Month: September 2019 (Page 1 of 2)

R’s: End of the Season Notes

This was a lost baseball season for me. The Royals were shitty. For the first time ever, the MLB apps performed erratically at best, occasionally not at all. It was hard enough to find motivation to watch/listen to a bad team. When the tools that provide that access don’t work, you stop making the effort. Which is a shame because putting in the time in the bad years makes the good years even better. I don’t know how far off the next good run is, but I’d like to have thought following the Royals this year would be somewhat akin to the attention I gave them back in 2010–2012, when it seemed hopeless in Kansas City but there were guys developing in the system that I hoped would be good one day.

Alas, I could not match the attention I gave the team nearly a decade ago.

With another 100-loss season in the books, I thought I’d check in with some end-of-the-season comments since there has been some news.

New Ownership

This was out-of-nowhere and happened real, real fast. I figured David Glass would transition the team to his son Dan when the time was right. But quietly selling them to KC-area native John Sherman was a complete surprise. Sherman was alleged to have been a big part of Cleveland becoming more aggressive with their payroll since he became a part of the Indians’ ownership group. The natural hope is he will continue to be willing to spend money now that he has his own team. He doesn’t have to compete with the Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers in payroll. I do hope he is more willing than the Glass family generally was to spend money. Sherman got pretty good reviews from those in the know. I hope he is both a good owner and can hang around for 20 or so years to keep the Royals stable.

New Stadium?

There was immediate talk that the Royals were already quietly scouting areas in downtown KC for a new stadium. Word was this was very preliminary, with the idea being to have a downtown stadium ready to go when the current lease at the Truman Sports Complex runs out in 2031. I like the idea, though. The K is a wonderful park. But with downtown redeveloping over the past decade, a centrally-located stadium makes sense. Of course, I’ll be about 60 if/when this happens, which kind of sucks.

Ned

It wasn’t a huge surprise when Ned Yost announced that he would be retiring after the season ended. I didn’t expect him to hang on until the Royals were ready to compete again. But I did wonder if he would stick out a few more years, since his strength is dealing with young, developing players.

But I give him props for walking out on his terms, while he is still healthy, and while he can still do pretty much whatever he wants with his life.

I, like I think most Royals fans, came a long way with Ned. I didn’t love his tactical moves, his adherence to old school baseball, or the way he often dealt with criticism. I wanted him fired multiple times in 2014, as late as mid-way though the Wild Card game in fact. Check my Facebook feed for proof! But all that Royals Devil Magic of the 2014 and 2015 postseasons stemmed from his support for his players. He empowered guys to find their strength and do their thing. For that, they out-performed what most ever expected of them. By 2015 we had learned to love Ned despite his faults, understood some of his crustiness with the media was pure act, and adopted him as our oddball manager who got results. Winning the 2015 World Series meant we loved him forever and just chuckled and rolled our eyes when he did something crazy.

The biggest compliment I have for Ned is that he learned from his mistakes. Outwardly he comes across as very stubborn and sensitive to criticism. But it’s clear he learned from his failures in his first job in Milwaukee. He actually adjusted his style to adopt some modern analytics, although he would probably never admit it.

Despite his overall record and those maddening early years, he retires as a beloved franchise icon.

Alex

There are plenty of offseason questions the team needs to address as they approach the 2020 season, which should be the beginning of the climb from the bottom of the rebuild. I’m not sure if any of them are huge, given that winning is, at very best, one year in the future.

Thus figuring out what to do with Alex Gordon becomes the default most important decision of the winter.

It sounds like the Royals would like to have Alex back for another year, leaving the decision all up to Alex on whether he walks away or spends one last summer playing professional baseball.

I’d love it if he came back. His importance to the organization far outweighs his career stats, and it would be great for him to spend one more year helping transition to the next group of young guys. Even if that is in a reduced role.

But I keep thinking he will retire. He’s always done things quietly and on his own terms. Coming back would make it obvious that was the last run. I think playing out this season of uncertainty and walking off the diamond Sunday to a standing ovation is the way he really wants to go out rather than with a six-month farewell tour.

As I said, his importance outweighs his stats, or at least his offensive ones. The slow start to his career and then his wild swings between three weeks of being red hot and five weeks of being ice cold prevented him from ever being the offensive player he was expected to be.

But he was so good on defense. And, more importantly, the way he reclaimed his career by going to the minors and learning a new position without complaining, and his tireless work ethic are what we will remember about him. Honestly it’s a little difficult not to be disappointed by his career. He could have been a superstar. But that work ethic, his quiet demeanor, and the standard he set for every other player outweigh the slight disappointment you feel when you look at his numbers.

Oh, and then there was the biggest home run in franchise history.

Soler!

Speaking of home runs, a quick shout out to Jorge Soler who not only set the franchise home run record, but became the first Royal to ever lead the league in home runs. Even in a juiced ball year, that’s amazing. You figure some Yankee would hit 60 in their bandbox. Or this season it would be someone from Minnesota. But Soler seems to be developing into the player the Royals thought he could be when they traded Wade Davis for him. Now hopefully he can actually be part of a winning team before he departs for a team with more money.

I’m hopeful over the winter MLB gets their shit together so their apps work right again in 2020. Because I think that’s when it will start to be both interesting and rewarding to start listening to the Royals on warm summer nights again.

Friday Mega 1989 Playlist

A very special playlist this week.

I don’t know exactly what it was, but something this week made me think back to September 1989, when I was in my first month as a college student. It must have been a song, because I immediately started mentally flipping through the music I was listening to back then. I realized that the fall of 1989 might have been the time I listened to the widest range of music.

I went to college still listening to Top 40 pop, but also liking some hair metal, a healthy amount of R&B, and lots of hip-hop. Living in a dorm and making friends with guys with other tastes expanded my horizons. I arrived at McCollum Hall with a stack of my own cassettes. Soon I had copies of cassettes from guys up-and-down 6-West.

