This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Kansas City Chiefs victory in Super Bowl IV. Remember the Chiefs’ unusual “choir huddle?” This year’s team likely promises to be their best chance in decades to get back to the championship game. I’m backing the Chiefs big in the final week of the NFL season. Hoping to sing “Hallelujah!” Here’s my Week #17 write up.
I’m glad to be in the profit column for the year after suffering through a brutal mid-season slump. Let’s now close out the regular season strongly with this final slate of wagers and (hopefully) winners.
By the way, I’ve begun contributing original content for an online gambling website, which (appropriately enough) is onlinegambling.com. Please check it out.
Those of you who like data, trends, and various aspects of handicapping methodology may be interested in these three new articles which I wrote up and posted in the last two days:
If you want to know my reasoning for this week’s wagers, much of the content in these articles (links above) will explain. I’m particularly proud of my work on the UNDER trends, as this took considerable research on my part and (to my knowledge) hasn’t been discovered until now.
“I write songs. Then, I record them. And, later, maybe I perform them on stage. That’s what I do. That’s my job. Simple.”
THE VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: WEEK 3
Part 3 (Days 15-21) of my ongoing series which is a retrospective on the music and career of Van Morrison.
VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 15
“Celtic New Year” (2005)
“You expect to encounter a tired legend, a once-mighty king becalmed and tamed by the miles and years. You find instead an echo of a full-throated roar hanging in the air, the telltale signs of a bloody struggle, and an empty cage. The lion in winter is on the loose.”
So wrote Andy Whitman, reviewing the 2005 Van Morrison Album, Magic Time, which contains one of the singer-songwriter’s most spirited compositions.
“Celtic New Year,” musically and lyrically, sounds like it could be the official theme song for the Irish Tourism Board. It’s a joyous musical postcard to the land of green.
However, Van’s deep Irish roots and broad branches haven’t been without a few thorns. Much of his career has overlapped a bloody sectarian conflict known as “The Troubles.” Yet somehow, Van was able to straddle the barbed-wire fence during the entirety of the deadliest period within the British Commonwealth since World War II.
Van, a proud Belfast native raised as a Protestant, would have been viewed as an adversary by Irish Republican nationalists under most circumstances. Indeed, the IRA fire-bombed performance halls and even murdered working musicians for taking gigs within the “occupied” part of Belfast. But Van circumnavigated political controversy largely by staying out of it. He never made public statements nor wrote any songs hinting that he sided with Unionists or was sympathetic to Irish Republicans. Clearly, his perceived neutrality was made easier by relocating to the United States during The Troubles, a terror campaign that began in the early 1970s and continued well into the 1990s.
Van wasn’t entirely indifferent to the horrors of the terrible divide and needed to fill the void. Songs of homage to Irish culture and history stoked with literary references were the plentiful substitute sprawled across multiple albums, perhaps a reminder to both sides of the deadly conflict there’s an underlying and unifying bond between them — Celtic pride. Indeed, as Van spent less time in (Northern) Ireland, absence made the Irish heart grow fonder.
One of Van’s most inspired songwriting periods stemmed from his collaboration with the traditional Irish band from Dublin — The Chieftains. They recorded an album together appropriately titled Irish Heartbeat. He also created the Caledonia Soul Orchestra, which would serve as his backup band on many recording sessions and live performances. He appeared on countless television shows in Ireland, often singing impromptu folk songs. In interviews, to this day, Van rarely talks about rock music or the pop scene, but he maintains an encyclopedic knowledge of traditional Irish music and old Celtic folk songs. Lyrics can be recited sans notes, entirely from memory.
In 2005, Van turned 60. At a time when most pop musicians are either winding down their careers or relying purely on nostalgia, Van ramped things up. He’s released 11 albums since then, an astounding output of original creativity for someone half his age, but almost herculean given Van’s intense touring schedule.
“Celtic New Year,” one of the very best songs Van has written, is a powerful soulful ballad, enhanced by a melodic guitar riff, a hearty piano accompaniment, backed by a full symphony orchestra. But the composition’s most poignant moment occurs late in the 6-minute track when an Irish flute gets into the mix and steals the spotlight, closing the catchy song with a masterful flair of authenticity and delicacy.
This song is a masterpiece. See if you agree.
I said, oh won’t you come back? I have to see you, my dear. Want you come back in the Celtic New Year? In the Celtic New Year.
VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 16
“Cyprus Avenue” (Live Performance-1973)
Van’s live performance on the evening of July 23, 1973 at the Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park (London) with the Caledonia Soul Orchestra was a perfect storm that ended with a lightning bolt — a thundering rendition of “Cyprus Avenue” from the much-acclaimed 1968 album masterpiece, Astral Weeks.
Van is at the very top of his game here, “whipping the crowd into a frenzy and then stopping on a dime — teasing out anticipation, rushing, receding, and coaxing every drop out of his band.”
That night, 3,000 electrified spectators were treated to a mesmerizing display of raw unfiltered spontaneity. Even the occasional out-of-tune flaw, the missed note here and there, and Van’s own idiosyncratic sudden stops in mid-song meld together into something of a faux lovechild between James Brown and Bruce Springsteen, while smoking a cigarette. Oh, and this has to be the only rock song in history with a full stanza of studdering.
Rolling Stone magazine wrote of the show stopper:
“Working his way up to a ferocious conclusion, he stood before the audience shaking his head back and forth, hair falling about him, looking like a man insane. Finally, with tension mounting, he ran across the stage, ran back again, jumped over a microphone cord, held the mike up to his face and screamed, ‘It’s too late to stop now’, and was gone.”
If that’s not enough, check out Van’s daughter — 3-year-old Shana Morrison — wandering onto the stage with a tambourine, totally oblivious to the wild scene around her. About two-thirds into the song, Van realizes things are about to spin out of control, so he whispers to Shana to go offstage, presumably into her mother’s arms waiting off in the wings. Mind you, this is LIVE SHOW filmed by the BBC, in front of a packed house.
More on the classic Van composition later in a future lesson. By the way, “Cyprus Avenue” refers to a street in Belfast. When Van was a teenager, Cyprus Avenue represented the other side of the tracks, so to speak. It’s where those who grew up working-class aspired to be.
But on this night, the place to be was on the front row at the Rainbow Theatre, watching Van tear up the stage like a madman.
VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 17
“Sometimes We Cry” (Live Performance — 2016)
In yesterday’s lesson, we watched 3-year-old Shana Morrison make her first stage appearance alongside her famous father. That was an impromptu gem where the toddler wandered innocently out onstage in the middle of showstopper “Cyprus Avenue” while Van was wailing away on the microphone. Forty-three years later, Shana joined her iconic dad again, this time all grown up while performing the heart-tugging ballad “Sometimes We Cry.”
It’s not easy being the child of a famous musician, but that likely goes double for the kin of Van Morrison. Today, Shana tours regularly with her own band playing in mostly small venues and works with many other artists, but her father’s shadow casts both unreasonable expectations and likely even contains some serious baggage. Van’s music may be highly-respected, even revered. However, he isn’t particularly well-liked in the music business, even among his fellow musicians.
Van and Shana have performed many times together over the years. This song is one of their best duets. It’s a hymn to the soul following a loss and an endearing acknowledgment that feeling sad and crying is okay.
“Sometimes We Cry” was included in 1997’s The Healing Game, one of my favorite of Van’s many albums. Oddly enough, Van’s version didn’t chart. But when Tom Jones heard Van’s song, he then recorded it a few years later, and the song went to #1 in the U.K. (Van has never had a #1 hit).
This live rendition of a great song was recorded by someone in the audience at the Fox Auditorium in Oakland, CA in January 2016. Van looks to be his usual grumpy self, but Shana, never far from her patriarchial shadow, appears to be enjoying the spotlight.
VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 18
“Wild Night” (1971)
“And the wind catches your feet, and sends you flyin’!”
Following the broadly-successful Moondance album, Van swerved onto the opposite side of the musical highway, recording and releasing the country-infused “Tupelo Honey.” Most of that collection of songs was written while Van lived in Woodstock, NY while hanging out with Bob Dylan and The Band. These simpler songs rooted in the soothing rhythm of Van’s acoustic guitar made for yet another surprising departure from expectation.
Recorded in San Francisco, the album produced two hits that received frequent radio play — the title song “Tupelo Honey” and “Wild Night,” an R&B driven track that sounds like a Stax record, driven by a rollicking up-tempo bass.
Van’s song reached #28 on the Billboard charts. It was released during the heyday of the “singer-songwriter” era — when musicians not only were encouraged to write and compose their own music but also had some measure of control over the direction of their careers. Van took full advantage of this newfound artistic freedom, releasing seven albums within a 5-year period.
Surprisingly, “Wild Night” wasn’t just a one-time hit. Twenty years later, singer John Mellencamp took Van’s song and turned it into a #1 hit single. Like so many Van songs, his original version was eclipsed by a later alternative rendition. Mellencamp’s interpretation of the song is terrific, indeed.
But for now, let’s go back to 1971 and listen to Van’s original.
“The wild night is calling.”
VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 19
“Goin’ Down to Monte Carlo” (2012)
At the 2005 Nice (France) Jazz Festival, Van performed a live set at the Arènes et Jardins de Cimiez. The ancient venue, a Roman Amphitheater, was quite the scene. Let’s just say the place has some history. It hosted its first live event way back in 190 A.D. — probably something to do with gladiators. This contemporary and far jazzier lineup included the following performers who took the festival stage at Nice:
— B.B. King
— Muddy Waters
— Fats Domino
— Chuck Berry
— Charles Mingus
— Miles Davis
— The Count Basie Orchestra
— ….and Van, of course.
While staying on the Cote d’ Azur, Van — always inspired by his surroundings and on the lookout for song ideas, came upon a road sign which read: “Monte Carlo 25K.” Monte Carlo happens to be about 25 kilometers down the French Riviera to the east of Nice. Hence, sometime later, that became the opening line of a new original song: “Goin’ down to Monte Carlo, about 25K from Nice.”
The 8-minute track appears on the 2012 album, Born to Sing: No Plan B, which I rank as Van’s best work within the past 15 years. Packed with songs of self-reflection, sincere regret, and real hope, encompassing diverse instrumentation, it’s the closest Van has ever come to a musical autobiography. While apolitical for most of his career, he even lashes out at the global political and financial structure in the aftermath of the fallout of the worldwide 2008 economic crash. The album produced no hit songs but was well-received by both critics and Vanatics as a collective whole, so much so that it reached #10 in the U.S. and #15 in the U.K on the charts. Not bad for a singer-songwriter reaching his 70s doing jazz-laced compositions.
Van explained “Goin’ Down to Monte Carlo” as a simple day in the life of his time spent on the French Riviera, which has become a favorite vacation spot. When asked why? Van gruff and always straight to the point snapped, “because it’s warm.” That’s it.
The studio version of this largely unknown song sounds like an impromptu jazz session, the players on alto sax, piano, standup bass, and drums each taking turns on in two distinct instrumental interludes. Think of a jazz band in the hotel bar at midnight. That’s the vibe. It’s not a song. It’s a mood and a mindset. Perhaps it’s even some measure of contentment.
I’ve posted a rare live version of “Goin’ Down to Monte Carlo,” performed months after its release, at a hotel in Belfast. The live version sounds a little punchier, and Van — perpetually bitter towards the critics — barks out a few attacks towards his detractors IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SONG.
Classic Van, note for note, word for word, in every way.
VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 20
“What’s the sound of one hand clapping?”
Being a Van Morrison fan requires an innate sense of curiosity about the things we do not yet know combined with an insatiable lust for enlightenment. It also comes with an inherent understanding that satisfactory answers to these questions will be evasive, if not impossible.
