Friday, October 31, 2014

Friday Mixtape - "Best of 2003"

If I had to hazard a guess, this one was probably created sometime in early 2004.  Let's do a track-by-track commentary:

Side One

Stones in My Passway, John Mellencamp.  From "Trouble No More," the album that Greil Marcus described as "old singer, old songs."  It's one of his best.

Girl, You Have No Faith in Medicine, The White Stripes.  Jack and Meg at their rocking best.

This Boy is Exhausted, The Wrens.  I don't know what happened to this band, but the album they came out with in 2003 (I'd found it only because Christgau had given it an A) was great.

You Don't Have to Be So Sad, Yo La Tengo.  I've always preferred "soft" Yo La Tengo to "electric" Yo La Tengo, so this one was right up my alley.

Sacred Love, Sting.  This was from what is Sting's worst album.  I never listen to it anymore.

Lunch with Gina, Steely Dan.  I really enjoyed "Everything Must Go," the album on which this song originated.  Aside from a handful of tours, haven't heard anything from the Dan since then.

Don't Leave Home, Dido.  This is from the only Dido album that I own, but it is enjoyable.

Sweet Side, Lucinda Williams.  Lucinda Williams made what I consider to be one of the greatest albums of the last 30 years - "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road" - but the rest of her work has been a little disappointing.  There's always a great track or two, but also some that really don't cut the mustard.  This falls into the former category.

Here I Am, Emmylou Harris.  This was around the time that Emmylou had stopped singing and was breathing in a very pretty way.  But it is a good song.

Last Stop Before Home, Rosanne Cash.  It's a great song, from what is probably one of her most underrated albums.

Side Two

Bandit, Neil Young and Crazy Horse.  This is from the "Greendale" album, which I suppose I'd put into the category of "noble failure."  Neil's one of my all-time favorite artists, but he does put out a lot of weird sh*t.

Goodbye, Patti Griffin.  An amazing song - this is the live version, which blows the original recording away.

Among the Living, The Thorns.  A "mini supergroup," The Thorns consisted of Matthew Sweet, Shawn Mullins and Pete Droge.  They made one album, and it was pretty good - reminiscent of CSN at their best.

Symbol in the Driveway, Jack Johnson.  I'm not sure how many Jack Johnson albums it is necessary for a person to own, but the two that I own are enjoyable.  This is a really cool song.

He War, Cat Power.  To be honest, I don't remember this song at all.

12:51, The Strokes.  The best song off of the Strokes' second album.

Firewalker, Liz Phair.  I'm a staunch defender of the "Liz Phair" album, but I'm not sure why I chose this song - it's far from being the best on it.

Thrown Down, Fleetwood Mac.  When this album came out, a friend said someone told her that it "was better than Rumours."  It wasn't.

Light of Day, Joe Grushecky.  An excellent, "acoustic rocking" version of the Springsteen chestnut.

Disorder in the House and Keep Me in Your Heart, Warren Zevon.  We still miss you, Warren.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

29 Days in October

I. The Sportsman

A few days ago, I started thinking about a blog post on likely candidates for Sports Illustrated's annual "Sportsman of the Year" award.  Ostensibly, the award is given each year to "the athlete or team whose performance that year most embodies the spirit of sportsmanship and achievement."  I say "ostensibly" because when you look back at the history of the award, it's pretty clear that the "achievement" portion of that equation has far outweighed "sportsmanship."  There are exceptions to the rule, one example being Arthur Ashe winning the award in 1992, long past his playing days.  But more likely than not, the award winner is going to an American from a major sport, who has completed a great achievement, either in that year's season or during the course of his/her (almost always his) career.

This has led to some choices that SI might wish it could recall because of subsequent events - Pete Rose in 1975, Joe Paterno in 1986, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1998, Lance Armstrong in 2002, and even Tiger Woods himself, in 1996 and 2000.  But it's also led to many choices that have withstood the test of time, including John Wooden, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jack Nicklaus, Sandy Koufax, and many others.

