Thursday, July 31, 2008

Cheating at Pub Trivia

So, the other night, I received this phone call. I won't mention who it was from, but I'll call him Mr. G from New York. It was immediately obvious that he meant business when he asked me what Ryan Adams' former band was. Of course, it was Whiskeytown, but Mr. G's response was to ask another question:

What Americana band did an album about Lynyrd Skynyrd?

Well, Southern Rock Opera wasn't about Lynyrd Skynyrd, per se, but I was pretty certain what he was driving at. The answer was the Drive-By Truckers, as their 2002 double-disc pays tribute to many things Southern, including the three great Alabama icons (George Wallace, Bear Bryant, Ronnie Van Zant), the supposed feud between Skynyrd and Neil Young, and makes numerous references to "the duality of the Southern thing".

Anyway, it was pretty obvious to me, considering the curtness of the phone call and the background noise, that Mr. G was cheating at pub trivia. And, of course, the answer I supplied him with was correct. This makes me now 2-for-2 in such circumstances. The previous question was quite easy:

What Rolling Stones song includes the lyrics, "I met a gin-soaked bar-room queen in Memphis"?

C'mon...seriously? At least Mr. G's question was a little challenging. The answer, of course, is "Honky Tonk Woman". I believe Mr. G got caught, while the Stones culprit, I'll call her the former Ms. H from Boston, got away with the deed.

Now, I've played trivia with the aforementioned former Ms. H, at the same bar she called me from that night, and have witnessed some pretty sketchy circumstances...mostly people looking at their cell phones, not necessarily making calls. I suspect that the guy who runs this particular trivia night isn't fully aware that you can use your cellular phone for more than just making actual phone calls. After all, he's not the brightest bulb in the room, although I have to admit it's hard to consider anyone intelligent who says "cod" when he means "card", and probably used to wear one of those "Nomah" t-shirts.

So, I guess the moral of this story is, if you're going to cheat at pub trivia, send a text message...or be a cute girl. Sorry, Mr. G.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Beer Pong on Snob Hill

The following are the highlights of this past weekend's 22nd Annual Hall of Fame Weekend in Cooperstown.

Friday night (7/25):
  1. Learned of the Yankees' acquisition of Xavier Nady in the presence of Mets' fans, one of whom expressed disappointment because he was convinced the Mets were going to get him, while the other stated that Nady is over-rated. Maybe he is, but he's a solid acquisition regardless, as is Damaso Marte.

  2. It appears we were surrounded by one huge frat party, as there was a massive game of beer pong, which lasted until 3 in the morning, at a nearby camp site.
Saturday (7/26):
  1. Saw Ron Guidry walking around town. Of course, I saw other more famous players, but they were all sitting at tables for autograph signings. I probably spent less time experiencing the typical scene in town than in any other year in recent memory, mostly due to the next highlight.

  2. Drank four pints of local brew in Cooley's Tavern: three Ommegang Rare Vos' and one Old Slugger from Cooperstown Brewing.

  3. Had an extremely nerdy baseball conversation with Joe and Tony. Though it's certainly not unusual for me and Joe to partake in such a conversation, this was the first time I did so with his son Tony, and I quickly realized that son is ably following in his father's footsteps. Whether that's a good or a bad thing, only time will tell.

  4. Due to the previously mentioned four afternoon pints, plus the lack of sleep from the night before, I spent most of the rest of the night passed out in the Williams' motel room, while everyone else watched the end of the Yankees' game and most of the Mets' game, waiting out the massive thunderstorms that the weather forecast was calling for.

  5. With the Mets' game in extra innings and the storm warnings seeming to have passed, the Clark family (no relation to Jane Forbes Clark) and I piled in their mini-van and headed back to the camp site, only to have it start downpouring on our way.

