tastes are starting to take focus.  That's not to say I won't continue to experiment but at this point, I feel I have a pretty good handle on how the major players among both liquors and mixers function.  And I know what I like.  I'm a whiskey person, particularly rye, though scotch is certainly nice when drinking it straight.  I prefer gin as a mixer to vodka.  Tequila is intriguing.  I like lime and I like bitters.  Manhattan is still my favorite. 

More importantly, I can now look at a list of ingredients and have a pretty good idea of how the combination is going to taste.  As such, I feel I've reached a new stage in the hobby, one that might require an altered approach.  Stay tuned.

Friday, June 7, 2019

A Window Above: Babyface

Song: "Babyface"
Writers: U2
Original Release: July 5, 1993
Band: U2
Album: Zooropa

Given the lyrical content, I rather doubt that this song is about drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. though his nickname is, in fact, Babyface.  However, I do think it's appropriate that the unofficial video above is essentially a tribute to Mullen.  As I wrote in my last U2 post, I believe the drums are the secret of the band's success and this track, in particular, makes excellent use of percussion.

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Squid Mixes: Bullfrog

A bullfrog combines vodka, triple sec and limeade with a lime garnish.  I got my recipe from The New York Bartender's Guide.  Poke around the web and you'll see more bludgeoning cocktails of the same name, such as this one

The drink was nice and a good use of the limeade I made for last week's post.  The liquor doesn't add much flavor and what it does bring is rather... alcoholy.  It might have been fine with just the vodka, or maybe even just the triple sec. 

Friday, May 31, 2019

A Window Above: Come Sail Away

Title: "Come Sail Away"
Writer: Dennis DeYoung
Original Release: July 7, 1977
Band: Styx
Album: The Grand Illusion

Dennis DeYoung wrote "Come Sail Away" while depressed about the fact that Styx's previous two albums had sold below expectations.  This "song of hope" alludes to the book of Ezekiel 1:1-28 (read here).  To me, there's no question that it's the band's best song and one of the masterpieces of prog rock.  I have fond memories of air guitaring this one with middle school students. 

"Come Sail Away" has had several notable television cameos.  My favorites:

South Park - It's the sincerity that sells it:

Freaks and Geeks:

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Squid Mixes: Limeade

This is the exact same recipe as this one from Kester Thompson's Mocktails but with limes instead of lemons.  For those wondering, it took 6.5 limes to produce a cup of juice: my wife's exact guess.  The result is very satisfying.

There is something about a lime that feels like an extra special treat in comparison to a lemon.  Both are lovely but limes have an extra zing.  I especially appreciate the tartness of both and limes, with a lower sugar content, have just that little bit more.

Friday, May 24, 2019

A Window Above: Chan Chan

Song: "Chan Chan"
Writer and Original Performer: Compay Segundo
Original Release: 1996
Album: Antologia

The Buena Vista Social Club isn't a band exactly, at least not one that plays all together at the same time.  It's more of a collective, an organization of musicians with a common mission to revive the styles of pre-revolutionary Cuba.  Established in 1996 by World Circuit, a world music record label, the group produced an eponymous album that was an enormous worldwide success, both commercially and critically.  This was followed by a short concert tour to Amsterdam and New York and a well-received documentary.  For the first time in decades, Cuba was cool.

"Chan Chan" is the first track on the Buena Vista Social Club album.  Compay Segundo said that songs, including this one, came to him in dreams.

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Squid Mixes: Bacardi Special

The drink is very pink.  Two teaspoons of grenadine will do that.

A Bacardi Special combines white rum (Bacardi, of course), gin, fresh lime juice, grenadine and a lemon or lime garnish.  I chose lime.  I got my recipe from How's Your Drink? by Eric Felten.  The flavor balance was really nice.  The rum, lime and grenadine each have a voice.  I do wonder if one could make do without the gin - a taste test for sometime.

Friday, May 17, 2019

A Window Above: Birdland

Song: "Birdland"
Writer: Joe Zawinul
Original Release: April 19, 1977
Band: Weather Report
Album: Heavy Weather

Another jazz fusion tune from my high school jazz band career and here is Joe Zawinul again.  After his stint with Cannonball Adderley (see here), Zawinul worked with Miles Davis, contributing to some of the latter's most innovative studio albums - In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew - as both writer and keyboardist.  There, he poached Davis's sax player Wayne Shorter with whom he founded the band Weather Report.  That act reached its zenith upon attaining the services of Jaco Pastorius, one of the most brilliant, mercurial and self-destructive electric bass players who has ever lived.

