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david mills, r.i.p.

I was very sad to read today that writer David Mills has died from a brain aneurysm. Mills was involved with some of the greatest programs in television history, going back to the days of Homicide and NYPD Blue. A longtime friend of David Simon, Mills also worked on The Wire, was co-writer and co-producer for The Corner, for which he won two Emmys, and had a major role on the upcoming series Treme, about which Mills was very proud and very excited. I always liked to think, without stretching the truth too much, that he was a friend of this blog … he made a few appearances in the comments section. His own blog, Undercover Black Man, was always worth reading … shit, he posted there just two days ago! Mills was in his late-40s … I’m one who thinks death always comes too early, but fuck.

I’ll offer up an anecdote, for no other reason than I was just thinking about it the other day. I once won a contest Mills ran on his blog … the first prize was David Horowitz’ book Hating Whitey (due to a mix-up, Mills ended up sending me two copies of that piece of crap … when I told him this, he wrote, “Damn, crossed wires is right. That means I paid twice for the damn thing!”). In the email where I sent Mills my address, I asked him a burning question for all fans of Clay Davis: “When you're writing dialogue for Isiah Whitlock Jr., do you just type ‘shit’ and let him take it from there, or do you try to get it on the page phonetically in anticipation of his magnificence?” Mills replied that “as you might guess, you just give him the ‘shit’ and let him do his magic with it. Great when that happens.” Not much of an anecdote if you’ve never seen Whitlock in action, but those who have know why I was interested. Here’s the first Mills script to elicit one of the immortal “sheeeeeets”:

Sorry … this news just knocks me out.


2010 rubio begonias

A tough team to create, since I had the last pick in the draft, which meant things like not getting a pick until 9 others had chosen, and getting only 2 picks out of the first 29.

C: Mike Napoli, Buster Posey
1B: Derrick Lee
2B: Ian Kinsler, Howie Kendrick
3B: Ryan Zimmerman, Mark Reynolds, Alex Gordon
SS: Jose Reyes
OF: Grady Sizemore, Jason Heyward, Alfonso Soriano, Nolan Reimold, Conor Jackson, J.D. Drew, Josh Willingham
SP: Tim Lincecum, Ubaldo Jimenez, Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, Gavin Floyd
RP: Jonathan Broxton, Carlos Marmol, Chris Perez, Jeremy Affeldt


caprica, half-season finale

Since I still haven’t said anything about how Caprica is doing, I’ll toss out a few brief thoughts now.

Like most shows, Caprica has its good parts and not-so-good parts. In this case, I’d say the most important thing is that the lesser aspects of the show are kinda boring. The religious angle hasn’t grabbed me, despite the presence of James Marsters and my beloved Polly Walker. V-World looks cool, and there is a lot of potential there, but so far that potential is mostly wasted, taking Esai Morales down with it (it’s not a good sign that Joseph’s brother Sam is much more interesting). The younger actors for the most part haven’t impressed me, although Alessandra Torresani has started doing some strong work, about which more in a second. The acting standouts are adults … Sasha Roiz as Sam Adama, Patton Oswalt in a minor role, Paula Malcomson (forever Trixie, and her character is far too whiny as written, but she’s doing all she can with what she’s given), and Eric Stoltz, who I admit I thought would be a weak link but who has turned out to be pivotal and up to the challenge.

Which leads to the one part of the show that rises far above the rest: the relationship between Stoltz’s Daniel Graystone and his daughter/Cylon-Humlon, Zoe. First off, I don’t think Caprica should depend on its connection to Battlestar Galactica, but fans of that show get an extra jolt out of watching the first Humlon. Graystone’s increasingly crazed attempts to exploit “his” creation, even if it means tormenting the avatar of his own daughter, combined with the work of Torresani (who has turned her blank doe-eyed look into something that shows both the fear and the anger she is experiencing), gives real insight into how a hunk of machinery became a life form bent on destroying humanity.

In short, for me thus far, Caprica is the Zoe Graystone story. I’m captivated enough by that tale that I’ll be back when the series returns, but if I had to give out a grade, it would be Incomplete.


quake update

I was wrong. The article in the Sporting Green wasn’t on page 4 … it was on page 11. Four paragraphs, 121 words, taken from a wire service.

