02 December 2008

new noise is fuckin dead

I'm pretty sure the sports website is dead. In any case, my time at it has come to an end, for better or for worse, so, to me, it is dead.

There were a lot of bad writers, which I'm sure kneecapped any sort of promotional strategy that'd been mapped out for it. There are so many people expressing unsolicited opinions on the Internet that, if nothing else, you have to craft your message in a compelling way in order to attract any sort of an audience. Projecting your message in an incoherent fashion is not the best way to do that.

Seeing as how I wasn't paid for any of my work there, nor did I sign any sort of agreement to keep my work there exclusive, nor did I see anything indicating the like, I'm going to transfer my postings from that website to this one, placing them on the days in which they were posted originally, for the sake of continuity. I imagine I'll get more of an audience, if nothing else (plus, it gives my audience a chance to see another side of my writing, which is something, right?)...

11 November 2008

joe johnston is directing the captain america movie

That's what the Internet's telling me, anyway.

He's not a great director (yet), but he has directed some pretty halfway alright movies: The Rocketeer, Jumanji, October Sky. All three pretty good movies, I'd say. Certainly, they're movies with heart, which is something I always appreciate.

The Rocketeer is the key, though. It's a period film (which, I think it's now safe to say, Captain America: The First Avenger - Cap, for simplicity's sake, from here on out - is going to be), and I think having some measure of experience in trying to recreate the past would be important for anyone tacking this project, much beloved to me as it is. It's not without a sense of fun, which I think could be extraordinarily important if they're not trying to bring Ultimate Cap, but rather New Deal liberal Cap, to the screen (which I dearly hope is the case) - plus, that's always sort of what's differentiated Marvel from DC: the fun (Iron Man vs The Dark Knight). Moreover, The Rocketeer features Billy Campbell as the classic square-jawed, fair-playing, American hero that, again, classic Cap should be. It's kind of like a dry run, in a lot of ways, and I think he did himself proud the first time around (plus, you know, Nazis are the bad guys in The Rocketeer, too).

Besides, I wouldn't say that Jon Favreau had directed any revolutionary, genre-defining or -redefining movies before he got Iron Man, so directors without totally proven track records have, well, decent track records with regards to tentpole Marvel movies. Of course, this could just be me hoping.

I shouldn't be excited about this, or even okay with it. I should demand, say, a Peter Berg, or a Sam Mendes, or a Michael Mann, or any director who's demonstrated a feel for his material that goes far beneath the surface, that resonates, that makes art, but I'm surprisingly copacetic with Mr. Johnston. Maybe I still remember what it was like when I went to go see Hulk, as directed by Ang Lee, a man with a resoundedly proven track record when it comes to making art. Maybe we can leave the art to Batman, and take the fun for Marvel. I'd be more than happy with that.

For what it's worth, Joe, I've got your back until the release date. I will continue to pour over your body of work to cull more tidbits that support my case for, well, supporting you. This is, with the possible exception of J.J. Abrams' Star Trek, the movie that's the most important to me, personally, that's been released in my lifetime. Moreover, I have, in my possession, 2/3 of a Cap script that, I think, is pretty damn solid, that remains among the work I've done in my life with which I'm most happy. So, no pressure.

Now, you just need to do the right thing and cast Nathan Fillion.

03 November 2008

countdown

I've gotten more than a few calls from the Obama campaign proper, and MoveOn.org representatives, and I think even someone from Environment Colorado. Much though I'd like to help, I have my own weird little commitments that take up time (you can decide if my girlfriend fits into either of those categories for yourself).

The fact of the matter is this: if you're not of the mind that we absolutely need to change horsemen mid-Apocalypse right now, before it's too late (if it isn't already), I don't know what's going to convince you. It's not that I don't think people should be able to hold their own opinions, it's that I don't see how you can continue to hold a frighteningly wrong one in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

John McCain is dead. Long live John McCain (wait, that's not right... The John McCain we knew is dead, and I don't like this new one a single bit)!

I hope the American people actually get to choose their leader this year, that our fundamental rights aren't stolen away by people who don't care a single bit about what this country means, or about the people that still believe in what this country means.

It's in our hands, now. I hope we don't fuck it up again.

27 October 2008

Barackstock '08


Could the age of the self-flagellating liberal finally be approaching an end?

You tell me:


21 October 2008

prepping for the end of the year

Seeing as how we're nearing the end of October here, it's probably a good idea for me to start thinking about how to get my thoughts in order for my end-of-the-year music list (5 favorite albums, plus favorite song, plus various other incidental awards). The best way that I can think of to do this is to begin fashioning a list of all of the albums (and not-albums) released in 2008 that I have purchased and/or listened to (in 2008). In no particular order...

Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard - The Dark Knight Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Kanye West - 808s & Heartbreak
The Verve - Forth
United Nations - United Nations
TV On The Radio - Dear Science
Trap Them - Seizures In Barren Praise
These Arms Are Snakes - Tail Swallower And Dove
Smashing Pumpkins - American Gothic [EP]
Sigur Ros - Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust
Ryan Adams & the Cardinals - Cardinology
Russian Circles - Station
The Roots - Rising Down
Rise Against - Appeal to Reason
Randy Newman - Harps and Angels
R.E.M. - Accelerate
Portishead - Third
Opeth - Watershed
Oasis - Dig Out Your Soul
NIN - The Slip and Ghosts I-IV
Mogwai - The Hawk is Howling
MGMT -
Oracular Spectacular
Metallica - Death Magnetic
Lil Wayne - Tha Carter III
King Hobo - King Hobo
Intronaut - Prehistoricisms
The Gutter Twins - Saturnalia
Gnarls Barkley - The Odd Couple
Ghost Buffalo - The Magician
Genghis Tron - Board Up The House
Fucked Up - The Chemistry of Common Life
Foxboro Hot Tubs - Stop Drop and Roll!!!!
Earth - The Bees Made Honey In The Lion's Skull
Disturbed - Indestructible
Coldplay - Viva La Vida
David Byrne & Brian Eno - Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
Bryan Scary & The Shredding Tears - Flight of the Knife
British Sea Power - Do You Like Rock Music?
Bison B.C. - Quiet Earth
Atmosphere - When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold

(hey, reverse alphabetical order!)

This is not going to be the easiest list to pare down. 2008 has, by and large, been a good year, and we're not through yet. Some of the various awards that'll get issued include:

The Andy Roddick Memorial Award - good, but not good enough
The Stretch Armstrong Tribute Award - demonstration of artistic growth
The Salvador Dali Memorial Award - good, but incomprehensible
The Spirit of Planet of Ice Award - a previously subpar artist/band's first worthwhile release
The Bourne Identity Soundtrack Award - for a noteworthy electronic album (which will henceforth get expanded to be an general "awesome production" award)
The Phantom Award - the letdown album of the year
The Die Hard with a Vengeance Tribute Award - a good new release, but one that pales in comparison to what came before
The "Holy Shit! I Care About You Again!" Award - self-explanatory
The Samuel Beckett Memorial Award - for the "fuck you, I'm making this my way" album
The Live Free or Die Hard/Lethal Weapon 4 Award - the unnecessary, but still enjoyable, album
The '04-'05 Phoenix Suns Award - for an album that I am coming to appreciate a year late (which may also result in a reworking of the previous year's Top 5 list)

Why do I have two awards named after Die Hard sequels?

For the couple of people that read this on an irregular basis, have I missed anything of critical importance?

13 October 2008

an attempt at saying something meaningful about punk rock

There's a quote from Pablo Picasso on the inside cover of the new Rise Against album (Appeal to Reason) about how how all works of art are really instruments of war, that they're engaged somehow in the immediate world around them.

