Category Archives: Chick Riffs

Taking a Rain Check

It hit us both at the same time.

Dad and I were watching a game between the Braves and the Red Sox on a slightly rainy Sunday afternoon in Nice. It was about two p. m. when we tuned in; the game had actually taken place a couple of days before. Since we don’t know anyone in Nice who gives a fuck about baseball, we can watch the season at our leisure without worrying about anyone spoiling the experience by telling us how a game turned out.

It was the fifth inning, Braves up 5-4. Both starters were gone after a pair of less-than-thrilling performances, but we weren’t expecting a pitching duel anyway. We chose the game because we had no idea how the hell the Braves wound up in first place and wanted to see what they had to offer.

Not much happened in the fifth inning. Neither team scored, but what was remarkable is that neither of us said a word. We usually have something to say on nearly every pitch—snarky remarks about a weird batting stance or pitching motion, frustration with the progressive blindness of the umpire or extending congratulations to someone who made a nice play. But this time, there was stone cold silence.

Dad broke the ice. “This doesn’t feel right.”

“What?”

“Watching baseball.”

I had the same feeling but I didn’t know why. “Yeah. What do you think it is?”

“I’m seeing things differently.”

“How?”

“When I see Mookie Betts—the best player in baseball this year—all I can think about is if he gets into a run-in with a cop, he’s dead meat. I see blue state vs. red state. I hear the fans cheering and I think ‘What do you motherfuckers have to be happy about? Why aren’t you out in the streets instead of stuffing your faces with hot dogs?'”

“Maybe they want life to be normal. Maybe they just don’t care. Or maybe they’re okay with what’s going on.”

“And that’s the killer. We all operated under the belief that the struggle was worth it, that progress would come, that even when things got tough, history was on our side. Everything we fought for—civil rights, the right to choose, peace on earth, the environment—destroyed. Wiped out in what, a year and a half? A half-century of progress—gone.”

He grabbed the remote and turned off the TV. “I can’t watch this anymore. Let’s get your mother and go for a walk.” He put his hand on my shoulder. “There are better things to do than watch baseball—it’s time to move on.”

I could feel the tears coming but managed to hold them back. Baseball had been part of the family experience as long as I could remember, a cherished ritual that provided a few hours of bonding in a safe space. Some people have church; we had baseball.

But dad was right: it was time to move on.

*****

A little backstory for those who missed it: I left the United States because of Sandy Hook. The non-reaction to that horrific event told me that Americans cared more about protecting the right to weaponize than they did about their children. I was frightened and no longer felt safe there. When the opportunity for a job transfer to Europe fell into my lap, I grabbed it. I couldn’t have imagined that America could get any more dysfunctional than it was when I left, but I underestimated the depths of greed, hatred and violence in the American soul. After the Russians and racists put Trump in charge, I renounced my citizenship.

However, it’s one thing to turn in a passport and another thing to break the emotional bonds to the place where you grew up. I’ve stayed in touch with my friends in the States and have continued to monitor the news from the homeland. Reading about what’s going on in America has become a depressing and frustrating experience: a flat-out fucking drag. You have a situation where the political party who holds the power in all branches of government is deliberately working to destroy democracy and establish an authoritarian state. The end game for the Republican Party is an autocracy run by the rich and white where women are little more than property, and the masses remain dumbed down by a state religion based on Evangelical Christianity and by an education system that denies the existence of fact. America didn’t have much of a social safety net to begin with; now the strategy is to destroy it altogether to create a Darwinian dystopia where only the fittest (i.e., white) survive. This has been the strategy from the beginning—what that disgusting man Bannon called “the deconstruction of the administrative state.”

They’ve already made a lot of progress, if you want to call it that: The Economist has already lowered the U. S. rating to “flawed democracy.” Americans can still shout “We’re Number One” because they lead the world in many areas: #1 in obesity, #1 in the consumption of anti-depressants, #1 in military spending and weapon exports, and easily #1 in gun deaths. The health care system ranks last among industrialized nations, environmental ratings are plummeting, and—if you want to talk “progress”—Americans can take pride in the fact that they’ve finally entered the prestigious Top 10 list of most unsafe countries for women. Trump is in the process of destroying long-standing relationships with the western democracies, abandoning the long-standing American commitment to human rights, applying a wrecking ball to environmental protections, and cozying up to repressive, brutal dictators in Russia, Turkey, Egypt, North Korea and The Philippines. His regime demonizes immigrants, kidnaps their children and throws them into cages. They vilify POC and LGBTQ and are gradually working to destroy all legal protections for those marginalized groups. Like Hitler and Goebbels, they’ve mastered the art of the big lie and are completely unafraid to use it to attack any who dare to challenge their god-given authority. This is no joke, folks: Trump and his sycophants are doing all they can to transform America into a dictatorship—a violent, aggressive and very dangerous authoritarian state armed with enough nuclear warheads to create hundreds of Armageddons (biblical reference intended).

