Saturday, May 29, 2010

Stravinsky Violin Concerto

I attended the New York City Ballet for the first time last night. I have to say, it was a wonderful experience: a performance of Jerome Robbins' "Ballet in Sneakers," from N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz, and two George Balanchine pieces, "Donizetti Variations," which was just ight, and, featured in part below, his "Stravinsky Violin Concerto," the highlight of the night.

The following clip is of the San Francisco Ballet's performance of the concerto. Sadly, it only includes a small portion of the first of two gorgeous pas de deux, but it gives you a good idea of the feel of the piece's startling beauty.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Infinite Arms

I am tearing through this album. (The National's High Violet, too.) If it were vinyl, the grooves would be numerous and deep. Instead, my iPod's figured out to shuffle back once every two or three tracks. I really can't say enough about Infinite Arms, especially "Laredo," a timeless rocker pre-wrapped in fuzz. It sounds like Matthew Sweet hijacked Wilco and took the band for a joyride through Alex Chilton's neighborhood.

"A kitchen knife fucked in my face." I have no idea what that means, but I'm about a week away from getting it tattooed across my chest.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Write the Future

The World Cup is less than a month away. Maybe if the Irish had taken care of France in the qualifying round, or more specifically, if the referee caught Thierry Henry's Hand of Gaul, I'd be more excited about the World Cup. As of now, though, I remain ambivalent at best about the international tournament. The United States men's soccer team, I must admit, leaves me wanting. Their best player, Tim Howard, mans the net, while my favorite player from the 2006 squad, Oguchi Onyewu, is still recovering from a ruptured patella tendon, a gruesome and career-threatening injury. I've never been a fan of Landon Donovan, the David Wright of international caps. Even the coach, Bob Bradley, rubs me the wrong way-- for reasons that probably have more to do with my inability to master the Beautiful Game than it does his sometimes questionable tactical decisions or inconsistent lineups. I'm sure the first two or three matches will get my blood flowing in proper fashion, but until then, I'll have to make do with Nike's remarkable new commercial, which, along with Justin Bieber and LOST recaps, has wrested complete control of the internet.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Junkyard Dog

I've already written about my adolescent fascination with professional wrestling here. In the post, which was inspired by the release of hirsute history's wonderful line of t-shirts, I failed to express my longstanding appreciation for the truly undervalued Junkyard Dog. Second only to Hulk Hogan for my affection, the Junkyard Dog gave me literally hours of joy. Not only did I enjoy his antics in the ring, I had in my possession his (and Hogan's) action figure. I should have mentioned that in my earlier post. For that, I apologize. The JYD deserves better.

Thank goodness, then, for the Masked Man, Deadspin's pro wrestling correspondent, who memorializes, once a week, one of wrestling's deceased stars. (The Junkyard Dog died in 1998.) The Masked Man's JYD post, measuring a few hundred words short of most graduate thesis, puts into perspective JYD's legacy, as both a wrestler/entertainer and an African-American who somehow managed to wear a chain around his neck with panache, honor, and an irony that was well beyond my adolescent mind. The entire post is worth a read, especially JYD's mid-career incarnation as Stagger Lee and his place in the history of African-American wrestling, but this passage in particular stands out:
In pro wrestling, everyone is a stereotype of one kind of another. The sport may have been capitalizing on JYD's Scary Negro juju, but it also made his foes so cartoonishly bigoted that even the most benighted sectors of wrestling's audience could feel virtuous for hating them. Wrestling made it easy for its fans to be broad-minded. It's cheap sentiment, maybe, but it's sentiment all the same, and certainly not something one associates with minstrelry. The Junkyard Dog was just jivin' with our junk all along.
At the time, all I knew was, it was OK to laugh along with the Junkyard Dog's antics, because he was one of the good guys, a friend of Hulk Hogan. At the other end of the spectrum, though, was Slick, a pimp, who managed the villainous Nikolai Volkoff and the Iron Sheik, and was given no quarter.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Demons, Nonetheless

I realized last night that new Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, a Russian oligarch, strikes a passing resemblance to Sir Simon Milligan, Kevin McDonald's character from The Kids in the Hall sketch "Pit of Ultimate Darkeness, "a man possessed by demons, polite demons that would open a door for a lady carrying too many parcels, but demons, nonetheless."

