Weekly Wikipedia Link -- Politician Jimmy Walker

Rod Blagojevich. Ted Stevens. William "Dollar Bill" Jefferson.

We've seen our share of corrupt politicians over the last year. But this is nothing new. Where ever there is a seat on a committee, there's the opportunity to line your pockets.

One of the most unique was former New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker. During his term in the '30s, Walker's administration had a habit of sending innocent people to jail. It eventually caught up to him and he was forced out of office by FDR. Soon after, he took off for Europe to escape prosecution

Walker was the subject of Bob Hope movie and a Broadway production.

This week's Wikipedia link -- Jimmy Walker.


Nothing Broken in This Crime Novel (Read)

The Broken Shore. Peter Temple.
Buy on Amazon.
Buy at Powell's Books.

Temple is well-revered as a crime novelist in Australia, picking up numerous awards for his eight novels. His latest, released last year in the US, will appeal not only to those who love the genre, but to all those who just plain love to read.

Written in simple, yet captivating prose, Temple draws you into the life of Joe Cashin, a middle-aged policeman, living with his two dogs in a dilapidated house in a remote section of Australia. He's still recovering from serious injuries that happened during a botched stake-out. Like most book detectives, Joe has his demons -- a son he's never seen, a mysterious family death, and numerous others.

His quiet life is upended when a local philanthropist is found dead. It's widely assumed by those in town that the Boongs (a degoratory name for Aboriginals
) killed the millionaire in a robbery attempt.

Cashin, who grew up with the Aboriginals, keeps digging until he gets the answer.

The publishers include a glossary of Australian slang words in the back to help the American readers.

Read an excerpt here.


I Don't Get It -- Monster Truck Deaths

It's hard to believe anything more ridiculous happening in the past week than Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich taking his bad haircut onto The View and later comparing himself to Ghandi and Martin Luther King. However, there was one other news item this past week that just had me scratching my head.

Last week, George Eisenhart went onto a Wisconsin television station to tout the safety of Monster Truck events. His appearance was meant to calm fears, as a few days earlier a six-year-old boy was killed by flying debris at a show in Tacoma, Wash.

Eisenhart told the reporter, according to CNN: "This is our 16th year. I wish I had a big piece of wood to knock on right now, but we have not had an incident besides a gal slipping in the aisleway at another location."

It's a shame he didn't have that piece of wood. Because a couple of days later, he was crushed to death by a monster truck during an event in Madison, Wisc. And the driver was a good friend.

Now, I don't want to in any way poke fun at these two very sad deaths. It's a horrible tragedy. And I feel horrible for those families. But, come on. The organizers need to be held accountable. What are the odds? That's like a kid getting fatally injured by a foul ball at a baseball game, then Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig accidentally getting hit by the bat of former Mendoza line-hanging Phillie Steve Jeltz taking BP. Or like the replacement for the New York Giants' leg-shooting Plaxico Burress hurting himself in a gun-related accident. (Oh wait, that actually did happen).

Seriously, how do you let this happen? I understand that the people running the Monster Truck Racing Association are probably not Rhodes scholars. Heck, they probably have a hard time keeping up with the plot line of Ernest Goes to Camp. Wait up, is FEMA's Michael Brown running the show over there?

By the way, don't visit the MTRA's Web site. As of Tuesday, Google had a warning that declared "This site may harm your computer." Giving the way the MTRA has handled things the last couple of weeks, I wouldn't want to get near their Web site, let alone a show. But if you do, I'm sure you'll be fine.

Knock on wood.


Hey, Hey We're the Monks (Heard)

Say goodbye to the Weekly playlist. Starting this week, I'll blog on a more regular basis, focusing on whatever book (read), music (heard), movie/TV (seen), etc. that I've finished, rather than wait until the end of the week for a full list. I hope that makes this an easier blog for you to follow. And I don't mean the collective "you." I mean you -- the one person out there reading this blog.

Monk Time. The Monks
Buy on Amazon
Buy on eMusic

A group of GIs stationed in Germany form a band after they're discharged. They shave the tops of their heads and play in monk outfits. This music is raucous, playful and, well, a little weird. And it has some of the raw power that you've heard from the Stooges and MC5. They disappear from the scene after a few years, hardly a footnote in music history. They later gained a cult following that led to a reunion in the late 90s.

According to Pitchfork, Light in the Attic Records, the company behind recent Rodriguez and Betty Davis re-issues, will re-release some of the Monks' early work sometime in April.