But still — quest for enlightenment we must.
“Enlightenment — I don’t know what it is.”
So writes and sings Van the title track from his 1990 album Enlightenment. The album crashed in the U.S. but was a big success in the U.K. where it climbed to #5 on the charts. The collection of all original material reflected a period where the music wasn’t intended as entertainment so much as a poetic exploration of the possibilities. Van has dabbled with religious themes during much of his career. Undoubtedly, his ties to the musical gospel stem from growing up under the spell of spiritually-tinged American singers like Ray Charles as much as any genuine religious devotion. That said, Enlightenment isn’t a statement-of-fact nor a final destination. It’s but one of many of Van’s album whistlestops.
So, how do we interpret “Enlightenment” — both the song and the album? Well, we don’t.
Instead, let’s just listen and enjoy Van’s recording session from Wool Hall Studios, Beckington Townhouse, in London.
One can’t help but feel “enlightened” that something really cool is happening here.
VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 21
“Don’t Look Back” (1992 — with John Lee Hooker)
You can’t fake the blues.
The best bluesmen (and women) are often seen and heard performing in clustered bars and tiny nightclubs making $75 a night, if that, bleeding their souls to strangers under dim lights on worn-out stages that could use a fresh coat of paint.
The giant of a man and musical force that was John Lee Hooker didn’t escape that scene nor leave it behind, so much as he invited us all into his musical lair. There aren’t many voices that can command a room and steal a moment, even without a microphone. There are few vocalists who can give a simple tune such authenticity that the song becomes a personal incantation and is entirely their own. Johnny Lee Hooker had that gift.
In 1992, Van agreed to participate in a film documentary about his life and career that produced some extraordinary outtakes (which were never broadcast). Van recorded with Hooker twenty years earlier. They appeared on each other’s albums many times. Van, impervious to fame and pop-star celebrity, revered Hooker as the genuine singer and bluesman. Hence, he became a natural impromptu addition to the film.
One afternoon, Van went out on a pier on the bayou some miles outside New Orleans and joined Hooker on an old blues classic. Van had previously recorded “Don’t Look Back” way back in 1965 with his Northern Irish starter band *Them.* This gem of a jam session occurred in front of the cameras for that documentary. Given this was performed and recorded outdoors, the sound quality is remarkably crisp.
The Hooker-Morrison rendition is stripped bare to just two masters at their soulful best. Both keep time tapping a right foot on the wooden pier. Van does the guitar work and a little backup vocal. But Hooker seizes the moment just by opening his mouth and letting pure honesty flow. It’s pristine. It’s magic. It’s the blues.
This recording won’t win any Grammy Awards….oh but wait — it certainly inspired a few. A few years after this short session, Hooker recorded the same song with Van inside the studio, and it became the title track of a new album. In 1998, Don’t Look Back won the Grammy for “Best Traditional Blues Album,” and the John Lee Hooker-Van Morrison song won another Grammy for “Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals.” Not bad for a couple of old-timers tapping their feet and jamming in a swamp.
Even Van, never one prone to compliment, is in awe here working alongside Hooker. Who can blame him?
Marieta strapped me to the sofa. No jokes, please.
Actually, she put out a bottle of something 15.3 alc. strong from Paso Robles and forced me into watching the 2-hour and 15-minute, Marriage Story, which I’d tagged as a painful something to avoid, one of those quirky chick-flicks where all the men are assholes and all the women look like Scarlett Johansson.
Man, was I wrong.
Marriage Story is entirely held together by the two essential elements of crafting a great movie — 1. a brilliant script with witty dialogue, and 2. standout performances by the leads surrounded by an ensemble cast of supporting actors at the very top of their game. In short, the writing and acting are both stellar.
Scarlett Johansson, a frustrated mother trapped in an unfulfilling marriage gives the performance of her career. Yet it’s not the big scene-stealers full of rage and tears that define this complex role, but rather the small facial reactions, the minor annoyances, and some sense the camera never blinks and therefore can’t peer away from Johansson, not because of her beauty, but because this was such a marvelous performance to savor.
Worth noting and seeing: There are a couple of Alfonso Cuaron-esque scenes — extended monologues and dialogue dagger duets — where there are no scene cuts. Johansson and Driver are pushed to their limits. Anyone who has been in a marriage and experienced blowup fights will totally empathize with how small arguments can easily spin out of control. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf? (1966) was the first movie to accurately portray marital discord with angst realism. Parts of this film are every bit as compelling.
Adam Driver, her husband, is equally as good. I knew next to nothing about Driver (was he in Star Wars?). During the first 20 minutes of the film, I hated him being cast because he just didn’t look the part. But over two hours I was converted and by the end of the film, Driver had me totally captivated in a believable portrayal of a frustrated dad desperately trying to keep things together which are crumbling all around him.
If all this sounds depressing, it isn’t. Remarkably, the film has several comedic moments. Juxtaposed against the story of a break-up, this remains very much a love story. Striking this delicate balance was achieved thanks to Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, and Julie Hagerty (remember Airplane?) who co-star. Each is perfect as the quirky sidebars to a film that might otherwise have been cruelly voyeuristic. We laughed at least a dozen times, sometimes with the salty sadness of tears in our eyes.
Marriage Story runs a little too long, but that can be forgiven. Perhaps 15-20 minutes could have been trimmed. I also found the long scenes with the child a bit tedious. But these were minor annoyances given the payoff in emotional satisfaction. And, let me just add without any spoilers the ending was both entirely realistic and brilliant.
Barring something on the horizon I haven’t seen yet, Scarlett Johansson deserves the Oscar for this performance.
“I write songs. Then, I record them. And, later, maybe I perform them on stage. That’s what I do. That’s my job. Simple.”
THE VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: WEEK 2
Part 3 (Days 8-14) of my ongoing series which is a retrospective on the music and career of Van Morrison.
VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 8
“I Heard You Paint Houses” (2019)
I was stunned to watch Martin Scorsese’s new movie, The Irishman, recently and see Van’s name listed in the closing credits.
Turns out, Van sings a duet on the title track, “I Heard You Paint Houses,” which was the name of the book on which the mobster movie was based.
Robbie Robertson wrote most of the music and lyrics after being chosen by Scorsese to compose the film’s soundtrack. The relationship between Robertson and the film director dates back to 1978’s The Last Waltz, a documentary of The Band’s final live concert. As things turned out, Van performed in that show, as well, in a show-stopping rendition of “Caravan,” which initiated another collaborative friendship. Indeed, Van’s music has appeared in half a dozen Scorsese films.
Robertson sings the opening stanza here and plays a gritty lead guitar, but the vocals on the track mostly belong to Van, who’s gnarly baritone voice enriches the lyric with genuine authenticity. There’s also some irony to Van, arguably Ireland’s most revered pop music icon (U2’s Bono may disagree), being plucked to grouse the vocals on a film titled “The Irishman.” Lyrically, the words are somewhat campy given the subject matter, which is murder-for-hire.
I didn’t think much of the recording when I first heard it, but after listening closely a few more times on headphones, it’s now pleasantly burned into my conscious. Van is especially good on this track.
Good to see Van stealing the spotlight in a brand new movie that’s likely to receive many Oscar nominations. Could a nomination for Best Original Song be forthcoming? It would be a treat to see Van performing with Robertson at the Academy Awards ceremony a few months from now.
Have a listen…..
VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 9
“Into the Mystic” (Live Performance, 1974 — Winterland Arena in San Francisco)
Van’s live performances have long been erratic affairs — sporadically mesmerizing, other times detached, often mechanical, and occasionally downright hostile. Since this career retrospective isn’t intended as a homage so much as a comprehensive portrait, now’s a good time to show Van when he wasn’t at his cordial best.
Between 1970-1974, Van composed more than 100 original songs, released 7 studio albums, 16 singles, and performed 267 live concerts — not including television appearances and interviews. As his 1974 world tour was winding down to a close, Van was bitter, burned out, and badly in need of a reprieve. Already prone to rages of discontent and suffering from bouts of depression, Van’s bombastic temper spilled over while on stage one night at the Winterland Arena (a.k.a. Winterland Ballroom) in San Francisco.
Some in the crowd had begun chanting for Van to sing more familiar songs, but the Irish troubadour would have none of it. Fed up with the whole scene, Van ripped into the audience.
“If you shut your mouth and keep quiet you might get what you want, alright? Otherwise, you’re just like boring me to death, and probably everybody else.”
Then, without missing a beat, this tirade is immediately interrupted by Van launching into one of his most beloved ballads, “Into the Mystic” — ironically one of his most spiritual quests for inner peace. The irony of this moment is both jaw-dropping and hilarious.
Indeed, the opening moments to this song are *SO-SO-SO-SO* Van Morrison at his core.
In an upcoming lesson, I’ll write more about “Into the Mystic,” a profound song, a critically-acclaimed masterpiece, and a familiar fan favorite that’s now spanned five decades and remains one of his most requested tunes. But for now, let’s take a look at Van’s raw unfiltered brutal honesty, which is revealed onstage in this grainy black and white video. Unfortunately, the film quality isn’t very good, but the sound is excellent. Van looks like he wants to be anywhere else but on stage at this moment, but his harmonica work about midway into the song is outstanding.
Note that at the end of 1974, Van virtually disappeared from the music industry. He didn’t record another album nor release a single for the next three years. At his peak, age 29, Van didn’t just walk away. He vanished. I’ll be writing more about this period, later, as well.
Also of note here is the concert venue, the iconic Winterland, one of the most storied music meccas in the United States at the time. Legendary rock promoter Bill Graham had opened the Winterland three years earlier and it hosted just about every big name in music. It was the home base for The Grateful Dead, who performed here dozens of times. Fittingly, it was also the venue where The Band’s final concert was filmed, 1978’s The Last Waltz, in which Van returns to the stage in a dramatic comeback that some say stole the show.
VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 10
Van’s self-imposed exile from singing and songwriting lasted three years. His first daughter, Shana had been born. His marriage to model Janet Planet collapsed. Swarmed with groupies and gawkers, fiercely protective of his privacy, he abandoned Woodstock, NY and relocated to Marin County, CA. By the time Van’s creative comatose expired and the troubadour-grumbler returned to the pop music scene refreshed, two significant things had occurred:
1. Popular music tastes changed. 2. Van changed.
Van finally emerged from his sequestration and released what would become his ninth studio album, A Period of Transition. The aptly-titled collection of songs was much anticipated by critics and fans, alike. However, that album turned out to be a major disappointment for everyone. The selection of material neither matched the quality of his previous recordings nor delivered on the promise of musical “transition.” This creative and commercial failure set the stage for Van’s next significant album project, Wavelength, recorded at a makeshift studio set up in the Manor House in Oxfordshire, England and released in late 1978.
Wavelength marked a drastic shift in musical style for Van, away from his traditional R&B roots and horn-heavy instrumentation, supplanted by Peter Bardens‘ synthesizers. Indeed, pop music was changing fast, going more electronic. The title track was unlike anything Van had done before.
The song begins with Van’s voice almost unrecognizable in a high falsetto, an odd awaking for those accustomed to lyrics often shouted in liberation rather than sang. Then, Bardens’ minimoog synthesizer slowly seizes the rhythm, with Van’s velvety harmonies layered perfectly atop.
By late 1978, the era of the singer-songwriter was dead. Popular music temporarily lost its senses and swerved into a ditch called disco, punctuated at the opposite extreme by an explosion of big hair bands fronted by jackrabbit vocalists in spandex. Van might as well have been a polka dancer, stylistically speaking, but as “Wavelength” shows, he could adapt to the times when necessary.
Van’s work was rewarded with the single peaking at #42 on Billboard, which also made the album the best-selling of his career up to that point.
Lyrically, “Wavelength” begins with a tribute to his boyhood days when he first heard Ray Charles on Voice of America radio. That moment ignited a lifelong love for Charles’ music. Ironically, even in a catchy up-tempo song laced with synthesizers, Van still stays true to his musical roots.
“I heard the voice of America Callin’ on my wavelength Tellin’ me to tune in on my radio I heard the voice of America Callin’ on my wavelength Singin’ “Come back, baby Come back Come back, baby Come back….”
VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 11
“Bright Side of the Road” (1979)
Van’s mid-1970’s included burnout, divorce, three years of seclusion, an album flop, a startling comeback, and by decade’s end — the reaffirmation of a musician at the very top of his game.
Following Wavelength, which became Van’s best-selling album up to that date, the self-described soul singer returned to his roots with 1979’s Into the Music, which received widespread acclaim and was named by critics as one of the year’s best albums.
Into the Music kicks off with the happy-go-lucky radio-friendly “Bright Side of the Road,” which became a minor hit. The song would bear added fruit years later. The song is perhaps best known today as part of the catchy soundtrack for the 1997 baseball movie, Fever Pitch. Van’s song was also used to sell Toyotas during the 1990s, the title lyric “bright side of the road” being the near-perfect pitch-line for a new car. When he wrote the song, Van certainly had no idea he’d make more money off a car commercial than any song royalties accrued. Singer Shakira also performed Van’s song at President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009.
“Into the Music was about the first album where I felt, I’m starting here…the Wavelength thing,” Van said. “I didn’t really feel that was me….that’s when I got back into it. That’s why I called it Into the Music.”
Indeed, Van was back in his groove. Critics hailed the album as his best work since Moondance, released a decade earlier. Rolling Stone magazine wrote: “It’s a record of splendid peace….a vastly ambitious attempt to reconcile various states of grace: physical, spiritual and artistic….that’s what this album is about, proudly and stunningly and with no apologies — Resurrection. Real Hope.”
The song and album’s success owes much to an event that was something of an accident. The album was recorded in a small studio in Sausalito, CA. Tenor saxophone maestro Pee Wee Ellis lived nearby and was asked to sit in on one of the album’s other tracks. Van was so impressed with Ellis’ work, that he was asked to stay and play on every song. That marked the beginning of a nearly two-decades-long collaboration between Van and Ellis. No doubt, Van’s music over the next dozen albums, as well as hundreds of live tour performances were enhanced significantly by Ellis’ virtuoso on horns.
“Bright Side of the Road” is nothing special, musically speaking. But it’s a catchy tune that’s certainly fun to listen to. I dare you to try and sit still and not move along to the rollicking melody while Van sings one of his most optimistic songs.
VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 12
“Take This Hammer” (2017)
“Take This Hammer” is an old chain gang song dating back to the sharecropper days when freed slaves worked backbreaking jobs — such as mining, railroads, logging, and in the blazing cotton fields of the Deep South. These songs were sung daily by poor men who had little reason for hope in their lives, but who found solace and inspiration in music. This collective cross-generational pain and suffering birthed the blues, gospel, and many so-called prison songs. The melding of these influences later became the foundation for rock n’ roll.
The great bluesman Lead Belly learned this song while an inmate in the notorious prison farm at Angola, Louisiana. He added his own timing and chord structure and turned it into a classic that’s transcended all musical genres. It remains a popular studio “jam” tune to this day. Versions of the Lead Belly standard have been recorded by artists as diverse as the Spencer Davis Group to the Foggy Mountain Boys to John Prine. The Beatles jammed to the song in their Let It Be (a.k.a. Get Back) sessions.
One of the most recent takes of the song is by Mitch Woods. In 2017, Woods was joined in the studio by Taj Mahal on guitar and Van who laid down some incredible vocals. In his 70’s, Van’s voice certainly isn’t what it once was, but this is exactly the kind of song Van was born to sing. The impromptu recording, with guitar, piano, and Van on vocals while banging a tambourine with a drumstick, made its way onto a musical compilation for charity titled Freinds Along the Way, which can be heard and seen here in this short 2-minute outtake.
It doesn’t get much better than watching three masters at their craft sitting around in the studio and jamming to an old Lead Belly classic. See if you agree.
VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 13
“Queen of the Slipstream” (1987)
What’s the meaning of the cryptic song title and lyric “Queen of the Slipstream?”
No one knows for sure, except Van. The composition has been widely interpreted — as an ode to a distant love, a literary homage, a song with deeply religious overtones, but could just as easily be nothing more than a catchy play on words. Indeed, Van has been known to dream up clever phrases in song and then take mischievous delight while admirers scramble trying to make sense of some presumed revelation shrouded in lyrical allegory.
What’s certain about the 5-minute track is the gorgeous melody, intensely enhanced by the strings of a chamber orchestra. Like many songs written and recorded by Van during this period of deep introspection, it’s a meditative exploration uncertain of a particular destination but resolved nonetheless to forage the chance of new discovery.
“Queen of the Slipstream” appeared on the 1997 album Poetic Champions Compose, an ambitious collection of new material that received mixed reviews from critics. Rolling Stone magazine was particularly brutal, calling it a “cranky self-imitation” and a “painful slump.” Nevertheless, album sales were boosted significantly by the popular love ballad “Someone Like You,” which has since become a staple soundtrack played and sang at weddings. Commercial success aside, “Slipstream” remains the far more intriguing album track, reminding us that it’s okay to persevere if only in small increments, one step at a time, sketching in the details as we go along. Poetic Champions Compose is that album stoked with small details, many pleasant and inspirational.
The song was also released as a single the following year, but it did not make the charts. Yet, there is an enduring quality to the composition. Over the years, it’s appeared in several movies. It was a favorite of the late actress Farah Fawcett and was used in a documentary about her life at her request after her death.
My take is the following: “Queen of the Slipstream” is gorgeous, brilliant, perplexing, and something of a mess. While there’s intriguing combustion of instrumentation here, the song could have benefited from a bit more tailoring. Produced entirely by Van, it had no one inside the studio to say, “Stop — let’s re-record that part again, or how about turning down the string mix a little?” Van, entirely left to his own ear and taste, simply floods the soundboard until it short-circuits on woodwinds.
VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 14
“Haunts of Ancient Peace” (1980)
Preamble: “Common One” is a Van Morrison album not so much to be listened to but absorbed into the soul. It’s the music of melancholy. It’s the album I’ve put on dozens of times when doing something around the house, or driving, or writing. These are not party songs. No one will run to the dance floor. These are songs to play in peace, often in solitude. Like a fine scotch, it’s meant to be sipped and savored, nut guzzled down like a keg of beer. Mindful that this series (VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS) isn’t a “Greatest Hits” compilation, today’s selection is one of Van’s more esoteric compositions. I’m eager to share my thoughts with you about this now.
Van was once asked by an interviewer to name his favorite album of his own music. With more than 50 albums from which to choose (not counting foreign releases) it was something of a shocker to hear him cite Common One, a six-song compilation that received scathing reviews from critics and was largely ignored by fans upon its release.
More recently, Common One has garnered a tardy appreciation from many who have given it a redux and may have discovered there was far more to the album that many realized nearly four decades ago.
“Haunts of Ancient Peace,” a 7-minute mood piece punctuated with jazz underpinnings, embodies the spirited wholesomeness of Common One. It’s thoroughly Van distilled down to his creative essence — a wanderlust of vast exploration, intentionally non-commercial, oblivious to judgment. Certainly, Van knew when this song (and album) were released, they’d receive zero radio airplay. The music was destined for instant obscurity. Like so many of Van’s songs released during the 1980s of varying lengths, styles and accompanied by unconventional orchestration, these songs are a rebuke to the pop music culture. Enlightenment and discovery, not song royalties, are the objective.
The unusual song title comes from a 1902 book by Victorian-era Poet Laureate Alfred Austin (1896-1912). Indeed, as Van’s lyrics promise, this is very much “a song of harmony and rhyme in haunts of ancient peace.”
I’ve taken a live performance of this song rather than the studio version (I don’t know the venue nor the year). Van even occasionally performs this song live up to this day. See if you agree this is a song to be absorbed by the soul.
VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: BONUS ENTRY
Remembering Joe Smith (1928-2019)
Today, we remember the late Joe Smith, who died last week at age 91.
Smith was a music industry giant, with precisely the resume Van Morrison typically loathed. An executive with Warner Bros., then Elektra afterward, and finally the CEO of Capitol-EMI, Smith’s approach was markedly different than virtually all the other music moguls, one reason why Van viewed him as the notable exception to a dirty business that often exploited artists and their music as nothing more than commodities. Smith even came around to share Van’s cynicism about his own industry, years after his early retirement lamenting, “it’s no fun anymore” — an industry run by people who are more business-oriented than those of us who are very music-oriented.”
Smith’s connection to the Northern Irish misanthrope began early in his solo career. Taken from the obituary in The Guardian:
In 1968. Smith pulled off a coup by signing Van Morrison, whose contract at Bang Records had fallen into the hands of the mobster Carmine “Wassel” DeNoia. Smith bought out the contract by taking $20,000 in cash to an abandoned Manhattan warehouse. He described Morrison as “a hateful little guy,” though considered that “he’s the best rock’n’roll voice out there.
I love that line, “a hateful little guy.” Brilliant. Note: In a future post, I’ll write more about Van’s contract being controlled by a Boston mobster. That deserves its own chapter.
As noted, Joe Smith was a giant. He also signed The Grateful Dead to the Warner label in 1966, recognizing early on the major force they were to come. Other artists signed by Smith included Alice Cooper, Rod Stewart, Black Sabbath, James Taylor, the Doobie Brothers, Little Feat, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, Randy Newman, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Carly Simon, the Cars, Mötley Crüe, and many others. But Smith’s biggest success and closest personal association with the Eagles.
There are some interesting stories in this article, including a remarkable tidbit about an album release being the bounty of a wager linked to a game of trivia, which I’m linking HERE.
One of the many things about how sports betting is covered in the media that drives me crazy is the careless use of lazy terminology, including “sharps” and “smart money” and “wiseguys.”
There’s no such thing.
Sure, some bettors are more sophisticated than others. In some cases, they work harder. But the only way to determine if one side is is preferred by so-called sharps is to watch and see if the line moves after a “sharp” leaves the window (or the online app). If the line doesn’t move, the sportsbook doesn’t respect the bettor. Mark that down. It’s that simple. So, the next time you read some bogus article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal about a “sharp bettor” being on one side or the other, you can dismiss it, that is, unless the sportsbook then adjusted the line based on that wager.
And even if the line moves, it still doesn’t mean all that much. I did my homework on this. In fact, some time ago I tracked a decade worth of line moves in all sports and there’s essentially no value at riding or fading the move — more on this another time. When you read a quote about a “respected bettor” or something similar making a large wager on a side or total, you can be assured that’s quote is a fluffer. Big bettors tend to have egos. They like seeing their wagers respected and mega-sized bets being referenced in the media. Most of it is garbage. Meaningless. Fluff intended to keep the dope sucker-hooked to the same book.
The most ridiculous falsehood about sports betting is the mass misperception of big bettors, as though a huge bet equates to wisdom or inside information. A big bet with lots of zeros means absolutely nothing, except that the bettor has a lot more money to gamble with than the rest of us. I’ve known many terrible gamblers who bet $5,000 a game who lose half a million a year and also know some winning handicappers who bet $100 a game. There is no correlation between bet size and smart handicapping. None whatsoever.
