R.I.P. Chuck Berry

Music has lost some true legends over the past year and a half. Yesterday Chuck Berry passed away and his loss is seemingly incalcuable. The tributes have already come pouring in from all over and his influence is impossible to comprehend I believe. There will always be a debate who started Rock & Roll but to me Chuck Berry was the truest pioneer. More than Elvis, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis no one played guitar like that before him and his songwriting was so precise, it encapsulated the very essence of Rock & Roll. All of the platitudes of the genre can be traced back to year zero and Chuck Berry songs.

I’ll leave an excerpt here of a quote from Bob Dylan from a RollingStone interview back in 2009 regarding Chuck Berry. He says it better than I ever could:

“Chuck said to me, ‘By God, I hope you live to be 100, and I hope I live forever,'” Dylan says with a laugh. “He said that to me a couple of years ago. In my universe, Chuck is irreplaceable. All that brilliance is still there, and he’s still a force of nature. As long as Chuck Berry’s around, everything’s as it should be. This is a man who has been through it all. The world treated him so nasty. But in the end, it was the world that got beat.”

 

R.I.P. Chuck Berry

 

2016

As the calendar year starts to wind down and reset there appears to be one overwhelming and inalienable narrative from pretty much everyone: 2016 was really horrible.

You’d be hard-pressed to make an argument otherwise. We lost too many great people to entirely list from musicians to sports luminaries, actors, actresses and so on. The ones that cut deepest with me were probably David Bowie, Prince, and especially Leonard Cohen. Cohen’s death felt like a cruel swift punch to the gut. I had been really reveling in his latter-day records over the past few years and he’s become one of my favorite artists. He released his final masterpiece You Want It Darker this year on October 21st, my wedding day. Thanks for the unintentional wedding gift Mr. Cohen.

Devastation was on a global scale with social unrest, mass shootings, and at its epicenter the American public flinched and elected (Not me) a petulant spoiled brat of a “man” in Donald Trump as their next President of the United States.

Work is still pretty horrible overall and I’ll definitely be ramping up the intensity of the job search in 2017 for a “career” and not just a “job.”

Those things make 2016 bittersweet for me and going forward I’ll choose to remember the good of this year and not the bad.

This year was one of the best years in recent memory for me as far as new music and albums go. Phenomenal personally rewarding albums were released by the likes of Metallica, Car Seat Headrest, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Black Pistol Fire, Kings Of Leon, Radiohead, and the aforementioned Cohen and Bowie along with many others.

I went and decided to do the most grown-up thing I’ve ever done and finally get married to Maggie. She’s one of the (very?) few people that truly makes me happy and understands me… and tolerates me! We decided to go to Ireland for our honeymoon and it was an incredible experience (Minus international flights). Plus they had a Tower Records in Dublin! How about that?

And oh yeah, last but not least… THE CHICAGO CUBS WON THE WORLD SERIES! I’ll be sitting on that one till next Spring for sure. Sorry haters, you lost this time. The Cubs were the best team in baseball (Hell, all of sports!) from the start of 2016 until the end. Best record in baseball, NL Central Champions, National League Champions, World Series Champions. Checked everything off the list in 2016. The greatest feeling I’ve ever felt in my life as far as sports fandom goes. I’ll cherish that forever.

I’ll remember the good times more than the bad for sure. And now with a star pointing True North to New Year’s Eve let’s all have a room at the top of the world that night.

NOVEMBER REIGN- LEGENDS OF THE FALL: CHICAGO CUBS 2016 WORLD SERIES CHAMPIONS

World Series Cubs Indians Baseball

(Curses and history be damned: The Chicago Cubs are your 2016 World Series Champions. Chicago Cubs celebrate after Game 7 of the Major League Baseball World Series against the Cleveland Indians Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016, in Cleveland. The Cubs won 8-7 in 10 innings to win the series 4-3.(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Now that I’ve a little more time to process what seemed to be impossible; I blinked and yes, the Chicago Cubs are still the 2016 World Series champions. For the first time in 108 years (And the first in my 20+ years of die-hard fandom) the Cubs accomplished something that many, and I’ll admit for a long while myself as well thought would never happen. It wasn’t easy of course, in true Cubs fashion it had to go the distance to a Game 7 and extra innings nearly ensuring an early installation of a pacemaker for my heart. Not to mention at one point the Cubs were teetering on the brink trailing the series 3-1 and for me personally I began to ponder my own sports fandom (again) with a sense of existential dread creeping back in. Would I ever see a favorite sports team of mine win a major world/national championship?

The only two sports teams I generally care for anymore are the Cubs and Notre Dame football. Yes Notre Dame did technically win a national title when I was four beating West Virginia but I wasn’t really cognizant of that obviously. When Notre Dame went 12-0 during the 2012 season on their way back to a national title game I didn’t know how to react during the build-up. I had never been in that situation as a sports fan, being the best team in football that year was on the line. Of course what transpired was (If I a may steal a title from a live album by the band the Drive-By Truckers) an “Alabama Ass Whuppin'” dished out by the Crimson Tide on Notre Dame as they rolled the Fighting Irish to the tune of 42-14. I began to ask myself, “Is this it? Is this as good as it gets for me as a sports fan? To see my team have a great regular season only to get stomped in a championship game?”

As Notre Dame got demolished in that national title game the Cubs were in the middle of a lengthy rebuilding process and were still at least a couple of years off from really being competitive. In the past 20 years or so though the Cubs have been no strangers to regular season success. You could’ve called them “lovable losers” I guess for not winning a World Series recently but they’ve been frequenters of the postseason since the late ’90s appearing in 1998, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2015, and of course 2016 while coming close in 2001 and 2004 (The final week meltdown of the ’04 Cubs still leaves a sour taste in my mouth as they were poised for the NL Wild Card spot and it forever remains a big What If for what they could’ve done that postseaon) as well.

The results in the postseasons for the Cubs were heartbreaking on different levels. The devastating NLCS loss in 2003 (We really don’t have to recap that one do we?) followed by the unceremonious and extremely impotent exits in ’07 and ’08 getting swept in the NLDS twice even after winning the NL Central both of those years. Being a Cub fan a part of your composition is that of superstition and beliefs in curses so I always had a sense of pessimism and doubt (If you didn’t at least to a certain degree you’re not a real Cub fan or you’re in denial) and nothing seemed like it was going to change, like it was an exercise in futility. Things began to change though in 2015. Yes, the Cubs were also swept out of the playoffs but this time not until the NLCS. While that was unfortunate and one-sided there were building blocks of positives to be found. Up until the NLCS they had eliminated the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Wild Card elimination game backed by a shutout performance by ace Jake Arrieta who had ice water running through his veins that night. The following NLDS series was far more important and seemed to be a path of destiny. If the Cubs were to ever make it to and win the World Series at some point they would have to go through their arch-rivals the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cubs dispatched the redbirds in four games and something started to shift it felt on a cosmic scale. The Cubs were swept next round by the New York Mets but things felt different than the ’03 NLCS. While I was disappointed to come up short again I had this sense that, “We’re going to be back in 2016 and we’re going to be even better.” I was never more confident in this team and organization than at the end of the 2015 season.

Obviously I’ll get to the 2016 postseason in a bit but let’s rewind things. The Chicago Cubs are better than any other team in baseball for the first time in 108 seasons. They accomplished something that is so rare to do in baseball now too: They were the best team in baseball the entire year from start to finish in 2016. Let’s look back at how they did it.

The Cubs dominated the NL Central from the beginning jumping out to a 25-6 record and after April/early May nobody really got anywhere close to touching them in the division. They finished with a league-best record of 103-58-1 and won the NL Central by a ridiculous 17.5 games. Baseball is by far my favorite sport and with Major League Baseball the journey is so much more epic than any other sport. Pitchers and catchers reported in February 2016 and spring training ran through March. The preparation of the season + the season itself ran from February through early November with Game 7 of the World Series. An absolutely unfathomable, magical season. There were numerous highs and yes some lows but the ultimate goal was finally realized. I thought I would use the rest of this post to riff on some of the spectacular highlights of the regular season and postseason for the Cubs:

  • February 25th- Dex Returns: Dexter Fowler was thought to be gone and reports started appearing of him signing with the Baltimore Orioles. Instead he surprised the team during a workout session and he had actually signed a one-year contract to return to the Cubs for the 2016 season. He was the catalyst to a potent Cubs offense all year and defined the term, “You go we go.”
  • April 7th- Cut down in the desert: The Cubs are dealt their biggest blow losing Kyle Schwarber for the rest of the regular season after colliding with Dexter Fowler in the outfield in Arizona tearing his ACL and LCL.
  • April 21st- Jake Arrieta paints another masterpiece: The Cubs crush the Cincinatti Reds (A recurring theme throughout the season) 16-0 and hit five home runs. The evening though belonged to Jake Arrieta throwing his 2nd career no-hitter. He claimed he was “Sloppy.” The Reds didn’t think so.
  • May 2nd- Leisure suits provide rocket fuel: The Cubs were already a league-best 17-6 at the start of May and it only got more ridiculous after that. Always one for themed road trip attire Joe Maddon mandated the team dress in leisure suits while heading out to Pittsburgh. The Cubs then rattled off eight more wins in a row running their record all the way up to 25-6 and never looked back after that. It had to be the suits!

