Monday, April 25, 2011

Goodbye Kings

I just watched the Kings get eliminated from the NHL playoffs, losing a heartbreaking Game 6 in overtime. The series was lost, of course, when the Kings collapsed in Game 3, choking a 4-0 lead away on their way to a 6-5 loss. Still, while the Vancouver Canucks --speaking of choking-- will always be my favorite NHL team, I've grown to love this edition of the Kings. They have some really good young talent, a good blend of veterans and younger players and a great coach/GM combo in Terry Murray and Dean Lombardi. If they can add some depth on the 3rd and 4th lines and some muscle on defense, they could go places in the next few years. At this point, I'm just glad they've made the playoffs two years in a row.

Go Canucks on Tuesday, I hope that Game 7 is as exciting as the game tonight was.



I love The Amazing Race. I've seen every episode in what is now their 18th season and while the format --teams of two who are somehow connected race around the world for a million bucks-- and the cliches that they love --teams that hate each other, fighting between teammates, the slick editing of "reality"-- are firmly in place and not going to change, I eagerly download the show on Sunday.

My favorite team of all is The Cowboys, brothers Jet and Cord McCoy. They are working cowboys, with Cord competing on the PBR circuit. Ever since the first time I was introduced to them, I've had the hots for Cord. Damn! Pale skin? Check. Nice body but not a grotesque pile of muscles? Check. Cute face? Yep. Red hair and piercing blue eyes? Oh. my. gawd! A bit of chest hair? Woo hoo! OK, it's really light and I couldn't find a good picture of his chest hair, but still. Add a terrific "Okie" accent and a sly sense of humor and I've just loved watching him for the two seasons he's been on The Race.

Alas, it all ended last night as Jet and Cord got eliminated (again). Unlike their first try, where they almost won, they seemed out of sorts this season. Although they won the 5th leg, they seemed to have trouble reading clues this time around and the other teams definitely didn't do anything to help them (a smart strategy as it turns out). Oh well, it was a great run on both editions that were in and did I mention that Cord McCoy is smokin' hot?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Friday astronomy blogging

(click to enlarge on a new page)
(copyright Matthew Spinelli)

I've been fascinated by astronomy since I was a kid living in Hawai'i, where the stars and constellations are quite visible away from the light pollution of Honolulu. This will be a regular feature highlighting interesting astronomical images from around the Internet.
I thought I'd start out with the most popular asterism in the Northern Hemisphere, the Orion complex (via the awesome and addictive Astronomy Picture of the Day). It's all there in this widefield view: the belt, the famous Horsehead Nebula, the Flame Nebula, M42, The Trapezium, Betelgeuse, Rigel. The Orion molecular cloud is next door in cosmological terms, a mere 1,500 light years.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Colts 2011 Schedule

Until the hooker from St. Louis first destroyed them, then moved them to her hometown, I was a Rams fan, along with a passing fancy for Bob Griese, erm, the Dolphins. Since then, I've been a free agent fan and since Peyton Manning ended up there, I've been an Indianapolis Colts fan. Last season was unreal, the injuries being both plentiful and damaging to key players, but the Ponies still made the playoffs.

The NFL released the 2011* schedules this week and it's an interesting slate.

  • September 11 @ Houston Texans
  • September 18 Cleveland Browns
  • September 25 Pittsburgh Steelers
  • October 3 @ Tampa Buccaneers (Monday)
  • October 9 Kansas City Chiefs
  • October 16 @ Cincinnati Bengals
  • October 23 @ New Orleans Saints
  • October 30 @ Tennessee Titans
  • November 6 Atlanta Falcons
  • November 13 Jacksonville Jaguars
  • November 20 Bye
  • November 27 Carolina Panthers
  • December 4 @ New England Patriots
  • December 11 @ Baltimore Ravens
  • December 18 Tennessee Titans
  • December 22 Houston Texans (Thursday)
  • January 1 @ Jacksonville Jaguars
The NFL schedule makers must have cum in their pants when they figured out that the opening Sunday of the season coincided with the tenth anniversary of 9/11. The NFL *loves* to wrap themselves in the flag and flaunt fighter planes as much as they can, so it's perfect.

Another opener in Houston, that didn't work out so well last year. Luckily, the Steelers game is at home, while it's too bad the Patriots game is in Foxboro in early December. Getting the Saints and Falcons in two out of three weeks is tough, but hey, they play the Browns and Bengals so it evens out.

My prediction: 11-5, bye in the playoffs.

* Contingent on the season starting on time, obviously

It was nice while it lasted

I'm sitting here watching Game 4 of the Kings v. Sharks series and the Kings have given up three goals in about six minutes. It looks like the disastrous collapse from Tuesday has taken its toll and the Sharks talent superiority is starting to assert itself.

Wow, Brad Richardson just scored for the Kings, 3-1 Sharks. That's just a tease, the Sharks will win tonight and then close out the series on Saturday at the Shark Tank. The Kings had an excellent season, one in which they had 10 straight road games because Staples was being used for the NBA All-Star game and the Grammy's. They need to get some scoring help on the 3rd and 4th lines and some bulk on defense, but this is a young team overall and full of potential.

A bit shocking to see that my "other" team, the OH SHIT the Kings just scored when a defenseman for San Jose tipped the puck in to his own net. BELIEVE BABY! (and ignore what I wrote previously). Anyways, surprising to see the Canucks getting schooled by the Blackhawks 5-0, in Game 5 after cruising to a 3-0 series lead.

UPDATE: Believing is for suckers, the Kings gave up two goals in the first 3:22 of the third period, 5-2 Sharks. *sigh*

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

öffnet den Schrein!

