Sunday, June 28, 2009

Father's Day Fallout

Lots of gifts, lots of thoughts.

I go through this debate every so often. It goes like this - do I want to spend hundreds of dollars on tickets and hotels to head down to Madison Square Garden to see an important show or do I just wait for the DVD? This happened during the Cream reunion, and more recently when Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood toured. Seems Clapton is always involved in this. I always choose the DVD.

Now that I have entered the modern age of 52" LCD Samsungs and Blu-Ray players with sound system attached, it is highly unlikely I'll ever head to a giant show that I can buy later on. Now, my biggest debate is what preset to click on - the sports setting is best as concerts are, after all, live action. To watch and listen to Clapton-Winwood, with better views and better sound than actually being there, is infinitely more preferable. As to the show itself, it's a marvel. Their take on "Voodoo Chile" is monumental, Clapton fully aware of the big shoes he's filling, his serious concentration during this take a vast cut above his performance on any other tune. The best parts are the Clapton-Winwood guitar battles. Winwood more than holds his own when the pair go toe to toe during "Dear Mr. Fantasy."

I also got the 40th Anniversary DVD of Woodstock. A triumph of packaging, with multiple discs, memorabilia, and booklets, all encased in a suede fringe box. I can assure you, I would much rather watch on Blu-Ray than have been sloshing around in the mud.

I'm loathe to admit that I never owned Love's Forever Changes. It's a seminal album, and I'm all about the seminal, but you can't hear 'em all, or read 'em all, or see 'em all. I got the Collector's Edition, 2 CDs worth, one of the original LP, the other of an alternate mix. While I knew some of the songs, the album blew me away. I am, admittedly, heavily into psychedelia right now (Moby Grape, early Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett solo stuff), and it seems this is the right time for me to dive head first into Love.

There are several LPs I don't own, but heard to death in younger days. Television's Marquee Moon is one that I eventually got on CD. I never owned Joy Division discs, which I regret. My 13 year old loves Joy Division and telling him how great they were just wasn't cutting it. He went so far as to make his own album from YouTube clips. So, for Father's Day, he got me Unknown Pleasures and Closer. Closer is another one of those Collector's Editions, this time the original album joined by a live set.
Now, with all this new stuff, I'll never get outside. Not that that bothers me. I tend to be a hermit anyway. Oh yeah, I also got The Complete Munsters Series, over 30 hours of DVD viewing pleasure. Does that make me a Herman's Hermit?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Rant 'n Rave with Stray Katz Thoughts

Occasionally we all get a Facebook friend request we don't want. Some are easy to ignore some aren't. The toughest ones for me to handle are from kids. Just blowing them off isn't right, you know. I've talked to a 13 year old who asked to be my FF and explained to him that it was nothing personal, just that I reserve Facebook for adult usage. He was cool with that.

Now that summer is here we're letting the kids start Facebook pages. There were enough distractions during the school year that it was verboten. So when our 16 year old "friended" me, I had to think - do I want him privy to all my content. Answer - hell, yeah. I already tell him everything that comes across that may be of interest to him, and any of these blog posts that end up as Facebook notes he's already read. No problem with that, in fact, I'm pretty pleased that I made the cut.

Another kid, another story.

Our oldest graduated from High School last Sunday. Growing up, I never saw High School Graduation as such a major accomplishment. All the kids are doin' it, right? But our senior is high functioning autistic and, I gotta say, it seemed like a huge deal from the parental end of the telescope. And there he was, marching down to his seat, Otsego Lake in front of him, Fenimore Art Museum behind. A breathtakingly lovely setting. When his row was called up, he was nothing but himself, right index finger in the air, scribbling some imaginary words. While waiting to receive his diploma, he tried to catch his tassel in his mouth, like a puppy gaming a chew toy.

Was I embarrassed? Nah, that's just him. His classmate next to him in line just laughed, but not in a mean way. And when he received his diploma and sat down, checking it out briefly before turning to his encyclopedia of Looney Tunes cartoons, it was all good.

Speaking of all good, three cheers for Mark Sanford. I love this story. It's not that screwing around is the problem, at least not for me. Certainly it must be number one on Mrs. Sanford's list of complaints. What cracks me up is how Sanford types can preach so-called "values" while KNOWING that they are fuckin' around! I mean, it's one thing to go back on past rhetoric - people change their minds on things, experience shows that earlier ideas were wrong, stuff like that. It's another to be in defense of traditional marriage AT THE SAME TIME you are cheating on your wife. It's just delicious.

And why Argentina? Couldn't he have found someone closer to home to commit adultery with, or at least bring his Argentine lover to South Carolina and put her and her family on the payroll? That plan was good enough for Republican Senator John Ensign, last week's hypocrite.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

R.I.P. Friend

I know fuck-all about what it takes to kill yourself. A couple of days ago, a friend of mine committed suicide. It's enough to make you sick.

No names. I was going to use his name as I thought about this last night, but I realized by laying it out so personally, it was an invasion of the family. They shouldn't have to deal with some blog out for all to see if they preferred keeping things quiet.

I met my friend in 2001. Even though we had worked on the same exchange for decades, we never met up until we were in the same office together. We hit it off right away, pretty much around baseball. He was a Cubs fan and I wasn't, though I was a season ticket holder at Wrigley. We would talk every day, mostly baseball, sometimes trading or finance. He had just gotten involved with raising money for a hedge fund that was investing in some deal regarding electronics, China and big box stores.

Everything was going well for him. He made more money in this deal than in trading, and it was a more comfortable life. After I moved to Cooperstown in June 2003, we would talk often. He even came to visit us in late 2007. We went to the Hall of Fame, his first time there and had a great time. He stayed with us and took us out for a lovely dinner at the Hoffman Lane Bistro, one of the better restaurants in the Village.

I called him a few months ago, and he didn't call back. Not like him. But, sometimes people get busy, or friendships fade. It happens. I was thinking about him two days ago, wondering why he had fallen off the face of the earth.

Now I know. It turns out that the deal his company invested in was a fraud and his investment firm lost everything. I don't think he was a fake. Not likely. He was a good guy, very caring, and through his fund he directed a lot of people into a total loss. Not to mention that he was probably wiped out. It's one thing to ruin your own life; destroying other people's lives is something else. I can only speculate that's what drove him at the end, the guilt.

Then the call. Suicide. I subsequently heard that my friend was seen around the exchange, looking wasted away, unshaven and possibly drinking. Things have to be entirely hopeless to make the move he did.

It took moving to Cooperstown and being with my wife and kids all the time to understand the proper place for money in my life. When you're involved in dollars and cents 24/7 as a trader, and your only purpose is to create more and more money, it's awfully hard to not have it be your number one priority. Even tougher is thinking of a life without financial security. It's the single most important thing in your life, the ultimate joy and the ultimate focus.

Only it turns out that it's not.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Making Sense of Talking Heads

I think it was in '84 that Talking Heads came to the Broome County Arena. Binghamton Concerts, the student run organization, was amazing in their ability to get great bands. We had The Clash in our gym, for God sakes!
My two favorites memories of the Arena show. One, a classmate offered me cocaine as we milled around the floor.

"Want some coke?"


"It's free." Cost was the only possible reason for my refusal.

"No thanks."

Later on, this guy (I have a vague memory of who it was) said, "No one has ever turned down free coke." I never did drugs of any kind, though my outsider status in this field never hurt my musical cred. At least I've kidded myself that was so.
Second favorite moment was from the show itself. I've always been ambivalent about Talking Heads. I like some of their stuff, but there's way too much "art" there, an excess of affectation that keeps me at arm's length. I never feel any emotional connection to them and that's a problem. But "This Must Be the Place" does grab me and the staging, a simple floor lamp accompanied by a screenshot of bookcases in the background, was beautifully homey.
Jonathan Demme's concert film of that tour, Stop Making Sense, is close to the peak of rock movies. Demme's skill takes the show to a higher level, with unforgettable images of David Byrne alternately funny and creepy. Byrne's spastic dancing and self-absorbed fashion-consciousness dominates the band. It doesn't bode well for the future health of the group, which would record their last album four years after the film's release in 1984 (officially, the breakup was announced in 1991).

