daniel golden column

Here’s my column from today’s paper, on the unfair advantages children of the rich and famous get in college admissions:

For instance, at Harvard the admissions rate for legacies is four times the rate for the hoi polloi. Is it because those kids are unusually smart? Nope – they actually have lower average SAT scores than other admitted students…

[Author Daniel Golden] shows how Al Gore’s son earned a questionable admission to Harvard, and how presidential niece Lauren Bush got into Princeton despite below-average SAT scores, mediocre grades at her Houston prep school and not bothering to apply until a month after the deadline. I’d like to see a working-class kid from South Dallas try that trick…

Mr. Golden writes about how, beginning in the 1970s, Duke – which comes out of this book looking awful – targeted the wealthy parents of Dallas prep schools because the university was looking for rich families to turn into donors, no matter how mediocre their kids’ academic records were. “We really worked Dallas,” a former Duke associate director of admissions told Mr. Golden. It was all part of Duke’s hunt for members of the “socioeconomically high-end.”

It’s also easily the most personal column I’ve written. (Not that there’s much competition for that title.)
Golden’s book, titled The Price of Admission, is really quite terrific. I say that as a reader, but even more so as a journalist — it’s remarkable how much he gets people to open up about some fairly nefarious things. (I guess they don’t give Pulitzers to people who can’t report.)
In case you think Golden can do this sort of reporting because he’s “of the rich” — what you might call the Dominick Dunne Theory of Reporting on the Aristocracy — it ain’t so. I’ve met him a number of times, and he’s kinda schlubby.

MP3 Monday: September 11, 2006

The rushed theme of this week’s MP3 Monday: live ’90s power-pop. As always, the MP3s will be up for one week, so be quick with your downloading.
Remember the Lightning” (live) by Velvet Crush. Recorded March 1995 at the Cabaret Metro, Chicago. From the album Rock Concert (2001). Studio version released as a B-side sometime in the early ’90s (?) and compiled on A Single Odessey (2001).
The Velvet Crush — ah, what a promising start! Their first two albums, In the Presence of Greatness and Teenage Symphonies to God, were amazing — chunky, tuneful pop with (by Album No. 2) an occasional bit of country breading. After those, they got all “mature” and a little boring for these ears. (Thus confirming Benton’s Law: Power-pop bands rarely age well.)
This is from a live album issued six years after its recording, which was during the glory days, when they played everything fast and loud. (As all power pop should be, yes?) The song is a cover, originally by Austin/L.A. band 20/20.
The Ugly Truth” (live) by Matthew Sweet. Recorded live in Grant Park, Chicago, July 4, 1993. Originally from the album Altered Beast (1993).
Matthew Sweet is the Crush’s musical older brother, having produced their first album, written the rave-up “Something’s Gotta Give” on their second one, and regularly used Crush drumming genius Ric Menck on his records and tours. (Velvet Crush opened for the only Matthew Sweet show I ever went to, which would have been around 1995.)
In fact, Menck is probably drumming on this track, recorded around Sweet’s artistic and commercial peak. His band cooked on this tour, as the rest of this bootleg proves.
Sweet would later fall in line with Benton’s Law and become less essential with each passing moon.
Emma Blowgun’s Last Stand” (live) by Beulah. From the DVD A Good Band Is Easy To Kill (2005); original on When Your Heartstrings Break (1999).
Beulah is the great exception to Benton’s Law, having gotten better with each album. (They’re also not purist power-pop, having mixed in other indie flavorings.) The original release date makes this technically a ’90s song, even though this recording is from a 2003 show. I really recommend checking out the Good Band Is Easy To Kill DVD, which is only $13 at Amazon — lots of great songs and amusing scenes from Beulah’s final tour. “Emma Blowgun” features a famously slow-burn three-minute open before Bill Swan’s trumpet hook kicks in. (Here’s a video for the song, skipping the intro.)
Man, Beulah were great. I miss ’em.

yale shmale

Yale Shmale! (Also, more directly, here. Note that the Canadian university in question has already changed its web graphic to be less critical of my alma mater’s most powerful alumnus.)
When a fellow Yalie emailed me that link, I misread it at first. “Yale She-male?” I thought. “I don’t remember that from my days in New Haven.”

buyouts at the dmn

For those interested: Here’s a [partial] list of my coworkers taking the buyout from my employer. It’s a sad list, including a lot of good people, a number of my friends, one ex-girlfriend, and even a few crabwalk.com readers. (Not to mention the guy who sat to my left, the woman who sat to his left, and the guy who sits behind me.)
But as painful as it is, we’ll keep publishing a damned good newspaper. No question about that.
Meanwhile, thanks to my anonymous coworker.

erin mckean and authors at google

Friend-of-Crabwalk Erin McKean lectures on dictionaries at Google. Watch out, toward the end, for her globally rare use of the words “doggy dog” without the phrasal prefix “Snoop.”

