Monday, December 31, 2007

So THAT'S What A Win Feels Like! had been so long, I'd almost forgotten.

It wasn't the bowl game that Bears fans were looking forward to in August or September or October or even November, but after a disastrous second half of the season, it was nice to see the Golden Bears bounce back, look great on offense, and beat a good team. And it was awfully sporting of them to spot the Air Force Falcons 21 points before finally turning on the afterburners. Aside from the late fumble Justin Forsett played great, Kevin Riley got the redemption that I'm sure he had been praying for since the Oregon State game, DeSean Jackson had his moments, and Jeff Tedford got to keep his record of winning seasons intact.

So while it may not have been the season we were hoping for, there's certainly something to look forward to in 2008. Not the least of which is the Big Game returning to its traditional Saturday-before-Thanksgiving date, which means that I'll be there once again.

Roll on you Bears...

"I Want To Bite The Hand That Feeds Me"

I had intended to post this on December 17, the 30th anniversary of Elvis Costello's first (only?) appearance on "Saturday Night Live." The brain cells being what they are these days, of course I forgot.

This is one of the great moments in televised rock history, because it really was unscripted - Costello starts to sing "Less than Zero," but stops the band a few bars in and immediately tears into "Radio Radio," which would appear on his forthcoming "This Year's Model" album. It wasn't exactly a torch passing, but it definitely was a sign that a different kind of music was about to kick the jams out of a lot of lazy, aging rockers who had rested on their laurels for most of the seventies.

To this day it may be Elvis' greatest song. Of course, today he has become just about as respectable as one can possibly be, but in his "Angry Young Elvis" phase he was a sight to behold.

Saturday, December 29, 2007


Wow. What a great game. What a great advertisement for the NFL, and for sportsmanship in general. What an incredible performance by Tom Brady. And what a public relations coup by the NFL Network.

Even though I almost always root for the underdog, I had to root for the Patriots in this one - the sense of history was just too overwhelming.

Of course I'll keep watching, but basically the season is over. The Colts are great as well, but I just can't imagine any scenario that ends with the Patriots in defeat. Just too many weapons; too many brains at work. Not only are they better than everyone else, they're better coached and better prepared. To hell with those who would cast a pall on their season because of "spygate" - you can't honestly tell me that made any difference. And at this point, a Patriots championship would be more than worth it just to wipe those self-satisfied, arrogant smirks off the faces of the members of the 1972 Dolphins - who have done nothing but diminish their role in history with their annual, juvenile "champagne toast" ritual. I defended them back in the day (even had a letter to that effect printed in Sports Illustrated, when I was 13 years old), but enough is enough. Give it up, guys. Having company at the mountaintop doesn't make what you accomplished any less important or meaningful.

A few random notes:

- Major kudos to the Giants. With nothing to gain and much to lose in the form of injuries, they played what was unquestionably their best game of the year. No shame in losing, the way they played tonight.

- I've read a lot of bitching about Bryant Gumbel's play-by-play, but I thought that he was excellent.

- Cris Collinsworth was better than that - he was flat-out great in the analyst role.

- Roger Goodell is one smart dude- if this doesn't give the NFL the high road in their ongoing battle with the cable giants, nothing will.

Congratulations, Patriots!

Things You Hear Christmas Week...

...when your sons' "Santa gift" was a Playstation 3:

Hey dad! Come watch me snipe this guy!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Just Call Me Champ

Though I have no way to prove it, I'm confident that I've been in a fantasy football league longer than 98% of those who are in one now. When we were seniors in high school in 1977, my best friend and I were given a set of rules on organizing and running a league by one of our managers at McDonalds. I have to admit that the game made no sense to me the first time I read the rules, and that stupidity manifested itself in the lousy team that I drafted in our inaugural year. My first pick was Bert Jones of the Baltimore Colts, and my second pick was Terry Metcalf of the St. Louis Cardinals. Great players for teams that no longer exist, although they both had disappointing years (at least from a fantasy standpoint) in 1977. My record that first year was 4-10, and two of those "wins" were my bye weeks. The first champ was a fellow by the name of Mike Gowen, who couldn't have cared less about football but really enjoyed compiling statistics and did a wonderful job of picking every little-known, touchdown-scoring player in the entire damn NFL.

When my friend went away to college in 1978, I began running the league, and with the exception of the two years I was at college in Berkeley, I've run a league every year since. We've gone through a lot of participants over the years, at times running 8, 10, and 12-team leagues. For the past decade we've had a solid core of 10, and this year expanded back to 12 with a couple of newbies brought in by current members of the league.

My team this year was just OK, with Drew Brees at quarterback, and an unfortunate surplus of running backs - Shaun Alexander, Marshawn Lynch, Jamal Lewis and Edgerrin James. I say "unfortunate" because outside of the bye weeks, I could never figure out who to start, and most of the time batted only .500. My receivers were also just OK, although Braylon Edwards and Chris Chambers kept things respectable.

Luckily for me, this year's league was remarkably well-balanced, and I managed to sneak into the playoffs, in sixth place, with a record of 7-6. And from that point on, I became the luckiest fantasy player in the country. Playing the best team in the league in the semi-finals, it just happened to be the week that Dallas got beaten by Philadelphia, and his big three of Romo, Owens and Julius Jones brought him a fat total of zero. And in the final, I played the team that used to call itself the "Packer Backers," this year featuring Favre, Driver, Jennings and Crosby, not to mention Green Bay's defense and special teams.

So, even though I didn't exactly set the world on fire either of those weeks myself, I managed to win both games, and can call myself Champion for the fifth time, and the first since 1993.

And on the trophy, it won't say how I won, just that I did.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

And To All, A Good Night

I guess I was good after all, because Santa left this for me under the tree.

Admittedly, I was one of the last arrivals on the Johnny Cash bandwagon. My introduction, aside from the major hits ("Ring of Fire," "I Walk the Line," "Folsom Prison Blues," "A Boy Named Sue"), came from Rick Rubin, and what I still think is one of the greatest artist/producer collaborations of my lifetime - the American Recordings series.

The 121 songs (!) on this set should take months to fully absorb and appreciate. I can hardly wait.

Thank you to my understanding and patient family, and Merry Christmas, everyone.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Blue Christmas (Reprise)

Back to where we started, way back on December 1. That video has been removed from YouTube; hopefully this one will stay up a little longer.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Great Darlene Love

...singing the great "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" on Letterman, 2005. One of the highlights of the holiday season, and one that won't be seen this year due to the strike (support WGA!).

Monday, December 17, 2007

Merry Christmas, Baby

A great, loose performance of Bruce's other holiday classic, from Late Night With Conan O'Brien (who pitches in on guitar). Even better than the original recording which appeared on the first "A Very Special Christmas" album.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Christmas Song

Sure, you hear it so often it's almost become a cliche. But that doesn't change the facts: the definitive Christmas song; the definitive performance.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

"I'm Gonna Lasso Santa Claus"

The wonderful thing about music is it is literally not possible for one person, even during an entire lifetime, to find and enjoy all the good stuff that is out there. I've always liked to think of myself as a pretty sophisticated and open-minded consumer, but even in this day and age I'm continually surprised by the amount of new music that I discover each year. This year, and it's to my own discredit that I never found them until 2007, Arcade Fire and Rilo Kiley fit the bill.

It's the same with Christmas music. There is a veritable treasure trove of classic stuff just sitting in a bin somewhere waiting to be found, and thanks to the Internet, most of it is just a click away.

Take this song, for instance. Three days ago, I'd never heard it, and never heard of it. Now I can't stop playing the damn thing, and can't get the tune and the lyrics out of my mind. Of course, everyone has heard Brenda Lee's version of "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," and it's a great song, but it gets heard so often that it begins to lose some of its luster. But this one is something else - Lee sounds as if she must have been about 8 when she recorded it, but the performance is absolutely convincing - and a hoot, to boot. This is one little girl who loves Santa, but is not that happy with the fact that he's forgotten some of the other good girls and boys. And by God, she's going to do something about it:

I'm gonna lasso Santa Claus
And i know just why because
I'm gonna pull, pull, pull, on his beard
Pull, pull, and see if it's real

I'm gonna tick, tick, tickle him on the tummy
Because he laughs so funny
He's so jolly and so fine
When he comes around at Christmas time

[ far, so good...]

