Month: August 2003 (Page 1 of 2)

D’s Notes

It was a big weekend here in Indy. First, it was absolutely gorgeous both days. 80 Saturday, 85 yesterday. Low humidity. Nary a cloud in the sky. Second, there were many, many things going on downtown. There was the Taste of Indiana, which we took in yesterday. A local version of Taste of Chicago on a much smaller scale, we were able to sample some pretty good beef brisket (no where near the league of Smokin’ Jim Epps, of course), some mediocre Mongolian food, and some extremely tasty ice cream. All while staring at the ugly edifice known as the NCAA Hall of Champions. Really, it’s an unattractive building on the outside. I’m not just saying that out of continuing bitterness for my employment experiences with them or their jilting of KC. We didn’t go in, basically because we were feeling cheap and didn’t want to pay the admission charge. Props to them for having Final Four shirts available outside, though.

As part of the Taste of Indiana, a duck race was held in the canal (an extension of the canal that was outside our wedding building). I love rubber ducks. Too much Sesame Street when I was a kid probably, or maybe along with Jayhawks and penguins, I have some kind of weird bird fetish. Regardless, I was pretty fired up to see thousands of rubber ducks floating in the water, more so than many of the thousands of toddlers that were in attendance. Little bastards couldn’t stay focused on the ducks. I’m sad to say that no one in Indianapolis knows how to put on a proper duck race. After 20 minutes of watching them slowly pour the ducks into the water, and then just let them sit there, and well after most three year olds had lost interest, I bitterly turned my back on the poor ducks and walked away. I admit I had to wipe tears from my eyes. A five-year-old standing by me, with a bright yellow duck call hanging around his neck summed things up better than I ever could, “These ducks suck.”

That was only half the excitement in town, though. Adjacent to the ToI, there was a massive Harley Davidson convention. Thousands of Harleys parked next to each other, with thousands of people admiring them. Harley admirers fascinate me. They park all their bikes next to each other, then just walk and stare. Seems weird to me. This was one of many regional shows that are leading up to next week’s 100th anniversary celebration in Milwaukee. From the Indy Star, get a load of who’s performing in Milwaukee:
Kansas, .38 Special, Peter Frampton, Poison, the Doobie Brothers, Joan Jett, Eddie Money, Billy Idol, REO Speedwagon, Styx, and Steppenwolf, among others. I don’t really know what to say about that, but I would love to be in Milwaukee just for the concerts to take notes while people watching.

The really big event of the weekend was the National Socialist Movement’s White Unity Rally downtown. Don’t think I didn’t get excited when I heard racists were coming all the way from Minnesota to protest in our fair city! Sadly, the event was largely a bust, with only 50 members of the group speaking to about 25 supporters, all while being heckled by 75 protesters. The Indy police took great pains to keep the differing sides apart, which lead to a pro-diversity rally a few blocks away. According to the Star, there were about 800 people at the pro-diversity gathering, causing organizers to talk about having an annual event.

The Nazi event was prompted by the rise in the Hispanic population in Indiana over the past few years. Nazi sympathizers tore a Mexican flag, spit on it, and then threw it to the ground. Yeah, that will show them! Reading that, I wished I could have played the role of Fletch and stood behind them, “Hey, let’s get the Guatemalans and Hondurans too! El Salvadorians are next!” That really would have thrown them off, I bet. (One wonders how many of those people would absolutely freak if you treated an American flag the same way.) The leader of the event said that the Spanish-speaking horde is attempting to force its language and culture on America. I never realized that margaritas and salsa were tools of the Spanish speaking vanguard that’s over-running this great nation. Given the fact Kansas City has much better Mexican food than Indianapolis, I fear for the future of my friends back there. It may be too late to save you! From this day forward, I shall order my sizzling chicken and vegetable strips under the name “fuh-jee-tas” and ask for extra “tor-till-yas” so I’m not party to this desecration of our fair country.

Some other observations:
I love Nazis for lots of reasons. First, I’m a huge proponent of freedom of speech. I think even racist, ignorant, lowlifes are protected by the Constitution so long as they stop short of calling for physical violence towards specific targets. There’s pretty much no one in our society as universally disdained as Nazis, so I think they’re the perfect example for why freedom of speech is a great thing. Second, by them sharing their repulsive views in public, it helps us realize who the real enemy is. All too often, especially in economically troubled times, it becomes easy to blame those that are different for the ills of society. Nazis remind us that’s not the case. It can be the people who look exactly like us who are the bigger problem. Finally, Nazis are just funny. Sadly, there are far too many racially motivated acts of violence in this country each year. But the majority of modern Nazis are so frustrated by their own inadequacies that they need to parade around in military regalia and present an image of anger in an attempt to regain their identity. As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing funnier than a white man blaming all his troubles on people of color while standing behind the legacy of Adolph Hitler. There’s a ton of irony there these people miss.

The leader of the event’s last name is Schoep. I bet whenever his family came over, the first generation was never oppressed because it took them awhile to pick up the language, they ate odd foods, or they kept to themselves in a small community of people from their homeland. Lord knows we’ve never persecuted the Irish, the Italians, the Germans, the Catholics, the Jews, and any other ethno-religious group from Europe because they were different when they arrived.

Activists of the left crack me up too. Also in the Star was a story about how several groups that took part in the pro-diversity rally were arguing about whether they should continue the event in the future, and what the best way to do so would be. Some of these people were pissed at each other. People, the opponent is ten blocks away. Let’s not lose focus here.

We were diverted several times by roadblocks as we attempted to get to the ToI. There were far more police standing around doing nothing than protesters. Our tax dollars at work!

I wonder what the bill was for the TV station that kept their helicopter hovering about all the activity for hours was. Probably not worth the pictures they got.

