Sunday, March 23, 2008

American Idol(atry)...

On Saturday I was fortunate enough to see Bruce Springsteen and the Max Weinberg Seven - I mean the E Street Band - live in concert in Cincinnati. I had great seats and the show was awesome, but more than once the spectacle unsettled me. Allow to elaborate.

Bruce has loyal fans. I mean really really loyal fans. The woman who sat behind Sara and I, for example, has seen the boss 53 TIMES, including 5 times on this tour. She is only slightly above average. Springsteen's the kind of guy who has fans that know all the words to all his songs even though they have roughly 1,286 unrhymed words apiece. Seriously, there were 12 year old girls singing every syllable of "Prove it All Night," an obscure song Bruce wrote about thirty years ago. Also, most of Springsteen's songs and all of his image are cultivated around the working-class stiff ideology that he seems to sweat. More than maybe any other rock star, The Boss is "One of Us." So, long story short, people don't just kind of like Springsteen. They adore him. Which leads me to the unsettling part.

There were several hundred standing room General Admission tickets sold to people who got to show up early and stand close enough to the stage to rest their elbows upon it. At several points during the show, Bruce came one step down from the main stage onto a platform directly in front of all the floor seat people and strutted, as rock stars will do, from one end to the other, eliciting excitations from the crowd. This is all pretty standard stuff. However, at various intervals Bruce would get close enough to be touched by the fans, who reached and laid their hands upon his boots and jeans as though they were reaching to touch the hem of Christ's robe. I'm not exaggerating. I saw people get their hands close and actually withdraw them as though they couldn't bear actually humanizing Bruce by touching him. Others touched him and maintained the contact as long as they could. At one point Bruce lowered himself onto his knees and fans fought their way through to get just a finger on him. I tell you the truth when I say I looked away from the sight after a moment because of a feeling in my stomach which I can describe only as a cross between embarrassment and distaste.

Bruce Springsteen is a showman. I get this. Plus, his songs are peppered with lyrics about Faith and Hope and God and being born in various states (to run, in the U.S.A.), so it almost feels like a worship service at times. It is his job, as Jason Lee's character says in Almost Famous, to, "Find the one person in that crowd who isn't getting off, and [make] him get off." But this crossed the line. For the first time in my life, I saw what I honestly believe was the active practice of idolatry. I've seen people cheer and sing along at concerts and behave in similar ways towards athletes, but I've never felt that it crossed that line from admiration and a feeling of connection to worship. I've said before that my experience at an Arcade Fire concert was a worship-like experience, but I meant that it was such a feeling of dedication and shared experience focused on joy that it felt the same, not that I worship that band. Then again, maybe I don't even know where the line is.

So I'm taking the Petie route and making this a question for all to answer. What does idolatry look like to you? Am I overreacting or underreacting? Have other things, like money or possessions or status become our idols already, and is the Springsteen thing just an extension of that? What? Feed me your opinions and thoughts. I'm very interested to see what you all have to say about something which I believe is often seen as an ancient issue.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Man of Science, Man of Faith (Non-Lost version)...

In light of my last post, I'm never looking forward to anything again.

The SEC Tournament was a disaster on all fronts and I shall surmise the experience in three short points.

1. Being in the Georgia Dome during a tornado is a lot more fun than being outside of it during one. However, the ESPNs and CNNs of the world really blew the whole thing out of proportion. Yes, it was weird inside for about fifteen seconds at the absolute most. No, nuts and bolts were not "raining from the ceiling" as Mark Schlabach put it.

2. I'm still angry Kentucky didn't play Saturday night.

3. I do not think Georgia is a good story. I think Dave Bliss is in my three most hated opposing players right now.

I'm now done with the city of Atlanta for at least three years.

Moving on...

Now, my NCAA Tournament preview post.

As I do every year at this time, I will be spending the next two days glued to my television to watch NCAA Tournament basketball. This is indisputably the best time of year in sports. There are a few delusional fools (Skip Bayless) who feel that March Madness is a contrived way to entertain and make big advertising bucks while only providing an average test of who the best team is in college basketball. He actually prefers the NBA. I think his license to speak should be revoked. March Madness is EVERYTHING that is great about sports. It elicits no fewer than 50 emotions from players, coaches, fans and viewers including, but not limited to, joy, hatred, love, depression, elation, anger, rage, surprise, shock, disbelief and mild insanity.

