The 50-A-Day Project: Books 51-60

This wasn't too much of a tough haul, as I made a point of picking books that wouldn't be as much of a challenge after the Noble Fiction Experiment of the last 10. That's not to say all of the books were light fare (OK, I'll concede that the Florence Henderson and Gorgeous George books weren't exactly heavy lifting, but, c'mon, I threw some Camus in there, too...and that marks the first time those three names were in the same parenthetical aside), and I did make a point of closing out with some fiction. I also made another Noble Effort to read a large short-story anthology, but more on that in the next recap, due to a fortuitous act of neglect on my part.

After finishing the 60th book, I had tallied 17,913 pages in 294 days (it was actually more because of the anthology debacle, but those pages will go into the next tally), for an average of 60.9 pages a day. And the average drop continues. Sigh. I am stumbling toward the finish line, though, again those numbers are a little off because of the anthology situation. Next time, I think the average might go up. Cross your fingers, OK?

Best Fiction Book: An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin
Best Nonfiction Book: The Circus Fire by Stewart O'Nan (This was the book I was reading on the lower deck of the Staten Island Ferry on September 11, 2001, when I looked to my left and saw smoke coming from the direction of the World Trade Center. As other commuters saw the same and chatter started to fill the boat, I turned on my radio to see what the news had to say. There was still no definitive word as I headed into the subway, where I couldn't get radio reception, so as the train crawled slowly from the ferry stop to Chambers, I still didn't really know what was going on above me. But by the time I got out of the subway in midtown, the second plane had hit, and things were never the same. In the days that followed, reading a book about how people were trapped under the big top and eventually consumed in a large fire didn't seem like the best thing to read. So I put it back on the shelf. Ten years later, I decided to try again.)
Toughest Read: The Soul of a New Machine by Tracy Kidder (not because it wasn't good; it was. But most of the books in this batch went smoothly. The toughest would've easily been the short story anthology I had intended to be Book 60, but I left it at work before going on a vacation, so I had to quickly substitute some other books on the trip. I can almost guarantee that anthology will be in this space in the next recap.)
Easiest Read: Save the Last Dance for Satan by Nick Tosches
Number of Books on Loan: 0
Number of Books Given as Gifts: 0
Number of Books Signed by the Author: 3 (An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin, Save the Last Dance for Satan by Nick Tosches, and Life Is Not a Stage: From Broadway Baby to a Lovely Lady and Beyond by Florence Henderson)
Book That Was Sitting on the Shelf the Longest
: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Best Passage:
"Reggie 'Sweet Daddy' Siki, who began wrestling in 1955, may well have been the first black wrestler to dye his hair blond. As one newspaper put it, 'He is known as the negro Gorgeous George, and he is as tough as they come.' He also did a Siki strut to the ring. Looking back decades later, Siki mourned the golden age with a very idiosyncratic focus. 'We had midgets,' he said sadly, evoking Fuzzy Cupid, Sky Low Low, who stood forty-two inches tall, Little Beaver, Tiny Roe. Prince Saile Halassie, and the 'lady midget' Diamond Lil, the Fabulous Moolah's adopted daughter. 'Kids really liked the midgets. These days they don't use them. Wrestling is not what it used to be. There's no respect for the midgets anymore.'"
from Gorgeous George: The Outrageous Bad-Boy Wrestler Who Created American Pop Culture by John Capouya


Book Revku, Vol. 60

Murder and intrigue
And a sculpture with a past
A riveting book

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (213 pp.)


Book Revku, Vol. 59

An engaging tale
Of boys striving to be men
And all that entails

Old School by Tobias Wolff (195 pp.)


Book Revku, Vol. 58

I will always buy
A bio by a Brady
This one was OK

Life Is Not a Stage: From Broadway Baby to Lovely Lady and Beyond by Florence Henderson (264 pp.)


