Dodger Blue(s)

I suppose I should say something about the 2014 baseball season, since it’s now over for the team I love.

Part of me is sad but part of me is relieved that its over. The older I get the harder it is to take the suspense of a Dodgers’ playoff game. Mentally, I think this won’t be the case the next time we get into the postseason and I feel confident about the team’s chances. In this century, however, every time the Dodgers have made the postseason there was always a big chance it wouldn’t work out, and none of those teams possessed anything special to give you faith that they could surmount the odds.

This year’s team was not much different from that. They have an amazing amount of talent, and they were a pleasure to listen to (because of the continuing failure of the organization to get on TV I only “saw” about 10 games). But they consistently lacked anything that really brought the team together. You might think this is inconsequential in baseball, as long as every individual player does his part at the right time. In the long view of a 162-game season I think that is true. In the postseason I think the team that can work as a cohesive unit is always going to be the winner.

This year’s team had a fairly consistent inability to win the big game or to produce in a clutch. We were uneven for most of the season and the timing of that unevenness was really visible to most, even those who don’t follow the NL West. What saved us was that we were in the weakest division of baseball where the only other team that was worth anything was fairly similar to us. That team is still around, of course. Their big difference? Well, Bruce Bochy is the best manager in professional baseball.

It’s an odd postseason now, and not just because the Dodgers are out of it. In August, I was fairly confident the Dodgers would have what it takes to top the Giants for the season. But I didn’t think they’d go far in the playoffs. We were a weak road team and we were a weak team against all the major players in the East. Milwaukee was the surprise for me. In August I was fearing having to face them, the Nationals, or the Cardinals in the postseason. No matter how you cut it, we were bound to face one of them.

And now where are we? Milwaukee–who held on the first place from something like the 3rd game of the season until late summer–faded away and didn’t make the postseason. The best team in the NL is done. And the hands down favorite in the AL is done. Who is there in the NL are two teams with some experience in the postseason, experience that goes a long way. I think St. Louis is the stronger team by players but Bochy the better skipper in these situations. It’ll be interesting. Kansas City seems to be the Cinderella team everybody’s getting behind. I’ll probably join that train. At least the color’s right.

The Dodgers will make some changes over the break. Mattingly is definitely done. He’s never been the manager I wanted and he’s rarely been the manager they needed. This will be a good change. The Dodgers have some holes in the bullpen and and some other aging parts of the starting squad to think about. One hopes the starting rotation will be in a better position next year with the return of Chad Billingsly.

The best part about the Dodgers is the future. The farm system is stacked with an assortment of future superstars. Any weakness on the field right now has one to two players in the hopper who will soon be ready to jump in. That’s something to look forward to. We also have plenty of bats. They just need to work better together and find the secret of consistency when it comes to the clutch.

When I was a kid, the baseball season lasted as long as the Dodgers were in it. I remember keeping all hope alive until that final game when they would be mathematically eliminated. Even after that, I’d think “Well what if _____ get in a plane crash?” thinking there might still be hope, even after it was logical. In the postseason it was the same kind of focus and investment. I remember the 1981 World Series victory. My mom got home after the game had ended and I rushed to tell her what happened. She said “Congratulations,” like I had something to do with it. In my mind I did.

Part of me is still that kid. Maybe I’m better about tucking him away every fall and winter and bringing him back every spring. This year didn’t go the way he would have hoped, but it did go about as well as the grown up me expected.

But next year is a whole new season.

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Monday Blues (10.06.14)

Otis Redding’s third album, Otis Blue/Otis Redding Sings Soul, was released on September 15, 1965. It took less than 24 hours to record, with Otis and the Stax house band of Booker T. & the M.G.’s (joined by Isaac Hayes on piano and an ensemble of horn players including the Memphis Horns) entering the studio on July 9 and wrapping up on the 10th.

The album contains an assortment of covers, mostly songs written and recorded previously by Sam Cooke. Cooke was Redding’s idol. His death the previous December brought a palpable level of emotion to those songs. The standout from the album, at least in my opinion, would be a song written by Otis and Jerry Butler. “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” would be the first big hit for the big ‘O’.

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Friday Five: Prince

If you read my blog and these posts with any regularity, you will understand my love for the music of the 50s, 60s, and 70s–essentially, the soundtrack of the “baby boom” generation.

But it would be wrong to think that I don’t love the music of my generation, too. I was born in 1972 and came of age in the 1980s. Like all children of the 80s, I adored the holy trinity of Michael Jackson, Prince, and Madonna. I was in high school when hard rock took over MTV and I was in college during the grunge years. I listened to(and liked) both, in addition to other trends that were less mainstream and popular.

Since I get as much out of these posts as anybody else, I thought I should start focusing on the popular music of my childhood as a way to better appreciate some of the good things that can come from mainstream pop when we stop, listen, and think a little.

So let us start with Prince.

My goal with this list is to provide an introduction to Prince and all his greatness in only five songs. If you know anything about him, you know that’s not possible. He is not only a prolific artist, but he’s one with a career now in its fifth decade. (Just writing that makes my head spin.) During that time he has been a cultural phenomenon, a has been, and an artist who has managed to reinvent himself more than once. Simply put, there is more than one Prince.

So let’s narrow it down to the glory years of the 80s. In the ten years from 1980 to 1989, Prince put out nine studio albums. That’s one every year with the exception of 1983. One of those albums is one of the best of all-time, certainly in any Top 20 list. Much of the music on those albums not only dominated the pop charts of that decade, it redefined what those charts sounded like.

So here’s five from the 80s by Prince.

