Everything You “Know” About Wrestling Magazines Is Wrong

About the author:  Started writing feature articles for Wrestling World in 1984; launched a heel column in WW the following year, continuing through 2001. Beginning in 1994, initiated a second column, for Britain’s Power Slam magazine, and was the only staff writer with PS for its entire 20-year run.

The combined 29 consecutive years (1985-2014) is the longest uninterrupted run by any wrestling magazine columnist ever.

They were once all over the newsstands.  Wrestling Eye, Pro Wrestling Illustrated, Wrestling World, WOW, WCW Magazine, Superstars Of Wrestling, Inside Wrestling, Ringside Wrestling, Victory Sports Wrestling, Wrestling’s Main Event, Wrestling Revue…a bunch of hooey exploiting gullible children, and nothing more, right?  Not so fast.

Let’s examine some common knocks—misconceptions, actually—regarding the newsstand wrestling publications as a whole.  In several instances, real names will be withheld to protect privacy.

 

*“Nobody in the business cares about those things.”

Although grapplers may act as though they are too cool to care, watch their social media explode every time the annual PWI 500 is released.   (And for those of you who tweeted outrage over Roman Reigns ranking #1 in 2017, guess what?  That was the hoped-for reaction, as your scoffing gave Pro Wrestling Illustrated massive free publicity.)

If you ever see documentary footage—as opposed to a skit shot elsewhere—of a wrestler at home, take a good look at his “décor.”  Besides belts and perhaps trophies on display, you are extremely likely to spot a number of framed magazine covers prominently featuring the bonebender.

I personally have befriended name wrestlers—and I mean eventual Hall Of Famers—by contacting them when they were on the cover or in the main feature of Wrestling World or Power Slam and offering to mail the contacted party said item.

Unless it’s revealing something unsavory or making a false allegation, everyone gets a kick out of seeing their name and/or picture in a publication, especially one covering his or her profession.  Even more so when it is one with national or international distribution.

[FYI, because it was sold on military bases (APOs) globally, Wrestling World did in fact live up to its name.]

Not surprisingly, many future stars read the mat mags in their youth, dreaming that maybe one day they too would appear within the pages.  Some of those kids who eventually entered the sport grew up to be major players; most had a bit of regional success or a brief moment in the national spotlight.  So, in addition to serving as an inspiration, whether the mat mags are held in high regard or not, an up-and-coming wrestler has not official “arrived” until at least his name has appeared in a magazine.

That’s not to suggest Ric Flair and Undertaker rushed to the newsstand every week for decades.  But for every megastar who headlined Wrestlemania, there are hundred who never achieved a fraction of that success.  And rest assured most of them got a thrill out of seeing themselves in a fan magazine article, and have the issue(s) tucked away as memorabilia: “something to show the grandchildren” or an item broken out on occasion to illustrate to neighbors and current coworkers (in a different field) that they were once in the stretchin’ profession.

The point here is:  Though ring stars may publicly act blasé about the magazines, it’s another story privately.

And it goes a lot further than that.

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I’m betting virtually everyone reading this—and all fans ignoring it—had no idea certain wrestlers were “friends” of the magazines.  (Just like some are today, with the top newsletters.)

Wrestlers love to talk…and gossip.  Some would go so far as to regularly phone the office and shoot the breeze with an editor for an hour or so.  The loquacious men got a captive audience, passed along some digs at disliked colleagues and rightly figured cultivating a friendship with the staff increased their own odds of getting favorable publicity.  You know: “You scratch my back….”

This friendly association between wrestler and media extended well beyond the occasional phone call.

Writers with press passes and especially photographers spend a lot of time hanging around “in the back” while covering an event.  Consequently, they get exposed to the authentic personalities of the wrestlers, refs, ring announcers and assorted non-performing employees of the promotion.  As with any sizable group, one tends to hit it off well with certain others, and this camaraderie extends beyond “work hours.”

If you are allowed in the locker room in the first place, that tells everyone else there that you are “inside” enough to be trusted.  It also suggests you are local.

As such, for example, once an MSG card ended, it was common for the multi-time tag champs to paint Manhattan red with Famous New York Photographer A.  Or a fly-in may need a ride from the airport to the arena, getting one from his pal Writer X.

Once “the boys” accept a magazine staffer is okay—meaning what happens in private is NEVER going to appear in ink—he is privy to all sorts of sights and activities I guarantee you’ve never read in newsletters or on websites or heard on podcasts.

 

*”Those magazines are written for marks by marks.”

Pffft, that’s close.  If you believe noted editor/photographers such as George Napolitano and Bill Apter–who have spent hundreds of hours in the back and in private with every name wrestler and promotion–don’t know what really goes on within the business, well, frankly, you are an imbecile.

Want to fire back with “You are still marks.  The reason a bunch of those people were nice to you is only because you were with the magazines.  You said so yourself”?

Well, OF COURSE some were!  It didn’t escape or surprise me how, the moment Wrestling World folded, my opinions and presence suddenly took a very dramatic dip in value.  (Most either not knowing or caring I was in my seventh year with the UK mag.)  This practice is the nature of the beast in all forms of entertainment, whether it be a beat writer covering your local MLB team or a singer cozying up with Rolling Stone.

Nice try, though.  Here’s another pro tip for you.  Every journalist on Earth caters to his audience.  It doesn’t mean he’s a member of that group, believes what they do or, in some cases, even believes what he is putting out to the public!  (That, incidentally, applies to wrestling announcers as well.)

