Thursday, July 28, 2011

From the Canyon to McCartney

My Magical Mystery Tour through the North Country began on 7.23.11 at the refurbished Chateaugay Town Hall for a standing-room only concert with the Ladies of the Canyon. I had no idea who these Canyon Ladies were but my $12.00 ticket had already been bought, so I had to show. After the silent auction in the Town Supervisor’s office/lobby area, we took our VIP seats, front center. Me and the person I was with were the only two people under 60 in the entire auditorium, so I was a bit surprised when four women in their 20’s, in jean shorts that went reeeaaallllll high and 5-inch heels, took the stage, and began playing blue grass music.

Of course they paid homage to Amy Winehouse, and played a tearful rendition of some mediocre song in her memory, then called her our generation’s Janis Joplin. Huh? They attempted to play the Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” then took an intermission, and I exited auditorium left. When everyone else got home, it was reported that the Canyon Ladies did not get paid, because they are from Canada and they were afraid to carry the American money across ($2,000), so they basically did the show for nothing. At least somebody got their money’s worth.

Four days later I was in Montreal, ready to rock with Paul McCartney at the Centre Bell. That’s The Bell Center to you Americans (adjective before noun in Mon-re-al). We spent the day walking around Montreal, which was boring as always, then got some dinner, then headed to the concert. Our seats were the first row of the 2nd level, center stage ($250.00 per). As was the case with the last concert I attended, where ironically we sat in the same place (DMB, TU Center), a man who was at the concert by himself sat next to me. His name was Julian (Like John's son) and he was from Ottawa. I asked him every question I could think of about Canadians' views on Americans, and yes, I did come off as the big dumb American, I am sure.

The concert started and Paul took the stage in a red, leather coat, circa 1970, and he looked amazing. After a three minute standing ovation, he got down to business, and what followed is something I will never forget. This 69-year-old rock n’ roll god played a raging 3 hour set without stopping, without taking a sip of water. He ripped through 35 songs and 2 encores, and every, single track was better than the last. It was the most amazing thing I have ever seen.

There were no “concert tricks,” for instance long jam outs while the lead singer slips to the side of the stage for a break. Nope. The spotlight went on him at 8.38PM and didn’t come off him until 11.25PM. Actually, it was the band who took two breaks, while Sir. Paul played solo. He was a rocket jet on that stage, he was a 19 yr old in suspenders and Converse sneakers. It was the greatest thing I have ever seen. It was the 2nd night of a 2 night bill in Montreal.

If God is really one of us, God might be Paul McCartney. Who has lived a life like him? What hasn’t he experienced and lived to tell about? The stories he told us about meeting Russian heads of state and hanging out with US Presidents, amazing. While he played, the back screen ran those old, grainy, black-and-white Beatles clips that everyone always sees. You know, them at the airport with a thousand fans screaming, them on Ed Sullivan, etc, etc, and the whole time I’m thinking: That’s actually him, 500 feet away from me. In music, it really is McCartney and everybody else. From "Jet" song #3 until the end of the night, I was on my feet and screaming every, single lyric, and I don't do that. This from a guy who fell asleep at Tom Petty.

Whenever I am at a concert, I have fun, but there’s always a small part of me that kind of, sort of wants it to end so I can get out of there, go eat, etc. At this concert, I never, ever wanted it to end. McCartney is the biggest rock star in the world, and if you think he doesn’t rock hard enough for 20 year olds, I wish you could’ve seen the gaggles of young girls at this show, screaming the lyrics to every single song. And don’t forget my French-Canadian friend, Julian, who rocked out like it was game 7 of the NHL Finals. My favorite? "Nineteen Hundred & Eighty-Five." That piano work just took the whole arena up and down like a light switch, how it's slow then speeds up again. Awesome.