How was the match? Largest Quakes crowd in Buck Shaw Stadium history. Supporters groups out in full force, and making noise from long before the match until some time after the match. Fan favorite and team goalkeeper Joe Cannon summed up the play on the field via his Twitter account:

It's 530 in the morning. I can't sleep. To our fans, if you're looking to point the finger, please do so right here. Tonight was embarrassing. There are so many feelings I want to share, but being with the team, I have to try and show some professional restraint. The bottom line is i'm sorry, so so sorry. The group of men I play with are great warriors, and tonight, we were beat by a better team. My buddy Hucks Norwich team started off the season with a 6-0 home loss. This is the only consolation I can muster at this point. I'm sorry to our hard working staff in the front office, our owners, but most of all, our fans. I love you guys and as one of the biggest San Jose Earthquake fans around, I can't remember a worst feeling I've ever come away from a home game. You deserve better, you will get better, but right now, all I can give you are my apologies. Love, Joe Cannon

I hope it’s clear why Joe is a fan favorite. And FWIW, he didn’t have a bad match, although he’d be the first to tell you it wasn’t a good one, either.

But he’s right … it was a bad performance by the home side.


quakes opener

There is only one Opening Day at my house, and this year it comes on April 9, when the Giants have their home opener. The Major League Soccer season kicks off a bit earlier than baseball’s, though, so tonight I’ll be at Buck Shaw Stadium to cheer on the San Jose Earthquakes in their first match of the season, which happens to be against the league champions, Real Salt Lake.

I don’t have an obsessive need to see every Quakes’ opener … I don’t even know how many I’ve been to, although one I do remember was the first-ever match in MLS history back in 1996. But it will be nice to revisit the local club, who are starting their third year in MLS since their return to the league.

The mainstream sports media’s response to MLS is predictable. First and most obvious, little attention will be paid to the league. The Sunday Sporting Green will have multiple stories on the Giants and A’s, stories about the 49ers and March Madness and Don Nelson, stories about Tiger Woods … and somewhere around page 4, there will be a brief story about the Quakes match.

Beyond that, we’ll hear the usual litany of reasons why Americans don’t care about soccer. This morning, one sports talk host went on about how Americans don’t want to watch 0-0 games in any sport, because we like scoring. (Nothing beats a goal in soccer, there are plenty of boring soccer matches, and sometimes the boring ones are 0-0, but in general, the quality of a match depends as much on the number of legitimate goal-scoring opportunities as it does on actual goals, which is how some 0-0 matches are exciting.)

The wrong question is being asked, however. Someone made the argument (and I’m embarrassed to admit I forget who, since I agree with it) that asking why Americans don’t like soccer is silly. Americans already like soccer. They watch the English Premier League and the European Champions League, some of them watch the Mexican League and others watch the Italian or Spanish leagues. They watch the U.S. national team … some watch the Mexican national team. There are cable channels devoted solely to soccer … Fox Soccer Channel has been successful enough that there is now a Fox Soccer Plus. In Spanish, there is GOL TV, ESPN Deportes, Fox Sports Espanol, and in my area, at least, four different channels showing Mexican soccer each week. And, of course, this summer the World Cup will return, and Americans will watch it. ESPN has the rights, and they are pushing it big time, for what that’s worth.

Americans like soccer. Quit asking why they don’t, and instead ask, what soccer do they like? Because then you’ll get to the heart of the matter. On the list of things American soccer fans watch, Major League Soccer ranks somewhere down the list. Yes, the fans of the individual clubs care about MLS and their team … I’ll always watch a Quakes match before anything else. But the remainder of American soccer fans, the ones who don’t have a particular MLS team they root for, will they be watching MLS this weekend? Among the viewing choices this weekend for American soccer fans is English Premier League action, including Chelsea, Aston Villa, Tottenham, Arsenal, Manchester United, and Liverpool. From Italy, we can watch Roma vs. league leaders Inter Milan, or Juventus, or Napoli, or Sampdoria. From Spain, Barcelona (arguably the best club in the world), and a matchup of Madrid titans, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. There’s Bayern Munich, and Chivas of Guadalajara (the most popular Mexican team in the U.S.), and Sevilla and Milan and Sao Paolo.

And there are a bunch of MLS matches. The number one match of the weekend for me is San Jose-Real Salt Lake, as it is for Quakes fans and Real fans. But the fan with no clear MLS rooting interest is going to watch Chelsea and Inter and ManU and Arsenal and Chivas and Barcelona, and if they aren’t burned out from too much soccer, then maybe they’ll watch a little MLS.

