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)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Springsteen, Mountain View 1988

Show #4: Mountain View, May 1988

This show marked the beginning of a good luck streak for me associated with Bruce shows. I can’t remember why, but I hadn't even tried to buy tickets to this show. But a couple of weeks out, a friend of ours offered up two tickets, and I ended up going with my friend Tim, who I’d met when we were both waiters for the late, lamented Chuck’s Steak House of Hawaii (alas, the one in Sacramento, not Waikiki). Tim is also a huge Springsteen fan, and had been lucky enough to catch both legs of the Born in the USA tour.

Tim is also a huge sports fan, another reason for our friendship. He’s been a member of my fantasy football league since 1986, and has managed the capture the league title four times, as many as anyone else during that period (my total stands at 3, without a championship since 1993). We’re also big fans of the San Francisco Giants, and for a few years running in the late 1980s, attended the opening day/night game with a group of friends. That year we were part of a group comprised mostly of highway patrolmen from Fremont, who rented a Winnebago for the day. And when I say day, I mean it - this was an all-day affair, one which began in the early morning hours with the ceremonial tapping of the first keg. By lottery, one unlucky soul was selected as the designated driver, but for the rest it was “let the bacchanal begin!”

In 1988, one of the highway patrolmen was, to put it mildly, one of the loudest and most obnoxious people I’ve met in my entire life. Every word that came out of his mouth that day was spoken at eardrum-splitting volume, and nearly everything he said fell somewhere between “offensive” and “actionable from a legal standpoint.” In short, a real a—hole. We were careful to make sure our tickets weren’t right next to his, because this guy was a fight waiting to happen. He was just waiting for someone to tell him to shut the f—k up. But that was not going to be us, and 16 hours later we parted, thankfully.

Flash forward a month later, as Tim and I are settling into our “seats” at the Shoreline Amphitheater. At the Shoreline, less than half of the seating actually comes with a seat; the remainder is situated in a “picnic area,” which essentially means that you stake out your spot, throw down a blanket, and hope for the best. As with most Bruce shows, the show began with a few high-energy, raucous songs, and then slowed down with some introspective, quieter music. As that section began, most of the folks in the picnic area settled down on their blankets. All of a sudden, we hear some guy just going out of his mind, yelling “Sit the F—K Down!! Sit your f—kin’ a—down!” This went on for the better part of a song, and all of a sudden we realize, ohmigod – it’s the same dude from the Giants game! And then a minute or so later, we start to hear, “hey a—hole! why don’t YOU shut the f—k up!” By this time we’re laughing, and saying to each other, “oh man, here we go, this is gonna be good.” Fortunately someone with some sense stepped in (probably the guy’s girlfriend), and order was restored.

For the Tunnel of Love tour, Bruce added a horn section to the E Street Band, and also had some of the band members change positions. If I recall correctly, Max was situated towards the left side of the stage instead of directly in the middle (to allow for the horn section on the right), and I think that Max and Danny traded spots, playing their regular instruments but switching places onstage. Whether Bruce knew at the time that this was going to be the last E Street tour for more than ten years is hard to know, but obviously he was in the mood for some changes. In retrospect, change was the order of the day. With the release of Tunnel of Love it became obvious (or should have) that Bruce’s marriage to Julianne Phillips was on the rocks, and perhaps nearing an end. Songs like the title track, “Two Faces,” and “One Step Up” painted a picture of Springsteen struggling in the relationship, and sounding a lot like someone who doubted whether he had made a good decision. Before the end of the tour the marriage would be over, and his relationship with Patti Scialfa (which would result in the marriage that lasts to this day) would become public.

Partly because of the horns and partly because he seemed energized by the outdoor, but reasonably small venue, this was an incredible show. Chestnuts like “Be True” and “Roulette” were finally given a place to shine, and the horns on “Seeds,” “Spare Parts,” “War,” and “Born in the USA” added a dimension to those songs that pushed them beyond the category of great and well into mythic. The second half of the show was mostly rocking, and featured some rarities/oddities like “I’m A Coward,” “Part Man Part Monkey,” and even “Backstreets,” my all-time favorite Bruce song. I clearly remember Tim saying to me as Roy began to play the first notes (with Bruce saying something along the lines of “this one’s for the folks who have been around for a long time), “is this the greatest moment of your life?”

Well, probably not. But certainly one to remember.

Set list:

Tunnel Of Love / Be True / Adam Raised A Cain / Two Faces / All That Heaven Will Allow / Seeds / Roulette / Cover Me / Brilliant Disguise / Spare Parts / War / Born In The USA / Tougher Than The Rest / Ain't Got You - She's The One / You Can Look ... / I'm A Coward / I'm On Fire / One Step Up / Part Man Part Monkey / Backstreets / Dancing In The Dark / Light Of Day / Born To Run (Acoustic) / Hungry Heart / Glory Days / Rosalita / Have Love Will Travel / 10th Avenue Freeze-Out / Sweet Soul Music / Raise Your Hand / Little Latin Lupe Lu / Twist And Shout

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Back to Springsteen For A Moment

I haven't had much time to devote to the concert accounts, so in the meantime here are a couple of good Springsteen links from Steven Rubio's site:

- A video of a great performance of "Twist and Shout" from the 1978 tour.

- A link to Jon Pareles' New York Times review of the recent Madison Square Garden show. Talk about feeling old - I remember reading Pareles as far back as 1979, when he began writing reviews for Rolling Stone and Village Voice.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Can Notre Dame Really Be This Bad?

Wow...things really appear to be spiraling out of control in South Bend. Few would claim that this is one of USC's best teams, but they just handed the Irish their worst home loss in many, many years. And that was with the green jerseys.

I don't follow the team that closely, so I can't really offer a theory for how they got so bad, so quickly. I do hope that the statute of limitations on blaming Tyrone Willingham has almost run out - this is Charlie Weis' team now, and it will be interesting to see how hot things get for him before season's end - especially if the Irish lose to either Navy or Duke.

It's too bad, because I honestly think that college football suffers when Notre Dame isn't good. Their game with USC should always be one of the two or three biggest games of the year. Just two short years ago, it was a classic for the ages - but it's painful to watch when it turns out like this.

Double Fudge

A pretty desultory effort from Cal today, even though they were in the game right up until the very end. DeSean Jackson became visible again, but enough with the bitching - just make some more plays. And the lack of a good field goal kicker is killing them.

The thing I really can't figure out is how UCLA lost to Notre Dame, and how they lost so badly to Utah.

The Bears won't be visiting Pasadena again any time soon, because it seems highly unlikely that a 2-loss team can win the conference championship. Alas, my early season prediction of 9-3 or 8-4 may be right on target. Time to play spoiler, and to beat USC. But man, the table was set for this year, and it's frustrating that they've given it all away so quickly.

