Sunday, May 31, 2009

NBA Finals

Well...this is why I'm not paid to talk about basketball, because obviously I do not know what I am talking about. Although, many people who are paid to talk about basketball predicted the same thing I did - that Cleveland would win a championship.

The two conference finals that just ended were both much more exciting than the 4-2 records indicate. With a little more maturity and poise at certain moments, I think that Denver could have prevailed. They will be fun to watch next season. But the way Orlando completely manhandled Cleveland was pretty shocking. It is true that Orlando is Cleveland's worst match-up nightmare. Orlando was always in control of that series. Lebron is clearly the most talented player on the planet, but he needs some serious help in Cleveland. With this loss, it makes 2010 and the question of where Lebron decides to play much more interesting. I am happy that Orlando won because I am a bigger fan of team basketball vs. superstar dominated basketball. As a team, Cleveland deserved to go no further. I wonder if the NBA will still run those premature, annoying Kobe/Lebron commercials. Poor David Stern.

So, we have a Lakers vs. Orlando finals. I hope Orlando wins, I really like their play, but my prediction is now: Lakers win the championship in 6 games.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Stripper Poles and Water Cops

ABOVE: Dez slides backwards, head first off the second tier of the Party Barge

How was your Memorial Day weekend? My friend Tim over at ANCIANT apparently did battle with mammoth fleas. My wife and I went up to Dallas to hang with some of her friends. A particularly colorful friend of my wife's who shall remain nameless (we'll call her Melissa) invited us up for her third annual Party Barge Extravaganva out on the lake. She rented a party barge and invited about 50 of her closest friends, and we loaded the barge with booze and food and set out on the water.

On this lake there is an area called Party Cove, which is where boats of all sizes anchor and people swim or ride jetskis from boat to boat to, I guess, party. Much partying did occur. I had a good time jumping off the second tier of the barge into the water, over and over again. I got to chat with many friendly people, including many lawyer types. I got to watch a smooth talking Asian dude from Australia hit on my wife. He was friendly, though, so I didn't mind. One of the attorneys in our party brought his very attractive stripper girlfriend aboard. She promised a show, but unfortunately became too intoxicated to perform and her sugar daddy whisked her away on another boat before she went too far. But isn't that her job in the first place?

Things got quite exciting as ominous dark clouds approached on the horizon, and as the downpour started I was lying semi-conscious in a small raft attached to the barge by a rope. When rain and wind hit, I discovered that it becomes much more difficult to swim. But I was saved.

I didn't see how it all started, but at one point I noticed about five water cops on our barge arresting one of my fellow revellers. Balsy, since this was a barge full of attorneys. He allegedly poured beer on the head of one of the officers from the second floor of the barge as the cop boat was idling alongside the barge. Bad move.

Once we docked after 8 hours on the water, a small boat carrying some of our group had been pulled over and the driver was arrested for BWI. One of the other gentleman on the boat got upset and the officers arrested him too. That was interesting to watch, as it took three cops and two cans of mace to take our man down. He is a marine, though, so that made sense. Semper Fi.

The most fun was had on the ride back from the lake. Melissa had rented us all a big bus for the hour long trip. This bus was clearly a bachelor party bus, as it had a wonderful stripper pole right in the middle with flashing lights and everything. I enjoyed watching many drunken girls in bathing suits in our party try the pole out on the way home to "Paradise City" and "Pour Some Sugar On Me". Gotta love the 80's. But, as the wonderful good times of the day came to an end, I couldn't help but be disappointed as I wondered what the true professional who was with us earlier in the day could have done with that pole. Sigh.

Oh, god save our troops. That's what Memorial Day's all about.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Some Hip For Ya

Here's a tune from The Tragically Hip's new album, We Are the Same. For the unitiated, The Tragically Hip are one of Canada's finest bands, and they are one of my all time favorite bands as well. Still a cult band here in the States, they've been filling arenas north of the border for two decades now. Anyway, the tune is "Morning Moon" and I've been digging on it for a couple of weeks now. It is relatively mellow compared to the Hip's usual bombast, but a lovely song nonetheless. Can't say the new record is all this great, but there are some real gems like this one and "The Last Recluse." Long live The Hip.

