i still don't know what avaya does

Today, we attended the first-ever MLS match at the San Jose Earthquakes' new Avaya Stadium. It looks lovely, the view is fan-friendly, and everything had the fresh feeling of something new. The seats were a bit narrow for my butt ... on the other hand, they were seats, which was quite a revelation for those of us who have spent many years sitting on benches. The incline for the seats was steep, which was good for viewing ... even the top rows were as close to the field as possible ... but also a real cardio test (we were in Row 22).

The stadium is built next to San Jose International Airport, and it was startling when planes would suddenly appear from behind the stands opposite our seats as they landed. We were startled partly because the sound of the planes went unheard by us ... I don't know much about physics, but whatever they did when building the stadium, it kept the noise out. I think the idea was more to keep the noise in, i.e. the acoustics are designed so the noise of the crowd is amplified.

Here are a few pictures I took ... there are better ones out there, but these are mine. Here is our first view of the stadium as we approached it:

Avaya 1

A different angle from outside:

Avaya 2

A lame selfie:

Avaya selfie

And the view from our seats, with the airport in the distance:

Avaya 3

music friday: going into the city

I'm up to the last chapter of Robert Christgau's memoir, Going Into the City, and I'll write about it once I finish. Someone (I think his publisher) created a Spotify playlist to accompany the book, and I'll look at that list here, with a few comments. I won't connect the songs to their mentions in the book ... you'll have to read it yourself for that info.

  • John Prine, "Donald and Lydia". A teacher in the mid-70s once told me my writing reminded him of John Prine.
  • South Pacific Ensemble, "There Is Nothin' Like a Dame". When I was a kid, my parents had the soundtrack album to the movie version. The picture of Rossano Brazzi and Mitzi Gaynor on the cover fascinated me ... OK, it was Mitzi in her two-piece bathing suit.
  • Doris Day, "Secret Love". From Calamity Jane. Lots of subtext here.
  • Bill Doggett, "Honky Tonk (Parts 1 & 2)".
  • The Channels, "The Closer You Are". I used to say that you couldn't trust anyone who didn't love doo-wop.
  • The Three Friends, "Blanche".
  • Chuck Berry, "Rock and Roll Music". He headlined my first rock concert.
  • Charlie Parker, "The Song Is You".
  • The Miracles, "You've Really Got a Hold on Me". Cheating a bit ... the video is from their appearance in The T.A.M.I. Show.
  • Marcie Blane, "Bobby's Girl".
  • The Exciters, "Tell Him".
  • The Newbeats, "Bread and Butter".
  • Dobie Gray, "The 'In' Crowd".
  • The Lovin' Spoonful, "Darling Be Home Soon".
  • The Rolling Stones, "Goin' Home". The last seven tracks could be a soundtrack of my pre-teen life.
  • Mungo Jerry, "In the Summertime".
  • John Lennon, "Oh Yoko!".
  • New York Dolls, "Human Being". They had no bigger champion than Xgau.
  • Al Green, "Let's Get Married". Speaks for the memoir as well as any song.
  • Bonnie Raitt, "Good Enough". Xgau may be the only person who loves Home Plate more than I do. YouTube seems to agree with everyone else ... the video is from a live show, the original was nowhere to be found in my quick look. Good version, in any event.
  • Ramones, "We're a Happy Family". The city in the book's title is New York, after all.
  • Television, "See No Evil". The city in the book's title is New York, after all.
  • The Clash, "Janie Jones". Cheating again. This is live, 1977, because they were so great in concert I couldn't help myself.
  • Funky 4+1, "That's the Joint". Xgau called this the best single of the 1980s. Video chosen because I think the picture is of the 12" we had at our house at the time.
  • T.S. Monk, "Bon Bon Vie". He named this the second-best single of the 80s.
  • Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force, "Looking for the Perfect Beat". He named this the eighth-best single of the 80s. For homework, find out what he named #3-7.

