Thursday, June 28, 2007

Who Could Ask For Anything More?

There are for me those little moments when the way I used to think about things changes. Most of the time this happens with music, with artists or bands that I previously disliked for whatever reason - sometimes for no reason at all - and then came around to appreciate, all of a sudden-like.

I might have had one of those little moments tonight. Rare are the times when I just want to sit down in front of the television and drift off toward that peaceful place between being asleep and being awake - but I closed Tuesday night and had to turn right around and open (early!) this morning at nine o’clock. (I know...those of you with real jobs are thinking that nine o’clock would be a nice change of pace - but my nine o’clock this morning came on the heels of being there until one in the morning.)

Therefore, I was pretty much wiped when I got home. I stopped at Yats for some chicken maque choux for myself and Amy, came home and ate dinner and watched Jeopardy!, and then decided to lie down for a bit while Amy fed the Breast Milk Depository, which is what I am considering renaming young Jackson (who turned three weeks old yesterday).

There was a double-dip of acceptable programming on PBS tonight - a bear show at eight and The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song - Celebrating Paul Simon at nine. I like bears and Paul Simon, so I was content.

During the Paul Simon show was that little moment I mentioned. James Taylor performed (with someone else, though I no longer recall who) one of Paul Simon’s solo songs, “Slip Slidin’ Away.”

I’ve never been a big fan of James Taylor - I’ve just never “gotten it,” if you know what I mean. If not, I’ll make it real easy for you. Ever heard Rush? What do you think of Geddy Lee’s voice? Most of you hear Geddy Lee sing for the first time and you wonder what we Rush fans could possibly be thinking. Same thing with James Taylor - he’s just never reached me.

But he did a damn fine job on “Slip Slidin’ Away,” making good use of the strong tone he’s always had in his voice - it has an elastic quality to it that allows him to move up and down in pitch without sacrificing tone or rhythm. His guitar work, also, is very good. But songs like “Fire And Rain” and “How Sweet It Is” (though not Taylor’s song) have just never grabbed me. Something about the way he sang “Slip Slidin’ Away,” though, did sort of grab me. I don’t know if it was enough of a grab to turn me all the way around the corner on James Taylor, but it’s a start.

To be honest, though, Geddy Lee didn’t grab me at first, either. When I heard him sing the first time, I thought the same thing everyone else did, namely that someone should take his nuts out of the vise before any permanent damage occurred. (I imagine a lot of people thought the same thing about Robert Plant at first, too - though maybe not to the same extent.)

One of my favorite quotes about Geddy Lee was in an Indianapolis News review of their concert on the Roll The Bones tour at Deer Creek in 1992. Mike Redmond, who used to write about rock music for the News, referred to “Geddy Lee’s helium squeak of a voice,” and it made me laugh out loud. Still does. In his review, Redmond said that he had not been looking forward to seeing Rush because he did not care for their “pretentious” lyrics and overly erudite sense of self-righteousness. By the end of the review, though, he admitted that - as always - Rush overwhelmed his low expectations. Toward the end, he noted that, whatever else you might think about Rush - “these cats can play.”

Bob Dylan was also an acquired taste for me. His unusual style of singing is much better known than that of Geddy Lee, but no less annoying to someone who doesn’t appreciate everything else that is going on in Dylan’s music. I don’t recall exactly when it was that I came around on Rush, but I remember exactly when it happened with Dylan - or at least the circumstances, because I don’t actually recall the day. I was driving back to work (at Eastgate) from Indiana Concessions, and heard “Positively 4th Street.” One of my friends, at the time, was in a relationship with a girl who was...well, she was high maintenance, shall we say. I thought the song summed up their relationship really well - and could almost have been written for them, except that it was written in the 1960s.

(Aside: “Positively 4th Street” can be interpreted as Bob Dylan’s parting shot to Joan Baez, with whom he was in a relationship earlly in his career. Baez was already a superstar when she met Dylan, and it is in large part because of her influence that Dylan became a superstar. It wasn’t meant to be, however, and their split was acrimonious. Read all about it in an excellent book by David Hajdu, also called Positively 4th Street. Did Baez write a song as a parting shot to Dylan, then, too? Listen to her “Diamonds And Rust” and tell me what you think.)

I now count Bob Dylan among my favorite artists, and he is one of the few artists whose new record I will buy sight unseen (sound unheard?) the day it comes out. Also on that list are Rush, of course, and Pearl Jam. I liked Pearl Jam from the moment I heard them, though - no period of adjustment necessary.

