Eugeology #3 – Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Nuthin’ Fancy

For week three Eugene picked an album I’m much more familiar with than his choices for the first two installments. Lynyrd Skynyrd got some heavy play in my circle of friends, especially during middle school. In fact one of my buddies had a big ol’ boom box – I think that thing took 10 D cell batteries – that he would bring to the basketball court in our neighborhood and we’d listen to a steady rotation of Lynyrd Skynyrd, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, Kiss and plenty of others I’m forgetting. So I have a soft spot for Skynyrd and for southern rock in general. (I’m looking forward to Tim’s comments because I’m pretty sure he feels the exact opposite about the genre).

To be clear, what was played was a mix of Skynyrd’s greatest hits that contained all the songs you’d expect: Freebird, Simple Man, Sweet Home Alabama, That Smell, Don’t Ask Me No Questions and Saturday Night Special. Of those staples the only one on this album is Saturday Night Special, so going back and listening to the full album was a fun experience because I doubt I listened to all these tracks more than a few times even back in my not-misspent-nearly-enough youth.

Now I can’t say I liked all of these tracks back then. I didn’t really enjoy the long, bluesy riffs that were staples of the southern rock scene. I much preferred the harder, fast style of songs like Saturday Night Special, which actually were bluesy when compared to the hard non-southern rock of that era, just not too bluesy. My 50-year old ears DO enjoy the deeper blues sound, so I’m really glad Eugene picked this one.

Something that needs to be said about this exercise is that it’s reminding me of the pleasure inherent to listening to a full album. In my younger days I don’t think I had a full appreciation for the artistry involved in producing an album. The choices made in song order, the progression of the “story,” is something I never paid attention to but now in the era of endless DIY playlists and streaming “stations” based on artists I’m gaining a newfound appreciation for listening to an album that as a whole is greater than its parts.

Nuthin’ Fancy is a great listen, and one that works well with a leisurely drive or while working around the house. Hell, I even had it playing at the office one day when I was working a little late. Yep, this one’s getting added to my collection – a collection that’s growing for the first time in a while thanks to this exercise.

Links & Notes

Nuthin’ Fancy Wikipedia Page
Wheeler’s Dog (Eugene’s Blog)
Useless Things Need Love Too (Tim’s Blog)

 

Inauguration Got You Down? This Probably Won’t Help

Harper’s Weekly Review is usually a compilation of single sentence summaries of the previous weeks news made humorous by their juxtapositions to one another and usually totaling three or four long-ish paragraphs. This week’s was a single, very long, paragraph about Donald Trump titled Tower of Babble and it’s worth spending a couple of minutes reading it. Here’s a taste:

Donald J. Trump, a reality-television star erecting a mausoleum for himself behind the first-hole tee of a golf course he owns in New Jersey, first declared his candidacy for president of the United States in the atrium of Trump Tower, which he built in the 1980s with labor provided by hundreds of undocumented Polish workers and concrete purchased at an inflated price from the Gambino and Genovese crime families. “The American dream is dead,” Trump said to the audience members, each of whom he paid $50 to attend…

Trump said that his book The Art of the Deal was second in quality only to the Bible and that he never explicitly asked God for forgiveness. At a church in Iowa, he placed a few dollar bills into a bowl filled with sacramental bread, which he has referred to as “my little cracker.” Trump, who once dumped a glass of wine on a journalist who wrote a story he didn’t like, told his supporters that journalists were “liars,” the “lowest form of humanity,” and “enemies,” but that he did not approve of killing them. “I’m a very sane person,” said Trump, who once hosted a radio show in which he discussed the development of hair-cloning technology, the creation of a vaccine for obesity, the number of men a gay man thinks about having sex with on his morning commute, and the dangers of giving free Viagra to rapists…

Trump said that he doesn’t pay employees who don’t “do a good job,” after a review of the more than 3,500 lawsuits filed against Trump found that he has been accused of stiffing a painter and a dishwasher in Florida, a glass company in New Jersey, dozens of hourly hospitality workers, and some of the lawyers who represented him. “I’m a fighter,” said Trump, who body-slammed the WWE chairman at WrestleMania 23 in 2007, and who attended WrestleMania IV with Robert LiButti, an Atlantic City gambler with alleged mafia ties, who told Trump he’d “fucking pull your balls from your legs” if Trump didn’t stop trying to seduce his daughter. Trump, whose first wife, Ivana, accused him in divorce filings of rape, and whose special council later said rape within a marriage was not possible, said “no one respects women more than I do.”

There’s more. Much, much more. This piece should be considered a contribution to the public good and Harper’s is to be commended for running it.

Eugeology #2 – Ratt’s Invasion of Your Privacy

The Eugeology Series is based on a list of hard rock albums that Eugene Sims has compiled and shared with me and Tim Beeman. (Read his description of the process here). We each write our own comments and then share them so that we can see where we agree, or just as likely, disagree. Compared to them I’m a know-nothing, which will be obvious with each review.

Eugene’s second pick was more familiar to me than his first, but I hadn’t heard any of these tracks in at least 20 years (yeah, I’m old) so it was definitely a blast from the past.

