Saturday, April 9, 2005

MORE THAN ADEQUATE COVERAGE: In the hopes of starting a new semi-recurring feature around here, I'm proud to give you installment #1 of a variant of iTunes' iMix feature. Basically, I'm going to provide 10-15 tracks organized around a common theme of some sort, some of which you've probably heard of, others, not so much. The first theme? Cover songs--this is a collection of 15 covers that in some way reinvent the song and (usually) improve on it. Song title links take you to iTunes (unless noted as linking to Amazon).
  1. 10,000 Maniacs, "Because The Night," from "MTV Unplugged." The Maniacs cover a song previously recorded by Patti Smith and written by Patti Smith and the Boss himself. Natalie Merchant's delivery couples with a quiet piano carrying the melody in the verse, and then, on the chorus, Merchant lets loose. It reminds me of why I bought Merchant's first two solo records, and makes me wonder what happened to her. (Amazon)
  2. Shawn Colvin, "Every Little Thing (He) Does Is Magic," from "Cover Girl." Sting's peppy love song from "Ghost In The Machine" gets slowed down, unplugged, and slightly Vegas-loungified by folk-rocker Colvin. The truly scary thing? It works, brilliantly.
  3. David Wilcox, "Missing You," from "Big Horizon." You've assuredly heard the 80s version of this by rocker John Waite, in which he almost screams "I ain't missing you at all!" as a seeming declaration of independence. Wilcox's version transforms the song from the angry version of Waite into a lament--it feels more like he's trying to persuade himself that what he's saying is true, giving added emphasis to the remark in the song "I can lie to myself."
  4. Annie Lennox, "A Whiter Shade of Pale," from "Medusa." The whole "Medusa" album is covers, but this is probably the one that is strongest and best known. What we think of a soul ballad is turned into a quasi-electronic piece that plays up the song's strange quasi-symbolism and lets Lennox show off her vocal chops.
  5. Barenaked Ladies, "Lovers In A Dangerous Time," from "Greatest Hits, Volume 1." Leave aside the gorgeously pretty vocal track, this is an example of the Barenaked Ladies not clowning around, but showing off their real and substantial musical chops, with gorgeous piano and drum fills carrying along a loping rhythm. It's like they're sitting in the dressing room jamming and you get to listen. Wonderful.
  6. Jessica Riddle, "Sadly Beautiful," from "Key of A Minor." You've probably never heard of the album, much less the obscure cover of a Replacements song that appears on it. Shame. Riddle takes a song meant to be sung to a child, and turns it into a song about a child, and about herself, making it about her own fears of abandonment. The whole album's great, and foreshadows recent pop developments (the reemergence of the female singer/songwriter).
  7. Jewel, "Have A Little Faith in Me," from "Phenomenon: Motion Picture Soundtrack." This song is so good that even Mandy Moore's version of it is good. Jewel's voice and her acoustic guitar plea for your love and attention--and at the end, you want to believe in her, to believe with her. (Amazon)
  8. Israel "Iz" Kamakawiwo'ole, "Somewhere Over The Rainbow/What A Wonderful World," from "Facing Future." Yes, it's the song Mark Greene died to. Leave that aside. Any time someone sings "Over The Rainbow," they're dwelling in the shadow of "The Wizard of Oz" and of Judy Garland. That's a long shadow, and this is the only cover I can think of that makes it beyond there. The gently strumming ukelele, coupled with the almost whispered vocal, makes this a classic.
  9. Amy Ray of Indigo Girls, "Romeo & Juliet," from "Rites of Passage." Neither this one nor the original Dire Straits version (from "Making Movies" (my bad!)) ever got too terribly much airplay on the radio. Knopfler's version has its charms, with his dark and raspy delivery, but, to me, Ray's cover is superior--you hear her pour out her soul, pleading for her "Juliet" to come back to her, and that passion transforms the song.
