Friday, November 30, 2018

Missing George V Higgins

I ran across this clip today.  The expression has been credited to many people but its real source is George V Higgins' first published novel, The Friends of Eddie Coyle.

I've written before of my love for the work of Higgins. (A post I spent more time on, including numerous rewrites, than anything else on THC).  He passed in 1999 and I still miss the comforting delivery of his annual novel, a rhythm I could rely upon for two decades.

As a reminder of his talent here is a recent article from CrimeReads.  An excerpt:
The Friends of Eddie Coyle may not have been the first crime novel set in Boston, but it’s the first one that matters. George V. Higgins couldn’t have known he was launching an entirely new subgenre when his fifteenth attempt at writing a debut novel was accepted for publication in 1970, but Coyle’s DNA is imprinted on everything that followed, from Robert B. Parker’s Spenser to Dennis Lehane’s Kenzie and Gennaro to the glut of Boston-based crime movies starring marble-mouthed actors pronouncing “car keys” like “khakis.”
Enjoy this scene from Eddie Coyle with Robert Mitchum playing the title role.  The actor with Mitchum below, and in the clip at top, is Steven Keats who played thugs or troubled characters in many movies during the 1970s and 80s.


Thursday, November 29, 2018

No Hang Gliding For Me

This guy on his first day of vacation in Switzerland.  He handled it with better humor than I would have.  Watch until the end.

Hey, I've got a better idea for his next trip to Switzerland - how about jumping off a cliff and into an airplane!

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Smart Comeback

For admirers of snappy responses, here's something not to emulate.  From the classic film Dodgeball ("if you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball").

Classic in this case means THC will rewatch it if he comes across it on cable.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Rockin' The 70s

1970s that is.  A continuation of my post on concerts I attended during the 1970s.  I'm certain I'm forgetting some from this decade.

May 23, 1970
Jefferson Airplane
U of Wisconsin Field House
Madison WI

From the date, this is probably the last thing I did in Madison before leaving.  I spent my freshman year of college (1969-70) at the University of Wisconsin and then decided to drop out.

We sat in the bleachers in the field house for an afternoon show.  The school year had been disrupted by demonstrations, strikes, and violence, and then collapsed in the wake of the Cambodia invasion and Kent State, so it was appropriate that it ended with the Jefferson Airplane in its peak craziness phase playing songs from the overwrought Volunteers album. 

1970 or 71
The Kinks
Wesleyan University
Middletown CT

As readers know I am a yuuge Kinks fan.  My dim recollection is this was a typically shambolic Kinks show - they were probably drunk - in a gym like building.  That's all I got for you.

June 26, 1971
Allman Brother Band
J Geils Band
Albert King
Fillmore East
East Village
Manhattan NY

Last night of the Fillmore East.  Amazing show.  Went to hear J Geils and Albert King (who were wonderful) but came out a fan of the Allman Brothers who were astonishing - they hit the trifecta with Hot 'Lanta, Whipping Post, and most of all, In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed.  Here's my full recollection. As I left the first show that night I probably walked past the future Mrs THC who was in line for the second show.

1971 or 72
Chick Correa
Clark University
Worcester MA

Held in a lounge area on campus.  Was not familiar with the pianist at the time but really enjoyed it.  

1971 or 72
Jesse Colin Young
Clark University
Worcester MA

One of the most underrated bands of the 60s was The Youngbloods, founded by Jesse Colin Young, who did one of the best, and least known, songs of the 60s - Darkness, Darkness. By the early 70s, Jesse embarked on a solo career.  The man had a gorgeous voice.

1972 or 73
John Lee Hooker
Sir Morgan's Cove
Worcester MA

The legendary king of the one chord boogie (for more read this THC post).  Great show.  The man was an intimidating presence.

The venue was a small club in Worcester, where acts usually played for 4 or 5 nights in a row.  In another incarnation, after Sir Morgan's moved down the street and changed its name, it was where The Rolling Stones launched their 1981 US tour with a surprise tune up.

(Yep, this is the place)

July 1972
The Rolling Stones
Stevie Wonder
Madison Square Garden
Manhattan NY

The Exile On Main St tour.  In the balcony for this sold-out show.  At the time I liked Stevie Wonder but was not a true fan.  Today, I am and have a lot of his music in my iTunes library.  The Stones were good, not great.  Towards the end of the show they turned the lights on in the Garden and the crowd went nuts for the rest of the concert.

August 1972
The Kinks
Dr Hook & The Medicine Show
Berkeley Community Theater
Berkeley CA

Another Kinks show I don't remember well except they did a lot of material from their fine Muswell Hillbillies record.  Dr Hook & The Medicine Show were best know for On The Cover Of Rolling Stone and the execrable Sylvia's Mother.

1972 or 1973
James Cotton Blues Band
Sir Morgan's Cove
Worcester MA

I also saw at least one other, perhaps two shows at the Cove; pretty certain one was Les McCann, and the other may have been Muddy Waters.

Cotton, who passed in 2017, was one of the finest harmonica players, and a talented singer and songwriter.  Here he is.

Fall 1974
Al Stewart
Orpheum Theater
Boston MA

Stewart performed the historical songs from his Past, Present, and Future album.  The emotional highlight was Road To Moscow, his epic song of the Eastern Front in World War Two (and the subject of one of THC longest posts, The Annotated Roads To Moscow), backed by a three part screen spanning most of the stage showing scenes from that conflict, capped by projecting a photo across all the screens of Alexander Solzhenitysn as former soldier, imprisoned in the Gulag; a climax given added poignancy with the publishing of The Gulag Archipelago in December 1973 and Solzhenitsyn's expulsion from the Soviet Union the following February.

The Opheum was the big rock concert hall in Boston, where established acts came to perform.

