Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas is two days past, New Year's is soon to come, but the festive holiday spirit has been interrupted by some fucker that likes to light fires...

Last night we were awakened around 2:30 am by sirens and commotion, looked outside to see that there seemed to be something pretty serious happening the next block over on Union St., just on the edge of downtown Northampton. It was clear that whatever was going on was pretty serious but the fire department was already on the case so we went back to bed, but as soon as I woke up in the morning I started checking TV and web news sources to see what I could see. I was shocked to learn that the fire that happened one street over was not an isolated occurrence but one of eight (and soon the number increased to eleven) that were reported within the span of little more than an hour, all of which were more or less in my neighborhood. Two people are dead and many more had homes and cars destroyed, including Glenn Siegel, one of the nicest guys in Northampton, whose Union St. home was the one burning when we got woken up. Thankfully Glenn and his son got out unharmed.

Northampton is up in arms, and with good reason. Mysterious fires are unfortunately not so rare in this part of town, and it's hard not to jump to conclusions about how last night's fires might be connected to others that have happened in recent years. At the same time, it's too easy to speculate about such things - we've all seen too many episodes of CSI or The Wire or any number of other police shows that lead us to theorize about the crimes that occur around us whether or not we have any real evidence. I'll admit I have my theories but mostly I just hope that the folks whose job it is to solve these matters don't leave us hanging for too long. And that nothing else like this happens again any time soon.

Daryl LaFleur at Northampton Redoubt has posted a good number of photos and other links relating to the fires. Those wanting more info can go to

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Today is my birthday - happy birthday to me!

Looking over the blog roll on the right side of this page, I'm reminded that I've had the odd distinction of having two separate rock stars be shot to death on past birthdays. Bryan Kuntz memorializes Dimebag Darrell today at This Ain't the Summer of Love (he took the title for his blog well before I took it for my new book). I'd forgotten that Dimebag died on my birthday, now five years ago. I'm a fan of his playing and of Pantera, and the details of his death were notably freakish - isn't it every performer's worst nightmare to be shot to death on stage?

The big one, though, was John Lennon, who died on my thirteenth birthday back in 1980. That one I remember vividly, if only because my friend David Jennings (who would later rechristen himself Diq Diamond and try mightily to get a Chili Peppers-style band up and running) came to school that day wearing a T-shirt he'd redesigned to mark the occasion. It was a plain white T, and he scrawled something to the effect of "RIP John Lennon" or "John Lennon we'll miss you" in what was probably black and colored marker. I can't remember the exact message but I can remember that I'd never seen someone respond to a celebrity's death in such a way, and it was an eye-opener for 13 year old me (Elvis had died just three years before but I was too young then to fully appreciate it). I remember nothing else about that day, just walking to school with David, confused about what it meant to mourn someone I'd never met.

Monday, December 7, 2009

I was recently asked to offer up some reading suggestions to Smith alumnae, to be published in some forum sponsored by the Smith Friends of the Library (any friend of the library is a friend of mine, as they say). Here's what I gave them, short and sweet:

I like to think that I read more about music than 99.9% of the population (unfortunately, I often find myself reading more about music than listening to it). That may or may not be true, but I am never without a book to read, and most of what I read is music-related. Here are three recent titles I’ve read that should satisfy readers with a general curiosity about music.

1. Robin Kelley, Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of An American Original. One of the most preeminent current historians of African American life and culture writes a biography about one of the great jazz musicians of the twentieth century. Kelley had unprecedented access to Monk family archives and the evidence shows throughout this impressive work.

2. Jon Savage, The England’s Dreaming Tapes. One of England’s best music journalists, in the early 1990s Savage wrote England’s Dreaming, the near-definitive account of the Sex Pistols and British punk rock in the 1970s. This book presents transcripts of many of the original interviews that Savage did for his earlier work. As much an oral history of 1970s England as a book about punk, it is full of great stories and details you won’t find anywhere else.

3. Elijah Wald, How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n’ Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music. Don’t be dissuaded by the deliberately provocative title. The subtitle is more accurate: this is an effort to rethink the history of pop from the late 19th century to the present, by a journalist and historian who has remarkable command of such a broad subject.