Playlist 43, circa 1969-1974

As the wife and I drove down 192 on our way to the Osceola Library System's Fall Into Reading Book Festival early Saturday morning, we passed a familiar sounding road. My wife pointed out that it's the road that leads to Paul Newman's "Hole in the Wall Camp." We did our usual back-and-forth about how cool the guy is.

A few hours later as we sat eating lunch, we heard that Paul Newman had died.

Every few months, a famous actor dies and we mourn. It's easy to see why. Movies play a key role in our memories. But Paul Newman was much, much more than an actor. His philanthropic works ensure that he'll remain a beloved figured long after his passing. His celebrity won't die with the last People magazine feature. It'll continue on in all the good works that he sponsored through his Newman's Own and other charitable works.

In Sunday's New York Times, a close friend remembered Newman as a good neighbor.

And now onto the Playlist ...

City of Refuge. Tom Piazza.
We had friends who were relocated to New Orleans a couple of years back. They had hoped to move back to the Northeast and were slightly disappointed to be going to New Orleans just a couple of years after Katrina.

But they've found the city to be a wonderfully diverse and cultural place. And they love it.

On the other hand, I can remember a few people who warned me about the crime as I prepared for business trips there. Their disdain for New Orleans was clear.

Piazza, author of Why New Orleans Matters, clearly understands this love-hate relationship with his adopted city. And he tackles it in City of Refuge, which follows a black family in the Lower Ninth Ward and a middle-class white family living Uptown. We follow their lives before Hurricane Katrina, as the storm approaches and in the aftermath through places like Houston, Oxford, rural Missouri, New York and Chicago. The Donaldsons decide to evacuate, finding themselves stuck in traffic before finally making their way to relatives in Chicago. SJ Williams and his family try to stick it out in the Lower 9th. The families take some real punches from Katrina. They survive, yet the face the question -- What now?

Piazza captures the grittiness, diversity and originality of New Orleans, as well as the fear and worry that enrapts you when you know a storm is coming directly to your town.

To find out more about Piazza and why he wrote the book,
visit Harper Collins' site.

The Great Schlep.
Are you young? Are you Jewish? And do you want to make sure that Barak Obama wins this critical election? Sarah Silverman wants you to schlep on down to your grandparents in Florida and convince them to vote for the guy with the scary name. After all, Florida could be the key to the election. Just ask Al Gore. Or Pat Buchanan. (And make sure you get yourself an Obamica like Arjewtino is wearing on his latest post.)

Are you excited about the debate this Thursday? I'm not. I think the media will set the bar so low for Gov. Palin that as long as she doesn't mispronounce any names, she'll come out a winner. Is she prepared to be vice president? Absolutely not. But she's not dumb.

Then again, if you're a Palin supporter and you wish you were Track's bro -- head on over to the Sarah Palin Baby Name Generator. And if you don't get a response, don't worry, Sarah will "check it out and get back to ya."

The Uglysuit. The Uglysuit.
This young Oklahoma City band plays a mix of piano-based pop with a tendency to sometimes be a bit too dramatic. Their longest song ... And We Became Sunshine carries a consistent shimmery wave for all 7:19. The shortest song -- the 1:19 piano-only Elliot Travels -- sounds like it could be an intro to a Runt-era Todd Rundgren song. In between, Uglysuit succeeds most when it just lets loose as it does on the album closers Happy Yellow Rainbow and Let it Be Known. They've earned comparison to their fellow Okies -- The Flaming Lips. I don't see it at all. Though this album, though sometimes inconsistent, is not a bad start to a career.

I subconsciously found myself listening to three albums this past week that had a year in the title of one of their songs.

1972. Josh Rouse.
Song: 1972

This 2003 throwback to the early 70s is all about the vibe. It's impossible to listen to the album and not feel "groovy." There's the bounce of Love Vibration or Slaveship and the heartfelt Under Your Charms and Sparrows Over Birmingham. It's solid throughout, but kicks off just right with the title track -- She was feeling 1972/Grooving to a Carole King tune/Is it too late baby?/Is it too late?