I wasn’t a big Ratt fan back in my mullet days, but they definitely had a few songs I got into and one of them was “Lay It Down” which is the third track on this album. Hearing it again all these years later I have to say it’s not as “hard” as I remember it. I really remembered it being more like Motley Crue’s Dr. Feelgood but it isn’t close to that song’s tempo or intensity. Still, it’s a solid tune and I was happy to hear it again.

“You’re In Love” was the other song I remembered and my opinion of that one hasn’t changed much. I kind of liked it back in the day, and I kind of liked it this time around.

A surprise was how much I liked the album’s 5th track, “Closer to My Heart.” I can almost guarantee you my younger self didn’t like it much – far too slow and melodic, but with my old man ears I really liked this one. There’s also a nice little guitar riff at the end that was a pleasant surprise.

Listening to the album a couple of times over the last week reminded me why I wasn’t a huge Ratt fan bag in the day: I just couldn’t get into Stephen Pearcy’s vocals. They always sounded whiny to me, and while it’s definitely a distinctive sound it just never did much for me. When you listen to a full album, versus one song here and there, it really comes through. The band is solid, but when the lead vocals don’t work for you it’s kind of hard to overcome.

Overall it’s a good album, and if you aren’t like me and like Pearcy’s vocals, then I think you’ll find it worth your time.I’ll be interested in reading Tim and Eugene’s take on this.

Now, I’m looking forward to hearing what’s next on Eugene’s list.

Links & Notes

Invasion of Your Privacy Wikipedia Page
Wheeler’s Dog (Eugene’s Blog)
Useless Things Need Love Too (Tim’s Blog)

Eugeology #1 – Mother Love Bone’s Apple

Over the last few years I’ve had the very good fortune of becoming friends with Tim Beeman and Eugene Sims, first as a guest on The Less Desirables podcast and then through the development of the Beer Dads Podcast. A little while back we were talking about music, our shared love of hard rock in particular, and Eugene offered to come up with a list of 50 albums that we could all listen to and share our opinions about. We’re calling it the Eugeology: Eugene’s List of Hard Rock Albums and Possible Gems. Since both of them have more knowledge about this than I ever will, by at least a factor of 1,000, I feel very fortunate that they’ve allowed me to tag along for the ride.

Tim and Eugene both regularly review music, movies, TV shows and other forms of art on their respective blogs, so rather than try and write critiques as if I know what I’m doing I thought I’d take the only approach I really can: provide the unsophisticated opinions of a guy who always just listened to whatever was on the radio when he was growing up and whose vocabulary is limited to terms like, “Loved it”, “Really liked that guitar solo”, “That dude can really sing”, etc.

So without further ado here’s the first album Eugene served up: Mother Love Bone’s Apple.

First off I should say that before Eugene sent this I’d probably only heard a couple of tracks off of the album before, and I guarantee you I hadn’t heard any of them in at least 15 years. Thus this was a real treat for me because this is a helluva an album.

The band’s singer was a guy named Andrew Wood. Sadly, he died of a heroin overdose just before the album was released which is why anyone who’s not an aficionado (like yours truly) could be forgiven for not knowing about these guys. The album has 13 tracks, of which I’d guess the best known is Crown of Thorns– which makes sense to me because I think it’s the best track on the album. That’s not to say there aren’t other contenders though, because I think you could make an argument for Holy Roller and Star Gazer as well.

It truly is a tragedy that Wood passed away before he could enjoy what was surely going to be an extraordinary career. Some of his vocals reminded me of Axl Rose, others reminded me a bit of Chris Cornell. His voice was distinctive and I most enjoyed the tracks where he was able to show it off, including the three listed above.

The rest of the group were no slouches either, with two of them – Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament – going on to form Pearl Jam with Eddie Vedder and Mike McCready. If you’re a fan of the Seattle music scene, or really any of the early 90s rock scene, then you’ll love this album.

Honestly, it’s mind-blowing that I haven’t listened to this album until now, but I’m on my third pass through as I type this and it won’t be the last. I might be slow, but I work hard to catch up.

Can’t wait to see what Eugene serves up next.

Notes:
Mother Love Bone-Apple Wikipedia page
Useless Things Need Love Too (Tim’s Blog)
Wheeler’s Dog (Eugene’s Blog)

Family Feud

If you’ve been paying attention to North Carolina politics recently, and a lot of people around the country have, then you probably know that Democrat Roy Cooper narrowly beat incumbent Republican Pat McCrory in the governor’s race despite almost every other Republican who ran in a statewide race won handily, including PEOTUS Trump. You also probably know that Republicans continue to enjoy a super majority in the House and Senate. What that means is that the legislature should be able to overcome any veto that Governor-elect Cooper throws at them.

Given that backdrop it seemed strange that the legislature, and current Gov. McCrory would be so aggressive in stripping the office of significant amounts of power before Cooper entered the picture in January. Why risk alienating the many unaffiliated voters who voted Republican by making what appears to be a “sour grapes” power grab? After all, if you can do what you want without fear of a veto stopping you why not just let the man assume his office and beat him fair and square at every turn for the next four years?

