Friday, August 26, 2016

Billboard Top Ten August 30, 1980

I've recently been obsessed with a time period I like to call Reagan Dawn, which I date as roughly between 1979 and 1982. It coincides with the election of Reagan, along with two big economic downturns. It's the world where I first gained consciousness, and a time when the culture of the seventies gave way to something new. It's also a time whose cultural artifacts seem very rooted in it, and rarely recalled in the present day. Now, on with the countdown!

10. "More Love" by Kim Carnes
Next year Kim Carnes would hit number one with "Bette Davis Eyes," a song that would help define the pop sound of the coming decade. "More Love" still has a foot in the seventies. The chorus reminds me of KC and the Sunshine Band's "Keep It Coming Love." It's got a bit of disco swing in it, but the synthesizers and stripped-down sound are signs of changing times.

9. "Let My Love Open The Door"

For some reason I thought this song came later in the 80s, probably because it sounds ahead of its time. The synthesizer sound was a harbinger of what was to come, and Townsend's softer approach reflected the middle aging of the Boomer generation. It's a great song, and better than any song the Who put out after Quadrophenia in 1973. It's refreshing to hear one of Townsend's more heartfelt songs without Roger Daltry flexing his scrote all over the vocal track.

8. "Give Me The Night" by George Benson
Oh yeaaah! People tend to think of funk as a 70s genre, but the early 80s saw some fantastically funky hits. Rick James, Prince, and the Gap Band might be more remembered today, but this song shows that George Benson knew a thing or two about laying down a killer groove. This song also demonstrates how, like New Wave, 80s funk had more angular rhythms than the 70s variety, perhaps reflecting the "straighter" nature of America's turn in the Reagan Dawn.

7. "All Out Of Love" by Air Supply

Is there a more Reagan Dawn artist than Air Supply? They drew from soft rock explosion of the 70s, but more polished and less funky with a dash of bombast. It was emotive and shimmery and a little over the top, like an early 80s prime time soap opera. No artist ever had a better soft rock name. I mean "Air Supply" is about as evocative of this music as it gets. From Australia, they are also on the edge of the first wave of the Antipodean Invasion of the 1980s, with Men at Work to soon follow. This cultural phenomenon has given me a lifelong fascination with Australia, which I still yearn to visit.

6. "Fame" by Irene Cara

Contrary to a popular misconception, disco did not die right after the Disco Demolition Night in Chicago in the summer of 1979. It was still all over the charts in 1980, but a little more stripped down and less glammed out. This new disco, instead of dying, would quietly form the basis of 80s dance music. Take Irene Cara, who sang this song in 1980, but went on to do "What A Feeling" in 1983, at which point the Reagan Dawn had turned into new morning. This Giorgio Moroder-fied disco does not have the big string sections, replacing it with synthesizer, a sign of things to come.

5. "Take Your Time (Do It Right)" by The SOS Band
Speaking of 80s funk, The SOS gave the world a particularly tasty slice in the summer of 1980. I mean, just try not dancing to this song. I dare you. Sadly these are the kind of funky grooves that would get killed off by the increasing computerization of R&B in the 80s.

4. "Emotional Rescue" by The Rolling Stones
For awhile in the mid-1970s the Stones branched out from blues rock to make some music inflected by reggae, funk and disco. They pretty much got back to basics on 1978's Some Girls, except for the discofied megahit "Miss You." On "Emotional Rescue" they went back to the funk, with Jagger affecting a horrible falsetto. I can't stop being distracted by it, which is a shame, since the groove is so tight. Then he makes things worse with his silly vamping at the end in an intentionally low voice. This is perhaps a taste of a decade of bad decisions that Jagger was about to make.

3. "Magic" by Olivia Newton-John

Like I said, disco was not dead in 1980. Hell, this song comes from a roller disco movie! (Xanadu is one of my fave so bad it's good flicks.) Despite that fact, it is deceptively ahead of its time. The watery guitar and synths would be big 80s pop production elements, although the laid-back drum beat still lingers from the 70s. Olivia Newton-John may have been the representative artist of the Reagan Dawn, hitting her peak in that era with "Physical" in 1981 and soon dropping off.

