Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Hyundai Elantra Is Even Better

With the Korean manufacturers on a roll, I've been waiting eagerly to sample the latest Elantra. Hyundai's been impressing the folks at the car magazines--including Consumer Reports--with its Sonata, which is taking market share from the big guys--Toyota Camry and Honda Accord--with its stylish body and strong platform. It was the Elantra's turn.

The last couple of generations of the compact Elantra have been like Toyota Corolla wannabes, but now, the Corolla's looking positively ancient and even the new Honda Civic seems conservative. Long celebrated for reliability and environmental responsibility, the Elantra is all-new, and seems much more expensive than its price now. The environment inside is stunning in its design as well as materials and assembly.

The 1.8-liter, 148-horsepower engine makes the car feel fairly peppy, although my only disappointment was the fuel economy. I averaged just over 27 mpg--pretty decent--but the sticker says 29 City and 40 Highway, and I drove a lot of miles on the freeway.

My tester, a GLS in a gorgeous Metallic Sky Blue, was only $19,510, not including transportation.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Learning Songs from the Record Again

There's been a song running around in my head for weeks--Uncharted, by Sara Bareilles--so tonight, I decided to learn to play it. I haven't learned a song from a recording this way since, well, when I looked like the photo to the left.

This time, I was able to play the song on my iPod with one earbud in and the other out--to hear if I was getting close. Of course, I had to sing an octave below Sara (I'm not Paul McCartney), but I worked it out--mostly. I needed to capo the first fret to move the pitch up to what I assume is the way it was recorded. It's possible that the studio sped up the song, too, I guess.

I any case, I now have a song from 2010 (or 2011) that I can play and sing to go with all those ones from the mid to late sixties that I learned off those vinyl albums and by ear. Who knows where this could lead? Maybe I'll go do another open mike night somewhere.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

When the Music is Over

Here I sit in my kitchen, on what would normally be the Sunday night before Monday's workday ("...not that there's anything wrong with that," as Seinfeld would say). It's just that after a weekend containing a full day of chamber music and a concert, it's over now. My spring Castro Valley Chamber Orchestra season ended this afternoon with a rousing performance of Borodin's Symphony No. 2, Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition and some very entertaining music from the bayan--the Russian button accordion. That's Mr. Borodin at the left.

I've written on this concert already--but the point is, what do you feel when something you've been looking forward to is over? After every concert, I feel the sense of accomplishment of a job (pretty) well done -- remember I am an amateur -- and a feeling of completion. And, I don't have to work on it anymore, so it's a little like freedom (school's out). But--when we finish a piece, it goes away. I no longer play it, and although it's added to my repertoire, and nowadays, to my iPod, it's over. So I miss the piece too. And, of course, I'll miss seeing my fellow orchestra members all summer, too.

As I've been harranguing my son lately, there's nothing quite like the enjoyment of accomplishing a goal. It's doing something with a purpose--not simply receiving something you like or want. It's earning it. I wish I had understood this earlier, but perhaps this knowledge, too, is something you have to earn.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Another Chamber Music Workshop Is Done

It's late in the day, but I'm happy. I got to play chamber music on my bass all day today--and all evening too.

Over the last few years, I've attended gatherings of the Chamber Musicians of Northern California (CMNC) that take place three times a year at a San Francisco Bay Area campus. After about 12 of them I know the drill, and always learn something. Also, it's great to be with people who are interested in what you're interested in--and being a "workshop," it's about developing yourself as a musician--not being a perfect concert performer. Good thing, too, because I make lots of mistakes!

We were assigned a Piano Quintet by German composer Hermann Goetz, who lived from 1840 to 1876 (see photo). The piece was beautiful and challenging. Goetz wrote it late in his short life--1874, while he already was suffering from the tuberculosis that would kill him.

We opted for the slow second movement, and even after a day's work of practice, I never quite got it right. Some parts are simply harder to play. But it was worth it to try to figure it out.

My work on this piece helped me realize that it's one thing to play every day, but for my next step, I need to work more on the basics--hand position, intonation, bowing techniques, scales--to move to the next level. That's something worth knowing--and acting on.

After dinner, I joined seven other musicians in playing through Schubert's Octet--a favorite ensemble piece that gives the bass plenty to do. Much of it is easy to play (for me now) but there are some challenges. I did a better job than the last time I played it--gratifying.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Double Graduation and Memorable Dates

May 27th marks the day I graduated from high school--and college too. Yes, the diploma-receiving walks were eight years apart. But I was a busy guy--spending a year on a kibbutz in Israel and earning my way through school.

Despite the fact that high school was more than "two score" ago and the day I snagged my English degree is also ancient history, I commemorate my double graduation day every year--by myself. No parties, no special activities. I just remember with some gratitude.

Graduations are interesting in that the date itself really isn't what's significant. It's that it normally indicates the end of something and the beginning of another. After high school, I embarked on a little adventure in guitar strumming and working that lasted a year and eight months. By the time I went to college, I was ready. After college, I stepped immediately into a fulltime job that lasted three and a half years.

