The Sporting News

May 4, 2012

In a pre-internet, pre-cable, pre-ESPN world, there were limited options for a sports junkie to get a fix.

Perhaps ten minutes of time on the late news might be devoted to sports – scores and a few highlights. If you followed a particular team that wasn’t in your area, you’d have to hope for a bit of coverage in the sports section of the morning newspaper.

And, as our newspaper and most of our television channels originated from Cincinnati, a city without an NBA team, it was as if professional basketball didn’t exist.

In that pre-internet, pre-cable, pre-ESPN world, there was one place to find detailed coverage of the sports world.

The Sporting News would arrive in the school library toward the week’s end and the competition for it would be fierce. The competition for the previous week’s issue, which was now free to be checked out, would be equally so.

A couple classmates were fortunate enough to have subscriptions – heady stuff for a pre-teen – so there were often a couple extra copies to be had if you were connected.

Sports Illustrated was a must-read, but The Sporting News was the source for a recap of a Bulls/Spurs matchup on a Tuesday night in February.

(though the game would have taken place a week and a half or more before you read about it)

The Sporting News was also the most indispensible source to gather (relatively) current statistics in far greater detail than the sports section. Even the box scores were more granular.

It was the place to get the information to trump your buddies when the question of who was leading the country in scoring was up for discussion.

(and knowing it was some small forward from California-Irvine averaging 26.2 points a game)

At twelve, I’d pore over each page, accumulating a layer of newsprint on my fingers, as though it contained the sum of all knowledge in the universe.

Thirty-three years ago, fifth grade was coming to a close and summer break was within sight, just a few, tantalizing weeks away. Baseball box scores would have been jostling with coverage of the NBA playoffs for space within the pages of The Sporting News.

That May, my grandfather passed away. Five months later, his beloved Pittsburgh Pirates staged a dramatic comeback to beat the heavily-favored Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.

Today, it’s been a couple years since I thumbed through a copy of The Sporting News. There are numerous opportunities to access the information – up to the moment – that made the magazine so prized back in the day.

(and I don’t even need that accessibility to know that the Pirates are, as they have been for much of the past two decades, near the bottom of the standings)

Here are four songs that were on the Billboard Hot 100 in early May, 1979…

Suzi Quatro And Chris Norman – Stumblin’ In
from If You Knew Suzi (1978)

Suzi Quatro is a long-time member of the every-growing cast of acts that I intend to check out. I remember her as the leather-clad rocker Leather Tuscadero on the television series Happy Days, but I know only a song or two by her with Stumblin’ In, her smash duet with Smokie’s Chris Norman, being one of them.

Though Stumblin’ In might be less rock than Quatro’s usual fare, that’s cool with me as I totally dig the breezy number. There something about the song that I relate to summer.

(I suppose because of how often I heard it at the pool during the summer of ’79)

Blondie – Heart Of Glass
from The Platinum Collection (1994)

I wasn’t listening to much music in 1979, but I did know Blondie’s Heart Of Glass. On the infrequent occasions when there was music in my life, Heart Of Glass seemed to be playing.

I loved it – the trancey, shimmering disco beat and the sexy indifference of Debbie Harry’s vocal. There had to be millions of twelve-year old boys who took notice of Debbie Harry in 1979.

I didn’t know it then, but Blondie would become one of my favorite bands of the time and one that I still adore. The group incorporated a lot of musical styles into their sound, sometimes disasterously, but often the failures were at least interesting.

Styx – Renegade
from Greatest Hits (1992)

Styx was the first band I ever saw in concert. Years later, I saw them again and met guitarist Tommy Shaw, who sang lead on Renegade, backstage. He seemed like a gracious, affable fellow. I feel kind of bad because I interrupted our conversation. I noticed a girl with a broken foot who I knew a coffee shop where I’d seen her a few times.

I thought her to be quite fetching, so, it was adios, Tommy and hello fetching, broken-footed, coffee-shop girl.

(of course, I would have understood had he done the same)

Chic – I Want Your Love
from Have A Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box (1998)

Like Suzi Quatro, Chic is another act that I’ve mentally tagged to explore further. I know the hits as Le Freak was mammoth and Good Times was sampled by Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight as well as inspiring Queen’s Another One Bites The Dust and Blondie’s Rapture.

In the ’80s bassist Bernard Edwards and late drummer Tony Thompson were members of the short-lived The Power Station. And guitarist Nile Rodgers was an in-demand producer for acts including David Bowie, INXS, Duran Duran, Peter Gabriel, Jeff Beck, The B-52′s, and Mick Jagger – to name just a very few – as well as performing as a member of Robert Plant’s supergroup The Honeydrippers.

