The Cup – Soccer FAQ

Tomorrow at Wembley Stadium, Arsenal will face Aston Villa in the final of the FA Cup, the oldest and most-revered competition on the football calendar.  Dave Thompson took a long look at “The Cup” in Soccer FAQ and recalled some of its more memorable finals.

00126956Legendary FA Cup finals dot the history books. Prior to 1923, the Cup final had never had a home; rather, it wandered around different grounds and even different cities. The 1923 eventwas the first to be staged at the newly built, suitably grandiose Wembley Stadium, and such was the anticipation surrounding the event that no fewer than 126,000 people attended that game—and possibly more; some reports claim up to

200,000 were present, once the barriers broke and the crowds surged in.

The game itself, Bolton Wanderers vs. West Ham United, may or may not have been memorable. But history has never forgotten the image of the police officer riding a white horse around the perimeter of the field, keeping the crowds in order.

There was the 1953 final, when the entire British Isles, it was said, was willing Stanley Matthews’ Blackpool team to victory, simply out of love and admiration for one of the finest players ever seen on an English field. They were rewarded with a seven-goal thriller, and Blackpool triumphing over (again) Bolton Wanderers.

Sometimes it is not entire games, but mere incidents within them, or anecdotes around them, that consign a Final to legendary status. The passage of play, in the dying moments of the 1983 clash between Manchester United and Brighton, which culminated with an excited television commentator insisting “and Smith must score…”—only for Brighton striker Smith not to score, and his side’s chance of victory reduced to a replay instead.

The 1987 final when Coventry City not only shocked much-fancied Spurs to take the trophy home with them, they also finally removed themselves from the punchline to one of Monty Python’s Flying Circus’s most venerable routines, that moment in the Communist Quiz when Che Guevara is asked the fateful question, “In what year did Coventry City last win the FA Cup?” The answer—which neither Che, nor fellow competitors Mao Tse Tung, Lenin, and Karl Marx could supply—was “Coventry City have never won the FA Cup. It was a trick question.” Not any longer. Although there was certainly a Pythonesque surrealism to the side’s defense of the trophy the following season. They were bundled out in the third round by non-league Sutton United.

We remember the 1988 game, when all-conquering Liverpool faced unfancied Wimbledon, and not only lost 1–0, but also earned the ignominious title of becoming the first team ever to have a penalty saved in a Wembley final. Moments like these, and a hundred more besides, are what long ago established the FA Cup final among the most fondly remembered, and hungrily anticipated dates in the entire soccer calendar, in countries all over the world.

Happy birthday, Peter Capaldi!

Today is Peter Capaldi’s 57th birthday! In honor of the latest Doctor’s birthday, Doctor Who FAQ author Dave Thompson has written a birthday post, detailing his thoughts on Capaldi’s portrayal of the famous television character.

PETER CAPALDI’S BIRTHDAY       

by Dave Thompson

The odds were always stacked against the Twelfth Doctor.

For a start, was he the Twelfth Doctor? Even before John Hurt’s “War Doctor” came along to throw out the numbering once and for all, the very fact that the tenth had been doubled was already throwing the chronology a bit.

Add to this the fact that Peter Capaldi’s reign not only followed that of the bafflingly popular Matt Smith’s, but also the show’s own (frankly untoppable) fiftieth birthday celebrations; add to that, the continued sense that show runner Steven Moffat has now switched his default setting to Unnecessarily Convoluted Storytelling mode; and add to that, the mold-breaking emergence of the first Doctor in a decade who isn’t simply older than the show, he’s also older than any of his predecessors (William Hartnell was 55 when he debuted the role; Capaldi was 56) . . . that’s a lot of baggage to carry.

As he commences filming on his second season, however, Capaldi has already conquered the most important task of all. He has convinced us that he is the Doctor, and not just within the realms of his personal, vociferous, fan club (the fate of at least two, and possible four of his predecessors).

