Peanut Butter Knife

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Dig, Part II

Another weekend, another dig. This time, we decided to head a few miles east to Kent and see what the record stores and thrift stores there had to offer. I was extremely disappointed. Not so much in the selection, but the prices were shocking to say the least. The Temptations LP I mentioned in last week's dig that I picked up for $2 at Square Records was $16 at Spin More in Kent. That's obscene. Nevertheless, I did manage to score a few choice finds this weekend:

Wilson Pickett Hey Jude (Atlantic, 1969) The world lost one of the great vocalists when Pickett passed away last month. Pickett's voice was able to shout, scream, beg and plead all while somehow remaining on key and in control of the song. Pickett's cover of the title track starts out nice enough, but really gets going in the coda where he lets loose on McCartney's tune, turning it into an anthem of lust and desire. Duane Allman's guitar playing is spine-tingling, matching Pickett's intensity and egging him on to greater heights. The electric guitar is in dire need of rediscovery by today's modern R&B producers, the analog buzz can do so much to accentuate a great soul singer.

Joni Mitchell Clouds (Reprise, 1969) I found this one at a very strange store called Turn Up Records off the main drag in downtown Kent. It was run by what looked to be a couple of anarchist hippies and had a small selection of new & used CDs and a few scattered cardboard boxes of vinyl. In the back of the room, there was a curtain and there were a bunch of kids sitting around watching the Lemony Snicket movie. The place definitely had a strange vibe. In any case, I've long been a huge fan of Mitchell's Blue, but have never really checked out her other material as deeply as I'd have liked. This album is a certified classic however, "Chelsea Morning" and "Both Sides, Now" are achingly gorgeous tunes. Listening to this on pristine vinyl (this looks to be an original pressing that has NEVER been played, SCORE!), I almost feel like I'm hanging out in Laurel Canyon and its 1969 all over again. Scoring this record also has me psyched for the next installment from The Numero Group, Ladies of the Canyon, a collection of rare private pressings of late 60s female folkies. Sounds delicious!

Isaac Hayes The Best Of... (Enterprise/Stax, 1974) This 8 song collection looks to be a budget bin release designed to cash in on Hayes' post-Shaft success. The cover is a lot different than the other Hayes Best Ofs I turned up on a google image search. "Walk On By" has been sampled by dozens of hip hop artists through the years and its easy to see why with the slinky lead guitar and funky drum breaks, still nothing matches the original with Hayes' deep voice presiding over the whole affair. Its easy to underestimate how ahead of his time Hayes was, but he led southern soul into a deeper, darker direction in the 70s and we still haven't caught up today.

More Hackett Dirt

Sorry, I can't resist. Openers has this tasty nugget on a form letter Hackett's law firm is sending out to recent Cincinnati area accident victims. Hackett's followers were positively gloating when Hackett leaked his oppo-research to the Toledo Blade, claiming it as one more reason why Hackett was the better choice. Brown will be able counter attacks on his voting record with DeWine's own 12 year record, while the type of character assassination the GOP would have leveled against Hackett over this is exactly the kind of thing that would turn off the independent, gun-loving S. Ohio voters that gave Hackett his supposed edge.

Monday, February 27, 2006


--Unfortunately, I did not make it to Betty Sutton's Meet the Bloggers event Saturday due to an appointment. It turned out that I actually had the time of my appointment wrong and I could have made it after all, but by then it was too late. Hopefully, I'll be able to attend the next event. I'll probably write more about this event once the podcast is up, but for now there are good recaps here and here. My second-hand impressions of her are very positive. For those interested, Sutton's website just went up over the weekend.

--In other OH-13 news, Capri Cafaro is going to be pouring money into the coffers of local TV stations as the primary heats up. I'd include my own reaction, but this blog seems to sum it up just nicely.

--The Plain Dealer had an interesting article on HSAs, which I may write more about this week.

--Jeeves, I hardly knew you.

--I'm posting about this a little late, but anyone interested in the ethics of CD prices and the pressures that small record store owners are under in this post-iPod, big box world; I recommend reading this blog and the comments therein. This discussion comes on the heels of a local story about Cleveland's dying indie record store scene.

