Saturday, August 28, 2010

Rush, SRV, Elton and Arrowhead

I couldn't come up with any clever title for this post, so I just gave you today's line-up instead...

Well, more like and hour and 45 minutes, but I thoroughly enjoyed viewing Beyond The Lighted Stage, the new DVD Rock doc. on Rush this week.  This is an absolute must for any Rush fan, and it features some fascinating pre-historic band footage from before drummer Neil Peart’s arrival and excellent interviews with all three members of the group, plus high praise from the likes of Gene Simmons of Kiss, Kirk Hammett of Metallica and Les Claypool of Primus, among others.  The documentary was quite educational for me, especially in regards to Peart, who’s a very private and somewhat mysterious individual who always appears to not be having a very good time on stage—remaining stone-faced and all—when in fact the opposite is true.  NP actually does laugh and smile in the video, and was surprisingly open about the dark period he suffered through in the late ‘90s when he lost his daughter and wife within months of each other.  I was also a bit surprised to learn that original drummer John Rutsey was asked to leave the group instead of on his own volition, which I always thought was the case.  He was a diabetic and band management had grave concerns about him being able to handle the rigors of the road, so he reluctantly bowed out before the second album Fly By Night, making Rutsey the Pete Best of Rush, so to speak.  Rutsey wasn’t a bad drummer at all, but Peart is so much more dynamic and he brought more to the table with his lyrical ability and it’s hard to imagine Rush going very far on Geddy Lee’s songwriting sensibilities alone.  Rutsey died in 2008, btw.

Lee came across as affable, good-natured and down-to-earth in the interviews, and Alex Lifeson is rather soft-spoken, but very articulate as well.  These dudes are all first-class musicians, but hardly your typical Rock star-types.  All three of them seem like guys you could kick back and have a few beers and just shoot the shit with about most anything, not just music.  I enjoyed the discussion in the middle about the ‘80s when Lee’s synthesizers were integrated more and more Rush records.  Lifeson was a bit miffed that a lot of his guitar work was being supplanted by the synths, but oddly enough, this was my personal favorite Rush era (Moving Pictures through Hold Your Fire), and although I prefer guitar as well, Rush proved that synthesizers and electronic keyboards had a place on a hard Rock album—when used in moderation, that is.

There was one point on BTLS where the producers came close to shattering "the illusion of integrity", when one-dimensional actor Jack Black interprets Peart’s lyrics by doing a lame Geddy Lee impersonation, which I could've done without.  I’ve never tried to do Geddy myself—Rush is just about the only band that I list among my favorites which I don’t recall ever trying to sing along with much at home or in the car—my voice just can’t keep up with Mr. Lee’s high range vocals.  However, Mr. Peart has some cool bits (like in “Tom Sawyer”, for instance) that are perfect for drumming along to with your fingers on counter tops, desks and dashboards.  Anyway, the rest of Beyond The Lighted Stage is top-notch, and it's a perfect middle-finger pointed at all those Rolling Stone and Creem, et al, critics who mercilessly dissed Rush for so long, and it’s a long-overdue tribute to this world class band’s longevity and consistency.  To wit:  Good job, you hosers!

Well, yesterday, anyway, that we lost Stevie Ray Vaughan in that helicopter crash in Wisconsin.  Doesn’t seem like he’s been gone that long, but I think that’s because his music is still so prevalent on the radio.  Talk about being cut down in one’s prime, I think Stevie Ray was still ascending at the time of his death and had yet to peak.  His albums kept getting better and better each time out, and Vaughan had earned high praise for 1989’s In Step, and he had seemingly conquered his alcoholism—which was seriously endangering his health—when tragedy struck.  I truly believe S.R.V. still had plenty of gas left in his tank too, and we’re all the poorer for not being able to enjoy whatever else he had up his musical sleeve.  Rest in peace, Stevie Ray—we miss you…

Another musical anniversary—a much happier one—kinda flew under the radar this week.  It was 40 years ago Wednesday night that one Elton Hercules John made his American concert debut at the legendary Troubador in Los Angeleez on August 25, 1970.  EJ just blew the critics away that night—even the hippies at Rolling Stone put down their bongs long enough to sit up and take notice—thus lighting the fuse that launched Elton’s meteoric recording career.  From about 1971 through 1975, it was like the man could do no wrong, and everything Captain Fantastic touched turned to gold and/or platinum during that time, culminating in his legendary Dodger Stadium gig (see left), which was a slightly bigger venue than the 300-seat Trubadour.  The ‘70s would’ve been a lot more boring without the boy, too…

