Tuesday, February 23, 2010

An Instant Legend

I was recently introduced to the music of Ray LaMontagne, and thank God. This guy is one of my new favorite artists and one of the best singer/songwriters out there. I don't pretend to be a critic of great music, so I'll mainly let the music speak for itself.

But like any good artist, there's an interesting story behind the music. Born to a traveling mother and a violent musician father (how cliche) Ray found himself hiding from his parents and entertaining himself by reading and writing stories. He frequently got in trouble at school and he struggled to graduate.

Shortly after graduation he moved away from his family and started working 65 hour weeks at a shoe factory. Because of his father's past, he had no ambition to ever become a musician. It was at age 22 when he heard Stephen Stills' Treetop Flyer and had a musical epiphany. He quit he job and began writing songs. In 1996 he started renting studio space and recording his songs.

His personality is also quite interesting. He is deathly shy and avoids the spotlight as much as possible. He doesn't make music videos and personal interviews are few and far between. He has even been known to turn out the lights on stage while he plays to take the attention off of himself. It is all this that adds up his beautiful and soulful music.

This guy came onto the scene in 2004 with his first album Trouble, and had an instant classic with his single of the same name. He has since released two more albums, Till the Sun Turns Black, and Gossip in the Grain. Please do yourself a favor and check this guy out if you haven't...it's truly great stuff.

Below is a song from each album, but trust me, they're all great. Its a shame that we make millionaires out of rappers and pop stars and this guy is relatively unheard of. He should be way bigger than he is, but then again that's exactly what he doesn't want.

Trouble (live)

You Are the Best Thing


From Venice

Some fixed up photos from my last excursion to Venice using my trusty old point & shoot.

Venice sunrise.

Airing out.

Ed, the thinker.

Larry & Ed fighting over some tuna scraps.

Cajun sunset.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Beautiful Creatures of Africa

Nick Brandt is literally a one-of-a-kind photographer. Based out of London, this guy makes a living on photographing East Africa's most beautiful and dangerous animals. His unique style and development process has put him in high demand all over the world.

He only shoots in black & white on a medium format negative and has never used digital. That translates to 10 shots per roll of film. Do you know how much more work that is? He also doesn't use a telephoto lens, meaning he gets very, very close to what he is shooting.

As you can see, all of his hard work pays off. His images look as though he walked right up to the beasts and put them in the position he wanted. They are absolutely stunning. Do yourself a favor and check out his whole gallery here. It's well worth it.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Devil is Ice Skating

Hell has frozen over. The Saints are world champions. World dominators. The best in the universe. Wow. For the past four years I've always believed it could and would happen, but to actually say it is still a little weird.

Its official: we are now America's team. With over 106.5 million people watching it now holds the record for as the biggest audience in television history. The biggest audience in the history of the universe watched the Saints play. They watched Brees dissect the Colts D. They watched Tracy Porter jump the route and take it to the house. They watched us celebrate. We captivated the world. That has to make you feel pretty good.

The game itself started off hot. Before you could refill your beer 10 points were on the board. I have to admit, going down by 10 in the first quarter put some bad thoughts into my head. I started to think that maybe all these people praising Manning and the Colts might know what they're talking about. After Drew Brees' first quarter 3 for 7 performance I had fears that he might not be on, again. I know, I'm a terrible person for even doubting it for a second, but a 43 year old history is hard to forget.

Luckily for us we have the best quarterback playing the game. From the second quarter on he went 29 of 32. That's 91 percent. A+. One of those "incompletions" was a dropped pass. Another was a spike to stop the clock. That's as near-perfect as it gets. Once Brees found his rhythm it was game over.

The first half of football couldn't have been more night and day. The first quarter: Indy steamrolls 154 yards and 10 points to our 36 yards and 0 points. Second quarter: Saints roll up 143 yards and 6 points to Indy's 15 yards and 0 points. The Colts had the ball for two and a half minutes in the second quarter. How do you prevent Brees and Manning from racking up the points? Keep them on the bench.

And speaking of two elite offenses, did the clock ever stop? That was the quickest game I have ever seen.

When it came down to it, Brees stayed on the field a minute longer and racked up some superhero numbers. 32 of 39. 288 yards. 2 TDs. O interceptions. 114.5 QB rating. Superbowl XLIV MVP.

