Thursday, May 29, 2008

My French Open Stars

Ones To Watch

Selima Sfar

Age: 30
Country: Tunisia
Ranking: 241

Throwback-style unseeded challenger who made a match of it with Venus Williams, whose WTA ranking is 234 places ahead of the No. 241 Tunisian. Any other player with even the slightest power game would have upset Williams, who played a typically sloppy and inconsistent game full of unforced errors and poor technique. But the petite (5-5, 121 pounds) Sfar, she of the one-handed backhand (a beauty), drop shots and slices, just didn't have any go-to weapons besides physical fitness and guile. Still, her 2-6, 4-6 loss to Venus was not as straightforward as the scoreline suggests. As the UK's Guardian reported: "Williams will encounter few more perplexing assignments. Sfar, with her penchant for serve-and-volley, elegant one-handed backhand and willingness to mix looped topspin ground strokes with chipped drives, is a throwback to a bygone era. Faced with the Tunisian's variety of shot and tactic, Williams rarely looked settled."

Sfar, on the other hand, looked lovely, wearing a form-fitting one-piece that left little to the imagination and paid tribute to her washboard abs and taut legs. You can have your supermodels, Hooters waitresses, and pin-up girls; to me, nothing is sexier than a fit female tennis player with long, lean legs and a one-handed backhand(schwing!).

Sfar's Pilates-worthy abs

Sfar, who has been ranked as high as 75th in the world (July 2001), achieved most of her success in B-circuit ITF tournaments, where's she's won 11 singles tournaments and 17 doubles titles. But at 30 and with a finese style that doesn't fit today's power game, don't look for Sfar to win any major WTA tournaments; watch her simply for enjoyment of "the beautiful game" itself. That in itself makes this graceful athlete a winner.

Janko Tipsarovic
Age: 23
Country: Serbia
Ranking: No. 33

There's a new Serb gunslinger in town and he's got game. While the world rightly raves about Novak Jokovic - and Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic on the women's side - Janko is the latest Serbian tennis star whose name ends in "vic" with a game ready to break into the Top 10. His trademarks, besides the noseguard over the bridge of his nose (what's that all about, anyway?) and the plentiful tattoos that peek out from under his shirt (forearm and back of neck), are his unbelievable power and baseline game. His forehand is a force to be reckoned with - this guy hits winners that leave no doubt about their intention - and his two-handed backhand is not far behind.

Tipsy started 2008 by reaching the third round of the Australian Open, where he more than held his own against World No. 1 Roger Federer, losing the deciding fifth set by 10-8 in a match that lasted 4 1/2 hours - no wonder they call the guy "Marathon Man"! He made it to the quarter finals at Zagreb, the third round of Monte Carlo (beating Paul-Henri Mathieu and Nicolas Lapentti before falling to David Ferrer), and barely lost a third-set tiebreaker to big-serving Chilean Fernando Gonzalez in Rome. He's also beaten James Blake this year. At the French Open, he lost in the first round, in four sets, to Ecuador's Nicolas Lapentti, but is still alive through the third round in men's doubles with fellow Serb partner Victor Troicki.

Oh, and about those tattoos. According to Wikipedia, they reflect his love of classic literature (rather unusual for a pro athlete): his left arm features a quote from Fyodor Dostoyesky's The Idiot ("Beauty will save the world") written in Japanese characters (after deciding it didn't look as cool in Russian), while a tattoo on his right arm represents the first two letters of the names of his father, his mother, himself and his brother, also written in Japanese Katakana. The tattoo on his back is a quote from German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. Word has it that he reads Goethe and Nietzsche - for fun.

Tipsy is quite the entertaining character to watch. Besides the tats, he also has piercings (he has a labret and a barbell in the right brow) and at one time sported glasses, which is rarely seen on today's tour...

...and even sunglasses - which you never see in the pro game (I wonder why?).

Future's so bright he has to wear shades

The Guardian's Robert Kitson was so impressed that he wrote a poetic piece about Tipsarovic following a 2006 loss at Wimbleton to Andy Roddick. "Imagine a fly fisherman on the deck of a deep-sea trawler and you will get an idea of how Tipsarevic operates. In a world full of power-hitters he directs balls to improbable corners of the court with more subtlety and skill than the pile-driving Roddick will manage in his entire career."

These two are definitely ones to watch, one as a coming contender, the other simply for the beauty of her game.