"Birdland" was Weather Report's biggest hit, a classic of 1970s jazz.  The song is a tribute to the New York jazz club of the same name and, of course, Charlie "Bird" Parker, for whom the club was named.  Birdland was where Zawinul hung out for years, seeing Louis Armstrong and Count Basie among many others.  It's also where he met his wife.

The song has won three Grammys.  Manhattan Transfer did it first, with lyrics by Jon Hendricks.  Quincy Jones won two for his arrangement on his 1989 album, Back on the Block.

Manhattan Transfer:

Quincy Jones:

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Thursday, May 16, 2019

On the Coffee Table: The Shadow Hero

Title: The Shadow Hero
Author: Gene Luen Yang
Artist: Sonny Liew
Image result for shadow hero
via Amazon
American Yang and Malaysian Liew created The Shadow Hero as an homage to the Green Turtle, a Golden Age comic book superhero.  The Green Turtle was an unusual hero for that or any era in that his alias was Asian-American.  Yang provides an origin story for the character, one that digs deep into the seedy underworld of a fictional American Chinatown.

The story's a lot of fun and the artwork engaging.  Liew's work reminds me of Rob Guillory's Chew illustrations.  Guillory is the younger artist so, if anything, the influence probably went the other way.  The volume includes historical information about the 1940s series as well as a nine-page, reprinted original story.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

On the Coffee Table: The Looking Glass War

Title: The Looking Glass War
Author: John le Carré
Image result for looking glass war
via Amazon
John le Carré was highly disappointed in the public reaction to his masterpiece, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (review here).  While he had intended the book as a demystification of the espionage game, readers, especially in Britain, saw only glamor.  In reaction, he left no doubts in his follow up novel.   

The Looking Glass War reveals a world of incompetence, petty rivalries and unwarranted nostalgia. A fictional military intelligence office referred to as "the Department" gets wind of a possible Soviet missile build up in East Germany.  The book follows their clumsy efforts to confirm the information. 

Interestingly, very little of the text is devoted to the mission itself.  The heft of the material is spent on the training of the eventual agent, a Polish immigrant named Leiser, himself an intelligence veteran of the War.  This part of the story is, in fact, quite interesting as the man is coached in hand-to-hand combat, radio operation, cover maintenance and so forth.  He's not very good at any of it and we also eventually learn many of the methods he's being taught are already obsolete.   But one develops sympathy for him nonetheless, especially as his attachment to Avery, his young, inexperienced and naive handler, develops.  The relationship becomes quite affectionate by the end, leading one to wonder... Le Carré never lets that narrative thread go quite that far.

Our old friend George Smiley plays a supporting role.  His own outfit, "The Circus," has a patronizing and undermining attitude towards the Department.  But Smiley, for his own part, has great sympathy for our bumblers and manages to preserve the respect of the reader just in time for his next story...  The Karla Trilogy, beginning with Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

Can't wait.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Squid Mixes: Roy Rogers

I grew up believing a Roy Rogers was simply a Shirley Temple served to a boy.  That's what the waitresses at Danny's Spaghetti House in Silver Spring, Maryland used to tell me.  Now I know they were just trying to protect my young masculine ego.  They're two different drinks.  A Shirley Temple combines ginger ale and grenadine whereas a Roy Rogers swaps the ginger ale for cola.  I got my recipe from Mocktails by Kester Thompson.  Don't know if you can quite see it in the photo but there's a cherry garnish in there, too.

Naturally, the drink is named for the King of the Cowboys:
Image result for roy rogers
So, why the droids?  Well, you see, I made them for my daughter and me for our Star Wars binge on the last day of our spring break.  The movies were her idea.  The Roys were mine.

The drink is fine.  The flavors don't combine as nicely as ginger ale and grenadine.  One tastes a little fruitiness but the cola overwhelms.  You don't get the color effect either.  Maybe more grenadine would have made more of a difference but not sure it's really worth it. 

Friday, May 10, 2019

A Window Above: You've Really Got a Hold on Me

Song: "You've Really Got a Hold on Me"
Writer: Smokey Robinson
Original Release: November 9, 1962
Band: The Miracles

"You've Really Got a Hold on Me" is yet another timeless classic that started life as the B-side of a single.  The A-side was "Happy Landing."  No, I'd never heard of it either.  I knew the Beatles cover first as it was the third track on their Second Album, one of the records in my parents' cabinet.  Robinson's inspiration came from Sam Cooke's "Bring It on Home to Me."  The Miracles' version peaked at #8 on the pop charts.

The Beatles:

Smokey on Sesame Street:

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Squid Mixes: Brandy Sling

The verdict on this one was swift: too sweet.  That was kind of what I expected going in and I knew from the first sip.  As with the other slings we've tried from David Wondrich's Imbibe, it's a simple combination of the base liquor, sugar, water and ice.  Really, the last thing brandy needs is more sugar.  Brandy on the rocks would have been just fine.

