Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Pandora brings back memories of The Genius

If you've never been to Pandora.com, check it out: it's a site where you can create a free, personalized, online radio station. You can program in some of your favorite songs and artists, and Pandora will only play songs that are similar in style. And if they play a song you don't like, you can give it a "thumbs-down," and they'll never play you that song again.

For me, it's the perfect for background noise while I'm writing.

And it's perfect for eclectic musical tastes, too, as opposed to traditional radio stations that play only one style. As an example - for the past few weeks, I've been jamming to tunes by The Killers, Elton John, Modest Mouse, B.B. King, Allison Krauss, Regina Spektor, The Cure, M.I.A. and, of course, my favorite performer of all time, Ray Charles.

Ray was the first artist to play when I clicked over to my Pandora page this morning, and it took me back a few years to when I was lucky enough to see Ray Charles in concert.

I've been trying to remember the exact date. I'm pretty sure it was between 2001 and 2003; Jamie went to the concert with me but it was before we were married, so it had to be in that window. He passed away in 2004, so the concert was in the last years of his life.

Ray was in town playing with the Kansas City Symphony. I phoned the Symphony office, by the way, and I was told that they played with Ray Charles in 1995, but nobody there remembered a more recent date. Maybe this is a sign that I'm losing what's left of my mind - but my wife remembers the concert, too, so that can't be it... right?

Anyway, the concert was magnificent. The symphony played for a while first, then Ray came out. I remember having a very stupid thought at that point. Ray was being helped on stage by an assistant. My first thought at seeing the frail, seventies-something man was, "That's too bad. Ray's not able to walk out on stage by himself anymore." A few moments later it struck me that he was being assisted to the stage because he couldn't see where he was going.

That was the last time during the evening Ray seemed frail. After he sat down at the piano, he was in constant motion. Maybe it was a result of his hard drug days, but Ray's legs never stopped moving. His voice was as strong as I'd ever heard it on a CD. And of course, he could play the piano like nobody's business. (I also learned during that song that Ray played a mean saxophone!)

My favorite memory is this: Ray started to play the song "Bein' Green," which is probably most well-known as Kermit the Frog's song. When started on the first line, most of the crowd laughed.

But if you've ever heard Ray's version, you know it's not a funny song. It's a touching tune about racism and coping in the world when you feel different from everyone else.

So the crowd laughed after that first line, "It's not that easy bein' green." Then he kept singing, and playing that lonesome piano tune, backed by the sweeping notes of the Symphony.

By the third line, nobody was laughing.

By the end, people were crying.

I've tried for years to find that song on an album, but it's proven hard to track down. Thanks to the magic of YouTube, this version - which Ray performed at a tribute to Jim Henson - is the best I can find. Check it out and try not to get emotional:

Everyone's talking about the loss of Michael Jackson this week. But I'm still mourning the loss of The Genius, Ray Charles.

I'm just glad I can say I saw him perform live.

--Matt Kelsey

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A personal post about a curly headed boy with a major league baseball in his hand

This one is personal ... and from the heart.

I'm in this coffee shop after a visit to a doctor -- the sort of visit and the sort of doctor that will remind you your time on this planet is limited -- treating myself to a strong brew and a pastry. Everything turned up roses, more or less, but the reminder was vivid.

And, oh my god, I just saw myself walk in the door at the age of four, big head of soft curly red hair, big eyes, an "I own the world" attitude, and a major league baseball in my right hand. You can bet I will not let loose of that ball even to eat the doughnut my mother is buying for me.

Is this my mother at thirty? Could be. I'm serious. This could be my mother. Willowy. Curly red hair pulled back hard from her face. Something in her posture and the way she carries herself is both confident and self-effacing. Of course, she has a sweet tattoo between her bony shoulder blades my mother didn't have -- I don't think she did anyway -- but everything else is just right.

And, now she's gonna read a book about zebras to me while she strokes my wild boy hair and I clutch that baseball and watch her turn the pages.

I can tell you, I know how that boy feels over there. I know what it's like to cuddle up to a small wiry woman who loves you with the patience of Job, who actually enjoys the book she reads to you, and who wouldn't think of missing a page or wrenching that baseball from your hand, even at bedtime.

I know what will happen. He will sleep with that baseball under his pillow and he will show up at breakfast Sunday morning with it in his hand.

I know what it is like to lay your head against the soft fabric of a summer dress, then go off adventuring. He knows she'll be there when he comes back from the far reaches of the room. She'll smile at him and tousle his hair ... and she does.

I also know that boy will grow up and always think everyone in the room loves him, or likes him, or should love or like him, and he will be astounded when he meets the person who doesn't. His wife will wonder what the hell it is about baseball, but she won't want to take it out of his hand either because she's strangely -- inexplicably -- glad to be married to a man who is still a boy.

