Monday, September 01, 2014

No Hats Allowed

There was a time when Beale Street was known as the "Main Street of Negro America." So why is the Beale Street Merchants Association trying to keep black people off of Beale? The institution of a midnight ten dollar cover charge is merely another transparent attempt to discourage young black men from congregating and thus frightening the tourists. Ty Agee of the Merchants Association said the  cover charge is not about race, it's about too many people on the street, and the additional funds are needed for security. Hey dude, if you had proper security in place to begin with, you wouldn't need the cover charge. This new entertainment "poll tax" was introduced after the despicable video was released of a man lying in the street, beaten and bleeding from the skull, while a group of indifferent sub-humans stood around and took pictures. The fact that no one bothered to call 911 and the police arrived on their own only compounds the atrocity. I was under the mistaken assumption that there was a strong police presence on Beale all the time. New Orleans has the rowdiest street in the country, but they still manage to employ enough police officers to maintain order. It would certainly seem that if this city were to continue to prosper from the legendary "entertainment district," it would be in their best interest to see it properly policed. Randle Catron of the Beale Street Development Corporation disagrees with the Merchants Association's "tax on blacks" scheme. "The majority of people that own places on Beale Street (are) white," Catron said, while preparing a federal lawsuit. "The majority of folks that are here late at night are black. Now, who do you think they're targeting?"

Aside from the audacity of attempting to charge people to walk on a public street, this is nothing we haven't seen before. It's just a reminder of the city's long history of lounge entrepreneurs attempting to keep white nightclubs from being overrun by fun-seeking black people. Conversely, the traditional "black" clubs of my youth, like the Club Paradise, were always welcoming to white patrons. Even in the insane disco 70's, white club owners tried numerous ways to discourage a black clientele. I was hired to play at a hot new disco in Whitehaven called the New Yorke Time, that alternated live music with a DJ playing the latest hits. Considering the club was appropriating black music, dance, and culture, the managers seemed surprised when young, fashionably dressed African-American night-clubbers showed up to see what the fuss was all about. Concerned that his "white" club was becoming a "black" club, the owner instituted a series of punitive dress codes aimed at black customers. They erected a sign-board at the entrance listing the new policies. The first rule was "No Hats," a must-have fashion accessory of disco attire. When they discovered that this wasn't achieving the desired results, they imposed a "No Platform Heels" policy. Even the Osmond Brothers wore platform shoes in the 70s. When customers objected, the bouncer-goons explained it was for insurance purposes and that they didn't want to be held liable if someone should trip on the dance floor- as opposed to trip-out on the dance floor, which the disc jockey encouraged. Ultimately, the club succeeded in chasing away customers, both black and white, and joined that dreaded category known as the "redneck" bar. Attendance plummeted and the owner took a righteous bath.

In the same time period, there was a music showcase on the top of the Mid-City Building at Union and Cleveland with a revolving stage. I saw Little Richard and Fats Domino play there in front of mixed race audiences before they ripped the whole thing out and turned it into a disco with blaring, throbbing music and a lighted dance floor on one side, and a more intimate lounge with acoustic music on the other. Since I was employed to do a solo show, I had no help hauling all the sound equipment to the top floor and hooking it up. The load-ins and tear-downs are what musicians get paid for- the music's free. When I returned in the evening, the place was already packed while dancers gyrated to the disco beat. I was carrying my guitar towards the lounge when the manager called me into his office. I would mention him by name, but luckily for him, I've forgotten. "Listen," he directed, "I want you to go out there and play country music tonight." I was startled and objected, "That's really not what I do." "It's what you're gonna do tonight if you want to get paid," he proclaimed. I asked, "why would you want me to play country music?" He stated bluntly, "There's too many blacks in here. Play country music and they'll stop coming." I was in a moral quandary. I needed the money but I didn't want to participate in this asshole's racist scheme. When I took my seat onstage and looked out, my entire audience was black. I promptly launched into a six-song, Jerry "The Ice Man" Butler medley, ending with a version of "I Stand Accused," that so moved one lady that she sprang up from her table and ran towards the stage to give me a hug, but tripped and ended up knocking me and my guitar over backwards. I suggested that this might be a good time to take a break and got rousing applause from those assembled. When I walked by the manager's office, he called out to me, "Hey! You're fired." It was the proudest firing I ever endured. It proves that these bullshit racist games never work, and neither will the cover charge on Beale. It's simply another embarrassment. Following the logic of the Merchant's Association, why not just impose "sundown laws?," or better still, erect a giant billboard that says, "No Hats Allowed."

Monday, August 18, 2014

The D Word

Several days before the shocking death of Robin Williams, an old friend posted a "confession" on Facebook that read, in part:
"I've been lying to people for 40 years, and I'm just tired of lying. As recently as this morning, I've told people I had a stomach ache or the flu when the truth is I've had severe clinical depression since I was 20 years old. The kind where you want to kill yourself . The kind where you're ready to do ANYTHING to stop the pain.Yes, I tried to kill myself. I've been hospitalized three times. I've taken almost every kind of anti-depressant known to man. It has hurt my relationships, my career, my sanity, everything in my life. So many people say suicide is "selfish," but they don't understand that depression makes you crazy and people who commit suicide are not in their "right mind." By now, I know I'm not going to kill myself , because I can push those thoughts aside, but it's not easy. It's a real fight...a real struggle. Being able to talk about it helps. YOU HAVE TO TALK ABOUT IT AND GET TREATMENT OR IT WILL KILL YOU!"

I never knew and commended him for speaking out, and then watched in astonishment as his brief remarks were shared over 100 times and garnered 500-plus comments, mostly from others who had experienced some form of severe depression- like me. I was diagnosed with clinical depression with an anxiety disorder in 1987, and I have "managed" my illness with anti-depressant medication for nearly thirty years. I expect to be on medication for the rest of my days, but I don't mind, since they saved my life. "Depression" is different than "clinical depression." No one in this life remains untouched by tragedy or loss and it is natural to experience pain or grief. These periods of intense sadness, sometimes with the help of an anti-depressant, ultimately grow easier to bear while the memories still linger. Clinical depression is a disease caused by an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, and needs to be treated with a combination of medication and therapy. Unfortunately, the prescriptions for psychiatric medicine come flying off the pads of any doctor holding a pen with the name "Prozac" printed on it, and patients are left to fend for themselves, deprived of crucial counseling.

"It" started for me when I was nineteen and grew chronic because of my cynicism toward psychiatry. Instead, I turned to my friends and asked if anyone else was experiencing these feelings of despair until I believed that it was only me and stopped talking about it. I thought that this was my lot in life and probably something I deserved. I rationalized my darkness by believing that there was some nobility in suffering that I would one day understand if I could only endure. I put on a cheerful face although my personal joy was gone, and nobody seemed to notice. As an entertainer, I was able to perform for large crowds, then go home and not come out again until the next gig. There were groceries to buy, so I shopped at 2:00am, when the store was empty, rather than run the risk of abandoning my cart in a store full of people and running for the nearest exit. I couldn't eat in a fast-food restaurant without feeling rage at other people who seemed to be managing their lives while I was in inner turmoil. Then came the questions, "why me?" and "what did I do wrong to end up here?" I have seen the destruction suicide had caused in the past and would never take my own life out of concern for my loved ones and my belief in karma, but I thought about it. I would never have recognized my obsessive introspection as an illness had I not seen my symptoms listed in the self-help book of a British psychologist. It took me sixteen years of tightly-controlled mania before seeking professional help.

Imbalanced brain chemistry messes with your "fight or flight" response. Under the most ordinary circumstances, your brain suddenly tells you that you are in danger when in reality you are not. This is what causes "panic attacks," because of the confusion and anxiety. Soon, you avoid those places where an attack occurred to preclude the risk of another. Sadness is a precursor to life, but clinical depression manifests itself in physical ways- among them a tightness in the chest accompanied by a rapid heartbeat. The muscle around the heart becomes sore over time causing chest pains. In my everyday interactions, I suffered head-to-toe soaking sweats, often needing to towel off after a simple discussion. My greatest fear was having to deal with auto mechanics. If there's a Latin word for that phobia, I don't know it. Globus is a condition often described as a "lump in the throat," but depressives feel a constriction, accompanied by dry mouth and difficulty swallowing. And then there are the headaches. All types of headaches- migraine, cluster, light sensitive, tension. After a self-induced, terror-ridden trip on the interstate, my skull ached so unbearably, I'd take a fistful of Excedrin and lie in the dark, praying for sleep. Insomnia, that's one more thing. These are side-effects of an illness. If you recognize them, get help from a psychologist or psychiatrist, and if you can't do that, talk with a councilor or adviser.  In the past, health insurance companies were unwilling to cover mental illness. Now they must.

