Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Decade of Music That Will Change Your Life (or at least your Attitude)

Just like that, a decade has passed.
Come on. seriously.  Did it really seem like 10 years?
From Napster to Friendster to MySpace to FaceBook.
We ran the gamut from targets to victims to aggressors to…targets.
A lot of year-in-reviews are calling it an average decade. The technology curve
was cool, but everything else…meh.   Meh?  Did I really just use that word?
First and last time. Promise. I think it was a fine decade.  And at least it ended the way it
began, with the Yankees hoisting the World Championship Trophy.

To quote my good friend Michael Waddington, the best way to look back on the highs, the lows, and the in-betweens is through music.  There are myriad lists out there. Decades’ Best Albums!  Best singles of the 2000’s!  The beauty of music is that there is so damn much of it.  And for as many new artists as I discovered in the ‘aughts,  I spent nearly as much time with old, comfortable friends on my iPod.  Joni. Shostakovich. ‘TraneOl’ Blue Eyes. The Crows.

But, nonetheless, lists are what we do to recap years, and groups of years.  While I do not claim this list to be definitive in any way…they are the songs that, looking back, I remember most from this last ten years.  Some are definitely Life Changers. Some fall a bit short. But hey, that’s what pop is all about. Sometimes it sucks, yet it sticks.

Have fun listening to these tracks.  And feel free to add your own. That is, after all, what lists are for.

Bonne Annee. Feliz Ano Nuevo.  Happy New Year, y’all.


20. Jerry Jeff Walker “Texas On My Mind”
    My relationship with country music has endured most of my life. It began at age 7, when I got a cool looking transistor radio for Christmas.  The AM stations came in the clearest.  AM 670 in Chicago was WMAQ , all country, and the occasional White Sox broadcast.  So I cut my musical teeth on Crystal Gayle, Mac Davis, Eddie Rabbitt, George Jones, Waylon, Willie, and Merle.  In later years, I dug John Michael Montgomery, Alan Jackson, Chesney, and Diamond Rio..but had to keep it on the down-low. The missus didn’t like the twang. She’s come around, fortunately.  And this ballad reminds me of old Country songs.  Plus, it was written by Jerry Jeff’s son, Django.
The old dog shows the young buck how it’s done.  Love the art/life parallel, in that it's become one of Alec's absolute favorite songs in the world, too.  Generation Gap? Nah.  Pop a cold Shiner Bock and emote.
If your eyes get misty, just pull your cowboy hat down a bit, son.

19. Randy Newman “ A Few Words In Defense Of Our Country”
     So apropos of this decade.  The master satirist delivers more of his trademark social commentary.  “Now the leaders we have/While they’re the worst that we’ve had/Are hardly the worst this poor world has seen”  I’m surprised that Fox News hasn’t blackballed ol’ Randy for lyrics like  “The end of an empire is messy at best/And this empire is ending/Like all the rest”

18. Arctic Monkeys “ Bet That You Look Good On The Dancefloor”
   Contender for band of the decade. At least in the top ten.  A sassy, fun, romp.
And sometimes in life, you just gotta shake it.

17. Norah Jones “Don’t Know Why”
      I always joke about having “discovered” Norah and Dido.  And the fact that a song is
overplayed does not make it a bad song.  It just makes it far too familiar.  The lilting piano, and her smoky voice always takes me back to the bar at the Old Town Ale House.
It’s 2 am.  You have things to do tomorrow. Just  a few more songs on that great old jukebox…and before you know it, the wine has turned to glue.

16. Bill Murray “More Than This”
     Just making sure you’re paying attention.  More a movie moment than a song, but
Murray’s karaoke rendition of the Roxy Music chestnut is so pitch-perfect for his character. His entire performance is one of my favorites of all time, and this moment defines this film.  The legend is that Bill stayed awake for three straight days before filming this scene, to perfect the raspy, up-all-nite-and-half-in-the-bag tone.  The aging film star shows his self awareness for just a moment while grabbing the mic – “This is hard”…but soon he is swept up in the newness of the moment with Scarlett Johannson, and he reminds us that, truly, there is nothing…more than this.

