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still had it

On May 25, 1935, Babe Ruth was playing for the first time in the National League. He had turned 40 years old, and the New York Yankees let him go to the Boston Braves. The Babe played regularly for Boston, but it wasn't going well for the aging slugger, and as he took the field at Pittsburgh's Forbes Field that day, his batting average was at .153, with only 3 homers, which gave him 711 for his career.

I'm not sure there's an explanation for what happened that day. The Braves were a terrible team with a record of 8-19 (they eventually finished in last place). Ruth came up in the top of the first with one out and a man on, and hit his 712th home run off of Pirates pitcher Red Lucas. Top of the third, same situation: one out, man on, although the pitcher was now Guy Bush. Ruth hit another home run, his 713th. By the time Ruth faced Bush in the 7th inning, he had added an RBI single ... at that point, he had knocked in all five Boston runs, but they trailed, 7-5. There was no one on base this time, but The Babe wasn't done. He hit his third home run of the game, the 714th of his career. The 4-for-4 day boosted his batting average to .206. His career record 714 home runs lasted from 1935 until Henry Aaron broke it in 1974.

Landon Donovan was arguably the greatest soccer player in U.S. history. While still a teenager, he joined the San Jose Earthquakes in MLS and helped them to two league championships in four years. He then moved to the Los Angeles Galaxy for the majority of his career. When he retired, he held the all-time MLS regular season record with 145 goals.

Chris Wondolowski was something of a late bloomer. In 2010, at the age of 27, Wondo led MLS in goals scored while playing for the Earthquakes. In 2018, still with the Quakes, he scored ten goals, making it nine straight seasons with at least ten goals, a league record. At the end of that season, he had 144 career league goals, one short of Donovan's record.

At the beginning of 2019, Wondo, now 36 years old, started the team's first four matches, all of which they lost. Wondo didn't score in any of them. He found himself on the bench for the fifth game, which the Quakes won. Wondo became a late-game substitute, and was scoreless for the season, while the Quakes were getting better every week under new coach Matías "Pelado" Almeyda.

Today, Wondolowski got his first start in awhile, due to an injury to regular starter Danny Hoesen. And this followed:

Hopefully, this marks a late resurgence for Wondo, but in any event, he has been a True Earthquake.

Since I brought up Babe Ruth to start this post, I should probably add that after that three-homer game, Ruth played five more games and never had another hit.


music friday: elvis: the rebirth of the king (mike connolly, 2017)

This is a not uninteresting look at Elvis from the BBC that treats him with respect as an artist, proposing that Elvis in Vegas was, at worst, underrated and at best, his peak. I'm not sure this tells hardcore fans anything they don't already know, but The Rebirth of the King could serve to counter those caricatures of Elvis in the 70s that are so prevalent with more casual fans. It's not junk, and it made for a fun 60 minutes.

Greil Marcus stands in for the critics, and he is eloquent when describing the '68 Special, offering insights in particular to "Baby What You Want Me to Do". Several of the people involved with the music Elvis made in the late-60s/early-70s turn up with some good anecdotes, many of which point to the professionalism Elvis the musician brought to the table in those days. As is often the case in documentaries like this, we only get snippets of songs, which has the feel of coitus interruptus.

An interesting connection is shown between Elvis and Roy Hamilton. Elvis loved Hamilton's work, and the film is pretty convincing at showing how his vocals were influenced by the R&B star (whose son is interviewed).

Here are a few highlights from the film, only I'm posting a fuller version of the songs.

And, for as long as it stays up, here is the full documentary:


it happened to jane (richard quine, 1959)

One more visit with Doris Day. There's not much out there in streaming land ... Amazon has her TV series from the late-60/early-70s, and they also have this movie, and that's about it.

You can learn pretty much all you need to know if I tell you that Doris Day's character in this movie runs a lobster business.

It's a fairly typical rom-com of the late-50s, not as good as some of Day's efforts, but watchable. Most of the reason it is watchable is that Doris Day was a reliably consistent actress. It's not that she carries It Happened to Jane, it's just that she's a part of most of the good stuff. That's not quite accurate ... she makes the mediocre stuff passable. The movie is too silly to make it a classic, and the romance angle is not as foregrounded as it often was in her movies. But Day has plunk ... she is determined to get us through the movie, just as her character is determined to make her lobster business work. There's a greedy capitalist who sees the error of his ways, and everyone loves Day. I can't really recommend it, and it's not nearly enough to serve as a way to honor her passing. But I've seen worse movies. Jack Lemmon and Ernie Kovacs co-star.

