Tuesday, September 1, 2015

BBQ/Grill: Mexican Radio

Wall of Voodoo: Mexican Radio [purchase]

I like it when a bunch of things come together to inspire a blog post. We’ve been kicking around the BBQ/Grill theme for much of the summer, but it never made the big time. Now, though, as we head into the unofficial end of the summer in the Northern Hemisphere where, I believe, all of our writers live, it was time. You’d think that there would be tons of songs about barbecuing or grilling, which are different things, and while there are a bunch, there don’t seem to be as many as I thought.

Being a stereotypical man, I enjoy cooking outside. For years, I insisted on using a charcoal grill, but a few years ago, I succumbed to the convenience of propane, and while the old charcoal grill sits next to its gas fueled cousin, I rarely have the patience to light the coals and wait for them to burn down to the appropriate ashy white. But, I do have the patience to use my smoker to slow cook ribs, pork butt and chicken (also, occasionally brisket, which is very hard to get right, leg of lamb, the rare Thanksgiving turkey, and even bacon and pastrami). Again, though, I opt for some convenience, using an electric smoker, rather than a wood, charcoal or pellet based contraption that has more street cred, but also takes more work. No one has yet complained about my food because my hickory, fruitwood, oak, mesquite or pecan chunks are burned by a big electric element. I also make a mean cole slaw and potato salad, and a much loved Memphis-style sauce, from a recipe I found years ago in the well-known barbecue bible, Newsday.

I’ve fired up the grill and the smoker a few times this summer, but starting on the Fourth of July weekend, it has been a bit crazier. That weekend, I smoked ribs and chicken wings and grilled chicken thighs for some friends. Shortly after that, we visited Tennessee and Kentucky and ate a bunch of really good ‘cue, which I didn’t have to cook. On our return, I kicked it into gear. Three weekends ago, we had a big family gathering at our house to celebrate a bunch of milestones, including our anniversary, my in-laws’ 60th anniversary, my father’s birthday and my nephew’s birthday. I did ribs and pulled pork in the smoker and chicken on the grill, although the most memorable thing about that gathering may well be the Tennessee whiskey and bourbon tasting. I didn’t even put away the smoker, because the next weekend was a party for our daughter, a combination late graduation and buen viaje celebration before she left for Barcelona on a one-way ticket. Not knowing exactly who would show up, and how much they would eat, we went overboard with ribs, wings and grilled chicken, along with a ton of sides and salads. And just today, I committed to a little Labor Day BBQ with some old friends, for which I am currently planning the menu (but pulled pork is pretty much a lock). As hard as it is to get everything just right, I enjoy it—the prep, the process, the eating, and, I admit, the praise.

But what song to write about? Nothing really grabbed me, until I remembered this sort-of hit by Wall of Voodoo, “Mexican Radio.” Like most of their songs, it is atmospheric and strange, and includes the memorable line:

I wish I was in Tijuana 
Eating barbecued iguana 

Research has indicated that barbecuing is an accepted way of cooking this large reptile, if not the most popular.

Which brings me to the second thread of this post. I first heard Wall of Voodoo while I was at WPRB—I remember hearing their very odd, ominous cover of "Ring of Fire" (which I thought, erroneously, was a Johnny Cash song). Readers of my work here, and pretty much anyone who knows me, is aware that my 3 and a half semesters working in the basement of Holder Hall has had an outsized influence on me, even if I didn’t go into broadcasting or music. I know that I am far from the only one that the station has affected, and it has been around for a long time. WPRB is currently celebrating its 75th anniversary in operation, making it one of the oldest college stations in the country, and possibly the oldest commercially licensed campus radio station in the nation. In connection with the anniversary, the station’s “educational advisor” (something that the station didn’t have back in my day. And get off my lawn), and others have worked hard to put together a comprehensive history of the station. There is a great blog, wprbhistory.org, on which yours truly is well represented (thanks), and later this month, an exhibit of WPRB history will be opening in the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library on the Princeton campus, somewhere near where my thesis sits, likely unread by any scholars since its deposit there.

If those two threads weren’t enough, as I was thinking about writing this, I looked at The New York Times’ website and saw this story, about the fate of pink iguanas in the Galapagos Islands after the recent eruption of the islands’ tallest volcano. Because if one of those iguanas got too close to some lava, it might find itself like its long-ago eaten relative from “Mexican Radio.”