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music friday: live at the fillmore, 1967

Now I’m really dating myself. I went to my first rock concert during the Summer of Love. I’d been to see Judy Collins a few months earlier, and it was a fine show, but not exactly rock. But, 45 years ago (yikes!), my brother took me to the Fillmore to see Chuck Berry, Eric Burdon & the Animals, and the Steve Miller Blues Band.

The Steve Miller Blues Band did not include Boz Scaggs … he rejoined Miller soon afterwards, in time for the first studio album by the renamed Steve Miller Band, Children of the Future. You can get a taste for what the band sounded like at the time by checking out the hard-to-find soundtrack to the obscure movie, Revolution, which includes this take on an Isley Brothers song, “Your Old Lady”:

The version of the Animals we saw that night was the newly reconstituted one, with Burdon and one other being the only leftovers from the originals. “Eric Burdon & the Animals” were more psychedelic than the blues-based group from the early 60s. Burdon spoke about the legal problems the Rolling Stones were suffering over their recent drug busts, and dedicated his cover of “Paint It Black” to them. Here they perform it at the Monterey Pop Festival, which was held just two weeks before I saw them at the Fillmore:

The Fillmore was much as it is now … yes, the apple barrel was there. If you go to a show there now, you can see the poster for this show on the wall in the upstairs bar:


Chuck Berry was only 40 years old when I saw him that night. He had just cut a new album, Chuck Berry in Memphis, which would be released a couple of months later, and while his greatest work was behind him, he wasn’t an oldies act. A live album from those concerts was recorded, Live at the Fillmore Auditorium, that featured a lot of blues. The Steve Miller Blues Band backed Berry for those shows, so you can hear Miller at a very early part of his career, playing harmonica in the background. I think that’s Miller playing the distorted guitar parts in this cut from the album, “Fillmore Blues”:

Here’s “Hoochie Coochie Man” and “Driftin’ Blues”:

ball four, revisited

This wasn’t the first time I revisited Jim Bouton’s book about the 1969 Seattle Pilots baseball team. He seems to come out with a new edition every decade or so, and I generally re-read it then. This time around, my birthday came up, I saw there was a Kindle version, I put it on my wish list, and my baseball-loving sister got it for me (thanks!).

Ball Four is of interest, even to a non-fan of baseball, because of its historical importance as one of the first sports books to reveal what the game was “really” like. It wasn’t the first … not sure what is, although Jim Brosnan wrote two similar books in the early 60s, The Long Season and Pennant Race, that have long been favorites of mine. Nowadays, it might seem quaint to realize there was a time (the early 70s) when the baseball establishment could be in an uproar because Bouton (and his co-writer, Leonard Shecter) talked about players cussing and taking amphetamines and getting drunk on their off-days (and sometimes their on-days). Brosnan went through the same thing, although as I recall (not having re-read his books for a few years … perhaps it’s time) his books didn’t have quite as much a feel of exposé as Bouton’s did.

But most of the interest for the non-fan comes from that historical impact. The diary aspects, with its chronicling of the drudgery of a six-month season, are great for baseball aficionados, but I don’t suppose others would care. Having said that, Ball Four ultimately works because it is a book filled with characters, and the fact that they are real people makes it even better. Apparently Joe Schultz, manager of the Pilots, was angered by his portrayal in the book. Which is sad, because Schultz comes across as a great character, someone placed in an impossible situation (managing a poor, expansion ball team that lasted only one season before moving to Milwaukee) who used an idiosyncratic use of language to cajole his team into whatever heights they might possibly reach.

That’s what is most enjoyable about revisiting Ball Four, reading once again about Bouton and Schultz and the rest. The response of the time is historically interesting, but in the end, what I like best is Joe Schultz telling the guys, “Boys, bunting is like jacking off. Once you learn how you never forget.”

