Friday, August 31, 2018

A Window Above: Blue Train

Piece: "Blue Train"
Writer: John Coltrane
Original Release: 1958
Album: Blue Train

While my era of choice for rock music hovers around the late 1960s/early '70s, the jazz I favor generally came out of the late 1950s.  Charlie Parker, the Beethoven-esque idol of nearly everyone who came after him, died in 1955.  The trouble with bebop, the style championed by Parker, was that it was so darn fast most people couldn't play it.  It was the jazz equivalent of break dancing: undeniably dazzling but unsustainable as a dominant cultural force due to the high degree of difficulty.  So jazz's evolution after his passing, while maintaining much of bop's harmonic thinking, slowed significantly in tempo.  Miles Davis was the lead voice of the new trend and playing with Miles was a sure path to stardom.  Without a doubt, the most important musician to pass through Miles Davis's band was saxophonist John Coltrane.

There's still a lot of Miles's sound in Blue Train.  Coltrane would develop his own voice more fully with Giant Steps, released in 1960.  Most jazz seems esoteric to 21st century ears but I have found the title track to be relatively accessible for my students.  The opening hook is strong, evoking a spy movie or some such.

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, August 28, 2018

Squid Mixes: Mimosa

As has been our family custom in late August, our daughter recently went to visit her grandparents in DC on her own, giving us a weekend just the two of us.  We miss her but we also enjoy taking advantage of the opportunity for some quality couple time.  This year, we planned a spa-at-home day: salt scrubs, foot soaks, face masks, hand massages and... mimosas!

There isn't much to a mimosa: orange juice and champagne in equal parts.  I got my recipe from The New York Bartender's Guide.  They were most refreshing.  For me, there is always something a little weird about the initial taste of orange and grape combined, as if one or the other has gone off somehow.  I guess my brain still expects to taste pure orange and it's not quite.  I always get used to it, a most pleasant beverage indeed.

Care to listen to our Spotify playlist for the day?

A Perfect Love

I crowd-sourced this one via Facebook, asking my friends to offer suggestions for the perfect love song.  I've gotta say, the resulting compilation is enjoyable.  Please feel free to suggest additions in the comments below.

Friday, August 24, 2018

State of the Blog 2018

“There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
- Thorin's final words to Bilbo, The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien 

It's been a nice year at The Squid.   I don't have much tinkering in mind for Year 10, apart from digging deeper into the topics I'm already exploring.  Perhaps in so doing, I can do my part to help inspire a merrier world.

I'll definitely be continuing with the cocktails, furthering my own education in mixology and sharing what I learn.  I have a couple of non-fiction books about cocktails on my TBR shelves and some interesting looking recipe books on the wish list, including one for mocktails.  Our daughter's delicious non-alcoholic mixed drinks were a central theme of our Europe trip this summer and it would be fun to make more of our own.  I also need to be better at ordering cocktails when we're out.  I tend to be a beer man at restaurants, cold draft brew being so wonderfully refreshing.  But recently we were at Kitchen Table Bistro and I wanted a vodka martini instead with my oysters.  I didn't even understand all of the questions the bartender asked me about my preferences.  Thank goodness, my wife was on hand to translate.  Guess I need to learn the lingo while seeking out the best Manhattan in northwest Vermont.

As A Window Above enters Season 2, I am looking to bring a little more diversity to the mix.  I've gone pretty heavy with the classic rock and soul so far.  I genuinely love both, of course, but there's a lot more interesting music out there and I'm eager to write about it.  

Want to hear all of the songs I've featured in a convenient playlist?  Enjoy:

Finally, a little musical treat to kick off the new year:

Squiddies 2018

The Armchair Squid turns nine years old today.  It's time to hand out some hardware.  And the Squiddy goes to...

Biggest Surprise: A Willing Accomplice
There is always excitement in bringing a new cat into the house.  Every feline brings her own quirks.  One knows to expect the unexpected.  Who would have thought that The Scamp, newly acquired in February, would catch on so quickly to my blogging needs?  Getting a cat to pose for a photo, ever, let alone on command is unusual to say the least.  I make no claim to expert cat training skills.  The kid just gets it.  I set the drink down on the floor, she comes running over.  Hasn't even tried to sneak a sip.

Biggest Disappointment: Losing the Lug

One quiet Saturday, while my wife was out of town, I went down to the basement and heard the sound of suffering coming from the storage room.  Sure enough, there was The Big Lug, our beautiful Russian blue tom, lying on the floor and clearly struggling.  I rushed him over to the vet but he was too far gone.  They put him down upon arrival.  15 years is a long time to share a home with anyone.  He was well loved and sorely missed.

