pop culture time capsule

Pop culture time capsule: How the Flip Saunders era with the Timberwolves reminds us of Soundgarden

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

flip.JPGThis is the latest installment of Pop Culture Time Capsule, during which we take two totally different subjects — one from the world of music, movies, etc., and one from sports — and attempt to link them. Today’s subjects: the Flip Saunders era with the Timberwolves and Soundgarden.

1. Hindsight: Soundgarden was never your favorite band, and Flip was never the best coach of the best team. But when you look back on it, you get the same feeling: hey, they were pretty good. Do you realize the Wolves made the playoffs eight consecutive years? Yeah, they lost in the first round the first seven times, but just getting there looks so much better in retrospect. They reached an apex that was very good but not great (2003-04). Likewise, you look back at Soundgarden’s catalog: Black Hole Sun, Spoonman, Pretty Noose, Outshined, Rusty Cage, etc., and one word comes to mind: solid. The body of work in both cases added up to more than the sum of any individual game, season, song or CD.

2. Humble beginnings: Soundgarden struggled through an early metal influence before finding its niche as a dark but instrumental grunge band. Saunders worked his way up through the ranks, starting his coaching career at Golden Valley Lutheran College.

3. Never feeling cheated: Here’s the big one. Watching Saunders coach, you didn’t always agree with his philosophies, but you never felt like he was cheating you. He tried to wring every point out of every game and get every ounce of possible effort out of every situation. That is something to admire. Soundgarden wrote songs the same way. There were no throwaways. None of them might be in your top 50 songs of all-time, but they all felt like they were constructed with reason, purpose and effort.

4. The breakup: Soundgarden disbanded in 1997 over creative differences that are certain to arise when a band has been together for so long (13 years). Lead singer Chris Cornell wanted to go a softer direction; other band mates wanted to cling to the grunge/guitar roots. Lead guitarist Kim Thayil was quoted as saying, “It was pretty obvious from everybody’s general attitude over the course of the previous half year that there was some dissatisfaction.” That quote could pretty much sum up the 2004-05 Timberwolves season. Kevin McHale wanted the team to get tougher. Cassell and Sprewell were pests. It all fell apart, and Saunders became the scapegoat. Things have been great since then.

5. Post-breakup success that never quite felt right: Saunders went to Detroit and was good but not great with a talented, veteran team. He always seemed out of place with the Pistons. Cornell had solo success and some acclaim with the band Audioslave, where he teamed with veterans from Rage Against The Machine.

6. Reunion? Would make sense in some ways, in both cases, but in the end probably isn’t the right answer.

COW: Rocket steals our pop culture time capsule, compares a Mason Jennings concert to a sporting event

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

mason.JPGRocket, who has been an old man since age 26, wants all you kids off his lawn. He also would look a little like Mason Jennings (pictured, awesome) if he ever got a perm and learned to play guitar. Here is Rocket’s Commenter Of the Week post:

Last night I saw Mason Jennings in Fargo. I have now seen Mason several times in concert, and they’ve all been great (as a side note, I will never forget a concert at First Avenue when Mason ended the show with a blistering version of “Bulls on Parade”).

Unfortunately, I have developed the same opinion of live music that I have of sports: Too often the crowd diminishes the experience. I have come to terms with the fact that there are idiots who are going to spend the concert talking with their clique of slow-witted butterflies; like I’ve come to terms with the fact that there are knuckle-draggers who need to be too drunk to watch the game by the fourth quarter/eighth inning/third period.

But last night was different. There was some jackaninny who bellowed, “You da man, Mason!” Others were making fun of some of his lyrics. I don’t have any special insight into Mason Jennings’ mind just because I am a fan of his music. But it was clear that he heard the ridiculousness (thanks to a criminally small crowd), and it seemed like he wasn’t enjoying the process.

This got me to thinking about expectations. When did we decide that a ticket was a license to act like a [redacted]? And, at what point is it no longer worth it? Last night it seemed like Mason was a little disgusted. I would be sad if he stops touring. I imagine it’s much the same for athletes. Athletes aren’t saints, but in what other job are you going to have people writing whatever they want about you on blogs, saying whatever they want about you on talk radio, booing you while you are in the middle of your job, and who are going to get mad if you don’t call them as “the best fans in the world”?

I sincerely think that the expectations of fans have grown as ridiculous and out of control as the salaries of players and the demands upon communities of the owners.

RandBallers, what say you?

Pop culture time capsule: How “Tropic Thunder” reminds us of the Mike Tice-era Vikings

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

tropic.jpgWe did something we never thought we would do last night: we watched Tropic Thunder. Upon first seeing the trailer for the movie, we thought it would be the worst film ever made. Gradually, we at least improved to lukewarm on it. And last night, for a couple of bucks, we decided to check it out over at the second-run theater. Know what? It was pretty funny. And more than just that, it led to a thought: the movie was very much like watching any Vikings game during the Mike Tice era. How?

*Well, the basic plot is that a diverse, prima donna cast is making a Vietnam-era film on location, but in order to make it more realistic they are sent into the deep jungle — where they end up fighting actual enemies, even though they don’t really know it at first. Once they figured it out, some slapstick comedy ensued, followed by an escape attempt. A basic Vikings game during the Tice era often started with a bunch of prima donnas trying to waltz their way to an easy victory, only to fail and wind up in a real contest that they couldn’t believe was happening (particularly on the road). This typically led to some haphazard comeback attempt and often some slapstick comedy in the form of wasted timeouts and untimely gimmicks.

