Friday, September 04, 2015

Driving Music - Preesh!

The Xterra is getting a bit long in the tooth - multi-CD changer but no MP3 player.  So I had the bright idea of making a CD of the songs that Preesh! covered at the Cat's Cradle last weekend during the Be Loud! Sophie benefit - until I came to the shocking realization that I had copies of everything on the setlist except the first and last tunes.  I do have the Hindu Love Gods on cassette but I've never digitized it and the only Prince I've got is the vinyl for 1999.  And while I have copies of almost everything Elvis Costello has ever recorded, I did not (until tonight) own a copy of Imperial Bedroom in any format.  Thanks to Google Play that has been rectified and I did go with the Warren Zevon/Hindu Love Gods version of "Raspberry Beret".

So the CD is now complete, with live versions of "Respectable Street", "Bad Reputation" and "Driven to Tears" all taken from the incredible Urgh! A Music War soundtrack.

Ready for the road!


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Courtin' Songs

Every relationship has songs that have meaning for the couple in it that would make no sense to anyone else.  This is my quick take on songs that, if encountered in the wild, will cause us to pause and look at each other and smile, grin, smooch, laugh or look mildly embarrassed.

Tears for Fears - Pale Shelter
Talk Talk - It's My Life
Icicle Works - Birds Fly (Whisper to a Scream)
The Psychedelic Furs - Heaven
Depeche Mode - People Are People
U2 - Sunday Bloody Sunday
Frankie Goes to Hollywood - Two Tribes
The English Beat - Jeanette
REM - Don't Go Back to Rockville
The Monkees - Daydream Believer

The first seven were constantly in rotation at Cagney's on DuPont Circle in DC, where we would go as often as possible to escape our little apartment in Montgomery Village (aka Stepford) when we first got together. The rest have their own stories that wouldn't mean anything to anyone but us. But that's a hell of a playlist...


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Family IT Guy - Dell XPS 13 Edition

I'm not one of those guys that complains about being the family IT guy - I've enjoyed helping Jeannette and my folks with upgrades, replacements, troubleshooting etc (and I never forget that I'm a second-generation IT guy - Mom preceded me in the IT support biz).  With all of the unsolvable problems I run into as an IT manager, it's nice getting my hands "dirty" and actually solving a problem.  I'm usually fairly methodical, doing some research before jumping in.

That wasn't the case when Jeannette told me last week that she was getting messages on her Dell ultrabook saying that her hard drive was about to crash.  She had some things she needed to do urgently so I uncharacteristically sprang into action without thinking things through.  

1st step was actually reasonable - grab an external hard drive with some space and copy off all of her data.  I do occasionally back up her laptop but it had been awhile.  That preserved her photos, documents etc but didn't help for her installed software like MS Office and Scrivener.

That done, I rushed out to Best Buy to grab a new SSD.  Dumb.  If I'd taken five minutes to check, I'd have noted that the XPS doesn't use a full-size SSD - it has an mSATA drive that looks more like a memory stick than a hard drive.  I would have also noticed that the laptop has 10 screws requiring an odd-size screwdriver that I didn't own in order to get into the guts.

So off to Amazon (thank you, Amazon Prime!) to order an mSATA drive and a set of screwdrivers that include a Torx T5 head.  I should have used that time to take a deep breath and think this through, but instead we went to the beach where I got horribly sunburned, ate way too much Mexican food, had a fantastic time and didn't think much at all about computers.

Back home and I'm starting to flounder around again rather than thinking about this.  I've replaced OS drives on workstations and laptops before so the fact that the drive hadn't failed should have made this easy.  But my normal methods were failing me with the ultrabook.  No optical drive, no additional SATA ports, limited USB ports.  I couldn't hook up the external optical drive I have because it requires two USB ports and the only two on the Dell are on opposite sides of the box and the cables on the drive wouldn't reach them both.

Finally, step back, take a deep breath.

1) Clear off a good-sized USB stick, download Clonezilla (open source software), install it on the USB drive and make the drive bootable.

2) Hook up the big external drive I'd used to copy files to as a target for the clone

3) Boot from the USB stick and clone the soon-to-be-dead hard drive to the external drive

4) Remove the bottom cover of the laptop, replace the mSATA drive and close it up (this was actually remarkably straightforward).

5) Boot from the USB key again and clone the new hard drive

6) Boot from the new hard drive - all is well

The only issue I ran into afterwards was that Spybot was acting funky but I don't think that had anything to do with the clone process - I think it just hadn't been updated in awhile, so I blew it away, reinstalled it and it seems to be working fine now.

My lesson from all of this - Don't Rush!  Take an hour to do some research and think things through and things will go much faster overall.  Regardless, the good news is that J has her laptop back and I feel a sense of relief.

