Wednesday, July 30, 2008

It's A Soup To Nuts Carnival!

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I have posts included in all five courses of the Soup to Nuts Progressive Dinner Carnival that began just a few moments ago.

Check out each site, and leave comments on as many posts as possible (including mine, of course).
The sites are as follows:

Hors 'doeuvres and cocktails: Stories of a Traveling Diva

A Chill in the Air

This summer, I've been as good about running as I've been for quite a while. No matter how much the body wants to stay in bed in the morning, I've dragged it up at 6 a.m. to run each Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and have been able to go out on both days most weekends.

The past few days, it's been cooling down nicely in the evenings, and early in the morning I'd go so far as to say that some people might decide to wear sweaters, and I wouldn't make fun of them. Today was such a morning, and for the first time this summer, something clicked in my head while I was running that said "fall is on the way." This happens to me at some point every year, and it's hard to put into words. I feel the chill physically, but in my mind I see the change that is coming, and at the same time feel a bit in awe at the passage of time. Didn't school just get out? Didn't we just celebrate Memorial Day? And has it really been almost a month since Independence Day?

Well, yes we did, and yes it has. And before you know it, the pigskin will be in the air, it will be dark when that alarm clock goes off every morning, and the leaves will turn. And summer will be nothing but a memory.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Warren Sings Prince

In 1989, while recording Sentimental Hygiene with Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Bill Berry of R.E.M. as his backing band, Zevon joined the trio to form Hindu Love Gods, releasing one album that consisted mostly of rock versions of Robert Johnson blues tunes and other old folk songs. The exception was "Raspberry Beret," by Prince. About the only thing Zevon's version has in common with the original is the melody.

In this clip, Zevon sings the song with Paul Shaffer and the World's Most Dangerous Band, on Late Night with David Letterman.

Jeff's Jukebox: B-8

B-8: "Rent," Pet Shop Boys

And now for something completely different - time to get into a little 1980s European synth pop.

Pet Shop Boys have been spinning out dance hits for nearly 25 years now. They're probably best known for "West End Girls," but this is my favorite song of theirs, from the great 1986 album Pet Shop Boys, Actually. I suppose you could dance to it, but it's not a dance song per se. It's the song of a kept man, somewhat haunting and somewhat gorgeous, all at the same time.

You dress me up
I'm your puppet
You buy me things
I love it
You bring me food
I need it
You give me love
I feed it

And look at the two of us in sympathy
with everything we see
I never want anything, it's easy
you buy whatever I need
But look at my hopes, look at my dreams
the currency we've spent
I love you, you pay my rent
I love you, you pay my rent

Monday, July 28, 2008

Peter King and Brett Favre - Let's Get Real

Peter King, who writes a great column for SI.Com, today devotes a healthy chunk of his Monday Morning Quarterback to the ongoing Brett Favre saga. Much of it is great information, but there are a handful of things that I take strong issue with.

First, from a section in the column that King calls "Things I Think I Know" about the situation:

8. I think I know the Jets are fact-finding about Favre, as are the Bucs. But Favre is lukewarm, at best, about playing in either spot. The best thing either team could do is send a GM or owner, or both, to Mississippi today or tomorrow to fact-find with Favre. He doesn't know either team well. I know the teams don't want to be seen as groveling around Favre and begging him to come because of the impression it would leave about their incumbent quarterbacks, but Favre's in a sensitive spot right now. He's human. He'd like to be loved a little bit right now, or at least gather some information so if he had to make a decision about whether to accept a trade he'd know more than he knows now.

[Emphasis added]

"...but Favre's in a sensitive spot right now. He's human. He'd like to be loved a little bit right now..." What? Are you kidding me? Favre has milked the media for all it is worth on the retirement issue for several years now, made what sounded to the entire world like a heartfelt, definitive retirement announcement several months ago, and now he'd like to be loved a little bit? Sorry, but this is total b.s. Favre has only himself to blame for this situation, and here King comes dangerously close to enabling his behavior. It's a tough thing to say, but I think Favre has lost the right to claim the benefit of the doubt. And he certainly is not deserving of much sympathy.

From the same section of the column:

10. I think I know this too shall pass. What was Jerry Rice's last team? Seriously: What team was he with last in the NFL? You don't know. (Well, OK, all you Bronco fans know.) He was in Denver's camp trying to make that team on his way out of the NFL. And the media was all atwitter with stuff like: "You're ruining your legacy, Jerry!''

Well, I do know, and I suspect that most passionate NFL fans know, but that's neither here nor there.

I think King is dead wrong on this comparison. The annals of major league sports are littered with the carcasses of legendary athletes who stayed on past their prime. What Jerry Rice was doing - trying to squeeze one more season out of a tired body and not realizing that his time was up - has absolutely nothing in common with what Brett Favre is doing. The assumption with Favre is that he will still be a great player in 2008. That's one thing. But more importantly, what Favre is doing now has nothing to do with his legacy on the field - had he announced back in March that he was returning for one more season and then stunk up the joint, everyone eventually would have forgotten that one season and chosen to remember the glory years.

What Favre is threatening to ruin (and may have already damaged beyond repair) is his legacy as a person. For years, Favre has cultivated, if not encouraged, a portrayal of himself as the one guy who was different...the one guy who was in it for the love of the game, who put loyalty and sportsmanship above all else. The media ate it up, and he became "St. Favre," the player who was out there helping his team, even as he was making bad decisions in the pocket and playing like a shadow of his former self. And let's not kid ourselves; in recent years there were more of those kinds of seasons than there were glorious years like 2007. What has happened this summer has exposed the legend as a lie. And while Brett Favre will continue to be rightly revered for his play on the field, never again should he be held up as the shining example of some ideal that never existed in the first place.

And later, from the "Things I Think I Think" section of the column:

I think in Washington the other day, Redskins VP Vinny Cerrato made the kind of point that made me say, "I wish I'd thought of that.'' He said he wondered if the Favre situation would have turned out differently if the Packers had the kind of ownership structure that had one man at the helm, not a community. Would this be happening if Dan Snyder employed a legendary quarterback in his twilight? Or Jerry Jones? Or Bob Kraft? Or Pat Bowlen? Great, great point.

Huh? Why is that a great point? Where is any shred of evidence that those guys would have done things differently? In fact, I think one could construct an argument that those guys, tough businessmen that they are, might have jettisoned Favre about two seasons ago, holding a big party and thanking him for his years of service. The only comparison I can think of in recent years was the 49ers dealing with Joe Montana, who was only the greatest quarterback of my lifetime. And when it came down to the tough choice, Montana was on his way to Kansas City. I think King totally dropped the ball on this one.

As none other than Brett Favre himself says, recounted by King near the end of the column: "this is the ugliness of business." That's exactly right, Brett. And you're not immune to it.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Home Library - The Michael Connelly Section

Michael Connelly discovered the books of Raymond Chandler when he was in college, and then honed his chops as a writer working the crime beat for newspapers in Florida and Los Angeles. To date, Connelly has written 18 novels, 13 of which feature his singular creation, Detective Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch. A Vietnam Veteran, Bosch is haunted by the cases he works, and is driven by the code "everybody counts, or nobody counts." In what is perhaps a tip of the hat to James Ellroy, Bosch's mother was murdered when he was a young boy, and the case remained unsolved until Bosch himself re-opened it as an adult. While Bosch usually solves the case, doing so never comes without a price - secrets are unburied, the arcs of lives are changed, and sometimes a little piece of his soul has to be sacrificed.

