Celebrity Photos: The Class of 2010

When I say that 2010 was my best year in celebrity photos, know that it is the truth and not hyperbole.

Don't believe me? Consider this:

*This was the first year in which there was a four-way split in the Sigman Holiday Greeting. It was simply not possible to narrow down the crop to just two. There has been no such problem in previous years, and I suspect the four-way split may never happen again. We are living in blessed times.

*Thinking that I was going with the usual two-way split, I declared the Sigman Holiday Greeting done by the end of February, a marked contrast to 2009, when I didn't have any real strong contenders until November.

*My three personal favorite photos didn't even make it into the four-way split (mainly because I suspect most recipients wouldn't know the celebrity photos; I'm a man of the people). That's right: it could've been a seven-way split. Ponder that.

And while you're pondering, check out the Class of 2010, separated this year by category because it's just too damn hard to rank them.

Childhood Heroes (and Villain)

Jim Martin, the puppeteer behind (underneath?) "The Great Space Coaster"'s Gary Gnu, Javits Center, NYC

Perhaps you don't know who Jim Martin is. I didn't until I looked at the list of celebrity guests for the New York Comic Con a little closer. Then I discovered that he was Gary Gnu, one of my early journalistic heroes from the kids' show "The Great Space Coaster." Here's a sample of one of Mr. Gnu's gnewscasts:

After waiting on the seemingly endless line to get in to the Comic Con and then staggering around the convention floor in a sea of geeks and perverts, I got to Mr. Martin just in time to get the last available Gary Gnu shirt from Mr. Martin (with proceeds going to the ToonSeum, which sounds like my kind of place). And then we posed for the picture. Gneedless to say, it was a thrill.

David Newell, a/k/a Mr. McFeely from "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood," Javits Center, NYC

Also at the ToonSeum table was the Speedy Delivery guy himself, David Newell, better known as Mr. McFeely. He was quite amiable and probably would've signed autographs for every person I knew if I asked him to. But there was a line, and I figured it would be best if I just kept it to me and my sister.

I must confess I was a little bummed he wasn't wearing the postman outfit. He could've at least worn the hat, or glued on a mustache or something. Just saying.

Baron Von Raschke, Rahway Recreation Center, Rahway, NJ

I was going for a look here, and I don't think I got it.

But I loved the Baron back in the days of Pro Wrestling USA on WPIX, which I used to tape on my audio tape recorder before we got a VCR. And Baron's claw was my dad's go-to move when I would start wrestling with him. My dad saved the claw until he grew tired of my armbars and headlocks, because he knew once he applied it, I'd start crying and he could have his weekend back again. So this one's for you, Dad.

Sgt. Slaughter and the Iron Sheik, Rahway Recreation Center, Rahway, NJ

The original plan was to get photos with the Baron, Abdullah the Butcher, and Sgt. Slaughter, but while I was on line, I noticed that Abdullah didn't look particularly pleased to be there and, more importantly, wasn't offering his "fork in the forehead" photo op (I heard later that if you brought your own fork and threw in some extra cash, the photo could be yours). So I called an audible and decided to use the photo ticket I'd bought for Abdullah for a double shot with Sarge and the Iron Sheik. And, boy, am I glad I did. This one's an all-time classic. In retrospect, I probably could've gotten away with this on the Holiday Greeting, but I don't know that most people have the knowledge of old wrestlers that I do. To be honest, I kind of hope they don't.


Bob Nystrom (and retired journalist Bryan Chambala), New York State Fairgrounds, Syracuse, NY

Retired journalist Chambala and I were wandering around the infield/rink level before the AHL Outdoor Classic when I looked to my right and saw New York Islander legend and all-around swell guy Bob Nystrom. So we talked hockey for awhile as I tried to revive my camera, which I did just in time for this photo and a photo of just Mr. Chambala and Mr. Nystrom. It was a good start to a fun (and kind of cold) day in Syracuse.

Wally Backman, Brooklyn Cyclones Team Store, Brooklyn, NY

I don't particularly enjoy waking up early on a Sunday morning for a 90-minute-plus train ride, but I did it for one of my all-time favorite Mets, Wally Backman. I got there late and almost missed him, as he had to duck out before his scheduled departure for some reason. And it took two tries to get a usable photo. But I would not be denied.

Every retired ballplayer should look like Wally Backman.

Ralph Kiner, Steiner Sports Store, NYC

OK, Ralphie's not looking so hot these days. And his time in the Mets' broadcast booth gets briefer (and a little sadder) every year. But he's a Hall of Famer, an underrated power hitter, and the former host of the greatest postgame show in baseball history. So getting a photo with him was an honor.

Billy Smith, Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY

Smith was the last of the Islanders Hall of Famers that I hadn't met. So I was happy to see his name on the autograph lineup for a baseball card show in Long Island. It was another early-Sunday-morning departure that was painful at rising but rewarding by sundown. And Mr. Smith looks like he would still be quite happy to chop away at your knees and ankles. He's the greatest Islanders goalie of all time, which isn't a particularly lofty designation, but I hold out hope that someday he'll get some competition for the honor.

Should've followed Mr. Smith's lead and kept the hat on for this one.


Nick Feldman and Jack Hues of Wang Chung, BB King's, NYC

What's better than a free ticket to see Wang Chung? A chance to get a picture with them afterward. And the show was good, dammit. For real. And, for the record, "Dance Hall Days" is far superior to "Everybody Have Fun Tonight."

Andy Kim, Sheraton Meadowlands, East Rutherford, NJ

I have been to a lot of sad conventions in my time (and I'm certain I will be at a lot more), but Rock Con on opening night might've been the saddest of the lot. There were more autograph guests there than fans, and other than a few big names (Little Anthony, Mary Wilson from the Supremes, Al Jardine from the Beach Boys, Tommy James), it wasn't exactly a high-wattage array of musical lights. My main reason for going, Johnny Farina of Santo and Johnny, wasn't around Friday night (which was the only day I could go), which meant that if I didn't leave with a picture with Mr. "Rock Me Gently" himself, I had dragged my ass to the convention for no reason. Unfortunately, since Mr. Kim wasn't doing much business, he was going around to talk to the other guests, so I had to keep going back to his table to see if he returned. Finally, after about a half-hour of checking (during which I bought a snazzy "Rock Me Gently" t-shirt), my mission was accomplished. After the photo, he told me to e-mail it to him and we could chat further. I've yet to do that.

Marty Stuart, Public Theatre Lobby, NYC

No, that's not Andy Kim's dad. It's country music's Marty Stuart, who finishes third in this year's Prettiest Lady contest. I keed. He puts on a good show. And he's an autograph and memorabilia collector, too. So he's probably putting together one of these lists right now, too. Or writing songs. Or teasing his hair.

Kathleen Edwards, Stephen Talkhouse, Amagansett, NY

My second photo (thanks, Johnny!) with the excellent musician and the best-looking hockey fan I know, Kathleen Edwards. It also serves as documentation of what will likely be my only trip to the Hamptons. They looked at us funny when we played Wiffle Ball on the village green before the show. Snobs.