I'm also thinking that in addition to the normal backups that I do, I may start cloning the OS drive on my workstation every couple of months to make sure I can recover programs in addition to data.


Friday, June 19, 2015

A Slow About-face

It has taken me a long time to get here, but I have finally done a complete 180 with my opinion on getting rid of vestiges of the Confederacy.

Southerners might have lost the war, but we won the PR campaign, I would assume because the North was war weary and probably didn't see the harm.  When the Republican Party bought the 1876 Presidential election in exchange for withdrawing Federal troops from the former Confederate states, it ended Reconstruction and ushered in nearly a century of lynching, Jim Crow, voter suppression (okay, more than a century of that) and other methods of ensuring that the lowest white folks maintained a distinct advantage over most black folks.

I grew up in the South and was raised with the knowledge that Southern generals like Lee and Jackson were far superior to Yankee trash like Grant and Sherman both as tacticians and as gentlemen.  The noble cause of the South (states rights of course - had nothing to do with slavery) was brought down by there being just too damn many damn Yankees.

The view that we never really lost the war led to a South full of buildings named after Southern politicians and generals, statues of Confederate leaders in every town and US military bases named after Southern generals who made their career killing US military personnel.

I long ago lost any interest in the Rebel battle flag or any illusion that secession and the resulting war were about anything other than a burning desire to continue to have the right to own other human beings as personal chattel.  But I accepted the buildings like Saunders Hall at UNC and the military bases named for traitorous generals as pieces of history that we needed to remember.

It was only in the past few months that I've come to realize how incredibly wrong that is.  While Ta-Nehisi Coates maintained yesterday in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on African-American parishioners in Charleston that one doesn't have to compare it to the Holocaust to state the seriousness of racism in America, I think for some of us born and raised in the South that you do.  It wasn't until I started to consider whether I would think a building named for Goebbels or Himmler in a German university would be ok.  And the idea that US soldiers (white or black) would be serving on bases honoring generals who led troops responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of US soldiers suddenly became completely repulsive.

We're not going to forget the Civil War or Reconstruction or Jim Crow or mob violence and terrorism against black people if we don't have buildings named after racist KKK leaders on our university campuses any more than we're going to forget the horrors of WWII even though Germany doesn't still fly a flag with a swastika on it.  The thought of a young African-American student having to take a class in a building named after a KKK leader is completely abhorrent and should not happen anywhere.  

We're not covering up history by doing things like renamed Saunders Hall - we're recognizing that the myths that many of us grew up with were damaging self-serving lies and it's time we grew the fuck up.

Labels: ,

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Cord-cutting Update

A little geeky, maybe, but here's the latest status on our cord-cutting adventure.

Our previous setup was Earthlink DSL and Time Warner Cable, with coax directly into the bedroom TV (so we only got the lower tier of channels) and coax in the media room split between a TWC-provided digital receiver for the full slate of channels and a home theater PC I built a few years ago, that I used as a DVR for the lower tier of channels).

With a change in my work situation last May, we decided to do what we'd been discussing for some time and get rid of our TWC service.  Living in Chapel Hill, my biggest concern with over-the-air delivery was the distance to the towers servicing the Research Triangle market (most of which are located SE of Raleigh) and to the Triad (most of which I think are down around High Point) - we split the middle and aren't particularly close to either market.  Previous purchases of interior digital antenna were definitely unsatisfactory and exterior antenna looked like a huge hassle.  However, Jeannette and I independently hit on an antenna that does work for us - the Mohu Leaf.

Our current set-up in the bedroom is simple - TV attached to a Mohu Leaf 50 powered antenna that is in the bedroom bay window facing pretty much East.  We get decent reception of some Triangle and some Triad stations - enough that all the major networks are covered from one or the other market (except maybe NBC but who the hell watches NBC?).  Plus we get the UNC stations of course.  We absolutely get some pixelation and picture freezes from time to time (often weather-dependent) but overall it's a pretty acceptable experience.  We also have a Google Chromecast device on the bedroom TV which allows streaming of Netflix, Youtube, HuluPlus and anything in a Chrome browser.

The media room TV setup is a bit more complicated.  I mentioned the home-theater PC that I was running cable through (no cablecard, so I was only getting the lower tier of TWC channels through it).  That HTPC remains as part of the setup.  Adding a second Mohu Leaf 50 however was unsatisfactory.  We've never been able to find an antenna position in the media room that brought in more than a couple of channels clearly.  So we've added another component - an HDHomeRun Extend, which is basically a router-sized box with Ethernet connectivity and two TV tuners.  It sits upstairs in my home office attached via Ethernet to our wireless access point and via coax to the second Mohu Leaf, this one in my office window facing SW.  So TV watching in the media room is through Windows Media Center on the HTPC accessing the HD Homerun tuners via the home network.  The HD Homerun unit also gives us the capability to watch over-the-air TV on pretty much any of our networked devices (PCs, tablets, etc).

