Monday, March 30, 2015

In the New York Times this Weekend - March 28-29, 2015

All apologies for the delayed posting. What’s that old joke about the best way to make God laugh? Make a plan. And mine was to post two times a weekend – once on Saturday, once on Sunday. Well, so much for the best laid plans of aspiring bloggers and men. Full disclosure – I was so busy this weekend, I didn’t even get to read the entire paper. So today’s, I mean, tonight’s update will be brief. I will make it up to you next weekend, I promise. And I keep my promises. Now then…

With March Madness in full swing – and don’t forget the ladies tourney – the sports section was loaded with great basketball stories this weekend. Here are just a few.

Definitely take the time to read about the author of the book on Dollar Bill Bradley. I read “A Sense of Where You Are” many years ago. My dad loved Bill Bradley. I’m pretty sure he was his favorite basketball player. Smart, a great passer and shooter. Maybe not the most fleet of foot and certainly no leaper. But what a big game player. He should have been President, too. My feeling is he waited too long. By then he was losing his hair a bit, his chin looked weak and we all know how important appearances are when there are video cameras everywhere. None of that matters now. He had a great career as a college player at Princeton and on my dad’s beloved Knickerbockers, served New Jersey admirably in the Senate. Read the article and by all means, go back and read the book. You won’t be sorry.

Loved reading about Coach Geno’s assistant coach at UCONN. What a gem she is, and what an incredibly positive influence on the young women on the team. She could have gone anywhere and been a head coach herself years ago. She chose to, sorry, stand by her man. But she’s not Tammy Wynette. Oh no. This is a strong, smart, tough lady who has provided immeasurable support and counsel to Geno and his teams over the years. Great story.

Speaking of legendary coaches…did you know that the late Dean Smith, arguably the “dean” of college coaches – see what I did there? – made arrangements in his trust for every varsity basketball player who played on one of his teams in the 36 years he coached at North Carolina to receive a check for $200 upon his death? Neither did I. Read more here. The $200 check story is in another one here.

Front Page – Sunday
The story about kids who are facing death due to cancer or other incurable diseases and work out their own arrangements is both heartbreaking and inspiring. What courage, what guts, what strength. I apologize in advance if it makes you cry, but it’s an issue too many people have to deal with these days and might be helpful for someone you know.

That’s it for this week. Back next week with more. I promise.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

In the NY Times this Weekend - March 22, 2015

I decided to cut these updates down to once a weekend rather than twice. No reason, really, just takes a bit of pressure off me to crank out two. I hope that you – my legion of readers – will understand. Today’s update is being written up on the second floor of the Prospect Heights branch of the Brooklyn public library. It’s a beautiful day outside so I’m going to make this quick so I can get back out there and enjoy the sunshine while it lasts.

Now then…

Arts & Leisure
Some great stuff in this section this weekend.

One of my favorite filmmakers is making a documentary about one of my favorite photographers. Wim Wenders, who many of you are familiar with through his Wings of Desire masterpiece, is collaborating with the son of Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado to tell the story of Salgado’s life and his incredible photographs. The article in the Times focuses on the dynamics between the filmmakers and their subject and the difficulties they encountered while making the film. Egos clashed, father and son were pushed together after many years of being distant from each other. Fascinating stuff. I look forward to seeing the film when it opens this coming weekend.

Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys is a few years younger than me, but in many ways I feel like we grew up together. I remember when The Beastie Boys burst upon the scene in the mid to late 80s. A college friend of mine is a Brooklyn native and she was the first person I knew who was really into them. Initially I was skeptical of three Jewish guys from “the hood” co-opting hip hop, but they won me over with a few Led Zeppelin samples and the video for So Whatcha Want. Today, Horovitz is 48 years old and adjusting to life as a middle aged dude. In addition to our mutual love of Led Zep, Horovitz composed the soundtrack for the No No documentary about my man Dock Ellis.

In Kabul, a 27-year old mentally disturbed woman named Farkhunda was stoned and beaten to death by an angry mob that then proceeded to burn her corpse. Why? Because she allegedly burned pages of the Koran. Stoned and beaten to death. It is the year 2015. I don’t know what else to say about this.

