In the latest issue of Santa Cruz Style, I learn the secrets of two of Northern California’s most cherished businesses. Santa Cruz’s Dell Williams Jewelers celebrated its 90th anniversary last month. In “Diamonds Are Forever,” Dell Williams’ great-granddaughter Emily Bernard Coonerty reveals how the store has thrived in spite of a flood, an earthquake, and a retail landscape that has seen countless other brick-and-mortar shops come and go. (The new co-owner of the store also talks about her place in the continuum of the family-run business, and the joyful challenge of combining new ideas with a cherished legacy.) Then, take a road trip to Woodside’s Alice’s Restaurant in “Square Meals and Round Wheels.” There, restaurateur Jamie Kerr discusses the strange alchemy bringing everyone from old-school hippies to Silicon Valley venture capitalists to his place in the middle of the redwoods. In Santa Cruz County, pick up a free print copy here. The online version is here.
While this song has not aired on Sesame Street for many years (and, given its startlingly dark opening verse, I can understand why), I’m convinced it may be the best one in the show’s history. Featuring music by Sam Pottle and lyrics by Christopher Cerf, 1977’s “One Way” tweaks the Shangri-Las’ “Leader of the Pack” to explore heartbreak via traffic sign. Cerf always sings Chrissy’s songs with total conviction, but his performance here is exceptionally raw and heartrending. (It always upset me that the Chrissy Muppet didn’t sing the song on the show. I imagine that Sesame Street was trying to capitalize on Happy Days’ success with the Fonzie-esque Muppet they featured.) What makes the song for me is the “Beauty School Dropout”-style appearance of the guardian angel (winsomely portrayed by Jerry Nelson) halfway through. (My heart always soared whenever an art history professor used a wooden pointer to explain a slide in college, and I know that this sequence is the reason.) Prepare to be stunned…
Fun fact: The first time I heard the “‘Free Bird’!” heckle, I was watching Velvet Crush open for the Jesus and Mary Chain at Stanford’s Memorial Auditorium. (I can’t remember drummer Ric Menck’s comeback offhand, but given the excellence of his book about The Notorious Byrd Brothers, it must have been pretty good.) The long-running band continues to release great records, but here is one of the band’s earliest singles. Ken Stringfellow once cited this song as one he wished he’d written, which is high praise indeed. (With a riff like this one, it’s easy to see why…)
Before Dr. Daniel J. Levitin was renowned for his books on neuroscience, the former record producer taught one of my all-time favorite Stanford classes. Creative Processes in Popular Music Recording boasted analyses of various song productions, lively section meetings, and (best of all) guest lectures by musicians. I was really excited to hear Aimee Mann speak, and she did not disappoint. She was incredibly open and honest about her songwriting process and experiences with the ups and downs of the industry. (I also admired the extremely cool-looking pair of silver sneakers she was wearing, which I've never seen before or since.) I stuck around after class, watching as she chatted graciously with the students. (One of my classmates, clearly and adorably smitten, confided to Mann that he always worried about her welfare whenever he watched 'Til Tuesday's "Voices Carry" video.) Sadly, all I managed to do was squeak out "Thank you for coming!" before I fled. Good grief! Anyway, The Both is Mann's current collaboration with Ted Leo, and "No Sir" is my favorite track from their 2013 debut. Very few songs feature wise romantic advice and a blistering guitar solo, but this one does. Along with TUNS' "I Can't Wait Forever" and Three Hour Tour's "Valentine's Day," it's a perfect choice for the slow-dance portion of your power-pop prom. (If, like me, you didn't go to your prom, "No Sir" also suits any angst-ridden montage sequence in the '80s teen movie that is your life.)
I’ve always felt that Ash’s 1977 is one of the great underrated records of the 1990s. Happily, it’s not as unheralded as I’d thought. Not only did Britain’s New Musical Express list it among the 500 greatest albums of all time four years ago, Ash is continuing a highly successful tour in honor of 1977‘s twentieth anniversary as we speak. The Northern Irish act expertly veers between raucous guitars and well-crafted balladry (indeed, I almost opted for “Gone The Dream” instead, which manages to avoid sappiness in spite of the presence of strings). Even 1977‘s B-sides are worthy: check out the band’s synth-driven cover of the Temptations’ “Get Ready.” Nevertheless, I’ve been singing “Let It Flow” to myself all week, so here it is…
Last weekend, I attended my twenty-year reunion on the Stanford campus. Years of bad sitcom plots led me to expect the worst, but I was relieved at how low-key and friendly everything was. The real issue was fitting in all of the programs I wanted to attend, and I was only partly successful on that front. I did manage to visit the Cantor Art Center, however, and see Nina Katchadourian’s Curiouser, running through January 7.
I was attending Stanford when Katchadourian’s father Herant taught multiple courses there, though I never had a chance to fit one into my schedule. (One friend of mine loved his Sleep and Dreams class, while another was surprised at how difficult his Human Sexuality course was. Feel free to add your own punchline.) The Berlin- and Brooklyn-based Nina Katchadourian is Stanford-born, and Curiouser is filled with the glorious bits of cognitive dissonance and intellectual play that highlighted my favorite parts of Stanford life. Of course, Katchadourian’s concepts are very much her own, and quite delightful. Take Talking Popcorn, featured at the Cantor:
The voracious reader in me loves her Sorted Books series, while the author in me hopes to be featured in it someday. As for her Seat Assignment series (which I refuse to spoil for you, since you’ll be visiting this exhibition yourself), I will say just two things:
1) I walked out murmuring “She’s awesome, she’s awesome, she’s AWESOME!”
2) Katchadourian claims that AC/DC’s band name is usually pronounced “Acca Dacca” in Australia and New Zealand. I have no reason to doubt her, and yet “Acca Dacca” sounds more like the name of an ABBA cover act than one suiting the late, great Bon Scott (that’s right, I accept no other era of the band!), schoolboy uniforms, and guitar wizardry. If some kind Aussie or Kiwi is out there willing to confirm or deny, please drop science in the comments!
The Cantor Art Center is open six days a week (closed Tuesdays) at 328 Lomita Drive on the Stanford campus. Admission is free, but hours vary. Phone (650) 723-4177 or visit the museum website for details.
If you like books and/or breakfast, come to the Alumni Authors Meet and Greet on Sunday, October 15 from 8:30 to 10 a.m. In Stanford’s Arrillaga Alumni Center lobby, you can enjoy a continental breakfast, browse and buy books from a variety of Stanford alums, and even chat with writers (including yours truly). Since I will be boarding a VTA 22 bus at an ungodly hour to arrive there, the thought of a few friendly faces would cheer me immensely. You’ll be on campus anyway, so why not go? See you then!
(Confidential side note to my beloved San Jose Sharks: I will be attending your game against the Islanders the night before this event. Please have mercy on my nerves. Thank you.)