Playlist 39 Has Miles to Go ...

I've spent the past week switching between the Democratic National Convention and reading about our nation's biggest fiascoes (see Oops below). I couldn't help thinking about all the oops moments our current president has had over his very damaging eight years in office.

With Gustav barreling down in the Gulf, let's hope that the president, the rest of the federal government -- as well as all those governments involved -- and the residents themselves do the right thing. To all those in the potential path, Godspeed.

Here's Playlist 39 ...

Miles from India. Various Artists.
Here's what you have: A group of well-respected Indian musicians lay down a foundation for a series of Miles' Davis compositions. Half-way around the world, a group of American musicians, most of whom have played with Miles in the past, do the rest. The result is ambitious, rewarding and exciting. Though Miles from India focuses mostly on Miles' fusion work, the highlights of the two disc-set are the revisions of three songs from the seminal Kind of Blue, especially All Blues, in which Miles' trumpet is replaced by a sitar.

Read my full discuss of Miles from India and Henry Kaiser's Yo Miles! project on my latest post on the Princeton Record Exchange Blog.

Oops: 20 Life Lessons
from the Fiascoes that Shaped America. Martin J. Smith and Patrick J. Kiger.
It's hard to take seriously a book that paints Thomas Midgley's invention of ozone-killing CFCs with the same brush as the XFL -- the football league that promised violence and showed off cheerleaders who looked a little too comfortable around poles. OK, so it's not a history text book. But Oops is a fun trip. Smith and Kiger aim to learn a lesson from such dumb decisions as the Cleveland Indians' riot-inducing 10-cent beer night and Dick Clark Productions' decision to have Jimi Hendrix open for the Monkees. And we all know Thomas Edison as a brilliant inventor. But he was also a trash-talker who played very well the nasty ad game our politicans have since perfected?

is the subject of our Weekly Wikipedia link. He was once considered one of our great inventors. However, historians are more likely to focus on the negative impact his work has had on our environment. As you'll see in the Wikipedia entry, one historian has remarked that Midgley "had more impact on the atmosphere than any other single organism in Earth history."

Take the Oops quiz.

Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea. The Silver Jews.
Things are looking up for David Berman. On the outstanding 2005 release Tanglewood Numbers, he sang about being stuck in a K-Hole. On Lookout, Berman is still trapped, but it's in a Candy Jail. Yes, this latest release lacks the intensity of Tanglewood, but it is a welcomed return to a more country-rock sound. Heck, Berman even sounds like Johnny Cash on a song or two. The album is downright fun with silly songs about Aloysius, Blue Grass Drummer and a Party Barge. On the rockabilly-like San Francisco B.C., Berman spouts a long tale about murder, love and a "killer haircut." My favorite line: "She said, you don't make enough to provide for me/I said what about the stuff that we quote believe." For those unfamiliar with the Silver Jews, they're a lo-fi indie band with a slight alt-country sound. But Berman's lyrics are always the highlight. The CD provides those lyrics, worth the album price alone, as well as the chord progressions for the songs.

Spent. Joe Matt.

Joe Matt grew up in the same small suburban Philadelphia town where I worked as a reporter. It's suffice to say that Matt's Robert Crumb-like autobiographical panels would've never made it into our family newspaper's comic section. In Spent, Matt depicts himself as a cheap, self-absorbed, porn-addicted jerk who has little to no social skills. He lives in a cheap boarding house where rather than run to the bathroom he shares with four other people, he pees into a bottle in his closet and then laments breaking up with his girlfriend four years ago.


Take a Long Walk With Playlist 38

I have a short (for me) Playlist this week. But I'm very excited about these distractions and recommend each highly.

Bold Spirit: Helga Etsby's Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America. Linda Lawrence Hunt.

With her family in danger of losing its Washington state farm, Helga Etsby came across an interesting wager from a mysterious sponsor on the East Coast. The sponsor would pay $10,000 to a woman to walk across America. There were strict rules set on the trip -- the woman could leave with only $5 and had to earn her way across the country. And there was a time limit on the trip. In May of 1986, Etsby, with her teen-aged daughter Clara, left behind her injured husband and eight other children, and set off on the trip.

Remember: This was a time when the US, particularly out West, was sparsely populated. The dangers included bears, lions, snakes, not to mention unsavory men. Then you had the weather to deal with -- floods, snow, fires. And they'd be doing at least the first part of their walk in Victorian dresses. And this was an era where women taking long walks or doing any type of physical exertion was considered dangerous.

Bold Spirit is an amazing and inspiring true story - one that Helga planned to write about upon her return to Spokane. So why were Helga's notes destroyed? Why is that nobody in Helga's family ever talked about the trip once she returned? And why is it that the story would've disappeared completely were it not for her granddaughter?

