What I Liked About May

*Two Saturdays with the McCormicks of Wilmington
*Armando Benitez imploding in the 12th at Shea
*Meeting Steve Guttenberg
*Screech under attack on "Celebrity Fit Club"

*Amy LaVere at J&R Music World and The Bitter End, NYC
*Meeting Seth Rogen
*Avett Brothers at the Fillmore New York at Irving Plaza, NYC
*Finding what I think is an authentic W.C. Handy autograph at a yard sale

*Meeting Don Rickles
*Buying two authentic Catskill Game Farm signs
*Slo-Mo at World Cafe Live, Philadelphia, PA
*The willingness of people with cars to drive me places


May's Loose Ends

*From what I can gather from the Bowery Ballroom's website, the US Air Guitar Championships-New York Regional is sold out. Bands all over Manhattan--many of them quite good and featuring actual guitars--play to less than a dozen people every night, and this sells out. I'm embarrassed for you, New York City.

*And, hey, speaking of live bands for you to see, Maybe Pete at Desmond's Tavern this Saturday night at 9 p.m. Actual guitars will be played. Fun will be had. You will be there. Right?

*Thursday night brings the finals of the National Spelling Bee to ABC prime time. And Stuart Scott will be serving as a reporter. As New York City's tenth best speller of 1990, I would like to express my dismay at this development. Haven't the kids suffered enough?

And while I'm expressing dismay, shame on the so-called contestants who misspelled the following words in the early rounds today: felony, fundamentalist, profane, pallbearer, inconvenient, fanatic, vicious, and adjective. Seriously, you study words for months in preparation and you crap the bed on "adjective"? Were you the only kid who entered the local spelling bee? Or did you just take a dive, in which case, I salute you.

Thankfully, Texas's Samir Patel is still alive in the bee. According to an AP article, the five-timer from Texas is "trying to avoid becoming the Dan Marino of spelling." Tinsel and Rot wishes you the best, big man. No pressure.

Oh, and one last thing. Clearly, the people in charge of the Bee are avid readers of the Marah message board. How else to explain "wilco" and "serge" being back-to-back words in Round 3? Secret's out, Scripps-Howard.

*If there's anything better than watching Armando Benitez commit two balks (even if the first one was highly questionable) and give up a game-winning home run in the 12th inning of a game against the Mets, I have yet to see it. We miss you, pal.

*Y'know, initially, I was going to insist that, you, the eight readers of Tinsel and Rot, pool your money together and buy me this actual "Family Feud" set when I read about it on the Pop Candy blog. Then I clicked on the link and discovered, it's the Louie Anderson/Richard Karn/John O'Hurley-era set. No wonder bids are still stuck in three digits. If you're offering the original set, with the cross-stitch theme, the old-school Big Money board, and the Tootsie Roll Pop trees, then you're onto something. Don't be fooled, America.

* The Last of the Breed tour, highly touted by Tinsel and Rot earlier this year, comes to New Jersey at the end of August, with dates at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel on August 28 (on sale Saturday) and the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City on August 31. You should go. Tickets are even reasonably priced for both shows.


Give a Guy a Break

From the Guelph Tribune:

A man in Guelph has been approaching women with a bizarre request for the past two months, and police are asking for the public's help in finding him.

The man has been approaching women in the Victoria Road and Woodlawn Road area and asking them to kick him in the groin. The incidents have happened three times, between April 7 and May 22, said a police news release. During two of the incidents, the man was on a bicycle.

The suspect is described as a white man, 20 to 25 years old, who is heavy-set with a red or brown goatee and a noticeable gap between his front teeth. He was last seen wearing a ball cap, a grey, zippered hoodie and blue jeans.


What kind of country hunts down fat guys who want to be kicked in the balls? Shame on you, Canada. I'm rooting for the Ducks now.

And if you're out there, pal, come to the States. The greatest country in the world will make it happen for you.

U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!


Charles Nelson Reilly RIP

Tinsel and Rot salutes the life of Charles Nelson Reilly, who died last Friday at the age of 76. Smarter people than T&R would likely have a lot to say about his acting career and triumphs in the theater. Alas, we can only speak of his numerous "Match Game" appearances and his star turn as announcer Vic Carson in the best movie about professional wrestling ever, "Body Slam" (where he shared the screen with another lost legend, Billy Barty). But those are plenty good enough for us.

