Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Endings, Beginnings

And so that's that. The past week has been, in the words of a friend watching the 2004 election returns, "like being at a wake where you're forced to stare at the body." Part of me remains rational -- professional sports are a business, and businesses don't shy away from making money just because something will hurt people. Atlanta didn't deserve this any less (or, it should be said, more) than Sacramento, New Jersey, Montreal, Kansas City, Hartford, Winnipeg, Quebec City, or other places that lost franchises.

On the other hand, part of me remains irrational and bitter, and that part says fuck the NHL in its ear.

* * *

This was originally intended, lo these many years ago, to be something of a Thrashers blog. That obviously went out the window long ago. But in some form of twisted tribute, I'm taking on a challenge from ol' pal Tapeleg, seen here. I'm going to extend it to its fullest and write every day of the month (well, I plan to, I should say. I don't have the best track record with challenges.)

It won't all be about hockey -- there are only so many ways one can say "fuck the NHL in its ear" before it starts to sound same-y -- but the first two posts will be, at least, if all goes as intended.

* * *

Speaking of challenges -- haven't said much about it but I do remain on course for the Eastern Europe challenge of earlier this year:

#15 -- "Society Without God" by Phil Zuckerman

#16 -- "Have A Nice Day" by Dubravka Ugresic

"Society Without God" takes a while to get going -- Zuckerman's painted into a corner, since he's asking people who don't care much about religion how they feel about religion. Much of the fault is mine, too -- it's preaching to the converted (har), as I already know that non-believers can be decent/moral people, thank you very much. It gets more interesting once he starts comparing the secular Scandinavians to the more religious Americans. It's a good book, but probably more useful for someone less atheist than me.

The Ugresic book is #6 (of 12, if I remember the deal correctly) in the E. Europe challenge. I've wanted to read her stuff (she's Croatian) for a while, and ... this was probably the wrong place to start.

She lived in the northeastern U.S. for a time as the Balkans were going up in smoke, and this is a collection of columns written during that time. She's a wonderful writer, this would seem to be fertile material ... but ... despite some good moments, it leaves me cold. I'll give her other work a try -- again, she's got a great style. I'm trusting that this just wasn't the best use of it.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

How To Get Ahead In Czech Advertising

Another one from the archives of Czechoslovak-era hockey programs. This comes from a 1986 TJ Tesla Pardubice program -- Tesla not just being a science dude and a hair metal band but also the communist-era state electric company. They sponsored (I guess -- I'm still not 100% clear on how this worked in the 1960s through the '80s) Pardubice hockey from 1960 until the fall of communism.

The ad's a bit curious, in its juxtaposition of Age of Aquarius text (that's a font that I associate with late '60s DC Comics house ads) with tough bearded army dude/construction worker/something. That text reads (very roughly) "We increase radio effectiveness in all economic sectors," which is probably how I once imagined all communists talked.

Tesla Pardubice were usually also-rans in Czechoslovak hockey, winning only one title before the late '80s. Around that time their fortunes picked up with a bunch of good young players, not least a young Dominik Hasek, and they won two titles in the waning years of Czechoslovakia. They might have added a few more if events hadn't overtaken them -- as it was, stars like Hasek, Jiri Sejba, Petr Prajsler, Ladislav Lubina, and others all sought their fortunes elsewhere as soon as they could.

Pardubice also had what were probably the sweetest uniforms in Czechoslovakia. I haven't bought a jersey in a few years, and I'm in an era of fiscal responsibility now, but man that sweater makes me salivate.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Revelation Revisited #5: Side by Side

My most memorable moment regarding this record is an alarming one. In my mid-20s, not long before leaving Tucson, near blackout drunk and listening to this in my apartment at 4 a.m., weeping copiously over something -- uncertainty, romantic setback, I don't remember.

Just one stop in a confusing journey. I really disliked Side by Side when I first heard them (see also, in the near future, Bold and Chain of Strength) -- thought they were generic, and probably thought they had too much of the tough guy thing going on. Then in my early 20s -- once I'd started drinking, bear in mind -- I adopted them wholeheartedly. Side by Side was really carried by their singer, Jules, who had that overwhelming rage/sincerity that's tough to question. When he howls "You're only young once -- so don't fuck it up!" it's hard to contradict. I mean, he really cares. The best you're gonna be able to do is shrug and say "sorry, dude, I'll try." He also leads, I dunno, the world in use of the word "fuck," which makes it kind of funny that in the recent Double Cross interviews he's done, he emphatically avoids any swearing. I guess he used it up 20 years ago.

