Thursday, April 30, 2009
The trend began at the tail end of last year's "Magic" tour, when Bruce started pulling hand-made signs out of the audience once or twice each night (sometimes more) to play something from way back in his catalogue, or a golden oldie that hadn't been part of the set list for years.
This year, things have really gotten wild - a week or so ago he played "I Wanna Be Sedated," and last night in Philadelphia he played "London Calling."
All of which leads one to wonder what's next: Sex Pistols? Flipper? X? Fear? These days, who knows?
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Monday, April 27, 2009
Oh look, there's ex-Kings coach Rick Adelman, leading his team to victory against Portland, helped out by ex-King Ron Artest!
There's ex-King Mike Bibby on the Atlanta Hawks!
There's ex-King Peja Stojakovic hitting a three for the New Orleans Hornets!
There's ex-King John Salmons doing the same for the Chicago Bulls! And whoa...there's ex-King Brad Miller pulling down boards for the same team!
And holy cow, there's ex-King Vinny Del Negro, coaching the Bulls!
And there's ex-King Chris Webber on TNT, sparring with Sir Charles!
You get the idea...
Friday, April 24, 2009
After some preliminaries where Myron's relationship with Ali Wilder is brought to its logical conclusion, the plot takes off when he heads to Paris to be with Terese Collins, last seen almost ten years ago. Needless to say for those who have been read Coben books, things take off right away, and before you know it just about everyone's life is in danger. It's hard to write more without giving too much away, but along the way Mryon encounters a terrorist cell, the Mossad, torture, and a French police captain named Berleand who is much more than he seems. There are buried secrets, a Coben specialty, and as usual the solution to them is not quite what was expected.
About ten years ago, Coben stopped writing Bolitar books on a regular basis, because he felt that there wasn't anything new he could do with the character. This is the second since he changed his focus to stand-along thrillers, and it is probably the best.
A quick note about the photo: a friend bought me the book for my birthday, and by coincidence Coben was in town the week prior for a book signing. He graciously signed the book with a birthday wish.
It is a very good movie and I enjoyed it, but it fell short of greatness. Michael Sheen was very good as David Frost, but never during the film could I muster much interest or sympathy for the Frost character. And even in the moments of angst, I couldn't quite figure out why I should care. Sam Rockwell and Oliver Platt were also good (as James Reston Jr. and Bob Zelnick, respectively), but I'm still waiting for the day when Rockwell makes the leap into stardom - because I think he deserves it. Kevin Bacon was his usual solid self as Jack Brennan, though I don't think it stretched him much. Of the supporting cast, Matthew Macfadyen may have been the best, as Frost's producer John Birt.
Which leaves Frank Langella. And he was great - didn't sound a lot like Nixon (though he had the cadence down pat) and certainly didn't look much like Nixon, but overall I thought he nailed the famous "Nixon insecurity" perfectly. In my book, Nixon remains one of the most fascinating political characters of my lifetime - it is simply amazing that someone as paranoid, and with such feet of clay, could have advanced so far and achieved what he did. And it was certainly no surprise that someone as smart and conniving as Nixon could easily take advantage of someone as glib and shallow as David Frost.
The biggest flaw of the film has nothing to do with the film-making: after all, you can only do so much when your source material lacks basic drama. And frankly, as interesting as the interviews were, they were almost entirely lacking in drama. And what was built up as the big relevation, Nixon saying that if the President does it, it isn't illegal, was hardly the stuff that would make Edward Murrow proud.
Overall, a very good movie brought to that level by the great performance of Frank Langella.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Two sections of the Berlin Wall:
One of the antennas from the top of the World Trade Center:
And that's just barely scratching the surface.
Monday, April 20, 2009
I was all snug in my seat, already reading my book, when the pilot came on the intercom and announced that there was a little problem - a light that was supposed to come on had not come on, and it had something to do with the computer system, so they were going to turn everything off and see if that fixed things.
That didn't fix things.
So, people were called down to begin working the problem, and they tried switching out several of the computers, but nothing worked, and after about an hour or so waiting on the runway, we were asked to de-board and head down to the ticket window to check for "re-accommodations." Now, that was bad enough for me and my colleagues, who were heading from Sacramento to Washington, D.C. But I can't imagine what it was like for the hundred people who had connections, many of them international, and some of whom were heading to Europe for things like Mediterranean cruises to celebrate anniversaries and the like.
A problem with a plane, I can understand. Not wanting to send a plane full of people on a flight with a faulty plane, I can appreciate. But having absolutely no plan to deal with the people who have paid significant money and had their flight cancelled, I find unforgivable. Over the course of the next several hours, United Airlines did very little to demonstrate that they care about their customers; they did literally nothing to try and make a difficult situation less painful.
