Archive for February, 2013
It kind of blows my mind that it took my brain this long to get around to doing this. I mean, these are essentially three-dimensional Minipops. Anyway, above is Fernando Valenzuela, and below, Dennis Eckersley and Barry Bonds. More on the way.
My friend Mark showed me something yesterday. An artist called Rutherford Chang has a thing called We Buy White Albums, where he has created a record store dedicated to buying copies of the Beatles’ 1968 self-titled album. I like this idea. And after reading about it, I listened to the album itself. I like the White Album. I like that compared specifically to its predecessor, it’s a bit of a sprawling mess. But, like most double albums, it would be a better album if it were cut in half; were it a single album. So, that’s what I’m gonna do. This is a process that requires thinking of the album as a stand alone piece of work, not as part of the Beatles’ history, where the White Album being a double album is an interesting and integral part of their career.
I guess there needs to be some limits to how I’m gonna do this. To create a single album, I’m gonna create a track list for a side one and side two. The longest side of the actual White Album is 24 minutes and 27 seconds long (side four), so that will be the time limit for my new White Single Album sides one and two. Obviously, this is entirely about my personal preferences when it comes to the White Album. There are thirty songs, and I’m gonna lose around half of them. The half that I want to lose. Plus, another good thing about the White Album being a single album would’ve been that Anthology 3 could’ve had some more interesting offcuts than the utterly horrible What’s the New Mary Jane. I’m not really paying any attention to anything else. Although, I am gonna try to keep the order the same, and I feel I should make a Beatles album out of it, not just a heavily McCartney-leaning album, as would likely be my personal preference. Spoiler alert: that’s the only reason While My Guitar Gently Weeps is getting on there.
Okay then, the actual track listing:
Side one: Back in the U.S.S.R., Dear Prudence, Glass Onion, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, Wild Honey Pie, The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Happiness Is a Warm Gun
Side two: Martha My Dear, I’m So Tired, Blackbird, Piggies, Rocky Raccoon, Don’t Pass Me By, Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?, I Will, Julia
Side three: Birthday, Yer Blues, Mother Nature’s Son, Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey, Sexy Sadie, Helter Skelter, Long, Long, Long
Side four: Revolution 1, Honey Pie, Savoy Truffle, Cry Baby Cry, Revolution 9, Good Night
Thirty fucking songs. Sweet Jesus. Let’s start choppin’.
Revolution 9 – By far the easiest to lose. While I’m not against the idea of experimenting, and it’s kind of impressive that the most popular band in the world would do such a thing, fuck it: we’ve only got about 48 minutes of vinyl time to play with here, I’m not using 17% of that time including this.
Piggies, Long, Long, Long, Savoy Truffle – I like George Harrison. Honestly, I do. He’s done a lot of songs that I like. But his contributions to the White Album weren’t among his best. Two of them were utter shite. Savoy Truffle is horrible. Well done, George, you just listed a load of desserts. Piggies is worse. Dreadful song. Harpsichords and strings should’ve been left to McCartney, he was better at including non-“normal,” pastiche-y instruments on his songs. Long, Long, Long seems to me to be a few half-arsed ideas thrown together. And in this case, the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts. There could’ve been a good song in there somewhere, I guess. We’ll come back to While My Guitar Gently Weeps later.
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, Honey Pie – Paul McCartney is my favourite Beatle. He has that syrup-y tendency now and again, which can sometimes be endearing, sometimes annoying. It’s moderately interesting, I think, how many songs on the White Album can, when listened to as a stand alone piece of art, sound like novelty songs, or pastiches, homages to other eras of music. Ob-La-Di is novelty, Honey Pie is a music hall pastiche, Rocky Racoon has him faking an American accent. It’s not just McCartney, either. Don’t Pass Me By is kinda goofy, Bungalow Bill seems fairly throwaway, and Good Night, while lovely, is a Hollywood black and white movie song.
Yer Blues – I guess this song is better lyrically than musically. Musically, this could be any one of a million bands. It’s not a Beatles song, just a song template re-used.
Birthday – Songs about birthdays… This is being cut simply because of the sneaking suspicion that, like songs that have the word “radio” in the chorus, it’s a cynical ploy to get played on the radio a lot.
Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey – Great title. Average song. And it’s got that bloody bell going on all the time. Snip!
Don’t Pass Me By – Sorry, Ringo. I quite like this song, as it goes. And, let’s re-state this, most of the stuff being chopped aren’t songs I’d ever bother skipping over when I play the album (aside from Revolution 9 and the three Harrison songs mentioned above). Just, if we’re making a single album, we don’t need two songs with Ringo singing, and Good Night is the better song.
