Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Solid Rocker Leaves the Stage

[This is the first of several installments that are part of a lengthy essay I’ve written about Larry Norman, Christian musician, street preacher, and someone who influenced the way I saw the world at the time, and still helps define my current worldview.—JB]

A Solid Rocker Leaves the Stage

Larry Norman was a righteous rocker. He was a pioneer. Like others who come first and open up a brand new channel, the fruits and spoils of fame often end up in the laps of those who come after, and more times than not, pay little or any price, or make little in the way of sacrifice.

Norman passed away back in February 2008, an event that unfortunately slipped by me. I only recently found out about it, as I sorted through my CD collection, looking for music to assuage the grief of losing a dog that I loved dearly. I happened to grab Norman’s CD, “In Another Land,” to hear a couple of songs that had personal meaning to me, and seemed to connect with my sense of loss at that moment.

My own history with the “father of Contemporary Christian (Xian) Music,” has been varied. I first came to know his music back in 1981, right after I had become “born again,” to a new life in Jesus (or so I thought). A friend (and fellow believer) gave me some of his cassettes of a new kind of music I was unfamiliar with—Christian rock. There were a variety of artists I’d never heard of before—Phil Keaggy, Degarmo & Key—and some guy named Larry Norman.

Norman’s music spoke to me. It was raw, passionate, and his language was both familiar and strange to my ears. When he sang a song about the church (and society) being messed up (“The Great American Novel”), it made sense to me. As a new believer, I was aware of the cosmetic quality of faux kindness, and that measured piety that later would drive me away from the fold. I was also cynical about politics and the world around me. When he sang, “Why don’t you look into Jesus, he got the answer,” it made theological sense to me, at the time, and also seemed immediate, in a way that most church practices weren’t.

The life of Larry Norman never did fit the churches of his time (and probably not any other time). A child of the 1960s (actually, he was born in 1947), so technically, he was a teenager of the 60s, but let’s not quibble. Norman’s cred came from the streets and clubs, not the manicured suburban enclave characteristic of American Xianity, the kind that required you had to wear a three-piece suit, a fancy dress, and drive a certain kind of car, to attend.

His song, “Why Should the Devil Have All The Good Music,” Norman offers listeners an autobiographical sketch of how he was being treated at the time by so-called Xians that had issues with his long hair, his rock and roll, and his supposed “wicked” lifestyle that allowed him to interact with those who might never set foot inside their “perfect” sanctuaries (more often resembling mausoleums).

It’s hard to imagine in 2009 how controversial and polarizing Norman was for the church in the early 1970s, but he was. His flowing mane of long blond hair was one of the issues, and as a result, lies were circulated about Norman; that he was a “fallen Christian,” a homosexual, a tool of the devil, etc.

For those readers who don’t know the inner workings of the Church, all Christianity is viewed as basically the same, and the thought is that all Christians (or my preferred styling, of Xians) merge together into one big family. The reality is that if Xians are all part of “one big family,” then it is one really fucked up one. In fact, my experience with Xianity is that rather than “one big family,” Xians are more often than not, engaged in one big internecine battle of doctrine, practice, and shades thereof.

NPR ran a brief clip about Norman's death, with clips of a couple of songs, and some commentary from his brother, Charles.

Here is a tribute to Norman that was posted at YouTube.

[Coming soon; The night I met Larry Norman]

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The mayor has left the manor

Feb. 1995-May 2009

Bernie, our winsome Sheltie, who occasionally graced a blog post here at Words Matter, has gone whereever dogs go when they leave this mortal coil.

Since his stroke back in January, all of us knew he was on borrowed time, but like everything connected with Bernie, he put on his best face, and continued to provide joy for us on a daily basis. Unlike me, Bernie never had a bad day, or almost never. Saturday, and then Sunday, the day he died, he was obviously not himself. His usual morning perkiness was absent, and he didn't even bother to lift his head in our bedroom, when I got up early Saturday morning to write. Normally, he'd have followed me into my office across the hall, and slumped down behind my chair, where he could keep an eye on me.

[Bernie discovered how great couches and pillows were late in life]

My wife and I were crushed Sunday night when he expired in our dining room, dying with dignity, and minimal distress. Yesterday wasn't much better, and sitting here typing this post this morning finds my emotions still very close to the surface, and my eyes swimming with tears.

Anyone who has ever lost a close canine friend knows how hard it is to bid them "adieu." Bernie was unique, and we miss him terribly.

Mark, our son, put Bernie's passing and life into context, and brought a bit of joy to a day that was pretty joyless, and a challenge to get through. Here are some of his thoughts on man's best friend.

This morning has been tough. I read mom's email on the bus and was crying. The people around me must of thought I was going to blow up the bus or something.