One of the best parts in all of this, though, comes before the games even start. If you're anything like me you huddled around the television and eagerly scribbled the names of every half-known team in the field and salivated over filling out your bracket. I haven't filled my own bracket out yet, as I'm having a bit of a crisis. This year's top seeds, except Memphis, represent about as bad as it gets in terms of who I want winning a title. UCLA, UNC, Kansas, Tennessee and Duke are all programs which I absolutely do not want winning an NCAA Championships. While UNC and UCLA are the worst of these offenders because another title gives them another bullet in their argument for historical college basketball supremacy over Kentucky, I do not look forward to a final between any of these teams.

So, this is what it comes down to. Am I a man of science, or am I a man of faith? The probability that at least two number one seeds will make it to the Final Four is very high. Despite the Tournament's reputation for being unpredictable, it is only moderately so. Sure, every year someone comes out of nowhere to make the Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight and we shout loud and proud that this is why they call it March Madness. But let's be realistic, for all the deliberation over upsets that happens as we fill out our brackets, there really aren't that many. Just last year (given, last year was EXTRA by-the-book), my mom won my bracket pool. Her Sweet Sixteen: The top four seeds in each region. So then, do I do what I've done every year for as long as I can remember and send my super depleted Wildcats on to win it all, or do I side with reason and have who I really think are the two best teams in the finals (UCLA and UNC). Arrghh.

At first, it seemed like this decision would plague me. But, it really hasn't. The truth is, the best team often does not win the Championship. Kentucky in 2003, for example, sustained an injury to their best player and couldn't overcome Dwyane Wade's first career triple-double. These things happen. Most often to me. Anyway, Kentucky's first round matchup is favorable (Dwyane Wade is no longer playing for Marquette), so I've definitely got them winning that one, but Stanford is a NIGHTMARE for us matchup-wise, so, beyond that, I don't know.

I'll end this by giving you a few notes that will certainly prove to be useless.

1. Three of the four number one seeds will be tested in the second round. Kansas won't be. Memphis will have to squeak it out to beat Mississippi State, UNC will have trouble with either Indiana or Arkansas, and if BYU beats Texas A&M, they really could give UCLA a run for their money.

2. Don't fall into the trap of picking Western Kentucky over Drake. Drake went 7-1 against teams in the RPI top 50, so this isn't really a favorable draw for the Hilltoppers. I'm not saying it can't happen, but it isn't like they won the lottery on Selection Sunday.

3.Georgia will not beat Xavier. I know they were hot last weekend, but that's just the sort of upset pick that looks delicious until you watch them play. Sundiata Gaines leads the world in dribbling, and that will not work out for him against Xavier.

4.Don't fall in love with the K-State-USC game and think that whoever wins that one is going to the Sweet Sixteen. Wisconsin is boring, but their good. They should have been a two seed but their not, and their probably angry about it. Nothing like a bunch of angry corn-fed midwestern football players trying to play basketball.

5. George Mason is not this year's George Mason.

6. The weakest bracket is definitely UCLA's. Yesterday on the radio, someone actually supposed this was because John Wooden's health is failing and he might not be around next year, so the committee placed them in an easy region so he could see the Bruins in the Final Four one last time. If this is even slightly true, it is a more egregious crime than Watergate and Tom O' Connor should be hanged.

7. I am a really, really, really big Cornell fan right now.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Most Wonderful Time of The Year...

A lot going on the world o' Corman right now. I will at some point in the near future give a review of Super Smash Bros. Brawl. For now, suffice it to say that the game is great and that almost every new addition is welcome.

The most important issue at hand, however, is clearly March and all of the delicious basketball goodness. If you check my posts even semi-regularly, you'll remember my ill-advised breakdown and ensuing rant on the state of University of Kentucky. This season among all others has been an utterly incomprehensible roller coaster ride and my post after news of the Patterson Injury represents without question the deepest valley I've felt all season, including when we were 6-7 and had just lost to Sand Diego. I'm incredibly proud of and a little in shock regarding what this UK team has been able to do since losing Patterson and I have to say that after my bout with the mysterious 6th stage of grief (alternately muttering and shouting/ apocalypse predicting) I'm on the mend and very interested/excited to see what kind of damage this team can do in March. Next week I promise a very long and detailed look into the field of 65, which I'm certain includes Kentucky now, but for the time being you'll have to live with my somewhat more abbreviated SEC Tournament post.

First, I'm a-goin' to Atlanta to witness firsthand UK potential triumphs and tribulations and I'm very anxious to experience something more positive than last year's debacle (would someone please explain to me why it makes sense not to foul when you're up three with less than ten seconds to go?). I believe honestly that the 'Cats have a really good shot at ending up in the title game, and here's why.

