Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Break From The Norm - Thanks Sis.

I told myself I would come home and write up a boxing story. After all, it is a good four days after the fights and if I keep putting it off I’ll probably start losing press passes and I love me some press passes. Unfortunately,  I made the mistake of checking Facebook.  If I can offer any little bit of advice to anyone trying to write – don’t check Facebook before you start writing.  It’ll distract the hell out of you.

Case in point, my sister and her friend start posting pictures of Bieber and Pete Wentz like they’re 14-year-old fan girls (note - they are not 14). For some reason that leads me to looking up music they were actually listening to when they were teenagers. That led me to the Concrete Blonde song “Joey”.  For some reason I remember my sister having a cassingle of that song.

*History lesson for those under 25 reading this.  Cassingles were the next step from the 45 vinyl records our parents listened to Elvis on and the precursor to the iTunes download you kids have for your LMAFO and Gotye songs.

It was a cassette tape that had a song on one side, usually a top-40 hit, and a B-side song on the other that the cool kids said that they bought it for. They were usually 3 or 4 bucks in the store and kept you from having to invest in the whole album because, back then, there wasn’t a Spotify or Youtube where you could check out an entire record before buying it. You either took the plunge and hope enough songs were good to justify the purchase (for me it was three songs) or hoped one of your friends bought it and let you make a copy of it.  Two-tape cassette decks FOR LIFE, BITCHES! Here endeth the lesson.*

Anyway, I posted “Joey” to Facebook and then allowed myself to get sucked into the time-waste that is Youtube.  Y’all know what I’m talking about. You start watching one video, then another, and another.  Then you remember that one other song and you look it up and start another stream.  Before you know it an hour has gone by and you’re watching Kenny Rogers sing “The Gambler” on TheMuppets – puppets drinking and smoking….good luck getting that on a kid’s show these days.

One thing I noticed while I was tumbling down the video rabbit hole is that music video’s kicked ass back in the mid-1990’s.  I’m not here to debate if music is better today or not, that argument has been going on since Beethoven banged out notes on his toy piano and it isn’t ever going to be solved. 

However, I have no doubt in my mind that the music video heyday ran from about 1990 to 1997 and produced some of the most iconic short films ever.  I know it’s a flawed rating system, but look at the MTV Video Music Award list and how it’s devolved over the last 20 years.  Van Halen’s “Right Now” took the prize in 1992 over some strong competition (look “Under the Bridge” is a stupid song, but don’t tell me you don’t picture Anthony Kiedis running in slow motion every time you hear the song).
You're welcome for that.

Let’s run down some of the highlights (I’m lazy and mostly took the MTV video of the year, sue me it’s late):

1990 – “Nothing Compares 2 U” – set the bench mark for close up shot of the artist singing the song. Simple, yet effective.

1991- “Wicked Games” – Black & White. Supermodel rolling around on the beach. Why did it take someone 10 years to come up with that one?

1992 – An awesome year with “Right Now,” “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Into the Great Wide Open,” “Tennesee,” “Good Vibrations,” “Black and White,” “November Rain”

1993 – “Jeremy” – remember the uproar over a video that insinuated a kid shooting his classmates? Would this even be a blip on the radar today?

1994 – “Cryin” – Steven Tyler’s epic run of whoring out Alicia Silverstone and his own daughter

1995- “Buddy Holly” – Weezer brings back the Fonz and the rest of the gang.

1996 – “Tonight, Tonight” – The Pumpkins bring artistic angst to the forefront

1997 – “Virtual Insanity” – yeah Jamiroquai doesn’t exactly stand the test of time, but the video was fantastic.

I’m supposed to believe that “Firework” is on the same level? Not to sound like “The Miz,” but really? REALLY?  Katie Perry shooting fireworks out of her tits is as good as the apathetic high-schoolers in “Smells Like Teen Spirit”? No thank you.  I’ll take Jeremy gunning down his classmates over some kid overwhelming muggers with magic tricks any day of the week.  And “Bittersweet Symphony” is the Bret Hart all of walking-down-the-street-singing videos. The best there is, the best was and the best there ever will be.

