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Forward, March! Dirt Driveway is Lone Beneficiary of Late Spring

As a Masshole, I have not earned (and will never earn) the right to publicly complain about winter weather here in Vacationland, lest I be called out by some actual Mainer as “a flatlander” who doesn’t “know what winter is”. Truth be told (and chastisers be damned), very little distinguishes southern Maine winters from those in Greater Boston. March is the exception. It is traditionally the most difficult month for my flatlander/Michigander wife and me. Down in Boston (and out in Kalamazoo), there might be a late-winter storm or two but signs of spring abound in March: the inevitable melt, up-creeping temperatures, budding trees… Here in New Gloucester, we don’t see those things until April, and with each passing year that proves a harder pill to swallow.

There is one advantage to this annual winter extension, however: The generous slather of ice and snow keeps our 600-yard dirt driveway smooth and comely. Indeed, it never drives so well as during the months of January, February and March. It’s supposed to snow another foot tonight (March 12), meaning we can expect to enjoy burnished, aesthetically pleasing driveway conditions throughout the month. When we thank heaven around here, this is what passes for a small favor.

Reared in the suburbs, I knew nothing of dirt driveways and their upkeep prior to our landing here in the spring of 1998. Like any new homeowner, I learned these ropes on the job.

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Awfully Fond (and Proud): Sesame Street’s Founding Generation

I have a distinct memory (among my very earliest) of my mother describing a new TV show that was about to air on PBS. “It’s for kids exactly your age,” she told me, and so it was. Sesame Street debuted in late 1969, when I was 5. In a home where screen time was highly restricted (our Sony Trinitron representing the only screen), Grover, Ernie, Bert, Maria, Mr. Hooper, Kermit, Gordon, Guy Smiley & Co. proved a staple of my early cultural sentience. It occurred to me recently that without the enthusiastic approval of kids my age — this founding Sesame Street cohort — the show might not have survived or become such a thing. And what a thing: 48 years and counting.

While channel surfing through the upper, premium reaches of my cable guide, I never seem to happen upon Sesame Street. Yes, today the show airs on HBO. You may have read about this arrangement whereby first-run episodes can be found there on Saturday mornings; eventually, they cycle back onto PBS in a post-modern form of syndication. I never see it there either, to be honest (my viewing habits are too nocturnal). It made this transition 2 years ago and I gather the show continues to wear extremely well.

Buoyed by the idea that this hugely influential, 50-year old show retains “the brassy splendor of The Bugs Bunny Show and the institutional dignity of a secular Sabbath school,” I’ve been conducting an experiment these last few weeks: I’ve been mentioning Sesame Street to folks generally my age and paying attention to their mood in reaction. If it generally brightens, I know they are fellow members of this my cohort… If I make a Cookie Monster or Roosevelt Franklin reference to someone just 4 years older, however, the reactions differ quite markedly. Often they don’t get it, or they will roll their eyes and make it clear they didn’t really watch Sesame Street. This makes sense: When the show debuted, these elder folks had already aged out.

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Palestra Tales, 40 Years in the Making


PHILADELPHIA — When we learned my daughter Clara would matriculate at the University of Pennsylvania, naturally her dad was thrilled: Here was my chance to make a proper pilgrimage to The Palestra, the most storied college basketball venue of the 20th Century.

As I’ve written here before, while my hoops allegiance today favors the overtly professional NBA, there was a two-decade period starting in the mid-1970s (just as John Wooden’s run at UCLA came to end) when I was a far more fervent college basketball junkie. The Palestra was central to that emerging fandom, which just happened to coincide with the sport’s surge into the national sporting consciousness.

College basketball and the NCAA Tournament are so popular today, so ubiquitous on television, it’s easy to forget their dual ascension is relatively recent. For all intents and purposes, UCLA and its 10 NCAA titles from 1962-75 effectively stunted the sport’s broader popularity (when certain teams/programs utterly dominate an underexposed sport, big cultural awareness only comes when some ridiculous win streak is snapped; think UConn, whose dominance has stunted women’ college basketball in the same way). Men’s college basketball should have taken off in the 1960s, but it didn’t because the only time anyone paid attention was when UCLA got beaten: first by Houston (1968’s famous Astrodome game), then by Notre Dame in 1973. These losses proved to be mere blips; the Bruins eventually won national titles both years. But someone finally did beat them when it counted (NC State, in the 1974 national semifinal). Then Wooden retired with one last title, in 1975. Suddenly the field was open and seeded. Take it from someone who was there: The idea that some team other than UCLA could win it all each year was novel and beguiling (!) — only then did the sport truly take off.

