Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Train Wreck to Television Obscurity

One of the things I do to keep marital bliss alive and well in the household is watch a handful of reality shows with the Czarina.  I actually like watching "The Biggest Loser" and "The Amazing Race."  I could live without "American Idol" and "The X Factor."  And that brings me to the train wreck that "The X Factor" has become.

The first season was barely tolerable.  I like the snarkiness of Simon Cowell and L.A. Reid knows the music business.  Paula Abdul, is well, Paula Abdul, as worthless as tits on a boar.  But I liked the fights between Nicole Scherzinger and Cowell.  But in all honesty the show was a pale version of "American Idol" without the country crooners.

The start of the live edition of the show's second season was a signal that something was seriously wrong.  It was trick or treat as Khloe Kardashian's nipples stole center stage when she showed up as a co-host with Mario Lopez as one of the several unsuccessful makeovers for this stagnant program.  One thing I learned in 30 plus years of working in television is that cosmetics matter.  Khloe isn't beautiful, in fact she's not really cute.  How a person looks does matter, especially if that person is female, sorry.  She's as stiff as a board and shows no personality.  She makes Lopez look uncomfortable and Mario like it or not has personality.

Now add into this hot mess of a train wreck the mindless, mind numbing combo of Demi Lovato and Britney Spears and you have a complete waste of prime time television.  Demi knows as much about singing as I do about running a television network.  Britney is one insipid comment away from a complete meltdown.  In fact that's the only thing that makes the show worth watching, the possibility that Britney could go postal at any moment.

FOX is in a world of hurt.  I doubt that "The X Factor" can survive into a third season and we all know "Idol" is on its last legs.  FOX needs to take a hard look at its programming strategy if it expects to remain the prime time powerhouse that it has been for the last decade.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Just Reloading

Time to reflect on the early season promise of the 2012-2013 version of the Kansas Jayhawk basketball team.  This team folded up like a cheap suit at the end of an early season test against Michigan State but the Big 12 better watch out.  This may be one of Bill Self's best teams ever.

This team is basically three seniors and a bunch of freshman.  Fortunately, two of the freshman, Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor sat on the bench last year, getting schooled by last seasons Final 4 squad.  Ben McLemore will probably be a one and done.  But he's the best player to step on the floor for Kansas since Paul Pierce.  He's stunningly good.  McLemore disappeared in the Michigan State game and for Kansas to be great this year, he's got to demand the ball.

The most reassuring thing I've seen is Jeff Withey is every bit as dominating in the middle as he was a year ago.  He no longer has Thomas Robinson to rely on but Traylor has shown the kind of toughness that K.U. desperately needs in its interior defense to help Withey out.  Plus upperclassman Justin Wesley and Kevin Young have shown enough improvement that the Jayhawks inside game should be steady.

The three biggest concerns surround two of the seniors and one freshman.  The much heralded Perry Ellis has already shown that he needs a year of work in the weight room.  He's getting pushed around in the middle and lacks the strength to go up strong with his shots around the glass.  He reminds me of a young Marcus Morris.
Travis Releford needs to know his limitations.  He thinks because he's a senior he should be a focal point of the offense.  Releford is a role player.  He needs to focus on defense and leave the offense to others.  He's an inconsistent outside shooter to really contribute much offensively.  I hope he proves me wrong.

Finally, Elijah Johnson has shown glimmers that he can step into Tyshawn Taylor's very large shoes.  He can't disappear like he did at times last year.  Johnson has to play a consistent offensive game and stay out of foul trouble.  Naadir Tharpe is a capable back-up, but his defensive liabilities stick out like a sore thumb.

Despite the lack of a real superstar on this team, this could be Self's best squad ever.  If McLemore reaches his potential Kansas is an Elite 8 team.  The Jayhawks should roll through the Big 12 Conference and be a fun team to watch while they do it.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Waging Heavy Peace: Tempest in a Psychedelic Pill

It took weeks but I've waded through the music overload that started in the late summer with Bob Dylan's release of "Temptest" and ended with Neil Young's second offering of the year with Crazy Horse called "Psychedelic Pill."  On top of all the music from those two along with Mark Knopfler and Donald Fagen and Green Day, I've been reading Neil's autobiography, "Waging Heavy Peace."
Let's start with the book that serves mainly as a bitchfest about the state of sound served up today in music.  Neil Young hated the sound of CD's and hates mp3's even more.  So he wrote a book to push his solution to the lackluster state of audio called Pono.  The book is a major disappointment.  It pales in comparison to Bob Dylan's "Chronicles." 

Neil offers up a few alluring morsels about his rock and roll life.  But the writing is juvenile and really lacks any real feeling.  "Shakey," the book written a few years back by Jimmy McDonough offers a lot more insight into Neil Young.  "Waging Heavy Peace" only serves to re-enforce McDonough's observation that Neil is pretty much an asshole. 

Now don't get me wrong, Neil Young is a great artist.  He's done some great things like helping start Farm Aid and The Bridge School.  He's also written some of the most enduring music of the last 50 years, but I would think being a part of his inner sanctum would come with a very heavy price.  Which gets me to "Psychedelic Pill."  The new double disc with Crazy Horse is largely unremarkable.  It is a good album, but not a great one.  Only nine songs (one a repeat) grace the two discs with the first tune on the first disc "Driftin' Back" clocking in at an epic 27:36. 

Only four of the songs on this release are worth a listen.  "Walk Like A Giant" is an epic classic as is "Ramada Inn."  But for all of Neil's wailing in his book about sound "Psychedelic Pill" is one of the worst sounding albums that Neil has done in 25 years.  It is woefully under produced.  It's pretty clear Neil was trying to capture the live spirit that makes Neil Young and Crazy Horse so great, but the album simply lacks the power of a live performance of the band.
That brings us to Bob Dylan's latest album "Tempest."  The songs are great, certainly the best penned by Dylan since "Love and Theft."  But as great as the songs are, again the album is woefully under produced.  The opening song "Duquense Whistle" serves up a bundle of energy and promise.  But the sparse arraignments with Dylan's touring band along with David Hidalgo from Los Lobos just runs out of steam.  The songs deserve so much more.

Bob loves that old timey sound and he's surrounded by great musicians.  But since "Love and Theft" he's doggedly stripped away and stripped away at the full sound that some of his best albums have delivered.  As a producer Bob Dylan is his own worst enemy.  The songs on "Tempest" deserve better, irregardless, it is a fantastic album.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Football, American Style

A couple of weeks ago I covered my last high school football game of the year.  I'm not far enough up the food chain to get a plum playoff game but I was lucky enough to draw Naples at Lely, also known around here as the Coconut Bowl.

Naples High School is one of the best high school teams I've ever seen in person.  Offensively they are a powerhouse.  They have a super running back in Manny Morgan and a very good quarterback in Kilton Anderson and a stud wideout, Tyler Byrd, who is only a freshman.  All that Naples is missing is their normal dominating defense.  Their defense may keep them from winning the state championship this year.

But more important than the game was taking my son-in-law, Vlad Dorofeev, to his first American high school football game.  I wanted him to see a high school stadium filled with raucous fans, a great football team and a couple of pretty darn good high school marching bands.  I wanted him to smell the hot dogs on the fire and high school kids with grease paint smeared over their faces, rooting on their teams.

Vlad took the pictures that you see in this particular blog.  The whole affair was an eye-opening experience.  The stadium at Lely is better than 95 percent of the sports facilities in the entire country of Latvia, where Vlad was born.  He asked me who pays for all of it.  I smiled and said, "The taxpayers."  I explained that parents pay a small activities fee and that some fundraising goes on for special trips and what not but that by and large American high school sports, the cheerleaders and the marching band is an expense that the taxpayers pony up for.  He was duly impressed.

Naples romped to a 56 to 0 win.  I took him down on the field with me as I talked to Naples head coach Bill Kramer.  Vlad was impressed that the two teams that had fought so hard, kneeling down at mid-field together for some words of encouragement and a prayer.  I think he enjoyed the incredible spirit and competitive camaraderie that he saw between the players and coaches.

Vlad is here working hard on a plan that could bring his wife and children to America, to Southwest Florida specifically.  He wants this kind of America for his daughters, our grandchildren.  It's a small part of the American dream, but here's to his pursuit of that dream.