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Baseball's Barons

The Heroes of My Youth

Paul Hemphill was one of the great unsung writers of the American South. Here he celebrates the heyday of Birmingham's minor league team, the Barons.

Just in time for Opening Day, here’s a gem about minor league ball in the South. It was written by the late Paul Hemphill, who was often called the Jimmy Breslin of the South. But that doesn’t do him justice. He was more than a brilliant columnist. His first book, The Nashville Sound, remains one of the great books ever written about country music, and his baseball novel, Long Gone, later made into a fun and now overlooked movie (it was shown on HBO the year before Bull Durham came out), is a treat. Leaving Birmingham: Notes of a Native Son, a memoir about coming of age in the South in the ‘50s and ‘60s is tough, honest, and moving.

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Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, via Getty

Do yourself a favor and read Hemphill’s classic piece, “Quitting the Paper,” or his beautiful essay about his Old Man, or this story about Catfish Hunter. And next time you’re in a used bookstore, keep an eye out for one of Hemphill’s several fine collections.

Watch This!

The Week in Viral Videos

Week in Viral Videos

From Arnold Schwarzenegger’s QVC appearance to an orchestral cartoon theme song mashup, watch our countdown of this week’s buzziest videos.

5. Do IT for Denmark

Denmark’s got a problem, and this time we’re not talking about the murderous Copenhagen Zoo. The great homeland of Tycho Brahe and Soren Kierkegaard is having a baby-making crisis, with the birth rate reportedly at a 27-year low. But one Danish travel company hopes to change that by promoting sexcentric vacations. This incredible commercial announces Spies Rejser’s ovulation discount and conception contest. You have to see it to believe it.

Peter Guralnick has written biographies of Elvis and Sam Cooke. He could kick back and write fiction or teach. But forget that. He’d still rather sit around waiting for a Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland horn rehearsal in the middle of the night—even if it never happened.

“Long before the existence of Crawdaddy! or Fusion or Rolling Stone,” Peter Guralnick wrote in his first book, Feel Like Going Home, “I wanted to do a history of Sun Records.” That was 1971. Now, more than four decades later, Guralnick’s wrapping up a biography of Sun’s founder, Sam Phillips. “I think I’m something like 27 pages from the end right now,” he said during a recent phone. There’s no firm publication date set, so he’s got time to revise the manuscript—which he describes as “about as long as [Dream Boogie],” his 2005 biography of Sam Cooke, so call it roughly 800 pages—before turning it in to Little, Brown.

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Colin Escott/Getty

What does it feel like to fulfill a lifelong creative ambition? “I haven’t enjoyed instant gratification,” Guralnick admits, but his career has “gone way beyond anything I could have imagined. I mean, to be able to talk to Howlin’ Wolf, to get to interview Merle Haggard, to meet Sam Phillips—these are things that were on my mind from even before I started writing.” Those stories (among many others) are collected in Feel Like Going Home and its followup, Lost Highway, which have been reissued in “enhanced” digital editions that feature audio extracts from Guralnick’s original interviews as well as new video segments. “It was a way, in a sense, of revisiting territory that I’ve never left,” he explains. “I mean, I’m no less invested in, no less passionate about, no less excited by the music of Howlin’ Wolf or Muddy Waters or Jerry Lee Lewis today than I was when I first discovered them, or when I first met them.” During our conversation, we revisited aspects of those two books, and how his approach to music writing—which also includes a definitive two-volume biography of Elvis Presley—has evolved over time.

A DOLLAR FOR YOUR THOUGHTS

Vegan Strippers Tell All

Lest you think those who remove their clothing for a living are nothing but vacant showgirls, it turns out there’s a lot more underneath those faux-leather bras and furless panties than T&A. Portland's pretty women discuss the likes of health care, Crimea and immigration.

Sometimes, one tires of the incessant cable news punditry; the same talking heads spouting the same talking points. Sometimes, one yearns for a fresh perspective on how issues affect regular Americans. You know, regular Americans who also happen to be dancers at a vegan strip club.

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Linda Davidson/The Washington Post, via Getty

So off I went to Casa Diablo, the world’s first vegan strip club located in Portland, Ore. (Of course it is in Portland.)