In looking at this year, I tried really hard to come up with the ideal mix of achievement and sportsmanship, and came up with what I felt were two viable candidates:

- The San Antonio Spurs, the very embodiment of team achievement in sports, a collection of elite players each of whom has demonstrated over a long period of time that they are willing to sacrifice their own individual goals in pursuit of team success.

- Bill Snyder, the football coach at Kansas State University, who has demonstrated in this era of big money college football that it is still possible to compete at the highest level with players that few people (outside of the diehard fans) have heard from, for a campus that few people would identify as being a Mecca of college football.

I'd still be happy with either one of those choices.  But frankly, you can just throw them out the window, because after what we've seen in the last 29 days, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the Sportsman of the Year has to be Madison Bumgarner.  Now, to be fair I don't know anything about Bumgarner's personal life outside of the fact that he is from and lives in North Carolina.  I can't vouch for whether he is, in fact, a "Sportsman."  Based on the entertaining locker room scenes after the Giants' wins in the NLDS and the NLCS, he seems to be a bit of a goofball.  But in this era of social media where each athlete's foibles are examined and exposed like never before, I've never seen or read anything to suggest that Bumgarner is a jerk, or someone who gives his teammates and competitors a difficult time about anything.

So in this case, I'm comfortable saying that what Bumgarner achieved in the month of October has clearly set him apart from every other athlete in the sports world in 2014.  As one scribe put it earlier this week, for the month of October, Madison Bumgarner became 1968 Bob Gibson.  And he did it on the very biggest stage in all of baseball, under the greatest pressure one could possibly imagine.

He is, or at least should be, your Sportsman of the Year for 2014.

II. The Game

When the Giants brought Madison Bumgarner into the game last night, I posted this comment on Facebook:

"Well, this is either going to make history, or be one of the most disappointing World Series moments ever."

Right at the beginning, it didn't look good, but once he got out of the first inning he pitched, it seemed as if he got stronger, as if he were drawing strength from the moment.  And the thing was - there was just no margin for error.  The Royals triad of relievers was well rested, and as they proved last night, were damn near unhittable.  And Bruce Bochy was determined to ride the big hoss into the sunset, regardless of whether it was in victory or defeat.  It was Bumgarner's game to lose.

After the seventh inning, thinking that we would HAVE to see Sergio Romo in the 8th, I posted:

"Wow.  Just wow. #MadBum"

It was one of the few moments in a lifetime of watching sports that I was truly understanding and appreciating everything that I was seeing, as it was unfolding before me.  This was history - this was the kind of thing that in 50 or 100 years, an 8-year old kid might read about in the Baseball Encyclopedia and try to imagine what it was like - just like I did when I was 8 and read about the great moments in World Series past.  And the thing was, once Bumgarner got past a certain point, it really didn't matter how the game ended - it was going to be a legend, and the only question that remained was whether it would be a story of triumph or one of tragedy.

And at the end of the game:


It's hard to even describe it.  It was one of those moments that you wanted to keep on going.  And so I kept watching, whether it was on Fox Sports 1 or ESPN.  I wanted to hear others talk about it, I wanted to see the players talk about it, and celebrate it.  And today I've read everything about it that I could possibly get my hands on - including the thoughts of the legendary Roger Angell - 94 years young.

III.  The Team

If you had told me that there would come a day that the San Francisco Giants would be widely referred to within baseball circles as "a model franchise," well...let's just say it would be a tough choice between laughing out loud and giving whoever said such an outlandish thing a very funny look.  But that is now the world that we live in, a world where the Giants have won three World Series Championships in the past 5 years.  

