Saturday, February 9, 2008

"They Died Old"--Vol. V

Whenever sportscasters reminisce about great old sports venues, one that is often overlooked is the venerable Olympia Stadium in Detroit.  While Boston Garden, the Montreal Forum and old Madison Square Garden in New York always seem to get the lion's share of nostalgic memories, Olympia is largely forgotten for some reason.  The former home of the Red Wings is quite legendary indeed, and very beloved by those who frequented it, so here's a little salute to a classic hockey arena.

Olympia Stadium opened in 1927 at the corner of Grand River Ave. and McGraw St., southwest of downtown Detroit, not far from where Berry Gordy, Jr. set up shop at the legendary Motown Hitsville, U.S.A. studio just over 30 years later.  Olympia was unique for its cathedral-like facade and red brick exterior, and it was a premier hockey and boxing venue.  It also served briefly as the home of the ever-nomadic Pistons of the NBA following their move from Fort Wayne in 1957.  The Pistons went on to play at Cobo Arena, the Pontiac Silverdome and Joe Louis Arena (after the Silverdome roof collapsed) before settling into their permanent home, The Palace of Auburn Hills.  Concerts were an Olympia staple as wellElvis played there.  So did The Beatles.  Even Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd rocked the Old Red Barn.

But it's old-time hockey (Eddie Shore?) that Olympia Stadium is best-known for, with its superior sightlines that were among the best of any arena of its era.  The Red Wings called Olympia home from almost Day One, although they were originally called the Cougars and briefly the Falcons before adopting their current name in 1932.  The Wings won seven Stanley Cup titles at Grand River and McGraw, including four during their 1950's heyday that featured the "Production Line" of Hall of Famers Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay and Sid Abel, as well as stalwart goaltender Terry Sawchuk.  Lindsay is credited for starting the tradition in 1950 of skating around the rink with the Stanley Cup hoisted on high.  Another tradition began at Olympia in 1952, back when a team only had to win eight postseason games to claim Lord Stanley's Cup, so during the playoffs that year, fish market owner Peter Cusimano hurled an octopus onto the ice for good luck, and a Motor City legend was born!

The Red Wings fell on hard times during the late '60s and throughout the '70s, which was known as the "Dead Wings/Things" era.  Olympia's neighborhood started deteriorating around that same time, and the arena itself showed its age as well, despite numerous upgrades and the addition of suites wherever they could fit them in.  After the NFL's Lions fled Tiger Stadium to Pontiac in 1975, the Red Wings nearly followed suit, but eventually they wound up building their current home, Joe Louis Arena, adjacent to the Cobo Arena/Cobo Hall convention complex alongside the Detroit River.  The final curtain came down on Olympia Stadium on December 15, 1979, as the Wings and Quebec Nordiques skated to a 4-4 tie.  The Old Red Barn was shuttered and stood for seven years until it was demolished in 1986-87.  A National Guard armory now occupies the site, which is probably the only safe haven for miles, considering the dreadful condition of the neighborhood it sits in.

In recent years, there has been talk of yet another new home for the Red Wings, and one enterprising person has proposed the brilliant idea of a "new" Olympia to be located near Comerica Park and Ford Field (ironically just a couple blocks from Grand River Ave.) on the west side of downtown Motown, also near the Red Wings' Hockeytown Cafe.  His plan would feature a modern arena with all the bells and whistles of current venues, but with a retro look to pay homage to the Old Red Barn.  Let's hope the powers-that-be in Detroit make this vision a reality someday soon.  I have some very vague memories of watching one or two Kansas City Scouts games live on TV from Olympia in 1974-75, and I'm still waiting for ol' Doc Brown to perfect that blasted Flux Capacitor so I can time-travel and watch the Production Line in action live in person at Olympia.  Heck, I'd even chow down on some octopi while I was there!  As Kiss sings, "You gotta lose your mind in Detroit..."


Well, wellnow I'm in Ted Williams/George Brett territory, with this being post #400 on Da Comet!  I couldn't think of anything real special to mark this auspicious occasion, so I'll just spread a little sage advice:

Never, never, never...

