Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon

Looking Back on 2012 (Part Two)

July brought many exciting developments. I was promoted to full Professor and became chair of my department at the University of Chicago. The Japanese translation of Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon came out from Byakuya Shobo. At around the same time, the discovery I helped make of some previously unknown 1950 Sacramento concert recordings by Misora Hibari, Kasagi Shizuko, Yamaguchi Yoshiko and many other Japanese singing stars became big news in Japan. I was apparently a featured item on television “wide shows” for a couple of days; I’m told that at least one of the shows introduced me with a photograph that was not actually of me. The Japanese edition of the book was well received, too; dozens of newspapers and magazines ran favorable reviews.

The whole family flew to Tokyo in late July. I spent a couple of days doing press interviews at my publishers’ offices in Takadanobaba. On July 29, Satoko and I were able to participate in one of the largest anti-nuclear demonstrations of the year, a march that started from Hibiya Park and ended up surrounding the Diet building. We celebrated the children’s birthdays up in Sendai with Satoko’s parents. With the help of a reporter from the Kyodo Tsushin wire service, I was able to get a copy of the 1950 wire recording of her Sacramento concert to 92-year-old Yamaguchi Yoshiko, who gave an interview about how delighted she was to hear it. As a result, once again I showed up in newspapers across Japan.

We returned to Chicago in early August. I recorded a segment for public radio’s “To the Best of Our Knowledge,” which was broadcast nationally later in the month (you can listen online here). We brought the whole family to a terrific play,”The Death of Harry Houdini,” at the House Theater. We ran up to Minnesota again to celebrate what would have been my father’s 75th birthday on August 15, and while there I saw another ballgame at Target Field. I also got to see one of my old favorite local bands, the Flamin’ Oh’s, play a show at Mears Park in downtown St. Paul. Back in Chicago at the end of the month, we attended the opening night “Tribute to Ella” with Dee Alexander, Frieda Lee, and Spider Saloff at the Chicago Jazz Festival. I returned again on the last day of the festival to catch stellar sets by the Steve Coleman Group and Pierre DÝrge And The New Jungle Orchestra–two more favorite musical discoveries of the year.

In September things started gearing up in my new role as department chair, but on a stormy night we saw Bruce Springsteen give a fine concert up at Wrigley Field, and when the Twins swung through town early in the month I ran over to New Comiskey Park to take in a game. Late in the month I filled my car with grad students and drove to Kalamazoo for the Midwest Conference on Asian Affairs meeting at Western Michigan University.

Classes started in October. I taught two seminars this past fall–one on Japanese literary discourses of “furusato” (hometown), the other on Japanese cultures of the Cold War. As usual, I learned a great deal from the students in both. Extracurricular activities slowed down as I resumed full-time teaching, of course, but I still managed to get out now and then. In early October, I saw a nice set by guitarist Wayne Krantz at Martyr’s and later in the month caught an intriguing performance by shamisen composer Kimura Shunsuke. In October, I attended the Association for Japanese Literary Studies meeting at Ohio State, reconnecting with many old friends and meeting some new ones. I also enjoyed the opportunity to make a presentation about the 1950 wire recordings at the annual Humanities Day celebration here on campus in Hyde Park.

We had a quiet Thanksgiving at home, with me preparing the turkey as usual. In December, we enjoyed a show by Leo Kottke up at SPACE in Evanston, as well as a terrific performance of Barber’s Violin Concerto and Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony by the CSO. I made another trip to Los Angeles to give a talk at UCLA and to film an interview about the 1950 wire recording of Misora Hibari for a television special which was broadcast in Japan on the BS-TBS network on December 7. We spent Christmas with family in Minnesota, quiet and relaxing. On Boxing Day, we went ice skating with a big group of my cousins and their children.

Later today we’ll bring our 2012 cultural calendar to a close by attending the acclaimed production of “Annie” at the Paramount Theater in Illinois: the last few years, our family has made a tradition of attending a musical in the week between Christmas and New Years. We also have tickets to see the opening night of Buddy Guy’s annual stand at his own blues club downtown later this week, and we’re off to Second City a few days after that for some comedy.

It really has been a blessed year for us: writing this up has helped remind me how lucky I am. I’m surrounded by a supportive family, wonderful friends and colleagues, students who keep me on my toes, and a city that bustles with creativity and energy. As usual, I have compiled a long list of New Years’ resolutions, but I won’t bore you with those. Suffice it to say that I am looking forward to 2013.

