Tuesday, May 31, 2011

"The Hangover, Part II"

There isn't a lot you can say about a movie like "The Hangover, Part II." On the one hand, there's no doubt in my mind that the backers of this "Hangover" would have made a greater contribution to the film industry if they'd taken the money it cost to make the movie and instead devoted it to the development of young writing and directing talent.

On the other hand, I laughed my ass off on several occasions. So who am I to argue with success?

But really, anyone going to see the movie should know exactly what they're getting into - and what that amounts to is a carbon copy of the first movie, set in a different locale (Bangkok, instead of Las Vegas), and not quite as funny. Oh, yeah - and there's a monkey.

My favorite part of the movie? Ken Jeong as Mr. Chow, the least likely international criminal you're likely to see this year.

And that's about all I've got on that one.

Special Announcement

I would just like to note for the record that I do not plan to join the "eat only what you kill yourself" craze.

However, I do plan to kill off a bottle of wine and a bottle of vodka in the coming week.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Happy Memorial Day

"But grief is not the end of all. I seem to hear the funeral march become a paean. I see beyond the forest the moving banners of a hidden column.

Our dead brothers still live for us, and bid us think of life, not death--of life to which in their youth they lent the passion and joy of the spring.

As I listen , the great chorus of life and joy begins again, and amid the awful orchestra of seen and unseen powers and destinies of good and evil our trumpets sound once more a note of daring, hope, and will."

- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Memorial Day speech, 1884

(photograph - Arlington National Cemetery, June 2009)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Gil Scott-Heron

Many of the obituaries for Gil Scott-Heron that I’ve read this weekend refer to him as “the Godfather of Rap” or “the Godfather of Hip-Hop.” While there is truth in both of those claims, each of them strikes me as one of those things that one writes when they’re on a deadline, and don’t have the time to fully delve into what made an artist special.

In the liner notes for the Scott-Heron “Best of” collection released in 1984, Nelson George called him a “keyboardist, poet, singer, rapper, and teller of uncomfortable truths.” For me, that pretty much nails it. You can listen to a Scott-Heron song and be enjoying the melody, and then all of a sudden a phrase or two catches your ear. You pull out the lyric sheet, and you’re no longer enjoying the music in quite the same way. You’re an engaged listener. The work of Scott-Heron was not meant to be disposable; it was meant to make you sit up and take notice…and hopefully, take action.

Well I hate it when the blood starts flowin’
But I’m glad to see resistance growin’

Somebody tell me what’s the word

Tell me, Brother, have you heard from


- Johannesburg

It’s worth noting that Scott-Heron released “Johannesburg in 1975, nearly an entire decade before “Artists United Against Apartheid” came together to bring what was happening in South Africa to the attention of the world. In that sense (and others), Scott-Heron was an artist well ahead of his time. It’s also worth noting that “Johannesburg” is a hell of a great party song – stick a bunch of different lyrics in there and hand it over to a group like the Spinners or the O’Jays, and in the mid-seventies you just might have had yourself a #1 song on your hands. So it’s not as if Scott-Heron didn’t know how to make you get out on the dance floor – just listen to “Race Track in France” if you have doubts about that.

What has happened is that in the last 20 years, America has changed from a producer to a consumer. And all consumers know that when the producer names the tune...the consumer has got to dance. That's the way it is. We used to be a producer – very inflexible at that, and now we are consumers and, finding it difficult to understand. Natural resources and minerals will change your world. The Arabs used to be in the 3rd World. They have bought the 2nd World and put a firm down payment on the 1st one. Controlling your resources will control your world. This country has been surprised by the way the world looks now. They don't know if they want to be Matt Dillon or Bob Dylan. They don't know if they want to be diplomats or continue the same policy - of nuclear nightmare diplomacy. John Foster Dulles ain't nothing but the name of an airport now.

- B Movie

Those are not the kind of lyrics you’d seen in any song today, in any genre. You read them and you’re probably thinking to yourself, how can this possibly be something you’d want to listen to? All Scott-Heron needed to turn this into one of the most compelling pieces of political art of the last 40 years was bass and drums. And you don’t even have to agree with what he’s saying – in fact, I’d venture a guess that most people won’t agree with everything he says in this song, and some people won’t agree with anything he says in this song. But you can’t discount the power of the delivery, and the effectiveness of the message.

