29 September 2009

Who's gonna fill their shoes?

Country music has become as organic as a Fruit Roll-Up but the slide has been especially severe in recent years.

Decades ago George Jones asked 'Who's gonna fill their shoes?' in reference to the departed and aging greats such as Hank Williams, Roy Acuff. Surely we can put the Old Possum in that august group in 2009.

This isn't just a 'Hot New Country is horrible' rant (although HNC is quite horrible along with the hackneyed videos that accompany it) - it's an actual note of panic over the state of America's homegrown music, more specifically vocal talent. Virtuoso instrumentalists are everywhere these days although the Brent Masons and Brad Paisleys will always stand apart. But where are the unique voices? Take away Dolly Parton's over-the-top glamour and she still has an unmistakable sound. Randy Travis, Dwight Yoakam, Steve Earle, Tammy Wynette (RIP), and of course Miss Loretta Lynn.

Who are we left with? LeAnn Rimes? Certainly a talent but apparently more interested in getting her kit off rather than singing now that she's shed the baby fat. Taylor Swift? How long have you got? Could anyone take her out of her record production and/or stage show and pick her voice out of a lineup of generic local talent-show aspirants? What about her male counterpart Toby Keith? It didn't seem possible to make three-chord country any more generic and repetitive but against all the odds Keith has done it along with his unremarkable trucker-on-the-toilet grunting. Kenny Chesney? There was some substance there once but Chesney's voice has been harmonized/compressed into an unrecognizable form and has disappeared along with his hair. "This is our moment/this is our time" - hmm sounds like a recent political campaign and it's just as meaningless. Chesney's campaign to capture the Buffett beach crowd now that JB is getting on is incredibly cynical even for a Nashville type like him.

Can anyone imagine George Jones, Johnny Cash or Tanya Tucker attempting to get a record deal nowadays? If the 'looks police' didn't throw them out on the street first the record company types would most likely claim that they didn't have the country sound. The mind boggles.

So what are we left with? One 'hat act' after another on the male side and musically interchangeable blond sexpots on the female? How long can an audience eat fast food before it ceases to have any taste at all? It appears we are about to find out to our detriment.

26 August 2009

Sort it out Microsoft

Microsoft has been stung by shedloads of bad press about their products - some justified, some not.

They have been proactive in notifying users and pushing out updates but at what point do the bandages completely envelope and outweigh the body?

16 July 2009

What They Won't Admit - Why West Virginia And Rich Rodriguez Need Each Other

I have typically avoided specific locales, subjects, etc. that might tend to identify me but let's just say that despite not being involved with the West Virginia University football program I have intimate knowledge about the goings on there mostly since Rich Rodriguez took over in 2001.

The story is well known and long debated. West Virginians and WVU alumni (not always the same group) added another gear (incredibly) to their long-established reputation as wild-eyed it's-us-or-them fanatics. Was Rod disloyal? In his mind no but the facts point to a different conclusion especially in light of the unintentional dry run with Alabama the year before. Were WVU, the athletic director and the various self-important lieutenants inflexible? Again the answer has to be yes else why would Rod walk away from his dream job given remarkable success on the field (the 2007 Pitt game result notwithstanding)?

Both sides and their supporters have plenty of factual and anecdotal evidence to support their claims and there is still enough raw emotion to fuel tears, ulcers and arguments for a lifetime.

Those emotions may keep Rich Rodriguez and West Virginia (the state, the university, the alumni, the fans and West Virginia as a state of mind) separated in the short term and perhaps forever but stranger things have happened in life and especially sports.

With that lengthy preamble it's time to drop the outrage, the lawsuits, the depositions and admit one basic fact: Rich Rodriguez and WVU belong together. Any current coach in college football would not and does not fit in the WVU head coach's role as well as Rodriguez. And Rodriguez will be a fish out of water whereever he may ply his trade outside Morgantown, WV.

1) Rodriguez is still young and vibrant - it's become almost a cliche'. Messy scandals involving governors' daughters and WVU's largest private donor aside, a new president is in place who knows nothing about the battles of the past. He would be an ally for Rodriguez who had to fight singlehandedly against many hidebound individuals and policies carried over to this day from the Don Nehlen era.

2) Speaking of Don Nehlen, his lineage appears to have been restored with the appointment of Bill Stewart as WVU head coach. Stewart is 'the real deal' (one of his favorite phrases). It's no hyperbole to say that he is a God-fearing family man who started panning for gold at the river's edge and eventually occupied a stately home on the mountaintop. He has done it all in amateur football for meager pay, long hours and little recognition. He may be the most appreciative occupant of a head coaching position in the nation and will probably remain that way perhaps forever.

