Kelly Dwyer covers the NBA, alongside musical bits and comedy numbers.

Sunday, December 31, 2017 

Every Steely Dan Song: Megashine City

(I listened to this song for the first time last week, after only hearing of its existence for years. Subscribers can get immediate mp3 access at TSA CHAT, I found it at the Trader’s Den.)

Conceived for but not on the road, ‘Megashine City’ seems ready if not right to close stadiums – this is from a demo reel, meant to prove the new bands’ mettle and test the agreeability of its songwriters.

Everyone comes off great. The song rollicks, it manages Ellington left-foot toe taps in two-guitar boogie form – its later, perfected form on ‘Bodhisattva’ takes nothing away from this anthem.

This is Donald and Walter, for the first time, in an honest-to-goodness rock and roll band. One that, unless they wrote in a break from the boogie, would keep on choogling.

The difference in the Dan from the rest is in another sort of commitment. From the back, no matter the skinsman, the bass guitarist would make sure the whole thing swung.


An older Walter Becker would later fancy his early-LA status as one-half of “the Grateful Dead of Beverly Boulevard,” a remark that says a whole hell of a lot about him and also a little bit about his eventual band and its precociousness.

Especially toward the end of the song, when the lineup locks into a WAVE THAT FLAAAG charge that reminds that Don and Walt were proper, post-War, boomers. There’s some Dylan and Levon Helm’s left hand and the Velvet Underground in there, too. Had to be.

Jeffrey Baxter sounds as happy as I would be while forcing George Will to wait for a table he’d reserved months ago.

Jim Hodder might never be better; though cherubic enterprise, two pencils and reels of available and advance-paid tape would later ensure that he would have no choice but to be.

(We will explain that later.)

At the song’s conclusion, as Denny the distorted bebopper hits the last complicated chord, Skunk peels off a jazz run that should have those of a certain age giggle-hacking Wednesday, October 13th, 1982 volume four, number 79 into cold air.

The band would go on to attempt various iterations through the years, in demos we’ll get to because this is Every Steely Dan Song, but its live versions never made it to bootleg tape.

It was lost on me that this might be the last time I’ll ever hear a Steely Dan song for the first time, you read that sentence correctly, its music won’t allow for nostalgia or sympathy or reflex. And then Donald starts singing.


Do it Again

Sunday, December 24, 2017 

Every Steely Dan Song: Do It Again

The sound you hear to start ‘Do it Again’ is Victor Feldman playing congas, he isn’t a Steely Dan member and never officially became one despite being the only musician beside Becker and Fagen to play on each of Steely Dan’s albums recorded in the 1970s.

Steely Dan already had a very good conga player already in the band, guitarist Jeff “Skunk” Baxter worked percussion on this song in a live setting but Walter Becker and Donald Fagen thought it best to track in Feldman, an English session player famous for his work on Miles Davis’ ‘Seven Steps to Heaven’ LP.

Songwriters Becker and Fagen weren’t ducking this twist, the first hit. The first song on Steely Dan’s debut album, the first single off ‘Can’t Buy a Thrill.’

After the demoing years charged him with supplying the lines necessary for the listener to identify the more orthodox harmonic structures in the duo’s driving songs, bassist Becker was finally freed to float with headphones on. Recorded within the months of earnest attempts to replace himself as his band’s lead singer, Fagen lives confidently within his double-tracks.

Donald’s not finished, if the temperature will ever let him tune up. Somewhere in the middle of the song, just after the radio said “enough,” lurks a deliciously inappropriate “plastic” combo organ solo no doubt egged on with Walter’s snorting encouragement.

It’s the type of instrument – never used again by the band – that would later sneer its way to great acclaim later in the 1970s, powering Elvis Costello’s Attractions and other lightly lads. Here, on Side One (Track One), it’s just a thing that sounds weird enough to be left on the side of the road after the carful was done with it.

Becker and Fagen spent the last fits of New York’s 1960s in Park Slope trying to make rent with pop tunes spun as earnestly as their souls at the time would allow. They backed Jay and the Americans on live dates and were paid in whatever was left over after the beaks did their worst. Steely Dan was pulling down on calculated gambles long before Encino saved its thumbs from the freeze.

After moving to Los Angeles the pair scored a tune on a Streisand album, they considered Denny Doherty and they wrote for John Kay. Becker and Fagen penned and later even performed ‘Change of the Guard’ in full view of Dias and his rosary beads, stating that they intended it for release.

‘Dallas,’ a country-pop soft release single sung by the tawny yet contained Jim Hodder, the band’s drummer, was hesitantly considered as Steely Dan’s initial offering. David Palmer was brought in to hit the Laura Nyro notes and to look a little like Roger Daltrey to the overserved.

Concessions were attempted, picks were rolled with. This was a duo that was not going to turn down subversively sporty cars (licenses had to come first), interesting girlfriends, and better gear – future accommodations had to be considered, and swiftly.

And they led everything off with, I don’t know, a bossa nova?

It’s six minutes long and Donald Fagen sings it with that voice and it’s a massive hit. If the admitted aesthete to launch for was midway between Word Jazz and Rubber Soul, then the Dan was well on its way.
The tagger at this point reads only in the 1970s! and it’s a kiss-off that I’ve listened to Becker, Fagen and Baxter all conclude with. To calm insistent interviewers and re-amuse themselves at the wickedness of how wondrously daffy it is that a song like this could become a chart-topper in 1972.

When anyone else of a certain age spits that line out, it falls a little flatter in its nod to an imagined decade where Richard Dreyfuss was the only male sex symbol, where Grand Funk never happened.

Like, at some point it’s got to become a Steely Dan thing, right? It’s not as if the rest of the top ten was filled with this strain of slyly-sung succor.

Denny Dias’ hands until recently had been playing a Barney Kessel-styled jazzbo log, the sort of wood you could endanger a Tiger Stadium transformer with. Dissatisfied with the setup, “an offense to eyes and ears alike,” Becker and Fagen peeled off enough advance to outfit Denny with a Telecaster and Marshall half-stack aimed at teaching jazz slides to the previously unaware.

Before Denny could play with his new toys, though, Becker and Fagen decided to strap him to a Coral Electric Sitar.

Not to be cool, that would have worked better in 1967.

Not to be accurate, because this song is a bossa nova, and that instrument doesn’t sound the least bit like a sitar.