Let me end by wishing you joy, peace, and health in 2013. Thanks for stopping by.

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Looking Back on 2012 (Part One)

I have several projects with looming year-end deadlines. I really should be working on those this morning. Which, of course, makes this an excellent time to devote instead to an update here. 2012 is fast winding down. What kind of year was it?

A fine and memorable one, thank you. Not without its bumps and bruises, of course, but those just help remind me that I’m alive. I end the year feeling gratitude and hope.

The first half of 2012 found me on sabbatical. In early January, I flew to Seattle for the MLA convention. I saw old friends, sat in on some good panels, caught the film “The Descendants” in a cinema across from the hotel–and accepted the Scaglione Prize for the translation I co-edited of Natsume Soseki’s Theory of Literature and Other Critical Writings. Later that month, I flew up to Ann Arbor to participate in a faculty workshop, and a week later I presented a talk at another faculty seminar at Northwestern University. The month ended with Satoko and I enjoying a performance by Westside blues legend Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater at SPACE, the little-club-that-could up in Evanston.

In February, we caught Ricardo Muti conducting the CSO in Franck’s Symphony in D minor and then, a few days later, I attended the University of Chicago Folk Festival, featuring Billy Boy Arnold. The most exciting event of the month: my book, Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical Prehistory of J-Pop, came out from Columbia University Press. I heard many nice things about it from people–to the point that I started to worry that it must not be very good. If something you write doesn’t piss anyone off, how interesting can it be? But later I heard through the grapevine that a number of senior scholars in my field hated it. I felt reassured. In late February DePaul University hosted a fun workshop based on the book for Chicago public school teachers.

On the first day of March we watched Pierre Boulez lead the CSO in a wonderful performance of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde. The next morning I was off to NYC for meetings. Then on March 10-11 I co-hosted a conference in honor of my colleague, Norma Field, who retired at the end of the 2011-12 academic year. “What March 11 Means to Me” brought together an amazing group of public intellectuals from Japan for personal and philosophical reflections on the first anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster: Amamiya Karin, Komori Yoichi, Ryusawa Takeshi, Takahashi Tetsuya, and Yokoyu Sonoko. The following week, I traveled to Toronto for the AAS annual meeting, where I chaired a roundtable discussion on the 1950 wire recordings of Japanese performers in concert in Sacramento (more on those anon).

In April, I was back in NYC for a lecture at Columbia University. While there, I saw the acclaimed revival of “Death of a Salesman” with Philip Seymour Hoffman and caught up with a few old friends. Back in Chicago, we attended a lively concert by Rodrigo y Gabriela and a fine performance by the Alvin Ailey dance company a few days later. Later in the month, I drove up to the Twin Cities to visit family and friends, catching a Twins game while there and a Beloit Snappers minor-league game on the drive home. During the month, I also finished up an article on Natsume Soseki’s conception of world literature, which appeared in the May/June issue of the Iwanami Shoten journal Bungaku.

On May Day I joined the protest march that started out from Union Park and made its way past the site of the Haymarket Massacre (the historical origin of May Day) before ending at a rally downtown. A few days later, we caught a live performance by one of my favorite musical discoveries of the year: Kids These Days. The group manages to combine rock, funk, jazz, and hip hop and make it all work; their debut album Traphouse Rock came out later in the year and was one of my favorite records of 2012.

Later in May I attended the Atomic Age II conference at Chicago. It featured a keynote address from Koide Hiroaki, one of the most important critics of Japan’s “nuclear village.” The next day, we joined a group to visit the nature preserve in the western suburbs where the remains of Chicago Piles 1 and 2 (the world’s first nuclear reactors) are buried. Later in the month we caught a surprise cameo appearance by Ray Davies at a public television benefit concert, and then I was off to Tokyo for a quick one-week visit. During that trip, I attended the May sumo tournament, met a number of scholars, visited libraries and bookstores, and stopped by an exhibit of photographs by Mike Nogami. After coming back to Chicago, I survived the NATO conference shut-down of the city, dragged the kids to the reunited Beach Boys concert at the Chicago Theater, and enjoyed a Millenium Park performance by Kelly Hogan (another key musical discovery of the year). We ended the month by catching Court Theater’s production of “Angels in America” with Larry Yando’s memorable turn as Ray Cohn.