But the Stewart/Nehlen mentality is different. Sportsmanship and fraternal love within a team are great things and they are heavily promoted under this restoration. But what about the football? Bumper crops of recruits are announced but the mentality seems to be a throwback as well. WVU will be a ham-and-egger like Rocky Balboa hoping to throw a devastating uppercut...except there are no Apollo Creeds to fight. The Big East is simply not a strong conference despite the strides made by Louisville (already slipping fast), Cincinnati, Rutgers (also slipping) and USF (not there yet).

The point of all this is that the Big East's reputation, membership and the defection of Miami and Virginia Tech (and BC to a lesser degree) combined with Stewart's nice-guy approach mean that WVU football will probably be viewed - once agan - as a 'strong program' but on the outside looking in at BCS and even national championship contention.

3) Rodriguez and Michigan. It doesn't work. It won't work. Ever seen a Yankee suburbanite try to 'country' it up when they are with (in their minds) hicks, rednecks, Southerners, etc.? It's awkward and embarrassing. Michigan loves its football and it's got a rather large outdoor library, er, stadium to prove it. Their attempts to shower this new arrival in Ann Arbor with love have been half-hearted at best. Perhaps some credit is due them - they recognize a carpetbagger when they see one. Rodriguez and Schembechler are not miles apart in terms of on-field antics although their private demeanors differ greatly. Football is football whether it's the Wing-T or the Spread Option. There is a cultural gap that will never be bridged.

Then there's the small matter of winning football games. Rod hasn't done it at Michigan. When he's trying to recruit a point guard from Duke's basketball program to play quarterback you know that desperation has set in on all sides.

4) The Big Ten. A moribund conference with a single superpower (Ohio State). Its lesser lights were once dangerous sleeper teams (Purdue, Minnesota, Michigan State) but the quality of football in those programs and in the conference as a whole has declined quickly. Huge alumni bases and locked-in television contracts mean that the Big Ten will remain in the public eye despite the problems but the matchups aren't there. Rod thought it would be the SEC of the North but it's more like the MAC with bigger stadiums.

Which brings us back to Rod and WVU.
In a few years' time the landscape will be different on and off the field. WVU's power brokers will change - a new president is already in place. Athletic Director Ed Pastilong is planning his exit even if he hasn't announced it. The governor is in his second (and final) term and waiting for nonagenerian Senator Robert Byrd to pass from this earth or retire so that he may tap himself on the shoulder and seamlessly move into the office of US Senator.

One thing Rod has lacked throughout this affair is proper PR. He may think that a football coach doesn't need it or that he can provide himself but it's a 24-hour job now and coaches have other duties and priorities. A hard-as-nails lawyer/agent issuing threats and denials isn't the answer either. An appearance here, a speech there, a radio interview...small doses and manageable bites are what he needs to begin the healing process. West Virginians are excitable - too excitable - when it comes to celebrities and get star-struck very easily. It explains their choice of elected officials to a large extent.

Without any ill will directed at Bill Stewart & staff, Rod can and should be the next head coach at West Virginia. The timing may just work out perfectly for both and when the opportunity presents itself we can only hope that the red mist will have subsided enough for fans to think about the future and not the past.

25 April 2009

Put Up Your Dukes!

Roger Ebert created a cottage industry with his dictionary of film cliches. Celluloid stalwarts such as the fruit cart (or any other mode of transport groaning under the weight of loose items that go flying when the protagonist or antagonist careens into it) and the Fallacy of the Talking Killer (giving the hero enough time to free himself) are enshrined in Ebert's dictionary.


May I humbly offer another entry? I call it:

Put Up Your Dukes!

Definition: regardless of the availability and advanced technology of weapons seen throughout a film (missiles, guns, killer robots) and the physical distance between them in the early stages, the hero and the villain will inevitably be brought face to face with only their fists as weapons. The hero will also be placed in a near-death situation (chokehold, dangling from ledge of building) but engineer a complete and unexpected (?) reversal leaving the villain to die the horrible death he had planned for the hero.

Corollary 1: The villain may engage in a Talking Killer soliloquy but it's usually of the short epitaph variety ("Sorry Jack but you had your chance!" etc.). The hero will refrain from any speechmaking until the villain meets his grisly end at which point the hero will utter something pithy, ironic and/or memorable (the screenwriter hopes) through clenched teeth.