Best Read, First Time Category: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré

It is a classic of the genre for good reason.  There's no glamor at all in the tragic tale of Alex Leamas, a longtime British operative.  In fact, he wants out of the game.  But the Secret Service has one more job for him.  He's just an ordinary guy with an extraordinary job.  His girlfriend?  Just an average woman who fell in love with the wrong guy at the wrong time and so gets caught in his same trap.

Their story could have happened to anyone.  That's exactly why it works.  So good.

Best Read, Re-Read Category: Winning Chess Strategies by Yasser Seirawan
It was nice to end the summer with a chess book and Seirawan is always charming.  Now, if only I had time to play.

Best Comics Find: March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell

Charlottesville was over a year ago now.  The story of race in America hasn't gotten any easier.  But at least people are talking.  March is the graphic novel, autobiographical account of U.S. Representative John Lewis's personal history in the Civil Rights Movement.  So far, I have only read the first book of three but the others are on the shelf and I'm looking forward to them.

Athlete of the Year: Stan Musial (1920-2013)
By nearly all accounts, Stan the Man was one of the kindest superstars baseball has ever seen.  Numerous players, stars and journeymen alike, tell stories of how Musial went out of his way to welcome them to the Majors by name, even those who played for the other team.  This really says it all: he earned his nickname not in St. Louis where he played for over 20 years but in Brooklyn, home to the Cardinals' most hated rivals.  The Man turned Ebbets Field into his private pinball machine and they loved him anyway.

Best Family Adventure: Europe

We took a two-week to Europe over late June/early July:  Paris, London and Edinburgh.  We have some dear, old friends in London so reconnecting with them was the highlight for me.  As cities go, though, I'll take Edinburgh: small, manageable, easy to get away from the tourists.  Just as important this summer, it wasn't so damn hot.

My wife and I had both been to Europe before but for our 14-year-old daughter, it was the first time.  Every place we went, she was sad to leave.  That was really what I wanted: to give her a taste of the adventure so she would be eager to explore more on her own someday.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

On the Coffee Table: Winning Chess Strategies

Title: Winning Chess Strategies
Author: Yasser Seirawan
A chess game is a story, protagonist and antagonist in a struggle both brutal and elegant.  Over the years, I have learned strong openings, the beginning of the narrative.  I can build a solid pawn structure, get my pieces to effective positions and protect my king.  But in every game, I tend to reach a point where I must ask myself: what do I do now?  I'm good at satisfying conclusions, too.  Give me an endgame puzzle and I can probably solve it.  But how do I get there?  The middle game has always been the source of greatest mystery to me.  I always marvel at superior players who know exactly what to do and how to do it.  Naturally, that's why they beat me.

The answers lie in strategy.  If one can understand the basics of strategy, and when to apply which appropriately, one can win the middle game.  Fortunately, Syrian-born American chess champion Yasser Seirawan is ready to help.  In Winning Chess Strategies, Seirawan builds on the force, time, space and pawn structure concepts he introduced in Play Winning Chess (reflection here).  New and expanded principles include making the most of a material advantage, stopping enemy counterplay and the creation of targets.  In general, positional play requires paying attention, formulating clear objectives and limiting the opportunities available to your opponent.

It struck me that winning a chess game is all about controlling the narrative.  After all, if your opponent is always forced to react to what you're doing, s/he stands no chance at furthering his/her own cause.  We see the same game played politically all the time.  Of course, it's one thing to know this, quite another to understand how to do it.

Seirawan, a positional player himself, includes a lot more of examples from his own games than he did in previous books.  While this could come across as arrogance, he humbly includes a couple of his games where his strategic errors led to his downfall and also admits when he failed to capitalize on early-won advantages.  Once again, I thoroughly enjoy the personality he projects as a writer.

I have to admit that I have not played much chess over the past several months.  With the school year about to begin, it's difficult to imagine that changing but I'd certainly like to get back to playing more.  Reading baseball books makes me want to watch more baseball.  Reading chess books makes me want to play more chess.  In the end, all I really wish for is more time to read.  Alas, summer is nearly over.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Squid Mixes: Gin Cooler

The cat days of summer...
A gin cooler combines gin with sugar and sparkling water, a lemon peel to garnish.  My recipe came from The New York Bartender's Guide.  The preparation was a little unusual in that one combines the gin and the sugar in the bottom of the glass even before adding ice.  Presumably, it's a nice way to keep the sugar from being too grainy and actually gets evenly mixed in with the rest of the drink, a frequent issue.  The end result tastes like a lightly sweet seltzer, certainly not as strong in flavor as the gin and tonic I made for my wife.