So this week a celebration of the music I was listening to back in that glorious fall.

“I Like” – Guy. The greatest New Jack Swing song of all time? Several New Edition and Keith Sweat tracks would be in the running, but since this was Teddy Riley’s band, it gets the nod. A remnant from the previous spring, but I did make a couple friends who thought I was worthy of talking to once they heard this song coming from my dorm room.

“18 and Life” – Skid Row. This was a Reaching for the Stars entry about a year ago. I didn’t ever listen to a ton of metal, but for some reason the fall of 1989 was when I listened to the most of my life. Probably because this, and a few others, were really good songs regardless of genre.

“It’s Funky Enough” – The D.O.C. This member of NWA was poised to breakout as the next huge artist from Compton when he released his fantastic debut album. Then his throat was severely injured in a car accident late in ’89, his voice changed dramatically, and he was never able to capitalize on that early success.

“Down Boys” – Warrant. I didn’t say all of these songs would be good.

“Miss You Much” – Janet Jackson. Man, Rhythm Nation was a monster of an album. So many great songs on it, it’s hard to pick a favorite. But this was the first single that was playing everywhere in the early fall.

“Express Yourself” – Madonna. Madonna wasn’t losing her perch as biggest female star in the world without a fight. Like a Prayer may not be as timeless as Rhythm Nation, but it’s still a great, and underrated album.

“Don’t Look Back” – Boston. Sometime in late September/early October my high school buddy who lived a floor above me and I settled into a nightly routine of playing classic rock and playing Nintendo for hours. We were probably wearing Benetton sweaters and Hugo Boss cologne. (“Hello ladies!”) At some point we got into a Boston kick and listened to their three albums on a loop for about a week. “More Than a Feeling” is one of the greatest rock songs ever. But I remember us discussing if “Don’t Look Back” was just as good as we played Tecmo Bowl and Mario Brothers.

“Hey Ladies” – The Beastie Boys. Maybe we would have had more luck with the females of McCollum if we acted more like the Beasties and played less Nintendo while listening to ‘70s rock. Who can say?

“We Didn’t Start the Fire” – Billy Joel. Speaking of ladies…I know back in the early days of the blog I shared the story of meeting a girl from Omaha who loved Billy Joel. On my next weekend trip home I snuck out all of my mom’s Billy Joel tapes and made sure I offered them to this little cutie. I doubt she took me up on my offer. When Billy Joel released a new single in the middle of my pathetic wooing, it seemed like a sign. The fact it was a terrible song should have been a sign that I was in over my head.

“Steppin’ To The A.M.” – 3rd Base. P.W. Botha gets the Gas Face.

“On Our Own” – Bobby Brown. Another remnant from the summer. Remember when Bobby was one of the biggest stars in the world for awhile?

“Love In An Elevator” – Aerosmith. The only Aerosmith album I ever bought was 1989’s Pump. I still think it’s pretty good.

“Groove Is in the Heart” – Deee-Lite. With the ‘80s coming to an end, this song was a sign that the ‘90s were going to be a very different time. An all-time ass shaker.

“Runnin’ Down A Dream” – Tom Petty. I wasn’t a big Petty fan at the time. But I remember this song kind of being everywhere, and a guy down the hall who played guitar sitting on his bed, playing the chorus over-and-over.

“Batdance” – Prince. It still seems crazy that Prince did the entire soundtrack for Batman and it ended up being this weird.

“Kickstart My Heart” – Mötley Crüe. Funny story: this came on one day this week on our way to pick up M. L, who is into drums, was banging away to the beat on her knees. Not sure how I feel about my daughter getting interested in the Crüe.

“Mixed Emotions” – The Rolling Stones. The Stones were another classic band that I had never been a fan of by 1989. I liked this song, though. Thankfully I learned to appreciate the rest of their catalog in time.

“Fight the Power” – Public Enemy. “1989! A number, another summer! Get down, sound of the funky drummer.” One Saturday that fall, after I stumbled home from some apartment party where I paid $3 for all the foamy beer I could drink, I decided I needed to spread the gospel of PE in a manner that Spike Lee would appreciate. I opened the window of my room that looked out over the parking lot, put my boom box in it, cranked it to 11, and played this over-and-over. This was at like two in the morning. I still don’t understand why the night security people didn’t come shut me down. Maybe they were down with PE, too?

KU Hoops: Now the Real Fun Starts

I’ve casually mentioned a few times over the years that I have some contacts that are semi-insiders to what is going on with Kansas athletics. One of those contacts had been warning me for months that whenever the NCAA decided to officially weigh in on the Adidas-FBI issues, it was going to be worse than anyone expected.

The NCAA officially spoke yesterday. And on the surface, it was indeed worse that most people expected. They bundled all the things we knew about from the FBI case, added some bullshit football stuff to make it look worse, and threw in both the Lack of Institutional Control and a “responsibility charge” against Bill Self. It does not look good right now.

Before I dive into all of that, I’ll remind you of my stance on this: I don’t believe Bill Self, or any other high level D1 basketball coach, is not somehow directly involved or at a very minimum aware of how the shoe companies pay off recruits. He can say he wasn’t involved; Tom Izzo, Roy Williams, John Calipari, Coach K, etc can all say the same thing. As The Athletic’s Dana O’Neil pointed out this morning, these coaches are aware of every aspect of their players’ lives. To pretend they don’t know about those same kids getting paid by shoe companies is insulting.

And any fan who says, “Well, that doesn’t happen here,” is naive. Not every coach is dirty, but every coach turns their back on things they don’t want to know about to make sure they get the kids they want. And every staff as an assistant who is willing to push a little harder to lock down recruits.

I guess the good thing that came out of yesterday was that the NCAA did not uncover anything that we didn’t already know from the FBI trial. Billy Preston’s mom got paid. Silvio De Sousa’s guardian got paid. The NCAA had six months to dig up more and couldn’t find anything else.