I'm gonna lasso Santa Claus
And the reason is because
I know a boy and girl he never goes see,
He NEVER brings 'em toys like he does to me!

I'm gonna pop, pop Santa Claus
With my water pistol gun (BANG! BANG!)
And then I'll take his bags of toys and run
And bring to all the kids who don't have none!

Now THAT, Santa, is one little good girl that you really don't want to mess around with.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Happy Christmas from John & Yoko

Bowie Visits Bing

This is less great singing than it is a great cultural artifact. Bing looks very frail, almost as if he needs help walking across the room, which isn't surprising since he died shortly after filming this show. David Bowie is appropriately respectful, and even though the banter is not always convincing, it's oddly moving.

Once In Royal David's City

And now, for something completely different.

No collection of Christmas music is complete unless it includes an album by either the Mormon Tabernacle Choir or the King's College Choir. I have one by both choirs, and though it's a matter of taste, I prefer the latter, mostly because their recordings are rarely cluttered with anything beyond the singing.

This happens to be my favorite carol of theirs; it never fails to send chills down my spine.

The Obligatory Post on the Mitchell Report

Human nature being what it is, athletes will always do (and have always done) everything possible to secure victory. A cursory reading of David Wallechinsky’s “History of the Olympics” demonstrates that if the modern-day Olympics began in 1896, the cheating probably began around 1900 or so. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the ruling bodies of each sport to develop a system of reward/punishment that makes the cost of being caught cheating not worth the risk of winning/breaking the record, etc.

Not only did major league baseball not do this, it actively did everything it could to encourage the use of steroids through the values that it established. I find this somewhat ironic, because no other sport holds its records as sacrosanct as MLB. In fact, there is a court case working its way through the federal court of appeals as we speak which seeks to answer the question of who “owns” statistics – does MLB “own” them, or are they, once a game is played, part of the public domain?

But organized baseball turned a blind eye to the issue of steroids, with an assist from the players union, because home runs are exciting. Home runs are good for baseball…as Greg Maddux said to Tom Glavine in a commercial ten years or so ago, “chicks dig the long ball.” Plus, it’s really, really good for baseball when its best players (Clemens, Bonds, etc.) play for a long, long time. Whether they like them or not, fans are interested in them, and will pay money to go see them play.

The fans are complicit in all of this as well, of course. It was “OK” for McGwire and Sosa to be juiced (and everyone had to suspect, come on) because they were wonderful guys, named Sportsmen of the Year, all that. But when a really bad guy, and everyone should know who I’m talking about, started breaking some of those records, well then all of a sudden it became a big, big problem, and the word “cheater” started getting thrown around, as if that really bad guy was the only one. And so, here we are today. Unless MLB and the Hall of Fame want to start throwing asterisks all over the place, I’d suggest that everyone get a mulligan, and that fans try to sort this out over beers in bars for the next 100 years or so.

[Updated note: by "mulligan" I didn't intend to imply that those using steroids should escape accountability and/or punishment. My comment pertained solely to the treatment of their statistics, because I don't see how anyone will ever be able to come up with a full-proof means of figuring out exactly when a player began using steroids. Ultimatetly, this will make a process already subjective (that being the Hall of Fame selection process) even more so]

Thursday, December 13, 2007

There's Trouble Brewin'

I'd be willing to hazard a guess that few people who listen to music today could tell you who Jack Scott was. A rockabilly star in the late fifties and early sixties, he doesn't even merit a mention in the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll. I can't say that I'm that familiar with his body of work myself; in fact, I've only heard two of his songs. The first, "Goodbye Baby," was featured on the soundtrack of the great movie Diner. The second, "There's Trouble Brewin'," was featured on a Time-Life Christmas collection that I received as a bonus for subscribing to Time-Life's History of Rock and Roll series back in the late eighties. I loved the song upon first listen, and I still think it's one of the handful of great rock 'n roll Christmas songs ever written. It goes something like this:

'Twas the night before Christmas
When all through the house
Not a creature was stirring
Not even a mouse

My baby came home
I asked her where she was
She grinned and said that she was out
With Ol' Santa Claus

Thanks to the miracle of the Internet, you can listen to this one yourself, courtesy of Aquarium Drunkard. Speaking of which, I want to tout that site, as well as the one where the drunkard found the song, Big Rock Candy Mountain. There are many, many great obscure holiday songs (as well as other great stuff) to be found on both sites.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town

You can't do this sort of thing and not include at least one version of Bruce singing this song. The audio is good on this one, but you don't start seeing the band until about a minute into it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Paul Shaffer Doing Cher Doing "O Holy Night"

A special just won't be Christmas if we don't get to see Paul this year doing his famous impression of Cher, singing "O Holy Night," from The Sonny and Cher Christmas Special many, many years ago.

"A Christmas Record"

This one doesn't exist anymore, although you can find all of these songs (on on an import album called "ZE Christmas Record." It came out in 1981 and swung wildly between upbeat and optimistic songs, and some real downers. The highlights:

"Christmas Wrapping," The Waitresses. You still hear this one a lot, for good reason. It's probably the best song this short-lived band ever came up with (the only other contenders being "I Know What Boys Like" and "Square Pegs"), and it's a fun one to put on at a Christmas party.

"It's A Big Country," Davitt Sigerson. Not only did this guy sing, but he also used to produce (an album for David Johansen in the early 1980s that I have), and write reviews (for the Village Voice, and perhaps also for Rolling Stone). I have no idea what happened to him, but I haven't seen his name in years. This song is a bit sappy, but I always liked it - essentially, a musical Christmas card to members of his family, strung out across the country.

"Christmas on Riverside Drive," August Darnell.

"Christmas Time in the Motor City," Was (Not Was).

And of course, the legendary "Christmas With Satan," by James White. Not exactly your run-of-the-mill holiday fare, but certainly memorable.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Hall and Oates Get Goofy For Christmas

With this way over-the-top version of "Jingle Bell Rock."

OK, it seemed funny at the time (1983, as I recall). But since most of the time I saw it was on NBC's "Friday Night Videos" at a bar where I'd go after getting off my shift as a waiter, maybe that was just the beer and spearmint schnapps talking. This year, they've come out with a new Christmas album. As with most new releases in the holiday genre, I'm waiting for at least a year for it to come down in price. Who knows, there may be something there that makes it worth my while.

Brett Favre: A Triumph Richly Deserved

For the past few years, every now and then I’d lose my temper over the tendency of NFL broadcasters and writers to let Brett Favre off the hook for his poor play just because of his “aw shucks, I love playing the game” attitude. I came to call it the “St. Favre” syndrome, and what bothered me about it was that things had gotten to the point where his attitude was being used to excuse the mistakes he was making on the field – it was almost as if the announcers were saying, “Oh, it’s OK that Brett just made that terrible throw down the middle of the field into double coverage; he’s a great guy; it’s OK.” Well, it wasn’t OK; it’s never OK for a professional athlete, when the question of his/her performance is the issue at question, to get a free pass for something that they’ve done away from the playing field.

As you may have heard, Brett Favre is having a wonderful season this year, and has gone a long way towards erasing the memory of the last few years. For his performance and his attitude, he has been named Sportsman of the Year by Sports Illustrated. It’s a richly deserved award, and those who might criticize it probably don’t understand the concept behind the award. It is an award based both on what happens on and away from the playing field. Non-athletes have won it (Joe Paterno, for instance), as have athletes who’ve had better years without winning it (Jack Nicklaus comes to mind). This year, there have been grumbles that the award should have gone to Roger Federer, who completed yet another year of transcendent excellence on the tennis court. I would have had no problem if he’d won the award, but at the same time I wouldn’t have suggested him for it either, because his pursuit of excellence over a relatively short period – in my book – doesn’t match Favre’s approach to the game and life that have been consistent hallmarks of his entire career. He’s not perfect; he admits it. He made mistakes in the past, and took steps to deal with them. As an athlete, he comes as close as anyone to personifying the ideal – what one would hope for in a sportsman. For that, he deserves the praise.

