Thursday, January 31, 2008

The "Other Band" Tour - October 1992

Let the festival recommence...

Show #5: Shoreline Amphitheater, Mountain View

After the Tunnel of Love and Human Rights Now! tours ended in 1988, Bruce Springsteen entered a stage of his life that was highlighted by some enormous changes:

• Springsteen and actress Julianne Phillips ended their marriage in 1989, and Bruce married E Street Band member Patti Scialfa in 1991. Together, the couple moved from New Jersey to Los Angeles, and in 1990 the first of their three children was born.

• Springsteen dissolved the E Street Band, while indicating that he would continue to record and tour with other musicians.

Both of those changes had a significant impact on Springsteen’s music of the early 1990s. There seemed little doubt that he was as happy, if not happier, than he’d ever been. That happiness was reflected in many of the songs on Human Touch and Lucky Town, his dual releases from the Spring of 1992. Both albums were good, with songs on each that can stand up near any he’s ever written, but overall neither came close to matching the intensity and the song craft of the classics which had preceded them.

That summer, the tour that has come to be known as “The Other Band Tour” began. The thought of Bruce touring with musicians other than the E Street Band seemed to offend a lot of fans, but it wasn’t a life-or-death matter for me. When shows were announced in Mountain View for October, I girded myself for the early morning wake-up call, and on the day of sale dragged my butt to the nearest Tower Records ticket outlet and joined the line. It was easy to see that the line wasn’t as long as usual. By the time I made it to the front all that was left was “lawn seating,” but I happily bought six, the maximum allowed.

And that was when I found out just how “less popular” this tour was – I couldn’t find anybody to take the extra four tickets. I mean, sure – a lot of my friends had started having kids and had bought houses and money doesn’t grow on trees, yadda yadda yadda…but missing an opportunity to see Bruce Springsteen, even without the E Street Band? I remember saying to one friend – Come on! You can’t honestly tell me that you think that the albums are that bad!

Adding to my frustration a couple of weeks later was the announcement that Bruce was adding a show to the tour, in Sacramento. Needless to say, much head bashing against the wall took place. Here I was, stuck with tickets I couldn’t give away, at a venue almost three hours from my house, and now you’re adding a show in an arena that’s probably less than a 30 minute drive!? Bruce, you can’t do this to me!! But in the end, the Boss saved me: by getting sick, of all things, which forced him to postpone the two Mountain View shows, and allowed me to sell the four extras back to the ticket outlet.

Fast forward to the show. I was there to have a good time, not to take copious notes comparing the virtues and weaknesses of the new band members in comparison to the E Street Legends. So I can’t really tell you today whether Zach Alford was anywhere near the league of Max Weinberg, or whether Shayne Fontane’s guitar licks could hold a candle to those of Steve Van Zandt or Nils Lofgren. Probably not, but after 16 years, does it really matter? What matters is that the show was great, very well paced, and maybe the most “fun” show he ever did. No one is ever going to claim that songs like “Better Days,” “Leap of Faith,” and “Gloria’s Eyes” are up there with “Badlands,” “Born to Run,” and “Backstreets,” but they sure sounded good at the time. I don’t remember any obvious problems with the band, which I think has gotten a bad rap over the years. The Wikipedia page devoted to “The Other Band” contains several statements that are highly debatable, and its account of the “MTV Plugged” show is just plain wrong. And if Bruce thought this rhythm section was so awful, then why did he bring them with him to play “Streets of Philadelphia” at the Academy Awards two years later?

The highlight of the show for me was a song that I don’t know he’s ever played (certainly not on a regular basis) since the 1992 tour: “Souls of the Departed.” On record it didn’t distinguish itself, but the live version just plain smoked what had been recorded for posterity. With the crowd standing and the guitars roaring, I didn’t hear anyone complaining.

Set list:

Better Days / Local Hero / Lucky Town / Darkness On The Edge Of Town / Big Muddy / 57 Channels / Trapped / Badlands / Living Proof / If I Should Fall Behind / Leap Of Faith / Man's Job / Roll Of The Dice / Gloria's Eyes / Cover Me / Brilliant Disguise / Soul Driver / Souls Of The Departed / Born In The USA / Real World / Light Of Day / Human Touch / Glory Days / Bobby Jean / Thunder Road / Born To Run / My Beautiful Reward

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Intervention

On a night where I'm not feeling much inspiration, I'll just let Arcade Fire speak for me. This is the kind of performance that people will be watching years from now - Win Butler's intensity matches that of a young Elvis Costello or David Byrne, and the band does a wonderful job of building the song's intensity to a pitch that makes it clear just how much is at stake. In the end, Butler's guitar seems a small sacrifice to make.

Monday, January 28, 2008

From Picard to Macbeth: The Great Patrick Stewart

The arc of Patrick Stewart’s career is unique – after all, how many actors can say that they began with Shakespeare, went on to achieve great success on Star Trek, and then returned to Shakespeare, to receive the best reviews of a long career?

Sheila’s post about Stewart, which includes a link to a great New York Times article on the actor, made me think about an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation that I think will stand, at the end of his career, as one of his most notable accomplishments. I say that never having seen him play a Shakespearean role, but with confidence.

“The Inner Light,” from the series’ fifth season, was only the second Star Trek episode to receive the Hugo Award (for Science Fiction and Fantasy works) for Best Dramatic Presentation. The first (from the original series) was the legendary “The City on the Edge of Forever,” written by Harlan Ellison and widely considered to be the single best Star Trek episode, any series, ever produced. So the episode is in heady territory.

The story is a simple one: the Enterprise comes across a probe of unknown origin, which sends a signal into the ship which renders Captain Picard unconscious, and practically comatose. While in that state, Picard – in twenty-five minutes time – lives most of an entire life on a planet that had been destroyed by a supernova, a thousand years before. The probe was sent in the hope that it would someday come across a space traveler, who would then know the planet’s history and be able to share its culture with future generations. Picard lives the life of Kamin, who – based on Picard’s technological expertise and naturally inquisitive nature – comes to realize that the planet is doomed, but also comes to love his wife, his family, and live his life to the fullest. When at the end it becomes apparent to him what has happened, you can see in the eyes and manner of Stewart that Picard, while happy to be back on the Enterprise, is also heartbroken at the life that he has left behind. A life that, for him, is just as real as the one he is living in the 24th century. It's a great, great episode - and the last scene, where Picard, in his quarters, plays the flute that he learned to play on the planet (which was left in the probe) is probably the best single moment of that entire series.

The role is a great one for Stewart, allowing him to advance in age with each act, and to struggle with the stark differences between the world he comes to cherish and the one that he left behind. To argue so may represent the height of geekdom, but in the end it has to be considered some of his best work.

Tiger and History

Based on yesterday's performance it's obvious that fatherhood has taken a huge toll on Tiger Woods. With a 12-stroke victory in his grasp, he flailed away to an embarrassing 71, finishing with a deeply unsatisfying 8-stroke margin.

Needless to say, that's meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but it shows to what lengths you have to go these days to bring Tiger back down to human level. Based on his demolition of Torrey Pines this weekend, it's hard to imagine him not winning the U.S. Open there in June. In all likelihood, the biggest challenge will be the pressure that comes with being the heaviest favorite in the history of the event.

At the age of 32, Tiger has already laid his claim to being the greatest player of all time, but as Gary Van Sickle reminds us, there are a few records left for him to play for:

· Ben Hogan, 64 career victories
· Jack Nicklaus, 73 career victories
· Sam Snead, 82 career victories
· The Grand Slam
· Sam Snead, 8 victories at the same tournament
· Jack Nicklaus, 18 majors
· Byron Nelson, 11 wins in a row
· Most consecutive victories in a single event
· 58
· Byron Nelson, 18 wins in one season


For more detail head to the link, but of these records, it will be a major upset if Woods doesn't end up with all but two - 11 wins in a row, and 18 wins in one season. The Holy Grail of golf, the Grand Slam, may also be out of his reach, but the stars and the schedule have aligned this year to make 2008 what may be his best shot. Truth be told, it's one of the few things that makes this season worth looking forward to.

Pazz & Jop 2007

The Village Voice has released its annual Pazz & Jop Critics Poll – which, despite the absence from the magazine of Robert Christgau, remains the authoritative source for identifying what, for better or worse, represents the zeitgeist in popular music. This year, 577 critics participated – a hell of a lot more than did so during the time I was buying 100 or so albums per year (late 1970s, mid 1980s).

Back then, I have to admit, I used Pazz & Jop as a barometer of how hip my tastes in music were – if I didn’t own at least half of the Top 40, I was disappointed and would immediately drive out to the nearest Tower Records to remedy the situation. That resulted in my owning a lot of albums that I didn’t really like that much (there’s a lesson there, and I’m sure you can figure out what it is), but overall my tastes were pretty much in sync with the critical estimation of that era.

No longer. The winner of this year’s album poll is (excuse me for a moment while I look it up again on the Voice’s Web site) Sound of Silver, by LCD Soundsystem. Now, don’t get me wrong – this could very well be a wonderful album, one that will still strike a chord with listeners ten, twenty, even thirty years from now. Right now I wouldn’t know, because to be completely honest, I wouldn’t know an LCD Soundsystem song if it jumped up and bit me in the nose. And that’s OK – I may try to find a used copy somewhere, or download a song or two, to see what I think. But I won’t be running over to the nearest Dimples (R.I.P., Tower), because I tried that with My Chemical Romance and The Flaming Lips, much to my chagrin - $28 that I’ll never see again, for two albums I’ve long since sold back to the store for less than half that much.

I’m too lazy to go back and check (all of the old Pazz & Jop polls are available on Christgau’s site), but I’m pretty sure there was one year in the mid 1980s that I owned 32 of the Top 40 when the poll was released. This year it’s only nine, but not a bad representation:

Kala, M.I.A. (#3)
Back to Black, Amy Winehouse (#4)
Neon Bible, Arcade Fire (#5)
Raising Sand, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss (#8)
Magic, Bruce Springsteen (#9)
Sky Blue Sky, Wilco (#12)
Icky Thump, The White Stripes (#14)
White Chalk, PJ Harvey (#26)
Under The Blacklight, Rilo Kiley (#32)

I was also amused to see that two albums I had tied at #7 in my personal Top 10 finished in a virtual tie in Pazz & Jop, each being named by 19 critics:

West, Lucinda Williams (#48)
Children Running Through, Patty Griffin (#49)

Two others from my Top 10 were bubbling under, as well:

Challengers, New Pornographers (#57)
Revival, John Fogerty (#58)

…Leaving only Bryan Ferry’s Dylanesque off the list entirely (I scrolled down to #600, and gave up – if I missed it, sorry Bryan).

So now the trick is trying to find those jewels in the Top 40 (and beyond) that I’d like, of which I’m sure there are several, and adding those to the collection. Wish me luck.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Posey's Cottage

(Photograph by Michele Catalano. Used With Permission)

The first in a series of posts about Sacramento, California – my hometown.

The Posey’s sign stands, at the corner of 11th and O Streets in downtown Sacramento, as a monument to an era in California politics which no longer exists. Located two blocks south of the State Capitol, Posey’s Cottage was the restaurant which housed the "California Derby Club," perhaps the most famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) of the Legislature’s so-called lunch clubs, where members of the State Senate and State Assembly – at the time, almost entirely male, almost entirely white – would gather, across party lines, to eat, drink, carouse, and make political deals. In his biography of Willie Brown, James Richardson described the clubs and their atmosphere:

The clubs operated out of the public eye. Their colorful names, such as "Caboose Club" and "Derby Club," evoked colorful origins. The Caboose Club was composed of legislators who had been old railroaders before they were elected. The Derby was a collection of legislators and lobbyists who wore English bowlers while eating and carousing. [Assembly Speaker Jess] Unruh ran his own feast, called the "Tuesday Club," meeting for breakfast on Tuesdays at the same time as the Derby. Another club, more of a drinking clique, was called "Moose Milk" after a concoction served up at all hours at a nearby hotel.

Lobbyists were, of course, club members and paid for everything. The clubs were more than just social gatherings; they were important and discreet marketplaces of political power. Lawmakers and lobbyists mingled cutting deals, telling off-color jokes, and schmoozing well into the afternoon. Legislators were often well pickled by the time they showed up for their late-afternoon committee meetings. The clubs were safe havens where the powerful could trade votes, form friendships, soothe feelings, and promise campaign contributions. The longest-serving state senator in recent times, Democrat Ralph Dills, recalled, "Usually you could find a place to go to have a free meal and a drink—almost any place in town and at almost any time of day. The Senator Hotel was full of such meetings. Sometimes committee meetings were held over there the night before—not too well publicized." The clubs were decidedly male institutions, reflecting the near-total male domination of the Legislature; in fact, a women's restroom was not installed in the Senate until 1976.

The California Derby Club, the only one that survived into the 1990s, was typical of the boozy clubs. Insiders got the joke: the club's initials were the same as those of the liberal and insufferably serious California Democratic Council. The Derby was a bastion of senators and a few select Assembly members. The club was founded and run by Siskiyou County's senator, Randolph Collier. The silver-haired Collier was the senior member of the Senate, having been elected in 1939, when Willie Brown was five years old. Another wheel in the club was the Senate president pro tem, Hugh Burns, who had condemned Willie Brown over the Vietnam telegram incident. The Derby Club was founded on silliness, inspired on a legislative junket to London in the 1950s. On a whim, the California lawmakers purchased derby hats in a London shop, and when they came home they sported their bowlers at lunch. The Derby clubbers thenceforth wore their bowlers at lunch every Tuesday, and they developed a whole series of silly rituals. "We don't usually talk politics. It's mainly just old friends enjoying a visit together," said Senator Alfred Alquist, elected to the Assembly in 1962 and still serving in the Senate three decades later.

The club members ate (and drank) at Posey's Cottage, a shabby meat-and-potatoes joint a block from the Capitol. Once a year, the members donned tuxedos and their derbies and marched intoxicated around the Capitol on their way to a banquet honoring themselves at a downtown restaurant. During one such banquet a drunken Derby member jumped up on the bar at Frank Fat's, which had just reopened after a fire, and urged the boys to burn the place down again. He was restrained. "It's more a tradition than an organization," explained John Foran, who was part of the San Francisco Democratic organization rivaling Brown and the Burton brothers. Foran was invited to join the Derby Club in 1964 as a sophomore assemblyman. Willie Brown and John Burton were never invited to join.

As outsiders like Brown and Burton joined the Legislature, and as Democrats and Republicans alike veered further from the center (particularly after the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978), the popularity of the lunch clubs declined. The final nail in their coffin was probably the approval of term limits in 1990, but as late as 1993, Posey’s Cottage was still listed as one of the country’s 50 top political hangouts in Campaigns & Elections magazine. The restaurant closed not long after that.