Since Prince’s music is near impossible to find on YouTube, the links here are from Spotify.

“When You Were Mine” (1980)
From the album Dirty Mind, this is a contender for my favorite Prince song ever. Ever. The album is a mighty move forward, a bridge between sexy-soul-funk-club music of the 70s and the decade to come.

“Purple Rain” (1984)
The Purple Rain album was released on June 25, 1984, the soundtrack to the movie of the same name. By the first week of August it was the number one album in the country. It stayed there through the first weeks of the next year. Five of the nine tracks were top 25 hits. Four of them top 10. The title track was recorded from a live performance, with some over-dubbing in the studio after. It’s a masterpiece, pure and simple. Put on the headphones for this one…

“Raspberry Beret” (1985)
Prince’s 1985 album Around the World in a Day was a commercial failure but it spawned two hits despite the fact. Prince wanted the album to be experienced as an album, and so delayed releasing any songs as singles. It’s still worth a listen from start to finish, but if you have to choose one song…

“Sometimes It Snows in April” (1986)
The album Parade was the soundtrack to Prince’s second movie, his 1986 directorial debut Under the Cherry Moon. The movie kind of bombed, though my sister and I saw it soon after it opened. (This was a big deal. I was still 12, and it was rated PG-13, and I was very Catholic.) The album featured the megasuperhit “Kiss,” a song that deserves all the attention it continues to get on radio. But there were some other gems, like “Girls and Boys,” “Mountains,” and this ballad.

“Sign ‘O’ The Times” (1987)
By 1987, Prince had been a cultural phenomenon and best-selling artist as well as a commercial and critical flop in the music and cinematic worlds. He was a mixed commercial bag, but still someone who got attention when he released something new. I can remember the first time I heard this, the title track to his ninth studio album. Memory is an imperfect record, but I remember it being a pre-planned release on KIIS-FM radio. They played it twice in a row, starting at 8:00PM. I remembered that first listen almost every time I heard the song over the next weeks and months.

The song is performed on a synthetic instruments, mainly the now-legendary Fairlight CMI (Computer Musical Instrument). Surprisingly, Prince largely used the beats and samples that came with the keyboard, essentially “stock” music riffs. The synthetic additions he makes, along with his deeply memorable lyrics, made this a standout.

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2013-05-31 18.49.57
Big Sur River, Big Sur, CA. ©TFSS, 2013.

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Monday Blues (9.29.14)

Eddie James “Son” House (1902-1988) grew up around the Mississippi Delta, one of the homes of blues music. By his own account, as a “churchified” young man, he held the blues and other secular music in low regard. At the age of 25, he experienced a blues-related conversion and began a musical career.

His career was characteristic of bluesman of the time, which is to say not very lucrative. He served time in jail. He made a few recordings during the Depression. He was also recorded by Alan Lomax in 1941 and 1942. But much of his time can’t even be reconstructed with the historical record. The 1960s resurgence of interest in the blues, in particular the interest of white teenagers in Europe, made a lasting difference for the last quarter of his life and career.

Here he is singing his legendary “Death Letter Blues” in 1967, as part of the touring ensemble billed as “The American Folk Blues Festival.” This performance is preserved from its original broadcast on German television.

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Friday Five: no rhyme, no reason

For those times…

“Hurt” by Johnny Cash (2002)
A masterful cover of a Nine Inch Nails hit from 1994, recorded by the “man in black” while on the edge of the end.

“Everybody’s Hurts” by R.E.M. (1992)
From their successful 1992 album Automatic For the People, this song has had a better run in the time since its first release.

“Can’t Find My Way Home” by Blind Faith (1969)
From the one and only album ever released by this legendary group made up of Steve Winwood, Eric Clapton, Rick Grech, and Ginger Baker.

“Keep Me In Your Heart” by Warren Zevon (2003)
The final song from the final album of a well-loved singer/songwriter, Zevon knew he was dying of cancer as he worked.

“Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison (1970)
Van’s masterpiece from the Moondance album.

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Friday Five: Chicano oldies

There are oldies and there are Chicano oldies.

The music that resonated with the brown baby boomers of East L.A. is largely African American rhythm and blues music. It’s heavy on harmonies, on some interesting guitar work, and on a lot of soul. It’s the kind of music that was popularized in dance halls, and it sounds like slow dancing. End of the night slow dancing. Had too much to drink slow dancing.

There are many kinds of oldies, and many kinds of sounds that could legitimately count as “Chicano oldies.” My bias here are the slow songs, the ones I most associate with my youth and with East L.A.

5. “I Do Love You” (Billy Stewart)
This 1965 recording was Stewart’s first big hit. The harmonies and piano and guitar interplay make it one of my favorites. It’s certainly a classic from a man whose career was cut short at the age of 33.

4. “La La (Means I Love You)” (The Delfonics)
This 1968 song was the biggest hit for this Philadelphia-based quartet turned trio.

3. “You’ll Lose A Good Thing” (Barbara Lynn)
A guitar-playing, rhythm and blues-singing trailblazer, Lynn wrote and recorded this chart-topper in 1962.

2. “Daddy’s Home” (Shep and the Limelites)
Their first and last big hit, from 1961. Makes me think of the end of the night.

1. “Angel Baby” (Rosie and the Originals)
The 15-year old Rosie Hamlin (who was half Mexican) wrote this song as a poem to her then boyfriend. She recorded it with her friends in a San Diego studio, just for themselves. It ended up securing them a recording contract in 1960. It also ended up being their only hit. Such a vocal and guitar masterpiece.

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