To Bump Or Not To Bump

 

Person A:  You can’t be considered a wrestling expert if you’ve never taken a bump.

Person B:  I’ve never directed a movie, but that doesn’t mean I can’t review one.

(With the option of “(Famous promoter’s name) never took a bump. Are you saying he’s not a wrestling expert?”)

 

Full disclosure.  During the late Eighties-early Nineties newsletter boom, I contributed (to a small degree) to the Observer, Torch and a couple of other minor “sheets,” and subscribed to several.  By 1994, I subscribed to only the Observer; and by 2010, no longer subscribed to any.

For 30 years (1984-2014), I wrote for Wrestling World and Power Slam magazines, primarily as a heel columnist, though also did many WW features.  The heel persona opened the door for me to do color commentary, manage and perform in-ring skits a la Piper’s Pit.  And, yes, I’ve bumped.

In short, I have the rare perspective of one who’s been in both camps.

So whom do I “side with” in the seemingly eternal debate?

I have to go along with Person A…mostly.

First, we need to clear up some semantics.  The term “taking a bump” is shorthand for “being involved, as a participant, in at least some rudimentary aspect of a wrestling show.”

Person B and colleagues can take Person A’s quote quite literally as a means to dismiss it—though I suspect some know very well what the quote means and are essentially playing dumb.

As for the Famous Promoter defense, yes, Vince McMahon, Sr. and Sam Muchnick did exceedingly well in the sport without ever once getting decked within the squared circle.  However, by the intended figurative definition of A’s phrase, they most certainly do qualify as experts.

Nonetheless, Person A, you’re not completely off the hook.  A number of the newsletter editors past and present have participated in licensed matches before paying audiences.  No matter which definition is chosen, they have “taken a bump.”

Furthermore, at the top of the newsletter food chain, there are publishers who routinely go in the back at top-promotion shows, have served as consultants, made phone calls to get wrestlers employment, and similar tasks that define them as “inside.”  If “never taken a bump” is not going to be taken literally for the inclusion of promoters, TV announcers and so on, it also applies to said top-rung newsletter journalists.

Granted, they are few, but they do exist.  And of course they’re not about to print anything that would directly reveal their connections, or destroy their good standing with promoters or wrestlers by publishing very private dirt they have been privy to.

Which brings us back to you, Person B.  Because those publishers withhold information, reading the newsletters by those individuals doesn’t mean you too are a bona fide expert.  And that’s without factoring the possibility those writers have biases or agendas.

Again, I’ve been referring to the top “sheet guys.”  From what I’ve seen via clicking Twitter links, once you get past the upper echelon, there is a substantial drop-off in credibility, understanding of the business, and journalistic standards.

I have been published in a variety of journals outside of wrestling; and, believe me, no professional editor would ever go to print with “news” articles loaded with speculation and editorializing, which I see regularly on B-list wrestling sites.  (Unless the article was clearly presented as an editorial column rather than hard news.)

I will readily admit that, back when I was reading many newsletters, I too thought I was “smart.”  That all went out the window the first time I got involved as a participant.  So much so, I later publicly apologized in a Power Slam column.

Once you step behind the curtain, as it were, there are so many revelations that simply do not appear in the newsletters and related sites.

Who does the promoter pal around with.  Who is a great athlete but can’t cut complicated promos because he’s low in the IQ department.  Which fly-ins work surprisingly cheap—and those who are not worth their fee.  Which veterans are very helpful to the young workers or keep the locker room mood upbeat with their larger-than-life personalities.

Who has heat with another worker and refuses to put him or her over.  What popular-with-fans wrestler drives the booker nuts because he constantly varies from the way the match is laid out.  Who the boys love or hate to work with, dependent upon how stiff, cooperative or limited that man is in the ring, or whether he has a penchant for risky spots.