EXTREME MAKEOVER, NFL STYLELast time I set foot in Arrowhead Stadium was about five years ago for a Kansas City Wiz(ards) soccer match, and I almost didn’t recognize the place during the open house the K.C. Chefs held Wednesday night to show off the “New Arrowhead—New Body, Same Soul”, as they’re hyping it.  Fans were given access to pretty much the entire stadium while the team staged an informal practice on the field, and I was quite impressed with what I saw.  The main seating bowl remains virtually unchanged, with the only noticeable difference being that the green padding around the wall ringing the field has been replaced by more Chief-like shades of orange, red and yellow, just like the stadium seats.  New state-of-the-art video board technology was already in place before the 2009 season, and there’s plenty of eye candy for short-attention span fans, almost to the point of overkill.  The other noticeable change is the mammoth sky-suite structure hovering over the south side of Arrowhead, which is so tall you can almost see down inside Kauffman Stadium from it.  As I made the long climb through the upper deck to reach the sky-suites, E.Z.O’s “Million Miles Away” started playing on my iPod, which is about how far away I was from the playing field...

The best new feature of all is the Chiefs Hall of Honor on the lower level, which more than exceeded my expectations.  The Chiefs really went all-out to honor their past—the distant past, in particular—and I could’ve spent all night down there checking out all the exhibits and displays on hand, not to mention watching the various video presentations playing overhead.  In a clever touch, they put up bronze busts of every man in the Chiefs Hall of Fame, with all of the offensive players at one end of the hall, the defensive honorees facing them from the other end, and the players were lined up by position more or less just like they would be on the field.  I was initially very peeved to hear that the team removed the Ring of Honor players’ names from the fa├žade of the stadium in favor of the ribbon video boards, but this more than makes up for that transgression.

In addition to individual player recognition, the Lombardi Trophy from Super Bowl IV is on display, right next to a wonderful exhibit on the American Football League, which late Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt co-founded.  Another neat kiosk features these rotating triangles (kinda like on the old “$10,000 Pyramid” game show) you can spin around to view the results of every game the Chiefs have ever played in chronological order, with each triangle displaying the helmet logos of the two teams on one side, the box score on second side, and a reproduction of a newspaper headline from the game on the third side.  Apart from the area being a bit congested with people, the Chiefs H of H was well thought-out and I was very pleased with it—too bad it’s only accessible on game days!

The team also honored Mr. Hunt recently with this brand new statue of his likeness in the north courtyard of the stadium.  It’s a damn shame he didn’t live long enough to see the finished product at Arrowhead—I think he’d be tickled with the results.  In another nifty touch, in the same courtyard, on the walkway leading into the stadium they stenciled in the x’s and o’s diagram of Hank Stram’s favorite running play, “65 Toss Power Trap”, which was a key play in Super Bowl IV against the Vikings.  One would think a statue of Hank himself might be appropriate for the courtyard someday soon.

One aspect of the remodel I could’ve done without was the new glassed-in Club Level where the corporate snobs all congregate.  I found it to be nothing but a monument to opulence and excess instead of football.  I did make it a point to take a piss in the hoity-toity men’s room while I was there—probably the only chance I’ll ever get to do so.  Was a bit disappointed to not find gold-plated urinals in there, tho!  The concession prices were obscene throughout the stadium, but that was no big shock, but at least now there’s plenty of room for the long lines of people on the newly-widened concourses.  One thing I found mildly surprising was the number of people tailgating in the parking lot the other night—just for a free open house!  Tailgating is fun, yes, but it’s like some folks only live to sit behind their vehicles and get ripped while grilling bovine flesh.  A lot of these so-called “Chiefs fans” don’t even give a rip about the games themselves—all they want to do is tailgate.  Whatever floats your boat, I guess.

