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Given all the posts on my World Cup blog, you’d think I’d find something to write about other than sports on my regular blog. But we went to the Giants-Dodgers game today, as I did Monday night, and those games prompted some thoughts.

Today, Neal and I combined a bunch of holidays: his birthday, my birthday, and Father’s Day. In the post-season ticket era, I’m spending less overall, but I’m spending more for each game, because I’m going to fewer games, and I haven’t bought tickets to 81 games … instead, so far this season I’ve been to 9 games (I missed some when I was in the hospital, and the World Cup has kept me home as well).

The result is that so far this year I’ve spent about $475 less than I would have with my season tickets, but there are also times, like today, when I spend quite a bit. Today, in fact, we spent $300 for two tickets 12 rows behind the Giants’ dugout. In previous years, I would have spent $36 and sat behind home plate in the upper deck, but now I can splurge.

Well, the Giants got their asses kicked by the Dodgers. It was a lovely day, our seats were terrific, the food was yummy … but the Giants lost. And so the question arises: was it worth $300 for Neal and I to watch the Giants lose?

It was worth it to be at the game, no matter who won. It’s always good to spend time with my kids at the ballpark, no matter who wins. Hell, it got me out of the house, if nothing else. But the tricky thing about sports is, when you pay your money, there is no guarantee you’ll like what you’ve paid for. Chances are if I buy tickets to see Bruce Springsteen, we will go home happy. But when you watch the Giants lose twice to the Dodgers in three days … how happy do you think I am? Especially today, when I spent more on tickets than I have in my entire life on a regular-season game.

For comparison purposes, here are two pictures, one taken from my old season ticket seats, the other taken today:



I’ll add that people who are less-than-ardent fans of baseball actually prefer my old seats, because they like the view of the Bay.

mr. cub

This story is feel-good enough for me, even if it’s tragic that we still need stories like this. It’s about the Chicago Cubs and their legendary star, Mr. Cub, Mr. “Let’s Play Two,” Ernie Banks:

In case you haven't heard, this Sunday the Cubbies will take part in Chicago's Gay Pride Parade. But not merely "take part." For the first time, the team will have its own float -- a vehicle decked out in a brick-and-ivy motif, a la Wrigley Field's outfield wall. In and of itself, the gesture would be a wonderful one; a statement to the Windy City's large gay and lesbian community that they are welcome at 1060 West Addison Street whenever they crave a ballgame.

Here, however, is the capper: Sitting atop the float, waving to the crowd in all its gay-and-lesbian splendor, will be Ernie Banks.

As Jeff Pearlman notes, the Cubs could have sent anyone to sit on that float. They could have just sent the float, with no one to sit on it. Instead, Mr. Cub will take the seat.

true blood and the water cooler

I should say something about True Blood’s water cooler moment from last night. First, though, I’d like to mention something Charlie said when he was visiting this weekend. He noted that I write a lot about television, but I rarely give anything away. He watched all five seasons of The Wire because I obsessively promoted it, but when he finally did so, he was regularly surprised, because I managed to explain the qualities of the show without telling “what happened” for the most part.

I’m not going to say “what happened” on True Blood last night, so you can consider this spoiler-free, beyond noting that the episode did indeed have a water cooler moment, which in a sense gives something away, I suppose.

On The Atlantic web site, Clarissa Rappoport-Hankins wrote that the specifics of the water cooler moment amounted to “a petty excuse to go for shock value and violence-instilled titillation.” I don’t entirely disagree … I wouldn’t use the word “petty,” and I don’t know that they need an excuse, but yes, it was shocking, violent, and titillating, more so than usual (hence the water cooler discussions). But really, is anyone surprised when True Blood takes another step in the direction of sex and violence? I completely understand not liking the show for its at times cavalier treatment of sex, violence, and the combination of the two. And I wouldn’t be writing this if last night’s episode hadn’t gone a step further than had happened before. Having said that, I stand by my opinion that True Blood is a show that lazily allows the context of vampire mythology to create the illusion of depth in a series that is about titillation above all else. It’s a highly-entertaining show, one of my favorites. But it’s entertaining because of the shock value and violence-instilled titillation, not in spite of it.

I just had a thought. I wonder what Pauline Kael would have thought of True Blood? It does seem rather De Palma-esque.

random friday, 1984 edition: prince, “purple rain”

I didn’t expect to feature Prince on the Random Friday. Oh, he had a good chance of hitting the 1984 shuffle play, that being the year of Purple Rain. But these things aren’t entirely random … if I can’t find any videos for the first choice, I take the second one, and Prince is well-known for removing himself from YouTube on a regular basis. So I went to check, but I did so assuming the second choice would become first (if anyone cares, it was “Smalltown Boy” by Bronski Beat … maybe next year, Jimmy).

But I actually found a few Prince videos, so Purple Rain, here we come. I don’t have much to say about the song, the album, or the artist … it’s not like anyone reading this has never heard of him. The album has sold more than 24 million copies. The movie won an Oscar for best original score. The song is one of the great power ballads of all time.

The basics of the album came in a live performance in 1983, where the performances were so strong they were used, with studio edits, for some of the album tracks. That show was the first time Wendy played guitar with the band. Here’s “Let’s Go Crazy” from that show:

Here’s the actual video for “Let’s Go Crazy”:

And the movie version of “Purple Rain”:

LeAnn Rimes covered it:

Here’s a clip from the 2002 film that was like a 21st-century Purple Rain:

Did you know that Prince could play basketball?