A performance that is uniquely his own has also, and utterly without contradiction, been described as an amalgam of every Doctor who came first; First’s irascibility; Second’s humor; Third’s occasional resemblance to the magician who performed at your best friend’s fifth birthday party; Four’s uniquely alien outlook; Five’s . . . well, we’re still waiting for five to show up. But Six’s irascibility, Seven’s sense of mystery; Eight’s . . . okay, eight is still absent as well. But Eccleston’s toughness, Tennant’s charm and Smith’s flapping silliness can all be extracted from Capaldi’s DNA; and he has required all those qualities, too.

It is redundant to suggest that Moffat’s career as a writer is locked in irreversible decline, particularly where Doctor Who is concerned. But the truth is . . . true. The first three stories that he wrote for the series, The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances two-parter, The Girl In The Fireplace and Blink are routinely, and rightly, regarded as not simply the best tales told since the show returned in 2005, but among the best in its entire fifty year lifespan.

Subsequent creations could not maintain that quality, and often seemed set on upending it altogether; while the man who cast such razor-sharp eyes across simple human relationships via earlier creations Joking Apart, Coupling (both, tellingly, nominally sitcoms) and Jekyll is also responsible for foisting upon us some of the most cringe inducing romantic interests of the modern age: less Doctor Who, and more Who Cares?

That current companion Clara’s dalliance with “PE teacher” Danny Pink represents the most stultifying of them all was possibly the most heart-stoppingly dull of them all. Perhaps there are sound psychological reasons why the last ten year’s worth of Doctor’s companions have chosen to fall for the dullest blade in the knife box, but at least Mickey (Rose’s put-upon paramour) and Rory (Amy Pond’s pet rock) came good in the end, while even Donna’s ill-fated fiancé at least had the cojones to be working for the opposition all along.

The watery Pink, on the other hand, existed solely to provide the Doctor with an opportunity to indulge in further Mickey/Ricky mix-ups, this time by insisting that the math teacher taught PE; to push Clara into a series of emotional crises that were the least believable element of the entire series (and in a run that included the Moon being revealed as an egg; the legend of Robin Hood as an alien-induced hallucination; and trees as global fire-fighters, that’s quite an achievement); and to die, which we will get to in a moment.

Even more damagingly, not once were we offered any indication as to why Clara should care so much for the man. His persona is seen from just two perspectives – the Doctor’s scorn and disdain (which, unlike Ten’s constant mockery of Mickey, was not feigned), and his own tiresome PTSD induced sense of self-pity. Not once are we given even a hint as to why Clara should care any more for this bullying, over-possessive lunk than a fish would for a bicycle. Only once the season finale passed by did we understand why Pink was even part of the story to begin with.

It was so they could remake that whole Ianto/Cyber-girlfriend storyline from an old episode of Torchwood, of course. That, and the now inevitable insistence upon imbibing finales with a tissue box full of wearying lachrymosity. As if the death of Osgood, UNIT’s inhaler-wielding, scarf-toting hardcore queen of nerdish delight, was not shattering enough for the average viewer. As if the return of the Master, in the form of a fresh Mistress of Uber-camp Madness, was not breathtaking enough for the most trigger-happy channel-surfer. As if… as if we cared.

Capaldi triumphed over all of these things; and so did Clara, at least when she wasn’t being shoehorned into awkward clinches (and, via the Christmas special, even more awkward flashbacks) with the Pink thing. 

Indeed, no matter how high Capaldi soared as the season progressed, Clara soared likewise. Unquestionably, her sheer force of character convinced us that, at last, the Doctor had unearthed a force of nature capable of equalling even Rose (or Jo Grant, for any older viewers still watching). And capable, too, of delivering lines with such beguiling intensity that an entire generation is destined to melt every time they hear the words “run, you clever boy . . .” Or see a soufflé.