Regardless of whether or not you'd consider yourself an "artist," I think engagement with the world around you is an essential element of anybody's behavior. This probably goes a long way towards explaining why some of my favorite records in the past few years (Pearl Jam's self-titled album, Green Day's American Idiot, Eddie's Into the Wild soundtrack, and, if we're willing to go back a few more years, The Rising, among others) have wound up being records dealing pretty directly with the
events of the day. That's at least part of why all of those protest songs from the '60s have the legs they do (well, that and the fact that they're just good songs).

There's a difference, though, between records like The Rising and those like, say, the Beastie Boys' To The 5 Boroughs (and still further difference between those two and Randy Newman's Harps and Angels, which doesn't do much to furthe
r my point, but is interesting to think about, regardless). That is to say, there's a difference between being timely, and handcuffing yourself to a single moment in time. Let's take a moment to compare some of the lyrics in Springsteen's "Into the Fire" to the Boys' "It Takes Time To Build." First, Ad Rock, MCA and Mike D:

"
You wanna change things up, well hey just get set/
It's easier to sit back than stick out your neck/
It's easier to break things than build it correct/
We've got a president we didn't elect/
The Kyoto treaty he decided to neglect/
And still the US just wants to flex/
Keep doin' that wop we gonna break our necks"

And now, Springsteen:

"
You gave your love to see, in fields of red and autumn brown/
You gave your love to me and lay your young body down/
Up the stairs, into the fire/
Up the stairs, into the fire/
I need you near, but love and duty called you someplace higher/
Somewhere up the stairs, into the fire"

This might not be a fair comparison, given Springsteen's inherent lyrical superiority, but, in a lot of ways, that's at the heart of the matter here. Both of the albums on which these songs are contained deal, to varying degrees, with the fallout from the events of the 11th of September, 2001 (I'm making an early New Year's resolution to avoid using "9/11" wherever possible - it's time to reclaim it from the evil wing of the Republican party), but they do it in vastly different ways. The Beastie Boys turn their vitriol to a very specific person, in the finest rap tradition of calling out a foe (see: pretty much every feud between rappers since the dawn of time), while Springsteen speaks in somewhat broader terms, ones not completely married to this specific moment in time, leading up to this election.

[Let's take a second to admit that, yes, the Beastie Boys' "An Open Letter to NYC" is a very sincere, very moving song, and I mean them no disrespect in their tribute to their hometown. But, let's be honest here: Springsteen vs the Beastie Boys. On perceived artistic merit alone, the Boss emerges victorious. But I'm losing sight of the point with every sentence I type.]

Rhymes about George II and Kyoto date themselves moments after they're spoken; whatever sort of power the words have, well, they fade with time. Eventually, the current audience (who you've got to hope will be listening to your music in decades time, right? Why create unless it's intended to endure?) won't appreciate your cracks about how we're "strung out on OPEC" - hopefully - in the way that the listeners of today will. Bruce's extolling of the virtue of the selfless sacrifice of the firefighters who saved as many as they could before they, themselves, fell... well, it carries a lot more weight. But, then again, it's supposed to.

I suppose what I'm saying is that I think there's a fine line between "timeless" and "generic," just as there is between "timely" and "dated."

But now, to the point: the new Rise Against album, Appeal to Reason.

I did not manage to discover Rise Against on my own; I had managed to swear off anything resembling "punk rock" during my "metal" phase in high school (with the notable exceptions of Green Day - always thought Billie Joe was smarter than people gave him credit for, and American Idiot proved me right - and Bad Religion) and had continued along that merry path up until Adam pretty much ordered me to listen to The Sufferer and The Witness. You could've considered me a convert to the church of Rise Against after the first four tracks on the album.

Someone once said that the great thing about punk rock is that it all sounds awesome at first, so primal and accessible is it, but the other great thing about it is that it doesn't take too much listening time to separate the wheat from the chaff, as it were (I'm taking great liberties with phrasing, here). It's not difficult to figure out whether Dookie is a better album than anything Good Charlotte has released, or will ever release, even though it's pretty obvious that they all loved the exact same sort of music growing up.

I remember the rise of what I'm going to refer to as "high school punk" (or "pop punk") during, interestingly enough, my time in junior high (high school, sadly, comprised the salad days of the boy band explosion - how excited was I when I got to college and found out there were bands where people actually played instruments?). Blink 182-type bands. It was kind of cool, at first: fast, funny, and easy to like from the start. But, it didn't go anywhere. It didn't say anything that hadn't already been said better earlier.

Rise Against, though, trades in significantly more than whining about girls from high school. Rise Against wants to change the world, or at least wake us up so that we're able to realize what sort of damage we're wreaking upon it. That's a sentiment I can get behind.

It's kind of like the flip side of the UN album, in a lot of ways. Appeal to Reason is very well-produced, very listener-friendly (much of the album could, and probably will, find a home on contemporary hard rock radio, and that's not a bad thing, I don't think), and very... musical. It's anthemic ["Re-Education (Through Labor)], assaulting ("From Heads Unworthy"), and heart-breaking ("Hero of War" - I bet everyone in the world can call this song out as cliche, but would you care to tell me when a cliche isn't a cliche? When you - the person producing it - believe in it sincerely), all traits I suppose you could ascribe to that "most important" of art, the timeless art. Oh, and the music supports the lyrics - I don't think there's a moment that you could accuse the words of taking a backseat to the power chords.

Oh, yes, the words. Significantly more important in punk rock, I think, due to the relative simplicity of the music (as compared to, say, Dream Theater). The point should be to get your point across. Here's how the first song, "Collapse (Post-Amerika)" opens:

"When our rivers run dry and our crops cease to grow/
And when our summers grow longer and winters won’t snow/
From the banks of the ocean and the ice in the hills/
To the fight in the desert where progress stands still/
When we’ve lost our will

That’s how we’ll know
/
This is not a test, oh no/
This is cardiac arrest/
Of a world too proud to admit our mistakes/
We're crashing into the ground as we all fall from grace"

Getting the point across, like I say. Let's use one more example, from my favorite song on the album, "The Dirt Whispered:"

"
She got down on hands and knees, one ear against the ground,/
Holding her breath to hear something, but the dirt made not a sound tonight

Echoes of songs still lurk on distant foreign shores, where we/
Danced just to please the gods that only ask for more, and so it goes

But still we give ourselves to this/
We can't spend our lives waiting to live"

This isn't to demean the musical abilities of the band, mind you. They're all skilled musicians, though I'd be remiss in my reaction-writing if I didn't say that I think the guitarist on The Sufferer & The Witness was a little... punchier than the new one.

There are too few records anymore that can sustain themselves beyond the first four tracks, but Appeal to Reason is solid pretty much throughout. The last thing you'd want to do is to see your argument fall apart in the last 10 or 12 minutes, right?

This is what "high school punk rock" should be, frankly: timeless, in a weird sort of way. That is to say, it can cut across a generational gap, so hopefully in the way that some parents are introducing their children to the "rebellious" music of their youth, the children of today could someday pass along their copy of Appeal to Reason to their children, for the points Rise Against makes today will be points worth making in the future, I believe.

It took a mainstream political campaign in 2008 to finally put into practice what many musicians have been saying all along: mobilize the youth. Let's hope it works, for all our sakes.

03 October 2008

the day after the [VP] debate

Biden has command of the issues; Palin can at least twist around the question and give answers to questions she wished the moderator had asked. Biden is smart, qualified, engaged, while Palin is, well, the opposite (I wasn't expecting to see Biden as the Jed Bartlet analogue, but I'll take it - he's even Catholic).

They got Palin on the ticket to boost its folksy authenticity (among other things), thinking her "realness" would connect with the average American. I didn't see an instant of truth in a single thing Palin did last night, so rehearsed and programmed was every word, gesture (that fucking winking thing she did at the camera...) and strand of hair.

