Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Warren and Joe

Always fun to discover a new Warren Zevon clip; this one is from the Jools Holland BBC program, recorded circa 2000. Near the end, Warren pays tribute to Joe Strummer in the song; Strummer's last band The Mescaleros was also on the program that night (you can see him near the end of the song, enthusiastically clapping along). Still hard to believe they're both gone.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Vampire Weekend - Tastes Good, Less Filling

Back in the early 1980s, a band called Haircut One Hundred was quite the rage for a while. Their first album came out when I was a senior at Berkeley, and I remember my friend Colin referring to them as “perfect pop.” Having a preference for more “meaty” endeavors (Clash, Costello, Springsteen, Zevon), I gave him a hard time about it at the time, and have continued to do so over the years. We don’t see each other often, but we do correspond via e-mail on a regular basis, and every chance I get I try to work in a little dig about Haircut One Hundred.

Well, now I think I owe Colin an apology, because Haircut One Hundred has been reincarnated, as Vampire Weekend, and I can’t seem to get the tunes on their eponymously titled album out of my head.

Whether that’s entirely a good thing is a question I’m not yet able to answer. Although the album is relentlessly catchy – also evoking bands like The English Beat and Aztec Camera – and the lyrics are clever, sounding suspiciously like something a smart college kid might write, the album is also light as air. Like the meringue on a lemon pie, the music on Vampire Weekend tastes good, but you’re not sure if there’s any substance there. Right now “Oxford Comma,” “A-Punk,” “Bryn” and “Walcott” all sound like – dare I say it? – “perfect pop.” But will they stand the test of time? Will what sounds great today become merely annoying a year from now?

Only time will tell. For now, go on out and buy the album – if nothing else, you’ll have something fun to dance to for years to come.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Revolution Will Be Televised

Nike is all about marketing.

Their products have never done much for me. Every single pair of Nike shoes I’ve owned have hurt my feet, so after a while I quit buying them. I’m not a famous athlete by any stretch of the imagination, but I run more than the average human on the planet, and all I know is that Nike running shoes hurt my feet. So be it.

Nike has a new advertising campaign out, for their Sparq Training concept. If you watch any sports on television, you’ve seen it. If you don’t, you may have seen it anyway. It “stars” LaDanian Tomlinson and Steve Nash, plus some other professional athletes whose identity I should probably know off the top of my head, as well as some “normal” people doing some extraordinary things.

It’s a brilliant ad, filmed and edited as well as just about anything you’ll see nominated for an Academy Award. But the best thing about it is the music. And thanks to the modern miracle known as the Internet, I now know that the song is “List of Demands,” by Saul Williams. And what a song it is – magnificently propulsive, immediately recognizable, and right away you know that it is going to leave an imprint on your brain that forces you to hear the song – in your sleep, in the shower, at work, running…in short, an absolute classic, from the first listen.

And for me, the confluence of Nike and Saul Williams is where things get really interesting. Though I’d heard of him, this is the first piece of his music I’ve heard. Based on this one song, it sure sounds like he is an heir to the great Gil Scott-Heron, producing art that entertains, but also leaves the listener edgy; uncomfortable.

Check out these lyrics from the song, and ask yourself what relevance they may have to the life of LaDanian Tomlinson and Steve Nash.

I got a list of demands written on the palm of my hands.
I ball my fist and you're gonna know where I stand.
We're living hand to mouth!
You wanna be somebody?
See somebody?
Try and free somebody?
I gotta list of demands written on the palm of my hands.
I ball my fist and you're gonna know where I stand.
We're living hand to mouth!
Hand to mouth!

And then there’s this:

Ecstacy, suffering, Echinacea, bufferin.
We aim to remember what we choose to forget.
God's just a baby and her diaper is wet.
Call the police!
I'm strapped to the teeth and liable to disregard your every belief.
Call on the law!
I'm fixin' to draw a line between what is and seems and call up a brawl.
Call'em up now!
'cause it's about to go pow!
I'm standing on the threshold of the ups and the downs.
Call up a truce!
'cause I'm about to bust loose.
Protect ya neck,'cause, son,
I'm breaking out of my noose.