For an interesting, positive contemporaneous review of the book from a perhaps surprising source, check out Robert “Dean of American Rock Critics” Christgau’s piece, “Bouton Baseball”:

Bouton is the kind of iconoclast who is so insecure in his chosen isolation that he seems to delight in making other men look foolish. To an extent, this may be salutory. Even the most skeptical fan forgets that those names in the newspapers and figures on the screen are as frail as you or me, and this oversight is compounded by the daily dope from journalists whose living depends on acquiring more dope tomorrow. But it's hard to say how essential such an illusion may be to the continued power of the game. The baseball men who complain most bitterly about this book never claim it is untrue, only unfair--because it examines baseball's errants so steadfastly--and injudicious--because it reveals what the kids are better off not knowing. Unfair it isn't: Bouton obviously loves baseball and despite his snittiness he describes his fellows with generous appreciation. But injudicious? I don't know. Theoretically, a player is judged by what he can do on the field--the game itself is the thing. But even more than other sports baseball requires not just technical esteem but an investment of emotion, and emotion is best invested in people, however faultily perceived. I don't think the glowering visage of Sal Maglie will ever fill me with awe again.

by request: the squid and the whale (noah baumbach, 2005)

Not exactly a request, this was #17 on Phil Dellio’s list when we did our Fave Fifty movies on Facebook, and I hadn’t seen it before.

It reminded me of a Wes Anderson movie, which makes sense … Anderson is the producer, and Baumbach has written the screenplays for a couple of Anderson’s movies (not what I’d call my favorite movies, either: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Fantastic Mr. Fox). I preferred The Squid and the Whale (despite it’s too-cute title). The ending is abrupt … actually, it plays like they ran out of time and/or money. I’m not going to complain about a movie that takes care of business in 81 minutes (only 2 minutes longer than the standard, Booty Call), but Baumbach could have taken his characters farther.

I had a fairly intense reaction to the film, though, because Jeff Daniels’ character, a once-successful novelist who teaches at a college, reminded me of myself … and, it should go without saying, his character is not a pleasant fellow. He’s self-absorbed, he formulates opinions about everything (and even when he’s right, he comes across as shallow), he gets pissed off all the time, cusses like a sailor, complains about the lack of parking places, and treats his family like pawns in his own private chess game. It’s a great performance by Daniels, to be sure, but it hit a bit too close to home for me.

All of the acting is good: Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg, Owen Kline, William Baldwin, Anna Paquin. Baldwin’s character, a local tennis pro who talks like a surfer dude, is precious in that Wes Anderson way (maybe I should say “that Noah Baumbach way”), but Baldwin’s charming enough to pull it off. I was rarely irritated, the way I get with Anderson’s movies. And I understand that part of what Baumbach is showing us is the ways that people don’t say what they think, that we’re all rather passive-aggressive, but the film doesn’t always show us what it is that they are thinking, which leaves us confused. We don’t know these people enough to care about them in any depth.

Still, it’s hard to be too negative about a movie that uses “Street Hassle” to good effect. The film’s screenplay was nominated for an Oscar, and critics liked it (82/100 at Metacritic). It’s #59 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 250 films of the 21st century. I don’t think it’s anywhere near as good as The Anniversary Party, to which it is only marginally related but that’s a film I thought of while writing this (Baumbach was married to Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Owen Kline is the son of Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates). 7/10.

the newsroom, series premiere

The Newsroom is Aaron Sorkin’s latest foray into television, and the hubbub has been omnipresent enough that you’ve probably heard about it, even if don’t get HBO or don’t intend to watch it. It’s too easy to say that if you like Sorkin, you’ll like The Newsroom, too easy and false, because The Newsroom is like a concentrated dose of Sorkin, so much so that people like me who are fans of his work will nonetheless cry uncle at some point.

For most television watchers, the name Aaron Sorkin means The West Wing, his most-acclaimed series. For the haters, Sorkin means Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, his least-acclaimed series, at least until The Newsroom. What you need to know is that the quality of The Newsroom is closer to Studio 60 than it is to The West Wing. Thus, the “Sorkinese” dialogue that fans love becomes something less than charming. There are moments, of course … Sorkin is too good to offer up total crap. But, as so many critics have already noted, The Newsroom is also full of the kind of speechifying that has always been Sorkin’s Achilles heel.