  10. Dixie Chicks, "Landslide," from "Home." The biggest radio hit on the list, both in its original version and in this cover, but don't let that make you think the song isn't any good. The Chicks' version adds a banjo intro to the track, and adds a slight loping bluegrass edge to the quintessential pop song, and again, it works, almost perfectly.
  11. Everclear, "Brown Eyed Girl," from "Songs From An American Movie, Volume 1, Learning How To Smile." This one doesn't exceed the original (a tough task, since IMHO, the original is one of the few close-to-perfect songs out there) but brings a charming indie-rock jangle to the Van Morrison classic. The whole album is actually an underappreciated gem, particularly the funny and sarcastic track "Unemployed Boyfriend."
  12. Fiona Apple, "Across The Universe," from "Pleasantville: Motion Picture Soundtrack." Almost the opposite of the veritable trainwreck at this year's Grammys, Apple's ethereal voice carries the cover at though you're in a smoky jazz club, bridging the gap between the modern era and the past perfectly, and serving the film ideally. (Amazon)
  13. Frou Frou, "Holding Out For A Hero," from "Shrek 2: Motion Picture Soundtrack." I didn't like "Shrek 2" much. That said, this cover is just wonderful, particularly the half a cappella/half electronic intro of nonsense syllables strung together. The cover takes the cheesy 80s classic from "Footloose" and brings it into the 21st century. And that's an achievement.
  14. Tori Amos, "I Don't Like Mondays," from "Strange Little Girls." Tori is a strange little girl herself, and this cover of the Boomtown Rats' classic about a school shooting works perfectly for her, letting her creepy side show. Part of my love for the song stems from its use over the closing scenes of a great episode of West Wing, but it's still great.
  15. Toby Lightman, "Operator (That's Not The Way It's Supposed To Be)," from "Everwood Television Soundtrack." Except for an extended mix of Blake Neely's beautiful orchestral theme song and Jump, Little Children's "Cathedrals," the entire "Everwood" soundtrack is contemporary artists covering 60s-70s classics, and Lightman's cover of Jim Croce's old song is one of the high points. Lightman's whole debut album ("Little Things") is gorgeous too--demonstrating that she's, at least in my view, a talent comparable to Joss Stone, who, y'know, we love around here.
Thread below's open for what I missed or disagreements on the subject.
IT MADE MY PANTS ALARM GO OFF: To cope with the bad news that "Boston Legal" will not be returning until "the fall," and in a to be determined timeslot (please, Mondays at 10, where there's literally nothing worth watching on right now), and in a display of nostalgia, I picked up "Doogie Howser, M.D." on DVD this afternoon. I'd remembered that Steven Bochco had been involved, but had forgotten that David E. Kelley co-created. (Though when one thinks about it, the show has all the hallmarks of Kelley's quirk.) Leaving aside the ludicrous premise about a boy genius doctor, what you have is a comedy series with surprising pathos and insight into the practice of medicine, coupled with actually, pretty good acting all around. It's also particularly appropriate this weekend, where James B. Sikking (Douglas Howser, Sr.) makes his return to movie screens in "Fever Pitch,"which I hadn't realized has a sufficiently interesting supporting cast (Lenny Clarke, Ione Skye, and Marissa Jaret Winokur, in addition to Sikking) that I'm actually tempted to go see it. (In another bizarre twist, a mustachioed Neil Flynn, now known as "The Janitor" on "Scrubs," "Doogie"s clearest progeny, shows up in the "Doogie" pilot as a cop who doesn't trust Doogie to save an accident victim.)
UNIFIED BLOG THEORY: Okay, so the WSJ reported yesterday on McDonald's declining share of the breakfast market. Interesting piece -- they're losing ground to Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts, among others.