Oh well.  This is why we experiment.

Friday, May 3, 2019

A Window Above: Spain

Song: "Spain"
Writer: Chick Corea
Original Release: January 1973
Band: Return to Forever
Album: Light as a Feather

"Spain" is a jazz fusion composition by Chick Corea.  I first learned it in high school jazz band.  The original was nominated for two Grammys.  30 years later, Corea won a Grammy for an arrangement for piano sextet and orchestra.  The piece is a genuine jazz standard.  All of the clips featured below are awesome - genius level musicians at work.  I realize there's over an hour's worth of music attached to this post but I promise, it's all worth it.

Flamenco, from Paco de Lucia, Al Di Meola and John McLaughlin:

Bluegrass, from Bela Fleck & The Flecktones:

Stevie Wonder.  Ever wonder if the guy can still play the harmonica?  Oh my!:

Al Jarreau, lyrics by Joaquín Rodrigo:

Jake Shimabukuro, ukelele:

Arrangement for Piano Sextet and Orchestra, First Movement:

Second Movement:

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Squid Mixes: Shark Attack

Yup.  Next time, a shorter glass.

A shark attack was a great way to use up some of the lemonade from last week's drink (see here).  I got the recipe from The New York Bartender's Guide: vodka, lemonade and grenadine.  The recipe indicates stirring after pouring everything in the glass.  However, if I should ever make it again, I prefer the theatrical effect of the grenadine unstirred - wish I'd taken a picture.

I rather doubt I will make it again, though.  Wife's review: a little too cough syrupy. 

Friday, April 26, 2019

A Window Above: You Better You Bet

Song: "You Better You Bet"
Writer: Pete Townshend
Original Release: February 27, 1981
Band: The Who

"You Better You Bet" was the lead single for the 1981 album Face Dances.  It was the last Who single to make the top 20 on the US charts or the top 10 in the UK.  Lead singer Roger Daltrey claims it as one of his all-time favorites, loving the Elvis-like vocal line as he describes it.

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

On the Coffee Table: Casey Reason

Title: Leading a Learning Organization: The Science of Working with Others
Author: Casey Reason
via Amazon
This was another book I picked up for my master's program.  Fortunately for my own purposes, the book expands the idea of leadership beyond the principal's role.  Having been in my job for quite a while and having earned a fair amount of trust and respect from my colleagues (the damn fools) I have found myself in a lot more leadership roles in recent years, both official and otherwise.  Especially when our professional community is struggling, which it seems to be more often than not, I find it difficult not to take on the stress and worries of others.  Listening to people complain all the time is brutally draining.  I am always eager to find ways to turn those same complaints into a plan for action.  Reason's book offers a path.

Basically, he recommends leading others in a collective inquiry process.  As much as I appreciate the positive and constructive thinking, I may need to rethink approaching books about work as pleasure reading.  I read a bit, then start to ruminate upon unpleasant things.  I still want to read such books and may indeed try to implement some of his ideas, but maybe not the most relaxing material at bedtime.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Squid Mixes: Ginger Beer Shandy

A ginger beer shandy is a simple ginger beer, lemonade mixture in equal parts.  I got my recipe from Liz Scott's Zero-Proof Cocktails.  In flavor, the result is more a sweeter ginger beer than a spicier lemonade.  We enjoyed it but we all agreed it was not an improvement upon either ingredient.  I suggested that perhaps fresh lemonade would make a difference but my wife countered that the lemonade would still be better on its own. 

Monday, April 22, 2019

On the Coffee Table: Flash Boys

Title: Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt
Author: Michael Lewis
via Barnes & Noble
In his 2014 book, Michael Lewis offers a closer look at the mysterious world of high-frequency trading (HFT).  Apparently the exchange pits one sees in 1980s movies like Trading Places and Ferris Bueller's Day Off are extinct.  Everything's online now and literally lightning quick.  Anyone trader or firm who can shave microseconds off their transaction time has the advantage. 

Flash Boys covers a lot of ground in the HFT world but primarily focuses on Brad Katsuyama and his firm, IEX.  Brad is on a mission to right what he sees as a great wrong.  In short, HFT makes the traders rich but screws the customers who, once again, are intentionally kept in the dark about Wall Street's inner workings.  IEX is a new exchange intending to keep things fair. 

In my experience, Michael Lewis is best at character sketches.  The book flies when the focus is on the people and their relationships with each other.  Brad is not exactly Robin Hood as he still wants to make money for himself.  But the fact that he and his would-be merry men are willing to forego higher salaries with other firms in order to pursue a higher-minded ideal is endearing nonetheless.  All of Lewis's business books examine the complicated relationship between morality and the market.  At least in this case, it's pretty clear the protagonists are the good guys.