For example, last week, it was reported that some clueless idiot bettor here in Las Vegas wagered a whopping $220,000 on a football game about five minutes before kickoff (he took the Buffalo Bills at the worst possible number). His bet ended up winning, but it could have just as easily lost. Anyone betting that kind of money and taking the worst number possible at the last minute, especially when a half-point or full-point was available elsewhere (and earlier in the week) is a moron. Why these big bets get reported in the media is baffling to me. Most of these gamblers are losers no different from the regular betting public.
Here’s a plea: Stop giving these bettors, these worthless articles, and these insider reports any weight. They’re about as meaningful as a drunk millionaire spewing chips and betting roulette numbers. They mean nothing. Here’s an alternative idea: I’d much rather read articles on gamblers who bet wisely, and hammer out 55 percent winners year in and year out. Show me a sports gambler who makes $60,000 a year on average or more, with little or no variance. That’s a winner. Not some dope with some outside source of income who bets two-hundred grand at the last second on an NFL game and gets lucky. Spare me, please. No one fucking cares.
THIS WEEK’S WAGERS: This week, I made 13 wagers. I’m laying $3,227. to win $2,950. Here are the plays (each wager is listed at -110 unless noted otherwise):
Tampa Bay / Detroit OVER 45.5 — Risking $275 to win $250
Chicago +4 vs. Green Bay — Risking $275 to win $250
New England / Cincinnati UNDER 41 — Risking $275 to win $250
Houston + 3 vs. Tennessee — Risking $275 to win $250
Denver / Kansas City UNDER 44.5 — Risking $275 to win $250
Denver +10 vs. Kansas City (-120) — Risking $300 to win $250
First Half: Denver +6 vs. Kansas City — Risking $110 to win $100
Miami +3 vs. NY Giants — Risking $275 to win $250
First Half: Miami +2.5 vs. NY Giants — Risking $110 to win $100
Buffalo +1 vs. Pittsburgh — Risking $275 to win $250
Cleveland / Arizona OVER 49 — Risking $275 to win $250
Atlanta / San Francisco UNDER 48.5 — Risking $275 to win $250
Indianapolis +9 vs. New Orleans — Risking $275 to win $250
THOUGHTS ON EACH GAME:
Tampa Bay -5.5 at Detroit — Total 46
Tampa games tend to be high-volatile outcomes, with the Bucs scoring well above the league total in points, but often giving up more on defense. Indeed, the Bucs have been an OVER machine, eclipsing the total in last 10/11. Currently riding a surprising though meaningless 3-game winning streak, look for the Bucs to continue the ariel assault against an opponent that’s terrible against the pass. This total is the next-to-lowest total of the season for Tampa because there’s little faith in the Lions offense, which has struggled in backup QBs since Matt Stafford’s injury. However, back home again in what will be perceived as a winnable game, look for the Lions to exploit Tampa’s defensive secondary, which ranks 31st in the NFL against the pass. Given these two teams are a combined 18-8 to the OVER this season, it’s a little puzzling as to why this total isn’t just a bit higher. The dome and rubber grass at Ford Field only helps perfect conditions for these offenses. I got this number at OVER 45.5, but it’s risen to 46 in most places.
Philadelphia -6 at Washington — Total 39.5
I’ve lost all faith in the Eagles, which have been a glaring disappointment this season. Four straight non-covers are grounds for skipping these underachievers, especially as divisional road favorites. It’s never good to indiscriminately lay points in division games on the road favorite, and Philadelphia sounds off as an even louder alarm bell. Credit Washington for three straight covers. Some might be tempted to take a generous number of points, but not me. I have some interest in the OVER here since the total is lower than average. Eagles could click for one game and run up the score if everything goes right. If you can capture the win on 40, the OVER looks to be worth a look. But I’m passing for now on an official recommendation.
Chicago at Green Bay -4.5 — Total 40.5
I took the division dog here, much as it pains me to bet on the offensively-inept Bears. This is much more of a fade Green Bay wager, based on some metrics that reveal the Packers are far closer to a mediocre team than their 10-3 record indicates. This is a choppy inconsistent Packers team that’s ranked 23rd offensively in yardage gained and 22nd defensively in yards allowed playing versus a top-10 ranked defense (Chicago). In a game projected to be 15 degrees at kickoff where points could be at a premium, I like the +4 points. Note that I did get a bad number here, since I bet this at +4, under the mindset that the line could drop to +3.5 based on frigid weather. I wish I had +4.5, but still think the Bears are the right side at +4.
New England -10 at Cincinnati — Total 41
This is a betting angle I uncovered from data mining which basically says take the UNDER in games forecasted to be blowouts (double-digit lines) late in the season. I won’t give away all the details, but this has been a solid 58 percent winner over the past 20 years with more than 100 trials. The theory is — the favorite won’t exert any extra offensive energy and facing an outmatched opponent will simply be content with the win, especially on the road where these percentages are higher. New England has struggled offensively the past month, which helps this UNDER play. And the Patriots also field the NFL’s top-ranked defense. Cincy has gone 8-4-1 to the UNDER this season while the Patriots have been an UNDER machine, going 9-4 UNDER the total, which has pushed this total way down to 41. Cincy averages just 15 points a game this season and they’ll probably be lucky to reach that number in this game versus a very motivated New England defense. It’s also time we adjust for the fact this isn’t the same New England team that blows opponents out by five touchdowns. I’ll ride all these factors with the UNDER in this game.
Houston at Tennesee -3 — Total 51.5
The entire NFL handicapping world seems to be on the OVER in this game and I was tempted to join the crowd at 51. Titans have crushed the number for seven straight weeks, going 7-0 to the OVER since Tannehill took control at QB. But the number is up to 51.5 now, and something tells me total — way higher than any Tennessee game this season (average total of Titans games with Tannehill starts has been 44) — is an overreaction. Something else to look at: These two teams will play each other in two of the final three weeks. So, with first place in the division at stake, I expect a more conservative game plan than might be forecast by the number. I’m also taking the Texans plus a field goal for the game because I expect this to be close and go down to the final minute. Note that Houston was humiliated last week in what perhaps was a look-ahead situation (versus Denver), but in every game this season the Texans lost, they came back and won the following week (a perfect 4-0). Hoping to see a lower-scoring close game between two rivals competing for the playoff birth in the division. So give me the dog plus the points and UNDER a very high total.
Seattle -6 at Carolina — Total 49.5
I expect most of the chump money will be on Seattle here and it’s hard to make any case for betting the Panthers who appear to have mailed in their season. But someone scares me about this matchup since the Panthers have scored 20+ points in three straight games and they face an opponent at a serious travel disadvantage. Seattle got thumped last week in LA, in an embarrassing loss. Seahawks have also surrendered an alarming number of points the last eight games — 27, 26, 51, 20, 24, 29, 34, 29, and 40. Those are ugly numbers, very un playoff-like. I want no part of a team that plays an early start across three time zones and can’t seem to stop anybody. If anything, the Panthers are probably the right side here if you decided to bet the game.
Denver at Kansas City -9.5 — Total 45
I have three wagers riding on this game, and I’ll try to explain the reason for each. Admittedly, the Chiefs look like a Super Bowl contender again after rattling off three straight wins, including last week’s statement victory at New England. That’s a major emotional hill to come down from and Kansas City could be in for a flat spot, schedule-wise. Let’s credit Denver here which has covered in 6 of last 7 with the lone misfire at Buffalo, which fields a top defense. No one ranks the Chiefs in the upper echelon of NFL defenses, so I’m looking for Denver to enjoy some success in the time of possession battle, keeping the ball away from QB Mahomes and Co. Broncos’ defense is well above average and should keep them in the game with any effort that matches their season averages. I realize it’s somewhat cherry-picking of data, but the last nine weeks, both of these teams are 5-4 straight up. Getting +10 juiced up to -120 (which I found) looks to be a solid play. I’m also taking the UNDER based on my data angle about games forecasted as blowouts being good UNDER bets late in the season. One final sweetener to the betting trifecta is a small wager on the First Half and Denver at +6. The Broncos are getting too many points here, as evidenced by a better than average first-half performance in games this season, and getting a push on the key number of +6. Weather could help the dog and UNDER here as well — forecast at 26 degrees and foggy.
Miami at NY Giants -3.5 — Total 45.5
NY Giants off the short week and a tough loss at Philadelphia are at a slight disadvantage here, especially versus an opponent that hasn’t given up, covering in two straight, and 7 of their last 9. I also like Miami having played in this stadium last week (a heartbreaking loss to Jets due to getting fucked by a horrendous PI call in the final minute). I have a suspicion Miami can’t wait to take this field again after losing that game 22-21, and facing an opponent that might not be as well-rounded at the Jets. I bet NY Giants last week based on part on Eli Manning returning at QB, but that swan song novelty may wear off quickly here after the rush of a rare MNF appearance. Giants have lost NINE straight game, yet are laying a field goal. That’s probably the correct number based on the perception of Miami. But in a game between two losing teams going nowhere, I like taking the +3, especially given what happened last week to the Dolphins. I’m also taking the underdog for a small wager in the first half based on some motivational edge, getting +2.5.
Buffalo at Pittsburgh -1 — Total 37
All I hear is how great the Steelers defense is — but who have they played? Total crap. Steelers backup QB Hodges will face his toughest foe in weeks facing the Bills, who are 9-4 and on the verge of locking up a Wild Card spot (they could still win the division if New England collapses). Buffalo brings in a more seasoned offense, looks to be well-coached, clearly has at least as solid a defense, and a better W-L record, and is the underdog. I can’t resist the temptation to bet the team with some slight advantages. Buffalo seems to like the highway, as well — going 5-1 this season on the road.
Jacksonville at Oakland -6.5 — Total 46.5
The Jaguars have quit. There’s no other way to put it. I would need double digits to even consider wagering on this team, which might now be the worst lineup in the NFL. They’ve lost each of the last five games (all non-covers) by an average of 20 points. This line does seem a little low, considering the ineptitude of Jacksonville. That said, Oakland has proven to be a fraud. They were 6-4 four weeks ago and appeared to be in playoff contention before getting destroyed each of the last three weeks, nearly as badly as Jacksonville. Some say Oakland will rise to the occasion in their final game ever at the Coliseum, but seriously — if this team couldn’t get up in their previous two home games with something to play for, what makes anyone think they’ll flip a switch this week? I see the argument for betting the Raiders based purely on emotion, but that’s not enough for me to lay nearly a touchdown on these frauds. Pass.
Atlanta at San Francisco -10.5 — Total 48.5
Another in my data-driven UNDER plays based on an out-of-whack line and high total late in the season. It’s scary to bet the UNDER in a Falcons’ game given how porous the defense is, but the 49ers could be licking some wounds and be content with what should be an easy “W” after playing two of the toughest road games of the season back-to-back. San Francisco’s defense should also rebound after a weak effort in New Orleans last week. I’m hoping the 49ers shut down Atlanta and get away with an ugly win that falls under this number.
Cleveland -3 at Arizona — Total 49.5
I got this total at 49 but the number is now climbing. Arizona surrenders the most yards per game and also rank last in pass defense. They have surrendered 21+ points in every game this season. In a game where Cleveland should be looking to build some confidence and the coach’s job could be at risk, one expects the Browns to try and roll up some style points. Meanwhile, gets their softest defensive opponent after a brutal stretch of opponents since early Nov. having to face SFO (twice), NOR, PIT, and LAR. CLE is a major dropoff for an offense looking to get back on track. Also, as my capping friend Stephen Nover pointed out (credit where it’s due): “As a side note, there is bad blood between QB Mayfield and Cardinals head man Kliff Kingsbury stemming from when Mayfield played for Kingsbury at Texas Tech before he transferred to Oklahoma. So both teams will be looking to run up a score with no letdowns.” I’ll play OVER this number with two teams out of the playoff race, but still with lots of motivation to put up points against below-average defenses.
