The Game of Kings

When I was a young lad, there weren't many kids in the Goodwin Ave. area. Charlie Janks and his sister Catherine were there for the early years, but not for long. They moved away pretty early in the life of Young James Sigman, but not before Catherine tore the corner off my Wade Boggs Topps rookie card. That used to bother me, but now that I've researched the current value of that card, I'm ready to forgive and forget. Or at least forgive.

Anyway, after Charlie and Catherine left, it was slim pickings on the block. There were lots of kindly old folk, a neighborhood asset that was good around Halloween but virtually useless the rest of the year. I could occasionally pester my dad into a game of catch, and sometimes my friend Donnie would come over and we'd have a time, but, for the most part, those post-homework afternoons required a little ingenuity.

So, if the weather was nice enough so that I wasn't bound indoors, doing play-by-play of the hotly contested Junkyard Dog-Iron Sheik battle among my LJN wrestling figures, I would grab that plastic bat and the nicked-up, once-white ball and head outside for a spirited game of Wiffle Ball.

Now, a lot of people think that a spirited game of Wiffle Ball requires at least two people. Completely untrue. It is, in fact, entirely possible to be the batter, pitcher, and play-by-play man (I was a very talented, multifaceted broadcaster) in a tense, action-packed game of Wiffle Ball.

Possible, yes. Sane, well, no, probably not.

In my childhood afternoon Wiffle Ball games, I would take my position at home plate (the middle of the passageway separating our house from our neighbors'), grab hold of the bat with my right hand, toss the ball in the air with my left, quickly bring the left hand back onto the bat, and swing for the fences (or, more accurately, the line of shrubs at the end of our other neighbor's house). Not content to just get a homer and call it a day, I would frequently trot around the bases, simulating the crowd noise, and, in my capacity as play-by-play man, set the scene for the folks at home. I can only imagine the joy I brought to the neighbors. One particular fan had to be Mrs. Anderson next door, whose roof and windows would occasionally be struck when I pulled a ball foul. I didn't realize what an important part she played in the games until she passed away and we got a new neighbor, one who insisted that I was responsible for the dents in his aluminum siding. Bastard.

I had a few yellow bats, but my preference was for the ones with the slightly wider barrels, though never those ridiculous fat-barrel red bats. Those were for losers. I didn't use them, and I've also never bowled with bumpers. I think I'm a better person for it. But I will cop to using the bats with the wider barrels, the ones that had plastic wrapping on them to make them look like aluminum bats. They gave you more pop than your standard yellow bat but yet weren't obscenely large. They'd just give that extra little oomph your home run swing needed.

Of course, you can't hit a homer every time. But I sure did try. If I missed a pitch, it was almost always called a foul tip by the umpire (a position ably filled by me). Sometimes it didn't really seem like the ball was tipped, but the ump always insisted. And, really, he's got the best vantage point, so who can argue?

And sometimes I'd just get a solid hit, maybe a double in the gap, which I'd occasionally be able to leg into a triple. I grounded out maybe a couple of times. Never flied out, though. I drilled the ball; outfielders never had a chance to get under it. Plus that tree in the middle of the yard made it difficult to get a proper read on the ball. I didn't envy them their assignment.

Lest you think my team never played in the field, that part of the inning was taken care of by grabbing a rubber ball and my beat-up Tom Seaver glove that I bought at the Christ Church fair, throwing the ball against the stairs (or, more frequently, the screen door) and "fielding" the ball as it came back, complete with a toss from the middle infielder (me) to the first baseman (also me). If the ball got past the infield or the first baseman dropped the throw, the opposing team got a baserunner. There were some tight games, but I'd like to think I won more than I lost.

Eventually, I came to the age where self-pitch Wiffle Ball became too pathetic. So I stuck to playing a whole game of Off the Stairs, where I was pitching both for my team and my opponent's team, while also hitting for both teams too. Makes you dizzy, doesn't it?

There was a Wiffle Ball revival on the block in my later years, as younger kids moved onto the block, and my friends and I (eighth-graders) would frequently challenge third-graders to games. We won a few too.

There wasn't much high school Wiffle Ball action (there should've at least been an intramural team), but things picked up again in college. I'm not sure whose idea it was to head out behind the Ithaca College softball field for a game of Wiffle Ball my sophomore year, but I can only guess that it was mine. In any case, a series of epic battles pitted the guys from our building against the guys from another, in what historians call "The Battle for the Visor" (the visor being something someone left behind the softball field and which we seized upon as the championship trophy). I would like to tell you that the Boys of Terrace 12 took home the Visor and triumphantly vanquished all comers, but I'd be lying. Despite the prodigious power hitting of Pat McCormick and my confounding sidearm pitching delivery, we just couldn't pull through. The late innings were always bad for us. We also had Dave, a spectacularly unathletic, rail-thin chap and one of my roommates, on our team for a few of those games. That held us back. We don't talk to him anymore.

In any case, those games have spawned a plethora of rematches throughout the eastern United States, including Virginia, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and, of course, Ithaca, New York, where the legend began. The Visor has been lost to time, but the battle rages on.

And there have also been many storied head-to-head battles on the Quads tennis courts in Windham, NY, between me and noted journalist/former greenskeeper Bryan Chambala. Using the net as the "automatic out" marker (i.e., if you hit the ball and it doesn't make it over the net, you're out), we've engaged in knock-down, drag-out nine-inning contests. By about the third inning, I've lost any control on my pitches (the inability to locate the fastball really kept me from getting into the pros), so these are contests requiring a great deal of patience. And they are occasionally contests I'm better off not winning. I swear there was one time after a loss that he didn't talk to me for, like, an hour. And we were well into our twenties at the time. Of course, he's now a husband/dad/homeowner, so I'm sure he's much more agreeable now. Well, reasonably sure.