Certainly without question, the members of the Derby Club engaged in behavior that would be viewed as highly inappropriate today, behavior that quite possibly would have cost them their seats in the Legislature. On the other hand, anyone who believes that today’s California Legislature holds a candle to its predecessors is living in a dream world. The current legislative leaders, Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and Senate President pro Tem Don Perata, are men small in stature as well as their ability to move a positive agenda on behalf of the state’s citizens. It’s hard to imagine either of them engaging in productive after-hours socializing with their Republican counterparts. That they are now part of a roster that once included men like Randolph Collier, Al Alquist, Ralph Dills and Hugh Burns is little more than an historical accident.

As far as I can remember, I had dinner at Posey’s on only one occasion, on New Year’s Day in 1974. I don’t remember anything about the food, but I do remember enjoying the experience. Today, the building which once housed Posey's is a popular Mexican restaurant, Vallejo’s, which continues to host the occasional political fundraiser but without the atmosphere and collegiality of the past. O Street is no longer open to auto traffic, being part of the main Light Rail line.

(A note on the photographer: Michele Catalano is a well-known, long-time blogger who lives in Long Island, New York. I started reading her current blog, A Big Victory, about six months ago, and I’m just sorry that it took me so long to discover her. She recently paid her first visit to Sacramento, in and around which I’ve lived my entire life. She loved it, which is just another testament to her insightful nature and common sense. She has graciously given me permission to use her Sacramento photographs in my posts about the city (of which this is the first). Her entire Sacramento portfolio may be viewed on her Flickr site.)

Enough Already

Over the course of the football season, my youngest son frequently had a snarky comment on the number of commercials featuring Peyton Manning. I always defended Manning, partly because I thought most of the ads were well done, and that Manning infused a self-deprecating sense of humor into the festivities that was welcome and refreshing.

Well, this ad is the tipping point, where Manning moves from self-parody to becoming a caricature of himself. And for good measure, he drags little brother Eli along for the ride. I know it's all for the money, but this is really an embarrassment. And if folks on the fence are looking for a reason to root agains the Giants, here you go!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Coming Soon To A Blog Near You: Springsteen Festival II

Last Saturday, I was successful in obtaining tickets to Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band's upcoming Sacramento show, on April 4. This will be my 10th Springsteen concert, and it should be notable because my parents will be joining us for their first "Bruce experience" (I've already warned them to bring cotton balls and/or earplugs).

This means that I have the opportunity to finish the Springsteen Festival, an account of all the shows I've seen. For those of you who missed the first installment (and, of course, care), I made it up to Mountain View 1988, plus the show in Oakland last October:






Still to come, sometime between now and April 4: Mountain View 1992, Oakland 1999, New York City 2000, Sacramento 2003. And of course, Sacramento 2008.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Two Work Related Confessions

This is a dangerous thing for me to do, since several of my colleagues read my blog on a regular basis. But, here goes.

1) Yesterday afternoon, I got the following email from a co-worker:

I put together that information you asked me for last week in our meeting and was hoping I could share it with you real quick this afternoon. I know you’re busy but was hoping you might be able to slip me in before you start a couple of really busy days.

Nice guy that I am, of course I replied that he/she should come right on down. The problem? I had no idea - not even an inkling - what he/she was talking about. Now, as soon as he/she put the information under my nose, I remembered. But still...too busy, or premature senility? Not for me to decide.

2) On our phone system, there is this neat trick where you can leave a message on someone else's voicemail in the building without having their phone ring. I hate it when someone does it to me, because I'll be sitting there, minding my own business, and all of a sudden I look down and the message light is red. Huh!?!?! I've been sitting right here! Why didn't the person leaving the message just come in and talk to me? I've often thought to myself, "gee, I wish I knew how to do that; then I could respond to the message with one of my own!" I could have asked someone how to do it, but hey - that would have been too easy.

The confession? This morning, when I checked my voicemail, I accidentally hit the wrong sequence of phone keys, and voila! I discovered how to do it. And I'm very much looking forward to utilizing this new knowledge.

Judge me if you must.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

With Support Like That, Who Needs Opposition

Looks like the governor's health care reform plan is in trouble:

"...On the eve of a pivotal legislative hearing, the healthcare overhaul pushed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has won so little support in the California Senate that the Democratic leadership may have to alter a committee's makeup for the measure to pass...

...Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) is a co-sponsor of the bill. People close to Perata said he wants the bill to pass out of the Senate and is considering adding several new members to the Health Committee to create a majority in favor of the bill. Alternatively, Perata could pressure lawmakers to change their votes using other incentives."

Now that's just the sort of thing to get voters excited about the integrity of their elected leaders, less than two weeks away from deciding whether to alter the state's term limits law. Term limits are a terrible idea and have turned California's Legislature into the political personification of amateur hour, but the initiative on the ballot - which would allow only 12 years of elected service, all of which could be spent in one house if so desired - is worse. Hopefully, California voters will eventually recognize the folly of what they did in 1990, and throw the whole thing out. But I'm not holding my breath.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

How Andy Partridge Came To Save Me From Andy Kim

...Or, the saga of Drums and Wires.

Watching football on Sunday, my most important weapon against the assimilation of my brain cells by Andy Kim’s “Rock Me Gently” (see post below) was “Complicated Game,” an XTC song I quoted last week in a post about the California State Budget process. The song, which I hummed incessantly in order to avoid Kim-ification, inspired me to pull the record from which it came – Drums and Wires – off of the shelves, and onto the turntable for a few spins.

It’s a great record, easily XTC’s best, although certainly not their only good one. Although the band never became a huge hit in the states, they managed to hang around for nearly twenty years, a successful career by just about any standard. They were blessed with two gifted songwriters, Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding – Partridge played John Lennon to Moulding’s Paul McCartney, and together the two created a sound that Robert Christgau referred to as “tuneful but willfully eccentric pop.” And just like the Beatles, they retired from performing about halfway through their existence, and stuck to the studio from that point on.

I bought the album in the Summer of 1980, and at first my favorite songs were those by Moulding, including “Life Begins At the Hop,” “Making Plans For Nigel,” “Ten Feet Tall.” Great pop songs, but relatively simple and straightforward, especially compared to the wild stuff that Partridge wrote and sang: “Helicopter,” “When You’re Near Me I Have Difficulty,” “Reel by Real,” “Roads Girdle the Globe,” and of course, “Complicated Game.” These were complicated songs, with hooks not easily apparent, but damn difficult to shake once they set themselves in your ears.

I can point to the exact night that those hooks first grabbed hold of me – it was December 5, 1980, the last night of finals week during my first quarter at UC Berkeley. To this day, I have to say that there is no feeling quite like that of having finished your last final – the pure release, the pure joy, the pure feeling that for at least that moment, you don’t have a responsibility in the world except to immediately begin obliterating as many of the brain cells that got you through the quarter as you can. And that’s pretty much what we did that night, up on the 5th floor common room of Deutsch Hall. A lot of people had already left for home (the “official” party was the night before), but the small group of us that was left made the most of it. I remember a lot of rum, a lot of beer, and a lot of stuff that I won’t mention here, except to say that the campus administration works really hard to keep it out of the dorms these days. I remember that we watched “Dallas” that night, and one guy (whose name I forget, but whose face is as plain as day) watched the entire show with his bong in his lap, taking a hit every time J.R. would appear on screen (hey, it was funny at the time).

