Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wolter's Random Braindump, Vol 40

Some assorted thoughts on this fine Thursday:

Through a combination of extremely bad planning and wretched tiredness, I missed the World Series opener. However, I guessed the outcome solely by noticing the lack of psychotically pro-Yankee facebook status updates from friends of mine who have no business rooting for that team. Nobody's louder than a Yankees fan when they win, and nobody changes the subject faster than a Yankees fan when they lose. I'm hoping for a sweep.

On that note, while I think it's good for the Series to have a villain, there is nothing I want more than for the Cubs to have more 21st century WS wins than the Yankees. Anyone who wishes otherwise is insane at best, and at worst, a traitor to the human race.

I haven't done any sophisticated analysis on the TMS 2009 baseball predictions, but I believe this entry wins the award for Most Completely Correct Prediction in History.

"The 97 mph fastball was long gone, the aura and mystique had faded, and he was fighting to prove his ability to merely contribute. The former Cy Young ace was now a conjurer, a Merlin of the mound, hoping his knowledge, guile, and a little bit of smoke and mirrors was enough to make it back to the Show.

"Sadly, I don't think it was."

"The box score will say Pedro didn't do that badly, giving up one hit, hitting a batter, and striking out one. But great change-up aside, I'd say his tank is empty."

"... I wouldn't be surprised if Sunday was the last day of Pedro Martinez's brilliant baseball career."
This is the exact sort of predictive skill one would expect from a writer for a blog named after future Hall of Famer Matthew Henry Murton.

Sadly, it looks like I'm missing tonight's game due to a prior engagement, but I really hope Pedro sticks it to the Yankees all over again. It would be so very, very sweet.

Part of the bad planning mentioned above was an unscheduled trip to the Apple Store with my fiancee and her mother to help her with a PC-to-Mac switchover. This, in itself isn't hard. I've actually done it twice now. But the Best Buy employee that originally backed up her PC files did a number on it. Let me tell you this: I'm not a computer guy, so I love Macs. I love iPods. I really love my iPhone. But two-and-a-half hours in an Apple Store is a form of almost Lovecraftian horror. Nothing makes sense after about a half-hour, and by the 2nd hour sinister forces beyond your comprehension begin to reveal themselves to you. On the plus side, the wi-fi was free.

I have decided not to include pictures in this blog post. Why? Because I hate you, the reader.

Behind the scenes at TMS, we spend a lot of time deciding to whom we give support, and from whom we take it away. There have been some rumblings that we must no longer support Wanda Sykes (which surprised me, because I didn't even see her name on the TMS Support Whiteboard). Brant Brown has offered the following evidence for the prosecution:
"The promotional spots for her new Saturday night talk show on FOX have become a painful nuisance on our otherwise peaceful Sunday NFL and MLB viewing. What is really expected here? The Wanda Sykes Show will air at 11:00 p.m. Sure it will get a half-hour jump start on Saturday Night Live, but let's be serious: no one watches late night television on Saturdays anymore. Conan is struggling to regain his predecessor's ratings numbers on weeknights, and Leno is living his own Bad Idea Jeans commercial at a "gimme" 10:00 p.m. slot.

"Will people DVR her show and watch it later? C'mon, would you DVR it? Our DVRs as a nation are so backlogged with Top Chef and Ice Road Truckers episodes that we'll never get to Wanda.

"The bottom line is that there is no incentive to watch The Wanda Sykes Show. Don't get us wrong, she's not a hack like George Lopez. It's just that her style of comedy really works when it is untethered, but it will be difficult to translate to network television. While we applaud her good fortune, we can no longer support her entertainment endeavors.
Even playing Devil's Advocate, I can only come up with the following Lionel Hutzian defense:

"Well, she was funny in her segments on Dr. Katz"
Ok, I don't really hate you, the reader. I was just being cranky. I think I need a nap. And some cheap scotch.

Apparently, the Cubs are considering leaving their spring home in Mesa, Arizona if they are not granted new facilities. If so, they would move right near the tip of America's Dong, Florida. Naples, to be precise. While this sort of thing doesn't move me too deeply, it has long been my policy to support the destruction of Florida, and everything it stands for. Except for quality Death Metal and Space Mountain, everything Florida has given to this nation has disappointed me mightily. Wait. Even Space Mountain is kind of blah. Well, at least they have Atheist. I'd rant more about how much Florida sucks politically, but I usually leave our radical liberal agenda to resident TMS Communard, Arcturus.

