Bill Morrissey, 1951-2011


A lot of people are writing about folk songwriter Bill Morrissey after hearing the news of his passing last night. He wrote some extraordinarily thoughtful and insightful songs, but I have to admit I most loved his wicked sense of humor. His concerts frequently included hilarious songs that he would never commit to record, perhaps not wanting to highlight that side of his songwriting (though he certainly did record some funny songs).

The best example I know of this happened in 1988. Bill was performing a weekend of gigs at Passim, the venerable Harvard Square coffeehouse. Bill opened the Sunday afternoon matinee performance (broadcast live on WERS-FM) with a parody of Woody Guthrie's classic "Deportee (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)," a song about a 1948 plane crash which killed 28 migrant workers and, more broadly, addressed the issue of migrant work in this country. Not the sort of song (or songwriter) your typical folkie would make fun of.

But Bill was fearless. He simply introduced the song as "House Wreck at Los Gatos" and proceeded to sing a story of suburban angst as the marriage of an upper middle class couple fell apart. The chorus went:

Goodbye to the lawn, goodbye to the Volvo
Adios mis hibachi, fondue y Jacuzzi
You won't have a name when you go to the country club
All they will call you will be divorcee
I don't remember all the verses, but I'll never forget the last one (as with Woody's original, this was the "message" verse):

Is this the best way we can treat our young debutantes?
Is this the best way we can treat our rich girls?
To be blown like dry leaves from Rio to St. Croix
And be known by no name except divorcee?

And the kicker was that Pete Seeger was in town that day to headline a benefit concert. I was just praying he hadn't decided to listen to the local folk station and hear what Bill was doing to his old pal Woody's song.



It's only taken me 40 years or so, but I just noticed something about the Elton John song "Levon" from the Madman Across the Water album. (I was watching Elton perform it on a telecast of the recent Beacon Theatre concert he did with Leon Russell.)

In the song, Levon has a son named Jesus. In the third verse, we are told that "Jesus blows up balloons all day / Sits on the porch swing watching them fly." Well, unless Jesus exhales helium (or some other lighter-than-air gas), those balloons ain't flying anywhere!

On the other hand, he is Jesus so who knows?

"Since I Don't Have Much Money, Can I Just See It in 1D?"


I'm amused by the "Airbender 3D -- also showing in 2D" movie campaign.

Landon Donovan and "The Goal"


I'm very happy that Landon Donovan was able to score a second half stoppage-time goal to beat Algeria 1-0 and advance the US to the Group of 16 in the World Cup.  I have to say, though, that his post-match comments leave me disappointed.  Apparently, the main significance of the goal is that it is a step forward on his life journey.  We really don't need this addle-pated California-speak from our sports figures.  I'd much rather have the Monty Python stereotype of the professional footballer ("I hit the ball first time and there it was in the back of the net").

The most unfortunate comment from the match commentators so far has been Efan Okoku's assessment of the Denmark-Japan match at halftime: "The Viking ship has been torpedoed and it's sinking."  Nice evocation of World War II there.

Early Thoughts on the World Cup


I'm immersing myself in the South African World Cup.  After three days and eight matches, we're starting to get rolling.  Too many draws to start off, but Germany knocked the stuffing out of Australia 4-0 on Sunday, easily showing themselves to be the class of the tournament to date.

The coverage on ESPN/ABC has been excellent.  For the last few World Cups, the network has handled the event as they do with the Olympics, by using stand-in US announcers who don't know the sport (and assume the audience is likewise unfamiliar with the game).  After years of complaints, however, they finally wised up and hired some actual football commentators from Sky Sports and other British outlets.  The 'mercuns are still present on the useless pre- and post-game shows, but who cares?

One high point of the Cup has been the refereeing.  With the exception of an absurd red card to Australia's Tim Cahill, they've really done a fine job throughout.

But there is one thing that bothers me a lot: the "host stadium," the Soccer City facility outside Johannesburg.  We get to see lots of it through the windows of the television studios during the pre- and post-game telecasts -- a large brown lump on the plains outside of the city.  I call it "the turd on the prairie."  It's really dreadful.

"These two teams really don't like each other."