It's a muddier trudge when Lewis delves too deeply into the finance stuff.   As with his other books, I can't claim to understand all of it but the people help to make it relatable.

Apparently, Netflix has a movie in the works.

Friday, April 19, 2019

A Window Above: Cupid

Song: "Cupid"
Writer and Performer: Sam Cooke
Original Release: May 16, 1961

Originally, Sam Cooke's RCA Victor producers asked him to write a song for a woman they'd seen on TV.  Then they heard her sing and were less than impressed.  "Cupid" became Cooke's song after all.  Adding the "shoop" sound of the arrow flying was his idea.  While the song only rose to #17 on the pop chart at the time, history has been kinder.  Rolling Stone put "Cupid" at #452 on its all-time list in 2011.

Not surprisingly, there have been numerous interesting covers in the years since.  The Supremes, from their Sam Cooke tribute album following his death:

Johnny Nash's rocksteady/reggae version:

"Úsvit," a Czech translation performed by Pavel Bobek:

Otis Redding:

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Squid Mixes: Whiskey Sling

A whiskey sling is just like a gin sling (see here) but with the base liquor switched.  My recipe came from Imbibe! by David Wondrich.  Sage asked in the gin post where the sling name comes from.  While I could find no definitive answer on this, Wondrich theorizes that it comes from the idea of "slinging back" a drink.

A sling really is the most basic cocktail concept, at least before bitters enter the mix: a liquor and a sweetener.  And what better sweetener than sugar itself?  I prefer the whiskey, as I find I do with most drinks given the option.  I used rye. 

Monday, April 15, 2019

On the Coffee Table: Something New

Title: Something New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride
Writer and Artist: Lucy Knisley
via Amazon
This is my third Knisley graphic novel memoir.  This time, she's getting married.  While she does tell the story of the long, meandering courtship, most of the book is devoted to wedding planning itself.  As with many couples, Lucy and her now-husband John worked hard to personalize the affair.  In their case, that meant DIY decoration projects and relying on the generosity of friends, family and neighbors. 

Our own wedding - also planned for outdoors in the woods - was 18 years ago in June.  I loved our wedding - probably the most beautifully planned and executed day of my life.  All credit to my wife who did the lion's share of the work.  I must say, though, I'm glad to have married well the first time as it's not an ordeal I'm eager to go through again anytime soon.  So much stress that, wonderful as it was, it was all too easy to wonder why more people don't simply elope.

For me, the best reason to have a wedding - rather than just knocking out the paperwork at the county clerk's office and being done with it - was the gathering of loved ones.  Due to our own life meanderings and those of our families, the people who are important to us are pretty well scattered.  The wedding was probably the best opportunity we'll ever have to bring so many of them together in the same place at the same time.  We also had our wedding in the style of the Quakers (gotta love Pennsylvania) which meant we faced our guests during the service.  I am grateful for that choice.

I suppose we have our daughter's wedding to look forward to one day.  I have no doubt that she'll work just as hard to personalize hers.  She read the book, too, and latched onto a couple of ideas: poutine and a wedding dress with pockets.

Knisley's books are always well executed.  Her material is so personal - a plus, big picture - that I am always left wondering what I would think of her.  In all honesty, I don't think I'd care for her - a bit too self-absorbed.  I think I'd like her husband John better.  Even so, the book is fun.

Friday, April 12, 2019

A Window Above: Mercy, Mercy, Mercy

Song: "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy"
Writer: Joe Zawinul
Original Release: 1966
Original Performer: Cannonball Adderley
Album: Mercy, Mercy, Mercy! Live at "The Club"

This is one of many songs I didn't know was a cover until relatively recently.  I knew both the Buckinghams' song and the jazz arrangement as I played the latter myself in high school jazz band.  However, I was completely wrong about which came first.

Songwriter Joe Zawinul, an Austrian keyboardist who would later go on to become one of the lead figures in jazz fusion, joined Cannonball Adderley's quintet in 1961.  He played both piano and electric piano on the original recording.  Rounding out the combo were Nat Adderley (cornet; Cannonball's younger brother), Victor Gaskin (bass) and Roy McCurdy (drums).

"Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" was a major crossover hit for Adderley, rising to #2 on the soul chart and #11 on the pop chart.  Two different sets of lyrics were written for the song.  Curtis Mayfield wrote one set for The Mauds, who released the song in 1967.  The words The Buckinghams used are credited to Johnny Watson who made his own recording of the song with Larry Williams, released in February 1967.  The Buckingham record came out a month later.  Their version charted best, rising to #5.