New York
I’m late to the party for The Jinx – an HBO series on the infamous Robert Durst of the powerful Durst real estate family. This creep is linked to at least two murders and one disappearance. Charles Bagli reports on the police seizing a cache of Durst’s belonging that were stored at the home of a friend in upstate New York. If you are fascinated by a good story with interesting characters, be sure to check out The Jinx on demand. It’s riveting television. It bothers me how likeable I found Durst at times. He’s a quirky weird character, for sure, but there are millions like him out there. But when you hear what he most likely did to his wife, one of his best friends and an acquaintance in Galveston, Texas, you’ll understand why the whole thing gives me the chills. The final episode in the series is a corker with an incredible twist.

Alabama Shakes received universally positive reviews when they released their first album Boys & Girls three years ago. You’ve probably heard the opening track and first single Hold On. They’re about to release their second album Sound & Color and are performing mostly songs from it during their shows this year. Lead singer Brittany Walker has had to overcome some devastating personal issues and circumstances along the way to becoming the front person in one of today’s biggest rock bands. Incredible story. Will make you want to support them.

Today’s Character Study by Corey Kilgannon is a classic “Only in New York City” story. Since 2007, Michael Seidenberg has been running a “part speakeasy, part bookstore” out of his rent stabilized apartment on the Upper East Side. His landlord is putting the hammer down and evicting him at the end of July. If you love books and people who collect them, you’ll want to get up there before he’s closed down. What a hoot.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

In the NY Times this Weekend - March 14, 2015

Lazy Saturday here in Park Slope. Went to see my friends Woody and Jesse play with their band Mighty High in Williamsburg last night. The bar where they played – Trash Bar – is on the verge of closing and last night was one of the final shows before it’s turned into a sushi joint, nails salon or whatever else is taking over the location. Mighty High has played there many times over the years and always brings the rock. Last night was no exception. Cool venue, good crowd, and the boys played well. I ran out of gas early and hit the road right after the boys finished their set. Now it’s Saturday night and I’m listening to Stevie Wonder’s Fulfillingness’ First Finale on vinyl with the Rangers vs. Sabres game on the TV on mute. It’s 0-0 with a bit more than 4 minutes left in the second period. Go Blueshirts.

Here’s what I read in today’s half of the NY Times that I thought would be of interest to you. Please let me know what you think by leaving comments. Always good to hear from my readers.

The Magazine
I remember watching National Geographic specials on the great Jane Goodall when I was a kid and being absolutely mesmerized by them.  What an inspiration she is to so many. I love her voice and the way she describes the activities of the chimpanzees she lived with for years at a time. To this day I get such a kick out of thinking about David Greybeard using a stick to pry termites out of their mound for a snack. Her efforts to protect chimps and conserve the jungle forests they inhabit are beyond admirable. She’s still going strong today as you’ll see by reading this feature article. I’m sure those of you with children who love animals will want to share this article with them, too. (Hello KAM!) Enjoy.

A few years ago when President Obama decided that his feelings towards same sex marriage had “evolved” and he was now in favor of it, I caught some flak from my Facebook friends for posting a two word response: politically opportunistic.  I did find it rather convenient that the President had experienced this “evolution” just a short time after Vice President Biden had taken a pro-same sex marriage position and the state of North Carolina voted down an amendment to allow it. In any event, Mark Leibovich takes a look at how we common folks change our minds and politicians evolve. Have a look and share your thoughts. For the record, I’m pro love between two consenting adults and if they want to make a legal commitment to each other and get married, so be it. Mazel Tov.

Last year I was on the subway and saw a guy leaning against a pole and thoroughly engrossed in a book called My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard. I made a mental note to look into it and eventually bought a copy online. Reading it was an interesting experience. It’s basically a book about everyday life. There’s nothing particularly noteworthy about it. Knausgaard talks about his years growing up and the usual things that happen as years go by. He also touches on his life as an adult, married with children and writing for a living. I read Book I – there are three in the series. I can’t adequately explain why I couldn’t put the book down once I started it. Maybe it’s because it felt like reading someone’s diary. Anyway, I’d be interested in discussing it with any of you who’ve also read it. Last weekend, the Times published part 1 of his road journal on crossing North America from Newfoundland to Detroit in the magazine. I didn’t get a chance to read it yet. Part 2 is in today’s magazine.