Springsteen, Oakland 1985

Show #3, September 1985

In the four years between Shows #2 and #3, Bruce’s career underwent a sea change, and by September 1985 he was one of the most popular rock stars on the planet. Whether he ever intended for that to be the case is an interesting question. After The River tour wrapped up in late 1981, it was said that he had grown uncomfortable with the level of fame that he had achieved, uncomfortable with the scope of the shows he was now performing, and uncomfortable with the political world that he was seeing around him.

Springsteen’s answer to how he was feeling was Nebraska, which was both a statement on America in the age of Reagan, and a challenge to his audience. It was as if Bruce was saying, are you really with me? In the words of Greil Marcus:

Nebraska is the most complete and probably the most convincing statement of resistance and refusal that Ronald Reagan’s U.S.A. has yet elicited, from any artist or any politician. Because Springsteen is an artist and not a politician, his resistance is couched in terms of the bleakest acceptance, his refusal presented as a no that doesn’t know itself. There isn’t a trace of rhetoric, not a moment of polemic; politics are buried deep in stories of individuals who make up a nation only when their stories are heard together. But if we can hear their stories as a single, whole story, they can’t. The people we meet on Nebraska – the 1958 mass killers Charley Starkweather and Caril Fugate; a cop who lets his brother escape after a barroom killing; the kid who watches as his father gets drunk, shoots a night clerk, is given life and begs for death; the man who dumps his soul and goes to work as a hit man for the mob; the mill workers who’ve grown up in the glow of the mill owner’s mansion – can’t give their lives a public dimension because they are alone; because in a world where men and women are mere social economic functions every man and woman is separated from every other.

For an album of its type, Nebraska sold well, but not at the levels of the previous hits. Of course, that was never the intent.

Fast forward, to almost two years later. In May 1984, you started to see the ads for Born in the U.S.A. in magazines and in record stores; it was a marketing blitz by Columbia Records the likes of which had never been seen before in Bruce’s career. I remember thinking at the time that the executives must have thought they had a hot product on their hands, and boy were they right. The first single, “Dancing in the Dark,” sounded unlike anything Bruce had recorded up to that point, and when the first strains of “Born in the U.S.A.” came over the speakers, it was apparent that this one was something special. Though Marcus thought it was a step back from Nebraska, Robert Christgau gave it an A+, something he hardly ever does, and absolutely nailed why the album was so successful:

Imperceptible though the movement has been to many sensitive young people, Springsteen has evolved. In fact, this apparent retrenchment is his most rhythmically propulsive, vocally incisive, lyrically balanced, and commercially undeniable album. Even his compulsive studio habits work for him: the aural vibrancy of the thing reminds me like nothing in years that what teenagers loved about rock and roll wasn't that it was catchy or even vibrant but that it just plain sounded good. And while Nebraska's one-note vision may be more left-correct, my instincts (not to mention my leftism) tell me that this uptempo worldview is truer. Hardly ride-off-into-the-sunset stuff, at the same time it's low on nostalgia and beautiful losers. Not counting the title powerhouse, the best songs slip by at first because their tone is so lifelike: the fast-stepping "Working on the Highway," which turns out to be about a country road gang: "Darlington County," which pins down the futility of a macho spree without undercutting its exuberance; and "Glory Days," which finally acknowledges that among other things, getting old is a good joke.

As with the previous tour, the first leg was held in sports arenas, but it quickly became apparent that Springsteen’s star had eclipsed even those large venues. It was next to impossible to get a ticket to those first shows; even spending the night was no longer a guarantee. After European and Asian jaunts, Springsteen made the biggest leap of faith he’s ever made, agreeing to make the venues for the second leg of the U.S. tour the giant, outdoor stadiums that, up to that point, he’d avoided like the plague. That made it possible to score a ticket, though even with that, this show was the only time that I had to resort to scalpers to get mine.

At this point of my life, I was in what I now like to call my “post college limbo” period. After graduating from Cal in 1982, I had no clear idea about what I wanted to do with my life (though I knew it would probably have something to do with politics), so like thousands of others in that position, I went to graduate school. While I never walked away with a postgraduate degree (but I finished all of the coursework!), I met two people who would become central figures of my life, one whom would become a great friend, mentor (and later, boss) and Debra, the woman who would become my wife and bring focus to my life (whether she realized it or not).

This show was part of the pre-marital wooing period. I’d made Debra a lot of tapes in the 18 months I’d known her, and figured that a Springsteen concert was the next logical step. I can’t remember where she was working at the time, but I remember picking her up in the afternoon and beginning the drive to Oakland from Sacramento, both of us making the mistake of drinking a couple of sodas at the beginning of the drive. As punishment for that bit of stupidity, we were treated to one of the worst Bay Bridge-area traffic jams I’ve ever encountered, to such a degree that it took us almost two hours to travel the last 10 miles to the Oakland Coliseum. It was definitely the closest I’ve ever come to pulling over in the middle of traffic, and just “letting it all hang out” to relieve myself. Romantic, huh? Fortunately, she was feeling the same way, and when we finally parked (in a dirt lot across the freeway from the Coliseum), it was a mad sprint for the nearest restroom, with both of us shouting at each other, “see you at the seats!” We managed to make it just as the first strains of “Born in the U.S.A.” began.

Seeing a concert at a venue of this size is never ideal, and when you listen to the recordings of this tour on the Live 1975-1985 album, you can sometimes hear Bruce straining a bit. But when you were there, you didn’t really notice. This show had a ton of highlights, but from where we were it was a bit hard to see them. We were less than a dozen rows from the top of the Coliseum, and had it not been for the huge video screens, it would’ve been hard to tell if that was really Bruce and pals on the stage, or just some clever impostors. With this tour the “Detroit Medley” had been retired, as had been “Rosalita.” The “Twist and Shout/Do You Love Me” combination was a great replacement, and “Travelin’ Band” was the perfect way to close things out.

In the end, it probably was not the best of his shows that I’ve seen, but it was definitely one of the most memorable.

Set List:

Born In The USA / Badlands / Out In The Street / Johnny 99 / Seeds / Atlantic City / The River / Working On The Highway / Trapped / I'm Going Down / Glory Days / The Promised Land / My Hometown / Thunder Road / Cover Me / Dancing In The Dark / Hungry Heart / Cadillac Ranch / Downbound Train / Stolen Car / I'm On Fire / Pink Cadillac / Bobby Jean / This Land Is Your Land / Born To Run / Ramrod / Twist And Shout - Do You Love Me / Stand On It / Travelin' Band

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Rat Pack

Springsteen, San Diego 1981

Show #2, September 1981

With The River Tour, Springsteen established a pattern that essentially holds true to this day. The first leg of the two-year tour features a fairly established set list, and focuses on the recently released album. The second leg takes the band through Europe, and after a break of a month or two a second leg through the States begins, one with some variations in the set list – typically a couple of new songs, and occasionally some oldies that speak to whatever is on Bruce’s mind at the moment.

