The Rolling Stones get cringeworthily political in “Highwire”

Getting the morning writing engine going with some musical thoughts.

Here’s the weird thing about how time works. This particular Rolling Stones song, a forgettable little tune called “Highwire,” appeared as one of two “bonus studio cuts”* on a 1991 live album called “Flashpoint.” At this point, the Stones were thought to be over and done with, these last songs just the death rattle of a once-great band.

(*-The other song was called “Sex Drive,” and it was the kind of slinking groove that the Stones could create in a two-minute cab ride, about as finished as a runny egg.)

But that was a quarter-century ago, and the Stones are still around, still making plans for yet another tour. Now, flip that same length of time back the other direction, and you’re in the mid-’60s, right when the Stones were starting. It’s disorienting, how much can happen in a short period of time, and how much time passes when absolutely nothing’s happening.

Anyway, this song is one of the Stones’ few overtly political tunes, released right as the Gulf War was kicking off. It’s tough to remember now, but America had been told that we were in for a struggle for the very soul of American freedom, that our enemy was vast and without number. It turned out we were in a struggle to reopen some oil pipelines and our enemy got his ass handed to him in about six weeks, but let’s not focus on that, shall we?

What Jagger, Richards & co. do best is summon up the spirit of an age, not the actual events. “Gimme Shelter” is one of the most terrifying songs ever when you consider it in the context of the time it was written (the late ’60s). This one, by sharp contrast, feels grafted together, an oddly specific set of lyrics referencing the 82nd Airborne and Munich and dictators who “need a slap on the wrist,” a bouncy chorus that doesn’t fit the moralistic message against “hot guns and cold nights.”

Plus, this is straight out of the pre-grunge ’90s, with the ultra-slick production that wraps the band in an antiseptic sheen. In the video, they’re in one of those factories that apparently manufactures nothing but sparks, with a camera style obviously modeled on those missile cams that were in vogue during the early ’90s.

So there you go. “Highwire” is a relic of its age.

Creation > Consumption

We only have so many hours in a day. It’s true. I checked.

You can do your own math, but if you’re the working type, if you’ve got a kid or a significant other to whom you ought to give at least the bare minimum face time, you’re probably looking at three or so hours each day in which you’re not working/eating/sleeping/driving. You’ve got a choice of how to spend those three hours. More often than not, it’s easy to just spend them in a passive state, letting it all wash over you like you’re half-buried at the beach.

Let’s see what I’ve got here: DVR’d eps of Better Call Saul, The League, Archer, and a dozen 30 for 30s. At least ten Spotify albums I want to dive deep into. A good 12 hours of podcasts, with more arriving in the queue every hour. Hundreds upon hundreds of articles-I-have-to-read saved in Pocket.

And Christ, that doesn’t even account for the actual physical objects, the books and magazines and video games and what-have-you stacked up in my office. Some of it’s work, sure, but much more of it is just Stuff, stuff to be consumed. I’d bet you’re the same; the Internet is a vast Vegas buffet of fascination, and we’ve all overloaded our trays.

Here’s the deal, though, and this is as much self-motivation as it is attempted inspiration: rather than trying to cut down this pile of Content, why not add to it? Why not create some of your own Stuff to add to this mad pile of nonsense? Sure, it’ll probably be awful — 90 percent of everything is — but awful work you’ve done yourself is still better than work never done.

So, yeah. Today, take a few minutes to create instead of consume. Those shows/songs/sites will be there tomorrow. It’d be badass if you had something alongside them.

14 from ’14, Day 9: NASCAR track tour, Shining emoji, and dog with tortilla

Still life of dog with tortilla on staircaseWe roll on through the year touching on some odds and ends. First off, there’s that shot of my dog Hawkeye, caught red-pawed with a tortilla. Gotta be slicker than that, pup.

Next up, my first foray into supercut moviemaking, an extended NASCAR travelogue naming every single track, in order, in song:

Why did I do that? Hell if I know. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Also, there was this, from Twitter:

More actual writing coming tomorrow.

