The Band: Tinsel and Rot Hall of Famers

It seems appropriate to wrap up a year in which I was lucky enough to see Levon Helm play in his barn twice by inducting Mr. Helm and his Bandmates into the Tinsel and Rot Hall of Fame.

I've spent a lot of time here and elsewhere (someday either I'll scan in my No Depression tribute to Rick Danko or just find the disk I have it on) pontificating on the greatness of The Band, so I'll keep this brief. Simply put, I can't imagine there will be another band that will ever be as so overflowing with talent as The Band in their prime (and it should be noted that this induction applies solely to Misters Danko, Helm, Hudson, Manuel, and Robertson, lest anyone from the later years think they're getting in, too). There certainly won't be any group with three guys as vocally strong as Rick Danko, Levon Helm, and Richard Manuel (who weren't too shabby on their instruments of choice, either). Add in a pretty damn good guitarist in Robbie Robertson (good enough even to overcome his awful decision to invite Neil Diamond to "The Last Waltz") and a genuine eccentric master of the keys in Garth Hudson and, well, you've got something there.

I could write for hours about each member's greatness and how it blended so perfectly with the others', but that's been done a lot and I can't imagine I can add too much more without making this post a tedious read. Plus, why write when there are so many YouTube clips?

So, let me just welcome The Band into the Tinsel and Rot Hall of Fame. From the second I heard the post-Robbie/post-Richard Band at the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Celebration (on the radio, lest you think I was actually there), I could feel that something inside me had changed. And I am grateful for that.

The first time I heard The Band (dueling accordions!):

Richard Manuel singing "Rockin' Chair":

Rick Danko singing "It Makes No Difference":

Levon Helm singing "Don't Do It":

And with this induction, the Hall closes up shop for what we expect will be the length of 2009. It's getting pretty full in the Hall, and we want to give the inductees some room to breathe and/or avoid Gary Busey.

Song o' the Month: December 2008

Because a good song'll make you laugh and cry, here's Hayes Carll's unreleased (but available here) "I'm Grateful for Christmas This Year" (it starts at 3:00):

Potential Greatest Movie Ever Now in Production

Here's something to look forward to in 2009: the movie Corey Feldman is currently shooting, "The Adventures of Belvis Bash." How do I know it will be great? This sentence, from Feld-Dog's blog:

"The film also features cult film icons such as Daniel Baldwin, Mark Metcalf from Animal House/Twisted sister videos, the old wrestler The Iron Shiek who appeared with me in the Cyndi Lauper Goonies video, and even a song and guest appearance from Frank Stallone (Rambo’s little brother)."

The 2010 Oscar race is officially over.


The Year in Celebrity Photos, Vol. 3

4. Kathleen Edwards, New York, NY

This picture is doubly special because it was the next-to-last photo taken before Zankel Hall security shut down the picture taking because "We don't allow pictures to be taken here." Bad news for the third member of our party who was blocked from taking a photo with Ms. Edwards after two of us (and perhaps a half-dozen before us) had already been taken care of. But on a positive note, he now has a signed "Asking for Flowers" album (an album, or CD, or mp3, or whatever that you should, as I've pointed out before, own) with a picture of him and Ms. Edwards as stick figures, in which the stick figure of Ms. Edwards is giving the finger to the unseen security guard. Classic.

3. Billy Redden, Parsippany, NJ

To think I almost passed up the opportunity to have a photo taken with the banjo-playing boy from "Deliverance." Crazy. This would have been a great Holiday Greeting because I would guess that if I sent it (with some cropping), I would have achieved 100% "who-the-hell-is-that?" clearance among the recipients. I could've held a contest for people to guess who it is. Or I could've tipped my hand and written "Hope you don't squeal like a pig this holiday season." How classy would that have been? Alas.

2. Corey Haim, Parsippany, NJ

This enables some lucky Holiday Greeting recipients and collectors to complete their "Photos with James and the Two Coreys" collection, and enables me to complete my "Photos with Me and the Three Main Actors in the Erotic Thriller 'Blown Away'" collection (and if you didn't know that that movie stars the two Coreys and Nicole Eggert, shame on you). I waited on a line for about two hours to get into the main pit at the Chiller Theatre convention and then went directly to Mr. Haim's table to find he had no line at all (the only reason the main pit line was so long was because Linda Hamilton's line wrapped around most of the pit). So I forked over my money to Mr. Haim's mother (sign you watch too much reality TV: you know what Corey Haim's mother looks like), Mr. Haim said something I didn't understand about the eagles on my shirt, and this magical photo was taken. Trivia fact: in my photos with the two Coreys, they are both wearing sunglasses. And we were nowhere near sunlight in either of them.

1. Maureen McCormick, Ridgewood, NJ

Another coup for Holiday Greeting enthusiasts looking to complete the Greg and Marcia Brady series. This photo was taken at the end of yet another long wait on a line, this time at a book signing at Bookends in Ridgewood, NJ. I had gone to get a couple of books signed, but I also hoped to get Ms. McCormick to sign a football "Oh, my nose! Maureen McCormick." 'Twas not meant to be, as the rules of the signing were that she was only signing books. This was confirmed a few people in front of me when a trio of guys were shut down from having their photos and Marcia Brady doll signed, so I didn't push the issue. I thought about hanging around to see if she would be willing to sign the football after the event was over, but that would've required me to stand outside the store by myself with a football in my hand. There was a time in my life when that sort of behavior would have seemed normal. But these are my 30s. At least I got the photo.

So that's it for the celebrity photos in 2008. Who knows what next year will bring? Will the Holiday Greeting be retired? Will I get a photo with Gary Busey? Stay tuned.

The Year in Celebrity Pictures, Vol. 2

8. Lester "Beetlejuice" Green, Fairfield, NJ

Someday, I will be destitute. That day may come soon or it may come a couple decades from now. But it will almost certainly come. And when it does, I will desperately hope for $20 so I can get through the day. Perhaps I will come begging to you. When I do, you will think about it for a bit, then remember this photo and say, "Hey, didn't you once pay twenty dollars to have your picture taken with Beetlejuice? Who's to say that if I give you this twenty bucks, you won't just run out and spend it on another photo with Beetlejuice?" Sensing defeat, I will walk away in shame. But I still won't regret this photo.

7. Brigitte Nielsen, Parsippany, NJ

If I had to pick one person from "Celebrity Rehab" to have my photo taken with, Brigitte Nielsen is, I must admit, pretty far down the list (if I have to tell you, who's at the top of the list, you need to go back and do some catching up on the blog). Still, any opportunity to spend a few fleeting seconds with a Celebreality star should be seized. And so it was. This was the second of two attempts, and I look no less comfortable in the first one than I do here.

6. Nicole Eggert, Fairfield, NJ

A lifelong dream fulfilled, several years after it really would've meant something. Still, it's Nicole Eggert, and no matter the year, it is still an important achievement in my life history. Of course, that does not speak well of my life history to date, but if my history was full of great and wondrous achievements, I would have no time to blog. Think of what a void that would leave in your life. What's that? It wouldn't make one bit of a difference? Well, screw you then. I touched Nicole Eggert.

5. Charlie Louvin, New York

Look at me--I'm a Louvin brother! Well, as close as I'll get. This was taken after his show at Banjo Jim's, which was the back end of a Charlie Louvin doubleheader for me. The night before was at the 92Y Tribeca, and that was pretty damn good, but Banjo Jim's may have been better. It didn't really occur to me to get a photo with Mr. Louvin, but my friend Jon asked me to take a photo of him and Mr. Louvin, so I figured I should get in on that action (thanks Jon!). Like Billy Joe Shaver last year, Mr. Louvin misses out on being on the official Holiday Greeting only because 98% of the friends on my list would just be confused about who the old guy in the cowboy hat is. Sorry, Charlie.


The Year in Celebrity Pictures, Vol. 1

The Holiday Greetings have all been mailed. (Didn't get one? Be nicer to me next year.) So we can now begin looking at the top dozen "celebrity" photos of 2008 (perhaps no year has that word been pushed further to its limits). Enjoy! Or don't! But try to at least hold your insane jealousy to a manageable level.

12. Ted Danson, Jersey City, NJ

Ted Danson was the main guest at the Green Expo in Liberty State Park (easily crushing Deirdre Imus), but I was more focused on picking up free stuff (lightbulbs! frisbees! a brochure for biodegradable coffins!) than I was on getting a picture with Mr. Danson, a man whose stature has shot up in my eyes largely because of his appearances in "Curb Your Enthusiasm." Then I saw him just wandering around talking to people and figured, "Well, why the hell not?" I believe this is the first celebrity photo taken by my mother. Can you feel her pride? If not, can you feel that awesome Jimmy Sturr t-shirt (thanks, eBay!)?

11. Julie Newmar, Fairfield, NJ

Another one I didn't really plan on getting, but since I had already engaged the woman who is arguably the best Catwoman in a long conversation attempting to confirm that she actually left a comment on my sister's blog (all signs point to yes), I figured I might as well get the photo. Plus, it's always fun to take a picture with someone paler than me. Someday, I'll get around to posting a photo of me and wrestling legend Ric Flair from several years back. The skin-color contrast (my deathly pale versus his inhuman bronze) is phenomenal.

10. Bob Bourne, Uniondale, NY

I suppose I should care that you don't know who Bob Bourne is. I don't. But to educate you, he was on all four of the New York Islanders Stanley Cup teams (yes, kids, they used to win Cups) and though I have only fleeting memories of watching him play, he was my kind of player: smart, a little pesky, and a lot quick. Check out a tribute here and pay close attention to the end-to-end rush against the Rangers at 1:44 (which I wish they would show in just one speed). A lot of people at the Core of the Four autograph signing were anxious to meet Mike Bossy or Denis Potvin or Bryan Trottier. Not me. I was all revved up for Bourne. It was pretty cool to meet him.

9. Clark Gillies and Bobby Nystrom, New York, NY

More Islanders from the good old days (back when I was between 3 and 7...the memories aren't as strong as I wish they were). This picture was taken at an event at The Pond at Bryant Park, which apparently very few people gave a crap about. Good news for me, though, as I got on line, got my stuff signed, got the photo taken, went to Kinko's across the street, printed the photo, got back in line, and got the photo signed by Mr. Gillies (one of the greatest nicknames of all time..."Jethro") and Mr. Nystrom (one of the nicer guys you'll ever meet...I even remember him being nice when I was a wee lad). They seemed a little taken aback. Luckily, I'm used to that reaction.

Change I can believe in: UPDATE

One coupon down, two to go.

Three games bowled (my first with the new shoes AND my own ball): 151, 151 (consistency!), and 174 (stamina!)

And a reminder: If you're thinking of going to Leisure Time Bowl and you don't have a coupon for a free hour of bowling, rethink that. It couldn't be a less welcoming place. On the bright side, they played "Hey Ya!"

While I'm passing along reminders, when bowling, always defer to the person on your left. And if the person on your right is lined up and starting his/her approach, maybe you shouldn't choose that time to run up and throw your ball. Have some awareness of what's going on around you. Just saying...


If the Sacramento Kings had any sense of history...

...they would have followed up today's firing of Reggie Theus with the hiring of Dick Butkus.

And if you get that reference, congratulations--you're hot, you're in the zone. And you're officially Tinsel and Rot's kind of people. The rest of you, go study up on your TNBC history so you can be prepared when I inevitably reference the theme song to "City Guys."

Those who got the reference can spend their time debating who really was better: Coach Fuller or Coach Katowinski? For the record (and I really hope you're keeping a record), Tinsel and Rot is totally on Team Katowinski.


Change I can believe in

I estimate that I've been walking the streets (not in the euphemistic sense) of New York City and the surrounding areas by myself for a little over 15 years (not consecutively). In that time, I have had numerous strangers attempt to hand me a piece of paper I don't need. Sometimes that piece of paper touts a sale on suits, sometimes it points me to a nearby strip club, and sometimes it's offering me a free first month at a gym. The common denominator is that every single piece of paper that has looked to make its way into my hands on the city sidewalks has been one I don't need. And so when I see someone attempting to thrust a piece of paper into my hand, I reflexively put my head down and say, "No, thanks."

But that all changed last week when I was walking on Broadway downtown and I heard a pitch as I flew past that contained the words "bowl free." I immediately turned my head and moved back to the sweet, sweet angel handing out coupons for a free hour of bowling at the generally irredeemable monstrosity that is now Leisure Time Bowl at the Port Authority. It used to be a cool bowling alley, but then it got a makeover and now has an in-house DJ, waitress service, and a rule that says you can't wear hats. But I will overlook these sins when you give me a coupon for a free hour.

So, for the first time ever, I was glad to receive a piece of paper from a stranger. So glad, in fact, that I made sure to go back the same way and get another coupon an hour later. And pick one up off the sidewalk. I drew the line at reaching into the nearby trash can that contained dozens of discarded hours of fun. But I thought about it. Hard.

They say that change is coming. Now I believe.


Ingo Froelich: Tinsel and Rot Hall of Famer

Who, you ask? Well, this probably is not the first time you have reacted like this to a T&R Hall of Fame induction. But I will admit that Mr. Froelich is our most obscure pick. So, here's the story of the man who, as best I can recall, was the first accordion player I ever saw.

Back in the day, the family used to spend a lot of time in the Catskills. For most of my early childhood, there was one week a year when the Ford Fairmont would be packed up and we'd settle into the Brown House at Eva's Farm in Purling, NY, where we'd meet up with all the other families that visited that same week every year. It was a week of ringing dinner (and breakfast and lunch) bells, shuffleboard, Donkey Kong (and, later, QBert), square dances, and, in retrospect, watching adults drink a lot (the centerpiece of the Dollar Beer Racket night was when couples would pair off, the husbands would don baby bonnets, and the wives would give them a baby bottle filled with beer...first to finish wins). When other kids were going to Disney World, we were going to Eva's Farm. I suppose the other kids thought they were getting the better deal. They were wrong.

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and after a change in ownership and a quick subsequent downturn, Eva's Farm ceased to be. Luckily, by that point, we had settled into a summer rental in nearby Windham, where we could come and go whatever week we wanted to, but the other families were left without someplace to go at the end of July. And the area, once a hotbed of family resorts, was on its way down, too, so it wasn't so easy to find a spot like Eva's. But finally a few of the families settled on Wolff's Maple Breeze in nearby Catskill. For sure, it wasn't Eva's, but it was close enough. There were good video games (including World Series, maybe my all-time favorite) and, most important, different parties and activities every weeknight, which, though we were staying in Windham and not at the resort and thus had no right to attend, we crashed regularly. I suppose the management just assumed you'd have to be crazy to make the effort to crash a "Schnitzelbank" performance and just let it go.

There were only a few summers at Wolff's, and I was in my teens at that point, but I will forever remain in awe of the times I saw the incomparable Ingo Froelich and his one-man show at Wolff's. Ingo, who also performed with Helga (a woman who played glasses, whatever that's called) at the German Alps Festival in Hunter every summer, did the resort circuit in the Catskills during the summer, sometimes with his band (the Continentals) bot mostly solo. He was, as you may have surmised, German, and I reckon that if he had it his way, he would have played German songs all night. But he was at the mercy of the tourists, so while he was able to sneak some German tunes into the sets (and, really, he played until no one remained), the bulk of the night was handed over to interpretations of oldies and more recent fare.

For the solo shows, he would just have his accordion and keyboard, so the keyboard was in charge of the beat. And when I say "the beat," I mean "the beat." There was but one. Sometimes it would be slow, sometimes it would be fast, but it all sounded pretty much the same and was at the sheer discretion of how much Ingo felt like hitting the beats-per-minute button on the keyboard. Appropriately, there were two surefire showstoppers in the Ingo repertoire, one slow--"The Lady In Red"--and one fast--"Blue Suede Shoes." And both benefitted from the unique interpretation afforded by Ingo's thick German accent, which rendered "The lady in red/Is dancing with me/Cheek to cheek" as "Zee lay-dee een red/Eez dahn-zing vith me/Chik to chik" and "Stay off of my blue suede shoes" as "Ztay offa my blue svede schuss." It was magical.

Sadly, I have no video proof to share with you. And my own personal Ingo collection is woefully inadequate. Last year, I had the glorious good fortune to find the live album above in a store in Phoenicia. The album features his brother, Manny the Singing Chef--whom I never had the pleasure of seeing--and a live drummer that, it should be noted, is only marginally more vibrant than the keyboard beat. As I write this, I am listening to Ingo sing "Rhinestone Cowboy" on the album, and it is every bit as awesome as I remember. The neighbors, I imagine, are scared.

And in one of the last times I saw him at the German Alps Festival, I was smart enough to buy a cassette of "Etwas Gewagt mit Ingo." I'm not sure if the "Somewhat Bold" underneath the title is the proper translation, but it sounds about right, particularly when you see the cover.

That tape, by the way, rests on my kitchen table, which I bought from IKEA for one reason: its name is Ingo.

I do not know whether Ingo Froelich is dead or alive (the Internet should be ashamed that it cannot provide a definitive answer). I like to think he's alive, but he would be quite old at this point, so who can say? What I can say is, Ingo Froelich, wherever you are, today you are a Tinsel and Rot Hall of Famer.


A Yahoo! News Headline That Will Surely Drive Pete Townshend Crazy

"Kennedy Center honors Streisand, Freeman, Daltrey"

Bad enough that George Jones gets the shaft, but choosing Roger over Pete in the headline? Ouch. Our thoughts are with you, Pete.

And to make matters worse, Rob Thomas sang "Baba O'Riley."


Holiday Cheer

Overheard while shopping at the Union Square Holiday Market:

"If you're gonna do drugs, you hafta do them anally."

Duly noted. One to grow on.


I just wanna bang on the drum all day

An outsider might wonder why a man in his 30s still makes a big celebration of his birthday, as I did last month and many of my adulthood Novembers. Truth is, every birthday is a noble, though ultimately futile attempt to top childhood birthday parties at the Razz-Ma-Tazz in Sayreville, NJ (search for it on the Internet and you will find seemingly endless references to it being an inferior Chuck E. Cheese's, but I consider Chuck E. Cheese's to be an inferior Razz-Ma-Tazz) and the impossibly awesome, old-timey-themed Farrell's at the Staten Island Mall, where your birthday was marked by sirens, the banging of a bass drum, and a restaurant-wide rendition of "Happy Birthday." I'm almost certain I had more than one birthday party there, but the one I remember most was the one where my friends dared Terry Walsh to drink everybody's soda, which he did, before heartily vomiting in the men's room while my mom's friend tended to him. If I have to explain why such a thing would be looked back upon as fun, you need to spend more time contemplating your childhood. Or else you're Terry Walsh and carry a grudge.

Farrell's was, in short, the coolest place ever, and the Staten Island Mall has yet to recover from its closure over two decades ago after the entire chain (save for two remaining Farrell's in California and Hawaii) packed up the boaters and vests and called it a day. If that Farrell's was still around, I can guarantee you that I would still be celebrating birthdays there. But, like many things from my childhood, it's gone and, I imagine, largely forgotten.

So, it was with great joy that, after an eBay search for Farrell's memorabilia, I happened upon The Farrell's Zone, a salute to all things Farrell's that delves into the chain's history and looks at the surviving Farrell's restaurants (next trip to California includes a stop in Santa Clarita). And, to my great happiness, there is a partial video clip of a birthday celebration. I would have preferred more sirens, but it'll do.

All praise and glory (and a couple of bangs on the old bass drum) to Roger Baker at The Farrell's Zone for posting the videos. He is my new hero.


What I Liked About November

*Getting a picture with Kathleen Edwards
*Levon Helm's Midnight Ramble, Woodstock, NY
*Finding the mother lode of Dick Contino records, Asbury Lanes, Asbury Park, NJ
*Bowling seven games in three different places

*Seeing Mitch Fritz's first NHL fight vs. Georges Laraque
*My first recording session, Garfield, NJ
*Hartmann's Kaffeehaus, Round Top, NY
*My mom getting released from the hospital

*Don Rickles, Tropicana, Atlantic City, NJ
*Drive By Truckers, Terminal 5, NYC
*Pumpkin pancakes, Sweet Sue's, Phoenicia, NY
*The willingness of people with cars to drive me places


Song o' the Month: November 2008

Sometimes it takes a little bit before a song gets to you, particularly when it's on an album with some tracks you focused on nonstop for a few months. Such is the case with November's Song o' the Month, Kathleen Edwards's "Scared At Night" (from the stupendous "Asking for Flowers," which you oughta own). I prefer the album track, with its keening steel guitar, but that aint on YouTube and this is:

And in case you miss the lyrics due to the recording quality, here you go:

As a child I would wake at night
I was scared, but I kept real quiet
Shadows on the walls moving in on me
Underneath my sheets I could barely breathe
Your room was only just across the hall
All it would have taken was a single call
Maybe sometimes you've got to trust yourself
Not to scream out loud and run like hell

Believe me
All the days you're unsure
Believe in me
I don't want to anymore
In the dark
Picture me in your mind
And I'll lay with you
You don't have to be scared at night

As a young man you were shooting rats
By accident you hit the farmyard cat
He ran for the fields and
came back the next day
You had blown out his eye
and you could see his brain
Your dad said "Boy, there are some things in life.
You don't want to do but you know is right.
So take him out back and finish him off."
You got your gun off the shelf
it only took one shot

Believe me
All the days you're unsure
Believe in me
I don't want to anymore
In the dark
Picture me in your mind
And I'll lay with you
So you don't have to be scared at night

I flew to Winnipeg on your final day
They said that you waited until I came
We sang your favorite hymns
and we held your hand
You took your final breath and that was that
But I'd never seen a person die before
I tried so hard not to cry, you know
Maybe sometimes we've got to trust ourselves
That when you die you go someplace else

Believe me
All the days you're unsure
Believe in me
I don't want to anymore
In the dark
Picture me in your mind
And I'll lay with you
So you don't have to be scared at night
You don't have to be scared at night
You don't have to be scared at night


Laughs For Which To Be Thankful

The lack of posting has been due to a lack of fun. But that's behind us now. So here's two YouTube clips that have provided laughs in a week that needed them.

I'm generally the last person to get wind of these things on the Internets, so I imagine the rest of the world knows all about the Tiddy Bear by now. But, just in case...

Tip o' the hat to the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar for that.

And one of my favorite stops on YouTube is the Stupid Famous People site, where you can see and hear annoying people with cameras hound famous people. And occasionally (nay, often), the famous people don't seem like the stupid ones. To wit, two annoying drunks with a camera bother James Franco, who has the audacity to not engage in a conversation with them at two in the morning.


How I Celebrated My Birthday

First, I hauled ass from the train to the Port Authority, bought my ticket from a woman at the Trailways window who helpfully told me, "Oh, I don't think you'll make it," ran to the other side of the terminal, and then made the bus (beeyotch) with a solid 30 seconds to spare.

Then, after the bus pulled in at Kingston and I realized we had enough of a layover, I hightailed it to the pretzel-doorhandled Deising's Bakery, where I quickly purchased one of their unbeatable chocolate crullers and five of the finest pretzel sticks ever created by human hands (only available on Fridays and Saturdays).

Then, after arrival in Windham, I went with my mom and retired journalist Bryan Chambala to Hartmann's Kaffeehaus in Round Top, NY (on the awesomely named Heart's Content Road), for the best French Dip I've ever had and a dessert that was about 98% whipped cream and quite good. An elderly German couple also put me in charge, after a fun game of parking lot pantomime, of alerting "zee handicapped man vith zee chauffeur in zee vite car" that they were blocking said elderly couple from opening their driver's-side door.

Then Mr. Chambala and I were turned away at the bowling alley at the Winter Clove Inn ("the lanes are all broken") before finding success at the Bowlers Club in Saugerties, where the computers were likely among the first ever sold to bowling alleys, pins flew out of the rack twice during the first game, and a 14-year-old was working the bar. In other words, the perfect place for bowling on one's birthday, even in the midst of two larger, louder, and perhaps more age-appropriate birthday parties. The new shoes got their first two games in and produced a solid 167 and 174. And it only cost $4.50 for me to bowl two games.

With time slipping away, we made a dusk visit to Big Pink, which we found again after a few missteps.

Then I got all confused and sent us in the wrong direction twice as we headed to dinner at the Black Bear, where we met up with drummer extraordinaire Johnny Macko and my superstar blogger sister and her gentleman friend.

After shoving some food down (and while my sister and her gentleman friend continued eating and imbibing before making the same journey), Misters Macko and Chambala and I headed to Levon Helm's place on Plochmann Lane, which, it turns out, is harder to find when it's dark and it starts raining like a cow pissing on a flat rock. But we got there, and there was a shorter line than last time, so we were in good shape. We initially took spots in the third row, but after some scouting we settled on seats in the front row, but on the side, right near the piano and organ. Any seat there is fine, but these weren't bad at all, and we didn't stay in them much during the main set anyway.

A trio from Finland (whose names I've forgotten, but they played fiddle, guitar, and Dobro) opened things up and endeared themselves to me almost immediately by singing Richard Thompson's "Keep Your Distance." Then came Chris Thile and the Punch Brothers, who, based on the fact that their last album was broken down into movements, I thought I would find just OK. But they were way better than that and even did a Jimmy Martin song ("Ocean of Diamonds"), which almost certainly proves that they are avid Tinsel and Rot readers. I couldn't see her from my seat, but apparently a woman in the front row was nodding off hard during the Punch Brothers' set (and by both their playing and Thile's declarations about how happy and honored they were to be there, the band didn't see it either), and she and a man I'm assuming was her very embarrassed husband bailed after the set and gave their seats to a couple of guys behind us. If they are indeed married, I believe "forcing us to leave front-row seats at Levon's" is solid grounds for immediate divorce.

Then came the main event. I had the thought a few days prior that maybe going back to Levon's was a mistake. Maybe I should have just let the near-perfect first-time experience stand and leave it at that. Surely, it wouldn't be better the second time around, particularly because (a) Little Sammy Davis was still recovering from a stroke (get well, sir) and (b) Phil Lesh's phriggin' ridiculous New York City marathon run assured that Larry Campbell and, presumably, his wife would not be at Levon's this time around.

What a stupid thought that was.

Yes, it was a shorter set than last time, likely owing to the aforementioned absences, but it may have been an even better show. Why? Well, there was "Ophelia," "Slippin' and Slidin'," and "Crash on the Levee" in the 2,3, and 4 holes, respectively. There was Brian Mitchell doing his best Dr. John on "Such A Night." There was "Evangeline" in the acoustic set, followed by Amy Helm singing "All La Glory," nervous at the start then downright joyous when she nailed it.

And then there was that bushy-haired, crazy-bearded dude over in the corner. Amy Helm whispered something to bandleader Jimmy Vivino, and he responded, "Tell him we got gear...just come on and play." But it seemed he didn't want to just play, so gear was set up, and after a bit out walked the Santa-like Garth Hudson with his accordion strapped on and ready to go, as Vivino said, "And it's not even Christmas yet!" After shaking hands with the guys in the band and getting warmed up, Garth joined in on "All on a Mardi Gras Day" and stuck around for the closing trio of tunes, "Tears of Rage," "Shape I'm In," and the standard Ramble finale of "The Weight," with Punch Brother Gabe Witcher belting out the "Crazy Chester" verse and Cassandra Wilson joining in on the choruses.

[EDIT upon sister's request: Plus, Levon made out with my sister. OK, he just kissed her. But she may have been willing to go further. Probably less likely to pursue Garth.]

Seriously, you oughta go. I know money's tight these days, but you'll never be happier spending $125 or $150 than you will after you leave Levon's.

But back to me.

The birthday fun continued the next day at the incomparable Sweet Sue's in Phoenicia, NY, where pumpkin pancakes were devoured and I almost achieved my goal of finishing a "short stack" before my stomach informed me that four more bites would not be a good idea. So I admitted defeat, which never tasted so good.

It was a fine birthday.

(The fun concludes Wednesday night at Maxwell's, with Maybe Pete around 9:30 0r so [Chris Skel beforehand, Adam and Dave's Bloodline after]. Come on out for the fun.)


Jimmy Martin: Tinsel and Rot Hall of Famer

Here's another one that somehow slipped through the cracks. Surely, he should have been inducted a long time ago. But, unlike the Country Music Hall of Fame, I am willing to own up to my shortsightedness and correct it by welcoming Jimmy Martin into the Tinsel and Rot Hall of Fame.

By all accounts, Jimmy Martin was one of the true characters in country music. Evidence of this can readily be found by watching King of Bluegrass: The Life & Times of Jimmy Martin or reading Tom Piazza's undeniably awesome True Adventures with The King of Bluegrass, where I first became enthralled by the man shunned by both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Grand Ole Opry despite clearly belonging in both. Martin got his first big break playing with Bill Monroe and quickly parlayed that into a solo career that stands among the best in bluegrass.

A lot of bluegrass doesn't quite have the same punch it did when it was originally recorded, but Martin's best ("Sunny Side of the Mountain," "Free Born Man," "Tennessee," "Hold Whatcha Got," "Sophronie," "(I've Got My) Future on Ice". . . I'll stop there, but I could easily go on) hold up well today. They didn't call him the king for nothing (though, knowing Martin, it seems likely he may have bestowed the title on himself). For a good sampling of Martin's genius, try The King of Bluegrass CD or Songs of a Free Born Man, which would be worth the money if all you got was the cover (shown above). It takes a bold man to prepare his own elaborate gravestone and then pose next to it. I've never gotten the whole visiting famous people's gravestones thing, but I'll admit that I wouldn't mind making a trip to see Mr. Martin's. I tried to see him in concert in 2004, but his declining health forced him to cancel his appearance at Ralph Stanley's bluegrass festival in Virginia and I never got the chance to see him again. He died in May 2005. So the gravestone's the best I can do now.

YouTube clips of Mr. Martin don't quite do him justice (though a few do a passable job and are included below), but Piazza's book, originally an article written for the Oxford American, gives you a pretty good idea of Martin's irascibility and its impact on his career. The highlight of the book is Martin and Piazza's backstage visit to the Grand Ole Opry, in which Martin (a) tells a member of Ricky Skaggs's band that his boss's music is "about the sorriest f*&$in' bluegrass you could ever hope to be on with"; (b) upon seeing Skaggs yells out, "Is that the BIGGEST A$$HOLE in Nashville; and (c) lunges at Opry veteran "Whisperin'" Bill Anderson after telling Piazza, "I'm going to knock his a$$ right off him." Even if he hadn't produced all those great songs, I'd think he was brilliant solely based on Piazza's reporting.

Some say his stubborn, frequently caustic ways kept him from greater acclaim, but they won't keep him from the Tinsel and Rot Hall of Fame, which recognizes Jimmy Martin's spirit, toughness, and musical genius and welcomes him into the Hall.


"Free Born Man"


Hey, Douchebag (Special Political Edition)

I get it. It was a bad night for you. Your guy lost, and you're not thrilled with the guy the democracy has chosen. Fair enough. Everybody can't be happy all the time.

But, c'mon, you can't take a step back and appreciate the moment? You can't realize that President-elect Obama's election to the Oval Office is a beautiful moment in the history of a beautiful country? You can't look past your disdain for the man to see that the country has taken a brave step forward after taking far too many steps backward in its efforts to become a place where all are truly equal and can make a meaningful difference?

No, it seems you cannot. Look, I'm not 100% thrilled with Obama. He's got some flaws and a ton of question marks, but I like him enough to think he deserves a chance--a chance to lead the country, a chance to make America better, a chance to bring us closer together. You, on the other hand, can find nothing good about his election. You have to spend election night updating your Facebook status to indicate your sadness at what the American people have done and how you're "nauseous" and how people who don't think like you are "ignorant," while also tossing off vaguely racist crap that your pals applaud and LOL about it.

Listen up, douchebag. Your guy lost. The people have spoken. You might not like their reasons for voting the way they did and you might not like the guy they put into office, but that doesn't mean you have to be such a raging douche. Losing sucks, but, hey, my guys have lost a few times (and if we're to extend this to the sports spectrum, my guys have lost more than a few times), and I haven't spent the day after tossing off snotty comments like "remember down the road you asked for this" and just generally oozing creepitude.

So, hey, just do me this favor: dig down deep and find that open-hearted, open-minded part of you that you've buried under your cynicism, casual racism, and overall douchebaggery. I know it's there. It's gotta be. Douchebags are made, not born. And with the country in the shape it's in now, it's the perfect time to cut the crap and stop being such a narrow-minded tool. It won't be easy, but after soaking in the events of Tuesday night, I'm thinking you just might have a chance.


Studs Terkel RIP

Back in the days when journalism seemed like a real possibility for the future, I wanted to be like Studs Terkel, and not just because he was in the greatest baseball movie of all time. I wanted to be the reporter who didn't make a living being flashy, but could still be the life of the party if needed. I wanted to be the guy who took an interest in probing the mind of the average person and getting at what was in there. I wanted to be the writer who let other people tell the story while I got out of the way.

I got a little lost along the way, became a little disillusioned with what journalism had become and the seeming impossibility that there would ever be another Studs Terkel. Or maybe I just got lazy. Whatever the case, I never stopped liking Studs Terkel. I was lucky enough to hear him speak a few times at lectures and readings and tell stories about his career in the business. For a guy best known for capturing the words of others, he was pretty deft at telling a story himself, and once he got going, it was hard to get him to stop.

It was nice to listen.

What I Liked About October

*Charlie Louvin, 92YTribeca/Banjo Jim's, NYC
*Chiller Theatre Convention, Parsippany, NJ
*Billy Bragg, State Theatre, Ithaca, NY
*Rosanne Cash and Billy Bragg singing "I Still Miss Someone," Town Hall, NYC

*Meeting Aretha Franklin, NYC
*Friends of the Library Book Sale, Ithaca, NY
*Glenwood Pines, Ithaca, NY
*Gary Busey on Celebrity Rehab 2

*Maryland Renaissance Festival, Crownsville, MD
*Maureen McCormick book signing, Ridgewood, NJ
*Rick Bragg's The Prince of Frogtown
*The willingness of people with cars to drive me places



Today, the first 120 or so young trick-or-treaters who venture to the twenty-seven-year home of Mr. Tinsel and Rot (landmark status pending) in Staten Island, NY, will be receiving at least five of the following (in snack size):

Kit Kats
Baby Ruths
Reese's Peanut Butter Cups
Mini M&Ms
Nestle Crunches
Sour Patch Kids
Swedish Fish
AirHeads Lollipops
Chocolate Laffy Taffy
Chupa Chups
Milk Duds
Hershey's Chocolate Lollipops
Jolly Rancher Bars/Twists/Some Bizarre Thing with Powder in the Middle

You're welcome, children. You're welcome. Now, don't sh*t on my house.

(Compare with last year here.)


New Roommate

When I moved into my apartment, which I lovingly dubbed Disgraceland, I was given a gold lamé-clad Elvis Presley cardboard standee that stood watch for several years before finally succumbing and going to that great recycling plant in the sky. Over the years, I have thought of replacing him with another standee, perhaps military Elvis or, I seriously considered once, a spangled hot pants-wearing Liberace (which I nearly bought before remembering that I am heterosexual and, theoretically, could have a female in my apartment one day). Ultimately, though, I never found the right replacement and accepted that the part of my life where it would be acceptable to have a cardboard standee in my apartment was about to end.

Then, at Chiller this weekend, I saw him. He was standing amid a booth full of toys and various other items adults shouldn't be purchasing. He had a Post-It that read $10 on him, and since I had done so well resisting the Call of the Autograph, I figured I was due for a reward. And so, I bought him.

It's Elvis hawking the limited edition Reese's Banana and Peanut Butter Cups (which aren't bad). It's not technically a standee, so it's now on my kitchen wall, which is a nice place for the King and his candy. And, ultimately, it's a nicer spot than his intended spot above the toilet, where he would have joined Crying Velvet Elvis by the sink.


Saturday with the Goons

"The goons, myself among them, with big photo albums, stained hands, and little scribbled cards. The nuts who stood happily rain-drenched at the premiere of Dames or Flirtation Walk, while the Depression went on and on even though Roosevelt said it couldn't last forever and Happy Days would come again.

The gorgons, the jackals, the demons, the fiends, the sad ones, the lost ones.

Once, I had been one of them.

Now, there they were. My family."
(from one-time autograph collector Ray Bradbury's A Graveyard for Lunatics)

I am not sure if I should be happy that I had the foresight to show up before doors officially opened at last weekend's Chiller Theatre. On the one hand, by doing so, I assured that I did not wind up among the rained-upon masses lined up to get in midafternoon, who were halted from entering by order of the fire marshal. On the other hand, the fact that I knew I had to get there early and, indeed, actually wanted to be there on the always insanely crowded Saturday meant that I was now fully immersed in the world of Chiller and the aforementioned goons who attend it. This day was bound to come. I must accept it, along with the realization that I consider waiting in line for two hours to be a victory.

I can find some comfort in the knowledge that I was able to restrain myself from overspending and actually left the convention with no autographs and having paid only $20 to have my picture taken with two celebrities. (Again, I feel compelled to note that "celebrity" is a bit broad, for one person, whom I cannot reveal due to said person's pending appearance on this year's Holiday Greeting [yes, there will be one...happy?], is barely clinging to fame and the other, to be revealed later in this post, is almost certainly not a celebrity by any real definition.)

Of course, there were temptations. I was actually about to break down and get an autograph and picture with Tinsel and Rot Hall of Famer Leslie Nielsen, but, lucky for my own eating plans for the week, Mr. Nielsen bowed out for a lunch break and I decided I didn't feel like waiting it out. I'd gotten his autograph before (free!), but I was almost persuaded by the fact that he had Enrico Pallazzo photos. Alas, it was not meant to be.

I intended to get an autograph (in my Islanders yearbook, from the year when he was their celebrity captain) from and/or a photo with Ralph Macchio, but I quickly abandoned that notion when I got a look at his price list: $30 for an autograph AND an additional $30 to have your picture taken with him. Seriously? The Ralph Macchio Experience costs $60? Suck it, Daniel-san.

I was so intently focused on staring at his price list and thinking that I must be reading it wrong that I momentarily blocked Linda Hamilton's photo lane, which she very kindly pointed out and then insisted I had no need to be sorry, because life is too short for that. By all accounts, she was the MVP of the weekend, staying, I heard from others, past closing time on Friday night to sign for everybody and owning what looked to be the longest line on Saturday, which moved slowly because she was taking time with every fan. I had no interest in meeting her, but it's always good to see someone going out of their way to be nice and genuinely happy at one of these things.

Also exceedingly nice was John Schneider, who brought along an entire store of "Dukes of Hazzard" merchandise, including four different kinds of t-shirts, hats, DVDs, photos, and license plates that read "Bo Duke." I was almost tempted by the 2 for $25 t-shirt deal, but I ultimately could not justify, even after seeing that he signs "Yee Haw!" on every autograph.

In the autograph tent out in the parking lot (no lines! no waiting!), I almost gave yet more money to Barry "Greg Brady" Williams when I saw that he was selling autographed tabu tikis (oooweeoooweeooo) for $30. But then I realized that I have already bought two different versions of his book and his not-so-good CD. I love "The Brady Bunch," but the line must be drawn somewhere. Sorry. I have paid my debt to Barry Williams. Adios, Johnny Bravo.

I was particularly bummed, however, that Barry Williams was going to sing at the big Saturday night party, because I couldn't stick around for that and thus missed what I have to assume will be my only opportunity to ever see Barry Williams and Kip Winger perform at the same show. Sigh.

Epstein, Horshack, and Washington were next to the Brady table. Sixty bucks for a photo with all three of them. I don't think so. Robert Hegyes looks like Superfly Snuka now. And by "Superfly Snuka now," I mean "Superfly Snuka now," not "Superfly Snuka back when he was popular."

Across from the Sweathogs, I was forbidden from taking a photo of Jamie Luner. I actually just wanted to take a photo of the sign above her that read

Jamie Luner
Melrose Place
Growing Pains (hastily crossed out in pen)
Just The Ten of Us,

because I thought it was funny. But as I prepared to do so, the woman taking the money at her table started waving her arms wildly and then yelled, "No pictures! You have to pay!" That was fun.

Luner was flanked on one side by Ron Lester, the previously egregiously obese actor from "Varsity Blues" and "Not Another Teen Movie" (and I was dismayed to realize on my way home, three episodes of "Freaks and Geeks..." yearbook signing opportunity missed), who not only has an entire line of products based upon his "Billy Bob" character in "Varsity Blues" but will also sign a pair of his old fat pants for $200 (Only 1 Pair!).

On the other side of Luner was Jeffrey Weissman, whom of course you remember as George McFly in the last two "Back to the Future" movies after Crispin Glover bailed. And in case you didn't remember, he brought props...props that had nothing to do with his character, but props nonetheless.

There were a few other temptations here and there, but I held fast to my goal of not buying autographs I didn't really want. And that was bad news for Zabka-esque villain extraordinaire Richard Tyson (from "Three O'Clock High" and "Kindergarten Cop"), whom I probably would have at least gotten a photo with in stronger economic times. Sorry, buddy.

George Kennedy was another tough one to pass up, particularly with Leslie Nielsen five tables away. I had considered buying a Naked Gun poster on eBay prior to the convention, but I'm a completist and since the chances of me getting (or wanting) OJ's autograph in the near future don't look good, I decided against it. Of course, it's horrible to reduce Kennedy's career to the Naked Gun series, but, in case you forgot, I'm a fairly horrible person a good deal of the time. In any case, here's a picture of him getting ready to sign a "Cool Hand Luke" poster.

I also could have easily spent some cash on a photo with Lita Ford, a pair of Kiss Me Deadly panties, or a tasteful poster for the apartment. Instead, I just took this photo.

So, you ask, who did you spend your hard-earned $10 on? Well, there were two gentlemen who looked awfully bored sitting behind a table in the tent. I didn't even know one of them, Randall Deal, was gonna be there, so I think he might've been a last-minute addition (and I assumed he was gonna be in the photo, too, but he just stood there, so it appears I assumed wrong...no big, ahem, deal, I suppose). And I saw a banjo on the table. And I thought, "C'mon, it's only $10. You gotta." And that's how I got my picture taken with Billy Redden, the man who played Lonnie, the (kind of) banjo-picking inbred in "Deliverance."

It took three tries (camera flash was acting up), but I'm quite happy with the finished product.

I'm also pleased that I was able to leave Chiller tired but satisfied, with mission accomplished and under $50 spent (one other purchase will be showcased in the next post). Victory is mine!

And, for the record, The Goons, Myself Among Them has replaced Good for You as the title of my next book (anticipated publication date: 2023)

Song o' the Month: October 2008

Charlie Louvin's "See The Big Man Cry" (written by Ed Bruce):

It would be horribly cliched to say they don't write songs like that anymore. It would also be true.

The song had already been in my head before seeing Mr. Louvin in concert twice last week, but now it is firmly lodged in my brain and will likely remain there for the rest of the month, maybe longer.

By the way, this is the best stage banter from Mr. Louvin from the two shows (this was from the Banjo Jim's show and is likely slightly paraphrased, but it captures the spirit of the thing):

[Spoken to an older woman with very blond hair] "Say, you remind me of my wife. What color are you on now? My wife asked me if I would love her when she went gray, and I told her, 'Well, I've loved you through about 40 other colors, so I reckon I'd be OK with that one.'"

Gotta love Charlie Louvin.


Levi Stubbs RIP

It's hard to think of the Four Tops without thinking of my dad. He was a Temps and Tops kind of guy. I don't think he played favorites between the two, as I recall each getting equal play among the cassettes he carried with him for car rides upstate (it's hard to believe he didn't wear out the Temptations 'N' and Four Tops set he bought through the mail). But I do know that he bought a signed 8X10 of the Four Tops one of the times he saw them (was it at the Friar Tuck Inn upstate?), the only autograph I ever knew my dad to own.

So when I heard Levi Stubbs died, I thought of my dad. And car rides with those tapes (and, in the years before we made that great leap to a car that could play tapes, WCBS FM). And my dad singing in a voice that didn't quite match Mr. Stubbs'. And I was sad. And happy. Because it's like that sometimes.

Levi Stubbs knew that.

Rest in peace, Levi.


How You Don't Want to Start a Bus Trip

Me: Hey, how's it going?

Bus Driver: Good. Heading to Cortland?

Me: Yep.

Bus Driver: Hey, just out of curiosity, do you know where the new bus stop is there?

Me: Um, no.

Guy Behind Me In Line: Yeah, I forget what street it's on, but I can call and...

Bus Driver: It's Exit 11, I think, or something like that. I'm sure I'll be able to find it.

For the record, he wasn't. At least on the first try. But after heading a good ways into the boonies, he did have the wherewithal to think he might be headed the wrong way, which led to this:

Bus Driver: Hey, who's going to Cortland?

Me: Yeah, back here.

Bus Driver: So, this new stop, where is it again?

Me: Um, I think it's near the courthouse or something.

Bus Driver: OK, and where's that?

Me: I don't know.

Bus Driver: But back the other way, right?

Me: Um, I guess so?

Between this experience and having water spill on me for an hour on the Megabus from DC last weekend, I'm once again starting to think that bus travel may not be something I'm cut out for in my adulthood, assuming that is the stage of life I'm in now. Debatable.

Luckily the rest of the weekend--hanging with the family of Puck Daddy scourge Rev. Zamboni, going to the greatest book sale in the world, eating (and old-school arcade bowling) at the Glenwood Pines, seeing Billy Bragg in concert at one of my favorite theatres (with one of my favorite marquees), making another late-night visit to the alma mater, buying spiedie marinade at Wegmans--went a lot better.


Lards of the Ring

I don't think it speaks well of me, but I am fascinated with wrestlers' attempts to keep it together after their time in the spotlight is over. As has been well documented, many succumb at a tragically young age after years of relentless traveling and often more than occasional drug use. But those who survive wind up touring the country doing independent shows in high school gyms and the occasional wrestling convention. I have been to a few of the former and a few too many of the latter, and at each I generally leave depressed at the state of the television heroes of my childhood. I would be lying, however, if I said I didn't find some glee in seeing an old wrestler who's gone to seed. I aint proud.

I do feel bad for the guys, but that doesn't prevent me from being highly entertained when they lose it and someone is there to document it. The best example would be Jake "The Snake" Roberts, whose WWE documentary (yes, I watched the whole thing) detailed a childhood that sounded so unbelievably miserable that I thought I could never again be entertained watching him in a drunken stupor (though I once was). Then, TMZ featured footage of him in an apparent stupor rambling like a lunatic, stumbling through a match, and then exposing himself (Jake maintains someone slipped him a mickey). And I was once again ashamed to be so entertained.

Then, this past Friday in New Jersey, another wrestler who has been alleged to have his fair share of demons, Scott Hall, disrupted a roast of the Iron Sheik because he took offense at an admittedly tasteless joke about the deceased Owen Hart. He threatened the offending comedian and generally rambled in what appeared to be a slightly inebriated state (part 1 here and subsequent parts on YouTube as well...all of which make me so sad that I wasn't there). Then for an encore on Saturday night, he allegedly behaved like a drunken ass at the hotel restaurant/bar. From a post on the convention board (you need to join to log in...I'd almost say it's worth it to read all the craziness that goes on there):

Without getting too graphic, he basically stated to my wife that I must have a lot of money because a “hot woman” like her would never marry an “ugly guy like him” and that she should come to his room later and that I would never know. Keep in mind as well this was in front of my 6 year old and 2 year old daughters and well before 6 pm. He then went on to state that he would like to perform oral sex (I’m apologize if I am being too graphic) on my wife “every day.”

There should be a channel devoted just to old wrestlers and their daily lives. I would want to be appalled by it...but then never leave my living room again.


Peace Queer

You like free music, right? Good. So why not go to Todd Snider's website before October 31 and download his new EP "Peace Queer." It's free. There aint no strings. You might like it. You might not. But when you're done listening, you'll be just as rich as you were when you started (depending, I suppose, on your stock portfolio, but Todd has no control over that).

If you're the type of person whose appetite needs to be whetted before consuming something that costs nothing, here's a video of the first song on the EP that combines two of my favorite things in the world: Todd Snider and Hatch Show Print.


Dressing for success

Tinsel and Rot doesn't condone endangering the lives of innocent children, but if you're gonna have 15 beers and let a 10-year-old boy drive you, a couple of other kids, and your drug-collecting lady friend home, you should at least show the sense that Randy Lewis displayed in wearing a swell t-shirt for the inevitable mug shot.

(photo from NET News Service)

You did it, Randy!


The Tinsel and Rot Sirius Stiletto Top 20: DISCONTINUED

Because my Stiletto is continuing its slow descent into a worthless piece of crap and Sirius customer service has done its best not to help me, Tinsel and Rot must call an end to the Top 20. In its place, we present the Song o' the Month for September 2008, Luke Doucet's "Broken One."


What I Liked About September

*The Wright/Killinger nuptials, Livermore Valley, CA
*Earl Anthony's Dublin Bowl, Dublin, CA
*Hangin' with the Finches, Oakland, CA
*Chocolate buttermilk doughnut, Donut-Wheel, Livermore, CA

*Maybe Pete CD Release Party, The Saint, Asbury Park, NJ
*Birthday fun, Tully, NY
*That 24-hour period where it looked like I might have Mets playoff tickets
*Pinetop Perkins, State Theatre, New Brunswick, NJ

*Tony Clifton, BB King Blues Club, NYC
*The Duhks/Luke Doucet, Maxwell's, Hoboken, NJ
*Time's Up
*The willingness of people with cars to drive me places