Friday, December 28, 2018

A Window Above: Solsbury Hill

Title: "Solsbury Hill"
Writer: Peter Gabriel
Original Release: 1977
Album: Peter Gabriel (the first one)

"Solsbury Hill" launched Peter Gabriel's solo career after a decade as the heavily-costumed lead singer of Genesis.  Not many musicians strike out on their own in order to tone down their image but that's exactly what happened with Gabriel.  He didn't leave all of his eccentricities behind.  All of his first four albums are eponymous and unnumbered.

The song commemorates a spiritual experience Gabriel had atop a hill in Somerset, England.  According to him, it's about letting go - of the band, yes, but of things in general - in order to grow.  For the music geeks out there, the song is written mostly in 7/4 time - highly unusual, particularly in pop music.

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, December 25, 2018

Squid Mixes: Bishop's Cooler

Merry Christmas!

When Ebeneezer Scrooge ladles out punch for all assembled at the end of Dickens's A Christmas Carol, the bowl is filled with hot Bishop.  Bishop was the mulled wine of choice in 19th century England, especially in December.  The obvious way to Americanize the drink was to pour it over ice.  I got my Bishop's Cooler recipe from Eric Felten's How's Your Drink?  Felten got it from a 1947 bar book by "Trader Vic" Bergeron.

A Bishop's Cooler combines fresh lemon and orange juices with Burgundy wine, Jamaican rum and a little sugar.  Not wishing to waste a nice Burgundy, I went with a cheap California Pinot Noir instead.  The ingredients are mixed directly in the serving glass which is handy.  My wife thought it tasted like Sangria.  Not surprising.  Sangria is, after all, a punch with wine and citrus, too.

Friday, December 21, 2018

A Window Above: Tempted

Title: "Tempted"
Writers: Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford
Original Release: July 10, 1981
Band: Squeeze
Album: East Side Story

"I fumble for the clock
 Alarmed by the seduction."

The lyric above is my second-favorite, all-time (after this one).  The "clock alarmed" wrap around is so deliciously clever.

To me, this is the rare song that exists outside of era.  Maybe there's something in the keyboard sound that signifies early '80s but the basic energy feels older.  Calling it retro is over-simplifying.  It is a genre of one.  It never cracked the top 40 in even one country where it was released as a single, yet it has found its way into the classic canon.

It's not even a typical song for the band, though certainly its most enduring.  Most of Squeeze's opus features Tilbrook at lead vocals.  For most that don't, Difford takes the lead.  Instead, keyboardist Paul Carrack sang lead here.  Interestingly, Carrack was only with the band for a relatively short time, replacing Jools Holland.  Carrack was the lead singer for a couple of other successful acts: Ace and Mike + The Mechanics.  Producer Elvis Costello's voice can also be heard on the song, trading off lines with Tilbrook in the second verse.

An a cappella rendition by The Georgetown Chimes:

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, December 18, 2018

Squid Mixes: Red-Spotted Newt

In September 2017, I included a photo of a red-spotted newt with one of my posts.  My dear friend Nancy Mock suggested that the name of this handsome amphibian might make for a good cocktail moniker when I invent my own.  Well, the thrilling moment has arrived.

Red-Spotted Newt:

6 parts fresh grapefruit juice (3 oz.)
4 parts cranberry cordial (2 oz.)
3 dashes orange bitters
orange slice

Shake with ice.  Strain into a cocktail glass.  Garnish with orange slice.

We got a bunch of cranberries with our CSA share and my wife wanted something interesting to do with them.  She made the cordial with the understanding that I would sort out an appropriate cocktail application for it.  I used the sea breeze (vodka, cranberry, grapefruit) as my starting point, then shaped the new drink around the available ingredients.  Fortunately, we still had one grapefruit from our daughter's high school band citrus sale.  I struck upon adding bitters in Trial #2.

The reviews were glowing.  "We need more grapefruit juice so we can drink these all weekend," my wife said.  Every drink book I've read stresses the importance of fresh juice.  I will admit that I usually don't bother but I can't deny that it made a huge difference with these and probably would with others.  One thing that's cool about using fresh fruit:  each drink will taste subtly different because each grapefruit tastes subtly different.  One will be sweeter, another more tangy, yet another more bitter.  Store-bought juice from concentrate is far more uniform.  It'll do in a pinch but fresh is more adventurous.  In an odd coincidence, every grapefruit I tried yielded almost exactly six ounces of juice - perfect for two drinks!

Friday, December 14, 2018

A Window Above: Annie's Song

Title: "Annie's Song"
Writer: John Denver
Original Release: June 1974
Album: Back Home Again

"Let me drown in your laughter.
Let me die in your arms."

"Annie's Song" came to John Denver while riding a ski lift in Aspen.  It was an ode to his wife at the time, Annie Martel Denver.  Apparently, the original melody matched the second movement of Tchaikovsky's fifth symphony exactly but, in the end, only contained the first five notes.  Here, once again, is the theme of humility in the face of love.

The song has been successfully translated to several languages, including a Finnish #1 hit for Ville Valo:

Czech, by Karel Gott:

Urdu, by Khalid Waheed:

For the sake of completeness, here's the Tchaikovsky:

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, December 11, 2018

Squid Mixes: Little Princess

In working through a book like The New York Bartender's Guide, one quickly catches on to the fact that a slight change in recipe - a switch from light to dark rum, the presence or absence of bitters, even a variation in garnish - can result in a name change.  The most frequent such tweak is a change in proportions.  Case in point: according to the guide, 6 parts light rum to 2 parts sweet vermouth is a Poker Cocktail whereas 4:2 of the same ingredients is a Little Princess.  Regarding why one is called by the one name and the other another, I can find no information.  It is just so.

We decided to try the Little Princess, figuring that if we decided what it really needs is more rum, we could try the Poker Cocktail.  As it turns out, less rum is just fine.  In fact, with less one can truly appreciate the vermouth as more than mere sweetener.