Huey Lewis, Bell House, Brooklyn, NY

The most random celebrity encounter of the year. I was milling about after the Nick Lowe show deciding if I wanted to stick around to have Mr. Lowe sign my "The Rose of England" LP. I was exhausted and ready to head out when I saw a crowd of people lingering by the soundboard when what to my wondering eyes should appear but Huey Lewis! And guess who produced one song and played on "The Rose of England"? I hope you guessed "Huey Lewis," because it was sort of obvious that was the answer. So I asked him to sign the record and then passed my camera to a hipster to take the picture. Score!

Unfortunately, once I got Mr. Lewis to sign the album, I felt obligated to wait for Mr. Lowe, lest I be the only owner of a Nick Lowe album signed by Huey Lewis. And that wound up being a long wait, through no fault of Mr. Lowe, who apologized profusely for making us wait.

My beard's a little out of control here, but a completely unexpected photo with Huey Lewis while wearing a Giants hat (he's a Giants fan, don't you know?) is one for the ages.

Mojo Nixon, BB King's, NYC

I suppose the big guest-star news at the Peter Rowan/Steep Canyon Rangers/Elizabeth Cook show was that Steve Martin showed up to play with the Steep Canyon Rangers. But the more exciting news for me was going up to check out Elizabeth Cook's merch and seeing Mojo Nixon, hero and inspiration for Buzzsaw (Haircut) (a magazine I helped found and fund more than a decade ago), walk through the door. I knew he was in town to do some shows for Sirius XM (listen to him Monday-Friday on Outlaw Country, provided you don't have kids with you), so I thought he might come by to see Ms. Cook, his fellow Outlaw Country DJ. So it wasn't a total surprise, though I did need a few seconds to compose myself. When I did, I told him about the magazine and how he had met two of the other founders years ago. To my shock, he actually remembered (he didn't exactly recall where it was, but knew it was near "one of those Yankee colleges"). I wouldn't have bet on that.

When he went to the bar downstairs, I seized my opportunity for a photo and asked Sirius XM's Jeremy Tepper to take the photo. This was the second shot, after Jeremy told Mojo he needed to smile. So that's what we got. I can't tell you how exciting this was for me. If anyone other than the Buzzsaw (Haircut) founders and a few others knew of Mojo (and his monster hit "Tie My Pecker to My Leg"), this would've been the only photo on the Greeting this year. But it takes its place near the top of my All-Time Favorite Celebrity Photos list.

Various Celebrities

Mario Lopez, Columbus Circle Borders, NYC

My second photo with AC Slater. We chatted for awhile about my Bayside Tigers t-shirt, in what I assume was his way of sussing out if I was a lunatic. I think I passed the test.

Trivia fact: This was taken on the same day as the Ralph Kiner photo.

Shenae Grimes, some street in NYC as part of Fashion's Night Out, NYC

I had to work for my first-ever photo with a Degrassi cast member. When I arrived, there was a healthy gathering of teenage girls in front of Ms. Grimes, and I briefly wondered if it looked creepy that there was a 33-year-old guy in a crowd of young girls. And then I realized it was, but decided to persevere anyway.

I let all the girls get their pictures done first, which, in retrospect, made me look more creepy, because now I was a 33-year-old guy just standing there watching young girls take their picture with Ms. Grimes. If security came over and tackled me, I would've understood. To make matters worse, there were several photographers taking pictures of the scene. So I imagine in some teen fashion magazine somewhere, there's a picture of me in a sea of teenage girls. Well, there's a first time for everything.

Anyway, after waiting patiently, I finally found my opening after a woman older than I stepped up to talk to Ms. Grimes. Sensing the age barrier had been broken, I asked for the photo and, since I felt I needed to justify my presence, I told Ms. Grimes, "I'm probably too old to say this, but I'm a big Degrassi fan."

"Oh, c'mon, there's no such things as too old," she replied.

"Yeah, there kinda is," I said, and then headed to the John Prine show, which was probably lacking any Degrassi fans.

Gary Busey, Crowne Plaza, Cherry Hill, NJ

As discussed previously. It's always a thrill to meet a Tinsel and Rot Hall of Famer, even if it wasn't the best photo of the day, which, of course, is...

Eric Roberts, Crowne Plaza, Cherry Hill, NJ

Hard to believe he's on Celebrity Rehab now. Goes to show you never can tell. Or that you always can tell. One of those two.

The Bradys

Susan Olsen, Lincoln Square Barnes & Noble, NYC

This will forever be known as the Year of the Bradys, when I completed my mission to meet the surviving members of The Brady Bunch. It does rankle me a bit that anyone on the East Coast could've started the mission in February of this year and only be one away, but, hey, they haven't met Marcia. Or Alice (sadly, no photo with, and that probably aint happening). Or, for that matter, Cousin Oliver. This guy has.

I'm not sure why I decided to hop on the desk for my photo here, but I think it works in an odd way. This photo is also historic because it marks my last celebrity meet at the Lincoln Square Barnes & Noble, where I met Elmore Leonard, Dan Aykroyd, Steve Martin, Elmore Leonard, and Muhammad Ali, among others. The store is set to close in early January 2011. I went in there last weekend and left pretty sad. It was a fine bookstore. Screw you and your Kindle.

Mike Lookinland, Hotel Pennsylvania, NYC

My last Brady. A big moment. I wasn't going to get the solo photo (see below for the other shot), but I figured I ought to, so I laid down the extra $20. Before this photo, I had to pretend I was excited to hear that he was a Deadhead. It wasn't easy, but I did it, because he's a Brady and he doesn't need me telling him why Jerry Garcia stinks.

Eve Plumb, GINA Gallery, NYC

I was a little nervous going to the gallery opening for Eve Plumb's art exhibit, because I figured it'd be easy for her to decipher that I was not there to see her paintings at all. And when I tried to engage her in conversation about her art, I believe I figured correctly. But that was after this picture was taken, so it was all good. I tried to get another photo afterward because I couldn't tell if this one looked OK on my camera, but they were worse than this one.

I did hang around and check out all the art, Plumb and otherwise, in the gallery and liked quite a few of the pieces. So, see, I'm totally cultured and stuff.

Florence Henderson, Joe's Pub, NYC

My second go-round with Flo, but my first picture with her. The first time I met her was completely random, as she was going into the CBS Television Center as I was trying to figure out if Eve Plumb was taping a show there. I was more prepared this time, and was probably the only heterosexual male attending her one-woman show at Joe's Pub that evening. I waited around backstage afterward and, after standing around while she was talking to friends and other non-heterosexual males for what seemed like forever, I finally got up the nerve to ask her to sign an album (the Oklahoma cast album, the only thing I could find in town...I swear I'm heterosexual) and pose for the photo. She put her arm around my waist, which startled me a bit. I think we make a nice couple, though I think Shenae Grimes is more my type.

The Brady Boys, Hotel Pennsylvania, NYC

Barry Williams had already made an appearance on a Sigman Holiday Greeting, and I don't like to do repeats, but this one was born for the Greeting. Me and the boys, just chilling. I was originally nervous that I was going to have to spring for the professional photo op, which I think was $75, but they were offering the "nonprofessional" option at the table for $60 (including autographs), so I saved some cash there. If push came to shove, I probably would've paid $100 for this one, $150 if you throw in Cousin Oliver.