--I learned this weekend that Blogger and Safari don't like to play nice. So unless its urgent, PBK will probably be pretty quiet on the weekends.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Jia Zhang-ke: The World

I've been wanting to see this film for over a year now, ever since the Chicago Reader's Jonathan Rosenbaum mentioned it in his top 10 for 2004 and again in 2005. The World centers around a Beijing theme park where visitors can "see the world, without leaving Beijing". The young people who work at the park as performers and security guards are mostly recent arrivals from outlying Chinese provinces. They ride a monorail into the park, they perform Indian dance styles in front of a mock Taj Mahal, eat lunch on the top of a fake Eiffel Tower (1/3rd the size of the real thing), or wear kimonos and sip tea outside a traditional Japanese house. Yet none of them have ever left China. Protagonist Tao quips while aboard a 747 that serves as one of the park's exhibits that she doesn't even know anyone that's flown on a plane. Its in this irony that the genius of the film lies. While modern China is becoming a major player in the global economy, its citizens are set adrift in a world that feels cold and alien.

What struck me about the film was both the stylistic and thematic similarities to the classic work of Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu. Jia even names one of the chapters of the film "Tokyo Story" after Ozu's masterpiece of the same name. But where Ozu focused on changes in Japanese family life in the aftermath of WWII, Jia is concerned with the changes in Chinese society as they evolve towards capitalism. The characters are alienated from each other and from the rest of the world, they spend much of their free time text messaging each other, never making any meaningful personal connections. A group of Russian workers come to the park only to be exploited when their passports are taken away. Their only way out of Beijing is through the sex trade, culminating in a moving scene where Tao recognizes one of the workers at a nightclub and despite the language barrier, their shared tears of commiseration a tacit acknowledgment that they are out of place in the new society. Tao wants to assert her independence as a woman, but this angers her boyfriend, Taisheng, who is trying to hold on to the values of their rural upbringing. Taisheng eventually winds up cheating on Tao with a factory supervisor who has been separated from her husband and sends Tao into depression. For Tao, Taisheng represents her only connection to a home that seems as far away as the exhibits at the theme park and his betrayal severs what tiny threads that still bind her to her past and to a Chinese culture that is fading as the country is brought into the world economy.

Stylistically, Jia's film combines some of the formal elements of Ozu with a few post-modern twists. Each text message sets up an animated vignette that adds to the film's dream-like qualities. Chapters are separated by scenes from a large-scale stage show that the park's workers perform at the end of the day, jolting the film out of its quiet solitude with a modern soundtrack by Lim Giong. These disconnects, and the disconnections between the characters, are what make this such a compelling movie. The ending may seem to some as forced or ambiguous, but the final words contain what I think is an underlying themethroughout and perhaps the most important message: This is only the beginning. Coming from China, Jia's perspective on our world is not grounded in having known only capitalism as a way of life, and as such, The World is a fresh perspective on the trade offs we've made for this global economy and one of the best films of the decade so far.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Jackson: The Drive for Regionalism

In Frank Jackson's State of the City address yesterday, he laid out Cleveland's vision in taking the first steps towards greater regional cooperation. I'm encouraged by Jackson who is not putting the cart before the horse or looking to quick fix solutions like casinos and Wal Marts as a means of solving the city's woes. Cleveland needs to fix the nuts and bolts before we will ever be able to move forward and I think Jackson, who seems unimpressed with the glamour of the mayor's office, could be just the man to do it.

The question is, do other regional leaders agree? I'm encouraged by quotes in the above story by area mayors Judy Rawson of Shaker Heights and Dan DiPiero of Parma in wanting to explore tax sharing plans. What will be more telling however, is what will be response from the outer-ring suburbs? They have been the prime beneficiaries of business-poaching and tax abatements, will they see the benefit of a healthy NE Ohio region?

As an aside: I like Bill Callahan's idea to move the address away from the City Club and into the neighborhoods.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

ODOT: Trust Us

Michael Gill has an excellent piece in this week's Cleveland Free Times concerning the Cleveland Inner Belt reconstruction project. Few people would argue with the need to reconstruct this important stretch of highway, which serves as the epicenter of travel in and out of downtown Cleveland from all directions (except the soon to be downgraded West Shoreway). Between Dead Man's Curve, a crumbling bridge and some of the most treacherous ramps in the country, the Inner Belt is long overdue for a facelift. So considering the importance of this project, you'd have expected ODOT to have done their homework. Ummmm, no. It turns out that when ODOT builds a road, they aren't in the habit of doing an economic impact study. Ever. And after 3 years of this project, they still haven't completed one:

The most telling sentence of the morning was spoken as an aside, a footnote to an answer about why the agency hasn’t yet finished an economic development study that was promised six weeks ago. On the way to explaining, Proctor said simply, “This is the first and only economic development study ever done by ODOT. We don’t have a deep history of studying economic development” impacts of highway projects.

Perhaps because such a study will confirm what many area businesses have been trying to tell ODOT since 2003. Eliminating exits at Carnegie and Prospect is going to have a profound negative effect on those businesses and institutions that have grown up around those interchanges over the last 50 years.