LA Rams -1.5 at Dallas — Total 48.5
Some bettors might keep drinking Cowboy kool-aid and there’s a reason for the wager on Dallas as a home dog. On practically every metric, Dallas is among the league leaders — yardage gained, point differential, yardage allowed, etc. But the Cowboys haven’t defeated a team with a winning record this season, going a horrific 0-6. What a dichotomy of decisions on the team and game. LA Rams defense is back in top form, allowing 17 or less in 6 of last 7. Wade Phillips will have no problem with motivation for his defensive unit returning to Dallas, where he coached for five seasons. Still, I don’t trust the Rams on offense, which I view as soft. Dallas is in an absolute dogfight here at home and everything should point to a strong effort. The added 10-day rest (Dallas played last Thursday night) also helps the Cowboys. Way too many variables to predict here, although I lean strongly to the UNDER. Cowboys also replaced their kicker this past week, which could be a factor, only adding to the unpredictability.
SNF: Minnesota -1.5 at LA Chargers — Total 45
It’s got to be the Vikings here at a cheap price, which seems the obvious pick at struggling San Diego-Carson-Los Angeles. Prior to last week’s automatic checkbox win over Jacksonville last week, Chargers had lost three straight. No home-field edge. I would need at least +3 to take the Chargers and even think I’d give it a hard reconsideration. Nonetheless, Minnesota remains too inconsistent for my betting tastes at 7-6 ATS. With Packers on deck next week, I’m concerned Minnesota might be in a look ahead situation. No play for me on this game.
MNF: Indianapolis at New Orleans -8.5 — Total 46.5
The Colts have collapsed and are essentially done for the season, but I think that makes them more dangerous now. This remains a well-coached slightly above-average team that is capable of beating anyone (wins versus TEN, KC, and HOU this season — all playoff contenders). Saints will be up emotionally for a home MNF game and certainly could run up the score in a blowout. But they’ve also failed to cover their last three games in the Superdome and have occasionally come up flat, as home struggles versus Carolina and Atlanta showed in the last month. Getting +9 is enough points for me to play the dog in a season that’s been very good to road pups getting points. Saints also face some injuries and with two road games coming up to close the season, I look for Sean Peyton’s team to be content with a “W” here turning the game into a shootout like we saw last week in the 49er thriller.
“I write songs. Then, I record them. And, later, maybe I perform them on stage. That’s what I do. That’s my job. Simple.”
He’s been called a genius. A poet. A mystic. A sage. An original. A nonconformist. A hermit. A curmudgeon. A misanthrope. And a boor.
Indeed, all these tags apply to Van Morrison, arguably the most enigmatic of all popular singer-songwriters of the past half-century.
So far, he’s released 53 albums, including 71 singles — yet, he’s never had a top-five hit. Now, in his mid-70’s, he continues touring and performing at a tireless pace — although, he’s a self-admitted introvert in an extrovert’s profession. He’s been inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame, and even been knighted by the Queen of England — however, he loathes doing interviews and the all-too-predictable questions he’s asked as to what any of his songs mean. He gets mentioned in the same breath as the Irish masters — including Joyce, Wilde, Shaw, Yeats, Moore, and Beckett — while bristling at any of the accruments of such lofty comparison, opting instead to simply be called “a soul singer.”
“I don’t feel comfortable doing interviews,” Morrison snaps. “My profession is music and writing songs. That’s what I do. I like to do it, but I hate to talk about it.”
Since Sir Van Morrison hates to talk about his own music, the inevitable void has been filled by a cottage industry of writers and critics all over the world willing to proxy for him. Including — yours truly.
Consider this latest series, which I’ve titled the “Van Morrison MasterClass” precisely such an exercise. It is as much an attempt at exploring Van Morrison’s rich musical legacy as a hope and a promise of new discoveries.
THE VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: WEEK 1
VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS — DAY 1
“You’ve Got the Power” (1972)
This was a stunning personal discovery. It’s the B-side of a single “Jackie Wilson Said,” the minor hit off the 1972 album, St. Dominic’s Preview, charting at #61 on Billboard. This flip-side chestnut is obscure and mostly forgotten, even by loyal Vanatics. Reference Point: Van fans are known as “Vanatics.”
“You’ve Got the Power” layers Memphis horns atop the Stax sound, with Van’s vocal energy as not so much the lead as the accompaniment to a rich stew of raw musical alchemy. As is characteristic of much of Van’s studio work (making this both amazing and maddening)….both “Jackie Wilson Said” and “You’ve Got the Power” were recorded in a single take.
Here’s a short recount of the session, recorded in Mill Valley, CA:
“Morrison’s band had only rehearsed the song once before the session, which led to the parts being rearranged in the studio. Despite the initial problems, the band recorded it in one take: “At the end [we] all stood in silence: had [we] got it in one go? Van called for another take, but stopped a few bars in because he felt it wasn’t working. ‘I think we’ve got it.”
Have a listen to this rare gem, which clocks in a 3:30. Headphones recommended, crank it up loud, and sing it strong.
VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS — DAY 2
“Days Like This” (1995)
“Day’s Like This” is the title track from the 1995 album which peaked at #5 in the UK, but sold poorly in the US, due perhaps to mixed reviews and a diverse collection of songs scattered across multiple musical genres, with tracks that were inspiring to some but alienating to others.
Although the song wasn’t a hit single when released, it’s since become a widely-played and well-known gem on the “soundtrack of life,” commonly played while boarding airplanes, heard in restaurants and shopping malls, and even in a few movies, including As Good As It Gets.
The song was even chosen as the official anthem of the Northern Ireland Peace Movement towards the end of the infamous “Troubles” period which terrorized much of divided Belfast, Van’s boyhood home.
“Day’s Like This” features an upbeat message, Van’s gruff vocals, and a marvelously catchy chorus that’s easy to hum along to. Van also takes the lead solo on saxophone.
When President Bill Clinton visited Belfast in Nov. 1995, himself a “Vanatic,” he expressed interest in performing the song onstage with Van at a live stadium concert with 60,000 people. It would have been fun to see President Clinton, a saxophone player, joining Van in concert. But the Secret Service vetoed the idea citing security concerns, especially given the threats in Belfast.
The song also includes singer-songwriter Brian Kennedy on backing vocals. Van’s musical anchorman, Pee Wee Ellis stands in on tenor sax.
Van was never part of the so-called MTV generation. He utterly loathed music videos. Nonetheless, Van was talked into making a rare and as-it-turns-out stylish in-studio B/W video release, which is posted here.
Now, nearly 25 years since its release, “Days Like This” remains as enjoyable and inspirational as ever.
VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 3
“Here Comes the Night” (1965)
Van’s career began with *Them* a short-lived Northern Irish band tangentially grouped as part of the Britsh Invasion. *Them* took their odd name from the 1950’s horror film. Tensions within the band and their producer Bert Berns began early and fractured into a nasty breakup, after which Van launched his solo career in 1966.
Berns, already well-known for producing several hit records including the original “Twist and Shout,” wrote “Here Comes the Night” and gave it to Them, which by mid-1965 had released two hit records, the bluesy “Baby Please Don’t Go” and Van’s own popular rock classic “Gloria.” The song reached #2 in the UK and #30 in the US.
“Here Comes the Night” isn’t Van’s best work, by any stretch. But this clip does show Van, at age 20, fronting Them in a live performance. Shy and introverted by nature, Van displayed an impersonal public persona which appeared to be alienation from his own audience. Onstage, he rarely acknowledged fans (which continues to this day). For Van, it’s always been about the music.
Van as the lead singer for Them proved difficult to work with and manage. He refused to go along with fake “live” performances and promotional gigs, instantly creating a hard-nosed reputation:
“We were never meant to be on ‘Top of the Pops,’ I mean miming? Lip syncing? We used to laugh at the program, think it was a joke. Then we were on it ourselves. It was ridiculous. We were totally anti that type of thing. We were really into the blues…and we had to get into suits and have make-up put on and all that.”
Note that Van refuses to wear a suit in this show, which turned out to be one of Them’s final live performances. Added trivia: Jimmy Page (later with Led Zeppelin) was the session guitarist on the studio recording.
This video clip clocks in at less than 3 minutes, but shows why Van, even at age 20 was clearly destined for bigger and better things to come.
VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 4
“Just Like Greta” (2000)
“Some days it gets pretty crazy,
I feel like howling at the moon.”
Thus begins “Just like Greta” is a musical tribute to the reclusive Hollywood legend and a personal plea for solitude.
Perhaps Van saw something of himself in the Garbo mystique, the late film star who retired at age 35 and didn’t make another movie or grant an interview during the final 50 years of her hermitic life. Throughout his lengthy career, Van — annoyed by fame, mistrustful of strangers, prone to stagefright, and utterly oblivious to public or critical reception — must have looked to Garbo as both guru and muse. Part of his being longs to be “Just Like Greta.”
Indeed, the vast catalog of Van’s music reflects self-doubt and the constant pursuit of enlightenment. Van albums do not make for good party tunes. Van writes much deeper songs of reflection, of pain, of loss, and of longing. It’s the voice of the subconscious. He’s the artist you plug into the iPod during a quiet airplane ride or a long drive, best when alone with your own thoughts. Certainly, Van has written and released plenty of upbeat tunes, but his heart and soul remain bronzed in melancholy.
“Just Like Greta” is one of Van’s lesser-known tracks, originally recorded in 2000, but inexplicably omitted the next album release, Down the Road. Five years later, the song was recycled on Magic Time, both a commercial and critical success. Though unreleased as a single, and no airplay was given, the song complimented a fine album that became one of his most successful releases, debuting at #2 in the UK and #25 in the US. Nonetheless, few listeners aside from hard-core Van fans, have likely heard the song before.
The song clocks in at 6:29, starting off with Van at his soul-searching best. Then, anchored by a slow but steady crescendo the mood gradually begins to shift from a soft ballad into a rousing finish flooded in orchestral strings. Van’s vocals are paired with the familiar echoes of the Hammond organ. Lyrically speaking, Van alludes to his own past, singing “I’ve been too long in exile….” which is an unveiled reference to his album released a decade earlier, Too Long in Exile.
The song’s most catchy moment occurs immediately after the instrumental interlude about midway through (at the 3:50 mark) when Van suddenly takes the song uptempo and launches into a spirited declaration about “going out to L.A. (to) get my business done,” then “going on to Vegas, then I’m going on the run.”
Today — Van, even at 74, a tireless tour performer who still writes songs, releases albums, and appears in as many as 75 live shows annually, must feel the temptation to ignore all the phone calls and the demands of the trade and simply run away from it all. You know, “Just Like Greta.”
Don’t we all have days and thoughts to do the same?
VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 5
“T.B. Sheets” (1967)
Van’s breakaway solo period after leaving the Northern Irish group Them included a spell of struggle and near starvation. Even while “Brown Eyed Girl” was rocketing up the Billboard charts, Van — screwed by a really bad recording contract — made little or no money from his early work. He once told the story of having to borrow money to pay the rent.
“While I was recording, I realized I didn’t even have $2 to buy a sandwich,” Morrison told CBS in an interview many years later. “I had to borrow money to eat.”
Morrison had flown to New York from Belfast to sign a record contract he had not fully studied, nor legally vetted with attorneys. During a two-day recording session at A&R Studios starting 28 March 1967, eight songs were recorded, originally intended to be used as four singles per a verbal agreement. Instead, the songs were rushed out and released as the album Blowin’ Your Mind, without Morrison being consulted. Van said he only became aware of the album’s release when a friend mentioned on a phone call that he had just been in a record store and bought a copy.
