Thursday, August 27, 2009

Adapting Into Song

I just posted this at the Second Pass, too, so apologies for the triple strand of cross-promotion. But over at Paper Cuts, I've participated in their Living With Music feature with a list of songs about books and writers. A taste:
2) Stuck Between Stations, the Hold Steady. The first of two songs on this list that deal with the life of poet John Berryman, who committed suicide in 1972, at 57, by jumping off the Washington Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis. “Stuck Between Stations” begins by citing Jack Kerouac’s Sal Paradise, but it quickly moves on to describe Berryman’s suicide, when he and the devil “took a walk together” and “ended up on Washington talking to the river”: “There was that night that we thought that John Berryman could fly / But he didn’t, so he died / She said, ‘You’re pretty good with words / But words won’t save your life’ / And they didn’t / So he died.” Endlessly (though accurately) described as a great bar band, with plenty of songs that function as power ballads to various liquors, the Hold Steady is the perfect outfit to imagine Berryman as “drunk and exhausted,” how “he likes the warm feeling but he’s tired of all the dehydration.”

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

If the Weather's Clear . . .

. . . well, the weather's clear, for now. I'm up in Saratoga for my annual retreat, and blogging will continue from today through the rest of the week. For Wednesday, rather than a live performance, a filmed one -- the opening number from Guys and Dolls. I'm off to the track in a couple of hours, and I'll let you know later if I could do. Enjoy:


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Mr. Brolin & Muppets

When I was previewing the week, I mentioned a couple of things that I didn't get to. But I feel pretty good about the week's volume, and I'm hoping to keep it up. For the weekend, here are two funny videos from two of my favorite sources: Via ANCIANT, the first clip is a three-minute film by the Coen brothers. Via The Browser, the second is a series of commercials for Wilkins Coffee from 1957-1961. Enjoy 'em. See ya Monday.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

AP Headline of the Day

Mom, 80, Shoots at Deputies as Son Hides in Closet

“I didn’t come to America to die.”

In the wake of a store owner killing two robbers in Harlem last week, the Times reports on the lives of other owners who have pulled the trigger:
For as long as there have been stickup men, there have been shopkeepers who fought back. Shooting the robbers was in some ways the simplest part, requiring only the reflexes of a survivor, and a gun — though more than a few store owners have been prosecuted for using unlicensed guns.

The real pain came in the weeks and years that followed. The proprietors replayed the violence that had marched into their cramped bodegas, restaurants or jewelry stores, cursing the career criminals or desperate men who had threatened their livelihoods — their lives, even — and their sanity.

He's Ready to Go

A conversation with a friend last year gets the credit or blame for this, but I've been listening to sports radio more in the past few months than I ever have. Usually in the mid-morning as I'm getting ready to settle into work. Sometimes I catch a bit of the afternoon show, which is hosted by Mike Francesa, who I would describe as a "quiet blowhard."

His theme song -- the reason for this post -- is incredible. Take a listen to it here.

My favorite part of this (and yes, it’s hard to choose) is the lyric, “he’ll get to the sports any way that he can.” Francesa’s job is to sit in a chair for five or six hours a day and talk about sports. But this lyric tells us he will not let some other task keep him from getting to the sports. It makes it sound like we should have no fear, that Francesa will find a way to segue from the election in Afghanistan to the American League pennant race. Phew.

One commenter said the song reminds them of a certain obscene number from Team America: World Police, and I agree.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Let's Dance

For Wednesday, this is Lucky Soul doing "Get Outta Town!" Enjoy:

Happy 25th, Falling Shapes

Tetris turned 25 years old a couple of months ago. I should have thrown a party for it. I only played the Nintendo version, but I played it obsessively for a few years. (Ages 17 to 23? Something like that...) I've written this before, but I remember having trouble falling asleep because the blocks were rapidly dropping against my closed eyelids. I was damn good, if I do say so myself.

I remember feeling really bad because my younger sister liked to play it, too, but sometime while she was in college, I impulsively tossed the Nintendo machine out of some naive belief that its absence would allow me to focus on more productive projects. She was upset with me. I don't blame her. It shouldn't have been a unilateral decision. Plus, I still wish I had it, just for Tetris.

I was struck by this in the article:
In her book Hamlet on the Holodeck, Georgia Tech professor Janet Murray called Tetris the "perfect enactment of the overtasked lives of Americans."
I kind of see the point, but I played as much as I did because at the time I was -- most decidedly -- undertasked.

Politics as Mess

Guest-blogging at Andrew Sullivan, Peter Suderman focuses on the "chaos" of the health-care debate to write more generally about the "problem with politics":
Politics is a matter of shouting, and dissent, and deal-making, and strategy, and slippery rhetoric, and compromise. It is not a matter of deciding on the "right" policy and then making it so -- even when your party controls the White House, the House, and the Senate.
A reader wrote in to chide Suderman for ignoring the rising tide of community organizing, etc., and Suderman responds back:
As far as I can tell, the health-care protesters at town halls are "politically involved." Lobbyists soliciting favors from Congressmen is "political involvement." Politicians who know better (or should) cynically spreading rumors about "death panels" is political involvement too. It's not all pleasant, community-minded folks peacefully and sensibly arguing in policy-smart bullet points. I don't think it's possible to have a politically involved citizenry and avoid the sort of nuttiness we've seen.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Mixed Premiere

I went to a friend's house for the Season 3 premiere of Mad Men on Sunday. Someone had made the suggestion to dress up in the show's (considerable) style. Being lazy, and not particularly stylish, I did no such thing. The two people who took the dress suggestion most seriously, one man and one woman, looked fantastic. So fantastic that the evening actually did feel like an event. If only the show had been so good.