And how do I feel about this, 20 years on? Well, it's twofold. I shelled out for the full expanded album on iTunes (22 songs, 35 minutes), with demo tracks and live tracks added, and I'd say the extra tracks mostly show that Side By Side was tapped dry on the seven-song 7". Most of the bonus stuff is generic, poorly recorded, or both. But oh, those seven songs. Yeah, they still signify one of the high-water marks of early Rev stuff. "You're Only Young Once" still gets a fist-pump. Even something as simple as "Friends" gets a solemn and appreciative nod. I wouldn't have said this when I was 18, but now I recognize -- in the pure edge era of Revelation, SBS is a contender for the best thing they put out.

* * *

#14 -- "Endgame" by David Rohde

Another book that languished on my shelves for years, because it looked daunting and I figured I knew everything there was to know about Srebrenica. More fool me, as this should be the definitive take on that horrid story. Rohde has an even, restrained style, knowing he doesn't have to sensationalize to convey the horror. The hour-by-hour narration builds the tension to an unbearable point. I know a lot about the 1990s wars, and I still learned a lot here. The U.N. comes off looking poorly; Ratko Mladic comes across looking like even more of a monster than I had anticipated. I read all 400 pages with only necessary breaks. Highly recommended.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Memorial Blues

I don't go down to Memorial Drive a lot, because aside from Oakland Cemetery and the wonderful but too-rarely-visited-by-me Six Feet Under, there's not a lot there. It's just a bit too far to walk from my place and as much as I love abandoned buildings, it's not a great place for a walk. Abruptly ending sidewalks, little shade, long stretches of nothingness. In the 1970s, Life Magazine named Tucson's Speedway Boulevard the ugliest street in America. Memorial looks like Speedway after the rapture.

Mom visited a couple of weeks ago, and circumstances (visits to the Cyclorama and Oakland, trips to a rental car place) took me down Memorial multiple times -- probably more than in the time since my last post on the place, three years ago. Some stuff did catch my eye, so needing a stroll this morning, I headed down there.

I'm not much for religion but I'm curious what the Omega Holiness Church's story is. It looked boarded up and defunct, and the bulletin board by the door had notices from 2006. But signs on the door indicated it's still going -- it also seems to be a church that's active in the community, so a rousing rah for that. Even the active businesses on Memorial are thoroughly covered with graffiti, which can get confusing for the abandoned-building seeker.

Somewhere around here, I heard a rooster braying repeatedly in a nearby backyard. Strange sound for downtown Atlanta.

As I was taking this photo of the smokestacks, I heard a distant "hey!" Thinking nothing of it, I walked on. Shortly after, a pickup truck barreled past me, turned left onto a side street, and a man hopped out. He started walking toward me -- a ridiculous figure, short, toothless, 50s-ish and meth-damaged. In a tent-like t-shirt, he looked strangely sunken. Chest puffed out, he planted himself in front of me and said "you taking pictures of my house?" I was a head taller than him -- he would have needed a bazooka to be threatening. I just responded with a curious "no..." Laughing weakly, he said "Oh. I thought you were taking pictures of my house." I walked on, flashing back to this stupid incident, leaving him laughing to himself behind me.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Keeping Busy in Retirement

Dick Cheney, hawking condos in downtown Atlanta!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Empty Nest Syndrome

Events pretty quickly overtook my last post on the Thrashers; by the morning after I wrote it, my semi-optimism was looking more and more like whistling past the graveyard. Rumors had solidified enough that Atlanta journalists were reporting on the growing possibility of a move. It's been up and down since -- negotiations with True North confirmed, the emergence of an interested party seeking to keep the team in Atlanta, the revelation that said interested party is kind of a disaster. That's ... mostly down. Simple contempt has kept me from checking TSN's "Jets Meter" lately but I imagine it isn't pretty.

It's a strange feeling. I'm trying to remain somewhat objective about it all. If it happens it happens -- my life goes forward regardless. If the Thrashers leave, I don't start fashioning a noose. I'll fill my time other ways. At the same time, I'm attached to the team. Since the lockout they've gone from a way to give me a hockey fix to a "Team 1A" along the Avalanche. And there's a feeling that they've been poorly served. The Atlanta sports market is a fickle one, and the Thrashers have played ignored little brother to the Hawks (who in turn are the ignored little brother to the Braves and Falcons). They've suffered from abhorrent ownership -- one of the greatest tragedies of the space shuttle program's end is that we'll never see the Atlanta Spirit executives crammed into Endeavour and aimed at Neptune.

