Reader's Notes - PN 2.22 - 1000 Jazz Albums

Over at the jazz blog Groove Notes, Kevin Kniestedt is plugging away at what I initially thought was an ambitious, daunting, and possibly insane project. Maybe not insane, but certainly out there. What Kniestedt proposed was the construction of a list of the 1000 jazz albums you should hear before you die. I like the parameters of this list -- you just have to hear them, maybe not even listen, and by no means are you required to purchase or download them. Pft, perhaps even the notion of the album is an antiquated one for all I know. Good luck to you, Kevin I thought. That first list of 20 albums is easy-peasy, but good luck picking 980 more.

Right now Kniestedt is sitting at 340, with another 560 to go, and on each list I find a few albums that I've not only listened to, but actually own. And I'm not going to embarass myself by indicating how many albums and/or CDs and/or downloads I've got in my jazz library. It is a large amount. But even on the latest list, three are in my collection: Sun Ra's Atlantis, Wynton Marsalis' Black Codes (From the Underground), and Joshua Redman's Wish. Another eight I've listened to (at least a few tracks) and I would agree that they're pretty good.

So, if we might offer Brother Kevin our interest and support, I think he could use it. So far so good, but there's another 28 lists to go. Let's hope that when he reaches 1000 -- after much thought and debate -- we might be able to find another 1000 albums to listen to as well.


Barcaloungue Skipper - PN 2.21 - Plotting for Spring Training

I recall a glorious time in March during the mid-90s when I managed to see four baseball spring training games in two days – at the old Devil Rays’ field in downtown St. Petersburg, at the old Phillies’ park in Clearwater, then the next day at the Blue Jays’ field in Dunedin and the Yankees’ place in Tampa. There couldn’t have been more than two hour’s total driving to all those parks, my total for tickets didn’t crack 40 bucks, and there was much beer and sunshine. And the world was good.

These days, spring training is a bit more swanky here in the land of the Grapefruit League, but it’s still a wonderful way to see baseball in a more raw form. Plus there are guys playing who have three digit numbers on the backs of their jerseys. “Let’s get on base, number one-hundred-and-twenty-one!”

I’ve got the Mets and the Marlins/Cardinals a short drive to the north. I can tolerate the Marlins, and the Cards are fine, but the Mets just suck. What I really do is look for the Red Sox – who train on the West Coast in Fort Meyers -- to come through the area for that rare away game here on the East Coast. And I have my game in sight – March 9 – with Marlins tickets going on sale very very soon. In the meantime, maybe I’ll grab myself some actual Sox tickets. They go on sale this coming Saturday at 10:00 am. I’ll have my redial button ready.

I include a photo of the 1912 Red Sox, who trained that year in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The many pleasures of Arkansas aside, it does not appear to have been a particularly hot spring in Hot Springs.

I could go MLB's official website for all my spring training gumbo, but I prefer Spring Training Online, a blog which does away with much off the razzle-dazzle and garbage.


Reader's Notes - PN 2.20 - Kids: Doing Too Much, Doing Nothing At All

Today's book blogging concerns parenting books -- or maybe "kidsing" books.

Cool Mom Picks had high praise for a book satirizing the competitive parent in many of us, the wryly named "Perfect Baby Handbook." From thingamababy, musing on a memoir, "Where did you go? Out. What did you do? Nothing," that suggests, first, that kids these days really wouldn't know what to do with themselves without all the high-falutin' gadgets and, second, that you should all go and buy your child a knife.


Reader's Notes - PN 2.19 - Trolls in the Astroturf

Trolls are everywhere online, and they are creeping more and more into the mainstream of media discourse in politics. In the online arena, the evolution of the commenting provocateur has led to a more understated approach to trolling -- if you're obvious, someone's going to call you on it -- but in the political discourse, trolls abound. The general rule, of course, about trolls is this: DON'T FEED THE TROLLS.

It would be dishonest of me not to disclose my political perspective at this point -- I suppose you'd call me a secular progressive. I'm not particularly impressed with the general run of Republicans and Democrats, but I do think Barak Obama is impressive at times. Nevertheless, the depth of Republican trolling in the form of the Tea Party "Movement," the anti-Obama "Birthers," Sarah Palin's "death panels," and the vociferous and purely disruptive trolling at the Health Care Town Halls these days seems to steer the political debate in a direction that's just plain pointless. It's a matter of saying or doing outrageous things to create a false, wobbly center of gravity in what should be a more grounded debate.

All the more irritating is how all these trolls purport to be part of some grassroots movement, when it appears they're often coordinated attempts by partisan think thanks to create the appearance of a "just plain folks" appeal. I'm sure organizations on both sides of the political fence do this type of "astroturfing," but can we please do away with the outright reactionary and, frankly, racist stupidities?


Passing Notes - PN 2.18 - Review: Five Peace Band Live

Not much to post here today, as my review of Chick Corea and John McLaughlin's Five Peace Band Live is up over at eJazzNews. Those of you who have (or had) a taste for Weather Report, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Return to Forever might like to check it out. Many thanks to my buddy Ed Blanco who has been so helpful and encouraging in my starting up Passing Notes after two years off.

Reader's Notes - PN 2.17 - Overrated Jazz Musicians?

