2005: The Year in Pictures, The Winners

Finally, we have arrived at the moment of truth. It is time to greet the winners in the race to appear on the 2005 Sigman Holiday Greeting. As the past two days have shown, it's been a spirited competition. Even though the winning photos were taken early in the year, the race went all the way through December, with a couple of possible entries falling through at the last minute. But there's always next year. Or at least I hope there's always next year.

Before the great unveiling, let me also give props to two photos that have already appeared on this blog--Michael Winslow and Abdullah the Butcher. Two good ones that failed to measure up to the lofty stature of the Sigman Holiday Greeting. No shame in that, though.

OK then, here are your winners:

Photographically speaking, I'm not terribly fond of this picture. It's a little too tight on the face (another good title for my autobiography) for my taste, and I wish it hadn't been taken on black-and-white film. But that's what was in my camera at the time, so I went with it. I tried going for another photo a few other times (the Feldman was in a play off-off Broadway), but once he was in the middle of cursing out a cab driver and the other time I just missed him.

Still, for all its faults, it's a good chronicle of an historic moment. "Critical, But Stable" readers will be well versed in their Sigman/Feldman history; others will simply have to buy the book. In any event, the photo achieves all-time classic status simply because it was taken at 10 p.m. and Corey Feldman is wearing sunglasses. And that, my friends, makes it a Sigman Holiday Greeting for the Ages.

Once again, "Critical, But Stable" readers are ahead of the curve in knowing the importance of this picture. Taken after my second Dustin "Screech" Diamond stand-up comedy experience, this photo actually cost me $15, even though it was taken with my own camera. I suffer for my art. But I like the photo. We almost look related in it.

For those keeping score at home, this is the third "Saved by the Bell" cast member to appear on a Sigman Holiday Greeting, joining Mario "AC Slater" Lopez and Dennis "Richie Belding" Haskins. I've also had photos taken with Elizabeth "Jessie Spano" Berkley and Mark-Paul "Zack Morris" Gosselaar. Look out Lark Voorhies and Tiffani Thiessen, I'm comin' to get ya.

In my 29+ years of life, I have seen Corey Feldman's band perform twice (and seen him in an off-off Broadway take on "Fatal Attraction") and seen Dustin Diamond do stand-up the same number of times. Why, you may ask? Well, partly because there's something horribly, horribly wrong with me. But it's also so I can have the opportunity to immortalize such events on the highly anticipated Sigman Holiday Greeting. And that is just what I have done this year for Joe and Jane Jamessfriend. You're welcome.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night (except to those who don't celebrate Christmas...they can still have a good night if they want, though...their call).


2005: The Year in Pictures, Day 2

Before today's look back at the Year in Pictures, let me take a moment to say that the three pictures that follow may in fact be my three favorite celebrity photos of 2005. This illustrates an important point about the Sigman Holiday Greeting--it's not just about what I like.

If I had sent any of the three pictures you are about to feast your eyes on to loved ones across the country, the collective cry of "Who's that?" would have echoed from coast to coast. The photos that annually grace the Sigman Holiday Greeting must register with Joe and Jane Jamessfriend, good folks who generally would have a hard time identifying country music stars. Sure, Reba made it one year, but that was a weak year, and I consider that a less-than-shining moment in the archives of Sigmana (if I had remembered to open my jacket to reveal the "Country Music Isn't Pretty" t-shirt I was wearing, then it would've been something).

So, I now present three photos taken outside Carnegie Hall before the Grand Ole Opry show in November. If you are country-ignorant, please know that you prevented their inclusion on the Sigman Holiday Greeting this year.

An all-time classic. Oh, the many times I watched TNN and saw that same crazy, wide-eyed face of Whisperin' Bill Anderson as the cameras panned away and the Grand Ole Opry pre-show went to commercial. And now I have a picture with that look immortalized, and I'm in it, too. I may send this one to Country Weekly. Keep an eye out for it.

I was nervous that this wouldn't come out good, because (a) it was taken on a disposable camera, which I had to rush to Duane Reade to buy after I left the apartment without my usual camera, and (b) it was taken by a stranger (as were all the pictures here... same guy took all three...nice work, wherever you are). I had no need to be nervous. It's a winner.

Another photo with a missed opportunity for extra fun. Underneath my stylish Western shirt was a Jimmy Martin: King of Bluegrass t-shirt. I had worn it with the intention of showing it off if I had a picture taken with The Biggest Asshole in Nashville. Of course, Ricky Skaggs isn't really the biggest asshole in Nashville (not even top 100), but that's what Jimmy Martin called him in the fantastic book, "True Adventures with the King of Bluegrass" by Tom Piazza. And now, whenever I see Ricky Skaggs, that's the first thing that pops in my head. Then comes that "Country Boy" video with Bill Monroe.

Anyway, I forgot I was even wearing the shirt by this point of the day. I really didn't want to pose with the signed album in my hand, but the guy taking the picture insisted. Again, good call.