Hunt's 2003 book, winner of the Washington State Book Award, captures the political and cultural world of the late 19th century, particularly the growing women's movement. It also dives into family dynamics, how people get beyond tragic and hurtful events.

And while talking about big treks, check out GOOD Magazine's Wanderlust -- an interactive feature tracing the world's greatest journeys from Magellan to Kerouac. Unfortunately, Helga isn't trip isn't in the feature, but it's worth checking out nonethelss.

McSweeney's Quarterly. Issue 27
This was one of the best McSweeney's quarterlies in a while. It came as three individual books:
-- A sketchbook by graphic novelist Art Spiegleman.
-- A collection of very funny (and quite odd) comic art.
-- And, finally, a book, of course, of several short stories, including powerful tales by Mike Jollett and Ashlee Adams. And it ends with Stephen King's In a Tight Place, which might have you thinking before you enter another port-a-john.

Speaking of Stephen King and short stories ... his unpublished short story "N" is currently being made available via an "episodic graphic adaptation" on the Web. I have not had a chance to watch it yet, but if you're a King fan, check it out -- Stephen King's "N".

Sun Giant EP. Fleet Foxes.
The Fleet Foxes' self-titled full-length debut is earning numerous kudos for its mesmerizing Beach Boys harmonies and the laid-back Southern California circa 70s feel. This EP, which came out earlier this year, preceded that release, but plays by much the same rules. If you like any of the aforementioned comparisons or the more mellow side of My Morning Jacket, you'll love this beautiful EP.


In Totally Platonic Race, DeWitt Creams The Dubliner

OK, so the choices were a literary legend who is quite possibly the most influential writer of the 20th century.
Instead you chose an actress who played second fiddle to Suzanne Somers in the double entendre-filled Three's Company.
You could have chosen a psychologist who became one of America's most beloved advice columnists.
But instead, the majority of you went with the actress whose main film role was a small part in Airplane II: The Sequel, the actress who refused to do any scenes with bare legs, the actress whose only mention in print in the last 20 years has been preceded by the words "What the heck ever happened to ..."
Yes, my lovely Distraction readers. You have chosen Janet Wood, aka Joyce DeWitt by far over James Joyce and Dr. Joyce Brothers in our second Dumb Poll -- Pick a Joyce. The lovely DeWitt finished with 67 percent of the vote.
Thank you for voting. Now please take a few moments over the next couple of weeks and select your Jackson (Michael is not on the list, but brother Tito is. And please note Dawg, there's no Randy on it either. I'm just keeping it real). In the meantime, I'm springing for a couple of rounds over at the Reagle Beagle. Just don't tell Mr. Furley.

Make Playlist 37 Part of Your Heritage

Want to know a stupid excuse that works?
It's my heritage.
It's what I'm sure I'd hear if I approached any of the redneck yahoos down here in South Florida who proudly display the Confederate flag on their trucks. I won't even get started on those hateful bastards flying it from their house.
It's my heritage.
Sure, it's easy for me to use, too, particularly if I've had a few too many beers and did something stupid. Hey, I'm Irish.
It's my heritage.
The latest, and possibly stupidest, use of the excuse comes from those sad folks in Lousiana crying over the recent ban of cockfighting. Yes, the recent ban. As of Thursday, Lousiana was the only state in the country that allowed this animal cruelty. The ban took effect yesterday.
Billy Duplechein told the Dallas Morning News: "I think it's a loss for us. We're losing out on an opportunity to keep our heritage and our culture."
Those still fighting the ban love to point out that one of our most famous presidents earned his nickname Honest Abe by serving as a referee to cockfights. I don't know if that's true or not. But we also once had presidents who owned slaves.
But we as a society have grown.
And it's no longer heritage, Mr. Duplechein.
It's cruelty.

But not so cruel is this week's Playlist ....

Conor Oberst. Conor Oberst.
It's time to drop the emo label, gang. Conor Oberst is no longer the indie wunderkid. He's dropped the Bright Eye's moniker, for now that is. And at 28 years old now, he may be the best folk-rock singer/songwriter we have. Oberst's self-titled album is clearly one of the standout releases in this musical year so far.

See my full review of Conor Oberst on the Princeton Record Exchange blog.

Alive Day Memories. Home from Iraq.
James Gandolfini produced this 57-minute documentary, and interviews 10 soldiers who discuss their Alive Day, the date in which they narrowly escaped death, as well as their future and why they joined the services. Many of the vets have lost limbs, while others suffered brain injuries and/or post-traumatic stress. The story of Marine Corp. Michael Jernigan, who lost both eyes, is one of the most harrowing to watch. Gandolfini steers clear of debating the merits of this particular war, but very vividly allows us to see its results.