Sure, they eventually got me to my destination, even though the trip which was supposed to take a little less than five hours ended up consuming a little more than 22 hours. And they even offered some incentives to fly United again, in exhange for the inconvenience. But never, once, did I feel as if they really cared, one way or another.
People fly United because there are few choices out of a city like Sacramento. I guess that means it's OK for United to take everything for granted. Well, I think it's time to insist upon more than that. No other company, no other industry, would be allowed to exist with that kind of attitude. Even with the dismal economy, I don't understand why anyone should grant United Airlines an exemption from an expectation of professional, courteous service. And we're not getting it.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Since this is my first trip to D.C. with the trusty Blackberry, I'm hoping to take some good photos while I'm there.
Friday, April 17, 2009
As a coach, he may not have approached the greatness of Lombardi, Landry, Walsh, and others, but you can't argue with success. He managed to co-exist with Al Davis, and he more than anyone else deserves credit for the "just win, baby" ethos which rose out of Oakland. His teams almost always had great players, but at the same time they always teetered just on the brink of being out of control, with odd ducks and near-malcontents that thrived in the silver and black.
As an announcer, over the span of 30 years he took what could have been little more than home-spun folkiness and ended up as an icon. There were times when he came close to becoming a caricature of himself, but it was always in good fun, and he had the grace and wisdom to never take himself too seriously. And at his best, he was probably the best television analyst the game has seen. In their prime, Pat Summerall and Madden comprised what was likely the best announcing duo in the history of the game. Summerall was the perfect foil for Madden, coming from the Ray Scott minimalist style of announcing, which provided Madden plenty of room for analysis and observation. There was a time in the late 1980s and early 1990s that Dick Enberg and Bill Walsh were NBC's top NFL announcing team, and someone wrote a piece comparing Madden's style of analysis with that of Walsh. Using a great block as an example, the writer said that Walsh was likely to talk about the technique of the block, and how the play fit into the scheme of the gameplan. Madden, meanwhile, was likely to exclaim, "BOOM!"
That may not have been great analysis, but at the same time it was what separated Madden from his peers. There's no doubt he had the knowledge of the game and could use it when called upon, but he also never forgot that it was a game. And games, even when they've become a billion-dollar business enterprise, are supposed to be fun.
Madden goes out on a high note, having spent his final years with another great play-by-play man, Al Michaels. In the latter days of Monday Night Football they weren't always at their best, letting their minds and their chatter wander when they lost interest in the game, but they were at their absolute best on NBC's Sunday Night Football package, when the league worked with the network to ensure that every game was going to be an important matchup.
It's hard to imagine that Madden isn't going to be around. I think Michaels and Collinsworth could make a superb team, but it just won't be the same. John, you will be missed.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
I’ll be disappointed if Adam doesn’t take a crack at this one:
And Danny Gokey could try this one:
And I dunno…maybe this one could be their group number on the results show.
In any event, I think it will be fun.
Monday, April 13, 2009
So what do I spend doing with it on the first few days?
Well, it being Easter time and all, what better way to spend a few hours but getting the 2009 Christmas CD in shape?
So here it is, barely spring, and it's just about finished. I saved a little room just in case I come across something between now and then (and I'm sure I will), but for the most part, it's ready to go.
And it's good, if I do say so myself.
I was lucky enough to see The English Beat on this tour, opening for Talking Heads at Zellerbach Hall on the UC Berkeley campus. My two enduring memories of the show are Saxa, the aged saxophone player for The Beat, playing while sitting in a chair at the edge of the stage for most of the show (something you see Clarence Clemons doing sometimes with Bruce these days), and Adrian Belew, playing guitar with the Heads, blowing out my eardrums (we were in the sixth row) with his sonic explosions.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
I still think my past observations were well taken, but if you think about it, there really is no chance that the Masters will ever lose its identity. Every golf fan carries with them an indelible mental picture of every hole on the back nine, and there really is no other course - Pebble Beach probably comes closest - about which that can be said. The risk-reward quotient is just remarkable. Sometimes, all that stands between an eagle and a double-bogey is luck.
And today, we were treated to a little bit of everything - the remarkable drama of the Tiger-Phil pairing, when for one brief moment it appeared that the two were going to run away with it. And then, just when it seemed as if they were an unstoppable force that would only end with one of them wearing a green jacket, they butchered the 17th and 18th holes, proving that even legends are sometimes mortal.
And then came sports' equivalent to tragedy, with Kenny Perry taking a two-stroke lead into the final two holes - after one of the great shots in history on 16 - only to lose it all with some truly awful play on 17 and 18. And in a playoff that felt anti-climactic, Angel Cabrera coming back into the fairway from behind a tree in order to extend the match by a hole, and just wait for Perry's next disastrous shot.
