Friday, April 14, 2017

2016-2017 NBA Playoff Opening Round Predictions!

Fuck yeah! The 2016-2017 NBA Playoffs are finally ready to begin!

I am an unabashed Warriors fan, but I must say, the beginning of these playoffs feels like déjà vu of the 2014 NBA Playoffs when it felt destined that they would culminate with a Finals rematch between the Heat and Spurs. This year, of course, it feels like the Warriors and Cavs will square off again for the championship. And like the Spurs, it feels inevitable that the Warriors will avenge their collapse in last year’s Finals.

At the onset of last year's playoffs, gave the Warriors a 42% likelihood of winning the title. The Cavs were given a 9% chance. We know how that turned out. (FiveThirtyEight also predicted an easy Clinton victory in the election—and we know how that turned out…)

For what it’s worth, this year FiveThirtyEight’s playoff forecast believes the Warriors, with their robust +11.6 point differential have a 59% likelihood of winning the title. The Cavs and their putrid defense come in with just a 2% chance of winning, less than the other top three seeds in the East. Yeeouch:

Just after they traded for Kyle Korver, I couldn’t fathom anyone in the Eastern Conference knocking off the Cavs. Conversely, before KD’s knee injury, I couldn’t imagine anyone in the West defeating a healthy Warriors squad in a seven-game series. Shit has changed a bit since, but now I feel far more confident that the Dubs will make it to the Finals whereas I am much more uncertain about the Cavs. As ESPN’s Marc Stein pointed out, the 2016-2017 Cavs are 22nd in defensive efficiency and will attempt to be the first team outside the top 10 in defensive efficiency to win it all since the 2000-01 Lakers. And speaking of the Lakers, in March the only team with a worse defensive efficiency than the Cavaliers were the Lakers—who were trying to fucking tank for the draft! LeQueen may talk all he wants about not caring what playoff seeding his teams finish with, but wrapping up the last full month of the regular season with the second worst defensive rating is not a tried and true route to winning a championship. (Did I mention the Cavs finished with a worst road record (3-9) against Western Conference teams than the mighty Brooklyn Nets or Orlando Magic?)

Okay, enough about the Cavs, who will be a lottery team in two seasons. Here’s some random (and bold!) playoff predictions before I put down my predictions for each opening round matchup:

Sunday, January 29, 2017

What I Learned From All My Jobs - Part II

Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog punching in for work

This is the last of my two-part series detailing many of my learnings from working for the big, big money:

16.    Office Assistant
-that truckers are a special breed of people (and probably excellent company for bullshiting and drinking)
-that traveling salespeople seem to operate with an inflated sense of hubris
-that salespeople can be assholes and charming at the same time
-that there is something severely depressing about dimly-lit office cafeterias with a poorly stocked vending machine that hums loudly
-that people working inside an office often look upon people working out in the warehouse as a different breed of human being
-that people working out in the warehouse often look upon people working inside an office as a different breed of human being
-that I have a knack for adapting the way I talk and interact to both groups
-that I have a fondness for manual time clock machines
-that I have an absolute and almost complete weakness for an attractive superior

Saturday, January 14, 2017

My Top 10 Favorite Cover Songs

A few weeks ago, guest blogger Jasmyn Wong put down her top 10 favorite covers of all-time. Here’s mine:

10.    Fever – Sarah Vaughan (Little Willie John)
In writing this post I actually discovered for the first time the original recording by Little Willie John. It’s not a bad tune or recording whatsoever, but I still slightly prefer this lively, bossa-novaesque cover by Sarah Vaughan. This playful rendition feels like it should be playing at the pool while you’re lounging about a pool in Lahaina, or possibly at a psychedelic circus in the company of Hunter Thompson. Either scenario is good in my book.

9.    Orion – Rodrigo y Gabriela (Metallica)
The first time I heard this rendition I was deliciously high. I was hanging out with friends. It was my first time hearing Rodrigo y Gabriela. This song played from the kitchen. It sounded familiar but I couldn’t quite place it so I walked over to the kitchen to give it a close listen. Once I realized it was an acoustic cover of Metallica’s masterful instrumental (which featured the late great bassist Cliff Burton), I proceeded to lose my head and shout with glee, startling my peeps. I still get similarly excited when I hear it.