For our purposes, just go to the last paragraph:
Terrance Harmon, a 27-year-old MBA student at the University of Chicago, said he used to go to McDonald's for breakfast but came to prefer Dunkin' Donuts coffee. Now he likes Dunkin' Donuts' breakfast sandwiches better than McDonald's because 'they just feel healthier,' he said.

Gee, I wonder which particular McDonald's location made him feel unclean.

One also has to wonder if the McGriddle might make one feel a little less than healthy.

Friday, April 8, 2005

"I STILL THINK WE HAVE A CHANCE TO WIN": Warning to TiVo users: Spoilers from last night's Survivor follow.

It's probably been at least a couple of years since I got excited before watching episodes of Survivor, but this season makes me remember what it was like to be young. Or something like that. As Miss Alli has said, part of the reason is the fact that the show cast a bunch of people who don't suck. In fact, although one tribe lost literally every immunity challenge, there was a remarkable lack of bickering. That's probably because the four strongest tribe members -- and four of the last five remaining, James excepted -- set the tone by largely taking responsibility themselves and refusing to whine. Moreover, those four were both utterly guileless and apparently competent, at at least the physical challenges. As a result, it was hard not to get emotionally invested in their quixotic reaches for immunity; they just seemed more likeable than their opponents (a more traditional tribe with three agreeable optimists, a stereotypically bitchy gay man, and four women and an old man who did and said nothing for the first eight weeks of the season).

The last minute of this week's episode might have been the funniest non-Arrested Development thing I saw on television this year. Over the eliminated contestant's gracious valediction, we saw a montage of the contestant: spasticly floundering into the water where a dive would have done better; haplessly stuffing his cheeks with partially-gestated ducklings with a sad resigned look on his brow; crazily attacking his campsite chores; and finally realizing that he was getting eliminated by the only person in his tribe who was better at the game than he was. As Spacewoman pointed out, Bobby Jon became the first person to be eliminated from Survivor without being voted out, quitting, or suffering an grotesque injury to his hands.

It was so good, in fact, that it makes my list of the top three (okay, four) heartbreaking eliminations in my reality TV viewing:
1. Kevin and Drew, TAR1
2. Bobby Jon, Survivor Palau
3. (tie) Momily, TAR1
4. (tie) Lena & Kris, TAR6
I'm sure you have other lists.
THIS LIST SHOULD GO TO 11: British music mag Mojo recently picked its own list of the top rock 'n' roll movies.
THIS LIST NEEDS TO PURIFY ITSELF IN LAKE MINNETONKA: Is this critic's list truly the ten best rock movies ever made?
PREVIOUSLY, ON THE WEST WING: Now, I haven't been the most loyal viewer this season, but can some please explain the logic -- and plausibility -- of having as your Vice Presidential nominee a divorced recovering Valium addict and alcoholic (who had a major relapse the night before a Presidential debate when he couldn't say no to Johnny Walker Blue from potential campaign donors) who once served as Secretary of Labor and has lots of experience as a political operative, including being a central figure in the coverup that almost derailed the previous Administration, but has no geographic base or direct experience as a candidate for election to any office whatsoever, and, as Finch reminds us in the Comments (and I forgot), recently had a heart attack?

Thursday, April 7, 2005

YES, BUT WHERE'S HIS OFFICER KRUPKE HAT? Fear not, SCOTUS junkies -- Bobbin' Head Nino is on its way.

Up next: Justice Kennedy.
HOT POTATO, COLD CASH: Sorry Nicole and Russell, when it comes to rich Aussies, there's a new shrimp on the barbie--Jeff, Greg, Murray and Anthony. The Wiggles topped the list of Australia's richest entertainers taking in an obscene 45 million Aussie dollars in 2004, up from 14 million the year before. Even taking into account new T-shirts every day and paying the salaries of Wags, Dorothy and Captain Featherswords, that's a lot of green, mate. Rounding out the top five were the aforementioned Kidman and Crowe, AC/DC, and Naomi Watts.

And as an aside, is there any greater day in a parents' life than when a child outgrows a show that you are not very fond of? Of course, I now know more about Pokemon and Dora than I ever imagined, but I no longer have to deal with "Wake Up, Jeff!"

And one another aside, it pains me that my kids have never embraced Sesame Street, but the Elmo-dominated program isn't the trippy, hippie show of my youth anyways. I happened to stumble across Grover's guest appearance on The Jimmy Kimmel Show the other night and thought the under-utilized blue monster tossed off a great jibe at fellow guest Tim Daly, who previous to the break was complaining about the Street being the cause of ADD and cutting down Grover by asking "What kind of animal is he?" (Answer, you dope, no kind of animal--he's a monster). Anyway, Grover comes out, turns to Daly, the erstwhile Wings star, and deadpans, "I loved you in Sideways."

edited to add: The Comments thread here has expanded into a discussion of our worst abuses of pop culture knowledge in academic writings. Join us. (-A.B.)

