Canadian smart-not-clever prog-metal power trio set out for
something different, ended up sounding kinda like ... The Police.
Geddy Lee - ...who sounds like a cross between Donald Duck and Robert Plant. - Alan Niester, The Rolling Stone Record Guide, 1979
- doesn't sound manic, no not AT ALL. Subdued Geddy ultimately
makes this tune weird, not fun ... unless you're into nostalgia and
this came out when you were in high school when the Rushies ran
amok, then it's likely oddly fun(ny). And hey the bass sounds cool.
Any bets on when these guys start their Second Farewell Tour?
Twitter is almost as fun as cinnamon toast and is the only social network that matters. Unlike LinkedIn, it doesn't promote an ultimately-futile way of networking your way through the business world (which just results in getting "would you like to connect" notifications from high school classmates) or FaceBook (a home for baby photos and casual racism, I am told), Twitter mostly exists to make wry comments and take cheap shots regarding current events, politics, sports, entertainment, pop culture, and whatever else tweeters deem shot-worthy. Fellow tweeters here in the Twin Cities likely follow a lot of the same folks that I do, so here is My Five Fave Non-Minnesotan, Non-Minneapolitan, Not-Manned-By-Friends-Or-Acquaintances Twitter Accounts, as of January 10th, 2017:
@REALpunknews - What started out as a punk rock The Onion has started to expand its scope and has been killing it for months now. No hyperbole here, just some sample headlines:
"Skinhead Band Not Racist But Also Not Good" "Henry Rollins Driving App Tells You How Hard It Would Have Been to Get There in the ’80s" "Ted Nugent Begrudgingly Inducted Into Straight Edge Hall of Fame" "Christian Metal Flyer Not Intelligently Designed"
@RevoltoftheApes - Calmly hypes stoner rock (and more up my alley) old-school heroes UFO, Blue Oyster Cult, and The Yardbirds. Plus throws in Buddhist wisdom and essential coffee reviews as well, dude.
@DadBoner - Our guy Karl Welzein isn't as hilariously productive as he was in the tweets leading up to 2013'3 Power Moves: Livin' The American Dream USA Style book - an essential tome - but he is again employed and for everyone who's in need of an antihero to rail (or at least shirk) against Corporate America, Karl is the sleeping-on-the-office-restroom-floor guy we need.
@TheRealCarlG - What is it about Midwestern German-American functioning alcoholics and tweeting? Green Bay Packers super fan Carl Gerbschmidt on Twitter does great duty as he does on the air for a respected segment on KFAN late Friday afternoons: He gleefully mocks the Minnesota Vikings Viqueens and their misguided fans. Easy targets, yes, but they deserve every ounce of ridicule. Plus Carl is a warrior and is almost always correct in his mockery. Again: how many Super Bowls have the Viqueens won?
@BangsQuotes - Whoever runs this account is my new hero. He/she (they?) tweets gems from my favorite writer ever, the smart/hilarious/poignant Lester Bangs. I can spot a few quotes from Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung and Mainlines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste but obviously the kind soul behind this account is reaching deeper into the Bangs canon. "Elvis was into marketing boredom when Andy Warhol was still doing shoe ads." Amen.
I thought to myself while waiting for the commuter rail to Minneapolis, apparently inadvertently summing up my life from North Dakota to Minneapolis, ending up a Joni Mitchell admirer in middle age after a long beginning as a hard rock partisan. KNOX-AM, I am yours.
"Back Door Santa" is my favorite Christmas song*. This holiday season, I've been blasting it more frequently and louder than any other year, because I have always imagined the narrator of the song to be black. Recently there was a black Santa Claus at a suburban Twin Cities shopping mall** and to nobody's surprise white racists were miffed that a universal symbol of kindness and gift-giving wasn't Caucasian. They swamped the comments sections of websites that featured stories on Black Santa, then undoubtably assured their spouses and children that they "once worked with a black guy, and he didn't mind my jokes at all." The Star Tribune went so far as to shut the comments on their article off, I'm guessing some of the white power rubes fired off emails about their First Amendment rights being denied.
Before I get sidetracked and tell you how bored I am with white peoples and/or this Surly Bender totally kicks in ... THE CASE FOR BLACK SANTA:
- Every photo of Clarence Carter ever features him wearing sunglasses. Is this a man who would embrace nothing BUT a Black Santa? Being that he recorded an all-time Yuletide classic, give the man his due.