The Mauds' version, performed by Blue Road:

Larry Williams and Johnny "Guitar" Watson:

Finally, The Buckinghams:

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Squid Mixes: Saratoga

The Saratoga was named for the Hudson Valley resort town where it was invented, probably in the 1880s.  The drink combines brandy, whiskey (rye in my case), sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters.  I got my recipe from Imbibe! by David Wondrich, who describes it as splitting "the difference between a Manhattan and a Metropolitan." 

I used a simple lemon quarter slice to garnish.  "Still more decorations than my sazarac," says my wife (see here).  She's bitter...

Friday, April 5, 2019

A Window Above: In the Mood

Song: "In the Mood"
Writers: Wingy Manone, Andy Razaf and Joe Garland
Original Release: 1938
Original Band: Edgar Hayes & His Orchestra

"In the Mood" was the calling card of the Glenn Miller Orchestra, the most polished - and squarest? - big band of the Swing Era.  It's loads of fun to play and a great crowd pleaser.  My daughter and I have now both played it in our scholastic jazz band careers.  Unfortunately, Peter Sellers didn't care for it (see story here).

The piece's compositional history is complicated.  The arpeggiated melody in the saxophones came from tune called "Tar Paper Stomp" by trumpeter Wingy Malone.  The theme was used again in another piece, "Hot and Anxious" by Horace Henderson, before Joe Garland got his hands on it.  Copyright laws were a lot looser in the 1930s so it was easy enough for a gifted musician to appropriate music that wasn't written down and registered.

The first Edgar Hayes recording was released as a B-side to "Stardust."  Several other acts, including Artie Shaw, recorded "In the Mood" but didn't have much luck with it.  In 1939, the song was sold to Glenn Miller who toyed around with the arrangement and struck gold.  Miller's iconic recording held the #1 spot on the charts for 13 consecutive weeks.

"Tar Paper Stomp" by Wingy Malone:

"Hot and Anxious" by Fletcher Henderson (Horace's brother):

There are lyrics, written by Andy Razaf.  The Andrews Sisters:

The Edgar Hayes original, note the bari sax solo in place of the usual alto duel:

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Squid Mixes: Vermouth Cocktail

My recipe for the vermouth cocktail came from David Wondrich's Imbibe: vermouth (sweet), ice and lemon peel.  It's barely a cocktail, really, with the vermouth serving as both base liquor and sweetener.  My wife was highly skeptical but enjoyed it in the end.  I liked the cinnamony flavor of the vermouth.  Funny, I'd always assumed that flavor hint in a Manhattan came from the bitters alone but it would appear the vermouth contributes as well.

Speaking of Manhattans, my quest for good ones continues.  One matter I have resolved to my own satisfaction: rye vs. bourbon.  On New Year's Eve, my wife and I both ordered Manhattans, both with Bulleit whiskey.  Hers was rye, mine bourbon.  A comparison within the same brand seemed a reasonable test.  The rye was definitely better.  The bourbon was fine but the rye's sharpness added  character.

The cherry matters, too - at least as a key to the drink's appeal.  More recently, we went to Monarch and the Milkweed for drinks before a symphony concert.  I ordered a Manhattan, she a Sazerac.  She was quite disappointed hers didn't come with a cherry - totally tried to Bogart mine!

Friday, March 29, 2019

A Window Above: Your Song

Song: "Your Song"
Writers: Elton John and Bernie Taupin
Original Release: March 31, 1970
Original Performers: Three Dog Night
Album: It Ain't Easy

The world is overrun with love songs.  Most run along the same basic themes.  But every once in a while - a long while - someone takes a new and refreshing approach.  Nearly 50 years on, "Your Song" is so familiar that it comes across as cliche.  It is anything but.  An awkward narrator stumbles to find the right words to express his love.  Almost by accident, his simple honesty begets magic.  "Your Song" was Elton John's breakthrough hit and for my money, it's always been his best. 

Three Dog Night released the song first.  Elton John opened for the band on tour and let them record it.  The song was the first track on his own eponymous album, released just a couple weeks later.  When he put out the single himself, it was merely the B-side to "Take Me to the Pilot."  I am routinely amazed by how wrong people can be about such decisions in retrospect.

Three Dog Night's version:

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Squid Mixes: Old-Fashioned Brandy

Same recipe as this drink, but with brandy instead of whiskey.  I prefer the latter but the sweetness of the brandy does bring out something awfully nice in the bitters.   It might be worth keeping the recipe, from David Wondrich's Imbibe, in mind for variety's sake.

