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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.