Monday, August 20, 2018

On the Coffee Table: George Vecsey

Title: Stan Musial: An American Life
Author: George Vecsey
Stan Musial was, by any reasonable measure, one of the greatest baseball players in Major League history.  Bill James, as close as there is to an objective expert on such matters, ranked Musial #10 all-time in his Historical Abstract.  The resume is breathtaking: 3,630 hits, 475 homers, 24 All-Star Games, 3 World Series titles, 3 MVP awards, first ballot Hall of Famer, All-Century Team.  And yet, he is typically the forgotten member of the War Generation's Big Three, the other two being Ted Williams (#7 per James) and Joe DiMaggio (#13).  In his Musial biography, Vecsey considers why.  Is it a regional bias?  Musial will forever be revered as a god in St. Louis - he has two statues outside of Busch Stadium, the larger a Hachiko-esque meeting place - but it's tough to compete with similar stature in Boston or New York in terms of national exposure.  Or was it Williams's and DiMaggio's larger-than-life and frequently obnoxious personalities while Musial is almost universally remembered as one of baseball's nice guys?  Probably both.

Biographies are a tricky art, particularly athlete biographies.  The book tends a little too much towards the hero-worship side of the spectrum.  But to be fair, Vecsey made an effort to dig up dirt on Musial.  There simply isn't much.  Vecsey never claims his subject was perfect and he doesn't sweep the less flattering stories under the rug.  Nonetheless, the evidence is overwhelming: pretty much everybody who knew Stan Musial loved him.  He was a committed family man, a gregarious restaurant owner, an idol to Polish-Americans, a devoted Catholic.  A towering figure in the sport, Musial made a point of welcoming new rookies, even those on opposing teams, to the big leagues by name.  Many of them never forgot that basic human courtesy in a world of untouchable superstars.  It's worth noting that he earned his nickname Stan the Man from the fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Cardinals' arch-rivals.  Musial, who played his entire career in St. Louis and always made the most of Ebbets Field's hitter friendly dimensions, was elected to the Brooklyn Dodgers Hall of Fame in 1990.  Even the enemy loved him.

The warmth of the book comes from Vecsey's chosen method of research: personal interviews of those who knew the Man, drawing upon the yarn-spinning baseball culture I find so irresistibly charming.  There's a lot of waiting in baseball: waiting in the dugout, the bullpen, the clubhouse, the hotel, the airport, etc.  Plenty of time to chat.  As I watch games at our local minor league park, I want to believe the witty, shoot-the-shit atmosphere portrayed in Bull Durham is still real in 2018.  Have iPhones killed it the way they have undermined the art of conversation in the rest of society?  Now, an awful lot of that shit would be flying around in Spanish.  Is there intercultural exchange or is the typical baseball team lingually segregated?  I fear it is.

Overall, it's a lovely book.  I'll admit to not knowing much about Musial myself in the beginning but by the end, I loved him, too.  I can't say it offers much for the non-baseball fan but for those who love the game and enjoy its history, it's a must-read.

Friday, August 17, 2018

A Window Above: A Natural Woman

Song: "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman"
Writers: Gerry Goffin, Carole King and Jerry Wexler
Original Release: September 1967
Original Performer: Aretha Franklin

Where do you even begin?

I had a completely different post lined up for today but with Aretha Franklin's passing, what else could I do?  I am simply crushed.  76 years is a long life but pancreatic cancer is a terrible way to go.  Queen of Soul.  20 #1 R&B singles.  18 Grammys.  75 million records sold.

Never met a show she couldn't steal.  She stood in for Luciano Pavarotti when the tenor couldn't make the gig.  She sang at the inauguration of the first Black President because of course she did.  Why ask anyone else?  Had the best hat, too.

The best.  What more can you say?  She was the best!

Good luck watching this one without crying...