So, I’ve cut a third of the album. Let’s have a look at what we’re left with.
Side one: Back in the U.S.S.R., Dear Prudence, Glass Onion, Wild Honey Pie, The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Happiness Is a Warm Gun
Side two: Martha My Dear, I’m So Tired, Blackbird, Rocky Raccoon, Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?, I Will, Julia
Side three: Mother Nature’s Son, Sexy Sadie, Helter Skelter
Side four: Revolution 1, Cry Baby Cry, Good Night
Seems like it has been a lot easier to cut songs from the second piece of vinyl than the first so far. I have a decent idea of the songs that I definitely want on my White Single Album, so let’s look at those now, and leave the maybes until the end. Like I said, I’m mainly going for personal preferences here, but also keeping in mind that it should have the spirit of the Beatles and the spirit of the album itself. That is, I can’t get rid of all the slightly throwaway short songs. While only 52 seconds long, and hardly a song at all, Wild Honey Pie seems to, in a way, sum up the whole album for me: confident, successful musicians trying shit out. So that one is in.
Back in the U.S.S.R., Dear Prudence, Glass Onion – All seem like no-brainers to be on there. It’s a pretty strong one-two-three start to the White Album. Wild Honey Pie we’ve discussed. Now, a Beatles album has to have a George song. Sigh…
While My Guitar Gently Weeps – Wikipedia tells me that it’s number 136 on Rolling Stone’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and number ten on their list of The Beatles 100 Greatest Songs. Alright, whatevs, granddad. I understand that this is a popular song and I can see it has merits, but but BUT- I look at the floor and I see it needs sweeping. Really? It’s not a song I would ever have anywhere near my top 50 Beatles songs. But, there’s gotta be a George song, and this is the least shit George song on the White Album. And, length fans, this is the second longest song on the whole album after number nine number nine number nine. FML.
Happiness is a Warm Gun – I like this one. I really like the Lennon-ness about it. It’s kinda sinister and poppy at the same time. That’s six of the eight songs on side one definitely included.
Side two’s gotta-be-on-there songs: I’m So Tired, another great Lennon song. Plus, it’s a great band performance. I love Ringo’s drumming, and McCartney’s backing vocals are fantastic. And as a smoker, I’m always gonna enjoy the Sir Walter Raleigh bit.
Blackbird – Not much to say, really. A really lovely song, and a song that sounds so utterly amazing on the recent remastered version of the White Album.
Why Don’t We Do It in the Road? – I guess this is kind of similar to Wild Honey Pie, in the sense that it’s hardly a song. But it sounds so good. The piano sounds ace, and the guitar has a nice tone. And when Paul does his “rock” voice, my brain does going into the happy.
Julia – Obviously. That’s four of side two’s nine songs definitely making the cut.
Only two songs from side three are definitely in: Sexy Sadie – a magic song with that splendid piano and the general languid rockin’ feeling. Sounds a bit stoned.
Helter Skelter – Seriously, fuck you Charles Manson. This song is way too good to have his name mentioned anywhere near it, but that so often seems to be the case. (I’ve just done it.) U2’s version, too. Urgh. Anyway, one of McCartney’s best vocals. And just a damn cool rockin’ song. The first fake end, the Sonic Youth-y bit around the 3:02 mark, the squeal-y bits, the second fake end, and Ringo shouting about his blisters. Splendid stuff.
I’ve already dismissed most of side four, but still a couple get on there. First, Revolution 1 – my favoured version of this song. I kinda like that this more laid-back version fits more with the lyrical in/out uncertainty than the more rocking single version. The unreleased “Take 20″ of this is also great. (I found it on the World Wide Internet, something I assume you could also do quite easily should you be inclined to do so.) And it’s interesting to see how this Revolution ended up spawning Revolution 9.
Good Night – Gotta have the Ringo song, right? And in a way, you gotta keep the last song on an album. I’m a big fan of last songs being appropriately placed. A song that is like a nice After Eight mint at the end of your 1970s British dinner. This one does that job perfectly.
Right then, that’s 14 songs, 41 minutes and 24 seconds of music. Seven Lennon songs (eight if we include Good Night, but I always think, even if the songs weren’t written by Ringo, they always end up being Ringo songs), five McCartney songs, and a Harrison song.