Connelly has never written a bad book (although Chasing the Dime, a stand-alone thriller, is below the rest in quality), and all of his Bosch books are worth seeking out (they should be read in order). But for those who have yet to discover him and have time on their hands this summer, I would recommend the following arc:

The Black Echo, which introduces Bosch and Eleanor Wish, who plays a critical role in his life and the development of his character.

The Poet, a non-Bosch book which introduces F.B.I. agent Rachel Walling, and the serial killer known as "The Poet."

Trunk Music, featuring the return of Eleanor Wish, the introduction of a new partner (Kizmin Rider), and a plot development which changes Harry's life.

Blood Work, a non-Bosch book which introduces former F.B.I. agent Terry McCaleb, who is recovering from a heart transplant and asked by the sister of a murdered woman to help in solving the case.

A Darkness More Than Night, feauturing both McCaleb and Bosch, walking the fine line between being partners and being antagonists.

City of Bones, which concludes with another major plot development that changes Harry's life.

The Narrows, in which it is revelaed that Terry McCaleb has died, and in seeking to understand Terry's death Bosch comes face to face with The Poet. In the process, he meets and joins forces with Rachel Walling.

Both of Connelly's most recent Bosch books, Echo Park and The Overlook, also feature Walling with Bosch.

Having read all of Connelly's books, I'm comfortable in saying that he, along with Robert Crais, is the pre-eminent writer of crime fiction working today.

A sample of his writing, from the beginning of The Narrows (my favorite of his books):

I think maybe I only know one thing in this world. One thing for sure. And that is that the truth does not set you free. Not like I have heard it said and not like I have said it myself the countless times I sat in small rooms and jail cells and urged ragged men to confess their sins to me. I lied to them, tricked them. The truth does not salvage you or make you whole again. It does not allow you to rise above the burden of lies and secrets and wounds to the heart. The truths I have learned hold me down like chains in a dark room, an underworld of ghosts and victims that slither around me like snakes. It is a place where the truth is not something to look at or behold. It is the place where evil waits. Where it blows its breath, every breath, into your mouth and nose until you cannot escape from it. This is what I know. The only thing.

I knew this going in on the day I took the case that would lead me into the narrows. I knew that my life's mission would always take me to the places where evil waits, to the places where the truth that I might find would be an ugly and horrible thing. And still I went without pause. And still I went, not being ready for the moment when evil would come from its waiting place. When it would grab at me like an animal and take me down into the black water.

And there, in a nutshell, you have Harry Bosch.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Home Library, Part II

Here we see a portion of the rock 'n roll section. Among the books you'll find in this photo are the following:

Night Beat, by Mikal Gilmore. A great collection of Gilmore's essays over the years; subjects include Bruce Springsteen, Lou Reed, and The Beatles. Gilmore, author of the magnificent family memoir Shot in the Heart, one of the bleakest books you'll ever read, is the brother of Gary Gilmore.

Chronicles, by Bob Dylan. In which Dylan enhances his reputation as an eccentric genius.

Ranters and Crowd Pleasers, by Greil Marcus. A collection of Marcus essays dating 1977-1992, which if one were to put a gun to my head, I'd probably choose as my all-time favorite era of music.

Glory Days, by Dave Marsh. His second biography of Bruce Springsteen, covering the period just after The River to the Tunnel of Love era.

The Rolling Stone Record Guide, circa 1982, and The Rolling Stone Album Guide, circa 1992.

Christgau's Record Guides of the 1970s and 1980s. Indispensable commentary from the self-styled Dean of American Rock Critics.

Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, one of two Lester Bangs collections that I own. This one was edited by Greil Marcus, the other - Mainlines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste - was edited by John Morthland.

The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones, Stanley Booth's great account of the Stones' 1969 American Tour, and The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones, Chet Flippo's great account of the band in the 1970s.

The Heart of Rock and Soul by Dave Marsh, probably his best book, an overview of the 1001 greatest singles ever released, according to Marsh.

Rock on.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Embarrassing Factoid of the Day

When I was in fourth grade, a friend and I got into an argument over which of the girl background singers on "Sugar, Sugar" was Veronica, and which one was Betty.

Reinventing "The Rising"

It took a while to take hold, but one of the biggest impacts of the evolution from vinyl records to compact discs was that it expanded the potential length of an album. Once upon a time, 40 minutes was viewed as the "perfect" length for a single album, although a number of classic albums were closer to the 30-minute mark (and for the Ramones and a handful of others, below that).

Compact discs can easily hold more than 70 minutes of music, which most people would probably think is a good thing - "Wow! 16 songs from my favorite band, instead of just 9 or 10!" Unfortunately, what the move ultimately proved was that most artists, even the best ones, didn't have the ability to churn out 16 songs of equal quality on a regular basis. So on a lot of albums you ended up with 10 great songs, with the rest falling dangerously close to filler territory. Sure, there have been exceptions. And artists like Neil Young solved the dilemma to some degree, simply by making each song longer. So where "Cortez the Killer" and "Like A Hurricane" probably clocked in at a little over seven minutes, some of the songs on albums like Ragged Glory were well over 10. Not a bad solution, especially for fans of Neil's electric guitar playing, but far from a perfect one. You've got to have a damn good song to make it worth listening to for more than 10 minutes.

Now, the pendulum has begun to swing the other way - two of this year's best albums, by R.E.M. and Beck, total right around 33 minutes. And neither suffers from its relative brevity.

While I definitely would call it an outstanding album, I think Bruce Springsteen's The Rising is the perfect example of an album that suffers from excessive length. Not only are a couple of the songs well below the best songs in quality, but there are also several good songs that dilute the power of the album, and its thematic unity. Since I mostly listen to home-made tapes in my car, I decided to do something about it, and created what I call The Rising Redux - 9 songs, just over 40 minutes, creating an album that I think can stand alongside any other released this decade in terms of greatness. It leaves you wanting more, which I always thought was the key to an album's success.

So without further ado, I present The Rising Redux:

1. The Rising
2. Lonesome Day
3. Nothing Man
4. Empty Sky
5. The Fuse
6. Paradise
7. My City of Ruins
8. You're Missing
9. Mary's Place

In the future, I'll give other favorite albums a similar treatment. Let me know if you have any suggestions.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The King Of All He Surveys

Or, Why I can't sit here while wearing dark slacks to put my shoes on in the morning.

What I See Out My Window

This post serves as a little bit of self-promotion, but more importantly promotes a cool site that offers a glimpse of what people around the world see out their windows. Not surprisingly, the site - run by Anthony McCune (whose main blog is linked below, under "Other Good Stuff") - is called What I See Out My Window.

The self-promotion: what I see out my window is the feature of today's post. I thought the picture turned out pretty well, considering it was taken with a Blackberry. My view doesn't quite compare with the majesty of some of the others, but I like it.