This does not mean Americans don’t like soccer. It means they have plenty of choices in regards to what soccer they watch. It’s MLS they don’t particularly care for. And the mainstream media isn’t interested in spending a lot of time covering a sport where the Americans aren’t the best. The NBA is the best basketball league, MLB is the best baseball league, the NFL is the best football league … but MLS is only about the nth-best soccer league. MLS is a niche market.

But soccer is not. So when you get ready to trot out your tired complaints about soccer, remember that whatever else you might say, you will be wrong if you say Americans don’t like soccer.


the life of a giants fan

The Giants just traded Kevin Frandsen to the Red Sox for cash or a player to be named later … in other words, for nothing except that they don’t have to pay his salary. Frandsen isn’t a star, isn’t great, he’s a 25th-guy-on-the-roster kind of player. He is not worthless, but there was no room for him on the Giants roster.

Rob Neyer gets at it:

Now, you might reasonably be asking yourself (or Brian Sabean) why a talent-rich team like the Red Sox would be interested in a player who's apparently unwanted by a (relatively) talent-poor team like the Giants.
The answer, I think, is that the Red Sox look at whole players rather than half-players.
Kevin Frandsen isn't considered by anyone an every-day player in the major leagues. … he's been labeled a utility guy, and with cause.
But he's a utility guy who can hit. Not a lot. … But a little. … He can play some shortstop, some second base, even a little outfield.
Frandsen was run out of San Francisco because he's not much of a fielder. He's been brought to Boston because, as utility players go, he's a pretty good hitter.
Who's right about Frandsen? I've got my opinion, which is heavily influenced by the standings these last five years. As we saw this morning, though, the Giants are engaged in a search for Emmanuel Burriss's (temporary) replacement ... and yet they just traded a perfectly adequate replacement to the Red Sox for three sacks of baseline chalk and four pouches of Big League Chew.
I must be missing something.


random friday, 1971 edition: war, “slippin’ into darkness”

The early seventies saw the rise of some terrific, paranoid music in soul, R&B, and funk. In 1971, Marvin Gaye hit the top of the charts, first with the single “What’s Going On" and then with the subsequent album of the same name, which included classics like “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” and “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler).” The Undisputed Truth had the only hit of their career with “Smiling Faces Sometimes,” which was the anthem of paranoid soul, at least until the O’Jays topped it the following year with “Back Stabbers.”

Meanwhile, Sly Stone was busy creating the greatest album of the paranoid period, There’s a Riot Goin’ On. Sly and the Family Stone were one of the upbeat heroes of the 60s, with their jubilant performances and crossover appeal. Their triumph at Woodstock sealed their reputation.

They released a single, “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin),” which was another piece of pop funk delight, until you started paying attention to the lyrics:

Lookin' at the devil
Grinnin' at his gun
Fingers start shakin'
I begin to run
Bullets start chasin'
I begin to stop
We begin to wrestle
I was on the top

Meanwhile, as Wikipedia tells us,

Sly Stone had become erratic and moody … he hired streetwise friends Hamp "Bubba" Banks and J.B. Brown as his personal managers, whom after which enlisted gangsters Edward "Eddie Chin" Elliott and Mafioso J.R. Valtrano as Sly's bodyguards. In addition, Stone assigned these individuals to handle his business dealings, to retrieve drugs, and to protect him from those he considered as enemies, some of whom were his own bandmates and staff.

The title to There’s a Riot Goin’ On was supposedly Stone’s semi-answer to Gaye’s question, what’s going on? That album concluded with a remake of “Thank You,” this time called “Thank You for Talkin’ to Me Africa.” You wouldn’t recognize the song from the music … in place of pop funk delight, Stone turned to a druggy, slow drone funk that repeated for almost two minutes until the vocals finally began. And the lyrics made a lot more sense in this musical context … lookin’ at the devil, grinnin’ at his gun.

The explicit answer to Gaye’s question came in the title track, which closed Side One. It’s length is listed as 0:00 … the track is empty. There was no riot.

It’s in this context that War released “Slippin’ Into Darkness.”

War was a diverse group, both ethnically and musically (their best musician was arguably Lee Oskar, a Danish harp player … their best music was a kind of Latin funk). They made an interesting match with British blooze singer Eric Burdon, who had made his name with The Animals, had discovered psychedelic drugs, and become an eccentric singer with an odd relationship to the blues he clearly loved. With the Animals, Burdon was one of the best British blues singers, his “authenticity” never sounding fake. In his psychedelic phase, though, you never knew what to expect. The biggest hit by Eric Burdon and War was “Spill the Wine,” one of the most bizarre songs to ever hit the charts, full of Burdon’s psychedelic dream babblings, an inscrutable chorus, and War playing a lounge version of their Latin funk. Burdon and the band closed their relationship with the album The Black-Man’s Burdon, saved from its borderline creepiness by the playing of War, but featuring songs like “Beautiful New Born Child,” “Nuts, Seeds and Life,” “Pretty Colors,” and two versions of the Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin.”