cubs-suits

  • May 8th- Mother’s Day Marathon: The Cubs were going for a four-game sweep of the Washington Nationals at home and after a lengthy battle that went 13 innings Javier Baez stepped up and uncoiled with the pink Mother’s Day bat launching a ball into the left field bleachers to seal it (Feat. A little Sosa hop!). He was appropriately mobbed at home plate.
  • May- The Ben Zobrist Month: Ben Zobrist was probably the biggest free agent acquisition the Cubs brought in during the offseason after 2015 and it showed in May. Zobrist batted .406 in May with a .483 OBP and knocked in 25 runs. He’s one of the most consummate professional hitters in the game and as we found out down the road, his best heroics were still to come in 2016.
  • June 19th- Father’s Day fun with Willco’s Debut: The Cubs recent legacy of prospects turned stars continued. Following in the footsteps of guys like Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, and Kyle Schwarber white-hot catching sensation Willson Contreras finally made his big league debut and he did not disappoint. The first pitch Contreras saw in the Major Leagues was crushed out to right-center for a home run. It was a Sunday night game against division rival the Pittsburgh Pirates (Also another team the Cubs manhandled all year) and Wrigley Field came absolutely unglued and the future looked bright for the Cubs behind the plate with Willco (I am taking that nickname from a message board and running with it) getting a curtain call after his first at-bat.
  • June 27th- The Kris Bryant Game: He’s already proven he’s a phenom and won this year’s NL MVP but on June 27th Kris Bryant had a legendary instant classic of a game offensively. In Cincinnati Bryant had 16 total bases hitting three home runs and two doubles going 5-5 for the game with six RBIs leading the Cubs to victory. I can’t recall if the bat was definitely sent to Cooperstown or not. Either way, Bryant himself will one day be there.
  • June 28th- The Joe Maddon Game: Joe Maddon and conventional have probably never been used in the same sentence when it comes to his managerial style. One night after “The Kris Bryant Game” we had the even crazier “Joe Maddon Game.” The game went into extra innings and by the 12th all of the position players had been used up. Maddon utilized pitchers Travis Wood, Spencer Patton, and Pedro Strop to continually switch positions between pitching and playing left field. Eventually the Cubs pulled away in the 15th thanks to a Javy Baez grand slam but it will be remembered for Maddon once again out-foxing the competition and using whatever resources he had to get the job done. Albeit probably with a grin and a wink.
  • Late June/Early July- Dogs Days Of Summer: The Cubs looked nearly unstoppable for about 90% of the season but even they had a bit of a mid-season slump. It wasn’t the entire reason for it but the skid coincided with Dexter Fowler getting injured. Maddon tried to shuffle his lineup and find guys that could lead-off and ignite the team in Fowler’s absence but nothing really stuck. That coupled with no days off in over three weeks and the Cubs limped into the the All-Star Break losing 15 of 21 games. Much needed rest and recharging of the batteries was needed. That’s exactly what they got.
  • July 12th- The Cubs Take Over The All-Star Game: The All-Star Game took place in San Diego but it felt like the Cubs had the home field advantage. The Cubs had seven players named to the All-Star team including the entire infield of Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell, and Kris Bryant starting in the game. Fowler was voted to play in the outfield but was still injured while Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta were named to the pitching staff. The biggest highlight came early as Kris Bryant took White Sox ace Chris Sale deep in the 1st inning. Kris Bryant says hello! And all of the NL supporters who complained that there were too many Cubs in the All-Star Game and that was the reason the NL lost… well, look what happened! Everything turned out okay in the World Series anyway!
  • July 25th- The Chapman Cometh: As good as Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon performed in the first half of the season at the back end of the bullpen they had their inconsistencies. To take that extra step toward the playoff and World Series push the Cubs were looking for a dominant closer to shut the lights out on opponents. The Cubs acquired left-handed flame-thrower Aroldis Chapman from the New York Yankees. Chapman was the imposing gavel the Cubs needed for the 9th inning regularly blowing away opponents with effortless 100+ MPH fastballs.
  • July 31st- Rally caps sink the Mariners: The Cubs were still looking for the definitive 2nd half spark and on the last day in July they found it. Trailing 6-3 to the Mariners in the bottom of the ninth they put three on the board to force the game into extras. All position players were eventually used again so in the bottom of the 12th an unlikely hero stepped to plate in Jon Lester. With Jason Heyward on third base Lester dropped down a perfect bunt for a suicide squeeze as Heyward raced to the plate and scored for the walk-off win. Lester’s reward for his heroics? A face full of rosin.
  • August- How the Cubs got their groove back: The Cubs started August scalding hot eventually winning 11 in a row and did not lose a game until the 13th of that month. The Cubs had the NL Central all but locked up at the end of August going 22-6 in the month and leading the division by 15 (!) games.
  • September 15th- NL Central Champions: Despite losing to the Brewers the Cubs clinched the NL Central when the St. Louis Cardinals lost later that night to the Giants. That’s okay the next day Miguel Montero hit a walk-off home run in Wrigley to beat the Brewers and in a way that felt like it was clinching day instead. They certainly celebrated like it was.
  • September 26th- The Century Marks: For the first time since 1935 the Cubs had won 100 games in a season by clobbering the Pirates 12-2. Kris Bryant also clubbed his 39th home run of season and for the first time in his career reached the 100+ RBI plateau.

As the Cubs were winding down their regular season their dominance allowed them to sit everyday players and let the pitching rotation get some extra rest as well. The Cubs not only won the NL Central convincingly but also home field advantage throughout NL playoffs. A very distinct advantage considering they were 57-24 at Wrigley Field during the season.

Now that the Cubs flexed their muscles in the regular season it was time for “The Big Boy Games” in the postseason as John Lackey coined them. The postseason recap is only going to be of the games the Cubs won because, hey, no one wants to dwell too heavily on the losses right?

  • NLDS- Cubs vs. Giants Game 1: Jon Lester and Johnny Cueto were locked in an epic scoreless pitcher’s duel in front of a ravenous Wrigley Field. The bats stayed silent until the bottom of the eighth when Javy Baez hit a high towering shot into the left field basket. Aroldis Chapman came in to slam the door in the ninth preserving a 1-0 Cubs win as they took the crucial Game 1. This game and really all of the postseason was a coming out party for Javy Baez on the national scene. We as Cub fans knew how special he was, now everyone would.
  • NLDS- Cubs vs. Giants Game 2: The 2nd game of the NLDS I’ll always remember as I was in the rooftop bleachers across from Wrigley Field for playoff baseball. The Cubs seemingly had everything working this game. Kyle Hendricks even drove in two runs. Then a come-back line-drive at Hendricks knocked him out the game early. I thought that might be a momentum swing in the Giants favor but what happened instead? The Cubs bullpen completely shutdown San Fransisco’s offense and “The Super Athlete” relief pitcher Travis Wood even had home run! Couldn’t have written out that bizarre of a game if I tried. The Cubs took a commanding 2-0 series lead back to the bay area.
  •  NLDS- Cubs vs. Giants Game 4: In Game 3 the Cubs put up a valiant fight but eventually fell to the Giants in 13 innings as the series tightened to 2-1. One positive in that game was that the Cubs humanized postseason legend Madison Bumgarner as the Cubs knocked him around and Jake Arrieta even took him deep for a three-run bomb. For eight innings the Giants remained in control and I was already dreading a winner-take-all Game 5 back at Wrigley against Johnny Cueto. But in the ninth inning the Cubs’ postseason history book was torn up. Kris Bryant started the inning with a single and Anthony Rizzo was walked next batter. Ben Zobrist rediscovered his May magic and doubled home Bryant to cut the Giants lead to 5-3. Willson Contreras came up in a pinch-hitting role and delivered with a single up the middle driving home two and tying the game. After a botched double play attempt by the Giants Jason Heyward was standing at 2nd base with just one out. Javy Baez then continued his magical postseason and drove home Heyward with an RBI single and the Cubs stormed back to take a 6-5 lead. Aroldis Chapman then struck out the side in the bottom of the ninth and the Cubs were heading back to the NLCS for the 2nd year in a row.

The Cubs were able to enjoy a couple of extra days off while they waited for their opponents for the NLCS. The Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers went the full five games in the NLDS which eventually saw the Dodgers prevail. The Cubs would have to continue wrecking their way through the NL West if they were to make it to the elusive World Series.

