Monday, July 16, 2007

On hiatus

Well, folks, it took only six months, but I've decided to indefinitely put the brakes on He Writes About Words. Think of the hiatus as being announced with a cyberspace version of a "Closed For Remodeling" sign--you know, you're not sure whether the place will ever be back in business. The fact of the matter is that writing as a contributor to Hoosier Beer Geek is currently enough to satisfy my blogging jones. So, for the 10 or 11 people who regularly visit, thanks for reading.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Becks, Part 2

I spent my last post laying into sports journalists, telling you why you should pay them no mind. SI's Grant Wahl, however, is a guy you can trust to tell it like it really is about soccer in America, and to do so quite knowledgeably. This week, Grant has the SI cover story on Mr. Beckham's arrival.


Thursday, July 5, 2007

Kiss my Becks-side

Time to deviate from the regularly scheduled programming.

Question: Who is this man?

Answer: If you don't know, then (a) you aren't a soccer fan, following only NASCAR and the Sunday morning pro fishing shows on ESPN2; (b) you are a soccer fan, but only to the extent of attending your kid's under-eight league matches; or (c) you a hermit in the vein of the Unibomber.

On July 13, David Robert Joseph Beckham will be officially introduced to the U.S. public as a member of the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer. He is expected to make his playing debut in an exhibition match against two-time English Premier League champions Chelsea on July 21.

Like most soccer fans in this country, I'm excited to see what Beckham's presence will do for the league. The media coverage about Beckham's arrival has already begun to reach unparalleled levels when it comes to publicity about a soccer player in the U.S. That was to be expected given Beckham's unrivaled international celebrity status.

However, much of the media coverage (this includes soccer blogs) is beginning to annoy me to a level that I can hardly describe with sufficient eloquence. Why? Because the cliché parade is in full effect. It's a parade in which all of the participants are unveiling the same recycled stereotypes about soccer in America. Most, if not all, of these stereotypes continue to be hollow.

Here are the bandleaders of the parade and what they're saying:

1. Crusty American Sportswriter. Crusty American Sportswriter is typically 45 years old or older and has the classic American contempt for soccer. He writes for a newspaper or an institutional American sports publication, such as Sports Illustrated or The Sporting News. He has rarely, if ever, watched soccer.

In a column written by Crusty American Sportswriter on Beckham's arrival in MLS, here's what you'll read:
  • Soccer is boring.
  • No one in America cares about soccer. The NASL couldn't manage to make it in this country, so why will MLS? It's going to fail, too.
  • There's not enough scoring in soccer. Make the goals bigger and maybe I'll pay attention.
  • Soccer is for effeminate boys who are too wimpy to play "real" sports, like football or baseball. Just look at Beckham; he's a sarong-wearing, highlights-in-the-hair-sporting, lispy-talking sissy boy.
  • Did I happen to mention that soccer is boring?
2. Snarky British Tabloid Hack. Snarky British Tabloid Hack writes for "newspapers" that would better serve as bum-wiping material, such as The Sun, The Daily Mirror, or The Daily Mail. He claims to have followed football all of his life. He purportedly stood and sang in the terraces of stadiums like Old Trafford, Anfield, or Highbury before the terraces got too dangerous in the 1980's and were made into all-seaters. He boasts that he had a tear in his eye when they tore down the old Wembley Stadium.

Like most British tabloid columnists, he writes about his subjects without any factual investigation. This is what Snarky British Tabloid Hack has to say about Beckham playing The Beautiful Game in front of us Yanks:

  • Becks is going to America only to placate Posh in her aspiration to celebrity stardom in the States.
  • Stupid fat Americans will never "get" the sport. Case in point: the sport is called "football," not "soccer," you muppets!
  • MLS is a "grade zed" league that is on par with English conference (i.e., semi-pro) football.
  • Becks, who still has a viable international career with the England national team, is set to ruin that career by playing in MLS. He should return to Europe for his professional football.
  • MLS is only doling out big money for Becks so the league can save itself from failure.
  • Did I happen to mention that Americans will never get football and that MLS is rubbish?
3. American Eurosnob. American Eurosnob is a usually male between eighteen and forty. He goes to the "local" every weekend to watch the Premiership on the "telly." He likes to post on only to impress everyone with his wannabe U.K. vocabulary and disdain for MLS. He might even maintain a blog for this purpose. Instead of wearing a U.S. national team jersey or an MLS club jersey to gatherings with other American soccer fans, he wears an England jersey or a Chelsea shirt. He can't tell you the starting 11 for the U.S. team, but he can tell you the starting 11 for England. He thinks that John Harkes still plays for D.C. United.