And there you have it, the latest Nike advertising campaign. This is all very strange, but I love it.

And here’s the song which provided the inspiration for the title of this post, from the master himself.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Making Musical Magic

A wonderful post by Rosanne Cash on her recent songwriting collaboration with Joe Henry.

I've thought a lot about music in my 48 years, but not a lot about the songwriting process. It would be fascinating to read a book (maybe one has already been written; if so, I haven't read it) in which famous artists write about how they come up with their songs. In particular, some that I'd love to read about are:

Bruce Springsteen
Bob Dylan
Elvis Costello
Bacharach & David
John & Taupin
Becker & Fagen
Rosanne Cash
Jagger & Richards
Stevie Wonder

Where does the inspiration come from? What comes first - the lyrics, or the music? How do the famous teams work together?

In other words, all of the little mysterious things that lead to magic.

My Earth Day Tribute

...such as it is. This is a commercial that Discovery Channel began showing recently. Though simple and somewhat corny, it's also really cool, and for some reason it really grows on you. My favorite part is when Adam from "Mythbusters" calmly reaches over and lights his partner Jamie on fire.

Because the world really is a pretty awesome place, when you get right down and think about it.

Happy Earth Day.

Monday, April 21, 2008

laff riot #2

Right now my brain feels like one of those old "this is your brain on drugs" commercials, which explains why there has been little in the way of cogent and/or relevant posting lately.

But this is absolutely hysterical, and yet further evidence that the guys and gals at The Onion are geniuses.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Public Commitments

I thought it might be helpful to set some public goals for myself in terms of pieces I’d like to write in the next few months. So, for the loyal readers of this here blog (I know there are a handful of you), some things to look forward to (or not) in the coming months:

• An essay commemorating the 30th anniversary of the release of Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town.

• Should Del Campo High School’s Class of 1978 put together a 30th reunion this year, a piece about that, comparing it to the 5th, 10th, and 20th reunions.

• To commemorate the fifth anniversary of the deaths of Johnny Cash and Warren Zevon, pieces on their albums The Man Comes Around and The Wind, and how those albums dealt with the subject of impending death. This may be one essay, or separate essays, depending on how the writing pans out in the end.

• Essays commemorating the 25th anniversary of the release of “The Big Chill,” “The Dead Zone,” and “The Right Stuff.”

• Somewhere between 5 and 10 posts about Tiger Woods.

• Something on the most recent books by Bill James, Daniel Pink, and Kate Atkinson.

• A piece making my long-awaited endorsements in the races for Elk Grove City Council.

Danny on "Kitty's Back"

I have to admit that "Kitty's Back" was never a favorite of mine. That changed with Bruce's release of the 1975 Hammersmith Odeon concert, first as a DVD in the 30th anniversary Born to Run package and later as a separate CD. That 17-minute epic version, and particularly the long instrumental break (with its Van Morrison homage), is probably one of the band's greatest moments. This clip isn't from that concert, but here we see Danny playing his "Kitty's Back" solo.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Another Great Danny Moment

You don't see him much in this video, but his organ was the driving force which took this song to previously unreached heights on the 1999-2000 reunion tour.

Danny Federici, 1950-2008

Danny Federici, the great organ player for the E Street Band, died today of melanoma at the age of 58. Sharing a stage with larger-than-life figures like The Big Man and Little Steven, Danny was never going to be the most famous member of the band, but he was an E Streeter for longer than anyone. His contributions were immense, and he will be greatly missed. You never anticipate something like this happening, but as they say, life goes on. It just won't be quite the same, especially on that stage for Bruce and the rest of the band.

"The first time I saw Bruce, I knew it right then and there. He was just a guy who came off the street, but in the musicians' circuit in those days, it was like, you gotta see this guy Bruce. Bruce from Freehold. He had a big mane of curly hair, a guinea tee and suspenders, real tight jeans. He was so fast. He's still fast, but he never plays guitar like he used to play."