Friday, December 7, 2018

A Window Above: Dazed and Confused

Song: "Dazed and Confused"
Writer: Jimmy Page (inspired by Jake Holmes)
Original Release: January 12, 1969
Band: Led Zeppelin
Album: Led Zeppelin

"Been dazed and confused for so long it's not true.
Wanted a woman, never bargained for you."

The greatest lyrics in rock 'n' roll.  You hardly need the rest of the song after an opening like that.

The story of authorship for this song is a complicated one.  In the end, it doesn't reflect well on what is probably my second-favorite band (after the Beatles, naturally).   A song called "Dazed and Confused" was first written by Jake Holmes, an American singer-songwriter, in 1967.  The British rockers The Yardbirds reworked a new arrangement for themselves.  Their co-lead guitarist at the time was Jimmy Page who, of course, went on to join Led Zeppelin.  The Zeppelin version includes new lyrics, including the one above, by lead singer Robert Plant (uncredited, interestingly).  In 2010, Holmes sued for copyright infringement.  He won an out of court settlement as well as the parenthetical writing credit indicated above.

Both the original Holmes and Yardbirds version are included below.  Holmes's claim is obviously genuine.  At the same time, there's no denying Plant's lyrics bring depth and dimension to the affair.

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, December 4, 2018

Squid Mixes: Gin Fix

A gin fix is simple enough: gin, lemon juice, sugar, water, lemon slice to garnish.  I got my recipe from Imbibe! by David Wondrich with an assist from The New York Bartender's Guide on the garnish.  According to Wondrich, the first historical record is a drink list from a Toronto saloon, dated 1856.  It's a refreshing drink, tasting exactly like what it is: gin and lemon.

Friday, November 30, 2018

A Window Above: Kore ga Watashi no Ikiru Michi

Song: "Kore ga Watashi no Ikiru Michi"
Writer: Tamio Okuda
Original Release: October 7, 1996
Performers: Puffy AmiYumi

I can't say I developed much affection for J-pop during my time in Japan but this song definitely left a mark.  For months, it was everywhere!  For whatever reason, I have particularly strong memories of hearing it in the checkout line at the grocery store.  Naturally, it was a karaoke favorite, too.  My affection is due in no small part to the Beatles strains heard throughout: "Day Tripper," "Please, Please Me," "Twist and Shout" and "She Loves You" among the more obvious.

In Japan, the enormously famous duo has always been known simply as PUFFY but in the United States, where they have also enjoyed moderate success, they go by Puffy AmiYumi so as not to conflict with Mr. P Diddy.  American cartoon fans would recognize them as the performers of the theme songs for both Teen Titans and Teen Titans Go!  "Kore ga Watashi no Ikiru Michi" was their second single.  It debuted at #1 on the Japanese charts, the first of three consecutive #1s for the ladies.  It is their best-selling single to date.

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, November 27, 2018

Squid Mixes: The Herald Punch

The Herald Punch was invented by Patsy Duffy, a bar owner in late-19th century New York.  He also wrote a tell-all autobiography devoted more to dirt on his famous patrons - John L. Sullivan, J.P. Morgan, Oscar Wilde and Tom Thumb among them - than any meaningful thoughts on mixology.  The Herald Punch, dedicated to the New York Herald newspaper, combines fresh orange juice, sugar, rye and rum.  I got my recipe, as well as the dish on Duffy, from Imbibe! by David Wondrich.

The drink is not so different in composition from the cold whiskey punch from a couple weeks ago.  The orange juice, though, allows for a more delicate and satisfying balance than the lemon juice.  Fortunately, we do not lack for oranges at the moment as we just got the delivery from our daughter's school band citrus sale.  Indian Grove: I'm pretty sure it's the same vendor we used back when I was in high school band. 

"Punches pack a wallop!" is my wife's review.  Historically, they were meant to, of course.  Thus the word?  Apparently not.  Punch as in hit is derived from the word pounce.  The word for the beverage, on the other hand, comes from Sanskrit: pança, which means five, as in five ingredients.  It is a word - and a drink - from England's imperialist legacy.

Friday, November 23, 2018

A Window Above: Tom Sawyer

Song: "Tom Sawyer"
Writers: Geddy Lee, Neil Peart, Alex Lifeson and Pye Dubois
Original Release: February 12, 1981
Band: Rush
Album: Moving Pictures

When I was in high school, I developed a theory not unlike Quentin Tarantino's Elvis/Beatles theory.  Basically people, by which I meant teenage boys, could be divided into two camps: Led Zeppelin people and Rush people.  The Led Zeppelin people could enjoy Rush just as surely as Rush people could enjoy Zeppelin.  But no one liked both equally.  It simply wasn't possible.  I was definitely a Led Zeppelin person.  It wasn't until much later that I truly learned to appreciate Rush.

The two groups are on a very short list of the most technically accomplished rock bands of all time, along with Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience.  The Beatles wrote better songs.  The Stones, The Who and Queen had greater stage presence.  But if what you want is instrumental masters, there's no topping those four.

Rush, more than any of the others, is built from the bottom up.  Neal Peart, master of the toms, is legendary for the size of his drum kit alone.  Geddy Lee's is certainly one of rock's stranger lead voices but his bass work is beyond question.  Alex Lifeson is the rare lead guitarist who is overshadowed by his rhythm section but he's still plenty good.

And of course as always, I am a sucker for any and all allusions to the work of Mark Twain.

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, November 21, 2018

On the Coffee Table: Eric Felten

Title: How's Your Drink?: Cocktails, Culture, and the Art of Drinking Well
Author: Eric Felten
Learning more about cocktails is a central piece of my stated mission for the blogging yearHow's Your Drink? is the second non-fiction book I've read recently on the subject.  Whereas the quest of David Wondrich's Imbibe! (reflection here) is authentic history, Felten's book is more free-wheeling.  Felten still includes plenty of history but he explores broader topics, too: liquor-related scandals, drinks and gender, drinks and the military, drinks and the holidays and, soberly, drink and addiction.  While I would give Wondrich the win for likely accuracy, Felten's book is more fun.