I’ve got about seven minutes of vinyl space left. And six songs not yet discussed: The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill, Martha My Dear, Rocky Racoon, I Will, Mother Nature’s Son, and Cry Baby Cry. To keep the Beatles-ness of the album somewhat intact, with a more-or-less equal amount of Lennon and McCartney songs, I’m gonna have to lose The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill and Cry Baby Cry. I don’t mind losing Bungalow Bill, but I do quite like Cry Baby Cry. But, I’ve made this fictitious bed, and I must pretend to go to sleep in it. And if it wasn’t for having to have a Harrison song, this’d be on there for sure.
Four McCartney songs, of which I can choose only two. Martha My Dear, Rocky Racoon, I Will, Mother Nature’s Son.
Martha My Dear – Boing boing boing bouncy piano. Very McCartney-ish. He seemed to be showing off a bit in the later years of the Beatles. Like, look at me! I can do a song in this style and this other different style. But, minor quibble. He’s got more talent in his right foot than I have in my whole body.
Rocky Racoon – Despite the horrible fake American accent at the start, I really do quite like this song. It’s got a nice pace to it, and I love the “Her name was Magill, and she called herself Lil, but everyone knew her as Nancy” bit.
I Will – Ejected simply because it has the Frog Chorus-esque “vocal bass” all the way though.
Mother Nature’s Son – It’s clearly a very nice song, but doesn’t really do anything other McCartney “nice” songs don’t do better.
There we go, the last two songs are gonna be Martha and Rocky. 16 songs, 47 minutes and 25 seconds: The White Single Album.
Back in the U.S.S.R.
Wild Honey Pie
While My Guitar Gently Weeps
Happiness Is a Warm Gun
Martha My Dear
I’m So Tired
Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?
Anyway, this was all just a bit of fun. Were I to apply the same criticism to most of the albums — double or single — that I own, I could easily end up with a couple of thousand EPs in my collection. In reality, I’d only cut four songs (Revolution 9, and the non-weeping guitar Harrison songs) from this double album, which is pretty good going. And having listened to the edited version on my iPod today, it really does feel like stuff is missing, like the sprawling mass of differing quality songs genuinely is part of the album’s greatness. Well done, the Beatles, you were good.
This drawing began last September. I was watching a baseball game, some team, I can’t remember which, vs. Boston Red Sox. And, looking at the Sox’s ballpark, I got to thinking what it would be like to scale it down so it was cabin-sized. I did a quick pencil sketch of a cabin that looked nothing like Fenway Park, but wrapped around two sides of a little baseball field-shaped garden. I took a photo of the sketch, imported it into the iPad app I use for drawing, Brushes, and did a digital colour version. And then kept on drawing. The cabin stayed mostly the same throughout, but in my head, the landscape and garden changed. And, as a drawing, it was pretty much entirely drawn without reference photos. Which is rare. I used Google Images to check on the colouring of the birds and the shape of an axe in a tree stump, but apart from that, it all came out of my head. Once I’d drawn the cabin, though, it seemed kinda cold to leave it as an empty cabin, of the sort one would see on the mouth-watering Cabin Porn site. I wanted to live in my drawing. So I added other elements that I’d like were I to live there.
The eagle-eyed, or even the mole-eyed, amongst you will notice there’s a strange sense of scale, with the orange and black oriole being more or less the same size as the dog next to the picnic blanket. That, dear reader, is how I roll. That is to say, I messed up and can’t be arsed to change it.
Anyway, bigger version of the drawing here. And here’s a movie of how the drawing was drawing-ed:
Eric and I have known each other electronically for about four years. He and his pal Ted used to run a Web site called Pitchers and Poets. It was a good thing. With me also having a baseball site, we ended up exchanging emails, all three of us. I was emailing my pal Pete about baseball a lot, too, and eventually, the streams crossed and we ended up having a four way email conversation about baseball and hot dogs and jumping frogs and, once in a while, Albuquerque.
Eric and his girlfriend Janelle moved to Mexico City in October. This was the first time we had met in person. Eric is a writer. He likes baseball. He lives in the same city as me. One day, we got to chatting about the Serie del Caribe (Caribbean Series, an annual baseball tournament held between the winners of the winter leagues in Mexico, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Venezuela). It’s held in one city from one of the four participating nations on a rotating basis, and this year it was Mexico’s turn, and would take place in Hermosillo, in the northern state of Sonora, about a three hour drive south of the Arizona border.
We both wanted to go. And because he writes about sports (amongst other things), and I often draw baseball-related stuff, it wasn’t a huge leap for us to come up with the idea of up pitching an idea to someone of he and I working together on a co-authored text and images thing about the series.
At the time, I’d recently done some infographics for a new Web site called Sports on Earth. So I emailed Emma Span, the editor I’d dealt with, explained our idea, and would they be interested.
