December 31, 2006

Well, here we are at the close of another year, the first for Goodboys Nation weblog. A perfect occasion, BTW, to thank everyone out there for your visits and comments. I hope you’ve enjoyed the variety of stuff that’s been posted here over the past year. Sometimes, serious, sometimes silly, sometimes light, sometimes heavy, but I hope never boring. It’s not always easy to come up with worthy material to post about, but your comments and support have helped make it both fun and worthwhile.

Today I’m heading west and hopefully will find myself back in Gilbert, AZ just in time to raise a glass or two of bubbly with the lovely Mrs. Shank. For a year that started out on such a down note (last New Year’s Day found me at a local veterinarian’s office having our last cat Sparkle [R.I.P.] put down), the year ended up pretty good all around. Of course, our Hawaiian cruise and vacation were a highlight, as was the whole Tiki Bar thing. More than anything, however, having my family and friends in good health and well-being (by and large) was the most important thing. And, being gainfully employed and with a solid roof over our head (even if the A/C and a variety of machines and equipment were on the fritz constantly) puts both my wife and I among the fortunate, fer shure.

The fact that my good friend Rock finally moved back into his Katrina flood-ravaged house two weeks ago makes me feel good.

And knowing it wasn’t a good year for Saddam Hussein ain’t a bad thing, either.

What will 2007 bring? Only God knows. But I sure hope we’re all around to read a similar post next year at this time. Let’s all try to do it again, shall we?

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 02:20 | Comments (0)
December 30, 2006

A couple of weeks ago, my parents mentioned that they were having problems with the Dell Dimension 1100 I had given them last Christmas – seems the mouse (the kind with the ball underneath) would start acting up by jumping all over the place and rendering itself completely unusable for, say, 20-30 seconds, then return to usability only to start jumping all over the screen again. There seemed no rhyme nor reason for it, it just happened at random.

My first thought was that the problem was caused by some Microsoft updates I downloaded during my last visit several weeks ago, as the problem hadn’t manifested itself until then. Logical, right? That is, until I restored their computer back to the system syncpoint prior to those updates, only to find the mouse still continuing to behave badly.

* I then checked all system tasks and the performance monitor to see if any system usage was changing when the mouse started its fandango thing. Nothing unusual.

* I then tried plugging the mouse into a different USB port. No good.

* I then checked the Internet to see if any tech sites had any explanations or recommended solutions to this kind of problem. Unfortunately, all the “experts” seemed to say was that it was the mouse that was the problem and to try taking it apart and cleaning it. This was something my dad had already done.

* I then talked to the Dell folks at the booth they occupy at a local mall. They said the same thing, that the mouse obviously needed cleaning. Nevertheless, to be safe, I ordered a replacement optical mouse; they said I’d get it in 5-8 business days.

* I then talked to two local computer service technicians, who also said the problem would be resolved by a through cleaning of the mouse. (Of course, if that didn’t solve the problem, they’d be more than happy to come out for an on-site visit at $39 for the call, and an additional $60 per hour.)

So, my dad and I took the mouse apart and gave its rollers (beneath the ball) a thorough cleaning with a toothpick and put it back together.

Same problem.

Then, lo and behold, what do my parents find in their mail? Just two days after visiting that Dell booth, they find a brand-spanking-new Logitech optical mouse in their house.

Out comes the old mouse, in goes the new mouse into the same USB port. Bingo bango bongo, problem solved!

The moral of the story – when it comes to home PC peripherals, replace first, then ask questions later. Call it frontier justice, computer style.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:01 | Comments (0)
December 29, 2006

It feels like a pretty strange week out there, doesn’t it? Christmas is past. It’s not yet New Years. No matter how much you want to put 2006 out with the trash, you can’t, ’cause 2007 just ain’t here yet. There’s no pearls of wisdom I can offer – you just have to grit your teeth and bare the next few days.

Of course, if you’re Saddam, there’s no need to rush things.

Me, I’m gonna try and reschedule and redirect my New Years Eve flight back to AZ so I don’t end up anywhere near Denver.

A strange week.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:24 | Comments (0)
December 28, 2006

ford Accolades are pouring in from all over on the passing of Gerald R. Ford, 38th president of the U.S.A. Hard to find anyone who has anything bad to say about this good and decent man.

I still remember those crazy days of President Nixon’s second term, and remember sitting in my friend Bob Noftle’s funky-cool 1970 Plymouth Satellite (his was plum purple) as we drove towards our usual hang-around haunt at Danvers’ Liberty Tree Mall, listening to the live debate and Congressional vote on Ford as Spiro Agnew’s replacement – a very important vote, as most people figured the way the Watergate scandal was going, whoever became Nixon’s veep was destined to become President one day.

