Thursday, January 29, 2009

Catching Up With the Cagers

I was a huge college basketball fan as a kid. Perhaps my earliest sports memory is Steve Carfino, Bobby Hansen and the Lute Olsen-led Hawkeyes going to the 1980 Final Four. I remember watching the 1983 Phi Slamma Jamma Houston team on the crappy black-and-white TV in my grandparents' basement, the set with a pull-on knob that took about 30 seconds to warm up and show a picture. They seemed so invincible, until Lorenzo Charles grabbed that air ball and dunked it home for the national championship.

I remember being in the motorhome when Villanova upset Georgetown in 1985. I remember "Never Nervous" Pervis Ellison and Louisville, and so many other great games.

Over the years my interest in hoops waned. I don't know if it was the general trend of the game: too much NBA-style "look at me" cockiness, not enough passing and teamwork. Maybe it was Bowlsby's trade of Dr. Tom, the all-time winningest coach at Iowa, for Steve-O. Dr. Tom won more NCAA tournament games in his first year at Iowa (three) than Steve-O in his eight-year tenure (one).

Oh how I miss these days.

But slowly I've been coming back to watching and following the Hawks, and now the Irish. Enough intro, let's check in on this year's squads.

Notre Dame. Excitement over last year's great Irish team was tempered by the early flameout in the Big East tournament and the collapse against Washington State, scoring an Iowa-esque 41 points over 40 minutes. Almost everyone returned, Luke Harangody remains a beast, and the Irish climbed to the Top Ten earlier this month.

Alas, the brutal Big East schedule has taken its toll. I wasn't too concerned about early losses to North Carolina or Ohio State, but four straight conference defeats could mess with their confidence. Yes they were all to ranked teams, but ND was ranked for those games as well. You gotta beat someone you're supposed to beat to be taken seriously nationally, especially in a league as tough as the Big East.

Harangody has been the Brady Quinn of hoops: doing everything you can ask for a guy at his position, national player-of-the-year candidate, and conducting himself with passion and grace. But where the hell are the other guys? Normally opposing coaches try to shut down the star and force the lesser players to beat you. This year, no one is stopping 'Gody, but the other four dudes are invisible. McAlarney can't get off a three to save his life. (I credit opposing coaches for smart strategy, but c'mon, Kyle.) Where's our point guard? Tory Jackson showed flashes of being the guy to control pace and maintain calm, but during the Cuse game he looked as lost as everyone else. Ayers doesn't have to score 25 a night, but he can't just lurk in the shadows. Top Ten teams have role players that step up. With Pittsburgh (No. 1 a few weeks ago) on Saturday, it's time to step up.

Iowa. Year Two of the Lickliter debacle is in full swing. Okay, maybe debacle is too strong, implying that it was partially his fault. But this team is nigh unwatchable. The offense is plodding, barely scoring a point per minute of action. In fact, a fun game-within-a-game is watching Iowa's dance with the point-per-minute Mendoza line. "...with 13 minutes left in the second half, Iowa has 26 points through 27 minutes of play!"

But the real problem is the guys on the team. Yes they have no talent, but I'm talking about a bigger problem: the names. Peterson, Davis, Fuller, Kelly, Cole, Tucker ... it's as if Lickliter went through a phone book looking for guys to recruit*. At least we have one guy named after a geometry concept and the President of the United States.

Whoops. Wrong David Palmer.

In their defense, we do have one awesomely named guy: Davan Bawinkel**.

Hell, this is how I explained the recent Minnesota loss to a friend:

Take a not-very-good team to begin with. (ie: short, white, young, low scoring. there's some potential, but no reason to expect greatness). Then you subtract the two best players (the high scoring guard and the only tall man). Then you go on the road to a ranked team on a Sunday morning. The only possible, rational outcome is a blowout. I wasn't home to watch it, and wasn't surprised when i flipped on the TV w/ 4 minutes left, down by 25-30 pts. Hell, even NWU beat Minny. subtract them from the potential win column. perhaps we were lucky to beat Indy before they start jelling.

The upset win over Wisconsin hasn't changed anything. Iowa has probably the 10th best team (behind Indiana) and the 10th best program (behind Northwestern) in the conference. That's a lot of looking up.

* I know he didn't recruit all of them.
** Did you know without clicking the link that he is white?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Christmas LOLCats

Lord, I'm discouraged. In these dismal times (economy and weather-wise), I could use some cheering up. And you know what cheers people up? LOLcats.

If you are unfamiliar with this Internet phenomenon, get caught up at or I Can Has Cheezburger.

And hey, everyone loves Christmas, right? So to extend the holiday, here are Christmas LOLcats, starring Quigley.

testing the alt function

* * *

If you want to write your own captions, you can do so at ICHC's LOLbuilder. (This link should take you to the Q pictures.)

