Friday, October 28, 2011

Hit me!

The Patriots are my non-daughter-based obsession lately, and although they're only really relevant for three hours a week there are so many blogs to read and so much media to listen to and watch that it's almost a full-time job. Add in how long it takes to drink a giant beer and write another "our defense sucks" post each week and I won't find the inspiration to write about much non-football related stuff until I dig the Beefheart book out of my nightstand. So I'll manufacture some.

A. and I bought a new car in June, the first for either of us. Exciting! With it came a free three-month subscription to Sirius. It didn't seem like a big deal—we figured we'd listen now and then and not fret once it expired, instead relying on our iPods when FM radio couldn't cut it. Annoyed grunt! Classic Vinyl? Backspin? The Boneyard? These stations are essential. Two weeks ago we re-upped.

The one that sold us, I think, is Soul Town, featuring Detroit, Memphis and other classics from the fifties, sixties and early seventies. It's generally family-friendly (I remember "motherfucker" slipping through on Curtis Mayfield's "Do Do Wap Is Strong in Here" one time) and G. seems to enjoy it the way A. and I enjoyed oldies radio when we were kids (we project a lot). They do a good job mixing familiar (ranging from "I love this song!" to "I remember this song!") and obscure stuff, and though they (and other Sirius stations) tend to repeat themselves a little too much—we've heard Freda Payne's "Band of Gold" about twenty times in the past week and a half—it's all pretty excellent.

In honor of Soul Town (or "Sooouuul Town," as I call it) I thought I'd throw up my own little hour-ish revue for a crisp Friday evening. I purchased these in the past few days: some are big hits I'd already… acquired… in the last ten or twelve years. Some are digging a little deeper into familiar artists' catalogs. Some are in Soul Town's regular rotation and I just can't get them out of my head. I don't feel like sequencing it so I'll lean on my old friend Alphabetical Order. It actually works pretty well.

1. The Beginning of the End – Funky Nassau (Part 1)
See what I'm talking about? Alphabetical Order knows what she's doing. (Alphabetical Order is a woman because she's always bossing you around.)

2. Sam Cooke – Bring It on Home to Me
My father got me into the Animals at a young age and I am forever grateful. But their version of "Bring It on Home to Me" is an attempted carbon copy of Cooke's original and, though I still like it, it doesn't come close.

3. Crystals – He Hit Me (and It Felt Like a Kiss)
Wikipedia tells me this song was a bit controversial because it seemed to endorse spousal abuse. See the trouble you get into when you pay attention to lyrics?

4. Dells – I Can Sing a Rainbow/Love Is Blue
Edan's "I See Colours" (from the award-winning Beauty and the Beat) samples this nicely. And Jeff Beck did a fine job with "Love Is Blue" in 1968. But I can't tell you a damn thing about the Dells.

5. Four Tops – Bernadette
Once a year I think someone should write a song where it pretends to fade out and then the singer shouts "Bernadette!" You would have my annual 99¢, hypothetical future bands.

6. Marvin Gaye – I Heard It Through the Grapevine
My recent exploration of "Louie, Louie" had its roots in "Grapevine" when, years ago, I tracked down as many versions as I could find. Creedence just kills it but this is still the one.

7. Isaac Hayes – Breakthrough
I don't know how this song was used in Truck Turner but if my revue were a soundtrack then "Breakthrough" would play during the montage sequence where I'm strutting up and down the block, pushing drugs, copping feels, looking good. Right before the shit hits the fan.

8. Ike & Tina Turner – It's Gonna Work Out Fine
I'm a sucker for call-and-response duets (Inez & Charlie Foxx's "Mockingbird" was under consideration here). Anyone else think Ike & Tina should have covered that Crystals song?

9. Impressions – Check Out Your Mind
"Check Out Your Mind" is a Soul Town favorite. What do you call it when a band interrupts the time signature like the Impressions do here before each chorus? I love that.

