Monthly Archives: July 2012

Culinary Coronary Court Case: You Want a Stent With That?

“And I may be leaving myself open to a murder or a heart attack.”  Murder or a Heart Attack, The Old 97s

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been on a crusade to upgrade the menus of the Big Apple.  He’s championed laws to ban trans-fats and  to post-calorie counts everywhere from fast-food joints to the Bronx shrine known as Yankee Stadium.  (The Babe would be both pleased and chagrined to learn that one of his favorite snacks, The Nathan’s hot dog w/kraut, is the leanest offering at the House That He Built).  Now, the diminutive mayor is angling to downsize sugary sodas by pushing an ordinance that would cap fountain drinks at 16 ounces.  Don’t fret, Big Gulp fans–7-Eleven somehow wangled an exemption to this Super Size Inquisition.  So the 64 oz Slurpee will endure–survival of the fizziest!

Another icon of New York’s food-obsessed landscape also stands oblivious to Mayor B’s Quixotic quest for a healthy electorate–The Second Avenue Deli.  That emporium of cured beef and rye bread has been serving up lipid-rich, gut busting delicacies since the 19th century.

Recently, the deli faced not the wrath of the multi-millionaire mayor B, but that of a disgruntled trademark owner located two thousand miles to the west in Las Vegas.  For years, that sin-city eatery, The Heart Attack Grill, has served-up a line-up of By-Pass Burgers (Single, Double, Triple–you get the idea).   And no Bypass Burger is complete without a helpings of “Flatliner Fries.”

High-rolling patrons seem to take to the dangerous fare, flocking the The Heart Attack to wager their longevity on the heady mix of beef, fat, flame, and bun.  News sources report that at least one patron suffered a heart attack after grappling with a Triple Bypass burger–a harrowing episode that nearly validated the restaurant’s slogan–“The Taste Worth Dying For.”

While its cardiac imagery may be facetious, the Heart Attack Grill gets serious when it comes to its trademarks.  It complained when the Second Avenue Deli began selling an “Instant Heart Attack” Sandwich.  And the Las Vegas outfit got apoplectic when it learned about the Deli’s plan to introduce a menu item called “The Triple Bypass.”

The Second Avenue Deli responded like any true New Yorker would–it sued, asking a federal court to give its morbid names a clean bill of health.

And in an order issued last week, Judge Paul A. Engelmayer largely sided with his fellow New Yorkers.  The judge ruled that the Deli could use its names, albeit with some  restrictions; only uses on its menus and print signage in Manhattan are kosher.

So the Heart Attack Grill’s attempted cardiac-themed arrest failed.

By the way, the Instant Heart Attack is a mountain of corned beef and pastrami served between two potato latkes.  The Triple Bypass will have three latke layers.  L’Chaim.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Mother Nature clearly intended for us to get our food from the “patty” group, which includes hamburgers, fish sticks, and McNuggets- foods that have had all of their organs safely removed.” Dave Barry

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Free Samples? At Costco, Yes. In Rap and Hip-Hop, No!

“I need a unit to sample and hold.”  Sample and Hold, Neil Young

Remember the glory days of Hip-Hop?  I certainly don’t, since I wouldn’t know “Daft Punk” from “Daffy Duck.”  But a recent Washington Post article explains how the Hip-Hop world has been upended by the most unlikeliest of sources–copyright lawyers and the courts.

Back in the day, “sampling” was the bread and butter of Hip-Hop.  Artists and producers would cut snippets from older recordings and weave them into elaborate tapestries of music fragments and dance beats.  They did this with impunity, not asking permission from the sample-ees and not paying a cent in royalties.

That changed when rapper Biz Markie sampled Gilbert O’Sullivan’s tepid 70’s hit “Alone Again Naturally” for Markie’s number “Alone Again.  As the Post reports,–from-public-enemy-to-kanye–forever/2012/07/06/gJQAVWr0RW_story.html?wpisrc=nl_cuzheads,  the O’Sullivan camp sued, the court awarded damages, and the course of hip-hop history changed irrevocably.

