Thursday, September 29, 2011

Still We Let It Choke Us

So there I was last night, after playing hockey for the first time in five months, standing in the rink parking lot watching my phone for updates from the Sox-Orioles game. Normally, such a game on the last day of the regular season would have little interest to anyone. At the beginning of September, the Red Sox were in first place, up by 1.5 games on the Yankees and nine on the Tampa Bay Rays. Sadly for Boston fans, the Sox completely collapsed in September and went into last night's game tied with Tampa for wild card spot. The Sox needed a win and a Tampa loss to the Yankees to clinch the wild card; if both Boston and Tampa won or lost, they'd remain tied and have to play another game to decide who gets in.

When I got to the rink at 9:45, the Sox were up 3-2 on the Orioles but in a rain delay in the 5th or 6th inning, while the Yankees were up 7-0 on TB. I figured at the very least, the Sox would survive for at least one more day. We skated for 90 minutes and then headed outside, where I found out that the Sox were still up 3-2 in the 9th and the Yankees shockingly had coughed up their lead and were tied 7-7 in the 10th. The Yanks didn't really care about the outcome, having rested many starters and going through 12 pitchers on the night.

So while we stood there drinking beer, a few of us followed the live game updates on our phones. The Sox had a chance to get a few insurance runs in the top of the 9th but couldn't, so it was to closer Jonathan Papelbon to finish off the last-place O's. He struck out the first two batters quickly and had two strikes on Nolan Reimold before giving up a double. Then another double to tie the game. And then a single to lose it. I switched to the TB-NY game to see what was up with that. It was tied 7-7 in the 12th and Tampa's Evan Longoria stepped up to the plate. He hit his second homer of the game, mere minutes after the Sox lost, to clinch the wild card for TB.

It was all quite shocking, to have what seemed like a sure trip to the playoffs evaporate so quickly. The same thing happened to the Atlanta Braves, who lost last night while St. Louis won to steal the NL wild card. Needless to say, there's much shock and dismay in New England. As a Blue Jays fan, I certainly wasn't rooting for Boston, although I was hoping there would be a play-in game tonight.

And now, of course, folks are rehashing famous past Red Sox chokes, from the similar blown lead in 1978 that ended in Bucky Dent's homer into the screen at Fenway to 1986's World Series collapse vs. the Mets to 2003's loss to the Yankees in the ALCS. The championships in 2004 and 2007 take some of the sting out of it for the locals, but this was pretty brutal to watch.

I can relate, as the Jays blew a 3-1 lead vs. Kansas City in the 1985 ALCS before losing to the eventual champs. Then there was 1987, when the Jays had a 3.5-game lead with a week to go in the season and lost seven straight to finish two games behind the Tigers. I was at UNH and watched several of those games on TV, all of which were nailbiters and went down to the last at-bat. It was rough. The Jays had a talented young team and looked to be on the brink of greatness in '85, but just couldn't get over the hump. It wasn't until 1992 that they finally captured a championship, and then won again the following year. But damn, did those '85 and '87 losses really sting.

But Boston fans can turn to the Patriots, who despite losing an ugly game to Buffalo last weekend are pretty exciting, and the defending champion Bruins, who start their season next week. (The NBA's still in lockout mode, so there's little talk about the Celtics right now.) Hope springs eternal, at least for those teams. As for the Sox, it's going to be a long offseason.


Monday, September 26, 2011

Completely Conspicuous 194: Feeling Gravity's Pull

This week, I talk about the legacy left behind by R.E.M., who called it quits last week after 31 years. Listen to the show below or download it directly (right click and "save as").



Show notes:

- First saw R.E.M. on Late Night With David Letterman in 1983

- Stipe stayed in background while Buck and Mills talked to Dave

- Band played UNH in October '86, but I didn't go for some reason

- Started getting regular FM airplay by mid-80s

- More guitars in the mix on Life's Rich Pageant and Document

- "The One I Love" was first big hit

- Sentimental memories of Green

- Saw them play Mansfield, Mass., in 1989

- Early '90s saw R.E.M. become hugely popular

- "Losing My Religion" was everywhere in '91

- Automatic for the People put band on par with U2

- Monster gets unfairly criticized

- Bill Berry left band in '97

- Next three albums had diminishing returns

- Bounced back in last few years with more energized sound

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The show is sponsored by Budget, the country's premier car rental service with 900 locations. Go to Budget.com/CompCon and save 10% off any reservation or $30 off a weekly rental.

The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his fine music blogs Clicky Clicky and Keeping Some Dark Secrets. Thanks to Bob Durling for the album art; find out more about his photography at his blog. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his site PodGeek.

