Monday, July 30, 2007

Speak Softly, Carry a Big Stick

This is my fourth post of the day which is more than unusual, it's unprecedented for ol' S.O.L. but I couldn't let something I read tonight go by without a comment. Don't ya worry, I shall be brief.

I've already shared my feelings about Barry Bonds' chase of Hank Aaron's home run record in depth, but the long and short of it is that I'm not nearly convinced Bonds didn't have medicinal help on his road to Home Run King.

The current and authentic home run king is Hank Aaron, who has pretty consistently refused to get drawn into the debate about how much Bonds' alleged use of steroids contributed to his late-in-baseball-life homer barrage. Except for the fact that he has also steadfastly refused to be on hand when and if Bonds ties and then breaks his record of 755 home runs.

Unless you've been living on Mars, you're probably aware by now that Bonds currently stands at 754, so breaking the record looks like a fait accompli, short of him breaking a leg or something. Not that I'm wishing that on the guy, by the way.

Tonight, I found an Associated Press story about Aaron's trip to San Juan, PR, where he's attending the World Children's Baseball Fair, a charity event that he co-founded. Still refusing to elaborate on Bonds, Aaron didn't stay completely mum.

"I am making a comment by not making a comment," Aaron told The Associated Press on Monday.

Read into it what you want, but I'm just wondering if there's ever been a more classy guy in sports. And anyone who says Hammerin' Hank should be on hand for this farce, ought to be ashamed of calling out a real man like Aaron. Innocent until proven guilty is the motto of Bonds' supporters but when does the mounting evidence come into play? When does the fact that masking steroids is as easy as pissing into a cup?

Love ya, Hank. Keep the faith, man. You'll always be my home run king.

The Kid Goes to Beantown?

Moon Over a Pug
Whew! What a day in sports. The genius succumbs to Leukemia, a big loss for sports fans who appreciate guys who can use big words and know what they mean. R.I.P., coach.

Then the MLB trading deadline creeps up -- they showed how many minutes and hours were left in a counter along the bottom of the screen during ESPN's Baseball Tonight earlier -- and now this big shocker -- Kevin Garnett appears headed to Boston after spending his entire career in Minnesota.

KG, the Kid in Beantown. To play alongside Paul Pierce and recent acquisition Ray Allen. You gotta be kidding me. But if reports are true and the trade gets consummated in the next couple of days, the balance of power in the already shaky East, is about to change.

And there's going to be one pissed off shooting guard somewhere in LaLa Land.

Garnett has been loyal (to a fault, some say) to his peeps in 'Sota and has never come out and asked for a trade, no matter how bleak life seemed for a club that just could not get passed the first round of the playoffs. The one time they did was losing to eventually NBA title runners-up Lakers.

And Boston wasn't his first choice for a new address. He wanted to go to a team that could win, preferably in a warmer climate (those below-zero Lake Wobegon winters gettin' to ya, Kev?) and for awhile it looked like that would be Phoenix, playing alongside his new good buddy, Steve Nash.

But former Celtics teammates Kevin McHale and Danny Ainge (now GMs for the Wolves and Celtics, respectively) got together for one more assist and score. The deal, which would net Minnesota young comer Al Jefferson, is about the best the Wolves could hope for with what's on the market and available. And it frees them up to fill out their roster with draft picks, through free agency and trades. More important, perhaps, it allows this team to move on in a way that helps their future and doesn't disrespect the contribution of the NBA's classiest man, to a franchise that picked a young diamond in the rough straight out of high school and found if not silver trophies, than a heart of pure gold.

I love this deal for Boston, too. Allen, Pierce and KG make a nice nucleus and in the talent-poor East, it has to anoint the Celtics as the team to beat. Suddenly, Boston is a basketball town again. Danny Ainge saves his job and maybe Kevin McHale saves a franchise.

Are you starting to feel it? Me too. I can't wait for training camp.

Welcome to New York, Luis

Carlos Beltran in San Franciso
The Mets were among the teams busy during the final hours of Major League Baseball's trade deadline Monday. This is the first major trade deadline of the season, although not the last day a team can acquire a player from another club. Any player who is traded after tomorrow's deadline, has to clear waivers first, which means for a price any team can claim that player, thus voiding the trade agreement in place. It happens very rarely but no one wants to take a chance of another team stepping in and queering a deal.

