Friday, September 30, 2011


Proving that we're nothing if not diverse, we pivot this morning from Shlara's terrific work to one of the year's most sublimely ridiculous events. Our own TR is in training for the 2011 National Beard and Moustache Championships, to be held on October 8 in Lancaster, PA. The competition is fierce in the championship's five categories (moustache, partial beard, full beard groomed, full beard natural, and freestyle), but we've got a lot of faith in our guy.

Depicted here very early in his training regimen, TR's known for his creativity and improvisational beard skills. Importantly, he's also legendary in the community for the speed at which his facial topiary grows. He goes 0 to 60mm in less than a full business day. He takes shaving breaks like most of us go for coffee.

I've got a room reserved at the Lancaster Horse and Buggy Motel. I've got space for a few more folks. Let me know if you want in, and big ups to TR.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Lemons and Lemonade: a G:TB Movie Review

FoG:TB Shlara's been promoting the heck out of 50/50, the newly-released Seth Rogen/Joseph Gordon-Levitt film, so we figured we'd let her tell our readers why.  We think you'll enjoy the hell out of this.

Shit happens.
Last year, my shit was cancer.

I never use the words “victim” or “survivor” when talking about my situation—it just doesn’t feel right to me. I had cancer, and now I don’t. No need to share the gory details. Even when I was in the middle of it, I didn’t want to have cancer consume my life, but it certainly was the dominant theme of my life and it absolutely affected how people interacted with me.

It’s been hard for me to explain or describe the whole ordeal beyond “it’s surreal.”  Then I saw a screening of '50/50'.


Now, I don’t have to explain it because Will Reiser (the screenwriter whose own life inspires the story) so honestly and beautifully articulates it in this movie.

My experience isn’t exactly like Adam’s (the 20-something guy with cancer) but the mood and feelings and tone in the movie accurately capture how I felt and how I think my family and friends felt—it was enchanting, and raw and so real. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt is brilliant as Adam.

Even if you or your BFF have never had cancer, you’ll see some of yourself in one of the main characters. Because, at this point in life, we’ve all had to deal with some serious shit. Some of us were thrown for a loop at a very young age like Adam. And we’ve all had to find a way to cope—slogging through the melancholy haze and trying to maintain a sense of normalcy.

Like Adam, I worked to keep my life as regular as possible—I created a “no melodrama” zone for family, friends and coworkers in my presence. For the most part, everyone was compliant—there was an occasional alcohol-induced crying jag or random awkward comments like “I know someone who had that and they died.”

Many of us in the G:TB universe tend to use humor and sarcasm as a coping mechanism when faced with adversity, like Adam and his buddy Kyle (Seth Rogen). Or we channel our emotions into “safe” places like passion for sports teams.

My treatment coincided with football season last year. (Go Steelers!) One of my doctors is an obnoxious Ravens fan. So, each week NFL trash talk became a regular part my appointment—the other doctors and nurses would chime in too, and my mom, who is the biggest Steelers homer, would just taunt him mercilessly. (The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.) In one of those “live life to its fullest” flashes, my mom & I decided to go to Dallas for the Super Bowl. It was an awesome trip, despite the Steelers loss, and I was more excited to share the stories and photos with my doctor’s office than anyone else—because they lived through the whole season with me.   What I didn’t realize then, but I know now, it wasn’t about the season, it was about the journey.

The people who know me outside of G:TB comments can verify that I’m a private person—I rarely put myself out there and I definitely don’t like to call attention to myself. That had to change once I got my diagnosis—everybody was all up in my business...and I had to let them in…which, at times, was scarier than the cancer itself. But it is, by far, the best kind of lemonade you can squeeze out that pile of lemons.

And, I’m a better person for it.

So, do yourself a favor and go see '50/50'. You will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

R.E.M. R.I.P.

Well, R.E.M. officially called it quits this week, prompting people my age everywhere to proclaim, “Uh . . . they were still together?” On the heels of our September 24 post that was similar in content and Holmesian in length, I won’t meander down memory road but so much with R.E.M. If I do, I’m Sorry.

They were my favorite band in high school, and when I saw them play at William & Mary Hall in October 1987, I got a completely fraudulent look at the party-time aspect of the College, leading me to apply in earnest for enrollment. What a bait and switch. The show was outstanding, and after a quintet of studio LP’s that match up with any 5 consecutive albums I can conjure, there was no question that these four nerdy guys from Athens were the best thing going.

All downhill from there . . .

As I was signing on with William & Mary, R.E.M. signed with Warner Brothers. The disappointment commenced soon thereafter, by my parents and legions of fans, respectively. Years later, though, it was probably the wisest decisions for both parties. Didn’t learn much in the College classroom, but here is some of the wisdom I garnered from Stipey:
  • When you greet a stranger, look at his shoes.
  • Trust in your calling, make sure your calling's true.
  • Think of others, the others think of you.
  • A handshake is worthy if it’s all that you’ve got.
  • A perfect of circle of acquaintances and friends, drink another, coin a phrase.
  • Leonard Bernstein!
Here’s a story: R.E.M., Hampton Coliseum, November 1989. Rob, our old friend Otis, and I piled into Rob’s little Ford Escort and made the pilgrimage down the road. All big R.E.M. fans, and we all enjoyed the show despite feeling the band’s best work was behind them. Mostly true, but a little premature, as I remember the show and look at the setlist today.

Anyway, we’re at a stoplight just outside the Coliseum heading home after the show. Rob’s car featured an absence of luxury options, including power windows or a clock. I guess we were 0 for 3 on wristwatches, so Otis rolls down the window just a touch to see how much time we’ve got until the College Delly closes.

Otis: “Hey, buddy, you know what time it is?”
The jackalope in the Camaro next to us: “What??”
Otis: “Wondering if you happen to know what time it is.”
Jackalope: “Fuck you. I’m pissed off.”
Otis: “Okay . . . I’m pissed off now, too, asshole.”

Rob and I were laughing, but before anyone could blink, Jackalope was out of his car, over to ours, and had managed to punch Otis in the forehead through a relatively small gap in the window. More remarkable was that, instinctively but against my normal grain, I then managed to exit a 2-door Ford Escort from the back seat, under the seatbelt and despite Otis in the front seat, in 2 seconds -- full cup on beer in hand. I dare say that never happened again in my life. It would take me 20 minutes if I tried today.

I dumped the contents of my cup in Jackalope’s lap (he was just as quick to get back into his car) with a quick cursing and braced for him to exit the vehicle and kick my lily-white ass. At that instant, the Lord showed mercy upon my soul and spake: “Is there a problem up there?”

Turns out it was one of Hampton’s finest and not the Lord, but He works in mysterious ways. Soon enough, Rob put it into Drive and we zipped off back to the safe haven of Williamsburg, chuckling heartily at my acrobatics, my faux-bravado, and the apology we had even induced from Jackalope as we waited awkwardly for the light to finally change.

Anyway . . . R.E.M. used to be one of the ones to see live at all costs, but the sun set on them some time ago, and these days acts like Wilco hold that title (Merriweather Post on Sunday was another fine gig). But they were a damn fine band at their peak.

Here’s an album’s worth of tunes that aren’t on any of their hits compilations; give ‘em another listen when you think of it.

“Maps & Legends”
“Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars)”
“Moral Kiosk”
“Lightnin’ Hopkins”
“Swan Swan H”
“Good Advices”
“Exhuming McCarthy”
“Wolves, Lower”
“Wendell Gee”
“Ages of You”
“Country Feedback”

And here's Pavement's take on R.E.M. It's cooler and more ridiculous than mine.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Words for the Week

From Roger Ebert's memoir:

"I believe that if, at the end, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn't always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out."