So that was 2010. After last year, I was thinking of calling an end to the Sigman Holiday Greeting. But 2010 has brought me a renewed sense of purpose. So I think the tradition will continue in 2011. Here's hoping next year is even stronger than this one, though, realistically, I'm not sure that's possible. Then again, Tiffani Thiessen and Lark Voorhies have eluded me so far, so there's always the chance of that.


Soundtracks I Have Loved: La Bamba

Soundtrack: La Bamba
Year Released: 1987
I Bought It On: Cassette
How Does It Hold Up?: As well as the originals

1. La Bamba - Los Lobos
2. Come On, Let's Go - Los Lobos
3. Ooh! My Head - Los Lobos
4. We Belong Together - Los Lobos
5. Framed - Los Lobos
6. Donna - Los Lobos
7. Lonely Teardrops - Howard Huntsberry
8. Crying, Waiting, Hoping - Marshall Crenshaw
9. Summertime Blues - Brian Setzer
10. Who Do You Love? - Bo Diddley
11. Charlena - Los Lobos
12. Goodnight My Love - Los Lobos

I suppose it was the hours spent listening to CBS-FM in the car that made me want to see "La Bamba" so bad in the summer of 1987, because I can't really think of any other reason why a 10-year-old would be itching to see the life story of a musician who had died 28 years later. And though I can't recall who took me to see the movie, I'm pretty sure I saw it in the theater that summer--and bought the soundtrack soon after. I actually bought the 45 of "La Bamba"/"Charlena" first, probably after seeing the video on MTV. I actually forgot the gratuitous Lou Diamond Phillips appearance until now. It's also interesting to note that Cesar Rosas of Los Lobos hasn't really done all that much in the aging department; the other wolves have not fared as well.

However I got to "La Bamba"--the movie and the soundtrack--I'm glad I did, because I loved them both. And I still do. The movie's inexplicably underrated, and if Tinsel and Rot Hall of Famer Gary Busey can get nominated for an Oscar for "The Buddy Holly Story," then surely both Lou Diamond Phillips and Esai Morales should've gotten recognition for their work in the movie. Morales is particularly great as brother Bob. Some people may have left that movie with a fear of flying, but I left with a fear of Bob. I distinctly remember being scared out of my mind by him when I saw the movie the first time. In fact, I'm still a little scared when I see some scenes, and I think Bob may have steered me toward a life of sobriety. And I'm also in no rush to go to Tijuana. (By the way, if you ever want to see "La Bamba" with only Bob's scenes, YouTube's got you covered.)

Of course, when your movie's about music, the soundtrack is just as important as the movie itself. And "La Bamba" comes through, largely--but not entirely--on the strength of Los Lobos's eight songs on the soundtrack (and that's not counting "Rip It Up" and "Oh Boy," which didn't make the soundtrack but were in the movie...I'm not sure who had the honor of providing Bob's drum work). There's probably never been a band so perfect to do a movie's soundtrack, so everything sounds pretty good (though, to be honest, I would often fast-forward past "Charlena" and Goodnight My Love" on my cassette to get back to the more rockin' Side 1). But the best of the best is, well, shoot, I can't pick one. Let's call it a tie among "Come On, Let's Go," "Ooh! My Head," and "Framed."

But it's not just Los Lobos that makes the soundtrack. You can never go wrong with Bo Diddley, and the other three on Side 2 are equally impressive. Howard Huntsberry, who to the best of my Googling only found additional success essentially reprising his role on the soundtrack to "Ghostbusters II", has Jackie Wilson down pretty well on "Lonely Teardops."

Marshall Crenshaw does a similarly good job with both the sound and look of Buddy Holly on "Crying, Waiting, Hoping," which is playing as Ritchie makes that last call home before the plane leaves Iowa.

And Brian Setzer, well before he became The Annoying and Ubiquitous Brian Setzer, nails "Summertime Blues."

Of course, the soundtrack should've ended with Santo and Johnny's "Sleepwalk," but I guess that would've ruined the concept of newer artists doing versions of the older songs. But there's probably no song that makes me think more of "La Bamba" than "Sleepwalk." And if you don't well up when Ritchie's mom screams "Not my Ritchie!" and Bob yells out his brother's name at the end of the movie, you're a heartless douchebag.

So, here's to "La Bamba," the movie and the soundtrack. And here's to Ritchie Valens, who it's hard to imagine never made it past 17 and still put out some unforgettable music. I think he's got Bieber beat.


What I Liked About November

*Meeting Mojo Nixon
*Staten Island Pizza Tour #2
*Peter Rowan/Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers/Elizabeth Cook, BB King's, NYC
*John Train/Philadelphia Ukulele Orchestra, Tin Angel, Philadelphia, PA

*Trampled by Turtles/Infamous Stringdusters, Bowery Ballroom, NYC
*Terry Anderson and the Olympic Ass-Kickin' Team, Lakeside Lounge, NYC
*"Undeclared" reruns on IFC
*Pumpkin chocolate whoopie pie, Flying Monkey, Philadelphia, PA

*Completing my "Levon Helm and the RCO All-Stars" autograph project
*A night and an afternoon on the town with Sarah, Cole, and Charna
*Preservation Hall Jazz Band, City Winery, NYC
*The willingness of people to drive me places


Leslie Nielsen RIP

Tinsel and Rot interrupts its autumnal hibernation to mourn the death and celebrate the life of inaugural Tinsel and Rot Hall of Famer Leslie Nielsen, who died Sunday at the age of 84.

I've written before about why Mr. Nielsen's career should be celebrated, but it's worth adding that there is likely no other actor who has made me laugh as much as he did (John Candy comes close, but I'm giving Mr. Nielsen the nod).

I had likely seen "Airplane!" before I saw the commercial for "The Naked Gun." So I knew a little bit about the Zuckers and Mr. Nielsen before that ad popped up on the Daszkowskis' TV on Margaretta Court in 1988. But I didn't know enough to be waiting in high anticipation for the movie. Until I saw the commercial. Then there was nothing in the world that I wanted to see more. There were sight gags, dumb jokes, and a lot of baseball. I was sold.

Needless to say, I was not disappointed. And I'm still not. It's definitely still All-Time Top 5 on my list. If that makes me a simple man, so be it. But, c'mon, the baseball scene cannot be topped:

The sequels had their moments, too (2 1/2 had more than 33 1/3, and had this), but the true joy for me after seeing the movie was discovering the TV show it was based on, "Police Squad." It is All-Time Top 3 on the TV list. In fact, after trolling YouTube for clips, I realized I need to break out the old VHS copy ASAP. But you can enjoy these, the first of which has the joke mentioned in the T&R HOF induction of Mr. Nielsen at the very end.

Still awesome. At least Mr. Nielsen will live on through his work.

Rest in peace, sir. Thanks for the laughs, both past and future.


