Annie Lennox’s “Nostalgia” Proves It’s Never As Good As the First Time

You can’t fault Annie Lennox if she gives the impression Nostalgia is her first swipe at a “serious” jazz record.   It’s an album of jazz standards and its released by Blue Note records.   Back in the 90’s she entered the scene as the gender-bending vocalist of the Eurythmics turning out perfect synth pop. Lennox turned 60 this year and along with her closely cropped grey hair, she displays the full maturity of a veteran artist.

However, the results here are bit muddled with peaks and valleys along the musical journey through the well-worn territory of the Great American Songbook, fast becoming the favorite vacation spot for aging rock stars.

In no way, shape, or form is Lennox a jazz singer. That is not to say she can’t sing or has no soul. She can and she does, but in comparison with Nina Simone, Ray Charles or Billie Holiday, she is emphatically not a jazz singer.   In fairness it’s a heavy lift for anyone to be compared favorably to a trio like Simone, Charles and Holiday and while Lennox gamely tries, she all too often face plants when she tackles material she clearly has no feel for.

Things start promisingly enough as Lennox turns in a credible performance on “Memphis In June,” previously popularized by Simone. Seek out her version and contrast if with Lennox and the differences are dramatically stark. Whether the world really needed another take on “Georgia On My Mind” is subject to debate, but what isn’t is Sweet Baby Ray’s has nothing to fear from Lennox’s stab at it (neither does Willie Nelson).

Where the album stumbles badly are on the fourth and sixth tracks, “Summertime” and “Strange Fruit.” The former is stripped down to a stark piano-and-vocal dirge with Lennox carefully enunciating every word as she strives to be poignant, but merely comes off as stiff.

“Strange Fruit” is a hot mess. Lennox comes off as utterly clueless and as a dabbling dilettante. By most objective standards Lennox is a technically superior vocalist to Holiday with a pretty voice, but “Strange Fruit” is not a pretty song and it does not need pretty vocalizing to get its bleak point across. Holiday presented “Strange Fruit” as a damning indictment of Jim Crow lynch law, but Lady Day‘s scathing indictment of Southern racism is absent from Lennox’s sanitized and bloodless interpretation and the completeness of the failure nearly sinks Nostalgia.  A singer must choose material which suits them and an English White woman attempting to a song about the lynching of Black folks in the South is completely unsuitable for her.

Lennox takes another shot at a Holiday with “God Bless the Child” which isn’t terrible, but its nothing special either. Memo to Annie Lennox: You are a great singer, but you do not “get” Billie Holiday. After the double Lady Day debacle Nostalgia gets a lift from three short songs. “You Belong To Me” has been covered by artists as diverse as Patti Page, Bing Crosby, Homer and Jethro, Rosemary Clooney, Ringo Starr and Michael Buble and Lennox gets back on track with a tune which plays to her strengths of perfect phrasing accompanied by a stylish presentation. “September In the Rain,” “I Can Dream, Can’t I?” and “The Nearness of You” are all well within Lennox’s comfort zone.

The purest “jazz” moment should be the closer, “Mood Indigo” but it’s spoiled by a silly middle and end section where Lennox starts freestyling and the band starts goofing around, so its left to John Green and Edward Heyman’s “I Cover the Waterfront” to give Nostalgia, previously covered by Sarah Vaughn, John Lee Hooker and (surprise!) Billie Holiday, what little jazz credibility it has.

As more and more pop artists turn to the Great American Songbook, some have hit and others have whiffed. Nostalgia hit with landing at Number One on Billboard’s Jazz Albums and as of this writing holding steady at #3. Lennox told Billboard, “I was drawn towards exploring and recording in the classic jazz genres interpreting 12 songs from the legendary American songbook —the fact that many of the compositions were written almost eighty years ago stands as testimony to the caliber of their legacy.”

Lennox’s sentiment’s are doubtlessly sincere, but unfortunately Nostalgia falls short of delivering an auspicious homage to that legacy.  I’m wary when the Great American Songbook is raided by older pop artists looking for a quick and easy fix to the musical doldrums. Rod Stewart has cashed in on this for a while now.   I hate to think Lennox followed suit, but it sure sounds like it.

Great singer, but not a great jazz singer.