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The Voodoo Economics Of Morgan Freeman And A Bunch Of Fish

March 11, 2012

My concerns are more than some sensationalistic ballyhoo.

They are more than some flimsy, baseless caterwauling from someone possessed by the spirit of a carnival barker, newsstand tabloid, or Republican pundit.

No, I fear that, sadly, there is considerable truth behind it.

Like many people, I have been a fan of the award-winning thespian, but I now realize that I might have been lulled into a false sense of admiration.

I used to look at him as a kindly fellow – compassionate and wise. I mean, if he wasn’t offering rides to cantankerous, elderly women, you might find him engaging in the much-needed rehabilitation of falsely convicted criminals or lending logistical support to masked vigilantes wishing to rid our cities of such criminals.

(of course, lily-livered, bleeding-heart types would rather that we not rid our streets of falsely convicted wife-killing bankers and, instead, target bankers who merely engage in casual games of multi-billion dollar three-card Monte)

The existential threat posed by Morgan Freeman to America’s economy didn’t really register until this morning when I saw a commercial for Visa before I’d ingested enough caffeine to think straight.

(oftentimes things only make sense when you don’t really think about them)

In this commercial, serene images of undersea flora and fauna fill the screen accompanied by the soothing strains of The Moody Blues’ Tuesday Afternoon.

Then, the earnest voice of “the only guilty man in Shawshank,” asked, in a somewhat accusatory tone, “When was the last time you went to the aquarium, with your daughter, on a Tuesday?”

Sure, an aquarium crawl sounds like a lovely way to spend the day after Monday. One of the finest aquariums in the country is a two-hour drive away and, though I have no daughter, the way some of my co-workers squeeze out offspring of both sexes as though it was a bodily function, I could likely borrow one…

But that is exactly what Morgan Freeman wants me to do. In other words, he is promoting not only truancy, but he is espousing a fiscal policy that encourages absenteeism from work.

This would all be well and good for aquarium barons, fishmongers, and oceanographers who would likely see profits that would make those of Exxon be mere pocket change, but at what cost?

The rest of the economy would fall into a death spiral. If people were relaxing at aquariums instead of engaging in the daily grind of commerce, consider the revenue lost simply by those treating bleeding ulcers, intense malaise, and depression.

And think of the children…

Instead of learning how to take tests at a level that places them smack dab at mediocre compared to the rest of the world, these kids might end up as ichthyologists or marine biologists.

Fortunately, today is Sunday and I suggest we all give Morgan Freeman (and his dubious, probably Socialist economic theories) the finger and head to the nearest aquarium today.

Here are four Sunday songs…

Blondie – Sunday Girl
from The Platinum Collection (1994)

From the beginning of my real interest in music in the late ’70s/early ’80s, Blondie has been a favorite. The fetching allure of lead singer Debbie Harry and the percolating Heart Of Glass provided the first hooks, but it was soon the musical diversity of the group that charmed me.

On Sunday Girl, which according to Wikipedia topped the charts in the UK where Blondie has received more consistent love over the decades, the chameleonic quintet recreates a ’60s girl group vibe that drew me in the first time I heard it.

Joe Jackson – Sunday Papers
from This Is It! (The A&M Years 1979–1989) (1997)

Speaking of musical chameleons, I’d certainly classify Joe Jackson as such. Though best known in the States for the sophisticated pop of the hits Steppin’ Out and Breaking Us In Two from his breakthrough album Night And Day, Jackson has jumped between styles including rock, big band, swing, and classical.

On Sunday Papers, Jackson opts for staccato, reggae-inflected tones as the musician takes to task both the media and those who drive the demand for meaningless fluff pawned off as newsworthy information.

John Prine – He Forgot That It Was Sunday
from Lost Dogs And Mixed Blessings (1995)

Not long ago, I recounted the good fortune of having had a preview listen of folk singer John Prine’s Lost Dogs And Mixed Blessings with a small group of people that included the artist.

The loping He Forgot That It Was Sunday would seem to be a cautionary tale punctauted by Prine’s offbeat take on things which includes a chartreuse, foor-door Lincoln, Charlie Parker’s teddy bear, and a masterbatory Beelzebub.

The Pretenders – Everday Is Like Sunday
from Boys On The Side soundtrack (1995)

Paloma and I tend to be fairly sympatico, but I have never been as enamored by The Smiths as she is.

(appreciative, yes, but far from devoted)

This difference of opinion was seemingly benign until the day she declared The Smiths to be a more formidable musical entity than Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band.

(I quickly branded this claim as kooky talk)

However, we both seem to like The Pretenders in equal measure, so here is Chrissie Hynde and company’s rather faithful take on a Smith’s classic from Boys On The Side, a flick that may or may not have been about cannibalistic lesbians.


“It’s not every day that you get to see a monster piñata killing teens on a paradise island…”*

October 19, 2011

Oh how true that statement is and, thanks to a bout of insomnia and Piñata: Survival Island, I can now rebuff anyone that uses that line as a selling point.

(the titular quote was from a long-lost review of this cinematic tour de force)

If you’re a piñata enthusiast – and, really, who isn’t? – or simply have an interest in really bad movies, Piñata: Survival Island might just be for you.

I cannot recommend it as “so bad it’s good” as I only caught the last ten minutes and that brief glimpse led me to believe that it’s so bad, it’s just bad.

(it’s the kind of movie where you mumble to yourself, “Someone actually believed this needed to be written down?”)

I was channel-surfing, minding my own business, when I was confronted with…well…it appeared to be the little tiki idol that caused so much mayhem when the Brady Bunch went to Hawaii.

This tiki idol, though, was much larger, breathing fire, and rampaging through the jungle wielding a battle axe.

Understandably, my hand froze on the remote as I watched, boggle-eyed.

Piñata: Survival Island is not without star power. There is, of course, the tiki which had burst forth from a piñata.

And, one of the survivors of the piñata creature run amok is Jaime Pressly formerly of My Name Is Earl and currently shilling for the restaurant chain Zaxby’s.

(home of the most sodium-laden chicken in the Western world)

In fact, it is Pressly who dispatches the evil spirit by quickly and deftly assembling a Molotov cocktail and handcuffing it to the creature’s ceremonial headdress.

It also stars Aeryk Egan who seemingly put more thought into making his stage name a bastardization of Eric than in choosing his roles.

(or perhaps in choosing an agent)

The fact that the film was showing on AMC, which allegedly stands for American Movie Classics, is another kettle of fish altogether.

I do feel enriched and enlightened for the experience. It’s not often that I will have the opportunity to write about piñatas and, for that, I am grateful.

And, if any of you are now filled with a sense of urgency to seek out this film and are unable to find Piñata: Survival Island, try Demon Island.

(a cinematic endeavor of such magnitude could not be constrained to merely having one title)

Sadly, my music collection is sorely lacking in piñata songs. So, here are four island songs…

Sting – Island Of Souls
from The Soul Cages (1991)

To a lot of young music fans who came of age during the mania surrounding The Police and their album Synchronicity, Sting was the paragon of cool.

(of course, there were a lot of folks who also consider(ed) him to be an insufferable, pretentious twat)

The moody Island Of Souls came from Sting’s third solo album, The Soul Cages, and, even though I own several of his albums released since, it was really the last one which I awaited eagerly and listened to devotedly.

(though our paths would kind of cross years later)

Blondie – Island Of Lost Souls
from The Hunter (1982)

Island Of Lost Souls…nothing more than a wholly transparent attempt by Blondie to duplicate the success of The Tide Is High from their previous album, Autoamerican. There are a handful of good songs on The Hunter, the trainwreck of a follow-up to Autoamerican, but I wouldn’t consider this to be one of them.

However, it is always amusing to hear Debbie Harry sing the line, “Hey buccaneer, can you help me put my trunk in gear?” and, personally, even bad Blondie is something for which I have a weakness.

Japan – Taking Islands In Africa
from Gentlemen Take Polaroids (1980)

I snagged a copy of Gentlemen Take Polaroids on a whim, having read acclaim for the band from critics and praise from a couple of friends (both of whom, as I recall, actually preferred the band’s Tin Drum).

I liked the chilly, electronic music and on tracks like Taking Islands In Africa it’s not difficult to hear Duran Duran’s claim of Japan as an influence.

Megadeth – Devil’s Island
from Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? (1986)

I’ve noted that I never truly went through a metal phase as a high school kid (though I have long dug Iron Maiden), so I vividly recall seeing Peace Sells… in the record bins and being immediately dismissive and disinterested.

Oddly, over the past twenty-five years, I’ve become a fan of Megadeth’s thrash metal and gained an appreciation for their groundbreaking sound. It’s not something I listen to often, but there are times when a track like the galloping Devil’s Island is just what’s needed.