Oct 31, 2010

Farewell Pontiac

The legendary Pontiac line of cars is now officially at the end of its run. It joins Saturn, Hummer and Mercury in that regard this year.

Below is the 1970 Pontiac Firebird 400, which was part of our freshmen year crew. Long may you run.

Oct 29, 2010

When the lights go down in the city

It's both World Series and election season. Both pastimes evoke deep personal emotions in followers. If you don't think that is true, then you weren't by my side when I witnessed people lining up to get into the cemeteries around Boston to share the Red Sox 2004 win over the Yankees with their missing loved ones the next morning or the tears shed at the Black Elks Club in Saratoga on November 4, 2008.

This year's Fall Classic presents an underlying sociological dynamic that plays well into the current political climate. We have as opponents teams representing the the ultimate Blue City of San Francisco vs. the ultimate Red City of Dallas. It's the center of urban liberalism duking it out with the center of sprawling nothingness. Heck, they don't even slap the label 'Dallas' on that squad; it's called the Texas Rangers. You can get to one stadium on public transportation, the other needs a car. One is embedded in the city, the other mirrors the suburban wasteland of the New South, with the park located out near the airport half-way to Fort Worth.

When those are the choices, which 'burgh do you think holds the strongest ties and loyalty among its citizenry? Yep, you guessed it, and nothing could prove that better than the singalong that broke out in the late innings of last night's game.

While we sure never envisioned the following sentence ever being written here on Nanoburgh (given they might be the worst rock & roll band in history):

Here's Journey (and 43,000 chorus members) taking us into the weekend....

So, how do the Rangers match this at tomorrow's home game; with the theme song from the old Dallas TV show?

Oct 28, 2010

Loud is good, but so is not-so-loud

In this age of guys in backwards baseball caps on their head and headphones dangling around their necks while they push the play button on their notebooks to call up some variation of music that someone else actually made -- and getting paid for it -- it's goddam refreshing to run across young kids making real music. Kids like the Silversun Pickups.

Sure, they get the rap of being of bit pop'y and Smashing Pumpkins clones, but my rebuttal to that is: 1) wouldn't it be nice if this kind of music were actually the dominant genre on 'pop' radio stations; and 2)a Pumpkins clone is a whole lot better than a Madonna clone, eh?

To me, a sign of a great song is one that can sound good in both full blown electric mode and in scaled-down acoustic mode. Take a look at the two versions of Panic Switch to see just that. Also: I'm a big fan of the girl's bass lines.



Oct 27, 2010

Attention Guitar Heads

A Dummer's Engineering Feat - For Guitars

Saratoga Springs Rock & Roll Trivia

So Where's the Autograph Wall Now?

How's that riddle go?

- What do you call guys who hang around with musicians? Drummers!

Hey; who says that rock and roll drummers are the weak links in any given band? That might have been true back in my glory days (yes, I was most certainly the weakest link), but it sure wasn't the case if and when Gene Parsons was involved.

As if his tenure in groundbreaking acts the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers is not enough for his resume, Mr Parsons (not to be confused with the more legendary Gram Parsons from that very same crowd) was also a garage shop inventor. His most famous creation is the StringBender (or B-Bender) device for guitars, which he co-invented with the great axeman Clarence White.

Fascinating stuff from both an engineering and a musicology POV. Here's the background:

Now, how many breadcrumbs do you think are hidden in that 'stache?

Saratoga Trivia

In its final incarnation (Parsons, White, McGuinn and Battin), the Byrds performed at an old Skidmore College property on Regent Street in 1971. At the conclusion of their day/nite double show, a couple of the boys hit Broadway for some liquid libation. They landed at the old D'andrea's , in the basement pub whose brief life coincided with that timeframe.

Part of the ratskeller-like decor was an Autograph Wall, on which visting personalities of the day added their script, thereafter illuminated with a glow in the dark light. The pair (I believe it was Skip Battin and Clarence White) did just that.

Decades later, that Autograph Wall hung in the D'Andreas'a Pizza shop on Caroline Street. Unfortunately, it has very recently been removed, with its current whereabouts unknown. We'll make an inquiry.

Here is a lonnnnnnnnnng and live version of Eight Miles High from that final lineup of the Byrds.