It’s the speechifying that led me long ago to conclude that The West Wing was not the best series Aaron Sorkin ever created. It was very good for a long time, even if I finally gave up on it (around the time Sorkin left, as I recall). Aaron Sorkin dialogue without the speechifying is a joy to hear; with the speechifying, what you get is mostly sanctimonious. The quality of his series is directly correlated to that sanctimony. The West Wing took place in the White House, so of course there was plenty of opportunity for this or that character to get on a soapbox. But Sorkin also gave us many memorable characters we could care about, and they didn’t all sound the same. The Newsroom has time to grow into itself … I’ve only seen the pilot … but it’s worth nothing that the critics who complained the most about the show have seen several episodes, and they don’t think it gets better.

I’m going to stick with it for now … I stuck with Studio 60 for awhile, although I didn’t make it to the end. But it is safe to say, my own choice for Sorkin’s Best Series isn’t going to be changing anytime soon. That series was Sports Night, which had several things going for it. It was the first dose of Sorkinese for most of us, and it was very fresh. The actors and characters were interesting. And, of course, everyone had the gift of gab. But perhaps most importantly, it was a show that took place at a sports highlight show at a fourth-rate network. OK, it was about the characters, but the setting was a low-rent Sports Center clone, and while even there, Sorkin didn’t entirely avoid the soapbox, a sports setting was less amenable to such problems as was a show about politics, or about news. Sports Night was the perfect outlet for Sorkin’s style, because the ratio of sparkling dialogue to dull speech-making was high, whereas in The West Wing, and in the pilot for The Newsroom, there is less sparkle and more dull.

So if you find The Newsroom depressing, pull out your old Sports Night DVDs and remember when Aaron Sorkin really was great.

euro 2012: announcers

This is a good time to look at the various announcers ESPN has employed for the U.S. version of their Euro 2012 telecasts. I’m skipping the Spanish-language folks, because I don’t get ESPN Deportes.

#1 Team: Ian Darke (play-by-play) and Steve McManaman (color). Darke has become ESPN’s #1 man for international soccer, usually partnered with McManaman for the Premier League. Darke is good, knows the game, has it in his bones, gets passionate at the right times, and is a minor folk hero in the States for his call of Landon Donovan’s last-minute goal in the 2010 World Cup. McManaman is decent enough … he roots for England, although no more than he roots for Liverpool when he does their games. He has some useful insights at times. They work well as a team, although sometimes you get the feeling Darke is a bit too excited to be in the booth with a legend … when he calls him “Macca”, it’s half banter and half “holy shit, I’m sitting next to Steve McManaman!” (McManaman gets extra points for sounding like a Beatle.)

#2 Team: Scot Derek Rae is the best play-by-play guy on the ESPN team. He hasn’t had the most interesting partners (Kasey Keller and Taylor Twellman are, at best, not irritating … they are a step up from the days of Marcelo Balboa and Ty Keough, but that’s not a very high bar), but Rae is always a welcome voice.

#2A Team: Adrian Healey isn’t up to the quality of Rae and Darke, but he’s sufficient. And he has the man who, for my money, has been the best of the color commentators, Robbie Mustoe, who has more interesting commentary than all of the other color guys here combined.

My dream team of these folks would be Derek Rae and Robbie Mustoe, but the most important thing about ESPN’s coverage of this tournament is that no one stinks. You might have different preferences than I do, but with the exception of Michael Ballack’s first day in the studio, no one I’ve seen seemed like they simply didn’t belong. The play-by-play guys are all good-to-very good, the color guys are OK-to-excellent, and the hi-def picture is great (and that’s probably the most important thing in the end).

Studio folks: Your opinion of Alexi Lalas was likely formed long ago, and he has done nothing here to change anyone’s mind. I find him a bit much, but I don’t hate him, and I don’t mind that he’s around. It’s kinda like when he was a player … people never thought he was any good, but he played for the national team for a long time, and was the first American to play in Serie A. A great player? I’d say not, just as I don’t think he’s great in the booth. But he’s at least average, and undeserving of the crap the haters send his way. Michael Ballack was a disaster at first, like a German deer in the headlights. He’s become more relaxed (not that he’s exactly Perry Como), and his comments are about on the level of what Lalas or Keller or Twellman toss out. In other words, he doesn’t really bring anything extra to the table, but he’s a German legend, so why not let him sit in the studio with the Americans.