As June began, I flew to Los Angeles to join in the celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the UCLA Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies. It was lovely to catch up with old friends from UCLA, and while there I got to meet and chat briefly with one of my childhood heroes, Daniel Inouye (RIP, Senator Inouye). It turned out that he was one of the 442nd veterans involved in inviting Misora Hibari to Hawaii in 1950 for a charity concert–which led in turn to the 1950 Sacramento concert recordings. Another quick trip to Minnesota followed, and I was back home to catch the last day of the Chicago Blues Festival, including an uplifting headliner set by Mavis Staples. During June we also caught the CSO a couple times, including an eye-opening public rehearsal led by Ricardo Muti, and we visited the Roy Lichtenstein exhibit at the Art Institute. But the cultural highlight of the month was the acclaimed production of “The Iceman Cometh” at the Goodman Theater, with an ensemble cast so strong that the supposed stars, Brian Dennehy and Nathan Lane, mostly just blended into the scenery.

July is when things really got busy. I’ll write about the second half of the year tomorrow. In the meantime, I really should get hopping on those year-end projects….

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Scenes from a Month in the Life

It’s been exactly a month since I posted here. I spent that month mostly on the road — two weeks in Japan and a week in Minnesota, sandwiched around a brief stay at home in Chicago. What did I do during that month? A few randomly chosen scenes:

Rediscovery of Zazen Boys. After enjoying their first two CDs very much and watching them play a live set in Sendai back in 2006, I’d drifted away from this post-punk/funk combo. But an entry of Patrick St. Michel’s excellent blog alerted me to “Potato Salad,” a wonderful new track from a forthcoming release, and while in Japan I picked up a copy of Zazen Boys 4, their 2008 CD. Terrific stuff, and back on heavy rotation in my life.

Celebrating what would have been my father’s 75th birthday. The whole family gathered in St. Paul for the event on August 15. We took in a Twins’ game on a lovely afternoon at Target Field (alack, a 5-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers, with Ben Revere hitting a triple for the only Minnesota highlight of the day), then supped on pizza, wine, and cake in the evening as we passed around photos of Dad and swapped stories. The next day, I dragged the kids to a free concert in Mears Park in downtown St. Paul by the Flamin’ Ohs, a local Minnesota band I adored during their late 1970s, early 1980s, heyday. The kids hated the show; I loved it. You can decide for yourself:

Enjoying my fifteen minutes of fame. I did about a dozen media interviews in Japan and here about my book and the discovery of wire recordings of 1950 concerts in Sacramento by a number of prominent Japanese musicians, including Misora Hibari and Yamaguchi Yoshiko. This resulted in a large number of stories and reviews in newspapers and magazines, as well as a fair amount of television coverage. The Japanese translation of Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon seems to be selling well, and the press comments so far have been quite positive. Here in the States, I’ll be on the August 26 edition of the public radio program, “To The Best of Our Knowledge.” It will be available as a podcast after the broadcast.

Participating in the July 29 “Encircle the National Diet Building” Anti-Nuclear Protest in Tokyo. It was a disorienting but exhilarating event: tens of thousands of marchers trying to follow bizarre police directions that made me feel increasingly like a laboratory rat trapped in a maze. We were repeatedly directed to walk away from the Diet Building, but eventually we did find the cheese: a swirling carnival that occupied a blocked-off street in front of the main entrance to the building. In the meanwhile, the weekly Friday afternoon protests in front of the Prime Minister’s residence continue.

Dashing off an Angry E-Mail to NBC. How could they possible cut Ray Davies’ performance of “Waterloo Sunset” from the American broadcast of the London Olympics closing ceremony? It was the emotional centerpiece of the whole show. Sigh. I wasn’t the only one who was mad about it, either.

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Play Ball! (Japanese style)

Posted in baseball,Current Events by bourdaghs on the March 30th, 2012

The 2012 Nippon Professional Baseball season is officially underway. The Yomiuri Giants (boo!) seem the favorites in the Central league, while in the Pacific League its the Fukuoka Soft Bank Hawks with their new import pitcher Brad Penny. As for me, I’m curious to see how the Hanshin Tigers fare under new manager Wada Yutaka, a star infielder for the team in the 1990s. In the PL, I’ll be watching to see if the Tohoku Rakuten Eagles can finally turn the corner and become contenders.