I did notice it’s harder and harder to order a grande decaf mocha at Starbucks without using the remnants of Spanish I still have. Maybe these Nazis are onto something…

Really, I could write about the Nazis all day. It’s fun stuff, and makes me feel like no matter what my flaws are, I’ve got things pretty together. I’m at page three in Word, so time to cut the notes off for now.

Under The Milky Way

Some unfinished business from last week. This was my original selection for entry 1.2. However, after trying to tie “True Faith” and “Under the Milky Way” together, I thought it better to tackle the songs separately, in chronological order. You should thank me. I think I was on page 48 of my comparison when I finally stopped myself and changed focus. Hopefully this isn’t too disjointed. I’m attempting to write about one song while I watch I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, the great documentary about the making of Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album. Hey, I like my music.

There are those who say that alternative music, in its commercial form, disappeared after New Order’s “True Faith” in 1987 and didn’t appear again until sometime in 1992. Sure, briefly REM became the biggest band in the world during that time, but they left their college radio roots behind and didn’t start some great movement in doing so. Across the pond, The Stone Roses were in the process of putting out one of the greatest English albums of all-time and in turn setting the stage for a decade of quality British music. But their debut album was widely ignored in the US, both by MTV and radio. There was a little band from Sydney, Australia, though, that in one magical moment gave a flicker of hope to fans of alternative rock during that dark period.

The Church had been around for most of the 1980s, scoring a few minor college radio hits in the States. They have also managed to stay around, in one form or another, for much of the last 15 years. It was with their album Starfish, and its signature track “Under the Milky Way” that they reached their critical and commercial highpoints in 1988.

Although released well within the decade, “Under the Milky Way” sounded like it was from another time. It featured heartfelt lyrics and delivery, unusual traits in 1988. It felt safe and warm. At the same time, it had a feel of desolation that made it complicated. The title summed up that feeling. Standing under the sky, staring up at the stars, contemplating the infinite measure of space leaves one with a feeling of endless possibility, and also of extreme insignificance. More in feel than in lyric, “Under the Milky Way” perfectly captured that ambiguity.

Just as the song was climbing the charts, my grandfather died in a farm accident. It was my first experience with death, and I wasn’t really sure how to handle it. People around me weren’t supposed to die, and although my grandfather was in his late 70s, we didn’t expect him to leave the house one morning and never come back. I recall what must have been the night before the funeral, driving my parents’ car through the fields of Kansas after dropping some relatives off someplace. Along the way, “Under the Milky Way” came on the radio. It was a perfect April night: warm, sweet air; the night full of the sounds of spring; with a massive, unspoiled, rural sky above me. I eased back on the accelerator, put the windows down, and cranked the stereo up as loud as it would go. I could see millions of stars above me as four Australians sang about standing beneath the galaxy. I wish I could share some great lesson that I learned that night, or some magical way of putting loss into perspective. However, I’ve never been able to articulate what happened in those three or four minutes, and I’m still not really sure if I understand it. I know I somehow felt different afterwards. In one odd, random confluence of time, place, and song, I was finally able to consider some of the ideas that had been careening through my head in the four days since my grandfather died. It’s a moment that has stuck with me, and I think of it each time I hear the song.

Earlier this week, I said if I was having a party to celebrate the end of the 1980’s, I would play “True Faith” just before midnight since I felt it summed up so much of what the 80s were about. “Under the Milky Way” is B-side to “True Faith. It’s the song you play the next morning; when you wake up and realize that something artificial like the turning of a page on a calendar doesn’t magically change your life. It’s the song you listen to when you realize the troubles and pressures you had when New Order’s drums kicked in are still there, waiting for you to face them. It’s the song that reminds us about the stockbroker, after his one last night of hedonism, calling an old friend to talk about his problems for a while. It’s the song that in one of the great lines of the era, speaks for the comforting friend, “Wish I knew what you were looking for/Might have known what you would find.” In many ways, that line sums up the 80s better than “True Faith” did.

I own Starfish, and it’s a pretty good album. There are at least four really good tracks, one more than my threshold for considering an album to be of high quality. Sadly, there are no lyrics in the liner notes, so I had to do some research with Mr. Google to check the lyrics. While doing that, I discovered that “Under the Milky Way” was used in the Miami Vice episode Asian Cut, which aired January 13, 1989. I was struck with two feelings when I read that. First, again, it was an outstanding fit. Miami Vice was always great with using moody, atmospheric, ambiguous songs to complement the edgy, artsy visual image. (“In the Air Tonight”, “Voices”, and “Lunatic Fringe” being three other fantastic examples.) Second, every time I read something about Miami Vice still being on in 1989, it blows me away. Has a show ever got more out of only 30 good episodes? From early 1985 through late 1986, there wasn’t a better show on TV. But it quickly went downhill. I think I gave up on it about the time Dave Henderson went deep off of Donnie Moore. Hard to believe it stuck it out for two-plus seasons after that.

D’s Notes

A few D’s notes to wrap the week up.

Poor Reggie Miller. He signed his two year contract with the Pacers yesterday, and boldly proclaimed that even when he was injured last year, he was better than 2/3 of the shooting guards in the league. There are 29 teams in the NBA. I’m feeling charitable today (And Reggie is old) so I’ll round up and say that means he needs to be in the top ten of shooting guards to back that up. Reggie averaged 12.6 points per game last year. Four of the top five scorers in the league last year were shooting guards (Tracy McGrady, Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, and Paul Pierce). In fact, Reggie’s scoring numbers don’t even get him into the top 50 in overall scoring.

Sure, positions aren’t set in stone in the NBA. You also ask, ‘Isn’t there more to basketball than scoring?’ Not at the shooting guard spot. If you rebound or rack up assist numbers at the 2 guard spot, that’s all gravy to the team. Your job is to score, and often. Reggie couldn’t ever play defense, so it’s not like he’s out there still shutting guys down when his shot isn’t dropping.
I think Ed Lilya summed it up best this morning when he said, ‘Ego is a powerful thing when you’re an up-and-coming player’.but after a while, ego is just a bitch.’ Well said.