This has nothing to do with Purple Rain, but I never turn down a chance to show it:

And I’m burying this at the bottom, because I’ve told the story too many times. Prince is the closest I ever came to spotting a great one before anyone else did. That’s not true, of course … when I first saw him in concert, he was touring behind his third album. But the show was held in a small club … packed, but small nonetheless. And it was one of the greatest shows I ever saw, and when it was over, you can bet I told everyone they needed to check out this Prince fella. It was the Dirty Mind tour, and I’ll never forget it.

By the time of the Purple Rain tour, I’d seen him … two times, maybe three. The tickets for that show said “wear purple,” so we followed orders … here’s a picture taken before we left for the concert (my contribution was to dye my hair purple):


Ah, the 80s. I have no idea why I’m holding a picture of my father.


I’ll allow the World Cup to sneak over here for a moment. Deadspin has a great post, “A Children's Treasury Of Drunk People Screaming About Donovan's Goal.” Here are a few … there are plenty more where these came from, check out Deadspin. This one is from Davis, California. I love the split-second when Dempsey’s shot is blocked, just before Donovan nets the rebound … there’s a brief moment of “ah, shucks” followed by joy (this is common to most of the videos). Davis fans are hardcore … they even cheer the instant replay:


And from the actual stadium:

justified, season finale

Yes, it’s true, we are still behind on TV watching, and are still catching up on shows. We got around to the Justified finale two weeks after it aired, which is pretty good for us of late.

Justified has so much going for it that it’s a bit unfair to say “it’s not as good as X.” But it calls to mind favored shows from the past, shows that were classics, and Justified is not yet a classic. It is reminiscent of Deadwood, for no other reason than the presence of Timothy Olyphant in the lead, he being a crucial figure in Deadwood as well. He is just as good here as he was in the earlier series … it’s just that the earlier series was a better show. It also has a slight resemblance to The Shield, not because the two series have similar plots, but because they both have that “FX feel,” which is hard to describe but if you watch enough FX series you know what I mean. But again, the earlier series was a better show.

I’ll tell you the best comparison to Justified: Karen Sisco. The latter show was based on the movie Out of Sight, with Carla Gugino taking the Jennifer Lopez part. Gugino was smart, tough, and sexy, and the series did a fine job of emulating the world of Elmore Leonard, who created the character. The series was not popular, for reasons I don’t understand. Justified, also based on Elmore Leonard characters, will return for a second season, which it deserves, just like Karen Sisco did.

The acting on Justified is often the best thing about the show. Walton Goggins in particular is terrific. The series wavers between standalone episodes and “story arc” episodes, and the transition isn’t always smooth. But there haven’t been any bad episodes, and there are plenty of good ones. Justified is a second-tier series, but it’s a very good second-tier series.

treme, season finale

Let me start by saying I get why some people are frustrated with this show. I spent most of The Wire’s run trying to get people to watch it, because I was convinced it was the best TV show ever. It was close to perfect: every character resonated, the narrative was beautifully constructed, the writing and acting superb. Treme is not the best TV show ever, nor is it close to perfect. David Simon has no intention of catering to our expectations about what a TV series should do; we can decide not to watch his show, but he won’t change it in the hopes you’ll stick around. He puts it out there, and we experience it, if we want to.

At least, that’s what he says, and I have no reason to doubt him. There are things about Treme I don’t much care for, but nothing that would convince me to quit watching, or to think that it’s anything other than a very fine show. I mean, if the harshest criticism I can come up with is that it’s not perfect, I’ve left plenty of room for goodness.

Many of the show’s strengths are similar to those of The Wire. Complex characters, with top-notch actors delivering good dialogue. A lived-in feel to the city at the core of the show. But these are also areas where we notice the absence of perfection. I can’t think of a single Wire character for whom I didn’t have some level of affection … Treme has two or three. The Wire tended to show, not tell … Treme sometimes tells. Both of these were among the reasons I found John Goodman’s college professor so frustrating. Goodman had the role down … it was a wonderful performance … and I believe there were, and are, people in New Orleans whose suffering was similar to his. But it’s one thing to come across an angry blogger while goofing on Google, and another to have Goodman speechifying for YouTube. His anger was necessary … the specifics of his cranky analysis were not.

I can also see where some would find the show’s reliance on music to be bothersome, but, as Simon would say, that just means Treme isn’t a show for you … don’t watch it. Me, I loved the way music was an ongoing, integral part of everyone’s lives, that there was always another gig for Antoine, always somebody famous stopping by (this didn’t work as well for me when the famous chefs turned up, but the musicians just seemed to be a part of the ambience of New Orleans).

I also appreciated learning more about New Orleans, in particular the Indians, who I loved via the backdoor thanks to the great Wild Tchoupitoulas album from the mid-70s. I can’t tell you how much joy it gave Robin and I, the first time we heard the Big Chief sing out, “Mighty Kootie Fiyo!”

Some have suggested that while The Wire was made by people who had Baltimore in their blood, Treme suffers from being created by outsiders. I don’t know that I would notice if this were true … I do know that most of what I read made me think Treme was “getting it right.” And that includes the post-Katrina feel of the city.

If you don’t want to watch people from New Orleans enjoying their food and their music and trying to climb out of their suffering … well, you might as well skip Treme. Like I say, I won’t recommend it unequivocally. But everyone else ought to get on board.