In 3 postseason games he accumulated 732 yards on 72 completions and 102 attempts. That's 70.6% completion, or 7.2 yards per attempt. He threw 8 touchdowns to 0 interceptions with a 117 QB rating. And Payton Manning got the league's MVP? Child please...those numbers are the stuff that legends are made of.

And was there ever a better post game moment than when Drew lifted up his son? I still get choked up when I see it. It was the most real, genuine moment I've ever seen. If that doesn't warm you up you simply have no soul. Like I said before, prepare for Drew Brees to be everywhere.

But its the unselfishness of our offense that makes it so special. Everyone gets a touchdown. If your mother was on the field she'd get one. So, like Brees, I'll spread the lovin' around.

Jeremy Shockey. What a man. He's never afraid to sacrifice his body in the name of football. He would jump in front of a mack truck if it meant he could gain a yard. He's a bigger, badder Kyle Turley. He's the wild card. I'm so glad he got a TD.

I would argue that Lance Moore has the best hands on the team. He could catch a bullet. David Tyree who?

Devery Henderson had a breakout game. This is not the same Devery that would make the most breathtaking circus catch you've ever seen only to drop the next ball that hit him right in the hands.

And if Pierre Thomas isn't the most underrated running back in the game than I don't know who is. He has a sixth sense when it comes to avoiding pressure and finding the end zone. What a game.

Mr. Clutch goes to Tracy Porter. He and Brett Favre are single-handedly responsible for sending us to the Superbowl. Then he goes and does it again. He outsmarts Payton Manning, owner of the biggest head in the game, if not all of sports.

I hope all the work by Jonathan Vilma gets noticed. He's the QB of the defense. He calls and changes the plays at will. He's responsible for switching the coverage at the line that led to Tracy Porter's life saving interception against the Vikings. He is involved and hitting a snot bubble out of someone on every single play. He's a beast. We would not be celebrating without him.

Our defense has played outstanding all season. Brady, Warner, Favre, both Mannings...the best of the best, all beaten like red headed step children. Best turnover ratio in the league. What more can you say about this cast of old guys and undesirables? They held Peyton Manning to 7 points in the final three quarters. Enough said.

And lets not forget the unsung hero of almost every NFL game- the Offensive line. These guys get so overlooked its almost tragic. Every single stat on offense starts with them, but here's the most important one: Drew Brees was only taken down once in 40 dropbacks. That's some good blocking up front boys.

And Garrett Hartley...are you kidding me? Where did this kid come from? No big deal, just setting a Superbowl record as a 23 year old. And speaking of records, we shattered or tied 17 Superbowl records. We set the record for broken records.

Did we witness the second coming of Steve Gleason, fan favorite and special team sensation? Chris Reid just cemented himself in Saints history. "The Colts were punching at it and grabbing for it, trying to get it out. But I didn't care if they broke all my fingers. There was absolutely no way in the world I was going to let go of that ball. That was our ball.'' Thanks for holding on dude, I can't even imagine what ungodly things were being done underneath than pile.

And thank you Sean Payton and Greg Williams. You are both brilliant. You both have balls of steel. You have changed an entire culture. No longer are we the lovable losers. We are now respected and feared.

So after this kind of a season, what's next? What can possibly top this? A first born child? Maybe?

But seriously, this beats everything. Its the best story and best collection of underdogs in the history of sports. Its so "feel good" it would have made a bad movie script.

One thing's for sure. These guys just made it hard for themselves. The only way to top this would be a 19-0 Superbowl winning season. And with this team that's certainly possible.

Bless you boys....bless you. You've given us the greatest feeling in the world. You have changed New Orleans forever. Let's hope next season is half as special.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Quick XLIV Predictions

The day is finally upon us. After what seemed like the slowest week ever, the big game is finally here. It felt like Christmas morning, and it certainly doesn't hurt that it is a perfect day outside.

Anyway, before the big game starts I just wanted to get a few thoughts out:

1. I love being the underdog. I would feel uncomfortable if we were getting the attention of Peyton Manning and the Colts. I love the fact that most people underestimate Drew Brees and our offense, even though we've had the #1 offense all year. It's nothing but more motivation, and its not like these Saints need any. That being said, when we win, the national media will most likely focus on why the Colts lost. Oh well, I'll take the win.