Check out Higgle-dy, Piggle-dy and Drunken Maria on the Currently Spinning music playlist on the right hand side of the page.


The Slummer the Slum

(Tuesday Treasure is a weekly song that is unheralded, long-lost, or buried somewhere deep on an album, yet deserves another listen.)

Have y'all recovered from last week's dip into Eugene Chadbourne's catalog? This week's song is not anywhere near as bizarre. It comes from 1958. Upon hearing it, though, you might expect it to be a mid-60s garage rock classic. Listen to guitarist Lowman "Pete" Pauling, who was an influence of both Steve Cropper and Eric Clapton. Rock critic Dave Marsh, who lists this song as one of the 1001 greatest singles of all time, claims it's the first use of intentional guitar feedback.

The 5 Royals wrote several songs that later became hits for others, such as "Dedicated to the One I Love."
This song is also featured on the latest Oxford American Music Issue CD. I'll be writing more on that magazine/CD later this week.

Enjoy this treasure.

Tuesday Treasure 1/27


Don't Burn the Flag, Let's Burn the Bush

(Tuesday Treasure is a weekly song that is unheralded, long-lost, or buried somewhere deep on an album, yet deserves another listen.)

Yes, today is an historic day. A great day in our nation's history. It's a day that calls out for a song about hope. A song about optimism. A song worth remembering.

But I just couldn't help sharing this song -- one more final dig at the Bush presidency. Actually, it's a dig at the first Bush presidency. And, actually, it doesn't really make sense. And, actually, you may think that it's really not a treasure. And after hearing it, you may wish to never hear it again. But it will stick with you. You'll hum the chorus later in the day. And you'll find yourself searching for new rhymes for the word kale. And remember this: Some people think that Eugene Chadbourne is a musical genius.

Tuesday Treasure 1/20


Playlist: Philly Bands Hit Bullseye

This past week, I've really been digging a pair of EPs from a couple young Philly bands. Give 'em a listen on the Music Playlist below. But let's start with a book I highly recommend ...

The Dart League King. Keith Lee Morris

Thursday night is dart night in Garnet Lake, Idaho. It's Russell Harmon's night. We know that from the start. And over the next over the next 200 of so pages the night unfolds from Harmon's perspective, but also the perspective of four others -- college graduate Tristen Mackey, single mother Kelly Ashton, drug dealer Vince Thompson, and Harmon's biggest dart competitor Brice Habersham, who also happens to be a DEA agent. The book is filled with drugs, death and desire to leave this small town. Morris' novel is all action -- no lulls.

The Ride Across Laken Constance EP. Evening Magazine
I hope Evening Magazine takes off big-time. And when they do, every bit of press they get is going to compare them to Arcade Fire. It only takes a few moments into the EP opener "Apple Eye" to see why. Others will see in the Philly group another "collective" -- Broken Social Scene. Or the plaintive orchestration of Sufjan Stevens. Those comparisons are fair. But Evening Magazine is so much more. Dive into the five songs on this EP and you'll find good songwriting and great instrumentation that bounces from introspective to grand. They seem to know just when to add the handclaps or the lap steel. Evening Magazine is a band that should get some buzz in indie circles.

New Age Boredom EP. Adam and Dave's Bloodline
This fellow Philly rock band is quite different, but just as impressive. They bounce from the off-kilter power pop of "Runt" (yes, they're Rundgren fans, but it's not about Todd), and the folk-rockabilly of "Missing Person" to"The Simple Life," which sounds like it was peeled right off of an I Love the 80s collection. I'm really looking forward to their full-length, due sometime this year.

The Ghost in Love. Jonathan Carroll
Ben Gould was supposed to die that day he slipped on the ice and hit his head. But he didn't. And suddenly the whole world was off balance. Even the Angel of Death gets stabbed by a bum. Enter Carroll's strange world of ghosts, earless animals called verz, talking dogs. Carroll's novel is both silly and profound.

Note: Carroll's mother was an actress and his father a screenwriter, whose credits include The Hustler.

Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies.
They're back. Yum.

Playlist 1/17


Playlist: Gambling, Peace Queers and Weird Things from Woodpiles

Perhaps the most consistent distraction I've had over the last two years has been Scrabble. The wife and I started keeping track of our games in late 2006. This past week, we played our 101st game.

The series now stands at 50-50-1. And in the one tie game we played, I had three tiles on the board when my wife went out. Those three tiles?


I wonder if I can get a line on our next game ...

