Monday, December 31, 2007
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
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.
Friday, December 28, 2007
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
Monday, December 24, 2007
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Friday, December 21, 2007
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Monday, December 17, 2007
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
Saturday, December 15, 2007
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
[OK...so 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
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.
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.
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
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
A special bonus...it 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.
Monday, December 10, 2007
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.
Sunday, December 09, 2007
Saturday, December 08, 2007
Friday, December 07, 2007
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
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 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."
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.
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
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."
Monday, December 03, 2007
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.
Fighter jet flyover
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
Sunday, December 02, 2007
- 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.
Saturday, December 01, 2007
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.