Double Standard

The Eagles' Race Problem

One of the best receivers in the NFL was released on Friday for having alleged gang ties, while the same team rewarded a confirmed racist.

There’s a scene early on in Silver Linings Playbook, filmmaker David O. Russell’s wacky potpourri of mental disease, familial dysfunction, and crabby snacks and homemades, that’s become a part of Philadelphia Eagles lore.

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Rob Tringali/Getty

Pat Solitano, a whirling dervish of a man-child portrayed by Bradley Cooper, has just been sprung from a mental institution by his cheery mother. He’s to attend a dinner with his ex-wife’s bestie—the first of several steps in his demented scheme to win her back. But Pat’s been out of action for a while, and social decorum has never been his forte, so he asks his shrink if it’s fine to wear the Eagles jersey his brother bought him while he was locked away.

Tongue

Miley Cyrus and Twerk 101

Listening to Bangerz and perfecting your twerk aren’t prerequisites, though it would probably behoove you to do both to succeed in this college course.

Complicated child star who never really grew up or genius entertainer?  Skidmore University is offering a new sociology course called, “The Sociology of Miley Cyrus: Race, Class, Gender, and Media.” The class will explore Miley’s upbringing in a famous family, her time as a child star, and what happens to Disney stars once they grow up.   From her Hannah Montana days to her more twerking on Bangerz, students will get a better look at why Destiny Hope is the way she is.

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Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Rutgers University offers the course “Politicizing Beyoncé,” which is an opportunity for students to explore race, sex, gender and sexuality in America, and how it has been placed in Queen Bey’s music. Students can find a deepermeaning in Beyoncé’s oeuvre. Sasha fierce, Beyoncé’s alter ego, will also be a matter of discussion.

OOPS

Colbert Caught in Twitter Storm

A Tweet from his show joking about ‘the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever’ provoked fury on Twitter aimed at Stephen Colbert. He says it was nothing to do with him.

We can add Stephen Colbert to a long list of professional funny people who have leapt off the comedy high-diving board, hoping that there’s water in the pool, only to crash into dry cement.        

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Scott Gries/PictureGroup

Rosie O’Donnell, Jimmy Kimmel, Gilbert Gottfried, The Onion, and many other standups have been compelled to abjectly apologize, lose their jobs, explain themselves or otherwise suffer severe pain for their ill-fated attempts to make people laugh.        

Drink Up!

Klingon Beer & Other Sci-Fi Brews

Cursed

100 Years of Wrigley Field

Happy birthday Wrigley Field, but are you too beautiful of a ballpark? After all, attendance at games is more sensitive to beer prices—much more—than it is to the Cubs’ record.

Wrigley Field, the dead-ball-era ballpark wedged into perhaps Chicago’s hippest north-side neighborhood, turns 100 this April. With its ivy-shrouded walls, manually operated scoreboard, and concrete-and-steel edifice, it survives as a monument to architectural beauty and athletic ineptitude. The Chicago Cubs, those loveable losers of the National League, have called the friendly confines of Wrigley home for the past 98 years, and not once in that time have they won the World Series. For as much as Wrigley Field has served as a blessing for this bumbling franchise, it has also been, in some ways, its biggest curse.

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John Zich/AFP/Getty

The Cubs enter the upcoming baseball season 105 years removed from their last World Series title. Their losing streak is unparalleled in professional American sports. When the Cubs last won the World Series in 1908, Charlie Chaplin was still a vaudeville performer, the Titanic was nothing but a blueprint, and no human had yet reached the North or South Pole. The Cubs haven’t even played in a World Series since 1945, which represents by far the longest interval between pennants in baseball history. The Boston Red Sox, another team with a historic stadium and devoted fan-base, made their futility seem tragic in a Shakespearian sense. Before winning it all in 2004, the Red Sox survived until the seventh game of the World Series on four separate occasions during their lengthy championship drought, losing only by some agonizing twist of fate. In contrast, the Cubs are the jester figure in a Shakespearean comedy: able to steal a scene or two, but ultimately yanked from the stage when it’s time for the leads to marry. They are diverting but rarely consequential. Their failure is of the everyday variety—accumulative and quietly disappointing.

OH, KERMIE

Why the Muppet Movie Is a Mess

How could they have gotten it so wrong? It should be impossible to make anything other than a brilliant Muppets film. But the latest is a fail. Our 3-year-old critic delivers the most damning verdict.