  • NLCS- Cubs vs. Dodgers Game 1: The Cubs jumped on the Dodgers’ Game 1 starter Kenta Maeda early as Kris Bryant drove Dexter Fowler home with a ringing double in the first inning and then they quickly tacked on two more the next inning. The Dodgers tied the game late and it was 3-3 heading into the bottom of the eighth. The Dodgers eventually loaded up the bases to get to Miguel Montero and forced a man who had struggled all year offensively to beat them. What did Miggy do? On an 0-2 pitch he smashed the ball deep into the right field bleachers for a grand slam and Wrigley Field was shaking to its foundations. The Cubs didn’t look back after that and took a vital 1-0 series lead.
  •  NLCS- Cubs vs. Dodgers Game 4: After putting up eight runs in Game 1 the Cubs offense stalled in games one and two. Clayton Kershaw lead the Dodgers to a 1-0 shutout in Game 2 and former Cub Rich Hill foiled his old team 6-0 in Game 3. The Cubs offense had been shutout in back-to-back games and didn’t score for 21 straight innings. But in the fourth inning of Game 4 the Cubs offense caught fire again in a big way. The Cubs plated four runs capped off by an Addison Russell two-run home run. The offensive surge continued next inning with an Anthony Rizzo home run and the Cubs added five more in the sixth to blow the game wide open. The Cubs won in convincing fashion 10-2 to even the series back up.
  • NLCS- Cubs vs. Dodgers Game 5: The game started off as a Game 1 rematch between Jon Lester and Kenta Maeda and was a pitcher’s duel into the sixth until Addison Russell broke a tie ballgame with another two-run shot. Russell had been struggling mightily offensively the entire postseason but he found his swing out in L.A. and added a much-needed offensive weapon to the Cubs arsenal.  The Cubs again piled more runs on late and won 8-4. They took a 3-2 series lead, one win away from the World Series and were heading back to Wrigley Field.
  • NLCS- Cubs vs. Dodgers Game 6: The Cubs had one last major hurdle to conquer in their quest for the World Series appearance, beating the best pitcher on the planet Clayton Kershaw. The Cubs meanwhile turned to the man that had been brilliant for them all season in somewhat surprising fashion, ERA champion Kyle Hendricks. The Cubs offense jumped on Kershaw early as Dexter Fowler doubled to lead off the game and was knocked in by Kris Bryant. The Cubs continued to chip away at Kershaw’s armor and in the fourth inning Willson Contreras tagged him for solo home run and Anthony Rizzo followed the next inning with one of his own as Kershaw sank on the mound and the Cubs took a 5-0 lead. Meanwhile on the other side of the mound Hendricks pitched the game of his life completely shutting down the Dodgers offense allowing only two hits and no runs in 7 1/3 innings of work. Chapman took the mound and got the remaining five outs and the party was on at Wrigley Field as the Cubs were on their way to the World Series for the first time in 71 years. Deservedly so Javy Baez and Jon Lester were named Co-MVPs of the NLCS.

I was nearly at a loss for words. The Chicago Cubs were going to be in a World Series for the first time in my life and the first time since 1945. I was heading to Ireland the next day with Maggie for our honeymoon so it couldn’t have worked out better. I didn’t have to be sitting on a plane across the Atlantic for Game 7 wondering whether the Cubs were going to the World Series or staying home. I can’t even imagine how excruciating that would’ve been. I wasn’t about to miss the Cubs in the World Series while in Ireland so I ponied up and purchased the MLB TV international postseason package, even if it was just for four games.

As for the Cubs themselves they would be facing the Cleveland Indians who looked nearly untouchable in the AL playoffs going 7-1. Unquestionably the two best teams in the majors with two major chips on their shoulders. The Indians themselves hadn’t won a World Series since 1948 and the Cubs, well… you know, 1908. The Indians had home-field advantage thanks to the terrible All-Star Game rule (Can we please change that?) but the Cubs unveiled another weapon for the war. Kyle Scwharber, thought to have no chance at playing in 2016 was cleared medically to at least be a DH for the Cubs on the road. His bat would prove to be a vital part of the World Series success for the Cubs.

  • World Series- Cubs vs. Indians Game 2: The Cubs were no strangers to facing some of the best pitchers in the playoffs. Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, and now in the World Series it was Corey Kluber for the Indians. Kluber dominated the Cubs in Game 1 shutting them out 6-0. The Indians looked to take a 2-0 lead to Chicago but Jake Arrieta had other plans. Arrieta kept the Indians quiet offensively while the Cubs bats awoke thanks to a galvanizing performance from the returning Kyle Scwharber who knocked in two runs and helped the Cubs win 5-1 evening up the series and heading back to Wrigley on a positive note.
  • World Series- Cubs vs. Indians Game 5: The World Series had returned to Wrigley Field for the first time in 71 years and the electricity of the environment was palpable to say the least. But things didn’t exactly go the way the Cub faithful would want. The Indians came in and stunned the Cubs taking games three and four in a place where the Cubs had been so dominant all year. All of a sudden the Indians had a commanding 3-1 series lead and the Cubs were staring down the barrel of “Wait Till Next Year #109”. This couldn’t be how this unbelievable season was going to end was it? The Cubs postseason ace Jon Lester was not about to allow that. Despite giving up an early home run Lester settled in and waited for the offense to once again kick in. Kris Bryant woke up the echoes with his first World Series home run and the Cubs were able to tack on two more runs to take a 3-1 lead. Lester allowed one more run as the Indians closed the gap. Joe Maddon always one for the unorthodox brought Aroldis Chapman in for an eight-out save (!). Chapman was maximized and closed out the game to send the series back to Cleveland. The Cubs however still had serious work to do down 3-2 in the series. Either way it was great of the Cubs close out the last game at Wrigley Field in 2016 with a W.
  • World Series- Cubs vs. Indians Game 6: The Cubs once again turned to Jake Arrieta in an attempt to tie up the series. He would go up against Josh Tomlin who blanked the Cubs in Game 3. Things were different though this time as Kris Bryant crushed another home run deep into the left field stands. The Cubs then took advantage of some Indians outfield snafus and plated two more to take an early 3-0 lead. The night belonged to Addison Russell. With the bases loaded and down 0-2 in the count (Does this sound familiar?) Russell massacred a hanger deep to left-center for a grand slam to put the game to bed early. Russell ended up driving in six runs in the game. Anthony Rizzo tacked on a consolation home run late and the Cubs won in convincing fashion 9-3. Suddenly the series was tied up and heading to a winner-take-all Game 7. Streak vs. Streak, 108 Years vs. 68 Years. Something was about to give.
  • World Series- Cubs vs. Indians Game 7: I’m going to preface this summary by saying this was legitimately one of the greatest games ever played in baseball history. At times it was unbearable to stomach and others the absolute pinnacle of ebullience. Kyle Hendricks was once again the man the Cubs would hand the ball to. Winning the pennant for the Cubs is one thing, but winning the World Series for the Cubs? You can imagine how legendary of a feat that would be. The Cubs for the third time in the series would try to figure out Corey Kluber who had been a complete mystery to them in Game 1 and Game 4. To beat this mighty Cub team though three times in one series as an individual pitcher is quite a task to pull off. The Cubs jumped on Kluber immediately as Dexter Fowler lead off the game with a home run to give the Cubs an early advantage. In the fourth inning the Cubs took a 3-1 lead off of a double from Willson Contreras. The next inning Javy Baez hit a home run to drive Kluber from the game, the Cubs had finally got to him. Andrew Miller, arguably the best reliever in the game came in to try and stop the bleeding but the Cubs were able to get to him as well. Kris Bryant drew a walk and Anthony Rizzo followed it up with and RBI single, scoring Bryant all the way from first. Hendricks had a 5-1 lead and looked to be in control but was pulled after a walk with two outs in the fifth. Jon Lester made a rare appearance out of the pen to try and help seal the deal. David Ross had also come in as Lester’s personal catcher to replace Contreras. Things got off to a rocky start as the Indians were able scratch across two runs tightening the game to 5-3. As if to make up for some of his misfortunes behind the plate the previous inning, 39-year-old David Ross stepped into the batter’s box and took the once-thought impervious Andrew Miller out to dead center for a home run. Miller, like Bumgarner, Cueto, Kershaw, and Kluber before him was made mortal by the Cubs in the postseason. The Cubs were up 6-3 and Lester held down the Indians into the eighth and recorded two outs there. The Cubs were four outs away from the impossible. But as we know in Cubs lore, nothing is ever easy. NEVER. Lester gave up a single with two outs and Joe Maddon went to Aroldis Chapman for a third straight game. He served up a double and all of a sudden the Indians were trailing by just two with the tying run coming to the plate. As if the baseball Gods had one more thorn to stick into the Cubs and their fans Rajai Davis promptly hit a two-run homer to left off of Chapman and the game was tied 6-6. A little sidebar personal story here: I was watching this game in a bar which I was solidly against for fear of jinxing them by going out in public for any of the World Series. A few of my friends though goaded me into it and against my better judgment I went. When Davis hit that home run I was beyond devastated, I don’t have a word for it. My head sunk and I was completely deflated. I asked Maggie to whisk me out of the bar. I could no longer be sure of controlling my actions or emotions in public, especially if the Cubs were going to come this far only to have one more epic collapse. When I got home I was briefly despondent still not believing the dream season was trying to morph into a nightmare one more time. Back to the game, both the Cubs and Indians were unable to push across any runs in the ninth inning and as if there needed to be more stress added, this game was headed for extra innings. Something cosmic happened again though before the 10th inning could start. The heavens opened up and the rain fell as if to cleanse everything that had come before it in the game. A legit reset button. Meanwhile inside the visitor’s weight room the Cubs gathered as a team and Jason Heyward rallied the troops and reminded them who they were and why they were here. The 1oth inning began with Kyle Schwarber singling and Albert Almora Jr. pinch-running for him. Almora advanced on a sacrifice fly from Bryant. The Indians opted to intentionally walk Rizzo to get to Ben Zobrist. The biggest hit in Cubs franchise history came off the bat of Zobrist who slapped an opposite field double down the left field line scoring Almora and the Cubs reclaimed the lead 7-6. After an intentional walk to Russell Miguel Montero delivered another big insurance run with a single driving in Rizzo. The Cubs were leading by two and now three outs away from completing the dream. Young fire-baller Carl Edwards Jr. came in in the bottom of the 10th and retired the first two men. He then walked Brandon Guyer and who else but Rajai Davis drove him in and just like that the lead was back down to one with the tying run on base. The Cubs countered with Mike Montgomery, a mid-season pick up from the Seattle Mariners to try to get that precious final out. He faced Michael Martinez and on the 2nd pitch he hit a grounder to Bryant who fielded the ball. As he gathered himself he threw to first and slipped (Remember that rain?) but his aim was still true and Rizzo caught the ball in time. Everything stopped for me for a second. I realized it was over, the Chicago Cubs were the champions of the world. The curses: William Sianis, The Billy Goat, The Black Cat, Bartman, 108 years all erased in one night. But there was a wave that had been building for nearly nine months until that moment. The Cubs completed one of the most epic World Series comebacks in arguably the most epic Game 7 ever to end their title drought. I sobbed like I think I’ve never sobbed in my adult life and hugged Maggie. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing and experiencing. I couldn’t form full sentences and began to pace around the basement couch (Which has become a postseason tradition for me now the past two years). Ben Zobrist was appropriately named the MVP of the World Series and a celebration that was 108 years in the making was on.

