Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Stones Verdict?

Kind of lazy. Actually, here's the better, fuller director's cut, before it got chopped down:

The Rolling Stones made $162 million touring the U.S. last year,
easily out-grossing the likes of U2, peer Paul McCartney and
apparently any other single act in history, but they can't possibly be
hitting the road for the cash alone. At this point the group has
enough money to pay for several lifetimes' worth of indulgences,
indiscretions and transgressions. Likewise the Stones seemed to be
having fun Monday night at the United Center, or at least a well-honed
simulacrum of fun.

No, at this stage in their career, touring seems to be the last
vestige of the Stones' lock-up-your-daughters swagger and rebellion.
Sometimes it seems like all it takes is for someone to tell the band
to stop to get them to start back up again, and why shouldn't they?
Jazz and bluesmen are encouraged to tour until they keel over, so why
not the Stones, who have contributed as much to pop culture and pop
music as anyone else alive?

Forget the group's OK recent record "A Bigger Bang" - with the
exception of a couple of tracks, the band already seems like it has,
and given how poorly they went over, they probably should. No, the
Stones' set Monday, the first of two nights of their return
engagement, was as hits-heavy as any from their ongoing trek. Yet it's
easy to overlook the impressive fact that with as many hits as the
Stones have had the group could probably offer a slightly different
yet still satisfying best-of set every night. That's why the band
could get away with mothballing a monster like "Gimmie Shelter" when
they played Solider Field last September.

That song was back Monday, plus a few other Stones nuggets such as
"Let's Spend the Night Together," "Get Off My Cloud" and "Paint It
Black," though not always to good effect. It's always been cooler to
credit Keith Richards, Charlie Watts and Ron Wood with keeping the
Stones afloat, and indeed the ragged back-and-forth rhythm guitar work
of Richards and Wood is a force of nature, as is the stoic Watts'
swing-inflected backbeat. But it's Mick Jagger who makes a show great,
and this night he wasn't quite up to the task.

Yes, he wiggled and writhed in all the right places. But his voice let
"As Tears Go By" down, and too often he lazily relied on the
sing-along crowd or hid between Richards' and Wood's dueling riffs.
Yet even they weren't always in top form. For a band once so equated
with danger, there was little more sad and disappointing than hearing
"Gimmie Shelter" and "Sympathy for the Devil" drag, leeched of all
mystery, majesty and menace. The band was better when it stuck to its
distinctive brand of sloppy rock, as it did with "All Down the Line"
and "Happy."

It also took some audicity to conclude the barely two-hour evening by
singing "you can't always get what you want" and "I can't no
satisfaction." Maybe those words still ring true for anyone that
couldn't come up with the up-to-$450 (plus fees) ticket prices. But
the Stones long ago belied both folly-of-youth declarations. They've
had and have everything, and at this rate they'll get the last laugh,

Monday, January 23, 2006


Off to see the Rolling Stones in a few minutes. Let's see how they do!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The H Word

I've never been one to invoke the "H" word - you know, the one that ends with "-itler." But listening to radio coverage of the Samuel Alito hearings, all the references both in his testimony and in the subsequent debate and discussion of "the unitary executive" creeped me out. It's bad enough how many parallels to Orwell's "1984" there are in current events, but the constant Bush Administration emphasis on the power of the "unitary executive" is truly frightening as precedent. Is Bush "-itler?" Of course not. Is Samuel Alito "-itler?" No, that's silly. The latter in particular is clearly a qualified, reasonable man, even if I find some of his views unreasonable. But a lot of the precedent being set by Bush and one must surmise ratified by Alito truly sets the stage for an even more powerful chief executive, which unfortunately leaves the opportunity open for future generations of leaders to exploit and make more forceful the incremental steps toward Fascism (and not in the hyperbolic, metaphoric sense) we're witnessing today.

Will this happen? No, probably not. But surely that's what Europeans thought in the '30s as well, no?

