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Archive for January 2010
The feeling of finishing the last page of a great book is hard to match. Like a powerful film or song, an outstanding read can leave you deeply affected, and often changed. Sometimes, unique content (audio, video, or written) can touch you most by sparking new interests, but the majority of the time we are moved by how a work develops our old ones.
While I practically grew up in a Blockbuster video store, I will always regard Sam Jackson and Tim Roth’s memorable exchange at the end of Pulp Fiction as the scene that really got me “into” movies. I’ll always remember “Blowin’ in the Wind” as the song that taught me exceptional music doesn’t simply require a catchy beat (the lyrics somehow resonated with me even before I understood them).
I’ll remember Bill Simmons’s “The Book of Basketball” for helping me keep sports in perspective. “Keep sports in perspective.” These four words are frequently used to downplay the importance of competitive athletics. When we refer to a football game as a “war,” or to an athlete playing through an injury as a “hero,” there’s always someone there to remind us that we need to reflect on the true nature of these labels, and consequently “keep sports in perspective.”
After completing “The Book of Basketball,” I’m going to assert the opposite. This book re-enforces just how important sports are to countless others and myself (my athletic prime was in 8th grade, but my love for watching professional sports will never fade). This 700-page basketball manifesto (it feels longer because of the can’t-miss footnotes Simmons incorporates on almost every page) helps justify why it’s okay to idolize our favorite teams and players, and why sports history isn’t so trivial in comparison to what we learn in social studies class. If we study American history to comprehensively connect the past to the present, how can we possibly minimize the role of a significant and transcendent cultural force like professional sports?
Simmons clearly went all out when doing research for his magnum opus. The beloved, Bostonian ESPN.com columnist (A.K.A. “The Sports Guy”) includes many detailed and humorous arguments, statistics, and stories which at many times made me (a pretty serious basketball fan) feel ignorant. Still, learning about the game’s history from a writer like Simmons (a pop-culture fanatic who was probably the chief inspiration for this site) helped keep such a lengthy reading experience enlightening, without being overwhelming.
Whether discussing “The Secret” of basketball or his plan for a new pyramid-themed Hall of Fame, Simmons always keeps his work personal, constantly sharing his own basketball memories. The Sports Guy also takes shots at several prominent NBA figures, including former Pistons star and Knick front-office goat Isiah Thomas, but still respects the individual accomplishments of those he grew up rooting against (he’s a die hard Celtics fan). Regardless of whether or not you agree with all of his controversial rankings and remarks, one can never question Simmons’s amazing fanhood. This is why the book strikes a chord.
The love Bill Simmons has for this sport is obvious, but more importantly… it’s contagious. I have never felt more connected to the NBA’s history and present as I do after reading this Basketball Bible.
If you love something as much as Simmons loves basketball, NEVER let anyone tell you it needs to be “put in perspective.” Compromising one’s love in the name of political or social correctness can deprive you from celebrating, exploring, and enjoying your interests to the fullest. That’s the primary lesson I took away from “The Book of Basketball” (and that Rick Barry was a real jerk).
(Another discovery I made is that it would be a terrible mistake not to include NBA legend Bill Walton in your “Top Five People I Most Want to Drink a Beer With Before I Die List.” Walton is arguably the most quotable and colorful NBA personality out there, and his presence makes the book’s epilogue especially memorable. Hanging out with the Giant Ginger would surely be a blast.)
In honor of Bill Simmons’s love for this kind of thing, I will actually include the remainder of my original list below.
“Top Five People I Most Want to Drink a Beer With Before I Die List.”
1. Quentin Tarantino (I love his movies and could listen to the guy talk for hours)
2. Paul McCartney (A beer with a Beatle? Come on. Sorry, Ringo)
3. Jeff Bridges (“The Dude.” We’d probably have to drink White Russians, though)
4. Bill Walton (See above)
5. George W. Bush (He got elected twice for being someone you’d want on this kind of list. Plus he’s always due for some great quotes)
*** Inside the Actors Studio host James Lipton was once on this list. Miraculously, I was able to cross him off (it’s a long story, so don’t bother asking). ****
“The Book of Basketball” is a must read for all NBA fans. While it may take some time to get through, it is certainly a rewarding journey. To learn more about the book and it’s author, visit The Sports Guy’s World (you can find the link on my blogroll).
I’m hoping that the Brett Favre Comeback Tour comes to an ironic conclusion. Nothing would make me happier than a Favre-less Jets/Packers Super Bowl.
I’ve got my money on Peyton and the Colts, however. While the AFC is loaded with quality teams (don’t sleep on the Pats), I think the league’s 4x MVP will bring home ring #2.
