Thursday, April 27, 2006

American Idol (review) Kellie Pickler Gets Whacked

"Benjamin Siegel played a key role in bringing the Music Industry to Las Vegas."

     Whenever you see Carmella Soprano listen to Andrea Bocelli’s “Time to Say Goodbye”, you know that one of two things is going to happen. First, there will be a jump cut to the the Ba Da Bing Club and raucous heavy metal background music. Second, someone’s going to get whacked. Of course, almost any activity on the Sopranos tends to be followed by someone getting whacked. David Chase’s show is structurally similar to American Idol that way, only the music tends to be better. On the other hand, if you compare aberrant behavior on the two shows it’s a very close call.

It thus didn’t surprise me at all that they introduced, guest divo-maker, David Foster by saying he was responsible for dozens of hits. The blind sidekick hit-man who looked like Andrea Bocelli and did this sweet-natured schtick with Foster about being able to see hair color and female attractiveness made for really good Sopranos-style drama.

I got especially excited when Foster talked Chris Daughtry into lying down on the floor in front of the piano on the pretext of helping him sing more from his diaphragm. I was sure that Bocelli was then going to smother the alt-rocking family man with a pillow or at least Foster was going to talk Chris into barking like a dog or wearing a tutu then hand him a DVD, toss a glass of orange juice in his face, and scream, “That’s a message from “Live” for stealing their arrangement you derivative *#($*.”

I also was sure that the falsetto note Foster talked Kellie Pickler into further unhinging from the melody of that song from Ghost was supposed to signal the moment when Bocelli would suddenly take her out with a pefectly-placed shot to her calamari. Paula has already suggested to Kellie that her future might be in acting and the roller skating waitress would have been great in a death scene, a la Adrianna, going “What’s a Code Blue? Or Ah can’t die with no boyfriend!”

It’s easy enough to imagine Kellie Pickler now resurfacing on Joey as a cousin from the even dimmer-witted Southern Sicily branch of the Tribiani family.

"How ya doin?"

"Joey, this is our cousin Kellie?"

"Oh" (looks downcast)

"Yes, Ahm like your third cousin."

(breaks into smile) "How ya doin?"

"Where Ah come from cousins marry all the time."

In a couple years, Kellie could then reappear in the Idol audience amidst the sea of Kevin Nealons, Sela Wards, Tori Spellings, as yet another person who was on tv long enough to be recognizable at least with some help from a screen prompt.

In the meantime, dozens of bloggers are mourning the end of the orange-tanned one’s time in front of David Foster’s mike. Ironically, it looked like she was very serious about trying to sing well technically which naturally sucked any charm there might have been out of her singing. After she got whacked, they didn’t let Kellie sing herself out. Instead, she got a very long “bad day” montage then Ryan asked her to fill in for forty seconds and this gracious, soft-spoken, young woman with a less twangy southern accent appeared and managed to cover all the bases in forty two seconds. Now, Kellie sings with the fishes or is it the salmon?(btw, if that hair stylist really is 300 dollars per appointment, I think the only job he'll get in Hollywood would be as a stylist for a Farelly Brothers movie)

I’m pretty sure that at least one of the judges weren’t completely down with Idol’s new Sopranos inspired direction. At one point Paula burst into tears as she pled for Elliott Yamin’s musical life. Later in the show, she jumped up before her comments and started clapping and effusing for Chris so Sela Ward couldn’t get a direct line of fire on him.

In the meantime, Ryan kept cutting Simon off in the name of “time”. My guess is that Ryan wanted to be offstage for that commercial break before whoever was designated to get whacked got whacked. Between ads, Randy put in a call to Dr. Melfi to get a new prescription for Paula’s meds. It did support my theory that you can always tell when the music on Idol is going to be bad because the judges and Ryan will amp up their sideshow.

I’m not sure if Katharine Mcphee went on the show last night to take on Whitney Houston’s “I Who Have Nothing” or audition for a job at the Ba Da Bing Club. She sang better than the judges gave her credit for. That said, the most exciting moment of the performance seemed to come when she nearly stepped out of her tight yellow dress. Last week, the director kept going close up with her face during “Someone to Watch Over Me”. This time, the director seemed more obsessed with Mcphee’s uh low notes.

She sang pretty well, but in one sense the judges were right. “Nothing” is a rangy dynamic song that calls for a swooping intensity that doesn’t really fit Mcphee’s actual voice or in certain ways her appeal. I’m not sure she met the Vonzell Solomon level, much less the Whitney level. Still, the judges responded as if she’d sung like Leah Labelle or Carmen Rasmussen. Evidently though, Katharine has connections. On Wednesday, Ryan was “We got all these phone calls and what do you want to say for yourself Simon?”

Simon’s humble response was “I watched the tape and she was good. I was wrong America and whoever called the show please don’t make me wake up next to a severed horse’s head ever again.”

Events like this send the Idol Conspiracy folk into frenzies btw. The night before, they were debating whether the judge’s viciousness was actually a signal to rally Mcphee supporters or to serve some mystery character called “the chosen one”. Most of these folk are clearly displaced fans of the X-Files, I just don’t know how they wandered into Idoldom. They’re extraordinarily well versed about topics as arcane as the significance of busy signals on the west-coast line, have their own vocabulary, and analyze transcripts of the show to determine what was really meant by “Vote, if your tv was on mute…”

It is a bit strange that more of America has detailed theories on how Idol voting works than say how Congress functions or the how 7 World Trade Center happened to come down 5 years ago without being hit by an airplane. I’m sure the Idol Conspiracy group is now chewing on how Katharine wound up in the top two either despite or because the judges went Mean Girls on her.

Back to topic, the Katharine Mcphee I like best is the one who jumped into impromptu “showoff” duet with Bocelli, geeky music nerd theater kid who wanders onto national television in all her awkwardness. Intentional sex bomb Katharine just doesn’t work as well for me. At least, though it gave Ryan a chance to tell America that if you still want to vote for the Mctwins dial 1-866-Idols36C or Idols36D.

Elliott did well with “A Song for You” which he appears to think of us as his “out” pitch. The directors also continued the Elliott Yamin mensch angle by having him draw attention to the fact that one of the backup singers is Donny Hathaway’s daughter and that Elliott is stepping in as guardian of Hathaway’s legacy which, of course, led me to believe that Hathaway had written “A Song for You”. I can’t be too hard on Elliott or the show after I claimed that last week my favorite version of “That’s All” was by Irene Krall who never recorded the song.

Yamin’s was not, however, a “vocal master class” nor will it replace either Leon Russell’s (the composer) original or Karen Carpenter (what a great Idol contestant she would have been and we’d never have had to have heard Richard sing).

I’m pretty sure that someone implanted a microchip tuned to an easy listening station inside Paris Bennett that goes off every few weeks. First there was “Wind Beneath My Wings” and this time it was “Way We Were”. Paris has a tendency to sing everything “big” and I do think Foster was wise to tell her to start quiet and build to the big. I have no idea why it’s not okay to take on Whitney Houston, but it’s okay to take on Barbara Streisand on this show. If you remember, Simon loved Mikaylah Gordon’s pre-Funny Girl Barbara act until it turned out that Gordon sang more like Elaine May. Now Paris Bennett got complimented for matching Streisand’s volume but not matching her knack for making the overly sentimental somehow listenable.

According to David Foster, Taylor Hicks has charisma. What I noticed is that the show lately has chosen him to deliver the “kiss of death”. Last week, he shook Chris’s hand before it was announced that Chris had hit the bottom three for the first time. This time, Taylor hugged Kellie on his way back to the safety of the couch. “Just Once” was the buttoned down Taylor again and it felt like whatever is alive in Taylor’s performing self had been garroted out by “Mr. Studio Perfection”, David Foster.

By the way, I know that there are millions of people who love Andrea Bocelli. It’s just that most of them are probably doing that loving while riding in elevators. If America really was meant to love the Bocheesy faux classical thing, don’t you think Stevie Scott would still be on the show? How do I put this? Carmella Soprano’s taste in music is supposed to match her taste in interior decorating. I’d be much more intrigued if Bocelli really were a hit man instead of a guy who sings to background videos of fire-bearing youths diving off bridges into Titian-tinted waters. I hate to break the news, but the thousand dollar suites at Caesar’s Palace aren’t actually tasteful.

I have to ask. Does Chris Daughtry have like ten times the performing budget of the other contestants? Early on, they gave him lasers, fireworks, and dramatic lighting. Now they give him not one but two guitar players. Chris is good at being earnest and Idol is yet another stage where it’s important to be earnest. My daughter tells me that Chris is the one contestant who you can listen to on MP3 and it sounds like a record. The judges too seemed determined to make Daughtry the frontrunner once again.

For the first time in five years of the show, it seems that the final five doesn’t include someone that has America asking what the heck is that girl with the flower still doing there or Vote for the Worst claiming more extraordinary powers than Alberto Gonzales. At this point anyone could be voted off next Wednesday without the Idol Conspiracy folk insisting that the fix was in somehow.

I don’t know if that’s a good thing for the show. Reality TV loves its villains. Last year, Constantine was the polarizing contestant along with Scott Savol. After both got voted off in consecutive weeks apparently the ratings dropped. I’m not sure what will happen to the ratings now that America can’t howl about how Kellie managed to stay out of the bottom three. Instead they have to settle for an actual horse race or is it hoarse race?

Somehwere though, Meadow Soprano is auditioning for the elite choir at Columbia and trying to beat out that uber-talented pre-med, Paris Bennett. Tony is swearing at his television set going “What is this *%*#$? You want music, I’ll show you some #$*&@ music.”

And I imagine, AJ has freeze-framed the part of Katharine Mcphee’s performance that suggests she has a lot more than “Nothing”. Maybe Uncle Junior and Christopher are busy trying to fix the outcome of this year’s Idol through some guy they know who claims he can jam cell towers.
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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Potter Stewart Film Society (fiction)

note: this is an older story that I recently revised. One of the weird coincidences is that I redrafted this story with a main character, Havelock, who went to Columbia High School in New Jersey in the early 70's and worked as an apostle for ultimate frisbee. Oddly the same week, someone on (dedicated to frisbee folk and the like) picked up on this blog.

