Wildcard Weekend

Life is short, time to blog again if the mood strikes me. I realized this most recently while visiting with my Uncle Ed over Christmas weekend. Ed was born at the outset of the Great Depression, older brother to my father on Peach Orchard Mountain overlooking hardscrabble Pikeville, Kentucky. He is finishing his years perched high up a mountain valley overlooking the blue Pacific, enjoying the mixed riches and ruins of a crazed life. He’s ensconced at the end of his years in his aerie high above Makaha Surfing Beach. The family had taken a condo nearby and he and I got to visit. Some moments are better than others with Ed, as he’s a moody man to begin with and at 86 the neurons creep about slower. As we left him on that Sunday morning with the sun streaming in the picture window and tearful goodbyes in the offing, I told him I hoped we met again.  He quoted Hemingway as Jake Barnes at the conclusion of The Sun Also Rises“Yes…Isn’t it pretty to think so?” .

We’ll always have tomorrow/Paris/insert mulligan here, right? Maybe not, so here is my tentative foray back into free-form, mainly as a continuing correspondence with my Uncle, while I still can, while we’re both relatively compos mentis. I value his takes on everything from jazz to football to current events. Beware my double spaces and Oxford commas. I am a creature from another century in many ways.

“You’re a good writer” my Uncle has said to me over the years, like a loving, family mantra. So here begins my new century.

270 words, Marietta GA

 

 

From The Sports Desk. October 2013 Baseball Forecast

1986toppsbillbucknerAutumn is a time of change and yet a time to take stock of the eternal verities. Leaves change color and drop, the evening commute grows darker, another friend or loved one battles against the dying of the light. And the Atlanta Braves pee down their legs in the post-season. “Will this be the year we play our best ball in the postseason?” That question rings like a bell throughout the region among Braves fans.

There are reasons to hope. Our first division title in 8 years came from a team that has played well, particularly at home. The Braves have a lot of big hits at The Ted this season. They have a couple of young, perennial All Stars at key positions in Freddie Freeman and Andrelton Simmons who might not even remember the long list of playoff fades of the last 20 years. The bullpen has been solid, Kimbrell dominant for the last three outs. McCann and Gattis could step up against superior pitching here in a couple of weeks, start blasting taters and begin to flip the long painful October Braves script that runs from Hrbek and Puckett to the Eric Gregg Game against the Marlins or the nameless half dozen early round playoff sweeps of the Late Bobby Cox Era.

The true unknown coming up is the post-season strategy of Fredi Gonzales. Gonzalez is a Bobby Cox acolyte, and Cox’s fatal flaw was a refusal to manage differently in short playoff matchups this time of year. Managers at the top in the modern era who have consistently brought home big trophies, sprayed with champagne and legend, have managed each at bat like it was their team’s last at bat in these games. LaRussa, Torre, and Leyland have always seemed like high stakes poker players, while Cox mentally thumbed through a book that never changed from the 162 game grind to a 7 game October playoff, where great inspiration and theater is called for. The jury is out for another month on Fredi Gonzalez. I wish him a parade.

Finally there is the Chipper factor. Chipper Jones goes down in the annals of baseball as maybe the greatest hitter of the modern era(not implicated in PEDs). He played third base when we took that trophy in ’95 and was the apple of many a little tow-headed number 10 shirt wearin’ eye at Turner Field. But as he aged he became a defensive liability late in the season, making plays that either took him off the field or lost big games. His sendoff last October, throwing the ball into right field and effectively giving the one game playoff to the Cardinals, not getting a ball out of the infield at bat, was probably his most memorable post-season moment after 1995. It was a Buckner moment in the fourth inning instead of the 10th but no less devastating to his team’s psyche.

Many of my fellow Braves fans think that with the Chipper juju out of the way our young players are ready to play their very best. We’re a better team this year. At the very least, Braves v. Pirates would be a déjà vu moment for many Atlantans of a certain vintage. We would have a lot of loud Pirate fans in town taking up any seats not sold out to the home side.   Andy Van Slyke retrospectives on ESPN. All that shit. Will we shine in the spotlight or wilt in the heat and scrutiny? Braves fans feel it like a bad tooth this time of year.

