Friday, May 31, 2013

A Skin Too Few: The Days of Nick Drake

By Justin Cates

Some great friends of the blog—and incidentally of me—recently reminded me of how much I enjoy the music of Nick Drake.

Despite his immense talent, the Englishman received very little attention during his brief lifetime. He released three albums, some of which garnered positive reviews from the music press, but saw little success in the way of sales.

He battled depression throughout his 26 years and it shows in his songs.

My favorite of his albums is 1972's Pink Moon, his final release. There are some wonderful songs and I think it's the truest representation of his style.

As one of the producers in the documentary mentions, it's just over 28 minutes long and you wouldn't really want it to be much longer. It covers a lot of ground in less than half an hour.

My favorite cut has always been the title track. Clocking in at just over two minutes, it still manages to convey a depth of emotion that plenty of longer tracks in this world lack.

A Skin Too Few is a pretty cool documentary released around the turn of the century chronicling Drake's life and work.

Like the man, it's quiet, thoughtful and somber. Perhaps the most enlightening part of the whole thing is when his sister plays a snippet of one of their mother's songs.

Molly Drake was quite a talent in her own right and you can see how her songs, consciously or not, had an affect on Nick's style.

She has a similar subdued vocal delivery and the tone of her lyrics are equally solemn and melancholy.

Much like the man himself, his death is a mystery and no one is entirely sure if it was suicide or an accidental overdose of prescription medication.

No matter, like many great artists his life ended far too soon and it pains me to think he felt so unappreciated during his time on the planet.

Below is the full documentary and the track "Pink Moon". It's lyrically sparse but it always puts me at ease.

For some reason, there are several minutes of silence after the song but I included this version because of one of the comments.

AlexMax2467 had this to say:
"I discovered Nick Drake today. Where have I been all my life?"

Monday, May 27, 2013

Blacksburg Hosts NCAA Baseball Regional For First Time

By Justin Cates

Virginia Tech came up short Sunday losing to North Carolina 4-1 in the ACC Baseball Championship Game, but that didn't prevent Blacksburg from being named a regional host site for the NCAA Tournament.

It marks the first time in school history that Tech will host a regional and it comes on the heels of an amazing run at the ACC Tournament in Durham, N.C.

The Hammerin' Hokies took down Virginia, Florida State and Georgia Tech en route to the championship game finalizing a No. 11 RPI ranking in the process.

Shortstop Chad Pinder and designated hitter/utility man Mark Zagunis were both named to the ACC Ball-Tournament Team.

For the record, I can't decide if that's just a terrible pun or a tragic typo on the press release. Sadly, I think it's the former.

The Hokies celebrate Chad Pinder's walk-off homerun against Florida State Thursday night.

Tech finished 38-20 on the year against the third toughest schedule in the nation. They are one of five ACC teams hosting a regional.

The ACC—widely considered to be the premier college baseball conference—has not had a member institution win the national championship in 58 years.

Wake Forest last won the title in 1955.

The road doesn't get any easier as Tech hosts Coastal Carolina, Oklahoma and Big East Champion UConn.

The regionals are a double elimination format and Tech will begin their tournament against Connecticut Friday at 5:30 at English Field.

The winner of the Blacksburg Regional will move on to face the winner of the Baton Rouge Regional hosted by No. 1 seed LSU. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Changing Times at Virginia Tech

By Justin Cates

Last week, Virginia Tech President Dr. Charles Steger announced his retirement after more than thirteen years at the helm.

Steger oversaw a period of unprecedented growth in Blacksburg.

He spearheaded a fundraising effort that brought in $1.1 billion, increased enrollment to over 31,000 students and facilitated more than 2.5 million square feet of new building space on campus.

Steger oversaw the establishment of a medical school as well as an increase in sponsored research from $192 million to $450 million. He fostered research partnerships with many top universities but most importantly, he helped guide the community through unthinkable tragedy.

Unfortunately, plenty of people will fail to see past the cloud of the April 16th shootings and what many consider to be the university's sluggish response in the immediate aftermath of that life-changing event.

I've always viewed that as the worst kind of armchair quarterbacking by the media and much of the public.

It's true that there was no effective alert system in place to warn students of a dangerous and rapidly developing situation, but the main reason those systems presently exist at colleges nationwide is because of that painful Monday morning six years ago.

It could have happened anywhere—and sadly it has several times since—that particular tragedy just happened to strike the greatest small town in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

President Steger was a source of strength and a powerful voice in the days that followed.

The convocation the day after the shootings will always remain as a vivid and cathartic release for myself and thousands of others, and Dr. Steger's words were a large part of it.

Like the man himself, his speech was simple and dignified. When he walked up to the podium 10,000-plus grieving Hokies rose in unity and cheered to buoy the spirits of a man who admitted he desperately needed it.

The ovation for him was longer than that for President George W. Bush and Virginia Governor Tim Kaine. It was a sign of respect for a man under unthinkable strain and a gesture of love for a true Hokie.