You Never Can Tell

Chuck Berry is going to be 85 years old on Tuesday. So I figured I should really get on that whole seeing Chuck at a small club in St. Louis--and getting his autograph after the show--thing. Who knows how much longer he'll be doing his monthly gig at Blueberry Hill, and, even if he does, who knows how much longer I'll want to see it. I'm all about paying respects to the heroes of rock and roll where they're still among us, but hopping on a plane to St. Louis (not the most exciting place on earth) to see one of those heroes in a severely diminished capacity might not be the best use of my money going forward.

So, while initially planning a trip to Nashville, I began to look into cheap flights to St. Louis so I could start the trip there. I found a pretty cheap one, but then getting from St. Louis to Nashville turned out to be problematic. There were no direct flights, and the only other option was a ridiculously long Greyhound trip that might have seemed appealing (or at least like something fun to write about) 10 years ago but now seems like a nightmare on wheels. The trip to Nashville went by the wayside. Maybe next year, Music City.

While holding on to the St. Louis idea like Wilson Phillips, I started concocting baseball playoffs scenarios. Milwaukee was within reach, so I could plan a side trip there. And then Atlanta started collapsing, and it seemed like St. Louis might make the playoffs. Very interesting. But I needed to lock in my flights/trains/hotels so I wouldn't be spending more of the money I couldn't afford to be spending. So I went with this itinerary: fly into St. Louis for Chuck on Wednesday, take the train to Milwaukee (via Chicago) for a Brewers playoff game on Thursday (or, if tickets were too tough to come by, a Jets-Blackhawks game in Chicago), and then fly out of Milwaukee on Friday. So I booked all that on the last night of the baseball season (a/k/a The Greatest Night of Baseball Ever), as the Brewers clinched the #2 seed in the NL and the Cardinals won the Wild Card. Cool. I figured the Great Almighty Phillies Pitching Staff would easily beat the Cardinals, and hoped the Brewers would have enough to get by a tough Diamondbacks team.

One out of two aint bad.

The Phillies' choking threw a wrench into the plan, because now the Brewers were the home team in that series, and that meant Game 4 on that Thursday would now be in St. Louis. And seeing a playoff game at Busch was less appealing than one at Miller Park. Did I really want to break the bank to see a playoff game where I'd be rooting against the home team? Eh, maybe.

Then, a fortuitous comedy club booking was revealed over the Internet. David Koechner, better known as Champ Kind in Anchorman (or best known to me as Gerald "T-Bones" Tibbons of the Naked Trucker and T-Bones comedy duo), was doing a comedy show that Thursday night at a hotel comedy club in Illinois that advertised itself as 14 minutes from the Gateway Arch (or 44 minutes via MetroLink and bus). Whammy!

Trip itinerary completed. St. Louis and Chuck on Wednesday, Fairview Heights, Illinois, and T-Bones on Thursday, and then a ridiculously early train to Chicago Friday morning before another train ride to Milwaukee and my flight home Friday night.

Well, that was easy enough.

Chuck Berry shows, or, for that matter, any rock and roll shows by 84-year-old men, are an iffy proposition. Some nights he's so wildly off that it makes you sad (e.g., the first time I saw him, at a baseball stadium in New Jersey), and some nights you see enough of the old magic that you feel grateful to be alive to see a pioneer of rock and roll a few feet away from you (e.g., the second time I saw him, at a festival in New Jersey). You pay your money, you take your chances (although the time he was good was free, so that was even better).

So as I made my second trip to the Delmar Loop of the day (the first was right from the airport to do a Vintage Vinyl run), my expectations were pretty measured. If it stunk, I could still say I saw Chuck Berry in a small club with a few hundred people. If it was great, well then I saw Chuck Berry in a small club with a few hundred people and it was awesome. Plus, there would be the bonus of getting Mr. Berry's autograph after the show, as the club usually sets up a table and he signs stuff after the show.

