Like carrying ‘a Rolls Royce with buckskin seats,’ only lighter…

Late January in the golf realm is traditionally dominated by the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando. Even if one doesn’t attend (as I did not), industry types and golfers alike are invariably bombarded this time of year by attendent product news, hailing the latest and greatest from all corners of golfdom. I received this morning a press release re. the vaunted Mackenzie Walker. I no longer “carry”, as they say; the ol’ L4/L5 and S1/S2 discs won’t allow it. But I did report on this specific subject once upon a time, for the dearly departed Golf Connoisseur. Glad to see the company (if not the magazine) is still in business.

Considering all our outward reverie for tradition and history, today’s golfers would appear to have very few practical retro options. Yes, we can walk, take a caddie, wear a Hogan cap or perhaps re-attach to our shoes those god-awful kilties. But we don’t see modern players making any truly meaningful throwback gestures, such as forsaking his Pro V1 for a Haskell — or even an Acushnet Club Special. We don’t see them trading micro-fiber for tweed. Yes, Old Tom Morris reportedly made one helluva niblick but the market for one, today, is limited to collectors and hickory-wielding re-enactors.

This is precisely the beauty of the Mackenzie Walker, the all-leather carry bag that was first introduced in the 1980s, fell into obscurity amid a hail of ownership failures but has re-emerged under the aegis of Oregon-based professional Todd Rohrer. It’s a niche market, to be sure, but the sumptuous, hand-sewn Mackenzie bag (which, when slung across your shoulder, feels like a comfortably worn club chair, only not nearly so cumbersome) is beginning to gain traction at some of America’s finest clubs — perhaps as a statement of principal in an ever more titanium-reinforced world.

“Technology makes the game a little more enjoyable, but so does this,” Rohrer says, while gently stroking two new shipments of buttery leather, one in black, the other champagne. “The first bag I make out of this stuff is going to look like a Rolls Royce with buckskin seats.”

The first Mackenzie bag Rohrer ever saw was black. He was managing The Reserve Vineyards & Golf Club in Portland, Oregon; it was the late 1990s, during the Fred Meyer Challenge, “and Peter Jacobsen came walking across the practice green with the coolest black leather Sunday bag I’d ever seen. I was like, ‘Whoa…’ These bags evoke strong emotions. They just make people feel good.”

Jacobsen was an early backer of the Mackenzie phenomenon; indeed, he and his brother, Dave, named the product. Not for Alister, the architect, but for Rick MacKenzie, their caddie during a 1985 trip to Scotland (and now the caddie master at St. Andrews). That was one spelling corruption and several ownership groups ago. Rohrer is the new keeper of the flame (www.mackenziegolfbags.com) and he’s determined to “refine” the bag without messing with it.

“For example, the round ring here at the top of the bag. It used to be a piece of steel we got from Mexico, but through my sewing machine mechanic I found an experienced welder who just happens to sculpt in metal. Now the ring is hand-formed stainless steel and the weld on it is just about a work of art — and you’ll never even see it because we sew it into your bag!”

Ditto for the lighter, 50-gram composite fiber batten (replacing a 675-gram metal frame) that provides the Mackenzie Walker just enough structure, while maintaining its requisite Sunday-bag slouch.

Otherwise the Mackenzie bag remains gloriously low-tech, unchanged and unadorned. No double-helixed nylon straps. No insulated water-bottle receptacle. No special compartments for, well, anything really. They’ll hand-sew you some lovely barrel-style head covers but, outwardly, there will never be more to a Mackenzie Walker than a single strap, a couple pockets and impossibly soft leather.

Okay, a bag stand would be nice. Some day. Maybe.

“We’ve had that conversation,” Rohrer admits, a bit warily. “But if we ever do one, it will be the most damnably elegant bag stand you’ve ever seen.”

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.

Read More

Our Gallic friends don’t give a fig about the ’18 Ryder Cup… On s’en fout?!

At Morfontaine GC in 2015. That’s the elegant, Mansard-roofed clubhouse in the distance, across the 18th green.

This piece appeared in Cache magazine as part of a 2015 series that examined the best public and private courses to play in prominent metropolitan areas worldwide. This first bit spotlights Paris. It’s coupled with a follow-on bit re. Melbourne that appeared 3 months later. 