--Lofflin, thanks for bearing with me...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Check out this Royals blog

My much-older brother, a middle school teacher, told me about this blog created by one of his former students, a young woman named Raegan. She's only in the eighth or ninth grade, my brother says, but don't let that fool you - she's extremely knowledgeable about baseball. And she's a good writer, too.

Check it out.

--Matt Kelsey

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

From the You-Won't-Believe-This file: Nixon on abortion; "Of course, if you have a white and a black..."

You couldn't make this up.

And, pardon, please, my shock.

New Richard M. Nixon Oval Office tapes were released today, according to the New York Times. They contained a conversation about Roe V. Wade. The president of the United States worried the decision might lead to promiscuity. However, he allowed, abortion might be necessary in some cases.

"There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white... or a rape.”

This is so astounding, I want to yell "stop the presses." But, I did not see or hear it anywhere today. I couldn't find it this morning on the front page of the Kansas City Star Website but I did find six weather stories, yet another Midtown murder story, a Wichita story about a guy hitting his brother with a bat, three Jon&Kate stories and a story offering five steps to a happy marriage.

The Times' headline only said the president of the United States had been "ambivalent" about abortion.

Not ambivalent about race, apparently.

What irony is this. A bare four decades later, the current president of the United States is, indeed, just the sort of baby whose abortion another recent United States president thought justified.

We may have come a long way when we elected Barack Obama, but we sure as hell had a long way to go.

You can follow the Times' link, download the tape, and listen for yourself, if you have the stomach. The statement comes at about 13 minutes 30 seconds into the discussion.

Lofflin -- starting the day disgusted

PostPost: CNN finally got to this story tonight. Anderson Cooper teased it as "shocking." I guess you can't really blame the cable outlets. I mean, we certainly need to know all we can about the governor of South Carolina's bizarre affair.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Novel notes: "It Looked Like For Ever"

The fourth book in the Henry Wiggen series is about aging. Henry, after a stellar career with the New York Mammoths, has been released and faces an uncertain future.

I'm a quarter of the way through the book and it's great so far. Here's a passage that I think sums it up nicely. Henry is visiting with his physician:

"What are you planning to do with your self now?" Dr. Pointer inquired.

"I am planning to join another ball club," I said.

... "I know that you all ways loved the game and were all ways a credit to it. I am not surprised that you will be remaining close to baseball. I will be scanning the news for further details."

"Do you think I can do it?" I inquired.

course you can," he replied. "I am surprised to think that you have any question about your old confidence. In what capacity?"

"To play," said I.

"Oh," said he, "to
play. No, I do not think you can do it."

-- Matt Kelsey

Monday, June 22, 2009

The revolution IS being televisied and the reporting reaches fever level

Easy to see I was wrong before. The revolution IS being televised.

No question about it, they're making a revolution in Iran and we're seeing it televised. Only it's not being televised through the usual channels. It's coming to the western world through YouTube and Twitter and Myspace.

And, of course, the traditional media is having a hard time making sense of it at such a distance. I'm glad they've had the good sense to qualify their publication of the social media accounts and images by admitting it is impossible to verify the authenticity of the material. It would be good if they continued that skepticism even when the news comes from Pittsburgh or Atlanta. On the Net, you just don't know what you're getting.

I watched some late night coverage Saturday night into Sunday morning. I found transcripts today to help recall what I saw, but unfortunately transcripts don't tell you what was on the crawl. I was interested because I remember being shocked that Fox news had the death toll at 126 on the crawl and CNN at 112 -- at least that's what I remember -- and the New York Times had it at 10, then 19 this morning. Here is the reporting from the Times:

"There was no verifiable accounting of the death toll from the mayhem on Saturday, partly because the government has imposed severe restrictions on news coverage and warned foreign reporters who remained in the country to stay off the streets.

"It also ordered the BBC’s longtime correspondent expelled and ordered Newsweek’s correspondent detained.

"State television said that 10 people had died in clashes, while radio reports said 19. The news agency ISNA said 457 people had been arrested."

Quite a difference, but I may have been wrong about the crawl. The late night cable reporting, however, was frantic. Shepard Smith at Fox was particularly dramatic. Police were attacking protesters with tear gas and water cannons, he said -- the same report at CNN. Then he added, with real foreboding in his voice, helicopters have been reportedly dropping liquid on protesters, nobody knows what the liquid is, "but it is hot."

I didn't see any reports of this terrifying tactic anywhere in the light of day.