“November Rain” came out in 1992 and didn’t even make the final four for MTV, and that was the great “Hold crap did you see that video” of my childhood.  We spent hours…ok lots of minutes…dissecting that song.  Who was Axl’s new wife looking at when she got in the car? Was it Axl or his wife walking to the gun shop? Why did that guy dive into the wedding cake like he was getting gunned down by the mob? It’s only rain chief! Why was there a mirror in the casket? Was there a mirror in the casket? And of course the big reveal – So that’s what Slash looks like!

The video, like the song, was overly grand and melodramatic and full of images that now are funny to watch – Slash walking down the aisle of a downtown church and ending up outside of a church in the middle of the desert, the kid dressed like Oliver Twist at the reception, Axl wearing a bow tie at the funeral, etc. But it was still awesome. While it took itself too serious, it made the song better.

You had so many bands making iconic videos (including the masters Tom Petty and Michael Jackson) that even after two decades you remember what they look like even if, like me, you didn’t have cable when they were released.

I’m sure the death of MTV, and to a lesser extent VH1, as anactual music playing channel is the leading cause of the degradation of noteworthy music videos, but there has to be more to it.  Did the genre outgrow itself? Were there so many good videos being put out that they became counterproductive? 

Most likely they just became too damn expensive. The ends didn’t justify the means. After all, they were initially just another way to promote the song and the band in the pre-internet- everyone- is- connected age. Record companies could afford to make a few videos because it was a good way to reach their target audience that was planted in front of the TV for 4-5 hours a day. 

Now it’s cheaper to just throw a song up on the internet and hope it goes viral. Does anyone know what the “official video” of Carly Rae Jepson’s “Call Me Maybe” looks like? Is there even one or are there just 400 different versions of sports teams lip-syncing it?  If a song goes viral, why waste time putting a lot of effort into making a solid video – just get it on iTunes as fast as possible and watch the folks plunk down their money a $1.29 at a time.

Or, maybe my perception isn’t reality, maybe I’m just not as aware of music as I used to be. The video-sharing sites that abound on the internet should be an awesome platform for the re-birth of the music video genre. People have access to it in greater numbers than anything MTV could have hoped for in their prime.  Sure, figuring out how to translate 1,000,000 YouTube views into actual money isn’t easy, but isn’t that why these music execs went to college?

Let’s not forget about the artistic talent that cut their teeth by first making music videos. Metacritic has a list of 22 directors whogot started directing videos.  There are some decent names on there like David Fincher and Spike Jonez.  Sure Michael Bay is on the list, but where would the summer blockbuster be without his explosions? He had to learn that somewhere (and that someplace was apparently Meatloaf video’s). Maybe it’s not worth it for the next generation of Hollywood directors to spend weeks working with temperamental music folk for a four-minute video that will only exist on the internet.

Heck maybe those temperamental musicians aren’t willing to risk putting out a really creative video. It might hurt their image if the public doesn’t like what they put out.  Lady Gaga made her name taking calculated risks so it’s probably no surprise that she’s had some of the more memorable videos over the last few years.  Of course, she’s had Madonna’s career to use as a template, so maybe it wasn’t that much of a risk.

I’m not even sure why I’ve devoted this much time to the topic.  After all, it’s not like I don’t have the ability to watch the awesome video’s of my youth whenever I want (as long as I have an internet connection). Maybe it’s because it seems like another creative outlet that seems to be slipping into mediocrity. Movies are nothing but remakes or sequels. Music isn’t released unless it’s been auto-tuned and overproduced to the point everything sounds like it’s comingfrom Twiki. Writing is devolving into poop jokes and acronyms. LOL YOLO!

Or maybe it’s because the music video was the one thing in music that was created and prospered during my youth (well that and rap music).  My parents’ generation had had rock music and music superstars (and drugs, lots and lots of drugs) so while we might argue over whose music was better there was at least a relatable point of reference. They couldn’t do that with true music videos. They had promotional videos but it was mostly recorded live performances.

We had the birth of the music video (The Buggles for lack of a better starting point) and watched it grow into a surly teenager (the aforementioned “Smells Like Teen Spirit”) and now 30 years later it seems to be settling into an undistinguished middle age.