On a final note: I will be celebrating Halloween this year, the same way I always do - sitting alone in the dark, drinking cheap scotch, and listening to the Misfits. Feel free to do the same.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Hervé Villechaize Named New Cubs Hitting Coach

A filler, no killer from TMS.

He're an image I bet you didn't expect. You're welcome.Well, yesterday was Wednesday, so that can mean only one thing: time for the Cubs to hire a new hitting coach.

We could see it coming. Anemic bats and a lackluster offense piss a fan base off to no end, so Jim Hendry did the one thing a good GM does to revive flagging run production: through a series of intelligent trades and smart free agent signings, he picked up some patient hitters with good power to...even I can't finish this sentence.

No, he did what Jim Hendry does: he changed coaches. Again. And this time, he did it in a spectaculary Hendrian way: a long term contract.

At first I was stunned that Hendry chose Hervé Villechaize for such a demanding position. I mean the man's main claim to fame is playing the lovable Tattoo from television's Fantasy Island, a show I'm pretty sure I watched as a very small child, but have no concrete memories of other than it gave Khan a chance to dress like Sonny Crockett. Of course, I mainly remember him as Nick Nack from the exquisitely awful Roger Moore Bond flick, The Man With the Golden Gun.

And while I'm aware that the entertainment industry has a long tradition of casting little people in major motion pictures (including such luminaries as Billy Bardy, Verne Troyer, Peter Dinklage, and Tom Cruise), baseball hasn't really followed suit (with the notable exceptions of Eddie Gaedel and Mike Fontenot).

I'm sure some think this signing is a tip of the cap to the late, great Bill Veeck, and a belated acknowledgement that the Cubs haven't really been a worthwhile franchise since a Veeck ran the show on the North Side. But I beg to differ.

First, the Cubs aren't so completely awful and low-attended that the fans need distractions to come to the ballpark. Yet. And Villechaize is a native Frenchman. Baseball has long had problems with Francophonic peoples, culminating in the near-30-year flirtation with Montreal baseball, an affair that ended in such an ugly manner than the team ended up moving to Washington, a city whose reputation for baseball suckitude was so widespread that even musical theatre types know it.

No. I know what this move is.

Pure Dada.

The Cubs have tried making coherent plans to win a World Series in the past. Clearly, they aren't good at that. At all.

No, they're shaking things up by challenging the notions of narrative and sense in public discourse. They're tapping into the unconscious, anti-reasoning dark side of human nature and making a comment to the sporting world that chaos and irrationality are the only solution to a rationalistic world that has led to global wars, corporate greed, and the continued existence of Aaron Miles.

And I, for one, salute this new avante-garde team. For too long have Cubs fans tried to make sense of the myriad asinine moves made by assorted front offices. Why not push it all the way, defying all sequential thought and causality? Why not sign a bitter, angry alcoholic, French midget to teach a team of multimillionaire atheletes how to hit?

Whoa. It turns out Villechaize has been dead for 16 years. GENIUS!

My cap is doffed to you, Hendr--what? Hold on a sec.

Oh. My mistake.

Career MINOR league stats: .258 BA/.299 OBP/.341 SLG/.640 OPS. 'Do as I SAY, not as I DO!'
The Cubs actually signed former Texas hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo.

I guess that makes a lot more sense. He's had a hell of a lot more baseball experience. Assuming that the Cubs are planning on moving in the outfield walls, juicing like a Tropicana factory, and swinging for the stars, I support this move wholeheartedly.

So yeah...sorry about wasting your time. I really shouldn't have tried to do cogent analysis when I stopped following baseball in July. Next week, I'll write about Iron Maiden or post-punk or the hilarious results of teen pregnancy.

P.S. - God, I still hate Aaron Miles so much.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The 1979 Files, Volume 3

More TMS archiving, brought to you by Mutual of Omaha.