Friday, March 22, 2019

A Window Above: Let's Get It On

Song: "Let's Get It On"
Writers: Marvin Gaye and Ed Townsend
Original Release: June 15, 1973
Performer: Marvin Gaye

Sexiest song ever?  Quite possibly.  If not, it's on a damn short list.

It didn't start off that way.  Townsend initially wrote it as a religious song after he came out of alcohol rehab.  Then Kenneth Stover changed the lyrics to serve a political theme.  Finally, Gaye and Townsend brought the sex.  The song became the centerpiece and title-track for a sex-themed album, a sharp contrast to the political masterpiece, What's Going On, released in 1971.  The song and the album firmly established Gaye as a sexual icon for the rest of his short life and beyond.  The "Let's Get It On" single was not only his best seller.  It was, to that point, Motown's best-selling record ever.

Vocally, the song may well be Marvin Gaye's magnum opus, exhibiting a breathtaking range of both pitch and emotion.  Indeed, few pop songs of any genre or era can compare.  He is backed on the track by The Funk Brothers.

The earlier, political version - still amazing but somehow lacking:

The song has a sequel on the album, "Keep Gettin' It On":

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Squid Mixes: Gin Sling

A gin sling could hardly be simpler: gin, sugar, water and ice.  Mix it all in the serving glass.  If you like gin, it's nice and the sugar is just enough to take the edge off.  Perhaps due to the simplicity, slings were extremely popular in the late 19th century.  My recipe came from Imbibe! by David Wondrich.

The Scamp was late for the photo shoot, then wouldn't stick around once she finally showed up.  Cats...

Friday, March 15, 2019

A Window Above: Pastime Paradise

Song: "Pastime Paradise"
Writer and Performer: Stevie Wonder
Original Release: September 28, 1976
Album: Songs in the Key of Life

If I have written this before, it's always worth repeating: if you wish to understand modern music, you must know Stevie Wonder's work from the early- and mid-1970s.  His legacy extends to pop, rock, R&B, hip-hop and beyond, both in terms of musical elements and technological innovation.  "Pastime Paradise" was one of the first songs to use a synthesizer to sound like a full string section.  The recording features both a gospel choir and Hare Krishna musicians as chanters and bell ringers.

"Pastime Paradise" has been sampled and covered by numerous musicians, most famously by Coolio in "Gangsta's Paradise":

"Weird" Al Yankovic, "Amish Paradise":

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Squid Mixes: Joe Rickey

"Colonel" Joe Rickey was a Democratic lobbyist from Fulton, Missouri.  During the 1880s, he invented this simple drink combining whiskey with lime juice and soda then had bartenders make it for him.  Later, people started making the drink with gin, which ultimately became more popular.  But Joe was always faithful to whiskey.

I used bourbon for our drink, as recommended by David Wondrich in Imbibe!, from which I also got the above history.  We've had gin rickeys before and my wife says she prefers it that way.  I like the bourbon.  Gin doesn't stand up as well to mixers as whiskey does.  I like the fact that with whiskey, you always know it's there.  Even if the flavor fades, that warmth in the back of the throat remains.  I can see how the mellow bourbon is the right choice.  A sharper rye, for instance, might clash more with the lime.

Friday, March 8, 2019

A Window Above: Caravan

Song: "Caravan"
Writers: Juan Tizol and Duke Ellington
Premier: 1936
Original Performer: Duke Ellington

"Caravan" is one of numerous jazz standards written or co-written by Duke Ellington, the king of all bandleaders and arguably the most important musician in American history.  The exotic sounds were unusual for the era and have certainly contributed to the piece's enduring appeal.  Irving Mills wrote lyrics, though they are rarely performed.

The song has been covered by, essentially, every important jazz musician since.  That's why they're called standards.  There are dozens of recordings by Ellington alone.  It would be absurd to attempt an exhaustive list so I offer only a few of the more unusual renditions.

Ella Fitzgerald with the Ellington Band:

The Mills Brothers, a cappella - not exactly an enlightened piece of flim by 2019 standards but musically, wow:

Gordon Jenkins - Mad Men fans may recognize this one:

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Squid Mixes: Gin Sour

This is the same recipe employed two weeks ago for the brandy sour.  Both came from Imbibe! by David Wondrich.  I will admit to being a little skeptical of the gin, lemon combo but it was fine.  The lemon is dominant enough that there's no clash.  My wife described the result as "almost summery," though that did not discourage her from drinking it in winter.

Friday, March 1, 2019

A Window Above: The Gambler

Song: "The Gambler"
Writer: Don Schlitz
Original Release: 1978
Original Performer: Bobby Bare
Album: Bare

While on the Paris subway last summer, I made a joke to my wife and daughter that I would ask a group of buskers if they could sing "The Gambler."  This prompted a Google search for the French lyrics.  After all, the internet was invented for just such a quest.  It became a running joke of our trip.