10. Marvelettes – Beechwood 4-5789
A. bought this last week. I had to buy it again because she innocently got the most-popular version on iTunes, which is one of those crazy sixties super-stereo mixes. With older songs (particularly Motown) that appear on a thousand different compilations you have to listen to every sample on headphones before committing. Mine is a superior mono from The Complete Motown Singles, Vol. 2.

11. Wilson Pickett – Don't Knock My Love (Part 1)
The A-side-single half of the title track from Pickett's 1971 album, the cover of which features Pickett and his swollen genitals leaning against a Rolls Royce. Unfortunately, as with "Funky Nassau," you can't download parts one and two together as a single track.

12. Otis Redding – A Change Is Gonna Come
I think Otis is a little overrated but this is the sort of thing I like from him. You can tell that sometimes (usually when covering popular hits like "A Hard Day's Night) he's mailing it in with extra postage. The MG's wisely stay out of his way here and he really gets into it.

13. Sam & Dave – May I Baby
Hey, I have a baby! I don't need to walk her home though. She can't even walk yet! Available with "Soul Man" as a stolen-idea digital 45.

14. Nina Simone – Plain Gold Ring
Probably closer to blues than to soul. It doesn't matter, Sirius categorizes Soul Town as "Hip-Hop/R&B" anyway so I'll be equally lazy and lump all black music together too. Regardless, Nina Simone is the real deal and tells a much richer story than Freda Payne goes on about every day.

15. Six Finger Satellite – Deep Freeze
How'd this get in here?

16. Supremes – You Keep Me Hangin' On
Why was Diana Ross the feature member of this group? She comes off like a real asshole who couldn't really sing too well. All the magic of this song is in Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson's backing vocals, the Funk Brothers' stone groove and the slick production. Though I do like how a double-tracked Ross keeps pronouncing "free" as "fuh-ree."

17. Temptations – (I Know) I'm Losing You
Wonderful Funk Brothers block. I prefer the Temptations' "psychedelic" Dennis Edwards era but this David Ruffin effort from 1966 is tighter than Wilson Pickett's trousers. Probably my favorite pre-Cloud Nine song.

18. The Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band – Till You Get Enough
This is a great song but I have no idea how it was a hit single in 1968. I guess a boring cover of "Light My Fire" on the B-side probably helped. If it weren't for that harlot Alphabetical Order I'd have closed with this.

19. Bill Withers – You
This would have been perfect for my next overlong annual playlist but it's too good to sit on until May. "Use Me" is a Soul Town favorite but I already have that.

20. Stevie Wonder – Nothing's Too Good for My Baby
Damn right I've got a pearl of a girl! Classic pre-synthesizer Stevie. Stacks of amazing singles from the mid to late sixties more than make up for seventies nonsense like "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" and "Boogie on Reggae Woman."

Alright, I can feel the Patriots' defense studying their playbooks tonight, holding them upside down and wondering why there aren't more pictures—that's the only explanation. In the meantime, I should finish The Exorcist tomorrow (really, really good and intense) and then maybe I'll start Dracula because I'm a Halloween dork. But after that I think it'll finally be 33⅓: Trout Mask Replica. I teased my Nico piss-taker for almost a year and I'm pretty happy with the way that post turned out. Hopefully this will be even more epic. Almost as epic as Mike Wallace's undressing of Devin McCourty on Sunday. (Pats still win big.)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Beer and football II — weeks six and seven

Week six
The game: Cowboys at Patriots
The beer: Berkshire Oktoberfest Lager
The result: Win, 20–16
The commentary: I think it's going to be a Berkshire-heavy season—six weeks in and I'm already onto a second offering. My team's won five of six games, though, and even if I'm not superstitious (very much) I'm not going to buck that. I've got a third in the fridge that's ready to go in an emergency anyway. In fact, the only way I would lay off additional Berkshires is if I've accumulated so many bombers over the past couple of months that I might already be able to finish out the regular season. And if you think I'm shopping ahead for an anticipated playoff run after what happened last year with the (gulp) Shabadoo then you know nothing about football either.

