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August 2010
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talking to girls about duran duran

You wouldn’t know it from the evidence here, but I do actually read books (and I love the new update to Kindle for my phone that lets me search a book by voice). People give me books, I read them, although I often forget to bring it up later and thank them … there’s always an episode of Sons of Anarchy to talk about, after all.

I was given Rob Sheffield’s wonderful first book, Love Is a Mix Tape, as a gift. After I read it, I wrote about “Rob Sheffield, who always impressed me with his snarkish writing, and then I read his book about his wife and ohmigod it made me cry and now I can’t read his snark without thinking of the lovely person behind the words.” He has another book, Talking to Girls About Duran Duran, and it reaches out to me in a different way than the first one, but the lovely person is still in there.

I imagine Sheffield has long ago tired of being compared to Nick Hornby, but the perspective of the person telling the stories (Sheffield in his books, which are non-fiction and memoirs of a sort) is similar to a Hornby narrator (perhaps most in Fever Pitch, which is a memoir of sorts, as well). Similar, but that only goes so far. Because Sheffield is never alone in his own tales, even when he’s by himself, and his companions are almost all women, and they are drawn with such affectionate detail that you want to meet them and experience them for yourself. Since he also has a fine sense of how to work his love of pop music into the mix, you get, in Talking to Girls, a book that is simultaneously a memoir of a geek’s childhood, a paean to some of the great girls and women in his life, and an astute look at 80s music. The transitions are not always seamless, but close enough.

Talking to Girls About Duran Duran manages to speak to people who aren’t of Sheffield’s generation, to people who don’t love Duran Duran. As Robert Christgau wrote, “That's one of the things this book is about--liking and even loving music of dubious ultimate import. But not in a guilty pleasure kind of way. Sheffield's way too smart for that saw, plus he a) grew up with this music, which means he knows it as no older or younger person can and b) has an astonishing critical ability to internalize and home in on musical details that make you wonder whether its import has been underrated.” I recommend both of Sheffield’s books.

boardwalk empire addendum

There is no denying the impressive potential of Boardwalk Empire, but the way it is being trumpeted as the bellwether of HBO’s return to greatness has a tinge of sexism to it. The idea is that since the end of The Sopranos, HBO hasn’t been the same, but that Empire is just the thing to take the network back to the top.

The unspoken assumption … well, in many cases, it is openly admitted … is that series such as True Blood and Big Love, good as they might be, aren’t as “important” as The Sopranos was, or as Boardwalk Empire hopefully will be. True Blood is very popular, a clear water-cooler classic, and Big Love has received plenty of acclaim, as well. But neither exists within a traditionally “male” genre like the gangster worlds of Sopranos and Empire. True Blood is a vampire tale where the subjects of our gaze are just as likely to be men (Bill and Eric) as women (Sookie). Big Love is, at its core, a family melodrama.

I am one of those who think True Blood and Big Love are a level below the top, the former being an extremely entertaining trifle (nothing wrong with that) and the latter being scattered with too many uninteresting subplots. But, given that we’ve only seen one episode of Boardwalk Empire (critics have seen more), it’s unfair to assume the new series will re-establish HBO in ways True Blood could not.

boardwalk empire, series premiere

A series pilot needs to grab our attention while convincing us to stick around for future episodes. The latter is accomplished by an intriguing setup, an interesting cast of characters, or both. Boardwalk Empire succeeds. There were a few Scorsese-fueled set pieces to get our attention; the beginning of the Prohibition Era is a strong setup; there are so many characters with potential we can barely keep track of them. And the acting, for the most part, matches the quality of the writing for those characters.

Thus, Boardwalk Empire has promise. The premiere was very good, and if the series maintains this level, we will indeed be sticking around. But HBO is also looking to re-establish itself as the #1 place for quality television. True Blood is popular but a bit frivolous … Treme is prestigious, but not quite up to the level of The Wire yet … Boardwalk Empire is where HBO hopes to match the success of The Sopranos, and not simply because both are about gangsters.

We won’t know if this is the series HBO desires until we’ve seen a season or more. It’s a fine start, but for now, it’s still only the second-best drama on Sunday-night TV. Which is more than enough for now, given that even the third-best drama (hello, Rubicon) is a very good show. Grade: A-.

the giants family

This being my first season in a decade where I didn’t have Giants season tickets, my experience of the team and the season has been a lot different from those earlier years. Of course, the team is in a legitimate pennant race, which is exciting and a bit ironic … I’m not guaranteed tickets to any of the remaining games, or, if they happen, any post-season games (and I have attended every Giants’ post-season game since 1971, when I didn’t live in the Bay Area). I’ve been out to the park for 15 games, so it’s not like I never enjoy a day at the old ball yard. But I watch a LOT more games on TV than I have in a long time … Kruk and Kuip are a regular part of my day in a way that wasn’t true when I went to more home games.

I don’t need to explain what makes Kruk and Kuip so great. I’ll just note that as it has become more common for fans to have access to the broadcasts of all MLB games, people from across the country have begun singing the praises of the Giants’ duo.

But one thing in particular prompts this post, which includes Kruk and Kuip but which extends to the entire production crew. The director (I can’t find the name of this person) loves the fans in attendance, and the announcers work with the director to integrate the fan experience into the telecast without taking away from the play on the field. The casual friendliness of Kruk and Kuip is very inclusive … it’s not that they don’t care about Buster Posey, but they make sure we know about all of the members of the “Giants family.” Ball dudes, bullpen coaches, clubhouse managers, ex-Giants … all of them are part of that family, as are the fans who are singled out each game on camera. And by extension, the viewers at home are part of the family, too.

