Thursday, August 28, 2008

When It Began 

It was a total bummer when news broke this week that Steve Foley died of an apparent accidental overdose on prescription drugs. He was 49.

The Replacements introduced me, sideways, if you will, to punk. The first time I saw The Replacements, they were opening up for Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers at Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford. It was the summer of 1989, I'd just gotten my driver's license and I was on a major arena-concert jag. I was two years away from discovering the pleasures of small club shows (thank you, Fishbone at the Palladium), so I spent some special nights that summer seeing some of my classic rock idols at the two Meadowlands venues and the Garden State Arts Center. Petty didn't quite earn idol status, but I was a fan. The fact that the opener was The Replacements, about whom I'd read enough good stuff that I'd bought their new album Don't Tell A Soul, was a huge bonus.

So much for that; they sucked. Sure, it was cool to see them--I was 17, and it was cool to see anyone I liked live--but they were sloppy. This was their reputation, sand you just had to go with it. I did, although most of the rest of the audience was less than impressed. I was sufficiently sold on the band's 'tude and tunes to investigate further, buying the previous album Pleased To Meet Me a few months later. That was a couple days before New Year's, and I remember it was the last CD I bought during the '80s.

Pleased pleased me enough to that I officially considered myself a full-fledged fan. By early '91, I'd acquired their new one, All Shook Down, and when it was announced the band was coming to play a gig at the College Avenue Gym, just a five-minute walk from my dorm room, I dove into the back catalog to prepare. The show was on a Saturday night, and my 19th birthday to boot, and I couldn't have been more pumped.

The show was everything the arena appearance wasn't: generous, focused, reasonably tight. The set list was great, as were the ad libs. I recall a verse and chorus of "All Right Now" for no good reasonre. A friend of a friend remarked, "They were drunk, but they weren't that drunk," and it seemed like they'd struck the right balance. Still one of the best shows I've ever seen, and for sentimental reasons, in my many ways, my favorite ever.

Before that final Replacements tour started, founding drummer Chris Mars left the band. I'm glad I saw the 'Mats with Mars once, even if it was at that Petty performance. I became a fan--probably one of the biggest fans, in fact--of Chris Mars' subsequent solo work, sending one of the few fan letters I ever wrote to him after the release of his fine 1992 debut Horseshoes And Hand Grenades. He responded with a nice note scrawled on a small publicity pic. After four albums, Mars decided he was done with music and has concentrated on painting. Every once in a while, a postcard promoting one Chris' art shows will show up in my parents' mailbox.

At the Rutgers show, it was replacement Replacement Steve Foley keeping a solid beat behind the kit. It would be a lie to say the bespectacled Foley was a magnetic presence on stage. But for a band notoriously unable to keep itself together in a live setting, it was satisfying to watch them do just that. And anyone who's ever picked up a pair of sticks knows how crucial the drummer is to such an endeavor. The new guy seemed to fit in just fine.

The band played their last show ever a few months later in Chicago's Grant Park, and that was that. Foley was part of Tommy Stinson's solid but short-lived post-'Mats band Bash & Pop, but he was inexplicably not included when Stinson and Paul Westerberg recorded two new tracks for a compilation a couple years ago. It's especially odd in light of the fact that Mars, though on friendly terms and willing to participate, could and/or would not play drums, so session pro Josh Freese was used. Foley did keep busy with other musical projects post-Replacements, though Rolling Stone notes he also logged some time selling cars.

Bob Seger's wrong; sometimes rock & roll does forget. Here's one small voice noting for the record that there are those who will always remember.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The iPhone: One Month In 

My Razr was old. No, it wasn't just old, it was pathetic and slow. I'd managed to resist the BlackBerry all this time, but I knew I wanted and needed mobile email. Leaving Verizon, the only mobile provider I'd ever had, wasn't a proposition I looked forward to, but as an Apple loyalist, the writing was on the wall: my next phone had to be an iPhone.

Being first on your block is fine, as long as that oh-so-lofty status comes easily. (The Dead Kennedys said it best: give me convenience or give me death!) If it means camping out with a lawn chair and the complete works of J.K. Rowling to pass the time, don't you know that you can count me out. Plus, it was virtually guaranteed there would be a few technical glitches out of the box, and it turned out there were. So I waited till the hailed new device had been on the market for about 12 days, and only then did I finally go to Apple's Fifth Avenue store to make my move.

At that point, the store had a new system that--true to the company's usual form--worked. Instead of making everyone wait on a seemingly endless line, you could stop by and get a voucher stamped with a time of day to come back and get on line. On a Tuesday, I swung in around 12:30 p.m. and got a voucher for 5 p.m. Perfect. I waited about 45 minutes on a line inside the store, and then the purchase and transfer of my phone number took another 20 minutes. I was in business. Now it's been a month and here's what how my iPhone has been treating me.