But, before all that, it was time for what I'd been saving up for my big meal of the day, at Pi Pizzeria, a few blocks away from Blueberry Hill. St. Louis is unjustly famous for its mediocre cracker-thin pizza with Provel cheese in lieu of mozzarella, but Pi, apparently a favorite of President Obama, doesn't use Provel and is best known for their deep dish pie. I'm not a huge deep dish guy, but the reviews looked promising, so I dug in.

In order to give my gorging a healthy sheen, I started with a salad, the Bada Bing (field greens, toasted almonds, gorgonzola cheese, dried bing cherries, with a raspberry vinaigrette). That was quite good. In fact, I could've left happy with just that. But then came the pizza.

And that was even better. It's the cornmeal crust that does the trick. The sauce was pretty good, too, but the cornmeal makes it stand out from your average pie. I started to feel a little bloated toward the end, but my mama didn't raise no quitter, so I dusted off the whole pie and walked to Blueberry Hill wondering if throwing up during the Chuck Berry show would ruin the trip.

There is limited seating for the Chuck shows at Blueberry Hill (120 seats, and I think they said the room is 300 capacity), so I knew to get there early. I got there around 6:30 and there were already about 25-30 people in line for the show (doors opened at 8). So I joined them, stared at the pictures of the owner and various celebrities on the wall, read a chapter of "The Maltese Falcon," watched two women almost pass out, listened for updates on the playoff game, and then, voila, it was 8 pm. I got a seat in the second row, right next to the people who looked to be about fifth in line. I'm not sure how that happened.

The opening act, Butch Wax and the Hollywoods, did a wedding-band set of oldies that was pretty good and then the stage was reset for Mr. Berry and his band. After a while, a guy came out to tune his guitar and I thought, "Hmmm...he's not in the band." Then, as I looked closer, I thought again, "Hmmm...I think that's Johnny Rivers." And it was. And he sat in for the whole set. Nice.

Having Rivers on stage seemed to loosen Mr. Berry up a bit, and the extra guitar took pressure off him too, as there are some things 84-year-old fingers can't quite do anymore. If you go see Chuck Berry now, those guitar runs aren't gonna be quite like they used to be. In fact, they're probably gonna make you cringe. A lot. But so what. He's Chuck Berry. You can cut him some slack. Going to a Chuck Berry show and complaining that he "just doesn't have it anymore" would be like meeting Thomas Jefferson in 1825 and being disappointed that he didn't write the Declaration of Independence for you. He's done the work already. Now's the time to be glad you're alive to see him.

Rivers sang a good portion of the set (with Mr. Berry joining in on a few verses here and there), starting off with "Maybellene" and continuing with "Carol," "Memphis, Tennessee," "Reelin' and Rockin'" (done twice...Why? Why not?) and "Little Queenie," among others. Mr. Berry seemed to be having just as good a time as I was, and even gave an abbreviated duck walk of sorts during "Let It Rock." If Rivers hadn't been there, I probably would have still had an OK time, but his presence made the night far more memorable than I had anticipated going in.

And then Mr. Berry left without signing. Curses! Foiled again. Oh well. What was it the old folks would say about that? Oh yeah...

It was still a really fun night. Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll!

I switched hotels on Thursday, so I could be a little closer to the train station. This made it slightly less sad to not have time or money to go to a playoff game, because the hotel I stayed at Wednesday was literally a block away from Busch Stadium. I could walk out of the lobby and see the ballpark. Sigh. I did pop into the pep rallies outside the ballpark on Wednesday and Thursday, though, where I looked so out of place not wearing any red that I feared someone would point at me and I'd soon be burned at the stake. But I wasn't. So I took some pictures of playoff fever in St. Louis.

I had nothing to do during the day on Thursday, so I decided to walk to the City Museum and check that out. I'd heard good things about it, and that though it was intended mainly for kids, adults would have a good time at it too. And that was very true, because I had a great time wasting two hours there. If you've got kids, or you're a 34-year-old single man, I highly recommend visiting it.

