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October 2004
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December 2004

lifeline revisited

I first spoke of Iris DeMent's new album of gospel songs, Lifeline, ten days ago. Then I'd only heard it on Rhapsody ... now I have the album. Which means I have the liner notes, where Iris writes "These songs aren't about religion. At least for me they aren't. They're about something bigger than that." She explains how when she was young, her mother would sing gospel music at the piano when she was feeling bad, and now, when Iris feels bad, she can use that music to calm her the way her mother did long ago.

I don't know ... it's pretty odd to hear the woman who wrote the great agnostic anthem, "Let the Mystery Be," singing these songs, because the way they aren't about religion is personal to Iris ... to us, they sound like gospel songs. Well done ... as I said earlier, I'm always happy to hear Iris DeMent sing. But this album isn't going to replace My Life. There's one song, though, "I Don't Want to Get Adjusted," that speaks even to a non-believer like me:

In this world we have our trials
Sometimes lonesome, sometimes blue
But the hope of life eternal
Makes all old hopes brand new

I don't want to get adjusted
To this world, to this world
'Cause I've got a home so much better
I'm gonna go there sooner or later
And I don't want to get adjusted to this world

Lord I'm growing old and weary
There's no place that feels like home
Saviour come my soul to ferry
To where I never more will roam

And I don't want to get adjusted
To this world, to this world
I've got a home so much better
I'm gonna go there sooner or later
And I don't want to get adjusted to this world


I never know what to call the damn thing ... when Bruce appeared on MTV Unplugged back in '92, he brought out the entire band after one acoustic song and played the rest of the show "plugged." The video and CD versions are called Bruce Springsteen in Concert / MTV XXPlugged, with the XX covering the Un. I've always referred to it as Plugged.

Anyway, it's finally out on DVD. The 5.1 sound is excellent, and there's an extra song that wasn't on the VHS version (apparently it WAS on the laser disc version). As with every single official Bruce Springsteen live release with the exception of the recent Live in Barcelona, the actual concert is bastardized for who knows what reason. I wrote about this a couple of years ago when I did my long walk through Bruce's career. The DVD replicates the problems from the original broadcast, where the song order was juggled, apparently to create 4-song mini-sets between commercials. There's no reason for it to be that way on the ad-free DVD, but this is just a throwaway so no one bothered to fix it. The DVD has 19 songs (there are only 13 on the CD), the original 16 from the broadcast, and then three more in an extras menu ... they don't even bother to integrate the extra three songs into the main concert, which I guess hardly matters given the screwy setlist alterations.

All of which sound like I hate the DVD, but of course, I don't. It has to be taken on its own terms, as a document of the "Other Band," but on those terms, it has the same pleasures and problems we saw at Shoreline between the time he recorded Plugged and the time it showed up on MTV. The much-maligned rhythm section is fine in an elemental way, the backup singers do wonders whenever they're added to the mix, and it's a joy to see Bruce surrounded by a diverse band ... lotta black folks, lotta women. Shane Fontayne is the ultimate better-heard-not-seen guitarist.

It's nice, in 2004, to watch Bruce a bit outside of his myth. That myth includes the E Street Band, so there's something "real" about him working away with a bunch of people you've hardly heard of. Also, for whatever reason, Bruce no longer performs many songs from the early 90s, so this is your chance to see live versions of "Better Days," "Man's Job," "The Big Muddy" and more. "I Wish I Were Blind" is a lost classic and gets a terrific performance here, and "Living Proof" kicks ass like always. Patti shows up for "Human Touch," while "57 Channels" is the overblown Political Statement Version. Of course, until the NYC DVD, Plugged was the only place to hear an official version of "Light of Day," Bruce's set-closer for so many years, and this is a good one, with an insane guitar-duo segment that's either great or awful, I'm not sure.

Look, if you're gonna buy a non-bootleg live DVD of Bruce Springsteen, this will be your third choice. NYC has the greatness of the Reunion tour, Barcelona is the only time Bruce gave us an actual concert without messing around (and it has a great crowd). All Plugged has is Bruce in a slightly different setup than you're used to, doing a bunch of songs you won't hear many other places.

steven gets catty

OK, I'm behind the times, I guess ... for all the notoriety of Tom Frank of Baffler fame, I didn't know what he looked like until about 2 minutes ago when he walked onto the Daily Show stage. I shouldn't talk, I know, but WOW ... what a dork!

Brown suit, tie, really bad haircut, bad enough to remind me of Robin Harris in Do the Right Thing, telling Buggin' Out that he ought to boycott the barber that fucked up his head. (Obligatory Wire reference: one of da fellas that hangs out on the corner in that movie is played by Frankie Faison who is on The Wire.) I don't know what I expected ... someone who looked like Abbie Hoffman in the 60s, I guess ... this guy looks like fodder for Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.

