Friday, August 30, 2013

What's More Depressing - A Fast Car or A River?

Yes, this is supposedly a sports blog.  Or a sports card blog.  Heck at one time I was even posting photos from Chicago.  However, it’s that time of year when hockey is at its most uneventful, football is more about fantasy drafts (All Day Purple Jesus!) and baseball is just ramping up for the drive to the playoffs.  So we’re veering into dangerous territory today – music.

It’s kind of funny how certain songs seem to have been around for your entire life, you’ve heard them probably hundreds of times and pretty much think you know the words.  However, it turns out that you have never really listened to the lyrics.

The bus is great for some serious music listening.  You can zone out completely, let the brain go into neutral and not worry about running into anything or falling over. So I tend to pay a little more attention to what I’m listening to. And tonight, riding home from work (two hours later than I had planned), the ol’ iPod kicked on a couple of tunes back to back that put me into a bit of a funk.   Nine minutes and fifty-eight seconds of pure 1980s musical Debbie Downering.

Which brings us to tonight’s question.

Which chart topping song is more depressing:

Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car”


Bruce Springsteen’s “The River”

I’m going to break down my opinion and then let y’all decide in the comments.   And if you want to get technical, yes “The River” was actually produced in 1979, but it wasn’t released as a single until 1981.  So there.

I’m a sucker for songs that tell a story.  Especially a sad story with a guitar in the back ground (why yes my iTunes is filled with a lot of Blues songs. Why do you ask?)I’m one of the few people who think The Last DJ is one of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers best albums (love, love, love the image of burned out fans watching in horror as “John lip-synced his latest light beer commercial” in “Money Becomes King”). 

Back to the topic on hand.

Fast Car

At first you’re thinking, “What a nice song about a girl and a guy whose car is fast enough to drive them away from all of their problems”.

Well yeah it starts out that way. She paints a pretty bleak picture of life – shitty job at a convenience store, dropped out of school, mom has left town and dad is a broken down alcoholic.  But her boyfriend has a fast car (In case you are wondering, yes I picture “The City” as Chicago and the couple as coming from some farm town in Indiana and the car being a 1986 IROC-Z.)  and when they’re bombing down the road she thinks a better future is right around the corner. Since she’s starting from nothing so she has nothing to lose.  Maybe with his ride and her plans for the future they can make a change in their lives. But it has to be now. After all if they don’t leave tonight they are going “live and die this way”.

In the next verse some time has passed and things haven’t quite panned out as she had thought. The boyfriend/husband doesn’t have a job and she traded a shitty convenience store job for a shitty checkout girl job.  But she still has hope. She’s going to get promoted and he’s going to find a job.  Chapman sneaks in the “we’ll move out of the shelter” line so quietly you almost missed it.  Our protagonist is no longer looking for salvation in the big city, but in the suburbs, with the big houses and white picket fences. Ironically, probably the same suburbs she fled in her man’s fast car all those years ago.

Final verse and now there is a kid involved. Husband/boyfriend still has a fast car, but no job.  He spends most of his time hanging out in the bar with his buddies.  Now she’s “got no plans, ain’t going anywhere” and maybe it’s time for him to keep on driving. If they stay together there is no happy ending, just year after year of struggling, living and dying this way. History repeats itself as she becomes her mother and he transforms into her shiftless father.

What a lyrical take on the ravages the cycle of poverty takes on generations.  And what makes it even more depressing is that the hook is so infectious and full of hope. Who hasn’t experienced moments of escapism? Whether it’s running away on vacation or barreling down a road so fast that all of your problems can be left behind and someone’s arm, “wrapped ‘round my shoulder” made you feel safe and in a world where you belonged.

The stripped down sound of just Chapman’s voice and simple guitar add to the wistfulness of the song.

The River

Springsteen might just be the best singer/storyteller that emerged from the turbulent times of the 70’s and 80s, which was a great time to write songs about sad stories.  His magnum opus being “Born In The USA” aka the most depressing song used for patriotic purposes in the history of song-dom.  But for these purposes we’re going with “The River”, not the studio version, but the one off of his Live: 1975-85 album that includes the long story about how much his father hated his long hair and Bruce failed his military physical and his dad was glad that he wasn’t shipped off to Vietnam.

Then the searing harmonica kicks in and Bruce talks about him and Mary and their dashed history.  It starts off nicely, high school sweethearts hanging out at the river.  Then things swerve a bit.  He knocks Mary up and they proceed to have the most depressing marriage in the history of matrimony.  “No wedding day smiles, no walk down the aisles, no flowers, no wedding dress”. Was there cake? I bet there wasn’t even cake. 

Bruce gets a job for a bit, but hey man it’s the 70s so the economy ain’t that great.  With them struggling it’s kind of hard to talk about those heady, teenage years.  Mary acts like she doesn’t care while Bruce tries to tell himself to just forget about it. He can’t let it go, he can’t shake those warm summer nights lying next to her dreaming of the future (trying to get laid). Now later in life, looking back on those days he ponder ones of the great questions ever put into verse*, “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse?”