In that spirit, I'm putting this story here, even though the ultimate frisbee thing only gets a passing mention in the actual story. CL


At the time, it was my kind of joke, more clever than it was funny. Havelock didn't particularly care for it. He had, however, made all the important decisions and it was nominally our venture. So instead of calling it something obvious like the LawSchool Film Society, we named it for the Supreme Court Justice who admitted that he couldn't define "pornography", but knew it when he saw it.

Actually, Havelock made his preference apparent when he got our posters printed. As he unrolled the top one onto the formica table we would use to sell tickets outside the law school's auditorium, I saw right away that the only thing anyone would see was Havelock's logo "Movies for a Buck". It took me a few seconds, but I eventually did find, "The Potter Stewart Film Society Presents" in small letters just above Havelock's super boldscript motto.

I was actually more relieved than upset. After all, Havelock was a man of his word. He just happened to have a knack for separating your assumptions from his actual promises. I guess I should have taken my own reluctance to do the same as an early sign that I wasn't going to be a zealous advocate for the first amendment, hero of the people, as I had imagined, or the thirty second floor, Savile Row Slick, who rented his brain for hundreds of dollars an hour to corporations, as my parents had perhaps fantasized for their only son, or for that matter any kind of attorney in between.

It was 1979, I was in my third year at a top ten law school, and as aware of the fact that my adult life would be more detour than determined climb to the top as I was that Ronald Reagan was about to be president and increasingly popular for eight years. I took Havelock's poster as just another sign that nothing around him ever turned out quite the way you'd expect, which, to me, was the best reason of all for going along with him when he got us into the movie business. After all, I sometimes convinced myself that I hung around with Havelock just to have "Havelock" stories to tell my other friends.

Havelock's poster caused problems right from the beginning. You see our movies weren't really a buck, at least not the first time. You had to be sharp enough to catch the fine print, smaller even than the letters identifying us as the "Potter Stewart Film Society", which said "With fifty cent membership." I spent the first seven weeks of the series arguing with offended freshman business students and wisecracking dateless testosterone pumped dormies. It never seemed to help that even at a dollar fifty we were at least a dollar cheaper than any other place showing movies in Berkeley on or off campus. To them, it was the "principle" that mattered.

When I suggested to Havelock that they might have a point, he dismissed it with a shake of his head and a single derogatory, "California".

If anything typified people from New Jersey, particularly the ones who had come to live in California, it was that they were absolutely convinced that two things in California would never be up to their standards, pizza and its people. Both apparently suffered from the fact that they lacked the substance that Trenton, Orange, or even Upper Montclair indelibly imparted on their progeny. Havelock and I discussed it at length more than once on our twilight wanderings through the Pepto Bismol Bermuda Triangle defined by Telegraph and Durant. It usually started with Havelock refusing to go into a place called "New York Pizza by the Slice" with me.

That was the other thing about people from New Jersey, most of them took a proprietary interest in anything redeeming about New York City. If I ever tried to get us to stop at New York Pizza, Havelock would respond, "Forget it… I'll get a burrito and meet
you out front."

I now know how I, the native Californian, should have answered. I should have told Havelock that the burritos next door, with their limp shredded lettuce, playdough refrieds, and dishwater hot sauce, didn't measure up to my standards. Instead, I always made the mistake of apologizing for the pizza.

Havelock would then launch into one of those uninterruptible, more acid than the air in Newark or the water in Passaic, breathless blasts which usually ended with my joining Havelock for a burrito.

"No one in New York puts sprouts on pizza, the guys who roll the dough don't have blonde hair and pigtails and ride skateboards, the crust takes like stale Wonder bread, and how can you have ferns inside a pizza parlor? Sometimes I don't know what's the matter
with this place."

"You mean Berkeley?" I asked.

"California," he spat out the word.

"What's the matter with California?"

"Everyone out here has principles. They don't want other people to pollute their water, cut down their trees, discriminate against their sex, color, or religion. Everybody else has to be politically correct. But do they have principles? I mean New York pizza. Show me someone in there who's been east of Lake Tahoe."

I knew that Havelock knew perfectly well that I was a native Californian. He just took it that I was some sort of exception.
Maybe it had something to do with the fact that we'd known each other since high school. We'd met at one of those summer institutes for kids who weren't particularly gifted at anything but had scored well on the PSAT. In other words, even though hewas a New Jersey Jew and I a San Francisco Chinaman (his phrase), we came from
the small circle born into the two decades of fear after Hiroshima
and before the Cuban Missile Crisis who were about to overpopulate
the eighties with doctors, MBAs, would be novelists, therapists,
and, it goes without saying, lawyers.

Oddly my only really certain memory of Havelock that summer was biting him on the arm to avoida tackle in corridor football. Havelock, it seemed, was an all city safety. The rest of the summer, after the bite got infected, he decided to call me "that rabid bastard" which seemed to mean that I was all right.

To be honest, I had never meant to bite Havelock. I had been
laughing so hard that my mouth happened to be wide open when he
reached across my face to block the right side of the corridor.
Perhaps it was my own California "principles" which caused me to
never tell him what had really happened. Somehow I thought that
he'd eventually figure it out. Once the movie series started, I
was sure that he'd at least begin to suspect that I was far from
a "rabid bastard".

You see, I would buy any excuse whether it was a pimply freshman who claimed to have forgotten his wallet and had only eighty five cents for Casablanca to frat boys in high school letter jackets who insisted that they were just going in to get lecture notes from a friend in the front row at Last Tango in Paris.

I had, after all, gotten through Stanford getting extensions from
soft﷓hearted professors and begging for mercy in blue books. How
could I say "no" to lines that I'd used myself but with different
words. Right from the beginning, it was Havelock who would say
"Sorry, guy" or "Read the poster" for us. With his beard and
prematurely white curly hair, Havelock looked at least enough like
the devil so that even the most aggressive wheedlers just turned
for the double doors muttering "sleazy fascist law students" under
their breath once Havelock interceded.

Whatever they really said never bothered Havelock.

"Thankyou" he would taunt them back. "Come next week for "The Last
Detail" and "Five Easy Pieces" Do you have a copy of our schedule?"

Before I knew it, he would be sitting down next to me beside the
gray metal cash box, checking the numbers on our roll of carnival
tickets against the stub number he faithfully wrote down at the
beginning of our Friday evening and stuffed into his wallet. The
numbers, it seemed, were always too low for Havelock's taste.

"I don't believe this place." He would pound the table. "What are they doing? Watching tv in the common room, panhandling on telegraph, overpaying for shitty pizza. These are real movies.
In New Haven, we did twice this business."

I would look around our auditorium. When the sixteen millimeter projector we got from audio-visual services wasn't rattling, you could see the tear beginning in the upper right corner of the roll out screen. A pair of speakers, bought for ninety nine dollars each on sale at Pacific Stereo, stood ready to fill our auditorium with the high quality sound from our projector's built in thirty watt amplifier.

"In New Haven, it snows. No one dares go into town." I would
say until I segued into my mantra, "It'll get better. They just
have to get used to the idea.

"Maybe they did and just didn't like it. Sixteen people came
to see the "Goldrush", forty eight showed up for "The Graduate",
and most disappointing of all less than a hundred appeared for one
of our sure bet money makers, "The Paper Chase".

Apparently, most of our classmates preferred the real library upstairs to watching Timothy Bottoms chase Lindsay Wagner through the stacks of some unidentified Ivy League Law School in Cambridge.

That Saturday as we began our own "Paper Chase", picking the
candy wrappers off the auditorium floor at the end of the last
show, Havelock was too preoccupied to even talk about his other
major contribution to law school culture, the football pool which
had come to dominate the Student Association bulletin board. In
six weeks, Havelock had transformed the board which was mainly
graced by announcements for the Amnesty International Moot Court
Competition, a prize for the best student essay on poverty and the
law, tear aways for at least three Bar Review courses, and a sheaf
of ethnic and women's associations announcements, into a mandatory
stop even for many who didn't partake.

For three days, those whowere into it had talked constantly of the prospect that weekend of Havelock winning three hundred dollars if Danny White managed to throw three touchdowns against the Lions. Rumor had it that Havelock had fixed his pool somehow, only no one could figure out how. In case you were wondering, yes some did take it upon themselves to complain about the way the pool flaunted the law, but they quickly got a lesson in the true deeper mysteries of the law when they discovered that three professors and the dean of students were prominent players in the pool. If you were wondering about the other matter, Danny White threw three interceptions that
weekend instead and Havelock only covered with the entry fees he
took off the top.

I watched Havelock draw a twenty and a ten from the bottom of the cash box for Wiley the dark)haired seven o'clock shadowed first
year who ran our projector between joints and visits from new customers for Havelock's betting ring who frequently brought along
bottles with pictures of wild turkeys and guys named "Walker" who
always seemed to wind up the evening staring up at us from the
bottom of the grade school green metal trash can in the door corner
of Wiley's booth.

"I don't know if were going to do this too many more times,
Wiley. You and the Student Association are the only ones making
money off of this."

Wiley stroked the hair on his cheek, stuffed the money in the
front pocket of his lumberjacket's shirt, grunted, and disappeared
into the early A.M. Neither of us knew where he lived, how old he
was, or even where he grew up.

"Havelock," I said, "We're not thinking of giving this up.
I mean they just need to get..."

"Used to our going broke." Havelock cut off my answer.

We moved to the projection booth where Havelock counted up the
receipts while I thumbed through an Audio Brandon catalog covered
with my thumbprints.

"Why are we doing this?" I asked idly.

Havelock shrugged, "We like movies."

"Here we go, The Incredible Mister Limpett", for forty five
dollars" I said or maybe "The Shakiest Gun in the West", they're
running a special both for sixty.A A"How about Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and Ma and Pa Kettle go to Venus for thirty five, Bonzo and the Killers for a hundred and seventy five." Havelock had the catalog memorized better than I.

