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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year

I don't have much time to write, as I have friends over right now.

I hope everyone out there in cyberspace has a wonderful new year. 2009 wasn't necessarily a great year, but I'm thankful that I have my health (knock on wood) and am one of the few people in Michigan who is still gainfully employed.

I'm still feverishly working on a few posts that should appear in the next week or so. They're dated "December," so scroll down to check them out when they appear.

Here's hoping for a great 2010!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Second annual Brainsplotch Big Ten football awards

For the second consecutive year, I'm handing out the much coveted Brainsplotch Big Ten football awards. I know that the recipients will be thrilled with the announcement. Since most of these awards are in offensive categories, it may look like I'm being a homer and favoring Michigan State. That's really not the case (at least that's not the intention). Since MSU had the top offense in the conference (and a mediocre defense), it's only natural that many of the players mentioned are Spartans.

Without further adieu, the winners are:

MVP: John Clay, running back, Wisconsin. Clay is the most rugged back in the conference, and he's only a sophomore. Trying to tackle this guy has to be about as easy as tackling a Mack truck. It's scary how good he could be next year. He practically carried the Wisconsin offense on his back, averaging 116 yards rushing per game and scoring 16 touchdowns in helping the Badgers to a 9-3 regular season record.

Best running back: John Clay, Wisconsin. No surprise here, since I also named him conference MVP. Honorable mention: Evan Royster, Penn State. Royster had another outstanding year for the Nittany Lions. He averaged 5.9 yards per carry, gaining 1104 yards on only 188 carries.

Best quarterback: Darryl Clark, Penn State. Clark was Mr. Consistency for the Nittany Lions. He also led the conference in passing efficiency and touchdown passes. He also provided great leadership for the Nittany Lions offense. Honorable mention: Kirk Cousins, Michigan State. Call me a homer, but I give a slight edge to Cousins over Joey Elliott of Purdue. Cousins, only a sophomore, was second in the conference in passing efficiency, and threw 18 TDs compared to only 7 interceptions.

Best wide receiver: Keith Smith, Purdue. It's hard to argue with a guy who had 91 catches for 1100 yards, far and away the best numbers in the conference. Honorable mention: Blair White, Michigan State. Okay, I'm really going to be accused of being a homer here, but Michigan State led the Big Ten in passing offense, and part of the reason was the sure hands of former walk-on White.

Best kicker: Brett Swenson, Michigan State. Another great year for "Super Toe" Swenson, who led the conference in field goals made (18) field goal percentage, hitting 18 out of 20. He also led the Big Ten in scoring for kickers, with 94 points. Honorable mention: Stefan Demos, Northwestern. Demos tied with Swenson and Daniel Murray of Iowa for the most made fieldgoals in the conference, finished third in the field goal percentage (78.3 %), and also placed third in points scored for kickers with 85.

Best punter: Zoltan Mesko, Michigan. Mesko led the conference in punting average (44.5), a full yard more than his closest competitor, and boomed a 66 yarder. Honorable mention: Ryan Donahue, Iowa. For a team that had a fairly weak offense, Donohue was a valuable weapon for the Hawkeyes. He also nailed a 73 yard punt, which is very impressive in itself.

Best defensive player: Greg Jones, linebacker, Michigan State. Before dismissing this as pure homerism, please hear me out. Jones was far and away the best player on the Spartans' mediocre defense and was recently named first team All-American by the Associated Press and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. So I'm definitely not alone in my estimation. Jones led the conference in tackles (141) and was fifth in sacks. Honorable mention: Brandon Graham, defensive end, Michigan. Another standout performer for a team that had a poor defense. Graham led the Big Ten in tackles-for-loss and was second in sacks. (In my humble opinion, he's also one of the hardest hitters in the conference). Few players have a nose for the ball carrier like Jones and Graham.

Coach of the year: Kirk Ferentz, Iowa. Ferentz did a great job in leading a team with a strong defense, but suspect offense, to a second place finish in the conference. Honorable mention: Bret Bielema, Wisconsin. I give Bielema a slight edge over Pat Fitzgerald, who did another fine job with Northwestern. Bielema led the Badgers to one of the quietest 9-3 finishes in the country. After the disappointment of Wisconsin's 2008 season, Bielema was impressive in how he was able to get the Badgers to bounce back in 2009.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Great Christmas album: A Christmas Gift For You (from Phil Spector)

Whatever you want to say about Phil Spector the man, and I think that we can all agree that, at the very least, he’s a creep (if not a murderer), the man produced some of the greatest popular music of the twentieth century, and helped cultivate great artists like Darlene Love and the Ronettes (among many others).

Spector’s classic holiday album, A Christmas Gift for You (aka the Phil Spector Christmas Album), has just been re-released on CD, and it is probably THE best Christmas album of all time. The blurb on the back of the CD case declares it as one of the greatest albums in pop music history, and despite the grandiosity of that statement, I have a hard time disputing it. Just hearing the Ronettes belt out “Sleigh Ride” and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” and Darlene Love’s impassioned “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” is well worth the $9.99 I spent on the disc. So go out and warm up your Christmas with this great album.

Friday, December 4, 2009

I'm still here

I want all my loyal reader(s) to know that I am working on my first installments of the "Bargain Bin Finds" and hope to get them posted soon. I've made such a big deal about these that I hope they're not too underwhelming.

I also want to write about a new CD called Early Seger Volume 1 that I stumbled across while shopping at my local Meijer store. One of my biggest musical gripes is that, for whatever reason, Seger's pre-Beautiful Loser catalog is out-of-print (with the exception of Smokin' O.P.'s). Seger seems to be taking tentative steps to remedying that situation.

Well, I'm writing this while at work, so I'd better get back to work!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Bob Seger, Early Seger Vol. 1

If you talk to me long enough about music, and the conversation turns towards rock 'n' roll from the Great Lakes State, you'll learn that one of my absolute biggest pet peeves is the fact that Bob Seger's pre-Beautiful Loser catalog is out-of-print. The only exception to this is Seger's brilliant 1972 covers album, Smokin' O.P.'s, which was re-released in 2005.

I don't know why this is the case, although I've heard rumors that Seger doesn't like this period of his career. If it's true that Bob is embarrassed by his youthful musical output, the man seriously needs his ears checked because he rocked like a motherfucker back then. Stuff like "2+2=?" (a pissed off, anti-war blast of noise that rocks as hard as anything the MC5 ever did) from Ramblin' Gamblin' Man and "Lucifer" from Mongrel (sounding like CCR on performance-enhancing drugs) are among the best music Seger has ever produced. It's a crying shame that the only way to get a hold of this stuff is by either downloading it illegally or spending tons of money for out-of-print albums/CDs on Amazon.

Seger has taken tentative steps towards rectifying this unfortunate situation through the release of Early Seger Vol. 1. I happened to stumble upon it while shopping at my local Meijer store. I echo the sentiments of most people who have reviewed it in saying that the title is a bit misleading. First of all, none of these songs are from the '60s, and some are actually from the '80s--hardly the "early years." Plus at a measly 10 tracks, the album only scrapes the surface of what it could have been. Oh well, with Seger, you take what you can get.
I implore Capitol Records and/or Bob Seger: please, please begin a re-issue campaign of the following albums: Ramblin' Gamblin Man, Mongrel, Back in '72, Noah (yes, even the much maligned Noah), Brand New Morning, and Seven. The listening public, who know Seger primarily as the MOR balladeer of "Like a Rock," deserve to hear these vital and rockin' old albums.
Here's an interesting overview of Early Seger Vol. 1 by Detroit music writer Gary Graff. I found it on Seger's official web site:

"Early Seger Vol. 1" which goes on sale exclusively at Meijer stores on Nov. 24 and then at on Nov. 30 features songs from a couple different periods of Seger's career. Four of the tracks are previously unreleased, and several have been significantly re-recorded. It's a bit different than its original incarnation, which was a compilation culled from three of Seger's out-of-print albums "Smokin' O.P.'s" in 1972 and 1973's "Back in '72" and "Seven."

But when the project started coming together in September, Seger's manager Ed "Punch" Andrews says the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer "got ahold of it and said, 'No way! I'm putting some new stuff on it.' " Andrews says Seger worked on about a dozen unreleased songs, "some great stuff, but we couldn't use it all. I think he was shocked when he found all these great songs. He picked out his favorites, and that's what's on (the album)."

The presence of those tracks, as well as the "Vol. 1" portion of the title, gives some hope to fans who have been wishing Seger would dig into his prodigious vault of unreleased songs. Seger is continuing to work on material, but Andrews says there are no firm plans yet for additional "Early Seger" releases.

The "Early Seger" project was hatched in September and put together quickly, according to Andrews. The highlights of the collection are the four unreleased tracks, three of which -- "Star Tonight," "Wildfire" and "Days When the Rain Would Come" -- were written during the early '80s and recorded during 1984 and 1985 in consideration for the "Like a Rock" album; "Star Tonight" was recorded by Don Johnson for his "Heartbeat" album in 1986. The hard rocking "Gets Ya Pumpin'," meanwhile, began life as a song called "Pumpin' " originally for Seger's "Seven" album in 1973 and was recorded again in 1977 before being revisited for "Early Seger."

Though "Days When the Rain Would Come" was recorded in 1984, Seger enhanced the original tapes of the other three tracks with fresh vocals, horns and/or other new instrumentation recorded during September at Kid Rock's home studio in Clarkston and Yessian Studios in Farmington Hills. Local musicians such as the Motor City Horns, which accompanied Seger on his 2006-07 tour, and guitarist Marlon Young from Rock's Twisted Brown Trucker Band took part in the sessions.

Seger also did some extensive re-recording on "Long Song Comin' " from the "Seven" album."Early Seger's" other five tracks - a cover of Tim Hardin's "If I Were a Carpenter" and Seger's own "Someday" from 1972's "Smokin' O.P.'s," a gospel-flavored rendition of the Allman Brothers Band's "Midnight Rider" from 1973's "Back in '72" and the "Seven" Tracks "Get Out of Denver" and "U.M.C. (Upper Middle Class)" -- were remastered from the original tapes.