At some point in the evening, I realized (as usual, way too late) that I’d had a few too many, and rather than risk getting lost between the 5th floor and my room (which definitely seemed possible at that point), I asked someone if I could crash on their bed for a while. They said “sure, cool,” and they were even nice enough to throw on a record for me to listen to – lo and behold, it was the second side of Drums and Wires, the “Partridge side.” And it was one of those turntables where the stylus reset on the first song after completing the side, and so in my stupor, I listened to that sucker at least six times before the room’s tenants politely asked me to find my way back to my own room. I did, but not before every single one of those Andy Partridge songs had been driven into the deepest recesses of my brain.

Where they have stayed ever since, ready to be called upon when needed, in the most dire of emergencies. Like Andy Kim.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Wisdom From the Football Outsiders

When it comes to well-written analysis, the sport of football lags far behind baseball, primarily due to the success of Bill James. For years I've searched in vain for something about football that approached the brilliance of James' Baseball Abstracts. For two years in the late 1980s there was "Football By The Numbers" by Allen Barra and George Ignatin, which was great but disappeared after only two years.

Well, now I think I've found the mother lode - Football Outsiders. Too bad I found it in January instead of September or October, but better late than never. I look forward to buying their Football Prospectus next year. Here's a sample, from Editor-in-Chief and lead writer Aaron Schatz:

...the difference between the 2007 Patriots and the 1999-2001 Rams is flexibility. The Mike Martz offense is what it is. If you can figure out how to stop it, you stop it. He doesn’t want his quarterback to call audibles to adjust at the line. He doesn’t come in with power running. He runs what he runs. The 2007 Patriots are flexible. Brady audibles whenever he wants. If they can’t pass the ball — and they could not today, due to the wind and Brady having perhaps his worst day of the year — they bring in two tight ends, three tight ends, and they stuff it down your throat with a power running game. Not that Laurence Maroney is better than Marshall Faulk, since he certainly is not, but the 2001 Rams could not have adjusted to do what the 2007 Patriots did in the second half of this game. That’s why the 2007 Patriots have the greatest offense in NFL history.

Great stuff! Of course, as a lifelong fan of the team that now has Martz as its offensive coordinator, I have to wonder what will happen in the 2008 season.

See What Could Happen, JEEP?


The Campaign Is Spreading


An Open Letter To Jeep

To The People Who Matter At Jeep:

I am writing to respectfully request that you immediately bring to an end your Jeep Liberty advertising campaign featuring Andy Kim’s song “Rock Me Gently.” The advertising firm that created this campaign on your behalf has greatly misjudged your intended audience, which I assume to be male sports fans, since the damn thing has run at least three times an hour during every notable sports event broadcast over the past three weeks.

I simply cannot imagine this campaign resulting in increased sales of your product. In fact, I suspect that hundreds, thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of American males in the market for a new automobile have crossed Jeep off of their lists, simply because of the psychic damage done as a result of this campaign. As an example, I can promise you that I will never consider purchasing a Jeep for the rest of my life, due to this campaign. But my anger does not end there. This morning, there were several birds in my back yard which reminded me of the birds in the commercial. I threw a rock at them. I don’t even remember if there is a squirrel in the commercial, and yesterday I tried to run one over when I saw it in the road. I yelled at a dog; and I feel an odd compulsion to buy the entire Andy Kim catalogue just for the sheer pleasure of sending the packaging through the shredder, and dropping the discs into our roaring fireplace.

But what disturbs me most is that watching the games, I find myself hoping that the next advertisement will be Ford’s John Mellencamp “This Is Our Country” commercial. So, as you can see, I am not a well man. For this I blame you, the actor in the commercial, Andy Kim, the representatives of the Animal Kingdom who debased themselves in order to allow their images to be used, and the firm that created this atrocity on your behalf.

Thanks for listening.

Sincerely,

Jeff

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Deja Vu All Over Again

I'm sitting there watching the Giants-Packers game, and I'm thinking, I've seen this game before. Favorite playing at home, explosive offense, Hall of Fame quarterback at the helm. Giants come out, look tougher than the favorite, completely take away the running game, play an efficient if not breathtaking game on offense, and just wait for the mistake to happen that gives them a shot at the championship.

Yep, it was the 1991 NFC Championship Game all over again. That one was 15-13 Giants, and the culprit was Roger Craig, whose ill-timed fumble gave the Giants a chance at victory - one that they did not squander. This time, it was (of all people) Brett Favre himself, throwing up what looked like - in the chaos of B.J.'s Restaurant - an ill-advised and/or poorly thrown pass, that allowed kicker Laurence Tynes a second shot at redemption, one that he took advantage of.

And so we have a rematch in the Super Bowl, of what was the best and most exciting game played during the regular season - Patriots vs. Giants, who played an epic on December 29 and will face off again in the desert climes of Phoenix. At this point you really have to give the Giants a shot. And you have to give Tom Coughlin all the credit in the world - it was a controversial decision at the time, but his call to play the starters all the way on December 29, in a game that meant nothing for the Giants, fueled a boost of confidence that New York has ridden all the way to the Super Bowl. Three straight road victories, two over teams against which they had an 0-3 record during the regular season? There's nothing anyone can say to convince me that would have happened, had Coughlin sent out the scrubs on December 29 and handed the Patriots 16-0 on a platter.

But giving them a shot isn't the same thing as predicting they'll actually win the game. I will predict that they won't allow Randy Moss to beat them this time, but in the end the Patriots have too many weapons, and their quest for history will create a mindset that just won't allow them to lose. It will be a good game, but not quite as close as the last one. For now, let's say New England by 34-24.

Contest!

Guess how many sports section headlines tomorrow will feature "Ice Bowl II." I'm going to check Google News in the morning, and I'll be surprised if the number is below 50.

18-0

A few random thoughts on New England's 21-12 victory over San Diego:

- Tom Brady was decidedly off form today; even setting the interceptions aside, several of his completions were thrown well behind the target and became completions only as a result of the extraordinary effort of the receivers. But let's not forget, just last week he was 26/28. Plus, a fellow by the name of Joe Montana, to whom Brady is frequently compared, also threw three interceptions in a conference championship game once - the legendary 28-27 49ers victory over the Dallas Cowboys.

- Just too many weapons...too many weapons. Moss taken out of the game? Welker shut down for the most part? Brady a bit off form? OK, we'll put the game in the hands of Laurence Maroney. Definitely the MVP.

- Chargers fans will forever wonder what the game might have been like if a healthy LaDanian Tomlinson was on the field.

- I think Phillip Rivers cemented his hold on the starting QB job for as long as he wants it during this post-season. He wasn't perfect, but he seemed to gain a sense of confidence (cockiness, even) that was lacking up until now.

- I thought at the time that the Chargers should have gone for it on 4th down with 9 minutes to play, and that notion was proven correct. The defense was exhausted, Maroney was gaining steam with each possession, and you need two scores. It would have been a bit of a risk, but one that was worth it.

Under normal circumstances I would have rooted hard for the Chargers, but I find myself caught up in the quest for history, and rooting for the favorites - something I very rarely do.

Connections

Going back to Bobby Fischer for a moment...

Though this particular degree is as wide as the Grand Canyon, the "degree of separation" between Fischer and myself is one, the one being Barry Munitz, former Chancellor of the California State University system and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust. When Munitz was Chancellor, on several occasions I drove him around Sacramento while he was in town for various legislative meetings. Among other things, we discovered that we were both huge James Ellroy fans, and my copy of "My Dark Places" was a gift from Munitz.

Munitz was a huge chess buff, and his office was decorated with a variety of antique chess sets. And he went to the same high school as Fischer, and actually tried to recruit him to join the club (now mind you, this was when Fischer was already U.S. Champion). I found this account of Munitz' attempt today, from an article published around the time he became CSU Chancellor:

Munitz, Fischer's slightly older compatriot at Brooklyn's Erasmus High School, has been deputized to seduce the young prodigy into joining the school chess club. Only Fischer is in no mood to be seduced.

