Saturday, September 30, 2006

"...A Truth Universally Acknowledged"

We finally got around to watching the most recent film version of "Pride and Prejudice" last night, and for those of you who might still be wondering whether it was really necessary that another version of the Jane Austen classic be in existence, the answer is a resounding "yes." Of course it does not go into the same level of detail as the definitive 1995 BBC version - this means you get less of the interplay between Mr. and Mrs. Bennett, which is too bad; but it also means that you get less of Mr. Wickham, which is a good thing - the film still offers a vivid portrait of his duplicity without your having to endure his character.

As Elizabeth, Keira Knightley is luminous - it's a different performance than that of Jennifer Ehle in the 1995 version; less reserved, with the wit and playfulness of the character more on display. The Oscar nomination was well-deserved. Brenda Blethyn also does a nice turn as Mrs. Bennett, as does Judi Dench as Lady Catherine. I'm not quite sure what they were thinking when they cast Donald Sutherland as Mr. Bennett, but he's a good enough actor and it's a great enough character that it doesn't spoil the movie. As Mr. Darcy, Matthew McFadyen is better than I expected given the reviews I remembered, but will not be replacing Colin Firth in the hearts of devotees of the 1995 version.

The cinematography and use of music are specatcular, and the locales are magnificent. All in all, two hours well spent, even if you know the story like the back of your hand.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

And Then There's The Oakland Athletics

Probably the polar opposite of the New York Yankees in terms of team demeanor right now are the Oakland Athletics. I mean that as a compliment, because it is a game, after all; and it’s nice to see players having fun instead of bemoaning “expectations” and generally behaving as if the fate of the world rested on a clean throw from third to first.

Clinching the AL West last night in a rout against Seattle, the A’s played a joyous game. When Milton Bradley crushed a three-run homer early on, he and Nick Swisher went into what looked like a variation of the old Bash Brothers forearm shiver in the dugout, capped by a little dance and what sounded like a rebel yell. I don’t imagine you see that happen too often in the Bronx.

Obviously, the Yankees run their business very efficiently, and they’ve had more success than any sports franchise in history doing it. It’s just nice to see in this day and age that there’s another way to succeed in professional sports.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Can We Just Fast Forward to November And Get It Over With?

With the announcement that Democrat Phil Angelides is going to try and make the war in Iraq a major issue, the desultory campaign for governor of California just took a big step towards knocking the scintillating Gray Davis-Bill Simon shootout of 2002 off its pedestal of having been the state's worst major political campaign of all time.

So far, we've already been treated to a series of commercials where Angelides tries to paint Arnold Schwarzenegger as George W. Bush II, a tactic that I can't imagine is going to have any traction. California voters aren't that dumb, and if anything the ads just make clear that Angelides has little or nothing to offer the state that doesn't appear on the wish list of one of the state's major public employee unions.

And it's not as if Governor Schwarzenegger is setting the world on fire with his vision for a new California. He's obviously a smart guy, and there is something to be said for having an optimist in office, but he's already made it painfully clear that he's unwilling to buck the Republican establishment, a move that's absolutely essential to enacting any kind of reform to the way the state handles key issues such as education funding, taxes, and immigration.

At this juncture, it's hard to imagine that the campaign could get any worse, but there's almost two months left, so I'm sure they'll try.

If You're Looking For A Reason To Root Against The Yankees...

First things first - there's no doubt in my mind that baseball's postseason is always enhanced by having the Yankees around. There's nothing quite like the atmosphere in Yankee Stadium in October, and there's nothing like a Yankees crowd that's really into the game - as they always seem to be in October.

Having said that, the canonization of the Yankee mystique gets a little old after a while, and it's already begun this year with this week's cover story in Sports Illustrated, "A-Rod Agonistes." Lots of talk about slumps, dark abysses, having to prove oneself in pinstripes, etc. Ho-hum...does anyone really care? Would this be newsworthy, let alone a cover story in SI, if it were any other team? Of course not. I can think of, oh about 30 other teams that wouldn't mind having the troubled and slumping A-Rod on their team team right now.