Gheorghe approves of this message.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

On This Day In Music: The Trifecta


A July Grantland article about A Tribe Called Quest prompted an e-mail from an old friend in which he noted that three tremendous albums were released on September 24, 1991: The Low End Theory, Nevermind, and Blood Sugar Sex Magik. A post regaling the twentieth anniversary of this sonically significant date is entirely necessary, but I can only do proper justice to one-third of this musical trifecta. Accordingly, I enlisted rob and Whitney to bring you today’s post, “On This Day In Music,” in which we each recall our memories surrounding the release of one of these albums.


1991 was a spectacular year in music. Every year there are great songs, great albums released. ’91 just had more than its fair share.

Just using September 24 of that year as a starting point, there are the three albums we highlight here PLUS Ceremony by The Cult, one of the critical turning points in Dave’s love/hate relationship with that band. (Dave is issuing a full post on Ceremony and its scars soon.) Within a three-week period, these albums were accompanied by Use Your Illusion I&II, The Pod, Badmotorfinger, and Apocalypse 91. (And Cool as Ice, but let’s forget about that.)

There were first albums of merit (Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, and especially Primus), even by bands that didn’t last long (Tupac, Live, Crash Test Dummies, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Spin Doctors, Matthew Sweet, Temple of the Dog).

There were bands’ final albums, or at least final decent albums (Pixies, Genesis, GN’R, Fishbone, Violent Femmes, Hoodoo Gurus, Random Idiots).

There was the first-ever Lollapalooza.

There were huge albums by huge artists, like Achtung Baby, Out of Time (which wasn’t all that good), and Metallica. There were cheesy singles like “Life Is a Highway,” “I Touch Myself,” “Unbelievable,” “Just the Way It Is, Baby,” “Right Here, Right Now,” and “More Than Words.” Bryan Adams released the worst song of the year.

James Brown was freed. Shane MacGowan was booted. Freddy Mercury died.

There was hip-hop funny (“Pop Goes the Weasel,” “O.P.P.”) and not (O.G Original Gangster). Country was beginning its comeback, whether we liked it or not. And there was music people would come to call Shoegaze, or Britpop, or just indie (My Bloody Valentine, Teenage Fanclub, Blur).

Sting released an album, and Rob swooned. Then the BoDeans, then Crowded House. Our little buddy really danced his loafers off that year.

Talking Heads packed it in that year. So did The Replacements. As did N.W.A. And Men Without Hats. Van Hagar should’ve.

An older gent with a musical penchant recently told me he thought 1970 and 1984 were the most significant years in rock and roll. I had too many beers to remember exactly why. But make no mistake, 1991 was no slouch.


Since I'm the last of this trio to get around to finish his assignment (read: laziest - and in this company, that's noteworthy), I've not much to add to this introduction, other than to note that the great Theodore Geisel died on September 24, 1991, right around the time he was being celebrated in the music of Random Idiots. I think you'll find a great deal of commonality in our recollections and musings on why music means so much. Hope you enjoy.

zman: The Low End Theory

Kids have lots of favorites. Favorite books, favorite movies, favorite colors, favorite athletes, favorite dinosaurs, whatever. As I get older I find that I have few absolute favorites, perhaps because with age and experience comes an appreciation of nuance. As a result I don’t have a favorite author or book, band or song, TV show or movie. I can, however, say with complete assurance that my favorite album is The Low End Theory by A Tribe Called Quest.

Most people assume that I started listening to hiphop as an act of rebellion because I am a white kid from suburbia. To the contrary, I started listening to hiphop as an act of outright conformity. My high school was what is commonly referred to as “minority majority.” I’m not exactly sure how to explain the school’s racial olio, but a picture is said to be worth a thousand words. Here’s a page from my yearbook:

Probably a bit different from your “class officers” page. Also likely different from your high school: the top three singles players on our tennis team were, in order, a black kid, a Thai kid, and a kid with a turban. Not your typical squad.

I played doubles and hung out with the three other doubles guys: two Jewish kids and a giant Jamaican. We hit together regularly, were in all the same AP classes, and had similar tastes in music, cars, girls, and all the other stuff that’s important in northern New Jersey. We all agreed that People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm was a mind-blowingly good album, that it was perhaps the greatest musical accomplishment ever committed to a fixed medium, and that Tribe’s next album would be a highwater mark in our lives. In retrospect, we were correct in at least two regards.

Travels is a fantastic album. I encourage you to go download it and listen to it now. I’ll wait.

Great stuff, right? It was unprecedented twenty-one years ago. Tribe wasn’t the first group to make jazz-influenced hiphop. De La Soul, Gang Starr, Main Source, Pete Rock and CL Smooth, and the Jungle Brothers all sampled jazzy stuff from time to time. And two of the most popular songs off the album aren’t jazzy at all: “Can I Kick It?” and “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo” . What Tribe did before anyone else, and arguably better than anyone else (fans of “Mecca and the Soul Brother” have a legit counterpoint here), was make silky smooth boom bap with conscious/positive lyrics. This created an entirely new musical niche now occupied by thinking man’s artists like Mos Def, Common, Talib Kweli, Little Brother, and The Roots.

So you can imagine how excited four tennis-playing nerdy rap nerds were to hear Tribe’s next album. My friend Jon, who looked startlingly like MC Serch (right down to the Jewfro), was the most on-top of the music world out of the foursome so he first determined the new album’s release date. And, in an effort to cement his musical superiority, on September 24th he cut out of school before lunch, bought the album, and listened to it so that he could be the first to opine on its greatness. Which he did, ad nauseum.

I bought the album after school. The local record store, coincidentally called Igor’s (pronounced Eye-gor’s) Records, was an early casualty of the big box boom, so I went to Sam Goody’s at the mall and bought The Low End Theory on cassette. I took back roads home so that I would have enough time to listen to the whole thing.

About three songs in I realized that I was going to have to listen several times to absorb it all. I neared home before getting through the tape so I drove aimlessly and listened. Then a song came on that was unlike anything I had heard before. When it was over I rewound and listened again. I repeated this process again. It turned out that this was the last song on the album, “Scenario.” I proclaimed its dopeness to myself, went home and listened to the whole album again on my Walkman. I knew that this album would be the soundtrack for the rest of the school year.

And it was. Everyone liked it, even the hippies who eschewed most rap in favor of classic rock and jam bands. It was perfect music for any situation that could be conjured up in the social microcosm of our high school. You could dance to it, hang out to it, party to it, drive to it, drink to it, smoke to it, earphones to it, whatever you want. And we did. I almost wore the tape out and then bought it on CD several times to replace lost/stolen copies. I still have two jewel cases for this album (but only one copy of the CD).

Theory stirs up nostalgia unlike any other record in my collection. For instance, when singing along with “Butter” it will always begin with “1992 senior year at Teaneck High” and the “Tracy” at the end of Phife’s list of skanky jumpoffs will always bear special emphasis in honor of my friend Tracy to whom we would point at that point in the song. When Charlie Brown asks “Who’s that?” in the middle of “Scenario” I will always think of my friend Adrian who wisely applied early and was accepted to Brown, allowing him to spend the rest of his high school career playing tennis and molesting girls, and to whom we accordingly pointed at this point in the song. “Scenario” conjures up tons of other memories as it was everyone’s jam, but the funniest could be my performance in the senior step show. That isn’t a typo – I once performed in a step show involving “Scenario”. When Q-Tip says “Optic presentation sizzles the retina” on “Check the Rhyme” I will always think of the time my friend Keith practically put his eye out drunkenly over-acting the line while singing along with the song. My friend Brian found true inspiration in the line “The aim is to achieve and succeed at 21” from “Jazz” and whenever the song came on in my 1983 Accord everyone threw their hands up for “Your Honda or your Beamer or your Legend or your Benz.”