The Mets acquired Luis Castillo from the Twins, a speedy second baseman known for his glove and (until this year) his high on-base percentage. He fills the void left when starter Jose Valentin was lost for the season after fouling a ball off his shin and breaking his tibia in Los Angeles just after the All-Star break.

I think Castillo is just what the Mets need right now, a player somewhat in the mold of Jose Reyes, but older and smarter and who went through a championship post-season as a member of the Florida Marlins. What I like about him is he's not afraid to get dirty and the three Gold Gloves in his trophy case are proof he'll more than shore up the middle of the infield. Face it, Mets fans, while Valentin handled second better than most expected, it has been a weak spot for them.

So has energy and focus, in my opinion.

With Reyes and Castillo at the top of the order, the Mets should be able to find some of that spark again. Both guys could set the table better for the big bats of Beltran, Delgado and Wright. And with Moises Alou back and Lastings Milledge getting regular playing time, I'm feeling good about the stretch run. Could Pedro's return be not far around the corner?

I do worry about Carlos Beltran, the Mets centerfielder who was signed to a $126 million deal two seasons ago and has spent the better part of his first and now third seasons dealing with various injuries. I'm beginning to wonder if the whispers about him being afraid to play with minor injuries are true. I'm not even close to giving up on the guy but this latest injury (pulled abdominal suffered during batting practice) is worrisome. For what he's making, he needs to gut out the pain and produce.

Update (8:30 p.m. July 30, 2007): Turns out we're all wrong about Beltran. An exam today found out that his strain is worse than first thought. He's going on the 15-day disabled list. Another blow for a banged up Mets squad. Be interesting to see how young Lastings responds. I'm looking forward to watching him show his stuff.

Division rivals Atlanta and Philadelphia both made moves today, the Braves making the biggest splash of the trade deadline so far. I'd like to see the Mets add one more piece -- a starting pitcher perhaps or a reliever like Texas' Eric Gagne. Stay tuned, Mets fans.

My Short Film

Dog Days
A couple years back I wrote and directed a short film ostensibly to enter a contest. In the end, I think I just wanted to prove I could do it, as I'd never produced or directed anything. With a budget of $500, this is what we ended up with. I know it says "film by" me but truly, it was a collaborative effort.

I wrote the script on a Sunday, hired crew on Monday, casted it on Tuesday and rehearsed on Wednesday and Thursday. Then we shot all day Friday and half a day on Saturday. Some of it makes me want to cringe but on the whole, I'm pretty happy with it.

For a limited time, I'm making it available online. All you have to do is surf on over to my private spot on MySpace and spend 15 minutes of your day, hopefully being enchanted. The bummer is that uploading it to Myspace really degrades video so when you watch it, imagine how nice it would look when it's not compressed. Do that for me, will you?

I've been posting fairly anonymously here as S.O.L. but since my name is all over this video, you'll be able to put a name with the blog. Not that it will make any difference to me or what I write. I don't think it was that hard to figure it out, or even if anybody really gives a shit.

A shout out to everyone who helped on the shoot and especially to Steve Dawson of Dolly Varden, the best indie Americana band you've never heard. That's them singing on the soundtrack, a tune called "Too Good To Believe" from their Dumbest Magnets CD.

I've uploaded a new song from their most recent album just released called "The Panic Room" HERE in my Vox stash. Most of their catalog is available now on iTunes. You can also learn more about them, check out their tour schedule (unfortunately limited to the East Coast) or download some of their live shows, by checking out their website.

I welcome any and all comments. I think.

Click HERE to watch.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

More Bill Hicks

Sunrise and Mist, Healdsburg, CA July 2007
I'm on a Bill Hicks kick right now.

So you can get on one with me, I've posted a few more clips in my Vox stash.

The wonderful and very sad thing about this stuff is how undated it all feels. Is it possible we may be de-evolving as a species?

Warning: Unless you want a sticky keyboard, do not drink soda while you listen. And please, this is not "family" content.

