Playlist 18 -- Nurse, pass the goat testicles

This week's Playlist is shorter than usual, and focuses on two things -- a certified quack and a folk legend.

Charlatan: America's Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him and the Era of Flimflam.
Pope Brock.
Every time you hear a commercial for some Viagra-like stimulant on the radio, you can thank Dr. John R. Brinkley -- and I do use the term doctor loosely. If you're a fan of Erik Larson's books, I highly recommend this account by Pope Brock. While undeniably a quack, Brinkley was also quite the innovator. His runs for governor introduced campaign tactics still used today. His "border blaster" radio stations introduced Americans first to country, then later to blues. (He's actually mentioned in the ZZ Top song Heard it on the X). And while the rest of the country was struggling through the Depression, Brinkley was raking in millions. But the foundation to his fortune was built on goat glands. And there is the very dark side. Goat testicles were used in a needless and, quite dangerous, operation that Brinkley did numerous times, promoting it as a way to restore sexual vitality. The operation led to countless deaths and complications. Despite that, Brinkley built a devoted following -- enough so that he probably won the popular vote in his first run at the Kansas governorship. The book also follows the efforts of Dr. Morris Fishbein, editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, who tries to shut Brinkley down. And there are brief cameos by more famous people -- Sinclair Lewis, Eugene Debs. A fascinating tale.

White Buffalo.
Tale of Two Americas. Rod MacDonald.
There are hundreds of recording and performing folk artists out there, but there are relatively few treasures. And South Florida has one of them in Rod MacDonald. One of the keys of the Greenwich Village folk revival in the early 80s, MacDonald moved to Palm Beach County in the mid-1990s, and has continued to perform and record. I've seen him several times at folk festivals, house concerts and in clubs. He's an extraordinarily gifted songwriter who does the topical, humorous and touching folks songs equally well -- think Phil Ochs, Loudon Wainwright and Bob Dylan all wrapped in one. On his newest disc Two Americas (2005), he takes a jab at all-too-common Dylan/folk comparisons in I Am Bob Dylan. He also tackles California's famous Governator, our country's need to have an enemy, and what you are missing when you leave the bar to get a smoke. The album kicks off with the biting Ray and Ron, as Rod sings about the differences between Ray Charles and Ronald Reagan, who died within a week of each other. Recognition (2002) contains the haunting My Neighbors in Delray, which tracks the Sept. 11 terrorist who attended flight school in South Florida, and the funny Dr. Gachet, which traces the path of one of Van Gogh's last paintings. The highlight is the lovely ballad You Who Sleep Beside Me. White Buffalo (1985) is a folk classic. The Boston Herald called it "one of the towering achievements in modern folk music." You may have never heard the title track, but you'll feel as if you have. It's a memorable song from a gifted artist.

How gifted? These days, Rod plays mostly acoustic, but he's actually a part of several groups, including the Dylan cover band Big Brass Bed and the Irish/bluegrass string trio Cleopatra's Noodle. He often plays traditional Irish music with Tracy Sands. And he's taken part in a performance of songs of George Goehring in My Life in the Brill Building. Dave Van Ronk, Christine Lavin and many others have recorded his songs.

You can find some of Rod's music on Amazon. His older 80s work, including American Jerusalem, can be found on eMusic. Or you can visit his Web site or My Space page for more information.

And I leave you these week with a sample of Rod's work -- Smoke and White Buffalo.


Parallel Transitional Capability (PTC)

Well, last week I gave you three you reasons to smile. Here are three Web sites that, I hope, will make you chuckle -- even if it's one of the laughs on the inside. These are sites that just haven't made it into the last couple of Playlists.

We know Jon Arbuckle is a loser, but take away Garfield and he's also a schizophrenic, On Garfield Without Garfield they take Garfield comics and strip away Garfield. What's left is sad, lonely and very funny.

I've tried to add more systemized digital flexibility (SDF) to this blog with an optimal third-generation projection (OTP)? Do I sound like a beaureacrat? Or, worse yet, a politician? Well, you can too with Broughton's Systematic Buzz Phrase Projector (SBBP). Type in a three-digit number in the box and you'll be given the kind of technical sounding phrase that means nothing but makes you sound pretty smart. The Denver Post recently mentioned the gibberish-maker in an article on political hyperbole.

