Monday, February 17, 2014

From Russia With Luge

Enough with the commie Olympics already. It's difficult to take a winter sports festival seriously when the snow in Charleston, South Carolina is deeper than the site of the games. There was more ice in Atlanta than there was in Sochi. Seriously, one afternoon in the city chosen to host the quadrennial ice capades, the temperature soared to sixty degrees, transforming a powdery overcoat of machine-enhanced snow into a layer of sno-cone ice that lacked the bubblegum flavor that some of the hapless skiers might have preferred. I mean, who skis when it's sixty degrees? In the south, that's considered warm enough to swim. By the way, if snow skiing is considered a sport in the winter Olympics, then why is water skiing not a sport in the summer Olympics? And this Biathlon business is not a sport. The combination of cross-country skiing while pausing to target shoot with a scoped-rifle is basic training for the Swiss army.
The problem with the winter Olympics is that they're just not American. Every year, people all over the United States are breaking legs attempting to ski, because skiing just isn't an American sport. It's an Alpine sport that began when Heidi needed a doctor and the fastest way for grandpa to get down the mountain was on a couple of old bed slates. Now, the men's downhill is a test of the technology as much as the skier. If you want to go skiing in the U.S. you have to either be part of the fortunate one percent who can afford a ski lodge in Park City, Utah, or else you have to go to a ski resort. In either case, it screams of elitism. Anybody can learn to swim or run fast but skiing is a rich man's sport. You first have to book a flight and a room-combo, well before snow season, to a mountainous ski resort. Then upon arriving, if there is no snow, that's your problem. If it's snowing there are other arrangements to make: ski lessons, times on the slopes, doctor's appointments. But before you do anything, there's all that gear you need to buy. I suppose that they rent you your skis, but no self-respecting resort attendee would consider wearing any protective garments previously worn by another. That's too much like renting bowling shoes. Each ski student must have the weather protective, one-piece garment that they used to call a leisure suit back in the day. Then there's the helmet, goggles, and gloves, and the de-rigueur insulated, Michelin Man, overcoat. Not to mention the plaster casts for sprains and breaks. Personally, I don't care to participate in any sport where a St. Bernard is involved.
The only other race as exciting as the mens' speed skating was watching Bob Costas' pink-eye race from his left eye to the right. He remained in his post like a trouper before his malady began to frighten and disgust viewers, when he was properly relieved to receive treatment. There's a sort of sports poetry in Bob Costas ending his iron man streak of Olympic broadcasts and Derek Jeter announcing his retirement from baseball in the same week. Back to the men's speed skating, which is a more accessible sport to the ordinary human than skiing, since everyone remembers that ankle pain when first attempting to step on the ice. Speed skating is an exciting sport but the skaters' suits have become so aero-dynamic and skin tight that they may as well skate naked just like the ancient Greeks. I understand it's necessary to keep a tight package for wind resistance sake, but if everyone skated naked, it would be the only sport that rewarded the man with the small penis. Also, if they would like to make skating even more thrilling, make them skate on dry ice. That would add an incentive to remain upright. One more X Games-themed idea: they should ban ski poles on the mountains and make them gut it out like surfers and ski jumpers.
During Vladimir's Olympics, Putin himself made appearances at some of the more macho events. It's good that he passed on the men's figure skating and the teams ice-dancing, or his head would have exploded. He might have admired U.S. figure skater Jeremy Abbott's reaction to his critics after crashing and burning in the men's short program. Abbott exploded during an interview and told his detractors to go fuck themselves. Some of Abbott's competitors' costumes were so outlandish, I was afraid Putin would order the Russian police to arrest them on the spot for pro-gay propaganda. Putin's glassy stare and mirthless smile conjure up images of those old KGB agents who would stab someone with the tip of a poisoned walking stick. In fact, that's who Putin is. When I heard that the U.S. hockey team beat the Russians in a shootout, I thought that meant the squad had to escape under the cover of CIA sniper fire. The greatest anticipation now remaining is whether the return of Bob Costas will yield yet another infection of some sort, and whether the yellow tap water is responsible. CNBC reports that the 2014 Olympic Games will cost an estimated fifty-one billion dollars, the most expensive in history. Even Mitt Romney criticized Putin, calling the games an "unsavory" vanity project. If only this country could spend that kind of money on roads and bridges. Putin's Winter Olympics at Sochi do prove one thing: if you build it they will come.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

