Saturday sounds: Steve Winwood

One of the enduring and most versatile musicians in the business is Steve Winwood.

At 66, he’s still touring, with a set of credentials that includes two Grammys, membership in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and even a couple of honorary doctorates.

He burst onto the scene in 1963, as a teenager with the Spencer Davis Group, (“Gimme Some Lovin’ ” and “I’m A Man”). Later, he was a founding member of the supergroups Traffic and Blind Faith, then finally went  solo.

There’s plenty to like about Winwood. Aside from owning one of the most distinctive voices in rock, he plays both keyboards and guitar, and he’s a superb songwriter.

I’ve seen him twice before, with Traffic at San Francisco’s Cow Palace and with Blind Faith at the Oakland Coliseum. Tonight, Lori and I will see him at Edgefield in Troutdale. Hoping it won’t rain since it’s an outdoor concert. If it does, I guess we’ll just, ahem, “Roll With It.”

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Sunday postscript: Winwood and his band put on a marvelous show. Played a set that included: “I’m A Man,” “Can’t Find My Way Home,” “Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys,” “Empty Pages,” and a 20-minute version of “Light Up Or Leave Me Alone” that gave every band member room for a solo. Came back on with a two-song encore: “Dear Mr. Fantasy” and “Gimme Some Lovin’ ”

He had gray pony-tailed men and their wives and girlfriends up and out of their low-back seats, dancing as if the years hadn’t flown by.

Really nice to see an accomplished musician playing so effortlessly. Amazing that songs he wrote three and four decades ago sound just as good now as then.

Steve Winwood and his band at Edgefield Concerts on the Lawn.

Steve Winwood and his band at Edgefield Concerts on the Lawn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Chicago: One city, two stories

If you had asked me if I’d be interested in reading a book about the behind-the-scenes drama of building the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, I would have said, “Probably not.”

If you had asked me if I’d be interested in reading a book about a serial killer who targeted vulnerable young women during the same World’s Fair, I would have said, “Probably not.”

But if you combined those storylines and packaged them as a single narrative that illustrates both the heights of what human beings can accomplish under duress and the darkest depths of diabolical behavior, well, then you’d have my attention.

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I recently completed “The Devil in the White City,” by Erik Larson and it’s one helluva read.

I’d known about the book for several years, and heard good things about it, but didn’t pluck it off a shelf until I was in a used bookstore a couple months ago. Now I know why there was such a buzz when it came out a decade ago.

Larson is a former Wall Street Journal reporter who writes with the sweep of history and the attention to detail of a journalist. How he manages to take utterly different stories and turn them into gripping side-by-side accounts of Chicago at the turn of the 20th century is an amazing feat. The book is eminently readable and took me to places I hadn’t been before.

On one hand, the book tells the story of Daniel Burnham, a Chicago architect who recruited the country’s top architects – most of them reluctantly – to work together in building a spectacular world’s fair on a vast expanse of parkland adjacent to Lake Michigan. It was a task that entailed managing egos and budgets and steering them toward a cohesive theme that would unify the dozens of buildings that had to be constructed on a ridiculously tight deadline.

On the other hand, the book tells the story of Dr. H.H. Holmes, a con artist with irresistible charm, dazzling blue eyes and the coldest heart known to man. Holmes moves to Chicago just before the fair, believing (correctly) that it’s an opportune time to buy a commercial building, open a pharmacy and hotel, and hire newly arrived, naïve young women hoping to find excitement beyond the small Midwest towns they’ve left behind.

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Author Erik Larson has taught at San Francisco State and the University of Oregon.

The stories don’t intersect at all – except on the page. Larson builds drama in telling both stories, allowing tension to build and a sense of dread to take hold with every mention of a new female subject. How the victims meet their death is nothing less than ghastly (and I’ll spare the details to avoid spoiling the experience for anyone who reads the book).

Bottom line: This is a book built on the strength of meticulous reporting. Larson succeeds in recreating the rough-and-tumble and often deadly dangerous city that Chicago was some 120 years ago. He succeeds likewise in bringing a sadistic killer to life and, in the end, tying up all the loose ends presented over more than 400 pages.

Photograph: nhpr.org

Wisdom from Marky Mark

He used to be known as Marky Mark, a rapper and one-time poster boy for Calvin Klein underwear whose chiseled body seemed carved out of granite. Today we know him as Mark Wahlberg, a 43-year-old actor/director/entrepreneur with four kids under 11 years and a wife who’s an ex-model.