- Danny Federici quoted in Born to Run: the Bruce Springsteen Story, by Dave Marsh

In my book, Danny's finest moment came on "Racing in the Street," the great song from Darkness on the Edge of Town.

"Now that it can be heard, the E Street Band is clearly one of the finest rock & roll groups ever assembled. Weinberg, bassist Garry Tallent and guitarist Steve Van Zandt are a perfect rhythm section, capable of both power and groove. Pianist Roy Bittan is as virtuosic as on Born to Run, and saxophonist Clarence Clemons, though he has fewer solos, evokes more than ever the spirit of King Curtis. But the revelation is organist Danny Federici, who barely appeared on the last L.P. Federici's style is utterly singular, focusing on wailing, trebly chords that sing (and in the marvelous solo at the end of "Racing in the Street," truly cry)."

- Review of Darkness on the Edge of Town, July 1978, by Dave Marsh


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Well, That Seals It...

Bruce Springsteen endorses Barack Obama.

Dear Friends and Fans:

Like most of you, I've been following the campaign and I have now seen and heard enough to know where I stand. Senator Obama, in my view, is head and shoulders above the rest.

He has the depth, the reflectiveness, and the resilience to be our next President. He speaks to the America I've envisioned in my music for the past 35 years, a generous nation with a citizenry willing to tackle nuanced and complex problems, a country that's interested in its collective destiny and in the potential of its gathered spirit. A place where "...nobody crowds you, and nobody goes it alone."

At the moment, critics have tried to diminish Senator Obama through the exaggeration of certain of his comments and relationships. While these matters are worthy of some discussion, they have been ripped out of the context and fabric of the man's life and vision, so well described in his excellent book, Dreams From My Father, often in order to distract us from discussing the real issues: war and peace, the fight for economic and racial justice, reaffirming our Constitution, and the protection and enhancement of our environment.

After the terrible damage done over the past eight years, a great American reclamation project needs to be undertaken. I believe that Senator Obama is the best candidate to lead that project and to lead us into the 21st Century with a renewed sense of moral purpose and of ourselves as Americans.

Over here on E Street, we're proud to support Obama for President.

As Bruce sings every night, "I believe in a promised land."

When Idol Becomes Hazardous To Your Health

I have to say that last night’s show was the most excruciating episode of “American Idol” I’ve seen.

To be up front about it, I can’t stand Mariah Carey's music. In fact, I’ll take it a step further than that – I think Mariah Carey's body of work is the perfect representation of what has gone wrong with American music in the past twenty years. But having said that, there is one thing she does very well – what I would call “vocal acrobatics.” That is not to be confused with “singing,” but it has spawned an entire generation of stars, near-stars and outright duds who don’t do it as well as she does.

I will also note that she was very good working with the contestants, going to much greater effort than many previous “mentors.” She deserves much praise for that.

But what was going through the minds of the producers? How many times have the judges chastised contestants for trying to do Mariah and Whitney songs? And then they devote an entire night to Mariah songs? Whatever.

And please – “Without You” is not Mariah Carey song. As most people over the age of 40 will remember, “Without You” is a Harry Nilsson song. And he actually SANG it, and it actually went to #1 on the Billboard charts in 1972, something which Mariah has inexplicably done more times than Elvis Presley. Did Harry get mentioned once last night? Of course not. Because this show isn’t about art or craftsmanship.

And boy, Carly – I may have picked you to win the whole thing, but what a horrendous, awful performance. I hope to see you around next week, but if not, it's been nice knowin’ ya.

Is there really any reason to keep on watching? Is there any doubt that one of the two Davids is going to win this thing?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

"It used to be a lot of fun to play"

From John Hawkins' 2008 Masters story in Golf World (Hat tip: Geoff Shackelford):

After years of dealing with disadvantages one could trace to his lack of supreme power, a top-tier control player such as Jim Furyk might figure to factor, but even he speaks in somewhat jaded tones. "It's a pretty good test of golf," Furyk said. "I mean, it used to be a lot of fun to play. It's not fun anymore, but it definitely got a lot more difficult." Addressing the notion that people don't hoot and holler over solid pars, Furyk added, "I don't think we have [heard roars] for the last few years. It's obviously a decision they [tournament officials] made. It's their event, a different golf course, and there's a different way to approach it now."

