Saturday, April 7, 2007

Mark St. John, 1956-2007

I was very saddened to learn of the death of former Kiss guitarist Mark St. John on Thursday of a cerebral hemorrhage.  Mark had the proverbial "cup of coffee" with the band, playing on only one album (1984's Animalize).  I always thought of him as sort of the George Lazenby of Rock 'N' Roll (that's the actor who played James Bond in just one .007 film, in between Sean Connery and Roger Moore).

I'd like to point out here that I just wrote more about Mark's death above than Kiss did on their very own super-duper official website—they could only manage two predictable and very bland sentences. Way to go, Gene and Paul...

St. John (nee Norton) replaced Vinnie Vincent after the 1983-84 Lick It Up tour, and had problems almost from the get-go.  Apparently he clashed with Simmons and Stanley in musical terms, and then he came down with the rare medical condition Reiter's Syndrome which caused his wrists to swell up and limited his ability to play guitar.  The band brought in Bruce Kulick to fill in for him on tour on an interim basis, but St. John was only able to perform at three shows (and only completed one of those) before Kulick was made a permanent member of the band.  It's hard to gauge how good a guitar player Mark really was since his tenure with the band was so brief—he was no Ace Frehley, but then again he was light years better than Vinnie Vincent—and he sure didn't suck on Animalize, either.  You certainly hear more of him on that album than Gene Simmons, who too busy off in La La Land making movies to give a rat's spleen about making records at that time (Paul Stanley and Jean Beauvior of the Plasmatics played most of his bass parts).  I've read more than one account where Simmons basically fucked St. John over after he left the band too, refusing to help pay for his medical bills and such.  You're a real peach, Gene...I don't suppose you could at least spare Mark one of your Kiss caskets now, could you?

Mark St. John was one of two members of Kiss who never wore their trademark make-up (his replacement Bruce Kulick being the other), and ironically he wound up working with drummer Peter Criss in another band in the '90s.  Beyond that, I really don't know all that much about him—a case of "we hardly knew ya" in Rock 'N' Roll, you might say.

Rest in peace, Mark.

It's Easter Eve--Lay (or break) An Egg!

I decided after nearly 25 years, it was time to upgrade my stereo system, so I bought a new amplifier and some new speakers this weekend.  Believe it or not, all these years I've been using a 1979 Technics amplifier that I bought from my good friend Tom in 1984, and it STILL works!  But my 1991 Technics speakers were starting to sound pretty ratty, and I decided to replace them and the amp for around $250, so I headed for Best Buy armed with my $100 gift card that I got for Xmas, so thank you, Tom, for the free speakers! T he bass is a lot punchier now on this new rascal too, and it sounds so sweet! It's only Rock 'N' Roll...

Speaking of Rock 'N' Roll, I picked up the new remastered ZZ Top CDs Tres Hombres and Fandango! and they sound awesome in their original splendor.  You see, ZZT pissed me off when they put their older stuff out on CD back in the '80s by remixing their songs and fucking them up big-time.  You can hear the difference on the radio now and then on "Tush" and "La Grange" when they play these crappy remixes—there's more echo, the drums are fatter—and in some cases, they even added new vocals and guitar licks to these old recordings, which is pure heresy, in my humble opinion.  I hate it when bands fuck with the integrity of their own music—Kiss did the same thing on Smashes, Thrashes & Hits by screwing with the original tracks and having Eric Carr singing "Beth", etc.  Those '80s ZZ Top CD releases of their '70s stuff should have been labeled "remix" to warn the buyer, but common sense has prevailed and they've re-issued these two LPs as they were originally recorded—it's nice to hear tracks like "Mexican Blackbird", "Move Me On Down The Line", et al, on CD as they should sound!  Hopefully, they will follow suit and issue Tejas, Rio Grande Mud and First Album properly on CD as well.

Wow, Gene, did you get a tummy tuck and boob job too?  Should we now call you "Genie" Simmons? And to think I used to idolize this man!  Gene now makes Joe Jackson look like Richard Gere in comparison, but that being said, he’s still a damn sight prettier than Joan Rivers (and her ugly-ass daughter)!