The Oktoberfest was nice. I'm pretty sure it was included in that beer dinner I attended a couple of months ago and, if so, none of the three of us was overly impressed for some reason. Possibly it only works its magic in October or something, I don't know. How would a pumpkin ale taste in March? Apparently like death. Anyway, here's what I remember about the Cowboys game:

The Pats had no chance of losing, even when they were on their own twenty yard line and down three points with two-and-a-half minutes remaining. The only way Brady doesn't march up the field against a suddenly scaredy-cat defense was if he'd been shot by the same sniper who earlier took down Gary Guyton during an attempt to tackle Dez Bryant.

Our defense performed "admirably" for the second week in a row because the idiot opposing head coaches decided not to target the horrible secondary with long passes. I can't understand it, but I'll take it.

Tony Romo is really, really awful. I enjoy the NFL Network's Sound FX (formerly Mic'd Up), which recaps three games a week from players' and/or coaches' perspectives, and in teasing Patriots–Cowboys before going to commercial the narrator asked "Would Tony Romo be a superhero against the Patriots? Or would Tom Brady prove he's the Man of Steel?" My infant daughter just rolled her eyes.

Week seven (bye)
The beer: Samuel Adams Boston Lager
The commentary: Stupid Jets. That's two games they were let off the hook, the first being against (shocker!) pop group Tony & the Boys. I will not count out the Jets until they're playing golf in January. People keep saying how much Sanchez sucks but I just don't see it. He's no Brady, Brees or Peyton-Corpse but he's also no Romo, McNabb or Tebow. He's won some big games and even looked good carrying the team on his back when clowns like Tomlinson suddenly take ill (loved the classic sideline shots of him feeling sorry for himself; if you aren't motivated to shine against the team that gave up on you then maybe you should sulk away from the football field for the rest of your life). Maybe he's expected to win games more easily with outstanding players like Keller and Holmes to target but he's gone to two consecutive AFC title games. That's not all on Sanchez but clearly he's doing something right.

Speaking of quarterbacks, the thing I'm hearing from no one about the Colts is that Manning didn't play defense. He did his best to keep them off the field and maybe that covered up the fact that they were never any good. But giving up fifty-five offensive points? Even the 2009 Pats weren't as terrible against the Saints and the Saints went on to win the Super Bowl that year.

Before the Colts won in 2006/2007 I always questioned why they used top draft picks on offensive skill positions instead of on defense. Defense (and maybe a consistent running attack) was the reason they kept losing to the Pats and I just didn't get it. Then it hit me: why not give your most outstanding player the tools to succeed? Manning doesn't succeed with tough, versatile linebackers and safeties. Blue-chip receivers, uncoverable tight ends… that's how you do it. Score! Score! Give up thirty points and still win. Score! Throw the ball, Peyton! Touchdown, Colts! Score! Turns out I was right. Not only did they not draft well on defense (very few exceptions) or use low-round picks to develop above-average backup quarterbacks but there is not one Peyton-is-down-what-do-we-do piece in place, coaching staff included.

I finally came to respect Peyton after he finally won a Super Bowl. He was the guy who got all the stats and made all the commercials and didn't do shit in the playoffs. But the Super Bowl gave him credibility and turned Brady vs. Manning debates into balanced conversations, more Bird vs. Magic than Russell vs. Chamberlain. But the Colts team? I never respected the Colts team.

Crazed fans and media saying they should lie down the rest of the season, draft Andrew Luck (about whom I know nothing because I don't watch college ball) and trade Peyton did the same thing in 2008 with "Trade Brady!" when he went down and Matt Cassel was playing pretty well. These are the same idiots who scream "Why do we always play the Colts in Indianapolis?!" (Patriot fans) or "Why do we always play the Patriots in Foxborough?!" (Colts fans) year after year. If the Colts follow through on this insanity, trading away or letting walk a once-in-a-lifetime quarterback and the few remaining stars (Mathis, Freeney, Wayne) while continuing to not sign impact free agents then they're admitting to ten years of organizational failure.