Wednesday, April 6, 2005

WE WEREN'T KIDDING: This is, indeed, a bad week to be the head of a tiny European principality.

In case you're keeping track, as Mark Wade reminds us, still among the living (but checking on their life insurance policies) are Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein, Andorran co-princes Bishop Joan Enric Vives SicĂ­lia and French president Jacques Chirac, and, finally, in Cymru, better known as the Principality of Wales, we've got the Prince of Wales, a gentleman named Charles Philip Arthur George Mountbatten-Windsor, who, having been stripped of his National Hockey League duties in 1993, generally stays out of the headlines.
YOU ALWAYS SAID THEY'D MEET AGAIN SOME DAY: Coming to movie theaters in 2006: Pretty in Pink II, as John Hughes reunites with Molly Ringwald, Jon Cryer and Andrew McCarthy to see what happens twenty years later, to see if Blaine -- who always believed in Andie -- still believes in himself. Or something.

This is an awful, awful idea, and all I can do is imagine the voiceovers during the trailer . . .
  • She's back, and she's prettier. But is she still pink?
  • She touched you once. Now, in 2006, Molly Ringwald will touch you a second time.
  • He's tired of trying a little tenderness. In 2006, Duckie wants revenge. This time, we won't screw up the ending . . .
  • In a world (blah blah blah) . . . one man
No word on Spader. But do you think Annie Potts might be available?

edited to add: nevermind. April Fools joke. As another blogger noted, "Just a thought: If ComingSoon.net had actually run it’s fake story on April Fool’s Day (as I believe is the custom for April Fool’s Day gags), maybe more people would’ve gotten the joke."
CARL LEWIS, YOU NOW HAVE A RIVAL: Video now available -- and, worse, audio, of Gov. Ed Rendell singing the National Anthem at a Sixers-Celtics game.

Say, who's normally #21 on that Patriots jersey Ed is wearing?
$50 ON "HOLY GRAIL" TO THE ELITE 8: In case our NCAA tourney pool didn't spark enough bracket-related program activities, it's time for the comedy tournament over at MSNBC. I end up with a final four of "Some Like It Hot," "Princess Bride," "South Park," and "Groundhog Day," with "Groundhog Day" and "Princess Bride" squaring off in a final, won by "Groundhog Day" because it's funnier. Particularly nasty matches in my bracket pitted "Rushmore" against "Groundhog Day" for the championship in the "SNL Alumni" region, "Some Like It Hot" edging "The Producers" for the "classic" championship, as well as "Some Like It Hot" having a squeaker victory in the Sweet Sixteen against "Annie Hall," and a number of nasty and close first round matches, including "Big Lebowski" vs. "Meet The Parents," "Spaceballs" vs. "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," "Broadcast News" vs. "When Harry Met Sally," "Election" vs. "Office Space," and "High Fidelity" vs. "A Christmas Story." (FWIW, I picked the first in ech of those battles.) In the words of Tony Kornheiser, who ya got?

Hat tip to Daniel Radosh for the link.
FEAR LEADS TO ANGER, ANGER LEADS TO HATE, HATE LEADS TO LINING UP IN THE WRONG PLACE: Y'know the line to see Star Wars Episode III that's in L.A.? The one in front of Mann's Chinese Theatre? There's just one little problem with it--barring a major change in plans from theatre management and from Fox, the movie won't be showing there. Yep, a bunch of folks, all of whom can likely tell you the life story of Boba Fett and explain the lengthy digestive processes of the dreaded Sarlacc, have proven unable to line up in the right place.
LET'S GO CRAZY, BROADWAY STYLE! There's no need for my own analysis of last night's Idol when Ann Althouse covered it so well:
Constantine Maroulis totally comes out as an actor who's studied Broadway -- and loves Frank Sinatra. It's 'My Funny Valentine.' He's shackled by a crazy, busy arrangement that fights against him. But he's just darling. Paula standing Os. Randy loves him: 'This is what you should be doing, dude.' Get in that box, Con! Paula: 'I admit I'm falling in love with you.' Simon: 'The best pouting performance I have ever seen on 'American Idol.'' Translation: they know they've found a sexy, sensitive-yet-masculine guy.

