Tuesday, March 27, 2007 

Poker On The Down Low

As I type this, I'm playing in a $3 + $0.30 no-limit hold-'em tourney over at Full Tilt Poker. And I'm going down fast--we're up to 150/300 blinds and I've got only about 1000 chips left. I'm currently placed 176 out of 197 players still alive (started with 566), and the top 99 will cash.

Why am I telling you this? Well, first, I want to see if I can finish this post before I get blinded out. (I've just been dealt three straight 4-hands--4-3, 4-5, 4-2, all off-suit. Thanks, dealer!) But next, I just want to make sure everyone's fully aware of how easily some douchebags in Congress--hey, 4-9, getting higher--can disingenuously wrap themselves in "patriotism" and casually screw millions of people. Last year, several sleazes in Congress attached a midnight rider to a port security bill that chokes off most sources of funding for online poker. Since Congress wasn't going to halt the port security aspect of things to protect poker, boom--online poker players suddenly found themselves having to leap tall buildings just to keep playing their games.

(Disclaimer: this is in no way comparable to the ways that people really get reamed by the government--see Katrina, Iraq, et cetera. It's just a dismaying, disheartening pain in the ass, is all.)

(Oof. And I'm out. Had a 4h-Qh--fours were on me like stink on Tara Reid tonight--and got beaten by a guy who flopped a set of Aces. Ah, well. Finished in 159th place.)

Anyway, if you're a poker player, or a fan of individual liberty, or--or just an American, dammit--you ought to consider throwing a couple bucks to the Poker Players Alliance to help get this horsecrap bill overturned--and, potentially, make it fully legal to play poker online in the United States.

And if you don't know how to play poker, by all means, let me teach you. Won't cost much.


Sunday, March 25, 2007 

The Week That Was @ Sports Gone South

Here's what was shaking over at my sports site, Sports Gone South:

--You never know what the winter thaw will bring to light...the story of a strange little discovery on a Chicago golf course.

--The Atlanta Hawks are winning...why aren't we happy?

--A recap of a Braves spring training game, with assorted Michael Jordan references.

--A postmortem of the Virginia Cavaliers' broken basketball season.

--The last word on NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow, courtesy of Dante and Randal from Clerks.


Entertainer-Fan Relations: Two Case Studies

There's probably nothing more annoying at a concert than seeing some douche jump onstage and throw his arms in the air like he'd just won the New York Marathon. The only saving grace comes from seeing security dogpile on the guy. Except when they don't. Here are two examples of very different ways to handle fans onstage. First, the ever-recalcitrant Bob Dylan:

Personally, I prefer the more hands-on approach of Keith Richards:

That'll leave a mark...hopefully.


Thursday, March 22, 2007 

23 Shows You Should Be Watching: No. 18, Heroes

Synopsis: Everyday, normal folks all over the world are suddenly finding themselves imbued with amazing powers. It's nothing that us comic-book geeks haven't seen several hundred times, but for the rest of y'all, it's brand-spankin'-new.
Why You Should Watch: I'll spare you the whole treatise on how comic book fans have been on to something all along because humanity's truest, most resonant tales are those of people empowered to mythological proportions (Gilgamesh, Achilles, Superman, Anna Nicole's rack). Heroes works because there's not a single costume to be found anywhere, because the person, not the power, is at the heart of this series. Again, this kind of street-level characterization of godlike beings is the kind of thing that the X-Men was doing back in 1973, but hey--whatever works to get the rest of the world to dig on comic-style stuff.
Key Scene: Every revelation of powers has been a good one, particularly those that misdirect--we think Peter Petrelli can fly, but it turns out he's only leeching off the powers of his brother, who can. And the real-world use of superpowers is dead-on--who wouldn't use invisibility to swipe a purse or knock over a jackass or two? My personal favorite, though, involves Hiro the merry time-stopping Japanese guy. Trying to save his beloved from having her skull opened like a can-opener, he disappears from a diner, leaving his friend Ando sitting there alone. And then, Ando walks over to a wall of pictures and sees Hiro in one of them, in a picture taken six months before.
Key Quote: "Save the cheerleader, save the world." It's all there--apocalypse and goofiness, destiny and tongue-in-cheekiness.
Fun Fact: NBC is going all-out on promoting Heroes, from running free episodes to publishing a graphic novel to putting together a video game to...jeez, who knows. If you've got more time than I do, though, you could get seriously lost in the NBC Heroes mini-site.


Wednesday, March 21, 2007 

Southern Lit: "The Night Johnny Ace Died," James Lee Burke

If you consider yourself any kind of knowledgeable reader--or any kind of writer at all--you need to check out James Lee Burke, the reigning king of Southern crime lit. I've written about his Dave Robicheaux novels before; check this link for my thoughts on that series.

He's also a damn talented short story writer, and he's got a collection called "Jesus Out To Sea" coming out this summer. I'm assuming his latest, "The Night Johnny Ace Died," will be in it, but in the meantime, you can get it for free by clicking right here and going to Esquire.com to read it.

"Johnny Ace" is the story of a couple of rockabilly musicians in the '50s who sit right on the cusp of breakout and crossover success--they're white and planning to record with black singing star Johnny Ace, but this is how the story begins:

He and Big Mama Thornton were taking a break backstage when it happened. The dance floor was covered with Mexican and black people, a big haze of cigarette and reefer smoke floating over their heads in the spotlights. White people were up in the balcony, mostly low-rider badasses wearing pegged drapes and needle-nose stomps and girls who could do the dirty bop and manage to look bored while they put your flopper on autopilot. Then we heard it, one shot, pow, like a small firecracker. Johnny's dressing-room door was partly opened and I swear I saw blood fly across the wall, just before people started running in all directions.

And with Johnny dead--either by his own hand or from outside forces, we don't know--it all goes downhill from there. In just a few thousand words, Burke packs in a novel's worth of heartache, longing, betrayal, desire, and regret, plus an appearance by Elvis himself (referred to here only as "The Greaser").

Whether you like Burke's brand of florid, over-the-top description probably depends on whether you're the kind of person who groans in delight or pain when Mom brings another overstuffed plate of food to the Thanksgiving table. Still, for all his rhetorical excesses, you can't deny that Burke's got some serious chops:

You know the secret to being a rockabilly or country music celebrity? It's not just the sequins on your clothes and the needle-nose, mirror-shined boots. Your music has to be full of sorrow, I mean just like the blood-flecked broken body of Jesus on the cross. When people go to the Assembly of God church and look up at that cross, the pain they see there isn't in Jesus' body; it's in their own lives. I'm talking about droughts, dust storms, mine blowouts, black-lung disease, or pulling cotton bolls or breaking corn till the tips of their fingers bleed. I went to school with kids who wore clothes sewn from Purina feed sacks...What I'm trying to say is, we come from a class of people who think of misery as a given. They just want somebody who's had a degree of success to treat them with respect.

Good stuff. Click the link, take 15 minutes and check it out. How many times can you see someone getting kicked in the junk on YouTube, anyway?


Tuesday, March 20, 2007 

Everything That Dies Someday Comes Back

When I was a kid, my family used to vacation up in Virginia on this tiny little spit of land called "Deltaville" that jutted out into the Chesapeake. One summer, I remember I rode from Deltaville back to Richmond in my future aunt's convertible Camaro. Just her and me. She had long black hair that blew in every direction in the Lower Eastern Shore wind, and as we cruised the beachfront town, she put in Born to Run. And even though I was ten years old, man, I got it. And for two hours, I was living inside a Springsteen song.

It took a few years of wandering through the musical hinterlands of Rush, Zeppelin, Van Halen, et. al. before I made my way back to Springsteen. I've been hooked ever since, even though I'm living a life about as far as one can imagine from the Jersey Shore. I'll write some other time about the Springsteen live show I saw in Memphis, a singularly transcendent experience that was the finest concert I've ever seen.

