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Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Dog Days of Winter

What a terrible weekend this is.  All of the football momentum of the previous three playoff weeks has come to a grinding halt as an anxious nation turns its attention to the Pro Bowl, the first ever held before the end of the football season.  Of course this means that Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, and Drew Brees will be absent, but the NFL never let a competitive game get in the way of their all-star festivities.

Looming large is the barren sports wasteland that is February and the first two weeks of March.  Six weeks of monotony worthy of a Masterpiece Theatre mini-series.  This span of shame is made all the more arduous for us New York hoops fans, whose local teams, the Knicks and Nets have combined for 22 wins.  22!  The Winter Olympics might offer a brief respite from the tedium, at least in regards to hockey, but let’s face it, until the NCAA tournament begins it’s best to avoid the TV entirely.

[edit] My God, did I just make a case for watching the winter Olympics?! 

2:51 pm est          Comments

Monday, January 18, 2010

Night at the Office

Last night's gig was an affair at Lincoln Center playing for a group of Cornell University alums at their annual gala.  My criteria for a successful gig begins and ends with parking.  After securing a spot on 70th street I realized that I was about to have the sickest fuckin' gig ever.  Why did I drive into Manhattan when a subway ride would have saved time, as well as facilitated a drunken end to the evening at Smalls?  I had to bring my keyboard.  You would have thought that a spare piano could have been located at Alice Tully Hall but I guess they were all in the shop.  

It was a good band -- good musicians, nice guys, and very easy-going.  We were doing our thing as only professionals of our caliber can:  A little Gershwin, a little Rodgers & Hart, Irving get the picture.  People were enjoying the music, dancing, drinking, and conversing, until the band leader called Take the A Train.   During the middle of the song this old Cornell guy sidled up and began lecturing me on why "A Train" was a terrible dance number.  According to him the song had no beat and it was putting a damper on the party.  Being an Ivy Leaguer you can imagine what a strong connection to rhythm this man must possess.  Indeed, I was lucky to receive his pearls of wisdom, even if they did interfere with my concentration, since we were, in fact, in the MIDDLE OF THE GODDAMN SONG. 

Can you imagine if I had the gall to show up at the Cornell beat-meister's investment banking office and began doling out advice on CDOs and IPOs?  What if I barged into his office and interrupted his conference call to suggest a walk-through in fixed income offerings?  Something tells me he would not be amused.

But I'm a pro.  I smiled, nodded, and asked him what he would like to hear.  He requested "Manhattan," which we obliged with a businessman's-bouncy two-beat.  He was as happy as a pig in shit.  It made his night, the old bastard.  In his mind he had effected positive change, much like Obama promised us.  But that's for another post.

1:08 am est          Comments

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

To Tape the Impossible Game.

It is next to impossible to tape a home team playoff game and not find out the score before viewing it.  Two nights ago I endeavored to do just that.  My good friend -- we'll call him Jeff -- taped the Jets/Bengals game which I couldn't watch live due to a gig.  The plan was to watch the game at his house after the gig.

As stated in my previous post Jeff and I have come to the conclusion that it's best not to ask people to refrain from telling you the score since these words seem to trigger an innate impetus to give the score.  I showed up at the gig and was setting up when in walked the drummer.  What do you suppose were his first words to me?  "7-7  in the first quarter."  I responded (relieved that it was only a first quarter score) "That's great, but please make this the last score you give to me...I'm taping the game."  Just then the host of the party, who was sitting a few feet from us, piped up:  "14-7 Jets!" 

You see what I'm up against.  My luck turned, however.  The gig began, the hilarity ensued, and people seemed to forget about the Jet game.  You should have seen the spread -- lobster tails, crab legs, calamari, clams, oysters, and sushi.  Of course it was two days old but who cares when it's free! 

The gig came and went and lo and behold I still hadn't learned of the outcome.  I was home free.  I was going to make it to the Bronx without a final score!  Just then I remembered that I had received a voice mail so I pulled out my phone to retrieve it.  As I looked at the screen this is what I saw:  "Jets won! 24-14." 

Argh!  It was a text from the bass player's girlfriend.  Her kids, who know that I'm a big sports fan, had said to her "Mommy, let's tell Uncle Keith that the Jets won!"  

Uncle Keith?!  Uncle Keith says "FUCK YOU!"  Still and all, the Jets won and since I did not
expect to avoid hearing the score I wasn't that mad.  It's amazing, actually.  All these years and now I've discovered one more taping pitfall...the dreaded text message.
1:20 am est          Comments

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Watch Ernest Bynar

A few posts back I wrote about video taping foibles; today you would call them tivo foibles.  Today I am going to document one of my two greatest gaffes.  What is a taping foible?  A taping foible occurs when:

 a) You incorrectly set your VCR to record a ballgame and end up with 3 hours of the home shopping network or the weather channel. 


b) You tape a sporting event, doing your best not to find out the score while you are out of the house.  This means no car radio, or at the very least a ’safe’ spot on the dial such as the jazz or classical station.  You must avoid looking at any restaurant or bar TV, and if someone near you begins to talk about the game you have to immediately cover your ears, begin singing loudly, while running out of the room.  The foible occurs when someone tells you the score, thus ruining the game.