I missed Mikalah this week. "Adelaide's Lament"? "Mama I'm A Big Girl Now"?
STILL COOCOO FOR COCOA PUFFS: In happy news, this report indicates that "Boston Legal" will return for a second season in the fall (alongside renewals of "Desperate Housewives," "Lost," and "Alias"). Interestingly, another report (from a less reliable source) confirms the return of some cast members, it makes no mention of whether Candice Bergen, Mark Valley, and Rene Auberjonois will return for a second season. If I were a betting man, Valley and Monica Potter may be on the chopping block, given that they've recently had difficulty finding storylines for them, a problem that may be heightened by the need to write into or around Potter's pregnancy. That takes one show off the bubble, but leaves a number of shows I watch, including "AD," "Jack & Bobby," and "Joan of Arcadia" stedfastly on the bubble, with the ax likely to swing for at least one of them.

PEOPLE ALL OVER THE WORLD: In case you missed it, Isaac's essay of Black Sabbath's merits for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame gradually veered into a discussion of whether Bill James' "Keltner List" could be modified for such purposes, and, if so, how 2005 nominees The O'Jays would fare. Loyal reader and resident musicologist Bob Elwood took up the challenge:

Adam had suggested that I analyze whether the O’Jays belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame using the so-called “Keltner” list, which is usually used to evaluate whether a given baseball player belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The “Keltner” list was developed by famous baseball analyst Bill James in his 1985 Bill James Baseball Abstract. Adam was kind enough to adapt the questions on the list so they make more sense for a musical artist.

1. Were the O’Jays ever regarded as the best band in pop music? Did anybody, while they were active, ever suggest that the O’Jays were the best band in pop music?

I think you have to answer this one no. Then again, we might want to ask Justin Timberlake for his opinion.

2. Were the O’Jays ever the best band in pop music in their genre?

An intriguing question. From 1972 through 1989, the O’Jays put together a string of ten songs that went to #1 on the R&B charts, five of which hit the top 10 on the Billboard charts. Four of these hits are masterpieces that have truly stood the test of time: “Backstabbers” (#1, R&B, #3 pop, 1972), “Love Train” (#1 R&B, #1 pop, 1973), “For the Love of Money” (#3 R&B, #9 pop, 1974), and “I Love Music” (#1 R&B, #5 pop, 1975).

Let’s stipulate that the relevant genre is 1970’s soul music, prior to disco. Are there other solid contenders to claiming the top spot in that genre? The Spinners had only 6 #1 songs on the R&B charts. Although they had more songs hit the pop charts than the O’Jays did, both groups had the same number of top ten pop hits. More importantly, I think the O’Jays have stood the test of time better than the Spinners.

The Stylistics? Betcha by golly, no.

The Delfonics? They didn’t blow my mind this time.

The Isley Brothers? This old heart of mine just isn’t going to pick them over the O’Jays. Anyway, the Isleys are already in the Hall.

The Chi-Lites? Have you seen them? Tell me have you see them?

Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes? Bad luck, that’s what they got, that’s what they got.

The Manhattans? Let’s just kiss and say no way.

The Average White Band? Go ahead and cut the cake, but the O’Jays were better.

The Staple Singers are another strong challenger. Frankly, I’d take the opening of “I’ll Take You There” over any segment of the O’Jays music. But I’ll give the nod to the men from Canton, Ohio on the basis of their entire body of work. By the way, the Staple Singers are already in the Hall.

Three solo artists are clearly superior to the O’Jays in this genre. All three are already in the Hall of Fame and two of them are generally considered geniuses: James Brown, Stevie Wonder, and Al Green.