Joe Biden, a man, like Barack Obama, that embodies the American Dream in its most pure form, a man who pulled himself up by virtue of his drive, intellect, and ambition, bared his soul to the world when he reminisced about his great personal tragedy. In a clearly unrehearsed moment, a moment devoid of political posturing and vote-shilling, Joe Biden showed America what sort of a man he really is, where his true values, and his heart, lie.

He's one of the few people in this country that I can honestly say I like as both a politician and a person; I hope he won some people over last night. It couldn't have been easy to be himself, but that's always what he's been best at.

01 October 2008

Confessions of a Denver Native (or, What's Up With the Denver Nuggets?)

I wasn't alive (or aware of basketball) during the 1980s heyday of the Denver Nuggets; the Doug Moe, run-and-gun years, the years where, try though they might, they could never muscle their way past the Showtime Lakers. My dad's told me stories about games, though, so at least I have more than a passing familiarity. The biggest thing I've taken away from his stories is the fact that those Nuggets didn't have to win championships to be a fun team to watch, a team worth supporting (a common theme among Colorado sports teams before we got spoiled watching them win Lombardi Trophies and Stanley Cups). Oh, for the days when support for your team wasn't defined by their proximity to their last championship trophy...

Sorry, I didn't mean to get sidetracked. My clearest first Denver Nuggets-related memory is of them clinching the playoff berth that led to the historic Sonics upset (sorry, Seattle fans, don't mean to bring up painful memories, I'm just telling it like it is); maybe it was the new uniforms, or the fact that everyone in the city lost their minds after the overtime victory, or the fact that, like a lot of the best times my dad and I shared during my youth, he and I watched the game together, cheering all the while (that's probably the single-best Nuggets-related time we ever had – most of those basketball bonding nights were spent watching the Jazz take on the Bulls. I'm really tearing open some old wounds today, aren't I?).


That was sort of the high-water mark for my time with the Nuggets. Most everyone remembers the decline: the trades (why, Dikembe?), the losing streaks, the awful records, Dan Issel getting carried out of the locker room on a rail... Maybe that last one didn't happen. It sure felt like it, though. While the Nuggets didn't become irrelevant during this ebbing period, they certainly didn't call to me, or our city, in the same way that they had used to. When we went to games (“we” being me with either my friends or my family), it was typically to see the marquee players from the other team, and certainly not our guys.


Fastforwarding (memory allows you to do that, you know) to 2003, and the Carmelo Anthony draft. Miraculously, the Nuggets became fun to watch again almost overnight (though, really, it was the result of nearly two years of hard work behind the scenes by former Nuggets star turned current Nuggets GM Kiki Vandeweghe). Nene, Boykins, Camby, Miller, Melo... Denver finally had a basketball team with players whose names were worth remembering. I wasn't much of a fan of the new uniforms (powder blue and yellow? Still looks like the color scheme you'd expect of a WNBA franchise), but that was a fairly small price to pay if there was NBA basketball in Colorado that was worth watching.

We thought the turnaround was complete with the return to the playoffs, or certainly with the inclusion of George Karl to the position of head coach (and the eventual addition of the much-revered Doug Moe to the staff); at least the Nuggets would be fun to watch again. They'd be competitive (playoffs 2 years in a row!), and play like they cared (putting up a fight in the losing playoff series, putting up an actual fight against the Isiah Thomas-coached Knicks). The question about whether or not they'd ever be able to get over that playoff hump might not have even been a question; Denver was, for a time, happy with a basketball team that was interested in actually playing basketball.

However (in a fairly ham-fisted transition), the question would receive an Answer, whether we liked it or not. Allen Iverson, inarguably one of the best pure players of his generation, made his way to the Nuggets on December 19, 2006. With the arrival, a month later, of Steve Blake from the Bucks, it was clear that the people running the show intended to make a real push for some level of dominance in the Western conference. Iverson, Melo, Blake, Camby, Nene, K-Mart... players whose names really were worth knowing. Or, so I thought.

Everything should be lining up. A solid Nuggets team that can compete with the best in the league, that plays adventurous, seat-of-your-pants basketball, packed to the brim with personality. Why, now, after the seeming resurrection of the classic, run-and-gun Nuggets, do I (along with many of my fellow Coloradans) find myself less than compelled by them? Is it the trade that sent Marcus Camby away for... nothing in return, is it because it's clear that Coach Karl really doesn't have the fire to get his team to the next level (despite the fact that he's only missed the playoffs once in seasons that he's finished with a team), let alone ride his superstar players hard enough to get them, if not to play actual defense, then to play with the other members of their team, or is it because, as commissioner David Stern might fear, the “thug” image of the team's principal players puts me, a white guy, off just enough that I can't commit my loyalty to the team?

Well, the third part of that question won't get us anywhere; there are plenty of scary things in this world, but basketball players are not really among them. Also, I haven't been intimidated by tatoos, or the way a person dresses, since high school. It has nothing to do with that. The two other parts of the question, well, they're really symptoms. A better front office could've organized a better trade (and put together a better team after Kiki left – great teams push each other above and beyond, and this Nuggets team is categorically incapable of doing exactly that), and better management could've found a coach more committed to, you know, coaching (and not wasted Melo's career, minus the Olympics, up to this point).

It's like the 80's again (deficit's up!), up to and including the fact that they're surrounded by teams that, sure, they can compete with, but can't consistently beat. The great thing for basketball fans is that team in the West decided to get good pretty much at the same time; the bad thing for Nuggets fans is that the team's just not good enough. They're not even really a team, at this point, but a bunch of guys out to score as many points as they can every night. I don't have a solution, aside from blowing the team and the coaching staff up and starting fresh, but that argument would work better if I had names of players and personel to target. Even then, I don't know if I'd care.

Photo of Rocky the Mountain Lion by Garrett W. Ellwood.

29 September 2008

the free market giveth, and the free market taketh away

Fidelity to ideology? Say it ain't so!

Not being an expert in matters financial, I can't exactly offer an enlightened opinion on this "Financial Crisis" [with theme music], but I can say that I'm in favor of Republicans acting like, well, Republicans. I'm opposed to the capital "B" Bailout on terms motivated almost exclusively by a desire for vengeance (also because I don't see why perpetrators of fraud should get their mess cleaned up while their victims are left homeless and on the street), whereas I would assume a true Republican would be opposed to the Bailout on ideological terms tied very closely to the freedom of the Free Market.

Last week, someone said that when push comes to shove, conservatives reveal themselves to be socialists, and that's kind of depressing to me. If that's the case, then they weren't real conservatives to begin with. I was despairing that real conservatives didn't exist anymore, until the talk of the Bailout began to reach feverish proportions. Then, and only then, did real conservatives start to come out of the woodwork.

I think that all Americans should be opposed to the Bailout, if for no other reason than the fact that it puts an inordinate amount of our money (yours, mine, Warren Buffet's) at risk for no real reason at all (don't believe
me? Here), money that could be going to fund, I don't know, useful things. We (by "we," I mean no one even like us) raised the debt ceiling $800 billion this year, and we really want to push against it already?

Also, it sets a horrible precedent for a country that's hi
storically balked at the merest hint of the word "socialism" (let's TANGENT for a moment and admit that, yes, I'm a proponent of Big Government. I think government exists to provide essential services to its people, "basic human rights" sorts of services: national defense, transportation, utilities, health care, education... I don't think people should profit from providing "basic human rights" sorts of services, which therefore leaves them in the purview of the government. However, in order to work properly, I think Big Government needs a much better plan than anything that's been put forth so far in this Bailout strategy. As someone who remembers what it was like last time this administration said, "We have to act now, because the consequences of inaction are too severe," I'm not in favor of the proposals that've been put forth thus far. END TANGENT). It doesn't give the perps any incentive to avoid playing fast and loose with other people's money again; in fact, it encourages them.