Today, rappers who want to flavor their tracks with tasty bits of someone else’s recording must pay to play, or wind up in court.  Just recently, the Beastie Boys ended up on the wrong side of a lawsuit when they sampled from two Trouble Funk tracks.  Not getting permission and paying a fee meant trouble and funk for the Beasties.

Because of these lawsuits and the copyright law that underlies them, sampling has become something of a luxury, affordable only to the most succesful recording artists.  The ability to lard a record with pricey samples has become a status symbol.  As the Post reports, Kanye West flaunts his ability to afford costly samples from the likes of prog-rock icon King Crimson.

Less well-heeled rappers have, in Darwinian fashion, been forced to adapt in order to keep up with the Kanyes.  Some have taken to trolling through long forgotten recordings of yore to find aurally intriguing soundscapes fit for sampling.  These retro rummagers figure that the more obscure the sample, the lower the chances of being sued for copyright infringement. Risky?  Perhaps. But sampling is so ingrained in the hip-hop and rap ethos that it’s a risk emerging artists are willing to take.  When it comes to sampling, it’s apparently not an option to “just say no.”

The courts may have upped the ante, but artists are still finding creative ways to keep sampling alive.  As the Post’s Chris Richards concludes: “no court decision can regulate the imagination.”

QUOTE OF THE DAY:  “Hip-hop is more about attaining wealth. People respect success. They respect big. They don’t even have to like your music. If you’re big enough, people are drawn to you.”  Jay-Z

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Deja Vu: Voices of The Ages Soar

“And it gets harder, as you get older, and farther away as you get closer.”  See The Changes-Stephen Stills, Crosby, Stills, and Nash

Earlier this week, much of Greater DC remained in the dark (literally and figuratively) after a livid wind blew out the lights in homes and offices throughout the region.  Temperatures flirted with the century mark, adding insult to injury.  But three stars shone brightly on the eve of Independence Day on the stage of Wolf Trap, the glorious amphitheater in the Vienna, Va woods operated by the National Park Service.

At around 8:15 on that humid night, with storm clouds again looming, Crosby, Stills, and Nash dove into a crisp version of Carry On, the opening track from their 1971 album with Neil Young–Deja Vu.  Nearly 45 years after this supergroup released its debut album, Crosby, Still, and Nash remain icons of the Woodstock era.  And though the years have increased several waistlines and decreased a few hair lines, the music of CSN retains vitality and relevance that belies the passing decades.

Tuesday’s show presented David, Stephen, and Graham in top form.  Their vocals and harmonies remained strong and largely intact through a set lest that featured 21 songs, most of them treasures from the rich CSN catalogue.  Crosby’s Long Time Gone showcased David’s still-formidable pipes along with nimble and soulful guitar solos from Stills, one of Rock’s most expressive and underrated guitarists.  Though his voice has lost some of its range and clarity, Stills’s guitar work has never been better, as evidenced by transcendent and inventive solos on his Buffalo Springfield classic Bluebird, as well as on Wooden Ships and Crosby’s counter-culture anthem Almost Cut My Hair.   Nash, who retains his slim physique and keening tenor, was rock-solid on all of his lead vocals, beginning with the propulsive ’60s protest song Chicago, and  continuing throughout the nearly 2.5 hour set that included a spry Marrakesh Express, a somber yet muscular Cathedral, and the plaintive, intimate Our House.  

The trio and their excellent backing band closed out the opening set with Love The One You’re With featuring some of Stills’ best singing of the night.  After a short break, they returned for an interlude of acoustic music that included the lush harmonies of the alliterative Helplessly Hoping from their debut record and a moving cover of Dylan’s Girl From the North Country. 

Then, Crosby and Nash wove  special magic with Guinevere, Crosby’s love song that he dedicated to Jan, his wife of 35 years.  Though David and Graham have performed this haunting tune thousands of times, they delivered the whistful lyrics and mytical harmonies as if they had been written that morning, drawing one of the evening’s loudest and longest of many standing ovations.

