But wait, there’s more!


As soon as my friend Paul posted the Winnipeg paper’s obituary for K-Tel founder Philip Kives, I knew it was just a matter of time before The New York Times gave it their stamp. Margalit Fox did not let me down:

Act now! Be the first on your block to read this obituary of the marketing guru who — as seen on TV — sliced, diced and polkaed his way to fortune!

As noted in her write, K-Tel’s commercials were ubiquitous in the 1970s. She mentions the ads for the Miracle Brush and Veg-o-Matic (I would have brought up the Rhinestone and Stud Setter, but apparently that was from K-Tel’s archrival, Ronco), but for any Top Forty-besotted kid, the best were for the compilation albums: “Music Express”! “Sound Explosion”! “Music Power”! “Hit Machine”! All featuring ORIGINAL HITS BY THE ORIGINAL ARTISTS!

Continue reading

Review: ‘A God in Ruins’


(The following may contain spoilers. Or not.)

I’m not sure what to make of “A God in Ruins.”

For the first 440 pages, I loved it. I was enthralled with it. I found it hard to put down, even though the sections about Viola, the self-centered daughter of protagonist Teddy, were hard to get through. (She’s a most unpleasant character.)

But the chapters about Teddy were wonderful: a man who had been a World War II fighter pilot but didn’t think of himself as heroic, living out an unexciting middle-class life in war’s aftermath. He wondered — through Atkinson’s clipped, brilliant writing — about the cities and the people he bombed. He cared about dogs and flowers. He loved his wife and his daughter, though neither love was reciprocated in just the way he’d hoped.

He was, or tried to be, a good man.

Some of this could have been treacly if it hadn’t been for Atkinson, who proved her ingenuity with the earlier “Life After Life,” to which “A God in Ruins” is a companion. She effortlessly switches back and forth in time, from character to character, giving everything from a Yorkshire farmhouse to the inside of a warplane vivid color. Teddy’s wartime adventures are as gripping and chilling as his postwar life is quietly desperate, but both are invested with meaning, thanks to Atkinson’s prose.

She even pulls off the trick of making her unpleasant characters sympathetic, if not fully pleasant. (Viola again.) She manages to turn non-speaking objects — trees, hares — into something richer than symbols.

So what’s the problem?

I didn’t like the ending.

Call me sentimental, but I think Atkinson’s ending is a cop-out. I’m not going to reveal it, but the first 440 pages were so good that the last 15 were a letdown.

I might let another author get away with what she does, but Atkinson had proven herself so inventive that I was confident her abilities would bring the book home. Instead — though I understand her point — the ending was the author living up to her own ideals, not the characters’. If that seems churlish, see what you think when you read it. Because you should read it anyway.

Funny … I think “A God in Ruins” is a more well-rounded book, but I finally enjoyed “Life After Life” more. Amazing the difference those final moments make. In literature, if not life, they can make sense of the whole.

(4.5 out of 5)

Manuel’s Tavern, the next 60 years

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Manuel’s Tavern means a lot to me. I’ve been hosting Team Trivia there since 1992; I met my wife there and sustained many friendships over a burger and root beer. (I also watched Game 7 of the 1991 World Series there, and if lead-footed rally-killer Sid Bream hadn’t hit into a double play, perhaps I would have been able to celebrate a victory there four years before the Braves finally won. Let’s not blame Lonnie — yeah, he could have scored, but he was also on third base with nobody out.)

The bar closed at the end of December for an overdue renovation, and I’ve been checking in to see how things are coming. Thursday morning, Brian Maloof was kind enough to show me around the venerable watering hole, which is in month three of what appears to be a six-month project. (Construction is supposed to be done in late July.)

Continue reading

Coming soon to Finazzle Field

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Atlanta Braves
(Image from Fansided/Tomahawk Take)

This made me laugh:

History shows the Braves shouldn’t count on their major real-estate business, Cobb Taxpayer Stadium, to keep their customers interested in bad baseball for long.

“Cobb Taxpayer Stadium.” I hadn’t heard that one before. I’d taken to calling SunTrust Park “Finazzle Field,” after a grout-cleaner former wall advertiser at the Ted. (I wish I could remember the name of that Hooters knockoff that had wall space for awhile … they would have made a dandy stadium name sponsor as well.)

Of course, the name of the stadium is about the only amusing thing about the Barves right now. The Hometown Heroes are 4-16, a fine .200 winning percentage. By comparison, the 1988 Chuck-Tanner-We’ll-Have-a-Parade-Down-Peachtree Braves, who started 0-10, were also 4-16 after 20 games. (Ol’ Chuck was fired after starting 12-27.) They ended up losing 106 games, and that was with Dale Murphy (who, admittedly, was 32 and starting his abrupt decline). This Braves team has … Erick Aybar? 32-year-old Nick Markakis? Jeff Francoeur? Yes, there’s Freddie, but he hasn’t looked like Freddie so far.

So how bad will the 2016 Braves be?

It’s foolish projecting after one-eighth of a season, but what the hell. Among really terrible teams, the 2003 Detroit Tigers started 2-18 and lost 119 games. The 1962 Mets started 4-20 and lost 120 games. The 1952 Pittsburgh Pirates started 3-17 and lost 112 games (in a 154-game season). Intriguingly, by Pythagorean Winning Percentage, each of these teams should have been 6-10 games better than they ended up. (The 2016 Braves, incidentally, should currently be 2 games better by the same formula.)