The question now becomes, can you really turn the clock back? Just how dull will the tournament have to become before the membership realizes how ill-advised the Hootie Johnson-driven changes of the Tiger era were?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Gonna Party Like It's 1989

Moby's new record, Last Night, is a concept album of sorts, attempting (in his words) to "take 25 years of going out in NYC and condensing it into a 65 minute record." It's also a throwback of sorts, to the days when you heard everything on a Moby record but the man's voice himself (although there may be a bit of him in the background vocals on a couple of tracks; I can't quite tell).

Of the record, Moby also says "very simply, to me this record sounds like a night out in New York, with all of the sex and the weirdness and the disorientation and the celebration and the compelling chaos." That sounds pretty high-falutin, but for the most part he's right. It would be easy to say that the album is nothing more than a collection of typical "Moby dance songs," but if you listen hard enough, you really can hear the rhythm of a single night, and one that didn't necessarily go well. There's desperation in a track like "everyday it's 1989," a song that is compulsively listenable but at the same time, sounds a little out of control - as if the protagonist is thinking to him/herself, "I'm out here to have a good time, and that's what I'm going to do, even if it kills me."

Up to about 2/3 of the way through, Last Night is relentlessly uptempo, and then comes a down-shift that's almost stunning - what was a dance album turns into something that sounds like a Brian Eno experiment in ambient music (I don't mean that as an insult, by the way). It's almost as if Moby is inviting the listener to create his/her own story out of the music. And given the material he's provided, the one I'd write might be a little scary, and a little sad.

Of course, I could making a lot more of this than is warranted. Even if that is the case, and it really is nothing more than a collection of "Moby dance songs," I'd argue that this is Moby's most interesting album since Play - but one that falls short of that great album's status. But still very worthwhile.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

One Final Masters Note

"You have bad weeks and you have good weeks, and certainly this week was not one of my best," Woods said.

Think about that for a minute.

Tiger Woods came in second in the Masters, the most famous golf tournament on the planet, on one of the most difficult courses on the planet, on a week when he clearly didn't have his "A" game.

That may be more of a testament to his greatness than anything else.

Masters Notes XII

All right, with Immelman safely off the tee on 18, it seems safe at last to assume it's over.

And as Feherty said hours ago, the course was the winner. It didn't used to be that way, but then again it's not the same course it used to be, not with all the "Tiger-proofing." Still -8 (assuming a par on 18 for Immelman) is a nice score.

I just wish it had been a bit more exciting.

Masters Notes XI

Wow. Imagine Woods makes the birdie putt on 13, and the par putt on 14. Immelman would have a one-stroke lead, with two to play.

Masters Notes X

And I think this is gonna be over and out.

The every-11-years streak of historically dramatic Masters (Palmer's last, Jack's fifth, Jack's sixth, Tiger's incredible first) is over. This one, truth be told, was pretty darn dull.

But you have to hand it to Trevor Immelman - he hung in there when the pieces could easily have fallen apart, and he looks to be a worthy champion.

So the Grand Slam talk comes to an end, and no doubt some idiot tomorrow will ask, "what's wrong with Tiger?"

Uh, nothing. Just another top 5 in a major. And I'll still be shocked if he doesn't win the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in June.

Hold on...Immelman hits it into the water on 16? Incredible. Stay tuned.

Masters Notes IX

Well, that could be it for Tiger. I'm stunned that he bogied 14, but that short birdie miss on 13 obviously took the wind out of his sails.

Even with the bogey on 12, Immelman is up by 3. Of course, there's always some useful history to fall back on, if you're an announcer looking to dramatize the proceedings. So, we were just informed that Curtis Strange took a 3-stroke lead into 13, and ended up losing by 2.