The most ignored song on the album is “Vibes and Stuff,” and it deserves your attention.

It’s the quintessential Tribe song and showcases Q-Tip’s skills as a producer. Who else could combine a big boom bap beat with several discernably different high-hat sounds and seamlessly lay it over a Grant Green song without sounding contrived? How many other MC’s could compatibly flow with this track?

And the lyrics! Good lawd. Go read Tip’s first verse. It’s the opposite of everything Jay-Z ever said: crack dealers suck; if you battle Tip and win he’ll shake your hand and admit you’re better than him; he strives to make music that pleases the young and old alike; commercially successful rappers are phonies; communities must stick together for the betterment of all. Phife isn’t messing around either. “All I do is write rhymes eat drink shit and bone.” Exceedingly strong braggadocio.

The only song I skip is “The Infamous Date Rape,” mainly because no one wants to listen to a song where the chorus is “Classic example of a, a date rape,” it just isn’t a pleasant topic. Even Sublime’s radio-friendly song on the subject is unpleasant.

Theory held up well over the past 20 years. It is lyrically and musically more complex than lots of the garbage that comes out of the Dirty South (not this Dirty South) or much of the junk spun on the radio. It’s still great music for any situation. And the “positive” or “conscious” lyrics helped my friends and me muddle through and move past a very weird time in our lives.

The Low End Theory will always be my favorite album, even 20 years from this date in music.

Whitney: Nevermind

“Guys, you gotta hear this band. They’re from Seattle.”

With that, our friend Mac cemented his place in my personal musical history as the guy who introduced me to Nirvana. Three of us followed him back into fraternity house room 306 and waited attentively with equal parts excited anticipation and skeptical doubt.

Mac was first and foremost a metalhead. He and his roommate were of the opposite build (Mac was nicknamed “2-D” for his slender frame; his roommate Kevin was “Fubsy”; as a pair they were called “10”), but of the same musical affinity. Their room generated the loudest and most aggressive musical emanations, a thrash sandwich between thin slices of alt-moping (Rob cranking The Stone Roses in the room to the left of them and Squeaky playing Ned’s Atomic Dustbin on the other side). I would wander in from time to time to satisfy the occasional need we all feel for some metal. My freshman roommate had broadened my horizons and introduced me to masterpieces like Kill ‘Em All and Blizzard of Ozz . . . and then he failed out after one year. Mac’s music collection filled the void.

And so I expected music to bang your head to, not mosh your ass off. Seems like a fine line there, but it’s not.

Instead . . . well, you know.

* * * *
If there is one word to describe Nirvana’s Nevermind album, it’s probably “hyperbole.” That has nothing to do with the content of the album and everything to do with the world’s reaction to and regard for the record, both in 1991 and 2011. This blogpost represents just one out of 10,000 Nevermind-related pieces to grace the world wide web in the past few weeks. Adding to the overkill isn’t what we usually do here, but in this case, it feels necessary.

The thing is, most of these tributes don’t actually delve into the music, not really. They lay up on the fairway of what the legacy of Nevermind was – what the effect and influence were and are. While that may be tempting since the impact on music’s landscape overshadows the 12+ songs on the album, ultimately it’s supposed to be about listening to music.

So go listen to Nevermind again.

Here’s what you already know:
  • Nevermind unseated Michael Jackson’s Dangerous album on top of the charts in early 1992 in the most symbolic changing of the cultural guard Billboard has ever generated.
  • The Grunge Era was then ushered in: punk attitude/punk guitars/pop melodies.
  • A flux of booming guitars, the Pacific northwest, flannel, and intentionally poor hygiene followed.
  • The world was never the same!
Here’s what you might not know:
  • The album borrows fairly liberally from its predecessors. You can hear Frank Black in the crooning/shrieking tandems. You can hear the Killing Joke song “Eighties” in “Come As You Are,” nearly note for note. (Check this out.) You can hear plenty of punk rock outfits throughout the album. These aren’t my revelations, these are Kurt Cobain’s acknowledgments.
  • Pearl Jam might owe Nirvana a debt of gratitude for opening the door to the mainstream, but certainly not for establishing the sound. Ten came out a month prior to Nevermind.
  • Kurt Cobain’s lyrics aren’t genius poetry fit to be studied in British grammar schools. As he told people, virtually every idiot who bothered to try to decipher his ramblings had transcribed them wrong, anyway. Listen to “In Bloom” for his disdain for the aforementioned idiots.
  • Nevermind is a really good record with some truly stand-out tracks. While seminal (to employ a rock-snob descriptor), it’s just neither as singular nor as revolutionary as the hype (original or 20-year) will lead you to believe.
But it’s good. Go listen to it.

Remember why “SLTS” was so friggin’ popular, and why “Lithium” fits hand in hand with it. Other natural couplings are the heavy “Breed” & “In Bloom,” the acoustically creepy “Polly” & “Something In the Way,” and the frenzied “Territorial Pissings” & “Stay Away.”

I could talk more about the musical connections, from the Kingsmen-ish flub in “Polly” to the “Come As You Are” hat-tip in “Adam’s Song” years later to the Youngbloods to Weird Al. Or the foreshadowing of Kurt Cobain’s early demise. Or Dave Grohl being 10,000% better than Chad Channing (and this from a guy who boycotted Grohl for five years). Or the hidden “Endless, Nameless” and the new era of cleverly hidden tracks on CD’s. Blah, blah, blah.

But I won’t. Just go back, dig it up, and listen to it. Loud. Very loud.

* * * *

Once upon a time, there was a small handful of songs that fairly spontaneously would make our merry band of idiots stop what they were doing, come into the room, and hurtle around with, by William & Mary standards, uncontrolled gleeful fury. Stupid, especially by William & Mary standards, but always amusing. Yeah, we were the high five’n white guys.

Thinking back on those instant mosh tunes, “Fiesta” comes to mind. “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver.” “I Wanna Be Sedated.” “Stop.” “Shake Your Rump” (really that whole album). “Smells Like Teen Spirit” became one of those songs upon first listen.

I have never been on the cutting edge of most music. For the most part, I seem to be many days late and many bucks short. The Clash became my favorite band of all time in 1989. (They broke up in 1983.) I got really into R.E.M. just two albums and two shows before they went major label milquetoast. I decided Camper van Beethoven wasn’t just noise and was actually rock and roll about the exact same time they split. Same with The Pixies. Old 97’s? Awesome. And I had that epiphany as their five-album heyday drew to a close. Same with The Replacements. Never saw They Might Be Giants or Ween when they were two dudes goofing around with drum machines. (Maybe that’s better, but it would have been cool.) Always late to the party.

But with Nirvana? Okay, so I wasn’t rocking to Bleach when the rest of the dweebs were bopping to “Love Shack,” but at the very least, I was the first guy I knew (besides Mac) to know and love Nevermind. It went Mac, then a few of us, then the rest of the guys in the house, then months later the people at the College Delly who played it on the juke ad nauseum. That and a dollar will get me a draft beer at happy hour, but especially considering the groundswell of folks on the grungewagon, it was good to have been able to appreciate it from the get-go.

