Thursday, December 30, 2010
Sunday, December 19, 2010
West’s rhymes never fail to make me laugh. Best lines (from “Gold Digger”):
She was suppose to buy your shorty TYCO with your money
Let's have a toast for the douchebags
That’s why I like Kanye so much.
Monday, December 6, 2010
Baseball was like that too. The great helmsmen in the dugout - McGraw and Mack - it was they who made the game great. Umpires like Klem WERE the game on the field, their martial manner giving the game its character. Where would the game have been without the steely leadership of Kenesaw Mountain Landis? (Integrated, for sure, since he was a racist bastard). Sure, a Ruth or a Cobb broke out of the fold, but the baseball history books were mostly about the cattlemen, not the cattle. Spalding, now there was a man!
That was before Marvin Miller. Before Miller, the authoritarian figures were more important than the players. What Miller made all of us realize is that the players own the game. The team names, the uniforms, the stadiums are the property of the moguls; the ballplayers ARE the game. Steinbrenner was a great owner? Gabe Paul was a genius team builder? Sure. Just check the Yankees between 1973-5. Add Reggie Jackson in 1977 and, voila, the Yanks are champs again. Now, who gets credit for that? Only a moron would give the kudos to King George instead of Jackson.
The Hall of Fame has voted in numerous executives, managers, umpires and owners over the years, but those men were mostly enshrined in bygone days. Yet, in recent elections, there has been a return to the glorification of the men upstairs, a bowing down to the business interests only exceeded in the halls of Congress. Bowie Kuhn? Are you kidding? Kuhn's son made a heartfelt Induction speech on behalf of his dead father, citing all the progress baseball made during the Kuhn era. Never before had baseball experienced such a growth in popularity, things like that. What was forgotten was that Kuhn FOUGHT that progress with every breath of his being. Miller paved that way.
Does Marvin Miller belong the Hall? I don't know. I really don't care. What Miller did is beyond plaque-worthy. He is the Abe Lincoln of the diamond. Honest Abe didn't need a sign on the wall patting him on the back for freeing the slaves. Every one knew what he'd done, and some hated him for it.
But Pat Gillick? Give me a break. Who's next Walt Jocketty? And this resurgence in enshrining money men and wheeler-dealers would make Larry Summers proud.
"Many years ago those who control the Hall decided to rewrite history instead of recording it," the 93-year-old Miller said today upon receiving his latest rejection from Cooperstown. "The aim was to eradicate the history of the tremendous impact of the players' union on the progress and development of the game as a competitive sport, as entertainment, and as an industry."
That is the true crime perpetrated by the voters today, the reemergence of the corporate over the men who created the memories we all love.
Get out your shackles and buggy whips folks, they're back in style.
Thursday, December 2, 2010
Friday, November 12, 2010
On a joyful, spiritual record, Doris ("Mama Soul"), knocks the shit out of originals and covers. Highlight: Buffalo Springfield's "Special Care" with Stephen Stills guesting. Each tune is a heart-grabber, foot-stomper or soul-searcher. Troy, best known for her original take of "Just One Look," comes scorching out of the speakers, whether in loose jams a la "Give Me Back My Dynamite," or tight, churchy numbers like "Hurry."
I've read that the record suffers from period "heaviness." Nah. George plays with happy elan (no more so than on the bonus version of "Get Back"), Eric Clapton adds typical tasteful flourishes and Ringo pounds away quite brilliantly. It is of its time for sure - think Delaney & Bonnie or Derek and the Dominoes - but it is timeless.
Doris Troy may be my favorite album of the year. Not bad for a 30 year old record!
Thursday, October 28, 2010
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
I never fancied myself a huge Stones fan, which doesn't explain why I have 35 of their albums. It's the early years of the Fugly Five that do send me. No one would dispute that the early Stones were the best white blues band around. (Only ex-schoolmate Eric Schaefer would. He believed with all his heart that The Who were better at it than Mick and Keith, but Eric thought The Who were better at everything than anyone else. Paul Lukas and I recoiled in horror!).
It's Keith's reflections on the beginnings of the band that were the most interesting and sincere. The struggles of Mick, Keith and Brian, starving and cold as they pursued the Holy Grail of Chicago blues reads true. It's not an image; it's pre-"Bad Boys of Rock" bullshit that permeates the other bits. The travails of druggie Brian, the love triangle between Jones, Richards and Anita Pallenberg lack passion. Keith says it all in the origins piece; girls came way last for the band. Though the Stones' persona is wrapped around chicks, they never seemed to really care. Anita giving Keith a blow job in the back of his Bentley is delivered with the disinterest one would have in flicking away a fly. Keith tells it as if he's watching as an outsider. There no love on those pages. Hey, no one really believes the Stones love anyone, do they? Think of "We Love You" from Satanic Majesties. Totally false.
