Desert Island Discs: “Drink A Toast To Innocence: A Tribute To Lite Rock” (2013)

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If you’ve read this blog very long, you’ve seen that I work in radio. I help my sister Colleen run the small-market radio station she owns.  It’s the thing that gives me the most joy in life. She and her late husband John first went on the air right about this time of year back in 1995, eighteen years ago. John was not only my brother-in-law and my boss, but also my oldest friend – – since grade seven, when Lyndon Johnson was President. Yeah, we go back a ways.

John was a man of convictions. One of his most consistent was that his radio station should never, ever play cover versions of songs. Only originals. John and I butted heads about this many times over the years: he said he had heard too many awful, misguided, washed-out covers through the years, and wanted none of it. He appreciated good production values in music, so couldn’t stand it when an artist covered one of his favorite songs and mangled it beyond enjoyability. (He nearly suffered apoplexy over Patti LaBelle and The Blue Belles’ R and B cover of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.”)

He had a moment of cognitive dissonance when I observed that the chart singles by his all-time favorite band, Herman’s Hermits, were virtually all covers. But he stood firm, and through skulduggery and time I snuck some well-crafted covers onto the playlist.

So why bring this up? Because, despite his no-covers pronouncements, John would have loved this album: “Drink A Toast To Innocence: A Tribute To Lite Rock.” Bill Sammons in his excellent blog “Kool Kovers” writes something my friend would have endorsed heartily: “The best cover versions are, as my wife says, different enough so it’s fresh but the same enough to where you can sing along if you want.”

Executive producer Andrew Curry drew inspiration from a Facebook thread that nominated the greatest lite rock songs of all time: the soundtrack of his youth, as he put it. The idea of a tribute album began to germinate, under the umbrella name “Monsters Of Lite Rock,” and Andrew successfully pitched the project on the fund-raising website Kickstarter.

Mad props also to the lovely and talented Elizabeth Racz (“Miss Klaatu”), who served ably as Associate Producer. Nobody could have done better.

A while back I wrote about the project, and was gratified to see Andrew achieve his funding goal in just a few weeks. There was a definite buzz around this project, especially in the power pop community. Thanks to Andrew, by the way, for the go-ahead to stream a few of the songs on this blog. Trust me, I’m confident that you’ll want the whole album. Go to Bandcamp.

In different hands this album might have become an exercise in campy excess and parody. Andrew avoids that, as everyone’s genuine affection for these songs comes through from the very first track. To quote reviewer Jaimie Vernon: “This is not a joke, folks. The recreations are done with love and devotion. The result is top notch! Highly recommended.”

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Long-time Facebook pal and KBEK-FM favorite Eytan Mirsky conjures up a cinematic rendition of one of the quintessential lite rock hits, “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” by Rupert Holmes. Eytan brings the right element of wry humor to this chronicle of… well, thwarted two-timing. (A shout-out to fellow FB pal, producer Jon Gordon.)




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One of the many stellar tracks on this album comes from Vegas With Randolph, with their take on Little River Band’s “Cool Change.” Once again, from Bill Sammons’ “Kool Kovers”:

THIS, my friends, is how to do a cover! It completely respects the song, keeping all signature parts intact. Yet it sounds like the band who’s playing the song: putting their identity on it, but not in an overwhelming way.


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Back in the day, lite rock bore the (occasionally deserved) mantle of being too saccharine. And let’s face it, some of the originals were a bit milquetoast and begged to get the wimpiness knocked out of them. The Davenports do just that – they bring drive and energy to Randy Vanwarmer’s “Just When I Needed You Most” that the original needed in the worst way.



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One of my most pleasant discoveries is Lisa Mychols’ turn on “Don’t Give Up On Us.” Lisa adds crunch and punch and multiple layers to the song, and you believe it in a way that David Soul never quite pulled off.








Like greatest-hits albums, tribute albums are a hit-or-miss affair. Many are bland, a few are innovative, and a very small handful approach excellence. “Drink A Toast To Innocence” is in that category. It’ll catapult you back to a happy time.