 

Track Listing: Memphis In June, Georgia On My Mind, I Put A Spell On You, Summertime, I Cover the Waterfront, Strange Fruit, God Bless the Child, You Belong To Me, September In the Rain, I Can Dream, Can’t I?, The Nearness of You, Mood Indigo

Personnel: Annie Lennox: vocals, piano, fender rhodes, flute, percussion; Mike Stevens: guitar, Hammond organ, accordion, harmonica, vibraphone, keyboards, programming; Neal Wilkerson: drums; Chris Hill: double bass, bass guitar; Nichol Thomson: trombone; Simon Finch: trumpet; Richard Brook: percussion; Stephen Hussey: violin, viola, orchestration; Ivan Hussey: cello

Record Label: Blue Note Records

The King You Didn’t Know Is the King You Need To Know

Another Martin Luther King Day has come and gone.  Maybe you observed it by attending a King Day observance or you checked out Selma (which I did, but that’s for another time).  Maybe it was just an excuse not to go to work and you spent the day not even remotely thinking about Dr. King or his legacy.

Maybe you just can’t stand hearing “I Have A Dream” even one more time.  If so, you can’t be blamed if King’s Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence speech missed you.  It missed most Americans when MLK gave it on April 4, 1967.  Exactly one year later King was dead, slain by an American sniper named James Earl Ray for reasons and motivations which remained murky.

The speech is important because it was so different from the speeches King had given before.  This King was angrier and less hopeful  He was not the warm and fuzzy Santa Claus of race relations he’d been made out to be.   This King distressed at the direction American was going and he despaired seeing it debased by the immorality of the Vietnam War.   This speech wasn’t filled with the comforting words of the humble Baptist preacher nor is the bluntness of  the language the kind politicians feel safe invoking now.

This is not the Dreamer.   The Dream ran headlong into the nightmare of Vietnam and it sickened him.  That man has his time and place.

This is another Martin Luther King,  Raw.  Radical.  Straight, No Chaser.

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

American Sniper Victim

American Sniper Victim

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say: “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into veins of people normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.

We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The “tide in the affairs of men” does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: “Too late.” There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. “The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on…” We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.

And if we will only make the right choice, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace. If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when “justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

The Oscars Grew Tired of Us.

Academy Awards to Ava DuVernay: “Love your movie. You, not so much.”

It’s not so much I’m mad about Selma and its directory Ava DuVernay being screwed over by the Academy Awards, because I haven’t seen Selma yet and I thinking I’d get around to it in my own good time but since Selma and DuVernay were snubbed now it’s a holy mission.

There’s a certain irony Martin Luther King fought a strategic battle in Selma, Alabama against racial discrimination and 50 years later along comes a woman who makes a movie about the battle ends up facing racial discrimination all over again.

Columnists, bloggers and social media blew up with a collective Now this is some bullshit when the Academy Awards nominations were announced and Selma was limited to one category it won’t win (Best Picture) and another nobody cares about (Best Song).   New York film critic David Edelstein summed up how Selma got screwed, “I tend to think that the Academy collectively thought it had discharged its duty to the African-American experience with 12 Years a Slave. How else, in a year in which black people confronted inequality with greater urgency than any time in the last 50 years, can you account for the omission? You say it wasn’t a very good movie? You’re wrong. Selma has scale and depth. Ava DuVernay was robbed.”

Martin Luther King leaning on a lectern. Deuts...

Too black, too strong to be honored by the Academy

Here’s a plausible reason for the exclusion and  it’s right there in the title of an 2014 article in The Atlantic:Oscar Voters: 94% White, 76% Men, and an Average of 63 Years Old.” Blacks make up only two percent of the Academy Awards voters and to drive the point home of how White the folks are who decide who goes home with the little gold man, if they were a state, Oscar Voters would be the eighth Whitest state in America.

Well. Damn.

How embarrassing it must be for Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the first Black president of the Academy of Motion Pictures to be the diversity hire thrust in the spotlight and have to represent, but represent she did.   Or at least she tried as Boone Isaacs looked to score a few brownie points,  “In the last two years, we’ve made greater strides than we ever have in the past toward becoming a more diverse and inclusive organization through admitting new members and more inclusive classes of members. And, personally, I would love to see and look forward to see a greater cultural diversity among all our nominees in all of our categories, “

The sad thing is Boone Isaacs knows what she said is a steaming load, but she has to say it anyway.  The old White guys who hired her in the first place exactly for a bit of cover provided by the a Black face in a formerly all-White place.  Let’s cut the crap.  Cultural diversity was the big hit of 2014 with all that 12 Years A Slave stuff.   Throwing an Oscar, if not jobs at Lupita Nyong’o gave all those good liberals a warm, fuzzy feeling especially when Brad Pitt showed up to free the slaves,  but there’s no time to linger on faded glories.  Hollywood is getting back to doing what it does best:  Celebrating White men making movies about White men doing White men stuff.