As if my recent foray into Facebook wasn't a big time-suck, I'm starting to slowly be pulled into the gambling world. I'm not a risk-taker, but you don't have to be with centsports. It's not real money. Here's the deal. Sign up, they give you 10 cents. You bet on upcoming games. You can build up your money and eventually cash out. Or if you lose it, go back and you start all over. It's like playing with someone else's money. Click here to find out more ...

Up in the Air. Walter Kirn.
Ryan Bingham is a career transition counselor. Basically, he fires people. This job keeps him on the move with no real home. And Bingham is happy with that. He finds solace in his groundless life of airports and hotel chains. In Up in the Air, Bingham strives to reach his ultimate goal -- a million frequent flier miles -- and get to his sister's wedding on time. Since it was published before 9/11, the novel seems a little outdated. Still, it's a a very perceptive book that will hit home with anyone who regularly flies.

Juno/Thank You for Smoking director Jason Reitman is directing the movie version of Up in the Air, which will star George Clooney as Bingham. The film is expected to come out later this year.

Peace Queer. Todd Snider
Trouble in Mind. Hayes Carll.
It only takes one look at the cover and the title of his latest to release to realize that Todd Snider is not going soft. Recorded earlier this year, you can call this a send-off to George Bush. The album opens with Mission Accomplished, where Snider rips on 43 over a Bo Diddley beat with phrases like:

I’m so turned around I could calm up a riot.
Fighting for peace? That’s like screaming for quiet.

There's a spoken word poem about a bully called Is This Thing Working?, which is repeated with slight acoustic accompaniment on another track as Is This Thing On? And Snider turns in a memorable slow take on John Fogerty's Fortunate Son.

A friend, who is a huge folk fan, gave me the Snider CD along with the latest by Hayes Carll. I had heard good things about Hayes Carll, but avoided him most of the year. I had enough of the country-leaning, singer-songerwriter type.

Carll is a definite Snider protege, a wiseass who can write a memorable tune about losing a girl to Jesus, then vowing to kick his ass. The music at teams leans to close to middle of the road country, but Carll usually finds a way to kick it up a notch, whether he leans to honky-tonk or a little outlaw country. Great songwriting throughout.

The Story Podcast.
If I ever get on the radio, I'd like Dick Gordon to interview me. On the WUNC North Carolina-produced The Story, Gordon talks to regular folks -- pharmaceutical reps, women who worked on the line at a chicken processing plant and an Ethiopian immigrant. Their stories are diverse, personal, fascinating and memorable. They're regular people, but their stories are anything but boring. Gordon's show is a great example of how public radio works. If you can't find The Story on your local radio, you'll find the podcast on iTunes.

McSweeny's Issue 29.
Nice rebound from the beautiful, but too short fable issue. The latest edition of McSweeny's Quarterly features short stories by Roddy Doyle and Yannick Murphy, and a backpage done by Joyce Carol Oates. But the highlights are Blaze Ginsburg's hilarious My Crush on Hilary Duffy and the disturbing Laura Hendrix story A Record of Our Debts, where you're not sure what the young couple has found in the woodpile -- even after they take them home and train them.

LIFTED, or the Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground. Bright Eyes.

Often cited as Conor Oberst's strongest album as Bright Eyes. And it's not bad. The intensity is there, but it lacks the sophistication of his later work. Still, it's worth revisiting. And it's easy to see how Oberst earned the nickname the "indie Dylan" back in the early 2000s.

Weekly Playlist 1/9


I Don't Get It -- Dick Cheney

It's hard to put a happy face on the George W. Bush presidency, what with the costly war, economic failure, attack on science, stupid decision after stupid decision and plain incompetence.
But George W. Bush is at least making an effort. His approval ratings may be hovering lower than Britney Spears IQ, but Bush, it appears, is doing all he can to ensure a smooth change of power. He and his staff have reportedly gone above and beyond in working with President-elect Obama's transition team.
His vice president?
Not so much.
Dick Cheney has stepped out of his lair for some media interviews in the last month. He's been given the opportunity to reflect on the challenges of the last two terms and provide some insight, and some empathy.
A chance to be human.
Instead, Cheney has steadfastly stuck by every decision he's made, regardless of how wrong it seemed then, or how positively disasterous it appears now.
-- The war in Iraq? Cheney still would've done it, even without the shoddy, falsified evidence.
-- Torture? Waterboarding? Cheney approved of them, and still does.
-- Guantanamo? Keep it open.
-- Rumsfeld? He shouldn't have been removed.
-- Using the "f" word on the Senate floor? Patrick Leahy deserved it.
I'm sure if you asked him Cheney about shooting that guy in the face, he'd tell you it was the right thing to do then, and he stands by it.
The only time he kept his mouth shut since leaving the cave, was when he told a reporter that he didn't have any advice for Joe Biden.
And I think we should all be thankful for that.


