Monday, January 30, 2012


I'm about to leave one job and begin another, so my mind has been a bit preoccupied lately - but rest assured that new posts are on the way soon.

And since I don't have much to add in the way of expert analysis, I'm picking the New York Giants in the Super Bowl, by a score of 23-20.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Netflix Catchup - Holiday Potpourri

And so begins the first Netflix catchup of the year, albeit with films all watched in 2011.

A Christmas Carol (Zemeckis). Every December, I read “A Christmas Carol,” so I’m pretty familiar with the story and the dialogue. When this came out I had absolutely no desire to see it, because the trailers emphasized what appeared to be “spectacular special effects.” And of course, everyone knows that the reason to watch “Christmas Carol” is for the Star Wars-like effects. But it was a few nights before Christmas, and we found ourselves in the holiday spirit, so we gave it a shot. And, it was a lot better than I expected. For the most part, it was a faithful retelling of the classic (and great, I might add) story, and the effects only rarely got in the way of the story. But on the other hand, why sacrifice any of Dickens’ great writing for some special effects that a) didn’t add anything of value for the adults in the audience, and b) probably scared the wits out of any kids in the theater?

Winter’s Bone. An outstanding film perched on the precipice of greatness. Jennifer Lawrence is spectacular as 17-year old Ree Dolly, who in the absence of her father and mother (the mother is there, but spends her days staring into space, unable to communicate or contribute) is forced to fend for herself, her 12-year old brother and 6-year old sister in the deepest backwoods of rural Missouri. The sheriff comes knocking at the door one morning, to let the family know that the father has skipped out on his bail, and unless he turns up soon, the house that was put up for collateral is going to be taken away from the family. And thus begins Ree’s quest to find her father, a cooker of meth who could very well be dead. And if he is dead, then Ree must provide some proof of that.

The movie (directed by Debra Granik) does an outstanding job of depicting the desolate life led by Ree and her family. It is the very definition of a hard life, and hard territory. There are no innocents; even the sheriff (the always dependable Garrett Dillahunt) strikes the viewer as sinister. And Lawrence’s performance is not the only great one in the movie; John Hawkes is just as good as her uncle, Teardrop – a man who radiates danger from every pore of his body.

“Winter’s Bone” is less about good and evil than it is about degrees of evil – and what it takes to survive in country that one might call evil.

Morning Glory. You could say that “Morning Glory” is the polar opposite of “Winter’s Bone.” Big stars (Harrison Ford, Diane Keaton), cute, young up-and-coming stars (Rachel McAdams, Patrick Wilson), a somewhat unbelievable “down on her luck girl makes good” story (in this case, as the producer of a morning television news magazine show), and…well, the theory is that hilarity, of course, will ensue.

Truth be told, the movie had its moments, mostly featuring Ford and Keaton. And Rachel McAdams is cute. Overall, serviceable entertainment but I can’t imagine forking over money to have seen it in a theater. But that’s what Netflix is for, right?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Holiday Flicks

Tomorrow it will have been a month since Christmas, so what better time to write a little bit about the holiday flicks we saw last/this year? There were only three, so this won’t take long.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. I’ve seen both of the Downey/Law Sherlock Holmes movies now, and I still can’t say that I completely buy the concept of Sherlock Holmes as action figure. I prefer the modern day version starring Benedict Cumberbatch (who will become a lot more famous when he plays the villain in the next “Star Trek” movie) and Martin Freeman (who could become a household word by this time next year, after playing Bilbo Baggins in “The Hobbit”) – even though it stretches the concept by setting the action in the here and now, it is truer to the spirit and the tradition of the classic Conan Doyle stories.

Having said that, the movies are enjoyable, and a decent way to spend two hours. The action scenes are well done, and there is solid chemistry between Downey Jr. and Jude Law. The second outing is probably a bit better, mostly because the villain this time around is Moriarty. Jared Harris does a good job playing the man who is Holmes’ peer when it comes to mind-play, and in the case of these movies, a good fist fight. Noomi Rapace is OK as the female lead, although it seems as if anyone could have played the role.

