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Friday, May 21, 2004

MLA Executive Council hockey blogging

Actually, I’m in my hotel in NYC, not in the MLA Executive Council meeting itself (which runs 9-5 today and 9-2 tomorrow), and I have but a moment or two for some crucial pre-finals hockey blogging.  The Flyers did a wonderful job of extending the series last night, and be sure to tune in tomorrow evening for what will be a terrific game 7 (which the Lightning will win 4-2 with an empty-net goal after a furious third period-- if you want a more specific prediction, let me know).  But can we pause for a moment to remark on the passing of an era?  Since my Rangers won the Cup in 1994 (I did not cry when the Berlin Wall came down or when Armstrong walked on the moon, but I cried when the Rangers hung on to beat Vancouver 3-2 in game 7), there have been no Canadian teams in the finals.  1994 was also the last year before the advent of the dreaded Trap (introduced by Jacques Lemaire when he was the head coach of the Devils), certainly the last year in which you would find two teams scoring a surreal eight goals in one period, as the Rangers and Canucks did in game 5 (the Canucks extended a 1-0 lead to 3-0, but then the Rangers scored three goals to tie it before giving up three more in the space of about two minutes).  Since then, the Cup has been won by four teams-- the Devils (three times), and the Three Western Powers (Detroit, Colorado, Dallas).  Well, that long decade is done.  Those four teams are calling for tee times, and for the Lightning and Flames, it’s all about speed, passing, and playmaking.  Settle in for a fast and furious final round, and don’t forget to tape the whole thing, because there won’t be any National Hockey League next year.

Posted by Michael on 05/21 at 11:44 AM
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Thursday, May 20, 2004

Musical interlude

For my trip down to Norfolk / Virginia Beach last weekend, I borrowed / stole one of my son Nick’s CD cases—partly because I didn’t have time to go through my own CDs and pick music for the trip, and partly because I thought it would be a good time to catch up on what the kids are listening to these days, with their long hair and their electrical instruments.  (Nick turned 18 last month.) I know the rudiments—I’m familiar with the Vines and the White Stripes and Interpol, and I’m aware that the second anti-Strokes backlash is so over—but I just don’t have the time to keep up with lesser lights like And You Will Know Us from the Trail of Dead or British Sea Power, unless I have a few hours to myself in a car (or kind of to myself, while Jamie occupies the back seat with his own CD player full of the Beatles, the Pretenders, and Robert Palmer—I take all the credit for introducing him to the melodic and inventive Palmer of “Clues” and “The Ballad of Johnny and Mary").

Actually, it turns out that both these bands—Trail of Dead and British Sea Power—are quite good, despite their fondness for these humorously ponderous names.  I listened to the Trail of Dead through much of central Pennsylvania, then after jumping around through the happy pop of the New Pornographers and deciding that the Doves were ultimately too boring to follow, I switched to a couple of things Nick files under something like “ancient alternative” (I’m kidding—Nick doesn’t file anything under anything), namely, The Smiths’ The Queen is Dead and The Replacements’ Tim, neither of which I’d heard in its entirety in over a decade.  (I’m fascinated, by the way, at the continuity, or what’s passing for continuity, between good alt.rock bands 20-25 years ago and good rock bands now.  Thanks to this intergenerational alliance, it is possible for me to say to Nick, “if you like this you should also buy X’s Wild Gift,” or “you might want to pick up the Pixies’ Surfer Rosa” or “some people I trust really liked Sonic Youth, but I never cared one way or another” and for him to say to me, “British Sea Power sounds like one of your old bands,” by which he surely means “one of your old bands that did not suck.")

So, then, TimTim reminded me of a long-term, long-distance Replacements conversation I had through the 1980s and early 1990s with my friend and former bandmate Larry Gallagher, whom I’ve plugged here once or twice.  I’m more than familiar with “Hold My Life,” “Kiss Me on the Bus,” “Bastards of Young,” and so forth, so listening to them was like going to 80s Nostalgia Nite.  But I’ve always thought that Tim was an every-other-song record:  incendiary, brilliant stuff followed by self-parodic dreck followed by a gorgeous riff followed by stupid adolescent sneering, and so on.  I hadn’t listened to “I’ll Buy” or “Lay it Down Clown” or “Dose of Thunder” for twelve years or so, as a result.