So OTA is taken care of with the two Mohu Leaf antennae and streaming via the HTPC in the media room, the Googlecast unit in the bedroom and subscriptions to HuluPlus, Netflix and Amazon Prime.  That certainly doesn't get us everything we used to have with cable, but Sling TV will get us closer when it is available next month.  The HTPC gives us DVR capability as well.

With the various subscriptions (including the Sling TV that we'll add when available), we've dropped a $106/month cable bill in favor of about $42/month in subscriptions (we were already paying for Netflix so I'm not counting it).  Overall equipment costs for stuff we didn't already have was about $250 for the two Mohu Leaf antennae and the HD Homerun Extend (look around for deals) - depreciate those purchases over a year and you can add another $20/month to the total for year 1.  Still substantially below the monthly cable bill.

So how does this new arrangement stack up?  For broadcast networks, it is mostly better.  We're getting uncompressed HD signals (unlike TWC) so the picture is typically better.  We do get pixelation and the occasional screen freeze but frankly we did on TWC as well.  Most will let you stream the latest handful of episodes for free within a day or two of broadcast as well and I can usually get full HD with fewer glitches than either our old cable or the over-the-air setup. There are a lot of cable shows that are available for streaming but that has been hit-or-miss.  No longer having Syfy, we managed to stream all of the last season of Defiance, but for some reason the Syfy website dropped about 5 episodes of Haven all at once so we missed most of the latest season of it.  Covert Affairs is just not available for streaming anywhere without either a cable/satellite provider or paying via Amazon or iTunes.  On the other hand, I've missed a large number of Doctor Who episodes since the relaunch so we're making our way through the Eccleston season and will soon get started on the Tennant years.  Sling TV will get us ESPN, TNT and some other networks back that we've missed, but Jeannette still really misses her Turner Classic Movies (ok, I do too) and I do miss Syfy and USA.  But frankly those three channels are probably all I'm missing from a full cable subscription that I would actually watch with any frequency.

I think once we've gotten Sling TV (please before the end of the college basketball season please?), we'll be in good shape to last the two or three years it will take before Google Fiber is available in our neighborhood.

Labels: ,

Sunday, January 04, 2015

A Year (or more) of Beer

I joined Untappd about 16 months ago as a way to track what I liked (and didn't like) while enjoying the craft beer revolution.  Typically if I drink more than one of a particular brew in a night, I only check it in once.  That being said, here are my top check-ins (first is most - go Foothills!):

1.  Foothills Hoppyum IPA
2.  Starpoint Brewing Duh! DIPA
3.  New Belgium Rampant DIPA
4.  Bell's Two Hearted Ale
5.  Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA
6.  Victory DirtWolf DIPA
7.  Catawba Firewater IPA
8.  Carolina Brewery Flagship IPA
9.  Ska Modus Hoperandi IPA
10. Terrapin Hopsecutioner IPA

Foothills has done a great job getting Hoppyum into restaurants and sports arenas in the Carolinas (doesn't hurt that it's really good) and of course dinner at Margaret's with a couple of Tim's Duh!'s is the highlight of any week.  If I'm heading up to our family place in the NC mountains, I'll usually pick up some Catawba Firewater at Ingles.

While I rarely rate anything less than 3, I've never rated anything a 5 and I've only had a handful of 4.5s:

Starpoint's Duh!
Bell's Two Hearted Ale
Victory DirtWolf
NoDa Hop, Drop and Roll
Terrapin's Wake-n-Bake Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout
Terrapin's Hopzilla DIPA
Stone's Arrogant Bastard Ale
AlphaDog's Imperial IPA
Foothills Seeing Double IPA

Obviously I like the strong stuff as 6 of the 9 are 8% ABV or higher.  The DirtWolf is as close to a 5 as I've ever had and if I don't find anything better in the next few months, I'll revise their score up.

In terms of breweries, I've never had anything from Terrapin in Athens, GA that I didn't think was fantastic.  NoDa from Charlotte and Olde Hickory (from Hickory, of course) do some really interesting things.  Locally I'm not going to go wrong with Starpoint or Steel String or Carolina Brewery or Top of the Hill.  But one of the things I find remarkable is the excellent beer one can find in some out-of-the-way places.  If you're in the northwestern part of the state, drop in at Dry County Brewery and Pizza Shop in Spruce Pine for some really good beer and some excellent pies.  Even further afield, Blind Squirrel Brewery in Plumtree does a fine IPA. Catawba Brewing Co. in Morganton is doing some good stuff outside of the huge Asheville beernanza.