Honorable Mentions:
I was also very impressed by the play of Brazilian qualifier Tomaz Belluci in that first set (which he lost 5-7), First Round match against Nadal, Frenchman Julien Benneteau who gave it his all against Federer in the Fourth Round (4-6, 5-7, 5-7), and especially Latvian Ernests Gulbis - the 19-year-old phenom who became the first player in the history of his small Baltic homeland to enter the top 100. He's currently No. 80 in the world, but should move up after making it to the quarterfinals at Roland Garros, where he lost to Novak Djokovic in three tight sets 5-7, 6-7 (3-7), 5-7.


Argybargy (****)

released February 1980, A&M Records

My ex-wife took all the Squeeze vinyl except for the "Squabs On Forty Fab" single, so when I saw a used copy of Argybargy at Record & Tape Traders (how anachronistic that word tape sounds today!), I immediately scarfed it up. While my GF and countless rock critics wax eloquent on how great the Elvis Costello-produced East Side Story (1981) is, I think Argybargy is the essential Squeeze album, even nudging out the wonderfully lad-ish Cool For Cats (1979). Just take the first three tracks - "Pulling Mussels From a Shell," "Another Nail In My Heart" and "Separate Beds" - which represent two singles and one that should have been, offered up one after the other with no filler in between. ("Pulling Mussels From a Shell" reached #44 on the UK charts and #97 in the US, "Another Nail in My Heart" was #17.) It's the next best thing to listening to Squeeze's "Squabs On Forty Fab" hits medley. Throw in another killer single, "If I Didn't Love You," the ninth track on side two (mysteriously this masterpiece didn't chart), and that's a pretty impressive album. Plus, there isn't a dud in the remaining tracks. The fourth track "Misadventure" keeps the party going full swing after the opening single trio and "Think I'm a Go-Go" concludes side 1 in fine fiddle.

The flip side offers up some nice Jools Holland workouts on "Farfisa Beat" (another single, though it didn't chart) and the Holland-Difford-penned "Wrong Side of the Moon," interspersed with "Here Comes That Feeling," "Vicky Verky," "There At the Top" (another great should-have-been-a-single song) and the ever-clever standout "If I Didn't Love You," with its memorable lines I've never forgotten of "I'm playing your sterogram/Singles remind me of kisses/Albums remind me of plans" (take that iPod Generation!) Yup, when you add it all up, the album "filler" is just as killer as the hits (four singles!) on offer.

The next year would see Jools Holland jump ship to become a successful TV star, a position he maintains to this day, and Squeeze switch management from Miles Copeland to Elvis Costello's man Jake Riviera. And the "new Lennon and McCartney" accolades that came with the OK, but slightly over-hyped East Side Story.

My 1997 CD reissue of Argybargy adds two tracks, "Funny How It Goes" and "Go," while yet another reissue (what is it with record companies forcing fans to buy the same album over-and-over again? Oh yeah, capitalism!), the 2008 Deluxe Edition, adds a 20-track bonus live CD. I'll live with the original, as it was, as I remember it, back in the day.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Squabs on Forty Fab

Labelled With Love b/w Squabs On Forty Fab (non-LP track)
released September 25, 1981, A&M Records
#4 UK Charts

I've been reading my most recent cheap score from Daedalus Books & Music, Squeeze Song By Song (Chris Difford & Glenn Tilbrook with Jim Drury, $3.98), and came across this entry about their 14th single, "Labelled With Love" (from 1981's East Side Story LP) on page 98:
A joke by the band that backfired unwittingly helped the country ballad's success . 1981 had heralded the tacky series Stars On 45 - unspeakably awful medleys of songs by bands like The Beatles, Abba and Stevie Wonder - and Squeeze thought it would be funny to cobble together an assortment of their own hits on the B-side, which they crudely named 'Squabs On Forty Fab'. 'It was a brutal shoehorning of all our hits to that point into one tempo which absolutely murdered the songs,' says Glen. 'We did it for a laugh but it got almost equal airplay to "Labelled With Love". It was such an own goal because people didn't know we were joking'.