A few times McCartney mentioned John Lennon in glowing terms, literally making the crowd stand and applaud for Lennon. It felt a bit artificial, almost like he was guilty about continuing to thrive and make millions off “their” music. And it made me realize something. Although Paul has sold more albums than Lennon, made more great songs, had a longer run, and made more money than Lennon (perhaps more money than anybody in music history), and, oh, he's still alive, he will forever be #2 in his own band, Scottie Pippen to the finish. Even though his resume and longevity are both superior to Lennon's (perhaps superior to anybody in music history), he will never be Lennon and he never wrote "Imagine." But in every other way he has been more. So "Imagine" if Scottie Pippen ACTUALLY had a better career than Jordan. "It's easy if you try." McCartney also paid homage to George Harrison and played a killer version of “Something.” There were 34,000 people in that place and not a single person moved one second before the final note of the final song. And in the end, he fittingly played “The End,” the 3rd piece of “Golden Slumbers” and “Carry the Weight.”

He sang for 3 hours without breaking a sweat, all over the stage, between the piano and 20 different guitars, and it was, without doubt, the 3rd best night of my life. I won’t tell you what the other two were, but one of those nights centers around A Giant Win in Glendale, Arizona.

I include below McCartney’s song list from 7.27, a review of the concert, a picture, and an audio clip live from the show. If you listen real close you can hear me, at 36seconds in, saying “Now” to the person taking the film, because I thought she was taking a picture. I also include a video of the Ladies of the Canyon. Enjoy.

Concert Review:

Concert Set List:

Ladies of the Canyon Video:

Audio Clip:

Brian Huba

Monday, July 25, 2011

Steam Roll or get Steam Rolled

I watched the President address the country about why his vision is the right one for avoiding an embarrassing default on 8.2.11. After Obama spoke, for about 15 mins, the Republican Speaker, John Boehner, rebutted. As is always the case, Obama’s speech was stratospheres better than the Republicans. He explained the issues in an easily-understood way, he was positive, compromising, and had a concise approach, whether you agree or disagree, that part is true. At one point he credited Boehner for being a partner in the compromise. After Obama, Boehner gave the same “Scare Tactic” speech every Republican has given forever. He was not clever with the same old stories from “Real America." When it came to Obama, Boehner was quick to say he wasn’t on board with the Prez. Of the two, Obama was far smarter, willing to reach across, but guess what? The Republicans were just the opposite, and because of that they won Monday night.

The Republicans have one mission, and they don't care what they have to do to accomplish it: GET OBAMA OUT. No matter what Obama says, or how smart he says it, the Republicans are not going to budge an inch on anything he wants to get done. They want this country to default, so that they can use that line at election time. Obama: the only American President to preside over Default. I can see the rally signs and hear it in speeches already. And the truth is Obama’s too weak to stop it. He’s just not strong enough to make both sides understand his way is best. He just can’t sell it.

Why you ask? Here’s what I think. When you’re in a fight for your life, against people who are willing to kick and scratch, YOU have to kick and scratch. Obama’s just getting bullied by bullies that are dumber than he is, which is sad, but they’re willing to get dirty to win, because they can’t win on any other level. So, in a weird way, you have to take your hat off to the GOP. For Obama, he has two choices: Steam roll or get steam rolled. So far it’s NOT the former.

William Jefferson Clinton would’ve made John Boehner, and this whole defiant GOP, dance to his drum. This default thing would’ve been solved by July 4th. And it would’ve been done BC’s way, because that’s what happens when you’re the smartest, toughest gun in the room. You steam roll. People follow you. The Republicans rightfully smell weakness on this president, and they are going to pounce. First rule in the predatory hand book. They are going to let this country default for a few days, scare some people, then make a deal, three days later. And if that happens, the people will blame Obama because he’s the President. And if they do, the GOP wins, and you have to blame Obama for letting them win like that, even if you think his hands are tied.