The City Museum is and old shoe factory and warehouse that has been turned into a completely ridiculous funhouse of sorts, with about a dozen slides (including one ten-story slide), a cave, a human hamster wheel, a ball pit, a Ferris wheel, two gutted-out airplanes, and a school bus that juts off the roof. This has to be the coolest place to take a class trip in the whole wide world. I thought about going down at least one of the slides, but I had visions of an ER visit, so I chickened out. I did go on the Ferris wheel, though. Good times.

After that, I watched some of the ALCS game in my hotel before heading out to Fairview Heights for the David Koechner show. I got there a little early, but too late to grab some food (and since the comedy club was in a hotel on a highway, the main option--TGIFriday's--wasn't exactly inviting anyway), so I went in for the 8 pm show around 7:20. And there were 5 people there. Oh boy. This might be a rough night--if not for me, then definitely for Koechner.

And it was kind of a rough night. I was sitting next to a gentleman who was celebrating his 32nd anniversary with his wife. And, man, was he chatty. Not with me, though; we had only an odd 20-second conversation in which he asked me the last name of the headliner, whom he said he had just met in the hotel.

No, he was way chattier with the opening comic, who probably wished he had never started talking to him at the beginning of his set. And that set, I would say, was about half the comedian talking and half the guy next to me talking. The guy next to me (I honestly could not determine if he had a legitimate mental handicap or was just odd; his wife seemed normal) just kept interjecting himself into the set, vowing to stop talking after every time he spoke, until he capped off his mini-set by asking, "Was she really from Soulard?" after the comedian told a story about losing his virginity to a girl in Soulard (a neighborhood in St. Louis). He then proceeded to give us his thoughts on Soulard and telling us about the time his brother fell through a floor in a house in Soulard. The comedian just gave up at that point and let him tell the whole story.

The guy was only slightly less chatty during the beginning of Koechner's set, interrupting only once, punctuating a story Koechner told about his cousin giving him chewing tobacco at the age of 10 and telling him to swallow the juice by saying, "I've heard that story a thousand times." He again vowed to stop talking after Koechner's reaction, and mainly kept his promise until he got visibly bored and antsy toward the end of the set and started what I assume he thought was whispering in his wife's ear. Which you kind of can't do in a front row in a comedy club when you're five feet from the comic. Koechner shushed him, then did so again when he and the missus started hemming and hawing on their drink order while Koechner told a story about how his wife can't give birth anymore and the scare they had with their youngest child, born via surrogate (yes, I agree, that is odd material for a comedy club). After the second gentle admonishment from Koechner, the gentleman slammed his beer bottle down and walked out. He came back later and took a picture with Koechner after the show. He sounded like he had a good time.

I'm not so sure Koechner did, but he did a good job of holding it in. I can't imagine doing a show for a quarter-full room on a Thursday night at a hotel comedy club is a thrill ride. I hope the Friday and Saturday shows went better.

In any case, I got my Champ Kind bobblehead signed (and my Naked Trucker and T-Bones CD, too), so I left happy. And that happiness almost went right away when I thought I missed the last bus to the MetroLink station. But just as I went to go call a cab, I saw the bus coming, and tragedy was averted. I finally had dinner back at the hotel bar, roughly four hours before I had to board the train to Chicago. It was at this point that this part of the trip began to seem like a terrible idea.

I took a nap and made the train on time, drifting in and out of sleep for the first few hours. We got to Chicago a little late, and I thought my plan to go to the World's Finest Chocolates outlet in a Chicago strip mall might have to be postponed, but I pulled it off. We used to sell (and by "sell," I mean, my mom would sell a few bars at work and then just give me the money for the rest of the box) World's Finest candy bars in grammar school as a fundraiser, so I wanted to relive that glorious time by buying an excessive amount of WF chocolate at their outlet store. And I did. Bought a hat and a bag, too. Here's to you, Blessed Sacrament.

