Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Annual Report: 2001

I was tempted to talk about '69 and '71, but thought it might be better to spread out the years more. So let's hit a year in more recent memory, when– admittedly – both Charlie T and myself were in our "music-listening primes." I guess by "prime" I mean the time when you have sort of graduated from what you grew up listening to and moved into a new phase (at least for me, that's how it worked. I was less fixated on the Zeppelin-led classic rock of junior high and two-pronged jamband/alt-rock of my high school days). You listen with different ears. Whether they are more refined and less jaded is debatable, but at the time you sure think they're authoritative.

So, 2001. We survived Y2K, Ricky Martin, and boy bands. 9/11 happened. It will always be a banner year for a billion reasons unconnected to music. But the music also happened to be really great.

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (free release) // Wilco
Time (The Revelator) // Gillian Welch
Two of my favorite albums of all time. I'm fortunate because I felt the same way when I first heard them, mind blown, ears appeased, heart filled. But, unlike some of the other albums that have since been demoted to bins like Overhyped, Failed The Test Of Time, and worse, these have stood strong. That they are both approaching America from such different angles and yet still seem somehow related (strong writing maybe? pure singing? nostalgia?) is a testament to the strength of 2001. Welch's "I Dream A Highway" might be the only 15-minute song featuring just 2 guitars and 2 voices that I ever wished was twice as long. And Wilco's entire album has survived time, which a lot of "glitchy production, studio experimentation" albums fail to do. With songs like "Jesus, Etc" and "Radio Cure", it's no wonder. The production wasn't veiling bad songwriting, it was adding texture to amazing songs.
Is This It? // The Strokes
White Blood Cells // The White Stripes
Oh, Inverted World // The Shins
Gold // Ryan Adams
Agaetis Byrjun // Sigur Ros
Debuts or not, these were the albums that buzzed, that introduced us to new voices in American music. Disaffected NYC hipster elite. Mondrian-inspired minimalistic, raw blues rock from Detroit. Smart, melodic indie rock. A prolific singer/songwriter who embraced his influences and excesses. Glacial soundscapes with an angelic voice sung in the supposedly made-up language of Hopelandish. There were better albums this year, but not many buzzier.
Amnesiac // Radiohead (I don't dare add to the superlatives. Let's just say it's still great.)
The Blueprint + Unplugged // Jay-Z
Love and Theft // Bob Dylan (I'm more of a Time Out Of Mind guy. Sue me.)
It's A Wonderful Life // Sparklehorse (RIP)

The Argument // Fugazi
Things We Lost In The Fire // Low
Maybe 2 of the albums I go back to most? Two great, smart, trend-oblivious bands at or near the peaks of their creative output.

Bleed American // Jimmy Eat World

musicforthemorningafter // Pete Yorn
One Nil // Neil Finn
I love a good pop song. Melodic and memorable. If the words are great too, then it's legendary. Some of these split the difference. Pete Yorn's album blew me away for awhile and was a nice patchwork of pop and indie rock and singer/songwriter and more. Neil Finn was just going about his usual business of spitting out great melodies. And Jimmy Eat World? Well, there's nothing cool about liking Jimmy Eat World. But I still love this album– its dramatic builds, its dreamy and desperate vocals, its drums, its college heartbreak. I remember going to lunch with a friend in 2001. Her much-hipper friend shows up and we're talking music and, before I know what I'm doing, I ask what he thinks of the new Jimmy Eat World. My stupid "hipster filter" kicks in and I try to control-Z, but it's out and it's even clearer how cool I'll never be. But, in the loudness of the restaurant, this guy thinks I asked about the Jim O'Rourke album. And he starts going on and on about it. And my friend shoots me a look and I sorta wave her off like, "It's not worth clarifying." The guy still thought I wasn't cool, I guess. But I never had to try to sell him on Bleed American.
Field Songs // Mark Lanegan
Old Ramon // Red House Painters
What's Next To The Moon // Mark Kozelek
My two favorite Marks. Kozelek closed the chapter on Red House Painters and opened up a whole new can of worms (a whole album of Bon Scott-era AC/DC covers?) and basically wrote his own license to do whatever. Lanegan, meanwhile, continued to do what he does best, which is write harrowingly, sing hauntingly, gargle gravel, and be one of my favorite odd rock icons. Plus, he contributed to the cactus weird of Desert Sessions.
Green Album // Weezer
Hot Shots II // Beta Band
Two quirky iconic bands say goodbye. Wait. What? What's that you say? Weezer kept making albums after the Green Album? Really?
Stephen Malkmus // Stephen Malkmus
Ancient Melodies of the Future // Built To Spill
Girls Can Tell // Spoon
Isolation Drills // Guided By Voices

