Thursday, November 25, 2010

AH! Turkey Coloring Contest IV

Do you guys feel like doing this again? I suppose it's a tradition at this point. Like wearing pants outside or giving the finger to Mike Rowe while explaining to no one in particular that people can't honesty come up to him all the time and ask, "Why Chevy, why now?"

Past winners: 2007, 2008, 2009.

email (haasertime at them or post a link in the comments section. Good luck!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

How Not to Display Your World Series Trophy

The Twins announced a few planned improvements to their not-quite-new ballpark yesterday, including a big video board in right-field, more radiant heating and wireless. They will also try to eradicate some of the glare issues from the batters eye that the Twins constantly complained about, as if that were the reason Michael Cuddyer had a sub-par year. Still, it will probably have a greater impact on the teams performance than any other offseason move. (*hack*coughEricHacker)

What's most disappointing about all this is how Twins missed the opportunity to right a wrong. They should move the World Series trophy out of the exclusive Champions Club and into a public area. The only tangible items from Minnesota's only professional championships rest in a plush club reserved for the beautiful people. I bet Les Straker can't even afford to see the '87 trophy, and he helped win the damn thing. When the Twins were in the Metrodome, they had them in the lobby of their front office, which was accessible to anyone who wandered in from Puckett Place or the stadium concourse. But this was when the Twins were cool and didn't pander to the rich folk. It's kinda silly. It's like if the Declaration of Independence was the center piece of some la-ti-da restaurant for American financial barons and capitol lobbyists.

I wondered if this were standard practice around Major League Baseball. So I called and asked every club that had won a title since they began awarding the Commissioner's Trophy in 1967.

Diamondbacks ('01) - Lobby of front office.
Red Sox ('04, '07) - "Front office reception area"
Braves ('95) - Museum
White Sox ('05) - "Case by gate 4"
Reds ('75, '76, '90) - Hall of Fame
Royals ('85) - Hall of Fame
Marlins ('97, '03) - "Front office gate 4"
Angels ('02) - Display in main concourse
Yankees ('77, '78, '96, '98, '99, '00, '09) - Hall of Fame
A's ('72, '73, '74, '89) - Front office lobby
Mets ('69, '86) - Museum
Pirates ('71, '79) - Admin lobby - but "only one of them is here."
Cardinals ('67, '82, '06) - The trophies are currently in boxes, or something. They have no official home while they await construction of the Cardinals Hall of Fame in the adjacent Ballpark Village.
Giants ('10) - The only team I couldn't get a hold of. They probably haven't even decided yet.

These five teams don't care about their fans -
Dodgers ('81, '88) - Front office. Sounds like you'd have to take a tour to see them.
Tigers ('68, '84) - Champions club
Orioles ('83, '70) - Club Level
Blue Jays ('92, '93) - Admin lobby "but probably need a club level ticket to get there during a game"
Phillies ( '80, '08)- "In an office, not available to public."

So the Twins are definitely in the minority. If you want to see the 1987 and 1991 trophies, you'll need to be well connected, or rich, or stupid. Probably all three.

Or you could take a tour or check them out at TwinsFest, but that would defeat the point of this "research article."

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Ryan Adams & the Art of Challenging Your Audience

In the history of music, there has never been an artist as skilled and musically erratic as Ryan Adams. When a popular music figure makes music unlike an earlier and more popular release, the critics always say they are "challenging their audience." And Ryan Adams is the king of that phenomenon, to the point that his fans have either accepted the challenge or turned away confused and jaded, like a NASA scientist who couldn't quite cut it.

Every time a band releases something like Pinkerton or Music from the Elder, there are two inevitable questions. 1) Is it any good? and 2) What's the meaning of this? That second question is almost more important than the first, because music listeners tend to take their favorite artists direction very personally. Everyone wonders what the hell they're thinking, even if it's actually decent music. They question the motivation of putting something out that doesn't sound anything like the successful hit album from two years ago. Is it a joke? Have they gone crazy? Am I seriously expected to enjoy this?

The two aforementioned albums represent good examples of the whole challenging your audience vibe. KISS's Music from the Elder wasn't a very good album. It wasn't good at all. It was, in fact, awful. The motivation behind it only made the ordeal worse. KISS was fading out of the 70's pretty fast - losing their devoted fans by softening up in order to reach a broader fan base. All the kids took a long enough break from trying to sew cow tongues into their friends mouths to notice that the band cared more about merchandising than making rock n' roll. Gene and company knew their album sales were slipping because of the softened image and music of the band, so he decided to do something drastic - a concept album written and recorded with the help of a symphony orchestra and a manager who later admitted that many of the disastrous creative decisions were due to his severe cocaine addiction.

The mark of a true artist is to work their craft from the inside out, without thinking of the audience. That KISS album clearly demonstrated that the band (Gene and Paul) motivations were not of an artistic nature. But the same can't be said for Rivers Cuomo and Weezers' follow-up to their break-through debut album. Everyone hated Pinkerton when it came out, citing Cuomo's emotional lyrics about sexual longing and half-Japanese girls, which stood in contrast to the Blue Albums' fun and nerdy vibe. He must have taken the criticism to heart, because Weezer hasn't released anything as heartfelt or honest (or half-way decent) since. When people look back at the album, they realize it was Cuomo making the music he felt at the time.