Studio hosts: Bob Ley is a professional, in a good way. He wasn’t anyone’s favorite play-by-play guy, and we’ve advanced to the point where he isn’t needed in that role, but he never embarrassed himself, and he’s perfect as a host. Rebecca Lowe is a stalwart stand-in for Ley … the usual crotch-scratching grunt on his couch might have thought she was nothing but eye candy, but in truth, she’s probably more knowledgeable about the game than Ley, and, like Ley, she benefits from the kind of professionalism that ex-jocks don’t often have. She’s the only one of the studio folks that you could imagine doing a fifteen-minute soccer wrap-up all on her own.

I actually don’t watch much of the studio stuff, so take the above with a grain of salt. I know there have been a few others (Roberto Martinez, Giuseppe Rossi), but I’ve missed them for the most part.

There was a time when the idea of watching an entire soccer tournament without being able to listen to the Spanish-language guys would have depressed the hell out of me, and for all I know, those guys are doing a great job. Since I don’t get to listen to them, it’s a pleasure to be able to say at last that the English-language announcers for the U.S. telecasts are just fine. If they mostly come from somewhere outside the States, well, I can live with that.

(Here’s a link to a good overview of the announcers … and by “good”, I mean I mostly agree with them:

the problem solving committee

A lot happening this weekend that I was going to write about, most notably a fine, weekend party at Sara and Ray’s that served as a housewarming, welcome-the-baby-to-be, meet-the-two-families affair with freshly made carnitas.

But then I came across this photo, which an old friend had posted on Facebook some time ago, but which I hadn’t seen until today:

continental can circle group

This is a problem-solving committee from Plant 80, Pittsburg, Continental Can Company, from sometime in the early 1980s. As I recall, there was a lot of excitement over Japanese-style “quality circles”, and since at the time, Japan seemed to have all the answers as far as business and manufacturing went, Continental Can decided to try out the process. I can’t remember if I wanted to be in this group, or if I was chosen … on the one hand, I liked anything where I didn’t have to work (I was even on the safety committee for awhile); on the other hand, it’s hard to imagine anyone in charge at that place thinking I was good for anything. I suppose they thought I was smart, who knows?

One thing that interests me is that I quit working there in 1984, almost 30 years ago, and the only person I’m still in contact with is Jeanie, the blonde-haired woman standing in front of me (I’m the semi-longhaired guy in the back on the left) … yet I can tell you the full name of five of those other people, and the first name of a sixth (only the guy on the far right slips my mind).

You know, that’s a pretty good group of people. All of them (that I can remember) were good folks, good to work with, just, well, good people, as we called it at the time. Jeanie was one of my very favorites. She was the first woman to take on a job maintaining the operation of one of the big machines in the plant, and took a lot of shit for it. I was lucky enough to work as her assistant on many an occasion, and I always felt proud to be on her team. And OK, I had my usual crush on her. Jesse, who is standing next to me, did a lot of the same jobs I did, but did them earlier … it was all based on seniority, and I think everyone in that picture had more seniority than I did. He was fun to work with, and while my memory is slipping, I feel like he, more than anyone, called me “Rube”. Next to him in the back is Rich, who was the whole package: a good worker, one of the best people you’d ever want to meet, and extremely strong … he was a big guy, but so easy-going you might not notice his strength until he’d pull off some feat in a moment of showiness.

Pat is the woman next to Jeanie. I worked with her on and off over the years, and don’t have a lot of memories of her, except that she, too, was very nice. (In case it isn’t clear, not everyone at the plant was nice. Duh.) Next to her is Elsie … I think that’s her name, it’s the one I’m not sure of … she was as smart as anyone I worked with, and it was always a pleasure to have a conversation with her.