To celebrate the occasion, here’s a brilliant tv commercial from the Fukuoka Soft Bank Hawks (I found it via the Nťojaponisme twitter feed) on how they practice:

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Moneyball and the Limits of Managerial Science

Posted in baseball,Books,Change is Bad,Current Events by bourdaghs on the December 1st, 2010

I’ve finally gotten around to reading Moneyball, Michael Lewis’ now-classic 2003 portrait of Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane. A decade ago Beane led the statistical revolution in contemporary Major League baseball, using computers, the Internet, and statistics to identify sources of talent that were undervalued by traditional baseball wisdom (meaning, primarily, the collective wisdom of scouts) and thereby helping the A’s to consistently field teams that were competitive despite low payrolls.

Beane clearly is a terrific general manager, and the book on the whole offers a good read. But there is also something troubling about it, something I’ll try to put my finger on here. The book identifies Bill James as the heroic pioneer of the new knowledge that Beane exploited, but it seems to me there is a decisive difference between James’ approach to the game and that of Beane and Lewis–a qualitative change in the nature of our enjoyment of baseball. For James in his classic Baseball Abstracts from the 1980s (I was an avid reader from 1983 on), statistics were a tool for identifying more precisely what made Joe Morgan or George Brett such invaluable figures: his focus was on the marvelous skills that major leaguers brandish on the field.

James was interested in fun, while Lewis’ Beane is interested in power–and I don’t mean slugging average. For Beane and Lewis, statistics are weapons to shift power to the general manager. In their version of baseball, the heroes no longer wear spikes on the diamond; instead, they wear cuff links in the front office. You see this new focus in the explosive popularity of fantasy baseball games (which I enjoy as much as anyone), in which participants take pleasure in imagining themselves not as the batter at the plate in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, but rather as a general manager trying to cobble together the best possible roster on a limited budget. The language used in recent editions of Baseball Prospectus (the annual publication that has largely replaced James’ Abstracts) reflects this: veteran players are perceived as suspect malingerers who want only to eat up too much salary.

In Moneyball, this shift is rendered explicit. Lewis quotes A’s executive Sandy Alderson, the man who hired Beane as GM, as saying “What Billy figured out at some point…is that he wanted to be me more than he wanted to be Jose Canseco.” Alderson, according to Lewis, wanted to “concentrate unprecedented powers in the hands of a general manager,” a stance Lewis describes as “rational.” It requires (in Alderson’s words) shedding “player-type prejudices” (pp. 62-63).

This isn’t just a question limited to baseball, I think. Moneyball crystallizes the celebration of what is sometimes called managerial science, a new branch of knowledge. Again, Lewis is explicit on this: the revolution he describes

…set the table for geeks to rush in and take over the general management of the game. Everywhere one turned in competitive markets, technology was offering the people who understood it an edge. What was happening to capitalism should have happened to baseball: the technical man with his analytical magic should have risen to prominence in in baseball management, just as he was rising to prominence on, say, Wall Street. (p. 88)

The essence: an outsider comes in and radically devalues the forms of specialized knowledge accrued by veteran insiders, reshuffles the deck, and thereby improves the bottom line.

Don’t get me wrong: I recognize that this sometimes works. An outsider’s perspective often provides a valuable rethinking of the way things are done in a given field. Some of the greatest breakthroughs in history arose when someone crossed a boundary and transported knowledge developed in one sphere and applied it in a novel manner in a foreign discipline or field.

It can also, however, lead to disaster. The trainwreck that is the Chicago Tribune arriving on my doorstep each morning provides ample evidence of that. Non-journalist managers have destroyed the paper (and the even better Los Angeles Times) by focusing on their outsider’s version of “the bottom line.” George W. Bush, the “Decider,” is another exemplar and proponent of this version of managerial science. Disasters such as the Iraq War, the Katrina bungle, and the banking meltdown are in large measure products of this version of managerial science. Still to come: radical climate change. In each case, the knowledge accrued by specialized experts over decades was disregarded by managers. We increasingly see this same tendency in education at all levels in the U.S.: managers are brought in from outside to improve “the bottom line,” and they proceed by radically devaluing the knowledge produced within the field over decades.