The generation prior to mine is marked by the universal truth that each American will forever remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news that JFK had been shot. Our generation has the similar tragic memory-etching of 9/11. It’s not hard for me to remember where I was (frat house) and what I was doing (skipping class) when I first heard this music, because those activities goes for nearly every day of my 1988-1993. Still, as my memories get fuzzy on all too many precious things, somehow I’ll always recall with vivid images and much amusement my first exposure to “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Nevermind, and Nirvana.

I dusted off the CD and gave it a full listen a couple of weeks ago. Straight-through, probably for the first time in 15 or more years. Don’t read anything more about this album. Just go give it another listen.

You gotta hear this band. They’re from Seattle.

rob: Blood Sugar Sex Magik

Music as memory. That's really where the power comes from, right? Sure, our subconscious minds love the perfect mathematical precision in a killer melody, and a dope beat hits us in that spot when we drive down the road turning it up loud (and if not a dope beat, how about all of Son Volt's 'Trace' - has a better late-night lonely-road driving album ever been made?). We lose ourselves in a live show, body moving without thought, singing along with no worry about not looking 'cool', whatever that means. But music gets us, really gets us deep in the place where it attaches itself to our recollections.

I have five 'favorite' albums, all from the day where music was so much more tangible than it is today. From when you had to buy a physical product, unwrap it, place it into the CD player, connect listening to action. In no particular order, the first four are Bob Mould's 'Workbook', R.E.M.'s 'Lifes Rich Pageant', the Smiths' 'Louder Than Bombs' (double record - score!), the Beastie Boys' 'Paul's Boutique'. If you didn't know I'm white, that list might be a clue.

The fifth record, and the topic of this ode to September 24, 1991, doesn't burnish my diversity credentials much, even as it borrows heavily from the greats of funk and owes so much to one of the great rap producers. But like the others, it instantly takes me back to a place and time. Despite the Stone Roses-based sound picture Whitney paints above (and I do dig some Roses), the Red Hot Chili Peppers' 'Blood Sugar Sex Magik' was the soundtrack of my senior year of college.

I liked the Chilis well enough before 'BSSM' came out, but I didn't consider myself a huge fan. Like everyone around me, I knew all the words to 'Magic Johnson', and thanks to Beavis and Butt-Head, was a big fan of Michael 'Flea' Balzary's manic bass stylings. My still-adolescent male self giggled along with the joke when they performed wearing nothing but strategically placed socks. He still does, actually.

But from the first notes of 'The Power of Equality', 'BSSM' dug its way into my life in a way unlike few records before or since. It's by turns loud, bawdy, so, so funky, sweet, complex, juvenile, thoughtful, silly, positive, and grateful. From the raucous hits 'Suck My Kiss' and 'Give It Away', to the lecherous title track, to the underrated funk of 'Mellowship Slinky in B Major', 'Apache Rose Peacock' and 'Naked in the Rain' the record has terrific range, emotionally and musically. I'm ambivalent about the album's megahit, 'Under the Bridge', but there's not a weak track in the bunch, and it says something to me that the two songs I like the most are so very different.

'The Righteous and the Wicked' is a driving, guitar-heavy romp. Producer Rick Rubin lets John Frusciante's alternately roaring, keening, careening sound play a starring role - in fact, Frusciante's evolution from the distortion of 'Mother's Milk' to the crisper sound on 'BSSM' was one of Rubin's most important contributions on the record.

On the other end of the spectrum, 'Breaking the Girl' is 4:55 of the sweetest, saddest heartache you ever want to hear. I love the line, "She was a girl/soulful and strange". Isn't that what we all wanted when we were 21? At least when we were sober and 21. And Anthony Kiedis' narrator broke her heart because he was too much of a tough guy. Kiedis' ability to combine naked introspection and compassion with the dirtiest of horndoggery - sometimes in the same song - is one of the contradictions that make 'BSSM' so compelling.

RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS - 03 - Breaking The Girl by infra-pink

I don't remember whether I bought 'BSSM' or if my roommate, Jon Goodstein, did. Given that my lifelong inability to manage money first became obvious in college, it's likely that Steiner dropped the cash. What I do remember vividly is that we played it constantly for months. Unless one of us was hooking up, 'BSSM' went into the CD player at bedtime. (So, um, it went into the CD player every night.) And it went on as soon as we woke up.

I'm listening to BSSM right now, for the first time in too long, much like Whitney with 'Nevermind'. Nodding my head like 'yeah'. And remembering my senior year with a smile.

Music as memory.

Not a bad day, September 24, 1991.

Friday, September 23, 2011


I promised the Doofus Overlord that I'd finish a piece for posting today.  I failed.  But I did find this rare footage of Teejay and TR's old music video show for filler.

REM Driver 8 by Celtiemama

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Days Living in Infamy

On this date in 1970:

Bobby Cox was released by the New York Yankees, ending his playing career.  He got his tormenting the New York Mets for much of the 90s and 2000s.

Rapper Mystikal was born in New Orleans.  He's now on the Louisiana Sexual Offender Registry.

Oprah Winfrey wrote the following in her diary: "Anthony asked me yesterday to go with him and today I answered yes. I hated to go against my parents but Anthony is so perfect (almost). I couldn't just say no."

Diana Ross' 'Ain't No Mountain High Enough' topped the Billboard charts.

And not a whole hell of a lot else happened.  Really, it was one of the least interesting days of the decade, or of any decade, for that matter.

Thankfully, Whitney was born to liven things up.  Happy Birthday, my man.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Horrendous TV Show Draft: Fall 2011

Prodigious tweeter @LonelyTailgater threw out the notion of a Horrendous TV Show Draft on twitter several weeks back, and after successfully answering a random trivia question, I found myself conducting a fantasy television show draft at 10 o'clock at night while on vacation, with six other guys I only know because of the tweet machine. Your participants (Mr. Tailgater is the Roger Goodell of this league):

The goal? Draft the show debuting in the Fall 2011 that would have the shortest run. As you can see here, there were no shortage of awesome (horrendous) choices. I have listed my three draft selections below, along with the blurbs that made me think "Holy shit this show sucks - I must select it."

First round selection:
Single father George only wants the best for his 16-year-old daughter, Tessa. So when he finds a box of condoms on her nightstand, he moves them out of their apartment in New York City to a house in the suburbs. But all Tessa sees is the horror of over-manicured lawns and plastic Franken-moms. Being in the ‘burbs can be hell, but it also may just bring Tessa and George closer than they’ve ever been.
Debut: Wednesday, September 28rd at 8:30 pm.
This sounded like a steaming pile of manure the minute I read the blurb. What a forced, canned, overdone sitcom topic. Jay Bilas was even raving about this pick in the green room. And, just to make this thing better (worse), SNL has-beens Ana Gasteyer and Chris Parnell are involved.

Second round selection:
After a na├»ve Midwestern girl’s big city dreams are dashed her first week in New York, she finds herself living with her worst nightmare in this hilarious, contemporary comedy about a female odd couple who are surrounded by an outrageous cast of characters.
Debut: Late-Fall or mid-season replacement
According to Wikipedia, this show was originally titled "Don't Trust The Bitch in Apartment 23." Im serious. At what point in time will networks stop trying to capture the cheesiness and success of "Friends"? I fear I might never even get to see an episode of this show to mock, as some mid-season replacements just disappear forever.

Third round selection
A drama about a brilliant, charismatic surgeon whose life changes forever when his deceased ex-wife begins teaching him the meaning of life from the “hereafter.”
Debut: This Friday the 23rd, 8pm.
So, this is basically that Jennifer Love Hewitt show, minus her beautiful bosoms? This has fail written all over it. But, for some odd reason, it is directed by Jonathan Demme, the same guy who did "Silence of the Lambs" and 'Philadelphia". I fear Mr. Demme will not be having similar success with this small screen attempt.