December 9, 1974
Orpheum Theater
Boston MA

The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway tour, the last before Peter Gabriel left, leading eventually to the band's superb prog rock drummer, Phil Collins, becoming its front man for the recharged and more pop oriented Genesis of the 1980s.  I was a fan of early Genesis except did not care for the Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.  Bizarre show with Gabriel wearing his odd costumes; the highlight came at the end - The Musical Box from the 1971 Nursery Cryme album - watch and behold the glory and absurdity of peak prog rock!  Here ya go, and don't miss the last three minutes.

Jonathan Edwards
Multiple venues in Boston area

From 1975 to 1978 I lived in Maynard, MA and two of my roommates were full time musicians.  One had just started as pianist and arranger for Jonathan Edwards.  Edwards had one big hit, Sunshine, in 1971, but remained a popular live act, particularly in New England.  I saw Jonathan and the band play several times and they put on a great show.  Unfortunately, I can't find any video from this time period.  Kenny White was, and is, an incredibly talented pianist.  He went on to a two decade career arranging and producing commercials, many of which you will remember, and for the last 15 years has pursued a solo career and is currently opening for Stephen Stills and Judy Collins on their tour. Jonathan is also the link connecting me with Elvis Costello (for more see below).

Sometime between 1975 and 1978
BB King
Worcester MA

What a pleasure listening to that man play and sing.  There were better guitarists but no one ever had a sweeter tone.

February 20, 1975
Roxy Music
Orpheum Theater
Boston MA

One of my favorite 70s band.  Wild and loopy stuff.  By the end of the decade their shtick became boring.  To sample the work of Bryan Ferry and the gang try Do The Strand, A Song For Europe, and In Every Dream Home A Heartache

1976 or 1977
Cambridge MA

The New Rhythm and Blues Quartet.  A regional Northeast favorite for many years, featuring Al Anderson on lead guitar.   Raucous and fun.  This was the best I could find on YouTube but doesn't really capture their full power.

Summer 1977
Doc Watson
Paris France

I fell in love with Doc's voice and guitar playing a few years before listening to Will The Circle Be Unbroken.  His warm voice enveloped the listener.  Seeing him live was a similar experience.  

December 9 or 10, 1977
Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Boston MA

You can read how I learned about Elvis, and that first show here.  He was electrifying.

Just came across this audio of the December 9 show.  This is not exactly the playlist we heard.  He played every song listed but at least one other, (I Don't Want To Go To) Chelsea.  To understand what it was like, listen to the last two songs, Lipstick Vogue and Watching The Detectives, starting at 31:40, though the audio understates how loud The Attractions were that night.

The Paradise Club opened on September 22, 1977 and was up Commonwealth Avenue, just beyond Boston U.  Seating a few hundred (my recollection is less than 500) it was where bands on their first US tours often played.

May 4, 1978
Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Orpheum Theater
Boston MA

On the heels of This Year's Model, Elvis and the band were quickly back in Boston playing a much bigger venue.  Another show filled with tension and excitement.  Elvis was beginning to master how to control large audiences.

June 18, 1978
The Jam
Lyceum Ballroom
London UK

There were two other forgettable bands on the bill for this show headlined by The Jam, who I already knew from In The City.  Concert was sold out.  We stood at back for entire show.

I had arrived in Europe in late May, not returning until the end of September, and spending time in France, UK, Italy, and Greece.  The future Mrs THC was in Paris.  Had a friend living in London and went to see him and another U.S. friend who came over and the three of us went to the Lyceum.

February 23, 1979
Dire Straits
Paradise Club
Boston MA

In the fall of 1978 I heard songs by two new bands that immediately captured me.  The first, Roxanne by The Police, the second, Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits.  When Mark Knopfler's band came to Boston for the first show on its first US tour I had to see them.

March 29, 1979
Elvis Costello & The Attractions
Orpheum Theater
Boston MA

The acoustics were lousy for this concert,  so it's the only of the eight times seeing Elvis I left disappointed.  Too bad, because Squeeze were on the bill and did not impress me since could not hear them well, though I later became a fan.  Elvis would totally redeem himself with a masterful performance upon returning to the Orpheum in 1981.

Summer/Fall 1979 (?)
Boomtown Rats
Paradise Club
Boston MA

Uncertain about the time here, could have been in '80.  An Irish Band, fronted by Bob Geldorf.  Their only hit in the US was I Don't Like Mondays, but I preferred Rat Trap, their attempt at a Bruce Springsteen anthem.

The Boston Bands

During this period I saw a lot of fine local acts in Cambridge and Boston bars, like the Pousette Dart Band and Zamcheck, but remember most The Estes Boys, a country rock band, because my other roommate musician, Eli Nelson, played pedal steel in the group.  Went to many of their gigs, many of them at Jonathan Swift's a bar in Harvard Square, at one of which I sat with Red Sox pitcher, Bill "Spaceman" Lee, who was very funny, and very hammered.  This is what the Estes Boys sounded like.  Eli went on to play pedal steel on tour with Mickey Gilley's Urban Cowboy Band.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Spirit Of The Season

Out with the neighbors today putting up holiday decorations in the 'hood.  Arizona winter is pretty nice.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Rockin' The 60s

1960s that is.

Before forgetting more about those years, I'll attempt to reconstruct the bands I saw in concert during that decade.  I have the nagging feeling a few are missing.

March 1966
The Byrds
White Plains, NY

My favorite American rock band of the 65-66 period.  This was just after Turn, Turn, Turn became a #1 hit.  My dad took me to the show (thanks dad!). The auditorium was less than 1/2 full, and The Byrds played for only about 30 minutes, which was the norm back then.  How things would change within the next three years!