2. "Upside Down" by Diana Ross

Now this right here is a song. It is appropriate for the dusk of disco, edgier and less ostentatious. The song is built on a wicked, sharp-elbowed groove that has never failed to get me moving. Ross's soft voice provides a sweet counterpoint, yin to the groove's yang. The owl of Minerva flies at dusk indeed.

1. "Sailing" by Christopher Cross

Poor Christopher Cross. In 1980 he wrote and performed what's probably the most successful Yacht Rock of them all, right before the advent of MTV. In the 70s ordinary looking guys could get big if they could write catchy songs, but in the age of videos it would take something more than that. Phil Collins managed to crack to code by making his videos stand out, but in 1981 that wasn't really an option yet. The smooth sound of this track, easy listening but with more of a soul influence, sounds like Reagan Dawn. Cross, like that period, was liminal. Too bad he got caught in between.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Trailers From Trailers From Hell

I am a Gen X child of the 80s and 90s, which meant that I spent a lot of time watching cable when it consisted of B-grade movies and 70s TV reruns. I stayed up late on the weekend to watch USA Up All Night and its treasure trove of trash, but also random monster movies, westerns, Kung Fu Theater, World War II flicks, and lesser Clint Eastwood films. (The Gauntlet and Coogan's Bluff anyone?). My whole family did Tae Kwon Do for a few years, and my dad would watch any random martial arts movie and dissect the fighting style, especially impressed with Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee. (He reached black belt.) Mystery Science Theater 3000 was such a revelation because the characters were riffing on bad movies the way me and my friends and my family did, just a lot funnier. Once I left college and was too poor for cable, my consumption of trash entertainment was replaced by pretentious foreign film rental. In recent years, however, I have been going back to the entertainment that nourished me in my youth. Three of my favorite recent documentaries are Not Quite Hollywood, about Australian "Oz-ploitation" films of the 70s and 80s, Electric Boogaloo, about schlock purveyors Cannon Films, and The World Of Roger Corman, about America's greatest B-movie producer.

As luck would have it, I learned about Trailers From Hell, and amazing website where B-movie film-maker experts like Joe Dante, John Landis, and Allison Anders offer commentary on the trailers for all kinds of great B-movies. I can sit down and lose hours looking at it. Fans of the genre should check it out. Here are some trailers from the site that I like, either for the movie, the commentary, or both.

Bloody Mama 
Shelly Winters as a murderous, gun-toting 1930s bank robber? Yes please! Roger Corman himself gives the commentary on this trailer. Also notice the very young DeNiro in the trailer.

Taste The Blood of Dracula
I love Hammer horror films, which are all spooky castles and Gothic moods with the blood mixed in, rather than the main attraction. Christopher Lee was the greatest Drac ever, period. I think the fact that he (purportedly) had killed men at close range as a member British special forces in World War II gave him special insight into the character.

Monster Squad
I loved this movie soooooo much when it came out. I dare not watch it again lest my happy childhood memories be disturbed, because I am sure my adult eyes will find it ridiculous. "Wolfman's got nards!"

The Car
This movie has haunted me for decades. It's about a killer, possibly possessed car that goes around running people over. I remember watching it with my dad late at night and being scared out of my mind, and being sent to bed before it was over. I woke up the next day and immediately asked my dad how they managed to stop the car.

Beneath The Planet Of The Apes

Bad sequel, but as John Landis points out, interesting in its badness. Charlton Heston delivers a performance that's insanely sweaty and over the top even by his standards. I'll never forget the moment when the mutants pull off their faces, which is serious nightmare fodder.

I Was A Teenage Werewolf

One underrated effect of the postwar teen culture was the proliferation of the "I Was A Teenage..." movies. My favorite thing is that the titular werewolf is Michael Landon. Yes, that Michael Landon. I remember seeing him as a guest on Carson one time, and Johnny showed a clip of this after he came out to embarrass him.

The Terror

Maybe the most infamous Corman film, because it had multiple directors and no discernible plot, until a completely contrived speech by Dick Miller at the end (in a Nu Yawk accent transported to old England) attempted to tie everything together. It still made money, which is more than you can say for a lot of Hollywood blockbusters.

Viva Las Vegas

Elvis movies are schlock personified, and mostly unwatchable. This one is different, mostly because of the unstoppably vivacious force of nature that was 1963 Ann-Margret. She practically bursts through the screen, and seems to inspire Elvis to wake the heck up and match her energy.