Alas, that was Van’s first solo album — and he didn’t even know about it. Thus began a long career of loathing the music business and being mistrustful of associates, a characteristic which continues to this day.
“T.B. Sheets” was one of the songs off that debut solo album which was written and recorded during an extended creative period that became known as the Bang Sessions, in reference to Bang Records.
“Morrison had intended to record the song in one take, but there were two takes recorded that day….,.There is a long-standing, but perhaps apocryphal story of Morrison’s emotional state during the song’s recording Michael Ochs wrote later, “after ‘T.B. Sheets’ was recorded, the rest of the session had to be canceled because Van broke down in tears.”
“T.B. Sheets” is a song about death. It’s a bluesy masterpiece melding Van’s soulful vocals, his shredding harmonica introduction, tambourine timing, laced with catchy riffs on lead guitar. The song wasn’t released as a single but was covered by iconic bluesman Johnny Lee Hooker in 1972. Van’s song also appeared in ambulance scenes in Martin Scorsese’s 1999 misfire movie, Bringing Out the Dead, starring Nicholas Cage. That movie isn’t very good, but the song fits the urban underbelly as a perfect soundtrack. Note that some might find the video images to be disturbing.
This is stunning early work by Van, which is even more impressive when considering how rushed the production was in the studio and the pressure the singer-songwriter was under at the time. I love Van’s racy harmonica work here, which never sounded better.
VAN MORRISON MASTERCLASS: DAY 7
To date, Van has released 53 albums and 71 singles, so it’s surprising to learn he’s never recorded a #1 hit. In fact, no Van composition has ever charted in the top five. Even his signature song, 1967’s “Brown Eyed Girl” rose only to #10.
It’s even more surprising to find out the highest-charting single of Van’s prolific career was the 1970 release, “Domino,” the opening track from the album, His Band and the Street Choir. To this day, “Domino” remains his best-performing song, though few hard-core fans or casual listeners would place this song anywhere near the pantheon of VM’s best recordings. It peaked at #9.
“Domino” is a tribute to R&B legend Fats Domino. It’s packed with blaring horns and is pure R&B all the way. Lyrics include Van singing “Lord have mercy” during the refrain, undoubtedly mimicking the influence of James Brown, another of Van’s musical idols. Indeed, “Domino” is a definitive in-your-face statement by Van who rejected stereotyping and refused to be pigeonholed as a rock act. Following up on the success of the jazz-infused Moondance album which was released earlier that year, Van unexpectedly swerved into the R&B lane going full blast. Oddly enough, following this project, his next album, Tupelo Honey marked a 180 shift to into folk-country.
“Domino” was one of many chestnuts during a bountiful songwriting period for Van. It marked a definitive shift in intent to write music for wider audiences. After his debut album premiered to mixed success, the extraordinarily ambitious Astral Weeks had been released the following year. That classic collection is now regarded as one of the greatest albums in pop music history, but it was a commercial failure at the time. Van, still plagued by a bad recording contract and essentially broke, vowed to write some catchier and shorter songs certain to receive radio airplay, and thus make money. So, he nested on a treasure trove of fresh original material written during 1969 in upstate NY. With a new record deal, he was determined to cash in with a flurry of pop hits and albums that would sell commercially. When the Moondance album (with the title hit single) was released in 1970, Van’s wisdom of maintaining strict control over his work and reaping the benefits thereof was confirmed. “Domino” was written and recorded during this period. Indeed, much of what appeared on His Band and the Street Choir could have made for a double-album set to Moondance.
“Domino” is lyrically simple, rhythmically catchy, and one of Van’s most radio-friendly songs.
Note that Jim Keltner is on drums, described as the leading session drummer in America circa 1960-1980. Keltner was the drummer on much of Van’s work during this period. Keltner has appeared on countless popular recordings over the years, including each of the former Beatles’ solo albums following their breakup.
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“Buy low, sell high” is a tried and true investment strategy that has some application to sports betting.
Certainly, we want to take advantage of undervalued teams where we’re possibly getting extra points and avoid teams where the line might be inflated. That often means betting on teams that have struggled lately while wagering against teams that are playing well. In a betting environment where margins are slim and information is correctly factored into the line, there’s probably some merit to adopting a contrarian strategy of buying low and selling high.
This week, the “buy low” teams appear to be: Denver, LA Chargers, Carolina, Atlanta, Jacksonville, Oakland, NY Giants, and Philadelphia. Despite being 10-2, some might also include New England as a “buy low” team since they’ve failed to cover the spread in the last two games.
Meanwhile, the “sell high” teams look to be: Baltimore, Buffalo, New Orleans, and Seattle. Some might also include Kansas City and Houston.
For Week #14, I’m combining this concept while also factoring in the high percentage of covers by road underdogs (70-48-4 ATS). Moreover, I’m applying a couple of historical betting angles with plenty of trials that have produced a profit over the years.
Read the full write-ups on each game below.
Also, a short personal note: Thanks to everyone for the kind wishes last weekend while I was in the hospital for the first time in my life. I experienced a health scare, but am back to handicapping and trying to beat the point spread. The messages were deeply appreciated.
THIS WEEK’S WAGERS: This week, I made 13 wagers. I’m laying $3,612. to win $3,250. Here are the plays (each listed at -110 unless noted otherwise):
Buffalo +6 vs. Baltimore — Risking $275 to win $250
Buffalo/Baltimore UNDER 44 — Risking $275 to win $250
Denver +8.5 vs. Houston — Risking $275 to win $250
San Francisco +2 vs. New Orleans — Risking $275 to win $250
Cincinnati +7 vs. Cleveland — Risking $275 to win $250
Carolina +3.5 vs. Atlanta (-115) — Risking $287 to win $250
Miami +5 vs. NY Jets — Risking $275 to win $250
Indianapolis +3.5 vs. Tampa (-115) — Risking $287 to win $250
Oakland +3 vs. Tennesee — Risking $275 to win $250
Pittsburgh/Arizona UNDER 43.5 — Risking $275 to win $250
Tennesee/Oakland UNDER 47.5 — Risking $275 to win $250
Seattle/LA Rams UNDER 48 — Risking $275 to win $250
NY Giants +9 vs. Philadelphia — Risking $275 to win $250
THOUGHTS ON EACH GAME:
Baltimore at Buffalo (Bet BUF and UNDER)
BAL is laying -6 at BUF with a total at 44. Weather is not expected to be a factor in this December Buffalo home game, which probably helps the Ravens, winners of eight straight games SU, and suddenly the odds-on Super Bowl betting favorite. Yet this looks like a particularly tough test for BAL, which has defeated playoff-bound teams in 5 of its last 6 games. Facing a rested BUF team off the ten-day break after beating the Cowboys on the road in a definitive statement game will be another challenge. The Bills defense has been stellar, allowing 20 points or less in 10 of 12 games, this season. I think given the extra rest, a solid defense, home-field advantage, and the Ravens coming off a big but exhausting win last week at home versus San Francisco, there’s sufficient reason to play the home dog. It’s not often we see a 9-3 team getting nearly a touchdown (+6) at home. Add the fact that BUF is 4-0-1 ATS their last five games as a dog, and that shows the market may be still undervaluing this team. I made two wagers. Grab the Bills at this bargain price, despite all the respect in the world for the Ravens. I also like the UNDER in this game, especially at 44 — since BUF is 3-9 to the UNDER this season.
Washington at Green Bay (No Wagers)
GB is laying -12.5 at home hosting WAS, with a betting total of 42. No opinion for me on this game, though the Redskins riding an unforeseen two-game winning streak should be factored in. This is only the second Packers home game since Oct. 20th. I think GB is too inconsistent to be laying this high a price, but a trend keeps me off the dog (historically, teams favored in the 10-14 range cover nearly 55 percent of the time when bet blind, and that includes nearly 500 trials over the past 20 seasons. Interesting schedule quirk — Packers play each of their three division rivals the final three games of the season after this game, so GB might be content to get the lead, sit on the ball, and not show much if they can get out of Lambeau with an easy win.
Denver at Houston (Bet DEN)
Denver is a quagmire, covering in 6 of 8 games and 4 of their last 5, but few bettors look to them as an attractive play. Big concern is the offense, but they have scored 23+ in last 3 of 4. I’m on the Broncos here given this recent trend and the road dog phenomenon this season (covering in 60 percent of all games). Houston might also be inflated at this high number, especially coming off the impressive win over NWE on Sunday night. We catch several solid contrarian angles converging here, so I’m taking the Broncos getting points. It’s also worth noting that DEN defense remains solid, ranked in the top ten in both yards and points allowed. Hence, getting +8.5 should be the right side here, especially given HOU is just 2-4 ATS at home this season. Hoping DEN offense can produce enough points to keep this within the margin. I have no opinion on the total, which is 43.
San Francisco at New Orleans (Bet SFO)
Tough stretch of schedule here for 49ers which must play back-to-back road games versus two of the NFL’s best teams. San Francisco did stay on the road all week in prep for this contest, and might be the better team by a slight margin — and yet is getting +2 points. SFO has excelled in the dog role, going 5-1 both SU and ATS on the road this season and 4-0 as a dog. Meanwhile, the Saints have not enjoyed as much an advantage in the Superdome as oddsmakers forecast, going just 2-7 ATS their last nine games at home. I’ll hop onto the road underdog trend combined with those recent figures and bet on the 49ers. Also of note — NOR has already won the division and is almost guaranteed a first-round bye. SFO is fighting for the division crown (versus SEA) and probably needs this game slightly more. SFO showed me a lot of determination despite the loss at BALT last week. I think they keep this very close or win outright, so I’m taking the +2. No opinion on the total.
Cincinnati at Cleveland (Bet CIN)
Could the Bengals be the better team at the moment? Maybe. CLE is banged up and yet still laying an unreasonable number of points when the respect is unwarranted. Browns have gone just 2-5-1 ATS their last eight games. CIN is regarded as one of the NFL’s bottom teams, but they have also gone 2-0-1 the last three games, which shows some fight. The return of formally-benched QB Dalton sparked a win last week, and now facing the cross-state rival Browns, the Bengals are in a favorable position to keep this game close, certainly under a touchdown margin. Credit CIN for going 4-1 on the road this season (sans the London game), despite being just 1-11 SU. Also noteworthy — CIN has won and covered in five straight at CLE. Glad to take the still-fighting underdog here versus one of the NFL’s most disappointing teams in 2019.
Carolina at Atlanta (Bet CAR)
CAR fired head coach Rivera this past week. Oftentimes, when a coach is fired, that shakes up the team and players rally in their very next game. That’s been a handicapping staple for decades now, although it might not apply as strongly to NFL games. Nonetheless, I’ll take the Panthers here getting +3.5 juiced to -115, figuring both of these teams are in a deep funk at the moment and just about anything could happen. CAR has played horrendous at times, but somehow is 4-2 ATS on the road. Meanwhile, ATL gets its third consecutive home game versus a division opponent, after losing both ATS and SU the last two weeks. We really have no idea of the mindset going into this game, so getting more than a FG seems to have significant value.