Check the site out - it is a really great project.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Heart and Soul

I couldn't quite fit the entire system into one picture, but this is a fair representation of the "heart and soul of the loft," consisting of:

- Sony 5-disc CD changer (Christmas present about five years ago);

- Sanyo direct-drive turntable (still going strong after 23 years); and

- Technics 35-watt receiver (still going strong after 25 years).

The only things missing are the Denon dual tape deck, (because I still like to make tapes for myself - just feels more real than burning CDs), and the Polk Audio speakers.

And last but not least, two of my favorite CDs of recent vintage, from The Baseball Project and Alejandro Escovedo.

My Favorite Search Term Ever

I've mentioned before that I enjoy going through my Sitemeter log to find out how people ended up here. Well, this morning someone Googled "duck decoy antidote," and they were pointed in this direction.

I will freely confess right here and now that I've got no idea what a "duck decoy antidote" might be. A real duck, perhaps?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Home Library, Part I

A portion of the baseball section - with heavy emphasis on Bill James.

Jeff's Jukebox: B-7

B-7: Let's Work Together (Part I), Wilbert Harrison

This songs sounds to me like it is coming from another planet. And I mean that as a compliment.

Video credit: The incomparable Thunderbird 1958.

My Old Guy Cronies

To my youngest son, I've been "the old guy" for some time now. And recently, he's taken to calling those with whom I work my "old guy cronies." So, at any given moment, I might be confronted with questions like:

"Did any of your old guy cronies see The Dark Knight?"

"Did any of your old guy cronies watch last night's Burn Notice?"

"Did you remember to ask your old guy cronies what they thought of Wanted?"

I'm thinking of having shirts made.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Quote of the Day

"If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, then we did it. If anything goes real good, then you did it. That's all it takes to get people to win football games."

- Bear Bryant

Fast Dance Songs For Your Wedding Reception

A colleague of mine is getting married next spring, so I thought it would be a nice gesture to make her a couple of CDs filled with songs for her to consider playing at her reception. The slow songs are a very personal choice, so I wouldn't dream of venturing into that territory. But fast songs, I think I can handle that. Truth be told, I trust my own taste in music more than anyone else on the planet (which, I suppose, is as it should be for everyone).

So as a public service, for anyone getting married anytime in the near future, I present Fast Wedding Songs:

Get Down Tonight, K.C. and the Sunshine Band
Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes, Los Lobos
Ring of Fire, Johnny Cash
Night Train, James Brown
If I Could Build My Whole World Around You, Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
Higher and Higher, Jackie Wilson
Surfin’ Safari, The Beach Boys
Bad Moon Rising, Creedence Clearwater Revival
Rock Lobster, The B-52s
Burning Love, Elvis
Walk Like an Egyptian, The Bangles
Move It On Over, George Thorogood
Rave On, Buddy Holly
Burning in the Flame of Love, The Del-Lords
R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A., John Mellencamp
Pump It Up, Elvis Costello
I Saw Her Standing There, The Beatles
One Way or Another, Blondie
No Other Girl, The Blasters
Rock the Casbah, The Clash
Mirror in the Bathroom, The English Beat
Whip It, Devo
You Know I’m No Good, Amy Winehouse
Surrender, Cheap Trick
Going to a Go-Go, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles
I Wanna Be Sedated, Ramones
Sugar, Sugar, The Archies
Nobody But Me, Human Beinz
School Day, Chuck Berry
Surfin’ Bird, The Trashmen
A-Punk, Vampire Weekend
At the Hop, Danny and the Juniors
Little Green Bag, George Baker Selection
(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas
Shout, The Isley Brothers
Peppermint Twist, Joey Dee and the Starliters
Good Golly, Miss Molly, Little Richard
Hey Ya!, Outkast
Ain’t that Good News, Sam Cooke
Land of 1000 Dances, Wilson Pickett
Louie, Louie, The Kingsmen
Jumpin’ Jack Flash, The Rolling Stones
Soul Man, Sam and Dave
Funkytown, Lipps Inc.
Dancing With Myself, Billy Idol
I Got A Woman, Ray Charles
Gloria, Them
Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough, Michael Jackson
Rock ‘N Me, Steve Miller Band
We Got the Beat, Go Gos
The Loco-Motion, Little Eva

This would definitely be a wedding that I'd attend.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

For Brett Favre

Although Steve Wynn wrote this song about Sandy Koufax, a good portion of the lyrics could just as easily be applied to that "aw, shucks" guy who's played at Lambeau Field all these years.

For that reason, I'd like to dedicate "Long Before My Time" to Brett Favre and quote the following lyrics:

Long Before My Time

My mind and body say I'm done but something says I must go on.
Conventional wisdom does implore you give it all and then give some more.

Summer slowly turns to fall. It's so hard to walk away from it all long before my time.

My agent says I need to move.
What do I have left to prove?
I falter when I hold my ground.
For a couple of bucks you can keep me around.
You're only young just once.
I know but history will always show you pad your best days with the chaff
A faded tarnished photograph.

I stop and change my mind most every day.
It is better to burn out or fade away?

I must go on, I can't go on.
I must go on, I can't go on.
Summer slowly turns to fall. It's so hard to walk away from it all long before my time.

Great Olympic Moments: Tommie Smith and John Carlos

In what was probably the most memorable moment of tonight's ESPY Awards program (though I've got to admit that Justin Timberlake did a great job as host), Tommie Smith and John Carlos were awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, for their act of courage at the 1968 Olympiad. Though there is a small part of me that wonders whether there is just a bit of historical revisionism going on with what was known at the time as the "Black Power Salute," Smith and Carlos deserve every benefit of the doubt, and are without question worthy of the award.

Howard Cosell recounts his interview with Tommie Smith, after Smith was suspended from the U.S. Olympic team and ordered out of Mexico City, in Cosell:

The interview was simple and direct. What did you mean, symbolically, by the bowed head, the shoeless feet, the outstretched fist? He explained: the fist to show the strength and unity of the black people everywhere, black power; the shoeless feet to show the anguish of the black people through all the years; the bowed head because the words of the [national] anthem were not being applied to blacks.

"Are you proud to be an American?" I asked him.

"I am proud to be a black American," he answered.

The relationship between Smith and Carlos over the years has been an interesting one, as I recounted here.

What has gotten lost in history is that Smith's performance in the 200 final was one of the most amazing track performances of all time.

Open and Shut

Hats off to Padraig Harrington for a marvelous back nine that essentially sucked all the drama out of the final round of The Open. Back-to-back championships are nothing to be sneered at, and if he can add another major to his resume, he'll have defined his legacy (which is not a bad one at all, as things stand now).

Not all fairy tales have a happy ending, but what Greg Norman did this week is still worthy of respect and admiration. And he gets another trip to Augusta as a reward for his efforts. Not bad for a week's work.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

It's Shark Week at The Open

The annual fin fest known as Shark Week begins in a week or so on the Discovery Channel, but thanks to Greg Norman, The Open is enjoying a Shark Week of its own.

You can't even say that this is the most unlikely of all the possible storylines of the week, because it isn't a possible storyline. It simply is not possible for Greg Norman, at age 53, years removed from the kind of competitive golf for which he became famous, to be leading after the third round by two strokes.