Oct 26, 2010

The death of local media legends

RIP: Boom Boom, Mac, Saratogian

Well, one is technically Walking Dead

You know the old wives tale: death comes in three's. Well, the Capital Region's media universe suffered just that; three deaths last week. Let's look at each one:

Boom Boom Brannigan

If you are my age and grew up in the Capital Region, your music tradition and transition went like this: you started out listening to Boom Boom Brannigan on WPTR (AM radio) in early grade school, then when you got into high school you kicked into the deep shit on WRPI (FM radio). Despite the consensus, music today is just as good as it was then; the real difference is simply that AM/Top 40 back then was better --- in Boom Boom's day and into the 70's --- than today's garbage. The problem with today's fine and worthy music is that is just doesn't get played to the masses.

There is a site online somewhere of local radio clips, and you can play back some old Boom Boom shows. A perfect radio voice, he had. That was pre-Clear Channel, when local radio actually.....well, existed. He was a big deal, and when he made a promo appearance somewhere, it was an event.

But to me, he was always a bit of a contradiction. After all, he got big during the British Invasion, but he paraded around town looking (and acting) like Elvis. But Elvis was non existent to kids my age; the Beatles blew him off the radar screen and he didn't really make an appearance in our world until the end, as a Vegas act. Apparently, Mr Brannigan never got that memo.

When FM kicked in, the Boomer was pretty much all done himself. Sure, he bounced around the dial with his (now) oldies act, but his prime time status had long since passed. I saw him at the race track one year, under the party tent. Everyone in the place would steal glances at the big guy, whispering to their friends without trying to be too obvious about it. But is was cool; they weren't in viewing-a-trainwreck mode. Instead, you could tell that each person doing so was briefly overcome with a nostalgic whiff that transported them back to a childhood or teenage years of comfort and glee.

And there sure ain't nothing wrong with that.

Bob McNamara

Likewise, Bob 'Mac' McNamara was another local media fixture that was around... well, forever. He was the sports guy, serving anchor terms with all three of the broadcast networks in the Albany market. Remember; local news used to be a thirty-minute affair, so the five minutes allocated to sports had to be delivered quickly and succinctly, which this guy seemed to do pretty well.

Everyone I knew that was associated with him through the years considered him to be a royal pain in the ass, with a personality that quickly and dismissively made a snap judgement on a person or a subject matter, and then moved right on to the next one in line. Well, there you go: just like the on-air persona. What might not have worked in the office no doubt helped him stay in the game for all those years.

But it all came crashing down, when Mac got into a row with a worker bee at a local PBA Bowling event. A 300-game had been rolled during the tourney's early qualifying round, but the youngster had failed to ring up the Old Master to get him running over to fawn over the big deal.

But there lay the rub: bowling a 300-game was no longer a big deal, especially at the PBA level. In fact, it often happens more than once on a daily basis. But Mac was stuck in the past, and hadn't kept on top of his own game. Like Boom Boom; another memo was missed. He was fired, refused to apologize to get his job back, and was off the air forever. No one would touch him.

I would guess he spent all these retirement years as a not-to-happy kinda guy. That's too bad. I don't know if he necessarily deserved better, but that's no way to exit the bright lights of the big stage.

The Saratogian

OK, the daily newspaper of Saratoga Springs isn't really dead – it hasn't shut down and it continues to produce a large quantity of folded paper each and every day of the week. So let's instead just file them under the heading of Walking Dead. Here's why:

The Saratogian, like all newspapers, is facing tremendous challenges with declining circulation, falling ad-revenues, blah, blah, blah. We all know the deal here, right? Right.

But the hometown folks have a plan: to go full blown into this Citizen Journalism thing they must be hearing a lot about, and sign-up a crew of local yokels to become subject matter experts in a wide variety of topics. In other words, enlist some fresh voices to produce editorial content for the paper on a regular basis. There's even some sort of revenue-sharing plan in place that will split any page revenue (Google AdSense, etc) --- this business model has been out there for awhile (Topix, Associated Content, Examiner), with modest returns being realized by the writer.

Now, a cynic (and labor union members, no doubt) would dismiss this as nothing more than a ploy that replaces a professional journalist (or two or three or four) with a team of not-so-professional amateurs, at a small percentage of the financial compensation. You know, there is probably even some merit to that argument!

But that's not what gets us into mourning mode here, with the realization that the Saratogian has jumped the shark / shit the bed / bought the farm / given up the ghost. Instead, it is the Formal Invitation to participation in this so-called Community Media Lab (ahh) by Managing Editor Barbara Lombardo that has us taking the black suit to the dry cleaners. Here is a part of it:

“We’ll provide training and feedback on blogging and some of the basics of reporting and writing. We’ll also invite you into the newsroom, to get to know our staff, to learn how decisions are made about news coverage and presentation – and to give you opportunities to participate in that discussion and to bring ideas to the table.”

Let us summarize what exactly is going on here, from the Saratogian's POV:

1. The old model of news journalism obviously isn't working

2. A major part of that reason is the leveling of the playing field, where anyobody and everybody can take part in the conversation, publishing his or her thoughts on the internet in any presentation style, format, frequency or spirit that they desire. All the old rules are off the table.

3. We want a piece of that action!

4. But first, anyone who wants to play with us needs to come into our terrarium and learn our Standard Operating Procedures of how we operate under the old model; you know, the one we admit doesn't work and we are trying to move away from?

So, Ms Lombardo wants me (and/or you) to “learn how decisions are made about news coverage and presentation” and then “help everyone hone their blogging skills”? Take these new people that are supposed to lead them into the new frontier, and make them buy into the OLD business model? Does this make any sense? No, it does not.

Let's try using a useful analogy:

*** A telegraph company FINALLY realizes that it's decline most likely has something to do with technology advances such as the FAX machine and (ultimately) the internet. So, in a last ditch effort to survive, it takes its last remaining funds in the bank and buys a Secure eMail Delivery business. Now, what's the first thing it does? It sends all those new software engineers to the factory to learn how this business has long made those old, shiny, copper plated telegraph keys!

Just like Boom Boom and Mac, the Saratogian hasn't gotten the latest memo. But as opposed to those two gentlemen who just went quitely into the night, the Saratogian is looking like a major league idiot by thinking it can somehow reverse the new alternate universe of democratic conversation and info-exchange and somehow bring it back into last century's failing paradigm – and make it work!

It brings to mind Mr Einstein's famous quote:

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.“

A New Memo to Ms Lombardo: Fuggetabout it!

Now, if you want to do it right, give me a ring. It ain't hard; and I ain't that expensive.

(oh no, I used the word ain't! That sure ain't gonna fly in the Community Media Lab, is it?)

8 Things 'bout The Social Network

OK, it's been a month since The Social Network (a semi-fictionalized story on the founding of Facebook) hit the big screen. Yeah, I'm getting headaches from everyone asking me if I saw it. Yeah, I f'ing saw it!! The followup, of course, is the automatic “Well, whatd'ya think?”

Here are some free form thoughts on this buzzworthy flick:

1)I actually saw the movie on its first day of release, in Boston – which is where the core of the plot takes place in both the movie and in real life. Interestingly, there was NOBODY in the theater! Seriously, I would guess maybe twenty-five in a room built for two hundred. I think this pays tribute to Boston's place in the world, where the smart and innovative hordes there are actually doing stuff and looking towards the next big thing instead of sitting back and reflecting on what to them is yesterday's news. Steve Jobs has always exhibited the same attitude, being uninterested in getting formally involved in projects that mark his historical legacy to the masses via anything other than continuing to “change the world” through his design and positioning marvel.

2)Continuing with the 'Boston' subject, the movie highlights the cluster effect of having a high number of young, sharp and fancy-free individuals (namely college students) packed into a small, tight geographic area – the Hub's Back Bay and Cambridge areas. Keep in mind, it's not all about just Harvard and MIT, either: Napster (which plays an important role in the Facebook story) was launched across the river at Northeastern.

3)When watching a flick, we all search for a hero within it. There were none to be found in this one. But they all walked away as either accidental billionaires (the name of the original book) or legal eagles about to get healthy year-end bonuses. This tells us something about the modern business dynamic, doesn't it?

4)Speaking of Napster; isn't that really a more important and world-changing story than Facebook? After all, it fundamentally blew up the established business model of the ever-powerful music business. Has there been a movie made of Napster?

5)The core problem between Zuckerberg/the Napster guy and the CFO was the classic (in the internet biz world at least) “do we keep building the brand” or “do we start looking for revenue?” set of dueling propositions. They disagreed. This dilemma is nothing new; it has been a part of the industry for decades. I've sat in a half dozen board/strategy sessions myself over the years, grappling with that very question.

6)There is an “Albany” catch to the movie, but you need sharp eyes to catch it. Somehow, I did, but I have yet to find anyone else who did likewise. How about you?

7) Yes, I get the whole "real world loneliness of the guy who invented the alternate universe of virtual pals" thing -- and how that extends to me and you and everyone else in modern life. I knew, going in, that this would be a key theme. But credit is due to the producers and screenwriters for doing it subtly, and not hitting us over the head with it.

8)Bottom Line: a decent movie; interesting story. I don't quite get the uber - accolades it is receiving, however – including its seeming Oscar nods. Personally, I left wondering how much of it was fiction vs fact.

I doubt I will ever know...

Oct 24, 2010

Mr Taibbi on the Tea Party

"Of course, the fact that we're even sitting here two years after Bush talking about a GOP comeback is a profound testament to two things: One, the American voter's unmatched ability to forget what happened to him 10 seconds ago, and two, the Republican Party's incredible recuperative skill and bureaucratic ingenuity. This is a party that in 2008 was not just beaten but obliterated, with nearly every one of its recognizable leaders reduced to historical-footnote status and pinned with blame for some ghastly political catastrophe. There were literally no healthy bodies left on the bench, but the Republicans managed to get back in the game anyway by plucking an assortment of nativist freaks, village idiots and Internet Hitlers out of thin air and training them into a giant ball of incoherent resentment just in time for the 2010 midterms. They returned to prominence by outdoing Barack Obama at his own game: turning out masses of energized and disciplined supporters on the streets and overwhelming the ballot box with sheer enthusiasm."

- The very good Matt Taibbi on the bottom line to this whole Tea Party thing.

Sometimes referred to as this generation's Hunter S Thompson, Mr. Taibbi has one possible disadvantage when compared to Gonzo Man: I doubt many young people are adoptees of the long-form journalistic arena in which he plays. That is unfortunate.

Oct 22, 2010

Just gimme that old time ... jug music?

Appalachian moonshine music from here in the Capital Region? Yesiree, Jim Bob.

With roots in a late-60's start as the Star Spangled Washboard Band interrupted in the 80's by a foray into the wacky world of Blotto style rock & roll, one can today enjoy the current incarnation of Albany's own contribution to this old timey genre.

Ramblin Jug Stompers, taking us into the weekend...
(performing at the much, much-missed Lark Tavern)

Oct 20, 2010

Joe Bruno's Ghost - October 2010

Hey Joe,

What do you know about this Paladino guy?


Hey Paulie,

Well, I'll tell you a story. A few years back, he stopped by my office, begging for some sort of deal for some crazy real estate project he was dreaming up. I was heading to a Chamber mixer out at the ball park --- you know, the one with my name on it --- so I suggested he join me. He agreed, meeting me at the VIP gate.

We get to the shindig, which was in one of those deals up in the back where people stand around nibbling on little food and sipping wine. But this Paladino character hits the room like a Hun and starts grabbing the chow by the shovel full, like a guy just released from a German POW camp. Every eye in the room was on him, but he didn't give a shit.

The bigger problem was that he as passing gas like a Canadian transmission line. I mean, he was letting them rip like a bugle, and half the joint left just to get away from the fumes. Finally, the Chamber director asked him to leave. By this time, he was drunk, and not too happy about this request. He flipped her the bird, and told me that he'd swing by my place in the morning to continue our discussion.

I watched him head down to the grandstand, where he grabbed an aisle seat to watch the game and keep drinking. There was this disabled kid right in front of him, with some sort of noisemaker that Carl apparently didn't like. So what does he do? He starts pounding on the back of the kid's head, knocking him over the row in front. All hell breaks loose, as security pounces on him. But this Paldaino is a tough SOB, and fists and feet were flying all over the place, not to mention more F-bombs than I've heard in all my days in Albany. They finally tase'd the fucker, which caused him to soil his pants. It was one ugly scene, I'll tell you: kids were crying, parents were trying to shield their eyes, the action on the field came to a dead stop.

They finally drag him out to the parking lot and threw him up against his car, with still more profanities flying. But when he gets in, the battery was dead and he couldn't get it started. So he figures he'll just sit there and take a nap. When the game lets out an hour later, there he was. All the kids started picking up rocks and tossing them at the car, which woke him up and got him all cranked up again. Back came security to intervene. Finally, one of the maintenance guys jump-started him. How do you think Paladino thanks the guy? He call him a piece of garbage and flips his shit-stained pants at him as he sprays gravel all over on his way out the exit.

But that's not the end of it. I get the word later that he drove down to the South End Tavern, walked into the place bare-ass naked, asking if they serve Genny beer! When they refused to serve him, he sucker punched some old drunk, spit at the barkeep and asked which ladies in the room “want a little bit of this?”, as if I need to paint that picture any clearer for you.

Well, here' s the funny part of this whole thing: there he is the next morning at 8AM in my office waiting room. He's all cleaned up, in a nice suit, as if nothing happened. We talked about his issue, and off he went.

I decided right then and there that this was a guy I could do some business with. Oh, maybe I shouldn't have said that?

Oct 13, 2010

The Art of the Deal

Here's a real life biz conversation from this week.

The setting: I'm about to sign a mini-micro contract for a (very) short engagement with a major global corporation. My direct contacts have signed off on me; now I am getting kicked upstairs to a Buyer, whose job is to beat me up and negotiate my quoted fee in a downward direction. We'll call him Guy:

Guy: The Marketing Department is ready to proceed with you.

Me: We'll, that's great. I'm ready to roll as well.

Guy: Your Agreement is pretty straightforward, I'll sign off on the fine print.

Me: Good.

Guy: Let's move on to the Contract Amount.

Me: Oh, so you don't consider that to be the fine print?

Guy: No, in my world, that's the headline.

Me: Well, then; how much more would you like to pay me on this project?

Guy: Now that's funny. I suggest that we knock a thousand dollars off, so we can get this wrapped up today and let you get working on it.

Me: I don't see that happening.

Guy: I'd like to get some consideration from you, otherwise this thing might get pushed back until after I get back from my vacation next week.

Me: I'd like to leave here and hook up with a couple Victoria's Secret models back at my hotel room, but I got a feeling that we're both gonna come up a little bit short today. You know what I mean?


Guy: You wont budge, even if it means walking away from the project, will you?

Me: No. I do these types of assignments more for fun and for accomplishment than for the money. But I'm not having much fun right now. So unless you can find me $1,000 worth of fun for my giveback, I think I'll stand firm on this one, Guy.

Guy: My wife says that I'm no fun, so according to her I wouldn't be able to find you any fun if I set out to do it with that thousand dollars we're talking about here. OK, we're done. You win. Counter sign here, and we're on your way. Your badge for next week will be waiting for you downstairs at the Security station.

The Lesson: throw a little humor at 'em, and see what happens. Note that this took place in NYC. But: I'm not sure I'd recommend this particular dialogue in, let's say, Kentucky or Tokyo.

Oct 12, 2010

What's this remind you of?

Here's a picture of the contraption about to be utilized to pull those Chilean miners up from underneath a half-mile of dirt and rock.

Q: what does it remind you of?

A: that thing at the bank drive-thru where you shoot your check to the lady and she shoots you back the fresh C-notes.

Oct 9, 2010

Red Sludge and Red, Red Rain

The so-called Red Sludge disaster in Hungary is pretty crazy stuff, no? I mean, not only is it burying its victims, but it is also BURNING them! A little science lesson to help explain all this:

"Red sludge is a byproduct of the refining of bauxite into alumina, the basic material for manufacturing aluminum. Treated sludge is often stored in ponds where the water eventually evaporates, leaving behind a largely safe red clay...."

Wait a minute here. Keep in mind, I was a pretty poor student in the low-level hard science courses I was forced to take as part of my liberal arts education, but bear with me here with this question I have:

Q: The sludge is toxic, until the water evaporates, at which time it's not so toxic. Doesn't that mean that the toxicity went up in the air into the clouds; and when things go up, they tend to come back down?

Someone has a good bead on all this: Mr Peter Gabriel, taking us into the weekend....

Oct 5, 2010

Dog wishes newlyweds well

Remember that opening wedding scene in The Deer Hunter, where the bride and groom linked arms for their first toast together as man and wife? Unfortunately, the wine dripped onto the bride's white dress, which signified a pending disaster in their future. A Viet Nam shitshow surely made that prediction true.

With that in mind, what do we think this act portends for the happy couple?

Oct 4, 2010

There's oil in that thar ocean

When the usual suppects on talk radio continue their rants on how the Gulf Oil spill "wasn't that big a deal" and how "Mother Nature took care of it" and so on, take the rational route and listen to the scientific community. Here is a good take from our friends at EarthTalk:


Dear EarthTalk: A friend of mine working on the Gulf Coast oil cleanup says that at least 50 percent of the loose oil is laying on the sea floor. What’s the long-term prognosis of this?
-- Chris H., Darien, CT

It’s true that oil from BPs Deepwater Horizon fiasco is still sticking to and covering parts of the sea floor for some 80 miles or more around the site of the now-capped well. In early September, researchers from the University of Georgia found oil some two inches thick on the sea floor as far as 80 miles away from the source of the leak, with a layer of dead shrimp and other small animals under it.

"I expected to find oil on the sea floor," Samantha Joye, lead researcher for the University of Georgia’s team of scientists studying the effects of the Deepwater Horizon spill, told reporters. “I didn’t expect to find layers two inches thick. It’s kind of like having a blizzard where the snow comes in and covers everything,” Joye said.

But as recently as three months ago the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported finding no evidence of oil accumulating on the sea floor in the Gulf. NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco told reporters then that the oil from the massive spill that never made it to the surface was dispersed naturally or chemically. She added that only about a quarter of the 200 million gallons of spilled oil remained in the Gulf, the rest having “disappeared” or been contained or cleaned up.

But some researchers say NOAA misled the public by saying that much of the oil simply disappeared. Ian MacDonald, an oceanographer at Florida State University, says that initial reports from NOAA about how much oil remains in the Gulf were too optimistic. The oil “did not disappear,” he says. “It sank.”

One of the reasons why so much oil may have sunk was because it was broken up into tiny droplets by chemical dispersants, making the oil so small that it wasn’t buoyant enough to rise as would otherwise be expected. Also, as oil still in the water column ages it becomes more tar-like in a process called weathering, and as such becomes more likely to sink. And to make matters worse, oil on the sea floor takes longer to degrade than it would on the surface because of the colder temperatures down deep.

The new findings are particularly troubling because of the potential ripple effects the remaining oil could have on the wider ecosystem and industries that rely on a healthy marine environment. Marine biologists and environmentalists worry that the oil is doing significant harm to populations of tube worms, tiny crustaceans and mollusks, single-cell organisms and other underwater life forms that shape the building blocks of the marine food chain.

“Deep-sea animals, in general, tend to produce fewer offspring than shallower water animals, so if they are going to have a population impact, it may be more sensitive in deep water,” reports Louisiana State University oceanographer Robert Carney. “There is also some evidence that deep-sea animals live longer than shallower water species, so the impact may stay around longer.”

EarthTalk®, c/o E – The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; earthtalk@emagazine.com. E is a nonprofit publication.
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Image Credit: James Davidson, courtesy Flickr

Oct 1, 2010

Lessons from the Monsters

A fine time was had by all in The Hub last night, as Big Head Todd & The Monsters ripped up the House of Blues in the Fens.

One of the most under appreciated bands in rock & roll, Mr Mohr and company have all the elements: great songwriting, ferocious guitar work and vocals that somehow get pushed on top of all the glorious noise. The end result is one of the best live acts in the business.

On a side note, a few observations about the crowd:

- There were many small groups scattered about that were obviously "let's move the party down the street after work" gatherings of work mates.

- I talked to a few people that had walked up to the venue and paid the $25 to get in; without even knowing who the band was.

- In a crowd of 1,500+ people, we (literally) did not see a single instance of ink that had been scratched into a person's body. Tattoos seem to still be considered a no-no / liability / show of poor taste to the worldly, upwardly mobile and high flying hipster crowd of Boston.

I'd dare say that all three of those observations would be absent in a similar gathering in Albany. There's a lesson to be learned in here somewhere.

Big Head Todd & The Monsters, taking us into the weekend...