Teacher Needs a Beer

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If you have read this website for a while, or if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you have heard me talk about the teaching job I have, which puts me on the road for a few weeks every spring and fall to help high-school students prepare for the ACT and SAT college entrance exams. Another season will begin in September.

When I launched this podcast in June, I said that some episodes would not have anything to do with either music or radio, and the latest episode is the first one that does not. It’s about that teaching job and my life on the road doing it, and it’s called “Teacher Needs a Beer. ” You can listen to it right here.

I hope you enjoy it.

A Summer on the Radio

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The response to my first podcast episode was gratifying. My thanks to everyone who listened, downloaded, and/or sent comments. Episode #2 is now up. It’s called “A Summer on the Radio,” and it’s about my first full-time radio job, which I had while I was in college.

There will be a new post at this website tomorrow, which is unusual for a Saturday. If you take one guess regarding what it will be about, you’ll probably guess right.

Comings and Goings

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Today we have some programming announcements involving comings and goings. First, what’s coming:

I did podcasts at this website before they were cool. Starting in 2006, I recorded voice tracks on a $30 microphone I bought at Best Buy and used Audacity to mix them with music. But then I got a radio job, and the allure of podcasting went away. The last one I did was in 2009.

It’s only within the last several months that I have begun regularly listening to podcasts. For a long time, the sheer number of them kept me from doing it—where the hell do I start? But once I started, I found a few that I like. Some of them have music and sound clips and are highly produced, while others are just two or three people sitting around talking.

Or just one.

It occurred to me not long ago that I could repurpose, rejigger, and expand some of the writing and research I have done over almost 15 years at this site into podcast form, just one guy sitting around talking. So that’s what I’ve done. Most episodes will have to do with music and/or radio. Some episodes will not—those will be based on other material in my files.

What to call the podcast is still an open question. Since it’s a companion to this website, The Hits Just Keep on Comin’ Podcast is logical enough. And that’s what it’s going to be called until somebody—me, or someone more clever than me—thinks of something better.

The first episode, “Four Rock Festivals,” is right here.

I will post new episodes here, and whore them out on social media as well.

I hope that after you listen, you will tell me what you thought of the first episode. Find my e-mail address here, or hit me up on Twitter or Facebook, or comment at the bottom of this post, or at my Soundcloud.

Now, the announcement about what’s going. It was a difficult decision to make and I waffled on it a time or two, but I think it’s the right one. It’s not an ending so much as it is a homecoming. And it’s not as big a deal as this paragraph makes it sound, so prepare to be disappointed when you find out what it is. To find out what it is, click here.

The Things We Do for Rumaki

Consider the office Christmas party. Your employer, who grows prosperous from the sweat of your labors, forks out for dinner and drinks at a nice restaurant, and you can let your hair down for a while with your fellow wage slaves. Sounds like a good thing—so how come so many of them are so awful?

One year, the owner of the radio station I worked for scheduled our Christmas party for a mom-and-pop restaurant willing to trade the cost of the dinner for advertising. Imagine having the party at Denny’s, only with a limited menu, and you’re getting close to the vibe. The message to the staff was pretty clear—this is all you’re worth to me. And maybe it dawned on him that he’d skimped, because the next year, the party was scheduled for the most exclusive restaurant in the city. As the waitstaff brought the menus that night, the thought flashed from table to table instantaneously—let’s stick it to him. And so everyone ordered appetizers and bottles of wine, expensive entrees and desserts. The owner had a little facial tic, which grew more pronounced whenever he had to spend money, so that night he sat at the head table vibrating like a tuning fork. The Mrs. and I racked up $85 worth between the two of us. Two decades later, it’s still one of the most expensive dinners we’ve ever had.

Even though I loved many of the people I worked with, the company Christmas parties at my post-radio jobs were almost always dreadful. Dinner and drinks were fine. Even the little speech by the company president was OK. But when the party was planned by a committee, there always had to be an entertainment program of some kind—and I am convinced that there’s never in history been an office-party entertainment program that’s actually entertaining. Memo to party planners everywhere: Don’t waste money hiring a hypnotist or some damn thing—just reopen the bar and let everybody get back to drinking, because it’s drinking that provides the real entertainment at these things.

You can make the most fascinating sociological observations while watching people drink at office parties. Young people—those within, say, five years of college, who frequently spend Saturday nights out drinking—sometimes fail to see the difference between a typical night at Chasers and this distinctly work-related function, getting cheerily fucked up on appletinis and Miller Lite, depending on gender. Older people—couples in their 30s who are usually tied down with children but got a babysitter tonight—are a little more discreet, but only just, because they still think of themselves as college students who haven’t lost their ability to party. (And I can tell which couples have left the kids with Grandma for the night and booked a room in the hotel—usually by the look in the husband’s eye.) People 40s and up are harder to generalize about. My sympathies are always with the husbands of female employees, many of whom sit with a fixed smile on their faces, nursing a beer and pretending to watch with interest whatever’s going on around them. My sympathies are with these people because I was one of them—at least until The Mrs. excused me from having to attend any more of her office parties.

