MURDER BY NUMBERS: Tech Central Station crunches the numbers in regard to casualties in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Fascinating stuff, and much more in-depth than most of the simplistic analysis you usually see on the subject.
MASTERFUL: That’s the only word I can think of to describe the new Bruce Springsteen album “The Rising.” The first major work of American popular culture to respond conclusively to the events of September 11 does just about everything right: it’s moving but not schmaltzy, serious but not depressing, honest but not self-righteous, and authoritative but not preachy or condescending. And damn, these are some beautiful songs- the Band is back and at the top of their game, contributing gorgeous melodies and musical arrangments that fit just right.
“The Rising” is a sort of concept album in which almost every song relates in some way to 9/11, and each is told from the point of a view of someone different- a fireman, a widow, someone watching the burning towers, and Bruce himself. These evocative reminders of that tragic day all lead into the crescendo at the end of “My City of Ruins”: “Come on, rise up!” The very formula that has underlined Springsteen’s best songwriting for 30 years (“times may be tough but hey, if you haven’t got hope, what have you got?”) is sensibly and brilliantly adapted to the World Trade Center tragedy.
The best songs: “Into the Fire” (best chorus of any song this year, no question); “Mary’s Place,” “You’re Missing,” the title track, and “My City of Ruins.” That last track, ironically enough, was written two years ago not about September 11 but about Bruce’s deserted adopted hometown of Asbury Park. That was the setting today for the Boss’ performance on this morning’s “Today” show, where he made clear that he has his relevance and authority back- and much like U2 two years ago, Bruce and the E-Streeters have made an album so great that it’s likely to instantly return them to their deserved spot on the musical A-list. And better them than Britney Spears, right?
Unlike a way is found to pacify Courtney Love and finally give a release to those long-lost Nirvana tracks, I can’t foresee any album this year better than “The Rising.” Thanks, Boss.
YOU, EDITOR! I LEARNED FROM WATCHING YOU!: Sean Salley and Andre Smith, the two men convicted of murdering three people above New York’s Carnegie Deli last year, were sentenced yesterday to 120 years to life (although something tells me the “life” part will kick in first). The result of a drug-deal-gone-bad, one of the victims was Jennifer Stahl, a 39-year-old sometime actress (she had a bit part in the ’80s classic “Dirty Dancing”) who went on to become one of Manhattan’s most prominent drug dealers. What I’ll never forget about this story is that a couple of weeks after the murders, an anonymous Village Voice staffer who had frequently used Stahl as her dealer was somehow allowed to pen an affectionate “farewell-to-my-dealer” piece and have it published in the newspaper. The Voice thus became the only known employer on Earth which, rather than punish drug abuse by its employees, rewards it with column space.
The other fascinating thing: It was reported at the time that Salley, one of the murderers, was a former roadie for George Clinton. Was he present for George’s legendary “pussy” interview on WBRS radio in November of 1999? It was rumored at the time that at least one female Brandeis student had snuck onto Clinton’s tour bus after the concert and left with a member of George’s entourage- could Salley have been involved? Guess we’ll never know.
NO MORE WHITE RAPPERS EMERGE?: I caught Jerry Nachman’s new show tonight on MSNBC just in time to watch a highly surreal segment about racial politics and their relation to rap music. Nachman moderated a debate over whether white people should in fact be allowed to be rappers, which was between a militant black cleric (who said in the interview that white people should be “banned by law” from becoming rap artists), and Coolio, who had a more democratic attitude towards Caucasians rapping. In reality, none of the three belonged in the conversation: Nachman has likely never heard hip-hop in his life; the “cleric” didn’t have much of a grasp of constitutional law and also looked like he was about 16 years old, and Coolio (whose career has been on a slide-slide-slippity-slide for the past 6 or 7 years) is hardly the most qualified public ambassador for hip-hop.
While the African-Americans who pioneered hip-hop (as well as its listeners at the time) rightly objected to embarrassing white rappers of the past like Vanilla Ice and Snow, most black people I know feel a considerable kinship with Eminem, both for his talent and for much the same reason they identify with Bill Clinton (as Toni Morrison famously said): he was raised poor, never knew his father, and is associated with a traditionally black form of music. After all, Chris Rock pointed out the greatest examples of the 21st-century American melting pot: “the best golfer in the world is black, and the best rapper in the world is white.”
NACHMAN: NOT OF BRATSLAV: Watching Nachman and realizing that he’s the most counterintuitive choice to host a cable news show since Mike Barnicle, I wondered whose idea it was to give him his own show- oh wait, it was Nachman’s own idea!, as he is in fact the “Editor in Chief” of MSNBC. I’m glad they brought in Phil Donahue, as its nice to catch a whiff of left-wing populism as an alternative to Bill O’Reilly’s tiresome right-wing version of same. And Pat Buchanan, repugnant as he may be, has always been very effective on TV and I’m glad to see him back. But Nachman? Sitting in his ill-fitting suits, on a set that looks to be his basement, and a logo in which his head takes up 95% of the screen? I mean, Fox News boss Roger Ailes is even fatter and balder than Nachman, though at least he has the good sense to remain off-camera.
MAJOR MINERS: Sunday was my birthday and as I returned from partying at around 5 AM, I saw the happy news that all nine of the miners in Western Pennsylania had been rescued successfully. There was something so comforting about that- with with all the terrorism, economic sluggishness, corporate corruption, priest-child abuse, kidnapping of little girls, and baseball labor unrest that have dominated the news lately, I think it’s wonderful to finally have a national news story that’s actual, you know, good news. Also, it’s likely that this incident will give miners the well-deserved, long-delayed national appreciation that firemen got after September 11.
THE TOTALS ON THE BOARD ARE CORRECT: Going into tomorrow’s games, the Minnesota Twins are 22 games over .500, which gives them a 15-game lead over the second-place Chicago White Sox and puts them only 4 games behind the Yankees in the race for homefield advantage in the American League playoffs. That’s assuming, of course, that there are in fact American League playoffs- but if Bud Selig couldn’t stop the Twins with contraction, let’s hope he can’t do it with a strike either.
ROLEN RIGHT OUT OF TOWN: The day after Ozzie Smith was enshrined in the Hall of Fame, the St. Louis Cardinals have added a player to the left side of their infield who may himself be Cooperstown-bound. The Cards today traded for disgruntled Phillies third baseman Scott Rolen, a move that was anticipated for over a year in Philly but was over-shadowed in that city’s press by latest Iverson gun-rampage news. In exchange for Rolen the Phils got one of the Three Tenors (Placido Polanco) as well as pitcher Bud Smith, who pitched a no-hitter last year as a rookie but has struggled this year. The move gives Philly a phalanx of promising young pitchers, as well as giving their fans the chance to boo (if not riot) when the Cardinals come to town, as St. Louis now has both Rolen and J.D. Drew.
THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN’, BACK: The fad of Turn Back the Clock uniforms is one I’ve never liked; I’ve never seen much point to having players wear clothes from 50 years ago, especially since they cause one to flip past the game and wonder who, exactly, is playing. The trend this year, besides the “Turn Back the Clock Day” seemingly lasting for the entire month of July, is towards ’70s-era uniforms- the A’s, Braves, and Phillies were among those getting into the act, with the Phils even breaking out the old blue road uniforms.It’s cool for about a minute, until we remember why the teams got rid of these fashion embarassments in the first place.
The Braves’ regular uniforms, however, are themselves throwback unis, as they returned to their 1950s-era red-and-black color scheme in 1987 after a couple of decades of the garish blue outfits that made their unwelcome return this week. I half-expected Dale Murphy to be announced a pitch-hitter in one of this week’s games.