Well, maybe more of a cross between Kevin McDonald's Simon Milligan and John Malkovich's Teddy KGB from "Rounders."

Both Milligan and KGB, it should be noted, are caricatures. Prokhorov, with his billion-dollar portfolio and promised "element of surprise," should be considered as such.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Jeff Francoeur, Beauty School Drop Out

Last night, during the Mets-Braves game, as can't-miss/did-miss prospect Jeff "Frenchy" Francoeur stepped to the plate in the top of the 8th inning, the hometown organist, in an inspired moment of one-upmanship, played "Beauty School Drop Out," failed beautician Frenchy's ridiculous, campy number from "Grease." Francoeur, who was traded from Atlanta to New York late last season for the twice-concussed and seldom-used Ryan Church, flew out to right fielder Eric Hinske, stranding Jason Bay in scoring position. Francoeur had the last laught, though, as the Mets won the game 3-2 to move out of the National League East cellar, if only for a night.

Friday, May 14, 2010

High Violet

I haven't been this excited about an album since Wilco's latest effort. A lot of people are lukewarm, at best, about the National. A lot of people are not my friends. Here's the band playing "Afraid of Everyone," their first single, on Letterman last night.

Such a great sound. You can hear the album in its entirety here. And, if you're looking for something to do tomorrow night, The National is playing at BAM, which is located tantalizingly close to my humble Prospect Heights abode. For those of a lesser proximity, the show will also be broadcast live on YouTube. Concert proceeds go to Red Hot, an international organization dedicated to fighting AIDS through pop culture.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

For Art's Sake

An anonymous buyer purchased at auction this week one of Jasper Johns’ famous Flag paintings for a shocking $28.6 million. Shocking, not for the price alone. Just last week, a Picasso painting sold for $106.5 million, nearly four times as much. Shocking, because of the quality and originality of the piece. Thirteen red and white alternating stripes, with a blue block, located in the upper right corner, adorned with 48 white stars. A standard issue American flag, before the Alaska and Hawaii Admission Acts, for $28 million, an unpardonable price for a work that will be produced en masse 100 times over in elementary schools throughout the country, between now and nap time.

There’s no accounting for taste. This, I understand. Johns’ Flag paintings, a 31-piece series, are widely considered the sine qua non of pop art. I get that, too. Yet, the purchase begs the question, which American flag, in whatever state of star-spangled-ness, is worth so much? The Betsy Ross Flag? Iwo Jima? The lunar flag? Consider this: For the same price, the buyer could have, as a guest of Space Adventures, orbited the earth, with anywhere between $5 and $8 million to spare, just enough to purchase, say, Sidney Kelly’s First-Class Marksman, or the publishing rights of Audrey Niffenegger’s second novel.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Ain't It the Truth

"Life is a rippling brook. Man is a fish to cook. You've got to bait your hook. Rise and shine and cast your line."

Just a wonderful voice, and a beautiful woman.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Of Sports and Men

After what seems like a calendar year of unseemly, boorish and criminal stories about sports stars, both amateur and professional, one could forgive a fan for throwing in the towel and saying goodbye to all that. And yet performances like baby face Cubs sensation Starlin Castro's 6-RBI debut and Suns backup Goran Dragic's unconscious 26-point blitz recall, if only for a moment, why the entire messy enterprise, from top to bottom, remains worthy of our attention.

Friday, May 7, 2010

LT's Legal Issues

This most recent Lawrence Taylor situation, for lack of a better word, is unsettling: an underage girl, allegedly beaten, handed over to Taylor by a "badass pimp" at a hotel located "just off the New York Thruway." LT, as he's known, is up against some serous legal troubles --not the least of which is the fact that his lawyer was on the air this afternoon with WFAN's Mike Francesa, less than 24 hours after Taylor's indictment, sounding like one of the program's regular callers, say, Mike from Moonachie, Esq.

"Mike, I'm telling you. You can indict a ham sandwich."

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Vin Scully on Ernie Harwell

I can't really speak of Ernie Harwell's voice or legacy, but this brief, lovely eulogy, delivered by Vin Scully during last night's Dodgers game, two hours after news of Harwell's passing reached the West Coast, seems like a fitting tribute to the man whose voice was baseball for generations of Tigers fans.

UPDATE: Apparently, Major League Baseball considers Scully's on-air eulogy proprietary. They've taken down the clip from YouTube, which is disappointing, inappropriate and, from where I sit, shockingly petty.