Clinton didn’t care about hands tied. He did what he wanted. He steam rolled. Think about it like this: If I’m with four guys in an alley, and you decide to attack me and not them, because I look like the easiest target, is that, in some way, my fault? Was there something I was doing that made you think I’m a less-troublesome adversary? How you answer that question should decide who/what you blame for this Washington stalemate, and talk of default. Obama supporters, don’t tell me about "leverage" or “getting the votes.” Steam roll or get steam rolled.

The Republicans want the Oval Office back, and they are willing to do ANYTHING to get it, because Obama has a red X on his forehead. This is a crass move for one reason: The Republicans don’t have anybody. For all this smearing, you’d think the party would be setting themselves up to take the White House for 16 years. That would be smart, long sighted. But they are short sighted. Who are they going to replace Obama with? That lightweight from Wisconsin or that even bigger lightweight from Alaska? If you, as a political party, are willing to sell your soul to get your guy in, can you at least have a legitimate candidate in mind?

This isn’t even politics anymore, and it has nothing to do with the “American people.” This is LORD OF THE FLIES, Piggy and the glasses. At the end of the day, it’s the Middle Class that is going to suffer from this, because the GOP IS NOT GOING TO BUDGE. If that means default, so be it. If that means you lose your job, so be it. Obama out. That is A-1 mission at Republican Headquarters. And right now it looks like they might be able to kick and scratch their way to dethroning this gentleman president. My baseball coach can be a gentleman, not my President, and not in this climate.

Maybe this is what happens when we elect a man who only served one term in Senate before running. He's clearly lacking the chops to get nasty. You don’t give a kid who’s fought a few rounds at the YMCA a shot at Tyson, do you? Look what the GOP did to him about his birth certificate. Anybody knows that's nonsense. But the Republicans somehow made that a legit story for a month, until Obama got shook, delivered proof. The GOP sarcastically said "Good for you." But they made their point. Today 40% of US Citizens believe Obama was NOT born in America. Case closed. Kicking and scratching is the name of the game when you have NOTHING else. "But, Brian, that wasn't the GOP that was Trump." Yeah, OK. Right now we have a potential JFK type in the White House, brilliant, progressive, but too green and too soft. It's sad if you think about it.

But what choice did we have? The GOP ran a respectable John McCain with the biggest lightweight in political history. Maybe the Dems should’ve elected Hillary with Obama as VP. America would’ve basically gotten Bubba back for nothing, and 8 years later it would’ve been Obama’s time, and he would’ve been ready. Right now he’s not. Why? Because Washington isn’t about compromise and smart politics, it’s about sound bites, and smear stories, and averting the actual issue. Obama just isn’t tough enough.

The Republicans are going to succeed in painting him as incompetent, weak, but the only problem is they want to plug the Oval Office hole with a Swiss-cheese candidate. These are scary times indeed. I think of that line in AMERICAN GANGSTER, when Denzel’s mentor is having a heart attack in the dept. store. He looks up at Denzel, who’s trying to get help, and says, “Don’t bother. Nobody’s in charge.” Steam roll or get steam rolled.

Brian Huba

Monday, July 18, 2011

Really, NIKE, Really?

Earlier this month, sports-everything giant NIKE made a marketing decision that I cannot believe: They have decided to resign former dog fighter and current Eagles QB Michael Vick to an endorsement deal, hence returning him to their mega-influential stable of top-tier athletes. To this shocking news I only have one thing to say: Hhhhhhhhhhhhhhuuuuuuuuuhhhhhhhhhhh??????????

In case you forgot, let me remind you. After signing a $125 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons, Vick himself serially slaughtered animals with his own hands. He strangled, drowned, hanged, electrocuted, and beat unprofitable dogs to death while being coveted as the “Face of the NFL.” His multi-million-dollar property was a cemetery of pit bull carcasses left for decay in shallow graves. When simply crucifying dogs proved boring, Vick fed his family purebred to a cage of pit bulls, just to watch it get ripped to shreds. When defending Vick’s K9 crime spree, former Knick Stephon Marbury called dogfighting part of “their” culture. If Marbury meant poor or Southern culture, I don’t know what that has to do with an athlete sitting on the-then richest contract in NFL history.