Arts & Leisure
There are a few noteworthy articles in this section today. Here are some thoughts on two of them.

It would appear our man Al Pacino is in the midst of an active run of starring roles. His new movie Danny Collins opens this coming Friday. It’s based on the true story of an aspiring British folk singer Steve Tilston who received a letter of encouragement from his fellow Liverpudlian John Lennon in 1971, but the note never reached him until nearly 40 years later. Tiltson’s still alive today and has made a living as a working musician since first starting out. He can’t help wondering if his life would have turned out differently if the letter had reached him when it was first sent, but says he has no regrets. Sounds like an interesting concept for a movie. Have a look to learn more about the filmmakers’ approach to the story.

Some of you may have heard Courtney Barrett’s catchy and cheekily titled single Avant Gardener. As a fellow asthma sufferer, I could surely relate to the lyrics. She’s about to release her first full album and talks about the recording of it here. Can’t say I’m a huge fan but I do love the way she writes about the everyday and finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. I’ve always sought to do the same in my own work – largely inspired by the short stories of Raymond Carver and Sherwood Anderson.

That’s all for tonight. More tomorrow. Until then….

Sunday, March 8, 2015

In the New York Times this Weekend - March 8, 2015

Nice to see blue skies and the sun return to Park Slope, Brooklyn today. Temperatures were in the 40s. Great day to walk around the neighborhood, do some people watching and leap over puddles. Well, leap might be pushing it. I wrote a great deal about my personal adventures yesterday. Not sure how I comfortable I am with that approach so we’ll stick to the Sunday Times this evening. Here are a few articles from today’s half of the paper that I believe are worth a read. Please leave some comments.

Sunday Business
My friend Stephanie Strom takes a look at the challenges faced by McDonald’s new CEO in the Sunday Business section’s cover story. Fast food restaurants like Mickey D’s are at a crossroads. With Americans looking to make healthier meal choices, and Big Macs and French Fries viewed as decidedly unhealthy fare, McDonald’s will have to find a way to stay relevant. From my perspective, it’s hard to believe anyone who isn’t hungover still eats fast food these days. It’s not cheap, it doesn’t taste very good and it’s not good for you. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was your meal? Always a treat to read Stephanie's writing. I'm forever grateful for her teaching me what a group of pigs is called - a drift. 

As we move into March, the Sports section is starting to fill up with spring training baseball reports from Florida and Arizona. One of today’s cover stories focuses on a rite of passage for baseball players at all levels – breaking in your glove for the season. Billy Witz looks at all of the different methods used by players on the Yankees including Alex Rodriguez who is breaking in a first baseman’s mitt for the first time. That’s when he can find it. What a knucklehead. I remember putting a ball inside the pocket of every new glove, wrapping it up with string and then shoving it under my mattress. We also used oil for baseball gloves. I can still remember the smell. What was your favorite method?

Book Review
Reading Dave Itzkoff’s review of Robert Christgau’s autobiography is a reminder of why I never would have made it as a music critic. Oh sure, I’m an “opinionated bigmouth,” too, but guys like Christgau hated all of the albums I loved – including Emerson Lake and Palmer’s Trilogy, which is cited in this review as an easy target of his wrath.  I remember reading Christgau’s work in the Village Voice and always thought he was trying too hard to be hip. Heck, even a notorious music snob like Lester Bangs had guilty pleasures. Guys like Christgau never did. I catch hell for it from certain circles, but I do genuinely enjoy a little bit of everything – from Bjork to Motorhead to James Brown to Led Zep to P-Funk to Django Reinhardt to Bob Marley to Miles Davis to Radiohead to Om Khalsoum to Les Paul/Mary Ford to AC/DC to Pink Floyd. Good music is good music. The genre isn’t important. And most important of all is whether *you*like  it or not – not what other people think or how your reaction to liking something will be perceived. I sound like a true Rush geek, don’t I? Guilty as charged. Now where’s my copy of A Farewell to Kings (on vinyl, please).