On many levels, SMS is the equal of Scorsese's The Last Waltz. SMS only suffers in comparison in two ways - the songs aren't as good as those of The Band's, and the musicians aren't as talented. Pretty big ways, I admit, but Stop Making Sense is a terrific film whether you like the Talking Heads or don't, or, in my case, both.

Friday, June 12, 2009

C,S,N & K

Actually S,N & K.
As a member of the Board of Trustees in Cooperstown, I have been involved in attracting concert promoters to Doubleday Field. Doubleday's charm - a beautiful old ball field in the heart of a charming village - is also its drawback. There are few modern amenities, no lights, and, as is true of all of Cooperstown, pretty hard to get to.

We've been pretty lucky though. Since 2004 we've had five major shows - Wilie Nelson and Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys (Mike Love version), Paul Simon, Bob Dylan (again) and this past Friday, Crosby, Stills & Nash.
I was asked to join Stills and Nash and their entourage on a tour of the Hall of Fame. (There may be able to put some pics up at a later date).They all seemed genuinely interested, particularly Erik Jensen. Not sure why he was there, but Erik had his baseball cred - he played Thurman Munson in the mini-series The Bronx is Burning. Though he's dropped considerable weight since portraying the pudgy catcher, Jensen is still the spitting image of Thurm's 1976 Topps baseball card.

Stephen Stills, a bit shorter than I thought, was pleasant enough. Graham Nash was a joy. He was interested in everything - "Why did they call him 'Shoeless Joe' then?" he asked when face to face with Joe Jackson's cleats. Looking up at the wall of cardboard boxes containing old uniforms, Nash pointed, "Here's Sandy Koufax!"

I had a chance to talk with him a bit. I told him that my 13 year old played "Simple Man" once at open mic night.

"He did? What a compliment."

"Songs for Beginners is one of his favorite albums," I told him.

"Really, How old is he?"


A few second later, I heard Graham turn to someone else and say, "His 13-year old son played "Simple Man" at open mic night."
Later, pre-show, the Mayor and myself were asked to come backstage for a photo with the band. I had been told that it was rare that C and S and N were willing to stand for a pic, and I see why. It was very difficult to get them together and Crosby seemed particularly surly. Rolling up the cuffs of his long sleeved black shirt, he said "What are we doing here?" Told it was a picture with the Mayor, he stood for a second. "1, 2, 3, 4. OK." Then he walked away.

They hit the stage on the dot at 8. Although it took a bit to get in the groove, they sounded great. Crosby seemed genuinely unhappy to be there, hands in pockets, no guitar, but once he got revved up, he shone. His voice was beautifully clear and his rhythm guitar playing on "Wooden Ships" a marvel. People forget that David Crosby was at the apex of the L.A. rock scene in the late '60's - The Byrds, CSN, discovering and producing Joni Mitchell, singing on Jackson Browne's first LP - and more.

Nash, early in the show sporting a Hall of Fame with the #3 on back, kidded Crosby constantly.

"I don't know what they were thinking when they made Crosby the lead-off hitter."

"You'd know what a bad idea it was if you ever saw me hit," replied Crosby.

Later, Nash told the crowd, "We're going to play every song we remember. For Crosby, that will be three more!"

Great covers, including a highlight version of the Stones' "Ruby Tuesday," blues melding into "Rocky Mountain Way" (co-written by drummer Joe Vitale), and plenty of Buffalo Springfield, which always makes me happy.

One other moment. Nash noted, "Some of you are holding up Hollies albums. Well, here's a song they didn't want to record." The band launched into "Marrakesh Express." As Nash wanted to widen the Hollies horizons, they balked and insisted on sticking to Top 40 stuff. It led to Nash quitting and opening the doors to the possibility of CSN's existence.

The show ended with "Teach Your Children." Such a popular tune, it's easy to overlook how unique it is. For songwriters of that generation, the easy way out was to rail at parents, shouting how they didn't understand the younger generation. But "Teach" is more than that. While, sure, it implores parents to understand their kids, it makes the same demand of the young. Pretty thoughtful stuff.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

News Media Problem #37

Did you ever wonder whether newscasters actually listen to what they're saying?

On MSNBC just now, Contessa Brewer did a report on the prospective deal in which the US will send 17 Gitmo detainees, Chinese Muslims called Uighers, to the Pacific island nation of Palau. We have to pay them $200 million for this service. A mere bag of shells. Why? Because cowardly Republicans and Democrats in Congress do not want terrorists in the US. They wouldn't be here as tourists, visiting the zoo or going to the movies, mind you. They'd be placed in Super Maximum Security Prisons.

No sooner does this report end does that Brewer tells us convicted shoe bomber Richard Reid, who tried to blow up a plane, is on a hunger strike. Where is he incarcerated? Gotta be Gitmo, or some undisclosed rendition site. Couldn't have a terrorist in the US, that's a huge security problem?

Colorado. He's in Colorado in prison.

No comment from me. Also, no comment from Contessa Brewer.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Holocaust Museum

"Did you have fun today?"

Such an awkward question to be asked after spending several hours at The Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C.
"Hmm, I can't say I had fun, but it was amazing." That's the best I could do. The only thing that struck me as more odd was watching a lobby full of waiting visitors snack away, odder even than the fine cafeteria attached. Good food and the Holocaust - not usually two things you would connect.

The museum itself is a marvel and mostly avoids a real problem of presenting the horror of The Nazi Final Solution. The more graphic, the more gory the pictures, or the movies, the less real it seems. In today's world, where there are five, count 'em, five Saw movies, people are not particularly shocked by dismemberment.

The cardinal rule of persecution is, first and foremost, dehumanization. Making a group into "the other" allows for acceptance of abominable behavior. The Nazis knew their stuff, boy. Removing citizenship, disallowing mixed marriage, ghettoization, all served to make the Jews something different, not like regular volk. By the time they were through, the application of a puny cloth patch with a Star of David was all that was needed to signal that a Jew was fair game.

Speaking of games, a temporary exhibit called State of Deception is on display in the basement. It shows how methodical, and how thorough, the Nazis were in their depiction of the Jew they loathed. The posters, like Soviet posters of the era, are, dare I say, remarkable works of art. Such skill in the service of such evil is, in itself, a reality altering juxtaposition. Juden Raus (Jews Out) was, for me, the most unbelievable artifact on display. It's a damn board game! Imagine the corrupt mind that thought of that.

Where the museum shines is in its re-humanizing of the victims. At one point, after you've walked through the systematic destruction of the Jewish self, a tower of photos stretches above and below floor level. Pictures of families, portraits, casual shots, all taken from a Jewish enclave Ejszyszki, in Lithuania, brings the people back to life. It's a jolt. Later, one encounters those same photos with the new knowledge of their total destruction, including that of the photographers themselves.

Did I have fun? No. Did the tragedy of the Holocaust and the understanding of how it happened and how it was allowed to continue hit home? You bet.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Gut wrenchers

Back in '82 I went to see Shoot the Moon in Endicott. Endicott was then a beautiful small town, dominated by IBM, and the movie theater on the main drag was the best in the Binghamton area. Now, Endicott is a shell, IBM long gone.

Back to the movie. I loved Albert Finney, Diane Keaton even more so. The film itself seemed innocuous enough - look at the poster. Nothing to fear here, right? But Shoot the Moon is devastating. Finney and Keaton fall apart, their marriage ending painfully. First, (I'm going from memory here) Finney is in charge - he's having an affair, life is good for him. Then Keaton finds someone and it drives Albert crazy, at times violently. I was around 20 then and had no idea of the depth of love and pain a relationship could hold, but the movie knocked me for a loop. I often wonder what chord it struck, because afterwards, behind the wheel of my Chevy Monza, I started bawling hysterically. Hmmm.

Last week I saw Revolutionary Road. Now, I'm in my mid-40's and, while Leo and Kate are much younger, I can completely relate to their marital ups and downs. Now, Karen and I have been married for almost 23 years, and all is wonderful, truly, but like all couples we've had our down points. That's in the interest of full disclosure lest someone think I'm trying to equate the Katz' with the movie couple. There are some eerie similarities. The on-screen duo fights with the desire to leave an unhappy life and start to really live. When we picked up and moved to Cooperstown almost 6 years to the date of this posting, we didn't realize, except through the reactions of our friends how brave it was.

Now, in 2009, I know the peaks and valleys a marriage can travel through, the joyous moments and the cruel things two people in love can say to each other. But I didn't cry after this one. Hmmm. I think that, older now, I know how my story has turned out - a happy ending and the guts to leave a dissatisfied life.

This Week's Cultural Obesessions

"I ain't no monkey but I know what I like."
Bob Dylan, "Buckets of Rain"
True enough. Here are a few of this past week's likes.

I'll go out on a limb here. My favorite Bruce Springsteen album is 1987's "Tunnel of Love." It is the most soul searchingly personal collection of songs in the whole Boss canon. At times '80's production values interfere, but the tunes are deeply moving. Written as his marriage to starlet Julianne Phillips began to unravel, Bruce goes deep. "Brilliant Disguise, "Two Faces" and "Walk Like a Man" give a glimpse into the Springsteen psyche in a way that his more popular works never do. I always thought that he was emotionally spent after this LP, and that explained the weakness of the next decade - "Lucky Town," "Human Touch," "Ghost of Tom Joad" - were all subpar efforts. Once you've spilled your guts on "Valentine's Day," there's no where to go but "57 Channels (And Nothin' On)."

Getting back to the Dylan quote, those who have read KatzKomments from the beginning know from back in November ("Two of My Favorite Things") I have a predilection for apes. Planet of the Apes is at the top of my list of favorite movies and one that I always watch to the end if caught on TV. As my son said, "There's something enjoyable watching you watching Planet of the Apes." Fox Movie Channel, in the mid-100's on my digital dial, seems to show PotA every day. A couple of moments have surged to the fore. Now, the best scene is unequivocally the trial, when the orang judges do a "Monkey-See, Monkey-Do" while sustaining all Zaius' objections. Lately, I have been revelling in a priceless bit of thespian skill as Roddy McDowell's Cornelius sucks in air when Charlton Heston kisses his wife. Pretty hard to evoke multiple emotions behind layers of latex, but Roddy pulls off shock, anger and jealously with one inhalation. Even better is a tiny mistake that follows. Heston and his girl Nova are riding off on horseback, pursued by gorillas. Dr. Zaius yells for the gorillas to stop, and of course they do. In the distance you can see Heston's horse stops as well. It's the ultimate in fairness. If the hunters have to quit, then the hunted should stop too.

Ha Jin's A Free Life, is the story of a Chinese immigrant who gives up his intellectual pursuits to make money in America. He becomes disgruntled with his position as his true love, writing poetry, has been submerged by material pursuits. I'm not done with the novel yet - about 100 pages or so to go- but it looks like the protagonist, Nan, will begin writing again. It's an unlikely jump from a Chinese ex-pat to me, but my story is the same. After 20 years of trading options I was completely resentful of what my life had become, how empty a life it was screaming and yelling over a series of meaningless numbers and I needed a change, quickly. Like Nan, I too am trying to figure out how to become successful in something I love doing, writing. I can't wait to see how both of our stories turn out.