Now playing on iTunes:
"Forever Young" - Joan Baez singing the Bob Dylan song that he wrote for his son Jakob, whom you might know better as the lead singer of The Wallflowers

Are You Ready For Some Football?’s getting to be that time of year again. The new NFL season is just around the corner - okay, it’s still two months away, but ESPN has been running Ultimate Depth Chart articles on their web site for about a month now, sizing up which teams and divisions and players and whatnot are the best in the league, and those have piqued my interest.

Not that it takes all that much - this part of the year is low tide for me when it comes to sports, although I did glean some minor enjoyment from watching the San Antonio Spurs thrash the hapless Cleveland Cavaliers, from watching the Mighty Ducks win a Stanley Cup for Teemu Selanne, and from listening to the Indianapolis 500 on the radio (which is always a highlight of the sports year).

Summer should be about baseball, but it’s hard to find anyone to watch baseball with (because most people think it’s boring to watch, which is incorrect, but since there aren’t any fast breaks or two-minute drills in baseball, few people can be bothered to pay attention long enough to see what actually happens). Also, I’m a long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan, and it has been plain for a number of years now - going on one hundred even - that the Cubs just aren’t committed to winning.

(And really, in the big business world of sports, why should they be? Most teams need to win in order to drive ticket sales. The Cubs are one of the few teams in all of major league professional sports that can lose more games than they win most years and still sell out every game.)

That pretty much leaves the NFL, although I’m starting to doubt that this year is going to be much fun for Colts fans, because the Horse is going to have a hard time defending its World Championship Of All Football. But the season hasn’t started yet, and everything is fresh and new - and the Sporting News pro football book just came out. Good old Scott-J got me hooked on these preview magazines about five years ago, and I always look forward to the new Sporting News NFL book every year. Scott prefers the Athlon books, but I’ve just never cared for them.

Mr. Maier...I presume that you are looking forward to the upcoming NFL season very much, right? I don’t dislike the Patriots, but’s just no fun staring down the barrel of that gun every year. The Patriots, as far as I’m concerned, were the best team in the league last year. The Colts won the Super Bowl, yes...but the Patriots were, overall, the better team.

And they’re the best team in the league this year, too. No significant losses in personnel, along with big additions (WRs Randy Moss and Donte’ Stallworth and LB Adalius Thomas), mean that it’s going to be a lot of fun to be a New England fan this year. The schedule is a bear, though - they host San Diego and have to go to Dallas and Indianapolis, plus survive six division games in an AFC East that will be much more competitive than people think. Bold prediction, though: NYJ will surprise New England in the season opener. Bolder prediction: San Diego will come to Foxboro a week later and send the Patriots into week three sans a win. Less bold prediction: after that Chargers game, the Patriots won’t lose again until next season.

Of course, that all hinges on Randy Moss working and playing well with others. If he still acts like a bitch, then New England is going to crash and burn, à la the Eagles two years ago with Marker Boy. Bill Belichick is the best coach in the league, but he’ll have his hands full if Moss behaves the way he did in Oakland. This will be fun to watch, though - and if Moss does act like a baby and the Patriots still find a way to win the World Championship Of All Football, then Bill Belichick passes Mike Krzyzewski as the best coach in all of sports.

To a lesser extent, Justin is going to have some fun this year, too, as a Cowboys fan. The Cowboys aren’t as good as the Patriots, but they play in a much weaker division and have a much easier schedule - two, count ‘em two, tough games, including a home game against New England and a road game against Chicago. New Orleans is the team to beat in the NFC - yes, I still think the Bears are overrated and will stand by that until Rex Grossman manages to wrap his head around the concept of consistency - but Dallas should give them a run for their money. The only wild-card is new head coach Wade Phillips, who is a fine defensive mind, but a lousy head coach - he’s going to have his hands full trying to deal with the most interfering owner in the league when it comes to football decisions. If the Jerry Jones-Wade Phillips marriage (competitive sports union, for you Bible beaters) doesn’t work, Tony Romo could throw for 4000 yards and 24 touchdowns and it wouldn’t matter.

Is there a surprise waiting in the wings like New Orleans last year? San Francisco is expected to not suck, which sort of surprises me, but the only real surprise I can see is if Miami competes with New England for the AFC East title. The Dolphins have a tough schedule - New England twice makes any schedule tough - but if Trent Green plays up to expectations and Cam Cameron has more success this time around as a head coach, then the Dolphins are going to turn some heads. The defense is good enough to keep them in some tough games, and if Trent Green and the sometimes-impressive Chris Chambers click, it could be a fun year in Miami.