We gave you people a holiday. You want Oscars too?

Being blown off by withered old bastards of the Academy is nothing new for someone like Spike Lee, no stranger to Oscar snubs for both Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X had some explicit advice for DuVernay about being passed over by the bosses,  “…That doesn’t diminish the film. Nobody’s talking about motherfuckin’ Driving Miss Daisy. That film is not being taught in film schools all across the world like Do the Right Thing is. Nobody’s discussing Driving Miss Motherfuckin’ Daisy. So if I saw Ava today I’d say, ‘You know what? Fuck ’em. You made a very good film, so feel good about that and start working on the next one.”

“Anyone who thinks this year was gonna be like last year is retarded,” said Lee. “There were a lot of black folks up there with 12 Years a Slave, Steve [McQueen], Lupita [Nyong’o], Pharrell. It’s in cycles of every 10 years. Once every 10 years or so I get calls from journalists about how people are finally accepting black films. Before last year, it was the year [in 2002] with Halle Berry, Denzel [Washington], and Sidney Poitier. It’s a 10-year cycle. So I don’t start doing backflips when it happens.”

You can’t go to awards like the Oscars or the Grammys for validation. The validation is if your work still stands 25 years later.’”

Absolutely motherfuckin’ right, Spike.

It’s possible Selma marches to a Best Picture victory even with DuVernay denied a shot at Best Director and David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, Jr. passed over as Best Actor, but it’s obvious the fix is in. How can a movie be nominated and win as Best Picture of the Year but the director, screenwriter and none of the actors aren’t? Does that mean the movie was great but everybody who made it sucked?

I have nothing against Boyhood,  The Imitation Game, Birdman or any of the other nominees for the Picture of the Year, but I don’t have anything for them.  Every movie is not for everyone and this movie  tells a story about people who look like me and not the Academy membership.    DuVernay probably pissed off some movers and shakers in Tinseltown when she dismissed  the film’s critics who griped she didn’t give President Lyndon Johnson enough credit by clarifying,  “I wasn’t interested in making a white-savior movie.”

“Oh yeah?  Then we’re not interested in giving you an Oscar, so there!”

King deserves his praise.  A lot of folks believe Selma does too, but the voters of the Academy doesn’t have anything for them either.

A man who knows something about getting spiked.

One, We’re Done! Cowboys Choke (Again!)

The Cowgirls aren’t’ America’s team. America loves WINNERS!

Live by the lucky call.  Die by the unlucky call.

A week after benefiting from one of the worst blown calls in the history of the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys traveled to the not-quite-frozen, but pretty torn-up tundra of Lambeau Field to take on a noticeably hobbled Aaron Rogers and the Green Bay Packers.   This time Tony Romo didn’t throw the big interception at the worst time.   In fact, he threw a high one for loudmouthed but undeniably talented receiver Dez Bryant to go up…up…UP for and seemingly pull down over a flailing Packer defender to put Dallas on the one-yard line to put them in position to score the go-ahead TD.

That’s how it was supposed to play out.  What happened was Green Bay’s coach threw the challenge flag and the referee overturned the call.  Bryant didn’t have possession of the ball all the way to the ground.  Bad call?  So sad, too bad.  Ask The Detroit Lions what it feels like to get screwed by the zebras without lube.

Shed no tears for the Dallas Cowboys.  Actually, if you’re a fan,  you can shed all the tears as you want.  Me, I’m laughing my ass off because nothing is more fun in pro football than seeing Jerry’s Kids sent to the showers.  As a 49ers fan in the unfamiliar position of having nobody to root for in the playoffs, I’ll take pleasure in rooting against America’s  Republican Team.

He's fallen and he can't get up.

He’s fallen and he can’t get up.