  6. While experiencing what one local would later call "the worst thunder and lightning storm I've seen here in years", we decided it would be safer to sleep in our cars than in the tents. The Clarks would eventually move into their tent, but I spent the entire night in my reclined passenger seat, and slept better than I had the night before. This was despite the fact that the frat boys were not deterred by the storm, although being inside the car with the sound of rain pelting it incessantly pretty much drowned out most of the noise.
Sunday (7/27):
  1. Overheard the previously mentioned local refer to the tent area of the campgrounds as "Snob Hill". When I say local, what I mean is, there is a contingent, at just about every campground, of campers who've rented trailer sites for the entire season. They have permanent awnings built up around their trailer/RVs, sometimes with fenced-in porches, and many of them have signs advertising who they are and where they're from. I find it pretty cool, to be completely honest, but I'm guessing the weekend campers generally look down their noses at them.

  2. At the actual induction ceremony, George Grande mentions that this year there is a record 56 of the 64 living Hall of Famers in attendance. So, of course, Joe and I decide we're going to figure out who the missing eight are. I have to say that I'm quite impressed with us that we pull it off in less than an hour: Robin Yount, Stan Musial, George Kell, Nolan Ryan, Carl Yastremski, Duke Snider, Lee MacPhail, Rod Carew.

Friday, July 25, 2008

A New Spin on Listmania

I received this email yesterday from, promoting their brand new site, still in Beta version, called Unspun. The best way I can think to describe it is it's a community of lists, kind of the Web 2.0 for the Rob Fleming set. It's pretty simple. You can search for lists that already exist, and add your opinions, or create new lists that others can contribute to as well. This could be interesting, or it could turn out to be really lame and frustrating.

I began by searching on "King Crimson", since they've been my latest obsession, and I was quickly able to check out a list called "Favorite King Crimson Album". First thing, I had to do a little cleanup of a bunch of bogus entries, including one that stated "All Other Albums Suck". Plus, I had to edit the title of their debut album. It was listed as The Court of the Crimson King. So, I can already see how this could get annoying. The fact that I could do this also raises the issue that people can remove items that they say don't belong, when they really do. Well, as I said, it's in Beta version.

Anyway, since I'm not really familiar with any Crimson albums beyond the 1980's reincarnation with Adrian Belew, and since I haven't posted a list with no particular purpose in quite some time, here's how I ranked their 1969-1984 discography:
  1. In the Court of the Crimson King

  2. Red

  3. Discipline

  4. Starless and Bible Black

  5. Larks' Tongues in Aspic

  6. Beat

  7. Three of a Perfect Pair

  8. In the Wake of Poseidon

  9. Lizard

  10. Islands

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Cooperstown Bound

Tomorrow morning, I will hop in my '98 Subaru and head for the central New York village of Cooperstown, for an annual ritual known, quite simply, as Hall of Fame weekend. This will be the 21st of the past 22 years that I've attended, and the 8th in a row, having had to start over after missing the 2000 induction to be the best man in Rob's wedding. It's still hard to believe he scheduled his wedding for that weekend, and had to go and get married in Kamloops, British Columbia, thereby making it impossible for me to somehow make it to Cooperstown the next day.

But I digress. This annual ritual has become more of a celebration of long-lasting friendships than of baseball, at least to me. Joe, his then-girlfriend and now-wife Carol, and I began the tradition after spending a drunken Saturday night at a house party in Albany during the summer of 1987, between our sophomore and junior years in college. Joe and I still cite Carol as the critical piece to the birth of this tradition for driving two very hungover guys from Albany to Cooperstown early that Sunday morning. This year will be Joe and Carol's 22nd consecutive year, and I believe it will be their kids' 16th and 14th respectively.

Two other families from Poughkeepsie will be there this year, as they've become the other close friends that we count on as almost regulars. When this tradition began, it was definitely about my and Joe's fanatical devotion to baseball history, but to me, it wasn't long before it represented something else. Well aware that, in our post-college years, we'd all probably go off in different directions and see each other less and less, I viewed this as the one time of year that I knew I would spend with some of my best friends. Even more importantly, since we always spend a couple of nights camping, it's time that is of a higher quality than hanging out at someone's house and then returning home at the end of the evening. Maybe it's because I'm the one without my own family, and, therefore, I view many of my close friends as such, but it just feels more akin to the time we shared together in the high school and college years, although with a little less alcohol involved.