OK, ODOT, you build roads, maybe the economic impact will be offset by the benefits to traffic flow and safety. So when you tell us that eliminating these interchanges and consolidating them at Chester Ave. will make the road safer to travel on AND won't cause gridlock when there are multiple events downtown, certainly you have done some traffic studies to back up these assertions? Right?

“The community has this gut feeling that this just isn’t going to work,” Haviland said. “And there’s been this absence of key information, like traffic modeling..."

Oh. So just how much planning actually goes into a $900 million traffic project?

OH-13: The Tangled Web

With 17 (yes, 17) candidates running for Sherrod Brown's congressional seat, this promises to be the most interesting primary race in the state, if not the country. Fortunately, the good folks over at the Ohio 13 blog are doing an excellent job of helping to sort out everything that's going on, including this interesting nugget of political gossip.

Though I think this seat should remain safely in Democratic hands, I also think Cafaro is the weakest of the upper-tier Dem field (depending on whether you consider Gary Kucinich "upper tier"). If the above linked story is true, what I'm wondering is: How are these institutional supporters answering the questions about Cafaro's significant weaknesses as a candidate? Or are they just impressed by her money and intimidated by the fact that she will outspend all opponents?

I'm not trying to be sarcastic, because I'd really like to know if there's something in the picture that I'm missing here. If Foltin is the GOP nominee, he brings his own set of baggage to the race, but he should still be more formidable than the GOP's usual sacrificial lamb. We can't afford to put this seat in jeopardy with a weak candidate. Cafaro's money didn't help her in 2004 against a similarly scandal plagued Republican. In a district that only went 52% for Bush, LaTourette performed 11 points better against Cafaro. So I'm left scratching my head as to what Dem leaders are seeing as a positive in having Capri Cafaro as our nominee in the 13th.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


Twice today I've come across the phrase "say your piece". For some reason it never occurred to me that the word was "piece" as I'd always assumed it to be "say your peace". Fortunately, I'm not the only one who makes this mistake. However, the correct answer is here.

I think the confusion comes from these two phrases: "peace of mind" vs. "I want to give you a piece of my mind". For whatever reason I assumed that when you said your "peace" that you were getting something off your chest so you could have "peace of mind", not to give someone a "piece of your mind" which seems unnecessarily antagonistic in most cases when this phrase is used.

Anyone else have a take on this? What phrases have you misheard in the past?

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Dig, Part I

I know I probably shouldn't have done this, but I couldn't help myself Friday night. There's only so long I can go without new music and I had reached my breaking point. So we headed to Square Records in Akron. I told myself I probably wouldn't spend too much since I thought I had picked Square pretty clean of stuff I wanted, but whatever their sources are, they just keep scoring some real gems. So, in what will be an ongoing series here at PBK, here are some short reviews of my best finds this weekend:

The Temptations, Cloud Nine (Gordy/Motown, 1969) Soul doesn't get more psychedelic than this. Finding a near-mint copy of this album for $2 is almost as good as my scoring Neil Young's On the Beach for a quarter at a Chicago garage sale (back in the days before it was out on CD and routinely fetching $50 on eBay). Side 1 features the newly Ruffin-less Tempts stretching out to their most expansive heights. The title track is a technicolor funk delight, while the group offers a highly original take on "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" that rivals Marvin and CCR. The real nugget is the 9-minute psych-funk masterpiece "Run Away Child (Running Wild)". Never could a better case be made for the superiority of vinyl than this track, which when played at the proper volume can make you feel like you are in the studio with Motown's session pros finding a vibe that they probably never knew they had. The interplay between the tight rhythms, soulful harmonies, and soaring improvisational funk/jazz guitar is unparalleled. Each listen reveals another subtle layer of complexity.

The songs on Side 2 are in a more traditional pop-soul vein, but Dennis Edwards vocals are beginning to point the Tempts away from the classic uptempo Northern soul sound and into some deeper territory that would define the soul music of the early 1970s. This record deserves to be mentioned among the greats of all time.

Dr. John Desitively Bonnaroo (Atco, 1974) With my recent fixation on Allen Toussaint, I suppose it was only a matter of time before I began discovering one of New Orleans' other soul legends, Dr. John. Desitively Bonnaroo seems like a great place to start too. The music is a deep-fried southern funk, with bubbling rhythm section and the patented NOLA chicken-scratch guitar courtesy of the legendary Meters.

"(Everybody Wanna Get Rich) Rite Away" is one of those rare grooves that begs for immediate repeat listening. Tom Piazza wrote a book on Why New Orleans Matters, but if there are still any non-believers in the house, they need to listen to this song or Allen Toussaint's "Soul Sister" to really get the idea.

