Monday, November 19, 2007


Mikey stays with the Sox. Quite f-ing thrilled about this -- baseball needs more guys like Mike.

Been putting off a post about what it's like being a Sox fan these days...always had an excuse not to do it. Mainly because it's hard to put into words. It's a feeling I'm unfamiliar with.

For 86 years, being a Sox fan was about rooting for the underdog. For decades, fans were fully, physically invested in their team winning each game. Losses made them physically ill and emotionally repellant (at least temporarily). But they'd become used to this and remained proud of their adherence to a constantly losing team that fought its ass off and fell short, time and time again.

But the team's been winning recently - a lot - and has made it to the postseason in four of their last five seasons, winning the World Series twice in the last four. The reaction by most longtime Sox fans has been a resounding, bewildered "WTF???"

In full disclosure, I have to admit that while I was inducted into Sox Nation by virtue of my birth, as a third generation Sox fan who sat on my grandfather's lap in the Seventies watching the boys fumble their way through another decade of shame, I've veered from the duty of watching them religiously from time to time. For one thing, I grew up in upstate New York. There was no such thing as NESN or the MLB Extra Innings cable package. We couldn't watch the games, and they weren't on the radio.

Most of my friends were Yankee fans, and while I got my first Sox hat in 1980, I had no idea what it was like to sit in the shadow of the Green Monster in Fenway until April 27, 2002, when Derek Lowe coincidentally threw the first no-hitter in Fenway in 35 years. Until then, I was a huge fan during those summer weeks when we made our annual trip to Maine to hike, watch the games, and eat Nana's insanely delicious tourtiere pie.

Otherwise, in the Eighties and early Nineties, I was more of a Padres fan obsessed with San Diego and Tony Gwynn. Tony was the shit, and I'm drawn to great ballplayers who aren't assholes. But my AL team was always the Sox, so my move to Boston in 2001 finally gave me NESN and a prime spot to root for the home team and shift my attention from Tony, who'd retired that year after a lifetime batting average of .338 -- second only to Ted Williams in the live ball era.

Ah, Boston. Now I could read the Globe every day, develop a distaste for Dan Shaughnessy and a deep love for Jerry Remy and Sean McDonough, discover Sons of Sam Horn and Boston Dirt Dogs and Extra Bases, and see the Sox actually play. And although the Sox were typically crap in 2002, they made it to the postseason in 2003 and won it all in 2004. So I was a lucky bastid indeed, being able to swoop in at the last minute and avoid the daily suckitude of being forced to watch the post-All Star decline that seemed to be the tragic annual chorus of the 20th century Sox.

Still, I haven't been able to wrap my head around this winning business. When you've rooted for a team that's historically come so close so often and always managed to fail, you're at a loss as to how to handle your disbelief when they manage not only to not fail, but to completely lay waste to the competition. I'd liked rooting for the underdog. It felt right, and I was used to it. They'd always come back next season. It was a David & Goliath kind of thing, dealing with the almighty Yankees every year. Even though the Cardinals screwed us over in the World Series more often, the Yankees were always there, perennially, shoving their superstars and their pocket change and their Series rings down our throats in the AL East. We still get riled up at Fenway when the Empire's in town. We always will.

But the tables - almost in 2003, and definitely in 2004 - finally seemed to have turned.

Each season is a struggle, and it always comes down to the last month, the last week, and in the Mets' case this year, the last day. Not to mention the postseason, which is literally a whole different ballgame. Simply put, it is hard as hell to win the World Series.

And so, as everyone knows, the Sox did it. And did it again. And in the process, the backlash began with gusto. People say Sox fans have become as cocky and obnoxious as Yankee fans. The horror. So how does one become accustomed to being part of the hated fanbase of a suddenly hated team? Is it wrong for Red Sox fans to enjoy some pride? Some f-ing hard won confidence?

Sense that defensive tone? We're on edge. It could be another 86 years until the next one. Who's to say it won't happen? But at the same time, we've got to enjoy it while it lasts. It's this crazy vortex of hope, despair, elation, disappointment, cockiness, and appreciation that's got us all riled up. During the season, it happens daily. And it wears you out.

