Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Together, we're (absolutely) GIANT!

The thrill of it all /
Giants catcher Buster Posey runs out to greet pitcher Sergio Romo
after Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera struck out looking for the final
out of the 2012 World Series.

The San Francisco Giants are baseball's world champions.

It's been a tremendous month to be a baseball fan in the San Francisco Bay Area. Actually, it's been a tremendous season to be a Giants fan.

On Sunday, for the second time in three years, the Giants won the World Series. This time, they swept the Detroit Tigers in four games. And, they won twice by shutouts.


AT&T Park /
The best ballpark environment
in the major leagues.
The Giants showed the baseball world that championships can be won with tremendous pitching and solid, reliable defense. Also, they won with a "small ball" attitude that capitalized on the consistency of base hits and sacrifice fly outs instead of relying on big sluggers to hit lots of home runs into San Francisco Bay. Although, to their credit, Pablo Sandoval, known to Giants fans by his beloved nickname "Panda",  hit three homers ~ none into the bay ~ in the Giants' 8-3 victory in Game 1 of the World Series at AT&T Park. And, it helped, too, that the Giants had a merry band of misfits on this year's team ~ Hunter Pence and Sergio Romo come to mind ~ who played together as a unit and bought into a "team-first" concept preached by their adroit manager, Bruce Bochy, that so many teams lacked this season.

My view from Section 332
during Game 1 of the
NL Division Series.
Throughout the season, AT&T Park was the place to be and to be seen. It gained a wonderful reputation as the best ballpark environment in baseball. To be certain, the Giants played winning baseball on the field, and throughout the stands, fans delighted in wearing white and orange Panda hats, waving their "Gamer Babes" signs, having their photos taken on the cable car in the outfield arcade and eating their garlic fries, too. Some Franciscan evenings were just perfect ~ we all remember Matt Cain's perfect game gem against Houston on a mid-week June evening, don't we? And, after each Giants victory, as the faithful departed the ballpark and spilled out onto the Embarcadero, fans were serenaded by Tony Bennett's very appropriate anthem to the City by the Bay, "I Left My Heart in San  Francisco."

Very San Francisco, indeed.

And, it should be noted, the Giants had a big following on Twitter, too, including the divine MLB Jesuswho tweeted after the final out: "God bless my World Champion San Francisco Giants."

The headline in Monday's
San Francisco Chronicle
says it all.
Among the many enjoyable things for me about following the Giants throughout the day-to-day, month-to-month rhythm of the 2012 season was listening to their wonderful broadcasters ~ Jon Miller and Dave Flemming on radio and Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow on TV. During the postseason, when local TV rights yielded to national TV broadcasts, the Giants radio booth accommodated all four of its own broadcasters, what I call a "four-headed" booth.

Each game, the innings were divided up in orderly fashion among the three play-by-play announcers, Miller, Kuiper and Flemming. And Krukow, who pitched for the Giants on the 1989 World Series team that lost to the Oakland A's, provided astute analysis and insight for the entirety of each game. It was a pleasure to tune in to "Miller & Flemm and Kruk & Kuip" with the TV sound muted. It worked, there was rhythm and excitement to each broadcast, and it added to my enjoyment of watching each exciting playoff and World Series game with our familiar voices of the game.

They delivered the message.

So, too, it should be noted that newspapers and the internet ~ even Twitter ~ were good sources for reading about the Giants throughout the season. Whether it was opening up the morning San Francisco Chronicle or going online to read Andrew Baggarly's columns and blogs via CSNBayArea.com, there were so many wonderful stories chronicled throughout this championship season.

Of the many wonderful things that were expressed by the Giants' broadcasters, one thing I'll remember and take away from this World Series victory was shared by Mike Krukow:

"The game of baseball is a beautiful game ~ it's an every man's game ~ and those who play it best are the ones standing tall at the end, planting the flag, and winning it all."