On the second leg of The River tour, a good portion of the slower, quieter material was dropped: “Drive All Night,” “Stolen Car,” “Wreck on the Highway”… Taking the place of those songs were songs that began to chart the slow, gradual emergence of Springsteen as a political artist: “Follow that Dream,” an old Elvis song that was turned into a tribute to Robert F. Kennedy; “This Land is Your Land,” which a few years later would become a much more overt political statement when Bruce began to explain the origin of the song as a response to “God Bless America”; “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” Creedence Clearwater’s great protest song; and “Trapped,” with lyrics and music by Jimmy Cliff but a song that sounded as if Bruce could had written it himself:

Seems like I’ve been playing your game way too long
Seems the game I’ve played has made you strong
When the game is over
I won’t walk out the loser
I know I’ll walk out of here again
I know someday
I’ll walk out of here again

Also making its debut on this leg of the tour was “Johnny Bye Bye,” which over time would go on to become one of the best known Springsteen songs that never appeared on an original album. Also, in what I’m almost sure was a tip of the hat to The Clash, who had just covered the song, “I Fought the Law.”

I saw this show with my friend Craig and his wife-to-be Becky, both of whom lived in San Diego while attending UC, San Diego. Craig and I had been kindred spirits for some time, having met in seventh grade and quickly realizing that we shared many of the same interests and points of view – both sports fanatics, both political junkies, both music fans with similar tastes. This show was the culmination of a very fun week which included outings to the Del Mar race track, the Torrey Pines Golf Club (where I embarrassed myself by hitting a player with an errant shot and managing to lose one of my rental clubs during the course of the round), and seeing “An American Werewolf in London” for the first time. But not only that, seeing the legendary “Rabbit of Seville,” the greatest Bugs Bunny cartoon of all time, as a short prior to the main feature. Don’t ask me how/why I remember this stuff; I just do.

As for the concert, I remember a lot of things really well. We had great seats; the entire band except for Bruce was wearing coats and ties (they went through that strange phase during this tour); the raucous celebration of the crowd when Bruce sang the “down San Diego way…” line in “Rosalita.” Also, I remember focusing right on the Big Man during the saxophone solo in “Jungleland,” and marveling at how Clarence could hold that note for so long while seeming not to break a sweat.

And of course, I remember it being a great show. No surprise there.

Set list:

Thunder Road / Prove It All Night / Out In The Street / Darkness On The Edge Of Town / Follow That Dream / Independence Day / Jackson Cage / Trapped / Two Hearts / The Promised Land / I Fought The Law / The River / This Land Is Your Land / Who’ll Stop The Rain / Badlands / Hungry Heart / You Can Look / Cadillac Ranch / Sherry Darling / Growin’ Up / Johnny Bye Bye / Point Blank / Candy’s Room / Ramrod / Rosalita / I’m A Rocker / Jungleland / Born To Run / Detroit Medley / Quarter To Three

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Springsteen, Oakland 1980

Let the festival begin.

Show #1, October 1980

The fall of 1980 was my first quarter at U.C. Berkeley, and those first few months were among the most memorable of my life. First time away from home, first time thrown into the chaos of dorm life, first time having to manage life with not one, but two roommates. As anyone who’s lived in a university dormitory can attest, the science of matching roommates with like interests and habits is an inexact one, at best. But that first year, in my “triple” at Deutsch Hall, they did a pretty good job. One of my roommates was from South Korea, and while he didn’t socialize with us much, he kept the same hours as the rest of us – something that is absolutely essential to peaceful co-existence. Rob Danin, my other roommate, and I got along great. In another lucky break, we shared similar tastes in music – also an essential component of successful dorm life. I haven’t kept in touch with Rob since college, but he has gone on to have a nice little career for himself in foreign relations, and now happens to be the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. In fact, I'm proud to say that I got a better grade than Rob did in a course we took together, on Jewish History of the 20th Century. But he's the one with the Ph.D., so I suppose it's not nice of me to point that out.

Rob was a huge Springsteen fan, and while I wasn’t quite there yet, I owned all of his albums and enjoyed them a great deal. Having subscribed to Rolling Stone for four years, I knew that Springsteen’s live shows were legendary, and when it was announced that he was heading to Oakland, getting there was a must. Cool guy that he was, Rob agreed to buy tickets for me. In those days, the only way to get them was to “sleep” overnight at the Arena where the tickets would go on sale in the morning, and luckily Rob and a group of his friends from Southern California were willing to make the vigil.

This was the era of marathon shows, and 28 October 1980 was no exception: On the night of the lone Ronald Reagan-Jimmy Carter debate, Bruce Springsteen sang 32 songs, played for more than three hours, and covered nearly every song from The River. I remember being blown away by the first part of the show, which focused on past works, and then falling hard for the River material, after having been skeptical about the double album on the first few listens. I remember Rob’s friends going absolutely crazy when he sang “Wreck on the Highway,” and I remember the utter joy of those last few moments when the lights came on and “Detroit Medley” began.

Needless to say, it was a great show.

Set list:

Good Rockin’ Tonight/Badlands/10th Avenue Freeze-Out/For You/Darkness On the Edge of Town/Factory/Independence Day/Jackson Cage/Two Hearts/The Promised Land/Out In The Street/Racing In the Street/The River/Prove It All Night/Thunder Road/Cadillac Ranch/Fire/Hungry Heart/I Wanna Marry You/The Ties That Bind/Wreck On the Highway/Stolen Car/Point Blank/Crush On You/Ramrod/You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch)/Drive All Night/Rosalita/I’m A Rocker/Jungleland/Born to Run/Detroit Medley

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

From Madonna to Keltner to James

Two of my passions – those who know me might say obsessions – are getting blended together in a most entertaining way, thanks to a couple of the best blogs out there. Those passions being rock music, and baseball.

The story begins at Undercover Black Man, with a post recounting David’s reaction to the next group of nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It then continues in the comments section (which includes my own contributions), where folks weigh in on the class of ’08, and generally prove Lester Bangs’ adage that “we’ll never again agree on anything like we agreed on Elvis.”