Even better, the Pacers dicked around so long hammering out Reggie’s contract, and tied up so much money, that Jon Barry chose to sign with Denver rather than keep waiting for an offer from Indy. Let’s reset the Pacers lineup: All NBA caliber power forward (Jermaine O’Neal), role playing center (Scot Pollard), completely insane small forward (Ron Artest), Old Mother Miller at the two guard, and a wildly inconsistent point guard who can’t shoot (Jamaal Tinsley). No proven depth in the backcourt. Lots of ‘potential’ sitting behind the three frontcourt players. Donnie Walsh and Larry Bird better be damn confident about Al Harrington’s health and Jonathan Bender’s development otherwise this team has nothing.

Jason Whitlock beat me to a column about the off-season state of Big 8+4 basketball. Who knew that Larry Eustachy’s mess would completely be forgotten and the Ricky Clemmons situation at Mizzou largely ignored because of what’s happened at Baylor. Is it too late to get SMU to take Baylor’s place? Gives the conference a team in Dallas, plus all the kids from Johnson County who end up at SMU would still get a chance to see KU play every year (although, like Baylor, we couldn’t beat them in football either). Sounds like a deal to me!

Who decided Stuart Scott was worthy of endorsements? The guy is horrible on Sportscenter, NFL Countdown, etc. His exchanges with John Madden last year on Monday Night Countdown were some of the lowest points in TV sports history. There must be some threshold for working at ESPN at which advertisers say, ‘Well, he’s awful, but people have seen him for ten years. Maybe he’ll make them want to buy pain killers.’ The chest bump he does in the Tylenol commercial is classic Scott. Lays the ball up, then makes a big production of it. Dude is like 47 and he’s still trying to convince us he’s 21 and ‘in-touch’. Every time I see him on I Love the 70s or 80s, I immediately switch, because I know nothing of value is coming up.

Now some good TV, to balance that. I was a huge fan of the Daily Show in its first couple years, when ESPN alum Craig Kilborne was the host. For whatever reason, I quit watching several years ago (and have never really watched his show on CBS either). I’ve been watching a lot more lately, and Jon Stewart is a freaking genius. He had two great Arnold lines this week. First, when speaking to young kids in New York (they can vote in CA? That state is screwed up!), Arnold got the kids to say, ‘We say no to violence.’ Cut back to Stewart who stares blankly at the camera. ‘So The Terminator’..Conan the Barbarian says we should say no to violence?!?!’ Later in the week, when Arnold released his first campaign ad and talked about leading California into the future, Stewart said, ‘But what if, in that future, someone is sent back from further in the future to interrupt our prosperity. I don’t know, a robot or a hot chick, or a molten piece of metal that can morph into any shape. How will Governor Arnold handle that?’ The first ten minutes of each night’s episode are always worth watching.

I forget what the line was, but Mike Allison put odds on when I would first mention English Premier League soccer, I mean football. Well, Mike, today’s the day. I was watching the Portsmouth-Aston Villa game last Saturday. Newly promoted Portsmouth was hanging onto a narrow 2-1 lead late over traditional giants Villa. The camera focused on a fan in the stands who had both hands behind his head, face twisted with stress, squinting at the clock to see how much time was left. The commentator, in a classic, dry, English manner, said, ‘That’s the face of life in the Premier League there: 90 minutes of pure agony.’ I loved that comment. Erick R. and I have often talked about how sometimes we just like to get KU games over with, so we can relax. Isn’t that stupid? You look forward to a game for a week, then get so tense during the action that you can’t really enjoy it. The English angle was nice as well. Teams move among divisions based on their success from year-to-year in European football (If the Royals were a soccer team in England, they would have been relegated for a decade now). Fans of first division clubs hope their side finishes in the promotion zone so they can jump to the Premier League and play with the big boys. Their reward? 90 minutes every Saturday of not being able to breath nor see straight. Sounds like a good trade-off to me.

Happy weekend.

True Faith

If someone asked me what kind of music I listen to, I would struggle to give an answer. I’m not sure if there are any hard and fast definitions for music today. I listen to some pop music, but nothing that’s in the league of Britney and Justina. Is there really such a thing as alternative anymore? And when does something cross from alternative and become mainstream? Is it defined by sales? Airplay? Number of commercials it is featured in?

A lot of you would probably say that I’m into 80s music. While that’s true on some levels, it’s not entirely accurate. Do I appreciate the occasional Flock of Seagulls song? Absolutely. Do I blast “Don’t Lose My Number” by Phil Collins? Never. As the era has passed on, the music I listen to has been consolidated into the all-encompassing genre of New Wave. If you have the Music Choice channels, flip to the New Wave channel some night and take a listen. You’ll hear the original punk bands later releases and the bands that were spawned from them (Big Audio Dynamite, Public Image Ltd). You’ll hear the New Romantics. Some stuff we recognize as pure pop now but was ignored at the time (Marshall Crenshaw). Everything that was considered New Wave at the time is mixed in as well. It’s all good stuff, and I think it’s safe to say that the majority of the music I listen to is either of that period, or can be directly traced back to those artists.

In the days of the 80s trivia list, I used to argue that the 1980s ended when New Order’s “True Faith” was released. It was the last great song that was clearly of the New Wave movement. Like all great songs, it encompassed all that was great of the existing era, while at the same time looked forward to a new era. Although New Wave had been petering out for several years, “True Faith” was one last blast that reminded everyone how great the genre was when at its best.