Anyway, the point of all this is Wiffle Ball been berry berry good to me. And as the weather gets nicer and you get the extra hour of daylight, it's just about Opening Day of the Wiffle Ball season. So why not get some friends together for a game? And if you have no friends, there's always the self-pitch version. But be warned that people find that a lot less charming when you're in your twenties/thirties. Maybe you should just stick with this.

Play ball.


RIP Buck Owens and Cindy Walker

It was another bad weekend for country music. Two legends, Buck Owens and Cindy Walker, passed away. One probably got some coverage in your local paper; the other probably didn't.

The AP obit for Owens likely made it into your newspaper of choice, and rightfully so. Unfortunately, the headline probably said something like "'Hee Haw' host, 76, dies." And while Owens certainly was one of the hosts of "Hee Haw," he was far more than that. He earns the official Tinsel and Rot Seal of Approval for the album "Buck Owens Sings Harlan Howard," a fine collection of his takes on some of the great songs from the catalog of the man who may have been the best country songwriter of all time.

I don't claim to be an ardent follower of Owens's career, but Peter Cooper's story in The Tennessean does a nice job of explaining Owens's importance to country music. A couple of sentences at the end of the article stuck out:

"For months, Mr. Owens' declining health was causing him to stay away from his Crystal Palace stage. Friday evening, though, he made a surprise appearance at the Palace, performing for more than an hour. Then he went home to bed, and, according to his family, died in his sleep."

If you've gotta go, that seems like a good way to go out. RIP, Buck.


Cindy Walker's obit may have had a harder time making its way into your morning paper. But Walker holds just as important a spot in the history of country music. The subject of a recent tribute CD by Willie Nelson , Walker wrote hundreds of killer songs, including "Dream Baby" (popularized by Roy Orbison, charter member of the Tinsel and Rot Hall of Fame), "Cherokee Maiden," "Miss Molly," "Bubbles In My Beer" (cowritten with Bob Wills [still the king] and Tommy Duncan), and her most popular number "You Don't Know Me," most memorably performed by Ray Charles but covered by dozens of others. In my mind, she's not only unquestionably the best female country songwriter of all time, but also one of the best songwriters of all time, period.

"Bubbles In My Beer" and "Going Away Party," a song written later in her career, are indicative of Walker's mastery of the country song form:

"Bubbles In My Beer"

Tonight in the bar alone I'm sitting
Apart from the laughter and the cheer
While scenes from the past rise before me
I'm watching the bubbles in my beer

A vision of someone who loves me
Brings a lone, silent tear to my eye
And I know that my life's been a failure
Just watching the bubbles in my beer

I'm seeing the road that I've traveled
A road paved with heartaches and tears
And I'm seeing the past that I've wasted
Just watching the bubbles in my beer

As I think of the heart that I've broken
And the golden chances that have passed me by
And the dreams that I made now are empty
As empty as the bubbles in my beer

(Unichappell Music, Inc./Chappell & Co., Inc./Red River Songs, Inc. BMI/ASCAP)

"Going Away Party"

I'm throwing a going away party
A party for a dream of mine
So put me somewhere off in a corner
With a glass and bottle of your party wine

Don't worry, it won't be a loud party
I feel too low to get too high
It's just a sad going away party
For a dream I'm telling goodbye

Don't worry, it won't be a loud party
Dreams don't make noise when they die
It's just a sad going away party
For a dream I'm telling goodbye

(Acuff Rose Music Inc. BMI)

Not exactly pick-me-ups, but good country songs shouldn't be. The last verses of both songs hit you right in the heart. And by "you," I mean "me," for I am now your representative in life.

For all her songwriting genius, Cindy Walker's finest moment came during her induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1997. Her speech plays on a loop in the Hall of Fame, and I wish it would play on a loop on its own cable channel so I could watch it every day.

It's better with the visual of Walker in her dress (I tried to help out, but Blogger is having upload issues at the moment) and hearing her quavering delivery, but the speech went something like this:

"In the 1980s. my mother bought me a dress for a BMI affair
And she said, 'When they put you in the Hall of Fame, that's the dress I want you to wear'
And I said, 'Oh, mama . . . the Hall of Fame--why that will never be'
And the years went by, but my mother's words remained in my memory

And I know tonight she'd be happy
Though she's gone now to her rest,
I think of all that she did for me
And, tonight, I'm wearing that dress!"

RIP, Cindy. Hope you and mom are getting reacquainted.


Music business

Some things for your weekend:

*Maybe Pete is playing a Ramones tribute show at the Pussycat Lounge (96 Greenwich St.) in NYC Saturday night. If you continue to insist on not attending Maybe Pete shows, eventually I will have to come find you and beat you. And if you don't think I have the time, why don't you scan through the posts on this blog? I've got the time, friend. And 29 years of pent-up hostility. Try me.

*The Yayhoos have both a new website and a new CD. And as if that weren't exciting enough, their website features pictures taken by me, dammit. I'm not credited, so you'll just have to trust me. Anyway, you can listen to lo-fi versions of the songs on the CD and then order it and get it delivered months before the official street date. So do it. Now.

*Hayday, featuring the vocal stylings of Greg "Xmastime" Wilson and the contributions of members of Marah, now has a page up on everyone's favorite one-stop-pedophilia-shop, MySpace. Check out the songs on there. Someday, there will be a Hayday CD. Someday.

* Speaking of MySpace, there is now a trailer up on Sugar Hill Records' MySpace site for the mini-documentary "Mule Train," documenting Scott Miller and the Commonwealth's 2004 Amtrak Crescent tour from New Orleans to New York. I was lucky enough to see three shows on the tour, and it was a helluva time. The documentary looks to be a cool document of the tour.