Has it really been over three weeks since I last spoke on that most glorious of music years, 1979? A quick look at the calendar says yes. But a quick look into my heart says I never really left.1

And so, as promised back in the mythical era of late September, I now return to the Promised Land to bring back a slab of near perfect wax. And as promised, I present to you the Finest Hour from The Only Band That Matters. I present:

The Clash - The Cost of Living E.P.

Perfect. Simply perfect.(A disclaimer: I like the Clash. A lot. A whole lot. As in, I "have a tattoo of Joe Strummer on my right arm" like the Clash. So I have some very strong opinions about them. Some of them are irrational. Deal with it. )

Okay, I'm sure several people probably already assumed the best Clash release came out in 1979. And they assumed it was London Calling. I'm not here to find fault with London Calling. I love that album more than most people love their children. But anything that has a song where Joe Strummer sings about tantric sex (shudder) will never be a perfect album.

But the Cost of Living is.

This is four songs that basically define what made the Clash a great rock band. Their seminal debut is a classic of the time, but the razorwire production and inconsistent songwriting knock it down a peg. The criminally underrated Give 'Em Enough Rope is a classic in the heavy 70s glam guitar tradition (and is not a Heavy Metal album, despite what the lazy music press accuses it of being), but the vocals are too far down in the mix, and side two dips in quality compared to the amazing 1-2-3 punch it opens with. London Calling is a deep and rich album, and gives CoL a run for the money, but falls just short. Sandinista! is a sprawling,2 insane mess. Combat Rock is filler-heavy, and is clearly the sound of a band breaking up. And Cut the Crap? Clearly the work of a madman.

The Cost of Living, however? Perfect. It's a distillation of the Clash in their purest form. And as it's only 4 songs, I can actually do a song-by-song review without spending the rest of my life writing this:

"I Fought the Law" - Opening up the first side with a galloping, unforgettable drum beat courtesy of Topper Headon, wailing guitar, and perfectly spat-out vocals, this track is, without a doubt, the definitive version of the Sonny Curtis classic. Sure, the Bobby Fuller Four version still gets airplay, but everyone who has ever covered it since is basically covering the Clash version. Simply stunning song, absolutely flawless cover, and a great way to start the album. In fact, I would go so far to say this is the single greatest cover of any song in rock history.

"Groovy Times" - The fact that this is the weakest track on the E.P. should show how strong an album this is. A scathing indictment of the depressing state of late 70s Britain, this is an epic track, with a surprisingly deft, understated guitar and harmonica courtesy of "Bob"(actually guitarist Mick) Jones. Bitter lines like "They discovered one black Saturday/the mobs don't march, they run" and a subtle swipe at Elvis Costello (so subtle it was nearly 10 years until I became aware of it) dance across the elegiac music. Again: the weakest song.

"Gates of the West" - Mind-rapingly awesome power pop with a Mick Jones vocal about the band on the brink of actually breaking America, an achievement that 95% of British bands claim not to care about while desperately attempting to do so. Proof that the Clash could have gone down the Cheap Trick/Raspberries/Knack path and still been legendary. When I started collecting Clash bootlegs, I was gutted to learn this was never played live.

"Capital Radio Two" - Holy. Shit. This song smokes more than Dan Ackroyd does in Ghostbusters. The original "Capital Radio," a scathing assault on the government sponsored radio station, was released on a promotional flexi-disc from the NME, which was so sought-after that copies were going for over 40 pounds within a year of realease. To rectify this, the Clash re-recorded it...louder...and with a different arrangement. Beginning with a simple, soft intro, the song kicks into overtime about 30 seconds in, as the entire band smashes into the song like a brick of compressed radness slamming you in the face. And after about a minute and a half of pummeling your senses with Les Pauls and Telecasters, Joe Strummer calls the bands attention and tells them they'll never get on the radio like that. So, "on the count of four...FOUR!" the band breaks into a hilarious parody of disco music, including a lyrical swipe at the Grease soundtrack and screeching falsettos leading to fadeout.

Thus ends the most perfect release in Clash history.3

The Cost of Living is a little tricky to get your hands on in a hard copy these days. If you want to pony up the money for the Singles Box Set, you can have a replica sleeve, but it's pretty much only for hardcore fans. "I Fought the Law" is on the American reissue of the debut, and pretty much every Best of... complilation the Clash have ever released. The remaining songs can all be found on Super Black Market Clash (where I originally heard them in 1993), a compilation that I highly recommend for showing all of the strengths and all of the weaknesses of the Clash on a single disc.

