Monday, December 22, 2014

Viva la Revolucion

Everybody laughs at Dennis Rodman. He is America's favorite, cross-dressing, tattooed, metalhead. His piercings set off alarms at airports five minutes before he arrives. He's dyed his hair every shade of the color chart wheel plus a few other hues not seen before on this planet. He was married to Carmen Electra and linked romantically with Madonna, but then who wasn't? He wore a wedding dress and full make-up to promote his 1996 autobiography, claiming that he was bi-sexual and marrying himself. And his nickname is "The Worm." Rodman is also a seven-time NBA rebounding champion, and a two-time defensive player of the year. He wears five NBA championship rings with the Chicago Bulls and had his number retired by the Detroit Pistons. He entered the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011. Rodman's drunken bellicosity has cost him his credibility, which is too bad since he's one of the only living Americans to have a laugh with North Korea's Dear Leader, Kim Jong-un.

Rodman went to N. Korea in 2013 to assist their national basketball program, and returned the next year with a group of former NBA players for a tour of the country. Afterward, Rodman claimed Dear Leader was a "friend for life," and that Obama should, "pick up the phone and call Kim," since the two leaders were basketball fans. But he was drunk and verbose upon his return. His agent claimed Rodman had been drinking heavily to an extent "that none of us had seen before," and he promptly entered a rehab facility. But Rodman's message was simple- N. Koreans are nuts over basketball. So, before we enter a second Korean War over a Seth Rogen stoner movie, perhaps we should consider invading with basketball. There is a precedent. In 1971, the U.S. Table Tennis Team was invited to China, where no American had been since 1949. On the team was a redheaded long-haired hippie named Glenn Cowan, and everywhere they went he was mobbed by fans who were perhaps seeing what freedom was for the first time. The press dubbed it "Ping-Pong Diplomacy," and it helped thaw  relations with China leading up to Richard Nixon's famous handshake with Mao Zedong, who enjoyed a game of ping-pong himself. Nelson Mandela once said, "Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does."

Speaking of sports, the island of Cuba, one of the last existing communist countries, produces great baseball players. Even Fidel was reputed to be a decent pitcher. Cuban baseball stars like El Duque and Livan Hernandez risked their lives to come to this country. But with Obama's singular destruction of the mummified, Cold-War corpse of calamities lasting from the Kennedy administration, we may soon see some free-agents. The fastest way to transform a communist country is to give them a Major League Baseball franchise. The professional suits should get in there fast. I believe there's already a pretty good ball club in Havana called the Leones. There's a team in Toronto and they're already looking at Mexico City, so let's give the other half of the hemisphere a chance to compete. New York could play Havana and they could bring back all those posters that say, "Cuba, si. Yanqui, no," Over a half century, the CIA has tried to kill Castro by exploding cigars, poison pills, bacteria, LSD, snipers, bombers, and thallium salts to make his beard fall out. Fidel said, "If surviving assassination attempts were an Olympic event, I would win the gold medal." Before another Bay of Pigs, let's invade with pro baseball, Coca-Cola, and Mickey D.

Given the chance, I would love to go to Cuba and habla a little espanol. I'd like to see the marketplace and the old cars. A new car in Cuba is a '57 Buick, but now they can finally get some genuine GM parts. In return, we get the near-mythical Cuban cigar. I smoked a few Hav-a-Tampa jewel sweets with the wooden tip back when I was in college until I realized that the taste was disgusting, but even I would smoke a Cuban cigar just for the hell of it. I could pull one out at a party and scream, "Say hello to my little friend." We can also learn how to say "banana daiquiri" in Spanish and see some of those racy shows where Hyman Roth would never go. I'm sorry. I just love "Godfather" references. One thing's for sure- the Castros can't live forever and their successors don't have personal connections to the revolution. Maybe an MLB all-star team could tour Cuba like the ping-pong team did China. Then dry out Dennis Rodman and make him our Ambassador to North Korea. Even Lil' Kim plays a little ball. Wilt Chamberlain and Kim Jong-un each hold the record for scoring 100 points in a game. The only difference was that Wilt did it with other players on the floor. Let's play ball for a change.

