Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A day on jury duty

Had to go in for jury duty the other day. They bring in maybe 100 people and put them all in a waiting room until a judge asks for a group (anywhere from a dozen to 30) for a jury pool. My name never got called. Went in at 8, got dismissed at 4:30, the check (12 bucks!) is in the mail.

Three things you might not know about Mecklenburg County jury duty:

-- They show movies! On two big-screen TVs! The day I was there featured a battling-with-mental-illness twin bill: "A Beautiful Mind" and "Radio."

-- If you're still there in the afternoon, you get free popcorn to go along with the movie.

-- If you'd rather skip the flicks, there's a quiet room where you can read, knit, doze, etc. That's where I spent most of the day.

At one point, somebody in one of the movies let out a horrifying scream that we could hear all the way in the quiet room.

There was silence for a moment. Then a guy one row behind me said: "Oh, no. They killed a juror."

Jury-duty humor. You can't beat it.

Add your tales of jury service, civic duty and long hours in waiting rooms below.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Ranking the songs about states

My column in Wednesday's paper (look for it at is about state songs -- not the official songs, but songs ABOUT states. The song that might play in your head when you're on your way back home.

(And before we start: "New York, New York" is a fine song. But it's about a city, not a state. Same goes for "New York State of Mind.")

Here's the top 20. Comments open below -- feel free to add to the list, disparage my picks, argue about the best version of "Jersey Girl," etc.

20. "Indiana Wants Me" (R. Dean Taylor). A nice cheery song about a fugitive who'll never see his family again. I promise, it gets happier from here. (Jim Nabors doing "Back Home Again in Indiana" would make the list if you ever heard it outside the Indy 500.)

19. "North To Alaska" (Johnny Horton). Possible marketing lyric for McDonald's: Where the river is winding / big nuggets they're finding.

18. "Pennsylvania 6-5000" (Glenn Miller). OK, it's more about the telephone exchange than the state. But we have liberal rules around here. Don't wanna wear pants? Fine with us.

17. "My Own Private Idaho" (B-52's). I'm going to go out on a limb and say it: This is the best song ever written with "Idaho" in the title.

16. "Louisiana, 1927" (Randy Newman). There's a flood. People get wiped out. The government doesn't seem to care. Sound familiar?

15. "Mississippi Queen" (Mountain). Mississippi queen. You know what I mean. Somehow that's all that needs to be said.
Honorable mention: "Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man," the Loretta Lynn / Conway Twitty duet that would've taken care of both states.

14. "Rocky Mountain High" (John Denver). The only artist to put two songs on the list. If he had lived a little longer, he would've come up with the great Delaware song, I just know it.

13. "All My Ex's Live in Texas" (George Strait). Honorable mention: "Yellow Rose of Texas," "T for Texas," "Texas Flood," and Lyle Lovett's great "That's Right (You're Not From Texas)."

12. "Ohio" (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young). A whole protest movement summed up in three minutes.

11. "Jersey Girl" (Bruce Springsteen). Tom Waits wrote it, but Bruce made it his. I believe it's the last song on his live box set.

10. "Moonlight In Vermont" (lots of artists). This was a standard among the vocalists in the '40s and '50s -- Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Rosemary Clooney all gave it a try. (I found a great version once on a CD by R&B singer Walter Jackson.) Trivia fact of the day: Every verse in the song is a haiku.

9. "Blue Moon of Kentucky" (Bill Monroe). One of the holy texts of bluegrass -- although (sacrilege alert) Elvis does it better. In fact, the King owns the daily double in Kentucky music -- just pair this one with "Kentucky Rain."

8. "California Dreamin'" (The Mamas and the Papas). Barely the best in a really strong field. Honorable mention: "California Girls," "Hotel California," "California Love" (Tupac in the house!).

7. "Rocky Top" (The Osborne Brothers). This sort of violates the rule -- Rocky Top is a part of the state, not the state itself -- but once you've heard the University of Tennessee band play this 47,000 times in one football game, you can't pick anything else.
Honorable mention: "Tennessee Waltz," "Tennessee Stud."

6. "Take Me Home, Country Roads" (John Denver). Every once in awhile I refer to the Unholy Trinity of music: Diamond, Manilow and Denver. But in a weak moment, I'll admit that this song is pretty damn beautiful. West Virginia should be proud.

5. "Hawaii Five-O." No TV theme has ever sounded cooler, with the possible exception of "Jonny Quest."

4. "Oklahoma" (from the Broadway show). The main thing you notice about this list is that the upper Midwest gets no love. Would it have killed Rodgers and Hammerstein to call their musical "South Dakota!"? It's even the same number of syllables!

3. "Sweet Home Alabama" (Lynyrd Skynyrd). Actually, Skynyrd was from Florida. But they had a lot of Jack Daniels on the tour bus back then. So it sort of makes sense. And either way, that's one killer guitar lick.
Honorable mention: "Stars Fell Over Alabama," "Alabama Getaway."

2. "Carolina In My Mind" (James Taylor). Hard to believe this song came out almost 40 years ago. Either James Taylor recorded it when he was 6, or we're all gettin' old.
Honorable mention: "Carolina Girls" ("best in the world...")

1. "Georgia On My Mind" (Ray Charles). Hey, I'm from Georgia -- what did you expect me to pick? Where I came from, we just called this the national anthem.
(But still: what a song, right?)
Honorable mention: "Midnight Train to Georgia" (GREAT song), "Rainy Night in Georgia" (really good song), "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" (OK song), "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" (um, let's just move on to the comments now...)