Rockcrit and A-Mama Ann Powers thinks way too hard sometimes

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Oh, Frango

Yesterday I spent ten hours holiday shopping, then came home and made cookies. In the spirit! I really love doing the Yule crawl all in one fell swoop, along with all the other procrastinators; the mood in the air, turning like the tide from frantic to resolute to cheerily sardonic as the day wears out, is a once-a-year thing. It should be a reality show. Survivor: Chrismakuh. The one who finds Hanukah gelt in a Rite-Aid as the lights go off at closing time (that would be me!) wins.

Then came the lovely part...the family was nestled all snug in their beds, and I set to grating Frangos. Life is so much better with a Frango in your hand. Unfortunates unfamiliar with the department-store treat can only vicariously experience the melty-mouthed joy each individually wrapped bit of chocomintbutter brings. (Variations: chocorumbutter, chocotoffeebutter, chocopeanutbutter, and many more now that the brand's gone flavor-crazy.)
You Chicagoans, don't even start with the "Marshall Field's gave birth to Frangos" line -- we Seattleites know that the delectable delights originated in our own Frederick & Nelson, the classiest department store in town back in the roaring early 20th century. The Frangos tale is a troubling saga of brand abuse in the age of corporate mergers, from the Midwestern store's false ownership claims in the early century to right now -- the manufacturer recently sued Bon-Macy's (the Bon Marche inherited the candy when F&N went out of business, and now that venerable department store's been sucked up by Macy's) for the right to sell at -- where else? -- Cosco. I'm just glad it's not at Wal-Mart.

My Frango memories involve the original F&N store, which had a great kitschy diner called the Paul Bunyan Room in the basement where you could get a thick-as-a-brick Frango shake and sit and watch the old ladies gossip in their car coats. And the pyramids that dot the store every Xmas, now on view at Macy's, those hexagonal boxes glimmering red and copper and green. And of course, Frangos under the tree.Everybody in my family got another one this year. I freeze mine and dole two out each eve as a nightcap, a little heavenly sin.

For me, Frangos represent the pinnacle of consumerist tradition -- the world of secular ritual we develop to create continuity, and plain unity, in a diverse and changing world. No glowing divine child must be invoked to enjoy Frangos, yet somehow they capture the spirit of a season, the wintry moment when the sun is at its scarcest and we need a little sweet to warm us up. In that spirit, I offer this reciple for Frango cookies. They're very fun to make -- can't beat the smell and sneak-a-bite taste of grated mint chocolate -- and they were a major hit at my cousin Dee Dee's Christmas party, just hours ago. One caveat: they make about half of what the recipe claims. Some marketer's hype, that number, no doubt.


1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup brown sugar (firmly packed)
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup grated (or very finely chopped) Frango mint chocolates
2—1/4 cups flour, unsifted
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup chopped nuts
1-1/2 cups chopped (approx. 1/4 lb.) Frango mint chocolates.
Cream butter, shortening and sugars until light. Add eggs, vanilla and grated Frango mint chocolates. Beat until creamy and well blended. Sift flour, baking soda and salt together. Add sifted ingredients to beaten egg mixture, blending carefully. Beat about 20 seconds. Fold in chopped nuts and chopped Frango mint chocolates, blending well. Beat for 30 seconds. Drop heaping teaspoons of cookie dough onto greased cookie sheets, allowing at least one-inch space between cookies. Bake in preheated 375ºF oven for 8–11 minutes. Remove cookies from cookie sheets and allow to cool on rack. Yields approximately 8 dozen cookies.

Friday, December 23, 2005

One list I can get behind

From wonderful Tristin's Swell PR mailout -- a list that reflect my obsession, I'm not proud but I'm willing to admit. Hey, wasn't that CI about the hit man who was stealing DNA off corpses from his brother's mortuary and then planting them under victims' fingernails AWESOME last night?