In a silly exercise in trolling that, in his words, "will almost assuredly enrage or alienate segments of the readership by concentrating on who is overrated," Canadian journalist Rob Vanstone has taken it upon himself to name what he judges to be the most overrated jazz musicians in history. While I might agree with Rob Vanstone's assessment of George Benson, Kenny G, and even Diana Krall and Chet Baker as a too "poppy" for my undying admiration, I can't say I agree with his dissing Ron Carter, Chick Corea, Bill Evans, and Bud Powell, much less Ornette Coleman and Miles Davis. All right, Ron, so you don't like Bitches Brew, but what about the previous 50 albums from Miles? Did you give those a listen?

Rob Vanstone does much better with his unsung artists column that appeared two weeks earlier. You see, his is a biweekly jazz column that appears in the Regina, Saskatchewan newspaper. Ron writes this when he's not covering sports in the provincial capital and Canada's 24th most populous city. Anyway, first and foremost among Rob Vanstone's unsung artists is Oscar Peterson (A Canadian! I call Canuckery!), a choice that I would agree with completely. Oscar Peterson is truly great.

I'm disappointed that Rob Vanstone's editors at the Leader-Post didn't discourage such an obvious troll as his "overrated" column. I'm not sure that it really engages debate when you lump Kenny G into the same category as Miles Davis. Is this how you troll in Regina, Saskatchewan, Rob Vanstone?

I know I'm not supposed to feed the trolls, Rob Vanstone, but you had me from the phrase "designed to engage and enrage." I'm in.

I mean, I might not be one of the seven people who read your magnum opus on the 1966 Roughriders, but I feel pretty confident in writing that even you, a prominent journalist in a city that plays second fiddle to Saskatoon -- even you could do better than your conservative grumblings about free jazz, commercial jazz, and fusion. But I suppose coming up with lists like this is something to pass the time when you're stuck indoors at the Ramada Inn bar, trying to remember what sunlight feels like on your skin, yearning for the hijinks of Gainer the Gopher and grousing with the local musicians about Ornette Coleman.

And, Rob Vanstone, if you're going to write a trolling column like your "overrated" broadside, at least let readers respond with comments on your work.


Reader's Notes - PN 2.16 - Upcoming Jazz Books

A fine fall book season is shaping up as far as jazz literature is concerned, highlighted by a big biography of Louis Armstrong and a jazz encyclopedia from Scott DeVeaux and Gary Giddins. I'll be sure to review most of these titles here over the coming months. Here they are, sorted by month.

Jade Visions: The Life and Music of Scott LaFaro (North Texas Lives of Musician Series) by Helene LaFaro-Hernandez – September 2009, University of North Texas Press

The Jazz Ear: Conversations over Music by Ben Ratliff – October 2009, Times Books

Jazz by Scott DeVeaux and Gary Giddins – October 2009, Norton

A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music by George E. Lewis – October 2009, University of Chicago Press

Sun Ra: Interviews & Essays by John Sinclair – October 2009, Headpress

Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original by Robin Kelley – October 2009, Free Press

Cuttin' Up: How Early Jazz Got America's Ear by Court Carney – November 2009, University Press of Kansas

But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz by Geoff Dyer – December 2008, Picador

Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong by Terry Teachout – December 2009, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

I Walked With Giants: The Autobiography of Jimmy Heath by Jimmy Heath with Joseph McLaren – January 2010, Temple University Press

Reader's Notes - PN 2.15 - Doom Patrol & Comic-Con Hate

The freaky comics team Doom Patrol returns to active publication this week with a (hopefully) fresh take from by Keith Giffen and Matthew Clark. In honor of the return of Robotman and company, Comics Alliance has put together The Most Insane Moments of Doom Patrol.

If you just hate comics, comic book culture, and those who love the same, from Cracked, I give you Four Reasons to Hate Comic-Con . But seriously, what's your problem? (And yes, I believe if you follow the Cracked link, there are Princess Leia Slave Girl pictures in there somewhere, for those who want them. Shame on you.)

Barcalounge Skipper - PN 2.14 - 'Roid Age

I try to avoid writing about the Red Sox too often, but I’m on vacation in New England this week, and the latest scandal related to performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) is centered around Boston. As the New York Times has reported, Boston sluggers David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez had their names on the 2003 list of players two tested positive for some form of PED. Add to this, the now-Dodger Ramirez’s 50-game suspension for PED use, and the revelation that the Red Sox fired two staffers last year for suspicious conduct related to PEDs, and you have the Nation Haters foaming at the mouth. As if it’s not bad enough, one of the fired Sox staffers is Jared Remy, son of the wicked popular NESN broadcaster Jerry Remy, who’s off the air this year as he battles cancer. Talk about a family affair.

The broader question arises: Does the current scandal tarnish the 2004 and 2007 championships ? In my informal survey of everyone down at the general store, the answer cuts both ways. The championships are tarnished, of course, because everyone – including many die hard fans – would like them to be pure. On the other hand, the championships happened at the end of the Juiced Era, when everyone is suspects and few people tell the truth. The most important thing now is for Ortiz and the Red Sox to be as forthcoming and transparent as possible and get this behind them. And the best thing to happen would be for the Red Sox to win another championship. I got your PED right here!

What Major League Baseball should do is work out a deal with the Players’ Association and finally release the names of the 100 plus players who tested positive for some sort of PED in 2003. Everyone can have a chance to confess, deny, apologize, whatever -- and then move on, for Pete's sake.

If you’re a fan and have worked up a sense of outrage over all this steroid stuff, you should read Jose Canseco’s Juiced and the excellent Game of Shadows. It does help a fan to understand the mindset of professional athletes who see their peers getting an unfair advantage in a system that looks the other way. With PEDs in baseball, starting in the late 80s, the problem was systemic. Although we like to blame individuals, everyone is to blame and everyone got cheated in some way: Fans, players, owners, and the game itself.

But think of baseball’s color line -- not fully broken, I would argue, until the 1960s. Of all the players in the major leagues between 1868 and 1947, the year Jackie Robinson broke in with the Dodgers, they never had to complete with African American or Latin players. Are all those individual and team records and championships invalid because, in truth, those white players never competed day-in-day out against all the best players? After all, it was the more integrated National League that started winning All-Star Games and World Series as the 50s and 60s continued. How do you reach a conclusion as to who was better, Josh Gibson or Babe Ruth? As I said, in a systemic problem, we all lose.

Passing Notes - PN 2.13 - MJ and The Ram

Well I'm an axegrinder, piledriver
Mother says that I never never mind her
Got no brains, I'm insane
Teacher says that I'm one big pain
I'm like a laser, 6-streamin' razor
I got a mouth like an alligator
I want it louder, more power
I'm gonna rock ya till it strikes the hour

Michael Jackson died on June 24. I spent much of the weekend that followed trying to avoid the cable chatter about Jackson’s musical career, personal issues, and the circumstances of his death. Anyone who grew up in the past four decades would have had some MJ song or another as part of the soundtrack to his or her childhood. As a little kid, I can remember singing The Jackson Five’s “ABC” over and over again along with “The Wheels on the Bus” and “Old MacDonald.” And, like most people, I didn’t mind, couldn’t avoid, sort of liked, then grew weary of that long train of hits from Off the Wall and Thriller. Others have written about the huge cultural significance of MJ as a crossover artist, and I know it’s too soon for me to form any definitive opinions of my own about the music.

It just so happened during that weekend that I watched Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler. Better late than never. In the title role, Mickey Rourke plays Randy “The Ram” Robinson, a pro wrestler whose best days are two decades behind him but who still grapples it up in regional action, hulking from ring to ring in his tanning-bed tan and long blond hair. In his more sedate moments, he wears a hearing aid and reading glasses. For a social life, he courts a stripper (But she’s a mom! But she’s a stripper!) played by a wriggly, irresistible Marisa Tomei. Awesome film. Go see it right now; I’ll wait.

So you heard all that music on the soundtrack -- Quiet Riot and Ratt and Slaughter and the Scorpions. Watching The Wrestler that weekend with MJ’s death buzzing around in the back of my head, I came to realize that all that pop metal was more the soundtrack to my teenage life than Jackson’s music was. I grew up in the boondocks of Maine, after all, and most of the guys I knew were obsessed with a certain type of masculinity best embodied by “metal” and pro wrestling. I wasn’t into pro wrestling so much, but most of my friends were. I suppose I was hung up on the notion that pro wrestling was “fake,” my standards for realism and authenticity were so na├»ve.

This notion of what is fake and what is real lies at the root of the questions I keep asking myself about Michael Jackson, and the radically unreal world that mega-fame creates, the world he lived in from the age of five. A man with Jackson’s talent, imagination, and passion having reached a degree of fame and material means that few of us can understand, well, MJ must have gone crazy; that is, his relationship with the world fundamentally shifted, and, over the years, made him less and less like the rest of us. Like Kurtz in Heart of Darkness, he went up the river and never came back. He became the God of Pop. The surgeries, the money problems, the questions of sexual misconduct, the increasingly extraneous new music – all of it at the end became grotesque and simply tragic. Jackson’s death made me sad and anxious. Still sadder was the fact that he appears to have been on the verge of a comeback, and we all know how America loves a comeback.

It was strange that weekend to watch Mickey Rourke, another – albeit far lesser -- pop icon from the eighties, an actor now scarred and wrinkled and grotesque. Part of The Ram’s appearance is craft, I realize, but Rourke himself is a distorted – not just aged -- version of the man he was some 30 years ago. In high school and college I remember Rourke as a cool, handsome-but-not-pretty, intense actor who had roles I admired in films I liked a great deal: Boogie Sheftell in Diner, Harry Angel in Angel Heart, and Henry Chinaski in Barfly. And as fame touched him, Rourke he may have gone a little crazy as well. But after his early 90’s boxing career and some sketchy plastic surgery, Rourke has found his way back to relevance in his craft. There’s still a lot of wildness in Rourke, even if it is tempered now by a sense of humility and even faith in God. One wonders how much of Rouke was talking about himself when, in The Wrestler, The Ram tells his estranged daughter that he’s little more than “a broken down piece of meat.”

In both the death of Michael Jackson, the comeback of Mickey Rourke, and the story of The Ram there is the appeal of the redemptive value of suffering, particularly when the person involved in touched by the tragedy that happens to some when talent and fame intersect. And MJ’s death is a comeback of sorts. In the myth develops, the success of his 2010/2011 tour is a now foregone conclusion, it seems, and the ongoing questions about his death now make him into a victim of handlers rather than a self-destructive eccentric. The King of Pop keeps his throne in the end, reborn even as he is taken from the world.

Early in The Wrestler, in a slightly forced thematic moment, Marisa Tomei’s stripper drops a few lines from The Passion into her post lapdance chit chat with The Ram. “He was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we were healed.” Later, she adds, “Sacrificial ram.”

At the memorial service for Michael Jackson, the Reverend Al Sharpton, who appears to have become a personal spokesperson for the MJ’s parents, had this to offer: "I want to say to Michael's children, there wasn't nothing strange about your daddy, it was strange what your daddy had to deal with. He dealt with it anyway. He dealt with it for us."

These allusions to self-sacrifice are strange and wonderfully telling about how deeply so many of us believe in the comeback, the fresh start, in rebirth, and how we are willing to create martyrs where there may be none. Or maybe there’s the possibility that we’re all martyrs. Be it the Phoenix, Osiris, Dionysus, Jesus, Michael Jackson, or Randy the Ram, the stories of life, death, and rebirth have a power to return to us in the strangest of forms. Me, I'm going to keep banging my head and listening for the beat.

Reader's Notes - PN 2.12 - George Russell

With the recent death of jazz composer, teacher, and MacArthur fellow George Russell, there's been a great deal of lazy linking in the blogosphere, but here's the skinny: Russell's theoretical contribution is a concept of organization that paved the way for the modal style of music most prominently featured on Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. You also hear modal playing in much of the work of John Coltrane as he moved away from bebop, for instance, in his number "Impressions" and his reworking of Rogers and Hammerstein's "My Favorite Things."

Over at NPR's A Blog Supreme, there's a decent tribute to Russell as well as a video from jazz guy Brett Primrack.

All About Jazz has a very detailed obituary on Russell, and you would do well to check out the man's own web page, as well as his Wikipedia entry.

Many years ago, I finally bought Ezz-thetics after my friends at WDNA kept telling me about Russell. Although here and there I'd heard the name and seen a writing credit ("Cubano Be/Cubano Bop"), I suppose that because he lacked the star power of Miles or Coltrane, I remained plainly ignorant of how important and interesting Russell's work was. I was truly blown away by the album's third track, "The Lydiot," and always made a point of playing something from George Russell every few weeks. I had joined that club, I suppose. I invite you to do the same.

Barcalounge Skipper - PN 2.11 - Jim Rice, Hall of Famer

In Little League, I proudly wore the number 14 -- the dorsal digits of Jim Rice, slugging Red Sox left fielder of my childhood. I was the left fielder for the Farmington Braves. I didn't know then (as I definitely do now) that the kids who played left field in Little League were, for the most part, the hopeless cases. I couldn't hit particularly well, and I couldn't throw very far but had good accuracy. Afer my first season, my coach, seeing that I was bright enough and big enough, made me a catcher.

After my baseball playing days ended when I turned 13, I became a fan of the game. Living in New England, this meant following the Red Sox during those transitional years between what I think of as the Yaz-Fisk period (1967-1980) to the Boggs-Clemens period (1986-1992). Jim Rice, my hero, spans both those periods, as he played from 1974-1989, pretty much alongside the great and underappreciated Dwight Evans (my brother's childhood favorite) who played for Boston from 1972 to 1990. The early eighties Red Sox were sort of fun to watch, kind of, in a Ralph Houk-ishy way. Most of the time, it seemed to me they got the crap kicked out of them by the Brewers or the Orioles.

As with great players of the 70s and 80s whose statistics are now overshadowed by the players of the Juiced Era, Rice's election this year to the Hall of Fame will remain an apparently undeserved honor to fans under the age of 30. I've been the the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, and it's a wonderful tourist attraction, but the history of that institution is filled with flim-flam and fundamental unfairness. I don't have much to offer on the Hall of Fame that hasn't already been said.

Looking back now, when I condsider the years during which Jim Rice played, I understand much more clearly why he kept had a quiet, intense persona in the midst of the Boston sports world. In 1974, the year Rice, a young man from South Carolina, broke into the majors, the Supreme Court also handed down its decision on the appropriateness of busing as a means to desegregating schools. In 1976, the year after Rice helped the Red Sox reach the World Series, Boston was one of the many cities in the United States struggling with civil unrest as it tried to integrate its schools. What's a guy like Rice to think when he opens his Globe in the morning and sees this image on the front page?

The Red Sox, of course, were the very last major league team to integrate in 1959, when they added Pumpsie Green to the roster and used him mostly as a pinch runner and give-the-regulars-a-day-off fielder. A dozen years later, the Sox drafted Rice, who, with the retirement of his number at Fenway on Tuesday night, is the only African-American player so honored by the team. Rice was the only guy on the list. As of today, there is no other black (or Latin player) who could meet Boston's requirements for number-retirement. If David Ortiz plays for Boston for eight more years and reaches the Hall of Fame, he'd get his number on the Fenway facade.

One Saturday in 1982, though, I remember most clearly. The Red Sox, in the midst of not quite winning the AL East title that year, were playing Saturday home game versus the White Sox one hot August afternoon. The game was on national television. Rice, who wasn't having a great year, did hit a double in the bottom of the third to tie the score 2-2. In the bottom of the fourth, a hard line drive went foul into the first base stands. A 4-year-old boy named Jonathan Keene was struck in the head by the ball, which caused serious and severe trauma. Rice climbed into the stands, picked up the little boy, whose head was bleedling badly, and carried him into the dugout, through the clubhouse, and out to a waiting ambulance. As the legend persists now, it was Rice's action that saved the boy's life. That may or may not be so, but there's something in Rice's urgently human action on that afternoon that made so many of us love and respect him.

Later in the game, of course, the Red Sox lost, with Rice grounding into a double play as he so often did. He led the league in GIDP, and would again for three more years. And the Sox, finished not in first place that year, as they so often did. But both the man and the team in those days reminded us of what we were and what we hoped to be -- part human and part hero.


Reader's Notes - PN 2.10 - Eisners and Asterios Polyp

Out in San Diego at Comic-Con 2009, the Eisner Awards have been announced, with Chris Ware (whose Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth, should be read by everyone) and Mike Mignola of Hellboy fame both having big evenings. With so many superhero, science fiction, and fantasy movies driving popular culture these days, it's always a good idea to keep an eye on Comic-Con. Plus you can always just ogle the people who dress up as characters. This year's Eisner Awards. . .

There's a South Florida tangent to these awards, as Tate's Comics of Ft. Lauderdale won the Spirit of Comics Retailer Award. I usually buy my comics in book form, but when I do visit the comic store, I tend to go to Outland Station here in the burbs. But I see that Tate's offers the occasional Japanese food tasting events, so I'll be sure to make the drive. Tate's website. . .

And finally, a graphic novel of note, as the hype tells us, TEN YEARS IN THE MAKING!!! I would be writing about David ­Mazzucchelli’s Asterios Polyp. There's a smart piece of criticism about it in the New York Times Book Review. For those of you who might remember Mazzucchelli's adaptation (with Paul Karasik) of Paul Auster's City of Glass, you should be happy to know you'll be travelling in a whole new realm of metafiction with Asterios Polyp. I've got my copy on the way today.


Reader's Notes - PN 2.9 - More Parenting Thoughts

I've been saving this wonderfully sarcastic piece from Claire Zulkey, a fine writer who (like me) wrote for the now largely retired Flak Magazine. She's constantly working. In reading this piece the other day, I became mindful of how truly annoying some parents can be, constantly talking kid-shop to anyone who will listen. By "some parents," of course, I mean myself. Claire offers all those child-skeptical folks out there a chance to join her club. And if you don't join her club, at least read her blog from time to time.

As a counterpoint to Zulkey.com and an offering for lovers of music, I hope you'll take a listen to an NPR feature on Diana Krall broadcast this morning. Ms. Krall talks about going on tour with her two toddlers. They don't play in the band, from what I hear, but they do eat and poop in a variety of hotel rooms. There's additional audio from Steve Inskeep's reporting, and the webpage comments are amusingly weird and gushy. Who doesn't know that Krall is married to Elvis Costello? Follow and listen! Radio is a sound salvation. Radio is cleaning up the nation.


Passing Notes - PN 2.8 - On Hiatus

I’ve been thinking about Michael Jackson and Lance Armstrong these days – that is, the comeback that never happened for the King of Pop and the comeback that might happen for Mellow Johnny. It’s not so much the struggle to reach the top again that intrigues me as much as that question, “Where have you been?”

In 2007, after a good eight years of freelancing as a writer, my wife and I had our first child. Although I kept my day job, I didn’t write anything for public consumption in almost two years. Anyone who has had a child and has been involved in the day-to-day details of parenting knows how unprepared even the most typically prepared of us feel when the baby bomb goes off and the little bundle arrives home. And, for us, before Baby One was even a year old, we learned that Baby Two was on the way, necessitating a big move to a bigger home just around the corner from my day job. Between baby care and home relocation, I had no spare time to write, much less read. Much less think.

Let me just say that I know for sure nobody misses my written (or radio) work to an extent that is in any way analogous to the pop culture void left my Michael Jackson's death or the lack of drama in cycling in the years Lance Armstrong didn't wear those tight shorts. )

Now, I know there are people – men in particular – who would get their writing done, regardless of the demands of a day job and a rapidly expanding home population. I am simply not one of those men, and that’s not because of the writing I want to do, it’s because of the parenting I want to provide to my two boys. I just can't manage it all; if you can, that's great. You should write a book. Me, I'm figuring it out as I go.

My friend Bill told me a story about the other day about when he was out with his two little girls – both of whom are under five – and going into a neighborhood sushi place for supper. He met a guy at the front door who was leaving with a takeout order. Sushi Guy told Bill what cute little girls he had, and added that he had a couple of his own. Then Sushi Guy said, “Yeah, and I really hope they’re asleep before I get home tonight.” Bill’s reaction was exactly what mine would have been: a polite chuckle and a quick turn away. Whatever, Sushi Guy. How’s that working for you?

And then Bill had a lovely meal with his two lovely daughters. I don’t know if the little ones had raw fish – veggie tempura perhaps?

I know from talking to most of my male friends that, for us, fatherhood is different from what we received as kids. Not to fault our own dads, because, as my own father has noted, expectations were very narrow for dads even a generation ago. But I still meet a great many men who are like Sushi Guy, who, I suspect, take for granted the work done by others (a wife, a nanny, a relative, a day-care professional) in the parenting of their kids. And while there’s much to be said for career, there’s only so much time in each day. Whatever brilliant (or less-than-brilliant) work I might do career-wise would mean little to me if my kids and I weren’t close. Yes, Future Me notes, I have more money, but my kids find me remote and definitely non-cuddly.

Ah, my career. No, I can’t work late every night. No, I can’t work many weekends. No, I can’t go on extended out-of-town trips. I have to be damned efficient in my day job, get my ass home, handle the nitty-gritty in the household, and get ready for the next day. There’s not much room for goofing around, and there’s not much room for error. The burden has eased somewhat of late, but my wife and I aren’t taking up ballroom dancing in our spare time.

The dads who change diapers and do the nighttime bottles and puree carrots and suck boogers and give baths and snap those goddamned tiny snaps, day in day out, have a much greater appreciation for their own partners and parents, and for the challenges of getting it all done each day. And I know this: The dads who are involved from the very beginning – as incredibly hard as it can be – wouldn’t give it up for anything. Rather, I give up what I must to be in the moment with my kids.

For example, last Tuesday night, I had intended to respond, inning by inning, to the MLB All-Star Game, but when the top of the first arrived, my oldest son couldn’t get to sleep, so I turned off the baseball game and we put in his new favorite DVD, the old Disney animated adaptation of Winnie the Pooh. This was a favorite of mine when I was a little guy, as it was for many kids born in the 1960s. I’m sure I watched it every time it was on The Wonderful World of Disney those Sunday evenings. But I even had the record album and picture book when I was a kid, and I wore out both.

Now, my son and I hadn’t yet watched the DVD together, so when I started singing along with the theme song – “Winnie the Pooh/Winnie the Pooh,/Tubby little cubby all stuffed with fluff,” his eyes went wide and it appeared I had blown his two-year-old mind. How do you know this stuff, Daddy?

Kid, if you only knew. We’re going to have a lot to talk about, I’m sure of it.

So that’s where I’ve been and what I’ve been up to the past couple of years. Taking care of the daddy details and making friends with a couple of little boys. I don’t think of my writing again as any sort of comeback at all, I’m just coming back to the keyboard after some very good time spent on more important matters. I hope the boys, when they learn to read, might agree.

Reader's Notes - PN 2.7 - 100 Great But Overlooked Novels

On both Andrew Seal's Blograhpia Literaria and Mark Athitakis’ American Fiction Notes, we find the table of contents to a book of the 100 Greatest American Novels You've (Probably) Never Read, by Karl Bridges. Lists like these are always subjective and open to debate, and I believe that's why we love them so much. Defining the canon is so maddening in the first place.

As a reader, I do not particularly well as far as what I've actually read on this list (I've got five), although I have to say that while I've read some of these authors, the representative titles are perhaps not the best choices. I've got Brockden Brown under my belt -- I even teach Wieland -- but why Edgar Huntley? From the first page in the table of contents, Harry Crews, Don DeLillo, Philip K. Dick, Ernest Gaines, and John Hawkes I've all read, and several titles from each, but not the particular selections offered by Bridges. I suppose these are overlooked authors in some cases, overlooked works in others. Much head scratching.

Still, I would have to disagree outright with many of these choices. As one comment on Blographia pointed out, DeLillo is thought to be good by some, but few few readers would offer The Players as his best work. I can think of a half dozen DeLillo works that are more rewarding. I've even taught DeLillo's End Zone to high school students with great success, and very few people have ever heard of that one. Let the discussion begin.


Reader's Notes - PN 2.6 - First Pitch

No Barcalounge Skipper for me on this year's All-Star Game -- I prefer a lower profile game and a more ordinary setting. But of all the coverage I've seen, I enjoyed Deadspin's presentation of the analyses of President Obama's work on the mound in throwing out the first pitch. Obama's an athletic guy (and a southpaw), and he certainly didn't embarrass himself, but his basketball roots clearly showed in his delivery.

Tommy Craggs's detailed Deadspin article is here, and don't neglect reading the comments.


Reader's Notes - PN 2.5 - Pareidolia

Over at Cracked.com I've gotten to like the commentary from Gladstone in his "Hate by Numbers" video blog, and today he tries to find something amusing to say about the mediaverse event of Michael Jackson's death. He happens upon a a story about a psychological phenomenon, cognitive bias, mental fallacy -- call it what you will -- named pareidolia, in which vague or random stimulus, particularly images or sounds, are interpreted as being significant. Do you remember the story of the Virgin Mary appearing on a grilled cheese sandwich? That's where we're going.

"Hate by Numbers" is a regular feature on Cracked.


Reader's Notes - PN 2.4 - Paul Gonsalves

On this date in 1920, the great tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsavles was born. When he died in 1974, Gonsalves was long associated with the composer and bandleader he played with for the better part of 24 years, Duke Ellington. Best known for the compelling 27 chorus solo he took during an Ellington number at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival, he also had a fine touch with a ballad, and, in the decades after his death, has become to be seen as his own musician and not merely as a horn player with the Duke.

A more full biography of Gonsalves and a wide range of jazz coverage can be found at AllAboutJazz.com.