As an overall series, it wasn’t the best. At least three episodes (Into the Dalek, Kill the Moon, In the Forest of the Night) rank among the weakest deployed since the show returned, and it may or may not be coincidental that two of those were at least partially stymied by the frankly absurd science that underpinned them. Yes, we know it’s all make-believe, but if you’re setting a story on what claims to be the Earth that the rest of us live on, then make sure that basic physics don’t undermine the whole thing.

Of the others, Flatline, Time Heist and Mummy on the Orient Express were bold enough to withstand multiple rewatchings; Deep Breath was rewarding upon subsequent viewings; Robot of Sherwood was this year’s Dinosaurs on a Spaceship; The Caretaker was a glorious romp; Listen was a frankly terrifying notion that writer Moffat then castrated by trying too hard; and then it was time for the season finale.

Dark Water/Death In Heaven was the two-parter in which we finally learned the reason why past stories had been interrupted by Mary Poppins, before Poppins herself became . . . Well, cynics could point out that Missy is less a reincarnation of the Master than she is a pantomime revision of Moriarty, and there is truth to that. But she is also (like Moriarty) one of Moffat’s all-time classic villains; frighteningly insane, incalculably evil, and absolutely unmissable. The moment when she sweeps herself so elegantly backwards and calls out for “Doctor Chang” . . . if you didn’t have a Demented Nanny fixation before that, you do now.

And Capaldi? Capaldi matched her every step of the way, to emerge as strong a Doctor as he ought to be, and as likable a Doctor as he clearly doesn’t care to be. And, even better, unlike his last three regenerations, the man can’t even flirt properly.

Although you know that on the playground the following day, once the cries of ”exterminate” and “delete” had been exhausted, more than one juvenile would-be Lothario zoomed in on the girl of his dreams and declared “you look nice. Have you washed?”

Happy birthday, Peter Capaldi. And happy birthday, Doctor. May there be many, many more.

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Listen: Dave Thompson talks with BBC Radio Suffolk

BBC Radio Suffolk chats with Dave Thompson about his new book, Robert Plant: The Voice That Sailed the Zeppelin!

>>Listen Here<<

Robert Plant: The Voice That Sailed the Zeppelin follows the iconic singer through his heights of fame with classic rock giant 00120813Led Zeppelin, his second life as a multimillion-selling solo artist, and his more idiosyncratic pursuits. A wealth of former associates lend their voices and recollections to an account that steps far beyond the tried and tested tales of Zeppelin’s life and times.

This all-new biography details Plant’s early years as an unknown in Birmingham, England, with fresh depth and insight. It likewise tells the Zeppelin story from new and unexpected angles, focusing on Plant’s contributions to the band’s success and on the toll/effect of that success on him as a performer and an individual.

After drummer John Bonham died in 1980 and Zeppelin broke up, Plant went solo two years later, in time becoming the only former band member to maintain an unbroken career to this day. His single-mindedness in meeting this challenge might well be his greatest personal attribute, enabling him to push forward without regard for his past or any related expectations. Dave Thompson shows how it is Plant’s determination alone that ensured Zeppelin reunions would not become a routine part of the classic rock furniture, as he created a body of work that in so many ways artistically rivals what he recorded with the band.

Interview with Dave Thompson

The Cleveland Music Examiner posed a few questions about Robert Plant: The Voice That Sailed the Zeppelin. Read more of Dave’s responses here!

Robert Plant: The Voice That Sailed the Zeppelin by Dave Thompson

Rock journalist Dave Thompson doesn’t care how many women Led Zeppelin front man Robert Plantseduced in the Seventies, or what drugs he might’ve consumed during the band’s halcyon years headlining arenas around the 00120813world.

In his latest well-researched biography, “Robert Plant: The Voice That Sailed The Zeppelin” (Backbeat books), Thompson focuses strictly on the music. More specifically, he hones in why Plant was as integral to Zeppelin’s sound as guitarist Jimmy Page, and how the determined singer forged his own distinct path as a soloist after the seminal quartet splintered.

