Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Beach Parent

He's got his fall schedule, so I guess that makes it official - I'm the parent of a college student.

Boldly Going Where Many Have Gone Before

Director J.J. Abrams has pulled it off – creating a new vision for Star Trek that is wholly consistent with the original series, but one that also provides enough wiggle room for changes to be made in the Trek universe that won’t result in inevitable complaints along the lines of “Kirk couldn’t have done this, because in ‘The Corbomite Maneuver’ they clearly explained that…”

It’s difficult to explain exactly how Abrams pulled it off without giving away too much of the story, but suffice to say that it involves time travel, and a bad guy who wants to change his particular slice of history - but cares little about how changing his slice will impact the rest of the universe. He’s got a bug up his butt about Mr. Spock, he doesn’t much care for Captain Kirk, and he’s charismatic enough to make the conflict one that people will care about.

The movie gives new meaning to the term “breakneck pace” – it never lets up for a moment, and the action feels gratuitous in only one part – when Kirk finds himself stranded on an ice planet, and encounters a number of nasty little (and otherwise) creatures. Of necessity, much of the movie is devoted to set-up, and it’s easy to imagine that a sequel could be created that is richer in story but less heavy on the action.

As for the actors, they all acquit themselves well. Chris Pine makes a great Jim Kirk, Zachary Quinto is good enough to stand up to the inevitable comparisons to Leonard Nimoy (whose part in the movie is much bigger than I expected), Zoe Saldana lends a sense of depth to Uhura that Nichelle Nichols was rarely allowed to explore, and Karl Urban manages to develop a McCoy that is both homage to DeForest Kelley’s original and at the same time his own. The rest of the cast doesn’t have quite as much screen time, but kudos to all (even if Chekov’s accent is a little strong). I just hope that they give Simon Pegg (as Scotty) a little more to do in the next one!

All in all, a great effort and a great show – especially in IMAX!

Colossal Head

On the grounds of the Natural History Musuem.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Saturday Snapshots

Photos from Saturday, June 20 - the Natural History Museum, the Capitol from inside the Natural History Museum, and the Capitol from the National Mall. Hard to believe that it had poured in the morning.

Planes! Jets! Rockets!

The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum is a wonderful place to spend a day; definitely one of the highlights of our trip. We spent six hours there on Saturday, and then went back a couple of days later for a quick peak and still found things that we hadn't noticed the first time around.

There are exhibits from every era of flight, including a great room focusing on the Wright Brothers to an equally great room focusing on the Apollo astronauts.

And like all Smithsonian Museums, it is free. A wonderful place, for kids of all ages.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

End of An Era

In order to enter the U.S. Department of Education building during the Bush Administration, a visitor had to walk through this little red schoolhouse, which was situated right at the front door.

In April, the schoolhouse had been removed from the entrance (and in fact, visitors now entered the Department on the other side of the building), but it still stood in front of the building.

By sheer luck, the first full day of our trip was the day that workers dismantled the symbol of "No Child Left Behind." I took this shot as we were walking to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, and later in the day son #1 took some great shots from inside the museum (with his zoom lens) as the last boards were being pulled from the structure.

No doubt about it now...there's a new sheriff in town.


On Wednesday, son #1 and I returned from a five-day trip to Washington, D.C., where we celebrated his graduation from high school. Although it was my fifth trip to D.C., it was my first trip that was strictly for pleasure, and it was his first trip of any kind.

We managed to cover a ton of stuff while we were there, and in the next few days I'll be posting some pictures from, and some commentary on, the trip. Even with all the awful things going on in the country and the world right now, it's hard to return from a trip to Washington and not feel inspired.

Here he is pictured shortly after our arrival, proudly wearing the CSU, Long Beach (his destination in the fall) that his uncle gave him as a graduation present.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson

Well, who knew that my first post back from vacation would be about the death of Michael Jackson, which shocked me like no rock death since that of John Lennon. I can't imagine what the cable airwaves are going to be like in the next 24 hours - I'm sure that it will be even worse than Elvis' death, when every Tom, Dick and Harry who had crossed paths with the King came out of the woodwork to pontificate on how avoidable it all was, how sad it was that Elvis had allowed himself to sink so far - when most of those uttering those words had enabled him for years.

