Archive for November, 2010

Blog on vacation for a week

Posted: November 27, 2010 in Odds and Sods

I will be out of the country for the next week, as my wife and I are headed to Cozumel for a much-needed vacation. Hopefully, the Knicks continue their winning ways while I’m gone. Also keeping my fingers crossed for Bloomsburg tomorrow in their rematch with Mercyhurst in the Division II playoffs. Then there’s the MASH unit Giants, who look less and less like a playoff team with each passing week. At least I get to miss their game. That’s all for now, see you all next week!

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Say what you want about Kanye West, but he’s far from boring or predictable.
His super-inflated ego is both a gift and a curse, pushing him to strive for perfection in his art but often blinding him from reality or any sense of decorum. He often spouts off like a petulant child on Twitter, ripping into anyone who dare has something negative to say about him. He storms award shows and yanks trophies from rising starlets’ hands, and then claims to be misunderstood later on. He apologizes for his acts, then retracts the apologies. He seems to care a great deal about the human condition and often writes spiritual songs referencing Jesus, yet can’t relate to people very well.
All of this and more make West one of the more compelling musical figures of the last decade, if not the most. And with his latest release, the sprawling, brilliant My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, West has all sides of his personality on display, both in his lyrics and the painstakingly crafted music.
You can tell West wanted to hit a home run here, and he delivers a grand slam of stylistic detours and grand gestures.
He brings in a virtual who’s who of popular music in as guests, including mentors Jay-Z and the RZA, newcomers Nikki Minaj and Drake, soul singers like John Legend, leading lady megastars Rihanna and Fergie, and Rock N Roll Hall of Famer Elton John. And those are just naming a few.
On one track alone (All of the Lights), 42 guest musicians/singers appear, and while the song has layers upon layers, it works beautifully.
Kanye, while still not the best MC on the planet, has improved with each release and his production mastery is now legendary.
He wanted a grandiose statement, something that could help describe his complex and contradictory personality to the masses. So what you get is a concept album dealing with his innermost desires and fears mixed with the usual bravado one routinely finds on rap albums.
The difference between Kanye and many other MCs (other than his innate musical and production gifts) is the genuine belief that what he’s saying is coming from the heart.
The album’s masterpiece “Runaway” is a nine-minute voyage of heartache and self-loathing, as the “douche bags, assholes and jerk-offs” he’s toasting represent what many Americans feel about him after the Taylor Swift fiasco. The track starts with a single piano key (much like Pink Floyd’s classic epic Echoes) and then evolves into a solemn ballad before taking a detour near the six-minute mark where it becomes a rap symphony, where the only words Kanye says are filtered through a vocoder and guitar, only becoming decipherable at the very end of the track. It’s mesmerizing and sends chills down the spine with its emotional undercurrent.
Another highlight is “Monster”, where Jay-Z and Minaj turn in awesome guest verses over a bass-heavy beat that shook my rear-view mirror in my car as I played it.
Lead single “Power” brilliantly samples King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” and is another track dealing with West’s titanic ego yet fragile persona, as the very end West sings of a “beautiful death” and “jumping out the window.”
“Devil With a New Dress” easily could have come off The College Dropout or Late Registration with its gorgeous old-school soul feel.
The last two tracks “Lost in the World” and “Who Will Survive in America” paint West’s picture of alienation well. And while the beat and melody of “World” is tremendous, the message paints a stark reality of American life today.
This “Fantasy” is the real work of a tortured genius at the top of his game, as West redeems himself from the Autotuned to death “808s and Heartbreak”. It consolidates his strengths wonderfully, and leaves the listener wondering what he’ll come up with next.

Sod rating: *****

Kanye West discography
The College Dropout (2004) **** 1/2
Late Registration (2005) **** 1/2
Graduation (2007) ****
808s and Heartbreak (2008) ** 1/2

Ratings system
***** A classic
**** Excellent
*** Solid
** A good song or two
* A movie starring Alan Thicke, Pauly Shore and Charles Grodin would be a better use of your time

Knicks 99, Bobcats 95

Posted: November 24, 2010 in Knicks

Raymond Felton burned his old team for 23 points and 13 assists.