While there are Americans who have expressed outrage at these developments, the loose coalition referred to as “The Resistance” has been stunningly ineffective in stopping the runaway train. They seem like well-meaning people trying to go through proper channels when the opposition doesn’t give a flying fuck about proper channels. They place their hope in a “blue wave” this fall, dream of impeachment and predict a future where the entire Trump family is safely behind bars, all of which is highly wishful thinking. Nothing has been done to prevent election hacking, stop voter suppression, or limit campaign contributions, so there’s no reason to believe that the same widespread fraud and structural bias that resulted in 2016 won’t happen again in 2018 or 2020. Robert Mueller? I’m sure he’s an honest, upstanding professional, but everyone knows that the American legal system is massively dysfunctional and any charges against Trump and his mobsters will get tied up in the courts for years. Trump has spent a lifetime working around legal hassles, and he has the Supreme Court in his pocket. As for the Democrats, they’re doing what they always do: nothing.

The biggest problem with the opposition forces is that they are united in only one thing: denial. When I scroll through my Twitter list of resistance fighters, I constantly run into the claim, “This is not America” or “Dear Europe/Dear Canada/Dear World: We apologize for our idiot president but please be assured that this is not who we are.” BULLSHIT! Read the lists! The United States is a militaristic, violent, gun-loving, racist, male-dominated culture and has been for years! You ARE Trump! Americans need to move past the denial stage and face the ugly reality of who they have become, or things will continue to devolve. Here’s your new inconvenient truth: Trump is the United States personified. He is the perfect embodiment of American culture.

And here’s another inconvenient truth: most Americans don’t give a shit.

If Americans really cared about democracy and their responsibility to the world, they’d call a general strike and shut down the whole fucking country. That won’t happen, of course, because Americans would never do anything to intentionally damage their precious economy or skip a few  paychecks—even if it means sacrificing “cherished values” and ending the “great experiment.” And even if Trump and his cronies are sent to the hoosegow, I doubt very much if Americans have the stomach or the courage to begin to face the deep-seeded problems of racism and misogyny that led to Trump in the first place. As the incredibly insightful Propane Jane wrote on Twitter a few weeks back, “America is chronically ill and thoughts and prayers won’t cure it.” She said this in the context of the latest school shooting, but the disease has spread beyond the fetish for violence. Bred to believe that “We’re Number One,” Americans can’t possibly accept the fact that their flaws are all that serious.

I now understand that when I was growing up in the United States, I lived life in a bubble. The San Francisco of my childhood and teens was a tolerant, open place that celebrated sexual and cultural diversity and had a vibrant arts scene. When I visited other parts of the country and encountered less tolerant, more traditional ways of life, I just figured they were behind the times and eventually they’d get up to speed. Raised by parents who instilled the value of constant learning in me, it never entered my imagination that there could be people who actually cherished their ignorance.

The deteriorating situation in the United States has seriously impacted the pleasure I take in writing about American music. I choose to explore popular music history, where a major consideration is lasting relevance. This invariably involves comparing past to present. When I cover American artists, I have to deal with the difference between what America was and what America is today, and spending any time dealing with current events in the United States is very stressful for me. I don’t like spending my time feeling miserable, especially when it involves a situation that I cannot change or influence, so the best choice for me is to avoid contact as much as possible. It’s time to move on.

So, even though visitors from the United States make up 57% of my audience, I’ve decided to stop reviewing music by American artists. This is an act of self-help grounded in the acceptance that I am no longer an American and have no power to influence the situation. It also recognizes the fact that Americans are hyper-sensitive to any criticism from “foreigners,” and I am, after all, a citizen of France and the European Union. The change won’t be all that noticeable to my readers; of the 389 reviews I’ve written, only a third cover American artists. It will give me the opportunity to explore that appallingly-titled genre “world music” more than I have in the past, so prepare yourself for some artists who may not be household names.

I’ll publish my last review of an American artist on the Fourth of July, when I cover the most American artist of them all, Frank Sinatra. I’ve been meaning to do some Sinatra for years, and now the time feels right.

