Monday, February 25, 2008

'Good times never seemed so good...'

False spring?

Maybe. It's only February.

But the field was ever so green, the sun warmed the soul and the UT baseball team edged out a good ol' good one to take the one game series against Furman 2-1 this afternoon at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

Forget that groundhog. Spring must be near, folks. Baseball is back!

Vols closer and Halls High graduate Jeff Lockwood made things interesting in the final frame. With Tennessee clinging to a one run lead, Lockwood struck out Furman second baseman J.B. Jenkins.

Then he walked the bases loaded.

The natives began to stir after center fielder Joey Rodgers, shortstop Connor Lind and third baseman Bobby Hubbard all reached the pond with Lockwood's free pass.

But No. 25 leaned back and whiffed first baseman Ryan Lee and designated hitter John Paterson to earn the save. Lockwood yelled and jumped off the mound at 5:33 p.m. after Patterson whiffed at his final pitch of the afternoon.

UT starting pitcher Bryan Morgado was nothing short of brilliant. His final line was 1 run on two hits during 8 innings of work. Morgando racked up 12 big strikeouts and allowed only one walk.

Sitting in my usual spot behind home plate, I was glad to be back, happy to be feeling the first gasps of spring. Like an oasis in the desert, baseball in February is nourishment for the thirsty soul, after the dry loneliness of winter.

Basketball is what it is (and on Rocky Top, it's quite delicious at the moment). Football is but a memory. The NBA? Is that thing even still around?

And on a near-perfect Monday on The Hill, this great game, and the warmth of a false spring day, brought with them the promise of beautiful things to come on long, lazy, luxurious afternoons.

Maybe Neil Diamond said it best in that ode to a president's daughter, "Sweet Caroline." UT's public address guy fired the tune up as I was walking to my SUV.

Good times never seemed so good...

Labels: , ,

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Up and down the dial

So the weekend fades while I'm sitting here on a rainy Sunday night, the ethereal sounds of Madeleine Peyroux playing gently in the background.

I'd not heard of her before, but a co-worker recommended the CD, entitled "carless love." Sara said, "Well, if you like RobinElla, you'll like Madeleine."

Which of course got my attention. I give Robin the nod, but Madeleine has a pleasing jazz vibe going on, perfect for my mood tonight.

Driving home from Matt and Susan Shelton's house tonight, I did something I rarely do anymore -- flipped on the radio. I was trying to find a sporting event, but as I was surfing up and down the AM dial, I came across a country station playing, of all things, Charley Pride's "Mississippi Cotton Pickin' Delta Town."

It made me think of being a kid, when listening to the radio was what you did in those long-ago days before iPods and Internet. Now, I barely turn the thing on, unless it's to pick up the Vols game, or to use my car iPod player.

Downloads, the Web and satellite radio have sent broadcast radio to the back of the line. These days I listen to what I want when I want. Which is nice, but I don't get exposed to new music quite as much. Makes me wonder if kids even listen to the radio anymore.

XM's '70s on 7 station plays classic Casey Kasem "American Top 40" countdowns on Saturday afternoons and Wednesday nights. A few nights ago, I listened to a survey from February 1975. Tony Orlando was there. So was Olivia Newton-John and the Average White Band. It's fun hearing Casey talk about these classics when they were new.

I finally lost that classic country station about the time I turned south on Clinton Highway. It gave way to a sporting event, but I stayed lost in the memory.

Part of me will forever miss the thrill of flipping on a station just in time to hear that favor-ite song you love more than life itself.

Nothing like it in the world, baby. Nothing like it in the world.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Thursday, February 21, 2008

My first song...

This is a story I probably shouldn't share -- but I'm going to anyway.

I guess the first music I was exposed to as a babe was church music --- the soul-stirrin', back-slappin', four-part harmonizin' Southern Gospel church music. But somewhere along the way I found WIVK, Claude the Cat and what is now called classic country.

Driving to work this morning, I happened to hear the first song I learned to sing. It brought a smile to my face, even if it makes me chuckle now. Yes, I admit it: the song was Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler."

Somebody somewhere has a tape (it's either 8-track or maybe cassette) of a 2-year-old Jake singing "You got to know when to hold 'em/Know when to fold 'em..." at the top of his lungs. I can remember spending lazy summer afternoons at Douglas Lake with my grandparents. They would play Kenny Rogers on the 8-track (!) and I'd sing along.

Kenny's "Six Pack" was (I think) the first movie I ever watched in the theater. It was either that or "Mr. Mom."

Yep, I was warped even then.

I tell you, though, I am a little surprised, looking back on it after nearly 30 years, at the vocal range Kenny had. Long before he became a "Mad TV" gag or fodder for Seinfeld, The Gambler had a pretty good set of pipes. If you doubt it, find a copy of his single "I Don't Need You."

He made quite an impression on a little 2-year-old boy, I know that.

Funny, ain't it?

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Just looking

I have a writer's bad habit of observing people around me -- at doctors' offices, waiting rooms, restaurants, etc. Human behavior is often entertaining, sometimes annoying, occasionally inspiring.