The greatest night I've ever had in an opera house was in 2003 when I was blown away by a production of Schreker's Die Gezeichneten at the Staatsoper Stuttgart. It was one of those magical nights that are like heroin to opera lovers, a night where a masterpiece --as Die Gezeichneten surely is-- meets superb singing, a great staging and a magician in the pit. I also attended a performance of the Der Schatzgräber mentioned in the linked review, but it was a horrible David Alden production only rescued by a superb musical performance.

I was reminded of that shattering performance of Die Gezeichneten today while reading James Jorden's (aka La Cieca) superb analysis of another Stuttgart production, Calixto Bieito's post-apocalyptic Parsifal. I'm a burned-out Wagnerian, tired of his musical long-windedness, characters I don't give a damn about and, well, Wagnerians. I do make the exception for Tristan und Isolde, easily in the running for sobriquet "Greatest Opera Ever Written" and Parsifal.

What I love about Mr. Jorden's piece is that he works from a premise that is alien to a lot of American opera-goers: taking seriously a production that isn't remotely set in the time and place specified in the libretto. This is a typical response, from operagirl40 at Parterre:

What absolute GARBAGE! The only one who should have been urinated on……….is the director!

Zzzzzzzzzzzz. I've had good (the Peter Sellars Malibu beach house Pelleas et Melisande here in Los Angeles) and bad (the Lenhoff "let's stare at 3 gray walls for 4 1/2 hours" Parsifal at ENO) experiences with so-called Regietheter, but give me something that makes me think over boring period sets and park-and-bark singers.

I'd love for the Bieito Parsifal to show up within 5,000 miles of me, but that's very unlikely, as is a DVD/download release.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

In Praise Of The Mamas and The Papas

As a quirk of history would have it, I was born in 1959, as the original rock n' roll movement was going through its death throes: Elvis in the Army, returning to civilian life to make mediocre records and a string of horrible movies; Buddy Holly and the extremely promising Richie Valens (and The Big Bopper too) dead in a frozen Iowa field; Chuck Berry was about to be convicted of transporting a 14-year girl over state lines "for immoral purposes" and sent to The Big House for almost two years; and others simply dead too young or past their prime.

When the greatest rock band ever --shut up, all your arguments are invalid and I'll gladly expound AT GREAT LENGTH WHY-- The Beatles burst on the American scene in early 1964, I was just becoming conscious of TV. By the time I had my own "first love" band in the form of The Pre-Fab Four aka The Monkees in 1967, I was a full-fledged music fan. It helped that my awesome Dad had big record collection of everything from Johnny Cash to Walter (later Wendy) Carlos' Switched On Bach to Stravinsky and two older sisters and an older brother who got all the latest releases.

Part of that mix was The Mamas and the Papas, one of the great vocal harmony groups in an era of great vocal harmony groups. If I was to name my favorite 20 songs, the M&P's Go Where You Wanna Go would easily make the list.

The harmonies, the lyrics reflecting that all-too-brief period in American (and British) life ca. 1964-1967 when it seemed anything was possible (Go where you wanna go/And do what you what wanna do/With whoever you want, babe), the wonderful Lou Adler/Bones Howe production, and for this bass guitarist, the wonderful bass line by the great Joe Osborn, it all adds up to 2:30 of aural bliss.

What blows me away is that John Phillips, the M&P's leader and songwriter, has a reputation as a great songwriter that lasts to this day based on maybe a dozen songs. Another favorite is autobiographical Creeque Alley (pronounced Creeky Alley), seen to great effect in this playful lip-sync job:

The Mamas and the Papas lasted a little under three years in their original run (I'll ignore the contractual obligation reunion(s)), breaking up amid drug abuse, members tending to sleep with one another and the usual "I'll be more successful as a solo act" hubris, but I just have to hear those golden harmonies on my favorite songs of theirs and it's pure musical bliss.

Plane Porn 1

Having grown up on Air Force bases, it's almost inevitable that I would develop an interest in planes. There's the coolest plane ever, the P-51; the thank-FSM-it-wasn't-ready-in-1940 ME262; the U-2; the X-15 and my favorite of all, XB-70 Valkyrie (via this great site):

The origins of the Valkyrie date back to the 1950's, when a supersonic long-range bomber was proposed. After a tortuous R&D phase, 2 of the finished design were built by North American Aviation (now Rockwell_International). Sadly, one of them was destroyed in a horrible midair collision during a freakin' photo op and ended up as a smudge on the floor of the Mojave Desert. The other is a still-popular tourist attraction at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio. For a young son of an Air Force flight engineer, the XB-70 simply was what The Future was going to look like. Of course, history isn't really concerned with what 8-year old boys want!

Na na na na na na na na Hey Hey Goodbye!

Yes, it's barely two minutes in to Game 1 of a best-of-seven series, but I'm already putting a fork in the Los Angeles Kings chances winning this series. Dany Heatley scores :28 in to Game 1 and already the Kings are in a hole. With their top offensive player out, it was always going to be tough, but....crap.

UPDATE: Well blow me: 2-2 after the second period. No no no no no no, it's a total tease.

UPDATE II: Dammit. I don't know what's a step down from "heartbreaking" (which would be losing a Game 7), but to give up a goal :28 in and end up losing in OT is a perfect example.

It'll be interesting to see how the Kings react on Saturday: collapse or steal one in the Shark Tank?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Can we all get along?


