Saturday, January 31, 2009
1. The Rising
2. Working on a Dream
3. The Promised Land
4. Born to Run
Friday, January 30, 2009
Thursday, January 29, 2009
The conventional wisdom today seems to be that David Tyree's catch in last year's Super Bowl was the greatest ever, but this one is still my all-time favorite.
My hatred of the Cowboys had not yet begun when this game was played - I rooted hard for them against the Steelers. But just three years later, when they faced each other again, I was solidly behind Pittsburgh.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
• Among his fans, I suspect this will be the most polarizing album of Springsteen’s career. The people who could never come to grips with “Born in the USA” – a bonafide classic that has stood the test of time – are really going to have an problem with this one.
• I never thought I’d live to see the day when a Springsteen song (“Outlaw Pete”) was accused of being a rip-off of a Kiss song. But, since I’m not a Kiss fan and rarely hear a Kiss song outside of those on the radio, I have no idea what they’re talking about.
• In his review of Meat Loaf’s “Bat Out of Hell,” Robert Christgau wrote, “Bruce Springsteen, beware – this is what you've wrought, and it could happen to you.” I have to confess that quote came to mind upon my first listen to “Queen of the Supermarket.” After a couple of listens, I’m feeling better about the song, but not the background vocal during the last verses – which absolutely smacks of Meat Loaf-type hokum.
• There are at least three songs that, upon initial listens, are candidates to become classics: the title tune, “My Lucky Day,” and “The Last Carnival.”
• OK, it must be dealt with – “Surprise, Surprise” may be catchy and all, but so was “Run, Joey, Run.” It may indeed surprise me at some point and work its way into my brain like the termite art that Manny Farber wrote about all those years ago, but what I know right now is that Son #2 gleefully made fun of it when he first heard it, and continued in that vein this morning. And I can’t really answer him, because right now it sounds like the least substantial song he’s ever recorded.
Is this a great album? Clearly not, at least in comparison to classics like “Born to Run,” “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” and “Born in the USA.” But should it be held to that standard? That makes the conversation more interesting. Based on what he’s said about the album, this is the first time Bruce decided to make an album on a whim, just taking the energy from a tour and throwing down some songs without a lot of forethought as to themes, lyrical or musical. Personally, I think that’s great. It’s a challenge to himself, and it’s a challenge to the band, but it’s also a challenge to a group of fans whose expectations sometimes outstrip the ability of Bruce to meet them.
So I’m not surprised that the critical reaction is all over the map. You’ve got everything from the 5-star review in Rolling Stone, to Ann Powers’ slam in the L.A. Times, to the predictable “going to enter a few catch phrases in my trusty “Rip Springsteen a New One” computer program and see what comes out” piece from Jim DeRogatis in the Chicago Sun-Times.
Who knows? Maybe this time, everyone is right.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
The tape that I threw in today includes the entirety of Rod Stewart's "Every Picture Tells A Story," one of the best albums in rock history. But also, an album that is so much better than everything else he did during his career, that it can hardly be considered representative. A little more than five years after the release of this landmark work, he released "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy," an piece of unlistenable dreck that I once owned but ushered out of the house during a long-ago garage sale.
In any event, the album got me to thinking - in all of rock history, what are the albums that are so much better than the rest of an artists' catalogue that it makes you wonder what the hell happened? And I'm not talking about things like debating about whether "Beggars Banquet" or "Exile on Main St." is a better Stones album. I'm talking about huge, vast chasms. Although, on the flip side, it doesn't necessarily mean that the rest of the artists' catalogue is pure dreck.
So here are my three:
- "Every Picture Tells A Story," Rod Stewart
- "Car Wheels On A Gravel Road," Lucinda Williams
- "Play," Moby
The gap is widest in Rod's case, but also pretty huge with the other two, though I like much of the rest of their work.
Monday, January 26, 2009
D-6: Simply Irresistible, Robert Palmer
D-7: Man! I Feel Like A Woman, Shania Twain
Continuing the "guilty pleasures" section of the jukebox, we bring you today two songs that never fail to make me turn up the radio when they come on. Hopefully, the reason for their pairing here will be obvious.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
But if you do like westerns, then this is one that you shouldn't miss. It's hardly original (it is a remake, after all, though since I've never seen the original I can't say whether it's a remake in name only), and it's got many of the key ingredients that you'll find in many another western: the stolid, quiet hero; the charismatic villain; the old bounty hunter; the virtuous wife; the brave young son; the evil railroad man; the psychopathic gunslinger...and that may not be all.
