Friday, February 27, 2009

The Last Testament of Johnny Cash

I can't remember when I first noticed "Unearthed," the 5-CD box set released shortly after Johnny Cash's death in 2003. It might have been a mention in Greil Marcus' "Real Life Rock" column, and it might have been during a perusal of the box set aisle at Best Buy. But one thing was certain - once I knew about it, it was only a matter of time before I bought it.

Well, it took a while. A box set of that size doesn't come cheap, and I can attest through five years of looking that the damn thing never goes on sale. Even today, on it is selling for $71. But eventually the watching paid off, and just after the new year I found a used copy on sale for $49.99, right at the moment when I found myself with one last Christmas gift card to spend.

The set is a magnificent testament to the Johnny Cash-Rick Rubin collaboration. If Rubin had done nothing else in his career, he would deserve to be recognized in rock history for rescuing Cash from the syrup and strings that his latter-day producers seemed bound and determined to force him into. The genius of it all is in its simplicity - I'll let Johnny sing whatever comes to mind, every now and then suggest a song that he probably wouldn't discover on his own, and then back him with the basics. And it worked - through four albums (and one released posthumously), the collaboration clicked, and in the last decade of his life Cash may have recorded more great music than he had in the twenty years before that. It's the kind of treatment that all great artists deserve, and we should all be thankful that it was so successful.

The first three discs are "out-takes" from the American Recordings sessions, but only in the sense that they didn't make it onto whichever album was being recorded at the time. There's not much to distinguish the quality of these songs from the quality of those which did end up on the albums, and in some instances it's surprising that the "Unearthed" songs didn't make the final cut. The first disc is all acoustic, just Johnny and his guitar. There isn't a bad song to be found, but the highlights for me are "Long Black Veil," "Banks of the Ohio," and "I'm Goin' to Memphis."

A good portion of Disc two is comprised of songs recorded with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, and you can feel their enthusiasm on every track. As the extensive liner notes make clear, the band was awed and honored to be in the studio with Johnny, and they do themselves proud. In the notes, Petty himself ventures the opinion that the band never played better. Johnny does an admirable job on two Neil Young classics - "Heart of Gold" and "Pocahontas" - but the real highlights are the songs where Carl Perkins plays guest star ("Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby," and "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man") and an incredible duet with June, "As Long As the Grass Shall Grow."

On the third disc, you can really hear the age show up in Johnny's voice - but that just lends the songs more power and poignancy than they otherwise might have had. On "Wichita Lineman," you can hear him straining to hit the high notes, even though the song is played in a lower pitch than Glen Campbell's original. But it was with the later work that Rubin really proved his mettle as a producer. It's nothing fancy, but it's just the way that he uses single notes on the piano, or chords on the guitar, to emphasize Cash's phrasing. My favorite songs on Disc 3 are "The L&N Don't Stop Here Anymore," "He Stopped Loving Her Today," the aforementioned "Wichita Lineman," and the duet with Joe Strummer, "Redemption Song," about which Greil Marcus wrote:

The weight Cash brings to the very first lines, "Oh pirates, yes they rob I/ Sold I to the merchant ship"-- a physical weight, a moral weight, the weight of age and debilitation -- is so strong it floats the song as if it were itself a ship, sailing no earthly ocean. The reversal of what would be Cash's "me" for Marley's "I" makes a crack in the earth, a man stepping into another time, another place, entering fully into another history. Then Joe Strummer comes in, plainly nervous, rushing the words precisely as he does not on the shivering version of "Redemption Song" on his own posthumous release, Streetcore: He's tight, blank, and the performance never recovers. By the end it's all but dead -- and those first moments will bring you back again and again, trying to make the recording come out differently. Five CDs don't come cheap, but the radio does, and a song like this is what the radio is for: to shock whoever's listening.

The fourth disc is again just Johnny on guitar, singing some of his favorite gospel songs, and it's very powerful - you don't have to be a religious person to enjoy his performances of these classics. The fifth disc is probably the only drawback to the entire enterprise - a "best of" containing songs from the four American Recordings albums. It's mostly a waste, for two reasons: it's highly likely that anyone buying "Unearthed" already owns those albums, and given that, they've quite likely made their own mix-tape of favorites (I know I have). But in the end that's a minor quibble - I can say without reservation that no Cash fan should be without this set in their collection.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


In the spring of 1982, there were few songs (if any) that were played more often on the 2nd floor of Cheney Hall at UC Berkeley than Pete Shelley’s “Homosapien.” I can’t remember who first introduced the song into our eclectic mix, but I remember that I was the one who went out and bought the 12” single. The first side was the “single mix,” similar to the version that you hear in this video, but with fewer guitars and more synthesizers. But the second side was the real treat – a 10-minute extravaganza, with loads of special effects, DJ-mixing, and the like.

It was that version of the song that we used to torture one of our floor mates, when he had the gall to ask a girl to dance at one of our dorm parties that none of us could stand (the feeling was mutual, believe me), and who carried about her an air of superiority that you could cut with a knife. We were in charge of the music at that particular party, and the decision was an easy one – “OK, if you’re going to dance with her, you get treated to a full workout.”