I made that assessment just by placing the song in its proper chronological perspective. The remainder of the 80s were dominated by Def Leppard, Guns n’ Roses, and the hair bands. If any of the New Wave icons were left, their releases failed to have the impact they had in the first half of the decade. But now, when I sit down and really consider “True Faith”, I see that both literally and figuratively, the song sums up what the 80s were largely about. “True Faith” is a dark representation of all the worst of life in the 80s, and an uncertain look to the future.

At the most basic level, “True Faith” is a phenomenal dance song. One of the all-time great bass lines bumps throughout. The layered synthesizers propel the song forward. The very 80s electronic drums ring through like shots. Bernard Sumner’s voice rides across the music perfectly. The song is boisterous and celebratory. It was custom made for a party. I always thought of a club somewhere in New York, packed with people on the verge of dance-induced insanity. Then the DJ throws “True Faith” on and they tear the roof off of the place. I doubt whether any of the people in that club would be listening to the lyrics, though. It was still the go-go 80s, people were living it up, nuclear winter was just 20 minutes away, and there wasn’t time for people in America to sit down and contemplate what some thoughtful Brit might be saying over the best damn dance beat they’d ever heard. Luckily, I’m here to take care of that for them, 17 years later.
Let’s throw out the historical significance and examine the lyrics of “True Faith”. When I fit them into my “end of the 80s” prism, I see a stockbroker the night the market crashed in 1987. Still in his 20s, he made it big fast on the Street. Designer suits, willing women, and trendy drugs were his life. He never really knew how much money he had, he just knew he paid his AmEx balance each month his bank account always had money for his endless weekend nights. Then, the unthinkable. The bottom dropped out and the market fell further than at any point in its history. Just like he didn’t know how much money he had that morning, he has no idea how much money he lost that afternoon. He just knows it’s probably all gone. One last night at the disco. One last cocaine binge. One last night with a woman he’ll know for only a few hours. In the morning he can take stock of what’s left and try to figure out what comes next.

The lyrics do a great job painting this picture (Especially since they were written well before the market crash. No doubt, as with most songs, they’re about something very different. But historical context sometimes trumps the goal of the artist.). You sense the desperation of someone on the edge, not knowing what the next day can bring. You feel the rush of cocaine hitting the bloodstream, heart racing to the redline. You feel the abandon of letting everything go: troubles, fears, success, possessions. Everything is flung aside for one last night of pleasure.

Since I don’t want to get sued by the RIAA, here’s a link to lyrics:

http://www.obscure.org/~vlad/lyrics/newo/substance.html

Adding to this image is the cinematic context of “True Faith”. 1988’s Bright Lights, Big City featured the song prominently, as did 2000’s American Psycho. Both were about the big success, fast living, and emotionally bankrupt lifestyles so many people lived in the late 80s. The song is a perfect musical match for critiquing or satirizing that lifestyle and those times.

If I could go back in time, and have an End of the 80s party, New Order’s “True Faith” would be the song I played at 11:55 PM, just before the ball dropped. It brought to a close a fantastic era for pop music. It told the story of the end of an economic era as well. It spoke to the emptiness that many living in the 80s felt, and of how the dreamland they thought they lived in was letting them down. No longer could their curled, stained copies of The Preppie Handbook get them through the problems they faced on a daily basis. For the first time, they had to face the real world, and confront the problems in their lives.

One final, ironic note. One of the first big newsworthy events of the New Wave era came with the suicide of Ian Curtis, lead singer of Joy Division, in 1980. Joy Division had just released the single “Love Will Tear Us Apart” that would later become a classic of the genre. A year later, members of Joy Division reconvened, began recording, and released an album under the name New Order. The band that helped open the book on the 1980s with a tragic death, helped to close the door with a fitting tribute to both the music and the times in which the music was made

Dome

As I mentioned Friday, I’ve never been in a domed stadium. Nor have I ever been to an NFL preseason game. In fact, I haven’t been to an NFL game period in nine years. Courtesy of a friend who fell into some free tickets, I was able to attend the Colts-Seahawks game at the RCA Dome Friday night. Since I was paying exactly $0 of the $55 face value of the tickets, I was more than happy to tag along.

First, a couple notes from the place we ate dinner near the dome. A little hole in the wall called the Hard Times Café. It was next to Houlihan’s, Sean Murray’s favorite barbecue place, so I figured it had to be good. It was decent, if unspectacular. What was spectacular was the guy standing between our table and the bar. He was doing the stand on one leg, place the other foot up on a barstool lean thing. White polo shirt, navy blue Dockers, white socks, white boat shoes. I couldn’t take my eyes off this guy’s socks, they were driving me crazy. These were plain tube socks, not some fancy, wanna-be stylish Ralph Lauren white socks. This guy was about 55, clearly old enough, in my opinion, to know how to dress himself. I imagine if it had been about 20 degrees cooler, the Member’s Only jacket would have come out for the night too. The only thing that could distract me was the flag above his head. Yep, I’ve finally seen a Texas Tech – IU flag. You’ve seen those flags that are half KU, half K-State, or whatever two local rivals so that married couples that attended both schools can be cute and put them up. I’ve marveled at the number of Texas Tech shirts and hats available at Galyan’s here, but now I can say I’ve seen it all. As I told the guys I was eating with, you’ll never see me with a KU-UNC flag. They readily agreed it was idiotic, but they’re both Purdue alums so what else would they say?

On to the dome. I pretty much got knocked on my ass as soon as I walked in. They had the pregame music cranked to about 21, forget about 11. It was so loud that you couldn’t hear the person right next to you talking. Ridiculous. I was seated in the upper deck, five rows up, around the ten yard line. Not bad seats, but I’ll be damned if they we worth $55. That probably explains why they dome was maybe 1/3 full. It was a tiny, tiny crowd. I will give the people who showed up this, though: they were loud when they had a chance. Seattle had a third and short on their first possession, and people we as frenzied as if it was a playoff game. The 18,000 or so who were there made it loud enough to again make conversations difficult. I can only imagine how loud it gets in there when the place is full. In fact, I’m not sure I’m interested in finding out.