The Palestra (bottom right) sits directly beside historic Franklin Field, home of the Penn Relays and where Santa got booed in 1968. It also hosted the Philadelphia Eagles’ last NFL championship (1960). We visited Feb. 3, 2018, one day before the Eagles did it again.

Growing up in New England at this time,  our interest had already been piqued by a Providence College team led by Ernie D, Kevin Stacom and Marvin Barnes. The Friars went all the way to the Final Four in 1973 — that year WJAR Channel 10 out of Providence started televising a bunch of PC games. The following year, rival WPRI Channel 12 took the talented University of Rhode Island teams (led by Sly Williams) under its broadcasting wing. Even obscure UHF stations like Channel 27 out of Worcester aired weekly games (each of them called by Bob Fouracre and his magnificent toupée) featuring Holy Cross mainly but also Boston College — even tiny Assumption College, led by the immortal Billy Worm (look him up; he was a stud).

Soon the national networks and their affiliates in Boston got wise and started televising big regional games every Saturday afternoon. Here is where I got to know The Palestra. Hoop-rich Philadelphia was home to The Big 5, a city series featuring local rivals Villanova, Penn, St. Joseph’s, Temple and LaSalle. Every Big 5 game was played at The Palestra and these were the games I watched with manic intensity each weekend. These were the memories dislodged to glorious effect earlier this month, when Clara, Sharon and Philly-born, erstwhile golf freak Mike Sweeney watched the Quakers beat Yale, 58-50.

When the 10,000-seat Palestra opened in 1927, it was among the largest indoor sporting venues on Earth (the name is derived from the ancient Greek term palæstra, a rectangular space attached to a training facility, or gymnasium, where athletes would compete in public, before an audience). Today it’s a bandbox but still all I could have hoped for: seating stacked steeply with front rows right on the baselines/endlines; vaulted ceilings filled with banners; exposed brick everywhere — pretty much exactly as I remember it from the mid to late ‘70s.

But there was more to our Feb. 3 visit. Quite a bit more.


James Salters, point guard on Penn’s 1979 Final Four team, glides across The Palestra hardwood one more time.

One of college basketball’s enduring appeals is the Cinderella narrative, an unlikely NCAA run that propels some unlikely team deep into the tournament, perhaps all the way to the Final Four. Providence in ’73, for example. Larry Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores, who came within a game of going undefeated and winning it all in 1979. Later, any sort of unlikely tourney run qualified for Cinderella status. Starting in the 1980s, hoop junkies would go gaga every time Penn’s great rival, Princeton, would almost beat some highly-seeded team in the tournament’s opening round; Tiger coach Pete Carril became something of a folk legend based on this run of compelling near-misses. Well, as a student of the game (and father of future Penn alum), I’m obliged to point out that back in 1979, an Ivy League team went all the way to the Final Four! Yeah, the Quakers were summarily bludgeoned there by Magic Johnson, Greg Kelser and Michigan State, 101-67. But still… This was a great team; the year before, it lost to national runner-up Duke in the regional final.

Guess who was honored at halftime of the Penn-Yale game earlier this month? That’s right, this very Quaker cohort. They were all there: James “Peanut” Salters, the silky, sinewy point guard; Ronnie Price, the 6’5” scoring machine who seemed way too good for the Ivy League; Matt White, whose awkward-but-effective 6’10” frame allowed Penn to truly play with (and beat) the big boys… To think that I would see them all again, 40 years later, at The Palestra, because my own daughter was a student there? Pretty fuckin’ cool.

The Palestra, I would learn, isn’t famous just for being old (à la the original Boston Garden, a rat-infested dump where I covered many games as a young sportswriter). Unlike Delaware North, the University has done an formidable job keeping the place up: squeaky clean and not a brick out of place. But the history is inescapable… For many years, the same outfit owned both The Palestra and Madison Square Garden; in order to play MSG in NYC, teams were often obliged to schedule games in Philadelphia, as well. Penn would acquire the facility in 1939, and Philly would soon develop a storied basketball tradition of its own. Even today, when there’s a big college or high school game to be played, The Palestra serves as host.