Here's what American Eurosnob is posting on his blog:

  • MLS isn't worth my time or your time. The last time I went to an MLS game was in the late 1990's, and I saw enough to know that MLS sucks and will always suck. Everyone knows that the only football worth watching comes from Europe.
  • Beckham is past his prime and will be a bust in MLS because, at best, he is a one-dimensional player (i.e., good only at set pieces).
  • Oh, let's see how many Britishisms I can use to describe football. You play the game on a "pitch." The guy with the gloves is the "'keeper." A local rivalry is a "derby." Shall I go on, old chap?
  • Did I happen to mention that the only real football is played across the pond?
If you are at all interested in seeing what MLS is about upon David Beckham's arrival, do yourself a favor--do not pay attention to anything the foregoing people have to say. As I mentioned, none of the arguments they make are novel. What's more, few of these people are credible messengers because, by and large, their knowledge of MLS and the state of the sport in this country is woeful. Crusty American Sportswriter knows nothing because he's too busy perfecting his pathological hatred for soccer to be objective or insightful. British Tabloid Hack knows nothing because his inferiority complex meter has its needle buried in the red, so much so that he has to pump himself up by reminding himself that Yanks don't know how to do real football. And, American Eurosnob knows nothing because . . . well, because his head is buried up other Eurosnobs' asses.

Here are some more enlightened viewpoints about MLS and David Beckham:
I don't mean to paint a picture that is all positive. Beckham's playing stint for the Galaxy could very well end in failure. It could have no lasting effect on the league. Those events are certainly possible. But my point is that the people who claim to be experts about Beckham's arrival and about MLS are, by and large, not experts at all. So, if you're truly interested in seeing what MLS is about upon Becks' arrival, simply watch a game. Every Thursday night, ESPN2 features an MLS match of the week. If you have Fox Soccer Channel, you can catch another MLS match every Saturday night. Better yet, go to a game. The Chicago Fire have a state of the art stadium with a fervent fan base that makes for a great game atmosphere, even if the team is struggling this season. After watching, you can make your own judgments about David Beckham and the league.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Looking for Books #3: Summer Reading, Nonfiction Style

Many of you are undoubtedly planning some sort of summer getaway, whether it be to the beach, the city, or the country. Having a literary traveling companion is a must for me, especially if I'm flying somewhere. If you're of a like mind, here are a few engaging nonfiction reads that won't put a lot of stress on your brain cells:
  • 40 Watts from Nowhere - Sue Carpenter. Carpenter runs a pirate radio station out of her LA apartment. That station, KBLT, garners a cult following and soon attracts celebrity guest DJ's until the FCC catches up with Carpenter. A picture of what life would be like in a world without Clear Channel.
  • Electroboy - Andy Behrman. Behrman's memoir recounts his fight against bipolar disorder. He offers a probing look at the disorder's effects on his life, particularly at the wildly compulsive (and sometimes shocking) acts the disease pushed him to commit.
  • The Miracle of Castel di Sangro - Joe McGinniss. Crime novelist McGinniss, having fallen in love with soccer during the 1994 World Cup, spends a season with a rural Italian soccer team. A story of "the little soccer team that could," mixed with intrigue worthy of one of McGinniss's crime novels.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

As seen in INtake

The other blog to which I contribute, Hoosier Beer Geek, was featured as part of the cover story in this week's INtake. Many thanks to Jim Walker for the great piece that he wrote on us and the finer points of beer. It's wonderful to see beer being recognized as possessing as much character and depth as wine. I also strongly encourage you to read Jim's other column from this week's edition, in which he notes that it would do us staid Hoosiers some cultural good to try new things.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Lyrics in Focus #4: "(These are the) Good Old Days" (2007)

A few days ago, my friend Bryan and I were kvetching about the state of music today, particularly about the type of music that mp3 blogs specialize in--that ubiquitous but semi-amorphous musical category, "indie rock." These sorts of conversations happen when, like us, you're approaching forty but you still somewhat pathetically cling to the last modicum of your youth by making sure you keep abreast of what's happening in music today. Sad, I know, but I can't help that it's true (and yes, I am excited about the new White Stripes album). Besides, what's the alternative--listening to the radio? No thank you.

