Friday, October 27, 2023

Way Back Machine: "Reed It and Weep" (Nov. 2, 2006)


One from the vaults: This originally appeared on an old blog, and I like it enough to republish and share, especially since it's the 10th anniversary of Lou's passing. (Ten years already!) As for the image, that's from a compilation disc that turned me on to Lou and the Velvets when I was a freshman in college and I was busy growing my ears. To be honest, as much as the music, I was thrilled by the wonderful Ellen Willis-penned liner notes, which got me into her as a writer, too. 

Heading into last night's Lou Reed show right here in Santa Barbara, instead of having a Reed or Velvet's tune in my head, I just kept running that Pixies' lyrics, "'I want to be a singer like Lou Reed,' 'I like Lou Reed,' she says, sticking her tongue in my ear." Perverse, I know, but what better thing to be to prepare myself for Lou, the man who sang about how heroin was his life and his wife the very same year the Beatles got by with a little help from their friends, the man who would deign to play a brittly-sweet version of "Femme Fatale" at this very show, only to hold off singing the title words until the very very last run through the chorus, the man who got the line "she never lost her head even when she was giving head" onto the radio in what is the only song of his ever really to be played on the radio in a 40 year career. 

Sure enough, the show was perverse, too. Reed's touring with longtime band-mate Fernando Saunders and Rob Wasserman, thereby kicking out the drums for a double bass approach that suits many of his songs quite well (even ones he never played--would have loved to hear "Doing the Things that They Want To" or "Perfect Day" or "Kill Your Sons" with one bassist sawing and one plucking, but that's just a way to say Reed has too many good songs and most of them create rock art, and I flip the words very intentionally). They opened with a noise-strumental that functioned as sound-check, which was a good thing since Wasserman's bass originally was mixed so as to move the audience's viscera. Then they set the tone for the evening with an odd lope through "What's Good" and while Wasserman and Saunders pushed the song with its nifty lifting little bass hook, Reed seemed indifferent to the guitar riff, toying with it and the lyrics, too. The tension kind of worked, as the song itself is all about oxymorons like "life's like Sanskrit read to a pony" and "what good is seeing eye chocolate." Reed's great theme all along has been thanatos v. eros, and how much we can love death and kill love. It's not accidental that his Robert Wilson collaboration, which he played a bunch of songs from, is The Raven

So the show was far from perfect, but nobody looks to Reed for that (you want perfect go fall asleep to Celine Dion or somebody). He played two cuts from Songs for Drella, the terrific work he and John Cale created for their mentor Warhol, and instead of blasting through "Forever Changed," which would have really rocked with the double-bass-bottom, he did the talksong with wind effects "The Dream," which Cale does on the recording, as if to reclaim that cut and prove he is and was and will always be the genius (while reveling in the lines about how Andy thinks he's a jerk--despite his immense talent, Lou's one of those assholes who likes to walk around saying, "Yep, I'm an asshole"). I mean, when the show opened and he got a partial standing O just for coming out on stage he did this little hands palmed-out at his sides Jesus blessing like we could all lick his stigmata or something. Then after "The Dream" he revamped "Faces and Names," one of those songs that makes it seem as if his favorite lyric-writing trick is to repeat phrases till they turn noise. 

But then there was a you-got-your-money's worth "Sword of Damocles," too. The synth riff from the recorded version got turned into a bowed bass part, and Reed was even generous enough to let Saunders play one amazing solo on some bassthingy he had on a stand. It was so hot that Saunders just tossed his bow mid-run, as it cramped the free flow of the picking. This song also features some classic Reed lines like, "There are things we can't know/maybe there's something over there/Some other world we don't know about/I know you hate that mystic shit," which is good for a goof, bad for scansion, and very much like something he might have actually said to a dying friend. Even when he's full of it, that's who he truly is. 