Songs In A Minor // Alicia Keys

Aaliyah // Aaliyah (2x platinum, RIP)
No More Drama- //Mary J Blige
Apparently 2001 was a year where female neo-R&B struck a chord (A minor perhaps?) with me. Blige's voice, maybe our greatest contemporary R&B singer, and persona have always resonated with me and her song "Family Affair" is undeniable. I wish she'd make a record with Mark Ronson & The Dap Kings because it would be insanely great. Joe Henry producing would come in a close second. And of course, Alicia Keys and Aaliyah's hits were unavoidable. As a sidenote, pop/R&B legend Michael Jackson released what no one would've guessed was his final album (Invincible) in 2001
Souljacker // Eels
Gorillaz // Gorillaz
Vespertine // Bjork
The Photo Album // Death Can For Cutie

Songs from the West Coast // Elton John

Poses // Rufus Wainwright
Rockin The Suburbs // Ben Folds
It was a good year for piano men. Elton had a temporary revival with is best batch of songs in years. Poses still sounds amazing with standouts like "Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk", "In A Graveyard" and the title track. And Folds' debut sounded an awful lot like BF5 minus the kind of editing/filtering that a band provides. Still, it spawned at least 4 classic Folds' tunes.
Brushfire Fairytales // Jack Johnson
Room For Squares // John Mayer
It was also a good year for guys with guitars. Campuses across the country were flooded with fratboys in pooka shell necklaces scraping to learn "how to play some Jack" for the ladies. Bodies were wonderlands. Banana pancakes were made. Actual songwriters on college campuses were a little bit bummed. Clearly not my cup of tea, but deserving of mention, I suppose.
Amelie soundtrack // Yann Tiersen
Rock Steady // No Doubt (set up Gwen for megastardom)
10,000 HZ Legend // AIR
End of Amnesia // M Ward
Lateralus // Tool

Offseason Notes NOT Having To Do With The Douchecision

Some offseason notes:

– I am taking a little too much pleasure in watching the douchiness of T-Mac manifest itself this offseason. The Utah Bulls, er, Chicago Jazz, er, Chicago Bulls had a private workout with His WashedUpNess this week and, to hear Tracy talk about it, the Bulls front office was licking its chops about stumbling onto such an under-the-radar catch. These quotes encapsulate the magic dust he's sprinkling around. “Without me, without Boozer, they’re a .500 ball club,” McGrady said. Wow. Any quote that makes me defensive of Carlos Boozer deserves bold italics and a few extra vacation days. I can't wait til the Clippers sign him.

– In a related note, this is a fun offseason for Former Insanely Talented Alphas like AI and Shaq. The fact that some team is going to have to talk themselves into one of the game's top 2 or 3 most dominant centers ever (not anymore but still. Kareem got contracts when he could barely John McCain his goggles.) is a little sad to me. The bright side is: Pros vs Joes is always looked for some extra legitimacy and the combined MVPs, points, and NBA Finals appearances are legit.

– Also, The Utah Bulls. What the Bulls front office, in picking up Boozer & Korver & Brewer (who I miss the most, in spite of his complete inability to hit a jumper), is saying is: we believe Rose > Deron Williams. They are assembling, essentially, the same cast around Rose as Williams had. Now, Chicago fans, let's not carried away about Joakim Noah. Yes, I would take him on my team. No, he is not an elite big man. He and Memo Okur (who has one more all-star appearance than Noah) essentially cancel each other out, though I'm willing to admit that Noah's hustle is a plus. Luol Deng? A wild card of the same type as, oh, Andrei Kirilenko. Everybody KNOWS he's good. But what are you getting from him game to game, month to month? I think it's very interesting that the Bulls believe in the '08 Jazz that much. I did too, though, so I can't really hold it against them.