...fart while wearing a wet suit!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

I'll take Guilty Pleasures for $100, Alex!

Back in the nether year 1980, NBC premiered a variety show called "Pink Lady & Jeff".  You probably remember it well.  You don't?  Totally understandiblethey only aired five episodes.  TV Guide ranked PL&J 35th on their list of "50 Worst TV Series Ever", which is fairly accurate, but for some reason I have a soft spot in my heart for this little disasterpieceit was so bad it was good!

During the Spring of '80, NBC's ratings were so bad that test patterns were soundly beating them in some time slots, so they were desperate for somethinganythingto put on the air (witness the infamous "Supertrain").  Legendary TV exec Fred Silverman heard about this duo from Japan called Pink Lady who were selling disco records hand over fist in their native land, so he thought it would be a brilliant piece of programming to bring these two hotties to America and give them their own hour-long variety show, produced by the kings of camp, Sid & Marty Krofft (of "H.R. Pufnstuf" and "Sigmund & The Sea Monsters" fame).  Never mind that by that time both disco and TV variety shows were quite passé, not to mention the fact that neither of these girls (Mie on the left and Kei on the right in the above pic) spoke English worth a damn.  No problem!  Enter "comedian" Jeff Altman to act as "Sonny" to Mie and Kei's "Cher", so to speak.  Altman also wrote many of the skits for the show, and he somehow managed to elevate lameness to an art form in the process.  This hack was about as funny as a canker sorehe was the 1980 equivalent of Bob Saget or Pauly Shore.

It never ceases to amaze me that NO ONE involved with the production of this show had the balls to say, “This is abysmal!” before it ever aired.  Think about it:  Dozens of people worked to put this show together—it wasn’t just Silverman, The Kroffts, or Altmanthis was a JOINT effort in one way or another, and surely more than a few members of the cast and/or crew knew this was thing was a train wreck from day one.  This was the television equivalent of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy “singing” on record albums back in the ‘60s, and it made Captain & Tennille's variety show seem like "Masterpiece Theater" by comparison.

"Pink Lady & Jeff" premiered on Friday, March 1, 1980 with guest stars like Sherman Hemsley and Larry Hagman, and in addition to the lame skits, it featured the typical variety show fare of hackneyed dance numbers, tacky costumes, and of course the girls of Pink Lady performing.  Truth to tell, Mie and Kei were very talented, but because of the language barrier and having to learn American songs phonetically, they came across as very wooden performers.  Their choreography had a rather ABBA-esque quality to it, too, but they weren't hard on the eyes, which was their saving grace.  When they were finally allowed to do one of their Japanese hits in Japanese on the show, they came across a lot better, but that style of music was so outdated by that time.

PL&J's other saving grace was including music videos in the pre-MTV era by contemporary acts like Cheap Trick, Blondie and Alice Cooper (doing "Clones"see my previous post from Tuesday about that one).  Sadly, some of their other musical guests looked very out-of-placepicture Bobby Vinton with an afro or Roy Orbison doing "Oh Pretty Woman" looking very much like a has-been.  Fortunately, that situation was rectified by Bruce Springsteen and friends about four years later on that classic black-and-white Showtime special, but I digress...

As one might expect, "Pink Lady & Jeff" was a colossal flop, and was yanked from the air after the fifth episode aired on April 4th.  A sixth episode was taped but never aired, but thanks to the miracle that is DVD, you can see it and the other five, thanks to the good folks at Rhino, who seem to never leave a stone unturned when it comes to obscure TV and music.  As for Jeff Altman, I find it amusing that in his interview on the DVD, he places most of the blame for the show’s failure on Mie And Kei, yet he gladly takes full credit for many of the show’s skits being based his own original characters, whichsorry, Jeffweren't all that damn original.  What a tool!  As for "Pink Lady & Jeff" in general, it was a poorly-conceived idea executed at a bad time.  But, it does bring a chuckle to one's heart, all the same...