Often, the error comes in the assumption that the new manager knows better than anyone else what the bottom line is. The bottom line for a baseball fan is, I think, enjoyment. The new approach Lewis champions provides its version of enjoyment, but at the expense of other kinds. In sum, the increasing stress on the power of quantitative knowledge is producing a qualitative change in our experience of the game. We see this change in fans, I think: the quality of watching a game at Wrigley Field today is quite different from what it was when I first visited the park in 1984, and the changes has little to do with the lights (another brilliant “innovation” courtesy of the Chicago Tribune Corporation). In 1984 the thought of booing the Cubs was absurd; it is a regular occurrence nowadays.

This also relates to the increasing dominance of the financial sector in our world. Again, Lewis is quite explicit on this. He describes Beane’s sense of triumph when he acquired Nick Swisher in the 2002 amateur draft:

There’s a new thrust about him, an unabridged expression on his face. He was a bond trader, who had made a killing in the morning and entered the afternoon free of fear. Feeling greedy. Certain that the fear in the market would present him with even more opportunities to exploit….Like any good bond trader, he loves making decisions. The quicker the better. (p. 113)

Again we see a new species of hero being manufactured here, one with an “unabridged expression on his face,” whatever the hell that means. Other kinds of heroes are, of course, being displaced: the “fat scout,” for example, who is driven away with his outmoded knowledge (p. 118).

What’s striking in Moneyball is that the book unconsciously presents a counterargument to its own thesis. Billy Beane’s rise as a general manager is in fact due to the experience he acquired as a (largely failed) major league prospect. The book narrates this as a prime instance of the failings of the “old” knowledge it aims to devalue, but it is Beane’s experience on the field that opened his eyes to the value of certain statistics. The book downplays the ways in which Beane’s knowledge is acquired the old-fashioned way: through hard work on the baseball diamond and the acquisition of “player-type biases.” He wasn’t just a geek with a computer.

The value of so-called managerial science is the opportunity it provides to recognize the limits of existing forms of knowledge. Its disasters come likewise when it fails to recognize the existence of its own limits. Sometimes, the “bottom line” isn’t as clear cut as Lewis and his ilk believe. It’s often more enjoyable to be a fan of a losing team than it is to cheer on a championship club. Why? Because it’s fun.

[Postscript (2 December 2010): I’ve now read a bit more of the book, and the early hints at giddy celebration of finance capitalism have grown even more explicit. It’s almost quaint today to read passages such as the following, celebrating the scientific overcoming of risk by the managerial wizards who invented arcane derivatives: “The fantastic sums of money hauled in by the sophisticated traders transformed the culture on Wall Street, and made quantitative analysis, as opposed to gut feel, the respectable way to go about making bets in the market. The chief economic consequence of the creation of derivative securities was to price risk more accurately, and distribute it more efficiently, than ever before in the long, risk-obsessed history of financial man” (p. 130) That old “fat scout” sounds better and better with each page I read….]

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On Being Married to Ron Gardenhire

Posted in baseball,Minnesota Twins by bourdaghs on the September 18th, 2010

It’s been nine years now since we Minnesota Twins’ fans pledged devotion to our manager, Ron Gardenhire: nine years of happiness and bliss, including five divisional championships, with one more in the oven. He certainly brings home the bacon, and on top of that he’s good with the children–not too strict, not too lenient.

In other words, we shouldn’t complain. We love him dearly. And yet, and yet…. He has these annoying little habits that drive us crazy. There’s the thing about batting Delmon Young seventh, for example. Even though Delmon is currently the second best hitter on the team (with Justin Morneau sidelined indefinitely), Gardy won’t move him up in the line up. God only knows why. It just drives us crazy.

Then there’s the thing about not reshuffling the batting order when he rests a regular player. Orlando Hudson, our second baseman, bats second. When Hudson sits for a game and Gardy puts in one of our hitless-wonder bench players, any sane man would rearrange the order and move someone other than the second basemen into that crucial number two slot. Not Gardy, though….

Don’t get us started about the way Gardy uses Nick Punto: we love Gardy dearly, but his friends sometimes drive us nuts.