What I Liked About October

*The Howard/Paprocki nuptials
*Avett Brothers, Radio City Music Hall, NYC; Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, TN
*Loveless Cafe, Nashville, TN
*National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, TN
*Levon Helm Band/Steve Earle, Levon Helm Studios, Woodstock, NY

*Pancake Pantry, Nashville, TN
*Meeting Mr. McFeely and the voice of Gary Gnu
*Seeing Little Jimmy Dickens at the Grand Ole Opry
*The Giants winning the World Series
*Islanders 6, Rangers 4

*Jason and the Scorchers, Iota, Arlington, VA
*The Pfunky Griddle, Nashville, TN
*Completing my Meet Every Living Brady quest
*Meeting Rory Charissa McCormick
*The willingness of people with cars to drive me places


Soundtracks I Have Loved: Rocky IV

Soundtrack: Rocky IV
Year Released: 1985
I Bought It On: Vinyl
How Does It Hold Up?: Like our great American flag, strong and proud

Track List:

1. Burning Heart--Survivor
2. Heart's on Fire--John Cafferty
3. Double or Nothing--Kenny Loggins and Gladys Knight
4. Eye of the Tiger--Survivor
5. War--Vince DiCola
6. Living in America--James Brown
7. No Easy Way Out--Robert Tepper
8. One Way Street--Go West
9. The Sweetest Victory--Touch
10.Training Montage--Vince DiCola

I'm not sure I've fully recovered from the death of Apollo Creed.

In the months leading up to the release of Rocky IV, I'm sure it must've been revealed that Apollo was going to meet his maker and that he was going to be sent on his way by the evil Russian Ivan Drago. And I know I collected the Rocky IV trading cards, which were probably released before or around the same time the movie was. So it seems reasonable to say I knew it was coming.

But it still hurt.

And so, I never wanted Rocky to win the big fight more than I did in Rocky IV. Nikolai Volkoff, with his quaint singing of the Soviet national anthem, was surely hated by Young Me, but he hadn't killed Hulk Hogan. Drago not only killed Apollo but he seemed OK with it, even sort of pleased. Douchebag.

But at least (SPOILER ALERT) Rocky showed him at the end. And almost ended the Cold War in the process. What a guy.

And the song playing as Rocky's Speech for World Peace ends (John Cafferty's "Heart's on Fire") is but one of the many gems on the movie's soundtrack, one of the three Rocky soundtracks I've owned in my life (the original, IV, and V...yes I bought the soundtrack to Rocky V; maybe we'll discuss that another time). It was also among the first albums I owned, and I still have my original vinyl (no skips).

The soundtrack definitely aims to please, or pander, depending on your degree of cynicism, which, if you've seen and enjoyed Rocky IV is likely pretty low. Not only does it include previous soundtrack hero Cafferty (this time without the Beaver Brown Band, or at least they're not credited), but it also turns to King of the Soundtracks Kenny Loggins for a duet with Gladys Knight. Unfortunately, the song's terrible, proving that, as hard as this may be to believe, even Kenny Loggins sucks sometimes.

Survivor, on a soundtrack roll of their own with "Eye of the Tiger" and "The Moment of Truth" from The Karate Kid, make their bid for Logginsian greatness with the leadoff track, "Burning Heart." It's a solid tune, though not enough to send them into the soundtrack stratosphere (it is, as best I can tell, their last soundtrack hit, though I suppose there's still time). I'm not sure if "Deep in our soul/A quiet ember/Knows it's you against you/It's the paradox/That drives you on" is brilliant or garbage, but most people have the same debate about the Rocky movies, so the song fits fine.

"Eye of the Tiger" also makes a return appearance from the Rocky III soundtrack, which would be completely stupid and unnecessary except for the fact that everything is made better with the inclusion of "Eye of the Tiger." Don't believe me? Ask Paul Anka. Or check out Staten Island's own PS 22 Chorus.

Side 2 of the soundtrack almost derails the awesomeness, but the two clunkers from Go West (better soundtrack days awaited) and Touch (no clue who they are, and the song's so bad, I don't feel like Googling them or finding you a YouTube link) are easily floored by the one-two punch (see what I did there?) of James Brown's "Living in America" and Robert Tepper's "No Easy Way Out." The former, which, of course, precedes Apollo's untimely demise in the movie, is best enjoyed on the album cut, where Brown throws in an "Eddie Murphy, eat your heart out" toward the end. But I feel like it wouldn't be right to not put in the clip from the movie. I think every boxing match should start like this.

Robert Tepper's contribution, though less celebrated, is no less impressive. Plus, if Wikipedia is to be believed, he's from Bayonne. North Jersey, represent!

And, then, of course, there are the training montages. You can debate the overall merit of Rocky IV, but I don't think you can deny the greatness of the movie's training montages. Vince DiCola (whose "War"--definitely not Edwin Starr's song--is in the big fight scene) lucks into giving the incredibly '80s background music for one of them (the other, decidedly more awesome one features "Heart's on Fire") and cleverly titles the resulting song "Training Montage."

Eat it, Communist pigs! Not only did your lifeless, Apollo Creed-killing robot not break the great, dogsled-pulling Rocky Balboa, but you also, to the best of my knowledge, never produced a soundtrack as cool as the one to Rocky IV.

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


Soundtracks I Have Loved: Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol

Soundtrack: Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol
Year Released: 1987
I Bought It On: Cassette
How Does It Hold Up?: As well as the movie, which you can interpret any way you wish

Track List:

1. Rock the House--Darryl Duncan
2. It's Time to Move--S.O.S. Band
3. Dancin' Up a Storm--Stacy Lattisaw
4. Let's Go to Heaven in My Car--Brian Wilson
5. The High Flyer (Police Academy Theme-Montage)--Robert Folk
6. Citizens on Patrol--Michael Winslow and the L.A. Dream Team
7. Rescue Me--Family Dream
8. I Like My Body--Chico DeBarge
9. Winning Streak--Garry Glenn
10.Shoot for the Top--Southern Pacific

The Police Academy films aren't exactly well loved in the world outside my apartment. I understand and begrudgingly accept that. They're not particularly well written, the acting is a little lacking, the storylines (such as they are) are pretty asinine, and the jokes are, for the most part, pretty lame.

But other than that, the films are really quite good.

OK, maybe they don't hold up as well as they did when I was in my pre-teens, but in that time period they were right in my cinematic sweet spot. I honestly didn't care much for the original (I think I fell asleep while watching it on video, and I can't say with any confidence that I've ever seen the whole thing), but I was hooked with Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment, in which I was introduced to the genius that is Bobcat Goldthwait as Zed. I remember being disappointed by Police Academy 3: Back in Training, probably because the anticipation was so high after the second chapter. But then when I saw the full-color ad in the Sunday comics for Police Academy 4: Citizens in Patrol, I became giddy with excitement again. I cut out the ad, taped it on my wall, and prepared for the funny (please note that I now own the movie poster, and it's signed by Steve Guttenberg, Leslie Easterbrook, and Michael Winslow...yes, I'm bragging). This was going to be the first Police Academy movie I would see in the theater, and I was pumped.

I was not disappointed. The bad taste left from Police Academy 3 was quickly washed away in the opening scene, and by the time the movie ended I was back on board with the franchise. Police Academy 5: Assignment: Miami Beach was strong, too, but Police Academy 6: City Under Siege was a mess, and I haven't even bothered to see Mission to Moscow, so I feel comfortable in declaring that Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol was the crest of the Police Academy wave.

It's the last Mahoney movie, as Guttenberg seemingly figured that once Three Men and a Baby hit, his career was ready to take off and he could leave the franchise behind. Both he and the franchise suffered for it, but this film is a strong goodbye, for both he and Goldthwait (plus The Gutt got Sharon Stone as his love interest, so that was nice). And the film's also got the 23-year-old David Spade and 31-year-old Brian "Ratner" Backer deftly playing young skate punks, complemented off the boards by Tab Thacker (who I just discovered died three years ago, which makes me a little sad) as the aptly named House.