8.     Painkiller – Death (Judas Priest)
For the record, I slightly prefer the original recording but Death’s cover is arguably tastier because it’s just nastier. Chuck Schuldiner’s genius is on full display on this track, from his dire, high-pitched vocals (he didn’t start off singing like that whatsoever!) to his scorching solo. Flawless cover of an epic metal classic.

7.    Loose – The Birthday Party (The Stooges)
Dear fucking god, Nick Cave manages to out-yell and out-nasty and out-crazy Iggy Pop on this track! His deranged vocals at the end of the song takes the fucking cake, and almost always gets me giggling in its sheer lunacy.

6.    Let’s Dance – M. Ward (David Bowie)
In all humbleness, I think M. Ward’s cover of Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” is ridiculously superior to the original. This cover takes the lyrics and chords and squeezes so much goddamn heart out of it. It’s a completely different song in M. Ward’s hands. The first time I listened to this rendition I just froze, enthralled with what I was listening to.

5.    Mystery Train – The Paul Butterfield Blues Band (Junior Parker)
My love for this song has been mentioned on this blog before. This blues standard has been covered by so many musicians but this rendition does it for me. The guitar sounds like it’s perfectly teetering on overdrive. And the harmonica gives the song a rollicking yet urgent tone.

4.    Changes – Charles Bradley (Black Sabbath)
If I was unfamiliar with Black Sabbath’s music, I would have never guessed that this neo-soul rendition was originally written by them. Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires make this song their own, and it’s a heartfelt rendition.

3.    D7 – Nirvana (The Wipers)
Great bands and musicians tend to have a knack for creating covers that are superior to the originals. This one’s a great example. The Wipers’ bare, sludgy original is honest and emotional, but Cobain and company take the dissonance and anger conveyed in the original and just fucking seriously ratchet it up. If you like Nirvana (like I do), Cobain’s genius is well displayed by simply comparing these two tracks. When you think about guitar gods, Cobain doesn’t immediately come to mind, but I humbly believe few other musicians wielded the raw, mighty synergy of distorted guitar and voice like he did. 2:24 – 3:01 of Nirvana’s cover is a quintessential example of that, and my god, that part has been making me shake my head in awe for nearly two decades now. (It also helps that Dave Grohl is absolutely murdering his drums during that part.)

2.    You Really Got Me – Van Halen (The Kinks)
Everything I said about great bands reinterpreting original material can be said about this cover. The Kinks’ original is a great song, but man, just from hearing Eddie’s blaring opening riff you know this rendition is going to blow the fucking balls off of the original recording. This is Van Halen at their finest. A goddamn supernova of vigor, swagger and sound.

1.    All Along the Watchtower – Jimi Hendrix (Bob Dylan)
Jimi’s cover of Bob Dylan’s song is so intensely good that I think most people associate this song to him. Honestly, there is no reason to listen to Dylan’s original unless you wish to hear just how inferior it is to Jimi’s kaleidoscopic cover.

Honorable Mentions:

Danger Zone – Banger Uterus (Kenny Loggins)

My friend, Avelina, sings in this outstanding cover! If you ask me, this rendition has more emotional depth and intensity than Kenny Loggins’ track for the Top Gun soundtrack.

Fever – The Cramps
I could have easily swapped this rendition for Sarah Vaughan’s.

Goin’ Out of My Head - Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66 (Little Anthony & the Imperials)
A catchy rendition with a subtle but nifty piano solo by Sergio Mendes.

Because – Elliott Smith (The Beatles)
This is the only Beatles cover I have ever listened to that can hold a candle to their original recording.

Baby Please Don’t Go – Van Morrison (Big Joe Williams)
A rocking rendition of this blues standard. The thumping bass line on this cover is just stellar.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

What I Learned From All My Jobs - Part I

at Cockbuster with my boy, Dmitri, at age 19, pulling my pants up ridiculously high, and letting it fly!

Homer: Yes, son. You can have an electric guitar just like your old man!
Bart: Dad, I'm asking if I can get a job.
Homer: Gig, son. When you're a musician, a job is called a gig.

