Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Witz Pickz: Chuck Ragan, Slam by Nick Hornby, Southwest Airlines...

My Friend With A Pool and I saw Chuck Ragan performing his solo material at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco the other night, and we were blown away. Not like in the movie Blown Away, i.e. with bombs, but metaphorically blown away by his presence and voice. First, the man can sing. Sure, he was the lead singer of Hot Water Music, a prolific punk band with great vocals. But in his solo album, he has to bring a lot to the table with his voice, since only a guitar and occasionally a fiddle, are behind him. So he does. Chuck Ragan brings what a large Polish person would bring to the table and then some-- pierogis of all types, not just cheddar and potato, but saurkraut and mushroom as well, kielbasa, some well grilled, others nicely sauteed, other meats I can't describe, and also wine. I don't know if Polish people drink wine, but I think it's pretty clear I'm just describing a meal I had recently at a dinner party, and boy was it delicious. Anyway, Chuck Ragan brings the goods to the table with his voice. Gruff, smooth, angry, calm, but ALWAYS involved-- every word he sang he meant, and he meant it each time he sang it, not just that first time.

That's the other thing with Chuck Ragan-- I have never seen a more blatantly honest performer (which could also be like saying I've never seen a better liar perform). He bent and sweated and shouted with every emotion in him for every song and I believed him. He smiled uncontrollably when fans in the audience shouted along to some of the lyrics, clearly just thrilled to be performing and having people CARE about his music. And this isn't some nobody-- this is a guy who's performed for over 10 years successfully for audiences. But he still cares, you can just tell. And it's clear he's the type of guy who genuinely would care. When he thanks the audience for clapping, or cheering, it's obvious he means it. When he says thank you to his wife and says he loves her, there is no doubt in my mind that they aren't thrilled with each other and completely in love. The man is genuine, and it comes across in his music, making some lyrics that might otherwise seem sappy or overly poetic, believable and acceptable.

For anyone in the area-- Bottom of the Hill is a tremendous venue. It's like a crazy hidden house in the middle of residential/old warehouse San Francisco. Once inside, there's a stage, a bar, and a merch area, but it's all very cozy and integrated. There's a little porch outside where you can hangout with tables. Or people. You can hangout with tables or people or potentially squirrels, should any appear. And they get great music and most shows are cheap. Excellent.

Slam by Nick Hornby: So I read that new Nick Hornby book pretty quickly on my flight back west. It's about 300 pages and marketed as a teen novel, but I can't really imagine many teens reading it. I don't know who Hornby intended it for, but I feel like he unwittingly writes it in a way that teens wouldn't appreciate so much as adults would for his reflections on being a teenager. It's typical Nick Hornby tone and voice, but I'm a bit at a loss for if he wrote the sixteen year old character well. At first I thought that the kid sounded a little young, like not quite a real sixteen year old, but then I tried to remember when I was fifteen/sixteen and how I acted or spoke, and how others did around me, and I honestly couldn't remember well enough to say Hornby was wrong. The other thing is that at times the character sounded too old, saying things like, "mustn't" or "this evening," but then I remembered that he's supposed to be British, and I don't know a damn thing about British kids except for some cool words and phrases they get to use, "mum, bullocks, init, toss off," and on and on. SO maybe he nailed it, I don't know. Regardless, the story was fairly interesting-- originally ordinary, but then a nice narrative twist made things more interesting from a storytelling perspective. Nothing to blow me away like Chuck Ragan, but definitely alright to read if you're starved for Nick Hornby writing. Lemme know what you think if you do.

I'll conclude with the fact that Southwest Airlines defeated air travel once again. After my miserable trip TO the east coast on United, I flew back on SW and it was a success. Even with the 2 stops while staying on the same plane (2 hours to chicago, 4 hours to LA, 1 hour to SJ), and 9 HOURS on a plane without a meal or movie, I felt fine. I won't give Chicago any props though-- while usually it's weather than ALWAYS effects a flight to or from Chicago, this time it was the fact that right before we landed, we had to accelerate and shoot back up into the air. Apparently, the air traffic controller had given clearance to a plane to takeoff, but they hadn't gotten off the ground before we were supposed to land on the same runway. Fortunately, they caught it in time, resulting in us flying about for 10 minutes (and seeing nice aerials of Chicago), but it was just proof that no matter when or which airport you fly into Chicago, SOMETHING will go wrong, cause a delay, or a cancellation.

Even I Want the Weekend, And I Don't Do ANYTHING,

P.S. Radio show tonight, so new podcast tomorrow for ya'all.

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