It's particularly amusing to see Jason Giambi say things like, "Alex doesn't know who he is. We're going to find out who he is in the next couple of months." Anyone remember how many World Series titles Jason has led the Bombers to? Oh yeah, that's right - none. Just like A-Rod. I get it that everything is magnified in New York and that the expectations are higher than everywhere else, but man I sure hope any team but the Yankees represents the American League in this year's World Series. Even the best soap operas get old after a while.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Captain Fantastic

From the time I was 13 until around the time I turned 16, my favorite singer was Elton John. The very first record I bought with my own money was “Honky Chateau,” and during the summer of 1974 I nearly wore out a copy of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” A couple of friends and I used to talk about his music all the time, arguing about which album was his best, whether he would ever come out with a Greatest Hits set (why it mattered, since all of us owned nearly everything he owned, isn’t really clear today), even arguing one day about whether drummer Nigel Olsson was a man or a woman (thank God I was on the right side of that one).

In this day of the eternally fragmented audience, it’s probably hard for folks today to appreciate what a huge star Elton was at the time. For about 4 years, there was never a time when a song of his wasn’t in heavy rotation on the radio, and his albums weren’t in the Top 5. His shows all sold out; he made the cover of Rolling Stone; his outrageous outfits made him a natural for a new magazine called People.

Elton John fever, so to speak, peaked in 1975. The year began with a single release of his remake of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” which went to #1. John and Yoko reunited at his Madison Square Garden Concert. In the spring, he released another single, “Philadelphia Freedom,” which also went straight to #1. And by that time, word was out about a new album to be released in late May, an autobiographical effort with the odd title, Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. When it came out, it did what no album before it had ever done – it debuted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

I wasn’t there on the day it was released, but my dad drove me over to the Record Factory that Saturday, and the album rarely left the turntable for that entire summer. I played every song non-stop, to the point where I’d play a song five or six times in a row. It wasn’t a hit machine like some his previous efforts (in fact, it was one of his few of that era that didn’t include a #1 single); in many instances the lyrics didn’t make a heck of a lot of sense; but there was something about it that clicked with me.

Later that summer, Elton released another album, Rock of the Westies, which became the second album in history to hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 the week that it was released. It was much different than Captain Fantastic; his hardest-rocking album, one which critic Robert Christgau called “the best Rolling Stones album in years.” He ended the year with a brief but triumphant tour of America, selling out venues like Dodger Stadium while performing in a sequin-studded Dodgers uniform.

After that, the white hot flame went out. He released a string of lousy albums, broke up for a time with his long-time lyricist Bernie Taupin, and began a slow fade from view. In the 1980s he again began to release some good work, but nothing that came close to that incredible period of the mid-1970s, when he released a string of 6 albums in less than three years – Honky Chateau, Don’t Shoot Me (I’m Only The Piano Player), Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Caribou, Captain Fantastic, and Rock of the Westies – that represented a creative peak that can stand without shame alongside just about any artist in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. On the strength of his wit, good cheer, and substantial catalogue, he became a mega-star, hosting Oscar parties, becoming a confidant of Princess Diana, getting knighted, writing film scores and Broadway shows, the works…I didn’t begrudge him a moment of his glory – he deserved it – but at the same time I never felt compelled to go out and buy the new one.

A year or so ago, I saw that Elton’s old classics had been released in specially-priced, remastered CD versions, so I bought Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy. Hadn’t listened to it for quite a while; hadn’t bought an Elton John album for over 20 years. And it still sounded great: the band was terrific, and Elton sang and performed with a confidence that made you think, here’s a guy who knows that he’s on top of the world, and is just going to keep going for as long as he can. Songs like Captain Fantastic, Bitter Fingers, Someone Saved My Life Tonight, and We All Fall In Love Sometimes are unquestionably among his best. Simply put, it’s a great album one that one can mention in the same breath as other 1975 classics such as Born to Run, Blood on the Tracks, Tonight’s the Night, Siren, Horses, and Physical Graffiti.

So now, 31 long years later, Elton has released The Captain & The Kid, a sequel (!), 31 years after the fact, to Captain Fantastic. I resisted it for a few days, but knew in the end that I would buy this album, for curiosity’s sake if nothing else. Today I succumbed, and here I sit, listening to it while I write this. How is it? Well, it probably won’t go down in history as one of the best albums of all time, but it’s Elton, and hey, it sounds good. I’ve already begun to play one of the tracks again and again, which if nothing else proves that what goes around, comes around. Rock on, Sir Elton.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Old White Guys

The old white guys of rock and roll are on a roll. Last year, the ancient Stones released their best album in 25 years. This year, we've had Springsteen maintaining his usual level of high quality; we've had Tom Petty coming out with his best work in about a decade; we've had Neil Young re-energized like he hasn't been in about 15 years; we've had Bob Dylan acting and performing like the legend and Hall-of-Famer that he is. And now, 61-year old Bob Seger has released an album that maintains a level of consistency that he hasn't matched since the late 1970s. And this, after having taken about a dozen years off to raise a couple of kids.

Elton John has a new one coming out tomorrow, a sequel to Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, if you can believe it, and a new Who album is on the horizon. Dare we hope?

MNF

OK, so I missed most of last week's first Monday night game, and didn't have a chance to listen to the new crew and make harsh judgments. After tonight's game, I would venture the following:

- Overall, a vast improvement over the ESPN Sunday night crew. Mike Tirico is light years ahead of Mike Patrick in quality, and Tony Kornheiser, while not adding much in terms of game analysis, benefits from the time-worn "addition through subtraction" analysis - 9 people out of 10 would be an improvement over Paul Maguire, and Kornheiser does much better than that.

- Theissman remains the most overbearing analyst on TV. Just turn it down a notch, Joe; and you could be among the best. But it's not necessary to be brilliant on every play, and it's really not necessary to punctuate your "important" statements by adding timbre and volume to your voice. Frankly, it just makes you look dumb.

- Kornheiser's main role appears to be as foil to Theissman - if Joe makes one of his patented important announcements, Tony's role is to disagree or debunk. That works for me, but after an entire season it may grow tiresome.

So far, they've had great games. Let's see what happens when they start having to call some real stinkers - which is bound to happen in the second half of the season.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Making the State Safer For...Something

Well, I certainly will sleep well tonight, knowing that this law is soon to be on the books:

Gov. Schwarzenegger Signs Bill Outlawing Theft of Free Newspapers

Gov. Schwarzenegger signed AB 2612 by Assemblymember George Plescia (R-San Diego) which would make it a crime to steal more than 25 copies of a free newspaper.

"The freedom of the press is one of the most precious freedoms that Americans enjoy," said Gov. Schwarzenegger. "We must work to ensure that no one is able to deprive others of their first amendment rights."

In Nov. 2002, a local Bay Area politician stole more than 1,000 copies of a free newspaper that did not endorse his reelection. The politician was only able to be charged with petty theft. The newspapers were removed and immediately trashed. In a separate incident in May 2002, a free college paper had several thousand copies stolen by a group that did not agree with the newspaper's editorial content. Recently in Chula Vista and the greater San Diego area, an individual removed entire bundles from news racks and transported them across the border where he sold them to recyclers in Mexico.

Specifically, AB 2612:

1. Defines a new crime that is committed when a person takes more than 25 copies of free newspapers to sell or barter the papers, to recycle the papers for cash or other payment, to harm a competitor or to prevent others from reading the paper.

2. Provides that a first violation shall be an infraction punishable by a fine not exceeding $250 and a second or subsequent violation shall be punishable as an infraction or a misdemeanor. A misdemeanor conviction would be punishable by a fine not exceeding $500, imprisonment of up to 10 days in a county jail, or both that fine and imprisonment.

3. Clarifies that this new offense is a unique crime, not a form of petty theft.

The bill will take effect Jan. 1, 2007.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Sean Lennon Gets It

In the latest issue of Rolling Stone, there is a brief interview with Sean Lennon, on the occasion of the impending release of his second album. The last question-and-answer demonstrates that he definitely has a good head on his shoulders:

Q: Besides your dad, who's your favorite Beatle?

A: Each Beatle was as the wheels of a car - you need all four to drive.

What an awesome answer - and absolutely accurate. Brilliant as all four of them were/have been in their solo careers, without question they epitomized the old saying "greater than the sum of its parts."