"I'm not sure that we'd know a money making movie if we saw it here." I said as I tossed the Audio Brandon catalog on the pile
of Disney, Columbia, and Liberty Discount.

"Know it if we saw it?" Havelock repeated my words in a way
that let me know that he was getting an angle. I knew what he was thinking. I knew too that once we said it, neither of us would be able to resist it.

"Every semester in New Haven, they used to show Deep Throat
and make two thousand dollars." He said.

"They used to show Behind the Green Door in Palo Alto."

"One weekend, would pay for thirteen weeks of "The Conformists" and "Blue Collar".

"Maybe a new poster," I suggested,"Will you know it when you
see this?"

Havelock's mouth thinned and turned down.

"Why don't you let Wiley and me take care of the posters?"A AI would have objected more strongly but my one embarrassing promo attempt for the "Maltese Falcon", dark complex allegory of greed and mythological longing in dense horizontal black and white, had to be replaced by Wiley's "Bogie, the Fatman, the Falcon.The streets of San Francisco. One of those "You mean you haven't seen
it?" flicks)See it now, see it often, see it for a BUCK."

It turned out to be one of the few films that made money for
us. After that, Havelock tried everything he knew to get Wiley to
do the posters every week, but the projectionist didn't feel like
writing "copy" on demand. For a few more minutes, Havelock and I
talked about the difficulties of ordering a porn movie in sixteen
millimeter. I had no good idea where to get one.

Havelock had never ordered one either but had some ideas. Nonetheless, by the time we locked up that night, I knew that I had stepped into the x-rated movie business. Havelock always found a way to get things done.

The prospect of becoming a pornographer didn't disturb me. A combination of shyness, severe acne which persisted past adolesence, and the fact that I was your basic nerd had helped to preserve my virginity into my early twenties. I had been to x*rated movies more than once. I didn't go to laugh at them, even if they generally ranged from pitifully bad to laughably bad. It just felt comforting to watch women take their clothes off, perform sex acts with men who were often less attractive than I, and know that they wouldn't look back at me and look away. I always told myself that there were more wholesome outlets, but I was at least certain that I knew that was all they were.

A few days later, I was headed out the door of my eighty five
dollar a month apartment for one of my thirty five unsuccesful job
interviews that fall when Havelock called.

"We got it." He said.

"Got what?" I asked, pretending that I hadn't given it much
thought since Saturday night.

"The movie."

"The porn movie?"

"No, the National Geographic Documentary on Finland."

"How," I murmurred as I waited for Havelock to launch one of
his usual stories which always included at least three tiers of
friends of friends, one name which was publicly recognizable, and
one improbable but totally believable event.

Whammo had paid Havelock to organize a dog frisbee catching contest in Versailles and Jim Ryun had entered his Border Collie, "Miler". He had organized a Science Fiction film tribute and Harlan Ellison had shown up for the screening of "A Boy and His Dog" and sat in a back row unrecognized by everyone but Havelock and some of his Sci Fi friends.Havelock's one word answer disappointed me at first,


"I told him about it and he asked me what day we needed it."

"Where? How? What's Wiley's connection?"

"Ask Wiley. Who knows how he does anything."

The next day, Havelock had the poster printed up.It said "Porn Night, One Buck" in his usual bold letters at the top then three more times until well down below once again, I found "The Potter Stewart Film Society Presents."

"What do you think?" Havelock asked.A A"What do I know about these things?" I asked back.

"I'm asking." He said as he ran his fingers from one
identical line to the next.

"Do you really think we should call it porn night?" I asked."Maybe if we just had the name of the movie."

"You really want it to say "Sex Clinic Girls? and High School

Havelock held his poster flat with both hands as if he were
trying to reimagine it.

"What is it you're worried about?" he said.

"I don't know." I said.

"If it causes a little controversy, maybe we'll make more money. Look if nothing else, at least it'll be interesting."

Havelock rolled his poster up and disappeared into the clear and present dangers of Con Law Class.

I knew what was worrying me and I'm sure Havelock recognized it as well. As best I can put it, it was the fall of 1979. In the sixties, adult movies had been daring, political, some kind of
strike against repression. A few years later a paradox evolved.
Most of them were so inane that they weren't much fun to watch
unless they were illegal. Now something was changing.

In my first year torts class, two women in the front would make the professor correct himself anytime he slipped and used the term "reasonable man" test.

"Reasonable Person." They would say and O'Flaherty would politely correct himself then make the same mistake a couple Socratic exchanges later.

Once O'Flaherty got flustered and made the mistake of asking what difference it really made. One woman insisted that a reasonable woman would not behave the same way as a reasonable man. For instance, she suggested a man might shoot his wife if he caught
her in bed with another man, but a wife wouldn't. Since most of
us suspected that she was having an affair with a married classmate, we didn't take the rest of the argument all that seriously. O'Flaherty then jokingly suggested that some women he'd known might shoot them both then burn down the house. Someone filed a complaint with the dean against O'Flaherty. Classmates talked about whether or not O'Flaherty was anti)woman.

A few months earlier, I had run into the first girl I had ever
kissed. Ironically, we had met at the same summer institute where
I had met Havelock seven years earlier. I had lost touch with her
a few years earlier when she left college to go to work full time
for first an anti)apartheid group then the United Farm Workers.
I wasn't surprised at all to find her behind a table in White Plaza
where groups ranging from fraternities and the Future Farmers of
America to the Spartacus league recruited new members, but I was
surprised to find her helping to organize a group called "Women
Take Back the Night" which gave tours of Boston's combat zone,parts of Times Square in New York, the Tenderloin in San Francisco, and raised awareness of the exploitation of women in the media.I was even more surprised to see her holding hands beneath the table with the woman sitting next to her. When I tried to say hello, Adrian wouldn't even acknowledge that she knew me in front of her friend.

When Havelock started putting the porn night posters up two weeks in advance, they were quickly covered over with grafitti. "Porn Exploits Women" and "Stop this Trash."

In other spots, the porn night posters had been torn to small
pieces and left defiantly on the ground. Even Havelock's football
pool results had been written over with more grafitti."End male

Each day, Havelock returned with more posters. He even askedme to help him replace the ones that had been grafittied. I did, but insisted on doing it only after midnight.Every day, Havelock had more news of porn night developments. "I'm going to be on the radio" he told me, "I got a call from a reporter yesterday."Clearly, Havelock was enjoying himself. By Friday, December 7, the thirty seventh anniversary of Pearl Harbor and our first pornnight,everyone seemed to be talking about it, and Havelock was clearly enjoying every controversial bit of it.

As it happened, I got there late. I walked down the steps where almost twenty years earlier a lovesick but psychotic graduate student named Podar had stabbed the unwitting object of his desire,a woman named Tarasoff and filled our casebooks with all manner of
bizarre issues just because he happened to dose a still anonymous
psychologist with client)therapist privilege paralysis by telling
him before he did it. Now any therapist in California who finds a
lawyer on his or her couch, before they talk about burnout, divorce, and feelings of personal alienation, makes small talk about Tarasoff Warnings. Perhaps I was getting mine. From those steps, a hundred and fifty yards away, I could see the line of ticket buyers stretching down Bancroft like so many food vendors carts during lunch hour. Around them, an equally formidable line of pickets blocked the entrance to the auditorium where I was supposed to be selling tickets.

Someone tapped me on the shoulder and I nearly jumped across the traffic island separating the Podar steps from the fraternity whose members had gotten themselves suspended a few months earlier when they chanted "Hitler had the right idea" during a Hillel House
gathering next door.

"Geez, I didn't mean to scare you."

"What have we done." I murmurred as I nodded in the direction
of our film series.

"There are already a couple hundred more people inside.You won't believe it. We've got to go in through the back way.I got a key from the janitor. "

I followed Havelock through the hallway.

"I don't believe this. I don't believe this." I kept saying
out loud.

"What don't you believe?" Havelock muttered. "Sixteen people for Charlie Chaplin and three thousand for Sex Clinic Girls, sophisticated place."

"Just as long as we don't get killed." I said.

"Don't worry, Wiley brought his gun."

"His gun?"A A"Welcome to Tehran." Havelock said.

“Who are the hostages going to be here?" I asked.With thoughts of the mob which had taken the fifty four hostages in Iran a few weeks earlier inspiring even greater confidence in me, I took my folding chair behind the formica table and began selling tickets. For the next half hour, I made change for twenties, handed out fifty cent membership cards about whic no one seemed to complain, ripped tickets off the roll, told people not to bring food inside. Each repetitive act blurred into thenext.

Some years later, a gay classmate of mine once described his pre-aids experiences in a bathhouse and as I listened to his descriptions of anonymous hands and penises,the only image I could
conjure in my own memory impoverished head was that night of selling eight hundred tickets and seven hundred and thirty signed membership cards in twenty seven minutes. When I told him about
porn night, I could never get this same friend to understand.He
kept saying "Gay porn isn't any better than straight porn and there
aren't any women in it. So how could it be exploiting them?"

In the meantime, the protesters marched outside the glass doors, handed out flyers, made up new chants, educated the hundreds of souls from the fraternity factory who comprised most of the swollen ticket line pushing through our doors. When Havelock came out to make the announcement that the first show had been sold out, I had thought that we would get a break, but as soon as he told the crowd that we would sell for the seven o'clock and nine o'clock shows, the line pushed ahead with renewed vigor. I must have sold three hundred more tickets to guys who looked like their namevshould be "Brad" or "Sean", when I heard a woman's voice.

"Give me a ticket," she said.

"Do you have a membership?" I said in my most automatic

"Of course not." She said it in a tone of voice that let me know that she considered me the scum of the earth or at least Telegraph Avenue.

I looked up at a short)haired woman in jeans. Her face bent into a permanent angry scowl. She wore a button on her plaid wool shirt which showed a pink fist and bore the logo "Take back the night." It was the woman who sat with Adrian on White Plaza just a few weeks earlier.

