Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Rainy day on Rocky Top

Rainy day on Rocky Top.

Course, that's not keeping the crazies from driving like maniacs. On my way back from the downtown Rotary Club, I was cut off by a guy hauling mowing equipment and watched another car zoom in and out of traffic while motorists paused for puddles. Absolutely insane.

Got the iPod back last night. Glad to be back online. Immediately went to iTunes and spent five or six bucks, on some classics by Dionne Warwick, Crowded House, Joe Feliciano and the Oak Ridge Boys. Added a few albums from the CD collection as well.

Went to sleep to the iPod shuffle. Somewhere before slumber, Tom T. Hall popped up, singing about "The Year Clayton Delaney Died." What a song. What a storyteller.

Couldn't help but notice how much better the iPod behaves when synced to a Mac. That's still the best investment I've ever made.

Now, I just gotta get a home docking station and another car adapter and I'll be in bid'ness.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The music warms the heart

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. -- Of all the things for which I am thankful, music is near the top of the list.

At its best, it's a balm, a best buddy. Thus it was at the Down Home last night, when Robinella brought her sweet sad songs to the Tri-Cities for Thanksgiving.

The old favorites were there, "Man Over," still lost forever; "Teardrops," still not making a sound when they fall to the ground; "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," Hank's weeper, still pure and poignant. And she pulled some gems out of her bag of tricks, including an Aretha Franklin cover, sweet soul, heck yeah. The best band -- Justin, Mike and Taylor -- backed her up and she joked and grinned and strummed her guitar and made us feel good.

The Hobarts were here from Cincinnati. The best part about this whole thing is the friends I've met through the music. It has, quite literally, changed my life.

We hold on to these moments ever so tight anymore. Now that Robin's not playing down the street each Sunday night we savor the sunshine, put a little away for a rainy day.

If you get a chance, make the jaunt to Johnson City to the Down Home. It's quaint and it's cool and you can write on the bathroom walls. And the good ones come here, to play and sing, and they tell you if you want to talk during the tunes, take a hike.

It was the perfect period to the holiday weekend, a jump-start to Christmas season, as friends gathered to hear good music, the kind that warms the heart.

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Good ol' Charles Schulz

Today is the birthday of an American icon, the man who has brought me (and countless others) years and years of joy, Snoopy's creator, good ol' Charles Schulz.

To me, Charlie Brown and the "Peanuts" gang are as much a part of holidays as turkey and tinseled trees. The beloved TV specials still air each year and, by all accounts, are as popular as ever.

Of course, I found him in the funnies, where his beloved strip ran for half a century. The early ones were giddy and even a bit mean, the later ones cute and sentimental. Schulz died on Feb. 12, 2000 -- one day before his final original "Peanuts" strip was set to run.

Much of "Peanuts" is autobiographical. (He really did love a red-haired girl.) Hailing from Minneapolis, Schulz loved ice skating and ice hockey, so much so he had a rink constructed when he got rich and moved to California. Let's not forget that he was a combat veteran in World War II.

He was a bit of an introvert, but did allow my friend Rheta Grimsley Johnson to write an authorized biography of him 20 years ago. Others have been released, to controversy, in the last several years.

I have found much wisdom between the lines of this little strip. Charlie "Good Grief" Brown is doomed but determined. Linus ponders the meaning of it all. Lucy is, well, Lucy.

But I fell in love with that beagle the first time I saw him. Snoopy is the strip's Walter Mitty, always daydreaming, whether it's racing the Red Baron or checking out the co-eds as Joe Cool. I still laugh at him -- just as hard -- each year when the Christmas special airs. I walked into kindergarten at Brickey Elementary School with a Snoopy satchel. As a boy, I had a beloved Snoopy stuffed animal. A Snoopy clock and coffee mugs ordain my mantle at Christmas.

Schulz gave us something that is richer than gold. Happy birthday, Sparky, wherever you are.

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Star spangled reasons to give thanks

Let’s get right down to it. This ain’t been a great year.

Recession. Political bickering. Floods. Earthquakes. Locusts. (OK, I made that last one up.)

But, oh, do we have much for which to be thankful. Look around sometime when you’re walking down a busy sidewalk or eating out. Chances are one of the reasons is right beside you.

