Saturday sounds: London Grammar

One listen is all it took. An ethereal sound from a single guitar and a keyboardist — and a captivating vocal. Who is this enticing band?

They are London Grammar, a British trio with a lovely, soothing sound. Hearing vocalist Hannah Reid on “Hey Now” reminded me immediately of Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine, yet with a signature sound all her own.

An arts writer at the Michigan Daily, the independent student newspaper at the University of Michigan, said this about Reid and the band’s debut album “If You Wait.”

“I’ve been listening to all 11 tracks non-stop for a few months now (thank you Spotify gods). Usually this over-playing leads me to sickness, but I have a theory that Reid’s voice could cure cancer. It’s angelic yet brooding, pure yet fierce, consuming yet ethereal. Her range is incredibly wide, flirting swiftly between a deep chest voice and tragic falsetto. Florence Welch is first to mind, but Reid fills the room with melancholy melodies that swoon with little support, unlike Florence who’s backed by her grand group of Machines.”

The band has been playing together for only a few years. Reid and guitarist Dan Rothman met as freshmen at the University of Nottingham in 2009. They added Dominic Majors on keyboards and drums the following year, then moved to London in 2011 to pursue a career.

The good news: I’ve discovered this band relatively early. They released their album in the U.K. last September, but it just dropped in the U.S. in March.

The bad news: I just missed them live in Portland. They were here in late March at the Wonder Ballroom. Given the critical acclaim, their recent appearances on the David Letterman and Jimmy Kimmel shows, and a growing fan base they are sure to develop on their tour, I have every expectation that tickets are going to be very hard to come by next time they come through.

Hannah Reid is amazing. And with looks like hers, that’s only going to help people take notice.of this talented trio.

The tenth frame

OK, so it was only four years of bowling but, boy, was it fun while it lasted. Starting in January 2010, I had bowled on Tuesday nights with a changing cast of friends in a coed beer league that offered relaxation and friendly competition.

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Last night marked the end to our season and an end to bowling, period, at the venerable Hollywood Bowl, which is closing for good on June 2.  Earlier this year, a property brokerage firm announced a pending sale of the building, with an Orchard Building Supply store the most likely next occupant.

The just-concluded winter league had 16 teams (well, 15 that finished) that bowled over 15 weeks, so last night was a “fun bowl” where scores didn’t count and prize winnings were handed out to all the teams. We received the thinnest envelope, I’m sorry to say, after a season that featured a combination of demoralizing close losses and blowouts where we never had a chance.

End result: 23 wins, 37 losses, and a 15th-place finish. The only team below us disbanded halfway through the season so if you discount them, we actually finished in dead last. Ah, well. The way I saw it, we made a lot of other teams feel good at our expense. And our poor showing didn’t get in the way of drinking beer and playing bowling poker — one card for a spare, two cards for a strike and make your best poker hand out of however many cards you accumulate. At a dollar ante per person, each pot was worth a whopping four bucks.

For a variety of reasons, I was the only member of my team able to attend Tuesday’s finale. I joined another foursome and bowled my best two games of the season: 185, 173.

Of course, it didn’t count.

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My team, the Broken Taco Shells, had a dozen different members over the four-year span. At one point, we had eight active bowlers so we split up into two teams. My three teammates and I rebranded ourselves as the Steamin’ Chalupas and wound up bowling ourselves to a first-place finish for the season.

We reverted to a single team after that and fell back into the middle of the pack. Hard to achieve consistency when we had six and seven people dropping in and dropping out, depending on their work schedules and family commitments.

Last place or not, thanks for the memories, teammates: Erin, Beth, Morgan, Brian, John, Ellie, Lynn, Kelly, Steve, Paul and Colleen.

And, finally, a shout-out to Lori for being a good sport about me being gone most Tuesday nights. From here on out, we’ve now got another free evening.

Photograph: Hollywood Bowl

Patience

I had just finished my second set of errands Saturday when I pulled into a gas station near home. After several stops at the grocery store, post office, optometrist, etc., I was more than ready to be done. I figured I’d be in and out in 5 to 10 minutes.

Wrong.

I hadn’t realized this location rented U-Haul trucks. There in front of me at the pumps was an empty truck.

A woman in her 20s, wearing jeans, a zip-up hoodie and a gray T-shirt with the words “LAS VEGAS” in bright red letters across her chest, said to me: “I’ll be right with you, sir. I have to finish helping this customer.”

“That’s fine,” I said, and stepped out of my car.

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Sunrise: a time to slow down and reflect.

The attendant and a male customer walked around the truck, looking here, looking there, going through a checklist on her clipboard. They went inside the convenience store that’s part of the business, presumably to close the transaction.

“Hmm,” I thought to myself. “Maybe I should drive around to the pumps on the other side of the lot?”

The attendant and customer emerged. They peered inside the cab, looked inside the back of the truck, checked out the tires. They went back inside and talked some more.

“Geez,” I thought. “Maybe I should go across the street to the other station. Make a silent statement about customer service.”

Finally, the attendant came outside again.

“I’m really sorry, sir,” the attendant said with a smile. “It’s only my second day on the job and I want to make sure I do everything right.”

She hustled over and placed the nozzle in the fuel tank, just as another car pulled in.

“Go ahead and wait on that guy if you need to,” I told her. “I’m fine here.”

As the tank filled, my thoughts went to Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed,” (2001) a book about America’s working poor that I read a couple years ago. I wrote about it in a 2011 blog post:

“Who among us hasn’t made silent judgments about the people at the bottom of the economic ladder? What assumptions do we make about their intelligence and their work ethic? Do we imagine they are capable of taking pride in their work, of picking up the slack to support an absent or ailing co-worker?”

Why was I being so impatient? My errands were done. It was Saturday afternoon. I had nowhere to go, nowhere to be. What difference did it make if I’d been waited on 3 minutes or 5 minutes earlier? None. None whatsoever.

The tank finished filling. “Thanks for being so patient,” the attendant said as she handed me the receipt. “I really appreciate it.”

I knew nothing about this dark-haired woman, other than she was scrambling to do her best. For all I knew, she had just moved here from Vegas and took this job to get a foothold. Was she married? Did she have a kid? Who knew?

No, I thought to myself. I’m the one who should thanking her. Had I driven off in a huff, I would have been “that guy” she told others about later — the jerk who was too busy to wait a few extra minutes for service. Instead, I had shown patience.

I drove away feeling better about myself, grateful for the reminder to chill. Show a little kindness and respect for those in low-status jobs. I vowed to return when I’m in need of another fill-up. If the attendant happens to be working, I think I’ll share this little story with her.

 

 

 

David and Goliath

If you visit Gladwell.com, you’ll find a succinct description of Malcolm Gladwell‘s three most recent best-selling books:

“In The Tipping Point Gladwell changed the way we understand the world. In Blink he changed the way we think about thinking. In OUTLIERS he transforms the way we understand success.”

david-and-goliathI’ve just finished his newest — “David and Goliath” (released last fall) — and I have to say it’s likely to make me think counter-intuitively a little more frequently in terms of seeing how apparent advantages may really be disadvantages and vice versa.

Starting with the Biblical tale of the warrior Goliath and the shepherd boy David, who slays his well-armed but slow-moving adversary with a single rock from a slingshot, Gladwell goes on to tell nine stories about “underdogs, misfits and the art of battling giants.”

For the most part, it’s entertaining and illuminating. Gladwell writes about an Indian immigrant who grew up playing cricket and soccer and who finds himself coaching a team of 12-year-old girls in a youth basketball league — never having played the game himself. The rookie coach figures out a style of play that will keep his low-skilled players competitive and winds up leading them to a national tournament.

In subsequent chapters, Gladwell turns various assumptions on their head:

— Are smaller class sizes necessarily more conducive to academic success in U.S. schools?

— Are college students better off attending a great university where it’s hard to stand out from the crowd or a less prestigious institution where they can rise to the top?

— Is having dyslexia an automatic predictor of academic and career struggles? Are there ways to compensate and excel despite the disability?

— Is power absolute? Are there limits that work against the oppressor?

— Does Brer Rabbit-type trickery work in the modern age to outfox real-life authorities?

— Did California’s groundbreaking “three strikes” law actually reduce crime?

Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell

These are interesting questions and Gladwell does reasonably well presenting observations and findings that often run counter to what most Americans would believe to be true. As the book wears on, though, it feels like the arguments are a little thinner, the anecdotal evidence not as convincing, the research findings more open to question.

I give Gladwell credit for pulling together disparate characters and (mostly) entertaining narratives in support of his theme. I appreciate his effort to make us think differently about obstacles and disadvantages. In the end, though, I have to rate this a less successful book than “Blink” or “The Tipping Point.” (I haven’t read “Outliers.”)

Would I recommend it? Sure. It’s a quick and entertaining read (275 pages in hardcover) and it does make you question your assumptions. There’s value in that, even if a couple of examples fall short of buying his argument.

Photograph: famousauthors.org

 

 

Land of enchantment

Three years had passed since I’d last made a trip from the damp Northwest to the desert Southwest, so I was ready for mild spring weather and a slower pace of life when I visited my dad and stepmother last weekend in Silver City, New Mexico.