Not because it would be easy, because electric sitars are impossible to set up and even tougher to record, only shitty AM radio producers have the patience for their typical sonic output.

And not because Denny Dias, otherwise confident in both his abandoned studies and the Billy Bauer Technique, had ever played an electric sitar in his life. Kustom payback for the guy that understood Becker and Fagen’s changes better than anyone in the store.

The handle spun cherries. In an era where sonic enhancement just meant stacking more speaker cones on top of the last ones you bought, Becker and Fagen knew when to leave the table.

It just lays down the scent, doesn’t it? Have a listen:

Jeffrey Baxter self-identifies as “Skunk” after a couple of expert runs to begin the tune, giving his baffle less than a minute before saluting Chuck Berry. You’re never too far away from some spiny vibrato from this guy, Skunk usually won’t let up until you leave the room and luckily it took Donald and Walter a few years to correctly read the joint.

Dias’ solo is astonishing, and it would have been comparatively lost on his new Dan Armstrong or his newer, eventually humbucker-outfitted, Telecaster. It would have been mush on the Kessel guitar, and 1972 wasn’t confident enough to record a Les Paul or ES-335 in a way that didn’t track as tacky to Don and Walt’s, so you’re left with what’s hanging around the shop.

You don’t hear those notes on anything but an electric sitar, and I don’t know if you’d call what comes out of Fagen’s Yamaha organ notes.

We’re one song in and Donald’s already clapping back to seventh grade, winter break, and whatever spacey sounds he could hear from the TV in the other room. (The Nightfly Lyte is always on, in everything that Donald Fagen does, and before this is all said and done I better see a good president put a medal around this man’s neck.)

The song is Traditional, an expert takedown by two guys that shouldn’t know better, but do. Becker and Fagen were somehow advanced experience, slid underneath the door at night when the air was thick with shit pot and, we’re told, calamine lotion.

The lyric would become a Steely Dan staple. An unhurried presentation, delivered by two guys who really want to get out of there.

Miniaturization can give you the bends, and that’s where a partner comes in. Someone to tell you that a character named ‘Jack’ – a weakass hotel alias given in lieu of this desperate, little man’s actual name – is the way to go.

When you submit the draft with confidence, you’re allowed to claim credit to a playing card all your own. This is what separates Donald Fagen and Walter Becker from the sorts of people that want to write in the voice of Oliver Barrett IV, or the Dalton Gang.

Debut track. It’s growing.

Friday, December 15, 2017 

The Cheerful 30: The NBA shines on

All look at all 30 NBA teams, and the reason they stay cheery




THREEAtlanta Hawks

From Wednesday’s Behind the Boxscore:

The Hawks still run a lot of plays that look much better when Al Horford ends up taking the last shot, and despite Ersan Ilyasova’s haircut he just doesn’t have the angles for this sort of thing.

At least John Collins is back, the rookie had 15 and seven rebounds in 20 reserve minutes against Detroit on Wednesday, he didn’t turn the ball over (because he shoots it really quickly).

Record entering Friday: 6-22

Boston Celtics

This team fell apart, badly, in its Kyrie-less showing against the Bulls on Tuesday. The defense was the issue even on a night where Boston scored just 85, the squad wasn’t communicative enough to make its attempts at sweaty improvisation stick.

And Kyrie and his coaching staff got to watch every second of it.

Record entering Friday: 24-6

Brooklyn Nets

Look at all the nice things our mate DeMarre Carroll said about his former team recently, from James Herbert’s fine-ass feature on the rampaging Raptors:

"They're playing like you're supposed to play," Carroll said. "Move the ball, shoot the three, get other guys involved. They're playing the right way. That's basketball. But hey, kudos to 'em. I'm happy for them. I'm happy for all of them, especially the young guys. I think they worked really hard and they're finally getting the opportunity to shine."

Carroll, at age 31, averages 13.3 points alongside seven rebounds in fewer than 30 minutes a night for Brooklyn, and a single Nets viewing will assure you that he earns every penny of his current paycheck by the midway point in the second quarter.

Record entering Friday: 11-16

Charlotte Hornets

Just when you thought Dwight Howard had depressed another team into submission, the Hornets peeled off a win against the know-better Thunder and came back to make a game of it (even after landing on the hollow end of a 25-0 run) in its loss in Houston.

Oh shit Dwight still has to do Secret Santa.

Record entering Friday: 10-17

Chicago Bulls


Record entering Friday: 7-20

Dallas Mavericks

You wonder how this team is 15th in defense, and then you remember Wesley Matthews running around, and you go and look it up and, yep, Rick Carlisle never takes him off the court: Wes is at 34.4 minutes per game this season.

(Someone show this to Michael Finley. He’ll trim his gaze two sizes before pushing his treadmill up a good four miles an hour.)Record entering Friday: 8-21

Denver Nuggets

From Wednesday’s Behind the Boxscore:

Trey Lyles is getting Big Butt post-up looks after defenders overplay Denver guards, and the Nuggets are also looking to clear space for him to shoot threes as the game moves along. As his legs build strength, Lyles’ touch grows and grows – he hit for a career-high 25 points on Sunday and 20 in this win.

The third-year forward is at almost 48 percent three-point shooting on the year but nearly as importantly is his touch in the middle spots. He’s not a passer, but he does draw attention. His rise could help Denver circle the wagons.

Lyles was moved into the starting lineup for Thursday’s six-point loss in Boston, he split both his three-pointers and missed all three free throws, finishing with nine points on 4-6 shooting and six boards in 33 minutes.

His face-up touch is wild, all we need are more Nuggets that want to play catch with him, because the shot is there.

Record entering Friday: 15-13

Detroit Pistons

From Wednesday’s Behind the Boxscore:

Detroit was only going to pull 2017-18 off if they remained unrelenting throughout, and that just hasn’t been the case of late. The Pistons are never going to spin out big comebacks, not with this roster, so the Pistons have to do their best work when the opponent would rather be anywhere else.

The Pistons returned with a 14-point win over the Hawks on Thursday but, so what.

SVG still loves Anthony Tolliver:

As usual, Stan Van Gundy couldn’t wait to wrest Anthony Tolliver off his bench, and Anthony brought his usual. He took charges, spread the floor and dumped little drop passes to let Andre Drummond know that, yes, Christmas is a couple of weeks away but, sure, Andre can still put something in the cart.

Record entering Friday: 15-13

Golden State Warriors

I can tell you without hesitation or reflex that watching Kevin Durant this month will be some of the most fun you’ll ever have. Greater physical demand will come with Draymond Green and Stephen Curry out, and Kevin’s kinda got the legs for it.

It won’t be his best basketball, on either end, you can bet the Golden State staff will have plenty to say (before keeping it to themselves) about some of his decisions defensively, his lost ones offensively.

Don’t count a thing, and just watch Durant run around.

Record entering Friday: 23-6

Houston Rockets

From Tuesday’s Behind the Boxscore:

Houston’s defense is way better this season, the team has taken advantage of its collective defensive intelligence and the Big Brain of one of my favorite NBA martyrs: Rocket assistant Jeff Bzdelik.

Record entering Friday: 22-4

Indiana Pacers

On Lance Stephenson:

Lance is a playoff ticket for the price of a regular season seat. He palms the ball in his right hand and the Indianapolis crowd in his left and LeBron James can’t believe he has to hear about both Lance Stephenson and Bitcoin in the final month of 2017, when we appeared to shake 2013 so damn long ago.

Stephenson can’t drive with James around, so he focuses on picking teammates off with dart passes that still somehow elude his fingertips on the way out of his jurisdiction.

He fills up from long range with that shot that starts from the heel of his catcher’s mitt, and he hits the defensive boards hard because Lance just checked the clock, and it’s been a whole half a minute since he had the ball in that hand last.

I cannot stop writing about Lance Stephenson:

Lance Stephenson is an E-Ticket ride at Indiana Beach prices, and you’re allowed to bring a cooler in. The NBA’s next batch of League Pass advertisements should just feature clips of Mr. Stephenson having his way against bench units featuring players that people don’t even recognize.

Here is what I wrote on Lance’s Pacers for the Washington Post.

The column I filed was mostly on Lance, but they whittled it down.

Record entering Friday: 16-12

Los Angeles Clippers

Lou Williams hasn’t missed a shot since he returned to California.

You’d want to prove me wrong, but you have no connection currently and there is no WAY you have this year’s Clipper stats cached.

Record entering Friday: 11-15

Los Angeles Lakers

Luke Walton put together his coaching staff only to win the 35-and-Over championship at whatever SoCal rec league Walton he’s part of.

I’m damn well sure of it. Look at all these hunks:

Jud Buechler

Miles Simon

Brian Shaw

Casey Owens

Jesse Mermuys

Mark Madsen (no photo available)

Brian Keefe

Record entering Friday: 10-17

Memphis Grizzlies

From Tuesday’s Behind the Boxscore:

The Grizzlies are good enough to still lock in and take an opponent out of their game offensively, but at this point those sorts of opponents are just Tyler Johnson.

Record entering Friday: 8-20

Miami Heat

Kelly Olynyk is killing at three-point percentage, which is kind of a bummer to a certain type of NBA fan that I’m not entirely sure I disagree with.

The big man is up to 43 percent from behind the arc and the Heat have split a pair of games since he took over the starting position from Bam Adebayo.

Miami has been killing it offensively, too, since Olynyk moved into the lineup. Listen, I’m not saying any of this is cool.

Record entering Friday: 13-14

Minnesota Timberwolves

I get the feeling Tom Thibodeau only looks at totals.

Someone gave him an entire set of 1990 Hoops cards during his rookie season as an NBA assistant in Minnesota, and I bet those things were probably the only thing he had to read back at his apartment.

Twenty-seven years later, and his Timberwolves can’t even stand at the free throw line in the fourth quarter.

Karl-Anthony Towns leads the Wolves with 343 rebounds this season, but do not count out Taj Gibson.

In his first season reunited with Thibodeau, Gibson is on pace to pull in 681 rebounds this year, a mark that would far outpace the 435 rebounds Taj collected last season.

Record entering Friday: 17-12

Milwaukee Bucks

I have a slight idea as to why Jason Kidd starts Gary Payton II at point guard. In three games Payton has contributed 10 points, three assists, seven rebounds and one turnover in 45 combined minutes in the role.

I do not know why the Bucks once traded 27-year old Ray Allen for Gary Payton, who was 34 at the time and a free agent to be, in 2003.

I do not know why George Karl said this to Charley Rosen at the time:

For Karl, however, the trade was a no-brainer. "Ray Allen was nothing but trouble," Karl says. "We had no choice but to get rid of him."

Ray Allen could STILL play on the Bucks.

Record entering Friday: 15-11

New Orleans Pelicans

If the NBA extended its margins and allowed for a longer stretch between the corner three-point line and danger zone, I would be happy. Basketball would be far prettier.

The Pelicans would murder for it. E’Twaun Moore and Dante Cunningham set up so many good things from that tiny stretch of freedom between the lines.

It isn’t just about the three-point shooting from Moore (48.3 percent!) and Cunningham (his shot looks really nice!).

Angles previously only seen from space would open for Dr. Cousins and, we presume, Mr. Davis.

Record entering Friday: 15-14

New York Knicks

Joakim Noah, after Yaron Weitzman asked him for his AOL IM name:

"Damn, that's personal," he says before acquiescing. "It was actually 'Doggystyle.'" There were some numbers tacked on at the end of the screen name, but Noah won't share those, citing privacy concerns. He insists the moniker was not chosen for sexual reasons.

"It was because of the Snoop Dogg album. That was my favorite album," Noah says. "I mean, I was so young that I don't think I or other people my age knew what doggy style was. And anyway, I was in France at the time. There you call it 'levrette.'"

Record entering Friday: 15-13

Oklahoma City Thunder

Nobody, it seems, appears ready to make excuses for two players that have tested us far too often as basketball observers in the years since we became aware of their names. That’s capitalism, Clay, now go blink along with the dots on the clock.

Paul George is good as hell, and at least Steven Adams cleans up.

The center turned into the league’s best offensive rebounder and he’s minded his hips around the little guys on that end – Adams’ turnovers are way down in his fifth season, he isn’t lapping up cheap ones on quick picks.

It helps that the Thunder never set any screens for each other.

This team is full of ego and long arms that get calls, it’s going to stay a bitch on the defensive end and the Thunder are going to show up for both the nationally televised games, and the make-good contests.

They’re around, and never assume that you’ll meet a meltdown when it comes time to line up against this mess.

Record entering Friday: 13-14

Orlando Magic

If you could combine Bismack Biyombo and Marreese Speights? The one guy that always seems to be dunking, often accurately, and the King of the Second Quarter jumper?

After three straight losses, including dullards in the face of the Clippers and Hawks, this is where we’re at.


Record entering Friday: 11-18

Philadelphia 76ers

Since the trade that brought Trevor Booker to Philly, center Richaun Holmes has averaged 13.2 points with seven rebounds a contest in 24 minutes a night, with one start. He’s blocked three shots and turned the ball over just three times during that stretch.

Booker has complied and also compiled averages of 13.3 points and 7.3 boards with a block and steal and 2.3 assists in 21 minutes a game as a Sixer.

There’s so much going on in that front office, but then they’ll back their way right into this sort of win. Bloody hell.

Record entering Friday: 14-13

Phoenix Suns

You’ll be cheered to note that Greg Monroe is back to doing Greg Monroe things, right down to all the very noticeable assists and the super-high PER.

He starts now, for a team that is without Tyson Chandler and Devin Booker, a Suns outfit now stuck in what is the franchise’s birthright: Phoenix has the worst defense in the NBA.

But Greg Monroe averages 11.4 points on 61 percent shooting in 23 minutes a night, with nine starts, pulling in eight rebounds and dishing 2.3 assists, so this particular part of Phoenix’s future is settled.

(We were nice last week.)

Record entering Friday: 9-21

Portland Trail Blazers

Zach Collins has been playing basketball for the Blazers of late, which is new, and also somewhat good basketball, which is different.

The 20-year old rookie decided to win some hearts down the stretch of the team’s Monday loss to the Warriors with the hustling and the bustling on the season. The center’s prize was a slot in the starting lineup in Miami on Wednesday, when the Blazers were asked to play two games on two opposite coasts in a 48-hour stretch.

Collins was a lottery pick, so there should be some expectation here, but 2017’s No. 10 selection has earned his caveats with a quad injury and the concussion setbacks that halted an NBA career that probably wasn’t going to be of much help in October or November.

It’s December now, Jusuf Nurkic is out with a right ankle sprain and with Meyers Leonard still parting his hair on that side, the burden fell on the rookie. Zach picked up 10 fouls in 46 minutes of play in two games, hilarious, but he also pinned a shot and stole the ball three times.

He did not rebound well – just ten, over that stretch, but he did score 18 points on 18 shots. The win over Miami broke a four-game losing streak for the Blazers.

Collins has certainly earned his nickname:(You can cuss. Go ahead.)

Does Basketball-Reference really want blood on its hands for what happens in the low post the next time Zach Randolph lines up against the Blazers? Portland’s gonna have to retire Randolph’s number at halftime, just to get him to stop.

Record entering Friday: 14-13

Sacramento Kings

From Wednesday’s Behind the Boxscore:

I will let Frank Mason chaperone this and any other upcoming dances. He might be playing Eddie Haskell on me, but I feel like the rookie has a head on his shoulders.

The 23-year old six-footer-kinda hits 42 percent of his threes and finishes well for his height when the opposing footsteps behind him don’t rattle too severely. If he’d been born a decade earlier, the rookie would have eventually grown into a key participant on one of Tom Thibodeau’s Chicago Bulls squads.

Record entering Friday: 9-19

San Antonio Spurs

From Wednesday’s Behind the Boxscore:

The swingman played just 16 minutes, by rule, and he’s going to be relying on touch and high arcs for a healthy portion of this season. Kawhi will lean on his jumper for a while. He’s literally going to lean on his jumper for a while.

Leonard has little lift, understandably, and he’s probably not going to swoop full time until it starts to get warm outside. Leonard will look like an MVP again and soon, you’re going to see flashes this weekend if Pop will let him play against Houston and Dallas, but patience is badly needed with a leg setback like this.


He looked great. He also looks like he has miles, and miles to go.

Record entering Friday: 19-9

Toronto Raptors

The Raptors have already played 16 of 26 away from Toronto and have seven road games in the next three weeks. Each are winnable, save for a Thursday night visit to Philly after spending the night before playing in Charlotte.

That’s merely do-able, for a top-ten defense and top five offense.

Every crack has shown on the Raptors so far, even the sparkling Bench of Bloom had its slow moments in different time zones, and Kyle Lowry sometimes looks like he used to play with Ed Pinckney.

It hasn’t mattered and I’m not looking toward the point in which it might, presuming such a thing exists.

Record entering Friday: 18-8

Utah Jazz

The Jazz have lost four in a row and things don’t figure to improve soon, the club has dates in Boston, Cleveland, Houston and Oklahoma City to finish this road trip, followed back to Utah for a chance at the same Thunder and Spurs again.

This precludes another road trip that will find the Jazz in Denver and Golden State, followed by a home date against LeBron and the Cavaliers …

December won’t be fun for Utah, and we don’t have a quip or Darrell Griffith dunk to soothe this knowledge with.

(You know that’s not true.)

Hitting Christmas with 20 losses would not spell the end of anything, though.

The Jazz are full of extreme examples in its rotations even when everyone is healthy, but all time can do is add to the data and what the group plans to do with a season like this, such as it is, and who doesn’t want to see what Quin Snyder wants to try to come back with in January?

This is the longest stretch of the year, weirdly hitting when the days are short and dark and, depending on how clearly the signs are marked in the parking lot, brutish.

It’s a longer season, though.

Record entering Friday: 13-15

Washington Wizards

Marcin Gortat has looked a step behind plenty of times this season, he’ll turn 34 the same week as the trade deadline, and DeAndre Jordan would look real nice for a Wizards team that feels like it needs a kick in the ass.

It still might. Until age 34 hits, though, Marcin’s the man.

He’s helped, quite a bit. Even before John Wall had to take a seat, Gortat had begun to do fantastic work in hitting Wizards that were last seen peeling off screens set by Marcin’s burly butt. Gortat picks off heaps of assists from this movement, his numbers have raked in that area.

DeAndre Jordan turns the ball over far more, though. And he’s not asked to do nearly as much as Gortat, working on a Wizards team that is top five in taking care of the ball despite Marcin’s own miscue uptick this season.

Marcin has sat just eight career games as a Wizard and, save for a foot injury that ended 2012-13, the center has barely missed any available NBA time.

Washington has clearly picked up as much as it possibly could from the center, delivered in 2013 for Emeka Okafor’s expirations and a pick that turned into Tyler Ennis, a point guard Marcin has unused car accessories larger than.

Record entering Friday: 15-13

(Thank you for reading.)

(A trip with my wife and her mother to a train station in the dark lines up for unexpected duty on Friday night, and after that I’m taking my wife to J&J Fish, so we’ll stay in for a Behind the Boxscore night on Saturday evening.)

(Do forward, cut and paste, link to and talk about this stuff if you made it down here. More people gonna know, might as well come from you.)

Tuesday, December 12, 2017 

Josh Gondelman is talking now

We visit with the comedian as he tours.

Josh Gondelman wasn’t trying to hide the road from what he brought into the coffee shop, he couldn’t have anyway. Travel follows you to your table, man, nobody ever sits alone.

Josh is a comedian more often than an actor, a writer more than performer, so there wasn’t much point in obscuring what was out in front of us – giant bottle of water, hydration is key, an off-stage voice teetering somewhere between sotto and Patty Smyth mostly due to its re-introduction to the Midwest in December.

His manners were impeccable, but Gondelman’s best posture and voice were saved for that night’s performance at Zanies, the famed standup club in Chicago’s Old Town. This was his fourth show in five nights with another to come the next day, all snuck in during the tiny spot of year that he has off from the day job at HBO. Comic slash writer stuff.

Gondelman wasn’t trying to sell tickets to this table, it could tell where he’d been. Still, listen to the sort of words that came out of his mouth on a Tuesday that was slightly less cold than the Tuesdays that accompanied his tour from last winter:

“This is even a relief to be in Minneapolis, Chicago, Iowa City, Eau Claire …”

Other voices would trail off, but not Josh’s.

“I’m really glad that what I’m doing doesn’t just translate to New York City comedy clubs. Or,” because there is a distinction, here, “New York City alt-venues.”

Gondelman hunched toward this recognition prior to playing a show in front of giddy spots of ardent fans, thick with knowledge of the local public transit system and an appreciation for Gondelman’s eagerness.

They sat alongside loutish Irish tourists, dates gone both good and terrible, and the sort of young, urban professionals that the city used to just tolerate. All bent toward Josh’s stage in full view of freaky, Day-Glo posters of Richard Lewis and Jay Leno.

The comedian’s album Physical Whisper darkens the tape heads with oxide loss, but it still holds its hooks: Boston and The Cars had debuts like this. The hits went over a charm with a crowd that was excited for Josh to finish a story, but not because they wanted to go anywhere. The performer was aware of this.

The new bits swung with assurance, Gondelman in clear view of what was going to work on a Tuesday, an evening ages removed from the Sunday nights and Monday mornings that his work often dominates.

Gondelman is one of the writers behind HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and it appears that his confidence travels well, buoyed by the blank page on stage.

“The benefit of performing, the thing that keeps me doing it and the thing that I enjoy, is that I get to do whatever I want.

“That’s the pleasure of standup, for me, there’s no confines of the structure of a different show that dictates the subject matter. Or the tone of it.”

That doesn’t mean that the extra layers between brain and audience, a distance drawn greater and greater as the era reveals its daunting self, can’t bring an extra kick.

There’s no getting away that extra “layer in feeling pleased about” something your “bosses liked first,” Gondelman relayed, a trip held in as high esteem as the thrill he gets watching Oliver nail a line that Josh and his co-workers had a role in helping keep safe.

If he’s cool with either hanging onto or living with a joke throughout the entirety of the workweek, with more politicians and crooks adding more and more re-tweets and shares to the entire mess, then Gondelman is certainly as serene as a vicar after two swipes of wine when detailing his long-studied set in front of a laughing crowd.

Brian Stack is famous for doubling you over with his on and off-screen work on all three variations of Conan O’Brien’s television shows, his inimitable dry drive is all over the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and he cops to what we’d all presume from the outside, in times like these.

“The downside of the fast turnaround is that you have to crank out the material very quickly, which can be a bit stressful at times.”

Brian finds solace, as writers often do, in something he is terribly ill-equipped for.

“The upside is that you don’t have time to agonize much over it or second-guess yourself, which is actually a specialty of mine.”

Stack, an improv legend sprung from the same Old Town neighborhood Gondelman just headlined three nights in, will probably be the first to tell you the stage offers no time for agonizing. Josh’s set reminded us of the distance you damn well better have from Nervous Time to the tick in which the doors open.

In a life clearly spent torturing himself over the details of comfort assured for everyone but himself, Gondelman is absolutely at is most charming when on stage. He is in full control even while typically performing in the gait of a Guy Who Really Doesn’t Want to Help Gather All This Kindling.

For those that follow the man on Twitter, the idea that he might outstrip his presence on that website with appeal in action might seem like a stretch, but consider how much time you’d expect a thoughtful fella like Josh Gondelman to craft a tweet.

Now, consider how much time he’s taken to craft what he’s going to say in front of a bunch of really nice people, after most of them give him money.

“Josh Gondelman is the comic that Gotham needs,” insists comedian and writer Aparna Nancherla.

She’s no stranger to filling nights in New York clubs while waiting out the days it takes for your TV joke to hit the air, and she wasn’t finished.

Aparna’s knowing eyes wetted in the face of an unrelenting 22nd story view, her trench coat ruffled in the glare of a breeze that by this point she had warmed to long enough to call familiar.

Again she stared into the cityscape that she promised herself she would never, ever, tire of.*

(*Aparna asked me to write all this.)

"Josh Gondelman is good for New York,” she clarified, “because he is the comedian Gotham needs, not the comedian Gotham deserves.”

So, maybe he isn’t a wine-soaked vicar. Gondelman was a schoolteacher, mentioned in his act in bits both sparkly-new and on tape, and because it’s all over the way he holds a microphone, it came up.

“I think there’s a lot of overlap,” after I tried not to ask the same teacher-to-comic question he’s already heard far too many times. He made it better.

“I think that’s one of the reasons why there have been so many comics that have been teachers.

“It’s about communicating ideas to groups of people that have various levels of interest in absorbing the ideas. That’s the key crossover. Meeting people on their level. Figuring out how to give a group of people – both in preparation and through real-time adjustments – what they need.”

Alison Abrams is a friend of Gondelman’s, but also a podcaster who has glared through quite a few comedians in her time.

“He’s an incredible listener, which not every comedian is.”

“Even when there’s an urgency to what he says,” Abrams explained, “there’s still something of his aura and demeanor that’s retained from” whatever the heck Gondelman had to do when stepping around that preschool, speaking over listeners stuck staring at his ankles.

She went on.

“Even if you’ve only exchanged a few sentences with him, you come away with this real, rare impact of an incredibly genuine and positive man.”

Somehow, Gondelman gets past security.

Nobody folds its arms better than a room full of preschoolers, save for perhaps the cellar dwellers in a comedy club. Nothing clicks harder than a bored right thumb on Twitter, and yet we slowly read Gondelman providing assurance that would melt the heart of both Bart and Lisa.

Monday morning cubicle-chucklers look for every reason to tap away from the Oliver video that still has 11 minutes left on it, and yet far too many for capitalism’s sake stick around until the end. That’s not benefit earned through knowing one of the writers is a swell guy, or even knowing who wrote any this stuff. It’s because the payoff is worth it after the delivery aligned so well with the original spirit.

You used to have to work harder for these sorts of laughs, but in a time where they’re delivered to your phone for free, Gondelman makes the trip worth it.


Toward the end of the sort of Comedy Boom that put the photos on the wall at Zanies, Dennis Wolfberg started to become ubiquitous. On weekends, on cable, ready to draw your attention and keep it:

Wolfberg was a schoolteacher as well, he hit Letterman enough times for us to notice and for clubs in the Midwest to fill up. His sets translated in every way imaginable, kids at home blindly rolling at the same stuff that the young, urban professionals in the cable TV audience seemed to enjoy.

Wolfberg passed away after a fight with cancer in 1994, just as outlets for his sense of story began to dry up on live stage. Those outlets had just begun to flourish on television, though, and Wolfberg was in talks until the end.

There’s a patience in this realm that, to outsiders, appears extraordinary. Gondelman has developed a tone that outlasts an anecdote, his delivery remains consistent due to the confidence in what’s about to unfurl.

That’s not unique to standup comedians, any good one has that, but Gondelman’s approach can’t help but remind of his resume.

You do it yourself, no matter what 20-something gig you have in your own history, when it comes time to challenge muscle memory. You’re going to fall back on those fundamentals, even if you learned them all while violently hungover.

Of course, that’s not why you go out to see Josh Gondelman, or any other standup still drawing two-drink diamonds out of lessons learned from the bad credit years. The jokes are great, but anyone can make fun of the old day gig.

What’s great about Josh is the lesson plan. It’s clearly in place, and it’s better on stage.

“I can do whatever I want. It’s such an exciting and gratifying outlet that I have. To explore at my own pace, and my own time.”

Josh Gondelman appears at The Virgil in Los Angeles on Dec. 12, and in San Francisco at Doc’s Lab on Dec. 13.  Follow him on Twitter for links to upcoming dates in Philadelphia and Washington D.C.  

Monday, December 11, 2017 

Behind the Boxscore: Victor Oladipo is a star

Jack McCallum joins us to talk Jim Morrison, Jerry West, bass players and D-Wade

Indiana 126, Denver 116 (OT)

It was a matinee. That’s what I keep coming back to.

A reported 14,000 people peeled away from Christmas shopping to go sit in a basketball arena for a few hours on Sunday, no refunds were issued.

The previews didn’t even give too much away: Victor Oladipo went off for a career-high 47 points, using all expected tricks of his trade, a style that many ticketholders to this point had only read about it in the trades. Theirs were the same afternoon eyes that met Jolie right after she dialed it back a bit. That looked at Chris Pratt, before leaning over in darkness to ask if he was in The Office.

Oklahoma City, it turns out.

The screen lit up with a premise that couldn’t help but develop a few hours well worth the admission: Denver, after a weekend spent in Orlando and Indianapolis. This was a creampuff video game treatment with a pre-Christmas release and a massive international guarantee.  

Still, the kid’s gotta deliver, and by the time the lobby filled again anyone who wasn’t already in on the Oladipo Rush or the Pacer experience in whole was ready to slip the gate to watch it one more time.

Everyone had to sit through some previews first, some reminders of how big this business is and how it can sometimes stink on ice.

Denver was again without Nikola Jokic, something to think about when pulling this game out of a RedBox in a couple of months, and it thought it knew the quickest way toward a win, the entrance was profound and Denver was up double-digits in a flash.

Will Barton started again, same line as in Denver’s handy win over Orlando on Friday, which meant the professional performances in this loss were staggered, half its actors showed up to set staggering. Even at Denver’s best this roster is unsettled and with Jokic and Paul Millsap out its best players never seemed to share the court.

Barton was fine, nine assists and six boards with just one turnover, 21 points on 19 shots, but he was a little dry down the stretch as Denver’s execution eluded them. Gary Harris and Jamal Murray don’t know where they would rather be, just not in this particular building at this particular time.

This sent Wilson Chandler’s night into a tailspin to finish; the veteran wanted this one over with early and did his part with 18 points, but the car chase scene saw his cruiser flip over a few times before settling.

Chandler was mostly on point, though, same as Indianapolis product Trey Lyles (a team-high 25 points, barely left the floor but saw it better than most on his way toward five three-pointers and five rebounds) and Jokic replacement Mason Plumlee – out of sorts in this lighting, but three assists and seven points with nine boards in 20 minutes.

Those are our least-loved Nuggets, with coach Mike Malone taking long Irish walks just after the whistle signaled a time out.

Good effort, more defensive rebounds than this red state was comfortable with viewing, just nothing steady to lean on after the last pop barely gave the ice in the glass time to melt.

Will Barton’s ascension meant Emmanuel Mudiay would be pressed into leadership duties off the bench, but he’s the sort of player that will screw up an entire defensive possession for his team just because the three-pointer he hit wasn’t credited quickly enough by the refs as such.

It was made to stand as a two for too long, and the inevitable replay somehow wasn’t enough for the 21-year old, who still has the junior high kids laughing at him in the lobby. Four assists and four turnovers on the afternoon.

Victor Oladipo is 25 now, and as was the case when he was Mudiay’s age, he is every bit that number.

It isn’t just about consistency with the long jump shot, it’s that Oladipo has now begun to build off what he showed up with when the blinds were drawn on summer. He’s picking his spots, instead of rushing toward them.