This isn’t the kind of movie that wins (or gets nominated for) a bunch of awards. What it does is make money, and given that I suppose we should just be thankful that it provides solid entertainment.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. When I first heard that this was being made, my reaction was “why?” I’d seen the Swedish version, and found it to be a solid adaptation. But David Fincher’s version is definitely stronger, and even though it’s been snubbed by the Oscars, will always be remembered for providing Rooney Mara with one of the best star-making turns in recent memory. She is nothing short of spectacular, and is the perfect manifestation of Lisbeth Salander. In fairness, the movie as a whole is not as good as that performance; it’s definitely not in the realm of Fincher classics like “Se7en” and “The Social Network.” But it’s within shouting distance of greatness, and for that alone deserves to be billed as superior entertainment. Too dark for some, no doubt (except for the idiot who brought his 4-year old daughter to the showing that we attended) – but superior entertainment nonetheless.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. I was really excited to see this, for one reason only – the selection of Brad Bird as Director. Over the years, Bird has proven himself to be a brilliant animator, having directed “The Iron Giant,” “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille.” I couldn’t wait to see what he would do at the helm of a mindless action flick, because I thought it would be fascinating to see if he could do for actors what he has done for his animated characters.

And Bird doesn’t disappoint. There are two action sequences that are as good as anything you’ll ever see in a movie. One is shown in all the commercials, where Tom Cruise is running on the side of a skyscraper in Dubai. But the one I liked even better takes place at the end, when Cruise and the bad guy are battling inside one of those automated parking garage where giant robot arms move the cars around. The scene felt like something from a classic Warner Brothers cartoon; just substitute Bugs and Elmer for Cruise and the bad guy, and you get the idea.

I have to admit that there were times when I had absolutely no idea what was going on, and I’m still trying to figure out exactly why Jeremy Renner was in this movie, but hey, if you like action and you can stand the sight of Tom Cruise, it’s hard to imagine that you won’t like this one.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Top 50 Albums, #36 - "Peter Gabriel" (1980)

People who became Peter Gabriel fans with the release of “So” in 1986 (and I’m quite certain there were a lot of them) were probably shocked the first time they first heard his 1980 release, the third of four albums that were titled, simply, “Peter Gabriel.” Number 3 is the one with the melted face on the cover, and that photo (a manipulated photo from a Polaroid SX-70; anyone remember those?) is the perfect representation of the slice of vinyl within.

The tone of the album is set from the moment the first song begins. Thunderous drums (courtesy of Phil Collins, Gabriel’s old mate from Genesis) in a martial beat, followed by one of the most frightening vocals you’re likely to hear anytime, anywhere. The song is called “Intruder,” and it’s about as far away from “In Your Eyes” as one can possibly imagine. It begins like this:

I know something about opening windows and doors
I know how to move quietly to creep across creaky wooden floors
I know where to find precious things in all your cupboards and drawers

Slipping the clippers
Slipping the clippers through the telephone wires
The sense of isolation inspires
Inspires me

To appreciate the full impact of the song, you have to listen to the way that Gabriel sings the words “telephone wires.” It’s the musical equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard, almost as if Gabriel was hiding behind a corner and decided to jump out and scream, “boo!” And that’s just the beginning – nearly every song on the album brings with it a feeling of being oppressed, of being dominated by someone from the outside who is pulling strings that the protagonist doesn’t even realize are there. To quote Dave Marsh, “when the music thunders with power chords, there’s no hint of resolution or redemption: just the sound of the weak being trampled by the strong.”

There are a lot of standouts on the album, but the ones that resonate most deeply are (in addition to the aforementioned track) “No Self Control,” “I Can’t Remember,” “And Through the Wire,” “Games Without Frontiers” (“If looks could kill…they probably will, in games without frontiers, war without tears…”) and “Not One of Us.”

And then there is the album’s closer, “Biko.” Gabriel’s tribute to Stephen Biko is one of his first forays into African rhythms, and one of the greatest songs in his catalogue. It moves slowly enough that you can hear every word, feel every beat, inexorably moving through the awful details of the story, but finally leading to these great lines:

You can blow out a candle
But you can’t blow out a fire
Once the flames begin to catch
The wind will blow it higher

And then finally, to the lines to which the entire album has been leading:

And the eyes of the world are watching now

And with that, the album is over. Sometimes, the best one can hope for in a world of oppression and being oppressed is to reach a point where hope is not entirely out of the question.