The way I see it, we have two options: either we nationalize everything, thus (theoretically) preventing a meltdown of (potentially) catastrophic proportions from happening again, or we let everything play itself out as the Free Market says it should, and let the chips fall where they may. I know no one's going to let either of those two options come into being, which means it's on the people in charge to figure it out.

Of course, we could just leave everything in the hands of these two geniuses...

The photo of George II was pulled off of the CNN.com homepage today; all due credit to the person who took it should be given.
I would rather have avoided the Noid, so I won't research into its history...
Fine. Group 243, Domino's advertising group, created the Noid. Read more about it here.

peace on earth... for a few hours

I went to purchase the new Sigur Ros album (Med Sud I Eyrun Vid Spilum Endalaust - which translates, apparently, from Icelandic into English as, "With A Buzz In Our Ears, We Play Endlessly") not on the day of its release, but at least the week it came out. While I was pretty sure it wasn't going to hit me over the head with its awesomeness the way its predecessor, Takk..., had, but given that I've been enamored with every one of their albums and EPs and singles that I've gotten my hands on since 2003, I wasn't exactly worried. I had no reason to worry; despite the fact that "Gobbledigook," the album's first track, is bizarre even for the ethereal post-rock that is Sigur Ros's calling card, the music is gorgeous, lush, beautiful, and uplifting in the way that only music can be (I'd write more, but this is a posting about a concert, and not so much about an album. Besides, I don't want to take away from what could be a nicely written response when I fashion my list of my five favorite albums from 2008... more on that in a few months).

First, a bit more background. When Takk... came out, Sigur Ros' tour took them to, I believe, the Gothic theater in Colorado. It's an all right venue, but nothing that's going to deliver a life-changing experience. It's fairly small, kind of cramped, and very short of an inspiring space. I don't like paying more than $20-25 for a show unless I can be assured of its unassailable awesomeness (Pearl Jam opening for Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, the Smashing Pumpkins at Red Rocks); in re
trospect, seeing Sigur Ros would've been enough to qualify for "unassailable awesomeness," but I was younger, and much more foolish. I passed on the $35 for the show. I wonder, now, what that would've been like.

Let's fastforward to... the past. Saturday, September 27, 2008. Sigur Ros, live, at Red Rocks. One of the most amazing bands in the world at what could only be described as the best venue in the world (you're welcome to disagree with me, but I won't listen to you). A show I had been waiting to attend for, well, a while.

I was expecting it to be cold, but it wasn't. It was actually nice and... almost balmy, with just a hint of a breeze all night. Maybe it's possible for a whole lot of positive energy to affect a similar change in the weather, or perhaps Colorado's climate decided to be cooperative for once. Regardless of the reason, the fact of the matter is that it felt, well, practically perfect once Vanessa and I arrived at Red Rocks (she'd never been for a show, by the way. What an introduction).

I didn't (and still don't) know much about Parachutes, the opening act, but they're about the perfect Sigur Ros openers. Ethereal and beautiful, whispy and yet... potent, they embody an altogether similar, yet different, aspect of their homeland than Sigur Ros; that is to say, if Sigur Ros sounds the way you'd think Iceland looks and feels, Parachutes might sound like how it feels to live in Iceland. There's a sense of community to their music, almost one of harmony (it's almost got this foreign small-town quality to it), the kind of thing I instinctively associate with a small community of people that could well be connected at an almost fundamental level.

My opinion could well be influenced by their performance, where what seemed like every member of the band took their turn on virtually every instrument onstage: percussion, string, wind, even vocals. It was almost like watching a collective of artists emerge from their little compound for the first time in, well, a long time, to perform in front of an audience that's not themselves. They were very much in their own special world onstage, and that really lent to the magic of the entire experience. I figured the band opening for Sigur Ros would be good, but I didn't figure on them legitimately being a musical treat. I should look into some of their music...

Anyway, on to the main event, what's probably going to take the cake for my favorite live concert in 2008 (anyone that's not performing at Red Rocks is seriously kneecapped from the start, and anyone that's not Sigur Ros is in serious trouble, too).

I don't honestly know where to begin. It was a beautiful, stirring experience from start to finish, and I'm really not kidding when I say that, from my piddling little perspective, the entire world really was at peace during the time they were playing. I don't know if I've ever attended a show where I was surrounded by so many [shiny] happy people. It was a time of unrestrained joy throughout the venue, and I think we're all better for having participated in it.

I bet there were some people less than enthusiastic about the fact that the band didn't travel with its backing players (the horn section, specifically, which apparently was present during the Takk... tour), but I rather liked the... minimalism. Insofar as you could attempt an intimate, personal show at Red Rocks, I think they did, and I think they succeeded. I think everyone in the amphitheater felt the same way that Vanessa did when she said that, at times, it felt like there was no one else around except for the band, and us.

My personal highlight was the performance of my absolute favorite Sigur Ros song, "Saeglopur," off of Takk... The band began the song surrounding the keyboardist, playing all variations of percussion and keys, then spread out back across the stage as the song boomed into its full force. "Saeglopur" is... big, for lack of a better term. Well, "bombastic" might be better. The way the strength of the instruments simultaneously supports and battles with the fragility of Jonsi Birgisson's voice is something extraordinarily special. It's like... crystal and thunder. And it's gorgeous.

It's not all that often that I'm moved to tears by something that isn't a) Spock dying at the end of Wrath of Khan, b) Sam Seaborn talking about America being "a beacon that has lit the world for two centuries," or c) remembering what it was like seeing my grandparents waste away, but that song has some incredible power over me. I don't quite know what it is, but I certainly don't mind it. It feels good, like being alive.


"Saeglopur" was followed by "Hafsol," a track from the double EP they released last year, Hvarf-Heim, a collection of B-sides and live tracks. It builds to its stellar, otherworldly ending almost better than "Saeglopur" does (and for that, I suppose I can forgive Vanessa for liking it better than my favorite song). I certainly wasn't expecting to hear it that night (hoping, perhaps, but not expecting), and delivering the two of them, back-to-back, made for an improbably phenomenal climax to what had already been a great night of music.

To circle back to the beginning, "Gobbledigook," which closed the performance proper (with the exception of an encore that lasted two songs), is now a song that I can well and truly appreciate. The members of Parachutes took the stage with their friends for this song, all wearing drums that they banged on madly for the bulk of the song. If ever there has been/will be a cathartic Sigur Ros song, this would probably be the one. The elation that had so permeated me and my fellow audience members had most certainly made its way to the stage; you could see it in the way the band members moved, and played, and jumped around (and the way they had the audience sing along).

I'm going to end this now by saying that I feel it was a fantastic experience, worth significantly more time and money than that which I put into it. Beautiful, charming, elegant, glorious... I don't know if I can say enough positive things.

The full set list, for what it's worth (thanks go right here):
heysátan
fljótavík
all alright

njósnavélin
ný batterí
við spilum endalaust
hoppípolla

með blóðnasir

inní mér syngur vitleysingur

festival

dauðalagið
sæglópur

hafsól

gobbledigook

--(short encore break)--
illgresi

popplagið

(Oh, and the enclosed photographs were taken by Vanessa Luna and Phil Wrede).

24 September 2008

This... Is... Nellieball!!

Apparently, if you're a Golden State Warriors fan, you should be angry right now. Well, maybe not angry, but at least worried. Your team lost its heart and soul (and its best player) when Baron Davis (incoming pun) jumped ship to set sail with the Clippers, his heir apparent is going to be rehabbing a (potentially stupid) injury through the start of the season, despite winning more games than they did in their Cinderella-story season, last year's Warriors team actually accomplished less than the team of two seasons ago, you failed to make a big splash in the free agent market, and the architects of your brief renaissance, VP of Basketball Operations Chris Mullin and Coach Don Nelson, are both in the last year of their respective contracts. Expectations for this year are justifiably low; the Warriors' brief turn in the national spotlight may turn out to be even shorter than anyone could have expected.