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Soulful Christmas

'Tis the season to be jolly. I don't mean to be a curmudgeon and fire the opening shots in this year's War on Christmas, but the expression, "'Tis the season," grates on my nerves, and that's all you're going to see in every commercial and advertisement from now until Christmas. Even in editorials and and TV talk shows, someone will inevitably say, "'Tis the season." We don't say, ''Tis nice to meet you," or, "'Tis a beauteous evening," without deserving a backhand across the cheek with a leather glove. But we say it when we see a co-worker get schnockered at the office Christmas party. He doesn't get on all fours and bray like a jackass all the time but, 'tis the season. The expression excuses all manner of bad behavior. Some highly-strung doomsday prepper is bound to get drunk at the family dinner and send a child running from the room screaming, "Mommy, Mommy, Uncle Jim-Bob is hitting Uncle Ned in the head with a lead pipe," and she will answer, "Well, 'tis the season."

But that's not what I wanted to talk about. When we began to witness the law of diminishing returns regarding Christmas cards and ceased the practice, I sent around a CD compilation of what I believe are the greatest soulful Christmas songs. Now that the CD is extinct, I figure if I gave you a list, you kids today with your downloading and your e-phones, could probably find them on the MeTube and put together some mellow tunes to hear on your iRod. Then turn it up so everyone can enjoy a violence-free Christmas, lost in a winter wonderland of the mind. Forget your Frank Sinatra, your Perry Como and your Johnny Mathis. This is a different thing. So, here 'tis:

1. The Christmas Song, by Nat "King" Cole. The most elegant Christmas song and singer OF ALL TIME. Written by Mel Torme, who used to remind his audience of that fact every chance he got. But then, who wouldn't? The standard by which all other Christmas songs are measured. I could listen to this one all year.

2. This Christmas, by Donnie Hathaway. My personal favorite, even though listening to Donnie Hathaway sometimes makes me cry. Love the musical hook with the horns and the jingle bells. Can't do better than this one.

3. White Christmas, by the Drifters. Never mind "Der Bingle." The Drifters' doo-wop version with Clyde McPhatter is delightful and unforgettable. I've heard rumors that every time this song is played, Irving Berlin rolls over in his grave.

4. Merry Christmas, Baby, by Charles Brown, who sings, "I haven't had a drink this morning, but I'm all lit up like a Christmas tree." The most laid-back of all Xmas songs. There are also good versions by Elvis and Otis Redding, but Charles Brown is the real deal.

5. I'll Be Home For Christmas, by Al Green. There are many great interpretations of this song, but the Reverend Al takes it to church, where he usually is anyway.

6. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, by Lou Rawls. Big band, swing style. When Lou sings in that baritone voice, you've got to groove, whatever your method may be. A real finger-popper. After listening, you'll say, "Yeahh, that's what I'm talkin' about."

7. Let it Snow, by Aaron Neville. An old tune refreshingly sung in the Neville brother's unique, jaunty, (I used the word "jaunty,") style. Extremely danceable. Stop looking for other versions. You'll thank me.

8. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, by Take 6. The worlds greatest acapella group adds a few musicians, specifically the Yellowjackets. Both vocal and musical arrangements on this track are amazing. You've never heard this song done this way before, but it will sure stay with you..

9. Gee Whiz, It's Christmas, by Carla Thomas. Upbeat and filled with joyous teenage innocence, and it's our Queen, for gosh sakes. This is my wife's favorite song, and Melody asked me to say, "We love you Carla." We really do.

10. Santa, Go Straight to the Ghetto, by James Brown. If anybody's going to tell the truth, it's the Godfather, who sings, "You know that I know what you will see/ 'Cause that was once me." And, "Never thought I'd realize/ I'd be singing a song with water in my eyes." Did I mention that it was also funky? Mr. Dynamite died on Christmas day, 2006, so every year we dust off the Walgreen's dancing and singing James Brown figure, give him fresh batteries, and place him in a place of prominence in what passes for Christmas decorations at our house, so he can do the Camel Walk.

You could add to this group the entire scandalous 1957 Elvis' Christmas Album, and, A Christmas Gift to You from Phil Spector, which is a terrific record, but knowing the guy's doing life for murder makes it all a little creepy to listen to now. It's like receiving a flowery wedding announcement from Charles Manson. There are so many more great songs, but I wanted to get this out to you early so you can begin preparing your playlist for the family festivities. I'm sure you can steal them anywhere. 'Tis the season.