Alot of people disagreed then (and continue to do so today) with Ford’s pardoning of Richard Nixon, but in keeping with the man’s promise to end the nation’s Watergate nightmare, it was the just and proper (if not the most politically and legally expedient) thing to do. Allowing Nixon to be put on trial would have continued the nightmare, created a media circus, and paralyzed Ford’s White House and his desire to get the nation moving forward again. I figure he must have known he was putting his political future at risk by pardoning Nixon, but that’s just the kind of guy Gerald Ford was – a solid, honest, salt-of-the-earth Midwesterner who did what he did because he felt it was the right thing to do at the time.

As a result, I believe history will continue to treat Ford’s presidency kindly. There wasn’t much else – one way or the other – to mark his term in office, but that one act he will always be known for, when he did it, and why he did it, should be sufficient enough. You were a fine man and public servant, Gerald R. Ford, and you will be missed. May you rest in peace.

Filed in: Politics & World Events by The Great White Shank at 01:49 | Comments (0)
December 27, 2006

Not much to blog about today – yesterday’s gallop across the U.S. featured a Denver airport recovered from its snow and craziness from last week, and Boston was a foggy and misty, spring-like 50 degrees. It is December, however, so I’ll let the poet paint a picture of the waning days of a very old year:

The leaves drift toward the earth like ships to land,
A voyage launched from timbers’ great lofty berths,
Toward harbors safe, concealed from raider bands,
Of icy galleons coursing wintry dearth.

Squirrels don thick coats against Wind’s numbing dare,
Mount last determined searches ‘long the ground.
Brown grass conceals the season’s paltry fare,
As hopeful birds scratch for what may be found.

Through frosted windows glow the hearth’s warm light,
As fading day casts shadows ‘cross the lawn,
And grey meets grey as winter gathers might,
Undaunted as the chimney starts to yawn.

Farewell brave day as twilight draweth nigh.
Perchance on morrow sun will gather high.

The End of a Winter Day, by Dan Young

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:53 | Comment (1)
December 26, 2006

“Greeting cards have all been sent, the Christmas rush is through.”
The Carpenters, “Merry Christmas, Darling”

So here it is, Boxing Day. And here I am, at Phoenix Sky Harbor airport, free wireless humming nicely, as I wait for my cross-country trek back to friends and family in Massachusetts. Although making rather merry yesterday (to coin a Bob Cratchit phrase), I still have enough energy to clear out the remaining junk from under the Christmas tree:

* Was hoping to see some snow while back there, but given the funky weather pattern this winter – Las Vegas getting snow before Boston its first – it don’t look promising.

* Even though Christmas Day was just a scant six hours ago, I guarantee that on the classical music station in Phoenix (which I’ll admit does a nice job increasing its Christmas selections right up to and including Christmas), it’ll back to the usual fare. I always find that funny – if you steadily increase your Christmas music prior to the holiday, why not steadily decrease it in the days after? After all, there are the 12 Days of Christmas, you know. It’s almost as if they can’t wait to get rid of it.

* “A Christmas Story” is, hands down, the best Christmas movie ever.

…But Alastair Sims’ Ebeneezer Scrooge in 1951′s “A Christmas Carol”, is a close second.

…And don’t get me started on that Patrick Stewart version I tried to watch the other night on TNT. Don’t get me wrong – I loved the guy as Captain Picard, but his Ebeneezer was pathetic.

…But both George C. Scott’s and (believe it or not) Henry Winkler’s American, Depression-era version are excellent interpretations of the classic.

* The Chieftains “The Bells of Dublin” and Loreena McKennitt’s “To Drive The Cold Winter Away” are two unheralded fine Christmas music CDs.

* “Once in Royal David’s City” is my favorite Christmas carol – whenever I hear it done well, it brings tears to my eyes.

…And “O Holy Night” runs a close second. (BTW, Rickie Lee Jones’ version on the Chieftains’ album is a stunner – I kid you not.)

* One of these days, I’m gonna get me one of those ’50s-style aluminum Christmas trees with accompanying Colortone roto-wheel like my grandparents had while I was growing up. Truly retro.

Well, it’s almost time to get in line and see what this traveling day brings; this time of year, ya never know. I hope everyone had a great Christmas, and don’t let that sudden absence of Christmas music over the airwaves get you down – there’s still plenty of holiday cheer to be had in the days ahead. The Goodboys will help me see to that.