From The Sports Desk

Matt Ryan fumbles away the NFC Championship, Georgia Dome,1/13
Matt Ryan fumbles away the NFC Championship, Georgia Dome,1/13

Atlanta sports fans, the ones who’ve suffered for decades, know how seasons always end.  You pack up and go home, dreams and often testicles, crushed.  Think–a going on 50 year run of pro sports where the moments most vividly remembered are those where players with an A on their uniform wet the bed, spit the bit, choked, froze up and otherwise threw the ball away in the biggest moment of the season.

So, no.  The Falcons coming within a Matt Ryan pass of playing Baltimore, Ray Lewis and God in the Superbowl and losing out in the saddest fade imaginable is almost expected.  For an Atlanta team to have held the lead, held their water and thrown one of the SF skill players onto the Georgia Dome turf on his head in a key moment–that would have been unexpected and wondrous.  But my head is held high.  My beloved Falcons were in the tournament right up until the near-end.  If I was going to suffer another Wohlers slider or Danny White Pass or Cliff Levingston sky-hook I would just understand innately that’s what Atlanta teams do.

Matt Ryan had a great season.  When his line gave him time to step into his throws he was every bit as good as Super Bowl Winner Joe Flacco.  Unfortunately for Ryan, come January the Falcons get manhandled on both lines of scrimmage late in games.  Ryan’s a keeper, but there is no doubt that unless he wins a future Super Bowl his signature moment was written in the late-going of the NFC Championship game as he fumbled the snap and gave the ball back to SF at the worst possible moment, his gape of horror as the ball angles away from him the echo of every Atlanta team that ever came close to the heights as their wings melted.

But Ryan plays hard and gives credit to his teammates and he played great ball all season long.  He is not plagued by misdemeanors and dark allegations.  In ATL our long national Michael Vick nightmare has played out, and moved on to other climes.  It’s a valid argument that Flacco and Ryan are the last of a drop back QB type making way for the ‘pistol’ model QB evinced by the knife’s edge success enjoyed by Cam and Russell and RGIII.  Time and torn cartilage will tell.  The Falcons will probably franchise Ryan and quietly sign him during next season to a long term, top dollar contract.  Perhaps he will someday overcome his fate as an ATL pro.  But, to paraphrase Hunter Thompson on Richard Nixon, the Atlanta Falcons never let me down.

So like most years the Super Bowl was more about schadenfreude than a rooting interest to this reporter.   My joy came in watching New Orleans wet the bed, infrastructure failing again, the force of Beyonce’s fierce  booty doing to the Super Dome electrical supply what Katrina did to the Industrial Canal.  The depraved Saints Nation, their evil genius locked in NFL jail for a season, stumbled around like men on an ether binge and missed the playoffs entirely even as their QB cavorted with teen idols during the commercial breaks. A pox on the Saints and all they stand for.  We will dance on their bones next season.

Football is a hard, cruel game.  It does not reward good behavior.  It is like war, without blades and high explosives.  I’ve discovered much wrong with it over the years, from the media saturation to pampered athletes run amok to the brain injuries and chronic traumatic encephalopathy– the very line items in the deal the modern player forms with Satan.  I won’t even get into the wretched NCAA Plantation system that feeds it all.

But to suggest the game be neutered of its violence and left at the mercy of the tort lawyers is to show no faith in the violence and innovation that made our country great.  Football allows desperate men, all of us really, to sublimate our primordial rage over the thousand weekly reminders that our world has spun out of our own control.   Without the NFL there letting us vicariously kick and stomp and shove, catching the long bomb, spiking the ball in the end zone, Fall and Winter would offer but thin gruel.

I shall set it aside until next Fall, with racing and baseball seasons aborning.