Anyway, I hereby declared the remodeling of the residence at 1 Arrowhead Drive to be a smashing success, and the ‘Head should continue to serve us well for decades to come.  A few years ago, talk swirled around K.C. of the Royals moving downtown and—even worse—the Chiefs moving out to Wyandotte County by the Kansas Speedway, but as Lindy the flamer in Car Wash said, “That will NOT DO, honey!”  Arrowhead and Kauffman Stadiums were too damn nice to just throw away like used condoms, and I am soooooo glad Kansas City didn’t impulsively go off and build new stadiums for the Chiefs and Royals when we had two perfectly good ones already in place that just needed to be re-tooled and brought into the 21st Century.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—we don’t need no STINKING NEW STADIUMS

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"Reelin' In The Years" - Vol. 1

While researching facts this week for my upcoming Comets blog manifesto, I’ve been perusing my old journal notes that I used to keep back about 20 years ago.  Not a diary, per se, but a collection of stuff that was going on in my personal life, as well as in the sports/news/entertainment world as well.  I’ve come across quite a few gems that I’d totally forgotten about, so I thought I’d share them here with my original comments in light blue

Mon. January 14, 1991:  “There is speculation that ABC may not broadcast this year’s Super Bowl should they do 24-hour-a-day coverage of the Persian Gulf thing [war].”
Riiiiiight, like THAT would ever happen!  There wasn’t enough news from that conflict to warrant wall-to-wall coverage anyway, and they sure as hell weren’t about to kiss off all that moolah they would make off the commercials.

Wed. January 23, 1991:  “Two guys combined to win $105,044.60 at the Woodlands on a Superfecta in the 4th race.  After taxes, they received $78,784.60.
Now that the place is closed, it’s easy to forget what a big deal The Woodlands doggie track was over on the Kansas side in the early ‘90s.  Before Wyandotte County snagged the Kansas Speedway, The Woodlands dog and horse tracks were their first major coup, and when pari-mutual betting was a new thing around these parts, people drove in droves out there to bet on the pups.  I remember you used to have to call ahead to reserve a table in the glassed-in area and they charged for parking too.  The Woodlands even used to have a local Saturday night TV show recapping the previous week’s races and winning jackpots and such.  They had no sooner established a foothold on the K.C. area when the riverboat casinos came along in Missouri in 1994 and just killed the dog track, especially when the Gaming Commission allowed slot machines at the boats.  By the end of the decade, The Woodlands was a virtual ghost town and was put to sleep two years ago this week.

Mon. January 28, 1991:  “(I) Took the Beta machine out to Blue Springs for estimate to repair eject mechanism.”
Remember the good ol’ days when you’d take video equipment in for repairs?  Now you just buy a new unit and move on without giving it a second thought!  And, yes, I was still using a Sony Betamax VCR in 1991.  I will defend Beta to my death over VHS—the picture quality was far superior on Beta…

Wed. March 6, 1991:  “In Los Angeles, overzealous policemen beat the crap out of a black man, one Rodney King, during a routine arrest.  What made this story big is that someone caught the entire incident on video.  Big stink coming…”
Man, did I call that one or what?  One of my more accurate prophecies, although I did underestimate how big of a stink it actually developed into...

Tue. March 12, 1991:  “David Letterman’s Top 10 List:  Top 10 Courses Take By UNLV Players
10.  Investing your illegal recruiting money wisely.
9.  NBA Team Mascots:  Are they really big animals?
8.  Naming the Presidents since Kennedy.
7.  The hydraulic principles of the keg.
6.  Your ass from a hole in the ground:  a comparative study.
5.  The college classroom:  a simulation.
4.  Nudie paintings from the olden days.
3.  Copying off the exam of the guy in front of you.
2.  How to spell Tarkanian.
1.  How to choose the best free car.

I don’t recall all the details, but this had to do with some sort of academics scandal at University of Nevada-Las Vegas that led to the downfall of head basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian.  I loved #s 8, 6 and 2 the most.  I'm not so certain Bo Jackson could've passed any of these...