Peace and blessings to everyone.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 05:00 | Comments (2)
December 25, 2006

xmas

Merry Christmas to all from the Goodboys and Goodboys Nation Weblog!

(Note: No animals were harmed during the making of this post! Thanks to Sokaisha for allowing me to borrow her rabbit pic for a day. Mine wouldn’t stay still long enough.)

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:04 | Comment (1)
December 24, 2006

manger To me, Christmas Eve has always been way better than Christmas Day itself. For one thing, you always have those last-minute dashes and the expectations of spending Christmas surrounded by loved ones (even when you know those expectations will never be matched by the reality of the day). I’ve never minded that, because Christmas Eve to me was the holy day and Christmas itself dedicated to the more secular observances of the season.

While over the years Christmas Days have come and gone, leaving one to rely more and more on the ghosts of Christmas past to help frame the perspective one brings to the day, I’ve never tired of Christmas Eve. Every year it arrives, just as fresh and pure as the year and years before, for, unlike the day that follows it, there are usually few expectations associated with Christmas Eve. Only that, at any given hour between, say, 5 PM and midnight, you can walk into any church and hear the uncorrupted message of Divine Love and Hope as passed down through the ages. This message – the awesome mystery of God Incarnate, of God Made Man, is one both inherently and (pardon the pun) refreshingly fresh; because it can never be fully comprehended or even fully explained, it can never grow old or stale:

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David). To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, “Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.” And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them. (The Gospel of Luke 2:10-20)

It is a story I never tire of, nor either the day I have come to associate it with. In closing, here is a wonderful Christmas blessing I found on the internet, courtesy of one Helen Schick:

“May the peace and love of Jesus Christ
Go with you on your way,
And bless your home and loved ones
In spirit on Christmas Day.

“May the joy of God’s bright promise –
The Advent of His Son –
Live evermore within each heart
And comfort everyone.

“May the faith of old-time prophets
Be with you where you are,
And may the truth of God’s own Word
Remain your Christmas Star.”

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 01:14 | Comments (0)
December 23, 2006

Me, I think I’m pretty much like everyone else in this workaday world, with a daily schedule I can pretty much sleepwalk through if I had to. The alarm goes off at 6:30 AM, then it’s up and off through my daily regimen – feed the rabbits a good morning treat, do the whole bathroom routine, get the coffee on, feed the buns their breakfast, pour my coffee, and walk down the hall into the spare bedroom that now serves as my business office.

At work, it’s just checking life out in my workplace universe, sending and answering a gazillion e-mails, attending conference calls, composing documents, and basically trying not to screw things up too royally for my boss. By the time 6 PM comes around, there’s rabbits to feed, supper to prepare, household chores, some Internet surfing, a little light reading and/or a little TV, the blogging thing, and then it’s off to bed to start the whole cycle back up again the next day.

…Not a whole lot different than most people, I’m sure.

And it’s hard not to get caught up in all the daily crap there is out there. Whether its stuff you supposedly (or hope you have) control of – work, relationships, etc. – or stuff you know you have no control over, like the people driving like maniacs all around you, those making business decisions above you, the political quacks in Washington, or the neighbors who leave their dogs out to bark at the slightest sound made within 2 1/2 miles of their property. There’s nothing wrong with it – that’s just the way life is, and it’s hard not to take it all for granted, operating as if it will always be that way, even if somewhere deep down in your subconscious you know there’ll come a time when it won’t. But why dwell on such things?

…But every now and then you hear of someone or some event that cuts just a little too close for comfort; something that makes you realize just how fragile the little worlds and walls we create around outselves, when the bitter reality that any and all of this can be whisked away in a simple turn of events or adverse set of circumstances that happens before our very eyes. Here’s my illustration – I’m sure everyone out there can probably think of something similar.

One of my wife’s co-workers and her husband decided to treat themselves for their anniversary by doing a spa treatment together at one of the swanky Scottsdale resorts. While getting a message, the therapist says to the husband that his hips seem to be out of line, and recommends he sees a chiropractor to put them back into alignment. The husband makes an appointment with the chiropracter, who gives him an examination and tells him that his hips are aligned fine, but there’s something that doesn’t feel right near his hip bone and recommends he sees a doctor.

He goes to the doctor and after a some tests and samples, it is discovered he has an aggressive form of osteosarcoma, or bone cancer. If you read about it, you discover it’s not a very nice thing to have, and in many cases the prognosis is, well, it ain’t good. Oh, and I forgot to add, he’s only 34.