1. The Draw: This year's draw favors Kentucky so very much more than last year's did. We had to play on the first game the first day and go up against a hot Mississippi State team who seemed to have our number no matter how many six or eight point leads we accumulated against them. This year, we don't have to play until the second day, and we get to face the Georgia/Ole Miss winner. We are a combined 3-0 against those teams this year. So far, so good. We then face the survivor of the Florida/Alabama/Mississippi State portion of the bracket. While we're only 2-2 against those teams, our losses in the regular season to Florida and MSU were very narrow and both on the road. Atlanta will be a virtual home game for Kentucky because, well, our fans are just awesomer than everyone else's in the SEC. Also, Tennessee, Vandy, and Arkansas are on the other side of the bracket, pushing a potential meeting with any of them to the Tournament final.

2. The Patterson Effect: The '07-'08 'Cats (Wow that's a lot of apostrophes) have a very defined and representative identity, whereas the '06-'07 teams had no identity and it was really a crap shoot as to which team was going to show up. Billy Clyde has instilled in his team a mental toughness - I know, I know, you're sick of how much he says that too - that has forged in each and every player a sense of intensity which has only become MORE pronounced in the games since Mr. Patterson so inconsiderately broke his ankle. Perry Stevenson, Ramon Harris, Derrick Jasper and A.J. Stewart seem to have taken every single doubt anyone had about this team in the post-Patterson days as a personal affront, because they're playing like you just took their respective mothers to nice seafood dinners and never called them again. My goodness people, Michael Porter played 15 minutes with a DISLOCATED SHOULDER because he knew his minutes were valuable. Besides Chuck Hayes, I can't think of another player in recent memory who would have done something like that, but this year, EVERYONE IS PLAYING LIKE THAT. Truly an inspiring sight to see players pull together like this. Very Hoosiers-esque.

3. We're on fire: Last year's team may have had more ready to contribute talent than this one (if you exclude Patterson), but like I said before, last year's group was unpredictable and it hurt them because they were as unsure of what would happen after the ball was tipped as the fans were. The Gillispie Wildcats are a different breed. They seem to know exactly what their roles are when they hit the court and they're all comfortable in that knowledge. This has led to an incredibly consistent last 16 games. If you take out the Vandy game, which you pretty much have to or else you'll be tempted to hang yourself, you're left with 12 wins by an average of about seven points, and three losses by an average of about six points. We're hot, because hot doesn't mean blowing the doors off of every team you meet, it means winning a lot, and that's what we're doing. At precisely the right time, might I add. Plus, Joe Crawford has finally flipped on the assassin switch we thought he was going to have when he walked through the door 4 years ago. If I say so myself, he's starting to remind me of Keith Bogans after his ill-fated "I'm going to shoot no fewer than eight threes a game while never driving the ball" Junior season.

So, there you have it. I don't know if they'll win the tournament but I'm absolutely sure they can. I'd say right now the 'Cats have to be considered the third most probable team to win it, after UT and Vandy. Lucky for us we only have to see one of those teams if we see them at all. Actually, I'm feeling kind of saucy, so I'll grace you with my predicted bracket.

Alabama v. Florida: Winner - Florida
UF v. MSU: Winner - UF
UK v. UF: Winner - UK
Georgia v. Ole Miss: Winner - Ole Miss
Ole Miss v. UK: Winner - UK
UK v. UA: UK Champs
USC v. LSU: Winner - LSU
LSU v. UT: Winner - LSU (you heard it here first)
LSU v. Arkansas: Arkansas
Auburn v. Vandy: Winner - Vandy
Vandy v. Arkansas: Winner - Arkansas

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Saint Turtle, a gay dolphin, and a filthy pepperer walk into a bar... (or, a very long Smash Bros. Biography)

There is much to talk about in the world o' Corman right now, but one thing looms largest on my horizon, and I think you all know what that is.

This Saturday night you will find me waiting in line at my local Gamestop in anticipation - and I can't stress that word enough - of Super Smash Bros. Brawl for the Nintendo Wii.

I am a twenty-two year old man with a wife and a few scattered responsibilities. Fifteen years ago, conventional wisdom said video games would be a thing so far in my past that I wouldn't remember how to use a fire flower, let alone be playing video games into the wee hours of the morning with several of my similarly aged friends. To a certain extent, age has changed my video game life, as it were. I have to be more selective about which titles I purchase because I know I'm just not going to have the time to play as much as I once did. Right now that adds up to about one game per three months or so, and I'm fine with that. Smash Bros., however, is a different animal.