Speaking of Joe Jackson, I still find myself repeating Gallagher’s burning question from back in the ‘80s: "Does he HAVE to be in his videos?"

They were snowed out in Cleveland last night and today, the Detroit Tigers game was colded-out the other day, we had a record low temp. here last night, and it's colder than a well-digger’s butt outside right now.  Oh, need I remind everyone that it’s now early April?!?  Feels like friggin’ February to me…

B.F.D., MR. K!
I’m having a little trouble understanding all the hysteria surrounding Boston Red Sox pitcher "Dice K" or "Special K" or whatever they call him.  Why are there like eleventy million Japanese journalists following him around hanging on his every word?  The Royals had to issue more press credentials for Thursday’s game than they did for the 1985 World Series, but I don’t see what the big deal is.  Yes, he seems to be a pretty decent pitcher, but it’s not like this is a new phenomenon—there have been other pretty decent pitchers from the Far East, like Hideki Erabu (sp?), Hideo Homo and Bung-hole Kim (or whatever his name is), et al. This som-bitch surely ain’t worth no $100 million, or whatever Boston shelled out for him, and I hope Sox fans don’t mind paying through the nose for tickets for the next 50 years to pay for this goober…

Just as an aside, when I was a little kid, I thought Japanese people were called "Japanesians"! I just assumed that all nationalities ended in "ians"...

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Separated at birth?

Is it just me, or does the sausage on the far left not bear a striking resemblance to this guy?

More stuff

Former New England Patriots player Darryl Stingley died today at age 55.  He was a rising young star at wide receiver and was tragically paralyzed during a preseason game in 1978 in Oakland when he was hit by Jack Tatum of the Raiders and remained a quadriplegic the rest of his life.  One of the coolest moments you’ll ever see at a sporting event happened during a "Monday Night Football" game between the Patriots and Steelers in Foxboro in 1979 when Stingley made his first public appearance after the accident.  When the public address announcer acknowledged him, the entire crowd plus both teams turned to face him sitting up in the press box and gave him a long ovation in a beautiful outpouring of support.  It was a very touching scene, and even Howard Cosell seemed moved by it all.  R.I.P, Darryl.

Longtime Grambling State football coaching legend Eddie Robinson also died this week.  I remember back when I was about seven or eight, they used to replay the Grambling games on TV every Sunday morning before the NFL games came on, condensing the game broadcast from the previous day down to an hour, so I became very familiar with his work at an early age.  He also coached one of my favorite Chiefs players of all-time, the late Buck Buchanan.  The man coached for 57 years, won 408 games, and ran a clean program, to boot.  A class act, indeed. R.I.P., Coach Rob.

One coach who is NOT a class act is Bob Huggins, who is bolting the Kansas State basketball team for West Virgina—oops, Virginia—after just one season in the "Little Apple".  While I don't care all that much for K-State, I think this stinks for them, after all the momentum they'd built up this season under Huggins.  He has a checkered past, but I was giving him the benefit of the doubt before this because it was good to see this program be competitive in the Big 12 again, but now I see him for the horse's ass he really is—I don't care if WVU is his alma mater, either.  Same goes for these other nomadic coaching mercenaries who keep hopping from school to school for more money.  Don't these guys have contracts to honor?

I astounded myself today by actually making it all the way to the end of a column written by conservative pundit Jonah Goldberg in the newspaper, and even more amazingly, I actually agreed with it!  I think I may have a hormonal imbalance or something, because I normally can’t stand this putz.  Believe it or not, I actually do read conservative columnists on a regular basis, like Kathleen Parker, Charles Krauthammer and George Will, and I at least TRY to listen to what the right-wingers have to say, even though I still disagree with a lot of it—now how’s that for fair and balanced?