Thanks for talking with us, Mr. Thompson! So, could you tell us a bit about the back-and-forth approach you took for “Voice That Sailed the Zeppelin?” One would think it’d be off-putting, but it works well, and the chapters dovetail nicely between Plant’s past and present.

I think—as I explained a little in the introduction—life, and a career, are not always just A-B-C-D. Things loop around. People always arrive back in the same place they were in before, but hopefully with a little more wisdom and ability to know what to do. And I was just noticing that a lot with Robert Plant. The story has been told. There are Zeppelin books out the wazoo, and there are a few good Plant books around as well. The idea always is, “Robert Plant was born…and he did this, that, and the other thing.” So boring! Because he has not lived his career in what anyone would consider a responsible manner. He’s been very much what he wants, with incredible little regard for the conventions of the music industry. When he left Zeppelin—here’s a great example—he should have done more of what Jimmy Page wanted to do, which was get together with the guys from Yes, and gone off and become The Firm or something.

You mean XYZ (ex-Yes / Zeppelin), the group Page was going to join with Yes bassist Chris Squire. Yeah, that’s probably what Plant’s manager and record company might’ve wanted. A new band, same kind of sound.

Yeah, form any of those horrible super-groups. Because the ‘80s were just littered with those ghastly four-people-from-four-huge-bands thing. And it’s like, “Why are you together? Oh, so you can be a super-group.” He should have done that, and people would have said “Hurrah!” very loudly if he had. But he didn’t want to. You’ve got to admire that. And it was with that admiration, that’s why I didn’t want to write a straightforward beginning-to-end story.

South Park FAQ

New season of South Park starts tonight! Dave Thompson, the author of the South Park FAQ travels through the lives, times, and catastrophes that have established the tiny mountain town of South Park, Colorado, as America’s favorite dysfunctional community. There are few modern animated television shows that could survive over a decade and a half and remain as funny… or as stupid… or as sick… or as depraved… today as when they started. Read an an excerpt below!

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Increasingly, we live in a world where opinion is pinioned by the need not to offend, nor even risk offense, by saying—even lightheartedly— something that someone might feel belittled by. Including people who aren’t actually present when the remark is made.

The soccer manager who told his charges the old joke about a monkey and an astronaut, and was promptly accused of racism by somebody else entirely.

The teen playing a video game who made an off-the-cuff remark about shooting up a school and eating his victims’ hearts. A fellow player over- heard the exchange, and the kid was arrested and threatened with eight years in jail.

The … and so on and so forth. All it takes is one person who doesn’t understand, appreciate, or maybe even acknowledge the existence of humor (however humorless the humor might be), and it doesn’t matter if he is the only person in the world who doesn’t sneak a smirk at the gesture. One complaint is worth a thousand chuckles, and the only positive that comes out of the experience is the possibility that maybe one day, the rest of the world will tire of these petty-minded dictators and start complaining about them instead.

Which is why we love South Park so much.

For there, exaggerated political correctness and microscopically focused nitpickery are already like a red rag to a bull in the eyes of creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

Like Cheesy Poofs to a big-boned eighth grader.

Totalitarianism is totalitarianism, no matter how loudly you condemn the people who actually point that out, which is one of the reasons why South Park has never rested in its campaign to highlight humbuggery wherever it may dwell.

True political correctness means respecting other peoples’ right to say whatever they like, no matter how much it might offend you, because that is the only thing that guarantees your right to say whatever you want to. Chip away at other people’s right, no matter how worthy your intentions may be, simply opens the door for other, perhaps less worthy people to take the process to its logical conclusion and outlaw free speech altogether.

Matt Stone outlined South Park’s approach.