The first time I heard mention of this game, I must admit, it sounded idiotic. Other franchises had tried this sort of thing - Star Wars: Masters of the Teras Kasi springs to mind - and I thought Nintendo was shamefully trying to cash in on their beloved character base while shelling out a questionably conceived fighting title. Then, my friend Jesse and arch-nemesis Petie - two names that would loom large in my Bros. playing future - rented the game and gave a surprisingly positive review. I played Smash Bros. sporadically over a two year period, routinely beating up on my brother-in-law using Samus and generally having a lot of fun with the wacky combat and addictive challenge modes. Then came the Nintendo Gamecube.

Around the time Bros. Melee was released for Nintendo's cute little purple cube, I met a young man who would also factor heavily into my Bros. playing future named Jonny Walls. Naturally I was excited about finding a fellow Bros. addict and on a few occasions was granted an audience with the Older Guys to play the new, faster-paced game.

I got blasted. Beaten. Demoralized. Unfathomably embarrassed. God as my witness I sat down with these guys for the first time and chose Bowser and actually solicited laughs from the ten or so people crowded around the Walls' living room. They were all faster than me, anticipating moves before I could make them and generally beating me to a cartoony pulp. There was only one recourse: get the game; play like mad. So I did. My friends and I spent most of every day, night, weekend, and holiday with our eyes glued to a TV and our hands glued to a controller. We played relentlessly, unlocking hidden characters and breaking challenge records, slowly developing our talents. Still, the Older Guys seemed untouchable, part of another class of players. We hoped only to compete with them. During this intense few months long period of, well, training, I made new friends and developed existing friendships in a way now that seems so incredible but at the time seemed as natural as taking a breath. There is not a person I hang out with consistently today who was not a part of that time in my life when Super Smash Bros. Melee was not just something to do, but the only thing to do. This game had as profound an effect on my social life over the last seven years as anything besides Jesus and my wife, and it was a tight race.

Eventually, we all got our shot at the Older Guys. We expected to be competitive. What we were was stifling. Win after win for our group gained us instant respect and we had a blast doing it, listening to the language which had been created by these guys that gave the game an extra dimension, linked to our own experience in a way that no other group would have exactly like we did. The game became as much about how we related to each other in the room as opposed to on the screen. Those memories will last me a lifetime and I can't help but get a warm feeling every time some one brings up a particularly vivid happening and relives it for all present.

And now, finally, the sequel we've all been waiting for. We expected this thing to be released just a few weeks after Wii's launch, but delay after delay means that, more than a year later, we still don't have it. That all changes on Saturday night.

At midnight, we'll finally get our hands on this game and set out to create an entirely new set of memories. And, fact is, we'll try too hard. I feel like an aging member of a rock band who will inevitably become a parody of their own heyday. The original Bros. was our debut record, it came out of nowhere to be a hit and we lived up all the fun we had with it, feeling lucky just to be here, not knowing if we'd get the chance again. Melee was our more polished second record and it sold 20 million copies and we had a lifetime's worth of great experiences because of it. Now, on the verge of Brawl, I feel like the unspoken pressure to live up to all the great memories and unforgettable moments will place upon us a sort of need to be clever and come up with funny terms and rebuild the atmosphere we once had in Petie's living room. We'll all be looking at each other, saying behind our eyes, ' This is the same, right?' Maybe it's cynical, but that's how I feel. It certainly doesn't mean that I'm not excited because there's no question that I am. It's just that of that original crew, one lives in Seattle, one in Senegal, the other in Ruston, Louisiana. And, yes, I know about the Wi-Fi, but come on, it's not the same as sitting next to those guys, and you damn well know it.

Bruce Springsteen sang about the Glory Days and I relate.

Our task then is to create a new set of memories, unreliant on the past for validation of our experiences with each other. I hope we can use this new game to forget about all the change that has happened among our group that has made things a little less bright around here in Kentucky. And I hope that those members of the group who are now far away can use the game to recapture some of that old feeling we had when we sat down for the night's first match. I look forward to landing that first killing blow on Petie as that smug smirk he detests so much grows on my face, because, even from 2000 miles away, he knows it's there and he hates me for it. Gentleman, I look forward to seeing you on the battlefield.

If you read this and thought, ' Man, that guy cares way too much about some stupid game.' I can only - and I mean this sincerely - pity you. If you read this and thought, 'Man, I absolutely agree and cannot wait for Saturday night." I can only - and I mean this sincerely - say one thing to you: First Game!