Most enjoyable for me are the many film and literature references.  Predictably, James Bond gets lots of love.  007's tastes are much mocked by cocktail enthusiasts but there's no doubt author Ian Fleming inspired many of those same enthusiasts with the ink devoted to the vodka martini and the Americano.  The gimlet plays a starring role in Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye.  There are a couple references to The Thin Man, one of my wife's favorite movies, including Nick's advice on cocktail shaking: "Always have rhythm in your shaking.  Now, a Manhattan you shake to fox-trot time, a Bronx to two-step time, a dry Martini you always shake to waltz time."

Felten comes from a family of jazz musicians so not surprising that the music world gets its due.  The bar blender, without which frozen daiquiris and margaritas would not exist and Jimmy Buffet would have lacked a clever rhyme, was marketed and popularized by Fred Waring, a Jazz-Age bandleader.  Unfortunately, this same squealing blender has been the bane of existence for musicians playing in bars ever since.

It's a fun read.  I am glad to have read both in succession as I now feel well-equipped to drone on Cliff Clavin-style about cocktails to whomever will listen.  I'll be trying Fenten's recipes, too.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Squid Mixes: Old-Fashioned Whiskey

The old-fashioned was, for a long time, the king of cocktails.  As it contains many of the same ingredients as my personal favorite, the Manhattan, I've been wanting to give it a try for a while.  However, I have had to avoid the drink for what I consider to be a highly amusing reason: my wife doesn't like having sugar cubes around the house.  Too tempting for snacking.

Most modern old-fashioned recipes (oxymoron?) involve sugar cubes, you see.  Put the cube in the bottom of the glass, add a little water and bitters, muddle to dissolve the sugar before adding everything else.  Why a cube?  It's an easily controlled quantity, usually 3/4 tsp - an annoying amount to have to measure.  Older recipes don't involve cubes which is handy for my house.

My recipe came from Imbibe! by David Wondrich.  It combines the sugar (1/2 tsp) and water with whiskey, Angostura bitters and lemon peel.  For those keeping score at home, the basic change in a Manhattan is the use of vermouth as a sweetener in place of the sugar.  No shaker or mixing glass involved - an old-fashioned is prepared right in the serving glass.  The recipe specifies leaving the spoon in when serving, presumably to stir in any undissolved sugar.

It's a lovely drink but you'd better like your whiskey.  My wife described it as "bracing."  Wondrich also includes brandy and gin options in the text.  Might be worth trying sometime.

So, why did the old-fashioned fall out of favor?  The preparation is rather fussy compared to younger concoctions.  But Eric Felten blames John Updike.  In his book How's Your Drink? (review soon), Felten makes the case: the old-fashioned is the drink of choice for Janice Angstrom, the protagonist's alcoholic wife in Rabbit, Run, Updike's breakthrough novel.

I guess Janice liked her whiskey.

Drink responsibly, friends.

Monday, November 19, 2018

On the Coffee Table: David Wondrich

Title: Imbibe!
Author: David Wondrich

Imbibe! is a history of the cocktail in the United States, largely but not exclusively focused on the life and work of Jerry Thomas, a famous and influential 19th-century bartender, otherwise known as The Professor.  Most important to history, Thomas was the first to publish a cocktail bar book.  Included in Imbibe! are numerous recipes representing each stage of pre-Prohibition mixocological evolution.  Many of the recipes are Thomas's own, though not all.

Traditionally, a cocktail is defined as a base liquor combined with a sweetener and bitters and came to be understood as such in 19th century America.  Mixed drinks, however, extend back further, some would argue to antiquity.  Wondrich begins his history in the late 18th century with punches drunk in communal bowls, eventually evolving into single glass servings.  Bitters was the last of the three key ingredients to join the party, adopted from the apothecary's drawers of magic elixirs.  Because of this connection to medicine, the bitters provided the illusion of health benefit.  The original bitters-infused cocktails were used as hangover cures: a.k.a. eye-openers, bracers, corpse revivers, morning glories or, my personal favorite, anti-fogmatics.

I have already tried a couple of the drink recipes.  I wrote about one of them here and there will undoubtedly be more.  Wondrich presents the recipes in original form, then does his best to specify the more ambiguous measurements and offer suggestions for the ingredients that might have been common place in 1850 but are decidedly less so in 2018.  He also includes recipes for the bitters and syrups that are harder to find now.  I made a decision about the ingredients: while it would be fun to track down all of his recommendations with an unlimited budget of both time and money, I would make do with what I have on hand.  As for the measurements, there's plenty for both my wife and me to love (see here).  I appreciate the specificity he provides in most cases whereas my wife would better appreciate his more ambiguous specifications for a dash: for bitters, simply "whatever squirts out of the top of the bottle."

Friday, November 16, 2018

A Window Above: Sure Shot

Song: "Sure Shot"
Writers: Beastie Boys, DJ Hurricane, Mario Caldato, Jr., Jeremy Steig
Original Release: May 31, 1994
Band: Beastie Boys
Album: III Communication

My affection for this song is due entirely to the following video, a masterpiece of editing if nothing else.  Apologies for the language.  Don't let it distract from the awesome.

Sesame Street vs Beastie Boys - Sure Shot mashup (whole song) from Chester Fielder on Vimeo.

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, November 13, 2018

Squid Mixes: Cold Whiskey Punch

This is my first drink recipe from Imbibe! by David Wondrich.  I will write a more complete review soon.  Suffice to say for now, it's a history of cocktail evolution in the 19th century and includes lots of old recipes.  One of the first important steps in that journey was punch's conversion from a communal bowl to an individual serving.  This mixture combines rye with bits of rum, sugar and the juice of have a lemon. 