"That'll be a dollar fifty." I said.

"The sign says Movies for a Buck."A A"That's with a membership."

"You ought to be arrested." She muttered as she handed me a Susan B. Anthony dollar and five dimes whose heads had been altered to make Franklin look like Eleanor.

After that, every tenth ticket I sold was to a more or less identical woman, though none of them thankfully happened to be
Adrian. Sometimes instead of a woman, it was an identically dressed man, between all the Seans and Brads and their occasional dates, women who wore makeup and curled their hair. I wondered if I'd ever see these two segments of Cal society in the same room ever again.

When it finally occurred to me to ask one of the picketers why she was paying money to buy tickets to an event she was protesting, her only answer was a curt,"If you don't sell me a ticket, I'll call the police."

I looked up at Havelock, who happened to be selling tickets
next to me.

"Just take their money," he said. "We'll worry about it

At the end of the first show, the herd came out, hooting, thumping each other on the shoulder, offering the protesters demonstrations of what they'd missed. The picketers fought back, "Don't legitimize violence against womenm," they chanted.

The chant was mostly met with silece, except for one loud,young, and unimistakably male,"Fuck you, bitch!" which pierced the night air as it went off in search of the next kegger.

"Nine hundred and seventy two tickets." Havelock told me. "How are we doing with memberships?"

I mumbled an answer then we let the crowd in for the seven o'clock. I have learned, that before anything truly extraordinary happens, there always seems to be a moment of calm. In retrospect, one tends to think of it as eerie, but as it actually happens you are in a state of total unawareness. Havelock and I chatted pleasantly enough about all the movies we were going to show, now that we had made all this money from Porn Night. We were, strangely enough, alone, five hundred people were on one side of the door about to watch an hours worth of colored shadows. Another hundred or so waited beyond the glass doors for the nine o'clock. Havelock and I waited in the zone in between. We could even hear the starting clunk of the reels as Wiley started up the projector.

At first it started as a rumble. We could hear the sounds of
stamping feet. Wiley came out for a moment.

"You want me to stop the movie first."

Havelock went in and asked for quiet. Things seemed to go back to normal then Wiley came out again. When Havelock cracked the door, I could hear it. A steady chant came from the front row,"Cut it off, Cut it off."

Which alternated with a more masculine, much more football
raucous, "Turn it on, turn it on.

"Wiley started the projector again, a few moments of silence, it started again. This time, the same chants, amid the sounds of heated philosophical debate. That's when the fire alarm went off.

Apparently one of the protesters, had ventured out into the hallway and literally shouted fire in the middle of a crowded theater. If ever anyone had devised a live enactment of a Con Lawfinal exam case scenario, this was it.

"I don't believe this, I don't believe this," I moaned.

"False alarm" I heard someone shout. No stampede ensued. The campus police came inside, instructed us to keep everyone calm. A sixty foot hook and ladder appeared on the street outside. Firemen with enormous axes, walked into the theater, all shaking their heads. The alarm which had throbbed away for at least fifteen minutes went off.A few minutes after that, the campus police asked everyone to leave in orderly fashion.The frat types grumble shuffled outside. The protesters went limp in the policemen's arms and insisted on being dragged outside where no one waited to arrest them.

The Captain of the campus police came up to us. "I think you
better close it down for the night and refund everyone their

Havelock and I complied, a dollar at a time. It went smoothly, then this happened. "We paid a dollar fifty, we want a dollar fifty back for each of these.

"I looked up at one of the protesters, no longer limp, standing
in front of Havelock and me with seven tickets in her hand.

"Forget it."Our answer was firm, forceful, certain to scare off all
comers, just the way Havelock managed the situation every time. Only it wasn't Havelock who said it. It was me.

"I want my money!" she shouted at me.

"You got your money, a dollar a ticket."

"Thief" she yelled.

The police captain who was guarding the door had turned toward
our ticket table.

"Give her her money back." Havelock whispered.

I looked on my left. For a moment I couldn't say a word.
“Just give her her money back. I don't want their money."
He said.

I handed over the extra three fifty. The police captain returned to the door. The protester waited quietly for two more policeman to drag her off once again.

The porn night riot made it into fourteen newspapers.Every version of the story differed only in the major details.Havelock and I showed two more weeks of movies and called it quits, not because of the riot but because Wiley got a five hundred dollar a week internship with the biggest law firm in San Francisco. We couldn't find anyone else to run the projector. Other than a few diatribes posted on the student association bulletin board next to Havelock's football poll, some appalled by what happened, some calling the protest an incredible success, porn night was quickly forgotten with the arrival of semester finals a few days later.

It was months later, six days before graduation,when I told Havelock the truth about biting him in the arm.We were standing
in the place where Mario Savio had suddenly become the spokesman
for the Free Speech Movement,in a more memorable Berkeley event
fifteen years earlier.

"Havelock," I said "You know, I'm not really a rabid bastard. It was an accident."

"Don't you think I knew that?"

"What do you mean?"

"Why would I think anyone who spent all that time around Adrian Firestone would be a genuine rabid bastard? She's got to be the stiffest woman I've ever seen."

I started to defend Adrian for a moment, then just stopped.

"You mean, you didn't like me because you thought I was a rabid bastard?"

"Hell no," he said. "Are you crazy?" "You couldn't even say no to those idiot freshmen."

I thought for a moment.

"Then why did you like me?"

Havelock looked around the plaza, open eyed, jaw slightly open in that New Jersey, I can't believe you're asking me this kind of expression.

"Who else around here would put up with someone like me?"

I laughed, he laughed. We walked towards Havelock's apartment.

"You know I never asked you this..."

"Why I made you give back the three fifty?"

After another moment of stupefecation, I asked him.

"I guess it was a matter of principles."

"Principles, you?"

Havelock feigned shock.

"Look, would I let people like that into our film society. We've got our standards you know..."pause. If you have to know the truth, I was scared to death of her.

"You scared."

Havelock studied the cement.

"I don't know she might have had a gun or something."

"You rabid bastard." I said.

We got to Havelock's door just beyond People's Park,shook hands, said good night. I think we both knew that we'd always be friends now and that after graduation we'd never see each other again.

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Saturday, April 22, 2006

NCVA under 16's League 3 (volleyball)

"They Call it the Bladium for a Reason These Days"

It’s the day before Easter and it’s blissfully peaceful on a hill in San Francisco adorned with signs telling me that USF is a Jesuit Institution. I point to an open space on one of the baseball fields next to the gym there and Mrs. Boris makes a perfect landing in our Bell Model 407. I’m a big fan of the Kiowa engine, as smooth and problem free as any commercial helicopter engine on the market, and which makes these precision landings possible. Mrs. Boris has lately been a bit concerned about the Empire colors thing though, we live in Sonoma County and a lot of our neighbors get a little paranoid when they see black helicopters overhead.

Last week, one of them started launching vegan mortar shells at us. It’s more a nuisance than anything else since vegan mortar shells are made from no animal byproducts and by regulation are not allowed to kill any sentient beings on impact. Still, if one of those shells made from soy paste and seaweed were to hit the back rotor, we could have major stability problems and might have to make a forced landing on Highway 101.

At this point, USF is a good site for league tournaments, but I would mention that only a skilled pilot like Mrs. Boris would be able to land between the growing number of other helicopter parents who have landed on the baseball field. One of the problems is that the South Bay helicopter parents are starting to buy down-armored versions of the Apache which simply take more landing space than their civilian counterparts. Anyway, adequate parking is one of those facilities standards that no one’s addressed yet. I told my friends in the NCVA parent group that it’s because none of the club directors or Regional staff have helicopters of their own. “Once you get board members who have helicopters, we’ll see some changes around here.”

My daughter’s team is a second seed in its pool. That means that you try your best to get someone else to drive your kid so you can sleep in the extra hour when they’re reffing that first match. Unfortunately, we didn’t have that luxury this morning and instead have to find other ways to amuse ourselves until Empire actually plays.

We walk by City Beach’s Dave Winn and Chris Crader. Winn, being the business guy, is holding three satchels with City Beach’s logo on them. At first I assume that these are the prizes for this year’s Great America tournament until I hear Crader tell his assistant,”Okay, Dave, listen carefully. We should be able to recruit that middle from Havana for thirty five thousand. So that leaves the hundred thousand left in the other two bags for that outside from Toronto and the Brazilian libero. Got that?”

Winn nods then says “But just want to be sure here, this is for the 2008 team not 2007 right?”

CC: Right, we’re done recruiting for 2007.

The two high five one another and head to the gym as I look up to see some guy up on the top of the gym with a parabolic mike and a pair of binoculars. I happen to pull out my PDA w/ wireless connection to the Internet and find that someone is already posting to Prepvolleyball to complain about Dave Winn’s recruiting for 2008. I take the opportunity to send him a private message “Meet me at the Sonoma Mission Inn and I can tell you smore what I overhear today. S'all right?"

I turn to Mrs. Boris, shake my head, and say, “Wow, junior volleyball sure has changed in the last few years.”

We decide to run down to Clement Street to get early morning Dim Sum. It’s not as good as Pottsylvanian style breakfast, but it’s nice to have so many food choices nearby.
Over breakfast, Mrs. Boris and I plot our strategy for this week’s league 3 tournament.

“Okay, is my turn to yell at ref and complain about other players on team not being good enough. Last week, I was one who had to yell at coach in middle of match about daughter’s playing time and how strategy did not have setter hitting and setting on same play.”

“Is sad no? that we have to do this. In old days, coaches were free to molest players without parent’s even being allowed to ask.”


“Is sad. Or make them anorexic or run or hours with other player on back if they lost.”

“True, true. I miss days when coaches could all be trusted implicitly. Now they just steal club fees from unsuspecting parents who should have butted out in first place.”

“Yes, is good that no coaches play favorites anymore. They are all only about making every single player best she can be. Is good that no clubs break own promises about playing time and philosophy.”

