December 21, 2010

Well here we are – the shortest day of the year. Only two more years left to go. Man, it’s been dark. Whenever I think it’s tough to get up at 6:30 AM to stumble through a dark house past hungry rabbits, all I need to do is remember back in Massachusetts when I used to have to get up at 5:45 AM to get showered so Tracey and I could hit the roads at 7 AM to account for the traffic that would enable us to get to work by 8:30 at our respective jobs. Getting up when it was dark and then leaving work when it was dark, man, that was tough. Here, there’s no traffic, just the buns waiting anxiously for their nibble rings and dried pineapple bits.

Don’t know if we’re going to see that lunar eclipse tonight – lots of clouds up there right now.

Every year at this time you’re bound to see stories like this:

At Heathrow’s sprawling Terminal 5, tired and disgruntled passengers faced lengthy waits without much information as piles of garbage grew throughout the complex.

“The whole situation is horrible,” said teenager Sophiya Bolkova, as she clutched her ticket home to Moscow after three days’ delay. “We are very angry. People were just mean, rude, sleeping on the floor, babies sleeping on the floor, no information, no help, no money for hotels.”

American Suzie Devoe, 20, spent two nights on the airport floor and was desperately trying to get back to Washington for Christmas.

“I just want to get home, I want to be with my family. But I’m being held in a horrible limbo,” the Bristol University student said.

Been there done that. But face it, folks – anytime you’re traveling in the northern climes you’re taking your chances. You have to weigh the risks of travel delays against the joy of seeing family at Christmas.

When it comes to Christmas music it’s pretty damned hard to beat Frank Sinatra. It’s always an oasis of calm and joyful yuletide revelry in a word gone mad and chaotic.

You know the PGA Tour commercial that goes “these guys are good”, right? Well check this out and tell me that isn’t true. Freakin’ unbelievable. Not even Goodboy Steve “Killer” Kowalski could do that!

If he had any illusions of getting the Republican nomination for President in 2012, I think Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour can probably kiss them goodbye. Doesn’t bother me – here’s the guy I think ought to be nominated. He or India congressman Mike Pence would be OK in my book.

Honest to God, you really can’t make this stuff up. Consider Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano Arizona’s gift to the rest of the country. Folks, she’s the very definition of an idiot.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 00:41 | Comment (1)
December 20, 2010

Ed. note: Got this is an e-mail from my folks the other day. Very interesting, I hope you enjoy it.

There is one Christmas Carol that has always baffled me. What in the world do leaping lords, French hens, swimming swans, and especially the partridge who won’t come out of the pear tree have to do with Christmas?

I am excited to tell you that recently I learned the following:

From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics. It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning, plus a hidden meaning known only to members of their church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality which the children could remember.

-The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ.

-Two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments.

-Three French hens stood for faith, hope and love.

-The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.

-The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament.

-The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.

-Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit: Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.

-The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes.

-Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.

-The ten lords a-leaping were the ten commandments.

-The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples.

-The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in the Apostles’ Creed.

So there is your history for today. This knowledge was shared with me and I found it interesting and enlightening and now I know how that strange song became a Christmas Carol.

Don’t know how true it is, but it sure sounds good to me.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 05:15 | Comment (1)
December 19, 2010

That’s a big bright beautiful moon out there tonight. A perfect night, it turns out, for a walk around the subdivision to check out all the Christmas lighting displays. We’ve been here seven Christmases now, and I don’t recall another year with so many houses lit up. Supposedly, you can tell how optimistic people feel about their own situations and the economy by the amount of people with Christmas light displays. If that’s the case, people must be feeling pretty good about things. Or, perhaps, there are a lot more people on the street with children in their household. Either, way, it’s a beautiful thing to see.

From this guy’s perspective the hot Christmas light color this year looks to be a tie between red and that funky ice-blue. I love the former, though not in such abundance as some people like, not so crazy about the latter.

I’m not a fan of the big blow-up things in the form of snowmen and Santa and the like that seem so popular. The Clampetts down the street have a big blow-up snowman and a big blow-up Grinch that seem to slowly deflate as quickly as they are inflated. It’s pretty funny, actually – you head out to the market and their both standing erect, then 45 minutes later you return home with your groceries and Mr. Grinch is imploding into himself. Heh.

But I don’t mind the lit up reindeer with their heads bobbing up and down. Of course seeing them situated on rock-filled front yards is kinda weird – Rudolph’s not going to find much grazing material there!

American Movie Classics is running alternatively the colorized and black-and-white versions of “Miracle On 34th Street”. Me, I prefer the B&W version…

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 22:19 | Comments (2)
December 18, 2010

Not that there wasn’t a whole lot wrong with our old patio, but we were handed a house whose inside and outside were painted in every form of brown imaginable; after a while, it just started getting to us. We took care of the inside earlier this year (one of these days I’ll have to post some pictures, as the transformation has been pretty dramatic) but the patio was always something I wanted to tackle myself.

Here was the view looking west towards the tiki bar:

patio_before11

…and here was the view looking east from the tiki bar itself:

patio_before2

I’ve never considered myself an interior or exterior designer, but I had an idea in mind to make the patio not only more colorful, but more intimate as well. I started with the idea of a half-wall to make the patio feel a bit more enclosed, and then just let my imagination run wild with tropical colors and happy, relaxing touches.