Of course, what they allege is plenty enough. And the battle over these charges is going to be fascinating. KU is going to stand behind the results of the federal trial, in which Adidas’ TJ Gassnola insisted he never informed Self of the payments. The jury seemed to believe Gassnola and the judge awarded damages to KU for being defrauded (which I think is kind of garbage, but whatever).

They will also stand behind KU never letting Preston play and declaring De Sousa ineligible when his name appeared on FBI documents.

The NCAA is going to say you absolutely were aware of the payments before you declared those kids ineligible, Self and/or his assistants facilitated the payments, and you’re going to be punished for that.

I was reading a little about what happens from here and it is really interesting. Basically no one knows what to think because of all the new infractions hearing steps that have been added over the past year or so. Either KU or North Carolina State is going to be the first school the navigate the process, and until they do and we see a final result, we have no idea what the institutional bias is right now. Will the final enforcement hearing lean toward supporting the NCAA’s charges, or will KU’s arguments be compelling enough to roll back what the NCAA is alleging?

I really don’t have a feel for what’s going to happen. There is no doubt the NCAA feels humiliated by getting worked over by North Carolina in their academic scandal investigation and want to show they actually have some control of college sports. While KU fans are bitching about being first in line, there is a long list of schools behind them that are going to bubble up soon. KU’s attorneys are going to rack up a lot of billable hours over the next year or so as the school fights back hard. It is going to be ugly and even if KU escapes the worst of the penalties, recruiting is going to take a hit for at least another year, maybe longer.

Force me to make a prediction, and I say KU will have to vacate every game De Sousa played in during the 2018 season, including the Final Four appearance. KU will lose a couple scholarships over a couple years. Kurtis Townsend takes the bullet and retires. Self will take a suspension of two months or less. KU will manage to avoid a postseason ban. And no one is really happy with the result.

Fans of Nike schools were no doubt laughing when the KU news broke. But what gets lost a little in this is how the NCAA just opened a giant window to nail anyone. By declaring Gassnola a KU booster, should they win they can claim any shoe company employee or representative is a booster for any school they work with. (I just read an opinion from an attorney who suggests this open universities to be held liable for actions of anyone they have a business relationship with.) Suddenly there is a pretty clear path to go after every school that recruits elite players every year. I would imagine Nike coaches are less excited than their fans, and are hoping that their bag men were better about covering their tracks than the Adidas guys were.

Now, how do I feel about all this? I feel pretty meh, to be honest. I’ll fully sign myself up as a hypocrite for enjoying Pitino’s downfall and complaining about what’s taking so long for Sean Miller to really face some heat while hoping Self skates through all of this.

Here’s the thing about college sports, which are my favorite: if you buy into them, you have to buy into the fact that basketball and football are inherently corrupt. From the failure to pass proceeds from billion dollar TV contracts directly to the players, to refusing to allow athletes to profit off of their images while their schools can, to the idea that any kid that spends a couple summers playing AAU basketball is somehow still an amateur, to believing the college football and basketball are also somehow still amateur sports, the whole model is broken. You either give up and start watching pro sports, or you accept it and hope your school doesn’t get pinched.

KU got pinched. I’m rooting hard for the NCAA to lose this one. But if KU does indeed get hammered, I’ll shrug my shoulders and hope the program can recover quickly.

I’m sure this won’t be the last post on this subject…

Kid Sports Notes

First off, obviously there are some changes here. I finally got everything moved over to my new site host and, hopefully, functioning properly. There’s still work to do: I need to pick a new theme that I like, I’m having some trouble getting footnotes to work, and the Markdown text language I’ve been writing in for years doesn’t seem to be converting properly, which is messing with my head. Ten years ago when I was constantly messing around with how the site looked and worked, those fixes were easy. Now that I’m out of practice, they are awfully tedious.

But it does seem like I can post from my desktop and I can once again include images in my posts, so we’re moving in the right direction.

Now for some kid sports updates.
***
The kickball season wrapped up last week. Neither C’s or L’s teams were super successful; C’s team won only one game, L’s team went 4–3 in a very tough division. Both girls had solid seasons. They both kicked pretty well and L was very good on defense. C has always played the suicide position next to the pitcher. She finally reached the age where that’s not as important, so we tried to move her to the outfield against good kicking teams, but she was uncomfortable out there. She made a lot less plays because she was out of the spot she’s been in since fourth grade. Amazingly we had only one night rained out all season, which is a new record. L said that was likely her final season to play, although I’m hoping I can talk her into one more in the spring.

While their teams didn’t do all that well, one of our fourth grade teams won the City championship last week. That was a big deal, ending at least an 0–7 stretch in kickball City championship games for St. P’s.
***
Cross country is getting close to wrapping up. For C it’s been a challenging year. She’s been saying all season that she doesn’t enjoy it as much as in the past. Her times have been a little slower, and it has not helped that our very warm September has meant she’s been running in heat every week. She had still placed in three of her first four meets, and in the fourth meet she missed placing by one spot and 10 seconds. Saturday she ran her best time of the year, her second fastest time of the past two years, and her best time ever on that course. She snuck into the top 25 to get another ribbon on a day when a lot of good runners were really struggling. It looked like she was going to finish the season really strong.

And then yesterday she could barely walk. We haven’t taken her to get x-rayed but based on how the pain had been building for a few days and its location, S is reasonably certain C has a stress fracture in her foot. So we’re pulling her out of this week’s practices and meet, putting her into a walking book, and hoping that with the next weekend off, she’ll be ready to run again for the City meet in two weeks.