I’ve always thought the notion of a “Giants family” was corny, smarmy, and more useful as a promotion for the team than for any actual familial feeling. But this year has taught me how wrong I am. It’s an accepted fact of baseball life that it’s a good radio sport, with the radio announcer becoming part of your daily life for six months of the year. And the Giants have great radio announcers, led by Jon Miller. But the radio encourages us to have an almost personal relationship with the individual announcer. That’s not what’s happening on TV, even though Kruk and Kuip are distinctive personalities, beloved by fans. Our relationship in those telecasts isn’t with the announcers alone, but with the team as a whole. We become part of the Giants family. How ironic that I feel that way in the first year where I don’t have season tickets.

25 years ago today

“The greatest song ever written about America.” That’s what Bruce Springsteen said in introducing “This Land Is Your Land” to a stadium crowd in Oakland on September 18, 1985.

We were there. It was our only show on the Born in the USA tour, and our first Bruce show in five years. I’d quit working in the factory, and Robin was only just starting her own career, so we didn’t have much money. It was our 11th Bruce show, 12th if you count when he showed up at a Gary U.S. Bonds concert.

I’m listening to the concert on E Street Radio, and looking over the set list. It looks relatively uninteresting on paper, which only goes to show that set lists don’t tell the whole story. The songs from Born in the U.S.A. were still new, and we were hearing them live for the first time … they weren’t war horses, yet. I remember thinking a stadium was an odd place to see Bruce Springsteen, but when he played “Glory Days” and the people in the top row of the third deck were dancing like they were in a bar, I knew he could conquer pretty much anything.

As the endless encores neared their conclusion, he trotted out “Twist and Shout,” which was a standard closer in the early days. It merged into “Do You Love Me,” after which he did “Stand on It,” the only time I saw him play that one. We had taken BART to the concert, and his encores were running overtime (what else is new?), so as he played one last song, we took our leave, listening as we walked towards BART. It was the Creedence song “Travelin’ Band,” another song I never saw him play again.

There is always an “I’m getting old” angle to these things. When we attended that show, it was 10 years after the first time we’d seen him. It was 25 years ago!

Here’s “Stolen Car” from that concert:

bye bye palm, or, ok google, i give up, you dominate my life

I’ve used Palm products since the 20th century, but the torch has been passed. After my Pre began to croak, and the replacement Pre had problems, I decided to start from scratch. And I loved my Pre and have brand loyalty to Palm, but if I’m starting over, there’s no question … I’m going Android. And since Sprint just released the newest-and-greatest Android phone (until next week, at least), the decision was pretty much made for me. Which is why I now own a Samsung Epic 4g:


I’ve only been using it for a few hours, so not much to report. It works, which is good enough for the moment. It’s a bit heavier than my Pre, and the keyboard slides out from the side, not from the bottom … those are the things I noticed first. I think I’ll wait until the phone is properly broken in before I load Angry Birds on it.

random friday, 1996 edition: spice girls, “wannabe”

The mid-90s … specifically 1996, I suppose … riot grrrl pioneers like Bikini Kill and Bratmobile had moved on to other projects, Sleater-Kinney was still one album away from signing up Janet Weiss. Madonna was doing Evita. Alanis Morissette sang “You Oughta Know", a top hit from 1995, and TLC had “Waterfalls” the same year.

In the summer of 1996, a British band released the first single from their upcoming debut album. That single eventually hit #1 on the charts in 31 different countries. Wikipedia tells us that “At the time, it became the best-selling single by a female group”. Here’s a link to the video … embedding is disabled for this one:


Does anyone argue anymore about the cultural importance of The Spice Girls? Serious question, I’m not dismissing the notion, I just don’t know. I do know that they had a reunion tour in 2007-8, and that the tour was a great success. I know that Posh Spice, Victoria Beckham, is a ubiquitous presence in the gossip mags. I know they haven’t released a new album in a decade. But their cultural impact at the time was enormous, and it seems odd that no one talks about it anymore. It may just be my U.S.-centric vision … perhaps in England, Spice Studies are still important.

For youngsters who weren’t around then, though, it’s worth noting that the Spice Girls weren’t just a one-hit phenomenon, a minor blip on the pop culture world. No, they were enormous. In 2006, ten years after “Wannabe,” Trivial Pursuit polled 1,000 Brits to find out … well, I can’t tell for sure from the news article, who was the biggest cultural icon of the 90s, I guess that’s it. Anyway, the winner of the poll was The Spice Girls.

How’s this one: imagine bringing together the following people, listed in alphabetical order: Elvis Costello, Alan Cumming, Stephen Fry, Bob Geldof, Richard E. Grant, Jools Holland, Bob Hoskins, Barry Humphries, Elton John, Hugh Laurie, Meat Loaf, Roger Moore, Richard O’Brien, Jennifer Saunders, George Wendt, and Dominic West.

All of those people, and more, appeared in this:

Um, blah blah blah, um, girl power, feminism, d’ya know what I mean?

my 15 minutes of fame, extended yet again

Salon ran a piece last week on “classic” movies that the writer felt were flawed. Readers were encouraged to offer their own examples, and today 15 of those were posted as a kind of “reader’s choice.” Mine was there! (#5 in the slide show.) Here is what I wrote … there’s nothing that I haven’t said a dozen times on this blog:

"Blade Runner" (1982)

I've seen it at least a dozen times in all its various versions, and I have no idea why. I love Philip K. Dick, but it's far from the best Dick movie (my votes are "A Scanner Darkly," "Total Recall" and "Minority Report"). Ridley Scott is in a contest with Clint Eastwood for most overrated living director. "Blade Runner" is what I call a Coffee Table Movie: put together a book of stills and it would look gorgeous on your coffee table, right next to a picture book of "Barry Lyndon." Yet I keep watching it.