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Entries in Personal Favorites (10)

Monday
Nov082010

Bury Me In My Jersey

Bury Me In My Jersey: A Memoir of My Father, Football, and Philly

Tom McAllister

Villard Books, 2010

I used to consider myself a pretty big Eagles fan.  Knowledgeable, passionate, and long-suffering, like so many others who call Philadelphia home.  But after reading Tom McAllister’s Bury Me In My Jersey, I feel like a bandwagoner who needs to be reinitiated.  In his first book, a memoir, McAllister pours fanaticism onto the page like a blitzing Eagles defense.  While detailing the often painful history of the franchise, he also comes to terms with his own pain, interweaving his story of self-discovery with the evolution of the team.  Coping with the loss of his father, who first taught him to love the Eagles, McAllister struggles to make sense of his obsession and how it shaped his identity. 

Bury Me In My Jersey is an honest, thoughtful book that tackles issues of manhood, grief, isolation, and love within the unique context of sports fandom.  While McAllister’s experiences are particular to Philadelphia and the Eagles, the challenges faced and lessons learned reach beyond provincial allegiances.  Anyone who knows the zeal of a true fan or has felt the loss of a loved one can relate to this story. 

As most people who follow the NFL might know, Philadelphia Eagles fans have a certain reputation throughout the country.  And while there is no mention of Santa Claus in Bury Me In My Jersey, there are plenty of scenarios that lend credence to the allegations that Eagles fans can be a rather unruly bunch.  But McAllister writes with such wit and self-awareness that even accounts of some of his more questionable behavior serve as points of insight and enlightenment.  One can’t become a man without making the mistakes of a boy, right? 

One of my favorite aspects of McAllister’s writing is his frequent use of footnotes.  They act as a sort of aside that allows for a deeper glimpse into the author’s thought process, often providing a chuckle along with their extra information.  Funny moments abound in Bury Me In My Jersey, and are helped along with some creative descriptions, my favorite a reference to former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi as “date rapist smug.”  McAllister crafts some really great sentences, which can either make you laugh out loud, start to tear up, or just nod your head in appreciation as you reread them. 

I’ve read a lot of memoirs, and even studied them as a literature student, but this is the first time I have actually known the author personally.  I was a classmate of McAllister’s for eight years, we are still friends, and there are even a couple oblique references to me in the book.  This fact did allow me to appreciate some of the stories and references in a more personal way, but as a student of the genre, it intrigued me even further to analyze how McAllister recounted certain events with which I was familiar.  It was fun to think about what I would have included, left out, or emphasized if I had been writing about the same event.  The experience reiterated my love of memoir for its inherent subjectivity, and I felt like I was learning about Tom from a completely different angle.

Bury Me In My Jersey is an impressive example of modern memoir, especially for the distinct perspective achieved through the lens of Eagles fandom.  It’s a must-read for any Philadelphia fan, but is absolutely rewarding on many other levels.  The struggle to overcome grief, to learn how to be a man, and to own one’s identity is a journey that transcends football, and can teach each of us something about our own life story. 

Tom McAllister will be reading portions of Bury Me In My Jersey, as well as signing copies, this Wednesday, November 10, on campus at La Salle University.  The event, sponsored by the English Department, will start at 6:00 p.m. in the atrium of the Holroyd building.  

Monday
Jun142010

Chicago Bucket List

Museum of Science and IndustryWith about six weeks left here in Chicago, I've been thinking about what I should do to take advantage of this wonderful city.  A bucket list, if you will, for my remaining time as a resident of the city by the lake. 

Thankfully, the arrival of summer has brought with it many of the events that make Chicago great. Some of my ideas reflect the season or favorite places I need to revisit, while others look to the classic city jewels that one tends to admire only when guiding visitors or faced with my dilemma of leaving too soon.  

Please feel free to leave suggestions of any additional sights, sounds, or tastes you think I should take in before heading Eastward.  

Eats

Hot Doug's - gourmet sausage and duck fat fries, need I say more?

Wakamono - great sushi place in my neighborhood.

Ann Sather - classic brunch spot.  

Drinks

aliveOne - my favorite local bar.

Hopleaf - excellent selection of Belgian beers.

Sights

Cubs game at Wrigley

Comedy revue at Second City

Museum of Science and Industry

A neighborhood festival

A day at Oak St. Beach

Sounds 

Concert at Millennium Park

A night at B.L.U.E.S.

Show at new venue Lincoln Hall

 

Monday
May242010

LOST: The End

As the landmark show has done for six seasons, LOST's finale left us with plenty of questions.  Thankfully, it also gave us a solid foundation on which to base our interpretations of the show’s core meaning. 

