Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Concert Review: Ray Davies at the Fitzgerald Theater

Last night I saw Ray Davies at the Fitzgerald Theater in Saint Paul. It was a terrific show. I’ve seen Ray in concert once before, at First Avenue back in 2006. That was an amazing show as well. Ray seemed to be pretty chipper, after the first song he said, “I’m in a good mood tonight.” He didn’t tell as many stories as he did when I saw him five years ago, and it was a slightly shorter show, an hour and a half versus two and a half hours. Ray still looks and sounds good, he’s as thin as ever, and he was jumping around the stage as usual. (But he didn’t balance a bottle of beer on his head-a usual Ray trademark.) For the first half of the concert, he was accompanied by just Bill Shanley on guitar, who did a tremendous job playing the guitar licks that Dave Davies made famous. The first half was my favorite, as hearing all of Ray’s great songs with only two guitars really highlights how classic these songs are, and how well they stand up even 45 years after they were written. It was amazing hearing Ray sing “Waterloo Sunset,” one of the most beautiful songs ever written. We even got to help out on the “sha-la-las.” (Ray really loves having the audience sing along!)

For the second half of the show, Ray was joined by the band the 88, who were also the opening act. The 88 did a great job, but the sound mix was really loud. It’s something that annoys me about rock concerts, how the sound just gets all muddy once 4 or 5 people start playing together. The subtlety of the playing just gets lost, and I can’t hear individual parts anymore. Can’t they make it sound like a record, where you can hear the different parts? Anyway, Ray rocked out more Kinks classics with the 88 backing him, like “I’m Not Like Everybody Else,” and “Till the End of the Day.” Ray dedicated “A Long Way From Home” to his brother Dave, which he also did when I saw him in 2006. The show was very 60’s-centered, the most recent song Ray played was the encore, “Low Budget,” from 1979. Ray said something towards the end of the show about putting out a new record next year, which would be great. A highlight of the second half was Ray digging deep into his back catalogue and pulling out the “Face to Face” track “Too Much on My Mind.” And “Celluloid Heroes” is really one of Ray’s best songs; it was fun to hear that one as well. All in all, it was a really great show by a rock and roll legend.

Here are the songs that Ray sang, in mostly correct order:

Acoustic, with Bill Shanley:

I Need You

Sunny Afternoon

Dead End Street

Waterloo Sunset


A Long Way From home

Dedicated Follower of Fashion

See My Friends

Victoria-partial, which segued into:

20th Century Man-in which Ray was joined by the 88

This Is Where I Belong

I'm Not Like Everybody Else

Where Have All the Good Times Gone?

Tired of Waiting for You

David Watts-sung by the 88

Nothing in the World Can Stop Me Worryin' 'Bout that Girl

Too Much On My Mind

Till the End of the Day

All Day and All of the Night

Celluloid Heroes

You Really Got Me

Low Budget-encore

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Bob Forsch, Cardinals pitcher: 1950-2011

Bob Forsch, 1950-2011.
Bob Forsch won 163 games for the Cardinals from 1974-1988, and he threw two no-hitters.
Bob Forsch on the Cardinals Leaders card from the 1986 Topps set.

Bob Forsch, a right-handed pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals from 1974-88, died on Thursday at the age of 61. Forsch threw out the first pitch at Game 7 of the World Series just a week before he died. This just makes me really sad. I never saw Forsch pitch, but he was a player I was very familiar with through my baseball card collection and my fondness for the Cardinals. I’m a Minnesota Twins fan through and through, but the Cardinals are my second favorite baseball team. As a kid, red was always my favorite color, and the cardinal was always my favorite bird, so it was inevitable that I would like the Cardinals. I was rooting for the Twins during the 1987 World Series, though. Even at age 6 I had to support my hometown team. It always makes me sad when someone who played baseball during the 1980’s dies, as it serves as a continuing reminder of my own creeping mortality and it also means that my childhood has been over for a long time. Forsch was also way too young to die at 61. He looked very healthy and vital when he appeared at Game 7. Forsch died of an aneurysm, which sounds like the kind of thing that could happen to pretty much anyone his age.