For this couple, what had once been a life filled with the kind of harmless, usual routines I mentioned above has now, in just the span of a few weeks, been turned into a whirlwind of doctors appointments, calls to HR benefits coordinators and insurance companies, and coordinating family visits from afar to help bring needed energy and support to their lives. The husband’s still undergoing a battery of tests to determine not only the course of treatment, but, in reality, just how long he might expect to live. Sober stuff, indeed.

It just goes to show how fragile our lives really are, and how the control we feel we have over both them and the circumstances around them are nothing more than an illusion.

One of my favorite books of the New Testament has always been the Letter of James. One of the many pieces of advice he gives therein is as pertinent to us today as it was to the Church he was writing to nearly two thousand years ago:

“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and get gain”; whereas you do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.” (James 4:13-15)

During this special time of the year when so many of us are gathered with families and friends, let us not forget how fortunate we are to have this time to spend together. I’m sure there are many out there for whom this is a most difficult time, and we need to keep them – and each other – in our thoughts and prayers.

God bless us, everyone.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 01:36 | Comments (0)
December 22, 2006

phil OK, I know the guy’s still sitting in a prison cell, whacked out, burned out, and for all intents and purposes, checked out of society and the rock n’ roll world he was once such an important part of. But heck, it is the Christmas season and I know it’s not REALLY Christmas until I slap into my CD player the best damned rock n’ roll Christmas record of all time. Which is (for those of you cats and chicks who may not be hip to these kinds of things), Phil Spector’s magnificent “A Christmas Gift For You”.

I know what you’re thinking – that’s just The Great White Shank spoutin’ his “yeah-i-know-he’s-in-jail-for-murder-but-believe-me-Phil-Spector-really-was-a-genius” bull$hit, but in this case you need to give me a break. ‘Cause it’s not just me, it’s a whole range of critics across the media spectrum, from Rolling Stone (who rated it #142 in its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time), to bloggers like Randy’s Rodeo and Glen Boyd. Boyd’s praise of the album and its greatness is especially spot-on:

Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift For You is, in my opinion, hands down the greatest Christmas record ever made. What could be more perfect at Christmas time than the timeless innocence of the Ronettes doing ‘Frosty The Snowman’ and ‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus’? Or the Crystals singing ‘Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer’ and ‘Santa Claus Is Comin To Town,’ (in the very same arrangement still played by Springsteen in his great version with the E Street Band)?

A Christmas Gift For You contains thirteen performances, all captured during that incredible early sixties period when Spector was producing these amazing records. You already know all of the songs, as they have all become tried and true radio staples at Christmas time over the years. Song for song, the wall of sound production — with all of its bells, whistles, and strings — captures all the magic and wonder of Christmas like very little music I can think of. When you hear these songs, it’s like being instantly transported to a kinder, simpler time. It really does feel like Christmas.

The album, considered by many to be Spector’s finest piece of work (next to, perhaps, The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby”, whose praise I sang the other day, and The Righteous Brothers‘ “[You've Lost That] Lovin’ Feelin’”) had a bumpy ride on the road to becoming a much-loved and respected holiday and pop music classic. Originally recorded during the summer and fall of 1963, it was understandably overlooked in those tragic weeks following the assassination of JFK and then virtually forgotten. It was only until its re-introduction to the public on the Beatles’ Apple Records label in 1971 – at the urging of John Lennon and George Harrison (both of whom utilized Spector on their first post-Beatles’ solo albums following his work on the Beatles’ Let It Be) – that the album got radio play and finally earned its long-deserved recognition as a classic piece of pop music history.

So what exactly is it about “A Christmas Gift For You” that makes it both a holiday pop classic and a piece of work sufficient enough to warrant recognition among rock’s all-time greatest works? David Sprague, in his Amazon.com review, puts it simply: “[Spector's] “wall-of-sound” technique is perfectly suited to the music of the season, as he proves with layer upon layer of piano, sleigh bells, buoyant percussion, and, of course, those legendary Spectorsound harmonies.”

True enough, but it’s only after you buy it and crank it up VERY loud that you start to appreciate not just the massive sound Spector lovingly and painstakingly crafted, but the way his session players and musical artists make the most out of the material given them. Here, Spector’s artists The Crystals, The Ronettes, Darlene Love, and Bobby Sheen are simply vocal instruments in the overall mix, working within the material and the arrangements, not overpowering them. Listen closely, and you begin to see how the subtleties within each arrangement illustrate Spector’s respect for both the material and the genre that brought him such fame and respect in his day:

* On “White Christmas”, Darlene Love’s lead is beautifully understated, something virtually unheard of in this post-Whitney armageddon of Britneys and Jessicas who sound like wailing alleycats in heat. And listen to how the pianos, basses, and saxes carry the rhythm, and how beautifully the saxes are balanced on the tune’s final note.