What is most amazing about all of this is that a Norman victory could very well render Tiger Woods' heroic stand at Torrey Pines as the second best golf story of the year. It would be "Tin Cup" times "Rocky," squared. In the year of Tiger at Torrey and the New York Giants, it could become the sports story of the year. It would be one of the greatest stories in the history of golf.

OK, have I run that into the ground enough? Can you tell I'm a bit excited? There are few things I'd like to see more than for Norman to erase the demons of Augusta 1996. Best of luck to him.

Tiger's Nest.

This is absolutely amazing. It's hard to believe that places like this actually exist in this world of ours. I keep thinking that if I stare at it long enough, a Vulcan is going to walk across one of the windows.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Into the 21st Century

I surrendered to the inevitable this week, and now own a Blackberry Curve. It's not yet configured for email, but that will happen on Monday, and then life as I've known it will be over.

The convenience of having email at my beck and call will be a plus, but the downside is that email will have me at its beck and call 24/7 (which it pretty much does already, so it's not that big a change). I'm making a pledge right now to leave the phone in my office during meetings, and only use it when no other source of email is readily accessible.

And having access to the Internet on a phone is pretty cool, though right now I can't really imagine that I'll be using it that much. But it might come in handy on quick trips. And the Qwerty keyboard is a big plus.

What's Going On Over There?

Greg Norman one stroke behind? David Duval lurking, just three strokes off the lead?

Wow. A victory by Norman or Duval would certainly lend some spice to the non-Tiger Open. I'm not sure which would be more shocking - a case could be made for either. For Norman, it would be a fine way to rewrite the history books, overshadowing his epic Masters collapse in 1996 as the one thing he is most remembered for. For Duval, I'm not sure what it would be - a first step towards a return to greatness? Just another chapter in a notable but enigmatic career?

And Rocco Mediate also finds himself on the first page of the leaderboard. It could be a very interesting weekend.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Favre Fatigue

Don Banks in Sports Illustrated is suffering from Favre fatigue, and I can't say that I blame him.

It's hard to find perspective in the moment, but once this is all over (and it will end, eventually, despite all appearances to the contrary) I hope that there remains enough good will towards Favre that his legendary status in Green Bay remains intact. Sure, he has screwed this up in almost every way one can possibly imagine, and he deserves all the hits he is getting. But all those good years should outweigh these bad few weeks.

But what Favre can never get back is the notion that he is somehow different from the rest of the athletic crowd. When it comes right down to it, he is human like everyone else, prone to selfishness and even stupidity at times. There should be no "St. Favre" tributes this fall, and if he plays poorly - certainly a possibility given that he did so in the two years prior to his great year in 2007 - then he should suffer the "told you so" barbs in silence.

Too bad it has to be this way, but that's life.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Jeff's Jukebox: B-6

Leaving P.J. Harvey, let's take a little trip across the universe, and end up at Tammy Wynette.

B-6: "Stand By Your Man," Tammy Wynette

So far, country has yet to be represented in the jukebox, and it would be criminal to leave this song out.

The best jukebox I can remember was at Manuel's in Berkeley, which was one of our regular Thursday night hangouts. The breadth of songs in the box was pretty amazing - it had everything from this song to classic Otis Redding, to "Holiday in Cambodia" by the Dead Kennedys. We always tried to end the evening with this one - singing along, of course.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Putting the All-Star Game In Perspective

You have to hand it to the New York fans - they're not going to let a little thing like this being the last All-Star game to be held at Yankee Stadium get in the way of their hatred of the Boston Red Sox.

I didn't hear what reliever Jonathan Papelbon had to say in his press conference, but he went far enough to offend Yankees fans, who interpreted his remarks as a sign of disrespect for Mariano Rivera, the great Yankees reliever. So when Papelbon came to the mound in the 8th inning, it was as if the entire crowd decided to begin rooting for the National League. Lots of enthusiastic, lusty booing.

Which is all well and good, except for the fact that if the American League ends up losing this game, the Yankees lose, in that they would lose the home field advantage in the World Series (yeah, I know it's a stretch, but you get what I mean). But I'm glad the fans did what they did, because it shows how silly the whole Bud Selig "let's make this game meaningful" exercise really was.

It's not a real's entertainment! And people enjoy it for what it is. So in the end, does it really matter who wins?

World Series of Poker: The New Fall Classic

After 11 days of play, the final table is set in the Main Event at the World Series of Poker. The excitement is at a fever pitch, the crowd is poised to root on their favorites, and everyone who cares about poker is breathlessly awaiting the crowning of this year’s champion, which will take place…

…In November. For the first time, the final table will be held in November, presumably to allow ESPN the opportunity to score a ratings bonanza during Sweeps Month. This may seem a little like playing the Super Bowl in May or the World Series (baseball) in February, but on the other hand I can understand the thinking that went behind it (cynical as that thinking may have been). Not surprisingly, the final table is made up of relative poker unknowns, and now ESPN and the Online Poker companies (Full Tilt, Poker Stars, etc.) now have four months to turn these guys into stars. I’m not a big fan of the idea, as you can probably tell.

Of course they will deny it, but I’m sure that ESPN is crushed that neither Phil Hellmuth nor Mike Matusow, both of whom went very deep into the tournament, didn’t make the final table. Their presence alone would have guaranteed an interesting and entertaining final table. And they’re probably devastated that Tiffany “Hot Chips” Michelle came so close (17th place) but couldn’t quite pull it off. They’ll probably make her a star anyway, but she would have been a huge draw.

But, the players who are left deserve all the kudos they can get. Seat assignments, and chip counts:

Seat 1: Dennis Phillips 26,295,000
Seat 2: Craig Marquis 10,210,000
Seat 3: Ylon Schwartz 12,525,000
Seat 4: Scott Montgomery 19,690,000
Seat 5: Darus Suharto 12,520,000
Seat 6: Chino Rheem 10,230,000
Seat 7: Ivan Demidov 24,400,000
Seat 8: Kelly Kim 2,620,000
Seat 9: Peter Eastgate 18,375,000


This may be somewhat narcissistic, but I have to admit that I enjoy going through my Sitemeter log and seeing where the hits have come from. After a while, you're able to identify your regular readers, both those that you know and those you've never seen in your life. You find trends, you find anomalies, you see what kinds of things are interesting to folks.

Last night, in the wee small hours of the morning, I had an interesting string of hits:

- from Korea, searching for "Songs in the Key of Life."
- from China, searching for "John Akii-Bua."
- from Italy, searching for "Talking Heads Speaking in Tongues."
- from India and France, searching for "The Dark Knight."

I doubt there's any deep meaning there, but I thought it was pretty cool.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Great Olympic Moments: The Great Coe Photo

Sebastian Coe, crossing the finish line to win the 1500 meters ahead of Jurgen Straub and Steve Ovett, Moscow Olympiad 1980.

(SI Vault)

Great Olympic Moments: Coe and Ovett 1980

Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett, both from Great Britain, were two of the greatest middle-distance runners of all time. For a period of several years, from the late 1970s until the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, they dominated the 800 meter and 1500 meter events, trading world records on a frequent basis. In one memorable month in August 1981, Coe broke the world record in the mile, it was broken by Ovett a week later, and again broken by Coe the week after that.