A baby alligator gets flushed down the toilet, then emerges a decade later from the Chicago sewers as a massive, man eating monster. I remember seeing this on TV and loving it as a little kid. Little did I know, the writer, John Sayles, would later go on to be a respected independent film maker.


Last but by no means least, this is the best of all of the rip-offs of Jaws, and a movie I still can't believe my parents let me watch. Also written by John Sayles and directed by future Gremlins director Joe Dante, it's the rare film that shows children getting killed. The sequel was actually directed by James Cameron!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Trump And German-American Identity

A nineteenth century German beer garden in New York, fun for the whole family

I am a German-American, which is a phrase that very few people of my ancestry use to describe themselves. This would've been surprising back in the nineteenth century, when German language newspapers abounded and German beer halls were a common meeting place for German immigrants in cities across the country. Today, according to some measures, German is the most common ethnic ancestry in America, just ahead of African-American. At the same time, one does not see many outward expressions of German-American identity, not nearly what one sees for say Irish, Greek, Italian, Puerto Rican, etc.

I've long pondered this question, and if I had the time, talent, and resources, I'd love to write a sweeping history of Germans in America. A lot of it certainly has to do with the effect of the world wars, which made identifying with Germany very problematic. My German immigrant great-grandfather, for instance, fought in the American army in World War I, even as his own brother was fighting in the Kaiser's forces. Matters weren't helped by Nazi sympathizer groups like the German American Bund in the 1930s. Those events added urgency to the broader erasure of German ethnic identity, something already common among those groups deemed "white." That process for German-Americans (or at least those who were not Jewish) first began back in the nineteenth century, when German Protestants would often be compared favorably to Irish Catholics by WASP elites. The wave of hatred against German Americans in World War I changed that perception, and accelerated assimilation.

Another thing that probably contributed to the lack of a strong German identity was the fact that Germany was an extremely divided country before 1871, and even after that regional and religious divisions were very stark. One of my ancestors actually emigrated because he did not want to be drafted into the Kaiser's army. He was Catholic, and at the time the church had been attacked by the Protestant Prussian dominated new national state in the name of national unity. Most of my ancestors would have spoken the Plattdeutsch dialect of the swampy northwestern places they came from like Oldenburg and Ost Friesland, which would have been unintelligible to someone speaking "high" German.

The vast, vast majority of Americans of German ancestry spend little to no time thinking about their ethnic origins or know much of anything about German food, culture, language, or history, apart from World War II movies. I grew up in central Nebraska, a very heavily German area, and I didn't get a taste until I took German classes in high school from the son of Volga Germans forced to flee the Soviet Union. No one in my family ever cooked German food or spoke in German or encouraged me to learn or know much about German things. (This despite the fact that two of my grandparents had grown up speaking German in the home with their immigrant parents.) A couple of genealogists in the family were interested in researching the family's German roots, but not really at all invested in a German-American identity. We were certainly not ashamed of it or anything, it just didn't really matter that much. German-Americans, by and large, like my own family, have long fully accepted whiteness.

I get depressed that Donald Trump too is a German-American, but his history with his identity is very interesting and telling, both about him and about German-American identity and the lack thereof. Just today the Times published an article on Trump's immigrant grandfather, and the fact that for years his father Fred and Donald himself had claimed their ancestry was "Swedish" rather than German. His grandfather of course Anglicized his name from "Drumpf" to "Trump" much earlier. The Trump talent for self-fabrication seems to go back really far in his family. His own family history shows the larger story of German identity being shed very quickly in the twentieth century, within a generation of arriving in America. (Donald Trump having a Scottish immigrant mother certainly helped with that distancing, too.)

While the article paints this decision as a way for Fred Trump to have easier dealings with Jewish businessmen, the Trump family went well beyond a change in ethnic origin in its embrace of whiteness. Fred Trump was notorious for building segregated housing, and Donald himself was sued for housing discrimination in the early 1970s. He has gone on to run the most explicitly white supremacist presidential campaign since George Wallace.

While this German-American will not be voting for Trump, I see in his family history the larger, unfortunate dynamics of German-American identity. Take for instance Milwaukee, probably the most German large city in America, and also by some measures the most racially segregated. (Having been there I would not doubt that assessment.) The borders of whiteness are even starker there than in most American cities, and that's saying something. Like other white Americans, German-Americans have gladly accepted the benefits of whiteness and tossed what once made them "other" in the trash, with the usual social, moral and spiritual consequences.

It was not always this way. The first big wave of German migration after the 18th century "Pennsylvania Dutch" came after the failed revolutions of 1848. (This wave included the first of my German ancestors to come to America. He was an artisan, I'd like to believe that he was a political radical, but I have no evidence.) Those immigrants, many of whom were political refugees owing to their commitments to democracy and equality, took their beliefs with them. In Texas, those anti-slavery German immigrants refused to cooperate with the Confederacy during the Civil War. In the north, a large number of German immigrants served in the Union army, including '48er Carl Schurz, who was a general and later Republican senator. Cartoonist Thomas Nast, a German immigrant himself, used his pen to attack slavery, the Klan, and mistreatment of Chinese immigrants and to support Reconstruction. German-Americans helped build up socialist parties and institutions, putting socialist mayors in charge of Milwaukee. And, I would like to add, the antipathy of beer-drinking Germans to temperance forced the Republican party to hold back on the issue for decades, and their proclivity for beer helped undermine Prohibition when it did get put in place.

Nowadays these roots are unknown in American society apart from historians. German-Americans have been melted (with their enthusiastic participation) into the white mass, and Donald Trump is now the most famous German-American in the country. This, I guess, is the ultimate endpoint for opportunistic cultural amnesia, and it makes me despair.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Flamin' Groovies, "Have You Seen My Baby?"

The Flamin' Groovies, like Big Star, are one of those bands that are inexplicably obscure. I ask myself, how could music this good and catchy not be world-conqueringly popular? They started off in the San Francisco scene of the sixties, but didn't play psychedelic music. Instead, they loved early rock and roll, with its groove and rhythm. Later in the 1970s they evolved into doing power pop, and cut some of the best songs in that genre. In between they put out Teenage Head in 1971, full of blues rock scorchers. It is by far the best Stones album that the Stones never cut, but with more than a strong dash of Iggy Pop-style garage feeling.

"Have You Seen My Baby?" from Teenage Head is a cover of a Randy Newman tune from his 12 Songs album, and for my money is the best Newman cover, even better than the ones Harry Nilsson did on Nilsson Sings Newman. They leave the voice down in the mix, communicating the narrator's desperation better by not making the lyrics legible. It moves at a blistering pace with some boogie piano and driving guitar churning hard over relentless drumming. It was the perfect song to open Newman's album, but here it turns up the heat after the first two tracks. Randy Newman's version plays up the pathetic, oddball nature of the narrator with his singular voice, as he does on so many other songs. The Groovies jettison that for some honest to goodness rocking.

Like Big Star, the Groovies were a band out of time. In the early seventies, during the rise of arena rock, they chose to mine a purer seam of rock and roll. Instead of bowing their guitars or playing lobotomized Deep Purple riffs, they kept the groove and rhythm. They didn't have the world of independent labels later spawned by punk to fall back on, which is a damn shame, since after Teenage Head's commercial failure key members left the band. All these years later I'd rather listen to that album a hundred times before putting on a Humble Pie record (and they're all right with me.)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Back To Comic Books

Web of Spiderman 64

My early adolescent obsessions went through three very distinct phases. At age 11 I started collecting baseball cards, an obsession that dominated much of my free time in 1987 and 1988, before dimming in 1989 and pretty much going away by 1991. In junior high, starting some time in 1989, I got very heavily invested in comic books, and started checking out compilation books from the library. A kid a grade ahead of me in my study hall also sold me a pile of old Spider Man comics he had. They seemed to fit pretty well with my love of Dungeons and Dragons and Stephen King novels. Unfortunately for me, by the time I graduated from the eighth grade, the nerd friend group I was a part of basically decided I wasn't cool enough for them, and cast me out. They had finally found someone they could mock and feel superior to for a change. (Of course, I spent a very sad and pathetic year trying to ingratiate myself with them to be allowed back in, to no avail.) I associated my interests with that group of nerds, and sometime in the spring of 1991 basically turned my back on comics and role playing games and started obsessing about music. Also, I soon started reading philosophy and heavier novels in my spare time. I associated my nerdy obsessions with my former friends who thought they were better than me. I decided that, in actuality, role playing and comics were a lot less cool and mature than punk rock and Dostoevsky. I would even later poo-poo the entire art form, finding it much more limited in its capacity to tell a story than literature or film. Still couldn't get a date, though.