Charles Steger graduated from Virginia Tech in 1969 and never left. He has served his university community in every possible way and risen above the call of duty when it was needed most.

His retirement marks the beginning of a period of considerable change for Virginia Tech.

The board of visitors will appoint a new President, and that man or woman will soon hire a new Athletic Director as current AD Jim Weaver will retire when his contract expires in 2015.  

That new director will have the monumental task in the coming years of finding a new football coach.

Yes Frank Beamer is still around, but he will turn 67 this fall and he knows what can happen to football coaches who stick around too long. He will do his best in the next few seasons to bring an elusive national championship to his alma mater, but he will not stay if he thinks someone else can be more effective.

These three men have served Virginia Tech to the best of their abilities and have put the university in a position to have enviable success for generations to come.

It's sad to see them go—though many (myself included) won't weep for Mr. Weaver's departure—but they've all earned some leisure time and then some.

Jim Weaver's legacy will be mixed, but he's done a lot to improve the athletic department.

I've had the privilege of meeting all three and it's hard to imagine a group of individuals more dedicated to their university and the community at large. They've made tough choices and acted as we all hope we would if given the opportunity to face such far-reaching decisions.

Their predecessors will have enormous shoes to fill.

Here's hoping they can approach the impressive legacy set before them and continue to invent the future.

Frank Beamer hopes his program is in a good place for  several major transitions.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Cover Tuesday: God Save the Queen and Other British Stuff

By Justin Cates

Ryan Adams is a man of many tastes musically speaking.

He's worked with country legends like Willie Nelson, founded the alt-country groups Whiskeytown and The Cardinals, played loads of rock and just recently announced the formation of a new punk rock group called Pornography.

Given that, it shouldn't come as any surprise that he covers some interesting songs.

"Wonderwall" is one of the myriad of hit singles form the classic Oasis album (What's The Story) Morning Glory?

The New Musical Express (NME), Britain's most popular music magazine named Adams' cover of "Wonderwall" the number one Oasis cover.

I was going to feature three songs from the list, but most of them are pretty bad. So instead here's a loosely related list.

Now here's Noel Gallagher of Oasis performing The Beatles' classic, "All You Need Is Love".

I can't tell how much of the rest of the band is there, but if you look closely you can see his brother Liam just chilling in the background. Probably so they would shut up and stop fighting for three minutes.

Finally, playing off that British connection we finish off with a pair of covers because i didn't want to show preference to one of John Lennon's kids.

The first is a cover of classic cut "Julia" performed by Sean Lennon, John and Yoko Ono's son.

The final track to be featured is from Julian Lennon, the only child from John's first marriage.

"I Need You" was released by the band America in 1972. It's a powerful song, especially when you consider it in the context of a father/son relationship. Julian sounds much more like his father vocally and I've always felt bad for him.

John wasn't much of a dad to him until later in life. In fact, Julian was much closer with Paul McCartney.

Paul and I used to hang about quite a bit...more than Dad and I did. We had a great friendship going and there seems to be far more pictures of me and Paul playing together at that age than there are pictures of me and my dad. -Julian Lennon

Julian was the direct inspiration for three Beatles songs, "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds", "Hey Jude" and "Good Night".

McCartney wrote "Hey Jude" (originally titled, "Hey Jules") to console Julian during the divorce of his parents.

So here we are at the end of a random jaunt through British music. Here's hoping you enjoyed it.


Friday, May 3, 2013

It's Derby Time! or Bourbon for Everyone!

By Justin Cates

I don't really care about horse racing. Like most Americans it's not something that I realize exists outside of a few warm weeks each spring.

That's when the sun hesitantly creeps out to stretch its legs for the first time in months—except for Brian—and pastels and sundresses once again become appropriate attire instead of garishly defiant winter garments.

With the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby due this Saturday, that means it's time for some reading and drinking—not that one needs an excuse for such pursuits.

The first assignment is a yearly spring read for me and is required for a fan or would be enthusiast of the Derby.

The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved was written under duress by Hunter S. Thompson for Scanlon's Monthly covering the 1970 Derby.

It marked the first time HST had returned to his hometown of Louisville for the race in a decade and it was the first of many successful collaborations between Hunter and artist Ralph Steadman.

"And unlike most of the others in the press box, we didn't give a hoot in hell what was  happening on the track. We had come to watch the real beasts perform."

The piece represents the birth of "Gonzo journalism" and was influential in the new journalism movement of the time.

It's hilarious, vulgar, and insightful. Absolutely a must read prior to post time.

Another terrific new article published just this week comes from 8th generation Louisvillian Michael Lindenberger.

The Biggest Week In Bourbontown discusses the heritage of Louisville and the relationship between its people, horses, bourbon, food and all the cultural nuances of Derby week.

It's a bit lengthy, but certainly worth a look while you're trying to figure out which mount to blow your money on this weekend.

So read up, stock up, and get to imbibing! Make some mint juleps and enjoy the pageantry of the pre-race festivities.

The race will be over in a flash, but bourbon lasts forever*.

* subject to personal tendencies and the crowd you're with. 


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