For M, XC has been a struggle. The practices are hard. The meets are really hard. She’s often one of the very last runners on the course. She kept telling us that she was enjoying it, but we know that her performances are getting to her. Especially when she looks at her per-mile pace and compares it to C’s. We try to find some positive in each week, and I remind her how many girls on her team decide not to run every week. She might be bringing up the rear, but she’s out there trying. She did miss this weekend’s meet because she was sick. That may have been a blessing because the course they ran on was super hilly and it could have gotten very ugly. She has just two more meets left. I would guess that she will not run next year, but this season has served its purpose: it helped her ease into high school and gave her an instant group of friends. And she will always be able to say that she earned a (JV) letter in cross country if she can survive the last couple meets. It’s also been fun to hear her and C talking about running together. They struggle to connect at times and C craves her big sister’s approval. Although their abilities are very different, at least XC has given them some common ground.
***
While kickball has wrapped up, we are three weeks into soccer and about to start basketball for L. Her soccer team is 2–1–1, she is tied for the lead in goals and has the lead in assists despite missing a game. She’s playing well, often more in a midfield role than her traditional forward spot. But she’s also playing with a lot of girls who have a much lower soccer IQ and I think that frustrates her at times.

It’s been a little hard for me to watch from the sidelines. Although I was happy I did not have to coach her team this year, after doing it for three years I have a different perspective. I also don’t believe parents on the sidelines should be yelling at kids on how to play. So I tend to lean over to S and mutter, “What they hell are they doing?” or “Why does he have that girl playing that position?” I also get unreasonably bitter when L subs out, because it always happens at the worst time. Example: Saturday she started the second half on the bench. No big deal, it was hot, she ran hard in the first half. Naturally we get a penalty kick for a hand ball in the box. The girl we send to take the shot has no idea what to do and hits a dribbler the goalie saves easily. Last week when L took a PK, she blasted it into the corner where the goalie had no chance. Obviously, this was totally random; the coach didn’t know we were going to get a PK while L was out. Yet I was bothered. Fortunately L took a great corner later in the half that a teammate tapped in for a goal and the 1–0 win.

Her first basketball game is Wednesday night. They’ve been practicing 2–3 times a week. I got asked to help last week when both of their coaches, who I coached with two years ago, we going to be late. The team is super athletic. We have some size, lots of speed. And our center is a setter in volleyball and knows how to make quick passes out of the post to cutters. If they can learn how to hit shots they could be really good.

My expectation was that L would play off the bench. But from what I saw Friday, and from what she’s told me, I think she’s going to start at point guard. I hope she’s ready to face sixth graders who play year-round.

She’s been loving it, though. I don’t remember if I mentioned this already, but she told me a couple weeks ago that she wants to play basketball this winter and is reconsidering whether she plays club soccer next year because she likes basketball so much. It’s been cool to see her connect with the sixth graders, too. I’ve seen them run over and start talking to her as the walk into school in the mornings. One who lives near us invited her over to hang out this weekend. In some ways I think she connects better with them than her two classmates that are also on the team. Game recognizes game.

Friday Playlist

Let’s see if we can get everything working this week.

“The Borders” – Sam Fender. Fender’s debut album finally hit the shelves last week. It’s pretty solid, although no songs match the lead single, “Hypersonic Missiles.” Still, there are several really solid songs. A few of them make it clear he’s been listening to the War on Drugs. This song is the best example of that, filled with Granduciel-esque guitars.

“A Dream of Home” – Tyler Ramsey. I gave the former Band of Horses guitarist’s latest solo album one listen last week. It’s a little too folky and dreamy for me, but I really liked this track.

“Moonbeam Levels” – Prince. Here’s the Prince song I had never heard before reading about it over the past week. Originally recorded in 1982, it was taken out of the vault, dusted up, and put into the rotation for potential inclusion in *Purple Rain*. Eventually Prince decided it wasn’t a good fit and shelved it again. It did not reappear until the *4Ever* album that was released after Prince’s death. Not sure why I never listened to it, but I’ve been loving this song since I first listened to it last week. It’s not an all-timer, for sure. But it has a vibe to it that makes it hard to know where it fits into his catalog. It doesn’t really sound like *1999* music. It has some *Purple Rain* vibes. But it also sounds like it could have been one of those early/mid 1990’s one-off singles.

“Dancing in the Dark” – Lucy Dacus. Speaking of one-off singles, Dacus has been releasing them throughout this year, and they’ve all been really good. This time, in honor of Bruce Springsteen’s 70th birthday this coming Monday, she tackles his biggest pop hit. And does so rather well.

“Perfect Way” – Scritti Politti. This isn’t exactly an obscure ‘80s song. If you listen to ‘80s stations regularly you’ll hear it quite a bit. But it’s also not the first song most folks would think of when they consider that era. I remember it jumping out at me in the late fall of 1985 and sounding unlike anything else I was listening to at the time. Which is saying something because this was the heart of my “I listen to a little of everything” phase. Just a great song that was so good Miles Davis covered it. Miles Fucking Davis!

Reader’s Notebook, 9/19/19

Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions, 1983 and 1984 – Duane Tudahl

This book has been on my list since it first came out a couple years back. At some point I got the Kindle sample and loved the chapter that I read. I just kept putting off diving into it because it seemed like such a big ask, spending a couple weeks reading about every day that Prince spent in the recording studio over 1983 and 1984.

I’m glad I waited because for the paperback release, Tudahl was able to talk to a few people who wouldn’t talk to him the first time and expand the depth of the book.

It begins by setting up where Prince was in January of 1983. 1999 was supposed to be his commercial breakthrough album. But despite being released to almost universally positive reviews in the fall of 1982, it wasn’t selling. A lot of people forget – including me – that “1999” was released as a single that fall and went nowhere, not even cracking the Top 40. Meanwhile, on tour, The Time was kicking The Revolution’s ass. It’s not that Prince’s performances were bad. It’s just that The Time was so locked in that their opening sets were often the highlights of the 1999 tour, which also featured Vanity 6.

This combined to leave Prince, for the first time in his career, under a tremendous amount of pressure. Although his record company was supportive, he knew that if he didn’t start selling records the freedom they gave him would disappear. And he definitely couldn’t have his underlings, the band he assembled and wrote/recorded nearly every song for, outdoing him on stage.

