Sunday, October 28, 2007
But those inglorious losses happened, Michigan clawed back, and as of today, the team is ranked No. 14 in the USA Today poll (one spot ahead of USC) and No. 15 in the Associated Press poll.
As someone who loves the program, the team, the coach, and is deeply impressed by this season's recovery, it's still difficult to reconcile the No. 15 ranking with life as we know it, except that you glance up the ladder and see Hawaii, Virginia Tech and Texas teams ranked ahead of Michigan, and are reminded that this is the year Derrida and Foucault have made their way to big-time college football. There is no longer such thing as truth. Glance through the polls, and there are fine arguments on behalf of ranking Michigan at 11, or placing them in the low 20s.
Now consider this: instead of I-AA Appalachian State, Michigan might have scheduled I-A Buffalo. Instead of scheduling Oregon, they might have scheduled Florida State. (Keep in mind that the Oregon game was scheduled early in the century; Florida State would have been a more respectable, even fearsome, pick back then.) Michigan would have won those games. The exact same team, with its flaws and paradoxes, would be undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the nation. Ohio State would be No. 2. That No. 1 team would literally be no different than the present No. 14/15 team, except that Mike Hart would be consensus Heisman frontrunner and the hordes of breast-biting banshees calling for Carr's head would be forced to be more creative in their bloodlust.
I've been adamant in my opposition to installing a playoff. It's more trickery disguised as science, with a selection process no less arbitrary than the BCS. Worse, the media hype, money and distortion coming from a playoff would be unbearable.
Yet with scheduling tweaks, Michigan would be the consensus No. 1 team in the country. That's an excellent argument for a playoff.
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away."
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Still, talk about adding insult to injury. Thanks to the same people that brought us Big 'N Rich and Perry Ferrell singing about football while dressed in glitter pants, we just watched an entire quarter of football subsumed by an analysis of Tom Arnold's career, including praise for True Lies.
I guess Jane Smiley was unavailable.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
They've always been a better studio band than live band. The live performance traditionally have been perfectly adequate, with good moments but a ramshackle feel. They've felt makeshift, like everyone was winging it, sometimes a half-step off, with Carl Newman running the show and everybody else trying to keep up.
Something has happened. At Webster Hall last night, they performed as a great live band, for the first time in the five shows that I've attended. They were backed by a cellist, a violinist, a flute and accordion. Neko asserted herself as a bigger stage presence. They sounded perfect, fuller and deeper than the albums -- a development that stands in contrast to old performances, where it almost felt like they were a cover band trying to cover their own studio albums. Not anymore. The Pornographers, it's great to see, are now a live band, not a loose collective that puts out superb albums and occasionally tours.
It was somehow even better than that, though. Challengers seems to have baffled some fans, with the band sounding less like an Edison Lighthouse/Mungo Jerry hybrid, going for more mellow and even-paced. As an album, though, it's their most complete and successful output. There aren't the rousing pace-setters like "Sing Me Spanish Techno" or "Letter From and Occupant," but there's also nothing to skip -- no "Bones of an Idol," which sounds terrible crammed between "Twin Cinema" and "Use It." Challengers was a creative leap, and a complete success, and the performance of its songs was kind of moving.
There was no other word to describe Neko Case, Carl Newman and Dan Bejar, together on stage, lined up evenly at the front of the stage, triple headlining, when they sang "Adventures in Solitude," a beautiful song, a far cry from Pornographers classics like "Slow Descent Into Alcoholism," but so pure and pristine.
Balancing onThe three of them harmonizing on the refrain, singing to a silent room, was a moving thing. You hear those lines and it's like they were singing to each other. It's the height of geekdom to watch Neko, Newman and Bejar and think of something like The Last Waltz, and how amazing it was that there was a time when Rick Danko, Robbie Robertson and Bob Dylan routinely shared stages together. The analogy is imperfect, but there's this thrill of the glamorous Neko, Newman the likable frat boy, and the nervous disheveled Bejar, who've now done very well for themselves outside of this supergroup side-project, assembling something magical that they've never approximated in past shows. It was the kind of show where you wished you could thank them afterward.
One wounded wing
Circling the edge
Of the neverending
The best of the vanished marvels have gathered inside your door
More than begin
But less than forget
But spirits born
From the not-happened-yet
To pay off a debt brought back from the wars
We thought we lost you
We thought we lost you
We thought we lost you
I'd be curious to know the Carl Newman-Dan Bejar creative process. Bejar's own band, Destroyer, has a cult following among critics and music nerds. Destroyer's Rubies was much loved and wildly praised. Bejar's Destroyer tells its stories in incredibly elaborate, interlaced songs and lyrics, but Bejar's output is never so accessible or lighthearted as it is when he's with the Pornographers. On Challengers, Bejar has his best Pornographers product in a song called "Myriad Harbor." "Myriad Harbor" starts with a guitar that sounds both restless and impish, almost smartassed. And then its lyrics kick in, a kind of running dialog that Bejar has with himself as he wanders New York:
Bejar: I took a plane, I took a train.It's about wandering and restlessness, but being comfortable in your own skin at once, hitting the peak with the line, "All I ever wanted help with was you." "Myriad Harbor" has all the Bejar landmarks, the phrasings and the great bouncing falsetto, as if someone had taken Frank O'Hara's poems, Blood on the Tracks and a dash of Tiny Tim, added a bottle of Corona, and cobbled together an artist.
Newman/Case/Bejar: Ah, who cares you always end up in the city.
Bejar: I said to Carl, look up for once.
Newman/Case/Bejar: See just how the suns sets in the sky.
It would go too far to say that Bejar stole the show. He wanders in and out of songs, never looking at the audience as he sulks across stage to take his spot at the microphone, appearing disheveled and out-of-place next to glamorous Neko and All-Canadian Carl, and then pow! his song starts and the beer is down. Whether they made more use of Bejar last night than they had in the past is tough to say, but he sort of stole the show.
And I think that he steals Challengers. Neko and Newman owned past Pornographers album, but the best stuff here is all Bejar.