LOST was a show that broke rules throughout its existence, whether it was announcing a series end date, utilizing unorthodox narrative structure, or seriously addressing questions of spirituality, and those risks were part of what made the show great.  The writers and actors of LOST were unafraid to challenge viewers with an uncompromising vision, and that respect for the process paid off in the final product. 

I truly believe there will never be another show like LOST.  It may well be that its run serves as the swan song for network television.  We'll have to wait to understand the show's place in television history, but for now, we can analyze its legacy within the context of its final hours. 

ABC / Mario PerezAs a loyal fan of LOST, someone who has relished the high points and kept faith during the low, I would find it hard to believe that any real fan of the show would be disappointed by "The End."  If before the finale you didn’t accept that the show was not about mythology or science fiction, but rather the journey of its characters, then you wasted 121 hours of your life.  The power of LOST comes from its human element, not the supernatural.  Sure, the setting of the show incorporated many fictional tropes, some of which were pretty cool, but at its heart was a story that addressed the big questions, of love, redemption, and the meaning of life. 

For most of this season, I was among the viewers who were skeptical of the Sideways storylines.  I was unsure why we needed a new narrative device so close to the end, but as I had done for five years, I trusted in the show, and my faith was rewarded in the finale.  The revelation that the Sideways world was not an alternate reality but instead a form of afterlife meeting place was surprising yet satisfactory.  The reconciliation of the timelines provided what I really wanted, the knowledge that the Island timeline was real, and that it meant something.  As Christian Shephard told Jack, "the most important time of your life was the time you spent with these people."  That idea, that individuals can be linked through shared experience, is a fitting end for this group's journey.

This explanation certainly leaves a lot to unpack, and I can understand that some people could be turned off by the fact that the meaning of the Sideways world is ambiguous.  I am left wondering if any of the alternate storylines meant anything aside from bringing the castaways together.  Did it mean anything that they got a glimpse of what life could have been like if they never crashed?  Or, because they apparently created that world, do those speculations only serve as a means to an end, to a remembrance of things as they were? 

Other questions I am still struggling with include why certain people were included or excluded from that final group in the church.  Daniel Faraday seemingly grasped the nature of that world, yet Desmond told Eloise Hawking that he wouldn’t be coming with him.  I took this to mean that he would move on later, perhaps after he helps Charlotte realize her past.  Also, we never saw an epiphany for Penny in the Sideways world.  Can we just assume that Desmond, as enlightenment catalyst, brought her consciousness at some point?  I accept that Michael wouldn’t be there because he was trapped on the island, unable to move on, and I guess Walt wasn't really essential to this core group, so for the most part the right people were in the room.

That final scene, and the episode as a whole, just felt right.  It was great how the show essentially came full circle, referencing the past in a way that allowed the characters to move forward.  The recreation of central moments of their Island life was fun for the audience and a fitting way for the characters to receive their epiphanies.  And to have Jack be the last to understand, to be the conduit for the explanation of the Sideways world, as we simultaneously see him dying in the Island world, was as well-planned a sequence as you could ask for, culminating in the perfect symmetric image of his eye closing.

Some extra thoughts before I conclude.

Scenes I love from the finale:

  • Charlie: "I was shot by a fat man."
  • Ben’s look of gratitude when Hurley asked for his help.
  • Juliet and Sawyer’s shared epiphany.

Some more lingering questions:

  • Did Desmond truly serve his purpose as failsafe on the island?  Well, he did serve a purpose; it just wasn’t the one he, Jack, or Locke thought it would be.  He survived moving the rock, temporarily making Locke mortal.
  • So why were Desmond and Jack able to survive being in the heart of the island, and MIB suffered "a fate worse than death"?  Perhaps part of the fringe benefits of being the Constant. 

I could write pages more, but I think I got to the heart of my opinion on LOST’s final chapter.  It was a rewarding experience to go on this six-year journey, and I truly feel that the finale fulfilled the spirit of the show.  I look forward to talking it over for a while longer, and then, when I’m ready, to let go and move on.  

Friday
May142010

The New Pornographers: Together

The New Pornographers

Together

Matador Records

May 4, 2010


"Light a candle’s end
You are a light turned low
And like the rest of us
You got those old eternity blues"

~ "Crash Years"



The art of the pop song is still alive in the realm of rock ‘n’ roll, as evidenced by Together, the latest album from multi-talented Vancouver collective The New Pornographers.  Featuring the consistently inspired songwriting of Carl Newman and Dan Bejar as well as their and Neko Case’s effusive vocal talents, Together is the power pop album you’ll be spinning all summer.

Together starts off with several instant classics, as chunky strings take over where keyboards may have roamed before on ground-shakers like "Moves" and "Crash Years."  Deep, staccato cello lines and Kurt Dahle's tom-toms add fist-thumping accents to an ongoing, head-bobbing rhythm of perfectly strummed acoustic guitars.  The songs boast the typically lush layers of Newman’s songwriting as well as quirky tidbits like melodic whistles. 