From there Tudahl takes us through every studio event that Prince had over the next 24 months. He does by referencing studio, Warner Brothers, and union records, to piece together where Prince was, who he was with, and what he was recording.

Prince recorded a staggering amount of music over his life. This two-year snapshot demonstrates his obsessive nature. Pretty much every day he was available – basically anytime he wasn’t filming Purple Rain – he was in a studio with tape rolling. When he had a musical thought, he had to get it out before he lost it. One engineer he worked with suggested in an ideal world, Prince would release songs like the newspaper. You would wake up every morning and find a new one waiting for year. Another engineer complained that Prince recorded music so quickly the songs were never mixed properly and, technically, often sounded rather poor. Prince didn’t care. He didn’t have time to spend weeks mixing songs to get them to sound perfect. Once he had the sounds in his head on tape, he was ready to move on to the next project.

Over these two years Prince recorded somewhere between 100 and 150 songs. That covered everything from remixes of 1999 songs, the entire Purple Rain project, the entire Around the World in a Day album, songs that were used on later albums, and songs for other artists.

February 1984 was perhaps his most manic month. He finished The Time’s Ice Cream Castle album, one that he wrote and performed all the music for. He wrote and recorded the basics for Sheila E’s entire debut album. He wrapped up work on Apollonia 6’s album, including writing “Manic Monday,” which he pulled from A6 and gave to The Bangles. He wrote a bunch of music that was used as either B-sides or as background music in Purple Rain. He wrote and recorded both “Another Lonely Christmas” and “Pop Life.” He recorded a Wendy & Lisa track. And he also got countless jams onto tape that were used as inspiration later.

And then on March 1 he wrote and recorded “When Doves Cry.”

Ridiculous.

By the end of 1985 he sold over 12 million of his own records, and artists that he controlled sold nearly 2 million more. I’m not sure we’ve ever seen a run like that.

Reading about this period was fascinating. But it also made me sad for Prince. Music was his outlet for communicating with others. He could never relax and enjoy the spoils of his success. He always felt the urge to create more. In fact, he was already sick of Purple Rain when the album and movie were at their peaks of success. While The Revolution was rehearsing for the Purple Rain tour, he scrambled to record Around the World in a Day, finishing the final track on December 31, 1984. And then he was ready to move on to the next thing.

Also, despite a seemingly endless series of beautiful girlfriends,1 he comes across as a very lonely person. I never grasped that in his music, likely because I first heard most of his music when I was a kid and I was distracted by all the sex in his songs. Musician John Roderick talked about Prince’s loneliness after his death, and it kind of rocked my world, because it was always right there, out in the open. Reading through two years of his life reinforces how alone he was despite the girlfriends.

Somewhat related to that isolation is the way he controlled the groups that were beneath him: The Time, Vanity 6/Apollonia 6, Mazarati, Jill Jones, The Family, etc. He dominated every aspect of these groups, between writing and performing almost all of their recorded music, deciding who would be in each group, determining their look, etc. Sheila E was slightly removed from this, I believe because he respected her musicianship. But he still had a ton of control over her career. Prince basically destroyed The Time when he kicked Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis out of the group for working on their own and leaving Morris Day feeling isolated when Prince selected who their replacements would be. Day quit The Time out of frustration before Purple Rain was released.

When asked why he wrote so much music that he gave to these other groups, Prince said that his record company would never let him release that much music under his name so close together. He added that he didn’t want to be an artist with a sound that could be dismissed as time passed. If he spread the music across multiple groups, it would become a movement that could not be ignored.

That was the driving force behind a man who, for a time, took over the world.

As you would expect, I spent a lot of time listening to Prince’s music while reading this book. Especially the Deluxe Expanded Edition of Purple Rain, which featured many of the extra tracks he recorded in 1984. I think I gave them a courtesy listen when it first came out, but this was the first time I listened to them repeatedly. And a lot of them are really good. There’s one song I’ll put on this week’s Friday Playlist I can’t believe I never heard before this month.

If you’re a fan of Prince, especially his peak in 1984, I can’t recommend this book enough.

1. During this period there was Vanity, Susannah Melvoin, Susan Moonsie, Apollonia, Sheila E, and Jill Jones. At least…

Weekend Notes

Some belated weekend notes.


HS Football

Friday was M’s first football rivalry game, as Cathedral took on Bishop Chatard. St. P’s is usually evenly split between those high schools, so it is always an emotional matchup. CHS was ranked #4 in 5A, BCHS #1 in 3A.

CHS won by 10 thanks to a big fourth quarter. They were down 21-17 going into the fourth but got an 88-yard TD pass and a 76-yard TD run with consecutive interceptions on defense after each TD.

I’d love to tell you it was a great game. But we got to the stadium a little late and all the seats at the rather small stadium were completely filled, so we stood on the track the entire game.1 We could only see what was going on when the plays were inside the 10 yard line directly in front of us.

M was happy that she is 1-0 against her old classmates.


KU Football

I had pretty much put Friday’s game against Boston College out of my mind. I would be at the high school game and wouldn’t bother keeping tabs on what was sure to be another blow out. What genius scheduled Boston College anyway?

So I was shocked when I got texts at halftime telling me that KU was actually ahead. I was even more flabbergasted when I saw that Carter Stanley had thrown for three touchdowns. Our Carter Stanley? I was sure my boys were playing tricks on me until I confirmed the score on ESPN.

And then the Jayhawks went out and played even better in the second half to get an easy, 24-point win.

This makes no sense. Apparently KU looked tough on both lines, made smart calls that were converted on offense, and basically made BC give up in the second half. Amazing.