Friday, January 09, 2009


BEST DAY: Feb. 23. It may sound hokey, but Tina and I were at a waterpark in Wisconsin Dells. We played on the water rides, enjoyed an outdoor hot tub, had a couple nice meals, and warmed ourselves by the fireplace in our hotel room.

WORST DAY: June 12, helplessly watching KCRG’s coverage of the CR floods, via the Internet. Runner-up: Dec. 3, when I lost my job.

BEST SHOW: Wilco at the Riviera, part of a five-night stand where they played everything from their catalog (Feb. 18).
Totally awesome.

BEST RECORD: "Asking for Flowers" by Kathleen Edwards knocked me out. I kept coming back to it, and like a well-made movie, you find new things every time you revisit it: new colors, new flavors, tones and meaning. It ranges from her pissed-off defiance to humor to the achingly sad (see next item). (And the listeners of WFUV agreed.) Honorable mention: Alejandro Escovedo “Real Animal”; The Hold Steady “Stay Positive.”

BEST SONG: Maybe it was the way everything fell apart this year, or all the goodbye emails I read from laid-off Tribune employees, but the song that defined the year was the regretful, bittersweet “Viva la Vida” by Coldplay. However, the Best Song of 2008 is “Alicia Ross” by Kathleen Edwards.
When you hear the song, you want to know more. Once you know the story, you can never forget it.

BEST ARTIST: Best Album, Best Song, you guessed it … Kathleen Edwards.

BEST COVER: Blue Oyster Cult's "Burnin' for You" by the Hold Steady with Patterson Hood of Drive By Truckers on lead vocal, Nov. 14, the Riviera. (You can get a taste of it here. )

WORST COVER: Patterson Hood again, with bassist Shonna Tucker, absolutely ruined the Hold Steady’s rarely played “Chill Out Tent.”

BEST COVER OF GENIUS BY GENIUS: Neil Young’s encore performance of Lennon/McCartney’s “A Day in the Life” (Dec. 7).

BEST BLOG: Tell Zell chronicled the idiocy and mismanagement of the Sam Zell takeover, including his outright disrespect of quality journalism, until its sudden end in October. (I contributed this item here.)

BEST SPORTS BLOG: The guys at Black Heart Gold Pants did an excellent job of chronicling the year in Hawkeye sports, from the struggling hoops to off-field scandal to the resurgent football team, all with a mix of juvenile humor, JoePa spoofs and biting analysis.

BEST SINGLE PODCAST: NPR produced "The Giant Pool of Money," an hourlong explanation of the subprime mortgage crisis, told in plain English with very little jargon.

WEIRDEST CATHEDRAL: Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles.

BEST NEWS STORY ABOUT A CAT: It’s hard to top a wild cougar on the loose in Roscoe Village, a neighborhood about a mile away from us, in the middle of Chicago (April 15).

BEST MOVIE: I didn’t see any movies made in 2008.

BEST TV SHOW: I don’t think I watched any TV program (excludes news and sports) more than once. Maybe “Grey’s Anatomy” back in spring.

BEST ROAD TRIP: To Wisconsin, for Kelly and Josh’s wedding and the Leinenkugel’s brewery tour (July 11-13).

BEST AD: No single ad, but I liked the continuing campaigns of the Miller High Life truck driver and “I’m a Mac/I’m a PC.”

WORST AD: Perennial nominee Illinois Lottery wins again, for the “REE-play for RRR-attch-ESS!” (summer) and “C’mon Let It Snow” (winter) campaigns.

BEST PICTURE: How about me, throwing out the first pitch at a minor-league baseball game. Check out the form:

BEST CANDIDATE ON A MAJOR PARTY TICKET: Barack Obama (Senator of Illinois).


BEST FOOTBALL GAME: (tie) Notre Dame took an early lead on Michigan then cruised to a 35-17 win in the rain (Sept. 13). Shonn Greene put on a show as Iowa throttled Wisconsin 38-16 (Oct. 18).

BEST/WORST BASEBALL GAMES: Cubs playoffs games, both losses. (Oct. 1-2)

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ALMA MATER'S SPORTS TEAM: Easily, the winner is the Drake men’s basketball team, who came out of nowhere to win the Missouri Valley conference regular season and title, earning a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament. (Jan-March)

There it is. Let's hope and pray 2009 is a good year for you and your family. Your thoughts and comments welcome below.


Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Best Of 2008 Nominees: The Shows

Dennis Miller hit his creative peak, in my opinion, with his HBO show "Dennis Miller Live." Several things made this venue better than his previous stint on the Weekend Update desk at "Saturday Night Live" or his future stints as football snarker-in-chief or talk radio agitator.