This is why I'd love to know the process between Bejar and Newman, both of whom sound better when they're collaborating than they do working individually. Bejar is more accessible and joyful when he has Newman's influence; Newman is less sugary. And you think a little about what people said about John Lennon and Paul McCartney, that The Beatles magic worked because Lennon tempered McCartney's pop and McCartney countered Lennon's seriousness. You get the feeling that as Bejar and Neko become more prominent in their own rights, that economics and schedules are going to make the Pornographes an infeasible proposition -- when they sing, "We almost lost you. Welcome back." you wonder whether it was written from Newman to Bejar, and you hope that they keep working together.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
- Nothing in the sports-fan world is more stressful than watching postseason baseball. But really, nothing is more stressful than being three time zones away from the game, with the sun shining outside while your ace pitcher struggles with his control.
- Going to In-N-Out burger before you even check into your hotel in southern California is always a good move. Seriously. Apparently there's even one you can walk to from LAX.
- It actually can rain in southern California. And the next day, the views from Mulholland Drive will be incredible, even if they're just of the freaking San Fernando Valley.
- When holding up the bride or groom to dance the Hora, tipping the chair slightly backward is a good idea. Just trust me on this one.
- Photo booths should be at all wedding receptions. Failing that, a Polaroid works pretty well.
- You know what else is stressful? Watching through the window of the restaurant while the valet gets your car as a dangerous hitter keeps fouling off pitches with men on base. Especially when you have to leave before the at-bat is over.
- Contrarily, nothing is easier than sitting on a transcontinental flight, reading the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal cover to cover and getting the occasional scoring update from air traffic control. Until you see Jacobs Field out the window, and hope for fireworks or some sort of sign that the Indians won, dammit.
- If you're going to take your dog outside to run back and forth between you and your father, you'd probably better make sure there's no rabbits hiding in the bushes, or she'll be off like a shot, and you'll have to run her down while holding your Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold or Bell's Two-Hearted Ale. Although you'll laugh your ass off anyway.
- If you're standing by a craps table and two cute women who don't really know the rules are rolling the dice, for God's sake, put your money down asap.*
- If you're holding your friend's three-month old son in the crook of your arm while wearing a tuxedo and giving him a bottle at a wedding reception ... yeah, people are going to take a lot of pictures of you.
- Michigan apparently ran a trick play for the winning score on Saturday night, probably while I was drinking Canadian beer and dancing like an idiot. Who knew?
- There's nothing quite so sad as a missed opportunity for joy. But going to In-N-Out burger would probably salve the wounds nicely.
* Strangely, if she's the wife of one of your best friends in the world and still wearing her wedding dress, you'd think this would count triple. But apparently, no. No, not at all.
Monday, October 22, 2007
First it's Landry waking up in bed next to Tyra. He's shirtless. They fumble awkwardly. Landry does his Landry bit that worked wonderfully when he played sidekick to Matt Saracen but feels painful when he's the center of attention. (Landry being the center of attention -- it would be like if halfway through Boogie Nights, the movie turned focus to Philip Seymour Hoffman's Scotty. It hurts.) Tyra clumsily dresses and jumps through Landry's bedroom window. In the back of the shot is Landry's dad, doing some kind of yardwork. Folk emo plays. We note that Landry's bedroom wall has a chart of the Periodic Table, the kind of telling detail to expect from this show, but not nearly enough to redeem the sitcom-quality opening sequence. Cut to Landry's dad, having spotted Tyra jump out the window of his likable but clumsy son. He's taking care of the trash. (Question: Does that signal to us that Landry's cop-dad thinks that Tyra is trash, or that he's going to be the one to clean up the mess? Time will tell.)
Then we segue to Landry's counterpart, Riggins, who's also shirtless and getting out of bed. He looks out the window and see his older brother embracing the same next door neighbor who was the subject of Riggins's affection last season. Poor Riggins!
Next it's Coach Taylor waking in bed with Tami. The new baby is between them. "I've gotta get goin'," he says. "Well that just sucks," she says. We see him in a diner. The local radio station plays overhead. Dillon's sportstalk guys talk about Coach Taylor as a "Judas." Walking out to his car, Saracen approaches him and apologizes to Coach for the fact that he and Julie broke up. Saracen stammers in that earnest Saracen way that made us like him so much in the beginning, and then he walks off.
Riggins is at practice. New Coach is punishing him again. Riggins has been punished by New Coach in every episode. This time he carries a tire overhead while New Coach badgers him with a series of taunts. Riggins staggers, then drops the tire. He's fainted. Poor Riggins! "Get up, Riggins!" screams New Coach. "Get up!" The players gather around him, and the next shot is Riggins on a stretcher, loaded into an ambulance. Pan to Landry, looking ridiculous in football gear; Saracen; Smash; and Street. All are concerned. Poor Riggins!
Roll credits, playing the theme music that once made me tingle but now makes me recoil.
More melodrama and nonsense has happened before the credits than we'd expect in three episodes last year. We've already had reminders of why everything has gone so bad.
Poor Landry, and poor Jesse Plemons, the actor who plays him. Last year Landry was a touch of comic relief and purity in a pretty dark show. A smart kid, he laid low. He was friends with Saracen. Saracen was a functional orphan at home. Landry was unloved at school. They looked after each other. It wasn't more complex than that. Their relationship was recognizable. They seemed like real high school kids. Three episodes into Season 2, and Landry has killed a potential rapist by bashing his skull. Now he's waking up shirtless next to Tyra. The window-hopping hijinks ensue, the dad spots this, and we're off to sitcom city. I'm sure Landry was pleased to get laid, but the mangling of this morning was bad for the show, and hence bad for us.
The Riggins collapse was another piece of farce that shouldn't have any place in the show. Guys collapse in football practice; every August there are a couple stories about kids dying this way. But now the show is just playing with us. This is not how it's supposed to be done on Friday Night Lights. We saw Jason Street taken down and paralyzed in the pilot episode. A year later, they're practicing blatant manipulation, filmed in the most dramatic way possible, his body tied to a stretcher and key character kneeling down, looking concerned.