With all due respect to a band I love dearly, I think Tilbrook lost the plot. I guess it will be my guilty pleasure for all-time that I love this rare B-side hits medley spoof better than any one Squeeze LP or singles compilation like Singles 45's and Under, which is saying a lot because Squeeze to me were always a singles band whose parts were better than the sum of their full albums, even East Side Story, the record that got them labeled "the new Lennon & McCartney" (when McCartney later met Difford and asked him which one he was, Difford cleverly replied "Ringo"!). In fact,whenever I hear the individual hits represented on "Squabs On Forty Fab" playing on the radio or a CD, I always wait for the seques into the next song - they're forever imprinted into my ears that way, in that particular order, over a disco beat. As DJ Fluxblog says, "When you don't know which Squeeze song to play, you always have the option of putting on this fantastic medley containing many of their finest compositions."

For the record, the songs on this toe-tapping B-side novelty hit were as follows: "Take Me I'm Yours," "Cool For Cats," "Up The Junction," "Is That Love?,""Pulling Mussels (From The Shell)," "Separate Beds," "Another Nail In My Heart," "Slap & Tickle," "Goodbye Girl," and "Someone Else's Heart."

It's a shame that the greatest wham-bam, one-after-the-other representation of Squeeze's hits remains virtually unknown in the Digital Era, out-of-print except as an overpriced import CD, Excess Moderation - Chronicles. (You can also try tracking it down on used copies of the out-of-print import CD Big Squeeze: The Very Best of Squeeze.)

Monday, May 26, 2008

2008 Sowebo Festival Highlights

Yesterday, I went down to the Sowebo Festival with Amy and my friend Mike Rios. These are some snapshot highlights from it.


This is my friend Mike. Anyone who asks for his help gets it.

Mike prays, "Please Jesus, let me help somebody!"

Mike gets his help from Jesus, as shown on his wood block pendant he always carries around his neck, rope-a-dope style.

When a local commie poet asked Mike to buy his CD of inane gibberish, Mike obliged.

When a jeweler asked him to watch over her stand so she could buy some food, Mike obliged.

"Get your baubles, bangles, and bright shiny beads right here!"

And when a guy selling (used?) girly mags asked him to "Help a brother out - one dollar!", Mike more than obliged.

"I believe these are called 'Gentlemen's Magazines' - NOT porn rags!"

Later Mike flirted with a young nubile who was drawn to his chick-magnet Jesus pendant.

Mike: "I am glad to see you. And yes, I am sporting Messianic wood!"



3/5 of the multi-faceted guitarless band Gunwife Gone are chicks and they all bring something to the party - the keyboardist sings on top of tickling the ivories and the Charlotte Gainsbourg-lookalike sax player bangs the keys when she's not blowing her axe.

Tiffany tootin'

Rachel reciting, Tiffany tickling

Bassist Ryan and Keyboardist Lauren

Rachel counts it off from the top

Gunwife Gone - the view from the top of some guy's head


Jennifers Joe, John, Joe front and center

"Hey, don't forget about me!" pleads Skizz, the "quiet Jennifer"

Jennifer John jingle-jangles while Joe waxes basso profundo

"You, Sir Fan, are the Fifth Jennifer!"

This unidentified man was hoping to become the Jennifers' official Band Dancer, like the Happy Mondays' "Bez"

"Hey this guy on the pendant looks like me!" sez Skizzer. "Call the lawyers!"

After the set, Skizz tells Mike that the "Jesus" pendant is actually a Sacred Skizz Medallion from The Jennifers Icon Collection (TM) - collect 'em all at!


Beautiful people abound at the Sowebo Festival. This young woman, doing the hula hoop, was the most luminous. I thought she was Bianca Jagger for a second.


Rebel and Rebel 2.0

I wonder if Junior got his Rod the Mod tartan pants at Gap Kids



There is much native, folk, African, and South American art at SoWeBo.

Still, the influence of Hollywood is never far away, as this homage to Hellraiser's Pinhead (done in faux Ancient African Style) makes clear:

Notice Pinhead is making "The Circle," meaning he can hit you if you look at it!

And the influence of American adult movies is likewise never far away, as Amy points out after spotting this homage to legendary performing artist Long Dong Silver.

"Look sweetie," Amy gestures, "This is Long Dong's Money Maker (TM)!"

The hanging tongue led many observers to believe this was a Michael Jordan-commissioned work.

"Sch'long, Dong! We bid you adieu!"


Shouldn't that be the New Grammar Galery? It just wouldn't be SoWeBo with at least one store-front typo! To paraphrase the old MASH'S HAMS commercials, the second L's for Literacy - we throw that away!


Children use chalk to decorate this art car, providing excellent practice for future careers as graffiti artists or vandals (wait, I think that's redundant!).


