In a Private Detective’s Overcoat

Meanwhile Back at the Ranch
Kinky Friedman

I told you I’ve been wasting my time.

What I didn’t tell you was that some wastes of time are less productive than others. And even though the title pictured nearby was bedtime reading, I can’t help feeling Continue reading


Come On Let’s Eat

Independence Day 2022

I hope I’m not the only person exhausted by the incessant need to find things we can’t agree on. That, my friends, is a choice.

So rather than struggle to demonstrate commonality through song, allow me to indulge in something I hope we can easily agree on: food. I recognize food insecurity is real. I also believe meals serve many purposes. So let’s celebrate our country’s culinary bounty and agree that any country fortunate enough to sing about food is a pretty good place.

The link to the expanded playlist appears at the end of the post and, if you can’t wait, right here.

Gimme a Pig Foot and a Bottle of BeerBessie Smith (1933)

What better way to start than with the Empress of the Blues calling for some authentic soul food? As a kid, my grandfather would make “man lunch” a couple of times a year. Pig’s feet (and other nearby parts) figured prominently. Maybe all poorer people share soul.

Beans and Cornbread--Louis Jordan and His Tympani 5 (1949)

The clown prince of jump blues got more mileage out of food and eating as subject matter than anyone else I can think of. One suspects he was a man of large appetites. His good-natured story-songs inspired a Broadway show and New Wave‘s Joe Jackson to get us all dancing the Lindy again.

Watermelon Man–Herbie Hancock (1962)

There was a time in living memory–well, my living memory, at least–when the pop charts contained a much wider range of music than they now do. That included jazz. This piece, from Herbie Hancock’s first album as a leader, was a hit for Mongo Santamaria a couple of years later. If you’re interested, there’s a great video where Herbie explains how this song came together to, of all people, Elvis Costello, after which he plays it in two styles.

CoconutHarry Nilsson (1971)

I’m a latecomer to the Nilsson party and, if I’m honest, I still find myself standing at the entryway debating whether I want to commit. None of that really matters because every party needs cocktail ingredients and in this summertime classic the man who rhymed his surname delivers.

JambalayaProfessor Longhair (c. 1978)

Sometimes a classic jumps genres. I know the die-hard country fans will disagree with me about this (and I will profess my deep love for Hank Williams) but when ‘Fess took this tune down to New Orleans, he made it his own. I can’t hear it any other way and just looking all this up prompted me to make a pot of that Acadian stew for dinner last night. (And now my kitchen smells like Louisiana.)

RC Cola and a Moon Pie-NRBQ (c. 1980)

I often forget that this band, whose fan base has always seemed to really heavily on frat boys and preppies living in the Northeast,  emerged from Florida. So of course they celebrated regional junk food. I dare you not to sing along with the chorus.


I could go on all day so check out the playlist for extras including some original versions, cocktail songs, alternate versions, the song I nicked the post title from and, maybe, even some classic rock and antipodean pop. (I’m still debating what level of chauvinism I want to embrace this year.)

Enjoy the holiday. Despite being in a bit of a mess, it really is a great country and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. So, let’s not screw it up.

Chicken and HoneyThe LeRoi Brothers (1982)

My roots music fascination is long-lived, so I first heard the group that lured away Fabulous Thunderbirds drummer Mike Buck soon after it was released. It’s got guitars. It’s got twang. It’s got guitars and twang. Who needs anything else?

Shot Through the Heart

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
J.K. Rowling

My long personal nightmare is over. A few weeks ago, after almost a year, my son and I finished our journey through the last of the original Harry Potter novels. I’m not sad to put it behind me.

When the whole Potter phenomena emerged I was clueless. My friends and colleagues who had kids around Harry’s age–Harry is, I believe, 11 at the start of the series–were sucked in. Because Mrs. AHC wound up teaching fourth grade the books soon enough found their way into my house, too.

Still, I resisted. Then I picked up the first book. And I engaged, once again, with fiction, though surprisingly through a genre that had never done much for me. Yes, I had completed the obligatory high school nerd trek through Middle Earth. Even then, though, I recognized it as a work of Catholic allegory. It was never a bridge to Dungeons & Dragons for me.

I had, though, fallen into a fiction-free existence. That itself was odd. There was a time when I’d discover a writer, fall in love and tear through volume after volume. Then I just stopped. I made excuses. I read lots of non-fiction. But the fiction well went dry to the despair of my friends who kept reading.

Whatever dress your Potter comes arrayed in, it’s lot of shelf space, paper and words.