Media Cole Slaw with W. M. Thackeray, Stanley Kubrick and Barry Lyndon

I stumbled sideways into Thackeray by way of Stanley Kubrick. A Sony Movie Channel documentary on Kubrick made me want to try to watch Barry Lyndon, Kubrick’s early 1970s take on the late eighteenth century. The movie is worth your time, but I cannot imagine trying to watch the thing in one sitting(with an intermission, anyone remember those) in the theater. It clocked in at three hours and four minutes and features many long scenes in which not a whole lot of action is happening. Compared with our 2012 attention spans it is seriously lacking—no car chases, no robots.

I watched Barry Lyndon via DVR as a mini-series, about 45 minutes at a time. It is truly unlike any other film I’ve seen. Kubrick’s legendary fastidiousness and eternal shoots deliver a film that really does the best possible modern job of showing what 1770 must’ve looked like. He co-opted camera lenses from NASA and used them at such slow exposures to shoot nighttime indoor scenes in candlelight, which is how it looked back then. As a film it is probably due all plaudits, even if Kubrick did get swamped by Miloś Foreman’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest at the Oscars that year.

Ryan O’Neal probably does his best work on screen as Redmond Barry Lyndon, the self-aggrandizing Irish rogue, and there were enough snippets of dialogue in the film that obviously came from the book that I decided to read The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon, by William Makepeace Thackeray. I somehow avoided reading Thackeray in college, probably because I was a Journalism major besotted with Hunter Thompson and Kurt Vonnegut and Lester Bangs, sure in my post modern smugness that all wisdom was only to be gleaned in post 1950 texts. And while this book can’t exactly be called a page-turner, it is a fascinating look back.

Thackeray wrote in the mid 19th century but preferred to write about more romantic times in the century before. Satire in our age is on the de-evolution bend in the curve, particularly in the West, where we’ve had the right to move beyond satire to outright public ridicule and parody. But satire in Thackeray’s age was a means to criticize elites and their bad behavior in a more subtle manner.

In that way, the events of The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon are used by the writer to take down everything from peerages for sale to whoring, drinking and gambling as the “play” of gentlemen.

Barry Lyndon is from the poor relations of an Irish family slowly losing their land to pay their expenses. Through his first love affair with a cousin he ends up dueling an English officer, fleeing to Dublin, gets impressed into Her Majesty’s Service fighting the French in the Seven Years War, deserts, and is captured and impressed into the Prussian army.

Through a sequence of events he ends up escaped and touring Europe with his Uncle the “Chevalier”, and they team up to cheat the gentry at card games. His subsequent attempts to find a rich woman to marry and control take up the rest of the book. He finally succeeds in marrying Honoria, Countess of Lyndon, after a long campaign, and becomes part of one of the richest families in Europe.

Needless to say, his profligacy, drunkenness, gambling and infidelities send it all down a rat hole of debt and debauchery and ruin. Lyndon, in his Memoirs, is always protesting that he has been misunderstood, that the fault is on all of the cads and frauds and treacherous “fellow” members of the ruling class.

Therein lies much of the satire in the book, some of which is no doubt lost on anyone not up to speed with 19th century European politics, like myself. But a world in which political titles are for sale, where deficit spending is privately financed for the opportunity to sieze property and power, where material things and titles matter more than mind body and spirit—that world is very familiar to the modern reader. Thackeray’s various asides about decline in fashion and behavior from one generation to the next ring as true in 2012 as they did in 1844.

One minor aspect of the book I found particularly interesting is that at one point Lyndon attempts to purchase an Irish peerage by funding and raising a regiment of locals to go fight the ‘rebels’ in America. The notion that opposing our glorious American Revolution was merely an opportunity to curry favor with the King in hopes of becoming Viscount Barry Lyndon is amusing, from the perspective of nearly 170 years later.

After the fact I’ve learned that Thackeray based his story on the real life exploits of Andrew Robinson Stoney. As a devotee of non-fiction it’s always encouraging to once again realize that truth is nearly always stranger than fiction.

If you have decided to go outside your literary comfort zone and read something from the nineteenth century I believe you would be entertained by The Memoirs of Barry Lyndon. The movie is very entertaining in its own way. Just don’t try to read or watch either one in a single sitting.