Saturday, January 14, 2006

What I've Been Listening To, January 14, 2006

Movies I more or less have to be at home, in the living room, to watch. Music, on the other hand, is gloriously portable, which means I’m always listening to something. Here are a few somethings I’ve been listening to the past week or so. No links, though, ‘cause I’m lazy.

Lee “Scratch” Perry/Arkology: His nickname’s “Scratch,” and sometimes “The Upsetter,” but Perry’s true nickname should “The Uncompileable.” He’s released so much, under so many different names, as composer, producer, guest, etc., that’s it’s impossible to create a comprehensive career overview. But the triple-disc “Arkology” is close enough. The first disc alone has Max Romeo’s “War Ina Babylon” and “Chase the Devil” (both sort of atypical for the potty mouthed Romeo), plus gems like the Meditations “Life is Not Easy.”

The Rolling Stones/Let It Bleed/Some Girls: When people call each Stones album “the best Stones album since ‘Some Girls,’” do they really know what they’re saying? “Some Girls” is loud, raw and contains some of the greatest Stones songs. It’s also the last time the band sounded relevant and alive. While some could argue for “Tattoo You,” even the band admits it’s an album of reheated leftovers. As for “Let It Bleed,” well, the album begins with “Gimme Shelter.” If the rest of the disc was nothing but animal noises it’d still be a masterpiece. This is also the last time the Stones sounded not just relevant but dangerous, too. And speaking of animals, “Monkey Man” sounds dangerous and funny. Try pulling that off, lesser bands!

Radiohead/Kid A/Amnesiac: “Kid A” may have been the most hyped album in recent memory, and while most reviews and the reception met expectations – it debuted at #1, after all – I haven’t read much attesting to the disc’s staying power. It still sounds ahead of its time and very much alive with ideas and cool risks. “Amnesiac,” for that matter, is great, too. Remember what a big stink was made when “Kid A” leaked to the internet? The album was the first big internet sensation on the waning days of the original Napster, when the whole world was at your fingertips but most of the world hadn’t quite figured that out yet. “Amnesiac” is often erroneously misconstrued as an album of outtakes and leftovers, but it’s just as amazing as anything on “Kid A,” with a couple of moments that eclipse it, like when Thom York’s backwards vocals flip forward on “Like Spinning Plates.”

The Smiths/The Queen is Dead: Part of my Smiths-a-thon, and generally regarded as their best start-to-finish album. Any album that includes “Bigmouth Strikes Again” and a song as unbearably romantic as “There is a Light that Never Goes Out” is OK in my book. This is the album to take out for people convinced the Smiths do not and have never rocked.

The Clash/London Calling: In case you’re wondering, it’s still really good (though “Sandinista!” has more surprises).

Bruce Springsteen/The River: Reportedly two discs long in response to “London Calling,” this clearing house of an album left behind even more albums worth of unreleased gems. As for what’s on the record proper, it’s got some of Springsteen’s darkest songs and some of his most frivolous, plus stuff like “Hungry Heart,” which can be either type depending on how close you listen.

Bruce Springsteen/Born in the USA: Where Bruce goes massive. Interesting piece of trivia: Springsteen has never had a #1. “Dancing in the Dark” hit #2. The song that kept it from the top? “When Doves Cry,” which is my token response when asked to name the greatest song of all time, and which makes “DitD” seem all the thinner in comparison. Lyrically, however, it’s pretty ripping stuff, one of Springsteen’s most direct and self-doubting, even as he aims for the stars.

Afghan Whigs/Black Love: My candidate for band that should definitely reunite and kick everyone’s asses. Anyone who caught the Whigs in the late ‘90s knows that they were a live act par excellence. This album, well, it was the disc that followed “Gentleman,” but probably didn’t properly follow-up. “1965” would have done the trick, and by the time the band released that one it had lost its chance to hit it big. But “Black Love” is pretty damn good, too, loud and angry.

Brian Eno/Here Come the Warm Jets/Another Green World/Before and After Science: Eno’s first four albums are each quite remarkable, but listening to his first (“Warm Jets”) is all the more striking after listening to where he went with his third and fourth, “Another Green World” and “Before and After Science.” The latter two are quieter and more nuanced, full of ambient experiments and hushed pop songs. The debut, on the other hand, is like a recording of a train wreck played on a warped piece of scratchy vinyl. With hooks.