If you would like to monitor the failing and flailing fall shows of 2011, I suggest hitting up the Futon Critic. And of course following all of the league participants on twitter, if you're not already. I'll have a review of "A Gifted Man" up next Monday. In the immortal words of Bart Scott, "CAN'T WAIT".

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Uff Da

Barring some unforeseen act of the Baseball Gods, Adam Dunn will trudge into the offseason as the owner of the single worst offensive season in the history of modern baseball.  Big Donkey inked a four-year, $56 million contract with the White Sox on the strength of seven consecutive seasons of more than 38 homers.

Suffice it to say that he won't reach that number this year.  Dunn had never slugged lower than .454 entering 2011, carrying a better-than .500 mark into the season.  His worst OBP in his 10 previous major league seasons was .354.  In 2011, he's dropped an inexplicable .161/.292/.285(!) in 113 games, recording the worst Wins Above Replacement (WAR) measurement of the 443 players with more than 100 plate appearances.

And it says here that while Dunn was clearly the league's worst player, he wasn't its most disappointing.

The Twins ponied up $184 million over eight years to keep local hero and all-around good guy Joe Mauer at home.  Very quietly, the uff das have been mounting, as Mauer will finish the season having played 82 games, hitting 3 homers and driving in 30.  His slash lines of .287/.360/.368 are decent enough for a catcher, but only if that catcher's name is Jarrod Saltalamacchia (whose .759 OPS tops Mauer's for the bargain 2011 price of $750,000).  Mauer's 1.7 WAR ranks him just below the exceedingly average (and heretofore unknown to me) Ryan Hanigan.

The fine people of the Twin Cities are far too nice to say this out loud, but I'd bet dollars to lutefisk-flavored donuts that they're worried that Mauer will never regain the form he displayed in 2009.  And nobody writes that kind of ending to this story.     

Sunday, September 18, 2011

An Unserious Post

From the minds that brought you Munchboxx and Stripper Bus, a new expose on the real impacts of our economic downturn.  College graduates in Ann Arbor find themselves with a plethora of unappealing professional options, including the one pictured below.

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Serious Post

I stray from our blog's mission with this serious post only because I have something to say and no other forum in which to say it.

Much has been made of Gov. Rick Perry's HPV vaccination program. I know more about the scientific and legal issues surrounding vaccines than your average person, including, unfortunately, every Republican running for President (except perhaps Gov. Perry). Instead of admitting their lack of knowledge, these candidates resort to Limbaughian rhetoric and spin to make Perry look bad. I am so appalled by their words that I urge you to vote for none of them.

1. They do not know the science

No candidate articulated an accurate or even coherent position on the scientific merits of HPV vaccination, not even Dr. Ron Paul who called HPV vaccination "bad medicine." Human papillomavirus (HPV) causes genital warts, but, more seriously, can cause cervical and other cancers. The HPV vaccine prevents HPV infection, and thus prevents contracting these diseases.

Vaccines are one of the 20th century's ten greatest achievements in public health. Vaccines completely eliminated wild-type smallpox and polio infections in the US, and almost completely eliminated diptheria and measles infection. Not only do vaccines improve morbitity and mortality statistics, they decrease the cost of medical care by preventing diseases.

Simply put, a significant number of us would not be alive today but for vaccines. And they save money. This duality of efficiency should appeal to conservatives of the "law and economics" stripe.

Vaccines do not cause autism or mental retardation, despite what Rep. Bachman thinks. If they did, the FDA would bar their sale. And drug companies would not sell them.

As an example, the first rotavirus vaccine was withdrawn from the market less than one year after its launch because it was linked to intussusception. Intussusception isn't a major problem in developed countries like ours because it is relatively easy to treat, and the vaccine caused a fleetingly small increase in its incidence. Yet the vaccine was still withdrawn.

If vaccines really caused serious irreversible conditions like autism and mental retardation, there is no way in hell that anyone would manufacture them (imagine the liability!) or that the FDA would allow their sale. Believing the contrary is like believing the sun revolves around the earth.

2. They do not know the law

State vaccination policies have no place in a Presidential debate. Fans of the 10th Amendment know that protecting the public health is a traditional state police power, which means that issues of public health are reserved to the states. So long as a state's law is reasonably related to protecting the public's health, it is legal under the US Constitution. The Supreme Court set this out over 100 years ago. Thus the President can do nothing to impact state vaccination policies, short of withdrawing a state police power that the Founders reserved to the states (i.e., repealing the 10th Amendment, at least in part). Saying that this is not a particularly conservative idea is like saying that Aaron Boone is not particularly popular in Boston.

Today all fifty states require childhood immunizations in order to attend public schools. The requirements vary from state to state (exactly as the Framers intended) and most allow students to forego immunization for religious or philosophical reasons.

Contrary to the Republican candidates' characterization, childhood immunizations are not "forced." A vaccine goon squad does not show up at your doorstep to shoot your children full of antigens. Gov. Perry does not arrive in classrooms with a cadre of thugs to hold little girls down while he administers vexatious innoculations. As all parents know, vaccines are administered during routine visits to the pediatrician. If you don't want your child to receive the shot you can refuse it. The worst that can happen is that your child can't go to public school (if you're in a state that doesn't provide exemptions).

Former Senator Santorum criticized Texas' HPV vaccination program because if you didn't want your child to receive the vaccine you had to "opt out," and he said that if he designed the program it would be an "opt in" regime. Whether you must "opt out" (i.e., tell the doctor "don't give my kid that shot) or "opt in" as Sen. Santorum would prefer (i.e., tell the doctor "yes, give my kid the shot") the mechanism is the same: parents must give their doctors permission to immunize their children when they bring their children in for regular checkups. Sen. Santorum's "opt in" rhetoric is a distinction without a difference.

Rep. Ron Paul is both a physician and a Texan, so his statements during the debate are the most repugnant, especially in light of his alleged libertarianism. Rep. Paul criticized Texas' HPV vaccination program because it was enacted by an executive order instead of going through the legislature. I have not read, let alone studied, Texas' Constitution or other laws, but if such a vaccination program may be legally enacted by executive order then Rep. Paul has no room to gripe. The people of Texas voted Gov. Perry into office knowing that he could use all of the powers available to the office, including enacting laws by executive order. As my libertarian professors used to say, you get what you bargained for. If Rep. Paul doesn't like how Texas' HPV vacccine program came into being, he should take it out on the voting populace of Texas or the drafters of the Texas Constitution. Or vote Gov. Perry out of office and replace hims with someone who will repeal the law. Or convince the Texas legislature to overturn the law (which they did). Gov. Perry simply did what he thought his constituents wanted and enacted a law through a perfectly legal mechanism. That's how democracy works. Rep. Paul should brush up on his intellectual conservatism (and his medical training too).

The policy rationale against HPV vaccination is irrational. The Republican candidates act as if receiving HPV vaccination will turn 12-year-old girls into raging whores. The vaccine does not come with X-rated tutelage from a lecher like John Malkovich's character in "Dangerous Liaisons". Merely being immunized against a disease that is transmitted sexually will not cause children to run out and have lots of sex. Polio is transmitted via the fecal-oral route, but there are no reports of children eating dung because they got their polio booster.

And how will children know that they are immunized against a disease that is transmited sexually unless someone tells them? To this day I'm not sure what rubella is or how it's transmitted, and I sure as hell didn't know when I got my MMR shots as a child. Do you? How about pertussis? Mumps? Diptheria?