carlos (olivier assayas, 2010)

I've tagged Carlos under both film and television, which I think is appropriate. It was made as a TV mini-series running in three parts. It has been shown rarely as a complete movie, but the more standard presentation, as far as I can tell, is to show the three parts separately on TV. There are also edited "movie versions" than run two-and-a-half to three hours. I watched the entire series of three, which makes it a mini-series, but if you watch it, you'll see why I think it's a movie. It has the look of a movie, with its 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Carlos plays like the long-form serial television series that have become the standard for quality TV today, taking advantage of the extended running time to offer depth that wouldn't be possible in a shorter film. But the way the story unfolds reminds me more of a movie like De Palma's Scarface than it does a series like The Wire.

In fact, Scarface makes an interesting comparison with Carlos. Both are epic-length stories of the rise and fall of a narcissist on the wrong side of the law. One thing that would seem to make Carlos different is that its titular character isn't a mere gangster, but is rather a political terrorist. But politics takes a backseat throughout the film ... it's not as different from Scarface as you might imagine.

The scope of the movie is impressive. In covering the career of Carlos, Assayas takes us from 1973 through 1994, and crisscrosses nations and continents: London, Paris, Vienna, the Netherlands, Yemen, Germany, Algeria, Libya, Budapest, East Berlin, Syria, Sudan. Yes, at times it's a bit confusing, but the overall feel of the life of an international terrorist is clear.

Édgar Ramírez plays Carlos as a charismatic man who we can see would easily impress others. He's ultimately not very good at his job ... his most famous escapade, a takeover of an OPEC conference, mostly results in flying from airport to airport with hostages, never accomplishing any goals, until finally they take money in return for releasing the hostages. Nonetheless, the OPEC sequence is a masterwork in the world of action/thriller cinema. Assayas is more successful with his representation of the OPEC events than Carlos was in trying to pull off the caper.

The film does well in showing the grungy glamour of the lifestyle of Carlos, as well as his gradual fade from importance. The third chapter, which deals with the decline, is necessarily less exciting than what came before, but it does provide some closure on the story.

What is missing is a sense of the politics that drove Carlos and his associates. People toss off standard catch phrases about the revolutionary struggle, but the film rarely goes deeper than those phrases. Assayas is more interested in the character of Carlos, and he is very successful, but the ultimate lesson to be taken from the film is that the politics never really mattered, that Carlos' self-involvement was the key to the story. I don't need Assayas to provide an explanation for terrorist acts, but even with the decades-spanning nature of the movie, the individual acts almost seem to lack context. They work as scenes in an action thriller, but you wouldn't watch Carlos to learn about revolutionary thought.

Nonetheless, Carlos is a triumph of epic film making, riveting for most of its long running time, with a terrific performance from Édgar Ramírez. #205 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century. 9/10. For a companion film, try the aforementioned Scarface, or something with a similar topic, like The Baader Meinhof Complex.

the jinx, series finale: quick notes

The final two minutes of The Jinx were the ultimate Holy Shit moment ... just check Twitter. I could do like the pros have done, and crank out a piece right now about the series and how it ended. But I’m not a pro, so I get to take my time.

I can think about what to do regarding spoilers (hint: I won’t be able to avoid them). I could already talk about the show from an aesthetic perspective, how the documentary was constructed, the creepy appeal of Robert Durst. I could even just say “Holy Shit!” along with everyone else who watched those last two minutes.

But The Jinx warrants some more measured thoughts, particularly about ethics and journalism. I don’t know how I feel about the ethics of The Jinx, and I’m not ready to just blather on the topic. For now, suffice to say the connection between what was on the screen and what was happening in real life went beyond the usual for documentaries. The question must be asked: was the astonishingly dramatic final scene, which went where non-fiction is rarely able to go, so worthy in terms of the art of The Jinx to overcome some obvious questions about withheld information.

