Monday, December 31, 2007

The Energy You Trade - He Gets Right On To The Friction Of The Day

Growing up, I got a lot of the IU good, Purdue bad stuff - even believed it for a good long time - and eventually began to understand that notion as Indiana was inherently better than Purdue, with the only basis for the assertion being that we were fans of Indiana rather than Purdue, both my parents having gone to college at Indiana.

At some point along the line, my thinking on that idea changed - probably helped along by being friends with our man Scott, who at some point made me realize that just because I liked Indiana didn’t mean that Indiana was necessarily better than Purdue.

Once I could see around that, I slowly began to realize that it was - gasp! - okay to actually like Purdue. My liking Indiana had no bearing on how good a coach Gene Keady was; and conversely, my support of the Hoosiers doesn’t mean that a coach like Bob Knight gets off scott free. Bob Knight had far more success at Indiana, with respect to championships, than Gene Keady ever dreamed of having at Purdue - but Keady was much, much better at having success with significantly lesser talent.

And then...along came the Large Pooch. Everybody but Scott knows him better as the Big Dog - Glenn Robinson. He came around to Purdue as a Prop 48 phenom out of Gary, Indiana, in the early 90s, led the nation in scoring his sophomore year, and was the first pick in the Bone Thugs draft in 1994. He was a lot of fun to watch in college because he could play both forward positions and could score from anywhere on the floor. Rare is the guy who can bang in the post and stroke a pretty three. Robinson could do that.

I don’t recall exactly how my thinking about disliking my team’s rival evolved over the years, but the moment when I realized that I could actually like my team’s rival came on February 19, 1994 (believe it or not, I still have the ticket stub), when Indiana hosted Purdue at the Assembly Hall. Back then, you paid a reasonable sum of money for a claim ticket, then took that claim ticket to the Fieldhouse and got your six-pack of actual game tickets. I’m pretty sure that I did not have Purdue in my original six-pack, and I seem to recall that Ana let me have her ticket to that game, though how that came to pass now escapes me.

It was, hands down, the best IU game I ever went to. Indiana won - beating #9 Purdue 82-80 - but Glenn Robinson dropped 39 points on us from just about every spot on the floor. I love love love college basketball, and it was just incredible to see the Large Pooch rain points down like it was nothing. After the game, the group of us that went hung around while the place emptied, and the pep band kept playing and playing - and then the guy on the drum kit kicked into a good long solo, just for the hell of it. If memory serves, everyone else I was with just kept talking amongst themselves, but I just sort of pivoted in my chair and watched the guy flail away on his drums.

(Apropos of nothing, this was about a month before I saw the best concert of my life - Rush on the Counterparts tour at Market Square Arena. We had seats on the floor, nineteen rows from the stage, and those guys rocked it out that night - with Primus opening.)

I did have a period where I intensely disliked the Patriots, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that I was just transferring my frustrations with the Colts onto the team that they could never seem to beat in the playoffs. It just doesn’t matter to me that much anymore. What’s the point of my hating the Patriots? Is it going to make the Colts any better? Nope. Is it going to make the Colts play with any more fire in their eyes? Nope. It’s just going to cause me consternation, and I can do without that. If they beat New England, that’s great. If they don’t, well...Desmond and Molly will probably still be singing with the band, so let’s go get a beer, shall we?

Saturday, December 29, 2007

I Don't Really Believe In My Country, So This Is About As Patriotic As I Get

Live blogging during the Patriots-Giants game, as New England completes the greatest regular season in NFL history. (And yes, it's still the greatest regular season in history, even if they lose.)

• I didn't see the illegal contact penalty that kept the second Patriots drive alive. Was that a bullshit penalty, or was it legit? I was listening on the radio on the way home from work and haven't seen a replay yet.

• Brady ties Peyton Manning with his 49th touchdown pass, a gorgeous floater to Moss. Go Tom - it's your birthday - break some records! (Actually, with that catch, Moss ties Jerry Rice for most touchdown receptions of all time. Go Randy - it's your birthday - break some records!)

• I don't believe in worshipping anything, especially sports teams, so I don't visit Colts Fan Blog much; but I popped in last night because there were two new posts - first new ones in three weeks! - only to find nothing about the Colts, but two posts whining about how the NFL caved and allowed two regular broadcast networks to show the Pats-Giants game. I don't care about the NFL Network, or the Big Ten Network, or any of those other proprietary groups that want to keep fans from seeing games, but here's something. This is an NFL Network broadcast, and Cris Collinsworth is doing color - a pretty good reason for everyone to boycott the NFL Network. It's not as bad as listening to Wil Wolford's cowboy mouth doing color for Colts game on the radio - but Wolford, despite sounding like a chicken fried steak, doesn't think he's Darwin's gift to color commentary. Collinsworth does. The only problem is that he's wrong.

• Ooh! If not for that guy's helmet, the records would already be broken.

Part Two

• Rich Eisen on the sideline - as someone who knows sports instead of someone who is only there because she is eye candy - might just mitigate the negative aspect of being forced to listen to Cris Collinsworth speak.

• Nope. I was wrong. Collinsworth just said that he doesn't know if NFL fans really know the significance of the offensive line. Hey, Cris! I'm a Colts fan - we had to suffer several years of Adam Meadows on our offensive line. We get to watch Peyton Manning stand in the pocket every week getting great protection, knowing he'd be toast without a great O-line because he has no scrambling skills. We have some notion of the significance of the offensive line.

• Good no-call on Ellis Hobbs. He did drag Plax Burress down, but only after Plax pushed him down.

At the half, NYG leads 21-16 on several impressive drives by Eli Manning and the Giants. A graphic indicated that 21 is tied for the most points the Pats have given up in a first half all season. I'll say that halfway through, NYG is putting up much more of a fight than I thought they would. Overall, this Tiki Barber-less team is far better than I imagined they would be this season.

Part Three

• That was almost an amazing catch on a horrid throw by Brady after he nearly got taken down in the backfield.

• A telling first-half stat: Despite winning the time of possession two to one, the Patriots were only one out of five converting third down opportunities. They start the second half with a non-conversion on third down, making them one out of six for the game.

• Sweet pass from Manning to Burress puts the Giants up 28-16 early in the third, and dare I say it? NYG is kicking New England's ass. Bryant Gumbel says that this is the largest deficit New England has faced all season.

• Suddenly the NFL Network has switched programming. I was watching the Patriots-Giants game, but now it seems as though I am watching the Wes Welker show, as Brady's pass offense wakes up and starts marching down the field.

• And now Brady, after an interference penalty against NYG, is going to have three or four shots from the one to break the two records. And yes, it was a good call.

• Alas, no records yet. Maroney runs it in from six after an illegal formation penalty against New England, cutting the score to 28-23.

• Manning just got sacked for a loss of 634 yards, as the Patriots defense finally realizes that it's supposed to have been playing for a couple of hours now.

• Wow. That pass was there, it was all the way downfield, and Moss dropped it.

•BUT WAIT A MINUTE! Who else in the whole NFL would have the enormous cojones to try the EXACT SAME PLAY on the very next down? Tom Brady, that's who. And that time Moss caught it. And that's the record. Most touchdowns in a season (50) for Brady and most touchdown catches in a season for Moss (22). On the next play, the two-point conversion was good, giving New England a three point lead with eleven minutes left.

As an aside, I can't even imagine what this game must feel like for New England fans. I'm sitting here clapping and cheering for Brady and Moss for getting the record (mostly for Moss, actually, because I'm just delighted to see him having success on a winning team for once), and feeling giddy watching the clock, waiting for it to tick down to zero so I can witness an undefeated season (even if it is done by my team's biggest rival). Jason and Dave Maier, I hope you'll comment to this post and let me know what was going on with you guys, what you were feeling, as those records were broken (also the record for points in a season) and - hopefully - as your Patriots complete the first 16-game undefeated season in NFL history.

• Not that they had much of a chance after New England piled up 22 unanswered points, but NYG did themselves no favors with incredibly bad clock management in the last four minutes of the game. Clearly Eli needs to spend some time in the off-season getting some lessons on the hurry-up offense from big brother Peyton.

Game over. The New England Patriots have just completed the first undefeated 16-0 regular season in National Football League history. Congratulations. We'll see you in the AFC title game.

No Country For Old Men

I saw this movie Wednesday night, and sat down to write about it, but discovered that it was virtually impossible to say anything meaningful about it without giving away particular plot points. So I’m afraid that I’m going to have to issue a spoiler alert - I’ll do a bit of general review first, then launch into the meatier stuff.

The film is based on the novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy - and if you haven't read this one, then run, don't walk - and concerns a young man named Moss, who comes upon some abandoned vehicles and several dead people while out hunting antelope. He goes down to investigate, employing the tracking skills honed by all that antelope hunting, and finds a satchel filled with money. He has the obligatory moment of indecision, then makes off with the bag. What follows is the pursuit of Moss by a varied cast of characters, some looking to kill him and others looking to help him.

Josh Brolin does a fine job playing Moss, if there is perhaps nothing exceptional about the work; and Tommy Lee Jones is probably perfectly cast as county sheriff Ed Tom Bell, who is working on being run-down by life; but it is Javier Bardem, as hitman Anton Chigurh, who steals the show. Chigurh has been hired to hunt down the money, which in turn leads him to hunt for Moss. Bardem plays the part stoically, with nuanced facial expressions that convey menace and danger in the calmest possible way, and his dialogue is searching and methodical. Nothing - nothing - is inconsequential to Chigurh. Bardem will be nominated for an Oscar in the supporting category for the role.