"He was as irascible then as he is now,'' Munitz recalled recently, "and he responded to my inquiry with a very short and extraordinarily obscene answer. And that was the end of our exchange.''

Apparently, not much changed over the years.

Holiday Leftovers II

This was taken at my mom's house on the night of December 8, at my parents' annual "Christmas Kickoff" dinner. Over the years it's become a tradition that people look forward to just as much as Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, probably because it's held early during the season - before people have started to suffer from holiday stress.

This picture probably comes closest to doing justice to my mom's holiday decorations as any I've seen. It must have been taken by my wife, because I certainly don't remember taking it.

Holiday Leftovers

This is what happens when you invite a teenager to the "Build A Gingerbread House" party. I'm thinking that this might be one of a kind, but I could be wrong.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

What A Drag It Is Getting Old

So...yesterday, I went out and bought a really good reggae collection, part of the Island Records 40th Anniversary set. After listening to it this morning (with headphones on, before anyone else woke up ) I thought it would be cool to turn the kids on to some Toots & the Maytals, specifically their great song "Funky Kingston." Not only is the song great - even though it's been 35 years since it was released, it sounds like it could have been released yesterday. The very definition of a timeless masterpiece.

The exchanges went something like this:

Dad: Hey, check this song out.

Son #1 (17 years old): Yeah, that's the theme song of "Miami Ink."

Dad: Really?

I'm thinking to myself, "when has he ever watched Miami Ink? Oh well...whatever." Ah, here comes son #2. Redemption time.

Dad: Hey, listen to this - I think you'll really like it.

Son #2 (13 years old): Isn't that the song they play at the beginning of "Miami Ink"?

Dad: Uh, yeah, I guess it is.

Stupid kids.

"American Graffiti"

My first (and only) published movie review was one that I wrote in January 1974 for the monthly newspaper of Will Rogers Intermediate School in Fair Oaks, California. The paper had always been called “The Whiplash,” but for reasons that are now lost to history, that year we decided to call it “The Pony’s Expression.” The review was about three paragraphs long, and the subject was American Graffiti.

I remember that my parents practically had to drag me to see it – at the time, 13 years old, I could think of nothing more boring than seeing a movie about what things were like when my mom & dad were my age (a bit older, actually, but within shouting distance). Of course, I was wrong – I loved the movie, and have probably watched it at least 50 times in the 35 years since I saw it for the first time.

As to where American Graffiti stands in the pantheon according to the critics that matter, I have no idea. It got great reviews at the time; it was nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award; it was a huge hit; and it spawned years of nostalgia for the 1950s (even though it was set in 1962) that resulted in “Happy Days” and God knows what else. Today it is not ranked in the top 200 of all time on the Internet Movie Database, but it does have a high rating. As far as I’m concerned it’s a great movie, as well as a cultural artifact that has held up remarkably well.

As everyone must surely know by now, American Graffiti was the movie that put George Lucas on the map. Based on what came afterward this seems remarkable to me today – that a director best known for leading a cultural shift in film which led (or helped lead) to the era of special-effects, actors be damned blockbusters had as his first huge hit a low-budget movie, with mostly unknown actors, that was driven by a great screenplay, a great soundtrack, and a remarkable set of performances that can stand along with any ensemble performance of the past 50 years. I’m not sure what happened between 1973 and the second trilogy of Star Wars movies, but at some point during that period Lucas either lost (or decided it didn’t matter) the ability to coax memorable performances out of his actors. Sure, there are exceptions, but certainly there can be no one from the cast of the last trilogy that is going to point at those films as their best or most memorable performances.

In American Graffiti, the performances make the movie. With a group of lesser actors, American Graffiti could easily have become the Porky’s of its generation. How much Lucas had to do with those performances is hard to know – I suspect it was very little; that it was really just extraordinary luck in casting. But whatever the reason, the bottom line is that the film features an extraordinary group of actors, who turn in a remarkable set of performances.

The story is simple enough – it’s the last night of freedom before the school year begins, and two recent high school graduates – played by Ron Howard and Richard Dreyfuss – are preparing to leave for college, back east. One is certain that he’s ready to leave the comfort zone of home; the other is plagued with doubts as to whether he’s making the right choice. Over the course of one memorable night, what happens to each of them has a profound effect on their choice, which becomes one that essentially sets them on the course of what their life is to become.

But that sounds so deep – and this is anything but a deep movie. From that backdrop, Lucas seamlessly melds together a series of 1950s clich├ęs – the drive-in, cruising down the strip, the sock hop, the tough gang, the hot-rod racer, the dorky kid with the huge glasses, and the bratty younger sister (among others) – which, fueled by what is perhaps the greatest rock ‘n roll soundtrack ever to grace a film, becomes something which is much, much greater than the sum of its parts. It’s hysterically funny, and from the first scene where Toad nearly impales himself trying to park his Vespa, the movie never wavers, never flags – it’s just perfect.

My kids have come to love it as much as I do, and since it is currently appearing on Comcast’s On-Demand feature (in widescreen, no less!), we watched it twice during the holidays. Some random thoughts and favorite moments:

• Steve (Ron Howard) and Laurie (Cindy Williams, who absolutely nails her role as the clingy girlfriend) are arguing on the dance floor, oblivious to what is going on around them, when the emcee announces the spotlight dance and they are suddenly bathed in blinding light. Laurie stops in mid-sentence, grabs Steve around the neck, and basks in the glow of those around her.

• Toad, in a brief encounter with a tough guy (played by a very young Joe Spano), tries to defend his new friend, leading to this classic dialogue:

“Hey punk, you want a knuckle sandwich?”

“Uh, no thanks, I’m waiting for a Double Chubby Chuck.”


• Bo Hopkins, playing one of the Pharoahs (Fay-Roes, he pronounces it), to Curt, played by Dreyfuss:

“You know Gil Gonzalez?”

“Uh, no…I don’t think so.”

“Well, that’s his car you got your butt parked on.”

• The performance of Paul LeMat, as the hot-rod driver, who manages to infuse his character with a life’s worth of weary wisdom. He knows his world is essentially over, symbolized by the appearance on the radio of the surf music that he hates with a passion. But he is obligated by expectations that he will remain the King of the Strip, and so he keeps plugging on, even though it is no longer much fun.

• Toad’s barfing scene, which is one of the more surreal scenes in the movie. I mean, it must be 4 in the morning by this point, so what is that old couple doing out in the first place? Makes absolutely no sense, but that just adds to the hilarity. And Debbie (Candy Clark) standing there, absolutely sincere in her defense of Toad, telling the amused onlookers, “Oh no…he drinks all the time; he told me so.”

• Harrison Ford singing “One Enchanted Evening.”

• The Wolfman Jack scene, which is one of the great movie scenes of all time, in my book. The Wolfman isn’t really acting in this scene; he’s just being himself, shrouded in mystery, broadcasting nothing but the best rock ‘n roll from coast to coast. Wonderful.

I could go on and on, and maybe in a later post, I will. But for now, let’s just say that American Graffiti is one of the best - a movie to cherish, and never get tired of.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Billy Wilder's Dream Role For Cary Grant

A great account of Billy Wilder's dream movie for Cary Grant, part of the Archie Leach Day celebration going on over at The Sheila Variations. If the punch line doesn't make you laugh out loud, you probably don't know much about Cary Grant or his work!

