Friday, December 19, 2014

The Twelve Days of Gheorghemas: Day 8

On the eighth day of Gheorghemas, Big Gheorghe gave to me...

Eight Chapters on Music in a Post That's Got Way Too Many Words in It, For Which I Apologize
Seven Books For Reading (Seriously)
Six Beers Worth Drinking
A fiiiiifth Golden Ring..... (please?)
Four Years of Marcus;
Three Scummers Picking;
Two albums to look forward to; and
A fat guy in a jersey

Several other Gheorghies put together strong, concise posts about their musical favorites. I tried to do the same. I failed. I give up. I can no sooner distill my musical preferences to ten songs than dunk a basketball. All is not lost, though. In the course of trying and failing to make a list, I had an opportunity to stroll down melody’s memory lane. The result: something resembling an audio autobiography. To borrow a song title, here’s the Story of My Life in songs:

The Early Years

My father’s musical tastes ran heavily to country & western and singer-songwriter types. He loved Hank Williams Jr., George Strait, Simon & Garfunkel, George Jones, the Oak Ridge Boys, and Billy Joel (in particular, I remember him singing the chorus to the latter’s ‘You May Be Right’ with gusto, reveling in telling my mother that she’d married a lunatic), among others. And so the first song I can remember calling my ‘favorite’ was Glen Campbell’s ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’. I didn’t grasp that tune’s essentially sadness until later. I just liked hollering the chorus.

We listened to a steady mix of Alabama, the Statler Brothers, the Gatlin Brothers, and Anne Murray during our family road trips. The Statlers’ ‘Counting Flowers on the Wall’, in particular, resonates in my recollection.

Growing Up, Breaking Out

I bought my first cassettes when I was 12, purchasing ‘The Game’, by Queen, and Survivor’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’. I don’t recall much about my reasoning, but I wore those tapes out, particularly the former. For all the great songs on that Queen album, the one that sticks in my head all these years later is the relatively obscure ‘Dragon Attack’. 

It was shortly after this that The Police released ‘Synchronicity’, and changed the course of my musical future. That record was the gateway to alternative rock for me, and for a long time thereafter, ‘The Biggest Band in the World’ was at the top of my personal charts, too. I still know all the words to nearly every song on that album, and while ‘Ghost in the Machine’ has surpassed it as my favorite of the band’s catalogue, it’s still one of the great rock records in history.

High School, and a Missed Opportunity

For better or worse, I grew up on military bases and in majority white upper middle-class suburban areas. My idea of rebellion was listening to progressive rock and getting a high and tight haircut at the local Marine Corps base after getting suspended from school for drinking. (We actually got suspended for telling the truth about drinking, as all the kids who lied about it escaped punishment. Lesson learned.) I missed out almost entirely on rap/hip hop, something I’ve only recently started to try to rectify.

I went to my first real concert in 1984, catching Chicago at the old Capital Center. I’d like to think I redeemed myself three years later by being one of the few kids in my high school to make a show at the original 9:30 Club. I saw They Might Be Giants as a high school senior at that dingy, dank, sweaty, glorious dive with my then-21 year-old girlfriend. (I was kind of a stud, as you could probably imagine.) Fitting, as their ‘Don’t Let’s Start’ was one of the first songs I saw on MTV’s 120 Minutes, the show that cemented alternative rock’s primacy in my adolescent soundtrack. 

From there, it was on to Echo and the Bunnymen, The Waterboys, The Church, Love and Rockets, The Housemartins, Crowded House, The Clash, and The Violent Femmes, whose ‘Blister in the Sun’ brings back fond memories of frantically trying to fast forward while driving with my mother as ‘Why can’t I get/Just one fuck’ played from the speakers of my Plymouth Horizon. We dabbled in Guns 'n Roses and AC/DC, too, mostly as pump up music before lacrosse games.

I was a little bit late to R.E.M., but jumped in with both feet after the 1986 release of ‘Life’s Rich Pageant’. While I can’t pick a top 10 songs, that album has been in my top five records for as long as I can remember. Don’t ask me to pick a favorite tune from it, though.

The Beasties’ ‘Licensed to Ill’ was my first foray into rap, followed by LL Cool J’s ‘Bigger and Deffer’ and Kool Moe Dee’s ‘How Ya Like Me Now’. J’s ‘I’m Bad’ remains one of my favorite rap tunes - I can vividly recall playing that tune and ‘Bristol Hotel’ all the way up at 11 as we tore out of the driveway after one of the great parties of my high school era.

