Thursday, June 30, 2011

American Top 40 Flashback - The Beach Boys!

What the heck, let's get the holiday weekend started a little early. And, really - could there be anything more American than The Beach Boys? Admittedly, they've never been my favorite band, but you've got to have one of their greatest hits collection in your collection.

I like this video a lot, because it proves once and for all, for those of us who never saw the band perform live, that Carl really could play the guitar and Dennis was quite the drummer. And of course, Brian, with that amazing falsetto. And you even get a bonus tune, plus an announcer who sounds like he'd be more comfortable behind the 18th green at the Open Championship.

"I Get Around," the #1 song in this land is your land, this land is my land back in 1964.

"The Emancipation of Talent"

SI.Com's Zach Lowe has a post up today that provides a behind-the-scenes look at how "The Decision" came together, almost a year ago now. When I first read it, I couldn't get past this comment from Mark Dowley, former partner at the William Morris Endeavor agency:

Ari Emanuel [co-CEO of William Morris] called me and said, “What do you think of the idea of doing the show?” And I really liked it. I like the whole notion of the emancipation of talent. ..."

The emancipation of talent? Is that really what "the decision" was all about?

Wiktionary defines "emancipation" as follows:

"The act of setting free from the power of another, from slavery, subjection, dependence, or controlling influence."

Again, I ask: Is that really what "the decision" was all about?

At this late date, I really did not think it was possible to make the pitiful charade known as "The Decision" look any worse.

But it looks like I was wrong.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Books For A Dying Man?

I’m always up for a good meme. In this case, it comes from my good blog friend Le0pard13, but it originated with author Declan Burke:

“For simplicity’s sake I’ve kept it to one book per author, and the idea is that the last book on your list is the book you’d most like to die reading, if you had to die reading.

To wit: A long, long time in the future, in a galaxy far away, the doctor says, “Sorry, but you’ve only got a month to live.” What ten books would you re-read in your last month?”

So here are my ten – and it should be noted that for this post, I’ve borrowed liberally from what I wrote for a little project I did in the fall of 2003 that I called “The Desert Island Book Project”:

“L.A. Requiem,” by Robert Crais. Robert Crais had written seven novels featuring private detective Elvis Cole and his best friend Joe Pike when he wrote “L.A. Requiem.” But the eighth novel was the first that I read, and now that I’ve read them all, there’s no question that “Requiem” represented a quantum leap forward for the series and for Crais as an author.

See my post on the book here.

“It,” by Stephen King. In simplest terms, “It” is designed to scare the living daylights out of you, and it succeeds. You’ll never look at clowns the same, that’s for certain. Few people are as good as King is at writing about children, and the genius of “It” is the way that it adopts a child’s viewpoint of the world around them – the adults don’t understand what is going on around them in the town of Derry, because of course adults don’t understand why clowns are scary – or why sewers are scary, or bullies, or leeches, or abandoned refrigerators…etc., etc. But the kids sure do understand, and so a group of lovable losers band together and try to do something about it. They indeed do something about it, but they don’t fully succeed. So as adults many years later, they come back to Derry to finish the job. Some even survive to tell the tale. And meanwhile, the clown is still there…and the bully…and the sewer…

The book develops it characters well, tells a compelling story, and gets all the little details right. Oh, yeah – and it’s scary as hell.

“Ball Four” by Jim Bouton, an utterly hilarious account of the waning years of the Yankee dynasty and then Bouton’s attempt to make it back in the Big Leagues as a knuckleball-throwing relief pitcher (!) for the Seattle Pilots (!) after blowing out his arm at the tender age of 25. Irreverent but never disrespectful (except perhaps of Bowie Kuhn), and really the first sports book to show that sometimes our heroes really do have feet of clay. Worth the price of admission just to hear a very young Joe Morgan describe, in a mock interview after a critical strike-out, the difference between a normal curveball and a “motherfucking” curveball. I was 15 years old, the first time I read it.

Ranters and Crowd Pleasers: Punk in Pop Music 1977-92 is a collection of essays by legendary rock critic Greil Marcus which covers the period of music that I enjoyed the most. Marcus is without peer in finding the meanings of rock music within the context of society as a whole. Some of his references can be overly academic, but he also has a wickedly funny sense of humor and a taste for the trashy that overcomes those academic tendencies. And it doesn’t hurt that he loves, as do I, Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Warren Zevon, the Sex Pistols, and The Clash.

Maus, by Art Speigelman. The concept – a tale of the Holocaust in graphic novel form, with the Jewish characters depicted as mice, Poles as pigs, and Nazis as cats, and so on – sounds like an insult to history, but nothing could be further from the truth. Speigelman, a legend of underground comics, tells his mother and father’s story, and it is a profoundly moving, tragic, and compelling one. The winner of a richly-deserved Pulitzer Prize.

L.A. Confidential, by James Ellroy. The third volume in the so-called “L.A. Quartet” (The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, and White Jazz), L.A. Confidential is the critical link in Ellroy’s career between the mostly conventional writing style he employed in his previous novels and the rapid-fire, staccato style that has predominated in subsequent works. The book tells the tale of three deeply flawed members of the Los Angeles Police Department in the 1950s: Ed Exley, the crusader who believes in “absolute justice” but whose reputation and career are based on a lie; Bud White, the defender of abused women whose brutally vicious methods represent everything that Exley finds abhorrent in the LAPD; and Jack Vincennes, the star-struck thrill-seeker who rarely lets morals stand in the way of a good bust.

Over the span of the decade which provides the backdrop for the book, the three men’s careers become intertwined through a maze of seemingly unrelated characters, including the charismatic and sociopathic police Captain Dudley Smith; the proverbial “hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold” Lynn Bracken (who understands Exley, White and Vincennes better than they understand themselves); various “real-life” characters such as Bill Parker, Lana Turner, and Johnny Stompanato; and seemingly unrelated events including the beheading of a child star by a serial killer that occurred some twenty years earlier; the construction of the L.A. network of freeways; and the development of a Disney-like theme park, a major sub-plot that was dropped from the wonderful film adaptation, for reasons that become obvious by the end of the novel. The single event around which all of the plot revolves is the Nite Owl Massacre, an unexplained shoot-out in an all-night café that results in the deaths of six people and alters the course of the lives of all the book’s major characters.

It is when the plot threads begin to converge – and when Exley, White, and Vincennes come to realize that only through working together to solve the Nite Owl case can “absolute justice” be served – that the novel soars to heights that have been reached by few works in the genre. In the end each pays a price for that justice; in this book redemption – if one can call it that – does not come easy.