It will have taken over 8 1/2 years, but Phish will finally deign to play a show in the second largest market in the country, the Los Angeles area (no, the Coachella Valley doesn't count) when they pull in to the Hollywood Bowl on August 8th for a one-niter. It's a great place to see a show and as a bonus, I can catch the Red Line and avoid the nightmare parking situation.

I'm tempted to go to the next two shows up in Lake Tahoe, but with the small capacity (7,200), it's going to be a tough ticket and I.....guess I'm getting old because I don't want to spend the money on a plane + hotel + transport to go to the shows, not to mention the hassles of traveling.

I'll settle for the Outside Lands festival up in Golden Gate Park, with Phish headlining on Friday the 12th and the awesome MUSE on Saturday the 13th. I'd love to see The Decemberists again, but knowing my luck (and lack of it), they'll probably play on Sunday, when I have to come home. Rumors persist that Phish will play a show on Saturday at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, but that would be a dilemma, conflicting with MUSE and all. I'm not even sure Outside Lands sell single-day tickets but it's a thought.

Here's hopin' that Phish plays The Curtain (With) [sound starts if you click through] at at least one of the shows I go to!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Of our elaborate plans, the end

This is the end, beautiful friend
This is the end, my only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans
The end
Of everything that stands
The end
No safety or surprise
The end
I'll never look in to your eyes again

Can you picture what will be?
So limitless and free
Desperately in need of some strangers hand
In a desperate land.....


Some bad news on the operatic front from New York City: the New York City Opera is canceling their fall season. In my opinion, the very future of the company is in doubt. I've had some great nights at the New York State Theater David H. Koch Theater: their great production of Die Tote Stadt, a rare chance to experience Michael Tippett's A Midsummer Marriage, a terrific Cunning Little Vixen. Additionally, compared to the singer-centric mausoleum across the Lincoln Center plaza, NYCO has made some really out-there repetory choices that are right up my alley, the incredible Don Rodrigo and Bomarzo by Ginastera being the productions I wish I had a time machine for.

NYCO has been in crisis mode for at least the last five years. The whole Gerard Mortier debacle is too depressing to go in to detail about, and the George Steel era hasn't been a bed of roses either, handsome as he is.

From my perspective 3,000 miles away, the biggest, intractable problem that NYCO has/has had since 1964 is the fact that they play in a space not designed for opera, but for ballet. This apparently manifested itself in having a very flat sound coming off the stage so as not to amplify the dancers feet hitting the stage. There's no doubt that the New York City Ballet's George Balanchine had more clout than anyone at the NYCO, so it makes sense that the brilliant choreographer would get his way. The net result is that the theater is not really suited for opera, as Mr. Mortier made clear. The need to find a new space that is both acoustically appropriate (there was talk of building an opera house at Ground Zero, but that never got beyond the talking stage) and unencumbered by the need to accommodate NYCB's schedule is paramount.

Red Sux

No team that has started 0-5 has ever won the World Series.

UPDATE: Make that 0-6. Buwahahahahahaha. Next up: 3 games at Yankee Stadium. Go Yankees!

Go Kings Go!


Congratulations to the Los Angeles Kings for clinching a playoff spot for the second season in a row. Not a big deal, making the playoffs again? Considering how awful this team was for a long stretch of the 2000's, that a step in the right direction.

Now, it's true that my true NHL love is the Vancouver Canucks, they've been my favorite team since I saw them play at the Spectrum in Philadelphia in the early 70's, but to be honest, they're in Vancouver and the Kings are here, it's easier to root for the Kings.

There's still two big games left for the Kings against the Anaheim Ducks, with playoff seeding at stake.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ugliness in Chavez Ravine

I'm not a fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers, to put it mildly, despite living 15 minutes from their great ballpark. In the early 70's when I became a big baseball fan, I loved the Oakland Athletics because they had long hair, fought in the dugout, had loud psychedelic uniforms and a "don't give a f**k attitude" that 12-year old me just ate up. Of course, this fandom made me look like a genius when they won three World Series in a row. At the other end of the spectrum were the Dodgers, all wholesome family values (before that became an tired buzzword), clean-cut ballplayers and after 1976, the odious Tommy Lasorda, asshole in private and avuncular "I bleed Dodger blue" in public.

I've been to Dodger Stadium twice in the last five years and the reason is simple: it can be a really scary place to watch a baseball game. You'd get an affirmative about that from Bryan Stow, a Giants fan who attended the Opening Day game in Chavez Ravine, except for the fact that he can't say anything to anyone since he's in a freakin' coma after getting savagely beaten by two piece-of-shit Dodgers fans in the parking lot after the game. His crime: wearing a Giants shirt.

There's been much handwringing in the local media and on sports talk radio since the incident, but to be blunt, this isn't a surprise at all. I was at a Freeway Series game in Anaheim during the late 90's and it was the first time that a significant amount of Dodgers fans had shown up at the Big A, largely because it was a regular season game, not an exhibition like all Angels v. Dodgers tilts were before interleague play was introduced before the 1997 season. What do you know, there was a melee on the upper deck concourse involving about a dozen dudes in Dodgers shirts.

Fast forward to about four or five years ago and my buddy Dan and I were in the upper deck at Dodgers Stadium for another Freeway Series game. We spent the whole game having the gangbanger behind us threatening to kick our ass because we were rooting for the Angels and at one point, after about eight beers, he threatened to throw us off that upper deck. We acted like Dodgers fans and left before the game ended, something we haven't done in Anaheim since the early 80's.

Turns out that there's not much security in the Dodger Stadium parking lot after the game begins and even at the best of times, experts say that the security detail is understaffed. There's little doubt that people getting drunk at the games leads to problems so it's eye-rolling time to see that the team has scheduled several 1/2 Price Food & Drinks days, which include 1/2 price beer, for six games this season.

