Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Willie Morris on Steve McNair and the South

Mississippi is known for it's writers. When you look at a list of Mississippians who wrote books it's a veritable Who's Who of Southern Literature. The most famous Mississippi writers include William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, Larry Brown, Stephen Ambrose, Shelby Foote, John Grisham, and Willie Morris.

Willie Morris was born and raised in Yazoo City, Mississippi. After graduating from high school, he attended the University of Texas at Austin where he served as editor for the school newspaper. Willie was not popular with UT's administration because of his scathing articles against segregation, censorship, and the partnership of politicians with the local oil and gas interests. Willie was so disliked by the administration that UT did not acknowledge his winning of a Rhodes Scholarship with even as much as a letter of congratulations. After returning from his studies in Oxford, Willie worked for a small newspaper in Texas and served as editor of Harper's Magazine in New York City before returning to Mississippi. Willie was the writer-in-residence at Ole Miss for many years. One of his most famous pupils there was a law student that would sit in on his lectures. That law student, named John Grisham later released a "A Time To Kill" with Willie writing the forward. Willie Morris died of a heart attack in 1999, just a few months before the movie of his most famous work, "My Dog Skip" was released.

Willie was a giant football fan and loved keeping up with the in-state talent (note: I'm currently reading his work The Courting of Marcus Dupree which is about a talented MS running back) In 1994, a young man named Steve "Air II" McNair was setting records at Alcorn State. Willie went to visit and ended up writing this article for the New York Times. It's classic Willie Morris. It touches on some of the ideas and themes that consumed his writing: importance of the past, allegiance to a place, the power of land, the glory and disappointment of sports, the meanness and tragedy of racial injustice (I stole this from the Mississippi Writers Page). It's well worth a read.

While your at it, I strongly recommend reading "Is There A South Anymore" from a 1986 issue of Southerner Magazine. I love the part towards the end where he talks about what makes the South different: A heightened sense of community, manners, ritual, morality, white/black relations, and the continuity of our culture.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Remembering Steve McNair

My family came in this weekend and we got to spend a good bit of time together doing things in and around Nashville. Because we were enjoying the day with my three year old niece, I didn’t get to listed to much outside of kids music and if I got to watch TV it was typically Dora the Explorer or Clifford the Big Red Dog. On Saturday we headed down to LP field to watch the 4th of July fireworks from the east bank of the river. We were sitting outside of gate #9 when the family next to us turned on their radio to get the latest on the weather. The first thing that we hear was local sportscaster George Plaster’s voice declaring that Steve McNair had been killed.

Everyone within earshot was shocked and the word spread through the crowd quickly. Some people walked around to the north side of the stadium to look at his picture. The mood of the crowd quickly changed to match the darkening skies and rapidly deteriorating weather. I know that I felt like I had just taken a shot to the gut and still feel a little down about the whole situation. Tributes to “Air” McNair have sprung up all over Nashville and one the unpleasantness is resolved I hope we have the sense to celebrate his career by retiring his number (I know he is in the Ring of Honor, but I don't think that's the same thing).

Steve McNair was a hell of an athlete and a great man off the field. I always liked him because of his toughness, kindness, and giving spirit. I also held him in particular favor because he was from Mississippi. Here are a few things I will always remember about Steve McNair
1. His toughness: Steve McNair was a warrior. He constantly played, with injuries. I remember on stretch of games in particular where he had a bruised sternum. The pain was so intense that he wasn’t able to practice, but on game days he would suck it up and lead the team down the field.
2. Mississippi Pride: Many athletes from Mississippi, especially black athletes, forget about their roots when they finally make it big. In my opinion, Jerry Rice and Walter Payton didn’t give much back to their home state. This is probably partially because the racial environment was different back then. Steve McNair, along with Brett Favre and Deuce McAllister were a new breed of athletes that gave back to Mississippi and tried to make it a better place for everyone. Steve McNair always remained humble and never forgot where he came from.
3. Giving Back to the Community: Steve always did everything he could for kids and the underprivledged through the Steve McNair Foundation. He held free football camps for kids in both Nashville and in Mississippi and was heavily involved in the Boys and Girls Club. I’ll never forget him sending several tractor trailers full of food, water, and clothing down to Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. What was amazing was that Steve just didn’t loan his name to the cause. He was actually out there loading tractor trailers and thanking people who were making donations.
4. Athletic Ability: Growing up I head about the ledgend that was Steve McNair. He played his high school ball at Mount Olive. At the age of 16, Steve led the school to a state championship, playing every down, playing the positions of quarterback, defensive back, punter, kicker, and return specialist. Later, before heading off to college I remember him breaking almost every NCAA offensive record at Alcorn State. While in college I drove to Memphis to watch the then Tennessee Oilers play the Baltimore Ravens in what was, for a time, the lowest attended game in NFL history. McNair has just taken the QB position over from Chris Chandler and Mississippians were driving in from everywhere to watch him play. He was probably one of the most prolific players the Titans has ever seen setting several records and getting the team within 1 yard of a Superbowl win.