On the left … well, that’s probably the most interesting person of them all to me. His name was Elwood, and, as you might guess from the white shirt and tie, he was a boss. A foreman, to be exact, meaning he was in charge of the work on the floor. Many (most?) foremen came from the ranks of the real workers, so there was always a bit of tension once they switched sides. Elwood was a nice man (I know, broken record), and I guarantee you I was not an easy person for a foreman. I was destructive when I was bored, I had attendance problems, and I wasn’t much of a team player … I mean, I was always ready to help out my fellow workers, but I never wanted to do what I was told … in particular, I turned down overtime every time I was offered it for ten years, and when I was forced by my low seniority to work it anyway, I was a prick about it.

Anyway, my memories of Elwood are blended with my memories of all the foremen: they were my enemies. Yet I look at this picture now, and I see Elwood, and he just looks like a guy trying to do his job. He surely deserved better than to have me working in his department.

I worked with these folks, and many others, for ten years. It’s good to see them in this picture, mostly because I’m 28 years removed from the awful drudgery of that job. I know when I finally went back to school, I often thought that my classmates lacked real-world experience. But the truth is, I had that experience, and I hated it. I was probably just jealous of my classmates. Most of the people in this photo helped get me through those ten years. If they ever read this, hey guys, thanks! (And Jeanie, I know you’ll see it, and you get double thanks.)

euro 2012: germany-greece

While tactics seem to be more homogenous in the modern game (thanks to video technology and the Internet, no one does anything that isn’t instantly available to everyone else), stereotypes about the styles of play associated with various nations still hold power over fans. It’s hard to imagine what Brazil would have to do to make people change their assumptions about samba soccer … if the scoreless final against Italy in the 1994 World Cup didn’t affect people, nothing would. Spain has managed to overcome their reputation as underachievers, though, and Germany, long known as an efficient machine, play what most now consider a very attractive brand of soccer. Greece, meanwhile, cemented their own reputation as a nation focused on results over aesthetics when they won three consecutive 1-0 matches in winning the 2004 European championship. (For some reason, Spain, who won their last four matches by 1-0 margins in taking the 2010 World Cup, were praised for their stylish play.)

In any event, Greece is a team I regularly root against, while Germany has become something of a favorite. When the two meet, I am not really neutral … I root for Germany, or at least I root against Greece. The Greeks did what they could against the Germans; I can’t blame them for adopting a negative strategy against overwhelming odds, and their first, equalizing goal was a delight. But I’m not sorry to see them eliminated.

But sometimes the real world interferes with our appreciation of sports. It’s safe to say I’m not much of a fan of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her actions during the financial crisis. Thus, I tweeted during the match, “I want Germany to beat Greece. But it would be nice if Greece ruined Merkel's day." (Merkel has been a very present figure at Germany’s matches during Euro 2012.) It would be particularly symbolic if it was the Greeks who defeated Germany. I couldn’t really bring myself to root for Greece in the match, but I did tire of the repeated shots of Merkel celebrating in the stands.

Still, Greece is not the only European country with financial problems. Spain is also struggling, so they are getting the same treatment from Merkel that the Greeks receive. Since I am rooting for Spain in the tournament, and since Spain is actually a talented team, it is possible Spain and Germany will meet before the tournament is done. It would be a pleasure to watch Merkel squirm while her team lost.

music friday: william bell, “you don’t miss your water”

“You Don’t Miss Your Water (Till Your Well Runs Dry)” was a B-side of a 1961 single by William Bell, recorded for Stax, which snuck into the bottom reaches of the Top 100 pop charts. While the sound was early Stax soul, the lyrics, a lament from a playboy after his woman leaves him, had the feel of a bittersweet country song:

I sit and wonder
How can this be
I never thought
You'd ever leave me
But now you've left me
Oh, how I cried
You don't miss your water
Till your well runs dry

Bell had an up-and-down career after that. He wrote or co-wrote some popular songs (“Born Under a Bad Sign”) that often turned up in unusual places (“I Forgot to Be Your Lover” was later a hit for Billy Idol, while Bell’s own version was sampled by Ludacris for “Growing Pains”). But it was “You Don’t Miss Your Water” that made the biggest, longest-lived impact.