From The Simpsons “Bart Gets Famous”

For most of my adult life, I have preferred to call a job a “gig” à la Homer J. Simpson. Maybe it’s because I treated many of them like gigs.

Counting my current job, I’ve had 30 different jobs since I started working when I was fourteen years old. This total includes gigs that lasted a month, but it doesn’t include ones that lasted a day (a canvasser for Clean Water Action) or a week or two (a door-to-door salesman when I was kid).

I’ve learned a lot from all these jobs. I figured it’d be interesting to catalog. So here’s what I learned:

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Top 10 Favorite Cover Songs by Jasmyn Wong

Joshua Tree National Park by Channone Arif

Hey, hey, hey, let’s have a drum roll for my first guest blogger!

My coworker, Jasmyn, is a Bay Area drummer who has contributed her subtle beat-keeping to an array of bands including The Skygreen Leopards, Paula Frazer & Tarnation, and The Sarees. Nowadays, you can find her laying down beats for Oakland’s Dawn Riding. Born in Santa Monica to artsy parents, Jasmyn grew up in San Francisco listening to a variety of music, from punk and oldies to jazz and R&B hits. (In case you’re interested, her favorite holiday song is Dave Brubeck‘s “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.“) She worked in curations at Pandora Radio for nearly seven years, and has also worked at Fandor and the Bay Area Video Coalition. She’s been a part of our office for just a little over two months, but she has already proven that she is indeed quite an exceptional source when it comes to discovering new outstanding musicians and films, which is why I was eager to find out what top 10 list of favorite cover songs she could drum up (oh, I couldn’t resist!)

Without further ado, here’s Jasmyn’s top 10 favorite cover songs. I hope you enjoy listening to them as much as I have; I’ll write up my accompanying post for the new year.

10) Buffy Sainte-Marie – Helpless (original composition by Neil Young)
Neil Young is one of my favorite singers of all time. In my most humble opinion, nobody compares to him. However, this particular cover really hits home for me. Buffy gives a soulful gospel approach in contrast to Neil’s folky melancholy version. I think Buffy’s vocal abilities really stand out in this song. 

9)    Nina Simone – I Ain’t Got No/I Got Life (James Rado, Gerome Ragni, Galt MacDemot-Hair)
I’ve been digging into the Nina Simone’s vaults lately to get me through these difficult times. This song is my ultimate favorite from her and has become a personal mantra for me. I still get tears every time I hear it. It reads as more of a serious political statement than the original to me.

8)    Bratmobile – Where Eagles Dare (The Misfits)
I was a huge fan of Riot Grrrl music and culture as a teenager. Bratmobile enlightened me to take feminism more seriously. This song still remains one of my life anthems. I also love how goofy Slim Moon’s lyrical deliveries are against Allison Wolfe’s scratchy angry vocals.

7)    The Flying Burrito Brothers – The Dark End of the Street (James Carr)
I have a big soft spot for hippie outlaw country folk bands from the late 60s to early 70s. This band is one of my favorites along with Gram Parsons’ solo projects. I always loved how raggedy and loose this version is compared to the soulful James Carr original. It reminds me of a nice smooth aged whiskey after a long hard day of work. For long drives through California and New Mexico’s landscapes, I highly recommend this song. 

6)    Quix*o*tic – Lord of this World (Black Sabbath)
I had been a long time fan of the DC all-girl punk band Slant 6, so when I heard one of the members formed a new band in the early 2000’s, I immediately grabbed a copy of this album. The one track that stuck out on this album was this cover of Black Sabbath. I normally don’t like covers of Black Sabbath, but this one takes the cake for me. I like how heavy they were able to do this song with just drums and guitar with Mira showcasing her tough-as-nails vocals. A job well done in my book!

5)    Siouxsie and the Banshees – The Passenger (Iggy Pop and Ricky Gardinier)
In high school, I caught my first glimpse of the goth world by attending my first darkwave club for our school’s newspaper. I heard Siouxsie and the Banshees’ version of this song on their sound system and was instantly enamored. This rendition has a more fancy yet careless vibe than Iggy’s. I’ll never forget the twirling of long black lace gowns and arms waving in the air to the beat of this tune.