However, Immelman just hit a wonderful approach on 13, and that may be it. Meanwhile, Snedeker goes into the water, for all intents and purposes ending his tournament.

And Immelman birdies 13, and leads by five with five to play. Barring a meltdown of Norman-like proportions, I think it's time to get that green jacket ready.

Masters Notes VIII

If Trevor Immelman wins, the shot he'll remember is the putt on 11 to save par.

And if Tiger doesn't win, the shot he'll remember is missing the putt on 13 for birdie.

Wow...what looked like -9 vs. -6 a few moments ago remains -10 vs. -5. Tiger really needs to make some magic now.

Masters Notes VII

Well, I sure jinxed Steve Flesch. Sorry about that, dude.

Did Tiger just say "Butt!" after his poor drive on 13?

Immelman and Snedeker in trouble on 11...does anybody want to win this thing?

Masters Notes VI

As I said, a birdie on 11 was a lock for Tiger. Now if that roar doesn't shake up the guys behind him, nothing will.

Steve Flesch is sure looking impressive - he may not win this thing, but he's holding up well.

Masters Notes V

Jim Nantz just mentioned that Phil Mickelson could make things interesting if he nails a couple of birdies on the last three holes.

What!? Phil Mickelson is playing today? Oh yeah, that's right - they did show him make a couple of putts earlier. Might be kind of embarrassing for CBS if he manages to pull a miracle. But hey, if he posts -6, that will have those guys really thinking.

Tiger bogied 10, and certainly doesn't look like he's having much fun out there today.

Immelman escaped with a par at 9 - will that end the slide? Meanwhile, playing partner Snedeker appears to be in full free-fall mode.

Great drive by Tiger on 11. But no birdies today, so don't look for him to pick one up there.

Masters Notes IV

Oh oh, it looks like Immelman is thinking out there. Right now it's his tournament to lose; it certainly doesn't look like Steve Flesch or Brandt Snedeker are poised to make a run at history. Which leaves Tiger, of course.

Well, Flesch just made a great shot on 9, so maybe he's still in this thing after all. Oooh...just missed a birdie that could have made things really interesting.

Now Immelman has a real tester for par at 8, and all of a sudden what looked like a 5-stroke lead about 15 minutes ago could turn into a two-stroke lead.

...and Immelman misses the putt. The game is on.

Masters Notes III

Well, Trevor Immelman certainly doesn't look like a guy who is about to crack under the pressure. And that really is a great, picturesque swing. And I have to admit that the picture of Gary Player holding him in his arms when he was a kid was pretty cool.

Apparently, there are only six guys on the golf course today. At least that's all CBS has shown us.

Masters Notes II

David Feherty commented that someone will wear a green jacket today, but the winner will be the golf course. Oh well; I guess that means watching today will be practice for watching the U.S. Open in June.

Ian Baker-Finch helpfully pointed out that Tiger has never won a major when trailing after 54 holes. Really?

Jim Nantz commented on the great rounds already in today - 68 and 69. Gee, I remember when great rounds on the final day at Augusta meant 65 or 66.

Tiger is in full-grind mode today, which can be a painful thing to watch.

How about that wind? Reminds me of Pebble Beach on the final day of the 1992 U.S. Open.

Masters Notes I

The first of what will be numerous posts today as part of a "semi live-blogging" of the Masters.

- Tiger Woods has never won a major when trailing after 54 holes. I know this, because the CBS broadcasting crew has already mentioned it four times in the first half hour of the telecast. I'm no statistician, but I wonder whether this is really a meaningful statistic.

- Might as well go out on a limb here. I don't think Immleman, Snedeker, Casey or Flesch is going to win this thing. It will either be Tiger, or someone behind Tiger who plays the round of his life.

- Not a great start by Immelman and Snedeker on #1, but they seem to have settled down a bit.