So I’m going to postpone my more detailed thoughts for a few days.

music friday: the rolling stones, sticky fingers

If I had this blog 40 years ago, each Friday I’d be writing about an album. Nowadays, even when I get a new album, I chop it up into pieces and shuffle play the leftovers. You could say that it proves I really love an artist if I actually listen to their albums, as albums. (Hello, Sleater-Kinney.)

A trend in recent years is for artists to play entire albums from their catalog in concert. Bruce Springsteen has done this several times ... I’ve got a DVD of him doing one of his albums, I forget which, maybe Born in the USA. The Rolling Stones are apparently going to tour North America this year, and one rumor is that they will be playing Sticky Fingers in its entirety. Since that album comes from the times when I listened to LPs, I thought maybe I’d take it on for this week’s post. But, in line with how I usually do things nowadays, I’ll look at it track-by-track, without attempting too much overall contextualizing.

First, though, I’ll indulge in a bit of that context. Sticky Fingers is one of my favorite Stones albums, but the best of the best are pretty close in quality. It’s easier to list the albums that aren’t quite as excellent: the debut is a lesser album compared to 12x5, Now!, and Out of Our Heads. December’s Children isn’t quite as good as Aftermath or Between the Buttons. Got Live If You Want It! isn’t very good, Their Satanic Majesties Request is underrated but still below their best, Flowers is as good as Yesterday and Today. But Sticky Fingers sits amidst the best four-album run of studio albums they ever produced: Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers, and Exile on Main St. (Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! is the live album from the period, and overrated.) Suffice to say that Sticky Fingers is sitting in some pretty impressive company.

Brown Sugar”. Perhaps Jagger gets away with some of the controversial material in this song because there is so much going on, it’s hard to pinpoint anything. As he said, “God knows what I'm on about on that song. It's such a mishmash. All the nasty subjects in one go.” Wikipedia tried to list those subjects: slavery, interracial sex, cunnilingus, sadomasochism, lost virginity, rape, and heroin. Bobby Keys adds a sax solo, which was something different as I recall (not for music, but for Rolling Stones music). The video, taken from Top of the Pops, is interesting for another reason. You’ve got a song that begins, “Gold Coast slave ship bound for cotton fields, Sold in a market down in New Orleans”. I’ve already thought it was odd that the inspiration for the song is said to be about a Black girlfriend, Marsha Hunt, or Black singer Claudia Lennear. I hear slavery more than I hear girlfriends. Anyway, the Top of the Pops appearance features the band syncing to the recorded track while Jagger adds live vocals. When the sax solo arrives, Black musician Trevor Lawrence pretends to play the recorded solo of Bobby Keys, white guy. Just another part of the mishmash, I guess.

Sway”. Where we are reminded that this is the Mick Taylor Era. He lays out some fine guitar work here. Charlie Watts is esp. good, too. And then here come Paul Buckmaster’s strings! The druggy feel could fit right in on Exile.

Wild Horses”. One of their most successful attempts at country. Video is from their 1995 “unplugged” album ... this song plays well in such an environment. Jagger? I’m reminded of what Xgau said about A Bigger Bang: “Mick ... once again proves capable of relating on what we humans pathetically call a human scale. Not that I credit his ‘vulnerability,’ but I'm touched that he cares enough to lie about it.”

Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”. Prior to this, the one time the Stones ventured into the kind of long tracks that became popular with bands like Cream came with “Goin’ Home”, which appropriately consisted of Mick turning a short song into an eleven-and-a-half-minute track by moaning and cooing and exhorting about his baby that he’s going to see very soon. “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking”, on the other hand, is dominated by Bobby Keys and (especially) Mick Taylor. This is yet another of Taylor’s shining moments with the Stones.