Monday, September 11, 2006

Never Forget

I woke up this morning
I could barely breathe
Just an empty impression
In the bed where you used to be
I want a kiss from your lips
I want an eye for an eye
I woke up this morning to the empty sky

Empty sky, empty sky
I woke up this morning to an empty sky
Empty sky, empty sky
I woke up this morning to an empty sky

Blood on the streets
Yeah blood flowin' down
I hear the blood of my blood
Cryin' from the ground

Empty sky, empty sky
I woke up this morning to an empty sky
Empty sky, empty sky
I woke up this morning to an empty sky

On the plains of Jordan
I cut my bow from the wood
Of this tree of evil
Of this tree of good
I want a kiss from your lips
I want an eye for an eye
I woke up this morning to an empty sky

Empty sky, empty sky
I woke up this morning to an empty sky
Empty sky, empty sky
I woke up this morning to an empty sky

Empty Sky
Bruce Springsteen

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Let's Talk Beatles

A colleague gave me an extra copy of the July 2006 issue of Mojo (a music magazine from England) that ranks the “101 Greatest Songs” of The Beatles. I love lists like this – since they represent a composite opinion, it’s impossible to be in agreement with every single choice. That makes them the perfect argument-starter, because in many cases it’s easy to disagree, perhaps vehemently, with some of the choices.

For instance, I immediately notice that one of the panelists (and it’s a big panel, probably close to, if not over, 100 members) is Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips, a band that I despise as much as any that’s ever existed. Not only do I hate their music - I honestly can’t understand how anyone can like it as much as, say, Jim DeRogatis of the Chicago Sun-Times, who’s actually written a book about the band. I’m freely willing to admit that this may be a blind spot in my musical tastes (which are VERY broad), but it doesn’t bode well for my being in general agreement with the Mojo list.

The other bias I feel compelled to reveal before dissecting the top 25 Mojo picks is that I think Sgt. Pepper is the most overrated album in rock history. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think it’s a bad album; in fact, I think it’s a very good album. But it seems to be the popular choice among most major rock publications and aficionados as the best album of all time, and I just don’t see it. Maybe it’s a “you had to be there” kind of thing, but I can think of at least five Beatles albums that I prefer – Rubber Soul, Revolver, Abbey Road, Beatles for Sale, and A Hard Day’s Night. If forced to choose, I’d probably also pick the White Album over Sgt. Pepper, even though the Manson connections creep me out to this day.

And if it seems unfair that I would dissect someone else’s Beatles list without providing my own, be patient…I’m working on it! So, with further ado:

25. Nowhere Man. When I was in fourth grade, my parents bought me “Yesterday and Today” for my birthday. This song was on it, and at the time I really didn’t like it. Over the years it’s grown on me, and now I can see why some would rank it so high. No major quibble with this choice.

24. Please Please Me. An absolute classic; will definitely be higher on my list.

23. Ticket to Ride. I think Dave Marsh once picked this as his favorite Beatles song, so it obviously has some legs. I love it, and think it’s one of Ringo’s best performances.

22. I Saw Her Standing There. One of the best screams in rock and roll history. If you can’t get people out on the dance floor with this one, you’ve invited the wrong people to your party. Definitely deserves to be ranked this high.

21. Here Comes the Sun. Hmm…one of George’s best songs, without question. But is it really better than, for instance, “Help,” which barely broke the top 50? This seems a little high.

20. Rain. Andy Partridge of XTC: “Rain represents the glorious death of the old Beatles, the part where they stood at the pinnacle of their own Everest after they’d done all they could with just guitars, bass and drums.” XTC was one of my favorite bands back in the day, but hey – I like guitars, bass and drums. I like this song a lot, but I’m not sure it belongs in the top 20.

19. Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown). I guarantee this will be in my top 10. I don’t know if Dylan was influencing Lennon or if it was the other way around, and I’m not sure it makes any difference.

18. Can’t Buy Me Love. Great song; one of Paul’s best. 18 seems about right.

17. While My Guitar Gently Weeps. This is really a tough one. At his best, George could write songs right up there with John’s and Paul’s. They were ten times as prolific, but I think George deserves his place in the Hall of Fame. Having said that, this might be a bit high.

16. Revolution. A great turn-it-up-in-the-car song, but hardly deserving of a ranking this high.

15. With A Little Help From My Friends. Huh? Sure, I like this song, one of the few moments on Sgt. Pepper that isn’t self conscious. But it’s a total throwaway, and this is absurdly high within their pantheon.

14. I Want To Hold Your Hand. My first favorite Beatles song.

13. Come Together. This song illustrates the difficulty of comparing pre- and post-1966 Beatles songs. For all intents and purposes, this was a different band than the one that recorded “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” I’ll really have to think about this one.

12. Hey Jude. I always loved this song. Pretty simple stuff, but it still gets me every time.

11. Eleanor Rigby. Never much cared for this song, and I’m frankly amazed that it ranked this high.

10. A Hard Day’s Night. Yep, definitely top 10 material.

9. Penny Lane. This one never really did much for me either. I grant it’s brilliant, but it’s a bit on the precious side.

8. Happiness Is A Warm Gun. Based on her comments, Tori Amos seems to think this is an anti-NRA song. Somehow I don’t think that’s quite the gun that John had in mind. Seems a little high, but I like the song.

7. Something. Without question a pop classic, but is it a Beatles classic? I say yes. Might be a little high, but I won’t quibble.

6. In My Life. This could be John’s greatest song.

5. She Loves You. Oh yeah. Top 5, definitely.

4. Tomorrow Never Knows. For all its brilliance, this won’t be in my top 25. It’s just a matter of taste – I think they reached their peak in 65-66, and that the psychedelic era sapped their strength. Needless to say, not everyone agrees.

3. Yesterday. No, thank you. Never really liked it.

2. Strawberry Fields Forever. I won’t let the fact that this seems to be Wayne Coyne’s favorite Beatles song bother me – I think it’s great, probably the best of their psychedelic efforts. I probably won’t rank it this high.

1. A Day In The Life. Well, it won’t be my #1, even if it is the best song on Sgt. Pepper. It just seems like such an obvious choice, almost too obvious.

Overall, I have fewer issues with #11-25 than I do with their top 10. But that’s just me…

That's More Like It

After another shaky start marred by idiotic penalties and poor special teams play, Cal pulled away from Minnesota this evening to score a relatively dominating 42-17 win. Nate Longshore looked great, as did Marshawn Lynch and Deshaun Jackson. The biggest story of the day was the crowd - aside from games against Stanford, USC or UCLA, I've never seen a bigger crowd, especially for such an early season game.

And I'll try to be nice to my friends who are Texas fans, but now it's painfully clear that the Longhorns aren't the second best team in the country. Top 15, sure. Top 10, probably. Not #2.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Desert Island Books #2

Lonesome Doveby Larry McMurtry

“Why not go north?”

Woodrow Call poses that question to Augustus “Gus” McCrae, his long-time friend and fellow Texas Ranger, early in Lonesome Dove. Gus can think of no good reason to go, and plenty of reasons not to. “…It sounds like a goddamn wilderness,” he tells Call. “I’ve slept on the ground enough for one life. Now I’m in the mood for a little civilization.” But at the same time, he realizes that there really is nothing left to do in Lonesome Dove:

The surprising thing to Augustus was not just what Call was suggesting but how he sounded. For years Call had looked at life as if it were essentially over. Call had never been a man who could think of much reason for acting happy, but then he had always been one who knew his purpose. His purpose was to get done what needed to be done, and what needed to be done was simple, if not easy. The settlers of Texas needed protection, from Indians on the north and bandits on the south. As a Ranger, Call had a job that fit him, and he had gone about the work with a vigor that would have passed for happiness in another man.
But the job wore out…
And so, for no particularly good reason except that there’s nothing left to do in Texas, the men and boys of the Hat Creek Cattle Company and Livery Emporium head for Montana, with “a passel of shitting cattle” in tow. And thus begins a magnificent adventure, one that takes the clichés of the cattle-drive story and turns them into something memorable and magical. Much that happens in Lonesome Dove had already appeared in some previous novel or film about a cattle drive, but McMurtry creates a landscape – and more importantly, a host of characters – that make Lonesome Dove seem as if it were the only book ever written on the subject.

I’m not sure that any great themes are involved, outside of Americans sometimes do heroic things for no particular reason except that there’s nothing else to do at the moment. And while this is a great adventure story, it is also much more than that. McMurtry paints an enormous canvas that is epic in scope, but at the same time the book is full of wonderful small moments. Such as the moment when Gus encounters on the plains an enormous killing field filled with buffalo bones, and an unusual man who spends his time gathering them:

He remembered when he had first come to the high plains, years before. For two days he and Call and the Rangers had ridden parallel to the great southern buffalo herd – hundreds of thousands of animals, slowly grazing north. It had been difficult to sleep at night because the horses were nervous around so many animals, and the sounds of the herd were constant. They had ridden for nearly a hundred miles and seldom been out of sight of buffalo.

…Thus the sight of the road of bones stretching out over the prairie was a shock. Maybe roads of bones were all that was left. The thought gave the very emptiness of the plains a different feel. With those millions of animals gone, and the Indians mostly gone in their wake, the great plains were truly empty, unpeopled and ungrazed.

Soon the whites would come, of course, but what he was seeing was a moment between, not the plains as they had been, or as they would be, but a moment of true emptiness, with thousands of miles of grass resting unused, occupied only by remnants – of the buffalo, the Indians, the hunters. Augustus thought that they were crazed remnants, mostly, like the old mountain man who worked night and day gathering bones to no purpose.

Another reason for the greatness of Lonesome Dove is that there have been few books with as many brilliantly rendered characters – from Call, Gus and the Hat Creek Company – Pea Eye, Newt, Deets, Dish, and others – to the women of the story – Lorena, Clara, Elmira – who are in nearly all aspects just as strong and heroic as the men; to the villainous Blue Duck and the Suggs Gang, both evil incarnate – to the aimless Jake Spoon – to the tragic July Johnson – and even the lesser characters such as Wilbarger – the educated cattleman who reads Milton on the plains, and Po Campo – the cook who fries grasshoppers in molasses – that are drawn in such a way that in just a few pages one feels that they know them well. A great novel could be written about any of these characters, and McMurtry clearly understands the importance that each brings to the story.

But as great as all those characters are, the book really belongs to Gus McCrae. It is through Gus that McMurtry makes most of his important statements about change, about life, and about the fickle nature of that life. It is through Gus that it is demonstrated that there is more than one way to define a hero. It is through Gus’ thoughts that the book’s most moving moments are articulated, in particular this one –which may just be the most important passage of the book:

Though dawn was his favorite hour, it was also an hour at which Augustus most keenly felt himself to be a fool. What was it but folly to be riding along the Canadian River alone, easy pickings for an outlaw gang, and hungry to boot? A chain of follies had put him there: Call’s abrupt decision to become a cattleman and his own decision, equally abrupt, to try and rescue a girl foolish enough to be taken in by Jake Spoon. None of it was sensible, yet he had to admit there was something about such follies that he liked. The sensible way, which he had pursued once or twice in his life, had always proved boring, usually within a few days. In his case it had led to nothing much, just excessive drunkenness and reckless card playing. There was more enterprise in certain follies, it seemed to him.
There are parts of Lonesome Dove that are laugh out loud-funny, parts that are stunning in their unexpected violence, and parts that are just plain exciting – the book really has everything. And while McMurtry would go on to write three other novels featuring many of the same characters, none of them matched the original. Nothing could, and it is not likely that anything ever will.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Tiger Burning Brighter

Five in a row. To call it awe-inspiring doesn't really do it justice. Just read this excerpt from Michael Bamberger, over at SI.Com.

He won the British Open, then the Buick Open, then the PGA Championship, then the World Series of Golf at Firestone, flew all night to play two practice rounds at the K-Club outside Dublin, woke up at 5 a.m. Wednesday to fly to Boston for the tournament for which he is the unofficial host, and won that. He said he was looking forward to going home and getting some sleep. And then hitting the range and getting better.

"You can always get better," he said in the dying light of Labor Day. A new school year was about to begin. "You're always learning in this game."

You can always get better. That may help explain why he's the best.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Turn On Your Respect-O-Meters

For the record, it didn't take long for the first reference to "lack of respect" appearing in a quote associated with a football game in 2006:

"We all felt disrespected. This game tonight wasn't just for Tennessee versus California. It was for the South versus the West Coast, the SEC versus the Pac-10." - Erik Ainge, Tennessee

Yeah, whatever. The South rises again...good luck against Florida and South Carolina, Erik. Have a winning record this year, and maybe you'll get some respect.

Since the NFL begins regular season play on Thursday, I imagine it will be...oh, the 3rd quarter or so before someone gets disrespected. I'll even go out on a limb and predict that John Madden will make some sort of comment about Bill Cowher not getting the respect he deserves.

Respect...real big in football these days.

(We've Been Havin' Fun) All Summer Long

The first (and maybe only, now that I think about it) movie review I ever wrote was in 8th grade for my school newspaper, and the movie was American Graffiti. I can’t remember what I wrote, but I do remember that it was short – couldn’t have been more than two paragraphs. My parents had to talk me and my friends into seeing it, but we were glad that they did – we loved it, and it became so popular at our school that we ended up having a 1950s dance before school ended that year.