I have a new least-favorite sports phrase.  I'm hearing it all the time now that it's playoff season for hockey and basketball.  I mean, isn't this one of the fundamental principles of competitive sports?  I'd be suspicious of any commentator who said, "You know, these two teams really do like each other."

I Hate Being Clueless


I've done extensive research on the Internet, and apparently I'm the only person on Earth who doesn't understand the "Boss's Daughter" commercial for Heineken beer.

Let's review, shall we? Our Hero is in a bar with some of his co-workers, presumably after a hard day of work, when who should show up but The Boss with his daughter. Seems unlikely that Mr. Big Shot hangs out at the same joint that his underlings do, but whatever. Anyway, The Big Cheese steps away to take a call, leaving Our Hero alone with the young woman. Awkward (but not unfriendly) stares are exchanged, and then she glances downward at his lower regions for a moment. He interprets this (for some reason) to mean "I want a beer" and goes to the bar to get a couple bottles, all the while looking like a condemned prisoner.

But what's the big deal? It's a bar. It's just good manners to buy someone a drink. Why would the boss object? Did he bring his daughter to a bar and not expect her to have a drink? (And why did he bring her anyway? Does he lack for companionship?)

And is there any reason Our Hero couldn't have shaved this morning? (Or this week?) I think he's more likely to get canned for slovenly appearance than for hitting on the boss's daughter.

At least the music's cool. It's "Mexican Dogs" by Cold War Kids.

Quote of the Day


"Marijuana is a gateway drug that can lead to awful things... like Phish getting back together."

- Stephen Colbert

"It was Professor Plum with the thimble in Candyland -- Yahtzee!"


Stephen Colbert sees an oncoming breakdown in boardgame rules with the announcement from Milton Bradley that proper nouns will now be allowed in Scrabble.

I'm Here All Week -- Enjoy the Buffet!


"Split up with the Mrs. last night.  She said I think about football more than I think about her.  I was devastated.  I've been with her 8 seasons."

- text sent to the EPL Fanzone broadcast

The State of Customer Service


I went to the office of my cable company yesterday to see if they had any of the new higher-capacity digital video recorders available for exchange.  I had a brief but illuminating conversation with a customer service person:

Me: Do you have any of the DCX-3400s for swap?
Her: I don't know the model numbers.  You mean the black ones?

Reminds me of the episode in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy where the population of a dying planet travels on spaceships to new worlds in order to establish new civilizations.  The spaceship that contains all the middle managers lands on a planet but they don't accomplish anything, failing even to invent the wheel... because they can't agree what color it should be.

(And, no, they didn't have any of "the black ones.")



Of all the odd traditions in sports, surely the strangest is the convention that baseball managers and coaches must wear uniforms, just like the players. (In fact, this practice is codified in the Official Rules of Major League Baseball!) No other sport has this absurd tradition.

Since managers and coaches are often active well into their senior years, it's not just absurd, it's disturbing to look at. It seems that the mere act of wearing a baseball uniform can lead a coach to think he still possesses the agility of an active player, which can result in undesirable consequences. One need only recall the image of a 72-year-old Don Zimmer attacking Pedro Martinez during the 2003 American League Championship Series. (Though to be honest, I have baseball cards of Zim during his playing days and he wasn't much to look at then, either.)

Give me a Connie Mack any day. He managed the Philadelphia Athletics for 50 years (1901-1950) and refused to wear anything but a suit and tie in the dugout. The John McGraws and Miller Hugginses of the day may have won all the championships, but they looked foolish doing it wearing the woolen pajamas of the Giants and the Yankees. Mack was a serious man who wanted to be taken seriously (he also owned the team), and dressing like his players would have made that impossible.

Granted, some managers are well suited to uniforms -- it's hard to imagine Billy Martin or Tommy Lasorda wearing anything else. But there really shouldn't be a mandate that they all have to dress like 24-year-old shortstops.

World Music Samplers


I've been listening to some recent sampler CDs of world music and have found some terrific new music. First is the semi-annual sampler CD from monthly British music magazine Folk Roots. The latest CD is fRoots 34 and a couple of cuts caught my ear.