What less-than-stellar wrestlers are constantly booked on locals shows because 80 of their friends will buy tickets, they own the ring or lighting rig, they’re the nephew of someone of importance, they can get the promotion plugged on local radio, or they graduated the promotion’s training school and were promised a public match when they enrolled.

Who is a troublemaker or brown-noses the brass.  Who nobody wants to ride with.  Who, out of character, is radically different…for better or for worse.  Which refs are excellent ring generals.  Whose push is directly related to sexual favors.  Who you do not want to be around at post-show bar gatherings.  And, conversely, who’s popular with the bosses and the rest of the talent because he always draws women to the latter.

What a promoter will do to “sell his house.”  Who among them is more driven to get written-up favorably in the sheets than to run profitably.  People in the organization whom outsiders never heard of but have much clout.

Getting the picture?

And I haven’t even gotten into the intricacies of what also transpires at TV tapings and PPVs.

 

It’s natural for a fan to be puzzled as to why certain less-talented wrestlers or managers get pushed.  Or why one promotion can run a loaded show while another can’t.  Or why “some old-timer” is even employed.  Many—seemingly most, online—fans think they could book a promotion better than the people running the show.

But, with all due respect to the better news providers, you are never going to learn all the variables outlined above, by reading newsletters and listening to podcasts.  These are all factors that, in some form, affect the product presented, and the promotions believe—and rightly so—are “none of the fans’ business.”

Consequently, the only way a person is going to be in an environment where he or she can absorb all this knowledge is to (figuratively) “take a bump.”

 

POSTSCRIPT:  My conclusion won’t sit well with some.  “What about my friend Mike, who can recite every Wrestlemania match and NWA World Champion in chronological order, and subscribes to three streaming services?  Are you saying he’s not an expert?”

What I’m saying is, Mike is a wrestling historian—and that’s excellent.

This article is not implying there is anything remotely wrong with being a historian or superfan who can’t get enough of the King Of Sports.  A good portion of them are more knowledgeable about wrestling history and up to date on current goings-on than some full-time wrestlers constantly on the road.

The conflict arises when those on the outside looking in see the proverbial tip of the iceberg and, making presumptions based entirely upon it, declare themselves experts. Being the best driver in the county doesn’t make someone a master mechanic. They are two different specialties.

 

What about wrestling magazine editors and contributors?  Thoroughly discussed the subject in a previous On Manor’s Mind  http://bit.ly/2nbaFKQ

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Close Encounters Of The Rock Star Kind

Back when I was a Future Rock Star—or so I thought—I occasionally interacted with musicians well ahead of me on the stairway to the stars.  None of these is a Great Moment In Rock History.  Just thought I’d briefly sum them up and have ‘em in one handy place.  Perhaps you’re a fan of one or more of the name-dropped.

(Incidentally, the considerably longer tale of my encounter with The Kinks can be found at http://bit.ly/2aEKjYO)

 

Lou Reed

Walk into the record shop where a bandmate works, and he tells me Lou Reed is at a nearby music store.  I suddenly get an urge to buy another pair of drumsticks at that very store.

Lou had recently bought a guitar synthesizer, and the staff was helping him understand how it worked.  No one seems to mind me silently hanging around after my purchase—although I’m a little leery, due to Lou having a reputation for being very nasty.

As the owner of a Moog synthesizer, I legitimately was serious about the new guitar-based invention, I also knew from first-hand experience, when you find a sound you really like, it is essential to record the exact settings of the multiple dials and switches, as there was no way you’d stumble upon the precise combination again. (At least not until you got very proficient with the machine.)

This is done by notating said numbers and positions on paper templates provided when you buy the synthesizer.  Over time, a player accumulates a good number of these pages, each very easy to lose during the constant relocating a musician does.

Again, from personal experience, I knew Lou needed some sort of binder, leading me to finally speak up.

Me:  Are you going to be here a little longer?

Lou (suspiciously):  Why do you want to know?

Uh-oh, I poked the bear.  I quickly explained about being a synth owner and the need for a binder, which appeared to satisfy his curiosity.

