Thursday, January 29, 2009

Things are going to be different around here

I looked at my blog archive the other day and noticed that 2008 had the fewest number of posts per year since I started this blog in 2002. That's a bad sign. I've gotten away from one of my great loves, writing. As a result, when I do write something you get a post like this one, which amounts to navel-gazing. One of my resolutions for 2009 should have been "write more in the blog." Well, it's never too late for resolutions. I'd like to write at least 100 posts this year, so I need to write eight or nine posts a month, or roughly two or three times a week minimum. I'm already behind on that, seeing as how January ends in two days, but I'll make up the difference as I go along. It won't be that difficult.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Let's not go there just yet

A Pittsburgh printing company is making a t-shirt with the slogan "On The Road to Sixburgh" in honor of the Steelers' attempt to be the first team to win six Super Bowls.

Can we just not do this? I get the idea, and it doesn't say "19-0" like all the Patriots crap from last year, so it's a step up. But we still don't need anything to jinx this championship game. Let's all remain calm, print up our t-shirts IN PRIVATE, and if things go well, sell them after the game. Until the morning of February 2, I don't want to hear a damn thing about "one for the other thumb" or a victory parade or any of that crap. Let's win the game first and worry about the marketing later.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Steelers are going to Tampa

I wanted to be confident about the Steelers' chances in the AFC championship game. They were playing at home in cold weather, and they had the best defense in the NFL. But they were playing the Ravens, trying to beat them for a third time this season (which is actually easier than fans think, if you look at the historical records), and they had history at home against them. Even when they had a 13-7 lead at the half, I couldn't relax. Roethlisberger kept holding on to the ball too long, the running game hadn't gotten going, and the Ravens were a quick score away from taking the lead. We should have been up 20-7 or 16-7 at the half but for some bad play and bad clock management. In the second half, when the Ravens narrowed the gap to 16-14, I saw an unpleasant future: Baltimore kicks a field goal for the lead, and Pittsburgh has to play from behind to get a game-winning score. I saw the Ravens celebrating the AFC championship on our home field.

But those things didn't happen. The Steelers played their game and hung in there, and Troy Polamalu's pick-6 iced the game. I was ready to celebrate but Willis McGahee's injury took me out of the game as much as it did the crowd at the stadium. When the game did end, and Rod Woodson(?) handed the Lamar Hunt trophy to Dan Rooney, I played the "Steelers Polka" and danced a little in my living room. It was a few hours before I could read some of the post-game recaps and commentary and fully digest the results of the win. Three years ago, when the Pittsburgh went to the Super Bowl to face Seattle, I was going through some difficult times and the Steelers' surprising run to a championship gave me reason to be excited about getting up in the morning. Also, since I hadn't seen a Steelers title run since my early childhood, I was elated at the prospect of witnessing one as an adult.

This time, it feels more like my team belongs in the game. We're the veteran team facing a newcomer in the Arizona Cardinals. They have former Super Bowl and league MVP Kurt Warner and the insanely talented Larry Fitzgerald on offense. They're not going to be a pushover. I like the Steelers' chances in this game (more than I did against the Ravens or in a possible matchup with the Eagles) but I will do my best not to get too excited before game day. It's going to be a fun Super Bowl, and I'm going to be a mess while I watch it. Best not to get too anxious yet.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

A different Mahler, with a different conductor, and a different energy

When the New York Philharmonic performs a Mahler symphony, it's difficult if not impossible to keep me away. I had noticed last year that Gustavo Dudamel was scheduled to conduct Mahler's Symphony No. 5 this month, but I waited until almost the last minute to get tickets. Maybe it was the thought that I had already spent a great deal of money on the Philharmonic, or maybe it was that I've already heard them play two other Mahler symphonies in the past seven months. But when I looked in my heart, I knew I'd regret passing up the chance to hear Mahler's Fifth, especially with Dudamel at the podium. Dudamel is one of the new "rock stars" of the conducting world. He's the 28-year-old director of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela and the newly appointed music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic starting next season. He's about five feet tall, and most of that is his Sideshow Bob-like head of curls. I've seen a Youtube clip of him conducting the end of Mahler's Third Symphony, and I couldn't believe a man so young would have such a commanding presence, not to mention his enthusiasm.

So after much consideration and schedule-consulting, I exchanged some tickets for a May concert for last night's performance of Mahler's Fifth. It was a "Rush Hour" concert at 6:45, and the hall was packed, which I suspect was the doubled effect of Mahler (always popular with audiences) and Dudamel. The stage was as crammed with strings and winds as I've ever seen it; I think they had more instrumental musicians on stage for this concert than they did for Mahler's "Resurrection" Symphony last month. Dudamel conducted with an energy I seldom see from conductors. I had read reviews of his style which described it as an "interpretive dance," and at times he was almost dancing. He leaped, waved, snapped cues with a flick of his wrist, and once indicated a big crash by starting with his hands behind his head. His aforementioned enthusiasm was clear even where we were sitting at the back of the hall. I could only imagine that his face was conveying the emotion he must have felt while leading the orchestra through some of Mahler's most tortured music in the first half of the work and his most glorious in the end. I'm not sure I could have followed his every gesture were I in the orchestra, but I have no doubt I would have enjoyed every moment of his direction. He reminded me of Leopold Stokowski in "Fantasia," because it seemed as if Mahler's music didn't exist until Dudamel (who conducted without a score) gave each cue to the orchestra. And the musicians responded to Dudamel's enthusiasm with their own. The solo trumpet in the first movement and the solo horn in the Scherzo were particularly notable. And the strings and harp in the fourth movement, Mahler's love letter to his wife Alma, were just sublime. I was moved almost to tears. And I had a goofy grin on my face for the entire finale, as I couldn't wait to hear the heroic chorale from the second movement that reappears near the end of the last. The audience applause at the end rivaled the response to Kurt Masur last March when he conducted Bach's St. Matthew Passion. I got the feeling that New York really likes Dudamel. I'm jealous of the audiences in LA that will get to enjoy Dudamel's work for the next few years. But I will definitely get tickets to his next concert with the Philharmonic, regardless of the program.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Be seeing you...

Patrick McGoohan died yesterday. His passing reminds me that I've only watched a handful of the original episodes of The Prisoner. I should get back on that.

Re-watching the opening credits, I realized that Number 6 must have been a crappy secret agent. He resigns, then he goes home to pack a suitcase to make a quick getaway, where he is captured by the mysterious forces who imprison him in The Village. Why didn't he pack the suitcase first and bring it in his car? Why did he take his own tiny sports car? Why not take a cab from MI 6 right to Victoria Station or Heathrow? And how could he not notice that he was being followed all the way home? They're following right behind him! I've read too many spy novels and seen too many movies.

Friday, January 09, 2009

The 2 AM show is very different from the 11 PM show

Because I am trying to make more work for myself, I haven't set my DVR to automatically record The Daily Show or the Colbert Report. The cable box's TV guide doesn't always say when the show is new or a re-run, so I try to remember to set the DVR each evening to record that night's shows. Sometimes I forget to set it before 11 PM, so I record the 1 AM re-runs of each show instead. Then I watch them the next morning, so the news is two days old. I can live with that.

But I was surprised this morning when The Colbert Report's final ad break featured an ad for a "fingertip massager." I wasn't offended at all to see the ad. I thought it was kind of funny, if a little predictable (the old lady uses one! I didn't see that coming!). I was just surprised that the ad existed at all. I've never seen a TV ad for a product like that before, let alone on Comedy Central at 11:55 PM. Then I remembered I was watching the late-night re-run. That explains why I've fast-forwarded through all those escort service ads during The Daily Show.

If Trojan wants to turn that ad into an hour-long informercial, I promise I'll watch it.