While I hope the Dodgers as a baseball team go 0-162 every season for the next zillion years, when it becomes dangerous to go to a game at Dodger Stadium, that's unacceptable.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Opera and orchestra scheduling blues

[NOTE: Items with an * are YouTube clips that have the sound start when you click the link]

For at least the last ten years, starting in February I start scouring opera company and orchestras' websites for news about their upcoming seasons. Once I get the information, I enter whatever seems vaguely interesting in to an Excel spreadsheet. Around June, when the last stragglers have announced their seasons (for some reason, the Staatsoper Stuttgart is always the last major company to announce their upcoming season), I see if there's enough interesting stuff in a 7-10 day period to justify the expense and hassle of a trip to Europe.

The last two seasons of doing this has been really depressing. If it weren't for the Deutsche Oper Berlin doing a string of rarities, I don't think I would have gone to Europe in early March. Yes, the chance to tick another Schreker opera off my list of ones I've seen, Irrelohe, was also a big factor, but the bastards at Oper Bonn canceled it a few days before I was supposed to hop on a train from Berlin to see it and replaced it with Turandot. It's clear that economic woes both in the United States and Europe have caused arts organizations to retreat to the safe and easy options, i.e. 8,000 La Boheme's a season. Since I have zero interest in baroque or bel canto operas and for most orchestral music before Beethoven, it's tough out there for someone who's dying to experience another production of Lear* or Die Soldaten* or to finally see a production of The Mask of Orpheus, The Second Mrs. Kong and the remaining five Schreker operas (I'm not counting the revision of Das Spielwerk und die Prinzessin) on my Schreker to-do list.

Case in point: the aforementioned DO Berlin. They're usually good for at least three or four interesting pieces a year; my favorite recording of my favorite opera, Die Tote Stadt*, is a pirate recording from the DOB with Stephen Gould as an excellent Paul and Christian Thielemann conducting the hell out of Korngold's glorious score. I got the 2011-12 DOB schedule on Monday and I almost fell off my chair at work at how bad it is.

Of the seven new productions, five are of 19th century Italian operas (three by Verdi) and three of those will be in concert form. Janacek's Jenufa and Wagner's Tannhauser round out the new productions. Wow, one whole opera written in the 20th century, the Jenufa, and barely at that (it was complete in 1902, first staged in 1904). A double-bill of Felix Weingartner's Die Dorfschule (1920) and Carl Orff's Gisei, which was completed in 1912 when Orff was 17 and only premiered in early 2010, is listed as "Weitere Höhepunkte" (other highlights), whatever that means, along with a concert production of Candide. The real shock is that of the 21 revivals, SEVEN will be by Verdi, for a total of 10 Verdi pieces in a season of 30 operas. This is insane, full stop, it's not even the Verdi bicentennial, that's still two seasons away in 2013!

I'm actually starting to dread the 2013-14 opera season, as it will be the season that the Verdi and Wagner bicentennial's will be celebrated. Since the Verdi operas I enjoy can be counted on three fingers and the Wagner operas that I still listen to on two and 1/3, it's a depressing thought for someone whose tastes are far outside the mainstream to begin with to contemplate. Yes, 2013 is also the Benjamin Britten centenary, but I'm certain that people will do the overplayed Peter Grimes and the chamber opera The Turn of the Screw and consider their duty done. I'm hoping against hope that the incredible Deborah Warner Death in Venice that I saw at ENO gets revived and that Gloriana is done somewhere.

Oh well. At least Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic will be doing the incredible Gruppen and the fab Rituel in Memoriam Bruno Maderna at the awesome Park Avenue Armory in June of 2012, though what on earth he wa$ thinking by $cheduling the Mozart in that cavernou$ $pace is a my$tery. In addition to that must-attend event, I'll finally get a chance to go to a production of Saariaho's incredible L'amour de Loin, at the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto. Mmmmm......Canadian guys........mmmmmm.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

"Everyone knows rock attained perfection in 1974, it's a scientific fact" - Homer Jay Simpson

[NOTE: Some of the links are to clips with sound that starts when you click on the link, you have been warned]

While I can't completely agree with Homer Jay --there's simply too many bands that I love that came after that time frame-- I've long believed that 1971-1973 was one of the peak years of rock. While searching for pictures of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, I came across the handbill above (from here). I think it's a fascinating snapshot of what it must have been like to be a music fan and have all those choices (I was 12, living on the Air Force base in New Jersey that my Dad was stationed at and still a few years away from regular concert-going).

The ELP/Mahavishnu Orchestra bill is what first caught my eye. Apart from the absurdity of having a weak edition of Blues Project on the bill, this fits in to a comment made by Yes bassist Chris Squire that I read years ago (and can't find now): Punk didn't kill prog rock, the Mahavishnu Orchestra did. His point was that when the MO first started regular gigging in 1971, they blew away a lot of musicians. He said that Yes began to think they had to play 8,000 notes a bar to keep up with the groundbreaking music the MO was playing. ELP certainly weren't immune to that mindset and they had the chops to pull it off.

The King Crimson listing is bittersweet, as their Winterland gigs were some of the last dates that the Fripp/Collins/Boz (RIP)/Wallace (RIP) band did before it imploded in a welter of bad vibes and non-communication. For years, this band was much maligned among prog geeks because the only aural evidence of its existence was the very poor Earthbound live album. Thanks to DGM Live, however, there's been a steady stream of evidence that this was a fine band, a worthy addition to the bewildering number of KC lineups.