Cosell, by Howard Cosell. Howard Cosell may have been the best and the worst thing that ever happened to televised sports. The best because of his journalistic instincts and his status as one of the few sports reporters who has ever attempted to hold athletes and other sports figures accountable for their behavior (but please, never compare Cosell to the execrable Jim Gray); the worst because he nearly single-handedly ruined television coverage of professional football through his insistence that the “storyline” was more important than the details of the game.

This book, written in 1972, is terrific – it includes wonderful chapters on his close relationships with Jackie Robinson, Floyd Patterson, Vince Lombardi, Woody Allen, and the Olympics, among others. But the centerpiece of the book is what may be the definitive writing on Muhammad Ali. The MNF rot had yet to set in, and Cosell’s enthusiasm and knowledge of his subjects is exhibited throughout. And if you remember Cosell fondly today, remember him not for Monday Night Football, but instead for his unmatched skill and enthusiasm covering boxing – and especially for his call of the Foreman-Frazier fight, which will never be forgotten (DOWN goes Frazier! DOWN goes Frazier! DOWN goes Frazier! DOWN goes Frazier! DOWN goes Frazier!).

“A Christmas Carol,” by Charles Dickens. Though I am far from being the most religious person in the world, I love Christmas. I love the decorations, I love the collegial feeling of the season, and most of all I love the music (my holiday tradition is to make Christmas CDs for my colleagues; and I always try to find the most interesting and obscure songs that I can). And I love this book – I read it every year, and it always makes me feel better about the human condition.

Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry. “Why not go north?” Woodrow Call poses that question to Augustus “Gus” McCrae, his long-time friend and fellow Texas Ranger, early in Lonesome Dove. Gus can think of no good reason to go, and plenty of reasons not to. “…It sounds like a goddamn wilderness,” he tells Call. “I’ve slept on the ground enough for one life. Now I’m in the mood for a little civilization.” But at the same time, he realizes that there really is nothing left to do in Lonesome Dove.

And so, for no particularly good reason except that there’s nothing left to do in Texas, the men and boys of the Hat Creek Cattle Company and Livery Emporium head for Montana, with “a passel of shitting cattle” in tow. And thus begins a magnificent adventure, one that takes the clichés of the cattle-drive story and turns them into something memorable and magical. Much that happens in Lonesome Dove had already appeared in some previous novel or film about a cattle drive, but McMurtry creates a landscape – and more importantly, a host of characters – that make Lonesome Dove seem as if it were the only book ever written on the subject.

I’m not sure that any great themes are involved, outside of Americans sometimes do heroic things for no particular reason except that there’s nothing else to do at the moment. And while this is a great adventure story, it is also much more than that. McMurtry paints an enormous canvas that is epic in scope, but at the same time the book is full of wonderful small moments. Such as the moment when Gus encounters on the plains an enormous killing field filled with buffalo bones, and an unusual man who spends his time gathering them:

He remembered when he had first come to the high plains, years before. For two days he and Call and the Rangers had ridden parallel to the great southern buffalo herd – hundreds of thousands of animals, slowly grazing north. It had been difficult to sleep at night because the horses were nervous around so many animals, and the sounds of the herd were constant. They had ridden for nearly a hundred miles and seldom been out of sight of buffalo.

…Thus the sight of the road of bones stretching out over the prairie was a shock. Maybe roads of bones were all that was left. The thought gave the very emptiness of the plains a different feel. With those millions of animals gone, and the Indians mostly gone in their wake, the great plains were truly empty, unpeopled and ungrazed.

Soon the whites would come, of course, but what he was seeing was a moment between, not the plains as they had been, or as they would be, but a moment of true emptiness, with thousands of miles of grass resting unused, occupied only by remnants – of the buffalo, the Indians, the hunters. Augustus thought that they were crazed remnants, mostly, like the old mountain man who worked night and day gathering bones to no purpose.

Another reason for the greatness of Lonesome Dove is that there have been few books with as many brilliantly rendered characters – from Call, Gus and the Hat Creek Company – Pea Eye, Newt, Deets, Dish, and others – to the women of the story – Lorena, Clara, Elmira – who are in nearly all aspects just as strong and heroic as the men; to the villainous Blue Duck and the Suggs Gang, both evil incarnate – to the aimless Jake Spoon – to the tragic July Johnson – and even the lesser characters such as Wilbarger – the educated cattleman who reads Milton on the plains, and Po Campo – the cook who fries grasshoppers in molasses – that are drawn in such a way that in just a few pages one feels that they know them well. A great novel could be written about any of these characters, and McMurtry clearly understands the importance that each brings to the story.

But as great as all those characters are, the book really belongs to Gus McCrae. It is through Gus that McMurtry makes most of his important statements about change, about life, and about the fickle nature of that life. It is through Gus that it is demonstrated that there is more than one way to define a hero. It is through Gus’ thoughts that the book’s most moving moments are articulated, in particular this one –which may just be the most important passage of the book:

Though dawn was his favorite hour, it was also an hour at which Augustus most keenly felt himself to be a fool. What was it but folly to be riding along the Canadian River alone, easy pickings for an outlaw gang, and hungry to boot? A chain of follies had put him there: Call’s abrupt decision to become a cattleman and his own decision, equally abrupt, to try and rescue a girl foolish enough to be taken in by Jake Spoon. None of it was sensible, yet he had to admit there was something about such follies that he liked. The sensible way, which he had pursued once or twice in his life, had always proved boring, usually within a few days. In his case it had led to nothing much, just excessive drunkenness and reckless card playing. There was more enterprise in certain follies, it seemed to him.

There are parts of Lonesome Dove that are laugh out loud-funny, parts that are stunning in their unexpected violence, and parts that are just plain exciting – the book really has everything. And while McMurtry would go on to write three other novels featuring many of the same characters, none of them matched the original. Nothing could, and it is not likely that anything ever will.

And the champion, the last book I would read:

A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving. “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice.” A Prayer for Owen Meany begins with those words from narrator John Wheelwright, who then goes on to say, “…not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.” And with that introduction, Irving provides the framework for A Prayer for Owen Meany, a story of faith and the role that it –and fate – play in our everyday lives.