4)    Phyllis Dillon – Woman of the Ghetto (Marlena Shaw)
Phyllis Dillon is one of my favorite female reggae artists. This version is tougher than leather and will inspire you to keep moving through these dark times. I also love how this rocksteady reggae song was still able to maintain strong classic soul R&B roots.

3)    Nico – These Days (Jackson Browne)
It was hard to decide between Ian Matthews and Nico’s version of this song. Of course, I had to pick the darker version of the two. I love how unique and eccentric Nico’s voice is. She contains a strong masculine tone yet soft around the edges. I also love how tasteful the string arrangement is orchestrated against the guitar parts.

2)    This Mortal Coil – Kangaroo (Alex Chilton)
I first heard this song while working at Urban Outfitters in the late 90’s. I literally stopped folding clothes and fell in love. This version almost sounds like a completely different song than the original from Big Star. The structural experimental music pauses after each verse are beautiful. This song also reminds me of a song that could have been on a Twin Peaks soundtrack. I love the way the guitar and violin keep swinging back and forth like a pendulum. Gordon Sharp’s vocals are a perfect blend of anger and sadness.

1)    Sandy Denny – Milk and Honey (Jackson C. Frank)
This is the song I want to be played at my funeral. When I first heard it, it gave me shivers up my spine. Her voice is like a thick soft velvet that you want to be wrapped in on a cold winter’s day. I think her version contains a much more haunting ghostly presence compared to Jackson’s rendition. Perhaps it’s the way the guitar has an emotional breakdown dueling against the rise and fall of Sandy’s vocals. Fun fact: she was also the only guest vocalist to record on a Led Zeppelin album and was also the front woman for Fairport Convention and Fotheringay.

Monday, December 12, 2016

My (First) Trump AmeriKKKa Moment

No wonder Jesus hasn't come back.

A week and a half after the election, I sat on my bike and waited for the light to turn green at the intersection of Broadway and Grand Avenue. Downtown Oakland. Friday morning. One foot was planted on the curb, the other on my left pedal when an old—and I mean old—white man started to trudge across the street in my direction. He was the only person traversing the crosswalk in either direction. Broadway and Grand is a major intersection, so the crosswalk is at least nine feet wide—and he had it all to himself. But what did he do, when he was halfway across Broadway? He hugged the big fat white line demarcating the crosswalk, where vehicles are supposed to line behind to make space for pedestrians. My front bike tire was right over the line. At most, it was maybe two inches over the line, but this man stared at me from across the street and walked straight at me. In the eleven years I have been cycling on a near daily basis to commute to work, this has never happened before. I didn’t know how to react. As he glared at me, I furrowed my eyebrow, stared down at my front tire to confirm that it wasn’t obstructing him from walking up the curb ramp. It didn’t. He had gone out of his way to walk within inches of my bike tire. I didn’t give move. And I didn’t say a thing to him because I was so stunned by his behavior. He just continued to walk down the sidewalk.

Over that weekend, I wondered if he was just some cranky old fuck who has a thing about bicycles hovering anywhere near a pedestrian crosswalk. But on my morning bike ride the following Monday, I looked at the crosswalk’s ample spacing. I studied the curb ramp and saw how wide it was—and how far it was from where I had stood on my bike that Friday morning. That’s when I knew this was one of those quietly racist incidents that white people have become adept at in this country.

Since the election, I’ve read a handful of other similarly peculiar incidents on my Facebook feed between white folks and people of color. Every day there seems to be a new story. A new incident. Like this woman in Chicago (what a surprise) who yelled at black Michaels employees. Or this piece of shit for a human being who threatened Standing Rock tribe members in North Dakota. Although I already have a fairly low opinion of humans, it makes me sad to hear and read about this shit. Basically, some white people are going fucking crazy now that Trump’s the president-elect. Like they can get it up after years of not being able to get hard.

Now that I know the score—even in Oakland, California of all places—I’m prepared for a next time.

And I’m not going to stay quiet.

And I’m not giving a goddamn fucking inch.