But things get really interesting when a comment by Adam points to A List of Things Thrown Five Minutes Ago, where they are applying Bill James’ “Keltner Test” for the Baseball Hall of Fame to this year’s RRHOF class. As it happens, Bill James is one of my literary heroes, and someone I would identify as one of the handful of most influential people in baseball history. An entire bookshelf in our library is dedicated to the works of James, and I own all but one of his Baseball Abstracts from the 1980s – including the edition where the “Keltner Test” is described.

All in all, from start to finish it makes for some great reading.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Running the Gauntlet of Ticketmaster

Sure it's convenient, but sometimes Ticketmaster almost makes me nostalgic for the days when you had to drag yourself out of bed at the crack of dawn to go stand in line at the nearest BASS outlet to buy tickets for concerts that were in great demand.

But thanks to a little luck and nimble fingers, I was able to navigate through the system this morning to score tickets for Bruce Springsteen's October 25 show in Oakland. And that's even with having to change my password twice and enter in a new credit card number, all within the 3-minute deadline for completing that particular page.

Which means that non-Springsteen fans should beware, because about to commence here is a Springsteen festival - accounts of all the concerts I've been lucky enough to attend, plus other fun stuff that pops into my mind between now and a week from Thursday. So in the days to come, memories of the following concerts:

October 1980 - Oakland
September 1981 - San Diego
September 1985 - Oakland
May 1988 - Mountain View
October 1992 - Mountain View
October 1999 - Oakland
June 2000 - New York City
April 2003 - Sacramento

Fun With Google Searches

Ever since I installed Sitemeter, I've enjoyed going through the referral links, figuring out how people got to my site.

Until yesterday, my favorite was the person who got here looking for a Stanford Cardinal blog. Whoops...wrong turn in Albuquerque!

But my new favorite is the person who landed here by googling "Steve Mariucci drink smoke drugs."

For the record, I have no idea whether Steve Mariucci (former Cal, 49ers and Detroit Lions coach) drinks, smokes, or takes drugs. I'd be surprised if he did, but then again I've always been kind of naive about such things. I did think he was a good football coach.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Anyone Remember This?

A Monday night in 1984, mid-October, Denver vs. Green Bay, some of the worst conditions football has ever been played in.

This comes to mind now, because it appears to be a foregone conclusion that the amazing Colorado Rockies are destined to make their first appearance in the World Series. The ten-day forecast for Denver looks good, but with the Selig schedule in place, should the Series go to 7 games, we're looking at November baseball for the second time in history.
I wonder what MLB's blizzard plan is?

Ten Questions: A Tagless Music Meme

Have at it, if you so desire...

Which performer is your least favorite member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? I’m not a fan of Frank Zappa, Pink Floyd, Traffic or Black Sabbath. Overall, and this was inevitable, the standards for entry have been lowered over time, but I don’t think there’s anyone on the list who is truly awful/undeserving.

Which performers in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have you seen perform live in concert? Talking Heads, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, The Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan

If there is one performer in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that you could bring back to life, in their prime, to see for one night only, who would it be? Elvis Presley, at the comeback television special in 1968. Runner-up: Sam Cooke, anytime, anywhere.

What classic rock album just doesn’t do anything for you? I think Sgt. Pepper is the most overrated album in rock history. There are at least four Beatles albums that I think are better.

What do you think are the greatest live albums in rock history? Springsteen at the Hammersmith Odeon 1975, Dylan Royal Albert Hall Concert 1966, Nirvana MTV Unplugged

Born to Run, or Born in the U.S.A.? Reluctantly, the former. I say “reluctantly” because I find the tendency of some Springsteen fans to bad-mouth the latter album, simply because it was his most popular, highly annoying.

What great rock artist has made the most truly awful albums? It’s got to be either The Rolling Stones or Bob Dylan, both of whom have released more than their share of stinkers.

Motown, or Stax? It pains me to say it, but a lot of Motown hasn’t aged very well (a lot of it, I still love as much as I did 25 years ago). But just about every Stax song sounds like it was recorded yesterday.

Johnny Ramone, or Johnny Rotten? Both.

What are your favorite albums that no one else has ever heard of? Robin Lane and the Chartbusters, and Frontier Days by The Del-Lords

Making History?

I realize that we're not even at the halfway point of the season yet, but I don't think it's too early to wonder whether the New England Patriots, 2007 version, are on their way to becoming the greatest team in NFL history. They have so many weapons, and they're making it look so easy against some of the best teams in the league, that you have to wonder. And Tom Brady? Well, with a full arsenal of weapons at his disposal, he's reminding me of Joe Montana, circa 1984 or 1989 - the two greatest years the 49ers ever had. In other words, as close to perfect as you can get.

I realize that Indianapolis is also undefeated, and has a pretty decent quarterback of its own, but right now I just don't see them matching up with the Patriots.

Is 19-0 possible?

Endless Summer

Before the leaves start to fall, it’s time to get back to some quick thoughts about those late summer albums.

The New P*rnographers, Challengers. I’ve never quite been able to figure out how to classify this band. “Power pop” doesn’t really do them justice, because their songs are more complex than that. You can hear a bit of XTC in them, a bit of Brian Wilson at his most baroque, and even (dare I say it) some elements of art rock. And then you’ve got singers like Neko Case contributing vocals, singing on a handful of songs that don’t sound anything like what she sang on her last solo album. It makes for an entertaining mix, and it gets bonus points for not sounding like anything else that’s out there right now. Pick hits: “All the Old Showstoppers,” “Challengers,” Myriad Harbour,” “Failsafe,” “Adventures in Solitude.”

Fountains of Wayne, Traffic and Weather. On the other hand, “power pop” describes these guys perfectly. This is my first Fountains of Wayne album, and in it I hear echoes of The Beatles, Beach Boys, Nick Lowe, Todd Rundgren, The Cars, and probably a half dozen others I’m just not thinking of at the moment. Christgau, who gave the album an “A,” calls them “lyric poets of what a more naive era called yuppieness, only now we know things aren’t so simple,” which apparently means that he’s studied the lyric sheet in much greater detail than I have. Pick hits: “Someone to Love,” “’92 Subaru,” “Michael and Heather at the Baggage Claim,” “Planet Weed,” “New Routine.”

Worth 1000 Words, Cal-Oregon State edition

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Oh, Fudge

...Except I didn't say "fudge."

Having obsessed about sports for most of my 47 years, I think I can say with some authority that the worst kind of loss - in any sport - is when you fall behind by a margin that seems insurmountable, and then your team does something extraordinary to get back in the game, and then against all odds appears to have the game won, and then through some combination of bad luck, bad karma, and bad play ends up losing.

That pretty much sums up what happened to Cal this evening, blowing their chance at being ranked #1 in the nation by losing to Oregon State, 31-28.