The highly anticipated Muppets Most Wanted has turned out to be the movie no one actually wants to see.

The box office earnings were a disappointment. Most Wanted came in a distant second to the young-adult dystopian flick Divergent, pulling in $17 million on opening weekend, a little more than half the earnings that had been projected. The much-better 2011 Muppet relaunch movie, The Muppets, brought in twice as much as Most Wanted, while similarly contending with a tween blockbuster (Breaking Dawn Part 1, in the “Twilight” series) and an animated feature, Happy Feet Two. That film, like this year’s Mr. Peabody & Sherman, was blamed for eating into Muppet profits.

MUPPETS MOST WANTED

"Muppets Most Wanted" (Jay Maidment/Disney)

Lost Classics

Doomed Passion Projects

This week will see the release of Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Noah,’ a cinematic epic over a decade in the making. But many of our greatest filmmakers’ most ambitious movies went unrealized.

“All people dream, but not equally,” D.H. Lawrence wrote. “Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their mind, wake in the morning to find that it was vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous people, for they dream their dreams with open eyes, and make them come true.”

NOAH

Niko Tavernise

On Friday, the Biblical epic Noah hits theaters. The $130 million mega-production has been gestating in the mind of visionary filmmaker Darren Aronofsky since he was 13 when, as a seventh grader enrolled at Mark Twain IS 239 in Brooklyn, he penned a poem about the Noah’s Ark story entitled “The Dove.” He began work on the screenplay to Noah a decade ago. And after a turbulent production—one in which many of the film’s sets, including the giant ark they’d erected in Long Island, were wrecked by Superstorm Sandy—and a ridiculous deluge of pre-release criticism, his childhood dream will finally become a big-screen reality this week. 

The Creator

You Have to See ‘Noah’

It’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ slamming into the Bible, until Noah morphs into Jack Torrance onboard the ark, awaiting his unborn grandchild with a glazed, murderous look in his eyes.

Darren Aronofsky does not come from the Less Is More school of filmmaking—to put it mildly. 

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Niko Tavernise/Paramount

In Pi, a numbers theorist named Max Cohen decides to put a power drill through his own brain. Requiem for a Dream concludes with a montage of four junkies simultaneously enduring prostitution, prison, amputation, and electroshock therapy. At one point in Black Swan, Natalie Portman sprouts feathers, writhing in agony as her femurs snap back and morph into bird legs; at another point, Winona Ryder repeatedly stabs herself in the face with a nail file. In The Fountain, Hugh Jackman plays a conquistador. And a neuroscientist. And a futuristic astronaut.

New Rule

Bill Maher for Congress?


It’s not so far-fetched. Political comedians are already grassroots political candidates.

Bill Maher wants your vote for Congress this November. No, Maher’s name won’t be on the ballot, at least not yet.

Real Time With Bill Maher

The Daily Beast

Maher recently announced his “Flip a District” contest where he will pick one “terrible, entrenched” member of Congress and “see if we can’t send him scuttling under the refrigerator on Election Night.” (Translation: Beat him)  The contest is now heating up after Maher announced on his HBO show last Friday the first two House members under consideration to be chosen as the big “winner.”

Above the Law

Fascist Fascination With D-Listers

Putin’s reviving a Stalin-era fitness program to toughen up Russians—with help from Steven Seagal. Why do today’s strongmen have such a weakness for our washed-up celebrities?

Say what you will about Vladimir Putin. For a guy in his sixties—at least based on the shirtless horseback photos we’ve all seen—he’s in better shape than most of us.

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AFP/Getty

So it’s not surprising to see Russia’s president—who has dominated the world stage thanks to a bloodless takeover of Crimea—stress the importance of physical fitness to his 143 million-plus population. It’s all part of his latest initiative to revive a Stalin-era conditioning program appropriately titled “Ready for Labor and Defense.” Funding for the project is courtesy of all the revenue generated from the recent Sochi Olympics Games, estimated to be in the billions.

Kate Upton Beats a Serial Cheater

In a given year, 4 percent of married people have extramarital affairs. Find out more stats about infidelity tied to the new comedy ‘The Other Woman,’ with Cameron Diaz and Kate Upton.

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