- I bring you back to a cover of Esquire from 1963, where we have Sonny Liston as a Black Santa. This is iconic, unlike the generic this-white-guy-again who appears at your local shopping mall. I propose that every dumm** white racist who opposes Black Santa go a few rounds with the ghost of Sonny.
- On "Christmas in Hollis", Run-DMC samples "Back Door Santa" and its video features a Black Santa. When Run-DMC were at their best, the Beatles/Stones/Yardbirds of hip-hop were damn funny. We all need a little levity right now. To put it another way: Lighten up, Francis.
- If you choose to be un-American and don't like Black Santa, think about the Finns believing that a Yule Goat brings presents to children:
Who would you rather have creeping around your living room at Christmas Eve midnight: A cool black guy or a freakin' goat? If you choose "goat"? Well, I'm going to campaign for a Black Thor, dummies.
- All true Americans and fans of the Christmas holiday should love Black Santa because he angers white racists. Anything that pisses off those gomers is worthy and should be widespread. Let us vow to totally embrace Black Santa next year in December 2017 and all other years going forward. And ... who wants the honor of telling the white racists that baby Jesus was Jewish?
*Narrowly beating out - this year, at least - The Drifters' version of "White Christmas". **Gratuitous Sideswipe: Of course, anything that involves the Maul of Amerika is bound to turn ugly. Nothing of much cultural worth has ever come from that place - aside from protests that shut the temple of commerce down - and any time I think of it an image of a Moonie mass marriage comes to mind, even though a quick Google search indicates that has never happened at the Maul. ***As a high school classmate once said in algebra class: "You're dumb. And not just d-u-m-b dumb, but d-u-m-m dumb.
I didn't realize how soul-draining an accounting day job could be until the accounting mentality started to take over more and more aspects of my life. I need order to get my accounting tasks done: assemble the paperwork in a certain way, reply and/or print off emails, check websites and Google Drive for needed information, etc. This Order Of Things unfortunately tends to take over the rest of my life ... you must clean the apartment on this day, you read the newspaper at this time of day, you do not take the bus to the art museum on this day because it is a Tuesday and you write and read on Tuesdays, etc. My bookkeeping business pays the bills and buys the whiskey and I certainly would not give it up or diss my beloved clients, but still. Doing tasks over and over that need and crave order while the other half of my mind is daydreaming and scheming and thinking about that book or movie or TV show or gal at the coffee shop is gonna result in a breakdown or at least an anxiety attack and no matter how much I walk (ankle injury keeping me off the elliptical) or do breathing exercises or dose up on hydroxyzine, I still have phases where I'm short of breath and pacing around and wonder if I should go see the doctor or just walk to a bar and numb out.
But, but. There's always music. I can got lost in it and there's no better feeling when it's playing beautifully in my living room or on headphones especially when the walls are closing in. And to further take the edge off of the hassles of accounting/debits/credits/Quickbooks' refusal to handle customer credit memos responsibly? Make a mix tape to yourself, dummy. Apple Music works beautifully for this: I create a playlist and it carries over to all my devices. I choose the songs, then assign a title to the playlist. Many times the title is an inside joke only I understand. My recent steady rotation of playlists is:
High School Hits - this one's name is as bland as the playlist (Top 40 in 1980-83 was horribly bland, you know this when the highlight of the playlist is After The Fire.) (Forgetting to put Def Leppard, Michael Jackson, Prince, and Van Halen on this list was kinda stupid, dude.)
Q98, Y'know - AOR smashes from the late seventies and early eighties.
Q98 Again - Ditto.
2014 We're Comin' We're Comin'!! - grab bag of solid songs.
Summer 2014 Bound For Rebound - funk, soul, hip-hop, hard rock all apparently intent on helping me find a dare-to-be-great situation.