The Laker Upgrade. Miami gets the most ink. But the defending champs upgraded, in my opinion, to an insane degree. A tough, mix-it-up guy who can knock down equal amounts of superstars & shots in Matt Barnes. A PG upgrade (though the WNBA has a handful of PGs who would be an improvement over Farmar) in Steve Blake. And some more size (as if they were lacking) in Theo Ratliff, who- for the sake of this bullet point- I talked myself into. Still the team to beat.

– Chris Paul. Wah. You're an amazing talent stuck on a team in transition. Your friends are all teaming up to try to gang their way to rings. You also signed a contract. I'm sure there's a gun to your head everytime you cash those million-dollar checks. Sack up. Whiny multimillionaire athletes kill me.

– The Jazz, to avoid D-Will pulling a Kobe/Chris Paul, have made some moves– Jefferson, Bell, Hayward. They aren't Miami-level or Steal Gasol For Nothing level, but they are decent. As a Jazz fan, I'm happy to see something happen that includes Boozer taking his talents/attitude/entitlement elsewhere and guys who want to kill themselves for D-Will onto the court. Hearing D-Will tell Jefferson he's gonna make him an All-Star made me really happy.

Portland can suck it. Just because their "top tier, first round" talent can't stay healthy or perform up to par doesn't mean they should come pillage the hard-working, smartly drafted talent that the Jazz pick up (see also: Paul Milsap). Wes Matthews is a total stud and I worshipped his hard work in his rookie season. But it makes me sad that he's gonna get a ton of money to fight for bench minutes on a team whose best hopes are an injury prone elderly man still trying to have a rookie season and landing unhappy Chris Paul. This quote from Kevin O'Connor was money: "(Fesenko's) next on the agenda. (We'll) go from there, see what happens, see if Portland has any more money left."

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Agreed to Terms

Just moments after The Decision, I received this text message from Spike - "mild hate and pure envy". I am only assuming it was a reference to me about LeBron taking his talents to South Beach and my beloved Heat, though he could have been referring to this fascinating project. (we'll get to that in the next couple days) I needed a little more time to sort through my feelings about the Heat's off-season transactions. I've been through a lot in 15+ years as a Heat fan; a kidney transplant, a Championship, a 25 win season, taking a chance on a kid from Marquette, learning to tolerate Shaq, all of sport-dom discounting the 2006 title because the Heat were somehow the only team in history to get a bogus call or two, a 16 win season, the New York Knicks (4 straight playoff eliminations, 3 in the first round even as the higher seed), Jermaine O'Heal, the Mike Beasley Experience, Clarence Weatherspoon, PJ Brown and Charlie Ward, Allan Houston, both Van Gundy's (one around Zo's leg) and Riles. I'm not saying I have been a tortured fan (though somewhere in the spring of 2003 I was beginning to wonder) but there have been some highs and lows to say the least.

Let me first address my feeling about the backlash of doubt and negativity.

Spike's sentiments could be easily applied to the majority of America's feelings about the Decision, but the problem is nobody will admit to it. The NBA has needed a bad guy since Kobe started winning again, so it seems that everyone is doing their best to make LeBron the league's foil. Had he gone to Chicago would there have been this backlash? New York? New Jersey? the reasoning for deciding on anyone of those destinations is about as reasonable as going to Miami to play with Wade and Bosh.(side note: everyone is saying Bosh is the lucky one in this off-season, raising his stock far beyond its worth. I say its Joakim Noah. He was labeled numerous times as an "elite big man". Sorry but that term is reserved for big men who average more than 10 and 10, and don't wear clown suits to the draft.) Anyway, its been astonishing to see how quickly everyone has forgotten what an incredible athlete LeBron James is. He is the two time reigning MVP. The country has been awing over his abilities on the basketball court for 9+ years. He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at the age of 16 AND actually lived up to the hype. I have been very critical of LeBron over the years, but I have never doubted his basketball playing abilities. If the league needs a supervillian that bad, then thats fine. But I think that stigma is going to fade rather quickly once tip-off rolls around. We'll see more #6 Heat jersey's pop up around the country in the first week of November than we saw Chris Broussard in the first week of July.