I am thankful for Randy Kington. Randy heeded his country’s call, went to war and got shot in the neck. He can’t use his legs.

But that didn’t keep this mighty marine down. He found his faith in that godforsaken Asian jungle, married a good woman and travels around the country, telling his tale. He even calls it the greatest day of his life.

I am thankful for Gerald Clark, US Army, Greatest Generation. Gerald lost his leg in Germany during the waning days of World War II. He didn’t let that keep him down, either.

In fact, Gerald says losing his leg was the best thing that ever happened to him. Because, he says, “I can empathize with people.”

Gerald became a minister. He worked hard behind the scenes to make the Ben Atchley Veterans Home a reality. So humble is Gerald he didn’t even mention it when interviewed by a reporter.

He smiles real big when he says that his coworkers at TVA were shocked when they finally found out he possessed a prosthetic leg.

“That was the best compliment I’ve ever received,” he says.

I am thankful for Clyde Beeler, proud Navy guy, who survived a typhoon on board the USS Pittsburgh. Clyde did his job and he did it well. When asked what he did after the war, he said, “Well, I didn’t do anything for awhile. Just hunted and fished.” That’s OK, ‘cause Clyde had earned the R&R.

I am thankful for Bruce Blakely, super stud on the Red Devil football field circa 1968. Big Bruce could have probably played college ball somewhere. But he joined the Marines, wound up in the ‘Nam, and lost his life there, walking point on a night when he didn’t have to.

Those who later served with him said that when Bruce saw the flash of light that turned out to be another marine’s cigarette, he told his squad to spread out. Had he not done so, they all might have been killed by friendly fire.

I am so thankful for Randy, Gerald, Clyde, Bruce and thousands and thousands of others just like them. I’m thankful for John Sevier and all those Revolutionary heroes, who told the Brits to take their tea and stuff it. I am thankful for Andy Jackson’s Tennessee Volunteers, running through the briars and brambles on that little trip in 1814, ending the War of 1812 after it was already finished.

I am thankful for those who went to Mexico, for the Yankees and the Rebels, for the studs who went to the Spanish-American War. I am thankful for those who stood tall in the trenches during the Great War. And you better believe I’m thankful for the Greatest Generation.

One corner of my heart is reserved for those who went to Korea, now sadly called the Forgotten War. And shame on us, ‘cause that never should be forgotten. I am thankful for all 58,000 names on that stark, black Gabbro wall in Washington, never to return from ‘Nam. And I salute those who have gone to the Gulf, twice now, and those awesome Americans in Afghanistan.

I give special thanks to those buried in figurative and literal Flanders Fields, for they offered up the last full measure of devotion. For it is they who gave me the freedom of the press, the freedom to worship as I choose, the ability to vote, the blessing of living in the greatest country on earth.

And let’s never forget the POWs and MIAs — who never made it home.

Oh, yes, friends, I am indeed thankful this Thanksgiving. These are but a few of the million star-spangled reasons why.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

New Sinatra bio ring-a-ding-dings!

Stayed up until 1 a.m. last night to finish "Frank: The Voice," James Kaplan's swinging, zinging new biography of Frank Sinatra.

If you've read anything else on the Chairman of the Board -- and there's plenty out there -- forget it. This is it, king of the hill, A-No. 1, top of the heap.

Kaplan writes in a fluid, fun style, irreverent, sweet, sometimes vulgar -- much like its subject. Yes, you get all those naughty details about dalliances and "dames" (as Sinatra would have called them), but Kaplan doesn't forget that Sinatra was a singer, an artist, and the music is why he matters.

It stops in 1954, right after the "From Here to Eternity" triumph and Frankie's split with the stunning Ava Gardner. Here's hoping that means that part two isn't far behind.

Peter Guralnick gave Elvis his due in "Last Train to Memphis" and "Careless Love." Kaplan has done so here for Ol' Blue Eyes. This is the biography he deserves, a ring-a-ding-ding kind of gasser, as alive and kickin' as one of Sinatra's best singles.

If you love The Voice, don't miss this book.

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Nov. 22, 1963

Today is the 47th anniversary of the day that President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated by LEE HARVEY OSWALD in Dallas, Texas.

I'll get into a diatribe about all these "conspiracy theories" another time, but in remembrance today, here is a link to the first of a fascinating series of YouTube videos that airs the CBS broadcast day for Nov. 22, 1963, beginning with the episode of "As the World Turns" that was being broadcast live at 1:30 p.m. (Eastern), almost the exact moment that Kennedy was shot.

Just to show you how much technology has improved, the reason you only hear Walter Cronkite in the first few announcements is because he was waiting for the CBS news cameras to warm up!

The first video can be found here.

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Friday, November 19, 2010

Two minutes that changed the world

On this date in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered the greatest speech in American oratorical history. His cogent, simple words captured in two minutes what the featured speaker that day, Edward Everett, couldn't say in two hours.

I post the speech below, with the continued prayer that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall never perish from the earth.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

People watching at the Apple store

Beatlemania is back -- at least according to the affable assistants at the Apple Store.

Walked in about 7:30 last night to get my iPod checked out. (New battery, $59.95 plus tax, should take a week.) The Liverpool lads were bouncing off the walls. Posters peppered the place. In case you ain't heard, their music has come to iTunes.

I stood in the corner, trying not to look too impatient, strummed an air guitar to "Get Back," and looked.

One preppy guy wore a pissed off look on his face. It took him FOREVER to get waited on, then when he got up to the help desk (Genius Bar in Apple lingo), he pulls out this HUGE, awesome looking monitor. I think he got a new one.

Beside him sat this good looking blond-haired woman who reminded me of the girl I had a crush on back in the 8th grade. She was dressed well and glanced around the room when she got bored. Don't know what her problem was, but she was still there when I left.

My iPod needed to be charged, so I nodded to the Girl Genius, leaned back against the wall and mouthed the words to "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."

A forty-something couple walked in with a motherboard.

"Is this your first Mac?" I heard Guy Genius ask.

"Yeah. Well, first one since the 1980s."

Guy Genius laughed.

Girl Genius was making headway on my iPod when this stylish teen sporting what looked like snow boots walked in. She had a problem with her iPhone. Guy Genius No. 2 told her it would take awhile. She'd have to come back.

When Girl Genius told me I could either order a new battery or get 10 percent off a new iPod, I was tempted. The new Classics hold something like 140 gig (mine has 30). But Christmas is coming and I couldn't justify it. New battery is fine.

Don't want to craft a commercial here, but the Geniuses were great. Best customer service I've seen in some time.

Just as I left somebody turned the music down.

Please, please me, oh yeah, like I please you...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

'Ellery Queen' is lost classic, lots of fun

Thanks to the greatness that is Netflix, I can rent some of these awesome TV series sets without breaking the bank.

Found out that an old favorite, the underappreciated “Ellery Queen” from the mid-1970s, has rolled out onto DVD. Culled it into my queue and watched the first disc over the weekend. Perfect fodder for a foggy night.

The gist of it is that Queen is a famous mystery writer (real books exist under that name, which is a nom de plume for two people) who helps his police detective father figure out fuzzy whodunits. Near the end of each episode, Ellery even breaks the fourth wall to ask the audience, “Do you know who the killer is?”

Jim Hutton (likeable later sidekick to John Wayne in several flicks) plays our hero. Veteran actor David Wayne plays his dad and even John “Jonathan Quayle Higgins” Hillerman shows up as a popular radio host. It’s a period piece set during 1947 and is a lot of fun. Well-known guest stars populate each episode.

It feels a lot like “Murder, She Wrote” sans Angela Lansbury and that’s so for good reason. “Ellery Queen” was developed by Richard Levinson and William Link, who later helped Peter S. Fischer create that classic. (They also created “Columbo” and “Mannix.”)

Don’t know why this one didn’t make it. It’s fun to try to outwit the detective and you’ve got to be awfully observant to do it.

Whatever the case, it’s worth a look, if you’re into this kind of thing.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Back to the future

Elvis, Batman, "Family Ties" and go, Vols, go.

File this one under "Back to the Future." Great weekend. Good times.

Where to start?