June 10, 1966
Soundblast '66
Ray Charles
Stevie Wonder
The Beach Boys
The Byrds
The Gentrys
The Marvelettes
The McCoys
Yankee Stadium, NY

Sounds like a great show, doesn't it?  Well, it wasn't.  Only about 10,000 in attendance and each act played 3 or 4 songs with long breaks in between.  I remember Stevie Wonder performing Bob Dylan's Blowing In The Wind and Uptight. I could swear I previously wrote a post devoted to this show but can't find it.

For you young 'uns, The Gentrys were one-hit wonders selling a million copies of Keep on Dancing in late 1965.  The McCoys had a giant #1 with Hang On Sloopy in '65.  Their lead guitarist was Rick Derringer who went on to have a big solo career (Rock n Roll Hoochie Koo) and become a session guitarist for, among others, Steely Dan (he plays the solo on Chain Lightning).  The Marvelettes were a Motown girl singing troupe that had a monster smash in the early 60s with Please, Mr Postman and then a string of minor hits - at the time of Soundblast '66 they were charting with Don't Mess With Bill.

August 1966
The Lovin' Spoonful
Brien McMahon High School
Norwalk CT

My mother was vice-chair of the Norwalk Democratic Party Committee at the time and they were seeking to raise funds.  I can't remember if she asked me, or I suggested, a rock concert.  I do know I was the one who suggested The Lovin' Spoonful who had a couple of Top Ten hits.  By the time of the concert, in the high school gym, Summer In The City was #1.  If memory serves the party made $900 on the show, not bad for the time.

August 1967
Neil Diamond
Jake Holmes
The Bitter End
Greenwich Village, Manhattan

I was a fan of Jake Holmes and have written previously about this and the next show on the list.  Holmes was terrific and early Neil Diamond was very good.  Led Zeppelin (specifically, Jimmy Page) lifted Dazed and Confused from Jake.

September 1967
Van Morrison
Jake Holmes
The Bitter End
Greenwich Village, Manhattan

See above, except that Van Morrison was unbearably horrible.

October 10, 1967
The Doors
Danbury High School
Danbury CT

Held in the high school auditorium.  The Doors were booked after release of their first album but before Light My Fire became a huge hit in the summer of 1967.  Sold-out show.  Though tame by their latter standards it was still pretty wild for high school kids in 1967.  I found this recording of the show on YouTube.  Sound quality is poor but gives a flavor for the brooding power of Jim Morrison and the band.

Late 1967/Early 1968
Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels 
Brien McMahon High School
Norwalk CT

This show remains the murkiest in my memory and I can't find any independent documentation of it.  Not well remembered today, Ryder & The Wheels were an outstanding rock n soul band with a series of hits from 1965 to 1967 - Jenny Take A Ride, Devil With A Blue Dress, Sock It To Me Baby, and Little Latin Lupe Lu.

Early 1968
Staples High School
Westport, CT

A half-full auditorium to see Cream tour in support of its recently released Disraeli Gears album.  They opened with Tales of Brave Ulysses.  When they hit the first chord, fuses blew and the auditorium went dark.  After restoring power, the concert went well.  Those boys could play!

August 6, 1968
The Doors
JFK Stadium, Bridgeport CT

The 1967 version of The Doors was crisp and powerful.  By 1968 the rot had sunk in.  An obviously stoned Jim Morrison was incoherent during the first part of the concert.  He abruptly snapped out of it in the later stages but the show paled in comparison to what we saw the prior year.

Late November 1968
Jefferson Airplane
Buddy Guy
Fillmore East
East Village, Manhattan

What a showman Buddy Guy was, playing guitar behind his back as he came off the stage and walked down the aisle.  Based on their albums was a fan of Jefferson Airplane but liked them even better live.  A much heavier sound in concert driven by Jack Cassidy's bass (see this prior THC post to hear what they sounded like at the Fillmore).

Spring 1969
Gary Puckett & The Union Gap
Brien McMahon High School
Norwalk CT

Our senior class was raising money for our prom.  In the fall of 1968 I'd spoken with the William Morris Agency about booking The Who for their planned tour but it was postponed (if you're wondering it cost $6500 to book The Who for a concert) and eventually we settled on Gary Puckett who'd had several monster hits.  Of course, as sophisticated seniors we weren't big fans but the sophomore and junior girls loved him.  He played in our gym and when he sang Young Girl we had to link our arms together to protect Gary and the band from being overrun by the surging girls.  The song would probably have difficulty getting airplay today; actually Gary might be arrested today.

May 17, 1969
The Who
It's A Beautiful Day
Fillmore East
East Village, Manhattan

The Who came to America in May 1969 in support of their new album Tommy, which broke them as a big act worldwide.  This was the second of a three night stint at the Fillmore East.  One of the best shows I've ever seen.  They opened with some of their older material, then ripped right through the entire Tommy album, and then started a wrap up.  It was astonishing, Keith Moon in constant motion on the drumkit, looking like he had no bones in his arms, Townshend windmilling on the guitar, and Entwhistle's thundering bass.

As the band and the audience grew more frenzied we noticed smoke in the theater.  Some type of announcement was made to exit the place but we ignored it.  Then we saw a guy in a suit wander onto the stage, grab a microphone and started to talk.  Roger Daltrey pinned his arms back and Townshend walked over, all the while continuing to play his guitar, and kicked the guy in the privates.  Actually, it sounds better when Roger Daltrey tells it, which he does in his recently released autobiography, Thanks A Lot Mr Kibblewhite:
" . . . this bloke jumped up onto the stage and grabbed the microphone off me.  I grabbed it back and told him to fuck off, but he kept struggling.  As we were wrestling with it, I noticed Pete crossing the stage toward us, doing a Chuck Berry duck walk.  Perfectly on beat, he kicked the bloke in the balls, then I grabbed the mic, and we finished the song." 
The next thing I remember dozens of New York City policemen flooded down the two aisles, the side doors flew open, and they pushed us out along each row and onto the street.