This long, diverse, illustrious history doesn’t merely waft about in the rafters. It is scrupulously catalogued by a series of pictorial exhibits located all around the concourse. There are life-sized images of all the great college stars who played here through the ages, from LaSalle’s Tom Gola and Michael Brooks to Princeton’s Bill Bradley; from Villanova’s Rory Sparrow and Easy Ed Pinckney to Temple’s immortal Mark Shakin’ Bakin’ Macon. All the Penn greats get extra attention, of course — not just the cagers, but the wrestlers and volleyball players who starred here, too. The high school exhibit features a bunch of guys I’ve never heard of, but several anybody would (Wilt Chamberlain, Kobe Bryant). And lest we forget, a whole raft of famous coaches cut their teeth or made their bones at The Palestra: Dr. Jack Ramsey (at St. Joe’s), Chuck Daly (Penn), Jon Chaney (Temple) and Rollie Massamino (‘Nova) are but a few to earn oversized pictures on the concourse.

There was even a displaying honoring notable Philly sportswriters, the ink-stained wretches who labored here at courtside, including the immortal Dick Weiss who covered hoops for The Daily News but also, in the early 1980s, single-handedly produced Eastern Basketball magazine. Further warmed to the college basketball phenomenon up by emergence of the Big East Conference in 1979, I subscribed to this publication in the early 1980s, at college. I recall that my housemates couldn’t believe anything so arcane even existed — frankly neither could I. Accordingly, Dick Weiss would become one of my sportswriting heroes and role models. I never had a clue what he looked like until Feb. 3, 2018 (he’s still at it, for the record).

Ironically, The Big East — for all its successes — would eventually overshadow and ultimately diminish eastern basketball in general and The Palestra in particular. When the league hijacked St. John’s, Syracuse, Providence and UConn from the old ECAC and Yankee conferences, each of these lesser leagues splintered into even weaker sisterhood, or extinction. When The Big East plucked Villanova from the old Eastern 8 conference (which then became the perennially outgunned Atlantic 10), the Wildcats used their new riches to build a fancy, new, on-campus gym. In this diversified, enriched media/conference universe, the Big 5 would lose much of its cachet. Today, only a few rivalry games are played here. In many ways, The Palestra in 2018 is simply Penn’s home court.

It seems as though Penn is content with this evolution — eager to tout The Palestra’s broader history but just as happy the old barn still so ably serves the university’s many athletic programs. As the Big 5 has ebbed, Ivy League games have taken on more importance — they are one’s ticket to the NCAA tournament, after all. At this writing, the Quakers are 19-6 overall, 9-1 in conference, poised to earn yet another bid (after many years of holding out, the Ivy will conduct its first conference tournament in 2018, with the winner advancing to the Big Dance). More important perhaps: Penn swept Princeton this year. The Tigers are 3-7 in the league and the Quakers are loving it.

Out on the concourse is yet another display, this one a simple tally board that tracks this long and bitter rivalry between the Ivy League’s two traditional powers. Following the Quakers’ win on Feb. 6, it reads, “Penn 126, Princeton 113”.

Long Story: Why Rugby’s Distant Cousin has Replaced Tackling with Hitting

What’s wrong with this picture? Stefon Diggs (14) scored a winning, last-second touchdown on Sunday because Marcus Williams (43) went for the hit, not the traditional tackle…

Having basked in every last detail of Sunday’s miraculous walk-off touchdown by Minnesota Vikings wide-out Stefon Diggs, let’s connect a few dots, for in so doing we link the NFL’s signature moment this season to the league’s most pressing issue.

Look at the picture that accompanies this essay and examine with me what New Orleans Saints safety Marcus Williams was thinking.

We should first take a moment to pity the man, a rookie whose coaches put him in a god-awful position — “on an island,” as they say, by himself defending half the field when the situation clearly called for the Mother of All Prevent Defenses. Even in this highly vulnerable position, however, all Williams needed to do was play deep center field, keep Mr. Diggs in front of him, eventually wrap him up and wait for help, or bring him down, ideally in the field of play (but even a shove out of bounds would have sufficed).

Instead, Williams did what most professional footballers tend to do in the 21st century: He went for the “spectacle hit”, head first.

Competitively, as we’ve seen, the results were disastrous. (Williams even managed too compound his misfortune, somewhat comically, by whiffing on Diggs entirely, then taking out his teammate — the only guy in a position to chase Diggs down.) But if we step back, we see here yet another consequence of football’s troubling evolution on the defensive side of scrimmage. Despite a litany of league-wide initiatives to curb headfirst tackling — the result of mounting evidence linking repeated, football-related head trauma to brain injury (chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE) — the NFL’s hit culture remains firmly in place. Even in a situation like Sunday’s, where old fashioned, rugby-style tackling was called for, Williams acted on the instinct that football today engenders.

