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Published Letters and Iberian Slang

A bit of housecleaning here at halphillips.net: First, I coined a useful, new word a while back. See below and feel free to deploy as part of your common parlance going forward:

Smoor n. archaic, 13th century Iberian slang for a mixed-race resident of Andalusia during the Muslim occupation of what is now modern Spain; one of mixed parentage with chocolate-, graham cracker-, or, less frequently, golden marshmallow-colored skin; one who stands to be roasted over an open fire for this crime of miscegenation.

•••

Next, I had a couple letters to the editor printed this spring in the Portland Press-Herald, not technically my “local” paper (those have folded) but published only 20 miles south and still the largest daily in Maine. See below, and if you want to check out the comments, visit here (you’ll find a pretty typical right-left troll exchange therein).

To the editor:

In this day and age of reckless, willfully obtuse, anti-government bloviation, it’s important to be clear about how/why government functions as it does, why it’s rarely “perfect”, but why it is nevertheless worth defending and maintaining. Today’s case in point: Kevin Miller’s April 25 story re. L.D. 1379, which would allow the Dept. of Marine Resources to more actively police (via GPS) disputed fishing boundaries. I’m no lobsterman. I’ve no dog in this fight. But here we clearly have an industry that cannot or will not police itself in civil fashion. All parties agree that escalation, even violence will ensue if nothing is done. Like so many prickly deals in a country of 330 million people, responsibility for any potential solution falls to government.

This scenario is typical. Government action is by nature reactive. It works slowly. It can be unwieldy. But when there’s a problem — when human nature and/or the “unerring” profit motive fail to address (or utterly pervert) that problem — it is the authority of last resort. That’s the story with L.D. 1379, and it’s the story behind 90 percent of the regulatory measures on the books today. Right-wingers are convinced that bureaucrats sit in rooms all day wondering how they can extend their unelected influence over this business sector or that public domain. That’s just not how it works. Observe the gestation of L.D. 1379. That’s how it works.

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Bowie’s Impact, Departure Still Sinking In

Bowie’s Impact, Departure Still Sinking In

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As was the case with many artists of the 1970s, David Bowie was introduced to me via my older sister. Janet brought home Hunky Dory at some point late in the Nixon Administration and when she wasn’t playing it to death, I played it to death. In truth I hardly ever bothered with Side 2 because that’s how my primitive musical mind operated at the time. Side 1 had everything I thought I needed: the radio song, “Changes”; a screamer that Janet and I used to goof on together during car trips (“Oh, You Pretty Things”); and my favorite track, the always haunting and beautiful “Life on Mars”. Once I got to college and lived in close quarters with a more fully developed Bowie enthusiast/savant, Dennis Carboni, I would learn that Side 2 wasn’t just superb (“Song for Bob Dylan”, “Andy Warhol”) but indicative of Bowie’s new genre-busting album and persona to come.

[I wouldn’t dream of posting anything regarding Bowie without Dennis’ input. His annotative comments appear below, bolded and bracketed.]

It’s been more than a year since Dennis and I spoke of this and many other things the Tuesday following Bowie’s death, in January 2016. He confirmed what I remember us discussing all those years ago, in the wee hours, confined only by the sterile cinderblock walls of dorm life — namely, that Bowie wasn’t just consistently 2-3 years ahead of every other rock ‘n’ roll artist in terms of musical direction and fashion sense; he normally hinted at his next departure on the back end (Side 2) of his previous album.

[I like how you wrote, “Dennis and I spoke of this and many other things,” which recalls the lyric, We passed upon the stair, we spoke of was and when — from “The Man Who Sold The World.”]

On the generally ethereal Hunky Dory, that clue was the propulsive and utterly sublime “Queen Bitch”, which heralded the coming of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, one of the great, pure rock (and proto-punk) albums of the decade. To say that Ziggy himself was one of the great “roles” played by any rocker of the period is not necessary, for no one else even attempted this sort of serial shape-shifting back then. Bowie turned this trick 4-5 times throughout the decade (hippie folkster to Ziggy to glam rocker to blue-eyed soul man to Thin White Duke) and competed in this regard only with himself.

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Bowie’s career didn’t begin with Space Oddity in 1969. He’d been around since 1965, when this shot was taken. Pretty mainstream, for the time, and a reminder that these icons we associate with a particular decade didn’t arrive fully formed from the brow of Zeus.

[I’ve been reading the blog, “Pushing Ahead of the Dame.” You may know it, but check it out if you don’t. It’s fascinating. Yes, “Queen Bitch” is perfect because it starts with the acoustic guitar C-G-F progression à la Hunky Dory, then switches right to an electric C-G-F à la Ziggy.]

My sister didn’t own the Ziggy album; indeed, while I knew several cuts well (from FM radio play) I wouldn’t fully absorb it until the early 1980s. She did, however, possess one more Bowie LP: David Live, Bowie’s first official concert release where, once again, he shows us a transition in the making: from the hard-edged glam of Diamond Dogs to the Philly soul sound of Young Americans. I am not ashamed to admit that I love this particular Bowie period, this dalliance in what he later, somewhat ambivalently referred to as “plastic soul”. It does shame me to admit, however, that until I was 12-13 years old, I thought this dude’s name was David Live.