Harry Nilsson Pussy Cats (RCA, 1974)Recorded with John Lennon during their hedonistic "lost weekend", this one is going to take a few listens before truly digesting, but my first impression is that this is completely brilliant. Nilsson was allegedly sick during much of the recording, but didn't want to let this on to Lennon and so you can hear his voice getting weaker and more desperate with each track. Lennon was probably loving it as the result is something not unlike the "primal scream" vocals on Plastic Ono Band. The contrast between Nilsson's voice and the backing tracks recorded by studio vets like Jim Keltner and Klaus Voorman only adds to the stark feeling of the album.

Chocolate Milk We're All in This Together (RCA, 1977) More NOLA funk produced by Allen Toussaint. Every time I go digging, I like to pick up something that I have never heard of before just based on album, cover, label, credits, etc. Sometimes I'm disappointed, but its always worth it because sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised, like in the case of this LP by Chocolate Milk.

By 1977, traditional funk and soul production was giving way to disco, which may explain why Chocolate Milk never had more than regional success. Tracks like "Grand Theft" must have been filling dance floors across the south in the late 70s, because the grooves are undeniable. Toussaint's genius cannot be understated here either. Even when the band overreaches on weaker material like "Help Me Find the Road", Toussaint's arrangements (especially on the vocals) keep things interesting, and more importantly, soulful!

Eddie Harris (& His Electric Saxophone) Plug Me In (Atlantic, 1968) Another blind pick, Eddie Harris was a jazz chameleon, often experimenting both in instrumentation and style. Here he plugs in the sax and comes up with some seriously funky Motown inspired arrangements sure to upset the purists of the time. The album feels all too short at about 27 minutes. The music isn't quite as remarkable as some of the other finds, but Harris' seems to have a great sense of humor and fun about his music that still makes this a worthy listen. A title like "Theme (In Search of a TV Commercial)" would probably be appropriate on many so-called indie rock albums today.

Billy Preston The Kids & Me (A&M, 1974) Preston's 70s material isn't known for its great depth or importance. He was always too pop for soul & funk fans and too funky for wider mainstream acceptance. His lyrics are often a bit trite as well. Still, he has a great voice and is a monster on the keys, so on his best material like "Nothin' From Nothin'" and the moog instrumental "Struttin'" his shortcomings are easily forgiven. However if you were ever wondering if the original version of "You Are So Beautiful" was actually good, I'll save you the trouble. It's not.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Why I Love Snowboarders

I can't say I ever was a big snowboarding fan before this year. But watching the winter games, I have to say that I'm hooked. What appeals to me is the snowboarders sense of fun. Athletes often take themselves way too seriously, I think I'll rip my ears out the next time some jock spits out a cliched quote about "giving it 110%" and "taking it one game at a time".

That's why Lindsey Jacobellis is my new heroine:

"I was caught up in the moment," she said. "I think every now and then you might see something like that. I didn't even think twice.

"I was having fun," she added. "Snowboarding is fun. I was ahead. I wanted to share with the crowd my enthusiasm. I messed up. Oh well, it happens."

Now that's keeping it in perspective!

Friday, February 17, 2006

What's In a Name, Part II

Yesterday, I talked about the origins of my screenname; today, I will cover the name of the blog. The story is actually not all that interesting. Peanut Butter Knife was the name of a radio show I did Thursday mornings on WCSB from 1995-1999. The name has no special significance other than the fact that I love peanut butter and I liked the way the words sounded together. At the time how was I to know that there actually is such a thing as a peanut butter knife?

It was a good name and so instead of spending all my time coming up with the perfect name, something that is oh-so-clever, I thought why not revive this one?

Mr. Hackett Doesn't Go to Washington

I think one of the reasons I finally got up enough gumption to begin writing this blog was in reading the endless amount of anguish from keyboard jockeys around the country over Paul Hackett being "forced" from the US Senate race to give Sherrod Brown a clean run at the nomination. I hadn't spent a lot of thought on Hackett. I live in Northeast Ohio and am well familiar with Sherrod Brown and his work in the House. I will be extremely proud to call him my Senator come November 2006. Hackett seemed like a stand-up guy and when he spoke about the Iraq War, he could wipe the floor with any candidate who could take him on. Unfortunately for him, a US Senator is going to have to deal with a spectrum of issues, and as Bush's speech on HSAs illustrates, the decisions the next Ohio Senator will make are going to have a profound impact on our everyday lives. When he veered off his Iraq message, Hackett seemed to mostly have his heart in the right place; but his positions lacked substance, especially when stacked up against Rep. Brown, who has been fighting these battles his whole life.