Not that Owen Meany could be accused of having an everyday life. Very early on, his extraordinary nature becomes apparent – upon their first meeting, John’s cousin Hester proclaims, “I didn’t think he was human!” And it isn’t every day that you accidentally kill your best friend’s mother by hitting a foul ball during a little league baseball game (“Who would have thought he could hit a ball hard enough?,” John’s cousin Simon asks). Not long after this tragedy Owen – who is 11 years old at the time –learns his fate when he sees a vision of his own death while portraying The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come during a production of A Christmas Carol.

One way to look at the book is to say that, armed with the foreknowledge of his own death, Owen’s life from that point on becomes a series of events which prepare him for that day. Owen believes he is God’s instrument, and over time he comes to know so much about his death – through a series of increasingly detailed dreams – that it becomes easy to ascribe that motive to all of his actions and decisions. Is the book, then, Irving’s attack on faith? Does Irving believe that those who ascribe “God’s will” to all things under the sun are fools? After all, John Wheelwright, who finds his own faith through what happens to Owen, is not a happy man, somehow incomplete and even damaged without the presence of his best friend. Or, is Owen’s story Irving’s way of saying that only through faith can our lives have any real meaning? The book does not resolve this question, but my view would be toward the latter proposition.

In the end, the strength of Irving’s writing is such that such questions become secondary to the power of the story itself. And it is a wonderful story; wonderfully told, at turns hilarious, moving, and emotionally shattering. Owen’s words, all written IN CAPITAL LETTERS, are memorable whether he is talking about John F. Kennedy, Liberace, the increasing horror of the Vietnam War, which of the town’s mothers have THE BEST BREASTS, or engaging John Wheelwright in a conversation about faith and the power of prayer. Owen gets most of the best lines, but as with many of his works, Irving is generous with his supporting cast – providing memorable moments to John’s family, creating a memorable villain in Randy White who rivals Garp’s Michael Milton, and investing much time in making John Wheelwright a believable and worthy narrator (playing the perennial doubter to Owen’s true believer).

Irving’s gift is his ability to find meaning in the ridiculous (or the absurd). And while that may sound like a disrespectful way to treat one’s faith, one cannot really question that what happens to Owen is absurd. But it happens, and in a believable way, and therein lies the power of A Prayer for Owen Meany.

Life is what happens...

In the course of one’s life, there are probably just a handful of days that one can truly point to as being a turning point – a day where the entire trajectory of one’s life changes, for better or for worse. Graduation, marriage, the birth of a child, an anniversary, the death of a loved one – all of these milestones come to mind.

For me, one year ago today was such a day. And at the time, it seemed like such a mundane occurrence. It began with a phone call, and it wasn’t even a call that came to me. It was the just the kind of call that one gets in the course of a regular work day – seemingly simple questions, with seemingly simple answers. But nothing in life is really simple. As John Lennon once said, life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.

I think of the things that have happened in the year since that phone call, and in a way I’m almost in awe of the weird and crazy turns that life can take. Some might be tempted to say that it was God’s plan. And if that is truly the case, then all I can say is that God must be a fan of dark comedies – or perhaps a fan of John Irving novels. Because what has happened over the course of the past year feels to me like a John Irving novel. There has been sadness bordering on tragedy; there have been heroes and heroic moments; there have been funny moments; and there have been villains – people who fashioned themselves as crusaders on behalf of the public good, but in fact were without honor or shame.

As a direct result of that phone call, good things have happened to me – things that I could not have imagined a year ago. And bad, sometimes very bad things, have happened – things that I could not have imagined a year ago. Very little has been drawn in black and white; nearly all of it is washed in shades of grey.

The vast majority of people who read this will have no idea what I’m talking about, and perhaps consider me guilty of self-indulgence. And perhaps that is true. But on the other hand, I feel justified in saying - you had to be there.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Netflix Catchup

I do believe that this will bring me up-to-date.

I think I may enjoy the audacity of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films more than I enjoy the films themselves (with the exception of “Boogie Nights”). “Magnolia” never fails to be interesting or provocative, but I think it would be hard for any movie to sustain greatness over the period of three hours, when so many characters and plotlines are involved. Tom Cruise won deserved kudos for his way over-the-top portrayal of a misogynistic men’s self-help guru, but the always reliable John C. Reilly is just as impressive in a role (as a barely competent but completely decent police officer) that is as understated as Cruise’s is overstated. As a dying icon, Jason Robards’ performance is almost heartbreaking, because you know that he was near the end of his own life. William H. Macy, as a child genius now grown up and all f*cked up, turns in the type of performance that no one does better – a twitchy, nervous, wholly inadequate slice of manhood. All of the stories eventually intersect, and of course there is the famous ending act that features frogs falling from the sky in a torrential downpour. All in all, I’m not sure that “Magnolia” is quite the masterpiece that its supporters declare it to be. But you have to give Anderson enormous credit for attempting a film of this scope and complexity.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Babel” is a film of similar scope and complexity to “Magnolia.” Imagine Disney’s “It’s a Small World” in hell (of course, there are many who consider Disney’s “It’s a Small World” to be hell), and you kind of get the idea. Inarritu, like Anderson, weaves together disparate stories, this time on the other side of the world from each other, making the point that all actions have consequences – sometimes for people you’ve never met, and sometimes for people that you interact with on a daily basis. Over the course of the film, we find out what links a couple traveling in Morocco, a housekeeper and two small children in San Diego (and later, in Mexico), and a somewhat messed-up teenage girl who lives with her father in Tokyo. Nothing much good happens in any of the stories – this can be a very difficult movie to watch – and as events unfold, you sometimes find yourself gripped with an enormous sadness. In several instances, Inarritu allows the viewer to figure out the destiny of the characters, before the characters figure that out themselves. It is a compelling, although harrowing journey.

I enjoyed Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator” a lot more than I expected to. I wasn’t really expecting anything more than a bunch of fights inside of the Colosseum. But “Gladiator” is a lot more than that – it’s an epic, the kind that Hollywood used to produce on a regular basis but you just don’t see much anymore. It’s reminiscent of “Ben Hur” (at least it was to me) in the structure of its story, where our hero (Maximus, portrayed expertly by Russell Crowe) is exiled unfairly by a leader who does not deserve to lead (Joaquin Phoenix, as a dissolute and downright creepy emperor), and must fight his way back against all odds to face his oppressor in an epic battle. It’s an entertaining and fun ride, featuring excellent performances from Crowe and Phoenix, as well as old English hands Richard Harris, Oliver Reed (looking spectacularly dissolute, as one might expect from a man who lived and drank a hard life) and Derek Jacobi. There’s drama, there’s political intrigue, there’s tragedy, and there’s exciting action. An excellent brew.

