Sunday, December 19, 2010

Kanye and Me

“Why do you like Kanye so much?” Karen asked during another listen to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, this time in the Kia on the way to see Tron:Legacy.

It’s a good question. We are not kindred spirits and I don’t pretend to understand what life is like for a rich black guy, or a very famous guy, or a damn rich guy. I wouldn’t say Kanye speaks to me, but when he speaks at me, I listen.

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
She went to the doctor got lypo with your money
She walking around looking like Michael with your money
Should of got that insured got GEICO for your money.
That piece of lyrical genius is, in itself, enough to make me a lifelong fan, but there’s more. Kanye is the ultimate popmeister, a master at spinning hooks that stab deeply and, coupled with brilliant wordplay, become as automatically quotable as the most memorable lines of your favorite movies and songs. When Robbie came home with a great report card last week, I burst into “Champion” (“This is the story of a champion”) when I saw his top grades. Kanye’s new songs feel old right away. That’s a good thing. With one listen, they are stuck in my brain – instant classics. The only other artist who pulls this off with regularity is Bruce Springsteen.

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is, after two spins, deeply ingrained. Who else would reach back for that King Crimson beauty, “21st Century Schizoid Man” and take it for a ride in “Monster.” (By the way, Nicki Minaj steals the show; she’s at least five people on this track. Now I have to get her album.) “Runaway” pushes its way onto the list of best songs of the century in its catchiness and depth. Kanye’s turn at Maoist self-criticism is scorching, but, you damn well know he’s pleased with himself for being such a righteous asshole.

Let's have a toast for the douchebags
Let's have a toast for the assholes

We’ve all been there, right, and wished the world would recognize our dickishness as a positive. Well, I’ve been there. Right on Mr. West. And making Black Sabbath’s “Ironman” his own on “Hell of a Life”? Again, who else does this so effortlessly?

Why do I like Kanye? His melodies are indelible, timeless, his patter hysterical and soul baring. And he incorporates all the good bits that came before him, from any genre that fits. Isn’t that what all the true greats have done, from Dylan and The Beatles forward?

That’s why I like Kanye so much.

Monday, December 6, 2010

In Celebration of the Plantation Owners

Back in the good ol' days, when the working scum knew their places, the great barons of industry were legend. Carnegie, Ford - they made America, not the bohunks, Micks, Sheenys and coloreds who toiled in the factory. Right? That's how it was written in all the textbooks.

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

"It's Not Personal, Sonny. It's Strictly Business"

Much has been written about the Derek Jeter situation. I was talking to my brother-in-law last week about it, and I brought up some relevant and relatively obscure illustrative points. One, that I love, is Tom Seaver's incredulity at ownership's shock that players, the most competitive people on Earth, were equally fierce at the bargaining table. I also made it clear that fans have convinced themselves, wrongly, that somehow Jeter is "different" than the rest. Pleased with my unique insight, I opened The New York Times to read some of these same points. So, forgive me if you've already heard some of what you read below.

The Yankees initial offer is, by any reasonable accounts, more than generous and by no means am I pro-management. Fifteen million dollars per year, for three years, already includes the Yankee premium that we all recognize must be there. Jeter's value to the Bombers is more than his value to any other team in baseball. Even Derek must know that. Coming off a bad year, at an advanced age - who else will pay that much?

Just look westward. The Rockies signed the best YOUNG shortstop to a 7-year, $134 million dollar deal. If Troy Tulowitzki is valued (I won't say worth) at $19 million per year, how can Jeter, ten years older, be priced at even $15 mil?

For a slob like me, and most fans, it's easy to say "$15 million is a shitload of money. How can he be pissed off about that?" For Derek, it's a 25% cut in pay and, getting back to Tom Terrific's point, for athletes already super-sensitive to all signs of "disrespect," it is a slap in the face. That both sides are upset, publicly, is regrettable. The new era Steinbrenners are most likely going to be as despicable as younger George was, before he was canonized in his dementia. Jeter's agent, Casey Close, is married to Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, so his judgment on what is "fair and balanced" is already questionable.

An idea being floated about is that if King George were alive this never would have happened. Really. How many fans recall the unceremonious dumping of Reggie Jackson after the 1981 season? Granted Jackson was no Jeter in terms of dignity or Yankee service, but Jeter is no Jackson in the realm of publicity and power. Jax' initial year with the Angels, when he led the AL in homers (and strikeouts), embarrassed the hell out of George, but letting him head to Cali was wise. Beginning in '83, Reggie began a rapid descent. He was 35 years old when the New Yorkers let him go.

Will anyone else offer Jeter more to lure him from the Bronx? No way, no how. Long gone are the days when the Yankees would sign Luis Tiant just to stick it to the Red Sox.
Even signing Johnny Damon for the same spiteful purposes seems like eons ago. The Red Sox never had the same meanness of character, or balls, to do to the Yankees as the Yanks did to them, but in these Theo Epstein times, they wouldn't do it because it makes no sense. And Jeter wouldn't keep his pristine reputation, or national endorsements, if he's the 2012 starting shortstop for the Royals.

Ever think of how much Derek Jeter and Eminem share? Both raised in Michigan, both the biggest stars of the last decade, both diddled Mariah Carey. But does Jeter have a Mathers-like recovery in store? Probably not, but whether he has a comeback from his dismal season or not, he will be in pinstripes, to the joy of Yankees fans who'll go crazy as they once again hear Bob Sheppard announce his "De-rek Jee-tuh" as he steps to the plate.

Have no doubt though, that this team's best days are behind it.