I know, I'm mean and shallow. I didn't hear a word Frank said, I was so obsessed with his nerdiness.

scan of the day

Today's picture comes from ... oh, our first year or so of marriage, maybe a little later than that. A different picture from the same photo session sits over our fireplace:

with cat

You can see our cat ... Robin would have to remind me which one this was, maybe Pie, maybe Casper ... we had a lot of white cats in those days. I think we were living in Antioch at the time ... I'm gonna tell an anecdote here, and if it doesn't match the above photo, oh well, the story's true anyway.

When we were first married, Robin worked for the Antioch Ledger. She got a photographer there to take some pictures of us ... the guy liked the pix very much. He had a show at some gallery in Antioch, which back then was even more small-townish than it is now. He put one picture of Robin and I in his show, which was nice. Except that every other picture was from the same series of nude photos of his girlfriend, who I believe also worked at the Ledger, now that I think of it. Again, Robin would know this stuff better than I do.

The main thing to know is that there was a picture of Robin and I amidst a bunch of nudie pictures.

Like everyone who gets old, I look at pictures from earlier in my life (I was 20, 21 at the oldest, when that picture was taken) and wonder who the fuck is the guy in the photo. He had his whole life in front of him, and didn't know his ass from a hole in the ground.

democratic party update

Senate Democrats have chosen Harry Reid of Nevada to be their leader.

Reid is a Mormon who opposes abortion rights, opposes gun control, and was a co-sponsor of the amendment that attempted to ban flag burning. He is reported to be "close to Bush" (New York Times). This is the man that Senate Democrats have chosen to lead them into Bush's second term. I don't suppose anyone is surprised that Dianne Feinstein thinks Reid is a good choice.

Me, I'm not a member of the Democratic Party, so perhaps I shouldn't even care about this stuff. But the truth is, right now I'm wishing I could come up with a Democratic alternative to "fucking dickhead," because if Harry Reid is their idea of how to take on the repugs, they are fucking dickheads, too.

the gambia knows

My sister-in-law Tami used to live in The Gambia, but she never told me about this. According to the Weekly World News ... OK, quit laughing, I haven't even gotten to the good part yet ... there's a tribe in the Gambia that worships Salma Hayek's breasts.

Anyone who's ever seen Salma can understand this ... and if you saw Y tu mamá también, you know how inspirational she can be. But this takes Salmita Love to new levels!

Apparently a tribal chief arranged a showing of Desperado back in 1995.

When Hayek first appeared on screen, the Mandinkans were blown away by the sight of the 36C-25-37 actress. "Everyone gasped -- men, women, and children," recalls Kianga. "Salma was breathtakingly exquisite. She gave off a force, a light, an energy that came right through the screen and entered our very souls."

Now they watch all of her movies as they are released:

The Mandinkans found themselves especially affected by the sight of Hayek's breasts, which are often on full display in her movies. "Salma's chest globes are magnificent forces of nature," gushes Kianga. "They are large and firm and perfectly formed. Whenever they appear on screen, it is almost as though they are calling to us: 'We're here. We're here for you. Take power from us. Let us be your energy force. Close your eyes and let us engulf you.'"

One tribesman speaks for us all when he states, "Worshipping Salma Hayek's breasts has added meaning, direction and wonder to my life."

kael/nixon update

Last week I asked if anyone could provide an actual citation for Pauline Kael's supposed quote that no one she knew voted for Nixon. I also posted a request on the alt.politics Usenet newsgroup. So far, no one has come up with anything. Will Brantley, editor of the fine Conversations with Pauline Kael, doesn't recall ever seeing the actual quote. He's contacted one of the writers who has worked this meme, and if he gets something concrete I'll post it here.

still the best

Sometimes it's really not worth it to post. Because I just repeat myself. If you read this blog, you know what I think, if you know what I think, you don't need me to tell you again.

But, just so a day doesn't go by without a post ...

The Wire is the best show on television. This is the best part of the season. The early episodes are much slower going than your average series ... they have way more characters than other shows, and the plots, which are not just season-long but in some cases series-long, are so complex they can't be fully presented in one episode. So the first episodes in a season are a time for getting reacquainted with characters and settling into the plot, the way you do with a long novel.