(And the next time some dumb cunt pulls shit like this, I’m going to be the one to yell, GO BACK TO WHERE YOU CAME FROM! (If they even know where they came from.) My blood’s been on this hemisphere longer if they want to play that stupid game of first dibs on something inherently boundary-less like our Mother Earth.)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

How Its Been To Not Watch Football

“Baseball is a 19th century pastoral game. Football is a 20th century technological struggle…. In football, the object is for the quarterback—otherwise known as the field general—to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy, in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use the shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing his aerial assault with a sustained ground attack which punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line.”

-George Carlin on Baseball and Football

Before this NFL season began, I decided to stop watching football.

I had spent the previous twenty seasons being a devoted Oakland Raiders fan.

So how has it been not watching football after all these years of fandom?

Even though the Raiders are 9-2 and currently #2 in ESPN’s NFL Power Rankings—which is fucking remarkable!—I do not miss watching football at all. Half a year ago, when I was still talking myself into giving up what had been my favorite sport for decades, I would have been surprised to imagine myself saying that. It’s been weird not watching, though. Although I was unaware when the first week of the regular season began, which was a delightful surprise, once I knew that the season was on, it was strange being at home on Sunday during those first weeks of the regular season between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. PST and not once turning on the television to watch a game or snippets of its coverage. I also felt a bit aimless, and, yet, at the same time, free to plot how else I would like to spend the day. Now that I’ve gotten used to not tuning into the games, I no longer have that I-feel-like-something-is-amiss feeling on Sundays, but I have continued to feel unburdened in not having my day tethered to a Raiders game, or another contest that looked like it would be a great matchup.  

Now that I no longer want to support the National Football League—a reprehensible sports organization that is the only one I can think of that can sit at the same table with FIFA—I’ve become acutely aware of just how prevalent it is in our American society. I see a shit-ton of articles all over the interwebs about football, especially fantasy football. I notice advertisements everywhere: at bars. Stores. My former gym. All the license plate frames in which people stake a claim to their chosen football tribe. If you’re out and about on the town on a Saturday or Sunday during this time of the year, it’s challenging to find a TV that is not showing a college or NFL game. Football is God in AmeriKKKa. And stadiums across this land are like national shrines come Sunday.

For the most part—sans necessary cyclical life errands (like washing my dirty chonies, or gathering & buying groceries)—Sundays feel like free days for me now. My daily rhythms aren’t noosed to the NFL’s schedule. Making time to write on Sundays is no longer the weekly, regimented struggle it had been in years past. My wife has appreciated the change, too, because now her Sunday rhythms aren’t also tied to the NFL’s schedule since I no longer hover about our living room for significant portions of the day watching a barrage of commercials and a sport she never took a liking to, despite my interventions. (Two years ago, I tried my darndest to teach Mari some basics of the sport, such as the difference between a 4-3 and 3-4 defensive alignment, and the names of the various positions—but we found it wasn’t so simple to explain. Not like soccer. Or basketball. Or even hockey.)

Perhaps most significantly, I’m not reading as much about football like I used to when I was a fan. Last season, I once remarked to Mari that what I probably most liked about football was reading and listening about it: the post-game analysis.; the pre-game analysis; and the podcast debates and discussions about football. But what I really fucking loved was devouring all the statistics, all goddamn season long. Even though I haven’t watched one game this entire season, I am still reading about football. Not nearly as much as before, though. Last year, I wrapped up most of my Sundays, for nearly half of the year, reading for an hour or more about all the NFL games—and that would bleed into Mondays with the updated Power Rankings on various sites and the subsequent lengthy articles from my favorite NFL writers (Barnwell! Mike Silver! Tim Kawakami!) Not reading about football has been harder to completely forsake, especially when it comes to the Raiders. On Sundays, while I’m writing (or trying to write), I still periodically click onto ESPN’s website to glimpse at the scores for their games (and other contests). I often click on the box scores to inhale some player stats. It’s hard to shut off the valve that followed one team for twenty years, even through many, many shittastic seasons. It’s not like that allegiance has dissipated; I’m just no longer okay with watching these mighty men—some of whom I had grown to admire (I’m thinking of you, Junior Seau, and Thurman Thomas)—irreparably destroy their minds, their lives, their bodies—and their families—for my entertainment.