Looking back on it I still can’t believe it happened several weeks later. I think about it multiple times daily and I’m still mystified by how it went down. I still smile every time I reminisce too. I’ll savor this one forever and I’ll be letting Cub haters and detractors hear about it until next Spring, maybe longer.

So many things in the regular season and the postseason that I’ve left out that I can’t possibly cover entirely:

David Ross’ “Year long retirement party” was great. His wisdom and guidance were so pivotal on a young team. Hitting a home run in Game 7 off of Andrew Miller and getting carried off the field after winning the World Series and sailing into retirement is better than anyone could’ve wrote it.

Kris Bryant’s otherworldly MVP season and watching him play so many positions without skipping a beat (3B, 1B, LF, RF). His first two years in MLB he’s won the 2015 NL Rookie of the Year, the 2016 NL MVP, and is a 2016 World Series Champion. Not too shabby of a start. The phenom is just getting started.

Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester, and Jake Arrieta all emerging as NL Cy Young candidates. Lester’s brilliance spanning the regular season and postseason, Arrieta’s fierce confidence and his 2nd career no-hitter, Hendricks’ calm demeanor and ascendancy to the upper echelon of MLB pitchers on the way to an ERA title.

John Lackey’s outspoken attitude and unmatched competitive fire. And who could forget, “We’re trying to win a World Series. I didn’t come here for a haircut, you know what I mean? We’re trying to get it on. I came here for jewelry.”

Javy Baez and Willson Contreras becoming part of the Cubs’ essential core. Sometimes this game can get a little too bland and by-the-books. They brought a certain charismatic flair, a machismo/moxie to this team. I loved watching these guys play. Contreras wearing his heart on his sleeve and gunning out runners. A coming-of-age tale behind the plate becoming a defensive marvel and swinging the bat great as well. He had big hits in all of the series clinching games for the Cubs in the postseason. A two-run single in Game 4 of the NLDS against the Giants that completely swung the momentum of the game and series, a solo home run off of Clayton Kershaw in Game 6 of the NLCS, an opposite field RBI double off of Corey Kluber in Game 7 of the World Series. I can’t wait for him to be the Cubs’ prominent catcher next year. Baez finally showed he could be the All-Star he’s been touted as for years and lived up to his potential. A defensive wizard at any position. His tags that defied the laws of physics. His postseason heroics and that smile.

Ben Zobrist as King Midas, anything he touches turns to gold. Winning a World Series title with the Kansas City Royals in 2015 then winning the next year with the Cubs in 2016. His inhuman month of May and the World Series MVP.

Addison Russell not only continuing his dazzling play at short stop but his burgeoning offense as well, hitting 21 home runs and having an astounding 95 RBIs in the regular season. Igniting the Cubs offense out on the West Coast in the NLCS clocking homers in back-to-back games. His grand slam and six RBIs in Game 6 of the World Series.

Jason Heyward’s defense in right field. Although he struggled mightily all season offensively and will definitely work on it in the off season his glove was never in question. Like Baez and Contreras, I loved watching him play defensively. Not to mention he added another Gold Glove to his trophy case as well.

Dexter Fowler’s million-watt smile and galvanizing the team as the best Cubs lead-off man I’ve ever seen. The “You Go We Go” mentality that he had causing a ripple through the entire lineup. I highly doubt he’ll be back with the team next year so whichever team gets him will be getting a great ball player.

Kyle Schwarber’s inspirational return in the World Series and immediate impact on the lineup. After that gruesome injury back in early April I can’t believe he’s walking right now. I can’t wait for his bat to be back in the lineup full-time next year.

Anthony Rizzo being the heart and soul of the team. He’s been through it all in this rebuilding process and was on some of the worst Cub teams in the history of the organization. Oh and he also ended up having a pretty incredible year too. In the hunt for the NL MVP all year and he raked in the awards after the season winning a Silver Slugger award, a Gold Glove, and the rare Platinum Glove award only given out to one defensive player in each league.

Joe Maddon being the Zen-master of the dugout. He was absolutely the right man to take the Cubs to the promise land and get the ultimate victory a World Series Championship. His experience and decades of baseball knowledge helped a young team show poise and have fun at the same time. His slogans, “Try not to suck,” “Respect 90,” “Never let the pressure exceed the pleasure.” Those themed road trips. He’s immortalized now.

The front office of Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, Jason McLeod and the owners the Ricketts family for caring about this organization, its players, and its fans. They tore the organization all the way to the ground and built a championship kingdom in its place.

And let’s not forget, LET’S NOT FORGET… my Cubs tweeting throughout the year(s). I’m sure I annoyed a lot of people and I’m sure some people actually enjoyed it. It was therapeutic for me. A release of joy, confidence, celebration, frustration, anger, sorrow. The numerous and sometimes ridiculous nicknames and hashtags: #W #CUBS #FlyTheW #WorldChampions #CubsTwitterAfterDark #CardinalsLose. Li’l Z, Z, Zorilla, King Midas (Zobrist), Phenom, MVP, Bryzzo (Bryant/Rizzo), Russellmania (Russell),  3B (Baez Bein’ Baez), Machismo/Willco (Contreras), Miggy (Montero), Ross Sauce (Ross), The J-Hey Kid (Heyward), Hail Szczur! (Matt Szczur), 3 AM- Automatic (Tommy La Stella), Rodan (Rondon), Soler Power/Soler flare! (Soler), The General (Arrieta), Big Jon Studd (Lester), Big John Studd (Lackey), The Professor (Hendricks), The Super Athlete (Wood).

Well, this thing’s getting pretty long and has become and open love letter to the Chicago Cubs. This is a season, a team, a year I’ll never forget and I’ll make sure no one else does either. so hell, I’ll just leave you with some sweet pics.

But one more time…

#W #CUBS #WorldChampions

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TOP 10 GODZILLA MOVIES OF ALL-TIME

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I usually use this blog to muse about music but in the wake of the buzz surrounding the release of the American reboot of Godzilla tomorrow I thought it was appropriate to write about the greatest and mightiest movie monster of all-time (Sorry King Kong, you know it’s true). Kids have their favorite superheroes growing up. Batman, Superman, Spider-man, etc. Mine was always Godzilla. You could use the term “hero” loosely but I was solidly behind anything Godzilla did during my childhood and adolescent years. So much so that I still enjoy watching the movies even now that I’m in my 30’s. Blame it on a hyper-active imagination I guess that’s always been fascinated by the genres of Sci-Fi and fantasy. None more than kaiju/monster films with the Godzilla franchise being at the top.