“Stylish” is the best word to describe Sam Mendes’ excellent “Road to Perdition.” Adapted from a graphic novel written by Max Allan Collins, the movie tells the story of Michael Sullivan (an understated Tom Hanks), a principled and low-key hit man employed by the patriarch of an Irish crime family (played with passion and intensity by the legendary Paul Newman). Sullivan lives with his wife and two young sons in a lovely home, and what appears to be an idyllic existence. But as Michael Corleone learned over the course of three “Godfather” films, when you live a life of crime, sometimes the life controls you, and it becomes impossible to escape your destiny. So one night, Sullivan’s older son hides in the car when Sullivan heads to a job that goes awry (thanks to Rooney’s son, who unbeknownst to father is secretly stealing from the family’s coffers), witnesses what happens, and before you know it, Sullivan’s wife and younger son are killed, and the two remaining Sullivans are on the run. In the time they are together, they forge a bond that would not likely have been possible absent the tragedy, and the elder Sullivan does everything he can to protect his son and ensure that “the life” won’t consume him. The cast is uniformly excellent – Hanks, Newman, Daniel Craig as the crazy son, and Jude Law as a crazy assassin hired to find and kill the Sullivans – are all first rate, as are a host of supporting characters (including the always excellent Stanley Tucci as Frank Nitti, the infamous Chicago boss under Capone). And the movie is beautiful to look at – no matter what you think about the films of Sam Mendes in general, he knows how to put a pretty picture up on the screen.


If you're a Catholic who is easily offended by what some might consider blasphemy, then this is not the video for you. Otherwise, I'd say it's one of the funniest things I've seen in quite a while: Stephen Colbert vs. Jack White in a Catholic Throwdown.

Sunday Sun

More Clarence Links

Dave Marsh weighs in with a thought-provoking piece on the relationship between Bruce and Clarence, and race in America.

Scott Kempner, leader of The Dictators and The Del-Lords, with a heartfelt tribute and rumination on what the loss of Clarence means for the E Street Band.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

"X-Men: First Class" (2011)

I think it’s a safe assumption to make that most of the people who will go to see “X-Men: First Class” are either a) familiar with the comic book series, or b) have seen the previous three “X-Men” films. I was never into the comic book series myself (most of the titles I read were DC), but I’ve seen the earlier films and I’m familiar enough with the back-story to know what’s going on.

“First Class” takes place in 1962, around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The movie begins by filling in some of the back-story – the opening scene where Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender, taking over for Ian McKellen) and his family are brought to the concentration camp is almost identical to the opening scene of the first “X-Men” flick, but “First Class” goes on to provide much more background on what happened to Erik and his family while there. Meanwhile, we learn a great deal more about Charles Xavier (James McAvoy, in the Patrick Stewart role), and his relationship with Raven (later to become Mystique). We meet mutants that we haven’t seen in any of the earlier movies, and we’re introduced to a truly bad guy (well-played by Kevin Bacon) for whom it is impossible to generate even an ounce of sympathy.

The key to a movie like this is how well it accomplishes the journey – because every X-Men fan who walks into the theater is going to know how things end. We know that Erik and Charles will split up, and we know that some mutants will follow Erik, while others will stay with Charles. We know that Raven will become Mystique and leave the man she loves like a brother. And of course, we know that Charles will end up in a wheelchair, and open his school for “gifted students.” So all the viewer really needs to know is – does the movie accomplish all of these things in a way that makes you care?

I’m pleased to say that the answer is “yes.” Although Erik and Charles have a fundamentally different outlook on human nature and the means by which to approach the “normal” world, they recognize their bond, and the moment when Erik recognizes that he is responsible for what happens to Charles packs quite an emotional punch. As does the moment when Raven/Mystique chooses Erik over Charles, who for all she knows is lying there dying.

So I have no reservations saying that “First Class” is a worthy addition to the X-Men canon.

Friday, June 24, 2011

American Top 40 Flashback - "Bette Davis Eyes"

For me, this is one of the great one-time shots in the history of rock and pop music. Yes, I know that Kim Carnes had a successful career, and probably had other songs that hit the charts. But nothing she did (has done?) over the course of her career comes close to what she achieved with this song.

And yes, one could argue that it was really nothing more than a slice of well-crafted, well-produced L.A. pop. But at the time, it fit right in with what was going on in the musical world, and today it sounds just right on a mix-tape tucked in between songs by New Order and Wall of Voodoo. I know, because I have just such a tape.

"Bette Davis Eyes," by Kim Carnes. The #1 song this week, in 1981.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Another Summer Song

Heck, I might just do one of these every day, all summer long. Of course, saying something like that virtually guarantees that it won't happen.

Most of the time I'm careful to distinguish between songs that I consider my "favorites" vs. songs that I consider to be "best." However, I believe strongly that "One of These Nights" is the Eagles' best song, and it also happens to be my favorite Eagles song.

This video is pretty cool, although it would be cooler had it been filmed in Los Angeles instead of Las Vegas.

But in any event - no matter what time of year it, I think of summer - specifically, the summer of 1975 - when I hear this song.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"Good Things Are Rare" - Harlan Coben's "Live Wire"

(Mild Spoilers to follow)

The worst thing (and perhaps the only bad thing) about Harlan Coben’s new book is its title, “Live Wire.” It’s a great book, and it might just be the best Myron Bolitar book he’s ever written. “Live Wire” just doesn’t seem to be a title that’s worthy of the story inside the cover.

Many of the elements of “Live Wire” will be familiar to Coben readers – Myron’s emotional connection with his clients, his love for his family, and his relationship with Esperanza, his longtime co-worker (and now partner) in the agency he owns. But the most important relationship in the book is his relationship with Windsor Horne Lockwood III – “Win” to those few who can count him as a friend.

That the book might go in a slightly different direction from what one expects is evident in this exchange between Myron and Win, which occurs early on. Myron has just told Win about the problem – Suzze T, a former tennis star and client of Myron’s, has shown him a Facebook post which questions the paternity of her unborn child. And then her rock star husband, Lex, disappears. Naturally, she has asked for Myron’s help. And just as naturally, he asks for Win’s help. But then he’s surprised, as Win agrees all too readily.

“That’s not your usual modus operandi,” Myron said.

“Oh, do tell.”

“This is usually the part where you tell me that I’m an agent, not a private eye, and that you don’t see any purpose in doing this because there is no financial benefit to the firm.”