Bonus Hip: here's a clip of them doing one of my favorite tunes of theirs, "Nautical Disaster," on SNL sometime in the 1990's...

Monday, May 18, 2009

Conference Finals

The NBA playoffs trudge along. My Rockets deserve a hand for pushing the heavily favored Lakers to 7 games, but the inevitable did indeed occur. A look back to the round that just ended:

Cleveland v. Atlanta: Dez predicted Cleveland in 5. Result: Cleveland in 4.
Boston v. Orlando: Dez said Boston in 6. Result: Orlando in 7.
L.A. v. Houston: Dez said L.A. in 5. Result: L.A. in 7.
Denver v. Dallas: Dez said Denver in 6. Result: Denver in 5.

Pretty good other than the 2-3 match-up in the East. I was glad to see Orlando win, though. I hate the Celtics.

Looking Forward...

EAST Finals: Cleveland v. Orlando. So far Cleveland has swept their way through the playoffs. Orlando will be their first real challenge. I say Cleveland in 6.

WEST Finals: L.A. Lakers v. Denver. I have revised my predictions here. Recall that since the beginning I predicted a Lakers/Denver conference final. I also predicted a sweep by The Lakers. Denver has proven to be better than I thought, the Lakers have proven to be softer than I thought. The Lakers piss me off with their half-ass attitude. So, no sweep. This goes to seven, but the damn Lakers still win.

David Stern and NBA get their pre-ordained Kobe v. Lebron finals with the battery of already made commercials featuring both stars.

FINALS: Cleveland will beat the Lakers in 6.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Two Quick Thoughts...

1. Nancy Pelosi is a liar.

2. How about those Houston Rockets? (As JMW pointed out, I keep picking against them and they keep surprising me. So: I predict a Lakers victory on Sunday in Game 7)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Dez's Hall of Fame, Pt. II: Chess Records

It might seem odd that I pick a record company instead an actual artist for induction into the Dez Hall of Fame, but Chess Records was more than just a record label. It was a sound, it was a spirit, it was the best that Chicago electric blues music had to offer. The recent film Cadillac Records was based on Chess, and while it was an enjoyable film, it failed to accurately convey the real story or importance of Chess. The success of Chess Records was due both to the volcanic talent and creativity of its black roster of artists and the vision (and cutthroat business methods) of its two white, immigrant proprietors, Leonard and Phil Chess.

Some might argue that the success of Chess had more to do with being in the right place at the right time. Certainly, running a blues record label in Chicago between the 1940's and 1960's had certain advantages. The myth of Chicago blues is that the talent was so plentiful that all one had to do was walk down the street for a couple of minutes and you would come across the next Muddy Waters. But why was it Chess that was able to capture the zeitgeist, and not (as much) its many rivals?

Brothers Leonard and Phil Chess immigrated from Poland to Chicago in the late 1920's. Leonard was a nightclub owner by the late 1940's, and he started to see the great untapped potential of the many newly arrived black musicians who had left the South for the big city, and who also needed amplification to be heard in the clubs. A revolution born out of necessity was brewing in the blues clubs of Chicago, and Leonard decided to get in on the action. He and brother Phil bought Aristocrat Records, renamed it Chess Records, and moved away from the jazz and pop that the label had been recording and tried to capture this new raw, electric blues sound.

ABOVE: The shrewd Leonard Chess

Leonard Chess had several potent weapons. First, he understood and had empathy for the black culture of the times. In many ways (if not financially), he viewed his artists as equals. While the prejudice of the times prevented many white run labels from seeing the financial potential in black music, it was said of Leonard that the only color he cared about was green. Secondly, the Chess brothers were cutthroat businessmen who took advantage of their talented but uneducated musicians and also outfoxed other labels in both discovering talent and stealing talent under contract with their rivals. Finally, they had Willie Dixon.

ABOVE: Willie Dixon was a talented blues artist and bassist, but he was also one of the greatest American songwriters of the 20th century. Dixon wrote dozens of blues classics that were farmed out to Chess artists.