Some dates are obvious--birthdays--yours and your significant other--and your kids' (especially young ones, who have great expectations). Some are more significant to the world--sometimes horrible too. What about D-Day (good), September 11--(bad), November 22 (JFK shot--bad). For me, December 8 is a bad day--when John Lennon was murdered. That one hurts me every year. How about May 1, 2011--the day Osama Bin Laden was found and dispatched? I'm guessing that most people consider that a "good" day. It probably won't become a Hallmark holiday, however.

Or course, January 1 is always important as a new beginning, and December 25 is significant to Christians--and most of the rest of us too--as a time to do something a little different beyond it's religious significance.

The first day of the each new season is recognized. When June 21 arrives, we expect summer warmth and long days--but maybe we're remembering school being out and the "freedom" that came with it.

For me, November 25 and 26 together are very significant because the first date is the day I met my wife and the 26th is--her birthday.

I'm glad I graduated (twice)--my college degree especially has been useful to me, as has the effort I had to put in to earn it.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Russian Classical Concert Sunday

This Sunday, the Castro Valley Chamber Orchestra takes the stage again to play a concert of Russian classical music. Besides exciting works by Mussorgsky (the famous Pictures at an Exhibition) and Borodin (Symphony No. 2) we'll be playing a few stimulating pieces with Grigoriy Krumik, who's bringing his bayan. A bayan is a button accordion and Grigoriy is a master of it.

Rehearsing for a show takes time and effort. We've been meeting for 2+ hours every Tuesday night since September, and I just got back from the "dress rehearsal" -- an extra two hours to go through the concert selections again. Even on concert day we won't be perfect--but that's what's great about being amateurs.

I love every minute I spend with my fellow musicians--since my start on January 2, 2007. I'm sure I'll be back for more next Fall.

If you're in the vicinity at 2 p.m. on Sunday, here's concert information. Like the Castro Valley Chamber Orchestra on Facebook, too!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Badge Engineering for Honda and Isuzu

The other day I saw an Isuzu Oasis minivan in my work parking lot. Wow--hadn't noticed one of those for awhile. I had to think about it, but then I remembered where that car came from. It was a rebadged Honda Odyssey. See the 1996 Oasis, left.

And why did Isuzu have a Honda minivan for sale? Well, back in the mid 1990's before the CR-X and Pilot were household names, Honda didn't have an SUV to offer. However, Isuzu, which was in business and doing fine in the U.S. at the time, did have the popular Rodeo. Add Honda Passport badges, and voila--problem solved. There were a few other vehicles involved in the deal too, but those were the major ones. See the Honda Passport, below.

This kind of badge engineering has gone on for years, and it makes sense, for example, if Ford needs a subcompact car to let Kia build it (Aspire) or Dodge wants a little car and Mitsubishi makes it (Colt). It's still going on today with Daewoo-built Chevys--although GM owns part of Daewoo now.

The secret is, though, to make the car you borrow at least as good as the ones you usually sell--then you're fine.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bob Dylan Is 70 Today--Really?

I knew his birthday was around this time, and that it was a "milestone," but 70 and Bob Dylan don't really go together for me. Being 12 years behind Bob, my introduction to him wasn't during his skinny New York folk period but the mid-1960's folk-rock time, when "Like a Rolling Stone" and "Positively 4th Street" burst on the pop scene. I later bought those early albums, where I could hear him sing "Blowing in the Wind" and "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll," and "Mr. Tambourine Man."

I remember how Nashville Skyline was a huge departure -- he actually sang more melodically -- and then the New Morning LP from 1970 where he seemed to come back a little to himself. But after that, I didn't follow Dylan very closely. I just knew he was out there being Bob Dylan.

And that's important to many of us who enjoy being amateur musicians. I remember, when I was just 18 and going out to open mike nights in San Francisco, that a sign by the sign-up sheet read "Featuring Bob Dylan's understudies nightly." We strummed and we sang but we were not Bob.

I think it's probably much easier to not be a tortured genius--which he certainly is. It's easier to admire him than to be him, and today I celebrate his life and his continued writing, recording and touring.

I've always liked his Blonde on Blonde album, especially "Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat."

I went to YouTube to find Bob singing Positively 4th Street. I didn't find him--just numerous "understudies."

Monday, May 23, 2011

Toyota Prius PHV Gives Long Electric Cruises

I'm one of the lucky journalists who gets to spend a week with Toyota's upcoming Prius PHV. PHV is a new acronym, which stands for plug-in hybrid vehicle. It's a compromise, like all hybrid cars, but it solves the problem of all-electric vehicles, such as the Nissan Leaf, which could strand you if you happen to run out of juice out on the road. Sadly, there's no AAA truck with a gallon of electricity who can come by.

The PHV looks and feels like a Prius, which is not sporty but is quite solid and dreamy quiet. However, rather than simply using electricity that it generates itself, the PHV has a great big lithium ion battery where the spare tire would normally live that can take a charge that will last you about 14 miles. If you live six miles from work, it's possible you could travel gas free.

My commute is 27 miles, but I was able to drive the first seven miles--all on city streets--completely on electricity. Also, the car would drive electrically for significant periods of time on the freeway under conditions that didn't require strong acceleration.