OUT:
tan slider door
brown / tan color scheme
patio open on all sides
gray cement slab floor
tan ceiling
brown peeling posts and woodwork
yellow pineapple lights

IN:
white french doors
soft pink / coral color scheme
half-wall to close in one side
antique white ceramic tile on floor with soft pink grout
soft pink ceiling w/ antique white ceiling fan
coral posts and woodwork (color chosen by Tracey)
multi-colored pineapple lights

So what was the end result? Judge for yourself:

patio_after2

patio_after1

As you can see, the color scheme chosen really jumps out at you, creating a real sense of a peaceful, tropical patio. In addition to the changes, we eliminated a lot of clutter on the patio, giving the phony palm trees to my sister-in-law and moving the floor planters out to the front yard. Between this and the choice of floor tile, the patio now has a feeling of openness and clean lines, allowing the whimsical touches (wind chimes, pineapple ceramic tile on the wall, use of paint to distinguish between wood and metal, etc.) to really stand out.

I’m pretty proud of my little project; it’s always very satisfying to have something you envision in your head come to life with a little bit of professional help (wall, floor tile) and your own sweat equity. I think it came out great, and the good thing is that the brighter colors really make a difference at night.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 00:15 | Comments (5)
December 17, 2010

A few items worth noting as we head into the last big weekend:

This is a great story, one I’m glad CNN chose to cover. The “lamestream media” is all too quick to run stories about the bad things priests do, but they’re in the vast minority. Pray for Fr. Greg and those like him who refuse to shrug their shoulders and give in to the forces of darkness.

Remember Glenn Beck’s huge “Restoring Honor” rally on the Mall last August 28th? Seems he had been trying for weeks to get a military fly-over with fighter jets to start the event, but the request was denied because it’s restricted airspace. Well, the crowd still got it’s flyover, just as the event was about to start. I think this is pretty cool. Coincidence or miracle? You be the judge…

So that huge, pork-laden Omnibus bill fiasco that Harry Reid and the Democrats tried to shove down the country’s throat in the waning of days of Congress’ lame-duck session was thankfully halted by the Republicans. On the very same anniversary as the Boston Tea Party. I’m sure this is just a coincidence, but there’s no question the American people are finally waking up; the November midterms weren’t an end, but a beginning.

…and Republicans better damned well keep paying attention: 2011 is the year for real and meaningful action on tax reform, entitlements reform, and immigration reform.

Niagara Falls, without the “falls” part. Pretty cool.

If all you watched during the day was ESPN you’d think there were only four entities in the sports world: Brett Favre, Kobe Bryant, the New York Yankees, and LeBron James.

R.I.P. Blake Edwards. He’ll always be remembered for his “Pink Panther” movies, but for my money his best flick was “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. Quirky, and Audrey Hepburn was never better – or lovelier.

TIME Magazine once again shows its cluelessness at choosing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as its 2010 “Person Of The Year”. I mean, where have they been? Facebook is so 2009. Without a doubt, 2010 was the year of the Tea Party, and its impact on American politics and life as we know it will be felt for years to come.

Acquiring former White Sox closer Bobby Jenks is another great signing for what has been Red Sox GM Theo Epstein’s best offseason ever – by far. Not just because Jenks is a power arm and a right-hander quite adept at getting left-handers out, he’ll also help give closer Jonathan Papelbon a much-needed kick in the ass this upcoming season. Considering that 2011 is Papelbon’s last year before he becomes a free agent he shouldn’t need it, but every little reminder helps.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 10:26 | Comments (0)
December 16, 2010

…by resident poet “Fleece” O’ Durgin. Enjoy!

The streets are covered with snow
Salvation Army chicks collecting dough
My aunt Myrtle’s boyfriend hawking blow
It’s merry Christmas 2-0-1-0

Rudolph’s on welfare
Frosty’s on crack
I’d buy you a Christmas present
But you’d just take it freakin’ back!

It’s merry Christmas 2-0-1-0
I don’t mean to be a louse
I’m just glad the Majority Leader
will soon be Minority leader of the House

There’s no Yolanda here
No stars on the periphery
It is what it is
The perimeter gazes at the loss of the dream
And the reindeer ask why.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 20:41 | Comments (0)
December 15, 2010

Ed. note: I’ve updated this post from two years back with YouTube links so you can, as they say, listen along to The Great White Shank’s commentary. That you know, if I’m lyin’, I’m dyin’. The videos – courtesy of Christmas Dave, are divided into three separate “sides”: Side 1, Side 2, and Side 3. Enjoy!

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 iconic 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 grooves), 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 amazing, ground-breaking records one after another. 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 joyful, whimsical magic and wonder of Christmas like no other 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 (alto and tenor) drive the rhythm, and how beautifully the saxes balance on the tune’s fade-out.

* 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 basses (acoustic and electric), 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 21:21 | Comments (5)
December 14, 2010

Damaging hail in Oregon, then a tornado. Deep freeze in Florida. Massive snow amounts around the Great Lakes, and an unusual “Pineapple Express” setting up in a La Nina year. You see? This is what happens happens when you have Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid still in charge in Washington.