On the opposite end of the success spectrum, most varieties of Sam Adams can stand up with any of the greats. The flagship lager is often the best beer available in a lot of the cookie-cutter Budweiser/Coors bars and restaurants in Massachusetts and for that reason it's terribly underrated and under-appreciated. It is delicious. When I saw the large bottle of Boston Lager (perhaps very slightly smaller than twenty-two ounces) it was an opportunity to highlight my reliable old friend on a blog no one reads.

Sooner or later (probably next season) I'm going to have to loosen up and not restrict my football beers to bomber-size because I'll have to start repeating selections or going whole-hog with particular brewers (hello Berkshire!). There just aren't enough for less than $7 a bottle, particularly since I generally don't like to represent someone more than once in a season (hello? Berkshire?) and I'd like to feature more non-regional ones. I was glad, then, to see Sam Adams cooperating last week—unless you want one of their double bocks or something, which are pretty expensive and harsh, they don't seem to embrace the large format. Maybe it was my imagination but it even seemed to taste as good as it does out of a tap; anything might have, though, after bye-week chores like mowing the lawn and scrubbing the bathtub. I still trust it was genuinely good. Regardless, once I break down and start incorporating six-packs into my Sundays (maybe not entire six-packs) then I will leave the door open for good ole Sammy A-Damn (not an actual nickname) and welcome him, warmly, into my home.

Up next: The Pats travel to Heinz Field for one of my favorite games of the year, Let's Watch Tom Brady Toy with the Steelers Bowl VII. In Pittsburgh they refer to it as Your Quarterback Is a Homo and Ours Is Not, as Demonstrated by a Pattern of Sexual Assaults Against Women Bowl III. Cheers!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Beer and football II — week five

The game: Jets at Patriots
The beer: Pretty Things Hedgerow Bitter
The result: Win, 30–21
The commentary: My little girl knows what's up. She doesn't get all bothered the way her dad does over how poor a defense a 4–1 team might have. Here she is, really taking the time to weigh all sides of the issue, pondering just how to classify a team with an out-of-this world offense and a bottom-of-the-barrel defense. Maybe she'll have the answers one day. Maybe she'll be able to talk by then. In the meantime: dimples!

Another weird game. Nothing to see here with the offense, thirty points again, thanks for asking. But the defense… the defense! They gave up twenty-one points to a team that, from what I can tell, wasn't trying to score. Instead of letting Sanchez sit back in the face of an anemic pass rush and mix up short and intermediate passes against a weak secondary they decided to try something that hasn't worked all season against the one part of Belichick's defense that hasn't been terrible. Keller was "held to" (since it was an offensive scheme and not a defensive counter-scheme) one catch. That man is a killer! Holmes, Burress, Tomlinson, even this Kerley guy, all wasted by poor offensive coaching. It's almost poetic.

Ground and pound! Ground and pound!
My ground and pound is worl' renowned.
A row of Patsies lef' spellbound
All up n' down the whole playground.

Say there, baby, tightly wound,
Let's you n' me go fool around.
I'll show you what you ain't yet found
And take you there without no bound.

Jus' wait a sec… big Vince's mound…
Nowheres to go, east nor westbound.
Thought ground and pound was too profound.
Thought ground and pound be always crowned.

Too goddamn late to press rewound,
I lose three yards before I's downed.
My green Jet knees done got all browned.
My unsound ground and pound's aground.

Say where you at, my foxy hound?
Catch you on the next rebound?
At least I's got my meat to pound.
Pound and pound! Pound and pound!

The bitter was pretty good. I got it at another one of those tastings. Pretty Things is still Pretty Touch-and-Go to me but I like this one, just not as much as the St. Botolph's. Everyone else at the tasting liked it too and I gave someone the stink eye after I thought he took the last two bombers. More were hidden behind the counter, thankfully, but the stink eye was not rescinded.