Today's topic is the neo-Springsteens -- should I call them "Newce Springsteens"? No, no, I should not -- who are yelling and pining their way to the tops of the rock charts with a combination of soaring ambition and earthly subjects, ferris wheels and beaches and boardwalks and open highways and One Last Chances and all that flat-out awesome Americana. Kids too young to understand the mythology they're goofing around with are turning out some damn fine work, even if they're doing a lot of color-by-numbers.

The Killers have made the biggest popular smash, even if they seemed to construct their lyrics from a Springsteen magnetic-poetry kit, as with their hit "When You Were Young": "We're burnin' down the highway skyline on the back of a hurricane that started turning when you were young..." I don't know what the hell it means, but with all those majestic guitars, it sure sounds cool. Lucero's "I Can Get Us Out Of Here Tonight" carries "Thunder Road"'s DNA like a child; it's one of the best songs of last year. The Hold Steady nails the epic guitar-piano-sax-glockenspiel sound of the best Bruce, rendering even the idea of puking at a concert in bold strokes. And Jesse Malin, whose Glitter in the Gutter was just released today, goes straight to the source, drafting The Boss himself for a duet entitled "Broken Radio." (Links take you to the iTunes store.)

The amazing thing about Springsteen is how relevant he remains; even putting aside last year's foray into folk music, he's still putting out incisive rock. I'm not sure how long any of these off-brand versions will be around, but it's damn good music while it lasts.
(Check out that shot of the Atlantic City boardwalk. Looks like it could have come from the '70's...but there's a Starbucks there! That's what you call blog-post synchronicity, homes.)


Monday, March 19, 2007 

Flickadaweek: The Black Dahlia

L.A. Confidential is one of the finest movies of the last 50 years, and I'll beat anybody who says different. Thus, any movie that treads in the same gumshoes has a huge mountain to climb. Of any contender, The Black Dahlia from last year brought the most storied pedigree to the table--the source material was the book of the same name by James Ellroy, the same cat who wrote L.A. Confidential. But the movie comes off as a TV-movie version of the same '40s-era Los Angeles.

Basic plotline: a couple of L.A. cops in love with the same gorgeous sex bomb find themselves enmeshed in a horrific crime investigation--a young would-be actress is vivisected, cut in half, and left along the side of a road. Naturally, there are no true "good" guys, and everyone owes a debt that comes due--often in bloody fashion--by the end of the movie.

The thematic structure is similar to Confidential, as well, which does Dahlia no favors--Josh Hartnett is a watery copy of Russell Crowe; Scarlett Johannsen is smokin' hot but doesn't have the black widow charisma of Kim Basinger; Aaron Eckhart is the best of the bunch but still can't match the manic intensity of Guy Pearce. It's got some fine and creepy moments--you can't go wrong with a bisected, leering corpse--but it also dissolves into some serious scene-chewing camp by the end of it all.

It's not a bad movie, certainly; director Brian de Palma nails the look of the era. But we're in the midst of a crime-drama renaissance on TV, so movies have to be much better than "not bad." This one ain't.


Sunday, March 18, 2007 

The Week That Was Over @ Sports Gone South

I've moved all my sportswriting over to Sports Gone South...but let's not leave my loyal JB.com readers out in the cold. Here's what happened over there this week:

--Falcons QB Mike Vick--who's dodging as many trainwrecks as defenders these days--opens a new restaurant. Absolutely no jokes ensue.



Comics For People Who Don't Read Comics: Fables

Continuing in my attempt to show that not every comic book is a teenage-male power fantasy where every problem's solved with angst and fistfighting, and every chick has a gigantic rack...not that there's anything wrong with that.