No, I never did get up the nerve to ask them.

Now, "The Gambler" is one of the iconic songs of 1970s country music but it took a while for the song to catch on.  It took two years of shopping around for Schlitz to find a musician to record it.  Bobby Bare took it on at the urging of children's author Shel Silverstein, of all people but never released it as a single.  Johnny Cash gave it a shot, including it on his 1978 Gone Girl album - again, no single.

Finally, Kenny Rogers got a hold of it.  Whereas Cash's star had faded by the late '70s, Rogers was an industry titan.  "The Gambler" was the second of five consecutive singles to hit the top of the country charts for Rogers.  The record even enjoyed what was, at the time, rare crossover success, reaching #16 on the pop charts.  It is most assuredly the song most closely associated with Rogers now and the one most likely to carry his legacy into the future.

As one who's played a lot of poker over the past few years (see here), the advice in the song is good.

How could I not include the Muppets?

Bobby Bare's original:

Johnny Cash:

No, I never was able to find French lyrics.  But if you're interested, here's a link to a line-by-line translation.

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Squid Mixes: Tweety Bird

A tweety bird combines orange juice, grapefruit juice, pineapple juice, lemon-lime soda and bitter lemon soda with a pineapple garnish.  I got my recipe from Zero-Proof Cocktails by Liz Scott.  The author recommends the drink as a margarita substitute with Mexican or other Latin American fare.  I would go further and say the flavor is superior to most margaritas.

Zero-Proof is fun, more realistic than other mocktail books.  While Scott stresses that fresh juices are best she concedes that store-bought will do in a pinch.  She also makes suggestions for alcoholic additions for several recipes, though not this one. 

Friday, February 22, 2019

A Window Above: Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Song: "Where Everybody Knows Your Name"
Writers: Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo
Premier: September 30, 1982
Peformer: Gary Portnoy
Television Show: Cheers

We've been watching Cheers a lot at our house recently.  I watched the sitcom religiously during the the initial run and it's tremendous fun exploring it with our daughter now.  37 years (!) after the original pilot, it's all too easy to forget how good Cheers truly was.  While I am willing to concede that Seinfeld maintained a more consistent level of quality, the best Cheers episodes are better than the best Seinfeld offerings.  The acting is top-notch.  In this most recent rewatch, I've been especially impressed by Rhea Perlman, the unforgettable Carla Tortelli.  It's the writing that sparkles brightest.  The Sam/Diane banter is frequently Grant/Hepburn-worthy.  What I admire most about Cheers: some of the best episodes are filmed entirely in one room.

The theme song is the best ever - no arguments worth considering.  Not only is the song itself objectively better than all others but no song better matches its show.  "Where Everybody Knows Your Name" was the fourth song submitted by Portnoy and Hart Angelo after three rejections.  The group sound in the chorus is actually Portnoy's own voice, overdubbed six times.  The simple instrumentation was maintained to enhance the intimate feel.

While the show's intro is worth celebrating exactly as is, it would be a shame to leave the full version of the song out of my post:

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

On the Coffee Table: Alejandro Danois

Title: The Boys of Dunbar: A Story of Love, Hope, and Basketball
Author: Alejandro Danois
Image result for boys of dunbar
via Amazon
I am rarely one for impulse buys in general and I am particularly methodical (some would say compulsive) in my book purchases.  But when I learned of The Boys of Dunbar, I knew I had to have it.  It is, among other things, the story of two of my favorite athletes of any sport or era: Reggie Williams and Muggsy Bogues.

Williams was an All-American superstar in both high school and college.  He was the captain of the 1986-87 Georgetown Hoyas, dubbed "Reggie and the Miracles" by their coach John Thompson, the team that made me fall in love with college basketball (more on that here).  He never made it big in the pros, partly due to injuries but more because he was undersized for his natural position, a more common problem than most NBA fans probably realize.  Still, a 10-year career in the league with a double-digit scoring average is nothing to sneeze at.

Williams's best friend growing up in Baltimore was Tyrone "Muggsy" Bogues.  It's far more likely  you've heard of him: at 5'3", the shortest player in NBA history.  He outdid his buddy, playing in the pros for 14 years.  He is, by any reasonable measure, one of the most extraordinary athletes who has ever lived.  See video highlights here.

Williams and Bogues were the two best players on what is widely considered to be the greatest high school basketball team of all-time: the Dunbar Poets, 1981-82.  Two other players from that team went on to the NBA.  David Wingate's defensive genius kept him in the league for 15 years.  Reggie Lewis played for the Celtics for six seasons before his life was cut short by a congenital heart defect.  Lewis wasn't even a starter at Dunbar, yet he was the only one of the four to be named an NBA all-star.  The Boys of Dunbar tells the story of this team, its coach Bob Wade and the community from which it spawned.