Snippets of each song are currently streaming at the web site. Andrews says he's "discussing" whether to sell "Early Seger" via Internet downloads, and if they decided to it will only be sold at Seger's web site and as an entire album rather than individual tracks. Seger is currently not selling any of his music via download.

A retail price for the album is currently being determined as well. Andrews says the Meijer tie-in, with 190 stores in five Midwest states, felt appropriate to the early '70s time period when most of the songs were written and/or recorded. "They're in the (region) where we toured all those years and where these records sold the most," he explains. "Meijer made it worthwhile to do this. They're pretty excited about it. It's a perfect combo."

Andrews says "Early Seger" may go into wider release in the future, but probably not until after the winter holidays. Seger, meanwhile, is not expected to tour or perform live to promote the album.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Bargain Bin Finds #1: The Byrds--Younger Than Yesterday

I've been a Byrds fan since at least high school, and always a big lover of that heavenly 12-string Rickenbacker sound. The first Byrds album I owned was Original Singles 1965-1967 that I bought on cassette at the now defunct, but fondly remembered, Woolworth in Caro, Michigan, for something like $3.99. This was probably in about 1985, when a 17 year old into the Byrds was not exactly the most common occurrence. (But don't let me paint myself as some sort of self-aware iconoclast. I listened to plenty of popular mid-eighties dreck like Thompson Twins, etc. In fact, by and large, my musical taste at this point was so unrefined as to be somewhat embarrassing. That could be fodder for a future post).

By the early nineties, I'd graduated to the Byrds' box set and picked up most of their studio albums along the way, Mr. Tambourine Man (I still have my parents' old vinyl copy in addition to the first Columbia CD pressing--never bothered to pick up the 1996 reissue). I also HAD their second album Turn! Turn! Turn! on cassette (eradicated during my Great Cassette Purge of 2002, resently and quite happily reacquired on CD), Fifth Dimension (I may have got that from Columbia House for about $5.99 in one of their big blowout back catalog sales), 1968's Notorious Byrd Brothers and 1969's Ballad of Easy Rider, and gleefully snatched up Sweetheart of the Rodeo when it was reissued in 1997. Okay, sorry to get all "Rain Man" on you with my boring history of Byrds purchases. What all of this comes down to is that, for whatever reason, I never got around to the Byrds' fourth (and some may argue, best) album Younger than Yesterday, until I found a lone copy of it in the Schuler Books and Music bargain bin.

Younger than Yesterday always intrigued me. It was originally released in January 1967, and opened the first salvo of the great musical year that was '67, but somewhere along the line kind of got lost in the shuffle, while flashier '67 albums (like The Velvet Underground and Nico, the Doors' self-titled debut, Cream's Disraeli Gears, the first two Jimi Hendrix Experience LPs, and of course Sgt. Pepper) get most of the attention.

Younger than Yesterday opens up with "So You Want to Be a Rock 'n' Roll Star," with its bitingly cynical lyrics about the music industry, but it truly is Hugh Masekela, guest trumpeter, that makes the song. The rest of the album covers breezy pop (Chris Hillman's "Have You Seen Her Face"), tentative stabs at country rock (once again, Hillman comes through with gems like "Time Between" and "The Girl With No Name"), druggy paranoid moodiness from David Crosby (the excellent "Everybody's Been Burned") and Tim Buckleyesque jazzy weirdness (Crosby again on "Mind Gardens." Crosby's vocals on this song are so uncharacteristically dissonant that I wonder if he was trying to sabotage the album out of spite--then again, his other songs on the album are great, so that probably blows up that theory). There is also the usual Roger McGuinn obsession with flight and space travel (the goofy "CTA-102" with its alien voices--nine months or so before Hendrix did the same thing on "EXP" from Axis: Bold as Love). I can't forget to mention the wonderful hippy-dippiness of Crosby's "Renaissance Fair," "Hillman's underrated "Thoughts and Words" (Mr. Hillman really blossoms as a songwriter on this album), nor the sublime cover of Dylan's "My Back Pages."

This reissue of Younger than Yesterday doesn't scrimp on the bonus tracks. There is some wonderful stuff like Crosby's dour "It Happens Each Day" (sort of a companion piece to "Everybody's Been Burned") and his more upbeat "Lady Friend" with its gorgeous multi-tracked harmony vocals. We also get take one of "Mind Gardens" with a more tuneful vocal from Crosby.

Younger than Yesterday is as good as I thought it would be, and makes me wonder why I waited so long to finally obtain it. I'd say it's the best six dollars (or so) I've spent in awhile.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Day to be Thankful

It's typically chaotic at my house this morning, so I don't have much time to write. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone out there in cyberspace. I will be heading over to my sister-in-law's house for turkey, sweets, drinks, and football.

I am thankful for my health (knock on wood!) and the good health of all my family members. I am thankful that I have a full-time job in this dreadful Michigan economy. Let's all take some time today to reflect on the good things we have in our lives.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Great college football rivalries, and other college football thoughts

With the upcoming Michigan/Ohio State game, why not take a look at the great college football rivalries.

Michigan/Ohio State, although its light has dimmed in the last few years due to Michigan's non-competitiveness, is still a pretty big deal nationally. Frankly, it probably means way more to the Ohio State fans than to the Michigan fans (although I'm sure many Michigan people would argue vehemently with this). I'm not a fan of either school, although I root for Ohio State in the game, but I do enjoy watching this game every year.

For pageantry and tradition, the Army/Navy game can't be beat. Since almost every American has family member(s) who are in (or were in) either the army or navy, just about everybody has a stake in the game. In my case, I have an uncle who is a West Point graduate, so I pull for Army. Rooting for the Cadets has been hard recently, since the Midshipmen have dominated the series the last few years.

Back when Penn State joined the Big Ten, George Perles had the idea of creating a "rivalry" game between the two pioneer land grant universities, Michigan State and Penn State. I think at least a few MSU fans audibly groaned when it was announced that MSU and PSU would meet the last weekend of every season for the Land Grant Trophy. "Great, that means we have to play Penn State every year." As I expected, MSU hasn't done a particularly good job holding up their end of this supposed "rivalry." MSU has never won in Happy Valley since the series started in 1993, and the Spartans are only 4-4 in East Lansing.

Last year, there was actually something at stake in the MSU/PSU game, with each team playing for the Big Ten title and Rose Bowl berth. Unfortunately, Penn State destroyed MSU, 49-18. Many MSU fans were bothered by what looked like Penn State running up the score, and Penn State celebrating their bid to the Rose Bowl before the game even ended. If the Spartans can pay back the Nittany Lions this weekend in East Lansing, then this game may actually approach something resembling a rivalry. For now, though, the MSU/PSU game is a completely manufactured, fake "rivalry."

Back to great college football rivalries: there's always bad blood between Florida and Florida State, and Auburn/Alabama is about as intense as it gets. Someday, I'd love to go down South and witness the Auburn/Alabama game in person. I am told that Harvard/Yale is a big rivarly going all the way back to about 1760 or so (just kidding), but it's the Ivy League for crying out loud, what Midwesterner like myself really gives a hoot about Harvard/Yale?

As the Big Ten season wraps up, it's certainly been an unusual season. If Michigan loses to Ohio State, the Wolverines will finish in last place for the first time since 1962. (Excuse me while I attempt to stifle my laughter). The divisiveness in Ann Arbor is a joy to behold. Rich Rodriguez deserves at least one more year as U of M's coach, but if the Wolverines get pounded on Saturday, the pressure may be on to remove him. I rather enjoy having him around. Stay tuned!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Catching up

It's been awhile since I last posted, and I don't have any legitimate excuse. Probably laziness more than anything else.

What have I been up to lately, you ask? Well, last Saturday my wife scored free tickets to the Michigan State/Western Michigan football game. It was easily the best day of the entire autumn, weather-wise and without a doubt the most pleasant November football game I've attended. Seated next to us were a young couple with a baby, and directly in front were two pre-teen girls, so I knew I had to be on my best behavior. Thankfully, the Spartans gave me no reason to even think of hurling an F-bomb, as they won easily, 49-14.

I've been lucking out with free tickets to sporting events. Last Monday, my sister-in-law's husband (does that make him my brother-in-law?) asked me if I'd like to join him to watch the Spartan basketball team take on Grand Valley State. My niece was originally going to go, but had too much homework (imagine that, a kid passing up something fun in order to catch up with homework!). Naturally, not having any homework of my own, I said yes. It was only an exhibition game, but I enjoyed seeing the new faces on this year's team. The Spartans won without a problem.

I haven't forgotten about my "Bargain Bin Finds" reviews. I have a few that I want to do, it's just a matter of finding the time to listen to the albums, jot down some ideas, and write it in this blog. I have had a hell of a time finding ANY time, but it's something I want to do and I promise it'll get done.

I've wanted to write something about baseball, but haven't gotten around to that either. I am a fairly big baseball fan, but not nearly the fan that I was as a child, teen, and young adult. Bud Selig, who has to be the worst commissioner in major league history, has gone out of his way to crush enthusiasm for the national pastime. I could name a litany of reasons why baseball is losing fans, but the most glaring problem is the season is simply too long. The World Series should NEVER be played in November, and I hope that Major League Baseball realizes this and does something to ensure the Fall Classic returns to October.

Looks like I'm gonna have to cut this short. Hope to check in again soon.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy Devil's Night!

Hiya folks, hope all my loyal reader(s) had a good week.