Jesus, this turned into an old-man rant.  I feel kind of bad about that.  Heck, I haven’t even started drinking yet. It’s starting to feel like the first step on the journey that leads to me sitting on a front stoop somewhere yelling at kids to be quiet and asking The Duchess what time Matlock comes on.  Because I tend to be a hopeful person I think that there will be a resurgence in the art form, hopefully it won’t be too far away.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Another New Card and Some Thoughts on The Orioles

Look at this.  Two posts in two days.  It's almost like I'm unemployed again! (Don't worry, Mom, I'm still gainfully employed. I just had a day off and managed to wake up before noon).

As you can see by the image above I stepped outside of my 2012 collecting goals once again and picked up a card that was neither a part of a set I'm building or a part of a personal collection.  At least it's a card from one of the teams I support (and it had free shipping!)

I guess for some collectors this is one of those cards that drive them nuts when the break high-end product like Bowman Sterling.  A plain white and gray piece of jersey from a team that has a valued history but isn't exactly a "hot" collector's item. Which is awesome for an O's fan like myself.

Adam Jones is having himself a fine year and will most likely lock up his second consecutive "Most Valuable Oriole" award by the the time the season is through. He's cooled off a bit recently, but is still likely to post career highs in home runs, on-base,slugging and steals.  The promise he showed as a young prospect is starting to blossom, and while the debate rages on if he's actually a defensive liability or asset he's showing that the money the O's invested in him might just be worth it.

Mr. Britton on the other hand has not had a great 2012 so far.  An injury in Spring Training to his throwing shoulder lingered on slightly longer than the team anticipated despite some radical new therapy from noted surgeon to the stars Dr. James Andrews. What was once thought to be a six-week rehab process has now moved into month four, but the good news is that he's pitching again (with mixed results) and might be in line to make his first start for the O's next week.

That can't come soon enough for Baltimore fans.  To be honest, the season didn't start with high hopes, but a strong April and May had the Birds in contention for the first half of the season.  Dismal play by the Red Sox and a hellacious run of injuries for the Rays and the Blue Jays have allowed the O's to stay in the playoff hunt despite having a fundamentally flawed team.

I want them to succeed, I really do, but by the same token I have to be realistic.  This team is not built to win in the playoffs.  They make too many errors (75 in 85 games), their hitting is streaky at best and their starting pitching is a mess (Hamel and Chen Then Give Up Ten should be their motto). Injuries have played a minor role as well as Britton, Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts have all missed significant time.

Yet despite all that, if the season ended today they would be battling for the playoffs as part of the extended Wild Card scheme.  How is that possible?  Well they might not have pitching and defense, but they do have the three-run homerun.  That and a decent bullpen. They have been getting a phenomenal performance from their relievers, especially when games are close and in the late innings. Heck MLB has them as the best team in that situation. So they got that going for them.

So with the success so far it makes sense that they go all in and make a big trade before the deadline because who knows when this will happen again, right?

The Orioles don't have the type of farm system where they can risk trading a few prospects for Zach Greinke or whatever other pitcher is out there on the market.  That's what they did in the past and it killed them as an organization.  Dan Duquette is better off letting this season play out and letting the kids develop so that the team is good for the future as well as the present.

Diamond Dan has already come out on record saying he won't trade Dylan Bundy or Manny Machado for a rental player like Greinke.  He did stop short of saying that Bundy and Machado are untouchable, but one would have to imagine that it would take a Godfather deal to move either one of those kids.

However, lower-tier prospects like Jonathan Schoop and Parker Bridwell should be valued by the organization just as much.  Schoop especially since it looks like Brian Roberts can't put on a shirt without straining something these days. (For the record I love Roberts as a player and think he's a future O's hall-of-famer, but as I e-mailed Strums earlier this week - if he was a race horse they would have shot him by now).

Unless the Duquette finds a way to improve the defense, finds two starting pitchers who can go six innings without giving up seven runs and finds a leadoff hitter who can take a walk it's not worth blowing up the farm system.

Sometimes being competitive is good enough.  That's the stage the O's are in right now.  Get to the end of the season with a .500 record, play some meaningful games in August and then spend the next off-season building a team that can truly compete in the AL East.