My favorite Grant movie; one of my favorite movies period, is North by Northwest. Hitchcock's direction, the script by Ernest Lehman, and the supporting performances by James Mason, Martin Landau, and Eva Marie Saint combine to make the movie one of the most entertaining ever made - exciting, thrilling, and funny all at the same time.

As Roger Thornhill, Grant spends the movie on the run from a mysterious cabal of spies and agents that is never really that well-defined, but after a while it no longer matters. You just hold on tight, and enjoy the ride. Through it all, Grant is unflappable, looking absolutely marvelous in his gray suit, quick with the wit, and finding time through it all to woo the Eva Marie Saint character - on a train, no less.

My favorite scene in the movie is when the bad guys think they finally have Thornhill cornered, right in the middle of an art auction, and through some fast talking he manages to make such a nuisance of himself that the police are called, he picks a fight with the officer, and is escorted (safely) away from the building, in the back of a police car. During the course of the scene, my favorite bit of dialogue occurs:

Roger Thornhill [commenting on the piece of art up for bid]: How do we know it's not a fake? It looks like a fake.

Bidder: Well, one thing we know. You're no fake. You are a genuine idiot.

To which Thornhill politely replies, with a brief nod to the woman, "Thank you." Never fails to crack me up, and I've seen it too many times to mention.

Checkmate

Bobby Fischer is dead. The man was obviously disturbed and quite possibly insane, and his bizarre behavior of recent years doesn't really merit comment, except to repudiate everything he said and (apparently) believed.

But his accomplishments should still be recognized, because for a brief period in the early 1970s, chess became one of the most popular sports (or games, if you insist) in America. Fischer's brilliance at the board was unmatched, and while at the time he came across as unorthodox and admittedly somewhat strange, he carried with him enough charisma to take a game that was up to that point confined to intellectuals (and Russians) and make it a popular phenomenon.

Summers in Sacramento are hot, almost stifling. If you're smart, you get most of your physical activity out the way in the morning, because most afternoons you want nothing more than to sit in front of an air conditioner vent, possibly with cold drink in hand. During the Summer of 1972, my friends and I came up with a new way to spend our afternoons - we held concurrent 24-game matches, modeling our battles on the Championship match between Fischer and Boris Spassky. It got to the point where we even re-played the games, based on the accounts in the newspapers. For a short time we were obsessed, and within six months every one of us owned our own board, nice ones at that.

Shortly after that, it was all over. Fischer dropped out of the public eye, refused to defend his title in 1975 and was stripped of it, and aside from a few public appearances (another 24-game match in the early 1990s against Spassky), began a slow, painful slide into obscurity and insanity.

And now, the end.

UPDATE: More good stuff on Fischer, from Sheila.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

It's Just A Complicated Game

"The budget is always a proposal, that's why it's called a budget proposal. What I was doing with this budget is just say, 'Here's the reality,' and the reality will rattle the cage."

- Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger

I ask myself should I put my finger to the left, no
I ask myself should I put my finger to the right, no
I say it really doesn't matter where I put my finger
Someone else will come along and move it
And it's always been the same
It's just a complicated game

- "Complicated Game," XTC

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Blue Yodel No. 9

Another installment of "When Legends Meet," featuring Louis Armstrong and Johnny Cash.

"There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind" is a quote most often attributed to Duke Ellington, and certainly applies to this genre and generation busting performance.

That in one moment you can move from Jimmie Rodgers to Louis Armstrong to Johnny Cash is proof positive that there is hope yet for the world.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Governor Ebenezer?

Well, I'm happy to see that I'm not the only one bothered by Governor Schwarzenegger's ongoing comparisons of himself to FDR, at the same he proposes a budget for California that would close for good the notion that the Golden State represents America's Promised Land.

George Skelton calls him on it today in his Los Angeles Times column, which includes the following:

But what's particularly outrageous about Schwarzenegger's embrace of FDR is that Roosevelt wouldn't be closing state parks, firing prison guards and wardens, shortchanging school kids and -- you can bet it all on this one -- denying benefits to the impoverished aged, blind and disabled.

Schwarzenegger's trying to talk like FDR while acting like Ebenezer Scrooge.

There's been some talk that the governor's budget represents a grand strategy on his part to pressure the legislative leaders in his party to reach the conclusion that anyone in the state with half a brain has already come to - that this conversation can't take place without an honest conversation about revenues. If that's his plan, I'll give him kudos when it comes to fruition. But I have to say that for someone who talks so much about leadership, this sure seems like a strange way to go about it.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Pinch Me, I Must Be Dreaming

Oh my God - is Terrell Owens CRYING? Do my eyes and ears deceive me?

Man, it really doesn't get much better than this.

Supernova

My hatred of the Dallas Cowboys knows no bounds. Without question, there is no team in the entire world of sports - professional or collegiate - that I detest more than the Cowboys. It wasn't always that way; I remember rooting very hard for them against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl X. But shortly after that, Tex Schramm started his "America's Team" campaign, and from Landry to Staubach to Pearson to Dorsett, a palpable sense of arrogance and hubris took over the organization. They acted as if they had a divine right to win; that anytime they lost, it was because of a bad call. I swear, ask a 'Boys fan about "Swearingen's Call," and you're in for a treatise of inanity that will go on for as long as you let it.

So needless to say, the sight of a befuddled Wade Phillips, a shell-shocked Jerry Jones, and a Terrell Owens with his big mouth shut is just about the best thing I could have imagined coming out of this divisional playoff weekend. And there is even more reason to rejoice - the Romo "foolin' around with Jessica when he should have been preparin'" controversy is bound to plague the 'Boys through the off-season, their coaching staff is likely to be raided, Terrell Owens is bound to make a fool out of himself and ask for a trade somewhere. Good times.

And a Manning makes the championship round...just not the one we might have expected.

Unlikely NFL Headline of the Millennium


Volek, Turner, Sproles Drive Chargers To Victory

Wow.

Something I Wish I'd Thought Of Four Hours Ago

Three years ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers went into the playoffs the consensus choice for Super Bowl Champion, and were handed their walking papers by the New England Patriots. Two years ago, the Colts went into the playoffs as the favorite, and were defeated by a gritty, tough Steelers team that went on to win the championship. Last year, San Diego went in as the favorite, but their loss to the Patriots opened the door for the Colts to win their rings.

Picking up on the pattern? Team goes into playoffs as favorite; team loses; following season, team (now cast as underdog) wins Super Bowl.

If I'd written that four hours ago and picked the Chargers to upset the Colts today, just imagine who might be knocking on my door right about now: ESPN.Com, SI.Com, CBS, NBC, Peter King, the list goes on...

Of course, for the scenario to fully play itself out, the Chargers would have to go into New England and beat the undefeated Patriots, which - fate be damned - I just can't imagine happening.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Playoff Fever: Random Notes

- The "goat turns to hero" Ryan Grant story is one for the ages (who'd even heard of the guy in October?), but my main kudos go out to Brett Favre for an incredible performance under playoff pressure - and most importantly, a perfectly controlled performance. When the Packers fell behind 14-0 before the crowd had even settled into their seats, the recipe for disaster was prime for the cooking. But Favre stayed cool, took what the defense was giving him (his use of receivers was giving me flashbacks of Montana to Rice and Taylor, circa 1989), and showed the faith in Grant that allowed him to become the star of the game. It was a Favre performance that I wouldn't have thought possible two years ago; perhaps even a year ago. It's just a feeling, but I see him playing in the Super Bowl again.

