Monday, May 17, 2010

"Nothing's in the past--it always seems to come again..."

Well, the inevitable finally happened yesterday as we lost sin
ger Ronnie James Dio to stomach cancer at age 67.  The recent news regarding his treatments certainly wasn’t good, and when they cancelled the upcoming Heaven And Hell (i.e., post-Ozzy Black Sabbath) tour dates for this summer, you kinda knew the end was near.  Damn shame, because by all accounts, RJD was a pretty good guy.  I always enjoyed his interviews on the radio, MTV, et al—he was always forthright and spoke eloquently (traits you don’t always encounter in the Heavy Metal genre) and he generally came across as a very classy guy.  I found it interesting that he was a big baseball fan and dreamed of playing professionally when he was young, but his size impeded that effort.  He also idolized Reggie Jackson, but we won’t hold that against him.  If I ever got to meet Ronnie, I always wanted to ask him whatever happened to his brothers Ray and Stu.  Get it?  Ray Dio.  Stu Dio.  Sorry, couldn’t resist…

Of course, Dio was not his real last name—he was born Ronald James Padavona in 1942 in New Hampshire, of all places.  I was shocked to realize recently how old he was—Ronnie was almost three years older than Pete Townshend and five years older than Elton John, even though he came on the scene long after they did.  Ronnie’s first real claim to fame was the band Elf in the early ‘70s, then he joined forces with Ritchie Blackmore in Rainbow for about three years before replacing Ozzy Osbourne in Black Sabbath in 1980.  There are Ozzy sycophants out there who to this day refuse to acknowledge anything Sabbath did without him, and frankly, they’re a bunch of morons.  Not only was 1980’s Heaven And Hell an absolute killer album, but I’m partial to much of the post-Ozzy Black Sabbath output, particularly the late ‘80s era which featured singer Tony Martin, whose style was/is not unlike Dio’s.  I also remember how the media tried to create the “feud” that never really existed between Dio and Ozzy as Osbourne’s solo career took off in the early ‘80s.  For better or worse, egos clashed between Dio and guitarist Tony Iommi and (to a lesser extent) bassist Geezer Butler, thus Ronnie left Sabbath in 1982 for a fairly successful career with his own band, and Dio videos become staples of MTV’s “Headbanger’s Ball” by the late '80s.  Dio (the band) included guitarist Vivian Campbell (now a member of Def Leppard), bassist Jimmy Bain and erstwhile Sabbath drummer Vinnie Appice (Carmine’s brother).  RJD reunited with Sabbath for one album, 1992’s Dehumanizer, before egos clashed again.  And finally a couple years ago, Dio, Iommi, Butler and Appice reconvened one more time as Heaven And Hell (Sharon Osbourne won’t allow them to use the Black Sabbath moniker anymore unless Ozzy’s in the band) for a successful reunion tour and DVD.

Ronnie James Dio possessed one of the most powerful and distinctive voices in Rock, and was one of the greatest Heavy Metal growlers ever.  Long live Rock ‘N’ Roll, indeed.  Rest in peace, Ronnie…

My All-Time Dio Top 10:
1) Neon Knights (Black Sabbath)
2) The Mob Rules (Black Sabbath)
3) The Last In Line
4) Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll (Rainbow)
5) We Rock
6) Heaven And Hell (Black Sabbath)
7) T.V. Crimes (Black Sabbath)
8) Rainbow In The Dark
9) Man On The Silver Mountain (Rainbow)
10) I Speed At Night

Was channel surfing the other night and stumbled across A&E’s “Biography” installment on The Who’s Pete Townshend.  Didn’t take long for them to lose their credibility with me, though, as about 60 seconds into the program, the main title sequence concluded with “PETE TOWNSHED” in great big letters on the screen.  To quote one of Pete’s own lyrics, “Is that exactly what I thought I read?”  Talk about getting an F in Proofreading!  I’ve often seen Pete’s surname misspelled with the ‘H’ missing, but never the second ‘N’!  Only thing I can figure is the graphics person was thinking about the legendary Arthur “Two Sheds” Jackson as they keyed Pete’s name in…