From the heart /
Hunter Pence rallies his
teammates in the dugout.
The Giants played the game of baseball best this year. It says so in the standings. And, in the post season, they finished with a flourish of seven consecutive victories. On a frigid and rainy Sunday evening in Detroit, they won it all and celebrated on the field and in a Champagne-filled locker room, too.

Now, it's time for the Giants players and management to celebrate and reflect on their marvelous accomplishment. And, it's time for Giants fans to enjoy the revelry and the ticker-tape victory parade along Market Street Wednesday.

Together, we're (absolutely) GIANT!

The San  Francisco Giants / 2012 World Series Champions.

Photographs of AT&T Park facade and inside the ballpark by Michael Dickens, copyright 2012. Other images courtesy of various sources via Facebook.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Always in style, always smiling, too!

The Jack Purcell sneaker/ Always in style, always smiling, too!

The original Jack Purcell sneakers were known for their great, classic look and timeless style. Designed with comfort in mind and worn with casual attire, they were easily identifiable by their signature "smile" across the toe. Today, they are still known for these same, great qualities. And, they're more colorful, too.

Great design never goes out of style.

While perusing the San Francisco designer shoe store DSW, near Union Square, on a recent Sunday afternoon, I couldn't help but notice the navy blue Jack Purcell shoes that were on display. Seeing them brought back fond memories of my childhood.

My parents bought me my first pair of Jack Purcell sneakers in the middle-to-late 1960s while I was growing up in southern California. Back then, the only colors manufactured were in basic black and white. I loved them equally. Jack Purcells were popular as athletic footwear along with Converse's Chuck Taylor All-Stars in an era before Adidas and, later, Nike became the athletic footwear of choice for generations of Americans. 

The namesake of the stylish Jack Purcell footwear is John Edward "Jack" Purcell, who was a Canadian world champion badminton player. It was during his athletic career that Purcell (1903-1991) designed a canvas and rubber badminton sneaker for the B.F. Goodrich Company of Canada in 1935. The idea behind his shoe design was to create a sneaker that could provide more protection and support on badminton courts. 

Fast forward and Converse now owns the trademark rights to Jack Purcell sneakers, and their appearance and variety of bright and vivid colors are similar to the Chuck Taylor All-Stars. While both Jack Purcells and Chuck Taylor All-Stars are now known more for their vintage fashion appeal than for their athletic use, there is still a "wow" factor to them. And, in recent years, their colorful, unisex appeal has become quite noticeable, especially among teens and young, college-aged adults. Yet, I truly believe all ages can pull off the look. Which is why I still love to wear Jack Purcell sneakers.

While I don't remember how many pairs of Jack Purcell sneakers I've worn in my lifetime, I maintain an appreciation for their style ~ even if they are a lot more expensive than I remember them being as a kid. They look equally cool worn with khakis or blue jeans. And, now that they come in navy blue ~ my favorite color ~ I just might be tempted to purchase my first new pair of Jack Purcell sneakers in ages.

After all, great design never goes out of style.

Photograph of Jack Purcell sneakers by Michael Dickens, copyright 2012. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What's in a song?: "God Bless the Child"

Billie Holiday / God Bless This Child

Recently, I heard the timeless classic "God Bless the Child" while I was listening to Eclectic 24, KCRW.com's all-music channel. And, it got me to think: "What's in a song?"

On May 9, 1941, the American jazz singer Billie Holiday recorded "God Bless the Child," a song she co-wrote with pianist Arthur Herzog Jr. in 1939. Holiday's version of the song, her most popular, would later be covered by many notable singers, including Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett and Stevie Wonder. It earned a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1976, and it was also included in the 1993 movie 'Shindler's List'. "God Bless the Child" was recognized in a list of Songs of the Century, by the Recording Industry Association of America and the National Endowment for the Arts. 

So, what's in a song like "God Bless the Child"?

In Holiday's autobiography Lady Sings the Blues, she suggested that an argument she had with her mother, Sadie, over money led to the creation of the song "God Bless the Child." It was during this argument with her mother, who was desperate to find money to open a quaint after-hours joint, that Billie Holiday (1915-1959) said the line "God bless the child that's got her own."