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Recapturing the ’75 World Series, via iPhone

Recapturing the ’75 World Series, via iPhone

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Nothing sums up the prevailing zeitgeist better than the online recap, whereby otherwise respectable writers, toiling for otherwise respectable media outlets, review individual episodes from the various series comprising our so-called Golden Age of Premium Television. It’s not that acolytes of Game of Thrones, The Good Wife, Homeland, Better Call Saul or House of Cards ever “miss” an episode. On-demand viewing makes that well nigh impossible. No, these morning-after recaps treat TV shows more like marquee sporting events; they exist so that we might wallow again in their drama, better drink in their plot twists, indulge anew in idle plot speculation, and ultimately rehash it all with likeminded folks in the comments section.

Quite by accident and irrespective of the retrospective TV trend, it occurred to me last week that YouTube might well harbor clips, if not entire game films, of the 1975 World Series — contested 40 years ago next month. As the 2015 Red Sox have descended into chaos-tinged irrelevance, a gaping hole has marred the dying days of my summer here in Maine. My friend Ben has tried to get me behind the Cubs, presumably playoff bound and a worthy substitute, I suppose. But it’s no use; the void remains. To fill it, my mind drifted back to Luis Tiant and the magnificent Game 4 he pitched in Cincinnati to level this epic Series.

The 21st century is a remarkable thing: Game 4 was indeed there on YouTube, in its entirety (commercials completely excised). I watched it on my iPhone and, over the course of three days, allowed a veritable cloudburst of memories to wash over me like a warm, amniotic shower. This led to YouTube-aided consumption of Games 2 and 3, in that order, as these, I reasoned, were the chapters in this remarkable 7-game saga that I remembered least of all.

What follows is my recap of this 3-game series within a World Series, one of the greats, which I first watched 40 years ago as an 11-year-old, staying up later than I ever had before, in a suburban living room some 13 miles southwest of Fenway Park.

 

Game 4, Riverfront Stadium, Oct. 15, 1975: Red Sox 5, Reds 4

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El Tiante was already a Boston legend before he took the mound in Game 4. After doing his best to thwart Sox hopes in 1967, for Cleveland (one of four teams with legitimate pennant hopes that final weekend of the season), he had come over in 1971 and immediately won our hearts. No one knew how old this amiable Cuban really was; I suppose we still don’t know. He was a bit dumpy and could be clownish, though a lot of that was surely ESL-based. But he won and he did it with singular style — 18 games in 1975, despite some back issues. He shut the Reds out in Game 1 and, after this virtuoso performance at Riverfront, his place in the Boston Sports Pantheon was utterly secure.

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Brits Abroad on Holiday: A Partying Force Most Willful

Brits Abroad on Holiday: A Partying Force Most Willful

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Having weighed in, soberly and professionally, on the “air rage” phenomenon — at the somewhat newly minted Mandarin Media blog — I couldn’t leave the subject without relating the more salacious story of my first trip to the French Alps. It wasn’t exactly an instance of “air rage”, but it well illustrates the peculiar holidaymaking mindset, among some Brits, that can and has led to many an airborne incident. In short (I love quoting myself), “There is something to the idea, born of armchair psychology, that Brits cut loose on holiday in reaction to leaving what remains a very buttoned-up, class-restrictive culture.”

It was March 1985. My girlfriend and I were studying abroad, in London, and we’d booked a chartered ski package to La Plagne, in France, for mid-semester break. Our flight from Gatwick to Geneva, almost entirely peopled by English holidaymakers, quickly degenerated into a sort of raucous booze cruise at 30,000 feet. Everyone, it seemed, had broken open the bottles just procured at duty free.

Normally, such characters scatter to the four winds upon landing, but this was a charter. We had all purchased the same ski package. Accordingly, the same rowdy group piled onto a single coach and set out for La Plagne — in a blizzard.

By this time, my girlfriend and I had traveled a great deal together. This much was clear: If she wasn’t seated directly behind the bus driver, she was dangerously prone to car sickness. So, from the very front of the coach, we could hear the party raging behind us, as we crept our way along ever more windy, mountainous roads. This was a non-smoking bus; the Brits defiantly smoked like chimneys and brandished their duty-free liquor bottles like groomsmen at a stag party. Then came the songs.

The unfortunate leader of this charter was a mild-mannered American 22-year-old named Chad. His attempts to tamp things down were met with open ridicule. He was a tad chubby, our Chad. Ultimately, he was regaled with a spirited rendition of “Who ate all the pies?”

From our perch behind the driver, we witnessed the trip’s dramatic turning point: An oncoming Citroen spun out in the snowy conditions and crossed into our lane. The bus driver tried evasive action but these were shoulder-less roads — and it was snowing like a bastard. The car bounced off the driver’s side of the bus, right below us, and we skidded to a stop — literally perched, precariously, at the edge of a steep, snowy hillside.

We sat there for half an hour, crowded onto the left side of the bus (to avoid tipping the bus and our still soused party into oblivion) until a replacement vehicle arrived. When it did, we all exited out the driver-side window.

This replacement bus was not big enough to accommodate all of our luggage, so the entire party was deposited at a nearby train station, which served some small French mountain town whose name I cannot recall. The station had a bar, however, and our new British friends set about drinking again, as if nothing had happened. To be fair, so did we. Having cheated death, we tucked into a couple bottles of wine with two more American friends who were traveling with us.