For starters, Miller had a commercial-free hour to himself, rather than 8-10 minutes punctuated by A. Whitney Brown giving the Big Picture, Dana Carvey commenting on today's society as Grumpy Old Man, or Adam Sandler singing/giggling something on an acoustic guitar. (67% of those interruptions, by the way, were totally enjoyable.) With the extra time, he could go into an extended monologue (the "rant"), chat with a single guest on a single topic, and then shoot off the one-liner captions to photos that were a hallmark of his Weekend Update gig.

This essay is not about Dennis Miller or "Dennis Miller Live."

Since the show was in fact live, it retained the energy that SNL had, and it allowed him to react with a live audience. Also, he had basically come straight off network TV, so being on HBO allowed him to say "fuck" as often as he wanted, and other dirty words.

One of the most memorable episodes was in March 1998, when he previewed the upcoming Academy Awards with brief descriptions of Best Picture nominees "The Full Monty," "LA Confidential" and "Good Will Hunting." He said a sentence or two about each one and why it might win. And then he starting talking about the sprawling "Titanic," the epic that dwarfed all others. It led into his rant* and summarized why no other movie had (let's phrase it this way in honor of his curse-laden show) no fucking chance of winning in the face of such a montrous, obvious frontrunner.
Anybody remember this movie? Came out about 10 years ago?

One of these 2008 shows is Titanic. The others, no matter how good they were ... are the others. Links included for shows that got reviewed, previewed or otherwise mentioned on the blog during the year.

  • Feb. 14: Sarah Borges @ Fitzgerald's
  • Feb. 18: Wilco @ the Riv (part of their five-night stand)
  • Mar. 28: Gary Louris @ Metro
  • Apr. 5: Kathleen Edwards @ Metro
  • May 21: Avenue Q @ Cadillac Palace Theatre (musical, not a show, but still music)
  • June 5: Old 97's @ Metro
  • June 18: Robert Plant/Alison Krauss @ Ravinia
  • July 2: Sarah Borges @ Fitzgerald's
  • July 4: Alejandro Escovedo and Old 97's @ Grant Park (XRT Free Fourth of July Concert)
  • July 5: Bonnie Raitt @ Taste of Chicago
  • July 19: The Hold Steady (and others) at Pitchfork Music Festival
  • Aug. 5: She and Him @ Park West
  • Aug. 22: Soul Asylum @ Lincoln Park Zoo
  • Sept. 1: Aimee Mann and Squeeze @ Ravinia
  • Oct. 11: Tift Merritt @ Americana Music Festival (outside Soldier Field)
  • Oct. 25: Gary Louris @ Old Town School of Folk Music
  • Nov. 14: The Hold Steady @ the Riv
  • Dec. 9: Neil Young @ Allstate Arena (the Rosemont Horizon)
  • Dec. 14: Shawn Colvin @ Park West
* Not technically the exact order according to a version I found online, but it's how I remember it.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Best of 2008 Nominees: Best Record

People are starting to ask about the Best Of 2008 list (at least five so far: Leigh, Joe, Kelly, TM, Igoe). So I'm going to get that rolling here. But I'm going to introduce a couple categories to whet your appetite today.

Much like how there is a Grammy category for Best Classical Instrumental Soloist Performance (Without Orchestra), the Best Of list has a bunch of categories only purists care about. But most people pay attention to the biggies: Day, Album, Show, etc. So here's a rundown of nominees for Best Album (listed in an order only TM will probably get):

  • Baseball Project, Volume 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails
  • Dolly Varden, 13
  • Alejandro Escovedo, Real Animal
  • Gary Louris, Vagabonds
  • Scott Miller, Appalachian Refugee
  • Scott Miller, For Crying Out Loud
  • Old 97's, Blame It On Gravity
  • Kasey Chambers/Shane Nicholson, Rattlin' Bones
  • Sheryl Crow, Detours
  • Kathleen Edwards, Asking for Flowers
  • Jenny Lewis, Acid Tongue
  • Tift Merritt, Another Country
  • She and Him, Volume One
  • Bob Dylan, Tell Tale Signs: Bootleg Series, Vol. 8
  • Paul Westerberg, 49:00
  • Counting Crows, Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings
  • The Hold Steady, Stay Positive
  • R.E.M, Accelerate
  • Vetiver, To Find Me Gone
  • Various, FUV Live Volume 11
  • Various, XRT Live from the Archives: Volume 11
A quick explanation/review of the nominees:

Baseball Project is a side effort of Scott McCaughey (Minus Five) and friends like Peter Buck (R.E.M.). A must have for diehard baseball fans, they wrote a dozen or so songs about the nation's pastime. A sample of names covered: Ted Williams, Oscar Gamble's huge afro, all the guys who have thrown a perfect game, Willie Mays, Fernando Valenzuela, Curt Flood.

