To put 11-0 in context

What a season so far for Stras! Explained well by ESPN:

WASHINGTON — Stephen Strasburg is all about the theme night.

On ’80s Night at Nationals Park, Strasburg became the first National League pitcher to begin the season 10-0 since Astros reliever Juan Agosto did it in 1988. He’s the first NL starter to accomplish the feat since 1985, when San Diego’s Andy Hawkins got off to an 11-0 start, ESPN Stats & Information points out.

To put Strasburg’s throwback thriving in context, the last time an NL starter got off to a 10-0 start, back in 1985, the 66-year-old Baker was wearing an Oakland Athletics uniform … as a player.

My three favorite commercials of the last year because why not

3. McDonald’s “Morning People” because of its outright D.C. love. The guy doing the spin in the Barnes Dance crosswalk at 7th and H Streets NW at the end of the commercial is the definition of District delight.

2. Nestle, “Acceptance Letter.” Is it dusty in here?

1. Dick’s Sporting Goods, “The Gift.” Destroys me every time. Said Ad Week, “The result is shamelessly manipulative in the best possible way. It’s deliberately unpretentious and ultimately incredibly sweet. ”

Something I didn’t know until now: The commercial stars a real family. After the daughter auditioned, they asked her to bring to her dad to the call-back. Then they added the rest of the family. Hats off.

Refulgent translation

The new Seamus Heaney translation of Aeneid, Book VI? I’m interested. We read the Aeneid in high school Latin, and Book VI was one of the high points. Aeneas joureys to the underworld to find his father.

“Seamus Heaney’s daughter finds this manuscript that connects her to her father,” said Ari Shapiro on NPR as he talked with our poetry reviewer about the book. “Her father wrote this manuscript in a way memorializing his father who had died. And the manuscript itself translates this thousands of years old story about this great adventure going into the underworld to meet his deceased father.”

The Guardian gives the translation good marks, in warm fashion.

There are two things this book requires. First, it is best read aloud – it comes thrillingly to life – it sounds tremendous. Second, it repays close reading. Studying it is to listen in on a poet with perfect pitch. Getting the diction right – so that the ancient is neither modern nor archaic – is the challenge. And Heaney shows that plain words are stormproofed. It is about more than George Orwell’s tired prescription: “Never use a long word where a short one will do.” It is about how plain language, like plain speaking, has integrity. And it is weight-bearing. It carries. When he introduces uncommon, eye-catching (sometimes longer) words – scaresome, asperging, hotbloods – they stand out but work harder against their plain backgrounds. Take the sighting of the golden bough. The word “refulgent” is strikingly charged, surrounded by “clear”, “green-leafed” and “cold”. Refulgent breaks Orwell’s rule and stands out like the golden branch itself.

The New Yorker excerpts a key (beautiful) passage.

Not inventing the selfie

I thought briefly, maybe, just once, I had invented the selfie. I was thinking of a time about 13 or so years ago, whenever we first had a digital camera at the beach, which is to say a lifetime ago. The people with me in the photos at the time couldn’t have been more confused. “You don’t want me to take a picture of you?”

Some of the photos make the time look at least 20 years ago. This child is clearly in high school, right? But, no, I wasn’t. Just skinny and clean-shaven. As a colleague from then said when seeing me recently, “You filled out!” Yes. But, no, I didn’t invent the selfie.

Northwestern kids in 1975 did, or didn’t (probably didn’t), using a trigger on a cord, spurring a yearbook feature that ran for decades. Even if they didn’t invent the selfie, their results were wonderful and true to the selfie spirit that lives today. Said a yearbook editor from 1980 to the alumni magazine: “It’s disarming, because you think, ‘Oh, it’s just a snapshot.’ But in fact, the photographer is working very, very hard to make it just what he wants it to be.”

This gallery of those shots makes my day. Personal favorites: the guy jumping out the window, the man with the Muppet lapel, the gang of greasers, and the girl in the laundry machine.