Deep Purple must have been something to see/hear back then, the classic Gillan/Blackmore/Lord/Glover/Paice lineup still intact and reputedly the loudest band in the world at one time. They were touring to promote the recently released Machine Head, I wonder if Space Truckin' lasted 20 minutes yet?

Don McLean was still riding high off of the success of the "get off my lawn you damn hippie kids" vibe of American Pie and his glorious ode to Vincent Van Gogh, Vincent, to see him in the interesting looking Berkely Community Theater must have been wonderful.

The Humble Pie/Edgar Winter Group/Osibisa bill is especially strong. I love The Pie and their lead singer/guitarist/leader Steve Marriott, who left the fab Small Faces to form Humble Pie with Peter Frampton (yes, the same). The Pie were on their never-ending tour, in this case promoting the recently released Smokin', while The Edgar Winter Group had just gotten started with their classic lineup of Winter/Montrose/Hartman (RIP)/Ruff, the awesome Frankenstein still in their future. I like what I've heard of Osibisa and hey, Roger Dean did some of their album covers, they can't be that bad, right?

Joe Cocker had accrued enough of an audience to play the Oakland Coliseum arena, but in retrospect, the buzz from Woodstock/Mad Dogs & Englishmen had started to run out, alcoholism and syrupy Top 40 stuff not far off. Then we have West, Bruce & Laing, featuring my first musical hero (and reason I became a bass player), Jack Bruce. They were one of the numerous "supergroups" that dotted the landscape in the late 60's/early 70's after Blind Faith and Crosby, Stills & Nash (&Young) lead the way (Beck, Bogert and Appice anyone?).

Sure, it's easy to get all nostalgic for this period in concert going, but I bet if I was 20 back then and showed this to some older hippie, he'd say "You kids today with your loud heavy metal so-called music! Back in MY day we had Hendrix, Cream, Janis, the Dead and the Airplane playing here all the time, now THAT was music!".

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Life begins anew, 2011 edition

Inspired by the awesome Lisa Hirsch to start blogging again, I thought that re-starting this here blog up on the first day of the baseball season would be appropriate.

Much has happened since I last posted here:

* LOST, after four seasons of being totally awesome, turned out to confirm the haters view that the two idiot hacks running things, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, really didn't know what the hell they were doing. They swore for years that the show had nothing to do with time travel or purgatory, so of course season five was all about time travel and season six was about purgatory. Worst of all, Lindelof's favorite character and the focus of season six, Jack, turned out to be a) the least interesting character on the show who was b) acted by the worst actor on the show. Season six was an insult to all of us obsessives and this brutal smackdown by Fishbisquit had me nodding in agreement so much that I almost got neck strain. May Lindelof and Cuse not be allowed near even a cable access show ever again.

* The glow from the Angels 2002 World Series win is definitely over, the prime example being a horrible 2008 postseason wherein they had the best record in baseball but ended up with them being swept in the first round by those pieces of human excrement the Red Sox. With Garrett Anderson and Scot Shields now gone, there are no players remaining from the 2002 team. Mark Trumbo sure is hot, though, I hope he can hit major league pitching. A 4-2 win today over the Royals is a nice start to the 2011 season.

* I've really gotten in to hockey again, the Kings totally not sucking for the last two years being a big factor. I still love the Canucks, who tonight clinched the best regular season record with an efficient 3-1 win over the Kings, but they're in Vancouver, I'm in Los Angeles, the Kings play 10 minutes from here. Yes, I'm cheating on my favorite hockey team since 1972 with the local floozie, I think I'll have to drink myself silly this weekend to deal with it.

* In a scenario I never thought would happen, I only had to travel 15 minutes down 6th Street to see a production of a Franz Schreker opera. The Los Angeles Opera mounted a wonderful production of the incredible Die Gezeichneten, despite apparently having a budget of about $2.87 to do so. Sadly, a trip to Germany and Austria in February of this year was marred by the cancellation by Oper Bonn four days before the performance of the reason I went, Schreker's Irrelohe. I still almost break in to tears thinking about it.

The ineptness of the management of the LAO continues to rankle, as they gambled the house money on a Ring cycle that no one was really clamoring for (except maybe board members who thought it would bring some prestige), cost a fortune, was a nightmare to stage and didn't draw anywhere near the audiences it needed to break even. They then start a Benjamin Britten cycle in anticipation of the great English opera composer's centenary in 2013 but they insist on doing two of his chamber operas, The Turn of the Screw and Albert Herring, in the airport hanger that is the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. No way will they have the guts to do Gloriana or Death in Venice.

* TV has been phenomenal for me in the last three years, with The Amazing Race; Being Human (both the awesome UK and the excellent new US version); a great new Doctor replacing the really tired emo schtick of David Tennant; Glee and its fascinating gay storyline; V, a remake of an 80's sci-fi show that has gotten better as its gone along; the intriguing The Event and the wildly uneven but it-coulda-been-a-contender LOST clone FlashForward providing much moron machine entertainment. I still avoid most cop, doctor and murder porn shows like the Ebola virus and for some reason I've never been interested in faves like MadMen, Breaking Bad or Big Love, so I don't end up watching much TV.

* The Orion Nebula, Tarantula Nebula, the Seven Sisters, the Crab Nebula, Eta Carinae and so many other wonderful cosmic sights continue to amaze and delight this astronomy geek.

* The less said about politics, the better. I've made a pact with myself that I'll avoid that topic here, it only leads to tears.

