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