A cousin of mine posed the question on Facebook after the game of whether this championship topped the last two.  And the best response to that is probably "who cares?," because each one of them was great in its own way.  The first one will be remembered for being the first one, ending decades of frustration (and, at times, utter misery); the second one will be remembered for being about a team that just refused to die, winning six consecutive elimination games; and this one will be remembered, not just for the historic brilliance of Madison Bumgarner, but for the heroic efforts of stalwarts Hunter Pence and Pablo Sandoval.  

I've said before, it never gets old.  I know how lucky we Giants fans are.  And amazingly enough, we have become the team that others root against because now "we're getting greedy."  Well, to heck with that.  I'm ready for some more.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


A Game 7 I'd rather not have seen

The way I'm wired, it really is best if I head into tonight's Game 7 thinking that the Giants are going to lose.  Rationally, I know that there's very little to the notion of "momentum" in baseball.  But all you have to do is look at the historical record to see that the last road team to win a Game 7 in the World Series was the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1979.  The Giants failed to do it in 2002, and after they'd lost Game 6 in the most excruciating manner possible, I didn't even entertain the possibility that they'd win Game 7.

And heck, the year before that, Mariano Rivera suffered through the one notable postseason failure of his career, failing to save Game 7 against the Arizona Diamondbacks.  And if Mariano Freaking Rivera can't overcome Game 7 on the road, what chance do mere mortals have?

In my lifetime, the Giants have lost three Game Sevens - in 1962, when I was two years old, and Willie McCovey hit the legendary scorching line drive with runners in scoring position, right into the glove of Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson.  Fortunately from my point of view, I was but two years old at the time so it doesn't bother me that much.  Then there was 1987 in the National League Championship Series against St. Louis, after Dave Dravecky ended up on the short end of a 1-0 nailbiter in Game 6.  Atlee Hammaker couldn't get the job done (and that's probably being charitable) in the finale, and there was little to no drama in the game.  And of course, 2002.  We broke the curse in the 2012 NLCS, so at least there is some precedent for the Giants winning one.  However, that was at home.

So on the mound tonight, we have Tim Hudson.  Tim Hudson has had a great career.  It's probably not a Hall of Fame career, but it would be more than good enough to get him into the "Hall of the Very, Very Good," if there was such a thing.  If we had 2001 or 2002 Tim Hudson pitching tonight, I'd feel a lot differently about this game.  But the rules require us to play 2014 Tim Hudson, so one can only hope that it's the Tim Hudson who pitched 7 or so very effective innings against the Nationals in the 18-inning epic.  Of course, that's also probably the only good game he's pitched in quite a while.

So I head into tonight with low expectations, but don't judge me harshly - from there, there's nowhere to go but up.  And if Barry Zito could grasp one last gasp of magic to stave off the Cardinals in 2012, there's no reason why his former Athletics teammate Tim Hudson can't do it tonight.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

World Serious - Getting Ready for Game 6

You know it's a big one when you start getting nervous at 10 a.m. for a game that begins just after 5 p.m.

On the one hand, Giants fans really have nothing at all to complain about, even if they don't win the World Series.  If you had told me, at any point during this season (or at least after the team went into its summer swoon after once having had a 9-game lead over the Dodgers) that the Giants would be one game away from winning the World Series, I probably would have laughed out loud.

But here we are, and since we are just one game away from winning the World Series, we might as well win it, right?

From my point of view, it's both good and bad that we're playing the Royals.  Along with the Red Sox and the A's, the Royals have long been one of my favorite American League teams, and (I checked last night) I still have the entire Game 7 of the 1985 World Series on an old VHS tape.  For those of you too young (or too old) to remember, the Royals returned home for Game 6 in that World Series too, and proceeded to win it in about as dramatic a fashion as possible - scoring two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning against the Cardinals to force a Game 7, which was an 11-0 rout whose most dramatic moment was a meltdown on the mound from Joaquin Andujar that, if memory serves, was his last notable appearance in a baseball game.