Dolly Varden is a great local band who have been together for 13 years. To celebrate, they released a double-disc set of greatest hits and rarities. Included is a great, lovely version of Alex Chilton's "13."

Escovedo's latest was a bit of a disappointment, only because he turned away from his distinctive Americana sound he's perfected over the years to revisit his punk-rock roots. While this record grew on me for its own merits, I missed the strings and the Texas plaintiveness. Instead, this is more of an homage to the late 70's punk scene. (Of course he's so versatile it's hard to fault him.)

Louris released his first post-Jayhawks record, and it was pretty good. It doesn't overreach its grasp, just adds to the Louris canon with songs like "Omaha Nights" and the title track.

Appalachian is a set of demos Miller put out that was available only in limited release through his website. (TM jumped on it, of course.) The demos show him getting back to a more homey, authentic sound, as opposed to the Citation record that we felt was a little too polished for him. Appalachian also has the funniest legal disclaimer about not sharing/selling/trading the music, spoken by the artist himself. Many of the demos (with the notable exception of "People Who Rule") ended up on the official record....

...The end result of Miller's demos was this full length record, released in limited edition right before the end of the year. This sounds more like his first two records, which is a good thing.

The 97's came back from hiatus and got back to their roots, too. Gravity was more fun, more loose, more natural than Drag It Up and celebrated the band's longevity with songs like "The One."

I got the Chambers/Nicholson free from the good people at Sugar Hill Records. I've seen Chambers live in concert, and this record is a nice set of duets, a folky bluegrass sound.

TM got the Sheryl Crow record, and accurately described it as scattered and schizophrenic. The first song is a Dylanesque protest song, and it bounces around genres and feels from there.

Edwards' third release builds on Failer Back to Me (got my Edwards out of order --ed.) with more mature songwriting. Features the song that identifies her as a Canadian.

Jenny Lewis was another TM pickup. I liked what little I listened to, but I think I prefer Rabbit Fur Coat.

I stumbled across Tift Merritt somehow, and decided to try Another Country. Good pick by me: this record has warm vocals, catchy melodies and shows more range than her prior record, Tambourine. (Trivial fact: the titular country is France.)

Tift, as seen through the Barbara Walters "soft focus" lens.

The grammatically incorrect She and Him could be passed off as a vanity project from a movie star (Zooey Deschanel of Almost Famous) except for five things: she wrote most of the songs, the songs are good, the covers are impeccable (Smokey Robinson, the Beatles, "Swing Low Sweet Chariot"), the presence of indie god M. Ward keeps it musically interesting and finally, there are no pictures of her anywhere on the packaging.

Dylan: I must admit I've only started listening to this. So far, it's fascinating. Completely different versions of songs released on his last few albums.

Easily the weirdest record of the year was 49:00, which Westerberg released via Amazon download only, for 49 cents. It's a single track, almost 44 minutes long, that contains smatterings of songs that start and stop, random covers, noise, and other loose ends. Then one day the download was no longer available, anywhere.

I haven't listened much to the new Crows, but I like the concept: the first half is songs about all the crazy sinful things you do on Saturday nights, and the second half is about the regret and redemption of the following morning.

Steady. I could spill a thousand words on the Steady. (Of course, I already have.) I absolutely loved Boys and Girls in America and was so excited for the new record. I struggled with the fact that no record would ever be as good as that one. But beyond that, I'm still trying to like Stay Positive. It's growing on me, but it's not there yet.

I think I put my figure on why I didn't like the Steady record: not enough Franz. His keys and accordion are practically invisible.

Josh promised us the new R.E.M. record was good, and it was pretty darn good: a return to the aggressive rock sound they had on Monster and then lost on later records. However, I haven't listened to this record in months, so what does that say for its staying power?

Vetiver opened for Louris at the Metro. This record is slow and moody. Like many bands, it's better live than on record.

The FUV compilation is still in the shrinkwrap. But the lineup looks great: Spektor, Aimee Mann, the Steady, Louris, Bell X1.

Ditto for the XRT comp: Counting Crows, Liz Phair, the Dead, Bob Mould, Mellencamp.

Finally, special mention to Eddie Vedder for his contribution to music in 2008. Vedder met Ernie Banks (I think at Cubs Convention) and Ernie asked him to write a song about the Cubs. As Vedder said at one of his Chicago Theater shows: "If Ernie Banks asks you to write a song, you better write a fucking good song." And so he did: the earnest, hopeful "All the Way." It became an anthem of the late season and (short) playoff run. Maybe we didn't in '08, but someday we'll go all the way.