2018 Rapid Review

The year 2018 was a year. Here are some of our favorite things from the year that was 2018.

  • Atlanta United winning the MLS Cup, at home, in their second year of existence.
  • America’s women’s hockey team beating Canada to win gold at the winter Olympics.
  • Phish summer tour. My first time seeing them three nights in a row. That they never repeated a song during that stretch was notable but not terribly surprising. What was remarkable and never received the treatment at this site that it deserved was the overall quality of the performances, especially on Friday, August 3 but really consistently throughout the weekend, where a wide array of songs from across their thirty-five-year catalogue provided launching pads for fresh, collaborative jams time after time. It feels like the band has reached a new level.
  • Hamilton College’s Francis Baker, the American hockey goalie who stood up to Hitler. This was your most-read story posted on this site in 2018.
  • Steve McNair: Fall of a Titan. This, from Sports Illustrated, was my first foray into the true-crime podcast genre. The gist: what we were told was an open-and-shut case probably has a lot more to it than what the investigating police department allowed to meet the public eye. Story had some additional resonance for me because I had been living in Nashville at the time.
  • Maryland-Baltimore County beating Virginia to become the first-ever sixteen seed to beat a one seed in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
  • Justify‘s dominant Triple Crown achievement.
  • Baseball Hall of Fame adding Alan Trammell. Still no Cooperstown spot for teammate Lou Whitaker, though.
  • The Supreme Court clearing the way for states to authorize sports wagering.
  • J.R. Smith delivering the most memorable moment of LeBron James’ final series with Cleveland.
  • Shohei Ohtani making his major-league debut.
  • The Vegas Golden Knights reaching the Stanley Cup Final in their first year of existence.
  • Vanderbilt beat Tennessee in football again. The Commodores have won five of the last seven games in this series. (If you’d lost track of him, Derek Dooley’s currently working as the quarterbacks coach at Missouri.)
  • Baseball Prospectus revised its flagship bating metric and now concedes that Miguel Cabrera, not Mike Trout, deserved the 2012 and 2013 AL MVP awards.
  • Tiger Woods winning the PGA Tour Championship at East Lake.
  • In personal news, I published my first article at Baseball Prospectus, which took a look at whether MLB teams were colluding to depress player wages.
  • In memoriam:

Thank you for your readership this year. Look for more great content here in 2019.

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Sunday Jam

The Raconteurs have been my favorite Jack White outfit, but I didn’t think they still were an active group until this week, when they posted a new music video and stated that they’ve released two new songs, their first public recordings since 2008’s Consolers of the Lonely. One of those songs, “Sunday Driver,” is this week’s Jam:

Going Down So Many Roads Feeling a Little Bit Better Jam

Thanks to things like the Internet Archive and YouTube, the music of the Grateful Dead is widely and freely available online. While the band made about a dozen studio albums together during a roughly twenty-year period of active recording, they obviously are best-known for their live performances over thirty years of touring with the core ensemble and, including various partial lineups, over fifty total years.

A quick search suggests that, the second-most-viewed Grateful Dead YouTube video of a single live song (2.5 million views) is July 9, 1995’s “So Many Roads.” The popularity of this video is readily understandable. The night is recognized as the band’s final concert, and Jerry Garcia would be dead exactly a month later. The song itself appears in the middle of the second set and features a vocal performance from a weak, haggard Garcia that nevertheless translates as pleading, desperate, retrospective, resigned, and soulful over an undeniably emotional twelve minutes. It’s just extremely real. The hindsight of knowing makes it dangerously easy to project external narratives on a captured and preserved moment of the past, but one hardly can avoid the feeling that Garcia is in this moment conscious of his impending departure (cf. Warren Zevon, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” The Wind (2003) (live in studio)), particularly given the dark, desolate, windswept (probably just a stage fan on a hot Chicago night but still) nature of the visual shot of the video.

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“So Many Roads” was a 90s Dead product, debuting on February 22, 1992 in Oakland and appearing regularly in setlists thereafter. Garcia considered the song (auto)biographical:

It’s [lyricist Robert] Hunter writing me from my point of view, you know what I mean? We’ve been working together for so long that he knows what I know. The song is full of references to things that have to do with me . . . .

Hunter is the only guy that could do that. He can write my point of view better than I can think it, you know what I mean? So that’s the kind of relationship we have. And he frequently writes tunes from my point of view that are autobiographical. They’re actually biographical I guess. He’s the one writing them, but even so they express my point of view – and more than that they express the emotional content of my soul in a certain way that only a long-term and intimate relationship with a guy as brilliant as Hunter coughs up . . . . I can sing that song, feel totally comfortable with it.

Although the band performed “So Many Roads” fifty-four times between February 1992 and July 1995, until this week, the only version I could recall hearing was the one from that final night. I don’t think that fact is terribly surprising; as a general matter, mid-90s Dead tapes aren’t exactly in high demand.

On Tuesday, though, I heard a new-to-me version of “So Many Roads,” this one from the Boston Garden on October 1, 1994, and the relative differences are striking. It’s brighter, stronger (even if Garcia’s physical frailties remain noticeable), upbeat, energized, and about half as long as the final version. It also is this week’s Jam:

As the foregoing indicates, I am not an expert in this narrow channel; however, if you only ever hear one performance of this song, it needs to be the July 9, 1995 offering. If you hear two, though, then October 1, 1994 makes for a good and uplifting pairing.

#space Jam

My favorite recent PFT Commenter conspiracy theory is that Space Jam 2, which is set to star LeBron James but remains in preproduction, actually is a vehicle to allow James, newly a member of the strikingly mediocre Los Angeles Lakers, to recruit top players with salaries in excess of the league’s caps by paying them to be a part of Space Jam 2, a movie that might never actually get made. If about-to-be-free-agent Kevin Durant signs a cheap contract with the Lakers this offseason, we’ll know the foregoing is true.