None of the candidates articulated a logical reason why it isn't reasonable to give people the opportunity to protect their children from a potentially deadly disease that is transmitted by an act that almost everyone engages in at some point in their lives.

3. They do not deserve your vote

An intellectually honest and coherent conservative response on this topic would be something like "I am running for the office of President of the United States, not Governor of Texas. This is an issue properly decided by the people of Texas and their elected representatives. I respect the 10th Amendment and states' rights, and as President I would do nothing to influence how the State of Texas administers their childhood vaccination programs."

If you want to punch it up a bit you could add "If I was the Governor of Texas, I would not enact a mandatory HPV vaccination program because this is not the type of communicable disease for which we typically require vaccination to attend public schools. The route of transmission is uniquely different from the other diseases on Texas' mandatory vaccination schedule, and in order to maintain the uniformity of the vaccination schedule I would not include HPV."

Or you could punch it up by justifying the use of the vaccine for all the reasons laid out above.

But no one did that, not even Gov. Perry. Rather than admit a less than complete understanding of the scientific and legal issues surrounding mandatory vaccination programs, the current Republican Presidential candidates made inaccurate, incomplete, incorrect, and inadequate arguments in order to smear another candidate's record. None of them know the century-old law on point, or worse, they refuse to acknowledge it.

The "conservatives" on stage completely ignored bedrock principles of conservatism and medicine, and pandered to the lowest common denominator by spouting misinformation to get votes. Do not give them yours; we deserve better.

For True

Just because autumn's chill has made its presence felt, don't think that Team G:TB is slowing down.  We're still filling it up.

This morning, in celebration of Trombone Shorty's new album, 'For True', a song that may or may not be on the record.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Horror

A month or so ago, I played golf with a colleague at his old-line country club in Philly's New Jersey suburbs.  After our round, we retired to the men's grill for too many beers, big steaks, and the best bottle of wine I've ever had.  Tenuta San Guido Tuscany Sassicaia is a giant Bordeaux (forgive me, I can't recall the vintage), with legs like you read about and a deep, full taste (or whatever oenephilic description is appropriate).  The bottle retailed for $500, but it was half-price night at Tavistock, so we rolled like big-timers.  And my friend got the check, paying off a bet on this Spring's Bruins/Flyers series. I went back to my hotel with a quality buzz and a new favorite (if well out of my reach) wine.

Earlier this week, as I perused Mike Wise's tale of Dan Snyder's drunken-schoolboy impulse-driven pursuit of Mike Shanahan, one nugget made me spit out my coffee.  Recounts Wise, "While watching NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” game between the Arizona Cardinals and Indianapolis Colts, the four men drank glasses of Sassicaia, a bold Tuscan red that is a Snyder favorite, those who were present said. They added that Snyder eventually graduated to Crown Royal."

Not. Fucking. Cool. Couldn't be Opus One, or Cakebread, or some other pretentious tipple, nosirree.  Dan Snyder toilet-bowled my favorite football team, and now he's coming after my wine.  'Course, for him, grabbing a bottle of Sassicaia's like me picking up a six-pack of Dale's, which twists the knife even further.

And so I move thismuch closer to the New Orleans Saints, my soon-to-be favorite squad.  Drew Brees would never do this to me.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Peyton Manning & Me: Protect Ya Neck

While the lockout was easily the biggest story of the NFL offseason, there’s no doubt that Peyton Manning’s neck has been the biggest story of the NFL’s preseason. During the early parts of the story, few doubted that Manning would recover in time to suit up for the Colts’ opener against the Houston Texans. Much of this was due to the tremendous durability that Peyton Manning has exhibited during his long & storied NFL career. However, another reason that most people assumed Manning’s injury wouldn’t prevent him from missing any games is that most people have no idea how debilitating and serious neck injuries (particularly neck injuries that result in nerve damage) can be. I was actually always under the impression that Manning would be forced to sit out games, largely because a little over a year ago I suffered a very similar injury to Peyton Manning.

Last May, while on vacation as I waited to begin a new job, I went to the gym on a Tuesday morning in the same way I’d done hundreds of times before. I felt no different that day than I had the night before when I played pickup basketball with friends. However, within minutes, while doing an ab exercise I felt a sharp pain in my neck & shoulder as I raised up. I wasn’t sure what happened but I knew my workout was over. My right arm/shoulder was in severe pain and was quickly getting worse. I could barely handle the 4 minute drive from the gym to my house. I called my (now) wife to come home and take me to the doctor. By the time she arrived home 20 minutes later, I was writhing in pain on my living room floor. I collapsed in pain three separate time while trying to walk to my wife’s car and had to be wheeled into my doctor’s office. Once there, the doctor immediately ordered x-rays and administered a pain killing injection in my ass. As strong as I’m sure the injection was, it had no discernible effect on my pain. My doctor said he had an idea what may have happened to me but need x-rays & MRIs to be sure. X-rays were up first.

I went into the x-ray room and struggled to stand up for shoulder x-rays. After two x-rays, the time came for me to raise my right arm above my shoulder. I’m not exactly sure what happened after this but I do know that the next thing I remember is looking up at the nurse while I lay on the x-ray room floor, covered in sweat. I was a ghostly shade of white and there would be no more x-rays, or anything else at the Doctor’s office that day. The pain was so intense that my body literally shut down for a brief moment. My wife took me home, filled me with pain meds and muscle relaxers and put me to bed. Over the next few days, I ingested an ungodly amount of both oxycodone and carisoprodol in an effort to curb my tremendous pain. When I was finally able to have an MRI, my worst fears were confirmed. I had herniated a disc in my neck. The C5 to be exact and it was pressing down on the nerves located near C5. The result of this was an intense searing pain in my right arm, specifically my tricep, forearm and wris,t as well as a total loss of all feeling in the index and middle finger of my right hand.

Now, Peyton Manning is a far more well conditioned athlete than I was, or am, and has access to the finest medical care and rehabilitative services, however nerves are a very tricky thing and they all react differently to major injuries. One of the things that we’ve heard about Manning is that he lacks strength and stamina in his right arm as a result of this injury. I suffered the same fate. In fact, my nerve damage was so severe that one of the heads of my right tricep muscle died. Literally. I have no lateral head in my right tricep muscle anymore. Now, I don’t believe that Manning’s herniation and nerve damage were this severe but I do suspect he has suffered a great loss of strength in his tricep and shoulder. Strength that is going to take a long time to be restored in full, if ever.

After a couple of weeks, most of the referential, nerve related pain had subsided and I was told I could begin physical therapy within another week or so. This physical therapy would last nearly 3 months. During this time, I would be unable to run, play basketball or (obviously) lift weights. My neck was still so fragile that any jarring motions would jeopardize my recovery and, perhaps, cause the herniation to worsen. Once I was able to resume some level of physical activity, the only approved exercises were riding a stationary bike or using an elliptical. At the time of my injury, I was in some of the best shape of my life and weighed a little over 170 lbs. By the time I came up to D.C. in late June, I had dropped to 150 lbs. My lowest weight since I was a senior in high school. Physical therapy was an arduous and, often times, painful undertaking but with the help of a great team group of PTs I was able to finish my rehabilitation in just under 3 months. I was released to begin running on grass and, within a month begin playing basketball again (though my doctor advised to give up basketball completely). Unfortunately, playing basketball again wouldn’t be as easy I thought.

