Monday, June 20, 2011

Will Ferrell may introduce more young writers to Raymond Carver and the guy with all his furniture out on the front lawn: Everything Must Go

The very idea of a guy drinking whiskey and looking out on his front lawn where he has trotted out all the furniture of his former life for a sort of crazy man's yard sale, gets my writing blood up.

So much so that I've shared the origin of the idea with many of my writer students across the years. It is inevitable the best students will wander into my office, sit down underneath Albert Einstein, and want to talk about writing. Often, they are discouraged. College can be discouraging to writers. It is full of criticism and -- boy, I hate to say this -- literature they often find remote, and the pleasure they feel in putting words together becomes more mathematical than joyful.

Often they are searching for themselves at the same time they are searching for clues to a writing life. Tough in spades.

About half the time, the conversation starts with a question. "Do you know anything about Kerouac?" Or, "I just started Kerouac..." which is also a question without a question mark. Or, "Do you have On the Road?"

I've gone through a half-dozen copies of On the Road. For some reason I never get them back despite the warning my father always gave me when he loaned a tool: "Son, don't forget where you got that."

I usually warn them, too, about how Kerouac died. They nod, but they don't listen. They're young.

Then I try to turn them on to Henry Miller (Tropic of Cancer is out on loan...) or Clyde Edgerton (Rainey, for those about to embark on marriage...). And always I tell them about Raymond Carver. When I do, I tell them about the man drinking whiskey with all his possessions on the front lawn.

They look at me like maybe I've finally gone around the bend.

Now they have the opportunity to see the story. Will Ferrell stars in a new film titled Everything Must Go, which is based on the Carver story "Why Don't You Dance?". Perhaps the film will lead them to Carver, then to the collection "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love." I hope so.

I ordered copies just in case.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

In judging LeBron, context is king

I do not follow basketball. At all. But it's impossible not to follow LeBron James.

Lebron's team, the Miami Heat, lost the NBA Finals to the Dallas Mavericks. After the decisive game, LeBron set the world on fire by saying this:

Pretty inflammatory stuff... when you listen to just that clip. But take a look at this video, which includes James' full answer as well as the question that provoked it (you can stop watching after the first 45 seconds).

Hmm... That's a horse of a different color.

LeBron was asked, point blank, "Does it bother you that so many people are happy to see you fail?" Wow. That's harsh. It's a harsh thing to realize and a harsh thing to be asked. If I had been asked that question, I'm sure my answer would have been, 'F*** those people!" or something even less eloquent.

James, actually, gave a thoughtful answer to the question: people can hate me all they want, but it doesn't make them better people, and it doesn't make me a worse person. We all have to keep living on this planet.

We have to remember something important here: LeBron James is 26 years old. Twenty-six. I still consider myself young, and I'm five years older than LeBron James. And ever since he was 18, he's been a multimillionaire. His world view has to be considerably skewed compared to our own.

Just give the kid a break. There's no reason to hate this guy. He plays a game for a living, for crying out loud.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Billy Butler is a hitter, today, tomorrow, next year. Leave him alone. If you want to see Omaha, take I-29 north and shut the heck up

Just let the fat boy hit.

I'd like to digress from from search for jazz negatives to talk just a bit about Billy Butler. Sam Mellinger brought this to mind in a Star column and Kevin Scobee added his own thoughts of KoK, which is an excellent read.

The fans here are so enamored with the future, with what MIGHT be someday (If you are a Royals fan this all too familiar…), they don’t recognize what they already have. One poster on the Star column about Billy said something so damned dumb I can’t get it out of my head. He said he was MAD at Billy for “keeping his average above .300" because that was keeping "us" from getting a look at Clint Robinson, the next flavor-of- the-month in Omaha.

Mad at Billy Butler for not failing! Mad at Billy Butler for hitting .300! What on earth has sports come to in this society? This guy thinks the next Mickey Mantle is in Omaha held back by a .300 hitter in Kansas City. If I'm not mistaken, the intelligentsia among the fan base once thought Kia was being held back by Billy. Were they the same ones clamoring for the Hawaiian to be optioned back to Omaha when he fizzled? Probably.

Now, they want to trade the only proven .300 hitter on the team.

I’m sure Oakland or Boston would be in the market for Mr. Butler. They subscribe to the theory that stolen bases are not a good risk most of the time, that hitters who have patience and only swing at good pitches help the ball club, that driving the ball to the gaps wins games. Ah, you say, but Billy hits into a lot of double plays (between singles and doubles). Seems to me Frenchy has hit into more double plays this year than Billy.

But Billy is not racking up big time RBIs. RBIs measure what the players around a player do. Really, no sense discussing that where the Royals are concerned. If you're angry about Billy's RBI totals, talk to the three or four guys in front of him.

Oh yes, and while we're hating on Butler, we're snuggling up to Chris Getz.

Heard Bob Davis calling the game a few weeks ago with Denny Matthews. Getz is up. It's a 10-pitch at bat. He's fouling pitch after pitch off. Bob's going on and on and on about Getz. He says to Denny, “He's really driving up the pitch count here. Denny, you have to say something positive about a guy who looks at so many pitches.” The moment of silence that followed spoke volumes. You could almost feel Denny roll his eyes through the radio. Finally, Denny says, “Well, yes.” That 'yes' was flat as a squashed squirrel on the freeway. Getz grounded to second on the next pitch.

But the intelligentsia love the new blood from Omaha. Why, they're guaranteed to be stars already.

We’ll see if Hosmer is a hitter second time through the league. Looks to me like they've already found that hole in his swing. And Moose? Like Hosmer, he looks like the real deal. But, we'll see where they are in July.

The grass will always be greener in Omaha, I’m afraid.