In short, Favre was a great choice.

Sports Quote of the Day

"Well done is always better than well said. That's been the motto of this team.''

- Tom Brady

(Hat tip: Peter King)

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

It's still hard for me to believe that she's married to Elvis Costello, but there you have it.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Christmas Blues

Embedding is disabled on this one, but that shouldn't stop you from heading over to YouTube to watch Dean Martin singing "Christmas Blues." Wonderful stuff.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Not Always Great, But Always Entertaining: "Christmas Cocktails"

I wasn’t going to include this album in the advent calendar, but then I made the mistake of popping the tape in the car while driving to work yesterday, and now I can’t resist. I’ve never actually bought the album; my brother taped it for me a long time ago and I usually listen to it at least a couple of times before the season is over.

Without question, this is the most eclectic, over-the-top Christmas album ever produced. The tracks range from the sublime to the ridiculous and then on to another dimension where what was previously thought ridiculous now is revealed to have been sublime after all. Notable tracks include Billy May’s “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Mambo,” Lou Rawls’ “Christmas Is,” Julie London’s “I’d Like You For Christmas” (OK, if you insist), and Dean Martin’s “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm” (why do I also think there’s a hot adult beverage somewhere nearby?).

Two tracks stand out for their transcendent awfulness, the first being Jimmy McGriff’s “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town/White Christmas.” McGriff is an organist, and subtle is not a word that is a part of his vocabulary. We’re not talking Danny Federici here, by any stretch of the imagination. At one point, he breaks into a little ditty that isn’t remotely related to either song in the medley, and the only thing missing is the deep voice in the background solemnly intoning, “and playing shortstop…12-time all-star and future Hall of Famer…Derek…JETER!”

But even better/worse than that is “Ring Those Christmas Bells” by Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians. The people on this song sing with such overwhelming joy that you can imagine it’s what Christmas must have been like on the planet in “Star Trek” where Spock is shot full of spores and suddenly has emotions, immediately falling in love with Jill Ireland. No one can be this jolly – no one can be this happy. It’s just not possible, is it? But beware – you listen to this song at your peril, because it then slowly takes over your mind, like the pods in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” Suddenly, you can think of nothing else – and the only known cure is Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols at high volume.

So raise that martini – but don’t get too close to the stereo!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Christmas Song

Mel Tormé and Judy Garland give the old chestnut a whirl, to marvelous effect. I learned two things watching this one - there was an intro to the song that is rarely heard, and Judy Garland wasn't so hot in the lyric memorization department. Still, great stuff.

Skittle Bowl!

With apologies and sympathy to Michele for her tale of 1971 Christmas woe, the story inspired me to remember my “Santa gift” from that year, which happened to be one of my all-time favorites.

Skittle Bowl was all the rage those days, with an aggressive marketing campaign (featuring Don Adams of Get Smart fame) aimed squarely at boys who were still buying comic books (yep, that was me). It was (and is) a lot of fun, without there being a great amount of skill involved (well, some). Aim and swing the ball, let it do all the work, and as Billy Welu used to say during telecasts of the PBA tour, "hit 'em thin and watch 'em spin."

The following year, Skittle Pool was under the tree, and it was almost as fun. In fact, I remember my cousin and I playing 42 games on Christmas Day (ending in a 21-21 tie), while watching the famous Miami-Kansas City double-overtime NFL Playoff Game (the one featuring the infamous shank by Jan Stenerud, who probably never missed another 31-yarder in his life). After than came an increasingly unlikely set of games based on the “skittle” theme, including Skittle Horseshoes, Skittle Poker, and Skittle Tic-Tac-Toe. By the mid-seventies the flame had burned out, and the games pretty much disappeared from view.

I still have both games, and they’re in close to mint condition. Next week, I’ll be bringing Skittle Bowl to the office, where we’ll have ourselves a little tournament at lunchtime. Lucky for me, with all the electronic scoring in modern bowling alleys, I may be the only one who actually knows how to keep score.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Great Christmas Albums: "We Three Kings," The Roches

If everyone in the world was put here for a reason, then The Roches were placed on the Earth to sing Christmas Carols. Tomorrow, they'll be doing just that, at the Battery Park Christmas tree lighting ceremony in New York City. For most of the month of December, they'll be doing it across the country, unfortunately not coming anywhere close to California.

Three singing sisters (Maggie, Terre, and Suzzy) who got their start in the 1970s singing in Greenwich Village folk clubs, The Roches made a splash in 1979 when their debut album (produced by Robert Fripp) landed in the Top 10 of the Village Voice's annual Pazz & Jop Critics Poll. Robert Christgau loved them; Greil Marcus hated them; and most of the record buying public couldn't have cared less. For the nearly thirty years since that initial blast of success, the group has defined the term "cult success." Some of their work I like a lot, but much of it I find cloying and inconsistent, and musically repetitive.

There's no question that their best album is "We Three Kings," originally released in 1990 and widely available today. It's one of the handful of great pop Christmas albums ever released, one that has stood the test of time remarkably well. With 24 tracks, the album dives into various holiday genres: songs with religious themes ("Break Forth O Beauteous Heavenly Light," "Angels We Have Heard On High," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," "O Little Town of Bethlehem;" the classic staples of the season ("Deck the Halls," "Frosty the Snowman," "Jingle Bells," Sleigh Ride," "Silver Bells") and a couple of classic originals ("Christmas Passing Through," "Star of Wonder"). The only track that comes close to being a stinker is "Winter Wonderland," sung in Joisey accents and unfortunately a joke that just doesn't work very well.

With many Christmas albums, you get the feeling that the artists involved made them simply because that is something that successful artists do. Reeking with insincerity, those albums usually land in the remainder bins within one season of their release. With "We Three Kings," The Roches produced an album that demonstrates without any doubt their love of the season and the songs that come with it. Singing Christmas carols has been a part of their lives for many, many years - according to legend they sang them on street corners in the seventies to augment their income; I also remember their annual appearance on the soap opera "Ryan's Hope" on Christmas Eve (yeah, OK, I watched "Ryan's Hope"). They honored that heritage with one of the very few Christmas albums that deserves the label "masterpiece."

Put The Lights On The Tree

From Sufjan Stevens' 5-CD Collection, "Songs For Christmas." More on that album, which I picked #3 in my 2006 Top Ten, later in the month.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Vesele Vanocni Hody

Christmas music from the Czech Republic? Have you lost your mind, man?

The band playing here is Milan Svoboda's Contraband. The only reason I've heard of them is that there's an exchange student from the Czech Republic playing saxophone for the Pleasant Grove High School Jazz Band, for which my son plays drums, this year. Apparently all of Svoboda's charts are available for free on his Web site, so the concerts this year have been heavy on the Svoboda. It sounds only vaguely "Christmasy," and the singers' outfits are a hoot, but it's pretty good overall.

Armed Forces Bowl! Get Your Tickets Now!

How ironic is it that Cal will be playing in the Armed Forces Bowl? The boys from Berkeley, home of tree-huggers, tree-sitters, and elected radicals from all sides of the left quadrant of the political spectrum, heading to Texas to play the Air Force Academy in a veritable holiday festival of American military might.

The pre-game schedule, according to the game's Web site:

Armed Forces Adventure at 9:00 AM
Fighter jet flyover
Helicopter flyover
Skydiving demonstration
MA3 Great American Patriot Award
Military induction ceremony
Military color guard
Military concert band
Live remotes from overseas soldiers on stadium video board
Each quarter will spotlight a different service branch
Major "Thank You" to veterans and active duty personnel

Go Bears! They don't deserve to be there, but I'll be rooting for them, all decked out in Blue & Gold.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The AntiChristmas Mix

I've got to throw Michele's "AntiChristmas Mix" into the mix of the muscial advent calendar, even though I have to admit that I haven't heard many of these songs. But at least one of them is going to show up later this month...

