February 25, 2009

Good thing no one reads this, or they'd mock me incessantly...

The iTunes Game:

Number of Songs: 1,745
Number of Albums: 115

Most Recently Played Song: "When I Paint My Masterpiece," The Band
Most Played Song: "Where the Bands Are," Bruce Springsteen
Most Recently Added Album: Making Movies, Dire Straits
Most Recently Added Song: "Living On A Thin Line," The Kinks

First Song Alphabetically: "Acadian Driftwood," The Band
Last Song Alphabetically: "Zombie Zoo," Tom Petty
Smallest Song Numerically: "4 Minute Warning," Radiohead
Largest Song Numerically: "57 Channels," Bruce Springsteen

Shortest Song: "Maggie Mae," The Beatles
Longest Song: "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out [Live]," Bruce Springsteen
First Album Alphabetically: After the Gold Rush, Neil Young
Last Album Alphabetically: Working on a Dream, Bruce Springsteen

First Band Alphabetically: AC/DC
Last Band Alphabetically: ZZ Top

First Ten Songs That Pop Up On Shuffle:
"Cool It Down," Velvet Underground
"Take Me To The River," Talking Heads
"No Dancing," Elvis Costello & the Attractions
"Mr. Feathers," Elvis Costello & the Imposters
"The Imposter," Elvis Costello & the Attractions
"Any Way You Want It," Journey
"Don't Look Back," Bruce Springsteen
"Everywhere," Fleetwood Mac
"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," The Band
"Papa Hobo," Paul Simon

(Disclaimer: This was actually fun. Making lists usually is.)

February 24, 2009

Same Old, Same Old

All this talk about steroids got me thinking about 1908.

And by that I mean the 1908 baseball season, which apparently was the greatest in the game's history. If you don't believe me, read Crazy '08 by Cait Murphy.

Despite having a horrifically bad title, this book does a marvelous job of illustrating not only that wonderful season but the historical backdrop against which it took place. You may not be aware of this, but 100 years ago, life was ridiculously different. There was no TV, radio or airplanes. Vaudeville was all the entertainment rage, even inviting players to do monologues or bits in the offseason, but most people couldn't afford it. They were too busy breaking their backs on a farm or dying slowly in a coal mine.

It was not a big deal for a pitcher to throw over 300 innings a year, and if you didn't have a few dozen complete games, you probably weren't very good (in 2008, except for CC Sabathia and Roy Halladay, no one threw more than five). Players like Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb and Christy Mathewson were some of the bigger names, and the famed double-play trio of "Tinker to Evers to Chance" was leading the then-good Chicago Cubs to World Series after World Series. Hell, Babe Ruth wasn't even around yet.

To put it simply, although the rules of the game itself were not much different, the conditions were almost foreign. A team playing "out west," for example, was the St. Louis Cardinals. However, even in this stranger, simpler time, rules in both the social and legal sense were being broken constantly, and often, in much more serious fashion than today.

For one thing, racism certainly reared its ugly head. Cobb, one of the game's premier players, was a well-known asshole to almost everyone he met, minorities especially. A Cuban player named Luis Padron was invited and then sent home from Chicago White Sox spring training in 1908 for being "too dark". Black teams would often defeat the major league teams in exhibition games, and still, no thought at all was given to integration. Although the struggles Jackie Robinson went through were well-documented and ample, one wonders if the absolute indifference of baseball in general towards including black players is even more of a slap in the face.

Even more prevalent were issues with gambling. Everyone knows of the Black Sox scandal of 1919, but around this time period, professional con men and other hustlers were making their presence felt in ballparks around the East Coast. And with the low, low salaries players were making, a lot of them were finally starting to listen. A particular, popular player named Hal Chase with the New York Yankees eventually grew a reputation as the most corrupt player in baseball, and he was just the first of many.

Now, as long as sports are played by human beings and not robots, there will be cultural, economic and political controversies amongst the players, owners, and everyone else involved in the game. However, the most interesting part of Murphy's book, by far, is the reaction of baseball's leadership to these problems. Much like Bud Selig and others turned a blind eye to the events of the late 1990's and early 2000's, 1908 and the subsequent years featured baseball refusing to clean itself up, until the Black Sox forced the owners to appoint a commissioner and turn the game's image around.

In a very revealing quote on a separate issue, Murphy notes "how mendacious the game can be in the pursuit of what it sees as its interests -- a tradition that shows no signs of changing." Written before A-Rod's confession and Selig's assertions that he has done well by the game despite all of this, it is an apt description of the general stances baseball has taken throughout the years. It seems fair to say that the policy has been to sweep any and all damaging material under the rug, no matter how bulky and piled-up that material may get over time. Even if the shit will inevitably hit the fan, delaying such matters is always Plan A. So far, no Plan B has been determined, but if the end result is "profit", no one in charge seems to mind.

As Murphy says near the end of the book, "Integrity is something that needs to be maintained, not just asserted, a distinction lost on baseball's magnates." For quite a while, baseball has paraded itself as a game to the public and as a business to its owners and players, and despite similar stances from other sports leagues, they've done a particularly boneheaded job of it. If the Mitchell Report is this generation's Black Sox scandal, though, maybe baseball is showing that it could care less. That was supposed to tear the fabric of the game apart, and all it's doing is taking down Roger Clemens. Maybe that is the difference between 1908 and 2009 -- back then, people actually took this to heart.