Peter Gabriel (1980) • Produced by Steve Lillywhite and Peter Gabriel

Intruder/No Self Control/Start/I Don’t Remember/Family Snapshot/And Through the Wire/Games Without Frontiers/Not One of Us/Lead a Normal Life/Biko

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Closing in on three minutes left in the half, I find myself strangely calm. The game has gone exactly according to script so far, but I'd feel a lot better about things if the defense could put a little more pressure on Manning, at least more consistently. Aside from the long pass to Vernon Davis, the offense hasn't done much, but they've had a few plays that showed potential - "just missed" sort of plays.

Gonna be a tense second half, that's for sure.

UPDATE - Let me amend that previous statement by saying that unless the 49ers can figure out a way to put some pressure on Eli Manning, they're not going to win this game.

UPDATE II - Well, they figured out a way to put pressure on Eli Manning. They didn't figure out a way to replace Ted Ginn Jr. What a way to lose.

Friday, January 20, 2012

American Top 40 Flashback - "I Wish"

It may seem crazy to say something like this, but there are times when I wonder if Stevie Wonder (no pun intended) is underrated. The sheer depth and breadth of his musical journey is astonishing, beginning with his incarnation as "Little Stevie Wonder" through the elder statesman who can still kill it, even today.

Even if you only considered Wonder's output in the 1970s, he is the very definition of a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He's almost like the Willie Mays of rock music. Can hit, hit with power, field, and do it all with undeniable charisma.

He may have hit a creative high peak with "Songs in the Key of Life," released late in 1976. This was the first single from the album, and it rocketed straight to #1, as it deserved to.

The great Stevie Wonder, with "I Wish" - the number #1 song this week in 1977.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Top 50 Albums, #37 - "August and Everything After"

I was a little late to the party with “August and Everything After,” but once I got there, I made the best of it. The album was released in September 1993, and almost immediately some of its best known songs began to hit the radio. I liked what I heard – from first listen, it was evident that “Mr. Jones” was one of those classic singles that stays with you for a generation. “Omaha” was also a strong song. So why didn’t I buy the album? At this point, who knows? I probably bought fewer albums in the early 1990s than at any other time in my life, mostly because we’d just had our first child, we’d bought a house, and we didn’t have a lot in the way of discretionary funds. That’s as good an excuse as any, I suppose.

But I remember, almost to the day, the moment when I realized that I had to have the album – it was a Saturday on the first weekend August 1994. We were at the home of a friend of my brother’s for a wedding shower; he was getting married later that month. At the time my wife was pregnant with our second child, and at that point the odds were no better than even that we’d be able to make the (out of town) wedding, depending on…you know, the baby thing. The album was playing on the stereo, and I quickly realized that there was much, much more to the record than just “Mr. Jones” and “Omaha.” By the time of the big day (the wedding and the birth, both of which occurred on the same day, and yes we made it to the wedding, but that is a story for another day), I was completely hooked.

“August and Everything After” is an album that rewards repeated listening. Like an onion, you peel the layers away in order to get to the real depth of the matter. The aforementioned songs are probably the most immediately accessible, along with “Rain King” and “A Murder of One.” Peel those layers away, and you find songs like “Perfect Blue Buildings,” “Ghost Train,” and “Sullivan Street.” Beneath that level lies the true heart of the album, a trio of songs that perhaps are not immediately accessible, but well worth the effort to know better: “Round Here,” “Anna Begins,” and “Raining in Baltimore.” On the first go around, each of those songs may strike the listener as a bit inscrutable. But like few others, they are proof that sometimes, you have to work your way inside of song to truly appreciate it.

There are some who dislike the vocal style of Adam Duritz, and there have been songs on subsequent albums where he over-emotes to the point of being almost annoying. But the approach works perfectly on the debut record, creating a nice dichotomy with the straightforward instrumental backing. And like him or not, he is the face of the band, I would challenge most fans to name even a second member of the group. And besides, Duritz is a Cal Bear, and a loyal fan – even playing the role of sideline reporter on a couple of occasions during Cal football games. The production is also solid, a no-frills effort turned in by T-Bone Burnett – crisp, clear and sounding much different from some of T-Bone’s more recent productions, which have tended at times to throw in everything but the kitchen sink.

Overall, Counting Crows has had a very solid career, and with their debut album they went way beyond that – it was then, and remains now, a great album.

