Thursday, October 27, 2005

White Sox Champs - Now What?

As a fan of the Chicago White Sox since 1977 I tip my cap to the 2005 squad. They have completely dominated the playoffs and World Series, posting an unbelievable 11 - 1 record. They found new ways to win each game and played like a true team of champions- absolutely unprecedented.

For me, the true elation came as the Sox clinched the pennant - just going to the World Series seemed like the promised land. As a fan, although Sox management would correct me, I was thrilled just to see the boys of the Cell earn their place at the big show. I felt relief and elation as they clinched their first World Series berth since 1959, lifting years frustration, as I have lived and died with the Sox since I was 10 years old. The Tito Landrum home run in the 1983 playoffs, the strike shortened season in 1994, and the futile offense of the 2000 playoff squad all dissipated as Paul Konerko grabbed a hard hit grounder and stepped on first base to end the Series hopes of the LA Angels.

After the first two games of the World Series, I already knew the Sox would win it all - you could sense it. They seemed to be on auto-pilot, getting a key hit or defensive play from any variety of grinders. The ball truly seemed to be bouncing their way, although 88 years of frustration were lodged firmly in the back of my mind - I vaguely expected something awful to happen. And if things were to go wrong, it would have to be in Houston.

Houston - you have a problem. The Sox showed they can find just enough runs to win more often than not. Watching the Sox clinch the title in yet another exciting final inning, all I could do was smile. Yes, it was our turn, and it feels good.

As I have been thinking about the success of the 2005 White Sox (with a big, dopey grin on my face), another thought has popped into my mind: What now?

Being a Chicago baseball fan (this applies to the north side team, also), my entire perspective on the game is tainted by the specter of futility. You hope every year that the Sox will have a good enough team, make a decent showing, and have a better record than the Cubs. Life was always pretty simple for a Sox fan - uncomplicated.

But now that the Pale Hose have won the championship, that perspective changes. Winning doesn't mean finishing over .500 or beating the Cubs four games out of six anymore. Winning means winning it all. And, I'm not particularly comfortable with that yet.

At this point, I think I'm going to go on with my standard expectations for the Sox, knowing they have potential for much more. Could the Sox repeat?

I don't even want to think about it. Let's just enjoy this moment, take 2 out of 3 at Wrigley and call it a good year.

Congratulations, Chicago White Sox. Thank you for a magic season I will never forget.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

CD Review - Huey Lewis & the News - Live At 25

So, what have Huey Lewis & the News been up to since their heyday - the days of their back to back monster albums Sports & Fore? (Sports & Fore! produced many of the band's most recognizable hits, including "Heart & Soul", "The Heart of Rock & Roll", "I Want A New Drug", "Stuck With You", "Jacob's Ladder", and "Hip To Be Square", among others.)

Huey & company have continued to produce quality music based in the great traditions of American rock and R & B, releasing fine albums like "Hard At Play", "Four Chords & Several Years Ago", and most recently, "Plan B". The News has shifted their style over the years away from great rock with a great hook to great R & B with a great hook. And that shift, along with the passing of time, has pushed the band away from the mainstream, appealing primarily now to a large core of die hards.

Huey Lewis has said for years that he has always wanted to release a live concert album, and for the first time today, he and the band have come through with a live CD spanning songs from their 25 year career.

The CD is stuffed with 16 tracks and the set list won't surprise the die-hard NewsHeads. The tracks are a well-chosen sample of the News' albums through the years. Following the band's live performances since 1983, one can tell there are certain songs that Huey likes, despite the fact that they are not commercially popular. Huey included a track from their self-titled debut and three songs from "Plan B", which were never heard by most listeners on commercial radio. And the songs that didn't make the cut include "Stuck With You", Huey's biggest hit ever (3 weeks at number 1) and "Jacob's Ladder", another top 5 smash. Like he has said in concert, so many hits, so little time...

The disc really captures the pacing and energy of a typical Huey Lewis show. Light on banter with the crowd, he begins with "The Heart of Rock & Roll", and starts to unwind a bit when introducing Johnny Colla's sax solo mid-song. And he really loosens up toward the end of the underappreciated soulful second song, "So Little Kindness", extending the end of the song well beyond the recorded version, begging, pleading for just a little kindness. At this point, he and the band are hitting their groove and the night is still very young.

After a smooth and soulful "Thank You #19", Huey & the boys kick into a traditional highlight, the guitar-driven "I Want A New Drug". In recent years, Huey has taken to jamming a shorter version of "Drug" and rolling into "Small World", which features some snappy riffs from the News Brothers horn section and nice keyboard work by Sean Hopper. It definitely works here.

A by-the-books version of "If This Is It" makes way for a rocking "Power of Love", featuring Stef Burns on guitar. A deftly reworked version of their first big hit, "Do You Believe In Love", is a pleasure and could hit the Adult Contemporary charts today if recorded in studio.

After the traditional accapella break, the band hits the accelerator and doesn't look back. The crowd-pleasing segment kicks off with a News classic, "Heart And Soul", jumps to the foot-stomping "But It's Alright", and spins into the slightly reworked crowd-pleaser "(Too) Hip To Be Square". Huey & the News don't let up here, kicking into their out-of-the-box classic from "Plan B", "We're Not Here For A Long Time", and finishing the hand-clapping set with a long-overlooked staple, "Back In Time". To finish the disc, Huey ends with one of his greatest sing-a-longs, "Doing It All For My Baby".

