The forlorn, former home of Cans ‘n’ Stuff
The street on which I was raised runs nearly three quarters of a mile, a straight line along its entire length. We lived almost dead center, whence I could pedal my bike a satisfying distance in either direction. On the west end of the avenue lived Big Ed and Little Ed, a father and son whose nicknames reflected their seniority but not their relative size. Big Ed, as I recall, was a quiet, gray-haired man of small stature. Little Ed, however, was bigger in every way, from his large frame to his frizzy, black hair, which framed a happy-go-lucky countenance. They would have been an odd couple under any circumstances, but for a brief period of time they were business partners. They ran their unique venture from a tiny and disheveled storefront at the eastern terminus of our street.
Cans ‘n’ Stuff was surely one of the stranger establishments to have emerged in my hometown. Its eclectic stock was an outgrowth of its proprietors’ respective hobbies. Big Ed collected beer cans, a fad of rising popularity in the seventies. Little Ed collected record albums, singles and related memorabilia. Naturally, they opened a shop that sold used records and beer cans. It was, perhaps, one of the greatest moments in the history of entrepreneurial zeal executed without so much as a shred of market research. What, after all, was the target demographic of Cans ‘n’ Stuff? Whom did Big Ed and Little Ed envision as their customers? Read More
Faster than a stolen base, more powerful than a grand slam, it’s…
If there are supermen among us, one of them showed his strengths last night in the ordinary metropolis of Cincinnati. Paul McCartney, age 69, demonstrated extraordinary endurance while plowing through a setlist that mere mortals would sell their souls to have written. While there is no question that the old Beatle is a living legend, Sir Paul surely put to rest any speculation that his talents have waned. He is as captivating as ever, delivering nearly three hours of flawlessly performed classics with as little apparent effort as that which you and I expend sitting on our talentless bums.
So influential is McCartney’s catalog that selections from it successfully comprised the entirety of the pre-show music. As concertgoers wandered the breezy concourse of Great American Ball Park and swarmed numerous swag stands, they were treated to a diverse array of cover tunes, from a Hammond organ instrumental of Eight Days A Week to a reggae version of Blackbird. For half an hour before the show began, a scrolling video collage of McCartney memorabilia was accompanied by an infectious remix mashup featuring Coming Up, Twist and Shout, Goodnight Tonight, With A Little Luck, Temporary Secretary, We Can Work It Out, Back in the USSR, and inevitably, The End. Then, with audience anticipation at its zenith and the video screens displaying a sparkling silhouette of the iconic Hofner violin bass, McCartney and his band opened with Hello Goodbye followed by Junior’s Farm. Read More
I love music, and I have a special affection for cleverly written, expertly performed, lovingly produced tunes that not only deliver the musical goods but also take a satirical jab at convention with a dry sense of humor. Fitting that bill perfectly are the songs on four very different albums that never fail to amuse me.
The Rutles was released in 1978 as the soundtrack album for Eric Idle’s All You Need Is Cash, a television mockumentary that parodies the rise and fall of The Beatles. The show itself is uneven, but its incredible attention to detail is mirrored in 14 songs written and produced by Neil Innes, a founding member of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and Monty Python collaborator. Innes and a group of session musicians manage to emulate the Beatles as faithfully as any tribute band while slyly stretching a variety of Fab Four styles into the absurd without so much as a wink or a nod. Read More
I consider myself an Anglophile. I have an inherent fascination with English life, from its customs to its colloquialisms. I like listening to BBC Radio. My pop culture preferences warmly embrace The Beatles, ELP, Pink Floyd, and all things Python. I’m charmed by E.F. Benson’s Lucia novels and captivated by Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. I have ancestral ties to Cornwall (my maternal grandfather was born and raised in Truro). Nothing would please me more than to spend a lengthy sabbatical exploring Britain. Yet for all my natural interest in England, I cannot muster so much as a dollop of enthusiasm for today’s royal wedding.
Apparently that puts me in good standing with two-thirds of the British population, the demographic block identified by pollsters as those who will not be watching the ceremony. According to CBS News, half of the United Kingdom claims to be “actively uninterested” in the whole affair, and I share their passionate apathy. The relentless news coverage is bad enough here; I can only imagine how unavoidable it must be in England. Read More
You have to be good to grab the attention of renowned puzzlemaster Will Shortz.
SPOILER ALERT! This week’s post is about a crossword puzzle that I created and submitted to The New York Times. For the most satisfactory reading experience, I advise you to attempt to solve the puzzle first. To do so, you will need to download the free Across Lite crossword application. If you’re a fan of the NYT Crossword, you’ve probably already done this. Next, download my crossword puzzle in Across Lite format. You’ll be able to tackle my puzzle on your computer, or you can print it out and have at it with a pencil. Either way, good luck!
The summer of 2009 became the Summer of the Crossword Puzzle for me. As a teacher who works according to the traditional school calendar, I have the luxury of indulging my interests every June, July and August. What’s more, as the father of two active girls who participate in a variety of summer activities, I am often sitting poolside during a swim practice or waiting for the morning’s cross country training to end. Short of good conversation with a fellow human being, I have found that a decent crossword puzzle is an ideal way to pass idle time. It’s also a wonderfully engaging distraction from the dull concerns of everyday life. That summer, the crossword puzzle rose in my estimation from a mere diversion to a worthwhile pursuit.
Key to my conversion from a casual solver to an enthusiast was the understanding that not all crossword puzzles are created equal. There was a good reason why certain puzzles had been exasperating to me: they were filled with crosswordese, the arcane vocabulary of obsolete little words that are used almost exclusively by struggling puzzle constructors simply to make a crossword work. Even the most esteemed crossword of them all, that of The New York Times, was once guilty of this under the stewardship of former puzzle editor Eugene T. Maleska. His legacy of impenetrable obscurities was quashed by current Times puzzle editor Will Shortz, whose philosophy leans toward making crossword puzzle solutions more dependent on wordplay than trivia, and what trivia there is should be universal rather than local. In shortz (I apologize for that), a good crossword puzzle is challenging yet accessible.
The Beatles: indispensable leads, colorful supporting characters, and no extras?
Imagine the public outrage that would ensue if Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr were to announce their intention to reunite and tour as The Beatles. Though they would have no trouble selling tickets, a critical consensus would condemn the endeavor as false advertising, even though the deaths of John Lennon and George Harrison obviously would have prevented them from participating. Yet there is no hue and cry over Roger Daltry and Pete Townsend appearing as The Who in spite of the unavailability of late bandmates Keith Moon and John Entwistle. Why? The answer rests in the peculiarities of rock group dynamics, by which the members of most bands can be subdivided into indispensable leads, colorful supporting characters, and extras.
Now let us entertain an alternative history in which Lennon and McCartney are today’s surviving Fab Two. They hold a press conference under a giant Beatles logo and announce a reunion tour. The world rejoices. Everyone laments the losses of Harrison and Starr, but few seem to mind Lennon and McCartney hiring session players and billing themselves as The Beatles. This is because within Beatle group dynamics, Lennon and McCartney were the indispensable leads. You can’t have The Beatles without either of them, but you conceivably could have The Beatles with both of them and some hired hands. Read More