Electronic gauges at the front of the dash, under the windshield, let you monitor your fuel consumption and especially important, where the power for moving the car is coming from. You can see the motor working--or the engine--or both--or neither, if you're stopped at a light.

It was exciting to zoom along for nearly 15 minutes without using any fuel at all. But, the show came to an end and it was back to plain hybrid life--which isn't all that bad, really. After six days, I have averaged 54.8 miles per gallon--about 5 mpg better than a normal Prius. One of those gauges shows what percentage of the time the car was an "EV" or a hybrid, which tells the story. I got in about 8 percent as a pure electric. Someone else, with short jaunts every day, could make that 8 percent hybrid, 92 percent electric.

The plugging in to charge part was easy, but I had to remember to do it. I ran the heavy cord out of my garage and into the plug, which sits behind a door in the left front fender. The battery charges fully in just three hours on normal household 110 volt current.

Pricing is likely to be in the low to mid $30,000 range. The car's due out next spring, but folks are already signing up for their Prius PHV. Here--you can too.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Mark O'Connor Premiere at New Century Shines

I just enjoyed the fourth and final concert of my 2010-11 New Century Chamber Orchestra season. It featured the world premiere of fiddle virtuoso Mark O'Connor's commissioned piece called Elevations. Mark explained his vision for the two-movement, 25-minute piece before it was played in the second half of the event; he also visited with some of us who stayed after.

Mark is a repository of American violin/fiddle experience, and has woven that into Elevations as a celebration of the blend of beach, mountains and desert that is California as well as the mixture of cultures that has created our unique American music. Listening to it was exciting, thanks to the twists and turns of the work itself and the energy and professionalism of Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg's all-string ensemble.

The program began with two lovely Edward Elgar pieces and a short Frank Bridge composition, Sir Roger de Coverly. As fine as they were, they were merely the appetizer for the O'Connor piece. By commissioning works, the New Century Chamber Orchestra helps bring more new music to eager audiences, as well as making sure that the works are tailored especially to the special strings-only group.

The evening ended with a surprise performance of Alfred Schnittke's Moz-Art a la Haydn from 1977. It began with the lights out and once they flashed on after a few minutes of teasing the audience in the dark, a furious conductor and twin violinists in unusual costumes (a feather hat for one) gave a stimulating and often humorous piece of performance art.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Ales and Trails Means Living the Dream

Red Paint--my band--played at Ales and Trails today. It's an annual biking event - and a benefit for the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA). The riders, all slim and enthusiastic in their colorful biking outfits, enjoyed camaraderie, fabulous food and an earful of live music.

For me, the dream isn't in bike riding, although when I've ridden my bike it's been enjoyable. The great thing for me is standing with my bandmates under a tent in beautiful weather at China Camp State Park in San Rafael (Marin County) playing music. I've dreamed about this kind of thing since I was a teenager, and here it was--really happening!

Playing outside is a special experience. I thought of Jesse Colin Young and the Youngbloods playing in Marin County in the 1960's (and what about the Grateful Dead?). Rock and Roll tradition was in the breeze.

After eight years on the electric bass, my fingers fly along the four fat strings with almost no effort at all. I can close my eyes or look at the crowds of riders and the hands do what they need to do. My bandmates must feel the same way--we are blending better and better and the sound, especially with the addition of a fine keyboardist, is gratifying.

The folks at IMBA are involved in making the sport of mountain biking more accessible, safer, and more fun, and are especially interested in getting kids started. They are involved in important activities, particularly relating to Bill's Trail, an important place for California mountain bikers. Go take a look and get involved.

Maybe it's time to dust off my bike, fill up the tires, and get out there myself!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Fill it Up With Hydrogen, Please

Last week, Toyota opened the first hydrogen fueling station in the U.S. fed directly from an active industrial hydrogen pipeline. The station, located in Torrance, California next to Toyota's sales and marketing headquarters, is a collaborative effort between Toyota, Air Products, Shell, South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) and the Department of Energy (DOE).

Toyota will use the Shell hydrogen station for fueling its hydrogen-powered vehicles in its fuel cell hybrid demonstration program. And, as a friendly gesture, they will let other manufacturers' fuel cell vehicles in the Los Angeles area pull up to the pump.

With this new station, the City of Torrance becomes part of the California Hydrogen Highway initiative, which aims to create clean air solutions and develop new technology jobs across the state.

Read Toyota's press release for more details.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

James Taylor. Covers. Artist.

I've enjoyed James Taylor's beautiful music for more than 40 years. His originals--from Sweet Baby James to Only a Dream in Rio (a personal favorite) and the entire Hourglass CD (brilliant)are classics, but his covers are pretty sensational too.

Of course you think of his version of Handyman and You've Got a Friend, and How Sweet it Is, but how about Wichita Lineman? A couple of nights ago I dug his Covers album out of the pile and played it. Wichita Lineman is a Jimmy Webb classic from 1968 sung by Glen Campbell. From that era and from Mr. Webb, it had plenty of strings behind it. James' version had all the plaintive beauty of the original, but with a clean production of just his folks around him.