It's a good time to be a beer lover.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Another Goodbye to Another Good Friend

Just heard from a mutual friend today that my bud Dave Anstine died this summer.  Dave and I worked together at Nortel and then at CSC, Dave in Richardson, TX and me in RTP.  Dave was hard-working, funny, smart, loyal and one of the most fun people I've ever been around.  I have no idea what happened to him and maybe it doesn't matter - all the matters is that a good man is no longer with us.

Dave introduced me to Deep Ellum in Dallas and I introduced him to The Cave in Chapel Hill.  Whenever we were able to get together, trouble would likely ensue and we'd somehow talk our way out of any negative repercussions.  He was bright, charming and irrepressible.

I was in Dallas for meetings not long after Dave bought his first house.  It was up in Plano when Dallas Metro real estate was pretty cheap (may still be) and Dave had bought this 3500 sf place and furnished it with exactly the following:

1 easy chair
1 TV and stereo
1 mattress/box springs
2 kitchen stools

One bedroom was where his clean laundry was neatly folded in stacks on the floor.  The window coverings were brown butcher paper taped (or stapled?) up over them.  It was perfect.

Dave introduced me to the Old 97s, the Killers and more recently to Caro Emerald.  I hope I turned him on to some good music as well.  We lost touch for awhile other than yearly Christmas cards and the occasional Facebook chat until earlier this year, when he told me that he was quitting his job and moving to Houston to help take care of his aging parents.  A couple of months later he asked if I'd mind being a reference (which of course I didn't) and he sounded a little frustrated in his job search.  Then after I lost my job at Quintiles, he reached out (just a few weeks before he passed away) with welcome words of encouragement, ending with this:

"I am always in your corner as a colleague and friend"

And he was, to the end. 


Friday, August 22, 2014

Blogger size limitation

Lex pointed out that some of the Rhythm Alley posts seemed to be missing - I apparently ran into a Blogger limitation on the size of a "page" which includes both the main page and the archive pages.  To resolve that, I switched from a monthly to a weekly archive - they should now all be available by scrolling way, way down to the bottom and looking through the August archive links.

Labels: ,

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Rhythm Alley Redux - Post(er)script

While in Chapel Hill recently for the Be Loud! Sophie concert, world-renowned urban archaeologist, author and all-around swell guy Peter "PC" Cashwell took some time to do some digging in the old Chapel Hill town landfill in Carolina North Forest and unearthed what appear to be early attempts at pre-Internet advertising utilizing actual paper and a technique then known as "photocopying".  Obviously the paper itself is way too fragile to be handled but PC has graciously digitized these "posters" and made them available for your edutainment.  I have attempted to present them in a chronological order.

An early attempt at what became known as "poster art"

Odd hieroglyphics that are completely untranslatable to modern man

Here we see a somewhat more mature approach, at least featuring likenesses of members of the performing troupe

The last two known works of the Hammondiluvian period

Note the complete absence of any mention of Screamin' Jay Hawkins - you will be tested on the significance of that omission

An attempt to add some gravitas to the proceedings with the likeness of a well-loved childhood authority figure

I got nothing

As we move closer to modern times, sexuality becomes more a part of advertising, despite the evident disapproval of the mustachioed gentleman in the corner

This text-heavy example is a case-study in TMI - this style was used a few years later in the early World Wide Web era, spawning a number of "World's Worst Website" collections

This one is perfect

Two takes on a much-appreciated attempt to save a valuable historical landmark from the bulldozer.  Lord knows it helped.

If anyone else has any such finds, please feel free to send them to me for publication.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Rhythm Alley Redux - 17 - Acknowledgements

I hope you guys have enjoyed this - it was a painful joy to put together.

Here’s a shout-out to the people and places that made our owning Rhythm Alley not only possible, but necessary...

Those that have gone on before:
David Enloe, Faye Hunter, Gil Templeton, Dan Cowett, Stephen Akin, Stacy Guess, Carey Floyd, Sally Dunning and one of my dearest friends, Kevin Bruce, who introduced me to much good music, to home brewing and to how to appropriately use “party” as a verb - I miss you, KeeBee.

The clubs and bars of the first half of the 80s:
The 9:30 Club, Friendship Station, Psychodeli, Cagney’s (DC area)
Culture Club, The Pier, Cafe Deja Vu, The Bear's Den, Fallout Shelter, The Brewery (Raleigh)
Milestone, Viceroy Park (Charlotte)
The Riff (Winston-Salem)
Secret Garden (Greensboro)
The Cave, Cat's Cradle (Chapel Hill)