Joel and Ethan Coen will also be nominated for their masterful direction of the film (and for film editing), and Roger Deakins should be nominated for his work behind the camera, as well. It would have been easy to rush this job into a fast-paced action thriller, but doing so would have destroyed the suspense that McCarthy so carefully worked into the story. In the same vein, the camera tends to linger on scenes, or parts of scenes, drawing the viewer’s eye to clues being picked up by the characters almost in real time.

If there is a flaw to the film, it is only this - that the character of Bell is not as fully formed in the film as it is in the novel. A good deal of what we learn about Bell comes in the falling action, in the novel version of voice-overs and in conversations with his uncle, Ellis (some of which is shown, in truncated form, in the film). In defense of the Coen brothers, however, Bell is minor character compared to Chigurh and Moss; and the additional portions extending the character of Bell would have added length to the film. Clocking in at a shade over two hours, the film is neither too long nor too short, and I think that the Coen brothers were wise in their choice to truncate Bell rather than Moss or (especially) Chigurh.

Okay...spoiler time. There’s just no good way to go into the theme of the film - fate - without also discussing what happens to the two main characters in the end. Perhaps the greatest metaphysical question in human history is whether or not we are all characters in some preordained cosmic drama - whether our decisions can change the course of our lives, or whether all of the choices we will ever make have already been decided.

There are strong arguments for both cases in this film. It is certainly fate that leads Moss to the abandoned vehicles and the dead people - a drug deal gone bad; but he has three - count ‘em, three - opportunities to make decisions that will affect the outcome. The first comes when he finds the remains of the drugs. His first decision is to investigate. Said investigation (along with good tracking skills) leads him to the satchel filled with money. His second decision is to take the satchel. Between those two decisions, he comes upon a dying man in one of the trucks. Moss’ third decision, later that night, is to go back to the scene with a jug of water for the man, who sputtered out the word agua when Moss found him in the truck - even though Moss knows that he is, in his own words, “fixin’ to do somethin’ dumber’n hell.”

Sure enough, when Moss goes back to the scene, he is discovered by a band of Mexicans who were in some way part of the drug deal. He flees on foot, but leaves his truck behind. His last chance to hold control over the situation was deciding whether or not to go back to the scene. Once he is spotted and flees, leaving his truck behind, he has also, in effect, left his freewill behind. His only choice now is no choice at all - simply do what it takes not to get killed. He escapes, then returns to his wife and tells her to pack for a trip from which they will never return. Moss ruminates by way of explaining the situation to his wife, “At what point would you stop looking for your two million dollars?” He considers for but a moment. “There ain’t no such point.”

The balance of the film finds Moss running from the Mexicans and from Chigurh; and though Chigurh has been hired to find Moss and get the money back, it is the Mexicans who bag Moss. Both the Mexicans and Chigurh have receivers that pick up a signal from a transponder hidden in the money, but Chigurh is the more menacing, the one who gets into Moss’ head and drives him, almost like a cattle rustler. Surely it was Moss’ fate to end up as he does - gunned down in a motel room - right?

Not so fast. I said there were strong examples of both fate and freewill in the story. Moss was the example of fate. Chigurh is the example of freewill. Early in the film, he is arrested and taken to a police station, where he slips his cuffed hands under his legs and then calmly strangles the officer who arrested him. Near the end of the film, after confronting Moss’ wife Carla Jean and offering her a coin toss (you’ll have to read the book to find out exactly what happens), Chigurh is driving away when the vehicle he is driving is struck by another vehicle at an intersection. Chigurh pays one of the young boys who witnessed the accident one hudred dollars for the boy’s shirt, then fashions a sling out of the shirt to support his left forearm, which sustained a compound fracture in the accident. Chigurh then walks away.

The traffic accident is fate, but Chigurh chooses to walk away from it rather than wait for an ambulance one of the boy witnesses says has been called. It could be argued that Chigurh’s fate lies in another story, but within the context of this story, Chigurh controls fate - his own, the fate of Moss, the fate of Carla Jean, the fate of the gas station proprietor who also is offered a coin toss, the fate of Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson as another hitman, though he is hired to get the money back by protecting Moss).

Thus the question of whether fate can coexist with freewill. Or does the devil, if he really exists - because Chigurh seems in many ways supernatural - still walk the earth? Big questions - and no ready answers. The film is open-ended in a couple of ways that the book is not, and by crafting the film in such a way, the Coen brothers have extended and deepened the story and theme, making a film that is greater than its source material - a rare achievement.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Some Colts Fans Seem To Have An Underdeveloped Ability To Make Valid Arguments

Good old Scrooge here, for a bit of Christmas coal for you. An ESPN poll yesterday asked the question:

Will Tom Brady break the NFL’s single-season touchdown record?

The key word in that question, of course, is WILL. The question is not SHOULD he break the record, or DO YOU WANT HIM to break the record. The question is WILL he break the record.

The results of the poll are:

Yes: 89%
No: 11%

If you take the time - and I did - to look at the poll results state by state, factoring out Indiana, the results are 90-10. That’s right, sports fans, the ever-insightful football fans here in Hillbillyana managed, with a scant 492 votes, to swing the results by a whole percentage point.

The lowest Yes percentage in any non-Indiana state is 83 (South Dakota). Not surprisingly, the four highest Yes states are Rhode Island (95), Maine (96), Masachusetts (97), and New Hampshire (98) - all of which are in the geographical region of New England. If you factor in the other two New England states (Connecticut and Vermont), the aggregate New England Yes average is 94. The aggregate non-New England Yes average is 89.

Spot anything odd so far? No? Here’s what you’re missing. Obviously there is a bias in favor of Brady in New England states and a bias against Brady in the state containing the biggest rival the Patriots have for league supremacy (Hillbillyana). If you take out the New England states, the aggregate Yes percentage does not change. But if you take out ONLY Indiana, the aggregate Yes percentage goes up a point.

Indiana’s Yes result, by the way, is 71.

So what’s the point of all of this? It is to illustrate a point about Indiana football fans. They are either remarkably prescient, or astonishingly unable (or unwilling) to make valid arguments. Based on his performance so far this year, Brady is absolutely going to break the record. He needs to throw two touchdowns on Sunday against NYG to break the record. So far this season, he is averaging 3.2 touchdowns per game. He has thrown fewer than two touchdowns twice in fifteen games. He has thrown for four or more touchdowns a remarkable FIVE times in fifteen games.

There are exactly two factors, and two factors only, that will influence how many touchdown tosses he has on Sunday against NYG - how long he plays, and how well he plays. How long he will play will be based largely on how badly Bill Belichick wants his team to win all 16 regular season games. How well he will play is well documented - you can click on his ESPN player card to see for yourself just how well he has done, with respect to numbers, this season.

It’s possible - yes, possible - that Brady will not break the record. His touchdown production has fallen off considerably in the second half of the season. After eight games, he had 30 touchdown passes, putting him on pace for a total of 60 for the season. In the second half, he has 18 touchdowns in seven games so far. In the first half, he averaged 3.75 touchdowns per game; and in the second half he is averaging 2.57 touchdowns per game.

But it’s not likely that he will not break the record. Any rudimentary examination of this season’s stats will tell you that. You can WANT him not to break the record - but you cannot honestly say that you believe he will not, based on what he has so far done this season. Not that I’ll ever mistake Indiana football fans as bright enough to understand that - but that’s the way it is.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Why Does It Happen? Because It Happens. Roll The Bones.

Got an e-mail about a week ago from Mike Redmond, a fellow who used to write columns for the Star. I quoted one of those columns in a blog post back in June to do with James Taylor. Somehow, one of Mike’s friends ran across that particular post and passed the link along to Mike, who was kind enough to send me a note.

I tried to reply to his e-mail, but got a return message saying that my message had been refused because the IP address of the mail server it came from was a “direct spam source.” The message provided a link to an anti-spam lookup page that let me know that my mail server “is being abused unchecked by spammers,” though it also said that the refusal did not imply that I was a spammer. I found that odd, since I don’t get spam e-mail anymore since I switched from Earthlink to iQuest. I mean that literally. I get no spam e-mail now. I used to get...I don’t know...five or six spam e-mails in my Earthlink inbox for every one e-mail that was actually valid. Just one of the many, many reasons that Earthlink sucks out loud. (“Sucks out loud,” by the way, is a fantastic phrase. Thanks, Josh.)

So make a long story short, following is the text of the e-mail that I tried to send back to Mike - posted here on the off chance that Mike will wander into the Blog-O-Rama again at some point so he can discover that I was not ignoring the fact that he was nice enough to send me an e-mail out of the clear blue sky.

Hey Mike,

Thanks for the note, and for such a nice review of the band. Of all the different material you used to write for the Star/News, the rock music columns were always my favorite. I have a Rush poster from the Roll The Bones era, to which I have affixed a few different articles and clippings about them that I have collected over the years - that review of yours that I quoted was the first clipping to go on that poster.

I'm fascinated by the viral way that people pass information about blogs to one another, so I'd be curious - if you don't mind sharing the story - to find out how your friend happened upon my relatively anonymous little chunk of blogdom. Happy Holidays to you and yours, as well - and thanks again for the note.