When that happened, I was a waiter at Chuck's Steak House of Hawaii, and I clearly remember celebrating quite loudly when the Royals pulled out Game 6.  It felt great at the time, but I'd really hate to be on the opposite side of that equation.  Of course, the Giants have been there before, suffering through a meltdown for the ages in Game 6 of the 2002 World Series against the Angels.  But on the bright side, we did head to Philadelphia in the 2010 NLCS and pulled out a thriller in Game 6, but on the other hand we went back to St. Louis in 1987 with a 3-2 lead and came back home empty-handed.

You can see where my mind goes with this stuff.  Predictions are silly in a game of this magnitude, but you've got to like our chances if for no other reason that we've got a core group of guys who have been there before and are not likely to allow a little pressure to take them off their game.  And we've got Jake Peavy on the mound, and while he certainly hasn't looked unbeatable for most of the postseason, he's certainly got the right attitude.

So let's just get it on - Play Ball!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Your National League Champion San Francisco Giants

It never gets old.

You can add Travis Ishikawa, Michael Morse and Joe Panik to the annals of Giants history, "Unlikely Heroes" wing.

And now we head to the World Series that all the experts predicted on the eve of the play-in games, the San Francisco Giants vs. the Kansas City Royals.

This will be interesting, and fun.  I can't work up a lot of hatred for the Royals, because I always liked them when I was growing up, and George Brett remains one of my all-time favorite players.

The Royals are white hot right now.  But so are the Giants. 

There was a time when I could have written up a position-by-position analysis for the Series, but that time is long past.  I watch the Giants almost every night, but it's been years since I've been able to talk with any assurance about players that I don't see on a regular basis.  I know very little about this Royals team and these Royals players. 

What I do know is that they swept us in Kansas City in early August, although I don't recall thinking at the time that I was watching a World Series preview.

Three in five years.  At my age, that probably means that I've given up any right to complain about the outcome of my favorite teams in any sport.

Here's hoping we bring home another trophy.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Twin Peaks

So, it's official - Twin Peaks will be returning to television, on Showtime, with 9 episodes directed by David Lynch, in 2016.

So now we have two years to debate the question: is this a good idea?

First things first: I'm comfortable saying that Twin Peaks was a legendary show; in fact, that it was one of the landmarks in the history of the medium.  But such a bold statement comes with a very major caveat.

Consider these lines of dialogue from Blade Runner:

Tyrell: The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long - and you have burned so very, very, brightly Roy.  Look at you: you're the Prodigal Son; you're quite a prize!

Roy Batty: I've done...questionable things.

Tyrell: Also extraordinary things; revel in your time.

If there was ever a show that could be said to have done extraordinary but questionable things in a very short time, Twin Peaks was that show.  I have no qualms whatsoever saying that the first season episodes, and the second season through the resolution of the Laura Palmer storyline, were among the most compelling ever shown on television.  I also have no qualms whatsoever saying that after that, the show went off the rails to such a degree that it was practically unwatchable.  By the time that Lynch was brought back to direct the finale, it was far too late - the images on the screen may have been as visually and aurally thrilling as they ever were, but there was no longer any point to the exercise.  In that sense, the show went from legendary to having jumped the shark in a shorter period of time than any other.

Can you catch lightning in a bottle a second time, 25 years apart?  That is the question that no one can answer today.  And despite having both Lynch and Mark Frost back on board, there's no guarantee that Twin Peaks can once again capture the zeitgeist in a way that True Detective did this year (I for one don't think it's a coincidence that the resurrection of Twin Peaks comes so soon after Detective).

We can only hope, and wish for the best.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Sportsball Update: It's October, Baby

It was the kind of day for which sports bars were created.  Too many games going on at once, and way too many to manage with one television and remote.  But try I did, and it was well worth the effort.