“On one hand, it’s really fun when you flip off the principal and the principal yells at you. But in general, we do the show because we want people to like it. We are entertainers. We’re trying to entertain people. At the same time, we’ve been doing it long enough to realize we’re still not a mainstream show … we’re still on cable, we still consider ourselves an alternative show.” Far more people, he acknowledged, dislike South Park than enjoy it, but unlike most television shows, that was fine. “Twenty percent of people got this joke, and they love us for it, and we’ll piss off the other 80 percent just for them.”

The very best of South Park teases, as well. But it’s a knowing tease, a worthy tease, taunting the viewer with just enough information that you think you know where the story is going … but you cannot believe anybody has the balls to take it there. Again, a lot of the targets are as ephemeral as the headlines they are drawn from, but that is not an issue. The fact that … to draw a cultural irrelevance at random from the stockpile … Honey Boo Boo is even sufficiently well known to be considered a worthy target for the South Park sniper is itself sufficient condemnation of the culture that the show so gleefully ridicules, and of course she is not alone.

To concentrate on South Park’s status as the devourer of worthless worlds, however, is to overlook its other primary purpose, to act as a mirror to what we might call everyday society. South Park itself is Anytown USA, as accurate a reflection of small-town life as any live-action television series has ever mustered, and a lot more honest as well.

 

 

 

 

Happy Birthday, Arthur Conan Doyle!

Arthur Conan Doyle is widely regarded as one of the world’s best storytellers. Although the author dabbled in various vocations during his life, such as medicine and sailing, Conan Doyle showed an inclination towards storytelling since his early childhood that was passed down from his mother. “In my early childhood,” Conan Doyle once remarked, “as far as I can remember anything at all, the vivid stories she would tell me stand out so clearly that they obscure the real facts of my life.” This passionate response to fiction grew with Conan Doyle into his teenage years, although the style he developed wasn’t exactly the sophisticated and eloquent one we are most familiar with! This excerpt from Sherlock Holmes FAQ gives some insight into Conan Doyle’s affinity for “Penny Dreadfuls”:

 

00117258It was during his final year at Stoneyhurst [his Catholic school] that Conan Doyle first became aware that his youthful love of storytelling had grown into a teenaged ability to captivate audiences. While editing the school magazine, he also threw himself into the composition of serial stories, lengthy epics of adventure and derring do more appropriate, perhaps, to the pages of a penny dreadful than the august halls of a Jesuit college.

Penny dreadful were the bane of the faculty’s existence, cheap (as their name implies), lurid (ditto) magazines into which the most sensational, shocking, and horrifying fiction imaginable was shoehorned, in bite sized quantities, and every installment ending upon a new note of cliff-hanging calamity, to ensure the reader had no alternative but to return for more in the very next issue.

Fifty years on, radio and movie serials would seize upon a similar notion to keep their audience coming back; today, television offers the same diversion. Different crimes for different climes. In 1870s England, with radio and television still far off in science fiction-land, penny dreadfuls were the public enemy number one. And Conan Doyle discovered that he had a rare talent for writing them.

He read his tales aloud to his audience, seated on a desk while they crouched on a floor around him, spinning out sagas so suspenseful that he would occasionally threaten to end a tale early because he knew his anxious audience would not hesitate to bribe him with apples and cakes, if only he’d read another page.

Still in his teens, Conan Doyle had discovered for himself the secret of great storytelling (if not necessarily great stories). “When I had got as far as… ‘slowly, slowly, the door turned upon its hinges, and with eyes which were dilated with horror the wicked Marquis saw…’ I knew that I had my audience in my power.”

Sherlock Holmes FAQ

On January 19th, PBS aired the long-awaited first episode of BBC’s Sherlock, season 3. Sherlock’s triumphant return to television (and Baker Street) did not disappoint. Before the last episode this Sunday, enjoy a bit of the Introduction from Dave Thompson’s upcoming book, Sherlock Holmes FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the World’s Greatest Private Detective

There are probably as many books about Sherlock Holmes as there are words in all of the stories. Or at least different words.