The Fabs at Fifty

It was fifty years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play. That's a factually incorrect statement but a good opening line to talk about the fiftieth anniversary of the Beatles' first appearance on American television. To commemorate the event, Beatlemania will be sweeping the airwaves once again all this week with special concerts, documentaries, celebrations and dedications. For younger viewers it will be a chance to see real time footage of the Beatles' first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, (they made three in successive weeks), and the chaos that ensued. For old fans like me, it will be an opportunity to relive a revolutionary moment in the history of rock music, along with the 73 million other viewers that tuned in the night of Feb. 9, 1964. The date is significant because, after that, nothing was ever the same.
The Ed Sullivan Show, on Sunday nights, was a variety show that featured acts as varied as opera singers and acrobats, plate spinners and flamenco dancers. On Feb. 9, I was enjoying a Sunday dinner of hamburgers and spaghetti at Granny's before we settled in front of the TV to witness the Beatles' debut. Of course, the elders tsk, tsked, while I went crazy. I was eagerly anticipating the Beatles' television debut because I'd already bought the album. While cruising east on Walnut Grove on a clear January afternoon, something came on the car radio unlike anything I had ever heard and I knew it must be that English band I'd been hearing about. I made an immediate left on Perkins and headed for Pop Tunes. They only had the new single in stock, (which I still have in the original sleeve), but promised to call me when the LP arrived. Shortly afterward, I got the call that "Meet the Beatles" had arrived and snatched up one of the first copies. That evening, my friends and I got together to listen to first one side, and then the other, over and over again, completely captivated by this raw and exhilarating new sound. We also marvelled at their matching Prince Valiant haircuts, their tailored suits, and their Italian boots with the raised heels that immediately and for everafter became known as "Beatle boots." The next day, we started to let our hair grow.
I realize the potential risks of my writing about the Beatles morphing into the rantings of an old geezer raving about his favorite band from days of yore. Lord knows, I wouldn't care about hearing someone from my parents' generation talk about the first time they saw Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians. But the Beatles' music has not only endured, it has thrived. Their long-awaited songs finally becoming available for internet download was received with the enthusiasm usually reserved for the latest, hottest thing. The 2009 release of "The Beatles Rock Band" video game, where participants simulate playing Beatle songs with controllers shaped like musical instruments, was a huge success and helped boost sales of the newly remastered Beatle albums on CD. It's never surprising to hear that some of the most enthusiastic Beatle fans are the children, or even the grandchildren, of your friends. The band's unmatchable career, development, and the evolving message in their music has become a generational phenomenon, and if this week's festivities are any indication, the music will continue to resonate into the foreseeable future.
In celebration, CBS news is presenting a "live, interactive event," at the Ed Sullivan Theatre on Sunday, from 5-7 PM Central, fifty years to the day of the Fabs' live performance, featuring "rare footage from CBS News' extensive archive of the Beatles first three days in New York City." A special tribute concert, sponsored by the Grammys, will air in Ed Sullivan's old time spot following the news special. Taped in Los Angeles the day after the Grammy Awards, featured artists include a reunited Eurythmics, with Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, John Legend, Stevie Wonder, Katy Perry, John Mayer, and a Ringo/Paul reunion in which they do play Beatle songs. If that weren't enough to satisfy your Fab Four fix, following the Grammy special, Paul and Ringo come full circle and will appear live on a special David Letterman Show, airing, of course, from the Ed Sullivan Theatre. All week, leading up to Sunday, all Letterman's musical guests on his nightly show will play Beatle songs. On Feb.8, commemorating the Beatles' iconic arrival at New York's JFK, the airport will host a celebration and dedicate a historical marker. A new Beatle book has been released titled, "The Beatles: All These Years. Vol.1- Tune In," by Mark Lewisohn, whom the New York Times called "the most serious historian to have examined the Beatles' lives and work." I guess so, because this first of three planned tomes runs 803 pages long and only goes up to 1962. For those like me, who love the Beatles, all this activity shows that the Lads from Liverpool are going to be around for a long, long time. Strawberry Fields Forever, baby.