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George and C.A. Rede. (Dad looks a head taller than normal because he’s on the curb and I’m not.)

It’s a retirement community of about 10,000 people at 5.900 feet elevation just outside a national forest, 200 miles east of Tucson. About as different as you can get in terms of geography, climate, culture, economics and demographics from Portland and still be on the same planet.

Lori came along and it was good to have her company during the Friday-to-Monday trip. With Dad having turned 88 just two weeks earlier, there was no expectation of much travel or planned activities to keep us occupied. Instead, we chilled. Talked at length over homemade meals (enchiladas and tamales); visited refurbished hotels and art galleries in the historic downtown district; took a short day trip to an old military fort; stopped in at a flea market; played some cards; and went out to dinner and lunch at two local restaurants.

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Oralia and Catarino outside their home

Getting there was more involved than I remembered. Flew three hours from Portland to Tucson. Picked up a rental car and drove three more hours east to Silver City, hitting speeds of up to 75 mph on Interstate 10 and passing through some amazing rock formations.

I was nervous about Dad. I’d last seen him in November, when he’d come to attend Mom’s funeral in Northern California, and clearly he’d aged. Although he has slowed down a bit (eyesight and hearing are in decline, as one would expect), he’s still basically healthy, even if he doesn’t walk as much anymore.

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Mi casa es su casa

That came as a big relief. It’s one thing to talk on the phone, but another entirely to see someone in his daily routine. My stepmother, Ora. is a retired registered nurse and Dad couldn’t ask for a better companion and caretaker.

She’s 80 but has the energy and physical appearance of someone 10 to 15 years younger. She’s an active community volunteer, a member of the church choir and Dad’s personal chauffeur, now that he’s given up his driver’s license.

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New Mexico sunset: The place they call “the land of enchantment.”

I felt bad last year when I realized I’d invested so much into caring for my ailing mom that I’d virtually ignored Dad. He’s not the type to complain or ask for attention. Rather, he’s the type to tell me face-to-face during this recent visit, “I miss you.”

I wish we lived closer, for both our sakes. Dad clearly perked up during our visit and it felt great to give him the attention he deserves. Plus, we get along well with Ora and I know she enjoys our company. Going forward, I hope we can persuade them to come visit us. Even if that doesn’t happen soon, my mind has been put at ease seeing that Dad is still sharp and very much in his element in his native New Mexico. Corny sense of humor and prone to forgetfulness, but, hey, I expect I’ll be much the same when I’m 88.

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My breakfast partner at the Cup Cafe, Congress Hotel in Tucson.

Saturday Sounds: Wailin’ Jennys

If you’re like me, a typical week of work, socializing and other commitments sometimes leaves you just wanting to relax. While a cold beer or a glass of wine can help a person unwind, so too can music. Enter the Wailin’ Jennys, a Canadian-based trio whose silvery voices and down-to-earth stage presence help melt away stress just as well.

Saw them in concert this week at the Aladdin Theater, my favorite small venue in Portland, and they were wonderful. Two of them hail from Winnipeg and the third from New York. One grew up in a musical family, is classically trained, and plays guitar, banjo and accordion. Another studied jazz in college and plays the upright bass. The third is self-taught and plays guitar, snare drum and harmonica. Two of the three are moms. The brother of one band member plays fiddle.

Individually, each has a lovely voice. Together, their three-part harmonies are on another level, soothing and almost spiritual. Each of the Jennys writes original compostions, yet they also do covers of Emmylou Harris, Tom Petty and Dolly Parton songs. They do jazz and gospel, bluegrass and folk.

Thursday night was the second of two sold-out shows and it was just them — two sets with a brief intermission. If you didn’t know better, you’d think you had dropped in on an episode of “Portlandia.” The Jennys would be easy to mock — and they’d laugh right along with you, given their regular appearances on “A Prairie Home Companion” and Canadian-friendly vibe.

There were requisite references to “putting a bird on it”; appeals to the audience to donate to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (a favorite nonprofit of theirs); and a suggestion from band member Ruth Moody (wearing a braid in her hair and cowboy boots) that everyone meet for breakfast the next day in a meadow somewhere under some blossoms;

Their touring schedule takes them on a circuit of small towns, college campuses and small concert halls in mid-sized cities.I imagine Thursday’s crowd was a representative sample of their fan base — graying boomers, Gen Xers, twenty-somethings and a few teenagers, all heavily skewed female.