*Both feature an honest-to-goodness take your breath away moment. In Vikings games, it was often a Culpepper-to-Moss hookup or some other thing that made everything OK. In the movie, it was a bald Tom Cruise in a fat suit dancing to Apple Bottom Jeans. (Mind the language in the clip). Moss might be a little crazy. Cruise might be a little crazy. But those [redacteds] have some talent.

*Vietnam, at least when it is romanticized (and even when that romanticism is parodied in this movie), is remembered as a harrowing trip through a lost jungle during which survivors emerge with an altered reality and some amazing stories to tell. That’s how we remember 2002-2005.

*Spoiler alert: TiVo saves the day in both the movie and the Tice-era Vikings games.

Pop culture time capsule: How Jamie Moyer’s pitching is like Pavement’s “Brighten the Corners”

Monday, October 27th, 2008

Continuing a theme started last week with the comparison between Fugazi and a long TD drive, we present a treatise on Phillies pitcher Jamie Moyer (the oldest man alive) and Pavement’s “Brighten the Corners,” that band’s fourth CD and best studio release. We will not go song-by-song this time. Here we go with the reasons why:

*Because looking like you are not trying is harder than it looks — in fact, it often means you are working even harder. In sports, effortlessness is sometimes the result of an extreme physical gift — a certain glide. In Moyer’s case, it comes from the fact that he couldn’t break a pane of glass with his fastball. Thus his easy soft-tossing is actually a pitch-by-pitch maze filled with potential wrong turns and necessary precision. In music, effortlessness is sometimes confused with extreme disinterest. In Pavement’s case, it is damn hard to have such a sparse, jangly sound and pull it all together into excellence. It is also harder to play slow than to play fast. If someone said to you, “Run as fast as you can,” it would be easy (at least in theory). But if they said, “OK, now run 5/8ths as fast as that,” it would be a lot harder. Moyer and Pavement have created a dynamic out of both necessity and attention to craft. Exhibits A and B: Track 1 of BTC and Game 3 of the World Series.

*Because both lull you into a comfort zone before snapping you back to attention at the crucial moments. Moyer lulls hitters into a false sense of security and (theoretically) saves his best stuff to get out of jams. Pavement throws out a bunch of non-sequitur lyrics but then slips in stuff like, “You’ve been chosen as an extra in the movie adaptation, of the sequel to your life,” and you say, “Whoa, wait a minute.” When you throw slow, the good stuff really stands out. Always keep the hitter/listener off-balance.

*Because even the title “Brighten the Corners” makes us think of an 84 mph fastball on the inside black, followed by a 76 mph change-up on the outside black.

*Brighten the Corners was recorded in July of 1996, essentially the same time Jamie Moyer was turning his career around. This was a dozen years ago, before the modern (high-speed) era of the Internet, when it was OK to be slow.

*The chorus of the fifth track, “Old to Begin,” seems to have been written specifically for Moyer. “Old to begin — I will set you back, set you back, set you / Old to begin — I will set you back, set you back, set you.”

*“Terror Twilight,” however, is more comparable to Don Mattingly’s 1995 postseason.

Pop culture time capsule: How Fugazi’s “Red Medicine” reminds us of a 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drive

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

One of our favorite things to do these days is to pull out an old CD we haven’t listened to in years and bring it down to the car for some heavy rotation. This is particularly useful when you drive to North Dakota and don’t want to listen to sports talk radio, religious programming or country music. Our most recent pull was Fugazi’s “Red Medicine,” and we were struck by how it is one of those CDs that follows a natural progression from beginning to end. It is not simply a collection of songs — it is scripted with highs and lows like a good movie, or an opera … or a long, sustained TD drive (bear with us if you’ve forgotten what those are like). While we are sometimes tempted to skip around to our favorite songs on the disc (and sometimes, indeed, we do that), it almost feels like cheating when it comes to Red Medicine. It’s the same thing when you fully appreciate a sustained scoring drive (or even a long at-bat in baseball). Every play matters and relates to the other plays, just as every song does. Indulge us for a moment: beginning as we go track-by-track, and play-by-play.

1. Do You Like Me: has a slow buildup the feels like a kickoff, followed by a down-your-throat running play after the buildup.
2. Bed For the Scraping: Play action to the tight end. First down.
3. Latest disgrace: Another running play. Five-yard gain with some tough running.
4. Birthday Pony: Toss sweep. Third and two.
5. Forensic Scene: Tight curl to your slot receiver. Six yards, first down, ball at your 46.
6. Combination lock: Deep ball, incomplete, but served a purpose.
7. Fell, destroyed: 12-yard slant. First down at the 44.
8. By You: QB scramble for 2 yards when it could have been a loss of 4.
9. Version: Run for 1 yard, still softening the defense.
10. Target: Aha! The play you’ve been building toward. Play action, seam route, 29 yards, first and 10 at the 12.
11. Back to Base: You are not stopping us. Run right at the pile, 11 yards, dragged down at the 1, first and goal.
12. Downed city: Leap over the pile, TD.
13. Long distance runner: Mellow comedown like an extra point. Almost automatic and reflexive.

So yeah, that’s how Red Medicine is like a TD drive. Any other CDs where this works or you make other connections?