“Yes, is good.”

“But Boris, there are good coaches, yes?”

“Yes, of course good coaches, most are maybe almost all are.”

“Then is maybe wrong to say that coaches molest players and treat them sadistically?”

“Maybe is wrong to make it sound like all parents hover around kids, interfere with coaches, and embarrass their daughters. Most of us don’t.”

“Sokay, how you want to yell at coach this tournament? You want say is damaging daughter’s self-esteem?”

“Is shame, no Pottsylvanian restaurant on Clement St.? Moose Bacon and Squirrel toast would be good right now.”

“No one makes Moose Bacon like you.”

“Boris, you so sweet!” she kisses me on the top of my hat.

Meanwhile, on the way back to USF. We run into a man passing out business cards for 1-800 lawyer.

“Sorry, we’re just here for a volleyball tournament.”

“Have you seen the lack of space between the three courts there? It’s an accident waiting to happen. I’m just trying to figure out who to sue first. They make you sign that waiver, but just wait till I bring up standard of care issues. You know you can’t waive your own gross negligence.”

We glance inside where the Yahoo setter makes an ordinary backset to her rightside and the ball goes into a wall made up of stacked bleachers, two ball ons happen simultaneously as a stray ball makes it from far court to far court. We take his card.

Mrs. Boris whispers, “I hate lawyers.”

I nod “Yes, how can have system of personal accountability if lawyers can sue people for every act of negligence?”

Narrator who sounds like William Conrad interrupts:

When last we saw the Norcal 16’s they had interrupted league play for a month of qualifiers. The Northern California teams did very well in the month’s two qualifiers. City Beach 16’s qualified at Crossroads despite the presence of unauthorized signs in the men’s rooms there. Vision finished fourth in Denver and Force (then in silver) broke into the top seven, and Gold Cal finished tenth. In Los Angeles, Vision Gold won the tournament, Yahoo finished fourth, and City Beach, Gold Cal, and Empire all made the top ten. It's a good showing for a region that had no teams in Prepvolleyball’s pre-season national top 20.

Boris and Natasha step inside gym.

“Boris, something up?”

Narrator again:

Fresh from LA, Vision and City Beach, the two open qualifiers, were having a rough time in their opening matches with Norcal and Force respectively. Liz Prang, the Vision setter who had started the season, was sitting on a folding metal chair with a rather sizeable cast around her leg. Asia Casino (who as it happens also goes to St. Francis like Prang) replaced her and was doing well at it, but Vision’s strength on offense tends to be middle to right with the very agile Tanya Schmidt and Taylor Smith. It often takes more time for a new setter to get timing and placement down setting the middles and rights and some of that was showing in the match as it looked to me like Vision was hitting left more than they had the last time I’d watched and NorCal’s big athletic front line was putting up a very effective block with Robyn Hall and Betsy Sedlak. Setter Christy Payne was also distributing the ball very effectively as Norcal came from behind to win the first game against Vision.

In the middle court, Force had apparently chased away its early season consistency problems that had banished them to Silver in League 1. They have several big athletic hitters and a very good setter (they also don’t seem to have a website with rosters so I apologize for not knowing any names). Early on, they were outhitting City Beach and generally outhustling them. The two split the first two games.

Force and Norcal are both clearly good teams that likely match up well with any 16’s team in Northern California, but there were other factors as well. In fact, a few of the teams in the gym seemed to be missing players for a variety of reasons, though Spring Break plans probably were prominent among them.

In the meantime, Dave Winn of City Beach was sitting in the lotus position with his team circled around him during a timeout and lecturing them, “You must visualize yourself as scorpions so you can bring out your scorpion nature in game three, your true selves. Remember Crossroads.”

Libero Katherine Goldman: “Yes master. At Crossroads we qualified because we were true to our scorpion nature.”

Winn: “Yes exactly. The scorpion nature can overcome the power of the Force, though strong is the power of the force. No think, just dig. Yes yes.”

On the Force sideline, I overheard the following conversation.

“Coach, if we win this league tournament is it true that you will let us see our parents again?”

“I am your father.”


“Give in to the Force side, and we will qualify for open together and we can medal at Jos.”

Okay, maybe that’s not really what I heard, but one of the subtle themes at League 3 was the post-qualifier letdown.

Narrator (this one sounds like Edward Everett Horton):

One of the current oddities of Junior volleyball is that the qualifiers basically determine Open Bids while the Regions control a certain number of Club bids at Jos. Of the two, Open is far more prestigious. For those who take the whole competition thing seriously, “league” in junior volleyball has less significance than the NBA regular season. Politically, this has resulted in a sometimes not so quiet power struggle between “regions” and “clubs” for control of the qualifiers. For example, the Crossroads and Lonestar are run by individual clubs rather than by their region and one look (through the form 990s) at the budgets of those two regions tells an interesting story. NCVA controls the Far Western Regional and has an annual budget of 2 million dollars. SCVA which controls the Southern Qualifier and the Las Vegas tournament has a budget of 2.3 million dollars. Crossroads and Lonestar regions have budgets closer to five hundred thousand dollars a year. Hosting an open qualifier is a major source of volleyball revenue. Running leagues is not.

As a secondary matter, some of the Regions have gone Walmart and gotten beyond just sanctioning, promoting, and setting standards for tournaments. In some parts of the country, the Regions have taken to trying to take over and run all tournaments and the revenues that come with them. One perverse result is that this encourages the proliferation of the monster convention-center-based high-stakes events and discourages multiple smaller friendlier events say run by a local club and arguably makes for less volleyball in the region itself.

I’m personally not a fan of the emerging order. For one, power league teams now roam the United States in the middle of the school year in search of the ever elusive prestige of an open bid. Even my daughter’s team, which remains a Fesitval Club, will go to three qualifiers this year. I should mention one of the ironies of the LA Qualifier was that my daughter’s Day 3 pool consisted of Vision, Yahoo, Empire, and Epic (a San Diego club which happened to feature one of her former teammates). Each qualifier runs about five hundred dollars and a day and a half of missed school. Once a team qualifies, it also renders the next three months of competition more or less meaningless. Most significant, it unacceptably raises the pressure level for the not yet qualified teams on what remain very young girls.

Currently, league only matters to those teams that can’t qualify in open. Non-JO tournaments held after April and certainly after bids come out don’t seem to matter at all. We now have a two month long National season, as opposed to the National division of JO Club. Volleyball in one’s own region becomes more or less a sideshow to the main event. In fact, the last two times I attended regionals hardly anyone was worried about who won the regional tournament. All the interest focused on who was going to get the “club” bids to JO’s.

What would I do about it?

1. I’m not sure why JOs has moved to four classes of membership. Open is the one everyone talks about. Most people see American and National as consolation tournaments for not making open. Finally, has anyone ever heard of a team being turned down for the JO Invitational?

I know this is radical and it probably upsets too many economic apple carts, but there should be one nationals consisting of 64 teams in a single Open tournament.

2. Bids for the tournament should come 3 ways. One qualifying in a qualifier. Winning regionals. Winning your region league or equivalent means of accumulating points. There possibly could be a handful of “at large” bids to deal with teams that seem like they ought to belong.

3. Restrict the amount of travel during the school year by region. Two out of state tournaments is plenty unless you have a team in Alaska. Also, tournaments played on Friday should be held only with very good reason.

4) If teams beyond the 64 want to attend an end of year tournament, create some regional invitationals in the summer. You might hold them 10 days before JO’s and even allow the winners to get a bid to the main event to keep them relevant.

Boris and Natasha return as both City Beach and Vision 16 pull out their matches in close third games.

“MMmm….Natasha. I don’t think any team brought "A" game today except Force and maybe Gold Cal.”

After putting a scare into Vision, Norcal’s level of play slips against Empire. Nonetheless Norcal had a 19-16 lead in the first game then lost in a flurry of errors. In fact, Empire needed just one kill to score its last nine points. Norcal was even flatter in the second game. Unfortunately though good for Empire, the 2 v 3 match is the most critical match of the day in the current league format and in one match Empire was as they say on American Idol “SAFE” (not that either Natasha or I watch any non-animated shows on American televsion)

With the big exception of the court safety issue and the lack of proper landing pads for our helicopters, USF is an extremely nice site. Instead of packing the sidelines, most parents watch from stands ten feet above the playing area which has the advantage of making it harder for our daughters to hear us howl at bad calls and the like. The bathrooms are good and there’s a clean covered space just in front of the gym for hanging out between matches. I probably shouldn’t have even mentioned the whole safety thing, after all, our children’s safety is really none of our business and who wants to hear parents rant. Look how quickly the Region fixed the bathroom problem at the NCVA facility.

One of the interesting things this year in 16’s is that all the top 10 teams in the age group have played one another close at some point this year which may account for the relative stability of the gold division this year. Other than Force’s detour to silver, the 9 eventual survivors of league 3 were all in gold coming out of the qualifier. There’s been a lot of talk about Nevada County being good enough to be there on the board, in fact there’s more talk about Nevada County than there’s been about some teams who actually remain ahead of them, but the league results thus far suggest that at least for Gold this year the qualifier actually did identify 10 of the 12 top teams.

In the course of the day, Empire wound up playing both Vision 16 (to be distinguished from Vision 15 and Vision 15 two who were also there) and City Beach 16 (first time this year). The Vision 16 match had a horrific beginning with Vision winning the first seven points mostly on points that didn’t get past the serve. Ultimately, Empire didn’t have an answer for Smith and Schmidt either offensively or defensively. Vision’s right and middles very efficiently jammed any swings from the left throughout the match. The second game was closer, but No, Empire didn’t push Vision all that hard this time.

There were three very interesting crossover matches. Golden Bear, missing at least 2 players from League 2, went up 9-3 in the third and Yahoo came all the way back with several kills by Bridget O’hara. I, unfortunately, missed what was likely the match of the day. Force beat Vision in the second crossover match. It wasn’t really an upset. Literally, Force had one bad day in league one, but this ended the Vision-City Beach stranglehold on the top two spots this year.

