Sunday, November 17, 2019

Nurse the Haste: Robbie Robertson's "Testimony"


I finally just read Robbie Robertson's book "Testimony".  Robertson is the guitar player for The Band, a sacred cow in the world of roots rock.  No matter what you feel about The Band's later Seventies rock excesses, their first two records "Music From Big Pink" and "The Band" are undeniably great.  The Band later succumbed to a familiar recipe for 1970s band death of drugs, fame, drugs, and ego.  And drugs.  If you ever want to witness first hand the destructive power of cocaine, try to sit through the interview sections of the 1978 documentary of The Band's final concert "The Last Waltz".  Robertson is so fueled up on coke his ego explodes unchecked across the screen while other band members squirm uncomfortably on couches nearby.  It's really something.

Robertson gets the last word on The Band's story as the other members have passed away with the exception of keyboardist Garth Hudson who I assume is rebuilding a vintage Leslie organ in woodland Canada.  Robertson had been vilified by Levon Helm in his book "This Wheel's On Fire", a bio on The Band.  Even now, in towns like Nashville where criticism of The Band or Levon Helm is openly dangerous to your health, the accepted version of events is that Robbie stole Levon's Southern background for the songs and later clipped the money away from the rest of the guys.  The truth appears a bit more gray.  Luckily for Robertson, he gets the last word.

Robbie's version of events are that he wrote or at the least initiated the songs and the other members were credited with arrangements as noted on the credits.  By the third record "Stage Fright, Levon/Richard/Rick are all drunks and/or junkies and he's pulling all the weight himself.  This could be true as the quality of the songs begins to plummet by the fourth record.  Of course, one could argue that if he was coming up with all the great songs in the beginning, he should have kept coming up with at least pretty good songs by record #4.  The material gets lightweight by the "Cahoots" LP and the "Moonlight Matinee" set of R&B covers during full on out of control behavior from Helm/Manual/Danko suggests that maybe Robbie is fudging on the amount of collaboration that happened in The Band.

What I find most damning is buried on one single page toward the back of the book.  This is Robbie's version of how he ended up with all the publishing rights.  His breezy account is that Richard Manuel felt guilty he wasn't pulling his share with the songwriting so in a fit of guilt tells Robbie he wants to get his publishing bought out.  Miraculously Rick walks by and says that sounds like a pretty good idea and suggest maybe Levon would want to take a buyout too.  Robbie maintains a "Huh, well I never thought of that, but I suppose I could...  Are you guys sure?  I don't know if that's a good idea.".  It was just a funny little thing that happened.  Oh, and the fact that Robbie had been hanging out with Albert Grossman and David Geffen probably had no factor in the incident at all...

Yet, Helm/Manuel/Danko were fuckups that partied their way through the 70s, so that comes at a cost.  Babysitting those guys had to be brutal.  The stories of destroyed cars, nodding off at sessions, cancelled tours run through the book.  They only have themselves to blame.  They didn't have to sell their publishing rights.  They were industry vets at that point, not little kids.  And if Levon was such a songwriting force, where are his songs?  I mean, I could get beaten with a tire iron in Nashville for even suggesting it, but if Robbie had the initiative to create and bring in songs celebrating the Southern heritage that Levon had showed him, maybe Levon could have written the songs himself.  That's on Levon.

Robbie pushes the narrative he was peddling in The Last Waltz for the breakup of The Band.  "Hey man, we had to get off The Road.  The Road was going to kill us."  As examples, he points to a bad flight and a boat mishap with a clearly drunk Richard fractured his neck.  But how much touring did they do?  I looked it up because Robbie kept talking about how dangerous its was being out on "The Road".  He goes on and on and on about it on The Last Waltz.  Here are the numbers...  In 1976 they played 26 shows.  In 1975 they played once.  In 1974 they played 83 dates as part of what was the biggest tour of all time to that point, a package featuring Bob Dylan, a massive cash grab.  In that, they played multiple dates in the same cities, so it was 53 different cities.  In 1973 they played 5 shows in 3 cities.  They didn't play in 1972.  In 1971, they played 27 shows.  That's an average of 32 shows a year across those six years.  "Yeah man... We were doing almost three shows a month... You don't know what it's like to be dancing on the razor like that man..."  What a bunch of shit.

The bottom line was the backstage drugs and post show partying might have killed them.  They were all doing mountains of cocaine, cases of cognac, and plenty of heroin.  What Robbie should have said was "Yeah, we had to get off the road because we were all drug addicts and drunks" instead of that mystical "The Road" trying to conjure up a doomed fate out of their control like Buddy Holly.  They were traveling first class in jet airliners, tour buses and trains.  It's not like they were driving around in a van like D. Boon and Mike Watt at 4am.  It's disingenuous.