* On “Frosty The Snowman”, Spector takes a harmless children’s tune and turns it into a holiday pop masterpiece. The Ronettes’ Ronnie Bennett’s earnest vocal is the showpiece here – think ‘Frosty’ meets ‘Be My Baby’, with enough warmth and sweetness to turn ‘the Frostster’ into a puddle of lukewarm H2O.

* On “The The Bells of St. Mary’s”, Bobby Sheen’s lead is sweet and soulful out in front of a driving rhythm highlighted by chimes and Hal Blaine‘s amazing drumwork on the fade-out. Oh, and that’s Darlene Love doing the “yeah, yeah”s towards the end.

* The Crystals’ version of “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” rejuvenates the classic so much so that even Bruce Springsteen felt it necessary to pay it homage with his own version. I’m not crazy about the honkin’ sax solo, but no need to be a grinch – this track is simply pure fun.

* On “Sleigh Ride”, Spector gives a faithful nod to Leroy Anderson’s classic arrangement; Ronnie’s significant vocal talents are once again highlighted, and The Ronettes’ now-classic “ring-a-ling-a-ling-a-ding-dong-ding” back-up is pure icing on this sweet holiday confection.

* “Marshmallow World” is a fun piece – dig the opening piano with a ton of echo on it. Again, listen to how the saxes underscore the piano/guitar rhythm, and the solo here is a hell of a lot better than that featured on “Santa Claus…”. The mix has always seemed a little muddy to me – perhaps because of the bass, but Darlene Love’s vocal is energetic and playful – more perfect holiday season fare.

* “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”. Frankly, folks, it doesn’t get a whole lot better than this, and if there’s a better version out there, I’ve yet to hear it. Ronnie’s lead is both devilish and sexy, and the arrangement rocks. Listen for the piano fills and the sleighbells workin’ behind the saxes. It almost sounds as if Ronnie is slurring her s’s here (‘kishing’ Santa Claus); I think she’s doing it deliberately so I fall in love with her voice all over again every year at this time.

* On “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer”, listen for the guitar riff that frames the song, similar to what Brian Wilson would later do to the instrumental “Pet Sounds” on that legendary album. There’s also a piano (and guitar?) doing something funky from the instrumental break onward, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what it is.

* “Winter Wonderland” is a faithful and fun rendition. Listen for the droopy strings featured throughout – they sound kinda cool to me, and how drummer Hal Blaine absolutely beats the daylights out of his toms on every fill. Darlene Love’s vocal is both soulful and fun. Just a magnificent arrangement.

* “Parade of The Wooden Soldiers”. OK, listen to how the strings behind The Crystals’ rollicking performance absolutely shimmer, like glistening snow, especially behind the trumpet solo in the middle. No one – and I mean NO ONE – could make strings shimmer like Phil Spector. (If you doubt me, just listen to John & Yoko’s “Happy Xmas [War Is Over]“.) Again, Hal Blaine’s drum fills on the fade-out are pretty intense.

* “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)”. Arguably the showpiece of the album. If you want a true holiday audio feast, come inside Mr. Spector’s kitchen where everything, including the kitchen sink, has been tossed in here. Shimmering strings and double acoustic bass (how does he get that sound?) create an atmosphere, then horns introduce a TOTALLY PUMPED and unleashed Darlene Love vocal that leaves nothing – and I mean NOTHING – in the tank. The grand build-up to close the song is classic Spector: layers and layers of guitar, piano, strings, and percussion back the call-and-answer vocals between Love and the backup singers until the tension is finally released in a tidal wave of vocal calisthenics, soaring strings, and clipped piano notes. Can anyone say, “mucho fantastico!”?

* “Here Comes Santa Claus” is anticlimactic following Love’s tour de force, but it’s to Bobby Sheen’s credit that his straight, if understated, reading becomes the showpiece on this song. The trumpet solo in the middle has a ringing, jazzy touch to it which compliments Sheen’s soulful vocal.

What truly makes “A Christmas Gift For You” such a remarkable achievement is the success Spector achieved in fusing together what was then a relatively-new pop genre over familiar holiday songs without, as he would write in the album’s liner notes, “losing for a second the feeling of Christmas and without destroying or invading the sensitivity and the beauty that surrounds all of the great Christmas music.” More than anything else, Spector respected the music he was trying to interpret as his own, and in the end, this is what makes this work an enduring classic for the ages.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 01:03 | Comments (0)

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