Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Big Game (Sort of)

I know it's been awhile since I've posted here but circumstances have prevented me updating this blog in several weeks.

The short version is that my dog got sick again but he's better. It was basically the same deal as last time but he seems to have recovered faster this time and except for a humiliating punk hair cut, he's doing quite nicely now.

There's so much going on that it was tough deciding what to post about today. Although the one thing I'd like to talk about -- the strike -- isn't one of those "going on" things. Pretty much radio silence at this point, no progress. The prospects for a quick settlement seem increasingly grim. I'm proud to say that it appears that my fellow scribes are in this for the long run, no matter how many lies or how much misinformation the AMPTP spreads and it's a lot, believe me. Nope. They may seem entrenched and so are we. Oh, and by we I mean the writers who are waiting at the bargaining table, staring across at empty chairs. Shame on the AMPTP for not even talking to us.

Now on to more mundane matters. On Saturday night, the New England Patriots face the New York Giants. It is the last game of the season for both teams. Neither team has anything to gain in terms of the postseason seedings -- both are in and can't improve their lot. The Patriots, however, do have one thing to play for. They enter the game 15-0 and a win on Saturday would make them the first team in 35 years -- the second ever -- to finish a regular pro football season undefeated. Only the 1972 Dolphins went through the season unscathed -- finishing off their masterful year with a perfect postseason in winning Super Bowl VII .

The big debate this week is whether the Giants, considered to have little chance of getting as far as the NFC Championship Game, much less the Super Bowl, should rest its players and restrict the playbook, so as to prevent key injuries or let their first-round playoff opponent (Tampa Bay) get any more insight into their play calling.

Meanwhile, the Patriots are on a mission, sparked in large part by accusations earlier this season that their recent dominance of the NFL was perhaps tainted by cheating. Pats coach Bill Belichick is a single-minded, some might label genius, who is the chief architect of the Patriots' success. He is also a dour man who doesn't suffer fools and who has taken the whole 'tape gate' as a serious affront to his manhood. Smartly he used it to rally his troops. I wonder if there has ever been a pro team that has so internalized a coach's mandate? All season long, the Pats have been like robot assassins, dispensing opponents with (mostly) relative ease and coming up big when the moment required it. All this leads me to believe that despite the ultimate goal of winning a fourth Super Bowl, Belichick will likely start his starters against the Giants. He wants 16-0. He wants immortality.

Meanwhile, what do the Giants do? Embattled coach Tom Coughlin has shown the football world, especially us Giants fans, that he can change his spots enough to regain control of his team and turn what looked like a hapless season into a winning one. The Giants are 10-5 and no matter what happens on Saturday, are in the playoffs. Why risk injury against a clearly superior team that has more motivation to win then they do?

Normally, I subscribe to the cautious approach, to preparing for the playoffs and not for a meaningless final game. But I'm not sure this game is entirely meaningless. I'm with the New York Time's Harvey Araton who makes a great argument today for the Giants to take this game seriously.

For one, the Giants have not yet beaten a team with a winning record this season. Among their five losses (twice to the Cowboys, once each to Green Bay, Washington and Minnesota) include two elite teams, and at least one playoff team. They have struggled at times on both sides of the both, though recently the defense has looked great. Eli Manning is an enigma at quarterback, a number one pick, a protege that has not yet shown he can be all the things the Giants hoped for when they traded for him as the number one pick.

Why not see now what they're made of? Why not, Araton argues, go for the big win, to mar the Patriots perfect season and, even better, give them needed momentum going into what will surely be an uphill postseason battle? If they end up losing big, well then that's the chance they take. Hell, if you want to be the best, you gotta go out and play the best and try to beat the best. The Giants have as good a chance as anyone -- they have a great pass rush and a solid core of linebackers, serviceable DB's. They have a newly revitalized running game. A good showing against the Patriots could mean the difference between another disappointing early exit from the playoffs and a run to possible glory. I say go for it, Giants.

Friday, November 30, 2007

A Message From Edie Falco

One of the funnier videos I've seen during the writers' strike. Click and enjoy.

I sure do miss The Sopranos.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Pencils2MediaMoguls Campaign

My favorite thing to do when the little guy is trying to get the word out against Goliath is to send them something in the mail. Not just any something. It has to get their attention and be clever. Like the Jericho fans and those nuts.

Some of the Hollywood writers who are striking against the Man have come up with a fun idea to get the attention of Sumner Redstone, Robert Iger, Rupert Murdoch, Les Moonves and the rest of the AMPTP representatives. Send them a pencil. No. Send them a lot of pencils. (As of this writing, they've shipped 240,000 so far. That's a lot of lead, folks.)

The good news is that the AMPTP has agreed to return to the bargaining table next Monday. We're all hopeful this will lead them to make a fair offer, one that we can agree on so everybody can get back to work. As I say, we're hopeful but it's cautious optimism. They've broken promises before.

In the meantime, you can do your part to help bring them around to the side of right-ers by taking part in the Pencils2Moguls campaign by United Hollywood. The writers have agreed to put their pencils down until the strike is over -- so why not do something useful with them, right?

If you're interested in shipping a few No. 2's to one of the media moguls, click on the image on this post. For one dollar you can make your voice heard and help contribute to the WGA's strike fund created to help non WGA members during the strike.

Not the Colbert Report

As promised, here's the writers behind the Colbert Report with a very special strike video. You think Sumner Redstone is even half this funny?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Not The Daily Show, With Some Writer

I'm in New York walking the picket line with my fellow WGA East writers, among them the writers for the great, great, GREAT shows The Daily Show and The Cobert Report.

Here's some of their work. First, up I present the writers from The Daily Show.

Monday, November 12, 2007

"This is Our Moment"

This is a great video by Phil Alden Robinson, a Hollywood screenwriter who wrote and directed the classic film Field of Dreams. He gives a very concise history of the Writers Guild and a reasoned argument for why this strike is the most important of our generation.

Watching this made me proud to be a member of the WGA.

Zero Plus Zero Equals Zero

Hat tip to the United Hollywood blog for airing this video by a striking writer.

I walked the picket line in L.A. last week. I'm gonna continue to go down to L.A. and stand with my fellow writers.

Next time you hear someone accuse us of all being filthy rich, check out Les Moonves' salary. Or Robert Iger's. I mean, if you want rich.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Office is Closed

These videos were made produced by Unitedhollywood.com. Check them out -- learn the truth about what we're fighting for.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Pay the Writer

I could go on at length explaining why my fellow WGA writers and I are walking the picket lines this week and for as long as it takes to win this battle for our future. I could go on. But why don't I let the great Harlan Ellison speak for all of us?

Your rock, Harlan.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Van the Man

Louie, November 2007
In honor of Itunes just recently adding Van Morrison's catalog to its virtual world of musical goodies, I thought I'd offer a few Van oddities. The guy is certainly prolific which is a nice way of saying there's a lot of mediocre stuff out there. But still, he has some seriously amazing pipes and more important, he knows how to use them. A real treasure in a big world of soul singers. Never content to settle for just one style, Morrison has explored everything from traditional Irish ballads, to spoken word, to soul, pop, rock and roll and even country.

My favorite time to listen to Van is on Sunday mornings, with the windows open and the stereo turned up loud. Now if that don't get your seventh day started, you might as well stay in bed. Think about that as we're gifted that extra hour of sleep tonight. That's my reminder that if you didn't set your clocks back Sunday morning, you'll be an hour early for the next six months.

I digress. Today, I offer a trio of unusual covers for your listening pleasure.