Then it was back on the train to Milwaukee, buying tickets for shows I'm going to in Milwaukee with my sister at the end of the month, getting on a bus to the airport, finding out my flight was delayed for three hours (later knocked down to one-and-a-half), listening to the Brewers lose while on the plane, and finally making it home from LaGuardia around 1:30. I think I tied my record for most states visited in a 24-hour period (5) and I fell asleep in four of them, which I think is a new record.

If you've been holding your applause until the end, you can now commence clapping.


Soundtrack Songs I Have Loved

You might think I spent all of my youth buying soundtracks. This is completely and utterly wrong. You're clearly not as smart as you think you are, with your fancy book learning and alleged keen insight into what I spent money on when I was younger.

I will have you know, Mister or Miss Smartypants (Mrs. Smartypants if you married into the Smartypants clan) that I very often bought 45s of songs that were on soundtracks. And sometimes I bought these 45s without ever seeing, or having any real intention to see, the movies in which they appeared. See, just when you think you have all the answers, I change the questions (thank you, Rowdy Roddy Piper, star of Body Slam, whose soundtrack I, of course, have).

In any event, now that we've pointed out how stupid you are, let's look at some of the great soundtrack songs I own on 45s.

Who can forget the brilliant acting career of Olympic gymnast Mitch Gaylord? Or the amazing solo career of Duran Duran's Andy Taylor? Or the days when Wayne Gretzky's wife was a motion picture lead? What's that? Everyone, you say? Well, then let's all go back to those thrilling times and enjoy Andy Taylor's "Take It Easy," from the Gaylord/Jones vehicle American Anthem.

I cannot begin to tell you what compelled me to buy this 45 (it almost certainly wasn't the video). I can only guess that my sister's slavish devotion to Duran Duran (though she was more of a John Taylor gal) finally rubbed off on me. And I can't decide if that video makes me glad or sad that I've never seen American Anthem. That Mitch Gaylord seems like one hell of an actor.

Did you know that Bob Seger's "Shakedown" (from Beverly Hills Cop II) was nominated for an Academy Award in 1987? And that somehow it didn't win? It lost to "(I've Had) The Time of My Life," which I guess I can understand. If it had lost to fellow nominee "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now," that would've been a problem.

Fun fact: I still get a little excited when that song comes on the radio (i.e., twice a year).

Wikipedia tells me that Little Richard performed "Shakedown" at the Academy Awards that year, which enables me to make a nice segway into Mr. Penniman's "Great Gosh A' Mighty" from Down and Out in Beverly Hills, a movie I clearly remember falling asleep in the middle of after I rented it from the late, lamented Electronic Junction in Staten Island, NY. Oh well. The song's still good.

To be fair, the movie might be good. I get the impression it's not a film that a 10-year-old would find uproarious. For instance, neither Bobcat Goldthwait nor John Candy were in it. They were, though, both in Hot to Trot, whose soundtrack I have nothing to say about (if there even was one). And I probably shouldn't bring up that I did think that movie was funny when I was a kid. I'm gonna go ahead and guess that it's less funny than I remember. I will look for it on Turner Classic Movies and get back to you.

If memory serves, Innerspace was the first movie I saw at the sprawling UA movie multiplex in Staten Island. And, unlike, Hot to Trot, I think it holds up pretty well. Martin Short's great, Dennis Quaid is right in the heart of his cool period, and Robert Picardo's Cowboy was awesome (I will sometimes involuntarily break out into "I'm an Old Cowhand (from the Rio Grande)" just because of his rendition). Screw it, let's watch that before we get to the song.

Rod Stewart's cover of Sam Cooke's "Twistin' the Night Away" is just about as good as that, though, and one of the last cool things Rod Stewart ever did (there were a few more decent years after this, and "Forever Young" was my grammar school graduation song, so I've got a soft spot for that).

