Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving 2009

It is now Thanksgiving 2009 and it has awhile since I have written. Beside doing hard and long work on education reform at the office and at home after hours, and wathcing an exciting World Series between the two clearly best teams, I attended, in early November, a few great musical events within an extended week. The events were led by the great Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at the Verizon Center (energetic and interactive hard driving songs working well with a lively audience) performing the Born To Run album and other bread and butter anthems of working class America; the 15 or so-members of the Arlington Symphony, performing wondrous waltzes and other danceable "pop" hits from the late 19th and early 20th Century composed by various Strausses and friends; and lastly, the topping dose of Bob Dylan performing his sly reworkings of his American songbook.

We also danced to the neotraditionalist zydeco stylings of Feufollet from Lafayette LA at Glen Echo on a beautiful November fall Sunday. Now, on to the Thanksgiving celebrations with family and friends, and a visit to family in NJ. There is plenty to be thankful for.
Happy Thankgiving 2009.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Roads Not Taken

On a recent trip to California, we visited the great city life in San Fran, the winding and wonderful and sometimes foggy coastal highway, and the coastal town of Santa Monica that proclaims its non-east life style. We had the pleasure of reuniting with several people from whom we drifted apart over forty years, and made a pilgrimage to Dodgers' Stadium, the non-Brooklyn home of the ballteam of my childhood--only the announcer and part of the uniform had stayed the same.

The star of the trip was a very hospitable cousin who made the last part of the trip warm and work well. All parts of the trip were peaceful, pleasant, and enjoyable. We fit nicely into all of it and all of the past friends fit us nicely into their lives for a short time. We came back to the east richer for the times we had with the places, teams, and persons who drifted away from us--we came back with a greater appreciation of what attracts people to the West Coast.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Lessons from Last

People tend to make their judgment about a topic or person and stick with it. Gladwell would call it Blink think. I think it can be right sometimes, but it can get us into trouble, when we are not open to changing our minds.

I was reminded of this when I went to see the Nats play the Diamondbacks last night at Nats Field, and allowed for change. Earlier in the season, I had silently been boycotting Nats games, because of their poor play in the basics of the game. It was the longest I had gone into the season without seeing a major league baseball game.

I liked Manny Acta, the Nats manager, for his easygoing nature. I thought he might be good for the mix of young and older players, even though I did not think he made good strategic moves in the game situations. But under Acta, the less than mediocre Nats made many silly errors, and often missed or forgot hitting the cut off man. They would get down five or more runs and just seem to give up and lose ground, rather than fight back.

I could not bring myself to attend the loud mouth spectacle that has become live MLB baseball with all of the noisy and artificial cheer leading that goes on at today's high-def stadium. That is, I would not face it live until the level of the game got up to MLB standards.

Although I did not think that Acta was the real cause of the problems and should not take the fall for the poor team play, I was not really unhappy when the managerial change was made. Acta seemed to be an unnecessary sacrifice, but maybe some good would come out of it.

After interim manager Riggleman lost his four games and won one, I decided to be open to a change in the Nats fortunes and their state of play, and go to a game. But it was just like the earlier part of season. It was the opening game of a series with the Mets. The Mets were riddled with injuries, and their lineup was a patchwork of minor leaguers and well-travelled, itinerant veterans. The quality of the game was a disaster for even a pair of Triple AAA league teams. The fact that we sprung for seats right behind the Nats dugout, just made the experience that much closer and worse. Baseball is a business I am constantly reminded, but if this were a product I would get my money back.

Two weeks passed, and the Nats had won six in a row and in a few games, had even fought back from being down five or more runs to win. Maybe they had changed and it was safe to attend a game again. They were facing Haren (with a dominant 2.40 ERA or so) with Mock (with a 6.61 ERA). Could they beat those odds?

They could and did by a convincing 5-2. They got out to a one-run lead, and then let Arizona get ahead on a Reynolds two-run homer. But this was not the Nats of just a couple of weeks ago. They came right back with 3 runs and never looked back. Their quality of play was also outstanding in the field. Zimmerman made three Web Gem-level plays, and they all executed the basics perfectly--covering the right bases, hitting the cut off men, and doing all that a team should do and more.