Cliff Lee goes to the Phillies. That’s quite a rotation the Phils will have this coming year – Roy Halladay, Lee, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt. But the Red Sox have (at least potentially) as good a rotation with Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz, and John Lackey. As inconsistent and baffling as Daisuke Matsuzaka is, any team that can boast of a Matsuzaka as their #5 pitcher in the rotation is starting from a position of strength.

…not that I wouldn’t be surprised to see Daisuke traded to the West Coast before spring training.

The idea of 2012 presidential debates starting next summer makes me want to hurl. I’d love to see an audience gathered for an event that no one shows up for. It’s far too early, give people a chance to decompress from 2010 and enjoy their summers, already, will ya?

Did Harry Reid stay awake through the 2010 elections? I mean, how clueless can you be?

This story seems bizarre to me. With cameras everywhere the guy not only takes $1.5 mil in gambling chips, but – even harder to believe – is allowed to speed away on his motorcycle alive? Audacious to be sure, but somehow I’m thinking ass is getting kicked at the Bellagio security office.

It’s December 14th and Christmas cards have been as slow coming in this year as I’ve ever remembered. I’ve cut down big-time over the years – like I’m sure everyone else has – but it still is amazing to see 2-3 days go by without a single card in the mail. I can remember years growing up with cards all over the place from near and far. Supposedly lots of people prefer e-cards now, but call me old-fashioned, I’m not going there. Still, I can imagine that in twenty years the whole idea of sending Christmas cards by mail will be nothing but a quaint practice of the ancient past.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 20:48 | Comments (4)
December 13, 2010

Unlike the poor folks east of the Mississippi, we’re in quite the warm stretch here in the Valley of the Sun. We’ve been above 75 since the 2nd of the month, and yesterday was a record-breaking 84 – almost felt like summer!

Sure a judge has ruled the healthcare mandate portion of ObamaCare unconstitutional, but nothing is going to truly get decided until the Supreme Court gets a whack at it. Until then, you just have to keep an eye out for every way the Democrats want to control people’s lives – like Michelle Obama’s view on child nutrition: “We can’t just leave it up to the parents.” These are dangerous people.

And speaking of dangerous, the New England Patriots are a very dangerous team right now. Let’s see if they can keep it up – after all, the road to the Super Bowl still runs through Indianapolis and Pittsburgh.

Here’s a lengthy column but well worth reading – Turkey is a very important country geopolitically, and one those in the know say we need to keep an eye on this century. I’m not so sure about Mexico, Brazil is the emerging power in the western hemisphere.

I’ve been watching all the analysis in the Boston papers and on the MLB Network in regards to the Red Sox spending at the just-concluded winter meetings, but here’s my view: why not? They have one of the largest and most loyal of fan bases who pack Fenway Park on a nightly basis; if the team has the money to spend, they ought to. Contrast that with the Tampa Bay Rays, who fielded a successful and exciting product last year, and the fans never came out – even during the playoffs. The fans in Boston deserve a good product on the field, and Red Sox ownership is right to spend the necessary money to compete with the Yankees.

Man the days are getting short right now. My standing 7 AM call on Monday mornings with India are held while it’s still pretty dark outside. These were the days Tracey dreaded the most when we lived in Massachusetts – dark and cold. At least there’s Christmas to look forward to, but then what?

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 21:04 | Comments (3)
December 8, 2010

It’s been a crazy past few days – I have work under deadline that has me working 14-hour days and it leaves no time for feeling or being able to write anything creative. Bear with me and don’t desert me, folks! Some brief thoughts:

Laura Hillenbrand’s “Unbroken” is, like her previous “Seabiscuit”, an absolute page-turner. Hillenbrand really knows how to tell a story and suck you into the narrative. Just fabulous.

Just got the news of the Red Sox signing Rays free-agent outfielder Carl Crawford. What a game-changer this acquisition is!! Not just because the guy can flat-out hit and run, but the short left field at Fenway Park should save his legs some strain over the term of his seven-year contract. He’s always been one of my favorite players in baseball; to see him as a Red Sox will be a real treat. First Adrian Gonzalez, now Carl Crawford: wow, has GM Theo Epstein had some kind of off-season.

…still would like to see some attention paid to the bullpen. But I have an idea these deals set in place some trades down the line for that very purpose.

Bunny speed-dating update: we’ve entered phase 2 of the Geronimo / Butterscotch experiment. They spent a week in adjacent cages getting used to each other’s presence and scent, then yesterday we started giving them an afternoon with the separating fence taken away. A little bit of growling, but so far they’re mostly interested in keeping their distance. That’s a positive sign, but we’ll have to see what happens when one or the other decide to try and mount the other – that’s when courting really starts!

I love cruising for vacations, but I’d never do the Antarctic, for this very reason. I like the Caribbean, it’s just a big bathtub.

Thanks for y’all’s hanging in there. I promise to try and do better over the next few days – assuming, of course, work slows down.

Filed in: Golf & Sports,Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 23:11 | Comment (1)

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