So many other songs that could be included in a respectful retrospective: “The Bottle, “We Almost Lost Detroit,” and of course the legendary “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” But my favorite Scott-Heron song is one of his most mournful – “Winter in America.” It’s a mournful song because it talks about the country that we want to be – and in very painful fashion, peels off the layers to expose the reasons why we’re not quite there yet. And will never be there, frankly; because Utopia doesn’t exist now, and it never will. But that was the brilliance of Gil Scott-Heron – he understood, like a few others before him and since, that only by talking about our faults can we do something about them.


Play at the Plate

“When Pete Rose demolished Ray Fosse he was never the same” - The Baseball Project

A play at the plate is one of the most exciting moments in all of sports. Unfortunately, it can also be one of the most terrifying, especially when the victim of a home plate collision is a young player on your favorite team with virtually limitless potential.

Ray Fosse was a good player after the famous home plate collision with Pete Rose, but he was never the same player. And now fans of the San Francisco Giants are wondering the same thing following Buster Posey’s terrible injury of the other night. When will he return? Will he be the same player?

Things can change in sports, in a flash. Injuries are the great equalizer – taking athletes with “future Hall of Famer” placed in front of their names on a routine basis and turning them into ordinary mortals. Right now, Giants fans can only hope for the best.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cover #2

"Like A Rolling Stone," The Rolling Stones

Cover #1

"Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues," Bryan Ferry

Great Dylan Lines, #1

So now I’m goin’ back again
I got to get to her somehow
All the people we used to know
They’re an illusion to me now
Some are mathematicians
Some are carpenters’ wives
Don’t know how it all got started
I don’t know what they’re doin’ with their lives
But me, I’m still on the road
Headin’ for another joint
We always did feel the same
We just saw it from a different point of view
Tangled up in blue

"Tangled Up In Blue"

"Two Soldiers"

One of my favorite Dylan songs is the old folk song "Two Soldiers," which appeared on his 1993 solo acoustic album "World Gone Wrong."

It's a heartbreaking song, one that tells the story of two soldiers heading off to the Civil War. In the event that one of them does not make it back, they make a promise to each other. Unfortunately, neither one of them gets to keep the promise.

While 1997’s “Time Out of Mind” was a masterpiece and rightly hailed as a return to legendary form, it was on "World Gone Wrong" - and the album that preceded it, "Good As I Been To You" - where Dylan truly regained his voice, and set the stage for what certainly is the most remarkable comeback this side of Elvis’ 1968 TV special. Both of the albums consisted entirely of old folk songs and standards, just Dylan and his guitar, and it was if the simple act of recording those old songs was an artistic cleansing that allowed him to emerge as an even stronger, wiser artist.

The fruit of his efforts paid off on "Two Soldiers." Dylan's vocal is one of his best, and the guitar playing is simply masterful. You can find the album cheap on Amazon.com, and it's well worth buying the whole thing - even if you only listen to this song.

He was just a blue-eyed Boston boy,
His voice was low with pain.
"I'll do your bidding, comrade mine,

If I ride back again.

But if you ride back and I am left,
You'll do as much for me,
Mother, you know, must hear the news,
So write to her tenderly.

"She's waiting at home like a patient saint,
Her fond face pale with woe.
Her heart will be broken when I am gone,
I'll see her soon, I know."
Just then the order came to charge,
For an instance hand touched hand.
They said, "Aye," and away they rode,
That brave and devoted band.

Straight was the track to the top of the hill,
The rebels they shot and shelled,
Plowed furrows of death through the toiling ranks,
And guarded them as they fell.
There soon came a horrible dying yell
From heights that they could not gain,
And those whom doom and death had spared
Rode slowly back again.

But among the dead that were left on the hill
Was the boy with the curly hair.
The tall dark man who rode by his side
Lay dead beside him there.
There's no one to write to the blue-eyed girl
The words that her lover had said.
Momma, you know, awaits the news,
And she'll only know he's dead.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Rolling Stone Celebrates Bob

Head on over here, to read Rolling Stone's coverage of Bob's 70th.

In the most recent edition, RS unveils the top 70 Dylan songs, as selected by a panel including Greil Marcus, Jon Landau, and Mikal Gilmore.

In the days to come, I'll write a bit about some of my own Dylan favorites, songs that didn't make the Top 70 list.


Bob Dylan turns 70 on Tuesday, which means that it's time to celebrate.