So, here's to you, Charles Nelson Reilly. Thanks for the laughs.

{photo above from playbill.com}


This Is What It's Like

I am in self-imposed semiretirement from waiting-outside-of-TV-studios autograph collecting, but there are a few groups of people who will drag me out of seclusion:

1. "Saved by the Bell" cast members
2. "Police Academy" cast members (who will likely never be booked on talk shows anyway...but if there's a G.W. Bailey resurgence, I'm there)
3. Country music legends
4. "Freaks and Geeks" cast members

And, so, when Seth Rogen (Ken on "Freaks and Geeks" and star of what looks to be a damn funny movie, the soon-to-be-released "Knocked Up") was booked for "Late Show with David Letterman," it was clear that it would be time to head back out to the streets. Then, while in Philly last weekend, I stopped at The Book Trader in Old City and found a $3 copy of a Michael Martin Murphey LP. Murphey, famous for "Wildfire," was to be the musical guest on "Late Show" the same night Rogen would be on. Hence, my Tuesday evening was booked up.

And this is how it went:

5:38 p.m.--I arrive outside the stage door at the Ed Sullivan Theater to find a few collectors behind the barricades. Since I'm not around much anymore, I can't be sure that they're collectors, but a look at their sweaty, desperate faces tells me all I need to know. Also, they're behind a barricade, so either they're collectors or they have some sort of confinement fetish.

5:39 p.m.--I spot one of the collectors I know, who's usually at the same music-related autograph events I am. He's there for Murphey, though he did get lead guest Charles Barkley on the way in. Much to his chagrin, however, Barkley's got a crappy signature. He hates crappy signatures. The conversation soon turns into one with a sentence that begins, "Someone should shoot him, or at least hit him with a steel rod."

5:46 p.m.--My collector friend says, "That Rogen guy...he looks like a bum." Fortunately, he does not wish physical harm on him. A few minutes later, he starts ragging on Dick Dale, whose autograph he soon hopes to be getting. After mocking his "bumblebee shit," he relates what I imagine is the world's only Dick Dale joke: What does Roy Rogers do in his spare time? Dick Dale. Please, don't make me have to explain it.

5:51 p.m.--One of the other collectors is basically screaming everything that he says, because he has headphones on and the rest of us don't. It amazes me that people consistently can't figure that sort of thing out. It doesn't seem that hard. In any case, he is here for Seth Rogen, and he soon explains to one of the other collectors there for Barkley who Seth Rogen is.


"Oh yeah, who was he?


Yeah? Cool. Maybe I'll get a photo with him."


"Need" is always a funny word among autograph collectors. I use it myself all the time (e.g., "I need to get Elizabeth Berkley to sign my Bayside shirt"), but I'm aware that I sound like an idiot when I do. I wonder if the others do. Or maybe he actually does need Rogen to sign his "Anchorman" DVD cover. Maybe his life depends on it. I shouldn't jump to conclusions.

5:59 p.m.--There comes a time in every autograph situation with my aforementioned music-loving colleague when he starts talking about the Fillmore East. It doesn't matter the situation or who we're waiting for. There will always be a moment where the Fillmore comes up, and I hear about how he saw Hendrix for $5 or sat in the balcony for $3.50 to see the Who or the sheer volume of Blue Cheer. I don't really mind hearing about it, but the harangue against current ticket prices that follows is starting to wear on me. The Stones and their $300 tickets inevitably come up, and this time he calls a female singer (I don't think he ever figured out who he was mad at, but I think it was Streisand) and her willingness to charge $1000 for a seat. He calls her a name that rhymes with "duck 'n' hunt." He has some anger issues, I think.

6:09 p.m.--Charles Barkley comes out and though I suppose I should have figured this out beforehand, he is ginormous. I hadn't brought anything for him to sign, but everybody else (including the guy who looked to have about 15 8x10s (Sir Charles only signed one) moves toward the front of the barricades to get their stuff signed. As he's signing, I realize I should get an index card signed, but by the time I move forward, Barkley's posing for the paparazzi with Biff Henderson. Then a paparazzo essentially tells Biff to get out of the way.