I'm happy to report that I have recovered from MSU's loss to Iowa last Saturday. Disappointing loss for the Spartans, but certainly one of the best college football games I've seen in quite some time. The hard hitting and defensive intensity reminded me of Big Ten gridirion action from the seventies and eighties. In fact, I'd even say that in many respects, the MSU/Iowa game reminded me of the 1966 MSU/Notre Dame 10-10 tie. This is not to say that Iowa and MSU's teams are as talented as those '66 Spartan and Irish teams, but the dominance of the defenses was quite similar. (By the way, I'm definitely not old enough to remember that '66 game, but I do have most of the game on VHS tape and have watched it several times). Anyway, Iowa deserved to win and I wish the Hawkeyes well the rest of the season.

Okay, enough football for now. It seems like everything in our house is falling apart lately. Our 19-year-old garbage disposal died this week, our bed has been falling apart for several months now, and our poor sliding screen door is hopelessly off its track--having been abused too often by a certain four-year-old boy and an eight-year-old boy. We've finally decided to buy a new bed (hopefully tomorrow) and new garbage disposal. The other things will have to be addressed as time (and, most importantly, money) dictates.

Quite some time ago, I wrote about how I wanted to begin a series of music reviews of "bargain bin finds"--critical missives about various musical nuggets found or re-discovered in the Schuler Books and Music bargain section. I want all my adoring readers to know that I haven't forgotten about this project. Since I still moonlight as a substitute clerk at the store, I have become addicted to the music bargain bin, and have found some great stuff in there. It'd be a blast to do little reviews of some of the things I've found. I promise I'll get to that soon, so keep your eyes peeled for the first review.

So why have I not written in here more often, or gotten around to my little music review project? (Oh yeah, I'm supposed to be working on a book, for crying out loud, and have little to show for that). Cue the weepy violins: I begin my workday at 5:30-5:45 AM--sometimes go crazy and sleep in until 6:00 AM. I'm off to work at the library by 6:40 AM and start work at 7 o'clock. I cut out at 3:30 and am in the school car line by 3:50. Once I've picked up the boys, I take them home and it's all about the kids until they go to bed between 8 and 9 PM. By 9:30, I'm exhausted and usually fall asleep. So all my grand plans are not accomplished. Such is the life of a dad with two boys under 10. I do not seek sympathy, but merely tell this tale to illustrate why I haven't gotten around to making this more than the "Mark bitches about MSU sports" blog.

Well, I have to go address some minor family crises. See y'all later!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

This one really hurts (Iowa 15, Michigan State 13)

Two seconds, one play. That's what the Michigan State/Iowa came down to. One play and two seconds determined whether Spartan football fans everywhere would spend the rest of the night in elation, or mope in dejection. Unfortunately for the Spartan nation, Iowa made good use of that two remaining seconds and scored a touchdown from the MSU two yard line and won the game.

I try to tell myself that it's just a game, but this one is a hard pill to swallow. After Iowa took a 9-6 lead, Michigan State got the ball back with just under three minutes left on the clock. The Spartans made two spectacular plays (a brilliant hook-and-ladder and an unbelievable touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins to Blair White) that would have made most people believe that the football gods were smiling down upon Spartan Stadium. However, I've watched too many MSU football games to be sold on the happy ending.

I can't sleep. I shouldn't let a football game bother me like this. Didn't I say a few months ago that I'd never let a stupid football game bother me anymore? Think again. I'm awake, typing on the laptop, and noticing an actress in a late night showing of Goodfellas who looks remarkably like Parker Posey. Is it possible that Parker Posey was in Goodfellas and I'm just now noticing it? (After an extensive web search, I find no reference to Parker Posey appearing in Goodfellas, so it must have been someone who bears a resemblence to Ms. Posey).

It's 1:40 AM and I'm getting a little loopy. Time to wrap up this post. At some point tonight, I'll simply pass out from sheer exhaustion and no doubt have nightmares involving Iowa's Ricky Stanzi completing the game-winning touchdown pass over and over again.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Michigan State 24, Northwestern 14

What you've all been dying for, my weekly Spartan football report. I've been a little lazy this season. Last year, I'd write these little dispatches right after the game, this year I'm waiting until the middle of the week if I get them out at all. I'm sure all those football fanatics out there are simply starved for my brilliant insights, since there are so few football web sites and blogs out there.

Anyway, the MSU Spartans knocked off Northwestern on Saturday in what was a somewhat dull affair. At least the Wildcats didn't spoil this particular Homecoming.

In other Big Ten action, Michigan crushed Delaware State in the biggest mismatch I've seen all year (I watched some of the Big Ten Network's replay), Purdue upset Ohio State and dominated the Buckeyes in the process. Congratulations to the Boilermakers on a job well done. Every once in awhile the Buckeyes need to be humbled. Illinois was trounced by Indiana (!), further sealing Ron Zook's doom.

This Saturday, Michigan State and Iowa tangle in East Lansing for first place in the Big Ten. It's either a sign of MSU's resilience, or proof of the Big Ten's mediocrity, that a month after starting the season 1-3, the Spartans are actually playing for the top spot in the conference.

I don't have a read on this MSU/Iowa game. Iowa is undefeated, but the only win that was particularly impressive was their victory over Penn State. Regardless, any team that is 7-0 deserves some respect. The Spartans seem to have turned their season around, but I'm still not entirely convinced. Even in their three game winning streak, State has yet to play a complete game. They will definitely have to play 60 minutes of good football in order to beat Iowa.

Saturday, October 17, 2009 back to Spartan football

At noon today, the Michigan State Spartans take on the Northwestern Wildcats at Spartan Stadium. I will be in my usual location, a few miles east of East Lansing, camped out in my basement with the game on the television.

It seems like the Spartans have righted the ship, to borrow that hackneyed cliche. After their three-game losing streak against Central Michigan, Notre Dame, and Wisconsin, I was about to give up on the season and begin X-ing out the days on my calendar until basketball's Midnight Madness.

So what does the football team do? They beat Michigan in a heart attack-enducing game in which the Spartans played their best 56 minutes of football all year only to see Tate Forcier almost single-handedly bring the Wolverines back from the dead. Luckily, State made the plays in overtime to win, and prevented me from tailspinning into a deep depression, with visions of the Hobbit-like Forcier in my head.

Last week, State went down to Champaign-Urbana and beat an Illinois team even more dreadful than I'd imagined. Still, one has to give credit to the Spartans for coming out focused and jumping on the Illini immediately. After Danny Fortener's pick six early in the third quarter, giving the Spartan a 24-0 lead, the game was essentially over.

Now the pesky Wildcats come to town. Northwestern brings their big brains and high GPAs to East Lansing trying to, once again, ruin MSU's Homecoming. The last two Homecoming games I attended in person (2005 and 2007) were made miserable by the Wildcats. In the gray, rainy drizzle of Homecoming '05, Northwestern crushed MSU, 49-14. That was, without a doubt, the worst MSU football game I ever attended in person. I remember sitting with my dad, and we were so disappointed and despondent that we left the game at halftime--that was the first time in my life that I left a Spartan football game before the final gun. The 2007 game was high scoring and exciting, but the Wildcats pulled it out 48-41 in overtime, and was frustrating due to MSU's complete inability to stop NU's spread offense.

It's probably for the best that I don't watch this game in person. If the Spartans lose to Northwestern this year, perhaps the university should schedule a different team for future Homecomings.

If MSU plays with focus, they should win. But given Northwestern's track record, I definitely don't count them out. I'll go ahead and predict a 28-20 Spartan victory.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Feelies' The Good Earth

The Feelies' excellent 1986 album, The Good Earth, was reissued by Bar/None Records back on September 8. It was a long time coming for this stellar recording, which had been out-of-print for far too long. A few weeks ago, while subbing at Schuler Books and Music, I finally decided to order it, and after it arrived, picked it up from the store on Friday.

Although the Feelies' 1980 debut album, Crazy Rhythms, is more highly acclaimed by critics, I've always preferred The Good Earth. It has a warmth and a...well, earthy quality that the first album lacks. (This is not to say that I dislike Crazy Rhythms. Not at all. It's just a completely different listening experience compared to The Good Earth).

I first became acquainted with The Good Earth in the fall of '86, when I was a freshman at Michigan State. A friend of mine, Peter Overton (who later changed his last name to Kadyk and became an acclaimed avant garde artist and dancer in San Francisco), turned me on to it. He said something like, "Hey, if you like R.E.M., check out these guys." I can't remember exactly when, perhaps in late '86 or early '87, I bought the cassette of The Good Earth, strictly due to Peter's suggestion. (Peter was responsible for turning me on to a tremendous amount of good music back in '86 and '87).

When I first listened to The Good Earth all those years ago, I found the production and mix a little off-putting. The vocals are muted, and the recording as a whole is fairly subdued. Looking back on it, I think my ears were trained by the dominant recording techniques of the eighties, which emphasized big loud drums and loud vocals. That was the stuff I'd grown up to at that point and what I'd come to expect. Albums like this and R.E.M's Murmur and Reckoning were revelatory.

It's easy to pigeonhole The Good Earth as an R.E.M. soundalike After all, it's got its share of jangly guitars, and was co-produced by R.E.M.'s Peter Buck. However, to label it this way is an injustice. Listening to this record with fresh and analytical (but hopefully not pretentious) ears, I can hear a variety of textures and possible influences: The first song, "On the Road," has gently strummed acoustic guitars and laid back vocals that must have inspired fellow New Jerseyites Yo la Tengo, "Slipping (into Something)" harkens back to the Velvet Underground's "Some Kinda Love," while "When Company Comes" and "The Good Earth" (the song) remind me of Da Capo/Forever Changes-era Love, and I even hear a subtle Tex-Mex feel in the side two opener, "Let's Go."

The Good Earth has been portrayed as gentle, muted, and pastoral--and to a large extent it is--but it does have moments of intensity. "The High Road" has a great groove and a tasty electric guitar solo, "Slipping (into Something)" concludes with an extended frenetic jam, and "Two Rooms" is a fast rocker with an ominous guitar solo. The "crazy rhythms" of Crazy Rhythms return in the propulsive percussion of "The Last Roundup." Despite its laid back reputation, this sucker can rock pretty hard at times.