The championship is over. No, not the NCAA Tournament, but Lost Madness. For the last two weeks, fans of the TV show lost have been winnowing down their favorite characters out of a field of 64. Set up like the NCAA bracket, it led to some interesting matchups. Jack vs. Sayid; Charlie vs. Faraday. You may be surprised at who won it all.


Playlist 17 -- Bad Grammar, Good Music

March Madness has been huge on my Playlist this week, but with my alma mater and St. Joe's losing and my brackets mostly in shambles, I'll focus on the music and books.

Volume One. She & Him.
Zooey Deschanel is so darn cute. She's cute in the movies (Elf, Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy), on TV (Weeds) and on record. She & Him, the collaboration between her (or should I say "she") and M. Ward, is dripping with sweetness. Deschanel's unique voice stands out on torch-lite Take it Back, the girl-groupish Sweet Darling, the twangy Got Me and quirky cover of I Should Have Known Better. Volume One's highlight though is This is Not a Test. M. Ward is a very talented artist, but he takes a back seat here to Zooey, who wrote or co-wrote most of the songs. It's a fun album, especially if you're a fan of Linda Ronstadt and other 70s singer-songwriters.

The Name of the World. Denis Johnson
I decided to try out this short novel, one of Salon's top five books of 2000, before I tackled Johnson's monumental Tree of Smoke. Unlike Smoke, which covers most of the '60s and features numerous characters, The Name of the World is grounded in one Midwest college town over a short period of time and focuses on professor Michael Reed. The former political operative lost his wife and daughter in a car accident four years earlier. He left his post with a controversial conservative senator and found his way into a professorship. We pick the story up as he's in his final year at the university. It's clear he's sleepwalking through life, without a care. People seem to care about him, but he has no close friends (though a lot of acquaintances) and holds no deep conversations. Until he meets Flower Cannon, a student/caterer/performance artist/stripper.

Oh, and after 65 pages, I've decided to pass on Tree of Smoke for now.

Trouble in Dreams. Destroyer.
Destroyer's latest is filled, as usual, with a mixture of epic songs sung with leader Dan Bejar's abstract lyrics and pretentious vocals. Yet, as Amazon declares, the album is "utter joy." Destroyer has been called a cross between David Bowie and Pavement. But it's really difficult to categorize the band. Best songs to download -- The State, Dark Leaves Form a Thread and Leopard of Honor.

The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches. Jeff Yeager.
Jeff Yeager practices what he preaches. He travels to his book signings by bicycle. We're not talking about the riding to the neighborhood Barnes & Noble. He traveled across Florida on his bike. Yeager's message is a welcome one in this consumer-driven world. The book is full of practical advice -- delivered with homespun humor -- about how to live more happily with less. I have no doubt that if the recession worsens, Jeff Yeager will come out of it better than anyone else.

Other songs I've enjoyed this week ...
-- 15 Years in Indiana, Jack Logan, Bulk.
-- You Can Kill Me, Gong, The Best of Gong.
-- The Green King Sings, Blitzen Trapper, Wild Mountain Nation.
-- Day After Day, Badfinger, Wish You Were Here.


Three Reasons to Smile

We've marked five years in Iraq. The stock market is crashing. And we're in a recession. These are tough times -- soon to get tougher. But here are three positive things that help keep me smiling this week.

1. Race discussion. Who would have thought a week ago that something positive would come out of Geraldine Ferraro's divisive comments and the news of Eliot Spitzer's trysts with the former Girl Gone Wild Ashley Dupre? Well, the latter led to the appointment of David Paterson, not only the first black governor of New York, but also the state's first legally blind leader (see the Weekly Wikipedia link). And, of course, Ferraro's comments led to this week's memorable and historic speech by Barak Obama.

Also, last week in Florida, Peggy Quince became the first black woman to lead the Florida Supreme Court or any branch of state government.

2. The NCAA Tournament. Two weeks ago, most people thought that none of the Big Five teams were going to get into the tournament. Well, surprise, we've got three -- Temple, St. Joe's and Villanova. Now they may all be gone by the time I post the Playlist this weekend, but it's great to see three teams from Philly -- or, should I say, two more teams than the whole state of Florida.