NFL Football in the here and now is plenty good fun, the most popular and culturally dominant game in 21st century North America. Minnesota’s unlikely victory on Sunday (indeed, three of the four games this past weekend) showcase exactly why this is so. NFL games can be spectacularly entertaining.

But it would be a stretch to consider the game of professional football “perfected”. In reality, any sport played at the elite level exists as a moving target, a work in evolutionary progress, because the salient factors affecting that evolution — rules, tactics, equipment, geography and fashion — also shift and evolve. All this transforms the way a game is played over the course of time, sometimes by design, sometimes organically without much guidance at all.

In 2017, we can add “culture” and “the legal process” to this list of salient change-agents. People took notice when former NFL player Ed Cunningham resigned from his position of ESPN football analyst — on account of the game’s growing concussion dilemma — but, in truth, we’ve become somewhat inured to stories like this because nearly every week brings some new, relevant development, be it evidence that concussions sustained in pee wee football can lead to adult brain trauma, or steps the Canadian Football League has taken to reduce the volume of dangerous hits.

The idea that former Patriots tight end and convicted murderer Aaron Hernandez might have committed his crimes while experiencing advanced-stage CTE adds to this potent mix the elements of irony and the macabre. Did you know that a class-action lawsuit, brought on behalf of current and former NCAA student-athletes, remains pending before Judge John Z. Lee of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois? Me neither. Class actions have their own online portals these days, naturally. Visit this one and be prepared for the following greeting: “Welcome to the NCAA Student-Athlete Concussion Injury Litigation Website.”

Bit by bit, the forces of change would appear to be gathering over football, as they have intermittently but more or less continuously for more than a century. No game, it seems to me, has evolved so far, so quickly or so dangerously.

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System Error 23: Bad Disk or File Name

[See below a 1996 article from The Harold Herald, the world’s first blog, which I invented in the early 1990s. Yeah, you heard me right … The act of ‘composing at the keyboard’ is so ingrained today, one can forget when and why that started — and just how many technological eras our lives have spanned since. The newspaper that first employed me was still waxed and ‘pasted up’ on boards, with photos carved in with exacto knives…] 

As I prepare to discard the computer on which I truly learned to type, compose at the keyboard and play video games, I’ve come not to bury the ol’ ATT 6300 but to praise it. After doling out the praise, however, it’s headed for the scrap heap.

For 11 years, this IBM knock-off served various housemates and myself extremely well under the most trying circumstances. I dare say, no unit still operating has endured more moves, beer-dousings and random acts of neglect than has our intrepid ATT 6300.

Harold Herald Virtual Editor Dave Rose was the original owner, having purchased the machine via a special Wesleyan University discount deal prior to our senior year. Today, its game graphics would pale by comparison to, say, those of any Fisher Price product. But back in 1985, this baby was state of the art.

In the years preceding Dave’s monumental purchase, I had no PC experience whatsoever. Hardly anyone did. For the first two and a half years of college, for example, I would write papers long hand. It was imperative that I produce a finished draft two days in advance, leaving me an entire evening to hunt and peck the final product on my enormous, ’50s-era electric typewriter, which my dad found at the dump and refurbished. These “typing” sessions were trying times for my housemates and me: evenings laced with profanity born of frustration and pungent White-Out fumes as disorienting (in their own way) as Thai stick.

Behold, Digger: This would be Screen 3, I think. Back in the day, I progressed as far as Screen 12…

Late in my junior year I took to typing papers on the university’s main-frame computer, which was painfully slow and inconvenient as it was located in the Science Library as opposed to our house.

All this changed senior year when Rose bought the computer, thereby opening up a whole new world to the residents of 8 Warren St.

The video games, crude though they were, proved the ATT 6300’s most enduring legacy. Sure I wrote my thesis on this machine but, more important, I also shattered the world Digger record some 10 separate times! I am not a talented nor part particularly ardent gamer, but I made myself the all-time Digger champion through relentless practice. This involved repeatedly drawing myself a draft beer (we were on tap 24 hours a day, 7 days a week my senior year), going upstairs to Dave’s room and “Digging” until something more important came along.

Digger was a sort of Pacman knock-off. Space Vades, a thinly disguised copyright infringement of Space Invaders, was another 8 Warren St. mainstay. There were innumerable Star Wars-inspired, fighter-jet “shooter” games, several of which made their marks as the next late-night obsession of Dr. Rose and perennial roommate Dennis Carboni.

Come to think of it, I associate much of the computer’s nocturnal use with Dennis, a.k.a. The Bone, That Bone, Bonish, El Carbon and (my personal favorite) You Goddamned Fuckin’ Bone.