It’s a good thing for the NFL the Cowboys are finally worth hating again.   It was getting old kicking around Jerry’s Kids when they were stinking like piss-soaked winos lying in the gutter.   It’s fun to hate the Cowgirls now they have finally returned to respectability.   All the sometime-fans pull their Dallas gear out of the back of the closet, squeeze into in and start screaming, “How ’bout them Cowboys?”

So what about them Cowgirls?

Bashing Jones as a swaggering douche is easy because he provides so many reasons to boo and hiss him.   Head coach Jason Garrett always has the confused look of a guy who can’t remember if he flushed the toilet after a particularly foul dump.   But Romo is the easiest target to take down.  In a decade as quarterback Romo has amassed an unimpressive 3-5 record in the playoffs with no Super Bowl appearances.   Romo is paid like an  elite quarterback without ever producing elite results , but I’m cool with it because Jerry Jones blowing his dough on a second-rater like Romo sits well with me because my two favorite teams are always the 49ers and whoever beats Dallas’ ass.

I’m like to say I’m sorry but I’m really not sorry at all for Jerry’s Kids..  Jones can go get some more Botox because there’s a few muscles in his face which aren’t completely frozen yet.  Drop Bryant back off at the daycare.   Garrett is a free agent who can go anywhere anyone wants to offer him a job.  Nobody will, so he’ll be back and the sucking will continue.   The biggest loser is Chris “Kool-Aid Man” Christie who came out as a Cowgirls guy (figures!) who may have had lap band surgery, but that dramatic weight loss hasn’t dramatically kicked in quite yet.

Am I bitter my 49ers didn’t make the playoffs, but the Cowgirls did?  Sure.  I’m not above being petty.  I have no shame in finding pleasure in the miseries visited upon Jones, Romo, Bryant, Garrett, Christie and the entire Cowgirl Nation.

I know I suck. I’ve ALWAYS sucked!

The fall of America’s Republican Team augers well for the NFL.   The worst case scenario would have been a Patriots vs. Cowboys Super Bowl (otherwise known as Hitler vs. Satan).   Half of our national nightmare has been averted.   If the Cowgirls return to the Super Bowl the terrorists win and who wants that?

Buh-bye!

Stuart Scott: Guts. Grace. Cool.

Here’s my personal Stuart Scott story.  I was attending a journalism convention and hustling from one part of the host hotel to another to meet some friends at a party.  I saw Scott standing outside of a hall where ESPN was hosting an invitation-only gig.  I stepped to him, introduced myself and we exchanged “hellos.”  I was surprised by how short, but fit he was.

When he died Sunday, Scott was only 49, Scott fought a long, hard fight against cancer, but he never lost the fight.  He simply ran out of time.

Stuart Scott brought something to ESPN and SportsCenter there wasn’t much of when he got there: soul.

The average score-reader can pronounce the right words and read the script and tell you who won and won lost. Scott brought realness, flavor and some street style swagger to his presentation and that made him my favorite anchor on ESPN.

It’s not surprising Scott’s approach rubbed some the wrong way who didn’t dig what he was doing. That’s okay. Innovators always attract plenty of critics who don’t get it as well as fans who do and Scott was an innovator. He wasn’t just another diversity hire delivering the details in the same old way  all the old White guys had already done it before .  Scott was young, stylish, was up with the current slang and down for not pretending to be something he wasn’t.  Scott was more Authentically Black than any other anchor on ESPN ever had been before and he did so while crossing over to enjoy mainstream acceptance.

Scott was funny, smart and pulled off the delicate trick of keeping it real without selling out, which is why he got love today from across the spectrum:

Michael Jordan:  I’m so sad to hear the news that Stuart has passed away. He was truly a trailblazer in his field, and by refusing to change his style, made himself into a star. I always enjoyed sitting down to talk to him. But to me, he wasn’t just a broadcaster, he was an old friend, who I’d known since college. He fought so hard against cancer and I hoped he’d win the battle. I send my sincerest condolences to his daughters, Taelor and Sydni, and his family and friends. Boo-yah, brother.

LeBron James: Can’t believe you’re gone from us! I am deeply saddened because not only will not be replaced as an anchor or reporter but more than that as a genuine cool person. What u did for our culture, bringing that Swag to reporting can only be copied(which I hear it today on tv watching sports). I would say not because they stealing your swag, it’s all out of RESPECT! It was always a breath of fresh fun air when u would show up and we’d chat up. Thank you so much for being u and giving us inner city kids someone we could relate to that wasn’t a player but was close enough to them.#RIPStuartScott #FuqCancer#GoneButSurelyNotForgotten

Tiger Woods: Stuart wasn’t covering heroes & champions, it was the other way around. Thinking of my friend & his daughters.