Here's the best nine minutes from the movie. Do with that statement what you will.

We could sit here and debate if the fourth installment or the second is the best all day (and I know you want me to), but let me move into the point of this blog and tell you that I only own the soundtrack to one Police Academy movie and that's Police Academy 4. It's easily the musically strongest (then again, I don't even remember music from any of the other movies, other than the "Blue Oyster Theme," so they might not even have soundtracks).

The soundtrack gets off to a terrible start, though. It starts so poorly that I'm willing to posit the theory that Motown (yes, Motown put this out) got the sides mixed up and Side 1 should really be Side 2. How else to explain that the seemingly interminable "Rock the House" leads off the album, while this undeniable gem is the leadoff track on Side 2?

Seriously. Buried on Side 2. Unbelievable. That's a leadoff soundtrack tune if ever there was one. Michael Winslow was robbed, along with the L.A. Dream Team (props also to Mike Stuart and Arthur Funaro, who are listed as the song's writers).

This theory is wrecked only by the inclusion of Brian Wilson's excellent "Let's Go to Heaven in My Car" in the four hole on Side 1. Yes, that Brian Wilson. Maybe Eugene Landy saw the big career and credibility boost McCartney got from doing "Spies Like Us" and urged Wilson to get in on that action. In yet another instance where the Internet pulls up lame, there isn't a clip of this song on YouTube. I blame Mike Love. Anyway, you can hear a tiny piece of it in the background starting at 6:05 of this clip.

"Rescue Me" is the top clunker on Side 2, but things pick up after that. Chico DeBarge's "I Like My Body" is so terrible it's endearing, but the cyberspace Chico DeBarge fan club hasn't put that on YouTube either, so you'll again have to settle for hearing it briefly in the background of a scene. But at least it gives me an excuse to post a link to a Blue Oyster scene. "Winning Streak" (this isn't the soundtrack cut, but it'll do) is so of the '80s that its power cannot be denied, and the album closer, Southern Pacific's "Shoot for the Top," is a song I still sing in my head whenever I see a bunch of skateboarders. And, from what I gather, the scene in the film that makes me do that is a big hit with the skater kids, mainly because it features a young Tony Hawk, along with a bunch of other famous skaters who don't have their own video games or clothing lines. Here's the song, sans skateboarders (enjoy the clip from the movie--in French--here).

And, to prove that it isn't just John Hughes movies that leave key songs off soundtracks, whither The Blow Monkeys' "It Doesn't Have to Be That Way," which is playing when Zed and his love Laura (Corinne Bohrer) run into each other's arms? It could have easily taken the place of "It's Time to Move," "Dancin' Up a Storm," or "Rescue Me."

In retrospect, the soundtrack, like the movie, probably isn't as good as I once thought it was. But with a solid Brian Wilson cut, some classic examples of "the '80s sound," and the perennially, undeniably awesome title cut, it's still better than it has any right to be. And I have no problem declaring my love for it in 2010.

So there.


What I Liked About September

*Harvest Festival, Farmers' Museum, Cooperstown, NY
*The Chambala/Micholychak nuptials, Binghamton, NY
*Scott Miller, Living Room, NYC; Union Hall, Brooklyn, NY
*Lupo's, Binghamton, NY
*Bobby Bare Jr., Maxwell's, Hoboken, NJ

*Jason D. Williams, Lakeside Lounge, NYC
*Meeting Susan Olsen
*James Ellroy, Book Court, Brooklyn, NY
*Meeting Shenae Grimes (first photo w/ a Degrassi alum!)
*Wrestling Reunion, Rahway, NJ

*Seeing R.A. Dickey pitch a complete game
*Soul Asylum/Mike Peters and Friends, Oak Ridge Park, Clark, NJ
*Monday Night Social Club, Jersey City, NJ
*Hanging with friends at the Brooklyn Book Festival
*The willingness of people with cars to drive me places


Soundtracks I Have Loved: The Great Outdoors

Soundtrack: The Great Outdoors
Year Released: 1988
I Bought It On: Cassette
Do I Still Own It?: Yep. [Question now discontinued, because I realize now that I still have all of these]
How Does It Hold Up?: Eh, not too bad

Track List:

1. Land of a Thousand Dances (Part 1)--Elwood Blues Revue featuring Wilson Pickett
2. Hot Fun in the Summertime--Elwood Blues Revue featuring Sam Moore
3. Big Country--Joe Walsh
4. Cabin Fever--David Wilcox
5. Land of a Thousand Dances (Part 2)--Elwood Blues Revue featuring Wilson Pickett
6. Big Bear--Bomb the Bass
7. Beaver Patrol--Pop Will Eat Itself
8. Dragboat--Elwood Blues/Tom Scott
9. Hot Weasel--Elwood Blues/Peter Aykroyd
10. Hey, Cowboy!--Thomas Newman and the Lazy 13

As you may have gathered from this series and other posts here, I'm probably not the guy you want to ask for a movie recommendation. When it comes to movies, I'm what is generally referred to as a moron. I don't have much use for dramas. Action movies aren't really my bag. If a movie is widely considered a classic, chances are I haven't seen it.

But a movie with Dan Aykroyd and John Candy, written and produced by John Hughes, well, now we're talking.

So it was with great joy that, in the summer of 1988, I set out to see The Great Outdoors. I was not disappointed. In fact, I tend to think I saw it twice that summer, but my memory refuses to yield 100% confirmation. At the very least, I saw it at the Orpheum in Tannersville, NY, while on summer vacation. I recall my mother thinking it wasn't very funny, but she eventually came around after a viewing a few months later on VHS. She was, and likely still is, a big fan of the jet-ski scene. How could you not be? And how could that not be one of the scenes someone uploaded to YouTube. C'mon, nerds, get to work. I'd do it, but I've gotta write these blog entries that no one reads.

At least someone had the good sense to record the Old 96er scene off the television.

My other non-soundtrack memory of The Great Outdoors is from eighth grade. Because I was such a good egg (and the Staten Island Catholic School Spelling Bee Champion that year, thank you very much), our teacher, Mrs. Scalegnio, trusted me enough to let me pick the movie we watched as our end-of-the-year treat. Because I went to a Catholic school, most of the movies we were allowed to watch were innocuous movies that contained nothing that could possibly offend the Young Catholic Mind. I can recall screenings of The Neverending Story, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (which I was sick for), and The Trouble With Angels, which I think is the one where we decided we'd had enough and wanted to pick the movie next time.

So, I came up with a few choices (I can't remember what else I came up with, but I'm pretty sure one was Walk Like A Man, which, though I haven't seen it in 20 years and can't remember much about it, I can't possibly defend), running through the movies in my head and trying to make sure there were no objectionable parts. I think the class decided on The Great Outdoors, and I was likely pleased with that outcome. I couldn't recall anything offensive, and since it was rated PG, I figured I was safe.