A couple other asides:  Appearing in many of those lame skits mentioned above was a young actor named Jim Varney, who later went on to become the legendary Ernest P. Worrell.  For the longest time, I always assumed that Mie and Kei were sisters, but such is not the case, and they apparently still remain friends today, although they no longer perform.  Also, PL&J apparently have a few other fans in this hemisphere, judging by this fan site.

Classic Old-School Fast Food Joint #3

A quick salute to a relatively minor chain of root beer & hot dog/burger stands called Dog 'n' Suds, who tried to follow in the footsteps of A&W, who were making big strides in the mid-'70s.  I don't remember a whole lot about them, other than they replaced our legendary Raytown Smak's Drive-In sometime in 1974 or 1975, and they made the mistake of installing a jukebox there.  I distinctly remember riding my bike up there during the summer of '75 and torturing the hamburger-flippers therein by constantly playing Ringo Starr's "Oh My My" and Queen's "Killer Queen".  D'n'S only lasted a couple years in Raytown and the drive-in was turned into a used car lot for a few years, and the place was torn down sometime in the early '80s.  The photos here are of a couple retro Dog 'n' Suds locations, as there apparently are still a few operating around the upper Midwest.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Eet's not my job, mang!

Of all the names I’ve ever called Bobby Knight, I never imagined “quitter” would be one of them, but the big jerk abruptly decided to retire from coaching yesterday, with well over a month remaining on the Texas Tech basketball schedule.  Knight has his admirers and Knight has his detractors—you can count me in the latter group.  Yes, he’s the winningest coach in NCAA history, and yes, most of his players actually finish school and graduate—very admirable on both counts—but that doesn’t justify his often boorish behavior, on the court, and especially off it.  I’m sorry, but I find it rather difficult to respect someone who goes around hurling office equipment at defenseless female support staffers or picking fights with university officials at salad bars, and yet goes around playing martyr because he gets such a bad rap.  Whatever, Bob—I’ll save my respect for the classy coaches like Dean Smith, John Wooden and Coach K.

Yes, pun intended.  One thing I could’ve done without during Tom Petty’s Super Bowl set was the “designated audience” rushing the front of the stage as if Petty was their idol—these were the same people who were bopping along to Alicia Keys during the pre-game show.  K.C. Star sports columnist Jeff Flanagan also made an excellent point in today’s paper about the halftime shows of recent years.  By featuring old-school acts like Tom Petty, Paul McCartney, Prince and The Stones, it speaks volumes about the current sorry-ass state of the music biz.  There aren’t any remotely-decent—let alone relevant—bands out there today that are worthy of such a big-time stage.  Pretty damn sad...

Getting back to Alicia Keys, I know she’s highly-acclaimed and all, but I just don’t see what the big deal is about her.  Decent voice, I guess, but her music doesn’t do anything for me.  And I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve grown really weary of all these female singers who do the whole choreography shtick that Madonna pioneered way back when.  Is there no room for improvisation on stage anymore?  Call me old-school, but Pat Benatar, Ann Wilson and Belinda Carlisle never needed a flotilla of dancers on stage with them to get their point across—they let their singing to the talking, which is how it should be.

As for the rest of the day’s proceedings, there’s something just a tad warped about Fox-TV staging a pre-game show that was nearly an hour longer than the game itself—can you say overkill, boys and girls?  And Ryan Seacrest is about the phoniest som-bitch this side of John Tesh.  Due to circumstances beyond my control, I missed most of the first quarter and part of the second quarter, therefore I didn’t get to see all the commercials, so I can’t really comment on them, but the one I liked was the Coke ad featuring the Macy’s parade balloons of Underdog and Stewie from “Family Guy” losing their beloved soda to Charlie Brown, who finally scored for once!

There’s been a rather comical attempt by local politico wanna-be Richard Tolbert to block the recently approved plan to demolish Bannister Mall and replace it with a new soccer stadium for the Kansas City Wizards, along with an attached office and retail complex similar in concept to the Legends complex adjacent to the Kansas Speedway over in Wyandotte County. Mr. Tolbert—a black man—says Bannister Mall is still viable and that there is a definite need for a “black mall” in the area—is this not racism in reverse?  He claims Bannister is still worth saving, never mind the fact that there were only a handful of shops still operating when the mall closed last May, and nearly all of them were operated by African-Americans—and not exactly doing scintillating business, either.

