Thursday, October 27, 2005

Aural Double Dutch

In Thunder, Lightning, Strike, their 2004 UK release, The Go! Team created the perfect soundtrack to go alongside memories of schoolyard days filled with sidewalk chalk and kickball. Luckily for those of us in the U.S. who balk at import prices, Columbia released the album in the states in early October -- with two bonus tracks! [Also, check out their U.S. website, which is less annoyingly Flash-based and allows you to download the neat icon to your upper left.]

Though less politically motivated than either Northern State or Le Tigre, The Go! Team inspire the same goofy grin and unconscious head-bobbing. Plus, they're more talented samplers and know how to use vocals sparingly and effectively.

"Get It Together" has lazy sunny day anthem written all over it -- until the last 30 seconds kick in and you're forced to your feet, jumping and chanting along. "Junior Kickstart" is what every '70s cop show theme song tried to be. "Friendship Update" is what every '80s cop show theme song tried to be. And "Huddle Formation" is just damn near the best new song I've heard in years.

I'd definitely be going to see them at First Ave. tomorrow night if I wasn't getting out of work three hours after the show starts. I'm crushed; still, I hope my Minneapolis compatriots will go shake their respective booties at the show for me.

NOTE: Today, I've found that in addition to a perfect schoolyard soundtrack, the album nicely accompanies celebratory dances in honor of Harriet Miers’ Supreme Court nomination withdrawal and/or Cheryl Swoopes’ coming out.]

Monday, October 24, 2005

The Final "Final Solution"

Well, I finally got around to reading Michael Chabon's Sherlock Holmes as old man in the countryside pastiche -- The Final Solution: A Story of Detection. My grade: B+.

The mere facts that Chabon used an actual Doyle story title (The Final Solution) for the title of his own novella, and that he is a Pulitzer-Prize winning, mega-popular writer put me ill at ease. I was prepared to wretch and convulse throughout the mere 131 pages at the slightest hint of snobbery or misunderstanding of Holmes's character. Luckily for me (and the pristine pages of the library book), I found no serious cause to hurl.

This was my first Chabon adventure and I discovered what many already know -- this man can write. Anyone who can use the words "echolalia" and "susurrus" without making you flinch or lose your rhythm doth know how to wield a pen. The tale he crafted was sweet, though the mystery itself was tame and somewhat boring. However, unlike Doyle, Chabon consciously pursued character studies rather than intrigue, so perhaps this lack was on purpose.

Now to the big question: was his characterization of an 89-year-old Holmes pure? I'd say relatively so. While I prefer my Holmes strong and spry, any near-nonagenarian has gotta have his creaky bones and slow habits. Chabon gives his "old man" these qualities with a quiet dignity. The role of solitary beekeeper who doesn't actually like honey nicely bridges Doyle's solitary and ironic Holmes into the land of the elderly. I didn't quite appreciate or believe that Holmes would have abandoned all of his vices though. Not that I expected him to still be shooting up coke, but I doubted his antipathy towards any kind of alcohol. The major qualm I had was his overly emotional response to people and situations, particularly his quick and easy attachment to the German boy at the heart of the story and his near breakdown at the sight of post-war London. Oh well.

Just a couple more notes:
1) I hated those goddamn illustrations. They added nothing to the story, and actually detracted from it. Jay Ryan, you ain't no Sidney Paget, and I'm not reading a children's book.
2) Chabon's attempt to slip in references to real Holmes stories bordered on overkill. You actually read all the stories, we get it and believe you.
3) I am still uncertain about the perspective of Chapter 10, but I'm beginning to think I like it. (You'll have to read it for yourself; I hate people who ruin surprise twists.)

So, anyway, I guess I actually recommend this one. Plus, unlike Kavalier and Clay, it's super short and will only suck a few hours from your life.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Fit for the Godfather

Like Richard Nixon said, "I am not a cook." I love baking, but anything requiring olive oil rather than vegetable oil is usually out of my domain. However, I was inspired to put away my bundt pans (temporarily) by a recipe for baked ziti with seitan from a Vegetarian Times cookbook. I made it last night and it was tasty. Leftovers tonight were equally pleasing. Here's the recipe in case you want to try for yourself.

12 oz. dried ziti
8 oz. seitan
2 cups button or cremini mushrooms (I used cremini)
1 25-oz. jar tomato sauce
1 lb. extra-firm tofu, drained, or low-fat ricotta (I used high-fat ricotta)
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil or 5.5 tsp. dried basil
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. olive oil
salt to taste
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. Preheat the oven to 400F. (That's a lie. Preparation takes a while; no need to preheat yet.)
2. Heat pot of lightly salted H2O over medium heat and cook pasta. Drain & set aside.
3. Chop the seitan and mushrooms until coarse and crumbly. (That's the seitan that should be crumbly, not the mushrooms.) Put the mixture in a large saucepan, stir in the tomato sauce and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.
4. Put the tofu, basil, lemon juice, 2 tsp. of oil, pepper and salt into a food processor or blender, and process until the consistency resembles ricotta. If using ricotta, mix by hand.
5. Spread several Tbsp. of the tomato-seitan mixture in a 13x9 inch baking dish, making sure to evenly coat the bottom and sides to prevent sticking. Combine the pasta, tofu mixture, the remaining tomato-seitan mixture and parsley. Fold gently to combine all the ingredients. Spread evenly into the baking dish.
6. Bake for 15 minutes, or until heated through. (Or until you've dealt with the blaring smoke alarm and turned the oven back on.) Remove from the oven, and serve hot to Don Corleone.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Lost Twin Cities