The answer to that question is being made vividly clear at the special session that was called today with the stated purpose of repealing the controversial HB2 law that has negatively impacted the state in many ways, including economically. What’s being called a “rural faction” of the GOP is trying to prevent the repeal despite an apparent deal with the city of Charlotte to do just that if the city would in turn repeal its ordinance that instigated the push for the law in the first place. This rift within the Republican Party has existed since the party took control of the legislature a couple of sessions ago, but it’s been fairly well hidden from the general public. Until now.

In the past the rift within the NCGOP has been perceived as being between “culture conservatives” and “business conservatives” but in reality it’s as much about rural versus urban. Without a united front the GOP could struggle to overcome vetoes on any issues that aren’t slam dunks across the GOP ideological spectrum, thus it is in the party leadership’s best interests to limit the governor’s power as much as possible. That way even if they don’t get everything they want, they’ve severely curtailed his administrative powers and thus they don’t HAVE to get everything they want.

And then there’s the special election that the legislators face in 2017 once a court-mandated redistricting is complete. That could result in a decline in GOP-held seats which, in turn, could erode the party’s number of seats to the point where they lose the super-majority. That makes trimming the Governor elect’s feathers now a pretty logical thing to do from their standpoint.

The result of all this is that we are set up for a very aggressive agenda from the GOP for the 2017 long session. They will want to finish what they’ve started with this fall’s special sessions, particularly their education “reforms” and their push to curtail the power of the Department of Environmental Quality. With Cooper neutered they’ll have an easier path to getting that done if all they have to do is horse-trade within their own caucus. Things could be much more complicated for them in 2018, so they’re going to get going while the getting’s good.

Buckle up folks. 2017’s gonna be a wild ride.

The views and opinions expressed here are mine alone and do not reflect the positions, or views, of my employer, my family or anyone else.

 

Gown Towns Thrive

Yesterday I was in a meeting with several people involved with local real estate development and they were asked what the top business priority is for their county (Guilford, NC) going into 2017. Their response, as has been the case for every year in recent memory, was that job growth will continue to be the most critical issue for their businesses. In the course of answering the question quite a few of these people referenced other cities in North Carolina that seem to be thriving – Raleigh, Cary, Charlotte and “even Wilmington” – were the names I remembered. What stuck out, to me, was that no one mentioned Winston-Salem.

Now let me state up front that I’m not prepared to offer any statistics that compare the jobs situation in Winston-Salem to those in Guilford County’s two cities, Greensboro and High Point. But I will say that if you were to poll most people who pay attention to business in the region, they will tell you that Winston-Salem’s economic recovery from the nuclear annihilation that has befallen this region’s traditional economy is further along than its neighbors to the east. For some reason, though, leaders in Greensboro and High Point seem to ignore what’s going on just 30 miles to their west (and in all fairness the reverse is also true), and as a result no one seems to know why there’s a difference between these two very similar neighbors.

A personal theory is that there are a lot of complex and interwoven factors at play here, but one big one is the presence of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. The university, and in particular it’s medical school, has been a partner with the city and local companies as the city moved away from it’s traditional tobacco manufacturing base toward a “knowledge economy” with a niche in the area of medical research. Starting over 20 years ago Winston-Salem’s civic and business leaders recognized the need to re-position the city’s economy and Wake Forest played a significant role in those plans. The results are plain to see in the city’s Innovation Quarter, which is booming and is primed for exponential growth over the next 10-15 years.

30 miles to the east Greensboro actually has more schools, including NC A&T and UNCG, but they don’t seem to have had the same effect on the city’s economy. Yet. We’re starting to see much more activity there, including the Union Square Campus that recently opened and is already bearing economic fruit for the city and there’s PLENTY of potential for even more growth. As long as the city’s leaders continue to keep their eye on the ball there’s a very good chance this will happen, as it has in other college towns.

This article in the Wall Street Journal has a lot of data showing how cities in the US that have strong colleges, especially those with research programs, have recovered from the decline in the manufacturing sector over the last two decades. Here’s an excerpt:

A nationwide study by the Brookings Institution for The Wall Street Journal found 16 geographic areas where overall job growth was strong, even though manufacturing employment fell more sharply in those places from 2000 to 2014 than in the U.S. as a whole…

“Better educated places with colleges tend to be more productive and more able to shift out of declining industries into growing ones,” says Mark Muro, a Brookings urban specialist. “Ultimately, cities survive by continually adapting their economies to new technologies, and colleges are central to that.”…

Universities boost more than just highly educated people, says Enrico Moretti, an economics professor at the University of California at Berkeley. The incomes of high-school dropouts in college towns increase by a bigger percentage than those of college graduates over time because demand rises sharply for restaurant workers, construction crews and other less-skilled jobs, he says.

And here’s the money quote as it relates to local economic development efforts:

Places where academics work closely with local employers and development officials can especially benefit. “Universities produce knowledge, and if they have professors who are into patenting and research, it’s like having a ready base of entrepreneurs in the area,” says Harvard University economist Edward Glaeser.

Let’s hope our local leaders take full advantage of what our colleges have to offer, for all of our benefit.