Anyway, Bryan and I both agreed that the proliferation of mp3 blogs makes it nearly impossible to keep up with all of the new music being released every week. We also agreed that the type of indie rock these blogs promote has become homogeneous. Same old same old, you know? What really rankles me is that some of these artists take themselves so seriously, almost to the point of self-parody. Isn't fun what good music is all about?

So I've been hunting for fun music. What's more, I've been looking for music that is not only fun, but innovative as well.

Enter Josh Dolgin, the Canadian musician better known as Socalled. Last week, Socalled released his second album, Ghettoblaster, on the consistently excellent JDub label (once home to Matisyahu). Ghettoblaster contains Socalled's unique melding of hip-hop, soul, Balkan gypsy music, traditional klezmer, and calypso. Socalled even throws down rhymes in Yiddish. Further, the album has to feature one of the most diverse rosters of guest artists, from underground rapper C-Rayz Walz to octogenarian actor and Yiddish folk singer Theodore Bikel to Montreal country singer Katie Moore.

While this mix sounds like it would be a musical disaster, it works well--astoundingly well. And even when Socalled slips into social criticism, he still does it only half-seriously. Take, for example, the second track on the album, "(These are the) Good Old Days." In this song, Socalled takes a clever lyrical swipe at modern Western culture:

One, two, one two ready go!

These are the good old days
La la la la la, la la la la la

My God’s gonna kick your god’s ass
You’re too dumb and I’m the head of the class
Stop waitin’ around for something better
The boys think it’s better the tighter the sweater
F*** it, take what’s hers, don’t sweat it
You can own it all, just pay on credit
Two to the left then four to the right
You’ve got to fight for your right to fight

Forever never better than late
Sharpen up blades to obfuscate
You can own it all right now, why wait?
Eat what’s on your plate then eat the plate
Say what you can while you’re still allowed to
Every silver lining’s got its cloud too

These are the good old days
La la la la la, la la la la la
These are the good old days
La la la la la, la la la la la

Truly these are the good old days
Where man, woman, and child can log onto the Internet and text message each other across their own house
Where there is any form of contraceptive from solid to liquid to gas
We have reached the point of civilization like the Incans reached when they had gold roads and the Egyptians reached when they had, like, magical buildings and secret things
So, what you do is you go kiss whoever you kiss, grab whatever you grab
Because these truly are the good old days and it does not get any better than this
And when it does you wake up and you’re dead

These are the good old days
Na na na na na, na na na na na
These are the good old days
Na na na na na, na na na na na

These are the good old days
Na na na na na, na na na na na
These are the good old days
Na na na na na, na na na na na

My dog’s gonna sniff your dog’s ass
I’m too dumb and you’re the head of the class
Stop waitin’ round for something better
The boys think it’s better the tighter the sweater
F*** it, take what’s hers, don’t sweat it
You can own it all, just pay on credit
Two to the left then four to the right
You’ve got to fight for your right to fight

Forever never better than late
Salivate, never satiate
You can own it all right now, why wait?
Eat what’s on your plate then eat the plate
Say what you can while you’re still allowed to
Every silver lining has its cloud too

These are the good old days
Na na na na na, na na na na na
(C’mon now)
These are the good old days
Na na na na na, na na na na na …

Socalled conveys these lyrics over a rollicking klezmer beat, backed by Moore's silky vocals and occasional interjections by a choir of schoolchildren. It is this addictive song that sets the tone for the whole album, which is ripe for repeated listening by the listener just to catch all of the album's layered nuances.

Check out the song for yourself.

"(These are the) Good Old Days" mp3

Sample more tracks from Ghettoblaster at L.A. Weekly. Highly recommended is "Ich Bin a Border by Mayn Vayb," which is the third track provided for listening and which features 92-year-old lounge legend Irving Fields.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Happy Fathers Day

Congratulations to my fellow beer geeks Chris and Jason for being recognized as first-rate fathers.

Yesterday, I brainstormed to name the one literary father that all dads should emulate. After mulling over the possible choices, I nominate the rare dad who was on a first-name basis with his children:

Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird. Why Atticus Finch? For those few who have never read Harper Lee's classic novel, the reasons are simple. Atticus stood for--and taught--his children moral values that, for some reason, get buried in today's American culture while many who claim to have "family values" focus instead on bitterly divisive "moral" issues. Atticus practiced and taught his children the virtues of peace, humility, and helping those who are less fortunate than we are. Simple values, yes, but also the most important for humankind.