Dashing to a nearby stationary store and back, I was relieved Lou had stuck around.  Still vaguely suspicious—not that I blamed him, knowing people constantly attempt to hustle rock stars—he asked what I wanted in return for the binder.  When I told him it was a gift, he seemed sincerely touched and softly said “That was very nice of you.”

(So much for the reported ogre—a rep I came to believe was based on his notorious dislike for music journalists, who, in turn, vengefully made him out to be insolent to everyone.)

At that point, I added “Just have a good show tonight,” i.e. that would be reward enough.  Didn’t bug him for a ticket, already having one in the front row, in the middle of the left section.

Flash forward seven hours, and Lou is indeed in fine form, performing some old favorites as well as songs from his latest album, Street Hassle.  During one tune with a lengthy instrumental section, Lou roamed away for center stage as he strummed his guitar, pausing directly in front of where I was seated—and gave me a cool-guy head-nod “hello.”

Which pretty much made my entire day.

And week.

And month.

 

John Cale

The late Seventies.  The REAL punk rock scene in New York City.  All Mohawks and moshing, right?

Dead wrong.

I’ll go into the gross misconceptions revisionists have concocted, some other time.  Maybe.  But for now, here’s the short form.

The original American punk rock–and its blood brother, the equally vibrant new wave—scene attracted a sizable percentage of collegiate types, drawn to the fresh energetic no-nonsense music being played in small venues by relative unknowns.  Dress was comfortable. Men’s hair more Johnny Ramone than Johnny Rotten.  And no stinkin’ most pits.

Dig up vid clips of, say, The Dead Boys and Television performing in NYC, and see for yourself.

In addition to the above and the leather jacket contingencies, there was a spattering of what I’d call stray weirdos.  Guys, invariably by themselves, a bit on the nerdish side, likely attracted to the “alienated youth” theme of a scene that didn’t discriminate.

My bassist, George, had only recently gotten a drivers license (in his early twenties), loved to drive and didn’t drink.  New York being a reasonable distance from our Philly base and us both being heavily into the burgeoning scene meant we’d hit NYC a couple of weekends each month, catching bands with a lot of buzz and maybe a small-label single playing on college radio stations.

George was especially taken by a new act called The Talking Heads, who were opening for former Velvet Underground member John Cale, in a small club.  We were both familiar with the headliner, a gaunt Englishmen, from his impressive post-Velvets solo LPs. Cale rarely played out, making this a must-see double-bill. Off to New York we went.

Partway through the Heads’ set, a stocky “stray weirdo” with long hair, wearing an off-white jumpsuit, decided to admire the band by standing almost directly in from of me.  He then opted to step back, at which point I gave him a good forearm shove.

Not because of his appearance.  Live and let live, ya know?  But because he was STANDING ON MY F’n FOOT!

He immediately turned his head and sincerely said “Sorry,” making an appropriate apologetic gesture before returning his gaze towards the stage.  No harm done.  Everything was cool.  Back to watching David Byrne et al for me as well.

That was when George, who had witnessed the whole minor incident from a few feet away, came up to me, laughing hysterically.  I was completely baffled, furrowing my brow as George pointed at my foot-crusher and mouthed “That’s him!”

George then informed me the “stray weirdo” I just gave the hearty shove was in fact the no-longer-thin John Cale.

 

David Bowie – a different story

Long story long, I was once on a first-name basis with David Bowie, our earliest encounters chronicled on this very blog at http://bit.ly/293BtGs.  Some visitors here are already aware of it; but what you probably don’t know is that I was once a guest in the late-great’s hotel room.

Am not going into great detail about what transpired there, primarily because it would be in questionable taste and violate the trust that came with the invitation.

However, I will share one bit that is neither of the above.  To quickly set the table, joining me were two local women I was friendly with, this being at the Holiday Inn in Center City Philadelphia, David having earlier performed a concert on the Station To Station tour.

Consider the following “joined in progress.”