Not to worry, though: It was just a close call. The writers were only manipulating you. Riggins isn't dead! He was just dehydrated, as we learn when we get back from commercials. Lyla Garrity happens to walk past his hospital room, where she stops in to see him. Awkward exposition follows, and then Lyla invites him to church. Minka Kelly overacts via facial expressions; she suddenly seems like she belongs on the CW. "You can be lost in Dillon, you know," she says.
And then we find out that Street is going to go to Mexico for stem cell treatments. And then things really start to go downhill.
The episode features Tami slapping Julie when she finds Julie frenching the Swede in his car. Landry fears that a lost watch is going to tie him to the murder, and that the police are going to find him. (A moment of silence, as we reflect on the horror that such a setnence exists.)
In the middle of the Friday game, Saracen punches Smash on the field. Bedlam breaks out -- what in the heck? Looks like New Coach can't keep the team together!
Then there's the hideous relationship between Saracen and the caretaker hired to tend to his mentally ill grandmother. I shudder to think about where this might be headed. Last week she found titty magazines under his mattress. This week we learn that she's from Guatemala, where her father is a teacher and her mother runs an insurance office. She's only in America to get a nursing degree and to help people. Hence, she can't ... do Saracen's laundry.
But she can give him a massage and sing to him in Spanish. It's a song she learned from her grandmother. By now it's only a matter of time before Saracen and the Guatemalan home healthcare worker share a tender moment, make out, and probably bang. Then something will happen and Matt will be confused. Based on the writers' decisions so far, she'll probably get harassed by the Minutemen or some kind of anti-immigrant group, and then Saracen will punch and/or kill them for being mean to her.
It's off the rails. Stick a fork in it. The writers and producers are murdering this show, but it's slow death. They keep toying with us, throwing in a handful of moments reminiscent of what made Season 1 special, only to bastardize it a few minutes later. The good FNL sneaks in when Buddy Garrity meets Riggins at the hospital. Someone over 18 needs to sign Riggins out, and luckily it's Buddy. This is appropriate because Buddy's now alone in the world, just like Riggins. They've alienated the women in their lives, and both like liquor. You get the feeling that Riggins could be Buddy Garrity one day, if only he had some polish and social grace.
They drive past fields. Garrity blames Riggins's collapse on New Coach. New Coach has been pushing the guys way too hard in the blazin' sun, showing no mercy, practices running over 15 minutes. "It's no wonder you passed out," says Buddy. "Actually," Riggins says, "I think I passed out cuz I was hung over, Mr. Garrity." Buddy pulls over. He turns deadly serious. He doesn't ever want to hear Tim Riggins say that again. "I've seen you play with a hangover many times, and you played like a champ. This is because of that coach. This is all about McGregor, and I don't want you to put any of it on yourself. Okay?" "Okay." "Okay."
That stretch was sterling stuff. The writers have put Buddy in a quasi-physical confrontation with his wife, but otherwise, Buddy, Riggins and Coach Taylor are the only two characters not yet betrayed by the show's writing staff. Among most of the principals, the performance remain flawless. There are some Minka Kelly problems, but the writers haven't been helpful to her. She's born again, after all -- one of the only new themes that I find convincing. The problem may not be her performance so much as adjusting to the newfound righteousness of her naive, entitled character. I still can't help but feel like she's underwater. Kyle Chandler, Connie Britton and Zach Gilford are as good as ever. The show might be better if we just put the three of them in a diner, talking for 60 minutes.
I might need to quit this. Tonight I dropped in a DVD of Season One, which I bought back in August, when I was looking forward to Season Two in a way usually reserved for Michigan football and Hold Steady albums. Watching series' the first two episodes was a reminder of what made the show so special in the first place -- the way that all the drama unfolded in conversations on front steps and smoky restaurants. Everything was between the lines. The show knew how to use silence. There was a meaner edge, one that didn't need to be communicated with slapping and fistfights. The drama was all about adjusting to the threat of failure, and a very real sense that when these people were away from the escape and promise of high school football, they lived in a very unhappy world. There wasn't room for error. The terror was failure and alienation, not being caught by the cops for killing a rapist. Season One hardly made a false move.
Twin Peaks suffered the same fate. It had a fanatical but small fanbase and critical acclaim. It wasn't a commercial success, so the plots shifted. They became tidier. The viewership didn't grow with the show losing its soul.
This may have been unavoidable. Fans rallied against a likely cancellation by NBC, and renewal followed. Sometimes it's bad to want more, though. Season One gave us perfect closure. Good novelists know what to leave out and when to end the story. The Office (the real version) had just 13 episodes and didn't waste a second. Now I'm stuck with the memory of Landry as a murderer and Lothario, Tammy punching Julie and Saracen starting on-field fights before getting a neck massage from his grandma's home healthcare provider. It wasn't meant to be like this.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
He's original, universally loved, never "sold out," is outspoken on politics when it matters, and genuinely appears to care about his craft and his fans.
It seemed like it would be nice to like him. I've turned down offers for free tickets to his shows, thinking that someone more enthusiastic should get them. His music just didn't connect with me. I've managed to maintain a 20-year fondness for acts like John Mellencamp, Seger and Petty, all of them Springsteen knock-offs in some way, without more than a twinkle of enthusiasm for Bruce.
Timing is behind some of it. In the 90s, when my musical tastes expanded to the point where I began to hold aggressive opinions, he had two radio hits, "Secret Garden" (figuring prominently in Jerry McGuire) and "The Streets of Philadelphia" (featured in the Tom Hanks weeper). Once a guy's musical output becomes mentally linked to Renee Zelwiger and an AIDS-afflicted Tom Hanks, it's tough to recover. Plus, these whispery songs sound more like outtakes from Carol King's "Tapestry" than visionary rocksmanship.