As always, the citrus is the flavor heavyweight.  It's a tasty beverage and strong.  Old punches generally were.  There is a funky aftertaste - kind of like cardboard.  I realize that makes it sounds worse than it actually is.  I think it comes from the rum, which makes me wonder if one could just as easily do without.  Could be a worthy experiment.

Friday, November 9, 2018

A Window Above: Airbag

Song: "Airbag"
Songwriters: Radiohead (Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Phil Selway, Ed O'Brien and Colin Greenwood)
Original Release: June 16, 1997
Album: OK Computer

Radiohead - Airbag [OK Computer] from faustidioteque on Vimeo.

In the early days of the current century, my wife and I lived in New Jersey.  I was in graduate school and she was commuting into New York everyday.  Since she left earlier than I did, I always had some time in the morning to myself before heading to class.  I began every day essentially the same way, by turning on the computer and checking my email as I ate my breakfast.  For what must have been several months, Radiohead's OK Computer CD was loaded into our iMac and would come on whenever we turned on the computer.  I began every day with "Airbag."  I won't go so far as to say it's even the best song on the album but it's the first song I think of when I think of Radiohead.  Can't deny it also reminds me of a quieter, simpler life.

I never got into the band the way some of my friends did but I admire Radiohead immensely.  Few bands of any era have been so eager to challenge their audience, each new album bucking any sense of established formula.  OK Computer was their third studio album and the most successful of the bunch, both commercially and critically.  The song was inspired by a car crash Yorke and his girlfriend had survived several years earlier.  It is intended as a celebration of a life saved.

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, November 7, 2018

On the Coffee Table: David A. Sousa

Title: How the Brain Learns, Fifth Edition
Author: David A. Sousa

Yet another book from my Master's program and the title is self-explanatory.  While the first chapter covers basic form and function for the human noodle, most of the book explores the ins-and-outs of learning.  Obviously, it's a big topic and crucial understanding for a teacher.  I'll spoil the ending: it turns out we don't usually teach in the best way for the brain to learn.  And "we" doesn't mean my Master's cohort.  It means our entire profession - across subjects, age groups, nationalities, etc.  Fortunately, Sousa offers many suggestions for alternative approaches.  The book is highly readable as textbooks go and it's not all theory either.  Each chapter culminates with a "Practitioner's Corner": materials to use in the classroom.

A few sections of personal importance for me:
  • Math - My daughter has started high school this year.  While she's mostly doing well, math is giving her a run for the money.  As mathematics was my best subject in school - better than music, even - it has fallen to me to help.  It can be rough going some nights.  Sousa offers plenty of insight as to why people struggle with math.  I may actually have my daughter read the section on math anxiety to see if any of it rings true for her.
  • The arts - Sousa is a strong advocate for the arts, trumpeting all of the benefits to the brain, especially from music.  While the Mozart Effect is a well-established exaggeration if not outright myth, there are other proven benefits, especially from learning to play an instrument.  Parts of the brain actually grow from the experience and the advantages are long-term, even if you stop playing.  For those of us in music ed, arguing for our right to exist is part of the job.  Sousa provides plenty of fodder.
  • Bloom's Taxonomy - If you've ever taken an ed class in your life, you probably know Bloom's, essentially a hierarchy of intellectual challenge.  Once you can remember new knowledge, you can begin to understand it.  Once you understand it, you can apply it to new thinking.  And so on.  The taxonomy itself has evolved since its initial introduction in the 1950s.  Some of the steps have switched places and the whole structure is more fluid than it was in the beginning.  It is an excellent means for adding ever-increasing challenge for one's students, something I am actually thinking about a lot in my own current practice.  Good timing.
The book is definitely intended for teachers but much of it would still be interesting for the general reader.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Squid Mixes: Palmetto Cocktail

A Palmetto is basically a rum Manhattan and you could probably order it that way, though as Robert Simonson puts it, "that's one extra syllable between you and your cocktail."  My books, however, offer two different recipes.  The New York Bartender's Guide has light rum and dry vermouth, 2:1 ratio with 3 dashes of Angostura bitters.  Simonson's 3-Ingredient Cocktails has Cruzan Single Barrel rum and sweet vermouth, 1:1 with one dash of orange bitters (clearly his favorite).  It was the brand specificity of Simonson's that initially drove me to the other book.  But my wife, genius that she is, suggested trying both.  Bacardi would simply have to do.

No question, Simonson's is better.  The three ingredients play together more nicely.  In the dry vermouth/Angostura option, one tastes all three components distinctly.  In the other, the rum complements the sweet vermouth more naturally and a lighter hint of bitters is still plenty.  My wife suggests that perhaps we shouldn't be so quick to turn up our noses at Simonson's fussiness.  Even the Squirt preferred the second one:

Friday, November 2, 2018

A Window Above: Evangeline

Song: "Evangeline"
Writer: Matthew Sweet
Original Release: October 22, 1991
Album: Girlfriend

Matthew Sweet was another college discovery for me.  He wrote the songs on Girlfriend in the wake of a divorce.  "Evangeline" is based on a comic book of the same name which ran from 1984-89.

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, October 30, 2018

Squid Eats: Juniper

Juniper Bar and Restaurant is part of the Hotel Vermont in downtown Burlington.  We went this past weekend for a pre-concert dinner before a Vermont Symphony performance.  This was, I believe, my second time at Juniper and my first for dinner.  As a local hangout, I think of it more as a bar than a restaurant.  Not surprisingly, it's a little noisy for a family meal.

The food was good and the service attentive.  I had the buttermilk fried Maple Wind Farm chicken - scrumptious.  I ate the leg before I remembered to take a picture.  I have high standards for fried chicken and they were met: tasty batter, not too salty; dark meat juicy; white meat not too dry.  The breasts were boneless, too, which was nice.  Pyramid cake for dessert, also lovely.  The meal was pricey - not too surprising for a hotel restaurant but still worth noting.