Corollary 2: Chase sequences leading up to the Dukes scenario will culminate on abandoned industrial estates, in vacant aircraft hangars or in abandoned factories that nevertheless have full lighting and power (who's paying those bills?). Security personnel can be present in order to dive out of the way of cars, bullets, tanks, etc. in slow motion but will never interfere with the action thereafter and will never trigger an alarm or call the police.

24 April 2009

If you want variety in the food, change the ingredients

It's always amusing to read sportswriters complain about the formulaic and repetitive comments they get from athletes and coaches.

But to date not a single writer has taken his media colleagues to task for the formulaic and predictable questions they ask. Now that the post-game press conference has become formulaic and predictable itself (with advertising hoardings behind the big table with its lone microphone) the likelihood of anything original, controversial or thoughtful being said is approaching nil as a limit. Leagues believe quite wrongly that spontaneous or controversial comments are bad for business when nothing could be further from the truth. Unfortunately the unblinking eye of round-the-clock coverage from ESPN et al have insured that platitudes are on the menu day after day with the occasional inflammatory comment surreptitiously recorded or reported to stoke the meager fires of so-called rivalries.

Spur-of-the-moment comments borne of excitement, anger or other emotions are the most memorable and often the best keepsakes of a particular team or game from Joe Namath's hey-wait-a-minute guarantee to Chuck Noll calling the Raiders' secondary a criminal element to Kevin Keegan's 'I would luv it' tirade against Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United.

The US press need to take a long look at themselves and their questions. Press conference questions that practically answer themselves are lazy and frankly irresponsible considering the press' high opinion of themselves and their intellect. Watch any post-match interview in English football. There are some open-ended questions to be sure but often the reporter will throw a manager off-balance with a challenging question that addresses specifics and demands frankness. The managers usually play along despite the knowledge that their minor annoyance with a player or a referee will be converted to screaming headlines in the next day's tabloids.

Cynical beat writers and columnists need to increase the distance - literally and figuratively - between themselves and the teams they cover. They need to ask themselves if repetitive answers are actually the product of repetitive questions.

16 April 2009

Too much to ask?

Google Desktop - I love you. You are always 'on the side' providing information and all manner of gadgetry.

BUT WHY - WHY??? do you take so long to load? Why do you thrash my hard disk like you've got a grudge against it? Is displaying the day/date/time and the weather such an enormous undertaking?

07 April 2009

Ten reasons the 1970s were the apex of pop/sports culture

1) Gape Kaplan

Teacher was a bit of a stretch...but..a basketball coach? Brilliant! Far more daring than Gene Hackman.

2) Steeler Pimps

Those tam-and-platform-heel-wearing dudes wearing black and gold leisure suits on the sidelines at Steelers home games - they are visible in footage of the Immaculate Reception. What were they exactly? Pimps with field passes? The Pittsburgh version of male cheerleaders? No wait scratch that - the Steelers didn't have cheerleaders.

3) Slap Shot

More characters and memorable lines than the entire active membership of the Writers Guild could ever concoct and most of those characters and lines were drawn from real life.

4) Neckties

As in those ties the approximate length and width of living room drapes that poor coaches had to try and keep knotted. Admittedly incomplete without accompanying muttonchop sideburns and some form of hair tonic in use.

Possibly irrelevant fact: did you know Ralph Lauren's Polo empire was started in 1967 when he peddled those ridiculous wide ties?

5) Sports Illustrated

It was the 1970s. There was no Internet. SI was really all we had except for a few uninspiring competitors such as Sport with its cryptic title font (way too avant-garde then and now).

SI's weekly arrival in the mailbox presented a conundrum - read the whole thing in a frenzy of gluttony? Or...you could savor each morsel including the letters section (called the 19th Hole, it appeared in the back of the magazine rather than the front and was edited by the immortally-named Gay Flood) and even Faces In The Crowd even when you really weren't interested in the no-hitters pitched by Sally Smith in the South Dakota high school softball tournament.

Admit it - when you think of big 70s sports moments you are just as likely to recall the SI cover as you are the event itself.

6) Super Bowl Halftime Shows...more specifically Super Bowl Halftime Shows That Are Properly Treated As Meaningless Time-Killing Filler Because That's What They Really Are.