A celebrity dad is hardly the first person I’d turn to for insight as a fellow parent, especially when this one employs a nanny for his two daughters as well as a “manny” for his two boys. But Wahlberg seems like the real deal, judging from a piece in the June/July issue of Esquire, an issue devoted to exploring fatherhood.

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Granted, Father’s Day was two Sundays ago, but here are two takeaways from the Wahlberg interview.

1. He walks the talk.

Mark was the youngest of nine children that grew up in Dorchester, Mass., a working class neighborhood of Boston. He’s come from poverty and a troubled past (using cocaine and other drugs at 13; serving time for an assault) to establishing a youth foundation 10 years ago to give kids advantages he didn’t have. The foundation raises money for mentoring, summer camps for underprivileged kids and other programs.

He routinely goes to sleep after dinner, at 6:45 p.m., and rises at 1:30 a.m. to work out. This way, he is around when the kids wake up and he can take them to school. Every morning, he attends Catholic mass. On Sunday, the whole family goes together.

2. He’s got the right perspective on parenting.

“I think the most important thing is to always be involved in every aspect of their life,” Wahlberg says of his children. “To give them enough trust that they can share things with you. I don’t want them to be terrified of me, you know? But I don’t want them to think they can do whatever they want and get away with it, either, because they can’t.

“The biggest thing for me is, you know, as quickly as I was able to turn it around, to get from there to here, from me having nothing as a kid to me here now, providing everything for my kids, it’s like, I worry that maybe they won’t appreciate things. I worry that maybe they’ll have a sense of entitlement. You don’t wanna give your kids everything without giving them the tools to be great people.”

Rich or poor, or somewhere in between, those are words to live by.

Hail to the Hops

Hail to the Hops

Bob, George and Jim

For pure relaxation, it’s hard to beat Tuesday night baseball on a 70-degree night with two of my favorite people — longtime friend Bob Ehlers and brother-in-law Jim Rauh. We met up in Hillsboro to see the hometown Hops take on the Vancouver Canadians in a Class A ballgame. The Hops got shut out for the first time this season, but we made instant friends with the couple in front of us — a George Carlin lookalike named Mark and his wife Nancy. They are retirees who moved to Oregon just two weeks earlier and were amazed by how friendly Oregonians are. Yep. Got that right.

The Oscars: Part II

Three months ago, I was cheering the selection of “12 Years A Slave” as winner of Best Picture at the 2014 Oscars, having seen just five of the nine nominated films. Likewise, I hadn’t viewed one or two nominees each in the Best Director, Best Actor and Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Actress categories.

Since then, thanks to a “movie night” routine that we’ve established with friends, I’ve filled in most of those gaps and come away with renewed admiration for the stellar acting abilities of Cate Blanchett and Meryl Streep and appreciation for one film in particular, “August: Osage County.”

Family dynamics in "August: Osage County" led to a discussion about our own childhoods.

Family dynamics in “August: Osage County” led to a discussion about our own childhoods.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen “Captain Phillips,“Inside Llewyn Davis,“Blue Jasmine” and “August: Osage County.” As a group, they’re pretty serious films and I found something worthwhile in each of them. The last two rose above the first two, however, and not just because they were meaty roles for Blanchett and Streep. They focused on dysfunctional families and they held back little in presenting damaged characters and strained relationships — between parents and their children as well as between siblings.

Blanchett was superb in an original screenplay written by Woody Allen. We are at first repulsed by her character’s snootiness as a New York trophy wife and condescension toward her less-well-off sister in San Francisco (played well, incidentally, by Julie Hawkins). But as the story unfolds, we feel sorry for Jasmine, who is utterly unable to function on her own, despite stabs at education and romance, and winds up alone on a park bench, talking incoherently to herself.

bluejasminStreep — the amazing Meryl — is equally superb as Violet Weston, the matriarch of an Oklahoma family brought together after the death of her husband. Her performance was the equal of Blanchett, in my opinion, but I understand the Academy Awards voters wanting to spread the sugar around. As a drug-addled mother of three adult daughters, Streep is domineering and nasty but also, in the end, alone and vulnerable. Julia Roberts is outstanding in a role as the eldest daughter: foul-mouthed and assertive yet dealing with a crumbling marriage and a distant 14-year-old daughter.

