Monday, February 26, 2007

Quote of the Day

"I respect him, he respects me, and that's how we pretty much differ.''

- Dwayne Jarrett, on his relationship with former USC wideout Mike Williams.

Classic. You couldn't make up stuff this good. (Hat tip: Peter King)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Sounds of Cheney Hall, 25 Years On

Twenty-five years ago, I was a senior at UC Berkeley, living in Cheney Hall, just south of the campus on Durant Avenue. Because I’d attended community college for two years before transferring, I was one of the few upperclassmen living in the dorms. This made me popular when party time rolled around, because I was also one of the few dorm residents who didn’t have to worry about having a fake I.D.

Cheney Hall was a co-ed dorm, but the 2nd floor was all male, and over the course of the year we had ourselves a pretty darn good time, If I do say so myself. There were several of us with decent stereo systems, and one of us (not me) with something quite a bit better than that – a state of the art, Bang & Olufsen set: turntable (you could pound on the damn thing, and the record still wouldn’t skip), receiver, pre-amp, speakers, the works. All of us that hung out together the most – Colin, Eric, Sutton, John, Don, Eric, Maria (no, she didn’t live on our floor), and me – were really into music. Our tastes varied widely – everything from AC/DC to ZZ Top, from Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen to Brian Eno to The Clash to The B-52s and back again, which led to some interesting arguments from time to time. For the most part, we made a real effort to get into the stuff that the others liked (though I may never forgive Colin for Haircut One Hundred) – which is probably the only reason that I own so many Brian Eno records today.

A year or so ago, John volunteered to put together a batch of CDs for all of us, provided that we were willing to put together a list of our favorites from that time and send him as many as we could to save him from having to go out and buy half the record store. From that effort, the “Cheney Hall Big Chill” list was born, a batch of songs that I can guarantee will be a good starter for a rockin’ party. Without further ado, the list:

AC/DC: Back In Black, You Shook Me All Night Long

The B-52s: Dance This Mess Around, Private Idaho, Mesopotamia. We saw the B-52s play at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, somehow managing to find our way to and from the BART station on both ends. We lived to tell the tale.

Laurie Anderson: O Superman. Boy, did this start some arguments. You either loved it, or thought it was an unmitigated piece of crap. Nothing in-between. I loved it.

The Blasters: No Other Girl

Blondie: Rapture

David Bowie: Heroes

The Clash: Lost In The Supermarket, Train In Vain, Rock The Casbah

Elvis Costello: Pump It Up

David Bowie and Queen: Under Pressure

Dead Kennedys: Holiday in Cambodia

Earth, Wind and Fire: Let’s Groove

English Beat: Mirror in the Bathroom, To Nice To Talk To

Brian Eno: Kings Lead Hat. I’m not sure that any of us at the time realized that “Kings Lead Hat” was an anagram for “Talking Heads.” Apparently, Eno’s idea of an inside joke.

J. Geils Band: Centerfold, Freeze Frame. I remember a football player, whose name escapes me, waking from a drunken slumber at 4 in the morning upon hearing the beginning of “Centerfold,” and running down the dorm halls naked as a jaybird, dancing like a crazy man. Pretty funny stuff.

Go Gos: Our Lips Are Sealed, We Got the Beat

Rick James: Super Freak

David Lindley: Don’t Look Back, Mercury Blues

Bob Marley: Jammin’

Orchestral Manouevers In The Dark: Enola Gay

Pretenders: Brass In Pocket

Prince: When You Were Mine, Controversy

Psychedelic Furs: Pretty in Pink, Into You Like A Train

Ramones: I Wanna Be Sedated

Rolling Stones: Waiting For A Friend

Romantics: What I Like About You

Roxy Music: More Than This, Avalon, True To Life. "Avalon" was one of the last albums I bought in Berkeley, and one of my all-time favorites to this day. One of the clearest memories of my life is sitting in my dorm room, alone, right after having finished my last final, and listening to “True To Life.” I had no idea what would come next, but thankfully things have turned out OK.

Bruce Springsteen: Hungry Heart. This one wouldn’t have been my choice; I would have opted for “The River.” Oh well.