That Bone was one of the world’s great procrastinators. He never started a paper until 3 a.m. the morning it was due. Invariably, I would get up for class, poke my head into the computer room and Dennis would smile back, his eyes bleary but illuminated by the monitor.

“How’s it coming, you goddamned Bone?”

“Oh, hey … No problem: 11 o’clock class.”

Obsessive nearly to a fault, Dennis and Dave would often become utterly engrossed in some new DOS-based computer game via the 6300 (in the same way they became engrossed in things like mail-order blow guns, palindromes or the album art of David Bowie). Invariably, they would play new video-game pursuits late into the night. Rarely, however, would Rose outlast the Bone.

One night Rose and Bone secured some flight simulator software that enabled them to “fly” Piper Cubs, in real time, with functional control panels. After watching Rose navigate his way from Boston to New York City, I went to bed. It was interesting but quickly became tedious as the screen went a dull, blank green when one left Greater Boston. Such primitive graphic cards didn’t show any topographical detail until one approached Laguardia.

I saw Dennis the next morning and he looked like hell.

“Bone, you look like hell,” I said.

“Yeah, after you went to bed I flew to Salt Lake City!”

“How long did it take you?”

“Seven hours.”

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That Night a Mouth Roared and a Light Went Out


Like many others that fateful night 37 years ago, Dec. 8, 1980, I learned of John Lennon’s death from Howard Cosell. Yeah, that Howard Cosell. It was Monday night, the Patriots were in Miami, and, in 1980, Howard was still presiding — in his inimitably pedantic, overly dramatic fashion — over Monday Night Football, what in the pre-cable era was the week’s premier sports broadcasting event. Howard was respectful of the news, as respectful as his bombastic persona would allow: He treated it as he would a punt returner who has broken clear of the pack with only the kicker to beat. See that bizarre media moment, preserved for all time, here. ESPN would later weigh in with a meta-media doc, here.

My dad and I always watched MNF and we were stunned, naturally. It was legitimately stunning news delivered by a most unlikely source, in a peculiar context. The Pats’ left-footed, English place kicker — John Smith (from Leafield, Oxfordshire) — was lining up a field goal attempt when Cosell abruptly altered the narrative. The only thing that would’ve made it more bizarre? If Smith had hailed from Blackburn, Lancashire.

We called my mother into the room. She was the founding and still chief Beatles lover in our family, and John was clearly her favorite. She was 41 in 1980, essentially the same age as John Lennon. She had latched onto them from the start; indeed, my dad had teased her for digging a band whose enthusiasts were, at that stage, mainly 13- and 14-year-old girls. But my mom possesses a keen musical sensibility and her early support for their chops were more than justified in the years to come… She teared up listening to Cosell bloviate then left the room.

Not sure why, but the holiday period tends to include a lot of Beatles content on PBS. Just last week I saw that Ron Howard’s “Eight Days a Week” was featured, along with something called “Sgt. Pepper’s Musical Revolution”, as part of a fundraiser. All these years later, the Beatles are considered subject matter for the whole family, apparently. If you should get the chance, make time this month to watch the superb documentary “LENNONYC”, about his post-Beatles years in New York City (I saw it on PBS, but today you can catch it online, here). It was an eventful decade that followed hard on the band’s break-up, in 1970. For Lennon it featured a gaggle of outsized characters and spanned a remarkable procession of music-making, protesting, drug-taking, deportation-resisting, legal wrangling, breaking up, getting back together, child-rearing and, ultimately, growing up. That was the message one took away at film’s close: Here was a guy who had finally shed the latent adolescence of rock stardom and become a man, in his own right, only to be killed by a psychopath at the exact moment that maturity was to be revealed — his gorgeous new album, “Double Fantasy”, was released on Nov. 17, 1980). I don’t know that it gets much sadder than that.

Candy Nostalgia, Updated Every Oct. 31
Is it possible for candy bars to make comebacks?

Candy Nostalgia, Updated Every Oct. 31

Is it possible for candy bars to make comebacks?


One of the great privileges of child-rearing is what I call the Transportation Effect, whereby adults, in playing or otherwise communing with their kids in an appropriately committed fashion, are transported back to a time in their own lives when, say, erecting the most efficient Hot Wheels match-race scheme was about the most engrossing thing imaginable.

Halloween, of course, with its attendant masquerading and confectionary trappings, transports like few other phenomena. A couple years back my fully transported mother actually demonstrated apple-bobbing to my children, full dunk and all — something she never did for my benefit during the umpteen Halloweens of my own childhood. But the point is taken: Hayrides, costumes, haunted houses, pumpkin carving… They’re all transcendentally nostalgic acts.