Take heart, Warriors fans, and fans of entertaining basketball in general, for I come bearing a trident, pointed with news that should re-energize you and fill your hearts with hope once again (if only temporarily)!


Potential

Do you know how many of your players are 25 or younger? Do you, really? 14 of them. 14 of them, each an extraordinary athlete in his own right. In a situation like this, the only real virtue that can be espoused is patience. Look at a team like the Hornets: mostly young, with a couple of good veterans, a good coach, and a supremely talented young player as the focal point, whose potential is practically limitless. Sound like anyone else you know?

Look at how much Biedrins' game has improved from season to season (3.8 PPG 05-06, 9.5 PPG 06-07, 10.5 PPG 07-08), or Ronny Turiaf's (6.6 PPG on 18.7 minutes in 07-8 – his minutes tripled from what they were his rookie year, and his points followed suit)... if the rookies can follow their lead, we could well be seeing the start of the true Warriors renaissance this year, with the past two seasons just a preview of things to come.

Of course, I'm preaching patience here, which is especially important when you consider that the fellow to whom I just compared Chris Paul – Monta Ellis – is going to be unavailable through, in all likelihood, the end of November (and yes, I'm well aware it's his own stupid fault). We're all familiar with the spurts and fits that define the Warriors seasons, but this one might be more taxing than most. It's worth considering, though, that the more time Monta has to get used to the fact that he's now the man, the better off the team will be.

Right Right Now

This pretty much does everything it can to contradict everything that I wrote above, but the fact that it's really two points folded into one should cut me a little slack, right? As before, both Mullin and Nelson are in the final year of their respective contracts. If they want their jobs to continue past this season, or if they want this second go-around to count as something more than a victory lap, they're faced with the same choice: win, or lose. Prove you deserve to keep your job, or make it clear that you didn't really care about this to begin with. Their legacy was pretty much unimpeachable before they came back, but so was Michael Jordan's, and don't you think he'd like it if everyone had some fond memories of his second shot at glory? The motivation's there, and the tools are there.

Now, let's be realistic for a second. It took nearly 10 years for the Warriors to become competitive again after the Webber-Sprewell-Nelson torture trifecta. In this “What've you done lately?” world that we live in, people didn't remember Run TMC; when people thought of the Warriors in the late 90's and early 00's, they thought of either the team that bypassed Kobe Bryant for Todd Fuller, or Latrell Sprewell choking P.J. Carlesimo. Almost anything's better than that, right? Especially, say, falling just an inch or two short of the playoffs (not everyone can be the Boston Celtics, and that's really okay. )? What I'm advocating here is an accentuating of the positive, as Bing Crosby might've sung, and putting of things in perspective; even if things wind up not that great, they could still be ridiculously worse. Talk to a Nuggets fan; they'll understand.

Coach Don Nelson


Is there another coach in the NBA today that could inspire his players by telling them to just go out on the court and play basketball? In apparent stark contrast to the hyper-prepared, overly-cerebreal head coach that's the order of the day in the 21st century, Nelson looks like he drags himself out of bed with a hangover on gameday morning and works out his starting lineup over a pot or two of coffee. The last two years of Warriors' games have lent credence to that fear, but that's really just had as much to do with the making-lemonade-(or at least lemon juice)-out-of-lemons philosophy that Nelson's pioneered ever since he got his first coaching job with the Bucks. Former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld may have put it best when he said, “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.” Nellie understands; after all, he's a fellow Don.


The point is, no matter how worried you might be about your team, how afeared you might be that Baron really was the glue holding the soapbox derby racer that is the Golden State Warriors together, that his departure will mean that the Warriors'll fall apart just short of the finish line, like the Simpsons' “Lil' Lightning,” just remember, that already happened last year. This year can't get much worse than that.

Wait, that doesn't help... What does help is that Nellie will always, always make his team competitive (seriously, Davis, Jackson, Barnes, Biedrins, and Harrington? If Avery Johnson didn't see that coming, who did?). He'll find a way to give the opposition fits, to make his team catch fire (even if he has to literally do it himself), to fit a beluga whale into a square hole. Then, he'll talk about it while drinking his Bud Light after the game.


See, don't you feel better? Aren't you excited for the limitless possibilities that the 2008-09 season holds? No? Really? Well, buck up, and don't even consider buying that #1 Clippers jersey. If at any point in the season you start asking yourself, “How could it get any worse?” just remember this: at least you're not a Hawks fan.

22 September 2008

good ideas

I've only been obsessing over this for months...

Awesome? Yes. Depressing? Also yes.

Anyone who watched The Show knew that he (Obama) needs to make it about smart and stupid, engaged and not, qualified and not. Clearly, Sorkin knows his own show well enough to agree. First debate's Friday; we'll see if reality has been paying close enough attention to fiction.

19 September 2008

while I wouldn't call death magnetic, it is at least almost compelling...

First and foremost, a confession. After the incident surrounding the burgeoning society of file-swapping, I swore off Metallica for two solid years. Didn't wear my Ride the Lightning t-shirt, didn't re-buy my ruined copy of Master of Puppets, didn't listen to a single note of music. It's not that I'm opposed to artists making money off their work (I want to be able to do that myself one day, so I completely sympathize), it's just that I'm opposed to people who behave like dicks on general principle. I didn't much like how they just put their fingers in their ears and screamed the chorus part of "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" in the face of this creature that was going to herald a revolution in commerce and communication online. If Metallica was going to say, "Fuck the future," well, then, fuck Metallica.

Enough time passed between the Napster Controversy and the release of St. Anger that my irritation had cooled, and I was prepared to give James, Lars, Kirk and... Bob Rock another chance. That was, put simply, stupid. I should've known that the man who had done everything in his power to kill Metallica (Rock, who produced the Black album, Load, ReLoad, Garage, Inc.) wouldn't do anything to save them from themselves, and, lo and behold, I was proven right. For some reason, one of the pioneers of thrash decided that they should release a nu metal album. It didn't work (not one single guitar solo in over an hour of music - probably the easiest money Kirk Hammett ever made), and I didn't care.

My relationship with the band, rocky already, hit rock bottom when I saw a video of them performing, post-St. Anger, at... I don't know, some festival in Europe. They were playing "Master of Puppets," and it was probably the most phoned-in performance of any song I've ever seen (except for dear Mr. Hammett, who always looks like he's giving his all). I was about ready to swear off the band completely at that point, including following through on my long-threatened destruction of my copies of their albums. It was as though Metallica's long, slow descent into crummy was done to attack me personally (at least that's how I saw it), and I was prepared to finally respond in kind.

The only thing that could've saved us was, in fact, the very thing that saved us (well, not so much a "thing" as a "person"): Rick Rubin. The man who made me pretend to care about Linkin Park again, the man who altered my relationship with Slipknot from casual to committed (it's since lapsed - I haven't even had a chance, or a desire, to listen to their new album, but it's not Rubin's fault) was the only man that could reawaken my long-slumbering affection for Metallica. When it was announced that he would be producing the as-yet-untitled new Metallica album, I was able to hold out a shred of hope that things might turn around for the band, and as a result, for my connection to the band.

Let's backtrack a smidge. Metallica had virtually nothing to do with my desire to learn to play the guitar, they were never my favorite of the heavy metal bands with which I became obsessed in high school (and through high school, and into college, and through college, and up until now, if we're being honest), and they've not influenced any of the work that I do in any meaningful way. So, why has the decline and fall of Metallica (with a resurrection yet to come? Read on) remained lodged thoroughly enough in my mind that it's occupied me, off and on, for years? They were, very much, my gateway into the world of fast guitars, faster drumming, and vocals more screamed than sung; they were my... first, if you will. Your first time always has a special place in your heart, you know. They showed me what pure rock fury was really capable of accomplishing; James, Kirk, Cliff and Lars taught me what you could do if you were courageous enough to play around with what was "expected" of music (maybe they did have some sort of impact on my work...).