The record that resonates the most with me from that era, though, came out in early 1987. The Smiths’ ‘Louder Than Bombs’ was a revelation. Morrissey and Marr’s double album sounded like nothing else, with Moz’s mixture of melancholy and bombast and Johnny’s textured, melodic guitar. The Smiths’ lyrics and themes made a naive suburban kid wonder what was out there in the scary wide world. 

College, the Parts I Can Remember

I remember talking to my soon-to-be freshman roommate on the phone a month or so before heading to school. He drove an IROC and listened to Van Halen. I don’t think he was particularly impressed when I listed The Smiths, The Cure, The Primitives, and The Connells among my favorites. I couldn’t have asked for a better roommate, though his taste in music never got all that much better. That first year is a bit of a blur, musically, though we did have a hallmate who might’ve been the biggest U2 fan I’ve ever met.

It was sophomore year, though, that I moved in with Dave and we killed vast millions of brain cells playing the CD shuffle game, loading six discs into his player, hitting the random play button, and guessing which song and album would play next. Correct guesses entitled the clairvoyant to write their name and the details on the wall of our otherwise neatly maintained room. The Beastie Boys’ ‘Paul’s Boutique’ played an outsized role in our soundtrack that year, and remains one of my very favorite records.

The summer after that year, I lived with Clarence and a rotating cast of idiots, who to a man thought that Clarence and I were the weirdest kids on the planet. Our summer-long Strat-o-matic replay of the 1986 baseball season and my stubborn insistence on remaining unemployed for as long as was fiscally prudent (long past that point, actually) were key pieces of prosecution evidence.

Between watching the full runs of Miami Vice and Crime Story that summer, we were also turned on to Social Distortion after seeing ‘Ball and Chain’ on 120 Minutes. We drove to the mall to buy that CD the next day, and it stayed in heavy rotation for much of the year. 

At some point during this period, I also bought Bob Mould’s ‘Workbook’, which may very well be my favorite record. ‘See a Little Light’, in any case, ranks atop my personal list of songs. I can’t pick a top ten, but I can give you a top one. The juxtaposition of melodic and melancholic, the pain wrapped in a hook, the plainspoken emotion of that song never fails to move me. 

Dave and I spent an entirely degenerate and absolutely unforgettable summer in Nags Head between our junior and senior years. We redefined squalor, living with as many as ten guys in a three-bedroom shotgun shack on the beach road. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Musically, I remember singing the Stones’ ‘Dead Flowers’ at the top of my drunken lungs, accompanied by Dave on guitar, and catching local indie faves Everything, Boy O Boy, and the Waxing Poetics at a dive of a beach bar called The Atlantis (may it rest in hurricane-destroyed peace).

I've already written about the Chilis’ ‘BloodSugarSexMagik’ and its role in the soundtrack to my senior year. Music, place, and time come together for me when I hear that record. My fraternity house neighbor also introduced us (and through us, the world) to Nirvana that year. As is often the case, we were trendsetters. At some point this year (or perhaps the previous one), we started putting The Pogues’ ‘Fiesta’ on the CD player and destroying our fraternity rooms in impromptu mosh pits. Our gleeful stupidity was surpassed only by our ability to entertain ourselves.

Peter Gabriel’s ‘Solsbury Hill’ got played so much my senior year that we began to cringe when it came on the jukebox at the College Delly, but I still dig it. 

At some point in college (really, most of my life runs together at this point), I saw the BoDeans open for the Hoodoo Gurus at the late, lamented Boathouse in Norfolk. I was driving, so I chose not to drink. Alcohol, anyway. We moshed for the better part of the headliners’ set, and I was so drained that I chugged a 64 oz. bottle of Gatorade in the parking lot of a 7-11 after the show. Puked it up on 64 West a few minutes later. Rock and roll, man.

We weren’t quite as lucky when several of us tried to catch the Ramones at the same venue. Our driver pulled off to the side of the road midway through the trip, telling us that he was too drunk to finish the drive. I stepped into the breach, despite having no business doing so. A few hours and several destroyed Norfolk lawns later, we headed back to Williamsburg having been unable to find the show. We never even got close, as it turns out. Rock and roll, man.