Friday afternoon old pal Ross Southerland sent me a text.

"Conway and Loretta at Memories tonight. Would you like to come, bring your girlfriend?"

Memories means the Pigeon Forge theater, Lou Vuto and friends, Elvis, Vegas style, thankyouverymuch. So Jenn, her niece Leigha and I navigated the Nissan up to the Parkway.

Traffic was terrible. Ross called about 5:45. "You're going to be disappointed," he said.

We stopped at Zaxby's in Sevierville for dinner. From there to the theater -- no more than 10 miles -- took 45 minutes.

But we made it and was it fun. "Conway and Loretta" did well. Lou sang "Suspicious Minds" and some others. It reminded me of those halcyon days in the mid 90s.

Saturday was stunning, picture perfect, gorgeous goodbye to fall. Neyland Stadium was happening, happy, homecoming. Tyler Bray found some luck. Receivers were alert. Ole Miss wasn't.

Oh, almost forgot to tell you. Found a new channel, The Hub, on the tube. Used to be called Discovery Kids.

Hub shows "Batman," the good, campy one, Pow! and Zonk!, Adam West, Burt Ward, same bat time, same bat channel. And "Family Ties," a favorite from forever ago.

"Happy Days" happens on there, too, as does "The Wonder Years" and "Fraggle Rock" and other fun.

So now it's back to work, but not before back to the future, "Blue Suede Shoes," good ol' "Rocky Top," Pow! and Zonk!, "What would we do, baby, without us?"

Not a bad weekend, huh?

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Star-spangled salute to our veterans

On the 11th day of the 11th month, when we pause to give a star-spangled salute to all of our veterans, here are some special veterans that I am remembering today, in addition to everyone who served.

Larry G. Mabe, US Army
Phillip Mabe, US Army
Kenneth E. Mabe, US Army
Larkin W. Mabe, Confederate States of America, Carter's Cavalry
Nelson Jennings
Larry Van Guilder, US Air Force
Bruce Blakely, US Marine Corps
Steve Person, US Marine Corps
Steve Wolfe, US Marine Corps
Jim Hansard, US Navy
Matt Shouse, US Marine Corps
Gary Hickey, US Marine Corps
Greg Davis, US Marine Corps
Felix Fuentes, US Marine Corps
Edgar Jobes, US Marine Corps
Randy Jarrell, US Marine Corps
Larry Wade, US Marine Corps
Gerald Clark, US Army
Sam Hardman
Clyde Beeler, US Navy
Kurt Pickering, US Air Force
Danny Weaver, US Marine Corps
Bill Harned, US Navy
Earl Shelton, US Army
George "Ed" Byer, US Army
Randy Kington, US Marine Corps
Glenn Lewis, US Army
Jerry Lyons, US Army
Francis Ayers

What you did gave proof through the night that our flag was -- and is -- still there. Happy Veterans Day!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

UT prof's new novel gets high marks

Not bad, is it, for a writer to be compared to Walker Percy and F. Scott Fitzgerald?

UT creative writing professor Michael Knight has been mentioned favorably in the same breath with those literary lights. Read his new novel, "The Typist," over the course of an evening. Calm. Concise. Cool.

The story is set in Tokyo during the American occupation of Japan after World War II. The main character is a kid from Alabama who is assigned to Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s staff as a typist.

Knight says the idea for the novel first came to him after reading a newspaper article about a football game that was played at Nagasaki a few years after an atomic bomb was dropped there in August 1945.

“But I couldn’t get in touch with the character, I didn’t understand what the story was supposed to be,” Knight says.

So, he put it away to work on short stories. While signing books in Gainesville, Fla., Knight met a man who told him he was a typist under MacArthur’s command in Japan following the war.

“And I realized it’s a much more personalized story,” Knight says, “which I hope is sort of a coming of age story.”

Knight says he read several biographies on MacArthur while researching the book and was delighted to discover that one of the general’s nicknames was “Bunny.” Big Mac makes guest appearances in the book as Knight has his main character become a babysitter for MacArthur’s son, Arthur.

Publishers Weekly says that “The Typist” is “not quite darkly comic, not quite ironic … driven by earnest, unaffected storytelling and the soft shocks it delivers render this a modest, entertaining story.”

I concur. It was a nice shift from Pat Conroy's pyrotechnics and it even made me want to dig out my copy of William Manchester's MacArthur bio "American Caesar" once I finish James Kaplan's fantastic new book on Frank Sinatra.

Knight won't knock your socks off, but he charms you with his cogent, quiet style and superb storytelling. It's great company for a cold winter's night by the fire.

“The Typist” is available from Amazon.com, other book outlets and through the Knox County Public Library. The New York Times review can be found here.

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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Phone call from Clyde

Clyde Beeler called this morning.

I met Clyde earlier in the year. He's one of the Greatest Generation, proud Navy man, great guy.

Clyde served on the USS Pittsburgh, the Baltimore-class heavy cruiser that was hit by a typhoon in the Pacific during World War II. It was the greatest adventure of Clyde's life.

He told me he'd read a piece I'd written this week on the Battle of Kings Mountain. Says the grave of one of its vets is located in a big, old cemetery in Grainger County, up near where he was born.

"Call me sometime and I'll go with you," he said.

I told him I would.

Then Clyde starts telling me about a bridge not far from the cemetery. He says a gang ran through there back in the '30s, killing a Union County sheriff named Hutchison in the process. He told me he'd show me that, too.

And he gave me the name of another Navy man who called Clyde after my article came out. "He's got a story to tell you!"

These grand old guys are leaving us. Clyde is up in his 80s, mentally sharp, but slowing down. They will be gone one day and with them will go their stories and their spirits.

Getting to tell their tales has been the best part of my beat.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Conroy champions better way in new book

So I finished "My Reading Life," Pat Conroy's ode to the books (and the book people) that have shaped him. Completed the slim volume in one last gasp, just before 1 a.m., having passed the point of no return, the moment when a book screams "Finish me!" and you obey.

Like my usual time spent with Conroy from Carolina, I left it feeling enraptured, engaged, delighted, and yes, a bit deflated. I'm not sure why.

It made me want to hole up and hibernate for the winter, primed with a plethora of books, to tackle the tomes he loves. Thomas Wolfe and Tolstoy. Balzac. James Dickey. He even suggests another go around with "Gone with the Wind."

I, too, know what it's like to feel the pulse begin to pound at the sight of a used bookstore. I, too, know what it's like when a book grabs you, stabs you, haunts your dreams, rearranges your life. I loved hearing Conroy's version in his curious way.

But the best of the rest was his chapter about Gene Norris, a beloved English teacher who gave a trembling, terrified adolescent a gift he could never quite repay. Norris taught him, yes. He gave him books, indeed. But he drove him to the Wolfe boardinghouse in Asheville. He took Pat to meet a poet. He saw a spark and ignited an inferno.

In a way, "My Reading Life" is almost elegiac. He laments being born in the century in which novels lost their stories, music lost its melody, art lots its form. He says he read something claiming that paper-printed books will be obsolete in two years.

Maybe, maybe not. But I get his point. We no longer live in a literary age. Sound bites have made us spastic. Can't sit still. No time for stories. No time for depth.

We're a worse nation for it. Cheers to Pat Conroy for championing another, better way.

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Sunday, November 07, 2010

Look around; characters abound

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn., Nov. 6 -- I've always been rather amused by the notion of writer's block.

Can't speak for everybody. My gut tells me it smacks of pretentiousness. Or laziness. Or something.

We're at the Down Home, cool joint, house of music. Good stuff. Appalachian and authentic.

Cruz Contreras and the Black Lillies are on the bill. Oh my.

Watched Cruz for a year or two when he fronted the band for his ex, Robinella. Knew he could pick. Had no idea he could sing.

But he can and it's cool, especially when whatever he's picking mixes with Trisha Gene Brady's harmony and Tom Pryor's pedal steel. "Whiskey Angel," wow and wonderful. Darn tootin'.

I mention writer's block because colorful characters abound here. Sitting at the end of our row is a bespectacled woman wearing a book and a bored look. She throws us a curve when she asks our friend Mike if he'll pretend to be her date should her ex show up. Mike, ever the gent, agrees.

She lights up when she hears we're from Knoxville. She likes Robin and Cruz and some of the other local talent. She smiles when she hears I'm a writer and says her daughter has dabbled in newspapering. She herself writes journals, but she says she's too wordy to be read. As my mind wanders elsewhere, I hear her telling Mike that she's worked in patents after Mike mentions his daughter does the same in D.C.

After the figurative curtain falls, the guy beside Jenn says the windows on his car have frosted over. Which makes sense, since it's freezing.

The guy then tells us he works for the railroad and often leaves the VW bus he finally found and restored down by the tracks, should he jaunt to Knoxville to dig some tunes.

"I sleep in it sometimes so I don't have to drive back," he says.

"Maybe we'll see you around town," I say on the way out the door. His twang and the image of that bus stay with me on the way home.

Writer's block? I think not.

Just look around. Characters abound.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Super Sam Bush rocks and socks Maryville crowd

MARYVILLE, Tenn. -- Bluegrass and Bob Marley, electric mandolin and funk fusion?

Yeah, that could only mean Sam Bush.

The so-called Newgrass pioneer has been tearing up tradition ever since Bill Monroe told him to "stick to the fiddle" after hearing Bush's now famous mandolin licks.

Ol' Bill might have rolled over in his grave last night when Bush and his band rocked and socked the Clayton Center for the Arts in Maryville with a "you've gotta be kidding me" encore of Marley's "One Love." But, damn, if it didn't work. Let's get together and feel alright!

Bush is something of an acquired taste. A few of the more, er, geriatric members of the audience left during portions of the program. But, man, did they miss it. And, maybe, they missed the point.

For all of his joking about corrupting young bluegrass pickers, Bush is carrying on a tradition started by Charlie Waller and continued later by the Seldom Scene -- tipping your mandolin to Monroe and his G-run before flying off into the ether. You can hear strains of the "Flatt and Scruggs Show" that Bush loved as a kid. And you can also hear reggae and rock and roll and God knows what else. But maybe that's the way it should be. Plus, he can moan that mandolin (and float that fiddle bow) like nobody's bid'ness.

Bush highlighted some tough tunes, including "The Ballad of Stringbean and Estelle," the story song he wrote with Guy Clark and Verlon Thompson about the 1973 murder of popular "Hee Haw" and Grand Ole Opry performer David "Stringbean" and Estelle Akeman. Some guy kept yelling for "The Ballad of Spider John," so he finally did that one, too.

But, oh, my God. Those other encores.

Yes, "One Love" worked, a groovin', soothin', smooth swirl of mountain and Marley music.

Those rushing home missed the awesome, orgasmic 15-minute "Up on Cripple Creek" jam, can't believe it, yes, they did, pick some more and do it again. Sam brought back his band -- Todd Parks and Stephen Mougin and Chris Brown and the renowned Scott Vestal and his banjo. Then back came opening act Missy Raines and the New Hip. On it went, stop-time, magic time, blending The Band and Kentucky bluegrass, "up on Cripple Creek she sends me" giving way to Vestal's banjo and Bill Monroe's "Cripple Creek," bringing it full circle, tradition meets today.

I don't care for the rock and roll and part of me still likes to hear high lonesome and a howdy. But, holy cow. To hear Sam Bush is to hear something special, alive and awesome, fresh and fun.

Hate to tell you, Mr. Monroe, but this crazy ass mandolin picker from Bowling Green belongs somewhere right there with ya.

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Thursday, November 04, 2010

Godspeed, Sparky

Godspeed to Sparky Anderson, former manager of the Cincinnati Reds and Detroit Tigers, who passed away today from complications due to dementia.

I am not qualified to write about one of my childhood favorites, so I'll link you to the incomparable Hal McCoy, retired sports writer for the Dayton Daily News.

His thoughts are here

I will share this much: Sparky was so popular he even appeared on the hit TV series "WKRP in Cincinnati" as himself. He was supposed to be taking part in a live call-in show.

Hilarious scene:

CALLER: Sparky?
CALLER: How ya doin'?
CALLER: That's good. (Pause) Well, see ya!