He was not pleased.

Monday, February 23, 2009

This Pretty Much Says It All...

...about the California budget crisis. From this morning's Matier and Ross column in the San Francisco Chronicle:

The office: State Sen. Abel Maldonado got a lot of ink by slamming Controller John Chiang for spending nearly $1 million on new office furniture while the state was going over the financial cliff.

Well, Maldonado got his wish - which was for the money to go bye-bye.

It turns out, however, that the new furniture was to go into new, cheaper offices the controller had leased.

So now, there's a problem. Chiang can't cancel the lease and can't move in without furniture, so his staffers are stuck in their current, high-rent office.

Upshot: Maldonado got his $1 million in savings, but the state may be on the hook for $4.8 million in higher rent and other expenses over the next six years.

Oh, and the 20-year-old furniture in the controller's office doesn't meet requirements under the federal Americans With Disabilities Act. So something is going to have to be done about that.

Any ideas, Sen. Maldonado?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Wrapping Up

Probably the worst Oscar show in memory.

But I really liked that song they played during the clips of upcoming films. Anyone know what it is?

See you at the next live-blog. Which should be...who knows?

Best Picture

The interesting concept that almost worked.

"Slumdog Millionaire." At least I didn't get shut out on that one.

Best Actor

Michael Douglas looks sharp. Still don't like the long-tie tuxedo look.

Robert DeNiro looks cool, even if he did forget his comb. Good line about straight men.

Damn, I'm really tired of seeing Kung Fu Panda show up in the bottom right hand of my screen.

Adrien Brody...has he been cast as Jesus Christ in a role?

Anthony Hopkins is starting to look old.

Ben Kingsley and Mickey interesting pairing.

You know, I'd much rather see clips from the movies than listen to this.

And the Oscar goes to...

Sean Penn. Which seals the fate on what is probably the worst performance I've ever had with respect to Oscar predictions.

Great self-understanding line to start off the speech.

Best Actress

OK, I've changed my mind...this schtick, especially with the women talking to the nominees in the audience, is definitely not working.

Halle Berry looks great, but I'm not sure what's up with those two big strands of hair coming down on to her face.

Sophia Loren looks great for her age, which still doesn't mean that she should be wearing that dress and that hairstyle.

Nicole Kidman looks like she has done something to her face. Very odd.

Kate Winslet looks radiant, with a hairstyle very reminiscent of Grace Kelly back in the days of "Rear Window." And if you know me, you know that's definitely a compliment.

Danny Boyle

Danny Boyle just said something very interesting in his acceptance speech - that he didn't know what the show looked like on television, but that in person it looked spectacular.


The show on TV looks like crap, and I think that is exactly because the producers produced it for the people in the auditorium.

When, of course, what really matters are the people watching on TV.

The Dead Pool

It's really hard to screw up the montage honoring those who have passed in the past year, but this sure came close.

It Appears That...

...Queen Latifah has been given a promotion in Star Fleet.

We're Back...

Had to take a dinner break...a few random comments:

- Tom Cruise was great in the Jimmy Kimmel commercial. I'm beginning to think that comedy is his forte.

- Surprisingly understated speech from Jerry Lewis. I've never been a fan of his movie work, but I still get sentimental when Telethon time rolls around.

- Bruce really got screwed when "The Wrestler" didn't get nominated.

Best Supporting Actor

Very nicely handled.

Heath Ledger's performance was truly spectacular, and I think he would have won in any event.


Did this just turn into The Tonys? What the hell?

UPDATE: This may very well be the historically bad moment of the evening. Wow.

James Franco and Seth Rogen

I'm gonna hazard a wild guess that people either loved or hated the "Pineapple Express" thing.

I loved it.

Ben Stiller as Joaquin Phoenix

OK, that was the first LOL moment of the night.

Natalie Portman looks great.

First Montage

OK, the "lovers" montage was good.

But for the most part, something seems a bit off tonight. Perhaps that the Awards should be held in the spring (a pet peeve of mine)?

First Win for "Button"

I think this confirms what I predicted..."Milk" and "Slumdog" will split the major acting/directing/writing awards, and "Button" will win more of the art direction/costume direction type of awards.

What's With The Music?

Why does the music keep playing while the presenters are talking?

Random Open Thread #1

In "Twitter" style:

6:03 p.m. Shot of Angelina while Jennifer A. is talking. How clever.

6:04. Sure sign of kids getting old - have seen none of the animation nominees.

6:06. I'm not a fan of the tuxes without bow ties.

6:08. Where does one go to see short animated films?

6:09. A Mr. Roboto reference!

Commercial break.

Steve Martin and Tina Fey

She looks great. His nose looks big. They're funny.

Wow...Best Original Screenplay already? The gimmick isn't working that well.

First win for "Milk." I think I got this one right.

A very heartfelt speech. I like the stage set-up this year: the presenters and winners seem really close to the audience, which allows for some great camera shots.

Do screenplays really have that much detail? For some reason, doesn't sound real to me.

First win for "Slumdog Millionaire." Looks like we could be on our way to a "Benjamin Button" shutout.