The first is his version of the country ballad, Til' I Gain Control Again. And for you grown-ups, a very young Van's version of Dylan's It's All Over Now, Baby Blue. He makes it sound like a whole different song. And last but not least, a classic of a classic, his take of Leadbelly's Goodnight Irene, a song recorded for his Skiffle Sessions CD. The other dude on this is Lonnie Donegan.

One thing about Morrison you'll really get from these recordings is that the guy always has the best session guys playing backup. Take a listen and hear for yourself.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Walk the Line

Fall Colors
As some of you know I have been a TV writer for several years and as a result a decade-long member of the Writers Guild of Amerca (WGA).

Late last week negotiations between the writers (who create content) and the studios (who buy and produce and distribute) pretty much broke down. The Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA), which has been in force for three years and was extremely unpopular with many writers, expired and no new agreement could be reached to the replace it.

So yesterday, the WGA (including the WGA west and the WGA east) both voted to authorize a strike. We are preparing to walk out on Monday at noon, EST.

Nobody's sure what this will mean or even if it will happen (there's a last-ditch effort planned for Sunday when the two sides will get together again to try to work this thing out).

But there's a lot of finger pointing on both sides. The studios (and some in the media unfortunately) say writers are already well compensated. They paint us as overpaid and greedy, saying we will be driving BMWs to the picket line. Some of the writers' side have called the studios greedy, corporate union busters who just want to keep more of the billions they make away from us, the people who create the damn content in the first place.

Sure, there's grains of truth in both arguments but if there is a strike, it's not the writers who wanted it, despite our leadership's militant stance. (And it has been militant and I, for one, haven't supported that.) The fact is, striking is the one power we do have to ensure we are treated and compensated fairly, based on the economics of our business. And it doesn't matter how well we're compensated if we're not getting a fair share of the money we generate.

And let's be clear about that. There is no movie, no t.v. show, no Late Night with David Letterman or The Daily Show without writers. Someone has to start with a blank page and come up with the words that will be spoken by actors and news anchors and talk show hosts. Writers as a group do not get the same respect for their work as others in the film industry. A director can call a movie his own (A Film By X) even if he started with a script that was entirely out of the effort and imagination and brain of a writer. In fact, once a writer options the use of his script to a studio, the studio can change his words to the point where the final script is completely unrecognizable from the original. And there's no guarantee the writer will even get credit for coming up with the whole thing in the first place. That's right. I can spend a year of my life writing a script where the characters, concepts, plot, idea and words are completely out of my own head, sell it to a studio and watch it morphed to the point where I don't even recognize it anymore. Someone else might even get credit for writing the movie.

People will talk about a great film -- Network for example - as if it's entirely the creation of the director Sydney Lumet, when in fact one of cinema's greatest screenwriters came up with this startling original idea and wrote the script (Paddy Chayevsky). (In fact, Cheyevsky has been thinking of a satirical film about television for most of the latter part of his writing career and it can be said that Network was a result of a lifetime of work.)

We're not just fighting for respect. We're fighting for fair compensation. There's a pretty good blog up now called United Hollywood that's spelling out the issues better than I can. The point is we want to make a deal that makes sense for us and them, that allows us to keep the gains we've earned over hard battles in the past and also ensure we are fairly compensated for the use of our material in the new frontier of cyberspace.

The truth is that writers do make a lot of money. But we don't work all the time. At any given time almost half of the members of the WGA are unemployed. This is why residuals (payments made for the airing of our work over time) are so important. An episode I wrote for a Law & Order franchise in 2001 is still paying me residuals. But consider that when it sold into syndication, the per episode fee was just under $2 million. My take for the episode I wrote was less than 3 percent. So I ask you, who's making out better? The person who created the episode or Dick Wolf and NBC?

There's a staggering amount of money being made by Hollywood right now, despite the studios' protestations to the contrary. Just read today's business page for proof. All we're asking for, again, is our fair share of that pie. The size of the pie shouldn't matter. This is America, after all.

I don't think there's many of us who want this strike. We rely on the money we make when we work and if there's a strike, we obviously don't work. No work, no pay. The longer the strike lasts, the harder it's going to be for us as individuals. We're just like everybody else -- we have mortgages to pay and kids and car payments. We understand this but as our members have argued, we fear rollbacks and a bad deal more than we fear a strike.

I didn't want this strike in the first place. I don't support the methods of the people who run my Guild and I didn't vote for them. But that doesn't change the fact that the Studios forced us against the wall and I'm proud of my union for not caving to this pressure.

I remain hopeful that a planned Sunday negotiation session will lead us to a settlement but I'm prepared for the worst.

I'll walk the picket line and stand up with my fellow writers. I know it's the right thing to do.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

A formality

Nobody's ever come back from down 0-3 in the World Series and sorry to say, Rockies fans, it ain't gonna happen this year either. Not unless the Boston hitters are forced to use Whiffle Ball bats.

Give the Rockies credit. They were game enough to look a 6-0 deficit in the eye and turn it into a one-run nailbiter for a few minutes anyway. Their bullpen was making the Boston bats look ordinary. They had the momentum on their side.

Oh, but it was merely a tease.

Before you could say Pesky Pole, the Red Sox, behind four improbable hits by a rookie who was not even on the team in the heady days of May and June, dusted the Rockies spirited comeback with three runs of their own in the eighth and one more in the ninth for good measure to turn a 6-5 game into a rout and all but crown themselves 2007 World Series champions. Whew! I just said that in one damn sentence.

This was a game for one inning exactly, about when the Rockies MVP Candidate Matt Holliday went yard against the previous unscored-upon Hideki Okajima, to plate three big runs. The Rockies had almost completely erased Boston's 6-0 lead. It looked over in the third when Rockies starter Josh Fogg, called the Dragon Slayer by his teammates for his penchant for beating good teams, didn't even last long enough for his first World Series at bat.

As the crowd went wild, though, manager Clint Hurdle went with the usual reliable Brian Fuentes to keep the Rockies close and hold on to their epic momentum. Alas, it was not to be. A one-out walk to Julio Lugo opened the floodgates and that was all she wrote.

What will the Beantown faithful do now with two World Series titles in four seasons? Makes eighty-six years feel like nothing, don't it?

Wow. This is the same team that looked ordinary against the surging Indians before coming back from a 1-3 deficit to make it to the Big Show's Biggest Show.

Tonight, Jon Lester, Cancer Survivor, goes to the mound with a chance to clinch the World Series, a little more than a year after being diagnosed. Ain't sports grand?

Beantown Bangs Back

9:18 P.M. PST, Top of the 8th

Man, that's gotta be disheartening if you're the Rockies.

You're down 6-0, left for dead and you make a spirited comeback with your bullpen putting up big goose eggs. And before you know it, those Pesky BoSox are rounded the bases again.

From 6-5 to 9-5 and only six outs left.

If the Rockies can recover from this, you gotta give them credit.


8:45 p.m. Top of the 7th Inning

Matt Holiday goes yard and whoops, we got ourselves a game now.

Nobody out.

Interesting that Francona didn't take out ManRam in this inning during the double switch. Did he see this coming?

Oh Them Bases on Balls

8:25 p.m. Top of the seventh

The Rockies take advantage of two Dice K walks to get back into the game, sort of. Four runs can be overcome at Coors Field you would think.

Two heart-stopping plays in a row -- Spilborghs' drive to the wall (a homer in any other park in the majors probably) and Lugo's top-of-the-ladder leaping grab to end the inning. Wow. I take back everything bad I ever said about him. Right now, that's the play of the game.