So, what had changed? It was almost the same lineup with a little less, losing Nick Johnson to a late-season trade. So was it the no-nonsense interim manager? And were the players, embarrassed for how they contributed to the demise of nice-guy Manny?

Whatever it was, baseball seemed to be teaching me a few lessons of life--people deserve more chances; you can motivate and teach old players old tricks; do not stick to first impressions. It may also be teaching me that Leo Durocher may have had it right--Nice guys, unless they can be tough at times, will finish last.

Monday, July 20, 2009

DC Summer Cool and Passing

It is a beautiful DC summer; it is very cool, not the usual hot or muggy. It is very civilized on the one hand, but another DC institution of our less partisan politics past is closing. Trover Book Shop, a 50+ year institution on Capital Hill is nearing its end. We tune into the DC Examiner, already in progress:

David Aime, a retiree from Springfield, was doing research at the Library of Congress, when he stepped into Trover, purchased a chocolate bar and browsed the shelves. For him, the closing of the family-owned business marked "a blow to civilization."

"It just breaks my heart to see a small bookstore go down the tubes," he said.

According to Andy Shuman, [one of the owner of the family business] business at the store took a turn for the worse two years ago when a fire at a neighboring bar, the Capitol Lounge, caused a half-million dollars in damage to the Trover card shop, which was just three doors from the bookstore. The losses were so extensive they closed the card shop and combined its merchandise with the bookstore. Now, with the economy in a slump and online booksellers chipping away at the customer base, Shuman says the store's time is up.

"We don't want to see it go, but unfortunately with the way the industry's going and other stores closing, we'd rather be on our own terms than someone else's terms," he said. The brothers wanted to avoid bankruptcy and pay off their bills "so we can walk away with our heads held high instead of with our heads between our legs."

The full story is at:

On their web site the shop still advertises, that, under one roof, they can help with the latest directory to Congress, the hot, new bookby Senator What's His Name, that sizzling article in your favorite (or not so favorite magazine,newspapers from across the country, and guides to lobbying, fundraising or the upcoming elections.

I used to go there for interesting magazines, books and out-of-town newspapers. The knowledgeable committed people at Trover seemed like another branch of government, in the shadow of the Capital, designed to ensure public knowledge and input. We lose a family business and an independent bookstore--two threatened institutions. Is DC life better off with so much easily available online? There are pluses and minuses and no one appears to be the villain. But are we losing some of our heart and soul?

In their own words, they sum it up and say goodbye:

Dear Trover Shop Friends,

It is with great sadness that we inform you of our plans to close our Capitol Hill location, but given the current economic climate and the changes in our industry we are faced with no other viable option.

We would like to thank our parents, Joe and Anne Shuman, who worked tirelessly for decades to grow this business. They not only enjoyed watching us grow within these walls, but had the great fortune to watch many of you come through these doors as children, as young adults and finally as parents.

We, ourselves, have now worked full time for a quarter of a century. In that time we have watched your families grow as our parents did, and we hope that we have served you well.

To those of you who have been with us over the years, please know that we have truly appreciated all of your support and friendship. Capitol Hill is one of the most remarkable places in the world to both live and work, and we have been fortunate to be a part of it for over 50 years. We hope that the Trover Shop has been a source of support, fun times, fond memories and a wealth of knowledge to this community and we will miss serving you. Thank you.


Al, Steve & Andy Shuman

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Roger Wilco Over and In

The night was beautiful, the lawn was filled and the air above was a crisp summer sky blue. It was a huge sold out crowd (cars spilling out the parking lot into surrounding areas) for Wilco and Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band at Wolf Trap last Wednesday. It had to be one of the best and noisiest rock shows at Wolf Trap.

Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band opened as the sunlight silently fled over the green hillside, offering up a mix of part mock serious and part light. The pleasant-enough paste of many-themed, rootsy country-rock had one notable couple blocking the view while they danced away.

Wilco took to the stage and suddenly the wooden spaces filled in with a wave of cheering humanity that rose and never sat again, as the group opened with the title track ("Wilco," the Song) from their latest studio effort, Wilco (the Album). Cheers followed with favorite "Shot in the Arm" where many sang along repeatedly with the lines "Something in my veins, bloodier than blood!"