That’s not to say that I listened to those songs on this weekend’s trip and realized for the first time their hidden charms.  Quite the contrary.  I was right the first time: they have no hidden charms.  Westerberg, in my humble opinion, always needed a sympathetic editor, someone to tell him that you can only open a song with a flourish and an ear-splitting scream once per record, and that it worked on “Bastards of Young” but not on the tuneless “Thunder.” Or to tell him that the premise of “Waitress in the Sky” makes him sound like an asshole (or at least like a drunken rock star complaining that the flight attendant won’t serve him champagne, and who doesn’t know that flight attendants, unlike waitresses, are actually trained in CPR) and that the melody is a note-for-note ripoff of the verses of the Harold Dorman song “Mountain of Love” (sent to # 9 on the charts by Johnny Rivers in 1964).  Westerberg’s occasional ripoffs were a problem for me at the time, fussy listener that I am, because I never knew what to make of a guy who titles a record Let it Be on which the catchy pop highlight, “I Will Dare,” is an uptempo version of the chorus of the Beatles’ “I’m Only Sleeping.” I mean, when I first heard this, I thought either he’s an ignoramus or a charming rogue, or some irritating mixture of the two. 

I was introduced to Let it Be shortly after its release by one Andy Bienen, whom I met in graduate school at the University of Virginia and recognized immediately as (a) a fellow resident of northeastern Queens, (b) a dark and brilliant wit, and (c) a charming rogue.  (Andy has since gone on to co-write the screenplay for Boys Don’t Cry, and thus to be thanked by Hilary Swank at the Oscars, which is something I can’t say about anyone else with whom I went to graduate school.) For most of the 1980s, the Replacements were one of the few bands that people cared about in both the circles I ran in—the post-punk scene in Charlottesville and DC, and the grad-school hothouse at the University of Virginia.  You could say that they had crossover appeal—between these two minuscule 20something constituencies, that is.  And for Larry Gallagher, Tim was It, as he told me in a couple of letters as he made his way from freelance writing / music in New York to freelance writing / music in San Francisco.  The Replacements’ followup, Pleased to Meet Me, he said, was terrific—but listening to it and trying to love it completely was like pretending you’re crazy when you know you’re not, whereas Tim was the real thing.

This kind of exchange, as many of you know very well, turned out to be part of the standard critical line on the Replacements: their Classic Period consisted of the years between Let it Be and Pleased to Meet Me, and all the fans who called them Mats (you know who you are) discussed among themselves which of the three was truly their best effort.  But we all agreed at the time, as Larry put it, that the Replacements were the present of rock and roll.

Some years later, in 1992 or 1993, I wrote to Larry to say that I’d been listening to the Replacements’ 1989 record, Don’t Tell a Soul (technically not their last—that would be All Shook Down—but effectively their last), and that I was surprised to find how much I liked it, especially given its word-of-mouth rep as a slickly produced, sellout version of Replacements pop.  There wasn’t anything incendiary and brilliant on it, true enough, and three songs stuck out as retreads:  “Anywhere’s Better than Here” (flourish, scream, yadda yadda yadda), “I Won’t” (plodding) and “Rock and Roll Ghost” (also known, by me, as “Here Comes a Regular—Again").  But the other songs were fresh (the entire first side—remember “sides?”—as well as “Asking Me Lies” and “I’ll Be You"); Westerberg had a better melodic sense than ever; and the lyrics were as catchy-clever as always ("take me to your followers”; “a rebel without a clue”—which later became a device by which you could distinguish genuinely clever lyricists like Westerberg, who toss off these things at the end of lines, from smug hacks like Tom Petty, who blow them up into concept albums) without going the Declan McManus route (that is, moving from early-Elvis Costello gems like “I know you’ve got me and I’m in a grip-like vise” or “I’ll do anything to confuse the enemy” to Serious Songwriter material like “Indoor Fireworks").  All in all, it sounded to me like more mature and less drunken Replacements, and for reasonably sober people over the age of 25, I thought this might be a good thing.

