Friday, August 29, 2014

Friday Night Videos

"Eugene" was a hit for Crazy Joe and the Variable Speed Band in 1981. Not a huge hit, but it charted higher than singles from Billy Squier, Blue Oyster Cult, the Kinks, Rick James, Rush, ELO... you get the idea. Not even Ace Frehley's connection to the band can explain this success. Watch this video and tell me the early 80s wasn't a messed-up time.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... San Harris.

Now Playing: The Beatles Abbey Road
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Sunday, August 24, 2014

What's Jayme drinking?

So today The Wife and drove over to Texas Mead Works in Seguin to drop off my entries for the Texas Mead Fest homebrew competition. I entered two meads--my plum melomel (which, as an aside, I have to say turned out better than my review indicated. The bottle I reviewed was not entirely full, being the last of the batch. I don't know if excess oxygen was the culprit behind the off-putting odor, but upon opening a new bottle, the bouquet was inoffensive. Yay!) and a vanilla ice wine metheglin.

Now I know what you're thinking--"Jayme, you fool! Ice wine is a specialty wine, made from frozen, late-season grapes! What you've got is a pyment, not a metheglin!" And normally, you'd be right. But I didn't use any grapes--frozen or otherwise. Follow: I started this particular mead by adding two split vanilla bean pods to the secondary fermentation. I was hoping for a mellow vanilla taste, but the mead was dry and vanilla by itself is awkward and uninspiring. Vanilla tends to enhance other flavors very well in mead, but doesn't fly solo well. I back-sweetened with additional honey, and while this improved it some, the drink as a whole was still lacking. So on a whim, I added a bag of Ice Wine Tea (black tea infused with ice wine for the curious) which we'd picked up on our vacation trip to Vancouver back in June. I steeped it in the vanilla mead for a month and hoped the flavors would play well together. They did. Ergo, this mead is a metheglin, as I added various "spices" as opposed to grapes.

How did it turn out? Fantastic! This is, without a doubt, my best mead ever. The Wife liked it, and she rarely likes my meads (with good reason--they're usually not very good!). It pours a pale, lemon-yellow. The aroma is a mix of honey and floral notes, with a slightly spicy undertone--I want to say rosemary, but that's not quite it. Mouthfeel is lightly viscous, a bit thicker than the color and scent would lead one to believe.

Taste is medium-sweet. We're not talking sack mead or port here, but more along the lines of a moscato. The tannins and acid blend I added during the fermentation process add just the right amount of counterbalance to the honey sweetness. And the honey flavor definitely comes through. Honey is the first taste that hits the tongue, followed by a tumbled rush of orange citrus, cinnamon, ginger and cloves, all held together within a floral riesling embrace. Then the honey reasserts itself, darker and more muscular than those initial honeyed flavors. This is when the alcohol makes itself known, with a distinct warming sensation in the back of the mouth and throat. I have to admit I overshot the mark on this one--I was aiming for around 11 percent alcohol, but didn't neutralized the yeast effectively when I back sweetened with more honey, and fermentation started again. I don't have an accurate measurement, but I'm guessing the final alcohol content is pretty close to 13 percent.

This is a deceptively light, easily drinkable mead that packs a stealthy punch. It is not syrupy, but definitely sweet. The spicy flavors are easy to pick out individually, but collectively they're disconcerting (in a good way). I really, really like this one, and need to work on standardizing the recipe so I can 1) replicate this beverage reliably and 2) make a larger batch next time.

Now Playing: Genesis Duke
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Friday, August 22, 2014

Friday Night Videos

Sam Harris scored a minor hit in 1984 with "Sugar Don't Bite, which is probably more than it deserved, because it's not a great song. What secured its place as a footnote of 80s music, however (other than the video's unfortunate mashup of 80s fashion with 70s disco), are the striking similarities betwixt it and a certain big hit from Madonna just a few years later. Coincidence? You decide.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Stevie Wonder.

Now Playing: Ray Davies The Kinks Choral Collection
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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What's Jayme drinking?

Plum melomel mead honey wine home brew
Got a little something different tonight: Plum melomel. For the uninitiated, that is mead (honey wine) made with plums. I made it myself. It's been in the works for quite a long time, the initial honey fermentation starting back in November 2012, keeping the fermentation cool by sitting the carboy in a water bath filled with ice and wet towels draped over it. This had the effect of slowing fermentation to prevent the formation of yucky fusel alcohols. I added the crushed plum juice to start secondary fermentation in June 2013, and finally bottled it in April of this year. That's a long time to invest in something to drink.