That rerun happened to be playing the night I visited Tiger Stadium for the first and last time in 1999. We took it as an omen. Yes, the woeful Tigers beat the Baltimore Orioles later that day.

Rest in Peace, Sparky.

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Cup of cheer for Charles Frazier

Happy 60th birthday to Asheville, N.C. author Charles Frazier, whose breakout book, "Cold Mountain," caused me to happily lose a lot of sleep shortly after its release in 1997.

Frazier's style doesn't exactly lend itself to propping up your feet by the fire. I read "Cold Mountain" over spring break 1998 and had to work at it, keeping a dictionary nearby. It was a little like sifting through dense fog. But with that, too, comes the exhilarating feeling when all becomes clear.

I have made a couple of false starts at his 2006 novel "Thirteen Moons." Reviews were mixed. My friend Bridget Trogden, whose opinion on all things literary I respect, liked it. It sits on my shelf, waiting its turn.

What I remember most about "Cold Mountain," other than its language, is the power of the narrative, sweeping you along in its undertow, alternating from hero Inman's journey from a Civil War infirmary back to Cold Mountain and his beloved Ada, and her struggle to work the family farm and stay alive after her pastor father passes away.

It's leaps and bounds better than the 2003 film adaptation, which is fine in its fashion. I also remember feeling popped like a balloon when Inman meets his fate.

According to Garrison Keillor's "Writer's Almanac" entry today, Frazier based the novel on a family story about an ancestor actually named Inman, who did indeed tire of the war and decide to walk home. Keillor says that Frazier's wife passed the manuscript along to a friend, author Kaye Gibbons, who for once actually told a writer to quit his day job (teaching college).

Frazier now raises horses on a farm near Raleigh, N.C. According to Wikipedia, he says his next novel, unlike the previous two, will be set in the 20th century.

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Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Savoring final season of 'Friday Night Lights'

Given that much of television is a wasteland, for four seasons now "Friday Night Lights" has been an oasis in a desert.

Nobody watches it and I don't understand why. I'm tempted to be a snob and say it's because the viewing public wouldn't know class if it bit them in the ass. Others say they stay away because everybody thinks the show is about football.

But it isn't about football. It's about family and friendship and having faith. It's about growing up. It's about navigating through the slings and arrows of adolescence.

And, as corny as this sounds, it's about heart.

The thing I love about the show is it feels so darn real. It's character driven, which makes it another TV anomaly, and for once the characters don't seem like cardboard cutouts. Other than one big misstep during its second year (involving a murder), "FNL" has stayed true to that standard.

It is playing out its last season. I'm going to be sad to see it go.

I miss the original cast, but like real life high school, kids come and go. I love the show's two stars, Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton. Their Coach Eric and Tammy Taylor play out one of the most realistic marriages ever portrayed on the tube. And, oh, that every high school football player could come of age under the tutelage of a coach with Taylor's character.

"Lights" has shown a remarkable ability to reinvent itself every other year or so. Kids come and go, but nary a beat is missed. Coach Taylor has transitioned from successful, well-funded Dillon High to the poor-side-of-the-tracks East Dillon High. His team can't get too worked up about wins. They're lining the field or replacing lights in the scoreboard the following Monday. It may be an even better show now than it was during that fantastic first season.

OK, so it's idealistic and maybe even a bit soapy. But it's well-written, well-acted and a hell of a lot of fun.

Sorry you've missed it. Shows like this deserve to be savored.

The final season of "Friday Night Lights" is airing at 9 p.m. (Eastern) Wednesdays on DirecTV's 101 Network. It will air on NBC in 2011.

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Monday, November 01, 2010

Wife sets Coach Bowden straight...

Dadgum, if Bobby Bowden himself didn't turn up in K-town tonight.

He was here for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes' annual fundraiser. He's been a big supporter for a long time.

Coach tells a good tale. Here's my favorite:

Bowden's wife Ann likes to watch cooking shows on TV. It drives the coach nuts.

One night he got home, expecting dinner, only to find Ann on the couch watching "Emeril."

"Why do you watch that stuff on TV?" Coach Bowden asked. "You can't cook!"

Without batting an eye, Ann Bowden said:

"Well, you watch football on TV...."