It turned out the building next door caught fire and they were worried about the Fillmore catching fire.  We didn't care.

Daltrey and Townshend were arrested for assaulting the guy who grabbed the mic, who turned out to be a plainclothes police officer.  

Of the opening acts, I preferred It's A Beautiful Day.  To listen to their best song see this THC post.

June 1969
Brien McMahon High School
Norwalk CT

The band that played our senior prom.  Take a listen.  Not bad, eh?

August 1969
Woodstock (2nd Day)
Country Joe McDonald
John Sebastian
The Incredible String Band
Canned Heat
The Grateful Dead
Creedence Clearwater Revival
Janis Joplin
Sly & The Family Stone
The Who
Jefferson Airplane
Bethel, NY

First time I'd heard Santana and Soul Sacrifice immediately stood out (love Carlos Santana's guitar tone and Michael Shrieve was a helluva drummer).  UPDATE: Here is full version of the Woodstock performance including Shrieve's entire drum solo] The closing acts from Creedence on were phenomenal.  Show started at 2pm on Saturday and ended shortly after dawn on Sunday.  Let's end with Sparks from The Who.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Get Back In The Line

For anyone who's ever been beholden to a boss.
Will I go to work today or shall I bide my time
'Cos when I see that union man walking down the street
He's the man who decides if I live or I die, if I starve, or I eat
Then he walks up to me and the sun begins to shine
Then he walks right past and I know that I've got to get back in the line

Now I think of what my mamma told me
She always said that it would never ever work out
But all I want to do is make some money
And bring you home some wine
For I don't ever want you to see me
Standing in that line
From The Kinks; composed by Ray Davies and recorded in 1970.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Don't Play Their Game

Several times recently I've seen a meme purporting to show the diversity of newly elected Democrats compared to Republicans.

Don’t play their game. The relevant question is why do Democrats vote against minority and diverse candidates election after election if they are Republicans?

This year saw several firsts for Republicans despite Democratic opposition. Marsha Blackburn (R) became the 1st women senator elected from Tennessee and Kristi Noem (R) the 1st women governor of South Dakota.

Did Democrats support African American John James (R) competitive bid for the Senate in Michigan?

What about the reelection campaign of the daughter of Haitian refugees, Mia Love (R) in Utah? (Fortunately, it now looks like she will win).  UPDATE: Mia Love lost to a pasty, white, male Democrat.

Were Democrats rooting for Young Kim (R), who would have been the 1st Korean-American women to enter Congress?

Would they have been happy if Elizabeth Heng (R), daughter of Cambodian refugees, had been elected to Congress from her California district?

Why do they studiously ignore that the first Indian-American female governor (Nikki Haley) and first Latina governor (Susanna Martinez) were Republicans?

It’s nothing new. They probably don’t even realize that Tim Scott (R) was the first African-American elected to the Senate since the end of Reconstruction from the states of the former Confederacy and that Scott got his start in national politics when the Tea Party supported his insurgent bid to gain the R nomination in his congressional district running against Strom Thurmond’s grandson.

It’s nothing new. In 2006, when Barack Obama was elected to the Senate, Democrats refused to vote for viable R African American candidates for governor in PA and Ohio and for Senate in MD.

It's nothing new.  Democrats put extra effort into defeating diverse Republican candidates in order to continue to claim the GOP lacks diversity.

It’s nothing new. In 2002, Teddy Kennedy openly boasted about successfully blocking the nomination of the eminently qualified Miguel Estrada to the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit because he didn’t want to give GW Bush the opportunity to elevate him to the Supreme Court and have the Republicans appointing the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice.

Get Democrats to admit they will vote for a pasty, white, male D over any Republican no matter how diverse. It’s the truth, after all.

By the way, there's nothing wrong with valuing ideology over diversity.  There is something wrong with denying that's what you are doing.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Layla (Redux)

Eric Clapton, now retired from touring, has performed many variations of one of the greatest rock love songs, from the straight-forward explosive classic riff version of the 1970 Derek & The Dominoes recording, to a shuffle, to a fantastic New Orleans take (with Wynton Marsalis), and here's a quiet one from his final 2014 tour.  A marvelous song any way he does it.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Cooz And The Babe

Image result for bob cousyImage result for babe ruth

Eighty three years after his retirement, Babe Ruth remains the most dominating (relative to his time) athlete in American history and, by most modern sabremetrics, still considered the best player since the professional game became organized into leagues in 1871. Matching his prodigious on the field accomplishments with a gargantuan personality and that distinctive face makes him instantly recognizable to most Americans today.

Bob Cousy, The Houdini of the Hardwood, the first superstar of the National Basketball Association, gained fame by introducing an uptempo and flashy style, featuring incredible dribbling and behind the back and no-look passing. He's credited with saving the NBA.  And, once teamed with center Bill Russell, Cooz's Celtics won six NBA titles in seven years.  Unlike Ruth, off the field Cousy lived a fairly normal life, and today, unless you are a Bostonian or a hardcore NBA aficionado, he's mostly forgotten.  Here's a reminder:

Both are the subject of new biographies and the differences in their lives and in the nature of the information available to the authors makes for two very different books.

Jane Leavy, author of one of the finest sports bios I've read, Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy, and of The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America's Childhood, which though well-written and researched is depressing because of Mantle's wasted talent and what Mickey felt at the end was his wasted life, has now produced The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created.

The challenge in writing a Ruth biography is how to come up with something new.  There are already many, many biographies of the Sultan of Swat, including best selling recent books like Leigh Montville's The Big Bam (2007) and Robert Creamer's Babe: The Legend Comes To Life (1992), along with more specialized studies like Breaking Babe Ruth: Baseball's Campaign Against Its Biggest Star (2018) by Edmund F Wehrle, and The Year Babe Ruth Hit 104 Home Runs (2007) by Bill Jenkinson (if you love Ruth and baseball get this fun book).  Moreover, Ruth died 70 years ago and none of his contemporaries are alive to be interviewed.

Leavy's solution is to, for the most part, eschew the details of Babe's baseball career.  Her book contains no breathless recounting of the Colossus of Clout's "Greatest Hits", nor a chronological accounting of each season.  Want to know how and why Babe was a great pitcher before becoming a full time outfielder?  This book won't tell you.  Want to understand the possible reasons for his incredible hitting feats?  Again, this is not the book.

What Leavey concentrates on is the books subtitle; "the world he created", by which she means the world of sports management and entertainment.  The Babe was the first team sports figure to become a nationwide media sensation.  He was also the first to hire a full time manager to promote and manage his finances, in the person of Christy Walsh who Leavey devotes considerable attention to.  It's that side of the Babe, more than what happens on the field, that dominates The Big Fella.

Along the way, the author also provides the best account of Babe's childhood, dispelling some of the myths of his upbringing in Baltimore and his childhood, mostly spent at St Marys Industrial School for Boys where he came under the tutelage of Brother Matthias, of whom Creamer, in his biography wrote:
"Ruth revered Brother Matthias ... which is remarkable, considering that Matthias was in charge of making boys behave and that Ruth was one of the great natural misbehavers of all time. ... George Ruth caught Brother Matthias' attention early, and the calm, considerable attention the big man gave the young hellraiser from the waterfront struck a spark of response in the boy's soul ... "
The Babe's real family life was a nightmare, with four of his five siblings dying prematurely (an abnormal rate even for those times), an alcoholic mother who didn't show her son affection, and a father who ran a saloon and died in a street fight when Babe was a young player with the Boston Red Sox.

Leavy reaffirms that the Babe we've heard about who unstintingly gave of his time to charities and impoverished children was the real thing, and she writes well on racial matters.  Because of his appearance, the Babe was often taunted by other players and fans as being at least part Negro (which Leavy establishes is not true), but Babe also seems to have been without prejudice himself, a rarity for the time, visiting Negro orphanages despite the cautions of others, enjoying barnstorming with and playing against Negro Leaguers, and would have been fine with integrating baseball.

The Big Fella is a very good and informative book, but lacks the baseball detail and emotional resonance that might have made it the equivalent of Leavy's Koufax biography.

When Gary Pomerantz began work on the book that became The Last Pass: Cousy, Russell, the Celtics, and What Matters in the End, he wasn't intending to write a biography of Bob Cousy, which is what The Last Pass is, despite the ambiguity of its title.  He was planning a book on the great Celtics dynasty of 1957-69 when they won the NBA title 11 times in 13 years, a companion piece to his prior book, Their's Life's Work, about the Pittsburgh Steelers dynasty of the 1970s.  Unlike Leavy, most of the principals in the Celtics story are still alive as were many of their competitors, members of the media who covered the team, and family, and several of those who had already passed had been interviewed by Pomerantz for an earlier book project.

It was only after his first interview with Cousy in 2015 that Pomerantz realized his book should focus on the 6'1" guard who captained the Celtics from 1951 to 1963.  Eventually, the author conducted 53 interviews with Cousy, many extending over several hours,

The Cousy who emerges from Pomerantz's well-crafted book, is introspective, intense, intelligent, a voracious reader, and a decent man, who at 90 years of age still questions his life and his actions.  The result is a fine, thought-provoking and, at times, moving biography I rate up with Leavy's Sandy Koufax.  It's also a meditation on the aging process, as Cousy talks about panic attacks, increasing physical frailty, and the loss of his beloved wife of 63 years, who suffered from dementia in her final decade; Pomerantz describes Cousy's large home in Worcester, MA, as a virtual shrine to Missie Cousy.

The Last Pass touches on all of the biographical way stations; Cousy, the only child of French immigrants, raised in struggling circumstances in New York City, watching as his mother regularly hit his father who never retaliated.  Finding refuge in the world of basketball he obtained a scholarship to Holy Cross College in Worcester, and eventually ended up on the struggling Celtics franchise of the early 1950s, under coach Red Auerbach, who plays a prominent role in The Last Pass.  And how could it be otherwise since Red is one of the most unique and entertaining characters in American sports?  And you get a good vividly described portrait of Cousy's game style and career.  We also hear and learn about his teammates, Bill Sharman, Satch Sanders, Frank Ramsey, Jim Loscutoff and, of course, Tommy Heinsohn - Gunner Tommy, running into the locker room at halftime to smoke as many cigarettes as he can before the second half, carousing much of the rest of the time, and then quietly sitting in his hotel room painting with watercolors.

The raw and ramshackle early NBA is fun to hear about it, though maybe it wasn't so much for the players.  The Celtics locker room in the Boston Garden had a hook on a wall upon which the players could hang their clothes during the game while an attendant came round with a bag into which the players placed their wallets and valuables.  The bag was stored under the bench during the game!  Cousy organized the players union which extracted from the owners the first improvement in working conditions.

The story reaches its peak with the relationship between Cousy and Bill Russell or, more precisely, in Cousy's attempt to make sense of that relationship and his guilt as he's gotten older over not doing more to support Russell, the first black NBA star and the greatest winner in sports history, with 11 championships in his 13 seasons as a player and then he first black player-coach in professional sports, on racial issues during his troubled time in Boston.

(Cousy & Russell hug after Cooz's last game in 1963)
Image result for bob cousy bill russell
Cousy was not overcoming any prejudice.  In his early years with the Celtics he roomed with Chuck Cooper, the first black ever drafted by an NBA team.  He and Chuck went out to jazz clubs together and became life long friends.  But Cooper, like Cousy, was a quiet guy. 