Say it with me, folks. The New York Knicks are on fire. I have to keep repeating it to myself, because there haven’t been many instances where you could make that statement in say, the last 10 years.
The Knicks have rebounded nicely from a putrid six-game losing streak to win their fifth in a row, topping Charlotte 99-95 tonight in the second of a home-and-home series.
For the second straight night, the Knicks surged to a double-digit second-half lead on Charlotte, only to see the lead evaporate in the fourth. But unlike earlier games this season, the Knicks didn’t falter when late adversity hit them.
After the Bobcats took the lead on a Tyrus Thomas three-point play with less than two minutes to go, the Knicks took control down the stretch with some big free throws and key defensive stops and rebounds.
Raymond Felton continues to shine, scoring a team-leading 23 points and adding 13 assists. He was already averaging more than 17 points and close to 8 assists per game, so those numbers will go up a bit. Wilson Chandler filled the role played by Toney Douglas last night as the spark off the bench, scoring 21 points and pulling down eight boards. Amar’e Stoudemire added 20 points and six blocks, while the rookie Landry Fields had another solid outing with eight points, 10 rebounds and a pair of steals.
The Knicks are back at .500 at 8-8. And what’s better, LeCon James, Chris Soft and the reeling Heat lost another one tonight to the Magic. They’re now 8-7 and while I expect them to get it going soon (probably after Pat Riley saunters down from the front office to coach), I’m loving their struggles right now.
New York is back at home Saturday to host the Atlanta Hawks. Hopefully, they can make it six in a row and move over .500 for the first time since they were 3-2 early on.

Knicks win fourth straight

Posted: November 24, 2010 in Knicks

Toney Douglas led a balanced scoring effort with 22 points.

When I last posted on the Knicks, they were in the throes of a six-game losing streak, looking much like the team we’ve seen for a better part of a decade. As much as I ripped Mike D’Antoni in my last post, I have to give him some credit now as the Knicks have reeled off four straight wins, including tonight’s 110-107 victory at the Garden over the Charlotte Bobcats.

For the most part, D’Antoni has scrapped the pick and roll plays because point guard Raymond Felton (more of a combo guard) just isn’t that good at it. The team has gone to a more cutting and slashing approach, still kicking out for threes but getting to the line much more frequently.

The Knicks had six players in double figures tonight, led by Toney Douglas’ 22 points off the bench. Felton, who exploded for a 35-point effort on the West Coast swing, continues to play well with 16 points and nine assists tonight. Amar’e Stoudemire (17), Danilo Gallinari (16), Landry Fields (14) and Ronny Turiaf (12) were the others in double figures.

I love Turiaf’s energy and defensive prowess, they really missed him when he was out for a bulk of the losing streak. While Fields isn’t flashy, he does a lot of things well and was a great find by Donnie Walsh in the second round of this year’s draft.

The Knicks are now 7-8, or 1 1/2 games worse than the Dream Team, aka Miami Heat. They get another crack at the Bobcats tonight on the road in the second of a home and home series. Hopefully by this time tomorrow night, the Knicks will be back at .500 for the first time since they were 3-3.

HoJo out as Mets hitting coach

Posted: November 23, 2010 in Mets

Mets general manager Sandy Alderson announced Howard Johnson will no longer be the Mets’ hitting coach. Anyone who has ever read this blog or talked to me about the Mets know I’ve been wanting this to happen for the better part of two years.
HoJo seems like a nice guy, and he had great moments as a Mets player, but he was in over his head as hitting coach.
The main reason I wanted HoJo gone lies with All-Star David Wright. HoJo and Wright were extremely close, and while I can’t blame the coach fully for all the bad habits and tendencies David has picked up the last three years, he certainly deserves his share of the burden.
Wright has regressed, or at the very best, plateaued under Johnson. Once a complete hitter who used all fields, Wright has become more of an all or nothing slugger, with his strikeouts piling up as his average came down.
In one of Wright’s now patented prolonged slumps last year, he was standing so far from the plate, he couldn’t reach the outside pitch if he was swinging a Redwood tree, let alone a standard baseball bat. I saw it, Mets TV broadcasters saw it, other loyal Mets fans saw it, yet nothing was done to bring him closer. About a month or two later, Wright moved closer to the plate and like magic, began to hit the ball to the opposite field with authority again.
Alderson said HoJo will be reassigned to another position, and as a guy who has paid his dues both as a player and coach, that’s good. Maybe he should be a first or third base coach in the minors, or manage one of the lower-level teams. Just can’t have him as the Mets’ hitting coach.

T-minus 4 days until Cozumel

Posted: November 23, 2010 in Odds and Sods

Don’t want to rub it in, just had to find a subject to post from my yahoo mail. Finally figured how to post to my blog from e-mail, so it’s my new little revelation for the day.

Anyway, my wife and I are heading to Cozumel early Saturday morning. Tina has been there several times with her good friend Donna from Michigan, but this is my virgin voyage, so to speak. Looking forward to a week of fun in the sun and some of the best snorkeling in the world (ranking just behind Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, or so I’m told). Also going to swim with dolphins, something I’ve always thought would be cool.