Monday, March 2, 2015

In the New York Times this Weekend - March 1, 2015 (Updated March 2, 2015)

All apologies for the day-late post, folks. Had to work yesterday. Spent the afternoon and into the early evening hours writing staff reviews. Fun times. So with apologies and excuses out of the way and without further adieu, quickly now...

Arts & Leisure
Two articles from this section are worth a catch-up read tonight.

On the face of it, you wouldn't think an article about a barn in North Dakota being sold would be all that interesting. But this is no ordinary barn. For more than 25 years, the Johnson family barn in Arthur, North Dakota has hosted dances on Friday nights featuring live music and, you guessed it, dancing. People of all generations come from miles around to listen to great music, drink, eat and dance the night away. All that may change when the sale is complete. Brian Johnson (no relation to the AC/DC singer of the same name) is the owner of the farmstead including the barn that is now up for sale. Let's hope the buyer continues the Friday night dance tradition. I loved hearing that Roy Orbison once stopped in on his way to a gig and jumped on stage to sing a song or two.

My friend KAM is a big Downton Abbey fan. Don't call, email or text unless it's an emergency on Sunday night between 9pm and 10pm. I'm guessing she'll enjoy this article on the challenges faced by the show's food stylist. Just reading this article makes me hungry. And reminds me that I'm about five episodes behind - so no spoilers in the Comments section, if you please. Enjoy, KAM.

I mentioned in Saturday's post that this weekend's updates could be made up almost entirely of obituaries between Leonard Nimoy aka Mr. Spock, Earl Lloyd, the NBA's first black player, and another NBA player, Anthony Mason of the New York Knicks.

Mason, or Mase, as he was known by those of us who cheered him on when he played for those great Pat Riley era teams, died of congestive heart failure at age 48. According to his agent and others who knew him well, he did a bad job of taking care of himself and let his weight get out of control. His mother Mary, apparently the only person he ever truly listened to, survives him at age 90 and is still going strong. Mase was a fierce competitor and fearsome presence on the basketball court. He personified the Knicks' toughness with his chiseled physique and ever present scowl. He never agreed with a foul called against him and never thought he was getting enough minutes or looks on the offensive end. I loved him as a player. Off the court was a different story, but I'll let someone else dwell on that.

When Mase came jogging onto the court with a freshly cut motto or one word message carved into his close cropped hair and sporting jet black sneakers and black socks, you knew he was ready to do battle. He was never intimidated by anyone and often saved his best performances for the biggest games. I love the story Pat Riley tells about Mase in the opening of his book "The Winner Within." During his first practice as coach of the Knicks, Riles set up a one-on-one rebounding drill between the two baddest mofos in camp - Mase, who was battling for a spot on the team, and recent free agent signing Xavier McDaniel. I'll let you seek out the book to hear how the story unfolds. Rest in Peace, Mase. We could use two or three of your kind on the current Knicks roster.

I'm going to leave it here for this extended weekend's post with a commitment to be back on schedule with a more substantial offering this coming Saturday. Until then...

Saturday, February 28, 2015

In the NY Times this Weekend - February 28, 2015

Greetings from cold and sunny Park Slope, Brooklyn, NY, USA. Spending the afternoon trying desperately to get my life in order. Think this is going to take a bit longer than one afternoon, but...check book is balanced, bills are paid, dirty clothes are stuffed into laundry bag, bed is made, "to do" list written out on legal pad. Hmmm...think I just wrote a mini poem there. Go back and read that last sentence again and tell me what you think. Maybe a haiku, eh, KAM?

Undercurrent of melancholy in today's post. I could devote it entirely to the Obituaries. Fortunately, I found a few uplifting stories and articles to balance things out. That's what life is all about, right? Finding your balance - even when things are at their most unstable. Now then, before I get any more insufferably poetic or philosophical. Here we go...