Had I not been ostracized at age 14, I think I might have been able to sustain my interest in comics. On many days after school I would walk over to the public library and wait for my parents to pick me up after school. I soon started making a detour over to the main street of my hometown's downtown (just a block away) to go to an old school newsstand that was still there called Central News. They had a big spinner rack of comics, and a much bigger selection than was available at the local drug store.

My first purchase was Web of Spiderman 64, in the spring of 1990. I chose that title because that was the title that the kid had sold a pile of the previous year. It was actually not considered to be a very good comic, but being a contrarian, I decided to make it "my" Spidey title. This is the same distaste for doing the popular thing that has led me to be a fan of the Mets, White Sox, and Everton FC. I also bought a ton of Batman and Punisher, whose violent ways were a kind of naughty joy for the nice altar boy that I was at the time.

I actually kept my purchasing of comic books a secret from my parents, because I was buying a lot of them and I feared their judgement of my spendthrift ways. I had a desk drawer full of my comics stash, where other, more daring teenage boys would've had much more illicit materials. (I also kept my visits to the arcades secret for the same reason. Yes, I was such a dork that my sneaking involved comic books and video games, not booze and porn.) Later on, during the early 90s comics boom, a bona fide comic book store opened up in my hometown, but by that time I had checked out, although I did occasionally read a (true) friend's comics, including the Dark Empire series and the Death of Superman books.

Flash forward to today-ish. Last year I was contacted by a reader of this blog (hope you're still reading) who lives in the area wanted to chat with me in person about the process of leaving academia for independent high schools. As we talked it came out that he was a huge comics fan, and that he knew a great comic book primary source for my current research project. He took me to Midtown Comics, where we were able to track it down in a compilation. He wasn't wrong about the source, which was great, but as I started reading that comic and others, I was reminded of what had drawn me in to begin with. I started checking out graphic novels from my school's library and buying a few books here and there from stores in the city. Then, a few months ago realized that there was comics store not far from where I live. (Amazing Heroes in Union, New Jersey, to be precise.) It's small but packed to the rafters with a pretty astonishing selection of both comics and books. The owner is a chatty, friendly guy about the polar opposite of the character on The Simpsons. Now that it's summer I've been taking my daughters with me and letting them pick a kids comic to take home.

I am by no means diving in completely (I have never really wanted to be a member of any subculture club that would have me.) I pick up some books that look interesting, follow a couple of titles pretty consistently, and chat a little with the comic store owner. It is a little strange to delve back into an adolescent activity that I had already considered passe by the time I was in the tenth grade. Some of it I think is a coming to grips with my rejection back in the eighth grade, which had haunted me for years. Because of my loneliness in my teen years that resulted from not really having a group of friends, I never turned down a social engagement in college and grad school, hoping that my friends would not suddenly decide that they didn't like me and wouldn't want me around anymore. It took awhile, but I guess I am over that fear, and am over avoiding things that remind me of the little nerd world that I was cast out of.

Because you know what? Comics are cool. They are a unique art form, and when done well, are really stunning things to behold. The amount of lore and history built into the biggest heroes adds layers of richness missing in many other forms of pop culture. As someone obviously interested in history, I like an art form where the history is an essential part of enjoying it. (This is also why I like baseball.) Comic fans are often mocked, but it is definitely a more demanding and discerning fandom than many others. As a child of Generation X, I also just miss physical media artifacts. Everything is getting downloaded and pixelated, and that's not a wholly bad thing, but it does make me feel alienated somehow from the art. There is something more vital about going to a comics store, browsing the racks, flipping through the books, and choosing a couple to take home. I find it to be a kind of subtle therapy, the type of small pleasure that makes life bearable. If that's not reason enough to go back to a childish thing, then what isn't?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Nationalism Nationalism Nationalism

I am going to start sounding like a broken record here, but I am going to keep delivering my message until people more important than me hear it. So here I go again.

Nationalism has been a crucial force in American political history, and it has been THE major factor in the rise of Trump, much more so than "trade" or "jobs," which he is merely using to talk about the nation.