So take Spike's words to heart and if they don't seem to do the trick, try this little line from the mid 90's: The past is gone but something might be found to take it's place -- Hey jealousy

Now to address my feelings.

I've never been good at being the front runner. I cringed as people made title and win predictions. I wanted the numbers from one to seven to go right back into LeBron's mouth. I tried to down play the potential of this team. I did everything I could to take things back to the Shaq vs Zo days, when someone else was the clear #1 and my guy(s) was/were the underdog. I also didn't want to be like all the Lakers/Cowboys/Yankees fans that I've hated my who life. I didn't want to be the guy who was the fan of the superteam, the highlight reel darlings, the team force fed to the public. I didn't want to have to explain to everyone who knows little about me that I have been a Heat fan my whole, post-2nd grade, life. I didn't want to be seen as the band wagoner. But over the course of the weekend following the LeBronal Conclave, the text messages started pouring in. Family and friends, acquaintances, people I hadn't heard from in years, high school friends that I was certain didn't have my number, and even people at the grocery store began congratulating me. My fears began to dissolve with every text message and I began to embrace the future. Then Beasley was shipped off. And Udonis came back. And Shaq was told "No Thanks". And Fisher went back to the Mamba. And Mike Miller came. And suddenly it was looking more and more like a team full of guys I could root for, guys I knew, guys I didn't have to brainwash myself into liking. I'm still not going to make a single prediction about wins or titles. But I will say that I am going to have the time of my life following this team, even if they are going to be front and center on ESPN and ABC for the next half decade.

Now to end with a collection of Heat related thoughts.

I never doubted Riley's power of persuasion and motivation. I mean he got Shaq, GP, 'Toine AND White Chocolate to play some semblance of basketball together...and get in shape. But I had myself talked into Amare and Joe Johnson several times. I was going to be okay with Gay and Boozer. I was hoping for Bosh and filler. I never would have really imagined this would happen.

I still don't know what to make of the "celebration" other than it was nice to see Wade back in the #3 and being flanked by #1 and #6 that didn't include the names Dorell or Mario.

I have always liked Dan LeBatard and I'm glad to being seeing more and more of him.

This < This

I don't think LeBron left any unpaid debts in northeast Ohio.

Zo played better than Shaq in the '06 Finals, period.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Dear Ohio,

I have decided to use this platform, The Black Converse, to officially respond to the negative outpouring towards me after my little sit down with Jim Gray last night. (side note: I should have known it was going to turn out the way it did when Jim Gray was the only reported who would agree to sit in the director's chair opposite me. He doesn't exactly have a great track record.) I chose this blog to address you all since Charlie T, a very loyal Heat fan, is one of the few people outside of South Beach who has my back.

Charlie T has also been very kind and wise in helping me put my feelings into words, providing me with perspective and verse. I would like to first address everyone in America who thinks I made a bad decision with a selection from what appears to be a TBC favorite, Wilco.

Oh it's okay for you to say
What you want from me
I believe that's the only
Way for me
To be
Exactly what you want me to be

Just remember, I make my own decisions. You don't get to. You are not LeBron James. (and you're damn right I just referred to myself in the third person)

And now to address Ohio specifically. This is sports. Get over yourselves. Remember Kent State in the 70's, neither do I but it happened only minutes from my home. Kent State was a real tragedy. Allow me to refresh your memory by borrowing from one of your Lake Erie neighbors:

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.

Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?

Nobody dies last night. Nobody was even physically harmed. Again, I'm sorry but se la vie .

And now to my owner Dan Gilbert. I can't wait too see you backpedaling on defense as I come up the floor like a locomotive. I can't wait to chase you down on a fast break and slap the ball through the backboard as you go up for a girlish layup. Just kidding, I know I won't be invited over for barbecue's and pick up games anymore. I'm okay with that.

But if you really feel everything you comic sansed the world last night, take some advice from Frightened Rabbit:

So swim until you can’t see land.
Swim until you can’t see land.
Swim until you can’t see land
Are you a man or are you a bag of sand?

And if you were just reacting passionately because you just lost 100+ million dollars in the net worth of the Cavs, essentially resurrecting the Rockers, then thats fine. You should have taken a step back, put your laptop down and put this Hank Williams song on the stereo and called it a night.