Another thing that’s true is that my friend Grant Zubritsky is a musician who just released two new tracks this week that wouldn’t be out of place on the soundtrack for Space Jam 2. (Take a moment to remember the strength of the soundtrack to the original movie.) In light of all of that and the fact that I don’t know if these Spotify embeds are going to work, here for this week’s Jams are both of his new numbers:

Satellite of Jam

Yesterday marked the forty-sixth anniversary of the release of Lou Reed’s second solo album, Transformer. Showing the influence of producers David Bowie and Mick Ronson, the album contained many of Reed’s biggest songs, including “Walk on the Wild Side,” “Perfect Day,” and today’s Jam, which comes from a live performance of “Satellite of Love” in Copenhagen the following year:

Shadow of The Wind Jam

As music writer Steven Hyden’s timely and expansive new remembrance notes, today is the fifteenth anniversary of the death of Warren Zevon. I recommend you read Hyden’s article while listening to these selections from Zevon’s deep catalogue. The first two picks are mine, while the third is the song Hyden identifies as the artist’s best.

I enjoyed the sandwich I had for lunch today, and I hope you have the opportunity to do the same.

Queen Jam

Aretha Franklin died this week in Detroit at the age of seventy-six. Her accomplishments are too many and great to capture here in words, at least mine anyway. Remembrances from Doc Woods and Patterson Hood follow related selections from her soulful catalogue.

It was just two months ago that Franklin appeared in this space in a clip memorializing her Blues Brothers scene-mate Matt “Guitar” Murphy, who passed in June. Naturally, that scene, like any other in which Franklin appeared (e.g., supra), belonged to Franklin.    Continue reading

Guitar Jam

Matt “Guitar” Murphy passed on to a more soulful realm late last week. Murphy played with Howlin’ Wolf and many other blues and rock ‘n’ roll notables, including Memphis Slim, and was a member of the Blues Brothers. This week’s Jam has three parts: first, a 1963 selection featuring Murphy with Memphis Slim; second, a portion of Murphy’s appearance in the 1980 movie The Blues Brothers, in which he played a fictionalized version of himself and appears alongside Aretha Franklin, who portrays his wife; and third, a 1978 live performance by the Blues Brothers that features Murphy:

Was Not Jam

As with the talk radio shows that preceded them, successful podcasts come in two general types: those that draw listeners due to a robust guest list, and those that draw listeners due to the charisma of and chemistry created by the host(s). You tune into the first one because it has Taylor Swift on this week, and you just love Taylor and everything about her. You tune into the second one because you think the host is funny or insightful, and you understand that the format calls for guest interviews but just wish it would get back to the action of the show itself. Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast is the first sort of podcast, and I wish he didn’t have such a good guest list.

Maron is the Larry King of the podcast world. I don’t really mean that as a compliment, although it does attest to a certain accomplishment of volume and recognition of relative status. The comparison arises out of the apparent fact that neither do much preparation prior to interviewing their subjects. Standing alone, it’s at least an academically interesting approach, but, as with many such approaches, it can fall apart under practical application, especially when coupled with proclivity for interrupting the subject. For Maron, the interview organization almost always takes the form of a chronological, biographical framework, and the result often essentially is a guest haltingly reciting his or her Wikipedia page. As a means of introducing a subject to an unfamiliar audience, I suppose one could do worse. The point of podcasts in general, I’d thought, and podcasts like Maron’s, I’d assumed, though, was to do more than that, to go deeper than that. Maybe not. Maybe the point of podcasts is to sell underwear and postage stamps. The point: if you aren’t going to do much prep, let the thing breathe. It’s ok if you don’t quite know what you’re talking about, but it might be better to acknowledge that and let the person who does do the talking.

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Don Was has to be one of the coolest guys around. The Detroit native is an instrumentalist, bandleader, movie director, and Grammy-winning producer whose list of credits nearly is as long as it is prestigious. He also serves as the president of Blue Note Records. Was should make an excellent interview subject. Maron’s handling of him revealed little in the way of beneath-the-surface insights, however; the host seemed more intent on having his guest drop as many famous names as possible than delving into interesting stories.

One very small nugget that managed to leak out from the smothering, Chris-Farley-Show-without-the-laughs treatment, though, was an early musical memory Was recalled with some detail, “a really important thing that happened to me when I was about fourteen.” While waiting in the car for his mother, he heard a Joe Henderson song called “Mode For Joe” and described Henderson’s saxophone solo as “howling with anguish through the horn. He was speaking to me. I was stunned to hear this.” (Maron cuts in, confusing “anguish” with “anger,” and things move on from there.)

Because Was seems like the kind of guy who has musical recommendations up on which you actually ought to follow, this week’s Jam is “Mode For Joe,” a Memorial Day weekend offering to the fallen memory of the potential of an engaging Don Was podcast interview:

Continuing Education Jam

Before lunch yesterday, I learned two things. The second was that former St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith, one of the most talented and popular players in MLB history, began his career in San Diego. Smith made his major-league debut with the Padres in 1978 and spent four seasons with them before they traded him to the Cardinals following the strike-shortened 1981 season. (In digging into this news-to-me, I also discovered that the Detroit Tigers were the first team to draft Smith, but he didn’t sign with them after they picked him in the seventh round in 1976. San Diego picked him in the fourth round the following year and he signed.)

The first thing I learned yesterday morning was that Dolly Parton is the author of the Whitney Houston hit “I Will Always Love You.” Parton’s original version is this week’s Jam: