Wednesday, October 29, 2014

#MadBum


A Game 7 I'd rather not have seen

The way I'm wired, it really is best if I head into tonight's Game 7 thinking that the Giants are going to lose.  Rationally, I know that there's very little to the notion of "momentum" in baseball.  But all you have to do is look at the historical record to see that the last road team to win a Game 7 in the World Series was the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1979.  The Giants failed to do it in 2002, and after they'd lost Game 6 in the most excruciating manner possible, I didn't even entertain the possibility that they'd win Game 7.

And heck, the year before that, Mariano Rivera suffered through the one notable postseason failure of his career, failing to save Game 7 against the Arizona Diamondbacks.  And if Mariano Freaking Rivera can't overcome Game 7 on the road, what chance do mere mortals have?

In my lifetime, the Giants have lost three Game Sevens - in 1962, when I was two years old, and Willie McCovey hit the legendary scorching line drive with runners in scoring position, right into the glove of Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson.  Fortunately from my point of view, I was but two years old at the time so it doesn't bother me that much.  Then there was 1987 in the National League Championship Series against St. Louis, after Dave Dravecky ended up on the short end of a 1-0 nailbiter in Game 6.  Atlee Hammaker couldn't get the job done (and that's probably being charitable) in the finale, and there was little to no drama in the game.  And of course, 2002.  We broke the curse in the 2012 NLCS, so at least there is some precedent for the Giants winning one.  However, that was at home.

So on the mound tonight, we have Tim Hudson.  Tim Hudson has had a great career.  It's probably not a Hall of Fame career, but it would be more than good enough to get him into the "Hall of the Very, Very Good," if there was such a thing.  If we had 2001 or 2002 Tim Hudson pitching tonight, I'd feel a lot differently about this game.  But the rules require us to play 2014 Tim Hudson, so one can only hope that it's the Tim Hudson who pitched 7 or so very effective innings against the Nationals in the 18-inning epic.  Of course, that's also probably the only good game he's pitched in quite a while.

So I head into tonight with low expectations, but don't judge me harshly - from there, there's nowhere to go but up.  And if Barry Zito could grasp one last gasp of magic to stave off the Cardinals in 2012, there's no reason why his former Athletics teammate Tim Hudson can't do it tonight.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

World Serious - Getting Ready for Game 6

You know it's a big one when you start getting nervous at 10 a.m. for a game that begins just after 5 p.m.

On the one hand, Giants fans really have nothing at all to complain about, even if they don't win the World Series.  If you had told me, at any point during this season (or at least after the team went into its summer swoon after once having had a 9-game lead over the Dodgers) that the Giants would be one game away from winning the World Series, I probably would have laughed out loud.

But here we are, and since we are just one game away from winning the World Series, we might as well win it, right?

From my point of view, it's both good and bad that we're playing the Royals.  Along with the Red Sox and the A's, the Royals have long been one of my favorite American League teams, and (I checked last night) I still have the entire Game 7 of the 1985 World Series on an old VHS tape.  For those of you too young (or too old) to remember, the Royals returned home for Game 6 in that World Series too, and proceeded to win it in about as dramatic a fashion as possible - scoring two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Cardinals to force a Game 7, which was an 11-0 rout whose most dramatic moment was a meltdown on the mound from Joaquin Andujar that, if memory serves, was his last notable appearance in a baseball game.

When that happened, I was a waiter at Chuck's Steak House of Hawaii, and I clearly remember celebrating quite loudly when the Royals pulled out Game 6.  It felt great at the time, but I'd really hate to be on the opposite side of that equation.  Of course, the Giants have been there before, suffering through a meltdown for the ages in Game 6 of the 2002 World Series against the Angels.  But on the bright side, we did head to Philadelphia in the 2010 NLCS and pulled out a thriller in Game 6, but on the other hand we went back to St. Louis in 1987 with a 3-2 lead and came back home empty-handed.

You can see where my mind goes with this stuff.  Predictions are silly in a game of this magnitude, but you've got to like our chances if for no other reason that we've got a core group of guys who have been there before and are not likely to allow a little pressure to take them off their game.  And we've got Jake Peavy on the mound, and while he certainly hasn't looked unbeatable for most of the postseason, he's certainly got the right attitude.

So let's just get it on - Play Ball!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Your National League Champion San Francisco Giants

It never gets old.

You can add Travis Ishikawa, Michael Morse and Joe Panik to the annals of Giants history, "Unlikely Heroes" wing.


And now we head to the World Series that all the experts predicted on the eve of the play-in games, the San Francisco Giants vs. the Kansas City Royals.

This will be interesting, and fun.  I can't work up a lot of hatred for the Royals, because I always liked them when I was growing up, and George Brett remains one of my all-time favorite players.

The Royals are white hot right now.  But so are the Giants. 

There was a time when I could have written up a position-by-position analysis for the Series, but that time is long past.  I watch the Giants almost every night, but it's been years since I've been able to talk with any assurance about players that I don't see on a regular basis.  I know very little about this Royals team and these Royals players. 

What I do know is that they swept us in Kansas City in early August, although I don't recall thinking at the time that I was watching a World Series preview.

Three in five years.  At my age, that probably means that I've given up any right to complain about the outcome of my favorite teams in any sport.

Here's hoping we bring home another trophy.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Twin Peaks

So, it's official - Twin Peaks will be returning to television, on Showtime, with 9 episodes directed by David Lynch, in 2016.

So now we have two years to debate the question: is this a good idea?

First things first: I'm comfortable saying that Twin Peaks was a legendary show; in fact, that it was one of the landmarks in the history of the medium.  But such a bold statement comes with a very major caveat.

Consider these lines of dialogue from Blade Runner:

Tyrell: The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long - and you have burned so very, very, brightly Roy.  Look at you: you're the Prodigal Son; you're quite a prize!

Roy Batty: I've done...questionable things.

Tyrell: Also extraordinary things; revel in your time.

If there was ever a show that could be said to have done extraordinary but questionable things in a very short time, Twin Peaks was that show.  I have no qualms whatsoever saying that the first season episodes, and the second season through the resolution of the Laura Palmer storyline, were among the most compelling ever shown on television.  I also have no qualms whatsoever saying that after that, the show went off the rails to such a degree that it was practically unwatchable.  By the time that Lynch was brought back to direct the finale, it was far too late - the images on the screen may have been as visually and aurally thrilling as they ever were, but there was no longer any point to the exercise.  In that sense, the show went from legendary to having jumped the shark in a shorter period of time than any other.

Can you catch lightning in a bottle a second time, 25 years apart?  That is the question that no one can answer today.  And despite having both Lynch and Mark Frost back on board, there's no guarantee that Twin Peaks can once again capture the zeitgeist in a way that True Detective did this year (I for one don't think it's a coincidence that the resurrection of Twin Peaks comes so soon after Detective).

We can only hope, and wish for the best.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Sportsball Update: It's October, Baby

It was the kind of day for which sports bars were created.  Too many games going on at once, and way too many to manage with one television and remote.  But try I did, and it was well worth the effort.

In college football, we might as well call it the day of Katy Perry.  For those of you who missed her surreal and memorable performance on ESPN's College Gameday, it's worth seeking out.  Over the course of 10 or so minutes, she flirted with Lee Corso, declared her crush on Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Trevor Knight, asked about the South Carolina game, "is that the one with the cocks?" and proceeded to outpick all of the Gameday experts.  Then the day ended with a Vine going viral of Perry chugging a beer and diving off of a bar into the crowd in Oxford - which was probably the best possible way to close out one of the craziest days in College Football history.

Then you had Mississippi State taking it to Texas A&M, and all of a sudden looking like one of the best teams in the nation.

Then you had Mississippi completing the daily double and coming from behind to beat Alabama, the closest thing to a CFB dynasty that we've seen this century.

Then you had TCU hanging on at the end to beat Oklahoma, which up until yesterday had been looking a lot like the first couple of teams that Bob Stoops coached.

Then you had Notre Dame holding on against Stanford in a soggy slugfest - an ugly battle that went down to the final round, with the Irish prevailing on points.

Then you had Arizona State shocking USC with three touchdowns in the final four minutes of the game, including the winning TD on what was, in all likelihood, the worst defended Hail Mary pass in the history of College Football.

Then you had Nebraska almost pulling off an amazing comeback on the road against a Michigan State team with one of the stingiest defenses in the land.

Then you had Utah upsetting UCLA in the Rose Bowl, right after UCLA looked to have righted the ship with a dominating performance against Arizona State.

And finally, you had the California Golden Bears prevailing over Washington State 60-59 - and no, it was not an overtime game - despite allowing more than 700 passing yards.