In college football, we might as well call it the day of Katy Perry.  For those of you who missed her surreal and memorable performance on ESPN's College Gameday, it's worth seeking out.  Over the course of 10 or so minutes, she flirted with Lee Corso, declared her crush on Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Trevor Knight, asked about the South Carolina game, "is that the one with the cocks?" and proceeded to outpick all of the Gameday experts.  Then the day ended with a Vine going viral of Perry chugging a beer and diving off of a bar into the crowd in Oxford - which was probably the best possible way to close out one of the craziest days in College Football history.

Then you had Mississippi State taking it to Texas A&M, and all of a sudden looking like one of the best teams in the nation.

Then you had Mississippi completing the daily double and coming from behind to beat Alabama, the closest thing to a CFB dynasty that we've seen this century.

Then you had TCU hanging on at the end to beat Oklahoma, which up until yesterday had been looking a lot like the first couple of teams that Bob Stoops coached.

Then you had Notre Dame holding on against Stanford in a soggy slugfest - an ugly battle that went down to the final round, with the Irish prevailing on points.

Then you had Arizona State shocking USC with three touchdowns in the final four minutes of the game, including the winning TD on what was, in all likelihood, the worst defended Hail Mary pass in the history of College Football.

Then you had Nebraska almost pulling off an amazing comeback on the road against a Michigan State team with one of the stingiest defenses in the land.

Then you had Utah upsetting UCLA in the Rose Bowl, right after UCLA looked to have righted the ship with a dominating performance against Arizona State.

And finally, you had the California Golden Bears prevailing over Washington State 60-59 - and no, it was not an overtime game - despite allowing more than 700 passing yards.

Oh yeah, and then there was the 18-inning painful masterpiece that was the game between the Giants and the Nationals - which proved that "Giants Baseball: Torture!" just might be back as the slogan of the day.  It was a classic pitching duel, raised to legendary status with a) Matt Williams's decision to remove Jordan Zimmerman with two outs in the ninth inning; and b) Yusmeiro Petit's 6-plus innings of one-hit relief for the Giants.  About a), all I'll say is that it shocked me at the time, and that it didn't work out for the Nationals.  About the second, I hardly even know what to say.  But if the Giants go all the way, they'll look back on those six innings as the turning point of their entire postseason.

Can the NFL even hope to match the drama of Saturday?  It's not likely - but I don't mind watching, just to find out.

Friday, October 03, 2014

Friday Mixtape: Johnny Cash, American Recordings

This one dates back to 2004, shortly after I had finally seen the light on the series of Johnny Cash's "American Recordings" albums produced by Rick Rubin.

I bought the first album when it came out and enjoyed it, but not as much as I should have.  And then it wasn't until the day I first heard "Hurt" playing on the stereo system at my favorite record store (the late, great The Beat on J Street in Sacramento) that I knew I had to have that one, too.  And after that, I knew I had to have them all.

If you're a longtime reader, then you know that I think the American Recordings series of albums represents one of the great musical stories of my lifetime.  It's rare that an artist - even a great artist like Cash - is able to write the last chapter of his/her musical legacy the way that Johnny Cash was able to do with Rick Rubin.  Essentially, it was "sing and play whatever you want, and we'll gather the musicians and get the tape rolling." It was a great gift from Rubin to Cash, and ultimately a great gift to all of us.

So this one is pretty simple - I picked out my favorite songs from each of the first four American albums, and there you go.  And back when I was still driving my '97 Honda Accord, I damn near wore this one out.

Johnny Cash - American Recordings, 1994-2003

Delia's Gone
Let the Train Blow the Whistle
Drive On
Oh Bury Me Not
Tennessee Stud
Like a Soldier
Sea of Heartbreak
Rusty Cage
Country Boy
Memories Are Made of This
The Kneeling Drunkard's Plea
Mean Eyed Cat
I've Been Everywhere
Solitary Man
I See a Darkness
Would You Lay With Me
Before My Time
Country Trash
Mary of the Wild Moor
I'm Leavin' Now
The Man Comes Around
First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
Tear Stained Letter
Streets of Laredo
We'll Meet Again