I’ve been to two Twins’ games the past month. I was at Target Field in Minneapolis on Sunday, August 15, and saw Kevin Slowey throw a no-hitter through seven innings. Whereupon Gardy benches him. Now, I know this was the rational thing to do: Slowey has had arm trouble this year and had already thrown over 100 pitches: there was no way he was going to complete the game and the no-hitter. But I admit it: I booed Gardy when he pulled Slower, and I booed some more when Jon Rauch came in as a reliever and promptly gave up two hits. And then when they showed video of Gardy making a public service announcement on the scoreboard after the eighth inning, I booed some more.

I know my reaction wasn’t very rational or even very smart. But all the little things add up. The pressure builds and builds and suddenly one day you find yourself booing your own manager in the middle of a game the Twins are winning.

I was at U.S. Cellular Field this past Wednesday night to watch our boys clobber the White Sox, 9-3. It was the middle game of a three-game series that the Twins swept, basically sealing their sixth divisional championship under Gardy. It was a lovely game, with a Joe Mauer home run and Brian Duensing once again pitching well. I was happy.

But there were the little things Gardy did that got under my skin. Like, why didn’t he put in a pinch runner when Jim Thome singled in the top of the sixth? Two batters later, Danny Valencia doubled and a younger man would have scurried home, but Big Jim trotted into third and stayed put. And why didn’t Gardy put in a defensive replacement for Delmon Young in the late innings, when the game was already in hand? Young booted a fly ball by Alexei Ramirez in the bottom of the seventh that the official scorekeeper charitably called a triple. If Ben Revere had been out there instead of Young, it might have been an out, and it certainly would not have been anything more than a single.

2010 very much looks to be the Twins’ year, and I expect great things in the playoffs. Which is to say, I think we might even be able to get past the Yankees this year. I’ll be so happy for Gardy when that happens. He’s done an extraordinary job this year, guiding the team to a lopsided division lead without its relief ace (Joe Nathan) all year, and without its top power hitter (Morneau) for the second half. I love the man dearly. But all those annoying little habits of his! Sometimes, it just drives you crazy.

[Postscript 9/19/2010: The great baseball writer Joe Posnanski gives his take on Gardy.)

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This and That

Posted in baseball,Classical,Music by bourdaghs on the July 14th, 2010

It must be summer, cuz you’re never around (a good line stolen from the Fountains of Wayne). But I protest: I really am around. You just wouldn’t know it from the paucity of blog updates lately. I’m juggling a large number of rather rather bulky and wobbly projects these days.

I did manage to catch some of the baseball All Star Game last night. When I heard the news yesterday morning about former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, I had to smile at the timing. Back in his heyday in the 1970s and 80s, if the Yankees didn’t make it to the World Series in a particular year Steinbrenner would always pull some stunt right in the middle of the series (fire his manager, berate his team captain, whatever) to steal the headlines away from the teams still playing for the championship. So of course the man would pass away on the day of the All Star Game, assuring that all the coverage would focus not on the mid-season classic, but on the Boss.

Yankees’ fans clearly held the man in great affection. As a Twins’ fan and therefore a congenital Yankees’ hater, I generally despised him and everything he stood for as a baseball owner. But as several tributes I’ve read point out, wouldn’t it have been great to have a Twins’ owner as committed to winning as Steinbrenner was with the Yankees? Anyhow, I imagine he is up in heaven now (or, given the Damn Yankees thematic here, down there below), trying to rehire Billy Martin.

The very odd Nagoya sumo tournament got underway Sunday. Something like a quarter of the wrestlers in the top two divisions are suspended or banned due to the gambling/yakuza scandals, and NHK has gotten all holy about this and is refusing to televise the bouts live. Yokozuna Hakuho will no doubt take the title, as usual–on Tuesday he broke his own personal record of 32 consecutive wins. But with so many of the usual faces sitting this one out, the tournament should generate some unusual results. For starters, it’s a terrific opportunity for lower ranked wrestlers to leapfrog up the rankings.

Other than that, what have we been up to? Last Saturday night, we headed downtown to catch the Grant Park Orchestra play a free concert in Millenium Park under the energetic baton of female conductor Xian Zhang. We liked the program very much, as did Tribune critic John von Rhein and Sun-Times critic Andrew Patner. They played a piece by the contemporary composer Chen Yi, Prokofiev’s “Suite from Love for Three Oranges,” and Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 in D Major. Didn’t mind the raindrops or the firetruck sirens hardly at all. It must be summer.

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Baseball in the Heat and the Rain

Posted in baseball,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the July 7th, 2010

It started raining last night just as we headed out to the car. The weather forecasters had been falsely promising thunderstorms for several days until I stopped believing them, but for once they were right. By the time we reached the parking lot at New Comiskey Park (I continue my personal boycott of the corporate name for the ballpark here on the South Side), it had mutated into a full-blown cloudburst. We tried waiting it out in the car, hoping it would blow over. After twenty minutes it did, allowing us to we make our way to the stadium and our unexpectedly fine seats–36th row behind home plate. We were even tucked safely under the second-deck overhang, an architectural umbrella against any additional precipitation. Not bad for an impulse purchase made on the Sox’ webpage the night before….

The rains came back, delaying the start by nearly two hours. First pitch, scheduled for 7:10, wouldn’t take place until 8:51. But I didn’t mind much: I love just sitting in a ballpark, and the crowd was mostly in a jovial mood. It was Polish-American Culture Night on the South Side, and a local folk dance company entertained us on the big screen as rain continued to fall. Through the marvels of cell phone technology, our 14-year-old located a classmate sitting two sections over. It continued to be hot and steamy: the rains didn’t pack enough fury to knock the humidity out of the air, but rather added to it. As you’ve probably heard, it’s been a little hot in the northern U.S. the last few days….

As usual with baseball, the little quirks are what stand out in memory: watching the grounds crew before the game deal with the infield tarp, which had ponded over with several inches of water in places, for example. Or seeing Polish-American former Yankee star Bill “Moose” Scowron (and his tiny tow-headed granddaughter) throw out the ceremonial first pitch. They showed the Twins-Blue Jays game on the big screen through the rain delay, and I had to check my natural instinct to cheer when Minnesota scored (everyone around me booed, of course).

When the baseball finally got underway, Jake Peavy pitched for the Sox against Jered Weaver for the LA Angels. Our youngest is an Angels fan, so to bug her I started cheering for the White Sox (as a born Minnesota Twins fan, this took some effort). The Sox started the scoring early: Juan Pierre led off the bottom of the first with a double, stole third, and then trotted home on an Alex Rios sacrifice fly.

In the top of the 2nd, in the middle of Mike Napoli’s at-bat, Peavy started walking toward the White Sox dugout immediately after releasing a pitch. He stopped at the foul line, turned back toward the pitchers mound, but then halted again. Something was wrong. Manager Ozzie Guillen came out to check on him, and quickly Peavy resumed walking toward the dugout. They announced several innings later that he had strained a muscle in his back.

Tony Pena took over pitching duties for the home team. We enjoyed seeing Torii Hunter, one of our favorites since his Minnesota Twins days, hit three singles, the first two barely leaving the infield. It felt odd to watch Matsui Hideki wear a Los Angeles uniform: in my mental geography, he will always belong to the Yankees.

We stayed long enough to see Rios blast a home run to left field in the bottom of the sixth, giving Chicago a 2-1 lead. As always, they lit off fireworks behind the scoreboard in center to celebrate the homer. By then it was after 10:30 p.m. and our youngest had summer school in the morning, so we headed for the parking lot. We listened on the radio as Andruw Jones hit his 399th career home run in the seventh, giving the Sox a 4-1 lead. The drive back to Hyde Park took exactly one inning, and I watched the eight and ninth on television in the comfort of our air-conditioned family room. Chicago won, 4-1.

I have tickets to see the Phillys and Cubs at Wrigley a week from Friday. No more rain, please. And, as long as I’m putting in my weather requests, is a nice Canadian cold front too much to ask for?

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This and That

Posted in baseball,Current Events,Music by bourdaghs on the June 5th, 2010

It won’t last for long, which is all the more reason to commemorate the occasion here: as of this morning, I have moved into first place in the “Critical Asian Studies” fantasy baseball league. It’s a nice little ending for what’s been mostly a chaotic week.

Sad news from Los Angeles re the passing of legendary basketball coach John Wooden. One of the pleasures of teaching at UCLA in the late 1990s and early 2000s was that every once in a while you would walk past the great man on campus, still quite spry in his 90s. “Don’t give up on your dreams,” he once said, “or your dreams will give up on you.”