I’m a pretty decent basketball player and have shooting range that easily extends to the NBA three point line. The first time I attempted to shoot a basketball after my injury was from the free throw line. The ball ended up 5 feet short and about three feet to the right. That’s how much strength I had lost in my right tricep and shoulder. I took me nearly 6 months to rebuild the strength on my right side to the point that I could play basketball at the same level again. It took me nearly a year to restore my overall strength to pre-injury levels. In order to lessen the strain on my neck & disc, I have completely changed how I lift weights (many more reps, much less weight) and adhere to a daily icing regimen for my neck. I still have no feeling in my right index finger above the knuckle. As I think I’ve communicated, this is a major injury. One that dramatically effects quality of life as well as your ability to participate in any type of athletic competition, much less one as fast, violent and demanding as professional football.

It’s been nearly a year and a half since my injury and I’m back up to around 165 lbs. I’m able to play basketball at a high level again and I lift 5-6 days a week again, just as I did prior to my neck injury. However, I’m not the same. Not even close. I don’t sleep as well as I once did, I can’t do things I once took for granted like riding a roller coaster or sleeping on my stomach, or even folding laundry. My right arm is somewhat smaller than my left as a result of the loss of the lateral head of my tricep and other nerve related damage. Simply put, I’m not the same person, physically, anymore.

Like I said earlier, I’m not Peyton Manning nor did I have the access to the type of care that he will be afforded. But I did suffer a very similar injury at around the same age. I feel confident in saying his next few months will be hellish. May and June of last year definitely were for me. Like most men who played lots of sports, I've had my fair share of injuries over the years. Lots of broken fingers, three broken noses, a torn calf muscle, a fractured ankle, a broken jaw (in two places) and a host of others. None of these compare to the herniation of my C5. Not even close. I sincerely hope that Peyton Manning recovers fully and is back on the field for the Indianapolis Colts. I can’t see it happening this year. And frankly, I wouldn’t be shocked if he never does again.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Memories, in Brief

You can find any kind of 9/11 remembrance you'd like today via your choice of media, so we won't belabor the obvious.  We lost fraternity brothers Mark Ludvigsen and Mike Edwards that crystalline blue morning, and my graduate school friend Chris Murphy, as well.  9/11 meant and means an infinite number of things to our nation and our world.  I choose today to think about what it means to Mark, Mike, and Chris's families. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The influence of TV, or more specifically MTV

Like most people in my generation, I was heavily influenced by MTV. Most of us here at G:TB had the good fortune of growing up at a time when MTV actually regularly broadcast music videos. As opposed to the awful reality programming it’s now known for. As Zman mentioned earlier this week, its easy to forget just how great Yo! MTV Raps (and many other musical genre specific programs of that era, i.e. Headbanger’s Ball, 120 Minutes, etc.) was during its heyday. Nearly all of the great hip hop artists of the late 80s and early 90s debuted in some form or fashion on Yo! I regularly scheduled my Friday nights around being in front of a TV in order to watch Yo! , as it was often my only chance to see the videos for all of my favorite hip hop artists (For some reason BET was only broadcast after 8 pm on my local cable carrier at the time, so I was deprived the pleasure of watching Rap City at this juncture of my life).

Not surprisingly, I was influenced by much of what I saw in these hip hop videos. I’m not different than many white kids who fell in love with hip hop in their teen years and were subsequently enamored with a culture that was far different than what they knew in their everyday lives. While I didn’t go overboard with my mimicry like many, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t draw on some of these videos for use in my everyday life (like say switching from joints to blunts for a period of time in the mid 90s).

One of the most popular, influential and memorable videos of this era was Nuthin' but a G Thang, the lead single from Dr. Dre’s debut album The Chronic. It was, and still is, an iconic song. On top of that, the video was fantastic and full of memorable imagery. Everything from a young Warren G giddily smoking a joint to a buxom female having her top yanked off during a volleyball to a refrigerator filled to the brim with 40s of Olde English and many, many more. And while all these scenes are burned into my memory, nothing in this video stuck with me like one of the first images of the video. That image? Snoop Dogg’s sweatshirt.

You see, I grew up in a small beach community known as Indian Harbour Beach, or the “IHB” as I half-jokingly referred to it. Immediately upon seeing Snoop’s “LBC” sweatshirt, I promised myself that one day I would have an IHB version of Snoop’s sweatshirt. Well, thanks to a lazy summer Saturday and too much free time on my own hands, that day was Tuesday. That’s when the greatest sweatshirt I’ve ever owned arrived in the mail. Behold:

Now I just have to wait two months until it gets cold enough for me to wear it.

Friday, September 09, 2011


Yes, it’s that time once again, when the warriors strap it on, take the field, and commence another march to the coveted trophy.

Except that there isn’t much to strap on, it’s a pitch, and the trophy is the Webb Ellis, not the Lombardi. Yeah, it’s Rugby World Cup time. It’s 3:30 AM EDT, and the first match of the 2011 Cup is about to kick off in Auckland, New Zealand. New Zealand versus Tonga. Crouch, together, engage.

Here’s a highly uninformed preview to brief you with just enough backstory so that, hopefully, you will develop some rooting interest and follow along. I’m guessing that the only regular reader who will be watching any of the Cup might be Jerry, and he probably knows as much or more, but here goes.

Your Cliffs Notes Rugby World Cup Preview

The Rugby World Cup

  • Founded all the way back in 1987
Previous Winners:
1987 – New Zealand
1991 – Australia
1995 – South Africa (spoiler alert: you know, like in Invictus)
1999 – Australia
2003 – England
2007 – South Africa, defending champs
You sense a domination of just a few nations. It’s true. Only France has been a consistent contender outside this list.

The Format
If you watch World Cup soccer, you sort of know the drill. We begin with a group stage, except that instead of eight groups of four teams, there are four groups of five, so 20 nations make the tournament. You play everyone in your pool, so you have four pool matches, with two teams from each pool advancing to the knock-out stage.

How The Game Is Played
Okay, you probably kind of already know, and none of us wants me to transcribe the book of laws here, but here are a few basic facts as you watch:
  • 15 dudes on a side (in this variety; sevens is the more lively nephew of this game)
  • 40 minute halves
  • Lots of running-about advancing behavior, as it’s a game of possession with the goal of touching the ball down in the try zone or kicking it through the uprights. Sound familiar?
  • Can’t pass the ball forward, can’t even drop it or hit it forward accidentally. This is called a knock-on, and it results in a change of possession. Americans changed it so you can throw it forward and therefore not get hit so much. Some say smart, ruggers say lazy and sissy.
The mass of dudes binding onto each other and pushing has different names:
  • Scrum – general term, but the organized variety is a scrumdown, after a knock-on, tie-up, or whenever the ref doesn’t know what to do.
  • Ruck – ball’s on the ground; push the pack over it, and when it’s free, grab it
  • Maul – ball’s in your team’s hands; push forward, pass it back ‘til it’s free
  • The pack has eight guys, the back line has seven.
  • Big dudes in the pack, smaller/faster dudes (not always in either case) are backs
I played in the pack for four years in college, eventually working my way to 8-man, the most fun position I played. Back of the pack, you can either ruck over the ball and let the scrum-half kick it out to the backs or take it yourself. Most enjoyable was when Hightower was the scrum-half and I was 8, as we rarely passed it and got yelled at plenty. I retired from the pack my 5th year and played outside center in the back line. Don’t let any back fool you, it’s slack as shit back there.

  • 5 points for a try, 2 for the conversion, BUT, you kick the conversion from wherever you touched the ball down, latitudinally speaking. Meaning if you dive for a try in the corner, your kicker takes aim from anywhere he chooses... along the sideline. Hence people running into the center of the try zone when they can.
  • 3 points for a kick, either a drop-kick in mid-play or via a penalty.
Penalties… ugh, too much typing. Oversimplified:
There are obvious ones (taking a bloke’s head off, tackling / holding / obstructing a man without the ball) and less obvious ones (hands in a ruck, not releasing the ball when tackled – this is very grey, as a ruck can form around you -- and a whole lot of offsides). Offsides: basically if there’s a scrum/ruck/maul, or if someone on your team kicks it, mind your advancement, there’s a good chance you’ll be whistled.