After September 11, he released an album called "The Rising." It's a record that means a lot to some people. Clearly, it came from the heart -- he wasn't exploiting or cashing in. Quite the opposite. This was a product of sincerity, written by someone who felt strong convictions and human sympathy. There's that saying about poetry and sincerity, though. Divorced from the historical moment (which may be impossible to do) it hit me as a creative failure. Subjected to it a few times, I heard a pompous, lumbering, jagged mess, in a category with movies like The Life of David Gale, where an earnest effort to depict serious issues fails from the start and gets worse as it goes along. If I were to list the worst works by major artists in any genre, "The Rising" would be there. After that, I avoided his Pete Seeger album, not based on any strong aversion, but because Jeff Tweedy and Billy Bragg did something roughly similar a few years before him, and it was tough to imagine Springsteen topping that.
Still, this isn't a matter of dislike. It's a blind spot more than hostility. The famous opening seconds of "Born to Run," to my ear, sound like a mix of elevator music and children's band recital. This is a matter of taste but also makes me an idiot, I know. Some of the lyrics are just awful: Meat Loaf, expecting to be taken seriously.
Wendy let me in I wanna be your friendIt's ungrounded sentimentality, a male soap opera pumped up on testosterone and longing. Is Springsteen a more influential and original artist than John Mellencamp and Bob Seger? Yes, most definitely. But I hear "Jack and Diane" or "Mainstreet" and the songs are about things I recognize. Bob Seger's blue collar stories were about ascent and resilience; Springsteen's were more about avoiding suffocation. In Springsteen I recognize -- well, I'm not exactly sure what, but it's something like a guy you knew in high school who just broke up with his girlfriend, got severely wasted, and sits in the back seat yelling out words while the classic rock station plays in the background. Even his quieter output, like "The Ghost of Tom Joad," approximates an undisciplined emotional gush.
I want to guard your dreams and visions
Just wrap your legs round these velvet rims
And strap your hands across my engines
Together we could break this trap
Well run till we drop, baby well never go back
Will you walk with me out on the wire
`cause baby Im just a scared and lonely rider
But I gotta find out how it feels
I want to know if love is wild, girl I want to know if love is real
It's not all dead to me. Portions of "Thunder Road" are pretty wonderful ("Show a little faith, there's magic in the night/ You ain't a beauty, but hey you're all right"), I still like "Going Down" the way I did when I was a little kid, and "Glory Days" is good drinking music.
This criticism leads to one conclusion: Bruce Springsteen's "Magic" is an excellent album.
It's everything I've wanted to like about Springsteen without the parts that killed the mood. There are still his weak spots that bug me: the seemingly endless refrains of dull phrases ("I'll work for your love dear") and a rotten opening line ("Pour me a drink Theresa in one of those glasses you dust off") but in "I'll Work for Your Love" they're redeemed in a bleak love story with frightening Biblical allusions. "Radio Nowhere" sounds like it could have been backed by Crazy Horse, and what could have been another retread about the homogeny of commercial radio is saved by clever poetic lyrics (I was spinning 'round a dead dial / Just another lost number in a file / Dancin' down a dark hole / Just searchin' for a world with some soul): catch the reference to "Dancing in the Dark"? He alludes to "Mystery Train" later.
"Girls in Their Summer Clothes" is another big success, nostalgic and romantic. It's open to interpretation, but it sounds like the reflections of a guy past his prime, walking through a town where he has a long personal history, swept up by the voyeurism and escapism of the younger "girls in their summer clothes" who "pass me by." It's sad and beautiful at once, like that part of "Thunder Road" that I admire.
There are at least two references to burning cities (in "Girls in Their Summer Clothes" and "Last to Die") and there's "Devil's Arcade," set in the Iraq War. The album doesn't cross into the overtly political, though. As an album, "Magic" has a natural counterpart in Neil Young's visionary 2003 release "Greendale," a long story-album about loss of community post-9/11 that smartly chose never to raise the topic directly. Neil's "Greendale" had a sense of a pastoral America that was slipping away and couldn't be regained, and in "Magic," Springsteen has his dreamy, burned-out towns, which he haunts with the specter of war and violence without directly imposing them. "Magic" is subtler than "Greendale," much more accessible, and he doesn't take his eye off the ball.
"Magic" somehow manages to create an almost-flawless blend of the personal and the political. It never becomes as overtly preachy and riled as the eponymous song in "Born in the U.S.A." He's created something more mature and nuanced than that.
Most artists don't get better with age: too much nostalgia was a curse to Neil's "Prairie Wind," but somehow Springsteen's "Magic" harnesses it perfectly. For the first time in his music, I know what he's talking about without relating to the experience. There are a lot of reasons to be enthusiastic.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Click through the link. I just spent 30 minutes trying to figure it out. My response was immediate. It took a long time to see it the other way.
I'm not going to say more than that because I don't want to screw with the results. If you're reading this, I'm curious to hear the reaction. I'll tell you how I came out in the comments.
*No, I wasn't supposed to post for awhile, but the monsoon that hit the East Coast today screwed up a portion of my travel. Round 2 starts tomorrow.
Look, I know everyone likes being beaten about the head and shoulders by Fox about the Cubs' miseries (yay, voodoo!), the Phillies notoroious history (Rocky! Cheesesteaks! They booed Santa Claus!), but if you actually, as you claim, like baseball, why wouldn't you watch?
Feel the Ubaldo. Prepare to fall out of your chair when Troy Tulowitzki guns down one of the Diamondbacks' perky young rookies at first on a ball in the hole. Watch Manny Corpas come on and mow down the heart of the order with two men on.
Meanwhile, on the other side, you can enjoy watching a true ace like Brandon Webb start for the Diamondbacks tonight. And then you can check out their lineup, which has more young, talented hitters in it than anyone since the 1994 Indians. Chris Young, Stephen Drew, Conor Jackson. Alberto Callaspo is even kind of an interesting player. And then there's Eric Byrnes, who would be a household name if he played in New York, and Tony Clark -- one of two former University of Arizona varsity basketball players still in the postseason. I think we all know who the other one is.