* One more thing (well, two). Check out brief, poor-quality Avett Brothers live footage on Google Video and YouTube. CAUTION: There is much screaming.
On the YouTube one, keep your eye on the older woman at the side of the stage when Seth (the guitar player) really starts screaming. She no likey. Also, after watching both, choose your favorite Seth: bearded or clean-shaven.

That is all for today. Be well.


Ham Balls and Little Blue Pills: A Saturday in Lancaster, PA (Part 2)

Jean Shepard, the best female regular in the current Opry cast and, clearly, a woman who is very into me, closed out the first half of the show by bringing out a rested and normal-breathing Ferlin Husky to sing "Dear John Letter," an all-time classic in which a soldier off at war finds out that his wife has left him and married his brother. Yet another exhibit in the case for why I love country music.

The second part of the show started with Hank Thompson, whose voice is as smooth and clear as it is on the "At the Golden Nugget" CD you oughta buy. Granted, he doesn't put on a real flashy show, staying seated throughout his set, but country isn't really about flash anyway. I'm looking at you, Big & Rich. But I'm not looking long, because if I do that, I get ill. Thompson--and, really, everybody on the bill--knows that the song's the thing in country music. There are a few people in Nashville who still know that, but they're getting harder to find.

The Kitty Wells Show was next, and I think it's a sign that you're at a really good show when a guy comes out wearing a Nudie suit and shuffles onto the stage with one of those walkers with wheels that you can also sit on. I'm sure there's a name for it, but I'll wait to learn it until the time comes. Anyway, the guy in question was 92-year-old Johnnie Wright, who was introduced by his son, Bobby, a minor country star and actor who couldn't have reminded me more of Cousin Eddie if he came out wearing a blue leisure suit and white bucks. And if I have to explain to you who Cousin Eddie is, please find another blog. Your kind is not welcome here.

Anyway, Bobby sang a few songs before his dad came out, and then Johnnie did a couple of old Johnnie and Jack tunes with Bobby (though not, unfortunately, "Poison Love"). He cut them a little short, but, when you're 92, you've earned the right to dictate when the song ends. He would also stand up and do a little boogie every now and then, letting you know that the years may have taken their toll, but the showman will never leave.

Then, his wife of 68 years, Kitty Wells, took the stage and though Bobby said she was getting over a little bit of laryngitis and wasn't sure she'd be able to sing that well, she sounded just fine. And, really, to hear Kitty Wells sing "It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," well, that's something I plan to bore my grandkids (or, more likely, other people's grandkids, probably in a park where I'm feeding pigeons) with someday.


Finally, the time had come for Little Jimmy to take the stage. And when he gave his standard introduction of "Hello, I'm Little Jimmy Dickens, or Willie Nelson, after taxes," I was so damn happy that I couldn't stop smiling. And the 85-year-old Jimmy kept everybody laughing with his between-song jokes, including the obligatory Viagra joke ("I got a stiff neck. Y'know, I been taking them little blue pills people like us take sometimes. And if you don't swallow them pills fast enough...") and the classic whisper joke (to summarize, his little brother yells out "I need to go to the bathroom” in the middle of the department store. His mom is embarrassed and tells him not to yell out a thing like that. She tells him, "When you have to use the bathroom, just tell me you need to whisper and I'll know what you mean." So, the next day, Little Jimmy's on the couch at home and his brother comes up to him and says, "I need to whisper! I need to whisper!" So Little Jimmy says, "Well, then you come on over here and whisper right in my ear...").

And as if the jokes weren't good enough, the song selection was spot on. When he started to introduce "Life Turned Her That Way," I got chills. And they stayed throughout the song. It was that song, sung by Little Jimmy on one of the "Country Legends Homecoming" shows on the Nashville Network, that caused me to seek out more of his stuff and more of Harlan Howard's (who wrote the song). And that just kept snowballing, and still does. I'd listened to country music a little when I was a kid, particularly when my dad would listen to it on WHN while he was getting ready for work or when we were driving up to Eva's Farm for summer vacation. But it never really took, mainly because my dad loved vocal groups like the Oak Ridge Boys and the Statler Brothers, who never really did it for me (with a few exceptions--"Elvira" and "Flowers on the Wall" being the most prominent). And I liked Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, but it didn't get much further than that. Until that Saturday night when Little Jimmy sang that song. Then, I got it. Everything opened up. And, now here I was, seeing Little Jimmy Dickens do that same song. I don't know how to describe that feeling to you. But it was cool.

And then, as if that weren't enough, he closed with a song I never would've thought he'd do: "(You've Been Quite a Doll) Raggedy Ann." It's more of a recitation than anything else, as Little Jimmy talks to a Raggedy Ann doll while the band plays softly behind him. As the song goes on, you begin to realize that the doll, which belonged to his daughter, is all that the narrator has left. His wife passed away years ago and he is now talking to the doll at the grave of his daughter, who died when she was quite young. And this will be the last time he talks to the doll, because he's not able to make it up the hill to the grave anymore, and death will call for him soon, too. The song closes like this:

"Well, I've gotta leave you now
I gotta go
And about the only thing that comes to my mind to say to you is God bless you
And you sure have been quite a doll, Raggedy Ann
Yessir, quite a doll"

Now, I could see how someone would find this song to be, I don't know, a bit maudlin. And I suppose you're entitled to think that. But when Little Jimmy said those lines and hugged the Raggedy Ann doll, tears may have been close to forming in my eyes. Or maybe they did form. Only I know for sure.


After the whole cast came out for a group photo on the stage (see Part 1), it was autograph time in the lobby. And after patiently waiting for the bus crowd to make their way to the parking lot, I was able to get back to the car and grab my things. Jean Shepard and Ferlin Husky were the first stop, simply because they were closest to the door and there was a mob of elderly people (a phrase you will probably only see here at Tinsel and Rot) crowding up the lobby. It took awhile to get to the table, but I made it and got my stuff signed.