Call me crazy, but I can't help but wonder about them. I'm amazed when I hear scribes complain about writer's block. Stories -- and characters -- are everywhere, if you take the time to look.

I think about the woman with the thin, whispery voice and downcast eyes that I held the door for at the doctor's office this morning. I wonder about her life, curious as to the situation that made her appear so pensive.

In the waiting room, I watch the young woman with a little girl. She barely pays the girl mind as the youngster proceeds to wreak havoc with the furniture. It puts me in mind of a story idea, to be filed away for a rainy day.

I worry about whomever the woman in the drive-thru window at Wendy's is discussing when I hear her say as the door slides open, "She was having an anxiety attack." I'm curious about the guy who is in such a hurry that he passes me and another car before risking his life to dart back into traffic. What could possibly be that important?

It's nuts, I know, but these people stay with me awhile, tumbling around in my thoughts. They aren't just strangers on the street, anonymous motorists, servers in a restaurant. They have their own hopes and fears, crosses to bear, dreams to fulfill.

Each has a story to tell.

Writer's block? Don't think so. Not if you look.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Back to Baker Street

The deerstalker hat. The calabash pipe. The tobacco in the Persian slipper. The foggy streets of London. Sitting by the fire at the rooms on Baker Street, waiting for the client to ascend the stairs and burst in the door...

Longtime blog readers and pals will attest that I am a huge fan of old black and white films from the 1940s and early '50s. (Pal Mike Herman teased me ceaselessly over just such a picture, "Christmas in Connecticut," that I wrote about during the holidays.)

That's OK. I don't mind. Cause these flicks are so much fun.

I love nothing more on a cold winter night than to curl up in the recliner, dim the lights and lose myself in one of those monochrome classics. Such it was last night, and the film was an installment in one of my all-time favorite series, the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes adventures.

A friend of mine -- who likes to be called the Giant Rat of Knoxville -- reminded me recently that I have poor-mouthed the wartime entries in the classic Holmes series. I merely said that I prefer Holmes where he belongs, back in Victorian England.

But I decided that was unfair and happened to catch one of the World War II pictures last night, "Sherlock Holmes in Washington." The plot is forgettable. Let's just say that Holmes and Watson have to travel to America to help retrieve a document that contains vital national secrets. In case you're wondering, everything works out OK in the end.

As with most of these period films, the fun lies in the journey. Rathbone is superb as the Master Sleuth. Jeremy Brett fans can say what they will, but Rathbone is the best Holmes. It isn't even close.

(For the record, I enjoy the early Grenada/Brett installments very much -- but his Holmes is just a bit too bizarre for my taste. The latter episodes are unwatchable.)

I've also always thought that Nigel Bruce was unfairly criticized for his portrayal of Dr. Watson. Yes, he's often assigned the comic relief in these films, and occasionally it's annoying. But his Watson shines with a warmth and puppy dog sincerity that other interpretations sorely lack.

And I must say I enjoyed Holmes' out-of-time adventure much better than I remembered. It isn't foggy London of the turn of the last century, but it's still a lot of fun.

At one time, Holmes held a Guinness world record for being the most portrayed character in TV and film. And it's easy to see why. Whether it's Victorian London, wartime America, or, yes, here in the early 21st century, the great detective, his hat and pipe, and his faithful sidekick Watson possess something that's downright timeless.

Maybe it's just viewer envy. I wish I could just take one look at somebody and tell them everything about themselves...

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, February 18, 2008

What's wrong with 'Presidents' Day

Don't ask me why this bugs me. But it does.

I have a fundamental problem with the notion of "Presidents Day." I've never understood why Washington and Lincoln's birthdays fell by the wayside in favor of this catch all day. You can't tell me that Warren G. Harding and Grover Cleveland and Rutherford B. Hayes deserve to be honored along with George, Abe, TR and the "greats."

Knowing the federal government, I suspect that Presidents Day was designed to lump the Washington and Lincoln birthdays into one, especially in order to not have two holidays so close to one another, rather than an attempt to honor all 43 of our nation's leaders.

Which makes sense. Unlike our friends overseas, we can't be off every time the wind blows. (Well, unless you're Knox County Schools.) But, still...

Here's a more important point. Presidents Day reminds me yet again how ignorant we as a society are becoming about our past. It's downright shameful.

I couldn't believe a recent British survey. Apparently, a sizable number of college-aged English chaps actually think that Sherlock Holmes was real human being, actually out there solving cases on the foggy streets of London, while Winston Churchill was an imaginary character.

Things aren't much better across the pond. Just watch Jay Leno's "on the street" interviews some night on NBC.

All isn't lost, though. Regardless of what you hear, we've got some great high school history teachers in town. Pals Dean Harned and Tim Reeves are two of the best. They make it come alive, like all the good instructors do.

Whenever I hear the phrase "history is boring," I shudder and think to myself, "No, the social studies teacher you had in high school taught it in such a way that made is boring."

Still, I can't help but think we're partially to blame for the ever-increasing lack of historical understanding. Look at the moniker "Presidents Day" on your calendar for just one example...


Sunday, February 17, 2008

The song never forgets...

Those of you who read my Shopper column this week ( will know about my recent visit to Lost and Found Records in North Knoxville. Yep, they still sell (and specialize in) those classic vinyl albums.

My visit made me think about being 5 years old -- and about the Oak Ridge Boys. One of my fondest memories is of Dad bringing me that Oaks album ("The Oak Ridge Boys Deliver!"). My all-time favorite song was "Ozark Mountain Jubilee."

My goal in life wasn't to become a firefighter or a police officer. Nope, I was going to be an Oak Ridge Boy when I grew up. Sad, huh?

It's funny how music can take you back. I've often said that songs have the best memories. You might have forgotten the moment. But the song never does. Trisha Yearwood, the country singer, had a great tune out a few years ago about that very thing.

Whenever I hear William Lee Golden's bittersweet lament to a Missouri childhood, I think about living in the house on Norris Freeway. I recall little pieces of time.

The Fisher-Price record player. Watching the 45 rpm single circle round and around. Waking in the mornings and fighting with all my might not to take a bath. Playing the 8-track out in the laundry room.

I was nuts about music even then. Mom says I could sing Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler" when I was 2 years old. Somebody has a tape of it somewhere. (Geez, talk about blackmail material.)

Tunes can be bittersweet. They remind you of the one that got away, or the one that never was. Happy spring evenings, cold winter nights, the fact that 10 years (or 20) have slipped by in a blink.

Vinyl, 8-track, cassette, CD, digital -- the source doesn't matter (although I still prefer the LP sound). The music remains, the tunes are forever. Time marches on, memories fade, lovers fade away, friends forsake or depart.

But the song never forgets.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, February 16, 2008

One crazy ride

Hi gang.

Sorry it's been awhile. Felt bad. Nasty cold. Glad it's over. Good to see you in here this morning. Pull up a seat. We gotta get caught up.

I tell ya, life is one crazy ride. People talk about life being nuts to the point of cliche. But it's true.

I've had a lot of ups and downs this week, but in the end, things just always seem to work out for the best. If I've learned anything these last (nearly) 30 years, it's that the worst isn't nearly as bad as it seems and the best -- those amazing, wonderful highs -- make the ride worthwhile.

Got off late from work last night. After blabbing on the phone for a couple of hours, I flipped on the TV. Lo, and behold, two of my favorite movies were playing back to back. Perfect way to end a wild week.

First up, there was John Wayne, riding tall in the saddle one last time in his final picture, "The Shootist."

Poignant as it is, I've always loved that film. Big Duke faces the Big C (ironically the disease that would kill the actor in real life three years later) with dignity and class. And, fitting the life of a famous gunslinger, Wayne's character, John Bernard Books, goes out with a bang.

I enjoy "The Shootist" because it quietly allows for character development -- and for an engaging story to unfold. There isn't much action until the end, no explosions, no mind-numbing CGI special effects. No, this is an old-fashioned story told with sophistication and plain ol' talent.

After the final curtain fell on the Duke, Turner Classic Movies began showing another favorite, Robert Altman's "Nashville." It's difficult to watch in some ways, but talk about character development.

Altman worked a mosaic like no other director before or since. These characters bump into each other, they live their lives, and we learn a lot about them, and ourselves and our culture during the nearly 3 hour running time.

And, as Roger Ebert has observed, they are indeed characters; they feel so darn alive, sometimes a rare sight in the Hollywood dream factory.

"Nashville" was released in 1975, but if ever a film is still relevant, it's this one. Altman was years ahead of his time in connecting politics and entertainment and making comments about what all that means. And while some of the music is absolutely dreadful, some of it is pretty darn good.

The performances are nothing short of wonderful. Henry Gibson is dead-on as a Porter Wagoner-esque aging country crooner. Lily Tomlin, Keenan Wynn and Ronee Blakley (who channels Loretta Lynn nearly as well as Sissy Spacek did a few years later -- and she was trying) top the list of this superb supporting cast.

I won't give away the ending for those who haven't seen it, but I don't think I've ever been more "shocked" by a film's conclusion than what happens at the Music City's Parthenon just before the credits roll (not counting a cheap trick ending like "Planet of the Apes"). If you love well-done cinema -- in the best sense of what that means -- put "Nashville" on your Netflix list. You have to work at it, but it's worth the effort.

I wanted to keep watching last night, but knew I couldn't possibly hang on until 5 a.m. So I clicked off the tube about 30 minutes into Altman's masterpiece, turned out the lights and marveled about this nutty journey just before slumber shut down my thoughts for the night.

You know, it's funny. Life takes its twists and turns, and I guess part of the fun of this vida loca is that we never quite know what lies around the bend.

All I know is the best thing we can do is laugh as much as possible -- through the joy and the pain -- turn the radio up when your favorite song comes on and in general have as much fun as the law allows.

Cause life is good, folks. And it's too damn short to waste.

Peace out. I'll see you soon.

Labels: , , ,