Sunday, September 16, 2018

Big Star – "Don't Lie to Me" (1972)

I know where you’ve been
And I know what you’ve been doing
Don't lie to me!

A few years ago, I was refereeing a 6th-grade boys’ basketball game.  One of the players dribbled the ball off his foot and out of bounds – or so I thought.  

But after I made the call, the opponent who was guarding the dribbler told me that the ball had actually gone off his foot.

I reversed my call based on the defender’s admission.  And after the game was over, I went over to his coach and told him that I hoped he wouldn’t criticize his playing for telling the truth.

They’ll learn to cheat in a few years
I doubt that a 10th-grader or even an 8th-grader would have corrected my call.  At some point, boys (and girls) learn that it’s more important to win than to be honest and a good sport.

They learn that because coaches (and parents) teach them that.

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In a recent game, New York Mets 3B Todd Frazier dove into the Dodger Stadium seats in an attempt to catch a foul pop hit by Los Angeles Dodger Alex Verdugo.  

Todd Frazier goes ass over teakettle
 in pursuit of a foul pop
At first glance, it appeared that Frazier had caught the ball, and the umpire called Verdugo out.  But appearances can be deceiving.

Steve Gelbs of SportsNet New York, the Mets’ TV affiliate, reveals what actually happened on the play in this video:

Frazier is guilty of two distinct acts of deception here.

First, after dropping the ball when he fell into the stands, he picked up a ball and showed it to the umpire – in essence, he was telling the umpire, “I caught the ball!  Here it is!”

Second, when he realized that the ball in his glove was not the official MLB ball that Verdugo had hit but an unofficial ball brought to the game by a kid (probably in hopes of getting it autographed), he tossed it to a fan in the stands instead of returning it to his pitcher or an umpire – which ensured that an umpire would never see or touch the ball and realize it was not a game-used ball.

Click here to watch video of a postgame interview with Frazier that demonstrates he was aware from the very first that he had not caught the ball cleanly.  (You may need to unmute that video.)

Initially, Frazier thought the ball on the ground that he picked up and showed to the umpire was the actual foul ball – but as soon as he felt it, he knew it was not an official ball.

Rather than criticizing Frazier’s actions, most press accounts of the incident praised him for his quick thinking.’s characterization of Frazier’s deception – “That’s gamesmanship at its finest” – is typical. 

Frazier certainly didn’t apologize for being a liar and a cheat:

It is Hollywood, so sometimes you have to act out a little bit. . . . It was one of those things where I think any third baseman or any player trying to win would do it. 

What do you expect from a Met like Frazier?
You might expect Major League Baseball to suspend or at least fine Frazier for his blatant cheating.  After all, the play took place in a game that had a direct impact on the pennant race.  (The game was 1-1 after eight innings, so every out mattered.  The Dodgers, who were in first place in their division by a half game, eventually lost and fell into second place as a result.)

But MLB officials never even considered punishing Frazier for cheating.  

God help you if you’re a baseball player and you fail a drug test.  (Test positive for steroids and you’ll be suspended for 80 games.  Test positive a second time and you’ll sit out one entire season – 162 games.)  

But the blatant deception of an umpire that directly affects the outcome of a game that might determine who makes the playoffs and who doesn’t isn’t even worth a slap on the wrist.

*     *     *     *     *

The Todd Frazier story was completely overshadowed by what happened few days later in the U.S. Open women’s final match between Serena Williams (who has won no fewer than 23 Grand Slam singles titles) and 20-year-old Naomi Osaka – who was ranked as the only the 68th-best female player in the world at the beginning of 2018.

I’ll give you my take on the kerfuffle that erupted when Serena was penalized by the umpire for her very bad behavior.  There’s a good chance that you’ll disagree vehemently with what I have to say, so you don’t want to miss it!

*     *     *     *     *

Today’s featured song was released in 1972 on Big Star’s first studio album, #1 Record.

In a just world, Big Star would have been big stars, and #1 Record would have been a number-one record.

Alas, boys and girls, we don’t live in a just world . . . as the story of Todd Frazier proves.

Click here to hear “Don’t Lie to Me,” which was written by Big Star’s original guitarist, Chris Bell.  (Bell died in a car accident when he was only 27 years old.)

Click on the link below to buy today’s featured song from Amazon:

Friday, September 14, 2018

Plastic Bertrand – "Ça plane pour moi" (1978)

I am the king of the divan!
Ça plane pour moi!

On the final day of my recent trip to France and Belgium, I visited the In De Vrede café in Vleteren, Belgium, to taste what many beer writers call the world’s best beer – the Westvleteren 12 quadrupel ale brewed by the monks of the Saint-Sixtus abbey: 

A lesser man might have rested on his laurels after such an accomplishment.  But if you know me, you know that I AM NOT A LESSER MAN!  

So before I headed to the Brussels airport for my flight back to the good ol’ U. S. of A., I drove to the village of Esen – which is about 25 kilometers northeast of Vleteren – to visit the De Dolle brewery. 

*     *     *     *     *

On the way to De Dolle, I stopped briefly at the Belgian military cemetery in Westvleteren, which is one of the nine cemeteries in the province of West Flanders that was built to hold the remains of Belgian soldiers killed in World War I.

The Westvletern Military Cemetery is the final resting place of some 1207 Belgian soldiers:

The Belgian population in World War I was overwhelmingly Catholic, and the cemetery at Westvleteren includes a large statue of Jesus Christ on the cross:

The standard Belgian grave marker is classical in appearance and features a small black, yellow, and red Belgian flag:

But a number of the graves of Belgian soldiers from Flanders – the northern half of Belgium, where the predominant language is Dutch – are marked with a heldenhuldezerk, a distinctive tombstone designed by a Flemish soldier of Irish descent named Joe English:

*     *     *     *     *

To understand the heldenhuldezerken, you have to understand that all Belgium is divided into two parts.  (Only those of you who took Latin in high school will get that joke.)

As I noted above, Dutch is spoken in the northern half of the country – which is known as Flanders.  The southern half of Belgium – which is known as Wallonia – is French-speaking.  

The French speakers dominated the Belgian government for decades after the country became independent in 1830.  Those Belgians who spoke Dutch were not happy when French was made the official language of the country.

When the Germans invaded Belgium in 1914, they made Dutch the official language and created a Dutch-language university in Ghent.  (French was the language used in all Belgian universities prior to that.)

Some of the Flemish Belgians collaborated with their German occupiers.  Most did not, but there was still considerable tension between the Belgian Army’s many loyal Flemish soldiers and their French-speaking officers during World War I.

*     *     *     *     *

Take a closer look at the top part of that heldenhuldezerk from the Westvleteren cemetery:

Do you see the AVV-VVK letters on that tombstone?  Those letters stand for Alles voor Vlaanderen, Vlasnderen voor Kristus – “All for Flanders, Flanders for Christ.”

The bird on the heldenhuldezerk is the blauwvoet (“bluefoot”) bird, which was a symbol of the 19th-century “Flemish Movement," a political movement that sought greater autonomy – even independence – for Flanders, and equal legal status for the Dutch language.  

*     *     *     *     *

My next stop after leaving the Westvleteren cemetery was De Dolle Brouwers, which is housed in a building with a brewing history going back to 1835.

But De Dolle is about as untraditional as a Belgian brewery can be – at least when it comes to attitude.

The exterior of the brewery makes it very clear that De Dolle is not your father’s Belgian brewery:

So does the men's room:

(I "deleted" some De Dolle beer here myself)
There were only a half dozen or so beer lovers in De Dolle’s tasting room when I arrived.  But I knew I was in the right place when I saw that the young bartender was wearing an Allagash Brewing t-shirt.  (Allagash is a wonderful Maine brewery that I visited several years ago.)

I took my beer to the brewery’s patio and fell into a conversation with two guys from Amsterdam who were shocked that I had not visited their fair city on my European jaunt.

The De Dolle patio
Later the bartender and another young man from the village came outside and fired up a joint to accompany their beers.

*     *     *     *     *

I had a long and very pleasant conversation with that young man.  We went back inside the tasting room so I could buy him a beer.  Then he insisted on buying me one – which was the last thing I needed at that point.

The De Dolle tasting room offered only a few beers.  My favorite was their Oerbier, which means “original beer.”  It’s a 9% ABV beer that was De Dolle’s first product:

De Dolle also makes a triple-style ale named Dulle Teve – which means “Angry Bitch.”

The brewer, Kris Herteleer, explained that the De Dolle slogan – nat & straf – means “wet and strong.”  He poured me a free sample of a 2015 Oerbier that tasted somewhat wine-like.  (Herteller served it to me in a wine glass.)

The colorfully attired Kris
Herteleer serves an Oerbier
I’m not sure if it had been aged in a wine barrel, or if the beer simply displays vinous qualities when aged.  Either way, it was a delicious and truly memorable beer.

*     *     *     *     *
Hertenleer is a legend among Belgian craft brewers.  Here’s an excerpt from a 2017 post about him on Olutkoira, a Finnish (!) blog:

Kris Herteleer, who founded the De Dolle Brouwers brewery in West Flanders, was an art school graduate with no former experience of brewing.

“My brother had brought a beer kit from England and that was actually our first experience of making beer,” Herteleer says.  “It led to us homebrewing as a hobby and we eventually moved from malt extracts to real malts and hops and substituting tap water with spring water.”

I'm not sure why this classic convertible
is parked in the De Dolle warehouse
Although the first attempts didn’t bring the desired results, the enthusiasm of the Herteleer brothers was not so easily cooled.  Three years of persistent experimenting followed, and the brothers also turned to what few manuals were available to improve their technique.

According to Kris Herteleer, homebrewing was not very common in Belgium at the time.  Finding supplies was not easy. “We were students, and when we went to a maltings to buy a 50-kilo bag of malts, the salesperson inquired suspiciously what we would do with it.  Brewing beer at home was not forbidden but he perhaps thought we were planning to sell our beer without a license.”

Setting up your own brewery was considered a crazy idea at the time. . . . The microbrewing boom took flight much slower in Belgium than in the UK.  A total of 86 new breweries were established across the Channel in 1980–82, compared to a mere two in Belgium. . . .

A De Dolle Oerbier
Oerbier, the first commercial product of De Dolle Brouwers, saw daylight in November 1980.  The Herteleer brothers gave it that name (meaning “ancient, original beer”) because they wanted to bring customers genuine tastes made of genuine ingredients, instead of the bland products of the big breweries.  Seven different malts were used, and local character was brought in by Poperinge hops and Rodenbach yeast.

The little yellow man of the De Dolle Brouwers labels, bearing some resemblance to the Michelin Man, depicts a stylized yeast cell holding a traditional roerstok [i.e., a stirring tool] in his hand.

This is the silent rebellion of the 1980s microbrewers against the conventions of the previous generations.  “I wanted to avoid having ruddy-cheeked monks, imaginary saints or Gothic lettering on our bottles,” admits Kris Herteleer. 

*     *     *     *     *

As I was sipping and yakking with Herteleer and my young dope-smoking friends, I suddenly heard horns honking in the distance.

Belgium was playing England for third place in the 2018 World Cup that afternoon, and I guessed that the locals were celebrating a Red Devils goal by tooting their horns.

It turned out that the horns were being honked by a convoy of large trucks (sans trailers) approaching Esen.  I and my companions ran outside to see what all the hullaballoo was about:

(That video may be my grandson Jack’s favorite thing in the world.  He loves trucks, fire engines, and busses, and I think he would watch those airhorn-blasting trucks barreling through Esen all day long if I let him.)

I’ve been unable to figure out what the hell those trucks were up to.  Someone at the brewery said that there were disabled children riding in the cabs of those trucks, and that the point of the whole noisy exercise was to give those children a thrill.  I’ve been unable to confirm that explanation, but I hope it’s true.

*     *     *     *     *

On that note, 2 or 3 lines bids adieu to Belgium and especially to the gang at the De Dolle brewery.  It’s been a long time since I’ve had a more pleasant and entertaining afternoon.  

Here's De Dolle Kris Herteller,
flanked by my two new BFFs
Thank goodness they closed when they did or I might have never made it to the Brussels airport in time for my flight back.

Which wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world, now that I think about it.

*     *     *     *     *

I featured Plastic Bertrand’s “Ça plane pour moi” in a 2 or 3 lines post back in 2014, but if any song deserves an encore on my wildly successful blog, this stick of dynamite does.

There's a snippet of the 1978 Plastic Bertrand hit, "Ça plane pour moi," in the Wolf of Wall Street.  I don’t recall hearing it before I saw that movie in 2014.  (Don’t ask me why the French don’t capitalize song titles like normal people.)

Plastic Bertrand (whose real name is Roger Jouret) is a Belgian songwriter, producer, and television presenter.

Here's an excerpt from his Wikipedia page -- which uses English words but can't really be said to have been written in English:

[Roger Jouret] was born in Brussels of a French father and Ukranian mother.  At the age of nine, he became a singer and drummer in the Buffalo Scouts Band, a group he formed with the Boy Scouts, who performed covers of Rolling Stones songs.  He later formed a band called The Pelicans who performed at parties, later changing their name to Passing the Time, extending their act in bars, clubs and at festivals along the Dutch and Belgian coast. . . .

In 1973 he entered the [Royal Conservatory of Music in Brussels] to study music theory, percussion and music history.  Influenced by the punk movement, he created in 1974 the band Hubble Bubble, sharing his time between study at the Conservatory, rehearsals and concerts with the band, and work as stage manager at the Theatre des Galeries.  

In 1978 Hubble Bubble released their first of two albums, also titled Hubble Bubble.  Jouret is credited as the songwriter, singer and drummer under the name "Roger Junior."  Unfortunately, the group's bass player was killed in an accident returning from a rehearsal, and the group disbanded.

Plastic Bertrand actually isn't the singer of "Ça plane pour moi" -- although the record says he was.

The song was actually recorded by its composer, Belgian pop star and music producer Lou Deprijck.  (Yes, that is an unfortunate name, isn't it?)  It's not clear why Deprijck didn't want his name on the record.  But for some reason, he chose to pay Jouret a whopping 0.5% royalty to be credited as the singer on "Ça plane pour moi," which was a top-ten hit in most European countries (but not Belgium) and eventually sold almost a million copies worldwide.

“Ça plane pour moi” is an idiomatic expression that can be translated as “Everything's going well,” or “Works for me.”

I love the song to death.  It is sung mostly in French (not Dutch), although there are a few lines in English.  (See above.)  The lyrics are completely nonsensical in any language.

Click here to listen to “Ça plane pour moi.”

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Rolling Stones – "Sister Morphine" (1971)

Here I lie in my hospital bed 
Tell me, Sister Morphine
When are you coming round again? 

In the previous 2 or 3 lines, I told you about visiting the In De Vrede café in Vleteren, Belgium, to taste what many beer writers call “the world’s best beer” – the Westvleteren 12 quadrupel ale brewed by the monks of the Saint-Sixtus abbey.

Dozinghem Military Cemetery
After tasting a Westvleteren 12, I took a walk to the nearby Dozinghem Military Cemetery, the final resting place of 3000-plus British Commonwealth soldiers who died in Belgium in World War I.

The Dozinghem cemetery was built on the site of a British field hospital – or “casualty clearing station.”  Outside the cemetery was a marker commemorating Helen Fairchild, a nurse who served at that casualty clearing station:

*     *     *     *     *

Helen Fairchild was a 32-year-old American who volunteered to serve as a U. S. Army nurse shortly after her country entered the war in April 1917.

She was sent to Dozinghem in anticipation of the British offensive that was launched in that part of Belgium in July 1917.  

That campaign, which lasted until November, later became known as the battle of Passchendaele.  It resulted in roughly a quarter of a million British casualties and a quarter of a million German casualties.  

American nurses
Conditions at the Dozinghem field hospital are described by one source as “extreme,” and I’m guessing that is quite an understatement.  (Helen was one of only 64 nurses assigned to staff the 2000-bed facility.)  

Dozinghem was bombed by the Germans on August 17, and some of those bombs contained mustard gas – which was used by the Germans for the first time at Passchendaele.

Here’s an excerpt from one account of what things were like at Dozinghem on that night and subsequent nights:

The first hard experience[for the nurses] came when an exceedingly large convoy of patients, overwhelmed by mustard gas, and the picture of intense suffering, poured in on them in great numbers . . . 600 in less than 48 hours, and it was repeated for many a night.

Nurses wearing gas masks
By Christmas of that year, Helen was unable to eat without vomiting.  An x-ray revealed that she had a large gastric ulcer obstructing the pylorus, which connects the stomach to the small intestine.  She seemed to be doing well after surgery was performed to remove the blockage, but became jaundiced a few days later and died shortly thereafter.

Helen’s ulcer was likely caused or at least made worse by her exposure to mustard gas.  It is believed that she gave her gas mask to a wounded soldier the night of the bombing.

*     *     *     *     *

The official history of the hospital where Helen Fairchild served contains this description of her funeral:

A gloom and sadness was felt throughout the camp, she being the first nurse who had died at the hospital.  She was given a military funeral, a most solemn and impressive ceremony.  Representatives from all the military organizations in the area and all nurses who could be spared were present, and floral emblems were sent by all the organizations in the hospital area.  The English nurses from Canadian Stationary Hospital No. 3, where Miss Fairchild was cared for, lined the grave with evergreens. . . . After all military honors, the “Last Post” was sounded.

(“Last Post” is a bugle call used at British military funerals.  It is the British equivalent of “Taps.”)

Here are two photos taken at the funeral service:

*     *     *     *     *

Morphine was used to relieve the pain of wounded soldiers in the American Civil War, World War I and World War II.  It was highly effective, but could also be highly addictive.

Click here to listen to the Rolling Stones’ recording of “Sister Morphine,” which was released on their Sticky Fingers album in 1971.  The song had previously been recorded by Marianne Faithful, who had co-written it with Mick Jagger – her boyfriend at the time – and Keith Richards.

Faithfull and Jagger in 1966
Click on the link below to buy the song from Amazon:

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Monks – "Monk Time" (1966)

Alright, my name's Gary
It's beat time!  It's hop time!

What’s the best beer in the world?

Many people believe that Westvleteren 12 – a 10.2% ABV Belgian quadrupel that is brewed and sold at the Trappist abbey of Saint-Sixtus – deserves that title.

I sampled Westvletern 12 in July when I visited Belgium this summer, and it is an extraordinary beer.

I can’t say that it’s the best beer in the world – but I can’t say that it’s not.

*     *     *     *     *

It’s not easy to get your hands on a bottle of Westvleteren 12.

One way is to call the Saint Sixtus “beer line” and schedule a date and time to pick up one case (24 bottles).

Be prepared to dial about a zillion times.  You will likely have to place dozens – maybe hundreds – of calls before you get through.

A case of Westvleteren 12
And be prepared to pay 45 euros for a case of Westvleteren 12 – plus a 15-euro deposit for the empty bottles and wooden crate.  (That’s almost 70 bucks.)

Or you can visit In De Vrede, a large and bustling café directly across the road from the abbey that sells sandwiches, desserts, and all three varieties of Westvleteren beer.  

*     *     *     *     *

The Saint-Sixtus monks would have no trouble selling ten or twenty times as much Westvleteren 12.  So why do they brew so little of it?

The monks aren’t in business to maximize profits – they brew and sell beer in order to support their monastery and pay for their charitable endeavors.  As a former Father Abbott once said, “We are not brewers.  We are monks.  We brew beer to be able to afford to be monks.”

The entrance to the Saint-Sixtus abbey
In the words of another Saint-Sixtus monk, “We make the beer to live, but do not live for beer.”

The monks of Saint-Sixtus and I view the world very differently.

*     *     *     *     *

On the next-to-last day of my recent journey to France and Belgium, I drove from Ghent to Watou, a small West Flanders village just a few miles from the French border.  

Watou road signs
I spent the night at the Brouwershuis, a ten-room B&B that was once the home of the owner of the adjacent St. Bernardus brewery.  (St. Bernardus is not a Trappist brewery, but it once handled the brewing for the Saint-Sixtus abbey, and its beers are very similar in style to the Westvleteren beers.  Plus they are widely available in the U.S. and elsewhere.)

The best thing about the Brouwershuis is that guests are free to help themselves to the selection of St. Bernardus beers (and lesser beverages) that are kept in a small refrigerator in the hotel lounge:

I woke up early the next morning and took a pre-breakfast bike ride through the West Flanders countryside on a Dutch-made Gazelle bicycle:

My un-gazelle-like Gazelle bicycle
There were several acres of hop fields adjacent to the brewery:

The farmers in the area grow a number of other crops.  While I was riding that morning, I watched one farmer harvesting cauliflower:

After enjoying an excellent omelet, some cheese, some charcuterie, and some delicious chocolates, I fired up my rental Jeep and headed for In De Vrede, which was only a 20-minute drive from the Brouwershuis.

Chocolate for breakfast
at the Brouwershuis  
*     *     *     *     *

The weather could not have been better for someone looking to sit outside and drink beer.

I parked, grabbed a table on the café’s expansive patio, and ordered a Westvleteren 12:

I love Belgian quadrupels, and the Westvleteren 12 was an excellent example of how good a quad can be.  

I’m not sure it was noticeably better than some of the other Belgian quads I’ve had – for example, the St. Bernardus Abt 12 – but it was very, very good.

*     *     *     *     *

I wanted to try the other Westvletern beers – they also make a blonde ale (5.8% ABV) and the dark Westvleteren 8 (8.0% ABV) – but knew I needed to pace myself.

So I walked along the trail that led from the Saint Sixtus abbey to the Dozinghem Military Cemetery, one of the hundreds of cemeteries built in France and Belgium after World War I by the British government’s Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC).

Dozinghem Military Cemetery
Dozinghem is the final resting place of 3174 Commonwealth soldiers who died in World War I.  It is one of a number of cemeteries located near the sites of field hospitals – or “casualty clearing stations,” as the British called them.  (The British tried to bury their dead as near as possible to the place they died, and many of the wounded men who were taken to casualty clearing stations died there.)

The Dozinghem cemetery is surrounded by farms.  One of the fields I walked past was devoted to zucchini – which the French call courgettes.  

The night before I visited Dozinghem, I had eaten dinner at a small restaurant in Watou.  One of the dinners on the menu included courgettes, which my waiter was unable to translate into English for me.

(“They are long and green,” he said, holding his hands about a foot apart.  “Cucumbers?” I proposed.  “Leeks?  Asparagus?”) 

As I was taking a photo of the zucchini field, one of the monks from the Saint Sixtus abbey walked by:

A Saint-Sixtus monk walking
past a field full of courgettes
I had read that those monks generally keep silent – except for the “beer brother” of the day who handles beer sales – so I simply nodded to him as we passed.

*     *     *     *     *

As I explored the Dozinghem cemetery, I noticed a tombstone that had been decorated with two small American flags:

Generally speaking, only soldiers from the UK or British Commonwealth countries (such as Canada, Australia, and South Africa) are buried at CWGC cemeteries such as the one at Dozinghem.  

But one of the members of the Royal Canadian Regiment whose final resting place is at Dozinghem was  Private J. H. Enright, a 25-year-old from Saginaw, Michigan, who had enlisted in the regiment before the United States had entered the war.  

Enright’s regiment was part of the 3rd Canadian Division, which met with what one source called “exceptional German resistance” when it took part in the final British attacks at Passchendaele in late October and early November.  Private Enright died of his wounds on November 16, 1917, a few days after the battle officially ended.  

*     *     *     *     *

I walked from Dozinghem back to In De Verde, where I washed down a plateful of gherkins, pickled pearl onions, bread and abbey-made cheese with a Westvleteren Blonde:

Next I ordered a Westvleteren 8:

I could have ordered a second Westvleteren 12 instead of the Blonde or the 8, but I decided that I would rather try all three of the abbey’s beers.  After all, I might never have another opportunity to taste them.

*     *     *     *     *

The Monks – who initially called themselves the Torquays – were a group of American GIs who met when they were stationed in West Germany.    

One of the places they played was The Top Ten Club in Hamburg, where the Beatles had played between March and July 1961.

The Monks were sort of the anti-Beatles.  Instead of playing Chuck Berry and Merseybeat songs, they played primitive, noisy, pre-punk music, with simple lyrics and lots of feedback.  (Some music historians credit Monks’ lead guitarist Gary Burger with inventing feedback.)

And instead of wearing natty suits and ties like the Beatles, the Monks dressed like demented monks – black robes, nooses around their necks (instead of ties), and tonsured hair:

The Monks
“Monk Time” is the first track from the Monks’ one and only album, Black Monk Time, which was released in 1966 and sold only a few thousand copies before becoming a cult favorite many years later.

Click here to listen to “Monk Time.”

Click on the link below to buy the album from Amazon: