Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Recollections from a year ago

It all started with an innocuous act: checking e-mail.

High in the inbox was a cryptic e-mail. Few details, an ongoing situation.

Somewhere in Miami, Sean Taylor had been shot.

The statement was brief, three sentences. Yet it was the beginning of an unwinding story, one that, a year on now, still stirs emotions throughout the region.

That first day was a blur. Checking for constant updates on the wire, the Washington Post, ESPN, the Miami Herald and SJ all while trying to accomplish a normal day's work.

The tragedy continued into the night as reports surfaced that he was fighting for his life.

I woke up the next morning, wondering what the day would bring.

"Sean Taylor passed away," my wife told me, first thing.

There's a strange duopoly to life as a journalist. My first instinct was to head to work, grab the recorded and head to Ashburn. This was a story that was going to affect a lot of people, even for a county as regionally diverse as the place I work. Unlike few other stories, this one mattered to Giants, Eagles and Cowboys fans, too.

The other side is that we're human, too. It was hard not to feel for the Redskins fans out there, the ones who had such deep emotional investments in the franchise. They were just outside the fence at the entrance to Redskin Park; a makeshift memorial had been set up there.

It was harder not to feel for the players and coaches to whom Taylor was closest. These were people that you sometimes shared a joke with or just chatted with in the course of doing your job; now, they were forced into inexplicable public grief.

The day was windy; I remembered that from seeing a Post video. Two workers came out and hung black bunting around the "Washington Redskins" sign at the front entrance.

The place was packed. I remembered reading about accounts of Pete Rose's final days as Reds manager, just as his gambling habit came to light. When the network news people showed up, one story said, it was never a good situation.

And that's how it felt. The media room at Redskin Park, small for a normal crowd, was SRO. The crowd flowed into the main lobby, where there were 30 or so more people. I counted.

I counted because there was ample time in between the players' availability. There were long periods of frustration - being cooped up with so many other unfamiliar people - punctuated by sheer sadness. Whenever a player came out to speak, their head hung low, they spoke softly and invariably wiped away tears.

It was then, and only then, that the full impact of what happened was felt. These were real people grieving. The facade of invincible NFL players was lifted in a most dramatic and tragic fashion.

Taylor's lockers in Ashburn and Landover remain untouched, encased in glass, a haunting reminder of loss.

A year later, it's still surreal.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Hank, miffed at the fact that his pudgy snout wouldn't allow him to get all of the goodness left in the Fancy Feast can.
He tried, though, as evidenced by the tan residue on the right side of his nose.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Just because: The top five rock songs of all-time

Not that you asked for it, but I've been thinking about my all-time top five - hey, the drives can be long and the mind wanders.

So, take it for what it's worth.

5."Far From Over," Frank Stallone
OK, OK, I couldn't resist as wiseass line to start off. But still, you can listen to the tune if you want. Not that I like it or anything. Nah, never. But I could've sworn the first time I actually heard it was in this video, where Martin Short and Christopher Guest try their hand at synchronized swimming.

But seriously, folks...

5. "Estranged," Guns 'n' Roses
Of course, it was nowhere near the hit that some of the other songs on Use Your Illusion I & II were. But there was something different about it, something foreboding. The structure was unconventional, the lyrics too. The song took twists and turns, from intense to mellow, from Slash's blistering guitar to a soft piano/guitar duet. Halfway home, there's a redemptive, more upbeat feel to the tune; then, in an instant, it turns intense again: I see the storm's getting closer/and the waves, they get so high/Seems everything we've ever known's here/why must it drift away and die. And it kicks ass over the final few minutes, leaving you feel like you've been on a roller coaster. The tune takes me back to when I was in high school; I had Use Your Illusion II forever in the CD player, always ready to hit this track. For some reason, I associate it with winter, sitting in my room doing whatever, wishing I was out skiing - back when I did such things - and thinking that the snow must be pretty sweet down at Blue Mountain. Oh well.

4. "One," Metallica
This was the best of times for Metallica, when their music had matured and got polished but before money mattered and they turned everything into a soulless, four-minutes-and-done abomination. The mournful opening bar sets the tone; the reserved music serves as a prelude to the intricate ass-kicking. The production is tight and the music is meaningful - to say nothing of the absolutely haunting video they shot for it.

3. "Dazed and Confused," Led Zeppelin
It's a damn shame Zep couldn't get any higher than three on this list. But, in one song, there's everything you've come to know and love about the band: Robert Plant's piercing vocals, Jimmy Page's mastery of the guitar, John Bonham's sometimes-melodic, sometimes-driving drumming, and John Paul Jones' incredible gifts of arrangement. It wasn't as popular as "Stairway to Heaven" - which, in retrospect, failed to demonstrate all that these four could do together - and for the life of me, I can't understand why.

2. "Under Pressure," Queen & David Bowie
I love how the music plays off the title. Several times, the music builds to a crescendo and someone cracks the valve to let off the steam, leading to the iconic bass line (later shat upon by Vanilla Ice). Each time, the steam seems to take a little longer to rebuild, but the release is no less satisfying. It's a wonderful song; at the times when the pressure is highest, if you will, the instruments and vocals work in such harmony that every last part just seems to fit perfectly. There's no needless verbosity or overwrought loudness. Love it, love it, love it. But not quite as much as...

1. "Nights in White Satin," Moody Blues
First off, I'm sorry you get the short version on the video; no poem reading or anything. Justin Hayward's vocals make this No. 1 for me. Each verse starts understated and dramatic and ends on a fever pitch. Add in the philharmonic to create instrumental cascades - something no band would consider doing today (and no, I don't count Metallica's stunt, a live album with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra nearly a decade ago). Unfortunately, lost in the video, is that the symphony provides a most dramatic ending after the poem. It's a series of peaks and valleys that leaves you exhilarated.

So there you have it... I know you'll think I'm batty, especially for the No. 1 song, but I can take it.

Friday, November 07, 2008

For my pal, Jerry

I have a ton of respect for Jerry, who writes the hell out of a Hofstra-based blog with a really excellent name.

So I know he'll love the photo. (And no, he's not bitter. Why do you ask?)

And, sorry to disappoint you, but I was up in Fairfax talking to one of the wrestlers. Nothing to do with hoops. When are you going to write about Hofstra wrestling, anyway?