Forsch wasn’t a Hall of Famer. Heck, he was never even an All-Star. But he was a good, solid, steady, dependable starter for 16 big-league seasons, from 1974-1989. (After pitching for the Cardinals, Forsch finished up his career pitching for the Houston Astros in 1988-89.) Forsch won 168 games and lost 136, with a lifetime ERA of 3.76. Those are really good career numbers, but not great. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate players like Forsch more. It’s so unbelievably hard to just make it to the major leagues, let alone to be a consistent starting pitcher for 15 years, that I tip my hat to Bob Forsch. I was looking through my set of 1988 Fleer baseball cards a couple of weeks ago when I came across Bob Forsch’s card. I said to my wife, “You know, Bob Forsch wasn’t a Hall of Famer, but he had a pretty darn good career. Winning more than 150 games is really impressive.” That I randomly picked Bob Forsch’s card out and had been thinking about his career recently is definitely one reason why I’m writing this post. It’s easy to like the superstars and the Hall of Famers. They’re the best of the best, and they will never lack fans. But for every Tom Seaver, there are a lot of guys like Bob Forsch, players who did the best with what they had and made the most out of their talent, even if it didn’t carry them all the way to Cooperstown. As a baseball fan, I’m in awe of anyone who made it to the major leagues, since I would probably sell my soul to get just one major league hit. 

Forsch won 20 games once during his career, in 1977, when he went 20-7 with a 3.48 ERA. His best season might have been his second, 1975, when he went 15-10 with a 2.86 ERA. Forsch also threw 4 shutouts that year. Forsch was not a strikeout pitcher, as he only had 3 seasons in which he topped 100 strikeouts. Forsch consistently threw 200 innings a year for the Cardinals, with a high of 233 and 2/3 innings pitched in 1978. All told, he had 7 seasons over 200 innings. Besides 1977 and 1975, he had just one other year in which he won 15 games, 1982, when he went 15-9. Forsch had a lot of seasons where he won 11 games. He must have been injured in 1984, and in 1985 he wasn’t used very much as a starter. Forsch did get a lot of post-season playing time, as he was with the Cardinals when they had a resurgence in the 1980’s. Forsch pitched in the 1982, 1985, and 1987 World Series. He threw a shutout against the Braves in the 1982 NLCS, giving up just 3 hits. Forsch started Games 1 and 5 in the 1982 World Series, but lost both starts. The Cardinals won the Series in 7 games against the Brewers. Like the rest of the Cardinals, Forsch didn’t do well in the 1985 World Series, getting an early exit from his Game 5 start. But he did pitch an inning of scoreless relief in the disastrous Game 7, which the Cardinals lost 11-0 to the Royals. Oddly enough, Forsch was only used as a reliever in the 1987 post-season. He pitched scoreless relief in Games 2 and 3 of the NLCS against the Giants, and he got the win in Game 3, but then blew up in Game 5, giving up four runs without retiring a batter. The Twins hit Forsch hard in the World Series, tagging him for seven runs over six and a third innings pitched. But Forsch pitched well enough in Game 4 to earn the win, his only World Series win. 

Forsch was also a good hitter for a pitcher, hitting 12 career home runs and winning two Silver Slugger awards at pitcher, in 1980 and 1987. He hit .295 in 1980, .298 in 1987, and .308 in 1975! In August of 1988 Forsch was traded to the Astros and finished his career there as a spot starter and long reliever. Forsch started 422 games in his career, which puts him at 99th on the all-time list. That’s pretty impressive, that only 98 guys in the history of the game ever got the call to start more than Bob Forsch. Forsch ranks 3rd on the all-time Cardinals win list with 163, he’s only behind Hall of Famers Bob Gibson and Jesse “Pop” Haines. Forsch threw 19 shutouts in his career, which is 15 more than Andy Pettitte threw. Of those 19 shutouts, two were no-hitters, putting Forsch on a short list of pitchers with more than one no-no. Bob’s brother Ken was also a pitcher and threw a no-hitter, making the Forsches the only brother combination to both throw no-hitters. Bob’s no-hitters came against the Phillies in 1978 and the Expos in 1983. In both games, he faced 29 batters, just two more than a perfect game. He gave up two walks to the Phillies, and against the Expos he hit Gary Carter with a pitch and the next batter, Chris Speier, reached on an error. The 1983 Expos were a very good hitting team; the heart of their lineup was Andre Dawson, Al Oliver, Tim Raines, and Gary Carter. Dawson, Oliver, Raines and Carter had a combined total of 10,214 hits in the major leagues, so holding all of them hitless for a game is pretty darn impressive. 