Larry wrote back and said this:

In the formulaic quality of the later Replacements stuff I hear the sound of someone “achin’ to be,” to borrow a phrase.  It’s a Groucho kind of irony, and one that reminds me of one of my favorite Mad magazine cartoons that I saw in a Don Martin anthology a million years ago.  It’s called “The Rejection Slip” or something like that.  It’s about this guy who has the world’s largest collection of rejection slips and is writing to Mad magazine requesting theirs so that he can complete his set and put it on the shelf.  He accompanies the request with some little drawing of himself and his set of rejection slips.  The editors of Mad reply that they loved his letter and would like to publish his drawings.  He writes back to them that he’s not really interested in contributing, and would merely like to have a slip.  Again he accompanies the letter with some funny picture of himself with his head sticking through a mailbox, awaiting a reply.  This exchange continues back and forth a few more times, with greater and greater accolades from the editors, until the guy finally decides to burn his collection and submits ten drawings for publication, which of course gain him the official, impersonal rejection slip that he had been looking for all along.  It’s kind of like that with Westerberg.  He’s saying, “I’m a bum, see?” and we’re saying, “You’re an artist.” Until he gives up and says, “Okay, I’m an artist” at which point we tell him he’s a bum.  Can’t blame the guy for feeling had.

I remember this (obviously, I kept the letter) for a reason, namely, it seems to me exactly right.  In fact, I can no longer think of Westerberg without thinking of Don Martin.  (And earlier in the letter Larry had even agreed me with about Tim, saying that “‘Dose of Thunder’ and ‘Lay it Down Clown’ are so utterly turgid that I forget they are on the album.") But there’s another reason, as well.  I don’t think the difference between Classic Period Replacements and Late Replacements is the difference between alt.rockers being true to themselves and alt.rockers falling all over themselves to try and cross over.  You can’t tell me that the guy who wrote “I Will Dare,” “Swingin’ Party,” and “Alex Chilton” doesn’t have pop instincts in his bones.  It’s just a shame that 1980s radio was such a vast wasteland, dominated by crap like “We Built This City” and “Everybody Have Fun Tonight,” that’s all (which, by the bye, is a fine example of what Janet and I call Paradox Songs, like Orleans’ undanceable 1970s hit “Dance with Me,” insofar as there is no possible way for a person to have fun while listening to “Everybody Have Fun Tonight").  A decade later, post-Nirvana, it’s much likelier that the Replacements would’ve had the couple of smash hits they deserved, but that could only happen in the parallel universe in which Nirvana helps pave the way for the Replacements.  (And let’s not even get into the question of whether hardcore Replacements fans—let alone Westerberg himself—could bear the thought of the Replacements being rich and famous.)

Instead, I think the difference between Tim and Don’t Tell a Soul is the difference between a spotty, erratic, annoying but occasionally amazing pop-music bum / artist and a saner, more competent, more assured but less inspired or inspiring pop-music bum / artist.  And I think this is a significant—and psychologically revealing—kind of difference.  As if you’d rather date Tim but would feel better, all around, marrying Don’t Tell a Soul.  So, dear readers, which do you prefer?  And (for you over-40 types, like me) has your preference changed over the decades, one way or the other?

Posted by Michael on 05/20 at 08:54 AM
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Thursday, May 13, 2004

Blogging while driving

No, not really.  We’ve checked into a nice motel for the night.  Jamie is very excited about this-- it’s one of those residence-suite deals and he has the pullout sofabed in the front room.  He has been reading license plates all day long, and it did not escape his notice that this place has a pool.  When we travel together I have a bunch of keywords with which he can describe his behavior to me (and to himself):  independent, mature, patient, and (the only one that doesn’t involve praise) relentless.  To this we can now add observant.

About the Flyers-Lightning game:  on the one hand, nobody wants to hear about this.  On the other hand, somebody’s got to do hockey blogging right, and it might as well be me.  Suffice it to say that the Lightning won the crucial (imaginary, but crucial) award for Cumulative Team Hand-Eye Coordination.  They batted pucks out of the air all night, stripped the Flyers almost at will, and scored two gorgeous, backbreaking goals in the third period, just after the Flyers had come out . . . um . . . flying in the first minute of the period and narrowed the score to 2-1.  The first involved a perfectly executed long pass that sprung Vincent Lecavalier on a breakaway just 40 seconds after the Flyers’ goal, a breakaway he converted by snapping a shot cleanly over Robert Esche’s left shoulder, thus quieting the crowd considerably; the second started with a turnover forced by the Lightning in center ice and culminated in a tic-tac-toe passing play between Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards so deft and dazzling that even Philadelphia fans, notoriously unreflective as they are, buzzed in awe.

Actually the Flyers fans were a pretty knowledgeable and discerning bunch.  Really.  Their interpretation of hockey’s offsides rules sometimes differed appreciably from that of the officials, but I know no one wants to hear about offsides rules.

Posted by Michael on 05/13 at 06:09 PM
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Road trip

If I post another thing on Abu Ghraib this week my head will explode, and you don’t want little bits of brain and skull all over your desktop screen or your laptop.  Yes, that’s precisely what would happen, thanks to the mystery of the Internet.