The film is based on a play written by Tracy Letts and it is full of scenes that are painful to watch yet ring of authenticity. There are some surprising plot twists that help drive the tension and, near the end,  a couple of tender scenes that draw out your sympathies for Violet and other characters.

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For me, one of the best signs of a film’s quality is how much conversation it engenders afterward. And by that measure, the best of these films is “August: Osage County.”

Talking about the Weston family led us to talk about our very different stories. As we went around the room, discussing our upbringing, I was struck by how each of us did so  — appreciating our parents’ situation without judging or condescension, understanding how our own worldviews might have been shaped.

One friend, from Alaska, spent time with her Japanese-American family in a World War II concentration camp in Idaho. She spoke of her parents’ positive attitude and their unrelenting encouragement for their children to get a college education.

Another friend, from California, told of his dad being killed at Pearl Harbor when he was a young boy, of his mother’s remarriage, of being sent to a military school at age 7, and then of the awkwardness he felt after transferring to a public school, where everything seemed to be so lax in comparison. Though he and his stepfather didn’t get along well, he formed an exceptionally tight bond with his older brother that continues today.

osage-countyOur host, born in Oregon, spoke about her parents’ divorce, of being the only one in her family with academic ambitions, of strained relations with her siblings, of a financially successful but emotionally distant father.

Lori, born and raised in San Francisco, described a happy childhood as the Catholic school girl with two older brothers, long-married parents active in their church and community. Her dad was a second-generation Slovene who put himself through college, her mother a mostly stay-at-home mom who moved up to Portland late in life to be near us and one of Lori’s brothers.

And I, also born and raised in the Bay Area, talked of life in a working-class Mexican American household, of my parents’ divorce when I was 15, of following a solitary path to college. My parents didn’t have the opportunity to attend high school but they encouraged me, their only son sandwiched between two sisters, to strive for more. I also spoke of the physical and at times emotional distance that comes from living far apart from my sisters (in southern California and Alaska) for nearly 40 years.

All this talk was spontaneous and very genuine. If all of our parents, either aging or already passed, could have been there, I think they would have been very proud of the sons and daughters they raised. As a group, I’d describe us as intellectually curious, resourceful, open-minded and adaptable.  How we would have handled being part of Violet Weston’s family is an open question. But I won’t think of “August: Osage County” without thinking of our post-film discussion. Great movie. Great friends.

Photograph: Claire Folger/Associated Press

Springwater Trail: A postscript

Portland may be a city of tall bikes, tree huggers, neck beards and food carts. But as a community of 600,000 people, it’s not immune from any of the urban issues you’d find elsewhere in the United States.

A week ago, I wrote about a pleasant afternoon run on the Springwater Corridor Trail, the 21-mile paved path running from downtown Portland out to the eastern suburbs.

The experience of it brought back memories of when I’d go there regularly when I was training for half-marathons. It’s safe, quiet, lined with leafy trees, and free of kamikaze bike riders.

Just days later, police responding to a reported robbery on the trail wound up shooting a 23-year-old transient who came at them swinging a crowbar.

The June 12 encounter happened a few miles west of where I did my weekend run near Gresham and exposed a seamy reality that runs counter to Portland’s crunchy granola stereotype.

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While I and thousands of others flock to the Springwater Corridor to run, bike or walk in a secluded green space, homeless people have set up camps along the route, living in tents easily hidden by trees and shrubs lining the trail.

By and large, these are men (and an occasional woman) who’ve opted not to stay in a shelter. And cops say they are the source of garbage and petty crimes that put neighboring residents and business owners on edge.

In fact, police call the trail “the homelessness highway.” In a story following the June 12 shooting, my talented colleague, Anna Griffin, wrote:

“It’s the latest and highest profile reminder of something police and an increasing number of East Portlanders already knew: When city and county leaders pushed to annex large swaths of east Multnomah County almost three decades ago, they promised residents all the perks of city living. But as poverty spreads east from gentrifying neighborhoods closer to downtown, east Portland is getting the worst of urban life.

“Scientific studies and anecdotal evidence show homelessness, along with other forms of extreme poverty, moving east from downtown Portland into communities beyond 82nd Avenue. The Springwater Corridor is a focal point.”

Cops and social service folks don’t have any immediate answer to the problem. In any case, I won’t be dissuaded. I’ll be back at Springwater soon, eyes open and fully aware.