15. Dixie Chicks “Easy Silence”
     Produced by rock master Rick Rubin, this song may be the most underrated Chicks song of all.  Touching lyrics, sparse guitar, and strings.   You had me at hello, Natalie.
Especially when you sing “Children lose their youth too soon/Watching war made us immune/I’ve got all the world to lose/But I just want to hold on to the/Easy Silence that you make for me/It’s ok when there’s nothing more to say to me”  Most great love songs are about unrequeited love...but this is the rare song about being IN love and it being reciprocated that stays with you, that sums up a long, constant, comfortable relationship, and the crazy state of this country at the time. If you haven’t seen SHUT UP AND SING yet, shut off the Glenn Beck and go watch it.
Then we can talk.
14. Rihanna “Umbrella”
   With apologies to Beyonce and Shakira and Missy and Pink, this is the definitive dancey chick tune of the decade to me.  Ella, ella, eh, eh… 

13. Justin Timberlake “Like I Love You”
    I wanted so badly to hate this album by the former N*Sync idol.  But it was so damned good.  Awesome production, flawless vocals, and this song takes me back to holiday time at Gap Michigan Avenue, holiday shoppers dancing on the stairs while my friend and former White Sox cameraman Andy Lock shot them with a wireless camera, which we projected on giant screens in the store windows.  We had a ball that weekend, and never stopped laughing. And, just before the parade started, snow began to fall.  Andy passed away, sadly and unexpectedly, in 2008. doing what he loved – preparing to shoot a White Sox game.  Sail on, Andy Lock. You are missed.

12. Modest Mouse “Float On”
   How much Talking Heads did these guys listen to growing up? Seriously? I always am
intrigued at the songs that filter down to our children. One of my favorite moments of 2004 was waiting in line at a Starbucks in Manhattan, observing a four or five year old little boy, totally into it, full-body in his snowsuit, singing the chorus of this song.  Love the clip, I miss Craig Kilborn almost daily. Craiggers..where have you gone? Miss you, pal. Mean it. Proud.

11. Coldplay “Fix You”
    I remember sitting on the beach in South Haven somewhere on the thin line between Saturday night and Sunday morning with Michael Waddington and listening to this track
and looking at the full moon and when it ended, he said, “ that just doesn’t happen, man”.
Which is so true. Coldplay may be well-packaged and a Huge Worldwide Band but Chris Martin just slays me when he writes lines like “ignite your bones”.  Reminds me of car trips with NiCole and Chloe.

10. Stars “Your Ex Lover is Dead”
      When there's nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on fire...The ultimate F.YOU! song.  Hell hath no fury like a spurned lover. Especially when you bump into each other unexpectedly.
“And all of the time you thought I was sad/I was trying to remember your name.”

9. Lady GaGa “ The Fame”
      Just when we stopped calling up and comers “ the new Madonna”, along comes the new Madonna.  Are you wondering what happened to all the rockstars?  It’s simple…
The Fame Killed Them.

8. Jay Z & Danger Mouse “99 Problems”
    Inane. Profane.  And a guitar loop that embeds itself in your brain. As I get older, each year it feels harder and harder…there’s just too much….stuff.  I can relate to Hova, as lately I feel like I've got a few people tryin' to make sure my casket's closed...Luckily, though I got 99 problems, but bein’ a bitch ain’t one. Hit me!

7. Amy Winehouse “Love Is A Losing Game”
   Yes, she’s a mess.  But the girl can SING.  Underrated track, at least in this country.
Breathtaking production.  If you’ve had your heart broken, pour a nice tumbler of Johnnie Walker Blue, look out the window at the city lights, and wallow in the pain.  Just for a little while.  Get ‘em next time, champ. Awesome live version HERE.

6. Duffy “Warwick Avenue”
   Played back to back with the Winehouse track, this is a one-two punch for cocktail hour. I listened to this song 1,232 consecutive times last summer, and never tired of it.
And, the Chlo-Bug does a mean rendition of it, too.  Love love love it.

5. R. Kelly “Ignition (Remix)"
   So much about this track is so genius that you forget for a second how controversial
Kelly is.  And while it sure looked like him in that video, I’ve also learned that, so often,
the media gets it wrong.  Besides, if we start delving into everyone’s personal lives, we lose all of our popstars, atheletes, politicians, and neighbors.  What are we left with then?
“It’s the freakin’ weekend, Baby, I’m about to have me some fun!  Bounce Bounce Bounce Bounce Bounce…”

4. Dido “White Flag”
    I am an old romantic and a sentimental sucker for ballads sung by chicks with guitars.
It goes back to being 12 years old and obsessed with Joni Mitchell’s BLUE album which I discovered under my dad’s stacks of Beatles, Motown, and Olivia Newton-John records. This song makes stalking sound so…romantic.  And her voice…it’s like, New Orleans, Marie Laveau-style haunting. Seriously haunting.  I discovered Dido here in America and am so glad to have brought her to so many of you.  For real. LOL.  And when Trader Vic's closed for good in the wee hours of New Years' morning in 2006, after rushing there just past midnight after work for the last Suffering Bastard at my favorite watering hole and lingering at the bar, far too long, trying to hang on to that last night there, I went upstairs, got in the car, and this song was playing on the radio, and I could definitely relate to going down with the ship, to lost love... There's a new Trader's now. But I'm sure it ain't the same.  It never is, is it?
3. Kanye West “Flashing Lights”
     Artist of the decade? How about the century? Does anyone get that he’s in character? Will the real Kanye West please stand up?  How can his lyrics be so insightful, so sensitive one moment and so danceable…so….DOPE the next?  Was hard to keep TOUCH THE SKY and  CHAMPION and HEARD ‘EM SAY off this list, but this track just makes you want to move.  Slowly. And very close to someone else. And the social commentary…”She don’t believe in shootin’ stars/but she believes in shoes and cars.” The version he did on STORYTELLERS was great, too.
and resulted in one of my favorite quotes of the decade…”I apologize for actin’ like a bitch at awards shows…but come on, they’re AWARDS SHOWS.”

2. Phoenix “If I Ever Feel Better”
    French. Poppy. Fun.  So many reasons to hate this band.  You could interchange 1901 or LISZTOMANIA here, but this track is so 2000’s to me.  Sing about pharmaceuticals and daily affirmations.  A dance track the generation can relate to. And it sounds incredible at full volume, top-down in a rented SL500, cruising through the Hollywood Hills. Depression has never been so danceable.

1. Jay Z featuring Alicia Keys “Empire State of Mind”
  It’s not just because I wish I lived in Neeeeeew Yoooooooooork.  It’s not just because it was the soundtrack to the Yankees’ march to the pinnacle of the Fall Classic.  The production, the vocal bridge and chorus, the classic Jay-Z spittle….it just….works.
It gets in your brain.  It doesn’t go away.  I picture myself at the bar atop the Peninsula Hotel on Fifth Avenue, out on the patio despite the winter weather, bourbon in one hand, both hands in the air. This is New Yooooooooooooooork…

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Cubs' Best Gift May Already Be Under The Tree

Wrote this colm on spec today with a take on the Cubs/Milton Bradley situation that I hadn't heard anyone else express...and three hours later, the Cubs traded the embattled right fielder for scrap-heap pitcher Carlos Silva...thereby rendering this piece OLD NEWS. I'm sure Bradley will have a monster year for the Mariners. It's what Cubs fans come to expect....

So far this holiday season, the Milton Bradley situation has the Cubs looking like a shopper trying to return an unwanted gift without a receipt.

It’s the season of giving. Not the season of giving away. Let’s open our hearts and minds and, more importantly, carefully consider flushing $20 million dollars down the toilet and letting a good right fielder go to another team and help them win in the process.

If you listen to sports radio, you get the impression that Chicago fans yearn for teams of crew-cutted, grindy, soulless zombies. who play hard and keep their mouths shut. Sorry, folks, it ain’t 1957 anymore.

As much as angry callers vent and complain about the antics of
Milton or Manny or T.O. or Ochocinco, TV ratings and internet statistics
show that sports is as much about entertainment as it is about competition.
Admit it. You peek at once in awhile. You tune in to the highlights
each night hoping to see another Milton meltdown It spices things up a bit.
Many people around baseball, and Milton’s own mother, claim that the outfielder lives, eats, and sleeps baseball…that he loves the game.

