Thursday, December 1, 2011

A mixed bag of observations ...

An extremely eclectic mixed bag of observations today … all over the board, as it were …

To begin, I don’t like Bobby Valentine and never did. There’s a difference in this world between someone who is genuinely charismatic (such as Bill Parcells) and a huckster.

I’d put Bobby V in the second category. Bobby V’s only concern in life is Bobby V.

Whatever problems that Red Sox clubhouse had in September will not be solved by Valentine’s presence. In fact, he might create a few more. People can say what they want about Terry Francona, but whatever he did worked for eight years and five months before it went sour in the final month of his final year here. That would lead me to believe it was the athletes, and not the manager, who caused the problem.

Francona had an air about him that said “as bad as things seem, we have ’em under control.” Maybe he underestimated the size and depth of the problems last September, but it was the only time in eight years that he did. The rest of the time, his reassuring steady hand was a stabilizing force in that lockerroom.

If it’s between you and Valentine, expect to be run over by a Peter Pan. Because he’ll throw you under it as fast as he can roll you over.

It’s going to be an interesting two years.


I really don’t care about the NBA all that much unless it looks like the Celtics are going to do well. That said, however, one of the things I’d have missed if there wasn’t an NBA season was Doc Rivers.

Doc is the antithesis of Bobby Valentine and Bill Belichick … two guys who, I think, have begun to believe that they were put on this earth to reinvent their respective games (in Valentine’s case, he came out of the womb believing that).

Doc seems to be an even-tempered guy … most of the time. He doesn’t exist for his own self-aggrandizement. He doesn’t believe he walks on water. If you ask him a question, he can give you a civil, insightful answer without making it appear that you’re the dumbest person on earth (as opposed to the way Belichick took a reporter apart the other day for asking whether you can accurately gauge your group of guys if they manhandles the worst team in the league).

Yet there’s no doubt Doc gets his point across when he needs to. Nobody ever accuses Doc of being a “players’ coach,” or of coddling and enabling the troops.

Last spring, when it looked as if Rivers might call it a day here, there were plenty of fans and reporters who really dreaded that decision. And we were all happy that he reconsidered and re-upped.

So if no one else has put it this bluntly: Welcome back, Doc.


Like I said … eclectic …

Back in the day, Barney Frank was one of the most entertaining figures in politics. Even as far back as when he was a state legislator, Frank had a fiercely caustic wit. He could cut you, and you wouldn’t even know you were bleeding until after he wiped the blood off the knife and put it back into the drawer.

His style certainly belied the image of the namby-pamby liberal who was too weak-willed, or lacked testosterone, to fight his battles in the big, bad world of politics.

But Barney always did what he did with joy and élan. You never got the sense that he felt what he did was drudgery, or that he felt the huge albatross of obligation each day he got out of bed. He took on every battle with gusto, and if he was going to go down, he was going to go down in a blaze of glory.

Last November, he survived – barely by his previous standards – a re-election fight against Sean Bielat, a U.S. Marine veteran and a businessman. He won re-election by 11 percent, and the margin, lower than his customary blowouts, could be attributed to the fact that the Republicans targeted him as Public Enemy No. 1 in the 2008 financial meltdown for arguing against implementing stronger oversight over Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac. At the time, Frank said that neither mortgage giant was in any difficulty.

Hindsight being what it is, it’s obvious Frank was wrong. And politics being what they are, it's obvious Frank was not going to come out of this unscathed. Whether that’s fair or unfair isn’t the point. It’s an issue on which he was fair game for debate and interpretation.

He didn’t like it. His acceptance speech reflected his dislike for the attacks that Bielat and the Republicans leveled against him. It was obvious, listening to him that night, that the fun had gone out of it for him. And for a guy like Frank, who delighted in the byplay that makes politics such a spectator sport sometimes, that was a bad sign.

I don’t know what’s going to happen now that he’s stepped down. Times are changing, even here in the People’s Republic of Massachusetts. No one could have predicted Scott Brown would now be occupying the seat in the Senate that Ted Kennedy had for 47 years. It’s hard – even now – to wrap yourself around the fact that Massachusetts’ best shot at making Brown a one-term senator (well, not EVEN a one-term senator) rests in Elizabeth Warren, who certainly has the chops to do it, but is still – in the world of Massachusetts politics – a virtual unknown.