In Goldberg’s case, I usually wind up tuning him out about three paragraphs into his columns, but I went the distance for the first time ever in his column about windbag Rosie O’Donnell’s idiotic comments about Iran, 9/11, et al, on "The View" last week.  I thought that vapid show was supposed to cater to the Martha Stewart crowd anyway—since when did it suddenly morph into "Face The Nation"?  Please don’t misunderstand me—I’m not trying to sound sexist and say that a woman’s opinion doesn’t matter, or that she shouldn’t be outspoken.  My issue here lies more with credibility, and to me, Rosie has very little in the political realm.  To me, her wacked-out comments were almost as asinine, in their own way, as those of the very wrong Revs. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson in the aftermath of 9/11, claiming that we (as a country) had it coming to us because of all "the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians, the ACLU," et al "trying to secularize America".

And what is Rosie, anyway?  A mediocre stand-up comedian/actress and former daytime talk show host whose main claim to fame is merely being a lightning rod for controversy.  Rosie is to politics what the proverbial armchair quarterback is to football.  She has opinions, just as I do, but that hardly makes either of us political experts.  And not unlike her polar opposite Ann Coulter, she’ll say outrageous crap like this because she’s so desperate to keep her name in the papers.  So, like I said to Ann a while back, put a sock in it, Rosie!

Now, if and when I ever make it all the way through one of that wing-nut Michelle Malkin’s columns, then you’ll know for sure that I’ve gone over to the Dark Side!

Will these stupid countdown shows ever stop?  Now even The Weather Channel is getting in on the act with their upcoming "Top 100 Weather Moments".  I’m growing really weary of this genre of TV show, with the likes of "Top 100 Celebrity Oops", "Top 100 Botched Celebrity Boob Jobs" (Jenny Jones was #1 there, I think), etc., which I like to call "Drive-by TV".  These travesties are nothing more than cheaply-produced collections of video clips and snarky commentary from the same ten hack comedian wanna-be’s and/or D-list celebrities making inane remarks throughout these pointless countdowns, and they’re basically just an excuse to recycle old video footage and re-hash old controversies, etc.  And a weather countdown?  What are they going to rate, which tornado was everyone’s favorite?  Which ice storm caused the longest power outages?  Between this crap and their fear-mongering doomsday programs like "It Could Happen Tomorrow" and "Storm Stories", I long for the simpler times not so long ago when TWC just did the weather 24/7 and I would lust after my favorite weather girl Kristina Abernathy on the days when she wore short skirts...

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Let it rain!

Time to praise what is probably the finest Rock band Kansas City has ever produced, The Rainmakers.  They were all excellent musicians and this band was blessed a brilliant songwriter, plus they were an outstanding live act, to boot.  They started off as the trio Steve, Bob & Rich (Steve Phillips—lead guitar; Bob Walkenhorst—vocals and snare drum; Rich Ruth—bass), but when they signed with Mercury Records in the mid-'80s, they added drummer Pat Tomek (that's him wearing the specs in this photo, along with Steve, Bob and Rich, left to right, naturally), and frontman Walkenhorst switched to rhythm guitar.

I often compare this band to R.E.M. because these guys SHOULD have been every bit as big as R.E.M. is, and they appealed to more or less the same audience as R.E.M. does.  Sadly, Mercury/Polygram failed to support this band at all, thus they never attained the heights that their Georgia rivals did, despite that fact that The Rainmakers would blow R.E.M. off ANY stage, and Bob Walkenhorst is a far more prolific songwriter than the overly-serious Michael Stipe.  BW's writing style is steeped more in humor, yet with a social conscience, all the same, and these guys were a bit edgier than the rather wimpy band that was recently inducted into the Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame.  Sorry to break this to you, R.E.M. fans—Da Rainmakers are a helluva lot more fun to listen to!