I was fortunate to find an experienced doctor who put me through a battery of psychological tests called the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, or MMPI.  He then read an intricate description of my mental state that was so accurate I thought he'd been reading my journal. The medication was hardly as advanced as today's, and I was told that it might be a month before I felt a difference. But within a week, as if by magic, the gloom began to lift like a wet, heavy cloak from my shoulders. I could talk to people and look them in the eye again. It was as if my real self had been returned to me. I was never secretive about my illness because I wanted to shout it out to the world about this miracle. I can now live my life unburdened by depression, but I know it's always there. I can still feel it sometimes but understand that, like the weather, it will pass. Without daily medication, I could never have worked a normal job, or written a column, or gotten married, or even something so simple as go on a trip. Some depressives take refuge in reading. I recommend "The Floating Opera," by John Barth. It can prevent a gloomy mood from turning into something more serious. I hesitate to admit it as a sedentary person, but vigorous exercise also helps. Although it may be hard, talk to somebody. An estimated twenty million Americans suffer from depression. You are not, nor have ever been, alone.
                                         

Monday, August 04, 2014

I Feel Good

There are a couple of new music-related movies in release, one of which I've seen and the other I intend to. The film version of Jersey Boys is going to have to go a long way to match the brilliance of the the play and its cast that came to the Orpheum in 2010. So we put that one off for a bit. But I was lucky enough to see the new James Brown biographical film Get On Up, and without stepping on the toes of the Flyer's music critic, may I just say- "GOOD GAWD!" Readers of these posts know that Christmas in my house is also James Brown Memorial Day when we put fresh batteries in the Walgreen's dancing James Brown animatron and listen to him sing "I Feel Good." Chadwick Boseman as James Brown was so incredible, he reminded me of the first time I saw the real James Brown at the North Hall of the old Ellis Auditorium in 1964. I had previously purchased the album James Brown: Live at the Apollo, put it on the turntable, and my head exploded. You can imagine my anticipation in seeing him live. I had good seats up front and was among the few Caucasoids in attendance. In the Jim Crow south, it was exhilarating to see an African-American entertainer perform for an all-black audience, and what made James Brown unique was his uncompromising blackness. Whenever someone says to me in reference to the bad old days, "I was the only white face in the place," I like to reply, "That's funny, I didn't see you there."

The opening acts were done, the house lights went down and the announcer said, "Are you ready for startime?" The crowd screamed in response. The words "Here he is, the hardest working man in show business: James Brown AND the Famous Flames," had barely left his mouth when I was slammed to the floor by what felt like a grand piano landing on my back. The audience was screaming, I was on all fours feeling for my glasses on the grimy floor, and a woman weighing at least 300 pounds was looming over me saying, "I'm sorry honey." In her enthusiasm for "Mr. Dynamite," she had leaped up and fallen on top of me, knocking me to my knees. She helped me up and was most apologetic as I tried to gather myself. Later in the evening, she became my dance partner. When my focus returned, I saw the Apollo LP performed in its entirety, including a whip-sharp band that never stopped and the signature "cape" routine, where James made at least seven returns to the microphone, drenched with sweat. When the band broke into "Night Train" the crowd went berserk until the Flames and James had finally danced into the night and the lights came on. When I looked around, thousands of people were still sitting stunned in their seats, exhausted like me. I can honestly say that it was the best show I have ever seen. I never got over it. He must have had the same effect on a lot of guys like me because after appearing in Knoxville the following year, suddenly every white college boy in the south was trying to slide across the dance floor on one leg.

The last time I saw Mr. Brown perform was at the opening of the Hard Rock Cafe in Dallas in 1986. The place was jammed when my old compadre and Hard Rock founder Isaac Tigrett grabbed my arm and said, "Come with me." The thing with Isaac is that you don't ask why, you just try and keep up. I was sidetracked for two seconds saying hello to some friends and saw Isaac disappear between two swinging doors. When I caught up, a beefy security guard stopped me. Despite all my protestations and heavy name-dropping, I realized this guy was not going to allow me to pass, so I made my way up to a spiral-staircase leading to the second floor, then stepped carelessly and broke my foot. The fleeting thought of "lawsuit" crossed my mind until I realized my own culpability in the situation. Hours later, when I was seated on the patio with my leg elevated, Isaac reappeared and said, "Where were you?" When I began to explain, he interrupted me with a laugh and said, "You just missed getting high with James Brown." Which is the perfect segue into my next fable concerning Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, those Jersey Boys.

In my waning college years in Knoxville, when the football team still wore leather helmets, I was in a psychedelic/country/soul band called Rich Mountain Tower. Our manager informed us that he was bringing some local promoters to a campus club to hear us play, but by the last set, they were no-shows. To kill time, we broke into Canned Heat's "Fried Hockey Boogie," a twenty minute song where everyone with an instrument takes a solo. The promoters arrived right in the middle of the drummer's turn. To my baffled amazement, they booked us to open for Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, provided we play "Fried Hockey Boogie." The final night was at the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis where I gathered with some old friends for a post-gig soiree in our rooms at the old Downtowner Motel, across from the Peabody. Our "after party" was in high gear when there was a loud knock on the door. The room was cloudy with marijuana smoke and this was 1970, so the door was only opened very gingerly. Our manager announced, "I brought someone to see you," and there stood Frankie Valli in a full-length, ranch mink coat, still wearing his stage makeup, his hair immaculate. I'd been a fan since "Sherry Baby," so I admit to being a little star-struck. Valli took a seat on the bed and chatted, very casually, with the assembled hippies. When the inevitable joint came around, and he took a hit and turned to pass it to me, the thought did occur that I was smoking dope with FRANKIE FREAKING VALLI! He stayed and talked music with us until the morning hours. Neither before or since, have I seen a major artist act so cordially to his anonymous opening act. I'll never forget Frankie Valli's kindness and perpetual "hipness." James Brown might have called him "Superbad."



Monday, July 21, 2014

Geriatric Facebook



Facebook, like youth, is wasted on the young. I'm sure this is not what Mark Zuckerberg and the Winklevoss twins had in mind when they created the social network, but Facebook is the perfect old fart medium. Teens use FB to chat with their circle of friends. Old folks have generations of classmates, pals, and significant others with which to interact. Personally, I confess to checking out and befriending old girlfriends all the way back to the fifth grade at East High, when I stole my first after school kiss. (Love ya' Cynthia). I enjoy seeing how some people have aged better than others, and it usually has to do with decades of alcohol consumption. I was always a light drinker and that's why I'm still so pretty. In some cases, I've noticed that age turns young boys into old men, and young girls into old men as well. Especially on Throwback Thursday, when everyone posts pictures of themselves at their thinnest, or handsomest, or hairiest. I sympathize with the hair thing. I have embraced my minimalist tonsorial look. Among my FB friends are those popular girls that I was too shy to talk to in high school, who now express their secret devotion. It's almost like getting laid, only without the nudity and hyperventilation, which can be dangerous for those diagnosed with hypertension. 
If you don't understand the references above, you're not one of the nearly 200 million Facebook users in the US, or billion worldwide. Since its inception in 2004, Facebook has grown from a Harvard dating site to a force of nature, affecting everything from the presidential elections to the 2011 Egyptian revolution. Though its organizational potential is a natural phenomenon, FB is still primarily a site for friends to reconnect. In 2010, the largest majority of Facebook users were between the ages of 18-25, and the smallest demographic was the 55-65 age group. A 2014 Pew study said that although a number of younger users had fled to sites like Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram, the most dramatic rise in Facebook users were people over 65, which is why you're suddenly getting poked by MeeMaw.  Not to underestimate the influence of the happening generation, it was just announced that Shakira has become the most popular celebrity on Facebook, with over 100 million "likes," compared to the paltry 90 million for Eminem and Rihanna. My generation doesn't know who Shakira is, except those who "like" her page and are treated to posts like the 2006 "Hips Don't Lie" video. To see Shakira do that thing she does persuaded me to "like" her too.  
I sincerely enjoy seeing all the pictures of my friends' dogs and cats. I love pictures of the kids and the vacation updates. I don't even mind the grandchildren or the group luncheon photos. But do we have to know the mundane details of your life?  I don't care that you just got back from yoga and are pondering dinner selections for Bubba. And please keep the sordid details of your colonoscopy preparation out of my reality. Since Facebook is pretty much rules free and anyone can post whatever they wish, except for porn and whatever is considered beyond the pale of human decency, someone should compile a list of unofficial tips for "senior" users to avoid annoying others. Even though such an individual would risk the scorn of his "friends," I shall once again leap into the breach with a list of irritating Facebook offenders, beginning with:
The Overposter. This person lives on Facebook and posts "memes," and Zig Ziglar-like messages of positive reinforcement.  Thanks for the encouragement Dale Carnegie, but I really don't need your advice. A couple of saccharine posts are tolerable, but after a dozen, I'll probably put you on "acquaintance" status.
The Phantom Tagger. Yes, I'm certain these articles you found on the internet about Justin Bieber buying Graceland are entertaining, but what do they have to do with me?
The True Believer. I'm happy for your devotion to your faith, but I am not going to click "like," if I love Jesus. Some of us are Jewish. Do you ever see any posts saying click "like" if you love Moses? Too many religious posts on my feed and you're outta there. Same thing goes for prayer requests. Is it ok if I send a prayer up to the mighty Ba'al? How about Zoroaster?
The Animal Zealot. I am very aware that cruelty to animals exists, but I don't need to see it up close and personal. These people are the shock-jocks of FB, believing that posting pictures of abused and injured animals will nauseate some sick fuck into changing his ways. I'm with you all the way in encouraging care for animals, but these kinds of pictures only hurt those that already care.
Game Solicitors. I get it. The more "friends" you invite to play, the more free points you get. Stop it. Some of us are busy.
Marketers. I appreciate that you need to rustle up some business, but not on my page.
Pokers. I really don't understand this whole "poke" thing. Is that like a sharp jab in the ribs? I was attempting to print up a T-Shirt for older folks that said; "I poked your mother on Facebook," but the online company balked over potential copyright infringement. The alternative is to post a sign on my wall that says, "No Pokes." That would guarantee that only members of a certain generation who understood what that phrase meant, would do wise to keep their distance. At least for awhile.
I hope this helps, and one more thing, unless we're real-life friends, don't post on my page.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Supreme Court and Spark