Ultra-bloody covers were once a staple

*”All those articles are fake.”

Um, have you thumbed through a mat magazine this millennium?

Power Slam was revolutionary in the sense it was the first European and one of the first worldwide to not “fake” anything.  And PS debuted in 1994.

Admittedly, the old-school mags were “fiction-oriented.”  But here’s the thing:  So is the entire wrestling product.

If we fabricated an interview with Steve Austin, first off, we did it well and in character enough to fool everyone, including ten-year-old you.  Secondly, Steve Austin himself is fabricated, right down to his last name.  Do you really want to spend time knocking the validity of an article about someone who doesn’t actually exist?

The fact that no magazine was ever sued says all you need to know regarding what the stars and promoters thought of what we were doing.  If anything, because we adhered to storylines, they understood how the magazines helped, further developing gimmicks and characters (which they didn’t have time to do on TV) and providing a non-stop flow of free publicity.

During the magazine heyday, it was very common to find a half-dozen of them on the average newsstand at all times.  Wrestling World was stocked in every 7-11 in America.  If we had Bret Hart or the Road Warriors on the cover, imagine how many pairs of eyes saw the WWF or WCW stars peering back at them.

If you don’t understand the significance of that for the promotion involved, please research the term “product placement.”

 

Before there were national promotions, the only way fans learned about wrestlers who didn’t appear in the local territory was via magazines.  For instance, those of us growing up in the Northeast got our first and often only exposure to Flair, Dusty Rhodes, The Masked Superstar, Verne Gagne, Jerry Lawler and similar main-eventers elsewhere.  And when a Mil Mascaras finally did come to the area, we were stoked, “knowing” he was a big deal because, after all, he was frequently on the cover of Wrestling Superstars.

[As a columnist, I would later carry on the tradition, providing the first U.S. newsstand exposure for Sean Waltman, Sabu, Rey Mysterio (as well as an full feature primer on lucha libre decades before Lucha Underground premiered), ECW and others.]

 

Odds are you gobbled up the mat mags as a kid—and equally likely you felt like you outgrew them at some point.  Nothing wrong with that.  Did it myself before renewing my interest in the sport as a young adult.

To illustrate how welcome “the magazine guys” were, watch older matches on the WWE Network or YouTube, and you will see one to several photographers around the ring.  Once Turner Broadcasting took over, I got comped (as a writer) to every WCW house show and PPV I cared to attend.  Same for the infamous Tri-State indie supercards.  WWE was once tight-fisted with press passes, but now extends them to independent photographers.

Okay, so we’ve established that, at one time, younger you thought we were awesome; and sharper promoters welcomed us, grasping how we helped popularize the product.  What I find odd—and irritating—is the widespread disrespect today accorded the classic newsstand magazines.

Unlike old toys, baseball cards, model railroads or any other reminder of youth, wrestling magazines invoke contempt rather than nostalgia among so many.  The WWE Hall Of Fame has shall we say a “very liberal” qualification standard—Drew Carey, anyone?—yet there’s not a whiff of a “magazine guy” ever entering, and it will likely remain that way, unless Paul Heyman or Jim Cornette someday get inducted, both having broken into the business as photographers.  Even the most respected Hall has more newsletter editors—once loathed by veterans—than magazine writers.  I don’t claim to know every mat mag scribe, but of the ones I’ve discussed this with, none is on the committee that elects the HOF members for the most popular newsletter.

Bear in mind that I’m generalizing here and do recognize—and appreciate—that there are fans with a fondness for the vintage print magazines.  Additionally, I do realize we were only one of many cogs in the machine, and am not trying to give the absurd impression we controlled the business.  Nonetheless, we did play a part in the growth of the billion-dollar industry and were essential reading for tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of fans over the years.

Now that the above clarifies our involvement and eradicates many misconceptions, the hope is that at least some of the cynics will change their tune. As for those who couldn’t be bothered to even give this a look…well, clearly, they’re not as “smart” as they claim they are.

(And, yes, I gladly accept gratuities via PayPal.)

 

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Get Smart…on your next TV purchase

For the benefit of those not up on television technology, much like your cell phone, a Smart TV has scores of apps.  Random examples are Facebook, the NBA, video services such as Vimeo and Daily Motion, pay channels (Netflix, Showtime, et al), weather and world news channels, kids’ options, games and instructionals.  Not every app in Google Play Store is supported; however, there are plenty for every taste.

And owning a Smart set means no need for additional hardware, e.g. Chromecast or Hulu box, for beaming anything from phone/tablet/PC to television.

An added bonus is a simplistic—read:  low-tech—web browser.  Though awkward to navigate with a remote control, you too can be a TV star, pulling up your personal website or blog onto the big screen.  With the proper app and some patience, you can also “mirror” the photos on your phone so that they appear on your television screen with remarkable clarity.

But the “killer app”—at least on my Samsung Smart TV—is the pre-installed YouTube app (henceforth referred to as YTA.)  What’s so special about a video search engine we’ve all seen hundreds of times online?  The fact that that Smart YouTube app is NOT merely the same old same old one sees upon logging in at YouTube.com.

It is a vast improvement.  In fact, I consider this app alone to be worth the extra cost to upgrade from a traditional to a Smart set, when in the market for a new TV.  Especially when factoring in the $35-100 price tag on a Chromecast, Amazon Fire or similar video streaming device needed to beam content not provided by your cable company…which includes nearly everything online.

(And who needs yet another device?)