Aretha Franklin, 1942-2018

The Queen is dead.  Long live the Queen.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

On the Coffee Table: Paul Solarz

Title: Learn Like a Pirate: Empower Your Students to Collaborate, Lead, and Succeed
Author: Paul Solarz
I suppose it's time to let the blogosphere in on the action research project I am planning for my master's program.  Over the past few years, I've gradually tried to incorporate more student voice, student choice and student leadership into my classroom.  It started out of necessity with our middle school musicals.  Neither Drama Guy nor I is much of a dancer whereas many of our students are quite experienced.  So, we've given the choreography of our shows entirely over to them.  Not only are the kids happier with this arrangement but, in fact, we've had stronger productions as a result.  Win-win.  Obviously, we were on to something and expansion of the idea throughout my practice was a logical path to follow.

Unfortunately, teachers of my generation weren't taught to approach education this way and music in general has been a top-down world for centuries.  So, I need to figure out how to do a lot of this on my own.  Fortunately, this is a hopping trend in current education and there's a lot more how-to material than there used to be.  In working out the specifics for my research project, three different people recommended Learn Like a Pirate, so obviously I needed to check it out.

I have found my bible.  Solarz's classroom, as he describes it, is exactly what I envision for my own.  Students, with thoughtful early guidance, run the show.  They guide each other through the daily rituals, choose and design their own projects, they hold each other accountable, they ask each other questions before turning to the teacher, etc.  The book includes testimony from Solarz's own students and their parents so as not to make it seem he is painting a non-existent ideal.  He speaks from successful experience.

Now I need to figure out how to use it all.  Solarz provides a lot and it's overwhelming to take in all at once but I am eager to implement as much as I can.  My job at school is really two jobs with differing demands: chorus director and general music teacher.  There are aspects of the student-led class that will be easier to implement for each.  Probably best to sort out what those are and start there.  As Solarz points out, though, what you believe about your students and their capacities is just as important as the specific activities you plan for them.  It all begins with building the supportive atmosphere.

So, if you are a teacher and looking for some fresh ideas, I think you'd get a lot out of Learn Like a Pirate.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

On the Coffee Table: Ellen Oh

Title: Flying Lessons & Other Stories
Editor: Ellen Oh
This collection of short stories was our students' summer reading book.   As noted in Monday's post (see here), our community is working hard to confront racism and Flying Lessons was no coincidental choice.  Editor Ellen Oh is co-founder of We Need Diverse Books, a non-profit organization with a mission to promote diversity in children's literature.  The story authors are Black, Asian, Latino, Latina, Native American and White.

The selections are all good though, of course, some are better than others.  "Flying Lessons" gets top billing for a reason.  Soman Chainani tells of young Santosh who goes on a big trip to Europe with his larger-than-life grandmother.  The narrative is awkward, touching and humorous, just as early adolescence truly is for many of us.  It provides some poignant insight into love, platonic and otherwise, posing the question: are we drawn to people because we like them or because we want to be them?  I can say for myself that love is often tinged with envy.  Do we not expand our life experience by living vicariously through others?

There is a fable element to many of the stories, as well, mostly along the lines of self-actualization.  I'm not on board with all of the choices made.  Matt de la Peña's offering is written in second-person, future tense.   Odd.  Tim Federle describes scarfing down lunch in 22 minutes as a marathon session which seems the wrong metaphor - more an editing issue?  On the other hand, Tim Tingle's non-linear Choctaw tall tale is delightful as is Kwame Alexander's story-in-verse.

Overall, the book is a lot of fun and certainly a quick read.  I hope our students enjoy it, too.  I look forward to discussing it with them.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Food for the Occasion: Championship Sunday

This year, momentous events in each of my two favorite sports happened on the same day: the Wimbledon men's singles final and the World Cup final.  In fact, they overlapped a bit, the tennis beginning two hours earlier and not quite finishing in time for the soccer to begin.  I planned and prepared our mid-day meal with the two events as theme.  First, strawberries and cream for Wimbledon, then a Continental lunch platter in honor of France and Croatia.

The only part of the meal I technically "made" was the cream for the strawberries.  My wife found a recipe for Mock Devonshire Clotted Cream at RecipeSource.  Thankfully, it's a simple concoction easily thrown together in a few minutes.  The real deal is a multi-step process over multiple days.  It tasted yummy - in fact, too good to remember to take a photo before it was all gone.
I did remember a photo for the lunch platter (above): salami, baguette, sardines, crackers, gherkins (unfortunately sweet rather than dill) and more strawberries.

For the record, my rooting interests lost in both events.  The food was nice, though.