When "Damocles" started I thought it was "Street Hassle," but then they did close the full set with that epic of the demimonde. Why not, when you've got a mini-string section? Even after decades of rap music, the lyrics still kind of shock ("when someone turns that blue it's a universal truth and you know that bitch will never fuck again"), and the music was pretty relentless--neither bassman ever relieved the "do-dum-do-dum-dum" with the "bum-boo-bum-bum-bum-bum-bum" rising part on the recorded version--so it was sort of "Street Hassle" on its way to "Sister Ray," but that's Lou for you. He giveth, and he taketh away. Someone from the crowd at one point yelled "We love you, Lou," and he replied, "I love you,'s been a long time, I guess you could call this a relationship." that might sound heartwarming, but he did write and sing "Street Hassle," so there's no rest in a relationship with Reed. Then again, here's a guy who you know is always thinking--cause he says it in almost every song--that we're all gonna die anyway.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

A Review of "Why We Love Baseball" by Joe Posnanski


There’s that terrific anticipatory rush you can get when attending a classic movie in a theater and a beloved scene is about to happen. Think Gene Kelly wearing that manic, just-found-love grin, waving his driver along and starting to doo-doo his way through the intro of the unforgettable title number of Singin’ in the Rain. The whole crowd practically sighs, ready to relish four minutes of splash-dancing perfection.  

That’s a huge part of the fun for a fan reading New York Times bestselling author Joe Posnanski’s latest, Why We Love Baseball: A History in 50 Moments. Ah, it’s the Jack Morris-John Smoltz Game 7 World Series duel from 1991. And here comes Willie Mays’ over-the-shoulder catch in the 1954 Series, lost in the deepest depths of the Polo Grounds’ centerfield.

Care to read the rest then do so at California Review of Books.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Have a Little Hedonistas de la Fe in Me


It's National Mezcal Day, so let's celebrate with a terrific artisanal product, Hedonistas de la Fe. As with many mezcals sold in the U.S. market, Hedonistas came to be when some Americans obsessed with the drink and enough money and business acumen to want to build a brand went hunting in Mexico for a mezcalero they loved. Co-founders Bhalin Singh and Jim Beaubien discovered Gerardo “Kaín” Santiago Hernandez in Matatlan, Oaxaca and knew they had their man. Kaín is a fourth-generation mezcalero, doing things the right old way, from sourcing agave to roasting for days over mesquite to natural fermentation to double distillation. 

Hedonistas also gets to celebrate the wide-range of flavors mezcal permits. While tequila must be made of Blue Weber agave, there are actually over 250 varieties of the plant, and about 30 have been used to make mezcal. At this point, Hedonistas keeps its product line to four, but each is quite distinct.

They kick off with the mezcal most folks have had, an Espadín. This bottling is the only one of the four that comes from cultivated agave, and as part of the their sustainability efforts, Hedonistas replants as many as they use to distill. As you can see from the photo above, all four styles are crystalline, bordering on shimmering clear--part of the no additives process. Let's get to the smoke issue quick, too. Yes, that's one of the major distinctions between tequila and mezcal, but to act as if that's the only difference is like saying the only difference between the New York Giants and the San Francisco Giants is which coast they play on. I'd rather suggest the difference is more like that between football and baseball itself, with mezcal the more interesting, evolving, thoughtful, and varied, just like the national pastime. 

So with the Espadín you get the smoke on the nose and initial palate, but some of the taste of smoke is from burnt grapefruit peel, it seems. Each sip is integrated, complicated, lingering. There are floral notes, and notes of white pepper. It lasts. Hedonistas suggests you can mix this one for cocktails, but it seems too good for that, unless you really want to impress. And I am quite taken by some of their cocktail recipes on their website, in particular the Last Rite No. 1, made with the Espadín, yellow chartreuse, Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto, and fresh lemon juice.