The story is simple - bad guy is caught, group of "good guys" (more or less) are charged with taking him to another town, to catch the prison train - the "3:10 to Yuma" of the movie's title. And, of course, bad guy's gang is hot on the trail, willing to do anything and everything to stop their boss from being put on the train. And for good measure, there's more evil railroad men on the route, not to mention a band of angry Indians.
A good recipe, and the ingredients are strong - Christian Bale is good as the stolid good guy, although he doesn't get to do much in the way of emoting. Russell Crowe is predictably great, turning a juicy part that might have become a joke in the hands of a lesser actor into something that's genuinely affecting - the bad guy with honor and a conscience. The rest of the cast is uniformly good, and it was nice to recognize Peter Fonda - although it only took me about half the movie to do so.
The movie culminates in a shoot-out involving just about the entire town that requires a bit of believe suspension, but is certainly rousing. The ending is open to interpretation and discussion, but however you think things are going to turn out, it's a satisfying one.
All in all, very good. If you like westerns and/or good acting, "3:10 to Yuma" is well worth the time.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
- Clint really looks old these days. But hey, he's 78. He is old. I've read differing opinions on his performance: some people think he should be nominated for an Oscar, and others think he was just playing the same "Man With No Name/Dirty Harry" type of gruff loner that made him famous. I'm not sure the two are mutually exclusive. The fact that he makes it look easy doesn't mean that it is easy. There certainly aren't a lot of actors I can think of who could have pulled off the Walt Kowalski role at that age. I would like to have seen Henry Fonda or James Stewart try something like this, but in the late stages of their careers I'm not sure either one would have agreed to play such an unlikable character. You won't hear me complaining if Oscar comes calling.
- There should be no debate on this point: the actors playing Thao and Sue (Bee Vang and Ahney Her) were really good. Especially Ahney, who infuses her character with both grim determination and an upbeat outlook. Although Walt begins to come out of his shell through his interactions with Thao, Sue is the first person to really stand up to him, to ignore the racist swill coming out of his mouth and still make an attempt to bring him closer to her family and the neighborhood.
- I admit it, the Walt/Thao relationship reminded me a bit of Mr. Miyagi teaching Daniel the ways of work and life in "The Karate Kid."
- The story has an element of sentimentality, but it doesn't try to gloss over Walt's enormous flaws. Even after he begins to interact with his neighbors, he is the same bitter man. The goodness is in there, but he doesn't change completely overnight.
- At first, the interactions with the young priest struck me as unbelievably hackneyed. But over time, the determination of Father Janovich showed him to be made of sterner stuff than his cherubic face would have you believe. He too is a strong man, strong enough to stand up to Walt and make him finally accede to his deceased wife's wishes.
The theater we saw the film in was sold out, and it was a diverse crowd - teenagers to septuagenarians, and a veritable rainbow coalition of colors. The crowd laughed a lot, which I did not interpret to mean as diminishing the impact of Walt's racism, but rather to point out what a ridiculous figure he really was - heroic but asinine at the same time.
All in all, I'd recommend it highly.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
History can be the only judge of the speech's greatness, but it sure sounded good to me. Here are some snippets that I jotted down as he delivered it:
"...our collective failure to make hard choices." - This was in the context of talking about the economy, and sounds consistent with the overall theme of service and sacrifice that he talked about in the days leading up to the inauguration.
"the time has come to set aside childish things..." - I interpet this to be a sign that Obama will sincerely make every attempt to govern from the center, and isolate the wingnuts who have come to dominate the discussion at both ends of the political spectrum. But not just the wingnuts, but also to a certain degree the leaders of his own party, some of whom would like nothing more than to set aside the urgent issues of the day and proceed with indictments and hearings against the previous Administration. Until this ruthless cycle of destructive politics comes to an end, this nation will never move forward; our political discourse will remain in the gutter. It may be a task beyond the abilities of one man to handle. I hope he makes an effort.
"the question is not whether our government is too big or too small but whether it works..." - Interestingly, that really does not sound so different to me than Ronald Reagan's famous proclamation, "government is the problem..."
The reactions have been wide and varied - some left bloggers I read thought it was mediocre, some right bloggers I read were impressed and hopeful. There are many whose hopes are so high that they can't possibly be met. And of course, there remains a substantial element out there of people who are so stricken with Obama Derangement Syndrome that every word out of his mouth represents an affront to the Republic.
I look forward to watching how it all plays out.
Monday, January 19, 2009
The Kurt Warner comeback story is a great one, but right now I prefer the Larry Fitzgerald ascension story. We knew he was a great receiver, but in this playoff season he has raised his game to a level that no receiver has ever reached. I imagine there will be many meetings in the next two weeks where the Steelers' defensive brain trust watches film and tries to figure out ways to derail the express. The Eagles gave them a pretty good blueprint in the second half of yesterday's game, when the blitz finally threw Warner out of his rhythm and slowed the Cardinals offense to a crawl. But even with that, Arizona managed to put together one last drive - the most important one, as it turned out.