 

The YouTube app exemplifies what smart technology is all about and why it is so named.  Simply put, it learns and memorizes your viewing habits and customizes an extensive menu catering to them.

The most obvious and immediately noticeable improvement is in the layout.  Rather than the standard “Search bar at the top of a white page, followed by a single column of often-irrelevant thumbnail-links, the YTA screen provides 13 tabs arranged horizontally.  Viewers may choose from Recommended, Music, Entertainment, Technology, Trending, Comedy, News, Sports, Live, Gaming, Family, Food and Beauty.

White lettering on a red background for the selected tab and grey for the remaining is eye-appealing and easily legible while seated across the room.  Same goes for the white-on-black for the individual videos.

TV screen for blog
Though not visible in this shot, there are SEVERAL more rows to choose from via scrolling down with the remote control.

The other tab options are self-explanatory; but “Recommended” is the super-platinum jackpot.  Unlike, for instance, Netflix, wherein your viewing history is processed by an algorithm with—to put it nicely—“mixed results” when it comes to suggesting related entertainment that may strike your fancy, the TYA has an absolutely uncanny knack for finding anything from brief clips to full-length movies that very closely reflect your previous selections.

This isn’t simply a matter of matching keywords.  For example, if you watch The Creature From The Black Lagoon, your screen won’t be inundated with The Creature From The Haunted Sea, The Eye Creatures, Black Like Me and a music video of Roxy Music performing “Grey Lagoon.”

By the same token, it won’t necessarily just take the easy route and pull up The Creature’s Universal Studios 1930s high-profile brethren Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy.

For a better illustration of the scope of the typical YTA search, let’s use one of my own experiences.

I was curious if YouTube carried any episodes of the BBC comedy series Blackadder, starring Rowan Atkinson.  Question answered via the Search function, my future Recommendations included Atkinson in a Doctor Who spoof and as Mr. Bean in a segment not from the Bean series, Rowan performing in the London Olympics opening ceremony, and multiple skits from a live comedy concert starring the Englishman…all but one of which I didn’t even know existed, let alone were preserved online.

In essence, the YTA is the equivalent of a friend who is deeply into a genre/star/field/hobby and delights in exposing you to the obscure.

Take a moment to think about that.  There are, oh, a skillion offerings on YouTube.  Yet the Smart app somehow finds material so remarkably in tune with your taste, it could almost make you paranoid.  Then, it “remembers” your selections, analyzes the data and further fine-tunes the Recommendations the more you watch!

Incidentally, the intelligence carries over to the remaining dozen tabs.  Switch to, say, Sports or Music, and the first two rows will reflect your expressed interests, followed by rows dedicated to subgenres of the topic, not always related to your preferences.  Consider these General Recommendations, if you will.

 

remote control for blog
The Smart remote may appear intimidating at first, but it gets easy with practice.

The phrase “it pays for itself” gets thrown around far too frequently and is often dubious.  Not so with the price difference to upgrade to a Smart TV.

Since purchasing mine, utilizing the YTA and plunking down ten bucks a month for Netflix, I’ve noticed the cable box is rarely powered up.  And no more need to trudge through On Demand menus–more increasingly charging a fee for what was once free–when “there’s nothing good on.” In actuality, I rarely even use the YTA Search function, the recommended clips are so spot-on and plentiful.

It is becoming quite the temptation to join the legion who have “cut the cord” by abandoning cable TV all together.  Doing so, the pocketed cable fee soon covers the entire cost of the Smart TV and adds up to thousands of dollars over the course of the television’s lifespan.

Don’t want to give up local news, weather and sports?  You can change your cable subscription to the most basic package, slashing the monthly bill by roughly 60 percent.  The amount saved in just one year will cover the cost of two Smart sets!

Yes, you may lose certain desired channels on the second tier (some of which you can watch from their website, via the browser.)  But on the other hand, you will discover loads of previously unknown channels not on cable TV.  Everything from Wall Street Journal, Shout Factory TV, Hasbro Studios, Fashionation and All Fitness to Havoc Television, Sotheby’s Auction, Napster, Karaoke TV, The Museum Channel and Pluto TV.

 

To get an idea of the YTA screen’s appearance, here’s a trick I learned from watching a YouTube video…recommended by the YTA(!)  Log on to Youtube.com/TV)

Make Your Music-Listening A Skillion Times Better For Chump Change

Let’s start out with a few basics.  This article is for the average person with a standard stereo receiver, not a snazzy Surround Sound set-up. It concerns markedly improving your enjoyment of music on CDs/vinyl/radio, though it could also apply to the enhancement of movie audio, if you have your DVR plugged into said receiver. Oh, and “a skillion” might be a tiny exaggeration.

The presumption here is you have satisfactory speakers already hooked up to the Front Speaker inputs in the rear of the receiver.  There’s also a fairly good chance that, when you performed that wiring, it was the last time you looked in the back of the unit and have since forgotten (or paid no attention to the fact) there’s also a pair of Rear Speaker inputs.

However, now that you’ve been re-enlightened, the fun is about to begin.  Being no dummy, you figured I’m going to tell you “Go out and buy a pair of top-grade speakers to mount as rear speakers.”  You’d be correct…and also wrong.

Yes, you will need to go grab a pair of speakers to locate on the back wall.  BUT, I recommend getting small moderate-priced speakers rather than the equivalent of what you already have serving as front speakers.