Their most famous song is arguably "Let My People Go-Go", off their first album in 1986, which even garnered some airplay on MTV back in the day, as did "Downstream" from the same LP.  Trust me, there's much much more to this band, and here's just a brief sampling of Bob Walkenhorst's witty and insightful lyrics:

—"If heaven is guilt, no sex and no show, then I'm not sure that I really wanna go..." (from "The Wages Of Sin")
—"You can still see the ghosts, but you can't see the sense--why they let the monkey go, and blamed the monkey wrench..." (from "Rockin' At The T-Dance")
—"...and if you've ever seen that L.A. scene, man, you know it ain't no Jan & Dean..." (from "Snakedance")
—"...we make love to people that we don't even like..." (from "Small Circles")
—"Well, we picked up Harry Truman floatin' down from Independence...we said 'What about The Bomb--are you sorry that you did it?'...he said, 'pass me that bottle and mind yer own bidness..." (from "Downstream")

And my personal favorite:—"The generation that would change the world is still looking for its car keys..." (from "Drinkin' On The Job")

One little oddity about this band was/is their popularity in Scandinavia, of all places.  There was a time during the '90s when my good friend The Swedish Chef had easier access to Rainmakers CDs than yours truly did right here in the ol' heartland!  Their live CD Oslo-Wichita was partially recorded in the capital of Norway, too.

My top five Rainmakers tunes:
1) "Big Fat Blonde" (1986)  It's sexist as all get-out, but I love it, anyway!
2) "Tornado of Love" (1987)  I haven't been in one of these in about eight years, but I'm itching to do it again...
3) "Rockin' At The T-Dance" (1986)  Thinly-veiled tune about the 1981 K.C. Hyatt Hotel skywalks tragedy.
4) "Reckoning Day" (1989)  All-purpose rant song about most anything that chafes your hiney...
5) "Snakedance" (1987)  "Show these folks a good time," indeed!

Long live Steve, Bob & Rich (& Pat), and screw R.E.M.!

It's Salisbury Steak day!

Well, surely it is at SOME elementary school out there, one would think...

Your Vice-President poked fun at Dubya’s relationship with the White House press corps last week. "Funny Man Dick" said, "The president is really sorry he couldn’t be here tonight, but he had other obligations…his book club is meeting." [Place rim shot here]
Don’t quit your day job, Dickie—I have no doubt that just like Swingin' Steven Hauk in Good Morning, Vietnam, you have avowed, "In my heart, I know I'm funny," but trust me, Dick, I know funny, and you ain't it!  On second thought, please DO quit your day job—we’d all be a lot better off for it.

And come to think of it, that book club story might be true—it took him five and a half years, but ol’ Dubya finally finished reading that book about the goat…

Speaking of your President, Dubya was bitching up a storm yesterday over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Syria, calling it a "photo-op".  That may or may not be true, but you sure are one to talk, Mr. "Heckuva job, Brownie"…

"Roxanne"—THE POLICE (1979) "You don’t have to put on the red light."  Another co-worker submission here—apparently her young son thought Sting was saying "You don’t have to stop at the red light."  Yes, kid, I’m afraid you do…

It was movie night at the ol' homestead here last night, and it wound up being a decent double-feature.  First off, I watched The Holiday starring Cameron Diaz and my girl Kate Winslet.  Not too bad for a chick flick, although the story was pretty implausible and I didn’t enjoy the storyline surrounding Diaz’s character half as much as Winslet’s.  For some reason, I have trouble getting into Cameron Diaz, even though she has gorgeous blue eyes—I know she’s everyone’s favorite movie hottie and all, but skinny blondes like her just don’t turn me on (apart from Renee Zellweger, that is, and even then, I like her better at her Bridget Jones size).  On the other hand, Kate Winslet is more my type, although I MUCH prefer her as a redhead.  Getting back to the film itself, I thought Jack Black was quite good here, playing a Chandler Bing-like character.  And thanks to this film, I now finally know what actor Eli Wallach looks like after years of him being nothing more than a crossword puzzle answer to me!