Then the movie started, and I was reminded of some objectionable--or at least objectionable to an eighth-grade teacher--scenes I'd forgotten about. Like the one where Chet Ripley--John Candy's character--is taking his wife's bra off. And the occasional salty language, like when Roman Craig (Dan Aykroyd) tells Chet that hot dogs are made of "lips and assholes" or when he heads to the bathroom by way of saying, "Time to introduce Mr. Thick Dick to Mr. Urinal Cake" (the latter of which is now one of my favorite movie lines but apparently went right over my head back then). And then there's the scene where Mrs. Ripley and Mrs. Craig (played by Annette Bening, in the only movie I've ever seen her in) talk about how the latter occasionally has to find, ahem, gratification by sitting on the washing machine.

I think Mrs. Scalegnio turned red a few times.

As these scenes began and I realized what I had forgotten about, I would start coughing uncontrollably to cover up the offending dialogue. I don't think I was very successful, and sometimes I could only keep the coughing charade going for so long. Whatever. At least we saw one decent movie in eight years.

Enough of that. Let's move on to the soundtrack, which has helpfully been uploaded by YouTube user SoundRarity (who has also uploaded the Twins soundtrack, which somehow escaped my purview and includes 2 Live Crew's painful cover of "Yakety Yak" [the original, by the way, opens The Great Outdoors but doesn't make it to the soundtrack]), so you can enjoy it in all its glory.

And there is indeed some glory here, though some shine brighter than others. The usually reliable Joe Walsh isn't so hot on "Big Country," which Wikipedia tells me was the original title of the movie, and Thomas Newman (him again?) probably could've trimmed a minute from "Hey Cowboy!". But those are the worst of the bunch.

I don't think I need to hear David Wilcox's "Cabin Fever" more than once a decade, but it aint a bad song. And Pop Will Eat Itself's "Beaver Patrol" is not without its charm. But the contributions of Wilson Pickett and Sam Moore carry the soundtrack. Granted, I'm not entirely sure why there needed to be two versions of Pickett singing "Land of a Thousand Dances," but, really, can you ever have too many? And the 11-year-old me was probably pretty excited to hear another version of the song after the epic cover by the WWF's finest on The Wrestling Album. Hard to top that one, but Pickett tries his best to reclaim the tune. Good video, too, featuring Dan Aykroyd's return to choreographed music video dancing.

And, as for Moore, I think the soundtrack's version of "Hot Fun in the Summertime" (not sure who's doing the rest of the vocals, because no one's credited) is better than the original. Sorry, Sly.

I suppose it would be cooler if I said one of these two songs was my favorite on the album, but we should all know by now that cool passed me by a long time ago. So I will gladly admit that my favorite song on the soundtrack is "Big Bear" by Bomb The Bass. To be fair, though, Annette Bening makes the song (she utters the titular phrase).

And in case you wanted the scene from the movie (another classic), here's a snippet:

And so ends my salute to the soundtracks of John Hughes Movies No One Ever Really Talks About. The next installment of SIHL (and most remaining installments, I think) will stay in the 1980s, though, so be prepared for more nostalgic reminiscences of when I actually went to the movies.

Until then, keep an eye on Reg for your Storm Tracker updates.


Soundtracks I Have Loved: Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Soundtrack: Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Year Released: 1987
I Bought It On: Vinyl
Do I Still Own It?: Yep.

Track List:

I Can Take Anything (Love Theme from "Planes, Trains And Automobiles") - E.T.A. featuring Steve Martin and John Candy
Ba-Na-Na-Bam-Boo - Westworld
I'll Show You Something Special - Balaam and the Angel
Modigliani (Lost In Your Eyes) - Book of Love
Power To Believe - The Dream Academy

Six Days on the Road - Steve Earle and the Dukes
Gonna Move - Dave Edmunds
Back in Baby's Arms - Emmylou Harris
Red River Rock - Silicon Teens
Wheels - Stars Of Heaven

I was going to space out the Hughes soundtracks but, after a closed-door meeting of the Tinsel and Rot Board of Governors, the decision was made to cover them all in a row. And I figured the next in the series might as well be what's probably my favorite John Hughes movie, Planes, Trains and Automobiles. I can find almost nothing bad to say about this movie. The best I can do is tell you that the decision to not use the serial comma in the title rankles me. Other than that, it's just about perfect. And it has one of the all-time great movie scenes, now presented in English and German (NSFW language if you're dumb enough not to have seen the movie yet).

But I'll try to stay focused on the soundtrack as best I can. It's split into two sections, Town and Country. The Town side is the weaker of the two, and I can't say I recall where "Ba-Na-Na-Bam-Boo" or "I'll Show You Something Special" appear in the movie. But the leadoff track was the first song I remember when the movie came out. I could swear there was an actual MTV video, but I can't find it on YouTube, so you'll have to settle for this fan-made one.

The other two songs on the Town side are also prominent in my mind, though I can't quite place "Modigliani (Lost in Your Eyes)" (a search on the Internets says when they're on the train, so I'll believe that). "Power to Believe" is easier to place, because it comes in at the end of what might be John Candy's best moment on film.

The Country side is why I bothered buying the soundtrack in the first place (in case you were wondering, I bought it well after the movie came to VHS at a since-closed liquidator store on W. 27th St.). "Six Days on the Road" was probably the first time I heard Steve Earle sing, and definitely the first time I heard that song, which I've probably heard roughly a hundred times since (there's another Earle song, "Continental Trailways Blues," in the movie but not on the soundtrack...more on glaring omissions from the soundtrack later). It was also the first time I heard "Red River Rock," and it took a few years before I realized it wasn't a Silicon Teens original. And no disrespect to Johnny and the Hurricanes, but I still prefer this soundtrack's version.

And, lucky for Emmylou Harris, her version of "Back in Baby's Arms" serves as the background music for the best-known scene in the movie.

The Dave Edmunds and Stars Of Heaven tracks don't do much for me, though they do fit in well with the overall theme of the movie, so I can't really fault their inclusion. But I can most definitely fault the exclusion of two songs from the movie. And, no, I'm not thinking of these two, though I wouldn't have objected if they made it. (And, by the way, I'm still waiting for the bus ride in which a singalong breaks out.)

No, I am more concerned with the exclusion of the final scene's "Every Time You Go Away" (not the Paul Young version), which is particularly bizarre because it comes at such an important part of the movie, and, more egregiously, the decision to leave this off the soundtrack.

What the hell? That's almost as disheartening as the fact that there wasn't even a soundtrack released for Uncle Buck. That's just crazy. So many great songs in that movie--"Tweedle Dee,", "Jukebox Baby," "Laugh, Laugh" (which I just learned wasn't called "Fly, Fly Before I Die"...you learn something new every day, huh?), and so on--and yet no official soundtrack. Forget about Stonehenge; the lack of a UB soundtrack is one of the great mysteries of life. I'll never understand it.

Anyway, "Mess Around" would've knocked the Planes, Trains and Automobiles soundtrack up a few notches, but, as it stands, the Country side makes it a pretty decent companion to a pretty phenomenal movie that served as the start of a series of stellar Hughes/Candy collaborations.

More on that next time. I'll try not to bemoan the lack of an Uncle Buck soundtrack any further during that post. But I can't promise anything.


Sometimes I Wish Gary Busey Had Pursued a Career in Music

...because then there would be more clips like this:

Almost as great as the Danko/Busey/Butterfield supergroup (no longer available on YouTube, but still worth your $2 here).