They were. Hurrah. We noodled around for a while, didn’t get our shit together, and eventually started looking for flights, accommodation, and Emma got on the case regarding press credentials for us, even though the Serie del Caribe Web site clearly stated that the time for applications was over.
Hermosillo is a city of about 800,000 people the 20th largest city in the country. There only seemed to be a couple of flights from Mexico City that weren’t booked up, so they were a wee bit expensive. Accommodation proved to be an even bigger issue: we checked and checked and kept finding hotels fully booked for the whole week. We were essentially Mary and Joseph.
When we did come across a hotel with rooms, they were super expensive and only renting rooms for the whole week of the series. We were only gonna be there for four nights, but it looked we might have to stump up the cash for seven just to not end up sleeping under a cactus. With only about ten days to go, we had some good fortune: my friend Adria is from Hermosillo, and her mother was willing to rent out her spare rooms to us for the duration of our stay.
Getting press credentials seemed to be very Mexican in its organisation. I love this country, but it can be frustratingly inefficient at getting things done. Eric and I would be two of very very few gringo “journalists” at the Serie del Caribe. We were there for Sports on Earth, a site put together by USA Today and the media arm of Major League Baseball. A few days before we were due to fly, Emma mentioned that things had started to look a bit more promising. And the day before we left, she told us we should — should — have passes waiting for us at the ballpark. We got the name of a contact at the stadium to help us if needs be. Splendid.
Baseball is popular in Mexico. But only in certain parts of Mexico. Mexico City is one of the parts of the country where it is not particularly popular. We have a team in the summer league, but attendance isn’t great. And this city has three popular teams in the top flight of Mexican soccer. Very few of my friends knew that the Caribbean Series was happening in their country. At the departure gate, though, we saw baseball caps and jackets. People on our flight were going to Hermosillo, like us, to watch baseball.
A couple of hours in the sky, and we were walking through an airport where even more people were dressed in baseball garb. People stood around, waiting for luggage, waiting for rental cars, in hats and jerseys of Mexican, Venezuelan, Dominican, Puerto Rican, and American teams. We had flown from Ciudad de Fútbol to Ciudad de Béisbol.
Hermosillo may well be small compared to Mexico City, but it’s also big. Very few buildings have more than a ground floor. In fact, the only time we had to climb or descend more than a short flight of stairs was when we had to go up to the press box* at Estadio Sonora, the baseball stadium. And because of this, the city sprawls in the desert fairly significantly. It was a long taxi ride from the airport to where we were staying. A taxi ride that had the driver on his cell phone several times talking to a colleague, asking where exactly the place we were staying is.
* I’ve been in press boxes at baseball stadiums before. Once legitimately, and a few times on stadium tours. The Estadio Sonora had a press box where one would expect, up and above home plate, but because the Caribbean Series had way more press members than would be there for future games at the park (the stadium is brand new and will be the home of the local Liga Pacifico team, los Naranjeros de Hermosillo, the Hermosillo Orange Growers), it had been extended to include a long row of high tables and chairs around the top edge of that level of the stands.
The house we stayed at was lovely. Our host, Carmen, was really friendly and a great cook. And there was a terrace which was a great place to spend the mornings, drinking coffee and working on drawings while hummingbirds darted back and forth to the feeders hanging from the roof. After a chicken lunch (pretty much our only non-cow meal of our time there) we were back in a taxi heading back across to the other side of town to the ballpark.
As mentioned, this park is new. Up until the end of the Liga Pacifico season a few weeks ago, the city’s ballpark was Estadio Héctor Espino, named after a player nicknamed “The Babe Ruth of Mexico,” conveniently centrally located. Estadio Sonora is a long drive for the good people of Hermosillo. A long straight road, punctuated by temporary police checks. At the end of that long road is a statue of Héctor Espino. The only place to go from there is to take a left turn, on to the approach road to the stadium. Lots of parking lot areas, and in the distance, the brown roof of the park.
Outside the park, we began our search for the press credentials that were supposedly waiting for us. We asked at a gate, they sent us around the corner. We saw a couple of women who looked like they worked there, and asked them. They made a quick phone call, and told us to go to another gate. We chatted with someone on the other side of the gate. They didn’t have our specific passes, but, rather than being super strict or jobsworthy about things, gave us general reporteros passes; passes we used for our whole time there.
And what a lovely park it is. I’ve only been to a handful of baseball parks in Mexico, but I’ve looked at photos of a lot of the other ones, and the Estadio Sonora seems to be by far the best in the country. It’s like a nice minor league park. More or less 20,000 capacity. The roof is my favourite feature. It’s irregular, but not annoyingly wacky like Frank Gehry’s stuff. It has subtle peaks echoing the mountains that you can see from everywhere in the city.