As for the Colts? It’s hard to say. The defense has been decimated by off-season defections, but that could be a blessing in disguise. The Colts had a decent draft, including inheriting almost the entire roster from National Championship runners-up Ohio State, and the offensive nucleus is still in place. The schedule is rough - home games against New Orleans, New England, and Denver, and road games against Baltimore and San Diego. The chances of the Colts getting a higher playoff seed than New England are slim, which almost guarantees another January playoff game in Foxboro.

As an added bonus, the Colts will have to find some way to ignore all the bitching that people are going to do about the fact that the new stadium is over budget and dragging the city into the toilet - since professional sports teams and their stadia provide zero economic benefit* to their home cities and bankrupt the taxpayers. Oh, and the mayor wants to raise taxes to pay for a new crime initiative. Let’s blame that on the Colts, too. Matter of fact, while we’re at it, let’s see if we can get the Colts charged with the Kennedy assassination. Of course, if corporations were paying the income taxes they were supposed to be paying, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. So start flaming the CEOs, you moral crusaders, and quit complaining about the Colts.

I was going to make a list of my picks for division winners and the playoffs, but what's the point? New England is going to win the Super Bowl, there are only 4-6 elite teams in the league (New England, San Diego, Indianapolis, New Orleans, and maybe Dallas and Chicago), and there are no mid-range teams that are going to present major problems for any of the elite or almost-elite teams. If Miami were in the NFC, that might make for an interesting storyline. But even if they have a much better season than they are expected to have, they still have to get through New England, San Diego, and Indianapolis. That's not going to happen.

* - Untrue, and intended with much sarcasm.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Welcome Back, My Friends, To The (Side)show That Never Ends

Summer is here, which means - of course - that it’s time to start thinking about the upcoming NFL season, in which the Indianapolis Colts will try to defend their first-ever World Championship Of All Football. (That’s going to be a tough job, for a number of reasons, but we’ll get to that in a future, much longer, blog post.)

In preparation for the upcoming season, I have been spending a bit more time reading the NFL page on ESPN’s website, and I came across a story today that made me think of that old C+C Music Factory song - “Things That Make You Go Hmmm.”

Here is a story about Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tank Johnson, real name Terry Johnson.

(Brief aside: Hulk Hogan’s real first name is also Terry. Actually, his real real name is Terrence, but if he were going to answer to anything other than Hulk Hogan, it would likely be Terry.)

Mr. Johnson was recently pulled over for speeding and had his blood drawn to see if the reason he was speeding was because he was drunk. He is currently suspended for the first half of the upcoming NFL season for violating the new personal conduct policy. The story goes on to mention a raid of Johnson’s home last December, and then goes on to state that two days after that raid, Johnson’s bodyguard was shot and killed after a fight at a nightclub.

Anything strike you as odd about that? Hint: it’s not the legal stuff. NFL players running afoul of the law is nothing new - in fact, it happens in Cincinnati more often than the Bengals win games!

No, the odd part is that a cat called Tank would have a bodyguard. Anybody click on the link to his name, which takes you to the ESPN player card for this guy? (Trick question. I know none of you did. Scott is the only one who would have, and he didn't have to because he knew it already.) If you had, you would have learned that this fellow, Tank Johnson, clocks in at 6'3" and 300 pounds.

And he needs a bodyguard? Are you fucking kidding me? If I was 6’3” and 300, I would not need a bodyguard. I would BE a fucking bodyguard. What size person do you get for a bodyguard when you're 6'3" and 300 pounds? And why do you even need a bodyguard? (Actually, the answer to that is because you're running around with people you shouldn't be running around with and doing things you shouldn't be doing. Remember that raid on Tank's house? Guess what they found - guns. There's a surprise.)

Not convinced that this is a ridiculous country that has been ruined by conservative Republicans? Someone who goes 6"3" and 300 needs a bodyguard. Oy vay. Call me when a Democrat has been elected President and we the people can go back to being taken seriously again.

Next: Why the Colts will not repeat as World Champions Of All Football, and why Jason and Justin will really, really like the upcoming NFL season.

Now playing on iTunes:
"Nothing As It Seems," by Pearl Jam (from the Benaroya Hall live set - and if you haven't picked up this record and played it to death yet, then, well...I can't help you)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

They Say That Music Soothes The Savage Beast, But...

Music may also soothe the grumpy little monkey - or may, at least, soothe my grumpy little monkey, too. Amy handed the little guy off last night at about 2:30 because he was being fussy and she wanted to get some sleep, and I was just sitting here drinking coffee and trying to do some writing. I tried holding him for a bit - he likes to be held - and checked his diaper, but he was still fussy, and his diaper was dry. So I put him down in the crib in the room that is currently half my office and half his future bedroom, and told him to go fuss himself.