Click HERE for Bill's hilarious take on teaching creationism in schools. As fresh today in an America where people take "intelligent design" seriously, as it was when Hicks was making the comedy circuit back in the late 80's.

And here's Hicks on gun control from a show he did in England.

A finally here's the man on the war on drugs and trippin'. This includes his famous "the door is ajar" bit which should have you rolling on the floor, even if you forgot what it was like to inhale. In between belly laughs, try to argue with the guy's logic. I dare you.

NOTE: Not sure I need to mention this but for all you people just off the bus, the George Bush that Hicks is referring to is the father of the Current Occupant (as Garrison Keillor calls him) as these recordings were made when Bush Senior was in the White House.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Comedy of Bill Hicks

And now for something completely different from S.O.L.

Someone mentioned Bill Hicks on a message board I read today and it got me going back to my Bill Hicks stash for another listen. I'm glad I did. The thing about Bill Hicks his that is brand of funny hasn't gone out of style. I hope it never does.

Hicks was the Georgia-born, acid-tongued, straight-talking, audience-smacking comedian who was about to hit the big time when he died -- at age 32 -- of pancreatic cancer. He made his last recording in 1993 (preserved on CD) and it and most of his other work remains eerily prescient even today.

I've uploaded his rant about flag burning HERE on my Vox site.

I consider myself one of the lucky ones who got to see Hicks perform in person. The first and only time I did was the first time I'd ever heard his name, which made the whole experience even more exhilarating. It was probably back in 1989 or 1990 in a small comedy club in Washington, D.C. where I went with one of the pop culture critics of the paper where I was working.
I'll never forget the way I felt walking out of that club that night. I really thought I'd been in the presence of an asshole, a freaking genius of an asshole. It's hard to imagine me ever laughing as hard as I did that night -- but I admit most of the laughing was done hours later when I was thinking about what he'd said and realizing it was so freaking funny.

I think about Hicks a lot. As crazy as he was, as crass as he could be, he spoke truths and he stuck to his guns and had no sacred cows -- everybody was fair game. I always felt he lived the life of an artist in a really brave way and whenever I hold myself up to him, I always feel a little small.

Lucky for us his comedy lives on. We still need to hear it.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Let's Go Mets

The Game, Healdsburg, CA July 2007
It's the second half the baseball season. The All-Star game is over and the division leaders are in place and now it's time to separate the contenders from the pretenders, time to see who's for real and who's going to be playing golf come October.

Anyone who reads this blog knows that S.O.L. is Mets fan central so over the course of the rest of the season, I'll mostly be talking about my boys from Flushing.

It's true I've been down on my favorite team for a few weeks. After a really great season where they established themselves as the team to beat in the National League, stalling only one game from getting to the World Series, they have sputtered and struggled and completely confounded me.

Injuries have been a problem, yes but they don't explain everything. The Mets have been without three starting pitchers, four outfielders and two infielders for long stretches of the season, not to mention two important relief pitchers. But the poor play has been mostly mental. Last year, the Mets won games with a precision that was impressive. They played great defense, their starters pitched well and they got big hit after big hit. This year, it feels like they've lost their focus.

Earlier this month, they got swept by the Colorado Rockies, a young, improving club but no where near as good as the Mets should be. At various times this season, key offensive players have struggled badly. When Carlos Beltran was hot, Carlos Delgado couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. When José Reyes was getting on base, Paul Lo Duca and David Wright couldn't get him home.

But since the All-Star break, the Mets have begun to put a run together. They took three-of-four from a lousy Cincinnati team and even as they lost two-of-three in San Diego, they played well in all but one of the games. Tonight, they took their second in a row in a four-game series against the Dodgers -- the same team that swept them in June.

As usual with the Mets, however, there is bad news mixed with the good. They have lost yet another player. Starting second baseman José Valentín fouled a ball off his shin in last night's victory over the Dodgers in Los Angeles and is expected to miss at least six weeks with a broken tibia.