The film bombed, even when re-released as Twinkle and Shine.


doris day

In honor of the passing of Doris Day, here is the one Day movie I have written about here:

Move Over, Darling (Michael Gordon, 1963). I wanted to watch a James Garner movie, and chose this, which I hadn’t seen. Garner was the iconic star of more than one TV series, and he is known as one of the television stars who moved easily into the movies. His deceptively casual style always worked well on the small screen, and his effortless work on the big screen was always welcome. But it often meant he wasn’t quite the lead in movies … Move Over, Darling, for instance, is more a Doris Day vehicle, although they work well as a team. The film had a bit of a complicated history … a remake of the Cary Grant/Irene Dunne movie My Favorite Wife, it was originally meant to star Marilyn Monroe and Dean Martin under the title Something’s Got to Give. That one was famously unfinished, with the remnants turned into Move Over, Darling. Day and Garner are good, but your response to the movie depends in part on your tolerance for the kind of unconsummated bedroom farce that Day made famous. It isn’t one of the better ones. For a better Day/Garner pairing, check out The Thrill of It All.


small world: sipowicz, sha na na, and me

I once wrote an essay for a book titled What Would Sipowicz Do? Race, Rights and Redemption in NYPD Blue. A couple of days ago, the publisher sent a group email to all of the authors, letting us know that the book, which came out in 2004, will be going out of print. As I often do when I get included in an anthology, I check out my fellow contributors, looking for names I recognize. This doesn't always make me happy ... Alan Dershowitz turned up in one of those books ... but it's fun, especially in retrospect, to see the company I once hung out with. In the case of the NYPD Blue book, there was Joyce Millman, one of the founders of Salon, and David Gerrold, writer of numerous books and perhaps best-known for his association with Star Trek (he wrote the Tribbles episode, among others).

One of the writers in that book responded to the email, copying all of us, thanking the publisher for letting us know. I thought that was a nice gesture, and looked him up online, just to see what else he had done. His name was Robert A. Leonard, and the piece he wrote for the book was "Forensic Linguistics in NYPD Blue". Leonard himself is a distinguished linguist ... among other things, he is the director of the graduate program in Forensic Linguistics at Hofstra.

Looking at his Wikipedia page and elsewhere, I found that I actually had an experience with Leonard many years ago, June of 1970 to be exact. I had just turned 17, and a friend and I went to Fillmore West. The opening acts were Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks, and Pacific Gas & Electric, who had a decent-sized hit that year with "Are You Ready?"

My friend and I had never heard of the headliners. They had made their mark, though, in a movie which had been released a couple of months earlier that we hadn't yet seen: Woodstock. The band was Sha Na Na:

When we saw them, they were fun and energetic and very entertaining. Later I would learn that the original members of the band were students at Columbia.

I can still remember one song they played that night. Here it is at Woodstock (check out Jimi Hendrix taking in the act around the 1:15 moment):

The singer was "Rob" Leonard. According to Wikipedia, "Leonard spent two years with the band, until he stopped at the age of twenty-one. He left the band because he was offered a fellowship at Columbia Graduate School and wanted to further his education in linguistics."

Yes, my fellow author in the NYPD Blue anthology was the same man I saw sing "Teen Angel" at Fillmore West in 1970.


music friday: songwriters

Next month the Songwriters Hall of Fame will welcome its six latest inductees. Here is a song from each of those songwriters.

Dallas Austin: TLC, "Creep". "If he knew the things I did, he couldn't handle me, and I choose to keep him protected."

Missy Elliott: "Work It". "Ti esrever dna ti pilf, nwod gniht ym tup."

John Prine: "Everything Is Cool". "Everything is cool, everything's okay. Why just before last Christmas, my baby went away."

Tom T. Hall: Jeannie C. Riley, "Harper Valley PTA". "Mrs. Johnson, you're wearin' your dresses way too high."