Like the subject matter of many of their songs, "Testimony" is folklore from a bygone era.  These are tall tales from when musical dinosaurs walked the land.  It might be the truth, it might not.  It's probably Robbie's truth, and that's all one can reasonably expect.  The Band, when you get down to it, are two great records and an extremely fortunate gig as Bob Dylan's band during what is arguably the most important and legendary tour of all time, the 1966 Euro Tour.  The same craftsmanship that was applied to the early songs is also applied to the men in this bio.  No matter the facts, the stories are colorful.    

      
 


Saturday, November 16, 2019

Nurse the Hate: Quasi Elitist Views and Surefire NFL Locks



It's hard to be optimistic about the future.  People went wild about Myles Garrett ripping the helmet off the Steelers QB and trying to kill him with it.  My social media absolutely exploded with accusatory memes about how somehow that guy deserved almost being killed because blah blah blah.  Then I heard sports talk where person after person had terrible and illogical arguments about how this ugly incident was evidence of the Browns "toughening up" and "firing up the rivalry".  It confirmed one of the basic tenets of living in the United States in 2019.  The vast majority of people in the United States are absolute idiots.

One of the most impactful experiences I have had this decade was standing trapped in the Cavaliers victory parade in downtown Cleveland.  The entire region was there.  Every demographic and social class was standing shoulder to shoulder.  I lost my friends and was standing by myself for about two hours.  I stood there and listened to people talk.  It was an eye opening episode.  It's stunning to listen to average Americans.  The lack of basic understanding of EVERYTHING is mind blowing.  Frankly, I can't believe the lights come on when I hit the switch, that cars stop at red lights and society functions at all.

For example, right now about 40% of the population supports the president and does not believe he did anything wrong.  This belief stands in stark contrast to the written record he himself provided of his committing an impeachable offense.  It's not difficult to understand and see the need for the impeachment, but an astounding amount of people get swayed into pointless off topic counter arguments.  People have been conned by charlatans because they are idiots.  Large portions of the American public are being played for fools by the energy industry that have convinced them that climate change is debatable.  They believe that the Republican Party is helping the working class despite obvious evidence to the exact opposite.  They buy into whatever fiction is being created by Fox News to advance the interests of the corporate ruling class.  It's astounding.

Our house is burning down and all anyone wants to talk about is how Myles Garrett shouldn't be suspended for trying to crush a guy's skull.  Insert illogical argument here.  Meanwhile the guy in the president's chair is trying to take their health insurance away, cut their wages, and is engaged in self serving deals to advance his own pocket while selling out our national interests.  Look around the next time you walk into a grocery store.  Do you think any of the people you are looking at have any idea of what "quid pro quo" means?  Fuck no they don't.  They just want to go see a new superhero movie.  They don't want to hear about Turkey or Ukraine.  They can't even find it on a fucking map.  We're doomed.  It's time to get back to basics.  And what are the basics?  Betting on the NFL my friend!    

I like the music of the Old 97s.  I like non pasteurized French cheeses.  I like feeling the warm sun on my face.  I like the books of Ernest Hemingway.  I like blanc de blanc Champagnes.  I also like Ryan Fitzpatrick.  He seems to view playing QB in the NFL as a lark, and the last few seasons as strictly bonus time.  He genuinely seems to be having fun, despite being on the deliberating tanking Miami Dolphins.  In the last month, his stat line shows him to be a Top 10 quarterback in the league.  Miami, against earlier perception, is playing like a legitimate albeit poor NFL franchise.

I love their spot against Buffalo this week, who is a team in the exact opposite position.  The Bills are 6-3, but are living an illusion.  The Bills are like furniture from a discount store.  It looks really nice in the photograph.  Then you see it up close and discover that it's made of cardboard and hard plastic. The Bills are going to Miami and giving the Dolphins a touchdown.  The one thing I took away from watching the Bills last week was that their offense stinks.  Them giving anyone a touchdown is a reach, especially when it's a team with a Top 10 performing QB.

The issue here is that the wheels can come off Ryan Fitzpatrick at any time.  Sunday might bring "Fitzmagic".  It might also bring 4 INTs and heartbreak.  You just never know when the wheels are going to come off Fitz.  Thus, I am going to tease this game and take Miami up to +13.  But who to pair them up with...