But they’re all secondary to the candy.

As I re-entered the Halloween scene in earnest, thanks to the growth of my young children (Silas and Clara, now 21 and 19), I was awed by the spring of candy knowledge that welled up inside me, from places deep in my subconscious. Several years back, when walking with my children Halloween night (and scamming as much candy as was reasonable for an adult), one couldn’t help but notice the surprising re-emergence of, for example, the Clark bar, that peanutty, soft-but-crunchy Butterfinger forebear. After plucking one from a neighbor’s bowl, I stood there on the street and stared wistfully at the little red package and nearly shed a tear — not because it was so very fun sized (an execrable euphemism; more on that later), but because I remembered a time when Clarks were “right there”, a legitimate option in the full-sized, 10-cent category at J&A’s in downtown Wellesley, Mass., circa 1974.

“What’s this Clark thing?” Silas asked me, without a scintilla of guile… Poor lad. He had no idea.

It’s this sort of benignly ignorant prompt that sends me winging back in time. Indeed, my kids’ questions serve as able catalysts. We were in Cloutier’s, a local convenience story, the other day when Silas, the more adventurous eater of the two, pointed to the Charleston Chews and expressed curiosity.

What’s this? Never had a Charleston Chew? Well, that won’t do.

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With All-Cover Encores, The Feelies Advance State of the Art

Click photo to hear The Feelies pay homage to Jimi Hendrix during their encore at The Sinclair in Cambridge, Mass., Oct. 14, 2017.

Nerd rockers The Feelies played The Sinclair in Cambridge over the weekend, and for all the band’s laudable work churning out two solid sets, it was the encore that left the greater impression. This is perhaps by design, from a band that does encores like no one else and whose 21st century incarnation just happens to have played out like one long, extended encore.

Formed in 1976, this Hoboken 5-piece achieved a modest commercial success and sizeable cult following (comprising not insignificant numbers of Velvet Underground devotees) during the 1980s on the strength of four superb studio albums. Eventually it would break up (1992), re-form (2008), go out on limited tour (trademark diffidence in tow) and eventually release two new discs, including this year’s In Between.

And yet I come before you not to reflexively extoll the virtues of The Feelies sound — which I love, but about which reasonable people can disagree — but rather to applaud the remarkable structure of their shows. We’re all familiar with the two-sets-plus-appended-encore format of most club dates. Here The Feelies do not break any molds. When it comes to the content of those encores, however, they deviate from the norm to stirring effect.

I’ve long maintained that any band (even one whose original music I can’t get enough of) should be obligated, by law, to play at least one cover during a live show. Covering someone else’s material exhibits range; it provides insight into a band’s outside influences, tastes and admirations. It is at once self-effacing and evidence of a certain kind of bravado.

In this respect, The Feelies consistently hit it out of the park and they do it with an emotional intensity they don’t always apply to their originals. After playing not a single cover during the first two sets at The Sinclair, they re-emerged to produce their specialty: the rare all-cover encore, a half dozen tunes that, taken together, provide a veritable window on the band’s soul:

• Astral Plane, The Modern Lovers

Paint It Black, Rolling Stones

I Can’t Stand It, Velvet Underground

Got to Get You Into My Life, The Beatles

Real Cool Time, The Stooges

Damaged by Love, Tom Petty

See No Evil, Television

Are You Experienced?, Jimi Hendrix

I watched this show with a couple certifiable Feelies Freaks who admitted afterward the two formal sets had come off as a bit labored. The band played a bunch of new material from In Between (i.e. songs still to be polished in the live setting) and while they nailed plenty of oldies from Time For a Witness, Crazy Rhythms and The Good Earth, there wasn’t exactly a surfeit of energy up there. Of course, with The Feelies, stage histrionics are not what they’re selling. In any case, once the encore kicked off, they summoned reservoirs of new life. Even Glenn Mercer, the famously cadaverous and impassive lead singer/guitarist, perked up; mid-Stooges, after two sets of studied catatonia, he could be seen bouncing about the stage and rubbing his guitar against the mic stand.

I don’t know of any other bands that deliver all-cover encores (aside from those who do nothing but covers). In some small way, The Feelies are innovating here — which is ironic, for in most every other respect, they have stubbornly refused to evolve. When Yo La Tengo debuted with Ride the Tiger in 1985, these two Jersey-derived bands could easily have been mistaken for one another — a pair of similarly skilled, post-punk, Velvet-obsessed, art-house darlings. Yo La Tengo actually has a thing for covers, too. But while YLT moved on (issuing a dozen increasingly expansive, sonically adventurous albums), The Feelies have never abandoned their own specific brand of jangly, guitar-driven avant-pop, proving just how much there is to mine from such a seemingly constrictive niche.