Peter Gabriel/So: Big sell-out move? I don’t think so. People forget what a weird cult guy Gabriel was until this album, and while it had some hits, the rest is strange as usual. “Excellent Birds?” Weird. But “Mercy Street” and “Don’t Give Up” are two of the prettiest songs ever written, and “In Your Eyes” deserves its status as one of the great anthemic love songs. My only complaint is that the CD reissues conclude with “In Your Eyes” rather than the spookier “Birds.” Supposedly that’s how it was always intended, but I like the old, darker order better.

The Coral/Invisible Invasion: Imagine the Doors but a) British b)produced by the Portishead folks c) good but d) not Echo & the Bunnymen.

The Byrds/Younger Than Yesterday:: Another nice intersection of their psych, folk, pop, country tendencies. The title, of course, comes from “My Back Pages,” yet another Bob Dylan song made superior by those who covered it. Want to play a fun game? Listen to “My Back Pages” and then Springsteen’s “Blinded by the Light.”

Built to Spill/Keep It Like a Secret: Remember the good old days, in the late ‘90s, when a solid indie rock band could be counted on to release a record that’s great from start to finish? This is one of the last guitar albums I’ve truly loved, though leader Doug Martsch seems to have soured on it, calling it too poppy. Whatever. There are a lot of elements it could be “too,” but poppy is not one to complain about. It’s got hooks galore, often dozens in just a single song, yet it’s simpler and straight-forwarder than its brilliantly meandering predecessor “Perfect from Now On.”

Jay-Z/The Black Album: As I may have posted earlier, 2005 was a terrible year for hip-hop, with the sole consensus album the Kanye West disc, which happened to be as boring as it was ambitious. I needed a reminder of hip-hop done right so I pulled out Jay-Z’s “final” album, which is neat and tidy, and remarkably strong. With ace productions from Timbaland, Rick Rubin, Eminem and, yes, Kanye, it’s full of keepers, and anyone that thinks it was eclipsed by the silly and lazy “Grey Album” is retarded.

The National/Alligator: Months ago I saw the much hyped Clap Your Hands Say Yeah open from the much less hyped the National, but it’s the latter I came away impressed by. “Alligator” is just a great record.

The Special AKA/In the Studio/More Specials: After their punky ska debut, the Specials went weird. I played “In the Studio” for Alma and she guessed it was from the mid-90s. Not a bad guess, since it does what Beck has been attempting (and failing) to do for years.

Basement Jaxx/Rooty: One of the few acts that understands where music must go and how to get there, this is unclassifiable dance music as beholden to classic Prince as it is spilling over with new ideas.

REM/Life’s Rich Pageant: An REM album I rarely listen to, this is the disc I bet the band was thinking of when they recorded the supposedly back to basics “Monster.” Of course, it’s much better than “Monster,” and with “Fall On Me” includes a quiet monster of its own.

Tom Waits/Heartattack and Vine: Where Tom Waits gets strange, more gruff and suddenly great. The best tracks are the ballads, especially “Ruby’s Arms” and “Jersey Girl,” covered memorably and logically by the Boss.

Seefeel/Polyfusia: I know I own Seefeel’s album “Quique.” I’ve had it for ten years. But it’s not on the shelf where it belongs, which has been driving me batty. I looked for it online, plus couldn’t find it used, so the only way I can get a copy is by giving in to extortionists and shelling out $20. Whatever. I downloaded it just to have it, then listened to the comp “Polyfusia,” which includes the beautiful 13-minute “Minky Starshine.”

East River Pipe/What are You On?: The new disc from F.M.Cornog, Home Depot worker by day, East River Pipe by … night, I assume. Or on break. Ever since his home recording rig got fancy I think his music has lost something, but there were a few nice songs that seeped in on first listen.