Rowling reawakened my interest in story-telling. For that I’m grateful. But the evolution of the series (and if you’ve read my reflections on these books as Mr. D and I have made our way through the novels you’ve heard this before) highlights everything wrong with the modern publishing business.

I won’t recount all of that here. But the end result is, too often, bloat. When page count helps drive pricing and profitability there’s no incentive to be true to the tenets of good storytelling or respectful of the reader’s time. With the exception of crime fiction writers, many of whom turn out 250 taut pages annually, best-selling authors are allowed to ramble on and on. It’s as though there were a tape loop of cash register bells playing in the editorial offices.

The Deathly Hallows marks the culmination of the Potter saga and, there’s no polite way to say this, it’s a hard slog. At this point, we’re seven years into this neutered, multivolume Britsh-boarding-school bildungsroman and I found my interest flagging. If adolescence is the time during which we start to figure out how to live in the world, I’m not quite sure what our hero, Harry, has learned.

In my faith tradition, hallows are saints.
The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs
By Fra Angelico

Harry has always been a hard nut, a British version of the man whose certainty is a function of his circumstance. He can act courageously, and recklessly. He can protect and nurture others. But the loss that defines his childhood is so enormous he’s forever at some remove from almost everyone else. Perhaps that’s why I originally had so much sympathy for him.

That certainty, those virtues and his loss, though, have locked him In adolescent amber. Over the course of a series that must span close to 3,000 pages, Harry’s emotional and moral growth can be measured in picas.

Maybe I’m wrong about this. Maybe the answer lies in the structure of this final volume. It does, after all, start out with a sort of wizardly Fast and Furious meets Black Hawk Down broom-borne firefight and end in the final pitched battle of a magical civil war. What if all the mucking about in forests, at lakesides, on hilltops and moors and clifftops is meant to establish tedium? It surely can’t be to ratchet up the tension; it persists far too long.

Whatever the reasons for the length and structure of the novel, the simple secret of the plot (to nick a line from a song) is that Harry Potter will prevail. It’s one thing to kill off surrogate parents, classmates and other magical beings. Killing off one’s hero just isn’t done in popular fiction.

Sometimes, total victory leaves the world forever changed.

Don’t take my word for it.  For the six previous volumes in the series my son hung on every word. He can tell me facts buried in subplots that I seem never to have encountered before. Here, though, the pace was dictated, in large part, by his avoidance. Tying up all those loose ends might have seemed a good idea for the writer, but it was hell on the reader.

There’s no point going into great detail about the plot because how we get to Harry’s triumph (and I’ll leave it to you, gentle reader, to decide if the denouement qualifies as our hero’s triumph) is all there is to this volume. There may be no mystery involved, but I can at least avoid ruining the unfolding,

Here’s perhaps the greatest irony of revisiting the books that rekindled my reading of fiction: I’ve run out of words to spend on this subject.

But I’m not going to stop reading.





Today I Work My Fanny Off

Steve Earle & The Dukes
Sugar Loaf Performing Arts Center
June 14, 2022

Waiting to enter the Sugar Loaf Performing Arts Center, an intimate venue located about 50 miles northwest of New York City in the scenic Wallkill Valley, a friend noted it had been Continue reading

A Brand New Crescent Moon

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss at Forest Hill Stadium
June 4, 2022

As a crescent moon rose over the neo-Tudor facades of nearby apartment buildings, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss entertained a less-than-sold-out crowd to an evening of music that drew liberally from several catalogs: folk music, 1950s R&B, blues and Continue reading

Only a Memory

Memorial Day 2022

Photo: courtesy U.S. Army by Elizabeth Fraser

Once again the unofficial start to the summer season has begun in clouds and rain. Maybe that’s fitting, given recent events.

This year, I think, we ought to also remember the innocent victims, the students and congregants and clubgoers, who also were part of the fabric of our country. Their loss is no less a national wound than anyone who died in combat.

If you are a veteran you may disagree with me. I am not diminishing your service, or that of your fallen comrades. I  respect your time and the risks you took and I am grateful that you served. But we’ve allowed our streets, schools, entertainment palaces and houses of worship to become target zones. And in so doing, we have necessarily expanded the pool of lost lives.

There are, today, dozens of families in New York and Texas left with sure-to-fade memories and the certainty that future dreams will never be realized. Songwriters seem to know that. So, here’s a set of memory songs and a playlist for Memorial Day 2022. If your fave isn’t here, I may have included it there.

In Memory of Elizabeth ReedThe Allman Brothers Band (1970)

Anything, Proust reminded us, can trigger a flood of memories. We don’t always need words to evoke the past. We don’t even necessarily need our own past, at least when it comes to a song title. This early instrumental from the band that created Southern Rock as a genre, legendarily drew its title from a headstone in a Macon, Georgia graveyard. Yet to me, it’s always sounded very personal and evocative.