"God Bless the Child" is a fairly simple melody that's written in the style of an old-time spiritual. According to the jazz historian Chris Tyle, "Billie’s lyrics tell the story of how everyone is your friend when you have money but that 'empty pockets don’t ever make the grade.' Others, including family, may have it but won’t help you out when you need it."

In his 1990 book Jazz Singing, the author Will Friedwald, writing about the song, labeled it as "sacred and profane" as it references the Bible while indicating that religion seems to have no effect in making people treat each other better.

The lyrics to "God Bless the Child" refer to an unspecified Biblical verse:

"Them that's got shall get, them that don't shall lose, so the Bible says, and it still is news. ..." This likely refers to Matthew 25:29 (* - "For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.") or Luke 8:18 (* - "Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have.")
* - King James Bible Version

Today, "God Bless the Child" remains an enduring masterpiece.

I welcome your thoughts about what's in this song, its lyrics, its relationship to the Bible, and its effect upon you.

God Bless the Child
Lyrics by Billie Holliday and Arthur Herzog Jr. 

Them that's got shall get
Them that's not shall lose
So the Bible said and it still is news
Mama may have, Papa may have
But God bless the child that's got his own
That's got his own

Yes, the strong gets more
While the weak ones fade
Empty pockets don't ever make the grade
Mama may have, Papa may have
But God bless the child that's got his own
That's got his own

Money, you've got lots of friends
Crowding round the door
When you're gone, spending ends
They don't come no more
Rich relations give
Crust of bread and such
You can help yourself
But don't take too much
Mama may have, Papa may have
But God bless the child that's got his own
That's got his own

Mama may have, Papa may have
But God bless the child that's got his own
That's got his own
He just worry 'bout nothin'
Cause he's got his own

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

No place better to be on a Sunday afternoon than at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival

Glen Hansard performing on the Rooster Stage Sunday afternoon
at the 2012 Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in
San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.

The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival returned to San Francisco's Golden Gate Park last weekend with its usual stellar lineup of talent: Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, Ralph Stanley, Steve Earle, Patti Smith, Buddy Miller, the Civil Wars, Glen Hansard and the Del McCoury Band, to name just a few of the 88 acts who played over three days. Hardly Strictly Bluegrass has become one of the premier music festivals in the country.

There was no place in The City better to be on this beautiful, autumn Sunday afternoon.

This year's Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival held special meaning to the hundreds of thousands who attended the 12th annual free festival spread out over six different stages across the western half of Golden Gate Park. There was a little something for everyone to celebrate: bluegrass, country, rockabilly, blues, folk, pop, rock and jazz. As San Francisco Chronicle senior pop music critic Joel Selvin wrote, there was "a broad range of acts that somehow manage to coalesce into a music identity that is uniquely HSB."

Glen Hansard
It was the first festival since the passing of founder Warren Hellman, 77, the Bay Area billionaire investment banker and benefactor ~ himself a spirited amateur banjo player ~ who funded HSB as a gift to the city of San Francisco and left an endowment to ensure of its existence for many years to come. The Speedway Meadow, site of the Banjo Stage where Costello, Stanley and Harris played to tremendous crowds, was renamed Hellman Hollow to honor Hellman's memory.

On Saturday, there was a special tribute to the festival's "founding fathers" ~ Hellman, Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson ~ all passed away since last year's HSB. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band played a New Orleans funeral on the Banjo Stage to open the tribute. By late Sunday afternoon, Harris closed the festival as she has every year since its beginning in 2001.

I would have loved being at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass for all three days of this year's festival. However, prior commitments to see the University of California women's volleyball match in Berkeley on Friday and the San Francisco Giants NLDS playoff game against Cincinnati across town at AT&T Park on Saturday limited me to just attending Sunday afternoon.