Win said nothing.

“Then you usually complain that I have a hero complex and always need to rescue someone in order to feel complete. And lastly – our should I say, most recently – you tell me how my interfering has actually done more harm than good, that I’ve ended up hurting and even killing more than I’ve saved.”

Win yawned. “Is there a point?”

“I thought it was pretty obvious but here it is: Why suddenly are you willing – enthusiastic even – about taking on this particular rescue mission when in the past…”

“In the past,” Win interrupted, “I always helped out, didn’t I?”

“For the most part, yes.”

Win looked up, tapped his chin with his index finger. “How to explain this?” He stopped, thought, nodded. “We have a tendency to believe good things will last forever. It is in our nature. The Beatles, for example. Oh, they’ll be around forever. The Sopranos – that show will always be on the air. Philip Roth’s Zuckerman series. Springsteen concerts. Good things are rare. They are to be cherished because they always leave us too soon.”

Win rose, started for the door. Before he left the room, he looked back.

“Doing this stuff with you,” Win said, is one of those good things.”

As usual, Myron and Win hit the road to try and solve the problem. Along the way, they encounter some very old acquaintances, the Ache brothers, old-style gangsters as deadly as they are clichéd. As usual, nothing is quite as it seems. And as usual, deep secrets buried in the past will have an enormous impact on what happens today.

It’s a familiar formula, and one that Coben has mined expertly for more than 15 years now. But there is something special about “Live Wire,” because Coben clearly seems to be closing a chapter in the lives of Myron and Win with this particular story. There are offhand references to the dynamic duo being on “the back nine of life,” there is the backstory of Myron’s father being close to death, and there is the family angle of Myron struggling to right the past wrongs that happened between he and his brother.

And then, Win does something so shocking, even in the context of a book like this, that you know things will never be the same. And that leads to the following scene featuring the two:

Myron hugged Win. Win hugged back. The hug was fierce and tight and lasted a long time. No words were exchanged – they would have just been superfluous. But Myron remembered what Win had said after Suzze first came to his office looking for help, about our tendency to think good things will last forever. They don’t. We think that we will always be young, that the moments and people we cherish are everlasting. But they’re not. As Myron held his friend in his arms, he knew that nothing would ever be the same between them. Something in their relationship had changed. Something was gone forever.

By the time you finish the book, you’re left to wonder if there will ever be another Myron Bolitar book. If there is, great. But if there isn’t, then Harlan Coben has come up with a magnificent way for Myron and Win to say goodbye.

It's Hot

According to, it is currently 101 degrees but only feels like 97 degrees.

I know it's the first day of summer and all that, but this kind of heat just sucks the life right out of you.

So let's think of a cool summer song. I'm afraid this is the best I can come up with on short notice - but it's definitely a classic.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Tiger Who?

So...Rory McIlroy went into the last round at Augusta with a 3-stroke lead, and proceeded to shoot 80. One of two things could have happened. One, the sting of that loss stays with him forever, and he becomes the golfer best known for never having achieved his limitless potential. Sad story, but one that is all too prevalent - in golf, and many other sports.

The second thing? Well, that would be what happened this weekend. A dominating, historic performance at the U.S. Open, one that in a fell swoop erased many of the records that a similarly young Tiger Woods set at the Open at Pebble Beach back in 2000. For those who don't watch golf on a regular basis, -16 at the U.S. Open is akin to...well, nothing. Because -16 at the U.S. Open doesn't happen. Never happened before - not even close - and if the USGA has anything to do with it, probably will never happen again.

And yes, I know that the conditions were somewhat unique - an unusual setup by the USGA that led to surprisingly easy pin placements, and weather conditions that led to stunted rough growth (the heat the prior week) and soft conditions (the rain that fell intermittently throughout the week). But still - even with all that, you really can't argue with an 8-shot victory at a major championship. That, in fact, would be the only thing that Rory did not accomplish that Tiger has - a victory margin greater than 8 shots.

But make no bones about it, the world of golf has gotten a good look at its next superstar. And it certainly appears to be a young kid out of Northern Ireland with a shock of curly hair that can only be contained by a well-fitted golf hat.

Well done, Rory McIlroy. The sky is the limit.

Big Man Tributes

"...In any case, they played Rosalita and I watched the Big Man, and I would love to tell you that he grew young before my eyes. I would love to tell you that because it would make for a wonderful tribute. But it isn't so. The music was young. Even the music he played was young. The man behind the saxophone was old. He tried to dance, and in some vague way he did. When he finished, he was breathing heavy. Here's the thing: It wasn't sad. Well, maybe it was a little sad because the years go by too fast. But seeing him step out of his chair, walk slowly toward Bruce, play the familiar riffs for Rosalita, seeing him and the band sing that line, "Your papa says he knows he knows that I don't (have any money)," it was beautiful. Because he loved it. He still loved it. He couldn't be young again. But he could remember being young. And that was the something beyond."

- Joe Posnanski

- Rolling Stone tells the story of his life in pictures.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Bruce and Clarence

What you hear in this clip is a recording from one of the shows that Bruce performed at the Shoreline Ampitheatre in Mountain View, in May 1988. I was lucky enough to be at one of those shows, and it just might have been the best Springsteen Show I ever saw. Of course, at one time or another, I've probably said the same thing about all of the Springsteen shows that I've seen.

But this may have been my favorite Bruce/Clarence moment. After Clarence plays the opening sax solo, the two of them sat down at a park bench, and then you hear Bruce talking...and eventually, that leads (although you have to go to Part 2 of the clip to hear it) into "All That Heaven Will Allow," from the "Tunnel of Love" album.

It's probably not a song that anyone would rank in their top 10 all-time favorite Bruce songs, but it demonstrates the beauty of the relationship, and how often Bruce used Clarence as the perfect foil in his shows.

No doubt, Bruce will give great shows for years to come. But somehow, it won't seem quite the same.

Big Man, we'll miss you.

The Big Man

"The Ghost Writer" (2010)

Roman Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer” reminded me of “The Parallax View,” a 1974 film starring Warren Beatty as a reporter investigating the assassination of a U.S. Senator. The stories and themes are similar, and both movies have as their leading character a writer (in “Ghost Writer,” Ewan McGregor) who is in way over his head against forces that he can’t even begin to understand. Both films portray a political system governed by shady, behind the scenes characters and shady, charismatic in-front-of-the-cameras characters whose motivation is never quite clear.