Monday, August 13, 2018

On the Coffee Table: Glenn E. Singleton

Title: Courageous Conversations about Race: A Field Guide for Achieving Equity in Schools
Author: Glenn E. Singleton
Courageous Conversations about Race is our assigned professional summer reading for work.  For unfortunate reasons, our school district has been forced to confront racial issues head on over the past 15 months.  In truth, the conversation is long overdue.  The minority population in our northwest Vermont exurb is small which creates its own problems for our few students of color.  Singleton's book encourages educators to consider race in isolation rather than in combination with economic and linguistic factors.  He argues, convincingly, that schools too easily shy away from blunt conversations of race, preferring to hide behind easier topics.  The fact is, the achievement gap for students of color is dramatic even when controlling for income or parents' education level.

While the topic is undeniably worthwhile, I do have a few issues with the book.  As with Daniel Goleman's Working with Emotional Intelligence (reflection here), there is a slightly uncomfortable commercial element.  What Singleton would truly like is for you to hire him to lead workshops.  However, unlike Goleman, Singleton offers plenty of how-to material to do it on your own.  One of the agreements of his process is to accept non-closure.  He promises no particular outcomes, stressing the importance of the conversation itself in all its uncomfortable glory.

The material is frequently dry but the best parts are the personal reflections at the end of each chapter.  Various contributors, including the author himself, wrote essays on their own racial experience.  As part of the process, Singleton encourages participants to do the same.  And so, my own humble offering:

I am White - deeply White.  My own olive-skinned wife calls me The Alabaster Kid.  All of my ancestry is northern European: Danish, English, German, Scottish, Welsh.  Most of the time, I don't give much thought to my own race which is, of course, the very essence of White Privilege.  Most of the time, I don't think about it whereas people of color rarely if ever have that luxury in American or European society.  I have nearly always been more aware of other people's races than my own.
The one period in my life when I was hyper-aware of my own race was the two years of my young adulthood spent in Japan.  Being a White American in Japan feels a bit like I imagine being a celebrity would.  You can't go anywhere without being noticed.  While certain parts of Tokyo are international enough to provide adequate camouflage, I stood no chance of blending into the crowd in my quiet Yokohama neighborhood.  Reactions from strangers on the street ran the gamut: fascination, curiosity, admiration, astonishment, fear and occasional hostility from those who knew enough to resent the American military presence in the area.  In the beginning of my stay, it was fun, even amusing.  By the end, it was tiresome.  I would long for time in Harajuku or Roppongi where I could enjoy relative anonymity. 
I know better than to believe my experience was remotely equivalent to that of a Black man in the United States - or even a Black man in Japan, for that matter.    Often, foreign men in Japan (gaijin) would compare notes upon meeting each other.  The Black guys would report a lot more fear in people's reactions than I ever saw.  To be sure, prejudice crosses borders and oceans effortlessly.
Here, I just don't think about it most of the time.  But Singleton's book forces me to look back on my life to times when I undoubtedly benefited from White Privilege in ways I wouldn't have considered before.  There were times when I struggled in school growing up, years when the grades weren't so great.  Everyone around me assumed I would bounce back even when I didn't believe it myself.  I realize now that may not have been the case if I had been a person of color.  The struggles might have suited the stereotype and the system might well have handled me differently.
For my students, I need to listen and be more aware of their challenges.  It can't be easy to walk into a school everyday where none of the teachers and few of the students look like you.  It's more than sticking out and people saying mean things, though that really does happen frighteningly often.  People's expectations for you are different.  Do you internalize those expectations?  Rebel against them?  A little of both?  Something else entirely?  I won't know until I listen and, as Singleton stresses in the beginning of his book, believe what they tell me.
I don't believe in "woke."  I fear it implies that awareness of racism is enough.  If I am woke to anything, it is to how much I have to learn.  
I do know I'm ready to listen.

Friday, August 10, 2018

A Window Above: Open Arms

Song: "Open Arms"
Writers: Steve Perry and Jonathan Cain
Original Release: July 31, 1981
Band: Journey
Album: Escape

It is the power ballad to end all power ballads.  For Journey, the gate to immortality is "Don't Stop Believin'" (see this post) and for good reason.  However, "Open Arms" was actually the band's highest charting single, climbing to #2.  It's a perfect match between singer and song.  The big leaps and soaring melody are perfectly suited to Steve Perry.  If ever there were a tune that cried out for an a cappella cover, this is it.  And yet, none of the ones I could find were quite right.  Boyz II Men and EXO, two of the most successful vocal groups ever have both covered it and despite admirable efforts, Steve Perry still wins.  