Growing Older But Not Up

I spent the first year of my ‘adult’ life driving up and down the East Coast visiting colleges while ‘working’ for my fraternity. It was, for the most part, as forgettable a year as it sounds. The job did afford me the opportunity to spend hours at a time behind the wheel, blasting Arrested Development, Spin Doctors, Barenaked Ladies, and Sugar CDs at road-appropriate volumes.

Moved into a house in Arlington with Clarence and a fellow named Spoid and commenced (or continued, really) living in mostly squalid, and certainly less than healthy conditions. I wouldn’t trade that drunken, silly, stupid, generally female-repellent period of my life for just about anything. We got drunk and sang David Allen Coe at the top of our lungs. When we weren’t getting drunk and singing They Might Be Giants. Or getting drunk and watching Dumb ’n Dumber. And getting really drunk at Jimmy Buffett concerts and doing stuff that we can’t write about publicly, even in a place as obscure as G:TB. 

Sometime during that period, I discovered Wilco and Son Volt, and my long love affair with smart, jangly guitar rock was consummated.

The Slow Road to Maturity

The woman I eventually married has somewhat more mainstream musical tastes than I do, but we did find common ground in The Dave Matthews Band early in our relationship. It’s cool these days to slag Dave, but I’ve never seen a DMB show that was less than entertaining, and I still count myself a fan.

Clarence turned me on the Old 97s shortly after the release of ‘Fight Songs’. As any careful GTB reader knows, that band and lead singer Rhett Miller remain my favorites today. And after 25 years together, they’re still cranking out killer punkified alt-country and delivering as good a live show as a fan could want.

Green Day found its way back into my life with ‘American Idiot’, a record that blew me away, and spent months in nearly exclusive rotation in my car. It’s probably my favorite concept album. I remain bummed out that never caught it live.

I did, though, get to see The Police in concert, years and years after I thought I’d missed that chance. 

My wife bought me an iPod, and had the wisdom and intelligence to send it to Clarence for him to load it. With more than 20,000 songs. I may have received better gifts, but I can’t recall many of them. The first song that ever played on that iPod was Billy Bragg and Wilco’s ‘California Stars’, and every time I hear that sublime collaboration, I’m reminded of two of my very favorite people. Music wins again.

A Dipshit Looks at Forty(ish)

I’m a dad now, and I fight to make my kids listen to my music so I didn’t have to listen to theirs. They Might Be Giants’ detour into kids’ music didn’t hurt in the early years. I listened to my share of Dan Zanes and Laurie Berkner, to be sure, and today I hear more Taylor Swift and Meghan Trainor than I’d prefer, but I’ve got one kid who loves Vampire Weekend, and another who’s a budding concert fan, headed to see Pierce the Veil live in a few weeks, so I’m doing something right.

The purchase of Sirius satellite radio several years ago was a huge boon for my musical discovery. Nearly all of my favorite music of the past several years was played first on Sirius XMU. Bands like The National, The New Pornographers, Mumford and Sons, Sleigh Bells, Fleet Foxes, The Postal Service, Thao and the Get Down Stay Down, Bright Eyes/Conor Oberst, and a dozen others made my playlists after I heard them on XMU.

I’ve always had a thing for female rock singers (see Kay Hanley, Tanya Donnelly, Delores O’Riordan, Susanna Hoffs, et al), but the genre seems to be exploding of late. Neko Case, St. Vincent, Jenny Lewis, the Dum Dum Girls, Haim, and CVHRCHES, to name just a few, get a lot of airtime in my house.

Thanks to Mark and Zman, I’m expanding my rap palette. Mark turned me on to Murs, whose ‘Murs for President’ might be my favorite rap album, non-Beasties version. My travels to the Twin Cities exposed me to Brother Ali, the Doomtree Collective, and Dessa (who’s part of the former). Mark also made me a Rap 101 playlist. You can find it here:

The Greatest Musical Weekend Ever

I’ve seen a ton of live shows, and there aren’t many things I like to do more than see a really great band in a small venue. Increasingly, my musical tastes are expanding, or at least I can appreciate stuff that isn’t necessarily in my wheelhouse. I’ve seen a couple of jazz shows in the last several years, for example, and while I didn’t exactly get everything, I appreciated the hell out of the musicians and their chops. Live music, man.

Live music (and great friends) was responsible for the best weekend of my life, non-wedding category, which deserves a chapter of its own. 