I really hope I’m wrong about all this, which is why I’m referring to this decision as a “rain check,” leaving me an opening to reconnect with American artists once the storm passes. Americans have tremendous potential to be a force for good in the world, but through a combination of apathy, misogyny and racism, they’ve chosen a very dark and disturbing future. Americans created this mess and only Americans can fix it. I gave up the right to participate in the fix twenty months ago, but I wish with all my heart that there are still enough good people around who can save the day.

To end this tale on a happy note, Dad just told me that he figured out how we can watch baseball without getting depressed! Nippon Professional Baseball! I’ll have to get used to players treating umpires with due respect, but who cares? It’s baseball! Go Toyo Carp!

Desert Island Disks

Whenever I’m in town, I usually hook up with maman on Saturday afternoons for some mother-daughter jamming. We both play flute and piano, trading off so we both get practice on each instrument. We usually work on classical and jazz pieces, and sometimes we enlist my partner Alicia to provide cello support. When we delve into rock or folk music we’ll occasionally let my father join the party to accompany us on acoustic guitar. Over the past few months we’ve been working on piano-flute arrangements for Radiohead songs, as both maman and I find their music fascinating. My old fart father loathes Radiohead, so whenever we go there, he heads for one of the Irish pubs in Nice (yes, we have them) while maman and I get down to business.

A couple of weeks ago, maman and I were trying to work out an arrangement for “Daydreaming” from A Moon Shaped Pool. The piano part is pretty straightforward, so most of the work focused on the flute. Since maman is the more capable flutist, she experimented with various possibilities while I handled the ivories and gave feedback. We decided early on that once the melody was established, she would shift to a combination of double tonguing and whisper tones for her improvisations to reflect the gentle flow of the song and the orchestral feel of the album. While whisper tones are an absolute bitch for me, maman has the discipline and patience to pull them off. After a couple of hours we recorded a credible rendition on Garage Band with some beautifully quirky partials produced by the whisper tones.

Please note that the recording is for personal use only and cannot be distributed because we don’t want Radiohead to sue us.

Maman wanted to hear the original again before we quit for the day, and the album continued to spin while we discussed other possibilities for the piece. About thirty seconds into “Desert Island Disk,” Dad popped in.

“Great guitar—who is that?”

“It’s Radiohead, dude! Gotcha!”

Dad frowned. “I never said they didn’t have talent. I just don’t like the results.” He then paused to listen. “Okay, this song’s pretty good. Nice latin feel. What’s it called?”

“‘Desert Island Disk’.”

“So, what’s on Radiohead’s desert island disk?”

“They don’t say. The song’s about love, loss and change,” I explained, economically.

“Then why the title?”

“I don’t know. There’s a BBC programme where famous people pick eight songs, a book and a luxury they would take with them to a desert island. Maybe that got stuck in Thom Yorke’s head.”

“What does that have to do with love, loss and change?”

“I don’t know, dad—maybe it’s a riff on the getting a new start in life theme.”

“Hey! We ought to do that!”

“What? Get a new life? We just changed continents a few years ago!”

“No—come up with our desert island disks.”

I immediately liked the idea but had to change the rules. “There’s no fucking way I can live on a desert island with only eight songs. I’d go batty the first day and feed myself to the sharks.” It wasn’t difficult to get a family of music lovers to agree to an extended format, so after a lot of back-and-forth we agreed that we’d choose twenty albums. Then I pointed out a problem with the plan.

“There are some songs that are really important to me but I don’t want the whole album.”

“Okay—how many? Eight?”

“No, let’s go with classic British album format—fourteen.”

“No luxuries, no books?” asked maman.

“Okay—one book, one luxury. I’ll go with Ulysses and a vibrator.” As soon as I said that, I realized there was a fundamental flaw in the logic. “We can’t listen to music without electricity, and the batteries in my vibrator won’t last forever. Do we have to go to a desert island?”

Maman pointed out that since this was an exercise in fantasy, we could imagine an island with plenty of solar panels to keep the juice flowing. Sometimes the Spock side of me is really stupid.

Alicia came over later and agreed to participate. Maman put hers together in less than an hour. The rest of us struggled for days; I only finished mine this morning. Even with the expanded format, the process was agonizing. I don’t consider my list a “best of” list, but took into consideration the existential reality of being alone on a desert island, choosing music with long-lasting replay potential. Had I been allowed to bring my partner, the list would have been more fuck-friendly.

So here are my family’s desert island disks, supplemented with explanatory comments.

