Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Are You Up For the Scallenge?

Anyone remember Brian Scalabrine? Most NBA teams (or any professional sports team) have a couple of these guys, perennial bench warmers who get to play in the last 2 minutes or so of blowout games. The ultimate role players who are willing to do the dirty work, play in garbage time, get some Gatorade for the stars…basically happy to be on the roster. Also usually tall white guys. These are guys who you see playing on TV, and from the comfort of your Laz-E Boy you say, “I could take that guy on.” Scalabrine was a particularly genial bench warmer, and became a fan favorite during his 11 years in the NBA, although not due to his on court prowess. (In Chicago he was referred to by fans in jest as “the White Mamba,” in contrast to Kobe Bryant’s more intimidating “Black Mamba.” He was also referred to as “the human victory cigar.”) Scalabrine has since retired and is now a broadcaster on a New England station.

ABOVE: Scalabrine surveys the action on the court from his throne (the bench)

ABOVE: The White Mamba shows off his championship ring that he "earned" with the Celtics in 2008. He averaged 1.8 points and 1.6 rebounds that season. He didn't play in the playoffs. But he does have as many rings as Lebron James.

Having had enough of being an NBA punchline, he agreed to take on Boston’s best amateurs, one on one, to once and for all shut up his detractors. A local radio show sponsored the event, and his potential opponents had to send in videos demonstrating their hoops skills (and also talking the requisite trash to the White Mamba). Check out the link here for footage of the challenge, or the “Scallenge,” as it was called. He took on four of Boston’s best amateurs, one of whom was on the Syracuse roster last year. The results? Maybe it ain’t so easy to make it in the NBA after all, even as a bench warmer. The White Mamba dominated the Scallenge, doing what he never was able to do in the NBA, throwing down Blake Griffin-like dunks and shooting Jordanesque jumpers over the heads of the competition, absolutely crushing them. The final results were a combined 44-6 in favor of Scalabrine (one point per basket in one on one), with two of the games being shut-outs. So even the NBA scrubs are much better than pretty much anyone else in the country.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

It's Not Nearly Over

We all know that Bob Dylan is our greatest popular song lyricist. So many of his songs are so fundamentally well constructed that there is much room for interpretation for countless admirers. Dylan's vocals and performance styles can be an acquired taste (I like it), so it is interesting to listen to the many cover versions of his songs. There are some where his original leaves the covers in the dust. Forget Eric Clapton and Guns 'n Roses, it is Dylan's haunting and stark "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" that is definitive.

On the other hand, Jimi Hendrix performed what may be the greatest rock cover ever performed when he took Dylan's acoustic folk "All Along the Watchtower" and turned it into a maelstrom. Dylan was so impressed that he, like everyone else, started to perform Hendrix's arrangement to where it was almost like Dylan was covering Hendrix instead of vice versa.

One of my favorite Dylan songs has got to be "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" from 1965's Bringing It All Back Home. It has inspired a number of gorgeous covers that do what good covers should do: take the original song and do something new with it. The artist covering the song should put his or her stamp on it. The many covers of "Baby Blue" certainly do that. Here are some favorites. First, below is Dylan's original:

One of the first covers of the song was from 1966 by Van Morrison and his rock band Them. While maintaining the basic song structure, Van makes the song taut and greatly improves on Bob's version (you might recognize the sample used in Beck's 1996 "Jack-Ass"):

The preeminent Dylan interpreters, The Byrds, recorded two very different versions of the song. I love the later one, which is from their later country period. They slow it down to a country lilt, and I was listening to it last night at about 3 a.m. and at that moment, I swore it was loveliest song I'd ever heard. Check out those gorgeous Byrd harmonies (even though it is not their most famous period) and the sublime slide playing from Clarence White:

Here is a haunting, ethereal take on the song from the cult Texas psychedelic band 13th Floor Elevators. The lo-fi recording quality adds to the Roky Erikson/Elevators mystique. I've got all of the Elevators albums on LP, and they make for great late night listening. I also kind of dig this creepy accompanying video I found on YouTube...

And finally check out Falco's take, where he works off of Van's version and makes it a jazzy, boozy tune that actually works quite well...

There are many other versions, including from The Animals, Joni Mitchell, The Grateful Dead, Bad Religion, Echo & the Bunnymen, etc.

The sign of a song that is so well written is that it works as a basic template on which each artist can make their mark.

Thursday, January 10, 2013


First of all, Happy New Year to my many reader(s). Exciting news, I have another daughter on the way. I had to wait to surprise some people with the news over the holidays. Now that the requisite people know, I can post it here.

We've been explaining this whole thing to my daughter (almost three), and I think she is starting to grasp the gravity of the situation. Before we found out, we asked her many times whether she wanted a brother or a sister, and for long time she firmly stated that she wanted "only Mommy and Daddy." Well, too damn bad, that cow has already left the barn. But eventually she came around to expressing a preference for a sister, and according to the sonogram we got a couple of days ago, a sister she will have.