August and Everything After (1993) • Produced by T-Bone Burnett

Round Here/Omaha/Mr. Jones/Perfect Blue Buildings/Anna Begins/Time and Time Again/Rain King/Sullivan Street/Ghost Train/Raining in Baltimore/A Murder of One

Sunday, January 15, 2012



49ers fans were spoiled for a long time - from 1981 until 2002, there were very few times when the team was not in contention. But the last decade brought us back to Earth; not only was the team not in contention for a title, they were rarely in contention for anything. Sometimes they would seem to be making progress, and then before you knew it you were saying things like "one step forward, two steps back." Players like Frank Gore, Vernon Davis and Patrick Willis formed the nucleus of what one would think was a playoff team, but they never quite seemed to make it to that next level. Many times, they fell far short of that.

And then came 2011. In retrospect, we shouldn't have doubted Jim Harbaugh, not after what he was able to pull off with the Stanford Cardinal. But 13-3? That was the same record as the legendary 1981 49ers, the team that kick-started a dynasty. But this team surely was not in that league, right? Well, now I'm not so sure.

Right now, all I know is that today's game against the Saints was one of the greatest football games I've ever seen. And that fourth quarter? That may have been the most dramatic quarter of football I've ever seen, at any level. Someone - I think it may have been Don Banks at SI - commented that it was like a great championship fight, where two exhausted warriors traded painful blows in the final rounds. And for a moment, it appeared that the amazing Drew Brees would walk out of the ring with the belt around his waist. But wait, no - in the end, it was the much maligned Alex Smith, the man that 49ers fans have kicked around for so long, who landed the last blow.

It was exhausting. It was frustrating. It was even aggravating. But in the end, it was glorious. And now, you have to wonder whether anything will stop this team. Frozen tundra? Bring it on, baby.

Friday, January 13, 2012

American Top 40 Flashback - Gregory Abbott

Last week, I started a "25th Wedding Anniversary Theme" by featuring the song that was the first fast dance song at our wedding reception. This week, we'll counter with what was the first song played during mealtime at the reception.

Those who know me will not be surprised to learn that I programmed all of the music for our reception. Having been to way too many weddings where I was frustrated and/or disgusted with the music choices, I wasn't going to take any chances for our own wedding. I still have all the tapes, and we still play them around the time of our anniversary.

"Shake You Down," Gregory Abbott - the #1 song on this date in 1987. A piece of classic, smooth soul - the kind you don't often hear these days. Also worth noting is that Mr. Abbott is an alumnus of both Cal and Stanford, which means that he must hate himself on Big Game week.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Jump Starting the Top 50

Well, this has gone a little more slowly than I originally anticipated. It’s been more than two months since the last post in this series, but fear not – the Top 50 Albums of All Time list is about to return. And just to whet your appetite, here is an overview of the albums we’ve covered so far:

50. Some Girls, Rolling Stones
49. Madonna
48. Los Angeles, X
47. Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, Elton John
46. Actually, Pet Shop Boys
45. Decoration Day, Drive-By Truckers
44. Life’ll Kill Ya, Warren Zevon
43. Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, Lucinda Williams
42. Graceland, Paul Simon
41. Black Cadillac, Rosanne Cash
40. Making Movies, Dire Straits
39. Rocket To Russia, The Ramones
38. (tie) Siren and Avalon, Roxy Music

You can find each review (plus some bonus extras) here.

That’s not much ground covered in a span of 7-8 months, but at this stage of my blogging life, I know better than to make promises about picking up the pace. The one promise I will make is that this project will be finished before the world comes to an end on December 12.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Wrapping Up the BCS

As long as we’re on the subject of football, I might as well share some thoughts on Monday night’s less than stellar BCS Championship Game.

And by “less than stellar,” what I’m really saying is “boy, that game really sucked.” If you ever needed proof positive that two great football teams don’t always make for a great football game, then I would present this game as Exhibit A (I suppose that Exhibit B would be about 2/3 of the Super Bowl games). This was the kind of game that makes me angry; I didn’t enjoy it at all.

When Alabama played LSU in November, I was rooting for Alabama. And that, even though it was a low-scoring game decided by field goal kicking, was a great game – tense, hard-hitting, extremely well-played on defense. But this time around I was rooting for LSU, mostly because I wasn’t looking forward to the controversy that would arise over how bad the BCS sucks if ‘Bama won. Besides, I do think that LSU was a truly great team. It’s not every team that blows out 3 BCS bowl champions over the course of a season, as well as some other outstanding (or at least bowl-bound) teams.