What made their rivalry so spectacular was that aside from racing, the two had very little in common, and didn't really like one another. But they always brought out the best in each other, and that was never more apparent than at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. The United States boycotted that Olympiad because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, but in these two events it didn't matter - Coe and Ovett would have been the heavy favorites, regardless of who ran in the races.

In the 800, Coe was the world record holder, and favored. But he ran a poor tactical race, was too far back on the final lap, and could do no better than second, behind Ovett.

Coe was absolutely shattered by this loss, and the press in Britain turned on him as if he had betrayed the Queen. Which was another reason Ovett didn't like him - Coe was the favorite of the fans.

In the 1500, Ovett was favored, but this time Coe ran a brilliant tactical race, running at the front for the entire race and running scared - just look at his face as the runners head into the final stretch - Coe is desperately trying to find Ovett behind him, wondering if he has the kick to withstand the vaunted Ovett charge.

He did. And the photo of Coe crossing the finish line, one of absolute relief, is one of the most famous photos in all of track and field.

Coe and Ovett. Ovett and Coe. One of the greatest rivalries. One of the greatest Olympic moments.

First Review: The Dark Knight

Daniel Fienberg:

" good as "Memento" and "The Prestige" were, "The Dark Knight" is his [Christopher Nolan's] pinnacle. If you look at the actors and at their performances and at the writing that guides them, you could argue that "The Dark Knight" is an intimate character drama.

But it's really a $200 million -- give or take -- summer blockbuster and there's absolutely no precedent for a director working on this scale to concentrate so equally and successfully on both the nuances of performance and absolute spectacle..." [emphasis added]

Wow. Read the whole thing.

Food For Thought

I'm not sure, but there just might be a lesson for Brett Favre (and countless others) here.

So Long, Jerk

Thank goodness we have the Ron Artests of the world to put the Brett Favre situation in perspective.

At this point of his career, there's no way that Artest's abilities as a player compensate for the b.s. that streams from his mouth on a weekly, if not daily basis. He obviously does not want to be a King, so I would advise the Kings management (not that they've ever listened to me before) to get rid of him, the sooner the better.

And I'm even OK with Artest heading to the Lakers. It will make it all the easier to boo him when the season begins this fall.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Nearly 48 Years of Albums

I picked this up from Tosy and Cosh, who cribbed it from The Onion's A.V. Club Blog.

The concept is simple enough - pick your favorite album from each of the years you've been alive. The execution, however, is very difficult. Some years are obvious, and some years are hard beyond belief.

I'm bending the rules a bit - I was born in 1960, but there really were no albums released during the period 1960-63 that are a treasured part of my collection. I have a ton of music from that era, but it is all in the form of Greatest Hits collections. So, beginning with 1964:

1964 - A Hard Day's Night, The Beatles. This is the album where they really began to expand their musical horizons.

1965 - Rubber Soul, The Beatles. My favorite Beatles album.

1966 - Blonde on Blonde, Bob Dylan. An epic masterpiece.

1967 - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band, The Beatles. The strength of The Beatles was such that the album I think is their most overrated is still the best album that I own from 1967.

1968 - Beggars Banquet, The Rolling Stones.

1969 - Abbey Road, The Beatles.

1970 - Cosmo's Factory, Creedence Clearwater Revival. Got this one for my birthday, when I was in the sixth grade (a couple of years after it was released).

1971 - Who's Next, The Who. Allowed back in my pantheon after years of exile, when I refused to listen to it because of the guy on my dorm floor who played it endlessly for an entire school year. Eventually, the greatness of the record reasserted itself.

1972 - Exile On Main Street, The Rolling Stones. The greatest album of the rock era.

1973 - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Elton John. Difficult as it may be to believe now, Elton was on fire for a four year period during the early 1970s.

1974 - Pretzel Logic, Steely Dan. As close to perfect as an album can get, in terms of how well the songs fit together.

1975 - Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen. Surprise!

1976 - Songs in the Key of Life, Stevie Wonder. The high point of a six-year stretch of sustained brilliance.

1977 - Rumours, Fleetwood Mac. Punk was garnering most of the headlines, but the Mac proved that there was life yet in the L.A. pop scene.

1978 - Darkness on the Edge of Town, Bruce Springsteen.

1979 - Rust Never Sleeps, Neil Young & Crazy Horse. You know that Young has been around for a while when you consider that he's written songs about Kent State, Johnny Rotten, Kurt Cobain, and Iraq.

1980 - London Calling, The Clash. The high-water mark of the punk era.

1981 - Wild Gift, X. Los Angeles wasn't all about pop and cocaine, as this scruffy band of punks proved.

1982 - Avalon, Roxy Music. Perhaps the most gorgeous pop album of the rock era.

1983 - Speaking in Tongues, Talking Heads. Probably not their best album, but a great one nonetheless.

1984 - Born in the USA, Bruce Springsteen.

1985 - Hard Line, The Blasters. In a just world, The Blasters would be getting ready to enter the Hall of Fame. Alas, we live in this one.

1986 - Graceland, Paul Simon. Yes, it was hyped to the gills. Yes, it deserved the hype.

1987 - Tunnel of Love, Bruce Springsteen. A different kind of darkness, from the other edge of town.

1988 - Volume One, Traveling Wilburys. Sure, light as a feather. Still great. Legends have a way of being able to pull that kind of thing off.

1989 - Freedom, Neil Young - Were it not for another album a little further on down the list, this could rightly be called the greatest comeback album of all time.

1990 - Interiors, Rosanne Cash.

1991 - Nevermind, Nirvana. Sounds as fresh today as it did on the day it was released.

1992 - Automatic for the People, R.E.M.

1993 - Exile in Guyville, Liz Phair.

1994 - MTV Unplugged in New York, Nirvana. One night of miracles before everything began to unravel.

1995 - The Ghost of Tom Joad, Bruce Springsteen. I'm probably one of the few who values this one as much as Nebraska. Beautiful and heartbreaking.

1996 - Gone Again, Patti Smith. Meditations on death and redemption.

1997 - Time Out of Mind, Bob Dylan. The greatest comeback album of all time.

1998 - Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, Lucinda Williams.

1999 - Play, Moby. There may not be an album in all of rock's history that can match this one for sustained brilliance in so many different genres.

2000 - Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, P.J. Harvey. Magnificent.

2001 - Love and Theft, Bob Dylan. The comeback continues; the band begins to stretch out.

2002 - 1000 Kisses, Patty Griffin. As perfect a combination of songs, singer, and production as has ever been recorded.

2003 - American IV - The Man Comes Around, Johnny Cash. Meditations on death, dying, and standing at the gates prepared for whatever might come next.

2004 - The Ride, Los Lobos.

2005 - Get Behind Me Satan, The White Stripes.

2006 - Modern Times, Bob Dylan. There's not much he could do that would surprise me at this point, except to make a bad album. Heaven knows that he's gone through that cycle before.

2007 - Magic, Bruce Springsteen.

