In Review: November 5, 1997
Love and hate between cities and sports
MICHAEL N. DANIELSON *62'S book on the love-hate relationship between professional sports and the cities where they're played is impressively researched and smoothly written. The author, a professor at the Woodrow Wilson School, provides readers with an excellent overview of the business of baseball, basketball, football, and hockey--one of the best (and clearest) explanations of the topic, in fact, that I can recall reading. Danielson reaches so deep into the Byzantine history of rival leagues, expansion politics, and team relocations that even sports experts will find themselves digesting a lot of pleasantly unfamiliar material.
Perhaps most admirably, the author has provided some wonderful accessories: two dozen insightful tables, a first-rate bibliographic essay, and a fascinating appendix that lists every major-league sports team ever to operate in 23 leagues, right down to the Tonawanda (Pennsylvania) Cardex of the American Professional Football Association and the Kankakee (Illinois) Gallaghers of the National Basketball League. I found myself returning to the list for reasons both functional and whimsical.
Unfortunately, however, the book falls somewhat short. For one thing, the author and editors let slip about a dozen errors of spelling, syntax, and fact. Danielson also fails to adequately assess why certain teams make money while others in the same city don't--or why some lovable losers like the Chicago Cubs thrive, while some winners either can't hold a fixed address (such as the Oakland Raiders) or always seem to be on the verge of relocating (say, the Seattle Mariners).
More important, as good as Danielson is at explaining how the sports world operates, he has the tendency to meander without a clear focus or argument. Danielson says he wrote the book when he did because municipalities have been engaging in an ever-more-outlandish bidding war to attract sports franchises. According to many experts, the subsidies that cities and states offer to owners are worth far more than the economic impact they will ultimately generate. But Danielson never directly assesses whether these deals are worthwhile until the final chapter, and even then, he does it rather unsatisfyingly.
"The point," he writes, "is not that major league sports are unimportant or even unworthy of government support; instead, the need is for public sports investments to be put into perspective, for reality to be substituted for fantasy, and for officials and publics to understand what they are buying and why." Yet he never actually compares the usefulness of sports investments to other kinds of infrastructure projects. Danielson's prime piece of advice seems to be that "individual localities need to play a tougher game with professional sports." Admirable sentiments--but not much of a payoff after 300 pages. Some best-and-worst examples might have been more helpful.
But give Danielson credit for one good insight: Though fans are the primary fuel in the economic engine of sports, they too rarely figure into the decisions of sports moguls. Then again, the interests of fans probably weigh too heavily in the minds of city officials who keep on subsidizing sports at almost any cost.
-- Louis Jacobson '92
Louis Jacobson, on the staff of National Journal, writes about sports for The Economist and urban planning for Planning.
Money and what to do with it
NO REASONABLY SANE, mostly solvent Princeton graduate of the last 20 years should be without Robert Gardiner '44's book. I am, of course, excluding those whose love of bungee jumping over shark-infested wading pools means that they have rather short life expectancies, and thus no need to save for retirement.
Hubbard's strong tenor featured on new album
NATHAN CHURCH Hubbard '97 and Joti Rockwell (Haverford'97) sat next to each other in first grade in Bethesda, Maryland, and while music historians do not yet celebrate that fact with quite the same reverence they do the first meeting of Lennon and McCartney on the tough streets of Liverpool or Jagger and Richards in a south London playground, there's plenty of time for the rest of the world to learn what recent Princeton classes have known for years: Their duo, Rockwell Church, makes ambitious, jazz-tinged folk that at times sounds like one of Hubbard's old favorites, James Taylor, and at others like Steely Dan or the Dave Matthews Band (which shares both RC's management company and producers). The melodies are strong, and Rockwell's guitar-playing is a wonder--synthesizing bluegrass, jazz, and classical influences into a precise and elegant whole.
The pair has been making music together virtually since that first meeting, says Hubbard, first "writing songs about the children's books in Joti's basement" then graduating to performing together at school functions. "That's the strength of Rockwell Church," says Hubbard. "I do the songwriting and write this kind of box that Joti is able to fill up and make into the final song."
Hubbard wound up at Princeton, with Rockwell 50 miles away at Haverford, but they continued to write music and perform together. Their first album, Inches from the Ground, was released on Homey Music, an independent label Hubbard founded during his sophomore year at Princeton, and was sold at the Chancellor Green Cafˇ in the student center. The album was nominated for seven Washington Area Music Awards and featured on AWARE III, a compilation of the nation's best unsigned bands, the previous installation of which included such notables as Better Than Ezra and the ubiquitous Hootie and the Blowfish.
A politics major, Hubbard spent the summer of 1996 in Cape Town, South Africa, conducting interviews for his senior thesis on the Tripartite Alliance (the African National Congress, the Communist Party, and the Congress of South African Trade Unions). It was a heady experience--"my first time in a Third World country, seeing death and oppression," he says--during which he managed to visit jazz clubs in both Cape Town and the townships and write most of the 13 songs on Through the Fall. The album was released on March 1, and though thesis pressures prevented Hubbard from promoting it with a tour, it sold over two thousand copies in three weeks.