2. Why is everyone building up the Colts D so much when they are ranked 19th in the league? The Saints are ranked 24th, and that was with second and third string players in much of the second half of the season. Both teams are giving up 339.2 and 357.8 yards per game, respectively. What a monumental difference! Factor in the turnover ratio and the Saints are arguable the much better defense.

In the first half of the season when we were dominating teams our D was ranked top 10. The good news is we are all (mostly) healthy. The bad news: when we win it'll be blamed on the fact that Dwight Freeney wasn't 100%. Oh well, I'll take the win.

3. Let's talk about offense. Saints #1. Colts #9. Yes, I've heard of Peyton Manning. Yes, I've heard he's the best that's ever played the game. But wait a second...let's look at the stats.

Brees: 34 TDs. 11 Ints. 4,388 yards. 109.6 QB rating.
Manning: 33 TDs. 16 Ints. 4,500 yards. 99.9 QB rating.

I'll let those numbers speak for themselves. I will say this: Peyton has funnier commercials. And he has a huge head. I mean that literally- his head is huge.

4. The AFC was the weaker conference this year. By far. The Colts couldn't have had an easier road to the Superbowl. Ravens? Please... The Jets in the championship game? The JETS? The same team that we dominated in week 4?

Let's look at a common opponent, the Patriots. Yes, the Colts beat them. But it took an idiotic decision by Belichick to give Manning the ball in the red zone in the final seconds. They barely squeaked one out. On the flip side, we dominated. There's simply no other word for it. We made Brady look like JaMarcus Russell with a hangover. It wasn't even a fair match.

5. We've had more than a week to prepare. If Sean Payton and Drew Brees have proved one thing, its that if you give them a little time to prepare they are going to slice and dice you. When the Saints have had more than a week to prepare for any team this season the average score has been 46-23. Enough said.

6. Drew Brees will establish himself as one of the best quarterbacks ever. After he slices through the Colts D like a hot knife in warm butter he'll emerge as the new spokesman for almost everything. He'll blow up. He's perfect, on and off the field. And is there a better story in the NFL? Nope. Can't wait.

7. Jimmy Kimmel said it best. When asked for his Superbowl prediction, he might not have picked the Saints, but I love his answer regardless. "Colts 31-21. I know New Orleans is the sentimental favorite, but I still think people who live in Indianapolis are far worse off."

Love the answer. And we'll win too. Saints 41-34. But win or lose, these Saints have changed the culture of sports in New Orleans. By just getting to the Superbowl they have erased a 43 year history of disappointment and mediocrity, and that's is not an easy thing to do.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Saints Wallpaper

Here's some Saints Wallpaper I created if anyone's interested in reppin' our boys on their desktop...let me know if you want a specific player.

And here's one of just Brees...

and Bush...



Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Tribute to the Yat

With less than a week before the big game, we here in New Orleans are preparing for the slowest week in the city's history. I expect it to pass with the voraciousness of molasses. So to help pass the time I want to pay tribute to the greatest collection of fans in all of pro sports: the Who Dat Nation.

Like the city of New Orleans herself, the Who Dat Nation is a melting pot of different cultures, races, and creeds. Any given Sunday inside the Superdome you will find
all walks of life. I venture to say that you will find no other mix of people like it. It's a complex mix that is not always easily understood, especially from an outsiders point of view. So I'll try to help.

To understand the Who Dat Nation is to understand their leader, the late Buddy Diliberto. A radio legend and fan favorite, Buddy Diliberto should have never been allowed near a microphone. His obnoxious lisp and wild rants would have all but gotten him fired anywhere else. To him, everyone that didn't agree with him was as crazy as a squirrel. "Go eat ya nuts," as he would tell them right before he hung up.

I was always shocked that the microphone in front of him never short-circuited due to the amount of spit and flem that must have coated it with every word. Any out-of-towner listening to him must have thought it was a parody of ourselves. But despite all this he had a connection with his people, and the fans loved him for it.

Look no further than downtown New Orleans this past Sunday. Thousands of men, all wearing colorful dresses and wild hats, danced their way to the French Quarter in remembrance of the late Buddy D, who said he'd wear a dress if the Saints ever went to the Superbowl. Could this happen anywhere else? Maybe in San Francisco, but for completely different reasons. One thing's for sure: he's looking down on us, proud as hell.