Memories FadeTears for Fears, (1983)

I was never a big fan of synthesizers. It’s more truthful to say I recoil from them. So for a synth-pop record to lodge in my brain for forty years, there must be songcraft and quality aplenty. The harrowing songs on this debut record–before the smash hit album that let TFF own the mid-80s–still resound. Maybe it’s the pain, evident in this ditty.

Those MemoriesDolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, & Emmylou Harris.(1987)

More typically, memory songs are about lost loves. I suppose that’s almost redundant. Without lost or unrequited loves, why would we need songs? Here, the late 80s country supergroup composed of three of my favorites takes on a familiar tale in a familiar manner to stellar results. As a bonus, the band contains John Starling (g), Leland Sklar (b), Mark O’Connor (v),  David Lindley (m), Herb Pedersen (g), Russ Kunkel (d) and Steve Fishell (st).

Memory LaneMinnie Riperton (1979)

I’d nearly forgotten about Minnie Riperton until I went canvassing for memory songs. There was a time when she was destined for great things, although it turned out her true destiny was to leave us far too early. This 1979 hit showcases her vocal range and serves as a lovely time capsule of late 70’s R&B. You’d never know from the video, itself a period piece from the early days of the form, that she’d be dead seven weeks later.

Only a MemoryThe Smithereens (1988)

A true product of my age and upbringing, in my heart of hearts I believe that guitar-pop songs ought to be about girls. Some bands just instinctively understand this, arguably none more so than New Jersey‘s greatest band, The Smithereens. Here they turn the girl who got away into much more than a memory.

You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory-Johhny Thunders (1978)

Can there be such a thing as a punk standard? And could such a song have been crafted by a notorious junkie? Based on a glance at YouTube I’d say that the answer to both is yes. And what a song. Despair, desperation and defeat in a little more than 2:50. Johnny gets the last word, don’t try.


Thanks for the MemoryBob Hope (1938)

Even as a kid, I knew that Memorial Day (or Decoration Day as my grandfather insisted on calling it) was about fallen soldiers. And just as certainly I knew that soldiers and sailors had no greater friend than Bob Hope. His USO shows seemed to be aired annually. And this, his signature song first introduced in The Big Broadcast of 1938, was always the last number

Here’s the playlist:



Forces of Chaos and Anarchy

We Should Have Seen it Coming: From Reagan to Trump–A Front-Row Seat to a Political Revolution
Gerald Seib

I have gone missing but I have not stopped reading.

That, I suppose, is a statement always at risk of being true. If so, then it’s more true than ever lately as I find my free time diminished and my workday lengthened by an Continue reading

Something Ain’t Right

On the Perils of AI

That’s Artificial Intelligence, the next big thing that’s going to transform us. At least that’s the way futurists and tech visionaries have been telling the story since 1952 or so.

While we await the computer-driven millennium, I think it’s important to maintain some perspective. If you’re a knowledge worker chances are you’ve encountered a colleague, client or C-suite executive smitten with the latest novel technology sure to lead to marketplace domination or a total revolution in whatever sector you toil.

I’m not certain it’s that easy.

Continue reading

Turning to Despair

Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism
Anne Case and Angus Deaton

Joseph Heller once said the effect he was striving for in his second novel, Something Happened, was for the reader to feel like a piece of metal banged into a new shape by the repeated blows of a ball-peen hammer.

I don’t recall feeling that way after reading the novel, but the far more than 400 blows delivered in this book Continue reading

I’m a Madman, Don’t You Know

Early March 2022

In his later years, whenever a disaster occurred my dad would start muttering, mostly to himself, “It’s terrible, terrible.”

Now I understand why.

I remain among the world’s fortunate residents. My nation hasn’t been invaded. Our biggest problem is people deciding it’s easier to hate people you disagree with than learning to live with them.

But look at the screen, any screen. There’s no escaping what’s happening even if it’s possible to compartmentalize it away during working hours. Tanks and infantry rolling from one nation into another. Cities, military installations, nuclear plants on fire. People burying friends and family, then returning to the fight to defend their homeland.

All set in motion by an isolated madman seeking to secure his spot in history.

Well, he’s succeeded and no one of sound mind would mistake his over-confident botched strategy, let alone his frenetic dictatorial diktats and demands, as the behavior of a smart and savvy leader.

From my privileged position, it feels like I should be doing more. And it feels like there’s nothing I can do. Maybe you feel so, too.

And maybe that’s the clue to my dad’s mutterings.