Barcalounge Skipper - PN 2.3 - Yankees at Angels

Yankees (51-35) at Angels (47-37)
Fox Sports Broadcast – July 11, 2009

Here's the view from the chair. . .

The game of the week is a fairly obvious choice for Fox: two contending teams from big markets, a decent pitching matchup in Pettitte versus Washburn, young manager Girardi versus mastermind Scioscia, Abreu going from the Yankees to the Angels, Teixera moving from the Angels to the Yankees. This matchup is a likely ALDS preview, though nothing is guaranteed, of course.

The night before, the Angels won a game in which Joba Chamberlain struggled. In the seventh, when the wheels came off for the Yankees, there was some curious fielding from the Yankees when Jeter dropped a popup, but Posada caught a popup without his glove, biatch. The Angels mashed the ball pretty well, but they also used six pitchers to get through the game.
Today, as announcers Dick Stockton, Eric Karros, and Chris Rose (who?) let us know over and over, it is hot – very hot – in Anaheim. Plus, to make the 4:00 broadcast time on the East Coast, they’ll be starting the game in the midday Southern California sunshine.

On a side note, I’m not sure I like the commercials Fox is running for Tuesday’s All-Star Game. So, to distill the visual analogy: giant magnet is to St. Louis Gateway Arch as iron shavings is to baseball fans. I suppose. Very middle school science project.

Top of the First
I haven’t seen much of the Angels this year, and I’m noting the “34” patch on the jerseys in honor of Nick Adenhart, whose death in April seems so very long ago. The Angels have a bunch of guys on the disabled list – recently including Torii Hunter and Vlad Guerro– so it looks like we’ll see some newer faces from the Halos. Jeter flies out, Damon walks. A-Rod pounds a home run, Yankees 2-0. Matsui, who’s not good for much these days but standing at the plate and maybe hitting – and not consistently – strikes out looking.

Bottom of the First
Pettitte walks the leadoff hitter, Chone Figgins, who has speed. And although Pettitte is the all time leader in pickoffs, Scioscia always makes sure his baserunners are a pain in the butt for opponents. Sure enough, there’s a hit-and-run on, but Aybar’s hit stayed up, and Figgins had to hustle back to first. Figgins was also out, but the umpire missed the call. First base coach Alfreo Griffin was no help. Still pestering Pettitte, Figgins steals second, then goes to third on a productive out by Abreu. Nicely done: a runner 90 feet away from scoring. And then, shamefully, Mike Napoli swings AT THE FIRST pitch and flies out.

Top of the Second
Neat play from Posada in faking out everyone by staying put on a fair ball he bounced off the plate, getting another pitch or two, although he struck out in the end. Eric Hinske, Official Good Luck Charm of the American League East, hits a solo home run, Yankees 3-0.

Bottom of the Second
Pettitte settles in with another one pitch out and works an inning by letting his fielders do their jobs.

Top of the Third
Weaver also settles in a little bit with a hitless inning, including two strikeouts, but he’s up to 50 pitches already. It is a hot day, Dick Stockton – you said it!

Bottom of theThird
A leadoff walk by Pettitte sets up a double play. I meant to do that, he tells himself. Close call, but he finishes the inning at 47 pitches. It’s looking to be a long day.

Top of the Fourth
A-Rod leads off the inning with a walk, and then the game starts to slow down. An errant throw to first allows Rodriguez to go to second, but Posada doesn’t advance the runner, which is not like him. The Angels pitching coach comes out for a conference with Weaver, presumably about how to pitch to Cano, a good contact hitter. And Cano hits the second pitch of the at bat, bringing home A-Rod, Yankees 4-0. Weaver gets out of the inning, but his pitch count is 73.

Bottom of the Fourth
Scioscia appears to be concerned about the game getting out of hand, and so you see an aggressive hitter, Aybar, lead off and square to bunt on the first pitch. Then he hits the next one for a solid double. Next up, Abreu, takes a pitch the opposite way and scores Aybar. Pettitte, who appears to have been pitching to contact, is giving up better contact to the hitters. Mike Napoli strikes out on a high high pitch, and he has not looked good in two at bats. Pettitte finishes the inning with no more damage, and he may have a little gas in the tank. Next inning may tell.

Top of the Fifth
Aside from the double from Jeter, Weaver moves through the lineup. Get those Angels hitters back up there.

Bottom of the Fifth
Pettitte looks to be running out of gas. Single, homer , fielder’s choice, single. Yankees, 4-3. Pettitte comes out after four and a third innings and, surprisingly, just 61 pitches. David Robertson comes in for the Yankees, a fairly generic right-handed reliever, and gives up a big double to Mike Napoli. Where did that come from? Napoli, who didn’t look good at all in his first two at-bats, might have delivered the key hit of the game, giving the Angels the lead. And there’s the second out of the inning. Oh, and a walk to Matthews, who then steals second. Kendrick singles to score two more runs, so the lead goes to the Angels, 8-4. Going for the throat, the Angels send Kendrick to second, but he’s thrown own. A brutal inning in which the Yankees give up seven runs.

Top of the Sixth
Weaver, who’s been working deep counts and striking out batters, seems to have gotten his wind and strikes out the first two Yankees, although one of them is Matsui. Posada flies out. Weaver’s thrown 110 pitches, but with the All-Star break coming up, we still might see him in the 7th inning. In the Angels bullpen, only Matt Palmer and Rich Thompson haven't pitched the night before.

