Friday, August 31, 2018

Who – "Bargain" (1971)

I’d call that a bargain
The best I ever had

Some people were born under a bad sign.

Not me, boys and girls.  I’m a pretty lucky man – as my trip to France last month proves.

I had no idea when I scheduled that trip that just about every store in the whole damn country would be having a sale during my visit.

You could have knocked me over with a feather when I saw all the “SOLDES!” signs.  (For you hoi polloi who have trouble just handling English – you know who you are! – that’s Frenchy talk for “SALE!”)  Pretty much everything in France was being sold at a discount. 

I’m talking 20% off, 30% off – even 40%, 50%, or 60% off.  Here a bargain, there a bargain, everywhere a bargain!

As the old saying goes, pictures speak louder than words – so here are some pictures that prove my point:

(You believe me now?  Or would you like to put your hand into my wound, you doubting Thomas?)

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“Bargain” is the second track on Who’s Next, the Who’s best-selling album.

Click here to listen to “Bargain.”

Click on the link below to order the song from Amazon:

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Haircut One Hundred – "Love Plus One" (1982)

Where does it go from here?
Is it down to the lake, I fear?

The Haar Zone in Bruges, Belgium is a kapsalon – a hair salon.  It’s also a place to rent bicycles.  

Here’s a recent online review of the Haar Zone:

My wife and I wanted to ride bikes [in Bruges] . . . . We found a bike rental store located below a tony hair salon north of [the Market Square in Bruges] and obtained our bikes that afternoon to have them ready to go early the next morning.  Discovering that the bike shop was owned by the people who ran the hair salon, and in need of a haircut, I subjected myself to top quality attention from two staffers and got a shampoo from a lovely attendant, a professional scissors cut and two bikes for 70 Euros.

I wasn’t in need of a haircut when I was in Bruges.  Plus I’ve had my hair cut by the same woman for well over 30 years, and wouldn’t dream of letting some random Brugeois schoonheidsspecialist get anywhere near my head with a pair of scissors.  

While getting a shampoo from a “lovely attendant” was tempting, I stuck to renting a bike.

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My destination was Damme, a charming little town of about 11,000 souls that’s an easy six- or seven- kilometer ride from Bruges. 

To get there, you ride northeast through Bruges until you hit a bike path that parallels the Damme Canal, which was one of a number of canals built by Napoleon over 200 years ago.  

If you’re not a biker, you can get from Bruges to Damme on the Lamme Goedzak, a 170-passenger boat that was built to resemble a Mississippi River sternwheeler:

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Damme’s handsome Stadhuis (town hall) was built in 1464:

If you look closely at that photo, you will see there are five flags flying in front of the Stadhuis.  

First, you have the flag of the city of Damme:

There is also the flag of West Flanders – the Belgian province in which Damme is located:

Next is the flag of Flanders – the Dutch-speaking northern region of Belgian, which consists of five provinces (including West Flanders):

Of course, there is the Belgian national flag:

Finally, there is the flag of the European Union (or “EU”), which consists of 28 European nations:

There are several restaurants across the street from the Stadhuis, including one that is obviously proud of its frites:

Just outside of Damme stands the handsome Schellemolen windmill, which was built in 1867:

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Haircut One Hundred was a British new wave group.  

Three of the singles from the band’s debut album, Pelican West, were top-ten hits in the UK, and the album reached #2 on the UK albums chart in 1982.  

But frontman and songwriter Nick Heyward left the band shortly thereafter to pursue a solo career, and the group’s follow-up album flopped.  Hasta la vista, Haircut One Hundred!  

I have a vague memory of buying Pelican West.  I can’t imagine why.

Click here to listen to “Love Plus One.”

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

Sunday, August 26, 2018

André Verchuren – “Les Fiancés d’Auvergne" (1960)

J’ai quitté mon cher pays et j’ai laissé mon cœur
Dans mon Auvergne jolie 
Parmi les bois, les champs, les vallées, et les fleurs

Let’s say you’re riding your bike on a hot Sunday afternoon in the good ol’ U. S. of A, and you need a cold drink.  What do you do?

You simply stop at any gas station, or convenience store, or grocery store, or drug store, or liquor store and grab yourself an ice-cold water, iced tea, sports drink, lemonade, orange juice, V-8, Coke, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, Sprite, Mountain Dew, ginger ale or whatever.  Nothing could be simpler.

That’s not the case in France.  If you’re riding your bike in France on a hot Sunday afternoon and you need a cold drink, you’re S.O.L. 

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Last month, I was in Chantilly, France – an exurb of Paris that is home to a big-ass horse racing track and the largest racehorse-training community in France – on a very hot Sunday afternoon.

The rooms in the resort hotel where I was staying with a group of my fellow Americans didn’t have drawers or shelves or any place to put your socks, but it did have a number of bicycles that guests could rent.  

A Chantilly bike trail 
I picked out the biggest mountain bike available – it was a couple of sizes too small for my statuesque frame – and headed off through the countryside.

*     *     *     *     *

Within moments, I rode past what I thought were boxes for picked fruit:

I quickly realized they were beehives.  Merde!

I wasn’t about to run that gauntlet a second time, so I pretty much had to go in the opposite direction – headed for I knew not where.

The Chantilly Polo Club logo
Pretty soon I was smack-dab in the middle of the Chantilly Polo Club, which was hosting something called the “Prestige Cup Endurance” – a one-day, 120-kilometer equestrian endurance race that attracted 100 competitors from fifteen different countries.

Prestige Cup competitors
After getting my fill of looking at horses, I rode on to the nearby village of Vineuil-Saint-Firmin, passing the magnificent Château de Chantilly en route.  I had worked up quite a thirst by then, so I was glad when I spied a small grocery store.

One wall of the store was devoted to refrigerated coolers full of meats, cheeses and other dairy products, produce, and fresh pasta.  The store also had a whole aisle of shelves full of still and sparkling bottled water, juices, soft drinks and beer.  

The Château de Chantilly
Apparently it had never dawned on the store owner to make room in his coolers for some of those drinks so people like me could buy something other than a room-temperature beverage.

I remounted my bike and continued into Chantilly.  Surely I would have no trouble finding a place to buy a cold drink in the middle of the day in such a good-sized town.

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By chance, I happened to ride down the street where the French government’s local tourist office was located.  Unfortunately, the young woman on duty spoke only French.  

I don’t know about you, but I find it a bit odd that someone who works at a government tourist office in a country that draws a lot of visitors from the United States, the UK, and other English-speaking countries doesn’t speak at least a little English.

It turned out that there was a small supermarket only a few doors down from the tourist office.  But it closed at noon on Sundays.

I rode a few blocks further and saw another small supermarket.  Sadly, it had also closed at noon.  (In the United States, stores used to be closed on Sundays so everyone could go to church.  Closing at noon on Sunday obviously doesn’t accommodate churchgoers, but it does accommodate Frenchmen who want to watch soccer on TV while lying around the house – or those who prefer to watch soccer while getting hammered at a local bar.)

Eventually I found a gas station that had a small selection of cold drinks, and grabbed a bottle of water only moments before dying of thirst.  

Then I did what I should have done in the first place.  I found a bar, leaned my bike up against the wall, and went inside for a beer:

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That night the group of American tourists I was traveling with dined at Le Goutillon, a simple bistro that offered classic French fare.

What it didn’t offer was an air-conditioned dining room, or menus in English.  

The French-only menu wasn’t an issue for me, because one of the things I learned on this trip was to order rognons de veau – veal kidneys – every chance I got.  (I ordered veal kidneys for dinner three times on my trip, and was glad I did.)

Rognons de veau
(NOTE: Don’t be confused if you see rognons blancs on a French menu.  Rognons blancs are testicles, not kidneys.)

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In the next 2 or 3 lines, I’ll tell you about renting a bike at a hair salon in Bruges, Belgium, and riding along the Damme Canal to the village of the same name.

*     *     *     *     *

André Verchuren was known in France as “the king of the accordion.”

He began playing the piano à bretelles – the “piano with straps” – when he was a four-year-old.

When he was 16, he won the accordion world championship – shocking the judges and the audience by playing while standing up, which was just not done in that era.

Verchuren joined the French resistance movement in World War II.  He was arrested by the Gestapo in 1944 and spent a year at Dachau, an infamous concentration camp.  

Following the war, Verchuren became a hugely popular – and very busy – performer.  “I travelled seven million kilometres by car, one million kilometres by plane, and sold over 50 million records. But most importantly, I made 17 million couples get up and dance,” he once told a newspaper.

Verchuren was over 90 when he finally retired.  A year later, he died of a heart attack in Chantilly –  almost five years to the day before I took the bike ride described above.

Click here to listen to “Les Fiancés d’Auvergne,” which was Verchuren’s signature song.  

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

Friday, August 24, 2018

Soggy – "Waiting for the War" (1981)

Waiting for the war!
Waiting for the war!

During my two-week-long sojourn in France and Belgium last month, I managed to fit in four bike rides.

Three of my rides were on ungainly European city bikes with only three speeds – suitable for short rides from one’s apartment to the office or campus in street clothes, but not at all the thing for a nice long ride in the country:

A European city bike
The fourth ride was on a mountain bike that would have been perfectly adequate if the frame hadn’t been far too small for me – even with the seat post extended as far as possible, my legs came nowhere near being fully extended when I pedaled.

But a bike ride on a crappy bike is better than no bike ride at all, so I made the best of it.

*     *     *     *     *

My first ride was in Reims, which has the hardest-to-pronounce name of any French city.  (It’s somewhere between “rinse” and “rance.”)

Reims is an ancient city – it was founded circa 80 B.C., well before Julius Caesar conquered Gaul – where the coronations of most of the kings of France took place.

The Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims
The most famous such coronation was that of Charles VII, who was crowned in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims in 1429 after Joan of Arc liberated the city from the English.

Reims is also the commercial center of the Champagne wine region, and many famous champagne-producing houses (including Mumm, Taittinger, and Veuve Cliquot) have their headquarters in Reims.

These stools in the Reims tourist office were designed to resemble champagne corks:

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The Canal de l'Aisne à la Marne, which skirts the western edge of Reims, is about 36 miles long.  (That’s 58 kilometers for those of you who don’t hail from the good ol’ U. S. of A.)

To get to the paved towpath, I had to drag my ungainly, befendered beast of a bicycle up a long flight of stairs to a bridge that crossed the canal.

The Canal de l'Aisne à la Marne
Once I got to the towpath, I promptly headed off in the wrong direction.  I eventually figured that out, reversed course, and headed for Sillery, a village that’s about 10 miles southeast of Reims.

I passed a couple of canal boats – péniches in French – while riding.  Most such boats are owned and operated by husband-wife teams, who often bring their car along on the trip:

See the car riding on top of this péniche?
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I got back to our hotel in the middle of the afternoon, just as France was taking on Uruguay in the quarterfinals of the World Cup.

Les Bleus fans
The Place Drouet-d’Erlon – a pedestrian-only square in the middle of Reims – is full of outdoor cafés and bars, which were full of drunken young Frenchmen (and Frenchwomen) watching the match on television:

This young man is enjoying what the locals call a girafe (which is French for giraffe), a long-necked drinking apparatus that holds 2.5 liters of beer:

Une girafe
Perhaps hoping to sign up a few of those patriotic young drunks, the French Foreign Legion – or Légion étrangère – set up a recruiting station in Reims that day:

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In the next 2 or 3 lines, I’ll tell you about my bike ride in and around hot, dry Chantilly – the horsiest place in France, but not a good place to be if you’re looking for a cold drink on a Sunday.

*     *     *     *     *

Soggy sounded a lot like the Stooges or MC5, but they weren’t from Detroit – they were from Reims.

The group formed in 1978 and broke up in 1982.  They never released an album, but they did release one fabulous single, “Waiting for the War”:

That single sold well in and around Reims, and a video of the band performing “Waiting for the War” got a lot of airplay on the local TV station.

Lead singer Patrick Bertrand (who was known as “Beb,” and who insisted on singing in English instead of French) is shirtless in that video.  He’s been described as “Iggy Pop with a white Afro,” but his voice may be closer to Ozzy Osbourne’s.

Beb on stage
Shrine, a California punk band, covered “Waiting for the War” in 2014.  Beb heard about the cover and contacted Shrine, and the group appeared with him at a couple of punk/rock festivals.

Click here to view Soggy’s 1981 video of “Waiting for the War.”

Click below to buy the song from Amazon.  (You’ll be glad you did, brothers and sisters.)

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Alice in Chains – "Them Bones" (1992)

Gonna end up 
A big ol’ pile
Of them bones

In 2003, author Richard Rubin began interviewing all of the living American veterans of World War I that he could find.

Last of the Doughboys, Rubin’s book of interviews with these veterans – each of whom was over 100 years old – was published in 2013.

Frank Buckles in 1917 and in 2008
All of the men Rubin interviewed are now dead.  Frank Buckles, the last surviving veteran of World War I, died in 2011.  He was 110 years old.

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After publishing Last of the Doughboys, Rubin travelled to France to visit World War I battlefields and cemeteries.  He explored trenches, tunnels, and bunkers, and viewed hundreds of artifacts.

I read Rubin’s 2017 book about his experiences, Back Over There, before heading to France and Belgium this past July.  It was excellent preparation for my exploration of various World War I sites in the company of the small group of Americans I was traveling with.

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One of the sites Rubin visited was the Douaumont Ossuary, the final resting place of more than half of the 230,000 French and German soldiers who died in the battle of Verdun, which began on February 21, 1916, and lasted until December 19 of that year.

The Douaumont Ossuary
An ossuary can be anything from a small box to a large building that contains human bones.  The Douaumont Ossuary is a large structure with a 150-foot-high tower that offers a panoramic view of the largest French World War I cemetery.  (About 16,000 French soldiers who died at Verdun are buried in that cemetery, including almost 600 Muslim soldiers from French colonies in northern Africa.  Their graves face Mecca.)

The interior of the Douaumont ossuary
The interior of the Douaumont Ossuary was designed to put visitors in a reverent and meditative frame of mind.  Stained-glass windows admit a subdued orange-red light.  The walls and vaulted ceilings are engraved with the names of unknown soldiers who died at Verdun.

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If I had not read Rubin’s book, I would not have known to bend down and look into the small ground-level windows on the north-facing wall of the ossuary.

Those windows reveal thousands and thousands of bones belonging to unidentified French and German soldiers who lost their lives at Verdun:

My group visited a number of World War I cemeteries, memorials, and museums.  But nothing brought home the reality of that war like the view through those windows at the Douaumont Ossuary.

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Every year, farmers or tourists or others discover the bones of soldiers killed at Verdun.

For example, in 2013, German tourists found a single human bone while exploring the site of the destroyed village of Fleury-devant-Douaumont. 

That village, which had a population of 422 before the Great War broke out, was captured and recaptured by the French and Germans sixteen times during the battle of Verdun.  

A postcard showing Fleury-devant-Douaumont
before the Great War
By the time that battle ended, Fleury-devant-Douaumont was not only uninhabited, it was uninhabitable due to the presence of unexploded artillery shells and poison-gas residues.  It is one of the six villages in the area that is officially designated as “a village that died for France.”  Each of those villages have a mayor but no residents.

Archaeologists who excavated the area where the tourists had discovered the bone discovered the remains of 26 French soldiers, all of whom were killed in action at Verdun.  Only a few of their bodies could be identified.  

Descendants of two of the soldiers whose bodies could be identified chose to repatriate their remains to  the towns where they were born.  The remainder were interred at Douaumont Cemetery

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“Them Bones” is the opening track from Dirt, the second Alice in Chains album.  The day they went into the studio to start recording it was the first day of the riots that broke out in Los Angeles after a jury acquitted the LAPD officers who were videotaped beating Rodney King.  To get out of harm’s way, the band left the city and hung out in the desert until the riots ended. 

Dirt is a great album, but it’s not exactly feel-good music.   One article characterized Dirt’s songs as being “focused on depression, pain, anger, anti-social behavior, relationships, drug addiction (primarily heroin), war [and] death.”

That pretty much sums it up.

Click here to listen to “Them Bones.”

Click on the link below to order the song from Amazon.