Thanks to iTunes, I rather imagine you could download all of the tracks separately and make your own, though. You really should.

Tune in next time as I somehow use the weakest album from one of my favorite bands to glorify 1979.

1. This is entirely metaphorical. A quick look into my actual heart actually reveals decades of McRib-related arterial plaque.
2. It is mandated that all reviews that reference
use the term "sprawling."
3. Okay, the original vinyl release, and the Japanese version of the recent Singles box set include the "Cost of Living Advert" track, but that isn't really a song, so much as Joe Strummer talking in a really bad Jamaican accent over music. But you'd have to go out of your way to hear it in that version, so I discount it.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

"Wrigleyville" Bar Project: The Long Room

TMS archive again, folks. Sensing a pattern?

It really is long.With the name Saloon included in our moniker, one could surmise that we here at TMS like to drinky drinky. One that would make such an assumption would be correct, thereby throwing out the whole, 'when you assume you make an 'ass' out of 'u' and 'me' bullshit. We're here to profile some of the local watering holes around Wrigley, so that you aren't the poor sap who gets dragged into going to the Cubby Bear before the game, wherein you are soon left wondering how your life spiraled out of control so quickly. Tommy Buzanis has pledged to help out with this column, as he is no stranger to the bottle, but you can rest assured that those promises are as empty as his shot glass. So here it is, another sporadically timed, mildly entertaining column that you can only find here at the TMS. Actually you can probably find lots of info on Wrigley bars in a much more concise and helpful format, but that's neither here nor there.

Today’s Bar: The Long Room, 1612 W. Irving Park (Look, I don't actually drink in Wrigleyville proper very often folks. You'll have to bear with me).


Douchebag Factor (1-10, with 10 being this guy): 2 (it would have been even lower, but there was a really shrill voiced girl that had trouble deciding what beer to get).

Who You’ll See Here: Mostly neighborhood folks. Decent mix of humanity. The Tamale Man.

What to Order: They have a pretty large beer selection here, as well as some decent specials. The prices seem about average-to-low for Chicago on most items. I had a couple of La Fin Du Mondes (one of my favorite beers) at 6 bucks apiece, followed by a Schlitz for 3. The kicker though was closing out with a Laphroaig Islay Malt Scotch for only 8 bucks (which is very decent for ordering that at a bar).

But really, what you need to bring your money for are the TAMALES. More on that later.

If you were to see a celebrity here, it would be: I'm just going to say Harry Dean Stanton. It seems like his kind of place. Not sure why. Just go with it.

Oh, sweet mystery of life, at last I've found you...Summary: The Long Room was a pretty low-key, very relaxed place when I visited it last night. Nice atmosphere, and so unpretentious that Chaim Witz would probably burst into flames if he crossed the threshold.

The bar is aptly named, as it runs narrowly down the length of its building. There is an outdoor porch in the back that I didn't see much of, but I can assume is nice. There's a photobooth in the back if you like wasting money, and a good amount of regular "seating" booths (I hate sitting at regular tables in bars). And get this: it has parking for customers.

Again, there were a lot of beers available (enough that I panicked and went to a go-to beer to start), and what seemed like a pretty good liquor selection as well.

But what makes it for me is that that atmosphere of comfort and relaxation is interrupted every hour by The Tamale Man. I love bars with tamale salesmen coming through. Made fresh in a van parked nearby, these little packets of joy are sold in bunches of six, and man are they worth it. One of the people in our party said they were as good as the tamales his grandmother made, and I guarantee you that they're better than my grandmother ever could have made (however, this is probably because my grandmother probably never saw a tamale in her life).

Really, I'm actually annoyed writing this, because I want more of those tamales. They're like crack, only legal and you don't feel like a dirtbag 15 minutes after trying one at a party out in Goose Creek, South Carolina and STOP LOOKING AT ME!!!!!1

Anyway, good bar, great tamales, parking. Check it out.

Thunder Matt Rating: 5.5 piping hot tamales out of 6.

1. I actually have never smoked crack. That was ACTING!