Interestingly, the reporting on both CNN and Fox felt like the kind of dreams you get late at night when you're running a high fever. Call it War of the Worlds reporting. Let's hope it doesn't whip up passions enough to push the president into a disastrous move that will satisfy conservatives (OK, they're never satisfied...) but undercut what brave Iranians are doing on their own.

-- Lofflin

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Ole Roy calls in on the Royals, socialism, cable television, NASCAR and Clay Chastain

Well, I've been quiet just a-bout long enough. Problem is, I've been busier with this septic tank than a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs, so I haven't had a chance to call in. But that don't mean I ain't been thinking.

Something about cleaning out a septic tank that will get you thinking.

Well, let's see here. We got a president moving us closer ever day to socialism. I mean, this ain't supposed to be Russia yet, is it? I go down to steak night at the bar and I got to sit outside under a tent to smoke. They turned off my TV that I watch by rabbit ears out in the shed for no good reason. I always did think this cable thing went two ways you watch TV and they watch you, though I certainly hope that's wrong. And now they want me to turn in my old van for some little eeenieweeeny thing that won't probably carry much more than a couple of bags of groceries. Right. It's voluntary. But for how damned long?

And all I want is to turn on my one TV that does work and watch a ballgame at night you know watch the home team play some ball. And what do I get? I mean, I shop at Wal-Mart but I don't want to watch Wal-Mart baseball. I can go out and watch my grandson play any Saturday if that's the kind of baseball I want to watch. Which I do and which is fine because they're just 12 years old and it don't cost nothin. But here we go walking the bases loaded and the boy on the mound just grooves one to some guy barely hitting his weight and boom a grand slam. Then he grooves one to the next guy and it's in the stands. And I'm thinking, whoa, get that guy out of there but before anybody can move he's put another ball in the stands.

I guess that's why they spent all that money out there. So the fans could catch homeruns.

Well sir, I don't know what to tell ya.

Maybe we could get Clay Chastain to start a petition drive for a new owner. I'd sign that thing. Now here's a Clay Chastain idea that probably nobody's ever tried. Let's plant trees in the outfield. That would provide some shade for the outfielders and give the fans something interesting to watch. I've had the same idea about NASCAR. Let some of the boys go right once in a while. A little two-way traffic would make that sport a lot more fun to watch. I mean when the most interesting thing that happens all afternoon is a bunch of guys dressed like billboards swarming all over a car changing tires, you got to spice things up. I never thought I'd see the day when tire changing was a sport. I just always thought it was something you had to do at the worst possible times like cleaning out a septic tank.

I want to see em make a sport out of septic tank cleaning and put it on ESPN opposite the Super Bowl the way they do figure skating.

I don't know. It's just real frustrating.

I say just far em all and har some new ones.


Friday, June 19, 2009

Or a grand slam...

How about the sound the crowd makes on a grand slam... no wait... another homerun ... but wait, there's more... another home run?

Matt, this is just batting practice.

I ask again, does any team in major league baseball employ a worse right fielder?

-- Lofflin

This sucks

I can't STAND it - it's so depressing to watch a Royals HOME game on TV and hear a huge cheer when a Cardinals player gets a hit.

--Matt "True Blue" Kelsey

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Three questions for Royal's fans

Three questions about the Kansas City Royals.

1) Does any team in major league baseball play a worse fielder in right field?

2) Does the inept bullpen cause starting pitchers to reserve more energy for the late innings in self-defense? Concurrent stat question: Have the first four pitchers in the starting rotation of any team thrown more total pitches?

3) At what point will the aces of the staff be completely out of gas? An over/under answer will be fine.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Book review (sort of): "A Ticket for a Seamstitch"

I logged onto the site today with intentions of writing my long-overdue review for "A Ticket for a Seamstitch," but to my pleasant surprise I've found that John has already done my job for me - and much more eloquently than I could ever have.

I'll add a few brief thoughts and we'll close the book on this book.

"Seamstitch" was assigned reading in Lofflin's Baseball Fiction class, the only book in the Wiggen series on the class reading list. So I read this book before I ever read "The Southpaw" or "Bang the Drum Slowly." That puts it in a substantially different light, because one of the most important things in "Seamstitch" is what's not on the written page.

Namely, Bruce Pearson. That name is never mentioned in "Seamstitch," but the book takes place only one season after Pearson died at the end of "Bang the Drum Slowly." Although Bruce is never mentioned, there's a substantial amount of subtle subtext (how's that for assonance?) alluding to Bruce. For instance - Wiggen is only 25 years old in this novel, but he's matured considerably since "Bang the Drum Slowly." And the Piney Woods character is interesting when compared to Bruce. He's the exact opposite of Bruce in many ways. Bruce was quiet, dumb, and not much of a ballplayer; Piney is smart, exuberant and has a lot of potential as a catcher. They're similar in a lot of ways, too.