If the action on the field doesn't do it for you, can play the game "Who has a better baseball name?" My nominees are Augie Ojeda and Yorvit Torrealba.
But seriously, no one who considers themselves a baseball fan should complain about this. I mean, think about it: This is a championship series free of hackneyed, pre-fab storylines, fawning over superstars or league-average players who are short and white (i.e. "gritty.") This is what every baseball fan should want -- the announcers are going to be forced to focus on the game, and not on which local celebrities are in the stands. (Look! Bill Murray! And there's Jim Belushi. Hey, there's Mumia Abu-Jamal?)
If you're complaining that this NLCS isn't up to your standards, starfucker, I think it's time to re-assess your baseball fandom. Seriously, just stop whining, go spend the next week or so watching E! and VH1 and leave us baseball fans to our game.
Make yourself at home while I'm gone. I left a spare set of keys at the bar down the street, and there are fresh towels and linens for your convenience. Help yourself to whatever's in the fridge, but I'm pretty sure the milk is spoiled, so sniff before you drink. Always glad to help.
*Some of you like the Red Sox. I've been dealing with this for the better part of a decade. It doesn't make me think less of you. I've even gone to bars to watch games with you, and pretended to support the team out of concern for your emotional well being. Instead of getting pissed at me for hating all things affiliated with that heinous fucking city ("Wouldn't it be great if we combined the worst of Staten Island and Park Slope as one?") think about what a nice loyal friend I am for being supportive while I gnash my teeth. You may deserve happiness, but no one in Boston does. Go Indians.
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
There are stereotypical cooler-than crowds in New York venues, arms crossed, staring critically at the stage for whatever band has benefited from internet word-of-mouth. There are enthusiasts who go for the sake of going, and there are impassioned fans who mark the calendar and know every word.
The Randall's Island crowd on Saturday was different. The median age looked about 22, though the average was probably five years higher. There were legions of people who weren't of drinking age, all impeccably polite, dressed in Hollister shirts, well groomed and mannered, catatonic and pristine, as if they were on a field trip and chaperones lurked every 10 feet.
It might have been the eight-hour succession of bands culminating with Arcade Fire, or the heat, or the hours of standing, which combined made for a crowd of polite young zombies. They were the 21st-century version of the Schlegel sisters attending that Beethoven recital ("It will be generally admitted that Arcade Fire's Neighborhood #1 Tunnels is the most sublime noise that has ever penetrated into the ear of man. All sorts and conditions are satisfied by it.") although they also could have been high-school art students who went to the MoMA on Sunday afternoon because their parents had tickets to that musical about Abba, and they're too serious for that, so it's Kandinsky time.
Maybe it's a Northeast upper-middle-class thing, that these kids are so image-conscious that going to a rock show is an exercise in decorum: Do not bob head (will mess up hair), do not move legs (may injure ankle), do not smoke pot (may harm your lungs), do not clap hard (may lead to callus), do not cheer much (may scratch your voice), do not sneak beer (may get in trouble). It was the safest collection of teenagers. They were more mature and courteous than I am. There was the one dude who pulled off his shirt and danced kinda wacky, and there was the urgent girl who may have squatted and peed, and true, no one needs a repeat of Woodstock '99. There is a middle ground between museum and riot. The observation isn't lack of wild behavior so much as the symptoms of dispassion and tenseness.
Maybe they've been marketed to so ferociously that they can't distinguish. Like Thomas Frank described in his counter-history of the counterculture The Conquest of Cool, there's no distinction between an image and an experience. There was no counterculture, only a marketing opportunity; there is no band playing on stage, only another commodity, like Gossip Girl and Stone Cold Creamery. The Hollister shirt is the same thing as Arcade Fire. None of it belongs to them. They are vessels. Lies! Lies! is a jingle.
This is part of the David Brooks column on Jack Kerouac that I wrote about a few days ago. It might be the influence of the first chapters of Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine, and if that's the case expect future treatises on things like why the loss to Appalachian State will lead to the state of Michigan adopting freedom-to-work laws. Regardless, there are legions of nervous young zombies. They behave gently. One day something happens in a society that uncorks this kind of repression, leading to things like the Russian Revolution, hippies fucking in streets, bathtub gin and the Protestant Reformation.
It won't happen with these kids. They will recycle, use teeth whitener, sweep the floor, and apply environmentally responsible hair gel. Maybe there will be a rupture before their 10-year-younger counterparts come of age. More likely it will be their kids who rebel against all of this caution and hesitation. Then people will talk about the Thirties as an era of rebellion and experimentation, when Kaplan test-prep manuals burned like draft cards and a couple of people decided not to wash their hair that week.
This is going to be short, because I am drained. Utterly, utterly drained and spent. This must be how guys who work with the bomb squad feel -- if they had to watch their co-workers dismantle eight rapidly ticking devices in one night. My adrenal glands are shriveled prunes ready to fall off my kidneys and get lost somewhere in my duodenum with that Canadian nickel I swallowed in third grade and a paper clip or two. My synapses are frayed and sizzling, hissing and releasing steam after a busy five days of blasting dopamine through my body. My liver could use some down time, too. So I shall sum up:
The Cleveland Indians have just sent the New York Yankees off into a long, cold winter of angst and recriminations. It is ... so delicious.
Monday, October 08, 2007
It goes on, self-referential, filthy for the sake of filth, until finally, the septuagenarian Jewish writer pulls the literary equivalent of “jumping the shark,” dreaming of his interred mama back in Newark.Bullshit. Exit Ghost isn't about any of this. It's a book about cross-generation rivalry and one-upsmanship. Nathan Zuckerman has lived in isolation for 11 years. He returns to Manhattan and falls in with a couple 40 years younger than he is. They have literary ambitions but are fundamentally shallow -- they go by Billy and Jamie, highly un-Rothian names. Roth draws them slightly because they're slight people. Zuckerman begins a series of elaborate fantasies about Jamie, described in short theatrical dialogs. It's his last romance, a fantasy about being young again. There's no reason to think that his exchanges with Jamie are real, although most reviews appear to think so.