Part two of my double feature was Rocky Balboa, and I have to say the rumors are true—this was actually a good movie!  If you like the Rocky film series at all, you’ll love this one.  True, Rocky V sucked (anything involving that mongoloid Tommy Morrison is doomed to suck), and I had my doubts going into this one too, but Sly Stallone managed to get it right this time.  All the Rocky detractors out there tend to forget that the scope of these films goes well beyond just boxing, and there’s more depth to the characters than Stallone is given credit for.  In the commentary on the DVD for the first movie, Talia Shire called Rocky and Adrian "these two discarded people" who found each other, and their story was still pretty interesting even if you took out the whole boxing aspect of it.  That’s what I liked about the new one—the story arc brought everything full circle and/or provided a fair sense of closure, with Rocky still grieving over Adrian’s death and dealing with the prospect of aging—rendering the fight scene almost irrelevant to me.  Two things I could have done without, though:  A) the guy who played Rocky’s son—he looks too much like Ben Affleck and not enough like the two other kids who played him in Rocky IV and V, and B) Jim Lampley—I’ve always hated that arrogant jagoff ever since he was a sideline reporter on ABC’s college football games back in the ‘70s.  One other thing:  Just once, wouldn't you have loved to see Rocky slam Paulie's nuts in a car door?  Anywhooo, this was not a bad flick at all, and a nice way for the Italian Stallion to officially "retire".

...where he claims to have snorted his father's cremated ashes along with a little Cocaine. Didn't Keef hit his head really hard falling out of a tree not so long ago?  I think the boy is bullshitting us on this myself, but what still baffles me is why on earth he wears that fishing tackle in his hair.  Dare I say it again—drugs are bad, mmm-kay?

Monday, April 2, 2007

"Gimme that chomp-chomp..."

The late Danny Joe Brown and Molly Hatchet nailed it on their first album almost 30 years ago, because this is indeed "Gator Country", as Florida has once again won the NCAA Basketball Championship.  They seem to have Ohio State's number in both round ball and football champeenships lately, too.  I kept thinking Florida would falter somewhere in this tournament, but they never did, and they even made a little history by winning the title two straight years with the same starting five—that's never been done before.  It's hard to repeat in any sport, but especially in college basketball, so I have to give it up to Florida.

Memo to CBS' Billy Packer:  Florida's coach's last name is pronounced DON-ovan, not DUN-ovan, you yutz!

My "Field of Dreams"

Being as it's Opening Day and all, I think it's appropriate to honor the first Big League stadium I ever set foot in, Kansas City's Municipal Stadium.  It was hardly the prettiest ballpark in the world, and not as fondly remembered as legends like Sportsman's Park, Ebbets Field or even old Comiskey Park in Chicago, but it was very cool in my young eyes.  I was five years old when my folks took me to my first Royals game at this oversized Erector Set, and I fell in love with the place immediately.  If ol' Doc Brown ever does perfect that Flux Capacitor thing, the first place I'm going to time-travel back to is Municipal Stadium.  Ebbets Field might be my second stop...

Municipal began life as a Depression-era park called Muehlebach Field, and was home to several Minor League teams, as well as the legendary K.C. Monarchs of the Negro Leagues.  It was a single-deck structure for over 30 years until the Philadelphia A's moved to Kansas City in 1955, necessitating the addition of the upper deck, which was built in an astounding nine months over the Fall and Winter of '54-'55.  The A's called Municipal home for 13 miserable seasons before bolting to Oakland in 1968, and the expansion Royals played four seasons there before moving to their current palace at the Truman Sports Complex.

The main scoreboard was unique in a couple ways.  First off, it was transplanted to K.C. from Boston's old Braves Field after the Braves moved to Milwaukee, and it listed the strikes ahead of the balls, for some reason.  The houses across Brooklyn Avenue to the right of the scoreboard were often targets of home run balls too.  I would love to have seen one of those Home Run Derbys held there and all the broken windows it would have yielded.  I always loved those "toothbrush-style" light towers too.

The stadium was also home to the Chiefs during their original glory years from '63 to '71, although I never got to see a Chiefs game there in person.  The Beatles also played there in September, 1964 when I was all of three months old.