So, we're here now, with Death Magnetic (this may produce some bad karma for me, but it's better to be honest than to shade the truth - I have not paid anyone for the priviledge of listening to the new Metallica album, and I never will. As a permanent "fuck you" to the band, I refuse to ever again pay for one of their records, even the ones that I may not own that came out before the disaster occurred), what Metallica did when Rick Rubin told them to write the parts of Master of Puppets that were never written. I've listened to it enough that I can finally articulate an opinion on it.

Let's start with the good: it's ambitious as hell. Not a track on the record is under 5 minutes in length (just like, well, Master of Puppets). "Suicide & Redemption" is nearly 10 minutes long. It doesn't sound to me like they've lost a step, technically; if anything, age has probably honed their chops well enough that they're as good now as they've ever been. The fury's still present in the music (that is, it doesn't sound like they're going through the motions); heavy metal trades on "emotionality" (as RDJ might say) quite heavily, and the music drips with exactly that (solos! Actual, honest-to-God guitar solos! Sometimes more than one per song!).

However, even with all that, it's still pretty bland. I couldn't pick out a song that I liked (though I could certainly name one I disliked - "The Unforgiven III," because the last thing that the already-pushing-into-cartoonish heavy metal genre really needs is sequels to songs), or even portions of songs that stick in my head. As Matt Dillon said in Singles, it's beer and lifestyle music, like well-designed bottles of bleach. It doesn't mean anything to me, and while I wish the fact that it clearly means something to them was enough to pull me in, it's not.

While I say ambition is something to be encouraged, most of the tracks on Death Magnetic may well be too ambitious for their own good. "The Judas Kiss," for instance, is too fucking long by at least one verse and most of a guitar solo. The opening track, "That Was Just Your Life," also slogs on well past the point that it's worn out its welcome. The instrumental track, "Suicide & Redemption," is placed so late in the album that my attention had wandered so thoroughly that I didn't even notice it was the instrumental track until it was nearly finished on my first listen. Sadly, "My Apocalypse" is actually probably the tightest song on the album...

A lot's been made about the mixing on the record, about how it sucks ass, and it does. Sure, the production value's a lot higher than it was on, say, ...And Justice For All, but the flatness of the mix and the inexcusable clipping make for an obnoxious listening experience (and they can't even use the "recorded on inferior equipment" excuse these days).

I think the best way to sum this all up is to go back to a previous point, about how Rubin told Metallica to make the unwritten second half of Master of Puppets. While looking back to past triumphs and attempting to derive meaning and inspiration from them is obviously a useful exercise, I think it was pretty pointless in 2008. Master of Puppets came out in 1986, 22 years ago. Metallica's not the same band it was 22 years ago, and the guys in the band aren't the same guys they were 22 years ago. It's tough enough to recapture magic night after night to perform in front of a crowd, but to do it in a studio... I'll put this another way: let's say Kurt Cobain had lived to see today, that Nirvana was, in some form or another, still a viable entity. Let's say Cobain felt the need to refresh himself as an artist, and did what most mainstream artists do these days; he got himself a record producer that would force him to work outside his comfort zone (for the sake of argument, let's say that producer was Rick Rubin). What if Rubin told him to write the second half of Nevermind? Could Cobain honestly put himself in the same frame of mind that he was in 17, 18 years ago?

When faced with a challenge like that, the only thing, I think, you could reasonably do is enact some sort of meditation on the prior work, fashion some sort of a reaction to what you'd produced two decades ago. I don't think Death Magnetic is that at all (and "Unforgiven III" is nothing close to a response to its predecessors - its only significance is the fact that it shares a name with two prior Metallica songs. It lacks even the rudimentary self-awareness of the second song: "or are you unforgiven too?"), and were you to judge it solely on those merits, it would fail miserably.

Maybe this is a harbinger of good things to come from Metallica. If they've got themselves in the right playing mindset, all that needs to happen is for them to be in the correct writing state. Heavy metal's always been obsessed with death and destruction; the fact that these middle-aged guys put out an album that touches on all the usual metal bases is nothing significant. If there's a next time, and there's a progression from the base they laid down here, they need to push outside their comfort zone while simultaneously drawing on it (given that they've been doing this for decades); something that uses Metallica's past to point them toward the future. Reliving your glory days doesn't help you move forward, and that may very well be my strongest objection to this record.

16 September 2008

united fucking nations

I have had a plan, for several years now, to start a band. I've had a plan like this, in one form or another, since high school, but this time I'm serious. Eventually, this band will form, and it will kick fucking ass.

The name comes from a unit in a video game that I've tried my hardest to appreciate, but that I just can't ever get into: Civilization (to tangent, and thus explain, I should say that I'm uncomfortable devoting the better part of a day to playing a single level of a game at this, the ripe old age of 24). The name of this unit is the Modern Infantry, and thus, is the name of my band. You can view our MySpace page, if you like, and listen to two songs I arranged on my computer about two years ago.

The songs themselves are not all that representative of what I want the band's music to sound like. An name like Modern Infantry sort of demands a position at the vanguard of music, the most cutting-edge of cutting edge, which is a difficult enough proposition when you yourself are a skilled musician surrounded with skilled musicians, but it becomes an infinitely more difficult goal when you're not a musician of note under even the most generous of definitions. I want it to push boundaries, to be ridiculously far ahead of its time, like the Refused's The Shape of Punk to Come, or Botch's We Are The Romans, or Converge's Jane Doe, music that calls attention to itself and demands total engagement, because anything less will result in a demonization of the music as "noise."

The problem with this self-imposed requirement, the ambitiousness of it, is that it's directly at war with the purpose of the music, the message that I want it to convey, which, while not necessarily one of outright rebellion against evil authority, should at least be one of warning, one that urges people to keep their eyes open and their attention paid, because we can see right now what happens when the public falls asleep and disengages, and we have to do everything we can to prevent that from happening again. I want Modern Infantry to inject itself into the public discourse, to get some people talking and thinking, and perhaps get those people to lead others towards the realm of civic responsibility and active thought and debate, and that's difficult to do when your music limits its audience severely. "Won't Get Fooled Again" and "Fortunate Son" are politically charged songs that've lived on, at least in part, because of their... musical accessibility, shall we say. So, if I were to alter the form of Modern Infantry's music, but not the content, it's possible that the message could make its way out to more people, making a greater impact.

The beauty of what I'm going to refer to as "hardcore" is that the music can really reflect the primal, unrestrained fury that the people making it feel. There's a sort of purity to this kind of music, and it's the best way that I can think to articulate how I feel about the gross abuse of power that we've been living with for the last eight years, and that I fear we're going to face in the future if we don't all wake the fuck up and try to do something to change the situation. Let's not forget what happened to the good Prince of Denmark when he delayed action; we don't want to follow in his footsteps.

The point that I'm coming to now is this: when you have a good idea like this, you need to devote time to getting it off the ground, because, eventually, someone more successful/talented than you will have a similar idea, and make it happen. The case in point? United Nations, the brainchild of Daryl Palumbo (Glassjaw's vocalist, a band I never felt strongly about, one way or another) and Geoff Rickly (Thursday's vocalist, a band that I've never cared for in the slightest). Insofar as there can be an underground grindcore supergroup, United Nations is a grindcore supergroup, featuring not just the guys from Glassjaw and Thursday, but also (potentially - apparently due to contract-related garbage, other members of the band can be neither confirmed nor denied) members of The Number 12 Looks Like You, Made Out Of Babies, Isis, and Converge.