From Ted Leo, from, uh, being Ted Leo

1. TNT (the current home for reruns)
2. A&E (the classic home for reruns, and releaser of first VHS collections)
3. Court TV (Bebe Neuworth/ Trial by Jury)
4. USA (SVU)
5. NBC (new episodes, if you're into that)
6. Bravo (Criminal Intent, when all else fails)
7. iTunes (download 1st season)
8. Order DVDs from
9. Special features on the official website:
10. TNT (if you missed the 7 PM episode, it's on again at 3 PM the next day)

Monday, December 19, 2005

Memory fails

It's the end of the year, almost. A time I love for family mushiness, work semi-relaxation, and bright shiny tree-filled city windows. However, as a critic I hate this time of year. Why? The dreaded year-end list.

For decades I've railed against this necessary evil. Necessary, yes, I acknowledge that. Critics are here to synthesize, sum up, build window/frames through which busy interested folk view aspects of the culture whizzing by them. Or to be more bluntly market-oriented about it, we're here to help people decide what to buy. Lists aid both shopping and reflection, in fact create the relationship between the two. And as I noted a few posts ago, they can even be poetic.

That doesn't mean I have to like making them. My main objection is pretty much personal. I have a lousy memory. Especially now -- the combo of early parenting and my current gig, which involves reviewing several unrelated musical products every couple of weeks, keeps my mind pretty much in the present/future. And my recurrent migraines add a layer of laziness/exhaustion to my mental processes. A year-end list should be made of stuff that sticks, and little seems to stick for me right now.

So it is with a weary heart that I enter into the process again. Soon I will provide that link to the Pazz and Jop site, or just post my list here, as Matos did on his blog. All I ask is, don't put too much stock in it.

Except: I really do adore The Sunset Tree. John Darnielle rules, even when list-makers take him for granted.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Ever Loved Anyone?

Recently, I found myself bored enough, or relaxed enough, or hypnotized by a rerun of Law & Order enough, to do one of those silly questionnaires you get on email. This one was "Get to know your friends" -- 70 queries of the "your favorite clothing item" and "your latest movie experience" sort. I've received several of these back from friends I added to the chain, enough to make me notice something. It has to do with question number 40.

40. Love someone so much it made you cry?

Every single person whose responses I saw answered yes. Pondering this, I realized: anyone would answer yes. Not because everyone has loved that hard and true (or hysterical and teen-age), but because to not answer yes would be to make yourself out as either White Witch-level chilly or a really lonely loser. So I have concluded that somehow, this is a trick question.

But how?

I think the trick question has to do with gossip, our need to pry into the lives of those we love or just casually know, and with the fun and the danger of daydreaming. In other words -- the question isn't really there for the answerer. It's there for the one who received the answers. You read that yes, and wonder -- who was it? Who made Friend XY so mad with desire, regret, frustration, tenderness that she gave in emotion's undertow? Or, if you are sure you know who, you reminisce, imagine the specific scenarios, feel perhaps a twinge if on some level, deep or shallow, you were involved. In a chatty little exercise of surface intimacy, Question 40 cuts deeper. It makes you realize what sharing secrets could gain, and really costs.

By the way, my answer, really, is more often than not.

P.S. image of "the joyful tears of a new father" from

See the comments section

How great is B's Tummy Mommy? Simply the greatest. As Wayne and Garth used to say, "We're not worthy!"

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Mars Hill story outttake here!

My opus on Team Strike Force, the worship band at Mars Hill Church in Seattle, is in the current Blender. I'm happy with the piece but of course I had much more material than I could use. One thing that got left out was a section on Tim Smith, Mars Hill's worship pastor, and an extremely swell guy who helped me a ton with my research.

Below is the little section on Tim. Insert into your copy of Blender right after lovely Andy Myers says "God put me here." Or just ignore this post if you have no interest in why Christian rockers do what they do.