In Empire’s crossover, my daughter’s team had the chance to play City Beach for the first time this year. (they still haven’t played Gold Cal or Force). This one started identically to the Vision match with Empire losing the first seven points again mostly in serve receive. During the match, City Beach’s rightside Justine Record consistently hurt Empire both as a hitter and as a left-handed jump server. In addition, Sophia Dunworth appears to be asserting herself more as a hitter. Katherine Gorman also played well at libero. The surprise was that Empire regathered itself in the second game and won surprisingly easily to set up a third game as the Empire lefts were able to hit effectively over City Beach’s rightside block. The third game stayed within 2 points up to 13-11 when City Beach got an ace on a waist high ball between two Empire passers. Hopefully the two teams will have at least one more chance to play this year.

Midway through the crossover matches, Jeff Nelson, the USF coach, made a brief appearance, something that struck me as a very smart thing to do. fwiw, we had seen the USF tournament early in the year and it seemed that USF was one of the teams there that was headed in the right direction competitively.

City Beach went on to beat Force in the final in two reasonably close games that oddly didn’t have the electricity of the early morning match. Beach kept control of after the 12 point mark of the first game of this one and perhaps after close calls with both Force and Empire earlier in the day, they shook off the already-qualified thing and found their consitency zone in the championship match.

Vision fifteen, which had the misfortune of landing in the same pool as City Beach and Force at the beginning of the day hung on in the consolation pool to chase out Vision 15 two, City Beach 15, and a hard luck Norcal team.

We climbed back into our helicopter and flew home. In some ways, this has been my most interesting season as a parent, but in many ways it’s been the least enjoyable. I find that I’m not as able to relax in the simple pleasure of just sitting and watching matches closely and enjoying the ebb and flow as the players assert both their skills and nerve. As I sit down to write about what happened, I remember less and less of what once made these days so fun. Something I’ve noticed in my last couple writeups.

Some of that is the creep of the end of my tenure as a volleyball parent. Now and then my daughter gets letters from colleges and it seems like so much rides on each tournament and each micro-step in her progress. We tell ourselves, we just want her to be happy, to have opportunities to choose to play or not, yet there’s always this bit of doubt. Are we hovering too much? How much implicit pressure is there from the fact that her older sister played in college? How scary is it to pay tuition out of our own pocket? (we’d have to give up the copter at the very least)

Some is this whole business with the NCVA. I suppose I shouldn’t be that surprised that it wasn’t as simple as a group of parents communicating a few concerns and offering suggestions to the Region. There’s a long not terribly harmonious history of regional-sectarian struggle, that I honestly had mostly ignored for the last ten years. When people get that excited about a single day in a tent, it’s usually not just the tent that’s bothering them. I am grateful to have made so many new friends who want to find constructive solutions though. At the same time, I’m offended to have people suggesting that the parent group is somehow about some sort of evil parent agenda. The group made clear in its own agenda that it had no interest in the often controversial topics of seeding, playing time, coaching philosophy (beyond criminal acts) etc.

When my daughter was in 14’s three seasons ago, the team did not go to any qualifiers. While there certainly were politics even then between clubs, within teams, etc., the connection between the pure joy of simply playing and having fun trying to win and being a volleyball parent seemed so much more direct. We used to drive back thinking it was just fun, because well it was just fun. There was no recruiting, no high school team, etc. As the recruiting pushes in earlier and earlier into the junior life cycle and JO’s become increasingly central to the failure or success of a season, I’ve noticed that the pressures mount and the simple joy of the sport gets harder to find.

I remind myself that our older daughter certainly went through a stretch during “recruiting” when the sport became less than fun. For several months, it seemed like all we ever heard was that she didn’t jump high enough or move fast enough, etc. and she was forced to compare herself to dozens of players around the country who she didn’t really know. We went through a “Why the heck are we doing this stretch?”

At the end though, it seemed that the most fun she had in her time as a player turned out to be her senior year of college. I trust that that simple pleasure in the sport will return for our daughter and us.

I was really happy to see that return on the beach last year. I’ve seen it come back at times this year. With the older one, there was a point in her life when she had convinced herself that the only way she could be happy in the sport was to have Dave Shoji call her with the right kind of news. As she got older, she realized that might well not have been happiness for her at all. She loved the team, and more important the college at which she wound up. Eventually, she found there were lots of ways to find happiness in the sport and even decided to become a coach.

I suspect that the joy of 14’s or something like it will return if we can remember that there are many different paths to staying happy in junior sports. Some families need to do it by helicopter, some drive old station wagons, and there may even be a few who don’t even go to tournaments with their kids. My guess is that it has little to do with the kind of vehicle you choose as parents, it’s whether or not you keep track of who your daughter is and what she really needs and wants as a person and that the people you entrust your daughter with have similar priorities.

Well that’s our show for today. Goodnight, Boris. Night Natasha. Hey you want to see me pull a squirrel out of this hat?

link to other Chancelucky volleyball stories

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Thursday, April 20, 2006

American Idol (review) That's All for Ace

I confess. I love the “standards”. In fact, when the President proposed “No Child Left Behind”, an educational program that called for all American children to master the standards by the time they graduated high school, I was thrilled. What clearer sign of cultural progress than a country where literacy includes Gershwin, Cole Porter, Dorothy Fields, Rodgers and Hart, and Duke Ellington? Sending in Sam Cooke seemed okay. I thought to myself even if you somehow include Bob Thiele and George Weiss this would be truly a “wonderful world” .

In the last decade, a lot of people have lamented the loss of spiritual education in public schools, then the same people turn around and say, “Let’s fix public education by eliminating everything but reading, writing, and math.”

Spiritual education doesn’t have to consist of endless study of the Bible, Q’aran, or the Gitas. I know this isn’t American Sufi or even American Shaker but music often addresses the needs of the spirit in surprisingly ecumenical fashion. Our music is part of our cultural and spiritual identity and is as much a part of being an educated and I might add sane adult as say knowing what “on paper” means. I’ve also always believed that it’s called “harmony” for a reason - Great music connects our souls.

This week’s standards week somehow reminded me of all this. For the last three shows, I’ve been complaining that the music and the performances on the show had been less than memorable. Whether it was letting the seven remaining contestants sing Gershwin, Isham Jones, Rodgers and Hart, and Strachey and Link, or the supportive coaching of Rod Stewart (who knew that the guy is a hugging fool), I actually enjoyed the music this time and am tempted to declare a snark moratorium -- well at least for a few paragraphs.

With better music, the producers of the show also seemed to back off the circus stuff. Paula did interrupt Simon a couple times, but the run of homo-erotic banter between Simon and Ryan was left offstage, Randy spoke in English, and guest-Idol Rod Stewart didn’t say or do anything to stir reality-fueled controversy. The only thing I noticed was that Paris’s mother chaperoned her daughter’s visit just in case Rod was starting to shop for another younger girlfriend and trying to make “Tonight the Night”. Simon’s recent run of off the wall criticisms was even limited to telling Paris that her speaking voice sounds like Minnie Mouse.

In the coded realm of Idol, some were making a big deal of the announcement of "no fooling with the arrangements." To some, this appeared to be a “Chris Daughtry, we’re looking at you” moment and a warning that the show wasn't going to let him do “All the Things You Are” with laser lights and menacing screams. Instead, Daughtry took “What a Wonderful World” and went Perry Como with it.

The result was pleasant and credible, even very good for an alt rocker. By the way, I should mention that Bon Jovi once covered “Wonderful World”. The performance though didn’t get to the level of Louis Armstrong who turned it into a valedictory for the single most significant musical career of any American musician. Armstrong’s gravelly voice evokes the price he paid to become America’s musical grandpa. Armstrong made Wonderful World about the pain he’d survived and the joy he still felt at the end of his life.

It should be remembered that in his time when he was recording with the Hot Five, Armstrong was the “coolest” guy in American show business, maybe the first alt rocker. Late in his career, he had to go show biz and was accused by some of “Tomming It Up” with the handkerchief and the patter. The angry pot addicted, musical genius Armstrong disappeared and essentially went pop a la Idol with songs like “Hello Dolly”. Sound familiar Chris?

Even Anwar Robinson’s retained a soaring quality that picked up some of the tensions in Armstrong’s version. By going Comotose, the bald one with the funny sideburns went too one dimensional with a song that isn’t as happy as most people think. Daughtry sang “What a Wonderful World This Is” rather than bringing out the melancholy in the “Wonderful World This Could Be” embedded in the lyric. I’d excuse Kellie for this, but when Randy and Simon call you the “uncompromising artist”….

The judges loved it anyway, but I’d argue that the voters may have seen something else and sent Daughtry to the bottom three for the first time.

Along with needing to lose the Sumo top knot hairdo, Ace Young should have known that choosing a song called “That’s All” is as bad an omen as say hearing Ryan hum “You Had a Bad Day” before he says your name on Wednesday. Rod Stewart appeared to really like Ace’s version though Ace seemed vaguely uncomfortable hugging Stewart. (I think that Rod Stewart urban legend made him a little nervous). Ace is probably home thinking, "Shoulda done "I Will Survive."

Ace did all right with a song that had once been a staple both for Sinatra and Bobby Darin though he seemed to run out of breath in parts and the falsetto section was a bit too boy band for my taste. Ace would have been well served to listen to Irene Kral, who like Ace was small-voiced singer, but whose phrasing always illuminated the lyric in a way that Beanie Man never quite managed between poses.

Ace handled himself well throughout his run on the show. He never was the most talented singer, but he seemed very likeable with a camera presence very similar to John Corbett’s. I just don’t know why the “star quality” that Simon and Paula seemed so excited about went into eclipse once he started singing more.