I have to say, though, the aging and cool fermentation has proven worth it. The mead pours a clear, light amber in the glass. No carbonation. The mead is not terribly viscous in the glass, not clinging to the sides when I swirl it around. The bouquet... well, that leaves something to be desired. The scent of rubber, dry wood and licorice hits my nose, along with some faintly sour esters and tired honey that give a slight chemical tinge. The traditional "Listerine" profile that marks the presence of those nasty fusels flashes through my mind. After a cautious sip, those worries are dispelled. There's a bright, cheerfulness on the surface here, light cherries, apricot, raspberries and, yes, plum. There's a light, demi-sweetness at work here, not quite comparable to a white zinfandel, but close. It's not cloying. It is, in fact, almost exactly the balance I was hoping for. The mild acidity balances the light sweetness very well, and the tannins give it just the right amount of body to ensure a robust mouthfeel. There's a heavier after taste of dark cherries, stronger plum and maybe currants. There's also an earthy undertone I'm struggling to place. It's almost woody, but not oak. Finally, the alcohol is not obvious in the mouth, but once swallowed there's a definite heat in the throat. The original alcohol potential of the honey was right at 11 percent, but with the addition of the plum and a little additional honey for back sweetening (fermentation hadn't quite been knocked out at that point) I'm guessing the final alcohol content is closer to 13 percent. That's a little higher than I'd intended, but certainly within the realm of acceptability.

I have to say that while imperfect, this batch of plum melomel is among of the best I've made since I started experimenting with mead. The scent is truly unfortunate, as it is quite off-putting, but getting past that it's quite a nice drink. I've got about two cases laid up, so I'll be able to enjoy this vintage for quite some time to come.

Now Playing: Talking Heads Speaking in Tongues
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Friday, August 15, 2014

Friday Night Videos

I've only got a couple of things to say about Stevie Wonder's hit from 1986, "Part Time Lover." First, the video is pretty bare bones: It looks like it could've been a performance clip lifted from Soul Train. I half-expected to see Rick Dees and the Solid Gold Dancers put in an appearance. Second, this song got a lot of airplay on the radio my sophomore year in high school. I mean a lot. And every single time it came on with that opening bass line, in my mind I expected Hall and Oates to start singing "Maneater." Every. Time. And you know what? That still happens.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Paul McCartney.

Now Playing: Billy Joel My Lives
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Friday, August 08, 2014

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas rides again!

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas returns to Broadway for a revival under the direction of Rob Ashford
Friends and neighbors, if you were broken up about missing the Theatre Under the Stars' production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas staged at Houston's Miller Outdoor Theatre last month (and really, you have every right to be. I was fortunate enough to be a guest for their production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas during it's run at the Hobby Center in 2012, and it was downright fantastic!) then do I have good news for you! News broke yesterday that the Tony Award-winning musical is getting its very own Broadway revival! This marks the first time the show's been performed on Broadway since the original 1978 production enjoyed a spectacular run of 1,584 shows.

Now wait a cotton-picking minute, you're probably thinking to yourself right now. If you know your Whorehouse history (and you know you do) you're looking at your Ann-Margret soundtrack and saying, "But Jayme! What about Ann-Margret's successful run as Miss Mona circa 2001-2002? I didn't just imagine that, did I?" You, you certainly did not. You are correct the immortal Ann-Margret headlined a successful re-staging of Whorehouse, along with Gary Sandy of WKRP in Cincinnati fame as Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd. The original play's songwriter, Carol Hall, even penned a new song, "A Friend to Me," for Ann-Margret. It was kind of a big deal. The thing is, that was a national touring show. It played pretty much everywhere except Broadway.

So what do we know about this new show? Not much, actually. It's more or less the same show Larry L. King, Peter Masterson, Carol Hall and Tommy Tune struck it two-thirds rich with (as King liked to say) back in 1978. The announced director/choreographer is Rob Ashford, a big name in Broadway circles. He's got Tony, Emmy and Olivier awards on his mantlepiece, so it's hard to argue with his credentials. He was the creative force behind “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” with Daniel Radcliffe, "Macbeth" with Kenneth Branagh, “A Streetcar Named Desire” with Rachel Weisz, “Thoroughly Modern Millie” and the 81st Academy Awards. Other than that, little information has been released--no theatre, dates or actors are known.