What sets this book apart from the others in the series is length, of course, but length is a byproduct of the real difference: detail. Mark Harris goes into exhaustive detail about a full Mammoths season in each of the earlier books. In "Seamstitch," he only details a few days of the 1956 season, and the book ends on July 4, with the season only half over. But he makes it work - just like he always does.

I can't think of much more to add to Lofflin's review, so we'll call it a day. "It Looked Like For Ever," the last book in the Wiggen series, is next.

--Matt Kelsey

A Ticket for a Seamstitch is a perfect little novel, don't pass it by as most critics and reviewers have

"A Ticket for a Seamstitch" is exactly the right length for the idea. This is something to be admired in a writer. Such brevity may have been born of necessity, as Harris and Matt point out, but it is, nonetheless, perfect for a perfect little story.

Like all of Mark Harris' baseball novels, this 1956 offering is, at bottom, about growth. This Aristotelian idea is one of the reasons I find his novels endearing. I need to know, even on the downhill side of life, that growth is still possible. Why else take batting practice in a drizzle on Sunday morning when most people are just opening the Sunday paper or finishing breakfast and getting ready for church?

Ok, so if you press me, I'll tell you I did go to church Sunday morning. The grass was deep green and wet and the fence was two-hundred-eighty-five feet, or so, and the sermon was short and sweet, like "A Ticket for a Seamstitch."

Growth, the possibility of growth, is the beauty of these novels. Here, a fan, a seamstress, has written Henry a letter in "marvelous handmanship" of tiny letters yet extremely clear; a long letter which threatens to tell him the history of every brick in every building on the square of her small town "out West." Sewn to the letter is a ten dollar bill. The bill, he finds out later, is for tickets to a Mammoth game on July 4th.

In a neat twist on Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac, (Thanks Dr. Judith Lofflin...) the letters are answered by Piney Woods, the new "green punk" catcher of the Mammoths. Piney Woods is a wonderful construction, with an even better name. (From the real life file, we had two janitors at the community center where I worked after college. One was a feisty 90-year-old black man named Mr. White and the other was a genial fellow named Forest Green.)

Piney Woods is a hot shot catcher with way more on his mind than calling a good game. He is an artist of motorcycles and pinup girls, drawings he sticks to the hotel wall "by friction." His guitar, famous from "Bang the Drum Slowly," is also hung on the wall. He is young and inexperienced, a green punk for sure, and he has a long way to go. Henry finds him especially exasperating, being himself a 1/4 -century-old veteran.

Piney takes over correspondence with the seamstress who he imagines in fine pinup drawings fastened to the wall with friction. But when she arrives in New York for real, she is anything but the objects of his imagination. And, like the green punk he is, he dumps her in Henry's lap. Henry does not want her, but his basic humanity guides his action. He treats her to a fine evening in one of the latest technological developments of the 1950s, a lunch counter consisting only of vending machines, a nickle a pop.

In this small moment, Henry becomes more the man he was meant to be. Even Piney Woods finds an element of growth here. It was Cyrano's nose which he feared would make him unlovable by the beautiful woman of his dreams. The seamstress did not look like the woman of either Mammoths' dreams but they found, inside her, what they were looking for. If you think this is a small finding, look around and notice what our obsession with the appearance of things (from women and men to presidents, dictators and automobiles) has done to our world 1/2 of a century later.

Lofflin -- suggesting this link to you if you are interested in the sweep of baseball fiction. In 1981 Daniel Okrent made out a lineup of baseball novels which is today a great starting point. Okrent wrote a terrific piece of non-fiction "Nine Innings" and served during a tumultuous time as public editor at the hot corner of the New York Times.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Teahen ain't alone and another rant about talk radio and sports, plus a few words about the always titiliating comments section of the Kanas City Star

Mark Teahen of the Royals ain't alone. The Star reported today Teahen received a letter from a fan in Shawnee with some rather complex instructions for changing his position at the plate and he went three-for-three yesterday. Now, Teahen did not say he took the fan's suggestion. In fact, the Star writer noted sarcasm in Teahen"s voice when he described the letter. A good editor would have asked for a more specific description of Teahen's reaction before using the word "sarcasm" but I'll stop beating on that dead horse for now.

Henry Wiggen used to get two letters every day he worked. He tells us about it in the beginning of a "Ticket for a Seamstitch." "One is from a fellow in Bloomfield, N. J., saying "Luck to you and every member of the New York Mammoths," and one from a fellow in Astoria, Long Island, "I hope you blow higher than the sky, you phony."