Since I got back into radio, I don’t go to the station’s parties, either. Nobody minds, because I usually volunteer to work that night so somebody else can go. But not all employers view party-skippers so benignly. At one company I worked for, the HR manager visited the cubicles of those who had declined the invitation to find out why. Sometimes I had a valid excuse, and sometimes I lied. One year I said I had tickets to a Badger game, which was true. She told me one of the vice-presidents had given up his tickets to the game, with the suggestion that if I were a good corporate citizen, I’d do the same. But I knew something she didn’t: I wasn’t a good corporate citizen.

There’s no natural musical angle to this post. (Sorry.) So this is as good a place as any to shift gears and unleash the 2009 Christmas podcast, recorded live in my living room and featuring the cat. I’m not happy with either the quality of my microphone or the quality of the production generally, but I hope you like it anyhow. It runs about 31 minutes and features a rarity by Darlene Love, plus Aimee Mann, Simon and Garfunkel, and a handful of songs I’ve written about this holiday season.

Christmas Podcast 2009

One Day in Your Life: July 16, 1971

July 16, 1971, is a Friday. Life magazine reports on the three Soviet Soyuz 11 cosmonauts who died during re-entry on June 29; consumer advocate Bess Myerson is on the cover. Preparations continue for the Apollo 15 moon mission, which will launch in 10 days. Maryann Grelinger of Kansas City, Missouri, sends President Nixon a telegram in response to his announcement yesterday that he will visit China. It says, “Have fun in Red China. Hope they keep you.” At the Western White House in San Clemente, Nixon meets with the National Security Council to discuss the Middle East and South Asia. Demographers estimate that the population of the world has passed the four billion mark. Future actor Corey Feldman is born. Radio relay operator Rick Holt of Dundalk, Maryland, writes another letter to his parents from Vietnam. (During his year in Vietnam, Holt writes his parents nearly every day, sometimes more than once.) Jeanne M. Holm, director of Women in the Air Force, is promoted to brigadier general, becoming the first woman in the U.S. military with that rank. NBC Nightly News reports the discovery of the Tasaday, a Stone Age people living in an isolated part of the Phillippines. (Years later, some anthropologists accuse the discoverers of the Tasaday of perpetrating a hoax.) A paper titled “Fiber Digestion in the Beaver” is accepted for publication by the Journal of Nutrition. New movies for the weekend include The Hunting Party starring Candice Bergen and Gene Hackman, The Devils (which originally was given an X rating), and Walkabout. Top movies already out include Shaft, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and McCabe and Mrs. Miller.

Creedence Clearwater Revival plays in Boston. Duke Ellington plays at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. Top 40 fans are enjoying one of the greatest weeks in history, a harmonic convergence of great radio records and superb summer songs is pumping out of AM radios everywhere. The only way to capture the flavor is with our first podcast in far too long—26 1/2 minutes of big Top 40 fun. Play it loud.

July 1971 Podcast

Some Half-Baked Thoughts About Jazz

A story appeared over the weekend about the closing of the Jazz Showcase in Chicago, the second-oldest jazz venue in the country behind the Village Vanguard in New York, and a place where everybody who was anybody in jazz over the last 59 years took the stage. While there’s reason to lament the demise of such a place, it occurs to me that the club’s demise isn’t due so much to the death of jazz as it is to the way the scene has changed.

Jazz hasn’t been America’s most popular musical form since before the Jazz Showcase opened, so pining for the return of those days is futile. Yes, there are lots of jazz fans who wish mainstream jazz was bigger than it is, that it wasn’t as marginalized as it is. I’m one of ’em. But I’m also somebody who understands the world we live in. And it occurs to me that in an artistic marketplace as fragmented as the music world is, everything’s marginalized. I wrote last week how difficult it is to keep abreast of everything worth hearing–you can’t, fewer people are even trying, and so what’s the point? There’s a lot more payback in immersing yourself fully in something you love than there is in worrying about why more people aren’t immersing themselves in the same thing.

I’m fortunate to live in a town with what passes for a thriving jazz scene in 2007–fan interest enough to support a decent summer jazz series and separate local jazz festival every summer, a couple of full-time jazz clubs (albeit attached to swanky hotels) and other places that schedule a healthy number of jazz dates each year. Of course, the majority of the most popular jazz musicians locally aren’t making a living at it on a full-time basis. Nevertheless, the fact that we have enough of them to call what we have here a “jazz scene” makes us a lot better off than other towns around the country. Chicago still has a scene too, despite the demise of the Jazz Showcase. Does it have fewer venues? Yes. Is it less vibrant than it used to be? That depends what you’re comparing it to. You may not be able to go to the Jazz Showcase anymore, but the next time you’re in Chicago, you’ll be able to find jazz if you want to.

(If you want to get righteously upset about something in jazz, get upset about the way muzak-y “smooth jazz” is taking up the oxygen previously reserved for mainstream jazz. But that’s another post entirely.)

One More Thing:
2006 was the year we started podcasting at this blog. In case you missed any of the podcasts (or if you’d like to hear them again, and thanks a heap if that’s true), here are the links:

Forgotten 45s (just music, no talk, February)
The Drive at Five (highway tunes, April)
73 and 77 (hits from the month of May)
October 1975
December 1971
Christmas 2006