But let’s forget that for a second as I pose the following 2 questions.

1)Why would NIKE, the gold standard for athlete endorsements, the company that could have any athlete in the world, the company that boasts such names as Tiger, Kobe, LeBron, and Jordan, global icons/champions, ever waste their time with a guy who isn’t even one of the 10 best QB’s in football (flash-in-the-pan 2010 season aside)? Why not sign Aaron Rodgers? What a great rags-to-riches story he was. The same year Favre fizzles out, Rodgers finally emerges from #4's shadow as a champion. Vick has not and will NEVER win a Super Bowl. Mark my words. He’s way too stupid to do that. Do you understand (after talent) the character and top-drawer nature of a man who can lead an NFL organization to the promise land? Do you understand how elite such a man is? Nobody who would be so characterless to slaughter dogs with $125 million in the bank is ever taking a team to such rarified air. No way is a person who lacks so much character considered by anybody to be a leader of men.

“But, Brian, Trent Dilfer won a Super Bowl and he stunk.” Maybe. But there is also a reason why ESPN made Dilfer their top NFL analyst. If you ever want to see how brilliant he is when it comes to the X's and O's of football, turn on NFL Live any given day for the next six months. Trust me, you’ll understand why Dilfer led a team to the Super Bowl, while he himself had marginal talent, at best. Michael Vick can’t even read a playbook. He’s a moron from Virginia, just like his trashcan brother, Marcus. Trash doesn’t win the Super Bowl at QB. Not in this NFL. No way.

“But, Brian, he sells a lot of jerseys.”

Which leads me to my 2nd question. 2)What complete maniac is actually going out and buying Michael Vick apparel? You’re joking, right? Look, I’m not saying that Eagles fans should stop being Eagles fans, but do we live in a country where a Vick #7 jersey is the top-selling in the NFL? Are parents buying Vick products for their kids? Do teenagers look up to Vick? Who is buying so much Vick stuff that NIKE HAS to be on the Michael Vick money-making express?

It is too shocking to understand on any level. “But, Brian, he’s made a lot of positive changes in his life.” NOPE!!! You slaughter dogs for no reason, family dog included: GAME OVER! Plus, I have another big point to stress here, so listen up, NIKE,Vick isn’t even that good!!

This whole Michael Vick thing has baffled me from the first reports of dead pit bulls on his property. There are only a few crimes that I cannot understand and can never forgive, and slaughtering dogs is A-1 top of the list. If Vick wants to make a living, fine. If the NFL wants to invite him back into the game, umm, OK, fine. If the Eagles, an otherwise classy organization, want to make him the face of their team, really?, umm, OK, I guess. But does NIKE, who literally wallpapers their corporate offices with money, need to celebrate Vick by giving him an endorsement deal? Does that really need to happen?

If it was a company like Reebok or Puma, one of the athletic suppliers trying to do something desperate to steal some of NIKE’s market share, I could kind of, sort of understand this resigning. But for NIKE to do it, well, it's almost like slaughtering innocent dogs when you're already a millionaire.

Read More:

Read More:

Brian Huba

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Dear Sallie

Dear Sallie:

Can you please explain how repayment of student loans work? Everybody in my circle has student loans, and has been paying them back to Nel Net or Sallie Mae or someplace else like that for about 5-7 years. The borrowed figure ranges from 50-70K, with about 4-5% interest. Most of us pay between $200-400 a month. So why are all of us still paying off the interest on these loans? Why has all of our principle balances increased? Is it like a credit card? I understand payments are divided between principle and interest, but why would my principle increase? People always tell me to throw all my extra money at my student loans, don't make minimum payments, and I think: Why would I flush my money away like that? I feel like I'd give 3K with one payment and my due balance wouldn't budge. I'm clueless with this.