On the bright side, there continues to be no movement on Universal's remake of the mediocre 1982 film version of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, starring Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds. While it's hard to imagine the remake could do much worst than Burt Reynolds singing, the fact that the producers, Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey, are the folks who gave us the Twilight movies. I can see it now: All the prostitutes sparkle beautifully in sunlight.

Enough of the history lesson, Jayme (you're saying to yourself right now, I'll wager). Tell us what's really important--how does this impact your book on the history of the Chicken Ranch brothel in La Grange, Texas? In all honesty, it doesn't. At least, not directly. The history and the entertainment are two different things, and apart from broad strokes, are pretty much separate animals. Where this could help me is in raising the public awareness of the Chicken Ranch. As the Broadway production ramps up, more and more folks are going to grow curious about the real story behind the infamous brothel. If the run is successful and the revival earns some Tony Award nominations--maybe even winning a few--then that exposure is multiplied. Anyone with a comprehensive book out on the subject could stand to capitalize on the ensuing publicity quite nicely. At least, that's what I'm telling the editors currently considering my book.

Hollywood Reporter: 'The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas' Sets Broadway Return in 2015
Variety: ‘Best Little Whorehouse in Texas’ Heads Back to Broadway
Playbill: Best Little Whorehouse in Texas Will Stomp Its Way Back to Broadway, Run by Rob Ashford The Chicken Ranch reopens! The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas Will Return to Broadway
USA Today: Rob Ashford to helm new 'Whorehouse' on Broadway
Star Tribune: Revival of sex romp musical 'The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas' coming to Broadway
Dan Cirucci: 'Whorehouse' On Broadway? Yes, It Opens In 2015!

Now Playing: Night Ranger Greatest Hits
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Friday Night Videos

The worst thing, perhaps, about hit singles off of soundtrack albums is that their videos generally suck. In most cases, very little creativity or budget goes into them. Instead, a bunch of clips for the movie in question are strung together with maybe a few scenes of the actual performer. In essence, it's treated like one only commercial for the film. Which may or may not help at the box office, but dramatically shortens the shelf life of the song. Case in point: "Spies Like Us" by Paul McCartney. This was one of his last hits prior to the music world writing him off as completely irrelevant, and to be honest, it really is a piece of audio fluff. But it's a catchy piece of audio fluff that's a good deal of fun. And despite the obvious drawbacks of the soundtrack clip video, McCartney, Dan Ackroyd and Chevy Chase do seem to be having a grand old time. Curiously, despite "Spies Like Us" being McCartney's last top-10 hit (to the best of my knowledge) it has never on any McCartney album or hits compilation. I mean, nobody's arguing it ranks among his best work, but compared to some of the drivel he's put out over the decades, it's certainly nothing to be ashamed of.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Peter Wolf.

Now Playing: Various artists Celtic Moods
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Thursday, August 07, 2014

The sounds of space

Welcome to my latest obsession: Sounds from space. I know, I know, space is for all practical purposes a vacuum (unless you're designing an interstellar ramjet) so sound as we know it doesn't exist there. And even if it did in the thin stellar media, we'd need fantastically sensitive microphones to pick up any hint of audio.

Well, I thought so, until I stumbled across the "NASA Space Sounds" video below when it was being shared around the interwebz recently. Instruments aboard Voyagers I and II, as well as several other space probes, recorded an array of electromagnetic signals that, when converted to sound (think of it as running it through a space age amplifier) the result is a strange and eerie ambient sound that is utterly engrossing. To my ear, at least, the pieces are evocative of the non-classical music soundtrack from 201: A Space Odyssey. So that's bonus points right there.

The sequences sampled below are taken from a series of 5 CD put out by Laserlight in 1990 titled "Symphonies of the Planets" as well as an additional volume a few years later titled "Celestial Love Songs." Long out of print, they're quite pricey to purchase second hand. Fortunately, they're readily available as MP3 (as well as other format) downloads online, the only drawback being the file labeling isn't consistent and therefore it's challenging to keep track of individual tracks. And since all data, audio and video released by NASA is public domain, fans of these fascinating ambient sounds may download with a clear conscience that no copyright is being violated.