Still, I couldn't help feel some sympathy for Hackett's web supporters. It caught me off guard how large and how loyal his blog following was, but I'd been in their place 2 years ago when political pressures forced Howard Dean from the presidential primary. When people new to the political process see the sausage getting made (to use a tired metaphor), its tough to swallow. The key difference for me was in the reaction. Governor Dean's campaign put us on a path to reform. He gave us the tools we needed to get involved and stay involved in Democratic party politics, at a time when many of us had given up the party as hopeless. Hackett's followers on the other hand spoke not of staying involved in the process, but of seeking revenge. They pledged not only to withhold support for a committed progressive like Sherrod Brown, but to withdraw interest in races in Pennsylvania, Illinois and elsewhere. Some even were threatening to leave the party altogether.

I watched Frank Capra's film last night and I suppose the Hackett people see themselves as a bunch of online Jefferson Smiths, shocked and betrayed by a political force they once saw as their ally. It's a compelling story, but one I think misses the big picture. If the Hackett supporters are so insistent on "letting the people of Ohio decide", can they tell me how they thought Paul Hackett was going to get through a Dem primary heavily reliant on urban votes with his libertarian stance on guns? Or how about what voters in a state where public school funding may be the #1 issue would view his candidacy once they learn that his children are home schooled?

These Hackett supporters may resent how this whole thing played out, but Paul Hackett made the choice to drop out of the Senate race himself. What I resent is out of state bloggers for whom the war is the Only Issue That Matters, trying to tell us in Ohio that only Paul Hackett is an acceptable candidate. The truth is, we will never really know what went on behind the scenes, who said what to whom, etc. Hackett may be hurt that things didn't go his way, but there's no reason to believe that this was as diabolical as he made it seem. And who is the real Jefferson Smith in this story? The war veteran who saw DC politics up close and personal and decided to take his toys and go home, or the congressman who has spent his whole life fighting an uphill battle for progressive issues (what Smith might call "lost causes")? When I see Jimmy Stewart on that screen, I think of someone like Sherrod Brown who put his whole career on hold in order to try and derail an awful piece of legislation like CAFTA (and almost succeeding).

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Whittington: Taking One For the Team

So, let me get this straight. The GOP is glad he shot that guy now?

From the AP:

Republicans say they are pleasantly surprised that the intense media coverage of the hunting accident has shifted attention from the case of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's former chief of staff...The hunting accident "really has gotten Scooter Libby out of the press," said Deb Gullett, a GOP activist from Phoenix, who is chief of staff to the city's mayor.

Hi-ho Silver Line

My screenname comes from the name of a branch of the CTA elevated rail system. I lived in Chicago for almost 4 years and I was enamored with public transportation the whole time I was there. Chicago is a city that bleeds history around every corner, and the "L" is part of the fabric that links you to the millions of people who called the city home over the past century plus.

The 54/Cermak branch was my favorite for numerous reasons. Until recently, it was the branch that had the fewest renovations. Traveling the Douglas in 2000 was probably a lot like riding it in 1900. The 54/Cermak winds its way through many long-neglected west side neighborhoods and one of the most intriguing aspects about Chicago was how a 3-flat in Douglas Park looks about the same as one in Lincoln Park. Looking out the window of the rail car you could imagine the vitality of those neighborhoods and the untapped potential for them to bloom again one day.

The 54/Cermak was the black sheep of the CTA system. It didn't run on weekends or very late at night. After the medical professionals exited at Polk, it served residents of these outlying neighborhoods almost exclusively. Surviving as their only link to the rest of the city. My stop for work was one after Polk, at 18th, although I did ride the length of the line a few times in something I hope to blog about later. Since the renovation, the 54/Cermak seems to be undergoing a renaissance with weekend service restored and now today's news that it will be severed from its longtime partner, the Blue Line to become it's own branch, the Silver Line. Perhaps most exciting about this news is that the new Silver Line will utilize the long-abandoned Paulina Connector. If you've ever driven around the United Center, you might have noticed a set of tracks that seemingly went nowhere and never carried any traffic. This is the Paulina Connector which fell out of favor once the CTA was rerouted to run down the middle of the Eisenhower Expressway. My first thought was that I must get back to Chicago just so I can ride on the Connector.

Fun fact: Anton Cermak was mayor of Chicago during the 1930s and died taking a bullet for FDR.


Here's something I've been meaning to do for awhile. I'm hoping to polish my writing skills and give myself some sort of creative escape from boredom. Hopefully the blog will gain more focus as it matures, but for now expect a hodgepodge of whatever is on my mind. Politics, music, film, it will probably all be covered here.