Oh yeah, and then there was the 18-inning painful masterpiece that was the game between the Giants and the Nationals - which proved that "Giants Baseball: Torture!" just might be back as the slogan of the day.  It was a classic pitching duel, raised to legendary status with a) Matt Williams's decision to remove Jordan Zimmerman with two outs in the ninth inning; and b) Yusmeiro Petit's 6-plus innings of one-hit relief for the Giants.  About a), all I'll say is that it shocked me at the time, and that it didn't work out for the Nationals.  About the second, I hardly even know what to say.  But if the Giants go all the way, they'll look back on those six innings as the turning point of their entire postseason.

Can the NFL even hope to match the drama of Saturday?  It's not likely - but I don't mind watching, just to find out.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Friday Mixtape: Johnny Cash, American Recordings

This one dates back to 2004, shortly after I had finally seen the light on the series of Johnny Cash's "American Recordings" albums produced by Rick Rubin.

I bought the first album when it came out and enjoyed it, but not as much as I should have.  And then it wasn't until the day I first heard "Hurt" playing on the stereo system at my favorite record store (the late, great The Beat on J Street in Sacramento) that I knew I had to have that one, too.  And after that, I knew I had to have them all.

If you're a longtime reader, then you know that I think the American Recordings series of albums represents one of the great musical stories of my lifetime.  It's rare that an artist - even a great artist like Cash - is able to write the last chapter of his/her musical legacy the way that Johnny Cash was able to do with Rick Rubin.  Essentially, it was "sing and play whatever you want, and we'll gather the musicians and get the tape rolling." It was a great gift from Rubin to Cash, and ultimately a great gift to all of us.

So this one is pretty simple - I picked out my favorite songs from each of the first four American albums, and there you go.  And back when I was still driving my '97 Honda Accord, I damn near wore this one out.

Johnny Cash - American Recordings, 1994-2003

Delia's Gone
Let the Train Blow the Whistle
Drive On
Thirteen
Oh Bury Me Not
Tennessee Stud
Redemption
Like a Soldier
Rowboat
Sea of Heartbreak
Rusty Cage
Country Boy
Memories Are Made of This
The Kneeling Drunkard's Plea
Mean Eyed Cat
I've Been Everywhere
Solitary Man
Nobody
I See a Darkness
Would You Lay With Me
Before My Time
Country Trash
Mary of the Wild Moor
I'm Leavin' Now
The Man Comes Around
Hurt
First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
Tear Stained Letter
Streets of Laredo
We'll Meet Again

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sportsball Update!

Since we're about to head into the best month for sports of the entire year, it seems like a good time to share some random thoughts about happenings in the sportsball world.

We'll start with what is clearly the most important story in sports right now, that being the California Golden Bears.  No doubt about it, fans with a heart condition (or fans with a special appreciation for defense) should not watch this year's version of the Bears.  Sure, they're highly entertaining, but they're also hazardous to your health.  Last week, it was the Hail Mary in Arizona, made possible only after the team had allowed the Wildcats to score two touchdowns in the span of about 3 minutes.  This week, it was the double-overtime 59-56 survival contest against Colorado,  featuring seven touchdown passes by both quarterbacks. 

Clearly, the "Bear Raid" offense of the Bears can score a lot of points, and it is likely to keep them in every game they play this year.  Progress is clearly being made, and with the two Washington teams coming up in the next couple of weeks, 5-1 is possible.  After that, the Bears face one of the toughest stretches that any team outside the SEC will face this year - currently, 5 of the 6 teams are in the Top 25.  But you know what?  I'll be shocked if we don't beat at least one of them.

And then, we go across the pond to the biennial disaster also known as the Ryder Cup.  If it's late September in an even-numbered year, we must be getting our asses kicked by the Europeans.  And not a lot of it makes sense.  Sure, right now the Europeans have more players at the top of the world Top 50 ranking, but even that doesn't explain the disastrous performance of the Americans in the foursomes (alternate shot) matches year after year after year.  A friend called it "baffling," but you have to wonder whether it calls out a lack of strategic thinking on the part of the U.S. players.  And that could be a function of the courses they have played most of their lives; the majority of which lack the strategic elements that you find on many of the British/European courses.  Whatever the cause, we suck at foursomes.

And let's face it, with Tiger and Phil in full decline mode (and even at their best, they were never world-beaters in the Ryder Cup), the U.S. players near the top of the World 50 ranking are, shall we say, less than intimidating.  At #4 you've got Jim Furyk, as great a guy as one can imagine - but also the player above all others who has demonstrated a glaring inability to close the deal under pressure.  Then there's Bubba Watson, who if it weren't for John Daly would probably win the title of most inconsistent and maddening two-time major winner in golf history.  With Watson, you get all or nothing.  After that there's Matt Kuchar, another great guy but also another guy who is streaky and not likely to strike terror in the hearts of his opponents.  Then, a bunch of young guys like Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler who are definitely on their way up, but who also lack the experience under pressure to dominate in a contest like the Ryder Cup.

As far as I'm concerned, the kerfuffle around the selection of Tom Watson as Captain and Phil Mickelson's backhanded criticism of Watson's strategy in selecting his teams (which admittedly - he even admitted it - was less than stellar) is a red herring.  Hell, pick me as Captain, and I'll make the smart choices in the team play, as well as in the singles.  In the end that doesn't mean a damn thing, because the Captain isn't out there making the shots.

How about some baseball?  Can the Giants continue their streak of winning World Series in the even-numbered years of this decade?  It certainly doesn't seem likely, but hell - this is the streakiest team in the world, and all it takes to win a title is to get hot at the right time.  There's really no dominant team this year, and you can make a decent case for about six of the teams in the postseason.  Should be fun.

And finally, the San Francisco 49ers.  Jim Harbaugh may be in Michigan by this time next year, and Colin Kaepernick may look like he has no idea what he's doing out there about half the time, but a win against one of the three remaining undefeated teams in the league is nothing to sneeze at.  They could be (and probably should be) 4-0, but there's a lot of football yet to play and after four weeks it seems pretty clear that every team in the league (with the possible exception of the Raiders) is capable of beating one of the others.

And it's almost October...where the fun really begins.

LP of the Week - "Willy and the Poorboys" (1969)

"Willy and the Poorboys" was the THIRD album released by Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1969.  Just wrap your head around that fact for a while.  Nowadays, artists that release an album a year (and frankly I can't think of any, off the top of my head) are called "prolific."  But Creedence wasn't like any other band, and back around that time they enjoyed one of the most artistically fruitful 24 months (or so) that a band has ever had.

The album clocks in at an economical 34 minutes, and it's really more like 29 since "Poorboy Shuffle" and "Side o' the Road" are not much more than filler.  But it makes the most of that half hour, featuring four bonafide rock classics ("Down on the Corner," "Fortunate Son," "Don't Look Now (It Ain't You or Me)," and "It Came Out of the Sky") two classic covers ("Cotton Fields" and "The Midnight Special") and two side closers that prove that Fogerty could stretch it out a bit and still stay true to the Creedence sound ("Feelin' Blue" and "Effigy").  Add it all up together, and it's an album that richly deserves its status as one of the all-time greats.

Some quick fun facts:

- I got the album for my birthday when I was in fifth grade.

- My youngest brother (who was four years old at the time) loved "Down on the Corner," and liked to listen to it on my transistor radio with the single earplug stuck in his ear.  If my parents knew how loud he liked it, I doubt they would have been very happy.

The only perfect Creedence albums are the two "Chronicle" collections, but it's a fair statement to say that they never released a bad one and came through with at least three enduring classics.  "Willy and the Poor Boys" is one of them.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Friday Mixtape: "Abel and Cain: Jackson Browne and Warren Zevon"


The origin of this one was Jackson Browne’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  That night, Bruce Springsteen gave a memorable induction speech, which included the following passage:

“The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson, they gave us California as paradise and Jackson Browne gave us Paradise Lost. Now I always imagine, what if Brian Wilson, long after he’d taken a bite of that orange the serpent offered to him, what if he married that nice girl in Caroline No? I always figured that she was pregnant anyway, and what if he moved into the valley and had two sons? One of them would have looked and sounded just like Jackson Browne. Cain, of course, would have been Jackson's brother in arms, Warren Zevon. We love ya, Warren. But, Jackson to me, Jackson was always the tempered voice of Abel. Toiling in the vineyards, here to bear the earthly burdens, confronting the impossibility of love, here to do his father’s work. Jackson's work was really California pop gospel.”

It’s not as if I needed an excuse to create a Jackson Browne/Warren Zevon mixtape, given that they’re both on my short list of pantheon artists, but Bruce’s speech was all the incentive I needed.  It doesn’t have a date on it, but I’m guessing sometime in late 2004.

Abel & Cain: Jackson Browne and Warren Zevon

Doctor My Eyes
Redneck Friend
Desperados Under the Eaves
Poor Poor Pitiful Me
Late for the Sky
Before the Deluge
Carmelita
Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner
Lawyers, Guns and Money
The Pretender

Running on Empty
Sentimental Hygiene
Lawyers in Love
In the Shape of a Heart
Bad Karma
The Indifference of Heaven
Sky Blue and Black
I Was in the House When the House Burned Down
My Ride’s Here
The Naked Ride Home

Sunday, September 21, 2014

LP of the Week - The "King" Kong Compilation

It's not quite in mint condition, but I suspect that "The "King" Kong Compilation" is one of the most valuable albums I own.  Currently, Amazon.com is listing 3 new copies available on CD, starting at $206.  I've looked for a CD version myself for years, to no avail.  Finally, I just went ahead and converted each song on the album to MP3 format, so I could listen to it on my iPod.

Why the album has virtually fallen off the face of the Earth is a mystery, because there's no question that it's one of the handful of landmark compilations ever compiled. A collection of reggae recordings produced by legendary producer Leslie Kong from 1968 to 1970, it features most of the early reggae legends - Desmond Dekker, The Maytals, The Melodians, The Pioneers, Delroy Wilson, Bruce Ruffin.  About the only major Kong artists not represented on the album are The Wailers and Jimmy Cliff, and they really aren't missed - the songs are that strong.

Track Listing:

Israelites - Desmond Dekker and the Aces
Monkey Girl - The Maytals
Sweet Sensation - The Melodians
Freedom Street - Ken Boothe
Let Them Talk - Tyrone Evans
Samfie Man - The Pioneers
It's My Delight - The Melodians
Peeping Tom - The Maytals



Rivers of Babylon - The Melodians
Gave You My Love - Delroy Wilson
Bitterness of Life - Bruce Ruffin
Night Flight (Sentimental Journey) - Ansell Collins
Long Shot Kick de Bucket - The Pioneers
It Mek - Desmond Dekker and the Aces
Why Baby Why - Ken Boothe
Monkey Man - The Maytals



The best known songs are those that open each side of the album, but it's really not a stretch to say that every song on here is great - no exceptions.  It's impossible to listen to it without feeling better, about music, or just life in general. 



The "King" Kong Compiliation: a great, great album.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Friday Mixtape: Bob Dylan

Now, this one was damn near impossible.  Doing The Beatles was really hard, and they were making music for less than a decade.  Dylan?  Try 50-plus years.

I wanted to include at least some representation from each phase of his career, but as you'll see below, ended up pretending that the years between "Blood on the Tracks" (1975) and "Good As I Been To You" (1992) didn't exist.  That's probably unfair, but you tell me which of these songs to drop in order to throw in "Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar" or "Every Grain of Sand."

Here we go - 87 minutes of Bob Dylan:

The Times They Are-a-Changin'
A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall
Maggie's Farm (live version)
Like A Rolling Stone
Ballad of a Thin Man
Visions of Johanna
Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat
Lay Lady Lay
Knockin' on Heaven's Door
Tangled Up in Blue
Tomorrow Night
Two Soldiers
Cold Irons Bound
High Water (For Charley Patton)
Thunder on the Mountain
Scarlet Town
The Lonesome River (with Ralph Stanley)

How does it feel?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Memo to Page: Listen to Plant

Every few issues or so of Rolling Stone, there seems to be a story about a potential Led Zeppelin reunion.  The narrative usually has Jimmy Page at the forefront, making the pitch to bring the band together - although it's rarely clear on whether he's talking about producing new material or giving the old warhorses another run around the track.  The next chapter is usually Robert Plant, expressing some level of dismay about Jimmy wanting to turn back the clock, and sometimes sharing a story about making an offer to collaborate on acoustic material, or some other non-Zeppelin related project.

When I listen to "lullaby and...The Ceaseless Roar," the new album from Plant, I completely understand his resistance - why would he ever want to return to the world of Zeppelin, with the unrealistic expectations that would accompany such a venture (not to mention the fact that Led Zeppelin without John Bonham...well, you get the gist), when he's got such a worthwhile and great thing going on with his own music?