The sell-out crowd, including many with lawn seats who braved a mid-concert deluge, was in for one last treat.  For their encore, CSN returned to the stage, just the three of them.  Stills to our left with his signature Martin acoustic guitar, and then Nash and Crosby, both standing empty-handed by their respective microphones.  As Stephen began strumming, we knew we were in for a rare gift.  For the first time in nearly a decade, the trio was tackling Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, the challenging, transcendent four-segment composition that opens CSN’s debut album, and which cemented their place in history as folk-rock’s preeminent harmonists.  With Stills nailing every vocal crescendo, including the prolonged verse “It’s my heart that’s a suffering, it’s a dying, that’s what I had to lose,” and Crosby and Nash recreating the ringing harmonies of the original recording, “The Suite” punctuated an incredible evening of song with an emphatic exclamation point.  This was no nostalgia act.  This was music in its purest and most resonate form.  Three voices, one guitar–voices for the ages.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Notwithstanding their personality, their dress and their ideas, they were and they are the most courteous, considerate and well-behaved group of kids I have ever been in contact with in my 24 years of police work.” Lou Yank, head of the police department in Monticello, New York, as reported in the New York Times August 18, 1969, during Woodstock.

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Olympic Overreach: A Tangled Web Is Knit

“Ooh, Dream Weaver, I believe you can get me through the night.” Dream Weaver, Gary Wright

So, you love to knit. And every two years, when the Olympics roll around, you love to immerse yourself in a world of sports competitions that you couldn’t care less about the rest of the time; events like swimming, gymnastics, and beach volleyball. So, naturally, while you spend a fortnight on the couch, you pick up your needles and yarn and combine the two pastimes into a marathon of viewing and knitting indulgence. Better yet, you get together with other like-minded craftsfolk and devise all sorts of nimble contests–like “scarf hockey,” “afghan marathon,” and “sock put”– to challenge yourselves while you watch the thrills of victory and agonies of defeat.

And of course, you come up with a witty name for your group and this clever competition–you call yourselves “Ravelry” and your bi-annual event the “Ravelympics.”

Who couldn’t help but smile upon hearing about your group and your good-natured event with its whimsical name? The U.S. Olympic Committee, that’s who. Where others might see harmless parody, the USOC sees only an assault on the sanctity of the Olympic brand.

So the USOC dispatched a letter to the Ravelers, telling them to cease and desist in no uncertain terms. According to a report in the Washington Post, the USOC viewed the Ravelers antics as anything but a laughing matter. In a time-tested exercise of demagoguery, the USOC accused these homespun yarn- darners of being darn un-American:

“We believe using the name ‘Ravelympics’ for a competition that involves an afghan marathon, scarf hockey and sweater triathlon, among others, tends to denigrate the true nature of the Olympic Games,” said the USOC’s letter, which Ravelry’s founder, Casey Forbes, posted on the site on June 20. “In a sense, it is disrespectful to our country’s finest athletes and fails to recognize or appreciate their hard work.”

“Yeah,” one knitter commented on Ravelry, “because it’s so much easier to knit a sweater than run 40 yards.”

Reluctantly, the sardonic Ravelers have concluded that when facing a monolithic international juggernaut with lawyers aplenty and an atavistic attitude towards its precious symbols and names, it’s better to switch than fight.

The needle-wielding Olympic watchers will now call their event the “Ravellenic Games.”

So at least one group of good sports has managed to keep its sense of humor. And when all the Olympic hoo-ha has faded into a dim memory, when Michael Phelps has returned to obscurity, the knitathaloners of the Ravellenic Games will have something–lot’s of things in fact–to show for the time they’ve invested in this Olympiad–socks, sweaters, hats, and more, to keep them warm during the Winter 2014 Ravellenic Games!

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I think whenever you are trying to establish something new, you have to draw a line and put everything that came before that behind you.” John Doe, musician, The Knitters.

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