As noted in my most recent State of the Blog post, I am on a quest for the best Manhattan in northwest Vermont.  No real standouts yet but no disappointments either.  Juniper's was perfectly enjoyable, enough so that I had two.  My most interesting discovery in my quest so far is that most people assume I want bourbon whereas I've always made the drink with rye.  "Yeah, bourbon's in," my wife says.  I'm sure she's right but who decides these things?  For the record, Robert Simonson offers the choice in 3-Ingredient Cocktails.  That might well be worth a taste test at some point when I have the time and no need to drive anywhere. 

The concert was nice, too, and it featured a guest conductor: Vinay Parameswaran.  His full-time gig is assistant conductor for the Cleveland Orchestra.  The opening palette cleanser was Rossini's Overture to L'Italiana in Algeri.  The post-intermission warhorse was Beethoven's 6th - not his most famous symphony but probably the most important historically as the beginning of program music.  Lots of wonderful woodwind material which pleased our clarinetist daughter.

The middle piece was the novel treat: Vijay Iyer's Violin Concerto, "Trouble."  The composer himself was on hand (though we didn't know that until it was over) and the soloist Jennifer Koh was the very violinist for whom he had written the piece.  The relationship between violin and orchestra is more symbiotic than in most concertos and Koh's transitions from showcase to ensemble player and back were seamless and artful.  Percussion is featured prominently.

A lovely evening.

Friday, October 26, 2018

A Window Above: Suzy

Title: "Suzy"
Writer: Andrew Ratshin
Original Release: 1984
Band: Uncle Bonsai
Album: Lonely Grain of Corn

Game Designer introduced me to Uncle Bonsai sometime in the early '90s.  I can't say I know much about them: a Seattle-based trio with a snarky, folkish style, one man, two women.  Their songs are often raunchy, irreverent and extremely funny, though this one is rather tame.  Other titles include "Penis Envy" and "Boys Want Sex in the Morning."

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, October 23, 2018

Squid Mixes: Japanese Cocktail

The Japanese Cocktail was invented by Jerry Thomas, AKA The Professor, a famous nineteenth-century American bartender.  Interestingly and coincidentally, I am reading a book about him right now, though I got the recipe from a different book: Robert Simonson's 3-Ingredient Cocktails.  Simonson employs cognac, orgeat (almond) syrup, Angostura bitters and a lemon twist.  We didn't have much cognac left so I topped off with brandy.  When I've made them before, I used The New York Bartender's Guide's recipe which adds lime juice.  The single greatest flavor discovery I have made in mixing drinks is the dazzling combination of almond and lime - definitely a whole-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts situation.  Alas, we had none on hand.  Next time.

There is nothing Japanese about the drink whatsoever, always leaving the name a bit of a mystery.  David Wondrich - author of Imbibe, the aforementioned book about Jerry Thomas - suggests that it was perhaps a marketing gimmick for a Japanese delegation that came to New York in 1860.  There is no proof of this theory.

The drink is yummy.  Brandy is dangerous stuff - essentially liquid candy.  Orgeat is pretty amazing, too - the aroma alone is heavenly.  It is a lot of sugar and the lime juice, when available, certainly cuts into it.  Even without, it's a lovely treat.

Monday, October 22, 2018

On the Coffee Table: Russ Kick

Title: The Graphic Canon, Vol. 1: From The Epic of Gilgamesh to Shakespeare to Dangerous Liaisons
Editor: Russ Kick

The Graphic Canon is a wonderful concept beautifully executed.  Russ Kick collected and solicited graphic novel renditions of dozens of world literature classics, ranging from antiquity to the late 20th century.  Volume 1 is the first of three in the original compilation.  Two other editions have been released since the first three: one devoted to children's literature, one to mysteries.  The work of industry legends like Will Eisner and Robert Crumb stands alongside that of younger creators.  Shakespeare, Dante and Cervantes are all in Volume 1, as are several relics of oral traditions from around the world.  Religious works - Jewish, Christian, Taoist, Confucianist - enjoy treatment.  Biographical and philosophical, too.  Particularly meaningful for this blogger is the inclusion of several Asian literature classics: Mahabharata, The Tale of Genji, The Arabian Nights, etc.  Kick wrote thoughtful and informative blurbs to introduce each chapter.

The Most Beautiful Rendering award goes to Michael Green for his interpretation of the Sufi poetry of Rumi.  The Does the Most to Inspire My Curiosity in the Original Work award goes to Choderlos de Lacios for Dangerous Liaisons, with an assist to Kick for the blurb.  A lot of high school lit staples are represented but overall the material is decidedly NC-17.  There's no denying it, the classics are frequently dirty, either explicitly or implicitly.  Makes sense.  Sex has been around for a long time.

Friday, October 19, 2018

A Window Above: Father and Son

Title: "Father and Son"
Writer: Cat Stevens
Original Release: September 1970
B-side to "Moonshadow"

Twice now, Marvel movies have made me tear up.  The "Father and Son" scene in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was the first.  The second was the "kid from Oakland" line in Black Panther - helps to know this movie to understand why.

I discovered Cat Stevens in high school.  "Father and Son" was one of the songs we covered in our garage band senior year.  For some in the group, it spoke to the very real tensions we were experiencing in our own families at that point in our lives.  In the original, Cat Stevens sings both parts (apart from the backing vocals) but we did it as a duet.  I played the drum machine on this one.

Stevens wrote it originally as part of a musical project with Nigel Hawthorne about the Russian Revolution.  The song was to be sung between a young revolutionary and his conservative farmer father.  The project was abandoned when Stevens contracted tuberculosis in 1969 but the song survived.  Naturally, Stevens has been asked in the years since if the song reflects his own autobiography but he says his own father was always supportive of him.

I found this wonderful reflection from Stevens in a Rolling Stones interview by Paul Gambaccini:

"Some people think that I was taking the son's side," its composer explained. "But how could I have sung the father's side if I couldn't have understood it, too? I was listening to that song recently and I heard one line and realized that that was my father's father's father's father's father's father's father's father speaking."