The less said about Michael's travails over the past two decades, the better. The story is well known, and it is not a happy one. All you really need to know is that in 1985 - nearly twenty-five years ago! - Dave Marsh wrote "Trapped," a book about Michael, with the thesis that Michael was "shackled by his fame and his inability to portray himself honestly to his audience." And that was before things truly went downhill.

In my book, it certainly qualifies as a tragic story - because at one time, it seemed that Michael was poised to conquer all before him, was prepared to create music with the potential to cross-over, to unite. That it didn't happen is reason enough to mourn his passing.

UPDATE: Steven Rubio also equates Michael's death with Elvis', quoting words from Lester Bangs that I've quoted here before.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

All You Need To Know About The U.S. Open

With the possible exception of Torrey Pines, it's hard to imagine a U.S. Open course that sets up as well for Tiger Woods as Bethpage Black. He may not win; you just never know in the majors. But he deserves to be a prohibitive favorite.

Because of my impending trip to D.C., I won't be able to watch the tournament this year, but I'll be trying to catch the highlights in the evening. As always, it should be good stuff.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Slow Posting Week

Why, you may ask?

Busy at work.

Busy getting ready for a trip to Washington, D.C. A pleasure trip, I might add - to celebrate the graduation of son #1 from High School.

Which means that if the posting is slow this week, next week it will be close to non-existent.

But I've been doing a lot of thinking about the Top 25 Albums of the Decade, and am looking forward to beginning that little feature in early July.

And believe it or not, #1 will not be a Bruce Springsteen album!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

1989: I've Got A Giant Attitude

The Giants are playing the A's this weekend in an interleague series, and tonight the Giants celebrated the 20th anniversary of their great 1989 team - the first Giants team to win a National League championship since the legendary 1962 team. Next week, when the teams go across the bay and play at the Oakland Coliseum, the A's will celebrate their even greater 1989 team, which swept the Giants in that year's World Series.

Although the Giants have always been my favorite team, I've also rooted for the A's over the years - except when the two are playing each other. And though I've watched a hell of a lot of baseball games over the years, I'm not sure I ever watched more than I did in 1989. 1989 was my first year in Elk Grove, and there were two friends of mine who had also made the move to the then "small, sleepy community" south of Sacramento. Back in those days, MLB didn't have the blanket cable coverage that it does now, so we pooled our limited funds together and signed up for "Giants Vision" - which meant that we would congregate at the house which we'd designated as the "house for the games."

I went to opening day that year, and still have the buttons to prove it - including the memorable "I've Got a Giant Attitude" button featuring Will Clark in with eye-black, his most intimidating look. And while there have been great Giants teams since that year, there's something about 1989 that will always make it the best - without even skipping a beat, I can name the starting lineup from that year:

Will Clark
Robbie Thompson
Jose Uribe
Matt Williams
Terry Kennedy
Kevin Mitchell
Brett Butler
Candy Maldonado

And the pitching staff...Reuschel, Garrelts, Krukow, Robinson, LaCoss, Downs, Bedrosian, Brantley...and of course, Dave Dravecky.

To this day, the most memorable live sporting event of my life was seeing the famous Dave Dravecky comeback game. Dravecky had been a great pitcher for the Giants in 1987 and 1988, but after the '88 season a tumor had been discovered in his pitching arm. A good portion of the muscle in that arm was removed during the off-season, and it seemed that Dravecky's career was over. But Dravecky persevered, and against all odds was ready - after a minor-league rehab stint - to give it a go by early August. By sheer luck, I was at that game, and amazingly Dravecky had a no-hitter going until the 6th inning. He tired and left, but won the game. [As a footnote, it was also one of the last games Pete Rose managed for Cincinnati before his banishment from baseball, and Rose was thrown out, leading to a memorable walk toward the outfield fence, with the fans serenading him with boos along the way.]

Of course, everyone knows how the Dravecky story ended. In his next start, he shattered his arm throwing a pitch; the cancer returned; and less than 2 years later his arm was amputated. But the boost he provided the team probably made the difference, and the Giants squeaked through the NL West and then - led by Clark - defeated the Chicago Cubs in 5 games to capture the championship.