My pick: Colts over Cowboys
Last June, I wrote a post entitled “Finding Salvation” that celebrated some of my favorite places to explore- Salvation Army Family Stores.
I am truly a fan of what the Salvation Army does, and it saddened me to come across this article tonight.
It’s amazing how low some people will go to pull off an elaborate hoax. I can only hope “The Salvo” will recover and continue making differences in people’s lives. While I love the Salvation Army for the rare clothes and “artifacts” I find in their stores (I recently acquired an outstanding Las Vegas recreational bowling league shirt with the name “Dutch” inscribed in the front), many individuals and families actually depend on the charity organization to get by.
During the holiday season, the Salvation Army is usually in the news for good things. It simply sucks that they are now facing economic woes because of a scam. Where’s the government bailout when we really need one?
While visiting some good friends in Connecticut this past weekend, I was drawn into a heated discussion about film and cinematic stars.
While most movie debates are centered around who or what is “The Best,” I was intrigued when our conversation shifted in the opposite direction. My friends and I were busy discussing some of the worst films we’ve ever seen, and this naturally made me think about some of the Hollywood heroes who should be held responsible for these atrocities.
One individual whose films routinely came up was eccentric American actor Nicolas Cage. His “work” in lamentable recent flicks like Ghost Rider, Next, Knowing (not a sequel to Next), and Bangkok Dangerous make Cage an easy target for criticism. However, it’s unfair to simply call Nic a “bad actor.” When reflecting on Cage’s career (he’s been in over sixty films), the guy has proven he can carry both big budget action movies (the two National Treasures, Face/Off, The Rock, Gone in Sixty Seconds, etc.) as well as enjoyable comedies and dark human dramas (Matchstick Men, Adaptation, The Family Man, The Weather Man, and his Oscar-winning vehicle Leaving Las Vegas). Still, despite having a diverse body of work consisting primarily of profitable and very entertaining pictures, it’s also unfair to call Nicolas Cage a “great actor.”
Therefore, after careful analysis, I’ve arrived at the conclusion that Nicolas Cage is quite simply The Greatest Bad Actor in American History. Few stars are as inherently likeable as Cage. Hell, if I were to compile a list of the Most Innately Likeable Veteran Actors, I’d place him in the # 2 slot, behind only Tom Hanks, yet slightly ahead of the recently arrested Charlie Sheen (comic Bill Maher once said that Sheen could “beat a nun to death in a pile of dead puppies and America would just go, ‘Oh that Charlie we love him he’s hysterical!’). Like Sheen, Cage is also currently facing legal issues (he is reportedly broke, yet owes millions of dollars to the IRS for his alleged role a property tax fraud scheme), yet he too will always maintain a level of public immunity because of his natural charisma.
Nobody can convey an heir of goofy self confidence like Nicolas Cage, and this is what has made him (and most of his movies) memorable and respected. He is so freakin’ charming that we forget about things like his dreadful attempt at using a southern accent as jailbird Cameron Poe in 1997’s Con Air (arguably The Greatest Bad Movie in American History…depending on whether or not you like it more than Top Gun) and his back-to-back “Razzie” nominations for “Worst Actor” in 2006 and 2007.
***Above is an outstanding skit from “Studio 60,” one of the more underappreciated television programs in recent history. This is not actually Nic Cage, by the way.
If Nicolas Cage is the “Best of the Worst” in film, who holds this title in other cultural spheres?
In music, I proudly give the award of Greatest Bad Rock Stars to Bon Jovi! While Jon Bon Jovi and his bandmates have sold countless records, it’s impossible to consider them as one of the best mainstream bands of the last twenty years. Like most good Nicolas Cage movies, their hit songs are easy to love and remember, yet not really worthy of any serious acclaim. Now I’m not saying I don’t love classics like “Livin’ On A Prayer,” and “Wanted Dead or Alive,” but Bon Jovi’s dreams of reaching E Street Band-like heights of cultural relevancy have not, and will never come to fruition. If you disagree with me, re-listen to the lyrics of “It’s My Life,” and you’ll come to your senses.
The Greatest Bad TV Show of today has to be Law & Order. No show is more formulaic, predictable, and unspectacular. Ironically, it’s these three traits that make it regularly watchable and so very popular with the masses. The days of the great American network police drama may very well be over (this era probably ended with the conclusion of NYPD Blue), so for better or worse, we’re stuck with L&O, CSI, NCIS, and other mediocre acronyms.
As social commentators, we are generally too cut-and-dry. We tend to judge things based on where they fit in relation to conventional extremes. Perhaps we need to re-evaluate our criteria, and modify the lens by which we see and value culture. Most people think that people and content are either good or bad. I, however, believe that the bad can also be great.