Which is probably a compliment to our generation, as none of this really matters. Complaining about A-Rod just fills time on ESPN and column space on ESPN.com. I've yet to find anyone who responded to this story and didn't say either, "Good, he's an asshole," or "I don't really care." If you aren't a Yankees fan, I can't see how it would really affect you. I just think it's interesting to note that, even though ESPN and other sports commentators would have you believe that it's the most awful thing to ever happen, as if A-Rod was some kind of savior that we all adored, there have been assholes, cheaters and lowlifes occupying the baseball diamond and the owner's box for over 100 years. If one of your favorites is suddenly unmasked to be one, well, join the club.

February 3, 2009

Working on Working on a Dream

Disclaimer: Any album from Bruce Springsteen > 99% of the world's music.

Yes, even Human Touch.

With that in mind, Working on a Dream is not very good. It has some wonderful songs - as I've said, "My Lucky Day" is one of the best songs he's put out this decade, with a message of hope and a reassurance that, even though he's 'lost all the other bets he's made,' this one is right on the money.

The title track is also infused with that same sense of hope that every reviewer is drawing from the album, and although its national unveiling at the Super Bowl was the only moderately hokey aspect of an otherwise stellar show, its lyrics are another example of the simple yet passionate connection that Springsteen has been able to force with his audience.

"Good Eye" seems to have been designed as an excellent counterpart to the full band "Reason to Believe," and both "The Last Carnival" and "The Wrestler" are slow, touching album closers that pay tribute to a fallen E Streeter and a fallen (presumably) cinematic wrestling superstar, respectively.

That's five songs that matter, and honestly, they're the only ones. "Kingdom of Days" sounds like Bruce has finally, albeit unsatisfyingly, captured one of the "Girls in Their Summer Clothes" (perhaps with the painfully repetitious 'I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you I do') and "Tomorrow Never Knows" is a happy little ditty promoting the now-positive uncertainties of the future. They're the next two best songs, and neither is all that memorable (although any time Bruce releases what sounds like an uplifting tune is a good thing).

And then we reach the dregs. "Outlaw Pete," as an example, uses its bloated length to disguise a lazy story (and apparently, a hidden Kiss song). It's a cowboy version of "Rocky Raccoon," if Springsteen suddenly decided to take "Rocky" way too seriously. "What Love Can Do" sounds like a Rising reject, "Surprise, Surprise" is a catchy song - if 40% of the lyrics were more than just the word 'surprise' - and the two songs with "Life" in the title have the dubious distinction of sounding nothing alike while somehow remaining indistinguishable.

And "Queen of the Supermarket" is just awful. Bruce has only said 'fuck,' to the best of my knowledge, twice in his studio career. Once was on "Reno," which was on Devils and Dust, so it made more sense to be edgy. But this time, it seems like he's flailing lyrically, in an attempt to grab the attention of listeners who've already moved on. It's a song that the Springsteen haters have been waiting for, a misguided attempt to recapture the topics of his youth. Born to Run is over, and we've all moved on - hinting at his past like this can only cause trouble.

I understand where Bruce is going with this album - I'd say it's a two-pronged assault. First, he ended up writing some tunes, post-Magic, with a more optimistic outlook on the future, and in conjunction with the new hope that was/is Barack Obama, he saw a quick album release as a chance to voice his newly strengthened opinion. Second, he no longer holds his outtakes, and himself, to the unfathomable standards of the 1970s.

I own and love Tracks, as I've stated before - there are probably 12-15 absolutely unbelievable songs on there, stuff that could have hit the charts, and stuff that even his more mainstream fans would adore. But it didn't fit into what he was trying to do, and so, for so many years, it never saw the light of day. But now, as he gets older, he seems to understand that getting himself out there, whether its the Super Bowl halftime show, the lead slot at Bonnaroo, a worldwide tour or another album release, is the most important thing. That there's a place for everything he's written, and there are millions of fans who want to give it a shot, whatever it is.

And that he's getting older. With Danny Federici dying, the world probably seems a lot more real to the E Street Band. The clock is ticking, and each tour, and album, could be their last. Bruce has found love, he's mellowed, he's taken his rightful place as a rock legend and overseer of anything political or cultural that he deems worthy of his time. More than ever, he has something to say, and I think that's why Working on a Dream is on shelves right now, and why I'll be seeing the man at least three or four times on tour in April, and why, at almost age 60, he's hopping on pianos and smashing his junk into a video camera on the world's biggest stage - he might as well.

You can't fault the man for that; again, like I've said before, 'the more we get, the better.' Working on a Dream could have ended up being the biggest piss album of all time, but if it offered one more song to slide into my Bruce rotation, it would be worth it. And it gave me five, so there you go. Release a half-dozen more albums before you go, Bruce. And while you're expanding the library a bit, how about a little "Be True" or "So Young and In Love" at the concerts in 2009? To most people, they're as good as new, anyway.

Objective rating for Working on a Dream: C+
Subjective rating for Working on a Dream: B
Bruce Springsteen's approval rating, in general: Eternal A+