Despites rumors of illegal substance abuse over the years in the Hollins Street Market area, this was the only crack I saw there. Alas, it was not for sale. (Still, it made me crack a smile.)

Friday, May 23, 2008

Purple Jesus Prayer Rug Scam

Purplexed by the Jesus Prayer Rug Scam

My girlfriend - and everyone in her apartment complex - recently received this religious scam in her mailbox. It's a picture of Jesus (looking very Rastafarian) on a fold-out piece of paper ambitiously called an "Annointed Jesus Prayer Rug" that allegedly comes from Tulsa's Saint Matthews Churches" - an entity that exists in P.O. Box address only. (I love how the postage allows this for-profit scam organization coveted "Nonprofit Org." status while I have go buy extra penny stamps to meet the most recent postage hike so I can pay my bills!)

Apparently, "This Prayer Rug is Soaked with the Power of Prayer for you. Use it immediately, then please return it with your Prayer Needs Checked on our letter to you." It must be mailed to a second home that needs a blessing after you use it. Prayer works. Expect God's blessing."

Anyway, I stated to investigate it on The Internets (President's Bush's terminology), but I see Stupid Evil Bastard has already fully vetted the Immaculate Deception on his website. Neither Amy nor I could find the suspected salespitch ("Where's the hook?") when we read the attached letter, but reading SEB's dossier, we realized it was there, in the form of a plea for a "seed gift":

To see the sales pitch, click on the image of the Prayer Needs Checklist above and look at the line reading "Enclosed is my seed gift to God's work of $___."

The full checklist:

Pray for my family and me for

( ) My Soul
( ) A Closer Walk With Jesus
( ) My Health
( ) A Family Member's Health
( ) Confusion In My Home
( ) My Children
( ) To Stop A Bad Habit
( ) A Better Job
( ) A Home To Call My Own
( ) A New Car
( ) A Money Blessing
( ) I Want To Be Saved
( ) Pray for God to bless me with this amount of money: $________
( ) Please, especially pray for this person:
( ) Enclosed is my seed gift to God's work of $________

Confusion in the home? Anyway, the letter goes on to ask:
"Would you like to have God’s blessings upon Your home, your family and your finances? Say, “Yes, Lord Jesus, I do need Your financial blessings upon me and my family’s finances!” Deuteronomy 28:6 Just put a mark (√) by your needs below, telling us that you want prayer. Also, check any other needs you are facing. Pray about sowing a seed gift to the Lord’s work. Give God your best seed and believe Him for His best blessing (St. Luke 6:38). Now, go and use this Church, Faith, Prayer Rug. The Lord is watching and waiting. You are about to enter the Holy Spirit of God right here in your home, through this faith exercise. Then, it is a must that you return it for another to use."

Suckers' seed gifts alledgedly go to Saint Mathew’s Churches, which are no relation to any churches of that name listed in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In fact, according to SEB, "The only person getting rich from this scam is the Rev. James Eugene Ewing who seems to have built up quite a racket with this and other similar scams to the tune of several hundred million dollars." Rev. Ewing has been called the father of the modern-day "seed-faith" scheme that fuels a multibillion-dollar Christian industry known as the "health-and-wealth gospel."

Continuing, SEB reports:
The approach reaped Ewing and his organization a gross income of more than $100 million since 1993, including $26 million in 1999, the last year Saint Matthew’s made its tax records public. And while much of the money is spent on postage and salaries, Ewing’s company receives nonprofit status and pays no federal taxes.

Though Ewing claims it is a church, Saint Matthew’s Churches, once called St. Matthew Publishing Inc., has no address other than a Tulsa post office box. It has two listed phone numbers in Tulsa and both are answered by a recorded religious message.

The organization is not related to other Tulsa-area churches named St. Matthew’s, though many of them have received calls asking to be removed from its mailing list.

Ole Anthony, founder of the Trinity Foundation, a nonprofit religious watchdog group, has tracked Ewing’s organization for years. The foundation was largely responsible for exposing televangelist Robert Tilton in 1991 after Anthony said he found prayer requests sent to Tilton in Tulsa trash Dumpsters.

Tilton and Ewing shared the same Tulsa attorney, J.C. Joyce, who incorporated "Saint Matthews Churches" at at his Tulsa law office. Ewing paid Joyce over $2.6 million for legal services over a three-year period, a mere drop in the ocean given his "Seed Principle" junk mail haul.