The French do not follow, a fact that applies most stringently to their cousins across the Channel. This begins to explain the marked lack of great golf courses (and great players) in a country so big, so populous, so temperate and so blessed with golf-worthy coastline. All that said, France is so hosting the Ryder Cup in 2018, whether we golfers (and the French themselves) like it or not. And while the French may never take to the game en masse, they have provided surprisingly well for golfers visiting the capital any time before or after September’s event.

Let’s first fixate on the Ryder Cup theme (even if the French may not). The host venue, Le Golf National, is nominally private but anyone willing to shell out 120 Euros can get a game there, and what a game. There are 45 holes here but L’ Albatros (that’s “The Albatross” for you non-Francophones) is the preferred 18, a track befitting golf’s biggest team event (it’s also hosted every French Open but two since opening in the early 1990s). Architects Hubert Chesneau and Robert Von Hagge fashioned a flamboyant, 7300-yard beast from what had been a pretty humdrum piece of terrain. For anyone but the old world design purist, there’s plenty to enjoy here: wide landing areas, artificial mounding that renders each hole a golfing pod unto itself, forced carries, and peninsular greens (bounded by wooden retaining walls) jutting out into water hazards. It’s a feast for the modern golfing eye.

The other factors recommending Le Golf National, the next time business takes you to Paris, are convenience and variety. The property is located in suburban Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, just west of Versaille. What’s more, the secondary 18, L’Aigle (The Eagle), is more of the same good fun, if not quite so stern a test. There’s even a sprightly, 9-hole short course, L’Oiselet (The Birdie), for those with a little extra time, or not quite enough.

Golf de Morfontaine is everything Le Golf National is not. Set aside an entire day for this place, where nothing is rushed and time would appear to have stood still since architect Tom Simpson fashioned this design in the late 1920s, the heart of course architecture’s “Golden Age”. Indeed, it was Simpson (designer of Cruden Bay in Scotland and The Berkshire outside London) who coined this now-hackneyed phrase. In any case, Simpson’s patron at Morfontaine, the 12th duc de Gramont, chose his ground well. This is arguably the best course in continental Europe. It’s also among the most private, meaning it’s THE place to leverage all your best Parisian connections in order to wangle a visit.

What you’ll find, if those connections prove distinguished enough, is a deft cross between the best of London’s heathland tracks (think Sunningdale, where Simpson once renovated the New Course), and Northern California (think Olympic, with its ubiquity of trees and paucity of fairway bunkers). Indeed, the fairway corridors at Morfontaine, while firm and fast (thanks to perfectly sandy soil conditions), are a bit too crowded by massive Scotch pines to truly embody the “heathland” milieu. However, its stupendous putting surfaces, strategic greenside bunkering and elegant routing thoroughly overcome this stylistic impurity.

Read More

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.”

Read More

HH Flashback: Misery Can Neither Be Created Nor Destroyed

[See here an archival excerpt from The Harold Herald, the world’s first blog, which I invented in the early 1990s. Yeah, I did… One of the things that made the HH special, and thereby transcend the as-yet-created blog genre, was the fact that we attracted scads of talented contributors. Dave Rose was one of these, and here we reprint one of my favorite bits, first published circa 1995, when CO2 levels were still sorta quaint. But with the onset of winter here in Maine, and wildfires raging across Los Angeles County, it remains damned timely.]

By DR. DAVID ROSE

BOSTON, Mass. — From a meteorological perspective, this winter has been a particularly difficult one in New England. The ground here has been snow-covered for at least a month, and each time the snow begins to retreat a new storm sets in, dumping a foot or two of the white stuff on the city’s long-suffering populace.

In times like these, even the most stalwart, Eastern masochist can cast an admiring eye to the South or West, imagining more comfortable — if less character-building — Februarys. In weaker moments we are all capable of believing we would be less miserable if only the weather were better.

What few people realize, however, is that misery — like matter, energy or gravity — is a measurable entity subject to strict physical laws. Paramount among these is the law of conservation of misery, which states that misery can be neither created nor destroyed. What the law of conservation of misery means is that each human being is subject to a fixed quantity of misery during his or her lifetime. This “misery quotient” is absolutely immutable, a constant that holds across socioeconomic groups and geographic boundaries.