The silver lining here might be in the body of young backup second baseman Ruben Gotay, who is hitting .354 in limited playing time but has been impressive in getting important hits at big moments. Gotay was in the middle of the Mets five-run, ninth-inning comeback against the Cubs in May, for example. Can he handle the load as an everyday player. For now, it appears he'll be given a chance to show what he can do, at least until Damion Easley returns from bereavement leave.

The good news is the Mets won two games this week in very different ways. Thursday they took a six-run lead before taking the field in Los Angeles and held on through a wild game for a 13-9 victory. Tonight, behind a wonderful effort by starting pitcher Oliver Perez, the Mets won 4-1. I love it when the Mets win in Los Angeles for a lot of reasons, not the least of which I’ve seen the Mets play at Chavez Ravine more times than anywhere else. Being a fan of the visiting team will always draw the ire of the hometown crowd but it’s worse when the fans don’t seem to understand or even care about baseball. Yes, I’m generalizing but still, it was in Los Angeles when a fan yelled balk to a pitcher when there was no one on base and every single Dodgers game I’ve been at, the stands have been filled with bouncing beach balls, more often than not when there is actual action on the field. One day some knucklehead is going to be beaned by a foul ball because he was too interested in batting around a fucking beach ball than paying attention to the game. No doubt in my mind this will happen.

Saturday’s game will be tough for the Mets as they face the Dodgers best starter in Brad Penny. He’s 11-1 this season but has a piss poor record against the Mets (a 5-plus E.R.A.) and I’m hoping the stats bear up. There is one other interesting matchup between Penny and Mets rightfielder Shawn Green. Back in June, Penny accused Green of either stealing signs (either while he was on base or during an at-bat when he was peeking to see where the catcher was position).
In the long and fascinating Unwritten Rules of Baseball book, it’s consider old school to steal signs from the base paths but a batter who looks down at the catcher while he’s in the box, that for whatever reason, is a no no. Green is widely considered a smart, old school player who plays by the rules but something riled up Penny – and the Dodgers. In game one of the series, Dodgers second baseman Jeff Kent (another old school veteran) clearly said something to Green when he cruised into second for a double. I wouldn’t be the house on it, but it sure looked like Green used a few choice words in response.
In any case, it sets up an interesting scenario for Saturday’s nationally-television game. Sure be fun watching what happens.

Monday, July 9, 2007

The Church of Baseball

Baseball in America, Healdsburg, California, 2007
It's the halfway point of the Major League season and it's time to get serious about baseball, seamheads. And I will be offering regular posts on the various teams, players and division races. And, of course, updating more often about my favorite team, the New York Mets.

But first, let's stretch our legs and take a moment to smell the baseball leather and green grass and appreciate our National Pastime.

In honor of the mid-season classic, a quote from one of my favorite baseball films, Bull Durham, written and directed by Ron Shelton.

"I believe in the Church of
Baseball. I've tried all the major
religions, and most of the minor
ones. I've worshiped Buddha, Allah,
Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees,
mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan. I
know things. For instance, there
are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary
and there are 108 stitches in a
baseball. When I heard that, I gave
Jesus a chance. But it just didn't
work out between us. The Lord laid
too much guilt on me. I prefer
metaphysics to theology. You see,
there's no guilt in baseball, and
it's never boring... which makes it
like sex. There's never been a
ballplayer slept with me who didn't
have the best year of his career.
Making love is like hitting a
baseball: you just gotta relax and
concentrate. Besides, I'd never
sleep with a player hitting under
.250... not unless he had a lot of
RBIs and was a great glove man up
the middle. You see, there's a
certain amount of life wisdom I
give these boys. I can expand their
minds. Sometimes when I've got a
ballplayer alone, I'll just read
Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman to
him, and the guys are so sweet,
they always stay and listen.
'Course, a guy'll listen to
anything if he thinks it's
foreplay. I make them feel
confident, and they make me feel
safe, and pretty. 'Course, what I
give them lasts a lifetime; what
they give me lasts 142 games.
Sometimes it seems like a bad
trade. But bad trades are part of
baseball - now who can forget Frank
Robinson for Milt Pappas, for God's
sake? It's a long season and you
gotta trust.
I've tried 'em all, I really have,
and the only church that truly
feeds the soul, day in, day out, is
the Church of Baseball."