Leading up to the theatrical release of Godzilla I thought I’d take it upon myself to watch all 28 Japanese Godzilla films (I just can’t bring myself to include the Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin 1998 American abomination) in an epic marathon. Then I thought I’d challenge myself and try to create an all-time Top 10 list of my favorite Godzilla movies. It was tough narrowing down only 10 from the Showa, Heisei, and Millennium series. This isn’t based on critical acclaim, these are personal preferences. Here we go…

10. Godzilla vs. Destoroyah (1995)

Godzilla vs Destroyah2This was one of the more infamous movies in the entire Godzilla series mainly because it usually came with the tagline “Godzilla dies.” Godzilla vs. Destoroyah was the final installment in the Heisei series and it was a fantastic way to send Godzilla out in a blaze of glory.

The movie begins with Godzilla wreaking havoc in Hong Kong coated in a smoldering lava glow. We come to find this is caused by Godzilla consuming too much nuclear energy and he’s facing an imminent meltdown, the results of which will be catastrophic not only to Godzilla but the entire planet. We are also introduced to a new original Toho kaiju with Destoroyah. Destoroyah is one of my favorite Heisei series foes, truly impressive in size and design and a formidable challenge and it’s origin story traces all the way back to the Oxygen Destroyer from the original 1954 Godzilla film. Eventually Godzilla suffers his untimely demise melting down in a haunting yet gorgeous requiem composed by Akira Ifukube leaving Tokyo a ghost town of radioactive fallout. All is not lost however as radiation levels drop rapidly and off in the distance we find out that Godzilla Junior has been revived by his legendary father’s nuclear energy. Now transformed into a full-grown adult by the massive amount of radioactivity he is roars defiantly ready to reign as the new king of the monsters.

9. Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)

terror-of-mechagodzilla-poster-kt5pws8uThis was the final installment in the original Godzilla Showa series. It’s also the only movie in my Top 10 where Godzilla appears strictly as a defender of Earth or a “Good guy.” This is a sequel to 1974’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla and in my opinion I think it’s the better of the two.

I was always big on Godzilla overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds for a victory. Not only was he battling one of his arch-enemies in Mechagodzilla once more but he had to deal with the newest kaiju, an aquatic dinosaur known as Titanosaurus as well. Another edge it has over the original is the constant use of Akira Ifukube’s classic Godzilla march, one of the best orchestrations in cinema in my opinion. Godzilla triumphs in the end and saunters off into the ocean peacefully for a fitting close to the first chapter of Godzilla movies. He would not appear again on the big screen for nine years.

8. Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)

11158216_800Despite the completely ludicrous title, Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack is widely heralded as a success from fans and critics alike. Although I’m nowhere near as big of a fan boy of it as some (Many Godzilla fans consider this to the pinnacle Godzilla movie, that’s going a touch too far) but it demands to be included in this Top 10. This incarnation of Godzilla is much different from others as it has a more spiritual spin. It is thought that Godzilla is driven by evil spirits, the lost souls of World War II are embedded within him and intend to seek vengeance on Japan for the nation apparently forgetting their sacrifices. Even for a Godzilla movie that’s pretty far out. Luckily it doesn’t clutter the film up really as Godzilla is back to being the unstoppable unforgiving force he was in movies like Godzilla and Godzilla 1985.

Godzilla faces the three guardians of earth: Baragon, Mothra, and King Ghidorah. After making quick work of a completely outmatched Baragon, Godzilla has a showdown with Mothra and King Ghidorah. Eventually defeating both monsters it frees the spirits of all three earth guardians who enter Godzilla’s body dragging him down to the depths of the bay. Godzilla has a missile planted in a gaping wound he had sustained and when it detonates Godzilla explodes underwater. Japan rejoices in the apparent demise of Godzilla although as the camera plums the deepest fathoms of the water at the end of the movie we come to find Godzilla’s heart… still beating.

I should also note as far as Godzilla suits go this is one of the most malicious looking. Particularly the completely white eyes and snarling demeanor restoring his wickedly ominous presence.

7. Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991)

godzilla_vs_king_ghidorah_heisei_poster_by_ryugassj3-d5yud7bOf all of Godzilla’s arch-enemies, King Ghidorah is considered his apex rival. Godzilla has fought King Ghidorah more times than any other adversary throughout the decades. It was tough for me to narrow it down, but their greatest clash on the big screen has to be the Heisei interpretation of Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah. There is a bit of campiness with the aliens known as the Futurians (Christ what is with those suits and that horrible android?) but Godzilla and King Ghidorah represent in grand fashion to lift the movie above that slight snag.

They engage in two fierce battles, the first of which sees Godzilla severely maim King Ghidorah thrashing its wings and severing its middle head. King Ghidorah is resurrected as a cyborg using futuristic technology to create the majestic Mecha-King Ghidorah. A 2nd battle ensues in the steel and glass canyons of Tokyo which is thought to eventually end in a stalemate at the bottom of the ocean. Godzilla however awakens on the ocean floor proving his indestructibility and superiority over King Ghidorah once more.

As far as suits go, this may be my favorite design of Godzilla. It’s essentially the same exact design as the suit from Godzilla vs. Biollante only more musculature and intimidating. King Ghidorah is a sight to behold as well. The great golden dragon from the deepest darkest depths of space has never looked more astonishing.

 

6. Godzilla vs. Monster Zero (Invasion of Astro-Monster) (1965)

Invasion_of_Astro-Monster_posterOkay okay, while he may have had the better one on one battles with King Ghidorah as stated above (Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah) my favorite movie with him still remanis Godzilla vs. Monster Zero. It is the 2nd appearance of King Ghidorah in the franchise and is a loosely based sequel from 1964’s Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster. This time around King Ghidorah is under the control of evil space aliens from Planet X known as Xians. Relying heavily on numbering things, they have given King Ghidorah the code name of Monster Zero. The Xians deceive the people of Earth into giving them Godzilla and Rodan, using the facade that they intend to drive Monster Zero away from Planet X with help from the two monsters. The ulterior motive of the Xians is soon revealed as they intend to conquer Earth enslaving the human race. When mankind does not acquiesce to the demands of the Xians they unleash not only Monster Zero but Godzilla and Rodan as well as they now too are under the same mind control as King Ghidorah.

One of the reasons this is a favorite Godzilla film of mine is the dichotomy of Godzilla himself. He’s seen as both a valiant protector of earth and when under the control of the Xians he reverts magnificently back to his malevolent city-leveling ways. I also enjoy King Ghidorah’s continued presentation in such a dominant manner. Once again having to battle Godzilla and an additional monster as well as escaping to fight another day once more. This is my 2nd favorite Showa era Godzilla movie… spoiler perhaps?

5. Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla II (1993)

godzilla-vs-mechagodzilla-2-rpdf0zrwIf King Ghidorah is Godzilla’s most notorious foe, Mechagodzilla is a close 2nd. And it’s the Heisei version that captures their rivalry the best with Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II.

As far as the Heisei films go, Godzilla might have more on-camera time here than in any other in the series. He first battles Rodan on Adona Island and is able to overcome its aerial assault. There’s also an excellent 20-minute block in the middle of the movie that sees Godzilla first disable Mechagodzilla with a massive pulse of energy. He follows that by wiping out an entire army with ease before finally laying waste to Kyoto. Finally in the conclusive battle, Godzilla arrives not only to finish off Mechagodzilla but to bring a newly hatched baby Godzilla home with him. As Godzilla arrives on land, Mechagodzilla had just finished mortally crippling and wounding Rodan. The two engage in an epic showdown and Mechagodzilla here becomes arguably the closest any other opponent has come to killing Godzilla. It targets Godzilla’s 2nd brain in his abdomen which controls his mobility. They destroy the brain and Godzilla is temporarily paralyzed and seemingly defeated. However, before he parishes Rodan summons enough energy to fly over to Godzilla and land on him. Godzilla completely absorbs Rodan and his energy, his 2nd brain is completely reanimated and repaired. Godzilla is now super-charged with Rodan’s energy and becomes too much for Mechagodzilla. Godzilla incinerates his mechanical counterpart with a high-powered red atomic ray. Godzilla is united with his estranged son and the two wade off into the ocean together peacefully.

What can be said about Mechagodzilla? In every movie he’s been in he’s pushed Godzilla to the extreme brink. Always equipped with an onslaught of weapons and the latest technology (Whether it be alien or man-made) able to go toe to toe with the king of the monsters. Although this is not the greatest looking adaptation of Mechagodzilla (That distinction would go to the superb design of the Millennium series known as “Kiryu” in Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla and Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.), Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II is still the most fully realized its power and potential could achieve.