Remember Earl Butz, the Secretary of Agriculture under Presidents Nixon and Ford? I'm sorry, of course you don't. Ask Pops if he remembers Earl Butz? He was a right-winger who favored corporate farming and campaigned to end New Deal programs, but he was best known for his crude humor and a string of personal gaffes. Butz was ultimately fired for telling a racist joke in the company of white-bucs-and-mayonnaise singer Pat Boone and White House Counsel John Dean, that was so repugnant, even Nixon couldn't stand to keep him around anymore. Before that incident, however, Butz received world-wide attention after an international conference in 1974 where he ridiculed Pope Paul VI's opposition to birth control by saying in a mock-Italian accent, "He no playa the game, he no maka the rules." The White House made him apologize to Catholics for his insensitivity, but he had a point. Why should a secretive group of celibate men determine the reproductive health options for a billion women who serve under their religious leadership? Then again, why should five, male, Catholic Justices of the Supreme Court be allowed to make laws concerning women's birth control issues in the good old US of A? And in the 21st century. I thought we had settled this argument in the sixties. To the male members of the Supreme Court - what Earl Butz said.
 
In the controversial Hobby Lobby decision, the court decided that a closely held public corporation, like the Green family's Christian bead and thread racket, had the right to a religious exemption in providing certain methods of birth control to their female employees under the Affordable Care Act. Specifically, the Greens' "sincerely held religious beliefs" prevented them from allowing the IUD or the morning-after pill to be included in the health coverage for over 13,000 employees, because they believe that anything that interferes with a fertilized egg's development is akin to abortion. Until now, the Supreme Court has never declared a for-profit company as a religious organization for purposes of federal law. But since they already declared that corporations are merely people using money as speech, why shouldn't they give them a religion too? We could have Sunday services in the foyer of Home Depot and Wednesday Bible study at Chik-fil-A. If a corporation declared a religious objection to child labor laws, or immunization programs, or serving a mixed-race couple in a public restaurant, would that also be covered by the Hobby Lobby decision?
 
The Hobby Lobby pays insurance premiums to big companies that are supposed to cover all their employees' health needs. Their objection to two forms of female contraception in the great realm of health concerns is merely picking and choosing just whose religious freedom is being impeded, the boss or the employee. Shouldn't something as personal as the morning-after pill be a discussion between a woman and her doctor or pharmacist, rather than between a woman and her employer? A male corporate officer is now legally permitted to say to a female executive, "You can take birth control pills, but don't let me catch you with an IUD." Of course, if contraception were the sole responsibility of men, it would be universally mandated. This absurd decision was less about religious freedom than a bunch of cranky old men having another whack at Obamacare. When you pay your monthly health insurance premium, you have no say as to how that money is spent. I don't like part of my yearly income taxes going to finance wars, but I still pay them.

The three female justices fiercely dissented, especially Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who wrote a blistering thirty-five page dissent saying that the court had "ventured into a minefield," enquiring might there also be a "religiously grounded objection to blood transfusions (Jehovah's Witnesses); anti-depressants (Scientologists); or medications derived from pigs (like) anesthesia and intravenous fluids (Muslims, Jews, and Hindus)?" In the wake of the Hobby Lobby decision, leaders of fourteen Christian organizations have written a letter to President Obama demanding religious exemption from a pending executive order that prohibits federal contractors from discriminating against gays in hiring practices. The letter claims, "Without a robust religious exemption this expansion of hiring rights will come at an unreasonable cost to the common good, national unity, and religious freedom." Really? What's next? Who eats at the drug store lunch counter? These fourteen Christian groups wish to reserve the right to discriminate against the gay, lesbian, and transgender community, because that's what Jesus would do. What has just happened is the Supreme Court has unconstitutionally declared an official state religion, and until a Congress emerges with the courage to confront them, that religion is right-wing, conservative Christianity.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Co-Starring Liz and Dick



The last time Liz and Dick created this much fuss in the press, it was on the set of "Cleopatra." I wish I were speaking of Burton and Taylor, but unfortunately, I'm referring to Former Vice President "Deadeye" Dick Cheney and his mind-melded daughter, Fox News Contributor and failed Senate candidate, Liz Cheney. The Cheneys "co-authored" an editorial in the Rupert Murdoch owned Wall Street Journal called, "The Collapsing Obama Doctrine," in which they stated, "rarely has a U.S. President been so wrong about so much at the expense of so many." I don't often read the WSJ since I lost my money in the Bush Recession, but when I read that particular sentence, I had to lean back in my chair and take a few deep breaths at the deaf, dumb, and blind hypocrisy of the head designer and chief promoter of the Iraq War. Even Fox News' Megyn Kelly seemed incredulous during an interview on a network usually friendly to co-worker Liz and her Dad. When Cheney was asked if the same question might be directed at him after such previous statements as "we would be regarded as liberators in Iraq," and "the insurgency is in its last throws," he replied without a trace of shame, "We inherited a situation where there was no doubt in anybody's mind about the extent of Saddam's involvement with weapons of mass destruction. We did the right thing."

No doubt in anybody's mind? There was doubt in everybody's mind who could see through Dick Cheney's master plan to march this country into an unnecessary war. Now that American troops are gone and Iraq is dissolving into chaos, Cheney, along with his personal Bad Seed, is trying to deflect blame everyplace but where it belongs: in his bloody hands. He lashed out against fellow Republican Rand Paul for stating that trying to blame Obama for the Iraq disaster was misdirected, and blasted Bill Clinton for whatever reason was at hand. The Cheneys contend, "On a trip to the Middle East...we heard a constant refrain in capitals from the Persian Gulf to Israel, 'Can you explain why your president is doing this?...Why is he so blithely sacrificing the hard fought gains you secured in Iraq?'" Liz and Dick continue, "Mr. Obama...abandoned Iraq and we are watching American defeat snatched from the jaws of victory." One shabby, lazy, old journalistic trick when you wish to forward an opinion, but can't get anyone to speak on the record, is to write, "Some people say," or, "It has been stated in certain quarters." This allows you to imply defamatory quotes made toward your intended target without actually quoting anyone. It says as much about the Cheneys' deception as how corrupted the Wall Street Journal's editorial department has become under the ownership of NewsCorp.

Does anyone who was awake for the past six years believe that the Bush Administration handed Obama a victory in Iraq? This evil war has cost 4,500 American lives, trillions of dollars, and untold hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilian casualties, yet Cheney still considers it "the right thing to do?" The WSJ "take your daughter to work day" editorial continues, "Despite the threat to America unfolding across the Middle East, aided by his abandonment of Iraq, he (Obama) has announced he intends to follow the same policy in Afghanistan." If memory serves, Obama won election and re-election on the pledge that he would put an end to the Bush wars. In Cheney's eyes, victory in Iraq means a pliable puppet government and a permanent U.S. military presence to safeguard the oilfields that were supposed to pay for his misbegotten war. Cheney declares, "Al Qaeda and its affiliates are resurgent and they present a security threat not seen since the Cold War," with the same assurance that he proclaimed, "Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction."  Many pundits on the right still take Cheney seriously, but he's lost Glen Beck. On his radio show, the cherubic prophet of the apocalypse proclaimed "Liberals said, 'We shouldn't get involved, we shouldn't nation build.' They said we couldn't force freedom on people...You are right, Liberals, you were right."