All night I wondered where I would have sat if I had come to the 1991 Final Four. I tried to imagine sitting in these same seats and trying to watch basketball instead of football. I decided it was wise of me to stay in Lawrence that weekend. The Colts defense looked decent, forcing some turnovers, the offense took advantage, and it was 14-0 Indy at halftime. We were then treated to a show by those wacky Frisbee chasing dogs. Always interesting to watch. I also got to watch Seneca Wallace get chased around the field. I was a little disappointed the Indy corners didn’t have better hands, otherwise Seneca might have tossed three picks before we left.

Since it was a preseason game, we did get in for free, and I had a 6:30 tee time the next morning, we ducked out at halftime. It was impressive to see Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison in action. I enjoyed being in a dome for a while. I also enjoyed the one Mellencamp song per quarter quota there appeared to be. There’s apparently no distancing from local idols here. All in all it was a nice way to spend the night, certainly better than over at Victory Field as the Indians played a double header that lasted until 3:00 AM (Is there no curfew in minor league ball?). But, unless I’m offered free tickets again, I believe I’ll be saving my money for when the Celtics, Magic, Bulls, or Sonics come to Conseco next winter.

Royals-Yankees

I hate the Yankees. I hate their uniforms, their dirty stadium, their pompous owner, their arrogant players, their boorish bandwagoning fans, their money, their tradition. I hate the Yankees. Beating the Yankees is good.

What memories! Royals-Yankees, full house, mid-season series. Was this 1980 all over? Flip the venue, and last night’s result reminded me of when the R’s went to Yankee Stadium in June 1980 and scored NFL-like numbers of runs. That’s when the script was set for that October’s series. That roar you heard last night at the K was present every night back in the day. Happy, yet sad, again.

Chris Newman was contemplating a nickname for the Royals. How about the Retread Royals? Kevin Appier, Brent Mayne, Michael Tucker, and Joe Randa all started with the Royals, went away, and then came back. Throw in career minor leaguer Aaron Guiel and you’ve got a lot of mileage on some of the tires.

Appier’s performance was fantastic. The only way to explain it is Tony Pena. That man is amazing.

Jeremy Affeldt is a sick, sick man. When he’s on, he has some of the best stuff I’ve ever seen. I remember Rick Honeycut, Frank Tanana, or someone like that in the early 80s would shave off a few layers of skin from their fingertips before pitching. I wonder if that treatment would help Affeldt and his blister issue.

The Royals have two inspired and one horrible choice for pre-At-Bat music. Joe Randa’s “She Sells Sanctuary” by the Cult is about as good of a choice as you can find. Surprised Dave Vogel and I haven’t spent an entire night talking about this. Brent Mayne uses “This is Radio Clash”. Very nice. Finally, did Mendy Lopez really use “Fight Fire with Fire” by Kansas? I see the local angle, but at least use one of Kansas’ good (popular) songs if you’re dipping into their catalog. Something tells me he didn’t pick the song. He hit his first home run in two years last night, so maybe I should shut up.

(If I were choosing music for when I was batting: “Safe European Home” by the Clash, “Hail, Hail” by Pearl Jam (two songs that have great beginnings that could be played for 5-10 seconds as I calmly strode to the plate), “Paid in Full” by Erick B and Rakim, or “Dust In the Wind” by Kansas (But that one only works if I was a base-stealing fiend and with fans who could figure out the pun).)

The old highlights of Royals-Yankees games were great, if overdone. Royals Stadium was a very different place than the K. Artificial turf, 12” outfield walls, zero advertising around the field. All the players were skinny. And they all hustled too much. Witness Mickey Rivers firing the ball back to second when Buck Martinez was safely standing at first with no thoughts of advancing. The brawl between George Brett and Craig Nettles was one of the all-time great baseball moments. I can’t believe A) it happened in the deciding game of a playoff series and B) neither player got ejected. I watched that game a few years ago, and it just made me sad. That Royals team was much better than the Yankees, then they fell apart in game five.

Overrated chant? At a professional baseball game? Really? D- for the KC fans on that one.

D’s Notes

Any writer worth his or her salt (and most who are worthless too) knows the power of the random musings column. It’s a way to crank out some work without having to fully develop each idea. The thoughts may grow into a lengthier piece down the road, but the tidbits format allows us to cross things out of our notebook, clear our heads, and move on to bigger, better things (like hog semen, for example). So here’s my first D’s Notes column (the music fans in the audience will catch the reference there).