I love that the whole album, from 2008, was recorded by 12 musicians together in a converted barn in January in Western Massachusetts over a ten-day span. I'd love to make an album like that. Just get up, play music with James Taylor all day, then, after a tasty meal and a few glasses of wine, off to bed and back to it the next day.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

2012 Honda Civic Spotted

Since 1973, Honda has sold 8.8 million Civics--and it's obvious why. High quality, reliability, efficiency, and reasonable pricing. The new ninth-generation car upgrades the last model significantly, offering five different models starting at about $15,600. Pick from a coupe or a sedan--and there's still a hybrid version.

The new 2012 model's been out about a month now, but I saw my first one on the road this morning--a silver one. From the back, it looked like a Mercedes C Class (surely Honda would appreciate the comparison).

Funny for me is how big the car is now. It's larger by far than the first Accord (mid 1970s). The original model was a MINI Cooper sized little hatchback while today's sedan will hold your family. My 1986 Si hatchback was pretty compact. What a fine car that was--I still miss it sometimes.

Surely we can expect another few hundred thousand to go to happy buyers this year.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

No Milk Today to Uncharted - What Makes a Favorite Song?

Years ago, when a song became a favorite it was usually because they played it in heavy rotation on the radio. I might go buy the "45," but normally I just waited, and when I heard the first few notes of it, I'd go, "YAY," and enjoy it.

Well, with iTunes you can own anything you want in a matter of seconds, so I now have some of my all-time favorites available with a click. That's good, but the accidental and sudden arrival of two or three minutes of bliss is no longer part of it.

But--I've had a few new favorites lately, including Owl City's Fireflies and now, as I reported here recently, Sara Bareilles' Uncharted. Yep--They're on my iPod, but I still like it when they pop up on SiriusXM's The Pulse (now, Channel 10).

Listening to what constitute my favorites, I can see that I'm more of a pop guy than a hard rock guy, and that melody (including it in the bass) is what I like best. I like pop songs with orchestral accompanyment. Not surprising for a guy who also considers Beethoven's Pastorale Symphony (No. 6) in his list of musical treasures. I love Glen Campbell's Wichita Lineman and, of course, Richard Harris' MacArthur Park, too.

Consider this favorite from 1967--No Milk Today by Herman's Hermits. See--my ears haven't strayed that far.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Gay in the NBA - Hooray

Rick Welts, Phoenix Suns president and CEO, has announced that he is gay. During his nearly 30 years working in the NBA, this has never been talked about, although many who worked closely with the 58-year-old executive apparently knew. They just never brought it up because, well, it didn't make any difference in how well he did his job.

It is a big deal for somebody to come out, especially a public person like Welts. And he's relieved, apparently, and hopes that this will encourage others to live honestly. It remains to be seen whether a gay player (and you know there must be some) is ready to do the same. Life in the locker room could be difficult.

I hope our society is ready for more of this. I just watched the most recent episode of Glee, in which Kurt Hummel, one of several gay characters, is traumatized by something that was done to him--but triumphed in the end by taking it on with guts and humor.

Let's face it--gay people are part of our world. I've had gay bosses, co-workers, friends, and even a relative. I also live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where this is more normal. I hope that more people will become tolerant and accepting of this with Mr. Welts' public admission. Maybe the day of gay marriage won't be too far away now. If you know and love anyone who's gay, you'll understand why that's so important.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Top 40 from Mid May, 1967--From the Bottom Up

I used to listen to the top 40 countdown--actually, the KFRC Big 30--and now, with SiriusXM Channel 6, you can do it again. My goal tonight is to listen to a period that was very important to me--from the bottom up. You see, you often hear the top 10 songs, but numbers 35-40 may have disappeared from the airwaves since they dropped off the survey. Those are the ones I want.

Here goes:

40. Every Mother's Son--Come On Down to My Boat. Well, this was a big hit later from this one-hit wonder band.

39. Yellow Balloon - Yellow Balloon. One of my favorite songs of all time. Sort of a Beach Boys sound with rich vocal harmonies and a bouncy 4/4 beat--with 3/4 bridge. By Dean Torrance (of Jan and Dean), which is why it sounds like Southern California in the 60's.

38. Jon & Robin and In Crowd - Do It Again A Little Bit Slower. A little corny... I've heard this a few times recently but didn't know it was from this particular period. Definitely pop--not rock.

37. Otis Redding and Carla Thomas - Tramp. The Stax sound makes it into the Pop chart. Very funky and cool--with their conversation back and forth. "I got six Cadillacs..." So different from "Sitting on the Dock of Bay" from less than a year later.

36. Booker T. and the MGs - Hip Hug-Her. More funky beats. No wonder I love playing the bass. This instrumental has all the greatness of this band. I can see the guy's Fender bass in the photo of the album cover on SiriusXM. Remember it well.

35. Dionne Warwick - Alfie. This song is timeless and is heard often today. From the movie of the same name with Michael Caine. I love Dionne Warwick and have her greatest hits on my iPod.