So I guess I would say that if we limit this question to bands, we can answer yes, but if we include solo artists, the O’Jays rank fourth.

3. Did the O’Jays have an impact on a number of other bands?

The O’Jays were one of the earliest and most successful of the “Philly sound” bands. The “Philly sound” clearly had a huge impact on many other bands. But most people give credit for the success of that sound to the various producers, writers, and arrangers, notably Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff, Gene McFadden, John Whitehead, and Thom Bell. This is a chicken and egg problem. I am inclined to say that the O’Jays had an important impact on other bands, but not a profound one.

Do we get to count Gerald Levert’s success here? I need “closure.”

4. Were the O’Jays good enough that they could play regularly after passing their prime?

The O’Jays formed in 1958, nearly 50 years ago. Their first hit was in 1963 and their most recent hit was just last year (2004’s “Make Up”, which hit #74). They had #1 hits spanning a 17-year period. They deserve a yes on #4.

5. Are the O’Jays the very best band in history that is not in the Hall of
Fame?


I don’t have the energy to do this systematically, but, much as I love the O’Jays, I doubt that they are the very best band in history that is not in the Hall. Not sure who I would place ahead of them, though.

6 Are most bands who have comparable records in the Hall of Fame?

I more or less covered this in #2 and I think you would have to say yes on this question.

7. Do the band's records meet Hall of Fame standards?

I bet that the average inductee had more Top 40 Billboard hits than the O’Jays had, but the O’Jays are in the right ballpark. The O’Jays clearly had more Top 40 hits than many inductees.

8. Is there any evidence to suggest that the band was significantly better or worse than is suggested by its records?

Well, there was that period when Eddie Levert lost three full seasons because he was in the Air Force during the Korean war (joke).

9. Is it the best band in its genre who is eligible for the Hall of Fame?

Yes. See #2.

10. How many #1 singles/gold records did the O’Jays have? Did they ever win a Grammy award? If not, how many times were the O’Jays nominated?

One song hit #1 on the Billboard charts.

Ten songs hit #1 on the R&B charts. Six gold singles. One album hit #1 on the pop album charts. Four albums hit #1 on the so-called “black charts.” At least four gold albums. Not a single damned Grammy award (not sure if they were ever nominated).

11. How many Grammy-level songs/albums did the O’Jays have? How many Rolling Stone covers did they appear on? Did most of the bands who played in this many Rolling Stone covers go into the Hall of Fame?

Let’s just say that I believe that artists in the O’Jays genre are under-represented on Rolling Stone covers.

12. If this band was the best band at a concert, would it be likely that the concert would rock?

Hell, yeah! They are a wicked good band in concert.

13. What impact did the band have on rock history? Was it responsible for any stylistic changes? Did it introduce any new equipment? Did it change history in any way?

See # 2. I don’t think we can really say much on this subject.

14. Did the band uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?

No major scandals as far as I know. During one concert, I saw Eddie Levert invite an attractive woman in the audience to participate in some “affectionate” behavior with him. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Conclusion: The O’Jays deserve positive answers on nearly all of the “Keltner” list questions. INDUCT.

And, indeed, they were inducted this year.

If you have a band you'd like to run the Keltner List on, email it to me. Any suggestions for further modifications of the List? Bring it on.

RACE RERUN; LOST LOST: If, like the Spacehold, you TiVo both Amazing Race and Lost, giving the former preference on your to-do list, then remember to override your preferences (assuming you would rather have a new Lost than a clip-show Race). The two conflict tomorrow. if you don't, the title of this post will summarize your "now playing" list on Thursday morning.

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

SHOW YOUR TEATS? Watching this week's Amazing Race, I was reminded -- as were you, I'm sure -- of this weekend's episode of This American Life, which highlighted the work of Dr. John Gottman in determing what makes long-term relationships work.

