Let’s Watch Cracker Baseball on TV

I’m sure the context for this ad from the May 4-10 edition of TV Guide’s Atlanta edition makes this seem perfectly reasonable. But because I can’t resist a good sight gag, let’s just enjoy this ad for WWLA’s Cracker baseball broadcasts as is.

WWLA Cracker Baseball Ad, 1957

OK, in the spirit of fairness I will mention that Crackers was the name of Atlanta’s minor league baseball team, and they were part of the rather successful Southern Association. The league disbanded in 1961, which left Atlanta without a baseball team until the Braves moved from Milwaukee in 1966.

As for WLWA-TV (now WXIA) having a sports broadcaster named Bob Boring, I’m not gonna kill that joke with facts.

A&P supermarket opening at Williamsburg Village, Atlanta, 1965

Scenes from an A&P Supermarket Opening, Atlanta, 1965

Courtesy the Georgia State University Library collection comes this group of neat images showing scenes from the opening of an A&P supermarket in the Williamsburg Village shopping center, located in Atlanta, Georgia. These were taken on May 12, 1965 and showcase the grocery giant’s still-new Centennial style, first rolled out in 1959. The affair is complete with men dressed in 18th century Colonial American garb.

The opening was covered by Atlanta radio station WGST, as seen in the picture with their mobile news vehicle.

A&P supermarket opening at Williamsburg Village, Atlanta, 1965 A&P supermarket opening at Williamsburg Village, Atlanta, 1965 A&P supermarket opening at Williamsburg Village, Atlanta, 1965 A&P supermarket opening at Williamsburg Village, Atlanta, 1965

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New Adventures in Hi-Fi: My Journey Into R.E.M., Part 2

Welcome back! In today’s installment of my musical journey through R.E.M.’s discography, I tackle the first two full-length albums from the Athens, Georgia quartet. The first one, 1983’s Murmur, pops up in just about every list of the greatest pop/rock albums ever made, so I was really curious to hear what all the hype was about. And then it’s on to next year’s Reckoning and the first major stylistic change for the group. While the two records were released almost exactly one year apart, they really are very different artistic statements.

So anyway, Murmur.  Hey I recognize that first song! It’s a re-recorded version of the band’s first single, “Radio Free Europe.” Well one thing’s for sure, this new version is a lot cleaner-sounding and much more professional. Too bad it doesn’t quite have the spark and raw energy of the Hib-Tone original. But a good song is a good song, right?

I ruminated in the introduction to this series that sometimes you have to get into a band at a certain time in your life or it’s too late. I’m not going to say that’s the case with R.E.M. but the major obstacle I face listening to this album is that while it’s considered pretty groundbreaking for its time, so many other bands have drawn inspiration from this style and sound that I feel like I’ve heard it before. But maybe that’s a good thing, as all I’m left with is the quality of the music.

And this is a quality album, no doubt. I think Murmur will be one of those “grower” albums, as on a second and third listen it’s grabbing me more than it did initially. One of the things I appreciate about this album is the economy. There are no unnecessary notes, drum fills, or vocals here at all. It’s a careful and studied album but one with real heart.

Oh, before I go any further – I can’t recommend the deluxe anniversary edition of Murmur enough.  Not so much for the extra tracks as for the sound of the original 12 songs. The cleaned up version of the album breathes and sings in a way that the original version I heard did not. It’s as if a layer of gauze has been stripped off, and it really allowed me to connect with the songs much more.

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New Adventures in Hi-Fi: My Journey Into R.E.M., Part 1

Hello from Athens!  So to speak anyway.  This is the first leg of my journey through the discography of alternative rock heroes R.E.M. If you want a little more historical background on the band and their roots, well, I guess you can hit up Wikipedia. I’m going to focus as much as I can on just the music for this series.

So I know that in the introduction post I said I’d only be hitting the main albums and EPs in my writeups, but I would be doing everyone a disservice without mentioning “Radio Free Europe.” Released in 1981, it’s R.E.M.’s first single and was largely responsible for landing them a record deal with I.R.S.