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, October 16, 2018

Squid Mixes: Martini

Story time.  The first olive I ever ate was out of my grandmother's martini.  I have no idea how old I was.  9, maybe?  As a kid, I adored fruit of all kinds and her olive looked like a grape so I asked to try.  She agreed to let me, with an impish grin.  Blech!  Ruined me for both olives and gin for years!  Fortunately, I have since come around on both.

When taking on cocktails as a hobby, the martini is, of course, inevitable.  However, neither of us is an especially big fan of the king of cocktails.  I've had it on my list of possibilities for a while and on Sunday, my wife finally said "we might as well get this over with."  The classic recipe is gin and dry vermouth, 6 parts to 1, olive garnish.  You'd better really like gin in order to enjoy it!  I made mine from Robert Simonson's variation in 3-Ingredient Cocktails: 3:1 with a dash of orange bitters and a lemon twist.

The result was, I must say, quite nice.  With the orange bitters (seemingly a favorite of Simonson's), you don't really taste much of the gin.  The lemon's a good choice, too.  The following is a video of me, encouraging the lemon peel to express itself:

Friday, October 12, 2018

A Window Above: Eastside High School Alma Mater

Song: "Eastside High School Alma Mater"
Writer: Catherine Peragallo Miller
Original Release: March 3, 1989
Film: Lean on Me
Original Performers: Michael Best, Kenneth Kelly, Dwayne Jones, Anthony Fuller and Steven Capers, Jr., all credited in the film as "Songbirds", along with Jermaine Hopkins who played the part of Thomas Sams

As magical musical moments in film go, this one ranks high.  Context for anyone who hasn't seen the movie: Lean on Me is based on the true story of Joe Louis Clark, a hard-nosed principal who cleaned up an inner city high school in Paterson, New Jersey.  Among his many commandments, he ordered that every student be taught the school song.  Please watch the scene all the way to the end.  Those of you who know what I do for a living will understand why.

Chorus teacher life win!  Gets me every time.

For Hopkins, the movie was his acting debut.  His mother brought him to the open audition.  The rest of the Songbirds, brought together by the film, formed the vocal group Riff afterwards.  Three of them eventually left to join Men of Vizion.

A couple bonus clips below, the first because it includes a part of the song I'd never heard before and the other because it includes all of the original cast members, 25 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?

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Squid Mixes: Spanish Town Cocktail

A Spanish Town Cocktail combines light rum and triple sec.  My recipe from The New York Bartender's Guide has the two in 6:1 ratio.  I joked to my wife that I wasn't sure which Spanish town it's named for and she replied "an awfully clear one."  It seems likely, though, that it is named for Spanish Town, Jamaica given the rum.

It's a flavorful drink.  With the orangey triple sec, a little bit goes a long way and in this case, there's not quite enough to overpower the rum itself. 

Friday, October 5, 2018

A Window Above: Birdhouse in Your Soul

Song: "Birdhouse in Your Soul"
Writers: John Flansburgh and John Linnell
Original Release: 1989
Band: They Might Be Giants
Album: Flood

They Might Be Giants is the dorkiest rock band of all time and I love them for it.  What can I say?  It takes one to know one.  By the time I discovered them at college in the early '90s, they'd already built a significant underground following.  Flood, their third studio album, was certified platinum which undercuts any act's claim to "alternative" status.  So do the two Grammys they've won.  In the years since, they've found new audiences through television theme songs and outstanding children's music, the rare sort that condescends to no one and is equally enjoyable for both tots and their Yanni-suffering parents.  Through it all, they have remained delightfully true to themselves.

"Birdhouse in Your Soul" is still their best-selling single.  The lyrics are written from the perspective of a nightlight, portraying itself as a guardian angel - admittedly one with limits.  The song is sweet and unapologetically quirky, which really describes most of the band's music fairly well.

Filibuster vigilantly, my friends.

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, October 2, 2018

Squid Mixes: Kangaroo

A kangaroo is another, older name for a vodka martini, which combines vodka and vermouth, dry in this case.  Robert Simonson adds orange bitters for his recipe in 3-Ingredient Cocktails.  In his blurb for the drink, he advocates using the kangaroo name so as not to annoy the martini snobs who would argue it's not the real thing unless it's made with gin.

My wife likes the marsupial name but concedes that James Bond ordering a "kangaroo, shaken, not stirred" would sound kind of dumb.  The famous line first appears in Ian Fleming's fourth Bond novel, Diamonds Are Forever, though 007 is not the one who says it.

The kangaroo is really quite pleasant.  I like Simonson's book but it's quirky.  His measurements are frequently strange.  2.25 ounces of vodka?  It's like he's being deliberately difficult.  Fortunately, I have just the right measuring cups.  There are advantages to working in my wife's kitchen.  The right tool is nearly always on hand.  He also advocates "expressing" the lemon twist before adding it to the drink.  I know that just means to twist it but I can't help adding encouraging words as I do so:

"Express yourself, little lemon peel.  Don't let the other peels tell you who you should be."

And so forth.

Friday, September 28, 2018

A Window Above: Shamus-Ud-Doha Bader-Ud-Doja

Song: "Shamus-Ud-Doha Bader-Ud-Doja"
Traditional Sufi devotional song
Performer: Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was already a superstar in his native Pakistan when Peter Gabriel brought him international exposure by featuring him first in the music of The Last Temptation of Christ, then on his Real World record label.  Khan is the most famous of his family's 600-year long line of Qawwali singers.  Qawwali is the devotional music of Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam.