Ewan McGregor is quite good as the writer who seems slightly befuddled and/or one step behind for the entire movie. Pierce Brosnan, an actor who I’m not sure has gotten the respect he deserves over the course of his career, is even better as the former Prime Minister who is the subject of his book. Olivia Williams also turns in a strong performance as a political wife who is anything but meek and accepting. As important as the cast are the settings – Brosnan lives in a bleak, desolate home that is hard on the beach, where it is always stormy. In nicer weather, one might be tempted to call it a castle. In this movie, it feels more like a haunted house.

This is not a masterpiece along the lines of “Chinatown,” but it is an expertly-made film that never fails to engage the senses and the intellect.

Friday, June 17, 2011

American Top 40 Flashback - Fleetwood Mac

Most of what you read about this song these days is along the lines of "Dreams" hit #1, but "Go Your Own Way" was the truly great song." And I agree with that. In fact, I think I may have written that myself at one point or another.

Having said that, when it comes to hit singles, you could do a lot worse than "Dreams." Neither Stevie Nicks nor the band should be embarrassed that this was the biggest hit off of one of the greatest albums of its era.

And in the obscure trivia that no one cares about department, this song was also #1 during the week that my family took its semi-annual Disneyland vacation in 1977. For those keeping score, during that trip we also visited the Queen Mary and Universal Studios. I even got pulled on stage in the audience-participation section of their "Six Million Dollar Man" show.

"Dreams," Fleetwood Mac, the #1 song this week guessed it, 1977.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

DBT Unplugged

Drive-By Truckers perform Ray's Automatic Weapon on Sound Opinions from WBEZ on Vimeo.

As I said to a couple of friends today, you really can't get too much of the Drive-By Truckers.

This song is really Patterson Hood at his best. It's a short story as much as it is a song.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Seven Song Perfect Playlist #5

Haven't done one of these for a while...but it's finally getting hot outside, so it seems that the time is right!

"Work To Do," Average White Band

"Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

"Don't Do It," The Band

"Shining Star," Earth, Wind and Fire

"Fire," The Ohio Players

"Back Stabbers," The O'Jays

"I Wish," Stevie Wonder

Monday, June 13, 2011

Turning Down the Heat

There's all sorts of great stuff over at today about the failures of LeBron and the Heat, but not surprisingly, Joe Posnanski gets the nod for best piece.

The best single point, however, should probably go to Michael Rosenberg, who wrote the following:

James said after this Finals loss that "I pretty much don't listen to what everybody has to say about me or my game or what I've done with my career," but this is the same guy who tweeted last year, "Don't think for one [minute] that I haven't been taking mental notes of everyone taking shots at me this summer. And I mean everyone!" So it's a bit late for him to say he doesn't care.

Hate in sports never lasts forever. At the tail end of his career, I found myself rooting for John Elway in the Super Bowl, even though I had pretty much made fun of him for close to 17 years. So there will probably come a day when I will be able to root for LeBron, and perhaps even be happy that he wins a championship. None of that changes how I feel right now, which is somewhere between "ecstatic" and "joyous" that the Heat got their arses handed to them by a team that indeed did look like they wanted it more.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Big Man II

Big Man I

Our Long National Nightmare Is Over

...for another year, at least. The Miami Heat have failed to win a championship.

I'm sure it's not healthy - or even sane, for that matter - to dislike a team as much as I disliked this year's version of the Miami Heat. I mean, come on - this team even made me root for the Los Angeles Lakers, and that is saying something.

But from beginning to end, this was a team that was built to be hated. And so it's especially satisfying that, unlike New York Yankees teams similarly built in the past, this particular team could not overcome the pressure of expectations to win the championship that they all so desperately desired.

But you have to give credit to the Dallas Mavericks. They won this championship. While nearly every game went down to the last minute, the Mavericks consistently beat the Heat when it mattered most. They may not have had the superstardom of their rivals, but they now have the trophy, while LeBron and Dwayne and Chris and the rest of them are like the rest of the league, waiting until next year for another shot at it.

And next year, the expectations will be even higher.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Top Box Sets/Compilations: Stevie Wonder

As I work my way through the Top 50 list, I'll also be adding short pieces about some of my favorite compilations and box sets - representing artists that I think are best represented by such a release, rather than any individual album.

Stevie Wonder's "At the Close of a Century" is a remarkable testament to a remarkable artist. Its four discs cover every aspect of Wonder's career (through 1999), and together they demonstrate that, while Wonder came out of the gate with blazing speed, over the years he added a depth and a passion that has been matched by few.

Wonder's early Motown hits crackle with vitality and innocence, but even early on you can see an artistic restlessness; a desire to do more with his gifts - best demonstrated by his covers of Bob Dylan and the Beatles.

By the 1970s, Wonder had become an artist who was clearly hitting on all cylinders. In that decade, he produced a body of work that can be matched with the best ten years of any artist who has ever entered a recording studio. It's no wonder that he has never matched that period of sustained greatness; no one could. But even through the 80s and 90s, Wonder proved that he was an artist of substance, an artist who could be counted on to always produce work worthy of our attention and enjoyment.

"At the Close of A Century" - The best of Stevie Wonder.

Friday, June 10, 2011

American Top 40 Flashback - Tears for Fears

Make no bones about it - I think this is one of the greatest singles of my lifetime. For me, this is one of those rare songs that thrills and excites with each listen. I've probably heard it thousands of times in the 26 years since it was released, and I've never gotten tired of it. And I probably never will.

"Everybody Rules the World," Tears for Fears. The #1 song this week, in 1985.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Top 50 Albums, #50 - "Some Girls," The Rolling Stones

For a band that was on a roll the way the Rolling Stones were on a roll in 1972, the years that followed seemed haphazard by comparison. It wasn’t as if “Goats Head Soup,” “It’s Only Rock ‘n Roll,” and “Black and Blue” were bad albums – they weren’t, and each of them had their moments of greatness. But for fans who were accustomed to sustained greatness, those records were a little disappointing.

With the advent of punk and new wave in 1976 and 1977, the Stones even seemed a little passé. New bands like the Sex Pistols, The Clash, and the Ramones sounded tougher and brasher – in fact, a little bit like the Stones themselves sounded in the early 1960s. Add to that the fact that Keith Richards seemed determined in the mid-seventies to drug himself into an early grave, and that the most entertaining stories about the Stones during that era were the ones that had them evading and avoiding arrests and making high-profile courtroom appearances. No doubt about it, the Stones were in decline.