Listening to it 30 years later it’s easy to figure out where it fits in the history of alt rock, although there are some strong New Wave sounds going on as well. Here’s the original version as released on the Hib-Tone label.

What I hear is a young, raw band full of energy and with an already strong sense of melody. The star of the show as far as I’m concerned is guitarist Peter Buck, whose ringing chords and melodic arpeggios are a real treat. I was pleasantly surprised by Mike Mills’ bass playing, which was steady and propulsive when it needed to be but a little adventurous too. I’ll have to keep an eye out for that guy.

Up next is Chronic Town, R.E.M.’s first EP, released in August 1982. Apparently the group’s manager, Jefferson Holt, didn’t feel the band was quite ready for a full-length release. So instead we get five songs clocking in at just under 21 minutes.

As with “Radio Free Europe,” the tracks here all crackle with energy. The first song, “Wolves, Lower”, is my favorite. It’s got a certain infectious, nervous energy and some really fluid playing from Buck. Mills’ bass is nice and punchy, and provides a great foundation alongside Bill Berry’s drumming. Most of all, though, “Wolves, Lower” is simply the best-written and best-produced song on the record.

The group also shows a bit of an experimental side on a few tracks. “Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars)” starts off with a weird-sounding synth bit, and there’s a fun spoken word/percussion breakdown in the last half of “Stumble.”

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Book report: Single & Single

Single & SingleDon’t let the title fool you – Single & Single is in fact not the new name for Jon & Kate Plus 8.  It’s actually a 1999 novel by John le Carré, who made a name for himself in 1963 with The Spy Who Came in From the Cold.  I picked it up a few years ago solely because le Carré is the author, which should tell you how much I liked The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. I don’t know if I was aware that Single & Single isn’t a spy novel when I bought it, but it doesn’t really matter because it might as well be.

All the familiar elements are here, but in the post-Cold War world we have to make do with cutthroat Russian mobsters rather than crafty KGB agents, and put-upon British bureaucrats who lack the zip of the agents of yesteryear.  Fighting crime just isn’t as interesting as fighting Commies, let’s face it.  Still, le Carré gives it the old college try and manages to wring some excitement out of the situation.

Things start off quite promisingly as the novel shows us the last panicked moments of a British corporate lawyer held captive in Turkey, moments away from his own execution.  It’s a grim and evocative scene and serves as a stark reminder that while the Cold War is gone as a backdrop, the stakes in a le Carré novel are just as high.  It’s certainly not the last time death makes its mark in the book, although it’s never again as disturbing and personal.

The protagonist for our adventure is Oliver.  When we first meet Oliver he is living in an English boarding house under an assumed surname.  He spends his days performing magic tricks and making balloon animals for local shows and charities, but a mysterious and troubled past haunts him at every corner.  When £5 million ends up in Oliver’s bank account for no good reason, he is forced out of hiding and we learn the reasons for his vanishing act over the course of several chapters.

It turns out our humble Oliver is Oliver Single, son of the illustrious Tiger Single, himself founder of the House of Single & Single and a pretty big wheel in the world of international finance.  Single & Single, based in London, specializes in assisting their rich clients finance all sorts of really expensive legal and illegal business ventures.  This type of work requires one to accept a lot of legal gray areas, and Tiger is the sort of man whose moral code is written in pencil.

In due course we get to meet Single & Single’s most important clients, a group of shady Russian mobsters (is there any other kind?) led by the Orlov brothers – Yevgeny and Mikhail.  le Carré pulls off a neat stunt with the Orlovs – he turns a pair of major league criminals into characters I could actually sympathize with.  By giving us glimpses of their vulnerable and sentimental side, le Carré ends up making them more three-dimensional than most of the characters in Single & Single (including Oliver, unfortunately).

That brings me to one of Single & Single‘s major failings – I never really cared very much about most of the characters, as they were generally too flat.  Oliver’s story on the surface had all the elements of high drama – he’s a principled lawyer working for a crooked firm, his relationship with his father is strained at best, his marriage recently ended, and on top of all that he makes a conscious decision to follow his conscience and betray his father and his firm.  Yet despite all this, Oliver struck me as a rather dour, wishy-washy sort who only developed a real backbone at the very end of the book.