There are many other things that I will always remember about Steve. Nashville and Mississippi have lost one of the “good ones.”

You will be missed #9.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Blogaroo Part 1: The bands

I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about my second Bonnaroo experience. There were so many aspects to the weekend, so I decided to break it up into topics instead of giving a rundown of my daily activities. I guess the first thing I should write about is the music and other entertainment. Overall I ended up seeing 20 different acts. By seeing I mean I stuck around long enough to watch a few songs. Technically I heard more acts but I didn’t really want to list bands that I saw in passing.

My five favorite performances (in no particular order)
1. Wilco. Who would have guessed, right? I’ve always made it pretty clear that they are my favorite band. It was a much better performance than their last appearance at Bonnaroo (Jeff Tweedy was just coming out of rehab back then). To me the highlights were Hummingbird and Woody Guthrie’s California Stars.
2. Phish: I’d never seen these guys before and was pretty excited about it. They were the headliner on Friday and Sunday night. I can’t say they blew me away on Friday. Maybe it was because I was worn out after a long day and a stellar Beastie Boy’s show. Maybe I had too many beers. Regardless, I went back on Sunday and was blown away, especially when Bruce Springsteen sat in with them for a couple of songs. I think the best thing about seeing Phish is how passionate and wild their fans are. I think all the glowsticks flying through the air look cool too.
3. Jimmy Buffett: This show was originally billed as Ilo and the Coral Reefers (Ilo is a talented west African musican Jimmy discovered). Somehow Jimmy ended up playing as well. It wasn’t as rowdy as a typically Buffett show would be, but it was good regardless. I thought the highlight of the show was when Ilo expressed how 48 hours before the show he didn’t know if he would be allowed into the US, and expressed how happy he was to be in our country.
4. Beastie Boys: The last time I saw the Beastie Boys was on the Ill Communication Tour back around 1994. It still ranks as one of the best shows I have ever seen. The guys are a little older and don’t have the energy they did back then, but they still didn’t disappoint. The highlights for me were the debute of a new song “Too Many Rappers” performed with Nas and Paul Revere. If you were alive when Licensed to Ill was released and you don’t know all the words to Paul Revere then something is wrong with you.
5. Public Enemy: If I actually did rank the top five sets that I saw, PE would fall into either the #1 or #2 slot. They tore it up. Chuck D and Flav walked out with the S1W’s and announced they would start by playing every song off the groundbreaking album It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold us Back (ranked 48th best album of all time by Rolling Stone, and one of my personal favorites.

A few performances I thought were overrated.
1. Bruce Springsteen and the E. Street Band: Bruce puts on a very high energy show, but he is pretty cheesy. So is everyone in his band. This is the second time I have seen him perform live and I’m still not impressed. I tried to stick it out but left after he played “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Who the hell plays that in June? I kind of wish I stuck around so I could see him perform with Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.
2. Animal Collective: I heard so much hype about Animal Collective, and thought they were pretty bad. Maybe they just aren’t a good live band, or maybe they need to play a later time slot.
3. Girl Talk: I love GT and have heard seeing him live is an awesome experience. I think if you get to the show early enough it probably is. If you don’t and end up in the back you kind of feel uninvolved. I was also a little irritated that the artists laptop kept cutting out and he had to stop the show a couple of times because people were getting crushed.