The Bands:
The Fabulous Knobs, Fetchin' Bones, The Bad Checks, UV Prom, Snatches of Pink, The Connells, Johnny Quest, Don Dixon, Shakin' Sherman and the Blazers, Flat Duo-Jets, Foreign Bodies, Terminal Mouse, Let's Active, the dB's, Chris Stamey, Mike Cross, Touchstone, New Grass Revival, Bluegrass Experience, Red Clay Ramblers, A Number of Things, The Veldt, The Othermothers, Right Profile, SCOTS, Three Hits, The Graphic, The Wood(pecker)s, Hege V and the Bijous, Gumbo Ya-Ya, Rod Dash, The Dayroom Monitors, The Accelerators, The Phantoms, all the other bands that I’m forgetting or that we saw but were never able to book and most of all, The Pressure Boys

All the other peeps that helped us along the way, like Mike Beard, Matt Matthews, Tim and Mark Harper, Bond Kenneth Bond, Kelly Dalton, Jeff and Tracy, Zingo, Dan (the one that wasn’t Zingo), Diane Smith, Bryan Milosky, Barney Pilgrim and the countless other folks that helped behind the bar, in front of the bar, on the stage or on the dance floor.

Incredibly many thanks to Hooper “Lex” Alexander IV - the best friend this boy’s ever had or ever hope to have.

Finally, it feels weird to thank Jeannette, since we were (and remain) partners in every sense of the word but thanks, hon, for putting up with me for the last 30 years, including my (not-so-) ridiculous fantasy of owning a rock and roll club.

Labels: , ,

Rhythm Alley Redux - 16 - August 1986

"Watch the flesh on your hand go transparent waving your last goodbye" - Fetchin' Bones, "All Clocks"

01 - Shakin' Sherman and the Blazers
02 - Southern Culture on the Skids

I couldn’t have scripted a more anti-climactic ending to it all, for me at least.  After rarely missing a show since we bought the club, I wasn’t even in the state for our last weekend.  I was still desperately hanging on to my job in Greensboro so when the opportunity for training came up, I really didn’t have the option of turning it down.  So I spent our last week of club ownership in a hotel in Columbia, Maryland while Jeannette was left to finish up.

The last couple of shows feel like they were just right for our last weekend.  Our friends Shakin’ Sherman and the Blazers played for us one last time - somewhere I’ve still got a t-shirt that Sherman, Ronnie, Brian and Lee signed for me.  I know I called the payphone next to the door during a break to say goodbye to the guys.

The Blazers.jpg
Photo of the infamous Blazers LP, still in shrinkwrap

Saturday was our first and only show with Southern Culture on the Skids, back when Stan, Leslie and Chip were playing with Rick (you know, that Rick, not the other Rick).  We’d been flirting with dates for months - me trying to talk them into playing back when they were more associated with DR’s Cat's Cradle and then them trying to work something out with us after the Cradle closed.  By all accounts (why the  ^$%@@%^@ wasn’t I there!?!), it was an excellent wake, which included Jeannette and the gang giving away mementos from the backbar (thankfully saving the bar monkey for me).

The next day Jeannette got on a plane and flew up to BWI to meet me, where we spent the week with me at an IBM mainframe class and Jeannette resting and recovering at the Columbia Place Mall.

Just like that it was over, and a couple of months later we were gone, heading down to Charlotte for my new day job. I went down first to sign the lease on an apartment down at the end of Park Road near Pineville.  Fetchin’ Bones was at the Milestone that night so naturally I went - somehow my friend Tom Beckett ended up crashing on the floor of the apartment with me (I honestly don’t remember whether that was planned or if it just happened).  I worked for a company down in Rock Hill until they consolidated the data center with one in Lancaster, which was a bit of a drive but at least it was against traffic.  In the meantime we spent our time learning Charlotte from a different part of town than I’d grown up in, seeing the occasional show at the Milestone or going dancing at the Pterodactyl Club.  Another year and we were back in Chapel Hill, but it was obviously not the same.


30 years later, it’s not Bo Diddley or King Mackerel or New Grass Revival that I usually think about when I’m reminded of the Alley.

It’s Sonar Strange filling the room with her incredible voice before a sound check - just warming up with no one there other than me and Jeannette getting the place ready for the night.

It’s the first time I heard a 17 year old Dexter Romweber ripping “Riiiioooooottttt” from somewhere around his groin as he and Crow launched into “Riot on Cell Block Number 9” at a Flat Duo-Jets all-ages show.  (That one still gives me chills.)

It’s the smell of Obsession that mixed with the smell of sweat and stale beer for days after a Connells show.

It’s the intense focus on the face of Andy McMillan of Snatches of Pink sitting on the front row and watching the players in Lo Jai after winning tickets from WXYC.

It's the Othermothers going from an excruciating sound check to one of the tightest, most spot-on sets I ever witnessed.

It's guys like After Hours and Uncle Bonsai and Antic Hay and others playing their best for an almost-empty room because that's what you do.