(A bit of arcane John-O history: That Rush poster mentioned above? I bought it at Union Station during the Thanksgiving break of my freshman year at Indiana. Later that night a bunch of us gathered at a friend’s house to play a card game called Mr. Mao. At some point, an incredibly beautiful girl came in and sat down on the couch. Apparently she was with a guy, but I don’t recall that part. What I recall - verbatim - was the thought that ran through my head. “Damn. Now that girl’s out of my league.” Turned out not to be true, although I didn’t actually meet her until the following summer at a birthday party. The girl, of course, was Amy.)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Jackson Meets Santa

These are two shots of Jackson with Santa at Christmas At The Zoo, which we braved this evening, even though it was cool and dreary and we had already had Jackson out and about for most of the day - starting with a fine lunch at Santorini for Amy's birthday. Some more shots of Christmas At The Zoo will follow these in another post.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Little Bit Of Blog Glory To Aaron Haag

Got a call from Aaron at work today, and he was calling to tell me that the guys on WNDE sports radio's show The Drive read on air today a post on Aaron's blog about some person called Ravens Dale.

If you click on the comments to the Ravens Dale post, Aaron has a link to a forum thread where he goes back and forth with this Ravens Dale person. The whole thing apparently started when Aaron heard Ravens Dale proclaim on air that the Colts were the best team in the league, after they embarrassed the Baltimore Ravens Sunday night.

Aaron writes that "[t]he most loyal Colts fan cannot grant this point," which is that the Colts are the best team in the league. In the forum thread, he refers (hyperbolically rather than maliciously) to Ravens Dale as a "lunatic fan" who "mindlessly proclaims" the "supremacy" of the Colts. In the Ravens Dale post comments section, he corrects the assertion that Ravens Dale is a fan, while reiterating that Ravens Dale is "still way off on his assertion that the Colts are tops in the NFL."

It's good to see Mr. Haag blogging a bit more often. His accurate and insightful commentary with respect to where the Colts stand in the league is refreshing.

Sunday, December 09, 2007


Here’s an ironic pill for the Miami Dolphins to have to swallow. According to the recap of their game today against Buffalo, the Dolphins had never in their history lost 13 games in a season. Today’s loss was their 13th this season, and their 16th consecutive overall, dating to last season.

Bad enough, you could surely argue. Trouble is, their status as the lone franchise ever to 16-0 in a season is in serious jeopardy, as well. The New England Patriots cleared their last serious hurdle toward a perfect regular season by smoking the Pittsburgh Steelers this afternoon.

New England has three games left, against NYJ, Miami, and NYG - two of which are at home (NYJ and Miami). The clincher, so to speak, is that that last game against NYG looks to be meaningless for the Giants as well as for the Patriots.

The Patriots have home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs unless they lose out and the Colts win out. The most likely scenario is that both teams win out, unless the Colts sit their starters after clinching the #2 seed. The Giants clinch a wild-card spot by winning one of their last three games. The only way NYG does not make the playoffs is if they lose out and either Washington or New Orleans wins out.

The only way the New England-NYG game matters is if NYG loses their next two games AND New Orleans OR Washington win their next two games. If either New Orleans or Washington lose one of their next two games, they’re out - and if NYG wins ANY of its last three games, they’re in.

If the Giants have locked up a playoff spot, they'll sit their starters - if not for the whole game, then certainly for most of it. Maybe they play the first quarter to sort of feel out New England and see what they can do against them (thinking about Dallas coming up in the playoffs). But the Giants won't take the chance on getting hurt - and if they don't play their first team, the Patriots will play their first team just enough to win.

I know they say that no team can go undefeated in the NFL - but the Patriots have 13 under their belts already, and the last three are a relative cake walk. Add in the fact that they’ve got a massive chip on their shoulders - and the outside chance that Brady won’t yet have the touchdown mark by the time that last game rolls around - and you’ve got the recipe for a 16-0 season. The tipping point? The Patriots are brash enough to go for it just because they can. They have a singular will to dominate the NFL and win football games. That's their job - and they do it very, very well.

I hope they get the 16 wins, too. So they taped some defensive signals their opponents were using - who cares? It’s not like they were filming movies that try to sell atheism to kids. Oh, wait...that’s a stupid argument, too. They’re getting some shady calls from the refs? Aw...poor whoever their opponent is. The Colts are getting shady calls from the refs, too. Give the Patriots some credit for being a great team and for having a great season. And sit back and watch some really good football.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Daemon Quiz

Just took the Daemon Quiz on the website for the new movie The Golden Compass. A daemon called Brienne, a snow leopard, was chosen for me.

My profile revealed that I am: Solitary, assertive, shy, modest, and softly spoken.

(You answer 20 questions on the strongly agree to strongly disagree scale and then have a daemon chosen for you.)

I'm astonishingly backlogged on movies that I want to see, but The Golden Compass is on that list. I started reading the book this week and am about a third of the way through it.

That is all. (I just hadn't blogged in awhile and thought this was fairly innocuous.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

More Good News From The East Side

Advance Indiana reported earlier today that State Representative Larry Buell (R) would not seek re-election next fall. This opens up the race for Democrat John Barnes, who ran a tight race with Buell in 2006 before Republicans launched a misleading negative TV ad campaign that might well have cost Barnes the election in a close contest decided by less than 600 votes.

One of my earliest posts here in the ol' Blog-O-Rama was about Barnes and his run for State Representative. It's a hard thing to run against an entrenched incumbent, but Barnes made a hell of a run - and he's running again in 2008 and will hopefully make an even better run this time around. Even if he does not win, Buell's retirement works to the good by removing from the Statehouse a conservative Brian Bosma acolyte - the less conservatives in office, the better.

The Barnes For State Representative web site seems to have gone dark, but if it ever comes back up, I'll be sure to post a link (not that I imagine many District 89 residents read this blog, but who knows?) Also, if you're into local politics at all, Advance Indiana is a pretty good blog. It's run by a local Republican lawyer called Gary Welsh, who's not really all that bad, for a Republican.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Snatching Victory From The Jaws Of Defeat

The Indiana football Hoosiers managed to hold off the Purdue football Boilermakers on Saturday evening for their seventh win of the season and an increased likelihood that they will be invited to play in a postseason bowl game for the first time since 1993 - which, among other things, was the last time they played in a bowl game, and the last time they won as many as seven games. They went 8-3 that season and have had fewer than six wins in every season since (excepting 1994 and this season).

That was around the time that Osama Brand Laden forced former head coach Bill Mallory out of his job in his bizarre campaign to turn down the volume on college sports and - apparently - make Indiana fans suffer as much as possible. In the space between Mallory and the late Terry Hoeppner, Hoosier Nation had to settle for head coaches Cam Cameron (an NFL offensive coordinator and not a head coach at any level - just ask the Miami Dolphins if you don't believe me) and Gerry Dinardo (who failed utterly in an attempt to install a West Coast-type offense at Indiana - the key to a good West Coast offense is a good passing quarterback, which Indiana rarely manages to recruit).

Then along came Hep, and he changed the football program at Indiana more with his enthusiasm and energy than with any kind of coaching system - by making first his players and then the rest of the students and finally the alumni fans care about Indiana football once again. He made a difference in the lives of his players, too - off the field as well as on it. He turned problem child wide receiver James Hardy around and helped the kid get his life on track. Instead of being a malcontent plagued by off-field legal issues (such as domestic battery charges), Hardy has gotten his head into the game and become one of the two or three most exciting receivers in all of college football, and mark these words: he'll be the best player Indiana University ever sent to the NFL.

Sadly, of course, Coach Hep succumbed to brain cancer this summer, just a few months before the season was to get underway - and was thus unable to watch as his football Hoosiers ran with the "Play 13" motto - with the goal of winning at least six of twelve regular seasons games and thereby earning a thirteenth game, a postseason bowl game. And if not for key turnovers in three of those twelve games (Illinois, Penn State, and Northwestern), this Indiana team might well be 10-2 instead of 7-5 - with the only question being how good a bowl they would play in, not whether they would be invited at all.

But that's okay - seven wins is just fine, and it's a fine place from which to build, as the team has quarterback Kellen Lewis and receiver Hardy for one more season together (provided Hardy elects to stay in school for his senior year and not go pro); and if Lewis learns to protect the ball a little more, it's going to be an exciting fall for Hoosier Nation next season.

So once again, thanks to the late, great Coach Terry Hoeppner - for putting some spark back in Indiana University football. Wherever you are, coach, I hope you've watched, with well-deserved pride, the show those kids have put on this year (assuming you had the Big Ten Network, of course).

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Wayman Tisdale At Madame Walker - November 17th

Just a quick post on something I came across on the Star's website this afternoon. Former Indiana Pacer Wayman Tisdale is playing the Madame Walker Theatre this Saturday (11/17) at 8pm.

He's been making jazz records now for years and years, and his stuff is pretty good. He uses bass guitar as his primary instrument, and it lends the music a really funky kind of sound. I haven't heard much of it, but he was featured on NPR awhile back and they played some songs from a new record he has coming out.

Click here for a brief interview with Tisdale that was posted on the Star's website. I have to work all day Saturday, but one of these days I'm going to catch him when he comes to town. You can also check out his official website - and get a taste of the music playing in the background, too.