Friday, June 10, 2011

Bruce Ricker left a gift to Kansas City jazz fans -- The Last of the Blue Devils -- here are some photographs of Fiddler Williams & Jay McShann

Allow me to add this image from the Reunion concert in Lawrence that was part of the "Last of the Blue Devils" movie. (See below) The Blue Devils, by the way, were a territorial band playing across Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri and other points west and east. Count Basie was a member of that band.

The image left is Claude "Fiddler" Williams, an Oklahoma kid, as was Jay McShann, below. They made a lot of wonderful music together. Just wonderful, smokin' music. I used to see the Fiddler in Lawrence at Paul Gray's Jazz Club on Massachusetts Street in the 1970s. He just tore the place up -- in my rock n' roll youth I compared him to Jimi Hendrix. Ok, that's still not a bad comparison.

I interviewed him many years later in his home on Kansas City's east side. He was a generous interview, full of stories and insight. His voice was soft as a Hershey bar left in the glove box on a summer day (thanks to Larry McMurty for the idea) but also pleasantly rough. I remember he said things changed around here when the Beatles arrived. Suddenly, he said, audiences didn't know a complicated blues chord from any other note.

He was probaby right, but the long haired kids danced their butts off at Paul Grays. They might not have known what chords he was playing but they knew he could outswing anybody they were llistening to at the time on the radio.

He was in the Basie band when John Hammond took them to New York and the big time. Hammond was traveling across country, the story goes, to hear another band. I think he stopped in Chicago -- that might be where the other band was -- and heard Basie on the short wave on WHB live at the Reno Club in Kansas City. He forgot about the other band, got back in the car, and drove straight here.

Claude was the guitar player in the band that night but when the got to New York, Hammond replaced him with Freddy Green. Fiddler told me that was because Green owed Hammond money and it was the only way John would get his money back. Fiddler laughed and said it was for the better, he'd have spent the rest of his life just sawing back and forth across the guitar strings (he illustrated) as a rhythm player if he'd stayed in the band. On the fiddle, he was always out front, always got the last word. Besides, he chuckled, he had outlived both Count Basie and Freddy Green.

He held forth during the 1940s and 50s at a club I think was on Blue Parkway where Neece's Lounge was, but I've forgotten the name. If anybody knows, leave a comment. My wife an I spent many romantic evenings listening to him play in his 80s, and she claims he was the one who introduced her to jazz one Friday night at the Point. He sang a number and she was hooked. The planet misses him.

More photographs to come as I find them ...

Filmmaker Bruce Ricker died recently. He lived a short while in Kansas City and left the city a great gift -- the movie "Last of the Blue Devils." If you are interested in jazz, particularly the history of Kansas City jazz, this movie is a must see.

Ricker put together a couple of "reunion" concerts in 1979 to create his film. One was at the Mutual Musicians Foundation at 18th and Highland in Kansas City. The other was in Lawrence, Kans. Both were stunning, almost like traveling back in time to the day when jazz and Kansas City were the same. It took a brave and resourceful soul to make these reunions happen.

Ricker hired me to make still photographs but I don't remember if I actually got paid or my payment was free admission. Certainly doesn't matter now. All I know from this distance is I was up front and center with my Rolli and a pocket full of black and white film.

Here's one of Jay McShann and Gene Ramey. I'm going to leave this post on top for a while and add other images as I find them in my ridiculous file, which is actually just a box crammed full of negatives. Do anything you want with them except make money or not give me credit.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A few words from Bob Dylan in sympathy for the June Swoon Royals

For the June Royals I offer this lyric from Bob Dylan's 115th Dream which I always thought perfectly described a very bad day:

"... I shook his hand and said goodbye
Ran out to the street
When a bowling ball came down the road
And knocked me off my feet
A pay phone was ringing
It just about blew my mind
When I picked it up and said hello
This foot came through the line..."

-- Lofflin

Friday, June 3, 2011

Quick thoughts on O'Sullivan, Billy Butler and the hit & run, why my temper is still a problem at 62, and happy news of a new second grade teacher

Sean O'Sullivan is right. The major leagues are
no place to work out a new delivery or a new pitch. Omaha or N.W. Arkansas would be much more appropriate.

With a good friend and maybe 2,000 fans I watched Wednesday's afternoon game at the stadium. We were praying -- out loud -- in the bottom of the ninth the brain trust would let Billy Butler swing away, rather than strapping him with a hit & run request or, worse, a sacrifice bunt.

They didn't, and it paid off.

But we were left with sabermagician questions for which I'm sure somebody has a rational, unemotional answer. How often is hit & run profitable? When, and in what circumstances?

Butler had previously been tied in knots by a hit & run request. Anybody in the park could see it was an attempt to prevent Butler from hitting into another doubleplay. Of course, it caused him to hit directly into a doubleplay.

For god's sake just let the big boy hit the ball.

I played lousy myself last night. It's crazy to do this at 62, but, well... I figured out why. I let my temper drive me rather than my legs and hips. I don't like being pushed around and I let the young man who did it know, but I couldn't leave it there. And I paid the price. In addition, I hit one to the fence in BP and another to the fence in my first at bat and I think I just got enamored with the fence rather than that elusive spot about an eighth of an inch below center on the ball.

If you know what I mean.

Then, as I was settling in to sleep, setting the alarm on my cell phone, I noticed a text message. My daughter is the new second grade teacher at the elementary school in her town! Immediately I could hear this conversation:

Erik: Who you got this year?
Willie: Mrs. Morton.
Erik: Lucky.

--Loffllin -- almost too proud to be healthy...

Photograph courtesy the Kansas City Star. Could not find a credit line for this wonderful image anywhere on the page. My guess is John Sleezer.