Fox News gave the Cheneys a second joint interview, perhaps to assuage hurt feelings caused by Megyn Kelly, only this time it was to announce the formation of The Alliance for a Strong America, a grass-roots organization founded, according to Liz, "because we know America's security depends upon our ability to reverse President Obama's policies." While Liz dressed in all black, Dick sported a white cowboy hat and an oilskin vest, causing them to appear more like American Gothic than Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. All that was missing was the pitchfork. Speaking from Wyoming, where Liz steamrolled her own sister cozying-up to to the ultra-right in her losing Senate bid, the new Cheney "alliance" looked more like an attempt to shore-up Liz's rabid-conservative bona fides for another run for Congress than a threat to the President's foreign agenda. Cheney claimed the group's purpose is "to restore America's power and preeminence" in the world. "President Obama has repeatedly misled the American people about the attacks in Benghazi and the true nature of the threat we face." Oh. I get it now. Benghazi. This is about fundraising for the next election. "Benghazi" is like catnip for right wing pussies, and I mean that strictly in the "fat cat," political contributor sense of the word. But when it comes to Liz Cheney's credibility, this silly drama can't come close to matching a Shakespearean production co-starring Liz and Dick that I would much prefer seeing: The Taming of the Shrew.










Monday, June 09, 2014

Out And Among 'Em

It's been awhile since we've been "out and among 'em," as the colloquialism goes, but lately it seems as if I've become downright sociable, or something near that general vicinity. I had become accustomed to the comforts of home and hearth and the company of my wife and three undertrained rescue dogs, whose over-fondness for people are the reason no one comes over here anymore. I'm speaking of the dogs, of course, and not my wife. But, I'm not hard to please:  A roof over my head, an easy chair that becomes a lounger, and someone with whom to watch cable TV who enjoys making snarky comments about these awful shows as much as I do, and I'm content. Content enough to realize that I've had my fun, and to leave the night-life to the young. But lately, there have been so many occasions and venues that have literally forced us out of the house, or rather, me, out of the house, that I am belatedly seeing Memphis come alive once again, and I am both amazed and overjoyed by what I see.

It began a couple of months ago when Melody and I attended an art opening at Playhouse on the Square. Up until then, I had only driven by and watched, with growing interest, the restoration of the legendary entertainment district. But this was our first visit to the Square in a long time, and we marvelled at the already thriving businesses and the ongoing construction. We ate lunch in an area restaurant, then widow-shopped our way to the once and future Lafayette's Music Room, where I used to make a living back during the Jitterbug era. So I just had to peak in the windows, and was delighted to see it looks exactly the same. The big stage is there, with intimate seating and an upper balcony with a booth for a soundman; all the prerequisites for a grand music showplace- same as it ever was. The music and audience will be new, but the venue is vintage, and wonderful, new, memories will be made there- and forgotten there, too. The developers deserve congratulations, especially for the Square's architecture. Even the parking garage looks terrific. I thought Yosemite Sam's would have to be dynamited out of their spot, but somehow even that nasty old building looks elegant. A California-based investment group announced plans to transform the deteriorating French Quarter Inn into a boutique hotel, and with the addition of the architecturally gorgeous new Hattilou Theatre, the Square will become Memphis' theatre district. Imagine that.

Following that outing, a gracious friend got us tickets to see the Zombies at the new HiTone on Cleveland, which gave us the chance to see the development in and around the old Sears-Crosstown. Jobs, jobs, jobs, people. Which put us in a good mood to hear there was no seating in the HiTone, so we took refuge on some steps in the back. But as soon as the Zombies came on, I was drawn, like magic, to join the standing throng in front of the bandstand. For years, my policy has been to go nowhere I can't be seated, but the Zombies made me want to stand, and I can die happy knowing I got to hear Colin Blunstone sing "Time of the Season" ten feet in front of me. Melody convinced me that good things awaited outside of our den, and that began a spasm of social activities. We heard Eddie Harrison and Debbie Jamison sing at Neil's. We revisited the Square, this time at night, to hear guitar virtuoso Dave Cousar play a set at Le Chardonnay, and then on to Huey's to witness the yearly visit by Larry Raspberry and the Highsteppers. In the same night! I'm delighted to see new music venues open up for both local talent and travelling acts, and of course the jewel is the Levitt Shell.

I doubt there's a better way to spend an evening than under the stars at the Levitt Shell listening to unique and different types of music. The venue is beautiful and becomes magical when the sun goes down and the lighting comes up. The sound is professional and whoever books the acts couldn't be doing a better job. The coming months will bring an array of talent to one of our city's most beautiful, green expanses, and it's all for free. Only an asshole would criticize such a wonderful undertaking- so it may as well be me. There's one noticeable, and aggravating, design flaw at the Shell. I imagined whoever designed the large slab of concrete between the stage and the grass intended it as a dance floor, but in the several events I have recently attended, it has become a major distraction. How can you concentrate on the performers and their music with people constantly milling about directly in front of the stage? Stage-front has become a short-cut to the bathroom and a place for unattended children to run wild. As the evening progresses, the kids are replaced by clueless, often inebriated attendees, who stand in front of the stage, blocking the view of half the audience. My suggestion for a more enjoyable experience- dig up the asphalt and plant more grass. That aside, it seems to me that, at long last, Memphis is a happening place once again. I believe I just might stick around.

  

Friday, May 23, 2014

Pompous Circumstance

Graduation season is upon us again and colleges and universities have announced their commencement speakers. Peyton Manning spoke to the class of 2014 at the University of Virginia, which was an odd choice considering where he did his college quarterbacking. Howard University awarded an honorary doctorate to Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs, who now wishes to be known as "Doctor Diddy." Being a distinguished alumnus of the U. of Memphis, I kept waiting for my alma mater to call, but I guess they lost my number after I surrendered my basketball season tickets. I did prepare a little something just in case, and since I hate to see inspirational words go to waste, here is the commencement address I might have given.

Congratulation graduates. Your term of voluntary servitude has ended and you are now free to go. Take a month and sleep as late as you damn well please, but remember your new student loan contracts require you to be a server in a restaurant for at least three months. There, you'll get your first taste of reality and learn  the meaning of humility. Also, you will understand, early on, the importance of tips to the people who serve you. Winston Churchill once famously said, "Never, never, never give up." There may have been a few more "nevers" in there, but this is the agreed upon number. I know you have all heard it said before: If you believe in yourself, don't let anything or anyone stop you from reaching your goal. Just keep believing and if you don't give up, you'll eventually get there. I believe, however, that there are times when the wiser path is to just go ahead and give up. Whether you're an unfunny comedian, a thirty-nine year old minor league pitcher, an aging lounge singer, or an unlucky stockbroker, give it up man, or you just might sleep through life while  following your dreams.

Now that everyone has majored in broadcasting and film making, we have encountered a problem. If everybody wants to be a sportscaster, a movie director, a pop star, or a reality TV personality, somebody's going to fall short of the mark. Spare yourself the years of agony pimping yourself out to under-qualified employers whose subjective judgement determines if you fail or succeed. Aim for the stars, but find something on Earth that will pay the rent. To paraphrase the great mythologist Joseph Campbell, go ahead and follow your bliss, but keep your day job. The class of 2014 will never have to worry about leaving school just to find a jobless economy waiting. In case you didn't catch the news, NASA satellite photography has revealed that large chunks of the polar ice caps have collapsed and a United Nations expert panel has speculated that it's too late to do anything about it. Sea levels are rising at an alarming rate since polar ice sheets have melted "faster in the last twenty years than in the last ten thousand." This means, goodbye Florida and the Eastern Seaboard, farewell Gulf Coast and the Jersey Shore, and the Big Apple will soon be bobbing for apples. On the bright side, the Corps of Engineers and FEMA will be hiring, as will insurance companies worldwide. Have you seen how much plumbers and electricians make these days? Damage assessors will be the new rock stars.

Try to find a career that won't stress you out. Lighten up now or get digestive problems later. The words "public servant" have become synonymous with the term, "Ponzie scheme." We need people committed to the kind of public service that doesn't take bribes in the way of campaign contributions. I'm sorry, how silly of me. The Roberts Supreme Court has declared corporations as people, and money as speech. And now that political donations have been declared unlimited, a few cognitive-challenged billionaires determine who's elected to public office. So, be an activist. Don't be indifferent or passive, and don't wait for someone else to say what you're thinking. We're only one Supreme Court Justice away from overturning this whole Bush legacy once and for all. We need people to put our priorities back in order, and teaching is the most important, lowest paid job out there. Be a teacher or else sit on a commission that raises their salaries. Wake up- not everyone can be famous so make a difference where you are. I'd say "respect your elders," but many of your elders are undeserving of your respect, so just show a bit of deference to older people because, with any luck, you'll be one someday. In conclusion, take your time. I began college in 1965 and graduated in 1993, so should you find yourself  in times of difficulty and anxiety, take one of my old sayings to heart: "When in doubt, go back to college."