But we're about 2/3 of the way through Season Three now, and things are coming together. Or rather, they are all falling apart, but the audience's understanding of what's happening is coalescing. Here are SOME of the plot threads going on this season, none of them minor (although some are more major than others):

The drug kingpins, Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell, who have been around since the first season, are struggling. Avon, the nominal leader, spent all of last season and part of this season in jail. While he was in the slammer, Stringer, who takes business classes at junior college and thinks the drug organization needs to work like any other corporation, changed the focus of the business from selling on the street to supplying off the street. Safer, easier to control, more lucrative ... and since Stringer is also moving into legitimate businesses, smarter. But when Avon gets out of jail, he's ready to make it real on the streets again. And so these longtime partners are struggling. At the end of the last episode, Stringer admitted to Avon that he had Avon's nephew murdered ... because it was good business.

Meanwhile, the powers that be in Baltimore want better crime statistics ... better as in "show us there's less crime." One guy, who is about to retire, comes up with a novel solution: he informs the dealers that if they do their business in an area the cop has chosen because it's rundown and abandoned, they'll be left alone. All of the dealing moves to this area, the rest of the cop's districts are relatively crime free, he gets good stats, everyone is happy. Except that the druggie area is becoming a hell on earth, sick and depraved, and it's all gonna overflow soon.

Then there's the white city councilman who wants to be mayor, but knows that's almost impossible in Baltimore. He's corrupt, the mayor is corrupt, the police commissioner is corrupt, they're all corrupt. Except the detectives, who are mostly not corrupt but are nonetheless human beings with human foibles, plus there are just as many stupid cops as good po-lice, and they're often outmaneuvered by the likes of Stringer Bell, who runs a slightly better organization.

And I haven't even mentioned Omar, the gay thug who makes his living stealing money from dealers. He's the baddest dude on the show, as well as one of the most entertaining to watch.

And that's just the half of it ...

giants on wrong end of new paradigm once again

The Giants just signed shortstop Omar Vizquel to a three-year contract worth more than $12 million.

Here's how the Giants will spin this, in their old paradigm mode. Vizquel is a popular player, highly-regarded defensive shortstop with nine Gold Gloves, a switch-hitter who posted a .291 average last season.

Here's the new paradigm version ... I'll use for the numbers, since they're relatively easy to understand.

Old paradigm people put lots of emphasis on batting average ... I guarantee you the Giants will rave about that .291 BA. New paradigmers adjust everything to league and park context, and place more emphasis on getting on base and hitting for power. Baseball-Reference uses "OPS+" to gauge this ... a hitter with an OPS of 100 is average, with 100+ being above average and 100- being below average. Omar Vizquel has played 16 seasons in the major leagues, and has been an above-average hitter once, back in the 20th century. While his BA and OBP are about average, Omar has very little power.

Old paradigm thinking is that you can trust "proven veterans" ... Omar has 16 big-league seasons under his belt, and a lot of Gold Gloves. New paradigm: people get old (duh). Vizquel hasn't won a Gold Glove in three years ... his defense is not as good as it was in his salad days. He's getting $12 million in part because of his reputation as a top defender; he is no longer the best in that area.

Speaking of getting old ... Omar Vizquel will be 38 years old next April, and 40 years old by the end of his new contract. The vast majority of players are in serious decline in their late-30s. There is nothing to suggest that Omar Vizquel will be the guy who doesn't get old ... guys like Barry Bonds are rare. Since Omar's offense was never any good to begin with, and since he's not the same defensive player as he was, he is getting $12 million to be mediocre at best.

Baseball-Reference lists "most similar" players ... the guys in baseball history who are most like the player in question. They also calculate this for each year of a player's life. Through the age of 37, the most similar player to Omar Vizquel is Dave Concepcion. At ages 38-40, Concepcion never played more than 104 games in a season, and he hit .198 at age 40. The next most similar is Dick Bartell ... he played 5 games after the age of 37. Next is Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith ... Ozzie never won a Gold Glove after the age of 37, and his OPS+ was below average every year he played after that age. Bert Campaneris played in fewer than half his team's games after the age of 37. Willie Randolph retired. You get the idea: history isn't kind to Vizquel-type players aged 38 or more.

And the Giants just gave him a 3-year contract for more than $12 million.


I don't have anything new to say about the passing of Ol' Dirty Bastard, but this was one amazing person ... I guess this is what Wesley Willis would have been like if he'd been a rapper. ODB was only 35, he'd recorded only two albums on his own (the third one is barely his) along with his work with Wu-Tang, yet the All-Music Guide biography runs 11 long paragraphs and more than 2500 words (a couple of hundred more than the bio for Elvis Presley, to give you an idea of how long it is). As AMG notes, ODB compiled "a rap sheet that now reads not so much like a soap opera as an epic Russian novel." Heck with Tupac or Biggie, Ol' Dirty Bastard's the one who deserves a movie made of his life. The AMG bio has to be read to be believed ... you'll find it here.