So, the blog will be inactive for a week or so, starting Saturday. I know all of you are crushed, but please find a way to survive without my brilliant ramblings. It’ll be tough, but you can do it. 🙂

Mets announce hiring of Terry Collins

Posted: November 22, 2010 in Mets

Following weeks of speculation and interviews, the Mets are going with former Angels and Astros manager Terry Collins to replace Jerry Manuel.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t that excited about Collins, given his so-so track record (just above .500 career) and the way things deteriorated in Anaheim, when the Angels basically staged a mutiny during a nine-game losing streak.

The more I read about Collins, the more I like the hiring. The Mets’ minor-league coordinator last year, Collins has gotten rave reviews from players like Josh Thole and Dillon Gee, who say he’s very intense about things being done the right way, yet also a guy who can keep you loose with jokes around the batting case. Thole was in an awful slump the first month of the season at AAA Buffalo, but a visit from Collins helped calm him down and he turned things around, eventually earning the Mets’ starting catcher gig late in the year.

Former Angels outfielder Tim Salmon also had great things to say about Collins, saying he was very thorough and adamant about things being done the right away and players being held accountable. Manuel was simply too soft, too nice of a guy to really force any type of culture change in the clubhouse, which is what is needed at this point.

Getting back to Salmon’s comments, he implied Collins’ ultimate demise had a lot to do with Mo “Can’t Believe I Just Ate Australia” Vaughn, a “new-school” player, as relayed by Salmon. Sounds like Big Mo and a few others didn’t like to be criticized or informed they were doing something wrong (like eating the entire postgame buffet table).

Former Phillie player and manager (also a Met for a couple weeks in 1985) Larry Bowa applauded the hiring, saying Collins will bring structure to the Mets, something they have been lacking for far too long.

I won’t lie, I was hoping Wally Backman got the job. But that’s probably just my blind love for all things ’86 Mets. I do hope Backman stays in the organization, and I’ve read he may be offered the Single-A St. Lucie job or AA Binghamton gig. I’m hoping it’s St. Lucie, mainly because I live in Florida and get to see the St. Lucie Mets play.

General manager Sandy Alderson has a vision for this team, one that will likely take a few years to realize. He and cohorts Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi are going to rebuild this organization from the bottom up, starting with overhauling the minor-league system. Successful teams are built from within these days. You see less and less success from bringing in renegade free agents and hoping they mesh with what you already have. I’m hoping we see a much better brand of baseball in the coming years, but just about anything will be an improvement over the last two years of the Omar Minaya regime. The bar has been set pretty low.

Eagles 27, Giants 17

Posted: November 22, 2010 in Giants

Eli Manning's failure to slide cost the Giants any chance of a late comeback against the hated Eagles.

I hate when my teams do this to me. For the better part of three quarters, the Giants’ offense looked about as effective as a blind air-traffic controller. The defense was doing a decent job of containing Michael Vick and the tough Eagles offense, but a few turnovers and general poor play by the Giants’ O (and strong play by the Eagles’ D) had the Giants trailing 16-3 late in the third quarter.

As Eli Manning has done many times in his Giants’ career, he got it going late, with the defense also chipping in with big plays to give the Giants good field position. New York scored on consecutive drives to take an improbable 17-16 lead early in the fourth and I went from total resignation to elation in no time.

Here I was, one week after the worst sports weekend perhaps in my entire life (Bloomsburg University lost conference title game, Penn State got blown out after dominating first half vs. Ohio State, Knicks lost twice including giving up a 31-31 performance by Kevin Love, then Giants get wrecked by the 1-7 Cowboys), I was getting ready for a perfect sports weekend.

With Bloomsburg and Penn State winning and the Knicks now on a three-game winning streak, the Giants were the only team left and their game with the Eagles was the one I wanted the most. A win would put them all alone in first place in the NFC East, while a loss would drop them out of the playoff race for the time being. Of course, the Eagles rallied in the fourth quarter, getting a huge 50-yard TD run by LeSean McCoy and two-point conversion pass from Vick to Anthony Avant to go up 24-17.

On the ensuing Giants’ drive, Tom Coughlin made a gutsy (actually stupid) call to go for it on 4th and 6th from his own 45 or so with three minutes left and all three timeouts remaining. Eli dropped back to pass, then stepped up into the pocket and saw a ton of running room. So, the lead-footed Manning took off into the Eagles’ secondary for a 15-yard run and key first down. Eli sometimes leaves his brain in the locker room, because all he had to do was slide to keep the chains moving. Instead, he dove for the first down but lost the ball before he was touched. Eagles recover the fumble, Eli puts on his well-known hang-dog expression, and the Eagles go on for the win.

Giants drop to 6-4 and could be well on their way for a second consecutive late-season tank. They’ve lost two in a row and just two weeks after looking like the kings of the NFC, they’ll now have to scramble just to get into the playoffs.

If they somehow miss the playoffs, Coughlin should be canned and the team should start its full-court press of Bill Cowher.