On their own, War released two albums in 1971 … the second, All Day Music, featured “Slippin’ Into Darkness.” The lyrics were closer to Sly Stone’s heady vagueness than to Marvin Gaye’s specifics, and definitely a big step away from the more obvious “Smiling Faces Sometimes.”

I was slippin’ into darkness
When I heard my mother say
You been slippin’ into darkness
Pretty soon you’re gonna pay

Any of the songs mentioned above (not counting those oddball Eric Burdon numbers) are like Proust’s madeleines in their ability to transport the listener back to the early 70s, when it seemed like every other song on the radio was a masterful R&B hit about America, told from people whose story hadn’t always been on the front page. There was Curtis Mayfield’s soundtrack to Superfly … there was the resurgence of James Brown (he hadn’t really gone away), and the emergence of P-Funk. There was the loveliness of the soulful artists like Al Green and the Chi-Lites, Aretha Franklin’s Spirit in the Dark and Young, Gifted and Black … you thought it would never end.

It did end, of course. There was disco … this is not the usual disco sucks rant, the best disco was great and a lot of the rest was fun, but for the most part, the message was different than that espoused by Sly Stone on There’s a Riot Goin’ On. There was Smokey Robinson’s 1975 album, A Quiet Storm, which gave the name to a genre which would never inspire a riot (nonetheless, Smokey’s “Cruisin’” remains one of the most gorgeous tracks of all time).

The thing about the early 70s “paranoid soul” songs is that they still resonate, still make sense in 2010. You don’t listen to those songs solely for nostalgia’s sake … they won’t let you. There is nothing nostalgic about slipping into darkness.


fucking dickheads, crosshairs edition

This illustration appears on Sarah Palin’s Facebook page, targeting Democratic representatives in upcoming elections:

crosshairs

Among related recent news items:

Bricks were thrown through windows at two Democratic Party offices in western New York, including a district office of Rep. Louise Slaughter, who played a key role in getting the health care bill through the House.
The Tucson, Ariz., congressional office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was also vandalized a few hours after the House vote. …

"Congressman Stupak, you baby-killing mother f***er... I hope you bleed out your a**, got cancer and die, you mother f***er," one man says in a message to Stupak.
"There are millions of people across the country who wish you ill," a woman says in a voicemail, "and all of those thoughts that are projected on you will materialize into something that's not very good for you."
CBS News also obtained copies of faxes sent to Stupak, which include racial epithets used in reference to President Obama and show pictures of nooses with Stupak's name.

Meanwhile, the frontpage of Sarah Palin’s twitter account carries the message, “Commonsense Conservatives & lovers of America: "Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD!”


nurse jackie and united states of tara, season premieres

The similarities between these two shows are on the surface … they aren’t really much alike, but they both feature fabulous star turns by the lead actress, they are both on Showtime, they run one after the other, and Showtime promotes them as a team. But Jackie is a drug addict in denial who manages to do a good job as an E.R. nurse but is otherwise a mess, while Tara struggles with dissociative identity disorder.

The Season Two premiere of Nurse Jackie was happily a lot like Season One. Jackie is still a dope fiend, she’s still in denial, she still does a good job at work. In real life, I’d hope that Jackie found a way through her addiction, but when I’m watching a TV series, well, there are enough people who find their ways through, I like watching someone who continues to struggle. Edie Falco remains top-notch, and at least in this episode, Anna Deavere Smith got to be humorous without being stupid, which is a big improvement on last season. I’m not sure where this show is going … the continuing plots (will Jackie ever get caught, is her daughter emotionally disturbed, will her husband realize she’s cheating on him) aren’t that interesting. But the individual episodes have promise.

United States of Tara also looks like more of the same, which is just fine if you like the show. The season begins with Tara back on meds, with her alternate identities under wraps, but that doesn’t even last through the first episode. As before, your tolerance for the show will depend in part on your tolerance for writer Diablo Cody, whose particular brand of quirky is part of the show’s essence. Toni Collette makes up for a lot, though, and I kinda like Cody’s hipper-than-you-or-me teenagers. Neither of these shows are great, but they are close enough.