Innerspace was about as trippy as my young mind could handle, so there is absolutely no way that I would have had any interest in seeing Less Than Zero (and when I finally did get around to seeing it, I wound up being not that much more interested). So that might partially explain why I didn't buy the 45 of the Bangles' excellent cover (which I doubt I knew at the time) of "Hazy Shade of Winter." We were given a large dose (pun intended) of antidrug lectures in school, so I might've thought twice about buying a 45 from a druggie movie. But I eventually picked up the 45 a decade or so later. It stands as not only one of the better soundtrack songs ever, but also one of the best covers.

Speaking of buying soundtrack songs well after the fact, there is another category of Soundtracks I Have Loved and that is Soundtracks I Have Bought in My 20s and 30s Because I Loved One Song on Them and, Hey, This Record's Cheap, So I'm Gonna Buy It. So, let's look at those before we wrap this whole thing up (don't be sad).

I know what you're thinking. (Did you ever notice I know what you're thinking a lot? Either you are totally transparent and/or feeble-minded or I'm some sort of dark genius who can peer into the minds of all those around him. You choose the one that makes you more comfortable.) How can you have a series about great soundtracks and not properly salute the Almighty Lord of Soundtracks, Mr. Kenny Loggins? Well, you can't. And that is why I salute the first and greatest of the Loggins soundtrack oeuvre, "I'm Alright" from Caddyshack.

There is nothing bad about that song. Nothing. Now, should Mr. Loggins have accepted the invitation to repeat the magic for Caddyshack II? Probably not. But I still lie awake at night sometimes and think about how that movie got made, so I think there may have been some sort of black magic involved in that whole production.

Because I am a heartless ogre, Disney movies have never done much for me. There are a few exceptions, though, and of that bunch my favorite is the often-overlooked Oliver & Company, which, due to its utilization of the vocal skills of Huey Lewis and Billy Joel on the soundtrack, was right up my young alley (though I was a bit old for the movie when it came out). Mr. Joel voiced Dodger, my favorite character (I think we still have the McDonald's Christmas ornament), and sang my favorite song in the movie.

When it comes to the greatest soundtrack songs of all time, there is a healthy amount of competition, as you have seen and heard if you have followed along here. So, what's the best? It's a near-impossible question for me to answer, so thanks a lot for asking it, jerk. And you know what? I'm not giving you a definitive answer. So there.

But if you're compiling a Top 10 (are you? Are you stealing my idea? That's so like you), there's no way you can leave out Lindsay Buckingham's "Holiday Road" from National Lampoon's Vacation. It's a classic song from a classic movie. The video, which I'd never seen before, is odd, though.

And while you're compiling that Top 10 (could you at least give me a shoutout or something? I think I deserve that much), you may want to look at the soundtrack of one of the greatest cinematic achievements this or any other country has put forth. I am, of course, speaking of the Fat Boys' bravura performance in Disorderlies. Incredibly, they were able to take time off from acting in the film to record one of my all-time favorite soundtrack cuts, an ostensible cover of "Baby, You're A Rich Man" that puts the Beatles to shame.

See what I mean? The Human Beat Box's sword solo is incredible, no?

Well, that's all I have on soundtracks. Actually, it probably isn't. But this can't go on forever, so let's end the series here.

Thanks for reading, and I'll see you at the movie soundtrack section of your local record store.


What I Liked About September

*Paige Ellis's debut as between-innings cohost, Nationals Park, Washington, DC
*Marshall Crenshaw/The Bottle Rockets, World Cafe Live, Wilmington, DE
*Florence Henderson, Bookends, Ridgewood, NJ
*Avett Brothers/DeVotchKa/River City Extension, PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, NJ

*Pete Seeger, NYU Kimmel Center, NYC
*The most exciting night of Major League Baseball I've ever seen
*The slight flutter of hope that comes each September for Islanders fans
*Cinematic Titanic, Best Buy Theatre, NYC

*Getting a photo (well, two photos) with Dave "Gruber" Allen
*One of the best 9/11 articles I've ever read
*Tim Raines laughing at my Officer Karkovice t-shirt
*The willingness of people with cars to drive me places