When I graduated from St. Rose with a Master’s Degree in May 2006, I owed 54K in student loans at 4.9% interest, consolidated. So the total interest would roughly be about $3,000, right? Why, after paying $251.00 for 60 straight months, am I still paying off interest, and currently have an outstanding balance of 56K? It went up $2,000. Huh? Does this make sense to anyone? I just paid off a $25,000 car through financing at 5.9% in 5 years. So why am I scheduled to pay off 55K at a lower 4.9% interest over the course of 25 years? I have been paying student loan interest for 60months and the principle balance has gone up $2,000. That’s right, after paying back 12K, I actually owe more than when I started. What? And everyone I talk to, who is in my age group 28-32, and my circle, is in the same exact position.

You’re probably saying, “Consolidated and Confused, call your lender and complain.” I do that three times a year, every year, and I exit every conversation with Sallie Mae even more confused than when I began it. Those operators are taught to give you the run around, and answer all your queries by throwing a lot of sideways math at you that makes no sense, and just leaves you saying, “Uh, OK.” I don’t even know how long my payback period actually is. I think it’s 25 years. But I DO know that my scheduled payment is set to go up every few years, and by the end I’ll be paying back $450.00 a month. Man oh man this is one funky, impossible-to-understand repayment plan, especially when government loans are sold as being loans with such small interest rates, easy to repay.

Maybe I’m just an idiot when it comes to this kind of math, but the sheer numbers of it, at least this whole paying-off-the-interest part, is not jiving with me. In the same time that I am paying back 54K, which is now 56K at 4.9%, I am going to probably buy and pay off 5 cars worth 25K-30K at a higher interest rate. Of course the car payments are a bit higher: $330ish vs. $250ish, but my student loan payment is scheduled to climb all the way to $450ish by the end. Does this make sense to anybody? Can somebody make me understand why I’ve been paying interest since 2006, why my principle balance has climbed $2,000 after paying back $12,000, and why it will take me 25 years to pay back 55K at 4.9%, finishing with a payment of $450.00 a month?

I have started to accept that my student loan payment is like utilities or cable. It will always be there, and I will always mindlessly write a check, mail it off to that Bermuda Triangle called Sallie Mae. And every year when I call to question the math, some man or woman, ironically from Bermuda, will explain it to me in total gibberish, and I’ll say, “OK, that sounds about right,” when it sounds anything but. Then make another payment that makes no sense to me. God bless the government.

Sallie, can you help me understand this?

Consolidated and Confused

Sunday, July 10, 2011

10 Greatest Singers of All Time

As we prepare to head north for the Paul McCartney concert on 7.27.11, I got to thinking about the all-time greatest singers. With that in mind I put together a list of the 10 artists I think were in fact wise to give up their day job and give this music thing a shot. I'll leave off McCartney. I will also leave off the amazing Judy Garland, because she might (technically) be seen as more of an actress. For what it's worth, this is my list of the 10 greatest singers of all time.

10A.Stevie Wonder: How could I forget Stevie? Wow. One of the greatest singers/songwriters ever. I WAS MADE TO LOVE HER, PART-TIME LOVER, great, fun songs. I still remember when Stevie Wonder was on THE COSBY SHOW. One of my all-time favs. Can't believe I would make a top ten and forget him. Even Stevie could 'see' how obvious this choice is. (Added 7/12/11.)

10B.Justin Timberlake: Why not? He’s a great singer who can do anything range-wise. NSYNC was four jokers and Justin Timberlake. He was Mr. everything in a band that sold 2.5 million albums in one week, then came back with another album and sold 1.9 in one week. Nobody’s done that since . . . That’s right, nobody ever did that, not even the mighty Beatles or 98 Degrees. In fact I’m beginning to think there’s nothing JT CAN’T do. Think HE can’t be a movie star? Ask Markie Mark and Will Smith about that. Timberlake’s 1,000 times more talented than either of them. This is a gutsy call on my part, no doubt. Check the link below: Justin sings at Haiti benefit. It’s incredible.

