Monday, January 19, 2015

Epic Losses

When you're a sports fan(atic), you know that over the course of your life you're going to see your favorite teams/favorite athletes lose more often than they win.  Even if your favorite team is the New York Yankees, and your favorite athlete is Tiger Woods.  Inevitably and inexorably the losses pile up, making it necessary over time to develop defensive mechanisms - "it's only a game," "we'll get 'em next time," "tomorrow is another day."  For most losses, that works.

And then there are what I call the epic losses.  Those are different.

An epic loss haunts you.  During the course of a normal day, when nothing is occupying your time or your attention, you begin to think about it, how things might have gone differently...if just...one/three/five plays had gone differently.  If the Giants could have gotten ONE MORE OUT in the seventh inning.  If the Kings had gotten the rebound.  If Phil Mickelson had left the driver in the bag.  If Roger Craig hadn't fumbled.  If an epic loss is bad enough, you will wake up in the middle of the night, and the first thought that jumps into your head will be the game.  You might see visions of Robert Horry striking a dagger (in the form of a basketball) straight into your heart, and every time the dagger finds its mark.

No doubt about it, yesterday's Green Bay defeat at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks was an epic loss.  And it doesn't matter that Green Bay is one of the storied franchises in all of sports, with a rich championship tradition.  Even with that rich history of success, there's no doubt in my mind that there were hundreds, if not thousands, of Packers fans for whom sleep came slowly last night.  They played the game over in their minds.  Why didn't we go for it on 4th and Goal?  How could we have fallen for that fake field goal?  Why didn't that guy who intercepted Russell Wilson's pass with barely five minutes left in the game keep on running?  What the hell was Mike McCarthy thinking with those play calls?  And why did Brandon Bostick even try to catch the onside kick when he was in there to block?  And how, after looking like Ryan Lindley for nearly the entire game, did Russell Wilson suddenly morph into the next coming of Joe Montana?

That was an epic loss, no doubt.  Here's a few of them that haunted me:

- The "Immaculate Reception" game, Raiders lose to Pittsburgh on the last play of the game, just one of the most famous plays in NFL history.

- On the same day, for crying out loud (12/23/72), the 49ers lose to Dallas 30-28, after having led 28-16 at the two-minute warning.  That takes some doing.

- Game 6, 2002 World Series.  More I cannot and will not say.

- 1990 NFC Championship Game.  49ers lose to the New York Giants 15-13 after Roger Craig fumbles on what would have been a game-closing drive.

- 1983 NFC Championship Game.  People forget this game (see above picture), but this one really hurt.  The 49ers were down to the Washington Redskins (in D.C.) 21-0 heading into the fourth quarter, when suddenly Montana got hot, and before you knew it, the game was tied at 21.  You could hear a pin drop at RFK, and there was no way we were going to lose that game.  Until, that is, we suffered three consecutive questionable pass interference calls, enough to put Mark Moseley in range for the winning FG.  Thank you again, Raiders, for kicking the Redskins' ass in the Super Bowl two weeks later.

And of course, Game 4 of the 2002 NBA Western Conference Finals, which was really the NBA Finals that year.  There's a reason Sports Illustrated chose that series as the best playoff series of the entire decade.  Game 7 was decided in overtime, and it was only the third (or fourth) best game of the series.  In fact, you could make an argument that the series closed with four consecutive epic losses.  Unfortunately, the Kings were on the losing end of three of them.  And nothing was ever the same in Sacramento.

So I wish I had some calming and hopeful words today for fans of the Green Bay Packers.  But I don't.  Sorry, but this one is going to hurt for a long, long time.

That is the nature of epic losses.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

Every movie I saw for the first time in 2014

Either via the old-fashioned way, or on Netflix (which is fast becoming the old-fashioned way).

My most highly recommended films are denoted with (**).  But there's a lot of good ones here. 

Shame
Much Ado About Nothing**
The Place Beyond the Pines
Blue Jasmine
Hyde Park on Hudson
The Debt**
The Butler
Don Jon
The Lone Ranger
Austenland
Wuthering Heights
Ender's Game
Red 2
The Fifth Estate
Half Nelson
Sapphire (1959)
The Sunset Limited
Rush
Captain Phillips**
God Grew Tired of Us
Dallas Buyers Club**
Saving Mr. Banks
Nebraska**
All is Lost**
Philomena
The Invisible Woman
Frozen
12 Years a Slave**
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
Syriana**
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty**
Fruitvale Station**
Coco Before Chanel
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
The Spectacular Now**
The Monuments Men
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Tim's Vermeer
August: Osage County
3 Days to Kill
In a World...**
Enough Said**
Kill Your Darlings
Almost Famous
The Company You Keep
Only Lovers Left Alive**
The Lego Movie
Noah**
Muppets Most Wanted
The Railway Man**
Persepolis**
Winter's Tale
The Lunchbox**
Obvious Child**
Belle**
The Fault In Our Stars
Becoming Jane
The Grand Budapest Hotel **
Locke**
Non-Stop
Wadjda**
The Book Thief
Starter for 10**
In a Better World
Two Lovers**
Snowpiercer**
Killing Them Softly
12 Angry Men**
The Trip to Italy**
Olympus Has Fallen
Roman Holiday
Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day
20 Feet from Stardom
Panic Room
Interstellar**
The Company Men
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
Blackfish
Zoolander
To the Wonder
Inside Llewyn Davis**
Her**
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire**
X-Men: Days of Future Past
Captain America: The Winter Soldier**
Edge of Tomorrow**
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes**
Guardians of the Galaxy**
Under the Skin**
Birdman**
Foxcatcher**
Top 5
The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My Favorite Albums of 2014