In short -- if you missed the show and haven't read Blink yet (and, Sideshow Malcolm, you've stolen my look) -- Gottman sits down couples and asks them to speak, for fifteen minutes, about a topic on which they disagree. After those 15 minutes, he can determine with an 85% accuracy rate whether that couple will stay together for five years. Turns out, it isn't what couples argue about that matters, or how often they argue, but how they argue: couples that demonstrate defensiveness, stonewalling, criticism, and especially contempt for each other during their fights aren't likely to last. (And those that can still laugh while they're in trouble, and listen to each other's grievances and respond? More likely to end up okay.)

Ron and Kelly, I'm looking at you.

[remainder of conversation moved to the Comments on Matt's post, since he got here first.]
RACE JUDICATA: Tonight's Race generates questions--is there a limit to producers' generosity when it comes to new vehicles? Was the penalties imposed on two teams appropriate and necessary in light of the circumstance? Aside from that penalty and the repeated breakdowns that a team suffered, we're left with a generally "meh" hour aside from the last team to arrive going out with dignity and some clever strategy from a team concerned about the impact of a non-elimination leg. Discuss. (And, yeah, I've been waiting for a chance to use that title.)
THIS ISN'T A GOOD MONTH TO BE A FAMOUS PERSON: Saul Bellow, the Nobel Prize-winning Jewish novelist most famous to Gen X'ers for having once been used as a ruse to lure Rabbi Herschel Krustofsky to a lunch at Izzy's Deli with his son, has passed away at the age of 89.

Said Philip Roth, no slouch himself, "The backbone of 20th-century American literature has been provided by two novelists — William Faulkner and Saul Bellow. Together they are the Melville, Hawthorne, and Twain of the 20th century."

At his Nobel lecture in 1976, Bellow concluded:

The essence of our real condition, the complexity, the confusion, the pain of it is shown to us in glimpses, in what Proust and Tolstoy thought of as "true impressions". This essence reveals, and then conceals itself. When it goes away it leaves us again in doubt. But we never seem to lose our connection with the depths from which these glimpses come. The sense of our real powers, powers we seem to derive from the universe itself, also comes and goes. We are reluctant to talk about this because there is nothing we can prove, because our language is inadequate and because few people are willing to risk talking about it. They would have to say, "There is a spirit" and that is taboo. So almost everyone keeps quiet about it, although almost everyone is aware of it.

The value of literature lies in these intermittent "true impressions". A novel moves back and forth between the world of objects, of actions, of appearances, and that other world from which these "true impressions" come and which moves us to believe that the good we hang onto so tenaciously - in the face of evil, so obstinately - is no illusion.

No one who has spent years in the writing of novels can be unaware of this. The novel can't be compared to the epic, or to the monuments of poetic drama. But it is the best we can do just now. It is a sort of latter-day lean-to, a hovel in which the spirit takes shelter. A novel is balanced between a few true impressions and the multitude of false ones that make up most of what we call life. It tells us that for every human being there is a diversity of existences, that the single existence is itself an illusion in part, that these many existences signify something, tend to something, fulfill something; it promises us meaning, harmony and even justice. What Conrad said was true, art attempts to find in the universe, in matter as well as in the facts of life, what is fundamental, enduring, essential.


For those of us who want to start reading Bellow, where should we start?
...AND KEVIN BACON PLAYED A BASKETBALL COACH IN THE AIR UP THERE: The Minnesota River snakes past the town of Mankato, Minnesota, taking a northeast turn there and heading toward the Twin Cities where it joins up with the Mississippi, which of course flows south eventually reaching St. Louis, site of last night's NCAA men's basketball championship game.

The reason for the quick geography lesson is to illustrate how the ripples of a single coaching change in college basketball can set off a twisting, turning river of moves. In this case the path that starts with the victorious Roy Williams at University of North Carolina leads all the way back up the river to Mankato.

Williams got the Carolina job after Matt Doherty was fired, leaving Kansas University. Kansas then hired Bill Self away from the University of Illinois. The Illini grabbed Bruce Weber from Southern Illinois University. SIU promoted Weber's top assistant, Matt Painter, to the head job and then lured Paul Lusk, the head coach at the University of Dubuque, to fill Painter's position*. Dubuque hired Marty McDermott away from Lake Superior State, which then promoted assistant Mike Fitzner to the head job. To fill Fitzner's spot, LSS hired Brady Larson, who was a graduate assistant at the Minnesota State-Mankato. The trail ends with Austin Hansen, a former sharpshooter from South Dakota State University, who moved into coaching as the graduate assistant at Mankato.