It begins with "Once upon a time," yet we're not in a mythical, faraway, pastoral land. We're in the heart of New York City--our New York City--which makes it all the more unsettling. Fables, an ongoing series from Vertigo, starts off by peeling back the mythological curtain, Wizard of Oz-style: every single fable, every single story, from Pinocchio to Snow White, the Three Pigs to creepy Middle Eastern tales you've never heard--they're all true. And not only are they all true--they walk among us unnoticed.

But Fables isn't some goofy unicorns-and-rainbows treacle. It pinballs between murder mysteries, conspiracies, detective stories, political intrigue--Grimm's Fairy Tales blended with James Ellroy. One of the series' overarching plot threads was the role of the Adversary, a mysterious, evil figure who drove most of the Fables out of Europe. The more human-looking Fables, like Snow White--now a powerful woman, and ready to kill anybody who mentions that business with the dwarves--settle in New York City. Less-human Fables like the Three Little Pigs are restricted to a farm in upstate New York--and they aren't exactly pleased. And the identity of the Adversary? You already know who he is--a well-known figure from literature--and while his identity would surprise you, it makes perfect sense in the context of Fables.
The canvas on which Fables creator can work is almost infinite; he's already turning his gaze to other cultures' fables for inspiration. Fables is well worth checking out; read the entire first issue by clicking here, and get the rest in collections off Amazon. Trust me...you'll never read Pinocchio the same way again.


Friday, March 16, 2007 

23 Shows You Should Be Watching: No. 19, The Black Donnellys

Synopsis: Four Irish brothers find themselves awash in crime, drinking, brawling, gunplay, and broken hearts. It sounds like Stereotype Hell...but somehow it both embraces and transcends these well-traveled streets.
Why You Should Watch: Because it combines humor and violence, hope and hopelessness in a near-perfect balance that you don't often see on television. Most shows trying to balance on that line -- The Shield, say, or Rescue Me -- tilt too far in one direction or the other. The only reason The Black Donnellys is ranked this low is that we're only three episodes into the series -- there's plenty of time for it to move up the list.
Key Scene: At the end of the first episode, Tommy Donnelly realizes that the Italian mob is going to kill his brother Jimmy for kidnapping one of their bookies. So Tommy, until now a law-abiding guy, ices the head of the local Italian family -- and, for good measure, the head of the Irish family who was there to sell Jimmy out.
Key Quote: "He could have made it out, only he was never gonna let his brother get hurt again. And so Tommy became everything he never wanted. And whether he realized it or not, with Huey dead, Tommy'd just taken over the neighborhood." --Joey Ice Cream, friend of the brothers, recounting in an interrogation what Tommy did to the mobsters.
Key Quote 2: "Not those bodies." --One of the detectives, after Joey Ice Cream had told the hour-long story of Tommy's descent into the abyss. The episode began with the detective asking, "Where are the bodies?" and ended with the detective belting the camera -- Joey's POV -- with a telephone book.
Fun fact: The series was originally titled "The Truth According To Joey Ice Cream." Thankfully, that horrific title didn't survive to the second draft.
Fun fact 2: You can watch all the old episodes, plus an ultra-violent "web only" episode too rough for TV, by going to NBC's Black Donnellys site. Enjoy!


Wednesday, March 14, 2007 

Southern Lit Review--"Deliverance," James Dickey

It's tough to review Deliverance -- or, for that matter, any work that has so completely permeated the culture -- with anything remotely approaching objectivity. Deliverance, in both book and movie form, has arguably done more than anything short of Klansmen to damage the reputation and image of the South. Sure, inbred banjo-pickin' and sodomy existed long before James Dickey used them like machetes in his book, but Deliverance brought them to the mainstream. You can't even think of the story without thinking of Ned Beatty's "squeal like a pig" scene. (Beatty apparently came up with the line himself just before the one and only take of that scene; he's reportedly never spoken of it since.) And just to hear the opening notes of Dueling Banjos is enough to send a shiver up to all but the reddest of necks.

Anyway, the story: four Atlanta businessmen decide to go canoeing in some uncharted river territory in north Georgia. Being suburban, and thus stupid, they assume they can either bluster or buy their way through the rural country-ass society. They make enemies fast, and before you can say -- everybody at once now -- "squeal like a pig," they're in deep, the bodies are piling up, and the choices before them are ugly indeed. To tell more than that would spoil the story for those of you who don't know it. Suffice it to say that the horrific situations these men find themselves in don't sound nearly so funny when they uncoil around you like a nest of snakes.

The title is one of the most fascinating and unexplored elements of the book. "Deliverance" implies passivity -- a need for an outside entity to do the delivering. The question for these poor bastards is, who -- or what -- is delivering them, and what kind of world are they delivering them into? Our narrator talks at length of keeping settled in his humdrum, everyday existence; one of his colleagues continually rants about the need to bust out of that same box. And when events force them out of that hole, never to return to its comforts, well...it's not hard to project yourself into their shoes. Hopefully not Ned Beatty's.

Deliverance is one of the best novels of the 20th century. Read it...and beware of banjos.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007 

On The Other Side Of "Have You Seen Junior's Grades..."

Last night was a night I had been looking forward to, in some small way, for about twenty years. Last night, one of my all-time favorite bands, Van Halen, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Put aside the fact that America's one-time preeminent goofball rock band actually made a Hall of Fame...what's creepy is, I remember back during the days when I was really into the group, and I remember thinking, "They'll be eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2007 -- Christ, that's forever from now." And yet, here we are.

Now, I've written before about the influence Van Halen had on me as a kid, so there's no need to go back down that road now. What was sad about last night is how anticlimactic it all was. As you may or may not know, Van Halen has been a joke of a personnel mess for something like ten years now. Eddie Van Halen has gone through something like seven lead singers -- with David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar coming and going several times -- and the group most recently brought in Eddie's kid Wolfgang to play bass, ditching founding bassist (and luckiest man alive) Michael Anthony. Not to slag on Wolfie's bass skills -- I'm sure the kid's fifty times better than me while fast asleep -- but the kid was years away from being born when "Jump" ruled the world.

Eddie's in rehab, sadly, unable to kick the bottle. Alex, apparently, has no thought that runs counter to Eddie's. Ever. And Roth is a flat-out nutjob, the classic Old Guy In The Club, zap-a-doodle-ing long after everyone else has left the party, gone home, gotten jobs, and raised a kid or two. It's a little pathetic, the way he hangs onto the golden days of a quarter-century ago, but the poor bastard doesn't have much else going on in his life, apparently -- he's done tours as a radio DJ and an ambulance paramedic ("Wow! Hey hey! That leg's gonna get amputated today!")

Which leaves other lead singer Sammy Hagar and Anthony, the two most normal members of this absurd crew, and the only ones able to get their shit together to accept the induction. It was more than a little sad, seeing just the two of them onstage, beefier, a little frazzled and off-key, happily warbling their way through "Why Can't This Be Love?" And then poor Sammy got dissed beyond belief during the final jam number; Patti Smith and Michael Stipe are all about peace, love, and understanding, except when it comes to letting overgrown frat guys take the mike.

Okay, so there's not much left in the tank with Van Halen. And everyone outside the band now refers to them in the past tense. Still, raise a beer for these guys. For a few years, they were as good as rock music got...and a few years from now, when the neo-Eddies take over music once again, let's just hope the master's still around to lead 'em.

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Jay Busbee runs Yahoo! Sports' NASCAR Blog From The Marbles, Atlanta Magazine's Atlanta sports blog Right Down Peachtree, and the Southern sports/humor blog Sports Gone South. He also writes for damn near anybody who'll throw him a buck and a byline, and he's at work on the books The Quiet Dynasty: The History Of The Atlanta Braves' Championship Run (2009, Sports Publishing LLC) and God Is A Bulldog: Georgia, Florida, And The Greatest Play In College Football History (2010, Sports Publishing LLC). Click below for more info on his novels, articles, and comics.
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