Alas, in my obsessive research, I've learned that things aren't so cut-and-dried. Yes, NASA does take collected electromagnetic data and convert it into audible sound, but the raw, unvarnished audio doesn't sound all that much like what we hear on the CDs. That's because Laserlight (or Brain/Mind Research, which handled the production) didn't just take the NASA audio and burn it to disc. They ran it through an intergalactic version of the nefarious Auto-Tune, processing it heavily and looping, over-dubbing and sweetening with synthesizers to the point where many of the actual "space sounds" are tenuous at best. In fact, some pieces, such as the samples of "Song of Earth" and "Voices of Earth" in the video above simply do away with the source material entirely and re-orchestrate it. I guess that make it an artistic interpretation of the data rather than an objective representation (which opens up the whole objective/subjective reality can of worms, but I digress...).

What's more, it brings copyright into question. It is clearly established law that what is public domain cannot be subsequently copyrighted (publishers may copyright specific presentations of public domain materials, but not the content itself, which is why you can find free 1920s jazz downloads online, as well as the complete works of Charles Dickens, even though publishers put out new editions every few years). However, derivative works of both copyright and public domain can be copyrighted, but only that which is new and derivative is thus protected, ie the original which is incorporated into the derivation remains in the public domain. In this particular case, I would expect the Brain/Mind Research productions to be fully covered by copyright protection. Being out of print is irrelevant. However (and I'm full of caveats today, aren't I?) their persistent and insistent claims (indeed, the entirety of their marketing and mass appeal) that the audio is direct from NASA, with no claims of alteration on their part would, at least superficially, serve to undermine any copyright protection as, has been pointed out previously, all NASA materials are automatically released to public domain. For Brain/Mind Research to assert their copyright on these works, they would effectively have to admit false advertising, which would significantly diminish the value of said works. It's an interesting academic question, albeit one I doubt anybody is going to bother exploring any time soon.

Authentic or not, I find the interpretations of space sounds interesting and appealing. I'll be keeping an eye on Ebay and the like in case a CD shows up for a bargain price...

Now Playing: NASA Voyager Recordings Symphonies of the Planets
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Friday, August 01, 2014

Friday Night Videos

I saw Peter Wolf's "When Women Are Lonely" exactly once, on MTV, back in 1990 or 1991. I never saw the video again, never heard the song on the radio. It was off Wolf's Up to No Good album, which received no airplay and flopped, thus relegating him to that subset of former hit makers who have to content themselves with putting out critically acclaimed albums few people hear. Still, I fell in love with the song and have waited a long time for the video to resurface on YouTube. Enjoy.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... "Weird Al" Yankovic

Now Playing: The Kinks Arthur (or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)
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Chicken Ranch anniversary: 41 years and counting

On this date in 1973, the infamous Chicken Ranch brothel of La Grange, Texas, closed its doors for good. The closure followed a week (give or take--it's been tough to pin down exact dates) of broadcasts by Houston TV station KTRK's consumer affairs reporter Marvin Zindler, accusing the brothel of corruption and conspiracy. The Chicken Ranch had survived attempts to close it before, but the white-hot media spotlight proved too much for it. The brothel claimed a history dating back to 1844, back during the Republic of Texas days, and if those claims couldn't be substantiated, there was at least evidence of organized prostitution dating to the 1880s. Throughout the latter half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, rare was the Texas town that didn't have a whorehouse of some fashion. The one thing that really made La Grange unique is that by 1973 the Chicken Ranch was (the Wagon Wheel in Sealy aside) the only one left.

Since my epic history of the place is still languishing on editors' desks, why not console yourself with my photo tour of the ruins, Ghosts of the Chicken Ranch? Eh, it was worth a shot.

To mark the occasion of the 41th anniversary of the closure of the Chicken Ranch, I offer up this excerpt from Chapter 12, chronicling the final hours of the famed brothel:

"Why don’t you call Sheriff Flournoy yourself, Dolph?" Colonel Wilson Speir, head of the DPS, suggested out of the blue.

As the trying day turned into an equally trying night, Governor Briscoe continued to talk with Colonel Speir to find some way out of the impasse. During their discussion, the governor--a long-time South Texas rancher--realized he’d known Big Jim from way back, when the sheriff worked as the foreman of the McGill Brothers Ranch. Big Jim resented outside interference in what he considered a strictly local matter, but Marvin Zindler had shone a glaring spotlight on it. Clearly, things could never go back to the wink-and-nod tolerance of before. The sheriff didn’t accept that the DPS had any authority over him, but if Governor Briscoe himself gave the order...

