Monday, December 6, 2010

Fighting through the deification of John Lennon

It is somehow ironic that as we approach the 30th anniversary of John Lennon's death, we hear that Don Merideth has died.

Ironic because 30 years ago, as I was watching John Smith of the New England Patriots line up for a field goal that would have would have accomplished something very rare in those days -- beating the Miami Dolphins in the Orange Bowl -- Howard Cosell informed me that John Lennon was gunned down in the foyer of the Dakota apartments in New York and was, and I can quote this practically, "dead on arrival at Roosevelt Hospital.

It didn't matter that John Smith missed the chip shot field goal. It didn't matter that the Patriots lost the game in overtime. It didn't matter that the loss put a serious dent in their hopes to make the NFL playoffs (indeed, they missed). And it didn't matter that the last time the Patriots actually won a game in Miami Lyndon Johnson was president and Lennon himself was getting ready to play Private Gripweed in Richard Lester's "How I Won The War." (The year was 1966).

Nothing mattered because nothing penetrated. I sat in the dark, long after the game ended, with my mouth open ... and with all sorts of thoughts rushing in and out of my head like trains rushing through a tunnel. They came ... and went ... and I couldn't sustain any kind of intelligent thought for hours. This, I deduced, must be what being in shock is like.

Thirty years later, we all know what happened. John Lennon was practically cannonized as a man of peace and vision ... sort of like my generation's E.F. Hutton. When he spoke, we all quieted down and listened. And when he died, we sang songs, cried, gathered en masse in Central Park as if Jesus himself was scheduled to make an appearance. With his death went the Baby Boom generation's No. 1 guru ... the person who had all the answers when everybody else didn't even know the questions.

The problem with all that, of course, is that it wasn't entirely accurate. Never mind that ... it wasn't accurate all. There will always be debate as to what, exactly, John Lennon represented. And, indeed, there have been several well-written and thoughtful pieces over the last few days devoted to de-deifying him (not exactly sure that's a word, but for these purposes, it'll have to do).

But I can tell you what he represented to me. He represented fun. And that's basically it. Fun. At every critical part of my adolescence, there was John Lennon, either singing, acting up, spouting off, making news, making an idiot out of himself for public consumption ... and all of it was just a blast.

If you think back, there was probably little noble about a lot of the things John Lennon did. He left his wife for Yoko Ono (??), and humiliated her in the process. There's pretty good evidence that he was abusive toward women, both physically and mentally.

He was a bully, again both physically and emotionally. He was vicious when putting down people he didn't like (witness his constant public harrangues of Paul McCartney). He grew disinterested in one of the entertainment's most lucrative cash cows, and came damn close to destroying its legacy with all the petty bickering -- much of it generated by him -- that accompanied the breakup of the Beatles.

What saved him from being a total miscreant, however, was that he let us all in on it. At no point during his public career did he ever shy away from allowing us a good glimpse of what was going on in his life. In fact, he practically assaulted us with it. If that John Lennon POB album circa 1970 seemed like one long therapy sesson, it's because it was. He'd just finished a primal scream therapy session with Dr. Arthur Janov, and the recording was reflective of the rawness of those sessions. Suffice it to say, many of the songs weren't pleasant.

There were three distinct Lennons in his public life. Obviously, No. 1 was Beatle John; No. was Che John; and No. 3 was daddy John.

Each stage in his life was a natural progression to the next. In the early years of the Beatles, when image was everything, Lennon kept the rougher edges of his personality well hidden. He played the game. The only problem was the game ate him alive.

Lennon had a rough, tragic childhood and matriculated into adulthood angry and bitter about much of what life had dealt him. That anger fueled him, and it probably had a lot to do with his eye-of-the-tiger approach to the Beatles in their early years. While McCartney may have eventually emerged as his equal (and foil), it wasn't that way in the early years. This was John Lennon's group, and it went where he went; and did what he did.

But the game got too expensive ... not so much in terms of money, but in terms of what it cost him emotionally. Soon after the ridiculous, incomprehensible fame, came the drugs, and the erratic behavior. As early as 1965, when he wrote "Help," Lennon was looking to bust out.

It only took another year for him to do so. Perhaps the tipping point was the controveresy he created over an off-handed remark in an interview -- done montbs earlier -- that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus Christ. The firestorm in the U.S. that resulted from it was insane, and the group got death threats. Around the same time, they encountered an extremely unpleasant situation in the Phillipines where they inadvertently stiffed Imelda Marcos by not attending one of her functions. They barely got out of their with their lives.

It was no surprise that the August 29 performance at the San Francisco Cow Palace was their last-ever live show. Beatlemania was out of control, and they were absolutely victims of their own success.

Here, we segue into Che John. Oddly, this period of his life began with a retreat. He took the Gripweed role, cut his hair, and went off on his own. But while he was sitting in Spain on location, with nothing to do for long periods of time, he wrote "Strawberry Fields Forever," which jolted their music -- already having become experimental in some ways with "Revolver," past the point of no return. No more cuddly love songs for John Lennon.

The next time anyone saw John Lennon -- and all the Beatles -- they had facial hair and had a much harder look about them. And their songs were bizarre. Strawberry Fields slid into "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band," and according to those who knew at the time, it was "drenched in drugs."

I'm sure it was. And while the music, in retrospect, wasn't terribly different than what they'd done on "Revolver," once again, thanks to the Beatles, popular music lurched toward a period of being taken perhaps too seriously by the cognoscenti of the times.

After the Beatles had been properly annointed as spokesman for a generation, all bets were off as far as Lennon was concerned. He decided the world was his oyster, and he was going to be damn sure he took advantage of it.

Any similarities, by then, between Beatle John and Che John were coincidental. Where he may have submerged his personality in the group identify in the Beatle John years, there were no such efforts in the Che years. Anything went. He wore his infidelity toward his first wife -- and their ultimate separation and divorce -- like a badge of honor. He turned sexual relations into war protests. He and Yoko Ono thought it would be a wonderful idea to pose naked on an album cover ... frontal nudity on the cover; full moons in back.

All of this, of course, was documented for posterity in "The Ballad of John and Yoko." As I've mentioned earlier, the one thing that saved Lennon was his willingness to share his experiences with his fans, and his sense of humor about it all exactly at the point where he was in jeopardy of taking himself way too seriously.

He honestly seemed able to remember that -- at the end of the day -- he was still just a rock singer.

It was during the Che John years, of course, that he decided that the Beatles were beneath him. George Harrison had kind of reached this conclusion too, but was nowhere near as strident about it as John was. And he reached it for different reasons, too -- mainly because once he started writing prolifically, he couldn't get any of his songs recorded. That deluge of music on "All Things Must Pass" reflected years of frustration over the way Lennon, McCartney and George Martin stifled him.

Lennon being Lennon, he couldn't just leave. He had to stir up a hornet's nest on his way out the door. He engaged in a very public -- and extremely unpleasant -- feud with McCartney and turned him into the heavy.

Che John put out the Plastic Ono Band album, where he said "I Don't Believe in Beatles," and he put out an album "Imagine" that had -- on the same tracks -- one of the most universally loved anthems for peace and tolerance and one of the most vicious putdowns of anyone ever written ("How Do You Sleep,"). Compared to him, Bob Dylan and "Positivelty 4th Street" were pied pipers of love.

Che John was a paradox, of course. He was against the type of violence that war produced, but not against belting around Yoko Ono if he lost his temper. He couldn't make up his mind whether he was in favor of violent revolution or against it (there are so many different versions of "Revolution" that it's hard to keep track of them al).

But in the same way John Lennon couldn't handle the notority of theh Beatle years, he couldn't, in the end, deal with the buzz he created in the Che John years. He got louder, more abrasive, got himself in trouble with the U.S. government over the way he acted, drank too much, acted up in nightclubs in the most degrading of ways (unless you don't think walking around with a Kotex on your forehead is degrading) and separated from the Woman Who Broke Up the Beatles.

Of course, after he and Ono split, he fell completely apart and it was a much-chastened Lennon who, after reuniting with her in 1975, entered Phase Three: Daddy John.

We don't know much about Daddy John. And it's quite possible the myth that was carefully crafted after he was shot to death is about as much of a fantasy story as Cinderella.

But he just shut down for five years. Nothing. Maybe the myth is true. Perhaps he just decided that after he denied his other son his presence, he wouldn't make the same mistakes with Sean. What we do know is that Mark David Chapman didn't just rob a generation of its spokesman when he shot Lennon to death on Dec. 8, 1980. He took a father away from a child who loved him very much.

We're left, of course, with memories. And thankfully, we're left with the music. Because whatever paradoxes Lennon presented as a person, there was no ambiguity about the music. Even the bad songs are good. The good ones are tremendous.

People who mourn Lennon today always bring up the line in "Beautiful Boy" that says "life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." And of course there is chilling irony about those lines, written, as they were, so close to the night that his life was taken away from him.

Either that, or they remain enraptured over "Imagine."

I go back to two songs that Lennon wrote back when he was Beatle John. The first is "Strawberry Fields," when he write the couplet, "living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see." I think there's much more irony in that, since people these days insist on misrepresenting John Lennon as some kind of modern-day Gandhi.

The second song is "I'm So Tired" and that's only because of the line "I'll give you everything I've got for a little peace of mind."

It's a plaintive plea, to be sure. But on the 30th occasion of his death, I'd like to rephrase it do say "I'd give you everything I've got to have had a little more of John."

As, I'm sure, would we all.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Small Time in a Big Time World: Why sports?

I have a friend who simply cannot stand reading about sports. She says that the minute she sees anything about sports, she automatically tunes it out and goes onto something else.

Well, I hope she violates her curious code of reading conduct and continues. But even if she doesn't ...