Anyway, Mr. Tolbert tried to get a petition going to block the new project, which required a minimum of 8,475 signatures and he managed to obtain all but 8,473 of themand one of those was probably his!  The guy has no actual plan to save the mall anyway, and what’s worse, this joker doesn’t even live anywhere near it!  If you were so bloody concerned about saving Bannister Mall, Mr. Tolbert, where the fuck were you about ten years ago when all the carjackings, purse-snatchings and sexual assaults started driving customers away, causing the long steady decline of what was once one of the premier shopping malls in this region?  Okay, bud, you got your name in the paper, you had your 15 minutes of fame, now go crawl back under your rock before you fuck up a really cool project for the rest of us.

Remember that old “Saturday Night Live” skit where John Belushi was this uninvited guest of Bill Murray and Jane Curtin who wouldn’t take a hint and refused to leave the premises?  Well, I get that same vibe from local “legendary” DJ Randy Miller, who’s openly-campaigning to be the morning drive jock at the new 99.7 Boulevard station.  This hack used to be the #1 jock in Kansas City for years back during the ‘80s and ‘90s, and I’ve never understood why—he’s not all that funny, his on-air comments and publicity stunts often backfired on him, thus leading to numerous suspensions and/or firings from the various stations he worked at, and he’s Exhibit A on why I so totally despise that species of sub-humans known as “shock jocks”.  He also goes around now claiming to be a Born-Again Christian to make people think he’s not the asshole he used to be, but I’m not buying it.  Fortunately, The Boulevard says their focus will be on the music, so they aren’t likely to hire Miller for his shopworn on-air histrionics anyway.

Anybody out there remember this guy?  Anybody out there got a hanker for a hunka cheese?  Special thanks to my friend Stacy for jogging my memory banksI hadn't seen ol' Timer in over 30 years!

Go ask Alice...

…what Vincent Furnier got for his 60th birthday.  Our favorite Rock ‘N’ Roll ghoul this side of Gene Simmons, the legendary Alice Cooper, hit the big 6-0 yesterday—pretty shocking for a shock Rocker.  But AC is still quite active these days, and his syndicated radio show, “Nights With Alice Cooper” is rather enjoyable, as he always digs up some obscure old-school stuff and plays it, but sadly we don’t get it here in KC anymore with the recent demise of 99.7 KY.  Alice is also a rather paradoxical individual.  He was condemned by the religious right for his demonic stage show, yet he’s the son of a minister, and swears off using profanity (tee-hee!).  He’s the quintessential Rock Star, yet his major vice now is playing golf!  He’s a reformed alcoholic, but owns a chain of baseball-themed sports bars (named “Cooperstown”, naturally).

Cooper’s heyday was the early ‘70s, of course, and he paved the way for not only theatrical bands like Kiss, but the whole Glam Rock genre as well.  Alice overindulged in alcohol and his career nosedived in the late ‘70s, apart from several middle-of-the-road hit singles, like “How You Gonna See Me Now?” (co-written by Elton John lyricist Bernie Taupin), "I Never Cry", "You And Me" and “Only Women Bleed”, and by the ‘80s, Alice was pretty much a has-been.  Then he resurrected his career in 1989 with his killer comeback album Trash, which featured contributions from the members of Aerosmith and Bon Jovi, and he’s toured pretty steadily since then.  For some reason, I’ve never seen Alice in concert before, so I can’t really comment on his live act, other than what I’ve seen in videos, and there’s nothing too outrageous for him to try on stage, including beheading himself and living to tell about it.