In 2009, I made my maiden voyage to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, under the tutelage of Clarence and a pair of our lady friends from college, Fest veterans all. Most of you know the stories, as Clarence has recounted them in this space previously, so I won’t bore you with the repeats. But that weekend is as vivid in my memory as it was the day I flew out of New Orleans, hoarse, strung out, and exhilarated. From the late morning to the wee hours of the evening, we reveled in the Crescent City’s sounds and tastes - both of them everywhere in that incredible town. We saw the most amazing gospel bands, the good-timiest local zydeco acts, emerging talents like The Avett Brothers (on a stage that might’ve held 500 spectators, max), to crowd favorites like Amanda Shaw & The Cute Boys and Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue (right as they were getting ready to blow up, and justifiably so), to mid-major veterans like Wilco, Galactic, and Spoon and headliners like The Dave Matthews Band. We caught a 10-piece funk combo from Brooklyn in a bar so small that the band had to stand in two sections to make a path to allow patrons to go to the bathroom. We danced, and drank, and ate, and smoked weed 25 feet from a trio of New Orleans cops who obviously saw us, and even more obviously didn’t care.

I posted this comment in the thread that accompanied Clarence’s Fest recap, “it's a bit hard to explain this, but being in new orleans really made me feel like a different person. it's like the usual laws of personal physics don't apply.” 

Music, man. It’s the best.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Gheorghemas Day Seven (of a Possible Dozen)

On the seventh day of Gheorghemas, Big Gheorghe gave to me...

Seven Books For Reading (Seriously)

Six Beers Worth Drinking

A fiiiiifth Golden Ring..... (please?)

Four Years of Marcus;

Three Scummers Picking;

Two albums to look forward to; and

A fat guy in a jersey

Last year, I read twenty-two books (according to my Gheorghemas post). Not too shabby, if you look at how many books most Americans read each year. And many of these books were either long or difficult . . . or both: Infinite Jest, The Goldfinch, Far From the Tree, Columbine, etc

Congrats to me.

Though I titled last year's post Seven Books for Reading, it might have been better titled: Seven Books You Can Brag That You Read (To Other Elitist Bastards). I'm proud I powered through them, but I'm not sure they were practical recommendations.

This year, however, was different. This year I read a shitload of books-- many of them short and many of them easy (two superb traits that our fearless leader Rob possesses). Plus, I was really sick in the spring with the flu and bronchitis, and I went on a cross-country trip for much of the summer. So I had some serious reading opportunities. I am proud to say that I read forty-six books, and many of them are actually books for reading: crime fiction and travel and sports and financial stuff. Here are the seven most memorable-- and I've included the covers so you can judge them:

1) The Sixth Extinction: an Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

Megafauna and an impending biological apocalypse (if you're partial to humans). This is the only "serious" book on the list, but it's vivid, surprisingly readable, and contains information vital to human survival-- so you might want to skip it and move down to the crime-thrillers.

2) The Cold Cold Ground by Adrian Mckinty

It's 1981, and a hipster Catholic cop (who is partial to The Clash) treads some dangerous ground: he's a member of the Belfast RUC, the mainly Protestant police force . . . and being the token Catholic on the force is difficult enough, but he's also simultaneously dealing with the constant civil unrest and a bona fide serial killer. Read the trilogy.

3) Play Their Hearts Out: A Coach, His Star Recruit, and the Youth Basketball Machine by George Dohrmann

If you're a parent and/or a coach, you need to read this book. It's a wild ride, full of highs and lows, despicable characters and inspirational moments, and it will change the way you view youth sports. A Mark recommendation.

4) The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow

I read this in August, while I sat on the beach at Sea Isle City, surrounded by my friends and family. While they laughed and had good times, I was immersed in a world of DEA agents, drug cartels, and torture. LOTS of torture. Winslow reads like a blend of two of my favorite authors: James Ellroy and Elmore Leonard; after I read this one, I went on a Winslow binge: Savages, The Winter of Frankie Machine, The Dawn Patrol . . . they are all worth reading.

5) Ready Player One by Ernest Kline

This book was so entertaining that I felt guilty while reading it. I recommend it to anyone enjoys references to Joust, Zork, TRS-80, War Games, Pac Man, John Hughes, Dungeons and Dragons, and things of that ilk.