Instead, I’m going to pack my bags-- and Jamie’s-- and head down to Norfolk, Virginia to attend my father’s retirement party (25 years of teaching at Old Dominion University, and a long career as a labor activist and writer before that).  Along the way, Jamie and I are stopping at the Whatever Corporate Stadium in Philadelphia to see game three of the conference finals between the Flyers and the Tampa Bay Lightning.  If any Philadelphia-area bloggers are planning on attending the game, stop by and say hello-- I’ll be the guy in section 224 with the charismatic kid with Down syndrome.  (No, I’m not a Flyers fan.  I just like going to playoff games, especially deep into the playoffs, if they’re within driving distance.  But I will pretend to be a Flyers fan for roughly three hours tonight, because you know how . . . hmm, shall we say, unreflective those Philadelphia sports fans are, how incapable of watching a game from a properly cosmopolitan and nonpartisan perspective.)

I might do some Norfolk Blogging, might not.  We’ll have to see just what the Birth Family Situation looks like down there.

Oh, and speaking of the birth family:  some people among the legions of new readers recently sent this way by the mighty Atrios and the mighty Max (thanks, guys) have asked me what’s up with the accents.  Well, it’s a French-Canadian name, not a French name; most of the B╚rub╚s who live in the US (most of ‘em in New England) have dropped the accents, and some of them pronounce the name “Barooby.” I got weary of this sometime around the age of 10, since we pronounce it “BEH roo bay.” But I honestly don’t care if people use the accents or not.  I must say, though, that in recent years I’ve had occasion to take pride in my association with cheese-eating surrender monkeys and all their Qu╚b╚cois progeny.

OK, gotta go and pack.  In the meantime, I recommend Timothy Burke’s most recent post-- new heights of eloquence from a guy who was already terrific even on his off days-- and this healthy reminder from Digby about why we should support our favorite Democrats, now more than ever.

UPDATE:  Credit where credit’s due dept.:  Janet packed Jamie’s bag.  And Jamie loves travelling with his own suitcase.

Posted by Michael on 05/13 at 02:59 AM
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Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Getcha red hot outrage

Well, it took them two weeks, but it looks like the wingnuts have gotten their act together on Abu Ghraib.  Unable to stem worldwide outrage at the atrocities by belittling them and/or blaming them on (a) a few rogue elements (b) women (c) gays in the military, they’ve decided to out-outrage the outrage by flooding the outrage zone.  Thus the hideous James Inhofe (R, what else-- OK):

“I’m probably not the only one up at this table that is more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment,” the Oklahoma Republican said at a U.S. Senate hearing probing the scandal.

These prisoners, you know they’re not there for traffic violations,” Inhofe said. “If they’re in cellblock 1-A or 1-B, these prisoners, they’re murderers, they’re terrorists, they’re insurgents. Many of them probably have American blood on their hands and here we’re so concerned about the treatment of those individuals.”

Yep, there’s no question that people protesting atrocities are way worse than the atrocities themselves.  But look at the bizarrely recursive position in which this puts protestors:  what are we going to say now?  How about “I’m probably not the only one in the country that is almost as outraged by the outrage about the outrage as I am about the treatment”?

Besides, liberals and progressives don’t get to express outrage at outrageous things.  Inhofe:  “I am also outraged that we have so many humanitarian do-gooders right now crawling all over these prisons looking for human rights violations, while our troops, our heroes are fighting and dying.” In the hypothetical Sane Universe (still only a figment of certain astrophysicists’ imaginations), remarks like these would appear only in the Weekly World News under Ed Anger’s byline:  “I’m madder than a bloviating pusbag on an Oxycon binge about all these wacko humanitarians trying to keep our troops from blowing off a little steam.” (And what’s this about humanitarians crawling all over these prisons?  Last I looked, it actually wasn’t the humanitarians who were doing the crawling.)

At least this explains wingnuts’ hostility to reports like these from the crawling do-gooders over there at the International Committee of the Red Cross.  (International?  Red?  Isn’t this some sort of Communist front?) We now know that (as the Red Cross puts it) “between 70 percent and 90 percent of the persons deprived of their liberty in Iraq had been arrested by mistake.” Next we’re going to find out that 20 to 30 percent of them were, in fact, arrested for traffic violations, at which point Inhofe is going to be more outraged by the outrage in response to the outrage about the outrage than by the arrests themselves.