Singe, But Don't Burn

Over at the Atlantic, Joshua Green takes notes on the men (yes, they're all male) who penned Obama's speech at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. In lieu of credit, or cash, they serve at the pleasure of the president.
Unlike most presidential speeches, this one draws on the (uncredited) work of a lot of people outside the administration, from late-night television writers to particularly funny political operatives--sort of a political-comedy pro-am that offers psychic rewards, but little else. Politicians are like the Huffington Post--they don't pay comedy writers anything, and instead rely on "the sheer joy of writing for President/Senator/Secretary X" in order to make the sale.
Obviously, this gig differs from writing jokes for, say, Bill Maher, who can get away with going, as they say in the business, a little blue. The leader of the free world can't exactly act like he's auditioning for an honorary spot at the Friar's Club or give Lewis C.K. a run for his money.
It's not necessarily the funniest jokes that make the cut. One veteran Washington joke writer described the process of writing for the president like this: "The rule is, Walk as close to the line as you possible can without going over it--singe, but don't burn." It's also important that the humor not seem mean-spirited or cruel, since it will be delivered by the most powerful man on the planet. (George W. Bush is reputed to have had trouble with this--and then got singed himself when he tried it). The veteran writer advises politicians, "Humor is a powerful weapon, but in order to earn the right to wield it against others, you need to wield it again yourself first." The classic example comes from Al Gore, who poked fun at his image as a stiff by agreeing to be wheeled to the podium on a hand truck.
That's good advice, and a hard feat to accomplish. Even the tamest jokes can play caustic, if delivered by the wrong person. While he's not exactly Richard Pryor or Kevin Hart, Obama is in possession of a preternatural cool. He understands a joke's inherent rhythm, and his delivery is almost flawless. "I do love the Waldorf Astoria," he said at the Alfred E. Smith dinner before the 2008 election. "I hear from the doorstep you can see all the way to the Russian Tea Room." So good is his delivery, I'm confident he could have even pulled off this one-liner, which Josh Green tells us was cut from last year's Correspondents' Dinner at the last minute.

"We're trying to housebreak Bo. Because the last thing Tim Geithner needs is someone else pissing on him."

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Bitch of a Line to Draw in America's Dust

I recently got my hands back on a presumably gone-for-good copy of The Best American Sports Writing of the Century, an 800-page tome, a truly Sabathia-sized collection. Since reclaiming the book, I've been reading and re-reading some of the best essays every produced, period, in the 20th or any other century, for that matter, by America's scribes. Like Richard Ben Cramer's profile of Ted Williams, which squares around on the paradox of celebrity, a paradox that seems to get knottier with each passing decade and new cable sports network:
It was forty-five years ago, when achievements with a bat first brought him to the nation's notice, that Ted Williams began work on his defense. He wanted fame, and wanted it with a pure, hot eagerness that would have been embarrassing in a smaller man. But he could not stand celebrity. This is a bitch of a line to draw in America's dust.
Ted was never the kind to quail. In this epic battle, as in the million smaller face-offs that are his history, his instinct called for exertion, for a show of force that would shut those bastards up. That was always his method as he fought opposing pitchers, and fielders who bunched up on him, eight on one half of the field; as he fought off the few fans who booed him and thousands who thought he ought to love them, too; as he fought through, alas, three marriages; as he fought to a bloody standoff a Boston press that covered, with comment, his every sneeze and snort. He meant to dominate, and to an amazing extent, he did. But he came to know, better than most men, the value of his time. So over the years, Ted Williams learned to avoid annoyance. Now in his seventh decade, he had girded his penchants for privacy and ease with a bristle of dos and don'ts that defeat casual intrusion. He is a hard man to meet.
While reading this, I couldn't help but think of Dez Bryant, the controversial, talented wide receiver recently drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, despite NFL-wide concerns about his character. Like Williams, Bryant doesn't strike me as the kind to quail, but I'm concerned he'll never get a chance to appreciate William's hard-fought right of privacy. On draft night, after the Cowboys selected him, Bryant was swarmed in large numbers by family and friends, some of whom celebrated inches from his face. I imagine that's how Bryant's lived the entirety of his young life, with people, good and bad, inches from his face, championing and criticizing. The poor kid doesn't even enjoy enough space to draw a line in the dust.