An awful loss, to be sure, but all is not lost. With LSU also losing, this obviously is the season where anything can and will happen in college football. And what the heck - two weeks ago heading into the Oregon game, I was thinking that the Bears were looking at a 9-3 season. That could happen, and the Bears could also win out to go 11-1 and make it to the Rose Bowl for the first time in my lifetime. Your guess is as good as mine.

Kevin Riley, the Cal quarterback who made the grievous error on the final play, should not blame himself for the loss. Cal's defense didn't exactly distinguish itself, and the offensive line couldn't make a big enough hole for Justin Forsett to get through on four consecutive plays from inside the two. And Jeff Tedford should even get a piece of it, for not calling something different during those four plays.

But in the end, it doesn't really matter. The Bears lost, but showed heart and character in doing so. If they can win the next two on the road, all will be right with their world again.

Twenty Questions, Minus Five

I've never done a meme before, so I'm borrowing this one from Culture Kills...wait, I mean Cutlery. I skipped the gaming part, because I don't do that.


Best books you read in school: The Count of Monte Cristo, Ordinary People and Catch-22.

Books you hated in school: Silas Marner.

Book you keep meaning to read but haven't gotten around to: Train by Pete Dexter and Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson.

Favorite Author: Can’t do just one, and these are just the contemporary authors. In alphabetical order, Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, James Ellroy, Carl Hiaasen, and John Irving.

Place from a book you'd like to inhabit: The San Francisco of The Maltese Falcon or the Los Angeles of The Big Sleep.


Favorite show all time: NYPD Blue – Saw every episode, all 12 years worth.

Favorite Theme Song: The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Have you ever bought a series on DVD that you didn't watch on TV first: Firefly, and the first two seasons of 24.

If you had to stop watching a particular show, which would be your first choice: Easy: ER. Other than force of habit, I’m not sure why I’m still watching.

Should NYPD Blue-style swearing and partial nudity be back on the air: Absolutely.


Best Shootout: The final scene in L.A. Confidential.

Best Car Chase: To Live and Die in L.A.

Best Fight Sequence: Uma Thurman’s first fight in Kill Bill, Vol. 1.

Character actor you love to hate: Either M. Emmet Walsh, or the guy who played the evil father in Dead Poets Society.

Someone who should be in every movie released this year: George Clooney and Nicole Kidman.

Dissecting the Response to "Magic"

A great piece by Ed Naha, dissecting and exposing the nonsensical response of some conservative pundits to Magic. Also, some great stuff from Naha on his involvement in the early stages of Bruce's career.

Russell Crowe, Up Close and Personal

Sheila O'Malley's contribution to the Close-Up-Blog-A-Thon does a wonderful job of putting to words how exciting and thrilling the first few moments of L.A. Confidential are, culminating in the moment when most of America got its first look at Russell Crowe.

It's hard to believe that ten years have passed since the release of that movie. At the time, few people had any idea who Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce were; since it's my favorite book, I was nervous when I read that two unknowns were playing the two key characters. Needless to say, there was nothing to worry about. It's as close to a perfect movie as will ever be made, and will only grow in stature as the years go by.

Friday, October 12, 2007

"Magic:" American Ideals, American Reality

After a little over a week of living with Bruce Springsteen’s Magic, it’s time to finally put some thoughts to paper – so to speak.

With a few exceptions, the sole focus of the media and the blogosphere has been on the album’s politics, which is disappointing to me because the politics should not have come as a surprise, and to focus on the lyrics alone ignores what I see as one of the album’s greatest triumphs – Bruce’s success (and much of that success should probably be credited to producer Brendan O’Brien) in creating a sound that is instantly familiar to anyone who has ever listened to Springsteen, but at the same time sounds different than anything he’s recorded before. The River didn’t sound like Darkness on the Edge of Town which didn’t sound like Born to Run, but that was more than 25 years ago. That Springsteen is able to pull that off at a time when he is approaching 60 is reason to rejoice.

Musically, this is Springsteen’s strongest album since Tunnel of Love, twenty years ago. It’s also his hardest rocking – we haven’t heard Springsteen songs with the frontal guitar assault of “Radio Nowhere,” “Gypsy Biker,” and “Last to Die” since the days of “Roulette.” But whether it’s that approach, or something like “Girls in Their Summer Clothes,” which sounds like it could have been recorded by the Righteous Brothers in 1965, or songs in the classic Springsteen mold like “Livin’ in the Future,” “I’ll Work For Your Love,” and “Long Walk Home” - from a musical standpoint, there simply isn’t a weak song on the album.

As for the politics: in his 60 Minutes interview last weekend, Springsteen made the following comment, one which provides the key to unlocking the theme of the album.

“I would say that what I do is try to chart the distance between American ideals and American reality. That’s how my music is laid out. It’s like we’ve reached a point where it seems we’re so intent on protecting ourselves that we’re willing to destroy the best parts of ourselves to do so.”

The songs that most clearly define this theme – the distance between American ideals and American reality – are “Radio Nowhere,” “Your Own Worst Enemy,” “Gypsy Biker,” “Magic,” “Last to Die,” “Long Walk Home,” and “Devil’s Arcade.” Anyone looking to paint Springsteen as “anti-American” will be disappointed to find that there’s nothing simple here – these are complex songs, obviously the work of a thoughtful, mature person – one who clearly loves the country in which he lives, but just wishes it were better. One can debate whether Bruce’s vision of the country is naïve, or even entirely correct – very little is black and white in this day and age. And based on other comments Springsteen has made in interviews and during concerts, you can certainly accuse him of being anti-Bush – a distinction that hardly makes him unique in this day and age. But one thing you simply cannot accuse him of, without making yourself look extremely foolish, is being anti-American.

There are three of those songs that I’d single out as instant classics – songs that, right here and now, I’d be willing to say will stand in the Springsteen pantheon alongside such classics as “Born to Run,” “Badlands,” “The Promised Land,” and “Born in the U.S.A.”: “Radio Nowhere,” “Gypsy Biker,” and “Long Walk Home.”

More than any other song on the album, “Radio Nowhere” proves that Springsteen can create music in 2007 that sounds as vital as the music he recorded in 1975. You can take the song as a spirited blast against the current state of corporate radio (I was spinnin’ round a dead dial/Just another lost number in a file/Dancin’ down a dark hole/Just searchin’ for a world with some soul), or interpret the “radio” as a metaphor for the current black hole of American political discourse (Is there anybody alive out there?) – the song works equally well in either interpretation, which adds to its strength.