Bottom of the Sixth
It appears to me that something’s gone out of this game. They’re in the third hour of this game. Strikeout, then another strikeout but the runner advances on a wild pitch. Then a strikeout and a stolen base. Interesting: Will Robertson get one of those rare four strikeout innings. Ah, no. Aybar triples and scores and Willits scores, Angels 9-4. Here comes the Yankees’ Brett Tomko.

By the way, here’s a great statistical page from DailyBaseballData.com that presents a very clear record of each club’s bullpen usage from the previous four days.

Top of the Seventh
Weaver can earn a win, but he’s out of the game. Lefty Darrin Oliver, who pitched for just one out last night, comes in to face Cano, hitting from the left side. Cano singles, and here’s Hinske, also hitting lefty. Wha-BAM. I know the numbers say you should do it when you can, but do these matchup moves really work when you’re throwing Darrin Oliver out there? I guess Oliver’s been okay this year, but still. Oliver gets out the two guys batting from the right hand side, and then left-sider Johnny Damon. Not a great inning, but the lead still is with the Angels, 9-6.

Bottom of the Seventh
Tomko versus Napoli. Mike Napoli – he’s awful, he’s great, he’s awfully great! Damn, he hit one out. Angels, 10-6. I’m going to shut up now. I’m curious: is Brett Tomko just happy to be out there on the mound? One hit, two hits. There’s a double play. Thanks, Derek!

Top of the Eighth
It appears that Just for Men hair coloring is taking advantage of the recession to encourage all those out-of-work middle aged guys to spruce up their look with an awkwardly dark dye job. Anyway, Jason Bulger, who pitched a full inning last night, gives up a home run to A-Rod. Hideki Matsui manages to avoid a strikeout and hits one over the fence, back-to-back dingers. That’s five homers for the Yankees today, and the Angels lead has been cut to two runs. The game is now going into its fourth hour, and it’s 91 degrees in Anaheim. With the walk to Cano, Scioscia goes to the bullpen for George Jetson – I mean Kevin Jepson, who also worked last night. Man, those last two guys in the Angels bullpen must be scratching their heads. Jepson’s arm appears to have been made by Spacely Sprockets. Here’s Hinske, the tying run at the plate, to hit again. It would be very cool to see Hinske hit a third homer, but I’m getting tired of this game. Howie Kendrick’s brilliant snag of a line drive ends the inning, Angels 10-8.

Bottom of the Eighth
It’s refreshing to see Phil Coke come in to pitch for the Yankees; he’s a strong lefty, and should make quick work of the inning. In fact, Coke is so strong, he threw it away on a pickoff move. There’s the pressure of the running game even when you don’t steal a base outright. The announcers have beaten me this point. Wild pitch, runners now at first and third. Coke is insanely powerful – too strong for his own good. Abreu manages a sacrifice fly to score Willits, and then Figgins steals second. Scioscia is just relentless. I like the intentional walk here, which sets up the force out, provided Coke can keep his composure. But Morales pulls a pitch to left field and plates Figgins. And, brother, would you believe Gary Matthews Jr. singles to left to score two more runs. Coke is overthrowing at this point, but he manages to get a ground out for the final out. The inning ends with a commanding lead for the Angels, 14-8.

Top of the Ninth
Does Scioscia go with All-Star Brian Fuentes to shut the door on the game, or does he save his closer to work tomorrow or Tuesday in Philadelphia? Me, I’ve got things to do tonight, so I’m a little disappointed to see Matt Palmer in there, especially when he gives up a leadoff single. Hey there, double play. Thanks, Derek! All that stands between me and getting away from the keyboard is Johnny Damon, and he conveniently strikes out. Matt Palmer is very happy, and gives a little hop on the mound. I give a little hop, too.

That was 22 runs, 9 pitchers, and 3 hours and 28 minutes. Everybody find a place to cool off and get some liquids in you. We'll see you next week and do this again. Hopefully, we can get a nice brisk pitchers' duel next time around.

Reader's Notes - PN 2.2 - Giving it Away

Virginia Postel's review of Free: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson pretty much sums up my attitude about almost anything I plan on writing or producing these days. After eight years of watching freelancing opportunities dwindle and the payment-per-piece remain largely flat, the age of free creative content is upon us. This is no earth-shaker, I know. But it is an adjustment for those of us trained way back in the 20th Century.

I'm happy to write all kinds of things for all kinds of people, and I always have been. Moving to the free content model has required a little bit of technological savvy -- but at least I get to own the shop. The learning curve hasn't been that steep, and it's well worth the trouble to end up with complete creative control. These days, the ease with which I can publish in any number of media and reach any number of people means that, with the proper advertising program and retail partnering, there's even money to be made -- if only pennies at a time. But 10,000 pennies is still $100, and that'll buy me more server space. Of course, this approach is based on trends Anderson wrote about in his previous book, The Long Tail.

To be honest, I already have a day job ("Don't quit it!" Thank you, wiseguys.), and I'm just happy to have readers. Or listeners. Or even a reader or a listener. (Yes, you're the one.)

Postel's piece is in the New York Times Sunday Book Review.