And no doubt they would deny it today, but you have to believe that the Stones were a little pissed when they entered the studio in late 1977 to cut a new album. For the first time in a long while, they had something to prove, and what they had to prove was that they still mattered.

The first song on the album, “Miss You,” proved that the Stones weren’t just listening to punk – they were also listening to disco, the other major trend of the time. But “Miss You” is not a disco song – it is a disco-influenced song, and there’s a major difference. The first thing that jumps out when you listen to the song is how huge the sound is – the drums are huge, the bass is huge, and Mick’s voice is huge. Out of nowhere, he is suddenly singing with a confidence and a swagger that hasn’t been heard in years. And the guitars, as they are throughout the album, are downright nasty – after 3 years together, Keith and Ron have finally figured out how to make the Stones sound like a guitar band again.

“When the Whip Comes Down” is next, and the best way to describe it is just to say that it is a classic, hard-edged, fast, guitar-based Stones song. In a similar vein are “Lies,” which closed the first side, and “Respectable,” with the memorable line “you’re the easiest lay on the White House lawn.” But as good as those songs sound, they aren’t even the best ones on the album.

On that score, it’s hard to pick a winner – “Just My Imagination” is a wonderful cover of the old Temptations song, “Some Girls” proves that even in their old age, the Stones don’t mind being offensive and politically incorrect (not to mention the fact that the song spawned the all-time greatest Mick Jagger quote: “F*ck ‘em if they can’t take a joke”), “Before They Make Me Run” is nothing less than Keith risen from the grave, and “Beast of Burden” proves that Mick and Keith learned a thing or two when they were listening to all those old Otis Redding records. Heck, even “Far Away Eyes,” the country song, is not a complete joke – it’s silly, but you still find yourself singing along.

I guess if I had to pick a favorite it would be “Shattered,” the album closer, which was the band’s “New York song.” To quote Wikipedia:

“The song is seen as a reflection of American lifestyles and life in 1970s-era New York City, but also influences from the English punk rock movement can be heard. It also foreshadowed the upcoming rap movement as Mick Jagger's performance is as much narrative as it is melodic. Some consider the song to be the group's "art music" masterpiece, stylistically consistent with the early punk music scene but without being excessively vulgar or negative.”

Which I suppose is another way of saying “it’s got a good beat, and you can dance to it.”

It may have been the last truly great album they recorded, but “Some Girls” proved that the old boys still had a little gas left in the tank.

Some Girls, The Rolling Stones (1978)
Produced by The Glimmer Twins
Track Listing: Miss You/When the Whip Comes Down/Just My Imagination/Some Girls/Lies/Far Away Eyes/Respectable/Before They Make Me Run/Beast of Burden/Shattered

Game 5 Preview

Here I'm turning the commentary over to my Dallas correspondent Craig, longtime friend and basketball aficionado (and big fan of the Mavericks, of course). It doesn't bruise my ego at all to say that his understanding of the game is unquestionably deeper than mine. He makes some good points here...I guess we'll see just how good in a few hours!

The core challenge of the series from a Mavs perspective is related to the simple fact that the Mavs have great offensive players and great defensive players, but not one Mav is great at both. Whereas the Heat’s best offensive players are also their two best defenders. This reality forces the Mavs to have to make difficult decisions about personnel at all times. It is always a compromise of one or the other. I think Carlisle has been masterful at this.

My favorite example, which has been completely misinterpreted by the vast majority of “experts”, is the insertion of Barea into the starting line-up for game 4 (and I presume the rest of the series). This decision had nothing to do with trying to get Barea in earlier and everything to do with managing the minutes of Marion. Carlisle has drawn the logical conclusion that he needs to have one of Stevenson or Marion on the floor at all times and Marion can’t play over 40 minutes consistently (as he had done in Game 3). That simple problem requires that he play the two guys together less minutes. So, if you take Stevenson out of the starting line-up, who do you put in? Only two choices there, Barea or Terry (who also can’t really be on the court at the same time for very long). Terry is clearly better coming off the bench (and you definitely want him in when Dirk is out), so, tada, Barea becomes a starter. Brilliant.

Another funny strategy debate I am hearing from the “experts” is Miami’s lack of use of its “small” line-up. This one cracks me up. In previous series’ Miami has had success with Bosh, Lebron, Miller, Wade, Chalmers/Bibby. So, naturally, folks are suggesting that Spoelstra is being outcoached by Carlisle because he is missing this obvious opportunity. I think Spoelstra is wise not to make this move and here is why: Dallas only has one center with the quickness necessary to contend with Miami, Tyson Chandler and he is playing fantastic, but needs more rest than he has gotten the last two games. Carlisle would absolutely love Miami to go small. I bet Chandler would be off the floor so fast, your head would spin. It is just the move he needs to get him rest. Suddenly, Cardinal could be a viable player for more than a couple of minutes.

The best thing that happens during the third quarter for the Mavs is for the Heat to make a few bail out, late in the shot clock, long baskets out of an isolation play. In all of the last three games, the Heat have gotten away with some poor possessions in the third quarter when either Wade or Lebron have made tough shots after dribbling for several seconds. The result can be very disheartening when the shot goes in after a great defensive possession, but it doesn’t seem to get the Mavs down. More importantly, it encourages Miami to play that way later on, which they seem prone to do anyway.

I didn’t really think Lebron was disengaged down the stretch, but I would have described him as passive. Everyone seems to focus on what he didn’t do on the offensive end, but I thought his bigger drop off was on D. Suddenly Terry looked quick enough and he got by Lebron 3 or 4 times down the stretch. That seems more like tired than disengaged to me.

I think the Mavs found something in the 4th quarter of Game 4, and I believe it may carry them forward successfully. A few more pump fakes as the Miami defenders close out, and guess what, you can go by them and open up their defense. Once you get them having to make quick decisions on the move, some holes show up. Cardinal did that perfectly on one play. All we need is for JKidd to occasionally finish a play and it can all come together.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The Finals

After four games, I’d say that this series has a chance to go down as one of the greatest in NBA Finals history. What happens in the last next 2-3 games will go a long way towards determining that, but right now I can’t remember a series since the 2002 Western Conference Finals where every game has been so nerve-wracking. Last night’s game was a perfect example – it was a classic game of runs, with both teams struggling to impose their will on the other – and, for the most part, failing to do so. The ultimate story of Game 4 was Lebron’s disappearance from the ranks of the scoring, and now there is a pressure on his shoulders that few athletes in the history of the sport have felt.