Well, a lot less for me, actually. But, if that wasn't the case, I may not have survived to last 20+ years.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Frequent Spins (2008.5)

It could very well be said that I spend a little too much time obsessing over new music. In fact, I have actually begun years saying that I won't listen to anything this year other than new releases. Fortunately, I've overcome this ridiculousness, and, after listening to approximately 400 new releases in each of 2005 and 2006, I fell short of 250 last year, and may only reach 200 this year. Still a lot of new music, right? It's just that I'm tired of listening three or four times to the new Windsor for the Derby, for example, because it's pretty good, and has the potential to grow on me, and because it got good reviews. I'd rather spend that time listening to The Very Best of Rainbow, or something from the King Crimson discography.

Still, Frequent Spins will continue to be devoted to albums released in the current year. But, I'm going to also try to introduce something new, which I'm calling "Current Oldies". Yes, I recognize the oxymoron in that title. "Current Oldies" will appear in my right-side navigation and will be a rotating list of the non-current year music that I've been listening to.

But, without further ado, on to the latest edition of Frequent Spins:

Death Cab for Cutie - Narrow Stairs
I realize I put this one in the spin-worthy category in my last installment, but it has elevated itself since. It's still hard to believe that this reached #1 on the Billboard charts. Quite the accomplishment for such a wussy indie band, that I'm sure was aided by teenage exposure via some lame show like "One Tree Hill", or whatever they're watching these days. Regardless, they may have upset some of their loyalists by moving in a more commercial direction, but this is still a very enjoyable album.

Alejandro Escovedo - Real Animal
I recently saw Alejandro live for the first time since his recovery from a bout with hepatitis a few years ago. His live shows were always a memorable experience, including seeing my boss at one show that I left work early to attend. Despite that incident, it was mostly the music and Alejandro's stage presence that made his performances great. This time was no different, with one particular highlight being his explanation for the lifting of his self-imposed ban on the song "Castanets" due the publicity it received for appearing on George W. Bush's iPod playlist. He also lamented the fact that, although Dubya will soon be leaving Washington, he'll be returning to Texas, the state that both men call home. Real Animal rocks harder than anything Escovedo has come out with since I've been a fan of his, with the possible exception of the Buick MacKane side project, but it certainly lives up to the quality of his previous output.

My Morning Jacket - Evil Urges
I have to admit that the first time I listened to this one, I almost dismissed it immediately. There are some pretty daring moments, and it almost sounds like they're trying to go the way of The Flaming Lips' At War With the Mystics. It's that all over the place. If you're more interested in what My Morning Jacket used to sound like, check out the Fleet Foxes' self-titled debut. If not, you can cautiously take my advice that this is a good album...nothing more, nothing less.

Sigur Rós - Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust
Most everything about Sigur Rós straddles the fine line between absolutely beautiful and total cheesy. Take their name, for instance. Sigur Rós is icelandic for Victory Rose. But, that's nothing compared to the fact that their lyrics are in a made-up language called "Hopelandic". However, when you hear the orchestral majesty of the music, complemented by the singer's falsetto voice that essentially represents another instrument, it's the beauty that wins out. I've only been a fan since 2005's Takk..., which was a fantastic album that landed in my top ten that year, but they may have actually outdone themselves here.

Willard Grant Conspiracy - Pilgrim Road
I've been a fan of this band for about a decade now, at one time considering them my second favorite Boston band. According to myspace, the band is now located in Los Angeles, which means frontman Robert Fisher is living there, as Willard Grant Conspiracy is basically him backed by a rotating musical collective. They've never strayed too far from their somber Americana/folk-rock persona, but they continue to churn out quality music. The hymn-like "The Great Deceiver", which is not a King Crimson cover, has to be one of my favorite songs of the year so far.

Wolf Parade - At Mount Zoomer
I've already heard someone call At Mount Zoomer the B-sides to Apologies to Queen Mary. I think the reference was more that it sounds like the same album rather than simply a bunch of leftovers. Regardless, when a band's debut is as great an indie-rock album as Apologies, in my opinion, they should have carte blanche to make a very similar follow up. After the second, it may be time to mix things up a little. Most importantly, though, this is as good as, if not better than, their magnificent debut.

Also spin-worthy
Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
The M's - Real Close Ones
Colin Meloy - Sings Live!
Mark Kozelek - Nights LP

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

41 Going on 14

Following my softball game this past Friday night, I commented to a teammate that I think I've just finally realized that I'm in my 40's. Despite the fact that I'm still in pretty good shape, and still run pretty well, I'm not holding up as well as I used to. Yet, I still play as hard as ever, and always seem to be the guy with the dirtiest uniform.

But, sometimes this is unnecessary. Take Friday night's game, for example. On one play, about midway through the game, I'm running from first on a groundball hit in the hole between short and third. I don't even remember who came up with the ball, but he didn't field it cleanly. By busting my ass and sliding hard into second, I was able to beat the throw, and knock the ball loose in the process. Well worth the effort, of course.

Then, later in the game, I do the same thing, in a similar situation. This time, however, the ball is fielded cleanly by the shortstop, and, while I make the play closer than most would have, I'm still out by five feet. After realizing that I had jammed my left hand into the ground in the process, and can barely grip the bat and squeeze my glove afterwards, I decide this one was not worth it.

So, at my game last night, my hand is feeling better, but I still can't grip the bat really well, and it occasionally hurts to catch the ball. So, what do I do? Late in the game, in trying to avoid being forced at second again, I slide into the bag, and wouldn't you know it? The same hand hits the ground, slightly aggravating the injury.

After the game, it takes me ten minutes to remove my cleats, put my sneakers back on, and tie the laces. Then, I limp to the car, my bad ankle suddenly feeling tender again, while each knee takes a turn feeling like it's going to give out. In the process, I'm reminded that, despite being a fairly svelte 5'10" and 160 lbs, and the fact that I still play like a kid, I am definitely getting old.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

21st Century Schizoid Ale

A new subject comes from out of left field. I've never discussed my home brewing endeavors here because, frankly, I hadn't brewed in years until recently. After getting back in the swing of things by producing a mediocre batch we decided to call AfroDan's Inaugural Ale, my new apprentice and I set out to brew possibly my most ambitious recipe ever.

Aptly named 21st Century Schizoid Ale due to the use of some experimental brewing methods in an attempt to produce a beer that is the hybrid of several styles, this is easily the second best batch I've ever made. It's going to be hard to ever top my 1995 tour de force, Mr. Pither's Imperial Stout, just as it's extremely difficult to make this comparison 13 years later, but this one comes close. Although we were aiming a little higher, this brew fermented out to an ABV of 8.5%. While it definitely tastes like a strong ale, it goes down rather nicely, with just enough hop bitterness to prevent it from tasting too malty sweet, but not so much that it scares away the novices. I wouldn't recommend drinking more than a couple, though, on a summer day where temperatures reach the high '90s. Our decision to brew it this time of the year could certainly be called into question, but we're quite happy with it regardless.

As for its moniker, of course it is named after King Crimson's signature song, "21st Century Schizoid Man", so yesterday's festivities were also a celebration of Robert Fripp's crew as well as other things prog. My trivia question proved to be a little more than anyone in attendance could handle, but it stirred up some interesting drunken musical discussion, as well as a brief attempt at a game called Six Degrees of John Wetton. In case you're interested, here's the question:

Name as many members of the 1969-1974 era Crimson lineup as you can (two points each), with a bonus point for naming one other band that each member played in.

Because the definition of band member never seems to be as cut and dried as you would think, there were a total of 15 correct answers, with two others that were somewhat debatable, but that I decided I would accept. I think two guests combined for a total of 11 points (four members plus additional bands for three of them). Not very impressive.