Similarly there’s Nat Brock, a dutiful British customs agent who ends up becoming Oliver’s handler when Oliver turns himself (and his father by proxy) in at Heathrow airport.  Brock is no doubt passionate about his work, but that passion never really translates on the page.  He’s committed to rooting out corruption on the home front, but why?

John le Carré at the "Zeit Forum Kultur&q...

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My other beef with Single & Single was that the use of flashbacks, while by no means out of the ordinary in any work of fiction, left me feeling disjointed.   There were several moments of truth, as it were, that had their impact undercut by the narrative style.  One of the biggest is Oliver’s aforementioned decision to betray his father.  It just didn’t have the impact I thought it should because of the way the story jerked back and forth between past and present.

All that said, there were enough interesting and fun parts in Single & Single to prevent it from being a total loss.  The insular criminal empire of the Orlovs is rich with intrigue, and the exotic locales of Turkey and Georgia (no, not the U.S. state) add a real sheen to the proceedings.  And the last handful of chapters, while being pretty standard action fare, were leaner and more enjoyable than the flabby middle section.

As I said before, this really is just a spy novel without the CIA or MI6 being involved, and it is a fairly engaging and well-crafted book.  But while le Carré is obviously a skilled author, the lack of a unifying vision or purpose that the world of espionage can provide for stories like his is Single & Single‘s Achilles heel.

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Send me a postcard, drop me a line…

The postcard has become a lost art; a quaint relic of the past. Oh sure, you can still find quantities of them in those spinning metal racks in any airport gift shop. But who really uses them for their intended purpose anymore? Quick – how much postage does it take to send a postcard in the US? Exactly.

I came across these postcards at an antiques show a few years ago. Sure, I like to look at all the nice antique furniture and jewelry. And the old books and china are nice. But postcards are where you can really get a glimpse into the past. And since they’re not old letters, you don’t feel like you’re prying.

Of course, I like old postcards for more esoteric reasons. I love looking at the cars, the architecture, the outfits and even the old fonts and signs. So many people use the word ‘nostalgia’ in a pejorative sense, but not me. I don’t live in the past, but I sure do like to visit there. And what better way than through postcards? So let’s go! (Click on the pics for larger versions. Apologies for the sub-par scans)

(By the way, it costs 23 cents to mail a postcard as of this writing.)

Sheraton San Cristobal

Looks like any ordinary hotel from the 1970s, no? It is, but this Sheraton is in San Cristobal, Chile. In 1976, Rina and Arthur Rolfo stayed here, and wrote home to New York.  The hotel and Chile both got rave reviews, which is nice for them.

Sheraton San Cristobal

The San Cristobal Sheraton is still around. The exterior hasn’t changed too much, but just enough. Can’t say I agree with ditching the awning over the entrance.

Back in the friendly confines of the U.S. of A, our next stop is the Concord Hotel in Kiamesha Lake, NY. The postcard bills it as “The All Year – All Sports Resort.” Apparently they decided to advertise this fact with a photograph featuring the timeless sport of Small Talk. This appears to be the grand staircase for a ballroom of some sort. And man, is it ever Swanky with a capital S.

Concord Hotel in Kiamesha Lake, NY

I love the mishmash of decorating styles present here – we’ve got what look like sound-dampening acoustic tiles in the back, bowling alleys fastened to the walls, giant, gold painted sconces with more sharp edges than are now allowed by Federal law, a sweet dancing water fountain and what must be the only piece of pastel modern art in existence at the time. And unless my eyes are deceiving me, the same man is simultaneously courting four different women. Hey, even men with super powers need a little R&R from time to time.

The hotel is still around as part of The Concord Resort & Golf Club. Something tells me the fountain is gone.

Next up on our trip is good ol’ Sin City itself.