 Bennifer. I feel dirty devoting any more words to J-Lo and Ben than they’ve already received, but am I the only one who thinks they’re just staying together until their second movie comes out, and then tearfully move on?
 I’m normally a Big Government type to begin with, but I think immediate government intervention in the tuxedo industry is needed. Is there a reason why the three tuxes I wore this summer, all ordered off the same measurements, each fit dramatically different? (Sean Murray will say, “It’s because you had similar but slightly different tuxes.”)
 Hope you never get any spy ware stuck on your computer. I spent three weeks suffering from endless pop-up ads, programs that installed themselves, and network interruptions. Spy ware is this nasty stuff that installs without your knowledge, hides on your hard drive, and then bombards you with advertisements. Thank goodness for Spybot, a nifty little program that finds the offending programs and wipes them away.
 Forget about him being a Royal, I hope Angel Berroa keeps playing as well as he has so I don’t have to listen to all the people whining about Hideki Matsui not being qualified to win the AL Rookie of the Year award. Remember when US players used to go to Japan and throw up huge numbers? We always heard, “Well, the Japanese league is like AA or AAA ball here in the States.” Now that Japanese players are coming over and playing well, the tune has changed. “It’s not fair, they’ve been playing at the major league level for 8-9-10 years.” Bullshit, you can’t have it both ways. I heard Rick Suttcliffe say last week that the award was “meant for 21, 22 year olds.” Since when? I guess that means the next time some guy who has toiled in the minors for a decade who finally makes it to the majors and blows up, he can’t win the award? “Sorry, you’re too old.” Until it clearly states that only players under 25 can win it, I don’t care where you played last year, if it’s your first year playing Major League Baseball, you’re a rookie.
 When did Dennis Miller become a Republican? Dude is out there raising money for George Bush now. In the late 80’s, when he was pounding on Reagan and GHW Bush, I never would have expected to see this day come. Sure, he supported Perot, and rode Clinton just as hard as Republicans, but did you ever really think he would become the Al Franken of the right? Makes Al Michaels taking every political comment by Miller during his Monday Night Football stint as a speech for the Democratic National Committee look even more ridiculous.
 A street cleaner came through our cul-de-sac last week. Tax dollars at work!
 There’s a guy posting on one of the KU bulletin boards who’s ID is 4moreFTs. If you don’t understand that, think back to April 7 and it will make sense.
 Since Dave Barry wrote about it, I can’t go into depth, but there’s a thing out there now called the biniki. It’s basically a bra for women’s asses. That’s right, a strap that is supported from above that slides under each butt cheek and lifts, giving a more youthful appearance. It’s frightening what society produces when it’s members have too much free time. Link below, not really nudity, but probably not something you want to read from 8-5 at work.
http://www.biniki-fashions.com/

 Arnold. I love how this is going to play out. Republicans who love him are going to quickly discover he’s not nearly the dream candidate they thought he was. Far to the left on many social issues, in favor of lots of government spending, and defender of Bill Clinton. Guess they either have to forget the bad things they said about treasonous liberals, or realize maybe they were wrong. Then, on the other side, Democrats who have blasted him will be surprised that in addition to actually having a pulse (unlike Gray Davis), Arnold is probably a lot closer to their views on most issues that they think. His anti-communist roots and dislike of the top tax bracket are what made him a Republican, not some great disdain for big government. If he can actually get elected without making any substantive statements on real issues, he’s a better actor than I ever gave him credit for.
 Speaking of the recall, without going into great length, I think it’s stupid. There’s already a movement by Democrats in California to recall Arnold (or any other Republican) that’s elected. That proves how absurd the whole thing is. California is going to turn into Italy, where the government gets tossed on it’s ass each time a large group of people get annoyed by it’s actions. Gray Davis has proven he’s not a very good governor. But I thought we had an agreement: if we elect an idiot, we’re stuck with him/her until the next election. I just hope A) the recall movement doesn’t sweep the nation like term limits have and B) those states that already have recall measures don’t make it as easy to institute a recall as California did. Voting really isn’t that hard, nor is taking the time to educate yourself on the issues/candidates and then forming an opinion on your own. The ballot box is the great protector. Sometimes we’re stuck with people we don’t like, but we always have the opportunity to change leaders at the next election. Supposedly we all hate political ads and endless fund raising by politicians, but apparently not enough to mandate even more elections.

Big Pig

Warning: some slightly graphic, suggestive language below. All meant in fun, of course.

The final wedding of Summer Matrimony Fest 2003 is finally out of the way. Another grand occasion highlighted by impressing the locals with consuming large quantities of fine scotch (Glen Fiddich, 18 year old model). However, I did have to miss the Indiana State Fair to attend the wedding.

Normally, I’m not much of a state fair guy. I think I last attended one when I was three or four and didn’t have much say in the matter. It did seem like a good time to attend, though, and get a better feel for my new home. I’ve heard about deep fried Twinkies for weeks. I dreamt of the smells of real corn dogs, cotton candy, and kettle corn assaulting my nose. Avoiding “cow patties” and “horse pies” is always entertaining for us city folk. But most of all, I missed seeing the World’s Largest Hog.

A Yorkshire Hog named Statesman won this year’s largest boar competition, weighing in at a massive 1,227 pounds. Sounds like a lot of bacon to me. I was so intrigued I actually read three articles on this magnificent beast. Turns out Statesman hails from Seymour, IN. If John Cougar Mellencamp hadn’t been born in that noble ville, Statesman would be Seymour’s claim to fame. He was raised by Top-Line Genetics, who despite the name, claim he has been fed nothing but ground corn, soybean meal, and farm fresh greenery. That’s some damn good corn!

So what kind of satisfaction does one get from raising a half-ton hog? Prize money? Sure, the owners walked away with $450. They also spend roughly $700 a year to feed him, so clearly the monetary award is not the motivation. A faithful companion? I doubt Statesman is allowed to lounge in the living room like those scary little Vietnamese pigs some people keep as house pets. Poor guy can’t even really stud, given his immense size. Or so I thought. Turns out Statesman has somewhere between 3,000-4,000 piglets to his name. If he wasn’t already bursting at the seams, I bet he would be with pride of his genetic domination of southern Indiana. So how does this monster father enough offspring to keep Sicily in sausage for a year? When in doubt, consult the Daily Show. A few years back, Beth Lilleford filed a classic report on hog farming. The highlight of the report was her hands-on investigation of how pig semen is, well, harvested I guess. Like me, she assumed there was some fancy “device” that took care of the process. Something like those suction tubes that milk cows in the modern world. Well there is a special “device” that handles the act, and it’s called a human hand. That’s right, in order to breed pigs, these lucky porkers get a hand job from Mrs. Farmer Brown.