Lance Stephenson is an E-Ticket ride at Indiana Beach prices, and you’re allowed to bring a cooler in. The NBA’s next batch of League Pass advertisements should just feature clips of Mr. Stephenson having his way against bench units featuring players that people don’t even recognize.

Myles Turner is aware that pristine jumpers taken acres away from the goal will only keep him in the hearts of Indiana fans for so long. He had to make his 24 points something a little louder than it started as, and Turner ably became part of a pass-happy flow that Indiana could fall back on when the alleys were blocked. Thaddeus Young, at 18 points and the game-tying bucket in regulation, was often the recipient.

The highlights out of Indianapolis will show spurts, and that’s fine – it really does seem like the Pacers do live off the sort of runs that turn early 19-point leads into two-possession games by halftime.

There’s a follow-through to this team, though, and Indiana’s 12-2 mark in overtime on Sunday only adds a small dash of support to the scene.

The Pacers don’t look like they’re running through sets, that’s for the work of giants in the Bay Area, and legends down in Houston. However, Nate McMillan does have a team that looks like it plays through practice on game nights, or on game afternoons.

And practice looks fun.

Indiana: 16-11, Denver: 14-12


After the game concluded I drove toward the old Indiana Fairgrounds, where the ABA Pacers used to play and where my kid took fourth-place all-around in a gymnastics tournament that she didn’t want me anywhere near.

We’ve got a good thing running, fist-bumps all around, which is why I decided to take her and her mother to Popeye’s for a dinner that we shouldn’t eat, partway through our drive home.

At a little after 9 PM, with the sign clearly stating that the restaurant was open until 10, the Popeye’s in the middle of Indiana was closed for the night.

Lack of interest? My family and the two gentlemen that also attempted entry at the same time were only left, in more descriptive terms, to conclude as much.

And I know you couldn’t possibly guess the name of the town.AN EMAIL CONVERSATION WITH JACK MCCALLUM ABOUT THE DOORS AND JERRY WEST

Jack McCallum is a Hall of Famer, and he does not know a great deal about the Doors or particularly enjoy the songs of theirs that he has heard save for one track.

Kelly Dwyer visited the College Football Hall of Fame at age 12, when it was in Mason, OH. This was around the time he began to sour on the Doors.

In several go-listen interviews promoting his go-read new book GOLDEN DAYS, Jack relayed an anecdote about the Doors song L.A. Woman that, as you’ll go on to read, he will forever regret.

McCallum kind of likes the song, it reminds him of when he started out as a short-sleever in the sports department and of when Jerry West and the Los Angeles Lakers seemed ready to wrest themselves from the long arms of the retired Bill Russell.

The new book even digs into new bits out West’s playing career, and his role in adding West-styled nerve to Stephen Curry’s Golden State Warriors.

With that in place, I instead emailed Jack to talk about bass players.

KD: I thought laughing down our sleeves at the Doors was a post-boomer thing, left for us cranks that had to grow up with The Big Chill. It was cool to hear you give the Lizard King his well-deserved college freshman shit before admitting that, holy cow, L.A. Woman is pretty much molten lava.

In spite of the best efforts of EVERYONE involved to ruin the song. Ray Manzarek was just Big Chill in a set of oversized glasses, madras everywhere. Morrison an obvious lout, the guitar player didn't use a pick. If I remember from the movie correctly, the drummer kinda sounded like a narc.

When they got past that shaman shit, and played white boy blues? I'm not saying every later track is great, but the last two LPs are enough to belly up to.

Does it go that far for you, or is it just LA Woman?

(this video is so dumb)

JACK: I assume by your Doors opening (look at that, a joke) you must've heard me quote the line from "Almost Famous" when the late rock critic Lester Bangs, portrayed by the equally late and more great Phillip Seymour Hoffman, lampoons a deejay who wants to play some Doors with this line: "Jim Morrison? He's a drunken buffoon."

Though Jimbo's burial – doubt he was ever called Jimbo, bet it would've pissed him off – at Pere Lachaise does provide a nice tourist stop when you go to Paris. A little cold, but he died in 1971, a few months after the release of L.A. Woman.

Morrison's father was an admiral or something like that and was involved in the Gulf of Tonkin incident that got us further into Vietnam. I was surprised that Ken Burns did not include that morsel, accompanied by a Doors track, of course, in his Vietnam doc.

Anyway, I must disagree with you about Ray Manzarek, also late. He had some nice solos and played the bass line so well that the Doors never employed a bass player, which left even more post-concert Jack for Jim.

Then again, maybe the Doors tried out a thousand bass players and they all said, "Play with Morrison? He's a drunken buffoon."

One of the last things Manzarek did was on Live From Daryl's House, Hall's continuing effort to spend an afternoon jamming with every living musician except Oates. (Just kidding; John did make a few appearances.)

Even if the Doors ultimately did not pass the critical sniff test, you had to listen to them when they first came out.  

One of the shared generational experiences you young whippersnappers will never know went like this:

The radio came on with "Light My Fire," and you started praying that they would go with the long version, which included that Manzarek psychedelic solo, but oftentimes it was the short 2:30 AM version and you started banging the steering wheel (with both hands), unaware that Spotify would later save your life. Of course, you were as old as a tree root by then.

KD: Nah man, the closest I ever got to losing an album track to the crush of commercialism was when the worry hit during the Last Days of Napster — was my "Randy Crawford feat Crusaders Street Life" mp3 download of the long, or single version?

Every kid my age has been burned. "Do It Again" without the middle eight. Rikki without the flapanda intro. Steely Dan DID NOT sing "Stuck in the Middle With You," uploader MrPras99

My memories may not be typical of most 20-year olds from the time. Keon Clark was the best thing on the NBA on NBC, it was a bad scene all around.What bugs me about the Doors' lack of a bassist is 

1. It's a bass, get a bass player.

2. How was Jim Morrison so drunk and lazy that he never played bass? 

EVERYONE plays the bass. Elvis sat around and played it, Bob Dylan played it on those stupid dorm posters that littered the parts of 2003 that I remember, and as soon as Fender gave the Beatles a truck full of free stuff during the 'Let It Be' sessions, Lennon IMMEDIATELY grabbed a six-string bass to mess with. 