"Sheriff, it’s just too much. We’ll just have to close it down," Governor Briscoe said as soon as he got Big Jim on the line.

"You know, there’s a lot of furniture out there and we have to get those girls moved out," Big Jim answered in his slow drawl. "Why don’t you let us run two more weeks just to let things taper off?"

"No sheriff, you’re just going to have to shut it down. That’s all there is to it. There’s too much heat. Everybody’s embarrassed by this thing," Governor Briscoe said. "Sheriff, I am ordering you to close what is known as the Chicken Ranch."

Big Jim paused a long moment, then answered with a simple, tired, "Okay."

"He and I both knew that I had no authority to order him to close the place, but it was a practical way for us to get the law enforced in that county," Governor Briscoe said later. "For several days afterward I kept waiting for someone to point out that I had no legal authority to close the place down, but no one did."

All that remained was for Big Jim to inform Miss Edna, a phone call he loathed to make. Miss Edna’s nephew, Robert Kleffman, was visiting when his aunt disappeared into her office to take the call. When she returned, her mood was grim.

"She said, ‘Dang it Robert, Mr. Jim's got to shut us down. He's got to. The Governor's on his way,’" Kleffman said. "She sent all the girls home except for two. I went and got a shirt--Edna'd bought me some new shirts, she was always buying me clothes--and I pulled the cardboard out of it and I drew the block letters of CLOSED. I stuck it on the front screen door with a bobby pin and shut the door and locked it.

"Edna had everybody get their cars and took 'em around back. In a little bit, there was a knock on the door, and we just didn't answer it," he said. "We sat back in the back. There was a bottle of Cold Duck, and me and those two girls sat back there drinking that bottle of grape juice, watching TV in the dining room.

"Edna sat back there, kinda daydreaming and looking out the window, thinking the way she does. We just refused to answer the door," he said. "That was the end of it, because we were told the Governor and the Texas Rangers--that's the story as I remember it--were coming down and were going to close the place. So we just put a closed sign on the front and didn't answer. We made like we weren't there."

The news hit Miss Edna like a ton of bricks. She sent the few customers there that night home, then called the girls together and told them the story. Most of the women packed their bags that night and left by morning.

"One or two little girls--they were young but they were not kids--I got tickled with them. They came in and got in my lap and put their arms around my shoulders and neck and everything. I had to kind of grin," Miss Edna said, smiling at the bittersweet memory. "It was sweet of them, you know. They’d been there long enough where I was family to them. Those little girls, I’ll remember forever.

"Later, another one came in I wasn’t expecting and did the same thing, nearly. It wasn’t quite rehearsed, but nevertheless it could’ve been," she said. "If something had happened and I could’ve reopened and gotten those girls back... well, I wouldn’t have made pets out of them, but it would’ve been hard for me to ever raise hell with them [if they misbehaved]."

Despite all of Marvin’s publicity, Miss Edna never truly believed the Chicken Ranch might close down. Since the brothel claimed origins dating back to 1844--before Texas became a state--she believed the Chicken Ranch had a grandfathered exemption to any modern anti-prostitution laws. Armed with that, as well as a long list of powerful business and political clients that stretched from Austin to Washington, D.C., she considered fighting the order that long, dark night following Big Jim’s call. Even if she didn’t win, she could bring a whole bunch of cowardly hypocrites down with her--and probably take out half the Texas legislature and congressional delegations. By morning, though, Miss Edna threw in the towel.

"The whole damn thing, in a nut shell, was that I didn’t want to keep it open and I sure didn’t want to guilt somebody to mess up or sell to somebody even if they got somebody to finance it or otherwise. I was just tired," Miss Edna said. "It needed more hours than is humanly possible for a person to do. If you’re putting in 14, 16 and 18 some days 20 hours. You get a little tired after a while. And it doesn’t take very many years to kill you.

"After awhile you get so tired, and I did. Toward the last, so damn tired of everything. I was ready to get the hell out of there," she said. "If I hadn’t been so terribly tired I might’ve fought them, to keep it open. But I was just tired."
I'll see you back here for the 50th. I've got no specific plans yet, but I'm certain I'll come up with something by then...

Now Playing: ZZ Top Tres Hombres
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