I hope to be a regular blogger, I just have to have the mindset that short posts often v. epics every 3 years is the way to go.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Friday Benjamin Linus blogging

Ooooohhhh, I loves me some in control of the situation Ben, as he is here from Meet Kevin Johnson. I guess that's one way to get your daughter's boyfriend out of the way......

Screencap via Michael (thanks Edith!)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Life begins anew: baseball edition

I love this time of year in the American sports calendar. The death marches that are the NBA and NHL seasons are winding down in preparation for the playoffs (go Canucks!), college basketball is all Elite 8 > Final 4 > Final, the golf majors are about to get underway and best of all, baseball gets going.

I've been a baseball fan since around the age of seven; I was living in the Bay Area at the time and Willie Mays ruled. Being an Air Force brat, I didn't form a strong attachment for a team due to moving so often, but after seeing Nolan Ryan pitch from the fifth row at Yankee Stadium, I was a California Angels fan. I had harbored hopes of being a major league pitcher, but alas, genetics conspired against me. As a 13-year old, I didn't really know all that much about the history of the Angels and if I had, I might have not set myself up for so much future heartache. Still, the Angels were "my team" and when my Dad retired from the Air Force and we moved to Los Angeles, I finally had a chance to see them in person, at the old Big A. NOTE: Yes, yes, I know they're officially called The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but that's totally effing lame, so I call them the California or Anaheim Angels.

Ah, the pennant race of 1979. I'll never forget the atmosphere and sheer excitement of seeing my hero, Nolan Ryan, win a crucial game in the pennant race. My friends and I had smoked a ton of hash and drank a case of beer before the game and we were fired up, to say the least.

Fast forward a few weeks, and the Angels are in the playoffs for the first time in their history, against the Orioles, who didn't suck goat balls back then. My pal Rod and I had tickets to Game 4. The Big A was a construction site, the disastrous move of the Rams imminent, the transformation of the Big A in to a giant, cavernous, soulless multi-purpose stadium underway. This was the year of the "Yes We Can!" chant and the fans were raucous, despite the Orioles 3-0 lead. The Angels loaded the bases, had a then-lust object, Jimmy Anderson at the plate --I had a weakness for geeky shortstops who could barely hit their weight-- and when he hit a rocket down the third-base line, the place erupted....until Doug DeCinces made a great diving stab, stepped on third and threw to first to complete the double play. I've never seen a crowd go from pandemonium to stunned silence quicker. My friends know better than to mention the 1982, 1986 and 1995 seasons around me.

So, here we are in 2008, the Angels the favorites to win the American League West. If last night's season opener against the Minnesota Twins --mmmm, Justin Morneau, mmmmm-- in the soon-to-be-gone HomerDome is any indication, it's going to be another season of "great pitching, weak offense". *sigh* It's a long season and one thing I've learned in my 41 years of being a baseball fan is to not get too excited when things are going well and not get down when times are tough. If the talent is there --and the Angels have it-- they'll find a way to win.

Update (4/1/08): a perfect example of why it's best not to hit the panic button too quickly when it comes to baseball (in my case, the Angels' hitting): the Angels won 9-1 tonight.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Friday Benjamin Linus blogging

This week's picture is from the searing kitchen scene in One of Us, where Ben and Juliet verbally spar about her leaving The Island. Love Ben's glasses!

Screencap via Michael (thanks Edith!)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Joyeux anniversaire, Pierre Boulez

(awesome scan courtesy of Tears of a Clownsilly)

Today, March 26th, marks the birthday of one of my true musical heroes, Pierre Boulez, still active at the age of 83 (hat tip to the redoubtable Pliable for the reminder). Boulez is easily one of the most polarizing figures in 20th century (and beyond) classical music: blamed by some for everything from the death of classical music as an art form to the reason that musicians working in the classical field don't make the cover of national newsweeklies anymore to being the Anti-Christ, beloved by others (i.e. me) for his fierce musical intellect, challenging-but-often-sensuous music, radical musical polemics and being a conductor who can untangle the knottiest of contemporary scores and have you thinking "Well, of course that's how it should be done!". His conducting of his chosen core repertory --Berg, Debussy, Mahler, Ravel, Schönberg, Stravinsky, Webern and Varese, say— is well nigh definitive in some cases and always probing and interesting.

Two of my greatest experiences in a concert hall involved the conducting of Pierre Boulez. The first was a routine subscription program with the Los Angeles Philharmonic that ended with a performance of Debussy's glorious La Mer that had the hairs on the back of my neck at full attention. The other was Maestro Boulez conducting a concert of his own pieces, the four orchestrated Notations (there's since been a fifth added to the piece) ending the concert in such a manner that I was in a daze for days (NOTE: sound starts upon clicking link).

Now, while I'm an unabashed fanboy, I'm not a unconditional one. As much as I adore Le marteau sans maître, Le visage nuptial, Rituel: In Memoriam Bruno Maderna, Sur Incises and what I believe is his masterpiece, Repons, I find most of the other music either too rigidly serialist or it features instruments I'm not a fan of (see: clarinet, for example). As a conductor, his readings of the standard 19th century repertoire can be a bit cold and overly-manicured for my tastes and the less said about his conducting on the Bayreuth Parsifal recording, the better.

I just wish Mr. Boulez had composed more original music instead of constantly revisiting and revising existing pieces; there was long talk of an opera but, alas. I also wish he would have spent the time he used to make make multiple recordings of early 20th century pieces to conduct more outside his normal fach.

Finally, I'm proud that I can count Pierre Boulez amongst the long list of gay men who have contributed so much to world culture.