The story of the movie is so well known today that it’s difficult to imagine that nearly every actor in the movie was a total unknown at the time it was released. Ron Howard was semi-famous for having played Opie on the Andy Griffith show, but it’s a safe bet that no one at the time would have predicted that an Oscar was in his future. Same for Richard Dreyfuss – he was beginning to make a name for himself, but who could guess that in just a few summers, he would star in the first mega-blockbuster summer hit, and become a household name. The list goes on – Cindy Williams, Charles Martin Smith, Candy Clark, MacKenzie Phillips, and some guy named Harrison Ford, who would only go on to become the biggest movie star on the planet. Oh, and the director – just a nerd from Modesto, California named George Lucas.

I was surprised to see that the movie isn’t ranked in the Top 200 at the Internet Movie Database, so maybe its stock has dropped in recent years. Truth be told, not a lot happens in the movie, which takes place in one night, just before school begins – a bunch of driving around, a bunch of clichés (boy and girl break up and make up, smart kid has a run in with the hoods, dorky kid tries to pick up the hot chick, and on and on and on…), and not much to speak of in the way of cinematographic genius.

But it works. It transcends every cliché that it contains, and without question it contains the best (or certainly, most natural) acting performances in any movie that George Lucas has ever directed. The best performance in the movie comes from Paul LeMat, who really does instill some depth into John Milner, the cool hot-rodder who knows that his time as the drag king is coming to an end, but really can’t do anything else. For me, the most memorable performance is that of Wolfman Jack, in a role that can’t be called anything more than a cameo. But his scene is absolutely essential – stuck in a little radio station studio out in the middle of nowhere, with a broken refrigerator chock full of melting popsicles – because it underscores that rock ‘n roll music is the real star of this movie. The Wolfman sits alone in his little studio, and essentially brings hope to everyone in the world who happens to be listening to him at that given moment.

Of course, the music is magnificent – a veritable soundtrack of the 1950s and early 1960s that includes a ton of huge hits, but also just enough obscurities to render it authentic. No movie since has made better use of rock ‘n roll, although hundreds have tried and a few have come close. George has great taste, no doubt about it.

Everyone knows that summer really ends on Labor Day weekend, so it's a good time to spend a couple of hours with American Graffiti. One could certainly do worse.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Yes, I Was Ready For Some Football

In a classic trap game, the Cal Bears fell to Tennessee 35-18, after having trailed 35-0. Only time will tell whether this was a case of Cal being overrated or the Vols being underrated (or both), but it's a long season and frankly I had a bad feeling about this game from the beginning. Obvious weak spots for the Bears after week 1 are the offensive line, and the defensive secondary. Oh, and we probably have a quarterback controversy. Just dandy.

At one point this evening there were four games worth watching on at the same time; thank God for cable TV. That's the good news; the bad news is that ESPN felt compelled to keep Mike Patrick and Paul Maguire on the payroll, and they are playing key roles in two of the top announcing teams. Meanwhile, Ron Franklin, only the best college football announcer around now that Keith Jackson has really retired, gets demoted to the ESPN2 game. Franklin remains great; Patrick remains mediocre; and Maguire remains execrable. Shame on ESPN for thinking that either of the latter two deserve such a high profile job.

Notre Dame pulled out a squeaker at Georgia Tech, and we'll now begin to see whether Charlie Weis really deserves the premature entry into the Coaches Hall of Fame that most pundits were ready to grant him last year. I like Weis and want Notre Dame to succeed because it's good for college football, but let's not forget that Weis is still a little bit behind the coaching record of Ty Willingham at the same point in their Irish coaching stints. And Ty was summarily dismissed after four winning seasons.

As for USC - yet another impressive victory, even with all the new horses. ABC (excuse me, ESPN on ABC, as they're calling it now) must be salivating at the thought of a potential national championship game on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Long way to go, but it could happen.

Friday, September 01, 2006

From WAY Out In Left Field

While we're on the subject of musical miracles, how about this one - the New York Dolls have made one of the best albums of the year, 32 years after their last release.

Of course, it's not quite the same New York Dolls; 3 of the original 5 have died over the past 15 years. But David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain are still there, and it's hard to imagine that most people wouldn't think that they are in their mid-20s, instead of the near-sixties baby boomers that they both are.

Once upon a time, people called the Dolls a band that could become the American Rolling Stones. Needless to say that didn't happen, but albums like One Day It Will Please Us To Remember Even This are reasons to keep on listening to music.