Henry notes this on the day he receives the dauntingly long letter from the seamstress out West with a ten-dollar bill sewn to first page who intends to somehow find her way to New York for July 4th and wants Henry to get her a ticket to the game. The letter is so exhausting in detail, Henry says, she threatens to give the life history of every brick in every store in the small town she's from.

How many letters of advice from former 3-and-2 league sluggers, former high school sluggers, former college sluggers, current coaches of 14-year-old junior high league teams, do you think professional ballplayers get? It always amuses me when some cluck, to use Henry's term for fans, calls the talk show and says HE could hit better than Tony Pena, or, hedging just a bit, that any Ban Johnson League slugger could hit better than Tony Pena.

Yea, right. Right after you went back in to change your underwear once that 88-mph curveball you thought was aimed at your ribs broke across the plate. Allow me to venture a guess that no one who hasn't done it, has any idea what it is like to stand six inches away from a 95-mph heater with movement.

When I was 14 or so I batted against a pitcher who would go on to have a professional career. I got a hit. You know how I got that hit? I started my swing when he let loose of the ball, closed my eyes, and prayed the ball would be right down the gut. (He had no reason to throw it anywhere else against me...) Like magic, bat met ball, base hit up the middle. I harbor no pretension that I could do any more than listen to a major league fastball go by.

As George Brett said: The farther you get from the dirt, the easier the game is.

After reading the game story, I went to the reader comments. That's my dirty little secret. Every now and then I like to wallow in the mud at the end of the stories in the Star. It's a perverse little pleasure, like having a buddy -- which I do -- who always has a socially inappropriate joke to tell. It's titillating, forbidden, and sometimes very funny.

One writer missed the tongue in Teahen cheek. Finally, he wrote, it took a letter from a fan to get a Royals' hitter to change his approach. Fire batting coach Kevin Seitzer, he demanded, and hire the guy from Shawnee. Yessiree, Ole Roy has competition. Wonder if the boys on the afternoon talk shows, with their own 14-year-old baseball experiences, will pick up on the idea.

Another guy who signs on as something like "ratdog" or "ratface" demands to know what's wrong with Jose Guillen because he has to make a decision by noon about his fantasy team. Once again, the Star has let a reader down.

A portion of his comment reminds again of the ordeal Raul Ibanez is fighting.

Of course, you have the usual debate about whether a sweep of the Reds means anything, whether the home team is really any good or just pretenders. One writer advises the Royals players not to read all these negative comments. Good managing fella, but, unfortunately, by the time the Royals come to your warning they'll already be steeped in negativity.

One fascinating comment comes from a guy who writes he started paying attention to baseball with the birth of the Royals in 1969, being too young for the A's. He grew up a few blocks from the ballpark, he says, then he tells us his father was always too busy to take him to a game no matter much he begged. Whoa! fella, this is a public board, don't forget. He tells his dad he still loves him, however, then launches into how hard it has been to be a fan of a team so often on the losing end of its games and advises we drop the negativity and just enjoy the victory. It is really a strangely touching post.

One of my college buddies claims to have become an atheist because of the Kansas City A's. At church every Sunday morning, he says, he prayed the A's would win. Then he went home, listened to the game, and -- of course -- the boys dropped a double-header. How can there possibly be a god? he asked, long before he read Nietzche.

Lofflin -- Enjoying the bright clear sunlight after a big rain

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Kansas Highway Patrol saved us

What a great post by John yesterday. One of my favorite reads on this blog since we started it.

Jamie and I had a scary situation on Friday when a rear tire blew out on the highway. It didn't just go flat; it exploded. Not fun. Jamie was driving and did an amazing job of getting us over the shoulder safely (she's a great driver).

I had all the equipment to change the tire, but the mechanism to lower the spare from below our SUV was rusted and I couldn't lower it myself. So Jamie got on the cell phone and eventually found the Kansas Highway Patrol's Motorist Assistance department.

She told them where we were (on I-435 near Midland Road in northern JoCo). Within 10 minutes - no kidding - a Motorist Assistance truck pulled up behind us.

He had heavy-duty tools and was able to get my spare tire down. He also had a heavy-duty jack and tire iron, and changed the tire for us. He even had a portable compressor and aired up our spare.

It was a lifesaver. I can't say enough good things about it.

So if you find yourself on a Kansas highway with a blowout (or even a dead battery - or even if you run out of gas!), dial *47 on your cell phone. A motorist assistance truck will be there in a jiffy.

Missouri has a similar program. Their hotline number is *55.

Here's the website for the Kansas program. You'll find the site for the Missouri program here.

--Matt Kelsey, a grateful motorist

Friday, June 12, 2009

Ibanez is right, talk radio is wrong, and what the gull happened up there in Cleveland?

Mark Harris couldn't write this latest Royal's debacle. John R. Tunis would snicker if you told him this plot. Even W. P. Kinsella (read "The Iowa Baseball Conspiracy," or "Box Socials," if you can...) would say this is too fantastic even for magic realism.

The ball hits a gull in centerfield in the 10th. The local heroes lose.

Of course, this is why we watch, listen and read about baseball. As Yogi said, "In baseball, you don't know nuthin'. Something crazy, something you've never seen before, will happen. It's a game of almost stupefying regularity -- take the same swing every time, my hitting coach impatiently moaned yesterday -- punctuated by moments of zaniness.

Johnny Damon drops an easy fly ball in Fenway. Deion Sanders and Jose Canseco (interesting pair) get bopped in the head with fly balls. A reserve infielder comes in to pitch in a blowout game and retires the side one, two, three.

One thing about the Kansas City Royals remains consistent: Losing. Now, I think this is a better team. They'll go on another winning streak soon and they'll play well again in September. I'd be surprised in they didn't finish in the middle of the pack. But right now, as a team, they stink.

If you have a baseball heart, you have to hurt for Zach Greinke.

While I'm riffing here over morning coffee, allow me to veer seamlessly into the territory of talk radio. Before I could get the radio shifted over from the baseball station to music yesterday, I caught a few moments of two radio talkers talking about, what else?, talk radio. Actually, I think they were talking about Raul Ibanez and blogging and talk radio. The argument (if you can call it such) went something like this: "You listeners over 40 grew up with newspapers so you are conditioned to believe everything you read because if you read it, it must be right. Right?"

Pause here. Wrong. Nobody believes everything they read. Even in the golden age of newspapers, the effects of news stories were quite limited. You could look it up.

I'm still paraphrasing. I wasn't taking notes because I was busy trying to maneuver between parked cars, snap on my sunglasses, manage a cup of hot coffee between my legs and fumble with the radio at the same time.

"So, do you believe what you read on blogs? Do you trust what people say on this show? (Are you kidding?) I don't think, we were just going over this and we couldn't think of anything we've said here that proved to be wrong but..."

Finally got the cruiser out into traffic and the radio to music so I don't know where they went next. No doubt more self-aggrandizement.

But, interestingly, they had stumbled on one of the major issues of our media times. Call it the death of editing. Without editing, well, we have a couple of guys at the mike shooting off their mouths ... multiply that times a factor of thousands.

I've had my run-ins with editors and I've been known as difficult to work with (DTWW) on occasion. But editors have saved my reputation a few times, to say nothing of my ass, and I've never written anything that wasn't better shorter. (Is this post an example? Probably...) However, good editors are all that stand between good information and junk. We live in an age of overwrought speculation, media hotdogging and downright lies.

And the guy in his house slippers in his mother's basement knocking out his blog (I am still wearing house slippers, by the way, but I'm upstairs at the kitchen table) can say anything he likes to get attention. Then the radio talkers riff on it and suddenly, wham-o, it's a fact. Ibanez is right. More power to him, no pun intended.

I'll never forget a classic Royal's slump a few years ago and a guy who said his name was Roy who called one of the shows. To get his accent right you have to imagine the word "fire" spelled "far."

"Far 'em all," Roy said, as if god himself had dictated the solution, "and har some new ones."

Indeed. Could anyone understand major league baseball less? Well, a thousand yahoos are out there on open mikes all over the country, all day long, right now, trying their best. Ole Roy has plenty of competition.

-- Lofflin

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Late night rebirth

Esquire magazine does a bit every now and then called "The Indefensible Position," where a man explains his love of something un-manly or illogical, like knitting or Rachel Ray.

Here's mine: I really enjoy "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon."

I think everyone in America thought the show would be a failure, because Fallon really wasn't all that great on "Saturday Night Live." But his personality fits perfectly with a late-night talk show. I think it's the best show on late-night TV right now, even better than my old favorites "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" (which, incidentally, have grown stale since the election).

And "The Tonight Show" has improved, too, since Conan O'Brien took over. I admit I was never a fan of Jay Leno, and I loved Conan on "Late Night," but I think he's taking "The Tonight Show" to new heights. Conan is much better at the physical comedy than Leno is, and in fact Conan reminds me a lot of... Johnny Carson.

Seems like the NBC late-night lineup right now is harkening back to those great, silly days when it was Carson on "The Tonight Show" and Letterman on "Late Night."

In my eyes, Letterman is still the reigning king, but the combo of Conan and Fallon make for two hours of pretty good television.

--Matt Kelsey

Monday, June 8, 2009

Novel notes: "A Ticket for a Seamstitch"

Let me start out by saying I'd love John's take on this - "A Ticket for a Seamstitch" is one of his favorite books, and it'd be great to see what he could add...

The first book in the Henry Wiggen series, "The Southpaw," checked in at a hefty 350 pages - and small print pages at that. The second book, "Bang the Drum Slowly," was about 100 pages shorter and the print size was larger, too. Believe it or not, "A Ticket for a Seamstitch," the third story in the series, is 100 pages shorter still. And the print size is huge.

I think these pretty dramatic size changes can be easily explained. I think Harris probably realized "The Southpaw" was a bit wordy and dragged on in the middle. Consequently, "Bang the Drum Slowly" seemed to be a much more appropriate length.

Mark Harris' lengthy preface in the beginning of "A Ticket for a Seamstitch" explains why the third book is even shorter still.

In the preface, Harris explains how "Ticket" came to be published as a book. You can tell he harbors a lot of bitterness, too; apparently, his original intention was to have this story published in Life magazine, not a full-length book (which explains its lack of girth).

But Life rejected the story, and selected another instead. Harris doesn't hide his true feelings about that story, or its author. He thinks the story's rubbish and the author is a hack.

So basically, he "settled" for having the story published in book form.

It's pretty interesting. I don't really know what to make of it.

--Matt Kelsey

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Back from a swing out West

Jamie and I have been back in town long enough to wash off the road grit - but mentally, I think we're both still on vacation.

We left on Tuesday and headed first across Kansas on I-70 to Hays, then north to the small town of Logan, where my old friend Ralph is buried. I hadn't been to his grave since he died nearly six years ago.

By then we could smell The West in our noses, so we headed for the mountains and landed in Denver. Spent a night in Denver, then went to Golden, Colorado, where we toured the Coors brewery (Jamie LOVED it - I don't drink, so she got my free samples as well as hers). We skirted the mountains and aimed south to Colorado Springs, a beautiful town with lots to do. Finally, we aimed back east and came home via US 50 through Dodge City (I wouldn't necessarily recommend the Boot Hill Museum - it's cool and all but I don't think it's worth the ten-buck admission fee).

So now we're back home, and I'm trying to get back on a blogging schedule. I finished the next Wiggen book, "A Ticket for a Seamstitch," on the road, so I'll be making posts about it soon.

-- Matt Kelsey, missing the road but glad to be home

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The revolution will not be televised... maybe ... last word on the Tank Man for now and a note on the WWFing of news

Stuart Franklin, © Magnum Photos

Last word on the marvelous photographs of the Tank Man and his inspiring act of courage. If you read the New York Times piece, you know the bravery of the men who photographed this event. Hate to mention this in public, but there's a screen play somewhere in this.

Gil Scott Heron wrote a provocative song in the late 1960s called "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." It became an anthem of sorts in anti-war, civil rights circles. Heron is a gifted poet and writer, who had the musical foresight to combine his spoken word poetry with jazz, collaborating with saxman Brian Jackson. "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" was, in my opinion, their best moment.
Here's the opening bit:

You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and
Skip out for beer during commercials,
Because the revolution will not be televised.

But, when you look at the photographs of the Tank Man, or recall the televised images of students standing on top of the Berlin Wall with sledge hammers, how can you not think the revolution will be televised? Maybe Gil Scott Heron was wrong. This is the age of cable news and the 24-hour news cycle. The president recently described this modern cable news environment as the WWFing of news. Of course it will be televised and Geraldo or Brian or Anderson or Campbell will be there to cover it.

Then again, maybe not. The Tank Man -- and this takes nothing away from his act -- did not make a revolution. A real revolution would make television itself irrelevant, wouldn't it? I mean, the real revolution would be if mankind rejected the television.

The revolution will not be televised.
The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox
In four parts without commercial interruptions.
The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon
blowing a bugle and leading a charge by John
Mitchell, General Abrams and Spiro Agnew to eat
hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary.
The revolution will not be televised.

Then again, doesn't the election of the first black American president make a revolution? If you think so, then you have to say he was wrong; the revolution was most definitely televised, and in minute detail.

The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal.
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs.
The revolution will not make you look five pounds
thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, Brother.

Then again, perhaps the jury is out on whether the election of Barack Obama actually constitutes a revolution. It may be a start toward one, but, then again ... well, we're well past a hundred days and we've still got two wars going, we've bailed out Wall Street on the backs of working men and women who have lost their jobs in stunning numbers, and ghettos all over this country are caught up in senseless, self-defeating, murderous drug-fueled wars.

In academia, we would say, the revolution may be televised but at this point we don't have enough data to suggest whether the hypothesis is supported.

Confused? Me, too, obviously. Here, at any rate, is more of Gil Scott Heron's great lyric.