Completely Conspicuous is a Tan God Production. Word.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Old Fangs

Today was a fairly monumental day. Calls to prevent the execution of convicted murderer Troy Davis in Georgia failed as Davis was put to death. R.E.M. called it quits after 31 years. Mike Modano retired after a lengthy NHL career that saw him become the highest-scoring U.S.-born player of all time. And, oh yeah, I turned 44.

It wasn't a particularly exciting birthday for me, since I spent much of it in meetings at work. Went out to dinner with Deb and the girls afterward, so that was good. I'm not going to dwell on it. I'm 44. Nothing I can do to change that. I don't feel like an old man yet, so I'm sure as hell not going to act like one.

Well, there's one thing I'll do differently next year: I want to go to the 3-D House of Beef.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Completely Conspicuous 193: Run to the Hills

This week on the podcast, I talk about my experience running in a 200-mile relay. Listen to the episode below or download it directly (right click and "save as").



Show notes:

- Heading up to NH for Reach the Beach relay
- Was up really late
- Suffering from Achilles problem
- Won't be running for a while after this weekend
- Running three times in 24 hours
- Doing another relay next May
- Didn't record anything during or right after relay
- Ran faster than last year
- Slept very little
- Didn't have much left in tank for third leg
- Great team-building event
- All about adrenaline
- Bonehead of the Week

Music:

Devo - Watch Us Work It

Twerps - Dreamin'

Tunabunny - Bury the Present

Rational Animals - Guess What? (Crunch)

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The show is sponsored by Eastbay/Footlocker.com. Use the following codes to get athletic gear from Nike, Adidas, Asics and more. AFCOMP15 will get you 10% off any order of $50 at Eastbay.com, AFCOMP20 will get you 15% off any order of $75 at Eastbay.com and AFCOMPFL will get you 10% off any order of $50 or more at Footlocker.com.

The Devo song is from Yo Gabba Gabba! Music is Awesome! Volume 3 on Filter U.S. Recordings. Download the song for free at Soundcloud.

The Twerps song is on the band's self-titled debut on Underwater Peoples. Download the song for free at RCRDLBL.

The Tunabunny song is on the album Minima Moralia on Happy Happy Birthday to Me. Find out more and download the song for free at RCRDLBL.

The Rational Animals song is on the album Bock Rock Parade on Katorga Works. Download the song for free at RCRDLBL.

The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his fine music blogs Clicky Clicky and Keeping Some Dark Secrets. Additional music used in the show is by Me and Boris the Bull, which is the brainchild of the mighty Mark Campbell. Thanks to Bob Durling for the album art; find out more about his photography at his blog. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his site PodGeek.

Completely Conspicuous is a Tan God Production. Word.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Up the Beach

Third time's the charm. Well, all the Reach the Beach relays have been a lot of fun, really. This past weekend, I headed up to Cannon Mountain in NH for my third consecutive RTB and it was great. Even though it was the last running I'll do for a while so I can take care of the sore Achilles tendon I've been dealing with for the last four months.

We all met in Salem, NH, on Friday morning at a Park-and-Ride lot. It took me a little longer to get there because I had to get the kids off to school at the normal time before I could leave. I was also a little fried because I was up until 2 a.m. finishing a work project that had to be turned in before I left; it wasn't ideal to spend the night before doing a 24-hour relay getting as little sleep as possible, but I was hoping to catch some Z's during the day before I ran. I was in Van 2 again, which meant I wouldn't be running until after dark.

It was another chilly start up on the mountain and our first runner Lisa headed out at around 12:27 p.m. The setup was a little different this year because Hurricane Irene had damaged Route 302 and forced the relay organizers to re-route the first six legs. So they would finish at a different spot and wouldn't hand off to us; instead, Van 2 was assigned our usual starting point at Attitash at 5:30. I was the fifth runner in our van, 11th overall, so I did a lot of waiting around.

Unlike last year, when I ran the most difficult set of legs, I had some easier runs this time around. Which was fine because of the aforementioned injuries and my lack of sleep coming into the event. I was able get maybe 45 minutes while we were driving to Attitash after grabbing some lunch.

After 9 p.m., I finally ran my first leg, a 4.8-mile stretch through Tamworth, in 36 (a 7:30 pace). It was a pretty lonely run. I only saw two other runners on the route, one who I passed and one who passed me. For fun this year, we were keeping track of "kills," or the number of runners we passed during our legs. I wasn't off to a good start in that department, but I was pretty happy with my time.