The law can be demonstrated in the field by measuring and tabulating misery in test subjects by using sensitive, electronic monitoring equipment. In the following study, diary entries for three individuals are followed by the amount of misery experienced by each, expressed in misery units (MU).

Subject 1, Los Angeles, Calif.

Day 1: Beautiful day. Saw Erik Estrada at Arby’s (.002 MU)

Day 2: Beautiful day. Discussed Rolfing with a Scientologist. (22.001 MU)

Day 3: Beautiful day. Around noon my house ripped loose from its foundation, slid down a hill, burst into flames and was swallowed up by a huge fissure that opened in the Earth. I was trapped for four weeks and was forced to drink by own urine to survive. One of the paramedics looked just like Kevin Bacon in Footloose. (1223.12 MU)

Subject 2, Tallahassee, Fla.

Day 1: Beautiful day. Stayed in the trailer and ran the air conditioner. (.003 MU)

Day 2: Beautiful day. Noticed that some, but by no means all, of my neighbors bear a striking resemblance to Gomer Pyle. (12.4 MU)

Day 3: The morning was beautiful, but in the afternoon I was mistaken for a German tourist and shot in the head, doused with gasoline, and set afire during a hurricane that destroyed the entire trailer park. (1232.72 MU)

Subject 3, Boston, Mass.

Day 1: Mixture of snow and sleet. Frostbite in right foot. (415.041 MU)

Day 2: Mixture of snow and freezing rain. My right foot has become gangrenous, and the stench is unbearable (415.041 MU)

Day 3: More snow. However, I reflected today that my house remains intact and this gave me a sense of stability and well-being. Right foot amputated. (415.041 MU)

Note the three subjects had very different experiences during the test period. However, the total amount of misery endured by each subject is identical (1245.123 MU).

While life in Boston is characterized by an endless series of petty humiliations and annoyances, life to the South or West consists of long stretches of inane, vapid, colorless contentment punctuated by absolute cataclysm. You can take your pick, but you can’t avoid misery altogether.

And before you move to warmer climes, consider the fact that spring will bring nicer weather to Boston, whereas Gomer Pyle lives in Tallahassee year ’round.

Herald Science Editor David Rose, PhD, is the world’s foremost authority on suffering. While he still gets a charge from the warranted misfortune of others, he specializes in chance trauma and self-imposed misery. He once dieted for two weeks on nothing but chicken boullion and carrots. His latest book, “I’m Wretched, You’re Wretched” (Knopf, $14.95), was published in February.

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.

Right-Wing Media Mantra: I’m Not OK, You’re Not OK

Since the early 1990s, when Newt Gingrich and his para-parliamentary faction initiated its take-over of the Republican Party, I’ve struggled to describe (or identify a lucid framework to help me articulate) what sort of pathology had infected the GOP, its rhetoric, and its attitude toward the liberal left, national media, and our government itself.

With help from the Washington Post and Project Veritas, I think we’ve finally stumbled upon the words to describe this larger framework: I’m Not OK — You’re Not OK.

Refugees from the 1970s will perhaps recognize this reference to Thomas Harris’ 1969 pop-psychology treatise, “I’m Ok — You’re Ok”, whose title refers to an optimal state of human relations, one that most of us do indeed strive day to day to achieve. “Treat they neighbor as thyself” predates Harris’ coinage, but they go together: One cannot hope to treat his/her neighbor well if, to begin with, one doesn’t have a decent, ultimately edifying sense of self-worth.

There are two more middling, less healthy states that Harris used to describe people suffering from undue superiority (I’m OK — You’re Not OK) and undue inferiority (I’m Not OK — You’re OK).

It is the fourth state, I’m Not OK — You’re Not OK, that is generally reserved for inveterate grumps and outright sociopaths. Let me describe why this phrase so cogently describes today’s GOP and the media apparatus that support it.