Two hours later, we piled onto the second replacement bus, where our moveable booze-fest was now completely out of hand. Chad just hunkered down beside us; this party could not be stopped — or could it…

The up-and-down, side-to-side nature of our alpine journey would result in two initial incidents of vomiting. Each time the bus ascended and descended, the resulting spew sloshed back and forth along the bus floor. The stench had just the wrong sort of effect on others who teetered at the edge of nausea.

Upon arrival in La Plagne, I don’t believe I’ve ever been quite so thankful to disembark from anything. Rule Brittania!

Silver Tribute Ends 23 Years of Jazz-Search Futility

Silver Tribute Ends 23 Years of Jazz-Search Futility

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Played the Peace Fair on Brunswick green Saturday. Our mando player Ben’s mother, a German war bride and longtime social justice activist, administers this event, which annually draws a healthy cross-section of southern Maine’s aged hippie population. This year, for these unreconstructed lefties, we performed a Pete Seeger tribute/sing-along. The crowd was big (for a peace fair, in August) and the weather held off. But the big deal came before I had played a note. Ben’s brother Matt, a gifted pianist, was up for the event and brought along a fellow Nutmegger  on sax. They started our set (we followed a five piece that featured two steel drums) with a four-piece tribute to the recently departed Horace Silver (above), a jazz name I sorta knew but not really. The song they chose, appropriately, was “Peace”, and it transported me.

In the early 1990s, I was news editor at a couple of daily newspapers in Massachusetts. The life was somewhat nocturnal: I’d arrive a 5 p.m., put the paper on the press at 2 a.m., and go home — unless the paper crowd had gathered for very late-night revelry. Even a ridiculous schedule like this can become routine: I’d arrive in the newsroom and flip on NPR out of WGBH in Boston. The first two hours of the work “day” were a mix of gay banter, serious story planning, photo assessment (from what had been shot that day), and assignment (to be shot that night) and front page/section layout. All this took place with All Things Considered as soundtrack.

At 7 p.m., things got more down to business. Reporters were headed off to meetings or coming back from accidents/crime scenes/sporting events to begin filing stories — stories that I would read/edit before sending the final layout to the paste-up/press operation a few towns over.

But nothing serious got done, not at my desk anyway, until 7:04. WGBH aired a jazz program starting each night at 7 called “Eric in the Evening”. The show theme was this beautiful piece of jazz that dripped from the radio each night, by itself, at exactly 7 p.m. The routine of its play provided the perfect respite and regathering moment before the radio got turned off and we all transitioned to the mania of another night on deadline.

I’m not a huge jazz guy. I like a massive cross-section of the genre, though when I pin myself down, I can see how the influence of Charlie Brown and Vince Guaraldi shaped this particular aspect of my musical taste. Dave Brubeck. Bill Evans. That’s the stuff I’m drawn to apparently: white guys from the late ‘50s and early 60s. Very uncool, I’m afraid. Just the way it is.

I left the Marlboro Enterprise and Hudson Daily Sun in 1992. I never did get the name of that theme music to “Eric in the Evening”. Every couple years it would jump into my brain — not because I’d heard it, but because I’d remember just how resonant and important it was to me, at one time. I googled “Eric in the Evening theme” one time, with no luck. Eric Jackson still does a jazz show on WGBH radio, but it seems he’s gone off the regular-theme thing and just excerpts bits from that night’s guest or spotlight artist.

Well, that Silver piece, “Peace”, is in fact Eric’s old theme. I knew it the moment I heard it on Saturday, by the start of the second bar.

Here’s is Silver’s original version, from 1959 (right in my wheelhouse; I should have been cast in the movie, “Diner”, as I dig that period couture, as well). Sadly, after scouring iTunes and youtube.com, I have determined this is not the arrangement Eric deployed back in the early ‘90s. That was a more saucy, piano-centric and sax-featuring recording. And so the search continues, but at least I know the name of the fucking song. Only took me 23 years.

 

Of Hillsborough, Heysel & Stamford Bridge: Backstories amplify documentary of tragedy

Of Hillsborough, Heysel & Stamford Bridge: Backstories amplify documentary of tragedy

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[This post was excerpted and adapted from the author’s current book project, “Generation Zero: The 1990 World Cup Team and the Making of Soccer in America”.]

In joining the wide chorus of praise for director Daniel Gordon’s superb “30 for 30” documentary on the Hillsborough soccer disaster, we should be reminded of two things: First, the state of British football fandom in the mid- to late-1980s was legitimately menacing and pervasive; and second, the 1985 Heysel Stadium disaster (where 39 died in a similar crush of humanity) should hang over the Hillsborough proceedings with a pall all its own.

That Gordon never found space in his film for Heysel, nor Britain’s genuine cultural worry over hooliganism (and Liverpool’s connection thereto) is somewhat startling.

Gordon was clearly at pains to accentuate the unfair and, some would argue, criminal treatment that Liverpool fans received in the wake of Hillsborough. It’s a fair and important point, and the facts here have been too long obscured. However, the context Gordon seeks — namely, that Liverpool’s reputation for hooligan behavior contributed to the way the disaster was investigated — cannot be summoned without a discussion of Heysel, which colored everything that came afterward and certainly fixed uncomfortable attention on a club (and fan base) that played central roles in both tragedies.