What about those Chess artists? Electric blues, and by extention rock and roll, would not be the same without Chess Records. Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Little Walter, Etta James and Sonny Boy Williamson all recorded their most important music with Chess. Other artists such as John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, Ramsey Lewis, Little Milton, Otis Rush, The Moonglows, The Flamingos, Elmore James and others also recorded important sides for Chess. I could write lengthy posts about each of these artists, but the fact that they all walked through the doors of Chess is remarkable. Chess made its name in blues, but from the late 50's into the 60's, it moved into rock (with Berry and Diddley, Chess was as important to rock and roll history as it was to blues), soul and jazz.

ABOVE: This is Howlin' Wolf (aka Chester Burnett) singing "Smokestack Lightning." Wolf is my favorite blues singer of all time, check out that freakin' voice! Blues itself. That's Willie Dixon on bass behind Wolf, and famed blues guitarist Hubert Sumlin is also there.

ABOVE: Check out Muddy Waters and his band tearing it up at the Newport Jazz Festival on "Got My Mojo Workin'". How about Muddy's moves at about 5:45? While Muddy could definitely play the down home dirty blues (many of his early Chess sides prove this), he also had great style and sophistication when he wanted to. Nice suit.

Unfortunately, after Leonard's death in 1969, Chess' fortunes fell sharply, and it ceased to exist as a creative entity for new music in the early 70's. But the legacy of Chess's music through countless reissues lives on.

We at GNABB proudly induct Chess Records (including the Chess brothers and the artists of Chess) into the Dez Hall of Fame.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Dez Reviews: Star Trek, 2009

First things first. Any Trekkie sightings? My wife and I went to see the new Star Trek flick yesterday with some friends, and I did spot a couple of people in line with their Star Trek uniforms on. But no Vulcan ears.

Since there seems to be a drought of new ideas these days, movie studios have been combing their already existing properties to see if there is more money to be made from what they already own. Hence, we are in the "Reboot" Era. Batman, Bond...each property has an obligatory origin story that pretends all of the previous films in the series never existed. One of the great golden gooses in film properties, Star Trek, was bound to get its reboot sooner or later. But I really like how they've handled this one. Director J.J. Abrams and his team deftly forge a path open for future creativity while still acknowledging all that came before. Through a neat plot twist involving time traveling Romulans, the new 'Star Trek' franchise is based on the premise that everything we've seen so far in the Star Trek universe has in fact occurred, but this film (and presumably the sequels to come) exist in some alternate universe of time and space.

The plot revolves around the evil time traveling rogue Romulan Capt. Nero (played ably by Eric Bana). Nero is driven by revenge against Spock, whom he blames for the destruction of his home planet of Romulus. His plan involves eye for an eye, or planet for planet(s): the destruction of Spock's duel ancestral homes of Vulcan and Earth. Of course, the film is also the obligatory origin story of all of the familiar 'Star Trek' characters and the Enterprise itself.

ABOVE: The updated Enterprise crew (except Spock). From L-R: Checkov, Kirk, Scotty, Dr. McCoy, Sulu and Uhura.

The reason Star Trek ultimately succeeds is the excellent cast. Kirk, Spock, Sulu, Checkov, Bones, Uhura, Scotty...all are expertly cast with young, charismatic actors who do a wonderful job of channeling the history of each of these characters but without being trapped by that same history. In fact, the entire movie succeeds due to that delicate balance of respecting and loving Trek history but not being anchored by it. Serious Trekkies can take heart and enjoy fun references throughout to Trek lore (such as the infamous Kobayashi Maru simulation...if you don't know what that is, don't ask). But the film is accessible enough for those not fluent in Trek culture. There is an overarching, joyful spirit in this cast. They are almost giddy to be in these roles, and the attitude is infectious. Abrams was smart enough to keep and even accentuate all of the great quirks of these characters (James Kirk is as horny as ever, willing to bed any hot alien chick he comes across. Actually, there is quite a bit of sex here. Even Spock gets some action in a funny little subplot that reverses the roles Kirk and Spock usually play).

Zachary Quinto deserves special mention as Spock, as he struggles with his conflicting logical Vulcan and emptional human halves. When Leonard Nimoy appears as an aged Spock and confronts the young Spock (made possible by the time travel elements of the plot) is both a wonderful scene and also remarkable that it is Quinto who looks and acts more like Nimoy in his prime than Nimoy himself. Quinto has taken this role so linked to Leonard Nimoy and made it his own. I also really enjoyed the new character of Admiral Pike (played wonderfully by Bruce Greenwood), who serves as the necessary mentor to the reckless, young Kirk.