First off, this is where the “chump change” comes in.  Secondly, they weigh tens of pounds lighter, a major consideration when it comes to mounting them and feeling confident they won’t be ripping massive holes in the plaster and/or tumbling down to destroy whatever lies beneath.

speaker-door-shot-a You can also use door moulding as a sturdy prop.

For my personal set-up, I got a pair of small triangular shelves, put them in the corners, and supported each with a few medium nails; and the speakers have remained safe and in place for over a decade.  Placing them on a corner shelf versus flush to the rear wall also allows for pivoting, a desirable option for “tuning” them to the room.

(Naturally, it’s better to have the sound waves aimed more towards the listener, particularly because the main speakers will be overpowering the secondary ones.  It’s just physics.  Or science.  Or something.)

Now comes the primary reason you go for the little cheaper speakers.  If you moaned, “But not getting matching speakers all around means the rear ones will sound different than the front,” I reply “PRECISELY.”  (And quit whining.  It’s annoying.)

Your economical new best friends will most certainly not have the bass oomphs of their big brothers nor will they be as loud.  This is a very good thing.  As they say in Berlin, “Viva le difference!”

Remember, these additional speakers are designed to supplement the front ones.  That’s the key to the whole shebang. 

What you now have is a pair of rear speakers that are more sensitive to the highs and midrange tones on the recording.  Most of the time, you won’t hear anything specifically coming from a rear speaker, though it’s plenty cool when you do.  Instead, you’ll notice, for example, a high-hat pattern that sounds like it’s on your left and three feet from the back wall, or maybe a synthesizer riff on your right and much more prominent (than with just front speakers), seemingly floating midway between front and rear.

Although the original albums weren’t recorded in quadraphonic sound, you are more or less replicating it to a fairly high degree.  I use “more or less” because the effect varies from album to album and, due to the dynamic nature–that’s fancy talk for which instruments are used and how prominent they are–of the recording’s mix, the effect may even vary from track to track.

In other words, with the four-speaker set-up, you will hear an ear-pleasing difference in each tune, but not every song will suddenly blow you away.  Just want to clarify that in order to avoid creating unreasonable expectations.

Nonetheless, you’ll occasionally come upon a track that will sound ASTOUNDINGLY better and quite quadraphonic-y, as if the best recording engineer in the world—that would be my pal Bob Clearmountain, by the way—got hold of the master tapes and created a fantastic new mix.

speaker-and-lighter-meh-shotThis should give you an idea of what I mean by small-size speakers.

Two other tips.  Get yourself some quality speaker wire.  For some bizarre reason, the thicker the gauge, the lower the number; and after doing some homework, I upgraded to 14-gauge for the rear speakers.  Originally had generic thin wires, and there was a marked difference upon swapping them out.

Secondly, none of the above will mean a hill of Mister Beans if you don’t set your receiver to be pumping the sound to both sets of speakers.  This is achieved by the highly technical process of pushing a button on the front of the damn thing.

 

 

The Kink(s) And I: An Audience Of One

Originally posted on my other blog in July of 2015, this seemed more appropriate here.

The Tower Theater in Upper Darby, PA (on the western border of Philadelphia) was a year-round movie house for decades, and going back even further, presented vaudeville acts after opening in the late Twenties. Seating three thousand, and with remarkable acoustics, it became a rock palace in the early Seventies, and is situated two blocks from the Upper Darby Municipal Building.

That’s where I come in. I carry a badge.

Okay, Dragnet fans, it isn’t a badge per se; it’s an Upper Darby Health Department inspector’s ID card. And I no longer carry it. But I was a member of the Department on January 28, 1977, when the following took place. No names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Certain higher-ups in the Township hierarchy were not keen on the Tower as a concert venue, for all the usual reasons. I, on the other hand, considered it the greatest thing to ever happen in the history of my hometown.

Wow, major acts in a relatively intimate setting–versus the mammoth downtown hockey arenas that were standard in that era–performed ten minutes from my home! I was a “walking encyclopedia” of rock at the time and absolutely CERTAIN I was going to be a rock star myself in the near future. How cool would it be to receive a standing ovation for a blistering drum solo on the very same stage upon which I graduated high school a few years earlier?!?

As much as a few local bigwigs frowned upon the Tower, the remainder of the health inspectors dreaded the site considerably more. A proper inspection meant not only eyeballing the concession stand, but also looking over every row in a building with a steep double-balcony as well as large subterranean lounges. My coworkers averaged about 35 years older than your narrator, so scaling Mount Tower for an hour was no treat for aging legs at the end of a shift. (One could only gain access to the Theater on late afternoons on concert dates, as it was locked up and unattended all other times.)

My elders saw the dreaded Tower inspection as one huge pain in the ass. I, being too young to legally buy a beer in the burg, and an adamant supporter of having concerts in my backyard, saw it as an opportunity.

I could serve as an unofficial liaison between the local administration squares and the powerful Electric Factory (who owned and operated the Tower) and perhaps get a chance to schmooze with Genuine Rock Stars. As you may have guessed, the remaining inspectors were to a one overjoyed when “the kid” of the Department magnanimously volunteered to be permanent Tower inspector year-round.

[FYI, to avoid any allegations of corruption, inspectors were assigned different areas of the township on a rotation that changed every three months, meaning each would eventually be assigned to the district including the landmark theater. Thus, the unanimous approval.]

I thoroughly enjoyed the Tower inspections, with occasional bonuses such as hearing Mott The Hoople playing a brief soundcheck, and signing autographs for hysterical Bay City Rollers fans who insisted I must be “somebody” because, after all, I was carrying a clipboard and just walked out the door of a building containing the Rollers’ equipment(!)
Nothing, however, topped the time I was the sole member of the “audience” for a Kinks performance.