6) Another Great Day at Sea: Life Aboard the U.S.S. George H. W. Bush by Geoff Dyer

British critic Geoff Dyer is a professional grouch and a fantastic writer-- I'll read just about anything he writes (even an entire book about a nearly unwatchable science-fiction movie).  To write this relatively short book, he crammed his long and rangy body into an aircraft carrier for a few weeks; then, in spectacular Geoff Dyer fashion,  he just hung around, complained a bit, and observed how things went: his insight is alternately absurd and inspirational . . . and if you've never been in the military, then this book is not only entertaining, but it's also educational (warning: if you're on the flight deck, watch out for the cables!)

7) A three way tie: Flash Boys, David and Goliath, and Think Like a Freak

Michael Lewis, Malcolm Gladwell, and the Levitt/Dubner duo have been churning out some of the slickest, most entertaining, and totally excellent non-fiction ever written. Even though these these three books will probably be considered minor efforts in their collective oeuvre, they were still totally entertaining and totally worth reading. Flash Boys sheds light on the dark and weird world of high-frequency trading; David and Goliath turns multiple underdog stories upside-down; and Think Like a Freak explains what David Lee Roth and King Solomon have in common.

Below is my entire list of books from 2014. Right now I am reading The Gentleman's Hour by Don Winslow and A History of the American People by Paul Johnson. I will certainly finish the Winslow book; it's a crime thriller set in San Diego-- lots of surfing, drugs, and male camaraderie, but I doubt I will get through the Paul Johnson tome . . . but there's always next year.

The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New AmericaAfter the Music Stopped: The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead , What I Learned Losing a Million DollarsThe Cold Cold GroundAmerican Hippopotamus , Play Their Hearts Out: A Coach, His Star Recruit, and the Youth Basketball MachineFutebol: The Brazilian Way of LifeLooking for AlaskaThe Lizard King: The True Crimes and Passions of the World's Greatest Reptile SmugglersThe Improbability PrincipleThe Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural HistoryThe InterestingsDare MeAll Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern ParenthoodBrain on Fire: My Month of MadnessYou Should Have KnownDog SoldiersLost in My Own BackyardExpiration DateThe Improbability PrincipleFlash BoysThe Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky and DeathIt's Complicated: the social lives of networked teensStuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials that Shape Our Man-Made WorldAnother Great Day at Sea: Life Aboard the USS George H.W. BushNo Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State Travels with CharleyThe Lost ContinentUngifted: Intelligence Redefined, The Truth About Talent, Practice, Creativity, and the Many Paths to Greatness Empire's Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New ImperialismPower of the DogThe Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant TechnologiesI Hear the Sirens in the StreetDavid and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling GiantsUncharted: Big Data as a Lens on Human CultureThink Like a FreakBad Land: An American RomanceShelterReady Player OneThe Fever Over EasyThe Teacher Wars: A History of America's Most Embattled ProfessionSavagesThe Winter of Frankie MachineDawn PatrolHow We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Twelve Days of Gheorghemas: Day Six

On the sixth day of Gheorghemas, Big Gheorghe gave to me...

Six Beers Worth Drinking
A fiiiiifth Golden Ring..... (please?)
Four Years of Marcus;
Three Scummers Picking;
Two albums to look forward to; and
A fat guy in a jersey

I like beer. Always have. Always will. These days, though, there are so many different brews from which to choose, from crazily-hopped mega-IPAs to fruit-forward Belgians to chocolately stouts, pumpkin ales, crisp lagers, insane combinations of habanero and hops, and literally hundreds of other unique options. It's enough to drive a fellow to drink, if only he could figure out where to start.

If you're me, you let your nose be your guide, leading you to a wonderland of high-IBU ales. For your tasting pleasure, here are six beers that I particularly enjoyed this year. Your results may vary, especially if you're not a raving hophead.

Firestone Walker Wookey Jack

Though Beer Advocate describes this beer as an American Black Ale, the label tells us that it's a Black Rye IPA. I'll trust the people that market it to tell me what it is, thanks. The entire Firestone Walker IPA family (Union Jack, Double Jack, and Wookey Jack) is tasty, if a bit pricy, but Wookey adds a unique roasted malt flavor and spiciness from the rye to the IPA's hoppy character, to great effect. 

At 8.3% ABV, Wookey's got a kick. Just a couple'll make you feel all warm inside. And the Beer Advocate folks give it a 95, so it's a quality buzz, too.

Ballast Point Sculpin

My local packie just started carrying this San Diego beer this year. (I don't have a local packie, as we don't call them that here in Virginia. I just really like that description of a liquor store, so go with it. We're actually talking about Wegmans.) It's my go-to celebration quaff, because it's terrific (Beer Advocate gives it a stratospheric 98) but also because it costs $17.99 a sixer. I do okay financially, but I ain't made of bitcoins.