The hook of this principal seems to be Saint Matthews Churches' inclusion of faux religious artifacts such as "miracle" prayer rugs, cakes, coins, prayer cloths and fake currency.

And it's a successful scam. Blogger George Loper claims that the "seed faith" approach has reaped Ewing and his organization a gross income of more than $100 million since 1993, including $26 million in 1999, the last year Saint Matthew's made its tax records public. (In 2002, the national Better Business Bureau's charity watchdog group Wise Giving Alliance reported that Saint Matthew's Churches refused to provide information about its finances, programs or governance following inquiries to BBBs across the country from individuals who have received direct mail letters from this organization.)

The son of a Texas sharecropper, Rev. Ewing reportedly speaks in broken grammar and one of his early model letters contained 17 misspellings. But who's laughing now? He's clearly pulled the rug over the world's eyes!

Related Links:
Religion In America: St. Matthews Churches mail Minsitry Is Highly Lucrative
Purple Jesus Prayer Rug
Aces Full of Links
Ole Anthony's Trinity Foundation

Priceless (***)


Priceless/Hors de Prix (2006, France, 104 minutes)
Director: Pierre Salvadori
Cast: Audrey Tautou, Gad Elmaleh, Marie-Christian Adam, Vernon Dobtcheff
Tagline: "She only dated men with money...until she met a man with a heart."

I'm not particularly fond of French comedies, recently having been unable to get past the 10-minute mark in Moroccan-born Gad Elmaleh's previous star-vehicle The Valet (La Doublure), but even at their most insipid they hold the promise of seeing beautiful (often rich) people set against beautiful scenery. And Priceless (Hors de Prix) has the most beautiful of all people, Audrey Tautou, set against the most beautiful of all backdrops, the French Riviera. So, on the strength of Sun film critic Michael Sragow's favorable write-up (he gave it a B) and Mam'selle Amelie, I saw Priceless Friday night at the Landmark Theatre, where everybody else was packed into three theatres to see the new Indiana Jones flick. (Well, to be perfectly honest, I meant to see Rambow, but either Landmark Theatre or the Baltimore Sun posted the wrong screening time in the newspaper. Hmmmffpphhtt!)

Here's what Variety said:
A gold digger on the French Riviera unexpectedly meets her match in a mild-mannered bartender in "Priceless." Bittersweet comedy's perfectly chosen multigenerational cast ably demonstrates that if money can't buy love, it sure can purchase lots of obsequious service from four-star hotel staffers and costly goodies from laughably pricey boutiques. Co-scripter/helmer Pierre Salvadori serves up an enjoyable riff on genuine romance versus the pay-as-you-go variety, in crowd-pleasing, exportable pic.

Here's what I said:
Priceless is not priceless. Certainly not at its current market value at the Landmark of $10.50 a ticket. But it is an enjoyable two-hour diversion with a great cast, topped by Tautou as the gold-digger and Gad Emaleh - he of the soulful blue eyes and Buster Keaton long face - as the waiter/dogwalker who would be King. I hadn't seen an Audrey Tautou film since Dirty Pretty Things, so I had forgotten just how truly gorgeous this charming gamine really is. (There's even a brief glimpse of her breasts in morning-after scene, for those who follow this sort of thing.) Add a snazzy/peppy toe-tapping soundtrack and the where-but-for-the-grace-of-winning-the-lottery-go-I visuals of Monaco's beach resorts, and it's a total feel-good experience. And, as Variety pointed out, the attention to wardrobe and accessories - Guccis, Diors, Chanels, oh my! - begats a language unto itself, one that only fashionistas like "snow brown" at Fashionowy could truly appreciate. Read the designer wardrobe breakdown and release your Inner Metrosexual.

I'm sure my cineaste colleague Marc Sober would point out the narrative similarities to Ernst Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise (1932), but Hors de Prix adds the beautiful south of France setting, filmed in sun-soaked primary colors, that's really hard to beat.

The Hon Makeover

Thanks go to my friend Karen Wall for forwarding me this most recent dis to East Baltimore's Dundalkians, taken from!

What Celebrities Would Look Like If They Moved To Dundalk, MD

Britney Spears

Catherine Zeta Jones & Michael Douglas

Johnny Depp

Nicole Kidman

Tara Reid (I don't think this one's retouched!)

The Beckhams

Pam Anderson

Gwen Stefani

Mary Kate & Ashley

Ashlee Simpson

Jennifer Aniston

Tom Cruise