Moving up the ladder of complexity and price we get to the Tobala, the first of the wild agave sourced by trained jimadors who harvest the plants near the end of their 10-12 year life cycle. Think of Tobala as the whisper-to-a-scream mezcal--it starts attractively come hither on the nose with orange blossom notes, but then builds to a crescendo on its long finish with a hit of pyrazines--that green pepper flavor that makes Cab Franc so distinctive. For its late oomph it still is both sophisticated and inviting.

The Cuishe is kind of the flip side to the Tobala, enticing you in with a nose that makes you feel like a walk through a florist. Tropical, with a lingering note of petrol like in a Reisling, it's a tender mezcal, even down to having the smoothest mouthful of the four. Note that it doesn't give you a bit of alcohol kick at the back of the throat, like you got snapped with a tiny towel, just to remind you you're drinking firewater, if still very elevated booze. (All four come in at a kicky yet controlled 46% ABV, if you were wondering.)

Then there's the Tepeztate, which will make you rethink what mezcal can be. Green and grassy, the plants that make it up mature at 20-22 years (they're old enough to drink themselves in the States!). Think of it as the sturgeon of agave, well, not in flavor, of course. Hedonistas suggests it has a Calvados-quality I didn't quite pick up, but it is to be savored like a fine Cognac, without a doubt. 

You've probably guessed from the buzzwords handmade, artisanal, wild, and all those years it takes for the plants to be old enough to be harvested and distilled that this stuff doesn't come cheap. The range goes from $64.99 - $199.99. It's up to you to decide what's too dear for you. But if you can afford it, you won't go wrong.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Bluewater's Terrific Second Tuesday Tastings

Bluewater Grill has been opened five years now, but it has had to re-think itself constantly thanks to pandemics and the like. The focus has always been on sustainable seafood, though, served in one of Santa Barbara's inimitable locations, on Cabrillo, staring out at Stearns Wharf and the harbor. Heck, it's even got a mock lighthouse tower to draw visitors in. 

That doesn't stop them from instigating a program called Second Tuesday Tastings. For October and National Seafood Month, Bluewater turned to Spain for inspiration (mostly with the wine parings), and offered up this deal: an appetizer of panko artichoke hearts with brava sauce with a glass of Abadía de San Campio Albariño and an entree of chipotle blackened swordfish alongside a pour of Marqués de Riscal Verdejo. The special two-course with wine pairings ran $55 per person, which is quite a deal, especially if you consider that signature swordfish dish goes for $38 on the regular menu. I mean, I usually don't get an app and two glasses of wine for 17 bucks, do you? 

Besides photographing well with some palm trees as a back drop, the Albariño, is a perfect it takes some time for fall to fall on Santa Barbara wine, super-grippy, presenting its lemonsicle flavors with a richer mouthfeel than usual for the varietal without going flabby.

That also made the wine a fine foil to the heaping helping of artichoke, golden brown fried in that panko so it almost looks like mozzarella fingers, but is much lighter inside. Clean, crisp, and crunchy. Brava sauce makes you say bravo on the finish, tomato's hearty essence ringing out and bringing some acid needed to the fry-ness of the artichoke. It's so good, you will no doubt sop up any left over with the old school San Francisco-style sourdough (which arrives at the table warm--nice touch).

The Marqués de Riscal Verdejo comes off as more of a country cousin compared to the sleeker Albariño, greener and grassier and more Sauvignon Blanc-y, as it were. Still, it pairs very well with what a GM insisted is a blackened swordfish with chipotle dirty rice, as opposed to a chipotle blackened swordfish. Distinctions do matter, in numerous ways, starting with the dirty rice that had some warming not burning chile heat, a scattering of black beans, endnote a hint of pork (good news, pescatarians!). The swordfish rub offered a bit of a kick, too, but it doesn't hurt for theme to end with an inner glow, especially if you're sitting outside. (And if you can, snag one of the amazing tables outside the second floor bar, as the view alone is worth it.)

Also note this is a serious plate of food--it's not a precious dollop of rice besides an inch by inch fish cut. And that corn and avocado add just enough Southwest to help the dish soar and sing.