I also put on some music - the new Rush album, starting with "Far Cry," the first song. And by and by he got quiet and drifted off to sleep. I don't know if he actually heard the music or not - it was coming out of the not-so-mighty little speakers of my iBook, and I had a fan going in the room - but I decided that I would go ahead and pretend that it was the music - Rush, no less - that got him quiet.

Same deal tonight, except the handoff occurred about an hour earlier. He was fussier tonight than he was last night, and being held didn't seem to be the ticket, so I checked his diaper...which was dry when I checked it, but less so just a moment later. I was under the impression that babies cried to let you know that they had soiled themselves. Sometimes not. Sometimes they cry to let you know that the soiling is imminent but has not happened yet. So there he was with a dry diaper and a now-wet onesie, which meant that I had to change everything. Then I wrapped him up and put him down again, and he was still fussy.

More music! This time I tried the folk-rock stylings of local hipster Jennie DeVoe (and if you haven't heard any of Jennie's music, then, well...I can't help you), and he started to settle down. But get this - I fired up the Party Shuffle feature of iTunes and got "The Stranger," by Billy Joel. And Jack got fussy again! I went back to Jennie DeVoe, and he got quiet again, and eventually drifted off to sleep. Photographic evidence follows - the before shot is first.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Good News From The East Side

I took some stuff over to the recycling bins in the parking lot of what used to be the Eastgate Mall yesterday, and I discovered something that was good for the soul. Now, I know that the concept of the “east side” conjures up mostly images of pit bulls and drug shootings - among other evidence that civilization is giving itself one great big swirly - but it’s not all bad. It’s just that the diamonds in the rough in this part of town are fewer and farther between than in some other parts of town. But every now and then you do find one. (Sometimes two.)

First is the recycling thing at Eastgate. Used to be, back in the day, that there was a big metal bin, painted green, where you could dump your aluminum cans, glass bottles, and newspaper. Said bin was tucked away in part of the parking lot formed by the Bermuda Triangle of Ryan’s Steakhouse, Burlington Coat Factory, and the old Builders Square building.

Well, that bin is around on the other side of the parking lot now, facing Shortridge Road - and it’s got company. In addition to the green-painted bin where you can dump newspaper, glass, and metal cans (and now #1 and #2 plastic), there are two Abitibi Paper Retriever bins, a big blue bin for cardboard, and a light green container where you can dump used clothing.

That means that pretty much all of your recycling needs can be taken care of in one place (if you live near the Eastgate Mall, anyway). There are no bins there yet for #3-#7 plastic, and you don’t get paid for your aluminum cans, but other than that, it’s pretty much a one-stop drop for basic recycling.

Second, I was at Lazy Daze yesterday and saw that there was a rug hung up over a doorway-sized hole that had been cut in the wall on the right side of the shop. I had noticed the last time I was in there that the tables and chairs had been cleared from that part of the shop, but missing chairs and tables could have meant anything. However, when you add missing chairs and tables to a hole in the wall behind which construction work is clearly being done, you are left with only one conclusion (which the wife of the owner confirmed for me as she made my drink yesterday).

Lazy Daze is expanding. Yes, that’s correct. They are expanding - getting bigger - adding more space. On the one hand, this is all well and good, and should have been expected - Lazy Daze is the best coffee shop in the universe (not as well stocked as the Monon Coffee Company, perhaps, but it also does not have that Broad Ripple price markup). But on the other hand, the really neat thing about this is that Starbucks opened just down the street - less than a month ago - and it apparently has not hurt Lazy Daze. Granted, their plans to expand have probably been in the works for longer than the month that Starbucks has been open - but I imagine that it is unlikely that Lazy Daze would have gone ahead with those plans if Starbucks had put much of a dent in their business.

I don’t have anything against Starbucks, when Starbucks is the only option. But when there are good local places, how can anyone possibly choose Starbucks over a Lazy Daze or a Monon Coffee Company?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Yes...I Took More...

First is a shot of Jack wrapped up as a baby burrito. Following that are two shots of Jack with Mommy. See how pretty Mommy looks in that middle picture?

One Day Old

These are some shots of Jackson at the very moment he turned one day old. Actually, it was one minute before he turned one day old, but it's close. At the exact moment he turned one day old, he took a huge dump. It's that first gooey, sticky dump they tell you about in expectant parents class. And he did more of it while we were cleaning up the first part. There. That should effectively counter all of the cute mojo from the pictures.