For once, something useful -- Ken Rosenthal's telling us how Matt Herges pitches differently in the thin Denver air.

Speaking of the Denver air, it's looking pretty frigid there. I'm shivering just watching. Nice inning by the Rockies Matt Herges in shutting down the Sox.

Kaz gets on base now with nobody out and steals second and now it's first and third with nobody out. Here come the Rockies?

It's now or never....

Sox Play More D, So There

Nice play by Lugo and Lowell. I think Julio is way overrated and a clubhouse Cancer but he's got a nice glove and he's been focused since about midseason. He had such an awful start to the season that Francona sent him to the end of the bench.

But here he is, starting shortstop for a team up 2-0 in the World Series.

Dice K gets out of the inning. That was too easy. The Rockies are looking defeated right now.

That's a big league play on Ellsbury's grounder. Nice job by Atkins. You can't get rid of the ball faster that that.

They just flashed the probably Game 4 starters on the screen. How cool would it be for Jon Lester, who missed half the season recovering from Cancer, to be on the mound for a Sox clinching game? Now that's a story. Though I have a feeling the folks at Fox will overhype to a high vomit level.

Ortiz Fields a Grounder

News flash. David Ortiz made a pick at first.

That and a nifty catch off a high throw earlier and you can fit him for a Gold Glove.

Also, Manny in left would be a problem if the Rockies could actually hit a ball out there.

7:23 P.M. PST Top of the 5th

Tim McCarver used to be good, despite what anybody says. Seriously. He was awesome. But man, he's gone down hill fast. Who would have thought I would ever long for Joe Morgan?

7:3o P.M. PST Top of the 5th

What are these guys talking about? Craig Biggio is automatic for the Hall of Fame. I mean duh.

7:4o P.M. PST Last of the 5th

Lead off single for the Rockies but Dice K comes back, getting Sullivan on only three pitches. Interesting to hear the Rockies have not had back-to-back hits all series. Wow.

Two on, one out on that excuse-me single. Kaz Matzui up. Perfect storm for Colorado? I mean Kaz seems to have a bead on his countryman.

World Series, Game 3 LIVE

I thought I'd check in during the game tonight. The Red Sox are making me look like a predicting genius, up 6-0 with the Rockies batting in the third.

A few observations.

Josh Fogg, who went off to the showers already, looked really uncomfortable on the mound. Neither Joe Buck or Tim McCarver said anything about it so maybe that's the just the way he looks every time he pitches. Still, he seemed to come out of pitches like he was stepping gingerly -- like he didn't like the footing.

Dice K looks great right now. But it's Colorado and you really need a huge lead to feel comfortable. Still, he got through the important last of the third pretty easily there. Seems like only his countryman seems to be giving him any bit of trouble. But his two biggest contributions were the nice stab he made on Holliday’s bid for a base hit up the middle in the first and of course, his own RBI single in the third. That hit was his first in six major league at bats. And it’s more impressive when you think that when he played in Japan, he played in a DH league so he didn’t bat there either.

What's the deal with that Chevy Malibu ad where the jogger runs into the car? That's gotta be really high up on my stupid list. Wow.

It's real quiet out there in Denver right now.

Stay tuned ...

World Series, Game 3

L.A. Sunset, October 23, 2007
Here we are, Game 3 in Colorado and the prognosticators are weighing in heavily for the Rockies to win their first World Series game, ever. It makes sense. The odds do not favor a sweep, even with Boston, clearly the superior and more experienced team, up two games to none.
The thinking is that the Rockies, who had the NL’s best home record, are a better team at home and not just because of the mythical “home field advantage”. For starters, the air is thinner in the Mile High City and the ball travels I’m told 9 percent farther in Denver than down here where the rest of us live.
The people who built Coors Field tried to counter this advantage by building a park with an outfield bigger than Central Park. But alas, for the first 13 seasons in the life of the Rockies’ franchise, Coors was known as the place where pitchers went to die. Then last year, someone got the idea to change the baseballs. So they started putting game balls in a controlled atmosphere (referred to as the humidor) to keep them from shrinking and hardening in the thin air. While it’s worked (scoring has been down and the Rockies’ pitchers have had lower ERAs) it wasn’t the only factor in the Rockies’ success.
The Rockies braintrust decided to built a team around defense and pitching, as opposed to just getting a bunch of big bats. They have a very nice, young nucleus of hitters but they also made the fewest errors in the majors in a like forever this season.
The Rockies infield is excellent but they also have some very, very good outfielders, who can cover all that wide open space and have, in the case of Brad Hawp in right field, uber arms.
Willy Tavaras gets to everything in center – he made a couple of stellar plays there in Game 2 – but word late today is he’s being benched for his failure to produce at the plate. Cory Sullivan is also a fine fielder but he’s no Willie the speed demon. Still, the Rockies have a clear advantage in the field, especially since Boston’s left fielder, while being one of the game’s best hitters, is not exactly what one would call a good fielder. And with Manny being shaky in left and David Ortiz forced to play first instead of DH (where he’s been only seven times all season -- 17 times during the last two years), the thinking is that Boston is at a huge disadvantage.
I say it’s a factor but don’t count out the Red Sox. Why? Because they have a great freaking pitching, that’s why. Tonight, the very pricey Dice K gets the start and while he hasn’t exactly lived up to his $103 million price tag, the Japanese import has been one of the better pitchers in either league.
Read Jayson Stark’s column on ESPN.com today if you don’t agree with me. I predict you’ll be as surprised as I was. If you don’t have an ESPN.com Insider’s subscription, I’ll give you the highlights here.
He struck out 201 hitters in the regular season, more than probably Cy Young winner Josh Beckett or Cubs ace Carlos Zambrano and he was sixth in the AL overall.
And, points out Stark, he got all those K’s in only 204 2/3 innings. Better than, among others, Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander. Opposing hitters were .246 against him this year, which is better than Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and C.C. Sabithia, among others.
Further, I think it’s a huge thing that, while the Rockies faced Schilling (and beat him) and Beckett (and beat him) during the regular season, they did not see Dice K. For a pitcher who has 100 different pitches, I think this put the hitters at a disadvantage, particularly on the big stage of the World Series and in an absolutely must win game.
Let us ponder that for a minute.
The Rockies have to win tonight. Sure, they wouldn’t be the first team to come back from a 3-0 deficit in the World Series. Oh, wait. They would be. That’s right, no team in MLB history has ever come back from being down three games to none. And the only time it’s ever been done in a seven-game series was by the Red Sox – the famous 2004 comeback against the Yankees.
So while everybody seems to be calmly expecting the Rockies to win Game 3, I’m not sure they’re considering what a huge hill they have to climb. It’s bad enough they must realize by now that they’re not the best team out there, but now they have to think about what happens if they can’t pull out a win tonight.
The Rockies are at home. They’re supposed to win tonight. They have a lot more to lose than the Red Sox and facing a deceptive pitcher you’ve never seen before only adds insult to injury.

World Series, Game 2

I wanted to say a quick word about Game 2 before posting about tonight's Game 3.

I didn't get to see the game as I was driving from L.A. to S.F. but I listened to it on the radio and watched some of it later on tape.

The Rockies lost Game 2 as opposed to the Red Sox winning it.

Starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez lasted 4 2/3 innings, allowing two runs on three hits, but he also walked five guys, all due in large part because he stopped trusting his fastball. He was clearly intimidated by the Red Sox hitters and paid the price for his refusal to go with got him here in the first place.