It'd be foolish of me to not post, in its entirety, the track listing for the album, so here we go:


1. The Spinning Heart of the Yo-Yo Lobby
2. Resolution #9
3. No Sympathy for a Sinking Ship
4. The Shape of Punk that Never Came
5. My Cold War
6. Model UN
7. Filmed in Front of a Live Studio Audience
8. Revolutions in Graphic Design
9. I Keep Living the Same Day
10. Subliminal Testing
11. Say Goodbye to General Figment of the USS Imagination

In case the track listing doesn't do all of my work for me right off the bat, the pictures of the band members wearing the Ronald Reagan Halloween masks over their faces should. They're clearly not happy about the direction in which things are going, and I sure as hell can sympathize. However, they're clearly going about voicing their displeasure in a healthier way than I'd planned to; they're doing it with their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks.

Take, for instance, the first track. While I've listened to so much of this music in the last few years that none of it can unnerve me in the slightest (in truth, most of it causes me to burst out laughing, precisely because it's so over the top emotionally and lyrically, rather like black metal), sometimes it can still grab me in a significant way. The noise, and the way the noise is layered, in "The Spinning Heart of the Yo-Yo Lobby" is as potent and powerful as any a song I'm going to hear this year. The barking, the yelling, the squealing of the guitars... Beautiful, in a way.

Another virtue of many of these "-core" songs is their brevity (my second Shakespeare reference in this post. Might be a record for the blog thus far). With the exception of the last track, none of the songs on the album cross the four-minute mark, and only one of them goes over three minutes. As the last eight years has shown me, it's tough to keep up really righteous fury for a long period of time ("indignance burnout" is the term I've used to describe it), so the short, burst-y nature of the UN album suits what it's trying to accomplish just fine.

It doesn't really let up, either ("The Shape of Punk that Never Came" is obviously the best song that the Refused never wrote), with the exception of a few moments in "Filmed in Front of a Live Studio Audience" and the last minutes of "Say Goodbye to General Figment of the USS Imagination" (thank goodness for saxophone solos - one of the best things that Yakuza has incorporated into their music, and now it's migrated over to the UN record), the record is 27ish minutes of pure, primal (goofy?) fury. It's everything that I wanted Modern Infantry to be, and so much more.

This is easily among the best records I've heard all year (certainly up there with R.E.M.'s new album, and Randy Newman's, as a blasting of the terrible direction the world's taken during the reign of George II), and it features some of the most impressive cover art (see below) I've seen in a long time. They're not taking any prisoners, and I think there's something to be admired in that. It's ambition with focus, with drive, with passion, all of which sets it apart from the new Metallica album (more on that later).


Oh, and I haven't given up on Modern Infantry. I just need to rethink it (again).

The long, slow march towards conventionality (or, the inevitable decline and fall of the Phoenix Suns)

I don't think I could ever actually swear off basketball entirely, particularly after the last two (okay, three) years, where a game that had stagnated under the weight of boring-as-hell teams to watch like the Detroit Pistons and the San Antonio Spurs finally brought back some of the fun. D-Wade killing himself on the floor to win that championship (sure, maybe the refs were right there with him – those were too many free throws for any human being to make in any game, unless they're playing Bill Laimbeer's Combat Basketball – but he won a championship for one of my all-time, all-time favorite players, Alonzo Mourning) might've been the image burned into most everybody's brain, but for me, the only thing that mattered was Steve Nash (MVP!) and the Phoenix Suns.

That was the year the Suns really got around to playing basketball the way it was meant to be played: with heart, and with soul. Nash, the man with eyes on every side of his head (not just the front and back); Shawn Marion, the insecure hero who'll still do anything asked of him; Amare Stoudemire, the super-athlete man-child; Leandro Barbosa, who I kind of hope makes his way to New York so he can run the latest incarnation of the D'Antoni offense; Raja Bell, the gritty heart of the team... Those Suns were magic on the court, and somehow moreso precisely because they didn't win it all (if you haven't gotten around to reading Jack McCallum's “Seven Seconds Or Less” - about the 2005-06 Suns team – you really should take the time); that might have something to do with the “imagine what could've been” mystique that shrouds teams that fall short of their apparently limitless potential.

Anybody that says that “fundamental” basketball is more fun to watch than run-and-gun, risky, emotionally exhilarating/exhausting basketball is either lying or completely untrustworthy. Anybody who didn't jump out of their chair/couch when the Suns (incoming pun) caught fire and went on one of their trademarked unbroken scoring runs by playing gutsy, ballsy basketball doesn't understand the beauty that's inherent in the game (though, if it happened to your team, a different reaction might be excusable). The aesthetics of fundamentals pale in comparison to a no-look, alley-oop pass.

In a lot of ways, the 2005-06 season was when my basketball-watching experience peaked. The return of the fast-break, up-tempo philosophy that'd fallen by the wayside long ago injected into the game not just a sense of excitement, but one of almost old-fashioned idealism, a return to the good old days, if you will (seeing as how I wasn't alive for them, I'm viewing them through even more thoroughly rose-colored glasses than most). I had this inappropriate hope that maybe, just maybe, the Suns were going to herald a sea change in the National Basketball Association, that the fast-break would run through the league like wildfire. Perhaps this was a sign of a better world to come (and in this world, we needed all the hope we could get).

It was aided and abetted the next year by the improbable run of the Baron Davis-led, Nellieball-playing Golden State Warriors, who returned to prominence and relevance by throwing caution to the wind and just playing basketball. Watching their systematic dismantling of the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs, as they took control of the series and never looked back, allowed me to hope that I was right; sure, the revolution was going to take a while (many do), but once the Suns and the Warriors and their brothers-in-arms had finished remaking the league in their own image, we could finally say goodbye to plodding, creep-along basketball that had driven me, and so many like me, past the point of disinterest in the NBA, and basketball in general.

All of those hopes and dreams came crashing down with one simple hip-check. You know the one I'm talking about (and if you don't, a simple search for “Cheap Shot Rob” on YouTube will enlighten you). Grace, beauty, and style were driven out by artless physical domination. “The beginning of the end” is what I've come to call it.

It's not unreasonable that the Suns decided they needed to “get tougher” after losing in the playoffs to the Spurs once again; Horry's classless dropping of Nash to the floor exemplified the Achilles' heel of my hoped-for revolution in style: when finding yourself facing an opponent wielding a baseball bat, if you're holding an epee, you're going to have to fight perfectly in order to win. When all your enemy needs is one good shot to take you out, they're going to wait for their best opportunity. As much as I hate to admit it, the Suns played scared for the rest of that series, and that, as much as the suspensions of Stoudemire and Diaw, lost it for them.

I think there's a difference between physical toughness and mental toughness, and the Suns let that escape them. Anyone could see that they needed more players like Raja Bell, scrappy guys that never let the opposition get in their head, not like Brian Skinner, who can push people around and maybe get a rebound or two, but who contribute virtually nothing to the team's overall philosophy of scoring as many points as you can as quickly as you can. But, given that this is not a perfect world, where the things I dearly hope for very rarely happen (Firefly, anyone?), the Suns got tougher in precisely the wrong way, and it cost them. They started down the slippery slope to being a “conventional” basketball team, and there are too many of those as it is.