I'm a sucker for the SoCal IPA style, with its citrusy flavors and big hops, and Sculpin is at the very top of a competitive roster of those beers. In another year, Green Flash IPA might make it into this sextet, but I didn't get to have many of that terrific pour in 2014.

Pliny the Elder

I'd heard the stories of this Santa Rosa, CA double IPA for years - it's the stuff of beer-lovers' legend, a perfect 100 from Beer Advocate, and only available in one bar east of the Mississippi River - but I hadn't had one until a few short months ago. My wife and I traveled to California specifically to hunt down Pliny. (She thinks we went for our anniversary. Please keep this secret between us.)

As I drank it, I found it hard to separate the hype from the actual product. I knew I was supposed to love it, in order to establish my beer geek cred. And I did, truly - it's a phenomenally balanced Double, with less of the sweetness that can overwhelm many in that class of beers. It's among the best beers I've ever had, and a must-drink given the opportunity.  But it's not the best, and I didn't receive total enlightenment when I drank it.

Guess I'll need to find a Heady Topper for that.

Surly Furious

The great and wonderful Pliny isn't the best beer I've ever had, but Brooklyn Center, MN Surly Brewing Company's Furious just might be. Surly describes Furious as a hybrid of American IPA and English ESB styles, and the beer's amber color and balance of sweetness with bitterness testifies to the success of that mix. Furious starts with an incredibly smooth, sweet taste and finishes with a crisp, bitter hoppiness. 

Surly is a small, regional purveyor (though Friday's opening of a new facility in downtown Minneapolis hearkens good things for beer lovers outside the Midwest), so it's hard to find anywhere beyond Minnesota and Wisconsin. I satisfy my jones every time I travel to the Twin Cities by getting to the airport three hours before my flight home and bellying up to the bar at Ike's, which has it on tap.

Baar Goldmandli Zuger Spezial Hell

In a huge upset, and a big departure for me, I actually enjoyed a helles this year. To be sure, some of it had to do with the location, but only some of it. On a business trip to Switzerland, I drank more than a few Baar beers with my colleagues. At 5.0% ABV, it was a perfect session drink, a just dry enough to offset the sweetness that usually chases me away from that style.

Long Trail Limbo IPA 

Finally, we close with a beer that was new to me this year, but quickly became my drink of choice for weekday relaxation. I've long been partial to Long Trail, one of the finest breweries in the state of my berth, but Limbo knocked my socks off when I first tried it, drawn in by a particularly well-stacked display at Wegmans.

Technically a double IPA, Limbo represents a new direction for Long Trail, who hadn't done much in the way of IPAs previously. Brewmaster Dave Hartmann describes the beer's taste as 'kickass', and it's hard for me to quibble. If you visit me, it's a better chance than not that this is what I'll serve you. Get some, it's terrific. 

Among many other things (dipshittery, randomness, sporadic posts), this season of Gheorghe is about sharing. Let's use the comments to discuss the beers that got you through another year. Unless they're Belgians, in which case I'd rather hear about TR's polyps.

Monday, December 15, 2014

G:TB, Proud 1.6 Percenters

Or, said differently, there's a reasonably high likelihood that one of the members of the Community of Gheorghe is among the 1,946,677 Americans hungover at work on any given day. On this fine Monday, that's me, courtesy of a two-day weekend holiday party bender. Salud.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Post-Gheorghemas Day 5 Filler

The people on Facebook seemed to enjoy my sartorial stylings, so I figured the community of Gheorghe might like a glimpse of the sweater than won the title in the 3rd Annual Russell Ugly Sweater Party/Contest/Yankee Swap/Drunk Suburbanite Bash. It's not the one my wife is wearing.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Gheorghemas Day 5....With a Side of Fishsticks

On the fourth day of Gheorghemas, Big Gheorghe gave to me...

A fiiiiifth Golden Ring..... (please?)

Four Years of Marcus;
Three Scummers Picking;

Two albums to look forward to; and

A fat guy in a jersey

As many of you know, another member of the G:TB family and I are fans of one of the worst run franchises in sports.  A franchise that has the perfect pentaverate of terrible management, outdated facilities, poorly constructed rosters & bad contracts, bad sartorial choices, and generally piss poor results.   Oh, you thought I was talking about Whitney and my Met fandom? Nope.....