Zuckerman is an old man. Manhattan in 2004 isn't the same city that he used to know. He's irritated and confused by the constant swarm of cell phones -- there isn't anything so important to say that it can't wait. Roth's depiction of hysterical liberal breakdown in the city after Bush's reelection is intentionally shrill and overwrought; it's all anger and self-pity among spectators, an earnest political chic that we all practiced in the week after. Roth's depiction of it isn't meanspirited so much as mystified.
The real anger in this book is directed to young writers. Billy and Jamie seem destined to mediocre careers and intense self-regard. Another one of their contemporaries, Richard Kliman, is writing a biography of Zuckerman's mentor E.I. Lonoff. Kliman thinks that he's found a bombshell revelation about Lonoff, though it seems to be based on shaky inferences. Zuckerman determines to sabotage Kliman, who he fears as a threat to his work and integrity.
Zuckerman hates Kliman for his youth and health, but it's the arrogance and intrusion that infuriates him most. The young writers in his book all are painted as indulged, ladder-climbing careerists. There isn't any seriousness behind what they do. It's all resume-building. What he encounters in New York is worthless chatter masquerading as creativity.
This is the end of Nathan Zuckerman: a great career launched by a mentor who's been forgotten, wandering a city that doesn't belong to him, stuck fighting for literary integrity against a literary gnats who are looking to make names for themselves. The prostate-focused passages that drove reviewers to fits are just here for effect and metaphor. They're not the heart of the book.
True, there's a passage on mother-fucking and a puke-on-cock blowjob. That's to be expected in a Philip Roth book. It's been like this since Alexander Portnoy fucked a liver in 1969. Reading Philip Roth and whining about filth is like reading Harry Potter and complaining that there's no such thing as magic, which is why I don't read Harry Potter. The filth quotient of Exit Ghost doesn't rise to the level of The Dying Animal and isn't close to Sabbath's Theater, and readers who can't handle puke-on-cock should read Henry James.
Friday, October 05, 2007
"Hey bro, have a light?" a stranger named Kai-Shek asked.
"Sure dude," said J.J.
"I need to smoke because my job is a bitch, dude," said Kai-Shek. "I work at the investment bank inside of this here skyscraper."
"Tell me about it, dude," said J.J. "I work at the law firm."
"I know what could break up the doldrums," said Kai-Shek. "We can rob the liquor store up the street."
J.J. had just been thinking that he needed to break out of the routine. Why not? he figured.
They went to the liquor store and demanded the clerk to turn over all of his money. The clerk begged them not to kill him and handed them loads of cash.
"This is an extravagant sum of money," Kai-Shek said. "More than I'd ever make as an investment banker."
"Tell me about it, dude," said J.J.
They took their money to the bad part of town, where they bought an extreme quantity of drugs. Then they realized that they were in trouble and had to go into hiding. They rented the most luxurious suite at the Waldorf, where they did the drugs and became excessively "high." J.J. freaked out because he thought that he didn't have toenails.
Little did they know that Detective Callahan was on their trail. He'd visited the liquor store, where the proprietor explained that J.J. and Kai-Shek had stolen the entire college fund belonging to his daughter, Viola. Detective Callahan made it his personal mission to bust the perps, and issued an APB to all hotel detectives in the city.
That's when Detective Callahan learned that an enormous number of prostitutes had been ordered from the Robin Byrd show and shipped to the Waldorf. He smelled a rat. Detective Callahan busted into the hotel suite with the S.W.A.T. team, just as J.J. was falling in love with a young prostitute (she was 18) named Viola -- the same Viola whose college fund he stole, even though neither of them realized it at the time.
Needless to say, when J.J. and Kai-Shek were arrested, their entire lives flashed before their eyes.
At trial, J.J. begged for forgiveness. He explained that he wasn't a criminal, but that he was merely bored and got mixed up with something wrong. The jurors' hearts melted. Viola testified on his behalf and said that she loved J.J. and forgave him. The jury was so moved that they found J.J. "not guilty."
Kai-Shek ended up behind bars. It turned out that he had outstanding warrants in five states due to insider trading and breach of fiduciary duty. He probably belonged in jail to begin with, and you better believe that the H.R. department at his investment bank got an earful.
Thursday, October 04, 2007
Yankees fans are ignorant, yet demanding. They are dogmatic, but incapable of cognitive dissonance. They are loud, intolerant boors who refuse to listen to reason, because you just don't understand. They're different, you see. Special. Unique.
This is a post about hate, but it is a specific, focused kind of hate. I do not hate the Yankees' players, who are merely professionals attempting to make it in a cutthroat, yet highly rewarding, industry. I do not hate the Yankees' employees, for most of whom the same holds true. And I do not hate the Yankees' notorious owner, who, whatever his faults, is a native son of Cleveland, and appears in ill health. I wish him and his loved ones well -- especially if he does have the ailment he appears to have, which should be wished on no one.
The Yankees' fans, however, do not get off so lightly here. Taken individually, some of them are nice, well-adjusted human beings. However, they tend to get lost in the crowd, which is for some reason given a pass by most of the sports media. Almost without fail, media types find the fans' behavior charming.
Let's take one of the more celebrated manifestations of that supposed enthusiasm. When the Yankees take the field at the top of the first (to the 1994-esque, Eurodance strains of "Are You Ready for This?") the fans in the bleachers proceed to chant each players name, in the universal four-syllables, three-claps format, until said player turns around and acknowledges them. At which point they move on to the next player.
Aww, that's so cute! In most of the rest of the world, this behavior would be called "needy." It says "Look at us! We're loud! And chanting! While you're trying to focus on the game!" I have no idea how this got started, or why people find that more endearing and somehow more attentive than fans who do the wave or bat beachballs around, but I am not a sports taste-maker.