There's no disputing (in my mind, at least) that Elvis Presley was the King of Rock 'n Roll. But having said that, I don't think it's a contradiction in terms to refer to Dylan as the greatest artist, bar none, of the rock era.

Everyone has their favorite Dylan song, everyone has their favorite Dylan album, and everyone has their favorite Dylan era (some people even enjoy "the Christian period"!). Dylan has made great music almost 50 years now, and like all great artists, he's also produced a fair amount of less-than-stellar work. But no one has produced seven masterpieces - and when I say "masterpiece," I mean works of absolute perfection.

For me, those seven are:

Highway 61 Revisited
Blonde on Blonde
The Basement Tapes (with The Band)
Blood on the Tracks
Time Out of Mind
Love and Theft
Modern Times

So for the next few days, it will be all Dylan, all the time. Hope you enjoy.

Friday, May 20, 2011

American Top 40 Flashback - Adele

OK, this one is not a flashback - so sue me.

I've never done this before, but this week's #1 song is good enough that I think it merits a post of its own - consider it the "Flashback" equivalent of ESPN's "Instant Classic."

I first heard this song on the radio a couple of months ago, and it was only because my son was in the car that I was able to find out who it was (the only station I listen to never tells you what songs they are playing, unless you happen to be listening online).

But as far as I'm concerned, Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" has all the elements of a classic single, from beginning to end. I suspect it will sound as good 20 years from now as it sounds right now. Hence, "instant classic."

And so, the #1 song on this date in 2011:

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Where's Jeff?

I think the last time I went for a week without posting was our family vacation last June. The reason for the recent light (non-existent?) posting has been work, where we just completed the build-up to, and completion of, a 4-day series of all-day meetings. There are things that I want to write about, but sometimes it takes a while for the creative batteries to charge. In the meantime, some things to look forward to (or not, depending on one’s point of view):

Book Reviews: “The First Rule” and “The Sentry” by Robert Crais, and “Live Wire” by Harlan Coben.

Music Reviews: “Helplessness Blues” by Fleet Foxes, “Angles” by The Strokes, and “Smart Flesh” by The Low Anthem.

Snarky comments about Donald Trump and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

And of course, don’t forget about the forthcoming list of Top 50 Albums of All Time. I think I actually have the list whittled down to 50; now it’s just a matter of figuring out where they fit within the 50. Trust me, it’s easier said than done.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Los Lobos - Still Kickin' After All These Years

When a band has been around for as long as Los Lobos has been around, it really doesn’t make a lot of sense to ask whether their new album is good or not. You’ve got to figure that if a band has been around that long, their albums are going to be pretty good (OK, I’ll grant you that the Rolling Stones have tested that theory on a number of occasions, but you know what I mean).

“Tin Can Trust” – which really isn’t new, having been released last August – demonstrates perfectly why the band has lasted as long as it has. It may not be in the class of “Kiko” or “How Will the Wolf Survive,” but both of those albums were among the best of their particular decade, so that’s hardly an insult. What can be said is that the album is the perfect illustration of everything that is great about Los Lobos – strong songs, strong singing, interesting stories, a good variety, and all of it feeling quintessentially American.

The first song on the album, “Burn it Down,” is so good that I have no qualms about saying that it’s one of their best. And what is truly great about it is that it strips the band down to its essence. The song begins with a guitar lick, just a little ominous and just this side of being dangerous. Then, one of the biggest bass guitar sounds (or is that a guitarron?) you’ve ever heard jumps out of the speakers and right into your brain. And then, the familiar voice of David Hidalgo, and before you know it you’re smack dab in the middle of a classic Hidalgo/Perez-penned Los Lobos tune.

There isn’t a bad song on the album, but the opener Is my favorite. Coming in second would be “All My Bridges Burning,” which was written by Cesar Rosas with Robert Hunter, best known for his collaborations with Jerry Garcia. The band also does a nice turn on the Garcia/Hunter tune “West L.A. Fadeaway,” which definitely has a nice Dead-type vibe to it.

At this late date, it’s not likely that Los Lobos is going to sneak up on anyone. People have made up their mind whether they like the band or not, and probably end up buying every new release. Well, for the uninitiated, “Tin Can Trust” would be a good place to start.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Credit Where Due

A week or so ago, I blasted the quality of American beer commercials, so it's only fair that I point out one that is great. It's for Budweiser, and here it is:

What really makes the commercial work for me is the song, which is "Goin' Home," by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys.