Curt Schilling didn't have great stuff but he made great pitches when he had to and he was good enough to get the Sox to their wonderful bullpen. More proof that even when he doesn't have his best stuff, he's one of the great pressure pitchers of our generation.

Major props to Hideki Okajima who was just lights out great, proving once again that he is one of the better set up guys in all of baseball. If he’s back to his mid-season form (after scuffling a bit toward the end of the season) than this is going to be a very short series.

Matt Holliday may pile up some more hardware before this is all said and done but his getting picked off of first with Todd Helton at the plate as the go-ahead run in the eighth was just unforgivable. I know what he was thinking cause he told the press afterward that he was trying to “sneak” a stolen base, catch the Sox off guard.

But the Red Sox were not surprised, in part I bet because the Indians tried the same thing during the ALCS and were successful. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice... well you know.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

World Series, Game 1

Well, that went about as expected.

Seriously. I told you the Rockies pitchers would have their hands full. Okay, so I didn't expect them to walk in three runs in a row but if you really think about it, those runs were no big thing. The game was over by then. Truthfully, it was over in the bottom half of the first inning after Josh Beckett retired the Rockies on three K's and then the little Red Sox who could (Dustin Pedroia) went yard over the Green Monster before the Rockies defense could get comfortable.

I think the off days hurt the Rockies. Their timing was bad at the plate. They looked rusty and when you add the glaringly bright lights of your first World Series game as a player (only one Rockies player had been there before), it just adds up to a long, long, long night. I swear my dog could have predicted the outcome of this game.

Game 2 is the big game. Duh.

Really, it is. Schiling is beatable this season and it's unlikely he'll pitch as well as he did in Game 6 of the ALCS. From the Rockies point of view, they had to go in thinking Game 1 was the mulligan. Beckett being Beckett, the eight-day layoff and being the visitors besides -- it's a lot to overcome, even for a team that was so hot. But it's a long series and really all you have to do is win one game in the other guy's house.

So you got the rusty, first-time jitters, best-pitcher-in-baseball game out of your system. You just go out there and take Game 2.

Sounds so freaking easy, don't it?

The Red Sox are on a roll right now and I'm not sure there's anybody Colorado could put out on the hill who could shut them down. I mean the one game they lost in the last five they've played, they scored 7 runs. So they're gonna score. Which means the Rockies have to start hitting. And they have to do it against Curt Schilling, who until his very civilian last couple of seasons, was the closest thing baseball had to, well to Josh Beckett.

I can see the Rockies winning Game 2.

But I doubt it. Seriously.

World Serious

I know I should have been posting more during the baseball playoffs -- so much to write about -- but I've been keeping my nose to the grindstone trying to get all my writing done before my colleagues go out on strike (a topic for another blog post perhaps).

But the postseason has been nothing if not dramatic, at least on one side of the baseball world. In the National League, the playoffs have been so undramatic, that the Pennant winner has been sitting on their ass for eight days. In the every night a different game world of pro baseball, that's a long freaking time to be playing catch.

There's been a lot of speculation about whether the Colorado Rockies will be effected by their long layoff, which included a workout in four inches of freshly fallen snow (which begs the question why are we playing the World Series so late in October?). Last year, the Detroit Tigers, arguably the better WS team had six days off before facing the the St. Louis Cardinals and lost 4-1 in a very one-sided series that turned on the Tigers' mental mistakes. This has been repeated a lot since the Rockies swept the Diamondbacks out of the playoffs last week, with the theory being that too much time off is a bad thing.

If this turns out to be the case, the Rockies should blame Major League Baseball and the networks who broadcast the games (this year, Fox and TBS) because there's just too many days off in between games. I would like to take this opportunity to rue the day that TBS won the rights to broadcast playoff games. They put together their broadcast booths like they had everybody's leftovers to chose from. I like Bob Brenly and Tony Gwynn isn't bad but they need to be paired with guys who know how to call a game and Chip Carey is not one of them. Who thought I would long for the days of Thom Brennaman? There's been a lot of criticism about these guys so one hopes they work harder to get a better group in for next year.

Back to the series. The AL playoffs were a lot more interesting, what with the Indians facing the Yankees in the Joe Torre Future series (and we all know what happened there) before taking a 3-1 lead over the Boston Red Sox. Just when it looked like curtains for Beantown, the Red Sox reeled off three straight dominant wins in sending the Indians home disappointed for the 49th straight year.

I'd like to toot my own horn, even though it's hardly worth tooting, because at the start of the playoffs, I picked the Rockies to face the Red Sox in the World Series. I even picked the Rockies to sweep the Phillies (for reasons I admit that had more to do with my disappointment with my Mets than anything else). If Boston beats the Rockies, and I think they will, I'll have a perfect picks-wise. I mean it's only worth minor bragging rights and a small amount of cash from the pool I'm in but heck, it doesn't take much to make me happy.

So I have to pick the Sox, even though the Rockies are in the midst of one of the most impressive winning streaks in the history of the game. It's so impressive that seeing it in black and white looks downright crazy. That's 21 wins in 22 games dating back to the last three weeks of the season and including a sweep of the aforementioned Phillies and Dbacks in the playoffs. For a nice analysis of how they did it, check out this link.

The Rockies aren't winning with mirrors. They have fine starting pitching, a very underrated bullpen and a core bunch of hitters who seriously rake. But my thinking is they haven't faced a team in the postseason that's even remotely as good as the Red Sox or as experienced. And the Sox have to feel like world beaters after coming back from the brink of elimination for the second time in four years. And we all remember how the last one ended. The NL team that year (St. Louis) didn't have a chance.

I don't think the Rockies will be swept but I don't see this series going seven games. I just don't think Colorado pitching staff can keep Boston's formidable lineup in check. I see the series at most going six games, though it could be over sooner if Boston wins Games 1 and 2 at home.

The one thing that could really play havoc with this series is the weather. They're already talking about rain in Boston tonight and snow as we've already discussed, is not unusual this time of year in Denver.

I hope it does rain and snow, causing games to be canceled, because I think that's the only thing that will convince MLB and the broadcasters to shorten the postseason so we can actually play the entire Fall Classic in the freaking fall.

Should be fun to watch these teams play anyway. And if you're a casual baseball fan, there's a few treats to look for.

On the Rockies side:
Matt Holliday is a one of the best young players in either league. He hits for average and with power and is a nifty fielder.

There might be no smarter hitter than first baseman Todd Helton and for slick fielding, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki is already one of the best in game. In fact, the Rockies defense is worth watching. Nobody in the NL committed fewer errors. His double play partner is the ex Met Kaz Matsui, the Japanese import who looked like a bust until he was traded to the Rockies and spent time in their minor leagues. Give him credit for figuring out the big leagues but whatever he did is working and without him, the Rockies would not be where they are.

On the Red Sox side:

There may be no better hitter in the history of the game than Boston's Manny Ramirez. This guy eats, sleeps, drinks, walks, talks, thinks, dreams hitting. And when you watch him play left field, you'll see how single-minded he is about offense. How good is Manny? He's batting over .400 in the playoffs with two strikes on him. Most other players, two strikes usually means an out. Not with Manny.

David Oritz, aka, Big Papi. A great clutch hitter though in recent games, he's not been at his best. Chalk that up to a knee injury he's been battling all season long and which will likely require surgery this winter.

Kevin Youkilis is as hard nosed as they get but don't let that overshadow what a great hitter he is. Watch how many pitches he's able to "waste" in each of his at bats. The guy doesn't get cheated at the plate but he also battles to get his pitch. I imagine he's a pitcher's nightmare in how patient a hitter he is.