ABOVE: Before they were friends. Spock (Zachary Quinto) shows Kirk (Chris Pine) who is (temporarily) boss on The Enterprise.

Things have been updated, of course. This film is heavy on the action and a little lighter on the jargon filled dialogue some Trek fans are used to. It is not perfect. While it is fun from start to finish, when you stop and actually analyze the plot, there are some major holes, leaps of faith, and one coincidental meeting that almost defies logic and the odds, yet is crucial to how things turn out. And the overwrought musical score is annoying at times. But overall the film is a lot of fun and what a summer blockbuster should be. I am definitely eager to join this new Enterprise crew on future adventures...

***1/2 out of ***** (Almost a ****, but some of the plot holes bother me, so I docked it an additional half star for that).

Friday, May 8, 2009

From the Mouth of Ron Artest...

"I remember one time, my friend was playing basketball, and they was winning the game, it was so competitive that they broke a leg from a table and they threw it and it went right through his heart and he died. Right on the court. So, uh, I'm accustomed to playing basketball really rough...[on Kobe's elbow in Game 2] you gotta have balls to hit a guy like me in the throat...I went over there to tell Kobe, 'you hittin' the wrong person, don't you know you hittin' Ron Artest?' I mean, come on."

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

RIP Dom DeLuise, 1933-2009

The guy wasn't Robert DeNiro, but he did make his own mark in the movies. Believe it or not, about a month ago, my good friend Walter Evans and I had an in depth discussion about the films of Dom DeLuise. I also remember asking him whether Dom was still alive, since I hadn't seen him in anything in quite awhile.

DeLuise got his start on television, and his big break came playing Dominick the Great, a recurring skit on the Dean Martin Variety Show where Dom played a particularly inept magician opposite Dean's skeptical audience "volunteer."

But DeLuise's career will forever be linked with two men: Burt Reynolds and Mel Brooks. DeLuise was often Reynolds' wisecracking, often insane sidekick in such non-classics as Cannonball Run, Cannonball Run II, Smokey & the Bandit II, Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, The End and others. He was also a regular player in Mel Brooks films like Blazing Saddles, Silent Movie, History of the World Pt. 1, Spaceballs (in which Dom played Pizza the Hut) and others. One got the impression that Dom knew that he wasn't working with Shakespeare material, but he didn't really care. He had a natural gift for broad humor and simply enjoyed life and making others laugh. I like this quote from Mel Brooks: "Dom created so much joy and laughter on the set that you couldn't get your work done. So every time I made a movie with Dom, I would plan another two days on the schedule just for laughter." A key element to his humor was a willingness to poke considerable fun at himself (and often at his weight problems). Later in life Dom wrote several acclaimed cook books and appeared on cooking shows, combining his two passions, entertaining and food.

RIP Dom DeLuise.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Round 2

Round 1 of the NBA Playoffs was quite exciting. First things first, how did Dez’s predictions come out?

• Dez: Lakers would sweep Utah. Outcome: Lakers, 4-1.
• Dez: Denver beat New Orleans in 6. Outcome: Nuggets, 4-1.
• Dez: San Antonio over Dallas in 7. Outcome: Dallas, 4-1.
• Dez: Portland over Houston in 7. Outcome: Houston, 4-2.
• Dez: Cleveland over Detroit in 5. Outcome: Cleveland, 4-0.
• Dez: Boston over Chicago in 6. Outcome: Boston, 4-3.
• Dez: Orlando over Philadelphia in 6. Outcome: Orlando, 4-2.
• Dez: Atlanta over Miami in 7. Outcome: Atlanta, 7.

Not too bad. I got 6 victors out of 8, and I wasn’t too far off on some of the games. A few thoughts on the first round before moving on to Round 2. The Nuggets beat The Hornets by 58 points in New Orleans. Wow. People will continue to underestimate the Nuggets at their own peril. San Antonio had less in their tank than I thought, and Dallas is better than they showed most of the season. I am so glad that I was wrong on the Portland/Houston series. And all the sweeter that Houston advanced to the second round for the first time this century without Tracy McGrady on the floor. I hope that you got to watch some of the Boston-Chicago series. That was epic. A record total of six overtimes.