Now, all those teams got better. The Tigers made the World Series three years later. The Mets won it all seven years after their 120-loss fiasco. The Pirates did it in eight. Braves management is counting on a similar rise from the ashes.

In the meantime, though, this could be an historic year. We may need some Finazzle to clean up afterwards.


That’s enough of ‘Manic Monday’

One of the more common subjects for the articles written in the aftermath of Prince’s death was about all the songs he wrote for others that you didn’t know about. (Though, of course, I think most of us did know about them — is there anyone who doesn’t know that “Nothing Compares 2 U” was from the Purple One? And, while I’m at it, he didn’t write Stevie Nicks’ “Stand Back,” though he did inspire it. OK?)

Always on the list: the Bangles’ “Manic Monday,” written by Prince under the pseudonym Christopher.

Fortunately, it appears that Prince’s death hasn’t sparked a rush for downloading “Manic Monday.” Frankly, it’s neither his nor the Bangles’ finest hour.

I can’t help but be biased. In the mid-’80s, I looked at the Bangles as a great power-pop hope in the synth-laden firmament of Top Forty. The band’s 1984 debut LP, “All Over the Place,” which followed a promising EP, was full of great jangly guitars, terrific harmonies and sharp songwriting. They also delivered live, as they proved during a 1984 appearance at Atlanta’s late, lamented 688 club. (I believe I still have my ticket stub somewhere. It says “TICKET.”)

(Side note: Chuck Reece was at the Replacements show? Loudest show I ever saw.)

What would they do next? I couldn’t wait to find out. By chance — literally — my brother won an MTV contest to attend the opening of “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” in 1985 and the Bangles were at the post-premiere party. So I asked them. They didn’t say much.

Michael Steele and Susanna Hoffs, 1985. Photo taken by Todd Leopold with a Kodak Instamatic camera using 110 film.

Perhaps they knew they were losing too many of the rough edges. (And “All Over the Place,” compared to the EP, was already pretty slick.)

The ensuing LP, “Different Light” — released in January 1986 — cast the Bangles as a pretty-girl pop band. The growl was mostly gone, replaced by upbeat good cheer and a dose of radio-ready filler. There would be no “Dover Beach” or “He’s Got a Secret” on this record.

“Manic Monday” was symbolic of the change. The song features a wash of synthesizers that, to paraphrase Elvis Costello, can practically identify the week in 1985 they were recorded. It’s smooth and inoffensive and could probably have been recorded by the Outfield.

And Prince had good reason to go by the pseudonym (which was from his character in “Under the Cherry Moon”). Though there are some distinctive touches — I’m not sure who else would have written about “kissing Valentino by a crystal-blue Italian stream,” as clunky as that is — other lines could have been written by anybody. “Wish it were Sunday / ‘Cause that’s my fun day”? ” ‘Cause it takes me so long just to figure out what I’m gonna wear”? Even 30 years ago the latter rubbed me wrong, because it just didn’t fit the smart band singing it.

In the short term, it worked out. The Bangles got their hit single and rode the charts for a couple years. Prince remained, well, Prince. But the band ended up imploding and “Manic Monday” ended up as just another slice of ’80s cheese, trotted out when VH1 wanted to do one of their soggy “I Love the ’80s!” specials. (That is, when they weren’t trotting out “Walk Like an Egyptian,” which at least is catchier and has a nice guitar break.) Oh, what could have been.

Apparently Prince was enamored of the band — or at least Susanna Hoffs — for awhile. The Bangles returned to Atlanta for a concert at Emory in 1987 (on a bill with the Hoodoo Gurus!), and if I remember correctly a friend reported them complaining on the tour bus about Prince, who just wouldn’t stop calling.

Later, Hoffs remembered his attentions as “awkward.” That’s also a good way to describe “Manic Monday.”



A new page

(Image via The New York Times.)

I didn’t make up the title pun of this blog. I was reading Jim Rutenberg’s NYT media column about Snapchat and the continuing churn ‘n’ change of the political cycle, and it came to me. But, the Internet being the content machine that it is, I figured I wasn’t the first to think of it — and sure enough, there was this, and this, and this.

I’m going to stick with it anyway.

There’s something about the word that seems appropriate to our age. Aspects of reality have always been ephemeral, living in our memories, but for most of recorded history they were also, well, recorded, on physical media to be revisited again and again. In the Internet Era, we still record experience — boy, do we ever record it — but we also forget it more quickly, whether because it’s just another bit of unnecessary minutiae or because we’re overwhelmed by the next shiny object.

And our means of recording it seem more fragile.

A few years ago, I wrote a piece on Kodak’s bankruptcy, and in it I quoted a commenter on the seeming impermanence of digital media. “The pictures last, even if the cameras didn’t: I have family photographs from the 19th century,” he wrote. “I (wonder) if, in 100 years, people will have the digital images from the late 20th? ‘Oh, yeah, they were on that computer that died and we never got the files off of it.’ ”

Some people assume the Cloud will take care of it. Others probably don’t care — it’s not like they’re planning to go through the thousands of photos on their phone. The moment is gone, anyway. It was nice while it lasted.

I’m not sure what this blog will be about, but the intersection of memory and reality — the hazy past and the concrete present — is a place I’ll keep coming back to.

And yes, I’m aware of the irony of posting these musings on the Internet.