Monday, May 12, 2014

Fat City

A few days ago, I woke up fat. I'm not sure how it happened since I was in top shape just thirty years ago, but suddenly I'm not merely carrying a tire around my mid-section, I'm toting a John Deere tractor wheel. Since childhood, I've been naturally slim, although my weight has gone up and down in recent years. So, I'm no stranger to battling the bulge, I just don't know how to manage the bloat. In recent years when I got portly, I'd go to the bathroom and I'd be skinny again. For most of my post-thirty life, I have averaged around 172 pounds. Suddenly, I'm carrying around a twelve-pack, and I think they are tall-boys. It didn't sink in until I saw two recent photos. In the first, I was standing with a group of guys and I just figured someones iPhone must have distorted the shot and widened me out. In the second, I was seated, leaning slightly forward, and I looked like some hunkering gargoyle. Dunlop's disease has overtaken me because my gut done lopped over my trousers. I should have noticed it in the shower when recently, I have been unable to see my nether-regions without a slight lean. I recoiled in horror from a full-length mirror, but I was inspired to write a new country song called, "I Can't Stand To Look In The Mirror, Because I Hate To See A Grown Man Cry." This can't be happening to me! Who wants to be old, bald, and fat?

My wife blames it on my addiction to Pepsi Cola, but I point out that Hugh Hefner drank Pepsi his whole life, and he's still slender. Or look at Joan Crawford. She sat on the board of Pepsi, Inc. but "Mommie Dearest" never got pudgy. I've tried the diet versions, but they taste like medicine and I need my cola fully loaded. I also attempted switching to ice tea in a can, but they are saturated with high fructose corn syrup, and you can gulp them, so you need a couple. It's tougher to chug a cola without belching like a howler monkey midway through. Don't get me wrong. Many of my old friends have blown up beyond recognition. It comes with the territory. But I don't look grotesque or morbidly obese and Melody tells me I'm not fat anywhere else but my belly, but it's starting to move around some. I think it's because ever since I began keeping quasi-business hours, I started eating three meals a day. When I kept musicians' hours, I'd sleep half the day, eat a big dinner and a snack later, and that was it. My body just wasn't acclimated to what's commonly referred to as normal life, and it rejected the health benefits I was attempting to incorporate.

Funny thing is, I don't eat a lot of sweets or desserts, I don't snack a lot, nor do I drink beer or alcohol. It's not a moral thing. Alcohol just makes me sick. Lord knows, I've tried to be a proper drunk in my past and I spent years searching for just the right drink. I started drinking Brandy Alexanders just because I read it was John Lennon's favorite, until I woke up one morning and spent the day calling people to apologise. But it didn't matter how you disguised it. Whether it was wine, whiskey, or beer, it just made me ill. And the sad part is, I would go directly from being straight to being sick with no euphoria in-between, and only hell to pay later. I finally figured out it was a crappy high anyway and abandoned the effort. I can, however, see years of alcohol consumption in my friends' faces, and they have payed for it with gin blossoms and enlarged proboscises, as well as the expansion of the epidermal layer to keep in the heavy load below. Go anywhere in public these days and you'll see enormous, titanic, obesity-- the kind you didn't see just twenty years ago. You would think Americans exist on a steady diet of fried pork rinds, Mountain Dew, and whale blubber. I enjoy an occasional Chips Ahoy myself, but I don't eat the entire Costco-sized bag at one sitting.

Of course, the answer is always diet and exercise, but ever since that gall bladder thing I had a few years ago, I am physically unable, by the grace of God, to do a sit-up. Walking is the answer, but my neighborhood isn't entirely walker friendly. When the sidewalk ends, your choices are either walking along a major thoroughfare where the autos zip by like NASCAR, or taking your chances on the pavement of a narrow lane with speed bumps. In any case, there is no walking around here without including the dogs. If they catch you putting on sneakers, or even thinking of the word "walk," the dogs go wild- and we have three of them. I don't mind taking Rufus Thomas' advice and walking that dog now and then, but I'm no Cesar Milan and I can't walk three at once. But, who are we kidding? I'm not walking anywhere farther than the mailbox anymore. It hurts, good people. So if I return to musicians' hours and you should hear me somewhere singing Fats Domino's classic "I'm Walkin'," you'll know that I am exercising- poetic license that is.

Monday, April 28, 2014

For Grizz And Country

After every Memphis Grizzlies game, my brother-in-law is fond of getting online and posting, "I am a Grizzlies maniac," with several exclamation points, depending on the closeness of the game. As of this writing, the opening series of the NBA playoffs is still undecided, but win or lose, how exciting has this been for Memphis? It's a wondrous thing to see this city come together and rally around a common cause. Just think, if we could only get the City Council to do the same. For this community, the Grizzlies mean so much more than basketball. They are a focal point around which all of Memphis' citizens can unite, and those occasions have proven so rare, it's worthy that we celebrate when it happens. My only problem is, with three overtime games in a row, the Grizz are fixing to throw me into cardiac arrhythmia. Thank God for Obamacare.

I now understand how, once you know a player's background and watch his attitude on the court, you become more invested in the games and individual performances. Your spirits rise and fall throughout the season until the storyline plays out. Judging from the last couple of games at the FedEx Forum, Grizzlies fans' spirits are pretty damn high. My wife has attended several games this season, while I am content to watch from the couch. It's tinnitus. My ears just can't take it anymore. But the entire Forum nearly burst right through the flat screen the other night. It's no wonder the Grizzlies were named "best overall professional sports franchise" by ESPN The Magazine. And that includes baseball, football, and hockey.  The city's adopting this team and these players is nearly as heartwarming as all the work these guys seem to so happily do for the community. This group has a workmanlike ethic for a blue collar town and the fit seems just right. The league needs a team like this precisely because they play as a team. I just hope the new owners don't screw it up and try to turn the Grizz into the run-and-gun Lakers of seasons gone and past. Why mess with a good thing?

How can you help but not admire these guys, especially the Grindfather himself, Tony Allen? This guy is everywhere. Statistics can't begin to show what he adds to this team. I am hesitant to admire him too much, however, for fear that they'll trade him. His defensive play is an art, and speaking of same, I'd like to add a word about defense. When you speak of the Secretary of Defense, or say a game was a defensive struggle, the accent is always on the second syllable. So why does a sports crowd always scream "DEE-fense?" Because Memphis is supposed to be different, I'd like to urge our citizens to be the only fans in all of sports to shout, "de-FENSE!" That will mess with the other teams' minds. That aside, the last two games the Forum was rocking with chants of "Z-Bo," and I thought I saw paint chips falling from the ceiling after Mike Miller went on a three point tear. Even before we learned the name, Beno Udrih, Melody and I were screaming, "way to go new guy!" at the television screen. What's better than watching Mike Conley's calm under pressure? And we definitely got the right Gasol.

A year ago, I wrote a column that said the Grizzlies were great, but the music sucked. Since then, I've heard Willie Mitchell, Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes, and James Brown over the arena's speakers. So, all praises to the tune selector and I hope my rant helped. Now, if I could just make a couple more suggestions. If a player on the opposing team travels, play a snippet of Rufus Thomas singing, "Justa, justa, justa walkin'." When our big men block an opponent's shot, Elvis' "Return to Sender" would be appropriate. And when one of our guys hits a three-pointer, play Jerry Lee Lewis singing, "Goodness, gracious, Great Balls of Fire." Also, the Bar-Kays' "Soulfinger" needs to be the team's fight song; only the crowd can scream, "Go Grizzlies," where they shout "Soulfinger," in the original recording. One more thing, why must they play that same inane chant in every arena right before tip-off? Let's chant "Na, Na's" with Wilson Pickett's "Land of 1000 Dances." While we're at it, "We Will Rock You," is one of the worst grooves in popular music and is awkward for Memphis folks used to clapping on the two-and-four. And were you aware that every time that heavy, guitar-drenched song where everyone yells, "Hey!" is played, you are profiting Gary Glitter, a sexual deviate so depraved that they kicked him out of Thailand? Keep it simple, fellas. It might be enjoyable to watch an entire arena full of crazed fans doing the "Funky Chicken." Even more fun to be there doing it.