I recently watched the second installment of TPT's "Lost Twin Cities" series from the mid-'90s, based on Larry Millett's book by the same name. (Yes, the same Larry Millett who gets my hackles up whenever I think about his Sherlock Holmes stories.) While the segments about Northwest's Stratocruiser and the downfall of Porky's Drive-Ins were boringly quaint, the series really delivered when it described the tragedy of lost architecture in St. Paul and the racial unity (however brief it was) around jazz at the Treasure Inn.

Treasure Inn sax player Percy Hughes wistfully described the turning point in the Inn's life:

There was an argument. And all of a sudden there were gunshots. And I remember kneeling behind, of all things, my music stand, which wouldn't stop a bullet. No way! And a dear friend of mine was killed. He was shot. And my heart just went out to Dick and Claude and Howard [the club's owners]. But to see a club, black and white and everyone just enjoying, there's a beautiful message there. We need more messages like that right now.

The most heartbreaking segment was about the callous destruction by St. Paul officials of the culture and homes at Swede Hollow on the east side of the city. Tucked away in a ravine that you can only access through an old railroad tunnel -- and towered over by brewer magnate Theodore Hamm's mansion -- Swede Hollow was the home of numerous waves of immigrants who couldn't afford to live anywhere else. Sure, the Hollow probably wasn't the safest or healthiest place to live, but why slash and burn (quite literally, by the way) when you could help the residents build safe homes up to public health standards instead of shipping them all off to apartments?

On the upside, at least Minneapolis' Urban Adventurers, the Action Squad, have found pleasure in exploring the abandoned ruins of Hamm's Brewery. Until the brewery gets razed by the city, that is.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Frankly, Big Papi, I Don't Give a Damn

It’s Oscar time for baseball. Soon, overly muscular men will strut their stuff on the red carpet of the media (or at least sports journalists and the players’ PR reps will) to prove why each one is or is not deserving of the Cy Young, MVP, Rookie of the Year, and Manager of the Year awards. These awards seem as meaningful to me as a juicy filet mignon sitting on my plate -- not very. I can never remember who won the previous year’s awards, nor do I care to.

But I am intrigued by the debate stirred up this year (and in past years too, I’m sure) about the relative merit of giving the MVP award to a DH rather than to a player who participates on both offense and defense. Fans and journalists are pledging their allegiance either to Alex Rodriguez or David Ortiz for the AL MVP; most for Rodriguez are citing Big Papi's less than frequent stints on defense. Despite my Red Sox love, I don't really care who wins. But if pinned down to choose, of course I'd say Ortiz. The argument (thank you Scott Miller) kinda goes like this:

Normally, I subtract points for a designated hitter. I know the argument -- hey, it's in the rules that a guy can use the stick but not his glove -- but a DH still is not a complete player. However, Ortiz has been so money for the Red Sox over the past two seasons -- and particularly this year -- that I believe his summer has been special enough to warrant the award. Of his 47 home runs, 20 have either tied the game or put the Red Sox ahead. As Ortiz himself might say, that's a lot of clutch homers, bro.

Beyond what this discussion means for the MVP debate (cause I don't care, remember?), I'm more interested in the potential implications for Hall of Fame inductions, which I do care about. In 2003, when the debate was raging about Edgar Martinez, I remember staunchly refusing him a ticket to Cooperstown by arguing that as a DH he didn't belong. Now I realize that what I meant to argue was that EdMar shouldn't be in the Hall because of his lack of stellar accomplishments, not because of his position.

If Ted Williams had been a DH and hit in the same way, I would have wanted him to be inducted. Same with Pete Rose. (Oh, right.) Just cause you're a DH doesn't mean you can't be the most valuable player or Hall of Fame caliber. It just means you have to be pretty damn awesome to overcome the fact that you're sitting on the bench for more than half the game. I think Ortiz has it in him to do just that.

[Oh, and since I mentioned it, I may as well officially say on record that Pete Rose has my backing to be in the Hall of Fame. Anything he did while a manager isn't any more greedy or harmful to baseball than any number of moves made by players, coaches, and managers nearly every day. He just got caught. It shouldn't affect his status as one of the greatest players of all time. (In 1999 Sporting News selected him as the 25th Greatest Baseball Player, ahead of Sandy Koufax, Tris Speaker, Rod Carew, Mel Ott, and Yogi Berra, among others.) Hell, they let violent assholes into the Hall, so why not a gambler?]