The people on hand (there were about 10 of us) spanned the fandom spectrum. Two people had never seen the show. The rest of us were up to speed, some of us bigger admirers of the series than others. When I first started watching the show, I wrote here that I liked it but was annoyed by its "glaze of self-satisfaction for presenting a view of the ’50s that’s been essentially canonized for three decades." I still think the whiff of obvious insider's jokes that comes with observing the '50s in 2009 gets in the show's way sometimes. I'm glad to watch it, but talk of it in the same league as The Wire or The Sopranos is insane to me.

Sunday's premiere landed with a thud in the room where I watched it. I thought it was an average episode, but some others who had been greatly anticipating it felt more disappointed. It did feature two of the show's greatest weaknesses (no real spoilers ahead):

1. Draper flashbacks. These are almost always an ideal way to bring any episode to an awkward, screeching halt. They're often terrible, but to start a season with maybe the worst-ever example was not a brilliant move.

2. Bad plot contrivances. To avoid spoilers, I'll just say that no drama has ever used a hotel fire escape in quite such a silly way. Oh well.

But . . . there was enough to keep me happy(ish). I wanted more Peggy, and definitely more Roger Sterling (on whom I have an unabashed man crush), and of course more Joan, but I'm sure I'll get them as the season progresses.


Monday, August 17, 2009

The Week Ahead

Several things in the hopper for this week: A review of a severely melancholy indie movie; more argumentative thoughts on "free" (a direct response, more or less, to another blogger's address to me); a song on Wednesday, of course (and it will be Wednesday this time); a couple more posts about baseball (sorry, but I've got the fever -- something to do with a certain 7 1/2 game division lead and the fact that my fantasy team is very much in contention for one of the only times in 20 years); and more.

For today, though, I'm off to a leisurely drive around Long Island with the girlfriend. It's supposed to feel like 100 degrees with the humidity, so wish us luck...

More soon.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Platform for My Candidacy for Baseball Commissioner: Bullpen Carts, 'Staches, and Shorts

Via my friend Miles, these two lists from Sports Illustrated: 25 Things We Miss in Baseball and 10 Things We Don't Miss in Baseball.

About the things we miss list: Absolutely yes to bringing back the golf cart for relief pitchers. I actually just mentioned this to a friend the other day before seeing the list. Bring back the bullpen cart! (For a history of this phenomenon, read this.)

I give other enthusiastic thumbs up to more organ music and less piped-in Limp Bizkit (good luck), World Series day games, and quality mustaches. (Corresponding to the meathead music in stadiums now is the meathead facial hair that many players sport.)

Miles points out that two of the items on the otherwise solid "good riddance" list would actually be fun to have back -- at least for a week or two. First, players smoking in the dugouts. Wow. I forgot this ever existed, but it wasn't even that long ago, based on this photo:

That's Dave Parker in the front. Not sure who the dude behind him is, but it looks like he might be smoking one of those funny cigarettes.

Second, ugly uniforms. Yes, overall it's good for the national psyche that these were thrown in the dust bin (especially that time the White Sox wore shorts), but come on, for a week or two, these would be fun to have back. Enjoy this gallery of hideousness from my childhood:

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That Was Fast

Almost exactly two years ago around here, I wrote:
Sports Illustrated ran a short piece that claimed Vick's redemption is not just possible but inevitable. This struck me as insane. I understood the premise of the argument -- that the only thing sports fans like more than judging is forgiving -- but I don't think it fully took into account the nature of the crime. It's true that star players get a pass for bad behavior all the time, and it's true that Vick is going to "pay his debt" with hard time, but still, his actions were a) premeditated, b) continuous, and c) taken against innocent victims.

His bad deed didn't fall into the categories most easily forgiven. It wasn't a moral transgression against another adult, like an affair; it wasn't a self-destructive act, like drug addiction; and it wasn't something that could be portrayed as a one-time lapse in judgment, like drunk driving. It's not the purest analogy, but what he did is more equivalent to prolonged child abuse, and I think even sports fans, so often willing to absolve the stars they cheer for -- to avoid cognitive dissonance, if nothing else -- will never feel comfortable aligning themselves with him again.

