Tuesday, January 08, 2008

So, it is January 8, a day of great historical significance in American. True, Elvis was born on this date in 1935, but while I love his music, I harbor no illusions as to the overall importance of a music mega star in the grand scheme of things in American history. With or without Elvis, we'd probably stand in about the same spot historically, I think, at this moment.

I do have some grievances to air with other so-called Elvis fans. There's been a lot of talk going around claiming that Viva Las Vegas is both the best Elvis film and an underrated song. Neither of those statements is accurate. Viva Las Vegas is a beat movie, it's very much like Speedway, but with a prettier co-star and a slightly less ludicrous premise.

I don't see how one could claim that the song is underrated. It is one of the most recognizable Elvis songs, more so even than #1 hits like His Latest Flame, Devil in Disguise, Don't and Fool Such As I among others. If you want to listen to an Elvis song that is genuinely underrated, I would suggest Elvis' versions of Gentle on My Mind, Memphis Tennessee or Snowbird (which are all covers of songs by other artists, but still excellent efforts and better than Viva Las Vegas). Or maybe you could really reach and get I've Lost You or It's Over (not a cover, but it does share the title with that great Roy Orbison song) or The Girl I Never Loved from Clambake, which was a terrible film with two underrated songs on its soundtrack. I could go on all night...

As for Elvis' best film, it's hard to choose one since his films were, in the main, terrible. They're light, frivolous, intellectually dangerous (as the insipid, treacly premises may in fact kill brain cells) and a disgusting waste of the poor man's talent. But I think Jailhouse Rock stands out from the crowd. In fact, I think it's a good film. Each time I watch it, I find myself thinking that if he'd been given different sorts of scripts and overseen by a manager who cared more about the talent than the bottom line, Elvis might have actually been able to act. But that's just me.

The real reason January 8th is important occurred all the way back in 1815. Andrew Jackson stopped a numerically superior force of British regulars led by the Duke of Wellington's brother-in-law at the Battle of New Orleans. Most Americans tend to overlook this battle because it took place after the Treaty of Ghent, which officially concluded the War of 1812, was signed.

It is true that the terms of the treaty called for the United States and the British Empire in North America to restore any territory conquered in the war to its previous owner. That said, if the British, who were still in their expansionist mode, found themselves in possession of a city at the mouth of the Mississippi River after the war, would they really have simply given it back? Or if they were willing to return it, would they have done so for free?

Losing New Orleans would have been a major blow to the American ability to hold the lands of the Louisiana Purchase. Losing control of the mouth of the Mississippi would also have made the westward expansion of the United States a much more difficult task. Now maybe that might have been a good thing from an environmental and human rights perspective, but we probably wouldn't be in a position to debate those merits had Jackson lost.

So we should still mark January 8 on the calendar for that reason, if nothing else. But enough of the history lesson. This is after all a sports blog. And the first battle line of 2008 was drawn between Sedition in Red Sox Nation and Red Sox Nation over the potential election of Jim Rice to the Hall of Fame. And for a change, Sedition in Red Sox Nation prevailed. Jim Rice won't be going into Cooperstown with a mandate. If he gets in, it will be through the charity of the Veteran's Committee. And I can live with that.

I have covered my objections to Jim Rice's induction to the Hall of Fame at length in previous posts, I won't do it again. I will say this, though. It is a victory for common sense that a man will not enter the Hall of Fame with his strongest credential being the fact that baseball people from his era remember him as the most feared hitter. As long as we have more objective criteria and fewer subjective criteria, it's a good thing.

Unless, of course, you happen to be Dan Shaughnessy and feel compelled to punish the world with prolix prose because you happened to have been born without talent, wit or charm. The CHB couldn't resist wrapping the Rice defeat up with the swirling Clemens saga. I wonder whether Clemens and his attorneys just might look up Shaughnessy should he be vindicated in court or in Congress.

Among the many questions I have on reading that piece, I guess I'd start with this: if virtually every player who played in the Rice era feels that he belongs in the Hall of Fame, where is the outrage? Hell, where is the second guy available for a quote after the shameless mouthpiece of Red Sox Nation, Jerry Remy?

And again, on the Clemens side of the argument: how can you justify not voting for Clemens if he is cleared in court or in Congress? If he is not proven under due process to have cheated, it's not the same as Pete Rose who pled guilty to gambling, then finally fully confessed to betting on baseball years later. Clemens deserves to be in the Hall on the strength of his 213 wins and 4 Cy Youngs before Brian McNamee alleges he injected Clemens with anything. A responsible journalist might feel compelled to shoe-horn that in to a column.

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