As much as it pains me to say this, the Eagles look like a viable Super Bowl threat. Their defense is making big plays to go along with the explosive offense led by the lightning-quick Vick. Dog’s worst friend, Vick is better than he ever was in Atlanta. The way he’s playing reminds me of Steve Young, only with more speed and a better arm. That’s scary. He’s got speedy receivers and a dynamic running back in LeSean McCoy, when Chunky A (Andy Reid) decides to run the ball, which happens less frequently than Halley’s Comet sightings. The Giants are going to have a tough time catching this team, and only a Vick injury could stop the Eagles from making a deep run in the playoffs.

I’ll get to the Mets’ hiring of Terry Collins’ another day, I’m too ticked off from the Giants’ game to discuss this rather unexciting move.

Blog has new look

Posted: November 19, 2010 in Odds and Sods

I’ve been tinkering a little bit of late, changing the “theme” or background of my blog and adding a few features to make things easier to navigate for both of my loyal readers. Anyway, let me know if you like the theme better than the old one or if there’s anything more I should add.

AHS

Beatles finally on iTunes

Posted: November 18, 2010 in Beatles

Here’s a post I wrote for my friend Stan’s wonderful blog, The Ignorant Immigrant:

It’s been quite the long and winding road when it comes to the Beatles and iTunes. Since the online music store was launched seven years ago, it has tried to strike a deal with the Beatles and their legal representatives which would allow the storied catalog to finally be purchased from your personal computer.

What does it all mean?

Despite having broken up 40 years ago, the Beatles remain one of the highest grossing acts in the world. Just last year, their entire catalog was digitally remastered and reissued to glowing reviews and strong sales (a noteworthy feat in this day and age, as CDs appear to be heading down the path of extinction, where they will join their forefathers Angelo Album, Abe Eight Track, Corey Cassette and Frankie 45.)

I was skeptical about how well the Beatles would do on iTunes, given so many people already own the CDs and have ripped them on to their computers or have simply downloaded their songs from now defunct file sharing centers like Napster and Limewire.

It appears the Beatles, as they always do, are thriving on iTunes. Three of their albums (Abbey Road, The White Album and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band) are in the top 10 of the iTunes album chart, while several individual songs are in the top 50, led by Here Comes the Sun at No. 20.

Why did it take so long?

For one, the Beatles have always had a contentious relationship with Apple Computers, dating back to a late 70s copyright infringement lawsuit (the Beatles’ own Apple Corps. was formed a decade earlier). Since then, the two sides have sniped back and forth on various issues over the years.

I’m sure the two sides couldn’t agree on the price tag, with the Beatles holding the leverage as iTunes seemed to need them more than the other way around.
Also, the legendary group probably didn’t see an overwhelming need to make their music available digitally, as it continued to sell very well in the CD medium.
The merging of the two “Apples” doesn’t impact me very much, as I’m stuck in the stone age and don’t have an iPod, but there’s one thing the Beatles could have done to give this news more sizzle. Like I stated before, many people already have the Fab Four’s music on their computers.

So why not sweeten the pot for those consumers? Offering previously unreleased tracks would have been an outstanding way of appealing to more people. The Beatles issued a ton of unissued material in the mid ’90s on the three double-disc Anthology albums.

However, there are still interesting tracks available in the vault. How about the nearly 14-minute avant garde track “Carnival of Light,” only heard in an early 1967 art exhibition. Paul McCartney has often lauded this track and tried to get it issued on Anthology 2, but the late George Harrison protested and referred to avant garde music as “avant garde a clue.” There’s also the eight-minute jam “Dig It”, heard in a 40-second snippet on the Beatles’ swan song Let it Be.

If they thought eight minutes was too long, there was a pared down four-minute version which would have been included on the early version of the album (when it was known as Get Back), but that album was rejected and later reworked by Phil Spector. A nearly 10-minute take of “Revolution 1” appeared on the Internet last year which was very interesting, showing the early gestation of Revolution 9 (which was recorded over the instrumental bed of Revolution 1, although you can’t hear that on the album version).

The White Album acoustic demos recorded at Harrison’s estate in 1968 are outstanding. A few of them saw release on Anthology 3, but there were nearly 30 songs, including Harrison’s “Sour Milk Sea,” which would later be given to Apple label-mate Jackie Lomax, as well as “Child of Nature,” the beautiful song which later became “Jealous Guy” on John Lennon’s 1971 solo effort, “Imagine”. Live tracks from the Hollywood Bowl and Shea Stadium concerts would be of great interest. I’m holding out hope this stuff sees the light of day in the future, and it would have made this week’s news into a much bigger event.

To visit Stan’s site, go to http://stanyann.tumblr.com/