It is one of the many beautiful contradictions of world music history.  Islamic scripture forbids music for worldly pleasure and yet the Islamic Empire was a cultural force rivaled by few others in the spread of musical ideas.  The fact that the words guitar and sitar rhyme is a coincidence but the similar physical construction of the two instruments is not.  Stringed-instruments with box resonators range from Europe to India and they are culturally linked through the Middle East.  All of those western orchestral instruments you think of as European: violins, violas, cellos, oboes, bassoons?  They're all North African in origin.  Jewish musicians, already on the lowest social rung in Arabia, brought the music of their Muslim patrons along with their own when they migrated to Eastern Europe.  Whenever people of one culture encounter those of another, music grows and expands.  It is the history of the world at its best.  We have lost thousands of languages over the millennia but the musical voice survives.

Not everyone sees it that way.  I am likely naive in my White boy romanticism.  Cultural voices do die.  Small nations are absorbed by larger ones.  The oppressed are too easily silenced, their distinctive arts co-opted by the oppressors if they survive at all.  Such is the history of the world at its worst.  Plenty have criticized people like Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel for the diluting impact of world beat and maybe they're right.  But I still contend that there's something cool about the fact that a culture's music is most often defined by the marginalized peoples within that culture.  The dominance of Black music in the United States is no surprise.  It's been happening all over the world for centuries.

Getting back to Qawwali, Sufis, like mystics of any religion, tend to bend the rules.  Qawwali dates back to at least the 13th century.  The poetry is often spiritual though not exclusively so.  Below is a live performance of the same piece with Khan and his full party, the traditional name for a Qawwali band.  The studio version above has a cleaner sound but Khan had such an amazing stage presence that it would be wrong not to share.

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, September 26, 2018

On the Coffee Table: The Art of Happiness

Title: The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living
Authors: His Holiness The Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M.D.
via Amazon
I've had The Art of Happiness on my shelves for several years.  Though I hadn't planned it that way, I finally got around to reading it at a good time.  Last month, I wrote about my current professional push to develop more student-directed classrooms (read here).  Empathy is essential to doing this work well.  Obviously, a teacher always needs empathy.  Beyond that, my students themselves have identified it as a need in their relationships with each other.  The Dalai Lama's teachings in The Art of Happiness all center around increasing empathy and compassion.

The book is written from the point of view of Dr. Cutler, an American psychiatrist.  The material is gathered mostly from Cutler's extensive interviews with The Dalai Lama, though it also includes excerpts from public presentations by the religious leader as well as reflections from Cutler's psychiatric practice.  Cutler's questions derive from typical Western scientific skepticism.  By the doctor's own admission, Western medicine doesn't usually address the matter of happiness.  The goal is to cure what ails - to combat the negative, rather than nurture the positive.  The Dalai Lama always responds with serene superior wisdom.

The book is quite pleasant, though not the easiest cover-to-cover read.  The actual religious material is minimal.  The Dalai Lama is a devout Buddhist, obviously, but he promotes a more universal spiritual message that extends to all major religions and, indeed, non-believers as well.  I feel I would need to read the book again to gain full benefit, though I doubt I will.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Squid Eats: Al's French Frys

Al's French Frys is a northwest Vermont institution, a roadside diner in ever-sprawling suburbia.  They claim to have stuck to the same french fry recipe since the place opened in the late 1940s.  No table service.  You stand in line fast food style, though the food quality is definitely a step up.  They have creemies (soft serve ice cream) in the warmer months which definitely brings in the crowds.  Not that much help is needed there.  The place is always packed.

And yes, the fries truly are good.

For our most recent trip, it was just my daughter and me.  She's started high school this year.  My baby girl is growing up.  As I have written before, I've never been one to wish she wouldn't.  I think it's exciting to watch the young woman emerge.  Even so, four years until college doesn't seem too long at all.  I worry I'll feel I'm just getting to know her, then off she'll go.  It's life, I know, and it's good.

Even so, high school is exciting.  I loved high school myself and she, at least for the moment, likes it for the same reasons I did.  Much of the middle school social absurdity subsides.  Everyone grows up and in my experience, maturity looks good on most people.  The increased work load is a bit overwhelming but we're all learning to manage, together.

We were on a mission that day: a new electronic keyboard.  Over the past six years of piano lessons, she has made do with the 60-key Casio I bought in New York City twenty years ago, not long before I met her mother.  She's gotten pretty good despite its shortcomings but it was time for a new one.  Change doesn't come easily to her, even when it's an obvious change for the better so she was a little testy over lunch.  Maybe I was, too, I don't know.  I know we both felt better after food.  It certainly helped the keyboard shopping afterwards go more smoothly.

Friday, September 21, 2018

A Window Above: Can I Kick It?

Song: "Can I Kick It?"
Writers: Lou Reed, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, J. Davis
Original Release: April 17, 1990
Group: A Tribe Called Quest
Album: People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm

So, we need to talk about hip hop.  I first heard rap on the school bus back in the mid-'80s, long before the music became mainstream.  The first song I remember hearing was "Roxanne, Roxanne" by U.T.F.O., released in 1984.  My experience of the music was also, of course, tied to break dancing. In the beginning, I was more drawn to the dancing than I was the music.  Couldn't do it but I sure loved watching.  When the dancing faded away as fads do, I assumed the music would, too.  Not so.  Run DMC hooked up with Aerosmith and the rest is pop music history. 

That said, I would never have gone so far as to say that I actually liked hip hop.  I didn't actively hate it the way a lot of rock purists did and still do.  Those who argue it's not real music or it's junk are kidding themselves.  Not only is it here to stay but for those who yearn for music that "says something," hip hop has been delivering for a long time.  No genre has had a greater impact on the industry over the past 30 years.  It's not even close.

The blatant misogyny in some of the music is certainly a turn off and I am frequently annoyed by the fact that so many deeply White adolescents only seem to like it for the swear words.  But in the end, I have no one but myself to blame for my ignorance.  I never spent enough time with hip hop to fall in love with any of the songs.  Pandora changed that.

