Sunday, June 28, 2015

CHRIS SQUIRE (MARCH 1948 - JUNE 2015)

              I'm running out of words when it comes to eulogizing musicians whose work I revere. Chris Squire was one such musician. He passed away suddenly today at the age of 67. He left behind an extraordinary body of work with Yes, and as a solo artist, bassist, and composer. The only thing to do is play the records again and again and again - as I have been for the past 45 years. He forever wears the mantle of "legend" and he belongs to the universe now. Safe travels. I salute you.
   







Sunday, June 14, 2015

THE FREE THINKER NO. 20

     It’s been nearly seven weeks since I last posted anything in this space. Most of the ideas I had for upcoming pieces fell apart for one reason or another, and the summer heat, and the onset of another miserable period at work sapped me of the will to write anything. I considered taking the rest of 2015 off, and maybe folding up the tent for good. But in the absence of any final decision along those lines, I thought I’d try and pull a few loose ends together before readers drift away forever to greener pastures.
     Let me dispense with old news first. Last week saw the passing of both Ornette Coleman, and actor Christopher Lee. I was a big fan of both, and though both men lived full lives, and enjoyed successful careers with much recognition from audiences, it still wasn’t news I embraced. Talent like theirs is not replaced, and I think it’s safe to say we will never see their like again. Actor Ron Moody (best known for his masterful portrayal of Fagin in the musical Oliver) also passed away the same day, and his death was largely overlooked because apart from his signature role, he spent his life doing superb work in a variety of small character roles – mostly in England. American audiences never really had the chance to enjoy his talents the way they could with Christopher Lee. And that’s unfortunate. But I admired him as an actor, and I hope that he found some comfort in spending his life acting even if he never enjoyed mainstream success on a sustained level.
     We also lost B.B. King a month ago today. He was really the last of the legends of blues, and, more than any other player, responsible for bringing blues into the mainstream. He was, for many people, the face and the sound of the blues, and was beloved by everyone that ever knew or heard him. He was the first bluesman I ever saw perform thanks to his television appearances in the late 1960’s, and he’s been a staple in my musical diet for nearly 50 years now.
     I had promised a review of Miriam Linna’s biography of Bobby Fuller, I Fought The Law, but the book did not live up to my expectations, and rather than spend more time on it, I elected to table the review. The book was riddled with typos on virtually every page, and was also in need of some serious editing. From what I understand, the typo issue has been addressed in Kindle editions at least, but I still can’t recommend it. If you’d like an alternate opinion, Mike Stax has reviewed it in the new issue of Ugly Things, and does recommend it in spite of the problems (which he was brave to acknowledge since Norton Records buys advertising in his magazine). I’m always reluctant to criticize people whose work I generally have high regard for, but I also feel a sense of responsibility to those who read this blog. I loved Miriam’s first record, and generally enjoy what Norton Records does as a label (even if their mail order service has slowed considerably from what it once was). I know there are often other factors that can impact smaller businesses, and I try to take such things into account. But I’m growing tired of it.
     Actually mail order in general has been a big problem for me this year. I’ve had numerous problems with virtually everyone I buy from. Some of it is the fault of the U.S. Postal Service which appears to be in free fall now when it comes to quality of service. Nearly every time I place an order from anywhere for anything, there are ridiculous delays and problems. It makes planning blog pieces around my work schedule nearly impossible, and that’s why pieces I’ve planned to write don’t get written. I have a window of opportunity in which to write, and when packages are constantly arriving a week or two late (or not at all), the window closes and the pieces don’t get written. I should say that my Ugly Things magazine did arrive on time, and I’ve had no trouble whatsoever from Bomp Records, or from CD Universe. But why are they the exceptions if the postal service is the main culprit? It makes you wonder if the problem is the postal service or online retailers. The irony is that I stopped using Amazon for almost everything because Amazon’s mail order service had completely gone to hell. I took the time to search out and line up alternative online retailers, but with the exceptions I noted, most have failed the test. There are times when I’ve been so frustrated that I don’t even want to buy music any longer. And if that happens, this blog will most definitely cease to exist. I broke down and ordered the latest Yes CD from Amazon because they, and Barnes & Noble were the only outlets I could find that had the version I wanted to buy. B&N dropped the ball and I had to cancel that order. I was forced to use Amazon for the first time in six months, and my order was delayed because they used the wrong address. And my Sticky Fingers box was ordered directly from The Rolling Stones website, and I can’t even get confirmation that it has been shipped. It was released a week ago. Who knows when it will arrive? (Norton is also terrible about updating the site regarding your order. The last order I placed with them did not even ship for 8 days, and I got the confirmation that it had shipped three days after the order finally arrived. What’s the point of offering to track the package at all?)
     I could do reviews weeks or months after the fact, but by that time, I just don’t care anymore. I figure I can get my opinions on the record in the year-end edition of The Recordchanger and save myself the time.

     Since the last post, I read Clinton Heylin’s book From The Velvets To The Voidoids, a definitive history of the American punk and new wave scene of the 1970’s. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and found it to be one of the best-researched music histories I’ve ever read.
     The new albums from Graham Parker & The Rumour and Whitesnake also arrived. Mystery Glue, the Parker record, was just fair. It’s not nearly as engaging as the band’s previous Three Chords Good. Whitesnake’s The Purple Album did not disappoint. It’s a fine tribute to those great Deep Purple records David Coverdale was a part of, and works, too, as a headbanging update for the new millennium. As for the Yes reissue, Progeny, I elected to get the two CD version of the set (it’s a 14 disc box set of concerts from the ’72 tour supporting their Close To The Edge album). The sound is not state of the art, but it’s much better than the bootleg quality you get from a lot of live projects these days. The performances are excellent (as they should be since this is a highlights set), and the price was reasonable. It makes a nice alternative choice to the original Yessongs triple LP set from 1973.
     In the pipeline is a new reissue of Dream Syndicate’s The Days of Wine and Roses (due this week), and the latest in Columbia/Legacy’s Miles Davis Bootleg Series: At Newport 1955-1975 (due next month). When either arrives in relation to its release date is anyone’s guess. I won’t hold my breath, and don’t count on a timely review of either one. Hopefully I’ll have both before the year-end edition in December.

     The baseball season is into the dog days of summer. My National League predictions from March are almost spot on, and my American League predictions are almost laughable. I made the cardinal mistake of picking my own team to win its division, and they’ve toiled in fourth or fifth place for most of the season just to make me look bad. I’ve written them off for this year, and I’ve learned my lesson. Next season I’ll pick them to finish last. At least if they screw that up, I’ll have something to be happy about. But I can’t imagine anyone out there has been more accurate on the National League. So that’s some consolation, I guess.