Through the Fall kicks off with "Better Days," a catchy, uptempo song whose guitar hook recalls avant classicists Penguin Cafe Orchestra, and moves from one intriguingly arranged cut to the next. Rockwell Church understands dynamics and proves you don't need loud electric guitar to generate intensity. Hubbard does all the lead singing in his strong tenor, with Rockwell adding harmonies and, as the liner notes indicate, "everything else," which is quite a lot: keyboards, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, and a whole orchestra's worth of other instruments. "He's incredible," marvels Hubbard. "What you hear on the album is literally the first time he played either the Indian banjo or the pedal steel. He practiced the pedal steel for about two hours and said, 'I think I've got something to add to "Doves Outside My Door." ' It worked perfectly." So does most everything else on this subtle, gorgeously textured album (which can be ordered from the Rockwell Church merchandise hotline, 804-971-4829).
--Merrell Noden '78
Merrell Noden contributes regularly to Sports Illustrated and a variety of music magazines.
Walking the plank with Jollyroger.com
JOLLYROGER.COM takes a fascinating concept--Generation X embraces the Western Literary Canon--and promptly mangles the execution through a self-indulgent, chaotically designed Web site.
Jollyroger.com consists of several subsites, throwing together the Great Books (with Ayn Rand and Rush Limbaugh the latest additions to the Pantheon), fiction, essays, literary chat rooms, gigantic photos of Website founders, reader mail, and links to conservative Websites. As its name implies, Jollyroger.com positions itself as a pirate ship, steered by renegades battling secular-humanist culture. The "Constitution of the Jolly Roger," published under a skull and crossbones, states as much: "All crew members aboard this brigantine are united in their quest to revive Great Literature such as that which has been banned for promoting violence against whales."
That excerpt typifies the main difficulty with the site. The incontestable value of presenting literature from a young perspective gets dragged down to the briny deep when readers have to slog through endless gobs of generic conservative ranting. Editor-in-chief Elliot McGucken '91 yokes literature to conservative politics and devalues both in the process. The conservatism itself isn't so much a problem as the tedious tone and lack of imagination. Consider this typical line from a letter McGucken wrote to President Shapiro and posted on the site: "The feminists, multiculturalists and other resentniks you employ have destroyed the language and eradicated the Western Canon for a good reason--in the context of the Great Books the inferiority of all they pen is exposed." And so it goes throughout Jollyroger.com, with thousands of words jammed on to Web pages that frequently ignore the basic ideas of Website design.
That's a shame, because Jollyroger.com has the potential to present the Western Canon and a diversity (oops! wrong word!) of conservative thought to young people who may know nothing about either. The ad hominem attacks detract from the obvious intelligence behind the site. There are hints of a thoughtful approach to conservatism. One essay quotes philosopher Russel Kirk as rejecting "practical conservatism which has degenerated into mere laudation of private enterprise, economic policy almost wholly surrendered to special interests." That's powerful and provocative, but too rare. The talk-radio tonality is far more common, along with stale Generation X slang--cool, rocks, sucks, stuff--the lingo of the MTV doofuses that Jollyroger.com attacks.
So, nice try, terrific idea, but Jollyroger.com would sail a lot sprightlier with some of the polemical barnacles scraped off.
--Van Wallach '80
Van Wallach, a writer in Westport, Connecticut, is an avid Web watcher.
Drifters on the run in a first novel by Fred Leebron '83
Fred G. Leebron '83
A FIRST NOVEL can often miss the mark. The author, anxious to make an impressive literary debut, may unknowingly create a story that is complicated and chaotic. However with an M.F.A., Wallace Stegner Fellowship, and numerous short-fiction awards under his belt, Fred G. Leebron '83 understands the credo of "less is more," and Out West, his first novel, is a spare, yet enthralling, tale of the mayhem that envelops two drifters, Benjamin West and Amber Keenan, in a seedy San Francisco neighborhood.
Madison Smartt Bell '79 analyses structure
A writer's guide that uses short stories as models
Narrative Design: A Writer's Guide to Structure
by Madison Smartt Bell '79
W. W. Norton, $24.95.
MY COPY of this book has stamped in large gold letters on the rear cover the words INSTRUCTOR'S DESK COPY. That is meant to discourage your selling it 10 minutes after flipping through the "examination copy." For this is a textbook, and everyone in my line of work gets many of them in the mail from publishers who hope that you will "adopt" it for your courses and make them a lot of money.
NOTHING LOVED IS EVER LOST, by Dave Burns '53 and Hot Mustard (888-843-0933)--this CD features Burns crooning songs by Porter, Gershwin, Rodgers & Hart, Mercer, Berlin, Kirn, and more.
PRAELUDIUM: ORIGINS OF BACH'S GENIUS, performed by Gavin Black '79 (PGM Recordings, 212-586-4200)--the works are performed on a Fowkes organ.