Not surprisingly, if you know me well enough, there's a commemorative mix. Interestingly enough, or not, I almost committed an Apostrophe Catastrophe on the cd sleeve. After typing "Lark's Tongues in Aspic", I realized that, unless a lark can have more than one tongue, it has to be Larks' Tongues in Aspic. I have to say thank you to my frequent softball teammate, Becky, for her vigilance against bad punctuation. Otherwise, I may not have been as careful in my own editing.

So, if you'd like a copy of the 21st Century Schizoid Mix, leave me a comment or send me an email. I apologize in advance that I won't be able to mail you one of the beers.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

N.L. All-Stars

I actually thought putting together the American League team was pretty easy, with Daisuke Matsuzaka being the most glaring omission. But, with not even close to 100 IP at beyond the season's half-way point, I don't feel so bad. Same goes for Scott Kazmir.

The NL squad was a little more difficult. I left off two pitchers with 10 wins (Ricky Nolasco, Kyle Lohse) and three hitters with 20 or more home runs (Ryan Howard, Adam Dunn, Ryan Braun), just to name a few.

C - Brian McCann, Atlanta
1B - Lance Berkman, Houston
2B - Chase Utley, Philadelphia
SS - Hanley Ramirez, Florida
3B - Chipper Jones, Atlanta
LF - Pat Burrell, Philadelphia
CF - Nate McLouth, Pittsburgh
RF - Ryan Ludwick, St. Louis
DH - Albert Pujols, St. Louis
P - Tim Lincecum, San Francisco

C - Geovany Soto, Chicago
1B - Adrian Gonzalez, San Diego
2B - Dan Uggla, Florida
SS - Jose Reyes, New York
3B - David Wright, New York
3B - Aramis Ramirez, Chicago
OF - Matt Holiday, Colorado
OF - Xavier Nady, Pittsburgh
OF - Jason Bay, Pittsburgh
OF - Carlos Lee, Houston

SP - Edinson Volquez, Cincinnati
SP - Ben Sheets, Milwaukee
SP - Brandon Webb, Arizona
SP - Aaron Cook, Colorado
SP - Carlos Zambrano, Chicago
SP - Ryan Dempster, Chicago
SP - Dan Haren, Arizona
SP - Cole Hamels, Philadelphia
RP - Brad Lidge, Philadelphia
RP - Billy Wagner, New York
RP - Jon Rauch, Washington
RP - Kerry Wood, Chicago

Sunday, July 06, 2008

A.L. All-Stars

Forget the fan voting, the player voting, the one player per team rule, and Jason Varitek. Here's who should be on the A.L. All-Star squad. Period.

C - Joe Mauer, Minnesota
1B - Justin Morneau, Minnesota
2B - Ian Kinsler, Texas
SS - Michael Young, Texas
3B - Alex Rodriguez, New York
LF - Carlos Quentin, Chicago
CF - Grady Sizemore, Cleveland
RF - Josh Hamilton, Texas
DH - Milton Bradley, Texas
P - Cliff Lee, Cleveland

C - Dioner Navarro, Tampa Bay
1B - Kevin Youkilis, Boston
1B - Jason Giambi, New York
2B - Brian Roberts, Baltimore
2B - Dustin Pedroia, Boston
SS - Jhonny Peralta, Cleveland
3B - Mike Lowell, Boston
3B - Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay
OF - J.D. Drew, Boston
OF - Jermaine Dye, Chicago
OF - Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle

SP - Joe Saunders, Los Angeles
SP - Justin Duchscherer, Oakland
SP - Roy Halladay, Toronto
SP - Gavin Floyd, Chicago
SP - Ervin Santana, Los Angeles
SP - Mike Mussina, New York
RP - Francisco Rodriguez, Los Angeles
RP - Joe Nathan, Minnesota
RP - Mariano Rivera, New York
RP - Joakim Soria, Kansas City
RP - Jonathan Papelbon, Boston