As a sports fan, I usually pull for the underdog and truth be told, Dunbar wasn't much of one.  The Poets began the season ranked #5 in the country and won all of their games, average margin of victory 30 points.  That's not to say there weren't hardships to overcome.  All of the players came from poverty, East Baltimore suffering from the same drug-fueled violence as many other urban centers in that time period.  Included in the book are the stories of other Dunbar greats whose aspirations were destroyed by addiction.  Long-term success was not taken for granted.

Bogues is the star of the tale.  In the pre-YouTube world, opposing teams often took him as a joke when Dunbar showed up for an away game.  His competitive spirit fueled by the doubts of others, he only needed a few seconds of game time to set the record straight.  Muggsy wasn't merely good enough.  He dominated every game he played at the high school level.  He developed an unconventional approach, knowing that if he played the same way everybody else did, his height would be a liability.  Incorporating not only basketball skill but also the instincts of the champion wrestler he'd been in middle school, he could steal the ball seemingly anytime he wanted it.  He ran the fast break expertly and in the half-court, made sharp passes even his teammates didn't always see coming.  By game's end, the same hostile crowds who jeered him on the way in often gave him standing ovations.  With Muggsy at point guard, Dunbar was literally unbeatable.  In his two years at the school, the Poets had a combined record of 60-0. 

The story connects strongly to both of the college teams I grew up with.  Both Wingate and Williams played on Georgetown's 1984 national championship team, Williams named Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four as a freshman.  Coach Wade went from Dunbar to the University of Maryland, assigned to clean up the program after the death of Len Bias.  Unfortunately, scandal ran too deep for even Wade to handle and he never coached again after leaving the job in disgrace three years later.  Add the triumph of Bogues and the tragedy of Lewis and the '81-'82 Dunbar team remains one of the most remarkable stories in basketball history.

I loved the book, though I was always going to.  If my affection is colored by my affection for the subject, so be it.  While I will concede that Danois could probably have done with a better editor, I would gladly read more books like The Boys of Dunbar.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Squid Mixes: Brandy Sour

The sour began its rise to prominence in the 1860s.  Whiskey was the most common base liquor but brandy, rum and gin sours were also popular.  I got my recipe from David Wondrich's Imbibe: brandy, water, sugar and the juice of half a lemon.  As with many older drinks, it's mixed directly in the glass, though more recent recipes call for shaking.  I prefer whiskey but brandy's nice for a change of pace.

Monday, February 18, 2019

On the Coffee Table: The Fade Out

Title: The Fade Out, Act One
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Author: Sean Phillips
Image result for the fade out act one
via Wikipedia
Comic book noir.

Charlie, a struggling screenwriter, wakes up in an unfamiliar bath tub after a little-remembered evening of drunken carousing.  On the living room floor, he finds a beautiful starlet strangled to death.  As he works to piece things together, the dark, manipulative, misogynist world of late '40s Hollywood unfolds.  Every man's a womanizer.  The studio boss has a casting couch (maybe?) and secret passages.  The more we learn, the more twisted the tale becomes.

The Fade Out is just the sort of story my wife loves so it's no surprise she discovered it first.  Act One collects the first four of the twelve-issue run, originally published from 2014-2016.  So far, the protagonist narrator is one of the least interesting characters though that changes as we gradually learn more about him, including the fact he worked with Clark Gable on his war documentaries.  The artwork is dark and pulpy, a good fit for the genre.  Definitely an R rating: nudity, violence and language.

I'm certainly in for this one through to the end.  Gotta know what happened!

Friday, February 15, 2019

A Window Above: I'm Going to Go Back There Someday

Song: "I'm Going to Go Back There Someday"
Writer: Paul Williams and Kenneth Ascher
Original Release: 1979
Performer: Gonzo (voiced by Dave Goelz)
Album: The Muppet Movie: Original Soundtrack Recording

"There's not a word yet
For old friends who've just met."

This song comes up at a low point in The Muppet Movie.  Our felted friends are stranded in the desert, their trip to Hollywood seemingly put on permanent hold.  In a wistful moment, Gonzo sings this song.  It's sad.  It's sweet.  It's beautiful.  It's every bit as enigmatic as Gonzo himself, the tune capturing the mood perfectly but the lyrics not quite connected to the rest of the story.  The scene and song would eventually be used as a premise for Muppets in Space, a film released 20 years later.

Want to hear all of the songs I have featured in a convenient playlist?

Enjoy: A Window Above

What are you listening to these days?