It's fun to play, to hug, any UCLA kid worth his weight in resin has at least fondled a Fender P-bass at some point. I bet Bradley Nowell was great at bass and I really hope Jack McCallum has no idea who Bradley Nowell is.

The 27 Club really did take away a bunch of future bass players. Brian Jones was already starting to dick around with the bouzouki, the Forum Quorum couldn't be far behind.

JACK: I did have to Google Bradley Nowell. But not Keon Clark. I believe Keon was best known for jumping high. And being high.

Watch your comments about bassists. My brother-in-law, Donnie Kisselbach, wife Donna's little bro, is a bass player. Actually, now he's a bass player/financial advisor, a leap that, say, James Jamerson never made (you shouldn't have to Google Jamerson).

Donnie played with Edgar Winter, Rick Derringer, with a one-time flavor of the month named Fiona (Donnie's girlfriend for a long while; she made a forgettable movie with Dylan and made a forgettable appearance on "Miami Vice") and finally with the Turtles, alas, not the Turtles circa 1968 who made a shitload of money. 

Speaking of the 27 Club, we had a vinyl party a few weeks back--boy, that sounds embarrassing--and one of the albums I brought to it was Badfinger, one of whose members, Pete Ham, is a member. Loved that group.

I feel if we continue along this line, I will be continually out-hipped. Don't make me do too much Googling.

(Donnie Kisselbach rocking on the right)

KD: I swear Rick Derringer has played in more towns that I've lived in than any other entertainer and showman, and I've lived in some very small towns. God bless Rick Derringer.

Unless John Lurie shows up to take this conversation fishing, this thing was never going to be hip. I began it all trying to save the Doors, and I mean it.

All the dumb John Lee Hooker ripoffs on the second side of their last album? Line 'em up. 

Maggie M'Gill? Not bad, pretty stupid, but certainly lighter than what was happening in Bloodrock at the time. 

Queen of the Highway is sort of proto-LA Woman, a song you and I have gone on record as calling "mostly cool."

I just want to know where they would have gone, those Doors, had Jim lived and they stayed together. These guys were forever college freshmen and they wouldn't have had to play it safe because the royalties from the 60s hits were safely in turn, and they probably would have tried to make "Our New York Album" at some point.

What I'm saying is that we missed some HILARIOUS music, Jack. More so than any other loss in rock and roll history. The laughs alone would have kept Nixon from a second term!

JACK: Like most time-wasting males, I can go pretty far with the what-if game?

What if, for example, John Belushi hadn't gotten a hold of a speedball that fateful night at the Chateau Marmont? What would his comedy have been like, as say, a 50-year-old? Seinfeldian?

Would he have turned into Artie Lange? Might he have gone on to have a career more like brother Jim's, a career, incidentally, that seems to be picking up steam over the last two years for reasons that elude me. Incidentally, you can find some metal music from Belushi Speed Ball on YouTube. More time-wasting.  

But it's impossible for me to what-if the Doors. I just find no way to even consider that they would've gone on much beyond what they did. By the end, they were sometimes three musicians staring at each other curiously while Jimbo lurched around the stage. I just don't think I could see them beyond 1971. It wasn't going to happen.

I have enjoyed Googling and YouTubeing my way through Morrison and the Doors. Try and find DOORS + FINAL PERFORMANCE and a bunch of stuff comes up but always accompanied by comments that say it's a fake.

Anyway, it turns out that Harrison Ford once photographed the Doors. Maybe everyone knows this, but I did not. Here is a shot of the only time Morrison and Ford were together. Apparently. Unless it's a fake. You're welcome.

KD: Yeah, the Doors seemed even too dumb for the 60s, something had to go.

I'm forever fascinated by stuff like this, someone like Robert Palmer seemed so absolutely, awesomely typical of the 1970s for the duration of the 1970s career, and yet there are shots of him in every 80s montage Max Headroom spits out. And rightfully so.

This is why I love Jerry Krause. He didn't want to get into some Shaq vs. Wilt bullshit with MJ on the bus, he just wanted Michael to know that Sloan and West would have given him fits. In 1993. 

I love the stuff that translates. During Dwyane Wade's peak, all I saw was Jerry West. Sometimes Wade's vertical was even lower than Jerry's.   

West and Elgin were at the normal people positions of their eras, they weren't Wilt-sized but they would DESTROY even the most adept of modern defenses. 

Wilt was large enough to get on the Dean Martin dais, his game would translate in a blockier way, but in all this cross-generational talk we don't chat up enough how much Jerry West -- size of a good talk show host -- would burn in all eras. 

Even before the rules were lightened up, but especially during Jordan's era and that brief period of time when teams were allowed to put their hands all over D-Wade. 

(I think that particular "period of time" lasted a whole half a season, before David Stern put in a call.)

JACK: I think the sentence: "This is why I love Jerry Krause" has never been written before in American history.

So congrats on that. I did like Jerry, though. Two or three times I ran into him at an airport--that used to happen all the time back then before charters--and he would instantly adopt a "You didn't see me" stance, as if he were leaving on a mission to overthrow a Central American leftist government.

There is somewhat the West in Wade, though West was the better shooter and Wade the superior driver.

Among the nuggets I uncovered in GOLDEN DAYS, this was one of my favorites: Some video guys pored through hours of tape on West and could not find one single instance of him in a catch-and-shoot situation. He was the anti-Steve Kerr. He backed and backed and backed his defender down – "crab-dribbling," Geoff Petrie called it – until he got the guy in a surrender position then just went up and over on him.

Wade's performance in the 2006 Finals was as good as any I've ever seen. He basically won a game of tag against the Mavs; they could not catch him.

An editor at Vanity Fair once asked me, out of the clear blue sky, if I wanted to write something about Robert Palmer. It never materialized because Palmer didn't want to do it. I just went back and YouTubed the immortal "Addicted To Love" video.

The Palmer-ettes are absolutely frightening, as were, from what I understand, the Arnold Palmer-ettes.

This is all linked, and we’re lucky to have Jack McCallum to remind us how.

Jerry West is always at his best when up against the greats, writers included, and the discussions included in GOLDEN DAYS serve as ongoing evidence.

This has California all through it, it’s a state where the best driving is done just ahead of a clear view of the sea, and who better to tell us why than Jerry West, and Jack McCallum?

Kelly Dwyer covers the NBA, alongside musical bits and comedy numbers.