The evening ended with a raffle for a CD set, with the winner called up to the stage to receive his prize from band member Nicky Mehta, and a three-song encore that ended with the a cappella “Parting Glass.” If you’re in the mood for mellow, by all means check out this wholesome trio. They’ll be in Portland again this fall.

Here they are on Canadian TV:

My favorite song of theirs:

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A sense of duty

As a parent, you treasure the moments when your kids do something that makes you proud. It may be an accomplishment, a personal milestone, a new job. Sometimes it’s just a simple act that makes you appreciate the kind of person your child has become.

Such was the case when we learned that our youngest child, Jordan, had volunteered to help with the ongoing recovery and cleanup efforts in Oso, Washington, where a devastating mudslide March 22 obliterated the community and killed 30 people (as of this date).

Jordan completed a four-year stint with the U.S. Army last year, but has continued to serve one weekend a month as a member of the Washington Army National Guard while going to school full-time. He and other Guard members were due to report to Oso on Thursday, April 3,  for an assignment expected to last about 2 1/2 weeks. When he returns, he’ll have to make up course work with the cooperation of his professors.

Jordan & George at Cascade Lake on Orcas Island.,

Jordan & George at Cascade Lake on Orcas Island.

When we spoke on the phone Sunday, I asked Jordan what was behind his decision to volunteer.

“They asked who wanted to go, and I said ‘sure,’ ” he told me. “Why wouldn’t I?”

I know he’ll face daunting conditions there in Oso — both physically, with the millions of tons of mud, debris and contents of shattered septic tanks, and psychologically, seeing first-hand the aftermath of shattered lives.

Made me very proud to raise a son who would run toward a challenge rather than away from it. Made me realize his values of compassion and empathy are in exactly the right place.

Photograph: Nathan Rede

Molly and the Oscars

Lori and I never quite got around to seeing every movie that was nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards, but we’ve managed to catch up with a couple more in recent days.

How?

By visiting our friend, Molly, at her Northeast Portland home and trading off between Netflix and a movie channel on her new TV. It’s been a fun way for all of us to finally see “Captain Phillips” and “Inside Llewyn Davis” while munching on homemade popcorn in the comfort of our friend’s living room.

Molly the Movie Buff.

Molly the Movie Buff.

I’d give both films 3 stars out of 4 — good but not great. Tom Hanks had his moments as the captain of a U.S. tanked captured by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden, but I was put off a bit by his taking on a Boston accent for the role. In the other film, the Coen brothers do a nice job of telling the story of a young folk singer trying to navigate the Greenwich Village scene in the early ’60s. Oscar Isaac is very good in the title role but you can’t help but feel disappointment at his character’s inability to pull it together in terms of employment, relationships and general reliability.

Molly is a longtime friend and personal training client of Lori’s. She retired a couple years ago from a state government job that saw her recognized as an advocate for increasing employment opportunities for people with development disabilities. She is tenacious, passionate and opinionated. And a lot of fun, too. Well-read and quick to laugh. Molly joined us a couple weekends ago at Simone’s choir concert and more than held her own at the end of the table with our kids and their partners when we went out for drinks and appetizers.

Don’t know what we’ll see next but Movie Night with Molly has been a nice addition to our weekly routine.

 

 

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Dinner for six

Sunday evening brought the opportunity to meet another member of Kyndall’s family — the woman she fondly calls “Granny.”

Don’t know about you, but “Granny” makes me think back — way back — to the Irene Ryan character on the old TV show “The Beverly Hillbillies.” A caricature, to be sure, of a cranky, old, rough-around-the-edges woman straight from the backwoods.

How far from the truth that is in the case of Clarann Witty. The woman Lori and I met over dinner at a downtown restaurant was none of that. She greeted with me a hug and a big smile; displayed abundant warmth, wit and good humor; and looked like she’d come straight from the beauty shop — tastefully dressed, nice jewelry, totally put together.

Lori, Simone, Kyndall, Rena & Clarann at Jake's Grill.

Lori, Simone, Kyndall, Rena & Clarann at Jake’s Grill.

She and her daughter Rena, Kyndall’s mom, had just arrived in Portland barely 45 minutes earlier — Rena from Moses Lake, Wash., and Clarann from Enterprise, Ore., in the Wallowa Mountains — to spend a couple of days with our girls in their new home.

We’d met Rena previously and totally enjoyed her. Meeting Clarann was just as sweet. Her husband, Derrell, stayed behind at their home just outside the Eagle Cap Wilderness but maybe we’ll get a chance to meet him too. Clarann made their little corner of Oregon sound awfully enticing.

With the arrival of April, the countdown begins: a little over 4 months from Simone & Kyndall’s wedding day on Orcas Island.