If they make a decent run this year then maybe some of Peter Angelos' money will start to become attractive to free agents.  That way the O's can keep their prospects and sign a real-life starting pitcher.  The best of both worlds!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

ESPN Breezes Into Chicago For Some Boxing

Andrzej Fonfara has a chance to elevate his career this Friday (photo by ME!)

Boxers don’t start their careers in glory. Most debut at a small, hometown arena and spend the next few years fighting a collection of stiffs as they learn and improve. Even Floyd Mayweather’s first fight was at the nondescript Texas Station Casino in Nevada against someone named Roberto Apodaca whose career lasted all of four fights. It would be two years before “Money” fought for a title and he had an advantage coming from a prominent boxing family.

At some point in every talented boxer’s career there is chance for them to make the jump from back-bar hero to nationally recognized fighter. Local favorite Andrzej Fonfara has a chance to make that leap. This Friday, at the UIC Pavilion, he will take on former IBF Light Heavyweight Champion Glen Johnson in the headline match for ESPN’s Friday Night Fights. A night of fighting that 8 Count Productions is rightfully calling “Crossroads”.

Fonfara has built a loyal following in Chicago over his six-year career. The 24-year-old Warsaw native has lived and fought in the Windy City since he was 18 and has racked up a 21-2 record during that time.  His last nine fights have all ended with him battering his opponents into submission which explains the boisterous following he has in this city.

However, this isn’t the lanky fighter’s first brush with national exposure. After winning 10 of his first 11 professional fights he appeared on Friday Night Fights in 2008 and suffered a brutal second round TKO at the hands of Derrick Findley.  Despite the knockout it appeared his career was backon track as he won his next two fights to set up a match against Skyler Thompson for the vacant WBF United States super middle weight title.  Fonfara won the fight, but had the title stripped when he tested positive for a banned substance.

Since then, “The Polish Prince” has moved up in weight (from 160 to about 175) and steadily put his career back together with a string of dominant victories over increasingly better opponents. His opponent on Friday, Glen Johnson, presents a significant step up in competition. Johnson has fought everyone and everywhere truly earning his “Road Warrior” nickname. At 43 he might not be the same fighter who beat Roy Jones, Jr. (back in 2004 when beating Jones actually meant something) Johnson is still in a better class than anyone Fonfara has fought since Findley.

The Jamaican native proved that last June when he took one of the best super middleweights in the business, Carl Froch, the distance. An old boxing adage is that “styles make fights” and Johnson’s style is to be aggressive and try to outwork his opponents. Fonfara would be smart to move around the ring and work the body of his much older foe, but that’s not what he does. Like Johnson, he prefers to attack and trade shots in the middle of the ring.  While it might not be the smartest plan of attack it will at least make for an entertaining fight.

Fonfara at 6’2” is a tall fighter with long arms and a long midsection. He’ll present an inviting target for Johnson who is at his best when he is able to land his jab to the chest and follow it up with a powerful overhand right.  It was a combination that he was able to employ with success against Froch, who like Fonfara, likes to keep his hands low.

It will be in Fonfara’s best interest to keep Johnson at a distance by using his jab and trying to extend the bout as long as possible and hope that the older fighter tires in the late round. The “Polish Prince” does have deceptive power for a boxer as lean as he is and that could play a factor in the fight as well. If he lands some big shots early, it might dissuade Johnson from pressing forward.  If the fight is fought at a distance, Fonfara should have the advantage.

Should the local boy do well and beat his older opponent it could be a springboard for launching into the national scene at the light heavyweight/super middleweight level. Boxers who are successful on Friday Night Fights tend to find themselves on undercards for cable network fights which could then lead to undercards on Pay-Per-View fights and then onto true notoriety and title fights.  It has been a long time since a Chicago-based fighter has achieved national prominence in the boxing world. With a victory on Friday, Andrzej Fonfara could begin a journey to end that drought.

Also appearing on the card will be Jose Luis Castillo who will be taking on Ivan Popoca. Other matches will feature Elijah McCall (son of former heavyweight champion Oliver McCall), local favorite Jamie Herrera, as well as up-and-coming prospect Paul Littleton. Tickets are available at the UIC Pavalion box office as well as through TicketMaster. The night of boxing is brought on by 8 Count Productions, Warriors Boxing, Round 3 and Blue Wave Boxing.