One of my most vivid memories of Municipal Stadium was the parking (or lack thereof).  There were only a handful of "official" parking lots surrounding the park, so there were numerous enterprising homeowners in the area who would charge a buck and allow you to park in their front yard, which is what we often did.  Unlike in that same neighborhood today, you didn't have to worry about the condition of your vehicle when you returned to it back then, as the people would actually keep an eye on your car during the game.

Some other things I recall about the old stadium include the narrow concrete ramps that led to the upper deck seating area that were suspended over the lower level seating bowl.  Wrigley Field and Detroit's Tiger Stadium have/had similar set-ups, too, and you kinda felt like you were "walking the plank", even though the ramps were lined with chain-link fences on either side.  I also remember the intricate checkerboard patterns that groundskeeper George Toma would put in the grassthey don't call this guy the "Marquis de Sod" for nothing!  And I remember the P.A. announcer, the late Jack Layton, and his distinctive booming baritone voice every time he'd announce "A-mos O-tis" or "Loooouuu Piniella" coming to bat.  Another cool feature of Municipal Stadium was at the end of each game, they allowed fans to walk on the warning track down the third base line toward an open gate in the left field wall to exit the park.

Unfortunately, Municipal Stadium had a short shelf life in the Major Leagues, and it closed after the '72 season when the team moved to Royals (now Kauffman) Stadium.  Municipal sat vacant for four years before being demolished in 1976.  In a rare moment of larceny, my old man and I snuck into the park one Saturday morning in the Spring of '76 just after demolition began and extricated three grandstand seats from the third base side and brought them home.  Unfortunately, for reasons unknown to me to this day, Mom wouldn't allow them in the house, so they sat outside under a tree in the back yard for 30 years and rotted. I'm kicking myself now for not preserving them.

As much as I love Kauffman and Arrowhead Stadiums (two of the coolest man-made things on earth this side of the Gateway Arch, Mount Rushmore and the Golden Gate Bridge), I would give my left nut for just one more visit to the ol' ballpark at 22nd & Brooklyn—it was my personal "Field of Dreams".

Let us pray...

"Dear Lord...May our bats be swift, and may our balls be plentiful."—Jimmy Dugan, A League of Our Own

Well, in the case of the Kansas City Royals, the bats and balls were swift and plentiful today at their home opener, a 7-1 win over the Boston Red Sox.  I almost didn't recognize that team in the white uniforms today—they were fundamentally sound, they had clutch hitting, and had a starting pitcher that got into the 8th inning!  Meanwhile, Curt Schilling of the Red Sox didn't even make it into the 5th inning, and K.C. went deep into their bullpen.  Nice to see a packed house at Kauffman Stadium, and it appeared to be quite festive there.  The Royals should have REO Speedwagon sing the National Anthem more often, too...

Opening day is always special, and I'm happy to see baseball games that count again.  I enjoyed watching the Cardinals home opener on ESPN last night (although the result sucked).  John Miller and Joe Morgan are becoming a bit of an institution on Sunday nights, and I particuarly enjoy Miller's easy delivery style.  Speaking of play-by-play men, I want to acknowledge the passing of Minnesota Twins voice Herb Carneal, who died yesterday at age 83.  I never got to listen to him much, so I'm not terribly familiar with his work, but from everything I've ever heard, Carneal is the Jack Buck/Ernie Harwell/Vin Scully/Denny Matthews of the Upper Midwest, and they love him in the Twins Cities.  Very sad he passed away on the eve of the season, too. R.I.P. Herb...

On the positive side, I'm shooting for my second straight Fantasy Baseball title this year, as Holland's Wallbangers were the champs in '06.  This year's team is simply called The Who, as the Yahoo league I'm in has a Rock band theme—I'll be taking on the likes of Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Kiss, which was already taken.  And of course, the one standing rule for my fantasy teams still applies:  NO YANKEES ALLOWED!

As for the real players, I look forward to a good year from the Cubs, a better year from the Royals and Barry Bonds to suffer a career-ending suspension and/or injury while stuck on home run #754.

If I may paraphrase Mr. Cub himself, Ernie Banks: "Let's play 162!"