Of Burritos And Birthdays

Got an e-mail from Qdoba the other day - you know, the burrito place? They have one of those loyalty card deals and I signed up for official Qdoba e-mail when I registered my card online. (Oh yes, it's just as exciting as it sounds.) Anyway, my birthday is coming up, and they sent me an e-mail offering a free burrito because it was my birthday. Actual offer: free burrito or other entrée if I purchase another burrito or entrée of equal or greater value.

Okay...I can barely get one burrito down, and that's if I leave off the beans and request that they go easy on the rice. If I'm really hungry, I can put down some chips and guac with that - if I'm really hungry. And by really hungry, I mean it's time for Jeopardy! and I haven't eaten yet that day. Two burritos? No way.

But that's not the point. Actually, there's not really a point at all - just an amusing little bit at the end of the e-mail where they put in the fine print. What follows is what it actually says at the end of this e-mail - and with a tip of the hat to Dave Barry, I swear that I'm not making this up. Down there in the fine print it says:

Limit one birthday per year.

Seriously. That's what it says. Limit one birthday per year. Not "one offer per customer per year," or "offer not valid in conjunction with astrological phenomena that indicate that you lead a parallel life on Venus and are thereby entitled to double burrito action." (Not that there is a Qdoba on Venus, although I did hear that a Starbucks is opening soon, right next door to the first interplanetary Quiznos.)

Limit one birthday per year, people. That is all.

Trampled Under Bluegrass

I picked up the newest issue of Paste the other day in part because the sampler CD had one of the songs from the new album Raising Sand, a collection of lesser-known tunes in a wide range of musical styles, recorded by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss.

Yeah - I did a double-take, too, the first time I heard about it. I know Alison Krauss isn’t really country, but she’s close - and it was sort of hard to imagine Robert Plant singing songs with a country person. I don’t like country music, but it’s mostly because of the hillbilly culture and nimrods like Toby Keith and Kenny Chesney. Once in awhile you find some real musical talent (Johnny Cash, pre-Sevens Garth Brooks, post-Fly Dixie Chicks), but mostly it’s crap.

And yet even with the quasi-country stigma, I was intrigued, somehow, as I was not intrigued by other country-normal music collaborations like recent records by Jimmy Buffett and Joan Osborne and the new album by the Eagles that supposedly hearkens back to their quasi-country roots. (Actually, I am intrigued by the new Eagles album, but being a principled person possessed of a soul I do not shop at Wal-Mart, which is supposedly the only place it’s being sold.)

So I spun the sample disc on the way to work yesterday, and damn! The song on the sampler is the fifth track on the record, an Everly Brothers number called “Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On),” and it was so good that I went out and bought the album today. I’m going through the first spin of the album as I am writing this, and it’s pretty solid so far. When I imported it into iTunes, it was tagged as “blues,” but I don’t know if that really hits it on the head.

Plant’s voice sounds pretty good after all these years, although the high wails from the Zeppelin days are no more, of course; and the harmonies are really good, especially on that Everly Brothers song, which rocks out in a dark way that I don’t imagine the Everly Brothers themselves ever really tapped into. There’s a bluesy undertone there, and a bit of country going on, too, in places (slide guitar!) on some of the other tracks; but what comes through any attempt at categorization is the fine vocalization, like they picked a wide range of styles in which to show off how well it turns out they can sing together.

It vaguely brings to mind the Bob Dylan album Desire (best known for containing the song “Hurricane,” though that song seems out of place when juxtaposed against the rest of the album - in much the same way that “One Of Us” seems out of place on Joan Osborne’s Relish), which is not precisely a duet album (Emmylou Harris contributes backing vocals to all the tracks), but features the same kind of intimate interplay in the vocals and harmonies.

Addendum: Did you click on the link to Paste magazine up there at the top? I did, to make sure the link worked, and there's a poll question on there asking what your favorite Led Zeppelin album is. I didn't much want to click on it, because I was afraid that the results would be overwhelmingly in favor of IV, which is good but which, thanks to Q95 and fucking Cadillac, I don't ever need to hear again. I clicked anyway - and sure enough, IV got the most votes, but was not the ovverwhelming favorite. Close behind were Houses Of The Holy and II, which got my vote.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Are Records Being Set Tonight?

So is throwing three interceptions in one quarter a record? How about a kickoff return and a punt return for a touchdown in the same quarter as those three picks?

(And as I'm writing this, he threw a fourth pick!)

But back to the first three and those two return touchdowns - if that's not some kind of record, then what if you add that the same guy ran back the two touchdowns?

Make no mistake, all of this is bad. Manning clearly was badly rattled by the Patriots game last week when he was also awful - and he has also clearly returned to the form he was in several years ago when he would completely lose his composure after one or two little mistakes.

But you know what's worse? Having to listen to Will Wolford do the color commentary on 97.1 FM. I used to think having to listen to Mark Herrman and Ted Marchibroda was bad, but having to listen to Will Wolford's cowboy mouth is even worse. Will, when you speak the word "time," you put a long-I sound in there. It's not tah-ahm, and it's not two syllables, honky-tonk.

So how far down do the Colts drop in the ESPN Power Rankings? Dallas goes up to #2, obviously; and Green Bay probably goes to three. Is Pittsburgh good enough to sneak up to four? I don't see the Colts dropping farther than fifth, but this is obviously a team with a lot of flaws and very little discipline.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I Still Don't Think I Care For This, Mom!

So if you feed a baby sweet potato baby food he smells like sweet potatoes for the rest of the night - for a little while, anyway. Then he smells like sweet potato shit.

After looking at those pictures when I posted this, I noticed something you lovely readers might wonder about. But fret not! Jackson does, in fact, have arms.

Walking Irvington

Amy and I packed Jackson into the stroller this afternoon and took a good long walk, which is one of our favorite things to do. We love being outside when the weather is nice (and sometimes even when it’s not so nice), but the summer was so hot after Jackson was born that we didn’t get the chance to do much walking around. Now that the temperature has finally broken, we’ve been out and about a lot more. We’ve had a couple of long walks around downtown and a week or two ago we walked the Monon Trail from Broad Ripple up to Nora. Today, we walked around Irvington - specifically lower Irvington, south of Washington Street between Audubon and Emerson, drifting south to University Avenue.

For those who don’t know, Irvington is in fact a charming little neighborhood, and the heart and soul of it is winding streets and beautiful old houses. There are parts of Irvington that are sketchy, sure, but there are pockets that are just amazing - and to catch some of those pockets on a cool afternoon with clear blue skies and the fall foliage almost in full flame rivals any other scenic walk you could take around Indianapolis.

We headed out from our house and went over to The Bread Ladies for lunch. This is a little annex of a shop in Greenfield started by two ladies who had some extra bread left over one day and parlayed that into a business. The Irvington location is in the Irving Theatre building and is connected to Lazy Daze Coffee House (more on the food, and on the Jockamo Pizza adventure from last Monday, in a future post). After lunch we got coffee and headed out on our walk.

I wanted to take a look at the little park at Irving Circle, a roundabout at the intersection of Audubon Road and University Avenue. It’s reputed to be haunted, but there were no ghosts in evidence this afternoon - just the fountain surrounded by bricks with people’s names on them and a bust of Washington Irving, the author for whom the town of Irvington was named, facing you as you approach the circle going south along Audubon.

After that, we took Audubon down to Oak Avenue and walked along that until we came to University Avenue. The three pictures that follow were taken on the sidewalk in front of a very purple house that I am pretty sure is on Oak, although I did not make precise note of that while we were out. You can see the purple color on the fence pickets - the house has the same colors going on. It doesn’t look the same in a picture as it did in real life this afternoon, but those leaves on the sidewalk and in the yard were so bright and so orange and so lit by the sunlight that it literally looked as though the yard and sidewalk were on fire.

Then we picked up University, walked past the Guardian Home, and took Downey Avenue down to the Benton House, a beautiful old house that was once the home of Allen R. Benton, the former president of Butler University, which was originally located in Irvington before moving to its current digs north of downtown. The two pictures that follow are of the Benton House.

Next we followed University Avenue all the way out to Emerson and then took Emerson back to our house after stopping to snoop around the empty house where Amy grew up. We didn’t go in or anything - it’s all padlocked anyway - but we did peer in through the windows, and we talked to next-door neighbor Jim who told us about some of the things that the guy who bought the house after Amy’s parents moved did to the place. After that guy was foreclosed on, someone apparently broke in and stole all the copper out of the basement.

Next: Jackson still does not care much for solid food.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Accio Controversy

Probably everyone has heard this already, right? I'm always behind those dang times. On the off chance that you haven’t, there’s a story on Newsweek’s website that talks about an appearance Jo Rowling made at Carnegie Hall in New York last night. After reading from the seventh Harry Potter book, she took some questions.

One of the questions was whether Dumbledore had ever loved anyone. She smiled and said, “Dumbledore is gay, actually.” The article goes on to say that the crowd for several minutes shouted and clapped and that Rowling said, “I would have told you earlier if I knew it would make you so happy.”

The ABC News website has its own story on the revelation, one that mentions a few of the other things that Rowling said in New York on Friday. Apparently she let David Yates, the director of the sixth film, know the little tidbit about Dumbledore when she “spotted a reference in the script to a girl who was once of interest to Dumbledore.”