When Keith talks of music, now there's a love story, and it brings me back to the start of the Stones. From 1963-66, they were the best at what they did, but who really listens to that period anymore? Compare that to how much we hear of the early Beatles, and how their first records till fly off the shelves. Rolling Stones Now? 12 X 5? Only die-hards buy the Stones back catalog, yet it's their shining hour, when their commitment to what they were doing was all-consuming.
Yesterday I stumbled upon a precious bootleg, Beat Beat Beat, the Stones BBC sessions from '63-'65. They are a powerhouse and loads of fun. I defy anyone who's heard their version of Rufus Thomas' "Walking the Dog" to not break out in a huge grin. And no one did Chuck Berry like The Stones. The radio take on "The Last Time" is a marvel and, boy, they could play. Listen to "Satisfaction." The interplay between Keith and Brian is their sound, never recaptured after Jones' death (or was it murder?).
Though there's no studio chatter that makes The Beatles BBC recordings so enjoyable (and, in fact, I'd rather hear The Fab Four talk than the Stones play), a brief interview reveals what The Rolling Stones always knew: they were never going to stop. Poor Brian, he makes that point though he wouldn't make it into the next decade. Keef always said to whoever would listen that this band would play forever. It's only their audience and the media that came late to that realization.
The Rolling Stones of 1963 would be proud that those band members who survived into 2010 were still rocking, mirroring the lives of the aging bluesmen they revered when they set out on their journey to spread the music they worshipped.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Monday, October 4, 2010
"Stay off that knee," I was warned by my doctor friends. But this weekend was the Hall of Fame Film Festival, and Friday night was a tribute to 61*. Billy Crystal (writer and director), Bob Costas (broadcaster par excellence), Thomas Jane (who played Mickey Mantle in the movie) and Ross Greenburg (head of HBO Sports) were to be in attendance at a reception to be held in the Plaque Gallery, followed by a Q and A and a film showing. Believe me, there was no chance I was going to be home, leg up and cooling under a Ziplock bag of ice cubes. I would be there, pain or not.
Single crutch under my left arm, looking like a World War 1 vet (why did those guys always seem to be single crutched?), I hobbled to the gala. Accompanied by my weekend house guest, Andy Strasberg, Roger Maris fan #1 (look it up) and technical advisor to the movie, I hoped for an introduction to the participants and even brought my book, The Kansas City A's & The Wrong Half of the Yankees, to hand out as a gift. It has Maris on the cover, totally appropriate to the occasion. Plus, I need to improve my self-promotion skills.
I didn't meet Crystal, though Joey, my little Zelig, found his way to the big star.
I didn't pursue Thomas Jane, but as he whooshed by me in his loud plaid suit, I tapped him on the shoulder. He turned and I told him how much I enjoyed his cameo in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Turns out Joey had done the same thing. Jane must've thought it odd that two people mentioned this most minor role.
With Andy off to mingle, I made my own way to Costas and snapped a picture of him with Joey.
"I can see there's no family relationship here," quipped Bob. Joey is a mini-me. I handed my book over to Bob and he was truly interested. Over the course of the evening, Bob Costas would prove to be an authentically good guy.
As was Ross Greenburg. Andy introduced us and, immediately Ross focused on my condition.
"Stay off that knee," he said with great concern. "That's serious stuff." He also looked at the book with real gusto.
The Q and A was funny and lively. Afterwards, the Grandstand Theater emptied and refilled, as the two events were separately ticketed. It took me a while to make my way down to the first floor bathroom and back. As I walked in via the 3rd base side ramp of the theater, Billy was trying to get everyone settled so he could begin his remarks.
He saw me. "Come on, come on," he pleaded.
"You can start," I replied.
"Great, he's got a cane!" Oh, to be mocked by Billy Crystal: it made the injury worthwhile.
After the film, we filed out and, in front of the Hall's offices, Costas and Crystal signed autographs for a waiting group of fans. With Andy by my side, I got to talk with Bob and, again, Ross. It's rare to find public figures, and powerful ones, as genuine as these two. It made the night extra special.
Now, in return, I think I'll subscribe to HBO. It's the least I can do.