- Gotta love the snow. Football in January at Lambeau Field in a blizzard? That's what it's all about.

- 26 for 28? Are you kidding me? Tom Brady seems determined to prove that Joe Montana can be improved upon, and he's getting damn close to proving it. Too many offensive weapons on the Patriots side of the ball made the difference, but with all that they still look less than invincible. But for those of us old enough to remember, so did the 1972 Dolphins. And 35 years later, no one remembers how many close calls they had; all they remember is 17-0. The Patriots are there.

Tomorrow's games? I see Indy prevailing 34-20, and while nothing would please me more than to see Tony Romo's carriage turn back into a pumpkin (not because of him, but because hatred of the Dallas Cowboys runs deep in my family), I seem the 'Boys pulling out a close one, say by 28-24.

"Manhunter"

As our kids have gotten older, our Halloween tradition has changed from one focused on trick-or-treating to one based on introducing them to a scary movie that they've never seen before. Up until last year we had watched "Interview with the Vampire" and "The Exorcist," both of which they enjoyed a lot (although their favorite scene in the latter was the "reverse spider crawl," which had not been part of the original). Last October we looked for "Manhunter," which now is probably best known for being the first movie to feature Hannibal Lecter (spelled "Lecktor" in this film). We were not successful (ended up watching "Dark Water" instead, which wasn't bad), but voila, this week it showed up on OnDemand, so we stayed up late last night to watch it. I hadn't seen it for over 20 years, the first time being as a date movie with my then-girlfriend, now wife. Now that William Petersen is one of the most recognizable faces on television and Michael Mann is one of the best-known film directors, I was interested to see how it has aged. Some observations:

- When you look at Petersen's portrayal of Will Graham, you can almost imagine that character growing up to be Gil Grissom of C.S.I. I've always liked Petersen, and it's a good performance, but one that is right on the edge of overdoing the intensity. Because so many of his lines are the vocalization of his thoughts, it's hard to find the emotion behind them; and only on a couple of occasions does Mann focus on the eyes, where it looks like Petersen was trying to channel his emotions. His scene with Lecter, although one of the best in the film, feels a bit forced; with its resolution (with Petersen, breathless, running out of the asylum) clearly designed to show off Mann's chops as a director, rather than Petersen's as an actor.

- Brian Cox (probably best known for his portrayal of villains in the X-Men and Bourne films) is wonderful as Hannibal Lecter, good enough that he makes one wonder what "Silence of the Lambs" might have been like with him in the role. His portrayal of Lecter is subtly different from that of Anthony Hopkins - he plays down the showy "fava beans..." insanity, and instead comes across as something that is even more frightening - the perfect English butler, albeit one who is totally insane and likes to do awful things to people.

- Joan Allen, in what must have been one of her first roles, is great as the blind woman working in the photography studio. The film makes a big deal about the role of sight in Graham's trying to figure out the identity of the "Tooth Fairy," but it's Allen who immediately recognizes the changes in the killer's voice and knows something is tragically wrong.

- Tom Noonan almost steals the movie as Francis Dolarhyde, aka the "Tooth Fairy." It is a tragic character because in his interactions with Allen he finally recognizes what he could have been, but by then it is far too late.

- Mann's direction is effective, but the production design feels overly showy (you can definitely feel "Miami Vice" all over the film). The white, sanitary asylum look is effective, but not quite as much as the bricks and dungeon look of "Lambs." And the soundtrack, which sounds like a cheap Tangerine Dream knockoff, feels way out of sync with what is happening on the screen.

Overall, it's a very good movie. I've never seen the remake with Hopkins and Edward Norton, but I can't imagine that it's any better than the original.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Orwellian Political Speak of the Day

From Governor Schwarzenegger's state budget press conference:

QUESTION: How are you going to respond to criticisms that this budget would seem to be very inconsistent with other goals of your administration, particularly things like the health care reform? I mean, you're proposing a major cut to Medi-Cal while you're going to be asking voters later on to expand the system. You also have agendas surrounding infrastructure, flood control. This year was going to be the year of education, talking about a major hit to education. It would seem that these two are extremely inconsistent in terms of logic for the voters and the taxpayers. Please respond to that apparent inconsistency.

GOVERNOR: Well, I think, as you remember that I mentioned during my State of the State Address as an example, Roosevelt. And the reason why I mentioned him is because even though there was a depression, he did not just wait and hope for something to happen. He was acting, he was making a move. And he started building bridges, he started building highways, 650,000 miles of highways, and 78,000 bridges, and 125,000 buildings and all this. All of the things we still enjoy today. He went out and made a move forward. He did not say because this is a temporary problem people should suffer permanently because of it. No. He wanted to do things, and that's what we have to do.


The answer continues, but the rest of it is just as responsive as that paragraph. This is the second time this week the governor has invoked FDR; one marvels at how he is managing to equate massive cuts to just about every critical public program in the state with what FDR did in response to the Great Depression.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Budget Demons?

Based on what he said about education in his State of the State address yesterday, it may be that these are the "budget demons" Governor Schwarzenegger was referring to.

One thing is certain - they're definitely cuter than the demon in "The Exorcist."

(I'd give full credit to the person who came up with this thought, but I don't want to cause him any trouble when he's lobbying over at the Capitol this year.)

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Governor Schwarzenegger's Shrinking Vision

Like many other Democrats in 2003, I had become so disenchanted with the political process and machinery in California that I voted for the recall of Gray Davis, and for Arnold Schwarzenegger as his replacement. Davis' tenure as Governor had been notable for its striking absence of vision, humor, as well as any demonstrated ability to react quickly to crises, economic or otherwise, that arose on his watch. Davis was utterly incapable of leading the state, utterly incapable of leading his party, and utterly incapable of working with the Legislature to craft anything resembling a bipartisan plan that would move the state forward while solving its structural fiscal problems. While well-meaning and a hard worker, his departure was no great loss for the state.

Naively, I thought that Schwarzenegger represented the last best hope to untangle the myriad issues facing California. Upon his election, he was vested with an enormous amount of political capital, and was quite likely the most popular politician in the history of the state.

Nearly five years later, it is no longer too early to speculate that Schwarzenegger stands on the precipice of a failure that will dwarf even that of Gray Davis. He has squandered much, if not all, of his political capital. He no longer thinks in big, dynamic terms of change for the state. Instead, he sounds much, if not exactly like the narrow-minded demagogues who currently occupy the state leadership of his party. Sure, he talks a good game - using phrases in his annual State of the State address like "acting boldly," having the gall to invoke the name of FDR and his visionary works, while having literally nothing to offer in return outside of platitudes and initiatives based on the advice of small-thinking advisers who are either unwilling or unable to recognize their own role in having created the mess that California's political process has become.