Birthed out of sheer boredom and disappointment that I had missed Little Jimmy Dickens, this shot with Trace Adkins also brings me great joy, both for what I assume is Trace's attempt at a smile and a frequent bonus to the celebrity photo, a bewildered-looking older man in the background. It's a peach, and now I have proof that I have shaken the hand of the man who brought the world the country anthem "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk." And, no, I'm not making that song title up.

TOMORROW: The Winners


2005: The Year in Pictures, Day 1

In the annual search for the perfect photo for the Sigman Holiday Greeting (tm), there is much hemming and hawing, deciding just who is worthy to be featured in the two much anticipated cards (two because, well, just because). Following a grand tradition that includes celebrities such as Mario "AC Slater" Lopez, Dennis "Mr. Belding" Haskins, Reba McEntire, "Macho Man" Randy Savage, Barry "Greg Brady" Williams, and, my personal favorite, Fabio, potential card stars must meet many crucial criteria to make the cut. Sadly, some must be left behind.

But, over the next two days, I will present some pretenders to the throne. They fought hard, but, ultimately, they just didn't have that special something that alternately says, "Happy Holidays!" and "Wow! James really has too much free time!" Tinsel and Rot salutes them in their valiant effort.

Speaking of valiant (killer segway), this photo was taken at the Valiant Brothers Wrestling Reunion Convention held earlier this year in Carteret, New Jersey. Lanny Poffo (alternately "Leapin'" and "The Genius") vied to become half of the first brother tandem to appear on the Sigman Holiday Greeting (he is, of course, kin to Randy Savage). The sequined jacket and the man boobs made him a strong candidate, but the Polaroid nature of the photo, the general population's lack of knowledge of Mr. Poffo, and the homoerotic undertones of the photo eventually stymied his inclusion.

Taken at the same convention, this Polaroid features the Dream Team, Greg "The Hammer" Valentine and Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake, both of whom, you may note, look very nightmarish. The awkward pose from me, coupled with Brutus's shears and zebra bodysuit, kept this one in the running, but, well, the Dream Team just looked too disturbing to properly wind up on a jovial holiday greeting.

Paul Feig, creator of "Freaks and Geeks" and author of "Kick Me" and "Superstud," posed for this shot at the Union Square Barnes and Noble on the same night that one of the photos eventually chosen as a Sigman Holiday Greeting was taken. It was an historical evening. Unfortunately, the woman at Barnes and Noble chopped off the top of our heads and the celebrity of Paul Feig is perhaps larger in my apartment than in the rest of the world. So, this one didn't quite measure up.

A few years ago, Dan Aykroyd, with his hands full at the time, responded to my request for an autograph by briefly stopping and asking me, "How?" I figured maybe putting down what was in his hands for two seconds might have been an option, but what do I know? That day, a tiny piece of Young James Sigman died. For the star of "The Great Outdoors," "Dragnet," and "The Blues Brothers," three of Young James Sigman's favorite movies, had proven himself to be a little bit of an ass. Still, when he was booked to do a signing of a new book on John Belushi earlier this month at the Lincoln Center Barnes & Noble, I figured it was worth a shot. So, scurrying from the Tower Records across the street after Marah's in-store performance, I went to get the autograph. Aykroyd was pleasant enough, though he insisted on being connected to his cell phone almost the entire time. But he was obliging photo requests, so, what the hey? Too much bad blood to make it to the Greeting.

Viva la James! This picture of me and Bam Margera was taken at the Union Square Virgin Megastore during a signing of the Viva La Bam DVDs. It was one of the most entertaining signings I've been to, mainly because kids kept asking Bam to slap them in the face. And after making sure that that was really what they wanted, Bam obliged. Never seen that before. Ultimately, though, the photo just didn't make the cut. No strong reason. Just tough to crack the top two this year.

TOMORROW: If that aint country...


You may be right—I may be crazy

In the world of the autograph collector, there are moments when everything falls apart. You get there five minutes too late, you leave five minutes too soon, Dan Aykroyd decides he has reached the point in his life when he can stop being nice to people...any number of catastrophes can ruin a day.

But then there are the moments when everything falls into place, when you unearth information that other collectors either don't see or don't care about, and when you're one-on-one with someone you admire.

Such a moment happened last Thursday at Maxwell's in Hoboken, New Jersey. See, a day before, I had opened the Village Voice to see that the Maxwell's ad listed Alexa Joel as opening the show on Thursday. Using my vast knowledge of most things Billy Joel, I knew that was the name of Billy Joel's daughter, and, really, how many Alexa Joels could there be in the world? After some Web searching, I found out that his daughter was indeed pursuing a music career, though the only music-related mention was that she had to cancel what would've been her first gig earlier this summer.

So, I thought, was this going to be her first show? And if indeed it was, wouldn't you think her dad would show up to something like that? And if he did, shouldn't I make the effort to get an autograph? And if I made the effort, would that be something a normal 29-year-old would do?

It was then I stopped asking questions, because I didn't like where this was headed. But I was headed to Maxwell's with my Billy Joel LP (the Live in Russia one, or something like Kohuept, but with those Cyrillic characters in it).


Before I go further, I realize that previous comments on this blog might make you think that I don't really like Billy Joel. Not so. True, when you go to an all-boys Catholic high school, he starts to wear on you by senior year, but there's no denying that long before that year arrived, I had worn out my cassette of his Greatest Hits, Volumes I and II, sat rapt in front of the TV when the video for "A Matter of Trust" came on, and once rather embarrassingly sang "Piano Man" in the family living room while my sister and mother watched. Billy Joel was probably one of the first people I really got into when I started getting into music, and for that, he should be commended. By me, at least. You do what you want. But his string of hits, like them or not, is pretty impressive. I'll even grant that there are a few clunkers here and there, but, c'mon, "Goodnight Saigon"? "Angry Young Man"? "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant"? "Only the Good Die Young"? "The Longest Time"? "Pressure"? Should I stop? Yes? Fair enough.

Point is, I like Billy Joel. Deal with it.


I got to Maxwell's a little late, but Alexa hadn't hit the stage yet. She was talking to a few friends when I got there (and, yes, I know what she looks like, only because she looks like Billy Joel, which is almost a tragedy when you consider her mom is Christie Brinkley), and there were a dozen or so other people in the room, most of whom didn't seem like they cared if Billy Joel showed up. I scanned the room, looking for signs of Billy, but all I saw was the Maxwell's booker looking a little more fidgety than usual. And people going in and out the fire exit door. Hmmmm...

I moved up closer when the show started, just to the left of an older guy who, as he was taking lots of pictures, seemed to be aware of who Alexa Joel was. I like to think of him as The Future. I shook off the shakes that gave me and focused on the music, which, though not my thing, was pretty good, especially for a first show. She seemed pretty confident and though the songs weren't anything spectacular, they were good enough to justify seeing her even if she wasn't Billy Joel's daughter. Was that a compliment? I'm not sure.

Anyway, about a half-hour into the set, I see this guy approaching two of Alexa's friends who were a few feet away from me. All I could make out is that he had a hooded sweatshirt pulled waaay tight over his head and that he looked vaguely menacing. He tapped one of the girls on the shoulder and then quickly walked away, leading me to think, "Who let the homeless guy in?" And then I realized that the "homeless guy" was Billy Joel. Sweet disguise.

Because I was getting a little bored with the show, I moved to the back of the room to see how that perspective was. Then I was blocked, perhaps unintentionally, from going to my bag, which I had left in the back, by what I assumed was one of Billy's buddies in charge of shielding him from the great unwashed. But he eventually stepped aside, and as I put my camera in my bag, I realized that there was essentially a circle of beefy Long Island-looking guys surrounding The Hooded Piano Man. It was at this point that I wondered if it could be any more obvious that that was Billy Joel in the Harley Davidson hooded sweatshirt. Perhaps if the hood read, "This hood covers the head of rock star Billy Joel. Please do not touch him."


After the show ended, I stepped outside, since I'd lost sight of Billy inside and figured he'd have to head back to whatever idling vehicle that he was in before the show started. As soon as I stepped outside, I noticed The Hooded Piano Man smoking with the guy who was hesitant to let me get to my bag. As politely as I could, I approached the man who provided the soundtrack to ages 10-15.

"Excuse me, Mr. Joel?"

The hood turned around.

"Would you mind just signing an album for me?"

He gave me a little "OK" shrug, so I got the album from my bag. That's when this buddy chimed in, in as snotty a voice as he could muster.

"Oh, look what you just happened to bring."

"Yeah, well, I figured he might be here. I'm not selling it or anything."

"OK. Well, just don't run in there and tell everybody."

Right, because that was my plan. I was just about to run into Maxwell's, screaming, "Hey, Hoboken! Billy Joel's outside incognito, smoking a cigarette. Swarm him!"

Anyway, Billy signed the album, and all was right with the world. I told him he should be proud of his daughter (it never hurts to be a kiss-ass in these situations) and that she sounded good, especially for her first show. After saying she was good, he asked me, "Was she?" which I figured was a trap, but I didn't fall for it. And after asking me how I heard about the show, and Billy telling his buddy that he needed to get a copy of the Voice with the ad in it, I thanked him and headed home, happy and satisfied. Really. I was.

It don't take much.


The Marahlidays Are Upon Us

Marah's Dave Bielanko


The Marahliday season begins tonight at the Lincoln Center Tower Records with a free in-store performance from Marah at 6 p.m. Then, it's Irving Plaza on Friday night for the Marah Christmas Extravaganza, Night One. And then, if you're me or aspire to be me, it's the Theatre of the Living Arts in Philly on Saturday for the Marah Christmas Extravaganza, Night Two.

I have spent much time extolling the virtues of Marah here. I will do no more. The time to act is now.

Go to the shows, OK?