Saturday, September 11, 2010
For the actual day, we had a party planned, a special one. The guest of honor: a huge amount of Corky's barbecue flown up from Memphis. We'd just taken a family trip to the Home of the Blues and had an amazing time: Graceland, Interstate Barbecue, used record stores, the Civil Rights Museum. Memphis stayed on our mind and bringing a little taste to our friends was to be our pleasure.
Monday the 1oth started the week off well. I remember the night vividly. I was watching Marat/Sade, marveling at a young Glenda Jackson, when Karen called me up from the basement.
"Jeff, Tracey's here." And he was. I'd helped Tracey, an old OEX trader, as he made the transition from floor trader to off-floor position manager. We talked all day about volatility and skew, things that now are part of an almost-forgotten past (although when I talk to traders on the CBOE it comes back like auto-pilot). Tracey was a generous guy and he was holding a large package.
"Hi, Happy Birthday and thanks for all you've done for me," he said as he handed over a gift.
It was beyond belief: a framed Elvis for Everyone album, signed by the King. That it was signed "For Sue," only made it better. Inscriptions tend to be real. A great present, and a wonderful beginning to a whole week off.
The next morning, I slept in a bit. Karen came into our room with the phone. "It's work," she said as she handed over the portable.
Norm was on the line.
"Do you know what's going on? The exchange is closed and we're all going home." I don't remember the rest. Next thing Karen and I were in front of the big screen Sony in the basement watching the smoke and the horrific chaos.
It's too trite to say we were stunned, that it was an unreal experience. I used to work in that area by the World Trade Center and it had a homey feel to it, but that means shit. I wasn't there.
Gale was. Our best friend called Karen and told her she couldn't get home. She was incommunicado and Karen filled her in as best she could. Gale said she could rent a car and drive back. "Did that make sense?" Karen told her get the car and head out. It was unknown when flights would leave New York.
My parents were living by the river in Chicago and, after less than a year there, our relationship had begun to dissolve, the path being paved for the lack of contact we have today. But in the face of the WTC attacks, and the realization that: 1) my parents used to live in the shadow of the towers and 2) that maybe all big cities were on notice, even Chicago, we had to put our negative feelings aside and get them to the suburbs. We did.
I can't remember if the traders got together the next day, but there were meetings to discuss positions and what would happen to the firm whenever the markets reopened. I remember driving into the city and looking up at the Sears Tower with dread. In Murnau's silent classic, The Last Laugh, Emil Jannings is a hotel doorman who loses his job and all the haughtiness and prestige that came with it. As he unravels, he dreams that the buildings are falling on him. That's what I saw as I drove through the canyons of the Loop.
The Friday birthday party was now both anti-climactic and troublesome. One friend lost a good pal in the attack and was in no mood to come. Others were set to be out of town but couldn't fly out.
And the Memphis barbecue? It was cancelled as the boxes of ribs and brisket couldn't fly north to Illinois. Karen luckily turned to Hecky's in Evanston who, on short notice, could fill our order.
When Friday night came, all our friends showed up. Surrounded by delicious food, the sound of blues and Chuck Berry in the air, and the comfort of good people, the birthday party morphed into hours of therapy through love and laughter. It didn't make everything all right, but it helped.
The week that started joyfully ended bittersweet, to put it mildly. And it set into motion the life changes we were to start one year later, buying a house in Cooperstown, moving full time, resetting our priorities and putting our family first. At work, I talked to a lot a guys at Cantor Fitzgerald, traders who I never met but interacted with every day. They were all dead, just like that. If I was going to go tomorrow, I wasn't going to leave this Earth after my daily commute, worried about my options position. I was going to go after a day with my wife and kids. I've lived every day with that as my goal. No regrets.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Yesterday, I was supposed to head up to Boston for the Red Sox game, but a 60% chance of rain coupled with thunderstorms made me reconsider a 9 hour round trip for a rainout. (The weather held off and the BoSox played a double-header instead). By staying home, I got to take Robbie for his road test. Actually, four of us loaded into the Land Cruiser and took him to Oneonta.
Karen and Nate headed to a coffee shop and I waited with Rob. His early nerves had faded and he was raring to go. There was a girl ahead of us and she rode off with the test administrator for a long time. Rob and I talked and a Cooperstown friend of his pulled up. His test was soon after Rob's.
One way to lessen the tension was Rob's constant referring to my first driving test, my failed driving test. I was doing OK until I made a right turn in front of an oncoming car.
"You know you just cut that guy off," the proctor said sternly.
Of course I talked back. I was 17 and that's what I did. Bad form. I didn't understand who had the power back then.