I always knew it was going to be tough when Bernie passed, but I wasn't sure why. The past day or so I've been thinking it over. I think it comes down to dogs being anything you want them to be. They have needs, but these needs are minimal, and for most part they keep their agendas to themselves. Bernie was something different for everyone. Whoever came up with 'man's best friend' hit it right on the head. Bernie was everyone's best friend despite everyone having a different idea of what a best friend would look like. For mom he was her style, fashion, and cooking assistant. For Dad he was his best editor and walking partner. For me he was something of a silent baseball coach or brother who didn't know anything about baseball, but would put in hour after hour, despite not knowing what he was putting in work for. He never asked, "Why do you keep hitting the ball after I get it for you? Your advancement of the ball is a net worth of zero." Basically, the reason why he was so great was because he couldn't say 'No.' He's the friend that always wanted to hang out and do whatever you wanted to do. Sure, there were times when he'd try and sneak off and eat out of the compost or lie under the tree and rest and not chase the ball anymore, but if I hit the ball he'd go get it. Dogs in general are amazing in this sense because mostly they portray a blank slate with little opinion and it's almost up to whoever they're with to create the personality and voice for them in their own mind. And I think what's so special about this is that despite Bernie passing we each carry that personality of who he was to each of us in our own minds and he can live on.

I'm hoping to add a bit more context in the next day or two about Bernie, the loss of a dog, and one of my favorite books on the subject, over at Write in Maine. Look for it.

Friday, May 15, 2009

This is not a college baseball blog

There are other sports and championships taking place in New England besides the Bruins, Celtics, and of course, the 162-game drumbeat of the Red Sox.

The D3 Regionals are taking place across the U.S., with eight regional tournaments, including the New England Regional, in Mansfield, CT, hosted by Eastern Connecticut State University. The Pine Tree State is being represented by perennial participant, the University of Southern Maine Huskies, and a newcomer to regional play, the Husson Eagles.

USM, which occupied the #1 ranking nationally, prior to losing their conference tournament, are an at-large bid. They beat Husson 5-4, in their opening tilt and play the defending national champs, Trinity College, this morning. The Huskies, coached by longtime coach, Ed Flaherty, boast a powerful offensive lineup, highlighted by major league prospect, Anthony D'Alfonso. The 6'4" 235 lb. masher hit .435 on the season, including setting a single season record for RBIs, with 71, and continues to pad that total, including three more in the opening game against Husson. One of Trinity's top hitters, Ryan Piacentini hails from Portland, Maine, and both he and D'Alfonso logged considerable at bats in Maine's Twilight League, a former focus of mine.

I spent a very cold three days in Mansfield back in May, 2003, when my son's college team, Wheaton College, participated in the regional that year. As a freshman, he spent the tournament on the bench, huddled in his Wheaton warmup jacket, while dad and mom froze in the bleachers. Foolishly, I failed to pack anything resembling warm clothes, thinking that May in CT would be balmy. I've never been so cold in my life. Oh, and Mansfield isn't exactly a metropolis, either.

The next three seasons, Wheaton would qualify for the tournament two out of the three years remaining for my son (his junior and senior seasons), and the games were on the Cape, in Harwich, a much better place for families to spend the long weekend. In 2006, Wheaton won it all and headed to Wisconsin.

Best of luck to Maine's contingent. I'm sure the mercurial Flaherty has been putting on a show for the fans in Mansfield, as well as getting some ribbing from the ECSU fans in attendance, as both clubs have a long history of antics, especially Coach Flaherty and their fans.

While I've been able to get excited again about baseball (after taking last year off, basically), I miss those weekends devoted to watching my son play for Wheaton. It's always special for families and friends at tournament time, and I hope this upcoming weekend is full of many positive memories for everyone involved, win or lose.

Speaking of losses, where are all those Bruins' fans predicting a Stanley Cup for the team back when they were riding high, winning 10 in a row, at the end of December? Probably now the same group whining in the comments section, and calling in sports talk shows complaining about the coaching, the officiating, or making some other excuse for Carolina being the better team.

I'm still hoping for a Celts win in Game 7, on Sunday night, and also that Tito moves Ortiz down in the order, or sits him down for a few games. If you failed to see yesterday's line on him, it was brutal; 0 for 7, 3 Ks, and 12 men LOB. Hell, I could have done that and saved the team some cash.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Sucker punch Scotty

I know hockey’s a rough game, at times pushing up against brutality. Still, Carolina Hurricanes' Scott Walker’s cheap shot on the Bruins’ Aaron Ward was totally punk ass (that's punk as in being a "bitch," not in a SoCal, Black Flag sort of way).