Neneh Cherry/Raw Like Sushi: “Buffalo Stance!” But the rest is good, too. I almost forgot that it featured most of Massive Attack before anyone knew who they were.

Drive-By Truckers/A Blessing and a Curse: The downside of listening to any new Drive-By Truckers disc is that I know it’s unlikely I’ll hear a better album for months. So it was with some trepidation that I put on this album, due in April. My first listen didn’t blow me away, but it’s really grown on me since. Two songs by Jason Isbell, two songs by Mike Cooley, the rest by Patterson Hood, all the right mix of rocking, spooky and detail-rich. It sort of reminds me of the Stones at their most shambling, but a lot more polished. Still, the band leaves so much space in the music it hardly sounds like a big bid for radio play (which they’ll never get, anyway).

Townes Van Zandt/High and Low and In Between/The Late Great Townes Van Zandt: Anyone who names an album “The Late Great Townes Van Zandt” while he’s still alive and kicking is cool as hell, though Van Zandt did have something of a death wish. It just took him a few more hard-living decades following these early albums to finally kick off early. But when that guy was on, he was really on, even if, like the similarly wealthy but rebellious Gram Parsons, he didn’t give a poop.

Amadou & Mariam/Dimanche A Bamako: Mali by way of Paris. I’ve loved this album since it was released overseas, where it was a big hit, and it’s been rightfully embraced in America after its domestic issue. I didn’t include it on my top ten only for a couple of niggling reasons. One, I’m not sure how representative it is of their true sound, but two, more importantly, it’s so rare that I hear a shitty African record that I felt it lame to tap it as a sort of token “world music” nod. Great, though.

X/Under the Big Black Sun: Some people refuse to get past the first two masterpieces “Wild Gift” and “Los Angeles.” Others (crazy people) think “The New World” is their best album. But really it’s this one, not only the first X album I heard and bought, but the one that perfectly encapsulates the sleaze of LA, punk, rockabilly and poetry.

James/Laid: I can’t believe this was a hit based on the less than two minutes novelty title track. The rest of the album is spare and weird, at least partially a product of producer Brian Eno, who ignored the band’s invitations until he heard these demos, acoustic and stripped down. He rightfully called “Sometimes” one of the most beautiful songs he’d ever heard. “There’s four new colors in the rainbow,” sings Tim Booth. “An old man’s taking polaroids. But all he captures is endless rain, endless rain.”

Albion Country Band/Battle of the Field: British folk-rock at both its most traditional and its most proggy, you can hear here where this stuff intersects with distant cousin Jethro Tull (though not always in a bad way).

Youssou N’Dour/Egypt: A protest album, of sorts, by the Senegalese singer, finding him embracing Islam and infusing his music with different strains of Northern African religious stuff. It’s pretty, it’s powerful and to spite U.S. policy he cancelled his American tour to support it.

The Doo Wop Box: An early Rhino CD-era triumph, four (well, three and some crappier stuff) discs of street corner genius that reminds me of when I was little, scratching up my dad’s collection of 45s.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Bruce in the USA

It's been a long time since I saw a show, so when Alma noticed that Bruce in the USA, the premiere Bruce Springsteen tribute band, was playing the House of Blues tonight, I figured - what the heck. And they were pretty good, too, with Fake Bruce/Matt Ryan an uncanny look and sound alike (even if he couldn't solo, and didn't even try). He looked like a cross between current Bruce and '90s Bruce, and mostly matched current Bruce mannerisms, though the music was mainly '70s Bruce. In fact, really no fake Bruce at all from 1988 to the present. Just fake Bruce from the first album through "Born in the USA," with "The Rising" thrown in. And no Bruce ballads, either, for anyone expecting "The River," or "Racing in the Streets." Best surprise I guess was a version of "Trapped," a Jimmy Cliff song Bruce played a lot in the '80s, or maybe "Pink Cadillac."

"We're used to playing casinos," said Ryan/Fake Bruce, still in character (unless that's how he really talks) but genuinely touched that he got to play an encore. "At casinos, the end is the end! Time to go gamble. But this is great."