The Wishbones. Tom Perrotta

Tom Perrotta rocks. I knew him more by the movies based on his book (Election and Little Children) until I read The Abstinence Teacher a few months back. As I flew through The Wishbones, his first novel, in less than two days last weekend, I realized just how much fun this guy is to read. Wishbones is about Dave Raymond. Although in his 30s, Raymond still hasn't grown up. He has dated his girlfriend Julie ("off and on" he likes to point out) for 15 years. A courier by day, he plays in a wedding band on weekends. And he still lives with his parents. It's a good life, until one day he unexpectedly -- even to himself -- proposes to Julie. Over the next three months, he endures band problems and finds himself falling in
love with another woman. There are plenty of musical and band
references -- Uriah Heep? -- to keep a hack musician and rock-lover like me flipping the pages.

Trilogy. Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
My 14-year-old son has been listening a lot to Kansas. Yes, Kansas. Hey, it's much better than listening to Lil Wayne, 50-Cent or Hannah Montana. But hearing Kansas constantly had me in the mood for some real progressive rock, so I pulled out this 1972 classic. Unrecognizable faces with long hair? Check (see cover). Pompous song titles in multiple parts? Check (see the Endless Enigma, Parts I and II). A classical music composition with appropriate title? Check (see Fugue). Dopey lyrics? (See everywhere). But this thing cooks. Keith Emerson's keyboards and Greg Lake's bass propel most of the album -- the one exception being the guitar-based radio staple From the Beginning. The highlight is ELP's take on the Aaron Copeland composition Hoedown (Taken from Rodeo).

The Areas of My Expertise. John Hodgman.
Famed author-eelologist Lord Alfred "Pudge" Frumplecooke once said that "those who are doomed to repeat history are lucky if the history they are doomed to repeat is full on nigh with pleasure, particularly of the womanly kind." That was, of course, before he wrote the 9,700-line epic poem Hey, Who Smoked the Damn Maize?, which is still memorized and read in its entirety by 5th-graders every Thanksgiving in East Haddam, Conn. Thankfully, Hodgman details the history of pirates, haircuts and hobos. But, strangely enough, he left out any reference the integral role of the mighty dragonfly in our nation's history. That's OK. He still wrote a book to rival Poor Richard and any other almanacking schlubs.

On a more serious note, congratulations to Michael Phelps and all the athletes from all countries competing in China. I often straddle the fence when it comes to politicizing the Olympics. I'd rather see it as pure sports competition. But I am uncomfortable with it being in China. This week's Wikipedia link recalls one of the most political and social statements in modern Olympic history.


You Will Meet a Wonderful Playlist 36

Well, the Phillies haven't scored in 23 innings and look prepared to disappoint us all again. At least the football season started last night with the Eagles losing 16-10, but mostly playing well. Donovan McNabb looked sharp and Brian Westbrook got his new contract. I'm ready for the season. Can we fast-forward to September?

For you non-Eagle fans (or non-football fans), there is another reason to cheer for my Birds this year. Their GO GREEN Initiative has planted trees in the city, lent support to stop global warming and pushed fans to do a better job at recycling. One of their latest efforts -- the Eagles Forest at one of my favorite places Neshaminy State Park -- was aimed at offsetting the carbon emissions from their game-day travel. And the team recently made MSN's list of Top 15 Green Sports Stars. (Click through, they're number 9).

And let's not forget the Eagles cheerleaders who are doing their part, too.

Now onto Playlist 36 ...

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the
World of Chinese Food. Jennifer 8. Lee.
They are there in every strip mall in just about every town -- a Chinese restaurant. There are more of them than there are McDonald's. And although they are mostly all individually owned Mom and Pop places, the menu in almost every Chinese restaurant is the same. New York Times reporter Jennifer 8. Lee (yes, her middle name is 8.) looks into several mysteries surrounding American Chinese food. Her interesting and funny, if sometimes scattered, journey finds out who invented the fortune cookie, the role of immigration in the Chinese food industry, what's not in your American soy sauce and who the heck created General Tso's chicken. This is a fun book for foodies and non-foodies alike. (Find out more about General Tso in our Weekly Wikipedia link).

A Certain Feeling. Bodies of Water.
If you like the sweeping grandeur of Polyphonic Spree or the pulsating drama of Arcade Fire, you'll love these guys -- a four-piece that sometimes swells to 11. What separates them from the aforementioned bands is their love of traditional folk music and gospel. In fact, they list their favorite gospel
quartets in the bio section on their Web site.

Visits Planet Earth/Interstellar Low Ways. Sun Ra.
This great collection of Sun Ra's work from 1956-1960 illustrates how he and his band shifted from the bop and swing of Reflections in Blue and El Viktor to the less conventional space jazz of Interstellar Music and my favorite Arkestra song of all time Rocket Number Nine Takes Off for the Planet Venus.