My most recent playlist was quickly assembled as I was digging Type O Negative so much recently that a doomy, gloomy mix seemed to be the one thing that might make my mind feel right. (And this was before the election, go figure.) It's a mix of Type O Negative, Black Sabbath, UFO, Funkadelic, Deep Purple, Fear Factory, and others who dabble in the artsy darks. (Today's track is courtesy of the The Alan Parsons Project, whose debut album was an homage to the great Edgar Allan Poe.) The title is "The Doom That Came To", as H.P. Lovecraft had a short story titled "The Doom That Came To Sarnath", that I read in seventh grade after being fired up to read his work and finding an anthology of his in the school library. The story scared me bad, I put the book aside immediately, and returned it the next day. So I was trying to come up with my playlist title, but couldn't find the final words. These were considered:
"The Doom That Came To Harriet Avenue" YAWN
"The Doom That Came To South Minneapolis" BIGGER YAWN
"The Doom That Came To Tuomala" might have worked, but sheesh it seemed a little too ominous, like when there was that Twitter meme #AddAWordRuinAMovie and I tweeted "Kill Bill Tuomala". Yikes.
One last thing. My playlists tend to have thirteen songs and I assemble them in mostly-random order. There are thirteen cards in a suit of cards, thirteen songs in my playlists. Over time, the songs have always come to be numbered at thirteen so I don't have to omit any cards in a suit. What I do is shuffle the cards and then pick them one by one, the card number decides a song's place on the playlist. This act of randomness - a fitting act of rebellion against my Accounting Mind - is almost as much fun as picking out the songs themselves. The cards dictate the order of the songs, though sometimes the leadoff track is inserted as mandatory. Various tweaks - switches or re-jumbling of a few tracks - are usually made. (Can't have two slower songs in a row, can't have too much awesomeness clumped at the beginning or end, etc.) The cards are generally shuffled again and used to determine the tweaks. Or maybe a coin flip or two. Then the playlist is hammered out, finalized, and I crank it on my iPhone. I head out the door for a walk, daydream, write a little in my head, and maybe even relax.
(The) Fall is here, meaning rain and gray skies and leaves falling and that murder of crows that flies around my block at dusk, visible outside my living room windows in their full glory, cawing and communicating and being beautifully dark and ominous. For me, being alone-and-digging-it in the fall of 2016 means sitting at home on Friday nights embracing DOOM METAL, not listening to the sunshine pop or cutesy songs or whatever the gotta-be-happy folks delve into. (What was the name of that show with Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser? Gotta Be Happy? Happy Together? Better Than You? Thirtysomething?? I just remember gals in my office back in the early nineties, when I asked whether they saw The Simpsons the previous night always said: "I had to watch Happy Together. I want to be in that couple." I never wanted to be in THAT couple. Lord, why? Go through life not being funny maybe? The only character on TV I ever wanted to be was Frank Pembleton on Homicide: Life on the Street. Heck, even though I have had (actual, while sleeping) dreams about being part of The White Shadow team, those guys lived in poverty and tough circumstances.) (Of course a genius moment in Seinfeld was when George Costanza tricked himself into getting engaged and by the end of the episode was missing the Yankees game because his fiancé had to watch Happy Together*)
So anyway ... DOOM METAL. I don't know how I came to be so late to Type O Negative, I should have been digging these guys for at least twenty years now. Heard them a while back on the Sirius XM classic hard rock/heavy metal station doing Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl" and immediately thought: Next time I go for a walk in prototypical fall weather, I'm going to listen to nothing but these guys for the whole hour. Then later that same day I did, and halfway through my walk I was sitting on a bench in Martin Luther King Jr. park trying to suppress a grin. Many times in the summer, I listened to comedy albums while on my walk; on this day I was cracking up at the audacious darkness of Type O Negative. Classic crunching metal riffs, haunting background vocals, and the lead vocalist has a subtle touch that works wonders in the mayhem. Some of the tracks have garage rock keyboards - meaning something is up aside from the gloom - plus they can be damn funny. "Black No. 1 (Little Miss Scare-All)" is about some goth girl, references Lily Munster, then throws in hells-yeah catchy finger snapping and a riff from The Addams Family theme song to make sure you're paying attention. And check out some of their track titles: "Love You to Death", "I Don't Wanna Be Me", "Life Is Killing Me", "My Girlfriend's Girlfriend". And this was just an anthology I've been tracking, just think how many more tunes I can score for my annual Valentine's Day alone-again-naturally blowout soundtrack!