You Gotta Move”. Oddly minimalist blues. Listen to Charlie’s drums ... this could be a “Kiss”-era Prince recording. Since we’re treating this as an album, I’ll note that this was the last track on Side One. Full circle, you might say ... here, Mick tries harder than usual to sound Black (and for him, that’s pretty hard indeed). I’m touched that he cares enough to try.

Bitch”. Killer riffs, killer Charlie Watts, this one crushes your skull. Unlike “Brown Sugar”, which was ultimately disturbing, “Bitch”, despite its title and the Stones’ reputation, isn’t a woman-hater in the “Stupid Girl” mode. Love is a bitch, Mick explains, and when she calls his name, he salivates like Pavlov’s dog. Video is from a club date about a month before the album was released.

I Got the Blues”. The horns have a Stax-Volt feel to them. Nice organ solo by Billy Preston.

Sister Morphine”. Awesomely moody and depressing, and therefore a highlight of the album back in the day. We didn’t know that Marianne Faithfull had written the lyrics (uncredited at the time), had even recorded it as the B-side of a single that did nothing. It was the first sign of the Faithfull who would emerge with Broken English at the end of the decade. It always seemed ironic, that Marianne Faithfull, of all people, put out an album in 1979 that was better than any subsequent Rolling Stones album. Take that, Mick. I saw Marianne a couple of times in the early-80s. Granted, I get star struck pretty easily, but even so, I was amazed at her charisma. She knew it, too. (Don’t know why, but this reminds me of the movie Mister Lonely, which features aging James Fox and Anita Pallenberg in bed together.) (The video is of her version of the song.)

Dead Flowers”. I suppose it’s time to mention Gram Parsons, who hung out a lot with Keith and the boys in those days. His influence is clear whenever the band cranks out a country-rock tune. One problem is that Mick’s tongue is always firmly in cheek on these songs ... he says he always thought of himself as a blues singer, so he couldn’t totally give himself over to the country tunes. This sounds almost jaunty, but as with many songs on the album, a peek at the lyric sheet shines a different light: “Well when you’re sitting back in your rose pink Cadillac, making bets on Kentucky Derby day, I’ll be in my basement room with a needle and a spoon and another girl to take my pain away”. Video is from the same club date that featured “Bitch”.

Moonlight Mile”. What a beautiful exit song. The lyrics aren’t particularly novel ... it could be a more elegant version of “Going Home”, with Mick lonely on the mad mad road, thinking about coming home. But there is precious little distancing in Jagger’s vocals, for a change. Paul Buckmaster’s strings actually add something, and trumpet player Jim Price plays lovely piano. (It’s as surprising as finding out drummer Jim Gordon plays the piano coda on “Layla”.)

togetherness, season one

Series on HBO only run for ten or so episodes a season, so the feel of HBO Sundays changes over the course of a year. Right now, the triad of Girls, Togetherness, and Looking turn Sundays into ... well, what to call it? The life and anxious times of middle-class white people? Each show has a particular setting within that grouping: Girls is about NYC women in their 20s, Togetherness is about SoCal adults in their late-30s, Looking is about gay men in San Francisco about 30+ years old. Although the geographies are different, you could imagine the various main characters knowing each other, or at least knowing people like the characters in the other shows. The combination of sameness and difference makes for a solid programming slot, but watching the shows, you see how the differences are what matter.

Togetherness just ended its first season (beating the other two because it was only eight episodes.) It sounds pretty generic: middle-class couple, late-30s, married for ten or so years with two kids, reach a point in their marriage where nothing seems quite right. The husband’s best friend moves in with them; so does the wife’s sister. Hilarity ensues, sort of ... Togetherness is another one of those genre-busting series that the word “dramedy” was coined for, although it doesn’t really feel right here. Suffice to say that laugh-out-loud moments are rare, but there are plenty of humorous situations, as well as serious things happening to the characters. The show is not groundbreaking, and, as many critics have noted, it would be unfair to tout Togetherness too effusively, because it you approach it as if it’s the next big thing, you’ll be disappointed by the often low-key presentation.

But it does stand out from the crowd. The characters are interesting, and the acting is on target. The great Melanie Lynskey does wonders with a role that too often comes across negatively: Michelle, the frustrated wife. Amanda Peet’s sister shows another angle on how it feels to approach middle-age ... she still hasn’t “found herself”, and she’s getting old enough that time may be running out. Steve Zissis is a real find as the best friend ... again, you think you’re getting a stereotype (lay-about slob), only this time, the character has depth and a love of life and of love. Some good character actors turn up, with John Ortiz especially good as a single father who catches Michelle’s eye (and maybe heart). This is not a show where nothing happens, but it moves quietly enough that you might not think it’s headed anywhere, in which case, the season finale will be a surprise. None of the characters are to blame for their actions, although at times they act poorly. But Togetherness helps us understand why the characters act as they do.

I want to say that everyone would find something to like about Togetherness, but its charms are probably too subtle, and you might decide you don’t like the characters in the first place (my wife didn’t make it past the first episode). The finale sets up some interesting possibilities for Season Two, and I’m glad I stuck with it. Grade for Season One: B+.

what i watched last week

Out of the Past (Jacques Tourneur, 1947). Inevitably present on any list of the best film noirs. As much as any movie, Out of the Past could be shown as an ultimate example of the genre. It would make a fine introduction to people who haven’t experienced noir before. The striking black-and-white cinematography, the femme fatale (more than one, actually), the femme’s dupe (more than one, actually), the plot that makes increasingly less sense as the film progresses ... it’s all here. Roger Ebert once wrote a guide to film noir, ten things that make the genre stand out. Many of the items on his list are here: “A movie which at no time misleads you into thinking there is going to be a happy ending.” “Locations that reek of the night, of shadows, of alleys, of the back doors of fancy places, of apartment buildings with a high turnover rate, of taxi drivers and bartenders who have seen it all.” “Cigarettes.” (He calls Out of the Past “The best smoking movie of all time.” “Women who would just as soon kill you as love you, and vice versa.” Robert Mitchum is excellent as the detective with a past ... oftentimes, the dupe is a near-moron (see William Hurt’s character in Body Heat), but Mitchum’s detective is rarely fooled, which makes his actions even more impressive. He knows what he does with Jane Greer’s femme fatale will lead to destruction, and he does it anyway. Greer’s character is set up before she even appears on screen ... we’re told everyone falls for her, and soon enough, Mitchum falls in line. Toss in Kirk Douglas early in his career, and you’ve got it all, or close enough (and if you’re still hungry, there’s Rhonda Fleming as the back-up fatale). #179 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 9/10. For a companion noir, try Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place with Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame.

The Suspect (Shin-yeon Won, 2013). 7/10.

mls, season 20

Twenty years ago, MLS began its history with the inaugural match at Spartan Stadium in San Jose. The home team won on a late goal by Eric Wynalda. We were there.

The Earthquakes’ season is about to begin. In two weeks, they will play their first official match at their new stadium. There have been highs and lows during San Jose’s years in MLS. There were the two MLS championships in 2001 and 2003. There were the dark days when the team moved to Houston. There was their return to MLS in 2006, with an expansion team.

Highs ... and lows. I might not have paid much attention to MLS when the Quakes were gone, but I started following the team as soon as they returned.

You know, in 1971, I moved to Indiana for a year. That fall, the Giants made the playoffs, losing to Pittsburgh in the NL Championship Series. My friends in Indiana thought I should have rooted for Pittsburgh, because I lived in the Midwest. I paid them no attention. The Giants were my team.

If I moved back to the Midwest now, I’d still root for the Earthquakes.

On the other hand, I know how it feels to break up with a loved one. Robin broke up with me in 1969, and even though we married in 1973 and are coming up on our 42nd anniversary, I still get bitter thinking about when she left me. But, as she says, you have to get over it.