Ultimately, where Magic fits into the Springsteen pantheon is a question best left to history; the kind of thing that is sure to spark friendly arguments over beers for years to come. At this moment, I feel comfortable saying that it’s his strongest album since 1984's Born in the U.S.A. I hope, 23 years from now, that I’ll be able to say Magic defined an era as well as that earlier album did. You never know about these things, but I’ve got a good feeling about it.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Marketing of Chewing Gum

Wrigley has a new brand of chewing gum called "5." Why it's called "5" is a mystery to me. Nowhere on the packaging does the Wrigley name appear.

But it gets better than that. The gum comes in three flavors, with three different names: "Cobalt" for peppermint, "Rain" for spearmint, and "Flare" for cinnamon.

Admittedly I'm no marketing expert, but I have to admit that none of this makes any sense to me at all. Why did someone feel the need to do this? What was the point? Am I falling for Wrigley's cosmic joke by even writing this?

In any event...I will admit; the gum is good.

Joe Torre

Though I would like nothing more than to be wrong about this, it seems inevitable that Joe Torre’s tenure as manager of the New York Yankees is about to end. I’m going to add a few more words to the thousands that have already been written in recent days, because if it happens, it signifies the end of an extraordinary era in baseball.

Whether or not one is a fan of the Yankees, their owner, or their payroll, the fact is that since 1996 the team, like no other in baseball, has come to represent sustained excellence. I’m not a Yankees fan, but I fully appreciate what they have accomplished over the past 12 years. In a year like 1998, when they fielded one of the greatest teams in the history of the sport, rooting against them seemed pointless. That team deserved to be savored, whether you liked them or not. In 2001 and 2003 it was easy to root for them in the World Series, against upstarts like the Florida Marlins and the Arizona Diamondbacks. In 2004, it was fun to rejoice in their epic collapse against Boston, if for no other reason that it had never happened before. But win or lose in the end, baseball is better, more meaningful, when the Yankees are successful – in much the same way that football is enriched when teams like the Packers and Bears succeed, and how college football is more fun when Notre Dame is actually good.

Now that the Torre era seems over, his years with the Yankees are being scrutinized; his weaknesses magnified. It’s only natural; when things like this happen in sports, people want to hear explanations. But to say that Torre’s reign in New York was anything less than spectacularly successful would be just plain wrong. With dignity and class, Torre succeeded in the most difficult of circumstances – the least forgiving fans, the most aggressive media, the most demanding owner. He won the loyalty of his players, and guided them to great heights. Sure, he made tactical mistakes. All baseball managers do; there is no such thing as the perfect baseball manager. It’s instructive to recall that when Torre was hired in 1996, the initial reaction was derision – even bonafide baseball experts like Bill James had a hard time figuring it out.

But that’s one of the great things about baseball. Had Torre’s managerial career ended in 1995 when he was let go by the St. Louis Cardinals, it would have been considered a failure. But as it turned out, he was the perfect choice for New York, and exceeded everyone’s expectations in spectacular fashion. He will be missed, and I’ll miss seeing him, whether it be sitting in the dugout, slowly walking to the pitcher’s mound, quietly celebrating the success of his players. A class act, from start to finish.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Properly Disclosed...But Not Necessarily Proper

Observing them in recent weeks, one could be excused for coming to the conclusion that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez are in a contest to see which of their political stars will fall the fastest and furthest.

With the recent publication of Núñez’ expenditure records, I’d have to say that the Speaker has taken a commanding lead. A partial list of the expenditures, outlined in Friday’s edition of the Los Angeles Times, includes the following:

The spending, listed in mandatory filings with the state, includes $47,412 on United, Lufthansa and Air France airlines this year; $8,745 at the exclusive Hotel Arts in Barcelona, Spain; $5,149 for a "meeting" at Cave L'Avant Garde, a wine seller in the Bordeaux region of France; a total of $2,562 for two "office expenses" at Vuitton, two years apart; and $1,795 for a "meeting" at Le Grand Colbert, a venerable Parisian restaurant. Nuñez also spent $2,934 at Colosseum Travel in Rome, and paid $505 to the European airline Spanair. Other expenses are closer to home: a $1,715 meeting at Asia de Cuba restaurant in West Hollywood; a $317 purchase at upscale Pavilion Salon Shoes in Sacramento; a $2,428 meeting at 58 Degrees and Holding, a Sacramento wine bar and bistro; and $800 spent at Dollar Rent a Car in Kihei, Hawaii.

Columnist Steve Lopez of the Times sharpens his rhetorical knives on Núñez today, which is never a good thing if you’re a politician. The money quote:

I suppose it's possible that a Bordeaux wine shop hosted a symposium on California infrastructure bonds, but when I called Nuñez's office for more information I got a stock answer from a spokeswoman:

"The expenditures were properly disclosed and described as required by law."

It's the democracy we've all been waiting for in Sacramento. Gulfstreams, Louis Vuitton office supplies and nose-thumbing responses to inquiring constituents.

The boilerplate response to Lopez’ inquiry is about as bad as it gets, and since it’s the same response given to the L.A. Times reporter who wrote the original article on Friday, it seems clear that Núñez’ staff just doesn’t get it. There is no connection – none – between the proper disclosure of expenditures and their propriety. Until his staff comes up with a better answer than that, expect this controversy to expand, and perhaps cost Núñez his post as Assembly Speaker.

And that term limits initiative on the February ballot? You can kiss that one goodbye.

Worth 1000 Words, Stanford-USC Edition

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Let Us All Rejoice In the Shame of USC

When something like this happens, you just have to throw sportsmanship out the window, and talk some sh*t.

Stanford 24, USC 23.

Stanford entered the game 1-3.

With their starting quarterback injured, the Cardinal were led by Tavita Pritchard, starting his first game.

The Cardinal were 41 point underdogs.

The Cardinal lost their first three Pac-10 games, all at home, by a total of 90 points.

Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel:

Stanford just knocked off USC. I'm speechless. I know you've heard this twice already this season, but that is the biggest upset in college football history. The stunner of all stunners. The Cardinal was a 41-point underdog. They were playing with their backup quarterback, on the road, against a team that hadn't lost at home in six years. I need to turn my attention back to the game I'm at ... but wow.

So how should fans of the Trojans react to this game? With deep, deep shame. They should probably stay indoors tomorrow, to save themselves from the fully justified taunts that they will receive. It’s sad, but losing to Stanford at home when you’re favored by 41 points has been proven to take an average of 18 months off of the average human life span.

Hmm…let’s see; what’s left?

Oh yeah. The Booty call? Shut it down. He ain’t that good, folks.