I think it will be a good Super Bowl. It's too much to ask for a repeat of last year's classic, but the matchups in this one are going to be fun, and it could be a classic "irresistable force vs. immovable object" kind of game. Right now, logic dictates that the Steelers win (and I will probably predict them to do so), but logic has played but a fleeting role in this year's postseason.
And in the toot your own horn department, I can't resist reminding people about something I wrote on December 29:
With the lack of patience demonstrated by most team owners, you really have to wonder when Mike Shanahan and Jon Gruden are going to wear out their welcome in Denver and Tampa Bay. Sure, they both led their respective teams to Super Bowl championships, but that was a long time ago, and neither team has shown any ability to win a key game after Thanksgiving for a long time. I'm sure they're both safe for one more year, but absent deep playoff runs next year, you really have to wonder.
As it turned out Pat Bowlen and the Grazers weren't quite as patient as I expected.
Friday, January 16, 2009
But...without further ado:
Arizona 31, Philadelphia 20. Kurt Warner-to-Larry Fitzgerald proves to be more than the Eagles' defense can handle. Edgerrin James squeezes another good game out of his ancient body, and rides the "don't get no respect" meme all the way to the Super Bowl.
Pittsburgh 21, Baltimore 17. Joe Flacco may be a great rookie quarterback, but Ben Roethlisberger wrote the book on the "rookie taking a team to the Super Bowl" fairy tale. The Ravens' injuries catch up with them. Despite loss, Ray Lewis leaves field thinking Baltimore was the best team in the league.
Rob O'Connor has a great piece on the artists he selects as the 25 most deserving acts who are currently eligible for, but not a member of, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
My list would definitely include Warren Zevon, but I also agree with most of the choices on O'Connor's list. It's definitely a crime that Roxy Music, X, Randy Newman and Joy Division are not in.
O'Connor's funniest line is in the Roxy Music write-up:
I assume one day Brian Eno will be lobbied in by Bono, who using his influence as head of the United Nations will do right by Eno as he cures world hunger and offers better cellphone reception for all.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
We're now going to enter a little section of the jukebox that I'm calling the "Guilty Pleasures Section." Not that I feel particularly guilty about liking the songs, but because someone, at one point or another, has given me a hard time for liking the song. We begin with John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High," from the early 1970s. Truth be told, I never really had a big problem with John Denver. I could also have chosen "Thank God I'm A Country Boy," but since I always had my doubts that Denver really was a country boy, I'll stick with this one - which I think is a clear choice as his best original composition.
Went to my first Kings game of the season last night, seeing first-hand for the first time the stunning sight of an Arco Arena barely 2/3 full.
The early highlight of the evening was an overheard conversation from the couple behind us, a guy who is clearly a fan and a co-worker who sounded as if she was also attending her first game of the year. It went something like this:
"We're really not that far off...all we need is a strong center, and a power forward...
...we could probably also use a better point guard...
...and a shooter, and maybe a Doug Christie type.
Well, there you have it in a nutshell - Geoff Petrie, you have your marching orders!
This edition of the Kings is obviously going nowhere, though I suspect they're better than their record (how could you not be?).
But we did witness NBA history last night, as the Orlando Magic set an NBA record for the most 3-point shots made in a game: 23. It really was amazing - they were 14/19 in the first half, and I don't think they missed one the entire third quarter.
And I haven't been paying a lot of attention to the NBA this year, so I hadn't really noticed that Orlando has suddenly become an elite team. Dwight Howard, simply put, is a stud - he's a presence in the paint, he can help guard the point, he's got a nifty little hook shot, and - news flash! - he's a big man who can make free throws. With last night's win the Magic are now 31-9, and along with Boston and Cleveland, clearly an Eastern Conference championship contender. I think I've found the team to root for once the playoffs roll along, since they're bound to be an underdog to both the Celtics and Cavaliers.
Oh, and they also have Hedo Torkoglu, a reminder of the Kings glory days, shown above shooting free throws in the second half (taken with my trusty Blackberry).
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Monday, January 12, 2009
I have no idea how to pick the Conference championship games. Arizona, after playing like one of the worst football teams in the league in December, is suddenly playing like the best football team in the league. Philadelphia looks fresh and determined. The Steelers look scary good, and the Ravens just think that they can't be beaten.
So I'm going to give these games a little thought, and get back later in the week with formal predictions.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
All well and good, but I've really got to take issue with Bradshaw's back-handed slap (actually, it was more of a frontal assault) on Peyton Manning, with his pithy little comment about Manning's 6 "1 and out" playoff seasons. Sure, it is fair to include that in any assessment of Manning's career. But Terry? In case you were just drinking heavily or was just otherwise disengaged two seasons ago, Manning did win a Championship. Which means that he's got as many championships as some other Hall of Fame quarterbacks, guys like...say, Johnny Unitas and Steve Young. No, he doesn't have as many as Terry Bradshaw, but then again Manning hasn't exactly been blessed with the Steel Curtain, has he?
It's not as if Manning needs someone like me to defend him, but in this case I will, gladly. Who knows - maybe Terry is just jealous that Manning has taken the "good ol' southern boy" act and turned it into a goldmine of commercials and print advertisements. In any event, it's just another black mark on Bradshaw's undistinguished broadcast career - which amounts to, as Keith Jackson once famously said about Don Meredith, "corn pone and bullsh*t, which is fine if you like that stuff."
Saturday, January 10, 2009
- Titans 17, Ravens 14. This is going to be a hard fought slugfest, and if anyone makes it over the 20-point mark, I'll be shocked.
- Panthers 31, Cardinals 21. I just can't believe Arizona can get any further than they already have, for which they deserve a lot of kudos.
- Chargers 20, Steelers 13. My "upset" special. I've got this strange feeling that the stars are aligned for the Chargers, and that Darren Sproles will find just enough holes to send the Steeler fans home crying in their Terrible Towels.
- Giants 24, Eagles 14. How the Giants look is the big question mark of the weekend for me. I'm guessing that they'll look good enough to prevail over an Eagles team that is happy to have gotten this far.
Friday, January 09, 2009
With all due respect, we really, really don't give a sh*t about the relationship between Sam and Tony. The fact that you're giving that storyline so much air-time in these, the final episodes of one of the great shows in television history, is insulting and degrading to viewers, especially those who have stuck with the show through thick and thin.
And shame on you for what you've done to the Sam Taggart character. Have any of your current writers gone back and actually watched shows from previous seasons? Can they explain, with a straight face, any rational basis for her current behavior towards Tony? Or perhaps I just missed the episode where Sam was kidnapped and an alien took her place? Or is it perhaps a brain tumor? If so, I hope it's fatal and that the end comes really soon.
In any event, nice job folks. You've managed to make the final episodes almost unwatchable, and have turned Sam into what is perhaps the most despicable character in the history of the show (including her husband, who only shot up the ER and kidnapped their son). If it weren't for the Archie storylines, I might give up entirely.
Still A Fan (barely)
I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but I think I preferred the arrogant swagger of Steve Spurrier to the smug piety of Urban Meyer. But for all that smugness, Meyer has been unable to instill a sense of sportsmanship in his players; it's just the same ol' Florida b.s. that we've been treated to for years. Even Tim Tebow, admittedly a great player, who I'm sure is a great guy, playing with John 3:16 right there on his eye-black, was guilty of the trash talk that has become the staple of today's game, both at the collegiate and the professional level. And Tim? Next time, stick the scripture where the sun don't shine. We're not watching the game to see that.
A sign of the times? Perhaps. Easily fixable? You bet. Escalating penalties - 15 yards for the first, 30 yards for the second, immediate ejection for the third offense. You'd better believe that would take care of things, right quick. After all, we have plenty of officials on the field who can signal the first downs. We don't need receivers and running backs doing it after every f*cking catch and run.
But, congratulations are due. Florida is an outstanding team, and has as good a right as anybody to stake a claim to the [still mythical] national championship.
Thursday, January 08, 2009
Which brings us to today's quick note, which is that 35 years ago today, Kiss signed its first record contract. Truly, a momentous moment in the history of rock music.
Wednesday, January 07, 2009
The blogging may be light for a while as I try to get back into the swing of the working week (which is proving more difficult than I expected; I really hate waking up in the dark), but I do have some goals for 2009.
- Write something about every book I read in 2009. It may be just one sentence, but there will be something.
- Write something about every album I buy in 2009. Again, it may be short, but there will be something. First in the queue: Bon Iver and Blitzen Trapper.
- Write something about every movie I see for the first time in 2009, whether it be at the theater or on DVD/Blu-Ray. So far, so good...I already wrote something about Benjamin Button and Cloverfield.
- Write more about my old record collection. I've got a lot of music that's itching to be written about, if I can find the time. And I think I can.
- Finally get around to writing that essay about Warren Zevon and Johnny Cash. Look for it around the end of August.
It may not be much, but it's a place to start.
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
Sunday, January 04, 2009
- Also saw Cloverfield, which is about as far on the movie-making spectrum as Benjamin Button as one can possibly imagine. The movie had many fans and many detractors, and you can count me in the former category. The hand-held camera work didn't bother me, and the first scenes after the disaster begins were incredible in their depiction of absolute fear and panic. It actually gets less scary when you begin to glimpse the monster, although you could make a movie about the babies themselves. Not a perfect movie by any stretch of the imagination, but if you like being scared in an intelligent manner, this is the one for you.
Oh well. A classic day of "that's why they play the games, stupid!"
Dare I venture into my shattered crystal ball today? Oh, sure. Why not.
Baltimore 24, Miami 17 (I will be rooting for Miami).
Philadelphia 30, Minnesota 20 (I'll probably end up rooting for whichever team falls behind in this one).
Feel free to make fun of me if I go 0-4 for the weekend!
Saturday, January 03, 2009
But why dwell on the failures; let’s talk about the successes:
1. Tell Tale Signs, Bob Dylan. An amazing compilation of outtakes and alternate versions of songs recorded 1989-present, the period of Dylan’s great renaissance. Since 1989, Dylan has recorded 5 albums of original material, two of which are very good (Oh Mercy and Under the Red Sky) and three of which (Time Out of Mind, Love and Theft, and Modern Times) are bonafide masterpieces. To add icing to the cake, he also recorded two great albums of classic folk songs – just Dylan, on guitar and harmonica.
I wrote about the album here, referring to it as an “accidental masterpiece.” Whatever you want to call it, it was far and away the best album of 2008.
Video: “Dreamin’ of You”
2. Fleet Foxes. Gorgeous melodies, beautiful vocals, terrific musicianship, and an album that maintained a consistent tone and sound from start to finish. More than just a collection of songs, it was greater than the sum of its parts, and it was the album I turned to most often when I wanted to be transported away from the day-to-day world. My original review (of sorts) can be found here.
3. The Baseball Project. An irresistible combination for someone like myself, who loves both rock ‘n roll and baseball. I wrote about the album here.
4. Vampire Weekend. When I first wrote about it, I called the review “Tastes Great, Less Filling.” But in the end the album won me over – it may be light as a feather, but the hooks feel as if they’ll still be potent years from now. And I enjoyed it more than anything else on my MP3 player while running.
5. Accelerate, R.E.M. As I wrote here, the old boys still have a thing or two up their sleeve. Their best album since 1991’s Automatic for the People.
6. Momofuku, Elvis Costello. Probably not quite as good as I initmated in my original review, but still his strongest album in many years.
7. Acid Tongue, Jenny Lewis. Still on a roll after last year’s great Rilo Kiley album, Lewis this year came up with her strongest solo LP to date. The highlight was “The Next Messiah,” which upon first hearing I likened to a three-act play.
8. Asking for Flowers, Kathleen Edwards. When I first wrote about it here, I didn’t think it was her best album. Now I think it probably is, and that what first kept me from that estimation was the length and depth of many of the songs – which take some time to get into and fully appreciate. The highlights were the extraordinary “Alicia Ross,” in which Edwards assumes the identity of a murder victim and what she must have been thinking in her final moments, and the great rocker “The Cheapest Key.”
Video: “The Cheapest Key”
9. Solo Acoustic Vol. 2, Jackson Browne, which I first wrote about here. Browne also released Time the Conqueror this year, his first solo album in years, but even though it was a good album I preferred his second acoustic live set.
10. Mudcrutch. Which I wrote about here. Proof that you really can go back to your high school days and have a good time in the process.
Honorable Mention: Cardinology, Ryan Adams and the Cardinals; Modern Guilt, Beck; Last Night, Moby; Time the Conqueror, Jackson Browne; Viva La Vida, Coldplay; Just A Little Lovin’, Shelby Lynne; Jukebox, Cat Power; Blame It On Gravity, Old 97’s; Little Honey, Lucinda Williams; Dear Science, TV on the Radio; Lust Lust Lust, The Raveonettes; Consolers of the Lonely, The Raconteurs; Keep It Simple, Van Morrison, Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings, Counting Crows; Real Animal, Alejandro Escovedo.
Subjects for Further Research (i.e., I just bought them): Bon Iver, Blitzen Trapper.
Thursday, January 01, 2009
As long as we're on the topic of bowl memories, this one is certainly worth a mention - the 1979 Cotton Bowl Classic, where Joe Montana led the Notre Dame Fighting Irish to an amazing comeback (from 22 points down in the 4th quarter) in frigid weather conditions to capture the game on the final play.