The Epic Collapse

The less said about this year's Big Game, the better. But a few random thoughts are in order:

- Every account of the game I've read lists the attendance as being "the announced attendance..." I couldn't watch the game (more on that below), and wonder if that means there were actually empty seats in the renovated, much smaller Stanford Stadium. If that was the case, that's truly astonishing.

- I don't know these guys so I can't really question their character, but based on what I saw against Washington last week and the accounts I've read and seen of this game, it sure looks like the Bears stopped playing with passion after the USC game. And based on the comments of the Cal players after the game, it appears that they were more concerned with going to a bowl game than they were with the shame of having lost to Stanford. If you can't get up for the Big Game, you shouldn't be playing at Cal.

- This is certainly the darkest moment of the Tedford era. For all his offensive brilliance, he was glaringly unable to come up with a successful, consistent offensive scheme after the Nate Longshore injury severely limited his effectiveness. And he was unable to motivate his players after it became clear that they were playing only for pride. So, great as he has been, Tedford deserves a healthy share of the blame for this disastrous season.

- Don't even talk to me about a bowl game. Bowl games are rewards for teams who had a good season; a winning season. The Bears had neither, and should they be offered a bowl bid, they should turn it down. (Yeah right, like that will ever happen).

- I can't put into words how much I hate the fact that the Big Game has been moved to the week after Thanksgiving instead of the traditional Saturday before Thanksgiving. Never mind that I may never be able to watch it again, because the new week corresponds with a work commitment that will keep me from being there in perpetuity. It just doesn't feel right; doesn't feel the same.

Overall it sounds harsh; six years ago, 6-6 would have been an excellent season. But with the talent, with the coaching, and with the fan support, there's no way to label this season other than to call it an absolute, total, stunning failure. Here's hoping that they come roaring out onto the field next September with fire coming from their eyes and smoke coming out of their ears.

Just A Couple Of Lonely Legends

Gosh, you'd think that Bing and Frank could find a more lively way to celebrate the holidays, but maybe legends are just more comfortable in the presence of their peers.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Blue Christmas

The musical advent calendar begins with the King himself, from the legendary "sit-down concert" that was part of the 1968 Comeback special. The song (which begins a little less than a minute into the video) is one of two absolute classics on "Elvis' Christmas Album," the other being "Santa Claus Is Back In Town." As David McGee once wrote, the King was spitting fire back in those days, and the album is worth it for just those two songs.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Coming Soon: A Musical Advent Calendar

I like Christmas music, to the degree where I’ll listen to Christmas music in genres that I would rarely listen to otherwise (New Age, for instance). There is also a lot of Christmas music that I can’t stand; music that literally makes me want to run from the room when it comes on. That’s one of the main reasons I never listen to radio stations that convert to an all-Christmas format (usually by mid-November) – you never know when something truly dreadful is going to compel you to drive into the nearest telephone pole.

For the month of December, I’ll be posting about Christmas music on a daily basis, either with a review of one of what I believe to be the greatest Christmas albums of all time, or with a notable video that features a Christmas song. And just remember, “notable” does not necessarily mean “good.”

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Longest Week Continues

Day two of annual conference week, and I'm either getting old or my stamina just isn't what it used to be, because I feel way too exhausted for there being four more days on the docket. Hopefully the second wind will kick in tomorrow. Who knows, maybe I need to quit getting up early for a run - but the route is so scenic, it's hard to pass up.

Tonight was our traditional (if you can call two years a tradition) departmental dinner, and the choice was a good one: Red Pearl Kitchen, in the Gaslamp District. We had the less expensive of two fixed-price options, and there was so much food that I can't imagine what the more expensive of the two options must be like. The Web site describes the cuisine as follows:

The extensive menu offers a new twist on traditional Pan-Asian Cuisine and is great for individual or family-style dining; guests can select from a wide array of Dim Sum, Salad, Hot Pot, Curry, Noodle, Wok-Fired, and Vegetable dishes.

I don't even remember everything we had, but from dim sum to dessert, it was all excellent. And it was definitely a wide array - in fact, I feel wider already.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Green Bay Packers Stat of the Day

Courtesy of Peter King:

Best Records, First 27 Games, Packers Coach:

1. Mike McCarthy 18-9
2. Vince Lombardi 17-10
3. Curly Lambeau 14-8-5

Obviously McCarthy has a long way to go before he can be spoken about in the same breath as Lombardi and Lambeau, but it's an interesting stat, nonetheless.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Random Notes From A Holiday Weekend

A lot going on the past few days, so the posting has been scarce.

• It was another hectic but fun Thanksgiving, featuring 25 guests and 39 pounds of turkey. My wife was a true superstar, doing the lion’s share of the hard work – getting the house ready, preparing the meal for cooking, getting the turkeys in the oven early Thursday morning, and then overseeing the entire production, from the arrival of the first guest until the last glass was washed on Friday morning. I wouldn’t say that I stood around doing nothing, but my contributions were minimal compared to hers.

• Not much of a restful weekend for son #1, with the high school band playing Friday night at a playoff football game, and then Saturday night during the annual Elk Grove Santa Parade.

• Plenty of football, of course. The first highlight was during the Green Bay-Detroit game, not so much for the game itself but for the halftime show, which was choreographed by my brother, who teaches dance at Cal State Long Beach. The second highlight, if you can call it that, was USC’s dominating performance against Arizona State. The Trojans are playing their best football of the season, and on a neutral field you’d be hard pressed to make them an underdog against any of the teams who are ranked above them in the BCS. This season is probably the best argument yet for a playoff, but I’m sure the nattering nabobs at the top of the NCAA will come up with some laughable excuses for not moving in that direction.

• And now my home for the next six nights is the Marriott Hotel & Marina in San Diego, where the Association I work for is holding its Annual Conference & Trade Show (I'm in the South Tower, building on the left, 20th floor, far end, with a nice view of the Marina). The preparations for this year’s event were even more harried than usual, making the time between Halloween and Thanksgiving pass like a blur. It will be a long week, but there should also be some fun to go along with the work. By the time it’s over, we’ll all be ready for a long winter’s nap.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Barney Lives - And Is A Kings Fan

I never realized until last night that Barney from The Simpsons is a real, live person.

In real life, his hair is a little darker, and he wears his shirts untucked so you can't see the rolls of fat cascading over his pants.

He owns two foam fingers, and can drink a beer - many beers, in fact - with them on.

He's very sneaky - manages to break all the rules just as the section usher is looking the other way or is otherwise occupied.

When the opposing team shoot free throws, it's not enough for him to block the view of the person sitting right in front of him. Rather, he moves into the aisle, where he can block the view of several people sitting behind him.

The voice? Exactly the same.

How do I know all of this? He was at the Sacramento Kings game last night, sitting two rows in front of me, across from the aisle.

Hope you enjoyed yourself, Barney. And I hope you have the world's worst hangover this morning.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

25 Years Ago Today

"The most amazing, sensational, dramatic, heartrending, exciting, thrilling finish in the history of college football!"

- Joe Starkey, 11/20/82

Monday, November 19, 2007

"That One Moment of Time Keeps Me Going"

I had just returned Berkeley after spring break in late March of 1981, and of course we were using the occasion to party. It was a Sunday evening; classes didn’t start until Wednesday. As far as we were concerned, it was just another long weekend. Midway through the night, a girl who lived on another floor brought around one of her friends from high school, who was just coming into the dorm for the spring quarter. He had the unusual name of Mariet Ford, and we found out later that he was on the football team. That surprised us because he was small for a football player (not even close to threatening six feet), and because he didn’t have the arrogance and the “I’m doing you a favor by hanging around with you” attitude that you saw in a lot of the players who lived in the dorms. Basically a nice guy, and I remember that throughout that spring, even though he ended up hanging out with the other football players, he always greeted me by name, and gave me a “how’s everything going?” that made me believe that he meant it, as opposed to something that he said to people just so that he could be on his way.