Paris Bennet has struck me as an old soul musically. While she’s shown impressive stylistic versatility for a seventeen year old, I’ve noticed she’s been most comfortable when going retro. The interesting thing about “These Foolish Things” is that it’s not a teenager’s song at all. The words are about missing someone after a long possibly too much taken for granted relationship. The harmony shifts irregularly from major to minor and rhythmically the pulse is lilting to the point of almost dropping dead if the singer isn’t careful. Paris not only negotiated the musical obstacle course well, if you listen to recordings of some of the great standards singers at young ages imho she held up.

I’d only fault her for maybe not bringing off the story in the song as well as she might have, but the feel for the music itself was certainly there. Sarah Vaughan and Anita O’day certainly had long careers having a better feel for the music than the lyric.

Taylor Hicks spent half of “You Send Me” like he was reprising "Country Roads", then popped into eight bars of the manic Taylor his fans love. The surprise had great performance value and reasserted his niche as “the artist” among the remaining contestants that Chris had usurped for several weeks.

This is a nit, but even though Rod Stewart included Sam Cooke in his album and even though I’m not so parochial as to believe that American standards can only be written by a dozen composers after Versailles and before Joe McCarthy, I’m not sure “You Send Me” is a standard. To me the test of a standard is that it can be covered by and identified with several performers. Although there are several covers of the song including one by Jose Feliciano, "Send Me" remains associated almost exclusively with Sam Cooke’s unique style. I don’t think Rod or Taylor changed that, but Taylor’s version was fun.

I’ve been thinking that Kellie Pickler is the musical equivalent of a cockroach in that her run on the show has been so indestructible. “Pal Joey’s” feature ballad, “Bewitched”, is harmonically less tricky than “These Foolish Things” in that it’s much of the way a straight circle of fifths, but it’s still a very subtle song.

Every now and then, Dolly Parton actually slips in sly and smart in her songs to great effect, because she really is both of those things, but with Kellie’s schtick, “sophisticated” probably wasn’t a good choice. Besides, you have to be smart to play dumb and the audience has to be in on the joke. Kellie needs to look at some Gracie Allen tapes instead of doing "Earnest goes to Idols Camp."

Even I could tell that she went off key at points, but far worse in this genre she just sang through the words and missed the lyric (yes they can be different) by dare I say a “country mile”?

“Butchered” is an insult to the people who cut meat for a living. Even the director turned on her by refusing to actually show her shoes. Does vote for the worst really have that much influence? Let me put it this way, Kellie was the only contestant who sounded clearly worse than Rod Stewart’s cover of David Radford. I like Rod as a rock singer btw.

Elliott Yamin did a retro “It Had to Be You” in full jaunty Broadway style. Sometimes, I’ve thought his look and actual voice elicit Jim Nabors. Now that I've grown to like him, the effortless quality in Elliot’s voice made me think Lou Rawls. At the same time, Elliott’s old Broadway take on the song made me think second or third lead in a musical who steps out, surprises the audience by singing really good, then slips back out of the plot and the spotlight. That remains the question.

On the other hand or should it be “In the other key”, Katharine Mcphee has star quality. The director went overboard with the close-ups, but she was at a minimum very good with “Someone to Watch Over Me”. Again, maybe she does smile too much mid-verse, but she had this glowing quality both vocally and on camera that fit the song and the music. She has a great vocal tone and with the exception of Paris is technically at another level in this genre from the others and she was able to bring out the sophisticated way Gershwin crafted the changes and the melody to work together so seamlessly. If she does indeed have an older boyfriend, there’s a chance the guy’s name is either George or Ira.

The fifth season of American Idol has been odd in that there’s been no clear winner this deep into the season. Taylor and Kellie are the only two who have avoided the bottom three, but interestingly many have speculated that each has too limited an appeal to win. They say Taylor’s style is too quirky and Kellie the personality won’t overcome the limitations of Kellie the singer. I’ve thought any of the six could win simply by putting together back to back memorable performances in the next four shows. This was Katharine’s “one”.

Years ago, I saw a friend play Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” with a regional symphony for the Fourth of July. A classical music agent came up to him after the performance and went with a backhanded “You were very fine even though the musical material doesn’t offer much to work with….”

I happen to love “Rhapsody in Blue” and Gershwin but I suppose to serious classical musicians it’s not Beethoven’s Emperor or the Prokofiev Third. The anecdote may also explain why classical music is in economic distress - It's run by patronizing snobs.

I went home though and started listening to Gershwin the tin pan alley songwriter and the funny thing is that freed of symphonic pretense, Gershwin’s standards have a timeless quality that makes the "Great American Songbook" surprisingly vital three generations later even on Reality Television. Too often, we forget that the "Standards" were written by Americans who themselves weren't far removed from the immigrant experience and who helped bring the influence of black music to mainstream Broadway. They are deeply American in the best sense, because they express how we became who we are.

I say teach all American schoolchildren the real standards at least before we have to listen to Andrea Bocelli impressions next week.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Donald Rumsfeld Vaccine

Over the last several days seven retired generals have come forward to call for the removal of Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense.  I took a minute to look up the official duties of the Secretary of Defense,  link to DOD's own definition.  Here’s the Secretary’s responsibility towards and for U.S. Intelligence per Federal Law, link.  Basically, the Secretary has responsibility for carrying out Administration Defense policy.

That would include.

  1. the planning of the war in Iraq

  2. the planning of the occupation

  3. the conduct of American forces in Iraq

  4. some oversight for US intelligence

  5. oversight of defense department contracts

  6. ensuring that US forces are well equipped

  7. making certain that the wounded and killed US forces are treated respectfully

It's not often mentioned in this debat that this is Secretary Rumsfeld’s second time around in the position.  Under Gerald Ford, his notable accomplishment was a possibly falsified reportLink to Team B history that claimed that the USSR was escalating its own defense spending and building “secret” weapons.  This led to the breakdown of the SALT 2 arms control negotiations initiated under Richard Nixon. Rumsfeld’s position apparently broke with the CIA’s whose analysts had determined that the Soviet economy was in fact in crisis.  Some patterns establish themselves early.

Also during Rumsfeld’s first tenure, a soldier died from the Swine Flu and five hundred others were infected with a milder form of the virus.  Rumsfeld responded by having the Department invest in large quantities of a vaccine that proved to be more dangerous than the flu itself.  More recently, Rumsfeld has been linked financially to a company designated to provide large quantities of Avian flu vaccine to the US government.

A decade later, Rumsfeld served as President Reagan’s envoy to the Middle East where among other things Rumsfeld met with Saddam Hussein link  without somehow bringing up the matter of Saddam’s use of chemical weapons in his war with Iran.

These are some questions I have about Secretary Rumsfeld’s second run at defense.

  1. What did you do on September 11, 2001?  What did you know beforehand?  Why didn’t you get any defense in the air after the first plane hit the WTC?

  2. Is it true that you diverted resources to an invasion of Iraq immediately after 9/11?

  3. What was your plan for the occupation of Iraq? Did you consider the possibility of insurrection, civil war, etc.?

  4. What about this looting thing after the fall of Baghdad?

  5. Guantanamo Bay and the suspension of the Geneva Convention?

  6. Halliburton?

  7. Abu Ghraib and other possible war crimes including white phosphorous?

  8. Hellfire missiles, the CIA, and Osama?

  9. What is the exit plan for the occupation?

  10. Are US troops secretly in Iran and, if so, by whose order?

Most important, there’s the simple question of well the war in Iraq has been carried out.  Rumsfeld has consistently misestimated the stability of Iraq and the US appears no closer to being able to withdraw its forces than it was three years ago after the fall of Baghdad.

We went into this war with the Secretary of Defense that we have.  There is a serious question as to whether this Secretary of Defense has either the ability or the will to allow the US to achieve basic objectives in Iraq.  

The retired generals tell us that the Department of Defense has not been run competently and the secretary has igorned the expertise of those who know the ground.  The president insists that the Secretary is carrying out an overhaul of the Department.  He never mentions that Rumsefeld and Cheney, as past Secretaries, both helped to make the Department of Defense what it is today. He never responds to the specific questions that have been raised about Uncle Don.  He hasn’t apparently even rebutted those seven retired generals.  

Perhaps most telling of all, Rumsfeld's own defense of himself is heavy on cancelling weapons systems, appointing Peter Pace, and withdrawing troops from South Korea (strange but true). He did not mention any actual accomplishments in Iraq. If Rumsfeld were the manager of a major league baseball team, he would have been fired in May.  

also of interest from the DOD's own site, an interview with Al Arabiya (sort of a western-controlled Al Jazeera) Rumsfeld Al Arabiya Interview. You'll see that even a western-controlled Arabic newes outlet asks more probing questions than most US mainstream media. The Secretary's claim that he made no predictions about casualties in the war is definitely odd.

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Friday, April 14, 2006

Open Mike (American Idol)

I got the following e-mail the other day in response to one of my American Idol reviews. I believe that it speaks for itself and I am proud to break ground in helping to make the world aware of this shocking form of abuse.

Dear Mr. Chancelucky,

     We realize that you have no direct connection to the Fox show American Idol, but it’s clear to us that you are the funniest most incisive critic of the show on the internet and have even gotten on Blog Critics at times.  We therefore believe that you are in a pivotal position to do something about the repeated blatant and disturbing incidents of open abuse on the show recently.  

     In the last year, Bo Bice repeatedly threw mike stands across the stage at the end of his performances and Simon made lewd comments to Amanda Avila about microphones.  This year, Chris Daughtry, possibly imitating Bo, has done the same thing on at least three occasions.  Earlier in the season, Mandisa gave a wireless microphone whiplash.  Just last week, Taylor Hicks openly kicked a microphone stand while the judges laughed about it.  Clearly this form of microphone bashing is increasingly the norm on the show.   We have even heard stories that during one rehearsal Kevin Covais took his wireless mike and threw it into a filled bubble bath after rehearsing Part Time Lover with one of his admirers.

We are shocked that a bleeding heart liberal like yourself has never raised this growing form of abuse in your blog.