Another thing that Yankees fans are celebrated for is the booing. Oh, yes, they'll boo anyone (except Santa Claus! I heard that Philadelphia fans did that once, OMG!). Yankees fans will turn on any player at any time for committing the simple crime of being fallible human beings. They seriously expect to win 162 games every year; I had a fan once explain this to me with a straight face. He acknowledged this was unreasonably, but still, he really expected them to do that, and his crest always fell just a little when they got that first loss every season.
Mariano Rivera, one of the most dominant closers ever, a key reason the Yankees won all those World Series? Fuck him, he let the Mariners win one in the ninth. Boo his ass. How about another future Hall of Famer in Roger Clemens? Fuck him, he gave up eight runs in an inning once. This ain't Boo-urns, I'm saying over here. Andy Pettitte, Clemens' beloved Scrappy Doo? Yep, booed him too.
Booing is just shorthand for "we deserve better than this garbage!" and oh, how Yankees fans love to turn up their noses at the product on the field.
Take Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. One is a talented player who is basically this generation of Yankees fans' infanta -- they won their first Series in 15 years when he showed up in 1996, and then three more. They haven't missed the postseason since he and his abnormally large forehead have been holding down the shortstop position. But when he wasn't producing, they let him hear it. Thanks for the loaves and fishes, but, m-fer, I want some tartar sauce.
Rodriguez is, by any objective measure, a better player than Jeter. But Derek is the fair-haired one among the Yankees fans (except when he's letting the Devil Rays win in April). He got there first, so when he selflessly did not yield the shortstop's job to Rodriguez, he proved two things: That his wang was bigger and that those who cover the Yankees in an objective manner are incapable of rational thought around him. (It's true; look at any of the Jeter valentines in the New York papers from the last couple days. I didn't write things this embarrassing to any of the loves of my life from third through 10th grade; Nora Ephron probably read these over breakfast and made a wanking motion.)
Back when A-Rod came to town, Pretty much every journalist without fail decided that the Yankees playing their best shortstop -- the best shortstop in the game -- at the less-demanding position of third base was fine, because Dreamford McClutchlesworth in the No. 2 jersey could do no wrong.
On the other hand, Alex Rodriguez, the kind of player who comes along maybe once or twice a century, could do no right in the eyes of these people. I cannot count the number of Yankees fans who have tried to explain to me that Alex Rodriguez isn't "a winner" doesn't have a "winning mentality" and, most damning of all, isn't "clutch." For these reasons -- which are all fictional, you'll note -- they do not want him on their team. It's no less insane than if they decided this by placing Jeter and Rodriguez into washtubs, and A-Rod floated while Jeter sank like an anvil.
Actually, no. It's more insane -- not to mention petulant and spoiled. There is ample evidence that Alex Rodriguez is the better player. In fact, he's pretty much inarguably one of the best two or three players in the game right now. And yet, Yankees fans pine for banjo-hitting, league-average types who have had one or two nice moments in the past for them and thus have been allowed to become what Yankees fans refer to as a "True Yankee."
Of course, admission to such a club is no prophylaxis against getting booed off the field (see above). Which should give you an idea of how bloody-minded the whole operation is.
So you have a fanbase that demands perfection in a sport where 1-for-3 gets you to Valhalla. They are loud, intolerant and must be routinely sated with both attention and victory. They choose whom they love and hate based on caprice and a raging id. They'll turn up their noses at anyone they deem not worthy of their very discerning attention, even the kinds of players most mortals would feel privileged to see come to town as a visiting player.
Yes, Yankees fans are special and unique all right. When you look at all their behavior, put it all down in a list in one place, it's pretty easy to realize what Yankees fans, collectively, are:
One day, a troupe of gypsies passed through the village. One of the gypsies caught his eye, with her rosy cheeks and heaving bosom. Her name was Soleil, and it turned out that she wasn't a gypsy at all. She was an alewife. She explained to Sole that as a girl, her parents had been eaten by bears. The gypsies found her abandoned. They took pity on her, and raised her as their own. The gypsies had a harsh life, what with being the victims of discrimination and all, but Soleil loved them -- she'd never forget all that they did for her.
Sole and Soleil fell in love. They had a large wedding that combined gypsy culture and the traditions of Sole's French village. Soleil took care of Viola, and Viola was pleased to have a new mother.
One day it turned out that Soleil wasn't a woman -- she was a fish. She explained to Sole that she hadn't wanted to tell him. Local prejudice against gypsies already was difficult to overcome, let alone the stigma of marriage to a fish.
Sole told her that he didn't care. She was a good woman, and if she were a fish, he could deal with that.
Eventually, Sole became sick. Years of eating cheese and French meats had damaged his heart. Soleil was devastated. The village doctor said that the only thing that could save Sole was an immediate and overwhelming dose of Omega 3 fatty acids.
There was only one thing that Soleil could do. While Sole slept, she went to the local fish market. To save Sole, she would be sliced into pieces of fish and fed to him, so that he could have the Omega 3 acids that he needed to live.
When Sole woke from restless sleep, the village doctor was at his bedside, weeping. He fed Sole the fish that was his wife.
Sole lived for many more years. He never knew what happened to Soleil. He always assumed that she couldn't deal with his illness and had slipped into the river to be with her own kind. Little did he know that Soleil sacrificed of herself so that he could live.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Occasionally he hits perfect pitch. Six years ago, before his Times gig, he published a great long article in The Atlantic called The Organization Kid, which prescribed everything that had gone badly wrong with my classmates and with myself. The article was a personal revelation. I read it and re-read it, forwarded it to my grad-school classmates, none of whom seemed to understand why I was so enthusiastic.
For a conservative man who's probably led a very cautious life, Brooks certainly hates structure and conformity. Four out of five of his Times columns read like soft, center-right bluster. On the fifth he lets loose with something surprising or insightful -- and occasionally with something incredibly odd. He did good in today's column on Jack Kerouac and the 50th anniversary of On the Road:
True, the paragraph that follows is itself childish and embarrassing -- apparently Brooks felt compelled to beef up his argument with a flight of fancy about things that don't exist in real life -- but the rest of the column is a keeper, worth printing, folding up, and sticking into your beat-up paperback copy of On the Road.