What was going on in 1972? You'll find out in our weekly
Wikipedia link

The Stooges
. The Stooges.
Song: 1969

Boy, what it must have felt like to hear this roar out of your hi-fi speakers back in 1969. All sweat and snarling. Fuzz box guitar that seemed so simple, yet carried a power that took it beyond its garage rock predecessors. It was punk before there was punk.

Rock N Roll. Ryan Adams.
Song: 1974
In retrospect, it's easy now to see why this album, so full of rock cliches, received less than critical praise when it was released. But after a trio of albums that played more to the singer-songerwriter angst, it was good to see Adams rock out. And boy did he. It's still fun to hear the roar of songs like This Is It (a nod to his New York rivals The Strokes) and Note to Self: Don't Die and 1974.

And finally, visit the Princeton Record Exchange Blog where you'll find me rating Led Zeppelin's catalog -- and you may be surprised at my Top 5 list.

And read this short San Francisco Chronicle article to see who gets named in the same breath as R.L. Stine and J.K. Rowling.

Signing off,
Foot Challis Pallin


Playlist 42 Wishes You Were Here

Please somebody help me.

There are still six weeks left until Election Day, but I can't help checking the polls and the latest news several times each day. I go to Politico, Talking Points Memo and Daily Kos. I keep an eye on the electoral college at FiveThirtyEight and NPR.

Then throw in the fact that the Phillies are fighting for the NL East title, or at least a playoff spot, with just over a week to go. And my Eagles are playing one of the toughest early season schedules to date.

Please somebody take my computer away.

The Stand Ins. Okkervil River.
You'd think after two critically received albums and a spot among the indie-rock elite, Okkervil singer Will Sheff would be happy. Instead, he spends most of this album discussing sadness, loss and the phoniness of pop music, as evidenced on the very catchy "Pop Lie." (Check it out in Hear This!). The music, however, belies the depressing lyrics. Whether it's country rockers or songs with appropriately timed horn charts, the music is very accessible. Yet, Sheff's band remains as unique as any on the indie landscape. This is a worthy successory -- it's actually billed as a part two -- to last year's Stage Names, one of Distractions Top 10 Albums of 2007.

The Shape of Jazz to Come. Ornette Coleman.
The 78-year-old saxophonist has enjoyed a bit of resurgence lately. In 2006, his Sound Grammar won the Pulitzer Prize and he performed last year at the Bonaroo Music Festival (sadly, he collapsed that day due to a heat stroke). As a jazz neophyte, I'm just discovering Coleman's music. The descriptions -- free jazz, avante-garde, controversial -- make the music sound much more daunting than it really is. The Shape of Jazz to Come is bluesy, melodic and, as Amazon called it "infectious."

Coleman is the subject of our Weekly Wikipedia link.

In Defense of Food. Michael Pollon.
Pollon likes to say that his In Defense can be summarized by the first seven words in the book which also happen to be in small print on the cover -- Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

This is good advice and does partly summarize In Defense. But the book goes way beyond that. Pollon looks at the Western diet and the diseases that result from it. He notes that most of what we eat today is some type of processed product, not actually food. And he finds most of our problems starting back in the '70s when the American Heart Association pushed the industry to "modify" foods to get out saturated fats. And the FDA the followed, by repealing a 1938 law, allowing the spread of "imitation" foods like the no-fat snack products that jammed the supermarket shelves. Food became more about nutrition. And, oddly enough, the more it became about nutrition, the less healthy it became.

As far as food books go, it's an easy, interesting read. I'm currently reading Tom Piazza's engrossing City of Refuge. I'll post on that next week.

Wish You Were Here. Pink Floyd.
Sadly, keyboardist Richard Wright died last week. I felt like listening to some Floyd. Their follow-up to Dark Side of the Moon, though written about original Pink Floyd member Syd Barrett, seemed appropriate. I know I'm supposed to drool over The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. I love Lucifer Sam. But that album does not stand up to the test of time -- at all. And later Pink Floyd, starting with The Wall, is bloated and inconsequential. Give me the three mid-career albums -- Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here and, my favorite, Animals.