     I can’t tell you when you’ll see another post here. It depends on too many things to be able to even make an educated guess. In the meantime, you can follow me on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/tim.frueh. My posts are public, and my profile and cover photos always pleasing to the eye. If I’m doing any timely reviews of new arrivals, that’s where they’re likely to be. The rest of the time I’ll be working my ass off in a sweatshop to keep making a few dollars to buy music that I might or might not ever get to hear. Next time you visit the post office, ask them why, if they’re in such distress, they aren’t flying the flag upside down? Maybe someone will see it, and call for help? Stay cool in the summer heat, and try to keep your head above the flood waters.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

TURN OFF THE LIGHTS AND DON'T FORGET TO LOCK UP ON YOUR WAY OUT

     David Letterman has left the building. His farewell to late night television, and perhaps, to the entertainment business, aired last night – one last glorious hour plus of laughs and good music. The network billboarded his final three shows for weeks, his 33 year run encompassing 6028 shows coming to a halt in the middle of a work-week. (Be sure to catch reruns of the comedy classic, The Mentalist in the same time slot until Stephen Colbert takes over.)
     I had a long run with David Letterman. I saw his first appearances on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. I remember him from Mary Tyler Moore’s short-lived variety show. I was a regular viewer of his morning show on NBC, followed him to late night there, and then on to CBS when he bolted NBC because he’d been unfairly passed over to succeed Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show in favor of Jay Leno. But I broke the late night TV habit when my wife brought a godless computer into the house, and it took possession of me for several years. I still watched Dave sometimes, and always checked the listings to see who was on the show, but I watched the show much less than I once had, and by the time I changed jobs in 2004 and began going to work in the middle of the night instead of in the middle of the day, I had gone off late night TV completely. I had to sleep sometime. I came back for David Letterman’s final shows because of what he had meant to me as an entertainer, and even an influence over the years.
     I’d grown weary of late night talk shows in general. The genre had fallen victim to fatigue. Too much mediocrity had infiltrated those hours. There were sketches that fell flat, monologues that weren’t worth staying up for, and far too many B list actors promoting “projects” you would never pay to see in a million years. The musicians were often worth a look, but who could last to the end of the show to see them? Through it all, Letterman was still Letterman, but by 2004 I knew I’d seen the best the genre had to offer. I’d watched Carson for about 25 of his 30 years. I’d seen every incarnation of The Dick Cavett Show – in the morning, late night, and even after dinner on major networks and PBS alike.  I even read all of his books. And Tom Snyder had gone to radio where I loyally followed him before retiring, and then dying. Those three men, Carson, Cavett and Snyder were giants to me, and I never imagined I’d ever see an heir worthy of my valuable time. But David Letterman was an anomaly. I became as attached to watching him work as I had to seeing Carson and Cavett and Snyder. His timing was just right, too.
     Letterman had the capacity to surprise you at any minute. He was irreverent, and cynical, and found humor in the strangest places. He also possessed a familiarity I recognized. Like Carson, Cavett and Snyder, he was a Midwesterner (Snyder hailed from Wisconsin – close enough). I’m from the Midwest. I come from the same part of the country, and maybe that’s why I related to them. There are four people I credit for my sense of humor – my own father, Johnny Carson, Dick Cavett and David Letterman. Growing up watching them, I most admired their uncanny ability to make people laugh and to do so in the most unexpected ways. They were masters at improvisation, and the off-the-cuff spontaneous remark that was often far funnier than the stuff their writers had given them in the office for that night’s show. That appealed to me far more than the sketches they did, or the guests they featured. I wondered if you could learn to be funny by watching those for whom funny seemed to come naturally. Being funny opened a lot of doors. People liked you if you were funny. So being funny seemed a good goal to have if you were shy and unsure of yourself.
     It’s for those who know me to decide if I’m really as funny as I think I am, but I guarantee you that I’m much funnier now than I was when I was a kid. When you watch masters at their craft long enough, you’re going to pick up a few things along the way, and a slightly skewed way of looking at the world so that it seems funnier is what I gained. I probably got more of that from Letterman over the years because he was around for longer when I was an adult and knew more of the world and understood human nature a little better. All of those things are essential to being funny. And now that I’m at a time in my life where funny is really hard to come by, I’m grateful that after watching Letterman, and Carson and Cavett over the years that I’ve developed my sense of humor to the point where I can find a laugh in almost anything. That’s a valuable thing to have when you’re prone to bouts of depression and you see the world as one big giant cesspool of murderers, thieves, steroid users, ball deflators, greed mongers, and social media acolytes. When things are bleakest, David Letterman taught me that you could always throw a television out of a thirty-story building, or poke fun at politicians and the rich and famous. Even today, sometimes at home with the wife or with co-workers, I’ll throw out a line that gets such a big laugh that I can’t help but think to myself, “That one was worthy of Letterman.”
     Thanks, Dave, for finishing what my dad and Johnny and Dick started. You finished my comedy education. At the age of 58, I can honestly say that I am almost always the funniest guy in the room (often I’m the only guy in the room, but that doesn’t make it any less true).

     As for late night television, I’m not going back. They say you can never go home, and I think that’s true, too. I’m sure Stephen Colbert, a very funny man, will be wildly successful in Letterman’s old time slot. But even if my work schedule would allow it, I would not go back to late night television. It just isn’t the same now. I’ve been spoiled by the very best, and the last in a line of geniuses has just left the building. Turn off the lights, and don't forget to lock up on your way out.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

ODDS & ENDS

     “Odds and ends, odds and ends / lost time is not found again.” So goes the line from the song of the same name on Bob Dylan & The Band’s The Basement Tapes. It was running through my head earlier as I was sitting on the back patio with the dog, enjoying some, for a change, warmer April weather. I’d actually been listening to my iPod. I’d downloaded another episode of Desert Island Discs from BBC Radio 4 courtesy of iTunes. This one featured record producer Robin Millar (Sade, Style Council, Everything But The Girl among many others). He’s had quite an amazing life as a very successful record producer who, due to an inherited genetic condition lost his eyesight in his mid-30’s, and evolved into an advocate of sorts for the blind, doing volunteer work helping them create, record and produce music for the marketplace. He overcame this mid-life handicap, and continued to live a happy and successful life in spite of it. His music choices for the program were inspired (Robbie Robertson, Freddie King, Alison Krauss, and The Rolling Stones among them) and his reasons for choosing them fascinating. If you have some time, you can listen to it free from iTunes or, I’m sure, from the BBC Radio4 website.