But I think it was time for Frank to walk away. It’s obvious he doesn’t have the stomach for it anymore. And when that happens, especially in politics, it’s time to go.


I got into a discussion with a friend the other night about music, and how much it bothered me that entertainers like Ricky Nelson made rock ‘n’ roll “acceptable” to parents of 50s and 60s teenagers, whereas guys like Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and the scores of African-American entertainers who pioneered the whole R&B movement struck fear and terror in the hearts and minds of adults.

The discussion allowed me to articulate a feeling I’ve always had … and one that I’ve never been able to define. And that’s this: When I was a teenager, I didn’t like entertainers who tried to water down my music so that my mother and father would like it. In fact, I couldn’t stand them.

And I couldn’t stand Ricky Nelson, who was a principal villain in that regard.

I figure if I’m going to like something, I don’t need it “dumbed down” or cleaned up for me to relate to it. Either I like it, or I don’t. Either it speaks to me or it doesn’t. I don’t need the help. And I would also hope that any kid today would be just as horrified as I was at that age when someone like Arthur Fiedler tried to make "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" legitimate by having the Boston Pops record it. Hey, Arthur, I liked you a lot. But stick to playing Beethoven and leave rock 'n' roll to the experts. OK?

A few years ago, a friend’s son decided he was going to “open my eyes” By playing an Ozzy Osbourne CD while I was visiting. I think he thought I was going to recoil in horror, and that he’d, as a result, have a pretty good laugh at my expense.

Well, he picked the wrong guy that night. I’m not saying I knew every song, but I did have an appreciation for Ozzy and that genre. Why? Because I grew up listening to Alice Cooper. And for his time, Vincent Furnier was MUCH more daring and controversial (not to mention FUN) than Ozzy was in his. In fact, I thought Ozzy rather tame by comparison.

I think of Ricky Nelson and I think of all the white artists back in those days who shamefully exploited the African-Americans who could play, write, and sing rings around them.

Years later, I saw Nelson on the Boston Common, with the Stone Canyon Band, and it was the first time I realized he had any talent. I was so used to hating him for the fact that his father shoved him down our throats at the end of all those Ozzie and Harriet shows (props to him, also, for the brilliant “Garden Party,” in which he pretty much acknowledged that the only person he was into pleasing by then was himself).

Here’s where I am: I don’t really know, or like, a lot of today’s music. But I also think these things run in cycles, and right now we’re not in a very good one.

But at the same time, I think people around my age (58) also have to understand that popular culture isn’t designed for us. We had our time.

And what a time it was. The 1960s and early 1970s may have been the perfect confluence of popular culture and current events. But I’m not sure I’d even want to experience all the elements that made that such a special time, culturally, again. We’re talking about four significant U.S. assassinations in five years (JFK, Malcolm X, MLK and RFK), an unpopular (some would say immoral) war, a political shift that allowed Richard Nixon to ascent to the White House, and, ultimately, the vision of our nation’s military opening fire on its own citizens as if they were marching in Tiananmen Square in Beijing instead of Kent State University in Ohio.

Who wants to go through that again?

So to me, it’s understandable if boomers look down their noses at today’s popular culture. It’s taken a deep plunge, and there are so many reasons why … the biggest being that there just isn’t the awareness, or the passion, or even the interest in making ourselves heard these days. People just seem to blithely go along. That’s one reason why the “Occupy” movement caught on. Finally, there were people who refused to blithely go along.

In many ways, some of the more controversial rap songs (a genre that I can’t warm up to) from a few years ago reflected that restlessness, but in a rawer, more aggressive way. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young recounted their angst in four-party harmony. Rappers reflect theirs to the incessant pounding of drums and by shouting out the lyrics. I prefer the former, but I get the latter.

I just don’t care for it.

But the only thing that would make it worse would be for some Pat Boone/Justin Beiber type to get up there and start singing rap, boy-band style. That’s just insulting. And to me, that’s what listening to Ricky Nelson sing Fats Domino’s “Walkin’” was. Insulting.

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