There I was, flashlight in hand, in the otherwise-dark second mezzanine, dutifully ensuring the building had been cleaned thoroughly since the last concert. While I was protecting the public from the hazards of empty soda cups and lost lighters, The Kinks came onstage and plugged in; and as a long-term fan of the band, I was delighted over the prospect of hearing two or three tunes.

After the first song, I heard a familiar voice half-joking about whether there were ghosts in the balcony, the speaker having seen a ball of light floating around in the upper deck…which, of course, was me and my trusty flashlight making the rounds.

Pointing the light at myself, I waved a friendly “hello.” I don’t recall specifically what was said next, but it was delivered with what Yanks might call “that extremely polite method mastered solely by Englishmen.” Translated into Philadelphian, the message was “Yo, pal, your light is really gettin’ on my nerves.” With that, the man at the mic asked if I wouldn’t mind just having a seat while they continued.

I willingly complied, for three reasons. First, it was Ray Davies; secondly, I’m a wonderful human being; and, thirdly, IT WAS RAY FREAKING DAVIES.

Holy frijoles, a bona fide legend was asking me to do him a favor…and that “favor” involved being the only person in the audience as The Kinks performed live. Didn’t exactly need my arm twisted by roadies.

What could possibly be better than hearing another song or two from a band I greatly admired?

Well, I would eventually learn the Tower show that night was the first on their U.S. tour, and in order to be sure all the equipment made it overseas in working order and to familiarize themselves with the P.A. they had rented, Davies decided they should perform the entire set.

By the time I got out of there, it was dark, the Health Department office had been closed over an hour and I’d missed dinner. But who cared? I was far too excited to have an appetite anyway. Besides, I had to phone every Kinks fan I knew, to ask them to “guess what I did today.”

(And, hey, if you want to get technical about it, I actually got paid to listen to a Kinks concert as an audience of one. Not a bad day at the office.)

 

Sigma Kids sequel: My Breakfast With Ava

Here’s a brief addendum to the lengthy Sigma Kids recollection you can find here and should read first: https://onmanorsmind.wordpress.com/2016/06/14/sigma-kids-somebody-up-there-likes-me/

devotees.spell Bowie ORIGINAL send from Dagmar
Spelling “Bowie” with our bodies

The trust between the artists and the Kids grew to the point where we could be depended upon for occasional errands and to provide rides.

My “personal highlight” of the Sigma Sound vigil came one dawn when Ava Cherry popped out of the studio on a mission to get a round of coffee and pastries for some of the people still recording.  You can guess who leapt forward to volunteer to take her to the seedy White Tower—the only nearby place open 24/7—a half-mile away.

We must have been quite the sight to the bleary-eyed truckers and the like, propping themselves up on the diner counter: Ava, the gorgeous black woman with short blonde hair and very stylish clothing; and her “escort,” a 5’8” 138-pound starchild.

The return trip was equally as adventuresome.  We were passing through the strip that housed various peepshow and porn magazine venues, when Ava decided it would be a laugh to pick up some, um, “adult reading” for David.

In all honesty, if she asked with a smile, I would have driven her to Bermuda.  The problem was, parking was forbidden on that block; and, furthermore, it was about to switch from two- to one-way traffic to accommodate the morning rush–and we were facing the wrong direction!

I sat nervously in the car with the engine running, not exactly sure what I’d do if someone gave Ava trouble in the shop or one of Rizzo’s stormtroopers rolled up and insisted I move along while she was still inside.

Was slightly relieved when the beauty came back to the car unscathed…but that was only because she didn’t have much cash left after paying for the breakfast goodies and needed to “borrow” the whopping seven dollars I had in my pocket.

A few minutes later, we were back on the way to Sigma, narrowly averting the traffic-direction-change deadline.  Not only had I proven myself to be trustworthy, made a new striking friend and had a fantastic story to tell, but I’d also earned a bonus.

After the full album recording session ended, Ava confessed she had fallen in love with yours truly, dumped David and we began living together in Paris.

 

Mojo Sigma COLOR shot w Photo Credit
The two men in Ava’s life, me (far left) and the soon-to-be-cuckolded Mr Bowie

Okay, that didn’t happen.  But what did transpire was:  the next time the band appeared in concert, Ava waved to me from the stage.  Jaw somewhere around my navel, I pointed to myself as if to ask “Are you waving at ME?,” eliciting a nod and laugh from the singer.

My sister, seated to my right, gently nudged me to also confirm it, at which point I was ready to fall off my chair.  Swoon, swoon.

The Last Days Of Planet Earth–Manor On Movies special edition

The Manor On Movies contamination, er, contribution to the

natures-fury ONE LOGO

 

The trailer for The Last Days Of Planet Earth (1974) could easily be an ad for one of those “Miracle Products” hawked on low-ad-rate TV stations or, better yet, the pitch of a carnival barker.Last Days Planet neck leech

That’s right, friends, we have every grisly means of death you can imagine.  You say you want drowning, flaming fatalities, plagues and hara kiri?  We’ve got them all, folks.  Deadly leeches?  We’ve got a million of ‘em!

But, wait, there’s more!!!

Some junkfilms deserve special attention for waaaay over the top performances or for dialogue conceived by someone we can only hope doesn’t vote or have a driver’s license.  Others do so for severe storyline inanity, dunderheaded directorial decisions or blatant disregard for delivering what the title and ads promise.