Bar/None has done a fantastic job with this particular reissue. The packaging is classy but unflashy, just like the music. The disc comes in a simple gatefold cardboard sleeve that includes a booklet with liner notes by music critic Jim Sullivan. The sound quality is fantastic, particularly considering the original master tapes could not be located.

I'm thrilled to finally get my hands on this excellent album again, particularly after I stupidly dumped the original Coyote Records cassette back in my infamous "Great Cassette Purge of 2002." The music has not aged a bit in 23 years, in fact it sounds better now than it did in 1986--and that's not often the case with recordings from the eighties, even alt-rock recordings.

For anyone interested, the Feelies have reunited and have played a few shows in the last year--and from all reports they sound better than ever. Unfortunately, I don't know that they venture too far from their New Jersey home. As of this writing, their website mentions only two upcoming November shows: one at their unofficial performance home (Maxwell's in Hoboken) and a gig opening for Sonic Youth in Boston.

Even if you can't see the Feelies live, at least you can check out The Good Earth. Do yourself a favor and seek it out before it goes out-of-print again.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

This week's potpourri

Some random thoughts:

I saw that the mother of Dylan Klebold (one of the Columbine killers) wrote an essay for Oprah Winfrey's O magazine. I haven't read complete piece, just bits of it. Susan Klebold was unaware of the torment her son was experiencing until after the tragedy at Columbine High School. As a parent, I can't help but try and imagine myself in her shoes--and then I tell myself, "Time to STOP imagining this!" The anguish this woman has experienced is unfathomable.

Please don't think that I sympathize with Susan Klebold more than the other parents of the Columbine tragedy, i.e. the parents of the children who were the innocent victims, but she suffered as much as any other parent, and perhaps in a more harrowing way considering her son contributed to the tragedy. She has probably spent considerable time in the last ten years wondering in vain whether she could have seen the warning signs. What a burden to carry,

Boy, have I been Mr. Depressing lately. Now for something more lighthearted:

The expression "It's all good" needs to go away forever. First of all, people tend to use it when "it's all good" is the furthest thing from the truth: "My house burned down and my wife left me, but I found a very warm six pack of Bud under the charred wreckage of my former home, so it's all good." What you mean to say is, "My house burned down and my wife left me, this skunky beer is mocking my sadness, and I want to crawl up into a little ball and die." Okay, perhaps that's a slight exaggeration. How about, "My kid just had an accident, and I discovered we've run out of diapers, but I found a somewhat clean rag in the laundry hamper to use as a makeshift diaper, so it's all good." No, it's not all good, I'm pissed at my stupid-ass self for forgetting to write "diapers" on the Goddamned shopping list--I'm an absent-minded idiot and a lousy parent.

Somehow, I don't think I properly stated my case, but can we at least agree that "it's all good" needs to go away permanently?

Anyone reading this is saying to him or herself, "This guy should stick to writing about football."

A few days ago I was thinking of the one time in my life when i was truly awed by a work of art. It was the summer of 1995 and I was making my first visit to the Art Institute of Chicago. I started off wandering through the Impressionism wing, and entered the gallery featuring Seurat's painting, "Le Grande Jatte." I had no idea which paintings were in this gallery, so when I entered and saw this enormous pointillist painting on the wall, a painting that had fascinated me since I was a child and was not expecting to see, it almost floored me. I slowly entered the gallery as if in a trance, sat down on the cushioned bench in the gallery, and wept. I'm not afraid to admit that...I wept. I didn't ball my eyes out, but tears definitely came. It's difficult for me to adequately explain my feelings here, but I was "overcome by art." That had never happened to me before, and I don't know if I will feel the same sensation again.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A tragic week

Shortly after the euphoria of the Michigan football win, we learned that a friend of the family died tragically, and quite unexpectedly, at the age of 34. She had just given birth to a son the previous week, and died of a massive stroke exactly one week later. The details are so tragic and sad that the more I think of it, the more depressing it becomes. She left behind a husband of thirteen years and three children (an 11 year-old, a 10 year-old, and the newborn baby who will never know his mother).

I think I've already given out too many details. I struggle with how much information I should put in this blog (and if you've noticed, I don't generally use personal names in here). How personal do I want to make it? Do I really want to put deeply personal information out there into cyberspace? Then again, if I'm going to blog, and make it a little more than recaps of football games and other trivia, then it makes sense to let whoever is actually reading to know where I'm coming from. I want the readers to know that more goes on in my life than sports, music, books, and a little more sports.

I've decided not to go into too much further detail about our friend's death, except to say that we attended her visitation on Tuesday, and my wife went to her funeral on Wednesday. My heart breaks for her husband, her children, and her parents, with whom I have become close since I married my wife almost ten years ago. (These are the sort of close family friends one "inherits" through marriage, but they're kind and generous people and certainly don't deserve this tragedy--not that anyone deserves it).

That's what I've dealt with this week, hopefully the immediate future will see brighter days.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Michigan State 26, Michigan 20

First of all, this game never ever should have gone to overtime. Yet, given that Michigan State was participating in the game, it should not be surprising at all. With about 4 or so minutes left in the game (it's a bit of a blur to me now) State had a 20-6 lead. I had a sneaking suspicion the lead wasn't big enough. I was praying that the Spartans could AT LEAST add one more touchdown to make it a 27-6 lead. Instead State went into predictable mode (what happened to the screen passes to our receivers, which Michigan was incapable of defending all day?) and gave Tate Forcier and the Wolverines an opportunity to tighten it up. And tighten it up was an understatement. Michigan tied the game at 20 with only two seconds left in regulation.

I've extremely happy with the turn of events in overtime, but must admit that I was so frustrated at how regulation ended that I couldn't even bring myself to watch the overtime. Instead I went outside and walked up the street in the cold October drizzle. About halfway up the street, I heard a voice shout "We won!" It sounded like my wife's voice, so I somewhat hesitantly turned around and headed back towards my house, sure that what I was hearing was an aural illusion. Thankfully, it was not. The Spartans really HAD won the game.

Sorry to be Debby Downer everyone, but if State had lost this game in overtime, it would have gone down as one of the more monumental collapses in Michigan State football history. And this is a program that has had its share of monumental collapses on the gridiron.

One more admission: I never intended on watching this game. Seems the older I get, the harder it is to stomach these Michigan State/Michigan football match-ups. The problem was that, since it has rained consistently in mid-Michigan for the last week, I could not use lawn mowing as a decent football substitute. Plus, for some crazy reason, my wife decided she wanted to watch the game. So there it was, I ended up like a moth drawn to a flame and watched the game from the middle of the first quarter to the end of regulation. This is when I remembered the very reason I didn't want to watch the game in the first place: the inevitable Spartan meltdown, the seizing of defeat from the jaws of victory (oh, how I love that expression, and how apt it usually is for the Spartan football team, the Chicago Cubs of the Big Ten).

I am relieved and happy. Yes, in the grand scheme of live, football is quite meaningless--yet even at the age of 41 I become giddy when my team wins a big game.

Potentially bad sports weekend--I'll content myself with the new Nick Hornby

Today's the Michigan State/Michigan football game, and once again I face the dilemma: do I I REALLY want to put myself through the pain and torture of watching it unfold on television?

I think Michigan State has a chance in this game, provided their defense isn't as awful as it was against...uh, Central Michigan, Notre Dame, and especially Wisconsin. Plus, even if State is able to keep this a close game, I don't like their chances of winning since they've shown no ability to win close games this year (CMU, and Notre Dame).

To make matters worse, it looks like the Tigers are headed to a big collapse in the American League Central, so we Spartan/Tiger fans could be in for a disappointing weekend. Sorry for the "glass is half-empty" attitude, but it's ingrained in me at this point. I'm just too used to disappointment.

Guess I'll have to enjoy Nick Hornby's new book, Juliet, Naked, which is really great so far.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Same Old Spartans rear their ugly heads

I didn't feel like posting anything after last week's MSU loss to Notre Dame. It was a disappointing defeat, but I was proud of the way the team hung in there and kept fighting back.

This week however...

What is there to say about today's 38-30 loss to Wisconsin. Only about the worst defensive performance I've seen by a Spartan team in quite some time, and this is a program that hasn't exactly had a stellar defense since Nick Saban was coach.

The game wasn't nearly as close as the final score would have anyone believe. Wisconsin decided not to play defense in the final couple minutes, and the Spartans got a couple easy scores.

Wake me up when basketball season starts.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Just checking in with my loyal readers

It's a bright, sunny autumn Saturday here in mid-Michigan, just the type of day I absolutely love.

This post is not going to be one of any great significance, just a few random observations.

We have had very little rain here for a number of weeks, so I mowed the lawn for the first time in two weeks. Had to get the mowing in before the start of the Michigan State/Notre Dame football game at 3:30.

I don't have a read on the MSU/ND game. It's hard to get a feel for how good either one of these teams are. A recurring theme this week seems to be how embarrassing it must be for State to have lost to Central Michigan. I agree that a Big Ten team should not lose to a MAC team in its own stadium, but there is so much more parity in college football these days then I can ever remember. CMU is probably the best team in the MAC, led by an experienced and gifted quarterback. I don't think MSU's loss is as embarrassing as some may think. I just hope State can at least play a competitive game today.

I'm getting the full-court press from my four year-old, so I'm going to cut this short for now. I actually wanted to discuss a few non football related topics. Will have to wait for later.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Worst (football) fears confirmed: Central Michigan 29, Michigan State 27

I was at the game, with seats that, unfortunately, happened to be in the CMU section. They had every right to go nuts, but it sure was hard to take. Lots of "Fire Up Chips" crazies at the game, who looked like they'd been pounding the adult beverages since early Friday morning.