The Pakistani Qawwali vocalist Faiz Ali Faiz has collaborated with French guitarist/oud player Thierry "Titi" Robin, creating an intriguing-sounding album called Jaadu (Magic) on the French label Accords Croisés. The singer has been drawing comparisons to the legendary Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and while that may be overstating things a bit, he certainly is the most exciting Qawwali singer I've heard since NFAK's passing in 1997. The piece on the Folk Roots sampler is Rus Na -- here's a bit from it (no vocals, unfortunately).

Another song on fRoots 34 is by the British folk duo Show of Hands (Steve Knightley and Phil Beer). They've been kicking around the circuit for over 20 years and are familiar faces at the annual Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow. (In fact, they're pretty much unavoidable there.) They're one of those acts that I tend to take for granted, but am always pleasantly surprised how much I like them when I see them. Here they have an uptempo version of the traditional The Keys of Canterbury, featuring guest vocalist Jackie Oates. (Open this for a taste.) It's from their self-produced CD Arrogance Ignorance and Greed.

Another great source for world music sampler CDs is the bimonthly British music magazine Songlines. Each issue comes with a CD -- the Jan/Feb 2010 issue (#65) features a cut from Havana Cultura on Brownswood Recordings, a project by the (very un-Cuban-sounding) BBC Radio One presenter Gilles Peterson. It's two CDs of various young Cuban musicians: one of traditional music in the spirit of the Buena Vista Social Club, the other more urban and contemporary. The CDs are co-produced by Roberto Fonseca, a Cuban pianist who I've currently very excited about. The cut on the Songlines sampler is Lagrimas de Soledad (No Existen Palabras) featuring vocalist Danay.

I've ordered all three of these CDs from various overseas Web sites, so I'd say the samplers did their job.

Cube Magnets


I love these little magnets -- I just got some for my fridge as part of my Great Reorganization Project. Each one is about half the size of a Tic-Tac, yet can hold a dozen or so pages easily.

In fact, they work too well. They're so tiny and yet so strong that it's almost impossible to pull them off. You're lucky if you can yank them off without having them slip and fall to the ground, or fly across the room. And if you have short fingernails (or very long fingernails, come to think of it), forget it.

But if you want to take your chances, they're available various places on the Internet, including Paper Source.

Next up: fun push pins for my new cubicle at work.

"Local is Better"


At David Grisman's concert in Portsmouth, NH tonight, Mr. Grisman was talking about the beautiful mandolin that he was playing (left). He said that he had made it for him by Corrado Giacomel of Genoa, Italy. Incredibly, someone in the audience decided at that moment to shout out, "Local is better!"

Er, well, in this case, uh, no, actually. "Local" may be fine for produce and such, but there aren't any luthiers in Newmarket or Dover (or even in the area that David Grisman calls home) who could begin to do the work involved in creating a superior instrument like this. And the mindless uttering of empty catchphrases like that tends to turn people off to what might otherwise be worthy causes.

Happily I'm pretty sure Mr. Grisman didn't hear the comment and just continued on.

Not (Really) Funny


Knock, knock?

Who's there?


Economist who?

Economist the financial crisis, but I promise to do better next time.

A Lovely Bit of Symmetry


One year ago this week, I was laid off by my former employer. My last day was February 6th. However, I just received the news today that after a series of interviews earlier this week, my former employer will be hiring me back later this month (in a higher position with better compensation). I really don't know what else to say, except that this is the best news I've had in a long, long time...

Overwrought Simile of the Day


Courtesy of Steve Banyard, television announcer for English Premier League matches:

There's something very comforting and old-fashioned about Burnley -- like a warming cup of cocoa to Chelsea's sparkling champagne.

Groundhog Day


I've always had a mental block with this holiday.  I know it involves groundhogs, shadows, and six more weeks of weather.  But I can never remember how it works.  Now that I've looked it up, I think I know why it doesn't stick in my mind: it's backwards, isn't it?  If the groundhog sees his/her/its shadow, that means it's sunny and therefore we have six more weeks of... winter?  Because sunlight is a sign of winter?  I'm not buying it.  Sunshine is springtime, warmth, renewal.  Overcast weather is dreary, bleak mid-winter.

Stupid groundhog.

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