Big part of the game (not mine), if you punt it on a penalty or from behind your own 22-meter line and it goes into touch (out of bounds), the other side throws a lineout in from there. But outside your 22, back to where you kicked it.
You kicked it and it stays inbounds, you better get on your bleedin’ horse, mate. No one who was in front of you when you kicked it can touch the fellow who caught it until you pass them and make them onside.
Pop kick: you’re running towards the zone, man comes at you, pop-kick it over his head, run around him, retrieve the ball, run in. Sounds a hell of a lot easier than it is.

Lineouts: ball goes out, throw it back in straight. Come on, dummy.

Oh… when you score, they kick off to you. Which is excellent unless they pop it up and drill you, which happened a lot to us in undergrad.


So who’s gonna win?

New Zealand. Or so say the oddsmakers, who give them roughly 4:6 odds. Bodog gives them 8/13, while the US of A is 1000:1. Some have the Americans at 5000:1.

So you’re tellin’ me there’s a chance.

The aforementioned Wallabies, Springboks, and Limeys are a respective 3:1, 8:1, and 10:1. Jerry likes the Aussies. I don’t care. I just like to watch. (That’s right.)

Here are the pools:
  • Pool A – Canada, France, Japan, New Zealand, Tonga
  • Pool B – Argentina, England, Georgia, Romania, Scotland
  • Pool C – Australia, Italy, Ireland, Russia, USA
  • Pool D – Fiji, Namibia, Samoa, South Africa, Wales
No draw would be easy for us, but that’s rough. At least we get Russia. Miracle on sooty grass.

There are plenty of subplots and familiar adversaries. The historic grudge matches and annual bouts via Tri-Nations (NZ, SA, Australia), Six Nations (England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France, Italy), etc., now take a back seat to the world title. Giddyup.

So that’s enough of a backdrop for now; pick your rooting interest (beyond the Yanks) based on your heritage (England and Ireland for me), underdogs, most fun to watch (Fiji, Samoa), or random interest. I like Wales as my (pasty, toothless) dark horse, and in the meantime, I’m excited that it’s even getting a little bit of airplay. Try to tune in. I know NBC is airing the US/Ireland bludgeoning on Sunday at 1:00 PM. My party guests should be amused when I switch over to that game. I think.

Our man on the pitch continues to be old W&M chum Brian Hightower, though he's covering this Cup for the network in LA, not Wellington. Give a listen out for him in case he gloms his way into some broadcasts. In the meantime, check out his coverage on the bloggy website The Scrum, especially his article entitled “Hightower's 5 must-watch Rugby World Cup games.

Game on. Enjoy.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Happy Football Day

In keeping with our convention-bending celebrations of American Football, we offer a little afternoon whimsy as we do our best to kill time before Lord Goodell and his minions take over our lives for the next five months.  NYC G:TBers, an assignment: please go find the Big Gay Ice Cream truck (or visit the new shop at 125 East 7th Street) and tell us if the product is as good as it's purported to be. T-shirts for the whole staff would be a nice touch, too.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Worlds Collide During TV Month, Alternatively Titled "This Post Goes To Eleven"

I don't watch many of the same shows as the rest of the G:TB staff, just sports, movies on HBO, and a handful of programs (yeah I said programs) that the zwoman and I both enjoy. As you may have noticed, the majority of my contributions here relate to music, so to celebrate G:TB Television Month, I bring you the definitive list of the top 11 television theme songs of all time.

My list is definitive not because I am infallible, but because I defined the terms of all time bestness, namely, if I'm driving in my car and a TV theme song came on the radio (or satellite or, if Whitney's with me, from a bottomless iPod), how excited would I be to turn up the volume and bang it? So the Cheers theme is out (and I know Teedge is miffed -- I guarantee he would bang the Cheers theme in his Saturn unibody SUV), as is M*A*S*H, Hill Street Blues, Welcome Back Kotter, WKRP in Cincinnati, Laverne & Shirley, and All In The Family, no matter how recognizable and iconic they are. And Billy Joel sucks so Bosom Buddies is out too.

Some series have a potentially unfair advantage because they employ theme songs that are actual real songs, sort of like leftover tacos. I'll let you gripe about that in the comments.

11. Sanford and Son
Here's the full version of the Qunicy Jones song. KRS-ONE and DJ Jazzy Jeff approve of this selection (fast forward to the 4:00 mark).

10. Magnum P.I.
You knew this one would be here. It's a stitch cheesier than the rest of the songs here but it's just so fucking manly that I had to include it. If I had a 308 and this came on the radio I'd be arrested for speeding within seconds.

9. Spider-Man
Apologies to Jack Urbont, but this is the best cartoon theme of the 1960's. If I knew how to use ProTools I would make a fantastic beat out of the drums from 0:08 to 0:10. I don't know what I'd do with it though. The lyrics are admittedly campy but the music is infectiously 60's/mod. I would turn the volume up if I was on the highway. Probably not if I was cruising around with the windows down.

8. Dukes of Hazzard
Proof that my tastes include more than just big beats: a country tune! I can't find an embeddable clip so just use this link and look at this picture.

Or this video.

7. Knight Rider
Not a very good show but an oft-sampled theme song that makes my cut.

Timbaland approves:

6. China Beach
Much like Jack Urbont, Diana Ross ain't nuthing ta fuck wit.

5. Yo! MTV Raps: Ed Lover Dance
The Ed Lover Dance wasn't really the theme song for Yo! MTV Raps, but it was a prominent skit and a thoroughly enjoyable frat-party-friendly tune.

Parenthetically, it's easy to forget just how good Yo! MTV Raps was at times, due in large part to the quality of the music and lyricism of the day. Can you imagine something this lyrically impressive happening today with Lil Wayne, Soulja Boy, Waka Flocka Flame, and Gucci Mane?

4. Sesame Street - Funky Chimes Version
We've featured Funky Chimes at G:TB before and we'll do so again. It's my jam.

MF Doom approves:

3. Hung
I've only seen one episode but the intro features an early Black Keys song so it's in.

2. Boardwalk Empire
I really like Brian Jonestown Massacre. I saw them live at the Paradise in Boston and they blew me away. They were just as weird and wasted as I expected them to be and their musicianship was fantastic. Their set was a giant pulsing wall of distortion-free guitar, crisp drums, and lunatic tambourine. The entire crowd turned into defective bobbleheads, domes lolling forward and side-to-side with the throb of the music. I give their show my strongest white. It will thus surprise noone who has suffered through drunken selections from my iPod to see "Straight Up And Down" on the list, the theme song to Boardwalk Empire. Which is a very enjoyable show.

1. Miami Vice
This intro is as good as it gets, from the boobies bouncing to the bongos around 0:25 to the overall feeling of surging motion and acceleration throughout the song. The whole thing was often played on the radio at one point, and thanks to this video I now know that Jan Hammer looked like Chris Berman and dressed like Michael Irvin.

Dave posits that The Sopranos kicked off the modern age of "good" television, but I would counter that Miami Vice started the trend. The Sopranos was much better executed, but Miami Vice is a pretty impressive achievement given the limitations of network TV and the 1980's in general.

Which leads me to ask: what's the deal with 1980's swimsuit bottoms?