Bill Russell was another matter.  Joining the Celtics in 1957, the 6'10" center was a transformational player with his defense, rebounding, and outlet passing.  If LeBron James is the best NBA player since 2000, and Michael Jordon #1 between 1975 and 2000, Russell was the best during the NBA's first 25 years.  He was also very smart, very proud, very sensitive, not willing to quietly suffer racial mistreatment, unapproachable at times (refusing to sign autographs) and with a personality that could change abruptly from gregarious to closed and wary.  Auerbach once remarked, "The real Russell is a very difficult man to know, but one worth knowing".  I also learned, surprisingly, one of Russell's biggest fans was Ty Cobb who praised Russell as Boston sportswriters as the greatest money player of any professional athlete he had ever known, "other than myself".

During the late 50s and into the 60s, Bill Russell was outspoken on issues of racial justice both in American society in general, and Boston specifically - and the issues he spoke out on deserved to be addressed.  Russell suffered personally for it with numerous incidents of vandalism, and some truly disgusting acts, at his home in the Boston suburbs.  Those events scarred Russell, leading him to insist for decades that he played for the Celtics, not the city of Boston, once saying, "I'd rather be in jail in Sacramento than be mayor of Boston."

Cousy and Russell respected each other, played together seamlessly, and never had any personal conflict.  But they were not close, making even more surprising the often-reserved Russell's gracious words for Cousy on his retirement:
Cousy is outstanding.  We see each other as brothers not as great athletes.  Cousy, just by being himself, has given me so much . . . You never got the impression - 'This is Bob Cousy . . . [and] this is the rest of the team . . . You meet a Cousy not once in a month, but once in a lifetime.  Bob Cousy has made playing with the Celtics one of the most gratifying things in my life . . . Like the guy [at Bob Cousy Day] said, 'We all love you, Cooz,' and we really do.
Russell and his wife also presented the Cousys with a bronze desk clock with the engraved inscription; May The Next Seventy Be As Pleasant As The Last Seven, From The Russells To the Cousys. It was the only retirement gift he received from a teammate.

For many years Cousy has wished he had a better relationship with Russell.  He has stayed in touch with many of his former teammates, black and white, but only occasionally run into Russell and continually plays over the events of those years in an effort to figure out what went wrong (Russell would still occasionally call his white teammate Heinsohn and tell him "You are one of the few people I still like").  It finally broke to the surface in 2001 when Cousy did an interview with ESPN for a documentary on Russell.  Asked about racial issues, Cousy said:
"We could've done more to ease his pain and make him feel more comfortable.  I should've been much more sensitive to Russell's anguish in those days.  We'd talk - uh . . ."
And then Cousy broke down weeping.  Later, he reflected on his relationship with Russell.  After recounting his friendships with Boston's first black players:
"Then I run into literally my first angry black man.  And Russ to this day is angry.  It's obvious from the get-go, and now in my Psych 101 analysis, I think this simply scared me off.  I still think it was my fault.  I'm six years older, I'm the Man.  I'm in charge.  I'm the captain.  It was my responsibility to reach out, but it intimidates me for whatever reason.  I don't know how to deal with this.  Like so many times in life, when we are unsure, or stumbling, and doing the wrong thing in establishing a relationship, I do nothing.  Obviously nothing is not good enough.  At the end of the day, Russ doesn't know how to take me, and I don't know how to take him.  We don't have any confrontation.  We get along, but it's like a couple that decides to stay together for the sake of the kids, you know?"
Cousy returned to time and time again to his relationship with Russell in his interviews with Pomerantz, and the author relates Cousy's attempts through teammates and others to reach out to Russell.  To find out what happens read The Last Pass.  This book will stay with you after you finish.

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Tower Of Katoubia Mosque

Trying to find a calming escape from politics, Winston Churchill took up landscape painting between the two world wars.  Over his lifetime he completed several hundred paintings but during the Second World War he only attempted one.

At the end of the Casablance Conference in January 1943, Churchill persuaded President Franklin Roosevelt to accompany him to his beloved Marrakech to see the sun set over the Atlas Mountains.  Arriving in Marrakech, Churchill arranged for FDR to be carried in his wheelchair to the roof of their hotel to watch.

After Roosevelt left, Churchill spent two days in his rooms completing the picture you see above, and then had it sent as a gift to the President.

The mosque, built in the 12th century, is the largest in Morocco, and is considered a forerunner of the Moroccan-Andalusian style of architecture.  Non-Moslems are not permitted inside.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Armistice Day

A century ago today, at 11am, the guns stopped in Europe.  Between nine and ten million soldiers lay dead.  Empires crumbled; Russian, Ottoman, Hapsburg, and German.  Hateful and dangerous ideologies were unleashed; Bolshevik Communism, the Nazi Party founded in 1920, the Fascists beginning their rule of Italy in 1922.  The "War to End War" did not; a worse conflagration started twenty years later leaving perhaps sixty million dead in its wake. 

I've visited many battlefields over the years, Civil and Revolutionary War in the United States, the D-Day beaches and American Cemetery in Normandy; solemn places, reminding us of the sacrifice of those who fought and died, yet fascinating and instructive and, at times, inspirational.  About twenty five years ago, Mrs THC and I were driving from Paris to Alsace.  Just off the payage was Verdun and we decided to make a visit.  The emotions it invoked were very different from those I'd experienced at other battlefields and we ended our visit earlier than planned.

From February through December of 1916 the Battle of Verdun ground on between the French and German armies.  During those months somewhere between 700,000 and 1 million soldiers became casualties with 300,000 killed (about equal to all U.S. combat deaths in the European and Pacific theatres during WWII).  Weeks were spent by fighting for gains measured in hundreds of feet and tens of thousands of dead and wounded.  At its end the front lines were only a few miles from where they'd been at the start.