Monday, April 14, 2014

SNL Lite

Has anyone noticed how the cast and producers of Saturday Night Live have taken over comedy programming at NBC? Now, every night is a Saturday Night Live, except for SNL itself, which ain't so great these days. With the recent occurrence of Jimmy Fallon taking over for Jay Leno as host of the Tonight Show, and Seth Myers moving into Fallon's old late-night spot, with SNL alumnus Fred Armisen as his bandleader, former cast members of the durable sketch-comedy program can be seen on TV virtually every night of the week. Now in its thirty-ninth season, Saturday Night Live has been shepherded (except for four years) by Lorne Michaels, who has been called the "Kingmaker of Comedy." Michaels has the golden touch when it comes to discovering and promoting new comedy talent. The list of legends who have served under Michaels' tutelage is jaw dropping: Belushi and Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Tina Fey, Will Ferrell, and ad infinitum. If a cast member was lucky enough to create a successful recurring character, Michaels' might back you in a movie deal. Without Lorne Michaels, we would never have had such classic films like, "Wayne's World: 1 and 2," "Coneheads," "A Night at the Roxbury," and "MacGruber." There's no questioning Michaels' comic empire, so my question is, how did SNL go from being an edgy, satiric, and sardonic show into what's now considered prime time network programming?

It seemingly began when head writer and "Weekend Update" anchor Tina Fey, quit the show to write and star in a prime-time program called 30 Rock, produced by Michaels, which was basically a parody of SNL, including a character based on Michaels, played by Alec Baldwin. Then came "Parks and Recreation," produced by Michaels and starring Amy Poehler. NBC even made room for Chevy Chase in the cult comedy Community. Michaels has recently produced the movies, "Mean Girls," and "Baby Mama," and the bizarre TV show Portlandia, starring Late Night bandleader Fred Armisen. Fey and Poehler co-hosted this years' Golden Globe Awards on, guess which network? And please put your answer in the form of a question. During last week's edition of SNL, there was even an ad for American Express featuring Tina Fey. They're everywhere, like The Walking Dead. In addition to the sitcoms, movies, and SNL, Michaels will also produce the Tonight and Late Night shows. On Sundays, he'll conduct the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. For a sixty-nine year old man, that's a lot of stress. I trust Michaels' blood pressure is steady enough to prevent him from pulling an Elvis and doing a header into the shag carpet of the executive men's restroom at 30 Rockefeller Center.

Of the 139 cast members who appeared on SNL, many have gone on to film and television careers. Of note, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the current star of the HBO program, Veep, also was a featured player in, oh...what was his name? You remember, that obsessive-compulsive comedian who had a show about nothing? Conan O'Brien was plucked from obscurity by Michaels, who put him in late-night and produced his show for four years. If you're counting, that's three current nighttime talk-show hosts coming from the Michaels' stable. The Tonight Show moved from Los Angeles back to New York because of Michaels. And, of course, there's always Senator Al Franken. If you ever find yourself missing former cast-members, just check your local TV listings. There's Conan on TBS, Andy Samberg in Brooklyn Nine-Nine on Fox, Tim Meadows in Bob's Burgers, Kevin Nealon in Weeds, Kristen Wiig and Will Ferrell in The Spoils of Babylon on IFC, and Memphis' own Chris Parnell with Ana Gasteyer on Suburgatory, on ABC. The familiar thing about these actors is that they all played recurring characters on SNL. The problem with the current cast of SNL is that there are so many of them, no one's character has much of a chance to re-occur.

All those late-night talk shows need writers and staff, editorial directors, floor managers and the like. Judging from last weeks' SNL starring Seth Rogan, it would seem that the best of them packed their joke-bags to join Jimmy Fallon and Seth Myers. Rogan is mildly humorous, but I outgrew fart jokes in Junior High. The current cast has seventeen members, including six newcomers, in contrast with the original seven in 1975. It's like getting transferred to a different prison. It takes time to learn everyone's name. Also, I am not as enamored of Jimmy Fallon as others seem to be. Like Leno before him, I think Fallon tries a little too hard, and his bromance with Justin Timberlake has become disturbing. I was always a David Letterman kind of guy, and his announced retirement might have been more sorrowful had it not been for the news of who will be replacing him. Steven Colbert has, for the past nine years, had the most subversive show on television in The Colbert Report. Assuming the role of a self-described, "well intentioned, poorly informed, high-status idiot," Colbert has taken his outrageous character all the way to the White House Correspondents' Dinner, where he had the balls to skewer an oblivious George Bush to his face. Colbert has said that he will drop the character for the late night gig, so I'll be tuning in to find out who he actually is. It will be something new, and that beats dumbed-down, re-packaged, and re-cycled sketches from Saturday Night Live every time.


Monday, March 31, 2014

Candlelight, AM Radio, & You



Last Thursday night, we were preparing for a gourmet dinner of Super-Lo fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and basketball, when a lightning bolt exploded like a neutron bomb in my back yard and knocked out all the power. I screamed a spontaneous epithet regarding the almighty, which was probably unwise in this situation, and my wife felt an ozone wave shoot down her left arm. Our neighbor across the street was outside with her daughter and not only felt the same sensation, but the child was knocked off of her feet. She claimed that she could "hear the sizzle." Suffice it to say, it was the closest bolt of lightning to come my way. We were prepared for a power outage ever since the hysterical "Snowpocalypse 2014" forecasts our local TV weathermen predicted last month and our flashlights were nearby, so after we checked our drawers and pried the dogs off the ceiling, Melody lit a candle while I cursed the darkness.
 
I immediately suggested that we go to a sports bar, but Melody envisioned scenes of rowdy, college jersied superfans chugging pitchers of beer, and there was still time enough for Light, Gas, and Water to be on the case. Besides, everyone expects the electricity to return soon, even with an hour or so inconvenience. So, candles burning and fresh batteries in the radio, we settled in to wait for those guys to do what they do. It had been awhile since I had rolled up and down the AM dial, but we found a station playing romantic music from the forties, made more nostalgic by the static caused by the storm outside. The music seemed to grow cornier the longer we listened, but after darkness had fallen and they played "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree," I couldn't take it anymore and preferred silence to Tony Orlando and Dawn. Melody and I were forced to talk to each other without the television in the background serving as white noise. We discussed many things while waiting for Godot to restore the power, but he never came. While I am usually calm in a crisis, my wife tends to become a bit fidgety. While I was relaxing in my chair, she was peeking out the windows searching for a truck with lights on it. I reminded her of the "watched pot" proverb, but it didn't help.
 
The only thing that worked on my cell phone were the games, so I began playing Bejeweled Blitz as a form of Zen meditation during the terrible thunderstorm. Melody inquired, "So, now you're playing a game?," to which I replied, "What else should I be doing?" We laughed at the ridiculousness of it, but I put the phone down when I realized that someone's nerves were on edge. I found the NCAA Tourney game on the radio, but since we didn't know the players, we might as well have been listening in Bulgaria. We had resigned ourselves to the possibility of days without power and were only opening the refrigerator sparingly to save the frozen food when we heard the loud talk of rough men in the driveway. It was LG&W to the rescue and soon power began returning to the houses all around us, just not ours. I remained calm but my wife forged out into the storm to talk with the crew. As it turned out, they were about to leave when Melody pointed out three additional houses still in the dark. She even showed them the utility pole closest to the strike. A brave, raincoated soul began ascending the pole and located the problem. "Only a matter of time," I thought, "and I can still catch the second game." A sudden blast shattered my anticipation. It wasn't like the bunker bomb shock of the lightning strike. It was more like incoming artillery. But the transformer had exploded and thrown the entire neighborhood back into total darkness.
 
While Melody apologized to our neighbor over the phone for the renewed blackout, I was thinking about which friends I could impose upon to slouch on their couch and ask them to turn on the game. But it was late now and we may as well face the darkness. It would be hours before a maintenance crew could fix the damage. At least assured that the process was underway, Melody grew calmer. She even danced in the dark to the big band music. In what seemed like waiting out a nine inning ballgame, the lamps finally came alive and the coolerator began humming. One problem remained. We had no cable or Internet. This meant dealing with Comcast, which was more frightening than the thunderstorm. After spending half the night on the phone with a service rep who sent continuous, useless signals to the cable box, I was assured that if I called first thing in the morning, a field technician would come right over to fix the problem. That was Thursday. Our cable TV and Internet service were finally restored on Sunday, just in time for me to write about this little slice of life. I was disappointed to have missed the basketball games until I heard the results. Both the Vols and Grizzlies lost and Kentucky won. I would have been more depressed had I watched the games. It's good to be rewired now that the storm has passed. Maybe next time the TV weather guys could give us a "heads up."
 