6:21 p.m.--Seth Rogen emerges from the stage door exit and makes his way right over to the cool dude with the "Freaks and Geeks" DVD yearbook. That would be me. Like just about everybody I've gotten to sign the book (eight so far), he seems genuinely happy to see it. It (and not an "Anchorman" cover, my shouting friend) is the sign of a true fan. Or a social misfit.

As Rogen finishes signing the book, the collector who didn't know who Seth Rogen was a half-hour ago angles in. He talks real fast, almost to the point of being incomprehensible, so it sounds like this:


Rogen agrees, so the guy tries passing his camera to one of us, but no one jumps at the opportunity. Finally, someone does and, voila, he now has a picture with someone he only has a very vague knowledge of. Awesome.

Soon, everybody but me is taking a picture with Rogen. Why not me? It's that whole I-don't-wanna-bother-people-I-actually-like-when-they're-being-bombarded-by-strangers-with-digital-cameras thing. I'm much better in more formal situations like the Chiller conventions.

6:26 p.m.--Just about everybody clears out until it's me, Mr. Fillmore East, and some other guy who's just taking pictures. Michael Martin Murphey apparently not a big name anymore. Or maybe ever.

6:32 p.m.--The waiting is the hardest part...

6:42 p.m.--Really, it is.

6:47 p.m.--Someone comes up and asks who the guest is tonight. Before I can get past "Michael Martin," he's gone down the street.

6:52 p.m.--While looking at the stage door for "The Color Purple" across the street (where Fantasia is due any minute), my music friend tells me that if Jordin doesn't win "American Idol," something's wrong. Apparently everybody has an opinion on that show but me. Even someone who saw Hendrix for $5.

7:03 p.m.--I realize that there must be something better I could be doing. But I'm here and I've got an album, so I guess I should stay.

7:04 p.m.--It occurs to me that I could have avoided all this by just not buying the album last Friday. That would have been the smart thing to do. But if I always did the smart thing, this blog wouldn't exist. So hooray for my stupidity!

7:12 p.m.--Michael Martin Murphey finally steps outside and someone with him kindly points out the two scary-looking gentlemen who have albums. He seems excited that anybody's waiting for him, so he gladly signs my album while somebody with him hands out free Michael Martin Murphey CDs. And it's a double disc. Sweet. That makes the 90+ minutes spent standing behind a barricade on 53rd Street worth it. Sort of. A little. C'mon, let me have this moment, wouldya?


A Post In Which I Dazzle You With My Knowledge

While watching "Tuesday Night Titans" on WWE 24/7 (there's an introductory phrase any 30-year-old can be proud of using), I tried to think of all the professional wrestling referees whose names I knew off the top of my head. It went like this: Dick Woehrle, Tommy Young, Pee Wee Anderson, Dick Kroll, Dave Hebner, Earl Hebner, Charles Robinson, Nick Patrick, Gilberto Roman, Joey Marella, Sonny Fargo, Billy Caputo ( I went to high school with his son), "Dangerous" Danny Davis, and Bill Alfonso. Yes, I can name 14 referees (I actually had 15, but I had Tim White's first name wrong, so I've taken that one away ... and I'm pissed I forgot Teddy Long). I don't want to say I'm proud of that, but, well, screw it, I am. I've also met four of them. Is this getting weird? Or should I continue, ranking the referees from coolest to least cool? What? No? OK, fair enough. The customer's always right.

But here's a picture of me and Dick Woehrle taken a few years ago:

See, I'm a winner.


Not that Screech is ever suitable for work...

...but this uncensored clip from the upcoming episode of "Celebrity Fit Club" is really, really not suitable for work. Relax--it doesn't show any scenes from his recent, ahem, film. There's just a lot of anger coming from Harvey. So, if you've got headphones, go for it:

I curse VH-1 for putting "Celebrity Fit Club" on at the same time as "The Sopranos." Makes Sundays too stressful. I guess I'll have to get up early to watch the Sunday morning airing this week. Go Screech Go.

Props to retired blogger Bryan Chambala for alerting me to the existence of this clip.


The Week in Game Shows

Big week for game shows. Feel the excitement.

* CBS devotes two prime-time hours to the man who is arguably the greatest game show host ever, the soon-to-retire Bob Barker. Wednesday (8 p.m.) brings "The Price Is Right Million Dollar Spectacular," which will likely be a bloated version of a game show that succeeds because it's not so bloated. Not a must-see. But Thursday's "Bob Barker: A Celebration of 50 Years on Television" (also at 8 p.m.)--now that's one to watch. Clip shows of game show highlights are almost always home runs. I expect no different here. I'll be out once again living the life of a senior citizen--this time at the 92nd Street Y watching Don Rickles in conversation with Regis Philbin--but I will be setting the VCR. Tune in and salute the legacy of a genuine TV legend. And, don't worry, Barker has about a month left before taping his last daytime show. Then and only then will the wailing begin. And, for the record, no one should replace Bob Barker. They should just pack up the Plinko board and call it a day.

*But wait, there's more: GSN salutes the Man all week long by airing "Match Game" and "Family Feud" episodes featuring Mr. Barker. I don't understand why "Price Is Right" reruns aren't on GSN. Too expensive? Too good on a channel that regularly airs "Dog Eat Dog"? I want answers.

*And in current game show news, ABC debuts a show on Friday night (9 p.m.) that I am both anxious and terrified to see, "National Bingo Night." I can't wait to see a TV show that attempts to make bingo--what the annoying host calls "one of the simplest and most fun games ever invented"--the hippest thing on television. I'm on board, and (sorry, Bob Barker) I hereby declare the premiere of "National Bingo Night" this week's Tinsel and Rot TV Must-See. I am particularly pleased that there appears to be a bingo referee.

*And, just to brag, here's a recent picture of me and the Game Show King, Chuck Barris. I look better in this picture than the last one (yes, I have had my picture taken with Chuckie Baby twice...you got a problem with that?), but Chuck doesn't fare as well.

Note the old "awkward-hand-on-the-shoulder" move I employed. Never know how to handle that.

I feel obligated to point out that I wasn't the nerdiest guy there. There was a dude in front of me who had him sign a book and about ten photos before the Barnes & Noble rep had to cut him off. Then he took a picture with him that featured the creepiest smile ever. Wish I had snapped a picture of that.


If by some strange chance you missed it...

...you almost missed it again, because YouTube took down the clip of the Avett Brothers on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien." But then someone put it back up (kudos to the kind YouTube users who come through in moments such as these). So it's back here on the blog. Get it while it's hot.

I think the boys did a bang-up job on the show and likely brought a few more onto the Avett bandwagon. And, hey, guess what? There's still room on the bandwagon, even after this weekend's shows. All you have to do is buy the new Avett Brothers CD, "Emotionalism," which heads out into the world on Tuesday. I was lucky enough to find a copy a few weeks ago, so I can tell you that it's a damn fine CD--maybe not my favorite, but definitely one of the more consistent and cohesive selections in the Avett catalog. Like any good record, it's full of little touches that add up to something memorably powerful. Or powerfully memorable. Or some other phrase that means really good.

There's the fiddle (courtesy of BR549's Donnie Herron) that weaves in and out of my current favorite Avett song, "Go To Sleep." There's that little burst of strings in "Will You Return?" There's the piano on "Salina." And a lot more, all cleanly (but not antiseptically) produced and just consistently good. It's likely their mellowest CD yet, but it's not boring by any means. At least not to me. And I'm the one with the blog, so let's call me the authority here, OK?

Saturday's show at the FNYaIP (man, I love writing that) was up there among the best of the two dozen or so Avett shows I've seen and, like their last show at the Bowery Ballroom, it was capped off by a Scott Avett stagedive, this time during "Talk on Indolence." It was funny to think that only a little over two years ago, I saw the Avett Brothers at the Goldhawk in Hoboken, a show in which a stagedive would have been both inappropriate and horribly tragic. It's nice to see a band go from playing to seven people to, I don't know, maybe a thousand in a relatively short amount of time. And I'm not gonna be one of those people who gets all territorial as the Avetts get bigger. Enjoy 'em, world.

And though New York was clearly enjoying the Avetts more than the smaller Friday night Philly crowd, there were some fans at the Trocadero who were having a pretty good time. I am thinking most of the gentleman in front of me who would occasionally break out into dances that would have been more appropriate at, say, a 1985 Duran Duran concert. But the important thing was he was having a helluva time. Well, actually, the most important thing is that when he was swinging his arms over his head, he didn't hit either me or my friends. But it was also cool that he was digging the Avetts. And what's not to dig? Even though the show got off to a rocky start and there were sound problems throughout the night (likely due to a lack of a soundcheck because of the Conan taping), [flipping through Book of Review Cliches] when the smoke cleared, the Avetts came out on top.

Of the two shows, New York was the runaway winner. And here is where a lesser writer would write "But the real winners were the fans." I won't do that, dear reader. But I will say that the Avett Brothers are the current kings of the Tinsel and Rot musical kingdom. I know, I know, you're thinking back to those Huey Lewis and Weird Al posts. Fair enough. But, really, the Avett Brothers are damn good, and I've got a feeling that a lot of people in Philly and New York will testify to that. Next time they come around, make sure you're there.

And buy that CD, OK?

(Above: A very poor-quality photo taken from the FNYaIP balcony during "Go To Sleep")


All aboard

The Avett Brothers are once again about to hit the Big Apple and surrounding areas. And with that all-important buzz starting to grow louder, this may be your last chance to jump on the bandwagon before it is teeming with people you will have to fight for a grip on the railing that will prevent you from falling and embarrassing yourself in front of your finger-pointing travelers.

Sorry. I was trying to make that sentence as long as I could. Then I just got tired.

Anyway, the Avetts will make their national television debut Friday night on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien." That oughta be cool. I'm not entirely convinced that a spot on Conan is a ticket to superstardom, but it couldn't hurt. And it sure beats playing to five people at the Goldhawk in Hoboken.

Then, they'll be at the (deep breath) Fillmore New York at Irving Plaza Saturday night for your listening and visual pleasure. Tickets are still available. And so are you. So why not just go? If you dig it, you can say you saw them when they were just getting big and ensure your credibility as a happening kinda guy/gal who knows where it's at. And if you hate it, you can start that whole "Dude, I saw them once and I totally don't get how they got so popular" backlash that will get you instant hipster credibility. You can't buy that sort of thing. Actually, I think you can, and I'm pretty sure there's a store in Williamsburg that sells it, but you know what I'm saying.

Anyway, to recap, Conan on Friday night/Saturday morning (and, if you're feeling adventurous, the Trocadero in Philly earlier Friday night) and then Saturday night (doors at 8 pm) at the FNYaIP (catchy).

I think you'll like 'em.


Random Thoughts on the 2007 PNC Bank Arts Center Schedule

Holmdel, New Jersey, is about to light up again, as the 2007 concert schedule for the PNC Bank Arts Center has now been released. And now I share some of my thoughts regarding said schedule.

*311 has enough fans to potentially fill an amphitheater? Really? In 2007? What am I missing?

*If you're a single heterosexual male and you find yourself saying, "I can't wait to see that John Mayer/Ben Folds double bill," it may be time to rethink the direction in which your life is headed.

*Incidentally, those two shows lead off a three-show stretch that ends with a Kenny Chesney/Sugarland/Pat Green concert. God help us all.

*I don't have a degree in marketing or anything, but I do have a solid idea on how one tour should be billed: Chicago and America: The "Please Come and Take a Nap on Our Lawn for $25 (Or $6 to $4)" Tour

*Concert where you are most likely to see a fight over disrespecting someone's woman break out: Bryan Adams and George Thorogood

*Over/under on the total number of songs that will be played at the Allman Brothers Band and Bob Weir and Ratdog show: 12. Take the under.

*Lawn seats for Weird Al are $36. I saw him from about 20 feet away for $27. Jealous?

*Thank God Def Leppard, Foreigner, and Styx are finally joining forces. Especially without Dennis DeYoung. It's about time.

*As if Poison and Ratt weren't enough, they throw in White Lion. But, wait, it's Tramp's White Lion. Apparently, Staten Island's own Vito Bratta doesn't get along with the guys. Sad. My sister once showed me where his house was.

But based on the picture below, I'm guessing that whatever Vito's doing is better than hanging with these guys:

That's the picture you want greeting people on your website? Oof.


Rethinking the Songs of My Youth: Weird Al Edition

Anyone who completely dismisses the musical work of Weird Al Yankovic is either crazy or a douchebag. Or, more likely, a crazy douchebag. And such people do exist. I went to high school with my fair share. But the truth is that any human being worth a damn has, at one time or another, been amused by a Weird Al song, or at least delighted by the cinematic gem "UHF."

And that is what led me to the House of Blues in Atlantic City on Saturday for my first ever experience of Weird Al live and in person. I am the proud owner of three Weird Al cassettes --the eponymous debut, the classic "Even Worse," and, of course, the soundtrack to "UHF,", which I played incessantly in the summer and fall of 1989. So, since Weird Al had given me some solid laughs during my awkward formative years, I realized it was high time to pay my respects to the man.

The crowd at a Weird Al show is, predictably, maybe not the coolest collection of people ever assembled in Atlantic City on a Saturday night (amazingly, I fit right in). There were a lot of Hawaiian shirts, a healthy display of overbites, and a few awkward mustaches. But a Weird Al show is a time to celebrate all these things and to share the feeling that, if only for a few short hours, the nerds have taken control. So the naysayers and comp ticket holders were relegated to the outskirts of the audience while the Weird Al Army and I huddled up near the front of the packed house. There was momentary panic about 15 minutes before showtime when a man directly behind me, who I can only guess spent the last 48 hours losing an awful lot of money and drinking an obscene amount of free alcohol, started yelling, "Where are the lights! THIS IS BULLSHIT! Where are the lights? Oh man, this isn't even the real thing! BULLSHIT." Apparently, the show had begun for him, and it was thoroughly disappointing. Thankfully, Security removed him before he could ruin our good time.

A little after 9 p.m., Weird Al and crew came out guns a-blazing, busting out into "The Chicken Dance" as soon as the lights went up. The world's greatest group dance song (there is no argument, so don't bother) is, I would learn, the leadoff to "Polkarama," a medley of reasonably current hits off of Weird Al's latest, "Straight Outta Lynwood." The polka medley is a frequent highlight of the Yankovic ouevre, perhaps none more than the "Hot Rocks Polka" on the UHF soundtrack. I figured chances were slim that he'd bust that out, so "Polkarama" had to do. And it did just fine. Since I couldn't take pictures, and I really doubt you own the CD (to be fair, neither do I), please allow YouTube to provide the audiovisual component of this blog entry:

It's almost impossible for a show to suck when it starts off like that (especially with the best use of bubbles in a song since Huntington), and though there were a few clunkers in the set ("I''ll Sue Ya," "It's All About the Pentiums," and "The Saga Begins"--the latter of which, a parody of "American Pie" that tells the story of "Star Wars: Episode I," I am clearly in the minority about, because it got, as they say in the wrestling business, a huge pop), they were dwarfed by "Canadian Idiot" (guess what it's a parody of), the latest monster jam, "White and Nerdy" (a parody of Chamillionaire's "Ridin," a song I was only kinda vaguely familiar with), and, of course, the eternal classics "Amish Paradise" (performed in full Amish gear), "Smells Like Nirvana" (complete with gargling, though without actual marbles), and classic-of-classics "Fat," performed by Weird Al in the fat suit with the double chins. Killer.

I hadn't really thought about it beforehand, but there has to be a significant amount of downtime in a Weird Al show, to accommodate costume changes like the one for "Fat." The set breaks were taken up by various clips, most of which were "Al TV" interviews. To the uninitiated, these are interviews where Weird Al uses interview clips to construct his own fake interviews with his own questions. It was also done to great effect on "Not Necessarily the News" a lot. I'll almost always find that sort of thing funny, and such was the case at the House of Blues. To be fair, though, I did not find them as funny as the guy standing next to me, who found nearly every single second gut-bustingly hilarious. Still, that reaction was better than the heckling from way back at the bar, no doubt courtesy of some thick-necked jock who doesn't understand the Weird Al process. This was not a night for him.

As the encore wrapped up with "Albuquerque," one of those hit-or-miss Weird Al originals (sorry, but count that one as a miss for me--a hit in this regard would be "The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota"), I realized that a ton of Weird Al classics had gone unplayed, not even earning a spot in the mid-show medley. No "I Love Rocky Road" or "My Bologna." "I Lost on Jeopardy" fans were denied. James Brown fans left disappointed, as "Living with a Hernia" was absent from the setlist. It's hard to satisfy everybody. But Weird Al does the best he can. And for that, a grateful nation shows its thanks. By way of me.


Mr. Bad Example

Crystal Zevon's warts-and-all oral history I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon is a pretty fascinating look at Warren—sometimes fascinating good, but most times fascinating bad. It's heartbreaking in any number of ways, from the stories of the physical and mental abuse he inflicted upon friends and family to his battle to live long enough to put out one last masterpiece and, more important, to see his grandchildren (successful on both counts). And it's ultimately those two kinds of heartbreak that define the book and, in the process, Warren's dirty life and times.

Since I came to Warren late in his career (I think the first CD of his I bought was "Life'll Kill Ya"), I didn't really know all that much about his personal life, other than that he had had some problems with alcohol and had a reputation as being sort of a lunatic in his prime. Such is the template for a lot of rock stars, though. But after reading this book and uncovering all the gory details (excessive alcoholism, massive drug intake, physical and emotional abusiveness toward women), well, let's just say I was a little taken aback.

For instance, there's this, from Crystal, his ex-wife:

"When I asked him to be quiet so the baby could sleep, he flew into the worst rage I had ever seen him in. He hit me, knocking me to the floor, and then he kicked me while I was crouched in the corner. He ordered me to get the baby and get out of his hotel room. It was two a.m. on Christmas morning. It was freezing cold and I was on the streets of Marbella with our five-month-old daughter, no money and nowhere to go."

And that, unfortunately, was not an isolated incident. There are many recollections from Crystal about Warren's alcohol-fueled rages, most of which he was likely too drunk to even remember. And even with the tales of Warren's rough childhood and the cruelties frequently heaped upon him by his own parents that likely played a part in creating that abusive alcoholic, it's just hard to put Warren on a musical pedestal when confronted with stories like the one above.

But, then again, there's this, from neighbor and friend Billy Bob Thornton:

"Warren was right behind me and he put his arms around me and just hugged me. Not like you do and then go on, but he just held on to me. And, I held on to him. It lasted a long time. Then, he gets up real close and he says, 'Remember when you told me about the time you gave that guy the TV?' [Thornton had once given a fellow out-of-work actor friend his TV, which was about all he had to his name at the time.]...So, I said, 'Yeah, I remember.' Warren said, 'I want to give you something.' He took off his ring...and he gave it to me. I started bawling like a baby. He didn't like people crying around him, and I kept having to say how sorry I was, but I couldn't stop myself. I fell apart right there with him telling me it was okay."

That exchange came as they were about to record "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" for Warren's final CD, "The Wind." And as you read the stories about recording that CD and Warren's desire to, in a sense, use his death sentence for all it was worth, you get the clear sense that "The Wind" was his attempt to make amends for the sins of his past. And this valiant effort, though tempered by his descent back into alcoholism after his diagnosis (more news to me), is what makes that CD (and the accompanying VH-1 documentary) such a powerful piece of work. And it also keeps this book from being a total bummer.

So, my reaction after finishing the book was a little mixed. It was a good read ( I dig oral biographies), and it was fun to hear about the creation of songs like "Werewolves of London" (originally thought to be a throwaway by Warren and the song's cowriters, Leroy Marinell and Waddy Wachtel) and "Mr. Bad Example" (created just as I expected it was--with Warren and cowriter Jorge Calderon trading lines intended to make each other laugh). But all the stories of physical and mental abuse of those he loved were the ones that stuck with me the most. Still, it's good in the sense that you get a full, occasionally brutal portrait of Zevon and see where he was coming from, as well as the price that creative genius sometimes exacts, both on the self and loved ones. Crystal recalls that her ex-husband "often told me that he had to create fights, make drama, so that he could experience the pain firsthand." That's a brutal way to live. and make a career. But Warren did it, and I'll Sleep When I'm Dead shows how.

But make no mistake--it aint that pretty at all.


What I Liked About April

*Cooperstown, NY
*Pumpkin pancakes at the Modern Diner, Pawtucket, RI
*Meeting my sixth "Freaks and Geeks" cast member
*The Yankees in last place--good news no matter the month

*Jimmy Sturr/Lenny Gomulka & Chicago Push, Bayway Polish Home, Elizabeth, NJ
*Meeting John McPhee
*The pregame buildup at Nassau Coliseum before Game 3 of Islanders-Sabres
*Taste of Hudson, Jersey City, NJ

*Meeting Cal Ripken Jr.
*"Celebrity Fit Club"
*The Greencards/The Everybodyfields, Joe's Pub, NYC
*The willingness of people with cars to drive me places