I don't actually want this to be taken as a condemnation of the Shaq trade, because I thought it was a fantastic idea at the time. Part of this, obviously, harkens back to Bill Simmons' long-running “No Balls Association” joke: since they were obviously moving away from D'Antoni's fast-break strategy, but not quickly enough to make a discernible difference – and the only thing that drives me crazier than conventional basketball is a half-assed commitment to fast-break ball – they might as well roll the dice and try to redefine their entire team in one stroke, but there was more to it. I saw this Shaq trade, strange as it might be, as some actual long-term planning. One thing the Suns clearly lacked was a good tutor for their big man, and it showed. Amare does, and did, a great job in covering up his lapses in skill with ridiculous athletic prowess, but he wouldn't be able to do that forever. Shaq could teach him how to compete when his body started to slow down on him, how to use his head to compliment the rest of his game. Shaq could show Amare how to be a better big man, which would contribute greatly to that overriding goal of getting Steve Nash a championship.

Clearly, since we're here, and I'm writing this piece, it didn't work out immediately, and the window's closed another year further. They had to give up The Matrix to bring Shaq over from Miami, and while I'm certain that I wouldn't like Marion as a person if we ever had to interact with one another, I can't deny his talent, or his skill, as a player. His future ceiling is a lot higher than Shaq's, and his most natural replacement, the ever-unreliable Boris Diaw, I can't imagine ever filling me with confidence (you never know whether gamebreaker Boris or invisible Boris will show up). The worst part, obviously, is the departure of the architect of the whole grand scheme, Mike D'Antoni. If his fast-break didn't leave with him, it's sure to become a far more ancillary piece of the puzzle that Steve Kerr and his staff are trying to put together. I just despair that this team I love is going to get disassembled piece by piece; D'Antoni put together an unconventional team that's incapable of playing conventional basketball. That was what made them special, what made them worth watching and remembering.

I can't make anything resembling a prediction for this season yet; I'm going to have to wait and see if Coach Porter and his staff are going to let Nash and his compatriots languish in a system designed to stifle them, or if they'll let them cut loose one more time and give them all the tools they can to succeed where the nouveau fast-break mastermind failed. I know what I'm hoping for.

Oh, and it doesn't help one little bit that Baron bolted from the Warriors for the Clippers. I guess no one's commitment to the best sort of basketball is absolute.


And by virtue of the fact that the comment I received on this article (??) is brilliantly hysterical, I'm including it, and my 2-part response, for the sake of posterity:

by dirty at Oct 04 2008 02:54 pm

This article pisses me off.... i dont even know where to start. Which is why it took me so long to respond to it. I think you should swear off basketball entirely. Where were you in 04-05 (ok three years) fuck you. That was the best team we had. We would have won if JJ did not break his face, are you kidding me. One of your all time fav players is ZO? unless you have one kidney Zo should not be your favorite players. Run and Gun has always been the way the Suns have played, in the late 80's, 92-93 suns that went to the finals, KJ was full throttle all the time. I know Fat ass or Sir Charles clogged the lane in the half court set, but he could still run. J-Kidd and Antonio Mcdyess doing half court ally-oops. There was even a year when the suns had J-kidd, KJ, and Nash, all on the team at the same time. 05-06 was the year your basketball watching peaked. Um Amare was injured the whole year..... and i dont know why you wouldnt like Trix as a person. To me the problem was with Amare but the team had to side with Amare cause he is the franchise. And the overriding goal of getting nash a championship. Who the fuck cares about getting nash a championship. What about the city the fans, Jerry, all the former players. This franchise has never won a championship. it is much bigger than NASH. So no the suns are not going to fall or decline. We still have STAT. Sorry but this article just seemed like a fair weather fans critique..... and it really made me upset.
by Phil W at Oct 14 2008 09:33 am

I think there's a difference between a "fair weather fan" and a recent fan, and I'm more in the latter category. I've lived and died with this team for a couple of years now, so while I may not have all the decades of emotional investment that you apparently have, I've been right there with you for a while now. I'd like to think that means that there's more than brings us together than drives us apart, but, you know, it's not like we'll ever actually meet, so it doesn't matter all that much.

"Best team" doesn't necessarily correlate with "best season." Any Patriots fan could tell you that. I enjoyed '05-'06 best; I'm sorry if that's "wrong" somehow. Just my opinion.

And what if I did have focal segmental glomerular sclerosis and had to get a kidney transplant? Do you have something against people with one kidney? For the record, Alonzo's one of my favorite because of NBA Jam: TE. When I wanted to win, and handily, I played as Charlotte, and that was because of Alonzo. And because the man has an awesome voice.
A long-time fan such as yourself probably doesn't need to read a book about his team to attain a better understanding of them, but a recent convert does, which is why I read McCallum's book. That, buddy, is where I get the impression than Shawn and I wouldn't get along. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think so.

I also think you missed the point of the title, that it refers to a specific sort of run-and-gun that I think is going to slowly fade away with Coach D'Antoni's departure. That's depressing to me, because that's precisely what brought me back to basketball, for good or for ill. Amare's presence, or lack thereof, has little to do with that (and, by the way, I don't think anyone should be allowed to give themselves a nickname).

And I, by the way, care about getting Steve a championship. If I could develop a massage technique that'd relieve some of his back pain, I would.

Oh, one more thing. I think it weakens your entire argument when you "apologize" at the end of your posting. If you're going to tell me to fuck off and die and never write a single word about your team ever again, don't end by saying, "I'm sorry, but you just made me so upset..." End by restating your point that I should fuck off and die and never write a single word about your team ever again.

15 September 2008

when it makes sense


Great though my love for No Country For Old Men is (and it's not all that great - were I given a choice between watching it, or The Big Lebowski, or O Brother!, or Fargo, or Barton Fink, or even, probably Blood Simple or Intolerable Cruelty, No Country would lose every time), I was jonesing for the Cohens to get back to form. If anybody could stay true to themselves after winning the ultimate in popular artisitic validation awards (and whether or not the Oscar is just that is very, very debatable, but let's just say it is for the moment), it'd be Joel and Ethan Cohen. They did it once before (Fargo to Lebowski), and I knew they could do it again.

Enter Burn After Reading, the movie I'd been waiting to see for nearly two months, ever since the "Red Band" trailer made an appearance on iTunes (a similar situation occurred with Tropic Thunder, and while I think I'd like to see it again, just to confirm my suspicions about it, I'm still pretty sure I'll be underwhelmed again). Those two or so minutes of footage confirmed what I'd hoped, that the taut, lean tension of No Country was going to be counteracted by pure, unleashed ridiculous. George Clooney mugging as confidently as only our generation's Cary Grant can, Frances McDormand biting into another self-conscious, self-confident bag of contradictions, John Malkovich being, well, John Malkovich, and Brad Pitt throwing every drop of his cool away and replacing it with ass-dumb stupidity.

J.K. Simmons! J. Jonah Jameson, Verne Schillinger, Mac MacGuff, Emil Skoda! And Richard Jenkins! Nathaniel Fischer!

I really don't want to relay the plot of the movie, because attempting to bring order to the beautiful, nearly incomprehensible chaos that is Burn After Reading seems somewhat counterproductive to me. Revealing the fact that we don't even meet Linda and Chad (McDormand and Pitt) until we're much farther into the movie that I'd expected doesn't really reveal any insight into how I felt about it (the movie). Making a comparison between Burn and Pyscho, while apt (perhaps), isn't really justifiable, and may well be lazy.

It touches upon all of the hoped-for Cohen bases (sex, violence, loyalty, betrayal, commitment, confusion), includes the requisite bizarrely quotable lines ("Hello? Anybody lose their secret CIA shit?", "I'm not here representing Hard Bodies," or "Think I got time to get a run in"), and the nonsensical tangents (like that chair that Clooney's character puts together).

While it's not in the same league as the top-shelf movies Joel and Ethan have put out, it's more than satisfying, particularly for someone who's as endeared towards their comedy as I've forever been. If great actors playing great characters is one of the things that makes a great movie (or so says John Madden's cousin, Jon Madden), then Burn After Reading is, at the very least, a good movie, or a fun one. And it ends exactly when and where it needs to (unlike, say, almost every other movie that has/will come out this year).