Most of all, it’s the huge grins on the faces of the crowd on those nights when the band was cooking, the beer was flowing, the feet were moving and there wasn’t a damn thing wrong in the world.  Luckily, that’s something I can still get at Frank's Cradle or the Haw River Ballroom or the Artscenter or any of the other venues that have taken the place of the Alley.

Go listen to live music, people!  And support your local rock club.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Rhythm Alley Redux - 15 - July 1986

“So shut your mouth - how can you say I go about things the wrong way?” - The Smiths, “How Soon Is Now?”

05 - Touchstone
06 - Touchstone
11 - The Connells with Light in August
12 - The Woods with Diminshing Returnz
17 - Mojo Nixon with the Naked Ramblers
18 - Dash Rip Rock with the Flat Duo-Jets
19 - The Pressure Boys with A Number of Things
24 - Rod Dash with the Graphic

On the 2nd of July, John Carpenter’s “Big Trouble in Little China” hit the theaters. We didn’t see it then but a few years later it became one of our favorite movies.  It was always a mess of a movie, but it made a hell of a lot more sense when it was finally pointed out that Kurt Russell’s character - Jack Burton - is not the hero of the piece.  He’s the bumbling sidekick - the comic relief that always has the best intentions but rushes headlong from one dumb move to another.  Sometimes those dumb moves work out, sometimes they don’t.  It ought to be clear by now that I’m the Jack Burton of this story and Jeannette is Wang Chi, the real hero.  I’d pushed us to jump on the opportunity when Judy decided to sell, over the objections of the person who’d studied and trained and prepared for this and knew it wasn’t the right time and it wasn’t the right situation, as much as we wanted it to be.  She’d done an incredible job of holding everything together to this point and now despite working her ass of to make it a success, we were going to have to get out.

I’ve somehow lost the June and July pages of my booking calendar and our bookkeeping was getting a little sloppy by this point, so I’m sure I’m missing a few dates.  What information I’ve got is from the closing sheets that are left but I’m sure a couple are missing.  

I’ve been trying to give everyone some insight into what was going on behind the scenes but I’m not going to talk much about the sale of the Alley later in the month.  It was sad and tragic and awful and heartbreaking and still makes us angry on a number of levels for a number of reasons to this day.  I’d rather focus on the last few shows we did, as much as I can piece the schedule together.  The only thing I’ll say is that Jeannette is quite justly proud of the fact that we didn’t go under, we didn’t walk away from it - we sold it as a viable business and a going concern.

While I’m missing some some dates from July, what I do have includes some pretty damn good shows.  The 4th of July was on a Friday so we didn’t try to book anyone that night.but our friends from Touchstone were back in town and did shows Saturday and Sunday.  They weren’t badly attended for a holiday weekend (around 100 folks each night) so it kept the weekend from being a washout - and we got to see our friends.

Photo of the cover of Touchstone’s “Jealousy” LP

The Connells show the next Friday with Light in August was one of their biggest yet and might have yielded our highest beer sales total for a show that wasn’t an all-day affair, although that might be a little misleading as their crowd was much more apt to hit the imports than the PBRs.

I’ve got the Woods playing with a band called Diminishing Returnz on Saturday.  I’m wondering if this is the night I remember when a bunch of college-age folks showed up for the opening band and then left soon after their set.  It felt a little bit like a changing of the guard, except that I don’t remember the opening band ever doing anything after that.

That might also have been the Saturday afternoon when I was putting up posters on the west end of Franklin Street and ran into Richard Fox, who owned a mobile recording studio and had recorded a couple of shows at the Alley.  He introduced me to the two guys he was going in with to buy Cat’s Cradle.  One was former UNC fullback Billy Johnson, who I’d met a couple of times before through mutual friends.  The other guy was a skinny dude I’d never met before, name of Frank.

If that was some sort of passing of the torch, I didn’t recognize it at the time.  In retrospect, if we handed a torch to Frank, he turned it into a bonfire.  With all of the club owner turnover in Chapel Hill since the early ‘70s, it’s remarkable that Frank has owned the Cradle for almost 30 years.  What’s even more remarkable is what he’s done with it and what he’s done for live music in the Triangle.  What might even be the most remarkable thing is that by all accounts, he’s done everything in the right way and been willing to help everyone else out along the way.  If I wore a hat, it would be off to him.

I realize that Mojo Nixon isn’t everybody’s cup of beer but I liked him and was pretty happy to book him.  Mojo counted as near-local - he was actually born in Chapel Hill but his family moved to Danville when he was a kid.  His second release came out sometime around when he played our place and was getting some attention (both good and bad) from MTV.  We put him with the Naked Ramblers and got a damn nice turnout, especially for a Thursday.