3. The SXSW Festival. One day, before I get too old, I'd like to get out to Austin and enjoy this festival. But the Web has made it much easier to enjoy the concerts -- without all the crowds. I've been able to hear My Morning Jacket, Yo La Tengo and the resurgent R.E.M and watch Billy Bragg from my home in South Florida thanks to NPR's coverage.

There are literally hundreds of bands at this festival. Paul Ford of The Morning News, who also wasn't there, downloaded a file featuring one songs from some of the bands. Reading 763 reviews would be pretty time-consuming -- almost as long as reading one of my Playlists. But Mr. Ford did us all a favor, by limiting his review of each of the songs to just six words. Some of the reviews --

Bildmeister, Tenx. Five seconds of music, 120 times.
The Clutters, 9999 Ways (To Hate Us) -- I just found one more way.
AJ Croce, One and Only -- Rhyming's a tool, not a weapon.

Blog written, kids asleep, good night ...
Mr. Ford's limited word usage reminded of the Ernest Hemingway legend. The author was once asked to write a life story in six words. His story -- Baby Shoes. For Sale. Never Used.

Well, the six-word memoir has not gone away. Smith Magazine recently published Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure. Head on over to the site to read some of the memoirs. And Sue Katz of Consenting Adult recently blogged about the six-word memoir and some of her readers replied with their own. Pop on over to her site and leave your own memoir.


Playlist 16 -- Putting Out the Emotional Trash

The Playlist hits sweet 16 this week. It's ready to drive. And it includes two albums that sound great blasting out of a car stereo.

Real Emotional Trash. Stephen Maklmus and the Jicks.
This is a masterpiece of extended guitar jams and Janet Weiss' relentless drum
ming. Leadoff track Dragonfly Pie serves as a great intro to what the former Pavement leader's latest is all about. It starts off with a heavy Hendrix-like riff, takes off into another direction then finally coalesces into noise/guitar solo. Malkmus continues to upgrade his lo-fi indie cred for rock god status. No, it's not a very accessible album, but it gets under your skin after several listens, particularly as you try to decipher his oddball lyrics. And don't listen to the reviews. There are some catchy, I'd even say hummable, tunes on Trash. Gardenia and We Can't Help You have moments where you think it's possible you could hear them on the radio. But it's the long, extended pieces that make this such a memorable album.

Reactor. Neil Young and Crazy Horse.
This is probably one of the least-discussed albums in Neil Young's canon, but one that regardless draws fiery opinions on both sides. Put me in with those who love Reactor, originally released in 1981. Sure it doesn't have the depth of Neil's classics, but it rocks hard. And it's fun because Neil is having fun. The chorus of Ho-Ho-Ho-Ho-Ho-Ho in Opera Star. The lone, repeated lyrics of T-Bone (Got mashed potatoes/Ain't Got No T-Bone). And his swipe at new wave music (Every wave is new until it breaks) in Rapid Transit, where he playfully rolls his rrrrs. And Crazy Horse is at its loud peak here. Some say Neil threw this album out to fulfill a record deal. I don't care. It's a great rock
and roll record.

On Chesil Beach. Ian McEwan.
After reading t
he epic Kavalier and Clay, it was difficult adjusting to this much shorter story (almost a novella) set mostly in one night. However, much like Kavalier and Clay, there is an "escapism" theme. Both characters of Chesil Beach are where they are because they've escaped their mothers -- Edward's was brain-damaged and Florence's was just plain cold. And now they're both looking for a way to escape this difficult situation they're in. It's their wedding night and they're both virgins. Florence is as frigid as her mother and dreads the idea of physical contact. Edward worries about his performance and about rushing Florence. McEwan is a wonderful writer who is equally adept at describing walks, nature and sex in equally interesting detail.

Curb Your Enthusiasm. Season One.

Thank you Netflix. I don't know how I've gone this long without ever watching Larry David's show. If you haven't seen it, check it out. It's Seinfeld to another level -- with an R rating.

Some songs I've been listening to this past week ...
-- Listen to Her Heart, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Jangly guitar heaven.
-- Now, Now. St. Vincent. Marry Me.
-- This as a Brick (Part II), Jethrol Tull. Thick as a Brick. The second side of the album. It's all over the place and that's a big part of its charm.


Playlist 15 -- Escaping the March doldrums

So what's worse -- being called a monster or being called Kenneth Starr? And what's the difference between the two? They both like hiding under beds. Well, stop the bickering. Read a book, listen to some music, crack open a beer or do whatever else is your playlist.