Kan Naoto, the new Prime Minister of Japan, was actually our local Diet representative when we lived in Fuchu-shi in western Tokyo from 2005-2007. We used to see posters of his face all around the neighborhood at election times. And now I live just a few blocks from the residence of the current President of the U.S. Apparently, I am fated to haunt the neighborhoods of power….

Finally, here’s a lovely new feature on one of the last Kinks’ music videos, “Lost and Found” (1987). A rarely seen clip based largely on Ray Davies’ cinemaphilia, it takes up a lovely, melancholic tune, and the folks at the Kast Off Kinks website have tracked down several people involved in filming the video. Be sure to check out the video and the interviews there, but for now let me leave you with another video of the Kinks ‘performing’ the song ‘live’ in a late 1980s television appearance:

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A Week in the Life….of Somebody

Posted in Art,baseball,Dance,Music,Putting One Foot in Front of the Other by bourdaghs on the May 6th, 2010

I have a powerful sense today that I am returning now to my own life after a considerable absence. For at least the past week, I have seemingly been living the life of someone else — someone with similar tastes and close connections to me, but someone operating on a different calendar, ruled by different forces. And, obviously, someone who doesn’t update their blog very much. On the whole, it wasn’t a bad week, though a bit on the hectic side. I’m glad to find myself back in my own shoes again today.

Let me trace it back to a week ago tonight. I (or whomever it was) caught the Ike Reilly Assassination in concert at Lincoln Hall. Shooter Jennings (Waylon’s boy) opened with a surprising paranoid set of Southern-fried prog-rock-country, and then Ike and his band took the stage. His parents were in the house, he announced, and it was all in all a fine show. Shooter came on stage to perform the wonderful duet, “The War on the Terror and the Drugs,” included on Ike’s most recent album. If you haven’t heard it yet, stop whatever it is you are doing immediately and click on the following video:

The next day was my anniversary, and we celebrated by watching our daughter play Lucy in a middle-school production of “Snoopy! The Musical.” Our offspring performed wonderfully well, and the show itself is great fun, including complex ensemble songs like “Edgar Allan Poe” (see video from another production below) and “Clouds.”

On Saturday afternoon, I was at the Joffrey Ballet, taking in “Eclectica,” their spring program: Gerald Arpino’s 1971 piece, Reflections, plus two world premieres: Jessica Lang’s pretty awesome Crossed , a meditation on religion and spirituality in which the dancers duck around large moving stage sets, and James Kudelka’s Pretty BALLET, also quite striking. One reviewer calls it “the most intellectually engaging Joffrey program in recent memory.” Call me engaged.

I then jumped into the car and drove to Sparta, Wisconsin, where I spent the night in a dive motel that shall remain nameless. Only the sheets have been changed to protect the innocent. The next morning, I drove up the Mississippi River to Stockholm, Wisconsin, to pick up some of my mother’s paintings for a new retrospective exhibition. I’d forgotten how pretty that part of the country is. I spent the rest of the day tracking down more paintings for the show across central Minnesota — Edina, St. Paul, North Branch.

Monday morning I helped set up the exhibit in the Art Gallery at Lakeview Hospital in Stillwater, Minnesota–where my mother, my sister, and I were all born. It’s a wonderful collection of 14 of my mother’s best works, many of which haven’t been shown publicly for years. It will be open through June 29, and there are new prints and cards of my mother’s paintings for sale in the hospital gift shop. Details on hours and how to get there can be found here.

Monday evening found me at Target Field, the new home of the Minnesota Twins. While ingesting far too much animal protein, I watched my favorite baseball team clobber the Detroit Tigers. Wilson Ramos, the Twins’ fine young catching prospect, got three hits in his second Major League game, this after he collected four the night before in his debut, thereby setting a new rookie record and sending Twins’ fans into a mild frenzy. It’s a fine new ballpark, too, with many thoughtful details, inside and out. I didn’t mind the raindrops that fell intermittently through the evening, not one bit.

Tuesday, I drove back to Chicago, picking up along the way our oldest from his dorm to haul him home for summer vacation after his freshman year at college. Then yesterday I helped host the great historian Harry Harootunian for a couple of very stimulating talks here at the University of Chicago. The day ended at a restaurant in Chinatown, with good food and lively talk with our visitor and several colleagues.

After all that, I woke up this morning and looked in the mirror, and it was me again. Welcome back, and don’t forget to turn off the lights when you leave again.

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