Liverpool FC was indeed front and center on May 29, 1985, when the Reds met Juventus of Turin in the European Cup Final (forebear to today’s Champions League Final). Thirty-nine fans (predominantly Italian) perished that night in Brussels, where Liverpool fans stormed a purportedly neutral area inside the gates but outside the stadium itself. Juventus fans fled from the threat, into the stadium, toward a concrete retaining wall. Fans already seated there were crushed by the onslaught of humanity — then the wall collapsed.

Unlike the Hillsborough narrative, very little of the above account is disputed, by Liverpool supporters or anyone else. Six hundred more were injured at Heysel that night and, as a result, English clubs were banned from all European competitions for five years (Liverpool was banned for 10, but was allowed back after 7 years served).

Gordon makes the important point that, rightly or wrongly, the fear of untoward supporter behavior tragically influenced police actions before, during and after the tragic 1989 FA Cup semifinal. The presumption that drunken fan violence had played a role ultimately moved the English Football Association (FA) to an appalling continuum of cynical posturing. That same presumption influenced media coverage of the event for years to come.

As such, it’s vital to understand the climate in which that semifinal, and so many other matches were routinely played during this period.

The police, the FA and the media behaved abominably post-Hillsborough. Full stop.

However, they were not behaving in a vacuum. The mid- to late-1980s were rife with soccer hooliganism. Serious alcohol consumption routinely played a role.

And yet Gordon touches on this broader cultural phenomenon very little.

Hey, it’s a big subject — probably too big to address fully/fairly in a 120-minute documentary on Hillsborough. But again, methinks Gordon soft-pedaled it because undo context here would tend to explain, if not justify, the behavior/presumptions of police, the FA and media in relation to Hillsborough.

Gordon does make it clear that police, the FA and England’s tabloid culture took this fear of hooliganism — born of Heysel and myriad other incidents involving dozens of clubs — and manipulated it in disgraceful fashion. However, menacing fan behavior was no figment of the FA’s nor Rupert Murdoch’s imagination.

It was all too real and totally out of control in many cases, as I witnessed first hand.

•••

It can be argued that the spring of 1985 represented the nadir of British football hooliganism, as Heysel had not yet gone down and English supporters still traveled to away grounds, foreign and domestic, with impunity. As it happened, this low point coincided with the semester I spent at the University of London, on loan, as it were, from my American college. I traveled all over the city that winter and spring, taking in a dozen matches at three separate grounds.

My maiden voyage, however, would prove the ultimate eye-opener.

I had two English roommates at the Westfield College, University of London; both were rugby fans and sarcastically dismissed football as a meaningless diversion for working class oiks. Accordingly, when Barry — a fellow American and Sheffield Wednesday fan (thanks to several summers spent in South Yorkshire with his cousins) — suggested we and I take in the Chelsea-Wednesday match one early February night at Stamford Bridge, I didn’t even mention it to my roommates. Off Barry and I went.

The word “hooligan” has always been loaded with questionable motivation, but there is no doubt that English soccer in the mid-1980s was then developing, in earnest, its notorious reputation for what has since become known, in a blanket fashion, as “hooliganism”, whereby traveling supporters of certain clubs would clash with home-standing counterparts before, during and after matches in miniature manifestations of England’s particular brand of xenophobia. People always harp upon English hatred of the French, and they do hate them (who wouldn’t). But in truth, the English aren’t particularly fond of anyone in Europe. Indeed, people from the South of England belittle people from the North, and vice versa; residents of Shropshire deride their neighbors in Worcestershire, and vice versa; even neighboring towns have managed to work up healthy mutual hatreds over the course of centuries.

As a consequence, “support” for football clubs routinely takes on a tribal, fever pitch (to borrow a phrase) the likes of which we really cannot imagine here in the States. There is no cultural equivalent that even begins to fit.

The year before, after Liverpool had defeated Roma in the 1984 European Cup Final, bands of Italian toughs on scooters had apparently attacked celebrating British fans as they danced in the Eternal City’s many fountains. Hit and run, or hit and scoot, apparently. This sort of behavior didn’t sit well with the English, as it probably wouldn’t with anyone. A year later, at Heysel, it was payback time.

Yet fan violence wasn’t reserved for internationals. English fans — not all fans, but relatively small subgroups of young toughs — routinely practiced their sordid craft at domestic matches, where rivalries were arguably more heated. Familiarity and contempt, don’t you know. This was the backdrop, only a few months pre-Heysel, as Barry and I left Westfield College, in the north London borough of Hampstead, for south London.

The tableau in and around Stamford Bridge that night was truly surreal. We came up and out of the Fulham Broadway Tube station and immediately walked past a pub that had been thoroughly gutted, all its windows shattered following a punch-up late that afternoon apparently; police and angry masses milled about everywhere.

Picture the scene from Apocalypse Now where Martin Sheen and the boys reach that bridge, the one a few clicks beyond which lies Cambodia and certain peril, the one eerily bejeweled with hanging lights and flairs, where a night-time firefight rages and chaos reigns. I love that scene, and that’s what it was like in and around Stamford Bridge that night, minus (ironically) the illuminated bridge. It was an atmosphere only enhanced by the fact that the river of supporters streaming toward the ground was continually fed by tributaries emanating from local pubs. Plus, I’d gotten well and duly stoned before leaving Hampstead. I was effectively channeling Timothy Bottom’s surfer dude character, Lance, who was transfixed but not effectively warned by the spectacle.