Google Video, perhaps chagrined by its ongoing mind-share defeat to YouTube, has posted a whole bunch of interesting videos in its Authors@Google series. I enjoyed the Seth Godin talk; others I might recommend (‘though I haven’t yet sat through them) include chimpaphile Jane Goodall, various Dave Eggers hangers-on, double-helix-discoverer James Watson, historian Simon Schama, famous-in-D.C. Gene Sperling, China writer Peter Hessler, and conservative bête noire George Soros.

MP3 Monday: September 5, 2006

This week’s MP3 Monday (Observed) celebrates the genius of Matt Murphy — in this reporter’s opinion, One Of The Greatest Musicians Of The Last Half-Century. It’s sad that there’s not overwhelming global agreement on that point. (Otherwise, I wouldn’t have had to write his Wikipedia entry my damned self.) As always, the MP3s will be up for one week, so be quick with your downloading.
10 Lbs.” and “Better Call” by The Super Friendz. From the album Mock Up, Scale Down (1995).
Matt Murphy grew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and was part of the ’90s scene there that generated bands like Thrush Hermit, Jale, and (a crabwalk.com favorite for over a decade now), Sloan. His band was the Super Friendz, a deliriously good power-pop band. They had the nervous energy of kids and the songcraft of…well, people who could write really good songs.
Like a lot of those Haligonian bands — and in typically Canadian style — the Friendz didn’t believe in letting one member hog the spotlight. So three members alternated songwriting and singing duties. Now, I’m all for band democracy, and his bandmates weren’t awful, but come on — when you have a weapon like Matt Murphy in your arsenal, you don’t bother with slingshots.
The songs here are from the Friendz’ awesome first album: “10 Lbs.,” a plea to a girlfriend not to get too skinny, and “Better Call,” whose Lady Chatterley’s Lover reference in the opening line was the first of several lit-nods in Murphy’s work. (He remains the only rock star I know of to sing: “Who’s your favorite author? / Mine’s Graham Greene / He started with the start / And kept his sentences lean.”)
Getting Super Friendz albums in this country has always been difficult — I’ve had to special order mine from Mesopelagia — but if you can, track down either Mock Up, Scale Down or (even better) the later greatest-hits Sticktoitiveness, which includes almost all of MUSD plus some later greats.
Where the Change Is” and “It’s Alright” by The Flashing Lights. From the albums Where the Change is (1999) and Sweet Release (2001).
After the Super Friendz broke up, Murphy moved to Toronto and started a new band, the Flashing Lights. Screw democracy — this was going to be a Murph project from the get-go. They sounded a little more polished and little more ’60s/’70s — some Kinks, some Badfinger — but still awesome. A significant portion of their oeuvre is perfect for loud cranking while driving down the freeway.
The key moment in the FLights early history was apparently a show at a small bar in East Toledo in 1999. They were opening for Sloan and were, at the time, completely unknown in the States and unsure how the band would fare. (As opposed to later on, when they’d only be overwhelmingly unknown in the States.) Anyway, the band was terrific, and the crowd ate it up. “The [shows] were amazing…We actually sold out of our CDs that we brought. People were really into it…It was really successful and I can’t wait to go back.” I was at that show, cheering very loudly, so I take credit for Murphy’s continued presence in the music biz.
Both Flashing Lights albums get a big thumbs-up (as does their rarer Elevature EP). “Where the Change Is” is a groovy rave-up in the style of much of the first album; “It’s Alright” is an amusingly rawk-star jam from the looser, excellent follow-up.
The Sad They Walk On” by The Super Friendz. From the album Love Energy (2003).
The Flashing Lights went into hiatus somewhere around 2002, which made the time perfect for a one-off Super Friendz reunion concert back in Halifax. That one-off turned into a microtour and this album. It’s not great, sadly — a lot of the non-Murphys, if you get my drift — but “The Sad They Walk On” is a classic bit of propulsion.
Whiskey, You Can Save Me (Live in Toronto)” by Matt Murphy. From the album The Life And Hard Times Of Guy Terrifico: Bring It Back Home (2005).
In 2005, Murphy stretched into acting, playing the fictional country-Canrock ’70s icon Guy Terrifico in the mockumentary The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico. The reviews of the movie were, well, not great, but all the ones I’ve read singled out Our Hero for a bravura performance. (Quoth the CBC: [H]e’s a charmer. The string-bean Murphy…proves himself a perfectly capable actor, and his voice makes the songs (co-written with [director Michael] Mabbott) the loveliest part of the picture. The film, unfortunately, is not as charming as its lead.”) This gramparsonsalike song is from the soundtrack.
What’s Matt Murphy up to these days? There’s talk of the Flashing Lights being turned on again. His main gig these days is the puzzling Toronto band City Field. For some reason, Murphy doesn’t sing on most of the songs, and it doesn’t sound like he’s writing them either. Instead, some Fred Schneider wannabe handles lead vocals. Oh, well — hope springs eternal.