- Stewart Cink with a birdie-birdie opening - could he be the guy behind Tiger who puts himself in the history books?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

R.E.M. Are Back From Wherever They've Been Hiding

On the one hand, it's a lot of fun to discover that old favorites still have magic in them. For example, Bob Dylan in 1997 releasing Time Out of Mind, one of the great albums in rock history, after 22 years of wandering in a wilderness of sporadic inspiration. And now, Accelerate, about which it is easy to shout from the rooftop, "this is the best R.E.M. album in more than ten years!"

On the other hand, it does make you wonder - what the hell were they doing for the past ten years? Why did they see fit to release three mediocre at best, crappy at worst records during that time, and then go out and do all the same types of interviews, leading us to believe that these were, indeed, bonafide R.E.M. works? Now, I do have to admit that there were a handful of excellent songs on those CDs, but it's telling that off the top of my head, I couldn't tell you the names of any of them. For whatever reason, after the retirement of drummer Bill Berry, the band decided to go off and explore Brian Wilson Pet Sounds territory, and along the way forgot what they did well.

Being someone who likes to think of himself as a forgiving sort, I'm just happy that they finally remembered. The most important thing to say about Accelerate may be that it sounds like R.E.M. From the first chords of "Living Well Is the Best Revenge," you're reminded of what the band sounded like in its glory days. This is probably the hardest rocking R.E.M. album ever; what they probably hoped Monster (an album I liked a lot) was going to sound like. Michael Stipe sounds like he cares, and downright angry at times. You can almost see the smile on Peter Buck's face as guitars dominate song after song. When Mike Mills' harmonies slide into the background, you grin a bit, thinking "yes...that's what it sounded like back in 1987." And special kudos to drummer Bill Rieflin, who drives the songs in a way that Bill Berry was unable to, for whatever reason, on Monster.

By today's standards, the album is short - in fact, if it were any shorter, it would be a Ramones record. But that's O.K., because I'll gladly take 35 or so minutes of great music over 60-plus minutes of dreck any day of the week. I haven't gotten around to trying to decipher Stipe's lyrics, and I may not bother, because for me R.E.M. was always about the sound. If the lyrics sink in, great; if not, so be it. I understand that "Houston" is about Hurricane Katrina, and that's fine. All I know is that it sounds great, as do "Accelerate," "Man-Sized Wreath," "Mr. Richards," and "Horse to Water." The worst song on the album, and even it's not bad, is the longest - "Sing for the Submarine."

A recent article in Spin said it best - "for the first time in years, R.E.M. sound like a band again."

Amen to that. After all, they are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And they didn't get there by trying to re-create Pet Sounds.

Friday, April 11, 2008


Posting here has been light in the past week because of a trip to Washington, D.C., where I was part of the delegation for our Association’s annual federal lobbying trip. Nearly all of the hard work for this trip comes from our Governmental Relations office, but it ends up being a grueling week even for those of us who are just “hangers-on,” so to speak. Meetings typically last from 9 a.m. through the late afternoon, with a “debriefing” on top of that. So there isn’t a lot of time to really explore the surroundings, beyond quick glimpses of little slices of history here and there.

It’s hard not to be inspired by the surroundings, even given my cynical attitude towards what passes for political dialogue in this country. The headline story from the trip was that it’s unlikely much of substance will happen in Congress during this presidential election year, which in the end may be a good thing. Thanks to Special Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs Bill Behrens, the highlight of the business end of the trip was an impromptu tour of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, after our meeting with him. Mr. Behrens was nice enough to provide us with some historical background on the building, and showed us the office used by President Nixon as a “hideaway” office (the same office had also been used by V.P. Humphrey), and the Indian Treaty Room. He also took us out on the balcony overlooking the West Wing of the White House, where some in our group were able to catch a glimpse of V.P. Cheney, who had just arrived via limousine.

Of course, there was also time for some interesting dinners. This year marked my third visit to Georgetown’s Ristorante Filomena, which apparently was one of President Clinton’s favorite restaurants. I can see why; the food is great, and the portions are gargantuan. I had the Penne Con Salsicce, which according to the menu is Bono’s favorite dish. Also according to the menu, Bono asked for seconds, which I find hard to believe. The other restaurant highlight was my first visit to Martin’s Tavern, another Georgetown staple, which has served every President since Harry S. Truman, and as legend has it, was where John F. Kennedy proposed to Jackie. Great atmosphere, even with the rock-hard booths, and great food.