And make no bones about it - "lullaby and...The Ceaseless Roar" is a fully realized, almost entirely successful album that stakes a claim for Robert Plant as "the most successful solo artist from a legendary band" of the rock era.  By my count, it's his third consecutive triumph, following his collaboration with Alison Krauss and "Band of Joy," the album he made during his relationship with Patty Griffin.  "lullaby" sounds completely different than those two works, and paints a picture of an artist capable of absorbing every genre with which he comes into contact.  On some songs there is a middle eastern feel, on others you hear bits and pieces of what sound like old American folk songs, and on still others he comes across as the greatest crooner of our age.

Although this is clearly Plant's album, it is also a collaboration, with the members of the band he is calling the "Sensational Space Shifters."  On songs like "Pocketful of Golden" and "Embrace Another Fall," there is an understated power to the music (and mystery - sounding like there is a lot at stake here), as if it were a powerful animal being held back by a masterful ringleader.  The sound of the album is also a key to its success, and it wasn't surprising to see Tchad Blake's name show up in the credits, having mixed 8 of the album's 11 tracks.  The sound has a depth and fullness to it that recalls Blake's earlier work with Los Lobos.

We're not likely to see the end of the Zeppelin rumors in our lifetime, but when you can make an album this good that is completely in the spirit of that great band's work, then why bother with a reunion?

NFL Postscript

Well, it's official - per my question in yesterday's post, it is now clear that the Minnesota Vikings have no idea what they're doing.  Having said that, this time they got it right and made the correct decision.  And it's notable that this time around, the team's statement was signed by the team owners.

So now I guess the remaining question is: what are the 49ers doing with Ray McDonald?  Whatever the NFL's equivalent of "administrative leave with pay" is, seems like it would be a good approach right now.  And if they truly believe he is innocent of the charges that have been leveled against him...well, they'd better be right.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The NFL: What happens now?

You know things are not going well for the NFL when the two words you hear most often during the pre- and post-game shows are not "completed pass," but "due process."  And what has become painfully clear over the last week is that the network-employed NFL talking heads are spectacularly unprepared to deal with issues like spousal and child abuse.  Which shouldn't really be a surprise, since so many of them struggle just to have an intelligent conversation about football.

Abuse of women?  Child abuse? These issues are so big that it really makes you wonder whether predictions in the past from the likes of Malcolm Gladwell - that football is on a slow road to its own destruction - have a chance of becoming reality.  And that's before you even start talking about the long-term issues associated with brain injuries and other physical injuries that are leaving increasing numbers of players disabled (or close to it) and unable to lead normal lives after their retirement.

With respect to long-term impact and potential change, the most significant thing that's happened in the past few days may be the warning from Anheuser-Busch that was made public today:

We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season. We are not yet satisfied with the league’s handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code. We have shared our concerns and expectations with the league.

We've heard over and over again since last week that one primary reason the owners would stick with Roger Goodell as Commissioner - even those who might privately question his handling of the Ray Rice matter in particular - is that he has done more than any other commissioner to expand the bottom line.  But if that bottom line is threatened by a company currently dropping a cool billion into the league's coffers, that's bound to make some owners take notice.  And it's also bound to make other companies more likely to make their views known.

It seems to me that Goodell is damaged goods from this point on, and would probably be doing the league a favor by voluntarily stepping down.  Condoleezza Rice has been the name mentioned most often as a potential successor who might lead the league out of the morass, but at this point I'd be happy with anyone with a solid management pedigree who might be capable of looking at these issues in a different light - with a different approach.

And can someone explain to me what the Minnesota Vikings think they are doing?  What happened between Sunday and Monday (aside from a horrific home loss) that changed their approach to the Adrian Peterson issue?  If they believed in due process, why did they inactivate him for Sunday's game?  And if they're truly committed to taking a moral stand, then why did they reinstate him on Monday? It just doesn't make sense.

And at the end of the day, I know that none of this is really going to threaten the NFL's popularity, judging by the numbers from the first two weeks of play.  It hasn't stopped me from watching the games.  But there's got to be a tipping point somewhere, and wherever that is, we've got to be pretty close to it.

Monday, September 15, 2014

LP of the Week - "Hotter Than July," Stevie Wonder (1980)


Just as a reminder, the posts in this category are about an album that I own only on vinyl.