I'm not proud of some of my behavior during the game. I didn't get in the face of any Chip fans (thankfully), but I did blow my stack more than a few times. Let's say that some f-bombs were hurled and my MSU baseball cap took a beating from being tossed on the ground. Not cool, and I should have controlled myself. I have really got to learn not to take these games that seriously, particularly after what I went through with my son this summer. It's only a darned game, for crying out loud.

I did congratulate several CMU people after the game. In fact, I impulsively offered my ticket stub to some random guy in CMU garb whom I saw outside the stadium. He turned it down. Then it occurred to me that Michelle H., who works at the downtown Lansing library and has a daughter in the CMU marching band, should receive this ticket stub as a memento.

I should also mention that, nice guy that I REALLY am (honestly!), I took several photos of the CMU marching band for Michelle.

Hats off to the Central Michigan football team. Those guys came not just to compete, but to win. That team runs the spread offense as well as any team I have seen, and Dan LeFevour is a great quarterback. I have seen enough CMU games over the last three years to know the skills that this young man brings to the table. Don't be a bit surprised if you see him playing in the NFL next year.

Having written all that, MSU played a poor game. Way too many untimely penalties (most glaringly on CMU's first attempt at the winning field goal. If MSU doesn't jump offside, the game is over).

Just an awful game in so many ways for the Spartans. Muffed onside kick anyone? Ugh! (My sight angle of that kick was terrible, and I've heard from those who had a better view that it was one of the best onside kicks they've ever seen. CMU executed to perfection the entire game-- MSU not so much).

Kirk Cousins earned the starting quarterback job as far as I'm concerned. So maybe that controversy will end. Nichol is definitely more mobile, and showed some of his quick moves, but also had some godawful throws.

Where was Greg Jones today? (Turns out he had 15 tackles in the game--how did I not notice?). Perhaps a better question is why were our defensive backs abused all day, why was our offensive line manhandled by Central? Terribly, terrible frustrating.

We need Joel Nitchman to get healthy for next week's game against Notre Dame. Can't underestimate the importance of a fifth year senior center anchoring your offensive line.

Need to keep things somewhat in perspective. Cousins and Nichol are still relative greenhorns. Baker and Caper are freshman and will hit those holes better as time goes on. Dion Sims is also a freshman and will improve.

Blair White sure does remind me of Kirk Gibson. I love the way that kid plays and would love to see him get a chance to take his game to the next level. He should be a true inspiration to any athlete who is ever told that he or she is "not good enough." Just great to see a one-time walk-on become a star of a major college football team.

CMU's receivers made some phenomenal catches today. I was very impressed with them.

Hope for better things next week against Notre Dame.

The Chips are in town

Just a quick post before I head over to Spartan Stadium for today's game against the Central Michigan Chippewas.

Call me crazy, but the Chips scare me. They must be better than what they showed last week against Arizona. Dan Lefevour is a good quarterback and I know he's better than last week's performance.

The Spartans need to take these guys seriously, and I think they will. But in the event that State is looking ahead to Notre Dame, it could be a long afternoon.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Michigan State 44, Montana State 3

Last year, I devoted a post to almost all of Michigan State's football games. Why not make it a tradition?

I don't know that we can take much from the Spartans' first game of the 2009 campaign. I thought both Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol looked good at quarterback, but would give a slight edge to Cousins. His passing was a bit crisper, but Nichol definitely brings elusiveness and speed. I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see them split equal time again next week, when State takes on Central Michigan.

The receiving corps looked quite good. B.J. Cunningham had a nice game, and Blair White impressed me yet again. He's got the best hands of all of them, and is fast.

The real stunner for me was Dion Sims at tight end. I see him listed at 6'5" and 230 pounds, but he looks bigger than that--and, wow, does he have speed for a big guy. This kid is going to be fun to watch.

The running game was solid if unspectacular. I don't know if that was a result of Montana State picking its poison and committing more to stopping the run. Caulton Ray had some nice runs, and both Edwin Baker and Larry Caper showed flashes of brilliance. It's probably going to be running back by committee for the year, which isn't necessarily a bad thing when you have running backs with the raw ability that Ray, Baker, Caper, and Winston bring to the table. I'm a little concerned with the run blocking of the offensive line. Hopefully, center Joel Nitchman is okay after sustaining some sort of leg injury in the game. State needs a healthy offensive line.

The Spartans respected Montana State and came ready to play. Overall, the execution was pretty good (although Dantonio looked rather pained at times in the second half) and State picked up a solid victory. We'll know a lot more about this team next week against Central Michigan.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The act you've known for all these back

Unless you've been living under a large rock, you're probably aware that the Beatles' catalog will be reissued on CD on September 9, and that "The Beatles: Rock Band" video game will be coming out that same day. Perhaps I'm betraying my age, but I'm not that excited about "The Beatles: Rock Band" (although I must admit that the more I read about it, the more fun it sounds), but I am rather excited about the remastered music.

I don't think I've mentioned in this blog before, but I am a Beatles nerd--not one of those "uber-nerds" who, say, owns every single Beatles vinyl, cassette, and compact disc release (Capitol and Parlophone, mono and stereo), every single bootleg recording, has read every single Beatles book, and has every wall in the home plastered with Beatles posters and other memorabilia --but I am perhaps the next level below that extreme peak of Fab Four geekdom. I've got about 20 vinyl Beatles LPs (two copies each of Rubber Soul, Sgt. Pepper, "the White Album," and Abbey Road. (And, as you can see, I'm a big enough nerd not to put "the White Album" in italics since, as we all know, it's not the official name of that release). In addition to the albums, I own about 15 or so books related to the Beatles (I haven't counted). I stop short at filling the house with Beatle knicknacks and figurines, and I don't own any Beatles bootleg recordings (although, for a time, I had a few that I taped from a friend. During one of my cassette purges, I threw them out).

I also have all of the original 1987 versions of the Beatles CDs, along with 1999's Yellow Submarine Songtrack, the (underwhelming) Let it Be...Naked, and all three volumes of the Anthology, and I even have the fun but not necessarily essential Beatles at the BBC. (I've never bothered to acquire the Beatles' "Red" and "Blue" greatest hits collections on CD, nor The Beatles 1 collection that came out several years back. I thought the Love thing that came out a few years ago was an abomination, so I never bothered with that one either). My quandary now is that, after already investing so much money in purchasing the Beatles' principle canon of music, which of these reissues should I snag? I'm looking at probably Pepper and Revolver, and finances allowing, taking it from there. There's no way I can go all out and pick up the stereo and/or mono box sets. That's financially out of the question.

I will tune in again on Brainsplotch after September 9 with my impressions as to how much better these remasters are compared to the 1987 versions.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Bring on Fall

For the first time in a month, I feel like I can breathe. My son is recovering from his knee surgery, and I feel like I can look forward to some (trivial) things that I gave little thought to while we were filled with anxiety over his health situation.

First of all, it's almost football season. Well, not almost football season, it actually has already arrived with the NFL pre-season, my fantasy football draft this past Sunday, and the beginning of Michigan's high school football season this previous Friday night.

As anyone who has read this blog knows, I'm much more of a college football fan than pro or high school. I'm optimistic about the 2009 Michigan State season. I don't know if they'll equal last year's 9-4 campaign, but I think they should at least finish in the upper half of the Big Ten and go to another bowl game. It should be interesting to see how the quarterback battle goes, and who, if anybody, stands out at running back.

Part of football's appeal for me is that it takes place during the fall, which is far and away my favorite season of the year. I love the chillier temperatures, the crisp air, the changing colors of the trees, apple cider and donuts, the homecoming parades, the Spartan Marching Band, and Halloween. September 2 is my oldest son's birthday, and this date has become my official signifier that autumn is upon us. (Yes, I know that fall doesn't officially begin until late September, but I don't go by the official date).

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A difficult month, a difficult summer

First of all, let me say that everything now is fine. No need to be alarmed. But this month, as a whole, has been the most anxiety-ridden month I've ever experienced, and that's the reason I've been away from this blog for so long.

Let me start at the beginning. In June, my oldest son began complaining of knee pain. At first, I thought he was simply using it as an excuse not to play baseball (he was playing in the local youth baseball league and was not particularly enthusiastic, probably due to his chronic knee pain). In about mid-June, he began waking up in the middle of the night crying because of his knee, and at it was at this point that we knew there was a real problem. My wife took him to the local "redi-care" for x-rays, but they didn't reveal anything. Initially, the diagnosis was tendonitis, but several weeks of physical therapy produced no positive results. Meanwhile, my son was on a consistent diet of children's Motrin.

Finally, when we'd reached a point where we had no idea what was wrong with his knee, we had an MRI performed. Two days later, on August 3, our pediatrician called me at home to let us know that the MRI revealed a "mass" in is kneecap, which was most likely benign. Of course, the mere thought that this thing could be malignant was about all I could focus on.

Making things doubly difficult about this news was the fact that my wife and I were headed for a four-day mini-vacation to the Wisconsin Dells on August 5, without the kids. How would we, how could we, possibly have fun on this vacation? The night we left our two sons with my wife's parents was incredibly tough on the both of us. We had this mysterious "mass" that had been diagnosed somewhere on or in our son's kneecap, and we were about to leave the kids for four days.

As it turned out, we did have a pretty good time in the Wisconsin Dells, given the difficult circumstances. I think, to a certain degree, we were able to take our minds off our fears. We indulged our interest in architecture by visiting Taliesin and the highly unusual House on the Rock (and did the ubiquitous Dells boat tour on the Wisconsin River). The day we drove back to Michigan, though, we knew we were going to have to face reality head-on.

Our pediatrician referred us the pediatric orthopedic doctors at the University of Michigan, and we had an appointment at their Brighton clinic on Friday, August 14. It was during the few days prior to the appointment that I did what I often do in medical crisis situations, I fell back on the religion in which I was raised, Christian Science.

I'm not a churchgoer, and I'm not really religious. My feelings towards God and religion are conflicted at best. I've often contended that Christianity would be just fine if not for all the self-righteous "Christians" who ruin it for everyone else. However, in a crisis, I will fall back on religion because it gives me comfort. In this, I feel a bit hypocritical, as if I'm a Christian only when it's convenient.