There, I said it.

I feel prompted to make this statement after listening to the 538 Elections Podcast yesterday, which as always was full of smart, analytical commentary. Towards the end they discussed the recent Gallup survey of Trump supporters that showed that these people are not the economically downtrodden white working class they have been portrayed as in the media. They do not live in areas with lots of immigration, either. The hosts discussed these findings, and some did discuss the obvious appeals to cultural and racial resentment in all this. They talked about anxiety over the old America going away. But they also weren't sure of what the glue was tying all this together, and to why people who aren't hurting economically are responding to Trump's talk on trade issues, which they don't seem to have much knowledge of.

The answer is, of course, nationalism. Nationalism nationalism nationalism. Say it with me folks, don't be shy. Trump's entire message this whole campaign has been, essentially, that America is headed in the wrong direction, is "losing," and needs to be turned around. Hence his ubiquitous slogan. Nationalism is such a dangerous political force because it can bring in and subsume a variety of things at once. Trump's trade talk, for example, isn't being bought by people because they know anything about trade (they don't), but because of the promise of building the nation's industrial power back. His hate directed and immigrants and Muslims is grounded in a racist version of nationalism that sees the white nation threatened by "others" coming in from outside. His foreign policy, which amounts to telling international institutions like NATO to fuck off and to engage in wars of plunder ("take their oil"), is as nationalist as it gets.

The people in places who are most likely to consider their ancestry "American" (as opposed to English, German, African, etc.) are the ones most likely to vote for Trump. Why? Because they are the people most invested in a particular version of American national identity. The people in those places think of themselves as the "real Americans." Back in 2010 they got motivated to "take our country back!" during the birth of the Tea Party, Trumpism is just that on steroids. They think this is "their" country, and after eight years of a black college professor from Chicago with a Kenyan father in the White House they are foaming at the mouth. Trump was smart enough to understand that it was this white nationalist resentment that drove the base of the Republican Party, not tax policy or government regulation.

The Democrats as well as the Trumpists have been engaged in nation talk, but we don't call it that. The Democratic convention was notable for the number of generals who spoke, and became most dramatic when the Khans took the stage. Khizr Khan very passionately argued for an alternative version of American nationalism, one where America was defined by its diversity and a commitment to equal rights. There has been little policy discussion in this election, it has essentially boiled down to what version of the nation voters identify with more strongly.

This all begs the question of why so few people are talking about nationalism in this election. Part of it has to do with the strange American denial that nationalism exists in this country. We talk about "patriotism," not nationalism, in another manifestation of a bogus assumed American exceptionalism. This even extends to professional historians of the US, who haven't really done much to address it. Our political commentators tend to want to look at very surface level factors in politics ("blue collar anger") and thus consistently downplay how racism and nationalism are such titanic forces in the American body politic.

C'mon people, stop ignoring what's staring you right in the face. We've been lucky this time that the man stirring up the forces of nationalism has sabotaged himself. We might not be so lucky next time.

Sunday, August 14, 2016


Michael Lewis' Moneyball might be the most influential book written about baseball, since it popularized many of the baseball management strategies used by the Oakland As. Their great innovation was to win without a lot of money by taking advantage of inefficiencies in the system. By using stats such as on base percentage when scouting players, for example, they could pick up great players for cheap who may have lacked the obvious physical attributes of the more highly prized prospects.

I have my own strategy, which I call Moneybeer, for getting tasty beers at a good price. The beers may not be as delectable as say an Edmund Fitzgerald Porter or Two Hearted Ale (two of my favorites), but for the money they're pretty damn good. They are Scott Hatteberg to craft beers' Mike Trout and Budweiser's Marv Throneberry. Not only are they better tasting than the name brands, they're also usually cheaper, too. Here are some of my candidates for best beer for the money.

Old Milwaukee
Old Milwaukee evidently made you a mountain man back in the 80s

I remember back in the 1990s, before the craft beer craze had fully saturated beer culture in America, Consumer Reports did a ranking of beers by blind taste test. (The beers were all relatively mass-produced.) Old Milwaukee won, which surprised me, since I always associated it with those cheesy "it doesn't get any better than this" commercials. But you know what? Yesterday it was hot as balls and I went to a Mets game with a friend. I packed a couple of Old Milwaukee tall boys in my ice chest to drink in the baking parking lot, and I'll be damned if that wasn't one of the best tasting beers I've ever had. There are better beers, but on a hot day few go down so smooth.