More of Keith and Jerry Lee (without Mr. Busey) here.

Is it too much to ask for a reunion special?


Soundtracks I Have Loved: Career Opportunities

Soundtrack: Career Opportunities
Year Released: 1991
I Bought It On: Cassette
Do I Still Own It?: Absolutely.

Track List:

1. Roy - Tom Newman
2. King Kong Five - Mano Negra
3. I Wanna Stay Home - Jellyfish
4. Tiny Little Heart Attack - Money Talks
5. Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World - Johnny Clegg
6. Criminal Bop - Tom Newman
7. Better World - Rebel MC
8. Go! (Club Mix) - Tones on Tail
9. Don't Quit - Caron Wheeler
10. Little Pony - Tom Newman

When people speak of John Hughes, they almost always focus on the Holy Hughes Trinity: The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, and Sixteen Candles. I have nothing against any of those movies, and they are probably the most culturally important in the Hughes ouevre, but who will speak for the other Hughes movies, the ones that get a line or two in a Hughes biography? Who will expound upon the Holy Candy/Hughes Trinity (Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, The Great Outdoors, and Uncle Buck)? Who will laud the entries in the Hughes canon that don't focus on Molly Ringwald getting some?

I will. And Xmastime will help and be the go-to expert on the Dutch front. Neither of us will likely discuss Curly Sue.

Of course, this is a Soundtracks I Have Loved(tm) post, so I will use the soundtrack as my entry point. And, yes, I do have the soundtrack to Career Opportunities, a movie that IMDB says pulled in a whopping $11 million at the box office. If the fact that I own this soundtrack surprises you, I guess you're a new reader. Welcome! And let me point out that not only do I have the soundtrack on cassette, but I also have the VHS signed by Frank Whaley and Jennifer Connelly (I have the movie poster somewhere, too).

Oh yeah! Who's the man? What? Not me? Oh, OK, fair enough. Let's get back to the soundtrack.

I believe it took me awhile to find the soundtrack, and it was probably one of the last cassettes I bought (you can buy a new CD copy on Amazon for $75.68 if you're so inclined). So I got it well after seeing the movie, the tale of a directionless dreamer and frequent liar named Jim Dodge (Frank Whaley) who gets a job as the night janitor at Target, where he finds his unrequited crush Josie (Jennifer Connelly, probably at the peak of her hotness), who was contemplating shoplifting as an act of rebellion against her wealthy, unloving dad. Later, they run into a pair of thieves, expertly played by the fabulous Mulroney brothers, Dermot and Kieran, who, in addition to being fine actors (Dermot is the finer of the two, particularly in this movie, where he plays creepy almost too well) are also members of the underappreciated Low and Sweet Orchestra. SPOILER ALERT: The thieves are outwitted, and Jim and Josie ride off into the sunset. Sorry to ruin that for you. And, no, this probably isn't one Hughes bragged about to friends, but, dammit, I love it, and this is my blog. So deal with it.

I am a sucker for any movie or TV show set in a mall or department store (favorite Kevin Smith movie: Mallrats; favorite Saved by the Bell story arc: the episodes where Zack gets the hots for a homeless chick who works in the mall), so this movie was right in my wheelhouse. And I'd never actually seen a Target when the movie was released, which added to my excitement. Sure, it looked a lot like Caldor or Ames or Jamesway, but it wasn't. It was a Target, a store I had only heard mention of. How cool. It was like what I imagine a normal person experiences when they watch a movie set in some unbelievably exotic tropical locale. I am not a normal person, as you should have surmised by now.

Anyway, with the setting already luring me in and John Hughes at the helm, I really didn't need to know anything more about the movie. Of course, there was also Jennifer Connelly enticing me, plus the trailer promised an appearance from John Candy. This was a can't-miss.

By the way, "She Drives Me Crazy" isn't on the soundtrack. In fact, unless you've seen the movie, there's a better-than-average chance that no song you've ever heard is on the soundtrack. I certainly never heard of any of the songs, or any of the musicians, before I saw the movie. In fact, the movie's full of songs I would almost certainly never listen to on their own but I needed to own on a soundtrack. Such is the mark of an excellent soundtrack.

Unfortunately, with all the good songs in the movie, the decision was made to kick things off with the exciting Tom Newman instrumental "Roy," which I guess is background music for a scene with Josie's dad, since that's the only guy I recall named Roy in the movie. And the soundtrack comes to an equally thrilling conclusion with another hot Newman jam, "Little Pony," which I guess was written for the movie's most popular scene among horny dudes, a scene that I'm sure you can find on the Internet by Googling "Jennifer Connelly riding a horse" or some such variation.

The rest of the soundtrack is better, though (save for one more Tom Newman instrumental, "Criminal Bop"....sorry, dude--not a fan). The best of the lot is probably Johnny Clegg's "Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World," which sounds like it could only be included on a soundtrack to a comedy that I like.

Then, there's Mano Negra's "King Kong Five," which I would almost certainly hate if it hadn't been in this movie. It's barely two minutes long and I'm having trouble making it all the way through the YouTube video. It's catchy, though. As is Tones on Tail's "Go (Club Mix)," which you might have heard elsewhere.

And a good soundtrack could always use a touching slow jam. That role is filled with what's probably the most legitimately good track, Caron Wheeler's "Don't Quit," which Jim and Josie slow dance to in Target, finishing the dance they once had at a school function and finally kissing. And if there's anything I would've enjoyed more in 1991 than kissing Jennifer Connelly in a department store I'd never been to before, I can't think of it right now (I would also not mind doing this in 2010).

As much as I enjoy the soundtrack, though, I'm curious why one song from the movie didn't make it to the album. It's in a big scene in the movie, and it's another song I would probably run from if I heard it on the radio. But I love it in the movie. Or maybe I just love Jennifer Connelly roller skating in a tank top. Hard to say.

Could Curb Records not afford Betty Boo's fee? Was she squeezed out by the three Tom Newman joints? Did John Hughes not want it on there?

Maybe I'll find out when someone writes the 1,500-page John Hughes biography that features a solid chapter on Career Opportunities.

I'll be waiting.


A Month of Festivals: Hot August Blues (With Bonus Eastern European Content)

Let's start with this fact: any set that begins with "Walk the Dinosaur" is almost certain to be great.

So, when Lyle Lovett's Large Band kicked off with that song before Lovett took the stage, I immediately shook off the torpor of constant weekend traveling, an ambitious walk up the giant hill at Oregon Ridge Park, and an afternoon spent in a sloping field in the muggy August heat and settled in for what was probably the most enjoyable set of A Month of Festivals.

But I'll get back to that later. Let's go with a chronological recap of my first visit to the Hot August Blues festival in Cockeysville, MD.

After wandering around the grounds for a bit, dropping our chairs, and taking in a little of the side-stage action, my friend and I headed back to our chairs for The Bridge's set. And when we returned we were greeted by a woman and her two children, who had decided to take the space in front of us and set up a big umbrella that blocked my view of the stage. Awesome. And the umbrella was set up in a way that provided almost no shade, thus rendering it particularly annoying. I was able to bob and weave around it for a bit (and my friend closed it when she left to go play with the kids in an open area of the field), and it didn't really hinder much of my enjoyment of the show, because I wasn't digging the band anyway. They seem like hardworking chaps, though, so good for them.

Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears were next, and I was psyched to see them. I liked their "Tell 'Em What Your Name Is" CD a lot and had heard good things about their live show. They put on a good set but seemed to be feeling the heat a little bit (and perhaps the effects of a late-night, early-morning drive from Hoboken the night before). The show wasn't as high-energy as I expected based on the CD, but, then again, my energy wasn't at the top of the charts during their set, either. On a positive note, though, the umbrella family packed up their things and left, so that was a small victory.

Then it was time to sample some of the festival food. I'd had a mini coconut chess pie from Dangerously Delicious Pies soon after we arrived, but now it was time for something a little more substantial. Just about everything had a long line at this point, but the fare at the Mike's Hot Dogs Truck seemed promising. Well, for the most part. The mere thought of both The Cameron (with cream cheese and scallions) and the Skylar (with mayonnaise) made my stomach turn a bit, but I'm always up for a good Chicago Dog. Mike's delivered on that front, with a Chicago every bit as good as Shake Shack's. Based on the lines, I figured I might as well order a plain New Yorker, too, because I wasn't sure I wanted to stand in line for a half-hour for food again.

We went back to the main stage to see Keb' Mo', or, as we know him here on Tinsel and Rot, the man whose CD was graciously put back in my bag by the two gentlemen who mugged me in Manhattan. ("Tell us, that story," you beg. Certainly. Go buy my book and you'll get that story and a bunch more. Cheap!) I'd never officially seen Keb' Mo' in concert, though I did see a taping of the late, lamented "Sessions at West 54th" in which he was featured. In fact, that might've been the first "Sessions" taping I went to (it was either his or Billy Bragg's). I still have the setlist.

Anyway, back to 2010. It had been a while since I played any of my Keb' Mo' CDs (and, truth be told, time has established that if the muggers had decided to take the CD--his second--I'd've been OK with that), so I wasn't sure if I'd enjoy him as much as I did on "Sessions." But with the exception of a few numbers that were a little too much adult contemporary and not enough blues (my general problem with him as his career has progressed), I dug him a lot, especially when he played songs off his first CD. The set-closing "City Boy" (seen below from the "Sessions" taping) still hits me pretty hard, especially in a field in rural Maryland after a long night of bus and train travel.

Since there was an hour-plus break scheduled between the end of Keb' Mo's set and the beginning of Lyle Lovett's, we went for another walk around for dessert. I was intrigued by the guy selling what seemed to be a lemon with a candy cane shoved in it, so I took the $2 plunge (after discovering it was, in fact, a lemon with a peppermint stick shoved in it) and was told by the vendor to "have fun with it." I'm not sure what he meant by that, but I was pleased to discover the lemon and peppermint combo was quite refreshing.

Then, after surviving my solo jaunt up the giant hill and back for kicks, I settled into my chair for Lyle Lovett and His Large Band and was soon greeted by the aforementioned "Walk the Dinosaur." Two members of the Large Band--Sweet Pea Atkinson and Sir Harry Bowens--are also in Was (Not Was), so it wasn't as bizarre a choice as you might think. And it sounded phenomenal as played by the Large Band, a 14-member group in which just about everybody is unbelievably good at what they do. This is my third time seeing Lovett and His Large Band, and each time I leave stunned by just how good the band is. And, as a bonus, on this tour, the bass spot was held down by Leland Sklar (a/k/a that dude with the long beard whose name you don't know), who has played on, oh, everything.

The band can play any number of styles of music without seeming like they're stretching. And Lovett gives everybody a chance to shine throughout the show, highlighting the fiddle of Luke Bulla one moment and then letting the backup singers--Atkinson, Bowens, Willie Greene Jr., and Arnold McCuller--have their turn the next. The show started to sag in places, but never for long, and the smiles brought by songs like "Farmer Brown/Chicken Reel" (with its repetition of the phrase "choke my chicken" and barnyard shouts from the backup singers), "That's Right (You're Not From Texas)," and "Pantry" lasted long after the songs themselves ended. And, as for Lovett himself, well, he aint too shabby of a singer and songwriter. He remains an inspiration to journalism majors everywhere.

Of course, it's a bit of a stretch to call this group a blues band, so having them headline Hot August Blues was a bit odd. But in the end, who cares? Good music is good music. Though I'm pretty sure it wasn't blues, hot damn, it was good.


Then, of course, because sitting in an open field for 8 hours isn't enough for a weekend, I convinced my friend to bring his wife and younger daughter (the older daughter was away for the weekend, which I'm reasonably certain wasn't due to the fact that I was coming) to Blob's Park in Jessup, MD. Blob's is a beer hall offering the best in polka music several days a week, mixed in with the occasional non-polka act. I had made my initial visit with another friend several years ago and had been hoping to get back ever since. It looked like my dream would die, as Blob's seemingly rolled out its last barrel in 2007, shutting its doors after a New Year's Eve blowout. But Blob's rose from the dead and reopened last year.

The countdown to My Triumphant Return to Blob's Park began soon after I'd read about their reopening and figured this'd be a good weekend for an excursion. My friend was surprisingly easy to convince (he's the only non-family member I've lived with that still speaks to me, so clearly there's something amiss with him ... plus one of his first jobs was scaring people during the Haunted Hayride at Blob's, so nostalgia may have helped), so there we were, after a bit of traffic, pulling into the Blob's parking lot with a child who was getting a little cranky in the late afternoon.

But after a short period of adjustment and some time on the dance floor, she was enjoying Blob's as much as I was. Well, maybe not as much, but close. She, after all, didn't buy a hat and a t-shirt in the gift shop (which I don't think existed in the previous Blob's incarnation) and wasn't seriously considering buying a $30 beer stein with Max Blob's face on it. But she was having fun dancing with Mom and Dad to the Rheinlanders, a three-piece band that started off with some decidedly non-polka songs but gradually eased their way into Polkatown (they later covered Blake Shelton's "Some Beach" as a cha-cha, which resulted in a line dance). Eventually it was my turn on the dance floor, where I mainly followed the young tyke's lead and, because of that, got very dizzy after a lot of spinning for two songs. I did, however, draw the line at doing a split.

And for all you whiners who say I never dance, here's proof you're a liar.

Now the countdown begins to My Triumphant Return to Blob's Park After My Initial Triumphant Return to Blob's Park.


After four weekends of travel, I decided to spend the last weekend of August at home. Luckily, there was a festival nearby, though, so I made it five weekends of festivals in a row by popping into the Jersey City Polish Festival just long enough to grab some pierogies, hear a woman with a high soprano sing Polish songs, and watch some dudes in ye olde Polish garb slice Poland Spring bottles in half with swords.

That's how we do it in Jersey City, punks.

So, I think we can go ahead and call A Month of Festivals a success (and I even left out the Holy Rosary Italian Festival a block from my apartment, where I had some strong bundt cake and my first zeppoles of the summer). If you're scoring at home (and, really, you oughta be), I stopped in eight states (New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, plus a brief stop in the District of Columbia), went to six festivals, saw lots of bands I love, spent time with family members and friends I love even more, and, generally, had more fun than any 33-year-old copy editor has the right to have.

And now, I will rest for a bit.

But not too long.