Judge for yourself.  First, the original:

I think I'd pick EXO as a close second:

That said, I'll happily listen to these guys harmonize anytime, and they're way better without all of the production garbage behind them:

Naturally, the Eastman kids are pretty good:

Thursday, August 9, 2018

On the Coffee Table: The Lives of Christopher Chant

Title: The Lives of Christopher Chant
Author: Diana Wynne Jones

The Lives of Christopher Chant is the second book of The Chronicles of Chrestomanci, according to the recommended reading order of the author.  This books actually serves as prequel to the first, Charmed Life (reflection here).  We get the boyhood story of the much-neglected Christopher who travels between parallel worlds in his sleep.  These are no mere dreams as Christopher is able to bring physical mementos back from his wanderings.  This ability proves useful to those with nefarious purpose.  Christopher, though the son of powerful musicians, believes he has no magical ability during his waking hours.  Somewhat predictably, he finds the truth to be quite different.  Shades of Xanth here.

All of Jones's usual charm is on offer here.  She's a wonderful world builder and with her, it's nearly always multiple worlds in the same story.  Christopher's visit to our own dimension is brief and terrifying.  He nearly gets run over by a bus. 

One can always count on Diane Wynne Jones for creating likeable characters, even among the baddies.  My favorite this time is Tacroy, Christopher's morally ambiguous, cricket loving traveling companion.  In fact, I've already cast him should there ever be a movie: Richard Ayoade, best known for The IT Crowd.

Great book.  Great series.  Great author.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

On the Coffee Table: Tony Isabella

Title: 1000 Comic Books You Must Read
Author: Tony Isabella
I have an inscribed copy of this book, gifted to me by Mock and Drama Guy for my birthday five years ago - just for a glimpse into how deep my TBR shelves run these days.  Isabella has been working in comics, mostly as writer and critic, for decades.  His proudest creation is the DC superhero Black Lightning, intended to address the lack of positive Black characters in the comics of the late '70s.  He was inspired, in part, by television's Welcome Back, Kotter, also a comic series for which Isabella had written.

I doubt this book will turn me into a collector.  Having dabbled in the genre for a few years now, I've got a pretty good idea of what I like.  That said, the history presented here is excellent and a lot of it new to me.  The titles are categorized by decade and each chapter begins with the historical context.  The first book listed is Action Comics #1, the first appearance of Superman, June 1938.  While Isabella acknowledges the existence of sequential art for millennia preceding, he submits Superman as the launch point of the industry as most American consumers know it.  The most recent publication featured is Bruce the Little Bruce Spruce, December 2008.

There's a decent variety on Isabella's list, though a more Squid-friendly selection would have featured more international titles, especially Japanese.  I have read several in his compilation and have a couple more on the shelves waiting for me.  I expect the book will be a good reference and will also be good for ideas should I decide to expand my horizons. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Squid Mixes: Vodka and Tonic

Sometime, it might be meaningful to taste a vodka tonic and a gin and tonic side by side.  The quinine flavor of the tonic water is so dominant that the base liquor hardly matters.  Mind you, both are lovely, refreshing beverages.  My recipe came from The New York Bartender's Guide.

Quinine came into prominent use as a preventative against malaria.  It is potently bitter so in the 19th century, British officials in India and other tropical outposts started mixing it with soda water.  What we know as tonic was born.  Adding alcohol was the next logical step: first gin, later vodka.

Vodka and tonics feature prominently in this Elton John classic:

Friday, August 3, 2018

A Window Above: Heroes and Villains

Song: "Heroes and Villains"
Writers: Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks
Original Release: July 24, 1967
Band: The Beach Boys

In truth, I've never been much of a Beach Boys fan.  I own Pet Sounds - practically obligatory - and willingly acknowledge that "Good Vibrations" is a masterpiece.  But as for their old school surf music, it just doesn't do it for me.  I know, practically un-American!

So, perhaps it's not surprising that my favorite among their songs is out of character.  "Heroes and Villains" was intended as a follow-up on the success of "Good Vibrations."  While it enjoyed moderate commercial success - #12 on the charts - it was widely panned by critics.  Jimi Hendrix famously referred to it as a "psychedelic barbershop quartet."  While that sounds awesome to me, Jimi didn't mean it as a compliment.

I will admit that from a production standpoint, the song's kind of a mess.  But I think it represents a nice mix of the group's older vocal harmony charm and their late-sixties trippy frolics.