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     Earlier this month, my bosses at work pulled the plug on listening to music at work (for no reason other than spite), so all my hours spent listening to music at work went right out the window for the future making my already unpleasant job nearly unbearable. After a few days of – well, not silence exactly because it’s a very noisy place anyway – I was ready to take the box cutter I use occasionally and slice my wrists - especially when I realized I’d be forced to listen instead to a far too loud, quite wretched radio station piped in over the store overhead sound system. When I requested that I be allowed to wear earplugs, I was told no (again out of spite), and set about trying to find some way of just getting through my shift.
     I realized just a couple of days later that what was worse than not having music at work to listen to was that I actually missed listening to the carefully crafted files I’d created in my iTunes program that are enormously satisfying and often inspiring. I’ve spent literally hundreds of hours over the past few years creating these amazing files to listen to that changed the way I hear hundreds of thousands of songs in my music library, and taught me the value of reinvesting more time in the music I already owned. (I wrote a blog piece about that in these pages titled Right Between The Ears if you’re interested in finding out more.) I discovered a great way to make old music sound new, to connect the dots of varying musical styles and eras, and to draw energy and inspiration from them to help me do my job better. It was that which I came to miss very quickly, so I decided that even though I have a nice stereo system, and thousands of records and CD’s – all of which provide better fidelity than the mp3 files on my iPod - that it would be necessary to find some way to incorporate my iPod into my daily routine. So when the weather co-operates, I try to take it out on the porch with me, or wear it when I’m walking my dog. Sometimes if I’m at my desk, I plug in the iPod to my stereo system, and just hit the shuffle button. It’s more effective than loading the multi-disc CD changer, and hitting shuffle on it and having to wait 20-30 seconds between tracks as it changes discs. I’m adjusting to it the best I can. And one advantage over wearing it at work is that I’m not constantly interrupted by somebody wanting to complain to me about how bad our jobs are. I already know that, and listening to music while I worked helped me to not care as much. Now I get an earful of that all day, and the near perfect accuracy rate I had when I was able to listen to the iPod has suffered greatly because my bosses, in their short-sightedness, opened the door to all the things that cause me to not be able to focus solely on my work. But I have to live with it. So I’ll just listen to the music elsewhere.

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     Some of you who read this blog might be familiar with a music magazine called Shindig. It focuses on the music of the 1960’s – particularly the latter half of that decade. Shindig magazine was the subject of a recent – for lack of a better word – hijacking by the corporation that published it, and the ensuing war between the two parties (the two founding editors who own the name, and the corporation) has been playing out through social media. From what I’ve been able to gather, the magazine had been underperforming in the marketplace, and in an attempt to save it from extinction, the corporation that distributed it decided it was in their best interest to “appropriate” the contents of the now current issue, and change the name to Kaleidoscope. According to the founders, this was done without their knowledge. Their website was hijacked, and their subscriber list blocked, and subscribers received the newly christened Kaleidoscope in the mail this month instead of the magazine they originally subscribed to called Shindig.
     The corporation has been fairly quiet about the details of the situation while the magazine’s founders have been anything but, raking the corporation through the mud via social media, and vowing to re-invent the magazine and re-launch it in the near future.
     I’m not about to take sides in this “family” dispute. What I know of the situation suggests that both sides are at fault and bear some responsibility for what happened. While I wouldn’t condone the methods by which the corporation reclaimed the magazine, I would say that there are two sides to every story, and before you decide which side you want to take, it might be wise to get all the facts. When all is said and done, presumably there will be a music magazine in stores called Kaleidoscope, and another one called Shindig that might resemble the one you’ve seen, and maybe purchased. You, the consumer can choose which is better. Best-case scenario would be that both find an audience and both thrive. But in these modern times, launching a new print magazine seems folly, and doomed to failure. I wouldn’t bet a dime that either will survive in the long run, but then again, you can probably say the same thing about every print publishing venture in the world at this point. I’m reminded that a few years ago Krause publications elected to merge two record collecting magazines, Goldmine and Discoveries into one retaining the look and editorial styling of Discoveries under the Goldmine name. Goldmine still exists – although I haven’t seen an issue on magazine stands in at least the past two years anywhere around here. But it’s a shadow of what it once was. I was subscribing when the change occurred, and couldn’t wait for my subscription to expire when I’d seen what they'd done to it. Magazines have as much future as landline rotary desk phones. The sooner people wake up to the future, the easier it will be to live in the present.

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     Speaking of family disputes played out in the pages of social media, that’s exactly what’s happening in the Black Sabbath camp right now. The ongoing battle between Bill Ward (drummer and a founding member), Ozzy Osbourne (vocalist), Tony Iommi (guitarist) and Geezer Butler (bassist) – each also a founding member - has escalated to ridiculous heights now with a lot of finger pointing, and blame directed on either side. Just today the Black Sabbath Facebook page posted an old photo of the band with drummer Bill Ward cropped from the photo, supposedly at his request (or so I was told when I objected to the picture). Without going into too much detail, the dispute stems from drummer Ward being excluded from the last, and presumably final reunion of the original band due to his supposed medical issues. Ward denies his medical issues would’ve precluded his participation, and claims the dispute has to do with the band not paying him an equal share of the money. (Where medical issues are concerned, I think it’s fair to ask the band this question: Your lead guitarist has cancer. If he is unable to finish the reunion tour, would you hire a replacement guitarist for him? I’d bet not.) That this is happening now is almost tragic. Guitarist Tony Iommi has been diagnosed with cancer and is being treated for it. So the original Black Sabbath is not long for this world in any case. Nothing lasts forever, but one would’ve hoped that the four founding members could come together one more time as a unit, as old friends to remind the world of what the four of them contributed to the history of rock, and pop culture. Black Sabbath is an institution. But its foundation is about to crumble under the weight of its collective ego, and it won’t be the devil that does them in. I don’t expect the situation to be resolved either. It’s just a shame that after all they’ve accomplished together that they couldn’t come together one last time in the true spirit of music and friendship. I suspect this stain will make listening to the records in the future far less enjoyable. As always, when the parents quarrel, it’s the “kids” that suffer.

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     For the past couple of months I’ve been making my way through a rather lengthy book by author Lloyd Bradley titled This Is Reggae Music. In other territories it was published under the name Bass Culture. Under either name it is, by far, the definitive reference book on the history of Jamaica’s most popular export. I’ve been listening to reggae music for more than 40 years now, but I always felt I was missing something. I was enjoying this music without really having a clear understanding of where it came from, how it evolved, and, much of the time, what it was about. I decided to rectify that when I discovered Bradley’s book. In more than 500 pages, Bradley has answered every question I had about the music, as well as a few I didn’t know enough to ask, and connected the dots for me as far as how the music evolved, and its relationship, both politically, and culturally to the society that created it. I’m nearly finished with it, and I can’t recommend it more highly. It’s as fine a work of scholarship and research as I’ve ever seen, and possibly the best-written, most valuable music book I’ve ever read.

     As soon as I finish it, I plan to read I Fought The Law, a biography of Bobby Fuller written by Norton Records co-founder Miriam Linna, and Bobby’s brother and band mate, Randy Fuller. I’ve been a Fuller fan for 50 years now, and I’m anxious to read more of his tragic story, and see how the authors sort out the circumstances in which he died. In the meantime, I picked up Norton’s 45 issue of Fuller’s I Fought The Law demo. I should’ve bought two copies, though, because I’m going to wear the first one out. More on the book when I’ve finished it.

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And to close this edition, here's a short Playlist of what I've been listening to most over the past couple of weeks (in case it's not obvious I really love the new Brian Wilson album):

I Fought The Law (Demo) - Bobby Fuller Four (Norton 45)
Whatever Happened - Brian Wilson (No Pier Pressure CD)
I Guess You Had To Be There - Brian Wilson (w/ Kacey Musgraves) (No Pier Pressure CD)
Saturday Night - Brian Wilson w/ Nate Reuss (No Pier Pressure CD)
Somewhere Quiet - Brian Wilson (No Pier Pressure CD - deluxe edition only)
The Right Time - Brian Wilson (No Pier Pressure CD)
On The Island - Brian Wilson w/ She & Him (No Pier Pressure CD)
Another Planet - Datura 4 (Demon Blues CD)
Journey Home - Datura 4 (Demon Blues CD)
Gimme Shelter (Live) - Rolling Stones (Sweet Summer Sun-Hyde Park Live CD) 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

HEADBANGERS ALL

     One of the albums I’ve been waiting for all year (due the third week of May) might surprise readers of this blog. Whitesnake’s The Purple Album will likely be one of my favorite releases of 2015, and a guilty pleasure at the same time. Guys my age are not still supposed to be listening to headbanging music. But when I got the memo years ago, I crumpled it and tossed it in the trashcan. Hard rock music or heavy metal or whatever you want to call it is a rite of passage for teenage boys for as long as it’s been around. I was there when the first wave arrived along about 1968, and the music got me through my teenage years. I graduated to other forms of music, but I miss those sometimes hellish years, and I miss the bond I felt with those bands and that music, and the truth is that more than four decades later, I still revisit it as often as I can, and lately more than ever.
     There is a fine distinction to be made between hard rock and heavy metal music. It’s hard to define. I know it when I hear it, but as much as the music itself, I think the trappings that come with the music help define the difference. I’m not big on labels, though, so I think calling it headbangers music helps to broaden its scope, and takes in virtually any band whose stock-in-trade is volume married to electric guitar riffs, and pounding drums. There is no substitute for this kind of music. When you need to “bang your head”, nothing else will do. The music was stigmatized along with progressive rock and most everything else when punk and the new wave arrived in the mid to late 70’s. But it never went away. It’s far more influential than punk could ever hope to be, but, in truth, they aren’t that far apart. Both are loud, both are tied to rebellion and a sense of being disenfranchised, and though both lend themselves to large, very active and very passionate communities, both are outsider’s music. You can be an outsider and a misfit in society, perhaps, but once you step inside that musical circle, you’re among friends. Never having had a lot of friends, and craving solitude more than most people I knew, I still liked the idea that there was a community out there of people like me who loved this music, and felt as I did about who they were, and the kind of world we were living in.
     But to be honest, as much as I loved the music as a teenager, if you’d asked me if I’d still be listening to it 45 years later, I’d have been skeptical. My musical journey has taken me everywhere I found even the narrowest of paths through the years, but I’ve never been far from the headbanging stuff because, I think, I still feel disenfranchised. I still feel rebellious and angry, and the music makes the perfect soundtrack for that.
     At 11 or 12, I wasn’t buying the records with a sense of building a collection. I spent money on what I liked, and a lot of it was loud. When the smoke (or was it dry ice?) had settled a few years later, I had the foundation of a pretty great collection of headbanging music because I had been, as I said, there when the music was conceived, delivered and slapped on the ass screaming and crying to a world that was craving it and didn’t even know it. By the time I came to see it as a collection ten years later, a lot of the bands I’d grown up listening to had broken up. But it wasn’t long before the music resurfaced in a big way and took center stage once again in the 1980’s. It was then that I began expanding upon that original foundation. It wasn’t cool to like the hair metal bands of the 80’s, at least not in my small circle of acquaintances, but the New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement held some sway with critics, and a lot of bands came out of that who would go on to influence the music for the long term, and make a huge impact on the charts as well.
     There was no Internet then, but I was able to keep abreast of what was happening because I was working in record shops, and buying rock magazines. The rock magazines I was regularly reading then covered little headbanging music, so I began picking up Kerrang magazine out of England when I could find it. MTV had Headbanger’s Ball on, and that was a good way of finding out what was coming out, and a convenient place to see new videos, and hear some of the new music.
     When the 80’s ended, and the grunge movement surfaced, metal receded again into the background and was reduced again to cult music with a loyal following. The bands that had dominated the charts and played sold out arenas were now on small indie labels, and playing clubs and smaller venues making a living, but just barely.
     Here we are in 2015, and the music business has collapsed, and the music that dominates the charts today sells a small fraction of what even just a middling metal band sold in the 80’s. But the metal bands are still around, still touring, still recording. I knew Whitesnake was still active, but until I saw the announcement about The Purple Album – a tribute to Deep Purple when Whitesnake founder and lead vocalist David Coverdale was a member – the band wasn’t on my radar.
     In recent weeks the rumors have surfaced about a possible Rainbow reunion with guitarist/founder Ritchie Blackmore returning to the scene after years playing acoustic Renaissance music in the band he has with his wife Candace, Blackmore’s Night. Deep Purple is still together and very active. Alice Cooper is still with us, and so is Aerosmith. Slayer has a new record out. Black Sabbath is planning its farewell tour in the wake of a reunion album, 13, that did quite well. Iron Maiden is still with us although not as active as they once were. Judas Priest were on the verge of a breakup, but a new member has re-energized the band, and their most recent album Redeemer of Souls was considered to be its strongest in years. Even Germany’s Scorpions just issued a new album and is touring. And this month’s Guitar World cover subject is one Eddie Van Halen. Remember him? He used to have a band named after him. Maybe still does.
     If you patrol the Internet, there are countless sites devoted to the music, and lots of information to be gathered if you’re interested. When I decided to do a piece on this genre, I visited a number of them. Many of them have compiled lists of what their editors and followers consider to be the best hard rock/metal albums of all time. Those were interesting to look at, although they’re heavily weighted in favor of the bands that emerged in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Any Top 10 list you’ll see features two or three Iron Maiden records, a couple of Metallica, and maybe even a couple of Slayer titles with the remaining spots given over to the earlier pioneers. I would take issue with some of them, but it’s a generational thing that reflects the collective average age of those site’s followers. As my own history is longer, I thought I’d offer a list of some of my favorite headbanging records through the years from the bands that I consider to be the genre’s best. I was able to expand my collection even more thanks to a couple of books by one of the most respected music journalists in the business, Canada’s Martin Popoff. The Top 500 Heavy Metal Songs of All Time appeared in 2004, and is not only fun to read, but filled with history while providing an entry point to the music. Popoff’s earlier The Collector’s Guide To Heavy Metal is akin to Leonard Maltin’s bi-annual film encyclopedia in that it’s a comprehensive list of virtually every album in the genre featuring a review and a letter grade as well. Given that Popoff seems to have heard every record in the genre, you couldn’t ask for a more comprehensive source. I own the 1997 first edition, but I believe it’s been updated at least three times since and is readily available. For me, this volume is indispensible.
     As for why I still listen to headbanging music when social security is shadowing me, I think it has a lot to do with both my job, and the world in which I find myself living. I rail against a lot of the modern technology that is dominating our lives. We have never evolved into a world that doesn’t think a war is the best way to solve every problem. (So a record like Black Sabbath’s War Pigs hasn’t dated a single minute since it was issued.) Kids still get bullied at school for being different, and take it out on their classmates by killing them. People are still routinely denied basic human rights all over the world. Religious intolerance is rampant. And every day that I go to work, no matter how well I do my job – and I do it extremely well – my boss looks at me like I’m a piece of gum stuck to the bottom of his shoe. I still don’t fit in, and I know I never will. This music will always be relevant to me, and I expect to be listening to it until death rescues me once and for all from the hatred, and inhumanity, and injustice that still dominates this world. I’ve tried to do my best, and I keep trying. But it doesn’t seem to make any difference. The only thing I can do is to turn up the volume louder and louder until the music is all I can hear.

__________

Below is a list of artists and records I reach for when I feel like headbanging. It’s not a complete list, but rather just those I go to most often. Every generation has its favorites, of course, but I’d like to think mine is as good as any. If I reach for a compilation more often than an original album, then the compilation got mentioned.

AC/DC – Back In Black, Highway To Hell
Aerosmith – Get Your Wings, Toys In The Attic, Rocks, Live Bootleg, Young Lust: The
  Aerosmith Anthology
Alice Cooper – Love It To Death, Killer, Billion Dollar Babies, School’s Out
Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath, Paranoid, Master of Reality, Volume IV, Sabbath
  Bloody Sabbath, Heaven and Hell, Mob Rules, Born Again
Blue Oyster Cult – Tyranny and Mutation, On Your Feet Or On Your Knees, Agents of
  Fortune
Boston - Boston
Deep Purple – In Rock, Machine Head, Made In Japan, Burn, Stormbringer, Now
  What?!
Def Leppard – Vault: Greatest Hits
Dio – Holy Diver, Last In Line, Sacred Heart
The Firm – The Firm, Mean Business
Gary Moore – Out In The Fields: The Very Best of Gary Moore
Girlschool – The Collection
Iron Maiden – 17 Numbers By The Beast
The Joe Perry Project – The Music STILL Does The Talking: The Very Best of
Judas Priest – Sin After Sin, Hell Bent For Leather, British Steel, Screaming For
  Vengeance, Metal Works ’73 – ‘93
Kiss – Alive, Double Platinum
Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin, III, (ZOSO - IV), Houses of the Holy, Physical Graffiti, In
  Through The Out Door, How The West Was Won
Michael Schenker - Anthology (featuring UFO, and McAuley-Schenker Group)
Motorhead – Ace of Spades
Ozzy Osbourne – Blizzard of Ozz, Diary of A Madman, Bark At The Moon, Tribute,
  The Ultimate Sin, Live & Loud, Down To Earth, Black Rain, Scream
Pantera – Far Beyond: The Great Southern Cowboys’ Vulgar Hits, Official Live: 101
  Proof
Rainbow – Rainbow, On Stage, Down To Earth, Very Best of Rainbow
Sammy Hagar – Un-boxed
Scorpions – Deadly Sting (Anthology)
Slayer – Reign In Blood, South of Heaven, Seasons In The Abyss, Christ Illusion
Ted Nugent – Free For All, Cat Scratch Fever
Van Halen – Van Halen, Van Halen II, 1984, The Best of Van Halen Vol. 1
Whitesnake – 2oth Century Masters


And there were a number of metal bands from the 80’s – hair metal – that made a few records I liked that lend themselves best to greatest hits collections. Among those I would include Cinderella, Faster Pussycat, Great White, Kix, Krokus, Megadeth, Motley Crue, Queensryche, Quiet Riot, Ratt, Slaughter, Warrant, White Lion, and Winger. I can’t single out a particular favorite original LP, but a collection of their best stuff would do me just fine.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

ALIVE'R THAN YOU'LL EVER BE: 20 AND COUNTING

     Twenty years is a long time. In dog years it equals 140. If your dog survives to 20 years old, he’s probably got a walker, and a hearing aid, and an assisted living doghouse near the fire hydrant. In the record business, though, twenty years is like a century. Most acts don’t last that long. If they do, they’ve probably been irrelevant for the past 15 of those 20 years. The majority of hit records these days are forgotten within minutes after they’ve fallen off the chart, and radio play stops. Labels tend to survive longer, but usually in name only. CEO’s, and A&R people come and go. Artists are signed today, and dropped tomorrow. It’s a business where the future is now, the present past, and the past never was.
     So when a record label manages to survive intact for two decades with essentially the same person or persons in place adhering to the label’s original design and vision, it’s cause for celebration. Alive Natural Sound is that label, and 2015 marks the label’s 20th Anniversary. The artist roster has changed, but Alive is still Alive, and better than ever.
     I think the first record I bought on the label was Gear Blues by Thee Michelle Gun Elephant – a record that seemed to be enjoying some good press – enough to get my interest anyway. It’s actually the 40th release in the label’s discography, so I was a bit late to the party. But as time passed and the Bomp label became more of an imprint and a mail order operation than a working label, I began to notice more releases in the Bomp catalog on the Alive label, and I began buying the odd title now and again out of curiosity, and a desire to hear some new music that didn’t sound anything like what I was hearing on the radio. But for the longest time I couldn’t get a handle on the label. I liked the records I was getting, but while they shared some similarities and some of the same characteristics, they were very different to listen to. So what I would call an identity did not emerge for some time – at least not in my mind. But I kept going, certain that identity would emerge at some point. When I heard Alive 044, I knew I was in for the long haul. The Big Come Up by The Black Keys wasn’t the first good record on Alive, but it was the first classic to my ears. It gave me a hook to hang my hat on, and when I heard the name or thought about the label, it was that record that came to mind. That record served notice that this was a label that mattered. This was a label on the fast track to bigger and better things.
     If you look at the next couple of dozen releases on the label, you won’t see many names that you would recognize today. Most of the acts are out of the business or they’ve morphed into something else. But I can vouch for a lot of those records because I own most of them. There was a sound and an approach to what the label was doing that kept me coming back even though a clear label identity had still not yet emerged.
     Alive 070 was the eponymous debut of a band from my neck of the woods called Buffalo Killers. And within short order Alive had also released records by bands like Radio Moscow, Black Diamond Heavies, Brimstone Howl, Bloody Hollies and Left Lane Cruiser that clearly defined the label’s commitment to the electric guitar. And this was at a time when you didn’t hear a lot of electric guitars. People had traded them for acoustics, or for keyboards or synthesizers. The few who still played electric guitars had messed with the tunings or bought guitars with too many strings on them and turned the raw, honest emotion I loved in my rock records into a lot of unlistenable squalling and whining and screaming. Only Alive seemed dedicated to the purity and essence of the electric guitar. They signed bands whose sound prominently featured the electric guitar and these guys could play. So here we are another decade down the road, and the Alive catalog has soul records, and pop records, and blues records, and even a few records that lean toward Americana. But the foundation is still the electric guitar.
     You can hear some of what you might have missed on the just released Rock & Roll Is A Beautiful Thing-The Alive Natural Sound 20th Anniversary, a two record set featuring 21 of the label’s best artists who helped define the label’s sound. Every genre I listed is represented, and the label’s most important acts are here. The past and present come together, and if this is what Alive’s future will sound like, count me in. Even if you’ve been buying records on the label for as long as I have, you don’t have these songs because these are either all new, and previously unreleased, or new to vinyl. It’s an embarrassment of riches, and the trademark “Alive Natural Sound” runs through every track. If you don’t know Alive at all, begin here.


      If a 20th anniversary celebration wasn’t enough, the label has had a very active year thus far. There’s a Record Store Day release by Shoes (a band that once cut a record for Bomp) called Primal Vinyl. It’s jammed with all sorts of classics and rarities, many never on vinyl before. Shoes have been around now for nearly 40 years, and they’re still making great power pop records.
     Alive has the first solo effort from Buffalo Killers front man Andy Gabbard. Fluff has the Killers sound, but leans a bit more in the pop direction than the Killers – but only slightly. The whole thing was cut in a single day, so it has that freshness records retain when they’re not overcooked. The CD adds four live bonus tracks from a December show, and there’s even a New Order cover among them.
     Left Lane Cruiser’s Dirty Spliff Blues is more of the high speed, amphetamine-fueled electric blues the band is known for, and of the six LP’s the band has cut for Alive, this is up there with my personal favorite, Painkillers, a 2012 effort with James Leg.
     Prima Donna, a band from L.A. with three previous records under its belt on other labels, has released Nine Lives and Forty-Fives on Alive. This is a terrific straight-ahead rock record that wouldn’t have sounded at all out of place as part of the 80’s alt-rock scene on the West Coast. We used to take records like this for granted because they were the order of the day. But nobody makes records like this anymore, and this one is an oasis in the desert that is contemporary rock. There’s even a most excellent cover of the great Dwight Twilley Band masterpiece I’m On Fire, and a cover of Blondie’s Rip Her To Shreds to complement the album’s smokin’ originals. I haven’t heard the previous records, but I can recommend this one. Prima Donna is a band with one foot in 2015, and the other in 1978 - my kind of band.
     Finally, don’t miss a new release from a band called Datura4, titled Demon Blues. The band hails from Fremantle in Western Australia. Their collective resume includes bands like The Stems, DM3 and New Christs. There are guitars and hooks aplenty, and a bunch of great songs including one called Another Planet that sounds like a Top 10 single in another age, and Journey Home, where the electric guitar is your propulsion system, and the driving beat your GPS. Yeah, Datura4’s Demon Blues is one of the best things I’ve heard this year.
     And I have to mention, before I sign off here, that there is a brand new album on the Bomp label by a great band called The Loons, led by the legendary Mike Stax who publishes Ugly Things magazine, a former member of The Crawdaddys and Tell-Tale Hearts who recorded for Greg Shaw’s Voxx label. Inside Out Your Mind owes a stylish debt to all the great records and bands of the 60’s British Invasion while the band retains its own identity as an updated classic pop-psych outfit with an R&B base. This album along with Datura4, especially, haven’t been off my turntable or out of my CD player since I got them.
     To find out more about these albums and so many more visit: http://www.alive-records.com/, and to buy them go to: http://www.bompstore.com/. The label does everything in both vinyl and CD formats, and a lot of vinyl is of the colored, limited, collectible variety (like the photo at the top of the page). And if you want a list of all the label’s releases, I have them here at The Recordchanger Blogspot exclusively: http://therecordchanger.blogspot.com/2013/07/the-alive-natural-sound-discography.html. It was updated earlier this week.
     So it turns out, rock ain’t dead. It just moved to Los Angeles.


Sunday, April 12, 2015

THE WHEEL OF FORTUNE (Short Fiction)

     Charlie Dennis had another bad day at work today. Instead of going home to his empty house, he decided to stop by Manny’s Tavern for a drink to take some of the edge off. Charlie’s boss was driving him crazy. The guy seemed hell-bent on making Charlie and everyone else on the receiving dock miserable with his idiotic ideas, his paranoia, his power trips, and his insecurities. Charlie had never seen anybody like this guy. He was a textbook case for extended therapy with a licensed professional. There wasn’t much chance he’d be committed to a mental hospital, though, and that meant he’d continue driving Charlie and his work pals insane. Charlie wasn’t sure how much more of it he could take. He’d taken this job hoping to hang on to it until he could retire. He’d supervised receiving operations at a major home furniture retailer until that company decided they could get somebody younger to do his job for less money. So they forced Charlie out with trumped up accusations that his attitude was bad, and his work less productive. But it was all lies. Charlie didn’t arrive with a bad attitude. It was instilled in him by a company that was mis-managed at the highest levels and looking for middle managers to shoulder the blame. When Charlie saw the handwriting on the wall, he quit before they had a chance to fire him, and took a subordinate position with a big box retailer doing the same kind of work without the authority. He figured that might make him less of a target, and he might be able to stay employed long enough to maximize his social security benefits. If he hadn’t needed the healthcare coverage, he might’ve taken early retirement, but after his wife died of cancer a couple of years ago, he knew he couldn’t afford to let the coverage go. After all, even with it his wife’s hospital bills had almost gutted what he’d saved for their retirement. Now he was looking at retirement as his chance to see his son and daughter and the three grandchildren they’d given him more often than just on the holidays.
     But this new job was just a different version of the same thing – a badly managed company with a team of young managers who couldn’t trouble-shoot or solve problems, or think for themselves. When Charlie or his co-workers tried to help by offering workable solutions, they were told the failings were theirs, and they needed to work harder. Charlie, even at his age, did twice the work of the guys around him half his age. But it didn’t matter, and there was nobody willing to listen or help. He was on his own. All he wanted to be was invisible. He wanted to do his work, and when it was quitting time, go home – even if the house was empty. But there was a target on all their backs because their bosses were incompetent and clueless. And his boss was the worst.
     “Charlie! How the hell are you? You haven’t been in for ages. What are you drinking?” asked Derek (Charlie nicknamed him ‘Deke’), who’d been tending bar at Manny’s for as long as Charlie could remember.
     “If I said ‘the usual’ Deke, would you remember?”
     “Bourbon, straight. Right?”
     “Right. You remembered!”
     “Well it’s not complicated. How’ve you been? Still moving furniture off trucks?”
     “Nah, I left there about a year ago. Took a job over at Darnell’s when they first came in. But it’s driving me crazy.” Charlie took a seat at the bar. The place wasn’t too busy yet considering the Mavs were playing later. The place was usually busy when the Mavs were in town since the arena was just a couple of miles up the road. There was a young couple at one of the tables, and a couple more guys that looked like rummies at the other end of the bar, and one guy to Charlie’s left nursing a drink, and dipping into the peanuts.
     “Boss got you down?” asked Derek.
     “You have no idea.”
     “Wanna talk about it? I got nothin’ better to do.”
     “Nah, I don’t wanna bore you with my problems.”
     “Come on, Charlie. Might make you feel better.”
     “Well, alright. But remember you asked. And stop me if I start breaking things.”
     “Jeez, that bad, huh?”
     “Yeah. All I wanted to do was find something quiet that would keep me until I could retire. But at my age, everybody I work with is a kid – even the managers. And they’re just useless. No idea how to do their jobs. And when things fall apart they start looking for people to blame. You know?”
       “I hear that from a lot of guys these days. The middle class workingman just keeps getting squeezed.”
      “Ain’t that the truth? They don’t wanna pay anybody to do the work, and then they wanna know why the work isn’t done. It’s all bottom-line economics. But you can’t operate these big places without people, and you gotta pay them. Hell, I barely make enough to shop there as it is. If they could they’d fire all of us, and call the warden at the penitentiary and ask him to send over a work detail they didn’t have to pay. They might as well. They already run the place like a prison. The inmates would be right at home.”
     “Well, why don’t you look for something else?”
     “ I’d never get a look from anybody. I’ve applied at a few places the past couple of months, but I can’t even get an interview. It’s that age thing. They think a guy my age couldn’t possible bring anything to the table. I’m trapped, and that’s all there is to it. At least I can still drink. They haven’t taken that away from me yet. How ‘bout another one?”
     He no sooner requested a second drink from the bartender when the man sitting to his left – the peanut muncher – turned to him and said, “That one’s on me Derek.”
     Surprised, Charlie turned to him and said, “Aw, hey, that’s not necessary. You don’t even know me.”
     “That’s all right,” the stranger replied. "Sounds like you could use another one. I’m happy to do it.”
     “But you –“
     “Mark’s the name, and I won’t take no for an answer.”
     “Well alright, if you insist. But I’ll get the next one.”
     “Look, Charlie is it?”
     “Yeah, Charlie Dennis.”
     “Well Charlie, I couldn’t help overhearing you, and I think maybe I might be able to help if you’re interested.”
     “Help how? You mean with a job?”
     “Well, not exactly. I have a business, but it’s not the line of work you’re in. But you got my attention when you said you were trapped. I might be able to give you a way out. Of course there’s a risk involved, but the choice would be all yours to make, and if you’re not interested, no harm done.”
     “Look, Mark – Mark, right?”
     Mark nodded.
     “Look, Mark. I can’t afford to get involved in anything illegal if that’s what you have in mind.”
     “Oh no. Not at all. Nothing of the kind. I’m just a very successful guy that hates to see the working man taking it on the chin all the time, and I’m in a position to help people sometimes, and when I see an opportunity, I make an offer.”
     “So you’re a ‘Good Samaritan’?
     “Well I guess you could say that. But I don’t have any ulterior motives if that’s what you’re thinking. I’m just trying to give something back.”
     “Well I suppose there’s no harm in hearing you out.”
     “Why don’t we let Derek tend to his customers since the place is starting to get busy, and let’s you and I take our drinks over to that corner table so we can talk privately?”
     Charlie nodded, left a couple of bills on the bar, picked up his drink and followed this “Good Samaritan” to the corner table. The two men sat down, and Mark dipped into the bowl of peanuts he’d taken from the bar.
     The two men looked into one another’s eyes for a moment, and then Charlie broke the silence. “I’m all ears.”
     “Good. Now let me make the pitch before you say anything and when I’m finished, I’ll be glad to answer any questions you might have.”
     Mark continued, “You ever see that game show Wheel of Fortune?”
     Charlie nodded, and then raised an eyebrow.
     “So you’re familiar with The Big Wheel, and taking chances then.”
     “Sure,” said Charlie.
     “Okay then. Would you believe me if I told you I have a wheel like that one in my office, and that with that wheel I can provide you a choice – a way out of your predicament?”
      Charlie looked at Mark like he had lost his mind. His only reply was an incredulous, “What?”
     “I’m serious. I have a wheel. You can spin that wheel, and choose your way out. There are two possibilities on the wheel, and I can make either happen for you. I’m in a financial position to do this. But it’s not charity. I don’t figure you for the type to take charity. A proud workingman isn’t looking for a handout. What he needs is a choice. That’s the spot you’re in, Charlie. And I can provide that choice.”
     “Okay. Let’s say, for a minute, that I don’t think you’re some kind of crackpot. What choices can you give me, and how does this work?”
     “You come with me to my office. You’ll spin the wheel. There are color slots on the wheel – half the slots are green and half are red. You spin my wheel, and if green comes up, you can retire immediately with full benefits. You’ll never have to go to work again.”
     “And if I spin red, then what?” asked Charlie.
     “Here’s where the risk comes in – and it’s a big risk. I won’t lie to you. If you get red on the wheel, it’s death.”
     “You’re going to kill me because I got the color red on your wheel? What the f-“
     “Wait a minute, Charlie. I’m not going to kill you. What I can do for you, however, is put you in touch with a physician who – well, let’s just say he has a special practice – and he can, for lack of a better way to put it – end your misery.”
     “Isn’t that illegal?”
     “In all but four states, yeah. And this is one of the illegal states. But we can arrange to transfer you to the legal state of your choice, and take care of things for you, and your troubles will be over.”
     “Yeah, along with my life!”
     “Charlie, calm down. The choice is yours. I just detected a sense of resignation about your working situation, and a desperation on your part to put an end to it. And I have a way to do that, so I’m making the offer. You seem like a standup guy. You deserve better treatment at the hands of your employer. But the reality of the age we live in is that it’s probably never going to get any better – at least not for guys of your generation. You’ve become almost invisible. You feel helpless – like you don’t have any say in your own future, and no control over how the rest of your life will play out. And you deserve better than that after working hard your whole life.”
     “So you’re telling me you can either set up my retirement a few years early or you can put me out of my misery by arranging –“ Charlie couldn’t finish that sentence.
     “You married, Charlie?”
     “I was. My wife passed away a couple of years ago. Cancer.”
     “I’m sorry. Any children?”
     “Two, a boy and girl. Both grown, married, and living out of state. I’ve got three grandkids, too.”
     “Well maybe that second option is too great a risk for you to consider, and if that’s the case, you can reject the offer, and just go on with life as it is. Maybe you’ll find another way out.”
      Charlie sat quietly for the next several minutes as Mark finished the bowl of peanuts. Finally, it was Mark who said, “Tell you what, Charlie. You don’t have to decide right now. You’ve had a long, bad day. Why don’t you let me give you a present?” And he reached into his pocket and withdrew what looked like a ticket, and a couple of slips of paper. He handed them to Charlie.
      “What are these?” asked Charlie.
      “The ticket will get you into tonight’s Mavs game. It might take your mind off your troubles for an evening. Wish I could offer you a better game, but the Knicks are in town tonight. There’s also a parking pass, and a voucher good at the concession stands for free food and drink. Go to the game, get your mind off your troubles, and then come see me.”
     “Come see you?”
     “I’ll be in my office. Ask one of the security people to bring you to my office. Tell them you’re the appointment Mark told them about, and they’ll bring you right up.”
     “So you work at the arena?”
     “Yeah, you might say that. You don’t follow basketball do you?”
     “Nah, not too much these days. Did when I was a kid. I grew up watching the Royals.”
     “You’re from Ohio then?”
     “Originally, yeah. I didn’t move to Texas till I married my wife. She had family here.”
     “So you saw Oscar Robertson and Jerry Lucas in their heyday?”
     “Oh yeah. Those guys were amazing. How’d you know about them? You don’t look old enough to-“
     “Oh, I’m a student of the game. I’ve done my homework.”
     “Sounds like it.”
     “Yeah, well anyway, go enjoy the game. Come see me after, and if you don’t, I’ll take that as a sign that you’ve thought it over and you’re not interested in my offer. And if that’s the case, then I wish you nothing but the best of luck. Is there anything else you want to ask me about all this? Any questions at all?”
     “When people ask you about the wheel in your office, what do you say?”
     “Oh I tell them it’s the wheel that won me my fortune.”
     “That’s not true is it?”
     “No, of course not. I got my fortune through a lot of hard work, and some luck, too. But you’d be surprised how many people believe it was the wheel. These days everybody thinks they can find a substitute for old-fashioned ingenuity and hard work. But there’s no substitute. You want to be successful, hard work, and maybe some good luck and timing are necessary. There are no shortcuts – no matter what the media tells you.”
      “So the wheel is – as far as anyone knows – just a conversation piece?”
      “For the most part. Although every once in awhile it comes in handy when I’ve got a stalemate with an employee over a contract. We solve it with a spin. Saves bringing in an arbitrator.”
       Charlie was quiet again, and Mark asked, “Anything else?”
      “You’re not Satan by any chance are you? I mean let’s say I spin the wheel and get green. You’re not gonna set me up for retirement, and then I get run over by a car on my way to get a newspaper the next morning?”
     “Charlie, do you even believe in Satan?”
     “Nah. Not really. But this seems like something he might be involved in.”
     Mark chuckled. “Charlie, I assure you it’s on the up and up. The only guy who thinks I might be Satan is the commissioner, and he’s almost always wrong.”
     “Okay. Well, thanks for the ticket. Maybe you’ll see me later, I just don’t know.”
     “Okay Charlie. Whatever you decide, I want to thank you for doing your part to make a world where a guy like me had a chance to grow up and be successful. I don’t take your contribution lightly even if your boss does. I hope you remember that the next time you have trouble sleeping.”

     Charlie stood up, looked Mark in the eye one last time, and turned and headed out the door of Manny’s. He had a lot of thinking to do. But first, all he wanted to do was sit in the American Airlines Arena and watch the hometown team dismantle the New York Knicks.