The whole recent experience has been dispiriting. The Thrashers don't seem to attract much sympathy -- aside from Craig Custance, no national/continental hockey writers have really acknowledged that there actually are people here affected by this. There are good fans here (better than me); I know people who live and die by this team. But it's easier to cheerlead and treat a Winnipeg move as a historic wrong being righted if you ignore the existing fans in Atlanta. People in the hockey world haven't done themselves proud these past few weeks.

At the same time -- and here's where that attempted objectivity comes in -- I've been on the other side of this. The Avalanche didn't spring fully-formed from Zeus's brow. I felt bad about the bereft hockey fans of Quebec City, and I'm pretty sure that had Twitter existed in 1995, I wouldn't have been campaigning for another city's team to move to Denver. At the same time, once the season started, the sympathy pretty rapidly turned to an overwhelming sense of "fuck yeah," and I doubt that when Colorado won the Cup I spent a ton of time thinking about the Quebecers.

So what would happen if the Thrashers move to Winnipeg? My emotions wouldn't follow them there -- I have no ties to the Peg other than being glad I don't live there. I'd wish Pavelec, Byfuglien, Ladd etc well until they became UFAs and moved on. The Avalanche would get some of my attention back. I'd go to a few more Gladiators games a year, though I'm realistic about how often I'd be willing to make the trek from my snug in-city home to Gwinnett (not very). International hockey would theoretically get more interest, as would soccer. I'd devote more time to non-sports projects.

But I'd rather it didn't come to that. After more than a decade here, I feel (and it was a surprise when I realized this) some Atlanta pride. I think Atlanta and the Thrashers could be good for each other, given an opportunity. I'm holding out hope that opportunity becomes reality.

* * *

#13 -- "Behindlings" by Nicola Barker

One of the joys of being an avid reader is discovering a new vein, finding a fantastic author that wasn't on your radar before. When I read "Darkmans" last year I had a vague idea that Barker was just discovering her talent. Not so, friend, not so. The earlier "Behindlings" is almost as daring and just as brilliant, and I'm officially buying in to anything she does in the future. Strange and difficult book, but also rewarding and haunting. It's not easy but it's very worthwhile.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Revelation Revisited: Bidip Bo!

Revelation #4 -- Gorilla Biscuits s/t 7"

From the start, the Gorilla Biscuits 7" was screwed with me. "Start Today" was a watershed moment in my discovery of hardcore -- what was a fairly frequent backwards progression did the GBs no favors.

Looking back now, the 7" seems a bit more honest in comparison to the very slick (in hardcore terms) album. But at the time, living in distant Tucson, I imagined the Biscuits as this amazingly tight outfit -- without any sort of perspective, I just figured they could knock off "Start Today" note-for-note in the live setting. I also thought the Reason to Believe album was an accurate representation of that band live. Catching both on third-generation VHS tapes later was a bit of a shock.

So in 2011, whither the Gorilla Biscuits (I note they're playing a few shows up in the northeast soon, and that makes me regret even more that I skipped them here a few years back)? I feel considerably more generous to this ep now, but that's not getting me to listen to it. It's good solid hardcore, goofily earnest like so many of its contemporaries, less polished than the band's recorded output would become. I can give it more of a nod now than my disappointed 17-year-old self could, but it's a museum piece -- not something that I feel really moved to listen to now.

The verdict: about the same as 1991, but my perspective's a bit different.

* * *

While on the pop culture tip, why not knock off a few more things? I saw "Thor" Friday night, and ... I can't remember the last time I enjoyed a movie so unreservedly. It's big, it's stupid, it's loud, it's so much fun. The plot makes even less sense than you'd expect from a movie that's about a comic book superhero version of a Norse god, but who cares. I never warmed to Thor as Marvel superhero, partly because of my DC bias, partly because I was never a big fan of Jack Kirby or Walt Simonson, the two creators that really defined him. I've missed out on most of the superhero revival in movies -- I think a half-asleep in-flight viewing of one of the X-men movies is all I've managed since the Tim Burton "Batman" -- but god, if they're all these good, I've got catching up to do.

And then books.

#11 -- "Murder in Amsterdam" by Ian Buruma

#12 -- "The Ball is Round" by David Goldblatt

The Buruma book is very good, taking a nuanced and uncertain view on one of the most touchy and sensitive subjects of the day, and I might write more about it if my brain weren't all THOR! and Gorilla Biscuits and beer right now. Give it a shot, okay?