I grabbed a couple of slices of pizza for my 10:20 p.m. dinner and they hit the spot nicely. I got about another hour+ of fitful sleep as we drove from the handoff to our next transition area and waited for Van 1 to show up after finishing their second legs. Woke up a little after 1:30 a.m. and discovered that one of our Van 1 runners had posted on Facebook that they were almost done, so we hustled to get our first runner ready. It was chilly out at this point, in the high 30s, as we stood at the transition waiting. We were probably out there for half an hour before I got a text that their last runner had just started, so we went back inside the school to get warm again. The handoff happened around 3:20 a.m. and we were on the road again.

I did most of the overnight driving as we made our way through the Lakes Region. My second run took place just after the sun came up, around 7 a.m. Despite having little sleep, I roared through the 6.24-mile leg of gradual rolling hills and finished in 47 minutes (7:32 pace). In the kill department, I was passed by one guy in a dayglo orange shirt right at the start but I methodically kept chugging along, passing runner after runner. Dayglo was about a half-mile ahead of me and I figured I had no shot at him, but he started slowing down until I finally passed him around the 4-mile mark. I ended up with 21 kills on that run. Unfortunately, I couldn't bask in the glory because just about everyone in the van was asleep and I had to drive to the next stop.

After the next transition, we headed to the Manchester Airport Diner for some breakfast, our annual Van 2 tradition. My stomach was getting a little iffy, as it has the last two years. But instead of going with the uber-bland egg and toast, I got a Western omelette, hoping it would give me some fuel for my last run. Fortunately, my stomach settled down and didn't bother me again. We lounged around in Kingston as the weather warmed up and we waited for Van 1 to finish up for the day.

My third and final run was in Hampton, a slight 3.41 miles to Winnacunnet High School. I ran it hard, but it took about twice the effort as before because of sheer exhaustion. I passed six runners and was passed by five or six. I handed off to Mark for the final 4 miles to Hampton Beach. I ended up running it in 25:47 (7:33), but man, it was tough.

We headed down to the beach, but got stuck in horrendous traffic that was crawling along. Mark beat us to the beach and ended up running over the finish line with the Van 1 runners. It was disappointing that we couldn't cross with them, but what are you gonna do? We finally pulled into the parking lot at 5 and got some food and beer before meeting up with everyone.

We ended up running the race in 26:42:54, good for an 8:21 pace and putting us 196th out of 434 teams. It was four hours faster than last year, although the relay was about 192 miles instead of the usual 209 due to the alternate routes. Still, it was a great performance by everyone.

After we cleaned out the vans, I drove home, showered and promptly went to bed for nearly 12 hours. Next up for me is physical therapy on my Achilles and hopefully a return to running by the end of the year. And I'm signed up with another team to run the Massachusetts RTB next May. Because I'm a sucker for punishment.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Completely Conspicuous 192: Paperback Writer

Part 2 of my conversation with special guest Christian Douglass as we discuss the challenges facing first-time authors. Listen to the show below or download it directly (right click and "save as").



Show notes:

- Is book audience dying off?

- There are still very successful books

- Plenty of small publishing houses out there

- Marketing is big

- Zach Galifianakis made a promo trailer for a book he liked

- The tale of the Honey Badger

- James Franco's grandmother

- Plenty of content out there

- Easier for music to break through than a novel

- Douglass points to educational system for lack of readers

- Many more distractions for consumers' free time

- Reading fiction is rewarding

- Authors turning novels into podcasts

- Learning about Charles Dickens

- Turning books into movies is difficult

- World According to Garp had to cut a lot of stuff out

- Cormac McCarthy's had a few books made into movies

- Bonehead of the Week

Music:

Pearl Jam - Ole

Los Campesinos - By Your Hand

Kurt Vile - The Creature

Charles Bradley - The World (Is Going Up in Flames)

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The show is sponsored by Budget, the country's premier car rental service with 900 locations. Go to Budget.com/CompCon and save 10% off any reservation or $30 off a weekly rental.

The Pearl Jam song is part of the band's 20th anniversary celebration. Find out more and download the song for free at PJ20.

The Los Campesinos song is on the album Hello Sadness on Wichita Recordings. Download the song for free at the band's website.

The Kurt Vile song is on the EP So Outta Reach on Matador Records, where you can download the song for free.

The Charles Bradley song is on the album No Time for Dreaming on Dunham Records. Find out more and download the song (in exchange for your email address) at his website.

The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his fine music blogs Clicky Clicky and Keeping Some Dark Secrets. Additional music used in the show is by Me and Boris the Bull, which is the brainchild of the mighty Mark Campbell. Thanks to Bob Durling for the album art; find out more about his photography at his blog. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his site PodGeek.