The argument that sports should not command so much attention in a society that has far more important things with which to concern itself is certainly valid. We're still crawling out of a recession the likes of which we haven't seen since the Great Depression (a curious question regarding that; it's off the track, but what would have happened had the electorate, in 1934, not given FDR at least his first term to solve the crisis he inherited?). Yet we're subjected to endless breathless rumination on Brett Favre and his injuries; LeBron James and his decision to play in Miami over Cleveland (well ... duh????); and thousands of other ego-driven, narcissistic, overpaid jocks who think the world truly turns on their axes.

But I submit to you that's precisely why we care so much, and pay so much attention to, competitive sports in our society. It's because those who play sports at a high competitive level are -- a lot of the time -- cartoon characters who are very easily (and very comfortably) lovable or hateable (if that's even a word).

Sunday in Foxborough, Mass., I had a chance to see the extreme ends of that spectrum. On one end was Brett Favre, who is becoming -- in his old age (athletically speaking) -- almost unbearable in his smug, arrogant jockness. On the other end, there's Tom Brady, he of the dimpled chin, matinee idol perfection, and uncanny ability to either say the right thing at all times, or smile and kid his way out of trouble if he slips up.

I suppose to some, both are equally off-putting. Favre's act is growing old -- even to his coach (apparently). He is a giant Galapagos Turtle sitting in the middle of the thoroughfare of progress. His presence on any team these days (currently the Minnesota Vikings) prevents that organization from moving forward. Further, Favre has his awfully annoying ability of making every bit of everything about him.

He is in the middle of a consecutive-game streak that was, up to this year anyway, honorable. It harkens back to Cal Ripken of the Baltimore Orioles, who surpassed Lou Gehrig's similar streak back in 1995. You know what, though? Ripken came to the realization that he was no longer up to the rigors of every day playing, and took himself out of the lineup.

Ever see "Monty Python and the Holy Grail?" Remember the black knight scene? That's Brett Favre. Yesterday, Myron Pryor of the Patriots put a 10-stitch gash into Favre's chin. Favre had to leave the field in a cart. But there he was, after the game, talking about how brave he was (again). I could just hear him say, "only a flesh wound."

The problem with people like Favre is that they're too wrapped up in themselves to realize no one buys their act anymore. What was once bravery is now seen as egotistical idiocy. No one except for, maybe, the most hopeless sycophant sees Favre as anything but a pathetic creature trying desperately to hang onto something of which he should have let go as recently as last season.

Favre is not the only one with this syndrome. Willie Mays had it too -- with disastrous results. So have many others. Rare is the player like Larry Bird, who knows when it's time to go ... and goes without any public rumination.

Brady's different ... but not really that different. Sure, he makes no waves ... says nothing that'll get him trouble (intentionally at least). He's eternally pleasant, smiling, gracious, accommodating ... so much so that it often seems cloyingly calculated. One can only imagine what goes on with Brady and his teammates behind closed doors, but there seems to be an Eddie Haskell aspect to him sometimes that leaves you just short of buying into his act.

This isn't to say that Brady's way of doing things is necessarily wrong. He tries very hard not to come off as a self-indulgent fathead. He didn't make waves when it was time to negotiate his contract ... didn't make lot of noise or issue ultimatums in the media. That's just it, though. He just seems to always be on his guard. And while I'm sure it serves the Patriots well (he is, after all, the best ambassador the franchise could have when he acts this way), you wish that, just once, he'd get up there and say something that makes seem a LITTLE less rehearsed.

But haven't we seen people like this all our lives? Especially in high school, when the pecking order of life seems to be established?

This is why I continue to fascinated with sports in all aspects. These professional jocks really aren't much different than they were in high school. Every SPORT in ever SCHOOL has a Brett Favre ... a guy with an impossibly arrogant swagger whose abilities almost put him above the law. If Brett Favre is flunking two subjects and is in danger of being ineligible, tutors are rushed to his side to prevent that from happening. Deals are made. Extra credit projects come out of the woodwork. Somehow, Brett passes and gets to play in the big game.

The guy who plays the tuba in the school band? Forget it. He's on his own.

Every school has a Tom Brady ... the anti-Favre, if you will. The guy with the good looks, who gets to take the top cheerleader to the senior prom ... they're voted King and Queen. The Tom Bradys of the world keep their hands clean. Like the Favres, they, too, can do no wrong. But where the Favres tend to push that envelope just a bit, the Bradys drink the kool-aid ... at least where you can see them.

Behind the scenes, they are every bit as distracted ... and self-absorbed ... and conceited ... as the Favres are. They just hide it better. They know how to play the game.

In high school, the sycophants may be teachers who love sports (and who played them when they were younger), coaches, administrators who see these athletes as a way to make their schools look better in ways that are much more tangible (not to mention visceral) than standardized test scores (or award-winning drama clubs). But in the world of the Favres and Bradys, the sycophants work for ESPN, and FOX, and NESN ... and other media outlets whose ratings depend on their breathless reporting of everything they do.

This is why we have ad nauseum reporting on the comings and goings of LeBron James. It's why ESPN built a set and broadcast from the Miami Heat training camp. It's why Favre and his injuries -- and the possibility of his streak being jeopardized this past Sunday -- got so much play. Sycophants are like that not so much because they truly believe these people are great. They do what they do because they're petrified of what'll ever happen if they lose access to the stars. It's why Mickey Mantle was allowed to careen through life with a glass of whiskey in one hand, a baseball bat in the other, and a woman in practically every bed he slept in. Nobody wanted to imagine what life would be like without access to him.

(It's also why JFK was also allowed to be a womanizer all those years. The party line is that those were the rules back then. Sure. Those were the rules because their success -- RATINGS -- depended upon their access to, and favoritism toward, JFK, who was the personification of glitter).)

Myself? I prefer the Randy Mosses and Charles Barkleys of the world. They can be just as nauseating, and just as ego-driven, as the others ... but they don't deny it. In fact, they revel in it.

Tom Jackson, on ESPN, said something today on SportCenter that it's difficult to arug with: That he loved guys like Randy Moss because even though they were often burrs in the saddles of their organization, they were unscripted. They said what was on their minds, and threw caution to the wind. They are few and far between.

Barkley was another one like that. Charles simply didn't care. Did he sound like an ass sometimes? Absolutely. Did it matter to him? No.

Shaquille O'Neal is also like that. It is perhaps the No. 1 blessing of his arrival in Boston this year. There's no turtle in Shaq, even though he's on his last (massively big) legs too. He knows it; he's willing to submerge himself into the Celtics' team concept if it gets him one more championship (even though we all know one reason for that is so that he doesn't end up with less rings than archrival Kobe Bryant by the time it's all said and done for him).

But that's OK. At least he won't deny it if you ask. And if he, and the Celtics, don't go all the way, it'll be a fun ride. Because Shaq's going to say what he thinks. He's already done that. After the NBA decided it was going to clamp down on all the bitching and moaning on the court by calling lightning-quick technicals, Shaq remarked that they might as well start selling referee's jerseys in souvenir shops.

So this is why I continue to gravitate toward sports. There's really little difference between athletes and politicians. They both have tremendous egos. Some manage to control them; some cannot; some manage to hide them better than others ... but they all have overblown egos.

Also in both cases, the ones who seem to make out the best are the ones who go through life with a wink and a smile. That was Bill Clinton's charm. I don't think he spent much time worrying about his gargantuan ego. He played to it, the same way Tom Brady plays to his, and Shaquille O'Neal plays to his, and that probably mitigated a lot of what he did.

You get to be a certain age, and the games tend to mean less and less, especially if you write about sports for a living. But what fuels you are the people ... the character studies ... and the personalities and circumstances that fuel the performances. That's what gets my juices flowing.

Always did ... and always will.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

I also always wanted to be The Mick, too ...

Yesterday, we discussed John Irving. Today's it's Mickey Mantle. I know that's a widely divergent swing in topics ... from America's finest contemporary author (I think so, anyway) to one of America's most flawed heroes ever.

To anyone who grew up as part of my generation (I came of age, baseball-wise, in 1961, watching Mantle and Maris try to break Babe Ruth's home run record), and loved the grand old game, Mickey Mantle was the man to be. And I say this as a lifelong Red Sox fan.

First, it must be noted, the Red Sox stunk when I was a kid. In 1965, which is the year I turned 12, they lost 100 games. They hadn't done much better in previous seasons, either. I can always remember my friend Dickie Mariano saying "how come OUR teams always stink?"

Dickie was also a Bruins fan. And they were horrible in the early-to-mid 60s too. He wasn't much of a basketball fan, I guess, and kind of forgot about the Celtics in the 60s. They made up for what the Red Sox and Bruins lacked.

Also, when the Red Sox finally got good, the Yankees turned terrible. So as a kid, I never really got the full flavor of this rabid, irrational Boston-New York hatefest. I may not like the Yankees very much today, but that's generally because of what they've done to the Red Sox in my lifetime ... and because, for the longest time, their owner (George Steinbrenner) worked diligently to MAKE himself the type of guy you could hate comfortably.

(Though it should be noted that The Boss refused to allow his groundskeepers to turn the lights off in The Stadium after the Red Sox clinched the pennant in 2004. "Let them celebrate," he told his crew. Just wondering, sometimes, whether Larry Lucchino would have been as magnanimous.)

Anyway, without all that silly hatred to cloud my judgment in the 1960s, I was really kind of ambivalent about the whole Yankee thing. Yeah, the won all the time. But truth be told, that doesn't bother me. Even back then, I understood that winning that much was something special ... something to be celebrated. Sure, you wanted to see if anyone could knock them off ... but that didn't mean you had to hate them.

And I didn't. I rooted for my Red Sox, of course. The first Major League game I ever went to was in 1962, and the Yankees tattooed the left-field wall ... and the Red Sox. I still remember the score. It was 10-6 ... the last four runs coming via home runs by Jim Pagliaroni (a three-run net job) and Bob Tillman (over everything, as Ned Martin used to say).