With two majors under his belt, you can't take anything away from Cabrera. But this will probably be remembered as the Masters that Kenny Perry lost.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Dustin can't seem to understand the uproar. Well, let's try and help him out in that regard.
"It's a dump. You can quote me on that. I don't give a … . Everyone wants to get out of there. You don't want to stay in Woodland. What do you want to stay in Woodland for? …"
OK, Dustin. In exactly what context would you expect people from Woodland not to have a problem with that?
I guess that Dustin forgot that the people of Woodland can read. And hey, you know what? There's this here thing called the Internet, and even if you say it back in sophisticated Boston, it's gonna be heard back here in the cowtowns.
Hopefully, lesson learned. Now, STFU and do what you're qualified to do - play baseball.
Thursday, April 09, 2009
When we moved to Fair Oaks, Lenore and Mary Nell bought a house in the same development, and ended up living right across the street from us. So from that time on, as long as I lived in that house, a day never went by when I didn't see one or the both of them. They were the default baby-sitters for my brothers and myself, and they took the time to do things like teach me how to play Scrabble (they never let me win, until I earned it), and teach me how to play blackjack (slapping my hand when I tried to pick the cards up and away from the table, and staring me down sternly if I did something stupid like hit when the dealer had a 6 up, or split eights). Being teachers, they took a great interest in our education, and held us to a standard that seemed unfair at the time but at least for me, helped shape the kind of student and worker I would become. Outside of my mother and father, there's little doubt in my mind that Lenore and Mary Nell were the most important influences in my life, up until the point I met and later married my wife, Debra.
While they could be stern taskmasters - I remember Lenore editing a paper I wrote in 8th grade to shreds, after it had received an A+ from my "real" teacher (it was about Watergate). But they also knew how to have fun, and how to share it with us. For my parents, Tuesday was bowling night, which meant that for us it was McDonalds night - and Lenore drove us to pick up dinner every time, always letting us buy an extra bag of french fries to eat on the way home. And when we would take our annual vacation to Lake Tahoe, Lenore and Mary Nell would always take my brothers and I to see a show at Harrah's South Shore Room, where we saw acts like Sammy Davis Jr., Neil Sedaka, Rich Little, Mac Davis, and even The Captain and Tennille.
They were also big sports fans. The first Rose Bowl I remember seeing (1969, USC vs. Ohio State) was at their house, as was the first Super Bowl I remember seeing (again 1969, the legendary New York Jets-Baltimore Colts matchup). I watched golf at their house, I watched tennis at their house, I watched Super Bowls at their house, and back in the days before we had cable, I even watched Sunday Night Football on ESPN at their house, at least when the 49ers were playing.
Lenore died in January 2004, and Mary Nell died early this morning. The last conversation I had with her was on Tuesday afternoon, when it was apparent that her time was almost up, and she mentioned Tiger Woods' most recent victory - so a sports fan she remained, to the end.
When you've known someone for your entire life, or at least what you can remember of it, it's almost impossible to comprehend that they're not going to be around anymore. For me, that's how it is with Lenore and Mary Nell. I don't know if there is a better place where people go after their time in this one is over, but I do know that if there is such a place, there are few people who deserve to be there more than the two of them. And while it sounds like a cliche to say that their memories will live on in those of us who remember them, it's absolutely true. And in truth, it goes beyond that. As you go through life, you are shaped by very few people. Lenore and Mary Nell are on that short list for me, and I know that they are responsible for parts of the person that I am today. Good parts.
I'll miss them, but I'll never forget them.
The Russell sisters, aka "The bevy of Beauties:"
Top row: Nada, Tomella, Dora Lou
Bottom row: Lenore, Mary Nell
Tuesday, April 07, 2009
Saturday, April 04, 2009
General Admission Seating. This was the first show I've seen from the floor, and it will probably be the last. I like being able to stand up and move around to the music (I won't even presume to call it "dancing") as much as the next person, but more than 3 hours of continuous standing is a bit too much of a good thing. I'm in pretty good shape, but my legs were in agony by the end of the show - and just a breather every now and then would have made an enormous difference.
As far as the process goes, it was handled pretty poorly by the HP Pavilion staff, especially when you consider that the venue hosted a Springsteen show just a year ago. We didn't care about getting "in the pit" so I can't comment on how the lottery was handled, but once we found our way to the General Admission staging area, it was obvious that the staff had no plan for what to do with those who were just arriving, and it was only the good will of the crowd which kept the situation from descending into chaos. When you walk up to a staff person for guidance and they tell you "sorry, I don't know what to tell you - they don't tell us anything," that's generally not a good thing.
The sound. It may have been my imagination, or I may just be getting old, but it sure seemed to be a heckuva lot louder on the floor than it's sounded in other parts of various arenas over the years. The mix was a little spotty - there were entire stretches of the show where I couldn't even hear the background singers, and times when Clarence was miked so low that you couldn't tell if he was playing or not.
The band. There's no doubt that as a unit, the band is playing as well as it ever has. Steve didn't seem to be in the spotlight as much as I remember him being for the last few shows that I've seen, but Nils was white-hot throughout the night, with blistering solos on several songs. Charlie Giordano has filled in quite nicely for Danny Federici (on both organ and accordion), and of course Roy Bittan was in fine form behind the piano. But for me, the star of the night was Max Weinberg. I could hear the crispness of the drums better than I can remember hearing it in years, and he never fails to amaze me with the sounds he's able to get out of that kit. It will be fun to see his son Jay fill in later on the tour after Conan O'Brien takes over The Tonight Show, but as positive as the reports have been about Jay's drumming, it's hard to believe that the show won't lose a little punch.
The conundrum. The show led off with "Badlands," the heart of it was the three-song combination - "Seeds," "Johnny 99," and "The Ghost of Tom Joad," and the encore set begain with a searing electric version of Stephen Foster's "Hard Times." So it's clear that Bruce is looking to build a show that reflects on the hard times that so many are facing right now. The problem? "Working on a Dream," the album which he's touring behind, is the lightest album he's released since "Human Touch," and quite possibly the lightest album of his career. There's nothing wrong with that - I'm liking the album more and more with the passage of time - but it does present a problem. Bruce played only 6 songs off "Working," a remarkably low number in comparison with the ratio of songs from the new album on recent tours. I'm not sure how big a problem this is, but it does result in a reliance on the warhorses of the catalog - songs like "Badlands," "No Surrender," and "The Promised Land" - that have been in heavy rotation for so long now that the show threatens to become something that Bruce has never been in concert: predictable. Over the course of the tour, I hope that he works some more of the new songs into the show; I can think of at least 4 or 5 that I'd love to hear live (and that I think would sound great live). And who knows, I get it that they're his signature songs and that they produce an energy in the crowd that few other songs can match, but maybe it's time to give the signature songs a little rest. There's a lot of great work in the catalog, stuff that hasn't been played for years, and it would be fun to hear some of it again.
Of course, in the end this is all nit-picking. Did I think it was a great show? Of course I did. Did I have a great time? Of course I did. And for the third straight show I attended with someone who was seeing Bruce for the very first time, and I sure didn't hear him complaining. There were enough highlights in the 26-song show to last a lifetime, and hearing "Land of Hope and Dreams" again was worth the price of admission all by itself.
- The brilliant electric version of "The Ghost of Tom Joad;"
- The musicianship on "Good Eye," even if the weird microphone (whatever it's called) distorted every word Bruce sang beyond recognition;
- The shock of hearing "Good Rockin' Tonight," the very first song I heard Bruce play back in October 1980;
- "The Wrestler," which with the passage of time sounds like one of the all-time classics; and
- "Land of Hope and Dreams" - the song really says everything there is to know about Bruce.
Until next time!
Set list: Badlands/Outlaw Pete/My Lucky Day/No Surrender/Out in the Street/Working on a Dream/Seeds/Johnny 99/The Ghost of Tom Joad/Good Eye/Good Rockin' Tonight/Darlington County/Growin' Up/Waitin' on a Sunny Day/The Promised Land/The Wrestler/Kingdom of Days/Radio Nowhere/Lonesome Day/Born to Run/Hard Times/Thunder Road/Dancing in the Dark/Tenth Avenue Freeze-out/Land of Hope and Dreams/American Land
Thursday, April 02, 2009
In the meantime, what I hope is a fun interlude.
During the holidays, one of my friends and her husband decided to get rid of their old record collection, and knowing that I still have one, gave me first crack at it before they carted it down to the used record store. I ended up taking a dozen or so, stuff that looked to be in good shape (the covers, at least) and had some historical value - "Music from Big Pink," Led Zeppelin's debut, stuff like that. One of the others I took was Dylan's "Nashville Skyline," and I listened to it for the first time over the weekend. Not in great shape aurally, but the selection was well worth it just for the advertisement on the record sleeve. Called "Here's How Records Give You More of What You Want," the ad lists 8 reasons why you should choose records. They're all pretty good fodder for blogging, so let's get started.
THEY ALLOW SELECTIVITY OF SONGS AND TRACKS. With records it's easy to pick out the songs you want to play, or to play again a particular song or side. All you have to do is lift the tone arm and place it where you want it. You can't do this as easily with anything but a phonograph record.
Very, very true, even though they kind of skipped the "get out of your comfortable chair and walk across the room" part. But I agree that it's not as easy with anything else - I tried it once with our washing machine, and it didn't work anywhere near as well.