While the cover of Deep Purple's magnificent "Highway Star" does not improve on the original, the band is smart enough to cop the middle guitar and keyboard solos note-for-note, sound-for-sound. But that cover of "Cinnamon Girl" is brilliant and devastating. I have yet to find out whether my embrace of doom metal results in behavior like painting my fingernails black and becoming dour. But if it results in shutting off the lights, drinking sludgy stout beer, and listening to some music that makes some fucking sense on paper as well as in my brain, well COOL.
*After forcing myself to go to imdb.com, I recalled that this tortured show was titled Mad About You.
Osco Drug store, Moorhead, Minnesota, early 1982. My Dad was working across the river in Fargo and staying in a motel here in Moorhead. My Mom and I were in town to visit. My parents were elsewhere in the adjoining grocery and liquor stores shopping, I was in the Osco standing alone in front of an expansive magazine stand. We didn't have a stand like this in my town of Grand Forks, not that I knew of*. If I wanted to read a rock mag, generally I grabbed the latest Rolling Stone off the rack in my high school's library to read on a free period or asked for back issues from the librarian. This Osco stand had a beauty of a magazine that I had never seen: Creem Special Issue: Guitar Heroes of Rock 'n' Roll. There at the top it proclaimed: "America's Only Rock 'N' Roll Magazine". Photos on the cover: Jimi Hendrix! Keith Richards! Jimmy Page! And a host of other guitar slingers promised to be featured inside. I flipped around trying to absorb highlights of all the content. It was stacked page-to-page with features and a lengthy list of paragraph-each blurbs on all the other guitarists to make the cut. This is awesome, I thought. Then I didn't buy it. I'm guessing the cover price scared me away - $2.95. ($7.42 in today's dollars.) If memory serves, regular issues of magazines were about a dollar or so cheaper, so would I be getting burned by buying this three-dollar-plus (including sales tax) mag? Plus, I was on the clock. Mom and Dad would soon return from their shopping run and it was time to head out into the night. Whether I was hesitant, cheap, hurried, or was saving my cash for future gas money, I don't recall. All I know is that I have thought about that magazine ever since.
But hey: We have the Internet now, everything is possible. Because of course I found Guitar Heroes of Rock 'n' Roll on eBay, bought it NOW (no auction on this one, no more losing out) and had it shipped to my mailbox. For the price of $11.99 - including shipping - meaning I waited almost thirty-five years to pay $4.57 more for a decades-old magazine. But I can take that financial hit now, you can't get a beer plus tip for $4.57 these days in a bar unless you hit a lucky happy hour with bottles of Premium on special. And now that I had my grubby little paws on it, I'm so glad I finally stepped up and made this purchase. This magazine is a gem.
It has long-form features on Hendrix, Page, and Jeff Beck. It has shorter features on other notable guitarists, and those aforementioned paragraph blurbs. While there are oddly no mentions of Joni Mitchell or Michael Schenker, this is still the only source I have consulted that explains the whole Dave Edmunds/Nick Lowe/Rockpile jumble. I treasured every minute of reading this mag this fall. With a heady mix of reverence, wit, and insults, this shows that Creem was still running on all cylinders in the early eighties. Check these out:
On Russ Ballard: "...loss leader solo LPs for CBS..."
On Marc Bolan: "If T. Rex began as Donovan for the pre-pubescent set and wound up as Chuck Berry for the prenatals, well, that's show biz."
On Peter Frampton: "Since his screen debut in Sgt. Pepper's, Pete's had flop after flop. Nyah Nyah."
On Steve Hillage: "Would really excite you if had a beard, smoked a pipe, and read science fiction."
On Tom Scholz: "Light beer of rock 'n' roll guitarists: 'Everything you always wanted in a lead guitarist. And less.'"
On George Thorogood: "The more you drink, the better he sounds."
While I loved the issue's slipped-in asides, cheap shots, and pokes at readers, the Osco Drug 1982 Memory is always devoted to the two pages of the Edward Van Halen feature - a half page of writing, one-point-five pages of two glorious photos. In the early eighties, Van Halen was known by hard rock fans as perhaps the best rock guitarist since Hendrix. But he played metal, so recognition outside of the hard rock arena was difficult to come by, no matter how pop the metal was or how exuberant and smile-causing his playing was. He came up with hooky power chords a la Pete Townshend and his band's songs generally were as long as early Who singles, i.e. not long at all ... but his band WASN'T BRITISH AND DIDN'T ENGAGE IN BLUESY JAMS NOR WERE THEY PUNK OR QUIRKY NEW WAVE. Did Creem assign a hagiographic piece like they did with Hendrix or Page? Hell no, they did us a favor by having J. Kordosh write a hilarious FAQ that stabbed The Yardbirds, rock critics, and Valerie Bertinelli. (Plus duct tape. And it included a goddamn vinyl joke too, ha!) This is why I bought this magazine off of eBay, this is the prose I remember from 1982 in that Osco store on Highway 75 in Moorhead on a cold winter night. It is why I returned to this magazine all these years later. And I'm pretty sure buying it retroactively gives me my biggest win from 1982 since my PSAT results scored me an honorable mention.
There is no writing without coffee. There is no coffee with a coffee mug to drink it from. There is no morning ritual like selecting the specific mug out of the kitchen cupboard that might match my mood and flows for the day. So, My Top Ten Coffee Mugs:
Vergas, Minnesota - The town of Vergas certainly deserves a separate, longer essay from me at some point. It is a small town in northern Minnesota, near where my parents had a lake cabin for decades until 2013. No matter what that Stroh's commercial told you back in the nineties, Vergas is home to the world's largest loon.
North Dakota - We used to see these types of windmills all over the countryside. That too, deserves a longer essay at some point.
University of North Dakota - A go-to on game day Saturdays, both football and hockey.
Piggy Wiggly - "The Pig" was at one time ubiquitous in the upper Midwest. Along with Red Owl and Jack & Jill stores, Piggly Wigglys were uniquely-named, uniquely-logoed grocery stores that to this day are fondly recalled by those of us of a certain age. For instance, last year I had some Pizza Luce delivered and the delivery guy - a few years older than me - showed up wearing a Red Owl ball cap. I pointed, said: "Yeah! Red Owl!" He smiled, said he had just bought it at the Electric Fetus, then left with a tip of the cap. In Grand Forks, we had Hugo's Piggly Wigglys, including one on south Washington, where senior year of high school a few buds and I would sometimes drive to after completing our math homework in the school library during a free period to score bismarcks and Dr. Peppers - a much-needed sugar rush to get us through the actual math class. Research indicates that The Pig is now just a force in Wisconsin and South Carolina (I've been to a Myrtle Beach location, where this mug was secured.) The Hugo's in Grand Forks is now just named that - Hugo's - and has expanded into a mini-empire. And they have liquor marts too. Oh, Hugo, you've lost your innocence.
Accountemps - When I was temping for Accountemps 1996-99, one of my lengthy assignments was at Dayton's department stores. I worked in their financial department, up on a higher floor of the building that housed the Dayton's on Nicollet Mall. One day my staffing manager stopped by to kiss up to my manager at Dayton's. She brought a handful of Accountemps-branded gifts for that person, but since Dayton's didn't allow gratuities of that sort, she dropped them off at my cubicle for me to have. I got this a coffee mug, a huge plastic cup, and a very tall scratchpad. I was glad to get free stuff, but was kinda baffled I didn't at least get considered for a pen or something when she originally made plans for her visit. To this day when I'm making my morning coffee and not liking my day job of being a self-employed accountant, I reach for the Accountemps mug and am thankful I don't have to get up at six a.m. for a bus ride to a $12.00/hour job.
Deloitte & Touche LLP - This was given to me on another temp assignment at Norwest Banks by a consultant from this firm. I don't even think it was an extra, I think he actually thought to give it to me from the git-go. But of course I still made a dumb joke in my zine about The Big Six not having football.
Martin & Co. - Martin guitars are the dream acoustic guitar for many players. Me, I don't dream about guitars much, so I have a Mitchell. (I'm not a serious player, no callouses here.) Bought this at a Schmitt Music when my pal OC worked there, just so I could tell people: "I own a Martin! ... mug."
Finnish* - I've had this mug ten years and still don't know much Finnish. It's a tough, tough language. And yes, it is pronounced "sauna."
I Heart My Attitude Problem - I bought this just over twenty years at a gift shop in order to sip from it (for what turned out to be my last days) at my sh*t job for a sh*t company. You are deceptively radical, Shoebox Greetings, (A tiny little division of Hallmark).
Coffee Mug Power Rankings
University of North Dakota
I Heart My Attitude Problem
Martin & Co.
Deloitte & Touche LLP
*These mugs were given to me by my Mom, who has been known to say at night: "I can't wait to wake up tomorrow and start drinking coffee."
While writing the last post about the USFL, I started to think about the various alternate/weirdo/legitimate threat leagues that have arisen in my lifetime to oppose/compliment/force mergers with the establishment professional sports leagues. Too many that I care to list, but certain ones have stuck in my mind over the decades. My earliest memory of an alternate sports league was the American Football League (AFL) of the sixties. I don't truly remember watching any games, but my dad and brother have suggested I was in the family room when AFL games were on TV. I do remember quite a few on our block being depressed after the Vikings suffered their (first) Super Bowl embarrassment to the AFL's Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl IV. (Me, I was too young to grasp what was going on. I doubt I even watched the big game. I just now know I miss Hank Stram.) I did absorb some major AFL knowledge in the seventies though via quite a few Scholastic books. Gotta admit I get a little giddy when the original AFL franchises wore throwback jerseys in honor of the league's fiftieth anniversary. Heck, even the original Denver Broncos' road whites were cool. Did I make reaching AFL references during the 1996 presidential campaign when former Buffalo Bill Jack Kemp was on the GOP ticket? Probably.
The American Basketball Association (ABA) is one of those oddball things from my childhood that I have glombed onto. My family lived in Denver 1972-76 and my dad took my brother and I to two ABA games: One was the Denver Rockets, one was the Denver Nuggets. I barely remember the first game (Rockets), I was probably seven. For the Nuggets game, I was probably ten and all I pretty much remember are players David Thompson and Dan Issel, and coach Larry Brown. What especially attracted me to the ABA as a kid was that it had a three-point line, long before the NBA or NCAA had three-pointers. It also had a red-white-and-blue basketball, which seemed really cool. I've followed and cheered for Larry Brown since then. (Bandwagon fan of the Detroit Pistons in the mid-aughts? That was me.) I proudly tell today's youth when the conversation turns to hoops: "I'm so old I attended ABA games!"
During that mid-seventies era when my family lived in Denver, there also existed the World Football League (WFL). This was a big deal only because I remember seeing Walter Conkrite give updates on it. But those were probably only in regard to its financial woes. But if Walt decided the WFL needed attention, well more power to 'em.
The World Hockey Association (WHA) moved four teams to the NHL after it folded. This was the original home of Wayne Gretzky. I guess I'm supposed to pay lip service to the Minnesota Fighting Saints, but I didn't live in the Upper Midwest during their existence and only knew of them from my rod hockey game, which while featuring all the same generic players as every other rod hockey game of the era, was uniquely a WHA Rod Hockey game because it had all the team logos on the side of the game. Sweet! (Sadly this game was lost in a family move at some point, I woulda been a hero to many roommates over the years for bringing this game into our dorm rooms or living rooms.)
I even did the books for a team in an alternate league for a couple of weeks twenty years ago. That was the Minnesota Fighting Pike, a short-lived franchise (one season, playing in the Target Center) in the still-ongoing Arena Football League (another AFL). Months afer their season was over, my temp agency sent me to the offices of the owner of the Fighting Pike high up in the IDS Center. It was simple and quiet work, entering and reconciling bank and credit card statements. The view out the office window from way up there was spectacular. Pike quarterback Rickey Foggie stopped by the front desk once, though I barely saw him from my office. In my second week I met the owner, an older gentleman named Tom. He asked me into his office, which was filled with photos and memorabilia from the Harlem Globetrotters, the Vancouver Canucks, and The Ice Capades. I found out years later that he had previously owned these franchises as well. Tom was a heck of a nice guy and while I was nervous after I handed him a financial report that showed that the team lost money, he smiled and said: "Great, this is exactly what my accountant needs. Thanks!" It dawned on me later that the loss would likely help reduce Tom's overall taxable income. We proceeded with small talk about my background. This was rare, as I found out during temp life that you didn't always meet people who were genuinely interested in you outside of someone who occupied space in a cubicle. Tom died a few years ago, I read his obituary and smiled, thinking: There was a genuninely nice rich guy.