Jim Rome often talks about the self-esteem of the woman who is asked to Windex the pole in a strip club at the end of each night. Just a guess, but I’m thinking if you spend your day jerking pigs off, you’re probably not A) filled with huge amounts of good feelings about where you are in life and B) bragging about your job to your friends. Unless there’s some special technique involved that requires intense training, I would imagine we’re talking minimum wage here, and sliding down a brass pole for two grand a night doesn’t seem so bad.
“We’ve sold a lot of semen on him in the past,” Statesman’s owner told the Indianapolis Star. If that’s not one of the top five quotes of all-time, I don’t know what is. All this made me realize that like everything else in the world, the state fair has lost its sense of innocence. I always thought the pig contests were created for happy little farm boys and farm girls in 4H who spent the winter getting up early to feed and clean their favorite boar. They looked forward to the summer, hoping to get him up to 200-300 pounds so they had a shot at the blue ribbon. The reward was a special pin on their 4H jacket, months of good eating, and the satisfaction of a job well done. Like every other competition, though, even state fair pig contests are now dominated by cold, faceless corporations. In the area of hog genetics, they use computerized nutrition programs to create super swine, 3-4 times bigger than normal hogs. When Bobby Jim and Jenny Sue from Hanover can’t expect to get within 900 pounds of the winner, isn’t something really wrong with our country? I’ll be anxious to see how this year’s Indiana gubernatorial candidates handle the issue.

Just something to think about at this year’s Pig Roast. Eat some ribs for me!

Songbook

I read a great book by one of my favorite authors recently, Songbook by Nick Hornby. Hornby is the author of High Fidelity, About a Boy, and Fever Pitch among others. At times, I think Hornby is writing about my life. If you took Fever Pitch, set it in Kansas City, and adjusted KU basketball for Arsenal soccer, the book is about me.

Anyway, Songbook is a quick little number that Hornby wrote as both a tribute to his love for music and to raise money for charities including the school that helps his autistic son lead a somewhat normal life. In Songbook, Hornby writes about some of his favorite songs, how he came to know them, how they’ve affected him, and where he was in life when he first heard them. (Examples: “I’m Like a Bird” by Nelly Furtado, “Thunder Road” by Bruce Springsteen, and “Heartbreaker” by Led Zeppelin.) For a fellow music junkie, it’s a great read. I was a little disappointed he didn’t write about 20 Clash songs, since he’s well documented as a big fan. I suppose he did expand my horizons a little, though, since I had heard of maybe five of the songs.

While reading, I thought it was such a great concept that I should do something similar if I was going to be serious about writing on a regular basis and sharing the results with my friends. Music has always been extremely important to me (quick, name a song. I’ll associate a specific memory with it in five seconds and offer a couple pieces of useless trivia) but in the past couple years I’ve come to appreciate just how big a role music has played in my life. I’ve started to analyze why I’m drawn to certain songs, artists, and genres. I’ve tried to put songs in more of a historical context, rather than tying them to specific moments in my life. Finally, I’ve begun exploring the evolution of music, working back from songs I like now, or enjoyed five years ago, to find the music that inspired those songs. Below is my first of what I plan to be many attempts, hopefully getting better in quality over time. I’d like to do one a week and will try to come up with some fancy title to differentiate these pieces from my other entries. I promise not to write too often about the Clash, Pearl Jam, and Neil Finn so you actually get some variety. That said, week one’s selection falls within D’s Holy Trinity of Music.

“Even Flow” – Pearl Jam, 1991

While I knew “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was a great song, and understood it was something different than anything else I had ever heard, I can’t say that’s the song that changed my life or even the way I listened to music. Despite really liking it, I distrusted Kurt Cobain and his anti-establishment stance. My musical interests were slow to change, and in the fall of 1991 I was spending more time listening to Public Enemy’s Apocalypse ’91 and Prince’s Diamonds and Pearls (coincidentally the last good album either put out). So while I heard the first shot of the revolution, I didn’t realize a revolution was under way.

I don’t recall the first time I heard “Even Flow”. I’m sure I had heard it here and there periodically during the late spring and early summer of 1992. Pearl Jam may have played it when they appeared on Saturday Night Live, which is the first time I really noticed them. I famously missed their appearance at KU’s Day on the Hill and an opportunity to hear it live a few weeks later. In fact, the first time Pearl Jam really had any effect on me was a couple weeks after Day on the Hill. I was at Louise’s West, someone played “Alive” and the bar came to a stop while everyone sang along with the chorus. Forget the fact “Alive” is a great song on its own, it was one of those special moments when you first really hear a song and the experience is dependent on how others are enjoying the same moment.

By early July, my music tastes had started to shift a little. Kansas City finally had a semi-alternative station, so some of the music I had ignored and even hated for years was suddenly making some sense to me. I’m not sure how many times I heard “Even Flow” the weekend of the Fourth of July. I just remember that the song seemed to be everywhere. We heard it on the radio while driving or hanging out at someone’s home, in bars, and the video was constantly on MTV. From the Thursday of the holiday weekend to the following Tuesday, when I bought the album Ten, “Even Flow” completely changed the way I felt about music and the kind of music I listened to.

The ultimate version of “Even Flow” is the “live” studio version, which was used in the video and eventually became the de facto radio version. Unlike the album version, which starts with a quick cord on the guitar, this version starts with the classic Eddie Vedder growl followed by the rest of the band jumping into the fray. The “live” version is angrier, dirtier, more powerful, and infinitely the better of the two. The heavy effects of the studio version are muted, and instead of sounding like he’s singing in the world’s biggest echo chamber, Eddie’s voice sounds like it’s screaming at you from a stage of a small club. It leaps out and smacks you in the face. Despite being “alternative”, there was a familiarity notably present in the song. Whether harkening back to 70s arena rock, or the anthemic early years of U2, while sounding different at the surface, there was a foundation that made you comfortable and engaged you.

The images offered by the video are the classic Pearl Jam image. Five young, dynamic musicians leaping around the stage. Sure, they had long hair, but they looked nothing like Poison, Warrant, or the other bands that just a couple years earlier had dominated the airwaves. Their performance was over-loaded with passion. It spilled over to the audience, who were clearly loving every minute of it. The video’s high point came when Eddie Vedder climbed up the light supports, swung from the scaffold for a while, and then leapt into the crowd. Along with the image of Kurt Cobain’s face covered by his hair, this is arguably the image that defines the music of the 90s. In musical terms, Pearl Jam is a much better band today than they were then, but I miss the passion their performances had then.

In this case, the story isn’t about any great meaning to a song. It’s about where I was in my life and how the song fit in. The summer of 1992 was a great one. I turned 21. We first moved into the big yellow house in Lawrence. The Bulls won the NBA title. One of the greatest Olympic games ever. I was discovering what my politics were during the presidential campaign. I realize it was a time when I first had the confidence of an adult. In retrospect, I understand a lot of that was false confidence based on the fact I had a valid ID that showed I was 21 years old. Apparently, all it takes is being able to drink a beer in public to cast aside lingering adolescent doubts. However it was a feeling that it seemed everyone in my circle of friends had, and we spent the entire summer celebrating putting our childhoods behind us. Each time I think of any of those events, I think of how Pearl Jam and “Even Flow” were the musical constants; the soundtrack to the next chapter of my life.

There’s a great line in High Fidelity: “Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable, or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?” Along those lines, I’ve always wondered if it is phenomenal music that makes a time period great, or is it the events in a time period that elevate the status of the songs you were listening to then? Can I not recall any negatives from the summers of 1992 or 1983 because the music was so good, or was I having so much fun that even the worst crap they could put on the radio became a classic because of the memories associated with it? Musically, 1992 really was a great year. Nirvana was busy breaking down doors. The first wave of crossover hip-hop was in full effect. Mary J. Blige’s first album was keeping R&B in the game. Whether I was listening to “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix a Lot, “Tennessee” by Arrested Development, “Real Love” by Mary J. Blige, “Friday I’m in Love” by the Cure, “All I Want” by Toad the Wet Sprocket, or “T.R.O.Y.” by Pete Rock & CL Smooth it seemed like everything I was listening to was great.

A few months earlier, you never would have seen the Cure or Toad the Wet Sprocket in my lists. Since the late 80s, I was all hip-hop and R&B all the time. I would have turned my nose up at complex, whiney, college music. “Even Flow” cracked that close mindedness open and suddenly I was listening to rock again. Bands like REM that I hated out of ignorance were now in heavy rotation on my headphones. After five years of wanting to only play music with a lot of bass that could piss off people around me, I was suddenly interested in guitars and drums again, along with attempting to figure out what the songs were about. (I was under the mistaken impression that every alternative song was about something important. This lead to countless frustrating hours trying to figure out songs that had no real point. It was just the sound and the way the artists dressed that made them alternative. Not any magic lyrical content.)

What makes a great song? I don’t think there’s a special formula since it’s a highly personal judgment. I think “Even Flow” proves, at least in my case, that it’s often the environment in which you first hear the song, and the events that correspond to you learning and loving the song that are at least as important as the quality of the lyrics and music. “Even Flow” is a great song even outside of the context of the summer of 1992. Its status is elevated, however, when you consider how great that summer was and the fact it was the song that changed the way I think about music, and the type of music I listen to. Eleven years later, I still crank the volume way up when it comes on. That’s as high a testament to its greatness as anything else.

Kobe

Like there hasn’t been enough talk about Kobe Bryant already, and now I’m going to jump in and say some words. I’m commenting more on the media attention than the alleged act or Kobe himself. It’s utterly ridiculous. MSNBC pretty much stopped all programming yesterday to spend a couple hours covering Kobe’s appearance in Eagle, CO yesterday. They continually showed a 20 second clip of Kobe walking from his Suburban to the courtroom while waiting for the session to start. 20 years from now, I’m going to remember how Kobe reached back and helped his lawyer hop out of the back seat because I saw the damn video 9,000 times.

(“So,” the astute reader might ask, “what the hell were you watching for it you are prepared to rant about it?” Well, I knew Keith Olbermann was hosting the coverage, so I figured I’d watch and see if he did it straight, or if he shared any of his thoughts. In the time I watched, he played it straight. But I got annoyed and went for a run at 5:15 so he may have done more later. Arnold’s announcement kind of interrupted his coverage on Countdown.)

Kobe is arguably the best basketball player in the world. He plays for the most recognizable team in the world. Sure, his Nike contract was only half of what LeBron got, but he’s still making about $25-30 million a year from all sources. I get all this. But does that really warrant all the attention? I’ve heard Kobe’s name more than I’ve heard WMD, tax cuts, Saddam, or Osama in the last week.

Not to belittle the alleged crime, because if he’s guilty he deserves the maximum criminal punishment, a hefty civil suit, and his wife to take at least half of his money, but is it really worth all this attention? Last time I checked, North Korea is closer to nuclear weapons than Iraq ever got (and are more willing to sell them to others), the Indonesian government may crack down on Muslims in a manner that could make Southern Asia as inhospitable as the Middle East, and events in Liberia could lead to a new round of long-term Western involvement in Africa. Yet the media is willing to send more resources to cover a court appearance by a basketball player (“100,000 journalists” according to the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart) than tackle some of the tough issues.

I don’t know where the blame lies. With the mainstream media for shoveling lowest common denominator news at us but wrapping it in the guise of being investigative, hard hitting, and informative? Or with us in the public for not demanding more and tuning in to watch Barbara Walters interview the Monica Lewinskys of the world in far greater numbers than we watch the State of the Union?

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