When David casually mentioned having spotted me in the audience that night—my seat fairly close to the stage—my reaction was a very polite equivalent of “Yeah, right.  Pull my other leg.”

I made my own performing debut at age five, had been in a number of bands and shows since, and knew that stage lighting practically blinds one from making out audience members.

Bluff called, David provided proof, replying “Yes, you stand like this,” mimicking the admittedly strange and subconscious way I slightly hunch over and cock my head when listening intently.

All I could do was laugh.   Impetuous youth calls out rock star, places foot firmly in mouth.

Our host graciously let it pass…and I always suspected the reason I got approval to attend a band-and-friends-only party after the Young Americans tour stop and this eventual private audience in the hotel room—an honor most Sigma Kids never had, let alone fans in general—was exactly because I wasn’t a star-struck fawner who would hang on his every syllable.

I imagine it must be a great relief for someone in that position to be treated casually, what with the extraordinarily high percentage of zealots and angling hustlers a star of that magnitude must endlessly encounter.

So, yes, I made a slightly embarrassing faux pas.  Nonetheless, countless people have imitated David Bowie; but how many can claim he imitated them?

 

The Plasmatics

The Hot Club was Philadelphia’s equivalent of CBGB.  And if you don’t know what that implies, may as well stop reading this segment right now, as the remainder won’t make much of an impact of you.

Anyway…the long-gone punk and new wave club hosted virtually every East Coast act in both genres as well as breaking British bands with a newly minted recording contract and an optimistic label to foot the tour bill.  That included everyone from future hotshot Elvis Costello, to, well, yours truly.

Formerly a modest corner café, a “packed house” at the Hot Club meant maybe 200(?) people crammed in, which usually wasn’t the case unless a hot NYC or British band was performing.

Bear in mind, this was when punk/new wave was in its embryonic stage and most folks would just give you a blank stare if you mentioned either term.  So few true punk rockers in a city of two million should provide a clear indication of just how “underground” the movement was in the States at the time.

The Plasmatics were something of a hybrid:  part punk, part metal, part theatrical rock a la Alice Cooper.  They were getting bookings in the punk venues, went over well, and their stunts such as chain-sawing an electric guitar in two truly captured the punk spirit.

It didn’t hurt that the saw-wielding lead singer was Wendy O. Williams.

Simply put, Wendy oozed sex.  A brickhouse body sparsely clothed.  A little rough in the mug, well-suited for her snarling no-smiles delivery.  She’d even done live sex shows and porn.

A genuine tough chick who moved her barely clad bod provocatively and couldn’t care less who approved, Wendy inspired a lot of impure thoughts.  And women dug her because she wasn’t about to take any crap from pushy men.

Not surprisingly, the twains eventually met—The Plasmatics were booked to play the Hot Club.

Local musicians tend to befriend visiting ones, and vice versa.  The small group of us who practically lived in and occasionally performed at the Hot Club because unofficial VIPs after a while, and were thus allowed access backstage, a tiny dressing room and hallway with about a half-dozen wooden chairs.

Somewhere earlier in the evening, my guitarist buddies Jay and Michael befriended a couple of Plasmatics.  Ice officially broken, that mean the three of us were cool to hang with the two of them in said backstage hallway.

Chugging champing between snorting huge lines of coke as groupies serviced us, the party was on!!!

Naaah, if you believe that is traditional backstage behavior, you’ve seen too many Led Zeppelin documentaries.

What actually went down is as follows.

Before McDonald’s spread its tentacles in the Northeast, the far-superior Gino’s was the burger joint to visit in the Baltimore-to-Philadelphia region.  The chain had a tie-in with another promising up-and-comer, introducing the area to a new sensation called Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Plasmatics drummer Stu Deutsch evidently made his first Gino’s stop that day, and liked it.  A lot.  A whole lot.