Nick Lowe
Still, my afternoon at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass was worthwhile and the nice weather and setting provided the right ambiance to enjoy a picnic lunch with my wife. We enjoyed a few hours of great music on the grounds of the Rooster Stage in Marx Meadow with several thousand like-minded enthusiasts, who like us were sprawled out on the grassy meadow with their blankets and picnic baskets.

First, we saw the Irish singer/songwriter Glen Hansard perform several tunes from his 2012 album "Rhythm and Repose." Best known for his work with Swell Season and the Frames, Hansard's hour-long set included "Love Don't Leave Me Waiting" from "Rhythm and Repose" and he finished with an inspiring version of The Band's "Don't Do it" in tribute to the late Levon Helm, who was that group's inspirational leader.

Then, after a short recess, next up was the British singer/songwriter Nick Lowe, whose graceful and lyrical crooning style is steeped in classic American pop and blues. Once labeled "the Jesus of Cool" for his pioneering pub-rock style of the 1970s and '80s, today Lowe's style has been described as "boutique pop" with "far gentler textures." Lowe's solo set ~ just him and his acoustic guitar ~ included songs from his current album "The Old Magic" as well as many of his earlier hits, notably "Cruel to be Kind."

Close-knit circle and dapperly attired / The Del McCoury Band
performing late Sunday afternoon on the Star Stage
at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival.

Afterward, as we reached the Star Stage on our way towards the western edge to exit the festival grounds, we paused for a few minutes to listen to and appreciate the dapperly dressed Del McCoury Band as they performed traditional bluegrass music. On stage in close-knit semicircle, there were bluegrass fiddles, banjos, guitars and mandolins ~ and so much more. There were voices, too. It was sweet, heavenly music to our ears.

Indeed, we had come to the right place on this beautiful, autumn Sunday afternoon.

Photographs by Michael Dickens, copyright 2012. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A taste for modernism: The relationship of a painter, his canvas and the outside world

Henri Matisse / Woman With a Vail
(Oil on canvas, 1927)

"The essence of painting is the expression of certain relationships between the painter and the outside world, and a picture is an intimate association of these relationships with the limited surface that contains them."

~ José Victoriano González-Pérez, better known as Juan Gris, early 20th century Spanish painter and sculptor.

Last Friday night, I had the pleasure of visiting "A Taste For Modernism," an exhibit of more than 60 paintings, drawings and sculptures from the William S. Paley Collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York that is currently on display at the deYoung Fine Arts Museum in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park through December 30, 2012.

The CBS media titan, who was a patron of the New York City arts scene and a devoted philanthropist, amassed an impressive collection of modern art during his lifetime (1901-1990) that dotted the walls of his tony Fifth Avenue mansion. It included paintings, sculptures and drawings from the late 19th century to the early 1970s.

Paul Cézanne / Milk Can and Apples
(Oil and canvas, 1879-80)

The "A Taste For Modernism" exhibit of avant-garde masters of the French Post-Impressionism and Modernism period included artwork by Matisse, Picasso, Degas, Cézanne, Gauguin and Toulouse-Lautrec.

Among the featured works in the exhibit were Gauguin's The Seed of the Areoi (1892), which is an important female nude from Gauguin's first trip to Tahiti; Cézanne's Milk Can and Apples (1879-80); Degas' pastel Two Dancers (1905); Picasso's Boy Leading a Horse (1905-06); and Matisse's masterpiece Woman With a Veil (1927).

In his review about "A Taste For Modernism," San Francisco Chronicle art critic Kenneth Baker wrote that it "really is more about one collector's quite sophisticated taste in art than a capsule survey of a period or tendency." I agree with Baker's assessment. However, this exhibit made a good first impression on me ~ Matisse and Picasso always draw my attention ~ and, on this particular chilly autumn evening, it was time well spent.

For further information:

Photographs of the paintings "A Woman With a Veil" and "Milk Can and Apples" by Michael Dickens, copyright 2012. All rights reserved.