She is also quoted as having encouraged her readers and fans to “question authority.” Sweet action! Not only is she the greatest writer of fantasy fiction not named Tolkien (and the greatest writer of children’s fiction period), she’s also a bit of a rabble rouser. I’m all for that. I’m all for people’s eyes being opened a little bit wider so that they can see some of the things in the world that they would never have seen for themselves if they had not been helped to those sights by someone else.

Like Tolkien, Jo Rowling has written more than just a book (actually in her case, seven books - yeah, whatever!) - she has created a world and brought forth from it stories to share with the real world. I don’t imagine that the world she created is quite as rich and detailed as Tolkien’s - in producing the most perfectly written novel in English, Tolkien told but a tiny bit of the history of the world that he had created - but there is a similarity between the two with respect to the fact that all which was created has not been told.

I suppose you could be narrow-minded enough to argue that this revelation is little more than sensational tabloid-style hype - you would be wrong, of course, but you could attempt to make the argument; but the truth is that by smashing taboos and prejudices and fears, revelations like this make the world a better place.

But that’s just me. What do I know?

Friday, October 19, 2007

I Don't Think I Care For This, Mom!

Clearly, Jackson was not impressed with his first foray into solid food.

Jockamo Upper Crust Pizza

I know I tend to give Irvington and the east side a hard time because it seems like all we have going on around here are hookers and pit bulls and In God We Trust license plates polluting the landscape, but it ain’t all a low-rent vice squad wet dream.

No, something I hope will be good is about to happen out here in Irvington, and it’s the opening of a new pizza place on the northwest corner of Washington and Audubon. The place is called Jockamo Upper Crust Pizza, and it’s owned by two couples who live here in Irvington. One of the guys, Mick McGrath, has spent the last sixteen years as the general manager at the Bazbeaux in Broad Ripple - and those cats know a thing or two about pizza.

They had a little table at the Irvington Farmer’s Market this past Sunday and were handing out menus and talking up their new establishment, and I got a menu but dodged the small talk. There’s a lot to remark on the menu, including a number of sauces you won’t find at your standard dumb fuck delivery chain - pesto sauce, house special creamy parmesan, and even hummus! - and specialty toppings including Kalamata olives, chorizo sausage, goat cheese, and ricotta cheese. They also tout a basil and garlic crust that is made in-house.

The Star had an article about the new joint about a month ago. They open on Monday, October 22nd - full report to follow once we’ve had a chance to try them out.

(Aside: I’ve been blogging for a bit over a year now - and this is my 200th post. Thanks to all of you who stop by the Blog-O-Rama from time to time to read my idiotic ramblings and look at pictures of my kid.)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Rush Geek Week (Part John-O The Second)

I’ve contributed but one post to this Rush Geek Week business, so here’s another one - my rankings for the eight Rush studio albums that did not make my top ten. So without further ado...

18. Rush
Placing this one here is a no-brainer. It’s not exactly bad...but it’s as close as Rush can come. Sonically it’s utterly unremarkable (they stole the riff for “What You’re Doing” from Zep’s “Heartbreaker,” right?) except for the fact that Alex is out front in a more vital way than he is on the other records; and lyrically it’s completely unremarkable. Without “Finding My Way,” this record might actually suck. (Yes, I discount “Working Man” because it is the most overplayed, overrated Rush song ever. I like it, don’t get me wrong - I just don’t know if I ever need to hear it again.)
Best song: “Finding My Way”

17. Caress Of Steel
A no-brainer for me at second-to-last because I just don’t dig their prog stuff as much as the actual songs. Some might say “Lakeside Park” is silly and sappy, but I like it. And “Bastille Day” is not only the best song on this album, it’s also the best song on the first four albums.
Best song: “Bastille Day”

16. Test For Echo
I like most of these songs, especially “Resist,” “Dog Years,” and “Totem,” I just don’t think they’re all that good. And for some reason, as an album, it just doesn’t work for me. The theme of resisting the superficial trappings of the increasingly fast-paced modern world seems like a good idea to work with, but it feels dated, somehow, in these songs. It’s dark and brooding in places (“Test For Echo” and “Time And Motion”) and upbeat and almost poppy in other places (“Half The World” and “Totem”). Again, not exactly bad...just a little sub-par.
Best song: “Resist"

15. Snakes & Arrows
Speaking of dark and brooding, this one’s got that in spades. This record hasn’t exactly set with me yet, so it’s possible that the test of time might change my mind on it, but this position seems about right for now. Starts just fine with “Far Cry,” but then gets bogged down with “Armor And Sword” and (spin)drifts somewhat passively before reigniting near the end with “Faithless” and finishing strong with “We Hold On.” The album art is pretty cool, though.
Best song: “Far Cry”

14. Grace Under Pressure
Part two of the early-eighties crap-fest, but I don’t like this one as much as Signals. Bears the dubious distinction of containing what I think are two of the worst Rush songs ever (“Kid Gloves” and “Red Lenses”), but also contains one of my favorites (“Red Sector A” - which lately got added to their live set, pleasing me to no end). “Afterimage” is also really good, as is “Distant Early Warning.” Has the same flat, tired sound as Signals, just doesn’t speak to me as much.
Best song: “Red Sector A”

13. 2112
After I wrote my top ten post the other day, I gave this one a spin at work to get re-acquainted with it, and it still really doesn’t speak to me. “A Passage To Bangkok” just sounds bad compared to the live version on Exit...Stage Left. This album had to come along when it did, or Rush might have ceased to exist as we know them - but it would have sounded a lot better if it could have come out when Hemispheres did.
Best song: “2112”

12. Hemispheres
Though much of the album is the second part of the prog orgy “Cygnus X-1,” we’ve also got “The Trees” and “La Villa Strangiato,” which are both delightful. I think this album actually sounds a little bit better than A Farewell To Kings, but I like the songs on the earlier album better. Probably the best of the four prog albums.
Best song: “The Trees”

11. Roll The Bones
The title track has so many interesting musical layers that I get lost in it no matter how many times I hear it; it’s groovy, it’s funky, it’s space-age, it’s electronic, and it’s got great guitar work - not to mention that rap in the middle. And it’s got the best best best chorus of any song in their catalogue, answering more of those mystical questions in a perfectly rendered take on Ayn Rand: “Why are we here? Because we’re here. Roll the bones.” And yet...not the best song on the album. We’ll get to that in a moment. The only thing that kept this record out of my top ten is that it containts “Neurotica” and “The Big Wheel,” which would join those two songs from Grace on a “Bottom Ten” list of their songs, though neither song on this album is as bad as either song on the earlier album. The other eight songs are all excellent - had this been an eight-song album (or maybe nine, with another instrumental as good as “Where’s My Thing?” stuck in there between “Ghost Of A Chance” and “You Bet Your Life”), it might have been #1 on my list. Yes, Presto is a better album (even if you take “The Big Wheel” and “Neurotica” off of Bones), but as good as it is, Presto does not contain “Dreamline,” which is not only the best song on this album, but top five of all time. It’s got a structured three-part keyboard melody that Alex noodles along on underneath, powerful, explosive drumming, a laser-beam guitar riff to open, and a blistering solo that Geddy noodles along to underneath. A carefully controlled, perfectly balanced composition that filters mortality and immortality through the lens of those dreams we keep telling ourselves will come true one day.
Best song: “Dreamline”

Friday, October 12, 2007

NFL Power Rankings - Who's #1?

I came across this list of NFL power rankings on MSNBC this afternoon by clicking on the front page link that said something to the effect of that the Colts were at the top of the rankings - for now. They say that the Colts and Patriots are “more 1 and 1A than anything else,” and then they go on to make a case for why this is so; and it almost sounds plausible until you dig into the schedules a little bit.

(The reason you have to dig into the schedules is because the numbers are so much in favor of the Patriots. To make an argument for the Colts you have to start talking about "quality opponents," which is a legitimate argument but fails in favor of the Colts in this case.)

Their first argument is that the Colts have wins over three quality opponents to wins over no quality opponents for the Patriots. This is true, except that the quality division teams the Colts have beaten (yes, on the road) are quality because they have played pretty bad teams. The Texans and Titans between them have played Kansas City, Atlanta, Miami, and New Orleans. Those teams combined have three wins - and one of those wins was Atlanta beating the Texans. The Patriots have division wins over the Jets and Bills, who have played teams like Pittsburgh, Baltimore, NYG, and Dallas.

That’s really picking at nits maybe, but the fact is that the Colts have beaten teams that are considered quality because those teams beat bad teams; and the Patriots have beaten teams that look crappy because those teams lost to good teams.

The other argument is that the Colts beat two preseason “favorites” (their word) in New Orleans and Denver. I agree that the Saints were preseason favorites, but to call Denver a preseason favorite is stretching it. Even in the preseason, the AFC South was a lock to send at least one team to a wild card game - if not two; and it was likely that the AFC North would send the other wild card team if the South didn’t get both. Thus, Denver was a favorite to do what? San Diego was clearly the preseason favorite to win that division.

The Patriots beat San Diego and Cincinnati - and I don’t care how you slice it, those teams combined were better thought of during the preseason than were the Saints and Broncos. (Sorry, Broncos fans, but Jay Cutler does not a team make. As a Colts fan I say this from experience - it helps to have a rush defense.)