Over time, I did gain appreciation for some of the fusion acts: Us3 and definitely the Fugees.  In fact, I liked them enough to include them as seeds when I started building Pandora stations.  Somehow, "Can I Kick It?" had evaded my notice for 19 years.  Of course, the Lou Reed sample (see last week's post) hooked me instantly.  The beats did the rest.  The song's just fun.  Is it about addiction?  If not, what's he trying to kick?  The line about dropping your pants is a bit off color.  Man, what is this song about exactly?  Does it really matter?  No.  Just get over it and dance, silly White boy!

Sampling has been a part of hip hop from its earliest roots and that, in itself, has been a long-standing objection from the purists.  Mind you, established rockers have not been shy about cashing in on the breaches of intellectual property law.  Thanks to his attorneys, Lou Reed claimed all of the profits from the "Can I Kick It?" single.  Interestingly, the single version of the song features "Walk on the Wild Side" less than the album version featured here does.

There's certainly an interesting discussion to be had over all of this.  After all, haven't White musicians - not to mention recording studio executives - been profiting from the appropriation and even direct theft of Black music for several generations now?  What goes around comes around.  I can't deny that it bothers me sometimes.  I couldn't stand it when Vanilla Ice lifted the bass line from Queen/David Bowie's "Under Pressure."  But that's mostly because the song he made with it sucks.  There is plenty of room in my heart to love both "Walk on the Wild Side" and "Can I Kick It?"

The Icelandic rap duo Bent and 7Berg made a cover called "Má Ég Sparka?"  Need I say more?

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, September 18, 2018

Squid Mixes: Hanky Panky

A hanky panky combines gin and sweet vermouth with a couple dashes of Frenet Branca, a bitter Italian digestivo, orange peel garnish.  It was invented by Ada Coleman, head bartender at the London Savoy Hotel at the turn of the 20th century.  My recipe came from a new book for me: 3-Ingredient Cocktails by Robert Simonson.

3-Ingredient Cocktails has a beautifully simple premise.  Simonson asserts that the best cocktails are based on an old-fashioned formula: base liquor, sweetener and bitter.  Ice and garnishes don't count against the three ingredients.  It's a stunning book with exquisite photography.  Simonsen also provides lots of cocktail history, unfortunately not always accurate.  He mistakenly listed the inventor of the Hanky Panky as Ada Calhoun.  We certainly enjoyed the drink.

However, I was hoping for a book that emphasized simple ingredients as well as simple recipes.  Frenet Branca is a little on the exotic side.  It was only by luck that we had a bottle in the cabinet.  He even occasionally goes so far as to list specific brands.  I'm not above substituting, of course, and the book might provide inspiration when we are inclined to explore above the lower middle shelves at the liquor store.  I was just expecting something different.

Friday, September 14, 2018

A Window Above: Walk on the Wild Side

Song: "Walk on the Wild Side"
Writer: Lou Reed
Original Release: November 8, 1972
Album: Transformer

Surely, someone out there in academia has written a master's thesis about this song.  To be sure, there's plenty of material.

To say "Walk on the Wild Side" was ahead of its time lyrically is an absurd understatement.  In 2018, references to oral sex and transgender people don't seem like such a big deal but early '70s mainstream radio had never seen anything like it.  All of the characters mentioned in the song are based on real people, all of them regulars at Andy Warhol's New York studio, The Factory.  Though listeners may have blushed, they still bought the record.  "Walk on the Wild Side" peaked at #16 on the Billboard charts.  Today, it resides comfortably among rock's all-time classics.

There are great stories on the musical side, too.  If you've never seen the documentary Classic Albums: Lou Reed: Transformer, it's well worth your time.  In fact, the entire Classic Albums series is pretty amazing.  My favorite story is the creation of the extraordinary bass line.  Herbie Flowers recorded both the acoustic and electric basses on the same track.  Flowers has admitted in interviews that he did it for purely capitalist motivatons: by playing two instruments, he would be paid twice.  No matter.  The final effect is hypnotizing.

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, September 11, 2018

Wine: Thirst Wine Club

This is our first month as members of the Thirst Wine Club at Daedalus, a restaurant and wine shop in Burlington.  We get two featured wines each month as well as 10% off anything in the shop.  I don't know if it will be one red and one white each month but that's what we got this time.  With each, we get an info sheet including tasting notes and recommended recipes. 
The white is an Alsatian, Edelzwicker 2017 by Meyer Fonné.  Alsace is best known for its Rieslings and Gewurtztraminners, drier and more interesting than the German versions of the same.  An Edelzwicker is a blend of Pinot Blanc, Muscat, Chasselas and Riesling.  This one had a pleasant apple flavor.  My wife and I traveled to Alsace for a wine vacation many years ago - our last big pre-parenting adventure, actually.  Alsatians generally pair well with spicy food, including the paprika chicken my wife made that night.
The red is the Madiran Aydie l'Origine 2015, produced by Famille Laplace in Gascony.  Even while pouring it, my wife could tell from the scent, "This is going to be one of your wines."  I love a spicy red.  Years ago - again, pre-kid - we had an unforgettable Chateau Musar from Lebanon that set my mouth on fire, setting my standard for reds forever.  This Madiran wasn't quite so exciting as that but it was still awfully nice, a good match for the pizza chicken my wife prepared.  L'Origine is also a blend: 70% Tannat, 30% Cabernet Franc.

Friday, September 7, 2018

A Window Above: Diguedin

Song: "Diguedin"
Traditional Quebcois folk song
Perfomers: Les Charbonniers de l'Enfer

The Canadaphilia I have experienced over the past several years most definitely extends to music.  In particular, I have grown quite fond of Quebecois folk music, known as chansons.  The songs date back centuries, some of them probably back to France, though the style is different from that of the Acadians in Nova Scotia and the Cajuns in Louisiana.  Les Charbonniers de l'Enfer is one of many groups to have inspired renewed enthusiasm for Quebecois chansons, Le Vent du Nord probably the most prominent these days.  I prefer the more traditional, a cappella performance style.

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?