34. Jerry Jaye - My Girl Josephine. Originally done by Fats Domino in 1960! I don't remember EVER hearing this.

33. The Tokens - Portrait of My Love. The last song by the Tokens. Originally done in 1960 by Matt Monro. The Tokens are known for the big hit "The Lion Sleeps Tonight from years earlier. This didn't move up the chart much, I think. Has a Four Seasons sound to it--lots of trumpets.

32. Lou Rawls - Dead End Street. Very cool. I remember it. "The almight hulk--Mr. Wind." He narrates his way into it. Haven't heard it for a long street. It sounds MUCH better on satellite radio than on my old Panasonic AM six-transistor radio. A Grammy winner.

31. Marvelettes - When You're Young and In Love. Motown. This is one of the ones you never hear anymore. It has the sound of the Funk Brothers, just like so many songs by the Supremes, Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson....

30. Turtles - She'd Rather Be With Me. I'm very familiar with this one. It charted higher, I'm sure. This is the year that the group's Happy Together rose to number 1. These guys are the epitome of 1967 pop music.

29. Monkees - A Little Bit, A Little Bit You. A Neil Diamond-penned song, like I'm a Believer. Don Kirshner wanted another hit. I remember it well, but it somehow isn't as good as I'm a Believer. Davy takes the lead. I think Pleasant Valley Sunday--possibly my favorite Monkees song--followed shortly after.

28. Tommy James & the Shondells. I Think We're Alone Now. Very poppy. This one gets played frequently today on the oldies stations. It has a heartbeat in it in the middle. Lots of bass and tambourine. It was on its way down from a higher placement.

27. Parade - Sunshine Girl. Another of my special favorites. Great bass playing. More Southern California happy sound. I hear an oboe! This kind of song disappeared not long afterwards. A bit like the Association.

26. James & Bobby Purify. Shake a Tail Feather. Oh, so funky. "The boogaloo is outa sight!" The bass player is earning his money on this one. Huge energy in this one.

25. Herb Alpert - Casino Royale. An instrumental. I remember it--it's from the movie (which I didn't see). I don't think I've heard this in decades, though. Sounds pretty cool in stereo.

24. Eric Burdon and the Animals. When I was Young. This echoed through my adolescent consciousness. Of course, his youth (in the song) was precocious and intense--I was a nervous suburbanite. I felt this one in my guts.

23. Mitch Ryder & Detroit Wheels. Too Many Fish in the Sea... Other songs of his--and the Marvelettes' version of the first half of this medley--are more frequently played. I'm not sure I remember this. Exhausting--whew. Cool lead and bass part, of course.

22. Lovin' Spoonful - Six O'Clock - Another of my favorites. I heard this one over and over. It starts out with a high bass part. Now I realize what that is. Much of the same sound as "Summer in the City."

21. Dave Clark 5 - You've Got What It Takes. This was originally recorded by another artist in 1959. It's a surprising cover--updated. I remember it well, but didn't love it like, say, Nos. 22, 27 and 39 above. This was the group's last hit.
20. Whistling Jack Smith - I Was Kaiser Bill's Batman. What an oddball instrumental this was. But it was everpresent in it's day. Hey--Where's the Rock and Roll I remember?

19. The Who - Happy Jack. It was the Who's first big song in America. It was like nothing else at the time. Bum Bum Bum Bum went John Entwistle's bass.

18. The Temptations - All I Need. This is the 1967 sound of the group, but I don't think you hear this one near as often as some of their others. It doesn't carry any associations for me--just the sweet Motown Funk Brothers sound itself.

17. Hollies - On a Carousel. I liked this one pretty well. Young Graham Nash is the lead singer. Good solid bass part; I think he's using a pick.

16. Easybeats - Friday on My Mind. Another of my favorites. A group from Australia. I mentioned this song in a blog post recently. Great ringing guitars and lots of energy.

15. Peaches & Herb - Close Your Eyes. This song sounds old--in 6/8 time--like the 1950's--when it was originally recorded by another artist. Sweet, romantic, but after the Easybeats, I feel sleepy. They take a deep breath in the middle of the song.

14. The Tremeloes - Here Comes My Baby. This was written by Cat Stevens (I just learned). Peppy--sounds like it recorded in one take with no overdubs. "Ha Ha Ha."

13. Jefferson Airplane - Somebody To Love. Oh my--this song changed my life. The Airplane were local San Francisco heroes and altered the sound of pop music. Grace Slick's voice was incredible. This stood out of the survey then--and still does. And Jack Cassidy's bass...

12. Tommy James & the Shondells. Mirage. I don't remember this one as well as I Think We're Alone Now but it really sounds like 1967. I like that.

11. Frank & Nancy Sinatra - Something Stupid. This was EVERYWHERE. Nancy and Dad didn't sing much together. Sweet and pretty--but sounds pretty dated. It was on top of the Easy Listening Chart at the same time--no surprise.

10. Buckinghams - Don't You Care. I like to sing along with this one. These guys had a huge hit with Kind of a Drag, and in 1968, Susan. This has the Chicago horn sound. The singing sounds like Neil Diamond to me in the middle. Lots of vocal harmonies.
We're in the top 10 now -- these will all be huge hits, I assume... Let's see...

9. Neil Diamond - Girl You'll Be a Woman Soon. This is another one I loved then. It was Neil's 2nd top 10 song. Still pretty simple, pretty production. The old "you're too young" theme.

8. Paul Revere & the Raiders - Him or Me. This one rocks, in a 1967 kind of way. It sounds like it was produced by the same folks who brought us Monkees songs.

7. Mamas and the Papa's - Creeque Alley. This got lots of airplay. It mentions members of the Byrds and Lovin Spoonful. I found the story kind of annoying, but it sounds friendly and familiar. I have no idea where Creeque Alley is. Michelle Philips, the only survivor today, was HOT then.

6. Arthur Conley - Sweet Soul Music. Sexy. A big thumpin hit. He lists lots of other Soul artists--it's like reading a juke box. Very cool and memorable. Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, James Brown...

5. Engelbert Humperdinck - Release Me. Originally recorded in the 1950's and early 1960's. But here it is again! It launched Engelbert's career. When I think of 1967 this isn't what I remember, as lovely as it is.

4. Supremes - The Happening. Now this is more like it. Pure Motown. The other ladies got a word in edgewise still, although their next record would be by Diana Ross & the Supremes. Jamerson's finger goes wild on the bass part.

3. The Happenings - I Got Rhythm. This song goes back to 1930 and the Gershwins. Dit dit dit dit dit dit...... No relation to song number 4

2. Aretha Franklin - Respect. One of the greatest pop songs ever recorded--period. Still played all the time. Talk about respect. The Queen of Soul is coronated here.

1. The Young Rascals - Groovin'. Talk about frequent airplay. This is this group's signature song, but they had some other great ones.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Roger Epperson Ridge Dedicated

Roger Epperson was an amazing person. Besides his lifetime of dedication, as Park Supervisor, to increasing, preserving and improving the East Bay Regional Parks (San Francisco Bay Area), he was an accomplished jeweler, musician, camper and great friend and husband. When he died in a rafting accident in December of 2008 it was a shock to everyone.

Today, I attended the dedication of Roger Epperson Ridge, one scenic part in the center of the Morgan Territory Regional Preserve, a place that he transformed, with his crew, into a beautiful natural vista with a stunning view of Mount Diablo. And this place, where he also enjoyed hiking and camping when he wasn't working, contains his ashes, buried beneath a special rock that he declared his burial stone during his lifetime.

Some said that the icy winds and overcast were part of the "Roger weather" (he was rugged and fearless in all conditions), but it made no difference to the dozens of relatives, friends and longtime colleagues who gathered to celebrate his life.

Bob Doyle, Roger's longtime friend and also the General Manager of the East Bay Regional Park District, spoke, as did Beverly Lane, President of the Board of Directors of the district, Doug Fowler, a ranger who worked with and learned much from Roger over 25 years, and Carol Alderdice, Roger's widow--who is also a park ranger. All of the speeches were heartfelt and brought out the essence of this amazing man we lost too soon.

A catered lunch and a guitar and violin duet provided a very pleasant event in an area more sheltered from the wind.

The stone in the photo contains this dedication text:


This ridge is named in memory of Roger Epperson (1954-2008)
in recognition of his significant and lasting contributions
to the East Bay Regional Park District and
the landscape he loved.

On the back of the rock were words made famous by George Harrison: "All Things Must Pass."

Friday, May 13, 2011

More Accidental Hearts--and I'm Not Alone

Here are two more in the continuing string of accidental hearts. These two are sweet--from a cinnamon roll and a flower petal.

What's interesting beyond the beauty and serendipity of these items is the sense of attention to detail around me that the search for accidental hearts requires. I'm always on the lookout, my trusty cell phone in my left front pocket, ready for that stain in the road, that fortuitous cloud formation, arrangement of raisins in the rice pudding. And with every one I think about my wife, who will be the first to receive the image.

And, I've discovered that someone else has the same idea--so check them out, too.

Honda Shadow Temptation

NOTE: This blog post was written on Thursday, May 12, but could not be posted because Google's Blogger was down.

While winding my way painfully and slowly through the constipated streets of my commute I happened to look over to my left and saw something beautiful. I normally look at cars, but this was two-wheeled. It was a Honda Shadow motorcycle.

My wife says I can't have a motorcycle--she's afraid of the risks--and I've never really wanted one anyway. But something about this bike really appealed to me. The dark red tank was a sensuous shape. The dual chrome exhaust pipes made an aesthetically appealing angle as they moved in tandem to the rear of the bike. The v-twin engine fit in there perfectly. The chrome on the headlight, handlebars, pedals, and other places glowed. It was ravishing.

The Honda Shadow, it turns out, has been around for awhile. The photo above is of a 1987 model, which is for sale in Connecticut for $3,250. New ones are also available, at around $7,000.

The new Shadow Aero, with its 745cc displacement and retro styling, offers half the power of an modern economy car with a mere fraction of the weight (550 lbs.). That means great efficiency and fuel consumption--and the promise of tremendous fun. And, it still comes in Candy Dark Red.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

He Is We is Fine with Me

He is We is Rachel Taylor and Trevor Kelly of Tacoma, Washington. Their song, Happily Ever After, jumped out at me on SiriusXM's The Pulse, newly relocated at the number 10 spot on both Sirius and XM.