Good music comes along when you need it

Like two amazing Tiny Desk Concerts during two of my most frustrating days at work this spring. Sounds that get through to your soul and administer the right kind of electricity.

Anthony Hamilton.

Tedeschi Trucks Band.

On the last track above, Anyhow, I love the echoes of the Marshall Tucker Band’s Can’t You See (“what the woman, Lord, been doin’ to me.”) A cover keeps threatening to break out but never does. The riff wants to go somewhere new.

Metropolitan theater, but still a bit short of Metropolis

In Chicago, Superman 2050 was a midnight theater production that took off. In Washington this spring, the show was in the children’s theater at the Kennedy Center. The kids in the audience appreciated the show. But they didn’t quite seem to get it. Said the program description, “It’s a story of epic proportions performed by seven actors on a single, three-foot by seven-foot platform, where the performers rely solely on their bodies and voices to create all the props, scenery, soundtrack, and characters.” Which was terrific! Inventive, refreshing, mind-reopening. I loved it.

But this city, which has so many good things and is so much better for that which its haters give it credit, needs a home for this type of theater that isn’t full fringe. The Kennedy Center, even, could give inventive theater a home. Just because the hallways and concert halls are fancy doesn’t mean the theaters have to go only high end or down to the children. An upstart with some weirdness and edge, like Mr. Superman, needs a good home.

Don’t Worry Baby

Don’t Worry Baby was the B side to I Get Around but managed to get 10 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart on its own. More recently, the song was the beginning of my soundtrack for the amazing two-part long-read about the Beach Boys that Tom Nolan wrote in 1971 and The Sunday Long Read email newsletter (glorious! every week! subscribe when you can!) resurfaced this weekend. Here’s part one, and here’s part two.

Half of the texts are extended interview quotes. The other half are reportorial details and anecdotes, and what makes the opus so strong is the sequencing, the subtexts and the slow exposures. Some of the story is more clear now than then, and some is the opposite. You can’t get a set of the references without heavy Googling (or I guess recalling the ’60s really well), for instance. But here in 2016, also for instance, we know what Smile sounded like. And having heard what we can hear now, everything said about the work and the people involved in the work feels true.

Nolan talks to producer Terry Melcher at one point:

“It’s unfortunate. He was born too late or something. If Brian Wilson were born 500 years ago, he’d be one of those giant classical figures that we all revere so much. But he wasn’t, and he had some brothers who fooled around with words and stuff, so his melodies came out on a different plane. His music is genius and his words, the ones that come out of those songs anyway, are grammar school. And that’s the whole trip. I guess it’s hard to be a hit like that, if your music and words start separating from each other so distinctly.

“If I were Brian and couldn’t live with someone’s lyrics I’d just do an album and . . . delete all the lyrics. Just hum it. But he always puts lyrics on there. I think that’s kind of a . . . a habit: ‘What are the words?’ Well, fuck the words. Nobody asked Chopin what the fucking words were.

Melcher introduced Van Dyke Parks to Brian Wilson, which made Smile happen (and then not happen). Two decades later, and nearly that long after these articles published, Melcher co-wrote and produced Kokomo.

Hypothetical love-hate and jelly

Alternative historical timelines are hot in fiction. What if the South had won the Civil War and slavery never ended? What if Lee Harvey Oswald missed? Of these books, some receive acclaim. Others deserve all the ridicule they get. Weighty topics require strong and considerate writers.

After learning earlier this month of a certain name’s existence (in the Times, no less), if I had to write alternative history, I would need to tackle a devastating question. What if Lori’s name had been Peanut Butter?

Peanut butter, my mortal enemy!

I’m not allergic to it. I just hate it. I’ve always hated it. Like I hate no other food on the planet. As the Dallas Cowboys are to sports for me, peanut butter is to food. What if I’d fallen for a girl — a girl who upon having any other name would be my destiny — but she were named Peanut Butter?