The show become one part intimate and upbeat Jeff Tweedy, and one part skilled and showoffy riffs of string-jointed, lead guitarist Nels Cline on "At Least That's What You Said" and new album jam "Bull Black Nova," which reverberated through the surrounding woods of darkness. Favorite 'You Are My Face' followed and led easily into "I'm Trying to Break Your Heart" and "One Wing."

Tweedy then took the crowd aside and promised “the most requested song in the history of our Web site”--36 votes, and delivered a quiet "How to Fight Loneliness." This led to the melodic "Impossible Germany" that suddenly filled easily with heroic Cline riffs before the newer "Deeper Down," and fan favorites "Jesus Etc,"' "Sonny Feeling," "Handshake Drugs," "Hate it Here" and "Walken." Wilco closed out the set with "I'm the Man Who Loves You" and "Hummingbird," and left briefly to a cheering throng of several thousand happy fans.

After a very quick break, the band began to throw out as much musical bouquets as possible to the enthusiastic crowd before the curfew came. The band played the new "You Never Know" "Heavy Metal Drummer" and "Misunderstood." A strum and drum "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" followed by "I'm a Wheel" ended the night on the right note.

Tweedy proudly announced “[t]he last time we played here was nine years ago...we were opening for Natalie Merchant.” Time has flown by and Wilco has grown up into a very skilled band with many dedicated fans who enjoy the large catalogue of interesting Wilco songs. Wilco and the fans were a pleasant force on a fantastic summer night.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Dark Moon Over a Perky Storm

The perky star of 50's TV, Gale Storm, died at age 87. She was one of the early stars who went from radio to movies, to radio again, to television, and ultimately to rock 'n roll.

The roles she played in TV--Margie Albright, daughter of a wealthy playboy investment banker in the television situation comedy "My Little Margie" and Susanna Pomeroy, social director of the S.S. Ocean Queen in "The Gale Storm Show: Oh! Susanna"--displayed her as a woman very much in control of the male characters in her life, and in control of her life well before women's liberation. Margie was her own person and did her own thing long before TV or society blessed this role for a woman.

In each episode, no matter what her father, Vern, (who tried to reign her in, in the same way he tried to run his business) and hapless boy friend Freddie wanted or expected her to do, Margie plotted her own course and that of her male counterparts. She had some similarities to the quirky lead characters in "I Married Joan" and "I Love Lucy," but Margie and Susanna were more in control. Her characters were fine role models for children growing up in the 50's. Ironically, "Margie" started as a summer replacement for the wildly popular "I Love Lucy," and in 1953 a poll listed Storm as television's most popular star following comedienne Lucille Ball. Margie usually had the last laugh, and we laughed with her.

Gale Storm was one of the earliest television stars to crossover to rock with her cover record of Smiley Lewis' "I Hear You Knocking," which hit No. 2 on the Billboard charts, followed in 1957 by "Dark Moon" that went to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. I have many pleasant memories of Margie and Susanna, and Gale Storm's hit records.

As the media pores over the talent and excesses of the immensely gifted Michael Jackson, another trailblazer passes on with little notice.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Dusty in the Wind

Dusty Rhodes, the incorrigible, free spirit, and pinch hitter extroadinaire, and often game-winner of the 1954 New York Giants died last week of a variety of illnesses at 82.

The Alabama-born Rhodes with the great baseball-name, came to the Giants in 1952 and lived up to his reputation of being a hard-hitting, hard-drinking and defensively-challenged left fielder. Rhodes, who played in only seven seasons with the Giants, retired in 1959 with a career .253 average and 54 homers in 576 games.

But in 1954, he had a gift for the dramatic and won many a game with a timely, clutch hit, including in the '54 Series when he went 4-for-6 with two homers and seven RBI in the Giants' four-game sweep of the heavily favored, 111-win Cleveland Indians. Rhodes, had a left-handed stroke that was tailor-made for the short right field porch of 257 or feet at the old Polo Grounds. He won the first game with a pinch-hit, 10th-inning three-run homer off Bob Lemon just inside the right field foul pole, about 296 feet away, and the next day, delivered a pinch single in the fifth and a home run in the seventh against Early Wynn, as keys to a 3-1 Giants win. In Game 3, he came back to hit a two-run pinch single off the Indians' Mike Garcia to spark a 6-2 Giants win. For all three pinch-hitting opportunities in the Series, Giants manager Leo Durocher had Rhodes bat for the legendary Monte Irvin.