Air Time Is A Zero Sum Game

Air time is a zero sum game.  There are 24 hours in a day on a radio station and you either have a shift or you’re a fill in, or you sit on the sidelines.  Paradoxically at the point in my life that I assumed my days as a DJ were long past, I now have an opportunity to do some air shifts.

I did two hours of Jazz Radio Saturday from noon to two, pretty much left to my own devices to play Coltrane, Weather Report, Mingus, Cassandra Wilson, Dave Brubeck, whatever.  It never ceases to be a gas when you get that listener out there who wants to know who’s on drums or loved the song and wants a request.  Or maybe I’m just a relic, one generation removed from Wolfman Jack, the eternal adolescent in thrall to a small measure of fame, influence, and tastemaking that I once imagined was the purview of the DJ.  I should certainly know better by now, a new century where everyone’s a DJ if they want.

Still, it was a nice opportunity.  But in a zero sum game someone has to lose, and in this case it was the jock previously in that slot, who disappeared in the night in one of radio’s periodic purges.  He’s a good guy with a lot of history in the market, and we worked together every week for about a year and a half.  Years ago someone in the newsroom cracked that “radio personalities and mafia murder victims disappear without a trace.”  The best jokes always have a painful truth in them somewhere and so it is with my little bit of airtime on Atlanta’s heritage Jazz station.  One man’s opportunity becomes another man’s removal.  It’s one reason among many why broadcasters can be a cynical lot.

But I stayed true to the station and tried not to ego trip on the mic, and let the focus be on the cuts I played—Weather Report, Nina Simone, Bitches Brew Miles, Turrentine, Blakey and others.  In the 1980s I maintained that all my favorite jazz pieces were recorded before 1960.  Oddly now it’s as though I can follow it all the way through the the 1970s.  As I let loose Nina Simone’s version of “Hard Rain Is Gonna Fall” on Atlanta’s jazz listeners it definitely seemed to me to signal something new and different in the time slot.

Like jazz, jazz radio is often more about improvisation than formatting.  So my airtime may be scattershot.  But being back on the air “spinning” music(It’s all on a hard drive these days) was a nice changeup from some of the normal workaday grind.  I think you will be able to hear me next again on Wednesday night, July 25 from 7p-9p EDT on 91.9 FM in Atlanta, streaming worldwide at wclk.com, and on your wireless via TuneIn Radio, as they say.

Huey Newton and New York City in the 60s–A review of T.J. English’s The Savage City

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I think I’m about to take this blog out of the box and play with it a little bit.  David Lowery, one of my favorite artists, recently announced he was blowing off Facebook because he thought the superficial attenuated dialogue was not good for his mind.  I enjoy Facebook mightily, so I’m not going that far.  But things have rumbled in the culture in recent times and this might be the right venue for me.  Time will tell.

I’ll start with this copy of my Goodreads review of T.J. English’s The Savage City.  New York City has become a source of nostalgia anymore, with sanitized versions of everything Harlem to Times Square staying in the top of the public mind.  Hollywood is even making a movie about Hilly Christal and CBGB’s, and in order to find someplace appropriate beat up and desolate as The Bowery in the seventies they’re going to be shooting on location in Savannah, of all places.  But New York City was no safe tourist site in the 1960s.

I picked this off the current non fiction shelf at my local library branch. The best words to describe The Savage City by T.J. English would be dark, gritty, disturbing.

Younger people only know NYC as a mythical Oz, a place where you can by pizza on every corner and you go to Times Square to ride the rides at Toys R US. This book lays bare one of the darkest ages in the city’s long history, when black civil rights radicalized and declared war on a completely corrupt police force and criminal justice system, one of the most nervous and crime-ridden places on the planet from roughly 1963 to 1973.

English’s book uses the device of following three very different, but emblematic people of the era: George Whitmore, Jr., Bill Phillips, and Dhoruba Bin Wahad. Whitmore was a poor black man with learning disabilities who was framed and jailed by a corrupt and racist criminal justice system. Philips was a corrupt policeman who rose to great heights before turning states evidence and spending 30 years in jail for murdering a pimp. Wahad was a Bronx gangbanger who was radicalized in prison by the racial dynamic he grokked while there and by the writings and sermons of Malcom X.