Bandcamp is the place to go for this album. Also check out the Monsters Of Lite Rock website.

And by the way: all these tracks are now in hot rotation on our station. I’m sure John concurs. Somewhere out there, he’s probably rockin’ out to “I’m Henry VIII, I Am.” A cover, by the way.


Relationships Are Games Of Calvinball

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Calvinball is a game where what works once, works only once. The next time you try it, the game has changed and you must adapt. – Carter Moraes

The funny thing to me is when people complain about how the rules are just “made up.” Can you point to a sport where they aren’t? For that matter, can you think of any institution – such as relationships – that isn’t also basically just Calvinball? That is: the rules about it are simply whatever the people in power say they are. – Gray Miller

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I’ve written before about how Calvin And Hobbes is the best comic strip in the history of the medium, and have alluded to the game of Calvinball. Flashes of insight come from unexpected sources. In a flash one day, I came to recognize how much that game is like relationships.

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How often have we all been told that “love’s a game”? They never specifiy which game, but just to be on the safe side – – – wear a cup. Pat Benatar once famously sang that love is a battlefield. Sorry, Pat, but you’re wrong – – – a battlefield has rules. Love is a game of Calvinball.

Wikipedia explains:

Calvinball is a game played by Calvin and Hobbes as a rebellion against organized team sports: according to Hobbes, “No sport is less organized than Calvinball!” Calvinball was first introduced to readers at the end of a 1990 storyline involving Calvin reluctantly joining recess baseball. It quickly became a staple of the comic afterwards. The only hint at the true creation of the game ironically comes from the last Calvinball strip, in which a game of football quickly devolves into a game of Calvinball. Calvin remarks that “sooner or later, all our games turn into Calvinball,” suggesting a similar scenario that directly led to the creation of the sport.

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There’s no doubt that relationships are a game of Calvinball. What worked once in a relationship, or worked in a previous one, can go horribly awry in a new relationship or even subsequently in the same one. Rules and penalties are contrived and concocted, often out of thin air. You may think that you’re winning, and suddenly discover that you’ve lost everything. And let’s face it, much as we’d like to believe otherwise, relationships aren’t often even-handed or equal. One person usually calls the shots, sets rules to which the other defers.

Players do as they see fit, and any rule can be created at any given moment with the single purpose of screwing up the other player. And, of course, to get out of any attempt at being screwed up yourself. – John Raynes

Calvinball is predicated upon trust and friendship. You can’t play Calvinball unless the person is a friend. Enemies can’t play Calvinball. You’d have too much control over the other person. – Richard Beck


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Control over the other person: as in unreasonable, non-negotiable demands? Expectations about how you present yourself to the world? Heck, Calvinball’s got ’em. Gotta wear a mask. Can’t ask why.

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Apologies are inevitable in relationships. The lack of an apology, or the delivery of an ill-timed or insincere or overblown one, dooms many relationships to failure. In its wisdom Calvinball codified the apology and made it a routine part of play:

“Here’s the ‘Very Sorry Songg.’ Won’t you help and sing alongg?”
“I blew it!”
(“He’s sorry!”)
“I knew it!”
(“So sorry!”)
“I’m very very sorry that I took your precious flaaggg!”
(“Just don’t do it any more, you scurvy scalawaaggg!”)

When you screw up in a relationship: if only you could sing the Very Sorry Song, just once, and the matter would be resolved and never spoken of again. (Not in my world.)

Speaking of penalties and consequences: Calvin was once sentenced to the “Pernicious Poem Place” and had to request an uncomfortable (and personally humiliating) penance at the hands of his nemesis Susie Derkins. Susie not only laid down the smack on poor Calvin, but dug the hell out of it too.


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I find it fascinating that Calvin, usually a defiant rebel and not one to acquiesce, never pushes back against the penalties in a Calvinball game. Here he not only let his nemesis douse him with a bucket of ice water: he asked her to do it. That’s a hard one to fathom. Maybe, as Richard Beck says, it’s because he knows it’s a game of trust and friendship with his best friend. Maybe he knows he’ll have a chance at payback, making the odds even. And maybe, as in relationships, he knows there’s no escape from consequences. Take your lumps, lick your wounds, and carry on.