Now with my revised predictions going forward…


Cleveland beats Atlanta in 5 games. Boston vs. Orlando is tough, because Orlando can be mediocre or great on any given night. I would like to see Orlando advance because I do not like the Celtics, but now I’m saying Boston in 6.

Then in the East Finals it will be Cleveland over Boston in 6.


Lakers over Houston in 5. Denver over Dallas in 6.

In the West Finals, Lakers over Denver in 5.

FINALS: This is now tougher to call than it was in the beginning. I still say Lakers, but it goes 7 games.

ABOVE: Ron Artest of The Rockets will do his best to guard Kobe Bryant

Friday, May 1, 2009

Dez's Hall of Fame, Pt. I

I haven't decided how regular this feature will be, but from time to time I will induct a new inductee into Dez's Hall of Fame. What is the criteria for being inducted into the DHOF? As you will see, DHOF inductees will come from a variety of areas...historical figures, great companies, favorite bands, favorite movies, sports figures. The only criteria is that Dez must have admiration for you.

Dez Hall of Fame Inductee #1: Blue Bell Creameries

ABOVE: Blue Bell Ice Cream's flavor of Homemade Vanilla is the leading single flavor of ice cream sold in the United States.

If you grew up in Texas like I did, then you probably grew up eating Blue Bell ice cream. As a serious ice cream connoisseur, I can unequivocally state that Blue Bell is the best ice cream around.

Blue Bell started in 1907 as The Brenham Creamery Company. Brenham, Texas is a small town not too far outside of Houston that is known for two things: Blue Bell ice cream and dangerous, gun wielding orphans. For most of its history, Blue Bell ice cream was sold exclusively in Texas. The company has been controlled by the Kruse family, first E.F. Kruse and then his sons, Ed and Howard, for almost 100 years. In 1989, Blue Bell started to sell its ice cream in other states, and it currently sells ice cream in 17 states, mostly in the South. Blue Bell accounts for over 50% of all ice cream sold in Texas, and it is the 3rd most popular selling ice cream nationwide, which is quite impressive considering that it is only sold in 17 states whereas its competitors sell their ice creams nationwide. What this means is that wherever Blue Bell is sold, it beats its competition. The key to Blue Bell's success is quality control and consistency. They have their own cows from which they get their milk, and the cream used in making the ice cream is never more than 24 hours old. All aspects of the ice cream making process is performed in Blue Bell's four facilities and is strictly monitored to Blue Bell's high standards.

In 1969, Blue Bell first sold its flavor of Homemade Vanilla, which still stands as the company's foundation. It is hard to explain the greatness of Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla. The perfect balance of freshness, texture, sweetness and flavor. There is a small but devoted cult (to which my wife and I proudly belong) that prefers Blue Bell's Natural Vanilla Bean flavor for our vanilla of choice. It has a sharper and bolder vanilla flavor to it, and is less creamy. (French Vanilla is their third basic vanilla flavor).

While the claim is somewhat disputed, Blue Bell is supposedly the first creamery to offer Cookies 'n Cream. In recent years, Blue Bell has greatly expanded their flavor choices with a dizzying array of new flavors. They also have a habit of rotating fun flavors in and out of production. Two more recent summer flavors include Delta Blues (Vanilla mixed with blueberries and pie crust) and Southern Blackberry Cobbler. While all of these flavors may be fun, you just can't beat their basic flavors that have stood the test of time. One of my faves is called The Great Divide, which is a swirl of their Homemade Vanilla and their other standby, Dutch Chocolate. I pity the fools who do not have access to Blue Bell ice cream. George W. Bush was so devoted that he had Blue Bell shipped in to Camp David and The White House during the length of his presidency.

Therefore, we here at GNABB proudly induct Blue Bell Creameries into the Dez Hall of Fame, for consistently living up to their high standards in ice cream making, for creating a Texas business institution, and for living up to their tagline of "The Best Ice Cream in the Country."