Friday, January 15, 2010

I'm Committed...Except That I'm Not

I graduated with a degree in Music Education from the University of Tennessee in 2001. It took me six years to accumulate the classes I needed, especially given that I was undeclared my freshman year. I spent five of those years in the Pride of the Southland Marching Band, played in the pep band for numerous basketball games, and attended lots of other sporting events on campus. I enjoy college sports and love it when my teams do well. I think they're a great way to provide some solidarity among the student body, they give a lot of athletes the financial aid to attend college that they wouldn't otherwise have, and they showcase the university to others around the nation. (Many of my fellow music students were/are dismissive of the fanaticism of some fans, but I say those people have no reason to complain that football fans don't show up to band concerts.)
With that in mind, I have a few things that I would like to say to some prominent people at my alma mater:
Basketball Coach Bruce Pearl: I love the enthusiasm you have brought to our men's basketball team. I'm glad you're in the Top 10 right now, and I was excited to watch you beat then-No. 1 Kansas on Sunday. I appreciate that you pulled it off even with three guys bench because of a drug-related arrest. It says a lot about what you're teaching your players that you booted a star senior with such an important game coming up. I hope your players learn from this example and don't create any more embarrassing situations. Those of us who lived in Knoxville for several years and never once had a run-in with the police are getting tired of it. Knoxville is actually a nice town, but you'd never know it from the arrest reports that keep showing up on ESPN.

Athletic Director Mike Hamilton: Good job with the Pearl hire. I thought you had another slam-dunk with Kiffin, but why oh why didn't you require a bigger buyout than $800,000 for someone making as much as you paid him? He managed to embarrass himself, the football team, and the school and depart right before signing day, thus ruining several commitments of a then-top-10 recruiting class and giving his successor virtually no time to recover. That is worth a whole lot more than the six-figures you're getting for losing him. Bad form.

Former Football Coach Lane Kiffin: I was shocked when I realized that as much as I despise the antics of Steve Spurrier, you basically did the same things. You insulted other schools, their coaches, their fans, their players, their recruits, you ticked off the NCAA, acted like a real punk. In return, you got great recruits and energized the fans and the team. I wanted to buy into it. Not many coaches can lose to Florida and walk out with a moral victory. Hey, get a better kicker and Alabama doesn't get to play Texas for the championship. I was willing to overlook the complete meltdowns against Ole Miss and Virginia Tech. (I had a South Carolina fan complain to me about your gas station comment. My first thought was, "and how many Pro-Bowl players does South Carolina have in the NFL? Hmmm?" But I digress.) For all that great recruiting, all that energy, all that attention, you bolted from an enthusiastic fan base, a top-10 incoming class, a real shot at the SEC Championship game next year, the biggest stadium in the best conference in the country, a great coaching staff, and headed off to a school that is probably about to get sacked with probation the next two or three years? (Why else would Pete Carroll head off to one of the worst teams in the NFL this close to signing day?) You haven't dissed Tennessee. You dissed the entire Southeastern Conference. For all that talk about enthusiasm and commitment, you bolted at the last minute and left your entire team in the lurch. "Sorry guys, greener pastures! No hard feelingsmmmmkaythanksbye." I hate to admit it, but all those mean things people said about you turned out to be true.

Tennessee Fans: I know you're angry. I am too. But please...setting mattresses on fire ain't making the guy come back. Show some dignity and respect for our school by showing a little class. Ask yourself, what would Peyton do? By the way, since my Titans are out of the playoffs despite a stellar season by RB Chris Johnson....go Colts.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Movie Review: "It Might Get Loud"

Jack White hammers together a contraption on the porch of an old farmhouse in Franklin, Tennessee. It's a wooden board to which he has attached a couple of nails, an empty Coke bottle, and a string that is tied to the nails. He inserts an electric guitar pickup coil under the string, turns on the attached amplifier, plucks the string, which sounds a loud TWANG and White slides a shotglass up and down the string, playing a blues riff. "Who says you need a guitar?"
So begins It Might Get Loud, a 2008 documentary by Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth). This project assembles three of the most innovative guitarists in rock history: White (The White Stripes, The Raconteurs), The Edge (U2), and Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin). Each guitarist talks about how he got his first guitar, how his band(s) started, and his philosophical approach to writing and playing music. All three gather together on a soundstage to talk about the guitar and jam for a bit.
One reason why this project is interesting, besides the collective amount of talent on display, is that all three men come from different backgrounds and have radically different approaches to playing the guitar. Page grew up in London, played in a skiffle band (an early TV clip shows him as a teenager, introducing himself as "James Page"), got involved in the London studio scene where he recorded on tracks such as the Bond theme "Goldfinger," and eventually joined the Yardbirds before starting Led Zeppelin, where his use of distorted, overdriven guitars and bluesy riffs revolutionized hard rock music. The Edge grew up in Dublin, joined his U2 bandmates while they were in school together, and was influenced by the constant prospect of IRA violence. He uses a virtual army of different pedals, switches, speakers, and various other equipment to create his signature ringing, echo-reverb sound. White hails from south Detroit, where it was extremely "uncool" to play an instrument in the early 80's , lives to hear and play the blues, and shuns technology as much as possible, opting for cheap, old instruments and forcing himself to self-imposed limitations which he believes allows his creativity to flourish.
Despite White's early prediction that the meeting might devolve into a fistfight, the three get along well and probe each other for information and insight. A genuine chemistry has developed by the time they sit down and play through an impromptu version of The Band's "The Weight." Intercut with the meeting are scenes of White experimenting with instruments and equipment at his house, teaching a young protege, Edge giving a tour of the Dublin school where he, Bono, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen first began rehearsing, and Page visiting Headley Grange, the huge old house where Led Zeppelin recorded classics tracks such as the monumental "When the Levee Breaks."
If you are a fan of classic or modern rock, or you love to play/listen to the guitar, I highly recommend this film. Now that it is available on home video, I also highly recommend that you watch the deleted scenes, which offer additional entertaining moments like Page showing the guys how he came up with the riff for "Kashmir," White showing the others how to play "Seven Nation Army," and Edge checking his equipment by playing "Pride." However, if you own a guitar, keep it close by. You'll want to start practicing after you're done watching.