Completely Conspicuous is a Tan God Production. Word.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Won't Get Fooled Again

If you've been able to miss the coverage of the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, you must really be off the grid. I'm not going to go into depth about it here, but I actually contributed to a post about 9/11 on Popblerd, a site that I've started writing for. My blurb was based on a post to this blog back in 2003, when the memories were still extremely clear. Not that they aren't clear now, but they were much more immediate then.

Another memory I have of the aftermath of 9/11 took place more than a month later, on October 20, 2001, when I watched the Concert for New York City on VH-1 to benefit the first responders. There were many stirring performances, but none more so than The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again," which seethed with anger and power. Pete Townshend was positively on fire on guitar, Roger Daltrey roared the lyrics, Zak "Son of Ringo" Starkey seemed possessed by the ghost of Keith Moon on the drums, and John Entwhistle was excellent in what was his last performance with The Who in the U.S. (he died the following summer before their next tour was to start). The performance just seemed to capture the prevailing mood at the time. Of course, not long afterward we were then fooled into invading Iraq, but that's another song for another day, I suppose.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Another Look: Album

Another Look is a recurring feature in which I re-examine albums from back in the so-called day.

Public Image Limited--Album (1986)

I missed out on the early days of punk. I was just getting into music in the mid- to late '70s, but it was first top 40 and then album-oriented rock before I turned to hard rock and metal in the early '80s. Punk was something I saw clips of on TV whenever there was a concert riot or some news commentator was remarking at the crazy safety pins and mohawks the punk kids were wearing. I heard about Toronto-area bands like Teenage Head, but that was about it. Johnny Rotten (nee Lydon) was a familiar face, but I didn't hear any Sex Pistols songs until the '80s.

My first real introduction to Lydon came through his Pistols followup band Public Image Limited and its fifth studio album, which was called either Album, Compact Disc or Cassette, depending on which format you purchased. At the time, I was into vinyl so that's what I picked up. The punk band Flipper had released its own album called Album a few years earlier, with similar cover design and concept. Flipper was rightly pissed off at Lydon's pilfering of its idea and later in '86 released an album called Public Flipper Limited Live.

I heard the lead single "Rise" getting airplay on local rock stations WFNX and WBCN, and I may have seen the video on MTV. But another thing that drew me to the album was the involvement of guitar virtuoso Steve Vai, who I knew from his days in Frank Zappa's band and later as Yngwie Malmsteen's replacement in Alcatrazz. And later in '86, he emerged as the guitarist in David Lee Roth's post-Van Halen band, just destroying the shit out of the Eat 'Em and Smile album.

But "Rise" was different than the other stuff on rock radio at the time. Sure, Vai's guitar wove in and out, but it was Lydon's unique vocal style that really grabbed me, as well as the refrain "Anger is an energy." A great song that remains fresh to this day.



Album was essentially a Lydon solo album, because he recorded it with session men after getting rid of the rest of PiL. In addition to Vai, Ginger Baker and Tony Williams (jazz great who played with Miles Davis among others) played drums, Ruichi Sakamoto provided keyboards and Bill Laswell produced the whole thing. Definitely not who you would expect to play with the clown prince of punk. But just before making Album, Lydon collaborated with hip hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa to record the single "World Destruction," so playing with Steve Vai shouldn't have been too much of a surprise, I guess.



"FFF" is a classic Lydon kiss-off to music industry types, as the title is short for "Farewell, my fairweather friend." Booming drums and Vai's squealing guitar propel the song. Gotta love the line "Logic is lost in your/cranial abbatoir." The rest of the album follows the single-word title theme: "Fishing," "Round," "Bags," "Home," "Ease," and all the songs are fairly long, especially for someone who came out of the punk scene; the shortest song is "Round," which clocks in at 4:24, while "Ease" is over 8 minutes long. As with all his material, Lydon delivers his lyrics with a sneer. "Fishing" implores his target to "go crawl back into your dustbin."



Laswell keeps the danceable sound that PiL had established on previous albums while incorporating Vai's technical profiency on the geeetar into the mix. It's a propulsive and enjoyable album/compact disc/cassette. On a side note, in the late '90s I purchased a CD copy of the album from Newbury Comics because I didn't have a turntable set up. I get home and pop it in and instead of "FFF," I hear a gospel song along the lines of the Blind Boys of Alabama. Turns out the disc was mislabeled. I had already thrown out my receipt by the time I realized this and couldn't return it, so somewhere in my belongings, there's a decidedly non-rocking version of Album.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Hallo Spaceboy

It was 45 years ago today that a nerdicular cataclysm occurred when Star Trek made its broadcast television debut on NBC. The show wasn't a huge hit when it first aired and only lasted three seasons, but it really caught on in syndication. Bill Shatner as Captain Kirk, leading the Starship Enterprise and nailing a chick in every galaxy. Leonard Nimoy as Spock, the nerd's nerd. Scotty, Bones, Sulu, Uhuru, and the poor suckas in the red shirts who seemed to die every episode. The show was so iconic that it spawned an entire generation of sci-fi dorks (myself included) and 11 years after it left TV, the first many Star Trek movies. And then several spinoff TV series and endless merchandising and comic books and people who show up for jury duty dressed up in full Trek regalia.