I saw Dusty on Tuesday, June 29, 1954, when he stroked a timely pinch hit in the 13th inning to win an incredibly exciting 4 to 3 game for the rival Giants against my favorite, the Brooklyn Dodgers at the Polo Grounds. Don Hoak had homered in the top of the 13th for Beloved Bums, and I celebrated briefly before Rhodes came through in the clutch once again. Although, I was a strong Dodger rooter, I could not help but like Rhodes who seemed to love the game and the key moments he was brought in to tempt fate.

"It's a sad day for me," Monte Irvin said recently. "Dusty and I were such good friends. Even though he was born in Alabama, he was like a brother to all the black players. Dusty was color-blind. He sure did like the good life, though, which would drive Leo crazy. I remember one time we were in Japan playing an exhibition series and Leo and I were standing in the hotel lobby late one night when Dusty came through the door. Leo said: 'Are you coming or are you going?'"

In his autobiography, "Nice Guys Finish Last," Durocher described Rhodes as "the worst fielder who ever played in a big league game who made training rules forgotten" but added: "Dusty was the kind of buffoon who kept a club confident and happy. And boy could he hit! Between him and Willie Mays, there was nothing but laughter in our clubhouse." Willie Mays recently called Rhodes "a fabulous hitter and a great friend." "He stayed at my house and I've never had a greater friend."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Music, Music, Music

It was a weekend of the local Tinner Hill Blues Festival in a local park, two-incredibly talented rockers at Verizon Center, a classical music farewell party for the beloved high school orchestra leader of the last 14 years (and a 42 year inspiring career in the area), and the Ultimate Doo-Wops at Wolf Trap. For variety and quality of music, it was hard to top.

At the blues festival, over a couple of hours, I saw a group of well-heeled blues rockers--Curtis Blues, Deanna Bogart, Daryl Davis First Ladies of the Blues, Angela Hill, Stacy Brooks, Ruby Hayes, Nadine Rae and the All Stars, and Sheryl Warner and the Southside Homewreckers with Gregg Kimball, Warner Williams. A couple of hours later, at Verizon, I saw two of the best of many years, Clapton and Winwood, effortlessly weaving their magic and enjoying their catalog of wonderful music.

The next afternoon, I saw and heard a wonderfully talented assortment of students from over a great 42-year career of Ms. Gretta Sandberg, sharing their playing, conducting, and composing. It was a great living legacy for an outstanding educator, who had a great and easy (and a natural humor-laden) way of working with students.

And lastly, I saw some veterans and newer replacements from the following veteran groups: The Drifters; Jimmy Beaumont & The Skyliners; The Contours featuring Sylvester Potts; Willie Rogers & The Soul Stirrers; The Clovers featuring Harold Winley; Randy & the Rainbows featuring Randy Safuto; The Marcels; The Edsels; and The Blue Suede Orchestra. The enjoyment of the performers. and their talents on display fueled an appreciative and lively audience.

The range of music, the talents and the enthusiasm of each of the artists for the music, and how each style of music relates to modern life made it noteworthy and particularly interesting weekend.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Music Exchange

The power of music was apparent at the wonderful joint concert of the McLean High School Orchestra and the Detmold, Germany, Jugendorchester (Youth Orchestra) at the Craighill S. Burks Theater in McLean High School. The concert program, presented by more than 75 musicians of the combined orchestras, featured the music of Brahms, Mendelssohn, Bizet, and Tchaikovsky, and then an encore of music from Grease, the Musical, by Jacobs and Casey. It was a magical and emotional evening bringing two cultures together again in a series in each county that goes back fifteen years. The power of the music and cooperation building pieces of friendship, harmony, and memories for life, was magical and breathtaking.