Following Barry’s lead we entered the stadium through a portal reserved for visiting fans alongside a gaggle of Wednesday supporters. The terrace (no seats) set aside for visitors at Stamford Bridge was located behind the North goal. To our left there was nothing — just a sunken access road, well below us, that led to the field. Indeed, 30 feet of open space separated us from the main stand along the touchline.

To our right was an unoccupied terrace guarded on either side by 15-foot, wrought-iron fencing punctuated at foot-long intervals by sharp spikes. Beyond that was the remainder of Stamford Bridge’s North Terrace, occupied by thousands of Chelsea fans, clearly hammered and beside themselves with venom, all of it aimed at — us.

I had been utterly naïve about this excursion. I would soon learn what I should have known beforehand — what my roommates would have readily told me — namely, that Chelsea supporters, back then anyway, were among the “hardest” and most hostile in London, rivaled only by Millwall’s and West Ham’s. Put the money of Russian oligarch ownership out of your mind. This was not the posh club it is today. Chelsea was a hardscrabble, working class club in 1985, with fans to match.

Today, as home to one of the world football’s richest clubs, Stamford Bridge is a jewel (I’ve heard some older fans deride it as a bleedin’ galleria). In 1985, it was no such thing. Picture a dingy, no-frills ground very much like the Hillsborough we see in Gordon’s documentary.

•••

Inside the ground, the Wednesday fans (along with at least one woefully underprepared, somewhat stoned Yank), occupied a pen current observers might also recognize from the “Hillsborough” documentary. No seats. Completely enclosed. But that February evening in 1985, we were but a few hundred traveling supporters from Sheffield. There was no crush of fans clamoring to enter all at once. There was plenty of room to move about freely, though we instead huddled together — to guard against the cold and various projectiles.

From the outset and this considerable distance — the full width of the open terrace, maybe 25 yards — the Chelsea faithful pelted us with AAA batteries and pound coins. However, to be honest, it wasn’t all that threatening. It was a bit of a laugh at that stage. What a good and practical idea, I remember thinking, to leave that section open, as a buffer.

The game? Well, at times it seemed almost secondary to our homestanding neighbors a section removed. Chelsea scored first, through Kerry Dixon, and Sheffield managed to equalize just before halftime.

About then, to our horror, the empty section that separated the home crowd from ours was opened up, practical caution apparently giving way to the reality of ticket sales.

What ensued was a jailbreak. There’s no other way to describe it, and it lends insight to the rush/crush of fans that took place at Heysel and Hillsborough. The Chelsea throng poured over (!) and around this huge, spear-tipped fence like a horde of rabid 11th century Danes, and made a beeline for the lone wrought-iron barrier now separating us. Soon they were pressed up against it, screaming obscenities and taunting us, their arms reaching through the fence like desperate, famished prisoners. We all instinctively moved away from the fence, gathering at the far edge of the terrace and pulling our jackets up around our heads so as not to take a AAA in the ear. Let me tell you: It was fucking scary. I remember turning to Barry and saying, “I should NOT have gotten stoned.”

This was not some frenzied spasm of menace that faded with time. The Chelsea fans were on us the whole time, the entire second half, bombarding us with all manner of pocket-sized ammo. Thank god no human could spit that far.

There was no police presence in the terrace, only a smattering along the access/egress concourse that ran along the back of all three sections, behind the north goal. While the Chelsea horde had scaled one wrought-iron fence, an identical fence continued to separate them from us. The only thing stopping them from invading our space was, well… I don’t know. The fact that police were watching from above and perhaps an obscure, deep-seated tenet of British restraint?

Fortunately Chelsea scored in the final 10 minutes to secure a 2-1 victory. I don’t want to think about how things might have played out if Wednesday leveled things, or managed to win the game. As a player myself (at the time), I remember considering the prospect later that night: Did the Wednesday players, for example, recognize what victory might mean for the 800 or so supporters who’ve traveled down from Sheffield? Can one try to win with all the same commitment, knowing that a goal or victory — or perhaps a goal celebration taken a bit too far — might well bring a battery down on someone’s head, to say nothing of what might happen afterwards, outside the stadium?

Today, in the more refined Premiership era, visiting players score and make beelines to visiting fan sections, where much fist pumping and bellowing is enjoyed by the merry bands of traveling supporters. English football comportment was generally far less exhibitionist during the 1980s (so few of the games were televised). But visiting goal celebrations were relatively muted, in part, so as not to put traveling supporters in unnecessary danger inside and outside the ground.

As it was, when the final whistle blew and the referee pointed to the spot, the home supporters spent a few minutes hugging each other and chanting before they turned back to us and emptied their pockets one last time.

The trip out of the stadium was more frightening still. We Wednesday supporters exited first — and now there were several dozen policemen to help us execute this delicate task. The entire stadium was sealed but for our Bobby-lined egress route, which, of course, passed right behind our neighboring terrace, where the horde reached out to us one last time through the fence. They let us have it again, but I didn’t see any of this spectacle. I had my coat up over my head.

Outside the stadium there were two long lines of police on horseback; we walked between them the three city blocks back to the Tube station, where a special train was waiting for us. We piled on, the doors closed, and, as we slowly pulled away, a group of Chelsea fans burst down onto the platform, half of them singing “We love you Chelsea/Oh yes we do-oo…”, while the other half reiterated the epithets to which we had become accustomed inside the Bridge.