Father’s Day 2014

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Dad and me in Oakland, Calif. in 1953.

What does a father eat on Father’s Day?

If you’re my dad and living in Silver City, New Mexico, you and your wife drive to the next town over to have menudo — the ultimate Mexican soul food — at a church with fellow parishioners and veterans.

If you’re me and living in Portland, Oregon, you drive across town to join your eldest son and his girlfriend, and your daughter and her girlfriend, for a tasty brunch of homemade corned beef hash, poached eggs and kale salad — the ultimate Northwest dish.

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Portland brunch: Kale salad, corned beef hash, poached eggs.

How did we raise such great cooks? Don’t know, but it’s a treat every time we visit one of them.

On this day, I’m enjoying seeing a lot of vintage photos and appreciative comments on Facebook. Personally, I’m grateful to have a father who was so caring, so responsible, so encouraging during my formative years. Though he and Mom divorced when I was 15, he’s been a constantly positive presence in my life, as well as a great grandpa to our kids and a loving father-in-law to Lori.

If you have (or had) had a great man in your life, cherish that relationship, treasure those memories.

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Silver City breakfast: menudo, made from tripe and hominy. Chopped onions and lemon wedges, optional.

And if you’re so inclined, take some time to remind yourself of why fathers matter now more than ever. I recommend this piece, “Manifesto of the New Fatherhood,” by Stephen Marche in the June/July issue of Esquire.

Here’s a taste.

— “A single small but vital fact distinguishes men of the past fifty years from all other men in history: Most of us see our children being born. It’s one of those changes to everyday life that we take for granted but that have the most radical consequences.”

— “The old fatherhood was a series of unexpressed assumptions. The new fatherhood requires intelligence. It requires judgment.”

— “The new father is not so shallow nor so old-fashioned. Only the truly lost man would want to return to his grandfather’s way of life. Who would want to go back to the bad food, the boring sex, the isolation? Who would want to be financially responsible for a family and then never see them? The new fatherhood is a huge gain for men, the chance for a deeper intimacy, a whole new range of pleasures and agonies, a fuller version of our humanity.”

Fellow dads, Happy Father’s Day!

Photograph (menudo) photobucket.com

 

Saturday Sounds: Red Beans & Rice

From one relative to another, here’s a shout-out to my cousin, Gil Rubio, and his band Red Beans & Rice.

They’re based in Monterey County, California, about 100 miles south of San Francisco. They’ve been playing together for over 20 years and have put out a handful of albums and CDs.

Red Beans & Rice, with Gil Rubio on lead guitar.

Red Beans & Rice, with Gil Rubio (third from left) on lead guitar.

They play a ton of festivals and other gigs around Northern California but they also were invited to play at Portland’s Waterfront Blues Festival a few years ago. It was great to see Gil and his bandmates rocking the crowd with a tight set of blues.

Gil’s mother, Lupe, is my godmother and the eldest of six sisters in the Flores family. After my mom’s death last year, only two sisters are still alive.

Cousin Gil: musician, singer, songwriter and bandleader.

Cousin Gil: musician, singer, songwriter and bandleader.

Here are three links to the band’s music. Of particular interest, some woman in Russia apparently is a fan. She’s the one who posted “The Dark Side.” (We can all forgive her for the Red Beans & “Rise” reference, right?).

“Can’t Get Enough,” the title track from their 1998 release.

“We Need To Help Each Other”

 

 

 

Springwater Trail

Springwarer Trail

Mount Hood provides eye candy as you head east on Springwater Trail near Gresham.

A couple of weekends ago, I vowed to set aside Saturday as the day I would get out for a longer run, hopefully at a local park. Yesterday I did that by driving out to Gresham, where I ran east in a four-mile loop from Main City Park. It had been a really long time — probably two years or more — since I’d been on the Springwater Trail at that location. The trail spans 21 miles from downtown Portland all the way out to the town of Boring. The experience of it brought back memories of when I’d go there regularly when I was training for half-marathons. It’s safe, quiet, lined with leafy trees, and free of kamikaze bike riders.

There are plenty of bicyclists, for sure, but no one seems to be racing or reckless, which I always appreciate as a runner. On a hot day like yesterday, patches of shade along the path provide a nice respite. I’ll be going back again, but next time I’ll head west for variety’s sake.