Like Chapman’s car, the river is always there to taunt him about his lost future. While she lost herself in the lights of the city zipping by, he escaped reality diving into the depths.

 While the lyrics themselves aren’t quite as depressing as Chapman’s, after all, Bruce and Mary are still together and it sounds like they are going to ride it out together, the harmonica (world’s saddest instrument) and the father/son story at the beginning put it over the top for me.  So my vote goes to Bruce.

By the way, Mom, I’m sorry I took your copy of Bruce Springsteen and E Street Band Live 1975-85 when I went to college.  Maybe, just maybe I’ll get you a new copy for Christmas one of these days.  Oh and I think I took your CCR greatest hits as well.  Sorry ‘bout that.

Your turn to vote down in the comments.  I’m popping on some Beach Boys to feel better about things…….

* Eddie Vedder’s plaintive wail of, “I know some day you’ll have a beautiful life, I know you’ll be a star in somebody else’s sky, but why, why, whhhhhhyyyy can’t it be, can’t it be mine” is also in the running.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Off Season Hockey is The Worst Hockey

A few weeks ago, ok a month ago, the fine folks at Raw Charge asked me a question.  Well not just me, but Lightning bloggers, and since I was briefly a Lightning blogger on a semi-prominent website, Raw Charge still invites me to partake in their Questions of the Week. I guess it’s kind of like sportswriters who wrote about baseball 20 years ago still get to vote for the Hall of Fame even though they haven’t covered the game in a decade.

The questions was: “So looking at what the Lightning have done {in the off-season}, now we ask: Are We Better Yet?”

My response was basically, sure why not? Valtteri Filppula was an ok signing (once the length of the contract was removed as a factor) and number one pick Jonathan Drouin has an excellent chance of making the team and providing some excitement.

Since this is my spot in the mad chaos that is the internet I figured I’d finally get around to expounding on my thoughts. Originally I was going to post it the same week the question went up, but as you might know by now, I’m quite the lazy blogger.  As the season draws ever nearer I figure it’s not a bad time to take a look at the off-season roster makeover and see where they stand, at least on paper.

The Big Loss

This is Photshopped, right? Please say yes.

We barely knew you Benoit Poulet.  I’m kidding, of course. No discussion of off-season moves can begin or end without mention of the compliance buyout of Vincent Lecavalier. The all-time leader in games played, goals scored, shots taken, money donated to local hospitals and Stanley Cup Finals fights with other superstars was given his walking papers  (and $32 million) just before Free Agent Frenzy began in July.

I’m not sure I’ve totally processed it yet.  Until he actually takes the ice in those ugly orange and white sweaters that Philadelphia wears I refuse to believe it actually happened.  He’s totally coming back, you guys.  It’s just a well-worked swerve job by the Lightning.  October 10th, the lights are going to go dark in the Ice Palace, “Thunderstruck” will start playing, Dave Mishkin will scream out, “Dear God! That’s Vinny’s Music!” in his best JR voice and Lecavalier will step on the ice.  IT’S GOING TO HAPPEN!!!!

But, for the sake of this column let’s say Lecavalier is really with Philadelphia and the Lightning have to replace his production. Over the last two season’s Lecavalier provided .79 points per game - that’s not chicken scratch. It was productive enough that other team’s had to worry about the second line, occasionally freeing up young Steven Stamkos to do what he does - score goals.

Quite frankly, there is no one on the roster set to provide that kind production or second line protection. I’m pretty sure we’re seeing the pinnacle of Teddy Purchell’s scoring ability (which isn’t bad) and Nate Thompson isn’t going to blossom into a 25 goal scorer overnight. Thus General Manager Steve Yzerman waded into the Free Agency Frenzy looking for a second line center and signed….

The Big Pickup

Valterri does "smoldering" well.

…Valterri Filppula* to a five-year $25 million contract, instantly burning up some of that precious cap space Lecavalier’s buyout had provided.  I have nothing against Filppula, and I apologize for spending the last seven years thinking his name was “Valarie Fippula”, but like or not, no matter how to the contrary coaches and players say it, he’s going to have to fill Lecavalier’s shoes.

Will he be able to do it?  Maybe-ish.  Health will be a big factor.  If 2011-12 was the last season he played fully healthy then things are looking rosy.  His .81 points per game are right in line with what Vincent was providing and by all reports, Filppula might be a bit more responsible defensively. I love Vinny as much as a guy can love a total stranger who he has only seen on TV, but asking Lecavalier to play defense is like asking Secretariat to pull a carriage of tourists down Michigan Avenue.

According to the Finnish forward a knee injury didn’t let him prepare in the off-season as well he would have liked before the lockout shortened 2012-13 season and led to his drop off in production.  He feels that he should be in better shape this season despite the ankle injury he suffered in game 7 of the Western Conference finals.  In other words, nothing to see here folks.  Keep whistling past the graveyard.

