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.

More Mets

Pug Mug
A few hours before Barry Big Head's no. 755 sailed over the left field fence in Petco Park in San Diego (welcome to Trivial Pursuit, Clay Hensley), the Mets dropped a tough game in Chicago 6-2, when young John Maine lost his concentration.

During a scoreless game, a close call at first went against the Mets, giving the Cubs a 2-out baserunner and Maine slapped his glove against his side. After that, he couldn't find his focus and within 10 minutes, the Cubs had a 6-0 lead. That was all she wrote. It was a tough loss for the Mets who had won three straight, including a very crisp game one in Chicago, who at the moment was leading the Central Division.

The rubber game is tomorrow. It's a must-win for the Mets who have a string of difficult series ahead of them in the next few weeks, including against their nemesis, the newly retooled Braves.

I like that the offense has picked up in recent days, including David Wright and Carlos Delgado, who have been swinging hot bats. Though Wright had two chances to knock in runs on Saturday and he popped up and grounded out to first. ESPN is broadcasting it as their national game tomorrow night so you can watch history happen in HD, only this is a guy anybody can root for.

Tomorrow night is a big night for Tom Glavine, too. The veteran lefty takes the mound for his second attempt at victory number 300. It's an amazing achievement for a finesse pitcher in an era when getting 150 wins is a big deal.