From what I’ve read about Bob Forsch it sounds like he was also a really nice guy, in addition to being a pretty awesome pitcher. It sounds like he was very humble and down to earth, and was a great mentor for younger pitchers as his career wound down. Like I said at the beginning of this post, I’m not an expert on Forsch’s career and I never saw him pitch, so there are certainly lots of people out there who know more about him than I do. But I have very fond memories of him through my baseball card collection, and I think it’s important for baseball players like Bob Forsch to be remembered.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, and Laurence Olivier in "The Devil's Disciple" (1959)

I watched The Devil’s Disciple this week, a movie from 1959 starring Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, and Laurence Olivier. It’s based on the play of the same name by George Bernard Shaw. The play is from 1897, and is set in New England in 1777, during the American Revolution. Olivier plays British General John Burgoyne, also known as “Gentleman Johnny,” a real-life figure who was also a playwright. Douglas plays Dick Dudgeon, the title character, who is a hedonistic ne’er-do-well. (He’s not actually evil, he’s just sort of an outsider who plays by his own rules and mocks the piety of his fellow townspeople.) Lancaster plays Reverend Anthony Anderson, a rather colorless minister.
The plot concerns the British occupation of the town. Dudgeon’s father is hung by the British as a traitor, and Dudgeon breaks the law by cutting his body down and burying it in Anderson’s churchyard. Anderson invites Dudgeon to his house for dinner, as he thinks he can help redeem Dudgeon. Anderson’s wife Judith is appalled at this idea, as she sees Dudgeon as a hopelessly wicked man who is beyond saving. Despite this, she is attracted to the dashing Dudgeon. When Dudgeon is over for dinner, Anderson is called away. British soldiers then knock on the door wanting to arrest Anderson, whom they believe stole Dudgeon’s father’s body. (Dudgeon is also wanted by the British, which is part of the reason that Anderson is being so nice to him.) When the British mistakenly believe that Dudgeon is Anderson, Dudgeon plays along so as to spare the minister. Anderson is sentenced to hang, and during his brief trial, Dudgeon continues impersonating Anderson until Judith breaks down and reveals Dudgeon’s true identity. However, because Dudgeon has said terrible things about King George during the trial, he is still sentenced to die for being a traitor. Meanwhile, the real Reverend Anderson has learned of Dudgeon’s bravery. Anderson rides off to find Hawkins, a lawyer who he thinks can help. Hawkins is actually the leader of the rebels, and while engaged in a skirmish with the British, Anderson finds his fighting spirit and blows up a British ammunition site. Just as Dudgeon is about to be hanged, Anderson rides into the village and presents General Burgoyne with orders that Dudgeon be freed. Anderson announces that the rebels have just beaten the British at the battle of Saratoga. Burgoyne reluctantly frees Dudgeon. Anderson then tells Judith he has joined the rebels. He tells her she is free to go with Dudgeon if she wants to, and he will not stand in her way. She chooses Anderson over Dudgeon, despite her realization that Dudgeon is good at heart as well.
Despite the terrific pedigree of the three main actors, The Devil’s Disciple falls flat as a movie. Laurence Olivier was underused, as he basically plays little more than a cameo role. It wasn’t necessary to cast as big a star as Olivier in that part. Douglas gives a terrifically extroverted performance, and is a lot of fun to watch, but Lancaster was miscast. There needed to be a bigger contrast between the two actors playing those parts. Because Douglas and Lancaster were so similar as leading men, we’re not surprised when Reverend Anderson suddenly becomes a man of action. Also, it’s not that surprising when Anderson’s wife is attracted to Dudgeon. If you’re married to Burt Lancaster, it’s not a stretch to believe you’ll probably be attracted to Kirk Douglas. Lancaster playing Anderson is a case of a star’s prior reputation and prior performances making it almost impossible to believe him in this part. If you’ve ever seen Burt Lancaster in a movie before, you know he’s a big strong guy who can kick some ass when needed. But in the movie, we’re supposed to be surprised when Reverend Anderson suddenly transforms from a milquetoast minister into a fighter. The surprise doesn’t work with an action star like Lancaster in that role. Someone like Montgomery Clift, who wasn’t an action star, would have been more believable. (Clift was Lancaster’s first choice to play Anderson.) Janette Scott gives a very good performance as Judith Anderson, despite the fact that she was only 19 years old when the movie was filmed, and thus was way too young for either Burt or Kirk, who were both in their mid-40’s. (Or were Burt and Kirk too old for their parts?)