Samuel L. Jackson: “I had a lot of laughs with Stuart Scott & he was truly one of the Good Guys, beginning to end. RIP on da cool side of the pillow!!”

Danica Patrick: “Mornings like this remind me of how short life can be. Carpe diem and love like there is no tomorrow. Stuart Scott, you will me missed.”

President Obama: “I will miss Stuart Scott. Twenty years ago, Stu helped usher in a new way to talk about our favorite teams and the day’s best plays. For much of those twenty years, public service and campaigns have kept me from my family – but wherever I went, I could flip on the TV and Stu and his colleagues on SportsCenter were there. Over the years, he entertained us, and in the end, he inspired us – with courage and love. Michelle and I offer our thoughts and prayers to his family, friends, and colleagues.”“I will miss Stuart Scott. Twenty years ago, Stu helped usher in a new way to talk about our favorite teams and the day’s best plays. For much of those twenty years, public service and campaigns have kept me from my family – but wherever I went, I could flip on the TV and Stu and his colleagues on SportsCenter were there. Over the years, he entertained us, and in the end, he inspired us – with courage and love. Michelle and I offer our thoughts and prayers to his family, friends, and colleagues.”

R.I.P. Stuart Scott. You lived like a champ and you fought like a boss. Cooler than the other side of the pillow.

Boo-yah!

Don’t give up the fight. Scott never did.

The NYPD Has A Victim Mentality

The New York Police Department is the nation’s largest and the most pissed off at their boss, Mayor Bill De Blasio.  Following the killing of two cops by an assassin as they sat in their car,  the police and their unions  lashed out against De Blasio blaming him for creating a hostile environment placing their lives at risk.  I get it the cops are angry at the mayor. What I don’t get is how with that anger, how the police can expect respect when they don’t show any?

De Blasio requested the protests to suspend so that the funerals would not be politicized. The police union should have done likewise. All protests aren’t nearly the same thing. Most protests have a point. This was a public tantrum by the cops as much as any sort of “protest.”   There’s a right time and right place for everything.  In this time and this place where contemptuous cops who exploited the funeral of Officer Ramos to turn their backs and show their asses wasn’t it.

This whole “it’s a cop thing and you wouldn’t understand” thing is a crock. Cops have the same rights as anybody else. They can protest to their little hearts content and when they do they can be called out on it.

Same. As. Anyone. Else.

Officer Ramos wasn’t even in the fucking ground before the cops decided to try to show up the mayor. De Blasio showed more respect and class for the slain officers than his supposed brothers in blue did by pulling the kind of stunt had Rev. Sharpton done it he would be roundly condemned for.

It might be relevant to go back to what was actually said by De Blasio that so royally pissed off the police unions. The flash point seems to have been the comments made by the mayor in the wake of the Eric Garner decision about “the talk” and his wife, Chirlane have had with his 17-year-old son, Dante on how to deal with encounters with the police.

 

This is profoundly personal to me. I was at the White House the other day, and the president of the United States turned to me, and he met Dante a few months ago, and he said that Dante reminded him of what he looked like as a teenager. And he said I know you see this crisis through a very personal lens. And I said to him, I did.

Because Chirlane and I have had to talk to Dante for years about the dangers that he may face. A good young man, law-abiding young man who would never think to do anything wrong. And yet, because of a history that still hangs over us, the dangers he may face, we’ve had to literally train him—as families have all over this city for decades—in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him.

And that painful sense of contradiction that our young people see first, that our police are here to protect us, and we honor that, and at the same time, there’s a history we have to overcome, because for so many of our young people, there’s a fear. And for so many of our families, there’s a fear.

So I’ve had to worry over the years. Chirlane’s had to worry. Is Dante safe each night? There are so many families in this city who feel that each and every night. Is my child safe? And not just from some of the painful realities—crime and violence in some of our neighborhoods—but is safe from the very people they want to have faith in as their protectors.

That’s the reality.

That’s outrageous!  How dare the mayor suggest even his son’s life is at risk?