Appropriate that it came the same week nine years after Turner Gill’s first team beat a ranked Georgia Tech team the week after losing to an FCS team. So I’m not getting too excited about it. But it does show that maybe Les’ shit is working. There was a lot of good national run for KU over the weekend. That’s Les’ task for this year: generate some buzz and turn it into signing good kids in December and February.


Other Weekend Sports

I’ll save the kid sports for another post. Saturday night S, L, and I went to the Cathedral girls soccer senior night. It was also CYO night so L wore her summer camp shirt and got to do some stuff with the team. We have friends who have a daughter who is a senior. She’s always looked out for L at camp. She made sure that she grabbed L when they were lining up the starters with kids to walk onto the field with. L had a big grin on her face while she stood there with the team during the national anthem.

Unfortunately CHS lost in a really competitive 3-2 game. We also saw the end of the JV game, which was a win. L’s teacher is the JV coach so she was sure to check in with her as well.

We had people over on Sunday for the last pool party of the year. Most of the dads sat in front of the TV watching the Colts get a big win in Tennessee. That’s how you win road games: contain on defense and make just enough big plays on offense. The city is in a bit of a tough spot trying to figure out what to think about Adam Vinatieri’s second-straight terrible game. There was lots of speculation that he would announce his retirement on Monday, but that did not happen and Frank Reich pronounced in faith in Vinatieri.

It’s kind of crazy he has hung on and been this good, this long. It is equally crazy if he basically lost it overnight. Once again, Father Time is undefeated.

1. Strangely, CHS does not have its own football field. They traditionally play their “home” games at one of two public school fields. BCHS has a stadium, but because they are smack in the middle of a neighborhood, they went 20 years without a home game until last year. You would think the two schools that have won the most state titles in Indiana history would have better facilities.

Hitting the Course

Few things in the world are more enjoyable to non-golfers than stories about golf. Below are 1300 and change words about my trip to the course yesterday. Feel free to skip if that’s not your bag.


After weeks of hemming and hawing, of hitting the driving range and the pitch and putt course but only thinking about playing real golf, I finally bucked up and hit the course yesterday.

It went pretty well.

I played nine holes on a decent public course where I’ve done most of my practicing. The front nine is par 35. I shot 47. I was absolutely thrilled with that score.

Before playing I hit a few balls on the range to warm up and gauge where my swing was. I was hitting my irons well but when I moved to the tee, I could not hit a good 3-wood. I was either hitting worm burners or big slices. In a big change from normal, I was actually striking the driver well. My plan when I played had been to keep the driver in the bag and focus on keeping the 3-wood in play. This warm up tome adjusted my thinking.

I caught a dead spot in the lineup and headed to the first tee as a single. I took out driver, took a slow, controlled swing, and just mashed the ball. It hugged the right tree line as it raced down course, only to take a sharp right turn and disappear somewhere toward the parking lot. I paused, waited to hear contact with a car or window that never came, and dropped a breakfast ball and my 3-wood. This time I aimed left to take the slice out of play. This time I hit it on the screws and straight where I was aiming, which happened to be in the left rough near some trees. Still, in play and leaving me a decent approach shot. I pitched under the trees but my ball rolled through the green, I chipped on, and then three putted for a 6. Not a great start but I had a score on the card.

Hole two was more of the same. Off the tee with the 3-wood, I aimed left, hit it straight, and had a decent angle at the hole from the third fairway. For all my practice in recent months, I really have no idea how far I hit my clubs. That happens when you’re inconsistent and just trying to make solid contact. I had to get over some trees and it seemed like I was 125-135 out, so I took a 7-iron. Which I absolutely nuked. My ball bounced once on the green, then off, down a hill toward a tree line behind the green.

Not having played this course before I didn’t know hidden in those trees was a fence that was the border of the course. Digging around in the shrubs I found three Pro V1’s, which was cool, but not my ball. I dropped, took my penalty stroke, chipped up, and two-putted for another 6.

Four over through two, two lost balls. Not an ideal start. But I felt good. I stepped to the third tee, realized aiming left didn’t seem to be helping me, so took aim at the center of the fairway, and sent one straight down the middle. That’s what I’m talking about!

OK, I’ll stop with the full accounting there. That kind of summed up my day. I only hit three bad tee shots with a driver/3-wood all day. I define bad shot as either not making good contact or the ball not going where I aimed. Two I took mulligans on as they went well out of play. The third I topped a little but it still had enough juice on it to roll out close to 200 yards.

On the two par threes I guessed on what iron to use and both times hit shots that where pin-high…only 30 yards to the left. I’ve always pulled irons off a tee and apparently I still do.

My approach shots were like my tee shots: mostly really good. I was making solid contact and the ball was generally going where I aimed.

Around the green I was ok. I chipped to a foot once. I put several others in makable range. I had two piss-poor efforts.

On the green, though, I was bad. I didn’t mark it down, but I think I three-putted at least six holes. Maybe seven. That’s a round killer. But it is also correctable, especially since I feel like I’m a decent putter. I just need more reps on the practice green and to learn how to read greens better. Correcting putting issues brings your score down quickly when you start removing the three-putts from your round.

My best putt of the day was a 45 footer that I left about a foot short. By this time I had joined two guys who were in front of me.1 I actually scuffed behind the ball, made poor contact, and let out a noise of disgust as I hit it. Luckily the putt was downhill and gravity kept tugging it until it was close. I laughed when one of my new partners asked if I could show him how to scuff his putts like that. I realized that had I made solid contact, I would have sent the ball at least 20 feet past the hole and three- or four-putted. An error pays off!

My only one-putt of the day was on the final hole, a dead-straight six footer that I knocked in. For a moment I thought I had birdied the hole. Then I realized that in my excitement I forgot a stroke. Still, a good way to end the round with a solid par.

As I said at the beginning, I felt great about this round. I was pretty consistent tee-to-green, likely the best nine holes I’ve ever played. I was making good contact and sending the ball where I wanted it. It was just on the green where I struggled. I had a handful of other errors that are typical of a player of my caliber. They can all be corrected with more practice and play. If I can dial in some rough distances with my irons, that will be a huge help. All together, I can see a pretty clear path to shaving several strokes off Wednesday’s score.