4. Godzilla 2000 (1999)

godzillatwothousandMaybe it’s just me but Godzilla 2000 has always seemed underrated and under-appreciated in the great Godzilla pantheon. After the disastrous 1998 American take on Godzilla by Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich had severely mangled the franchise something had to be done quickly to stop the bleeding. Godzilla 2000 arrived just a year later and wiped out the sour taste of Devlin and Emmerich’s folly like a city in Godzilla’s wake. It restored prominence to the franchise and was a proper reboot that kicked off the Millennium series.

Godzilla’s appearance was updated for the turn of the century as well. He’s much more reptilian looking (He’s actually green in this film), his spines were larger and more jagged with a hue of purple outlining them, and his classic fluorescent blue atomic ray was replaced with an incendiary orange beam. Also, one of my favorite enemy monster designs happens to be Orga, an original kaiju conjured for the Millennium series to combat Godzilla in this relaunch. He’s a blend of alien genetics and Godzilla’s DNA to create a truly imposing adversary. He pushes Godzilla to the limit but he makes one of the biggest mistakes in the Godzilla playbook: Do NOT put Godzilla in your mouth. You will pay dearly. Godzilla stands triumphantly over a fallen Orga and a burning Tokyo skyline at the end as the Godzilla march begins to play while the credits roll. A fitting closing for the movie that from my perspective saved the franchise from the evil grasp of Devlin and Emmerich and ushered in the outstanding Millennium series.

3. Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)

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Godzilla films have connected on a number of different levels and different ways through out the years. He’s been a loveable childhood character and on the opposite side of the spectrum he’s been a ruthless unstoppable force, uncaring, unflinching. For me I always appreciated the more serious toned films (All within perspective here, we’re talking about monster films) rather than the campy cheese-ball kid-aimed ones. Even as a child I preferred the more dour stories so it should come as no surprise what my top three Godzilla movies are.

Godzilla vs. Biollante is one of the better cohesive stories told in the entire series as it’s a direct sequel to Godzilla 1985. Godzilla cells are recovered from the ruins of Tokyo and are used in an attempt to create an Anti-nuclear bacteria to use as a primary weapon against Godzilla should he ever return. Godzilla is in fact resurrected from his volcanic tomb and looks to wreak havoc on Japan once more. Meanwhile, the recovered Godzilla cells fuse with plants in a lab to create one of the most intriguing Godzilla foes, Biollante. After Godzilla easily takes care of Biollante in a rose form in their first battle, its 2nd incarnation is much more terrifying. A massive crocodilian-like head,Venus fly trap tentacles, an acidic sap spray it spews from its gargantuan mouth, and the sheer bulk of its body are impressive in scope. Godzilla comes out on top again as Biollante morphs into a spiritual stream of glimmering dust and retreats into the sky.

It should be noted that the basic entities of this Godzilla suit were so well received that this design (Still considered the best by many including me), although tweaked at times, remained as a constant for the rest of the Heisei films. Godzilla’s head was much more feral than ever before, his eyes were smaller and blackened, two rows of carnivorous teeth were added as opposed to one, and an imposing muscular build to show off the king of the monsters in his true glory.

2. Godzilla 1985 (The Return of Godzilla) (1984)

godzilla-1985-the-legend-is-rebornIf Godzilla vs. Biollante was a solemn affair, its predecessor Godzilla 1985 was downright austere and incredibly bleak. Ignoring all previous Showa series movies except for the original 1954 outing, Godzilla 1985 was a sequel 30 years in the making. This is the movie that got me into Godzilla. Watching it as a little kid for the first time when I was 5-6 years old I was hooked, I was so engrossed and knew this was something more than just another monster. This was truly the king of the monsters I was watching. After becoming a savior of mankind in the latter appearances of the Showa series, Godzilla returns here as a callous force of nature. This was the beginning of the Heisei series as well which I consider the greatest stretch of Godzilla films (Notice five of the seven have been in my Top 10).

The action begins with a fishing vessel being caught in strong currents off the shore of Daikoku Island. There is a volcanic eruption and the ominous roar of a ghost from the past echoes over the ocean. Speculation begins to run rampant that it is Godzilla. To avoid mass panic the news of a possible Godzilla return is kept a secret. The film is also rife with Cold War subplot as Godzilla destroys a Soviet submarine in the Pacific Ocean. The Soviets believe Americans were behind the attack until Japan intervenes and announces it was Godzilla to avoid an international incident. Godzilla first makes land attacking a nuclear power plant off the coast of Japan where he absorbs all of the nuclear reactor’s energy. Shortly after, Godzilla arrives in Tokyo Bay where military forces confront him only to be annihilated by Godzilla’s atomic blasts. Meanwhile the Soviets attempt to destroy Godzilla themselves with a nuclear missile fired from an orbiting Satellite. Godzilla meanwhile makes his way through Tokyo demolishing everything in his way. It’s only until he meets the new defense force weapon Super X that they are able to slow him down and temporarily subdue him with cadmium shells. American forces are able to intercept the incoming Soviet missile with a defensive missile strike of their own detonating it in the atmosphere. This however creates an electrical storm, and serving as a lightning rod, it strikes Godzilla multiple times reviving him. Godzilla relentlessly chases the Super X and appears unstoppable, destroying it by knocking a skyscraper over on it. Godzilla continues his assault on Tokyo until he is eventually lured to Mt. Mihara by a frequency similar to a bird call that had lured him away from the nuclear power plant earlier. Upon arrival Godzilla falls into the volcano after a man-made eruption and his defiant roar seemingly morphs into a sympathetic cry. Godzilla had once again been thwarted by mankind. The victory would not last as this turned out to only be a hibernation for Godzilla.

Although the Godzilla design from Godzilla vs. Biollante – Godzilla vs. Destoroyah continues to be my favorite, the 1985 version is nearly as impressive, particularly the head. Godzilla’s teeth are sharpened, the snout shortened, and the eyes are baleful with intoxicating indifference. Truly a sinister design for perhaps the darkest Godzilla movie ever.

1. Godzilla (Gojira) (1954)

Gojira1954It’s the movie that started it all, and for me the original 1954 Godzilla still remains the benchmark of the entire series. Six decades after it, Godzilla is still ingrained in our collective consciousness. Not only would every Godzilla movie going forward be measured to this masterpiece but every large-scaled monster movie made after this would be judged against this. Godzilla is so ominous and foreboding that it even sometimes teeters more on the boundaries of a horror movie than a Sci-Fi flick. A lot of this was due to the gritty black and white of the film. I’ll always have that image indelibly etched in my mind of Godzilla’s inaugural arrival in Tokyo, his silhouette towering over the city as Akira Ifukube’s masterfully pernicious score churns like Nero playing the fiddle while Rome burned. Using Godzilla as a metaphor for the nuclear atrocities of war and the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima just nine years before was a brilliant allegory as well.

The plot begins with boats mysteriously being set ablaze and disappearing in the Pacific ocean. Villagers on the remote Odo Island believe this is being caused by a mythical creature known as “Godzilla” that they used to worship. Reporters remain skeptical until the monster makes his first ever appearance looming over a mountain on the island as everyone flees in terror. Godzilla inevitably makes his way to the Japan mainland and attacks Tokyo. Although his first attack is brief his unrelenting power is evident and there is a certainty in the air that he would return again. Shortly after Godzilla does indeed return and he tears through the first line of defense of high tension wires coursing with 50,000 volts of electricity, melting the towers with his atomic breath. He marches inland towards Tokyo where military weapons are powerless to stop him. Godzilla obliterates everything in his sight and turns Tokyo into a sprawling conflagration. Jets are finally able to annoy Godzilla enough to drive him from Tokyo but not before the city is completely destroyed. After all conventional weaponry fails against Godzilla officials turn to Dr. Daisuke Serizawa and his invention the Oxygen Destroyer which disintegrates oxygen atoms and organisms die of asphyxiation. Serizawa reluctantly agrees to use his invention against Godzilla but burns all of the blueprints for it so no one can follow his work. They find Godzilla in the ocean and unleash the Oxygen Destroyer underwater. The device proves effective as Godzilla suffocates and drowns. Serizawa stays underwater and perishes as well with his own instrument of death.

No one could’ve predicted the legacy of Godzilla that would follow his inception in 1954. If they did they probably wouldn’t have killed him off in the first movie. Even in death though Godzilla couldn’t be stopped as this milestone and 27 proceeding Japanese films cemented his immortality. The original Godzilla that still proves to be the most awe-inspiring and galvanizing and that’s why it gets the #1 spot.

So where will this new incarnation of Godzilla being released tomorrow fit in this amazing lineage? Early reviews and reports have me hopeful as it is supposedly a serious take on a newly adapted Godzilla origins story. It has a lot to live up to but here’s to hoping it is successful enough to generate a number of sequels and an American series that can hold it’s ground with the Toho Godzilla movies.

12.12.12: THE UNDEFEATED FIGHTING IRISH OF NOTRE DAME

The 2012 Fighting Irish of Notre Dame football finished a perfect 12-0 in regular season play, searching for National Championship #12. Okay, so technically the game won’t be played till January 2013, but it’s still a cool equation!

(The 2012 Notre Dame football team in Dublin, Ireland in the season opener where they throttled Navy 50-10)

I’ll admit, although an avid Notre Dame football fan, if you would’ve told me before this college football season began that Notre Dame would finish 12-0 and be playing for the BCS National Championship, I would’ve told you that you were insane. They had the hardest ranked schedule going into this season, a season I thought they would finish slightly above .500 possibly 8-4, maybe 9-3 at best. I don’t know what it was, maybe it was just the conglomeration of mediocrity through the Davie, Willingham, and Weis eras all rolled into one giant quagmire of disappointment that lead me to believe that’s all Notre Dame would be from here on out… mediocre. Sure there’s been flashes and fleeting moments of promise since the Lou Holtz era ended in South Bend, Indiana but an inevitable cold harsh reality always returned to haunt the Irish. Namely, the constant losing to top 25 ranked opponents and getting beat (Sometimes badly) in any prominent BCS bowl or any bowl for that matter losing nine straight at one point. A big key signature victory had been missing for the Irish since those amazing Holtz teams, and the fall from grace and being a national powerhouse was a far one.

Then came Brian Kelly, who agreed to become Notre Dame’s head coach in December of 2009. I believed this was the right choice for the Irish, he was the man I wanted as head coach all along during the hunt, and that much is true. At first it looked like Notre Dame was still back-peddling though stumbling out of the block but recovering nicely to end 8-5 including ending a long losing streak to #1 rival USC beating them in Southern California and capping it off by defeating another arch-nemesis Miami easily in the Sun Bowl 33-17.

At the start of 2011 Notre Dame had been hyped significantly, even expected to make a BCS Bowl. Several key factors though lead to a disappointing season. Turnovers were the main killer, 10 in the first two games alone that should’ve been easy victories for the Irish over South Florida and rival Michigan. Instead, Notre Dame fell to 0-2 out of the gate and finished the regular season 8-4. They played in the Champs Sports Bowl against Florida State that at first looked promising. Notre Dame lead the game 14-3 going into the 4th quarter. But again turnovers killed Irish hopes as they turned it over three times in the game coupled with completely lackluster and terrible play from QBs Tommy Rees and Andrew Hendrix down the stretch. Notre Dame blew the lead, then the game losing the bowl 18-14, finishing the season 8-5 again.

Another 8-5 season or even worse would be intolerable to not only Coach Kelly and the team but certainly to the ND fan base. Kelly knew it, but there he and his staff were, staring down a murder’s row 2012 schedule. Changes had to be made, beginning at QB placing red shirt Freshman phenom Everett Golson under center. Over the season Golson has matured beyond his first year becoming a versatile threat with both his arm and his legs, the kind of QB needed to operate in Kelly’s system and really make it thrive. The rest of the offensive personnel stepped up big too giving Golson multiple key weapons to work with including Tyler Eifert, Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood, TJ Jones, and George Atkinson III leading the pack. Even more staggering though than anything on the offensive side of the ball was the defense. Assistant Coach and Defensive Coordinator Bob Diaco is a defensive Zen Master. Assembling a stifling defense lead by LB Manti Te’o (Who should probably win the Heisman but won’t due to offensive player bias) the Irish D were and still are near or at the top of nearly every major team defense stat.

Defining wins against highly ranked teams and bitter rivals have eluded the Irish over the past 15 or so seasons, not this year. It began with Notre Dame thrashing rival Navy in Dublin, Ireland 50-10. Other key victories included a dominant win on the road over at the time #10 ranked Michigan State 20-3 followed by a win over rival #18 Michigan then a trampling once again of the hated Hurricanes 41-3 in Soldier Field. They beat another rival in #17 Stanford (Now #8) in an OT thriller and it was the biggest win of the season to that point. That is, until they renewed another war walking into hostile Norman, Oklahoma to face the #8 Sooners. Notre Dame not only beat Oklahoma in Norman (where they were 79-4 under Bob Stoops up until that point) but they did so convincingly 30-13. They finished the regular season beating USC once again in the Coliseum to cement their undefeated season and punch a ticket to Miami for the BCS National Championship. Yes there were stumbles through out the season too including a near heart attack inducing triple OT win over Pittsburgh but Kelly’s sound fundamentals which everyone is buying into now kept the Irish poised, confident and calm leading them to victories where in seasons past that might’ve lead to panic, and then turnovers and then losses.

Now, the undefeated and #1 ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish await what will be their toughest challenge to date, the winner of the SEC Championship game in Alabama vs. Georgia. Not surprisingly, Notre Dame will most likely be an underdog against which ever team comes out of that battle  the winner. And yet, how many times have they been the underdog this year and they’re 12-0 and ranked #1? The SEC, like the conference or hate it is undoubtedly the powerhouse conference in College Football, there’s no denying it. The SEC has produced the last six BCS National Champions and will be looking to make it seven in a row. The story has already written itself. After being maligned by anti-Notre Dame fans and the media for being a shell of their former greatness with claims of being overrated, the Irish just might have flipped the coin to the other side as destiny’s darlings being backed by many who once hated them (I’ve ran into more than my fair share this season) to finally topple the mighty Goliath, the SEC. Of course a 12-0 regular season is incredible and will never be forgotten, but if they could pull off this one last remarkable feat with a 12th National Championship by beating the monstrous SEC putting an exclamation point on the end of a storybook season, it just might be the greatest chapter written in Notre Dame football lore yet. And that is one mighty big tome in American sports, perhaps the biggest.

I saw this paraphrased quote of an old Irish blessing on Twitter posted shortly after Notre Dame became #1 after both Kansas State and Oregon were upset pole vaulting the Irish to the top spot and fell in love with it, fitting their season perfectly:

The road rose to meet us. The wind is now at our back. The soft rain fell on our field. And The Lord is holding us in the hollow of His hand.

The bright luster has returned to the Golden Dome, ladies and gentlemen your 2012 echo waking, thunder shaking #1 Fighting Irish of Notre Dame!

GO IRISH! BEAT the SEC! #12in12

(Return to Glory: The Irish are #1 again, heading back to the National Championship)

EASTER: HOW A RESURRECTION REALLY FEELS

Happy Easter everyone! I’m a lapsed Catholic to say the least, instead of going to church today I listened to my favorite Easter album:

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She crashed into the Easter mass with her hair done up in broken glass
She was limping left on broken heels
When she said, ‘Father, can I tell your congregation how a resurrection really feels?‘”

-The Hold Steady: How A Resurrection Really Feels

These sing-a-long songs are pretty much my scriptures now anyway.

R.I.P. CLARENCE CLEMONS

 

CLARENCE “BIG MAN” CLEMONS

1942-2011 

I was shaken to the core Saturday night June 18th, 2011 receiving the news that Clarence Anicholas Clemons passed away due to complications from a stroke he suffered a week earlier. He was 69 years old. Anyone that knows anything regarding the lore within the realm of Bruce Springsteen and the legendary E Street Band knows that more than anyone else, Clarence was the heart and soul at its epicenter. Upon hearing of his death, Bruce Springsteen said it best, with gut-check sorrow, “His loss is immeasurable”. I couldn’t agree more. It’s impossible to completely state in words the feelings I had that night or still have to this day. It’s impossible to truly state how important he was to the E Street Band. He embodied a certain vitality, an urban cool that swung with surging might breathing life into songs with his famous saxophone.  He had the greatest sax solos in rock & roll history that sent an urgency, an energy, a spirit coursing through some of Springsteen’s greatest songs including: Born to Run, Thunder Road, Badlands, Kitty’s Back, Rosalita (Come Out Tonight), The E Street Shuffle, Spirit in the Night, She’s The One, Meeting Across the River, The Promised Land, Prove it All Night, The Ties That Bind, Ramrod, Bobby Jean, The Fever, Blood Brothers, Murder Incorporated, Waitin’ on a Sunny Day, Radio Nowhere, My Lucky Day, and even had a song centered around him in Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out (When the change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band). Without Clarence supplying the enduring blast of sax to these songs and giving them the life-blood they needed, they would have lacked some of the visceral emotions necessary and may not have existed at all. But there is one moment, in my opinion that Clarence still shines above all other moments, and that is in the epic Born to Run album finale, “Jungleland”. “Jungleland” is something to behold. I’ve said it before and I’ll stand by it to this day that “Jungleland” is not only the best epic album closer, but it’s the best closer of any album ever. Everything that’s great about rock & roll is encapsulated in this song. The innocence, the romance, the rebellion, the angst, the beauty, the ferocity, the intensity, the ebullience, it’s all here. At 9 minutes and 33 seconds, it’s staggering in length but it’s also the fastest 9:33 song you’ll ever hear. So incredible in cinematic scope, it’s James Dean, it’s Brando, it’s “Rebel Without a Cause”, it’s “Street Car Named Desire”, it’s Elvis, it’s the Jersey turnpike in the midnight hour, it’s the quintessential Springsteen song. If there was ever was one song where I believed transcendence was absolutely possible through the power of music, it’s this one. But at its zenith, its pinnacle is Clarence and his legendary “Jungleland” sax solo. It’s a sheer night-journey of indescribable power. So celestial, so ethereal. I love turning this song on and driving at night. I never cease to get goosebumps every time I hear it. I can’t imagine it without that sax solo, or maybe I just don’t want to. A lot of my musical heroes are getting up there in age these days, and Clarence was the first major hit on my radar. I’m still devastated and I can only hope that after 12 years of Catholic schooling I can truly believe that Clarence is up there, somewhere better playing that saxophone giving Heaven vibrant explosions and a soulful cool that it hadn’t seen before. Rest in Peace Clarence, I’ll see you again some day brother.