And there you have it. In many of those years, up to 7 albums could have fit the bill, but that will have to wait for when I get around to writing about my top ten albums for every year since I've been born.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Jeff's Jukebox: B-5

B-5: "Rid of Me," PJ Harvey

It's amazing to me how so much power can be packed into such a small package. No doubt about it, PJ is one of the singular artists of the last two decades. And this song pretty much says it all.

News Flash - Favre's Sainthood Revoked

If this is true, than Brett Favre is playing a very dangerous game indeed. His entire career has been based on the notion that he was different than everyone else. More than anyone else, he has been held up as the athletic ideal - the man who played the game for all the best reasons. If it is really true that he reneged on a deal and now is just doing everything he can to turn public opinion in his favor, then his image will be shattered, and he will be revealed as just another businessman wearing a uniform.

I hope I'm wrong about all of this, but I have a feeling that it is going to end very badly, and that no one will come out of it unscathed. I might even go out on a limb so far as to say that you can write the Packers off as a serious contender right now - before training camp even starts.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Dedicated to the California State Board of Education

Obama and NASCAR: Match Made In Heaven?

If nothing else, it is certainly something you don't see every day.

Ted F*cking Williams

I don't know how I could write an entire post about Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails and not mention this song, but I did.

So let me just say that "Ted F*cking Williams" is one of the best songs on the album, and without question the funniest song.

The title refers to how Williams used to refer to himself when hitting batting practice: "I'm Ted F*cking Williams and I'm the greatest hitter in baseball!"

As we know, Williams was not the model of modesty, and that is reflected in the lyrics:

And everyone says "Say Hey!"
And everyone says "did you see that kid play?"
I've got to give that kid a hand but there's nothing he can do better than I can.
I'm Ted F*cking Williams!

Great, great stuff.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Baseball Project Throws A Perfect Game

When I was growing up, the All-Star Game was a really big deal to me. I would root fervently for the National League, and back in those days, the National League always won.

One of the most exciting All-Star Games was in 1970, at the late, unlamented Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. The American League led the entire game, until a furious rally tied it in the bottom of the ninth. The game remained at 4-4 until the bottom of the twelfth, when Pete Rose bowled over Ray Fosse to score the winning run, in one of the most famous (and most replayed) All-Star Game plays of all time. At the time, Fosse was an up-and-coming star, and Rose was on his way to becoming a legend (in ways good and bad), in the first year of the Big Red Machine. Fosse was injured on the play – seriously enough for him to writhe in agony on the ground around home plate for several minutes. He went on to have a solid career, but never approached the potential that many felt he had before that fateful play.

The first song on Vol 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails, the new album by The Baseball Project, is “Past Time.” It begins as follows:

When Campy Campaneris played all nine positions in a game.
When Pete Rose demolished Ray Fosse he was never the same.
31 wins and an album on Capitol for Denny McClain.
So long ago, so long, Pastime, are you past your prime?

When listeners hear those words, their reaction is most likely to fall into one of two categories: “Wow, these guys really know their baseball,” or “Huh?” But even if your reaction is the latter, you might want to give Vol. 1 a shot. Because sometimes, the best music comes from where you least expect it. If someone had told me six months ago that my favorite album of the year would be an album consisting entirely of songs about baseball and baseball players, I probably would have laughed, or sneered and said “yeah, right.”

The brainchild of Dream Syndicate founder Steve Wynn and longtime R.E.M. sideman Scott McCaughey (joined by drummer Linda Pitmon and R.E.M.’s Peter Buck on various stringed instruments), Vol. 1 is an amazing piece of work, one which captures both the grand history and landscapes of baseball, while providing insight into some of the game’s most popular and/or colorful figures, among them Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Big Ed Delahanty, Fernando Valenzuela, Curt Flood, Jackie Robinson, Harvey Haddix, Black Jack McDowell, Satchel Paige, and Mark McGwire. Those players ran the gamut of personalities and played in vastly different eras, but all had great stories behind them - from the legendary “12-inning perfect game that wasn’t” by Haddix, to the trials and tribulations of Ted Williams, supplanted only by Barry Bonds as the game’s least-loved superstar.

What may be most amazing about the album is the way each song gets into the heads of these latter-day heroes, and paints a picture that feels real, and altogether realistic. For example, you can easily imagine Curt Flood (in “Gratitude (for Curt Flood)”) saying something like this:

Now everyone’s walking like they’re rolling in dough.
Throwing all their money around just for show.
Acting like everything is coming to them and knowing that more is just around the bend.
But I’m the one who paved the way and laid my body in the road so you can walk on it today.
I stood right up when they tried to put me down.
You’re so high up, you forget to look down!

You call that gratitude?

Or, Jackie Robinson saying something along these lines (from “Jackie’s Lament”):

If I ever get the chance I’ll let them know just how I feel.
I’d like to speak my mind but that just wasn’t in the deal.
It’s never being easy being first to walk down any road.
I’d trade the glory just to crawl out from this heavy load.
You should hear the things they say behind my back and when I turn the other cheek, they only sharpen their attack.

Which is really just a different way of saying, as Bill James did in the Historical Baseball Abstract:

“…Because so much attention was focused on Robinson, his skills may have been driven more deeply into the public’s mind than the quiet skills of a Red Schoendienst, a Nellie Fox. That is fair, too, for with that attention came a kind of pressure that perhaps no other major league player has had to contend with. Jackie Robinson consumed that pressure and was nourished by it."

Not every song on the album carries the sadness of those two; there is also much humor to be found on Vol. 1 - not to mention a good (but healthy) dollop of nostalgia. But the album’s best songs – those above, plus “Broken Man” (about Mark McGwire), “Long Before My Time” (Sandy Koufax), “Sometimes I Dream of Willie Mays,” “Fernando,” “The Closer” – all just contain a bit of melancholy - recognizing that in this sport, failure and doubt are on the field at all times, right beside fame and glory.

The music is also great – if you didn’t know that “Fernando” and “The Yankee Flipper,” for instance, were about baseball, you could appreciate them just for the depth of the music. Truth be told, there isn’t a bad song on the album.

It really is the best album of the year. Here’s looking forward to Volume 2.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Weather Report

I've lived in Sacramento my entire life, and I think I can say with some assurance that today is the most unpleasant day, weather-wise, of those 48 years. It is "only" 108 degrees, which might fall a little short of an all-time record for the day, but as you can see by the little graphic in this post (borrowed from, the smoke from the wildfires which are ravaging the state has left the air all but unbreathable. As a wise sage once said, it's enough to piss off the good humor man.

On the bright side, securing an afternoon tee time is a breeze.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Nadal and Federer's Instant Classic

Even though I wasn't able to catch the entire match, what I saw of the Nadal-Federer Wimbledon final was breathtaking, not to mention nerve-wracking, tennis.

The days when I cared enough about a tennis player to drag myself out of bed for Breakfast at Wimbledon are long past, but the first rain delay helped me out in that regard. I started watching in the third set with Nadal trailing 4-5, caught the entire fourth set, and then had to switch off early in the fifth set for a family outing. Though Federer still lacks much personality on the court, the play was riveting, and the fourth set tiebreaker was probably Federer at his best. As they say in sports, you have to beat the champion, and even though Nadal appeared to have the better game, he also appeared to be having the most trouble dealing with the intensity of the moment.