Then it was onto Little Jimmy across the room. He seemed really not so much into crowds, or the crazy woman who I think asked him to sign her bra (all I heard was his response of "No, ma'am, I won't do that" after she whispered something--actually whispered, not peed--in his ear). I tried explaining how exciting the moment was for me, but I couldn't really and just thanked him. I had somebody take the picture (Frank was doing his own rounds at the time), and God bless the crop and zoom feature on my digital camera, because otherwise, it would've been an underwhelming photo.

I had a bit of a hard time getting everything out of sleeves and bags and such, but I eventually got everything under control and got all my stuff signed (and buying a few extra things--photos of Kitty, Johnnie, and Bobby and, yes, an 8X10 of Little Jimmy). I also picked up a Little Jimmy baseball hat, one of those hats that don't really look right on the head of someone under 60. But that won't stop me from wearing it. Proudly. And, it should be added, nonironically, hipster scum.


After the autograph flurry was over, our time in Lancaster wrapped up at Hershey Farm, a restaurant/inn that specializes in the smorgasbord style of eating (and also features some farm animals outside the main entrance, like my friend above). It's generally good food and a lot of it, so it's important to focus on your own meal and not look at the rampant gluttony of those around you. I made the mistake of not doing that last time, and it wasn't nearly as enjoyable an experience as this time around. It's also a good idea at a smorgasbord to only eat things whose names you recognize. I broke this rule to try a corn nugget, but I drew the line at the ham balls, which looked like testicles that had been soaked in butter. I think that was a good decision.

I managed to not eat to the point of discomfort, which is also key at such establishments, and grabbed a mini-loaf of coconut bread from the gift shop/bakery, which, of course, had a fine collection of "I [Heart] Intercourse, PA" merchandise. Unfortunately, that mini-loaf barely made it to Monday. If you're in the area, please get me some more.

So, after leaving the Farm, I made Frank make a pit stop so I could buy a Hank Thompson belt buckle before the second show started (I had neglected to do so in the midst of the autograph frenzy). It's pretty sweet. I'm glad we went back.

And, while I was there, I added a Little Jimmy magnet and a guitar pick to my collection. Just because.

It sure was quite a day, Little Jimmy. Yessir, quite a day.


Ham Balls and Little Blue Pills: A Saturday in Lancaster, PA (Part 1)

When I tell you that last Saturday was one of the most exciting days of my life, I am not serving up one ounce of hyperbole. Granted, this may be a commentary on the pathetic nature of my day-to-day activities or even a condemnation of a life poorly lived. But we will not engage in such speculation here on Tinsel and Rot. OK?

Instead, let's bask in the glory of the day when Big James Sigman met Little Jimmy Dickens, the man who pointed the way to classic country music for me. The man who I desperately hoped would be on the Grand Ole Opry each time I went to Nashville, only to have my dreams dashed. The man who I missed by mere minutes outside Carnegie Hall last November.

Saturday was a good day.

But there were no guarantees that I'd even get the chance to meet one of my musical heroes as of early last week. I'd known about the concert at the American Music Theatre in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, for months, but I just figured that it wouldn't sell out. There were two shows (2 p.m. and 8 p.m.) and, well, I falsely assumed that the people of Lancaster and the surrounding area wouldn't flock to a Country Legends show, even if it did have Jean Shepard, Ferlin Husky, Kitty Wells, Charlie Louvin, Hank Thompson, and Little Jimmy--a lineup that, with the exception of Husky (whom, despite having one of the all-time great country music names, I just don't know that well, and whom I would've replaced with Porter Wagoner or Gene Watson), couldn't have been better suited for me. Turns out I was wrong about the classic country fervor in the Land of the Horse and Buggy, because both shows were listed as sold out when I checked the site a few months ago.

That was a sad day, but I figured that my friend and fellow autograph collector Frank would be OK with taking the trip and just sneaking into the lobby after the show, where the stars would likely be seliing their wares and signing away. There was no guarantee they'd be doing this, of course. At the last Legends show I went to in Lancaster, Jerry Reed was too ill to come out after the show, which, coupled with his decision not to play "When You're Hot, You're Hot," made for a slightly underwhelming day. Luckily, the day was partially saved by meeting John Conlee, who is, in fact, only in it for the love. (I'm making a reference to a John Conlee song, which may be a mistake. But check out "I'm Only In It For The Love" to hear the perfect 1980s country song, with everything good and bad that implies.)

In any case, we figured it would be worth it to just take the chance on the lobby autograph session, and maybe if we got there early enough, someone would have an extra two tickets. It's a big destination for senior citizen tour buses, so surely someone would bail at the last moment to have a hip replaced or something. But just to be sure, I e-mailed the theater staff and asked what my chances would be of scoring a pair of tickets on the day of the show. I got an e-mail back saying to call to be put on the waiting list. Cool. So I did that and after I gave all my info, I asked the woman at the box office if I was likely to get a call back.

"Well, you're, let's see...you're on the sixth page."

"Not good" would have been just fine.

So I had accepted that I wouldn't be seeing the show...until last Tuesday, when I got a call saying that seats had opened up and I could have two seats in the tenth row if I wanted them.

Yes, that would be fine.


And, so around 1:30 on Saturday afternoon, after a four-hour drive that started in Secaucus, New Jersey, Frank and I were in the lobby of the American Music Theatre, just down the road from the amusement park (Dutch Wonderland) I visited as a kid and a hotel that advertised "Weird Al Karaoke: 9-1." The merchandise tables were all set up, though no one was signing. I stood in the middle of the lobby and I swear to you, I don't know as if I've ever been as excited as I was at that moment (for the sake of people reading this who might think events in their lives really excited me, we'll say maybe once or twice...but, between you and me, I'm lying). I was going to see Little Jimmy Dickens, not from far away, like at Carnegie Hall, but right up close; the furthest I'd be would be 10 rows away. And maybe even closer after the show. They were selling 8X10s at his merch table, which is usually a good indication that signing will be taking place. And out in the car were three Little Jimmy albums and a CD cover waiting for his signature (I could've brought much more, but I didn't want to push it).

It hit me around that time, as I waded my way through the aged and infirmed to get to the bathroom, that I was also about to see a really good show. I'd seen Charlie Louvin and Hank Thompson in concert before and Jean Shepard at the Opry, but I'd never seen Ferlin Husky or, more importantly, Kitty Wells, the "Queen of Country Music," who I'd found out the day before would also be performing with her son, Bobby Wright, and husband Johnnie Wright. Johnnie was half of Johnnie and Jack, whose song "Poison Love" is one of my favorites. So that was gonna be cool, too.

Passing the time before the show started, I tried finding someone who might be younger than me. There were a couple of questionables, but I think I may have won. At the very least, I was a good 35 years below the mean. If you've been following the Sigman literary output of the last decade, you are probably aware that this is not a rare occurrence. And, as often happens in these situations, I was sensing a lot of sidelong glances from the older folks. I get the feeling that a lot of them thought I was part of a hidden camera show, one where I would suddenly start rapping just to piss them off. But they gradually accepted me as one of their own, like the couple sitting next to me, who seemed a little confused by my presence at first but who eventually confided that they were very excited to see the show. I won them over after telling them that this was my second time at the theater and I had come from New Jersey. It was their first time, and they only lived about a half-hour away. They asked if I had come on a bus, which strikes me as something I should do someday--take a trip on a charter bus full of senior citizens. For the newcomers, I feel obligated to say that I am not kidding.

Soon after bonding with my seatmates, the show began (promptly at two--they don't mess around at shows for seniors), with Ralph Emery, former host of The Nashville Network's "Nashville Now," taking the stage and introducing the backup band for the afternoon. And soon we were off, with Charlie Louvin first out of the gate, seeming less cranky than he usually seems on the Opry, where they almost always relegate him to a late segment. Perhaps that's because he's been fairly critical of the Opry in the past. Or because of moments like when Bill Anderson took ill and couldn't host his segment, giving Charlie time to do one more song. Before starting the second song, he said to Jeannie Seely, who was offstage, "Anderson should get sick more often. This is the first time they've let me do two songs in eight years." Coincidentally, moments like that are why I love Charlie Louvin.

Ferlin Husky took the stage after Louvin, and I don't think I've ever been more frightened that someone might pass out and/or die on stage. Ferlin, you see, had quadruple bypass surgery last December. And he's just now getting back on the road. And, dear sweet God, did it show. He sang fine, and he came bounding out on stage full of energy, but after the first song, he was gasping for air. Hard. Someone brought him a bottle of water, and gradually he made it to the point where he could sing another, much slower song. The panting continued after that one, but he was getting better and telling jokes that, regrettably, were told in such a low voice that there was no chance that 75% of the audience could hear them. At times, I wondered if the out-of-breath thing was some sort of shtick, but if it was, he really sold it. I was certainly hoping he was joking when he revealed that he has had twelve bypasses and four stints, drawing an audible gasp from the crowd. And around that time--forgive me, Ferlin--I had the following thought:: "Wow, if he collapses and has to be taken to the hospital, do you think they'll still have the autograph signing afterward?"

I'm not proud of that thought. But I thought I should come clean.

In any case, Ferlin made it through and closed with "Wings of a Dove," a helluva song that has been burned into my brain after watching the Time-Life "Classic Country" infomercial one too many times. But I don't mind.

As Ralph Emery came out to introduce Jean Shepard, I was reminded that old people apparently really like jokes about Viagra. Emery repeated one that I think he told the last time: An 80-year-old guy goes to his doctor and he says, "Doc, I want some of those little blue pills I keep hearing about." The doctor says, "Well, I don't know that I should be giving those pills to someone your age. They can be dangerous, y'know." The guy says, "Oh, I don't want a lot of 'em, Doc. Just enough so I don't piddle on my shoes."

Brought the house down.

You may think that the elderly are delicate, sensitive souls who don't go for so-called filthy humor. But no one is immune to the powers of a good erection joke, friends. No one.

NEXT: The rest of the show and the moment of the truth. And, also, a smorgasbord.


Things I Think I Heard Shane MacGowan Say at the Nokia Theatre, NYC, 3/16/06

*** "Who's queer?"

***"Death, where is thy ting-a-ling-a-ling?"

***"I'd like to introduce, again, Spider Stacy [pause to look at setlist]. Actually, I'd like to introduce myself. And I'll be singing 'Rainy Night in Soho.'"

***"Didja hear the Beatles are reforming?"

***"This is called 'Body of an American.' That's a dead body."

***"This isn't 'Brokeback Mountain.' Ssssssssssssssss."

***I think there was also something involving the word "Negroes," but I can't be sure of that. It was after Spider dedicated a song to the Canadians, and Shane started mentioning that there were all types of people in the crowd. I lost his train of thought slightly after that, but I think I heard "Negroes" once or twice. Might've been "There's a shortage of Negroes." Hard to say.

***And there was also something that sounded like "suck on my ding dong" right when the show started.


Aside from trying to decipher what Shane was saying between songs, it was really just an OK show. The band sounded good, and Shane sounded best on the slower songs, like "The Old Main Drag" and "Dirty Old Town." But any lyrics to a song with a fast tempo had a hard time making it out of Shane's mouth fully formed. Of course, some would argue that that's part of his charm. And it is--to a point. But sometimes it's just kind of annoying. And a little sad.