The App Store. Nicely complimenting the built-in programs like the surprisingly great Maps are the add-ons available at the iTunes store. Though there are at least as many misses as hits, such handy free downloadables as Urbanspoon (for restaurant suggestions), Baseball (stats for every pro team for every year since the late 1800's), and a simple Spanish phrasebook are incalculably cool. On the paid side, the iTrans PATH application which tells you when the next train is coming in each direction at each station--truly a quality-of-life issue when it's late and the trains are few and far, far between--is probably the best $4 any Hoboken or Jersey City resident could spend.
The on-screen keyboard. What seemed like a potential downside has actually proved to be one of the easiest features to use. It only took a couple days to get used to the little QWERTY keys that pop up.
Voicemail. Can't beat the convenience of choosing which voicemails to listen to and in which order.

The camera. Takes quick and good quality snaps, but there's no zoom or flash.
Push email. Great if it works for you. Not-so-great for my main email account, for which I had no idea I'd need to switch to a new provider in order to get push email.
The iPod. Oh yeah, it has an iPod.
AT&T. More bars in more places my ass.

Text messaging. It's so scandalously bad it's hard to know where to begin. Other than the lack of picture messaging, I knew nothing about the iPhone's SMS limitations when I signed up for this thing, and they are legion: in addition to the lack of picture messaging, you can't send a text to multiple recipients, you can't forward a text, and you can't save a text in draft. I mean, it's 2008. There is no excuse.


It's a great device. Once the text messaging debacle is fixed, it will be the ultimate device. For now, it's still a major upgrade from my old phone.

P.S. Regarding a recent blog post, looks like I'm already back to using Oxford commas...

Monday, August 18, 2008

We haven't had that spirit here since 1956 

Moose gives up three runs in the first inning and you're instantly deflated; the Yanks come back and score 10 runs before making four outs (for the first time since 1956, I learned afterward) and you're on your way to a rollicking good time at the stadium. Jerry Stiller looked like hell when he pulled the countdown clock lever with his son Ben--when did he become elderly?--but it was a fine summer day and another Yankee win in what's now an improbable 11-1 season at the stadium for me.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

I Give A Blank About An Oxford Comma 

As a journalism major, I was taught that the serial or Oxford comma—the one that separates the word "and" and the last of three or more items in a series that follows it—was optional, but preferable. Chicago and most other style guides advise its use, but not the Associated Press.

I've always found it to be helpful to use the comma, my logic being that it doesn't slow down the reader much, and has the significant added benefit of making many sentences easier to understand, reducing ambiguity for more often than it creates it. So I've consistently used it in my writing ever since, but consciously not used it when writing for employers or publications other than my own.

My personal views haven't changed, but given how often I have been working on magazines and other projects where the house style is to omit serial commas a la AP style, I am going to make a conscious effort to not use them, at least for a little while, and see if I can live peacefully without them. Don't be surprised if I change right back at some point. But you only live once, so I'm giving this crazy new lifestyle a whirl.

Conveniently, Vampire Weekend have a new song and video tangentially about this type of comma, to ensure that this post isn't a total bore.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Weekend At Willie's...And Xavier's 

When you're a Yankees Sunday season ticket holder, you get tickets to every Sunday home game, plus two other special games: Opening Day and Old Timer's Day. Since Old Timer's Day is always held on a Saturday and teams never travel in the middle of a weekend, that means there's one weekend a year when you get tickets to games on consecutive days. For many people, the modus operandi is to attend Old Timer's Day, then sell or give away the Sunday tickets. This being Yankee Stadium: The Final Season, I've been determined to go to all 15 games on my slate, and anyway I liked the idea of commuting out to the stadium on consecutive days (something I'd already done once this year, when Opening Day was rained out on March 31 and played the following night).

I was rewarded with a pair of wins. The Yankees have been wildly inconsistent this year, but somehow, of the 11 games I've attended, they've won 10. Saturday's nostalgia fest was almost too inclusive—seeing Mickey Klutts and Wayne Tolleson doubtfully changed anyone's lives (other than, perhaps, their own)—but since this whole drawn-out, season-long pilgrimage of mine is all about reliving those glory days that'll pass you by, I can't imagine not having been there for this.

