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Monday, October 28, 2013

My thoughts on Lou Reed (1942-2013). Rest in peace, you beautiful old grouch.

The king of cool, Lou Reed (far left) with the Velvet Underground (and Nico)

I don't know how much time I'll have to write tonight, but I wanted to get some thoughts in about Lou Reed, who is probably up in that great gig in the sky jamming with his fellow departed Velvet Underground bandmate Sterling Morrison.

I'll just write extemporaneously, so bear with me. I'm sure this won't be nearly as eloquent as the many salutes and tributes I have already read in the two days, but I'll do my best.

I know that I'd heard Lou Reed had a liver transplant and was probably not in the greatest health, but I was still shocked to learn, early yesterday afternoon, of his death. How fitting, and eerie, that he would die on the day of the week that he immortalized in song.

I remember the exact date that I first time I heard the Velvet Underground. (I know that I had already heard Lou Reed via "Walk on the Wild Side").  It was Friday, November 7, 1986 and I had crashed a party at Hubbard Hall, Michigan State University. The party-throwers were a small group of young hipsters and they asked me if I'd ever heard the Velvet Underground. I think my answer of "no" branded me as not-quite-completely with it. But the way these hipsters asked me, it was as if they were filling in me in on some great secret. Along with a few other events of my freshman year, it was my entree into new and previously unexplored terrain, far more exotic than anything I'd ever known.

I don't know that the Velvets left a huge impression on me that particular night, as I was too busy pursuing other "interests" that night. But the musical experience must have been enough for me to remember the exact date--and that the album played was the recently released VU, which featured previously unreleased gems such as "Stephanie Says," "Foggy Notion," and "I Can't Stand It." (Or, to be less dramatic about the whole thing, the reason I remember the date is mainly because I distinctly recall the Michigan State football team taking on Indiana the next day, and it's easy to search "Michigan State football 1986" to find the date the Spartans took on the Hoosiers. By admitting this, I'm showing where my priorities really lie).

Admittedly, it was the ubiquitous 1980s college rock band R.E.M. (and one of my personal favorites) that really turned me on to the Velvet Underground. Their consistent championing of the Velvet Underground's influence on their own careers finally convinced me to buy every VU album I could find. I'm sure I was one of many '80s kids to be directed by R.E.M. towards Lou Reed and the Velvets. By my senior year in college, I had most of the band's recorded output.

From the outset, I found the Velvet Underground's music challenging on many levels. It was at turns brittle, loud, shrill, but also at times capable of profound delicacy and calm. I loved Lou Reed's and the Velvet's ability to take the most gentle melodies and pair them with lyrics that were often everything but. "Sunday Morning" from The Velvet Underground and Nico is a prime example. A languorous, lovely melody with the decidedly dark and paranoid lyrics, "Sunday morning, praise the dawning/It's just a restless feeling by my side/Early dawning, Sunday morning/It's just the wasted years so close behind."  Then there was the first song from the band's third (self-titled) album, "Candy Says." Another slow, gorgeous melody with lyrics told from the point of view of the transgendered Candy Darling: "Candy says/I've come to hate my body/And all that it requires/In this world." It's a remarkably sensitive portrait, particularly considering that this was 1969, a full year before Stonewall, and well before there was much empathy expressed by anyone towards the LGBT community.

Lou Reed was also capable of music of blistering intensity, and that's the stuff that really grabbed me in the beginning. "I'm Waiting for the Man," "I Can't Stand It," "Vicious" (from Transformer), and all of the staggeringly anti-commercial and completely abrasive White Light/White Heat album. Reed was an uncompromising artist, and when he wanted to make a noise ("Black Angel's Death Song," the White Light/White Heat album, and the notorious Metal Machine Music) or just get downright bleak (pretty much all of the Berlin album) nobody was gonna get in Lou's way.

If you haven't already guessed, I've always been more into Lou Reed's work with the Velvet Underground rather than his solo albums. I don't know why that is exactly. Maybe it has something to do with the cool glamour of the Velvets. Maybe that just had a romantic appeal that Lou's solo stuff lacked (at least in my mind). I may have just not give Lou's solo career a fair shake, and maybe now it's time I gave it some attention. At various times, I've owned Lou's albums Tranformer, New York, Magic and Loss, and Rock and Roll Diary 1967-1980. I was also a huge fan of his live album, Rock and Roll Animal, which had been slagged by many critics as too "arena rock"-sounding. I still have my vinyl copies of Transformer and Rock and Roll Diary, but New York and Magic and Loss have been purged. I especially regret unloading New York, and it may be time for me to reacquire that album, along with others in the Lou Reed canon. It's funny, and a little sad--but perhaps not unusual, how an artist's death will cause you to finally go back and rediscover what you've either neglected or missed.

Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground were on heavy rotation during my college years, and in many respects I found their music to be as educational as any class I took in my university career. Lou Reed introduced me to Andy Warhol and the Factory, bohemian New York art and literature, and an entire world I previously knew little about. Like a lot of music I discovered in college, I sure as hell with I'd discovered Lou in high school because I could have really used him then--but it's possible it would have been a bit too much for my teenage brain to wrap itself around.

In any case, thank you Lou Reed. Thank you for the great music. Thank you for showing me "the wild side" and a different way of viewing the world.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Tigers bounce back

The Tigers evened the ALCS at two games apiece last night.

After another heartbreaking loss on Monday afternoon, Detroit came back to win last night in a game that wasn't quite as stressful as the previous three games in the series.

Now, a word about the FOX broadcast crew of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver. I can't listen to those guys. Joe Buck is a droning windbag, and McCarver isn't much better. On Monday, I muted my television and turned on the radio so I could listen to the Tigers' broadcast team of Dan Dickerson and Jim Price. Even though the radio broadcast didn't sync with the TV--the television broadcast was about five seconds or so behind the radio--it made for a much more pleasant experience.

Listening to Dan and Jim was like listening in to a conversation between two old friends you've known for many years, and what makes it even better is that you know they're rooting for your team.  Joe Buck and Tim McCarver, on the other hand, are like blustery strangers who barge into your house unannounced and unwelcome. And I'm convinced they are rooting for the Red Sox to win the series.

Last night, I watched the game in my living room, where a radio is not in close proximity. I just watched with the sound muted on the television. I know some people who can't stand to watch sports on TV with no sound, but I found it to be relaxing.

It seems that these days, I can't watch sports without having my phone right next to me, "Facebooking" during the game. Many of my Facebook friends are watching the exact same Tiger game, so Facebook allows us to instantly celebrate or comiserate--all the while probably driving the sports-hating or sports-indifferent Facebook people completely crazy.

I'm sure if you've been reading this blog for any time at all, or know me outside of this blog, I'm a Detroit Tigers fan. The Tigers and Detroit Lions are the only professional sports teams for which I have real passion, and most of my mania is reserved for the Tigers.

When I first started following the Tigers as a kid, they weren't very good. From the first year I was a serious fan and had any understanding of what was going on (1976) until 1980, it was essentially a guarantee before any season that the Tigers would finish in either fourth or fifth place in the American League East. The preordained finish in the AL East was: the Yankees, Red Sox, and Orioles take turns finishing in first place. By 1981, however, the Tigers became relevant again, and won the World Series in 1984 and a division title in 1987. Except for one major hiccup--a terrible 1989 season--the Tigers were good until 1993.

Then the dark ages began...

The Tigers suffered through twelve consecutive losing seasons between 1994 and 2005. Just when I was about the give up hope that the Tigers would ever compete for anything ever again, the Mike Ilitch renaissance began, and the Tigers have won two American League titles and three division titles since 2006. The last eight seasons have been great, though slightly frustrating because the ultimate goal of a World Series title has remained elusive.

And that leads up to right now. There will be at least two more games in this 2013 American League Championship Series: one tonight and another one on Saturday. I hope I'm not driving anyone nuts with this baseball stuff, but that's where I'm at right now.

Monday, October 14, 2013

I'm still not over it

I'm still not over it.

Usually, my angst and upset over sports losses is reserved for Michigan State football or basketball, but this Detroit Tigers loss to Boston hurts almost as much as any setback the Spartans have had.

I'm still trying to absorb the fact that the Tigers blew a 5-1 lead with two outs in the eight inning and lost 6-5 to the Red Sox, in the process completely wasting a brilliant Max Scherzer pitching performance.

As great as Max was on the mound, the bottom of the eighth was a terrible nightmare from the deepest recesses of baseball Hell. I was so despondent and angry that I couldn't sleep until well after 1 o'clock AM, and whatever sleep I got was of the fitful variety. I know to some of you, this may sound completely ludicrous, but what can I say? I take this sports stuff pretty seriously sometimes. (Okay, maybe not quite as seriously as the mess our country is currently in--but damned close).

I can barely listen to the replay of the David Ortiz game-tying home run, whether it's the Red Sox or Tigers broadcast, without feeling almost sick to my stomach. I've avoided the sports pages and websites, only feeling some degree of comfort in commiseration with fellow distraught, sorrowful Tiger fans.