Truth be told, when we left with the match tied in the fifth set, I absolutely expected to come home and read about a sixth consecutive Federer victory. So hat's off to Nadal, who is now poised to join Federer and others as one of the all-time greats.

Was this the greatest final? I dunno - my heart will always be with Borg-McEnroe 1980 (which I did drag myself out of bed for). But no question, this was a great final.

How To Tarnish A Legacy In Six Short Months

Boy, if you had bet six months ago that Brett Favre was poised to erase nearly two decades of good will in Green Bay, you would have been laughed out of the building. But a day of reckoning is coming soon, and depending on what happens, Packer Nation may never be quite the same again.

In his SI.Com column today, Peter King does a good job deconstructing the bind that the Packers are in. Basically, it boils down to this: keeping, releasing, and trading Favre are all bad options. My guess is that if Favre decides he wants to play, the Packers will keep him, regardless of what it costs them in terms of good will with Aaron Rodgers, the heir apparent. I just can't imagine that they'll take a chance on seeing Favre play in Chicago or Minnesota this fall and winter.

I've both lauded and criticized Favre in the past, and even though I generally agree with Bill James' adage that it's up to great players to decide when to retire, I have to say that I think Favre is out of his mind if he returns. But, last time I checked, I didn't get a vote.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Jeff's Jukebox: B-4

B-4: Angel Baby, Rosie and the Originals

It may have been released in December, but to me it is a classic summer song, one that should be listened to on a hot, sultry evening, preferably sitting on the front porch with the stars shining bright. Video credit: Thunderbird 1958.

Friday, July 04, 2008

My First Blog Carnival - "Soup to Nuts"

Well, I've taken what some have told me is the next step in the world of blogdom - I've submitted entries to my first "Blog Carnival."

The host of the Carnival (and serving the main course), Soup to Nuts - A Gonzo Carnival, is Fear and Loathing - The Gonzo Papers, but since it is a progressive carnival, also features the following blogs:

Stories of a Traveling Diva serving Hors d'oeuvres;
Group Writing Projects serving Appetizers;
Herbal Connection serving the First Course; and
Blog N' Butter serving Dessert.

For more details about the Carnival, see here. And on July 31, check back to one of the above blogs to see if my entries passed muster.

One Sentence Reviews

I’m bound and determined to review every album I’ve bought this year, even if I don’t really have the time to give each one the thought they deserve (or not, as the case may be). So with this post is introduced a new, possibly recurring feature: One Sentence Reviews! And I promise: if any of these albums makes my year-end Top Ten, I’ll write more than one sentence about it.

Shelby Lynne, Just A Little Lovin’. Sultry, veteran singer with one of the all-time great backstories takes on the legendary Dusty Springfield, and lives to tell the tale.

Sheryl Crow, Detours. Not as good as her best (by a long shot), but a lot better than her last two.

Old ‘97s, Blame It On Gravity. Solid, consistent alt-country band produces solid, consistent album with more than a few sublime moments.

Alejandro Escovedo, Real Animal. Austin veteran could very well get the breakout hit he deserves with this one, even if he does fare a bit better on the rockers than he does on the slow ones.

The Fratellis, Here We Stand. I don’t hear a lot of depth, but I do hear a lot of fun.

The Raconteurs, Consolers of the Lonely. The sophomore effort sounds like it was recorded by a real band, and results in an album I think I like better than Icky Thump.

Coldplay, Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends. I’m not sure what this band did to piss everyone off, but I like this one and can actually hear what Brian Eno brought to the table.

If you are fans of these artists, I can recommend all of these albums.

Happy Independence Day

(photo by son #2, Arizona Memorial)

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Celebrating America VI

"You don't like me," she said.

"I hardly know you."

"Don't worry, you never will."

"There goes another bubble, iridescent but ephemeral."

- The Doomsters, Ross Macdonald

“You again?”

“That’s right.”

“Don’t you have to charge me or release me?”

“Not for another sixty-eight hours.”

“Aren’t you violating my constitutional rights?”

“Constitutional rights have been waived for this one.”

- L.A. Confidential, James Ellroy

Celebrating America V

Stevie Wonder, singing live on Sesame Street? Does it get any better than that?

By the way - an amazing, astonishing performance.

Celebrating America IV

A letter, written July 3, 1776, from John Adams to Abigail Adams.

(Courtesy of intense, anxious, hopeful Sheila O'Malley).

Celebrating America III

Public Enemy, "Fight the Power"

Elvis Presley, "One Night With You"

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Celebrating America II

Celebrating America

...Chuck Berry, Quentin Tarantino, Uma Thurman, John Travolta...

Personally, I can't think of any better way to celebrate this crazy, contradictory country of ours.

Jeff's Jukebox: B-3

B-3: 96 Tears, ? and the Mysterians

Immortal. I loved this song from the first time I heard it, which if memory serves was sometime in the mid-sixties, sitting in the back seat of the car.

Video credit: capnquirky

Skyscrapers and Earthquakes

A fascinating post at BLDG BLOG about the technique used in a Taipei skyscraper to counter the impact of an earthquake.

More on the damper here.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Some Girls - The Stones' Last Masterpiece

The Rolling Stones’ Some Girls, released in the summer of 1978, probably benefits more from perspective than any other great album of the rock era. The album was a hit when it was released, and received good reviews. But even the good reviews were tinged with a bit of melancholy, a recognition that, even though Some Girls was a damn good album, it just wasn’t quite up to past glories.

In his monthly consumer guide, Robert Christgau gave it an “A,” but took some shots at the band, even while giving them a great review:

…Jagger takes a relatively direct approach, and if he retains any credibility for you after six years of dicking around, there should be no agonizing over whether you like this record, no waiting for tunes to kick in…”

Writing in Rolling Stone, Paul Nelson also praised the album, but was careful to draw a line between it and the Stones’ great works of the past, particularly Exile on Main Street:

Thus far, the critical line claims that Some Girls is the band's finest LP since its certified masterpiece, Exile on Main Street, and I'll buy that gladly. What I won't buy is that the two albums deserve to be mentioned in the same breath. (Listen to "Tumbling Dice" or, better yet, "Let It Loose" from the earlier record, and then to the exemplary "Beast of Burden" or "When the Whip Comes Down" from this year's model, and tell me that the passion, power and near-awesome completeness of the 1972 performances are in any way matched by the new ones.) Instead, Some Girls is like a marriage of convenience: when it works–which is often–it can be meaningful, memorable and quite moving, but it rarely sends the arrow straight through the heart. "It took me a long time to discover that the key to acting is honesty," an actor told the anthropologist Edmund Carpenter. "Once you know how to fake that, you've got it made."

There's no doubt that Nelson’s estimation of the album is absolutely brilliant, not to mention prescient. What Nelson heard on Some Girls were the first hints (maybe not the first, but certainly the most effective) that the Stones were in transition. The worst of Keith’s drug days were behind him, and the boys were getting too old to keep on playing rebels. In short, the Stones were on their way to becoming a bona fide corporate entity, one fully capable of playing expert, entertaining rock and roll on demand (most of the time). But even though there have been some good-to-great Stones albums since 1978, and many great (and certainly more consistent) shows, what is gone now is the sense that the Stones matter. Like Elvis in Vegas, they’re just there, and that’s about all she wrote. That Nelson could sense this happening, even on an album as good as Some Girls, is just another testament to his greatness as a critic.