The context is important: Wednesday was and remains no particular rival of Chelsea’s. This was a run-of-the-mill, February match between a pair of mid-table sides, with nothing special to play for. And yet the atmosphere between the two sets of supporters was dire — and routine. That everyday menace like this, and incidents like Heysel, did nothing to move the FA toward meaningful institutional reform and stadium renovation, is a bit mystifying 30 years on. That it took Hillsborough to make that happen, finally, is tragic.

Back at Westfield, just off the Finchley Road, I found my roommates at home and started to regale them with tales of my nerve-rattling introduction to top-flight English football. Yet I’d hardly begun when Trevor interrupted. “Hang on, mate. You sat with the away supporters?” As indicated, Trev was no football fan back then, but he knew enough to throw a disbelieving glance at Adrian, before turning back to me. “That was fucking stupid.”

 

 

 

How MadMen Should Finale, Ultimately

How MadMen Should Finale, Ultimately

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It doesn’t matter where Matthew Weiner & Co. pick up the seventh and final season of MadMen. Some might insist on 1969, to keep the 1960s ethos in tact (though the series actually started in the late ‘50s), others 1974, to neatly bookend the Dick Nixon Era. But it doesn’t really matter because halfway through the 2-hour finale of the seventh-and-final season, the show should jump from a 1970something tableau to a recognizably modern day. In keeping with the way other MM seasons have begun, it’s not exactly clear what year it is.

What is clear is this: Sterling Cooper & Partners has survived and thrived, perhaps added a name or two, and the agency has taken up residence in chic modern offices high in a glittering Manhattan tower of glass and steel. For 50 minutes of this final hour, in the course of a normal business day, we learn what’s happened to most all the characters who matter, i.e. who remains at the firm, how the hierarchical machinations have shaken out, who’s moved over to or formed competitors, who no longer remains on this mortal coil, who has divorced and remarried whom, who’s aged well and who hasn’t… The pacing is pointedly brisk, recalling the Season 3 episode “Shut the Door. Have a Seat”, when the gang reboots the firm. This pacing is important because frankly there’s a lot of ground to cover (for the viewer, absent all these years) and we want to make clear the agency’s ongoing vitality.

Clues re. the time period dribble out via scene details and workaday conversations at SC&P. For example, the Justice Dept. has just announced it would no longer seek to break-up Microsoft — a fact germane to SC because the firm is courting Netscape, which is jittery because a company called Google has just been awarded US Patent 6,259,999 for the PageRank algorithm used in its search engine. The codgers at Sterling Cooper aren’t at all sure what a search engine is.

Bobby Draper has grown up to be a political operative. We see him on TV as chief of staff to Congressman Gary Condit, steadfastly defending a man who would appear to be dying a slow political death while denying an affair with 24-year-old Chandra Levy, now missing for 133 days.

All this catch-up takes place on a single day, a Monday.

The next morning, standing in his Upper East Side apartment, an appropriately aged Don Draper reads the paper in his stylish breakfast nook while a radio plays in the background: Ahmed Shah Massoud, leader of the Afghan Northern Alliance, has been assassinated in Takhar Province. His young wife doesn’t know who that is. She’s the spitting image of Betty Draper. Or maybe it’s another brunette…

It’s a late-summer day under a bright, blue, cloudless sky. Don gets out of a cab and bumps into a colleague (Peggy? Roger? Dawn?) outside their office tower. They’ve got a conference call at 9 a.m. and running late. As they hustle inside, the camera pans back from the monolithic revolving doors and reveals, for the first time, that the Sterling Cooper offices are housed inside the World Trade Center.

Cut immediately to the Sterling Cooper offices burning out of control. Don is knocked out beside his own desk, lying amid the debris (which includes a bottle of bourbon, a tumbler and a slide carousel). The only real sounds are low-licking flames and the eerie, reedy hum of steady winds, as several ceiling-to-floor windowpanes have been shattered/knocked out by the impact and subsequent blasts of jet fuel. The whole scene is staged and blocked to recall MadMen’s seminal Korean War flashbacks.

Don ultimately comes to, and things are suddenly moving really fast again. MM characters dart in and out, to see if Don’s alive, to express ignorance or disagreement as to what has actually happened, to tell him so-and-so is dead, to inform him they can no longer stay put. Indeed, a group has decided to ignore the “stay put” advice of emergency personnel on the ground — they’re leaving, and they’re taking the stairs. Draper says he’ll be right there.

Alone now, he grabs the bourbon, pours himself a drink and downs it. As he takes one last look around the wreckage that was his office/firm/life, the episode-ending music begins (“Be My Baby”, by Ronnie Spector and the Ronnettes). Don walks past the camera toward what we assume is the door. Instead, he walks to the open window and calmly steps out.

No need to show the trag-iconic footage of that businessman falling from the World Trade Center on 9/11. It is immediately recalled — and provides new meaning to the animated version of that footage we’ve seen at the start of this and every other MadMen episode, including the final one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hot Mess and The Insidious Power of New Burger Mania

Hot Mess and The Insidious Power of New Burger Mania

Raised to be aggressively skeptical of consumerism in general and advertising in particular, I have, throughout my adult years, embraced this foundational credo and built upon it, dutifully changing channels during commercial breaks and flipping right past magazine ads. More recently, I diligently disable any and all online pop-ups. I watch on TV virtually nothing that hasn’t been DVR’d. When I am obliged to confront an ad, I delight in letting loose upon it all my powers of sarcasm and mockery. I am indeed hard pressed to think of a single instance where I was moved to purchase anything on the basis of its formal advertisement.