"I didn't cut him off; I had plenty of room."
"Take it back," he ordered. Not "take back what you said," but "drive this car back because your test is over." So, all morning, Robbie kept saying at the slightest provocation, "Take it back."
When Rob went off for his test, I talked to our Cooperstown friends. It seemed like a flash that he was back. Uh oh, that was much shorter than that girl's test. And, he pulled up on the opposite side of the street. These are the signs of failure.
The woman who tested Rob got out of the car. Her face was severe, no emotion. I'd noticed that earlier. It's to be expected, getting in car after car with people who haven't yet proven they can drive. That's taking your life in your hands every workday.
She gave me a look and a thin smile. It was OK. He passed. And he really passed - not one point taken off.
Now we have a son who can drive. I'm not worried about him at all; it's all good. Now he can order at the drive-thru (and he did at Taco Bell soon after). Better yet, I can get more sleep as he carts me around.
This transition to adult children is working out very well, I must say.
Saturday, August 21, 2010
Friday, August 20, 2010
Thursday, August 5, 2010
Thursday, July 15, 2010
When we moved from suburban Chicago to Cooperstown, there were several motivations: getting kids into a smaller school, regaining huge chunks of my life by not commuting to the Loop, pulling back post-9/11 and spending time with the family before everyone went their separate ways. What I've learned these last seven years is that quality of life is so much more important than quantity of stuff. Seeking happiness through material things never leads to long term contentment. Believe me, I come from a long line of people who have been consistently crushed by the deep seated belief that the next car, boat, house, whatever, would be THE ONE, the thing that would cure their emotional ills. Never worked, never will.
That's not to say I don't have a healthy enjoyment of stuff. Luckily, my tastes are the same at 47 as they were at 17 - books, records, the occasional baseball card set. Sure, those are still "things" but they're pretty cheap and the joy they bring lasts a long time.
Kahneman's study got me thinking. The future is not going to be one of consumption, so the endless pursuit of dough is something of a dead end. Going smaller, getting less, searching for happiness that isn't money-centric, that's the course for me. It sounds great.
Now if I could only stop having to pay a monstrous amount of money on health care, I'd really be in good shape.
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Friday, June 25, 2010
Monday, June 21, 2010
Saturday, June 19, 2010
The Sgt. Pepper spoof that greets you belies a serious endeavor in George Burns Sings (1969). The rushing pace that I expected was nowhere to be found. Buddah Records approached Burns, who assumed they were looking for laughs. Instead, label founder Neil Bogart presented the comic legend with a series of legitimate contemporary tunes to hash out honestly, not for yuks.
That's not to say the record is devoid of jokes. Just listen to "I Kissed Her on the Back Porch." But, dare I say it, Burns straightforward renditions are reminiscent of Willie Nelson, warbling with unpredictable, yet musically dead on instincts. His voice is warm and sweet, his New Yawk accent varying in intensity. "With a Little Help from My Friends" and "Mr. Bojangles" are stand out tracks. Most view Jerry Jeff Walker's "Bojangles" as tribute to a bygone era. For George, its real life. Burns starred in The Big Broadcast of 1936 with Bill Robinson, Bojangles himself! The biggest surprise, both in selection and delivery, was George's take on Harry Nilsson's "1941." It's Harry's song about his the year of his birth, when Burns was a whippersnapper of 45. Perfection.
Walter Matthau looms over Burns in the upper right hand corner, but George Burns Sings predates the great comeback of the mid-1970's. Flash forward to 1980. Burns is now the Oscar winning actor for his portrayal of Matthau's aged vaudeville partner Al Lewis in Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys. For Burns' sake, he also played God in Oh, God! At the start of his tenth decade on Earth, George Burns found himself the last standing symbol of an entertainment world long gone and a multi-media star - movies, TV, books and, once again, records.That hat is never gonna touch that gray toupee and rest its brim on those fish lens glasses! George Burns in Nashville is simply another in a series of vocally challenged performers crooning in front of a crack team of Nashville session musicians. Ringo did it well on Beaucoups of Blues, Joey Bishop not so well on Joey Bishop Sings Country and Western. There's nothing wrong with this LP, a totally straight attempt. None of the songs are played as outright comedy, though some are too cute by half. He tackles "Ain't Misbehavin'" again, and, as he did on Sings, simply nails it.