Objectively, there seems little doubt that Miami is the stronger team. If their superstar triumvirate is hitting on all cylinders, it is really hard to beat them. So far, Dallas has done a great job of neutralizing Lebron, and if they continue to play defense like that, they have a shot. Both teams will be playing Game 5 as if it were for all the marbles, because in a sense it is. From this point on (and even before last night’s game, for that matter) it’s “must-game city” for the Mavericks, because I can’t imagine them being able to win 2 in Miami.

I still think Dallas can win this thing. We’ll know for certain after tomorrow night.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011


Today my heart is big and sore
It's tryin' to push right through my skin

Monday, June 06, 2011


Son #2 has noted my backlog of unwritten Netflix movie reviews, and indicated that a deadline is forthcoming. I’m not sure what penalties might be in store should I miss said deadline, but why take the chance?

I’ll start with “Serpico,” starring Al Pacino and directed by the great Sidney Lumet, who died just a few weeks ago. The first time I saw this movie was shortly after it was released. I was 13 years old, and somehow my friend Ron (who lived next door and was a couple of years older) and I talked my mom into taking us to see it. I suspect it may have been the first “R” rated movie that I saw, though I can’t say that with total certainty. The only things I really remembered about the movie were a) it was really cool, and b) the scene where Serpico gets shot through the door.

What I had forgotten, and what I probably could not have fully appreciated at the time, is what a terrific movie “Serpico” is. It tells the true story of Frank Serpico, an honest cop in New York City at a time when honest cops seemed to be few and far between. From his first day on the force, Serpico’s colleagues try to get him to take money, because that’s the way the game is played. He won’t do it, which allows him to maintain his integrity but almost ensures that his days on the force are going to end badly. He bounces from precinct to precinct, always searching for the superior who will help him expose what's happening. For the most part, it's a futile, frustrating exercise.

What I found particularly striking about the movie was the way that Lumet filmed New York City. There is not an ounce of glamour in the New York that shows up on the screen in “Serpico.” This New York City feels oppressive and almost scary, which seems appropriate for a movie that tells a story of moral decay and corruption.

“The French Connection,” another gritty police drama filmed in New York City, won the Academy Award for Best Picture just two years before the release of “Serpico.” But for my money, Lumet’s is the better film. It may not quite reach the level of his masterpiece, “Prince of the City,” (which mines similar territory), but it’s certainly within shouting distance.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Lyrics for a Rainy Day in June

Now can you see those dark clouds gathering up ahead?
They're going to wash this planet clean like the Bible said
Now you can hold on steady and try to be ready
But everybody's gonna get wet
Don't think it won't happen just because it hasn't happened yet

- "The Road and the Sky," Jackson Browne

There's a dark cloud rising from the desert floor
I packed my bags and I'm heading straight into the storm
Gonna be a twister to blow everything down
That ain't got the faith to stand its ground
Blow away the dreams that tear you apart
Blow away the dreams that break your heart
Blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted

- "The Promised Land," Bruce Springsteen

And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son?
And what did you hear, my darling young one?
I heard the sound of a thunder, it roared out a warnin’
Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
Heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin’
Heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’
Heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin’
Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter
Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
And it’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

- "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," Bob Dylan

Friday, June 03, 2011

American Top 40 Flashback - The Staple Singers

One of the best purchases I've ever made was a 7-CD set from Rhino Records covering the history of 1970s soul. It is one of my favorite genres of music, and in many cases has gotten lost in the maelstrom of history. The stars of that era may not have been the giants who roamed the Earth in the 1960s (people like Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, James Brown, the Motown crew, and others), but there was still a lot of remarkable talent producing a lot of remarkable work - The Spinners, The Stylistics, The O'Jays, LaBelle, and many, many others. Plus, there were plenty of glorious one-shots, like New York City's "I'm Doin' Fine Now."

And of course, The Staple Singers. They've been around forever, producing great work in so many decades that I've lost count. And here they are with one of their best, "I'll Take You There," the #1 song this week in 1972.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Finals


And that is why you never turn off a sporting event before it’s over. Because no matter how dire the situation may seem, there is always a chance.

99 times out of 100, the Miami Heat win that game. Tonight, they didn’t. You can call it what you want – great defense by the Mavericks, poor shooting by the Heat, whatever. Because I’m highly biased and find myself rooting hard for a Dallas team for the first time in about 40 years (believe it or not, there was a time when I rooted for the Cowboys), I prefer to think of it as a rare combination of arrogance and hubris that doomed the Heat. The game was over, so they stopped playing their game.

There’s an old saying that a 7-game series doesn’t really begin until the home team loses a game. Well, we now have a series. And now, even though the series is tied and there is a ton of basketball yet to play, the Miami Heat find themselves with their backs against the wall. In the span of seven minutes, the story of this series changed from “Lebron’s Redemption” to “Miami can’t close the big games.” So now it becomes just that more difficult for the Heat to pull it off.

We’ll see. Right now, this series reminds me a lot of the 1984 series between the Celtics and the Lakers. To this day, I think the Lakers were the better team. They came this close (hold up thumb next to forefinger) to sweeping the series. And yet, they lost in 7, because the Celtics took advantage of every little mistake the Lakers made, and turned those mistakes into victories. The Mavericks strike me as a team like that. And that’s why I think they will win, even though they may not be the “best” team.

What a Maroon!

Thanks to my handy-dandy Sports Illustrated desk calendar, today I learned that the Montreal Canadiens Hockey team used to be called the Maroons.

Maroons > Canadiens. Yeah, I'd put that in the category of good name changes.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Top 50 Update

I'm actually on schedule to begin on July 1, as previously planned and announced. I've narrowed the list down to 50, and I've even ranked them in order. Believe me, that was a lot harder than it sounds.

Truth be told, the only pick that I was absolutely certain about was #1. Take it from #2 to about #20, and you probably could convince me - after a few drinks, perhaps - to put them in any damn order. And that's probably OK - because after narrowing it down to that point, I realized that every single one of those albums was pretty damn special. Many of them are considered all-time classics, and several of them clocked in at #1 on the Village Voice Pazz & Jop poll - still, even post-Christgau, the best barometer of what the critical establishment is saying about the world of music at any given moment.

So now the task is to write something cogent (and hopefully entertaining) about every one of the Top 50. We'll see how that goes - but that's exactly why I've given myself a month's head start to get rolling. If things go well, I might even begin before the 1st.

We shall see.