Moi

Albums:

  1. London Calling, The Clash
  2. Monk’s Dream, Thelonious Monk
  3. Kid A, Radiohead
  4. In Rainbows, Radiohead
  5. And Out Come the Wolves, Rancid
  6. The Complete Recordings, Robert Johnson
  7. Odessey and Oracle, The Zombies
  8. The Best of Louis Armstrong: The Hot Five and Hot Seven Recordings
  9. Love Deluxe, Sade
  10. Ultimate!, The Yardbirds
  11. A Hard Day’s Night, The Beatles
  12. Between the Buttons, The Rolling Stones
  13. Lola vs. The Powerman and the Money-Go-Round, The Kinks
  14. A Passion Play, Jethro Tull
  15. Hunky Dory, David Bowie
  16. The Best of Muddy Waters
  17. Clues, Robert Palmer
  18. Always, June Tabor
  19. Lady Day: The Best of Billie Holiday
  20. The Definitive Collection, Patsy Cline

Tracks:

  1. “Strawberry Fields Forever,” The Beatles
  2. “Don’t Mess with Me,” Brody Dalle
  3. “I Can’t Get Next to You,” The Temptations
  4. “Celluloid Heroes,” The Kinks
  5. “Only the Lonely,” Roy Orbison
  6. “Arms Aloft,” Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros
  7. “Let Down,” Radiohead
  8. “Codex,” Radiohead
  9. “Debaser,” Pixies
  10. “Beeswing,” Richard Thompson
  11. “The Party,” Phil Ochs
  12. “Hello, Susie,” The Move
  13. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” The Rolling Stones
  14. “Severed Crossed Fingers,” St. Vincent

Comments: My list shouldn’t be much of a surprise to my readers. I really struggled choosing between Revolver and A Hard Day’s Night, but I thought I’d need upbeat energy without anyone around to fuck. The most difficult decision was leaving off “I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman” by Whistling Jack Smith, but I figured I could whistle all by my lonesome. A year ago the St. Vincent album would have made the list but her latest release, Masseduction, was a crushing disappointment.

Dad

Albums:

  1. Revolver, The Beatles
  2. Sgt. Pepper, The Beatles
  3. Blonde on Blonde, Bob Dylan
  4. At Fillmore East, The Allman Brothers Band
  5. For Everyman, Jackson Browne
  6. Triangle, The Beau Brummels
  7. In My Life, Judy Collins
  8. Blue, Joni Mitchell
  9. Kind of Blue, Miles Davis
  10. Beggars Banquet, The Rolling Stones
  11. Muswell Hillbillies, The Kinks
  12. Trout Mask Replica, Captain Beefheart
  13. Aqualung, Jethro Tull
  14. Liege and Lief, Fairport Convention
  15. After the Gold Rush, Neil Young
  16. The 12 Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus, Spirit
  17. Are You Experienced?, Jimi Hendrix
  18. The Great Twenty-Eight, Chuck Berry
  19. Pleasures of the Harbor, Phil Ochs
  20. Surrealistic Pillow, Jefferson Airplane

Tracks

  1. “Hey Jude,” The Beatles
  2. “Ticket to Ride,” The Beatles
  3. “All Day and All of the Night,” The Kinks
  4. “Come See About Me,” The Supremes
  5. “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” The Tokens
  6. “She’s Not There,” The Zombies
  7. “Like a Rolling Stone,” Bob Dylan
  8. “As Tears Go By,” Marianne Faithfull
  9. “I Still Love You,” The Vejtables
  10. “19th Nervous Breakdown,” The Rolling Stones
  11. “Reach Out, I’ll Be There,” The Four Tops
  12. “End of the Line,” The Traveling Wilburys
  13. “O My Soul,” Big Star
  14. “Maybe I’m Amazed,” Paul McCartney

Comments: I could have identified 98% of the entries without breaking a sweat: Dad really doesn’t care all that much for music released after 1975. The only surprise was the lack of a Donovan track or album. “You’ve ruined him for me,” he explained, referring to my not-very-positive reviews. “And that is something for which you should be eternally grateful,” I replied.

Dad’s choice of book was Dostoyevsky’s The Devils, and his luxury a case of 2007 Heitz Cellars’ Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.