Plas guitarist Richie Stottes—an imposing presence onstage, standing about six-foot-four, with a blue Mohawk (before anyone other than Travis Bickle wore one, regardless of color) and sometimes donning a female nurse’s outfit—sat quietly smiling, as though accustomed to Stu’s tangents.  But here it was, hours after the latter’s visit, and Stu was still gushing over the greatness that was Gino’s.

Apparently, Stu’s burgergasm must have started while still at the fast-food establishment and been fairly demonstrative, as Stu was wearing one of the pointy hats that are part of the Gino’s employees’ uniforms!

(Am guessing either: the Gino’s personnel were so taken by the drummer’s display, they gave him the headware; or, he snatched it off a counter-person and they were too scared of the lunatic and his giant crazy-looking pal to object.)

I was seated in the lone chair facing Jay, Michael and the two visiting rockers, we three locals enjoying the antics of our new wild friend.  Suddenly, a female shoe was on the edge of my chair, its wearer standing behind me.  From the waft of perfume, I knew it was Wendy.

I’m unsure which bit of her tiny outfit she was adjusting, but will swear to this very day that slack-jawed Jay’s eyeglasses steamed up.  (And this was a guy who was no stranger to women.)

My kingdom for eyes in the back of my head!

Prologue:  Michael so enjoyed the band’s performance, he was keen on seeing them again a few weeks later, when they played CBGB.  So off he, his wife and I went, up the New Jersey Turnpike to NYC.

By the time we got into town and found a parking spot, CB’s was packed, and the best we could do was squirm our way about halfway to the stage, off to the very far left.  The view was okay and we were just glad we could get in; therefore, no tears in our beers.

Maybe ten minutes into the set, Plasmatics manager Rod Swenson, who we also met when the band was in Philly, spotted us and made his way through the crowd.

“Wow, you guys came all the way up here just to see us again?”

When we nodded to verify it, Rod waved us on to follow him, leading us all the way up to the stageside area—normally a verboten zone for audience members—so we could have the best spot in the house to watch the rest of the show.

How cool was that?

RIP Jay – RIP Wendy – RIP Michael

 

Wishbone Ash

The setting:  the posh Barclay Hotel, one of the rare times the staff took no exception to a non-guest (namely, me) sitting around the lobby awaiting David Bowie and his band, encamped there while recording Young Americans.

Although the Barclay was considered more of a permanent upscale residence for older Philadelphians with old Philadelphia money, the word must have gotten around that it treated guests regally.  I say that because, much to my surprise, in walked the members of Wishbone Ash, who booked rooms at the Barclay during their two-night stint at the Tower Theater, 20 minutes away.

Though their music owed as much to electric British folk, Wishbone Ash is usually categorized as a progressive-rock band.  For reasons unclear, “prog rock” has become an object of derision in the years since, but Ash filling the legendary Tower for two straight nights is a testament to the genre’s popularity at the time.

Furthermore, I was quite a fan of the group, becoming deeply enamored upon being introduced by a bandmate to Ash’s classic album Argus…which included three tracks we (half-)successfully covered.

As could be expected, going from playing the songs to actually meeting the musicians who wrote and recorded them was quite a treat for your youthful narrator.  Although it didn’t start off very well.

Me to guitarist Andy Powell and apparent flunky, as Andy entered carrying his instrument:  Wow, where did you get a flying-V case?

Powell:  At the flying-V case store

…his cackle only topped by that of the sycophant.  Okay, there’s drummer Steve Upton, who can’t possibly be as much of a creep.

Me:  Hi, Steve.  I play drums, too.

Upton:

…well, I can’t tell you what he said, his accent so thick, it was obvious we weren’t going to communicate.  At least he wasn’t rude.

Fortunately, bassist Martin Turner was not Strike Three.  Just the opposite, in fact.

Martin was very attentive when I introduced myself and stood there conversing with him for about ten minutes.  At that point, Bowie’s personal assistant Corrine Schwab entered the lobby, gave the bassist a big hug and said something along the lines of “I see you’ve met my friend.”