Douglas is all grins and charm as Dudgeon, in a performance that’s reminiscent of some other parts that Lancaster had played. The first time we see Kirk, his hair is all over the place, in contrast to the rest of the film, when it’s neatly slicked back. Perhaps Douglas’s unkempt look in the first scene was a visual reference to Lancaster’s “bird’s nest” of hair? (One movie critic once wrote that they could tell what kind of performance Lancaster would give based on his haircut. If it was wild and disheveled, you could count on an outgoing, swashbuckling performance. If his hair was cut shorter, be prepared for a serious drama.) Lancaster, in contrast, is given a thankless part with not much to do. Reverend Anderson is just kind of a dull guy. Even the scenes where he finally becomes a man of action aren’t that interesting, and are not enough to lift the film. Behind the scenes, supposedly Laurence Olivier kept getting Douglas and Lancaster confused, and would call them both by the wrong name. (Which I would suspect annoyed both men.)
The Devil’s Disciple had a rather troubled production history. Lancaster produced the movie through his company Hecht-Hill-Lancaster, and when Kirk Douglas came on board, he co-produced it through his Bryna Productions company. Lancaster had purchased the film rights several years before from George Bernard Shaw’s widow, playing $600,000, a huge sum in the 1950’s. Lancaster originally wanted to play the Dick Dudgeon role, and wanted his From Here to Eternity co-star Montgomery Clift for the Anthony Anderson part. This would have been much better casting, and it’s definitely understandable why Lancaster would want to play Dudgeon. But because of Clift’s 1956 car accident while filming Raintree County, he was uninsurable, according to Lancaster. However, Clift did make two movies in 1958, and one in 1959, so he wasn’t uninsurable for long. In early 1958, Douglas came aboard, wanting to play the Dick Dudgeon role, which left Lancaster playing Anderson. Because Hecht-Hill-Lancaster was not doing very well financially, the budget for The Devil’s Disciple was cut in half. Lancaster said, “We had at first planned to make it a $3 million dollar color film. Now it was going to be a black and white movie that cost a million and a half, a very limited budget.” (The Cinema History of Burt Lancaster, by David Fury, p. 130) Director Alexander Mackendrick, who had previously directed Lancaster in the amazing Sweet Smell of Success, was replaced by Guy Hamilton after only about a week of filming. (Hamilton would go on to direct the James Bond movies Goldfinger, Diamonds are Forever, Live and Let Die, and The Man with the Golden Gun.) Mackendrick was deemed too “meticulous” to be able to finish the picture on the very limited 48-day shooting schedule. Lancaster later said, “It’s ironic that his two days on the film are the best in the picture.” (Fury, p. 130) Which begs the question, which two days did Mackendrick shoot? To clarify the timing, Lancaster said that after a week of filming, Mackendrick had only gotten through the shooting schedule for the first two days. So Lancaster wasn’t able to get the movie cast the way he originally wanted to, he had to play the role that wasn’t his first choice, he had to cut the film’s budget in half, and he had to fire his first choice for director! No wonder the finished movie is a bit of a mess. The trimming of the budget may have resulted in also trimming the running time, as the film only runs 82 minutes. The movie probably would have worked better in color, as I had trouble telling the rebels from the British. I wonder if the odd paper-mache animations illustrating the battles between the rebels and the British were due to the lack of a budget?
Both Mackendrick and Guy Hamilton were frustrated by the casting. Mackendrick explained that the main thrust of the story is that the two main characters are miscast. Dudgeon is really a born preacher, and Anderson is a man of action. “So when they change over, you get this great burst of energy. But Kirk Douglas, he’s another Burt, so you lost the temperamental thing.” (Against Type by Gary Fishgall, p. 177) In directing Lancaster, Mackendrick tried to “inhibit him in every way possible from being the Burt Lancaster that we know…to make him play somebody who’s gauche, clumsy, shy, and lacking in force.” (Fishgall p. 177)
When Guy Hamilton took over the direction, he was instantly faced with a problem, as Douglas wanted to make his part even flashier, against the objections of Lancaster. Hamilton knew that whoever’s side he didn’t take would hate him from then on. Hamilton answered that if he had his way, Douglas and Lancaster would switch parts. That settled the argument, and neither star bothered him from then on. (Story from Fishgall, p. 178)
In summary, The Devil’s Disciple is an odd misfire. It’s the kind of movie you hear about and think, “Why have I never heard of this movie before?” Well, because it’s not that good. The budget and the running time make it almost seem like a B movie, despite the fact that it has two giant movie stars at the pinnacle of their careers, and a man often called the greatest actor ever.