I come from four generations of Christian Scientists. My great grandmother on my mom's side, who experienced some personal crises (not sure exactly what they were), was attracted to the teachings of Mary Baker Eddy. Her daughter (my grandmother) was a lifelong devout Christian Scientist who I don't believe ever missed a Sunday service. One of the everlasting impressions of my childhood is my grandma's well-marked and notated copy of Mrs. Eddy's Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.

I attended the Christian Science church until I was sixteen, at which point my mom let me choose whether I wanted to continue going to church. I quit going and only went if it was Christmas or Easter Sunday (mainly to make my grandma happy). The last time I went to a Sunday service was in 1987, and I distinctly remember wondering why I went.

I believe way too much in the miracles of modern medicine to be a true Christian Scientist (and my attraction to Buddhist teachings prevents this, also). I love the idea of healing through prayer, which I'm sure made a lot more sense when Mrs. Eddy founded the religion in the late nineteenth century, a time in which medicine was chockful of quacks and charlatans. However in 2009, with the incredible advancements in medicine, Christian Science as Mary Baker Eddy envisioned it is an anachronism. (I should also mention that most dyed-in-the-wool Christian Scientists, like my late grandmother, eschew the use of stimulants like alcohol, tobacco, or caffeine. Beyond my faith in modern medicine, I am way too fond of coffee, beer, wine, loud-ass music, and general merriment to ever be a real Christian Scientist).

Sorry for that digression (but it's an important part of the story)--back to my son's situation. I was feeling extremely anxious prior to that August 14 appointment, so I decided to transcribe Mary Baker Eddy's "Scientific Statement of Being" on an index card, which I folded and placed in my wallet. Whenever my mind obsessed over the worst case scenario, I pulled out that index card and read it. It gave me comfort--it made me feel that at least I was trying to do something.

Dr. Kelly Vanderhave gave me a great deal of comfort when we consulted with her on August 14. Still, my mind continued to wrestle with dark thoughts until my son's surgery on August 25. I stuffed my grandma's copy of Science and Health into my front pocket of my pants as a sort of talisman or good luck charm. I recited the "Scientific Statement of Being" in my head (or whatever I could remember of it) when I felt the need--and I had faith in the abilities of the doctors and nurses operating on my son.

When one of the nurses called down to the waiting room to let us know that the tumor was benign, it was the most relieved I have felt in my entire life. Thanks go out to the wonderful staff of the Mott Childrens Hospital at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. They were so good at putting my son at ease. My heart broke to see how nervous he was about his surgery, but the people at Mott were absolutely wonderful.

Whether spiritual healing had any impact on the end result--who knows? I will say that it did give me comfort, though. I will still characterize myself as conflicted when it comes to Faith. Something about me is just too cynical to ever buy in completely to religion.

That, folks, was my summer. Without a doubt the most anxiety-ridden summer of my entire life. I could really use a carefree autumn.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A new car! (and other ramblings)

So much for my great plan to write a post every day. Definitely not realistic, and probably for the better. Nobody needs to read about every mundane thing I've done every single day.

Taking a few moments to jot some things down. The wind is swirling threateningly outside my window as I write this, it feels as if a thunderstorm may be brewing. This is not good because I am planning to go outside and grill steaks.

It has been a rather eventful week. On Wednesday, I met up with my old college friend Tom F., whom I lived with in Capitol Villa Apartments (near the Michigan State campus) during the summer of '89. I had not seen Tom since about 1990, but we reconnected through the wonders of Facebook (probably THE best aspect of Facebook). Tom was on vacation (he lives in San Francisco) and came to Ohio and Michigan to visit friends and family. The two of us got together at the Peanut Barrel, a popular watering hold across the street from the MSU campus. The Barrel was much busier than I expected for a mid-week day in the middle of summer, so the only open table we found was in back, about two feet from the billiards table, so for much of the evening we had pool players practically poking us in the face with pool cues--plus we were sitting directly underneath a stereo speaker, making conversation difficult. Still, despite the non-ideal setting, we had a good time reconnecting. I was a little nervous because I hadn't seen Tom in so long, but the conversation (when we could hear each other over the din) was great.

On Saturday the 25th, we decided to take advantage of the "Cash for Clunkers" program and get rid of our (poor excuse for an automobile) 1997 Plymouth Voyager. Luckily, it has the largest engine of the '97 Voyagers, so it qualifies for the program. I'm thanking my lucky stars because the Voyager has a whole litany of problems that I don't want to address (because it would be a complete waste of money to do so): the transmission is shot, the brakes are metal-to-metal and barely operational, the air conditioning doesn't work, the right rear turn signal has scarcely worked since we bought if back in March 2008. (In fairness, we bought the thing for $3000 cash from Sundance, the local gi-normous used car emporium in the Lansing area--it's amazing the darned thing has lasted THIS long). We will be trading this lemon in for a 2010 Kia Soul, and I couldn't be more excited.

Well, that's all for now. I'll try and not be a stranger to this blog--but you know how that goes.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

"Hey baby, it's the 4th of July"

(So much for my attempt to write on every single day this month, I missed yesterday. Perhaps I should aim for every other day).

The title of this blog entry comes from the song "4th of July" by the great band, X. It's a song that's not so much about the 4th of July, but about a disintegrating relationship. The protagonist of the song is depressed, smoking a cigarette alone, while "Mexican kids are shootin' fireworks below." The joyful festivities mock his sadness. I love this song, and have always tried to play it on July 4 (but haven't done so in several years).

Did the usual 4th of July stuff--went to the beach, drank a beer, saw a parade, and saw some fireworks from the backyard of my house.

Returned home from Saugatuck, a cute (albeit trendy and ritzy) Lake Michigan coastal community. Hit the beach there, ate a late lunch at Chequers, a fish-and-chips joint in town that we like, and were also able to see the Saugatuck 4th of July party outside the window of the restaurant.

I always feel jealous when I'm in Saugatuck, which during the summer seems exclusively populated by wealthy denizens of Chicagoland, with their BMWs, sailboats, and cottages larger than my own house. I can't help but feel myself resentful of all these Illinois license plates invading our state. Part of me thinks, "Oh, I see how it is, your boring state doesn't have any good vacation spots, so you have to invade our turf." Shouldn't complain too much though, it seems that tourism is about the only economy my state has right now. Michigan may not have any money anymore, but at least we have our looks.

Came home late in the afternoon, feeling tired. My oldest son wanted to light sparklers in the early evening. I went outside with him for awhile until I was quickly devoured by mosquitoes.

The 4th of July is one of my least favorite holidays, I must confess, and no, it's not because I don't "love my country." Why must we celebrate the day by blowing stuff up? Is it typically American that we must honor our nation's birth by making loud noises, setting things on fire, and blasting fireworks skyward all day long? I don't necessarily dislike fireworks (I feel about them the same way I think of Brussel sprouts--don't seek them out, but they're okay if encountered), I just think they're overrated. My idea of great fun is not loading my kids in the car at 9:30 PM, fighting traffic to get to the fireworks display, prowling stealthily for a place to park, getting sucked dry by marauding mosquitoes, and having to endure hordes of the usual drunken louts and hooligans igniting their own loud, obnoxious, probably illegal and unquestionably dangerous fireworks while they're waiting for the real municipal fireworks to go off. The actual professional fireworks display we've come to see lasts all of a half-hour, then it's load everything back in the car, fight more traffic, and, once you're home, try to get your overly tired and cranky kids to bed. Call me an unpatriotic, misanthropic killjoy, but the 4th of July really does little for me.

Anyway, went out behind our house and saw some of the Meridian Township fireworks before the mosquito situation once again drove me back in the house. I'm happy to live in a location where I don't need to drive to the fireworks if I don't want to, so I was able to see enough (about 5 minutes worth) to satisfy me. My wife and oldest son stayed outside for the duration, God bless 'em.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Chilly day in Michigan

I've been seriously neglectful of this blog, so I've decided to not worry too much about how interesting my posts are, and simply write in here every day about SOMETHING, regardless of how trivial it may be. In fact, I'm going to attempt an experiment and make a concerted effort to write in this blog every single day for the month of July (and I'm not off to a good start because I missed yesterday, July 1).

Okay, talking about the weather is usually boring, and a sign that you don't HAVE anything to talk about, but it's unseasonably cold in Michigan today. It's been unseasonably cold for the last few days. Today's high temperature in Lansing was 58 degrees, yesterday's high was 61, and Monday was somewhere in the low 60s. The average high temperature for July in Lansing is 82. The average LOW temperature in July is the same as today's high. In typically freaky Michigan weather fashion, last week we had temperatures in the upper 80s and low 90s. As the expression goes in these parts, "If you don't like the weather, just wait 15 minutes and it'll change."

My oldest son is suffering from what the doctors think is tendonitis in his knee, which has been going on since early June. It's been rough, with him in agonizing pain about every four or five hours. He's been on a steady diet of children's Tylenol for a few weeks, and begins physical therapy this Monday. I hope we see improvement soon.

I'm reading a great book right now, Boy Alone: A Brother's Memoir by Karl Taro Greenfeld. It's his memoir of growing up with a severely autistic younger brother, Noah. Noah became something of a celebrity in the seventies and eighties when the boys' father, Josh Greenfeld, wrote a series of books documenting his (and his family's) struggle to raise Noah. Karl, who is now 45 years old, is finally writing about Noah from his perspective. I'm finding the book fascinating. It's good to be able to read about someone else's difficult life to put your own life in perspective. Thank heavens neither of my sons are autistic, it sounds like a heartbreaking experience. I'll take tendonitis any day.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Just what the world needs, another Michael Jackson opinion...

...but hey, if everyone else is doing it, why not me?