Speaking of Pete's lyrics, just as I predicted, K.C. Royals manager Trey Hillman didn’t last the season (hell, he didn’t even last through May!) and the team fired him before Thursday’s game, but they let him go ahead and manage the game anyway.  Typical Royals ineptitude—they can’t even FIRE somebody properly!  As Archie used to say to Edith, “Can’t you do nothin’ right?”  If anything, the Royals did Hillman a huge favor by letting him go—he’s a good manager but had absolutely nothing to work with here, so now he’s free to seek out a much better gig.  They replaced Hillman with former Brewers manager Ned Yost, but it won’t make that much difference with this roster.  The bullpen is a joke, the starting pitching has been iffy, and there are too many position players who are mere stop-gaps instead of permanent solutions.  The only saving grace is that Yost might be a little more fun to watch because he’s a fiery guy, as opposed to the taciturn Hillman, who was a crashing bore.  Either way, it’s going to be a loooong summer at Kauffman Stadium…

For the second straight year, the Cleveland Cavaliers have flamed-out early in the NBA playoffs, and LeBron “King” James is being roundly blamed for it.  Actually, James is to blame for a lot of the Cadavers’ problems, but not necessarily because of his underachievement on the court.  All you heard last year and this year during the playoffs was/is “Will LeBron leave Cleveland?” and I really think all that worrying and fretting by the fans and media had a negative effect on the team—they were so zoned-in on this that they forgot to actually play the games.  Then again, the last time I checked, basketball was a TEAM game, but the media (ESPN especially) treats James like he’s Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong or Roger Federerererer playing an individual sport.  Seems to me like Cleveland doesn’t have a good enough supporting cast to be a champion right now, and believe it or not, I think they might be better off letting LeBron go so they can put together a better ensemble cast later on.

LONG LIVE THE IGLOO!Last Thursday marked the end of an era as the #8-seed Montreal Canadiens shockingly took the Pittsburgh Penguins out of the Stanley Cup playoffs in Game 7 of their second-round series, thus ending the tenure of Pittsburgh Civic Arena.  Opened in 1961, “The Igloo”, as it’s affectionately known, is one of the funkier sports venues you’ll ever find in North America, being the first multi-purpose arena to feature a retractable roof, which was built in part so the Pittsburgh Civic Light Orchestra could “play under the stars” during summer concerts.  Sadly, the roof hasn’t been opened in years, and it would’ve been fun to see the Penguins stage one of those outdoor hockey games before they became all the rage a couple years ago.  In addition to hockey, the Igloo was also home briefly to the old American Basketball Association’s Pittsburgh Pipers/Condors and served as the part-time home of U. of Pittsburgh basketball as well.  The Major Indoor Soccer League’s Pittsburgh Spirit also had a brief tenure at the Igloo, as did several other “niche” sports like roller hockey and indoor lacrosse, and the arena was even featured in Hollywood movies like the Jean-Claude Van Damme action flick Sudden Death and the infamous '70s comedy The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh.

Civic Arena (I refuse to refer to it by its corporate name) became the Pens' pen when they joined the NHL in 1967, and saw the team go through some lean times and nearly leave town several times, only to be rescued by Mario Lemieux (both on the ice and off), and the team won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1991-92 and again just last year.  I had the great privilege of seeing Super Mario score a goal at the Penguins game I attended there in 1994, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  I sat in the uppermost balcony on the end of the rink and the view was awesome.  The team will move into fancy their new joint across the street next season, but the fate of the Igloo is still uncertain.  There’s talk of redeveloping it as opposed to demolishing it, which I’m all for.  And with the Igloo being decommissioned, Madison Square Garden now becomes the oldest arena in the NHL, and probably will be for some time, as they are gradually renovating the GAH-den to take it well into the current century.