Detroit at Minnesota (No Wagers)
Just a hunch that the Vikings are going to murder the Lions in this game, but I’m still not betting it. Third-string QB Blough filled in marvelously on Thanksgiving Day for the Lions, even with the loss. He looked comfortable and his throws were crisp. But Blough also struggled a bit more as the game went on, and now going on the road in a tough place for the visitor, I’m expecting a very long day for Cinderella. The Lions’ season effectively ended with that loss, while MIN is very much in the hunt for a division title and the playoffs. Vikings lost a tough one in SEA last week, which is no shame, and should bounce back easily versus an opponent against whom they enjoy clear superiority. In fact, MIN hasn’t really played a solid game since mid-Oct. when they whipped DET at Ford Field. I look for a rebound confidence builder here, but I’m not going to lay -13 points in a divisional game. So, even though I feel confident in a Vikings possible rout, I’m passing on the wager. Lean UNDER because I think DET will have serious difficulty putting up many points in such a hostile atmosphere.
Miami at NY Jets (Bet MIA)
Are the Jets really laying -5 to anybody? Didn’t MIA beat these Jets only a few weeks ago? Didn’t the NYJ get pounded by the Bengals last Sunday? NYJ has been on a mini-roll the last month before the disaster at Cincinnati. Now, whatever scraps of support remained for Adam Gase has evaporated and the vultures are at it again screaming for a coaching change. I have to play MIA +5, which has covered 6 of their last 8, including a defeat of NYJ earlier. Lean to the OVER 46 also since both teams are likely to play with reckless abandon. MIA has crushed the OVER the last three weeks, and before the CIN loss, the Jets had scored 34 points in three consecutive games.
Indianapolis at Tampa (Bet IND)
I’ll make this one short and sweet. Tampa is favored by -3, which seems dead on. The Bucs remain the NFL’s most unpredictable team, capable of offensive fireworks one week and self-destruction the next. Given many factors that are hard to measure, I’ll take the team that figured to be a bona fide playoff contender (Indianapolis at 6-6) getting points…..now up to +3.5 since I waited and juiced to -115 which I now think is a compelling play. Moreover, the last two Colts’ losses were somewhat misleading scores. IND had a shot to win both of those games late. Figuring that even if TB wins the game, it won’t be by a huge margin. The total at 47 looks dead-on perfect. No wager on that number.
LA Chargers at Jacksonville (No Wager)
What an ugly game. Nothing smells worse than betting on the Chargers laying points on the road, except perhaps the idea of taking the woeful Jaguars at the moment. There’s nothing about this game tempting to me. I’m passing.
Kansas City at New England (No Wager)
Premier game of the week looks to be lined correctly, though we rarely see the Patriots (-3) priced this low at home. NWE hasn’t looked like the Pats of old during the last month, certainly due in part to playing a tougher schedule than the first half of the season. Split decision on NWE as one of the “buy low” teams and the general trend of taking road underdogs. Let’s call this a handicapping push and look for a better game with discernable edges.
Pittsburgh at Arizona (Bet UNDER)
Steelers are getting more love than I think they deserve, laying -2 to a feisty team that had no serious expectations coming into the season, yet have overachieved against the spread, going 7-4-1. Cardinals were routed at home last week, which I think motivates a better effort here. PIT hasn’t broken the 21-point barrier its last four games, relying on some very solid defensive play. For this reason, the Steelers are still bidding for a wild card spot. PIT has covered 6 of their last 7, which will keep me off the underdog Cardinals. So, this game side is a pass. I do lean very strongly to the UNDER 43.5 based on Steelers trends going 14-5 to the low side of the total since mid-2018. Prediction — this total will fall to 43 by game time, so catch the half point now. 23-20 sounds perfect here.
Tennessee vs. Oakland (Bet OAK and UNDER)
Titans are suddenly hot again, at 7-4 SU and playing for a division title. Meanwhile, OAK which was tied for the AFC West lead three weeks ago, totally shit the bed and will likely play out its last season in Oakland. Typically, this is a game TEN should dominate with a power running game, a better defense, a hot quarterback who’s won five of his six starts, and the added motivation of chasing a playoff spot. But in the unpredictable NFL, these are the types of games when disrespected home teams with veteran QBs will rise to the occasion and pull off upsets. Note that QB Derek Carr was having a Pro Bowl season prior to December and the Raiders looked to be very much in the mix. Had we lined this game just a week or two ago, it most certainly would have been around OAK -3 and perhaps -3.5. So, linesmakers have shifted this number six points the other way based on recent results. I think that’s an overreaction, even though the Titans’ numbers are superior in every phase since making the QB change benching Mariota in favor of Tannehill. When line moved to OAK +3, that’s enough for me to take the home dog. Playing contrarian to the market here. I also like the UNDER as OAK is likely to get back to more balanced offensive attack that worked for them mid-season. Given both teams should run a fair amount combined with a higher than average total, I’ll bet the low side of the number.
SNF: Seattle vs. LA Rams (Bet UNDER)
So-called “sharps” continue getting burned fading Seattle. All the Seahawks do is win and cover, it seems, especially when playing tough competition and when disrespected. Each of the last three games (PHI, SFO, and MIN) the Seahawks have gone astray of trends and stats showing them ripe for a letdown and a defeat. This game seems much the game. SEA is listed as a PICK against the NFC West rival Rams, even though they’re 10-2 and tied for the best W-L record in the NFL. I think what many bettors might be missing, however, is the way the Rams defense has been able to dictate the pace of play during the last two months when many observers might have crossed them off as a serious contender (and quite possibly the third-best team in the division). Aside from being destroyed by BAL, LAR have allowed an average of just 11 points per game the previous six weeks. Hence, Wade Phillips’ defense appears to be slowly coming into playoff form. However, I still don’t trust this offense to produce points, which has been woefully inconsistent. Given the stakes, both teams battling for playoff seeding, I look for a balanced game with few chances being taken. Given the total seems a bit high for a Rams game (UNDER 6 of last 7 and 8 of 12 this season), I’ll wager UNDER 47.5….up to 48 now which I found, so UNDER 48 is now an even more attractive number.
MNF: NY Giants at Philadelphia (Bet NYG)
What a gem. It’s best to keep one’s emotions out of handicapping, but I lost all respect for the Eagles last week in losing to MIA, with the chance to jump into a first-place tie with the Cowboys. The defense was horrendous in that game. Under no circumstances would I wager on PHI, especially laying -9 versus a division rival. It’s hard to make a convincing case for betting the NYG at 2-11 SU, but given the Giants are 9-3 ATS as road dogs, since late last season, that’s something to strongly consider. There’ also the Eli Manning factor, who is slated to start again after riding the bench for eight weeks. Manning has added nothing to the Giants the last several years, but here in the twilight of his career, with one more shot to shine, coming in healthy and rested, this could be a spark to the punchless Giants. Rarely would Manning be worth a few points to the line, but I think he’s clearly an upgrade in this spot. Let’s also consider the Eagles are riding a three-game losing streak and haven’t shown the ability to rise when given opportunity (Dallas lost again, this week setting up a possible first-place tie). Here’s a couple of scary stats — PHI is 10-20-1 ATS their last 31 games, and a dismal 3-8 ATS their last 11 home games. And the Eagles are laying -9? I’m taking the dog plus the points.
In my longevity as a sports gambler, I’ve seen just about everything imaginable, including many highs and lows. This moment is one of those low points. But a downswing doesn’t mean surrender, nor even despair.
This week, I’m returning to data-driven handicapping methods. I’m (mostly) dismissing subjective analysis, which has been the foundation of my methodology for several years. Subjectivity analysis — anticipating motivation, coaching disparities, scheduling quirks, injuries, recent results, etc. — hasn’t produced any predictive value this season. So, I’m returning to the core basics of hard data and pure analysis in picking games and totals. Obviously, all games and betting situations, namely which data and trends to look at, are subject to biases.
Each of this week’s plays is driven by data — including longterm history and more recent results. The most common data point I’m looking at (and following) is the surprising success of road underdogs. Road dogs are absolutely killing it this season, so far. While the 61 percent against-the-spread cover trend can be explained by variance, I’m counting on what we’ve seen in Weeks 1-11 to have some real merit and continue just a while longer. When looking at this week’s lines, it doesn’t appear oddsmakers/bettors have made adjustments for road dogs performing so well in the regular season.
I’m cutting back on the detailed usual write-ups, but will take a position on each game for those who may be interested.
Note: Here’s a link to a primer on betting on the NFL for those who may be unfamiliar with spreads, totals, props, and so forth: BETTING ON NFL GAMES
THIS WEEK’S WAGERS: This week, I made 11 wagers. I’m laying $2440. to win $2,200. Here are the plays (each listed at -110 unless noted otherwise):
DEN +3.5 at BUF — Laying $220 to win $200 PIT -6 at CIN — Laying $220 to win $200 PIT / CIN UNDER 38 — Laying $220 to win $200 NYG +6 at CHI — Laying $220 to win 200 CAR +9.5 at NOR — Laying $220 to win 200 TB +3.5 at ATL — Laying $220 to win 200 TB / ATL OVER 51.5 — Laying $220 to won 200 1H — DET / WAS UNDER 20 — Laying $220 to win 200 DAL +6 at NWE — Laying $220 to win 200 GB +3.5 at SFO (-120) — Laying $240 to win 200 SEA +1 at PHI — Laying $220 to win 200
THOUGHTS ON ALL GAMES:
MIA +10.5 at CLE would normally be a wager on the “bet all road underdogs” angle, but a significant contrary trend keeps me off this game (favorites in the 10-14 range cover blindly 54.7 percent of the time since 2003, based on nearly 500 situations). So, I’m avoiding dogs in this spread range. Moreover, MIA is also suffering some alarming defensive injuries. CLE might use MIA as a punching bag to generate some enthusiasm for a disappointed fan base, that is — if they’re able to dominate. That could mean a blowout. MIA was on a roll covering five straight before getting pummeled by BUF at home. That loss might have deflated what little momentum the Dolphins were building and they could revert to their early-season ineptitude in this meaningless road spot. It’s CLE or nothing for me in this game, along with the UNDER 46.5 because I don’t think MIA will score many points.
Playing DEN +3.5 at BUF. Road dog angle is in place, plus DEN has looked much improved offensively since the QB change from Flacco to Allen. These are two of the better defenses in the NFL, so in what’s projected to be a low-scoring game (total — 37), getting points could be a factor. I bet DEN and lean slightly OVER 37, which seems a little low given DEN’s improved passing attack the last two games.
PIT is laying -6 at woeful and winless CIN. Much media attention still focusing on brawl at the end of the CLE-PIT game. I’m concerned about how focused PIT will be in the game versus a division rival getting zero respect. CIN, despite being 0-10 SU, has played far better on the road this season than at home, so it would take +7 at a minimum to play the Bengals. PIT defense has played well and given this is an absolute must-win, I think there’s enough talent on the Steelers roster to lay points here, especially when I saw tonight’s late line drop to -6. Given the starting QBs and lack of talent at skill positions, I expect this game to be low scoring. Cincy’s last nine drives — 44 plays, 158 yards, 3 points. I have two wagers on this game — PIT at -6 and UNDER 38.
NYG at getting +6 at CHI, which has dropped from the +7 opener. Given CHI offensive woes, taking the points with the dog seems to be the obvious play. I’m making the pick based on the road dog angle but also do like the Giants here. This just seems like too many points to give, and even with a porous defense, NYG should be able to keep the much-maligned CHI QB at bay. Look for home crowd to turn on Trubisky quick if CHI doesn’t come out of the gate scoring points. Bears have now lost 5 of their last 6 games.
OAK is laying -3.5 at the NYJ and many respected cappers are taking the home dog plus the points. I can’t make that wager. OAK got a real scare last week versus CIN and now riding a three-game win streak and tied for the division lead, I expect Raiders’ (especially Carr’s) experience will show here in a game where NYJ don’t have the weapons to take advantage of the opponent’s weaknesses (namely a passing game versus a bad bad defense). I have no wager on the game but am inclined to lean OAK, which is on a roll and is used to the road (they played six straight games away from home earlier).