We saw a landscape still completely pockmarked by shell holes from the battle's devastating artillery barrages the results of which gave birth to landmarks like (in its English translation), the Forest of Dead Men.  A quarter century after our visit the scene looks the same as you can see from this recent picture by Michael St Maur Sheil (for more of his pictures go here).  A century after the battle sixty five square miles around the town are still prohibited for any use due to the density of unexploded munitions.
world war i battlefields 100 years later michael st maur sheil (6)
The relentless artillery and machine gun fire pounded the bodies of dead soldiers into unrecognizable fragments embedded in the endless mud that covered the entire battlefield.  After the war the Douamont Ossuary was constructed to house the bones recovered from at least 130,000 unidentified combatants of both sides.

The sense of waste, loss and despair at Verdun is overwhelming and we left there depressed.

The Ossuary

During four years of war more than 800,000 British soldiers would die, including Wilfred Owen,  author of Dolce et Decorum Est.  Volunteering for the army in October 1915, he reached the front lines in France in late 1916 seeing extensive combat and enduring horrific experiences culminating in being blown into the air by an exploding shell.  Diagnosed with shell shock, Wilfred was sent to Craiglockhart Military Hospital in Edinburgh where he was befriended by fellow poet Siegfried Sassoon.  Returning to the front lines in August 1918 Wilfred participated in the final campaigns of the war.  Leading his company in action during October he captured an enemy machine gun which he used to kill several German soldiers, an action for which he was posthumously awarded the Military Cross. He wrote frequently to his mother of his life at war; from a letter of October 8, 1918 (quoted by Ferdinand Mount in his review of an Owen biography in the Wall St Journal, March 29, 2014):

"All one day we could not move from a small trench, though hour by hour the wounded were groaning just outside.  Three stretcher-bearers who got up were hit, one after one.  I had to order no one to show himself after that, but remembering my own duty, and remembering also my forefathers the agile Welshmen of the mountains I scrambled out myself & felt an exhilaration in baffling the Machine Guns by quick bounds from cover to cover.  After the shells we had been through and the gas, bullets were like the gentle rain from heaven."

Wilfred was killed on November 4, 1918 while leading his troops in a crossing of the Sambre Canal in Belgium.  He was 25 years old.  Word of his death reached his parents on November 11 while the bells were ringing, celebrating the Armistice and the end of the war.

Dolce et Decorum Est
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.


Saturday, November 10, 2018

Revisiting Bing

This morning's Wall St Journal contained an interesting assessment of Bing Crosby, of whom I wrote yesterday, commenting that his emotional remoteness limited his appeal to me.  Today's Book Review section of the Journal (which is wonderful every Saturday) contains a review of Bing Crosby: Swinging On A Star: The War Years, 1940-46 by Gary Giddins.  Ted Gioia's review provides a counterpoint to my comment, quoting a 1945 letter from an unnamed U.S. military commander to Bing, in which the officer informs Crosby his music possesses the:
"power to soften the hearts of the man who so shortly after goes back to shoot down his brother man . . .  [yet keeps] our boys from turning into the beasts they are asked to be . . . [because his voice] strikes to the bottom of the hearts of men.  I have watched it happen, often, not just in the rare case but in many many thousands of men - sitting silent, retrospective, thoughts flying back to home and loved ones . . . [as his voice tapped into the] power of music, put into humble, throbbing words, as these fellows want it, need it, bow to it."
Gioia goes on to write:
"Gary Giddens . . .  calls this aspect of his singing 'a zone of emotional safety'  You could even claim that Bing Crosby invented emotional restraint in popular music.  As leader of the first generation of singers to take advantages of the improved microphones of the late 1920s and early 1930s, Crosby grasped better than anyone the potential of conversational delivery."
It was during the war years that Crosby's recording of White Christmas became the best-selling record of all time (and remains so) and won an Oscar for his first serious film role, as a priest in Going My Way.  He also devoted enormous time to traveling and entertaining troops in the U.S. and abroad.  In a public opinion poll, conducted at end of the war, to pick the most admired man alive, Bing easily won, beating President Truman, and Generals Eisenhower and MacArthur.

From 1944, Out Of This World, composed by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer:

Friday, November 9, 2018

Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?

Once I built a railroad, I made it run
Made it race against time
Once I built a railroad, now it's done
Brother, can you spare a dime? 
I admire Bing Crosby's vocals but they've always struck me as more emotionally remote compared to Sinatra.  And I can't imagine Bing singing a torch song like Frank.

Brother, Can You Spare A Dime? is an exception.  With lyrics by Yip Harburg, music by Jay Gorney, and recorded in 1932 at the height of the Depression, Bing perfectly captures the pathos of the time, and the personal tragedies. As we progress through verse and chorus the narrator becomes more desperate, transitioning from speaking of his "brother" to the more impersonal "buddy", as friendship shatters in the ruins:
Say, don't you remember, they called me Al
It was Al all the time
Why don't you remember, I'm your pal
Say buddy, can you spare a dime?
Harburg, best known as composer of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, and Gorney were songwriting partners for several years until Yip ran off with Gorney's wife.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Hail, Caeser! As Christian Parable

Sometimes a joke is just a joke, sometimes with the Coen Brothers it's also a joke but also something else, and sometimes there's a man . . . now, where was I?

On first seeing Hail, Caesar!, the 2016 film by the Coen Brothers, during its theatrical release, I seriously misunderestimated it.  You can find my initial take here.

Watching it on cable a few months later caused me to reassess and move it up a few notches in the Coen oeuvre.  This time I caught the underlying themes of faith v science and utopianism v practicality.  Here's my second take.

While my reassessment discussed issues of faith I think the film can be more explicitly seen as a parable for Jesus.  Being Jewish I'm out of my theological depth when it comes to Christianity but the Coen Brothers are in the same situation and it didn't stop them, so here goes.