UPDATE (July 25, 2007): Just for you Dave. This is Bonds coming up to bat against the Mets at AT&T Park on June 9, 2007. He had no home runs that day. In this at-bat he drew a walk.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

S.O.L. Contest

L.A. Freeway P.O.V.
I've been feeling a little nostalgic for Los Angeles.

I'm pretty sure the reason has to do with my first wine country summer heatwave. To say it's hot up here in paradise is a slight understatement. Okay, so it's not Vegas' 120's temps, but 100 degrees is freaking hot, folks.

For all but maybe three of the 15 or so years I spent in L.A., I lived close enough to the Pacific to feel that refreshing sea air. Santa Monica is one of those places in L.A. that isn't always unbearably sunny. Sometimes you can wake up to a haze of ocean fog and it might take till after lunch before it finally burns off and gives way to the sun. The hot, hot heat only hit us for maybe a week or two at a time and never for that long. Just enough to remind us we were still living in the desert. But not long enough to make us remember that when we tried to keep our lawns green.

I miss that ol' Pacific something awful right now. Especially today when I was thinking fondly about that haze as me and the dog lay prone on the bed in front of the Vornado, wrapped in wet towels. The good news is we have a pool and so for part of the day, I was in it up to my neck. But alas, I realized today that I really do miss L.A.

I'm one of those transplanted New Yorkers who came to L.A., fell for the town and never really lost the love. I still love L.A. faults and all. It's the first place I lived as an adult that seemed to match my internal drumbeat and a part of me will always consider it home.

Don't get me wrong. Paradise is fucking awesome. I never get tired of the landscape here or the view but occasionally I long for the big city, you know?

It's not often I hear a song that sums up my favorite former hometown and this one most certainly does, complete with tongue firmly in cheek, sig alerts, canyon roads, big dreams and mudslides and brush fires.

First person to guess the artist and post it in the comments section wins the CD that it's on or, if it's not your cup of tea, you can have the new White Stripes CD Icky Thump, instead.

Click HERE to go to my Vox stash for a listen.

Stay cool out there.

UPDATE (July 24, 2007): We have a winner! I was on the road back to L.A. today -- how fitting considering the song selection -- and didn't see Susie's post until today. It is Loudoun Wainwright III from the new CD "Strange Weirdos," a collection of music from and inspired by the new film Knocked Up. Our winner is Susie -- a brand new CD is being sent on its way. By the way, the album was produced by Joe Henry, an artist I've long been a fan of and will be among the musical hidden treasures I will be highlighting in the coming weeks as I open up S.O.L.'s eclectic music stash. Stayed tuned for some vibes of the Americana roots flavor. Congrats Susie!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Hey Baby, it's the Fourth of July

St. Helena, California, July 3, 2007
I love making my own CD compilations for myself and friends and one thing I've been doing since back in the days of cassette tapes is compiling tapes of songs with similar themes, like songs about days of the week (Stones' Ruby Tuesday and Tom Waits' Looking for the Heart of Saturday Night). It's a great way to get artists on the same song list who wouldn't necessarily go together.

So, in honor of the Fourth of July, which has given birth to more than enough annoyingly lousy patriotic ditties, and with the assistance of my audio stash, I give you some of my favorite songs about Independence Day. I didn't post some of the more obvious Fourth songs, like Bruce Springsteen's Independence Day. Instead, I thought I'd offered a few off-the-beaten popular path, as it were. All of these songs are also actually called "Fourth of July."

If you think of any others that I might not have heard of, please post them in the comments section.

With out further, ado ... (Click on the CD covers to listen to the songs).

The first is "Fourth of July," by Aimee Mann. I'm a huge, huge fan of Mann, as much for her lyrics as her pop-infused sound. She's also married to Michael Penn, a wonderful artist in his own right (and brother to Sean). This makes me wonder if he has written a song about the Fourth. I will have to do some research and find out. Mmm, gives me a new idea for a themed CD.

Anyway, this song, from the album, "Whatever" is really a relationship song. Makes sense. I mean what better day to sing about breaking up than on America's day of independence?