Burn Playlist 41 After Reading

This was one of the most disturbing weeks so far in this presidential race. The Sarah Palin celebrity machine. The unchecked lies (what happened to our media?). And the vicious, stupid campaign ads. Lipsticks and pigs -- not health care and the economy.

So you'd think the last thing I'd want to pick up would be a book about politics. But Playlist 41 starts off with a comedic political page-turner.

American Savior. Roland Merullo.
Merullo's novel helped pull me out my funk. It's funny, engaging and actually quite inspirational. The plot in a sentence: Jesus runs for president, gathering a motley crew of well-meaning people from West Zenith, Mass., as his disciples/advisors.

Narrator Russ Thomas, a TV journalist, describes the rise of Jesus (don't call him Lord) in a tough campaign with a far right-wing female candidate and a somewhat dimwitted former war hero on the Democractic side. It's fun to hear Jesus give his positions on issues like gun control and abortion. The only downside to the book is Merullo's decision to use lame psuedonyms for real media types -- Lenny Queen and Bulf Spritzer. Still, Distractions heartily recommends American Savior.

Burn After Reading.
The critics were tough on the Coen Brothers when they followed up Fargo with a crazy farce about a dimwitted White Russian-loving bowler and his misfit friends. Now, they're doing it again -- taking down Burn After Reading, the Coens' follow to the Oscar-winning No Country for Old Men.

Yes, I'm calling out you Wall Street Journal critic Joel Morganstern, who suggested the film be called "Forget After Seeing" or the New York Observer's Andrew Sarris who called it one of the most "awful movies" he'd ever seen.

If you haven't seen it yet, you have undoubtedly seen the trailer and know the plot. It's a great cast. And it's so much fun watching these great actors ham it up. Following a summer with long super-hero films eating up the big screen and with so few decent comedies, what a pleasure to see an artfully paced laugh-out-loud flick. I don't think Burn will earn the cult dedication that Lebowski has, but it will most certainly prove the critics wrong.

And you gotta love that old school poster.

Fleet Foxes. Fleet Foxes.

What amazes me most about the Fleet Foxes is the maturity of their music. It's not the type of album you expect from such a young band on their debut full-length. They're like a Baroque Beach Boys. Appalachia meets sunny SoCal. You'll hear touches of the Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span in their music. But it's no hodgepodge of sounds. It's a beautiful, modern indie-folk gem. Go ahead and pick this up, play it often and give it time to soak in.

See my review of the Fleet Foxes' Sun Giant EP in Playlist 38.

Gotham Acme.
Howard Wolfson was communication's director for Hillary Clinton's campaign. He blogs on the New Republic's Web site as The Flak. And he works at (hold on, let me hold my nose, here) Fox News. But he also has Gotham Acme, a mostly music-related site with a touch of politics. It's a welcome addition to the musical blogosphere.

Couple final notes ...

My birthday passed last week and I received a great birthday greeting from my You Tube-friendly son and his friends. It's here.

And finally, the Playlist leaves you with another You Tube gem. If you haven't already seen it, this is very funny, but it's also somewhat sad. But then I thought, with a few years of journalism school (at a few different colleges), Miss South Carolina may be ready for the vice presidency.


Playlist 40 Awaits Arrival of Ike

Our Playlist hits the magical 40 this week, but little time to celebrate what with party-crasher Ike hanging out there near the Leeward Islands. When I heard that the tropical depression had turned into Ike, I just knew it was going to be a bad one.

Here's this week's playlist...

The Night of the Gun. David Carr
Carr, a media reporter with the New York Times, once covered the controversy over James Frey's Million Little Pieces. So it's no surprise that when he decided, somewhat reluctantly, to do his own memoir, he approached it as an investigative reporter. He didn't rely on his own memories, but did extensive researching and interviewing over a two-year period.

The result is one of the most fascinating memoirs I've ever read. Honest. Brutally honest. It chronicles Carr's long spiral into addiction. It includes moments where he beats women. And when he and his girlfriend continue to smoke crack -- even when she's pregnant. Then after he sobers up and begins a new life as a single father, he finds out he has cancer.