Anything, that is, except special edition burgers mongered by fast food giants.

In fact, much as I’m loath to admit it, I am perfectly helpless in the face of fast food burger innovators and their army of propagandists.

I recognize this is for the major character flaw it is and perhaps by writing about this phenomenon, this innermost shame, I hope to overcome it.

Until that time, I am putty in the hands of Burger King each and every time they trot out a special edition Whopper. The King and his competitors are a sophisticated bunch. It’s not merely the power of their advertising. I know they spend years in special labs researching and building into their products the neuroscientific triggers designed to elicit in unsuspecting consumers, like me, the desired Pavlovian response. When it comes to new burgers, I am essentially their Munchurian Candidate.

Ads for existing burger products don’t have the same effect. You could pimp Big Macs to me all day long and I wouldn’t be moved. I know from Big Macs, and I’m over them.

However, when the burger establishment pitches me a new beefy confection, I MUST TRY IT.

Intimates of mine may well read this and say, “Well, Hal is famously enthusiastic about all things edible.” And this is true. The same parents who so well prepped me to resist consumerism also imparted to me, by nature and nurture, an overdeveloped appreciation of worthy foodstuffs. But while I’m saddled with an unhealthy love of pizza, for example, I don’t see an ad for some new Domino’s product and rush out to buy it. I don’t notice a fancy new offering at my local pizza purveyor of choice and feel any immediate urge to sample it. Introduction of a new chicken-based sandwich leaves me essentially unmoved.

The burger situation, however, is anomalous and insidious. Something about beef flesh reaches my involuntary subconscious on a primal, somewhat frightening level.

Today I ran across the above ad for something Jack in the Box is calling the Hot Mess. Am I the only one intrigued by the mere name of this thing? We don’t even have Jack in the Box in Maine, or anywhere in New England, so far as I know. Still, I am plotting my next trip to the West Coast where I can cram a Hot Mess down my pie-hole forthwith.

Methinks it’s the special edition aspect that truly breaks down my fragile defenses. Homer Simpson famously fell victim to the charms of the Ribwich, a McRib-like concoction whose periodic availability (“for a limited time only!”) he meets with characteristically unbridled glee (indeed, Homer ultimately follows the Ribwich around the country, from city to city, like a Grateful Dead fan).

Thankfully, I don’t have the need to eat these things over and over, but I must try them. When Dairy Queen unleashed its Flamethrower burger — hot sauce, jalapenos, pepper jack and bacon — I naturally went out and sampled one straightaway. Okay, several.

I get over them in due course, but it’s the initial curiosity that gets to me. f they’re equipped with bacon and/or jalapenos? Well, it’s Katy bar the door.

I’m a Burger King guy, because I like underdogs (and their fries have always been superior), but mainly because their menus have routinely featured more bacon-bedecked items than McDonalds’, or any other competitor. Naturally, it didn’t take me long to sample their new “Angry” Whopper, so called because of the jalapenos (complemented by bacon and onion rings — formidable).

Wendy’s Baconator combined the time-honored lure of cured meats with another clever name. Of course I’m gonna try that. (If they ever figure out a way to work a fried egg in there, I’ll be among the first in line).

It’s not all about curiosity. The value proposition is another trigger. Much has been written about the obesity of underprivileged Americans due to the remarkable affordability of fast food. A clear connection there, in my view. For the pure delivery of calories (worthless calories, but calories nonetheless), $7 goes a very long way. Yes, I’ve had a Whopper and I don’t need to try another — but if you’re offering me one for a dollar? I’m likely to be persuaded by that, even if I’m not hungry. Two Egg McMuffins for $3? Only a fool would pass that up.

I’m already over the recently unveiled Angry Whopper. Been there, done that. But this Hot Mess thing… It’s in my head. I’m headed to California in April, and I’m intrigued enough that I may well bypass the SoCal delights of In ‘n Out Burger and Fatburger.

The regional nature of some chains does figure prominently in this equation, so far as I’m concerned anyway. When I arrive in California, it may be that In ‘n Out or maybe Carl’s Jr. has introduced something that I simply must experience. When I first started traveling in Florida, I had an uncontrollable urge to investigate what Checkers had to offer.

In Kalamazoo, Mich., from whence my wife hails, I was, for a time, fascinated by something called Hot ‘n Now, a local chain that serves only drive-thru patrons from small, purple, A-framed establishments in mall parking lots. “Oooh…What’s that?” I cooed to her the first time we passed one.

“Ugh. They’re disgusting,” she said.

“Well, yeah. Naturally… But we’re going to need to turn around.”