Five bands that exceeded my expectations
1. Hockey: I basically watched this band because I was too tired to walk to a different stage. They were actually pretty damn good. They had an interesting 70’s soul/funk sound. I really enjoyed this show and will probably buy their album.
2. Galactic with Trombone Shorty and Corey “Boe Money” Henry: Take one of New Orleans best funk bans and combine it with two of New Orleans best trombone players and you have yourself one hell of a party.
3. Ben Harper and the Relentless7: I went to see Ben Harper to kill a little time before MGMT played. I’ve always liked Ben Harper but get bored with his more gospel-like material. With the Relentless7 he just rocks out. Great show.
4. Bon Iver: I didn’t have high expectations about Bon Iver. His album “For Emma” has been lauded as one of the best of 2008, but I found it to be a little too slow and quiet. His live performance is nothing like that. They actually rock out. I got to the show a little late and soon wished I got there earlier.
5. Neko Case: I’m not a big female singer fan, but Neko sounded real good. I’m thinking about seeing her at the Ryman later this year.

Things I regret missing.
1. MGMT: I really wanted to see this band. Oracular Spectacular is pretty much dominating my CD player right now. Unfortunately I decided to take a disco nap and didn’t wake up in time. This is especially disappointing now that I know Drew Barrymore (Pic 15) was there.
2. Nine Inch Nails: I skipped this show because I had just seen them in October. Trent Reznor announced it would be their last North American show.
3. Phoenix: People were absolutely raving about this band. I checked the tour dates and every show is sold out.

There were several other bands I saw.
1. Crystal Castles: I really liked them but only cought two songs.
2. Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Second time seeing them. Good show as always.
3. TV on the Radio: Second time seeing them. Great band. Good show.
4. Snoop Dogg: Pretty good as expected.
5. Passion Pit: I like their music. Live show was ok, but not outstanding. I liked the music enough to want to buy the album.
6. White Rabbits: Didn’t care for them but will give it another listen because Britt Daniels of Spoon produced their album.
7. Chairlift: Didn’t care for them.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


I've often declared how much I like the tacos at my local taco truck. It's pretty simple to order because every item is a dollar. The great meal you see before you came to a grand total of six bucks. For that low price I got a Jarrito's Mandrin Orange soft drink (my orange soda addiction continues), four canita (roasted pork) tacos and one cabeza (beef cheek) taco. The meal is garnished with pickled carrots and radishes and served with two types of sauce.
Can you find the beef cheek taco in the picture? It's actually the one in the front right corner. If you take a close look, you will notice that it's much "wetter" than the other tacos. The beef cheek was actually pretty good, once you got used to the consistency. It was very tender and had a mild flavor.

Update on the garden

All of my plants are doing great, with the exception of the cilantro. It tends to want to either wilt in the heat or grow straight up in the air without producing leaves. The tomato plants have stearted to produce little green fruit. I'm thinking in two or three weeks some will be ripe enough to eat.

The tomato plants are thirsty little guys. I have to put at least a quart of water in each one every night. I also bought some aqua globes which help a little, but just aren't big enough to make a difference.

I've got two empty 10" pots that I may try to grow something in soon. I'm thinking about trying some type of pepper, but have to read up a little more.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"The Latin Paradox" or "Why Are There No Ethnic Bums"

I may be treading on some controversial material here, but what the hell, it interests me.

While in Charleston, two of my friends went into a convenience store. One was Chinese and the other was a white guy. The man behind the counter was from Africa, most likely Somalia. My white friend had left his wallet at the house and my Chinese friend had to spot him. While paying for their merchandise, he made a crack to the Somali saying “White people, always looking to get something for free.” I thought it was humorous, but the Somali found it absolutely hysterical.

I didn’t really understand why he found it so funny until today. I was standing outside of a taco truck waiting for my dinner to be prepared. A black man approached me and the Mexican gentlemen standing next to me asking for money or cigarettes. We told him that we couldn’t help him and he eventually walked off. Once he left the Mexican turned to me and asked me a question in Spanish. When he figured out I didn’t understand he spoke in perfect English. We had a pretty interesting conversation. The Mexican was trying to understand why the only panhandlers he came across were either African American or Caucasian. He had never run across a Mexican or Hispanic panhandler, or one from Asia, the Middle East, or Africa. He was a little irritated that Americans tended to look down upon Mexicans and Hispanics when they tended to be hard working and (mostly) law abiding people.