 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Spring Cleaning

Now that warmer weather has arrived, it's time for our annual spring cleaning of the people and things that were the most annoying during the past year. We're not attempting to silence anyone or discourage anybody's artistic expression, but there are a few people that might be wise to just back up a few steps. These are the folks and events that frazzled the nerves unnecessarily and generally made life more frustrating to fathom. Among the most puzzling aspects of American culture is our obsession with making morons famous and our insatiable appetite for celebrity gossip. Naturally, this combination places one celebrity couple in the nexus of ignorance and arrogance. They go by the collective name of Kimye.

Rapper Kanye West and butt model Kim Kardashian have a gala wedding ceremony planned on May 24, in Paris. Wedding guests will be required to sign confidentiality agreements and surrender their cell phones to security to insure no footage will be leaked until the ceremony is shown on E! Entertainment's "Keeping up With the Kardashians." Their toddler, North West, is to be the crawling flower girl. This is in contrast to Kim's first televised wedding to pro basketballer Kris Humphries, presented as a two-part, four-hour reality special for the same network. The marriage lasted seventy-two days, but the divorce made for great ratings. Thankfully, Kanye is a bit more in line with the Kardashians' publicity machine. For instance, he now wants to be referred to as Yeezus and has admitted with typical modesty, "I am the number one living and breathing rock star. I am Axl Rose; I am Jim Morrison: I am Jimi Hendrix." Once, when Dick Cavett asked Jimi Hendrix if he was the best guitar player in the world, Hendrix bowed his head and said, "Oh no. Let's just say I'm the best guitar player sitting in this chair." Guess who's getting a new postage stamp in their honor, and it ain't Yeezus?

Justin Bieber has had such a year getting acquainted with law enforcement, he's hardly had time to record those hideous songs. First, his California mansion was raided by police after Bieber's neighbor complained the pop star threw eggs at his home causing 20,000 dollars in damages. That's one helluva lot of eggs. He appeared in a Canadian courtroom to testify about an alleged assault by one of his bodyguards on a photographer and was reported to go off on a few paparazzi himself. In February, one of Bieber's security guards and a driver were arrested for felony theft in Atlanta. For Justin's nineteenth birthday celebration, he and his entourage were kicked out of a London nightclub over a disagreement involving underage guests. Then came the arrest in Miami for drunken driving, resisting arrest, and driving without a licence. Police stopped Bieber while he was drag racing in a yellow Lamborghini against a red Ferrari through a residential neighborhood, which all sounds like the makings of a Chuck Berry song. To begin the new year, Bieber was deposed in a Dallas courtroom regarding an assault by one of his bodyguards. Dallas Morning News reporter Leonard Pitts reported on seeing the video; "It was not a pretty picture. Bieber comes across as a twerp so snotty and insolent, even Mother Teresa would want to smack him." If I hear that "Baby" song one more time, I'll smack him my damn self.

Miley Cyrus is reported to have recorded "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," so fans of the Beatles should hunker down for the worst. Her controversial performance at last years' VMA awards was neither provocative nor sexy; it was just nasty. Her vulgarity bordered on child pornography, since Miley lacks the sex appeal of a grown-up. And her so-called "twerking" against the groinal region of Marvin Gaye tribute artist Robin Thicke was a joke. Miley lacks the ass needed to properly twerk and should have offended all real women who possess this ability. A new slogan arose to protest the poseur: "Twerkers of the world, unite." And, please try to keep that revolting tongue to yourself.

Local Weather went berserk this winter with such never before heard terminology like, "polar vortex," "thunder sleet," and "frozen fog." There has never been so much bureaucratic hysteria over so little since the invention of the green screen. Channels 3 and 5 went wall-to-wall weather so many times, with headlines like Icestorm 2014 and Snowmageddon, that you could have closed your eyes and imagined you were in Buffalo. And then, nothing happened, except maybe a milk sellout at Kroger's. The stations claim all this coverage is in the interest of public safety, but I think maybe it gives the meteorologists a chance to dazzle everyone with their new technologies, and even the network news can't stop them. If you give them the toys, they will play with them. This past winter proved it, and a lot of credibility went the way of that five inches of snow we were certain to receive.

Twitter once had the potential to be an invaluable tool in the dissemination of information. Now, it's become a graveyard for news accuracy and has been transformed into a platform for celebrity feuds, mindless gossip, and trash talk. The twitter user with the most followers is Katy Perry with 50.2 million, as compared to 41.3 million for Barack Obama. Of the 500 million registered users, 750 tweets are shared per second, or 64,800,000 per day. Every cynic, crank, and crackpot can spew their poison into the "twitterverse" under the guise of anonymity and never have to be accountable for their words. This is a world of rage and spite that I choose to avoid. When I want to read truly humorous tweets, I just check out Dave Cousar on Facebook.

There are many others in the running: Vlad "The Invader" Putin, Louie Gohmert, George Zimmerman, all the Bush's, Janis Fullilove, and the perennial continental queen of venom, Sarah Palin, but you get the picture. All these folks need to back off a bit so another assortment of goons can step forward to aggravate us with meaningless, mindless, offensive behavior. I think it may be just about time for another Mel Gibson eruption, so I believe I'll dust my broom.

Monday, March 03, 2014

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

 
There's a new Grammy exhibit at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music titled "The Grammy Goes to Memphis" that is both interesting and revealing. The actual statues presented to Elvis, Otis Redding, Bobby "Blue" Bland, and others are collected and displayed for the first time. A highlight film of area Grammy winning moments is featured along with a wall listing all the great artists from the Memphis area who have received the coveted award. Full disclosure requires me to tell you that the Stax Museum is also my place of employment, but it  explains why I've had the chance to sit and stare at that wall for several hours at a time. All the names you would expect are there: Sam Phillips, Johnny Cash, Al Greene, even Sheryl Crow from Sikeston, Missouri. An impressive number of Grammy awards have been bestowed upon the Stax family of artists, including Isaac Hayes, Booker T. & the MGs, The Staples Singers, and Sam and Dave. The prestigious Grammy Trustees' Award has gone to Stax President Al Bell and company co-founder Estelle Axton. There is one glaring omission, however: the name of Jim Stewart is missing. I first thought it was an oversight and hastened to try and correct the error, but the co-founder and contributor of the first two letters of the name "Stax," has never been recognized or celebrated by the Recording Academy.
 
Perhaps Mr. Stewart prefers it that way since I understand that he is a private person, but it seems odd that his sister, Estelle, and his partner, Al Bell, would each receive one of the Academy's highest awards, but not Stewart. I don't know Jim Stewart personally and have only met him once, so I have no axe to grind here for anyone, but if not for Stewart, all those famous names on that Grammy wall would have never been known. Stewart and Axton's leasing of the Capitol Theatre in South Memphis in 1958 and opening the doors to the talent in the neighborhood began a renaissance in Soul music that still reverberates in the popular culture. The former banker and country fiddler who fell in love with Ray Charles' music, supervised and produced some of the most unique sounding recordings of the twentieth century. And he did it by working with musicians, singers, talent, and administrators who were both white and black, right in the middle of the Jim Crow era of race relations in the South. For people like me, who grew up under segregation but never understood it, this rich and untried collaborative effort was, and is, a source of great pride. Watching films of the MGs and the Memphis Horns backing up the Stax stars and driving audiences crazy all over the world is still a thrilling experience. It's not just the Recording Academy that owes Stewart long overdue accolades and appreciation, so does the city of Memphis.
 
Mr. Stewart's contributions to popular music have not gone unrecognized. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, but sent two granddaughters to receive the award in his behalf. This may be of great interest to visitors of the Cleveland museum, but what about the old hometown? Along with Sun Records scion Knox Phillips, Stewart's persuasion was instrumental in bringing the chapter of the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences to Memphis, which celebrated its twentieth anniversary last year. The local organization also recognizes its most vibrant and vital contributors to what has become known as the "Memphis Sound." In annual programs and ceremonies over the years, NARAS Memphis has paid special tribute to Rufus and Carla Thomas, Eddie Floyd, Albert King, and the legacies of both Sun and Hi Records. It's highest honor, the Governor's Award, has been presented to Rufus Thomas and Estelle Axton, but no Jim Stewart. The man who produced Otis Redding's "Respect," can't seem to get any from the same chapter he helped to establish. Either Stewart called and personally insisted that he not be further involved in these awards and such, or somebody's asleep at the switch.
 
In Robert Gordon's perfectly pitched, new Stax biography, "Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion," he describes Stewart selling his interest in Stax to Al Bell in 1972. Yet two years later, when the company began feeling a financial squeeze from all quarters, Stewart re-invested his assets in an attempt to save what he had helped to create. In the resulting bankruptcy and padlocking of Stax by the same bank for which Stewart once worked, he lost his fortune and his home. Stewart has remained retired from the music business and semi-reclusive in his private life, yet he attended the opening of the Stax Music Academy and has generously advised and assisted the young musical talents who were not yet born during Stax's heyday. I have always believed in sending your flowers to the living, because afterward, you can't smell them. Estelle Axton's Trustee's Award from the Recording Academy was given posthumously. Jim Stewart is 84 years old. A man who has touched so many lives and literally altered the social fabric of the cosmos deserves at least an "attaboy" from his acolytes; can I get a witness?
 