Monday, March 24, 2008

School is hell

Growing up, I grew to hate --yes, that's the correct word-- the social aspects of being in junior high (i.e. middle school) and high school. The cliques, the weird rules that we were supposed to abide by to get along but which changed without notice etc. As I knew I was homosexual, "different", around the age of six, I was always on guard about people finding that out because I knew other boys were bullied for being effeminate. It helped that I loved sports from an early age, that provided an easy smokescreen.

So, when I read stories like this one from the New York Times (via Towleroad), I want to hit things. This poor lad --straight, it seems-- has become the object of bullying in his school and there doesn't seem any way out of it, short of his parents moving 2,000 miles away. What's especially galling is the attitude of school administrators and their subtle "blame the victim" mentality: their job is to ensure a safe space for all students, full stop, even if the object of the bullying is difficult or has learning challenges.

When I was in 8th grade, my family moved --again-- in the middle of the school year, due to my dad being transferred to a new Air Force base. I dreaded these moments: being paraded in front of the class as "the new boy", having to start all over socially, getting the feeling that it was pointless to develop strong friendships because one would just leave in a few years anyway.

As is typical in bullying cases, my mere existence seemed to infuriate one kid in particular. We had an art class together and he would punch me when the teacher wasn't looking, trip me if I walked too close to his working area etc. I was painfully shy, had glasses and braces, just hated being around other people other than to play sports. One day, this kid threw a piece of clay at me. It hit my glasses, driving the metal bridge in to the bridge of my nose. I snapped: I went over to him, pushed him against the wall (I was taller than he was, fortunately) and started to choke him. Seriously choke him, as in: cause him to die by asphyxiation choke him. I'll never forget as long as I live the look of utter panic in his eyes as I squeezed his throat harder. I was pulled off of him by some other classmates and I caused a near heart-attack in the lovely lady who taught us; I have no doubt that if I hadn't been stopped, I would have killed him. Guess what?

I was never bullied again at that school.

Is that what it's going to take for the bullying of Billy Wolfe to stop, for him to snap like I did and, given this is 2008 and not 1975, put a bullet in the head of a tormentor?

Update (3/26/08): Here's a video of Billy Wolfe and his mom's appearance on the Today Show.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Friday Sunday Benjamin Linus blogging

A bit late this week --NCAA basketball has eaten up all my spare time-- but I love this shot of Ben/Michael from The Other Woman, it highlights those sharp features that I love so much. Mmmmm....chest hair.....mmmmmm.

Damn, a month's hiatus for LOST now.

Screencap via Michael (thanks Edith!)

Friday, March 14, 2008

Friday Benjamin Linus Blogging

I love the play of shadows on Ben's face here, from the episode One of Us. I'll never get tired of hearing him say "So, I guess I'm out of the book club".

Screencap via Michael (thanks Edith!)

Friday, March 7, 2008

Guilty pleasures

Ah, one of my favorite music topics: guilty pleasures.

Composer Alan Theisen, looking smokin' hot in that jacket / shirt / tie combo, comes out of the metaphorical closet and proudly declares: Guilty pleasures? I don't need no stinkin' guilty pleasures!

I like the cut of his jib. I'm a prog rock geek, so it's somewhat assumed in that fandom that I'm a foe of disco and punk. Not so! I'm also a staunch advocate of hyper-complex serialism, so I'm not supposed to enjoy Puccini. Absolutely not true!

Now, to be fair, when I was a teenager and early 20-something, I was a horrible music snob. However, I was also a hypocrite: while railing against the 4/4 thump of disco --if it wasn't in 7/8 or 5/4 or 13/8, it was barely music to me, I'd loudly proclaim -- I secretly loved to bits songs like Stayin' Alive and I Feel Love and the glorious Dancing Queen, because, you know, they're brilliant pop records. Luckily, as I grew older, I realized that it wasn't the music so much as the tribal aspects of that snobbery that I was engaging in. Sometime in my late twenties, I started to categorize music simply along a bad > great continuum.

I still have some old aspects of that snobbery lingering around: I simply refuse to say that Billy Joel is as great a composer (he is a fine songwriter, however) as Beethoven as some silly pomo ironicists do, or that they even should be considered using the same critical parameters. However, I'm such a music slut that I'll listen to almost anything that isn't reggae (OK, I love a few Bob Marley songs) or minimalism and find something to latch on to.

I do have to disagree with Mr. Theisen on his choice of the Air Supply song he mentioned. It's obvious, duh, that Making Love Out Of Nothing At All is superior to
Even the Nights are Better. I mean, MLOONAA mentions sports!

Friday Benjamin Linus blogging

This week's screencap (click to enlarge) is from the awesome episode The Man From Tallahassee. "I *know* you, John Locke" indeed. Love Ben's jammies and that chest hair......mmmmm....chest hair......mmmm.

Screencap via Michael (thanks Edith!)

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Jarrett / Peacock / DeJohnette at Royce Hall

Wow, what a gig at UCLA's Royce Hall by Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette, celebrating their 25th Anniversary as a trio. My friend and I had seats in the balcony, with a perfect view of Jarrett's hands on the keyboard. Two sets, about an hour each, with two encores. I know squat about jazz standards, but I was told that the tune to end the first set was Monk's Straight, No Chaser. Monk as filtered through the Second Viennese School, that is. Stunning.

Mr. Jarrett in particular was in fine form, spinning out perfectly executed skeins of 16th note runs over three octaves, more angular motifs and a subtle use of left-hand comping. Mr. Peacock, whether soloing or as part of the ensemble, was terrific, something special to watch and hear for this dabbler on bass guitar. His intonation was superb and his tone muscular and full, no matter where on the neck (or above it!) he was playing. Mr. DeJohnette is not the fiery "what? play a straight pulse? HAHAHAHA" drummer I know so well from his days as Miles Davis' drummer in the great Lost Quintet, but what he lacked in blatant displays of virtuosity, he more than made up for that in subtlety and nuance. What a night of straight-ahead jazz playing!