There was a guy that played sax some with Dex and Crow (Derrick, maybe?) that used to come in all the time and bug me to book Dash Rip Rock, a cow-punk-billy band from New Orleans.  They were doing a Southeast tour so we brought them in on Saturday to play with the Jets in a double-bill.  I love their cassette and wished I remembered more about the show but I may have to admit that I was beginning to fade a bit by that time.

Dash Rip Rocka.jpg
Dash Rip Rock cassette insert

While I might have started to fade, I’ll never forget the last Pressure Boys show we did, for a bunch of reasons.  We needed a good show in order to pay off our final bills for one thing, and A Number of Things and the P-Boys definitely delivered.  But in their tradition of starting shows late, they were still on-stage when last call came around.  I was at the door when an over-dressed middle-aged woman who looked completely out of place came in after last call and sat at the bar and tried to order a beer.  Lex and Kenneth both turned her down and she was still at the bar a couple of minutes later when a guy in a badly-fitting suit brushed past me and started behind the bar.  Lex started over... oh, hell, let me let Lex tell it.
"I'd had my usual six or seven cups of coffee that evening while tending bar, so I was wired so tightly I was hearing with my hair. 
You'd always told me not to let anyone behind the bar, ever, for any reason. And so, when this unassuming guy (and that's all I remember about him) let himself behind the bar, I did what you'd told me to do: I reached under the bar for the baseball bat and headed toward the guy.
He pulled out a badge, and I pulled up so short I'm surprised I didn't tear a hamstring. He identified himself as an ALE agent, and all I could think in that moment was that I was incredibly lucky not to have been shot. (I don't even know if the guy was carrying; I assume he was, but, to his credit, he never came close to going for the weapon.) At that point, I went in the back and found you, and I really don't remember much about what happened after that, other than that I was never so happy in my life to pour myself a Harp draft after the agent had left and we'd locked the doors for the night.
I have come closer to dying in my life, but never so close to dying stupidly. Fark wasn't around then, but "please do not let me die a Fark headline" seems a reasonable request. Fortunately, the ALE agent that evening was a reasonable guy."
I'm not sure I agree with Lex' "reasonable" comment but he's nicer than me. After the little attempt at entrapment failed, our next challenge was to clear the room of beer in about 20 minutes, while the Pressure Boys were still finishing up their encore.  Jeannette kept the ALE officer busy while Lex, Kenneth and I started going through the crowd, snatching near-full beers out of people’s hands and slam-dunking them into the garbage bins.  We made it, but only barely.  And Lex had a story that he’ll tell the rest of his life.

Rangledoon cover.jpg
Cover of the Pressure Boys “Rangledoon” EP - complete with slip cover advertising the completely free blank side of vinyl!

There’s a scene near the end of “24 Hour Party People” portraying the last night The Hacienda was open. Tony Wilson had made his way to the balcony after meeting and greeting his way through the crowd but hadn’t yet brought up the house lights and sent everyone out while exhorting them all to riot and pillage and steal anything that wasn’t nailed down.  He’s actually got a moment alone on the balcony overlooking the packed dance floor and for the first time his expression, seen through the strobing lights, is completely relaxed (or blank, depending on your viewpoint).  Jeannette and I recognized that look in each other when we first saw the movie - for me, I equate it with that last night with the Pressure Boys.  I knew it was all about to come crashing down but stepping from my post at the door into the main room and standing by the soundboard watching the heaving dancefloor, I also knew we’d been a part of something special - something that had meaning even if I wasn’t sure what that meaning was.

I have no recollection of the last weekend in July.  Hell, I don’t even know for sure we were open, other than I have a closing sheet for Rod Dash and the Graphic (odd pairing) for that Thursday night.  But we weren’t quite done yet.

“When some wild-eyed, eight-foot-tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head up against the barroom wall, and he looks you crooked in the eye and he asks you if ya paid your dues, you just stare that big sucker right back in the eye, and you remember what ol' Jack Burton always says at a time like that: ‘Have ya paid your dues, Jack?’ ‘Yessir, the check is in the mail.’” - Kurt Russell, “Big Trouble in Little China”

Labels: , ,

Monday, August 18, 2014

Rhythm Alley Redux - 14 - June 1986

"This is a room with a view
See everything for what it is
We want to do what we want forever" - Let's Active, "Room With a View"

06 - Safehouse with Long Gone
07 - Gumbo Ya-Ya
12 - Rod Dash with Arsenic
13 - Suzie Saxon and the Anglos with the Montegoes
14 - Shakin’ Sherman and the Blazers
20 - Dakota Joe and Bullets of Blue
21 - Hege V with Regalion
25 - Dave Olney and the X-Rays
26 - Chris Stamey with the Dayroom Monitors
27 - Othermothers
28 - Glenn Phillips Band