Bottom line - neither the Colts nor the Patriots have really had a test yet. Yes, the Colts have won two division road games that they did not win last year - but the Patriots are beating teams with a precision and ferocity the Colts cannot ever hope to match. The Patriots don't have to come out in the second or third quarter with solid adjustments because they're not lazy enough to let the other team into the game at all. The Colts are content with letting the other team dictate the style of play and then make adjustments. The Patriots come out gunning to beat you to death in the first fifteen minutes.

I’m not unwilling to rank the Colts ahead of the Patriots - but I’m not going to do it just because the Colts won the World Championship Of All Football last season, and I’m not going to do it just because they’re the home team. I’m also not going to do it just to go against the grain. You can imitate President Bush and cherry pick the data to make it look as rosy as you want it to in spite of the actual facts - but the truth will out.

Draft Gore 2008 is an effort by a group of self-proclaimed grassroots Democrats who have created an online petition and web site aimed at trying to convince former Vice President Al Gore to run for President in 2008. You can click the above links to visit their web site and sign their online petition in support of the former Vice President and the guy who actually won the election in 2000.

Mr. Gore has been coy about his plans to run again for President, not (yet) saying yes or no. Personally, I would be leery of the system - would you want to run for President again after having won a Presidential election and then been told by the only nine people in the country who got to vote twice that you were not going to be allowed to serve? I’d grow a beard and go into hiding, too. I do, however, hope strongly that Mr. Gore will take seriously the fact that he has an enormous amount of support among the people of this country - and I also hope that he will consider serving our country again if called to do so. It would be especially poignant if he were called to do so by Hillary Clinton if she wins the Democratic nomination for President.

I believe that Mr. Gore would make an excellent Vice President to serve with President Hillary Clinton - he was a capable Vice President during the eight years that he served with President Bill Clinton, and his experience, coupled with the experience Mrs. Clinton gleaned from eight years as the First Lady, would be an enormous benefit to our country during the time of healing and progress that will begin on January 20, 2009. If he is not asked by Mrs. Clinton to be her running mate, or if he chooses not to accept, then certainly appointment to the post of Secretary of the Interior - or perhaps administrator of the Environmental Protection Agecny - would be in order.

The prospects look bright for the United States - come 2009, at any rate. The Democrats have a strong field of candidates and the Republicans are in a shambles. The dark days of a failed, disgraceful President are nearing their conclusion. Maybe I’ll even be proud to be an American again. Someday. In the meantime I’ll take a bit of pride in groups like Draft Gore and the good work they are doing - and I’ll sign the petition, too.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Rush Geek Week (Part John-O The First)

Over there at Prime Mover, Josh has proclaimed that this is Rush Geek Week. He teed off with his top ten Rush albums yesterday and followed that today by ranking the live sets. Both are fun posts if you dig on Rush, so I’m hoping that Jason and Mike will have a chance to bounce over there and have a look. Here's my list. Please feel free to bail at this point if you're not into Rush.

First, a note on an album that I feel I should have included but did not:

2112 - As Josh correctly notes, this is the album that saved Rush. A critical and commercial success, it saved their Canadian bacon (there’s a ham-handed pun) from being dumped by their record label. It erased the notion (posited by the first two albums) that these cats were nothing more than Led Zeppelin knockoffs; and it also dispelled the notion that their concept stuff was crap (which you might have wondered about if you listened to Caress Of Steel - the only sub-par album other than the first one, although Caress does contain “Bastille Day,” which is an excellent song). It took them four records, but the real Rush finally appeared on this record. Come to think of it, maybe it should have been in my top ten. Only problem is that I haven’t spun it enough. Other than “A Passage To Bangkok” and the first two parts of “2112,” I don’t know the songs very well.

And now...

10. A Farewell To Kings
The title track contains the line “Can’t we find the minds to lead us closer to the heart?” The song “Closer To The Heart” contains the line “You can be the captain and I will draw the chart.” The song “Xanadu” (inspired by the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem “Kubla Khan”) talks about “the last immortal man.” Musically and lyrically rich, it uses post-apocalyptic themes to tell the story of a world that has moved on - and of a band that is moving in a new direction.
Best song: "Xanadu"

9. Fly By Night
I could have put 2112 here, but I really like this album - it’s got a nice blend of soft songs and hard rockers. It’s the first album with Neil Peart, but that’s not really saying anything, as there was only one album with that other drummer (John Rutsey, who left the band because he was worried that their increasing popularity and rigorous touring plans would have a negative impact on his diabetes). They shake off the last of the Zeppelin comparisons (this is a poor man’s Led Zeppelin IV) and begin to find themselves.
Best song: "Anthem"

8. Hold Your Fire
Best 1-2 lead-off of any of their albums other than Moving Pictures, with the songs “Force Ten” and “Time Stand Still.” After that, the record sort of wanders into 1980s mediocrity for the next four songs, before finishing strong with “Mission,” “Turn The Page,” “Tai Shan,” and “High Water.” “Force Ten” is a stunning composition, both musically and lyrically, as is “Time Stand Still.” The strength of those two songs could carry the album. Not at all a bad album, but it feels very “produced,” and is sandwiched between two albums that are vastly superior (Power Windows before and Presto after).
Best song: "Time Stand Still"

7. Signals
This, and its follow-up, Grace Under Pressure, are the two crappy Rush albums. Poor production quality, flat drumming, and an overabundance of keyboards drag the songs down - and yet, I really like this album, and even Grace is okay (the first half, mostly). Every time I listen to the drums on “Digital Man” I ask myself what the hell is wrong with Neil. How did he even think of that? He was being difficult on purpose, I’m sure of it. “Subdivisions” is just a classic, though, and “The Analog Kid” is at turns romantic and desperate and is a joy to listen to.
Best song: "The Analog Kid"

6. Vapor Trails
There’s a chance that I could be putting this in here, and this high, only because I have been spinning it in my car over and over lately. Even though I might be biased at the moment, it’s still a great album. After the tragic deaths first of his daughter and then, just a few months later, his wife, Neil certainly could have called it quits - but he held on, went on a motorcycle ride, and wrote a whole bunch of great songs about redemption and the triumph of the spirit. Geddy’s vocal range is still intact, and there is a dreamlike quality to almost every song. This album came out five years removed from its predecessor (the largely forgettable Test For Echo), and we all knew about the tragedies in Neil’s life and the rampant rumors that the band was done. Thus, to hear the opening drum explosion of the first track and first single, “One Little Victory,” was to be blown away and to realize that the band was by no means finished.
Best song: "Earthshine"

5. Permanent Waves
Here we get into the albums that, for me, don’t have any weak songs at all. Like A Farewell To Kings, this is another record that shows the band going in a new direction. The prog sound is almost entirely gone and the record opens with two big radio hits “The Spirit Of Radio” and “Freewill,” the former being the most recognizable Rush song other than “Tom Sawyer.” Funny thing about “Spirit,” though, is that it calls out the radio format for being less about the music and more about the corporate money. “Freewill” distills Ayn Rand’s philosophy respecting religion into a five-minute scorcher featuring some of Neil’s tightest drumming and a bridge that contains the most amazing Geddy Lee vocal in the band’s recorded catalogue. Oh, and there’s a bass solo, too - right before a blistering Alex Lifeson guitar solo.
Best song: "Natural Science"

4. Counterparts
Another new direction! Actually, this is more of a return - to a less keyboard-oriented sound than dominated their records in the eighties. It’s also another bacon-saver, although along with Grace this is the record the band is the least happy with, as goes the production. Had they not stripped out the keyboards and brought Alex back to the front, he might well have left the band that he founded. This is a themed album, with the songs tied together loosely by one theme, as opposed to a concept album where the songs are tied more tightly together and form parts of a story. The theme is that of one person relating to another, or to others. There are love songs in here, too, though you might not think it - or even hear it, the first time around. The best song is “Double Agent,” or in Bob Dylan parlance, “Talkin’ Disgruntled Lover’s Blues.” “Leave That Thing Alone” is the band’s best instrumental that does not contain a reference to an airport, and “Everyday Glory” is one of those great “last songs on the album,” a cheery sort of hope-for-the-future sort of thing.
Best song: "Double Agent"

3. Power Windows
I prefer the two albums I talk about next, but this is really the best one. Wide-ranging in theme and scope and remarkably balanced musically, there is not only not a weak song on here, there are also no songs that are merely “good.” These are eight of the band’s best songs, and Alex’s best solo is contained in the amazing “Marathon,” which is the second-best song on the album after “Middletown Dreams,” a haunting lament of life gone wrong somewhere along the line but perservered through anyway - still with hope that all might turn out well in the end. Slick production gives it a glazed, medicated feel that adds to the song rather than glossing over its imperfections. It relies too much on keyboards, but when you hear Alex on guitar, it’s a blistering, bullet-like effect. Like the rest of the songs, it contains excellent vocals - only on Presto does Geddy’s voice sound so good, but the songs are not of the same caliber. A masterpiece.
Best song: "Middletown Dreams"

2. Moving Pictures
From the opening keyboard splash of “Tom Sawyer,” this is an album that burns with energy and intensity and passion. “Tom Sawyer” is the band’s best known song, a prog rock anthem condensed into four and a half minutes of precision that showcases some of the best vocals, guitars, bass, and drums in the band’s catalogue. Also contains my favorite Rush song, “Red Barchetta,” another complex musical number about a future where motor cars are outlawed but man’s free spirit is alive and well. “YYZ” is their best instrumental number, and must be listened to with headphones to get the full effect - one of Geddy’s most melodic bass lines and a frenetic passing back and forth of the song’s main riff. “Limelight” has one of Alex’s best solos, “The Camera Eye” one of Geddy’s best vocals. “Witch Hunt” and “Vital Signs” round out this gem, the first touching on xenophobia in a dark, haunting way and the latter a robotic study of the things that give life to man while at the same time stripping that life away bit by bit.
Best song: "Red Barchetta"