It turns out that Mankato, which is the Dakota Indian word for greenish blue earth, turns out to be not that many shades away from Tar Heel Blue.
VAUGHN MEADER, SLIGHTED AGAIN: The Library of Congress today announced this year's 50 inductees into the National Recording Registry--a class led (in the music category) by the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds," the score to "Star Wars," Public Enemy's "Fear of A Black Planet," and Nirvana's "Nevermind." Prior inductees include Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land," Ray Charles' "What'd I Say," "Sgt. Peppers'," Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On?," Carole King's "Tapestry," Springsteen's "Born to Run," and Grandmaster Flash's "The Message." The Registry also includes sound recordings of speeches by Neil Armstrong, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, and William Jennings Bryan. Then, there are oddities like "The Jesse Walter Fewkes field recordings of the Passamaquoddy Indians," the "Okeh Laughing Record," premiere broadcasts of "The Grand Ole Opry" and "A Prarie Home Companion," and "Recordings of Asian elephants by Katharine Payne." Reading the items that are in is worth a few minutes of your time.
JUST DON'T TAKE AWAY MY "NCIS:" In news sure to bring tears to the eyes of all 9.8 million people who are still watching it, "JAG" will end its 10-season run at the end of this year. In news sure to cause many readers of this blog to tear up, "JAG" is still watched by about 50% more viewers than watched "Arrested Development" last season, when it averaged 6.18 million viewers.
HIS ONE SHINING MOMENT: Our former co-blogger Scott Claffee of Life, Law, Libido won our NCAA Tournament Pool. Apparently, having NC over Illinois in the finals helped.
GONE IN 8.9 SECONDS: Tonight, Reggie Miller and his ugly-assed teeth will make their last appearance ever in Madison Square Garden.

If that doesn't bring back memories, I feel bad for you. You missed something special.
NERD ALERT: Star Wars 3 merchandise went on sale at midnight last night at the Times Square Toys "R" Us:
Eventually, even the hired costumed characters dropped everything to buy lots and lots of burnt-face Anakin Skywalker toys. Now that was seriously fun. Look, I'm not trying to overplay the significance of buying Star Wars toys, because I was born to usher in a higher understanding of social grace. Still, it's pretty fucking awesome to buy Stormtrooper figures next to real Stormtroopers.

Even f you missed it, you can still order Mr. Potato Head Darth Tater online, as well as the doll that can only be called **NOT REALLY A SPOILER IF YOU'VE SEEN RETURN OF THE JEDI, WHICH WAS TWENTY YEARS AGO** Pregnant Padme. Hey . . . are those twins in there?
IS WAYNE BRADY GOING TO HAVE TO CHOKE HIS RIVALS? Apparently, if your name really is Rick James and you print a lot of signs that say Vote Rick James because you're running for city council, then people will want to steal them.

Go figure. I hear he's going to have President Black Bush campaign on his behalf.

Monday, April 4, 2005

WE ACTUALLY TURNED DOWN THE AWARD FOR CRITICISM: The winners of the 2005 Pulitzers have arrived. Sadly, although Newsday's "serious, energetic and substantive series examining three decades of hip-hop music in American life" was a finalist in the "explanatory reporting" category, it was defeated by the Boston Globe's coverage of the stem cell research debate. Other winners of note include WSJ film critic Joe Morgenstern, Marilynne Robinson's novel Gilead, John Patrick Shanley's play Doubt, and history writing legend David Hackett Fischer for his recent book Washington's Crossing.

Sunday, April 3, 2005

THE FINAL BLOW: As a result of his Super Bowl wager with the Bay State's governor, the Hon. Edward G. Rendell had to engage in a little dress-up at the Fleet Center today, as well as sing the National Anthem -- thankfully, with an assist from his Article III-empowered, opera-trained wife.

updated: sadly, we missed a possible assist from Mo Cheeks.