Talking Heads: Once In A Lifetime. I saw the Heads play Zellerbach Auditorium in October 1980; to this date one of the greatest shows of my lifetime. The English Beat opened, and I remember their aged saxophone player (“Saxa”) sitting in a folding chair, at the edge of the stage, blowing that horn and sounding as if he were 16 years old. The auditorium held only a couple of thousand people, and we had great seats – sixth row, if I recall. The band was in the midst of their first tour with the “big band,” although the personnel would change when they filmed the monumental “Stop Making Sense” a few years later. We were parked right in front of an absolutely immense speaker, and Adrian Belew’s guitar chords attacked our eardrums as if they were heat-seeking missiles from Hell. David Byrne hadn’t yet gotten comfortable with dressing up, and wore a plaid shirt and jeans. Awesome show.

Peter Tosh: Legalize It, Stepping Razor. The UC Theater, Winter 1982, a classic double bill: “The Harder They Come” and “Rockers.” You didn’t have to bring your own; all you had to do was breathe the air.

The Specials: A Message To You, Rudy

Tom Tom Club: Genius Of Love. We overplayed this one to the point where I still can't quite enjoy it today.

Wall of Voodoo: Mexican Radio

X: Soul Kitchen

There were a lot more, but this gives you an idea. You could certainly do worse.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Ah, Now It All Makes Sense

ABC News Headline:

Shaving Off Her Hair and Tattooing Her Body May Be Spears' Way of Finding a Fresh Start

There's really nothing I can add to that.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Pazz and Jop

The Village Voice recently published its annual Pazz & Jop Critics poll, which over the years has become the best (by far) barometer of what is going on in the rock universe. Take a look at the past poll results, and essentially you're looking at the history of rock - at least since 1971, when the poll first appeared.

The fact that Bob Dylan again triumphed in the album category is less of a story than the fact that this year's poll is the first to be published since Robert Christgau, the self-styled "Dean of American Rock Critics," was fired by the Voice last September. Happily, Christgau landed on his feet, securing not one but three new gigs: contributing editor at Rolling Stone, music correspondent for NPR, and writing his legendary Consumer Guide for I wondered what would happen with Pazz & Jop, but apparently the show must go on, and so it has. The Voice's new music editor, Rob Harvilla, contributes a good-natured piece which references the Christgau phenomenon, and the poll also devotes a section to voters who made sure to include some bitchy comments about the Christgau firing along with their polls. And for the skeptics such as myself who wondered whether the poll should be retired gracefully, the Dean himself participates, a damn nice gesture considering what happened.

I began subscribing to the Voice in 1978, and the first issue that came in the mail (with Reggie Jackson on the cover) just happened to be one with Christgau's Consumer Guide in it. For the most part, his taste has always matched up well with mine. He's never had much use for some artists that I love (Peter Gabriel and Jackson Browne, for example), and has sometimes failed to appreciate artists who I think are wonderful (for instance, I've never seen him write anything about Patty Griffin, which strikes me as strange). But in the end, he can always be counted on to identify a new artist's potential before he hits it big (e.g. Prince), and find the potential in a new genre (e.g. rap, punk, hip-hop) before it hits the masses. And his ability to distill an album's essence into a paragraph or two is simply amazing. One of my favorites:
Born in the USA [Columbia, 1984]. Imperceptible though the movement has been to many sensitive young people, Springsteen has evolved. In fact, this apparent retrenchment is his most rhythmically propulsive, vocally incisive, lyrically balanced, and commercially undeniable album. Even his compulsive studio habits work for him: the aural vibrancy of the thing reminds me like nothing in years that what teenagers loved about rock and roll wasn't that it was catchy or even vibrant but that it just plain sounded good. And while Nebraska's one-note vision may be more left-correct, my instincts (not to mention my leftism) tell me that this uptempo worldview is truer. Hardly ride-off-into-the-sunset stuff, at the same time it's low on nostalgia and beautiful losers. Not counting the title powerhouse, the best songs slip by at first because their tone is so lifelike: the fast-stepping "Working on the Highway," which turns out to be about a country road gang; "Darlington County," which pins down the futility of a macho spree without undercutting its exuberance; and "Glory Days," which finally acknowledges that among other things, getting old is a good joke. A+
Almost alone among critics of the day, Christgau nailed what may be the single most important thing about the album - the crispness of its sound. Seems simple enough, but just try it sometime.

