Friday, December 7, 2012

Berry and the Bucs: When World's Collide!

A Brown Eyed Handsome Man Indeed

So, I’m devouring Bruce Pegg’s 2002 biography of Chuck Berry, “Brown Eyed Handsome Man: The Life and Hard Times of Chuck Berry.” I recommend it highly – it’s a really good, well researched book – and it’s under 2 bucks on Amazon! Can’t beat that. Anyway, I’m reading about the making of the 1986 Taylor Hackford-directed Berry picture, “Hail, Hail, Rock and Roll,” and I come across this passage, recounting an event in the fall of 1986:

Friday, November 16, 2012

Stones at 50: Preserving the LIVE legacy!

Brussels Affair (Live 1973)
As a fan of the Rolling Stones, it’s been a good year. In celebration of their 50th anniversary, Mick promised us stuff and stuff we’re getting, including a new book spanning their career, the scheduling of five annoyingly overpriced arena concerts, three here in the US and two in the UK, with strong hints of more to come; the release of (whoopee! another) Greatest Hits collection, a CD release of excellent 1978-era outtakes; and two documentaries covering aspects of their amazing career.

But best of all, we got live music from the archives. That's what this post is about. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Nutting's Second Chance - Will He Take It?

Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone fails to grab an opportunity now and then. Most of the time, we’re stuck with regret.  Rarely do we get a “do-over.”

HOWEVER, sometimes in life we do get a second chance.  And when that happens, you’ve got to take it.

Bob Nutting is lucky indeed. He had a chance to change the complexion of the Pirates organization. He didn’t take it. Now, he’s got a second chance.  Will he do the right thing?

Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Chat With Frank!

Greetings, friends. It’s  been some time since I’ve posted, what with the ups and downs of the Pirates season pulling us in so many directions – or one direction unfortunately!  As we all know, this was the year that saw a monumental collapse by our Buccos – they became the only team in history to go from 16 games ABOVE .500 to their 20th non-winning season in a row.

I wanted to get to the bottom of all this. How could this happen two times in a row? The Pirates’ owner, Bob Nutting, angrily assured us changes were coming and hinted strongly that no one’s job was safe. But then a week or so later, the Pirates’ president Frank Coonelly came out with his own statement. He was grim and determined to get to the bottom of the team’s troubles.

Well, color me impressed! Frank’s strong words and gritty determination made it clear that the team’s brass was going to address the team’s issues. No stone would be left unturned in their investigation! I had a chance to talk with Frank C (or “Grim_FrankC on Twitter) to talk about the situation.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Pirates 2012: A Periodic Assessment (4 of 8)

Well, we are just over the half-way point of the season with the All Star Game in just two days. In our first and second periodic assessments, we focused on the Pirates’ need for some offense and pretty much indicted the GM for failing to address obvious needs during the offseason. In our last assessment, we noted that a sea-change seemed to be underway, in that the Pirates were more than holding their own and just a few games out of first place.

Today our Buccos are eleven games over .500.  In the last week, they beat up on a poor team (the Astros) and won two of three from a good one (the Giants). They are in first place and playing solid baseball offensively and defensively, and in their last game before the break, they made a definitive statement that they are to be taken seriously – a 13-2 pummeling of the Giants.  Best of all, they appear here to stay - I don't think we'll see a collapse like last year.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Pirates 2012: A Periodic Assessment (Part 3 of 8)

In the last assessment at the quarter season mark, I noted that things seemed pretty steady state with the Bucs. They were still two games under .500, holding their own through solid pitching and McCutchen, but besides a few signs of life from the offense, not much else to report.

Well, times have changed.

The Pirates are now in first place. They are five games over .500. They are executing a more balanced offensive attack, though still heavily reliant on McCutchen - dangerously so. It remains a mystery to me why opposing teams aren't simply pitching around him but for whatever reason, they aren't.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Master Lee, Black Belt Martial Arts Center!

BBMAC Owner and Chief Instructor
Master Lee
As readers know, I like to connect with interesting people and explore their story. Usually the people I talk to have a Pittsburgh connection. However, this interview is with an individual closer to where I live now, in Kensington Maryland. I had a chance to spend some time with Master Robert Lee, the Chief instructor and owner of Kensington’s Black Belt Martial Arts Center (BBMAC). I could just TELL you that this is an inspiring individual, with great life lessons about setting goals and doing what it takes to achieve them; knowing what’s important in life; and the value of a positive outlook.  But Master Lee's story speaks for itself. Here’s our conversation.
Monte: Thank you for spending time with me today! The first thing I’d like to ask about is how you got started in Martial Arts. What made you decide that it was something you wanted to do?

Saturday, June 2, 2012

What WOULD Syd do?

"Losers make excuses; Winners find a way.”  Syd Thrift, former GM, Pittsburgh Pirates

How can you not love this guy?
This post isn’t a backdoor “let’s bash Neal Huntington” entry.  The Pirates are three games out, the hitting is showing some life, and we’re in “wait and see” mode to see what Huntington does to keep the Pirates in contention, and maybe even put them over the top. 
This post is about Syd Thrift, the Pirates’ general manager from 1985-1988, who in three years turned a pathetic franchise into a contender that would go on to win three division titles in a row.  Thrift was a great baseball character, a long-time baseball man, and a man who knew – and spoke – his mind. There aren’t many like him.

It’s inevitable, though, that in looking at Syd’s accomplishments in three years, one can’t help but wonder if there are lessons for the current GM, particularly at this promising time. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Legendary Filmmaker Tony Buba, Part Two!

This is part two of my interview with Braddock, PA Filmmaker Tony Buba.  Part one is here:
Tony, And The Pizza Oven
This installment explores Tony’s views on Pittsburgh and some of the things that make it such a special place, as well as on the evolution of Braddock.  Tony himself will be appearing in June in New York, at the Anthology Film Archives, which is showing a retrospective of Tony's films. Information about the retrospective is at:
That retrospective will be a great opportunity to meet Tony and to enjoy his many features and selected shorts.  But in the immortal words of Marty DiBirgi, “that’s enough of my yakkin!” Let’s get right to part two of my conversation with Tony Buba.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Pirates 2012: A Periodic Assessment (Part 2 of 8)

Well, not much to cover here because I summed up my views at the quarter mark in my last piece, focusing on the need for a new GM. I gave Neal Huntington credit for pitching, but noted that the inexplicable lack of effort seriously to address the offensive side of the equation, combined with his abysmal record in that regard over almost five years now, means it's time for a more proven leader.

I guess I can see the argument, though, for letting things play out a little longer. The team is exactly where it was when I wrote the first of these eight assessments - two games under .500. But no one should be satisfied with that. With the pitching we have, it IS fair to ask, why aren't we taking the bull by the horns and asserting ourselves in the Central dvision? The goal of the game isn't mediocrity; it's winning, right? And with the pitching we have, why aren't we?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Sorry Neal, But It's over

I am sure he is a good guy who means well
By nature I am not a negative guy. I wish no ill on anyone. While often extremely frustrated, and always upset that the Pirates perennially fail to invest meaningfully in their major league product, I nevertheless tried my hardest to stay with the program as articulated, designed, and implemented by Pirates GM Neal Huntington.  Didn’t accept that it was the only way to resuscitate the franchise; but I tried to believe.

But Huntington has been the GM for four and a half years now. The Pirates have not progressed.  The Neal Huntington era has gone on too long, and it’s time to move on. He probably wasn’t the right guy in the first place. But let’s deal with the here and now. It’s time to let Neal Huntington seek greener pastures.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Legendary Filmmaker Tony Buba, Part One!

Tony Buba, In His Studio
Winter 1989. I am in Baltimore, where my fiancĂ© – now wife of 22 years, thank you! – was living at the time.  Braddock, PA filmmaker Tony Buba was appearing at the Baltimore Museum of Art, at a screening of his 1988 classic documentary, Lightning Over Braddock.  There was a full house, and in the Q and A after the screening, Tony fielded a number of questions from the attendees. My question didn’t quite reflect the depth of knowledge regarding film, or urban decay, as some of my fellow attendees. I simply asked which pizza Tony liked more, Mineo’s or Vincent’s. With a hearty laugh, Tony got it right – Mineo’s.
November, 2011. I am at the Braddock Library for a memorial service for David Demarest, the father of Jamie Demarest, one of my closest friends since High School. I knew David Demarest loved Pittsburgh and its urban landscapes, and loved to spend time in neighborhoods like Braddock.  He was extremely active not only in helping to rejuvenate towns such as Braddock, but in fighting for any number of important social causes.  He is the man who revived “Out of This Furnace,” a book by Thomas Bell that captured immigrant life in a Western Pennsylvania steel town, and he was instrumental in preventing the shut-down of the Braddock library.  The man filming the memorial service was Tony Buba.
After the service I asked Tony if he’d mind setting up a time to have a conversation.  He is a man I have long respected – a local filmmaker who stayed loyal to his home town through its worst years.  We had a fantastic conversation. Tony is an accomplished filmmaker, an icon of the Pittsburgh/Braddock community, and as you would expect, a natural story-teller. And he’s also quite active – he is working on a number of new projects, and from June 8-12 his work will be featured at the Anthology Film Archives, in New York. Here’s the link:

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Pirates 2012: A Periodic Assessment (1 of 8)

(note: I think it’d be interesting to do periodic assessments of the Bucco season at key benchmarks – say eight times during the year at quarterly, and semi-quarterly intervals. This is the first of the eight planned assessments. )
Let’s talk record.
Fact is, Pirates are two games under .500. At the end of the day, that’s the stat that counts in the record books, and it seems to me that if the Bucs find themselves two games under .500 in July or August, most fans will be pretty ecstatic with a wild card perhaps a possibility.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Exotic Creatures Of The Deep - The Ultimate Sparks Album?

Exotic Creatures Of The Deep (ECOTD) is an album by Sparks from 2008.  This is not a typical pop album. First, it is a Sparks album, which pretty much ensures a challenging and rewarding musical experience. Still, in its depth, narrative, creativity, coherence, and execution, this album surpasses even the high standards usually associated with Sparks. One expects quality and thoughtfulness; I doubt anyone could have expected this.

In a nutshell, this album is a brilliant, conceptual masterpiece, a vision realized. And very witty! That's what this post is about.

From the first time I heard the album, I listened with unusually rapt attention.  The songs all seemed to fit together but I couldn’t figure out how. I listened over a dozen times straight through, trying to understand this album.  Only a couple of th songs, on their own, are true standouts.  Yet the album is so much more than the sum of its parts...Why? What were Sparks, aka keyboard player Ronald Mael and his brother, singer Russell Mael, getting at?

Then, like a thunderbolt, it hit me. I had the epiphany; it all came together.

ECOTD is not simply a collection of songs that kind of go together; it is a fully realized epic drama of operatic proportions.  It is a tale of one man’s odyssey to attain acceptance from others – a lesson which cannot come until he learns, perhaps grudgingly, to accept himself for who he is.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Where Should Pedro Start the Season?

This post addresses a simple question:  Should Pedro Alvarez start the season on the major league club, or in AAA? More to the point, is there even ONE argument in favor of him going north with the club and starting in Pittsburgh?

I don’t think so. I can’t think of a single argument to support the idea that he should start in Pittsburgh out of spring training.  Let’s look at the possible arguments, and respond to each of them:

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Spring Training: Surprises On The Horizon?

Well, here we are a week into spring training games, and I think it's time to ask two age-old questions: Can some would-be rookies earn a spot on the team? And even more interesting: is it possible for an incumbent STARTER to be unseated?

In an age of options, waivers, major league service requirements, and the like, it’s not clear that a hot youngster will make the major league roster. There is also the question of whether such a player would be better served by getting more playing time in the minors. 

Case in point: Matt Hague. He has, as most of us know, torn it up every year in the minors. He is having a great camp and has seen action at AAA. There may still be things for him to learn at the AAA level, but if he continues to tear up the camp the rest of the spring, the Bucs brass will have a decision on its hands. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

All About Pedro? Maybe Not

Over and over your hear it, or read it: it’s all about Pedro. If Pedro turns it around, the Buccos have a chance. Without him, well, just forget about the season right now.

I would love to see Pedro succeed.   He has only one full year under his belt, he has shown signs, his potential is obvious, and he wants to be a well-paid young man for a very long time. So the incentive is there, the talent is there, and he may end up justifying his enormous signing bonus.  We’d all love to see it and it would make a huge difference for the Pirates this year, and well into the future.

However, I do not agree with the oft-expressed view that “for the Pirates to succeed, Pedro must succeed.”  I don’t think it’s true, and I don’t think the Pirates’ management thinks so either.  In fact, I think they are planning around the possibility that he is NOT a significant part of their present - or their future.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Pirates' Offseason - Good But Incomplete

As one who is perpetually frustrated by the Pirates’ front office  – exacerbated after its failure to really support the team at last year’s trading deadline – it’s a pleasure to feel a bit optimistic for this coming season. I remain skeptical; we’re still talking a pretty minuscule payroll in baseball terms, and there were a lot of things they could have happened this offseason which didn’t get done.  We all watched, for example, as one potential 1B after another was taken off the board. And I am not talking about the Pujols and the Fielder types; they were never realistic. But the Penas, the Kotchmans, even the Cuddyers or Willinghams, were all grabbed up by teams not called the Pirates.

But let’s focus on what did get done. I would put it this way. Generically speaking, the Pirates had three big needs – bring strength and consistency up the middle; bolster the SP staff; and improve the offense. I would give them credit on two of these.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Dirty Work: The Rolling Stones' Masterpiece By Accident!

Introductory Note: I plan to use this blog to sometimes highlight music that I believe is overlooked.  This is the first of those reviews. However, the album in question is one that I have wanted to write about for a long time, and I ended up working on this piece for months, never quite satisfied that I “got it.”  A lot came out because in my mind a lot had to be said!  So please don’t be scared off by its length, and enjoy reading about an often overlooked but essential album by the Rolling Stones!

Dirty Work is an often dismissed, usually maligned Rolling Stones album from 1986.  Yet many of the reasons the album is written off are the very one that make it great.  The overall disarray of the band, the feuding between Mick and Keith at the time, and the fact that Keith had to pretty much put the album together on his own all contribute to making this a truly essential, if imperfect, album. 

The criticisms of Dirty Work are well known.  Fixated on advancing his solo career, Mick brought little of value to the studio.  Keith’s anger at Mick permeates, and sometimes overwhelms, the whole thing.  The songs are an overproduced mess, with only THREE attributed solely to the famous Jagger-Richards songwriting tandem.  At least three additional percussionists are on the record, covering for a smacked out Charlie.  Wyman barely showed up – Ronnie covered on bass, and on one track (Had It With You), there’s no bass at all!  They didn’t even care enough to add it! what a mess!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Interview: Melissa Hiller, Curator, Pittsburgh's American Jewish Museum!

Hello loyal readers! I recently had the opportunity to talk with Melissa Hiller, who is the Curator of the American Jewish Museum, located in Squirrel Hill’s Jewish Community Center! Melissa has served in this position since 2008.
Melissa Hiller with publisher Adam Parfrey (l), historian Mel Gordon

The JCC is a special place to me because I used to perform in plays there. Really good plays too! But that’s not what this interview is about. THIS interview is an opportunity to learn more about Ms. Hiller, who is making such an important contribution to Pittsburgh’s cultural scene, and to learn more about the AJM’s current exhibit, based on the Funnyman comic strip produced in 1948 by the creators of Superman, Joe Siegel and Jerry Shuster! Here's a link to info on the museum, and the exhibit:

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Tribute to the Great Matty Alou!

Hello, friends! I want to take a moment to pay a tribute to my all time favorite Pittsburgh Pirate, one Matty Alou.

 Matty died last November but at the time I was taking a hiatus from blogging. The Pirates' front office's failure to make any significant moves at the trading deadline really got to me. Opportunities are so fleeting...but anyway, I've revamped the blog and now I'm writing the post I've wanted to write for quite a few months now, which is to pay tribute to the late, great, Matty Alou.

Honky Tonk Women - Evolution of a Song!

The Rolling Stones unleashed the single “Honky Tonk Women” in 1969.  In many ways, it was somewhat anamolous; it has a unique sound among the Stones classics; at the same time, it’s instantly recognizable as the Rolling Stones. Classic Keith riff, Jagger’s party-time vocal, Charlie’s propulsive rhythm.  Add a touch of Mick Taylor’s new guitar and Bill’s steady bass, and there you go. Da Stones.

However, perhaps because the song is so unique it has, more than most of their classics, lent itself to some interpretation over the years by the band.   Some changes in the live performance are subtle, some less so.  As such, I thought it would be interesting to really study the evolution of the song over time and relate it, where it made sense to do so, to where the band was at any given time in their career.  Let’s start with the 1969 single as a baseline, and explore the band’s interpretation over the years on that basis. 

New Stones Tour? SURE! Here's How To Do It!

So there’s this organization out there called the Rolling Stones Liberation Front. Worth checking out at:

Now see how well they get along?
Anyway, they have six demands for a 2012 tour – considered highly likely, as 2012 is the band’s 50th anniversary. I agree, it is likely – not just for sentimentality, but because all the licensing and merch deals are reportedly in place. If anyone knows anything about the Stones, they know that that’s a pre-requisite for these guys!

The RSLF’s demands are ones that I, as a long-term, diehard fan, endorse, and I applaud the dudes for making the case.  With the exception of rolling back the ticket prices, however, I think most folks would be disappointed if they didn’t hear a bunch of the warhorses, and I think that limiting the shows to very small venues would just drive ticket prices up for those shows on the secondary market, and cut out a lot of people.

But the RSLF is on track, and they insprired me to think about MY vision for 2012.  So what would I like to see? Well, here’s my ten point plan! 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Ten Essential Sparks Albums!

Background: I love Sparks.  They are totally unlike almost all of the other groups I listen to – the Stones, AC/DC, Ramones, Jett, and variants thereof.  Sparks are led by brothers Ron and Russell Mael, and they’ve been producing music together for over 35 years.  People often ask me which Sparks albums they should get to acquaint themselves with the music.  Well, a few albums represented key turning points for the band, or were of such extremely high quality, that they could be deemed “essential” and therefore top the list. So from their 22 albums, here’s my list of ten essentials!  The first seven were highly significant with respect to Sparks’ evolution over the past 40 years.  Three others are discussed because of their extremely high quality, even if they didn’t represent “turning points” per se.