But all that really needs to be said, in the end, is…

Stanford 24, USC 23.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Al Oerter, 1936-2007

As I was growing up, nothing in our household was bigger, when it came to sports, than the Olympics - especially the Summer Olympics. One of my very first memories watching sports was the 1968 Summer Olympics, held in Mexico City. Eight years old at the time, to this day I remember the great American athletes who made a name for themselves at that Olympiad: Bob Seagren on the pole vault, Tommy Smith and John Carlos in the 200 meter dash (who also made a name for themselves in an historic moment that transcended sports), Jim Hines and Wyomia Tyus in the 100 meter dash, Debbie Meyer in swimming, Lee Evans in the 400 meter dash, Dick Fosbury in the high jump (who revolutionized the sport with his at the time-unorthodox technique, called the "Fosbury Flop"), Bob Beamon's miracle in the long jump, heavyweight George Foreman's demolition of the competition in his weight class, and Bill Toomey's triumph in the decathlon.

And Al Oerter.

Al Oerter was one of the great Olympians of all time. From his biography, on his web site:

Al Oerter is one of only two track stars (Carl Lewis being the other) to win the same Olympic event four times in a row. He is the only athlete to set four consecutive Olympic records. Seen as a longshot for a medal in the 1956 Games, the 20-year-old youngster surprised the Melbourne crowd by winning the Gold Medal on his first throw and setting his first Olympic record. Four years later in Rome, he exceeded his winning distance in Melbourne by 10 feet to win his second consecutive Olympic Gold Medal. Oerter's third Olympic Games, 1964 Tokyo, brought another Gold Medal despite a severe rib cage injury. Then, in 1968 in Mexico City, Oerter made Olympic history by becoming the first Olympian to win the same event in four consecutive Games. Remarkably, Oerter achieved his best throw in 1980 while preparing for the boycotted Moscow Games.

Oerter was an athlete of immense determination and amazing presence of mind. From David Wallechinsky's The Complete Book of the Olympics, the tale of his 1964 gold medal:

In 1964, Oerter knew that he would be in for a real struggle if he wanted to win a third gold medal. Not only did have have to face world record holder Ludvik Danek, who had won 45 straight competitions, but he had also been suffering for quite some time from a chronic cervical disc injury, which caused him to wear a neck harness. As if that wasn't trouble enough, Oerter tore the cartilage in his lower ribs while practicing in Tokyo less than a week before the competition. Doctors advised him to rest for six weeks, but the day of the preliminary round, he showed up anyway, shot up with novocaine and wrapped with ice packs and tape to prevent internal bleeding. With his first throw Oerter set an Olympic record of 198 feet 8 inches.

In 1968, Oerter again was a heavy underdog. Wallechinsky tells the tale:

The third round began with Oerter in fourth place, behind Lothar Milde, Ludvik Danek, and Jay Silvester. But, as if out of a fairy tale, the incomparable Oerter uncorked a throw of 212 feet six inches - five feet farther than he had ever thrown before. Al Oerter had become the first athlete to win four gold medals in the same event.

Al Oerter was more than just an athlete. He was an artist who went on to a successful career in abstract art, creating a gallery where the art of fellow former Olympians could be featured.

Having suffered from high blood pressure for most of his life, Oerter suffered in recent years from various cardiovascular problems. Advised that he would need a heart transplant to survive much longer, he declined, stating:

“I've had an interesting life, and I'm going out with what I have.”

They truly don't make them like Al Oerter any more. R.I.P.

The California Golden Bears, The #3 Ranked Team In The Nation

I haven't written about the Golden Bears since the big win over Oregon, and with a bye on Saturday, now seems like a good time to bask in the glow of a #3 ranking in the national polls.

It’s hard to put into words how amazing this seems to me. For years, the measure of a successful Cal football season was whether the Bears defeated the Stanford Cardinal. First year I was at Cal, in 1980, our record was 3-8. But with an upset victory over Stanford that kept them out a bowl game (and handed John Elway another defeat, something he suffered three times in four outings against Cal), we considered that season a great success.

Sure, there have been some ups – the Bruce Snyder years were very good, with consecutive bowl games, a Top 10 finish, even a New Year’s Day bowl game. But Snyder’s teams never managed to beat Stanford, and it was only after he moved over to Arizona State that he was able to steer a team (the one led by Jake Plummer) to the Rose Bowl. Other than that, it was one disaster after another: Joe Kapp, great guy, great Bear, great fan…but lousy, lousy coach. Keith Gilbertson, also a good guy, but one of those coaches whose destiny is to be a coordinator – not a head coach. One promising year of Steve Mariucci before the 49ers snapped him up, followed by five disastrous years of Tom Holmoe, again a good guy but one who consistently led his teams to underachieving seasons. It got so bad in 2001 that Cal managed to squeak out its one win only by virtue of the fact that they decided to play a make-up game (one that had been postponed after 9/11) against equally awful Rutgers, a game that most fans just wished would be cancelled.

And then came the messiah, in the form of Jeff Tedford. It’s been all good since then, and it started with the very first play of scrimmage – a trick-play 75 yard touchdown against Baylor. Since then: bowl games every season except the first (when the Bears were on probation), Top Ten rankings, national television, Heisman contenders. And most importantly, five consecutive wins over Stanford, the first time in the history of the rivalry that the Bears have been able to pull that off.

And now, #3. If the Bears win out, they will be in the BCS Championship Game, a feat that would have seemed literally impossible just a few short years ago. The road won’t be easy – this year, every team in the Pac-10 (even Stanford) looks competitive, and some of them are better than that – the two-game road stretch against UCLA and Arizona State will be tough; the Washington game on the road looks like a classic trap game; and of course there’s the matter of the nation’s #2 team, the USC Trojans. But, one can dream.

This week, receiver DeSean Jackson is featured in Sports Illustrated, where he is called “the most feared gamebreaker in the nation.” After a couple of mediocre outings, Jackson played a key role in Cal’s critical win over Oregon, and if he can make the most of his upcoming national TV spotlights, may play himself back into the Heisman picture. Best of all, the article comes on the Bears’ bye week, meaning the dreaded SI curse can’t have an impact.

During the game on Saturday, I was at the meeting of the Board of Directors for the association where I work, and it was just as well – I might have had a stroke otherwise. We were monitoring the game via wireless Internet, but just as things got really interesting in the 4th quarter, there was a presentation for me to give – which allowed me to kick off with a good laugh line, saying that I was less nervous about the item I was about to deliver than I was about the outcome of the Cal-Oregon game.

So far, 2007 has been so good. Roll on, you Bears!

To Heck With Those Wins - I Want To Play!

I’m a little late to the party with this one, but it’s too good to pass up. Peter King does a great job of skewering Matt Leinart for his idiotic comments following Arizona’s victory over the Steelers, but given that Leinart came from USC, I’m declaring him ripe for another skewer.