Once you've read the book, check out the Web site Night of the Gun Web site, where Carr has posted all of the various documents, photos, videos and audio clips that were a part of the book research.

NPR's 2008 Election Map.
In Trade.
I find that national poll of registered voters to be pretty useless. As we all know, a candidate can win the presidency without capturing the popular vote. So what's the best way to follow this horserace?

NPR's election map uses an average of state polls to tell you who's winning each state. But if you want to know what's going to happen, whether it's politics, sports or entertainment, you need to look where the money is. And that's why I trust In Trade. It appears that John McCain has gotten a bit of a convention bump as his In Trade stock has jumped to 42.3. It's not just politics. You can trade on global, weather and entertainment events as well. I really like the look of their new beta site.

McSweeney's Quarterly. Issue 28. The folks at McSweeney's really outdid themselves with the artwork this time. Eight small books create two beautiful panels of pictures. The stories? Well, there are eight and they're short fables. One involves an eggboy. Another involves a girl and her beloved book. And in another, a boy keeps meeting himself. Eight modern-day fables. Usually, it takes me a good two months to read through an entire McSweeney's. I was done this quarterly within an hour.

Sahara. McCoy Tyner.
John Coltrane's former sideman is a monster on the piano on this 1972 classic, selected the 87th greatest jazz album of all time, according to Rocco Stilo, author of the A History of Jazz Music. Just listen to his hands all over the keys on the ferocious, rock-like Ebony Queen. Then listen to the plaintative playing on the more mellow A Prayer for My Family. In each song, you can just see that right hand flying all over the piano. All the musicians shine on this Coltrane-influenced work, but Alphonse Mouzon's drums jump right out at you.

Interest in our Dumb Poll has waned over the last few weeks, so this will be our last for a while. This time, it's Pick a Tony. For those who missed it, our last winner (Pick a Jackson) turned out to be painter Jackson Pollock (our weekly Wikipedia link) He beat out Andrew Jackson, Jackson Brown and Tito Jackson.


I Don't Get It -- Palin a Bold Pick?

All right, I'll give you this. John McCain's selection of mother-of-five Sarah Palin was surprising. I didn't see it coming, and neither did the media. (FYI -- hateful blubbermouth Rush Limbaugh doesn't count as legitimate media). And going with the Alaskan governor is a pretty strategic move, too.

But bold?

You gotta be kidding me.

More than 80 years since the Scopes trial and almost 150 years since the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species, John McCain has selected as his running mate and potential vice president a woman who believes creationism should be taught in the schools.

And not in a discussion about religion, but in science class.

That's not bold.

That's old. As in old school circa 19th century.

We've had eight years where the Bush administration has surreptitiously chosen politics over science, forcing various government scientists and agencies to alter their reports to reflect the administration's views. Are you ready for more of this baloney? Politics over our future? Because it's not just creationism. The fur-wearing, moose-hunting Palin's environmental views are widely different from McCain. In fact, she doesn't even think man has had any impact on the "changing environment." She told Newsmax:

"A changing environment will affect Alaska more than any other state, because of our location. I'm not one, though, who would attribute it to being man-made."

Come on, this is bold? It's basically Mike Huckabee in a dress.

And she wants those who voted for Hillary? First, that's an insult to Hillary's supporters and women in general. What, women can't think for themselves? They're going to vote solely for a woman? Even if she's a woman diametrically opposed to policies that will benefit women? (For a great blog post on this topic, see Sue Katz: Consenting Adult.)

If you were considering voting for John McCain strictly because he's a Republican, go ahead and pull that lever when the chance comes. But if you were leaning to McCain because you're an Independent, who thought he could provide some solid bi-partisan leadership, then you need to think again.

This is no longer the straight-talking maverick that I truly admired. McCain is letting himself be run by the Republican machine, the same slimeballs who gave us the last eight years of the worst president we've ever had.

Bold? I don't think so.