Their stories are a sobering read and bring back a time when after the murders of X, RFK and King black activists radicalized, some for fame and some for the thrill of killing and blowing things up. All the while, an all white increasingly suburban criminal justice system framed random poor blacks and puerto ricans to clear cold cases.

This book goes into some detail about the schism in the West Coast and East Coast Black Panther Party factions, which was the beginning of a violent cultural beef that moved from Jazz ‘cutting’ sessions to the hip hop murders of Tupac and Biggie over a course of generations. English paints a page-turning picture of Huey Newton, who helped found the Panthers, then devolved to a groupie-banging coke and cognac fame whore by the time Wahad’s group began agitating in Brooklyn. Newton declares and fights war on the Brooklyn Panthers with the same vigor of Stalin v Trotsky. While Wahad languishes in custody with virtually the entire leadership of his group, Huey cavorts in Jane Fonda’s Manhattan pad.

If you want to understand how and why African Americans view our justice system as a rigged game, The Savage City will give you ample reason to see their point, based on cold clear facts. There are few heroes in this book, save a few contemporary journalists and jurists and criminal defense attorneys who tried at the time to shine a light on corruption.

English’s style is terse and well written. The events in this story are worthy of great crime fiction, but actually happened. Whitmore’s frame-up became a hollywood screenplay that saw the light of day in the Kojak pilot movie “The Marcus-Nelson Murders.”

So much of our history came out of this place during this time, not the least of which was NYC’s eventual bankruptcy and decline and renewal and finally in this century a polyglot economic and cultural success that is the envy and fear of the world. A place where your teenagers can roam a car-less Times Square, shopping for name brand merchandise on the streets where cops on the pad looked the other way while dirty deals went down at the Original Peepland. Recommended.

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In The Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family In Hitler’s Berlin

Erik Larson’s book is a fascinating 21st century take on the Nazi era.  In many ways it has lessons to offer for our own times as well.  American Ambassador William E. Dodd  was posted to Berlin by Roosevelt and was in Germany with his family from 1933 until 1937, as Hitler consolidated power and began turning the screws of the racial laws and voracious power grabs and public mind control that leaves him atop history’s rankings for most evil regime.

Dodd’s story is interesting, but the real action in this book is following the wild life of his daughter Martha, who was a writer and a woman who loved men. Many of them, including Gestapo officers, KGB agents and artists, ended up in the middle of national and international intrigue during the era, and Martha’s sexcapades became known not just in polite society but within the national security apparati of most of the soon to be allied and axis powers.

Larson brings to life Goering and other major players in the German and Nazi regime in a way most histories I’ve read do not. One sad reality this book reinforces is that the State Department was a bastion of WASP privilege that was inherently anti-Semitic in a way that bent over backwards trying to accommodate Hitler on “the Jewish problem” until they were led by growing unrest on the home front to eventually attempt to counter it.

Most of the chattering classes in Berlin in 1933 featured in this book thought it was only a matter of time until the Nazi party was voted out for being amateurs and extremists. Hitler and his henchmen were beneath ruling class dignity, so the ruling class stood by as a regime of racial laws and diplomatic provocations led to the eventual destruction of Berlin, a city Larson describes brilliantly in this book.  There is a cautionary tale here for those of us who laugh at the right wing moralists and the ongoing national security state, tut-tutting that an extremist government could never take place in our country, with its educated elite.

Walter Dodd was a college history professor who had studied in Germany in his youth, and early on in his tenure as Ambassador saw that Hitler was a threat to be reckoned with. That his superiors in the State Department regarded him as a crank who couldn’t “get along” with the Nazis is an enduring shame to this country.

Martha Dodd returned from the Nazi experience enamored of communism,  and eventually fled to Prague as a political and tax exile, her memories of everyone from Goebbels to Von Papen to Hitler himself trapped in her head, her memoirs unwritten.

One of the main characters in the book is Berlin itself, which before World War II was one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.  It was reduced to rubble thanks to the compliance of a German people who voted Hitler’s regime into power.  This book is well worth your time if you have an interest in how Nazism came about.