While J loves the Sox, loves Mikey, and loves me, she's thrilled the season's over, whatever the outcome. It's a weird time.

Friday, November 16, 2007


Up to Vermont this weekend to visit an old Martha's Vineyard Clambaking buddy from back in the day.

Although we were only on clambake tour around the South for about two months together, Holmes and I hotel-roomed, cooked, drank, and palled around 24 hours a day, and we were about as tight as two straight guys could be without risking rumor. Doug T, the crazy Scot bartender, was our partner in crime, and good times were had by all until September 11th made it impossible to A.) have any more good times and B.) fly lobsters into the local airport for pickup and subsequent boiling. But if I had a nickel for each ear of corn shucked and every lobster hacked open, I'd still have a shitload of nickels:

This was the end result each night:

Anyway, Holmes is, as he was then, one of those guys who's as upstanding and true as anyone could possibly be, while also being perfectly human. My dad is another one of these rare people -- a callback to another time, the embodiment of goodness.

This guy is the best friend I've ever had for such a short time. He's also one of those people you can pick up where you left off and revisit what brought you together in the first place, right off the bat.

We both got married in the last two years -- he to the gal he was with back in 2001, me to a different one. He and Megan got to know my ex pretty well at the time, and while they met J at their wedding, we haven't had much of an opportunity to hang, the new 4 of us. Megan's his match in every way. I wish they lived closer by, or that we lived closer to them. Maybe someday. We'll have to hop a flight in the meantime.

He owns a tavern up there with his brother, so if you ever make it up to Middlebury, have a beer in Two Brothers Tavern and tell them Mike sent ya.

I'm undecided on this blog template by the way.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The new Radiohead

At Sara's wise suggestion, I'm going to post my review of In Rainbows from the Raleigh Hatchet. It saves me a blog idea, and the two or three of you who read this blog who haven't already read it in the Hatchet might find it useful and/or saucy:

"I paid 3 pounds. Not because I'm cheap, which I am, but primarily because its a download, the bitrate is slow, there's only 10 songs, and no artwork is included. Not even a cover. In principle - and I'm a principled man - I should’ve supported the band's visionary, envelope-pushing blah blah blah. The truth is, I entered 4 pounds and the site crashed on me, so I decided to deduct a pound for my trouble. Welcome to the digital frontier!

Its wholly unsettling to download albums without the tactile pleasure of a CD tray, an insert, lyrics sometimes -- a visual representation to couch the whole thing in a physical context. I grew up with vinyl, Michael Jackson lounging with a baby Bengal tiger on cheap, shiny black cardboard, which would then be hung on the wall and deciphered while the needle found its groove. He and the baby Bengal hung out with me each time we listened to the glory of “P.Y.T.” and “Human Nature.” Whenever I couldn’t figure out why Billie Jean said he was the one, I’d look at Michael’s reassuring grin and realize all was well. These days, iTunes gives us a Flash-based digital artwork “booklet” to fiddle with...a poor substitute, to be sure, but it's something to look at while we listen.

Radiohead doesn't think we need any of that. So…what do we touch? What do we hang on the wall? Are there walls anymore? Is this thing even an album? What does the music look like? Is it a leak they're charging us for, or is it the real thing?

The answer is YES. This is a real, honest-to-god Radiohead album. It’s brief, and the first time you spin it, you might find it too understated, maybe even unremarkable. There is no “Creep” or “Fake Plastic Trees” or “Paranoid Android” or even a “Pyramid Song” to hang your hat on. This is not a record of singles. Like Kid A, it ebbs and flows. Unlike Kid A, it has no highlights. Like “Fake Plastic Trees,” it’s beautiful, unique, a moving confluence of melody and meaning. Unlike fake plastic trees, it grows on you.

At first, In Rainbows sounds like a bunch of demos, sketches, touched lightly by Nigel Godrich's glowing E.T. fingers. But after awhile, you hear a sort of aural fractal -- sounds getting deeper, resonating, echoing, turning in on themselves, revealing bigger themes, bigger tones, a big, singular, colorful, ever-expanding picture. Beautiful bits of puzzle with no box to work with. This is the beauty of this band -- this is what Radiohead do. And we are fools to deconstruct it, but that is what we do.