Apparently, the NHL doesn’t deem Ward’s fractured orbital bone and loss to the team anything serious, as it rescinded an automatic suspension and fined Walker a mere $2,500. This means that the innocent team, the Bruins, will be without a key player, going into their do-or-die game six against Carolina, which will have Walker’s services.

[Scott Walker demonstrating his sucker punch acumen (Stuart Cahill photo)]

Boston is none too happy, as indicated by coach Claude Julien’s statement in which he said that Walker “sucker-punched” Ward.

Julien went on to say, "I don't care what people say about, 'Ward should've protected himself.' He had no intention of getting involved," he added. "We asked our guys to stay composed and not fall into that trap, and he just did that. A guy with Walker's experience should know better than to sucker-punch a guy."

The Bruins issued a statement Monday responding to the lack of suspension for Walker.

"We respectfully disagree with the NHL's ruling to rescind the automatic suspension to Scott Walker, but we will abide by the league's ruling," the team said.

‘Canes' president, Jim Rutherford, on the other hand, thought Walker’s “skate” on this was warranted.

"We are satisfied with the league's ruling," said Hurricanes president Jim Rutherford. "After our team received several punches throughout the series leading up to game five, it was a matter of time before one was going to be thrown back."

I realize that Rutherford, a former goalie, may not have all his senses, after seeing too much rubber during his playing days, but what f*cking series has he been watching. Having a player cheap shot an opponent, who was unprepared for it, resulting in a broken orbital is not justified.

Apparently he thinks his team shouldn’t be hit by the Bruins, who in my opinion, have played way too soft.

Let’s see if Walker’s cowardly act lights a fire under Boston’s ass and they come out and hit every red and white Hurricane jersey that they see on the ice.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Jason Bay looking better all the time

Manny Ramirez, the 2nd highest paid player in major league baseball, has been suspended for 50 games, beginning today, for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. This is being reported by the LA Times, and has been confirmed by other media outlets.

Ramirez is expected to attribute the test results to medication received from a doctor for a personal medical issue, according to a source familiar with matter but not authorized to speak publicly.

This is a major blow to the Dodgers, who sport baseball's best record at 21-8. Ramirez was a major reason, batting .348 (which leads the team), and providing a major presence in the middle of the LA lineup. His absence will leave what the Times called a "gaping hole" in their batting order.

Ramirez, who had worn out his welcome in Boston last season, only to land on the west coast, and apparently in a place that agreed with "Manny being Manny." In fact, it was hard last week in my travels around greater-LA to not spot a billboard, or Dodgers' ad on a bus that didn't sport Manny's familiar visage. I was even thinking about blogging about the genius of the club's marketing department in making Manny the face of the club's promotional campaign. Then this hit.

With Jason Bay's strong start, and this revelation, Red Sox Nation has to be heaving a collective sigh of relief, even those who criticized the Red Sox for unloading Manny.

And before anyone gets too smug, realize that this latest development is less about Manny, and more about the rampant abuse of steroids at the professional level, which MLB still hasn't come to terms with. There are players in the Sox locker room that are just as "dirty" as Manny, they just haven't been caught.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Joba Chamberlain is a punk

I hate the Yankees. As a longtime Red Sox fan (that means I followed the team long before they won in 2004, bandwagon riders), my dislike of all things Yankees goes back to the Craig Nettles, Billy Martin, Sparky Lyle, and yes, the late Thurman Munson era (Google "Munson Fisk brawl").

During the top of the 5th inning, starting pitcher, Joba Chamberlain, the Yankees' young pitching star, hit Jason Bay in the middle of the back (between the fours), an obvious intentional act. Bay had touched up Chamberlain for a 3-run homer in the first.

Bay was an unlikely object of Chamberlain's ire. From what I see game in and game out, he just goes out and plays the game, old school. He hustles, keeps his mouth shut, and when he uncannily turns around 96 mile per hour fastballs, he doesn't stand at home plate and admire them, he sprints around the bases. He certainly didn't do anything to warrant getting hit, unless the prima donna Chamberlain, doesn't realize that the ball he left out over the plate to Bay is the kind of pitch that major league hitters regularly deposit beyond outfield walls.

Dennis Eckersly, filling in for the ailing Jerry Remy, took issue with Chamberlain's act. I love the Eck, and he didn't mince any words about Chamberlain and what he thought about what he did. Eck was a hard-nosed competitor. He also played when there was still a code of how you handled yourself between the lines. Chamberlain is like so many younger players--no understanding of what's right and proper, at least what warrants a "message" pitch, which his plunking of Bay obviously was. I'm just not sure what the message was, other than, "I'm Joba Chamberlain and you can't take my fastball out of the yard."

I don't know if Red Sox starter Josh Beckett will retaliate tonight. Mark my words, however, from the looks on the faces of Red Sox players, in the dugout, as the camera panned the bench, you know that this isn't the end of this issue.