 


 

Below is a link to a fantastic Clarence Clemons tribute by Nick Mead. Watch it and enjoy.

http://player.vimeo.com/video/25471072?title=0&byline=0&portrait=0

I figured in closing I’ll leave you with the eulogy by Bruce Springsteen given at Clarence’s funeral:

I’ve been sitting here listening to everyone talk about Clarence and staring at that photo of the two of us right there. It’s a picture of Scooter and The Big Man, people who we were sometimes. As you can see in this particular photo, Clarence is admiring his muscles and I’m pretending to be nonchalant while leaning upon him. I leaned on Clarence a lot; I made a career out of it in some ways.

Those of us who shared Clarence’s life, shared with him his love and his confusion. Though “C” mellowed with age, he was always a wild and unpredictable ride. Today I see his sons Nicky, Chuck, Christopher and Jarod sitting here and I see in them the reflection of a lot of C’s qualities. I see his light, his darkness, his sweetness, his roughness, his gentleness, his anger, his brilliance, his handsomeness, and his goodness. But, as you boys know your pop was a not a day at the beach. “C” lived a life where he did what he wanted to do and he let the chips, human and otherwise, fall where they may. Like a lot of us your pop was capable of great magic and also of making quite an amazing mess. This was just the nature of your daddy and my beautiful friend. Clarence’s unconditional love, which was very real, came with a lot of conditions. Your pop was a major project and always a work in progress. “C” never approached anything linearly, life never proceeded in a straight line. He never went A… B…. C…. D. It was always A… J…. C…. Z… Q… I….! That was the way Clarence lived and made his way through the world. I know that can lead to a lot of confusion and hurt, but your father also carried a lot of love with him, and I know he loved each of you very very dearly.

It took a village to take care of Clarence Clemons. Tina, I’m so glad you’re here. Thank you for taking care of my friend, for loving him. Victoria, you’ve been a loving, kind and caring wife to Clarence and you made a huge difference in his life at a time when the going was not always easy. To all of “C’s” vast support network, names too numerous to mention, you know who you are and we thank you. Your rewards await you at the pearly gates. My pal was a tough act but he brought things into your life that were unique and when he turned on that love light, it illuminated your world. I was lucky enough to stand in that light for almost 40 years, near Clarence’s heart, in the Temple of Soul.

So a little bit of history: from the early days when Clarence and I traveled together, we’d pull up to the evening’s lodgings and within minutes “C” would transform his room into a world of his own. Out came the colored scarves to be draped over the lamps, the scented candles, the incense, the patchouli oil, the herbs, the music, the day would be banished, entertainment would come and go, and Clarence the Shaman would reign and work his magic, night after night. Clarence’s ability to enjoy Clarence was incredible. By 69, he’d had a good run, because he’d already lived about 10 lives, 690 years in the life of an average man. Every night, in every place, the magic came flying out of C’s suitcase. As soon as success allowed, his dressing room would take on the same trappings as his hotel room until a visit there was like a trip to a sovereign nation that had just struck huge oil reserves. “C” always knew how to live. Long before Prince was out of his diapers, an air of raunchy mysticism ruled in the Big Man’s world. I’d wander in from my dressing room, which contained several fine couches and some athletic lockers, and wonder what I was doing wrong! Somewhere along the way all of this was christened the Temple of Soul; and “C” presided smilingly over its secrets, and its pleasures. Being allowed admittance to the Temple’s wonders was a lovely thing.

As a young child my son Sam became enchanted with the Big Man… no surprise. To a child Clarence was a towering fairy tale figure, out of some very exotic storybook. He was a dreadlocked giant, with great hands and a deep mellifluous voice sugared with kindness and regard. And… to Sammy, who was just a little white boy, he was deeply and mysteriously black. In Sammy’s eyes, “C” must have appeared as all of the African continent, shot through with American cool, rolled into one welcoming and loving figure. So… Sammy decided to pass on my work shirts and became fascinated by Clarence’s suits and his royal robes. He declined a seat in dad’s van and opted for “C’s” stretch limousine, sitting by his side on the slow cruise to the show. He decided dinner in front of the hometown locker just wouldn’t do, and he’d saunter up the hall and disappear into the Temple of Soul.

Of course, also enchanted was Sam’s dad, from the first time I saw my pal striding out of the shadows of a half empty bar in Asbury Park, a path opening up before him; here comes my brother, here comes my sax man, my inspiration, my partner, my lifelong friend. Standing next to Clarence was like standing next to the baddest ass on the planet. You were proud, you were strong, you were excited and laughing with what might happen, with what together, you might be able to do. You felt like no matter what the day or the night brought, nothing was going to touch you. Clarence could be fragile but he also emanated power and safety, and in some funny way we became each other’s protectors; I think perhaps I protected “C” from a world where it still wasn’t so easy to be big and black. Racism was ever present and over the years together, we saw it. Clarence’s celebrity and size did not make him immune. I think perhaps “C” protected me from a world where it wasn’t always so easy to be an insecure, weird and skinny white boy either. But, standing together we were badass, on any given night, on our turf, some of the baddest asses on the planet. We were united, we were strong, we were righteous, we were unmovable, we were funny, we were corny as hell and as serious as death itself. And we were coming to your town to shake you and to wake you up. Together, we told an older, richer story about the possibilities of friendship that transcended those I’d written in my songs and in my music. Clarence carried it in his heart. It was a story where the Scooter and the Big Man not only busted the city in half, but we kicked ass and remade the city, shaping it into the kind of place where our friendship would not be such an anomaly. And that… that’s what I’m gonna miss. The chance to renew that vow and double down on that story on a nightly basis, because that is something, that is the thing that we did together… the two of us. Clarence was big, and he made me feel, and think, and love, and dream big. How big was the Big Man? Too fucking big to die. And that’s just the facts. You can put it on his grave stone, you can tattoo it over your heart. Accept it… it’s the New World.

Clarence doesn’t leave the E Street Band when he dies. He leaves when we die.

So, I’ll miss my friend, his sax, the force of nature his sound was, his glory, his foolishness, his accomplishments, his face, his hands, his humor, his skin, his noise, his confusion, his power, his peace. But his love and his story, the story that he gave me, that he whispered in my ear, that he allowed me to tell… and that he gave to you… is gonna carry on. I’m no mystic, but the undertow, the mystery and power of Clarence and my friendship leads me to believe we must have stood together in other, older times, along other rivers, in other cities, in other fields, doing our modest version of god’s work… work that’s still unfinished. So I won’t say goodbye to my brother, I’ll simply say, see you in the next life, further on up the road, where we will once again pick up that work, and get it done.

Big Man, thank you for your kindness, your strength, your dedication, your work, your story. Thanks for the miracle… and for letting a little white boy slip through the side door of the Temple of Soul.

SO LADIES AND GENTLEMAN… ALWAYS LAST, BUT NEVER LEAST. LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE MASTER OF DISASTER, the BIG KAHUNA, the MAN WITH A PHD IN SAXUAL HEALING, the DUKE OF PADUCAH, the KING OF THE WORLD, LOOK OUT OBAMA! THE NEXT BLACK PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES EVEN THOUGH HE’S DEAD… YOU WISH YOU COULD BE LIKE HIM BUT YOU CAN’T! LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE BIGGEST MAN YOU’VE EVER SEEN!… GIVE ME A C-L-A-R-E-N-C-E. WHAT’S THAT SPELL? CLARENCE! WHAT’S THAT SPELL? CLARENCE! WHAT’S THAT SPELL? CLARENCE! … amen.

I’m gonna leave you today with a quote from the Big Man himself, which he shared on the plane ride home from Buffalo, the last show of the last tour. As we celebrated in the front cabin congratulating one another and telling tales of the many epic shows, rocking nights and good times we’d shared, “C” sat quietly, taking it all in, then he raised his glass, smiled and said to all gathered, “This could be the start of something big.”

Love you, “C”.