As much fun as I had, though, I still have to say to Bruce in the USA - you're no The Musical Box.

Friday, January 06, 2006


Alma complained that I do very little follow up on this thing, so here goes:

1) Tallulah responded well to the passive-aggressive sleep training. She now goes through the night and waits until morning for her food.

2) The refrigerator did, indeed, die, a sad, pitiful, premature death. It was a headache, but a trip to the Sears Outlet (which sells banged up but perfectly operational appliances) got as a great new refrigerator, much better than the last, with just a few scuffs.

3) Baby Z. continues to shock us with the number of words she can say and the even greater number of words she understands. And as her parents, Alma and I are extremely attuned to the subtle nuances and meaning of every last bit of babble she utters.

Pilgrim Baptist Church

How surreal that midway through reading the Sam Cooke bio (yeah, I'm slow) not only did Lou Rawls die, but the Pilgrim Baptist Church burned down? I'm afraid to keep reading, lest the Blind Boys of Alabama all die in a fiery wreck. They wouldn't be driving, of course. And if they were, well, I guess that sort of end would have been a foregone conclusion.

Thursday, January 05, 2006


The headline on my little AOL pop-up news window read "Did Cuba Pay JFK's Killer?"

I hate to admit it, but the first thing I thought was "Cuba Gooding Jr.?"

And the second thing was, "Sure, why not him?"

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Dark Water

Even more so than last year's poopy "Skeleton Key," "Dark Water" has an A+ cast. Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly, Tim Roth, Pete Postlewaite ... The material is strictly C, though, in that like most Japanese horror films these days and their American remakes, it's about nothing and nothing ever happens. But it's a moody little movie all the same, if you can tolerate Connelly at her most whiny in service of a story whose merits are only made clear after you've waded and waited through the whole thing. And there's a lot of dripping water, puddles and pools to wait and wade through, plus about 300 endings! Worth it for Tim Roth (as a lawyer who apparently works from his car) and John C. Reilly as a shady real estate agent, though, even if in the end it's a lot like "Poltergeist II." And even though early on Reilly points to a shower door and goes:

"This is safety glass!" [pound pound, bang, pound] "Unbreakable!"

Hmm, I wonder if that will come into play at the end? It's like the beginning of "What Lies Beneath," where they make special, conspicuous note that the cell phone reception cuts out when crossing the bridge.

Jukebox '06

OK, OK. You can stop filling up my inbox and answering machine. I get the message. You all want to know what I’ve been listening to. Well, then, here you go:

Dead Can Dance/12 October Chicago: Dead Can Dance rarely varied their setlist on their most recent and possibly final U.S. tour (who knows?), but they did gladly jump on the bandwagon and sell recordings of each date. I enjoyed the show a lot, but really jumped at the chance for this souvenir because the band put so much work into the packaging and sound. It does indeed look and sound great, and I’m glad to have it.

Mekons/Rock ‘n’ Roll: A staple in my top ten favorite albums of all time, this disc captures everything the Clash ever did right plus a few things the Clash got wrong. It’s a concept album about the perils and dubious legacy of rock and roll, sometimes directly, sometimes obliquely, but always brilliantly and passionately.

Delgados/Universal Audio: Their swan song, I suppose, but a beautiful switch away from the darkness of their previous two releases and back to the more upbeat bent of their origins.

Ethiopiques/Vol. 4: Used to great effect in Jim Jarmusch’s “Broken Flowers,” this series of Ethiopian jazz/soul/funk from the ‘60s and ‘70s (20 volumes and growing), kind of like James Brown gone northern African, shows just what a small, small world it is after all.

John Simon/Album: Obscure even by obscurity’s standards, John Simon is actually quite well known as a producer, particularly as the man behind the sound of the first two Band albums and his role as that group’s sort of sixth member and multi-instrumentalist. His first album, from 1973 (I think) just got reissued, and it sounds a bit like the Band crossed with Randy Newman and the Dead. The liner notes posit it as a great lost album, akin to Big Star’s “Third” or the Beach Boys’ “Smile,” but it’s nowhere near that good. It is, however, quite interesting.

Fonotone: A five disc collection of obscure folk and bluegrass from the ‘50s and ‘60s, originally released on Maryland’s Fonotone imprint but all making its CD debut here, this is a wealth of great music that sound 100 years older than it actually is. It's housed in a custom cigar box, which isn't quite as cool as the label's previous (and essential) early gospel box "Goodbye, Babylon!" (packaged in a wooden box with tufts of cotton), but it's cool all the same.

Psychedelic Furs/Forever Now: Where their pop sensibilities and punk rots coalesce into an astringent, propulsive new wave masterpiece. It also features “President Gas,” which sounds as timely as ever

Doves/Lost Souls: The moodiest and most interesting of the British bands that cropped up in Radiohead’s wake, hushed where you least expect it and likewise loud just when you think it’s going to simmer down.

Los Lobos/Kiko: It’s been a long time since I listened to this band/record, but the songs, playing and (most surprising) production still stand up.

Junior Byles/Beat Down Babylon: One of the scattered few records produced by Lee “Scratch” Perry that shows a real creative focus rather than his usual restlessness, the disc stands up against essential Perry-produced works by Max Romeo, the Congos and Junior Murvin.

Brian Eno/Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy): Still ahead of its time thirty-plus years later, it’s a weird, weird record whose idiosyncracies are tempered by its pop brilliance, like doo-wop meets John Cage. The birth of new wave may be here.

Metric/Live It Out: Another one of those acts in the latest barrage of Canadian invaders, Metric basically sounds like a contemporary version of Belly, which means this disc will be clogging used bins for years to come.

Cluster & Eno: Unlike “TTM(BS),” Eno’s improvised jam session with the German act Cluster sounds very much of its time – specifically the late ‘70s – but it’s genius anyway for its strange, Zen-like synthesis of ambient music, Eastern music, drone music, experimental music and other stuff with no vocals.

Lee “Scratch” Perry: Thanks to the magic of downloading, I made a DVD of 4.6GB’s worth of Perry’s productions. The dude’s catalog is as disorganized as he was prolific, so it’s kind of a hoot to just put this on random play.

Good for What Ails You: Music of the Medicine Shows 1926-1937: Basically just what it sounds like, Olde Tyme jingles about beans, Cadillacs, porkchops, gravy and various real and invented illnesses, sung by white guys in blackface.

The Smiths: Another download special, everything the band ever recorded, from singles and alternate pressings to b-sides, albums, compilations and a few bootlegs. Not terribly good in random mode, but still all great.

Kraftwerk: The last of the download burst, this boxed set collects everything the group ever made at Kling Klang studio (at least from 1974’s “Radioactivity” on), remastered and, so far, unreleased in its newly polished form. Why the wait, you perfectionist nerds? Reveling in the royalties Coldplay earned you buy adapting “Computer Love” into their song “Talk?”

Miami Sound: Rare Funk and Soul from Miami Florida 1967-1974: Another Soul Jazz comp, this one forgotten funk tracks from Miami Florida. It’s great!

Fleetwood Mac/Rumours: Perhaps the artiest, neatest band to hit it big in the mainstream, at least post-Beatles or other than Steely Dan.

Sam Cooke/The Man Who Invented Soul: Can you believe a purportedly definitive Sam Cooke boxed set, especially with a title like this one has, doesn’t include, for silly licensing reasons, “Shake” or, more damning, “A Change is Gonna Come?” For that matter, there's nothing here from his days with the Soul Stirrers, the most overtly "soulful" thing he ever did. The rest is quite nice, however, and ends with his legendary “Night Beat” and “Live at the Harlem Square Club” shows.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Old Grey Whistle Test

I was watching the second (U.S.) volume compiling the legendary U.K. music program "The Old Grey Whistle Test." While flipping though the likes of prime Patti Smith and Siouxsie and the Banshees, I decided to quiz Alma on the age of the clips. She was eerily accurate. The Who? She guessed the performance of "Relay" was from 1973, based on the frowny face sticker on Keith Moon's drum set, which she recognized was a parody of the smiley face stickers that came into vogue in the early '70s. Hall and Oates? She figured "She's Gone" was from around 1976 (correct!) based on the fashions and hair. But Roxy Music threw her off. She guessed 1980 or 1981, when in fact the performance of "Ladytron" was from 1972! Talk about ahead of your time.