That may be an exaggeration, but only marginally. There is no single character in western fiction who has inspired more authors to write about him than Sherlock Holmes, with even James Bond and Doctor Who—the two that come closest—lagging far, far behind in terms of simple shelf filling. A complete Sherlock Holmes bibliography could fill a small library, a vision that is made all the more remarkable when one considers that the original stories that inspired this phenomenal outpouring would take up barely six inches of shelf space.

Just four novels and fifty-six short stories constitute the complete adventures of Sherlock Holmes. To this there can be added a dozen or so other writings by Sherlock Holmes’s creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, whose inclusion in, or exclusion from, “the canon” (as the primary series of tales is known) has fired a debate that might never end. But they would add no more than another inch of published paper, tucked away in a room that is already stuffed with so many other books that it would take a lifetime to read them all. “Never,” one might say, “has so little given birth to so much.”

Neither does this outpouring look like it is ending. The massive success of Sherlock, the BBC’s twenty-first-century reimagining of Holmes has inspired a whole new generation of writers and researchers to immerse themselves in the world of Holmes, and an older one to reacquaint themselves. Indeed, one of the most popular fiction serials of the modern age, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s Agent Pendergast, closed 2013 with the publication of White Fire, a thoroughly modern detective tale rooted in a near century-old Sherlock Holmes mystery.

Sherlock’s triumph, however, transcends all of these—that triumph itself being defined not by viewing figures (which themselves are massive) or popularity (ditto), but by the skill with which we are invited to enter a world in which the “real” Sherlock Holmes, the classic Holmes whom we have spent the past century-plus enjoying, never existed. Until today.

The original Holmes was a child of his times, the last years of the Victorian era and the first of the twentieth century. The modern Holmes is likewise a child of his times, the first decades of the twenty-first century. That is, more than one hundred years after Conan Doyle’s original stalked the streets, the intervening century has shaped the modern Holmes just as thoroughly as the prototype was shaped by the years that preceded him. Culture creates the heroes it requires. Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes fit his era like a glove. British writers and TV creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’s is equally well proportioned.

Conan Doyle’s Holmes studied newspapers and magazines. The modern one harnesses the Internet. The original Holmes was addicted to opium. His successor is addicted to nicotine. The original was partnered by an army doctor, John Watson, recently returned from what was then Britain’s most recent war, far away in Afghanistan. Today’s Holmes is partnered by a man of the same cut and same name, fresh from what is still Britain’s most recent war . . . far away in Afghanistan.

Parallel after parallel pile up, but the fact is, the modern television Holmes is as unique a televisual character as the original was a unique literary creation. The fact that they share the same DNA, investigate the same mysteries, and sometimes speak the same lines binds them, of course. But it also defines their individuality. Were they ever to meet face to face, the nineteenth-century Holmes and his twenty-first-century doppelgänger, they probably wouldn’t even say hello.

Sherlock Holmes FAQ

The Sherlock Holmes FAQ is a one-stop guide to over a century’s worth of mystery, mayhem, and most of all, deduction. Digging deep inside the manifold worlds of Sherlock Holmes, the FAQ is a dramatic and detailed digest of the Baker Street sleuth in all of his many guises, as TV and radio star, movie phenomenon, and, of course, literary giant.

Chapters investigate his predecessors and his successors, and discuss the influence that Holmes has had not only on other writers, but on real-life police procedures as well. The London that he perambulated in deerstalker and cloak is laid bare, plus the life and other fascinations of Holmes’ creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, are mapped out in all their foggy, darkened atmosphere.

We meet giant hounds and fearful foes, common crooks and misdirected souls. Ghosts appear in these pages, and vampires, too – and more puzzles, conundrums, and mysteries than any mortal detective could ever hope to solve. But Holmes, as we shall see, was no mere mortal. And Sherlock Holmes FAQ is the story of his immortality.