But perhaps the most vocal and represented group of people that make up the Who Dat Nation is the "Yat". The Yat is a hard person to describe. They are most noticeably recognized by their unique accent, once prevalent in New Orleans but now mostly confined to St. Bernard Parish and parts of Kenner,
brah. This accent is very unique in that it is only found here and select parts of the northeast. (Think Jersey Shore, with only modest tonal differences.) How these similar accents became so spread apart I'll never know.

The thing that sets the Yat apart is how fiercely loyal they are. This, of course, starts with family. An entire Yat's family lives within a couple of blocks of one another. An entire family (and I don't mean just immediate members) will gather on a nightly basis to enjoy the fresh bounty of the land and sea. They know whats important in life, and they don't take it for granted. It's this loyalty that makes them such a great fan base.

The most obvious proof of this loyalty is the airport after an away game. Win or lose, thousands of Yats come out in droves to show their support as their team steps off the plane. It's quite a sight. Grandmother's stay out past their bedtime, children of all ages ignore the school night. They make signs and brave whatever mother nature throws at them, all to make our boys feel like the most loved athletes on the planet. You can't put a price tag on that.

Some of my fondest memories inside the Dome came from years ago when I was lucky enough to sit field level, right next to the most die hard Yats you could ever imagine. The three that stick out the most were "Coon Skin" (due to his Davy Crockett coon skin style hat that he always wore), "Drummer" (due to his stoned look and wavy hair that reached his buttocks), and "Grandma" (may she rest in peace).

I will never forget the ferociousness in which they watched the game. Coon Skin was a wild man by anyone's standard. He had that crazy look in his eye at all times. He would yell incoherently and taunt the visiting fans, even though they couldn't understand a word of his crazy drunken dialect. And boy, could he make some noise. He would grab the railing in front of his seat with both hands and bounce off the metal wall in front of him with both feet, resembling a caged and rabid orangutan. We loved him for it.

Drummer would more or less just stand there, stoned out of his mind, nodding his head in agreement with anything that came flying out of the mouth of Coon Skin. He never said much, but in his own way he was always supportive.

Then there was Grandma. What a special old lady. She was the undisputed leader of the group. She led the chants. She yelled at the opposing team on the sideline. She had
the glove. And to anyone who was lucky enough to sit next to her knows exactly what I'm talking about. Every time the opposing team was on offense she would pull out an old leather baseball glove with the fingers cut out, meticulously put in on until it fit just right, then, gripping the rail with her other hand, she would beat the ever living hell out of that metal wall with her fist. She was 80 years old if she was a day, but her bones were not brittle.

She could also drink circles around John Belushi. Hell, they all could, but she was something else. It was through our talks that I learned that her son, Coon Skin, owned a grocery store down in Marrero. It had been in the family for a few generations and thanks to Coon Skin, it wasn't going anywhere. He lived a modest life by any measure, but when it came to the Saints he'd break the bank. And these were the Aaron Brooks days. Talk about heart.

In the season that reopened the Superdome I would often look down to see what had happened to these great people. My initial instinct was that they didn't survive the hurricane. I knew damn well they didn't evacuate. There was no way they were leaving all they ever knew behind. They were perfectly happy dying right where they were born.

But to my delight, I located Coon Skin amongst the crowds. He no longer bears the coon skin hat that gave him his namesake, but he is still there, yelling and inadvertently spilling beer all over his neighbors with every wild hand gesture.

If Drummer is still there he must have cut his hair, for I don't recognize him otherwise.

And as for Grandma, may she rest in peace. I don't know for a fact, but if I had to guess she didn't make it through the storm. But don't be sad for her, she is still wearing that glove up above, looking down and rooting on her boys. Her legacy will live on.

In short, it is people like this that make up the Who Dat Nation. They're humble, caring, compassionate, and would do anything for a complete stranger. They are proud, they are loud, and they really don't care what anyone else thinks. We could all learn a thing a two from them. These are the greatest fans in all of pro football, and maybe in all of sports.

I'll end with a quote from Buddy D. "When you go to Heaven after you die, tell St. Peter you're a Saints fan. He'll say, 'C'mon in, I don't care what else you done, you suffered enough.'"

No longer, Buddy D. No longer.