And now comes the beheading of Nick Berg—like the beheading of Daniel Pearl over two years ago, a medieval atrocity caught on video.  Apparently the wingnuts are utterly outraged by this, and even more outraged at the lack of liberal outrage, and even more outraged at liberal outrage about Abu Ghraib, since now, obviously, everything we do to torture and kill random A-rabs is A-OK.  Of course Max is right about this—there’s no one to complain to:

If I could, I would write a letter of protest to the U.S. Department of Beheading Facilitators, but of course there is no such place. There is nobody for me to appeal to who is beholden to me in any way, has a conscience, or has some responsibility for this heinous crime.

Even still, I’m outraged.  But then, I’ve been outraged by al-Qaeda for six years now.  I was against them before, and I’m against them now.  That’s why I supported war in Afghanistan even though it was conducted by this corrupt and incompetent administration:  I didn’t think we had the luxury of waiting until 2005 or 2009 to destroy the Taliban’s terror training camps.  And I think the day that these ultrareligious patriarchal thugs vanish from the globe—together with all the other ultrareligious patriarchal thugs I know—will be a very good day.

Until then, I’m going to continue to be outraged that Bush and company abandoned a legitimate fight in Afghanistan for the neocon FantasyLand in Iraq—thereby allowing al-Qaeda to regroup and open new recruiting branches in Fallujah, Tikrit, Basra, and in the new West Baghdad Insurgency Mall.

Kos says it better than it can be said in any known tongue.

And let’s take a moment of silence to reflect on the fact that the Bush administration could have taken out Abu Musab Zarqawi, well before their invasion of Iraq, but decided to give him a pass while they concocted their harebrained schemes for how to deal with all the roses with which our troops would be greeted.

There’s your Nick Berg outrage for you.  We mourn for his family and friends, and for everyone—that’s everyone—who has died or been maimed in this catastrophe.

Posted by Michael on 05/12 at 01:54 AM
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Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Lieberman resigns from Senate; cites “blogswell of outrage”

Washington, DC (MB)-- Shocking political observers across the nation, Joseph Lieberman (D in name only- CT) resigned his seat in the U.S. Senate yesterday.  “I am deeply saddened by the blogosphere’s reaction to my remarks in the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Friday,” Lieberman said in a prepared statement.  “I have long looked upon blogs as a vital resource in our fair nation, challenging our official media from a wide variety of political positions and giving voice to ordinary American citizens in every walk of life.  I know that if I have lost the support of bloggers, I have lost the support of the people.  I have therefore decided not to serve out my term of office between now and 2006.  To do so under these circumstances, I feel, would make a mockery of democracy itself.  I thank the good people of Connecticut for allowing me to serve as their representative for these past sixteen years, and I look forward, as I remarked in my October 2000 debate with Dick Cheney, to rejoining the private sector.”

Spokesmen for Lieberman reported that the Senator was overcome by what he called “a blogswell of outrage.” “Ordinarily, Senator Lieberman does not approve of trendy neologisms like ‘blogswell,’” a staffer remarked yesterday.  “He believes strongly that they erode the moral fiber of our language.  But this is an exception.  The volume and the cogency of bloggers’ protests concerning his remarks to Secretary Rumsfeld were simply overwhelming˝ so much so that they’ve simply swept him out of office.  I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Sources close to Lieberman pointed specifically to remarks by Washington-based reporter Joshua Micah Marshall, as well as to the website of an obscure literature professor in central Pennsylvania.  “Apparently this guy had an ordinary little blog that got about seven or eight hundred visitors a day,” one aide said, “and then he puts up this thing on Lieberman, and before he knows it, he has something like ten thousand hits in twelve hours.  For the Senator, I think that was the tipping point˝ we took one look at the traffic stats at michaelberube.com and we knew it was time to throw in the towel.”


FROM THE MAILBAG:  Reader Arlene writes in to remind me that one of Lieberman’s moral initiatives-- in which he teamed up with Indiana Republican Dan Coats-- involved writing to then-Secretary of Education Richard Riley (in 1998) to protest the Department of Education’s provision of closed captioning for the Jerry Springer show.  That’s our Joe-- when it comes to systemic human rights atrocities in Abu Ghraib, he’s careful to weigh them against unrelated atrocities committed by other Arabs.  But he stands firm against any expenditure of federal funds that would give hearing-impaired people access to the moral depradations of Jerry Springer.

Posted by Michael on 05/11 at 02:59 AM
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