SEA has been on a roll and now plays at desperate PHI, which must have a win here. SEA seems to get their wins through smoke and mirrors (or let’s just flat out give Russell Wilson his due for carrying this team). Defense isn’t that good, but somehow they find ways to win. I’ll play the road dog angle here and wager on SEA off the bye.
CAR is getting +95 at NOR. Sorry that I couldn’t find +10. Panthers played their worst game of the season last week, while NOR may have played its best. CAR looked totally lost. But based on what we’ve seen in what’s been a strange season, the Panthers should rebound and keep this close. Had CAR not been blown out last week, I suspect this line would have been only -7 or slightly higher. I think the public is overreacting to what happened in Week #11.
TAM is an excruciating team to watch and wager on, but the road dog angle says to do it. I’m holding my nose and pulling the trigger with a barrel aimed squarely at my own head. I can’t make a case for betting TAM, given they’re a league-worst 2-8 ATS. Despite this fact, Bucs are getting only +3.5 to ATL, suddenly one of the hottest teams in the league. Credit ATL for a huge bounce back in two road wins of the bye after being left for dead. ATL defense has surrendered no touchdowns in the last 10 quarters. This might be another Winston shit show. As I said, I’m holding my nose, closing my eyes, and betting Tampa Bay. Wake me up when the final score gets posted. I can’t watch. In just their last five games, TAM is -14 turnover ratio, which would be a horrible number for an entire season. Also betting the OVER 52.5 — TAM games have gone OVER the number more than any other team and inside a dome versus an offense that can certainly score points, we might see a shootout. Playing the dog and the OVER.
WAS might be the worst team in the NFL right now, and so getting only +3.5 doesn’t seem like enough points. Tempting as it is to lay points with whoever plays the Redskins. WAS lost their last four games and were outscored 52-18….scored just two touchdowns on its last 35 drives. However, injuries for DET are a concern. No plays.
TEN is -3.5 hosting JAX, which has been horrendous offensively in the last month. TEN factors in on a solid angle which is to bet very good rushing teams against opponents that can’t run the ball or control time of possession. I ran some data on this and it’s a historical moneymaker. However, road dogs are plays for me this week, which makes this a pass. It’s also reported RB Fournette will get plenty of carries. Lean strongly UNDER 41.5 also. However, I didn’t make any wagers on this game.
NWE is at home -6 vs. DAL in one of the season’s more anticipated games of Eastern division leaders. DAL is the road dog here, but there are also reports of the flu bug in Dallas hitting some of the Cowboys. Getting +6 is enough to make me bite and take DAL. One thing worth considering is the NWE offense hasn’t played well in multiple weeks, so I’m not sure I’d want to lay many points with this team at the moment. NWE is also playing the toughest part of their schedule at a really easy first two months. That seems to be showing a few vulnerabilities. Big coaching mismatch here, but I’m playing the Cowboys.
GBY+3.5 at SFO is the other premier matchup, which is the SNF game. GB rates as a double play since they’re the road dog and also come up on the rushing angle I wrote about earlier. Packers should be ready and rested coming off the bye. Meanwhile, SFO hasn’t covered in their last three games
The other primetime feature is the LAR hosting what’s now the hottest team in the league, BAL favored by -3.5 over the Rams. Strange, because if you had projected this line back in September, it would have been LAR -3.5 (or higher). I suspect the Ravens might be getting just a little too much credit here, but I’m not betting on the Rams, which look soft. This team really has taken a step back from last year’s Super Bowl run. Some of this may be due to OL injuries, but I’ll pass on this one. Also of note, after showcasing one of the highest-scoring teams in the league last year, LAR have turned into an UNDER team. Last five games have gone under the number. Leaning strongly UNDER 47 here, and might bet it late if that number is still available.
Writer’s Note: Today marks the 56th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Some 19 months before that tragic day, I was born in Dallas. My family lived in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas, where Lee Harvey Oswald also resided and was ultimately captured. Today’s column reveals what life was like growing up in the shadows of the Kennedy Assassination. A similar version of this article first appeared at this site in 2013.
I’m one of the few people alive who lived near the two most shocking tragedies in modern American history. I say this with no sense of pride, but do wish to bear witness.
On September 11, 2001, I lived on the ninth floor of a high-rise condo building in Arlington, VA, across Interstate 395, directly overlooking the Pentagon, which became engulfed in flames that morning after being hit by a jet airliner in the worst terrorist attack ever on American soil.
Ironically, Arlington, VA is where John F. Kennedy’s body now rests.
On November 22, 1963, the Oak Cliff section of Dallas was my home, only a few miles from where President Kennedy was assassinated and an even shorter distance from where Lee Harvey Oswald was later caught by Dallas police at the Texas Theater on Jefferson.
I don’t remember anything about that tragic day in Dallas. I was too young to have any memories.
But everyone from Dallas around that time developed a deeper sense of awareness than most of what the assassination meant. Sometime later, we came to our own opinions about what had happened. We carried around scars, lingering long afterward. That terrible moment in our nation’s history even gave Dallas an inferiority complex. It forced some of us to try and go out and prove to the world that we weren’t like the assassin at all (who was actually from New Orleans and even lived in New York City for a short time). We weren’t “the city of hate,” as many suggested.
The Oak Cliff section of Dallas lies just to the south of downtown, on the opposite side the Trinity River. It’s considered the city’s stepchild.
Oak Cliff only a few miles away from the big banks, tall buildings, and giant office towers that eventually became Dallas’ trademark. It’s only a short ride from far wealthier sections of the city — including Highland Park, University Park, and North Dallas. But it might as well have been light-years from the rest of Dallas society — the privileged upper class who glanced across the Trinity River and the giant flood plain and looked at Oak Cliff as “the other side of the tracks.”
My mother and father divorced early in my life. They mostly grew up in and around Oak Cliff. So did many other famous people you may know. For example, Stevie Ray Vaughn, the iconic blues guitarist, was from Oak Cliff. Long before then, the notorious bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde hung out around the far western fringes of Jefferson Avenue.
For me, perhaps the most shocking common ground, however, is my parents’ connection to South Oak Cliff High School. They were students at the same school where (now retired) NBA star Dennis Rodman later went and played high school basketball. Pretty amazing to think my mother and father sat in the same classrooms as Dennis Rodman.
Today, Oak Cliff is just about all Black and Latino. But back during the early 1960s, it was a vast melting pot of all ethnic groups. Sort of a smaller Brooklyn. No one seemed to have much money, but everyone got along fine. We never had racial problems or the kinds of troubles associated with the Old South. Although I moved away to Chicago and Albuquerque for a time (my father worked an air-traffic controller), we returned back to Oak Cliff again during the 1970s where I attended a half-White, half-Black school (T.W. Browne). Race just wasn’t a big deal to us kids. We even had lots of interracial dating. Maybe the grown-ups thought differently about race than we did.
I don’t remember ever seeing the actual house where Lee Harvey Oswald lived, nor do I know the exact spot where he senselessly gunned down a Dallas police officer named J.D. Tippet. Oh, I probably rode my bike down those streets and later drove my car across the pavement where Oswald walked many times over the years. But the passage of time is a giant eraser. It tends to wipe out the things we don’t see. Most memories fade slowly.
When I was a kid, I watched a number of movies that played at the Texas Theater. One seat in the center of the auditorium was different than the others. It was painted black. That was the infamous seat where Lee Harvey Oswald was sitting when he was captured by police and tried to resist arrest.
Growing up, I also remember the tasty barbecue joint located next door. It was called “Po’ Boys.” That local dive served the tastiest sliced beef-brisket in the city, topped off with a spicy sauce, washed down by an ice-cold mug of root beer. That was the best-tasting thing in the world when you’re 12-years-old, or 57-years-old.
Years later, I worked as a bartender at a restaurant downtown. A husband-wife team waited tables where I worked and somehow managed to save enough money to lease the storefront where the old Po’ Boys had been and open up their own Mexican restaurant. Their last name was — and I swear I’m not making this up — “Kennedy.” Oh, the irony.
Whether it was watching movies or eating barbecue, no one ever brought up the name Lee Harvey Oswald, nor did we give much thought to the things that happened that awful day back in 1963. No one that I around knew him, nor remembered him. It was like he never existed.
Some people think sports receives far too much attention in our society. Perhaps they’re right.
But unless you’re around my age, or perhaps a little older, you will never be able to understand the significance of what the Dallas Cowboys football team meant to our city, and it’s people. To most out there reading this who are from other cities and the fans of other teams, you have to try and imagine the terrible black eye Dallas suffered because of the Kennedy Assassination.
The worldwide anger directed at the city was (and is) completely unwarranted. After all, the actual crowds that welcomed the President on that November day were friendly, even wildly enthusiastic. Moreover, Kennedy wasn’t killed by a local right-winger. He was murdered by an avowed Marxist who lived most of his life elsewhere. The assassin also had no long-term links to Dallas, other than living in the city and its suburbs on two separate occasions. At the time he killed Kennedy, Oswald had been living in Oak Cliff for about seven weeks’ time.
Yet, Dallas and its citizens were largely blamed as a whole for the crime of the century.
What happened in the aftermath of the Kennedy Assassination certainly didn’t help the city’s image in the larger court of public opinion. Although the Dallas Police Department did a remarkable job at capturing Oswald quickly and linking the assassin directly to the crime with evidence that was overwhelming (within just hours), his shocking murder on national television only a few days later in the basement of the city jail by Jack Ruby, a strip club owner with ties to organized crime, made the world think of Dallas as an outpost in the wild west.
Fortunately, without intention, the NFL’s Cowboys came to deflect that image over the years. They became good, very good in fact, at just the right time. In 1965, the Cowboys began a record-setting string of consecutive playoff appearances. To outsiders, they became a new symbol of a more modern city and a source of pride for everyone. Much later, they even became known as “America’s Team.” I think the adoration many people have for the Cowboys stems from people needing some sense of relief from the pain of those darkest days in the city’s history. Back then, they were the shining star that allowed the city to heal from what happened.
Growing up around where the Kennedy Assassination took place gives me a more sentimental attachment to the events of that day and the people who were witnesses of history. But it doesn’t provide me with any special advantages as to suspecting who was really responsible.
After the Warren Commission Report was released, a cottage industry of conspiracies sprung up. Some of the authors and investigators who penned various theories were well-intended, and even thought-provoking. Others were total quacks. In some cases, important questions were brought to light for the first time that needed to be asked, specifically about facts that weren’t covered in the Warren Commission Report. Of course, the links between Oswald and Ruby to Pandora’s Box of possibilities — ranging from organized crime to the Central Intelligence Agency, to Fidel Castro, to the Russians — made for some entertaining speculation.
Now 55 years later, I think the evidence is overwhelming that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone — as did Jack Ruby when he shot his target in a moment of passion. While plenty of other theories were worthy of consideration at one time, we’ve now reached the point when no additional information, nor final conclusive answers, are likely to be forthcoming. Perhaps the real story of what happened in Dallas that day was just as it was initially reported. That’s not the answer many people want to hear. But the truth isn’t always the most interesting of possibilities.
That’s probably the saddest tragedy of all, that the leader of a nation could be gunned down and history could be forever changed — not by the hand of a grand conspiracy — but rather from a simple inexplicable act from a loner.
The streets in Dealey Plaza and around Oak Cliff where the assassination and its aftermath took place remain virtually identical today, just as they were 50 years ago. But for all those who were around during that time and who remember, nothing is quite the same as it was, nor will things ever be the same again.