And you know what? Their encore habits further demonstrate their desire to cling just as tightly to their earliest influences. Today, of course, there are websites devoted entirely to the fan-chronicling of set lists, even those performed by obscure bands from the 1980s. The Sinclair show has not yet been logged for all time, but here we gather from a further sampling of encore tunes from The Feelies’ Detroit show at The El, in July:

Dancing Barefoot, Patti Smith

White Light, White Heat, Velvet Underground

I’m a Believer, Neil Diamond (The Monkees didn’t write this, silly)

Everyone’s Got Something but Me and My Monkey, The Beatles (or this one)

• Child of the Moon, Rolling Stones

Take It As It Comes, The Doors

Seven Days, Bob Dylan

I’ve seen The Feelies three times now, all post 2008, and I just love the way these guys deploy their encore/cover strategy to paint for the audience (and re-experience for themselves) a rich picture of their collective musical tastes circa 1978, when the band was just getting going, young and impressionable. This gambit functions additionally as an ingenious audience-engagement strategy, for everyone at The Sinclair was at least as old as I am (53), and who in their 50s doesn’t want to hear one of their favorite bands cover Television, or Patti Smith? And I find this sorta touching: The Feelies rarely leave out the Beatles and Stones — because, honestly, how could anyone, even the most overly curated latent punk aesthete, come of age in the early 1970s and completely resist their many, many charms? After all, when The Feelies were coming up, 1969 just wasn’t that long ago.

What sort of new music are The Feelies into these days? The Lord only knows. If the contents of their encores are any guide, the answer is “not much”. They knew Tom Petty has recently passed away —  evidence of a basic musical awareness. Otherwise, the course of modern rock these last 25 years would appear to have made little to no impression on their song choices. They’re a band whose predilections and influences, like their own sound (even today), remain frozen in amber. And it’s hard not to love them for it.

Dugmar GC: The Curious Story of a Golf Course Submerged

Dugmar GC: The Curious Story of a Golf Course Submerged

Dugmar Golf Club, from above, circa 1931.

The Swift River started rising in the rural Massachusetts town of Greenwich on Aug. 14, 1939, and soon enough the fairways at Dugmar Golf Club had become unseasonably soggy. After a time the layout’s bunkers and teeing grounds were completely submerged, and had the pins not been removed years before, their flags would have been some of the last things visible before this 9-hole track and the rest of Greenwich were lost for good.

It’s been 68 years since Greenwich and three neighboring bergs were systematically condemned and flooded, all in the name of Metropolitan Boston’s chronic thirst. This massive, Depression-Era public works project created the Quabbin Reservoir, then the largest man-made, fresh-water reserve on earth.

The Lost Towns, as they’re known today, were literally erased by the Quabbin’s introduction; every tree, every man-made structure in the Swift River Valley was burned or bulldozed to make way for it. The river itself having been dammed, the water rose behind it for seven long years, until 1946, when it first lapped over the reservoir’s massive spillways.

By then Dugmar GC had been largely forgotten. Except that you can’t erase memories.

Other layouts have been lost to history, of course. Some have simply been abandoned; others were sold off to make way for post-war suburbia. But so far as we know, Dugmar GC — opened for play in 1928 — was the only golf course to meet its end in a purposeful deluge, sacrificed (along with four 200-year-old communities) to supply tens of millions of faucets in larger communities some 60 miles away.

Hundreds of golf clubs were built, as Dugmar had been, during the heroic age of Jones and Ruth as the moneyed classes sought to bring the same sort of bravado to their own lives (not to mention a place to imbibe in a country gone dry). More than a few of these establishments went under during The Depression, but none quite like (nor quite so literally as) Dugmar Golf Club, for unlike their unwitting, high-living contemporaries, Dugmar’s developers KNEW the club’s fate before the course was ever built — before the bentgrass was imported from southern Germany, before the elegant stone patio was laid beside the farmhouse-turned-clubhouse, before the first crate of Canadian Club was hidden from view.

It was a set up. A land deal with golf at its core. A trifle built to amuse its backers, for a time, then enrich them at the public’s expense. “Those guys knew what they were doing; they made out,” realls a chuckling, 85-year-old Stanley Mega, who caddied at Dugmar GC and still lives close by Quabbin’s shores, in Bondsville. “They knew the reservoir was going in and they made a killing.”