Up With People is a sportswriter's go-to gag when he's facing a deadline and doesn't want to miss the free buffet but for some in the 21st century the Super Bowl halftime has become a referendum on the viability of entertainment in Western Civilization. Since the 1970s the Super Bowl halftime has been co-opted by media conglomerates pushing talentless cat-suited popettes doing atrocious lip-synchs or by wrinkly rockers seeding ticket sales for their summer ampitheatre tours. All the while an army of unpaid local schoolkids suckered in by the chance to be ‘part of the show’ prances around in leotards while being ignored by one and all.

Those who believe USA Today's AdMeter has redeeming scientific value will probably be shocked to learn that Super Bowl halftimes in the 70s featured...marching bands! Strike a fortissimo note of triumph for the 1970s.

7) Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders

Before Hooters and before there were strip clubs in the smallest of towns (how can you live in a municipality of 1,500 persons and not already be nodding acquaintances with anyone who might be an employee or a patron of a small-town strip club? Are you supposed to pretend you don't know the stripper? Are you supposed to pretend her name is Samantha when you know it's Susan?), there were the Cowboys Cheerleaders who provided one of the few outlets for possibly unclean male adolescent yearning.

The Cowboys were hated with relish thanks in no small part to the unproven-then-and-now America's Team appellation and CBS's cynical programming which force-fed the Cowboys as the nationally-aired 4 pm game whenever CBS had the doubleheader. Cookie duster mustaches, Camaros and Cowboy fandom - it was a 70s trinity.

But even those who avoided any combination of silver and blue clothing in that decade had grudging respect - OK, lust - for the Cowboys' distaff dancing columns of big teeth, big hair and big, er, pompoms. During one game a CBS announcer solemnly intoned that fraternization between Cowboys players and cheerleaders was forbidden - which either made you laugh or cry. Telling a Cowboy not to fraternize would be like telling an addicted gambler down to his last $5 that the Megabucks slots were about to hit big.

If memory serves there was a controversy involving some ex-Cowboys cheerleaders who posed nude in the iconic costumes. Ah - memory does serve:


8) 1970s sports venues

Cookie-cutter multipurpose bowls with intentionally vague level names such as ‘loge’ and ‘plaza’ that were universally ignored in favor of the simple and hyper-accurate ‘blue seats’ or ‘red seats.’ Creaky old arenas with wooden seats that appeared to be hewn from the True Cross worn smooth by decades of wear. Inadequate parking in unsafe neighborhoods. Advertising featuring local businesses and brands of beer (Burger anyone?). PA announcers that used a blessed monotone, announced each point, run, touchdown or goal by either team in exactly the same manner and didn't scream and shout. House lights that stayed on throughout team introductions. Souvenir stands that featured pennants, buttons and hats – and that’s all. Sportservice vendors introducing the concept of price gouging long before many of us took an economics course. Smoking on concourses and in the restrooms. Ugh...those restrooms. More nadir than apex really. Let’s move on.

9) 1970s uniforms

This subject has been worn threadbare (no pun intended) on a variety of blogs and sites but it's still difficult to survey uniform designs in the 1970s and not come away convinced that teams were actively attempting to out-ugly one another in the uniform version of mutually assured destruction. Still, it produced designs that will never be approached in terms of quirkiness and pointlessness.

10) Local sports media

Sleep patterns were frequently disrupted as youngsters attempted to stay up late or wake up early to see a coach's show or a local sports digest that aired at a ridiculous hour either side of the test pattern because syndicated Star Trek and M*A*S*H were too lucrative to move off the schedule.

Newspapers had beat writers who employed the Mad Libs approach to game stories using one of four templates....hometown team wins big...hometown team ekes out win....hometown team thumped...hometown team loses heartbreaker...but you still hung on every word. Newspapers had sports editor/columnists who presided for decades, protecting their cronies and demonizing their enemies without encountering direct criticism from readers except for that crackpot from the East Side who kept mailing letters in and the editor told his secretary to throw those away. The editor/columnist usually hosted an annual sports banquet, golf tournament or both – featuring more of his cronies of course.

Radio broadcasts had one or two sponsors that were mentioned at the start of the game, at halftime and after the game and certainly weren't mentioned at every timeout or whenever the sun went behind a cloud. Local TV sports departments struggled to get footage from a single Friday night game on the air. If your team appeared on the screen even for a fleeting moment it felt like winning the lottery.

Nostalgia is defined as ‘a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one's life.’ But 30 years on will today’s youngsters get misty about watching Britney’s Greatest Post-Hysterectomy Hits Halftime Extravaganza or their 8th repeat of The Old Spice Xtra-Smelly Stuff Cos You Haven’t Showered In Three Days NFL Mock Fantasy Draft?