The impression Bill de Blasio was trying to make is his son will be seen first as a Black male and that precludes all other considerations.  The impression Dante de Blasio should be aware of is Blacks are stopped, searched, arrested and imprisoned at rates higher than other races.  Dante should know the incarceration rate for Blacks is six times higher than the national average.

English: NYPD Dodge Charger #2909 in midtown M...

Cops under siege or hunkering down into a bunker mentality?

 

However, what Dante should really worry about isn’t so much isn’t simply being stopped and frisked, handcuffed, jailed and sent to prison as it is Black male teens are 21 more times more likely to be shot than a White male teen.  These facts are shrugged off as an unfortunate side effect of Blacks simply committing crimes disproportionate to their numbers in the overall population. Rudy Giuliani on Fox News have referenced this phenomenon and the implication could not be clearer: White cops shoot Black suspects because so many Black suspects are committing crimes.

Where this oversimplification falls apart are the “crimes” committed by Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice or John Crawford were trivial at best or in the case of Akai Gurley, no crime at all was committed

Putting on a badge doesn’t grant any extra rights to the police and pointing it doesn’t make someone a cop hater for doing so. Some defenders of the cops are incapable of distinguishing between criticism and disrespect.

No cop who thinks his authority to kill makes him untouchable, unquestionable and above criticism deserves respect. In fact, they don’t even deserve to be a cop.

The protestors marching in the streets of New York didn’t kill the two officers. Ismaaily Brinsley did that but by latching on Eric Garner’s death as the excuse to commit double-homicide (and nearly triple as he first shot his ex-girlfriend), it provides an opening for anyone looking an opening to discredit the protestors and repudiate the criticism directed at the police to say, “Look what you made happen!”

Such shrill charges are bullshit. The protests aren’t happening in a vacuum. They are in reaction to grotesque acts of police brutality and a justice system which time and again declines to hold officers responsible for it.

In fact, I don’t consider the protests to be “anti-cop.” That’s generalizing. The protests are anti-BAD cop. Citizens unhappy with how they are being served and protected are well within their rights to air their grievances and demand bad cops be held accountable.

Any cop who doesn’t think they should be held accountable has an option: quit! There’s always work for security guards.

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Good Goes Bad, Bad Gets Worse.

"Oakland?  I gotta move to OAKLAND?"  (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

“Oakland? I gotta move to OAKLAND?” (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Tomorrow is the last day of the 2014 NFL season. An elite few will be still be ballin’ hard as they try to make the playoffs. Everybody else is just getting this last meaningless game the hell out of the way, try not to get hurt (though some guys may try to hurt somebody else if only to take out their frustrations) and then clean out their lockers.

“What will happen, will happen,” Harbaugh told reporters when asked about his future coaching plans, “What will not happen, won’t happen.”

What will not happen is another season with James Harbaugh freaking out on the sidelines as the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

Four years ago, Harbaugh was The Man, the chosen One who would lead the 49ers out of the poverty of the Dennis Erickson/Mike Nolan/Mike Singletary years back to the Bill Walsh Super Bowl riches.  Didn’t turn out that way.   The history of how the good times turned bad have been detailed by reporter Tim Kawakami but suffice it to say, it’s not really a shock the 49ers and Harbaugh are about to break up badly.

To be a 49ers fan is to be shooting for the future while simultaneously shackled to the past. It’s not Jim Harbaugh’s fault he isn’t Bill Walsh (or even George Seifert). It’s not Colin Kapernick’s fault he isn’t Joe Montana or Steve Young (but he’s not Jeff Garcia or Alex Smith either).

When Harbaugh packs his bags to return to Michigan and a reported $8 million yearly check, he will be the highest paid coach in college football. This would be a nice pay raise from the $5 million the 49ers are paying him and would bump Harbaugh into the Sean Payton/Pete Carroll/Bill Belichick neighborhood without actually winning a Super Bowl like those guys. To put this in perspective the 32nd lowest paid NFL coach was the already whacked Dennis Allen of the Raiders.   Even a nobody like this was pulling down $3 million, so never feel sorry for a fired NFL coach. They’re all overpaid.

“Aw man! The singer forgot the lyrics of the National Anthem!”

 

 

In his wake the 49ers will either promote one of their defensive coaches, Jim Tomsula or Vic Fangio. If they decide to start fresh, look for the team to seek out an offensive coordinators such as Denver’s Adam Gase or New England’s Josh McDaniels in hopes someone can resurrect the 49ers DOA offense and if he isn’t traded, Kapernick’s career.