The Voice had become less and less interesting to me over the years, and when Christgau was fired, I finally cancelled my subscription. But I'm glad to see that Pazz & Jop lives on, even if it is a little like watching the Tonight Show without Johnny Carson.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A Valentine's Day Tale

The top link at the right belongs to "The Sheila Variations," which quite simply is the best blog out there, anywhere. On any given day, you can read highly entertaining, informative or amusing (and perhaps all three) posts on subjects ranging from James Joyce to Anna Nicole Smith, and back again.

I honestly don't know how she does it, but there's no doubt in my mind that the site's author/owner, Sheila O'Malley, is going to be famous one day. And when that happens, I'll be able to say, "ah heck, I read her way back before she even changed the name of her blog."

My favorite tale of hers, one that never fails to amuse, is a tale of Valentine's Day, "An Eyeball And A Dozen Roses." There's nothing I can say about it that will do it justice. You just have to go read it for yourself.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

You've Got To Wonder

I've been thinking about this since I watched the show last night:
What were the odds that someone would ever sing "Whipping Post" at their American Idol audition?
What were the odds that someone singing "Whipping Post" at their American Idol audition would do a great job, and advance to the Hollywood round?

I suspect about the same odds you could have gotten last week for a NASA astronaut being charged with attempted murder.

More Zingers From Zimmerman

One of the most entertaining football columns of the season comes after the season ends - Paul Zimmerman's annual analysis of NFL announcers. Paul has high and exacting standards, and few of the teams working today meet them. I suspect that few teams have ever met them, but that's an entirely different topic.

This year, only one team - Brad Nessler, Ron Jaworski and Dick Vermeil - receives five stars. That team covered only one game all season - on ESPN the opening Monday night, because the network showed two games that night. His lowest rating, 0 stars, goes to ESPN's "A" team - Mike Tirico, Tony Kornheiser, and Joe Theismann. I agree with Zimmerman that this team was terrible, but in my mind part of the problem was the production philosophy, which led to the execrable weekly parade of the Network Stars, a loathsome trend that Zimmerman rightly deplores (and one which harkened back to the Howard and Dandy Don days). While they weren't good, I did think that they were better than the former ESPN Sunday Night crew (Mike Patrick, Paul Maguire, and Theismann), which for my money was the worst NFL announcing team of all time.

Zimmerman goes further than he normally does in this column with his dissection of the ESPN crew:
...Week 6, Chicago at Arizona, a defining moment for the Cardinals and their coach, Denny Green, and their offensive coordinator, Keith Rowen. The Cardinals are driving for the victory. The Bears can't stop them, no matter what defense they throw up. Rookie QB Matt Leinart is killing them with underneath passes, the same way Peyton Manning did in the Super Bowl ... ironic, huh? Down the field they come. Theismann has talked to Rowen, who told him that he knew he could beat the Bears this way ... if only Green would let him do it, but the coach was bugged by Edgerrin James bitching about not being permitted to close out the contest. This was the knowledge that Theismann had in the booth, and at one point in the drive, he muttered, "Don't stop throwing." It just popped out.

But they did stop. They reached the Chicago 23-yard line and brought in two tight ends and two running backs, the ultimate give up. Now Theismann had a decision to make. He could lay out his knowledge of the situation, as practically any honest announcer would, and it would have been fascinating, a real coup for a guy who has been much reviled during his career. But just then Kornheiser came up with one of his grade school pronouncements ... "You have to admit it, don't you ... you're rooting for them." And Joe, given the choice, opted for the low IQ route, a little bantering back and forth with his sidekick.

Well, the Cards' heavy offense was stopped and they missed the field goal and lost the game. And in his postgame press conference Green went into some contrived rage thing about how the Bears were "anointed." And then he made Rowen the scapegoat and fired him. The viewers of ESPN could have been privy to all this ahead of time, they could have been in on a real scoop. But Theismann chose to ignore journalistic integrity and play marbles with Bozo the Clown. Personally, the whole thing makes me sick.