It's hard to know another's lips will kiss you
And hold you just the way I used to do
Oh, heaven only knows how much I miss you
I Can't Help It If I'm Still In Love With You.

And to my new fans in Miami:

Here i am in the place where i'com to let go-Miami
the bass and the sun set low.
Everyday like a Mardi Gras- everbody party all day
no work- all play, ok

So we sip a liitle something, leave the rest to spill.
me and Charlie at the bar running up a high bill
nutin; less than ill when we dress to kill,
and every time the ladies pass they be like "Hi Bron"

Cant wait for Halloween.

Yours for five years,


Lebron & the Heat Check

As sour grapes as possible and as a fan who (if you don't root for LA or MIA or BOS or maybe OKC and ORL) thinks the NBA just got less engaging, it's my job to make Charlie T's uber-happy life a little more miserable. So, I thought I'd revisit some of Charlie's anti-Lebron rants from TBC posts past. After all, Charlie T was more of a LeHater than I was from the start. Needless to say, that ended last night around 7:04 MST.

I was actually surprised by Charlie T's turnaround. I thought I would dig up dirt and throw it in his ecstatic face. But the results were mixed and Charlie was actually turning towards LeBron long before I'd anticipated. So here it is, in reverse chronological order, with Charlie T's posts in italics:


JAN 17, 2009
A big sarcastic jab that I can't really cut/paste without making this cross over into the 1,000,000 wordcount range. One highlight of Charlie T's translations of TV announcer fawning:
"Watch LeBron here as he takes over in the fourth quarter with a steal and a thunderous slam"
Translation: LeBron just ripped the ball out of Delonte West's hand, took a hesitation dribble just past half court and took 4 steps before dunking on the camera crew. For those who haven't seen professional basketball in a while, the rules have been changed to allow two extra steps if you take a hesitation dribble. Whatever that is.

FEB 10, 2009
Wah, wah, Cleveland.
That said, (Coach Brown) congratulations on sticking up for LeBron and Co. Your team has been so picked on. And it's nice to hear a little harmony with the sad tunes our dear martyr, St. BronBron of Our Lady Of Cleveland, has been singing lately.
FEB 12, 2009
We paired NBA players together in a fictional 2-on-2 tournament, one of many overambitious TBC Concept Series. They were usually paired for reasons of similarity or intertwining stories (Nash/Nowitzki, CP3/D-Will). Note how Charlie T emphasizes the utter fiction of this pairing.
Team Name: Unstoppable
Team Members: LeBron James and Dwayne[sic] Wade

Let's be realistic. This is the only way you will ever see these two play together in the NBA. You know full well that neither will take the paycut necessary to play on the same NBA team together. It just won't happen. That said, for this tournament, they have a lot going for them. (Pushing aside the obvious fact that they are two of the four legitimate MVP candidates this season,) They have some size (James) and both are super quick. Quicker than you might ever imagine. Trying to stop either of them in the lane is futile. Also, like all 2-on-2, this tournament will be Call Your Own Fouls. So, LeBron will be calling fouls on every play, assuring a lot of easy points for his team (because, come on, has there ever been a play in which LeBron wasn't fouled?)...

Feb 27, 2009
An open letter to LeBron. And not a nice one. I believe he calls LeBron "pathetic." Luckily South Beach is known for blurry memories. I do have to give it to Charlie T for skewering both Kobe and LeBron in the same post. I'll miss that. Oh, and Charlie T's soothsaying was only half right about Shaq. He came, but delivered no title.
Dear LeBron,

I know you spent a lot of time with Kobe over the summer. And I know you think he is soooo cool. But this is really a new low in emulation. You had ZERO ASSISTS last night against the Houston Rockets. I can excuse the Kobe-esque 33% shooting, the Black Mamba-ish one-on-five with everyone standing around watching you, even the post-dunk scowl. But for Mr. I'm Gonna Average A Triple Double For My Career? This was inexcusable. Even Ben "I Broke My Leg and Didn't Know It" Wallace had more assists and rebounds than you in half the time.

Keep this up and you'll never escape the curse of being the next Kobe Bryant. Except that Shaq won't be coming to give you a title.

Charlie T. Hustle Jr.

P.S. One rebound was pretty pathetic too. Correction, Really pathetic.
March 20, 2009
The turning begins.