There are many reasons for Harbaugh and 49ers front office to part ways. A below .500 season after coming one completed pass from a second Super Bowl berth is an excellent one. Of all the disappointing underachievers in the NFL, nobody is as disappointing and underachieved more than the 2014 49ers.

Despite getting the Niners to the NFC Championship game three consecutive years, they only won it once and went on to lose a heartbreaker against brother John Harbaugh’s Baltimore Ravens. Winners know how to close and Harbaugh never could. He repeatedly came up short in the biggest games. Coupled with an inability to win the arms race with arch-rival Seattle Seahawks, despite the impressive win-loss record, Harbaugh leaves San Francisco better than he found it, but still frustratingly distant from the Gold Standard days of Walsh and Montana.

If owner Jed York and general managerTrent Baalkie wanted to make the fans happen they would order Harbaugh to fire offensive coordinator Greg Roman, make him play out the last year of his contract and put down in writing a promise to make Harbaugh the highest paid coach in the NFL if he could (a) beat the Seahawks and (b) get to and win another NFC championship.

Hello, I must be going.

What Harbaugh wants as much as money is control. He wants to pick his own players, draft his own rookies, sign his own free agents. He wants to pick his own G.M. who will do all those things the way he’s instructed to do them and hammer out the messy and boring contract details. What Harbaugh wants most the 49ers won’t give him which leaves teams like the Raiders and Jets that might happily go along with Coach Khakis can do the kind of renovation job he did with the Niners with these two perennial bottom-feeders.

The failure of the Niners was a team effort.   All-time rushing leader Frank Gore is a free agent who wants to stay put, but at 32 year old and a $6 million salary, he’s not coming back at that price. Anquan Bolden is 34 and Kapernick’s most reliable receiver and that’s a worrisome combination. Ray McDonald has already been whacked for his off the field problem and Aldon Smith is probably right behind him. Justin Smith is thinking retirement, Vernon Davis has vanished from the gameplan and former first rounder Michael Crabtree is too slow to stretch defenses and too unreliable to be a go-to receiver.

An offensive line full of highly-paid first rounders has become a sieve as Kapernick is the most sacked QB in the league.   Stud linebacker Navorro Bowman was injured in the NFC Championship loss to the Seahawks and never made it back to the field.   The talented troublemaker, Aldon Smith served an eight gamesuspension which sapped the defense’s pass rush capabilities and he may not be back.   Last year the Niners ended the season with one player on injured reserve.   This season the number jumped to 16.    “Next Man Up” is the ruling philosophy in the NFL and the 49ers are about to apply it to a winning, but difficult head coach.

“He’s my best coach. I didn’t enjoy here until we started winning. Since he’s been here, I’ve been winning.” That what Gore said about Harbaugh.  Crabtree added, “He’s one of my favorite coaches I’ve ever played for… He’s a player’s coach. He’s just a good dude. Everyone has their own opinion, but he’s been a good dude to me. And this team.”

Yet Harbaugh came up short on discipline as time and again a Niners player would show up on a police blotter.  Instead of cutting the bad actors loose, Harbaugh and Baaike would make excuses and extend second, third and fourth chances.  There isn’t space to list all the Niners who posed for mug shots during Harbaugh’s tenure,  but the handling of defensive end Ray McDonald is a signature moment of this whole shitty season.  McDonald was investigated by the police for striking his pregnant girlfriend but not charged.  Instead of suspending him the 49ers allowed McDonald to keep playing.   After sliding by for beating up a pregnant woman, McDonald rewarded the team’s trust by his name popping up in a sexual assault.  That was a bridge too far even for the lenient and lax 49ers brain trust and they cut McDonald the same day.

The blame for the team’s flame-out will fall primarily on Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman and both will be gone next season and veterans Gore, Crabtree, Mike Iupati, Justin Smith, Ahmad Brooks, Aldon Smith and Vernon Davis all possibly decamping as free agents, salary cuts or retirement.   This will be a drastically changed 49ers team in 2015 and no matter who takes over its hard to see similar success forthcoming.

“Who’s Got It Better Than Us?” was the war cry Harbaugh rallied his players with when the Niners were one of the league’s best teams.   Now they’re not.   The answer to the question has become,  “Lots of other teams not named the San Francisco 49ers.”