This may seem cynical and I suppose it is. As mentioned above, a pervasive message in our culture is that “love is a game,” and I believe it’s necessary for survival to cultivate that mindset. You’ll make yourself crazy if you don’t.  Calvinball demands the qualities needed in a successful relationship: ego strength, good boundaries, innovation, assertiveness, stamina, and an ability to detach one’s identity and self-worth from outcomes. The game’s rules are insanely convoluted, can change at a moment’s notice, and/or have bizarre exceptions and by-laws. Rules change capriciously: the players know this, so they aren’t Playing For The Win. And no cheating! It’s great if it’s between equals: it’s awful if it’s between people who hold any malice toward each other.

And it’s not for wimps. That’s the single biggest similarity to relationships.

If you’re not willing to throw rules around and engage in verbal war, you will not stand in the Calvinball stadium for long. However, there are plenty of horrendous fates for the participants willing to brave the field in the name of Calvinball, and you never know what you’re going to encounter or what pranks will be had that day. You do know that you’d better be sharp and awake, because you’re likely to be tricked and pushed into made-up rules with consequences as weird as the Pernicious Poem Place. So suit up, Warrior, and get to the field. The score is seven to G. – R.J. Lee, The Gameconomist

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Sad to note the passing of George Jones.

One of my dad’s favorites. Dad would do his songs as “set pieces” at jam sessions. Even as a snotty-nosed rock’n’roll teenager, I knew George Jones was a talent worthy of respect.

We sang this one as the recessional at Dad’s funeral last year:

An appropriate question today:

Says it all.

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No. The government should NOT run its budget like a family does.

I’m tired of hearing people say, “The Federal budget should be run the way my family runs its budget!” Often followed by, “If my family doesn’t have the money to buy something, we tighten the belt until we do. The Federal government should do the same thing!”

That’s a great argument, but a crappy policy.

These days, people are twigging out over debt for one of two reasons. It either suits their political desires – maybe they want a terrible economy as long as a Democrat is in the White House?! Do ya think?! – or they keep thinking of government debt in terms of personal debt.

Personal finances and government finances are two different critters. You and I make our money from external sources, and then spend our money on external parties. Money comes in from outside (our jobs), and it flows to the outside (our expenses). But the Federal government doesn’t roll like that. A government makes money from itself and spends money on itself. As a result, what’s good for our family pocketbooks is completely different from what’s good for the nation’s pocketbook.

Slashing spending won’t actually reduce debt. Because when the economy is depressed, that slashing also reduces income. Government is like a husband who works for his wife, and buys merch only from his wife. There are no other sources of income and no other expenses. What happens when the husband needs to spend less? The wife receives less money from his purchases. This means she has to cut his salary. This means he has to reduce his spending further. So the cuts create a vicious cycle. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Hey Greece, how’s that belt-tightening workin’ out for you?

Even though they claim the Democrats do this (projection much?), Republicans are the ones who spend like drunken sailors when they’re in charge. But that doesn’t mean we should slash spending now. That just means we shouldn’t trust Republicans with the checkbook.

The US constantly pays off debt and issues new debt. And the word on the street is that the market wants LOTS more debt. We’re at incredibly low interest rates. Inflation-protected debt is literally paying a negative interest rate. Give the US government $100, get back $98, and investors are still buying it up. If people stop wanting to buy our debt, there would be large problems as we’d have to pay out higher yields. But the market loves American debt so much that they’re willing to lose money to buy it.

So no, we shouldn’t run the Federal budget the way we run our family budget. What we need to do is prime the pump. Spend more now, incur more debt, stimulate the economy. Then once the economy is humming along nicely, we cut spending when we can absorb the cuts.

(Inspired by the good folks at Democratic Underground.)

The George W. Bush Presidential Library is now open in Dallas.


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Apparently there was supposed to be an exhibit on weapons of mass destruction, but no one could find it.

Today is my dad’s 80th birthday.

IMG_0634He would say to make it a good one.

Then he’d add, be super-damn careful.