It's just another reason to listen to today's music. Rachel is the wordsmith while Trevor puts it to music.

Which brings up the question for a baby boomer of a certain age. Would I rather listen to oldies and remember the energy and excitement of youth or experience that feeling listening to today's new music? I'm finding it's more and more the latter. I end up happy (to quote from the song).

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Donovan Turns 65 Today

Donovan was a big part of the 1960's music scene, from young folkie to pop star. The Scottish singer is known for folk ballads like "Catch the Wind" but also for pop songs exemplified by "Sunshine Superman" and the ubiquitious "Mellow Yellow." His last big one hit was "Atlantis," which made it seem as if he believed it was a real place--and that he might just pick up and go there at any moment.

My favorite Donovan song is "Epistle to Dippy," which came out in late 1966-early 1967. "Looking through crystal spectacles, I can see you had your fun." Not quite a folk song. Then, there's "Jennifer Juniper" from around the same time--not to mention "First there is a Mountain" (then there is no mountain left)...

I also loved Donovan's "For Little Ones" album, which was more in the folk style of his earliest music. I'm thinking of songs like, "The Tinker and the Crab." "Do I see you coming home, coming home to me...." That comes from another song on that album, too.

He's still making music, although various trends, such as punk and disco, kept him hidden for years.

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Quarter Century of Acura

Hard to believe that it's been 25 years since Honda's upscale Acura division debuted. I remember the surprisingly substantial Legend and delightfully sporty Integra (Legend is pictured, left). It was a new idea--one that Toyota followed up with a few years later with the hugely successful Lexus division.

Why was Lexus more successful? Maybe because they tried to copy Mercedes-Benz more closely? Maybe they spent more on marketing. Was it the V8 engines?

Acura decided to drop their interesting and memorable model names for alphanumerics some years ago. Which do you prefer--Legend and Integra or RL and RSX? I write about cars and I sometimes can't remember which is which.

In an attempt to differentiate itself in buyers' minds, Acura has been adding a chrome beak to its various models over the last few years. The TL sedan was the most extreme iteration of this treatment. Good news! For 2012 it's been cut back and integrated more nicely (see below).

These are still fine cars, but sadly, their identity is still short on definition. Happy 25th Anniversary, though, to Acura.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Thanks to All My Mothers

I'm lucky enough to have several mothers in my life. Well, only one "real" mom--who delivered me in the hospital--but I also enjoy having a great stepmom, a great ex-wife (monther of first son), wife (mother of second son), and even a daughter-in-law, who is the youngest mom (of my first granddaughter). Of course, I remember and appreciate my mother-in-law today too. What a collection.

My mom is cool--the only one to have her OWN baseball mitt when we were kids. She played chamber music in the house (as an amateur cellist) when I was growing up. I credit her with my love of music--particularly the appreciation of classical compositions. She and I still spend quality time together, most recently walking and lunching together.

My stepmom had the task of taking on three boys when my brothers and I moved in with my dad when we were 16, 14 and 10. It was a challenge, but she not only was successful, but we have developed a close relationship over the years, although I don't get to see her very often. She brought happiness to the second half of my fathers life, something for which I will always be grateful.

My first wife was my first real long-term relationship. Bright, verbal, cute and talented, she, with a little help from me, brought my first son into the world. Although we divorced in 1986, our relationship has remained friendly and I'm glad. We share our successful son, and also a love of music--we both perform. I recently attended one of her shows--what a fine voice--and she looks 20 years younger than her age, too.

My wife and I will be married 22 years in July. It's gone fast, because it's been a very good time. She's my younger son's mom. Armed with beauty, brains and especially important--patience--she has been the rock upon which any of my success has been built. She is always thinking about what she can do to help our young man direct his considerable intelligence and charm toward something he enjoys and can do to become independent.

The latest mom in my collection is my beautiful daughter-in-law, who brought a little girl into my life. Besides her dedication and hard work as a teacher and her partnership with my older son, she delights in collecting and posting photos of our little sweetie online so we can all share in the magic. She is bringing motherhood into the new century--extending my lineage to, perhaps, the end of the 21st century.

A special appreciation of my mother-in-law, who gave me the baby who would grow up to be my wife. A great collector of miniature houses and family photographs, with a ready smile, she always makes me feel welcome and loved. She has had some health setbacks recently, and we all hope for her to feel better soon. We're going to visit her today.

Thanks, moms! Love you.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

What's that Thing?

I saw a yellow Volkswagen Thing today. Remember those? Made from 1969 to 1983, the "Type 181" was sold in the U.S. only in 1973-74. They had a short life in the U.S. because of increasing safety regulations--which sent the regular Beetle packing by the end of the 1970's too.

Things were essentially VW Beetles built for a more rugged life--and they looked the part. All the rounded, 1930's styling was banished and replaced by flat reinforced panels. It's almost like someone decided to build a VW out of lumber in their back yard.

They were a continuation and improvement over the K├╝belwagen, which was used by the German military during World War II.

Nowadays Things are about as rare as seeing a silver quarter, but they always bring out a smile.