Jack Tempchin: The New Riders of the Purple Sage, "Fifteen Days Under the Hood". "I got those dead-battery-broken-fan-belt blues."

Yusuf/Cat Stevens: "Father and Son". "If they were right, I'd agree, but it's them they know, not me."


20 best and rectify

I missed this article in the New York Times from January: "The 20 Best TV Dramas Since 'The Sopranos'". You might have different choices ... heck, the article ends with some of the critics choosing the shows they thought should be on the list but weren't. Many of the shows are obvious: The Wire, The West Wing, The Shield, Battlestar Galactica, Deadwood, Mad Men, The Americans, The Leftovers. In this era, when television watching is essentially based on "catching up", you could do worse than to hunt those 20 shows down and stream them, binge them, re-watch them, whatever. In a couple of cases, notably Atlanta, you can catch up and then continue watching, since it's still on.

But there's one show I was very happy to see on the list, a show that no one I know watched, a great show that deserves to be discovered: Rectify. In the article, Margaret Lyons writes:

Watching “Rectify” will turn your soul into a pensive cello song, and your hands into those of an aged person mourning their youth. You’ll discover an old handkerchief in the back of a drawer, behold it briefly in the dusty sunlight, then collapse onto the corner of the bed, weeping at the fragility of all human life — how fallible and wonderful it all is, how damaged and dark.

In my recap of television in 2016, I wrote:

"The best show currently on TV (The Americans is between seasons). Its glacial pace turns away most viewers ... it’s a gift that creator Ray McKinnon has been given the chance to tell the story in full, given the poor ratings. Recently, I decided the show reminded me of soap operas, where it takes months to resolve anything. Except I don’t expect things to be resolved on Rectify. I can only hope that sometime in the future, people catch up with it on streaming, and kick themselves for missing out in the first place. Aden Young, the unknown-to-me star, is as good as anyone, week after week. And this is what Abigail Spencer did before Timeless. If you actually want to take my advice, this is the show to start with.” Since I wrote this, Rectify’s series finale has been shown. There was more resolution than I expected, but even then, it was very much in tune with how Rectify worked. As Aden Young as Daniel said, “I’m cautiously optimistic.” I’ll emphasize this point one last time: Rectify is one of the best series to ever appear on television.

You can watch Rectify on Netflix.


come and see (elem klimov, 1985)

Elem Klimov was 52 when Come and See was released. He lived another 18 years. Before Come and See, he had directed more than half-a-dozen features. Given its status among critics (it is #141 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time), you might think Come and See suggested further great movies from the director. Yet he never directed another movie, saying in 2000, "I've lost interest in making films. Everything that was possible I felt I had already done." Watching Come and See, you understand Klimov's position, for it's hard to imagine anything topping what became his final film.

Come and See is a war film that will bring to mind other movies, good ones that pale next to Come and See. Apocalypse Now is often mentioned, as is Saving Private Ryan. I was reminded of the great Fires on the Plain, and to a lesser extent, Bernhard Wicki's The Bridge. Both of those movies have an intensity that makes them hard to sit through, which is also true of Come and See. This Russian film makes Apocalypse Now seem almost trivial.

The film begins with young Flyora and a friend looking for abandoned rifles so they can join the Soviet partisans against the Nazis in 1943. I'm tempted to say we see what transpires through the eyes of Flyora, but that is not literally true, because the face of Flyora is increasingly haunting over the course of the movie. Rather than seeing things through his eyes, we read them through his face. I had to look up Aleksei Kravchenko, the teenaged actor who played Flyora, to see if he had suffered trauma from making the film. He's in almost every scene, and the atrocities he sees can't have been easy to handle, even in a fictional form (it's hard for us in the audience to handle, as well). I learned that Klimov wanted to hypnotize his young actor during the most horrible scenes to help Aleksei get through relatively unscathed, but the actor couldn't be hypnotized. Some sources say that the teenager's hair turned gray while making the movies. He didn't appear on screen for 15 years. But apparently Kravchenko survived ... he returned to acting and became a regular on Russian television.

The title of the film warns us of what is to come. "Come and See" is derived from the Book of Revelation: "And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth."

Klimov manages to include some black humor, although it comes mostly in the first half. There comes a point when you just can't laugh it off.