Fabulous Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas

Fabulous Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas

Hey, another Rolfo sighting! Rose picked up this postcard of the Fabulous Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas in 1960. It is postmarked Baker, California – home of the world’s tallest thermometer! I wonder what the “French floor show” was. Can-Can? Burlesque? Jerry Lewis striptease? Even more cryptic is the “all you need is that green stuff” line. Money for the dancers perhaps? Bok choy for Rose’s Chinese vegetable collection?

Rose and Arthur, jet-setters that they are, spent some time at the Americana in Miami Beach in July of 1966. And although they still found time to write to Delfina back home, they were probably having such a grand time they only managed a few lines. Interestingly, this is the third different way the recipient’s name has been spelled. Not sure what that means.

Americana in Miami Beach Americana in Miami Beach

Dateline: Chicago, IL, July 29, 1964. Beatlemania hits Sweden, while Rolfomania hits the Windy City. Dina writes a pleading missive to Delphine, practically begging her to write or visit. Perhaps Dina was the black sheep of the family?

Chicago postcard Chicago postcard

This next entry in the Rolfo travelogue is a beauty – The East End Motel in Madison, Georgia. This probably looked like any of the hundreds of motels of the late 1950s, although the East End had much to recommend itself. Adjacent to the motel was the East End Drive Inn restaurant. Nothing about the cuisine is listed, but apparently they had “Clean Rest Rooms!”

The East End Motel in Madison, Georgia The East End Motel in Madison, Georgia

If those gas pumps are still around, they probably command a hefty price tag on the collectors market. I couldn’t find any reference this establishment online, which probably means that the vacancy listed on the neon sign out front is permanent.

Rose stopped by the posh NBC studios in Hollywood in 1958. From the look of the cars, I’d guess the photo was taken sometime just after World War II. Rose apparently loved the studios so much she just couldn’t bear the thought of returning home.

NBC studios in Hollywood NBC studios in Hollywood

The “Pray For Peace” postmark on this is rather curious; was there an armed conflict of some sort taking place in 1958 in Hollywood that I haven’t heard about? Writers’ strike perhaps?

The “Greetings From…” line of cards is probably what a lot of people conjure up in their minds when they think of vintage postcards. This Los Angeles entry in the series was sent from Bill Primak to Arthur Rolfo in 1946. Bill expresses regret at missing his friend earlier. I wonder if he did get to see Arthur again, as promised?

Greetings From Los Angeles Greetings From Los Angeles

Back to the Windy City we go! Let’s grab a bite to eat in the place with the happiest chairs in the Midwest – the Oriental Gardens! I can only imagine what kind of acts I could watch on stage while supping on my noodles and snow peas. Probably mellow big-band jazz of some sort during the afternoon, swing at night. The Oriental Gardens was supremely confident in itself, stating that “You miss the most important point of interest if you fail to visit.” Well, I’m sold! All I have to do is pick up the phone and call State 4596 for reservations. Care to join me?

Oriental Gardens, Chicago

Back on the Eastern Seaboard, we take a stop in the nation’s capital. Schneider’s Cafe was established in 1886, and claims to be as well-known as the Washington Monument. Schneider’s specialty was ‘SEA FOOD’ (say that three times quickly). For some reason, the front of the café puts me in mind of a vintage firehouse. I do dig the green awnings, however. Schneider’s is no longer with us, and I think the urban decline of Washington, DC can be directly attributed to the lack of a decent seafood joint in town.

Schneider's Cafe

Out last stop is our most surreal. Few things show up less attractively in photographs than meat, but that didn’t phase the owners of The Steak Joint, Inc. They have conveniently provided you with a visual aid on steak preparation, so you can decide how you want your slab o’ meat prepared. I can’t decide myself. Bloody and moldy looks good, but so does bruised in the middle. On the other hand, leathery is not without its benefits. No sir, I think I’ll go for fossilized. Mmmm mmmm that’s good gnawing!

The Steak Joint, Inc. postcard

The Steak Joint, Inc.

I think the guy on the back is the same one from the Community Chest cards in Monopoly, sans mustache and spats. Had your fill of meat? Just ask the waiter to “Wrap The Leavings.” On second thought, I just lost my appetite.