Bruce put on a great show at DC Verizon Center. As usual, he had an incredible dose of Energy, and he gave it and everything else for the audience. The song choice for requests was great, and his song choice were generally fine, but towards the end, in the darkness of the lyrics, his choices lost some of their energy and some of the incredible vitality of the singer and his audience that are usually unified. There is a fine and more complete review of a first-timer at

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Power of Song -- L Cohen

Leonard Cohen filled the Merriweather Post Pavillion in Columbia MD, and the Washington Post provided a mainly positive review that went off on a sour note of negativity about the mix of sound and the skill of the side musicians that was unjustified. In reality, the concert was truly exceptional, with only the high ticket prices, and the rainy and cold weather detracting from a mostly magical evening.

The sound quality was as clear and crisp as a concert in a fine symphony hall; it was well beyond what I have come to expect at a rock concert. It was easy to hear Cohen's somewhat raspy voice that improved over the course of the night, and to hear the fine musicianship of the sidemen and back up vocalists and the beautiful arrangements of the songs that were close to exquisite and seemed to tightly surround the words. The sidemen added to the richness of songs and their thoughtful lyrics, and all played off the artistry of Leonard Cohen very well.

The serene yet playful 74-year-old Canadian song-poet put on a fine three-hour show (with a 30-minute recess) at the outdoor venue that was filled with intensity and easygoing grace, that complemented the meticulous musicianship. And the behatted man with the white-hair - looked alternately elderly and youthful, took turns being sad and nimble and debonair, depending on whether he's holding his fedora over his heart or wearing it on his head. He crouched through some songs as if Yogi Berra was calling a perfect game.

The crowd laughed and applauded lines like "I haven't been this happy since the end of World War II," in "Waiting for the Miracle," the elegantly stately song in which he sang, "the maestro says it's Mozart, but it sounds like bubble gum."

Cohen hasn't toured in nearly 15 years; he last hit boards when "I was 60, just a kid with a crazy dream." His stature has rightly grown as an iconic wordsmith of the first generation of rock singer-songwriters, a philosopher of love and death, sexual ecstasy, and societal doom, whose cigarette-scarred singing voice has grown more effective even as its range has become more limited.

This time around, Cohen was backed by a superb 10-piece band whose standouts included Spanish bandurria player Javier Mas, keyboardist Neil Larsen, and a chorus consisting of Cohen's cowriter Sharon Robinson and sisters Charley and Hattie Webb.

Early on in the first set, Cohen performed "Everybody Knows," his song of political and personal betrayal from his fruitful late-'80s electronic phase. And everybody seemed happy with the turn of events, especially Cohen, who skipped on and off the stage each time he came and went over the course of two sets and three encores. (He didn't display as much gymnastic prowess, however, as the Webb sisters, who executed dual handstands early on during the dystopian "The Future," signaling that the marathon show to come was going to be as playfully theatrical as it was satisfyingly serious-minded.)

"So much of the world is plunged in chaos and suffering, it's remarkable that we have the opportunity to gather in places like this," Cohen said before "Anthem." For a guy known first and foremost as a lyricist, Cohen pays acute attention to every acoustic detail. Every song got its due, and every Hammond B-3 or sax solo - from Larsen and multi-instrumentalist Dino Soldo, respectively - came through as crystal clear as the vocals.

One of Cohen's specialties has always been writing words that are about music - music as a source of spiritual sustenance without which the soul would wither and die. "But then, you don't really care for music, do you?" he sang in "Hallelujah," issuing the ultimate put-down in a blood-and-guts version that contrasted gravely with Jeff Buckley's ethereal cover.

In Cohen's apocalyptic encore of "First We Take Manhattan," he indicated his narrator's deprived state by asking: "Remember me, I used to live for music?" And in "Chelsea Hotel No. 2," he got a big laugh for rhyming "you told me again you preferred handsome men, but for me you would make an exception." But then he cut to the song's core by singing about the gift he was giving to his reverential audience at that very moment: "We are ugly," he sang, in an unpretty voice. "But we have the music."

Friday, May 1, 2009

Newspaper sectionism

As newspapers shrink their staffs, all of the sections of the papers are becoming more and more interchangeable. The Washington Post recently discontinued its separate business and Sunday book review sections, and merged them into News and Outlook respectively. This is coming at a time when I often find myself reading a story and going back to first page of the section of the paper to check on what section I am reading. In USA Today terms, Life becomes Sport, or Money or News, and vice versa.