The fact that he doesn’t run around heart-tapping and blowing kisses to right field fans, or diving for balls that are catchable standing up doesn’t mean that Milton doesn’t care. The image of the “grinder” perpetuated by the White Sox’ ad campaign a couple years back doesn’t exist in the real world of baseball. How many times has Aramis Ramirez taken a rap for not running out a ground ball hard enough? Are fans clamoring for his blood? No.

Remember that sports is entertainment, people. Just like Kanye West’s awards show meltdowns mean nothing (they’re AWARDS SHOWS), Milton’s expression of last season’s frustrations to the Daily Herald (“It’s easy to see why they haven’t won in 100 years here”) should be taken at face value. Frustrated words from a frustrated superstar.

The Cubs didn’t sign Bradley to be the VP of Public Relations. They signed him to smack baseballs around the outfield and drive in runs. Even Lou Pinella was so frustrated by season’s end that his post-game press conferences were reduced to hand-wringing and groaning (“I’m doing the best I can. That’s all I can do”)

HE MUST GO! HE CAN’T STAY! bellow fans online and on-air.

But why? What has Milton Bradley done that is so wrong, so completely unforgivable?
He hasn’t murdered anyone, hasn’t maimed any innocent puppies, hasn’t been arrested or
accused of anything immoral. He hasn’t tested positive for any performance enhancing
drugs. Why are so many fans and talking heads ready to run him out of town?

Consider for a moment that, just maybe, Milton has already done the time for
last season. Suspended by Hendry for the final 2 weeks of the season, he disappeared from the radar. The only noise coming from Camp Bradley was in the form of a brief interview given by his mother, who said that Milton hoped for a second chance from the Cubs, and that he was distracted by treatment of his 3 year old son at school, hearing the N-word from teachers, parents, and students.

While Bradley hasn’t publicly claimed acts of racism toward his son, what if it DID happen? How would YOU handle that type of situation? If you knew, every day, that your child may be subject to verbal abuse at school…would you be completely focused on your job? The argument that players are “professionals”, that because they command outrageously high salaries for playing a game for a living, doesn’t hold water in the real world. Ballplayers have emotions, too.

Team Chemistry? Poppycock. Overvalued. Some of the best championship teams in history had players who barely spoke, let alone got along. It’s the nature of the beast in a room of 25 highly paid egos and abilities. Look around your own workplace, or dorm room. Do YOU get along with everybody?

Let’s not forget that Milton Bradley wasn’t the lone reason for the Cubs’ disappointing 2009 season. The bullpen, starting rotation, and batting order all played a part in a down year. But maybe it was just that… a down year. A blip. An abberation.

Finally, look at the bigger picture, Cubs fans. Would you rather roll the dice on a motivated Bradley regaining past form and knocking in 100 runs with a killer OBP, oreat $20 million, take Pat Burrell or someone similar in the process, and trade them for a low-level prospect while Milton rediscovers his stroke somewhere else and helps another club reach the postseason?

Now, think about the $20 million as though YOU were responsible for it. As though you were the President of the Cubs. What would you do?

In the online short film “We Were Once a Fairytale”, director Spike Jonze
shows Kanye West throwing his celebrity weight around obnoxiously in a nightclub
VIP room. As the night goes on, Kanye’s behavior gets more and more outrageous.
Suddenly, the realization that he’s behaving like a petulant child hits Kanye, and he retreats to the bathroom, where he guts himself with a Bowie knife and pulls a monster out of his belly. West cuts the umbilical cord tethering the tiny beast to him, and gives the little monster a knife to commit hari-kari.

Pop some popcorn, Jim Hendry, and invite MB and his agent over to watch this genius piece of filmmaking. Then have a group hug, apologize to each other, and pledge to start fresh. Forgive, forget, and look to the future.

After all, it’s the holidays. And for Cubs fans, a re-energized Milton Bradley just might be the gift that keeps on giving.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Art imitates life. Or is it the other way around?
Either way, apropos. I know it's been out since October, but
just in case you haven't seen it...genius.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Throw another Log on the Hot Stove

It may be a long December, to quote the Counting Crows.  We’re barely into this bleak Chicago winter, yet our sports cup nearly runneth dry.   The Bulls are imploding like a snippy grade school traveling team, robbed of their spirit, most of them unable to deign even the faintest interest in their young season.  Duh Bears…that situation is so miserable that sports radio has us all on the Lovie Smith Job Deathwatch…as if the McCaskeys are actually going to swallow a bitter $11 million dollar pill and hire Shanahan or Cowher, who’ll miraculously turn pigskin water into wine and, come next year this time, we’ll all be belting out “Bear Down, Chicago Bears” as we march down Michigan Avenue doing our holiday shopping.  Riiight.  Sure, the Blackhawks are on a roll…but c’mon, it’s HOCKEY. and the playoffs don’t start until mid-April.  And I’m pretty much in skank fatigue mode.  The Cheetah, I mean Tiger Woods thing has gotten so slimy and out of hand that I’m not the least bit interested in the latest famedigger coming forward.

      What’s a sports fan to do?  We do what comes natural in such biting, frigid weather…huddle around the “Hot Stove.”

The White Sox are like a lot of us this holiday season – shopping the clearance racks, looking for a bargain.  Maybe it’s a bit “bruised and reduced” but hey, there’s a shot it’ll work out. J.J. Putz?  Hideki Matsui? Aren’t there better, more cost-effective alternatives out there?  Or at least better, equally costly alternatives? Juan Pierre? Anyone remember his last go-round here in Chicago?

The Cubs have the unfortunate position of being seated at the Texas Hold ‘Em table, with a decent sized stack of chips, but their cards facing the wrong way in their hand. Everyone in the world (yes, even in Tanzania!) knows they must rid themselves of
Milton Bradley.  Trade him for Pat Burrell! How about Mike Lowell!  How about the ghost of Boog Powell and 50 cases of Miller Lite?!?

    Thanks to the internet, even casual fans can become Baseball Junkies with a
minimum of effort.  The amount of information flying around this season is staggering.
Between the newspaper reporters’ tweets, the major sports network sites, and myriad blogs, even the wispiest rumors take on a life of their own, albeit sometimes brief.  

    And, while I’m somewhat more than a “casual” baseball fan, yet still a notch or
two below fantasy league stat professor, I have to admit that I’m caught up in the
constantly changing flow of rumor, innuendo, “mystery teams”, and “sightings”.

Throughout the day, whenever I can squeeze it in, I’m clicking links and refreshing pages, looking for the most up-to-date info on Who’s Going Where! and Who’s Slashing Payroll?  Like this update thread I followed, on

9:00pm: Phils GM Ruben Amaro Jr. told's Todd Zolecki that he's not likely to trade for a big-time starting pitcher.

7:30pm: A major league source tells Bastian that Halladay might waive his not-trade clause to join the Angels.

7:19pm: The Angels have made an offer, according to Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun. They'd give up Joe Saunders, Erick Aybar and Peter Bourjos for Halladay..

6:56pm: Jon Heyman of hears that the Phillies are "joining the fray" for Halladay.

5:52pm:'s Lyle Spencer reports that the Angels could bring on two elite pitchers this offseason.

5:30pm: Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos says the Jays aren't currently likely to make a deal at the Winter Meetings, according to Bastian. If they do make a trade, they'll look for above average players, not average ones.

2:12pm: SI's Jon Heyman says the Blue Jays requested Jesus Montero and one of Hughes Chamberlain plus more from the Yankees for Halladay.

1:13pm:'s Jordan Bastian tweets that we should not count out the Phillies for Halladay

7:05am:'s Buster Olney (via Twitter) hears from officials involved in the Halladay discussions that the Jays are still in

6:50am: The New York Yankees remain very much in the hunt for Roy Halladay, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post.

TMI, you say? Too Much Information?  You could get curmudgeonly and blame it on modern times.  Pine for the “good old days”, when teenagers and fantasy leaguers would rush to the newsstand, or the end of their driveways, eager to dive into the sports section and see if today was the day their team finally made the big trade, or landed the huge free-agent.  But I’m not sure that the anticipation was better.   It certainly made the end results more impactful…by the time the Cubs finally do trade Bradley, it’ll be so expected that, whatever the return , fans are bound to complain about getting the short end of the stick.

If you haven’t caught Hot Stove Fever yet, consider giving it a shot. I highly recommend it.  Because, for all the spastic page refreshing, and hours wasted in front of the computer, there is one definite positive aspect to this information overload on the baseball front.
It’s keeping my mind off of the Bears.