Here's my Playlist for this past week.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Michael Chabon.

I've joked about how long it has taken me to get through this book. That's more of a reflection of my reading time lately, than a judgment on Chabon's Pulitzer Prize-winning 2001 book. The word used to describe Kavalier and Clay in just about every review I've seen is "epic." And I can't think of a more appropriate description. It is epic in scope (covering several decades and spanning New York, Czechoslavakia and Antartica), in its themes (escapism) and its topics (history of comic books, magic, war). Refugee Joe Kavalier and his New York-born cousin Sammy Klayman live out their dreams in The Empire City, creating comic books, but they can't seem escape their own pain. The book is meticulously researched and wonderfully written. And each of the more than 600 pages is truly rewarding.

Soundtracks to Juno and Good Will Hunting.
Who would have thunk that a song by the odd, low-fi, animal costume-wearing Moldy Peaches would be on everyone's lips? Kimbya Dawson's songs, whether as herself, the Moldy Peaches or Antsy Pants, capture the offbeat, eccentricity of Juno so well, which is why I think they've caught on with the public so smitten with that movie. The same can be said for the mood set by the Good Will Hunting soundtrack. GWH was a great movie itself, but I'll always hold it dear for introducing me to Elliot Smith's music. Both soundtracks are stellar because of the other songs tossed in -- The Kinks, Buddy Holly, Sonic Youth, Mott the Hoople in Juno and Gerry Rafferty, Waterboys , Dandy Warhols in Good Will Hunting.

New Seasons. The Sadies.

This Canadian band's music feels like cruising down a darkened highway. Even when they play fast, and they can, there doesn't feel a rush to get anywhere. The Sadies come from the Byrdsian wing of the alt-country movement, but their music nods to garage and surf rock. At times their psychadelic bent is reminiscent of Jefferson Airplane. This late 2007 release is full of excellent songwriting, great guitar work and wonderful harmonies (when they're not going instrumental).

Native Lager.

From the packaging to the taste, this is a no-frills beer. It's light and smooth like my favorite beer Yuengling, with even less aftertaste. A great, refreshing beer for those warm Florida weekend days. As usual, the Beeradvocate and I didn't see eye-to-eye on this one.

Other music I've enjoyed this past week ...
-- Falling Slowly, Glen Hasard and Marketa Irglova, The Swell Season. My favorite part of the Oscars was when Jon Stewart let Marketa Irglova come back onstage after she was so rudely cut off.
Centre for the Holy Wars, The New Pornographers. Mass Romantic.
Centerfield, John Fogerty, Centerfield.

And I'll leave you this week with a little Demetri Martin


I've Got Letham and McEwen in my Final 4

I am such a slow reader. More than a month, and I'm still making my way through The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Nothing against Michael Chabon's book. It's wonderful. In fact, it's a pretty amazing work. I'll describe it more in detail -- hopefully in this week's Playlist. But it's a thick book and finding extended time to get fully into it hasn't been easy.

One scan over the blogosphere, though, and I feel like such a shmok.

People are reading like crazy. There's 52 Books, 52 Weeks where the Largehearted Boy reads one book a week. And even more impressive is the blogger The Crazy Reader -- who is attempting to read 200 books in 2008. Yep, that's right -- 200 in one year.

And if that isn't impressive enough, she's doing this reading while caring for a toddler.

And a new baby.

And she's running a small business.

Oh, and she's blogging daily about her effort.

Which author is Duke?
As if I need anymore reasons to pick up the pace ... it's tournament time! Not March Madness, but the Third Annual Tournament of Books, put together by the Web site The Morning News and sponsored by Powell's.

Here's how The Morning News described the tournament:

... by the next morning we had the rough outlines of something called The Tournament of Books, in which we would seed the year’s most celebrated works of fiction in a March Madness-type bracket and pit those novels against each other in a “Battle Royale of Literary Excellence.” In honor of our favorite character in contemporary literature, David Sedaris’s brother, aka “The Rooster,” we decided to present the winning author with a live chicken.

Here are the contestants for this year's tourney.