Saturday Op-Ed Column

The Keystone Pipeline is a divisive issue that's lit up the Internet over the past few years. Passionate supporters on one side or the other beat their chests and wax hyperbolic in Facebook post after post. For too many people, it's either going to destroy the planet as we know it, or deliver this economic miracle that will solve most if not all of our country's problems. Joe Nocera does a nice job of pointing out how both extreme sides are wrong. He spoke with former Mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg about a "practical solution" that probably won't fully satisfy anyone, but makes a lot of sense to this blogger. Have a look at Nocera's column today and let me know what you think.

Hardly know where to begin here, but guess I should start with the one on the front page. (more tomorrow)

Like many of my generation, I grew up watching Star Trek reruns. The series first aired and was subsequently cancelled in the mid to late 60s when I was just a wee lad, but seemed to be on TV constantly throughout the 70s and 80s as I grew up. Mr. Scott aka Scottie was always my favorite character (ok, ok, I thought Uhura was very sexy and had the hots for Dr. Helen Noel), but Mr. Spock was always good for a few one liners during every episode - and later on in the movies that followed. My friends - especially JFS and Daniel D. - and I always enjoyed repeating them. With those fond memories in mind, I was saddened to hear about Leonard Nimoy's passing yesterday. I think the fact that his obituary is on the first page speaks for itself in terms of the impact of the show and the character Nimoy portrayed on the American pop culture landscape. One of Spock's famous lines resonated particularly today. It's from the episode when he experiences human emotions and romantic feelings. When they diminish, he tells the object of his temporary longings (portrayed by the future Mrs. Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland): "I am what I am, Leila. And if there are self made purgatories, then we all have to live in them. Mine can be no worse than someone else's." Rest in peace, Leonard. Of all the souls on network TV, your character's was the most...human.

Business Day
Between the years 2003 and 2011, I was out of work for one reason or another four times. My longest duration of unemployment was 1.5 years. Fortunately, I never truly stopped working. In between full time, salaried jobs, I was able to make money "under the table" working at bars and restaurants, painting houses and apartments, doing landscaping work - whatever it took to pay the bills and stay in my apartment. I never understood - or could relate to - the men and women who spend their time out of work typing away on laptops inside coffee shops, glomming on free WiFi.

Full disclosure on my situation: a little help from Uncle Sam didn't hurt either and was greatly appreciated during those times, but was never enough. I don't know how people survive on their unemployment checks alone. My savings took a major beating during those stressful financial times. I still haven't fully recovered. For anyone facing long-term unemployment, Tara Siegel Bernard  provides some helpful advice in her Your Money column today. Reminds me of some steps I could have taken to avoid the long-term damage. Live and learn.

Front Page
Imagine that President Obama hired a gunman to take out his fiercest rival in the shadow of the White House and then pledged to lead the murder investigation personally. That's all I could think about when I read this story today about the assassination of Boris Y. Nemitsov. Keep that hypothetical in mind as you review the article about his murder by Andrew E. Kramer. As Mr. Spock would say, "fascinating." And pretty damn scary if you ask me. 

Midnight Express was one of the first R-rated movies I watched back when my family first got cable TV and subscribed to Home Box Office. Drug use, nudity, a man-on-man love scene, torture. Eye opening stuff for the then teenage McCue. The movie, featuring a screenplay adapted from the memoirs of hashish smuggler Billy Hayes by Oliver Stone, painted Turkey in a most unflattering light. Nearly 40 years later, Hayes is taking his story around the world in a one-man play called "Riding the Midnight Express with Billy Hayes." He's the subject of a fascinating (there's that word again) Q&A in today's Travel section. I can still hear my brother K. saying, "VIL-LEE-UHM HIGHS" while impersonating the prosecutor in the trial scenes from the movie.

I love stories about men and women who lead "double lives" with one foot in mainstream society or corporate life and one foot squarely in another - like film or theater or music. I can relate all too well. Or should I say, I used to. Anyway, there's a great "Character Study" by Corey Kilgannon today on Kevin Gleeson - a NYPD worker by day who doubles - literally - as Keith Richards in a Rolling Stones tribute band during his free time. The article is called "Like a Rolling Stone." Nice.

I'll write about a barn in North Dakota, point out some great articles in this weekend's magazine (half the size of last weekend's, thank God), and share a few heartbreaking obits in tomorrow's post. Until then, stay warm and stay interesting.