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 (***OFFICIAL SIGMAN HOLIDAY GREETING SELECTION***)
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.
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 (***OFFICIAL SIGMAN HOLIDAY GREETING SELECTION***)
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.
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 (***OFFICIAL SIGMAN HOLIDAY GREETING SELECTION***)
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 (***OFFICIAL SIGMAN HOLIDAY GREETING SELECTION***)
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.
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.
*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