1. Presto
If music can solve any problem - or if the music is the ultimate solution or the ultimate salvation - the central idea in “2112” the song, then these eleven songs are the object lessons. If that were the case - which, of course, is not the truth. If it were the truth, it would be magic - Presto! Since there’s no such thing as magic, though, you have to make the most of what you’ve got to work with - and so these songs are still the object lessons. Everything that the band does so well is presented here in perfect balance at the end of the keyboard age. From the search for truth in “Show Don’t Tell” to a pointed rejection of suicide in “The Pass” (one of the band’s favorite songs) to the impotence of bombast and media hype in the amazing “Superconductor” to the search for truth again, though this time in nature, in the even more amazing “Available Light” - this is nearly the same kind of masterpiece as Power Windows, though in a different way. There is a playful tone here - the band saying “these are just songs, sure - but we really mean it.” The production quality is there, but it feels different - the difference between Peter Collins, who produced Power Windows and Hold Your Fire and Rupert Hine, who produced this one. The difference is subtle, but it’s there, almost like magic - Presto!
Best song: "Superconductor"

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Just Think Of It!

Helena and I were talking about houses today and it occurred to me, as I mentioned to her that I had read recently that the house Kurt Vonnegut had grown up in was currently for sale, that I had planned on writing a blog about that and had not done so. So here it is:

Back in the September 19th issue of NUVO, David Hoppe had a very good column about the legacy of Kurt Vonnegut, during the course of which he talks about a house that is for sale on north Illinois Street, in the Butler-Tarkington area.

It’s the boyhood home of Kurt Vonnegut, at 4401 North Illinois Street (MLS #2721607, pictures of which can be found here), where he lived from birth until the age of seven. The house can be yours for a cool $989,000. But away with those checkbooks! The Hoppe article also talks about a committee (with which he is involved) that wants to create a Kurt Vonnegut Center here in Indianapolis - possible located in the Athenaeum building, which was built by Vonnegut’s father, who was a noted Indianapolis architect.

The first thing on the agenda for this group is the ambitious goal of rounding up donations to buy the Vonnegut house, with the idea of turning it into a place that puts on various programs for writers and such. I have to say that I like the sound of that. We can certainly do with more culture and literature around here...

I could see such a place being something on the order of the Thomas Hart Benton home in Kansas City, which I was fortunate enough to see when Amy and I went there with my parents to visit my brother a couple of years ago - although that does not seem to be the plan. Whatever happens to it - if this thing gets off the ground, it will make a delightful addition to Indianapolis.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

6-0 The Humanity!

Illinois just knocked off #5 Wisconsin and shortly before that Indiana dispatched Minnesota by twenty. That puts Illinois - yes, Illinois! - in sole possession of first place in the Big Ten at 3-0. And but for the turnover festival two weeks ago in Bloomington, that might be the Indiana Hoosiers at 3-0 atop the Big Ten. That would also have meant that the Hoosiers were 6-0 for the first time in how long? Ever?

Either way, IU is 5-1 and looking at the real possibility of a bowl game - if they can eek out one more win in the remaining six games. The only problem is that the schedule gets a whole lot tougher from here on out - Michigan State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Ball State, Northwestern, and Purdue. Those teams are a combined 22-10 on the year. A win on the road at Michigan State would not just earn the Hoosiers the coveted Brass Spittoon - it would probably also mean vaulting into the top 25.

Of course, the football Hoosiers do this to me nearly every year - come out of the gate flying and then crash back to earth in the second half. But they've also never led the nation in sacks, as far as I know - which I believe they were doing coming into today's game.

But as I mentioned once before - football is exciting again in Hoosier Nation. Now if it could just start to actually feel like fall outside. That would be something!

The Last Song On The Album

Josh had a nice review of the new Rush album, Snakes & Arrows, on his blog last month, and one of the things he mentioned, in blurbing “We Hold On,” the last track on the record, is that Rush always seems to close their albums with really good songs. This was something I had never really pondered before but which, upon consideration, proves to be true.

I just listened to “We Hold On,” which popped up on the party shuffle feature of iTunes between the Benaroya Hall version of “Thumbing My Way” and “Storm Front,” and it opened up to me for the first time. Why did it open up to me? There’s a line in there that goes, “Straining against a fate / measured out in coffee breaks.”

Measured out in coffee breaks is strikingly similar to the line “I have measured out my life in coffee spoons,” which is from the T.S. Eliot poem “The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock,” which is my all-time favorite poem.

Not the thinking person’s rock band for nothing are these cats. It’s not the first time they have referenced Eliot’s poetry - though the only other example I can think of off the top of my head is, “So many decisions, a million revisions,” which is from “Double Agent,” the best song on the very good Counterparts album. And not just Eliot - “Losing It” from Signals has not one, not two, but three references to Ernest Hemingway. And, of course, Ayn Rand - whose influence is most notable on “Freewill” and “Prime Mover.”

Not only that, but “We Hold On” is also the most balanced song on Snakes, though “The Larger Bowl” is close - its folkiness detracts from its balance because Rush is not a folky band. The song is fine, but it’s not a quintessential Rush song - “We Hold On” is such a song, with open and clear vocals, power chords in places, searing guitar licks in other places, patient arpeggiation in yet other places, and a driving rhythm line that knows enough to get out of the way of the vocals and guitar work.

And it’s a great last song in a long line of great last songs. Josh mentions the following tunes in his post:

Mystic Rhythms
High Water
Carve Away The Stone
Out Of The Cradle
Between The Wheels

These are not the only ones. Others include:

Natural Science
Vital Signs
Available Light
Everyday Glory
La Villa Strangiato

That’s ten of their eighteen studio albums (though I’m not entirely on board with “High Water”) - with honorable mentions to:

Working Man
You Bet Your Life
Closer To The Heart (from A Show Of Hands)

There seems not to have been much point to this post, other than to acknowledge Josh’s point about great last songs on Rush albums - but I hadn’t blogged in awhile, and the only thing I had on the radar was complaining about the new Oprah book. This is much more positive!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Thumbing My Way Back To Soundtracks

So there's a new movie coming out called Into The Wild, based on the book by Jon Krakauer about an adventurous young man who abandons his life as he knows it and goes out into the world "to live deliberately," as it were. The soundtrack is by Eddie Vedder - nine new songs and two covers (and, apparently, some iTunes bonus tracks).

Tonight after work, I toddled over to the Castleton Best Buy to see if they had the record and how many United States dollars they were demanding in exchange for one copy. Naturally, I ventured into the aisle containing soundtracks since it is, in fact, a soundtrack. No dice. Not even one of those plastic dividers labeled with the name of the picture.

How silly of me to have expected a soundtrack to be located with other soundtracks. What was I thinking? I had also read that this was being billed as Ed's first solo album (sort of like the soundtrack to The Graduate is thought of as a Simon & Garfunkel album - it is and it isn't), so I wandered down the aisle with the V artists. There seemed at that point not to be any dice anywhere in the store. Of course, I never go into Best Buy looking for My Chemical Romance records, Xbox games, or movies by Judd Apatow on DVD, so I'm usually behind in the count before I even step through the door.

Am I too idealistic? Is it really too much to ask to file a soundtrack with the rest of the soundtracks and not in the fucking Pearl Jam section (which is where you will find the soundtrack for Into The Wild at the Best Buy in Castleton)? Who are the people who are going to know about this record and actually think it's a Pearl Jam record? The band barely went gold with the most recent album, so it's pretty much just real fans of the band buying the stuff. Anyone who wants this soundtrack is going to know first that it's a soundtrack and second that it's Ed's first solo album.

I didn't buy it - went to the Castleton Borders instead to get a couple of books for Ryan and Heather as wedding gifts, and the latest edition of Best American Short Stories (guest-edited this year by Stephen King) for myself. The location of the Into The Wild soundtrack at this store? In the V section of Pop/Rock, filed as an Eddie Vedder solo album. Not entirely correct, but getting warmer.

Dorothy Mae Butts - A Picture!

Dione came by with a picture of little Dot the other day, and Helena took it home and scanned it, and now here I am posting it up in the ol' Blog-O-Rama for the whole world to see! Huzzah! Okay, so it will really be for just the one or two of you out there who are interested and who might not yet have seen it. Here you go...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Jackson's First Trip To The State Museum

Finally got some shots of the little guy smiling today. We went to the State Museum after lunch downtown at Bazbeaux (the Basilica pizza with black olives, sun-dried tomatoes, feta cheese, and pesto sauce rather than tomato sauce) and walked around for a bit. The one shot of him smiling here was the best of the three that I got. The other two are just goofy-looking expressions that made me laugh when I snapped them.