 

 

 

 

A Few Words (not 1000) on the Power of Golf Imagery

A Few Words (not 1000) on the Power of Golf Imagery

 

In my work, I gather and view killer golf photography all the time. Those of us in the trade often refer to these beauty shots as “golf porn”. This particular photo — the back tee on the 16th at Cape Kidnappers GC in Hawkes Bay, on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island — has always intrigued me for what it lacks and what it delivers (full disclosure: This course is a client of my firm, Mandarin Media). My job is to get magazines and website to print or post an image like this, but I don’t know that many have done so. It’s a funny shot, captured by Chris Mclennan. Maybe editors choose others from Cape because while the 16th is a magnificent, incredibly photogenic par-5, this image doesn’t give any indication of that. It attaches the viewer’s eye to no golf hole whatever, not that we can see or even vaguely discern. On the other hand, any golfer looking at this photo could and should think to himself, “How bad could this hole possibly be?” I was traveling with some fellow golf writers earlier this month and the subject of Cape Kidnappers came up. One tried to argue that while Cape is a magnificent course (Top 50 in the world according to all the trusted rankings), and among the 10 most photogenic courses on Earth, it’s not that scenic for the golfer actually playing the course.  I beg to differ, and I imagine that anyone standing on 16 tee — a thousand feet above the South Pacific, looking back at five holes with similarly perched vantage points — would beg to differ, as well.

 

 

Fox Claims US Am to Remember, but Was It Ever Live?

Fox Claims US Am to Remember, but Was It Ever Live?

Anyone who missed Steven Fox’s unlikely victory in Sunday’s 36-hole final of the U.S. Amateur Championship is the lesser for it. You won’t witness a better argument for the dramatic glories of match play and its magnificent leveling qualities. Fox should never have beaten Michael Weaver, as he ultimately did on the 37th hole at Denver’s Cherry Hills Country Club. Indeed, if it weren’t for the vagaries of tape-delayed telecasts and modern media alliances, I’d have missed it myself.

Here’s what happened: I was called away Sunday afternoon by a gaggle of visiting relatives, so I recorded (with my DVR) what I presumed to be NBC’s edited/taped presentation of the final that aired from 4-6 p.m. EST. Saturday’s NBC telecast was tape delayed and generally I’ve got real problems with networks presenting golf events on tape, as the viewer knows in advance the action has been edited to fit a specific programming period, which can in turn lead to the outcome being revealed ahead of time. For example, if it’s 5:50 p.m. EST and some dude is two up with two to play, clearly the other dude isn’t going to stage a monumental comeback, nor is the match going to extra holes — because the local news is coming on at 6 p.m., come hell or high water.

Still, I wanted to see this final. I wanted to see Cherry Hills, which I played a few years back, and I wanted to see which unheralded participant would win this match-up of 60th and 63rd seeds (!). So, late Sunday night, I settled in to watch what I presumed to be NBC’s taped coverage, which I in turn had taped.

On the 17th hole with Weaver dormie, the tape ran out. Apparently, the telecast ran over its allotted 2-hour time slot. For all the world, NBC’s coverage resembled the pre-packaged, edited version they always present on the Amateur’s final day — salted strategically, of course, with myriad feel-good features on the competitors, their families, the vaunted trophy room at Cherry Hills (site of 9 USGA championships), and Arnie’s driving the 1st green en route to a closing 65 to win the 1960 Open.

But maybe NBC had run the event live. Why else would the 4-6 p.m. time slot have been breached? … Or maybe my DVR clock was off kilter… Or maybe they switched the live telecast at 6 p.m. over to their partners at The Golf Channel? … Maybe the match had indeed ended just seconds after the tape ran out — Weaver was just a putt from claiming a 2 & 1 victory…

Mystified and slightly irked, I flipped over to The Golf Channel, where, 5 hours after the fact, surely the event was still being parsed 16 different ways. But lo and behold, what was on TGC but an encore presentation of Sunday’s NBC telecast! And here’s the really weird part: I switched it on almost precisely where my DVR’d version had cut out — on the 17th green, both guys with birdie putts, Fox’s to stay alive and Weaver’s to close out the match.

It was sort of eerie. I mean, The Golf Channel programmers surely had no idea that I had taped the NBC telecast. Even if they did, surely they wouldn’t have any idea WHEN I would watch the recording. Or would they…

In any case, a hearty round of applause for NBC’s partnership with The Golf Channel, without which I would have missed one of the most compelling finishes to an Amateur since Steve Scott took Tiger Woods to extra holes before losing in 1996.

Fox drained his birdie at 17, while Weaver missed, leading to a crazy 36th hole where Fox looked dead to rites (in the thick right rough) but somehow found the elevated green from a steep, side-hill lie. His two putts left Weaver with a 4-footer to win it all, but the Cal student authored one of the most cruel and violent lip-outs I’ve ever seen, on TV or in person.

Turns out all the syrupy flashbacks and references to Palmer driving the 1st green in 1960 had resonance, because Weaver’s decision to drive the 346-yard, 37th hole cost him the Amateur. He pulled it left, beyond the green and the 2nd tee. He fluffed his chip, then chunked another. Fox hit 6-iron off the tee, dropped his approach 15 feet above the pin, and coaxed into the cup his birdie attempt when two putts would have sufficed.

Fox had no business winning that match. His unorthodox swing, his lack of length and collegiate pedigree should have left him happy to have merely qualified for match play, much less the final. But he was dogged and nervelessly drained every putt he looked at, all day. Still, if Weaver had made that 4-footer on the 36th hole, it would not have been enough.

But it was enough. It was heartbreaking. It was thrilling. It was all highly unlikely, and eventually I got to see the best bits, plus the extraordinary denouement, via recordings of a recording, on two different TV outlets, late at night, on the couch by myself.