Flash forward 18 months later. I’ve graduated from college, and Mariet Ford now starts for the Golden Bears, in their first season under Coach Joe Kapp. Because of his size he becomes known as a “scrappy” player, one that leaves his heart and soul on the field but never makes you think that he has a future in the pros. And then, out of nowhere, he plays a key role in The Play – to this day, the most famous play in the history of college football. If you’ve seen it, and you know you have, Ford is the guy who makes the last lateral, obviously having no idea whether there are any other Bears trailing the play. Through some combination of blind luck and divine intervention, Ford was able to hit Kevin Moen right in the hands, in stride, allowing him to run into history, plowing through an unfortunate Stanford trombone player in the process. I wasn’t at the game, but I was listening to the legendary call by Joe Starkey, and of course I went crazy. And when I found out that Ford was involved in the play, I thought to myself, “hey, that’s cool – I know that guy.”

More than ten years later, I’m living in Elk Grove, California, and somehow learn that Mariet Ford has also made Elk Grove his home. I can’t remember how I found out, but I remember thinking, again, “hey, that’s cool – one of the most famous players in Cal history lives right down the road from where I do.” I thought about trying to make some kind of contact, but ended up deciding that would be lame, and could only result in embarrassment for everyone involved – particularly myself.

A couple of years later, tragedy – Ford’s wife and young son perish in a fire at their home. He finds out when his wife fails to answer the phone; he calls his brother, who discovers the dead bodies in the smoldering home. And then a few months later, Ford is charged with the crime of killing his wife and young son, killing them in a rage and starting the fire to cover up the crime. According to the district attorney who prosecuted the case, “I just think he lost control in an angry, unpremeditated explosion of violence – and it was over within seconds. He did something rash and then he tried to weave his lies in to cover it up.”

Ford remains in prison today. Interviewed during the 20th anniversary celebration of The Play, he told a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle, “When I get very depressed, I think back to that game. It brings me joy. I have a place I can always go. That one moment of time keeps me going.”

For Cal fans, it remains the terribly sad coda to the most joyous moment in the school’s football history.

With All The Trimmings

I never get tired of reading this essay by Garrison Keillor, which originally appeared in TIME Magazine back in 1995. It's a good way to start the Thanksgiving festivities, even if it is a bit early.

With All The Trimmings

It is a wicked world in which the power of any individual to cause suffering is so great and the power to do good is so slight; but here we are, the week of our beloved national feast, our annual homecoming, and signs of loving Providence are everywhere around us.

I am thankful to be alive. In Minnesota the lakes are freezing over in late November, and some men who envision a leadership role for themselves take their snowmobiles out onto the thin ice and fall through and drown in the cold water--their last thought in this life: "Boy, was this dumb or what?"--and so far I have not been one of them. Caution was bred into me: I never played with guns or made a hobby of pharmaceuticals or flung myself off a cliff while clinging to a kite. I read books instead. I read books in which men hearken to wild imperatives, and that is enough for me.

I am thankful for living in a place where winter gets good and cold and you need to build a fire in a stove and wrap a blanket around you. Cold draws people closer together. Crime drops. Acts of kindness proliferate between strangers. I have been in Los Angeles on a balmy day in January and seen the glum faces of people poking at their salads in outdoor restaurants, brooding over their unproduced screenplays. People in Minnesota are much cheerier, lurching across the ice, leaning into the wind as sheets of snow swirl up in their faces. Because they feel needed and because cold weather takes the place of personal guilt. Maybe you haven't been the shining star you should have been, but now is not the time to worry about it.

I am thankful for E-mail, which allows us to keep in touch with our children, and for the ubiquity of fresh coffee, the persistence of good newspapers, the bravery of artists, the small talk of sales clerks, the general competence and good humor I encounter every day. None of us is self-sufficient, despite what some politicians claim. Every good thing, every morsel of food comes directly from God, who expects us to pay attention and be joyful, a large task for people from the Midwest, where our idea of a compliment is, "It could have been worse."

I am thankful, of course, for Thanksgiving, a joyful and simple day that never suffered commercial exploitation and so is the same day as when I was a boy and we played touch football on the frozen turf and came to the table sweaty and in high spirits and kept our eyes open for flying food. My sister had good moves; you'd look away for an instant, and she'd flip her knife and park a pat of butter on your forehead. Nobody throws food at our table now, but in the giddiness of the festive moment, I have held a spoonful of cranberry for a moment and measured the distance to Uncle Earl, his gleaming head, like El Capitan, bent over the plate.As I grew up, Thanksgiving evolved perfectly.

It used to be that men had the hard work, which is to sit in the living room and make conversation about gas mileage and lower back pain, and women got the good job, which is cooking. Women owned the franchise, and men milled around the trough mooing, and if any man dared enter the kitchen, he was watched closely lest he touch something and damage it permanently. But I bided my time, and the aunts who ran the show grew old, and young, liberated lady relatives came along who were proud of their inability to cook, and one year I revolted and took over the kitchen--and now I am It. The Big Turkey. Mr. Masher. The Pie Man.

Except for gravy and pie crust, which take patience and practice, Thanksgiving dinner is as easy to make as it is to eat. You're a right-handed batter in a park that's 150 feet down the left-field line—it doesn't take a genius to poke it out.Years of selective breeding have produced turkeys that are nothing but cooking pouches with legs. You rub the bird's inside with lemon, stuff it with bread dressing seasoned with sage and tarragon and jazzed up with chunks of sausage and nuts and wild rice, shove it in a hot oven; meanwhile, you whomp up yams and spuds and bake your pies.

The dirty little secret of the dinner is melted animal fats: in all the recipes, somewhere it says, "Melt a quarter-pound of butter."Think of the fancy dishes you slaved over that became disasters, big dishes that were lost in the late innings. Here's roast turkey, which tastes great, and all you do is baste. You melt butter, you nip at the wine, and when the turkey is done, you seat everyone, carve the bird, sing the doxology and pass the food.

The candles are lit in the winter dusk, and we look at one another, the old faces and some new ones, and silently toast the Good Life, which is here before us. Enjoy the animal fats and to hell with apologies. No need to defend our opinions or pretend to be young and brilliant. We still have our faculties, and the food still tastes good to us.

Walt Whitman said, "I find letters from God dropped in the street, and every one is signed by God's name." Thanksgiving is one of those signed letters. Anyone can open it and see what it says.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Bear Will Not Quit, The Bear Will Not Die

Cal Bear legend Joe Kapp was brought in to coach the Bears in 1982 after a couple of really disappointing seasons (which, naturally, coincided with my two years in Berkeley) under Roger Theder. Theder's reign as coach had begun with promise; the Bears reached a Bowl game (the Garden City Bowl, of which there were few) in his first year, but in 1980 and 1981 underachieved to a remarkable degree - posting 3-8 and 2-9 seasons when the talent was there for 7-4 or 8-3. I remember how excited folks were when Kapp was announced as the new coach - his enthusiasm was infectious, and it was easy (if foolish) to overlook the fact that he'd never coached a game in his life.

By far, 1982 was his best season. The Bears finished 7-4, not good enough for a bowl game, but more than enough to keep the Old Blues happy. On the bright side, Kapp brought the dark blue uniforms back to Cal, but on the flip side, was also responsible for the questionable bear paw helmet insignia. And of course, he will be forever remembered as being Coach when The Play happened. From there it was all downhill, but he closed out his coaching career with another stunning upset of Stanford in 1986 - a fine way for any Cal coach to wrap it up.

To this day, he remains one of the Bears' most enthusiastic backers. No doubt he yearns for the day when Cal returns to the Rose Bowl, where it hasn't played since he was quarterback.

The Lost Season

It's still hard to believe how far and fast Cal has fallen this season. One play from being ranked the #1 team in the nation, to one loss away from turning the season into a complete failure - all in the span of six short weeks. I was about to say that things can't get any worse after today's shellacking at the hands of Washington, but unfortunately it isn't true - a loss to Stanford would be worse. And the way Cal is playing right now that looks like a distinct possibility, and if it happens it would leave the Bears bowl-eligible but without even the ability to point to a winning season.

Today, it looked as if they had nothing left after having left it out on the field against USC. The defense was a sieve, and the receivers looked like they'd prepared for the game with vaseline. Over the long run, the injury to Nate Longshore against Oregon was obviously the turning point.