This Will Be Our Year -- Part II

(Tuesday Treasure is a weekly song that is unheralded, long-lost, or buried somewhere deep on an album, yet deserves another listen.)

From the Future Soundtrack for America, OK GO (yes, the treadmill band) takes a pretty faithful stab at the Zombies' This Will Be Our Year -- last week's Tuesday Treasure.

Tuesday Treasure 1/6


Distractions' Eight Favorite Books of '08

My eight favorite books of 2008, in no particular order ...

The White Tiger. Aravind Adiga.
Adiga's book unfolds as a letter from Balram to the Premier of China. Balram recounts his life from the days in the hopelessly poor Darkness of India to his job as a driver/servant. And he explains how he became a murderer, or as he calls himself -- a social entreprenuer. Adiga's debut novel is a witty and odd take on class struggle. The first-time author won the Man Booker Prize and Distractions' accolades.

Silver Linings Playbook. Matthew Quick.
Pat Peoples thinks his life is being directed by God. And he's certain, there is going to be a happy ending, which for him would be reuniting with his wife. After getting out of a mental health facility, he works out ferociously, avoids Kenny G's music and cheers on the Eagles. He tries to remember the events that led to his stay in the mental hospital. Yes, it revolves around the Philadelphia Eagles' 2006 season. But the reason I loved this book is because it's funny, poignant and very well written. I'm looking forward to Quick's second novel book.

See Matthew Quick's Guest Playlist on Distractions.

City of Refuge. Tom Piazza.
The main character of City of Refuge is actually the gritty and diverse city of New Orleans. The book follows a black family in the Lower Ninth Ward and a middle-class white family living Uptown. We meet them as Hurricane Katrina approaches and follow them through the aftermath in 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?

Garden of Last Days. Andrew Dubus III.
Dubus' rich writing infuses real depth to his characters, allowing the reader to feel both repulsion and apathy for the string of unsavory people -- a stripper, a terrorist and a wife-beater. Based on the idea that one of the 9/11 hijackers stopped at a Florida strip club before the attacks, Dubus' novel is gripping. When her landlady/babysitter becomes ill, April is forced to bring her daughter to work at the Puma strip club. As the night unfolds, April's attention is turned away from keeping an eye on her daughter and then the drama begins.

Personal Days. Ed Park.
This witty workplace satire is set at a nondescript company. A group of young workers spend their workdays worrying about who will be next to get laid off after the company is taken over by the never-seen Californians. The employees create their own cubiclisms. Example: A deprotion is when someone takes over new responsibilities without getting a pay increase.
Park breaks Personal Days into three Microsoft Word-like sections -- Can't Undo, Replace All, Revert to Saved. The first chapter is written as a straight narrative. The second chapter is written as a contract, and the final chapter is written as one long run-on sentence e-mail.

Born Standing Up. Steve Martin.
A humble and self-deprecating Martin details how he went from a kid hanging out at magic shops to arena-filling shows. The memoir is filled with great stories, including his first appearances on The Tonight Show. He talks about meeting Dalton Trumbo and dating Linda Rondstadt, whose talent and beauty was a little too intimidating for Martin. She asked him after nine dates: "Steve, do you always date women and try not to sleep with them?"

Serena. Ron Rash.
Rash has created quite the evil and memorable title character in this gritty and violent novel. Set in Depression-era North Carolina, Serena is basically a tale of greed. The Pembertons battle the government-led conservationists trying to create the Great Smokies National Park and anyone else who gets in their way.

The Night of the Gun. David Carr
Carr, who covers media issues for the New York Times, didn't so much write a memoir as investigate his own life. Instead of relying on his own memories, he did extensive researching and interviewing over a two-year period. The result is a fascinating, brutally honest memoir, which chronicles Carr's long spiral into addiction. He beats women. He and his girlfriend continue to smoke crack -- even when she's pregnant. He sobers up and begins a new life as a single father, then he finds out he has cancer.

And, as a bonus, the best mid-grade novel of the year was As if Being 12 3/4 Isn't Bad Enough, My Mother is Running for President!