In essence, Dugmar GC was conceived and ultimately proved to be the world’s first and only disposable golf course.


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How Gene Michael and the Post-Miracle Mets Built a Red Sox Fan

I’ve got work to do, but here I am getting misty writing about Gene Michael — a New York Yankee no less! But his passing last week jolted me back to a time when my baseball allegiances were new and muddled thanks to the insistent, dulcet tones of  Lindsay Nelson, Ralph Kiner and Bob Murphy.

I was born in Stoughton, Massachusetts in 1964. Soon enough my father’s corporate work life moved our family to New Jersey, then to California, and then, in 1969, back to the northern Jersey suburb of Upper Montclair. It was here, in the mammoth penumbra cast by the New York City sporting scene, that I first took a shine to baseball. Yeah, I played it in the streets of Waterbury Road, and I collected baseball cards, but this is when I first started watching games en masse, in the early 1970s, via WPIX Channel 11 (Yankees) and WOR Channel 9, where Mets broadcasters Nelson, Kiner and Murphy plied their trade.

My family would move to suburban Boston in 1973, and there my dad would chuck his corporate odyssey for some stability, in a town my parents were loath to leave. That move meant I could, from that point forward, seamlessly pass myself off as a legitimately rabid Sox fan with impeccable historic and geographic credentials.

But that would be a lie.

The first teams I truly learned and observed closely were the Yankees and Mets of the early 1970s, and that’s why I was moved by thoughts of Gene Michael, the Yanks’ light-hitting glove man at shortstop. (He and Baltimore’s Mark Belanger were pretty good comps.) Not every game was televised back then but many were and I watched the man called Stick play dozens and dozens of them beside second baseman Horace Clarke, behind pitchers Doc Medich, Fritz Peterson and Steve Kline, taking cut-offs from Bobby Murcer and Roy White… New York was a terrible team at this time. It confused my 7-year-old brain that the Yankees had, apparently, been so dominant once — but had come to suck so bad.

Convenient to my eventual Sox fandom, I much preferred Bud Harrelson’s Mets to Michael’s Yankees. I don’t remember the Miracle Mets of 1969. But I did enjoy those NYM teams of the early 1970s, and any mention of Gene Michael, or Dave Schneck, or Thurman Munson or Tommy Agee summons the memory of just how hard and quickly a 7-year-old boy can fall for the game.

I watched those shitty Yankee teams because they were the only thing on.

But I developed a real attachment to those Mets.

Let me say right here that no Google has been deployed in the writing of this blog item. As such, here’s the whole Met team from 1973, the guys who nipped St. Louis and a great Pirates team (World Series champs in ‘71) to win the old Eastern Division (with just 82 wins!) before handling the 99-win Big Red Machine to capture the NL pennant: Jerry Grote and Duffy Dyer at catcher; the inimitable and original Met Ed Kranepool at first; Felix Milan and Ken Boswell platooning at second; feisty Bud Harrelson at short; Wayne Garrett at third; John Milner, Don Hanh and my favorite Met of all, Cleon Jones, patrolling the Shea Stadium outfield.

In the field, this was a pretty darned different team from the shock World Series champions of ’69. Only Harrelson, Kranepool and maybe Grote held over from Miracle Mets. But the pitching was a constant and it was Seaver, Matlack and Koosman who made the Mets of this entire era so very formidable. Just to shore things up, a young Tug McGraw closed. And who did the Mets pick up late in 1973 to give them a bit o’ pop? Only a 40-year-old Willie Mays and Le Grande Orange, Rusty Staub.

Still, come October, those Mets were not expected to trouble the Oakland A’s, a dynasty at its peak. But what a series I watched from my new home in Boston in the fall of 1973, surrounded by people who could’ve cared less. The Mets went down valiantly, in 7 games, after having led the series 3-2. Lefthander Kenny Holtzman didn’t just win the finale; he got the big hit off opposing starter Jon Matlack to turn the tide. Bert Campaneris hit a home run to seal it. I was mighty disappointed.

The ’73 Series would prove the end of contention for this generation of Mets; the club would fall into disarray before regrouping in time to put a stake through my heart in October 1986. Gene Michael would retire in 1975 (right before the Yankees got good again), manage the Cubs, and eventually serve in the thankless role of Yankees GM under George Steinbrenner. Stick would hold his nose long enough to build the great Yankee teams of the late 1990s.

And now he is gone, another withered petal on my fading flower of youth…