Service was flowing smoothly--pleasant, attentive, unrushed. It was a new GM's first day, so if you go in be sure to welcome Annia Bonifaz, who is happy to be back at the Santa Barbara location (Bluewater is everywhere, from Catalina to Phoenix). 

Even better, since they didn't feel they got the word out fully about this month's Second Tuesday Tasting, they're going to repeat it next Tuesday, October 17. 

Friday, October 6, 2023

Way Back Machine: I Want Me to Want Me (never published)


One from the vaults: There was some anthology called Pop 101 that I almost had a piece in, but either it never came out or they dropped me from it and I didn't get the note. But here's that essay from 1997 about 1979--oh, nice symmetry--that will tell you more than you need to know about young me. And maybe young some-of-yous, too.


 I want me to want me. 

Living all the subtraction of adolescence in New Jersey suburbia, hanging out in each other’s basements. An innocent age, the 1970s, and we ached with crushes we thought were love. Of course, we just wanted to get our rocks off. 

Add up all that wanting, multiply by all that not getting, and infinity plus one seems like an actual possibility. The mall didn’t cut it. Anthony Matarazzo’s 440 Plymouth Road Runner didn’t cut it. Even Saturday Night Live, back when it was good, didn’t cut it. As for the rest of TV, we somehow knew Lauren Tewes, who played Julie, ship’s social director of many of our dreams, however perkily lustable, would be a washed up druggie by 1985. That Love Boat always ended up back in port where it started.

Which gets me to Cheap Trick, who, for a couple of years there, me and millions of teenagers loved. A perfect image for male teendom: the band is half beautiful boys and half unlovable losers. And as for the girls: just the name Robin Zander could make damp many a nubile’s sweet underthings. Or so us boys thought. This boy, though, was no Zander. Instead Huntz Hall look-alike Rick Nielsen seemed more like me, nerdy even with, or perhaps because of, that lead guitar prowess (read technique). Why else would he play three guitars at once? It was a hope that he could ward off geekiness with his many magic wands. 

 But what happens when the geek lurks inside? 

 I could play no instrument, but I was a charter member of the fraternity of air guitarists, and that’s pre-TC, even (Tom Cruise in Risky Business). No, I wasn’t that guy who, instead of dancing at each high school dance, would maniacally windmill air guitar like Pete Townshend when the DJ played “Won’t Get Fooled Again”—come to think of it, that was Anthony Matarazzo. But in private I would stroke away, yes indeedy. 

Now, don’t hear any slumming puns, for Cheap Trick, despite that drummer who smoked while he played and seemed as if he lured tykes into his backseat with candy bars, even despite his image, was slight, light, Midwest, sweet. C’mon, “I Want You to Want Me,” has the sexual heat of Kathie Lee Gifford. Its big hit version was recorded live in front of people who didn’t even know English. 

 Cheap Trick is just evidence that we can not only endure but prevail, over darn near everything: the 1970s, adolescence, parents, Catholic high school, the evils of rock ’n’ roll. I saw them back on the Dream Police tour, 1979, when they packed Madison Square Garden and hoked it up and rocked it out and blew opening band the Romantics, decked in red leather new wave jackets, out of the arena and it seemed to matter and maybe I screamed the words or more likely I sat there quietly beaming, projecting like mad that I—-a non-musical, non-dating, soon to be goddam valedictorian--was all four guys, long-haired posterboy rockers (and a matching set, at that, one blond, one brunette) on vocals and bass plus the two wise-guy axe-wielding, drum-bashing, dare-to-be-proud nerds. 

As the band themselves put it: I surrendered, I didn’t give myself away. Lost in the lift of loud, noise bristled away my sins of being young and there I was: Me. I took the train back to Jersey, and, like any good rocker, went to school the next day on four hours sleep to ace my AP history exam with a best you can get 5.