But man, did they stink up the joint on Monday night. For most of the game they looked truly awful on the offensive side of the ball, and while Alabama had a lot to do with that, they didn’t have everything to do with that. Stating the obvious, the quarterback play in particular was…shall we say…sub-par, as was the offense’s ability to make any adjustments that allowed the team to successfully do what great football teams do as a matter of course – move the ball, make first downs, and score touchdowns. A lot of that has to be laid on the coaching staff, particularly the decision (or non-decision, if you prefer) to leave Jordan Jefferson in at quarterback. Mind you, I’m not saying that Les Miles is a bad coach. You can’t do what he’s done at LSU if you’re a bad coach. But I will say without hesitation that Les Miles is not the coach that Nick Saban is. Not an insult; just one of those “it is what it is” things.

As for the BCS…dear God, please make it go away. Please, please please…let’s move to a “plus-one” format. And while we’re at it, let’s figure out some way to make the BCS games more interesting as a whole. Don’t get me wrong – you put a major bowl game on TV on a weeknight, and I’m going to watch it. But can we please do something to ensure that the best teams are in those games?

As for the coverage of the game, I found Brent Musberger highly annoying – and I had really grown to like him on the Saturday night games. He’s no Keith Jackson, but I thought he did a great job this season, and that he and Kirk Herbstreit made a great team. But on Monday night, it was as if he suddenly morphed into Dick Vitale. That works for Dick Vitale (well, sometimes), but it was just embarrassing to hear it coming from Musberger. Tone it down, dude!

Let’s see, do I have anything else to complain about? Oh yeah, the fact that USC’s return to postseason prominence (which I do expect will occur next year) may leave me in a position of having to root for them in next year’s BCS Championship Game. Because if it does come down to USC and a team from the SEC, which I think is a distinct (or at least realistic) possibility, you’d better believe that I’ll be rooting for USC.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

30 Years Ago Today

The single greatest moment in the history of the San Francisco 49ers, and my all-time favorite moment in sports. And if you know me, you know that is saying something.

I remember the day very well. I was a senior at Cal, and was back at school to begin the Winter Quarter, which would begin the following day. The night before, our dorm had a huge party, and let's just say that I got a little carried away with the alcohol. Back in those days, alcohol was all over the dorms, even though few of us living in them were over 21. Officially sanctioned parties included alcohol on a regular basis, and each floor also received an allowance each quarter to use as they saw fit. By now, you can probably guess what my floor used its allowance for.

In any event, the main drink that night was Cold Duck. I kid you not. And for the sin of drinking Cold Duck and thinking it was cool, I was rewarded with what was almost certainly the most blinding hangover I've had in my life.

And yet, I was up in the TV room on the 7th floor by 10 the next morning, in time to watch San Diego play Cincinnati in the AFC Championship - a game that is pretty famous on its own, since it was played in sub-arctic temperatures. I knew I must have gotten a little out of hand the night before, when a guy that I didn't even know that well said to me, "wow, I didn't expect to see you in here this early."

But there I was, and there I would stay for the entire day - watching one of the most famous games in modern NFL history. It was the game that jump-started a dynasty, and turned the 49ers from long-time also-rans into one of the great championship units in all of sports.

The entire drive is worth watching, if only to remind you a) what a key role Lenvil Elliot played in it; b) that the game was covered not by Summerall and Madden but by Vin Scully and Hank Stram (reportedly, Scully was so upset at not being named the lead announcer for the Super Bowl two weeks later that he immediately severed ties with CBS), and c) what ridiculous clothes people were wearing in 1982.

Enjoy. It never gets old.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Exploring A Cliche

"That's why they play the game."

Three years ago, I made the mistake of calling the Arizona Cardinals the worst team to make the playoffs in the history of the NFL. All they did after that was go on one of the best playoff runs in recent history, coming this close (hold up thumb and forefinger) to winning the Super Bowl.

And that's why I didn't say the same thing last week about the Denver Broncos, even though I was beginning to think the same thing about them. But the truth of the matter is, with the parity that we see in today's NFL, that there really isn't that huge a gap any more between 15-1 and 8-8. Sure, three of the Wild Card weekend games were close to being blowouts, but to my thinking the Pittsburgh-Denver game had the biggest potential to be a rout, and as we all now know, it didn't quite turn out that way.

You can watch a clip of the winning play here.

A couple of comments about the play. Number one, I missed it live. Since this sort of thing never happens, I figured it was safe to go outside and set up the barbecue for dinner. And my reward for that was walking back in and seeing the massive celebration out on the field. But, no matter. It was still very cool.

Number two, Tim Tebow on that play looked just like Steve Young throwing the slant route pass to Jerry Rice. Just sayin'.

Number three, major kudos to Phil Simms for his comment, while the ball is still in flight, "got 'em." Just matter of fact, but that is exactly why Simms is one of the best.

And lastly, just listen to the crowd noise - how it grows as Thomas gets closer to the end zone, but just explodes once he crosses the goal line.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, regardless of what you think of Tim Tebow, is exactly why we watch pro football. The Patriots better watch out - because a team like this one can be very dangerous.

Happy Birthday Elvis

Friday, January 06, 2012

American Top 40 Flashback - The Bangles

Back from the nearly dead, we bring you the weekly American Top 40 Flashback. I'm not sure how much longer it will be around, since I have a feeling that I'm repeating myself. But until I come up with something better and/or more interesting, we'll keep going with this.

I've found that this song, as popular as it was in the day, tends to be polarizing - people either love or hate it. There seems to be very little in-between.

I've always enjoyed it, and in fact, it was the first fast song we played at our wedding reception. And since our 25th anniversary is coming up next month, it seemed like a good idea to start off 2012 with this old chestnut. Plus, I once saw the band live, well before anyone knew who they were.

"Walk Like An Egyptian," The Bangles.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

What the...?

In their infinite wisdom, the scheduling Gods of the Pac-12 have scheduled the Big Game (that's Cal-Stanford for those of you unfamiliar with the moniker) for October 20 in 2012. Which means that the rivalry game for those two teams will be played in mid-season, rather than the traditional Saturday before Thanksgiving spot on the schedule.

This is a travesty...and having attended 13 Big Games in my lifetime, I can tell you that it just won't be the same. From what I've read, both schools have pledged to work with the Pac-12 to ensure that future Big Games are put back in their rightful spot on the schedule. One can only hope that they're successful.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Untied Airlines?

I've had my frustrations with United Airlines over the years. In fact, with one exception, all of my negative experiences on a plane have taken place on United. The other was on Southwest, but considering I've flown Southwest about 20 times more often in the past decade, I'm willing to give them a pass. Especially since they took immediate steps to remedy the situation.

But you have to give United credit for persistence. What you see here is each of the United MileagePlus Explorer Card solicitations I've received at work since September.

And no, I haven't opened a single one.

First Look: 11/22/63

One of my Christmas presents was the new Stephen King novel, "11/22/63." Based on the title alone, it doesn't take a genius to figure out what it is about. Man goes back in time, and tries to change history - in this case, stopping the Kennedy assassination. All well and good, even though given the history of the author and the subject matter we can probably guess that a happy ending is not in store.

The book is a behemoth - I mean, you could literally kill someone with this book; it's that big. As of last night I'm on Page 158, and I've barely made a dent - in total, it's 850 pages long. From a review that I read (which was a mistake, because it gave away a key plot detail), the book doesn't even begin to delve into the life of Lee Harvey Oswald for another 200 pages or so.

What you might not know - and I'm going to be careful not to give too much away here - is that the first section of the book takes place in Derry, Maine, the site of "It," which to this day is what I think is King's masterpiece. The point at which the protagonist arrives in Derry is shortly after the events of "It" (the 1958 section, that is), and before long the protagonist encounters some of the earlier book's key characters. If you haven't read "It," that will mean absolutely nothing to you. But if you have, then it should be tremendously meaningful. I know that it gave me a little chill up my spine, at the point I realized exactly what was happening.

As for "11/22/63" itself, all I can say right now is that it feels like one of King's good ones - maybe even a great one. But there's a long way to go. Stay tuned for further developments.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Wrapping Up Another Season

For the past several years I've been in two Fantasy Football leagues, but I've never had a night and day experience in them like I did this year.

In one league, I built my team around Aaron Rodgers.

In the other, I built my team around Michael Vick.

Guess which team finished dead last at 3-10, and which won the championship at 11-5.

But the championship didn't come easy - since that league utilizes all 17 weeks of the NFL season (something I will again lobby against next year), I was without the services of Mr. Rodgers, and did not have the foresight to acquire Matt Flynn for the week. I also made one huge roster blunder, sitting Marques Colston in favor of Willis McGahee (who, in fairness, had a good day). But I was saved by Victor Cruz, who brought me from way back to score a 106-101 victory that wasn't secure until the bitter end (my opponent had Jason Witten of the Cowboys). It's my first title in a while, and it felt pretty good.

As for the real NFL, I'm still trying to wrap my head around the number of teams who made the playoffs while playing horrible football in December. And although I'll be rooting for the 49ers, you've got to like the Packers to repeat. But...don't count out the Niners, or the Saints, or even the Ravens.

Wrapping Up The Season

I'll admit it - the holiday season is my favorite time of the year. Now, before you attack me for starting a "War on Christmas" by my use of "holiday" rather than "Christmas," please know that I consider Thanksgiving to be a key part of the season, one with a separate identity that's just as important as Christmas Day.

As my friends and colleagues know, my main Christmas obsession is with Christmas music. For the past five years, I've compiled a special Christmas CD, one that includes some well-known chestnuts but mostly focuses on obscure songs by sometimes obscure artists that most people (including me) have never heard in their lives. My general rule of thumb with Christmas music is that it goes away on the day after Christmas, but as the years have gone by, it's become a hard rule to keep. I spend a lot of time with these songs - for example, I've already compiled a working list of songs for next year's CD, and sometime around mid-October I'll begin the task of sequencing - which may not sound like a big deal, but you have to remember you're dealing with an obsessive here. It's a big deal.

So I'll miss the music, and have a hard time getting Christmas songs out of my head for the next few weeks. But most of all, I think I'll miss the lights. The picture above is of our family (TV) room, taken shortly after midnight a few days after Christmas. There's something very peaceful about sitting in a room, late at night, that is illuminated by nothing more than Christmas lights.

So, farewell season...and we'll see you again in about 11 months.


I'm updating my sidebars today, and just wanted to memorialize 2011. These are the albums I bought (or was given) in 2011:

Beyond the Sun - Chris Isaak
Metals - Feist
Tell My Sister - Kate & Anna McGarrigle
Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns - John Hiatt
Sky Full of Holes - Fountains of Wayne
Move Like This - The Cars
Destroyed - Moby
Ukelele Songs - Eddie Vedder
Bon Iver - Bon Iver
Helplessness Blues - Fleet Foxes
Tin Can Trust - Los Lobos
Paper Airplane - Alison Krauss and Union Station
So Beautiful Or So What - Paul Simon
Angles - The Strokes
Decoration Day - Drive-By Truckers
Collapse Into Now - R.E.M.
Volume 2: High and Inside - The Baseball Project
Smart Flesh - The Low Anthem
Let England Shake - PJ Harvey
Brothers - The Black Keys
This is Happening - LCD Soundsystem
The Guitar Song - Jamey Johnson
Go Go Boots - Drive-By Truckers
The Grand Theatre Vol. 1 - Old 97s
Olympia - Bryan Ferry
Low Country Blues - Gregg Allman
The King Is Dead - The Decemberists
Small Craft On A Milk Sea - Brian Eno
Sigh No More - Mumford and Sons
Halcyon Digest - Deerhunter
My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy - Kanye West

And these were the books I read in 2012. Way too few, I can tell you that much.

Composed, by Rosanne Cash
When Will There Be Good News?, by Kate Atkinson
Popular Crime, by Bill James
The Last Picture Show, by Larry McMurtry
Those Guys Have All The Fun: Inside the World of ESPN, by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales
The Fifth Witness, by Michael Connelly
The Sentry, by Robert Crais
Live Wire, by Harlan Coben
The First Rule, by Robert Crais
Just Kids, by Patti Smith
Caught, by Harlan Coben
The Girl Who Played With Fire, by Stieg Larsson
Moonlight Mile, by Dennis Lehane
The Reversal, by Michael Connelly

And just for the record, the albums I'm starting off with on my 2012 list were bought last week...but I haven't even had time to listen to them all in their entirety, so for all intents and purposes they are 2012 albums.