Purple and Gold Meltdown

For 20 years, the standard of bad sportsmanship in the NBA has been the behavior of the two-time defending champion Detroit Pistons in 1991, when they gracelessly walked off the court without even trying to acknowledge the Chicago Bulls, who had swept them in the Eastern Conference finals - on their way to the first of their six NBA titles during that decade.

Well, the Pistons can breathe a sigh of relief, because after today's 4th quarter debacle, we have a new standard bearer for bad sportsmanship. Two, actually - because it isn't fair to lay this one on the entire Lakers team. But there's no doubt that Lamar Odom and (especially) Andrew Bynum will deserve the lumps that they take in the public and the media tomorrow, and probably for the rest of the playoff season - and into next season, and beyond. I only wish I could have seen the look on Magic Johnson's face in the studio on the Bynum cheap shot - because clearly, Magic was already distraught simply from the Lakers' inability to do anything in the first half to stop the Mavericks' offense.

And what an offensive exhibition it was. My only complaint is with Peja Stojakovic...really, Peja? You couldn't make just one of those in the fourth quarter of that fateful game against the Lakers in June 2002?

I jinxed the Mavericks a few years ago, so I will refrain from saying anything about their chances to go all the way this year. Let's just say that I like their chances as much as anybody's at this point.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Digging the Post Parade

"He Could See the Openings Others Could Not See"

A beautiful tribute to Seve Ballesteros, from Joe Posnanski.

Ballesteros was never my favorite golfer - in fact, I actively rooted against him on many occasions. But I absolutely understand why he was so popular, and now appreciate his approach to the game. I'm not sure there's anyone like him out there anymore.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Monday, May 02, 2011


And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming. Some random thoughts, on random subjects:

- Apparently, it is not possible to produce a beer commercial in this day and age without making one of the two sexes look like absolute morons.

Actually, I take that back. It’s mostly the commercials for the big American breweries (Coors and Miller in particular) that are so blatantly stupid and/or offensive. That may explain why I’ve become such a beer snob. I’ve enjoyed plenty of Coors and Miller High Life in my day, but really…is pandering to the most idiotic sexual stereotypes on the planet really the most effective way to sell beer? Bring me some Sierra Nevada or Blue Moon, or even Samuel Adams. You know, the beers that focus on – get this – the taste of their beers in their commercials.

- It didn’t take long for the political pundits on the Internet to descend into the type of offensive partisan bickering that might…just might…be one of the reasons why people are so turned off by the political process. It makes one wonder what things might have been like, say in World War II, had the Internet existed. Let’s just say that had that been the case, I have to wonder whether it would have been called “the greatest generation.” I mean…really, people? Can’t we just enjoy a successful day in the war against terror without having to score political points? Yeah, I know, dumb question.

- So let me get this straight – getting mugged in the paint on a drive to the hoop in the playoffs results in no call (“just good hard playoff basketball,” you might hear), but you breathe on a guy when he’s making a half-court shot at the end of the quarter, it’s three free throws? What-ever.

- I’m really enjoying trying to figure out what my favorite 50 albums of all time are. If you think about it, it’s a bit of a ridiculous exercise – how can you really compare “Every Picture Tells a Story” with “Los Angeles” with “Purple Rain” with “Play” with “Born to Run?” You can’t, but it sure is fun trying.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Ground Zero

Times Square

The White House, Early Monday Morning

The News

I don't comment here on international politics, but the death of Osama bin Laden would seem to be an occasion that demands, if nothing else, simple acknowledgment.

First of all, I hope that this brings some small amount of consolation and closure for the families of those who lost loved ones and colleagues on 9/11, as well as all those who lived through the horrors of what happened in New York City and Washington D.C. on that fateful day.

Second, I hope that the pundits who are prone to such things will try to avoid using this as a political football, and try to be satisfied with general agreement that bin Laden's death is a good thing - for the world.

And I think it's worth noting that I found out about this on Facebook, and not one of the network or cable news outlets.

For us, it is a cause for celebration. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the world reacts.


I hadn't watched an A's game all year, so I had no idea that Coco Crisp was rockin' the 1970s Oscar Gamble look.

No matter how you cut it, this is pretty awesome. Can't wait 'til the Giants and A's get together later this year, where hopefully Coco will have to face off against Brian Wilson, he of the awesome facial hair.