But besides the aforementioned qualities, there are those magical movies that merit praise for holding Best/Most/Biggest honors, going to the extreme to proudly showcase the lunacy of those at the helm.  Three cheers for anyone who blissfully shouts “Screw convention!”

The Last Days Of Planet Earth is the holder of the coveted intergalactic record for Most Human Casualties By An Assortment Of Methods.  Ah, the wholesale slaughter of the masses by every means under (and including) the sun:  Could there possibly be a more rewarding viewing experience?

 

Last Days Japanese box  Prophecies_of_nostradamus_movie

Sure. we’ve all seen flicks where a town or three get totaled by natural disasters, alien attacks,man-made viruses, supernatural armies and 50-foot amphibians.  Then there are the Fail-Safe spinoffs, wherein military mini-minds trade weapons barrages.  Though there are a variety of dirty-deeds-doers, these storylines are virtually all a variation on one of two themes:  Hour-plus build-up until the big baddie strikes in an effects extravaganza; or, intermittent attacks by an impervious man-mulcher until “the authorities” devise a cockamamie cure.

Note that, in every case, the diligent defenders of humankind marshal their forces against what is essentially a single enemy.  One good brainstorm and the killer robot, Martian mothership or bee swarm is licked.  Not so in Last Days.

In fact, if this movie doesn’t contain more varieties of mortality than any other entry in the Nature’s Fury Blogathon, I will gladly refund host Barry P. Cinematic the $1000 he Paypalled me to enter and said not to tell the others about.

Framed by momentum-killing sequences rambling on about Nostradamus–an “in” commodity at the time of filming, which also explains its alternate title, The Prophecies Of NostradamusLast Days tosses so much fatal mayhem on the screen, it’s surprising someone doesn’t get killed by a kitchen sink.  And this is a worldwide ass-whuppin’, too, not merely domestic dismay.

As is traditional in Toho Studio productions, the standard A-type Japanese scientist is feverishly preaching ecological fire and brimstone as bureaucrats ignore his hyperactive pleas to heed the cryptic claptrap of an often-wrong round-eye who’s been dead for centuries.

Hate to break it to you, Senor Science-Man, but fat-cat island natives unconcerned about stuffing themselves with endangered sea species are hardly the most receptive audience to an “It is written that we will all spontaneously combust if even one of us flicks a Frito out of a window” sermon–especially when your “scientific proof” amounts to “This crazy cracker wrote an entire book of vague predictions and, eventually, something slightly resembling a handful of them came to pass.”Last Days Planet muddied corpse

Professor Panic’s speech provides a framework for what’s yet to come in our travelogue of tragedy, an exhilarating montage of the glorious systematic extermination of all Earth-bound life forms.  Director Toshio Mashuda periodically brings us back to the scaredy-cat scientist–something akin to a cinematic cigarette break–and then we’re once again whisked off to a ride with the Grim Reaper.

Mother Earth is initially violated by gigantic slugs; monstrous plants; frozen oceans; a chronic drought causing mass starvation; carnivorous trees; daylight attacks by huge vampire bats as well as by enlarged leeches whose bites induce insanity; and, deformed jungle tribes.  But this is just the warm-up act.

After kids temporarily turn bionic then croak and the sun begins frying folks alive, we’re treated to the heartwarming sight of forest fires, tidal waves setting off urban refinery explosions, the ozone shield collapsing, flooding, landslides and fatal respiratory diseases.  Yahoo, tens of millions are being erased internationally!

“But, wait, there’s more.”

LastDaysCycleWe’ve got anarchy, road rage, immorality among youths, young Ziggy Stardust-resembling sailboaters in a “regatta of death” suicide cruise, meticulously clean bikers intentionally riding their rice-burners off cliffs (with one stunt man missing the lake and actually nailing the rocks!) and rioting in the streets for food.

It just doesn’t get any better than this.  Hang on a minute; yes, it does. Just when you thought it was safe to loot the 7-11, the sky turns into a “reflex mirror,” touching off volcanoes, earthquakes, stuff blowing up for no apparent reason and global nuke war, its missile strikes leveling virtually everything, but leaving a few post-apocalyptic mutants alive to attack each other.  Now that’s what I call (nuclear) family entertainment!!!

Alas, to the deep dismay of fellow sociopaths everywhere, the wide-reaching wipeout is merely a projection of what might happen if the Prof’s anti-pollution whining goes ignored.  Boooooo, it wasn’t a documentary after all.  Nonetheless, there’s always hope.

Last Days Mutant GIF

Postscript:  If director Toshio Mashuda’s name rings familiar, it will very likely be because he also gave us Tora! Tora! Tora!  (1970) which, it turns out, is not an Irish lullaby.  Oh, Toshio, must you always disappoint?

 

My reviews normally are found at ManorOnMovie.com.  You should go there pronto, since we’re all doomed!!!

 

 

 

Sigma Kids—Somebody Up There Likes Me

Despite what one may have been misled to believe by revisionist historians, the Seventies was not one wacky moment after another for carefree youths in zany clothing.

Philadelphia in the summer of 1974 was no exception.  Frank Rizzo, the former Police Commissioner who made his bones as a hardnosed, head-knocking cop, had been elected Mayor, to illustrate just how blue-collar conservative the city was at that point.  Hardly a warm environment for the sort of young person who preferred gold-painted platform shoes.

The hippie movement sputtered to its death in the early third of the decade, and there was a new freak in town, the glitter rock kid.