While the particular section of the paper does not really matter much, it is a commentary on today's life that items and sectors of our life are often interchangeable. Sports items are often found in the entertainment, business or news sections--sports are more and more a business or entertainment in its most commercial form. Entertainment is more and more a business if not a sport, and entertainment figures are often in the news. Recent business news often seems like the news of a sport with the chaotic rise and fall and hopefully rise again of the stock market. Life is complex but simpler in some ways.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Change you can believe in...

The economic challenges we are facing are having a sad but sometimes interesting effect on our society and daily lives. While the daily newspapers we wake up to through the major label-run music industry that entertained us at night are being threatened with extinction (and some papers and labels have already passed away), many other institutions and industries that affect our daily lives are facing similar problems and restructuring (some of it overdue).

A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education analogized the problems of the newspaper industry with the issues faced by institutions of higher education (it is on the web at the following address: The pay scale of corporate officers in every industry, the work of bankers and the financial industry, and the need for staff in every field are also being rethought and revolutionized. Perhaps most prominently, the auto industry and the views on the need to save the environment are also being rethought. The world is being reshaped at a pace that we could not have anticipated just a year or so ago.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The National Pastime--Just For the Fun Of It

The World Baseball Classic is baseball at its most enjoyable if not at its best. It is baseball played by those who enjoy playing it and playing it for their country, rather than being played for the money--which is what Major League Baseball (MLB) is. The sense of fun and loyalty evident in the Classic is in stark contrast to the brand of ball that is played in the MLB, in which there is no team loyalty, the players are available for the highest bidder, and they do not seem to be having as much fun.

William Rhoden covered it well in the Times on Saturday, in discussing the team's shortage of first basemen, because of the demands of the MLB team owners. He quoted Derek Jeter, who also played in the 2006 Classic, who talked Friday about the honor of playing in the tournament. "Asked why he decided to play again — was it to avoid spring training? — Jeter mentioned national pride and honor.

'That’s the reason I’m here this time, not to get out of spring training for two or three weeks,' he said. 'It’s to come out here and represent our country and win a championship here. Guys obviously have their reasons for not being able to participate, but I think more players wanted to play than not.'

A consistent undertone of the Classic has been who chooses to play and who declines. The decisions underline the tension between a player’s love of the game and his profound understanding of who butters his bread.

None of the players who stayed away doubt that the Classic is fun; it’s just that fun gives way to self-interest — the teams’ and the players’.

The Classic pits the business of Major League Baseball against the intrinsic joy of playing baseball."

It is great when the "intrinsic joy of playing baseball" wins out. It should win out more, but it doesn't win out often in the MLB.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Passing Scene Photo Shoot

The Passing Scene

The world seemed to have gotten a little smaller with the demise of the Rocky Mountain News and several other news dailies, and the passing of Johnny (Red) Kerr. While not a reader of the Rocky Mountain News, the pictures and articles about the paper, made it seem like the reader of the News lost a lively part of their lives and an outlet for fine writing and exposes.

The NY Times began its article about the demise with the words "DENVER — This was a wild city once, a frontier of the Western imagination full of brawling, dueling, nakedly self-interested fortune-seekers and empire-builders — and The Rocky Mountain News carried their torch." The picture of hugging and emotion confirmed the deepness of the loss.

The editor of the surviving Denver Post, which once a fierce competitor and more recently a partner in sharing business costs with The Rocky said of its passing, "[t]he first day I wake up not reading The Rocky will be a sad day for me.” Think of waking up without our local papers, the NY Times or the Washington Post, and that would truly be a sad day.

Then there is the sadness with the passing of basketball great, Johnny Kerr, who will be remembered for the beautiful hook shot of the Nats mid-50s when an upstart team from a relatively small city in frigid upstate New York. He had beautiful form with his perfect hook shot, but he may be known for his selflessness as a great center passer, Former teammate, Chet Walker, described this "Johnny, in my opinion, was probably the greatest passing center in the history of the game. I'm serious. Johnny Kerr would throw the ball through his legs and behind his back and always find the open man."

The Nats won the NBA championship in Kerr's rookie season. It was the only title he would be around until Jordan's run began in 1991. What also began in Kerr's rookie season was his then-record consecutive-games streak, which reached 844 through Syracuse, the team's relocation to Philadelphia and a trade to the Baltimore Bullets. He then went on to coach the expansion Chicago Bulls and Phoenix Suns.