So yes, Yogi in full uniform on that field for the last time, Reggie and Tino and Winfield and you name 'em, they were there, 'cept of course Donnie Baseball, and Bernie and some others. It was fun but also bittersweet, the widows of Phil Rizzuto, Thurman Munson and a few other dignitaries being rightfully honored, and on the 29th anniversary of Munson's death. Ouch. The big spirit-raising surprise of the day was the presence of Willie Randolph in a Yankee uniform for the first time since the Mets gave him the unceremonious canning of all unceremonious cannings. Too bad Jeff Nelson struck him out during the one-inning exhibition game. Great to catch Keith Olbermann co-announcing the Old Timer's game too, even if a few ignoramuses felt it necessary to boo the only unabashedly liberal host on prime time cable news television. (I mean, seriously, we can't even have one?)

The actual (not Old, not officially, anyway) Yankees won the actual game, too, Mike Mussina pitching a very strong seven innings of two-hit ball as the Bombers defeated the Angels 8-2. The Sunday game wasn't pretty, but it was exciting; after erasing a five-run deficit, the Yanks held a three-run lead until Mark Teixeira hit a grand slam off Edwar Ramirez to make it 9-8 in the 8th. Somehow, the Yanks scratched out six runs in the bottom half of the inning to steal a split of the four-game series with the team sporting the best record in baseball. When all was said and done, new Yank Xavier Nady had six RBIs for the first time in his big-league career. Not bad. I have four games left, start spreading the news.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Closing Our Eyes And Saying Goodbye To Gypsy Angel Row 

You either love him or you don't. The bottom line is not just that Bruce Springsteen owns the stadium where the Super Bowl champions play their home games, but that he deserves to.

There were only three shows at Giants Stadium this time, an impressive showing of modesty from a guy and his band who packed the place ten times in a row the last time they blew through there, five years ago. These concerts were announced in December of last year; I made the decision to catch opening night and anted up on StubHub for a pricey pair of floor seats all of five hours before showtime.

Verdict? Great call. I never saw The E Street Band before their 1999 reunion; I'd seen Bruce run through a couple Beatles songs as a surprise guest at Ringo Starr's 1989 show at the Not-Yet-Corporately-Sponsored-At-That-Point Garden State Arts Center. Caught him with "The Other Band" at the then-still Brendan Byrne Arena in '92, and was lucky enough to witness a solo acoustic rehearsal show on the Tom Joad tour at, of all places, The State Theatre in New Brunswick in 1995.

Scoring a pair of free ducats for two of the 15-night homecoming at the arena in 1999 was a true coup, and the show blew me away, with the sprawling band owning on a Sunday night in July. It's a damn good thing the show was amazing, too, since my acquisition of the tickets for it led to me giving away the Yankee tickets I had for that afternoon--which I'm glad were enjoyed by my father and my brother, because David Cone only threw a perfect freaking game that day. The experience of seeing Bruce with the band proper was redeeming and memorable, a piece of my own imagined history I didn't know if I'd ever get to see.

The one show I caught during the 10-night stadium stand underwhelmed me. No, it was far from bad, but it also wasn't transcendent. Blame it on mezzanine seats the full length of the stadium away, blame it on the fact that I wasn't a huge fan of The Rising or "Light Of Day." It was with moderate trepidation that I contemplated the band now, five years farther down the line, with Danny Federici gone, no less. You can't ask a Bruce fan how the recent shows have been, because most of them will just say it was amazing. But I'd been tracking the set lists online since last fall; they were good and getting better, and the shows were getting longer again. After working like a dog all summer, it was time to take one last chance to make it real.

Real it was. Reeling off "Spirit In The Night," "Growin' Up," "Brilliant Disguise," "Lonesome Day" (The Rising's only transcendent moment), "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" and the revamped (a la The Seeger Sessions Band version, which more than borrows from The [latter-period] Band's brilliant reinvention thereof) "Atlantic City" within the first ten songs sealed it as a classic show. In the end, there was only one misstep, the obligatory 942-hour cornball version of "Mary's Place." And, criminally, there was not a single song from The River, which conveniently is the Bruce album I've gravitated toward the most for the last year or so, and is probably my favorite if you don't count Live 1975-85. Bruce rubbed salt in this little wound by playing no less than five River songs the following night.

But with "I'll Work For Your Love" mid-set, brilliant versions of "Tunnel Of Love" and "Long Walk Home" on the tail end, and an all-world encore that included "Summer Clothes" and "Jungleland" and "Bobby Jean" and "Dancing In The Dark" AND "Rosalita," well...really, after three hours and 20 minutes of dancing in said Jersey dark, to ask for more just wasn't fair. The new football stadium under construction about 18 inches west of the current Giants Stadium is set to open in 2010, and if last night's performance of "Rosalita" was the last time that utilitarian venue where I've screamed my head off for many memorable football and concert moments plays host to the bard of New Jersey and crew, the send-off was a proper one. And if there's another run of "farewell" shows before they tear down the home of Big Blue (and for no good reason, but that's another post), I'll see you there.

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