It can’t be overstated how integral rock music was to the vast majority of youth culture in the first half of the Seventies.  The subgenres that appealed to them may have differed, but only the squarest of the squarest did not have an extensive album collection and regularly attend concerts.

Obviously, much was the keystone; but it transcended notes blaring out of a loudspeaker.  You styled your long hair and chose your clothes based on doing your best to look like the very rock stars you idolized.  It wasn’t simply some weekend warrior costume; it was a lifestyle and commitment.

 

Back in early-Seventies Philly, glitter (more recently called “glam”) had taken off, spearheaded by the god of the theatrical rock scene, David Bowie, who had twice sold out a string of back-to-back concerts at the Tower Theater.  Alienated adolescents from all parts of the city and its environs finally had a rallying point.  Bowie owned this town by the summer of ’74.

I was in a band and had befriended our keyboard player’s brother, future culinary wizard Danny Liberatoscioli, whose group of friends was fanatical about all things Bowie.  Your narrator was a moderate-level Bowie fan, and that was only a recent conversion.  However, they were a lively bunch and mostly female, so I gradually began spending time with them on assorted evenings.

August 8th.  Danny et al were practically levitating over some exciting news that trickled down the Bowie grapevine:  David would be returning to town to record new music at the legendary Sigma Sound studio!!!

[Said grapevine also always knew which hotel the Bowie entourage would be occupying, regardless of the city.  The FBI should be so proficient!]

I should also point out that the average age of the group was sixteen and most had neither driver’s license nor car—which makes the following more extraordinary.

Full of vigor and with nothing that could possibly be of higher priority, we packed into a car, heading to Sigma in an attempt to confirm whether the rumors were on the level.  Something was definitely up; upon arrival, there were already several Bowie diehards milling about and a Cadillac limo parked directly outside the studio.

Little else to do but wait around and see what happened next.

Sigma Sound was located a few blocks north of the commercial district of Center City, just outside the Chinatown section, and the rare passerbys from dusk til dawn were primarily “winos.”  We, all dolled up like Martians recently beamed down from the mothership, blended in about as well as a My Cousin Vinny family reunion on a dude ranch.

Nonetheless, the anticipation was electrifying and it was a kick being around so many fellow kooks from remote corners of the region.  And when a certain British crooner emerged—“Oh, my God, it’s true, he’s really here!!!”—it was impossible not to get caught up in the excitement, especially while immersed in what was very reminiscent of those old newsreel scenes of Beatlemaniacs losing their minds when face-to-face with the Liverpool quartet.

I had never been within reaching distance of a REAL ROCK STAR, fully intend to become one myself, and idolized several.  So, even though I had yet to become a staunch Bowiephile, this encounter was a Very Big Deal to me.

Thus it began.

 

Bowie booklet six stripi cropped A

For a stretch of fifteen days, from evening to the wee smalls, a rotating tribe of what was to be dubbed “the Sigma Kids” kept vigil outside of the Barclay hotel when David and the musicians were there, tailed them to the studio, and waited for hours on end, sitting on the sidewalk and steps outside Sigma until the session was over and we could get another glimpse and a moment of small-talk.

After a few days, the lot of us providing no indications of being a nuisance or threat, the Kids and the performers developed a genuine rapport.  Carlos Alomar and wife Robin Clark were as caught up in the whirlwind as most of us and extremely fan-friendly.  Carlos had established himself on the R&B circuit but this was his first foray into the colossal rock scene, thus it was a bit of a culture shock, albeit a highly enjoyable experience.

Same could be said for the then-unknown Luther Vandross who, although he didn’t spend as much time associating with the Kids, was always very personable.

Of course there were the Bowie “veterans” as well, such as guitarist Earl Slick, David’s longtime friend and singer Warren Peace, and backup singer (and Bowie paramour) Ava Cherry, on whom I immediately developed a massive crush.

Bowie’s personal assistant Corrine “Coco” Schwab—who got her job by answering a newspaper ad!—was another entourage member who grew comfortable among us and I believe was a liaison of sorts, ensuring her boss we had nothing but good intentions.  (This would be crucial for what was to occur later, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.)

BowieaSWMchat
David and your narrator converse outside the Barclay

Although there were a few dozen Sigma Kids in total, we weren’t all there constantly.  On the average, I’d say the head count was fifteen at the studio, maybe one-third of that at the hotel.  Oh, and about four-to-one female-to-male.

Some of the girls were age 14—but only chronologically—and I oft wondered what kind of (if any) fireworks went off when they returned home at 3 a.m. after spending six hours loitering around Skid Row.

There were roughly a dozen who made up the core of the vigil-keepers, i.e. the ones most frequently present, and we eventually settled into a groove.  A couple of people brought blankets so we wouldn’t have to sit directly on the filthy pavement; someone always seemed to have a radio; everyone got used to each other after a while; and we were relatively quiet, patiently awaiting the next flurry of activity.

Sigma owner Joe Tarsia was more bemused than annoyed by us, eventually earning the nickname “Uncle Joe.”  And later in the vigil, one of the engineers would occasionally open a studio window while they were listening to a playback, kindly giving us a special reward for our perseverance.

Then things got REALLY interesting.

 

August  23.  Bowie had been fairly satisfied with the tracks they had laid down, and that night’s session would be the last.  As such, he had a treat in mind that would enormously eclipse any engineer opening a window for a few minutes.

David personally approached those of us he recognized as comprising the core and extended an invitation that had been unprecedented in music history:  When the session that night concluded, there would be a listening party…and we were invited!

