Friday, May 22, 2009

Freestyle Friday

LET'S OPEN THINGS UP with some sports on this fine Freestyle Friday... a little hardball, some roundball, maybe even throw the old medicine ball around if we have time left over.

Yankees go for their 10th straight victory tonight at the new Yankee Stadium versus Philadelphia in first interleague matchup of the season -- in my opinion way too early for that, but I go through this every year; I love interleague play, but MLB should wait till at least July before scheduling these games. They just feel too much like exhibition matches otherwise.

Remember we told you last month how the balls were just flying out of the new Stadium, with 26 HRs hit by both teams in the first 6 games? Well, Yanks have played 20 games now, and that pace has slowed only slightly: 75 have been hit, an all-time record for a new stadium.

Something's not quite right: Johnny Damon already has 7 HRs at the new park in just 75 at-bats -- an almost Ruthian percentage; last year he hit 7 HRs all year at home in 272 ABs.

The other New York team has dropped 4 in a row to fall out of 1st in the NL East, and Mets now head to Fenway Park, where Red Sox are 16-4 on the season. With SS Jose Reyes day to day, there's never been a better time than tonight for Johan Santana to take his microscopic 1.36 ERA to the mound.

Boston slugger David Ortiz probably wishes he got to play in the Bronx Bandbox on a regular basis because, speaking of microscopes, you need a magnifying glass to find Big Popout's paltry output. His batting average, at .211, is 20 points below his listed weight, charitably rounded off at 230, with just 1 HR in 142 ABs. In fact, this is part of a downward spiral that has seen his power numbers tumble from 54 in 2006 to 35 in '07 and then just 23 last year in an injury-shortened season (109 games). People are using the D word in relation to Ortiz now -- D as in DONE. If so, then credit Peter Gammons for first raising that possibility, citing physical problems.

Since my Philly 76ers were knocked out of the first round of the NBA playoffs in 6 games by Orlando, I've been rooting for the Denver Nuggets -- a real likable team led by George Karl (879-614 lifetime). Karl's teams -- Cleveland, Seattle, Golden State, Milwaukee, Denver -- have made the playoffs 22 times in his 25 years of coaching, and this might be his last best chance at that elusive NBA title.

In addition to Chauncey Billups -- finally getting his recognition as one of the top clutch point guards in league history -- there's plenty of talent in Carmelo Anthony and Kenyon Martin, as well as the white Dennis Rodman -- 6' 10" power forward Chris "Birdman" Andersen. Not that there's much competition, but Andersen is hands down the punk-rockin'est player the NBA has to offer. Like Rodman, he's got the attention-grabbing 'do and the crazy tats: in Andersen's case a crown of gel-spiked hair that looks like a lethal weapon -- as well as the non-stop motor that rubs off on his teammates and gets under the skin of opponents. But it wouldn't matter unless Andersen can ball, and like Rodman he can -- giving the Nuggets basically 6 points and 6 boards a night in about 20 quality minutes, and trailing only Dwight Howard in blocked shots per game on the season.

The Nuggets split the first pair on the road, and now head home to Denver for the next two games. I'm rooting for them to spoil half of Commissioner David Stern's wet dream matchup of Kobe-LeBron, and for Orlando to upset the Cavaliers after stealing Game 1 in Cleveland. Nothing against LeBron, but I always go underdog once my team is out, and so a Magic-Nuggets finals would work just fine for me. Plus, there's an added bonus for me as a 76ers fan: if LeBron is denied a championship this year, he's unlikely to leave for the harsher spotlight of, say, Madison Square Garden until he gets it done in Cleveland.

Finally got around to Mickey Rourke's The Wrestler, watching it over Bob & Holly's last night. We were just blown away by the movie, unlike many critics who couldn't get past some of its admittedly corny cliches. I could've done without the gruesome industrial-staples-into-the-back routine, but that's part of what gave it so much heart. It all added up to one of the most authentic, unapologetic blue collar portraits ever captured on film -- making the original Rocky seem almost like a genteel Ivory-Merchant period piece in comparison.

The funniest scene in The Wrestler had to be the one where Rourke gets a job at the supermarket deli counter. This had me and Bob carrying on a little too loudly, so Holly had to put the subtitles on -- which caused us to start saying the lines out loud along with Mickey. At that point Holly came up with a new bar game for the ages -- "Movie-okie" -- where you put a famous flick on and act out scenes with your friends. Well, it sounded good at the time...

The Wrestler's odd subtitling decisions also provided some hilarity. In addition to the usual DOOR OPENING, TIRES SCREECHING, CROWD HISSING... we saw "IMITATING SIREN" while a woman screamed in orgiastic ecstasy -- alas, a sound I rarely seem to encounter in real life...

Speaking of which, boy, you can really make a nice little compilation video out of all the times Marisa Tomei has pranced around naked in recent films. There's the topless scenes in The Wrestler, the convincing butt-fuck scene in When the Devil Knows You're Dead...

Notice how concept albums are making something of a comeback? The one garnering a lot of headlines is Green Day's follow-up to American Idiot: 21st Century Breakdown. I've downloaded 3 songs from the album so far, so the concept thing eludes me at the moment. For what it's worth, my initial impression is Know Your Enemy channels Combat Rock-era Clash lyrically but otherwise sounds like an outtake from American Idiot. Restless Heart Syndrome is a stab at White Album-vintage Beatles, an homage I thought they executed much more effortlessly on Warning, their 2000 album that is still in my opinion their strongest album by a considerable margin: their most interesting lyrically, most diverse musically. Horseshoes and Handgrenades has a great punk riff, but how if fits into the rest of the album I leave to reviewers who have absorbed the whole 21st Century Breakdown CD.

But if nothing else, the new Green Day album spotlights the trend toward making concept albums -- or at least works intended to be taken as complete entities. Which brings to mind how uber-dweeb Chuck Klosterman carried on last year about how Guns N Roses' hideous Chinese Democracy was "The Last Album" because no one will ever listen to a whole record at one sitting in the future. Klosterman was dead wrong then, and therefore even less right today as we look back at his half-baked premise:
Chinese Democracy is (pretty much) the last Old Media album we’ll ever contemplate in this context—it’s the last album that will be marketed as a collection of autonomous-but-connected songs, the last album that will be absorbed as a static manifestation of who the band supposedly is, and the last album that will matter more as a physical object than as an Internet sound file. This is the end of that.”
As I said, have you heard the new Green Day release marketed as a collection of singles or as an entire album to be appreciated from start to finish? Of course it's the latter; all the reviews make the point that it's a throwback concept album.

It's way too early to weigh the gravitas of 21st Century Breakdown against heavy concept albums of yesteryear like Freak Out, Sgt. Pepper's, Ziggy Stardust or my favorite, Lou Reed's New York. It just feels good to point out how wrong Klosterman is and how overrated he is as a supposed pop culture guru if we're having the concept album conversation at all.

Not far from where Green Day formed in 1987, rising from 3-chord punks to worldwide pop stars, a new group named Divisadero throws its hat into the ring with Lefty -- "the sad tale of an emotionally and physically scarred boxer" (L.A. Underground). Maybe they'll make an album out of The Wrestler next!

Well, the other day their record company dropped an MP3 into my mailbox, and I've really been taken with the song The Boxer's Daughter [mp3] from the 2008 album. I've played it a lot the last 3 days, and it's giving off a real Soft Parade vibe, the melancholic Doors album from 1969, and trust me when I say I don't offer such praise lightly. Divisadero's myspace page has 5-6 other songs up and a group bio if you want to get a better feel.

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