Mon. March 25, 1991:  “Prior to tonight’s Blades-Admirals hockey game at Kemper, Miss USA from Kansas, Kelli McCarty, made an appearance to drop the puck.  They brought her onto the ice in a Mustang convertible, which had as much traction as a greased pig on a water slide.  After two precarious laps around the ice, they tried to drive off after the puck drop, but couldn’t get the car turned around toward the south tunnel, so several of the Blades and Admirals players were kind enough to lend a hand and get the car pointed in the right direction.  None of this seemed to faze Miss McCarty, who just continued waving to the crowd.”
From the “just when you think you’ve seen it all” department.  Miss McCarty reminded me of a Stepford Wife the way she continued to mindlessly wave to the crowd as if nothing was amiss.  My friend Tom, meanwhile, missed the entire 2nd period of the game waiting in line just to get her autograph...dummy!  I didn't think she was all that hot, myself…

Wed. April 3, 1991:  “Bo Jackson signed a guaranteed $1 million contract with the Chicago White Sox, despite the fact that he’s supposed to be hurt.  Either the Sox know something the Royals don’t, or they’re the biggest suckers since the people who fell for Herbalife.  Bo’s motivation to sign with Chicago was so he could come back and haunt the Royals.  I quote:  ‘By them releasing me, it’s given me an opportunity to play for a winner.’  He also said something to the effect that he only played at ‘half-speed’ for the Royals, and that he was better than most players at full-speed.”
He later claimed that late Royals owner Ewing Kauffman had some sort of “personal vendetta” to get him out of Kansas City, hence his release by the Royals.  Sure, Bo, whatever you say.  This coming from a guy who could barely stagger down to first base running out ground balls at that point because of the hip injury he sustained playing for the L.A. Raiders in 1990.  Ewing Kauffman was never known to have a grudge with anyone, including an egomaniac like Bo.  And oh by the way, the Royals were the better team than the White Sox in the early ‘90s.  The whole Bo Jackson sideshow is an era in Royals history most of us would like to forget.  Dumbass should’ve stuck with baseball in the first place—he’d have had a longer career.  What a maroon…

Mon. April 15, 1991:  “The Sac-Of-Shit [Sacramento] Kings set a new all-time NBA record last night for consecutive road losses with their 35th against the mighty Minnesota Timberwolves at the Target Center.”
I took great delight in reveling in the former Kansas City and/or Omaha Kings’ utter futility back then.  That streak ultimately reached 43 games in November of '91.  We weren’t missing a damn thing since they left town…

Wed. April 25, 1991:  “A day after he got whooped, Bjorn Borg’s wife Loredana Berte tried to commit suicide.  C’mon, he didn’t play THAT bad.”
I know that wasn’t funny, but I couldn’t resist.

Mon. April 29, 1991:  “The National Stuttering Project is now on Porky Pig’s case, claiming that he makes fun of people that stutter.”
Reminds me of the animal rights wing-nuts who protested the AFLAC duck circa. 2002, concerned about the violence inflicted upon it.  Uhhhh, folks—it’s not a real duck!  Speaking of animal rights wing-nuts, keep reading a couple items down…

Mon. April 29, 1991:  “The great actor Jeff Conaway, formerly Bobby Wheeler on ‘Taxi’ has been sentenced to house arrest and ordered to attend alcoholism classes for three years for hitting a bicyclist while driving drunk.  Conaway was ordered not to leave his home for 60 days. Hope he stocked the fridge first."
I’d forgotten how far back this dweeb's substance abuse issues went.  Guy couldn’t act his way out of a paper bag anyway, and it seemed only fitting that he was a cab driver on TVConaway was a hack playing a hack…

Wed. May 1, 1991:  [En route to Cleveland on a road trip] “Between Columbus and Cleveland, I stumbled across the Rush Limbaugh program on the radio.  He did one of his Animal Rights Updates that just cracked me up.  It seems as though some animal rights crusader was found dead in some farmyard where they kept a bunch of bulls and cows.  Apparently, the woman was trampled to death.  Later, authorities discovered that the bulls and cows were all wearing condoms.  Evidently, the woman was trying to implement birth control amongst these bovines to prevent more of them from being born and later slaughtered.  It didn’t work…”
While I’m loathe to admit I ever even listened to the Big Fat Idiot in the first place, I have to admit that some of the stuff he did back in the early days of his show was pretty funny before he revealed his true colors as a bigoted moose twit.

More classics to come in future posts, so stay tuned, boys and girls!