Some folks out in Lightning-land are wondering why the former Detroit was signed in the first place. After all, the Harvard Man, Alex Killorn looked pretty solid in his debut season posting 19 points in 38 games for the Lightning.  Why not give him or Tyler Johnson the reigns and let them run with it? Well, because it’s kind of a big role on the team and Mr. Yzerman might not be willing to bet the season (and his job) on a player that was cramming for finals less than two years ago.  If the Lightning go into the season with Killorn as their number two center and he fails Alexander Daigle-style (aka spectacularly) then it is harder to find a replacement. With Filppula penciled in as the starter and Killorn waiting in the wings (probably quite literally) Mr. Yzerman has given himself an out. Should his free agent fail, then Killorn can step right in.

Mr .Yzerman wasn’t done there, he also signed ummm…..Geoff Walker.  Hmm…I guess he was done.  Which, I actually took as a good sign.  Or at least a sign that the organization’s depth has improved over the last three years because he did re-sign most of their restricted free agents and J.T. Brown, Mark Barberio, and Keith Aulie will probably all see significant time with club this season (Godspeed Evan Oberg, we’ll always have this to remember you by).

The General Manager’s lack of attention towards the defense has me a little nervous, since the returning group didn’t exactly light the world on fire last season.  However, with such a young core, they can only get better with experience, right?

Sitting with the third pick in the draft Mr. Yzerman did have an excellent shot at picking up another exciting young defenseman in Seth Jones after Colorado and Florida passed on the highly rated blue liner. However, he dashed aside visions of a Victor Hedman/ Seth Jones pairing terrorizing opponents for the opportunity to have goaltenders shake in fear at the sight of Steven Stamkos locked and loaded waiting for the puck from….

The Big Draft

Love that he's wearing a shirt and tie under the sweater, but has his gloves on. He's ready to play, or go to a job interview.

…Jonathan Drouin.  Mr. Yzerman might just be thinking, “if you can’t stop ‘em, outscore ‘em”. What is scary is that Drouin might actually make Stamkos better.  Noted hockey expert Bob McKenzie has compared him to Patrick Kane and states that the newest Bolt “can process the game faster than anybody else {in the draft}.“ It’s that extra “hockey sense” to see plays develop before they actually happen and put the puck where it needs to be to confound the other team.

Go to you tube and search Jonathan Drouin and you will be happy if you’re a Lightning fan.  Not to put too much pressure on him, but he could really be the best pure playmaker the Lightning have ever had in their history.  Their draft history/prospect history has tended to focus on big scoring forwards whose talents lie in putting the puck in the net, not setting up their teammates.

Of course, if you’ve been privileged to follow my live tweets during a game (@TorchRamrod) you know that one of things that drive me batty is the forward’s desire to score pretty goals instead of just putting the puck at the net (aka The One More Pass Syndrome). The biggest victims of this disease were Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis. I’m all for being a giver on the ice, but sometimes you want someone that is a bit more selfish. Gimmie the GOALS!

There is a danger that Drouin, as an electric playmaker, might fall into that habit especially if he defers to his elders on the ice.  It’s hard to project how effective he’ll be this season, especially with the Lightning’s history of not rushing their prospects.  He will have to earn his spot on the roster, but if he does he will replace some of the offense lost with Lecavalier.

Somewhat lost in the hype of the Drouin pick is that the Lightning picked up a pretty good prospect with their second round choice of Adam Erne. Where Drouin gets the “electric,” “flashy,” “sizzling” superlatives, Erne is described as “gutty,” “hardworking” and “big-bodied”.  He is more in the line of the big power forward mold prospect (think Brett Connolly). I would think he spends next season back in juniors, but after that he should provide some size to the young crop of talent that makes up the Lightning prospects.

So where does that leave the 2013-14 Tampa Bay Lightning?  In the end I still think they’re a better team. Simply because they were a better team then they preformed last season AND the additions they made make them even better.   Losing Lecavalier hurts, it really, really hurts. But it’s not a back breaking loss.  Let’s face it, injuries are starting to catch up to him and counting on him for a full season is no longer a given. The financial flexibility helps this season and will really help next season when the cap should go up.

While the Lightning might be better on the ice, planning your next summer vacation based on them making the playoffs might be a bit premature. The main problem is the fact that their competition ratcheted up several notches due to realignment. Contending with Boston, Montreal and even Toronto is going to be a lot harder than contending with Carolina and Winnipeg.

In the end, any talk of success echoes the discussions of the previous two seasons. Those discussions revolved around goaltending.  If Ben Bishop and Anders Lindback can’t keep the puck out of the net, it doesn’t matter what Filppula or Drouin do on the ice. That’s why the lack of improving the defense, other than a full season of Radko Gudas, has Lightning fans a little skittish about improvement.

With about two months to go before the actual drop of a meaningful puck, there is a chance that Mr. Yzerman makes a few last minute moves (cough, cough blueline depth), but I think the feeling on Channelside drive is that this is the team they are going to live and die with.

* Yes I want to make Filppula’s nickname “The Big Pickup”. It won’t happen, but that doesn't mean  I can’t dream.