Previous 14 from ’14:
Day 1: In victory lane for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Daytona 500 win
Day 2: US Open: A father, a son, a wheelchair, and Phil Mickelson
Day 3: Which college boasts the three best cross-sport athletes?
Day 4: FSU-Miami: Why won’t you die, Florida State?
Day 5: NFL playoffs: The refs robbed the Panthers!
Day 6: Behind the scenes at the NASCAR championship
Day 7: At the Masters, the yin and yang of Bubba Watson
Day 8: Brad Keselowski, the driver NASCAR needs right now

14 from ’14, Day 8: Brad Keselowski, NASCAR’s most important driver

Talladega cupcakes!Running down a bunch of stories I wrote this year. Here’s one on the most polarizing driver of 2014. And that photo commemorates the Talladega cupcakes I received this year, the flavor of which I’ll leave to your imagination.

Brad Keselowski made a lot of people very mad in 2014. I wasn’t one of them. I’ve always enjoyed hearing what he has to say about the sport, about NASCAR history, about life, and even when I don’t agree with him I appreciate him breaking out of the usual routine and speaking his mind.

Of course, I don’t have to race against him, and that’s where he’s drawn the most heat. At the fall race at Talladega, the Chase was in full swing and Keselowski was coming off a fight with both Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth in Charlotte. Here’s a quick reminder:

Keselowski came into Talladega needing a win to advance to the next level of the Chase. Now, expecting to win at Talladega is like expecting to tweet at Jennifer Lawrence and get a date. And yet here was Keselowski, outrunning every other driver lap after lap, getting the win he needed to get. It was one of the most impressive all-or-nothing racing performances I’ve ever seen.

Great driving combined with an outsize personality and polarizing showmanship? That’s what NASCAR was built on, and after Keselowski’s win I wrote as much:

Depending on your perspective, he’s either aggravating or exhilarating, a savior or a sonofabitch. But no matter what, you can’t ignore him. He’s responsible for two of the greatest NASCAR TV moments of recent years: his exuberant Miller Lite-fueled championship interview at Homestead in 2012, and his WWE-style throwdown with Kenseth last week at Charlotte. For a sport teetering on relegation to niche status, that’s the kind of publicity a hundred sponsors can’t buy.

Here’s the rest of the article.  Keselowski would be at the epicenter of an even bigger fight two weeks later at Texas, cementing him as the sport’s great “villain.” And that’s very good news indeed for everyone involved, because Keselowski seems to run on fans’ rage. He fell out of the championship hunt before the season finale, but his performance in the Chase showed that he’ll be a thorn in the sides of the people who most need thorns for a long time to come.

Previous 14 from ’14:
Day 1: In victory lane for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Daytona 500 win
Day 2: US Open: A father, a son, a wheelchair, and Phil Mickelson
Day 3: Which college boasts the three best cross-sport athletes?
Day 4: FSU-Miami: Why won’t you die, Florida State?
Day 5: NFL playoffs: The refs robbed the Panthers!
Day 6: Behind the scenes at the NASCAR championship
Day 7: At the Masters, the yin and yang of Bubba Watson

14 from ’14, Day 7: The yin and yang of Bubba Watson

Yes, this is work.

Yes, this is work.

Continuing the look back at what I wrote this year. Today, we’re off to the towering pines and rolling hills of Augusta National.

One of the questions I get the most frequently is what sport I enjoy covering the most. The answer to that depends on the day; the power and storylines of NASCAR, the momentous pomp of the NFL, the batshit craziness of college football all have their allure. But if you’re asking which event I enjoy the most, the answer is always the same: The Masters.

Big surprise, right? One of the  most prestigious events in sports just happens to make for a quality story. But there’s more to it than that. There’s the creature-comfort aspect; that’s the media center up there, and it’s stocked with all the pimento cheese sandwiches and Coke (and, on Sunday evening, open bar) that a working journo could want. There’s the camaraderie aspect; I have half a dozen very good journalist friends who are at the event each year as well, so it’s a reunion of sorts.

But above all, the Masters makes for a hell of a story. If you win the Masters, you are an immortal in a sport where careers last decades. It’s an atmosphere of old money privilege, sure, but within that you can find some fascinating stories, like the guy who won it this year:

AUGUSTA, Ga. – A crowd of thousands had gathered around the practice green at Augusta, standing ten deep and leaning over the railing of the clubhouse’s famous veranda. Billy Payne, chairman of Augusta National, was in the midst of introducing dozens of representatives of golf associations from around the world. Adam Scott, defending champion, looked every bit as smooth as he ever does. A sea of green jackets flanked them all.

And in the middle of it all, the man of the hour, the one for whom all this pomp and circumstance was necessary, sat up straight, fingers steepled on his knees, looking exactly like a fidgety kid waiting outside the principal’s office.

That would be Bubba Watson, who’s now won the Masters twice in three years. That’s the lead of my wrapup story on Watson, who’s one of the stranger birds ever to swing a golf club. Six hours after the moment noted above, Watson and friends were at a Waffle House. Of course they were. (Here’s the rest of that article above.)

Tiger Woods may or may not win another Masters, but until he does, virtually anyone who does instantly becomes a more fascinating character.

Previous 14 from ’14:
Day 1: In victory lane for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Daytona 500 win
Day 2: US Open: A father, a son, a wheelchair, and Phil Mickelson
Day 3: Which college boasts the three best cross-sport athletes?
Day 4: FSU-Miami: Why won’t you die, Florida State?
Day 5: NFL playoffs: The refs robbed the Panthers!
Day 6: Behind the scenes at the NASCAR championship

14 from ’14, Day 6: Kevin Harvick, the NASCAR championship, and what doesn’t get written

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 7.55.01 PMContinuing to run through my work from 2014. Back to Florida!

This year’s NASCAR championship was one of the most dramatic in the sport’s history, with four drivers all entering the race with an equal chance to win. Spoiler: it was Kevin Harvick.

Now, here’s a look at how the sausage gets made. Yahoo Sports, being an Internet site, and Internet, which is short for “Instant Terrific Netting” (or something like that, whatever), I have to have a big story ready to go right when the checkered flag waves, when the final putt drops, when the clock ticks down to 0:00, or whenever a damn baseball game ends. I’m then free to run about and see what kinds of stories I can dig up while readers are having their say about whether Harvick is a legit champion. Here’s that article, which is pretty straightforward stuff.

Now, at NASCAR tracks this involves running from one end of pit road to the other, trying to track down three drivers at once, all of whom are headed in opposite directions and none of whom have any interest in talking to anyone except the pilot on their engine-warming private plane. With most sports, you can station yourself in one tunnel or at one doorway and count on catching the relevant figures at one point. At a NASCAR track, there are literally dozens of possible ways to evade interviews. Combine that with the fact that drivers are, you know, DRIVING very large cars as they head in your direction, and it can be a wee bit tricky to get anything decent. (Don’t let Bill Belichick know about this; he’ll have a Humvee take him from every field and run over whatever media member gets in his way.)

Anyway, every so often this kind of lunatic pandemonium results in some great tidbits, and sometimes those great tidbits, all told, don’t quite make for a complete story. So here’s what I observed in the first minutes after the Homestead race ended.

Denny Hamlin was heartbroken. He pulled his FedEx #11 into pit road and clambered out, looking dazed. He had none other than Michael Jordan waiting there to greet him. MJ did a convincing impression of feigning sympathy — he doesn’t know what it’s like to lose a championship, after all — but of all the four championship contenders, Hamlin was the most lost.

Joey Logano walked almost alone through the garage. This was nothing short of astonishing, considering the fact that an hour earlier, he’d been one of the four most visible drivers in the sport. But here he was, victim of a poor pit stop, walking with determination. Only one fan spotted him and got an autograph, and then Logano walked right between two haulers and disappeared into his own, alone.

Logano had walked right past Ryan Newman, who was standing in the middle of the garage talking to his crew chief and a couple other colleagues, a weary smile on his face. Newman was the guy who wasn’t even supposed to be here, and although losing had to be a disappointment, he was playing with house money all Chase long. He, of the four finalists, was the one who was the most accommodating to fans, posing for pictures and signing autographs for a good 15 minutes.

Out on the track, Kevin Harvick and crew were enjoying the fruits of victory — said fruits including 50 cases of Budweiser, as my colleague Geoffrey Miller learned. They would be partying late into the evening and on into the morning, and they may not have stopped yet.

So there you go. Four drivers, four short stories, only one happy ending.

Previous 14 from ’14:
Day 1: In victory lane for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Daytona 500 win
Day 2: US Open: A father, a son, a wheelchair, and Phil Mickelson
Day 3: Which college boasts the three best cross-sport athletes?
Day 4: FSU-Miami: Why won’t you die, Florida State?
Day 5: NFL playoffs: The refs robbed the Panthers!

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