Josh Beckett, Boston's starting pitcher tonight, has carved out one of the best postseason resumes in recent years, maybe the best ever if he can help Boston bring home it's second title in the last four seasons. He's been lights out although he's known to have slow starts so watch to see if the Rockies get to him early.

Stay tuned, sports fans ...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Time to Go, Joe

As my few loyal readers know, I'm not only a Mets fan, I'm a Yankees hater. In recent years, I've hated less, actually. This is partly because Boston is doing better and the Yanks are failing at what they used to do best, which is get into the playoffs and win championships.

But there's trouble in Yankeeville these days as word came out today that Joe Torre rejected management's offer of a one-year deal to continue on as the Yankees skipper. Initial reports have Torre looking like a heel for turning down an offer almost nobody thought he would receive after The Boss said publicly during their playoff series against Cleveland that it was win or go home, permanently.

While the Yanks won the first elimination game to avoid a three-game sweep, they couldn't close the deal in game four and Cleveland moved on to face Boston (as of this writing they are up 3-2 going to Game 6 Saturday night in Boston).

But Steinbrenner and his braintrust didn't move right away, leaving Torre hanging over the last week. Then came today's bombshell - the Yanks apparently do an about face and offer Torre a one-year deal worth five very large and another three million in bonuses. What does Torre do?

Well, he says 'no.'

Whoa, Nelly Fox.

It looks like Yanks management caved into the pressure from fans and many of the Yanks veterans who came out publicly to support the popular skipper. But a closer look reveals something else entirely.

The more I look at this situation, the more apparent it is that the Yankees made this offer to Torre to try to save face for the franchise. Period. I don't think they thought for a nanosecond that he would accept it (and why would he take another one-year deal just to sit on the hot seat again?) The Yankees move is bush league because it's clear they wanted to put the onus on Torre for fear of angering his supporters, both on the field and in the stands.

I think it was time for Torre to go. Whatever you say about him as a manager, he wasn't getting it done and as my friend, sportswriter Allen Berra has said, he seemed to be managing from Cooperstown. Seven years without a title in Yankeeland is an eternity and if it means saying good-bye to an icon, then so be it. Won't be the first or the last legend to depart the House that Ruth Built.

I hope Yankees management gets called on this, though. It's underhanded ball. Even if you agree with me that Torre's time is up, doesn't mean you gotta kick him when he's down. Show him the door, yes, but at least show him the respect he earned by guiding your club to all those titles.

I'm just saying.

Meanwhile on the field, Josh Beckett breathed new life into Boston's fading chances with a masterful performance in Game 5, helping the Sox stave off elimination. Two games to go, both in Boston and Curt Schilling on the mound. You gotta like the Sox chances to force a Game 7 and you have to wonder if the Indians, so young and inexperienced in these pressure situations, have what it takes to close the deal.

If the Red Sox pull this out and that's a huge if still, you might look at the tense at-bat by Kenny Lofton against Beckett, who is convinced Lofton showed him up a few years back when they were both in the National League (Kenny in Philly and Josh in Florida). I thought Lofton handled the situation badly this time, adding fuel to a fire that was best left to burn out. The Sox are an emotional team and you don't want to give Schilling another reason to pitch like his old Yankee-killer self.

If you're a baseball fan, you do not want to miss Saturday night's game.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Kobe Kaboom

So maybe L.A.'s just too small a town for two Kobes.

S.O.L. picked an interesting week to be down here in LaLa Land.

Well, y'all know the Kobe of which I speak, the poor under appreciated L.A. Lakers superstud. He's got a new teammate in Los Angeles this season -- George Karl's son Coby, who incidentally was NOT named after either Kobe or a Japanese steer.

The big question is how long the two will actually share a uniform. Since the younger Coby is a rookie draftee, you can rest assured if he goes anywhere, it will be the developmental league. So yeah, crazy as this world is, it's getting crazier here in L.A. while As the Kobe World Turns continues.

For those of you living under a rock, Kobe Bryant announced in a frenzied 24-hour period that he was sick and tired of the Lakers losing ways and he wanted out of Lakerland unless they replaced GM Mitch Kupchak with ex-GM and Kobe father figure Jerry West. Only since West was under an expiring contract with Memphis and since he and Mitch K. are buddies, the Logo got bent out of shape when his protege was called out by his once favored son. Then Kobe seemed to diplomatically back away from his trade request only to raise it again, only with no ifs, ands or basketballs. Whew. Must've been quite a day in the Kobe crib.

The long summer pushed on. Kobe went to play for the U.S. National Team and demonstrated to his superstar teammates that he could actually pass the ball. This news flash did not go unnoticed by his new running mates, some of whom the Black Hole was campaigning Lakers management to bring to L.A. by any means available. No matter that in doing so he completely dissed his current teammates.

The blockbuster trades got done this summer, but the Kid went to Beantown and the other O'Neal stayed put in the Midwest.

So Kobe arrived at Lakers training camp determined to put a happy face on his predicament and collect his paycheck (which is more than tonight's lottery payoff). Poor Kobe. Poor, poor Kobe.

Behind the scenes, apparently, Kobe and the Lakers had agreed to keep the trade request matter under wraps. Then early this week, team owner Jerry Buss told the L.A. Times that he would entertain offers for his disgruntled superstar, not that he expected to get even close to even value in return. However you read it, it was a compliment to Kobe but Kobe cried foul.

In one of his now famous punk ass moves, he asked out of practice three straight days. Philip claims it was "leg fatigue". Right, S.O.L. is having excuse fatigue. The rumor mill went on tilt at the news that Kobe cleaned out his locker, a story he flatly denied. His agent said he was "just organizing" it.

Here's S.O.L.'s take: I think Kobe got wind of the comments and blew a a major gasket. I think he absolutely did clean out his locker in a fit of churlishness. (Looking back from our current perspective of the real Kobe psyche, can anyone now believe that he didn't mail in that second half against Sacramento four seasons ago? Or the 2005 second half in Game 7 against the Suns? Wake up people.

Instead of facing the music like a man and understanding that his own erratic behavior started this whole trade story nonsense, he took his ball and went home.

I think a person could argue that Kobe has about as much talent around him as LeBron James has in Cleveland. Maybe Cleveland is slightly better and plays in the weaker East but if the roles were reversed, James would be thinking about how his talent could make his teammates better not how much better he is than his supporting cast. He certainly wouldn't call out his boys in public, not like this.

I've said it before. Kobe hastened the end of the Shaq era and he's getting exactly what he deserves in return. The Lakers haven't won a playoff series since Shaq left. If Kobe's the best player on the team than why shouldn't he take some of the blame?

Further, his immature blabbering this summer was directed at the team that stood by him in his darkest days, that rehired Phil Jackson to appease him and didn't flinch when he "tested" the free agent waters with the crosstown Clippers when he knew all along he wasn't going anywhere.

I hear fans in L.A. cry that Kobe should be mad that the Lakers haven't done much to make the team better. I agree that Mitch is a lousy GM but how come nobody asks who would want to play with the second coming of Pistol Pete? A moody, selfish, jerk who hogs the ball in the All-Star game so he can improve his own legacy.

If Kobe wants to know what's wrong with his team, all he has to do is look in the mirror.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass

A few of my fellow revelers.
I was at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival this weekend in San Francisco. For anyone who doesn't know, HSB is put on by venture capitalist Warren Hellman, a very rich guy who is really into great roots music (and doesn't I'm surprised to see have a Wikipedia entry). For the past seven Octobers, he's put on a 3-day music festival at Golden Gate Park in S.F. featuring as many as 74 bands on six stages. Among the performers that have stopped by this musician's musician concert are Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, Patty Griffin, Joe Ely, Chris Smither, Guy Clark, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Kelly Joe Phelps, Ralph Stanley, Gillian Welch, Roseanne Cash and Los Lobos. The list is much longer but you get the picture.

The best part about the festival is that it's totally free. That's right. Free. You get there and find a parking spot (not easy) and then you freely (except for the crowds) walk around between the six stages, catching all sorts of bands and performers.

I'll write more later about the shows I saw -- so many it's going to take me awhile to gather my thoughts and notes -- but I'll give you a taste of the festivities through the wonder of digital images. Remember, you can click on any of these images to see them full size.

I just want to offer a cosmic shout out to Warren Hellman for putting on a great show and paying for it. As the song says, there's no better way to get to heaven.

Buddy Miller getting in tune

Charlie Louvin, the last living member of the Louvin Brothers. He's 81 and still going strong.

Emmylou Harris, beautiful as ever

Gillian Welch & David Rawlings

David Holt and the legendary Doc Watson

Jeff Tweedy

Guy Clark

John Mellencamp and Neko Case

Nick Lowe

Chris Smither

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Waylon's Blues

Harvest Season, Healdsburg 2007
Whoop and holler, this is my 100th post. I'm surprised I actually got this far. I'd like to give a special shout out to my friend David who kind of infected me with the blog bug. So thanks, David, even though I can hardly hold a candle to your prolificness, I'm happy to be in your blog universe, nonetheless.

To be sure, I should have gotten here a long time ago. It's been a strange summer and I haven't been able to post here every day. Still, a milestone, even a small one, seems worth celebrating. So.... yippee.

Woo hoo.

Now that that's done with ...

I can't write about the Mets today. It's too hard to watch them disintegrate, even though y'all know I have long wondered whether they're really good enough to make any kind of serious post-season run. With all that's happened and their near-epic collapse, they could still make the playoffs with a win tomorrow (or a loss actually which I could explain if I wanted to go through the various scenarios). Make it or not, there will still be time to put this season into perspective. For now, though, on to more interesting things.

I admit to being a snob about some things. Beer, for one. I’d rather go thirsty than drink a Budweiser. Same way with country music. I mean what passes for country today is, well, crap. You can keep your Faith Hill and your Rascal Flats and definitely Brooks and Dunn. Not one of those shit-kickers can hold a candle to Waylon Jennings.

That’s why I offer Waylon as one of my fav artists.

Waylon died in 2002, way before his time. But all those years of hard partying finally got to the old guy. It was actually diabetes that killed him – he was only 64 – but his history of addiction and recovery was a long one.

Waylon will be remembered for a lot of things, but possibly his most underrated talent was his amazing singing voice. He was a rare singer/songwriter with a refined, unique voice. His baritone could be gruff, but he knew how to use it, could phrase with the best of them. It's a voice that would have been at home I am sure in much more demanding musical setting.

And while he ended up a larger-than-life character, he was a legend before his time, too. On Feburary 3, 1959, Jennings, who was then a member of Buddy Holly’s Crickets, famously gave up his plane seat to J.P. Richardson who was better known as the Big Bopper. Richardson was sick with the flu, or so the story goes, and Jennings was doing the man a good turn.

The act of kindness turned out to be lucky for the young Waylon. That plane, which also was carrying Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens crashed outside Mason City, Iowa, killing all on board.

Jennings lived on to become a true country music outlaw and is credited with starting the outlaw country movement, along with Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Billy Joe Shaver and Krist Kristofferson, among others. The truth was he was only rebelling against the state of country music, which was being dominated by the docile, sugary sounds of the Grand Old Opry.

Waylon was a Texan by birth and he shared the hard-drinking, rock-and-roll and blues influenced sounds of his fellow maverick singer/songwriters. His music was heavy on guitar and hot on swing rhythms and foot-stomping train songs and honky tonk. He rejected Nashville and those string-laden lost-my-dog-and-my-girl-my-pick-up-truck-broke shit. He was the true heir to Bob Willis and the Texas Playboys and because of guys like Waylon and Willie and Johnny Cash, Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt and today, Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle, the torch is still lit and the fire burns strong.

Waylon made a lot of records, toward the end of his life more than a few lousy ones, but during his prime and sometime after, he was a force to be reckoned with, both as a singer and a songwriter. For my money, the three absolutely essential Waylon records are “Dreaming My Dreams,” “Ol’ Waylon” and “What Goes Around Comes Around.” But almost anything he did in the late 70’s, early 80’s likely has a few gems on them.

I’ve uploaded three of his classics to my Vox stash. This one called Waymore’s Blues is just classic, anti-establishment Waylon, showing how far he was from the typical saccharin country music of his day (and unfortunately ours). And here’s a medley of Elvis songs, which goes to remind us all where Elvis came from. Finally, my all-time favorite Waylon tune which I guarantee ain’t nothing like you’d expect from a country music superstar -- nice guitar riffing on the way out. I’m gonna use this song in a movie one day.

A lot of you 70's kids might know Waylon from his guitar -- that was him playing and singing the theme song to "Dukes of Hazzard," but he was so much more than that. Check him out and you'll see.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

My Friend Bob

Last Wednesday morning at 4 a.m., a good friend passed away. Bob was a writer. But he was so much more than that, too. A fiercely private man who in his lifetime had seen and done and been to more places than 10 people do in theirs. Nobody would have blamed him for being angry or cynical but he was neither. He was kind and compassionate and he believed in the possibilities of the world.

He kept his illness secret from all but his closest friends and even some of them didn't know until he was in the hospital and then everybody knew, which must have been hell on such a private person. But when his wife read the emails from his friends, she said it brought him great joy. I'm glad he heard them. Early last week, word came out that if he survived his treatments, he would need a laptop to use in the hospital where he would be kept in isolation. I had offered his wife the use of my old one.
But the next day, Bob was gone. He was a friend, yes, but also a mentor and someone to rely on for advice and counsel. He was one of the truly decent human beings I've ever known. I will miss him.

I wrote this the night he died.

I spent all day Tuesday working on my old laptop. I was getting it ready for Bob.

Knowing Bob’s security concerns, I wanted to make sure it was completely clean of viruses and spyware and and loaded with the best anti-spam and spyware programs. It wasn’t a grim task for me but a happy one. Most of the time there’s nothing we can really do for our friends in need, I mean we can offer them support and encouragement and a shoulder to cry on. We can give them money. But it never seems like you're doing anything real. The laptop was something concrete and I felt good about it.

I couldn’t sleep last night. The cold, perhaps? A fierce wind that was blowing over the mountain? Who the fuck knows? Even the Ambien didn’t help.

Just after four, the wind kicked up, blew a bedroom window shut. The one next to my bed. It was loud as hell. I woke up. The wind was howling. It gets dark out here in the country. Some nights darker than others.

A lot of people thought Bob and I had known each other forever but the truth was I hardly knew him. I knew Nancy first. We once worked together at the Red Cross. What’s important is that Bob treated me like an old friend. He was a mentor but not the way we usually think of mentors, though I think maybe we should. The first time we met, he embraced me and told me I had a good heart. This was after five minutes.

He never ended a correspondence or a conversation without a word of encouragement or endearment. I think he did this for everyone he knew but each word, each sentiment was different, thought out, unique to the person. That is a rare gift.

He had a way of taming cynicism. For a guy who could embrace conspiracy theories, this might seem like an oxymoron. But truths were truths to Bob. They could be awful truths but they were there, to be examined out in the open. It was the only way you could learn and grow and make the world a better place.

More than anyone I’ve ever met, Bob believed in the human spirit. He was a true believer, in us. If you knew what he knew, saw what he saw, you might think he was naïve or crazy. You might not understand how he could be so sure of the goodness of people. But he was. And in this way, though I think he would disagree with me, he was truly pure of heart. I ask you: is there a better legacy one man can leave than his love for life?

I tried to write something earlier. Like others on our community writer's board, I had nothing. Just emptiness and pain and utter sadness. I feel selfish and guilty too for I know this loss is not my own, not just mine. I don’t want to wallow in it. But I know Bob understands. I’m only human.

I’ve been in bed sick with a cold for several days. I planned on staying in again today. Closing my eyes, staying under the covers, and trying to forget that the world is short one very incredible soul.

But I got up and got dressed and drove to a movie theater and got a ticket for 3:10 to Yuma.

The theater was practically empty and I got a seat with nobody in front of me. Bob loved Deadwood and I thought going to a Western, written by writers Bob admired (Derek Haas and Michael Brandt) would be a fitting tribute.

And so I watched the movie in the dark and all the time, in the back of my mind were thoughts of Bob and how much he would have dug it. And when the credits rolled, I stayed until the end and I cried. I cried for me and Bob and our collective loss and every fucking shitty thing that life throws at us before we’re ready for it, before we’re wise enough to deal with it with grace and dignity.

How do you measure the loss of someone you love? You can’t. You just live with it. It’s the hardest thing I think, this idea that life goes on long after our loved ones are gone, long after we’re gone, too. The Earth spins. Shit happens. Time marches on. We live, we die and then one hundred thousand million somebody else’s starts it all over again.

Except for days like today.

On days like today, on rare days like today, time stops.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

You Sweep, We Sweep

I've been traveling again, this time it's back to Los Angeles for a wedding and other bits of business. I have some thoughts about traveling, especially about driving and drivers, but will leave those for when I return to wine country.

Right now, I want to talk about baseball. I know I practically wrote off my Mets last week. Despite their recent turn-around, I still wonder if they have what it takes to make a serious World Series run. Still, I'm feeling pretty good right now.

Last we spoke, the Mets had lost four straight to the Phillies, the NL East's second-place team. The Mets win two of those four and the race is all but over but instead, they leave Philly beaten and embarrassed and only two games back. Worse, they were about to face the Braves, their nemesis. The same Braves who had won every series from the Mets so far this year.

Well, the ship seems to have been righted. Pedro's back and Endy's back and so, it seems, are the Mets who went into Atlanta and swept those bad boys and did it convincingly. And after taking the first two against the mediocre Reds in Cinci, put together their first five-game winning streak of the season. Whew. If that weren't enough, they came back to New York and swept the lowly Astros.

Say what you will about all three clubs, but during this streak of winning eight-of-nine games, the Mets beat John Smoltz, Tim Hudson, Aaron Harang and Roy Oswalt, not a push-over in that bunch, no sir. You tell me if it's a coincidence that Pedro Martinez returned and won both of his starts, his first two victories since last season.

Ah, but there is no rest for the weary. Six games ahead against those same Phillies and Braves. The Mets can bury them with a strong showing, putting their focus on the postseason instead of a down-to-the-wire race.

We're about to see really what Mets team is for real this season and whether the newfound confidence is an illusion or the start of something big.

Stay tuned ...

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Mets Meltdown

As I write this, my Mets are having an epic meltdown, the likes of which their fans used to be used to but haven't seen much of since David, Jose and Omar came to Flushing.

Trailing 5-0 in to the Phillies, who have beaten the Mets in six straight games, they managed to find a way to tie it at 5-5. Then with two outs in the fifth, the damn Phillies scored three fucking times. Three fucking times, all on shitty little bloop hits. Not a hard-hit ball among them.

What gives? Are the Mets just not that good? Or is this an anomaly no team avoids in a long season?

Long, dramatic pause.

I think these Mets are just not that good.


I said it.

I'm serious. They seem to have no sense of urgency. No focus. None of the swagger that they used to march through the league last season and come within one inning of going to the World Series.

I don't know who's to blame for this swoon in attitude. Maybe it's the loss of Pedro Martinez, the number one motivator, the one guy in the clubhouse who doesn't speak softly. Maybe it's Willie Randolph, the even-keeled manager who expects his players to play like they've been around the bases a time or two. Maybe it's just the alignment of the fucking stars.

Whatever it is, the Mets have just slid back to the pack. If they don't find a way to come back and win today, they will have a scant two-game lead over the Phillies with the Braves bearing down behind them. And speaking of those Braves, they're up next for the Mets. If ever there were three must-win games this season, the Amazin's are staring them right in the face.

This isn't the time of the season to lose your drive.

It's get right or go home time.

Though I fear that if they don't have "it" now, it's too late to fine it.

I hope they prove me wrong.

Remembering Katrina

Over Me
Two years ago tomorrow, Hurricane Katrina was finally blowing clear of New Orleans. But the destruction and death left in its wake, well we're still not over it yet. Nearly 2,000 people died as a result of the storm countless others were left homeless and continue to drift through the unnavigable maze of trying to get back a little of what they lost. If anything, the storm and the aftermath highlighted the incompetence of the current U.S. President, who rewarded dozens of important government jobs based on patronage and not on experience. Which is why the most pertinent job skill on the resume of the knucklehead he appointed to run FEMA was as executive director of an Arabian horse association (from which he was forced to resign).

I don't know enough about the politics of this to know how much the local government was to blame vs. the feds. I know mistakes were made and people died and one of the greatest cities ever was laid to waste -- and some say may never comeback. I also know that New Orleans was fucked up some before Katrina. I still harbor hope that somehow, some way the lessons learned on the local, state and national levels will get learned but good. Maybe it will eventually translate into making places like New Orleans better and fixing the problems of poverty and joblessness and all those other things that continue leave a good portion of our own in hopeless despair, the kind of hopelessness that makes them wonder if help will come when they call for it, not when. Alas, that hope is tenuous at best. But I'm trying to keep it alive.

My friend and fellow blogger, UBM has been streaming Katrina videos and tunes all week. Surf on over and check them out.

On this solemn moment of remembrance, I've uploaded a couple of my favorite songs to my Vox stash. The first is from the live concert for Katrina that aired last year (and is available on iTunes). Norah Jones gets a lot of flack (I've heard her called "snorer" Jones) but I think she's got a little something going on, and she has the proper musical genes. Sometimes it comes out like on this tune though I'm betting 10 years from now, she tears this song up in a way she doesn't do here.

And here's John Hiatt's classic "Feels Like Rain." One of the best New Orleans songs I've heard from a guy from Indiana. You can not listen to the first guitar lines of this song and not melt into it. Come on, I dare you.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Boss is Back

Bagaduce Bay. Castine, Maine 2007
I'm a suburban girl from New York. I'm of that age when the first rock radio I ever listened to was an AM station, the first record I ever played was an actual record. Sharing my tunes meant spending a little extra on those black and gold Maxell tapes. Dropping the needle on the right track and staying right there, finger poised on the stop button until it finished playing. It was an art stopping the tape right and rewinding it just enough so one song would roll proper into the next. Touch-and-go if the tape wouldn't run out before the last tune was recorded. I know y'all know what I'm talking about.