“Let’s try ‘Amazing Grace,’” Tim Smith murmurs into the microphone in the center of Mars Hill’s big stage. The band rehearsing is the Mars Hillbillies, an Old 97’s style outfit that revamps old hymns honky-tonk style. The lanky, blond, soulful Smith is their leader and the worship pastor for the church. A goateed church kid from Beaverton, Oregon, Smith is that rare person who actually became more stylish by getting saved.
You can almost hear the eyes roll onstage when he calls for the world’s most popular hymn. “Maybe we can do “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” snips Billy Hatcher, a Memphis-born, 26-year-old amateur actor and pedal steel guitarist whose arrival a year ago gave the Hillbillies a new burst of cred. He zips out a few lines of that martial chestnut. Tim sighs.
Billy sarcastically sings “America the Beautiful,” but Tim soldiers on with “Amazing Grace” and soon the band’s with him. Billy picks up on Tim’s ska-tinged rhythm line. As they take the verse into a gospel swing, Tim breaks out into a chuckle. “This song can really be molded to anything,” he declares.
Later, sitting in a black-upholstered booth near the church’s snack bar, Tim describes his evolution toward Christian cool. His childhood was typical of many of the Mars Hill crowd: he grew up within a traditional suburban megachurch, indifferent to his surroundings, until Christian pop and the teenage church scene drew him in. “I was totally indifferent until I hit youth group in high school,” he says. “Something clicked then. I totally embraced Christian culture. Youth group is how they get us hooked!”
Tim sanctified his typicallly adolescent tastes by getting into heaven’s metal: Stryper, Petra, Mortification. “Then I got an acoustic guitar,” he says. That led to praise and worship, with its simple choruses, and similar experiences like Benedictine chanting and Lutheran hymnody. Tim also immersed himself further in church activities, leading Christian rock-climbing on the weekends and going to services at a Portland bible college that included hours of singing. At 22, Tim took a job at a Lutheran church in St. Louis, relocating there with his high school sweetheart, Beth. “That’s where I hit the wall,” he says.
“When I moved I realized I’d been living in a parallel world,” he continues. “I found myself asking, what do I really believe in all this? I still loved Jesus, but some of the people around me were driving me insane. We were in an upper middle class suburb, newly married, no one around us was remotely our age. It was totally lonely and very hard.”
Tim met Mark Driscoll at a conference in New Mexico where one of the Mars Hill bands played. He liked Driscoll’s “Gen X” preaching style and loved the music. A few months later he and Beth moved into Driscoll’s basement in Seattle. Mark bought Tim an electric guitar, got him voice lessons, and found him a slot in one of the worship bands. Tim flourished. “I also went to a lot of shows,” he remembers. “This was when Death Cab and Modest Mouse were playing two hundred seat venues.”
Mars Hill showed Tim how to enjoy life as a Christian. “I can be in the world without necessarily being exactly the same as the world,” he explains. “I’d been raised in this suburban context where you go somewhere called ‘church’ and have some interaction, but it’s completely isolated. That’s how I was raised. My parents had no friends; we kept in touch with some families from church, but nothing substantial.
“Mars Hill changed my heart on everything,” he concludes. “Within a year and a half, I became a homeowner, and a father, and a pastor. It was a major period of time.”
Now Dad to three young girls, Tim is happy to be one of Mars Hill’s few on-staff musicians. Whether he’s living as much “in the world” as he says is a matter of debate – his sixty-hour work weeks don’t leave much time for seeing shows. But he’s convinced that his ministry makes him more open than most Christians.
“There’s a passage in the book of Jeremiah where the nation of Israel is been carried off into exile in Babylon,” he explains. “A lot of Christians feel like that’s where they are – we’re in this godless, somewhat barbaric nation, and we’ve got to set up our own little thing to guard against the evil influences. But what God says is, have children. Settle down. Seek the peace and prosperity of Babylon, because if it’s blessed, you’ll be blessed too.”

before it's gone

I have a little homage to the Turtles up at I hope you like it half as much as I liked listening to old Flo and Eddie's ouevre.