Don’t worry for Jim Harbaugh.   He’ll do just fine wherever he lands.   It’s less certain the 49ers will do likewise.

 

Those khakis will be worn somewhere else next season.

 

The Gentle Art of Middle Age Ass-kicking

Smile? I AM smiling.

Of the four seasons there are only two that matter for Hollywood. The summer where the blockbuster behemoths rule the box office and the winter when the bulk of the Oscar bait is released. Between them is spring and fall where everything else that isn’t certain to break the box office or charm the critics gets dumped.

Even among the rubble of these dead zones a quality gem can emerge from the pack. John Wick and The Equalizer are not gems. They are totally serviceable completely forgettable popcorn flicks where aging actors strut their stuff showing they can still kick ass and take no names.

The acting styles of Denzel Washington and Keanu Reeves couldn’t be more different. Washington has won two Academy Awards while Reeves pretty much gives the same performance over and over. Washington has played crooked cops, boxers, detectives, Black icons, soldiers, and nearly always with charm, intelligence and style. Reeves is pretty good at playing slackers and hackers. It isn’t that Reeves can’t act, but never seems to want being caught doing it.

Despite their day-to-night differences in their approach to acting Washington and Reeves have appeared in a movie together in Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing which I’ve never seen because Shakespeare sucks. I have seen The Equalizer and John Wick and I can say without fear of correction or contradiction these are two movies telling the same story.

Both feature two men of action with shadowy pasts shaking off the rust to do what a man gotta do namely killing a lot of  bad guys who need to be dead while shrugging off wounds that would kill a platoon while still being  the one guy who can kill 25 guys without busting a sweat.

Different actors making the same movie.

Different actors making the same movie.

Washington can give bad performances in bad movies like Virtuosity, 2 Guns and John Q but in The Equalizer he gives a lazy one. Mumbling, speaking in a monotone,  barely changing expression as he switches back and forth between two modes: smiling sincerely as a clerk in a Home Depot stand-in into a dead-eyed, thug-torturing sadist. Denzel couldn’t make it clearer he’s picking up a paycheck here, but despite reuniting with Antoine Fuqua from Training Day, Washington just looks bored and after 132 minutes of this trifling, instantly forgettable flick, I totally understand why.     Disposable trash has its place, but it has to know its place.   The Equalizer  would like you to think its a better movie than it is.   It’s not.

Washington turns 60 next week and he’s slowed his roll to one film a year as he makes fewer movies he takes less risks.    The proof is clear in the films that have followed since American Gangster tried for epic scale in 2007, but came up a bit short.   Out of  The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3The Book of Eli, Unstoppable, Safe House, Flight, 2 Guns,  and The Equalizer, there’s some good Denzel, some bad Denzel, some okay and some awful Denzel.   Flight is not a great movie, but was the last time America’s most charismatic actor broke a sweat.  Next up aher remake and this time it’s a Western, The Magnificent Seven.   Can’t you feel the electricity?

It’s funny, but as Washington grows older his acting style moves closer to Reeves.   Wooden and deadpan with stares and glares replacing emotional range or depth.   There’s nothing complex about the characters of Robert McCall and John Wick.  They lock on their mission with single-minded intent and then the killing starts until they run out of faceless thugs to kill.

Washington is one of the rare actors in Hollywood who’s never made a sequel, but that could change as both The Equalizer and 2 Guns set up the possibility for future installments.  That will be good for Denzel’s $20 million paycheck, but can’t we get a follow-up to Devil In A Blue Dress or Inside Man too?

No, we are not musicians. We are actors. At least one of us is.

 

Reeves has no worries about slumming as a middle age action hero roles (he’s 50) or falling off from his heights as an actor.   Reeves isn’t an actor as much as he’s a reactor.  Whether its Speed or The Matrix, something always happens to his characters and Reeves has to respond to whatever it is.   That’s okay by me because even if he isn’t a very good actor, he makes a perfectly acceptable ass-kicker and he kicks major ass as an unstoppable force who isn’t stingy with his bullets.    “Double Tap” should be the name of the next John Wick flick.

Both films have reached the end of their first-run life and are may be lingering in the second run theaters.   For the right price and the popcorn has enough butter, I’d go see either both of them again before last installment of The Hobbit.   Not a lot for a brother to get hyped about unless you’re into swords and a lot of actors in wigs.