While these two opening tracks are referentially postmodern in their allusion to other songs – "Crash Years" borrowing a melody from George Harrison’s "You" and "Moves" being partly about Chicago’s illustrious "25 or 6 to 4" – the songs also capture both the simple pain of chasing a lover as well as the complex fear that suffuses modern man in the face of economic instability.  In fact, I take more from the latter insights than the song references, although perhaps that's because they are my own, and not gleaned from sources like Rick Moody’s heady biography of the band on Matador’s website. 

The album takes a bit of a turn with "Silver Jenny Dollar," penned by Bejar and thereby a bit more eccentric but still wonderfully catchy.  Two tracks later we get a full dose of Neko Case’s sweetness on her ballad "My Shepherd," which also features Kathryn Calder, who sometimes fills in live for Case but is now coming into her own as a full member of the band. 

There are some other talented guests on Together alongside the deep roster of New Pornographers, including Okkervil River's Will Sheff, St. Vincent's Annie Clark, Beirut's Zach Condon, and the horns of The Dap-Kings

While each member of The New Pornographers brings his or her own unique sensibility to the project, they nevertheless always come together in a way that is instantly recognizable.  They are a band unafraid to write shiny pop songs that are both playful and sincere.  The variety of instruments, beautifully layered arrangements, and perfect balance of tempo and restraint puts Together in the running for my favorite New Pornographers album. 

Wednesday
Apr142010

What Does Pink Floyd Mean Today?

When news broke this week that Roger Waters would be touring behind The Wall in Fall 2010, I was grateful that I’d get one more chance to finally see the work of Pink Floyd performed live.  For a band that was born of the 1960s and came to define the 1970s, to witness The Wall in its 30th Anniversary year would be something very special indeed.

Pink Floyd is one of those iconic bands that will influence people of every generation for a hundred years.  Every music-lover has that memory when they first embraced the band’s massive, progressive sound. 

For me, it was the summer of 1995.  I was 12 years old, hanging out in my friend’s basement, where we spent a lot of time going through his dad’s LPs.  One day, my friend pulled out that iconic black cover with the prism, and I knew my life was going to change.  The Dark Side of the Moon was my only Pink Floyd record for a few years, and it keeps a special place in the sun-soaked days of summer youth, playing continuously on my Walkman as I mowed the lawn of my house in suburban Philadelphia.  I marveled with glee as the famed Wizard of Oz sync up really did work. 

It was years before I could comprehend that this music was actually made by human beings, and not some space-age robots.  The first time I really understood the fact that this was a real band that played live was at a high school party where the film Pulse was playing in the background.  I was absorbed by the songs I had internalized and amazed by the appropriately grand stage show.  Seeing the words actually come out of the mouths of David Gilmour and Roger Waters recontextualized the power of the band.

The Wall was a great soundtrack throughout high school, with its dark totalitarian themes and lost protagonist.  Many a night ended with the guitar solo of “Comfortably Numb” in my head.  It wasn’t until college that I really took a dive into the catalogue, starting with nearest cousins Wish You Were Here and Animals.  Those four albums, released over a short six years from 1973 – 1979, would be enough to secure the band’s place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where I recently saw the permanent exhibition representing the stage show and film of The Wall

There is a before and after to those golden years of production, from the psychedelic origins of Syd Barrett and 1967’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn to the Gilmour-led prog-rock of A Momentary Lapse of Reason (1987) and The Division Bell (1994).  There are some excellent tracks on these under appreciated latter albums.  I can remember being home on Christmas holiday, the candles in the window casting soft light into my bedroom as “On the Turning Away” or “Take It Back” pulsed into my consciousness. 

I guess that’s what I take away most from my ongoing love affair with Pink Floyd’s canon, the seasonal associations and memories of home, where I first learned to appreciate the beauty of their grand sounds and themes.  Every time I listen to a Pink Floyd album, like driving home for Thanksgiving last year, a new layer is added to those experiences, and music written 30 years ago now spans a decade and a half of my life. 

It’s inspiring to realize that people all over the world have Pink Floyd experiences similar to mine.  Music lovers from England to America and every other country have been touched by their art as well as their idealism.  The final time all four members of Pink Floyd played together was in London in 2005 for the Live 8 concert, standing up to be counted in the fight against poverty.

On this tour, Roger Waters will perform The Wall more times than it has ever been, and it is appropriate that this is the piece of rock theater that remains relevant, that will rekindle old fans and birth new ones.  The message is one that transcends the ages, as does the music.  And that may be the final word on Pink Floyd, that while their art captures specific moments in time, it is also timeless.   

What are some of your favorite Pink Floyd moments?