Now, this isn’t the toughest course in the world.2 My swing has been erratic lately, and this seemed to be a good day. But it was super encouraging to put a decent round – for me – together. I don’t know that I had ever broken 50 before on a nine-hole round. And if my first goal in playing again is to break 100, I’m well on the way to that. In fact, I gave serious consideration to making the turn and getting another nine in to see if I could go ahead and check that off my list. But I wanted to quit while I still felt good and before the real heat of the afternoon kicked in.3

My current plan is to play once a week for the rest of the month and into early October. A friend who belongs to a country club promised to invite me to play with him once their fall guest rates kick in. I wanted to be sure I wasn’t a complete disaster if that happens. Wednesday felt like a good first step toward that goal.

Before I took my lesson in July I told my coach I had three goals:

  • I wanted to break 100
  • I wanted to be able to play with friends who are good without embarrassing myself
  • And I wanted to get good enough so I could put aside my starter clubs and go buy some new, nicer ones.

I’m not pricing new clubs yet, but I feel like that may not be too far down the road now.

1. Two older, very friendly gentlemen who had flown A-10s together.

2. Par 70, 6061 yards, 68.4 course rating, 110 slope rating.

3. It was in the mid-90s and very humid. I was soaked from those nine holes, and that was riding in a cart.

Reaching for the Stars, Vol. 31

Chart Week: April 10, 1982
Songs: “We Got the Beat” – The Go-Go’s; “I Love Rock ’n Roll” – Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
Chart Positions: #2, 11th week on the chart. Would spend three weeks at #2.
/#1, 10th week on the chart, fourth week at #1. Would spend seven weeks at #1.

A two-fer, as a tidbit I heard on this countdown connected with some trivia I had heard awhile back and was hoping to eventually write about.

1982 was a huge time for women in rock. Perhaps no moment was bigger than this point in April with Joan Jett was in the top spot with the Go-Go’s right behind her.

“I Love Rock ’n Roll” was the first song ever by a female-led band to reach #1 on the Billboard Top 40. Which seems crazy, right? It took us until 1982 for this to happen?!?! Well, some of that is just because of the silly ways we categorize music. Women had been hitting #1 for decades, but always while listed as solo artists, halves of duos, members of groups that didn’t play their own music, or as the lead singer of a band that was ostensibly “led” by a man. Joan Jett was the first woman ever who was not just the front-woman for a band, but was also the organizer, primary writer, and business leader of the band. The Blackhearts were her band, not some producer’s or record company exec’s assembled to back her up.

What a song to stake this claim. “I Love Rock ’n Roll” is big, bold, and unforgettable. Those opening drum beats, those massive guitars, and Jett’s growl all kick your ass from the start. She was presenting herself as the baddest woman in the world on this song. I think it worked. For seven weeks she held the #1 spot with what became one of the biggest songs of the decade.1 She’s still a badass today.

Behind Jett at #2 were the Go-Go’s, with their first big hit. They were blocked from reaching #1 by “I Love Rock ’n Roll” for three weeks before “We Got the Beat” began sliding back down the charts. While their single is also an undeniable classic of the ‘80s, the bigger news was their album, Beauty and the Beat. It was the first-ever album from an all-female group to crack the Billboard Hot 100 album chart. Which, again, seems insane. But as unique as Joan Jett was, the Go-Go’s were even more unique for the moment. A band made up entirely of women? Who made new-wave/rock music? And wrote and played it all themselves? That just wasn’t happening on a large scale yet.

Both of these tidbits seem strange nearly 40 years later, when whole swaths of the music industry are dominated by women who are doing their own thing and totally in control of their careers. It was a brave, new world in 1982 as times were just beginning to change.

This was kind of a wacky week that demonstrated the state of pop music in 1982. There were two theme songs on the charts: “Magnum P.I.” was at #36 and “Chariots of Fire” was at #3. There were two medleys on the charts: “Pop Goes the Movies (Part 1)” at #35 with “The Beatles Movie Medley” a slot ahead at #34. And there were two novelty songs: Bob and Doug McKenzie’s “Take Off” at 19 and Buckner and Garcia’s “Pac-Man Fever” at 11.

https://youtu.be/gBRwZbAKMpU

https://youtu.be/f55KlPe81Yw

1. It is officially listed as Billboard’s #13 song of the 1980s.

Reader’s Notebook, 9/10/19

Crap. Once again I’ve fallen behind on accounting for my books. It’s not like I’ve been blowing through them, either. I’m still on, roughly, book/week pace. But it’s been taking more more like 10-12 days to knock out most of these. The bigger problem is I had four straight books I had on hold at the library come in, so I’ve been trying to bear down and get them all knocked out in my window of opportunity. I managed to get three done, but the fourth I had to return before I could start and it will have to go back on the list.


The Nickel Boys – Colson Whitehead
Whitehead always takes on race in America from an interesting and fresh perspective. In this book he examines how young, black men have always been the targets of an unfair criminal justice system.

The book is centered on Elwood Curtis, a teenager in civil rights-era Florida being raised by his grandmother after his parents disappeared. The only record she allows him to listen to is one of Martin Luther King Jr’s speech, and he listens to it over-and-over, until it becomes a model for his life. He is a good student, kind to others, and doesn’t tolerate those who act out. After a high school teacher presents him with an opportunity to attend a protest in Tallahassee, Elwood joins the civil rights movement. His good grades also earn him a chance to take college courses while still in high school. He must bike or hitch to the college, and one day the ride he accepts turns out to be with a man in a stolen car. When the police pull them over Elwood is charged as an accomplice and, despite his clean record, sent to the Nickel Academy, an infamous home for boys.

