Monday, March 20, 2006

The retail power of sitting

A. and I visited Northampton recently. I lived there for a couple of years and we've been wanting to go back for some time now—it's a nice town and we're still in touch with some friends there. Plus there's the Northampton Brewery, which is worth the drive on its own.

We timed the trip to meet with a local wedding photographer, and got together with her at a nice little café that opened up not long before I moved away. I can never remember the name of it so I call it the Woodcock, because that makes me laugh. It also makes A. laugh against her wishes. (I think it's really called the Woodstar or the Northstar or something; it should be called the Shadestar because the patio is never in the sun.) (This also reminds me of the Irish bar across from Boston City Hall that I can never remember the name of, so I think I'll start calling that the Glasscock.)

Anyway, we reasonably enjoyed the photographer's stuff, though it didn't blow us away. She's probably in the lead, but only because our first choice (talent-wise) is too expensive, and her idea of cutting us a deal was asking us to pay her in cash under the table so she doesn't have to pay taxes on it. We'll keep looking.

Afterward we walked around town a bit, sold some CDs at Turn It Up and hit some other shops. The lady loves to shop, and she loves to shop in Northampton. One thing I remember about shopping there (actually, waiting around while A. shopped there) is that many stores offer—let's just say it—the guys a place to sit while the girls look at and try on every little thing. I cannot stress enough how essential this is to a store turning a profit. I'll admit it, I can turn into a grump when I'm waiting for her to finish up, to the point where I'm sure she's cut it short a bunch of times for my sake.

But if a store puts a chair or a bench or something for me to chill out on, then I'm less likely to pester her and more likely to just wait it out. Which increases the odds of her buying something. Hell, it increases the odds of me buying something if they have an interesting book or anything to play with to pass the time. Often when we're (she's) making a concerted effort to shop somewhere I'll bring along a magazine because I know what I'm getting into. Now if you're a retailer, and you have a half-comfortable seat in a corner of the store with a slang dictionary on the table next to it (which I did flip through during one of these Northampton pit stops), that will give A. time to browse around and pick something out. And then I might get up and walk to the register with that dictionary. Now isn't that good for business?

Of course I didn't, and she didn't. But we could have.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Back for more!

No matter how out of touch I'm getting, it's still fun to discover new music. And "discover" is the loosest of terms here, because it usually indicates unearthing something that, you know, hasn't been discovered yet. But I'm too old and tired to be doing much of that anymore. So I'm talking about discovering something that's been around for a while, even popularly enjoyed for a while, but has so far avoided me and my picky ears.

For instance, a couple weeks ago I heard for the first time this song "Mongoose" by Elephants Memory. I was aware of the band only because I knew they backed John Lennon on some tour(s) or recording(s) or other(s), but to my knowledge I'd never heard them before. Not even backing Lennon. (I leave most of his solo stuff the hell alone. In fact, here are the solo Lennon songs I like, in chronological order: "Cold Turkey," "Working Class Hero," "Well, Well, Well," "Gimme Some Truth" and "How Do You Sleep?" I've tried to like "Jealous Guy" but it's just too sappy. Sappiness sucks.)

So "Mongoose." 1970. Phenomenal. I recognized the opening drum bit from some hip-hop song (Jungle Brothers?) so I was probably preconditioned to like it. [Edit: It's Cypress Hill's "Latin Lingo" and Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth's "It's Like That." At minimum!] As it played on it just kept getting better, luring me in further, convincing me it could not possibly get better so I'd lose focus a bit and then get knocked over again. I'm a sucker for the way the instruments join the fray one at a time (as in "The Crunge," also hip-hop fodder). And then the groove gets going, and the harmony-like wailing (another thing I fall for—voices as instruments; I love what the Kinks and the Who used to do, and what Yo La Tengo does still, where they harmonize melodies; wonderful). And the distorted bass, and the chunk-a-chunk guitar. I'm practically melting to death as I hear the first thirty seconds of this song. And then the vocals come in, not my favorite singing voice but good and urgent and unrestrained and fucking human. And then the chorus, with a backing that tells me there were at least two black guys in the band—they pull off an all-time riff. One of those that can stick in your head all day, one you never want to forget. Plus, the lyrics (guess I picked up something here) are about finding a mongoose to exact revenge upon a cobra, or something like that. And then the baby cobras call bullshit on that and exact their own revenge. Heady shit.

Can't think of too many others that grabbed me the way this song does. Definitely "The Big Three Killed My Baby." "Touch Me I'm Sick" and, going historically backwards with that riff (skipping "I'm Sick of You"), "Happenings Ten Years Time Ago." The Stooges one that slayed me (having owned only Raw Power at the time) was "T.V. Eye," even if it's in a commercial now. Another is "There Was a Time" from the live James Brown album I pimped in one of my first posts. "How Many More Times." "Baron Saturday" (first psych-era Pretty Things song I heard). "Rebel Without a Pause." "Kerosene." And so on. These are all songs that excite me just thinking about them, just writing about them in the silent vacuum of the office this morning.

So thank you, Elephants Memory, for "Mongoose" and its glory.

Wednesday, March 8, 2006

“How can we manifest that as a problem?”

An actual quote from an actual meeting! Basically, we were reviewing how successfully or unsucessfully some year-end process went. I'll spare you the details, but the person in charge of this ninety-minute craptastrophe had to keep reminding us that we were there to bring attention to problems we ran into, rather than trying to provide solutions to these problems. It was an open forum, and whenever someone mentioned a problem she would have to distill it down to something she could fit onto one of those giant Post-It pads. Thing is, she didn't understand much of what anyone was talking about. So there were a lot of clarification breaks.

Not only that, but after she had finished scrawling down all of the "problems" we had to vote on which were the most severe. She assigned a number to each one and we were given ten votes that we could scatter around. (I'm not explaining this well, but my head is starting to hurt… again.) Rather than go back to our desks, put the votes into an email and send that shit off to her, for each topic (like forty) she went around and counted hands. Then, someone had to keep a record of how many votes each problem received, and then turn that into some kind of spreadsheet or whatever. Which I guess is easier than copying and pasting from a bunch of emails and giving everyone in the room a half hour in which to do actual work. I mean, that would be my guess if, say, I kept shitting in my own pants. Because seriously, I'd have bigger things to worry about then. But only then.