Pretty strong words there. I'd love to be in the vicinity of Theismann if/when he reads that. I like Kornheiser in different settings, but on Monday night thought he fell into the Dennis Miller (ie waste of time) category. He's apparently coming back next season, but there's no doubt in my mind that this team would be better without him.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Just An Observation

After having used the same on-ramp to enter Interstate 5 for my drive to work for the past twelve years (with the exception of the four years when my job and schedule allowed me to take the bus), I'm more convinced than ever that these are the six most difficult words in the English language for drivers to understand:

EACH LANE least the drivers of Elk Grove, California.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Dungy vs. Gruden

Building on the comment below about Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden, here are their records since Dungy was fired by Tampa Bay and replaced by Gruden.

Dungy's record:

2002: 10-6; 0-1
2003: 12-4; 2-1
2004: 12-4; 1-1
2005: 14-2; 0-1
2006: 12-4; 4-0 (Super Bowl victory)

* Regular season record: 60-20
* Postseason record: 7-4
* 5 winning seasons; 5 playoff appearances; 1 Super Bowl victory

Gruden's record:

2002: 12-4; 3-0 (Super Bowl victory)
2003: 7-9
2004: 5-11
2005: 11-5; 0-1
2006: 4-12

* Regular season record: 39-41
* Postseason record: 3-1
* 2 winning seasons; 2 playoff appearances; 1 Super Bowl victory

Judge for yourself...

Super Bowl Quick Hits

- What a shock - two terrible interceptions thrown by Rex Grossman in the 4th Quarter, with the game still very much on the line, ended the Bears' chances for victory. I've already picked on the guy enough, so this time I'll let Sports Illustrated's Don Banks do it for me:
Grossman will go down in history alongside Tony Eason and David Woodley as the worst starting quarterbacks in Super Bowl history. He actually had a chance to make a difference for the Bears on Sunday, but he didn't have the game to match the moment.

- Peyton Manning didn't have a game with statistics to match the past Super Bowl performances of folks like Joe Montana, Steve Young, or Phil Simms, but it was a terrific performance nonetheless. Having Manning under center is like having a coach out on the field - his ability to read the defenses until the last second, directing traffic right up to the very moment that the ball is snapped, make him as much fun to watch as any quarterback of my lifetime. With this win, his place in Canton in secure; one can only imagine what the future might hold.

- I wonder if, given the chance to do it all over again, whether the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would fire Tony Dungy and go with the Jon Gruden option? Sure, they got their Super Bowl victory; but with a team built primarily by Dungy. And good moments have been hard to find since that victory.

- The weather obviously played a factor in the game, but at least for this viewer, it made the game more interesting than many recent Super Bowls.

- Prince was great - no surprise there.

- There were some amusing commercials, but nothing that will go down in advertising history.

- Even though they were pushed up and down the field for much of the game, I thought the Bears defense played a courageous game. I doubt that will be much solace on the trip back home.

Just seven more months until opening weekend. How long until March Madness?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

All Hail Prince...

The law of averages says that Sunday's Super Bowl will be less than spectacular, but I have high hopes for the halftime show, given that Prince is the headliner. Some folks, most notably SI's Peter King, have been acting like the man dropped off the face of the earth after his mid-80s heyday. The fact of the matter is that there are few artists currently enshrined in Hall of Fame (Rock and Roll version, that is) who have been as prolific and consistent. In the past year or so I've managed to catch up on nearly everything he released in the 90s, and while it clearly doesn't reach the heights of his peak (or some of what has come after), it's all good-to-great.

That he'll be great on Sunday is probably the easiest prediction you can make about the entire festival.

If this (frequently hilarious) piece by David Mills doesn't psyche you up for what lies ahead, then you should probably just spend halftime loading up your plate.

In Other Words, I'll Figure Out Some Way To Screw It Up

Excerpt from an AP report on the latest news surrounding Barry Bonds' contract:
At a news conference Wednesday to announce the 2008 All-Star game will be played at Yankee Stadium, commissioner Bud Selig wouldn't address a question about baseball's plans if Bonds breaks Hank Aaron's home run record. Bonds has 34 homers, 21 shy of Aaron's mark.

"I think I've spoken on that simply as much as I'm going to," Selig said. "I've said that we would handle it the way we've handled everything else, and that's all I have to say on that subject right now."