In Hail, Ceasar! Jesus is embodied in Eddie Mannix, the general manager of the studio.  He is shown as devoted to his Catholic faith with frequent visits to his confessor.  In my prior post I wrote of Mannix:
"He's willing to tackle the tough job at the studio enduring constant strain, long hours, and separation from his family, sacrificing himself, rather than take what he sees as a simpler, less stressful role at Lockheed."
But, it's more than that.  Eddie is a man of faith.  Both the screenwriter communist study group and Lockheed represent pure materialism.  For the communists materialism is a matter of Marxist creed; there is no place for spirituality in their world.  Or, as Baird Whitlock, the dimwit actor so well portrayed by George Clooney, who has been temporarily converted to their creed explains to Mannix:
"These guys were pretty interesting, though.  They've actually figured out the laws that dictate, well - everything, history, sociology, politics, morality.  Everything.  It's all in a book called Kapital." 
Here's Professor Marcuse explaining to Baird how it works (sorry for the bad sound synch):


It's a more benign materialism for the Lockheed executive; it's just the world he exists in.

Eddie Mannix is willing to give to Caesar (the studio owner) what is owed but no more.  But in doing so he will drive those driven solely by materialism (the communists) from the studio just as Jesus drove the materialists (moneychangers) from the Temple.  Art and creativity may generate material goods but they have a spiritual aspect too, as does the very act of creating it, which Eddie explains to Baird after slapping him around a bit:
"Shaddup.  You're gonna go out there and you're gonna finish "Hail Caesar!".  You're gonna give that speech at the feet of the penitent thief and you're gonna believe every word you say.  You're gonna do it because you're an actor and that's what you do.  Just like the director does what he does, and the writer and the script girl and the guy who claps the slate.  You're gonna do it because the picture has worth and you have worth if you serve the picture and you're never gonna forget that again."
And, after solving the problems of one day at the studio, Eddie returns to church, still struggling with a job offer from Lockheed that promises wealth, security, normal hours, and more time with his family.  From the confessional booth:
Eddie:   May I ask you something, Father?
Father:  Of course, my son.
Eddie:   If there's something that's easy . . . is that . . .
Father:  Easy?
Eddie:   Easy to do, easy to - an easy job - not a bad job, it's not bad.  But then there's another job, that's . . . that's not so easy.  In fact it's hard.  It's so hard, Father, sometimes I don't know if I can keep doing it.  But it seems right.
[Silence.  Then:]
Father:  God wants us to do what's right.
With that advice, Eddie's decision is made.  He will stay with the studio, bringing art and creativity in the world though it means dealing with misfits, idiots, gossips, incompetents, prima donnas, and, of course, materialists.  He sacrifices his personal happiness, and that of his family, to suffer on our behalf.

Or perhaps he's just a shallow man, afraid of new challenges, comfortable in doing what he does best, perhaps unconsciously avoiding the burden of family duties, all on behalf of creating trifles like Hail, Caesar! to please the public and his boss. 

Monday, November 5, 2018

Baseball In Black And White

When I was very young my Dad's favorite ballplayer was Willie Mays, who became my favorite player, and always will be (sorry Big Papi, but you're #2).  He also told me how important the integration of baseball was and that the National League played a superior brand of baseball to the American because it was much more aggressive in signing black ballplayers.  Dad's viewpoint is now generally accepted - the National League had a quality advantage in the 1960s and 70s, before the American League finally caught up.

I thought I'd try to quantify that advantage by looking at AL and NL ballplayers at the end of the 50s, 1959 to be specific, and in the mid-60s (1965).  The method was to identify all American black and dark-skinned Latins on AL and NL rosters in those years who accumulated at least 1.0 WAR.  While WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is a flawed measure it is useful for making comparisons. "White" Latins, like Luis Aparicio, are not included because they had been generally accepted in baseball since at least the 1920s, in contrast to darker skinned Latins like Minnie Minoso.
Image result for luis aparicio baseball cardImage result for minnie minoso baseball card

It turns out differences in numbers and talent were significant in both years.

In 1959 there were 17 black players on National League rosters who accumulated at least 1.0 WAR.  Cumulative WAR was 69.7 or an average of 4.1  Eight were eventually inducted in the Hall of Fame (Hank Aaron, Orlando Cepeda, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Roberto Clemente, Ernie Banks, Frank Robinson and Bob Gibson).

There were only 4 in the American League with a cumulative WAR of 11.2 (2.8 average) of which Minnie Minoso accounted for almost half (5.5).  The other three were Vic Power, Pumpsie Green, and Elston Howard.  None are in the Hall of Fame, though Minoso might have if he'd been able to start his major league career earlier.

By 1965 the National League had 35 black ballplayers meeting the criteria.  Cumulative WAR was 161.7 or an average of 4.6.  Twelve of the 35 have been inducted into the HOF - in addition to those from 1959 we can add Juan Marichal, Willie Stargell, Lou Brock, Billy Williams, and Joe Morgan (Orlando Cepeda was still active but injured, missing most of the season).  Other outstanding black ballplayers active in the NL that year included Dick Allen, Curt Flood, Vada Pinson, Jimmy Wynn, and Felipe Alou.

The number of black ballplayers had substantially increased in the AL to 23 and cumulative WAR to 64.5 but the talent gap remained; average WAR was 2.8, and only three had at least 5.0 WAR compared to 15 in the NL, and none have yet been admitted to the Hall of Fame, though Luis Tiant might eventually make it (I hope), and Tony Oliva might have but for the injuries that shortened his effective career.

In 1965 the talent gap between the leagues extended beyond race.  That year the AL had only nine players with at least 5.0 WAR while 26 NL players reached or surpassed that mark.

Dad was right.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

New Documentary

Just released regarding former CEO Jeff Immelt's catastrophic tenure at General Electric.