But that debate can only be settled in a year or two, at the soonest
Well, now we get the test. I think Vick's in for a very rough ride. Undoubtedly, a large contingent of (Eagles) fans will accept him. But I think the contingent that won't will be unpersuadable. (The comments on the Times post linked to above give a pretty good sense of how heated and divided response is.) No matter how much I read about it, I have a very difficult time applying the usual process of forgiveness to this situation, for the reasons stated in my post from two years ago. I do feel sorry for Vick, but mostly in the way that you feel sorry for a sociopath. I think the link between consciously torturing animals and other mental issues is fairly well established, and my main concern would be that Vick is being guided through the usual celebrity program of remorse when he should really be getting serious help. Maybe he is. Either way, I don't want to boo someone whose problem seems so deep and ugly, but I certainly don't want to root for him either.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A 16th-Century Number

A day late for the second week in a row, for "Wednesday," this is the incredible vocal ensemble Stile Antico singing "Ego flos campi" by Clemens non Papa. Enjoy:


Saturday, August 08, 2009

Broadcast Thoughts

Random thoughts while watching the FOX broadcast of this afternoon's Yankees-Red Sox game:

1. Tim McCarver is a buffoon. This hardly needs to be said.

2. Sideline reporter Ken Rosenthal is a clown. This would be more tolerable -- but just -- if he didn't seem to fancy himself his generation's Edward R. Murrow.

3. I appreciate the NFL getting C-listers like Denis Leary and LL Cool J to yell at football fans in a series of ads, and blame them for missing great games because they don't have DirecTV and therefore also don't have the NFL's network. And when I say I appreciate it, I mean the NFL can take a flying leap.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

A Director's Death

Sad news, maybe especially for my generation: John Hughes has died at 59. I humbly post this in memoriam:

Personal iTunes Fact of the Day

I own five songs whose titles start with the word "Yeah."

"Actors were hired, lights set up, meals catered."

My friend Dez just wrapped up his list of favorite movies. (The top choice isn't a shocker, given the name of his blog.) A few days ago, he also had a post asking people for their worst movie of all time. (His was The Phantom Menace.) It can be an overwhelming question. It probably takes most people much longer to think of their worst-ever movie than their favorite movie.

Last month, The Morning News asked its writers and readers a related (but different) question: What are your favorite worst movies? (Italics mine.)

The contributors produce some spine-tingling sentences, like the following:
Starring John Larroquette as a sex-starved motorcycling bartender...

Like all truly great movies, a trained bear cub—who is arguably the protagonist—follows the man throughout.

The film is, admittedly, a mess of plot, character, and interminable (but highly entertaining!) phantasmagoria culled from Chinese folklore.
Then there's Jon Roig's take on a certain rapper and his Hollywood debacle:
“Drop that zero and get with the hero.” Some writer got paid to pen that line for Vanilla Ice. Somebody funded the creation of Cool as Ice (1991). Actors were hired, lights set up, meals catered. This is no cracker-jack production. If the central thesis of the Great Bad Movie theory is a terrible idea executed to the height of ridiculousness, then C.A.I. is one of the central texts.
Lauren Frey is the only contributor who mystified me. She seems to be arguing that Better Off Dead is a bad movie. Huh? Distinctly '80s, sure. Goofy, yeah. But come on.

The person clearly after my own heart is Heidi Armstrong, who chooses Deep Blue Sea, which would probably be my answer to this question as well. What's more, she singles out Samuel L. Jackson's death scene as "the pinnacle laugh-out-loud moment." (This clip cuts off the full absurdity of his preceding speech, but you get the idea.) I love that scene so much that I once strenuously worked it into a review of an entirely different Jackson movie.

Along similar lines, searching for "best death scene" on YouTube is fun. It leads to clips like this and this and this. Oh, and I always like any excuse to post to this.


Wednesday, August 05, 2009

So Lonely

That's how readers of this blog must be feeling. I'm ashamed to be posting another Wednesday song with just one post in between them. What kind of blogger am I? Let's leave that question aside for now, shall we? This is The Police doing my favorite song of theirs, "So Lonely," for a mass of excitable people in Holland in 1979. Enjoy:


Monday, August 03, 2009

In a World . . .

IFC gathers what it considers the best 50 movie trailers of all time. ("We know them as trailers, but they don't trail anything; they play before the movie, not after it. The name dates to their earliest incarnation, when they actually did follow the feature.")

No methodology is given, but how methodological could it be, anyway? It's a great list to peruse. Each of the clips has its own page, and what I love/hate are some of the comments it attracted. Like:
Seriously? We have to click 50 times just to get the damn list? No thanks.
Good god. Let's hope we never face any land wars for our very existence anytime soon. People can't click 50 times? What, will that mean too much neon Cheetos dust on your touchpad?

What was I saying? Oh, right, the previews. The one for the documentary Comedian is pretty funny. The one for the Coen brothers' The Man Who Wasn't There (one of the few movies by them I haven't seen) is certainly stylish. The one for Texas Chain Saw Massacre puts today's sleek horror movies to shame. (In fact, don't watch that one.) Likewise, today's scary-movie trailer-makers could learn a little somethin' from The Shining. Well, in fairness -- and jeez, sorry to hit the horror note so heavily -- they do include the one fright flick of recent vintage that really got its trailer right: The Strangers.

OK, OK, enough with the chills. I'll leave you with one of my favorites embedded below, and you can go here to see the whole list.