Pabst Blue Ribbon
Yes, a guy in Illinois made a PBR coffin for himself

This beer's reputation has been ruined by hipsters, but hey, hipsters often have good taste in stuff. It's cheaper than the mass market beers like Bud or Coors, and tastes better. One thing I've never understood is its distribution. So many liquor stores don't have it, and others only have it in thirty pack cubes. The other problem is that it has some kind of strange sugary chemical slurry in it, and I can't have more than two or the back of my throat starts tasting icky.

Narragansett Lager
Drinking a Narragansett is like entering a time machine, in more ways than one

This is a recent discovery. Awhile back I was at a work-sponsored happy hour at a bar, and my two drink tickets were good for either a shitty microbrew that smelled like yeast that a colleague gave to me because he couldn't finish it or a can of Narragansett. I went with the latter, and was happily surprised. It's out of Rhode Island, and I'll bet it's only available regionally. I happened to have it in their retro 70s cans (pictured above), which I can't seem to find in my local liquor store.

Preppies meet an old salt making chowder in the 70s in this Genesee ad 

From the forests and rusting factories in upstate New York comes Genesee. The first time I had it was on a total whim. I walked down to one of the local bodegas in my old neighborhood in Newark, and saw 24 ounce cans of Genesee for only a dollar. The cans were white with just a small red label, they looked so cheap and generic that I had to have one out of curiosity's sake. I like Narragansett better, but you really can't beat the price.

National Bohemian

Speaking of local beers, when I first went to Baltimore I was confused by seeing this on the taps at bars, and by all the people calling it "Natty Boh," rather than its given name. As my friend Jim once said of it, "I like a good shitty local beer." The aftertaste is a little thin, but I'll drink this over Bud any day.

Modelo Especial
Gotta love a beer that uses a garage rock classic in its ad

You've heard of Corona, Tecate, and Dos Equis, but you should be drinking Modelo. Their dark Bohemian version, Negro Modelo, is a higher priced and good, but the straight Modelo is the best Mexican beer for the money. Also a favorite on hot days.


This beer almost doesn't belong here because it is about the same price point as the big three. It is, however, SIGNIFICANTLY better than them. A lot of bars in these parts have it on tap, and if I am looking for something simple and good and cheap, this is what I order. My first experience with Yuengling was visiting a friend in Buffalo nine years ago. We went out to a dive bar with a friendly bartender with a Cheap Trick tattoo who kept lining up the Yuenglings, which I kept knocking down. Too bad this is the last time I've seen this friend. We really ought to catch up.

Ballantine Ale

Newark grew on the back of its industries, including brewing. At one point Ballantine Ale was one of the biggest beers in America, and by far its most popular ale (as opposed to lager). Like a lot of other industries in Newark, brewing fell too. (The Passaic River being polluted by Union Carbide's production of Agent Orange didn't help matters.) It's now brewed elsewhere, but is sold around here. It tastes like it's made more cheaply than it used to be, but being an ale, has a nice richness that a lot of cheap lagers lack.

Beers You Might Think Are Moneybeers (but aren't)
There are certain local or cheap beers that we all know are garbage, like Milwaukee's Best or Busch Light or Keystone. However, there are others that are more colorful that people like to think are moneybeers, but are just cheap.

Lone Star

I drank my fair share of Lone Star in my days in Texas, but usually only at my local bar, where they were often only $1.25 a bottle. You can't beat those prices. A friend and I joked that Lone Star tasted gritty, like there was a handful of Texas sand in each bottle. We drank it anyway, but Lone Star does not have the requisite quality to make it a moneybeer.

Old Style
"Brewed In God's Country" (more like brewed in the devil's rectum)

Some folks will try to tell you this is a moneybeer, but it tastes like stale goat pee. Can only be justifiably drunk while watching a game at Wrigley Field.

You won't be a stranger to indigestion, that's for sure

Gag-worthy. Tastes like it was fermented in a Detroit pot hole.

The beer is even more offensive than this ad

This once great beer is a crime against beer. I bought a 12 pack in college once because it was only four bucks. There was a reason for that.