See DasTank.com, the Thing fan website, for much more information.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Paul McCartney Meets a Girl from the Motor Trade

Paul's great love was Linda, for 29 years his faithful companion and music partner. Then, he got married ten years later to Heather Mills. We all know how well that turned out.

Now, one of our two remaining Beatles, a musical treasure, is nearly 69 years old, and has become engaged to Nancy Shevell, who's a bit younger and seems, by all accounts to be a fine person. She's a vice president of a motor freight company. She looks great, and doesn't appear to have an agenda.

Strange to think about Paul--one of my idols--as a 21-year-old moptop, then leader of Wings, musician and bassist for half a century, starting out on another life. Paul always looked like the "happy" Beatle, but it seems he has had his share of troubles. His face isn't the same (of course).

As a bassist inspired by him, I wish him well. It's a long and winding road. (sheesh--too corny?)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

My Life, Before 9 a.m.

Somehow, the music on my 43-year-old Sony clock radio did not come on today, so I was roused from peaceful slumber by a sudden and alarming buzz. After swearing and turning it off, my day began. Would it be good or bad with this kind of start?

Well, with me it's always interesting, and so far, besides the normal quinoa-two-minutes-in-the-microwave breakfast, showering, dressing, and so on, I have these items to report--before 9 o'clock:

I found a naturally formed exclamation point on the ground during my morning dog walk.

I heard MacArthur Park on Sirius XM in its entirety--by request from some fellow enthusiast on the other side of the country.

I saw a beautifully preserved or restored 1957 Thunderbird. Later, I saw a brand new all-electric Nissan Leaf--only the second I've seen on public roads.

I heard an NPR recording of an interview of a woman who lost her husband on 9/11 in the South Tower of the World Trade Center. She described her last half-hour conversation with him, as he called from the building as it was in flames and about to collapse. Tears were streaming down my cheeks as I handed the toll taker my $5.

Now, I can START my workday.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

More Posh than a Prius

The Lexus CT 200h offers a higher level of accommodations than its cousin, the Toyota Prius, and a different style, too.

Lexus' fifth hybrid, it boasts the best average fuel economy in the luxury hybrid industry--42 mpg. I averaged just over 40 mpg during my time with it, which ends today.

The Prius is a fine car, but the Lexus has luxury touches, from the aromatic leather on the seats to the stitched panels on the dash and doors. It feels well damped, thanks to an advanced independent suspension to filter out road irregularities. Styling is reminiscent of recent BMWs inside and out.

I was able to cruise on pure electricity on city streets at up to 35 miles per hour. It was almost like flying.

The rear seats fold flat, providing a nicely carpeted, flat cargo area.

Prices start at about $30,000 with shipping costs.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Double Double Bass

It can get lonely in the back corner of the orchestra when you're the only bass player. Tonight, I got company, when Devon, a young woman with a blonde bass, was already there. Her bass had a pleasing tone, and she promptly sightread her way through the parts.

The sound, with two (or more) members of the lowest part in the string section, gives the orchestra more punch, greater presence, and it's sure easier and more fun for me.

The concert date -- May 29th--is approaching, but it should go well now.

Monday, May 2, 2011

One eskimO

An acoustic guitar riff that reminds me of the Mamas and the Papas' California Dreaming. Then, in comes a softly throbbing bass, rhythmic drums and tambourine and horns--and finally, a clear, high male voice. The song builds slowly, circling, rising, then slipping away.

It's One eskimO, a British four-piece band, playing Amazing, a song that is aptly named. Or listen to Kandi, a deceptively simple piece that starts out with a reverb-laced chord worthy of an Everly Brothers song and lopes along for four delicious minutes afterwards.

The bassist, Jamie Sefton, plays a fretless bass guitar--and sometimes horns too--simultaneously. That a first. It certainly isn't the last I'll hear from this unique quartet.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


It's currently 71 degrees and cloudless, at 6:14 p.m. Pacific Time on May 1. A Sunday. Does it get any better than this?

It's funny how weather affects us. As one of many things in your life that you absolutely do not control, it can make you happy, irritated, depressed, expectant or for me right now, eager to just go drive somewhere.

I still remember driving with my family after dinner to get ice cream in our Austin Healey roadster when I was just a kid. That image is still powerful. Sometimes we went to Ted's for hot dogs, too--our first fast food experience.

There are the 97-degree summer days that make me want to do lots of nothing--or seek out air conditioning to huddle inside. There are heavy rain days, which can either give me cabin fever or conversely, make me feel like I'm communing with nature as I hear the wind and smell the fresh rainwater. I like thunder and lightning--I don't fear it.

Fog can make me feel claustrophobic--or exhilarated, depending on what type it is and where I am. Surrounding me every day in the Summer in San Francisco, it's depressing. Visiting Monterey on a weekend it can be an exciting change of pace.

Seeing our California hills covered in a green carpet is an annual Spring treat--and it lasts for a very short time. That time is already about to end. Get ready for a change to gold--which then gives me another association.

When it starts hitting 80 degrees outside, it feels like it's time for school to be over--but unfortunately, it has been--for a long time.
Wish I had that Healey today.