The problem with Ryan Adams is that he's consistently, absurdly erratic. No one could possibly enjoy all of his music. His accessible albums are pretty musically diverse, but the outliers are so far out there that they make those regular albums feel as predictable as a hipster scoffing at your bicycle. Is there another musician as wildly diverse as Adams? Prince has done a lot of different things over the years, but not that different. (though it would be hard to find, even among the hard-core Prince faithful, anyone who enjoyed Hot Summer or Purple and Gold.) Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones have both had inevitable phases and flops, but they generally stuck to one genre. Ryan Adams is different.

He started out in the band Whiskeytown in the mid-90's, which Rolling Stone called "the Nirvana of alt-country." Without really listening to much of it, I'll just describe it as country soft with a punk punch. That's where he started. Now let's look at a bunch of songs that illustrate his song output since then. We'll move chronologically, but just remember that Adams didn't move from soft to hard, he bounced all over the place - last year he released sweet acoustic songs and satanic metal.

To completely over-generalize, I'd call this song pretty typical of 70% of his catalog. He's singing slowly and beautifully to a girl, but there's definitely an edge.

I wish you would
Come pick me up
Take me out
Fuck me up
Steal my records
Screw all my friends
Behind my back
With a smile on your face
And then do it again
I wish you would

This is rockn'roll, but there's no distortion or anything. That's why folks were fairly shocked when Adams came out with Rock N Roll. I guess they could ignore his very low-key punk side project with Jesse Malin, The Finger. But they couldn't ignore this:

This album received very mixed reviews from critics and fans, but Adams reputation as a great alt-country songwriter certainly took a hit. He calmed down for the next five years with the his backing band, the Cardinals, but then word came out that he was releasing his first "fully-realized sci-fi metal concept album."

And the thing is, you can't exactly tell why he's making that amazing piece of art or, say, a satanic, pizza-oriented black metal project with a debut album entitled, "Feel the Laser." Is he fucking with us? Does he really like it? Does he really expect us to like it? Is this some sort of jab at his record label?

Luckily, Adams has been doing this for so long that people have stopped asking those questions. (they're still asking about Metal Machine Music, though.) We've come to understand that he has a real interest in many types of music, and he enjoys playing different stuff. Not only that, but Adams has a really silly sense of humor, as evidenced by his website that opens with this message:

Welcome to the new PAX•AM Records site

My Name is Bongo the Snowman – I’ll be updating you on new releases and news related the PAX•AM roster – with bands such as Ryan Adams, Ryan Adams & The Cardinals and more eclectic tastes such as Ryan Adams. I live on an invisible mountain in the sky. Good Morning
Or the time he hijacked his wife's Twitter account: (click for large)

This is what makes him fun to follow. He has to be having fun making music. And the results can fall anywhere from terrible to amazing, from hilarious to sincere, and everywhere in between. Ryan Adams can challenge me anytime.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Alright Hamilton MailBag: Offseason Questions

The offseason is officially underway and things are already getting interesting. The Twins have picked up Jason Kubel's option and declined Nick Punto's, but they're far from done. Here are some letters I've received wondering about the direction the ballclub will take this winter.

Q:   I know the Twins have a lot of guys who aren't under contract for next season. Who is coming back and who isn't? I really hope we bring back Brian Buscher!
- Mrs. Buscher, Jacksonville, FL

A:   Alright, maybe I'm not ready to answer these kinds of questions. Why does the cold beginning have to happen so soon after the bitter end? It's a serious swing in expectation levels. It was just one month ago that the Twins were in the playoffs. I was in Target Field, watching Michael Cuddyer hit a home run off C.C. Sabathia. I swear it happened. It was the peak of a years worth of excitement and hope. It was the best Twins team on paper in recent history in the first year of a grand new ballpark.

And now we're starting over again, just like it never happened? Well, I don't know if I can do it. Everyone is telling me not to be satisfied when the Twins win the division. I'm supposed to ask for more. I'm supposed to expect more. I'm supposed to will that notion upon the Twins management and players.

That 'World Series or Bust' mentality, when coupled with the soul-crushing Yankees looming around every corner, creates a neat little bumper-car complex inside the head of the average Twins fan. I mean, how can we look at anything they do, on or off the field, without our subconscious saying, "So what? How will this help them beat the Yankees?" And I'll guarantee the media, the players, the coaches and the front office have that question in the back of their mind too.

Q:   Will the Twins be active on the free agent market this year? It would be nice to get Cliff Lee!
 - Leo Spaghetti, Pine Trees, MN

A:   Maybe I'm overreacting. I've always thought that being a baseball fan is different because relaxing actually increases the enjoyment. If LaTroy Hawkins starts walking guys while the Twins are down by five in the 7th inning, just relax and get another coke with those ice cubes that are the size of jelly beans.

So that's what I'll do during the season - relax and enjoy the ride. Even though they serve regular, boring ice cubes now.

Q:   What's your favorite Mick Jagger movie role? 
 - Janice Rhinestones, Muckluck, WI