JT for Haiti:

9.Jerry Garcia: The front man of the Grateful Dead. I’m not a huge fan, I admit, but Jerry just takes you on a journey with his voice. It’s soothing and peaceful, and, by the way, pretty damn brilliant song singing. If it wasn’t for DREAM ON or SWEET CHILD O' MINE, RIPPLE might be the best song by a rock band. Maybe.

8.Celine Dion: This Canadian-born crooner boosts one of the most powerful voices in recorded history. Christmas Carols are always terrible, but Celine does one (I think it's O HOLY NIGHT), and when she hits the high note at the end, wow. Any woman who can make a X-Mas carol shake you to the core is amazing. I secretly like many of her songs, and I think she has one of the best voices, period. I would love to see her live. I mean, only if she was opening for Motley Crue, of course, because I’m too tough for a Celine show.

7.Robert Plant: Forget it, right? What more needs to be said. Plant’s the voice of the all-powerful Led Zepplin. STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN is a masterpiece and Plant is a rock n roll warlock, who could enter stage right on a white stallion and still be cool. My God, imagine seeing LZ live in their glory days. Wow!

6.Ann Wilson: Lead singer of HEART. Greatest female singer ever. Period, the end.

5.John Lennon: The most important rock star who has ever lived. There will never be anybody bigger or more important than Lennon. IMAGINE is the greatest song ever. THE BEATLES are probably, literally, bigger than Jesus. It all begins and ends with Lennon. And today his legendary career goes full circle as he posthumously finds himself at #5 on my all-time greatest singers list. Just a kid from Liverpool with a dream. Dream realized.

4.Elvis Presley: A while back I watched an old, grainy Elvis concert from some ballroom in Vegas, dated about a year before he died. You know: fat, sweaty, white jumpsuit Elvis. The first few minutes, I was saying, “This is so boring. Who cares about this fat guy walking back and forth on some small stage?” Fifteen minutes later, the coffee table was moved out of the living room and we were up and dancing as the King went from HOUND DOG to SUSPICIOUS MINDS. It was awesome. Seeing that live would’ve been something pretty great. Now imagine Elvis when he was actually Elvis.

3.Freddie Mercury: Freddie is the Michael Jordan of rock n’ roll. The band QUEEN was 4 scrubs and this amazing genius named Mercury, who could sing any song ever written, better than anyone else. Singlehandedly he made QUEEN a timeless heavyweight in the rock world and in pop culture, although he might have to credit Mike Myers with an assist on that second part. Gone way too soon, Freddie. Brilliant, amazing, beautiful, spectacular singer. Nothing else to say.


2.Axl Rose: APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION is the greatest rock album ever. SWEET CHILD O' MINE is the greatest rock song ever. God himself was channeling through Axl Rose when GN’R made that album in ’87. The Gunners made an unequaled masterpiece then never came within a million miles of it again. So it begs the question: Is it better to sustain as pretty good for pretty long or be the greatest thing ever for a short time? Axl is the Mike Tyson of rock. And, man oh man, he’d high note you through the wall when he was at his height. "Pray for the thunder and the rain to quietly pass me byyyyyy." Axl Rose was a god on Appetite, and that’s good enough for #2 here.

G N' R: Sweet Child O' Mine:

1.Michael Jackson: The greatest entertainer who has ever lived. BILLY JEAN and BEAT IT are both as cool today as they were on THRILLER in ’82. He is the only celebrity ever to be a major star his whole life. At 8 years old Jackson was the best singer on the planet. At 48 years old he was the best singer on the planet. THRILLER is the greatest album ever. No one will ever touch Michael, the King of Pop. Enjoy the greatest performance of a song ever. See link below.


Honorable Mention: My #11 is Frankie Valli. Amazing voice.


Brian Huba