Here’s the money quote: Leinart expressing frustration with the admittedly unusual but thus far highly effective one-two quarterback punch (Leinart as starter, Kurt Warner as reliever):

"If I'm the franchise quarterback, play me and let me stumble, because I'll fight through it, and that will help me and our team in the long run. I know coaches want to win now, and they have their reasons. But I don't understand, and this switching back and forth is almost worse than getting benched.''

Yeah, funny thing about those coaches, wanting to win games all the time. I’d be willing to be that there’s a few thousand football fans in Arizona – long suffering, no doubt – who’d be willing to put up with a few wins if the only cost is Matt Leinart’s pride.

Don’t get me wrong – I think that Leinart is going to become a top-rate NFL quarterback, but for right now he deserves the lambasting he’s receiving for his comments - which sound exactly like a guy who has never had to face adversity in his life, on or off the football field. Get used to it, dude. This isn’t USC, where a “me first” attitude can work because the Trojans are just so much better than most of the competition. This is the NFL, where they eat quarterbacks like Matt Leinart for breakfast.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Postseason Baseball! On...TBS?

I’m not even going to pretend to understand what led Major League Baseball to sign an agreement with TBS to provide coverage of baseball’s postseason. But that’s the hand that we’ve been dealt, so let’s play it with a few comments about the announcing teams we’ve seen so far:

Orsillo/Simpson: Man, these guys are a major buzzkill. Through a quirk of fate on Monday night, I happened to catch only the 13th inning of the Colorado-San Diego game, and I couldn’t believe how dull these guys made it sound. This is POSTSEASON BASEBALL, guys! Not to mention that, but an amazing finish! Let’s show a little enthusiasm! Same thing today – duller than molasses. I read tonight that Orsillo covers Red Sox games. All I can say to Sox fans is, I’m really sorry.

Robinson/Stone: Better. Ted Robinson isn’t a bad guy; covered the Giants for several years, but I doubt he’ll ever graduate to the top tier of announcers (OK, tennis, but he’s not even the best at that). But overall, not bad. At least they showed a discernible pulse.

Stockton/Darling: Dave Stockton! Yahoo! I really like Stockton, and although he’s better known for covering NBA basketball and the NFL, he has a background in baseball – actually was doing the play-by-play on NBC during the most famous game in baseball history (well, one of them), Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, when Carlton Fisk hit his home run in the bottom of the 12th. Ron Darling, just OK.

Overall, for Jon Miller alone, I wish the games had stayed on ESPN.

Jim DeRogatis, Hack

I’ve long thought that Chicago Sun-Times rock critic Jim DeRogatis was a hack, but with his review of Magic, his hackdom reaches new heights.

First things first – as should be clear to anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis, I’m a huge Bruce Springsteen fan. But I’m not blind, and I don’t expect that every review of a Bruce album is going to be a good one. But I do expect an honest effort from the critics that I read, at the very least an attempt to make a rational case why an album works, why it doesn’t, and where it fits in the history and pantheon of rock ‘n roll.

But DeRogatis isn’t built that way – he always goes for the easy insult, delights in confronting fans, trying to come on like what I’m sure he imagines is a latter-day Lester Bangs (one of his idols). But ultimately it’s an insult to the memory of Bangs – sloppy criticism, and the easy way out. But apparently, DeRogatis is neither talented nor intelligent enough to do anything else. Don’t take my word for it, read his stuff. If you think I’m wrong, let me know. God knows I’ve been wrong before.

Why should I let the fact that DeRogatis panned Magic bother me? Well, for one thing, it was absolutely predictable, based on his history, that he would do so. I would have been willing to bet the house that DeRogatis would pan this album. And sure enough, one need read no further than the first line of the review:

“I got a coin in your palm / I can make it disappear,” the Boss croaks in the title track for his first album with the E Street Band since “The Rising” (2002), his folkie but bombastic musing on 9/11.”

In that first sentence, you have “the Boss croaks,” which isn’t criticism – just an insult. And then you have … "The Rising…his folkie but bombastic musing on 9/11." Bombastic? That may be fair, if you can back it up. “Musing?” Maybe, but in this case I doubt it. But “folkie?” If a critic can be said to be wrong only when he makes a factual error, then calling The Risingfolkie” qualifies as ignorance, plain and simple.

There’s more, but you can go read it yourself. It’s mostly juvenile stuff, designed less to comment on the album at hand than it is to raise the hackles of Springsteen fans. That doing so is more the goal than actually trying to criticize the album is painfully clear from the final sentence of the review:

Then again, as the e-mails sure to flood my inbox will stress in words that can’t be printed here, this New Jersey native -- my dad was born and raised in Asbury Park, for God’s sake! -- is the worst kind of heretic: A traitorous non-believer who’s never fallen under Springsteen's spell. As the Boss himself said, “This is what will be.” Deal with it.

It’s all about DeRogatis here. He’s not writing about the album, he’s just delighting in his own toughness.

Whatever. At least he likes PJ Harvey. But in the end, he’s worse than a hack. He’s a dishonest hack.

First Commentary on "Magic"

Son #2, arriving home from school: "Is that the new Springsteen?"

Dad: "Yep."

Son #2: "What's it called - It's Good to Be An Old Guy?"


While the brain batteries charge after a weekend of work followed by two days away from home at a conference, and while I organize my thoughts about Bruce Springsteen's remarkable Magic, I just want to quickly note another new album, one from one of the all-time greats: John Fogerty, the auteur behind the greatest American rock band of all time, has a new album, Revival, that I hope doesn't get lost in the shuffle and the hoopla over the new Bruce. Probably not the best marketing ploy to have it come out on the same day, but what's done is done.

This is just a quick hit, but to these ears, it easily sounds like the best thing Fogerty's done since Creedence. The voice sounds good and strong; Fogerty's lead guitar playing is as good as it's ever been; the band, led by the great drummer Kenny Aronoff, is tight and crisp; and best yet, John is rocking like he hasn't in years. A couple of songs, "It Ain't Right" and "I Can't Take It No More," sound like they could have been recorded for Green River or Willie and the Poor Boys, nearly forty years ago. And whether one agrees or not with the politics of the latter song, it sure sounds good to hear him getting political again.

But my favorite song so far is "Creedence Song," proof positive that after all these years, Fogerty is completely comfortable with all that went down after Creedence endured one of the most acrimonious band breakups in the history of rock 'n roll. On this one, he sounds positively giddy:

Well Daddy took a shine
To the lil' girl behind the counter
She was movin' her hips to the swamp beat
Right on time
Said could he play her somethin'
Over there on the jukebox
She said you can't go wrong
If you play a little bit of that
Creedence song