Also got some shots of the Foucault pendulum, which was always one of my favorite things to check out when the museum was in the old City Hall building at Alabama and Ohio. It's not the same in the new building - a spiral staircase does not create the same sort of image as four levels of concentric ovals leading the eye up to the stained glass at the top - but at least they kept it.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Amusing Sports Anecdotes

Here’s a great quote from Len Pasquarelli, a senior writer for ESPN and one of two guys I always read when I want good quality NFL information (the other is John Clayton). The quote concerns Chicago Bears quarterback Rex Grossman, who has had his ups and downs with the Bears over the years. Pasquarelli’s latest column discusses the idea that the Bears should finally sack up and bench Rex the Wonderdog, and I have no real opinion about this because it has no bearing on whether the Colts repeat as World Champions Of All Football. The Patriots and Colts are playing so well right now that there aren’t many teams in the AFC that can compete with them, and there is but one single, solitary team in the NFC that has any hope (the Dallas Cowboys).

Pasquarelli notes that Grossman was so bad Sunday night that it seemed as though the Bears were relying on a strategy of trying to hold Dallas to field goals and hoping that return man Devin Hester could run back every kick for a touchdown. Here’s the quote:

“Had Dallas kicker Nick Folk booted the ball into the Shedd Aquarium across the street from Soldier Field, Hester might have dived into the shark tank after it, hoping to swim his way to a touchdown.”

There’s something about quotes that reference landmarks outside the stadium as being potential fields of play that always amuses me. There was one from Keith Olbermann, many years ago now, when he was going through highlights of Morten Andersen, who at the time was kicking for New Orleans. The highlight reel showed Andersen makng a series of very long field goal kicks, and Olbermann narrated it something like this, though this is paraphrased:

“Morten Andersen from the fifty yard line...bang! Morten Andersen from downtown Shreveport...bang! Morten Andersen from an oil derrick in the gulf...bang!”

Can I get away with one more of these? This one was from at least as far back in the day as the previous one, and it was from Brett Haber, the former tag team partner of Craig Kilborn when they hosted the morning “Feel Good Edition” of SportsCenter. The highlights were (I think) of the Oklahoma State (nickname Cowboys) men’s basketball team, and the reel started out with a shot of their sideline mascot, dressed in cowboy garb and mugging for the camera. Haber’s quote, yelled out quite enthusiastically:

“Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die!”

Getting In Touch With My Vegetarian German Patriotic Side

I haven’t decided to give up meat altogether - nor even come to any firm conclusion as to what it means to “give up meat.” Does that mean just red meat? Meat from animals that walk on the ground (as opposed, say, to seafood)? Or does it mean anything you eat that once had a face?

And how far do you go? Just the flesh? Or does beef stock count, too? How about pork rinds (although the very thought of that makes me want to give up eating altogether)?

These are just random thoughts, as I sit back and consider that I haven’t eaten any meat in the last three days (unless the salad shrimp in my antipasto salad from Bazbeaux count as meat), which was a conscious decision rather than an accident. Oh, and the Mexican gumbo I had from Zteca on Friday had chicken stock as a base, I’m pretty sure.

I’m sure that temptation will prove the stronger before too long, in some form or another (the most likely being chicken or sausage in whatever I eat the next time I to go Yats), and that this will wind up being more of a hobby than a real lifestyle choice.

I was noshing on the aforementioned salad this evening during a moment of rare (but quite nice) solitude in my piece of shit house, while watching the Rush R30 DVD, which I purchased today because Josh was kind enough (I think) to mention that the version of “Between The Wheels” on the R30 album was really good. Turns out the deluxe version of the R30 DVD has a 2-CD set of the concert - unlike the Rush In Rio DVD, the CD version was not sold under separate cover.

Any other band and I would not have cared. But this is Rush. If I had to pick one band from which to cull the soundtrack of my dumb little life, it would be Rush - no other band would even be close. Pearl Jam would be a distant second. (No, I’m not going to make a John-O: The Soundtrack list or anything.)

So I was at Borders downtown this afternoon (and almost picked up the new short stories edition of the Best American series, with Stephen King as guest editor) and broke down and got the deluxe edition of the R30 DVD. So there I was, volume jacked up, Bazbeaux salad spread out on the coffee table, meat picked out and set off to one side, except for those shrimp, air-drumming like an idiot and singing along to what turned out to be a really good DVD.

I could have been watching the Cowboys-Bears game on Football Night In America, but I just wasn’t that interested. I’m not super-enthused about this NFL season, even though the Colts are off to a 3-0 start, with two of those wins coming on the road against division teams they lost to on the road last year. I was even less interested because the game was between two NFC teams. The NFC isn’t just bad - it’s awful. The Cowboys are the best team going away, and they’re going to get beat the crap out of in the Super Bowl by the Patriots. (The Bears won’t go back to the Super Bowl because they’re about to have a quarterback controversy, and that’s not good news; and the Colts won’t go back to the Super Bowl because they can’t beat New England.)

I am satisfied that this post is reasonably random, but on the off chance that it is not, please click here to read a story about a guy who was arrested for allegedly beheading a duck at a hotel.

Now playing on iTunes:
“Rollaround” by Rebuilt

Eastern Promises

Director David Cronenberg implored an interviewer not to give away the plot of his new film, Eastern Promises, information provided in Roger Ebert’s review, in which he discusses a number of things about the movie, but mostly avoids the plot. Given that request, I have been trying to figure out how to shape my own comments on the film without giving away too much of the plot - and it has been difficult, which is why these comments have not appeared until now, even though I saw the movie three nights ago.

Eastern Promises is a film about Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen), the driver for a Russian mob family based in London and doing their family business behind the guise of a fine restaurant. I can’t say for sure that Cronenberg borrowed specifically from The Godfather when he set the Russian family up with a charming, calculating patriarch (called Semyon, played by Armin Mueller-Stahl) who vaguely resembles Vito Corleone; a fireball son of the patriarch, whose wild temper seems always to get the best of him and who vaguely resembles Sonny (this one called Kirill, by Vincent Cassel); and someone not of the family in a trusted role, sort of like Tom Hagen (the aforementioned Nikolai) - but the echoes are there.

Naomi Watts plays a midwife who is part Russian but does not speak the language, and she is drawn into the story when a pregnant young girl dies in childbirth on her ward. Among the girl’s possessions is a diary in Russian, which Anna cannot read. A business card inside the diary (a necessary contrivance) leads Anna to the mob family’s restaurant to see if she can get the diary translated (so she can find out how to contact the family, so that the family can take the baby, which survived).

The film then becomes a character study by way of a crime thriller, and it opens slowly (and sometimes painfully). There are elements of things being not as they seem - but since it is David Cronenberg, you must also contend with the possibility that some of the things that are not as they seem are also not as they seem they are not; and what this means is that as the story progresses and Cronenberg throws double-crosses at you, he also throws double-crosses to those double-crosses at you, and by the time you reach the end of the film, they are coming almost non-stop and stacking up so fast that you can barely keep up.

You might even come away from this film, as the credits roll and the house lights come up, thinking that there is more to come, that you have been cheated of a proper ending. Indeed, with so many movies bearing ridiculous running times, it does seem to be a bit of a cheat that this one clocks in at well under two hours - but it’s not a cheat. It is possible to have resolution without showing how every loose end is tied up.

And the reason that such a thing is possible is because the script is very tight and very carefully revealed through impeccable film editing and highly nuanced character interactions. Mueller-Stahl is excellent in his role as the mob patriarch, as cunning and brilliant as Don Corleone, but less romantic. Vito Corleone could, in some ways, be seen as an anti-hero, but this is not the case here. Mueller-Stahl infuses Semyon with very telling facial expressions and a surprising warmth that just barely conceals the malevolence lurking beneath. Cassel is over the top as Kirill - his malevolence is not remotely concealed, and he revels in it. He is impetuous and out of control in ways Sonny Corleone was not. Naomi Watts does a fine job, but there seems to be something lacking in her delivery - she seems to face every new danger with bravado rather than bravery, though she rarely plays Anna as intimidated. There’s a fine line between naïve and fearless, and I’m not sure she toes that line so much as she shuffles around its edges.

And then there’s Viggo Mortensen, who would have stolen the show, except that it was his show to begin with. He plays Nikolai with a cold, brutal control that is almost a sort of morality of its own. The addition of Anna into the plot reveals a new layer of Nikolai’s personality, and it also alters Nikolai’s trajectory in the story - though the degree of the alteration, and its scope, are elements of the plot that I am doing my best not to reveal. Everything good about Mueller-Stahl’s performance as Semyon is at work in Mortensen’s Nikolai, with one difference - Nikolai, unlike Semyon, has multiple dimensions, and Mortensen juggles them with ease.

(This is part of what I wrote about Mortensen and how he plays his character the first time I took a stab at writing this review: It is clear by Mortensen’s portrayal of Nikolai that this is a far deeper character, a far deeper person, than anyone else in the story. Most of the people we pass on the street every day are very, very ordinary - only once in a great while do we cross paths with anyone who is extraordinary. Nikolai is one of those rare souls - seemingly detached from everyone and everything, yet inextricably involved in everything; and you are drawn to this character because he understands everything about human nature and plays to the weaknesses of everyone around him.)

In a perfect world, this is the sort of picture that would rack up lots of major Oscar nominations - Actor, Director, Picture, Original Screenplay; but I suspect that there is a better chance of its being acknowledged on nomination day in smaller ways - Supporting Actor, Film Editing, Score; and that’s not to say that those aren’t fine awards - but it is to say that this is a picture that deserves to have a big Oscar night, except that it might just be a bit too taboo. And that’s a damn shame, because this is a really, really good movie.