Mickey hit one out (I've always wanted to use that line in this manner, ever since Billy Crystal used it in "City Slickers."). The first ball I ever saw hit off the "Green Monster," up close and personal, came courtesy of Elston Howard. Oddly, the only thing I don't remember was who pitched. I want to say Ike Delock for the Red Sox ... but I have no clue about the Yankees. I didn't go to the park to see pitching. I went to see Yankees hit home runs ... and to root for the Red Sox anyway.

I was too young to appreciate Ted Williams (though meeting him in 1976 remains one of the singular thrills of my life. Really). But thankfully, I'm not to young to have witnessed Mickey Mantle in action for several good years of his career ... before his skills really started to erode.

Why am I writing about Mickey Mantle (you can't just say "Mantle;" there's far more romance in saying the whole name ... Mickey Mantle)? Because I just got through reading a biography of him by Jane Leavy, a former writer for the Washington Post, who paints a picture of everyone's All-American that can only be described as a dichotomy. We remember The Mick (an acceptable alternative to saying the entire name) as being a somewhat stoic hero ... the man who played through pain and injuries that would put the rest of us in wheelchairs.

Something was always hurting on him. And we all knew it. He was the walking prototype when it came to playing with pain. If you sat next to The Mick in the lockerroom, and saw the trainers wrapping him up like a mummy every day just so he could step onto the field, your pulled whatever, or your bruised whatever, just didn't measure up. You put on your spikes and got out there.

And that part of it was absolutely true. Nobody could ever accuse The Mick of not being a gamer. It wasn't a show.

It's also good to know, via this book (and others), that The Mick was -- very often -- a genuine mensch. He was a good guy ... and a great teammate. Perhaps some of that stemmed from the absolutely awful treatment he got from Joe DiMaggio when he was on his way up and the Clipper was in his last years. Fans of Joltin' Joe, by the way, won't like this book. There isn't one good word, anywhere, about him. In fact, had Paul Simon had been privy to some of the information in this book, he may have changed the words in "Mrs. Robinson."

The thing about the book, though, is that it pulls no punches when it comes to documenting The Mick's dark side. And if you're like me, and you looked in awe at Mickey Mantle, a lot of this stuff is unsettling. I finished the book two days ago, and when I closed it, I thought to myself that I'm glad I was 57 when I read it ... and not 17, 27 or even 37. What the years take away in some aspects they give you in wisdom and depth of understanding. You can better appreciate the downside of all that fame and adulation ... and the lengths that some people feel the need to go to either escape from it or cope with it.

The purpose here isn't to recount the book (though it's a great read, and it offers insights that you might not get in your average sports book). It is to explore, perhaps, why Mickey Mantle had the hold on all of us that he did in the first place.

First, there's the name. Mickey Mantle. Has there ever been a more symmetrically perfect name? No, there hasn't. Mickey Mantle had hero written all over it before he ever made the Big Leagues. It's a name meant for heros. It sounds otherworldy. And I kind of think, deep down, that if Babe Ruth's record was going to be broken in 1961, many of The Babe's holdouts would have preferred that someone named Mickey Mantle do it over someone with the much more pedestrian title of Roger Maris (though to me, in 1961, that name sent shivers down my spine too).

Now, I will admit ... having grown up in the era of cartoons, Mickey Mantle sounded too much like Mickey Mouse, and maybe that's why I developed such an attachment to the name too. Similarly, Who can think of Yogi Berra without thinking of Yogi Bear?

So Mickey Mantle rolled off the tongue. And it sounded almost Shakespearean when Yankees PA announcer Bob Sheppard said it too.

Mickey Mantle had a name even Jack Armstrong could have envied. And when you combin the name with the skill set, he couldn't miss. And the truth is, baseball exploded as a television spectator sport in the 1950s and 60s when the Yankees were perennially in the World Series. Every fall, with a few exceptions thrown in there, there were the New York Yankees playing in the Fall Classic, on TV, in the afternoons, with Mickey Mantle as the star of the show.

Back in the early '60s, my aunt and uncle lived down the street and around the corner from my school. My uncle's mother, Mary Ignatowicz, was a baseball fan, and I knew that if I ran from Sacred Heart School in Lynn to Perley Street, and knocked on the door like some kind of latchkey kid (now before anyone gets huffy over that remark, I was anything but a latchkey kid), Mrs. Iggy would let me in, pour me a glass of milk, get me some cookies, and we'd sit and watch the World Series.

And it was always the Yankees against somebody ... the Cincinnati Reds, San Francisco Giants, the Dodgers, the St. Louis Cardinal. By the time I got old enough not to care as much about the game (seventh and eighth grades), the Yankees were long past their prime and the Red Sox hadn't ascended to theirs.

So we grew up with Mickey Mantle on TV almost as much as The Beaver and Wally. And every time you looked up, there was Mickey Mantle hitting a walkoff homer off Barney Schultz of the Cardinals. The Mick somehow managed to take Sandy Koufax deep in Game 4 of the '63 series ... the one that the Dodgers swept.

Everybody wanted to be Mickey Mantle. If you played home run derby in your back yard, you fought over who would be The Mick. I'm a big fan of the Terry Cashman song, "Talkin' Baseball," and I know exactly what he meant when he talked about his friend who "Swore he was the Oklahoma kid." So did everyone else.

Jane Leavy's catch line in the book, called "The Last Boy" is that Mickey Mantle was the last boy in the last decade (the fifties) ruled by boys. Reading it, you get the sense of how thoroughly Mickey Mantle -- and the Yankees of that era -- owned New York (and we're talking about the days when the Dodgers and Giants still played there). You got a good sense of how empowering that had to be ... and how willing those who existed along the outer perimeter of these legends' worlds enabled them in their pursuits of liquor and other debauchery, lest they lose what little access they had (or thought they had).

Aside from being a biography of The Mick, "The Last Boy" is as good a lesson as there is on the double-edged sword of fame and adulation ... that when the crowds disperse, the lights dim, and it's just you and the mirror, it can often be an awfully scary, sobering, and intimidating moment.

Funny thing, reading the book doesn't make me wish to live those days over again so I can reverse my hero worship. Not at all. It was what it was. I was a boy. How did I know? And, really, would it have made a difference back then anyway?

When you're 12, you don't know from anything about sociology. All I know -- and knew -- is that when Mickey Mantle came to bat in the most dramatic moments of my childhood (when it came to watching sports, at least), Mickey Mantle did something heroic. He was to baseball what John Lennon was to the Beatles. As far as I was concerned, he put it on the map.

Acutally, what it does is make me wish I was even older than I am (perish the thought) so I could have experienced more -- even if vicariously -- what is must have been like to virtually own Manhattan. I only got the tail end of it.

When it comes to The Mick, I can compartmentalize. Yes, he may have been a cad ... and a sexist ... and a lush ... and all the rest. But damn, Mickey Mantle is one of the guys who made being a kid in the 1960s a whole lot of fun.

And at the end of the day, that carries a lot of weight with me.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I always wanted to be John Irving ...

I always wanted to write just like John Irving. From the time I read "A Prayer for Owen Meany," I figured THAT'S the way to write a book.

Actually, Irving has written perhaps the two most "perfect" books I've ever laid eyes upon: "The Cider House Rules" and "Owen Meany." For him, I'd imagine, duplicating such perfection can be daunting ... sort of like asking The Beatles to top the three-year period where they produced "Rubber Soul," "Revolver" and "Sgt. Pepper."

You can try ... but how many times can you be perfect? That's why there have only been a handful or so perfect games in Major League baseball over my lifetime. Even when you're very good, you invariably fall short of the mark. It doesn't mean you've lost your stuff. Indeed, Irving has come through since "Owen Meany" with some fine writing. But the harmonic convergence of a good plot, some heart-tugging language, and some serious (in my case) geographical nostalgia put these two books right at the top for me.

To wit: He had me in "Owen Meany" when he started talking about Hampton Beach, N.H.

But the problem with wanting to write like John Irving is that you can't. Nobody can. This isn't to say nobody has the talent to write a Victorian novel in the 21st century (which is essentially what most of Irving's writing is). It's just that nobody can do it quite like he does, because ... well ... he's John Irving and we're not.

Last night, Irving -- at the behest of an advanced creative writing class at Boston University -- read a passage from the book he is now writing (and as usual, the plot is very UN-mainstream) and then answered questions afterward. For someone who has so thoroughly enjoyed Irving's writing over the last quarter of a century (God, am I that old that I can toss that remark off so casually??), it was a rare treat to sit in that lecture hall and listen to a real master.

I've always heard that it's difficult for geniuses to talk about their genius. John Lennon and Paul McCartney reveal(ed) their innermost feelings about their music in much the same way a hostile witness testifies in a murder case. And with pretty much the same expressions on their faces. In their eyes (and I daresay in most eyes) the muse is best left unspoken.

But Irving was pretty candid about some of the thought processes that went into some of his books -- most notably "The World According to Garp." He said he was angry when he wrote that book ... and it's main thrust is about sexual prejudices.

Having read the book once or twice (I think I've read all his books multiple times), it's an issue that I sense was "blowing in the wind," but I could never quite nail it down. But, he said, "Garp's mother is killed by a man who hates women; and Garp is killed by a women who hates men."

True enough. And when you add the whole aspect of Roberta, the transgender ex-pro football player, that point is reinforced even more (I still cannot see John Lithgow as anyone else BUT Roberta, unfortunately).

But there were other nuggets. He says that Johnny Wheelright in "Owen Meany" is "probably gay." He doesn't know. He thinks he is. In the book, he refers to Johnny as "a non-practicing homosexual" because that's the term his mother always used for such confirmed bachelors.

However, after broaching that subject, he offered this: I'm convinced that John Wheelright is the type of person whose feet were planted firmly in the closet ... and would remain there all his life. He just couldn't say it."