And despite growing up on Long Island, I thankfully dodge the bullet of cheering for TR & The Teej's beloved J-E-T-S Jets, Jets, Jets.  

Nope, ladies and gentleman of Gheorgedom, I'm talking about my masochistic need to follow the New York Islanders.  TR is also a fan, even though he grew up in New Jersey.  I feel bad for him.  At least I was raised on Long Island and have an excuse to keep rooting for what has been an almost 30 year hot mess of a franchise.   That said, don't feel too bad for him. He has the Yankees. 

I know what you are saying...."Hey Marls, suck it up. I follow the (fill in shitty team here). I know all about rooting for lousy teams.  The Islanders won 4 straight Stanley Cups during your lifetime."  In response, I offer the following lowlights.

Bad Management:   

Sure, lots of people are fans of teams with lousy management.  Not all of us can fall out of the womb as Cardinals, Yankees, Steelers, Red Wings, or Lakers fans, oozing enough management skill,  tradition of winning and "class" to make the rest of the sporting word want to collectively vomit.   There are plenty of fans of teams with terrible management like the aforementioned Madoff Mets, Z-Man's beloved Bills, and Whit's Washington Murderous Drunken Savages (a term of respect I'm told).  However, the Islanders ownership has a special place the Hall Of Bad Owners.  

What other franchise has had had four owners (or almost owners) sent to prison?   Yes, that's right, four folks that have graced the management suite of the NY Islanders have gone to federal PMITA prison.   Here is the ownership rap sheet:

Paul Greenwood & Stephen Walsh:  Greenwood and Walsh cheated investors out of half a billion dollars and were sentenced to 10 and 20 years, respectively.  They were two members of the "Gang of Four" that owned the team from 1992-1996 and really began running the team into the ground.  In addition, Greenwood and Walsh were part of the group that signed off on the infamous "fishstick" logo. (see below)  
John Spano:  Spano was going to be the savior of the franchise after the Gang of Four.   Unfortunately, he did not have the necessary cash and committed mail, wire & bank fraud in an attempt to buy the team.  Hey, if you are gonna be a bear, be a grizzly.  In the end, he was sentenced to 6 years in the federal pen and was the subject of Kevin Connolly's recent 30 For 30 on the scandal.

Sanjay Kumar:  In 2000, current owner Charles Wang purchased the team with Computer Associates co-executive Sanjay Kumar.  Within 4 years Wang had to buy out Kumar (a pattern that Wang would follow with his terrible player contracts) due to Kumar's involvement in alleged securities fraud.  In 2006, Kumar was sentenced to 12 years in prison and fined $8 million for his role in accounting fraud at Computer associates. 

Outdated Facilities:  

Built in 1972, the Nassau Veterans Memorial Colliseum is the oldest building in hockey except for Madison Square Garden, which has had complete renovations twice since being built in the late 60's.   By all reports, the locker rooms and player facilities are the worst in the NHL.  The food options are terrible.  There is no way to get there other than driving, which in New York makes things tough for all but the most local of fans.  There is no concourse inside the arena, so there is no way to see the action while walking to your seats.  It also makes exiting the building a nightmare.   The first time I took Mrs. Marls to the game I told her not to drink too much because there were only two sets of women's bathrooms.  She did not believe me and spent the better part of the second period waiting on line.

That said, for reasons noted below, I love the f'ing place.  
Bad Contracts:  

Here are two example for your consideration:

Alexi Yashin: The Islanders gave up young defense man Zedno Chara AND a first round draft pick for Yashin.  Chara went on to become one of the best defensemen in NHL history, the first round pick became 4 time all-star Jason Spezza.  Yashin was given a 10 year deal by the Islanders worth $87 million.  He played only 5 seasons on Long Island before being bought out for $17 million and played the rest of his career in Russia.  Is this a bad trade or a bad contract?  It's both.

Rick DiPetro:  Who gives a player a 15 YEAR CONTRACT?!?!?!?   The Islanders, that's who.   In 2006, the Isles gave "franchise" goalie 15 Years, $67 Million to make sure he was locked up through his 40th birthday.  Great idea, right?  Here are his stats after he signed that contract:
Season    Age  Tm  Lg   GP  GS   W   L T/O  GA  SV%  GAA
2006-07    25 NYI NHL   62      32  19   9 156 .919 2.58
2007-08    26 NYI NHL   63  63  26  28   7 174 .902 2.82
2008-09    27 NYI NHL    5   5   1   3   0  15 .892 3.52
2009-10    28 NYI NHL    8   6   2   5   0  20 .900 2.60
2010-11    29 NYI NHL   26  25   8  14   4  88 .886 3.44
2011-12    30 NYI NHL    8   6   3   2   3  22 .876 3.73
2012-13    31 NYI NHL    3   3   0   3   0  12 .855 4.09
Career            NHL  318 108 130 136  36 871 .902 2.87
Admitting defeat, the Islanders finally bought out the contract, paying Ricky $1.5M a year through 2029.  Nice job, guys.

Those two contracts make #2 and #5 of the most expensive buyouts of all time according to this list.  Nice job by a franchise constantly telling fans that they were too cash strapped to sign the team's young stars who they often traded away for draft picks, mediocre grab bags of players, or guys who flat out refused to play for the Isles.  

Bad Sartorial Choices:  

Lots of franchises have had missteps when adding a third jersey or revamping their logo.  That said, the Islanders took this to new heights.  This is a franchise that thought this.....

"It's not a joke, they really expect us to wear these"
and this.....

"We have great mustaches, but these sweaters suck."

were good sweater designs.  Furthermore, they thought that these two guys would make fine mascot choices:

There are no words....

Piss Poor On Ice Results:  

Like most things in sports, success on the playing field can make up for a lot.  One magic season by RGIII seemingly kept fans from marching with pitchforks and torches to Redskin Park to lynch Daniel Snyder, even though effigy burnings in Ashburn, VA may be in short order considering this season's results.  Mets & Jets fans have been appeased by a few good seasons and playoff wins over the past decade.  The Islanders have had no such success.

In the twenty years since this humble blogger went to college, this team has finished in the bottom 5 in the league TWELVE times, finishing dead last twice.  They have made the playoffs 5 times in that span (in a league where critics complain that everybody makes the playoffs) never once winning a playoff series.  Take a gander at these numbers.  Oooof. 
Season    GP  W  L  T OL PTS%                           Playoffs
2013-14   82 34 37    11 .482                                  
2012-13   48 24 17     7 .573 Lost NHL Conference Quarter-Finals
2011-12   82 34 37    11 .482                                  
2010-11   82 30 39    13 .445                                  
2009-10   82 34 37    11 .482                                  
2008-09   82 26 47     9 .372                                  
2007-08   82 35 38     9 .482                                  
2006-07   82 40 30    12 .561 Lost NHL Conference Quarter-Finals
2005-06   82 36 40     6 .476                                  
2003-04   82 38 29 11  4 .555 Lost NHL Conference Quarter-Finals
2002-03   82 35 34 11  2 .506 Lost NHL Conference Quarter-Finals
2001-02   82 42 28  8  4 .585 Lost NHL Conference Quarter-Finals
2000-01   82 21 51  7  3 .317                                  
1999-00   82 24 48  9  1 .354                                  
1998-99   82 24 48 10    .354                                  
1997-98   82 30 41 11    .433                                  
1996-97   82 29 41 12    .427                                  
1995-96   82 22 50 10    .329                                  
1994-95   48 15 28  5    .365                                  

Needless to say, Islander players and their fans have been suffering through decades of mediocrity at best, inept suckitude at worst.  The once proud franchise has been a laughing stock of the league.  

But that brings me back to my Gheorghemas wish...a FIFTH golden ring.

After 30 years, the Islanders finally feel like they are moving in the right direction.  This season, they are off to their best start in franchise history.  The Isles have a young squad led by star John Tavares who actually wants to play for this team.  In addition, next season the Isles are moving to the house that Jay-Z built in Brooklyn, where despite not having a perfect layout for hockey, the lease is favorable and they will get a whole new group of bearded, skinny jean wearing hipsters who will love to sport the "fishstick" sweater ironically.  

But for now, the Isles are playing out one last season in the old hockey barn on Long Island.  They are playing well and rocking the Nassau Coliseum, which notwithstanding the issues noted above, is an awesome place to see a game when the team is playing well.  The sight lines are fantastic and it's super loud as evidenced in this video:

So, as big Gheorghe is loading his sleigh full of Gheorghemas presents for all the good little boys and girls around the world I ask that he remember the boys in blue and orange playing hockey for one last season on Long Island and the fans that have supported them for so long.  A fifth golden ring to go along with this guy's four would be wonderful.