It's no secret that there is a lack of butt kissing for LeBron here at TBC as opposed to the rest of the televisioned world. But I'm finding it harder and harder to find the holes in anything he does lately. In March, thus far, he is averaging 30 pts. 9 assists 9 rebounds nearly 2 steals and shooting 48%. Plus his team has only lost to Boston this month. So keep playing hard in the regular season, boys. I'm sure you'll give me plenty of chances in the playoffs to be critical.
Nov 13, 2009
The soothsaying, crystal balling Charlie T emerges. Was he precognitive or just really hopeful?
Now that we have established that Miami has retired the number 23, let's bring Mr. James back into the picture and add this theory to the long list of "Where will LeBron go in 2010" theories.

LeBron won't be able to have #23 when he goes to Miami next season. If he can't have it then nobody can. Nobody.
Jan 26, 2010
More saying of sooth.
LeBron becomes a little tougher to pin down (we all know the lack of income tax in Florida has got to be alluring) but there isn't as much mystery around it as there once was.
Feb 9, 2010
The Official Pro-LBJ post.
Here at TBC, we've been mostly down on LeBron James . Not because he is a bad basketball player, but mostly because we didn't like being force fed hearty helpings of King James everywhere we looked. We, or maybe just me, felt that the hype was vastly over done for a guy so young and relatively unaccomplished. This season, I'm starting to have a change of heart. I have seen quite a few Cavs games and James has definitely taken his game to another level. It's not only affecting his game, but the rest of his team looks phenomenal. He makes JJ Hickson look like the second coming of Scottie Pippen (which he isn't...Hickson will be out of the league a year after he stops playing with LeBron) and he makes Shaq (at least for 5 possessions a game) look like Lew Alcindor out there. Nobody else could do that I am convinced. Kobe would chew those guys out to the point that they wouldn't even show up to practice. Wade (as much as it pains me to say this) would get his 20 and then take the rest of the game off. ... And that is why I now buy into LeBron. And the Cavaliers.
March 2, 2010
Charlie posts his theories on why LBJ changed his uni #. Truly soothsaying, this one. People in NYC wish he were just a little more accurate.
Theory 3: He is going to play for the Miami Heat next year and the number 23 is retired there (Michael Jordan). Likelihood: 15% (he could have whatever number he wanted upon changing teams)
Theory 7: Number 6 is LeBron's Team USA number and he wants to recreate Team USA in New York with Wade and Bosh. This is the first step. Likelihood: 45% (Bosh and Wade could just change their numbers upon switching teams)
May 10, 2010
Charlie types a post about how players' value/legacies/perception hinge on how their playoff performances shake out. He put LeBron in a category of players who have "done very little to help themselves" in the 2010 playoffs. I'm not sure if Charlie is saying that LeBron's best has to be better or that the sinking ship could use a more valiant effort by its doomed captain. This was just 2 months ago.
(LeBron) is doing exactly what everybody knows he is capable of, except he has to do it every moment of every game. How does this not (improve) our view of him and shouldn't it be more about his teammates? Yes, they are to blame for their disappearing act but consider this: if a home-schooled child never learns to read, is it his fault or his parents'? LeBron is the parent in this case and his teammates are the illiterate children. Any sign of trouble and LeBron immediately takes over. He can't sit back idly while his teammates struggle through words like "rebound", "defense" or "make an open shot." Of course, we enjoy watching him dominate and I can only imagine Mo Williams does too. He has just become too accustomed to it happening. Same for Side-Show Bob, Grand Theft West, Sheldon Williams's brother-in-law and ABC's in-studio analyst for the 2010-2011 season Mike Brown.
And finally, in the midst of the playoffs and after a post that quickly mocked LeBron's elbow, Charlie T tired of hyperbolic and sycophantic journalists and announcers. We all did. Sarcastically and fed up, he posted this:
LeBron James is the greatest athlete in the history of the game. Wherever LeBron goes will turn that franchise around. You have to say something nice about Early Exit LeBron but both those comments are way off base. Great Athlete? Yes. Franchise Player? Yes. Beyond that? Let's leave it open for debate.
Well, the debate has started. We all know how Dan Gilbert feels. And in Comic Sans no less.