Playlist 24 Goes Into the Wild

When I moved from Philadelphia to Florida so many years ago, I decided it was time to trade in my LP collection, which reached a few hundred at its height. I had already started buying CDs. And figured it was time for a fresh start.

But it wasn't easy. At the last minute, I pulled out of the sale pile several slabs of vinyl that still meant something to me -- my Tom Petty and Led Zeppelin bootlegs, the Joe Jackson I'm a Man box of 45s, the rare Buckingham-Nicks and my Spanish import of Sticky Fingers. And there were some I'm not sure why I kept, like a Fairport Convention greatest hits compilation. It's good. But why I decided to keep it, I don't know.

In Florida one night, I decided to dig up the Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart LP that originally belonged to my dad. I was lonely for home and I had not listened to the album for a while. I panicked as I realized that I didn't have it. It must have been in the pile I sold. I couldn't believe I sold Button-Down, probably for pennies, but I kept Ian Hunter's Welcome to the Show. What was I thinking? Distraught, I looked for the CD in local stores, but couldn't find it.

I felt miserable. I sought out a CD version whenever I could. For a while, I was under the impression that the CD was out of print. But a couple weeks ago, I found it. I was ecstatic. It was sitting there in the comedy section of my local library, which is my long introduction to this week's Playlist ...

Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart. Bob Newhart.
Newhart is a comic legend, whose name belongs next to Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Bill Cosby, etc. His early stand-up schtick was built around conversations. You could hear his end of it -- not who he was talking to. Even though this album is 40 years old, it's not outdated except perhaps the cringe-worthy reference to a "woman driver." It's clean, smart and laugh-out loud funny, particularly Abe Lincoln vs. Madison Ave. , where a PR rep tries to convince Lincoln not to shave his beard. And then there's They'll Never Play Baseball where Newhart plays a board game manufacturer who listens to Abner Doubleday pitching the game of baseball. But the highlight by far is when Newhart plays the patient Driving Instructor.

Bonus: Check out this NPR clip with Conan O'Brien and Newhart discussing the making of the landmark album.

A Wheel Within a Wheel. Southeast Engine.
The last CD by this six-piece band out of Athens -- that's Ohio, not Georgia -- earned comparisons, apparently unwelcome by the band, to Wilco. That led me to Wheel. The Wilco comparison works for me, but I see even more resemblence to Okkervil River. Wheel is an adventurous and high-reaching effort. It's about a man trying to make his peace with God. It's title, and the song Ezekial Saw the Wheel reference the Book of Ezekial. It's heavy duty stuff, but the music lives up to the concept. Whether playing in hushed terms, dropping a little twang, or rocking out indie-style, Engine, led by a former middle school English teacher, is never boring. In fact, the more I listen to this 13-track epic, the closer I grow to it. If this were released this year, instead of late 2007, it would be definitely be the leader for my album of the year.

Into the Wild. Jon Krakauer.
Why did Chris McCandless leave behind his family, forgo an opportunity to go to law school and give away $25,000 to charity, then embark on a trip that led to him two years later to the Alaskan bush country. How did he end up dead, his decomposed body found by a moose hunter? Krakauer, an excellent reporter and compelling writer, uses interviews with friends/family and McCandless' own notes to piece together the story. Although, it's clear that Krakauer feels a connection to McCandless, he lays out all the facts to let the readers make up their own minds. A tragic story, but one wonderfully told. And hard to put down.

Eat This, Not That. David Zinczenko. Next time you getting hunger pangs at Starbucks, you might want to skip the healthy-sounding bran muffin with nuts and, if it's breakfast, go with the Black Forest egg, ham and cheese sandwich. The difference? More than 350 calories, 20 grams of fat and 60 grams of sugar.
A friend of ours, who recently started working at Men's Health, sent this book written by Zinczenko, the magazine's editor-in-chief. What a fun fun read. Page after page is filled with interesting information. It challenges what you think is good for you and makes you think before you order.
Oh, and the worst food in America? That would be the nearly 3,000 calorie-filled Aussie Cheese Fries at Outback It's got 182 grams of fat and 240 grams of carbs.

Now, I'm off to Cheeseburgers and More -- payback to my son who proved today that it's easier for a 13-year-old to finish a game of basketball in 90-degree Florida heat. Yes, he beat me. But I did not suffer a heat stroke. I'll let you know next week whether I chose the salad or fries to go with my veggie cheeseburger.

In the meantime, some other songs I hummed to this past week ...
-- My Girlhood Among the Outlaws, Maria McKee. You Gotta Sin to be Saved. My MP3 player seemed to like this CD this past week, picking out three different songs on random play. I had forgotten what a classic this was.
-- Great Plains/Where's the Fire, Head of Femur. Great Plains. I saw this band a few years back opening for Wilco, and thought they were close to being pretty good. And their latest albums shows they are still getting closer. They've cut down the size of the band and seem to be more focused, though they continue to alternate between complex avant-rock and simple new wave.
-- White Guilt, John Wilkes Booze. The Five Pillars of Soul. I'm not sure if this is great garage rock or the worst music ever made. But it ain't anywhere in between. Here's what you need to know about this very loud band: The five pillars or soul that they display on the cover of their album are Mario Van Peebles, Patty Hearst, jazz legend Albert Ayler, T-Rex himself Marc Bolan and Yoko Ono.

And, finally, this week's Wikipedia link is a Happy Birthday to Israel.