A sixth straight win against the Cardinal would certainly help salve their wounds. If they can't get up for that game, they can't get up for anything - and fired up, I like them by 31-14.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Good and Evil

The story that has stormed the Internet this week about the woman who created a false MySpace account which she ultimately used to drive a neighbor’s teenage daughter to suicide demonstrates with alarming clarity that there is evil out there, and that it is probably closer than you think. No doubt, some would argue that the description I just used is far too black-and-white to discuss this particular case. I don’t think so. Had the woman in question shown any sign of remorse for what she did, I might have felt differently. But no, instead she became very friendly and “supportive” to the grieving family, doing her best to “help” them in their time of need. And with that, she forfeited any right she had to forgiveness. Her life deserves to be ruined for what she did.

You can read the story here. Michele speaks forcefully and eloquently about the case here and here. Beware – this is a story that stays with you, the kind that digs through your psyche and makes you wonder whether the world is even worth saving, climate crisis or no.

So it was good that after enduring that story, I came across this one, Sheila O’Malley’s account of a random encounter with a beret-wearing Dickens fan while waiting in line to see No Country For Old Men. It’s a simple story, but also one that sticks with you - in this case, a life-affirming one; something to cleanse your soul after the dark depths of the previous story.

And life goes on.

Bumper Sticker of the Day

"What Would Scooby Do?"

Monday, November 12, 2007

Another View of "Magic"

Quiet Bubble offers some well-written, insightful thoughts on Magic. I don't agree with all of it, especially the comments about the second half of the album, but these observations on "Radio Nowhere" are a keeper:

The song—well, almost all the songs here—are about trying to find connections with other people, about the desire and need for human touch, for the sound of another person’s voice. Mostly, the search ends in failure; occasionally, Springsteen gives us equivocal success. Here, and throughout the rest of Magic, Springsteen’s voice is fighting to be heard over the music, over the production that sounds murkier and more frayed than he’s ever let the E Street Band sound before. The guitars slur and muddy the water; even Clarence Clemons’s normally clear-ringing saxophone is brash, roughly recorded, as though its sound is unable to match the clarity of its message.

In his 1970s and 1980s concerts, Springsteen’s battle cry to the crowd between songs was “Is there anybody really alive out there?!” Two decades ago, it was a yell of solidarity; the audience responded with a roar. In “Radio Nowhere,” however, Springsteen’s voice is weary, trying hard not to be desolate as he decries that he’s “spinning around a dead dial/ Just another lost number in a file.” As his narrator succinctly describes his isolation and desperate search for anything approaching communion, Springsteen’s voice is buried by sound. “I just want to hear some rhythm,” chanted over and over again, becomes increasingly ferocious, but also pathetic. He knows he’s being drowned out.

Good stuff.

Veterans Day Parade 2007

Son #1, far left on the drums, playing in the annual Elk Grove Veterans Day Parade with the Pleasant Grove High School Marching Band.

World War II Veteran, later in the parade.

Belated Happy Veterans Day!

Punk, or Disco?

An interesting post that poses an interesting question - has punk or disco had the more lasting impact on music and pop culture?

My contribution to the discussion can be found in the comments, but there's one thing I want to add, in response to the notion (early in the post) that by the mid-seventies, pop music had become corporate, safe and bland. There is some truth to that, but there was also some great music being made during that period. A couple of months ago I made a tape to listen to in the car of music released in 1975, which included songs from the following albums:

Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen
Blood on the Tracks, Bob Dylan
Tonight's the Night, Neil Young
Siren, Roxy Music
Horses, Patti Smith
Katy Lied, Steely Dan
Young Americans, David Bowie
Physical Graffiti, Led Zeppelin

Certainly, a lot of those artists had been around for a while, but that's not a bad list - and that wasn't even all of it. The moral of the story is that even in the worst of times, there's some pretty darn good stuff waiting to be found.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Mad Enough To Change My Template

I really hate how I feel after games like tonight's Cal-USC game. In the 47 years of my life, I've watched literally thousands of sporting events, and have been blessed to see teams like the Joe Montana 49ers, the Will Clark Giants, the Barry Bonds Giants, and the Ken Stabler Raiders in action. But the "damn it, I just want to find the nearest USC fan and put their f*&#ing head through the window" type of loss is the stuff that always stays with you.

So what do I do? Change my blog template. Maybe that will change their luck. And I think this one might be easier to read. Whatever...I think I'll change every year or so, and it's been almost a year since I went to the "blue look."


A classic conversation between siblings.

I Want To Break Things

Man, if there was ever a night that was tailor-made for a Cal win over USC, this was it.

But it was not to be...a great performance by Justin Forsett, by far his best of the year, was negated by another terrible performance from Nate Longshore. Obviously the Bears' season turned with his injury in the Oregon game, because Longshore hasn't been the same since.

So the throwback 1975 uniforms (see above), to honor the late Joe Roth, went to waste. And Cal will look back on this season as a waste - what could have been.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Event-izing the Weekend

I'm afraid the effort to event-ize my life (for full details, see here) may get off to a slow start this weekend, because truth be told I'm looking forward to doing as little as possible.

The only things on the docket thus far:

- haircut, Saturday morning.

- Cal-USC game, Saturday evening. This is bound to be an aggravating experience, as USC appears to have pulled themselves out of their doldrums just in time to play us. But hope springs eternal!

- the big ticket item of the weekend is the Elk Grove Veterans Day Parade, in which son #1 will be marching as part of the drum line for the Pleasant Grove High School marching band.

Not much, but a start. Finding suitable events is proving harder than expected.

Something I'm Going to Get On Right Away

This week, the Fox network explained why episodes of the new season of 24 will be held until the writer's strike is over:

"This was a show that three years ago was showing some signs of wear from a ratings point of view, until we came up with a strategy to event-ize the show," Fox scheduling chief Preston Beckman says of the series' shift to mid-season back in 2005. "It would be a disservice to the show and to the audience to run eight episodes and just go, 'Okay, let's stop the clock.'"

Thank you, Mr. Beckman. Due solely to your creative vocabulary, I now have a new purpose: to event-ize my life. I'm working on a strategy as we speak, and updates will be posted here on a regular basis. Anyone with ideas, feel free to share them.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Vinyl Collection

In addition to owning somewhere between 1000 and 1200 CDs, I have around 1000 vinyl records in my collection. Today begins a regular feature, somewhat obviously titled “The Vinyl Collection," where I put the spotlight on a couple of those albums. For the purposes of this feature, I’ll focus solely on those albums that I own only on vinyl, and not on CD. I’ll also skip most of the easy, obvious choices – stuff like Abbey Road, Willie & the Poor Boys, Purple Rain, Thriller – in favor of less popular and more obscure titles. And before writing something about these albums, I’m actually going to force myself to listen to them, which in some cases may be quite a chore. I’m starting at the beginning of the alphabet, but reserve the right to skip around if something catches my eye.

ABC, The Lexicon of Love (1982). The Trouser Press Guide to New Wave Records points out that this band “revolves around the talented Martin Fry, whose detailed notions of style include setting his own Bowiesque vocals in lustrous pop production laden with keyboards and strings, mostly to a supple techno-soul disco pulse.” I couldn’t have said it better myself, so why try? Essentially, this album boils down to three great songs, songs that I wouldn’t mind putting on a party mix or a tape to listen to in the car: “The Look of Love,” “Poison Arrow,” and “All of My Heart.” The rest is more of the same, but not as good. All of which leaves me with the impression that a little ABC goes a long way. I actually own one other album by the group, Beauty Stab, and remember thinking at the time that it was better than the (more popular) debut. Might come back to that one later.

Adverts, Crossing the Red Sea With the Adverts (1978). This one I picked up because Greil Marcus included it in the “Treasure Island” section of Stranded: Rock and Roll For A Desert Island. Marcus wrote of the album, “head-down, into-the-wind punk from a band with the humor and determination to make you think their album title wasn’t altogether a joke.” Trouser Press opines, “In its own way, Red Sea is the equal of the first Sex Pistols or Clash LP, a hasty statement that captures an exciting point in time.”

Whatever they were hearing, I’m missing. To me the record sounds like it could have come from any of a hundred other punk bands. I could see putting it on during a punk party (were we ever to host one), but it would be well behind the Pistols, Clash, Ramones, and many others.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Worth 1000 Words, Navy beats Notre Dame edition

Piling On The Irish

I didn't have a personal stake in the outcome one way or another, but it's hard to resist adding something to the fray on Notre Dame's historic loss to Navy. So here's my contribution:

Tyrone Willingham never lost to Navy.

Bob Davie never lost to Navy.

Gerry Faust never lost to Navy.

Taking History Into Their Own Hands

An enlightening exchange between Steven Rubio and the Baseball Hall of Fame, on the subject of Barry Bonds' record-breaking home run ball.

The Hall's key defense of displaying the ball with the asterisk intact:

In our opinion, the baseball speaks to many significant parallels between baseball and culture in 2007, some of which include: a representation of baseball fans’ sentiments about the home record, for a one-week period in September 2007; a symbol of the adversity Barry Bonds had to endure in passing Hank Aaron to become the all-time home run champion, and; the passion baseball fans have for baseball history, as evidenced by the popularity of the online poll, in which 10 million votes were cast during a one-week period.

By that line of thinking, had someone written the "N word" on Hank Aaron's 715th home run ball, it would have been just as acceptable.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Another Take on Eden

An alternative view of Long Road to Eden is provided by the always insightful and entertaining Shamus.

My favorite graf, where his observations of the boys in the band are spot on:

Don Henley remains a smart, edgy and somewhat insufferable schoolmarm, with plenty of invective and few answers. (Henley’s hypocritical contortions over selling this disc through Wal-Mart have amused The Shamus to no end. Henley is the only artist I’ve ever heckled in concert, because he wouldn’t shut up about Walden Woods and sing “The Boys Of Summer.” Oops, digressed again.) Anyway, Joe Walsh is still your weird Uncle Fritz in the corner fiddling with his whammy bar. Glenn Frey still is bulked up and slicked back, and still has one of the most beautiful, underrated tenor voices in rock and roll. And aren't you amazed at how Timothy B. Schmit keeps that long hair so lustrous after all these years?

Even though I don't agree that this is their best album (Hotel California stands head and shoulders above the rest, to this day), in a way I feel like we're saying the same things about the new album, albeit in a different way. The only thing I don't know that I buy is the Shamus' comment, But they’re also saying, “We’ve done all we can. Here’s what needs to be said. Now, you new groups, you carry on.” I'm just not sure that they're capable of that kind of humility.

Just Because...

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Eagles Hold A White Elephant Sale

In a 1962 essay, film critic Manny Farber described what he had come to see as two distinct types of art: “White Elephant Art,” defined as “an expensive hunk of well-regulated area,” and “Termite Art,” which he outlined as something that “termite-like, feels its way through walls of particularization, with no sign that the artist has any object in mind other than eating away the immediate boundaries of his art, and turning these boundaries into conditions of the next achievement.” For the most part, Farber was applying the concepts to film; years later, Greil Marcus would apply them to rock music in a column for New West (later California) Magazine.

What prompted me last night to pull out the Farber book which includes “White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art” was the new album by the Eagles, Long Road Out of Eden. Because if there has ever been an album that could be described as “an expensive hunk of well-regulated area,” Eden is the one. In this instance, that’s not entirely a bad thing – in and of itself, it is a major accomplishment that nearly thirty years on, Frey, Henley, Walsh and Schmit were able to create a 2-CD set that sounds not just a little bit, but exactly like the Eagles, circa 1979. Assuming that folks are able to find their way to the nearest Wal-Mart to buy it, I expect that it will be an enormous hit.

On the one hand, that accomplishment should not be downplayed – the album sounds great (if this album were a floor, you could eat off of it); from the first strains of “How Long,” when the guitars click in and the harmonies soar, you think “Holy Sh--! Nothing has changed!” You’ve got your mid-tempo Henley chuggers, your bemused and sardonically amusing “can’t believe I ever got this lucky” Walsh tunes, and your “time for the girls to swoon” romantic songs with Schmit singing lead – they’re all there, all enjoyable. On the other hand, whether any of these songs will ever become anything more than background noise is hard to know.

Most of the political stuff comes on the second CD, where the band does stretch itself a bit. But listening to songs like “Long Road Out of Eden” and “Frail Grasp On the Big Picture,” I can’t help but wonder how they might have sounded with a little less sheen – the fact that every damn note is so perfect; everything is so pristine; just seems to sap the songs of their power.

In the end, I’m torn. By no means is this a bad album; it’s one that I’ll find room for in my CD changer for a while (and maybe longer than that). But in many ways, it also feels like a cowardly one. 35 years ago, Robert Christgau wrote of the band, “in the end the product is suave and synthetic – brilliant, but false.” You could probably say the same thing about much of Eden, and much of what Farber would call “White Elephant Art.”

Suddenly, It's Christmas

Making my biennial sojourn into Wal-Mart on Tuesday to buy the new Eagles album (more on that later), I noticed that their display of Christmas music was fully stocked and ready to go. I'm sure that in many other places within the cavernous regions of the store, the holiday decorations were just waiting to pounce on those Halloween costumes and boot them back into storage.

All of which brings to mind, as it always does this time of year, a song by the great Loudon Wainwright III: "Suddenly, It's Christmas," from his 1993 album Career Moves.

Suddenly it's Christmas,
Right after Hallowe'en.
Forget about Thanksgiving;
It's just a buffet in between.
There's lights and tinsel in the windows;
They're stocking up the shelves;
Santa's slaving at the North Pole
In his sweatshop full of elves.

There's got to be a build-up
To the day that Christ was born:
The halls are decked with pumpkins
And the ears of Indian corn.
Dragging through the falling leaves
In a one-horse open sleigh,
Suddenly it's Christmas,
Seven weeks before the day.

Suddenly it's Christmas,
The longest holiday.
When they say "Season's Greetings"
They mean just what they say:
It's a season, it's a marathon,
Retail eternity.
It's not over till it's over
And you throw away the tree.

Outside it's positively balmy,
In the air nary a nip;
Suddenly it's Christmas,
Unbuttoned and unzipped.
Yes, they're working overtime,
Santa's little runts;
Christmas comes but once a year
And goes on for two months.

Christmas carols in December
And November, too;
It's no wonder we're depressed
When the whole thing is through.
Finally it's January;
Let's sing "Auld Lang Syne";
But here comes another heartache,
Shaped like a Valentine.

Suddenly it's Christmas,
The longest holiday.
The season is upon us;
A pox, it won't go away.
It's a season, it's a marathon,
Retail eternity.
It's not over till it's over
And you throw away the tree.

No, it's not over till it's over
And you throw away the tree;
It's still not over till it's over
And you throw away the tree.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Fat Pig


For some reason, it brings to mind the last scene of Pulp Fiction.

"Mmm...pork chops taste good...bacon tastes good."

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Elvis On Top, Where He Belongs

Something for Greil Marcus to add to Dead Elvis, should he ever update the book: according to Forbes magazine, Elvis is back on top of the list of richest dead celebrities, generating $49 million in income the past year.
The rest of the Top Ten?

John Lennon ranks second with earnings of $44 million, followed by Charles M. Schulz ($35 million), George Harrison ($22 million), Albert Einstein ($18 million), Andy Warhol ($15 million), Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) ($13 million), Tupac Shakur ($9 million), Marilyn Monroe ($7 million), Steve McQueen ($6 million), James Brown ($5 million), Bob Marley ($4 million) and James Dean ($3.5 million).

Albert Einstein?

Monday Night Bombast

Last night’s game was the first time all season that I’d really sat down and listened to the Monday Night Football game. It’s always on, but usually with the sound down as the kids are doing homework, or as we’re listening to music, or just running around doing fun stuff like cleaning the kitchen and putting the dishes away.