With me having Coco’s seal of approval, Martin then sat and chatted for another half-hour-plus, until he and a few of his crew headed out for the night for some post-show celebration.

Before he left, I asked “If I bring my copy of Live Dates (their latest release) with me tomorrow, will you sign it?” to which Martin kindly agreed.

Now comes my sheepish confession.  Although I did put the album in my car, I no-showed the hotel the next night.  Something big was brewing at the studio where Bowie et al were recording, and I got too caught up in the excitement to think about leaving for the Barclay.

So, if you somehow see this, Martin Turner, please accept my sincerest—and VERRRRY belated—apology.

 

The Ramones

As with so many other fans, the Ramones’ debut album was love at first listen for me.  Such a sonic relief from the bloated over-produced rock albums of the time.  And funny!

The punk movement was relatively new and I was all aboard, including venturing to New York to see The Ramones live, becoming even more of a fan.

Naturally, when they got booked to play a small auditorium on the Penn campus, I leaped at the chance to see them again within a brief drive of my home.  Icing on the cake:  the opening act, The Secret Kidds, was a local band I drank with nightly.

Concert over, I made my way downstairs, to what were makeshift dressing rooms.  The Secret Kidds always threw a post-gig beer bash with all friends welcome, slightly raucous but never getting ugly.  A group of musicians and their closest personals celebrating a good show.  Lot of camaraderie, maybe some goofing around, everyone having a lively time.

I poked my head in to the next room, and The Ramones were essentially just standing around quietly by themselves.  Yes, the same Ramones who would later conquer the world and even co-star in a movie named after one of their songs (albeit with a different drummer.)

Must admit I was flabbergasted.  This is the freakin’ Ramones, American vanguard of a great new music movement.  Hundreds just watched them perform.  So where are the well-wishers, autograph-seekers and so on? You college kids afraid of guys in leather jackets?

I, a notoriously horrible icebreaker, walked into the room carrying a small brown bag.  Went up to Dee Dee and presented him with its content–a T-shirt I got printed, reading “1-2-3-4”–and mumbled something about hoping it was the right size.  He acted very thankful; but since it never turned up in a skillion photos published since then, I’m guessing it would up in a dumpster.  (Dee Dee was quite a character.)

Gift presented, I momentarily became the fifth guy standing there speechless, before bidding the boys goodbye and returning to the beer bash.

The Kidds and all but a few of our crew were not punk rockers.  And since it was not my band hosting the party, me being strictly a guest, it was not my place to invite four strangers to join in, though I would’ve loved to have hung out with The Ramones and strongly doubt they’d be treated disdainfully.  If they even accepted my invitation.

Very awkward situation.

In hindsight, I regret not taking The Kidds aside and simply asking if they were cool with me inviting the other band.  But that’s all beer under the bridge now.  Fortunately, the Brooklyn quartet went on to massive global stardom and perhaps at time wished they could be left alone after a show.

 

The Doors

I initially met The Doors while on a first-grade school trip to Los Angeles.  They were quite literally starving musicians at the time, rarely booked and only getting paid $50 a gig.  Their financial situation was so dire, they were considering breaking up, for the simple reason they needed but couldn’t afford a bass player, splitting their meager payoffs five ways being completely unaffordable.

I approached the singer and said, “Jimbo, why not have Ray play the bass parts with his foot pedals and a second keyboard, leaving the band free from hiring a bassist?”

Mr. Morrison gushed, “You are a Boy Genius!  In fact, we voted on making you the fifth Door and cutting you in for five percent, if we ever do make any money.”

Not only would The Doors honor the agreement throughout their prosperous run, but also, when Jim faked his death, he lived with me for three years in the country house I bought with “Doors money.”

Okay, none of this is true.

Farthest west I’ve ever been is New Orleans.  But I did drink bottles of Budweiser there, a beverage featured on the inside art of the Doors album Morrison Hotel, so, close enough.

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.)

 

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.