But the real secret of the book was its discharge of youthful energy, the stupid, reckless energy that saves "On the Road" from being a dreadful novel. The delightful, moronic, unreflective fizz appears whenever the characters are happiest, when they are chasing girls or urinating from a swerving flatbed truck while going 70 miles an hour.
Those parts haven't survived. They run afoul of the new gentility, the rules laid down by the health experts, childcare experts, guidance counselors, safety advisers, admissions officers, virtuecrats and employers to regulate the lives of the young. They seem dangerous, childish and embarrassing in the world of professionalized adolescence and professionalized intellect.
A lot of conservatives romanticize 1950s suburbia. Brooks doesn't. It's something more complicated -- he dislikes structure and thinks achievement is overrated. Brooks's utopian vision seems to consist of eating a heavy dinner, pissing from pick-ups, chasing skirt and conversing about Plato for a couple hours. At some point he'd probably want to smoke a bowl.
While his typical schtick is to condescend to Wal-Mart critics and Prius buyers, are there any other figures with his kind of profile who use valuable column inches to encourage "delightful, moronic, unreflective fizz" and "stupid, reckless energy"? It's why, even when he pisses me off with something glib and condescending, I find him hard to hate. There's a restless, lazy 17-year-old guy inside of him, and this communicates in weird ways that occasionally approach genius.
Monday, October 01, 2007
Saturdays this year are like being trapped in an airport, waiting for hours before we can board, with Fox News blaring in the background and you want to punch the fuck out of Bill O'Reilly, and then after three hours you get on the plane, where you taxi for two more hours, and then the flight takes off and 30 minutes in there's the smell of burning plastic and the plane circles back to JFK where it lands safely, but in the terminal you're subjected to more Bill O'Reilly, and then they show Sean Hannity's ass, and then finally you get on the plane and you're feeling punch-drunk and angry and sad and exhausted. It was supposed to be so easy.
Your fellow passengers have the same dilemma. Lacking perspective, they endure mainly through yelling at gate agents, beating their children and cursing their God. You begin to hate them more than you hate the airline. Shit happens with planes -- it's part of the system -- but people can learn reason. The pilot's not getting fired, wizard, and your petulant tantrums and personal displeasure mean nothing.
Eventually the plane takes off. You reach the destination like you knew you would, but by then you don't even care anymore. All you have is indignity, frustration and a broken spirit.
Much of the irritation is due to the Big Ten Network and the pure logistical challenges of viewing the goddamn games in the first place: somehow, the mess would be easier from a perch on a couch in somebody's apartment, instead of a seat in a local douche factory with a dish. The Big Ten Network is ruining my Saturdays, and therefore my life, and not just because its production quality is egregious.
Because of Michigan's suckage and the unforgiving nature of markets, the Michigan-Purdue game will now be on the Big Ten Network. I'll be in L.A. that weekend, and arranged my travel plans around watching that game. Michigan will probably lose it anyway. Instead of meeting Flop and Evil Girl in a hotel room, where we could have ordered room service (on me) and cherished sophistication over football, poached eggs and Bud Lite, I'll be up at 7 a.m. in order to get to a bar I don't know in a city I don't know so that I can suffer in public with strangers who I almost certainly will not like.
Oh, I know it's totally passe to hate the Yankees, but nevertheless, there are too many reasons my hatred burns with the white-hot intensity of a magnesium-flare factory fire and I cannot remain silent. On with the hate!
I. For an enterprise that has grown up around what is still just a game, the Yankees are like the least fun sports team ever.
There once was an athletic, fun-loving outfielder who once referred to himself and his teammates as "idiots" and grew a beard that would have made any late 19th-century president green with envy or looked at home on Azerbaijani currency. Bring him to the Yankees. Now he's a striped-shirt wearing cologne vector with spiky hair. The life gets beaten out of everyone on that team. If Derek Jeter had been drafted by the Colorado Rockies, he'd be making movies with Will Ferrell, have a semi-regular lounge-singing act at a bar in LoDo and generally make Barry Zito look like a big tool. For real.
II. Their fabled stadium is actually kind of an emperor-has-no-clothes dump that had all the grace notes beaten out of it during a 1970s renovation. Naturally, their new ballpark will be almost exactly the same, because nothing the Yankees do is ever wrong.
And when you go to a game there, don't expect a welcoming attitude. Any and all Yankees game-day employees will do their best to make you feel as if they're doing a favor by allowing you to pay $20 for nosebleeds. From the neckless men with buzz cuts who pat you down and make girls leave their purses at a nearby bowling alley (lest women attempt to bring their menses onto hallowed ground), to the ushers who refuse to let you move during the singing of God Bless America, the whole experience is unsettling. It's like being forced to be a houseguest at your ex-girlfriend's place.
III. By far the most offensive thing about the Yankees is having to deal with the massive cult of personality that surrounds the team. They have their own fucking channel, which plays like 30-second commercials to sing the praises of the Yankees and produces hour long hagiographies of basically anyone who wears the uniform long enough. And there's the whole myth of the True Yankee, which I'll get into another time, and the idea that Yankees fans (also due for a savaging here) are somehow more dedicated because they act like bigger assholes than other fans.
And then, sweet Jesus, you have one of the biggest hacks in radio. John Sterling, who never met a line drive to the short porch in right that couldn't be described by the words "high" and "far." And then there's all his little trademarks. He starts every game by (inaccurately) describing the Yankees uniforms every single fucking time they play, which is a pretty clear trailing indicator that most Yankees fans have an IQ of 78. And he comes up with little signature catchphrases that are affronts to baseball, the English language, good taste and several countries.
Gaze upon that list of catchphrases -- the very notion of which makes Yankees fans hug themselves with glee -- and see if you don't want to strangle someone, too. Willful stupidity has no greater champion than the New York Yankees.
They must be destroyed.