By now the failed failed frame-up of the Washington Post in November 2017 whereby a right-wing “media watchdog” group, Project Veritas, was caught red-handed trying to feed the newspaper a false story re. Alabama candidate for U.S. Senate, Roy Moore — qualifies as old news. The intent of the unabashed dirty tricksters at Project Veritas (PV) is undisputed: WaPo — which had led the reporting on Moore’s sordid, cradle-robbing past — would knowingly publish the fake story; Project Veritas would call out the paper for its lack of reporting acumen borne of liberal bias; the newspaper would then be discredited in the narrow context of any further reporting on the Alabama U.S. Senate race, but also in the broader context of all its political reporting.

The whole thing backfired, of course; WaPo’s reporting process (a fact-based process) proved to be anything but the partisan exercise PV would like to have alleged.

But PV’s strategic thinking here is yet another example of a longstanding dynamic — one where right-wingers just assume left-wingers operate as mendaciously as they do, as utter movement soldiers. This attempt at equivalence doesn’t wash, has never washed, as the WaPo example and hundreds more would capably illustrate. But the underlying rationale behind this behavior and attitude from the right, this I’m Not OK — You’re Not OK sociopathy, has nevertheless informed right-wing charges of left-wing media bias for 30 years. It stems from this basic tenet, held on the right: Some right winger in a position to tilt media coverage (to favor or otherwise advance the right) surely will do so — in large part because he/she alleges counterpart, left-leaning media types are operating on the same mendacious level.

Read More

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.

Read More

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 www.setlist.fm 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.

The Most Productive Response to World Cup Failure? Choose and Support an MLS Club

Who is best equipped to cope with U.S. Soccer’s elimination from the 2018 World Cup? Seattle Sounders fans…

Instead of asking where U.S. Soccer goes from here, let’s take a bit of time to first understand where we are, and why.

Dropping the Oct. 10 match to Trinidad & Tobago and missing out on the Russian World Cup this summer do not change America’s standing in the soccer world.

In the grand scheme of things, we are still operating in the “modern” era of American soccer, thanks to a generation of now-50something players who, almost exactly 28 years earlier (on the same Caribbean island), qualified their country (one that had operated for 40 years as an irrelevant footballing nation) for the 1990 World Cup in Italy. From that moment forward, the U.S. graduated into the company of proper footballing nations, i.e. those that qualify for World Cup finals with regularity and harbor reasonable expectations of advancing out of the group stage. Here’s the proof of this evolution: 1990 marked the first of seven straight World Cup appearances for the U.S., four of which ended in the knockout stage.

To argue that missing the 2018 World Cup “shows everything is wrong with the United States doesn’t follow,” Stephan Szymanski told The New York Times this week. Symanski, co-author of the wondrous book, Soccernomics, is among the keenest soccer observers on the planet. “This doesn’t prove that. Stuff happens. It’s the nature of the game and not necessarily surprising to see the U.S. knocked out. This is what being a soccer fan is like. You’re prone to the extreme event all the time. There’s no royal road, unless you’re Brazil or Germany.”

We’ll unpack this more thoroughly below, but this understanding of world football viability is really important for U.S. fans to get their heads around in wake of this week’s admittedly gut-wrenching events. Not going to Russia truly sucks, on multiple levels, and while it may well prove a “teachable moment” for the U.S. soccer establishment, we are obliged to remain clear-eyed about how international football works and exactly why this failure to qualify (for the first time since 1986) truly IS such a pivotal moment. Because it’s not what you may think.

As I’ve written before, international football is hard. Failures like Tuesday’s happen each and every World Cup (and European Championship) cycle, to perfectly capable footballing nations. England missed the WC in 1974 (just 8 years after winning the whole ball of wax), then again in 1978 and 1994. The Netherlands just crashed out of Russia 2018 qualifying — the second straight major-tournament qualification failure for one of the world’s traditional powers. Chile, runners-up at last summer’s Confederations Cup and one of the game’s most entertaining sides, failed to qualify for Russia, too. So did mighty Italy, qualifiers for every WC finals since 1958.

Every four years, at least one really good European team and one strong South American side don’t qualify for the World Cup. In England, Holland and now Chile & Italy, these failures either have led to or will lead to real soul-searching re. team coaching, talent identification/development, and national team administration. This is the introspective process American soccer is wrestling with now.

But if history is any guide, this introspection will come to nothing.

Read More