Maman

  1. Schubert, Symphony No. 9 (The Great), Wolfgang Sawallisch
  2. Masterpieces, The Duke Ellington Orchestra
  3. In the Court of the Crimson King, King Crimson
  4. Days of Future Passed, The Moody Blues
  5. Kid A, Radiohead
  6. A Love Supreme, John Coltrane
  7. Flute Concertos, Jean-Pierre Rampal
  8. Hejira, Joni Mitchell
  9. Rosa Mundi, June Tabor
  10. La Question, Françoise Hardy
  11. Dvorak, 8 Slavonic Dances, Rafael Kubelik
  12. Mahler, Symphony No. 9, Herbert von Karajan
  13. Boîte à Bonbons, Jacques Brel
  14. The Indispensable Django Reinhardt
  15. Platinum Collection, Edith Piaf
  16. Out to Lunch, Eric Dolphy
  17. The Golden Flute, Yusef Lateef
  18. Thick as a Brick, Jethro Tull
  19. Stand Up!, Jethro Tull
  20. The Art of Segovia, Andrés Segovia

Tracks

  1. “Question,” The Moody Blues
  2. “Comme un Garçon,” Sylvie Vartan
  3. “Que C’est Triste Venise,” Charles Azvanour
  4. “Billie Jean,” Michael Jackson
  5. “Lucky Man,” Emerson, Lake & Palmer
  6. “Pigs (Three Different Ones),” Pink Floyd
  7. “Eleanor Rigby,” The Beatles
  8. “Never Comes the Day,” The Moody Blues
  9. “Blue in Green,” Miles Davis
  10. “Japanese Folk Song,” Thelonious Monk
  11. “Si C’est Ça,” Françoise Hardy”
  12. “White Rabbit,” Jefferson Airplane
  13. “Inner City Blues,” Marvin Gaye
  14. “Me Ama Mô,” Simone

Comments: Maman’s collection will last the longest, as she included a few box sets. Clever girl! The one that really blew me away was “Billie Jean,” as I had no idea maman took Michael Jackson seriously or even liked him a little. “Thriller has some very inventive arrangements,” she said, trying to bullshit me. “Come on, maman, truth!” She gave me a stern look, then a smile started to crack the mask. “The music seizes my body and forces it to dance!” I promised her a review in the near future.

Her book is a collection of Maupassant short stories and she decided to take her pet Papillon along as her luxury.

Alicia

Albums

  1. Something Else, The Kinks
  2. Urban Hymns, The Verve
  3. To Bring You My Love, PJ Harvey
  4. Senderos de Traición, Héroes de Silencio
  5. OK Computer, Radiohead
  6. Rodrigo, Concierto Como un Divertimento, Julian Lloyd Webber
  7. Some Girls, The Rolling Stones
  8. Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, Arctic Monkeys
  9. A Night at the Opera, Queen
  10. Sam’s Town, The Killers
  11. You Could Have Said It So Much Better, Franz Ferdinand
  12. Love Deluxe, Sade
  13. Bach, Six Unaccompanied Cello Suites, Yo-Yo Ma
  14. Sea Change, Beck
  15. Rage Against the Machine, Rage Against the Machine
  16. Superunknown, Soundgarden
  17. The Argument, Fugazi
  18. And Justice for All, Metallica
  19. Get Your Wings, Aerosmith
  20. A Boy Named Goo, Goo Goo Dolls

Tracks

  1. “I’ll Never Find Another You,” The Seekers
  2. “Come As You Are,” Nirvana
  3. “Everlong,” Foo Fighters
  4. “Dream On,” Aerosmith
  5. “Hush,” Deep Purple
  6. “Angeline,” PJ Harvey
  7. “You Really Got Me,” The Kinks
  8. “Brand New Cadillac,” The Clash
  9. “White Wedding Pt. 1,” Billy Idol
  10. “Heroes,” David Bowie
  11. “Girl U Want,” Devo
  12. “The Best of Jill Hives,” Guided by Voices
  13. “Hide and Seek,” Imogen Heap
  14. “Bodysnatchers,” Radiohead

Comments: Although she plays classical cello beautifully and reveals to the world a consistently sunny disposition sweetened even further by excellent manners, her musical tastes triangulate around hard rock, progressive, metal and just fucking angry. I really didn’t take her seriously as a potential partner until she told me she likes her music rough and raucous. Alicia is much more into the early sounds of the 21st century than I am, but she has persuaded me to include a few of her favorite tracks on our fuck playlists. The attachment to early Kinks dates back to childhood; the Seekers’ tune and “Everlong” are “our songs.”

Alicia chose Story of O for her book and her favorite dildo (actually, it’s mine, since I’m the one who straps it on) as her luxury. She’s hoping to figure out a way to attach it to a palm tree and back in for some doggy-style memories.

Join the fun! Let’s hear about your Desert Island Disks!

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