Day Two

Here are some more pictures of little Jackson - the red Beanie Baby is called Rover and has been all around the world with Amy. And a shout-out to all of the great people at Landmark (yet again). Helena forwarded the message I sent to the theatre yesterday to a bunch of people in the home office and various regional offices - and Helena forwarded to me messages of congratulations from those folks. Yet another of the multitude of reasons that Landmark is better than Another Major Competitor.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

More Pictures

I'm still getting the hang of doing this picture posting thing, plus everyone else is asleep.

He looked sort of like Gollum when he first popped out, but not so much anymore.

Jackson Scott Peddie

It was a while getting things going, but once things got going, they happened pretty fast.

Jackson Scott Peddie
June 5, 2007 - at 2:28pm
6 pounds, 10 ounces
20 inches long

Mom and baby are doing just fine. We'll be in post partum until about noon on Thursday, when we will take little Jackson home. Here are a couple of photos of little Jackson, at about seven hours old.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End

I was the only one who stayed through the credits - which began to seem interminable at some point, but I pressed on - to see what came at the end. Haven’t they learned? This is the third installment in the series, and there has been something at the end of the credits of all three movies! Oh well...

We thought Spider-Man 3 would be the last movie we squeezed in before the arrival of little Jackson Scott Peddie, but we were mistaken. We had time for this one, too, and I’m glad that we did, because it is likely that we would not have seen this one for who knows how long if we had waited for the baby to come. Both Amy and I have enjoyed the previous two films, and I was sort of hoping against hope that this third installment would deliver better than the reveiws had suggested that it would.

And for a wonder, it did. Like the other two franchises that churned out third installments this summer (Spider-Man and Shrek), the Pirates film was said to be less enjoyable than the previous films, and has also been accused of being a complete mess in the story department - verging on the incomprehensible and incoherent at its foggiest points. The general consensus, then, is that these are three franchises that started out well but have reached the point that they are now doing little more than treading water.

I haven’t seen either of the Shrek sequels, and I have made plain how wretched I thought the third Spider-Man picture was; but I enjoyed this third installment of the Pirates saga - possibly because my expectations were somewhat low, but more likely because I knew going in that this movie wasn’t going to take itself too seriously, wasn’t going to try to be more than it is. It’s big summer popcorn fun, to be sure - but for the most part, it works.

One of the reasons that it works is because the characters are so fully realized - especially Captain Jack Sparrow, Will Turner, and Captain Barbossa. Though pirates and scoundrels all, these three men are all possessed of a certain type of honor, and they hold true to themselves. The story operates within the framework of classical mythology - these pirates exist in the real world, but in a lot of ways, they exist in their own, separate world, too.

The two captains, in point of fact, have by the end of the third film been elevated almost to the level of gods, as the mythology of the pirate world is revealed and more and more of the history of the characters is shown. Like The Lord Of The Rings, there is more going on in the back story than we know - and it is the prerogative of the filmmakers to parcel out this information as they see fit. From an objective, obvious, point of view, this serves to leave things open at the end of each film for a sequel to emerge. However, from a somewhat more subjective standpoint, this type of storytelling also serves to effectively extend the dramatic tension, an important narrative element that Sam Raimi and company could clearly take a lesson from.

The lingering problem with the Pirates franchise, however, is how silly it plays. There is an element of reflexivity at work here, of course, but the tongue-in-cheek humor that worked so well in the first film is, in fact, a bit tired at this point. All of the facial expressions and gestures in the third movie look almost exactly like the ones from the first movie.

On the one hand, this is not a surprise - it was those expressions and gestures, that tongue-in-cheek hilarity, that helped to make the first film such a surprise hit. But there’s the rub - it was a surprise. In many ways, the first film seemed to work almost because it wasn’t supposed to work. That kind of amazing and unanticipated charm simply cannot be revisited in subsequent installments, no matter how hard the filmmakers try.

Unfortunately, they try a bit too hard to recapture that spontaneous silly factor that made the first film so charming. There had to have come a point during the development of this franchise when the filmmakers were faced with a fork in the proverbial road - focus on the silly humor and keep the movies light, or focus on the meat of the story and attempt to pilot a standard summer blockbuster through the dark waters of what is really going on with these characters.

They chose the silly route, but they have done good work with that choice, and have crafted movies that can be watched and enjoyed over and over again. They are good films, but one wonders about the choice made at that fork in the road - because it is quite possible that, in the right hands, these could have been great films.