Everyone also knows the story of that World Series, even if they aren't a baseball fan. The Loma Prieta earthquake hit just as Game 3 was about to begin, and after a 10-day break the A's closed out their amazing season with two easy wins against the Giants. So once again the season ended with frustration, but that didn't keep it from being a great season - one for the ages.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Coming Attractions

I've threatened to make some changes to the look of the blog for a while now, and in July will probably pull the trigger on a new template. Unfortunately, the templates offered by Blogger are limited and not all that interesting, but at this point I'd just like it to look different.

I'll also be reorganizing my links; right now I've got too many blogs on there that I never read, and read too many that I'm not highlighting. I also want to do a periodic post where I highlight a particular blog, just because it's well written and interesting.

And finally, beginning in July I'll be selecting my 25 favorite albums of the decade, and writing about one each week. I'll start with #25, and work my way up to the heavyweight champion of the decade.

I'm sure this leaves everyone just tingling with anticipation!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Dick Enberg

I don't want to wait until Dick Enberg dies to sing his praises. Last week when I was home, I had the chance to watch a lot of the French Open coverage on ESPN, and got to thinking about the incredible breadth and depth of Enberg's career as a sports announcer.

It really is amazing, if you think about it. Just off the top of my head, I can think of the following events for which Enberg has provided the play-by-play:

Super Bowl
NCAA Basketball Championship
American League Championship Series
Australian Open (tennis)
French Open (tennis)
U.S. Open (tennis)
U.S. Open (golf)
Ryder Cup
Rose Bowl
Orange Bowl
Fiesta Bowl
Summer Olympics
Winter Olympics

And he's been good-to-great at all of them. In the end, I'm not sure I can think of another announcer who has done as much, as well, as Dick Enberg.

Oh, my!


This has been such an exciting postseason in the NBA that I think any final might have seemed anti-climactic, but Lakers-Magic seems especially so. Two of the games have been competitive, but the series just doesn't seem to have the spark that some of the earlier round matchups did.

I might feel differently if I really cared about either team winning. I'm rooting for Orlando because it's now in my DNA to root against the Lakers, but I can't even muster up a lot of hatred for this L.A. team. Despite all of the efforts to turn Kobe Bryant into a hardcourt deity (thank you, Spike Lee - I remember when you were an artist, not a sycophant), his play is admirable, and there really isn't a player on the entire team for which I can muster up the old hatred - no Shaq, no Rick Fox - they all seem to be pretty decent guys, hard-working and with a good attitude.

And I even find myself feeling a little sympathetic for Phil Jackson, after the spitwads that Alonzo Mourning shot his way yesterday. Sure, you can make an argument that Phil has been lucky with the players that he's had the privilege to coach, but I think Mourning took it a little far (which shouldn't be a shock, considering he was a player) with his comments that Phil isn't really doing much with this Lakers team. All I know is that Kobe has never won a championship without Phil on the bench, Michael never won a championship without Phil on the bench, Pippen never won a championship without Phil on the bench, and Shaq won only one - and that was with Pat Riley, no stranger to titles himself. So let's not sell the old coach short, even if he spent all those years playing mind games with Sacramento. He knows what he's doing. And besides that, he is looking a little long in the tooth these days - he deserves the respect.

I suspect the Lakers will take it in 6, but watch out for Orlando in the future - Dwight Howard is an absolute stud, and the supporting cast ain't too shabby.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Two Movies

I saw two movies this weekend that I'd never seen before. One is considered one of the landmark films of the 1960s; indeed, one of the most influential films of its time. It was nominated for Academy Awards; it was directed by a world-famous director; it starred, among others, an actress who is among the handful of actresses that you could reasonably call the greatest actress of all time.

The other movie is not likely to be nominated for anything. It features, among other things: a tiger in the bathroom, Mike Tyson, drinking, drugs, vomit, some of the ugliest butt cheeks you'll ever lay your eyes upon, and a leading man whose body reminds one not of Gerard Butler or Christian Bale, but John Belushi and Chris Farley.

The first movie was Michelangelo Antonioni's "Blowup," and the second movie was "The Hangover." Guess which one I liked more?

About "Blowup," the best thing I can say is that I'm glad I saw it. I'm sure it is worthy of great respect, but watching it last night the symbolism seemed painfully obvious; the suspense story somewhat lacking in suspense; and the commentary on the times hopelessly trite. I will give kudos to the performances by David Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave, both of whom deserved the accolades they received for their respective roles. And it was pretty cool seeing The Yardbirds perform, even if they did appear to be lip-syncing (and not particularly well, I might add).

About "The Hangover," I can say that it is definitely not for everybody. There's something in the movie to offend just about everyone, from lovers of animals and babies to anyone who likes to think of themselves as being socially enlightened, even in the slightest. If you're uptight about humor which makes you squirm in your seats for being the opposite of politically correct, then by all means you should avoid this movie. As for me, I laughed out loud throughout the entire thing.

Overall, I guess you could say that we went from the sublime to the ridiculous. I'm just not sure which was which.

Friday, June 05, 2009

The Comcast Follies

We've got the full Comcast Cable package at our house - phone, TV, Internet, the works. There have been a lot of outages lately, mostly involving the phone, which required a service call in May - and we were assured that no, since the problem was on their end, we would not be charged for the call.

So when the bill arrived Monday, you can imagine the reaction from Debra when the bill reflected a service call charge; but not only that, a nice hefty rate increase. Her subsequent call blistered even my ears, and supposedly all was taken care of.

The next day, the phone went totally out, necessitating a service call to change out the modem. The guy thought that maybe all of the adjustments the dude on the phone had made to our account had blown it out. OK, no problem - he called us on the phone, and it worked.

And then yesterday, Debra was out running errands and tried to call home to tell us something, and got a "this number is out of service" message. Weird, I said - we've got a dial tone on our end.

So what happened?

When the guy on the phone made the changes to our account, he changed our phone number and didn't tell us.

And now, it will take 3 days for them to figure out if it is possible to reassign our old number.

All I can say is that we'd better get free HD out of this!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Born in the U.S.A. Turns 25

I’d be remiss if I didn’t say a few words in recognition of the 25th Anniversary of the release of Born in the U.S.A. It still is, and barring some kind of miracle always will be, Bruce Springsteen’s most popular album – in terms of sales. But for many of those who consider themselves on the scale of Springsteen fandom to be somewhere between devotee and fanatic, it is not as beloved.

I’ve never understood the disdain that so many Bruce-philes have for the album, and I’ve always suspected that it has more to do with the circumstances surrounding it than with the music itself. Bruce had enjoyed enormous success in 1980 with The River, and seemed poised to take that next big step into mega-platinum popularity that had been enjoyed in the late 1970s by bands like Fleetwood Mac and The Eagles. Looking back on it today, I’m not sure how comfortable Bruce’s most loyal fan base was with that – the tickets for each successive tour had become harder to get, and the level of the relationship between Springsteen as an artist and those fans who had followed him since the early days (what I sometimes call the “Oh, you saw him in ____? Well you should have seen him the tour before that – that’s when he was really good!”) was such that I wondered then (and still wonder now) how willing those long-time fans were to allow “newbies” into the house.

The release of Nebraska delayed Bruce’s becoming “the next big thing” – it was a magnificent work, but to this day it remains the least commercial album of his career, to the point where it was interpreted by some as a challenge to his fans – “if you’re with me, then you need to be with me all the way, into the depths of my most challenging and dangerous work.” Even with its stark nature, the album sold well – but by the time June 1984 rolled around, it had been nearly four years since the release of a “full blown, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, rock and roll album.”

In retrospect, it’s obvious that Columbia Records knew it had a winner on its hands. The star-making machinery was put into full force – the advertisements were in the trades and the posters were up on the record store walls well in advance of the June 4 release date. The cover was slick and professional, complete with Annie Leibovitz photography. Since it was the year of the blockbuster, with Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Prince’s Purple Rain leading the way, the Columbia execs were probably thinking to themselves, “why not get another one out there?”

And they did. It was a huge, huge success, probably far beyond what anyone expected. Mega-platinum indeed – with hit singles! – and yes, an entirely new fan base that made it damn near impossible to get tickets for the first leg of the tour. For the second leg, Bruce had little choice but to move from arenas – into which his entry had been a big step just a few years before – into baseball and football stadiums.

To this day, I think there are some who hold all of that against the album. Even Backstreets, which is as thoughtful a fan site as you’ll find anywhere, made a comment in a concert setlist commentary a couple of years ago, “A Springsteen concert without a song from Born in the U.S.A.? Priceless!” In my opinion, it’s not about the music – it’s about the clothes that Bruce wore on that tour (and sure, they looked really goofy, but then so did what I was wearing in 1984), it’s about the “disco” nature of “Dancing in the Dark,” it’s about the slick Leibovitz photography, it’s about the young girls screaming at concerts like they were watching Rick Springfield instead of Bruce Springsteen, and it’s about the fact that folks who were used to sitting down on the floor were now three rows from the top at a cavernous ballpark.

So what about the music?

It’s great. For my money, even given the landmark status that I believe Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town deserve, it’s his most consistent album. From the moment Max’s sticks hit the drums like rifle shots at the beginning of the title track, it’s obvious that this is an album that’s meant to be turned up – way, way up.

I’ll concede that songs like “Darlington County” and “Working on the Highway” don’t fit into the Springsteen pantheon as neatly as “Badlands,” “The Promised Land” and “Thunder Road.” But man, they sure sound good. And while they may not be the most visionary expressions of the Springsteen ethos, I’d argue that they fit within that ethos just as well as anything he’s written. As do songs like “Downbound Train” (despite the clumsiness of the lyric), “No Surrender,” and “My Hometown.” Meanwhile, on songs like “I’m Goin’ Down” and “Glory Days,” Bruce comes on like a latter-day Elvis, just having a grand old rockin’ time with some really funny songs. And of course, there’s the title track, which to my ears is only one of the greatest songs he’s ever written.

The sound of the album was critical to it success. As much as I admire what Brendan O’Brien has been able to do with the band during the past decade, the production on Born in the U.S.A. remains my favorite of all Springsteen albums. There’s a crispness and vitality there that you just can’t find on any of his other records. As Robert Christgau wrote at the time, “the aural vibrancy of the thing reminds me like nothing in years that what teenagers loved about rock and roll wasn’t that it was catchy or even vibrant but that it just plain sounded good.”

So I hope that on its 25th birthday tomorrow, people will celebrate Born in the U.S.A. It deserves every toast that it gets.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Graduation Night 2009

That's right, folks. I'm the father of a high school graduate.

That's him on the right, wearing the CSF sash, waving to us as he exits the floor of Arco Arena.

Conan Tries To Conquer L.A.

I've always liked Conan's show, but given the retreat of night owl tendencies that has accompanied the advancement of my age, I've never really watched it that much. I suspect that I'll be watching The Tonight Show more often now, even if it means turning away from Dave.

The first show was a mixed bag, but overall was good - and the cold opening was inspired and hilarious. Enjoy!

Monday, June 01, 2009

Excerpts from "The Note"

OK, it will definitely lose something in the translation, but there are a few snippets that should be more than enough to provide a clue as to what the whole feels like.

"Jeff, I'll really be honest now - and this truly comes from my heart and may already touch on some I've written in those notes but I'll start...Our friendship is one true virtue where nothing can break our bond. But moreso, our own relationship, is one of greatness."

- As previously mentioned, the relationship would last four more months. And take note of the use of "moreso," which is sprinkled liberally throughout the letter. It was the source of much hilarity when my wife and our friend read through it after a couple of pitchers of margaritas.

"It's funny to think that in 3 or 4 years from now - we may not know each other (I hope not) and your new wife/girlfriend reads this, I hope you won't get embarrassed."

- Two things here - I think she was trying to say that she would still know me 3 or 4 years from now, though it doesn't quite read that way. As for the embarrassed part - yeah, sure.

"I believe that in this short time, we've found out each other's feelings, although I may not always believe you..."

- ...and please pay no mind to that sharp knife I have trained on your back while you're not looking.

"You have a part of me that I can never give anyone else."

- I feel it important at this juncture to state for the record that we did not know each other, in the biblical sense.

"I realize you may not believe this, but how can you give that part of yourself to someone else? It's impossible - and the part I gave you and still am, comes from my heart & soul."

- I can only wonder whether this made any sense in 1977.

"P.S. Love is only understood by those who are in love.........(explaining this short story)

- This must have been directed at my parents, and the notion in her mind that they might try to read what was in my Yearbook. But I'm pretty sure that the note didn't make any sense to me back then, so I probably should have saved myself four months and high-tailed it out of there right then.

And there you have it.