Otis Redding performed it on his classic album, Otis Blue. (When Otis died, Bell recorded a heartfelt “Tribute to a King”.) The Wailers recorded a version in the mid-60s … Peter Tosh did a solo version ten years later. Taj Mahal sang it, as did folk singer Fred Neil and rock-and-roller Jerry Lee Lewis. But it was The Byrds who introduced the song to the hippie audience, on their classic Sweetheart of the Rodeo. That version was sung by Roger McGuinn, after Gram Parsons’ original lead vocals were replaced for legal reasons (or so they say … the Parsons version was eventually released a few decades later, while Parsons went on to sing along with Fred Neil on his version).

Yet another unexpected take on the song turned up in 1988 on the soundtrack to Married to the Mob, this time sung by Brian Eno.

Bell’s song worked, seemingly no matter who sang it, or what style they used. And he is still out there … check out his website, pick up something from his music store:

Here are links to various YouTube videos. First, the original:

Otis Redding:

Fred Neil with Gram Parsons:

The Byrds (Roger McGuinn version):

And finally, Brian Eno:

when twitter breaks down

Twitter has become the place we look to when breaking news hits. It’s silly to complain, as some do, that the reduction of great events to 140-character posts makes it impossible to convey what is happening in any meaningful way. Twitter doesn’t replace the work of historians, or even of journalists. Their job is to evaluate what happened and give us context for those events. But while we’re waiting, Twitter is here.

You’ve probably seen examples of how this works, like when there was that rare earthquake on the East Coast and you could follow the path of the quake by seeing when people tweeted about it. And there are the so-called “Twitter Revolutions” in Moldova, Iran, Tunisia, and Egypt.

Today offered a different kind of breaking news, though. Twitter itself had what they called a “cascading bug”, resulting in a period of about two hours when Twitter was mostly unusable. And, obviously, this isn’t the kind of breaking news you can check out on Twitter. I noticed because I was following like-minded soccer fans during the Euro 2012 match between Portugal and the Czech Republic, and I realized my Kindle Fire wasn’t updating tweets.

You don’t miss your water, ‘til your well runs dry.

This was a minor annoyance to me, and a lesson in how ubiquitous twitter has become in my life (I don’t tweet often, but I’m always checking in during live public events like Euro 2012). What was especially interesting to me was Twitter’s own comments, in the blog post mentioned above about the cascading bug:

We know how critical Twitter has become for you — for many of us. Every day, we bring people closer to their heroes, causes, political movements, and much more. One user, Arghya Roychowdhury, put it this way: “OMG..twitter was down....closest thing to living without oxygen for most of us....” It’s imperative that we remain available around the world, and today we stumbled. For that we offer our most sincere apologies and hope you’ll be able to breathe easier now.

I don’t know whether to nod my head in agreement, or laugh at the self-important feel of their apology.

euro 2012: best names

I end up doing this for most international tournaments. It’s me being childish and provincial, since much of what I find interesting about player names is related to how they sound to an American’s ears. I fully understand that “Steven” might sound just as odd to speakers of other languages. I am also perhaps too enamored of names that suggest nationalities other than the ones they use for national team purposes. Having apologized in advance, here are the Names of Euro 2012:

  • Croatia: Darijo Srna, Šime Vrsaljko, Eduardo
  • England: Joe, Glen, Steven, John, Andy, Wayne, Robert, James, Scott, Stewart, Danny, Jack, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
  • Germany: Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mario Gómez
  • Greece: Kyriakos Papadopoulos, Avraam Papadopoulos, Sokratis Papastathopoulos
  • Ireland: Robbie Keane, Damien Duff
  • Netherlands: Khalid “The Cannibal” Boulahrouz
  • Portugal: Custódio
  • Russia: Yuri Zhirkov (some announcers have pronounced his last name in an unfortunate fashion)
  • Sweden: Isaksson, M. Olsson, Larsson, Svensson, J. Olsson, Antonsson, Wilhelmsson, Hansson, Markus Rosenberg