Money woes weren’t the only issue we were facing.  I understand that some alcoholics develop coping mechanisms that they use to disguise their condition for a period of time until it becomes too obvious for others to ignore.  I think the same thing must be true of sleep deprivation as I’d managed to survive at work while falling asleep in my deskchair many afternoons, but that couldn’t last forever - and didn’t.  I’ve been an IT people manager for twenty years now (and a damn good one) and I give credit to my boss at the time for not just firing me without much notice.  Instead he gave me a choice - go find another job or get rid of the club.  We tried to pave the way for doing either or both but I suppose we were finally realizing that this situation was not going to be sustainable over the long haul, even if I was working closer to home.  Me not having a day job was clearly not an option as we were at best barely breaking even.  In the meantime, I tried to back away a little bit and let Jeannette and our friends take on a little more of the load while we decided what to do.

June started off with guitar wizard Terry McInturff’s Safehouse on Friday night, with Sonar providing the vocals.  Terry’s loaded a couple of their demos on Youtube - they had a really nice, dense rock sound and drew a pretty decent crowd.  Saturday night was what I assume was one of the last Gumbo Ya-Ya shows and they also drew a good number of folks for a June weekend.

The next weekend wasn’t quite so good - I wasn’t expecting sellouts but we needed to put more people in the club and I just hadn’t been able to schedule the kind of shows we needed in order to get ahead.  Looking back, while I was trying to get some different folks onto the calendar it wasn’t enough.  I really liked Rod Dash and I had looked forward to bringing Suzy Saxon and the Anglos down from Richmond for Friday but neither show did much to help us.

Suzie Saxon.jpg
Photo of the cover of Suzy Saxon’s album

Shakin’ Sherman and the Blazers rounded out the weekend and pulled in their crowd of regulars (thank goodness for the Blazers!) but even with them there was less beer consumption than usual.

The next weekend was a short one, with Dakota Joe and Bullets of Blue taking the stage on Friday.  Saturday was a long day, as it was the first time Hege V and the Bijous played the Alley and a crew from The Nashville Network was there to film it for a segment on George for the “Crook and Chase” show.  A year or so before when MTV’s “The Cutting Edge” came to town to film the local scene, they focused on The Brewery and the Cradle so this was the first time Rhythm Alley had a shot at some national exposure.

Hege V was just an awesome band.  There were a number of bands that made some noise outside of the Southeast from that period (see Fetchin’ Bones, the Connells, Flat Duo-Jets and later Southern Culture on the Skids, as well as others) but I don’t know that any band was more immediately ready for the big time than the Bijous.  Great band, great songwriting, George’s showmanship - all made for a good time.  There wasn’t a huge crowd (although not bad for a first date for a new band) but with all of the television and audio cables snaked across the floor, it was probably all that would have worked without someone getting hurt.  In the end, I think they used all of about 10 seconds of the show on “Crook and Chase” but the Rhythm Alley banner hanging at the back of the stage was in fact seen on national basic cable television, so there’s that.

Hege V.jpg
Photo of the cover of the House of Tears LP - a bit of a cheat as it didn’t come out until well after we sold the club.  Not sure why the photo came out so gray here.

I was able to extend the final weekend of June forward a bit, with Dave Olney and the X-Rays coming in on Wednesday night.  I think they’d mostly been playing for DR at the Cradle so they were probably one of the first bookings I got due to the Cradle being closed.  Dave had gone to school at UNC (and had been in a band with Bland Simpson, I found out later) before moving to Nashville and starting a very long career playing country-tinged barroom rock and roll.  It was a really good night for a summertime Wednesday, followed by a Chris Stamey show with (guess who!) the Dayroom Monitors on Thursday.  There was some kind of mix-up with Chris’ show - either I thought he was bringing a band but instead he played solo, or vice versa.  Regardless, I remember it was a really good show (wouldn’t expect anything less) and reasonably well attended.

I would have sworn that the Othermothers show was on a Saturday instead of a Friday.  I say that because I was there for the soundcheck (and Jeannette wasn’t) so it must have started quite late.  I remember that because it was the absolute worst soundcheck I’d ever heard.  The guys had been partying for multiple days (I have no idea who drove over to Chapel Hill from Greensboro but I’m relatively sure they shouldn’t have).  One of the guys (I won’t name names) became the only person I ever saw in the club fall backwards off their bar stool.  I was fully prepared for a complete disaster of a show and instead the guys got up and did one of the tightest, best, most professional sets I’d ever seen.  There were unfortunately not nearly as many people there to see it as there should have been but the folks that did show up drank heavily and were treated to a damn good show.

Photo of the cover of the Othermothers EP

We closed the month with a the steady turnout that Glenn Phillips always got (70-80 people).  This was one of the few shows that I didn’t work - actually Jeannette and I may have skipped town for the rest of the weekend to take a little break and figure out what we were going to do next.

Labels: , ,