In 1987 the Broncos played the Browns in the AFC Championship game.  My brother was in town and we had plans for that day so we decided to tape the game and watch it that evening.  We knew that our Dad was going to call that day because he always called on Sunday.  Knowing our Dad, if he knew a score, he would blurt it out on the answering machine.  Years ago they used to show the Oscars on tape delay in Los Angeles.  Dad would hear the winners on his way home and tell us before we even had a chance to watch.  He loves to be ‘in the know.’

We had this idea that we would preempt him by calling in advance to let him know not to tell us the score.  When we called, however, we got his answering machine.  We left him a message saying “Whatever you do, don’t tell us the score of the Brown game!”

I don’t remember what we did that day but I do have a vivid memory of returning to my apartment and seeing the light blinking on my answering machine.  Sure enough it was Dad and here is what he said:  “It was a great game!  I know you guys don’t want me to tell you the score, but watch Ernest Byner.” 

Watch Ernest Byner?!  Ernest Byner?!  GOD DAMNIT!  So we watched the entire game waiting for Byner to do something.  Sure enough the Browns were down a touchdown with time running out when they handed it to Byner.  Why would our father tell us to watch Byner if he was just going to score a tieing touchdown.  Why?  Because he didn’t score.  In fact he fumbled on the two yard line.  Denver recovered and that was the ballgame.  We both knew he would blow it thanks to Dad’s heads up. 

Now what can we learn from this experience?  Two things:  First, you may think it’s best to warn someone not to tell you the score, but in reality this method has less than a 50% success ratio.  People just don’t understand the taping concept and for whatever reason, be it wanting to save you from watching a boring game, or just plain old-fashioned meanness, they will spoil it for you.  The second reason is  never, NEVER, listen to your  answering machine messages until after viewing the game.

11:26 pm est          Comments

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Deconstructing "New York, New York"

There is a special place in hell reserved for those with the lack of imagination to request New York, New York.  If there is a more clumsy and obvious song dedicated to a municipality I have yet to find it.  That's right, Randy Newman fans, even "I Love LA. " 

When I'm playing a gig, enjoying myself, minding my own business, creating the magic, as it were, and I get a request from a patron -- "Hey!  Play New York, New York!" -- it's all I can do to refrain from delivering a quick, clean punch to the solar plexus.  "Here!  Here's your New York, New York!" 

Hold on.  I need a minute...

Back.  I got a little emotional, what with the violence and the adrenalin.  Let's compare Fred Ebb's pedestrian lyric with a genuine lyricist, Lorenz Hart.  I realize that this is akin to  comparing Moe Howard to Lawrence Olivier, but what the hell...this is my blog.  I'm calling the shots.

In 1925 Rodgers and Hart wrote a song called "Manhattan."  There's a verse which establishes that the protagonist doesn't like to go on vacation due to the aggravation that comes with travel.  He's got a flat in 'old manhattan' and that's where he prefers to be.  Since there is no verse in New York New York proceed to the refrain.

"We'll have Manhattan
the Bronx and Staten
Island too.
It's lovely going through
the zoo!"

Right away, you like this guy, right from the first word, "We'll."  It's inclusive and welcoming.  He gives props to the Bronx and Staten Island, but would it have killed him to mention Queens?!  I'm giving him a pass since the Mets weren't around back then.  I'm sure if they had been there Queens would have made the song.

Let's contrast that elegant opening to Ebbs' pratfall of a beginning:

"Start spreading the news, I’m leaving today
I want to be a part of it - new york, new york
These vagabond shoes, are longing to stray
Right through the very heart of it - new york,
new york"

What a bastard.  Listen to him bragging about coming to the big town.  Who the hell is he?!  I only hope that he arrives via port authority and gets one of those friendly taxi driver that takes you to the Village via Jersey City.

Meanwhile, in "Manhattan..."

"It's very fancy
on old Delancy
street you know.
The subway charms us so
when balmy breezes blow
to and fro.

And tell me what street
compares with Mott Street
in July?
Sweet pushcarts gently gli-ding by."

Listen to this sweetheart of a man referencing Delancy and Mott streets!  These are not posh addresses but the streets of the people - Lower East Side and Chinatown.

Now back to Ebbs' elephantine screed:

"I wanna wake up in a city, that doesn’t sleep
And find I’m king of the hill - top of the heap

These little town blues, are melting away
I’ll make a brand new start of it - in old new
If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere
It’s up to you - new york, new york"

This dullard has no interest in the cultural melange of downtown Manhattan, but craves raw power.  His desire is to be a master of the universe and he doesn't care who he steps on to achieve his goal. 

That's about it for New York, New York;  the rest of the song repeats the lyrics from first half.   Hart, on the other hand,  was just getting started.  Even Yonkers, not technically a part of New York City, gets a shout out: 

"We'll go to Yonkers
Where true love conquers
In the whiles ..."

So there you have it.  You can have prime rib, or you can have spam.  The choice is yours.

6:24 pm est          Comments

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