Throughout the show, Huey's voice retained it's patented gravelly quality, rough around the edges, for sure, but hasn't it always been that way? The band was tight as ever, the crowd was cheering and dancing, and a great American rock and roll band was captured doing what they do best. This is what they call "feel good" music. My only regret was that the disc had to end at 16 songs. So many hits, so little time, indeed...

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Quote of the Week

After one of our brave troops stood up to address Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld yesterday regarding the quality of the equipment being used to fight in Iraq, he triggered a classic response.

With media pressure bombarding the White House overnight, Rumsfeld responded with what could have been part of a bit from an Abbott & Costello routine or possibly Inspector Clouseau:

"I don't know what the facts are but somebody's certainly going to sit down with him and find out what he knows that they may not know, and make sure he knows what they know that he may not know, and that's a good thing. "

What? You know...

John Brooks

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Presidential Perspective

With less than a week left until the most divisive election of our time, I've spent quite a bit of time reading about the Bush and Kerry campaigns. Starting with the first of the Presidential debates, I was amazed at the lack of actual discussion between these men who are vying for the most powerful job in the world. Everything from President Bush's mouth was a prepared catch phrase that was inserted at occasionally appropriate times as a response to a question. More often than not, it seemed he was forcing these responses where they didn't really fit. Senator Kerry, while not nearly as bad, fell into the strategy of repeating the same points in a simplistic manner as often as possible. And after the debates, the lack of actual discussion picked up a head of steam. Now, as we stand just days before the election, we are hearing both candidates essentially bicker like kids on a playground, with no new insight, just a general belittlement of each other. Everything has been so calculated to play to every form of media that at this point, none of what either of them are saying has any weight. And don't even bother trying to get independent analysis from the radio - Air America criticizes everything President Bush has done and the gaggle of right wing clowns has been pushing their agenda for years without regard to truth or common sense.

So how have I decided who to vote for? Simple - I am voting for the man who seems to understand complexities, who understands that the world is not black and white. I am voting for John Kerry, not because I am a Democrat (I'm not) or because I think George Bush is a failure (he's not). I am voting for John Kerry not because his policies are inherently superior to the status quo - I'm voting for him because I believe he will make reasoned decisions and will think about the consequences of his choices. I don't believe John Kerry has an agenda that he will pursue like a rapid dog; I think Kerry will evaluate the problems at hand and thoughtfully recommend the best course of action. I am voting for a President who can think on his feet and articulate his thoughts, demonstrating firm understanding of the issues of the day.

And I don't think President Bush works that way.

Regardless of the candidate that you support, please make sure to vote on Tuesday. This year more than ever, every vote counts!

John Brooks

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Retail Customer Service

In this day and age, the words "customer service" have virtually no meaning in a standard retail establishment. We have all been desensitized by the extraordinarily poor service we receive and have grown to expect no better.

The typical retail chain is staffed by workers that have everything on their minds besides a positive shopping experience for the customer. At a fast food establishment, tables will be filthy and garbage cans will be overflowing, but the three high school aged staffers will be chatting about how they can't wait to go home. I've waited at the help counter at a copy chain for ten minutes simply needing some supplies to make a purchase with no help in sight. And I've been told that although two of the three copy machines are broken, that I would have to wait for the employee to finish using the one functioning machine, because she had no idea how to fix the others. In most establishments, there is a prevailing sense that the customer is in the way, an inconvenience for those who work at the store.

Blame for this phenomenon could be placed on the front line staff - usually the high school kids trying to make a few bucks for the weekend. And that would be the simplest place to start. But, in my opinion, the real fault lies in the management of the stores. If shift managers put a focus on placing the customers' experience first and executing tasks second, their inexperienced staff would learn to prioritize. A boat without a rudder will go wherever the currents take it. The real issue is that many shift managers do not have a customer focus, either, which makes it impossible to train the lower level staff.

I was in a large discount retailer on Sunday evening and was treated to this announcement: "The time is 8:45 - our store will be closing in 15 minutes. Please make your final selections and proceed to the checkout. For your shopping convenience, we will open tomorrow morning at 8:00." For my convenience, they want me to hurry through the store, grab some items, and rush to the checkout, only to return the next morning to finish my shopping? It sounds more like it's for their convenience, so their staff can get home ten minutes earlier to watch a Simpsons rerun or, if it's a real good night, maybe some Seinfeld.

You'll find you get the best service in a shop where the owner is on site. You can bet that the owner knows the importance of building a strong relationship with customers - because if he doesn't, he won't be in business much longer.

Happy Shopping!

John Brooks

Friday, October 15, 2004

Introductory Musings

As I was killing some time in the afternoon, I stumbled upon the fabulous Blogger site, and I realized that I had to give this a whack. As I am short on time this afternoon, I would like to welcome you to the site and promise occasional discussion of things of great interest - including everything from the Presidential Race, the demise of the Chicago Cubs (spoken as a true White Sox Fan), and all things entertainment, including my addiction to electronic devices that make life easier and my wallet a bit thinner, including TiVo and XM Satellite radio.

As long as I dropped a quick mention of the Chicago Cubs, I should note that today is the one year anniversary of the Cubs elimination from the National League Championship Series...has it already been a year? Who could ever forget the legendary Steve Bartman incident, which made the curse of the goat seem like child's play. Being surrounded by Cub fans almost everywhere, I could sense that everyone was just waiting for something to go wrong - and how right they were...Sox fans, raise a glass tonight, to the never-ending saga that is Chicago baseball. There is no more interesting (or frustrated) baseball city in America.

Best Wishes!

John Brooks