Some of you anyway.

Yep, there I was on a fall day in 1978 or '79 in Izzy Smith's bedroom drinking soda pop and listening to some tunes. No, it wasn't like that. Izzy was the cool-ass audio geek of our clique of orphans, the kid that had the sweet stereo system who looked down on the hand-me-down RCA shit. Like what I had. The one with the needle that put more grooves in my vinyl than it was supposed to have. Pop, click used to not be sound effects.

Izzy was a real radio snob. This cat listened to FM radio, you dig? And he was a class below me, too. As big a pain in the ass he was, though, I had to give him credit -- he had some serious good musical taste. Most of what he played, I liked. And, I'm pained to say this now, but most of it I'd never even heard before. Look, I knew a little bit. Knew who the Who and the Stones were and stuff and a little bit of Dylan. You know, the Blowin' in the Wind Dylan. Not the Subterranean Homesick Blues electric kick-ass Dylan. I know. For shame on me.

Anyway, back to Izzy's bedroom. He kept his records in ABC order and he kept 'em nice and clean. Not like me. I'd stack up two, three records on my player and let 'em roll and leave 'em that way. Put 'em in the wrong sleeve. Hell, I wrote all over my Michael Jackson records. This was MJ when he was still black, that old Motown stuff. I can't even look at those records anymore, thinking how much they'd be worth if I didn't write "I love you, Michael" on 'em. (Whatever you're thinking right now isn't half as bad as what I'm thinking about myself). I had some Sugar Hill Gang. I had some Stevie Wonder and some Grandmaster Flash, and a couple of Sly and P-funk 45's. And some stuff I don't even dare mention in public. I'd listen to my Dad's dixieland records, his Bessie Smith, Tony Bennett and Sinatra stuff. But the disc that Izzy Smith spun that day. Now that was something new.

I'll never forget it, that feeling listening to the opening bars to the opening song on Born to Run. That kind of shit changes a girl's life. I am telling you. Come on now: The screen door slams/ Mary's dress waves/ Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays/ Roy Orbison singin' for the lonely/ Hey, that's me and I want you only/ Don't turn me home again I just can't face myself alone again ...

You got to be kidding me. It was magic. This hot guy in a floppy haircut and a scraggly beard with a voice that still makes my knees go weak. And underneath those words, this piano line that just cuts straight on through to your heart, a blast of harmonica and fuck me if that's not an electric guitar.

Lying out there like a killer in the sun / I know it's late but we can make it if we run

There are moments in a teenager's life that you do not forget. Ever. I'm not talking about the serious shit, the living and dying and dealing with the real world shit. I'm talking about those metaphysical line-crossing you-ain't-alone-in-this-world kind of shit. I am not ashamed to say that hearing the opening bars to "Thunder Road" was one of those for me.

The crazy part was it was only the beginning. On that album alone, "She's the One," "Backstreets," "Meeting Across the River," the title cut and the ripping and roaring "Jungleland." Just thinking about it now makes the hair on my neck stand up.

You want a perfect rock and roll album, spin yourself Born to Run. I swear it's like a rock opera but without the pretentiousness of rock opera rock. Not that there's anything wrong with Quadrophenia but I prefer the Jersey version. (No disrespect to Pete T and The Who either.)

The Boss gets a bad rap in some parts for the way he supposedly orchestrated his career, one calculating move after another. But the truth is the man can write music and nobody plays a longer and stronger show -- four-plus hours of hard-rocking, paint-peeling, sweat-flying playing makes laying down your 45 bucks seem like a bargain. Oh, sure, he's had his share of clunkers but pound-for-pound, it's hard to argue with his hallowed place in American rock and roll history, a spot he's carved out all for himself, forget the comparisons to Dylan and Woody Guthrie and God knows who else. Nah, Bruce is Bruce and the next generation is gonna be talking about when the next Springsteen will come along. It's gonna be a long wait I bet.

The occasion of my homage to Bruce is the upcoming release of a new album that marks his first complete studio recording with the E-Street Band in more years than I can count. For one week only, iTunes is making the single "Radio Nowhere" available for free.

From your front porch to my front seat/ The door is open but the ride it ain't free

If you want to sample it first, I got it streaming here up on my Vox stash and I must say it definitely rocks. Guess you can go home again.

For you old fogies like me, I'm also streaming Thunder Road from the aforementioned Born to Run disc. And here's a shout out to my old high school pal, Izzy Smith, for turning me onto The Boss.

Thanks, Izzy, wherever you are. You rock.

So Mary climb in / It's a town full of losers and I'm pulling out of here to win

Sunday, August 26, 2007

S.O.L. Been Gone

I've been gone on vacation in a place where, believe it or not, I had no cell phone and no internet for days. No t.v. either. I thought I would go through withdrawal but I discovered there are pursuits that have nothing to do with plugging something into an outlet.

It's good to be back and I promise to make up for my post-less three weeks. So much to talk about and so little time.

I just need a few days to get over my vacation. In the meantime, here's my version of a vacation slide show, virtual style. Drink up the atmosphere. I'll check in soon on the MLB pennant races and preseason football and offer a small musical interlude in between.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Musical Introductions

I promised a couple weeks back that I would offer up some of my favorite singer/songwriters for sampling. Most of these folks are artists who are toiling in the less hip racks of the music store or in the far reaches of iTunes.

I'm just trying to spread a little love and perhaps earn my favs another fan or two.

I'll start with an easy one.

Patty Griffin was born one day short of a month after me and spent her childhood in Old Town, Maine, the youngest of seven children. She was signed to a record contract on the basis of a demo tape that got turned into a Nile Rogers produced album. But Griffin, to her credit, felt it was overproduced and somehow managed to get A&M to release a stripped-down version of the demo tape in 1996 under the title Living With Ghosts. I first heard it when I was working for an L.A. daily newspaper, writing occasional record reviews and it was one of a very few first albums I've heard that blew me away.

While it's clearly influenced by her time spent on the Boston folk music scene in the early 1990's, there's something richer and deeper in this mainly acoustic album. "Poor Man's House" is a powerful, bigger-than-life song that resonates even though it's basically Griffin and her acoustic guitar. I saw her last month up here in NorCal with Griffin doing a solo set on her guitar and she didn't need a microphone.

I was so moved by the CD that I called A&M and had them hook me up for an interview. I'm proud to say that mine was the first story on her in a major L.A. paper.

Griffin's released five more albums since her first and with each one, she has found more confidence as a songwriter and more range as a singer. Her best songs are soaring pop-folk anthems, a little blues, a little rock, a lot of soul.

Griffin has recently made the musically-rich Austin, Texas her home base, which has brought her into a fairly exclusive circle of musician’s musicians. Her current touring band, for example, includes ex Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan. She’s earned the company, having toured with Emmylou Harris and recorded or worked with the likes of Harris, Buddy Miller and Solomon Burke.

She's currently on tour for her new release Children Running Through which is among her strongest to date. I've heard her talk about her voice in interviews and how she's learning more about it with each new album. I believe it. She was in such fine voice when I saw her, it was mesmerizing.

The best thing about seeing her in concert besides her foot-stomping, paint-peeling band, is her ever-changing collection of covers. She's known to pull out tunes by the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Gillian Welch, Emmylou and even Bessie Smith. When I was there, she did a really lovely version of Billy Joe Shaver's "Live Forever," pairing the song down and delivering it with a solemn poignancy.

I've uploaded two songs from the new CD, Stay On the Ride, Up On the Mountain and the aforementioned Poor Man's House.