If you asked a random music fan to name what he/she thought was Stevie Wonder's best album, I'm sure one of the first you'd hear would be "Songs in the Key of Life."  No doubt there would be a few "Innervisions," some "Talking Book," and probably "Music of My Mind."  I doubt that many people would say "Hotter than July," but today we're going to try and do something about that.  And don't get me wrong; even I wouldn't say that "Hotter than July" is his greatest work.  But what I am saying is that it belongs on any short list of great Stevie, and is in fact my favorite Stevie Wonder album.

From start to finish, with absolutely no roadblocks along the way, "Hotter than July" is classic Stevie Wonder.  It's got great dance tunes ("Did I Hear You Say You Love Me," "I Ain't Gonna Stand For It," "As If You Read My Mind"), it's got great political tunes ("Cash In Your Face," "Happy Birthday"), it's got an all-time tear jerker ("Lately"), and it's got  "Master Blaster (Jammin')," a Bob Marley tribute that I'm convinced, nearly 35 years later, is one of his greatest songs.

And the band?  Just absolutely smoking hot.  Particularly in his latter career, Stevie was one of those guys (like John Fogerty) who liked to do it all himself, sometimes to the detriment of the songs themselves.  But here, he is accompanied by a classic band, the core being Nathan Watts on bass, Benjamin Bridges on guitar and Dennis Davis on drums.  And they are awesome - driving each song well past its limits.

You could almost call this Stevie's "Tattoo You" - the last great album from an indisputably great artist.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Did you hear? U2 has a new album

It's pretty clear after a few days that the big story surrounding U2's new album, "Songs of Innocence," isn't the music itself but the manner in which it was released.  For those who have been living under a rock or vacationing where the Wi-Fi don't go, the album showed up in the "Purchased" section of everyone with an iTunes library on Tuesday, there for the taking with a few quick clicks or touches.  And the way some people have reacted, you would have thought that Bono himself had broken into everyone's house, and slid a copy of the new one into the CD cabinet of everyone with a music collection.

Consider the reaction from Pitchfork:

"U2 being U2, they’ve taken that strategy one step over the line into indisputably queasy territory, aligning with their old friends Apple to insert their new album, Songs of Innocence, into all of our libraries without consent. By updating the old Columbia House Record Club scam to the digital age, U2 and their Cupertino buddies have created a new avenue of opt-out cultural transmission, removing even the miniscule effort it takes to go to a website and click “Download.”

First of all, someone needs to explain to me how what U2 and Apple did last week is like  "the old Columbia House Record Club scam."  If memory serves, the way that worked was that you paid a penny for 12 albums, and then you got one in the mail each month that you could either pay for or send back unopened and unbought.  Based on what I've heard from folks who were actually a member, more often than not the album coming each month was not likely to be one that you wanted to keep.  But unless I've missed something, there's no obligation at all with the U2 album.   I wasn't even obligated to download it, and I'm presuming that for those who don't, it will just as magically disappear from the iTunes library on the day that it goes on sale in more traditional formats.

So the whole thing strikes me as silly, and it makes me wonder how many folks complaining about having U2 in their library have readily agreed to throw their privacy away through the download of insidious apps that require access to so much of one's online identity.  It also makes me wonder whether the heartburn is more about the dislike of so many for Bono as a public figure.  And that, folks, is an old story.  Bono has been a pretentious twit for much of the band's history, but I've never found that a healthy skepticism for Bono as public figure needed to spill over into the consideration of their music.

So what about the music?  Well, the Pitchfork pan and the Rolling Stone rave don't come as a surprise, because the band isn't exactly plowing new ground on "Songs of Innocence."  There's very little experimentation, either in the instrumentation or in the production.  It sounds very much like the classic U2 sound that longtime fans will remember from the mid-1980s - and as far as I'm concerned, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.  In fact, I think this is clearly the band's best album since at least "All You Can't Leave Behind" from 2001, and perhaps going all the way back to "Achtung Baby" a decade before that.

It seems to me that, at a certain point, a band earns the right to do whatever it wants.  And if U2 wants to return to the basic sound that defined the period of their greatest artistic success - and does it well - then I say more power to them.  And while the album is still sinking in, songs like "Every Breaking Wave," "Song for Someone," and "Cedarwood Road" sound about as good as anything they've ever recorded.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I've never been a fan of their most experimental efforts, and think that "Zooropa" and "Pop" are the worst albums of their long career.  So if you like that vein of their work and those albums, I can see where you might see it differently.

And the controversy over the unconventional release?  There are a lot more important things to get upset about right now.