After last night, I may never listen again – because the production and coverage of last night’s game was horrifying. Awful doesn’t even begin to describe it. Mike Tirico is OK as a play-by-play announcer, but not much more than that. Ron Jaworski, when he’s allowed to do some analysis, is good – but it’s rare that you hear him do that; most of the time he’s just another cog in the wheel of whatever the night’s “storyline” has been decreed to be. Last night, we were again treated to the “St. Favre Show,” with special guest Deanna Favre. Don’t get me wrong – I really like Brett Favre, I think he represents much of what is great about sports, and I think it’s wonderful that he’s returned this year to replace that imposter who played so poorly in his place for the last few seasons. I also think that because of his appointed status as a deity by the sports television establishment, he was given a free pass for much of his bad play over that time. In 2004, 2005 and 2006 Favre was not a particularly good quarterback, but you would never have known that by listening to the coverage of a Packers game on any of the major networks. Sure, he had flashes of brilliance, but also flashes of play that would have embarrassed a high school player – bad decisions, bad throws, bad everything. But never mind that – this year, he’s playing great, and if it were not for the other-worldly performance of Tom Brady, might be a serious contender for the MVP award.

But last night was incredible. Deanna Favre in the booth to plug her book? I suppose I could live with that. But was it really necessary to cut to her in the crowd after every damn play in the second half? There comes a point when it’s just overkill. We get it – this is your storyline for the night, and we understand. We’re not stupid. Please don’t beat us over the head with it.

But the more serious question is whether ESPN really thinks seeing folks like Deanna Favre, Jimmy Kimmel, Russell Crowe and Vince Vaughn in the booth is why we’re tuning into Monday Night Football. I like Vince Vaughn, and I like the lowbrow humor of most of his movies. But what possible reason can you have for having him in the booth of a close game, with less than 7 minutes to play in the fourth quarter? It has nothing to do with sports, and everything to do with marketing and entertainment. I guess that’s why Tony Kornheiser is there, unless it’s just to raise the level of bombast. It works on PTI, but just detracts from a football game. And PTI, at least in its truncated halftime version, has gone way beyond stale. Too bad, because when it first hit the airwaves it was genuinely interesting.

Overall, a hideous show. Difficult to watch during the best games, and excruciating the rest of the time.

Twin Peaks University, at Atlantis

You know, this may be a great idea, and I suppose it would be churlish to do anything but wish them all the success in the world.

But the notion of the director of "Twin Peaks" and the singer of "Atlantis" getting together to establish a university dedicated to transcendental meditation is something I'd expect to read in The Onion, not in an AP report. And to think that I thought the return of Uri Geller to prime-time television was going to be hard to top.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Free Falling, Or Dance Your Troubles Away

One play from being ranked the #1 team in the country, to out of the Top 25 in three short weeks. Yes folks, that’s the California Golden Bears. I hope they can pull out of this and salvage the season, and think that they will. But it will remain frustrating, because the table was set this year for heights they had never reached, and we may not see another season like this one for some time. Give Dennis Erickson a lot of credit – he may have been a failure as a professional coach, but the guy obviously knows how to get everything that’s possible to get out of a team in college. A lot like Pete Carroll, now that you mention it.

It was just as well that I missed last night’s game, because the lost opportunities and blown lead would have just made me angry. Instead, Debra and I were at the season premiere of The Sacramento Ballet, Artistic Director Ron Cunningham’s twentieth season and our 21st or 22nd (not exactly sure when we started going, but I know it was pre-Cunningham.). The company has moved forwards in leaps and bounds (so to speak) under Cunningham, and the only real downside is that, for the most part, the music is recorded.

Last night’s program consisted of Serenade, by Balanchine with music by Tchaikovsky. It is probably heresy for me to say something like this, but I find most of Balanchine’s works to be technically brilliant, but emotionally bereft. They just don’t do that much for me. The featured dance was a new piece by Cunningham, A Woman’s Journey: The Tamsen Donner Story. It was danced wonderfully, but it’s an odd choice of subject to build a dance around. The closer was Fluctuating Hemlines, one of the staples of their repertory, and always incredibly fun to watch. It’s a light piece, more modern dance than classical ballet, organized around the percussion of Tigger Benford. Good way to end the night, and then we wandered through the Halloween revelers to get back to our car, which reminded me why I never enjoyed dressing up in costume. I like the holiday, but just not as a participant.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Tunnel of Love

Continuing the festival, because I'm not quite ready to listen to anything else yet. Though not the entire song, this is a great clip. I'd forgotten the somewhat corny beginning to this tour, but remember very clearly the dramatic strums of Bruce's acoustic guitar. And Patti's outfit - holy cow.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Beat of My Heart

Show #9 – Oakland, 25 October 2007

I sit here at home, with my ears ringing from last night’s show, and wonder if it is really possible – could Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band be playing better now than they’ve ever played?

It’s a fair question. Sure, the days of 3 and 4-hour shows are long gone. The extended set pieces, a la “10th Avenue Freeze Out” from the 1999-2000 tour, are a thing of the past. But in their place, at least for one night in Oakland, was a remarkably well-paced, thematically unified show that succeeded on all fronts - a show that gave the new material the spotlight it deserves, pulled some wonderful old chestnuts from the closet and allowed them to shine, and lent new life and energy to the warhorses that always make up the backbone of a Springsteen concert – songs like “Born to Run,” “Badlands,” and “The Promised Land.”

The key to this tour is how well the Magic material fits in with the classics. From a setlist standpoint, the show I saw in 2003 for The Rising tour was probably my least favorite of those I’d seen up to that point. Not that it was a bad show (it wasn’t), but because The Rising material felt different, and didn’t always mesh well with the songs that were played around it. That wasn’t the case this time – the sequencing was perfect, both from a musical (“She’s the One” to “Livin’ in the Future” to “The Promised Land”) and thematic standpoint – the segue from “Magic” to “Reason to Believe” was so perfect, it gave me the shivers. In the end, what this may prove is that Magic is a better album than The Rising: more focused, stronger musically, and most importantly, more rhythmically propulsive.

Some reviews of this tour appear to be harping on the length of the shows, which I find ridiculous. Who else right now is playing a two-hour show with this much energy? Sure, I think it would be great if Bruce decided to spotlight some of his favorite new bands as an opening act, but if he doesn’t want to do that, that’s fine. He’s earned the right to structure his show any damn well he pleases, and he still delivers the goods – the show was worth every penny of what I paid for it. Think of him as a great novelist who has decided in the late phase of his career to write 400-page novels instead of 800-page epics. Length alone does not automatically make one better than the last.


- The fact that I saw this show with three “Bruce virgins,” two of my colleagues from work and the son of one of them. At no point did I hear them complaining!

- If anything, the live arrangement of “Gypsy Biker” was more powerful than the recorded version.

- As previously mentioned, the segue from “Magic” to the retooled “Reason to Believe.” I found the juxtaposition of “Trust none of what you hear/And less of what you see” with “At the end of every hard working day/People find some reason to believe” incredibly powerful.

- Max Weinberg. Man oh man, he was great last night. When he pounds that bass drum, you really don’t know if that’s the drum you're feeling, or just your heart beating.

- The interplay between Bruce and Patti on “Town Called Heartbreak.” I’d love to hear them sing “If I Could Build My Whole World Around You” someday.

- “Backstreets?” Are you kidding me? Pinch me, I must be dreaming.

- Not for a moment was there a sly grin missing from the face of Steve Van Zandt. He’s the main foil now, and obviously thrives in it.

- Clarence may not have the energy of old, but there is never a better moment than when he hits one of the classic notes.

- Seeing Roy and Danny play “dueling accordions” on “American Land.” Sheer joy.

- “The Promised Land” just gets better and better.

- “The beat of your heart/the beat of your heart/the beat of your heart…” from “Devil’s Arcade.”

Heck, I may think of more. The night was one long highlight. Hope they come back again next year.

Set List:

Radio Nowhere/The Ties That Bind/Lonesome Day/Gypsy Biker/Magic/Reason to Believe/Adam Raised a Cain/She's the One/Livin' in the Future/The Promised Land/Town Called Heartbreak/Backstreets/Your Own Worst Enemy/Devil's Arcade/The Rising/Last to Die/Long Walk Home/Badlands/Girls in Their Summer Clothes/Thunder Road/Born to Run/Dancing in the Dark/American Land

(Photo from the pit, October 25 by Steven Rubio. Used with permission)