The question has been churning around in my head for a few hours now. I’ve read some interesting articles on the internet regarding what is known as the “Latino Paradox.” Studies in major cities like New York and LA show that despite having a low socio-economic position (similar to that of African Americans) the distribution of homeless Latinos is much smaller than their percentage of the total population. Many attribute this to the importance of family and community in Latino cultures. If a Latino gets down on his luck there is a family member somewhere that feels an obligation to help his relative out. I also think the importance of family influences this in other ways. I never really thought about it, but Americans work hard to earn money to survive, buy more things, and develop social status often at the expense of family. Mexican immigrants tend to work hard because they value their families and want to provide for them, but they don’t seem to lose sight of being part of the family as well.

There are probably other culture differences that attribute this as well. If you have any thoughts as to why this Latin Paradox exists, please feel free to post them.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Eating Out: City House, Knockout Wings, and The Tale of Two Taco Trucks.

City House: This restaurant is located in the Germantown neighborhood and is the brainchild of Chef Tandy Wilson. The restaurant declares itself as an authentic Italian restaurant that prides itself in using in-season locally grown produce and meats. Although the emphasis is Italian, the restaurant also offers it’s take on traditional southern foods. I really liked the décor of the restaurant. It was simple yet classy, without being stuffy or overly elegant. I was a little irritated that our table was not ready despite a reservation and the water is served with no ice. I cooled out a little once I got my Sazerac, the official cocktail of New Orleans. This drink is made of rye whiskey, bitters, sugar, and herbsaint. I was really impressed by the menu and chose to go with the Tennesse pork plate. This dish had a sampling of house cured pulled pork and house made sausage. It was served with aruglula that was cooked in a similar fashion to greens. It was very good-a little salty-but this should be expected when using house cured pork products. My cocktail and entrée ran roughly $30, which I thought was a bargin. I was also impressed that 20 year old Rip Van Winkle, the top ranked bourbon in the world, was offered on the desert menu. I’d definitely eat here again.

Knockout Wings: I’ve been trying to dine my way across two of the “ethnic cooridors” on my side of town. Jefferson Street is one of them. This is a predominately African American part of town that is famous for being the home of two traditionally African American universities: Fisk University and the Tennessee State University. Back in the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s Jefferson Street was one of the most well known black neighborhoods in the southeast, famous for it’s jazz, blues, and R&B scenes. Jimi Hendrix, Ray Charles, Fats Domino, and Little Richard all played there. Eventually an interstate cut the neighborhood in half, and desegregation gave black Nashvillians the opportunity to shop in other areas of town. Knockout wings is located in the heart of this neighborhood. I ordered a dozen wings, half hot, half country. The first thing I noticed is that country means plain. The second thing I noticed was that the order only included drummies, there were no flats. The hot wings had decent flavor but didn’t blow me away and the famous biscuits were a little too sweet for my taste. Overall I found the restaurant to be a little overrated.

Charlotte Pike Taco Trucks: Charlotte Pike is one of the more diverse roads in Nashville. There are Hispanic, Korean, Indian, Vietnamese, and other types of cuisine offered on this street. I decided to start checking up some of the taco trucks located on this street. I’m not sure what the places true names are but I think the first one is called Tex-Mex and is located in about the 5800 block near the cluster of Vietnamese restaurants. I tried the steak (asada) and beef brisket bbq (barbacoa). They were 99 cents each and served with onions, cilantro, and a sauce. They were excellent, but upstaged by the truck in the 6300 block near the Sonic. This truck had a decent steak taco and a phenomenal carnita (roasted pork) taco. On top of that, the tacos were garnished with radishes and pickled carrots and they were only $1 each. I had a conversation with an acquaintance from Acapulco and he convinced me to go back and try some of the more exotic meats. In the near future expect reports on my experiences with tripe, beef cheek, tongue, and other strange meats!