Stupid Cardinals

The NFL’s oldest franchise (yep, that’s right, look it up) knocked Marcia’s Vikings out of the playoffs yesterday with a last-play, fourth-down touchdown, eliciting a thrilled response from their players and fans, and an even bigger ovation in Green Bay when the Packers and their fans realized that they were gonna get into the playoffs after all.

I wonder, though, this morning how the Cardinals and their management are feeling: had they missed that last play, they would have been the only 3-13 team in the league and earned a first draft pick next year. Now, they’re in a four-way tie with Oakland, San Diego and the Giants at 4-12. I don’t know how the tie-breakers work in such a case, but they could go three places in lower in the draft next year than they would have with a last second loss. Unexpected consequences?

Books and Music

Christmas is always a great time to get boxed sets or greatest hits albums that you wouldn’t necessarily buy for yourself during the rest of the year. I got some good ones from Marcia and Katelin this Christmas, and then I went and bought a couple more myself with a little bit of bonus money I got from work.

Indulging one of my guiltier pleasures, I got Shine Like It Does, the two-disc INXS retrospective collection, issued after Michael Hutchense’s unfortunate demise. Say what you will, but they were (and, I guess, are again, with a new singer) a nigh-unto-perfect pop-rock band, with hooks to kill for, honed sharp by years of playing together in Australian pubs. “What You Need” is an amazing piece of crunchy pop, and while everyone’s heard it so many times now that familiarity has probably bred contempt, it really sounded amazing and unique when it hit the airwaves back in the mid-’80s. Nothing else sounded like it, and few things do to this day. I’m also very fond of “Not Enough Time,” not one of their big hits, but a great, great emotionally intense song nonetheless. “The Stairs” is good, too, and the hits sound great when you crank ’em on the car stereo. Guilty, yes, but very pleasurable.

I had also just finished reading Lynyrd Skynyrd: Remembering the Free Birds of Southern Rock by Gene Odom right before Christmas (a good book, written by their security director, who was on the plane when it went down . . . talk about a harrowing first-hand story), but didn’t have any of their stuff on CD (and I always like listening to bands while or right after I finish reading about them), so I got The Essential Lynyrd Skynyrd 2-CD set, since that’s got pretty much everything you need to hear by the pre-crash band. No surprises there, except for how good the guitars sound in the CD mix, and how much better their stuff has aged compared to other Southern Rock bands of the era (Allman Brothers excepted, of course).

Guadalcanal Diary was my favorite live band for a period in the ’80s, and their second album, Jamboree, had never been issued on CD domestically until this year. So I got that, on a two-fer with their debut, Walking in the Shadow of the Big Man. Great records, both of them, by a criminally underappreciated band who had the misfortune of making guitar rock in Northern Georgia at right around the time that R.E.M. was breaking big, so they always got painted in the music press as an addendum to the R.E.M. story, although they deserved much better.

Camper Van Beethoven’s Cigarettes and Carrot Juice compiles their first three indie records with the Camper Vantiquities odds-and-sods collection and a previously unreleased live album. This one makes me really nostalgic, because Camper Van Beethoven were so unique and cool and special when they first broke college radio in the years right before “alternative” became a programming genre. Another amazingly unique group who did things that no one else was doing at the time. Much, much better than anything the group’s members have done since, including Cracker, the most famous post-Camper band. Very affordably priced too: five CDs for about $35 at Borders, a bargain by any stretch of the imagination.

Mike Oldfield’s Boxed compiles his first three monster-selling records (Tubular Bells, Hergest Ridge and Ommadawn) along with the Collaborations disc. The whole thing’s a bit self-indulgent and wifty, but its best moments (most of them on Bells and Ommadawn) still sound fresh and spry today. Back in the pre-digital days when it was actually reasonably difficult for one person to record and play all the instruments on an album, Oldfield created stunning symphonic works with amazingly intricate layers and textures; the 90-guitar army on Ommadawn has to be heard to be believed. (And for those who aren’t familiar with Oldfield, Tubular Bells provided the key musical themes for The Exorcist, if that gives you any sense of how powerful they were). Also, this version of Tubular Bells features a remixed “Sailor’s Hornpipe” ending section, with the Bonzo Dog Band’s Vivian Stanshall drunkingly strolling through a Victorian mansion describing the things he finds there. A rare moment of scintillating humor in the progressive rock canon.

On the book front, I got Kraftwerk: I Was a Robot by Wolfgang Flur, which looks to be a brilliant read. I’m weird in always being interested in the members of bands who aren’t generally perceived to be the major members. In Kraftwerk, most people focus on Florian Schneider and Ralf Hutter, but I’ve always been interested in the other two members of their seminal era: Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Flur. Kraftwerk weren’t quite as good before they joined, and weren’t quite as good after they left, so they must have brought something to the mix, but if you read the officially sanctioned bios and books, they get little mention. In fact, Ralf and Florian actually sued Flur to suppress publication of this book when it was originally issued in Germany, which makes it all the more potentially interesting to me. What were they afraid of? We’ll find out, as soon as we finish reading My Eyes Mint Gold, the excellent Mervyn Peake biography by Malcolm Yorke.

Curse you, big tree!

Somebody sent me a picture of the big tree. It’s nice enough, but I need to get one with a person in it to give a sense of scale. For perspective, the cinder blocks in the wall are eight inches high, although in this picture they look like standard bricks. They’re not. They’re big. It’s a big tree. And I hate it so very much, sitting there looking all smug and pretty, like it’s the nicest, sweetest, easiest thing in the world. Trickery! Trickery!

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