Overall, the trip reminded me how lucky I am to be working where I am, and how lucky I am to have such wonderful colleagues. But in the end, it’s good to be home.

All Bruce, All The Time?

Steven Rubio tries to put into words what all Springsteen fans are feeling these days.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Tooting My Own Horn

Brendan Loy, the erstwhile Irish Trojan, is probably one of the more well-known bloggers in the country, courtesy of his coverage of Hurricane Katrina, when he realized several days beforehand that a catastrophe in New Orleans wasn't just possible, but in fact likely. He's also a sports nut, and runs contests on his blog (now titled Irish Trojan in Tennessee; see the "Brendan Loy: link under "Spotlight" to the left) during college bowl season, as well as both the Men's and Women's NCAA basketball pools. Since nothing but pride is involved I always enter, and now stand poised to actually win one of the darn things. Of 91 entrants, I was one of just a handful who predicted a Stanford-Tennessee final in the Women's tournament, and should the Cardinal prevail tomorrow night, I'm the man.

Of course, what makes this ironic is that I'm a Cal alum, and it is Stanford, our arch-rival, that could bring me this triumph. So be it. For the record, I hate Stanford less than I do several other Pac-10 teams, and usually root for them when they're playing someone outside of the conference. Never against Cal, of course. But having seen them play this year, I found it hard to believe they were a #2 seed, and figured it was worth the risk.

UPDATE: Well, Stanford lost, so I came in sixth in the pool. Still, the best I've ever done.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Great Masters Moments: 1986

There's no video to be found of Jack's famous birdie on 17 which put him into the lead, but this incredible drive on the par-3 16th will do nicely:

The greatest moments in sports are the ones which are unexpected, and they don't come any more unexpected than Nicklaus' win at the 1986 Masters.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Holy Sh*t!

Nice dad that I am, I let one of my sons have a little time on the Playstation 3, figuring that I'd join the North Carolina - Kansas game near the end of the first half. I turn on the TV and the score is - Kansas 38, North Carolina 12?


With 7:31 left to play in the first half, Billy Packer has just declared the game "ovah."

Like A Spirit In The Night: Bruce Springsteen at Arco Arena, 4/4/08

After a while, you begin to run out of superlatives. You already know that you’re not objective, so you begin to doubt that what you’re thinking can possibly be true. So be it. After seeing Bruce Springsteen for the tenth time last night, I’m comfortable saying that this is among the best two or three shows that I’ve seen – and maybe the best ever.

Circumstances had a lot to do with it. Number one, it was the night before my birthday (and by the time we got home, it was my birthday), and that’s always a good reason to celebrate. Number two, my wife Debra was able to join the party, making it the fifth show since 1985 that we’ve seen together. Third, my parents joined us, armed with their earplugs, for their baptism, at age 72, into Bruce-mania (it’s never too late to start). Fourth, through dumb luck more than anything else, we were there with my two closest Bruce compadres – Craig, with whom I saw the 1981 show in San Diego and the 2000 show in New York City; and Tim (joined by his wife Carole), with whom I saw the 1988 show in Mountain View, the 1999 show in Oakland, and the 2003 show in Sacramento. I say dumb luck because Craig and his family live in London, which makes it a little hard for him to make a quick jaunt over to Arco Arena. But a family trip coincided perfectly with Bruce’s tour schedule, and the rest is history (he also was joined by his mother, also her first Bruce experience). All of us met in the parking lot a couple of hours before the show – joined by co-worker Stephanie, also at her first Bruce experience; and colleague Sherry, who was (needless to say) delighted that Bruce played “Sherry Darling” – and it would have been a great night just for the party. Speaking of dumb luck, I should also mention that I ran into Steven Rubio, who’s been seeing Bruce shows even longer than I have, and had the opportunity to introduce myself. Steven is a Berkeley-based blogger, and a man after my own heart.