All of which brings up an interesting point that I wish someone had asked him (I got there too late to write down any of the thousand million questions I had): Is there symbolism, then, that the one time Johnny got sexually aroused -- while playing with his cousin, Hester -- it was in a closet?

His homosexuality -- even in its latent, "nonpracticing" form -- is one very plausible explanation, perhaps, as to why Johnny never got over Owen's death.

Irving said he lives by Herman Melville's creed of "woe to him who seeks to please and not to appall." And I say bravo for that! Irving's books wouldn't be nearly as interesting were it not for some awfully quirky characters who get themselves into insane predicaments. And there, too, Irving has it all planned out.

"What I do, basically, is create characters who are pretty likeable, but who get themselves into situations I'd never, ever want to be in myself," he said. "And then, I think of everything bad that can possibly happen to them."

Well, yes. That's what creates conflict and drama. He said he'd never want to be Wilbur Larch, the doctor in Cider House Rules, who -- childless -- nevertheless forges a paternal bond for Homer Wells. The conflict between them arises over abortion.

Wilbur is a ob/gyn who works at an orphanage, and he sees how scarred these orphans are from a lifetime of knowing that they weren't wanted, and he feels that rather than put innocent children through that kind of colossal rejection, it would be better for all concerned if they were aborted.

Homer, an orphan (and this, here, is Irving talking last night) knows that the only thing his mother EVER gave him was life ... and, seeing the situation from the other side, isn't as eager to see the procedure as a way out.

If ONLY John Lennon were as poignantly up front about some of HIS music. I mean, I was hanging on every word.

Much of Irving's discussion last night involved the writing of novels themselves. In other interviews, he's said that writing a book is like building a house. Last night, he shared some of his blueprints.

For example, he said, he writes the ending first. He always knows where his stories want to end up. And then, he says, he works backwards to a beginning. He also said he never wants the voice of the book -- in whatever form it takes -- to sound the same as it does at the end. For a lot of reasons, he said. All his books involve the passage of time, which means that his characters mature into adulthood (and sometimes into senior citizen-hood) as they progress. They grow, both chronologically and emotionally, and he has to tailor his characters -- and their dialogues -- accordingly.

He also meticulously outlines his plots ahead of time so that by the time he's ready to write, all he has to worry about is the writing.

Someone asked him if he was ever surprised at how things turn out in his books. No, he said. He didn't like surprises. In fact, he said, he could almost tell you the chapter -- and sometimes be able to pinpoint it even closer than that -- in which momentous things happen to his characters.

He always writes the last lines of his novels right away ... and, he said, they've never changed. His beginnings? They always change. In fact, he said, he has trouble writing beginnings. But never endings.

Also, he writes all his books -- at least in the initial draft -- in longhand, because it forces him to go slow. He doesn't want to write quickly -- a luxury, he says, that being self-supporting with his writing affords him.

"My last seven novels were better put together than my first five," he said, "because by then I was self-supporting, and had more time to write them. You can't do your best work when you only have an hour or two per day to write them."

He also said -- perhaps to the dismay of many budding authors in the crowd -- that he constantly rewrites ("I love to rewrite"), thus adding more labor, and time, to the process. Since few people I know have that kind time, hearing that was a rather depressing and daunting thing.

Irving is a man who -- in his writing and in person -- doesn't mind poking you with the sharp end of the stick. For example, he said he got all over a journalist ("wouldn't be the first time a journalist has pissed me off") because, in a reference to Melville's "Moby-Dick," he forgot the hyphen.

"Do you know how important the hyphen is?" he asked. "Without the hyphen, Moby's just one of a family of Dicks. There's Mrs. Dick. And maybe Robert Dick."

Needless to say, he had his fans in hysterics.

Now, I have to confess here that, as one who did not see all the greatness in "Moby-Dick," I didn't know there was a hyphen. And I'm guessing that not a lot of people do either. It's liberally written both ways. And, in fact, there's dispute as to whether there ever was hyphen in the first place (a cursory Google search just now reveals this).

But as a standup routine, especially for one who is no Robin Williams, it wasn't bad.

(Parenthetically, the only thing we ever did, as kids, when we had to read it, was add an apostrophe to "Moby," making his Dick possessive.).

But take heart, people. One of the last things Irving said was that his way of writing was his way, and he'd never be so presumptuous as to say it was the only way. It works for him. That doesn't mean it works for everybody.

But it makes sense. Especially if you're like me, and -- because of what I do for a living -- you think in short bursts and get it all out there in 700 words or less. You do need to know where you're going ... and how you intend to get there. Otherwise, you're just Bullwinkle J. Moose yelling, "go, go, go! But watch where you're going."

I've always wanted to be John Irving. Sort of like Being John Malkovich.

And it's always bothered me that I cannot. I creates writers blocks in me that have always prevented me from achieving one of my lifelong goals: to complete a novel. I've started more than I can count. I always run into a wall. And one of the reasons I've always run into a wall is because -- to bastardize a modern-day question -- I always start asking, "WWJID."

Perhaps a better question would be, "WWMCD."*

*(What would my CHARACTER do?)

This doesn't mean I don't take the advice as it's given. Obviously, his success points to the validity of his methods. But -- as someone said to me yesterday -- perhaps it's time to stop trying to be John Irving and start being Steve.

OK. Maybe it is.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

I Love the Island Manhattan

I don’t know what it is about New York City. For all the times I’ve gone there – and hope to continue going there – I still feel like a little kid at Disneyland the minute I disembark from whatever mode of transportation brings me into Manhattan.

You’d think by now it would be a rather routine matter to take a plane, train or automobile into the city and kick around for a day or two. After all, I’m almost 60. I’ve been places. I’ve done things. And I’ve been going to the Island Manhattan since I was a teenager.

It’s not a new experience. But in a strange kind of way, I can identify with New York newbies who come up out of the subway and just stand there with their mouths agape at the sight of tall buildings, busy people and a pace that seems to eclipse a jack rabbit on speed.

It’s because I get swept up in it too … and I’m anything but New York newbie.

I came to conclusion that it’ll always be this way after spending two days in New York with my son this week. It was the annual father-son bonding trip. Usually, it’s to Fenway Park, where I buy the tickets and he buys the hot dogs and beer. And on a few occasions, we’ve taken the bus into New York, kicked around for a day, seen a show, and taken the late bus back home.

That’s a long day, and I had no stomach for it this time. If we were going to go, I told him, we were going to spend the night and at least get some sleep along the way. But Manhattan hotels in the summertime (and I’d say the ones not infested by various and sundry insects, but apparently the little critters are inhabiting the five-star ones too) are way out of any sensible person’s price range.

So, in the words of the immortal Archie Bunker, “try Joisey.”

That worked. We got a room at the Day’s Inn in North Bergen, where it’s a 10-minute ride to the Secaucus commuter rail station (thank you Frank Lautenberg). Six minutes from Secaucus and you’re at Pennsylvania Station (pardon me, sir, is that the Pennsylvania Station?).

The Day’s Inn was what it was supposed to be … a place to sleep. That’s all we did there. We were elsewhere the rest of the time. So there’s no use expounding on that, except to say that if you have a reliable car, and don’t want to spend all outdoors on accommodations, it’s the only way to go … unless you want to trip the night fantastic in Manhattan. The commuter rail does not run 24/7, but pretty damn close. The last train hits Secaucus around 1:30 a.m.

New York is a great walking city (so is Boston). And with all the things to do there, that’s what I like to do best … walk around and check out places and people. I don’t care about double-decker buses (though I did one of those once), and I’ll be damned if I spend all that money to go to New York and end up riding the subways all over the place. No thanks. I’ll walk.

We only took the subway twice … once to CitiField (you can’t very well walk from midtown Manhattan to Willett’s Point) and again, late on the second day, from Herald Square to Rockefeller Center (again, we were pressed for time, and had to get there and back in a reasonable amount of time). Otherwise, we walked. Everywhere.

That includes all through Central Park, up Fifth Avenue on Central Park East (where we saw Woody Harrelson – without a joint – walking the other way), to Seventh Avenue/Central Park West (where I pointed out The Dakotas and the evil looking foyer where John Lennon was shot); and Strawberry Fields.

We did the obligatory loop that takes you through Rockefeller Plaza (actually did the observation deck), and down to Bryant Park (where we saw a very nice – and very free – Broadway revue consisting of “Wicked,” “The Addams Family,” “Next to Normal” and “The Lion King.”). I think, all told, we went from 72nd down to 30th, zig-zagging along the way. I told my son that I felt like a bus going up and down Seventh Avenue, because that’s all we seemed to go.

Of course, the reason for that is simple. Penn Station is on Seventh Avenue, and, well, if you want to go anywhere coming out of Penn, you have to go through Fashion Avenue and the Garment District.

But for an old guy who has spent years watching life go by due to assorted physical issues, I think I did all right.

But by far, the highlight was “Jersey Boys,” the show Andrew and I chose to see. Picking a show is serious business for us. He’s much more current on what’s playing on the Great White Way than I am, and he has his tastes and I have mine. Sometimes, the biggest debates we have revolve around what shows to see.

The last time we went, we saw “Rent,” which is a show I swore I’d never see. I mean, if you’re going to go to the theater, and escape into the wonderful world of entertainment, why would you want to see a show about heroin addiction and AIDS? I can open up a newspaper, or turn on the TV, and see as much of that as I want.

But I liked it, despite the sometimes depressing subject matter.

This time the choice was easier. It was between “Billy Elliot,” and “Jersey Boys.”

Now, I like Elton John, but I don’t like him that much. On the other hand, as a kid growing up in the sixties, the Four Seasons were cool … even Frankie Valli’s ear-piercing falsettos. They were the soundtrack to my youth. “Walk Like a Man,” “Rag Doll,” “Dawn,” and “Sherry,” are among my favorite songs of early-to-mid-sixties, which, to me, represented the best of the decade. I was a kid, oblivious to the more sinister part of life, and spent endless summer days playing baseball, or playing cards in my basement (the coolest part of the house) with my friends, with the radio on and the Four Seasons, Beatles, and all the rest, blaring in the background. Life was good, the music was great, and the times were oh-so-innocent (at least to me they were).

So “Jersey Boys” it was. And can I just say that I was not disappointed? It was tremendous, even if some of the history is a little skewed (Tommy DeVito absolutely disputes the claim he never changed his underwear, for example). And even though I’m a huge Four Seasons fan, there are things I never knew … such as the rough-and-tumble backgrounds, the fights, personal issues, and the fact that Joe Pesci and DeVito were childhood buds.

The show was excellent. It was funny when it had to be, it had its sad moments, and you couldn’t beat the music … especially the harmonies. It really put a smile on your face.

From there, it was a quick walk back to Penn Station, to take the subway to CitiField for the Mets-Cardinals game. As many times as I go to New York, I still have to ask people how the hell to get anywhere on the subways. New York and Boston are opposite in a number of ways, but the biggest difference is in streets/subways. In Boston, the streets (except for the Back Bay) are twisted in all sorts of directions and it’s easy to get lost. But an imbecile and figure out the subway system.

In New York, the streets are laid out like a grid. Streets run east to west; avenues north to south. If you want to know where anything is in New York, it’s “34th and Fifth.” You can go anywhere with those simple directions. Street and Avenue.

But go underground and forget it. You need a Ph.D. to figure the damn subway system out. So even though I’ve been to New York more times than I can count, I still had to ask someone “how do I get to the Mets game.” And again – typically – the subway cop I asked didn’t know. Now, he had a badge and a gun, so there’s no way I’m going to ask him “how the F*** did you become a New York City subway cop and NOT KNOW how to get to the Mets game????

Turns out, there is no direct train from Penn Station to Willett’s Point. You have to subway hop. Sometimes, that can be real chore, as the underground stations are mammoth, you can feel as if you walked the entire island underground to make your connections. I’ve been in airports where it takes less time to make connections.

This time, though, it wasn’t bad. Two stops up, to 42nd Street, and we got right into the “7” train (express, no less) to Queens.

CitiField is a very nice park, with roomy seats and lots of legroom. And when I go to parks like this, it makes me wonder how in hell come the Red Sox couldn’t do this, and why – even though I think Janet Marie Smith did a Hall of Fame job with renovating it – it continues to be the least fan friendly place on the planet.

The game started out as a total dud. No Jason Bay (concussion) and Johan Santana was horrible. He gave up six runs in the first inning!

But the game got interesting, as the Mets pecked away until -- thanks to Matt Holliday (who apparently has trouble catching balls hit right to him) – they tied it up with four runs in the ninth.

Understand, now, we have to go from Willett’s Point (which is near LaGuardia Airport) back to Penn Station, get on a commuter rail, and get back to Secaucus. We had the choice of staying through what would prove to be a 13-inning game (won by the Cardinals, 8-7) or leaving after the ninth inning – or whenever Albert Pujols got up one more time. We chose The Great Albert Pujols (who singled to lead off the ninth) and an early exit.

The game was still on when we got to Secaucus, and ended just before we got back to the Day’s Inn.

Day Two was when we did all the walking. I consider these Andrew’s trips, so I generally do what he wants to do. And he likes to bop around Times Square looking at marquees (we actually saw a poster that had someone he grew up with, Mark Dancewicz, on it. Mark is in the chorus in Mama Mia!).

We saw the Broadway show in Bryant Park, went to Rockefeller Center (twice), Central Park, Herald Square, scouted out a hotel that a friend is staying in later this summer, and all sorts of things in between.

Soon enough (too soon) it was time to leave. Back to the commuter rail, back to Secaucus, get the car, get on Route 95, gas up for the trip home … and then sit in traffic for hours and hours because night work on highways is the new thing. At least four times (including the George Washington Bridge), there were major detours on highways that caused massive traffic jams.

This makes me blow a gasket, and the only time there were any cross words spoken between father and son came during these traffic jams. Otherwise, it was a perfect two days.

Next time I go (and there WILL be a next time), I can assure you of one thing: I’ll disembark from the train station, or the bus, or the subway, with my mouth wide open and this feeling of panic over the fact that I’m in New York, with the entire city staring me in the face, and not the slightest idea of what to do first.

Just like a kid in a candy store.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Laser show

There are all kinds of theories and opinions as to why the Red Sox (remember them?) have reversed their awful start and have -- in the last month and a half -- been the best team in baseball.

Here's mine: The day Dustin Pedroia stood up for David Ortiz, the Red Sox became a team again.

Depending on who you talk to, this whole idea of team chemistry is either vastly overrated or it isn't. That sounds funny, of course, but it's true. Earl Weaver, the who managed the Baltimore Orioles to four American League pennants and numerous other division championships during his tenure, always thought team chemistry could be summed up thusly: "Pitching and three-run homers."

Weaver also hated the sacrifice bunt. He thought giving up an out -- under any circumstances -- was totally defeatist. As he said, you only get three. Why waste any of them?

Weaver notwithstanding, I'm in the other camp. It's hard to do your best, especially in a competitive environment where winning and losing often comes down to self sacrifice and giving yourself up for the good of the team, if you're at odds with the people with whom you are playing. Ask any offensive lineman in football whether he finds it easier or harder to block for a quarterback he does not respect, and whose toughness he questions.

Ortiz got off to a horrible start this year ... and it looked, after the first month, as if this would be a repeat of last year, when he went well into May before he even hit is first home run. Fans, writers, broadcasters, guys in bars, were all clamoring for the Red Sox to make a move ... to release him. He was dead weight.

Pedroia is one of those types of players you could only love if he was on your team. If he's on the other team, you can't stand him. He's cocky, and he has an air about him on the diamond that reminds me very much of Pete Rose (another guy I despised, but would have probably loved had he played for the Red Sox).

Pedroia stood up amid a group of reporters and expressed his belief in Ortiz. Now, it's not necessary for people to think Pedroia meant every word he said, deep down inside. It's tough to believe a guy hitting below the Mendoza Line (which is to say under .200) inspires confidence when he comes up with the bases loaded. And it's tough to believe a guy for whom the manager actually put up a pinch hitter in precisely that situation would inspire much trust either.

The important thing is that Pedroia ver publicly defended his teammate.

"Two years ago," he said, "I was hitting under .200 and everybody wanted to lynch me, too. Then what happened? Laser show."

What he meant, of course, is that he turned it around and ended up being the American League's rookie of the year. A year later, he became the American League's most valuable player. And this year, after a tough stretch, Pedroia is, once more, in the middle of things.

I think Pedroia's words had multiple effects ... all of them good. For starters, they probably took a little of the heat off Ortiz himself, who had to be wondering just where he stood with the rest of his teammates. Ortiz went on a tear after that, and has been somewhat of a facsimile of his former self.

They probably had the hidden effect of settling down some of the newcomers who may have felt like outsiders. And third, it clearly united the team and helped point it in the right direction.

What Pedroia showed was true leadership ... and the Red Sox in the past couple of years really haven't had that -- at least that vocally -- from anyone. In 2004, when the overcame the Curse of the Bambino and won the whole thing, there were a number of players who stepped in and led. Last year's Sox were a quiet bunch who seemed to go about their business more with the seriousness of account executives than with the joi de vivre that players such as Johnny Damon and Kevin Millar showed in 2004.

So good for Pedoria. The Red Sox are heating up just at a time when people are starting to notice. The Celtics are done, and the spotlight is exclusively on them. And it had to help that they swept a team from Los Angeles this weekend ... only days after the Celtics lost to one in the NBA finals.

If the Red Sox continue to get that type of leadership, there's no telling what they can accomplish in 2010.

Friday, June 18, 2010

It's Too Late, Baby ...

No, no, no. Not talking about the Celtics today. As Dana Carvey -- channeling George H.W. Bush -- said, "not gunna do it."

So, the title of this screed has nothing whatever to do with the disappointing denouement to the 2010 post-season. Nothing at all.

That's because James Taylor and Carole King are coming to down tomorrow and Sunday. I don't have tickets. I don't intend to get tickets either. But it does occur to me that the mellow, laid back sounds of JT and Carole are probably just what I need to soothe my frayed nerves after two weeks of Kobe, Artest, Derek Fisher (damn him!), Shrek, Donkey, The Truth and The Big Ticket.

Except to say, of course, that the entire Celtics team might have been asking their fans, "but will you love me tomorrow?" after blowing a 13-point third-quarter lead and forgetting how to rebound.

Or, to put it another way, there were a couple of points last night when I heard Kevin Garnett cry out "I feel the earth move under my feet," but that really wasn't what was happening. It was Pau Gasol ripping down rebounds.

Did you know, by the way, that Carole King wrote one of the Monkees' greatest hits? I'll bet you didn't. But she and then-husband Gerry Goffin wrote "Pleasant Valley Sunday," which, as we all know, was a huge hit for the Pre-Fab Four in the summer of 1967 -- the only year the Celtics didn't win an NBA title during their run of 10 in 11 years (Wilt Chamberlain and the Philadelphia 76ers won it) from 1959 through 1969.

Carole King's list of songwriting credits reads like a who's who (or maybe that should be what's what) of popular music. Aside from the already-mentioned songs, she wrote a song the Beatles recorded called "Chains," which -- contrary to popular belief -- was not about what it looked like the Celtics were bound in every time they tried to take a shot last night. She also wrote "One Fine Day," and it would have been, too, if we had a parade to go to tomorrow or Sunday.

In fact, if you google Carole King, or see the Wiki writeup on here, you'll wonder if anyone else but Carole King ever wrote a rock 'n' roll song. She was that prolific. She wrote -- or collaborated with Goffin -- songs that became hits for the Animals ("Don't Bring Me Down," which maybe someone could have played for the Celtics last night); the Drifters ("Up On The Roof," which -- I'm sure -- is where many Boston fans headed last night to contemplate a quick end to their misery); and Bobby Vee ("Take Good Care Of My Baby," which I'm going to personally re-record and call "Take Good Care Of Big Baby."

Oh, which reminds me, you know that Carole King song "Keep Your Hands Off My Baby," that Litte Eva recorded? Nope. Not directed toward anyone inclined to pick a fight with Big Baby so he can break his thumb again.

Little Eva did very well thanks to Goffin-King, by the way. They also wrote "Locomotion," which was -- I'm sure -- written in honor of Ron Artest after one of the many times he ran over, under, sideways and down Paul Pierce in the open court (no, she didn't write that song, The Yardbirds did).

"The Truth" was a hurtin' bird after this series. You could tell. Aches and pains everywhere, thanks to the mugging Artest put on him.

King kind of ducked underground for a few years, only to re-emerge in the 1970s, in the era of the singer-songwriter, with "Tapestry," and had a monster hit with "It's Too Late." And I'll say it is. The rapist has another ring. You don't suppose he'll try to buy his wife off with it, do you?

She even wrote one of JT's biggest hits, "You've Got A Friend," and any day now, the video is going to come out with that playing in the background as "Big Baby" (Shrek) and Nate Robinson (Donkey) yuck it up during the news conference after Game 4. Pssst. Fellas. It was Game 4. You hadn't won anything yet and you were acting as if you'd invented the damn game. Maybe next time, a little humility? Yeah, it was cute. I'm sure the Lakers thought it was real cute.

Let's not leave JT out of this. He's had his hits too. Not as many as King, but he's up there as one of our latter-20th century cultural icons.

And as a Boston native, you can be sure that JT probably has a soft spot in his heart for the Celtics. He's sung the National Anthem a few times at Fenway Park (including Game 2 of the 2004 World Series and again on New Year's at the Winter Classic game between the Bruins and -- dare we even say it -- Philadelphia Flyers).

Once, at Fenway, I actually rode up to the press box in the elevator with James Taylor. Me, being me, I told him I enjoyed all the Taylors, even Livingston (I guess if you called him LT, he'd have to stand in line behind Lawrence Taylor and LeDanian Tomlinson).

JT was a bit bemused. He wanted to know how in hell I knew so much about Livingston, since LT's had about two hits in his life, compared to, I don't know, the hundred or so that James has had. Easy. For about four or five years running, I'd take the family down to Great Woods Center for the Performing Arts in Mansfield (It's the Comcast Center these days) for the free "Not the July 4th" concert ... which was always on (let's see if you can deduce this ...) July 5.

It was always a fun night. The local symphony orchestra (not the BSO or the Pops, in keeping with the not theme) would play, and LT would always open the show. LT was more jazz and blues oriented that James, and his stuff, especially when combined with the symphonic music, was quite aesthetically pleasing.

Anyway, James has had his great songs. "Sweet Baby James" is one of his best, obviously, but, again, those of us with one-track minds should be aware that it was not about LeBron.

Nor was "Carolina in My Mind" about a Celtics road trip to Charlotte.

However, James, unlike Carole King, had his peaks and valleys, which is understandable in life. After all, how do you go from setting an NBA record for hitting three-pointers, the way Ray Allen did in Game 2, to being absolutely invisible, the way he was in Games 3 through 7. Talk about peaks and valleys! JT has nothing on Ray.

I mean, talk about "Fire and Rain!" Allen was en fuego in game two ... and a friggin monsoon put his fire out from then on.

You know, when I ran into JT in that elevator, I didn't have the guts to ask him the one question I've been pining to know the answer to: How to you manage to screw up a marriage to Carly Simon????

The easy answer: Booze. JT's had his addiction problems. He spent a considerable period of his life in and out of treatment centers because of depression and addiction (which provides one of the backdrops to "Fire and Rain"), and was still heavily into drinking while he was married to Ms. Simon. What a waste. Who doesn't love Carly Simon??? She's the Sandra Bullock of music, even if she did write the vicious, vicious "You're So Vain."

Then again, after watching the way that game ended last night, I could have used a pop or two myself. So who am I to judge?

Because of the many ups and downs (as opposed to "up and down," which is a form of traveling in the NBA), JT had to get back on his feet by recording cover versions of famous songs. They were usually slowed-down versions of early 60s hits, such as "Wonderful World," by Same Cooke (it wasn't last night) and, my favorite, Buddy Holly's "Every Day," which is just a nice song no matter who sings it.

But these slow-paced versions of tried and true rockers did remind me of last night's game, where both teams seemed as if they were stuck in cement, and the game seemed like it was being played in slow-motion mode for 48 minutes.

JT even wound up on Sesame Street. Yup. When my son was a a child, I -- perhaps like all parents -- had to watch Bert and Ernie about 20 times a day. One day, there's JT singing about "Jellyman Kelly." It was just a nice little ditty about a guy who likes jelly on his toast, and about a woman (Jenny Mehenney) who liked to boil water so that Jellyman can have tea with his toast and jelly. Silly song.

I am going into the studio and record my version: "Jelly-Legged Kevin," in honor of the way Pau Gasol made Garnett look old and tired.

Gee. All these memories. I never realized, until now, how much I liked both Carole King and James Taylor. And after writing this, I'll have to see if I can score a ticket Sunday night (tomorrow's show is sold out). Then, I can sit and watch two genuine American legends weave their tapestry of warm, engaging, mellow and thoroughly enjoyable music.

And forget all about the disappointing ending to the Celtics post-season.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Small Time in a Big Time World -- Tournament Time

It's the apex of every season ... the culmination of an entire year's worth of hard work, effort, bumps, bruises, highs and lows.

We're talking tournament time. And it doesn't matter what level you're talking about. Sports tournaments are the ultimate in excitement and drama, whether we're talking about tonight's Celtics-Lakers NBA Game 7 final, the Big Dance or last night's state high school lacrosse final between St. John's Prep of Danvers and Duxbury.

People who know me will wonder ... Lacrosse? When did Krause become a lacrosse fan.

You can relax. Krause is not a lacrosse fan. Well, I should say that with the caveat that any sport that puts on a good show is fine with me. One of the only reasons I don't really care for soccer (well besides the incessant drone of the vuvuzelas) is that there seems to be no point to it. Nobody scores.

I understand that the rules make scoring difficult -- especially when we're talking about elite levels. But the lack of scoring -- at least to action-oriented Americans like me, who only understand immediate gratification and have no patience for the sublime (insert sarcasm emoticon here) -- translates into lack of drama.

To me, sports appeal first to our sense of drama and second to our sense of provincialism. When the Red Sox face the Yankees 19 times a year, it's not simply two baseball teams going at it. It's Boston against New York ... and the different clashes of their cultures and personality.

When the Celtics take the court tonight against the Lakers, it'll be Boston vs. L.A. -- substance (us) versus style (them). East Coast reality vs. West Coast dilettantes.

That's what sells these games. Not just that they're two teams.

When two high school teams play on Thanksgiving, especially in public schools, they're not just playing for themselves. They're playing for the honor of their communities. That's what makes it special.

You put that together with a good game, with enough scoring, and enough momentum shifts that result from scoring, and you have yourself an event. Absent one of those two ingredients, as the police would say, nothing to see here.

Growing up in the 60s and 70s, nobody played lacrosse. I don't think I even saw a lacrosse stick, up close and personal, until I got into college because that's what lacrosse was to me: one of those preppy college sports where everyone wore striped polo shirts and shorts.

But when a school in your coverage area makes a state final, you have go. So I went. To Harvard Stadium. Now, I know Harvard's had endowment issues ... but even with a historic decline last year, it's still over $25 billion. The athletic department has enough money to put artificial turf on the ground of Harvard Stadium (this, I think, would be like re-sodding centre court at Wimbledon with fake turf, but, hey, that's just me), and to expand its facilities farther into Allston (at least judging from all the earth moving equipment I saw there). But it can't afford an elevator to the press box at Harvard Stadium?

Holy moly! Now, I had gastric bypass surgery last year and have lost 120 pounds. I can do a solid hour on the elliptical cross trainer. If I don't do that, I walk at least three miles a day. I'm all of a sudden a physical fitness fiend.

I'm happy to say I made the stairs ... without much of a problem, really (actually, with cranky knees, going down the stairs was a lot worse). But come on, Harvard. Those stairs are a heart attack waiting to happen. I'm surprised, really, that this hasn't already happened. It's been a while since I covered football the Hallowed Grounds. I think the last time I had to climb those stairs was in 1984, during a U.S. Olympic soccer preliminary, when Canada beat Cameroon.

Funny, the things you remember. I remember it not because it was a great game (it was 3-2, Canada, which, in terms of soccer, was a slugfest) but because of the reporter from Cameroon who sat next to me ... who was livid at what he considered an outrage on behalf of the officials. I don't know what he was complaining about, but whatever it was, he was adamant ... and loud.

"There is shame," he said, screaming into the phone (apparently dictating a story to his paper). "There is shame. Shame at Harvard Stadium."

I guess, to him, the idea of a North American team ... and from Canada, no less ... beating an African team in the "Beautiful Game," was just too much to bear. I so wanted to tell him, "buck up, pal, at least it wasn't the Americans."

(Though something tells me that, to him, Canadian ... American ... what's the difference?).

Anyway, back to lacrosse. I've seen probably a handful of lacrosse games in my life ... most of them local. Only once -- back in the 70s, when there was something in Boston called "box lacrosse," did I see anything beyond the local level. Box lacrosse was like arena football ... played in a venue for which it clearly wasn't suited. Box lacrosse would be like playing soccer in a gym (which they actually do in youth soccer leagues). You need a big field in both, as running around and spacing is one of the key ingredients to both. It's a bit tougher to do in a crowded environment.