Remember my Willie Nelson comment? Imagine my surprise when, on In Nashville, George sings "Willie, Won't You Sing a Song with Me." It's a great bit, Burns noting that Nelson has sung with everyone (and this was before Willie met Julio Iglesias!), and that they should get together. The offer is made and an opportunity missed. And Burns even had a television special tied in with the record. As the song fades, Burns pushes his credentials - I played God, I'm hot right now, I can help your career. Still, Willie demurred.
Also in 1980 came I Wish I Was Eighteen Again. Another piece of countrypolitan, there's a bit of vaudeville tossed in for good measure. "The Baby Song" is a ditty I'd heard Burns sing on TV, fast, funny, detouring into chatter as the punchline hit. Though slowed down and stretched out, it still works to great comic effect. Tom T. Hall's "One of the Mysteries of Life" starts with a touch of The Ink Spots in George's delivery. And Dolly's tune ends another pleasant album with a touching bit of autobiography.
I finally caught up with some Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd. records that I've had on tape since college. That's the latest vinyl buying obsession. George Burns and Johnny Rotten - now there are a couple of contemporary record artists I'd love to have heard together.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
I tell you what's been on my mind since I watched the movie a few days ago: Leonardo DiCaprio as the new Scorsese go to guy. No more is Robert DeNiro the onscreen image of Marty's films.
When DeNiro ruled the Scorsese universe, he was, as main character, a troubled individual, hard to peg as all-good, all-evil, or all-sane. Johnny Boy, Travis Bickle, Jake LaMotta and Rupert Pupkin didn't see the dichotomy of their inner selves, not really. Sure, Jake pounded his fists and head against his cell wall, wondering why things turned out as they did, but it was all animal action.
Amsterdam Villon, Howard Hughes, Billy Costigan and Teddy Daniels, the DiCaprio roles, are quite aware of the split selves. If not totally aware, then at least they suspect thing are pretty fucked up. It gnaws at them, the shifting reality that they find themselves immersed in, whether by choice or not.
As he gets older, Martin Scorsese has morphed his anti-heroes into intellectual and thoughtful men who contemplate the deeply held angels and devils that live in us all. Now his characters contemplate their dual natures. Back in the day, they simply lashed out with feral ferocity. The only thing that Leo and Bobby share are an upper case "D" and a lower case vowel in their last names.
Saturday, June 5, 2010
Ever seen this?
Me neither. There are more Beatles bootlegs than I could possibly know, but this was odd. Turns out to be a 1967 issue of a 1964 unauthorized (I believe) hits album. The pic is not the copy I bought. Mine was all taped up, with a sticker from Nursery on Third Avenue. But for a buck, I had to get it.
Speaking of stickers, two albums, Free's Fire and Water and Dave Edmunds' Tracks on Wax 4 had stickers from St. Mark's Sounds on the cover. Ah, the memories of that beautiful store.
I always feel strange buying an album I should have had all along, like Edmunds above. But, life was a series of choices based on available coin back then (and still today in different denominations), so why feel bad. Therefore, I am proud, not ashamed, to announce that I finally got Public Image's First Issue and Second Edition. Too long not to have those. Also, got The Sex Pistols' The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, with a nice soundtrack sticker on the cover. I've been listening to a tape I made of the record for over a quarter century. Nice to have the vinyl.
Not having a seminal album like The Dead Boys' Young, Loud and Snotty does tick me off. Getting it today for $1 more than makes up for its long time absence. Got their We Have Come For Your Children too, also a buck. Discs are in great shape, covers are much worse for the wear.
It's rare that an album from my want list appears in the cheapie bin, so when I saw The Animals' Ark, their early '80's reunion attempt, I was floored and, obeying the signs from above, packed it in. I took a quick peek at the nicer albums in the racks, the records I was intending to spend my time and money on. They'll just have to wait for next time (I'm talking to you Don Everly solo records).
Saturday, May 29, 2010
Thursday, May 27, 2010
"Truxton! Truxton!" I yelled, genuinely excited by the small white on green sign announcing our entrance into yet another tiny town along State Route 13.
Joey thought, "Why is he shouting? Is there a movie reference here or something?"
Still talking to myself, but aware of Robbie and Joey, I said, "This is the birthplace of John McGraw, the legendary Giants manager. I think there's a monument in the middle of town." And there was.
I pulled over to a small spot right next to an imposing granite obelisk. The front showed McGraw's face in relief, with a bit of historical info below. (You can read it yourself if you zoom in). "A great American?" By what standards?
The back cited an exhibition game between the Jints and a local Truxton nine, held on August 8, 1938, as the funding source for this erection. Baseball as the pre-Viagra cure for ED? I'd never dreamed that nine innings could have such a solid result.