The game that caught my eye was the Raiders at home versus the Bengals.  As of this moment, the Bengals appear to be the worst team in the league.  They are also running out Ryan Finley at QB, a guy so bad that the Bengals elected to have Joe Mixon carry the ball 30 times last week in a 30 point loss.  In even worse news, their starting left tackle is out.  The Bengals are 0-9 and don't have a pulse.  Meanwhile the Raiders are coming off an extended week, are playing at home, and have the feel of a team wanting to run it up so Jon Gruden gets talked about on Sportscenter.  Another interesting note, the Bengals are coming off a shellacking at the hands of the Ravens.  Teams are 1-6-1 against the spread after playing Baltimore this season.  Give me Oakland.  Oakland -5.5/Miami+13

I'm feeling feisty, so I am going to do another tease.  It's always a good idea to bet against Washington.  This is going to be a high wire act though, because I am going to take the Jets.  The Jets are awful.  I don't believe in their coach Adam Gase, a man that hears someone shout out "Dead man walking!" every single time he walks in a room.  The New York media is savagely calling for his head.  Yet, the Redskins are even worse.  They last scored a touchdown in 1974 when Billy Kilmer was their quarterback, or at least that's what I saw on the internet.  My theory is that if a team is unable to score points, has a rookie QB making his second career start, and is facing a decent defense, points will be at a premium.  I am taking the Jets +7.5 and teasing it with Houston against the Ravens.  This seems like a bad idea, but here's a little known fact...  The last time Deshaun Watson lost a game by more than a touchdown was in high school.  I am going to tease the Texans up to +10.5.  Winner.  (I think). Houston +10.5/Jets +7.5

Chicago and the Rams both have Top 6 defenses.  Chicago and the Rams both have bottom 10 offenses.  Jared Goff, who suddenly looks awful without a healthy Todd Gurley, doesn't play well in the cold.  Sunday night it's going to be 34 degrees with a 40% chance of snow/rain mix.  And in case you forgot, Bears QB Mitch Trubisky is terrible.  The Bears have scored 20, 14, and 16 in their last 3 games.  I will take Bears/Rams UNDER 40.5, not watch this game, and hope I got a winner when I turn on my computer in the morning.

Season record:  19-8-2


Saturday, November 9, 2019

Nurse the Hate: This week's surefire NFL locks



It seems impossible that the Cleveland Browns will ever win again.  The fact that the team has been a flop isn 't surprising.  It's what they inherently do.  Being surprised watching the Browns lose is like being shocked when Slayer comes onstage and plays metal.  "Geez... I thought this was going to be an emo show.  What a disappointment!"  It's what was always going to happen.  Yet, I am surprised at how utterly unlikeable the team has become.

Baker Mayfield is a lot of fun when he's slinging touchdowns and winning games.  When he's looking inept and jittery, he's like Johnny Manziel without the inflatable pool swan.  There's somehow something cathartic about watching him fail, like seeing a high school bully get his comeuppance.  Toss in the diva receivers that are primarily concerned about their clothing choices, a pointlessly confrontational coach in way over his head, underperforming shit talking defensive players, and the baffling organizational smugness to end up with something to really hate there.  These guys are 2-6 and still talking playoffs.  How much more detached from reality could a group of people be?  They'll be lucky to win six.

My concern in betting the Bills over the Browns this Sunday is that the 6-2 Bills are a mirage.  They got pasted by the Eagles a couple weeks ago in what was an eye opener for the Bills Mafia.  This is a team that should focus on slipping into a Wild Card Playoff game and then suffer a humiliating loss.  I just don't know if they can come into Cleveland and win.  However, I am fairly certain that the Browns can find a way to lose.  In only the third time in the NFL in the last 30 years, a 6-2 team is getting points while facing a 2-6 team.  It's probably a trick, but I'm falling for it.  Buffalo +3

Mike Zimmer, Minnesota's coach, hardly ever gets mentioned on the network laughing ex-jock pregame shows.  Minnesota is not a sexy team.  Maybe if Zimmer wore high heels like Prince it would help.  But there's that Kirt Cousins situation.  Every hard working stiff in the country that its aware of how much money Kirt Cousins has shaken out of the NFL gets pissed off thinking about it.  He's like a dope you worked with at a previous job that somehow gets named Director of Corporate Graft for an insane annual salary.  On the one hand you admire the fact he's getting paid well beyond his worth, but on the other it pisses you off because it wasn't you.  Lost in all that envy and rage is the fact that Mike Zimmer has the best against the spread record of any coach, including The Hoodie.  This is an opportunity to get Minnesota +3 against a Jason Garret coached Cowboy team that seems highly overrated by The Public.  I think the Vikings are the better team and they're getting points.  I'm in.  Minnesota +3.

I should probably bet against the Bengals who are doing a shit stupid thing that only the Bengals do in starting a 6th round draft pick instead of a healthy Andy Dalton against the Ravens.  Quick note to Bengal management... Your primary issue on offense is not the QB.  It's that you decided not to invest in anyone on the offensive line.  You're welcome.  However, a game that caught my eye instead was the Pittsburgh v Rams game.  The Public thinks of both the Rams and Steelers as high scoring, exciting teams.  The Steelers are a dink and dunk team now without Big Ben, and are going into this without starting RB James Connor.  Rudolf has only passed for more than 200 yards twice, against Miami and Cincinnati.  The Steeler defense keeps them in games, which is fortunate as the Rams surprisingly have a Top 10 defense as well.  The total of 45 seems quite optimistic.  I'm on the Steelers/Rams under 45.

Season Record:  17-8-1

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Nurse the Hate: Discussing Craft, Big Sandy, and NFL Locks



I spent the day studying the wines of Piedmont in Italy, or more specifically Barolo.  Barolo is an interesting story.  For a couple hundred years dirt poor farmers made wine in the hills of Langhe.  The wines are made from Nebbiolo, a grape that is high acid/high tannin that can last forever when made correctly.  The hills of the Langhe region are the only reliable place to grow Nebbiolo thanks to the confluence of climate, soils, and terrain.  It’s either a happy accident or a gift from God, depending on your world view I suppose.  It hasn’t been easy in Barolo.  Times were tough.  Being a bunch of dirt poor farmers that did not prioritize keeping cellars spotlessly clean, wines could be “compromised”.  I mean, what are you going to do?  These guys had to be practical.  The cellars were often being used as chicken coops too.  Not exactly ideal conditions.  I read about a winemaker that said when he first started they sold their Barolos for $1.07 a bottle.  The same guy now retails his wine at $85.  Not a bad return over the last 30 years.  Guys that used to plow the fields with ox now drive Maseratis.  Hard work helped to create good fortune.  It’s inspiring.  I like to see people that work hard and pay meticulous attention to craft get paid off.

I am going to see Big Sandy play tonight, speaking of someone that pays attention to craft.  I got turned onto Big Sandy in the early 90s.  Back in what I think we can now officially call “The Olden Times”, it was difficult to get your grubby little hands on niche music.  I heard a cut called “Hot Water” on a college radio station.  In 1992 or so, there were not many active bands that played anything close to what The Cowslingers were doing.  It was like finding a letter in a bottle that had washed ashore.  I successfully tracked down the record, but could only find it on the cassette (!) format from Dionysus Records.  I listened to it over and over on my car stereo in my battered Mazda 323.  I still think of that record as being one of the best contemporary rockabilly records of that period.  I don’t even know who they were competing with at that point.  They really nailed it.  It sounded like it came from 1958, but yet had enough of an edge to it that let you know it was current.      

We played with Big Sandy for the first time in the mid 1990s.  By that point, they had embraced a Western swing sound.  These guys could really play.  As you know, we were (are) a bunch of dildos that embrace speed and volume as a shield to protect against scrutiny.  We swaggered into that gig feeling pretty good.  We had a record on Sympathy, and a bit of an underground buzz.  The Big Sandy crew was legit.  Those guys came in a vintage bus, and unloaded their gear looking like they got there in a time machine.  I remember they even wore watches from the late 40s.  We drunkenly blasted though our set to what I would call a malaise.  It was a weird crowd.  These weren’t our normal people.  They looked like our people, but they weren’t specifically familiar.  When Big Sandy played, the crowd came to life.  Damn, those guys were so much better than we were.  This was because they A) could really play their instruments and B) played at a volume where everyone could hear each other, which led to C) the crowd enjoying themselves.  But who were these people in the crowd?  They didn’t look familiar to me in what was one of the smallest “scenes” in rock, the roots rock underground in NE Ohio.  Where did they come from?  This would be repeated numerous times over the future in what I like to call “The Big Sandy Phenomenum”.  