But I come here to praise the Stones, not to bury them. Because while there is little doubt that both Christgau and Nelson were right, with the benefit of thirty years, one has to wonder whether they were being entirely fair. It’s only natural to compare an artist’s work with that which preceded the current product, but consider for a moment what that meant when the subject at hand was The Rolling Stones. As Dave Marsh wrote in the 1979 edition of The Rolling Stone Record Guide, “…the Rolling Stones in their initial incarnation were the greatest white blues and R&B band that ever was. This is not legend; it is fact.” Yet, after that auspicious beginning, the best was yet to come. From 1968 through 1972, the Stones released three albums that are rightly considered among the greatest of the rock era: Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, and Exile on Main Street (which, to this day, remains my all-time favorite album). They also released one that wasn’t far behind that incredible trio, Sticky Fingers.

In 1978, the fact that Some Girls didn’t quite match up to those classics (although I would argue that it does) seemed like a big deal. In 2008, when we now know that the Stones have outlasted all contenders, that they would never again release an album with the kick of Some Girls, the distinction doesn’t seem to matter as much.

Put simply, Some Girls deserves to be called a masterpiece. In interviews of that era, Jagger liked to make fun of Johnny Rotten and the punks, but it is clear that he took their derision as a challenge. One can almost imagine what must have been going through his and Keith's minds as the band came together in the fall of 1977 to record the new album. “F*ck this sh*t,” one can imagine Jagger saying to the band. The punks aren’t covering any ground that we didn’t do better back in 1965, and we can play better than they can.” Whether that really happened or not is anyone’s guess, but it only took one listen to figure out that Some Girls was a much different album than its immediate predecessors, It’s Only Rock and Roll and Black and Blue. The band playing on Some Girls was a hard-edged, guitar driven rock band - angry, loud, and funny all at the same time.

In 1978, songs like “Respectable,” “When the Whip Comes Down,” and “Lies” may have seemed like pale shadows of the great songs that preceded them, but over the years they have grown in stature, and now sound just great on a mix tape along with “Jumping Jack Flash,” “Brown Sugar,” and “Honky Tonk Women.” “Miss You,” the album opener, was less the Stones’ nod to disco than it was proof positive that they could still sound modern – not unlike “Radio Nowhere” on Bruce Springsteen’s Magic. “Just My Imagination” is the greatest Motown cover version of all-time, and “Shattered” is just a great, great song – both tribute to and criticism of New York City, at the same time. Keith Richards’ “Before They Make Me Run” is his best Stones song, and “Beast of Burden” is the Stones at their soul man best. The only song that sounds out of place is the Buck Owens tribute, “Far Away Eyes.” It’s not a bad song, but neither did it belong on this album.

And then, of course there is the infamous “Some Girls,” which managed to offend feminists, Jesse Jackson, and roughly half of the western world. And as Mick Jagger so aptly put it at the time, “f*ck ‘em if they can’t take a joke.” Because as Nelson wrote at the time, “…this song may be a sexist and racist horror, but it’s also terrifically funny and strangely desperate in a manner that gets under your skin and makes you care. On "Some Girls," Mick Jagger sounds like he's not only singing like Bob Dylan, but about Bob Dylan: "I'll give ya a house back in Zuma Beach/And give you half of what I owe."

And there you have it. A great album, and one that defined its era just as well as This Year’s Model or Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols.

Great Olympic Moments - John Akii-Bua

The story of John Akii-Bua is one of triumph and tragedy. It is one that both defines the Olympic ideal, and exposes it as a lie.

At Munich in 1972, Akii-Bua (to this day, the only Ugandan to win an Olympic gold medal in track and field) came out of nowhere to win the gold medal in the 400 Intermediate Hurdles (an event which later would be made famous in America by Edwin Moses). From his New York Times obituary:

In 1972, after only one international competition, Akii-Bua arrived at the Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany. His opposition in the 400-meter hurdles included Dave Hemery of Britain, the world record-holder and defending Olympic champion, and Ralph Mann, an American. His only pair of running shoes was two years old, and one shoe was missing a spike.

But he was built ideally (6 feet 2 inches and 170 pounds), and he had trained with frightening intensity. In the six months before the Olympics, his training had included wearing a vest weighted with 25 pounds in lead as he ran 1,500 meters over five hurdles that were 42 inches high -- the hurdles for his race were 36 inches. He did four sets of those repetitions, twice a day, every day.

He won the Olympic gold medal in 47.82 seconds, a world record, leaving the silver medalist, Mann (48.51 seconds), and the bronze medalist, Hemery (48.52), six meters behind. Then he ran a victory lap and jumped over the hurdles again.

Watching that race was one of my family's favorite moments in that Olympiad. The pure joy that Akii-Bua felt after his victory radiated off of the television screen.

Unfortunately, that would be the high-water mark of Akii-Bua's track career. Akii-Bua was a member of the Lango tribe, one of the primary targets of the Idi Amin regime. Thus, while Akii-Bua was too prominent a figure to be jailed (or assassinated), from that point on he was never allowed to leave the country to participate in an international meet. In 1977, he described his dilemma in a Sports Illustrated piece titled "Political Prisoner."

A member of the Lango tribe that Idi Amin , the sinister Ugandan dictator, has been purging, Akii-Bua described his situation to Bill Brubaker of The Miami News in an overseas phone call last week.

While his African and American friends have feared for his life, Akii-Bua told Brubaker that he was in no danger. He is a policeman in Kampala, and he does not want to leave Uganda permanently because he has 15 family members to support.

"I may run no more," Akii-Bua said to Brubaker . "I have still been training but I can't get any competition anymore. It's because of the National Council of Sports. They won't give me clearance to compete out of Uganda . They just don't want me to go. They want me to carry a coach with me. I don't need a coach. We have only one national coach, and if I take him, the rest of the athletes in the country—about 30 of them—will stay without a coach."

Apprised of his friends' concern, Akii-Bua said, "I'm glad they care about me. Naturally I'm disappointed. Sometimes I think of quitting track forever, but I think Edwin Moses [world-record setter in last week's AAU meet, page 24] needs me. Only I can challenge him, nobody else. In my spare time I don't do anything. I just sit and listen to records. You know, Diana Ross ."

Akii-Bua survived the Idi Amin years, but at great cost:

In 1979, with Tanzanian troops about to capture Kampala, Akii-Bua, his wife and their three children fled to Kenya.

As a police official under Amin, he was jailed there for three weeks. He was almost shipped back to Uganda to almost certain death until the West German Embassy and Puma, the German sports-shoe company whose shoes he wore, helped him get his freedom.

He sent his wife and children to West Germany and soon joined them there.

But first he returned to Kampala to check on his family and home. He learned that five brothers and a sister had been killed (his father, a county chief who died in 1965, had 43 children with eight wives). He found his house destroyed by bombs. It had been looted. His Olympic gold medal was gone.

Akii-Bua died in 1997, and was given a state funeral. His performance in 1972 remains one of the greatest Olympic track and field moments.