I always enjoyed the Star Trek offerings (for the most part), but I've never been fanatical about it. Still, I can appreciate its impact on pop culture and society in general. So live and prosper, folks.





Monday, September 05, 2011

Completely Conspicuous 191: Scene of the Crime

Part 1 of my conversation with special guest Christian Douglass as we discuss his recent trip to Alaska to research a book. Listen to the episode below or download it directly (right click and "save as").



Show notes:

- Douglass: One book written, researching the next one

- First book finished in June, sent out to reviewers

- Need to define characters clearly at the beginning

- Kumar: Challenging books are rewarding, but takes a while to get going

- Have to be in the right mood to dig into a complex John Irving novel

- Douglass: Second book digs into unsolved murder in the Alaskan bush

- Murder took place in indigenous Yupik village

- High rate of alcoholism

- Tough time selling the first book

- Village is in big fishing area

- Murder was pinned on an unlikely suspect

- Lots of heavy drinking

- Many holes in murder story

- Douglass posed as a writer for fishing magazine and lived with drug dealer

- Could be a "true crime" story, but Douglass will do fictionalized version

- Bonehead of the Week

Music:

Male Bonding - Tame the Sun

F***ed Up - The Other Shoe

The Moondoggies- It's a Shame, It's a Pity

Sloan - Losing California

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The show is sponsored by Eastbay/Footlocker.com. Use the following codes to get athletic gear from Nike, Adidas, Asics and more. AFCOMP15 will get you 10% off any order of $50 at Eastbay.com, AFCOMP20 will get you 15% off any order of $75 at Eastbay.com and AFCOMPFL will get you 10% off any order of $50 or more at Footlocker.com.

The Male Bonding song is on the album Endless Now on Sub Pop, where you can download the song for free.

The F***ed Up song is on the album David Comes to Life on Matador Records, where you can download the song for free.

The Moondoggies song is on the album Tidelands on Hardly Art Records. Download the song for free at the band's website.

The Sloan song is on Select Singles, '92-'11, courtesy of NoiseTrade. Download the 14-song sampler for free (in exchange for your email address) at NoiseTrade.

The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his fine music blogs Clicky Clicky and Keeping Some Dark Secrets. Additional music used in the show is by Me and Boris the Bull, which is the brainchild of the mighty Mark Campbell. Thanks to Bob Durling for the album art; find out more about his photography at his blog. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his site PodGeek.

Completely Conspicuous is a Tan God Production. Word.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

One More Dub

A few months back, Netflix caused a stir by changing up its pricing plan. Folks like me who were getting both DVDs and streaming programming for a low price (under $10/month) now basically had to pay twice that. At first, I cried bullshit like many others, but after I calmed down, I realized it was just bidness. Netflix is looking to dump the DVD rentals and grow the streaming biz, which is the future. I decided to go with the streaming stuff, even though the selection isn't as good right now.

There's still plenty of cool stuff available, and I've started taking advantage of it this week by watching a few movies and TV shows. In addition to watching Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing for the first time in 20 years and the first few episodes of season 1 of Party Down, last night I watched the Korean thriller Oldboy, which I had heard much about on the excellent podcast Filmspotting but had never seen before. Spike Lee's putting together an American version of the film starring Josh Brolin, but after seeing the original last night, I don't know how he's going to replicate it.

Without giving too much away, the basic plot is about a man who is imprisoned for 15 years by an unknown enemy and then released. After he gets out, he swears revenge. It's not a typical martial arts movie, although there are some pretty amazing fight scenes:



It's a wild ride and the last act has some crazy-ass twists and turns. Again, I like Lee and Brolin, but I'm not sure they could pull off what Chan-wook Park does in the 2003 original. Fairly mind-blowing.

Unlike the clip above, the version of the movie I watched was dubbed into English. It took me out of it a little at first, especially in the opening scenes where there are few voices speaking excitedly. Just reminded me of watching Japanese monster movies or Mystery Science Theater 3000 (making fun of Japanese monster movies). But the overall filmmaking virtuosity of Chan-wook Park and the performance of Min-sik Choi as the star overcomes any early doubts. Definitely worth checking out, but not for the squeamish.