Now one would think that anyone that is a fan of Big Sandy would have, at the very least, a passing curiosity in what our band does.  Yet, there will always be about 90% of a crowd at a Big Sandy show I have never seen anywhere else before.  These people will be geared up in vintage clothes, smiling and having great time.  They love the retro sound of Big Sandy.  Hell, who doesn’t?  The band is great.  But after the show is over, I will NEVER see these people again.  I don’t just mean at a Daredevils show.  I am aware we aren’t everyone’s cup of tea.  Maybe you don’t like how I sing, or whatever snarky shit I might be saying.  I get it.  However, I won’t see these people ANYWHERE.  They don’t show up at any local shows.  Forget that.  But they are also ghosts at shows like Rev Horton Heat, Blasters, or Brian Setzer.  Who are these people and where are they on a normal Tuesday?  I don’t see them waltzing into a Giant Eagle grocery store.  They disappear.  It’s a riddle trapped in the layers of an onion.  I plan on doing a deep dive on this at the Beachland tonight.  I am keeping my head on a swivel.  I am going to solve The Big Sandy Riddle.

One of the reasons I can be so focused on that is that I have a few sure fire winners in the NFL this week.  Last week, as I predicted, things didn’t go so well.  Look, I was due for an asskicking.  I am not taking two asskickings in a row though.  It’s time to get back to basics.  That’s the thing.  When things get tough, it’s important to return to the building blocks of the craft.  What is the foundation of NFL gambling?  As per my lyric in “Jesus Walks Beside Me”, I would like to remind you The Jets Never Cover The Spread.  With the exception of the Browns, there is no team that guarantees their fans disappointment like the New York Jets.  Jet fans are right now chalking up a win tomorrow as they play the hapless Dolphins, a team that is historically bad and getting worse daily as they cast their assets overboard like panicked shipwreck victims.  Yet, I like Miami to not only cover but win this game.  

I happened to listen to some NY sports talk this week.  It’s laughable to see Baker Mayfield storm out of a press conference when he was asked a legit question from the normally weak kneed Cleveland press corps.  Contrast that with New York, where the vicious attacks on the Jets are hard to believe.  They want to KILL coach Adam Gase.  They hate Darnold, want to clean out the roster, and till salt into the field.  One thing I can tell you is that a young QB like Darnold needs confidence.  That is one thing he can’t have much of right now.  Two weeks ago, no one will let him forget he saw “ghosts” against New England.  He made three turnovers last week.  The Jets look like a team that can’t possibly be focused on winning football games.  It’s a bunch of guys in the lockerroom saying “This is bad man… real bad…”.  

Let’s compare that to Miami.  When I see the Dolphins, I see a team with some big missing gaps.  They did bench Josh Rosen, who appears to be officially a monumental bust at QB, and have turned to Ryan Fitzpatrick.  Fitz Magic, a run of the mill QB, is serviceable at worst and pretty good when he gets hot.  But here’s the thing about Miami…. They are playing hard.  They aren’t giving up.  That’s the kind of thing that will pay off against the Jets.  This seems like a game the Jets are going into thinking “Fuck.  We can’t lose this.  Let’s play not to lose.” Meanwhile Miami must be thinking, “Hey… We could WIN this week.  What the hell?  Let’s do this!”.  Give me Miami +3 at home.

I am going to wake up early and make a full English breakfast.  I am not afraid to go all the way.  I’m talking baked beans.  I’m talking hot tea.  I’m talking about wearing a derby hat, talking about Brexit, and saying the word "mate" a lot.  And I’m also talking about betting on The Stash and the Jacksonville Jags.  The Jags play in London every year.  They know the routine.  This is because no one gives a shit about pro football in Jacksonville, a place more focused on Oxy and terrible dance music.  Why not give away a home game and go “across the pond”?  Once you realize that the changing of the guard is “boring AF”, that leaves you to get focused on football.  The Jags cover in London.  Look it up.  Plus, I like the matchup.  The way to beat Houston is to pressure Watson.  That’s something Jacksonville does well.  Also, Houston has two offensive linemen out.  I mean, why not?  Get jacked up on a Sunday morning.  Jacksonville +1.5


I am going to take a flier on Baltimore +6.5 over New England.  I am aware that The Hoodie is something like 68-0 against QBs in their 1st or 2nd year.  Betting against the Patriots is a fool’s errand.  This seems to be plain stupid.  Let me go on the record.  I think the Patriots are overrated.  They haven’t played anybody.  The teams they have beaten have a combined winning percentage of 30%.  This will be their first test.  And let’s be honest, the Patriot offense is lukewarm at best.  This is not a team that is going 16-0.  They have to lose sometime.  Why not now?  Baltimore is coming off a bye week, and Harbaugh does well in that spot.  I think the Patriots take away Jackson’s running and will try to force him to win with his arm.  I think he can.  Baltimore +6.5

Season Record:  15-7-1