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?