I have been quite affected by Michael Jackson's death, much more than I thought I would be. It really was a shock, which is strange to say since the warning signs have been everywhere for years now. Still, Michael always seemed superhuman, and it somehow doesn't seem possible for him to die. What makes it doubly strange for me is that I literally do not remember a time in my life when Michael Jackson has not been famous.

Like so many others, I grew up with his music, and can remember watching the Jackson 5 on the Mike Douglass Show back when I was a kid in the seventies. I had to double check to make sure my memory and reality jibed ("was it REALLY the Mike Douglass Show, or am I confusing it with something else?" As it turns out, according to the Mike Douglass Show web site, the Jackson 5 appeared on the show three times: April 3, 1974; November 12, 1975; and February 8, 1977). I was mesmerized by the young dynamo that was Michael Jackson, and looking at those old clips it's hard for me to square images of the young, beautiful Michael and the one transformed, by plastic surgery, into some sort of three-dimensional manga cartoon character. (Enough has been written about Michael Jackson's appearance, so I'll leave it at that).

When MJ released "Off the Wall," it was the one gift I wanted more than any other for my twelth birthday. (Thanks mom, you really came through on that one. I still have that LP I received on March 1, 1980). I can still remember playing that album on my junky little record player up in my room, MJ looking dazzling and handsome on the album cover with his frizzy afro and sharp tuxedo, the music evoking a place far more sophisticated and fun than my small town in the thumb of Michigan. Looking back at it now, "Off the Wall" provided needed escapism for me, still trying to get used to my family's move from Detroit to the small town of Caro.

Going back to the Jackson 5 for a moment: As a young kid, the enthusiasm and excitement of those Jackson 5 TV appearances was infectious, but looking back at it as an adult, and with the benefit of hindsight, I see the Jackson 5 as the first fruit produced by the aftermath of the 1960s Civil Rights movement. It was truly the voice of young Black America finally allowed to express itself to the nation, and showing the world what the possibilities were.

Like most of the world, when his next album, “Thriller,” was released I looked forward to seeing every new video on MTV and enjoyed all the singles from that mammoth album, “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” “Wanna Be Startin’ Something,” P.Y.T.,” “Human Nature,” etc., etc. Strangely, I never did ever own a copy of “Thriller,” probably because the music was ubiquitous during the years 1982-1984 and I eventually burned out on it, as fickle teenagers often do. By 1984, I’d moved on to Prince and “Purple Rain,” and by the time I reached college in 1986, I’d “graduated” to the oh-so-hip “college rock” of R.E.M., the Smiths, the Replacements, et al. By the time I was 18, Michael Jackson definitely was not cool. As Michael seemed to remain a perpetual child, his music (at least from the cursory attention I paid it) did not seem to evolve.

Doesn't it seem that it's not until a person dies that we take full note of what they accomplished during their lives and careers? Probably because with the death, the story is complete, there is a beginning, a middle, and an end (and the fact that the excessive media attention focuses your attention on the deceased, if you had any interest in the person in the first place). On that note, I recently saw a performance video for Michael’s song, “Stranger in Moscow” that a Facebook friend recently posted. The song was fantastic, and Michael’s dance movements and vocal performance were haunting. I’d guess that the video was from the late nineties, a time when I was completely ignoring Michael’s music and only aware of the ongoing sexual abuse allegations and MJ's increasingly strange behavior. I had never heard of this song, and only later discovered it was from his album “HIStory.” To see this now is to be reminded that despite his ever changing appearance and bizarre private life, his genius as a musician and performer never left him.
I hope that Michael is at peace now. Regardless of the plastic surgeries, the bizarre behavior, and whatever went on behind the gates of Neverland Ranch, MJ's music and performances will last forever.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Billy Joel vs. R.E.M.

Awhile ago, a friend of mind sent me, via a Facebook message, the "assignment" of comparing and contrasting Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire" and R.E.M.'s "It's the End of World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)." This friend is someone I've known since about sixth grade, and we often go back and forth about music and pop culture. Anyway, this is my extemely off-the-cuff reply to his challenge. Thought you might find it fun:

Billy Joel's “We Didn’t Start the Fire” is a litany of baby boomer-era cultural touchstones, and in the chorus Billy basically, in typical curmudgeonly Billy Joel style, says, "look, if you're pissed off about how f***ed up things are now, don't look at us (i.e. the boomers), it was already f***ed up when we got here, but we've been trying to make it better, so there!--and you know what, it'll probably continue to be f***ed up after we're dead." Billy Joel is the official apologist of the Baby Boomer generation.

REM's "It's the End of the World..." has the same rapid-fire vocal delivery as "...Fire", but with lyrics considerably more obtuse and stream-of-consciousness (gee, real shocker that Stipe would be obtuse and stream of conscious, eh). In the chorus, REM (befitting their age--tale end of Baby Boom generation and pretty close to Gen X) go for full-on irony with "the world's falling apart, but we're having a blast." This seems a good commentary on the Reagan-era, where everyone seemed to be basking in materialistic yuppiedom (except for bohemian hipsters like REM, who were casting a critical eye on the proceedings).Stylistically, of course, both songs are pretty darned similar--machine gun verses and choruses that summed up what the verses were getting at. However, Billy's song is smoothed out and shiny, Phil Ramone- produced MOR, while REM is clanking, slightly spastic/slightly punky alternapop college boy music.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Remembering on Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day, a day on which we are to remember and honor the men and women in uniform who gave their lives in defense of our country, and for many others, a day on which we remember and honor all of our family members who are no longer with us on this earth. So what do we as American generally do on Memorial Day?: We cook out, go to the beach, do yardwork, or just plain goof around. Now I'm not saying that doing those things is bad (after all, Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer--and a day off for most), but perhaps it's not completely in the spirit of what Memorial Day is supposed to represent.

On Memorial Day 1998, I dragged my future wife to Belleville, Michigan, a town halfway between Detroit and Ann Arbor where several of my ancestors are buried. My maternal great-grandmother, great-grandfather, and a slew of others on my mom's side of the family have their eternal resting spots in Belleville. In the words of the old Blind Lemon Jefferson song, I "made sure their graves were kept clean." I was probably the first person to do this in many years, as I can remember having to tear away lots of overgrown grass away from the stone markers. Unfortunately, that was the last time I've been to Belleville, so I'm sure their graves are covered by tall grass. I can only hope that the markers are not broken.

It bothers me that only once in my life have I visited the gravesites of my deceased family members on Memorial Day, but it feels like the holiday is usually planned several weeks in advance with other obligations, so I never have the chance to lay any flowers and ensure that the graves "are kept clean." I want to do this again.

I've really only visited the graves of ancestors several generations removed. It's a lot easier to remove yourself emotionally since they're people I never actually knew. I can visit with the detachment of an historian. I haven't visited the resting places of my grandparents since their funerals, but at the risk of sounding sappy, the memories of my departed family members are in my heart and soul. Not a day goes by when I don't think of at least one of my grandparents, so everday is Memorial Day (so far, I've been very lucky in that my parents are both still alive and well), so I really don't feel the need to go to their "final resting places."

When I say that I think of my grandparents everyday, I don't mean that I dwell on their existences for hours on end, usually it's a brief flicker of a moment where I'll reflect on something they said or something we did together. Maybe I'll remember a holiday at my grandparents' house when I was a kid, or chuckle at the the thought of one of my Grandma C.'s infamous puns that she was so fond of saying. My head is full of these little snapshots from my past.

Wow, that sure ended up as an unintentionally sentimental post. I'm a Midwesterner, I'm not supposed to write about things like this. Oh well, perhaps this will give all of you in cyberspace a little more insight into the real me.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Re-acquainting myself with Michigan's state bird: the mosquito (and other exciting thoughts)

First day of the Memorial Day weekend, and the mosquitoes are out in full force in our yard. Those buggers are everywhere, making yard work an adventure. This is what happens when one lives in a community, Okemos, that was essentially built over swampland.

I was able to mow the front yard, but the backyard will have to wait until tomorrow. Our neighbors, a young couple maybe in their late twenties or early thirties, are having a pleasant evening in their backyard, playing a game with the tiki torches going. I don't want to disturb them with my loud lawnmower. Besides, at this point it's nearing eight o'clock--too late to start anything new. I'm sure all of this is fascinating! Hope I'm not lulling anyone to sleep.

I'm trying to devise of some future blog entries. I've entertained the thought of doing some reviews of some forgotten gems in my music collection. Recently, I've discovered the $7.99 bargain music bin at my favorite music retailer in the area, Schuler Books and Music. The fact that I also get an employee discount on top of that makes it doubly nice. (Yes, I am one of those old-timers who still buys CDs. I understand the appeal of downloading music, but I still get a thrill of actually holding the music in my hand). I've found some fun old stuff in this bargain bin that I once owned on cassette, but purged of. Stuff like the first Georgia Satellites album and Midnight Oil's "Diesel and Dust." Anyway, I thought it might be fun to write about some of these old gems with a little revisionist spin. For example, most people who even remember the Georgia Satellites will immediately think of their novelty hit, "Keep Your Hands to Yourself." Truth is, there was lot more to that band than that song. So, keep your eyes peeled for my reviews of musty old albums from the eighties.

And now for something completely different: Dick Cheney needs to shut his yap. Cheney spouting off about the inadequacies of the Obama administration is akin to Matt Millen telling Martin Mayhew (current Detroit Lions general manager) how to run a successful football franchise. Dick (what an appropriate first name), do us all a favor and go away.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Been so long, I almost forgot my password!

Hi everyone, I'm still alive!

I thought I'd take a few minutes between watching the Preakness and going outside to plant some sod in the backyard to say "hi" to all one or two of my loyal readers out there in cyberspace.

It's been one busy April and May for me. Between my oldest son's chess tournaments, soccer games and practices, baseball games and practices, and other sundry kid and school-related stuff, not to mention my Facebook obsession (which takes away valuable time that I could be spending doing important stuff like blogging), I've not been able to write anything in here.