We arrived in time for the second game of the day, Mexico vs. Venezuela. Cleverly, the Serie del Caribe schedule had Mexico playing in the evening every day. People who bought tickets got day tickets, allowing them access to the afternoon and evening games, but attendance for non-evening, non-Mexico games was tiny compared to the totally packed stadium in the evenings. And that evening, we were there for what was by far the best atmosphere I’ve ever experienced at a baseball game. Strikeouts were cheered like it was a World Series game. The people clearly loved baseball, and clearly loved being there to watch Mexico play baseball.
When I say Mexico, though, it’s not really a national team, in the way that a Mexican team would be in a soccer tournament. The winning team of the Liga Pacifico was the Yaquis de Obregón (who play in another city in Sonora, Ciudad de Obregón). They were Mexico’s representative in the Serie del Caribe. Same goes for the Puerto Rican, Dominican, and Venezuelan teams (Criollos de Caguas, Leones del Escogido, and Navegantes del Magallanes respectively). All but the Venezuelan team wore uniforms with their nation’s name on the jersey. Eric did some research and found that, for some reason, Venezuela didn’t stump up the cash for uniforms, so the Navegantes wore their own uniforms.
For most of our time there, we did the same thing with our days. We’d arrive before the first game, head straight up to the press area, and work on our drawing and writing. It was nice and cool and shaded up there, a good view of the field. Pretty much the perfect office: I could draw and watch live baseball at the same time. I very much enjoyed the experience of having a pass on a lanyard around my neck, and using it properly: working. It was good to have deadlines, to know that I had to do three drawings a day. And it was good to collaborate with Eric, too. Normally when I do work, the client tells me what to do with varying amounts of leeway. But this time, we were on our own. Our only brief was to capture the experience of the Caribbean Series. It’s a credit to Emma and Sports on Earth that they trusted us to do something that wouldn’t embarrass them. And I think we worked well together. It was nice being able to show Eric a drawing, and he’d find something to write about that fitted with it. And it was nice for Eric to say, I’m writing about such and such, you think you can find something to draw?
So after the first game, the press area would fill up with Mexican journalists, and the Wi-Fi would slow to a snail’s pace, and that was our cue to finish up our work, and get down into the park, and do the research-y part of our assignment: to experience the Caribbean Series. This is a fancy way of saying that we were gonna get a beer and hang out watching baseball. One thing we soon learned is that, despite having access to the whole park, the best place for us to experience the series, and in many ways, to experience Hermosillo, was to head straight to the bleachers, to the cheap seats. Seats in other parts of the park were numbered. And the games were sold out. We’d occasionally sit down for a while, and eventually have to move when the seats’ ticket holders turned up. In the bleachers, it was general admission. And we didn’t sit down once. The fun was to be had stood behind the back row of bleachers, where people milled around, and went to get more Tecate.
Every night, we would find ourselves suddenly chatting and laughing and drinking with strangers. People would hear us talking in English, give us a glance, catch our eyes, and off we would go. It was fantastic. The people in Hermosillo are amongst the friendliest I’ve ever experienced. We had beers bought for us. One guy in particular, grabbed my shoulder to prevent me going to buy beers, because he couldn’t have a visitor paying for his own beer. On our last night there, we met three lovely people, Jesús, his brother Luis, and his girlfriend Angela. After knowing them for about four innings of baseball, they took us for tacos, they let me get out of the car to throw up in the middle of a street, and they went out of their way to drive us home. That’s hospitality.
After having a couple of months where I’ve been generally feeling kinda shit about life, it was wonderful to have four days away from Mexico City, in this wonderland of béisbol, carne asada, and incredibly lovely people. I can’t remember a time in my life where I look at photos of myself and see a genuinely relaxed and happy person there. Hermosillo was amazing, and I can’t wait to go back for some Liga Pacifico games in the winter.
My friend Eric Nusbaum and I spent four days in Hermosillo, in the northern state of Sonora, where we watched a load of top notch baseball being played at the Serie del Caribe (Caribbean Series). Eric is a writer, I is a doodler, so we combined on five articles about our trip for Sports on Earth.
See it bigger here.
I recently worked on a project to do Minipops of famous Dubliners. The city is getting free Wi-Fi hotspots, and they wanted to take my Minipops and turn them into tiled thingies to stick on the walls where the hotspots are. There are 14 of them. Here’s a couple of articles about it: