XSLT Linkdump

For a project I’m working on, a list of XSLT resources:

An interesting point is that all of these pages are old, some dating back to 2001—yet they are in the top of the Google results. Is XSLT a dead technology?

Starbucks: Turf invasion by McDonalds

The Boston Globe writes about the newest competitive threat to Starbucks: the McCafe. The problem with shifting your product mix from premium coffees to candy milk drinks isn’t just that you lose your soul in the process. It’s that it is so much easier for other players to imitate you and horn in on your turf.

Because, really, could you imagine Dunkin and McDonalds imitating really good high quality coffee? But it’s really easy for them to steam some milk, dump in some flavored corn syrup, and call it a latté.

Howard Schultz is right: once you take that first step, it’s a long slippery slope down to slinging fast food with everyone else.

On beer snobbery and the omnipresence of Fat Tire

Lew Bryson: Flat Tire. A well written piece about how beer aficionados tend to dump on beers that have broken out of the enthusiast ghetto—beers that once defined craft brewing, like Sierra Nevada, Sam Adams, and of course Fat Tire. Lew is right that part of this is the indie obscurist habit of not liking anything that has more than three fans (”I was listening to Jet Engines before they were cool!! What? What did you say? What? What?”).

I also wonder if part of it, for beer drinkers, isn’t just palate fatigue. After you’ve been tasting 9% ABV and 150 IBU beers for a long time, maybe the beers that started you up the taste path just don’t tickle your taste buds any more.

One thing I find is that beers that I obsessed over when I was younger, like Samuel Smith and Newcastle Brown, just don’t taste as good to me now. Part of it is the difficulty in getting bottles that aren’t skunked—have people forgotten how to handle beer in clear glass bottles? (And why after all these years does Merchant du Vin continue to insist on using them?)

And the other thing, of course, is that omnipresence is relative. There is no Fat Tire in Massachusetts, for instance. Much to my everlasting chagrin.

Glee Club record on 78s

Quick followup to my post about the 1947 Virginia Glee Club album Songs of the University of Virginia: yesterday I scored a copy of the original release. As I surmised, it was originally released on 3 78RPM records in an “album,” or book containing the records in three separate sleeves.

The good news is that the album has liner notes, which I will be transcribing at some point not too far from now. The bad news is that the liner notes don’t clarify either the recording release date (still estimated at 1947 based on the UVA library photo evidence) or the copyright of the record. They also muddy the waters about the origin of the Glee Club, dating it to the 1892 formation of the Glee, Banjo and Madrigal Club rather than to the formation of the original Glee Club in 1871. But it’s more information than we had before, so that’s cool.

Review: Black Francis, Bluefinger


Who is Black Francis? And where has he been all these years?

The first question seems fatuous, the second coy. Even the 21 year old hipster who was still eating strained peas and filling diapers in 1987 when the Pixies released Come On Pilgrim knows that Black Francis was the frontman, resident UFOlogist, and tortured lead screamer for this most pivotal underground band that almost made it mainstream—opened for U2 during the Achtung Baby tour, for Chrissakes—before he broke the band up by fax.

And Black Francis hasn’t gone anywhere, despite the fact that there have been no releases on which that nom de plume played from 1991’s Trompe Le Monde to 2004’s “Bam Thwok.” That selfsame callow hipster knows that Black Francis became Frank Black when he went solo in 1993, and released a series of solid, if workmanlike, releases between the debut s/t and 2006’s Fast Man/Raider Man.

So much for the history. The questions remain: where has Black Francis been in Frank Black’s solo work for thirteen to fifteen long years? And who is Black Francis, as opposed to Frank Black, anyway? And, most pertinently to Tuesday’s full-length release Bluefinger, why is this the first release of Frank Black’s career to be credited to Black Francis? These are all related questions with one at their core: what is the Black Francis sound?

As I ask the question, I hear Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV, aka Frank Black, aka Black Francis, cough, then laugh dryly, then advise me to go f*cking die.

But there is something to the change of name, for sure. Or else this would have been the fifteenth release credited to Frank Black. So is this a change of soul? Or just of brand?

MBA voice over: The Black Francis brand stands for slicing up eyeballs, screaming, quiet loud quiet, being the band that inspired Nirvana, and being the most awesome band ever. The Frank Black brand stands for a workmanlike approach to rock and roll. Direct to two track. Country rock. Low sales. As he sang in “Chip Away Boy,” “I used to have some fun/Me and everyone/Now I’m just employed.”

And that may be all there is to it. Except.

Exhibit A: “Captain Pasty.” Mars attacking. Irregular meters. And that awesome growl-laugh that opens up the track. It will make your car go like nitrous, if you happen to be behind the wheel when you are listening

Exhibit B: “Tight Black Rubber,” with its Fugazi meets Nirvana bass + guitar duet settling into a Meat Puppets meets Velvets chugging rocker full of tension and bondage tropes.

Exhibit C: “Your Mouth Into Mine.” Could be a Frank Black song, except the spaces between the verses run over with Black Francis’s love-as-body-invasion imagery at a speed that feels at once relaxed and chemically enhanced. Love never sounded so much like theft.

Exhibit D: “You Can’t Break a Heart and Have It.” The one song on the album that provides a tight connection to the album’s supposed inspiration, transgressive druggie Dutch artist/musician Herman Brood, whose song this was before Black Francis made it his own.

Exhibit E: “Threshold Apprehension.” A romp through Pixies touchstones, from high pitched, screaming vocals to four-chord hooks to girlish spoken background vocals (courtesy Charles’s wife Violet Clark) to two of the finest couplets in post-Pixies rock: “Every little sh*t gotta find his salt lick/If I don’t find my babe I’m gonna be junk sick” and “Grand Marnier and a pocketful of speed/We did it all night til we started to bleed.” The hit single the Pixies should have had in the summer of 2007, showing up first as a bonus track on the best of compilation Frank Black 93-03. Your reviewer was stuck in traffic on the Mass Pike the first time he heard the song and nearly rear ended the car in front of him, so immediately propulsive was the impact of the song, and so hard was he laughing with the force of the bliss coming at him from six speakers.

Even in slacker moments an animus of tension and anger moves the record forward. “She Took All the Money”’s “shama lama ding dang” chorus is pushed forward by an irritable rhythm guitar, surprisingly sweet backing vocals from Violet Clark, and some impatient drumming that takes the song out on just the right dry note.

So: what makes it a Black Francis work? There are some descriptive touchstones—screaming, odd meters, UFOs, Lou Reed as Surrealist lyrics—that are ultimately insufficient to describe what’s going on here. What this is is nothing more than the rebirth of Charles Thompson, his musical juices revitalized by the 2004 tour with the Pixies. As he says in the publicity notes for the album, reunions “are bittersweet, and all of the rekindled foreplay of performing the old Black Francis songs never warmed to the full coitus of a reunion LP…I privately went back to the old stage name…almost as a joke. I couldn’t get the Pixies back into the studio, but I would transform into my alter ego of yesteryear.” And even if there is no Herman Brood revival as a result of this LP—Wikipedia can’t even be bothered to link to his artwork, and none of his music is available in the usual download sources—the transgressive junkie artist/musician/suicide deserves some posthumous credit for waking up Black Francis and sending him out screaming into the light of 2007.


This is a wonderful find, and a fabulous metaphor, on the first week of school. Er, shcool.

It’s also a good argument for a serious focus on improving public literacy.

RIP Luciano Pavarotti

It is incumbent on me as a tenor to stop and pay honor to the memory of Luciano Pavarotti, who died yesterday (NY Times, Salon). After all, Pavarotti gave the world of popular culture an understanding of what a dramatic tenor could do with his voice, and made opera and vocal classical music accessible through his sheer personality.

One might despair, however, about his long-term cultural impact. Vocal classical music and opera is more of a live performance phenomenon than a recorded phenomenon—and if you doubt me, ask your local classical radio marketing director how he feels about vocal music. And without recordings and radio play, all too often, a classical star’s presence dies with him. Consider Beverly Sills—when was the last time (before her recent passing) that you even heard her name in classical circles? Yet when I was growing up she was a household name.


We’re babysitting our neighbors’ vegetable patch while they are visiting family this week. Which is a wonderful responsibility, because it requires us to pick the vegetables as they ripen, and eat them.

Right now what’s in season is the beginning of their tomatoes and the end of their zucchini. While I’m very happy about the former, I’m unexpectedly pleased about the latter as well. I always remember drowning in zucchini as a kid, but now that we only get it occasionally—even though then it comes in large doses—I’m excited about getting it now and figuring out how to cook it.

I grill it a lot. And my mom, growing up, cooked it a number of ways, including cooking it covered in a pot with onions. Tonight I tried a simple Italian variation of that technique, in which a cup of thin-sliced onions is cooked in butter until golden brown over medium heat, then a pound and a half of thin-sliced zucchini are added with salt and cooked over high heat until the zucchini gets tender and golden at the edges. Never covered, so there’s no steaming or moisture involved. The flavor turns out to be sublime and the texture is pretty darned good too. I’m looking forward to trying some more things I’ve never tried before with zucchini.



So, as I posted on my Facebook account last night, I remember when UVA used to beat other football teams 23–3, not get beaten by that amount. Sigh.

Other traditions: in times past, the first concert of the Virginia Glee Club’s season was called the Kickoff Concert, and the program featured traditional university songs as well as the Glee Club’s normal classical repertoire. Now? Apparently, the Virginia Choral Showcase is the order of the day instead. Sensible in that it makes sure that there isn’t a glut of choral concerts competing for audience, but I bet it limits the groups’ ability to perform bigger works for that first concert. It also eliminates one crucial opportunity for working with visiting choirs.

But then, maybe I’m just biased. Fifteen years ago, I was just getting started as the Vice President of the Glee Club, a position whose chief responsibility then was concert publicity, which for us largely meant posters. So I learned how to design posters. I inherited a big cardboard portfolio of posters with designs that had been used and reused for many years. Most were hand drawn; all had some level of nostalgic meaning. I thought that the posters didn’t stand out, and that they didn’t project the kind of image that director John Liepold and I thought the group should claim: professional, an important part of the University, fun. The first poster of the year was for the Kickoff Concert. So to replace the hand-drawn image in use for several years prior, I went searching in Special Collections at Alderman Library for old pictures of the football team.

And I found the shot attached to this post, an actual football kick (albeit in practice). I surrounded it with sans serif typography—Franklin Gothic Condensed, letterspaced, a favorite— in homage to a famous Elvis Presley poster of about the same vintage as the photo. It was great. We used it for two seasons while I was there. Then the group moved on to other images and eventually stopped doing Kickoff Concerts.

I found the image again recently while working on a Wikipedia article. It hit me again the same way it did back then, an immediate punch. And I thought about change, and how the immediacy of an image can fool you into thinking that things don’t change. But of course they do, and you can change with them or stay out of the way.

Songs of the University of Virginia


My copy of Songs of the University of Virginia, the Virginia Glee Club recording made in 1947 that I bought on eBay, arrived earlier this week. Between work and a million other things, I didn’t get a chance to listen to it until Thursday night, when I ripped the record to lossless AAC using my Griffin iMic and Amadeus Pro (see my earlier note on my increasingly unlikely project to rip all my vinyl records for pointers). And it’s a little different than I expected.

First off, some new findings about its pedigree. As I posted earlier, University archives said it was recorded by RCA Victor, but the record cites “Recorded Publications Company” as the label. There is no further information other than an address in New Jersey. I did some Googling, and it seems that this was a not uncommon arrangement. RPC was kind of a vanity vinyl press for small markets like universities, and in at least one other case they published recordings that were actually made by RCA Victor engineers.

There is very little on the record itself to help with additional clues about its provenance—no liner notes or even any text on the back cover, and no date. But a few clues are possible to deduce. First, this record is not the original format that was issued in 1947. There is a scan of the record in a UVA exhibit that shows the label, with only two songs on one side, not the four or five in the current pressing. This is a simple mystery to solve, though: the university archives speak of a “three-record album”—in this case, they apparently mean album as in the original books of 78-RPM discs. This would mean that the first edition had three 78-RPM records in it, which has since been condensed to the current 33 1/3 RPM LP with nine total songs.

The performances themselves? This is a bit of a surprise. For the most part, the Glee Club sings in unison, not harmony, and the band has the harmony lines and the interesting parts of the arrangement. Apparently the a cappella part of the Glee Club’s history lay in the future. And the songs themselves are really interesting too: both verses of the “Good Old Song,” a bunch of now-obscure football songs like “Hike, Virginia”; some less obscure football songs like the “Yell Song” (which was being sung during my Glee Club years; and “Virginia, Hail, All Hail!” which the Glee Club currently pairs with the “Good Old Song” in performances. And then there are the real obscurities: a setting of “Mr. Jefferson’s Favorite Psalm,” the theme songs of Eli Banana and T.I.L.K.A., and a recording of “From Rugby Road to Vinegar Hill” which omits the, um, most colorful verse. Full tracklisting below; as on the record label, the years denote classes of graduation where applicable:

  1. “Cavalier Song” (Lee 1924/Lewis 1925)
  2. “Good Old Song” (Craighill 1895)
  3. “Hike, Virginia” (McVeigh 1907/Crenshaw 1908)
  4. “Psalm Fifteen” (arr. Daniel Purcell)
  5. “Yell Song” (Lehman 1915)
  6. Ribbon Society Songs: “Eli Banana The Starry Banner”
  7. Ribbon Society Songs: “Come Fill Your Glasses Up for T.I.L.K.A.”
  8. “From Rugby Road to Vinegar Hill-Glory, Glory to Virginia-Fill Up Your Old Silver Goblet”
  9. “Virginia, Hail, All Hail” (Morrow 1921)

The next task for this particular Glee Club alum is tracing the copyright of the recording. I can’t help but think that some alums of Mr. Jefferson’s University would be interested in checking out these recordings as CDs or downloads—and if that means that we could help make some extra dough for the group, all the better.