Elwood gets sucked into the gut of the criminal justice beast at Nickel. He perseveres despite numerous beatings and other ill treatment until he cracks and attempts an escape.

Parts of the story are told from future Elwood, as he is building a life in New York in the early 1970s, as he presides over a self-made business in the 1980s and 1990s, and later as he confronts his experience at Nickel after an unmarked grave is found on the academy’s former site. Eventually we learn that adult Elwood is not who we thought he was, and reveal of the true fate of that boy is devastating.

Whitehead is such a good writer, and this is another wonderful entry into his already magnificent catalog. He somehow makes a story both terrible and uplifting, and finds hope in moments of tragedy.


Open: Inside the Ropes at Bethpage Black – John Feinstein
Hey, another Feinstein book about golf! This one is set up a little differently. While it focuses on the 2002 US Open at Bethpage Black golf course on Long Island, it is as much about how the Open came to be staged at that public golf course than the tournament itself.1 He traces that journey from some rounds by USGA executives on the course in the early ‘90s, when it was in serious disrepair; through the negotiations to bring the tournament there and how the USGA, the state of New York, NBC, and others worked to make it a reality; detailed accountings of how all the most important people at Bethpage worked over five years to pull the tournament off in the shadow of 9/11; and how the success of the ’02 tournament opened the door for other public courses to host the championship.

My favorite part of the book was when Feinstein was digging into the late 1990s PGA/USGA TV contract negotiations. It was a huge deal when NBC nabbed rights from ABC, and he does a tremendous job going through all the ebbs-and-flows of that process.


Fleishman Is In Trouble – Taffy Brodesser-Akner
This book was a whiplash book: it started taking me hard one way, then suddenly whipped me back the opposite direction.

It begins taking us into the life of Toby Fleishman, a physician in his early 40s in New York who is in the process of getting a divorce and is suddenly having amazing amounts of sex with women he meets online. Even he is stunned at how aggressive these lonely, horny women around Manhattan seem to be. He never had much luck with the ladies, owing largely to his height: on a good day he’s 5’7”. Despite being honest about his stature, Toby is getting L-A-I-D and while he doesn’t understand it, he’s not complaining. The first quarter of the book is hilarious as he attempts to figure out what the hell is going on.

Soon the book shifts, though, as he wakes up one morning to find his two kids in his apartment. They were supposed to be with their mother, a high-profile talent agent, but were dropped off by her silently in the night before she disappears. A teenage daughter with an attitude and a sensitive 10-year-old son are a serious cock block on Toby’s new life. Worse, his wife refuses to answer his calls or messages.

Eventually this gets concerning as her time away stretches into the weeks.

We begin to learn about Toby’s marriage, and how it fell apart slowly over the years as his wife changed after having children. One of the real interesting angles of the book is its narrator: she is Toby’s college friend who lives on Long Island with her family after chucking her journalism career for life as a full-time mom. She clues us into Toby’s hopeless college years, the wonderful early years of his life with his future wife, their relatively normal marriage, and then its utter breakdown as his wife’s career took off.

Ahh, but there’s another twist. After a couple hundred pages of us being offered Toby as the party in the right, his college pal runs into the ex-wife. And she is an absolute mess. Then we get to learn her story, and we see while Toby is not to blame, perhaps neither is the wife. What began as a hilarious sex-romp turns into a devastating accounting of how a woman can crack under the pressure of trying to have it all, and how society often isn’t willing or able to help those women.

Brodesser-Akner pulls a lot of angles into her story. There’s the eternal struggle to balance family and career we all face, the unfair expectations put on both men and women, what happens when one partner isn’t as successful as the other, the way divorce affects children, the pressures to keep up with your social circle, changing sexual norms, and so on. It’s a really good story, and she blends all of this into it nicely.

What stuck with me the most was one character that Toby dates. While they hook up often and Toby shares his current situation rather early on, she holds back, refusing to share much about her past. When she does, we learn that she still lives under the shadow of a brutally cruel and disappointing marriage. Toby urges her to break out from it using their relationship as the starting point, but she refuses for a variety of reasons. She does eventually relent and makes steps to change her life, and in that moment Toby discovers that when she becomes more than a sex object to him, he suddenly isn’t interested. In a book full of difficult moments, this is the one that I keep thinking about.


American Spy – Lauren Wilkinson
Another book that tackles all kinds of big issues like race, gender roles, family, the relationship between world powers and smaller countries, and how personal politics interact with global politics. Oh, and it’s another debut novel that pisses me off because it is so good.

As the title suggests, this is presented as a spy novel. The main character, Marie, is the daughter of a mixed-race native of the Caribbean and a black New York cop. She joins the FBI and is eventually pulled into an assignment for what she believes to be the CIA in the African nation of Burkina Faso in 1987. The story begins with her fighting off an attacker in her home in the early 1990s and then fleeing with her young twin sons to her mother’s home on the island of Martinique.

The rest of the tale is told as a memoir she is writing to her sons to explain their family tree and her life and decisions in case she does not survive to tell them herself. We learn of her mother’s childhood, one in which her light skin allowed her to float between the black and white worlds. We learn of the early years of her parents’ marriage, and Marie’s relationship with her older sister, who died under mysterious circumstances in the 1970s. We follow her as she struggles to carve out a career in the FBI, an organization that in the 1980s that didn’t know what to do with a black woman. And then comes her assignment with the assumed CIA contacts, which sends her to Africa to work with her sister’s former lover in an attempt to undermine Thomas Sankara, the Marxist leader of Burkina Faso. There she learns the truth of who she is working for and how she is a part of a mission that will lead to the man she love’s death.

It is a fascinating story that never fully commits to an angle. It flits from spy novel to family memoir to statement on race and gender to how honest we must be with our children about where they come from and the mistakes we’ve made as parents. Wilkinson manages this balance deftly.

1. There has been another US Open there since, this year’s PGA championship was there, and the 2024 Ryder Cup will be there.

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