But he seemed to get better as the night went on, or maybe my ears just adjusted to it. In any case, it was cool to see the Pogues, something I honestly didn't think I'd ever see. It was especially fun to watch the barely controlled pandemonium of "Fiesta," with Shane racing through the lyrics, James Fearnley darting across the stage, and Spider repeatedly banging an aluminum tray on his head. Plus, they were selling a special Pogues Hatch Show Print, so that was almost as exciting as the show itself. I loves my Hatch Show Prints.

So, was the show worth $50? Absolutely. Would I go again if they came back to the states? I don't know. I can't imagine Shane getting any better, and I think five Shane shows may be my limit.

But don't hold me to that.


Story Time: Why David Crosby Owes Me a Million Dollars

So, back in the dark days of consistent unemployment, in the midst of scanning newspapers and the Internet for any sign of a decent job (or at least an affordable "Caddyshack 2" poster on eBay), I found out that the producers of the new daytime version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" would be holding an open audition at the Hard Rock Cafe in Manhattan.

This was it, I thought. My desperate need for cash was about to come face-to-face with a lifelong desire to be on a game show, and this clash would lead to me becoming a millionaire. Or at least a $32,000aire (pretax), because I knew that would be a piece of cake. Yessir, the worm was turning.

Since I had already met up with my personality inadequacies at a "Weakest Link" audition (see Critical, But Stable, pp. 93-98; cover price: $11.95), I was determined to stand out this time. So I put on my best Hawaiian shirt (well, really my second-best, but I thought the hot pink one would be a bit much) and headed out to the Hard Rock. And when it came time to fill out the personality questionnaire, I mentioned my lack of exciting achievements in a winking, clever way that signaled that I was in on the joke. Sure, maybe my eighth-grade spelling bee success was as wild as I got, but my willingness to mock my blandness would surely indicate that I was a guy who could deftly handle a head-to-head with Meredith Vieira. America, or at least the portion of America with the time to watch afternoon game shows, was surely going to fall in love with me as I climbed my way to a cool million. Or a hot million. Whichever temperature million they would give me would be fine.

Of course, before my personality would have a chance to dazzle the couchbound, I would actually have to demonstrate that I was smart enough to pass the written quiz. After I finished the test, I thought my chances were pretty good. I had only come up blank on a few and I felt much more confident than I did after the "Weakest Link" audition. And as I talked to the other potential contestants and compared answers, my confidence grew. Then, sure enough, my number was called. I had made it to the next round. The interview round, where the producers would talk to everyone individually for about five minutes and decide in that time if we were TV-ready.

C'mon. I was a self-mocking, unemployed but clever guy wearing a Hawaiian shirt. This was a lock.

Or not.

See, the problem is that, once again, I felt obligated to mention on my personality questionnaire that I was an autograph collector. It's an admission that grows more embarrassing by the day, but it's also the type of thing that I sense impresses producers. It seems to say, "Oooh, he must have some good stories!" And I do have a few. But my best one--that's the one that did me in.


After exchanging pleasantries and being told that my shirt was the best they'd seen that day (score!), talk turned to my unemployment (which I deftly mocked) and then the autograph collecting. They asked me what my favorite signature was, which is an entertaining story to me, but I realize that saying that the autograph I treasure most is from William Hickey, the guy who played Uncle Louis in "Christmas Vacation" and Billy Sparrow in "My Blue Heaven," isn't really an attention-grabber. And that was confirmed after one of the producers steered me away to another question after only a few seconds of me trying to explain why the autograph meant so much. Then, the producer tried "What's your most valuable autograph?" Again, I don't have an interesting answer. In fact, I don't have any idea. If you've seen the apartment, you are keenly aware that I'm not collecting valuable autographs. Unless professional wrestler Dusty Rhodes murders someone. Then that one will skyrocket in value. Steaks are on me.

Anyway, we finally hit upon the fatal question: "Do you have any good collecting stories?"

Well, yes, I did. And whenever someone asks me that question, I've got my A-1 story. I don't even think about it, which, it turns out, can be a bad thing. It goes like this:

I have this Woodstock poster that's signed by a lot of musicians that played at the original festival in 1969. For a good portion of my younger years, I was determined to get as many signatures on it as possible. Most of the time, that was a fun pursuit, because I got to meet Rick Danko, Levon Helm, and Garth Hudson from the Band; John Fogerty; Arlo Guthrie; and other people I like and respect. But the collector's mind compels him to try to get everybody to sign the poster. Everybody. Even lifeless fat asses like David Crosby.

So when Crosby, Stills, and Nash's bus pulled in front of the Beacon Theater stage door for afternoon soundcheck, I was there waiting with my Woodstock poster, along with another collector we used to call "Sniffles" because he either had real bad sinus problems or a horrible cocaine addiction. Waiting with him meant hours of sniffing and constant mindless chatter about his experiences and his Fillmore posters and how he didn't sell them and blah blah blah.

So it had already been a good solid hour of that before Graham Nash bolted out of the bus, ignoring Sniffles's cries of "GrahampleasestopGrahamsignmypostersGrahamwe'vebeenwaitingfor hoursGrahamplease" and my silent indifference. I'd heard Stills was the only decent one of the three, so I reasoned that if I could just get him, it would be a successful day. Sure enough, after coming out of the bus, he quickly signed a few things, and then got some more done after soundcheck was over. Graham Nash, we were told, was inside taking a nap. Soundchecks, apparently, are very draining.

I had completely written off David Crosby, because he had a reputation for being a world-class crank, right up there with Chuck Berry as one of the most ornery signers in music. Plus he had recently had a liver transplant and really wasn't looking all that great (though, really, has he ever looked all that great?). So when he waddled out of the bus, oblivious to Sniffles's pleas and whining, I wasn't particularly stunned. Oh well. I guess I'll stick around, since I have nothing else to do.

But then, after soundcheck, something, some divine force, compelled David Crosby to stop shuffling back to the bus and sign for the three people waiting behind the police barricade (there was one other guy who, I think, wanted him to sign a postcard or something). But it wouldn't be easy for him. And he had a message to deliver to us, an important declaration that we would be wise to soak up. And, so, as he signed my poster and moved on to Sniffles, he said the following:

"If I ever find out that any of you guys are selling these, I hope your dicks fall off."


Y'know, I like that story. I tell it pretty well. But you know who didn't like it? One of the "Who Wants to Be A Millionaire" producers.

"Oh, I didn't know we'd be cursing today," she said. As she said this, she had a look on her face that suggested I had just shit in her Corn Flakes. Excuse me, moved my bowels in her Corn Flakes.

I tried to recover, tried explaining that "dicks" really wasn't a curse per se. She suggested that maybe I should have considered substituting another word there. But "dicks" makes the story. I suppose "cocks" would be an acceptable trade-off, but that probably wouldn't have worked in the situation. "Penises" wouldn't have had the same punch.

In any case, the interview was pretty much over. I'm sure I said something after The Dick Incident, but it was of no use. I could have mentioned that I rescued a collection of babies and kittens from a threshing machine and lost a foot in the process and it wouldn't have made a difference. The producers just said goodbye and the one I most offended wished me luck in my job search.

There would be no callback. No hot seat. No witty banter with Meredith Vieira. Done. Over. Final answer.

But, for the record, my, um, well, you know, my, er, thing has not fallen off.


RIP Peter Tomarken

Sixty-three years of life, you die on a plane heading to pick up a medical patient as part of a humanitarian mission, and "big bucks, no whammies" leads off your AP obit:

"SANTA MONICA – Peter Tomarken was known as host of the hit 1980s game show "Press Your Luck," in which contestants often shouted the slogan "big bucks, no whammies."

He left the world Monday as a humanitarian trying to provide a free flight for someone in need of medical help. Tomarken, 63, and wife Kathleen Abigail Tomarken, 41, were killed when their small plane crashed in Santa Monica Bay shortly after takeoff on a charity flight, authorities said."

For what it's worth, as a tribute to Tomarken, the Game Show Network is airing that documentary about the "Press Your Luck" scandal tonight (3/14) at 10 p.m. And episodes of "Press Your Luck" will air all day on Sunday.

A lesser person would make some jokes here, but even I'm not that depraved.

Rest in peace, Peter and Kathleen.

Back to funny stuff tomorrow.


Ask Tinsel and Rot (via Country Weekly)

There is perhaps no magazine whose reader comments and questions bring me greater joy than Country Weekly. Usually, the Letters to the Editor are more entertaining, but for this edition of Ask Tinsel & Rot, we will be answering a question delivered to the Music Q&A department of CW. Enjoy. We hope you learn something.

Has Toby Keith been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame? And if he hasn't, why?
Scott, Ark.

Sweet Annette,

I can only hope that you are not a grown adult. In order to not completely lose faith in humanity, I am choosing to believe that you are not and that this letter was originally written in crayon. If, by chance, you are an adult and are, in fact, in possession of all of your mental faculties, I will be forced to admit that the theory that there is no such thing as a dumb question has just been proven to be categorically untrue.

No, Toby Keith has not been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. If we live in a just and righteous world, he never will be. Never. Ever. Never. Unfortunately, with each passing day, and with each Rascal Flatts song that climbs the charts, I am beginning to doubt the earthly presence of justice and righteousness. So, you may be in luck.

The second part of your question asked for reasons why Toby Keith might not be in the Hall of Fame. Well, let's start off with the obvious: he's not good. In any sense of the word really. He sings like a goat in pain most of the time and his songs almost always have that special Kid Rock-ian quality of focusing solely on the Me. There was "How Do You Like Me Now?" (and my accompanying answer "To Be Honest, Not Very Much"), followed by "I Wanna Talk About Me" and the recent smash, "As Good As I Once Was" (in which Toby sings about not being as good as he once was--it's both a bad song and a sobering thought).

Of course, not every bad Toby song is about him. There was also "Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue," which briefly focused on his dad and the "American way" before Toby suggested that he would be willing to commence the process of inserting his boot in the ass of the enemy. Luckily, Darryl Worley (whose HOF status, should you be unaware, is also unelected) came out with an equally jingoistically reprehensible song ("Have You Forgotten?") around the same time, so it's a dead heat for the most annoying song ever.

Another reason why Toby Keith is not and should never be in the Country Music Hall of Fame would be that Jimmy Martin is not in the Country Music Hall of Fame. Jimmy Martin (aka "The King of Bluegrass") had a long, productive career in which he wrote and sang many classic country songs (precious few of which revolved around sticking boots in asses or involved bleating lyrics that could've been written by a third grader), yet somehow has not been elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Luckily, Glen Campbell's in there, though. And Annette, in case you're wondering, that was sarcasm.

In any case, if Jimmy Martin cannot be in the Country Music Hall of Fame, Toby Keith and his dopey little straw cowboy hat sure as hell can't be. And if, Annette, the day ever arrives when Toby Keith is elected into a Country Music Hall of Fame that does not honor Jimmy Martin, I would suggest that you get right with God, because Armageddon will surely be upon us.

I hope I've cleared some things up for you, Annette. Thanks so much for your question. And give my best to your classmates.


No deal

Last week, NBC aired "Deal or No Deal" every night in the hopes that it would become the next "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." Unfortunately, it's a show that's essentially 45 minutes of watching briefcases being opened. I can do that in my apartment, and Howie Mandel doesn't even have to be there.

Furthermore, there's no requirement to be a contestant on "Deal or No Deal"; you don't have to have any great, or even marginal, skill. All you really need are a love of money and a tolerance for Howie and you can win large amounts of money. And, ultimately, that's what makes "Deal or No Deal" a not-so-great game show. Sure, it has its moments of suspense, but when it comes down to it, you don't really care if the contestant wins $5 or $500,000. The overwhelming emotion you feel, regardless of the show's outcome, is anger that you weren't asked to be on the show.

So "Deal or No Deal" will never take its place in the pantheon of great game shows. And now, for the public record, I will count down the ten greatest game shows of all time. Note the wording. These are not merely my favorite; they are the greatest. There really is no debate. But add a comment if you want.

10. Name That Tune--I prefer the Jim Lange years. The qualifying rounds had a tendency to drag sometimes, but the final "Bid-A-Note" round--now that's good TV.

9. Press Your Luck--Without the Whammy, this is an average show at best. But the Whammy makes it a classic. Plus, Michael Larson's attempt to cheat his way to riches on the show is truly fascinating to watch. The Game Show Network (I'm not calling it GSN) did a special on it; maybe they'll air it again sometime in between "Dog Eat Dog" reruns. Man, that station has lost its way. In any case, "PYL" is also the only game show on the list that I recreated in my grandmother's living room using a deck of cards. I was a very resourceful child. Also, I didn't have many friends.

8. Tic Tac Dough--Much like the Whammy, it was the crudely pixellated Dragon that was the star of "Tic Tac Dough." Or at least it was a tie between it and Wink Martindale. Also a far better adaptation of tic tac toe than "Hollywood Squares," perhaps the most overrated game show of all time. "Tic Tac Dough" also had an insidiously catchy theme song that will now be stuck in my head for the rest of the day.

7. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire--The only show that (a) I passed the test to appear on and (b) showed up on an episode of. Unfortunately, those two things are not related in any way. I passed the written test but made the unfortunately fatal mistake of saying the word "dick" during the interview with producers (a long story, one that I know begs retelling after that, but I think everyone who reads this has heard it--if not, tell me and maybe I'll post it here for posterity's sake). And I showed up on the second episode of the series, in the audience, right behind the Hot Seat contestant (see photo at left...look real hard over the contestant's right shoulder). Rarely has a whiter person appeared on the screens of America. Amazingly, the show still succeeded.

Regardless of my connections to/personal issues with the show, it's a classic--trivia mixed with strategy and a little bit of greed. Coincidentally, that also describes most of my life up to this point.

6. Family Feud--I refer here to the classic Richard Dawson era, though I'll give Ray Combs some props for his early work on the show (it started sucking when they added that bullseye thing). I will not, however, tolerate Louie Anderson and Richard Karn. Shams.

It's a good show to play along with and, on top of that, if there's anything more fascinatingly creepy than Richard Dawson kissing every female contestant full on the lips, I don't know what it is.

5. Match Game--On paper, this is a fairly moronic idea. And, actually, in practice, it is also a moronic idea. But the celebrities (most of whom were really barely celebrities) make it work. And Gene Rayburn's stick mike--brilliant.

4. The Gong Show--It's debatable whether this actually qualifies as a game show, but since this list can't properly be debated, I don't see a problem. Plus I have to give Chuck Barris his props. I used to watch this every morning on USA when the family first started going up to Windham in the summer, and it's fair to say it would drive my mom crazy. Not a big Chuck Barris fan. But she still let me watch. And I don't think there's ever been anything on TV that has made me as excited as the sound of Gene Gene the Dancing Machine's theme music.

3. Remote Control--I had the Remote Control board game AND the (shown at left) Remote Control Nintendo game (which couldn't have been bought by more than, say, 10 people). And I'd make sure I was in front of the TV every night at 7, when I would flip on MTV to watch Ken Ober, Colin Quinn, and Marisol Massey (and later Kari Wuhrer). Man, if this show was still on, I would completely clean up on it. Born too late, I suppose.

2. Jeopardy--Tends to be taken for granted, but it cannot be denied. After making my grandmother play my sad version of "Press Your Luck," I would sit in front of the TV with a notepad and play along with "Jeopardy," writing the dollar amount of every question I got right (and, because of my Catholic school education, taking off the amounts of the questions that I guessed wrong). Good times.

1. The Price Is Right--Most game shows just focus on one game. But "The Price Is Right" has dozens of games, with a different mix every show. And there's a pretty high percentage of brilliance--the Clock Game, Plinko, Hole in One (or Two), Lucky Seven, Safe Crackers, Ten Chances, Three Strikes...it's a nearly endless list, though I must also mention Cliff Hangers, with the yodeling mountain climber, which battles with Plinko for my favorite. The perfect game show. "Deal or No Deal" couldn't hold its jock.

Honorable Mention: Joker's Wild, Super Password, Sale of the Century, The $25,000 Pyramid, Cram, Scrabble, Split Second, Talk About, Jackpot, Double Dare, Win, Lose, or Draw


What I liked about February

* Meeting Rick "Barney Coopersmith" Moranis
* Hudson Falcons and Maybe Pete at the Middle East in Cambridge, MA
* Bobby Bare Jr. singing "You Blew Me Off" (with Mike "Grimey" Grimes) at Mercury Lounge, NYC
* Visiting the Cash/Lyons Compound in Malden, MA

* Islanders 2, Devils 1--finally I get to see the Isles win a game in person
* Bowling six games on Presidents' Day at Bowl Rite Lanes, Union City, NJ
* Flogging Molly at the Nokia Theatre, NYC
* "Date My Mom"

* The Chicken Milanese at Rita & Joe's, Jersey City, NJ
* The PBA U.S. Open Pro-Am
* "Distraction"
* Xmastime

* A real good snowstorm
* "The Sopranos" filming an episode on my block
* Allen Toussaint at Joe's Pub, NYC
* The willingness of people with cars to drive me places