They waste no time by shooting us into their orbit straight away with "15 Step" and "Bodysnatchers." In the former, Thom sidesteps the march of crunching beats, Jonny waltzes around him in the left channel, a quicker version of their pas de deux in "Scatterbrain" from the last record. Colin dives in with a short jumble of bass, just briefly, enough to remind you there's a band at work here. It becomes a speedy British bossa nova. Children cheer, Thom's voice echoes. Things veer away into something else. Chords modulate, the drums stop.

Jonny rips some chunky notes, cloaked in rust. Phil kicks in with some human rhythm, and Thom goes haywire. This is the way we remember them, back when the guitars sounded like guitars. It comes out of nowhere. Jonny rips strings out trying to keep up with Phil. Thom whines, howls. "I've no idea what I am talking about!" he yelps. "I'm trapped in this body. I can't get out!" You're moving along with it all, head nodding furiously. Then, the noise winds down, stops. It's over before it began, and Nigel returns us into a gentle bed of humming tones.

A voice slides in, floating, like an airborne castrato. "Don't get any big ideas," Thom intones over a gentle, plaintive strum. "They're not gonna happen." But the song is all big ideas, heavenly rays piercing banks of clouds. The strings sweep in, unnoticed, transforming into shimmering guitar and whistling Godrichisms. Thom's voice doubles, triples, multiplies into a glorious boy's choir, ending on a hymnal high. That's "Nude."

Phil starts into a trot, a steady clip, and Thom sighs approval. Jonny plays quick arpeggi, triplets rising and falling in varied chord progressions, joined by Ed’s own watery arpeggi. This is "Arpeggi."

Then it’s “All I Need,” which is quite beautiful. “Faust ARP,” a quick, gorgeous sweep. “Reckoner” -- lovely.

And this is where I tune out. It’s clear that despite the glowing sounds coming out of my speakers, Thom’s overarching theme is one of alienation, loss, and confusion. Missed connections, letdowns, breakdowns in communication. This, also, is what Radiohead do. You hear the stunning, inventive musicality, the way it interlocks with Thom’s vocalizations, and you might find hope settling in among the lines of despair.

But you also might wonder if Thom will ever sing about anything else. You might wonder what Radiohead would be like with more interstellar bursts of universe-saving energy like “Airbag” and fewer bouts of inscrutable alienation as evidenced by virtually every track on In Rainbows. No other band has been as successful in crystallizing its alienation in these troubled times while throwing their syntax in the blender. But because we’ve become accustomed to Radiohead throwing everything else in the blender as well, maybe our expectations are out of whack.

At this point, I get the sense that In Rainbows is a series of pretty Radiohead songs with no standout to hold onto, with a huge, rocking B-side (“Bodysnatchers”) wedged in to give the album some much-needed balls. I decide to remove “Bodysnatchers” and listen to it again. (If there is no cohesive physical construct to this puppy, I can mess with it however I please.)

But something is missing. It’s too calm, too slow, too one-note. “Bodysnatchers” goes back in. And while it remains an anomaly, it’s a much needed one. Thom shrieks, with hog-tied rage, a declaration that atomizes and floats like dust motes in the scattered rays of sunlight found in the rest of the album: IT’S THE 21ST CENTURY, he says. I’M ALIVE.

Every inscrutable album has a key that unlocks it, and “Bodysnatchers” is that key for me. It soon becomes my favorite song, shortly followed by the rest. Each song is thrown into new relief – instead of sounding vaguely conflicted and very pretty, the songs begin to come to life. Soon, all the songs seem to make small declarations. This is what good albums are supposed to do. They reveal glimpses of the big picture, whatever it is, and the rest of it is up to you to find.

Radiohead has chosen to provide no guidance or comfort in terms of album art, and they leave it up to us to figure out how much we value what they do. So finally, we look to the music itself, and we each start from our own place."