She was also thrown by Tim Buckley, also ahead of his time but a little more obscure than Roxy Music. I gave Alma a hint: he's dead, and he has a famous son you've heard of who is also dead.

Alma's guess? River Phoenix.

The Cave

The tagline on last year's monster movie "The Cave" reads: "Taking terror to a whole new depth!"

Yep, that's pretty accurate. This is the bottom, as far as "Alien" rip-offs go. But the candid commentary track from the screenwriters helps reveal Hollywood's skill for taking bad ideas and making them worse.

Toilet, Heal Thyself!, or The Crapper is Haunted

The big problem with major appliances is that they typically put a crimp in the DIY mentality. When it comes to electrical or specialty stuff, I leave it to the pros. But toilets, well, that's a pretty physical and mostly mechanical household object that I feel comfortable working on. When we moved in and installed a new toilet, I had to rush over to Home Depot for a new ballcock assembly (yes, that's what it's called), and when the metal water tube corroded and began to leak downstairs, I went to Ace (pre-walking baby in tow), bought a new flexible tube and installed it myself.

Yet several months ago the upstairs toilet kept running after it was flushed, and the only way to stop it was to lift the tank and jiggle the arm. I thought it was breaking or broken until Alma's mom visited and the problem went away. I figured she just fixed it herself, but I never asked how. Then, a couple of months ago, the problem started again. At first we thought perhaps it was weather related, but the downstairs bathroom is far colder, so that didn't seem right. My sister visited and the problem persisted. And then Alma's mom visited again and ... the problem went away! She did nothing to it, I did nothing to it, and the toilet has been fine ever since, which can only mean one thing: we are clearly being haunted by a sewage spectre who enjoys the company of Alma's mom.

Refrigerator on the Outs in '06?

A few months ago we had our refrigerator repaired, since some little doohicky meant to control the voltage went nuts and the machine went kaput. The repairman did tell us, though, that he would unconditionally guarantee that the machine could very well do the same thing again a few weeks or months down the line, and guess what? It did! He's a smart guy, that repairman. Only this time the voltageometer or whatever went so screwy that the refrigerator now pops the circuit, which of course is Not Good (that's a technical term, meaning "bad"). So while I wait for a guy to show up and fix it again, and while we plan on the possibility of needing to replace a refrigerator that's barely a couple of years old, all of our frozen and cooled stuff is sitting on the front porch while we keep out fingers crossed that the unseasonably mild 40 degree weather is enough to keep the food safe.

Which reminds me: anyone out there house-hunting, beware any ad that notes a "spacious, walk-in refrigerator," since I have a hunch I know what it means.

In other news, my column this week is on Wes Craven. whose "Red Eye" is actually pretty good and, more importantly, less than an hour and a half long. Coming up after that will be Rachel; Weisz, who talked to me about "The Constant Gardener," when of the best movies of the year ('05 division) and the "Fortune" writer who broke the Enron story, Bethany McLean. I remember when a mutual friend told me he heard she got paid half a mil to take a year off from work to focus on the story, and as the Enron trials approach it looks like there remains lots to focus on.

Oh, also saw Jim Jarmusch's "Broken Flowers," which either has more going on than it seems or perhaps a little less than it should. And I'm still reading the Sam Cooke bio, which is slow ... because I am slow! Hopefully, once I finish, I can read the Joan Didion memoir that people love, and then dig into something smart but light, like Elmore Leonard's "Hot Kid" or Michael Connelley's "The Lincoln Lawyer." I don't make New Year's resolutions, but if I did reading more than three or four books a year would be one of them. Needless to say, Baby Z. has retarded my brain activity. If you get my drift.