My All-Time Alice Cooper Top 15 (or so):
15) [tie] “Bed Of Nails” (1989)/"Spark In The Dark" (1989)  These two songs from Trash are very similar in terms of style and content, so I include them together.  With lines like "I'll drive you like a hammer on a bed of nails" and "I wanna touch you everywhere", there ain't a whole lotta subtlety here...
14) “I Got A Line On You” (1988)  Nice remake of the 1969 Spirit classic, which was included on the soundtrack of the Louis Gossett, Jr. action flick Iron Eagle II.
13) “Hey Stoopid” (1991)  Title track of the rather disappointing follow-up to Trash, it's a pretty good anti-drug song along the lines of "Kicks" by Paul Revere & The Raidersi.e., it gets its point across without losing its cool.  It also features a cameo appearance by Ozzy Osbourne and guitar from Joe Satriani and Slash from G 'n' R.  And that's future Kiss drummer Eric Singer on the drums in the video.
12) "House Of Fire" (1989)  Another romantic love ballad from Alice, this time co-written by Joan Jett.
11) “Might As Well Be On Mars” (1991)  Great song from Hey Stoopid about feeling alienated from friends.  This came out during a period when I felt blown-off by some co-workers I thought were my friends, so I related to it, big-time.
10) “Clones (We’re All)” (1980)  One of Alice's oddest tunes, which came out during the period where he was very unfocused musically, but for some reason, I really like this one.  Rather trippy in a Gary Numan-sort of way.
9) “Hello Hooray” (1974)  Opening track off what was probably AC's best '70s album, Billion Dollar Babies.  I didn't think much of this one at first, but it's really grown on me over time.
8) "I'm Eighteen" (1971)  Alice's music publishing company filed a lawsuit against Paul Stanley and Kiss in 1999 because his song "Dreamin'" off the Psycho Circus album bears more than a passing resemblance to the tune of "I'm Eighteen".  Alice himself wasn't all that upset about it, though.  Gotta love the old video of this one where Alice was clearly drunk off his ass and stumbling around in those platform shoes.
7) “Poison” (1989)  Song that put AC back on the map and introduced him to a whole new generation of headbangers to boot.
6) “Under My Wheels” (1974)  If and when I ever do break down and get a cell phone, I want a ringtone on it with this song's opening line, "The telephone is ringin'..."
5) “Be My Lover” (1971)  This was the first thing I ever remember hearing from Alice on AM radio when I was seven.  I love the story behind that mysterious "click" near the end of the song right after Alice sings, "...and I'm still on my own".  Seems that drummer Neil Smith was being a hot dog in the studio by twirling his sticks as if he were on-stage, and he fumbled them.  They left it in anyway...
4) “Why Trust You?” (1989)  A song I dedicate (with love) to Dubya, especially the lines "You promised me the moon and the stars and the sun, but you never did nothing for anyone," and "I wonder how low you would go, I wonder how high your head would blow...Gimme one good reason--why trust you?"
3) “School’s Out” (1972)  Pretty hard not to like this anthem whilst growing up during the '70s.
2) “No More Mr. Nice Guy” (1973)  Very underrated guitar work here by the late Glen Buxton, and one of the greatest "fuck you" songs ever.
1) “Elected” (1972)  Purely tongue-in-cheek, but so very classic.  I remember seeing the "campaign video" on "Midnight Special" way back in the day.  Shit, at this point, I wish to hell Big Al would fucking run for PresidentI'd cast my vote for the Wild Party in a heartbeat.  Yankee Doodle Dandy, indeed!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Eli came!

Far be it for me to ever root for a New York sports team (my mighty New Jersey Devils notwithstanding), but a major salute goes out from yours truly to Eli Manning and the New York Football Giants for their titanic upset of the New England Patriots in Stupor Bowl 42 tonight.  Now, I won't claim that I predicted the G-men to win tonight, but I did say that this game would be a whole lot closer than the 14-point spread that was predicted (check back to this here blog a couple weeks ago).  Props to young master E. Manning (the game's MVP) for engineering the game-winning drive with 2.5 minutes to go, climaxing with Plexiglas Burress' TD catch with :35 remaining to give the Giants the 17-14 win, thus popping numerous corks in the greater Miami area as the 1972 Dolphins alumni can still lay claim to the only perfect season in NFL history.

Props also go out to Tom Petty for his very classy halftime performance that included no waredrobe malfunctions or phallic symbols whatsoever.  Although I'm not all that big a TP fan, he's managed to put together a very steady and consistent career, and he did himself proud tonight.