There will be no pictures of you and Willie Mays
pushing that shopping cart down the block on the dead run,
or trying to slide that color television into a stolen ambulance.
NBC will not be able predict the winner at 8:32
or report from 29 districts.
The revolution will not be televised.

Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Hooterville
Junction will no longer be so damned relevant, and
women will not care if Dick finally gets down with
Jane on Search for Tomorrow because Black people
will be in the street looking for a brighter day.
The revolution will not be televised.

The theme song will not be written by Jim Webb,
Francis Scott Key, nor sung by Glen Campbell, Tom
Jones, Johnny Cash, Englebert Humperdink, or the Rare Earth.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be right back after a message
about a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.
You will not have to worry about a dove in your
bedroom, a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl.

The revolution will not go better with Coke.
The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.
The revolution will put you in the driver's seat.

The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,
will not be televised, will not be televised.
The revolution will be no re-run brothers;
The revolution will be live.

You can listen to some of his music -- not "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," unfortunately -- here, however you'll need to read French to fully use this unofficial site..

-- Lofflin, banging the drum again tomorrow...

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Tank Man: For photographers a great read

Following up on yesterday's blog, here is a story from the New York Times today with the words of all three photographers and a new photograph never before published. If you're a photographer, this is not a story to miss. Let me know what you think.
-- Lofflin

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Tiananmen Square two decades later, the man in the white shirt facing down the tanks... would you do the same?

Stuart Franklin, © Magnum Photos
This is one of the most important photographs to be published in my lifetime. I have thought about it many times, it was the seed of one unpublished novel, it has guided my sometime Quixotic adventures in free speech, and it touches my soul. It happened 20 years and two days ago in Tiananmen Square in China. It remains the most heroic moment I know.

Blogger Mike Johnson posted this photograph along with a thought provoking discussion of the image and the moment under the brilliant title "Witness" in March of 2006. He notes three photographers made nearly the same image -- Stuart Franklin, Charlie Cole, and another photographer (Cole identified the third photographer as Arthur Chang of Reuters) in addition to a videographer.

Johnson said he could find little written by Franklin about the moment but he did find some interesting material written by Cole, who won an important prize, the 1990 World Press Photo of the Year, for the image. Someone identifying himself as Charlie Cole actually responded to Johnson's blog, posting in the comments section. Here is just one part of what he had to say, and, to me, it speaks nearly as much as the image:

"For me the shot of the young man facing down the tanks isn’t an award winner, or a stand alone, or any of that. Quite simply for me, it's the testament of a man who defined probably most important moment of his life rather than letting the moment define him..."

The urge to preach, here, is strong. Let me just say I think it is important for each of us to learn to stand up to the tanks that are bearing down on us. Look at the inspiration one man in a white shirt with two shopping bags created through a single futile act of bravery. A non-violent act, I might add. What excuses do we have for not being as brave ourselves?

And, to photographers -- is this not why you load film in your cameras? To bear witness...
Incidentally, I saw this event with my wife on our honeymoon. We watched it on a television in a small pastry shop in the French Quarter. I began my first (yet unpublished) novel on the way home on a napkin in a Waffle House in West Memphis, the brave moment I had seen on the television fresh in mind.

Lofflin -- Urging you to visit this thoughtful 2006 blog entry... And if you are a photographer, partake of this excellent discussion of the controversial nature of photography in today's NY Times.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Happy trails Matt; I'll be here til you get back -- also, an autoworker irony

You sure as heck get your money's worth from this blog, eh? Nude puppets. Song lyrics you didn't think you'd ever hear. Surprising food reviews. A rant or two, including one about GM workers that others have linked. (Thanks, Tony) Matt's most recent work on Bang the Drum is wonderful. I have plenty to add. I'll hold down the fort while he's gone.

I did indeed argue De Niro was not a good choice for Bruce Pearson. However, he turned in a credible job with the chew. Give credit where credit is due.

One of the best things about the movie is the dialogue. Mark Harris wrote the screenplay. You can tell the movie has literary roots (as opposed to non-literary television roots). I'll explain that later. Remind me...

Here's an autoworker irony. My 1994 Toyota truck was made in Kentucky. My 2007 PT Cruiser, which I thought would be an even more patriotic purchase, was made in Mexico. Toyota made in America. Chrysler made in Mexico. No wonder the American auto industry is in trouble.

A who's to blame? Of course, the working man. Who else?


On vacation

My wife and I are going to take advantage of our current state of unemploy to get out of town for a week or so. I'm not sure where we're going; we'll see what mood strikes us when we hit the road.

So I probably won't be blogging for a a little while. Here's hoping John will continue to post his thought-provoking and eye-opening entries in my absence.

--Matt Kelsey, looking forward to getting out on America's blue highways