In a troubling trend, rabid Canadiens fans erupted with violence and looting in the streets of downtown Montreal in the wake of their win against Pittsburgh the other night.  This is the similar to the incidents two years ago when Habs fans went bonkers all because they beat Boston in a playoff series—something Montreal does with great regularity anyway.  Keep in mind, we’re talking about the New York Yankees of the NHL with their 24 Stanley Cup championships—why all the hoop-de-doo over winning a second-round series?  This is akin to Yankees fans going berserk over a four-game sweep of the Royals.  Grow up, Montreal—vous est stupide!

Been a lot of talk lately about the University of Missouri (and Nebraska, too) jumping ship from the Big 12 to the Big Ten Conference.  Notre Dame is also supposedly part of the mix, along with possibly Syracuse and Rutgers, thus ostensibly creating the Bigger Ten.  When the rumors first started about MU, I just chalked it up to being a lot of hot air, but it sounds like they may be serious about doing this after all.  Initially, I was dead-set against it because Mizzou would lose so many longtime rivals, but the more I think about this, it might not be a bad move after all.  The Big 12 does their damndest to keep MU off the TV (esp. in football), whereas you can see most every Big Ten game on any given Saturday here in K.C. if you have cable (even Northwestern vs. Indiana).  Mizzou fans are also tired of getting fucked over by the bowl selection committee, and I think a move to the Big Ten might improve their stature in that pecking order.  As for the rest of the Big 12, I’ve never been all that crazy about the Texas schools being in our conference anyway, and although we’d probably miss having K-State, Oklahoma and Iowa State as rivals, nothing’s stopping MU from at least maintaining its rivalry with Kansas on a non-conference basis similar to the one they currently enjoy with Illinois.  Plus, I think developing new rivalries with Iowa, Minnesota, Purdue, et al, might be kinda fun and spark a whole new level of interest in the athletic program.

Just finished reading the sad story of Motown singer Tammi Terrell last week in a bio co-written by her sister Ludie Montgomery.  Tammi was born Thomasina Montgomery and was also known as Tammy Montgomery when she toured as a back-up singer with James Brown.  She’s best known for her duets with the late Marvin Gaye, including “Your Precious Love” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”.  She was also known for her sometimes-abusive relationships with Brown and late Temptation David Ruffin.  Until recently, I didn’t even know what Tammi Terrell looked like, and boy was I surprised when I checked her out on the ‘net.  As you can see here, she was quite the cutie, and didn't look anything like the chick that played her in the Temptations TV biopic.  Seeing her photos also made me wonder, what would possess some fool to beat on her?  Talented individuals that Brown and Ruffin were, I feel it’s only fair to state here that they were a couple of turds for mistreating her like that.  That goes for any other “man” who physically abuses his woman.  I have no patience for creeps like that at all…

Anyway, Tammi had a beautiful voice, too—not unlike the late Florence Ballard, she could sing rings around Diana Ross—and hers blended so well with Gaye’s that they made a natural and very likeable duo, recording several albums and singles together.  Although the two were the best of friends, they were never lovers, as is commonly thought (Gaye was already married at the time, anyway).  Tammi seemed poised to have a successful solo career as well before tragedy struck in October, 1967 when she collapsed into Marvin’s arms while performing in concert in Virginia.  She’d complained previously of frequent headaches and doctors discovered a brain tumor when she was hospitalized.  Over the next two and a half years, Tammi endured eight brain surgeries and numerous hospitalizations, and even temporarily lost her sight and was paralyzed on one side of her body for a time, but the tumor kept spreading and there was no hope.  Apart from a handful of concert appearances that she was able to do in 1969, her career was virtually over before it had really started.  Tammi Terrell passed away just a few weeks shy of her 25th birthday on March 16, 1970, sending Gaye into a major depression that I don’t think he ever fully recovered from, in spite of his subsequent musical successes.  Forty years later, one wonders if today’s medical and surgical procedures might have been able to save her.