There was also one stipulation.  “This is only for the people I invite.  If anyone else shows up, it’s off.”

The party itself.  The session didn’t wrap until very early in the morning (one report said 5 a.m.), and much to the invitees’ relief, all kept their promise to keep the party hush-hush.  We were ushered inside, where Bowie’s bodyguard frisked each of us and checked handbags for recording equipment.

Some folding chairs had been placed around the studio and there were cups of red wine on a tray.  I selected a seat where a few chairs were centered midway between the speakers.  When the rest of the Kids sat closer to the front, I didn’t want to be “that guy” who sat secluded towards the back like the official party wallflower, so I moved up a few spots towards the front, perching on a piano stool.

The music began playing, and it was nothing like we expected, starting with what would be the album’s title track “Young Americans.”  When the Beatles reference came through the speakers, I turned to see if anyone else “got it”…and, sure enough, there was the author sitting in one of those chairs I’d abandoned.

Yes, I inadvertently blew an opportunity to be sitting right next to David Bowie the very first time anyone heard one of his classic recordings.  The Simpsons didn’t exist yet, but I may have originated the emphatic “Doh!” that very moment.

BowieBugsSWM
“Yeah, I’ll just move up a couple of seats so I won’t be sitting by myself.”  Brilliant!

Turned out David was quite keen on gauging our reactions.  As everyone knows now, Bowie was taking his music in an entirely different direction, and he had no idea whether it would be accepted by the audience currently wearing a groove in his latest studio effort, Diamond Dogs.  We weren’t ass-kissers from the record company or media.  We were that very audience he was concerned about.  We were quite literally the young Americans.

After all the material was played, including some that never made the album, there was a brief silence.  I believe it was a cross between digesting what we just heard and the feeling of “So what do we do now?”

We were impressed by the music—who wouldn’t be?—but no one wanted the party to be over.  Then one of the Kids uttered the magic words that broke the spell.

“Play it again!”

It was as though everyone exhaled simultaneously.  “Play it again” they did, and we began dancing, performers and Kids together, like giddy, slightly buzzed friends at a wedding reception.  Photographer Dagmar snapped away, and unbeknownst to us at the time, those pictures would end up on the front page of the Sunday paper, in several magazines and book over the years and even in the 2007 Young Americans reissue’s CD booklet.

[One shot captured me dancing with Ava Cherry, and to my very very deep dismay, although processed (but unused) for the Sunday newspaper story, it apparently has disappeared.  Ah, well.]

Bulletin front page shrunk  tweaked to read clearer

By the time the second run-through ended, it “felt right” for the party to break up.  The adrenaline that had us wide awake and shaking our butts at 5 a.m. had dissipated, the sun had begun to rise and none of us wished to make a pest of himself.

Thank Yous and Goodbyes were exchanged, and all the Kids went home.

I doubt any of us slept when we got there.

 

Sidebar regarding getting invited to the listening party:  Sigma Kid Stewart and I were the only two standing outside the Barclay the afternoon we received our invitations.  When our future party host moved on, Stewart and I just looked at each other like “Wait, we just got invited to a party by David Bowie, right?” as if to reassure each other there was no misinterpretation or hallucination involved.

Stewart had short spiked hair tinted with henna to give it a reddish tone and, if I remember correctly, shaved eyebrows.  Needless to say, he was a hardcore Bowie fan.  He also no-showed the party.

Surprised?  What you need to understand is, David Bowie touched people in a very special way and was Messianic to many young folks at a confusing age in a challenging time period.  There were certain Sigma Kids who were literally struck speechless and too overwhelmed to get closer than several feet from David when he entered or left the studio.

Stewart wasn’t like that, but all I can presume was that the thought of actually socializing with his idol was more than he figured he could handle.

 

[Please peruse the brief “sequel” My Breakfast With Ava. Thanks.]

Manor On Movies makes its triumpant (?) return

MANOR ON MOVIES has returned…and you are invited!

After a lengthy absence upon being informed–a whopping seven days in advance–my previous host was dropping the hosting program in which I was enrolled (bite me, GoDaddy), I finally got ManorOnMovies.com up and running again.

In addition to “celebrating” by recently adding a new review, I also intend to revise the left column of the Home Page. That’s where you come in.

I’ve been fortunate enough to bumble my way into discovering some fine folks with similar interests via Twitter, and it appears most of yous mugs have either a site, blog or both. And with that in mind, I’d be VERY open to swapping links with any interested party.

FYI, Manor On Movies covers MANY genres, is devoted strictly to the offbeat, and is only updated seasonally, being it is more a side project than a full-time (pre-)occupation. Also, in all candor, I don’t get a lot of traffic, so I am not suggesting a link to it will suddenly bring droves of eyeballs to your site. Just want everyone to know all of the above in advance.

Best bet is to visit ManorOnMovies.com and see precisely what I’m yammering on about. Check out a few of the reviews and see if this is your cup of beer. If you’d care to ruin your reputation by being associated with it, excellent. And if you should decide to pass, that’s certainly your option. Just bear in mind I now have your IP address and know EXACTLY where you live. MWEH HEH HEH.

As you’ll note when you see the, um, unusual layout of the site, I’m hardly a tech wiz/super-designer. So, it may take a little while to get your link posted, especially since, besides working with a new host, I’m also using an uploader with which I have zero experience beyond the steps taken to get the content back online. Nonetheless, I have every intention of “returning the favor” should you agree to a link swap.