Up next: The Jerry Jones Traveling Circus comes to Foxborough. They used the bye week to figure out a new way to stay competitive into the fourth quarter before crapping all over the game of football for the nth time in the Tony Romo era. Cheers!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Beer and football II — week four

The game: Patriots at Raiders
The beer: Notch Saison
The result: Win, 31–19
The commentary: I wonder what would have happened if Hank Williams Jr. compared Obama to Jesus. Will we ever survive without "Are you ready for some football?!" Forget for a minute that Monday Night Football is no longer all that relevant. Sure, my team was its first game of the year, and it's nice to drink on a Monday, but Monday night matchups have been pretty spotty ever since it migrated to ESPN. I can't be the only person who fast-forwarded through that rowdy-friends crap.

Essential analysis from my friends over at Patriots Daily after week three's vexing defeat. (I don't actually know the writers but I always, always agree with what they have to say and I would buy them all a round of Saisons given the opportunity.) They post a handful of items per week: a reaction to the previous game, a preview of what to look for in the upcoming game, a more in-depth examination of said game's key players and matchups, a wonderfully snarky around-the-league review and a nice "buffet table" of thematic/regional food and drink suggestions to enjoy on Sunday. (It's Clown Shoes this week, can you believe it? Apparently I didn't catch the pump dong on last week's Lubrication.) They'll also write more of a traditional column offering either a fresh perspective on an (elsewhere) overdone topic or an outside-the-box "think piece" covering some aspect of the team that flies under the radar of other media outlets like WEEI (usually too terrified to criticize the team) or the Globe or Herald (quick to criticize but more in the form of an aimless old man). This one sort of straddles that line and it's the best thing I've read on their site in the two or three years I've been following them. They target every gripe I've had with the team (particularly the defense) and really hammer home that poor drafting is the root of the issue. I love following Mike Reiss's reporting because no one gets the access he does and his analysis is usually excellent (or at least interesting) but I'm sure getting tired of him trying to tell us the defense isn't as bad as we think. Take this absurd point of view that the team is giving up more yards than anybody because, with good kickoff coverage, they have the most potential yards to give up. Or something. It's his worst writing since the last time (of many) he called the 2007 draft a success because Belichick used picks to acquire Welker and Moss, even though no one remains from that class after Lawyer Milloy and Fred Marion smothered Meriweather in his sleep last month.

Along those lines, I thought the two-part Bill Belichick: A Football Life was pretty good. It wasn't the best season to follow for sure—hindsight, I know, but if you're going to pick non-Super Bowl years then how fascinating would 2006 (no proven wide receivers, horrendous AFC Championship loss to the Colts) or 2008 (no Brady, no playoffs) have been? I guess we'll take whatever kind of behind-the-scenes footage of our tight-lipped coach that we can get. 2009 was such a weird year and I think they did as good a job documenting it as they could, particularly during the horrendous Saints game when Belichick is telling Brady "I just can't get these guys to play the way I want them to." Love the prolonged silences in that scene. The season might as well have ended right there.

The problem, oddly familiar with the current squad, is that "these guys" are not a collection of first-round draft picks who simply have yet to emerge as stars. Since the last Super Bowl victory and up through 2009 the list of big-impact draft picks consists of Logan Mankins (2005, last pick of the first round), Stephen Gostkowski (2006, and already stretching to include a kicker… as if stretching to include a guard wasn't bad enough), Jerod Mayo (2008) and Patrick Chung (2009). I'm not including Sebastian Vollmer because he's played only one game so far this season and probably won't play this afternoon. Things improved in 2010 with McCourty (fingers crossed he figures things out), Gronkowski (Pro Bowl for him this year) and Hernandez. Throw in some flashes from Spikes and excellent punting (stretching again!) from Mesko and it's a pretty good class, though Cunningham has played only a handful more quality snaps than my daughter this year. From 2011, it looks like Solder and Ridley are immediately doing very well. I have high hopes for Dowling but he's already been injured too much, and that's never a good sign. Nothing at all to go on with the rest, though I wonder if Vereen might see a little action today.