Run by Ann Patchett
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson
Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris
Petropolis by Anya Ulinich
Ovenman by Jeff Parker
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
You Don’t Love Me Yet by Jonathan Lethem
New England White by Stephen L. Carter
Remainder by Tom McCarthy
The Shadow Catcher by Marianne Wiggins
The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño
Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name by Vendela Vida
Shining at the Bottom of the Sea by Stephen Marche
What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman
An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England by Brock Clarke

My prediction? Are you crazy? I've only read one book on the list so far -- Brock Clark's hilarious novel. (See Playlist 12). But I recently took On Chesil Beach out of the library and hope to tackle that next.

Last year's finale pitted Cormac McCarthy's The Road against Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart. Find out who won here.

And finally ...

You're going to read more. And you're going to try to read all the books in the tournament. That's a lot of books. How do you store them all? It's worth clicking through the 16 photos in this LA Times feature about home libraries. I'm going with a more virtual book shelf. It's called Shelfari (on right hand side of the blog), where I'll be lining up the books I'm either reading or getting ready to read. If you send me a suggestion to read, I'll add it to the shelf.


Playlist 14 -- Where there's a Wilco, there's a way

Major league baseball teams have actually started playing for real down here. My beloved Phillies have already seen their biggest free agent acquisition go under the knife. But at least Ryan Howard, $10 million richer, is already hitting tape measure home runs. And the Eagles have gotten their biggest off-season in years (I say that every year) off to a bang with a huge free agent signing. Me, I've been busy, too. As a result, I continue to find myself inching my way through Michael Chabon's Kavalier and Clay. Yes, I've been reading the book for a month now.

This week, the Playlist hits the two touchdown mark.

A.M. Wilco.
With each succeeding album, Wilco has further cemented its reputation as one of the more daring, yet consistently good, rock bands around. With all the attention paid to the last three albums, it's easy to forget their debut A.M. -- a rootsy, alt-country (if that's what you want to call it) gem. But remember, this is an album that was dismissed by many when released (including, in a small part, by leader Jeff Tweedy). Around the same time, Tweedy's former Uncle Tupelo bandmate Jay Farrar and his then-new band Son Volt released their debut -- the instant classic Trace. A.M. is no Trace, but is a solid album and one worth revisiting often, as I did this week. Tweedy's songwriting is more direct, yet still powerful. There are no spiders filling out tax returns. But there is some great Stonesian riffs, banjo and wonderful pedal steel touches. How can you not love an album that brings you both Casino Queen and Passenger Side?

If you're reading this Saturday afternoon, please be sure to check out Wilco tonight on Saturday Night Live -- with host Ellen Page of Juno.

While still on Wilco ....
-- From the set list, it sounded like an incredible show in Philly last week. Why the not-so-stellar review?
-- I have to get the t-shirt below.
-- Recently, the band played a five-night stand in its hometown of Chicago and proceeded to play all the songs it ever put on record.
-- And finally, some sad news. No Depression, whose letter section was named after the A.M. song Box Full of Letters, will cease publication with its May-June issue.
And Wilco even makes it into the end of this review of the last Barak-Hillary debate.

Jesus of Cool. Nick Lowe.
The last time I heard many of these songs, I heard them on a cassette tape. And the name of the album wasn't Jesus of Cool (America couldn't handle such a title), but Pure Pop for Now People, which in a way was aptly titled. This reissue really is new wave/pop music at its best -- clever writing and great hooks. Nick Lowe is truly an underappreciated artist. Whether you haven't heard it in years or never heard it, head on over to eMusic and download it.

The Believer Magazine, February 2008.
Last month's issue included the usual array of unique articles -- troubled symbolism of Black History Month, an article about a Russian poet (see this week's Wikipedia link), great book reviews, Nick Hornby's Stuff I've Been Reading and a wonderful article about about fatherhood called The Chaos Machine. But the highlight is the center page spread of bizarre will requests. We all know about Leonna Helmsley leaving her money to her dog. But what about John Orr who deigned that money go each year to the shortest, tallest, youngest and oldest brides married each year in St. Cyrus, Scotland or Robert Louis Stevenson, who left his birthday to a friend born on Christmas.

other songs I've been digging this month ...
-- 27 Jennifers, Mike Doughty. Golden Delicious.
-- Plastic Flowers on the Highway, Drive-by Truckers. Southern Rock Opera.
-- Put the Message in the Box, World Party. Goodbye Jumbo