In the end, it was an empty speech. It was a speech that could just as well have been delivered by Gray Davis. And it extinguished, once and for all, the flicker of hope that Arnold Schwarzenegger represented. I'd like to think that it's not too late for him to recognize the error of his ways, but that would be beyond naive.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

...Another Train

This train
Carries saints and sinners
This train
Carries losers and winners
This Train
Carries whores and gamblers
This Train
Carries lost souls
This Train
Dreams will not be thwarted
This Train
Faith will be rewarded
This Train
Hear the steel wheels singin'
This Train
Bells of freedom ringin'
This Train
Carries broken-hearted
This Train
Thieves and sweet souls departed
This Train
Carries fools and kings
This Train
All aboard

This Train
Dreams will not be thwarted
This Train
Faith will be rewarded
This Train
Hear the steel wheels singin'
This Train
Bells of freedom ringin'

One Train

This train is for glory this train
This train is bound for glory this train
This train is bound for glory
Don't ride nothing but the righteous and the holy
This train is bound for glory this train

This train don't carry no gamblers this train
This train don't carry no gamblers this train
This train don't carry no gamblers
No hypocrites no midnight ramblers
This train is bound for glory this train

This train is built for speed now this train
This train is built for speed now this train
This train is built for speed now
Fastest train you ever did see
This train is bound for glory this train

This train don't carry no liars this train
This train don't carry no liars this train
This train don't carry no liars
No hypocrites and no high flyers
This train is bound for glory this train

Random Thoughts on Football

- It's not second guessing because I thought it was dumb at the time. No one seems to be writing about it today and Michaels/Madden seemed to be OK with it last night, but when it happened the first time, I didn't understand why Mike Timlin went for two. The Steelers had drawn within 5, had all the momentum, and a ton of time left. The crowd was going nuts, the defense was acting possessed, and Ben Roethlisberger was absolutely on fire. If you have that little faith in your team, well... Coaches have never been able to figure out stuff like this (I remember Jim Mora trying to explain it when he was doing color commentary between jobs, and it remains one of the funniest things I've ever heard from the broadcast booth), and they probably never will.

- This won't come as a surprise to any college football fan, but this year's bowl season really sucked. And though FOX is giving it the old college try with their hypevertisements, I just can't get excited about Monday night's championship game. I suppose I'll watch it when I get home from work Monday night, but at this point I'm not even sure who to root for - probably the team that falls behind. I'll be pleasantly surprised if it's a good game, and I have a feeling that Ohio State will pull the upset (I think they're the underdog) because they've got such a chip on their shoulder about getting blown out in last year's title game. LSU was probably the most entertaining team to watch in 2007, but they endured so much drama in the Fall that I'm not sure any will be left for this game.

- Open memo to the Commissioners of the Pac-10 and Big-10: give it up, guys - let go of the tradition, and let's bring some great football back to the Rose Bowl. The stubborn insistence of the two conferences that the game has to exclusively feature their teams is an insult to the memory of the days when the game deserved the moniker "Granddaddy of Them All." Don't be like the RIAA and fight change just for the sake of overseeing a dying industry. Become part of the solution, and quit being part of the problem.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Songs For The Storm

The biggest storm in years blew through Sacramento today, inspiring me to come up with a soundtrack for 1/4/08:

Rain, The Beatles
Who'll Stop the Rain, Creedence Clearwater Revival
Shelter from the Storm, Bob Dylan
Here Comes the Rain Again, Eurythmics
I Can't Stand the Rain, Ann Peebles
Here Comes the Flood, Peter Gabriel
When the Levee Breaks, Led Zeppelin
Five Feet High and Rising, Johnny Cash
Lost in the Flood, Bruce Springsteen

...there must be many more, but that seems like a good start.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Favorite Albums of 2007

It wasn't until I started counting that I realized how few new albums I bought this year, and how many albums of old stuff I bought. Shouldn't have been surprising, considering the amount of time I spent on the 50th Anniversary Music Project for my parents. Here are the new ones I enjoyed the most:

1. Magic, Bruce Springsteen. By this late date, everyone has made up their mind about Bruce Springsteen, so it's not as if anything I write about Magic is going to change anyone's mind. But that doesn't stop me from saying that this is one of his best; certainly his best in twenty years and maybe since Born in the U.S.A. In retrospect, the Seeger Sessions album and tour really loosened him up; the game he aims for here is just as big as it was with The Rising and Devils and Dust, but Magic tops both of those albums on the strength of its music. And if there was still such a thing as American Top 40, "Girls In Their Summer Clothes" would probably have been the biggest hit he's ever had.

2. Neon Bible, Arcade Fire. As befitting my age and my caution in buying new bands I've never heard, I was really late to the party with Arcade Fire. I still haven't heard anything of theirs beyond Neon Bible, but based on the strength and depth of this album, this is a band that will be around for a long, long time. Here they sound like Springsteen; there they sound a bit like U2 with some Joy Division or New Order thrown in; and over there they sound like something you recognize, but at the same time unlike anything you've ever heard before. "Intervention" may just be the song of the year.

3. Kala, M.I.A. Perhaps not for everyone, but as I wrote earlier this year, "the best part of it is that it just sounds exciting – music that you want to tell someone about, in the hope that they’ll give it a listen, and find something that speaks to them. "

4. Under the Blacklight, Rilo Kiley. Yeah, I know that many long-time devotees of the band hate this album. They're wrong.

5. Raising Sand, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss. You'd have to look really hard for a more unlikely pairing, but the real auteur of this one may be T. Bone Burnett, who found just the right songs and created just the right arrangements to turn this into a mix that in the end was at least equal to the sum of its parts. Some of the selections are almost painfully slow, but throughout there is a sense of tension that makes you believe that much more is at stake than just another payday for two bonafide legends.

6. Revival, John Fogerty. Speaking of legends, I have no qualms at all saying that Revival is, by far, the best work he's done since Creedence Clearwater Revival broke up back in 1972. Fogerty is pissed about a lot of things, and while his political songs may not be subtle, they're effective. The old growl is back, and the backing band (driven by the great Kenny Aronoff on drums) is up to the task. Welcome home, John.

7. Challengers, New Pornographers. I still can't quite put my finger on why I like this band so much; art-rock never much appealed to me and that's what this sounds like more than anything else. But with hooks - and lots of them.

8 (tie). Children Running Through, Patty Griffin and West, Lucinda Williams. Both Patty and Lucinda have albums in their past that are so magnificent (1000 Kisses and Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, respectively) that it's taken me a while to get used to the fact that they're never going to reach those heights again. Which doesn't mean that they won't continue coming up with good, solid stuff. These albums are their best since their masterpieces - Griffin's arrangements are simple enough to allow the strength of the songwriting to shine through, and Hal Willner's production for Williams apparently challenged her to tone down the drawl and sell the songs.

10. Dylanesque, Bryan Ferry. Odd, but effective. And it grows on you.

Other good stuff: White Stripes' Icky Thump, Ben Harper's Lifeline, Prince's Planet Earth, Ryan Adams' Easy Tiger.

Subjects for further research: Neil Young's Chrome Dreams II, PJ Harvey's White Chalk, neither of which I've been able to give the time to fully consider within the breadth of their previous work.

Didn't live up to the hype: Eagles' Long Road Back to Eden, although a solid single album could have been created using its best songs.

A Game For the New Year

Hat tip to Steven Rubio.

Based on an exercise developed by Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker, Stacy Ploskonka at Illinois State University. If you participate in this blog game, PLEASE acknowledge their copyright.

I hereby acknowledge their copyright.

BOLD WHICH APPLY TO YOU:

Father went to college
Father finished college
Mother went to college
Mother finished college
Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor
Were the same or higher socio-economic class than your high school teachers
Had more than 50 books in your childhood home
Had more than 500 books in your childhood home
Were read children's books by a parent
Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18
The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively (I think so!)
Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18
Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs
Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs
Went to a private high school
Went to summer camp
Family vacations involved staying at hotels
Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18
There was original art in your house when you were a child
You and your family lived in a single family house
Your parent(s) owned their own house(s) or apartment before you left home
You had your own room as a child (off and on)
You had a phone in your room before you turned 18
Participated in an SAT/ACT prep course
Had your own TV in your room in High School
Owned a mutual fund or IRA in High School or College
Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16
Went on a cruise with your family
Went on more than one cruise with your family
Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up
You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family