Re "The Ball is Round," I already sorta kinda had a post in the hopper about why some sports (hockey, American football) have a remarkable paucity of good writing devoted to them, while others (baseball, soccer, I hear tell boxing) are just lousy with talented scribes. This is just more fuel for that argument -- between "The Ball is Round" and "The Inverted Pyramid" I've had two soccer books invade my all-time top ten list in the past few months. It's 70 gazillion pages (conservative estimate), it's a history of soccer placing the sport in context with the social developments of each era and location, and it's brilliant. It's hard to imagine this book being written about any other sport -- none comes close to soccer's global reach and collisions with the political world. Read this and then see just how embarrassingly inadequate most sports writing really is.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Filling the Empty Room

A friend recently asked if I was worried about the various rumors about the Thrashers leaving Atlanta. I said no -- first off, after that shitshow of a season (Thrashers tank, Avalanche do so much worse that scientists are working on new forms of the word "tank"), hockey ranks around tractor pulls and snuff films on the list of things I want to watch. We're still cool, me and hockey, but I'm seeing other sports for a bit.

Down the line, I'll get over it and want to watch hockey again. But I'm still not worried. All the stories about their problems (or those of the Coyotes, which seemed much more fraught) are -- to be generous -- rather thinly sourced, and generally pushed the most by outlets (I'm looking at you, Winnipeg Free Press and TSN) that have some interest in keeping this story alive. It's hard to believe that after bending over backwards to help out the Penguins, Predators, and Coyotes, Gary Bettman et al will wave dismissively as a team in one of the ten biggest U.S. metropolitan areas heads north. I'm no big fan of the "open letter" form of writing, but this post (via Puck Daddy) does a nice job of laying out the reasons why the NHL has some interest in keeping a team in Atlanta.

Feel free to throw all that back in my face if the ECHL is my only local option next year. But if I'm right -- and I usually am -- the Thrashers will still be here next season, and the Winnipeggers will be feverishly grasping on to rumors about the Islanders or Blue Jackets.

But there will still be a problem in Atlanta.

Put a happy face on it all you want -- and hey, I'm a relentless civic booster in all cases other than the otherworldly heat and the awful traffic and the Braves -- but the Thrashers' attendance will still suck. There are a lot of reasons for this, and I'll rely on someone else for the research here, but I'd guess that one of the major factors is that the team's primary audience is located outside the city. And considering how much fun it is to get around here (for the outsider: public transportation is useless and no one knows how to drive) the fan base might as well be located in South Carolina. There are a good amount of hockey fans intown, but the families are primarily located outside. Barring moving the arena to Cobb County (and hey world, please don't) there's nothing that can be done about that.

Meanwhile, intown -- Atlanta, according to some rather hasty internet research, has the largest gay population in the U.S. According to that article it's nearly 40 percent of the city. The city's sports teams, far as I know, have almost completely ignored them (and when they haven't ignored them, well, it isn't pretty at all). I can't speak for other big cities but by and large I'm going to guess that's still taboo in the big three and a half U.S. sports. It's sad. It's also stupid -- and perhaps the Thrashers could be a groundbreaking team.

The hockey world is, by and large, a conservative one. But it's also a fairly friendly one, if you stay off Twitter. Again, unscientific research, but I'd bet that Brent Sopel taking the Stanley Cup to a gay pride parade and Sean Avery coming out in support of gay players and same-sex marriage is more than we've heard from athletes in other major sports. And it was gratifying -- as a self-styled progressive who sometimes despairs about reconciling that with avid sports fandom -- to see people go in hard when a NHL agent took his shots at Avery's comments. Even history's greatest monster, Chris Chelios, has said a gay teammate wouldn't be a big deal.

So, Thrashers -- turn your marketing efforts that way. Yearbook shots featuring the players in their underwear. Lady Gaga on the sound system. Mixed drinks instead of Heineken. Eric Boulton doing a guest bouncer stint at the Eagle. Branch out, try new things. Philips would suddenly be a tough place to play -- an arena full of gay guys taunting the other team is gonna be a hell of a lot cattier than "Hey goalie, you suck!" Imagine Eric Staal breaking down in tears on the bench. It's sweet, isn't it?

Then imagine this: because the Thrashers have taken this step, because the Thrashers have reached out, they now have a sympathetic fan base in every city (except maybe Edmonton -- are there gay people in Edmonton?). Go on the road and there are supporters at every stop.

For the most part, and I'm gonna go out on a limb and speak for my fellow straights (you guys don't mind, right? cool) here, I don't think that most people would get too upset about this. Most of us would be united in love of hockey and are tolerant of others and are comfortable enough that we wouldn't feel threatened. We might lose a few mulleted guys with "69" jerseys, but addition by subtraction, y'know? Or those mulleted guys with "69" jerseys might learn something... about themselves.

I can't imagine that it'll happen. I also can't imagine that it would lose. Seriously, Thrashers, give it a shot. At the very least it's a more focused marketing strategy than whatever "Sons of Blueland" was all about.