     We don’t mean to make Idol threats, but these young performers need to know what happened to some very talented musicians who abused musical equipment. Jerry Lee Lewis lit his piano on fire and soon was banned from the airwaves for marrying his fourteen year old cousin.  Jimi Hendrix lit his guitar on fire onstage and was dead from an overdose just months later. Most people believe that these were just lifestyle issues.  We assure you that they were not.

     Please use your enormous influence to raise the general public’s consciousness by passing this e-mail on to three other bloggers. The last person who broke the chain (we like to call it a circuit) had his screen covered in male-enhancement adware for seven weeks.

With this little talked about form of abuse the pain of the initial incident is just amplified throughout the victim's lifetime.  Remember, microphones don’t have voices of their own, so we have to speak up for them.


     Ella Q. Shun, Current President People for the Ethical Treatment of Musical Equipment (PETME)

1 Ribbon Drive
Blumlein,Ohio 89422

A Mike is a Terrible Thing to Waste

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

American Idol (review) Bucky Bottoms Out

When I first heard that American Idol was doing Queen, I thought that they meant Queen Elizabeth the Second.  I had visions of Simon’s royal highness sitting at the front end of the Kodak theater stage in crown and robes tapping out the beat with her scepter. Perhaps, she would say a few gracious words to the contestants and even knight Simon for these royal command performances.

I thought too that rest of the royal family could get in on the fun.  I could see Taylor teaching Prince Charles how to dance and maybe Kellie giving Lady Camilla makeup tips with her community snot rag. Maybe there would have been a scene of Ace Young giving Prince Harry one of his beanies. Perhaps they could steal viewers from 24 by having Randy and Paula meet with Tony Blair about the content of the Downing Street Memos.  

Now, that would have been great television.

Instead, Queen turned out to be these old guys dressed up as glam rock and rollers trying to explain to Ace that they weren’t going to change their arrangement just for him.  I was honestly a little confused.  There were all these scenes of Brian May et. al. working on arrangements with the contestants, but on Tuesday night the last eight Idolators were backed by the competent but usual American Idol band plus backup singers.  

In the couple behind the scenes glances we got of Ace Young one of the interesting things is that he’s as much of a musician as he is.  He actually does have and shares his ideas about specific changes he’d like in the arrangements.  The end of the segment strongly suggested that Queen was respectful not dismissive of Ace Young the musician.  Watching it gave me the impression that Ace is quite serious about his music rather than all about staring langorously into the camera.  It’s one of these persistent hints that the producers of the show want you to see the contestants in a particular way whether it’s Ace, Kellie, Paris, or Chris.

If American Idol is supposed to be about being “today’s” pop sound, I am curious about the recent run of guest judges.  When was the last time, you saw a young adult browsing for Kenny Rogers or Barry Manilow at the local music store?  No, Bobby Bennett doesn’t count.  Think about this, when Ryan came out and said “Here he is performing from Queen’s 1978 album….”

That’s right, it  was twenty eight years ago.  When I was a kid, music that old was Ethel Merman and even Al Jolson.  Can you imagine say John Lennon or Hendrix at the beginning of their career being told to cover “Mammy” and make it sound “hip and contemporary.”  I could see Hendrix playing the guitar with his teeth singing the verse to “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” then a big squeal of feedback as he lights his instrument on fire while her royal highness nods in approval and claps politely with her gloved hands.

The rock that I’ve listened to voluntarily has never included Queen.  That said, I thought Freddy Mercury was one of the great rock and roll front men who combined a full range high-volume voice with a sense of theatrics maybe unmatched by anyone in the last twenty years.  If nothing else, Tuesday night reinforced the point that no current Idol poses any danger of making anyone forget Freddy Mercury in this genre.  Staging Queen night invited negative comparisons and turned Idol into Fear Factor done to music where Tuesday was simply about surviving the challenge without any throwing up at the end.

Actually Fear Factor Idol might not be that bad an idea, lots of people would want to see Kellie Pickler eat a bucket of worms after asking “What’s vomit?”.  How about Ace and Katharine stripping down to dive for chord charts locked inside a sunken piano? Weren't the O'donahue twins on Fear Factor?

Another small point, I had this vision of a flamboyantly bisexual Parsi man in football pants, no shirt, and metallic blue cape showing up at an Idol open audition.  What are the odds that the judges might have said “Gee, you have a good strong voice, but you’re too out there for us.  Besides, it seems like you’re sick and I don’t think America wants to see that in a pop star.”

Freddy walks away dejected and Simon turns to Paula and shrugs “Well, there you go.  Another one bites the dust.”

So how seriously am I supposed to take the singing on the show if most of the truly iconic performers of the last generation might never have gotten past the Hollywood round on this show?  Forty years ago, Simon would have been saying something like “You know we’re looking for is something like that rocker, Pat Boone or maybe Ricky Nelson.”

Then Randy would say, “You know I worked with Connie Francis...”  

Or would it be Simon Fuller coming up to the Beatles and trying to get them to change their names to Scary, Sporty,Posh, and Ringo?

I still have this theory that Idol decided to bring in Queen because Ford is one of the sponsors and they wanted to get in subliminal plugs for Lincoln-Mercury without violating FCC rules.  We’ll know it’s true if they bring in Whitney and Bobby to guest on a night when they run a bunch of ads for Coke.  
For the first time in three weeks, Bucky Covington did not appear in a cowboy hat.  
Instead he chose to extol the virtues of “Fat Bottomed Girls” and did it reasonably well though I wasn’t sure why they kept cutting away to Mrs. Bucky this week though always from the front.  There isn’t a lot of drama in Bucky’s singing or his personal style.  He was very much, the show’s regular guy with thick accent and I feel guilty for not trying to meet Bucky half way.  

He never fought with the judges, always tried his best, and appeared supportive of the other contestants in the best tradition of southern charm and grace.  In other words, he’d make a great neighbor or some random person sitting next to you on a six hour plane flight.  This guy, however, was on my tv about nine times and I might have thought the tone of his voice was good at times, but I can’t associate Bucky’s performances with any emotion either mine or his or any jolt of creativity/originality.  On or off key, really good pop singers make you feel something.  You want to notice, you don’t want to hang out with him at a bar some time and talk about your dogs. I also believe that Rocky and Bucky switched places for Wednesday when Bucky heard he'd been singing with a suspended license to stay on the show.

Last year, Carrie Underwood went “out of zone” to do Heart and pulled it off well enough that I wasn’t thinking “pretty good for a country singer”.  Kellie Pickler’s turn as Clockwork Orange meets Cats makeup  wasn’t as bad as most imagined, but who would pay to hear Kellie’s truncated version of Bohemian Rhapsody with all the challenging mood shifts reduced to a single jump?  “Wow, you worked it out,” only makes sense from the standpoint of you weren’t all that off key.  The last time I saw expectations set this low, the then to be President was being praised in the debates for seeming to answer questions in English rather than stare blankly into the camera to ask "What's a global warming?"

Maybe in 2008, instead of debates and primaries, the candidates should have to sing through theme nights.  Hillary Clinton could do “Stand By Your Man” on country night.  Bill Frist could do “Mack the Knife” with a scalpel in one hand a copy of the constitution in the other and a bunch of immigrants in the front row. Scott McClellan could do "You Can't Hide Those Lyin' Eyes"

This is a little bit of a minority opinion, but I felt the only contestant who took on Queen as if she understood Queen was Paris.  She had the gestures, she had the big voice, she dressed up like Tina Turner.  For someone who wasn’t all that suited to “Queen” either, she got much closer to the spirit of their music as rock and roll circus than Kellie, but instead Paris got “That was weird” from Simon.  

He was implying that it was odd for a 17 year old “nice” African-American girl to throw herself into vamping like a glam rock headliner, but wasn’t that exactly the assignment?  Of course it’s weird, but your show defined the test that way.  No, I don’t envision Paris being asked to replace that guy from Bad Company, but if this was about versatility I remember seeing the same singer do Wind Beneath My Wings.

On the other hand, I found myself agreeing with Simon about Chris Daughtry’s “Innuendo”.  Daughtry had a receiver open at the five and ran out of bounds.  Maybe it was because he remembered that he forgot to shave or his eye black kept him from seeing downfield.  He’s still my wife’s favorite though.

Taylor Hicks kicked a mike stand and returned to the happy, jumpy, twitches that his fans have their crazy little love for.  Katharine did a Celine Dion turn on “Who Wants to Live Forever” which alternated between very good and screechy at points. Both changed their song choices midweek and apparently opted for finding the Queen song that fit what they wanted to do thus avoiding having to take on the Phantom of the Freddy.  

After Elliott Yamin hit the bottom three last week, it’s interesting that the producers came forward with more of Elliott’s very compelling backstory along with a glimpse of Elliott the DJ  auditioning to fill in on Ryan’s radio show.  It was interesting to find out that Elliott’s mom was a singer herself once.  I get a lot of searches my way for people looking for Elliott’s ethnicity.  Like Paula Abdul, Elliott Yamin appears to be Jewish. Ethnicity is far more subtle than most people realize and why do we care anyway?  His singing sounded good on “Somebody to Love” despite a problem with the mix levels, but like Taylor and Katharine’s performances I’m not sure he connected on a gut level with the material, sort of good voice not really the right song.  It didn’t surprise me that he hit the bottom three again.

If I have a pet peeve, it’s that most of America seems to take a cue from the judges and act like singing is solely about not being “pitchy”.  It’s actually got a lot more to do with being “catchy”.  They never seem to talk about phrasing, dynamics, or musical line, the things that make music literally pop.  The great jazz pianist, Art Tatum was once quoted as saying “There are no wrong notes, just musicians who can’t find a way to resolve them.”  

If I understand correctly, next week is 32 bar standards that have been sung by Rod Stewart. I hear on Wednesday he'll get to sing his hit "If ya want my body and ya Think I'm Sixty".  I’m hoping the show gets back to “Wow, that was great singing” instead of the Tri Wizard Cup torture test of the last three weeks.  If two of Katharine, Paris, and Elliot or anyone else don’t find a way to have that big moment next Tuesday, my “Idol Love” may not be here to stay.

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