So the stage was set for a memorable evening, and Bruce and the band delivered in spades. Like many shows from the second leg of 2-year tours, the band had settled in with the new material, and the structure of the show was looser, with Bruce pulling some chestnuts from the past to spice up the proceedings. And it didn’t take long for one of those chestnuts to make an appearance – the show opener was “Spirit in the Night,” a song that, if I’m not mistaken, I’ve never seen performed live. Other “oldies but goodies” included “Murder Incorporated,” which remains one of the best-sounding live songs in the playbook; “Because the Night,” featuring a mind-blowing solo by Nils Lofgren; and “Rosalita,” the erstwhile former show closer; with Bruce holding up a sign from someone in the audience saying “Can Rosie come out tonight?” Indeed she could.

Some other notable moments:

• Charlie Giordano sat in for Danny Federici, and when Bruce called the audible which resulted in “Sherry Darling” (it was obvious; you could see him walking around to each member of the band), it was funny to see him whipping through his songbook to find it – apparently, the first time he’d ever played it!

• Of all the songs on Magic, the one which really has blossomed in concert is “Gypsy Biker.” Steve’s acoustic intro, and his guitar duel with Bruce at the end, were (if you’ll pardon the expression) magical.

• Max Weinberg is a miracle; a force of nature. It’s become a cliché to say it, but that he is able to get that sound out of a drum kit that small is amazing.

• During the spoken intro to “Living in the Future,” there were more demurrers in the audience (including a woman right behind us who yelled “just shut up and sing!”) than I’d heard before, even when Bruce sang “American Skin (41 Shots)” in 2000 – a show I’ll be writing about later.

• I really enjoyed “Girls in Their Summer Clothes” a lot more this time around – the band seemed more comfortable with it than they did last October, although they did seem to lose the beat near the end.

• This really has nothing to do with the show itself, but we learned a valuable lesson tonight, thanks to the young woman sitting right in front of me. So young women, listen closely: it is not a good idea to wear low-cut jeans, without underwear, when you’re attending a concert where you’re going to be standing up and sitting down a lot. And don’t ask me how I knew; just take my word for it.

In the end, it was one of those nights that, it seems corny to say, I’ll remember for the rest of my life. It’s probably a safe bet to say that this particular group of people will never all be together at the same time again, and let’s face it – the E Street Band in its current incarnation won’t go on forever, as evidenced by Danny’s health issues and the fact that Clarence has to spend much of the night sitting on his well-deserved throne, rather than roaming the stage.

In some ways it’s sad, but it’s also a reason to celebrate. Celebrate the spirit in the night.


Spirit in the Night/Radio Nowhere/No Surrender/Lonesome Day/Gypsy Biker/Magic/Murder Incorporated/Candy's Room/Because the Night/She's the One/Livin' in the Future/The Promised Land/Sherry Darling/Backstreets/Devil's Arcade/The Rising/Last to Die/Long Walk Home/Badlands/Girls in Their Summer Clothes/Rosalita/Born to Run/Ramrod/American Land

Read more of my writing about Bruce here.

Read Steven Rubio's thoughts on the April 4 show here.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Great Masters Moments: 2005

Posting has been light this week because it's taken longer than usual for me to mentally recover from my trip to Orlando. You wouldn't think three hours difference would be such a big deal, but for some reason this time a lot of the California contingent was expressing similar complaints. Of course, staying up way late to watch basketball probably didn't help much.

I had hoped to catch up completely on the Bruce shows, but that isn't going to happen, since the Sacramento show is tonight. Bruce has had four days off since the last concert, so maybe tonight will be something special.

But in the meantime, something I never get tired of watching: Tiger Woods' famous chip on the 16th hole, at the 2005 Masters. One of the greatest shots in Masters history. What has already become forgotten to history is that Woods bogied the next two holes to end up in a playoff with Chris DiMarco, which he won. So it could be said, I suppose, that this was the winning shot.