So I clearly didn't get a terrific idea of what lacrosse was all about watching the Boston Bolts play in the Boston Garden.

(And by the way, who in hell came up with that name?)

So for me, this was a treat. And, as friends and colleagues who have heard talk about my ambivalence toward lacrosse kept telling me, it was a chance to see the game as it was meant to be played.

I will say that the two teams did not disappoint. Duxbury had won the state championship in its division for the past six years. St. John's lost to the Dragons last year on a last-second goal. So in many respects, this was turning into quite the rivalry.

Again, this is only my perception, but to me, high school lacrosse (or lax as is the headling abbeviation) has always been a way for football and hockey players to stay in shape during the off-season. It's rarely -- even now -- a high school kid's No. 1 sport. That's because it's still growing in popularity. But I've noticed, as an editor, that lacrosse makes for great pictures. I'm never hesitant to send a photographer out to cover a lacrosse match because there is a lot of action and movement ... which is a wonderful formula for good graphics.

I should say, in the interest of full disclosure, that I went to St. John's Prep, though there was a while I was up there that a velociraptor attacked a bunch of us at football practice. No. Seriously, I graduated in 1971, long ago, perhaps ... but not that long ago.

I've attended a few Prep state title games, but haven't seen them win one since 2000, when the baseball team won its second straight championship. I'm beginning to think that I am not only an alumni of this school, but a jinx extraordinaire.

It didn't look promising in the first half, as The Prep went into halftime trailing, 7-3, and looking pretty much outclassed the whole day. Once again, I was left muttering that just once I'd like to see my school win one of these things. There was the 2002 Super Bowl in which The Prep went onto the field as the clearly superior team ... and came off the field losers to Everett High. There was the 2004 Division 1A hockey semifinal that we lost, in overtime, to Arlington Catholic. And there was the 2005 state Division 1 hockey final ... lost to Marshfield ... when we let a kid skate all the way down, untouched, for the winning goal.

Just this past winter, The Prep had one of the state's best basketball players (Pat Connaughton), but came up short in the sectional final at the Boston Garden. My kingdom, then, to see them win a state title at least once.

So, a 7-3 halftime deficit was not making my mood any better.

The Prep spent much of the second half climbing back into the game, which -- of course -- made me snap to attention. Twice, they got within a goal ... and twice the gave it right back, which, if you know anything about sports, is somewhat like being handed the keys to the kingdom and dropping them down the sewer.

After getting it to 8-7, Duxbury scored two quick ones (the 10th one a horrible goal that had the Prep goalie slamming his stick against the side of the net in frustration).

But The Prep kept going forward, tying it again at 10-10 with less than a minute to go (55.7 seconds to be precise). But Duxbury, with about 20 seconds to go, went ahead 11-10, and the Dragons were already celebrating on the sideline. After all, who scores in a lacrosse game with 20 seconds left?

As it turns out, The Prep. One of their best players, Colin Blackwell (there's a real lacrosse name) hit the post on a shot, and teammate Garrett Campbell picked up the loose ball and scored with 7.6 seconds left.

Duxbury couldn't match that, so we went into overtime.

I was kind of torn here. It was a great game. And yes, it gave me a better appreciation for lacrosse. Now, at least, I don't have to view lacrosse merely as the one sport where hosting team parties with strippers is a sanctioned event (that line sank like a stone in front of the lacrosse-crazed writers in the press box last night).

But overtimes and The Prep? Not promising. It just never seems to work out.

In overtime, the match clearly channeled a good basketball or hockey game: The defense came up with a play and led to a quick transition. Chris Coady (who is also the quarterback of the football team) blocked a shot, and got the ball out to teammate James Fahey on the wing. Fahey ran all the way downfield with not a soul near him (helped by teammate Campbell who set the equivalent of a monster pick in the middle of the field to keep him clear). Fahey bore in, shot, and scored. And I finally got to see my old school win one (take that, Steely Dan).

I'm telling you. The Celtics may win tonight ... they may lose. The Red Sox can win another World Series ... the Patriots another Super Bowl and the Bruins -- someday -- may win a Stanley Cup.

But there is nothing ... nothing ... more fun than watching kids celebrate. You see these moments of spontaneity ... of unbridled glee ... and it makes you remember why you went into this business, and what makes it so much fun.

Of course, there's a flip side to that. There's nothing sadder, I think, than watching kids as the realization that they've lost has sunk in. But it's so, so dramatic at the same time. Some of the best pictures I've ever seen come from the losing side. A few years ago, the Saugus High hockey team was going for its third straight state title. But it lose, in overtime to Boston Latin. The best picture of the day was of a Saugus kid, sitting on the ice, with his back up against the boards, stunned and dazed, and probably exhausted too, at the sudden outcome. That is a picture that didn't need a single word.

I have another one of these to go to Saturday, when the St. Mary's softball team plays for a state championship. The Spartans and Murdock High will be doing a lot to match the excitement from last night.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Can we please put Ted to Bed?

Reading all the hoopla about the latest Ted Kennedy revelations remind me of a drinking game ... you know, you're watching a football game on TV, and the next time John Madden says "Boom" everybody has to knock down a shot.

Well, every time Teddy's name gets in the paper -- and we're going on a year since he died -- we all have to down a shot. And if we were playing that game yesterday, they would be a lot of drunken people walking around today in a total stupor.

The Kennedy name still sells ... long after there are any Kennedys worth buying.

The FBI has released secret files concerning Ted Kennedy, and let's just say that to anyone who followed his career (which is to say most anyone with a pulse) what's in them isn't exactly startling news.

Let's see. He faced death threats. Well, duh! Of course he did. Both his brothers were killed. Why would it be such a shock for people to hear that there were plenty of nuts out there -- including, apparently, Sirhan Sirhan himself -- who wanted to complete the troika?

Then, apparently, Teddy and Bobby were involved in some wild sex parties in New York, and that Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Marilyn Monroe were also involved.

It's no big secret that Teddy got around. It's no big secret that all the Kennedy men -- and maybe even a few of the women, too (my conjecture only) -- got around. Look at the wonderful example they had. Old Joe got around too.

Infidelity was a Kennedy family trait. If I wanted to get all psychological about it, I'd even go as far as to say it's least surprising to hear Bobby did. After all, he pined for his father's acceptance probably more than anyone else in the family, spending as much time as he did lost in the shuffle of being smack dab in the middle of a nine-children litter. How better to do that than to have a zillion kids (OK, 11) and still have time for extracurricular activity? The old man must have been so proud?

The FBI also knew, right away, that Teddy was involved in the Chappaquiddick incident ... but downplayed his involvement. That may be the most salacious bit of information about any of this, and that's only because J. Edgar Hoover -- who was still the director of the FBI in 1969 -- didn't hate Teddy as much as he hated the rest of the Kennedys. He had a special antipathy for Bobby, but he pretty much broke out in a rash at the thought of any of them.

One can only guess that Hoover -- who was a pack rat when it came to hoarding incriminating information about people he detested -- planned at some point to hold all this over Teddy's head if the time was ever right.

I think I've made it pretty clear that I have decidedly mixed feelings about Teddy. I could, again, get into all the psychology of what made Teddy Teddy. I believe he was about as neglected growing up as a rich kid could possibly be ... raised by au pairs and nannies, with an emotionally distant mother who, by child No. 9, was wealthy beyond her comprehension and had her sights set on bigger things.

It's interesting that Rose Kennedy comes across as this saint, and that the mere mention of her name commands genuflection (and a greenway). From some of the things I've read, Rose was every bit as tough to please, and tough to accept, as Old Joe was. In fact, again, from things I've read, it was Old Joe who had the soft spot for his children. There was nothing soft about Rose.

I would have never wished to trade places with Edward Moore Kennedy ... not even for a day. I couldn't watch three brothers and a sister die the way his siblings did. I couldn't live knowing that there were nuts all over the world who wanted to make me another trophy.

I'd have probably found solace in a bottle or two myself with all that pressure on me. But I like to think I'd have stopped short not so much of manslaughter, but of ducking the responsibility and the repercussions of having committed manslaughter.

Oh, I know ... he paid for it in the end. That's what his supporters say. He lived with the knowledge of what he did, and it certainly cost him the presidency. To which I say big deal. It didn't cost him the Senate. It didn't cost him his position as the "liberal lion." He was able to wield a pretty powerful club, and for years too.

In fact, I submit that Teddy Kennedy probably ended up with more power, and more prestige, as a highly visible U.S. Senator who made presidents (even those from the other party) quake in fear of getting on his wrong side. He'd have have lost all that in the White House.

(Let that be a bit of advice for you, Sarah Palin. You're much more powerful ex-officio.)

Beyond anything I might think of him, though, there's got to come a time, both in Massachusetts and the country, where we have to pick up and move on (or, as Red Sox fans would say, pick up an Mo Vaughn). Ted is dead. Morte. I'm tired of hearing how much different health care would have gone had Teddy been alive (it's true; it would have been different, but the man is dead, and no amount of wistful wishing is going to change that).

The Democrats always talk about his legacy. I'm not sure what that legacy is, but I'm guessing it isn't driving cars off bridges. I'm guessing it's his record as an unabashed liberal who had both the cachet and a basic free pass to re-election every six years to stick his neck out on issues without too much fear of paying a steep price.

Ted Kennedy, even when he was alive, was a relic. There nobody out there anymore that beloved (justifiably or not). All 50 senators and 435 representatives are accountable. That's a good thing. And we're just going to have to accept that.

The reason why there isn't another Democrat who can step in and fill Teddy's shoes aren't that the shoes were that big (though they were big enough). It's because there's nobody in Congress anymore with the ability to swagger through life risk-free. Every representative and senator has so much riding on every vote these days that it's impossible to get any of them to act on their own gut beliefs. I'd say these days they're all pretty much up for sale to the highest bidder.

If Teddy had a positive legacy, it was that. He was politically immune to the repercussions from narrow interest groups who could coalesce to defeat him. His name, the sympathy he garnered from his public just because of his name, and his longevity, combined to guarantee that no matter what he did, he'd be sent back to Washington every six years. He probably could have run for the senate from a hospital bed and won ... oh, wait, he did that already? Figures.

That's why, now, it's disheartening to read another round of breathless reporting about Kennedy scandals. I heard every story yesterday and it was like, "gee, could you tell me something I don't know?" Hey, I know the news industry is in peril, but I guarantee this: It's not going to get out of trouble rehashing decades-old Kennedy scandals. In Massachusetts, we've heard them about a zillion times. Elsewhere, I'm not sure there's a soul out there who gives a damn.

If someone wants to, someday, initiate an objective debate about Ted Kennedy's public career, I'm there. I think there's still an awful lot to discuss, because he was, first, last, and always, a paradox. I still wonder how anyone could be so bold, and so fearless politically, yet so reckless personally. Then again, recklessness was a family trait too.

But spare me anymore titillating revelations that aren't really revelations. If you want a good idea of what I'm talking about, here's the Boston Herald story.

The Globe story was more restrained, but even the Boring Broadsheet (as the Herald calls it) couldn't let the sexcapades go.

Someday, maybe, we can stop wishing he was still here, and others can stop piling on long enough to let the man rest in peace. Someday, there will be another Democrat who emerges from the bowels of their rudderless ship and grab the helm and take it ... somewhere.

And that's not going to happen until everyone gets it into their heads that Teddy's gone ... and that reliving his legacy ... and his misdeed as well ... no longer serves any useful purpose.

Monday, June 14, 2010

All Right, That's Enough Out Of You!

Today, we discuss people who have simply worn out their welcome. You know the type. They start out as good guys, or humble people, or whatever else good you can say about them.

Then, as time goes by, they become impressed with the reputation they've forged, the start playing off it, and before you know it, they've become tired old drones who are so numbingly predicable you want to scream every time you see them.

I'm talking about Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson at the moment, but it could really be any one of a number of people. These are people who do an awful lot of talking, come to think of it, and run around as if they're the first, and final, word on all things pertaining to their realm ... an often that which falls outside their purview of expertise.

You find these people no matter where you go ... but most of the time, they've confined to three fields of endeavor: politics (and by politics, I mean all matters of government, including economics and foreign policy), sports, and religion.

Of the three, sports are least harmful. Who cares if Phil Jackson makes an idiot of himself (which he did Sunday night when he told his team how adept the Celtics are at losing games in the fourth quarter ... as the Celtics were in the process of beating the Lakers). That may go down as the moment Phil jumped the shark from being a refreshingly candid coach in a sea of slime ... to one of the ultimate slimeballs himself.

It's been coming. Slowly but surely, Jackson has gone from American's pro basketball beatnick and countercultural guru -- the guy who used to buy his players their own special books on motivation -- to an incessant whiner and game-player (off the court) who, now, weighs in on every damn issue. This is what Pat Riley used to do too, and it's why, even today, I consider Mr. Riley one of the most (if not the most) repugnant coaches sports have known.

But since we blew a whole column yesterday on sports, I'm just giving an example here. There are other dragons to slay .... and they don't involve sports figures (well, they do, but we'll refrain from mentioning them).

But we're going to start with a sports figure, even though, these days, he weighs in on topics that go far beyond his purview of expertise. His name is Curt Schilling, and when he chose to simply pitch for the Boston Red Sox, he was one of the most clutch pitchers they ever had.

However, Schilling pitched other ideas too ... mostly Republican politics. In fact, the day after the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series, he was out in Ohio campaigning for George W. Bush. It must have done some good, too, because Ohio is what put Bush over the edge in the 2004 election just a week later.

These days, Schilling will talk to anyone who will listen to him.

Personally, I get a little tired of celebrities who lecture me about politics. You know what, Bruce Springsteen? Just sing. I don't want to know your politics. At least if you're not singing about them. That goes for you, too, Barbra Streisand, and Alec Baldwin, and Susan Sarandon, and Tim Robbins, and even Bono (like him though I do). You're lucky you have a natural forum, but please do not abuse it. It's not necessary to weigh in on every issue like it won't get resolved without your input.

These days, Sarah Palin is the person who most annoys me. She is the one, out of all of them, who can't let anything go without commenting on it as she's E.F. Hutton and we're all the people who stop everything and listen.

Look. Palin's a public figure, and she's obviously positioning herself for 2012 ... as much as she protests she's not. And in one sense, she has way more latitude to shoot her mouth off as private citizen than she would as an elected official. And right now, her words, and opinions, are taken as gospel.

But that's because a) she's hot (interpret that any way you want); and b) she's relevant. There are enough people who think that she's a viable candidate in 2012 that they pay attention.

But if she choose not to run, she'll just be the GOP version of Al Gore. Sure, she'll have a following, and sure, she'll be almost a cult leader among that following. But nobody else is going to give two hoots about what she says.

I excuse professional journalists/commentators from this screed, because they get paid to do this. Guys like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Keith Olbermann, Bill Maher ... they can often be Johnny One-Notes ... and sickeningly so. But this is what they do. They put it out there, and it's up to us to take it all with a grain of salt, especially in the case of Maher (and Jon Stewart), who do this half for commentary and the other half for laughs (though I have to admit that, at least in Stewart's case, he's on the mark way more than some of the others are, even if he's his shtick).

I'm talking about what I call professional dillitantes (which is kind of an oxymoron). They're these self-appointed experts on everything ... people who can't let an occasion pass without some kind of a comment for public consumption. They're the people we all call for comments ("the usual suspects," as Claude Rains said in Casablanca), and then ask ourselves afterward why in hell we do that!

When he was alive, Jerry Falwell was always consulted for his opinions on all matters of public morality (and sometimes more than that). Why? What did Jerry Falwell know about anything other than religious intolerance? But there he was, always, commenting about this and that ... like anybody cared.

On almost every issues, there is a cadre of celebrities/dillitantes/religious leaders who feel compelled to comment. And most of the time, they're "outraged," whether it's because of something Obama's done or something Bush did.

Cindy Sheehan. Perfect example. Now, God knows I have all the sympathy in the world for a mother who lost her son in a war. There can be no worse experience in this world than burying a child.

But it doesn't make you a foreign policy expert, and it shouldn't automatically allow you to lob broadsides from a distance. This isn't to say she didn't have the right to do this. She did indeed. But I think it's awfully cynical for people to use that kind of public sympathy on one hand, and expect to exempt from harsh reactions on the other.

Even though I may have agreed with Cindy Sheehan's views on the war, I didn't always like the way she, or her followers, reacted to criticism. It was "how dare you criticize me ... I lost my son to this war."

So did a lot of other mothers. And I'm sure they were upset too. And I'm sure a lot of them felt exactly the same as she did, too. But Cindy, sometimes, went a little too far ... and then chafed self-righteously when she got some of it back.

Politicians aren't immune from this syndrome. There are plenty of them who start off sounding really refreshing, who then turn into the same drones they defeated. What makes it worse, at least with regards to politicians, is that their reactions are so Pavlovian. This is what bothers me, at the moment, about Palin. If Obama says high, she says low. If Obama says in, she says out. If Obama says Tomatyto, she says Tomathto.

I'm sure I'm not alone when I say, "let's call the whole thing off." These people ... they don't comment as much as they trot out buzzwords and comments that sound as if they came from a manifesto somewhere. Every time a Democrat like Barney Frank trying to paint the Republicans as the "party of the rich" or the "party of big oil" I want to scream ... and I kind of like Barney. He's entertaining. But the Democrats are just as bad. Most of them are rich, too. And many of them accept money from oil companies as well.

Similarly, whenever I hear Palin, or some other Republican, pin the "tax and spend" label on Democrats I want to scream at them, too. Republicans spend money too, you know. Their spending priorities differ from those of the Democrats. So it doesn't always come down to who's spending the money, but who's benefiting from the spending. Some folks in this country who have had it all their way for centuries get their noses mighty far out of joint when governmental largesse is directed toward someone other than them.

These days, I don't listen as intently as I used to. I used to hang on every word when these self-appointed experts crawled out of the woodwork to express their "outrage" over something. That's because we'd hear it maybe once -- on the 11 o'clock news -- and it would then be relegated to audio/visual birdcage liner.

Now, there's a 24/7 news cycle. So when Alec Baldwin, or Natalie Maines, gets up and slams someone as if the whole world was just waiting to hear what they had to say, we have to listen to it for two days (sometimes longer) because, after all, you have to fill that airtime with something.

I've come out of this experience with an appreciation for Stephen Colbert, by the way, because he, like Stewart, pokes wicked fun at pomposity, and he doesn't really care which pompous ass he's lampooning. It's pretty much all the same to him.

I tell you, the world would be a much better place if some people weren't so impressed with themselves and their alleged expertise on everything. A colleague of mine once sarcastically described Shilling as "the world's foremost authority on everything." I'm down with that.

This all started -- I think -- with Howard Cosell, a man of enormous ego, who acted as if he was the official conscience/historian/final word/moral compass/expert on every issue he ever dealt with. A critic once said he made the world of fun and games sound like the Nuremberg trials. I always got a kick out of the fact that bars all over America used to hold contests every Monday night to see who got to throw a brick through the TV during the football telecasts.

That was how strongly people reacted to Howard.

There's nobody like Howard anymore. That's both good and bad. Good, because he'd just be one more in a growing number of irritating people who seem to feel the day's not complete without some comment by them on an issue ... bad because, at least in his case, his ego was so outrageous it was often funny to listen to him be pompous.

These days, I'm all for a moratorium on pompous people. And we can start with Phil Jackson.

Would you please just shut up and coach?