Just to confirm that scumbags are not limited to ruining the atmosphere at symphony concerts, despite a clearly stated warning, which I know the guy heard because he was a row down and about 10 seats over from me, some paramecium waited until Mr. Jarrett looked up in our direction during the applause after the second set was over to take a flash photograph. Ruh roh! This prompted two stern admonishments (admonishment > go to piano to begin to play > return to mic for second admonishment) from Mr. Jarrett after the group came back out. I wouldn't have blamed him if he hadn't come back for the encores. What the hell is wrong with people?

For a more profanity laced version of a Keith Jarrett admonishment, check out this clip on YouTube (NOTE: sound starts as soon as you click the link) from Umbria Jazz in 1997. Wow.

Still, a great night of jazz at a beautiful venue.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

2008-09 schedule ennui

Starting about ten years ago, coinciding with getting connected to the Internet and having enough disposable income to travel long distances, this part of year meant two things:

1. Baseball was about to start again
2. Opera and symphony schedules for the upcoming season were announced

I'm still excited about baseball starting, especially since the Anaheim Angels are going to be really good again this year. Of the opera and symphony schedules, there's not much excitement generated so far.

The 800-pound gorilla of the American opera scene, the Metropolitan Opera, announced its 2008-09 season yesterday and man, it's boring. Let me qualify that: it's boring to me. Since I have zero interest in most operas written before ca. 1890 not composed by Wagner or Berlioz, it's a big freakin' desert at Broadway & 63rd Street for me. I mean, the one new production of even vague interest is Thaïs, with Renee Fleming, Michael Schade and Thomas Hampson. The less said about the abysmal Doctor Atomic (that's my comment, I forgot to sign the post), the better, I'd say. At least the Met isn't using the awful Peter Sellars production I saw in San Francisco.

As for the revivals, dear oh dear. An average cast for the Ring and Tristan, although the Salome looks kind of interesting. Interesting enough to travel to New York to see? Not likely.

Closer to home, the Los Angeles Philharmonic announced the contents of Esa-Pekka Salonen's final season as Music Director (PDF) and it's even more disappointing than the Met's season, since the Met is so stodgy and star-singer oriented that nothing very surprising is ever going to happen there anyway. Mr. Salonen, however, took a dispirited orchestra that was clearly bored with André Previn and over the years, turned it in to a critically lauded orchestra specializing in 20th century works. I've had some amazing nights at both The Dot and Disney Hall with the orchestra and so it's sort of a bummer that the final season before Gustavo Dudamel takes over is so....tame.

For me, the highlight is the much delayed appearance of Kaija Saariaho's La Passion de Simone, which has been postponed twice already. Ms. Saariaho's opera L'amour de Loin, which I have three recordings of, including the terrific DVD, is one of my very favorites, though I found her second opera Adriana Mater somewhat disappointing. I'll believe this is happening when I'm in my usual seat in the balcony and Mr. Salonen lifts his baton to begin. There's a lot of Stravinsky, especially in the final concerts of Mr. Salonen's tenure, which will feature *ugh* Peter Sellars *ugh* staging Oedipus Rex, with The Symphony of Psalms also on the bill. Next April will also find Mr. Salonen conducting Ligeti's Clocks and Clouds, which opens a concert containing a new piece of his and the Beethoven Fifth (!!).

The press release makes much of seven world premieres, but that's a fudge, I think. Louis Andriessen's Double Piano Concerto, written for the Labèque's looks intereseting, especially since it's paired with Janáček's wonderful Sinfonietta and that Salonen warhorse, La Sacre du Printemps. Arvo Pärt gets a commission for a piece for strings and then the fudging begins: four of the premieres take place at a single Green Umbrella concert. Still, all in all, Mr. Salonen has had an admirable record of commissioning new works, including one's that *aren't* ten-minute slices of pseudo-film music (aka How Orchestras Normally Avoid New Music But Still Pretend That Music Didn't Die With Brahms).

Mr. Dudamel makes three appearances, one with the Israel Philharmonic in a program of Bernstein and Tchaikovsky and two more substantial programs with the LAP, which include two of my favorite post-war avant-garde pieces, Ligeti's amazing Atmoshpheres and György Kurtág's terrific Stele. Nice to see Mr. Dudamel going non-tonal for a change!

There's simply no excuse for all-Brahms concerts, none.

As I've gone through the ritual of scouring websites to get the scheduels for 2008-09, looking for things that might be worth traveling for, I'm getting a sinking feeling that there's not going to be very much of interest at all this time around. American opera companies are deathly afraid of taking chances and the orchestras aren't much more adventurous. European houses and orchestras at least still have a cushion of public funding to help them schedule the non-standard repertory stuff that I like without fear of the bankruptcy court or subscriber outrage that they've been denied an all-Brahms concert. I think I'd be happy at this point to settle for a single run of a Franz Schreker opera somewhere, even Die Gezeichneten, as long as it's not the production that "seethes with evil" that I've seen in Stuttgart and Amsterdam. The production of Die Tote Stadt in London still looks very promising though and since it's scheduled to play in January 2009, I can hopefully fit in some Everton matches amongst the gin-and-tonics at the Royal Opera House. Damn damn and damn that I can't make it there next month for the premiere of Birtwistle's The Minotaur. Oh well....