After hitting Bay, and receiving a visit at the mound from Yankee pitching coach, Dave Eiland, Chamberlain struck out Mike Lowell on five pitches, whereby he pumped his fist like it was the 9th inning of game seven of the ALCS, and yelled towards the Sox bench. There will definitely be more to this story.

In an unrelated item, apparently Chamberlain's Mom is a tweaker.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Post-jet lag musings

I'm back home after an incredible nine day vacation/visit to Los Angeles. I flew west on the 22nd to for some needed R & R, to visit my son (who I hadn't seen since August), and also, to take in the LA Times Festival of Books last weekend, at UCLA.

There were so many positives to my trip. How can you quantify spending time with someone that you love and haven't seen forever? Plus, Los Angeles is an amazing city. The sprawling nature of the place, the diversity (more Koreans live in Los Angeles than any other place in the world, other than Korea, with 100,000 Koreans making LA their home), the myriad of choices in what to do each day, plus watching the Celtics at Sonny McLean's Irish Pub, a favorite sports bar with other expat New Englanders, made this a vacation to savor, and remember.

The diversity factor was something I was especially attuned to. Given that Los Angeles is really a group of ethnic communities, within a larger metropolitan framework, you literally could experience much of the world, and never have to drive more than 30 minutes in any direction.

On Wednesday, I had lunch with an old Portland Pigeon buddy, who is now attending graduate school at USC's Anneberg School of Communications. We met at Chung Kiwa, on Olympic Boulevard, in Koreatown, for Korean barbecue. Here's a link with a photo from the web.

This veritable smorgasboard of tastes and smells takes place at your table, with a server firing up a gas flame in the middle of your table, and cooking your meat in front of you. That, and about 20 seperate banchan, or side dishes, like kimchi, pajori (green onion salad), and some type of pickled zucchini that my friend and I required seconds on. Truly amazing!

One great thing about the past nine days is how I took in information, and how little affect the swine flu paranoia affected me. I learned from one of my Media Matters emails that the right-wing used this to jack up the fear, and of course, a hater like Michael Savage used it to assail Mexicans, given that he's in California, and hates every other non-white ethnic group.

Since my son and his girlfriend don't have a television, I didn't watch any television news whatsoever. I listened to the NPR affiliate on occasion, usually after I dropped my son off at work (I drove him to work each morning, in Beverly Hills, which was an experience in and of itself). I'd allow myself to get a brief sampling of the news, and then it was back to KXLU (the Loyola Marymount college station), or KJazz 88.1, originating out of Cal State/Long Beach. These two became my musical cornerstones of my visit and time in my Toyota Prius rental car. I also enjoyed the amount of Latino music available at a quick tweak of the dial.

[What would LA be without its freeways?]

With so much music now streaming online, and corporate control of radio ruining what small vestige of originality remained on the FM dial, it's easy to forget the thrill of driving into a major radio market like Boston, Chicago, or elsewhere, 10-15 years ago, opened up possibilities of music not available in out of the way outposts like Maine, at the time. That and even the wealth of college rock that has changed given the interweb's influence on radio and music programming.

The morning and late afternoon shows on KXLU were amazing. One afternoon, Ikey Owens, from LA mainstays, The Mars Volta (and side project, Free Moral Agents), was in the studio, choosing music, talking about Los Angeles' music scene, the band, and winning a Grammy, and shitting on some of the celebs at the awards show (which Mars left after receiving their award).

KJazz provided accompaniment from jazz giants like John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, and others, as I made my way across the vast web of boulevards, and freeways that make up travel in greater-LA.

The city of Los Angeles has nearly 4 million inhabitants, but Los Angeles County, of which Los Angeles resdides as part of, consists of slightly more than 10 million people in a region of 4,700 square miles. Maine, my home state, has slightly more than a million people in an area eight times the size of LA County.

I loved the diversity and experiencing a sampling of world cultures during my brief stay. Unlike some that tend to demonize those coming to the U.S. for a better life, I see the benefits of the blending of cultures that places like Los Angeles represents.

On Wednesday, I spent my afternoon at Griffith Park and visited the park's Observatory. What an amazing place, made possible for Angelenos and visitors, because of the vision of one man, Griffith J. Griffith. Just like Maine's own Percival P. Baxter, who bequethed land and set up a permanent wilderness oasis in the Pine Tree State, Griffith has done the same thing, providing a place to escape the craziness that can become urban living. If I lived in LA, Griffith Park would a be one of my refuges, when I needed to disconnect from the negatives of urbanity.

[The Griffith Park Observatory]

You can read more about my trip over at Write in Maine, including my visit to the Festival of Books.