 




Monday, February 17, 2014

From Russia With Luge


Enough with the commie Olympics already. It's difficult to take a winter sports festival seriously when the snow in Charleston, South Carolina is deeper than the site of the games. There was more ice in Atlanta than there was in Sochi. Seriously, one afternoon in the city chosen to host the quadrennial ice capades, the temperature soared to sixty degrees, transforming a powdery overcoat of machine-enhanced snow into a layer of sno-cone ice that lacked the bubblegum flavor that some of the hapless skiers might have preferred. I mean, who skis when it's sixty degrees? In the south, that's considered warm enough to swim. By the way, if snow skiing is considered a sport in the winter Olympics, then why is water skiing not a sport in the summer Olympics? And this Biathlon business is not a sport. The combination of cross-country skiing while pausing to target shoot with a scoped-rifle is basic training for the Swiss army.
 
The problem with the winter Olympics is that they're just not American. Every year, people all over the United States are breaking legs attempting to ski, because skiing just isn't an American sport. It's an Alpine sport that began when Heidi needed a doctor and the fastest way for grandpa to get down the mountain was on a couple of old bed slates. Now, the men's downhill is a test of the technology as much as the skier. If you want to go skiing in the U.S. you have to either be part of the fortunate one percent who can afford a ski lodge in Park City, Utah, or else you have to go to a ski resort. In either case, it screams of elitism. Anybody can learn to swim or run fast but skiing is a rich man's sport. You first have to book a flight and a room-combo, well before snow season, to a mountainous ski resort. Then upon arriving, if there is no snow, that's your problem. If it's snowing there are other arrangements to make: ski lessons, times on the slopes, doctor's appointments. But before you do anything, there's all that gear you need to buy. I suppose that they rent you your skis, but no self-respecting resort attendee would consider wearing any protective garments previously worn by another. That's too much like renting bowling shoes. Each ski student must have the weather protective, one-piece garment that they used to call a leisure suit back in the day. Then there's the helmet, goggles, and gloves, and the de-rigueur insulated, Michelin Man, overcoat. Not to mention the plaster casts for sprains and breaks. Personally, I don't care to participate in any sport where a St. Bernard is involved.
 
The only other race as exciting as the mens' speed skating was watching Bob Costas' pink-eye race from his left eye to the right. He remained in his post like a trouper before his malady began to frighten and disgust viewers, when he was properly relieved to receive treatment. There's a sort of sports poetry in Bob Costas ending his iron man streak of Olympic broadcasts and Derek Jeter announcing his retirement from baseball in the same week. Back to the men's speed skating, which is a more accessible sport to the ordinary human than skiing, since everyone remembers that ankle pain when first attempting to step on the ice. Speed skating is an exciting sport but the skaters' suits have become so aero-dynamic and skin tight that they may as well skate naked just like the ancient Greeks. I understand it's necessary to keep a tight package for wind resistance sake, but if everyone skated naked, it would be the only sport that rewarded the man with the small penis. Also, if they would like to make skating even more thrilling, make them skate on dry ice. That would add an incentive to remain upright. One more X Games-themed idea: they should ban ski poles on the mountains and make them gut it out like surfers and ski jumpers.
 
During Vladimir's Olympics, Putin himself made appearances at some of the more macho events. It's good that he passed on the men's figure skating and the teams ice-dancing, or his head would have exploded. He might have admired U.S. figure skater Jeremy Abbott's reaction to his critics after crashing and burning in the men's short program. Abbott exploded during an interview and told his detractors to go fuck themselves. Some of Abbott's competitors' costumes were so outlandish, I was afraid Putin would order the Russian police to arrest them on the spot for pro-gay propaganda. Putin's glassy stare and mirthless smile conjure up images of those old KGB agents who would stab someone with the tip of a poisoned walking stick. In fact, that's who Putin is. When I heard that the U.S. hockey team beat the Russians in a shootout, I thought that meant the squad had to escape under the cover of CIA sniper fire. The greatest anticipation now remaining is whether the return of Bob Costas will yield yet another infection of some sort, and whether the yellow tap water is responsible. CNBC reports that the 2014 Olympic Games will cost an estimated fifty-one billion dollars, the most expensive in history. Even Mitt Romney criticized Putin, calling the games an "unsavory" vanity project. If only this country could spend that kind of money on roads and bridges. Putin's Winter Olympics at Sochi do prove one thing: if you build it they will come.
 


Tuesday, February 04, 2014

The Fabs at Fifty

It was fifty years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play. That's a factually incorrect statement but a good opening line to talk about the fiftieth anniversary of the Beatles' first appearance on American television. To commemorate the event, Beatlemania will be sweeping the airwaves once again all this week with special concerts, documentaries, celebrations and dedications. For younger viewers it will be a chance to see real time footage of the Beatles' first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, (they made three in successive weeks), and the chaos that ensued. For old fans like me, it will be an opportunity to relive a revolutionary moment in the history of rock music, along with the 73 million other viewers that tuned in the night of Feb. 9, 1964. The date is significant because, after that, nothing was ever the same.
 
The Ed Sullivan Show, on Sunday nights, was a variety show that featured acts as varied as opera singers and acrobats, plate spinners and flamenco dancers. On Feb. 9, I was enjoying a Sunday dinner of hamburgers and spaghetti at Granny's before we settled in front of the TV to witness the Beatles' debut. Of course, the elders tsk, tsked, while I went crazy. I was eagerly anticipating the Beatles' television debut because I'd already bought the album. While cruising east on Walnut Grove on a clear January afternoon, something came on the car radio unlike anything I had ever heard and I knew it must be that English band I'd been hearing about. I made an immediate left on Perkins and headed for Pop Tunes. They only had the new single in stock, (which I still have in the original sleeve), but promised to call me when the LP arrived. Shortly afterward, I got the call that "Meet the Beatles" had arrived and snatched up one of the first copies. That evening, my friends and I got together to listen to first one side, and then the other, over and over again, completely captivated by this raw and exhilarating new sound. We also marvelled at their matching Prince Valiant haircuts, their tailored suits, and their Italian boots with the raised heels that immediately and for everafter became known as "Beatle boots." The next day, we started to let our hair grow.
 
I realize the potential risks of my writing about the Beatles morphing into the rantings of an old geezer raving about his favorite band from days of yore. Lord knows, I wouldn't care about hearing someone from my parents' generation talk about the first time they saw Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians. But the Beatles' music has not only endured, it has thrived. Their long-awaited songs finally becoming available for internet download was received with the enthusiasm usually reserved for the latest, hottest thing. The 2009 release of "The Beatles Rock Band" video game, where participants simulate playing Beatle songs with controllers shaped like musical instruments, was a huge success and helped boost sales of the newly remastered Beatle albums on CD. It's never surprising to hear that some of the most enthusiastic Beatle fans are the children, or even the grandchildren, of your friends. The band's unmatchable career, development, and the evolving message in their music has become a generational phenomenon, and if this week's festivities are any indication, the music will continue to resonate into the foreseeable future.
 
In celebration, CBS news is presenting a "live, interactive event," at the Ed Sullivan Theatre on Sunday, from 5-7 PM Central, fifty years to the day of the Fabs' live performance, featuring "rare footage from CBS News' extensive archive of the Beatles first three days in New York City." A special tribute concert, sponsored by the Grammys, will air in Ed Sullivan's old time spot following the news special. Taped in Los Angeles the day after the Grammy Awards, featured artists include a reunited Eurythmics, with Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, John Legend, Stevie Wonder, Katy Perry, John Mayer, and a Ringo/Paul reunion in which they do play Beatle songs. If that weren't enough to satisfy your Fab Four fix, following the Grammy special, Paul and Ringo come full circle and will appear live on a special David Letterman Show, airing, of course, from the Ed Sullivan Theatre. All week, leading up to Sunday, all Letterman's musical guests on his nightly show will play Beatle songs. On Feb.8, commemorating the Beatles' iconic arrival at New York's JFK, the airport will host a celebration and dedicate a historical marker. A new Beatle book has been released titled, "The Beatles: All These Years. Vol.1- Tune In," by Mark Lewisohn, whom the New York Times called "the most serious historian to have examined the Beatles' lives and work." I guess so, because this first of three planned tomes runs 803 pages long and only goes up to 1962. For those like me, who love the Beatles, all this activity shows that the Lads from Liverpool are going to be around for a long, long time. Strawberry Fields Forever, baby.