'Johnny has always been what Chicago is all about,'' said longtime NBA soulmate Jerry Sloan, who played for and coached the Bulls and now coaches the Utah Jazz. ''Tough, hard-nosed, from the streets and playgrounds. He took that first Bulls team to the playoffs, and no expansion team ever did that before or since. I hope they never forget that in Chicago.''

Always a pioneer and ready to face challenges, Kerr, was the rough and gentle de facto voice of Chicago Bulls basketball for 30 years and more, and was a steady and self-effacing voice, and now that reassuring voice is not being heard. Two voices of the rough and tumble of Chicago and Denver are no out there--the passing scene.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Rabbit Stopped Running

Those simple words made me sigh as I heard the news that a long lasting friend, John Updike, had passed away. The words just took a moment--"acclaimed American author, John Updike died today at 76." But he was not a simple or momentary author; sometimes his sentences looped and swirled like the fancy Palmer Penmanship exercises we used to do in the early grades of school--but no more, replaced by the steady common font of computer life. Occasionally his sentences were duds like a bad Beach Boys song, but mostly they were beautiful evocations of life in its simplest or more complex forms—he seemed in harmony with life. Updike was proficient at the simplest or the more complex and obscure. For his elegance, it did not matter. He could be elegant with the mundane and usual as well as the grandiose and unusual.

He was an old pal; he has been with me for many years, as I read most of his yearly output. He was one that did not seem bound by time, until suddenly it had run out on him. He seemed close to me, although I only had the pleasure of seeing him read in person twice. He read beautifully each time, and the audience nervously laughed at his swirling sentences. Laughter was a funny sentiment to express at his words. It was almost a nervous but playful excretion or tic that the audience could not hold back.

To meet him afterwards was pleasurable, but you did not know what to expect. One time, he took the book I asked him to autograph, "The Music School" and excitedly told me how the publisher messed up and he proceeded to find the many typos in this edition, marking them and then signing the book. He felt like they had spoiled or soiled some of his best words. But he did not in the end seem to mind or take himself or his words too seriously.

He understood life as we may not have known it; he was its constant chronicler. His friend and student on the Lehrer NewsHour, Nicholas Delblanco, said that Updike experienced life at a faster ratio than the rest of us--his mind was mostly speeding ahead. Delblanco noted that "I always felt in John's presence that he was simply thinking faster and noticing more." His words along with a fine interview with John Updike are at the following web addresses:

John Updike got it. He got life. He took what it offered and rode or ran with it through its many “fairs,” "villages," and "couples," and he was in on the joke, as one of my real friends of many years would say. Updike tried many things and conquered some. And he let us in on it as a constant explorer and companion of life, whether it be through longer fiction, shorter stories, poems or essays--he shared it mightily with us. When he needed to create a new writer from his own writing, he became "Bech A Book." He tried many new things and new places and new personas, and many old things and old places, like his exploration of the mind of a terrorist located in my aging, gritty home town city of Paterson.

He winked at me through his words and pages--I, his friend of the typos--as he journeyed through many generations of life in my home town in an earlier book of his, "In the Beauty of the Lillies," and journeyed with me and for me. He was an old friend of close to fifty years, since my first book with him, "Poorhouse Fair" of 1959, and he helped me see the beauty and the uncommon pleasure of the simpler and more routine things in life, wrapped in the elegance of his writing. Yes, it was a long and deep sigh when I heard the news. "Oh no," I said out loud as I could not hold back the simple statement of an inelegant emotion for a now departed friend.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

It's a New Year, and "what's nu" is old in "Major General" by Franz Nicolay, the keyboardist from The Hold Steady (the one who is interestingly mustachioed) and accordion/piano player for The World/Inferno Friendship Society. The tracks from the opening track, “Jeff Penalty,” to the end play on many influences from the Who's "Tommy" to "Rent" to klezmer to Billy Joel to Queen to Kurt Weill and back to the work of his own Hold Steady. It is an interesting mix. This punk-cabaret, rock-opera is diverse and eclectic (if not always electric), drifting in and out of times, scenes, and motifs. It's fun....