I really don't want to write in here if I don't feel like I have anything interesting to say. I don't know if writing little hodgepodge posts is all that interesting to anyone. Then again, nobody really reads this blog, so what difference does it make?

Today, after my son's early morning soccer game, I got to go out by myself and drop off my lawnmower to get the blades sharpened at a place just down the road from me. Don't worry, I'm not going to write about that (even though I'm sure it sounds utterly fascinating). Being out, alone, with no kids, meant that for at least a little while, I could do what I wanted to do. So, between dropping off the lawnmower and doing the other "important" thing on my errands list (going to the supermarket to pick up milk, grass seed and other boring sh*t), I stopped off at my favorite "toy store for grown-ups," Schuler Books. Now, I used to work at Schuler Books (and in fact still moonlight there from time to time for extra money and to get the store discount). I saw some of my bookstore friends, browsed the music section for awhile, and bought the new Michael Zadoorian book, Lost Tiki Palaces of Detroit. I thought about snagging the new Bob Dylan CD, but didn't. Instead, I picked up Taj Mahal's Giant Steps, which I saw in the $7.99 bargain bin.

Remember me going on about the new Tragically Hip album, We are the Same? I ordered it from Canada and got it in the mail about three weeks ago. I've been listening to it, along with the rest of the Hip discography, pretty much non-stop for the last month. More on that later.

Okay, don't know that this post was interesting at all. Probably not. Gotta go outside and plant some sod now. See ya later.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

In memory of Mark "The Bird" Fidrych

I wanted to write this post earlier, but for a variety of reasons (most of them associated with a schedule that revolves around work and family) I haven't gotten to it until now.

I was greatly saddened a few weeks ago to hear of Mark "the Bird" Fidrych's tragic death. I remember the Bird's magic summer of '76, because that's the year I became interested in baseball. It was largely due to the exuberance and individuality of Mark Fidrych. He was one of a kind, and I don't know if we'll ever see a player quite like Fidrych.

I lived in Detroit from 1973 to 1979, so I was there to experience the Bird. I, along with other kids on my block, mimicked all of Fidrych's oddball traits: running to the mound at the beginning of an inning (and running off the field after the third out), smoothing the mound, talking to the ball, and the Bird's herky-jerky pitching motion. I distinctly remember talking to a tennis ball (and telling it where to go in a way that I imagined the Bird would do it), winding up like Fidrych, and throwing the ball against our garage door.

I became a big fan of the Tigers that summer of '76. My parents took me to a game against the Cleveland Indians (lower deck box seats, third base side) and I remember watching Bill Freehan warm up the pitcher in the bullpen (who wasn't Fidrych, by the way. I can't remember who started the game). I had the same reaction so many other kids have the first time they see a major league game. Walking up the ramp to the stands, I was overcome by the lushness of emerald green of the field. My mom bought me the 1976 Tigers yearbook, with its cover draped in Bicentennial red, white and blue (and featuring a photo of Milt May, Rusty Staub, and Dave Roberts amiably chatting in a circle in the Tigers' locker room). Players like Freehan, Staub, Ron LeFlore, Ben Oglivie, and Jason Thompson also became my heroes, thanks to the door opened for me by that the goofy, curly-haired pitcher.

Because of Mark Fidrych, I became a passionate Tiger follower, and a life-long baseball fan. Rest in peace, Bird.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A great year for Spartan basketball

As everyone knows by now, Michigan State lost to North Carolina 89-72 in the NCAA Championship game back on Monday. The Tar Heels proved that they were the best team in college basketball this year, but having said that, the Spartans looked out-of-sync for essentially the entire game (but particularly in the first half). However, even if State had played at the level they showed in the Louisville and UConn games, I think North Carolina still wins the game by about 7-10 points.

What a great run the Spartans had this year. If someone had told me back in November or early December that this team would not only win the Big Ten title, but play in the national championship game, I would not believe him (or her). This team improved exponentially from the beginning of the season to the end. Delvon Roe finally got reasonably health and was excellent during the Big Ten season (but looked like he ran out of gas in the tournament), Goran Suton fulfilled his great promise in a big way, and Draymond Green was the most pleasant and unexpected surprise of the season. Add to that the emergence of Durrell Summers, the blossoming leadership of Kalin Lucas, and the awesome defender and emotional sparkplug that was Travis Walton, and it all added up to a great season. They weren't always a fun team to watch play during the regular season, but by the NCAA tournament they were positively exhilirating. The future looks bright for Michigan State basketball.

I only attended two MSU basketball games in person this year, but the two I saw demonstrated the two "Jeckyll and Hyde" extremes of this team. The first was a non-conference game against the Citadel, in which the Spartans sleepwalked their way to a sloppy and uninspired victory against a much weaker opponent. (In fairness to MSU, how inspired can you get against the Citadel, for crying out loud? Plus, the game took place just before the Spartans were about to go on the road to play Texas--and I'm sure they couldn't help but look ahead to the Longhorns). The other game I saw in person was the home game against Minnesota. State had just come off the devastating home loss to Penn State, and the poor Gophers were in the wrong place at the wrong time. MSU came out as focused and inspired as I saw them the entire year (until NCAA tournament, that is) and completely demolished Minnesota. It was an awesome display of nearly flawless basketball.

Anyway, congratulations to the Spartans on providing us with a season we will remember and cherish for a long time.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Another dispatch from Chicago

I'm in our hotel room at the Courtyard Marriott, Hubbard and State in Chicago. Finished some excellect takeout Thai from a place called Yong's Thai Kitchen just across the street from the hotel. Spicy chicken pad thai: it really hit the spot. Luckily, there is also a 7-11 just down the street, so picked up some beer in preparation for tonight's national championship game.

Today, we took the kids to Shedd Aquarium, but did not consider the possibility that all the schools in the Chicagoland area ALSO were on spring break. We waited in line outside, with a blisteringly cold wind howling off Lake Michigan, for what I would guess to be 45 minutes to an hour. Once we got in, it was fine, albeit insanely crowded. Devon, our youngest son (four years old) ran out of gas and wanted to get back to the hotel. Just as we were leaving, someone inadvertently swung their arm back and poked him squarely in the eye with the corner of their fold-out Shedd Aquarium map/brochure. Poor Devon cried in pain and it was a scary fifteen minutes or so as we were trying to determine if his eye was okay. As it turns out, he is fine. Thanks to the Shedd Aquarium staff for being so kind. One staff member in particular was great, and actually gave Devon a beluga whale plush toy to take home.

It's difficult being on vacation in a big city with two young kids. As the cliche goes, "I need a vacation from my vacation." I think maybe they're still too young to appreciate the city and the museums we've visited. Avery, our seven year-old, has had fun at the Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium, but Devon has been bored and overwhelmed by the crowds and the general sensory overload that comes with being in the city. I think the most fun they've had has been in the hotel pool, and I don't blame them. Maybe we'll make this trip with them again in about five years.

Of course, the Michigan State/North Carolina national championship basketball game is starting in about eighteen minutes. Before the season started, I would not have guessed that the Spartans would be playing in this game. It has been an amazing season, and the icing on the cake (ugh, sorry for that cliche--it's just too easy!) would be if the Spartans won tonight. I don't want to be too disappointed if State loses tonight, but who am I kidding, it would be a bummer! I'm sure Tom Izzo and his staff will have the guys ready to go, and I hope a raucous and decidedly pro-MSU crowd will carry State through.

I've heard the early December game between State and NC brought up a few times in the last few days, and there is no question that this MSU team in no way resembles THAT MSU team that lost to the Heels by 35 points. Suton and Roe are healthy now, Draymond Green is now in the mix and is playing exceptionally well, and it just seems that now all the players on the team understand their roles. The Spartans will be able to throw a lot of big bodies at Tyler Hansbrough. As long as the Heels don't shoot out the lights from three-point range, I think State will be fine. In any case, I hope that my next post will be me celebrating a national title for the Spartans.

Pulling for the Spartans in Chicago

I am still on vacation with the family in Chicago. We spent most of yesterday at the Field Museum with our two young sons.

Saturday night, we watched the Michigan State basketball game from our hotel room here at the Courtyard by Marriott on State Street. What an exciting game, and I am so proud of this team. The groundswell of state pride (and by "state pride," I am referring to the state of Michigan) is truly moving. It feels like "our kids" (particularly because most of State's players are from Michigan or Ohio) carrying the banner for our downtrodden state. It's been nice here in Chicago, but there is definitely a part of me that wishes I was back home in Okemos to feel the hole vibe of this amazing conclusion to the college basketball season.

Could there be a more fitting final game of the NCAA tournament?: The "blue collar" midwestern kids from Michigan State against the much more lauded national recruits of the blue blood North Carolina Tarheels.

Regardless of what happens tonight, it has been a great season for the Spartans. Call me crazy, but I have a good feeling about tonight's game. It just feels like the stars are aligned for a Spartan victory.

Time for me to run, as we're getting ready to take the kids to Shedd Aquarium.

Go State!

Friday, April 3, 2009

On my way to Chicago with thoughts of the Final Four in Detroit

Tomorrow, we are taking the train to Chicago for a four-day mini-vacation. We'll be taking the kids to some of the museums and maybe do a little shopping. Naturally, we'll have to be in our hotel room by 6:07 sharp to catch the Michigan State-UConn basketball game.

Lots of excitement this week with the Final Four in Detroit. If the Spartans win tomorrow and make it to the National Championship game on Monday, there will be a big part of me that will be bummed that I'm not in the Lansing area to witness the ferver. Then again, if State loses tomorrow, Chicago should offer a good buffer zone from the disappointment.

Whatever happens tomorrow with the game, it has been a great year: Big Ten title and Final Four. I'd love to the see the Spartans make a run at the championship, but don't want to get my hopes up. The key as a fan is to always prepare for the worst, so if the result is positive, it make it all the sweeter.

Well, time for me to hit the hay. I have to get up early tomorrow.