By now, the last two innings of the game have been analyzed and rehashed nine ways to Sunday, so I'll refrain from doing that (though I must say I don't fully buy Max Scherzer's contention that he couldn't pitch anymore after the seventh inning. Maybe he is indeed being 100 percent truthful, but part of me thinks he said that to protect his skipper, Jim Leyland).

I just wonder if the Tigers can recover from this. It feels like they lost twice last night, not just once. I suppose since they're professional athletes and do this stuff for a living, they should be able to bounce back better than us fans.

Welcome to the world of post-season baseball. It can be heartbreaking and ulcer-inducing. Fans spend upwards of four hours on pins and needles praying and pleading for their team's success. I suppose the only alternative is to have ones favorite team not good enough to qualify for the playoffs, thereby saving oneself from the pain of playoff defeat. But who really wants that?


Here's the first meme I have ever created, inspired by Torii Hunter's post game quote regarding how much he wanted to win a championship, "I'd die on the field for this." I think maybe I should have chosen a different photo, because this looks unintentionally humorous. This is supposed to celebrate Torii Hunter's grit and guts in trying to catch Ortiz's home run and flipping upside down over the fence in the process.

I hope the Tiger players can use this as inspiration in the next games of the American League Championship Series.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

2013 Dino Dash is in the bag...and how 'bout them Tigers?

I ran my second ever 5K this past Sunday: the MSU Federal Credit Union Dinosaur Dash on the Michigan State University campus. The bad news is I didn't run it in under 30 minutes like I wanted, but the good news is I was nine seconds faster than I was at Ele's Race back in July, and the Dino Dash course was more challenging than Ele's Race.

I might have also run a little faster if I HADN'T run in the "over 30 minute" race and found myself having to pass walkers for the first half mile. Provided I can continue to at least run at my current pace, if not improve somewhat by next year, I think I'll run in the "under 30" minute race next year, so that I can at least give myself a little more room to move. All the jackrabbits will be far ahead of me, and I won't have to negotiate my way through a huge crowd.

Still, I have to be realistic: I'm never going to be a speed demon, but I do think a sub-30 minute 5k is doable. That'll give me a goal to shoot for next year.

***

The Tigers are playing game five of their American League Divisional Series against Oakland. The game is about to start, and of course I'm nervous. Why should I be nervous about a game involving millionaire professional athletes? Well, I feel like the Tigers are MY millionaire ballplayers.

Anyway, I love my Tigers and will be rooting for them tonight. Justin Verlander is on the mound and, though he has struggled this year, these are the types of situations on which he thrives.


Friday, October 4, 2013

Our country is a clusterf***, music stores these days s***, and more Breaking Bad crap

Let me begin by mentioning how utterly embarrassed I am to be an American right now. Our Congress is a three-ring circus, and I'm disgusted with how our elected officials are holding American citizens hostage while they engage in their pissing match.

I just read this great quote from Bill Maher: "What could be more reasonable than losing an election by 5 million votes and then demanding the President to govern as they would, or else shut the government down and not pay our bills?"

Well said, Mr. Maher.

What credibility does the United States have in trying to get other nations like Iran and Afghanistan to embrace our form of democracy if we can't even take care of our own backyard?

***

I was just thinking of how much I miss real record stores: places like Tower Records, WhereHouse Records, even Harmony House. Yes, I'm mentioning the old chain record stores, but they have become such a thing of the past that I feel intensely nostalgic about them.

As I know I've mentioned before in this blog, I don't like downloading music. I know the lure of it, the convenience of it, but it does nothing for me at an emotional, visceral level. For me, the entire experience of music is ritualistic, emotional, tactile. I like browsing through bins, looking at album and cd covers. I even get a huge high tearing the cellophane off a new cd and the often times frustrating chore of tearing off the thin security sticker, and the high-pitched sound the sticky tape makes as it is torn from the plastic jewel case.

Downloading music offers none of this ritual, and therefore offers very little appeal to me.

But these days, it's so hard to find any decent place that sells physical music. All we have around here is Best Buy, Schuler Books & Music, Meijer, and a few small stores in East Lansing: Flat, Black, & Circular and The Record Lounge. I rarely have a chance to make it to the small indie stores in East Lansing, and the other larger retailers that still stock music tend to have woefully inadequate inventories.

In short, it sucks.

***

Still thinking about Breaking Bad and its ending. (I apologize to any of my audience who are bored with my yammering about this show). I read a commentator, really just a fan of the show and not a professional critic, say that the point of the show was really more about personal transformation than anything else. This makes sense, and makes me a little embarrassed about my previous Breaking Bad posts in which I missed that completely and only focused on Walter White making fat stacks from meth to give to his family.

***

Well, I'm gonna go ahead and publish what I have right now: warts and all. I may go back and revise later.