Best Supporting Actress

Tilda Swinton looked good; Eva Marie Saint looked elegant; Anjelica Huston chose the wrong outfit; Whoopi Goldberg was funny and probably the only person in the room who could get away with the outfit she was wearing; and Goldie Hawn seemed to have borrowed a dress out of her daughter's closet.

Long descriptions of each role...just asking for trouble? But they handled it fine.

I'm a bit surprised at Cruz' victory, but then again the supporting actor categories are always the ones with the most surprises.

I'm not thrilled with the dress, but the hair looks good.

The Opening

I wasn't entirely sold on the concept of Hugh Jackman as host, but for the opening, he deserves at least some credit for sheer energy alone. It wasn't great - not funny enough to be remembered as a classic (see Billy Crystal), and not bad enough to be remembered as a spectacle (see Rob Lowe). The references to the blockbusters being largely shut out was funny, as was what appeared to be Jackman cracking up for real in the "Reader" section. The "here are all the stars" walkthrough was not hysterically funny, but in the end his charm won the day.

Live-Blogging the Oscars!

I'll be doing my first live-blog of the Oscars this evening, and will start here with my predictions. Take these with a major grain of salt, because the only Best Picture nominee I've seen is "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." I liked it a lot, but as you can see below I'm not predicting that it will win the big prize. I think this is going to be another one of those years where the awards are spread around, with a little something going to everybody. But we shall see!

Best Picture: Slumdog Millionaire
Best Director: Gus Van Sant for Milk
Best Actor: Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler
Best Actress: Meryl Streep in Doubt
Best Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight
Best Supporting Actress: Viola Davis in Doubt
Best Original Screenplay: Milk
Best Adapted Screenplay: Slumdog Millionaire
Cinematography: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Film Editing: The Dark Knight
Art Direction: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Costume Design: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Original Score: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Original Song: Down to Earth from WALL-E
Best Makeup: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Sound Editing: The Dark Knight
Sound Mixing: The Dark Knight
Best Visual Effects: Iron Man
Best Animated Feature Film: WALL-E
Best Foreign Language Film: Waltz with Bashir -- Israel
Best Documentary Feature: Man on Wire
Best Documentary Short: The Final Inch
Best Live Action Short: The Pig
Best Animated Short: Lavatory - Lovestory

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Real "Leaders" of California?

3 Valley Republicans already feel pain of tax increases

So there you have it, folks. Reaction to the state budget, for many, being driven by a couple of moronic radio talk show hosts.

There's something in this budget for everyone to hate. The real lesson to take from all this is that the legislative system, inefficient and unrepresentative for so long now, is beyond broken.

It really is time to blow things up. Stay tuned in the days to come for some thoughts on where to go from here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Cities in Dust

Pay Me My Money Down

Playlist for the California Budget Crisis

With thanks to my co-workers for their contributions: Katie, Dan, Rick, Brian, Dollye, Judy, and Debra:

"Hotel California," The Eagles

"Money, Money, Money," ABBA

"Material Girl," Madonna

"Mo' Money Mo' Problems," Notorious B.I.G.

"Taxman," The Beatles

"The Downward Spiral," Nine Inch Nails

"Pay Me My Money Down," Bruce Springsteen

"Desperadoes Under the Eaves," Warren Zevon

And if California slides into the ocean
Like the mystics and statistics say it will
I predict this motel will be standing
Until I pay my bill

"Bad Moon Rising," Creedence Clearwater Revival

"God Bless the Child That's Got His Own," Billie Holliday

Money, you've got lots of friends
Crowding round the door
When you're gone, spending ends
They don't come no more
Rich relations give
Crust of bread and such
You can help yourself
But don't take too much
Mama may have, papa may have
But God bless the child thats got his own
That's got his own

"Still Crazy After All These Years," Paul Simon

"Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?," E.Y. Harburg and Jan Gorney

"Money," Pink Floyd

"How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live?," The Del-Lords

"Viva La Vida," Coldplay (dedicated to State Senator Dave Cox)

One minute I held the key
next the walls were closed on me
and I discovered that my castles stand
on pillars of salt and pillars of sand

"Cities in Dust," Siouxsie and the Banshees

Water was running; children were running
You were running out of time
Under the mountain, a golden fountain
Were you praying at the lares shrine?
But oh your city lies in dust, my friend

We found you hiding we found you lying
Choking on the dirt and sand
Your former glories and all the stories
Dragged and washed with eager hands

"Misery," Good Charlotte

"Run to the Hills," Iron Maiden

Any more? Feel free to offer your suggestions.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Heard on the Senate Floor

"We have a budget. What we need is a cash flow patch."

- Senator Dave Cox (R-Sacramento)

Don't ask me what it means, folks. I just report what I hear.

Monday, February 16, 2009

"Pineapple Express"

This was my first venture into Seth Rogen/Judd Apatow territory, so I can't make any comment about how well (or not) it compares with their earlier collaborations. Having said that, a few random observations:

- By far, James Franco was the best thing about the movie. His stoner was right up there with Sean Penn's Jeff Spicoli in the all-time annals of great stoners. He had a lot of great lines, but I'm kind of partial to "F*ck Jeff Goldblum, man!" (It kind of loses something out of context). His fondness for civil engineers was also a great touch.

- What a waste of Gary Cole. If you're going to have Gary Cole in a comedy, you might want to think about having him do something funny (although the scene where he gives names to the various kinds of pot was pretty amusing). Anyone could have played that role, the way it was written.

- The whole high school girlfriend thing was a waste of time, although Rogen did get off a couple of good lines when he visits her in the hallway.

- The two hit men were a good, bizarre take on the 'hit man team cliche.'

Overall, I enjoyed it, but thought it could have been a little tighter. Which I admit is a strange thing to say about a stoner movie.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

My 20 Most Important Albums

Another one of those Facebook thingies...cross-posted from my Facebook page.

Think of 20 albums, CDs, LPs (if you're over 40) that had such a profound effect on you they changed your life. Dug into your soul. Music that brought you to life when you heard it. Royally affected you, kicked you in the wasu, literally socked you in the gut, is what I mean.

Saw this one on Steven Rubio’s page. I don’t know that I can say any album changed my life, in the sense of “Wow, I bought this new Bob Dylan album, “Saved,” and decided to become a Christian!,” but these definitely played a huge role in the development of my musical taste.

1. Yesterday and Today, The Beatles. My parents gave this one to me for my birthday when I was in the 4th grade. As everyone knows, this wasn’t really an “album” at all, just a collection of tunes that had been singles, or had been on the British versions of albums that Capitol had reduced to five or six songs a side. But this is what formed my notion of what the Beatles should sound like, and even now it sounds pretty damn good.

2. Willie and the Poor Boys, Creedence Clearwater Revival. Got this one for my birthday the following year, and it began my first obsession with a band. Nearly wore it out, but still have it today.

3. Honky Chateau, Elton John. The first album I bought with my own money. For a period of 4 years in the early 1970s, Elton was a veritable hit-making machine. What people forget is that his albums were pretty good, too. “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” holds up as well as any song he’s ever written.

4. Can’t Buy A Thrill, Steely Dan. The album that opened up the possibilities of FM radio for me – because you sure weren’t going to hear most of these songs on AM.

5. Siren, Roxy Music. When I heard this for the first time, I thought it was the most mysterious, exotic thing I’d ever heard.

6. Exile on Main Street, The Rolling Stones. Like four albums in one, all brilliant, all as exciting today as they were in 1972.

7. Greatest Hits Vol. 2, Dionne Warwick. The perfect combination of singer, composer (Bacharach), and lyricist (David). But what really set it apart was the brilliance of the production and the arrangements.

8. Darkness on the Edge of Town, Bruce Springsteen. For those who know me, there probably isn’t much more I need to say.

9. The B-52s. The first new wave album I fell in love with.

10. London Calling, The Clash. Punk? Yeah. New Wave? Sure. Reggae? Yep. Top 40 Hit? Yeah, that’s in there too. A remarkable tour de force.

11. Anthology, Marvin Gaye. When a singer creates great work with producers as different in their styles as Smokey Robinson and Norman Whitfield, after a while you begin to realize that it’s the singer.

12. Frank Sinatra Sings For Only the Lonely. “The majestic artistry of Frank Sinatra,” said Tom Carson. The same could be said for arranger Nelson Riddle.

13. Duke Ellington 1940. The greatest year of Ellington’s greatest band.

14. Unplugged – Live in New York, Nirvana. What might have been.

15. Time out of Mind, Bob Dylan. Greatness accentuated by the fact that it was so unexpected.

16. Play, Moby. An accident, perhaps, but a happy, brilliant one.

17. Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, P.J. Harvey. Robert Christgau: “It's a question of whether you use music to face your demons or to vault right over them. Either way the demons will be there, of course, and nobody's claiming they won't catch you by the ankle and bring you down sometime--or that facing them doesn't give you a shot at running them the f*ck over. Maybe that’s how Harvey got to where she could enjoy the fruits of her own genius and sexuality."

18. 30 #1 Hits, Elvis Presley. The once and future king.

19. Life’ll Kill Ya, Warren Zevon. And sometimes, it does.

20. American IV: The Man Comes Around, Johnny Cash. The greatest meditation on death that a musical artist has produced. Yet, hopeful and in the end uplifting.

Twenty is not enough.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Short Playlist for Valentines Day

1. “I Only Have Eyes For You”

The Flamingos’ version is definitive, but as a change of pace, let’s listen in on Peggy Lee.

2. “My Cherie Amour”

Simply put, I never get tired of this song. It is one of those that, upon hearing it in the car, never fails to brighten my mood.

3. “Cherish”

Sure, it’s incredibly goofy, and maybe for some even a bit creepy. I think it’s great. I will say, however, that those are some seriously dorky haircuts.

4. “Sugar, Sugar”

I was always partial to Veronica, myself.

5. “Dizzy”

OK, I admit it – I actually own this 45.

6. “I Think I Love You”

Yes, that’s right folks – The Partridge Family singing “I Think I Love You,” under a banner which reads, “Power of Women.” I really can think of nothing else to say.

7. “If I Could Build My Whole World Around You”


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Exclusive Footage of the California Budget Negotiations!

Let's Make A Deal...Or Not...Or Just Keep Talking

When is a budget deal not a budget deal?

On the other side of the aisle, Senate Minority Leader Dave Cogdill (R-Modesto) is indicating that a deal has been struck but that Republican votes are not guaranteed.

"My deal, one more time, has always been that I would try my best to get it to a position where I felt it was as good as I could get and I was willing to release my members," Cogdill said in a brief Sacramento Bee interview in the hallway outside his office. "That's where I am. So I'm not guaranteeing any votes; it's up to them [his members] to make that decision."

"But I've negotiated it to the point where I think it doesn't get any better," Cogdill said.

Well, that's helpful. A "deal" with no guarantee of votes. Sounds to me like Cogdill has yet to release his own member.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Hall of Fame...and Character?

With the admission by Alex Rodriguez that he took performance-enhancing substances during the greatest statistical period of his career, the issue of how baseball - and ultimately, the Hall of Fame - treats the great players of the "steroid generation" is back on center stage.

There are two widely disparate takes on the issue currently on display at SI.Com - one by Tom Verducci, who believes that A-Rod's interview with Peter Gammons raised more questions than it answered, and the second by Phil Taylor, who argues that history will be kinder to Rodriguez than, say, Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire, because Alex has admitted guilt and thrown himself on the mercy of the court of public opinion, while Bonds and McGwire...well, haven't.

I'm somewhere between surprised and shocked at the kid-gloves treatment that Taylor, who is usually so tough, is giving Rodriguez. A sample:

History may be kinder to A-Rod than we think. Instead of being stamped as a star who tainted his own reputation, he may one day be seen as just another member of the performance-enhancing era -- an era that given the constant advances in the science of drugs might be far from over.

I think that's a patently ridiculous argument. "Just another member of the performance-enhancing era?" What the hell does that even mean? And frankly, why should that make any difference at all in how history views these players? Why should the fact that Rodriguez isn't as a big an a**hole as Barry Bonds and isn't as big a hypocrite as Mark McGwire really matter, if the subject at hand truly is whether or not a player cheated? What this is really about, I think, is that Taylor and others like him want to set themselves up as the guardians of morality, so that it will be their ilk who give the "thumbs up or down" when these players come up for consideration to the Hall of Fame.

As far as I'm concerned, the fact that Rodriguez admitted steroid use, while Bonds seems bound and determined to go down in flames trying to prove that it was never proven that he took them has little bearing on their worthiness in the Hall of Fame. Sooner or later, the voters entrusted with making those selections are going to reach a day of reckoning, where they decide once and for all whether all, or none, of those players are going to get in. Because if we reach a day when all they are really judging is "character" - this player was a good guy, this guy was a jerk - then the whole exercise is pointless.

Monday, February 09, 2009

45 Years Ago Today

The Beatles arrived in New York City in February 1964, and on February 9 played The Ed Sullivan Show - one of the seminal events in rock history. Greil Marcus tells the tale:

On February 9th, 1964, I was in college in California, a rock and roll fan with creeping amnesia. I remembered Chuck Berry but not the guitar solo in “Johnny B. Goode.” The excitement, the sense of being caught up in something much bigger than one’s own private taste, had disappeared from rock years before. There was still good stuff on the radio – there had been “Heat Wave” by a group called Martha and the Vandellas the summer before, “Be True To Your School” by the Beach Boys a few months after that, and even “On Broadway” by the Drifters – but in 1963 all of it seemed drowned out by Jimmy Gilmer’s “Sugar Shack,” the Number One song of the year and perhaps the worst excuse for itself rock and roll had yet produced. Rock and roll – the radio – felt dull and stupid, a dead end.

There had been an item in the paper that day about a British rock and roll group which was to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show that night: “The Beatles” (a photo too – were those wigs, or what?). I was curious – I didn’t know they had rock and roll in England – so I went down to a commons room where there was a TV set, expecting an argument from whoever was there about which channel to watch.

Four hundred people stood transfixed as the Beatles sang “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and when the song was over the crowd exploded. People looked at the faces (and the hair) of John, Paul, George and Ringo and said yes (and who could have predicted that a few extra inches of hair would suddenly seem so right, so necessary? Brian Epstein?); they heard the Beatles’ sound and said yes to that too. What was going on? And where had all those people come from?

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Raising Chris to the Rafters

For just a moment last night, the old Sacramento Kings magic was back.

The Kings retired Chris Webber's jersey last night, and a host of oldies but goodies was in the building to help celebrate the occasion: Vlade Divac, Scot Pollard, Doug Christie, Mateen Cleeves, and even Gary Payton.

Chris was visibly moved during the ceremony, and for the first time this season, the arena was at near capacity. It felt like, and sounded like, the way things were a few years ago.

Of course, this year's edition of the Kings still had to play the game, which they lost by 4 despite having a nice 10-point lead at halftime. So they're still well on track to become the worst Kings team in franchise history.

In the picture, Chris is shown on the big screen watching his jersey be lifted into the rafters.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Pazz and Jop 2008

The annual Pazz and Jop poll in the Village Voice has been out for a couple of weeks now, but I haven't had much time to write about it.

No huge surprise in the results - when both Rolling Stone and Spin chose TV on the Radio's "Dear Science" as their top album of the year, that was a good sign that its critical support was wide and deep. I'm still not convinced the album is that good, but there are definitely a few songs on it that are first-rate.

I may have missed something, but these are the albums I own that make an appearance on this year's list:

1. "Dear Science," TV on the Radio. See above comment.

2. "Vampire Weekend." I had this one at #4 in my Top Ten. The Voice also has an essay about the polarized reaction to the band, and the record.

4. "Fleet Foxes." I had this one pegged at #2.

8. "For Emma, Forever Ago," Bon Iver. I admit that I need to spend more time with this one, but right now I'm still not hearing what has this one ranked so high. I hear fragments of songs rather than fully realized songs, and while a melody grabs me now and then, the overall atmosphere is neither dynamic nor interesting enough to sustain the feeling.

20. "Tell Tale Signs," Bob Dylan. My #1 pick.

21. "Viva La Vida," Coldplay. I had this one in my Honorable Mention section.

25. "Accelerate," R.E.M. My #5 pick. Definitely the highest they've been in the Voice poll for quite some time.

36. "Real Animal," Alejandro Escovedo. Another Honorable Mention of mine. I still think a couple of the ballads are lousy, and that pulled it out of the Top Ten for me.

41. "Modern Guilt," Beck. A pretty low standing for Beck in Pazz and Jop. Honorable Mention for me.

42. "Furr," Blitzen Trapper. Still need to listen to this one some more, but 42 sounds about right.

52. "Little Honey," Lucinda Williams. I thought this one would be higher; Honorable Mention for me.

65. "Asking for Flowers," Kathleen Edwards. Too low. I had this one at #8.

72. "Consolers of the Lonely," The Raconteurs. I thought this was a lot better than their debut, and it finished a lot lower in the poll. Go figure.

76. "Lust Lust Lust," The Raveonettes. I pegged it as an Honorable Mention.

79. "Momofuku," Elvis Costello and the Imposters. #6 for me.

95. "Acid Tongue," Jenny Lewis. Really surprised this one finished so low. I had it at #7.

Others: Shelby Lynne's "Just a Little Lovin'" (103), Mudcrutch (112), Ryan Adams' "Cardinology" (126), Cat Power's "Jukebox" (149), The Baseball Project's "Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails" (161), Madonna's "Hard Candy" (251), John Mellencamp's "Life Death Love and Freedom" (300), Van Morrison's "Keep It Simple" (530), Jackson Browne's "Time the Conqueror" (549), Counting Crows' "Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings" (657), Moby's "Last Night" (859), and Sheryl Crow's "Detours" (905).

28 this year, which I would guess is a little higher than last year's poll. Needless to say, far gone are the days when I would have already owned more than 30 out of the poll's top 40.

It's Furlough Friday!

Today marks the first day of furloughs for state employees in California.

Meanwhile, the legislative leadership is cloistered in secrecy with the governor, apparently close to a budget deal that, if rumors coming out of the Capitol are to be believed, just delay the difficult decisions further into the future. (Memo to Darrell Steinberg - this secrecy thing? A betrayal of everything you've stood for your entire career in public service).

The writing is on the wall, everywhere you look - California is broken. The fiscal system is broken. The Legislature is broken. The tax structure is broken. People are now beginning to feel the pain, but it's time for everyone to wake up, smell the coffee, and put their self-interest aside to reinvent the Golden State.

Meanwhile, Mona has a plan. You may not like it, but at least it's out there, for all to see. Unlike whatever roadmap our exalted leaders are coming up with, behind closed doors. In all likelihood, there will be no hearings on their plan, and the 116 other legislators will not understand it, or be able to explain or justify it to their constituents. Go ahead, give them a call - ask them to tell you what is going on in the negotiations, and see what they say. Be sure to put your hand over the receiver to muffle your laughter when you hear the answer.

As a wise sage once said, it's enough to piss off the good humor man.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Random Comment

I really, really hope that Jack Box dies from the injuries he sustained when being hit by a bus. That's one ad campaign that has gone from stale to somewhere well beyond putrid.

Rave On

It's a crazy feeling
And I know it's got me reeling...

I Had A Girl...

...since she left me I've never been the same...

Hellllo Baby...

Oh baby, you know what I like...

Monday, February 02, 2009

I Don't Like Mondays.

I was really feeling the "don't like Mondays" blues this morning, and on a whim decided to check out this video - which I really don't ever remember seeing back when the song was a "hit."

I feel much better now, because how can you not laugh at such silliness? The song was always dumb to start with, in a way that only "serious" songs can be. And the execution of the video? It's a miracle that anyone involved was able to keep a straight face during production.

So thank you, Sir Bob, for helping brighten my morning.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Last Thoughts

I was thinking of Paul Zimmerman when the Steelers were marching down the field on what would turn out to be the winning drive. Zimmerman, the great Sports Illustrated writer on pro football, had multiple strokes last fall, and has been sidelined since then. One of Zimmerman's pet peeves has always been the defense that changes the way it plays late in the game, and in the process ends up letting the other team pull it out. I was too caught up in the drama to see if the Cardinals were playing any differently on that last drive, and now I won't be able to read Zimmerman to see if they were.

But in any event, I don't want to discount the play of Ben Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes on the last drive. They were both incredible, and such are the things of which legends are made.

Kudos for a job well done, even if I was rooting for the Cardinals.

Oh Well

Well, that was an odd ending to an incredible game. For such an important play, they sure didn't spend a lot of time reviewing it upstairs. Maybe it was obvious, but it didn't look that obvious.

And so...two classic Super Bowls in a row. Plus, Bruce Springsteen at halftime. Does it get any better than that?


Is it a touchdown?

If so, what an amazing drive by Pittsburgh - when they haven't done anything offensively in the second half.

And if they win, then the Arizona defense, which has played so well in this postseason, let them out of a box.

But what an incredible catch by Santonio Holmes.

But then, if there's anyone you'd want on your team to be under a Hail Mary, it's that guy on the Cardinals with the long hair.

Holy Sh*t!!!!

LARRY FITZGERALD, ladies and gentlemen!!!

No matter what happens...a legend is born.

And while the Cardinals have spent all game trying to give it away through penalties, it is the Steelers who forget the fundamentals in the fourth quarter.

Two classics in a row. Can you believe it?

And now, it's Big Ben's turn.

Larry Fitzgerald!

You really cannot guard him on that play.

And all of a sudden, it's nervous time.

J.J. Arrington!

Nice to see a California Golden Bear make an impact!

And all of a sudden, the Cards are near the red zone.

No Huddle

Or as Al Michaels would say, working with alacrity.

You Have to Hand It To The Defense

Despite their propensity for penalties at just the wrong time, the Arizona defense is keeping the Cardinals in the game.

But with 11:30 really is now or never.

It's Now or Never

If the Cardinals don't score on this drive, it's over.

Now THOSE are the Cardinals We Know and Love

Luckily for them, they manage to escape with just a Steelers field goal. But come on guys - get your heads in the game!


All of a sudden, the officials are really calling a chippy game. Sure, that was a face mask, but the 15-yard variety? And that sure was a questionable roughing the passer call.

The Steelers are knocking on the door of the red zone, and the sands of time are running out on the Cardinals. They need a turnover, now.

Second Half

Interesting first drive by Arizona. Obviously, the Arizona staff thought they saw something that made them think there was something to be found in the running game.

But the drive comes to and end, either with an incomplete pass on 3rd-and-6 or a Warner fumble. If it's a fumble, then that may be all she wrote.'s an incomplete pass. And Arizona has never been happier about an incomplete pass.

But no score, so now the defense needs to step up to the plate.

Ladies and Gentlemen...James Harrison

You may not have heard of him before, but you'll now be seeing him for the rest of your life.

And son #2 is right...he does look like Shaquille O'Neal.

I think the game comes down to what Arizona does on this first drive. If they can score, we have a game. If they don't, we don't.

The Real Order

1. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out. In retrospect, that was entirely predictable.

2. Born to Run. Had to be there, although I got the order wrong.

3. Working on a Dream. Again right, but not in the right order.

4. Glory Days! Should have thought of that one. Of course, new lyrics for football.

And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen...12 minutes of pure, unadulterated rock 'n roll.


OK, here we go...remember, the prediction is:

1. The Rising

2. Working on a Dream

3. The Promised Land

4. Born to Run


Well, we've certainly never seen anything like that.

That's what you call a dagger in the heart - 1 yard away from taking a 14-10 lead into halftime, and instead you go in trailing 17-7.

It will be hard for the Cardinals to come back from this.

Man, Here They Come...

Can Larry Fitzgerald win an MVP without catching a pass?

Of course not, but the double-teaming on him is what's opening up some other stuff for the Cardinals.

I have a feeling he's going to break a big one, eventually.

Well, So Much For That

Yeah, that Steelers' defense is pretty good, all right.

A Cardinals' score would have come in really handy for me, since I've got 4/0 Arizona in the Super Bowl pool.

UPDATE: Never mind...I have 4/0 Pittsburgh in the pool. It's 1/0 Arizona that I've got. So a TD now, and another TD, and I'm in great shape.

Right Back In This Game!

With that return by Steve Breaston, Arizona is right back in this game. They've got the momentum, and their defense has proven it can stop the Steelers' offense.

Are we in for another rock 'em, sock 'em classic?


I dunno, but Clancy Pendergast doesn't sound much like a defensive coordinator type of name to me.

Big Play!

How in the world did Anquan Boldin get so open?

Oh yeah...there's four guys on Larry Fitzgerald.

First and goal...TOUCHDOWN! Despite another near-trip by Warner. GREAT catch by Ben Patrick to make the score 10-7.

This Is More Like It

Warner spreading things around...but still no impact from Larry Fitzgerald. Maybe it's time for a jump ball?

Live Blogging the Commercials!

Mona is live-blogging the commercials. You can check it out here.

Beef - It's What's For Dinner

Touchdown Steelers!

10-0, and if Arizona wants to be in this game, they'd better come up with an offensive scheme, but quick.

Ready for the 3-D Commercial


"If there's a fight to be fought, he wants to be part of it."

- John Madden on Hines Ward

End of First Quarter

Well, it's only 3-0, but it feels like 21-0. But you never know - if the Cardinals can hold right here, then they've got a shot. If not, a 10-point deficit is tough in a venue like this.

Mid-First Quarter

Even though it is only 3-0, this is beginning to have the look of a rout. The Cards better suck it up, and quick.

Opening Drive

The Steelers are driving through the Cardinals defense as if it were swiss cheese (there's your first cliche of the day!).

First and goal: nice play by the defense; 4-yard loss. If the Cards can hold them to a field goal here, that will be a moral victory.

Second and goal: Looked like Parker was going to make it, but was stopped just short.

Third and goal: Big Ben, ladies and gentlemen. With a nice assist from his center. Can you do that? Reminds me of the 2005 Notre Dame-USC game.

The challenge flag comes out. If the "pull in" is legal, it looks like a TD to me.

...or maybe not! It will be a close call.

Runner down short of the goal line! 4th and goal...first big decision of the game.

Field goal unit comes on the field! A big win for Arizona. Kick is good; Steelers lead 3-0.

Jeff's Key Questions of the Game

1. Will Kurt Warner have time to throw?

2. Will Larry Fitzgerald be able to get open?

3. Does Edgerrin James have one more good game in him?

4. How effective will Hines Ward be?

5. Can the Cardinals contain Willie Parker?


First drive...I guess that answers the question about Hines Ward!

The Super Bowl Live Blog!

We'll see how this goes...

First irrelevant thoughts:

- The new TV looks great! Thank God that it's the NFC's turn to wear their home unis. Otherwise, we'd be looking at black and white, even the game is in color.

- From a distance, that statue of Walter Payton that they're about to hand to Kurt Warner looks a bit like Darth Vader.

- Whoa! Brenda Warner! Can you say...makeover?

- Dang...we've got a bet on the time of the national anthem. Does "America the Beautiful" count? No one cleared this with us, I can tell you that.

- The menu: First quarter taquitos, second quarter pot-stickers, halftime burgers and fries.

UPDATE: Memo to Jennifer Hudson: It's not about you, kid. 2 minutes, 10 seconds. Winning guess: son #2 with 2 minutes on the dot.

The Super Bowl lineup

25 Things

Cross-posted on my Facebook page. I know the rule is that you're supposed to tag 25 people, but I'm not going to do that. If you read this, consider yourself tagged.

1. In 1974, when I was in the 8th grade, I won the Sacramento County spelling bee.

2. My earliest memory is of the day that President Kennedy was assassinated (I was three years old).

3. I remember exactly what I was doing when I heard that Elvis Presley died.

4. I can recite, from memory, the outcome of every World Series since 1950.

5. I believe that, under duress, I could name the title of every episode of the original "Star Trek" series.

6. I own more than 1000 vinyl albums and more than 1000 CDs, but I still think that the greatest song ever written is still out there somewhere, waiting for me to discover it.

7. I've seen six members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame perform live: Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead, R.E.M., Bruce Springsteen, Talking Heads, and Neil Young.

8. I've seen Bruce Springsteen perform live 10 times, at five different venues: Oakland, San Diego, Mountain View, Sacramento, and New York City.

9. When I was in college, I witnessed a future Deputy Secretary of State smoking dope and snorting cocaine.

10. I have a sneaking suspicion that my wife and two sons are smarter than I am.

11. I make my own tapes to listen to when I'm driving, and have tapes in my car that are almost 25 years old.

12. I worked at McDonalds for 4 years, and to this day utilize the lessons I learned about the workplace while I was there.

13. I can tell my stress level about work is too high when I start dreaming about McDonalds.

14. I've been a member of a Sacramento Kings ticket consortium since 1985.

15. Every December, I read "A Christmas Carol."

16. The first alcoholic drink I had was a Blue Hawaiian. Yes, I was in Hawaii.

17. In my old age, I've become quite the beer snob.

18. I never really got the appeal of "2001: A Space Odyssey."

19. There are entire bookshelves in my section of the library devoted to books about baseball, and golf course architecture.

20. Oregon Blackberry, Jamoca Almond Fudge, and Pralines & Cream - that's my definition of heaven.

21. I am the only one of the 3 Vaca brothers without an earring.

22. I knew from the first time I saw it that "The Empire Strikes Back" was the best of the "Star Wars" movies.

23. In 2007, I was within a few feet of Barack Obama, but didn't have the presence of mind to shake his hand.

24. When I was 15, my dream was to become the record reviews editor of Rolling Stone Magazine.

25. I still remember the details of the first episode of Saturday Night Live, and am quite sure that it was funnier than the one I'm watching right now.