That's seven drafts featuring (I think) nine opportunities to select a game-changing player—offensive or defensive—in the first round, and that's before you start counting Belichick's intra-round dealings. Instead you're left with Mankins, Mayo and McCourty from the above list and a lot of trade down, trade down, trade into next year and so on. Never identifying a player and moving up to secure him, often having to settle. Even when they do target someone, as with Mayo, they moved down three spots from seven to ten and hoped he would still be there, gaining a third-round Shawn Crable to throw on the bust pile in the process. He was there. They got their guy. But how excited could they really have been about it? And how excited should we Patriots fans be that he'll be out for a few weeks with a knee injury and the defense he's leaving behind cannot possibly do worse without him? DeMarcus Ware, Haloti Ngata, Patrick Willis, Darelle Revis: pick one of these guys and the Pats win at least one of the last six Super Bowls (2007), probably two (2006) and maybe even three (2010). I'm being greedy, sure, but Tom Brady is the best quarterback in the league and his shitty shit-covered shit-bum defense is holding him back.

It comes down to players, and as the one who chooses his players—and who has ample opportunity for blue-chip rookies, with the picks he stashes away year after year—it's all on Belichick. I'll still take him as my team's head coach but I wish he would either loosen up his unrealistic and, lately, flawed standards and appraisals and start choosing the superstars-in-waiting instead of the overachieving undrafted free agents or, in an impossible scenario, relinquish his football operations responsibilities and bring in or promote someone (not Nick Caserio, who might be able to throw a tight spiral but has done nothing to influence the organization toward can't-miss defensive prospects) to shop for the groceries.

On that topic, a fond farewell to all-around nice guy Terry Francona. Baseball manager is the least important coaching position in all of professional sports unless the guy is also the team's general manager, and I'm not sure if that's even allowed. These are grown men playing a child's game and if they refuse to take it seriously then the best a manager can do is decide who should pitch, who should hit and how many cutoff guys should be in place when Jacoby Ellsbury shags a deep fly ball with a man on second. Theo Epstein brought in a bunch of bums who couldn't make it to the post-season again because they're not good enough. As I said, it comes down to players and talent. It's Theo's job (for now… tick, tick, tick) to recognize good players. It's not his job to pretend the Sox are a small-market team and look down upon the Monopoly-money Yankees because they overspend and don't rely enough on value. He'd spend just as much, and could, if he just had the balls. Increasingly it seems the ownership likes to meddle and likely has a (still high) self-imposed salary cap in place, but even if that's true it doesn't mean John Lackey was ever Theo's best idea. Once again I'm left to wonder what could have been if that 2004 team was left intact—I don't remember much about 2007 anyway. In short, if Theo gets to keep his job after Tito was unceremoniously kicked to the curb then I'm pretty all set with not caring about baseball for awhile. Honestly, I haven't in a few years anyway.

Back to football. The Jets have been talking all week about how they're going to return to ground-and-pound football, even if they don't have the personnel for it (though it sounds like Mangold will start, is that really a good idea?). I call bullshit on that: didn't they see the Raiders march ninety-nine yards in forty-eight seconds to score a meaningless touchdown at the end of the last week's game? What kind of defense allows that? Against Jason "Three Hundred Forty-four Yards" Campbell? The answer is either one that doesn't care (part of 2009's problem) or one that doesn't have enough football ability. Three guys played well on defense against the Raiders: Vince Wilfork, Patrick Chung and Brandon Spikes. Shaun Ellis made it clear why the Jets cut him. Sergio Brown is not the guy I had pretty high hopes for after a strong rookie season. Devin McCourty has secretly switched places with his inferior twin brother Jason from the Titans. There is nowhere to go but up and I'm glad a shaky Mark Sanchez is the opposing quarterback this week. (I'd still take Sanchez over Joeflacco, who ceaselessly scrambled around like a retarded monkey last week and won the game because his defense was better than the Jets'.) But it's a long, long way up.

I apologize that I'm spoiled and whining but excellence commands further, greater excellence. I just love this team so much! (I know you do, honey.) I love them so much! (I know.) On a lighter note, I'm excited the good guys are donning the classic Pat Patriot reds today. But why no cool blue and yellow New York Titans throwbacks for the Jets? It's like they're conceding victory already.

Up next: The Pats host the Jets in like twenty minutes. No outcome will surprise me. Cheers!