The song opens with some of my favorite lyrics of all time about any holiday. I think this says it all, don't you?
Today's the Fourth of July
Another June has gone by
And when they light up our town
I just think what a waste of gunpowder and sky.

The second is a classic by the cult-favorite Americana blues/folk/whatever singer/songwriter Dave Alvin called, um, "Fourth of July." This is the live version by Alvin and his band, The Guilty Men.

Even if you're not a fan of this music, you should go see them play. What Alvin hasn't earned in popular appeal, he has more than made up for in the adoring respect of his peers. So whenever he puts a band together, you know it will include the best players around. And let me tell you from experience, the Guilty Men can peel paint off them thar walls.

And finally, the third "Fourth of July" by a guy named Pete Droge, who came out with a startling great folk/pop record in the late 90s called "Necktie Second." Unfortunately, his career did not take off as expected but fortunately for us, he still plies his trade and his newer tunes can be found on most music download sites.

This song is about a friend who killed himself. I don't know if it's real or fiction, but it's a great piece of folk music and offers a truly different take on independence day.

On the fourth of July
See the sparks in the sky
When you're sick of the trying
and you're tired of the crying
Then the fourth of July
Is a good day to die
They'll celebrate each year
Your independence from here...
As you can see, the one constant about the fourth songs that I know and love is that they're sort of depressing. So along with the three here, I also give you a classic pre-Fourth jam song by Van Morrison, appropriately titled "Almost Independence Day."

Have a blast and keep the music turned up. Loud.

Some Things I know

Bird Dance
Apparently, I'm in a minority among my friends (and viewers) about David Milch's new HBO Show, John From Cincinnati. After four episodes, I'm pretty much hooked on the strange characters and stranger goings on in the surfing town of Imperial Beach in San Diego.

I've been a big fan of Milch's work, even the stuff that didn't last long (anybody see Big Apple?), and not just because I think he may well be the best television writer of our generation. Milch is one of those writers who doesn't pander to the audience but to his own, interesting, damaged, fucked up, cool ass soul and the results are more often than not poetic and beautiful and captivating -- and nothing like what's on anywhere else.

Like Deadwood before it, John From Cincinnati is a tapestry rich with what I like to call characters with actual character. Milch's dialogue can sometimes feel overtly stylized (some call it mannered) very much like, say David Mamet, but there's also something lyrical about it and sentimental, almost feminine, that a guy's guy like Mamet rarely offers.

Milch is a master of the silences of dramatic t.v. in that he almost always knows when his pictures tell the story a thousand times better than any words he could put into the mouths of his characters. I've been moved to tears by moments in Milch's dramatic writing when nothing is said and yet everything is clear. This is not an easy thing to do in a medium like t.v. and in an age where everything is explained to us in more detail than (I hope) most of us require.

The height of this was his western Deadwood, a near-perfect place for Milch to combine his years of teaching college English and the experience one only gets from abusing your body and drugs and yourself. An experience, I might add, that is considered by some morons to be a seemingly prerequisite for being taken seriously as a real Goddamn writer. Still, whatever Milch did in his life, he's putting the experiences to good use telling us tales that make me love t.v.

When you watch Milch's work, you never get the feeling he thinks your a t.v. watching couch potato chump. His stuff drips with allegory like great prose writers, there's always something simmering beneath the surface, real, imagined, significant or small, that makes you think that whatever the trappings of drama, there's real life being lived here. I like the way he finds the humanity in people and his tough-edged sentimentality that shows us pain and love without judgment. He seems to find something worth understanding in even the worst kind of folks and really, if that's not the best of life and art, what is?

And when Milch invites the viewer to come along for a ride, you know it's not going to be easy or always apparent where he's taken you. Some label this as pretension. I think it's just smart t.v. that treats us with respect, that understands where not all blithering couch potato idiots.

Seriously, it's not exactly hieroglyphics, you know? I mean just cause it's not easily understood or a little mannered or maybe a bit weird, doesn't mean you're stupid if you don't get it.

Whatever place we end up with Milch, good or bad, for better or worse, it's going to be rewarding on some essentially important level, and that's worth the price of admission to me.