And with one exception, they're all pictured at right.

1. "English Oceans," Drive-By Truckers.  DBT fills the role in my living pantheon formerly filled by Warren Zevon.  Everything they release is very good to great, and they're probably never going to hit the mainstream.  But that's OK, although it would be nice if the band didn't have to tour 200 nights a year to make a living.

Of the group's songwriters, Patterson Hood has always been the alpha dog, but "English Oceans" is Mike Cooley's triumph.  Without a doubt, this is the strongest set of songs he's ever penned for a DBT album, and for the first time Cooley has as many songs on an album as Hood (also for the first time, he even sings a Hood-penned tune).  "Shit Shots Count," Primer Coat," "Made Up English Oceans," and "Hearing Jimmy Loud" were all instant classics.

And the Hood songs?  They took a little longer to sink in, but after months of listening it's clear that they're pretty damn good too - with at least one ("Grand Canyon") that will surely end up in his own personal Hall of Fame.

2. "Songs of Innocence," U2.  The only album not pictured above, because as the entire world knows by now, it just ended up on my iPod one day.  Personally I think the controversy over that move was overblown, but after a while to think about it, I can see the point of those who criticized the move.  And what got lost in the shuffle (iPod joke not intended) was that this was the best U2 album in years.  Did they break any new ground?  Probably not.  But they did release the best crafted set of tunes they've come up with in at least 25 years.   That's good enough for me.

3. "Singles," Future Islands.  Like a lot of other people, I was introduced to the band via their amazing performance on Letterman.  And while a lot of this album makes me nostalgic for the 1980s, there's no doubting that Samuel T. Herring and his bandmates know exactly what they're doing.  Fast songs, dance songs, ballads - it all works quite nicely.

4. "Plain Spoken," John Mellencamp.   I wrote about the album here.  Iconic stuff.

5. "Most Messed Up," Old 97s.  See review here, where I called it a "messed up masterpiece."

6. "Tarpaper Sky," Rodney Crowell.  What a songwriter.  Original review here.

7. "The River and the Thread," Rosanne Cash.  When this came out, I thought it might end up at #1, but I was struck by something Robert Christgau said in his review - that the album was lacking in passion.  There's no doubting that this is an excellent album, but I can also see why he said that.  However, at least two major exceptions - "A Feather's Not a Bird," and "When the Master Calls," the great Civil War ballad she wrote with John Leventhal and Rodney Crowell.

8. "High Hopes," Bruce Springsteen.  A lot of good to great tunes here, but after living with it for nearly a year, I can't escape the conclusion that it's less than the sum of its parts.  And I'm sorry, but the Tom Morello contributions detract just as often as they add to the power of the music.

9. "Somewhere Under Wonderland," Counting Crows.  This could continue to move up with time, but the band was clearly energized by their last, covers-only effort.

10. "Platinum," Miranda Lambert.  By the time she is done, she's going to be right up there with some really, really famous country singers.

11. "Voyager," Jenny Lewis.  Pretty darn close to being a perfect pop album.

Subjects for further research: Bryan Ferry's "Avonmore," The New Pornographers' "Brill Bruisers."

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Musical Advent Calendar, Christmas Eve - Darlene Love!



You knew it was going to end with this, right?  Still trying to wrap my head around the fact that we'll never see it again.

"Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)," Darlene Love.

Musical Advent Calendar, Day 23 - Andy Williams



To this day, one of the greatest Christmas albums, and one of the greatest performances of one of the greatest Christmas songs.

"O Holy Night," Andy Williams.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Musical Advent Calendar, Day 21 and 22 - Sting and Paul Simon

It seems only appropriate, since the old guys are now a touring staple as a team.



"Getting Ready for Christmas Day," Paul Simon



"Christmas at Sea," Sting

Which almost brings the calendar up to date.

Musical Advent Calendar, Day 19 and 20 - Jimmy Fallon, The Roots, One Direction and Mariah Carey



"Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town," Jimmy Fallon, The Roots and One Direction



"All I Want For Christmas Is You," Jimmy Fallon, The Roots and Mariah Carey

Whether Jimmy Fallon will be able to sustain the good cheer that defines his "Tonight Show" over a period of years remains to be seen, but for now it's a hoot to watch.  And few of his bits define that mood more than his "Musical Numbers on Childhood Instruments" videos.  Here are a couple of classics.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Musical Advent Calendar, Day 18 - Montgomery Gentry



With their great cover of Robert Earl Keen's great song, "Merry Christmas from the Family."

Musical Advent Calendar, Day 17 - Elton John!



In honor of Sir Elton John's wedding, we bring you his great Christmas song, "Step into Christmas" - clearly, an homage to Phil Spector's legendary Christmas album.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Musical Advent Calendar, Days 13-16: Christmas Time in the City: "Silver Bells," "Skating"

Remember when you were little and had an advent calendar, and about halfway through the month realized, "Holy Cow!  I forgot about the Advent Calendar!"?

No?  That was just me?  Oh well.

To catch up we're going to have to do a little cheating.

From Saturday through Tuesday of last week, I was in San Francisco for a conference.  It was the first time I've been in the city that close to Christmas, and I've never seen it so crowded - with revelers there for "Santa Con," with protestors, with shoppers.  It made it a little difficult to navigate through the heart of the city near Union Square, but at the same time it was a lot of fun.

As I made my way through the crowds, I couldn't get the first lines of "Silver Bells" out of my head:

City sidewalks, busy sidewalks
Dressed in holiday style
In the air there's a feeling of Christmas



"Silver Bells," Brenda Lee

And then, there were the memory invoking tones of Vince Guaraldi's "Skating":



"Skating," Vince Guaraldi Trio

Friday, December 12, 2014

Musical Advent Calendar, Day 12 - Jack Scott



Without a doubt, one of the greatest rock 'n roll Christmas songs.  First time I heard it was in "Diner," and more than 30 years later, I've never tired of it.

"There's Trouble Brewin'," Jack Scott.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Musical Advent Calendar, Day 11 - The Raveonettes



"The Christmas Song."

No, not that "The Christmas Song" - this "The Christmas Song."

Either way, it's awesome.

The Raveonettes.

"The Christmas Song."

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Musical Advent Calendar, Day 10 - Marianne Faithfull and The Chieftains



A great song from the great Christmas album by The Chieftains, "The Bells of Dublin."

"I Saw Three Ships," Marianne Faithfull and The Chieftains.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Sportsman of the Year

I'll try not to toot my own horn too loudly about this, but back on October 30 I wrote a post about the amazing October enjoyed by the San Francisco Giants, one which just happened to include a line predicting that Madison Bumgarner would be Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year.  Indeed, at the time I wrote that he was the obvious (and only) choice.

So I'm happier about this than any sane 54-year old (no comments from the peanut gallery, please) has any right to be.  For someone who started subscribing to SI almost 45 years ago, Sportsman of the Year has always been a big deal to me.  You can ask my mom how I reacted in December 1975 when I came home from school expecting to see Jack Nicklaus on the cover, and found Pete Rose smiling back at me instead.  (Things got a little better three years later when Jack was indeed the man).

I'm not even saying that SI always gets it right - in fact, they probably wish there were a few they could take back after the fact (Sosa and McGwire, perhaps?  Lance Armstrong?).  But for the most part, their selections over the years have been solid - and do in fact include an element of sportsmanship to go along with the purely athletic achievements that play a huge role in winning the award.

What's cool about this from the standpoint of a longtime Giants fan is that it feels almost like the "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" on the historic nature of what the Giants have accomplished - and what Bumgarner accomplished over the course of 29 remarkable days.  Being named Sportsman of the Year places one in very heady company, and there is no shortage of legends up there on that stage - names like Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Billie Jean King, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Derek Jeter, Joe Montana, Peyton Manning, The 1980 Olympic Hockey Team, Jim Ryun, Chris Evert, and all the others.  Great stuff...historic stuff.

So congratulations to Madison Bumgarner...Sportsman of the Year.

Musical Advent Calendar, Day 9 - Harry Connick, Jr.



Let's pick things up a bit, shall we?

I'm quite certain I've posted this one before, but what the heck - it's a classic.  And hard to believe, more than 20 years old now.  Which makes me feel pretty darn old, if you must know.

"It Must Have Been Ol' Santa Claus," Harry Connick, Jr.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Musical Advent Calendar, Day 8 - Mary Gauthier



Not every Christmas song is a happy song, just as Christmas is not a happy time for everyone.

Realistic without seeming overly maudlin, Mary Gauthier does a wonderful job painting the picture of someone for whom that is the case.

"Christmas in Paradise," Mary Gauthier.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Musical Advent Calendar, Day 7 - Baseballs



Rockabilly Christmas!

"Driving Home for Christmas," Baseballs.

Musical Advent Calendar, Day 6 - The Vanishers



The "spending the holidays drinking at the bar" song is a fine tradition and gets a rollicking take here, courtesy of The Vanishers featuring Ginger St. James.

And yes, it's OK to be sexy at Christmas. 

"Christmas Wish at the End of the Bar," The Vanishers featuring Ginger St. James.

Friday, December 05, 2014