After reading Esquire's "How Donald Trump Destroyed a Football League" and again watching ESPN's 30 for 30 Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?, I've been going through nostalgia for something I never experienced. In hindsight, the United States Football League seemed like it'd be cool: Jim Kelly, Herschel Walker, Steve Young, Mouse Davis* in spring games on ESPN. I don't remember actually watching much (any?) USFL when it was active. I had likely kept football in my mind as a fall sport and perhaps I was actually busy studying in college when the games were on (or watching baseball.) Maybe I thought I'd watch USFL games after I graduated from college, maybe I figured it would merge with the NFL at some point.
But the story of what happened to the USFL is instructive. Donald Trump had bought the New Jersey Generals after their initial season and started spending money to try to make them the best team. While they already had Herschel Walker, they splurged on Brian Sipe and other players. Soon, Trump yearned to be accepted as equal of NFL owners. He pushed for the USFL to drop its spring schedule and schedule games for the fall. There is a thread running through the Esquire article and in the 30 for 30 that Trump would never have been accepted by the NFL owners, with Trump being a made-it nouveau riche dude like Al Czervik in Caddyshack but without Al's joyful glee or gauche sense of humor. But the USFL never played fall games. Instead, they - led by Trump - banked on being able to sue the NFL under antitrust law, hoping for a large settlement to keep their league going (they had made the mistake of expanding too soon, counting on expansion fees from new owners) or a merger that would save some of the franchises.
I remember being in the student union as school started at UND in 1986 and somebody asked if the USFL would be playing that fall as they had announced that they would. This person was told by another that no, they would not be competing head-to-head with the NFL, but they had sued the NFL and had won. How much were they awarded? A dollar, somebody else said. No, I said, it was more than that. They looked at me. I had been reading the stories in the paper about the lawsuit, certainly more intrigued with the legal action than I ever had been with any USFL game. I mean, Al Davis finally got a chance for a true heel turn and to stick the knife into Pete Rozelle's back! Antitrust violation is triple damages, I said, they were awarded three dollars. One guy said: "Only you would notice something like that."
New Jersey Generals play-by-play man Charlie Steiner in the Esquire article: "He was the Pied Piper and these other desperate owners went along for the ride. It all happened in a flash. Then the USFL was dead and gone and he moved on to the next thing, which was Atlantic City. Which didn't work out too well, either."**
Earlier this summer, I bought a USFL shirt because I dug the color and was still slapping myself over that "they will get three dollars" antitrust comment thirty years ago. (Hey I only got a C in business law sophomore year, gotta celebrate someway somehow.) I now realize that wearing my USFL shirt is a protest of sorts. Because what does the long-gone USFL tell us? That Trump will push some fantasy about how he can make things quickly better and eventually some kind of ruin - three dollars plus minimal interest, multiple bankruptcies, turning a major political party into a punchline and refuge for white nationalists - inevitably follows. Trump? He could give a single. He told the 30 for 30 director after an interview that the USFL was "small potatoes". In the Esquire article, the director says that Trump sent him a note after receiving a copy of the documentary that said: "You are a loser."
*Mouse Davis was head coach at Division I-AA powerhouse Portland State in the late seventies. They were nationally ranked and came to Grand Forks to play UND. My Dad and I were in the stands as then-Division II UND beat Neil Lomax and his Vikings. Time to time when the Cardinals are playing in the NFL, I go onto Twitter and make a Neil Lomax reference.
** In the 30 for 30, after being told of Steiner's criticisms, Trump - twenty-plus years after the Generals folded - makes a cryptic remark about how Steiner should still be "loyal."
After reading That Was Then, This Is Now recently and finding it even better than I remember from all those decades ago, I unfortunately started thinking about the 1985 movie adaptation. Recalling the movie brought back some bad feelings of being cheated. Of being quite upset over what the filmmakers had done to a great novel. The full movie is on YouTube, but I wasn't going to sit through the whole ninety minutes again and relive the uncomfortable squirming I went through thirty years ago*.
See, my senior year at UND one of my roommates put a hard press on me to watch an HBO airing of That Was Then, This Is Now. He said it was great. I was reluctant, having heard the movie wasn't even close to Francis Ford Coppola's take on The Outsiders and it had gotten some bad reviews. But he talked me into it. This same roommate also once convinced me to skip class to watch Red Dawn. (Come to think of it, I don't think that roomie ever graduated. Maybe he should have majored in film study?)
In the movie, the kids were older than they are in the book (or at least looked a lot older). It took place in the then-present-day eighties, not circa 1970. The setting was the Twin Cities, not Tulsa. Emilio Estevez, who had been so good in The Outsiders, had one of the leading roles and also wrote the screenplay. Telling, this was the only adaptation of an S.E. Hinton book in which Hinton wasn't involved and didn't feature Matt Dillon. I mostly remember being bored through the movie, while my roommate kept identifying Twin Cities landmarks.
That Was Then, This Is Now is a story of two best friends, Bryon and Mark, who are growing apart. Darkness abounds in the novel. Two kids are beat up severely enough to need medical treatment, a third we learn has been hospitalized after a racial conflict. A girl's hair is entirely cut off while she is passed out - revenge maybe, but likely just for kicks. Early in the book there is the shooting death of a friend of the two protagonists. Not to mention the third act features a teenage commune of acid eaters straight out of Joan Didion's shattering "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" essay.
Near the conclusion, Bryon finds out that Mark has been selling drugs. Conflicted and angry as his girlfriend's younger brother has just been hospitalized after a horrible acid trip, Bryon calls the police and informs them of Mark's activities. In the book, Bryon later visits Mark in jail. Mark tells Bryon that he hates him. This hits the reader in the gut, hard. Hinton writes in notes of a later edition that she hoped the ending of the book would result in some readers wanting to toss it against the wall.
In the movie, during the jail visit Mark tells Bryon: "Lighten up, dude. Everything will be okay." Wha? (Thirty years ago during his viewing, Tuomala is now telling his roommate: THEY RUINED THE ENDING, his roommate is saying: But this NEXT scene is so great…) Bryon leaves the jail and just misses his bus. Then in a nod to a move that Mark had pulled early in the movie, he takes a running car for a short joyride. He returns it to its owner, telling him to "lighten up, dude" and walks away to poppy eighties soundtrack music. Roll credits.
According to IMDb.com, Paramount forced this optimistic ending onto Estevez. Damn Hollywood. All I know is that someone needs to be blamed. And hated.
*I'm saving my Brat Pack hate-watching for St. Elmo's Fire, which I hope to catch on TV some night so I can drink Premium and do a solo Mystery Science Theater 3000 on it.
I owe an apology to anybody who professed their love of "Electric Avenue" to me back in the early eighties. I probably said "that's a dumb song" and then went and listened to whatever aged white artist that I had queued up in my then-meager album collection. All these years later, I now realize that this is one monster of a great song. I should have gotten wise to this in the mid-eighties when I got into rap: "Electric Avenue" has spoken/near-shouted lyrics like Run-DMC and the beat absolutely kills. Not only is it protest music (said by boomers - then in their heady ascent to be the sanctimonious scolds who would sniff "back in the sixties..." - to be a forgotten art form in the age of Reagan/Thatcher) it also features the #1 revving-motorcycle sound of 1982. Goddamn it - where is that Eddy Grant/Billy Squier split single?
On this one, John Mellencamp easily surpasses anything he would do up to Uh-Huh and while the song is classic heartland rock, it yet stands out in odd and endearing ways:
- The intro remains special no matter how many times you hear it - rhythm section plus guitar pyrotechnics plus piano plus organ. Any time a whiff of pretension sneaks in, the killer riffs come back and take over.
- Call and response vocals, always in season.
- "This hole I call home."
- The bitch about repeated phone calls. I know, right? (Like me, I bet the narrator of this song loves the iPhone do not disturb feature which makes me soooo glad to live in this future.)
- Drums outro, a percussive reminder for you to cue this track from the beginning all over again.
Pet Benatar, on the same album where she did a passable working of the Rascals' "You Better Run" (and sent young William aflutter with that song's video), did a rather rote take on "I Need a Lover". Disappointing … leather pants, though. As for the last words uttered by Mellencamp on this one, they are "you betcha!"* which is greater Midwestern than "The Great Midwest" on the same LP.
* I paused in the dark from a walk home from a convenience store with a Heggies in my bag to type this observation on my phone. Writing is a 24/7 gig no matter where the days and nights may lead you.