Friday, December 30, 2016

This Week in Wrenball: Damn, Daniel

With 2015-16 as my guide, I planned not to make any lofty pronouncements about the Tribe's outlook this season. Given their performance in the non-conference portion of their schedule, my superstition enables my prescience.

Nobody expected the Tribe to beat Louisville or Duke (though they played both tough, particularly the latter). A rising Rhode Island squad was a tough road beat, too. But dropping consecutive contests to Central Michigan and Hampton, even if both were away from the Kap, rankles at the same time as it instructs. This team is, as the saying goes, what its record says it is.

That record says that it's 6-5 after a convincing 65-54 road win at Old Dominion last night. The victory in Norfolk was W&M's first away win of the season. They still haven't lost at home. Daniel Dixon scored a career-best 36 points, while no other Wren tallied more than 6. It was a weird game from a weird team.

(Historical side note: Dixon's 36 set a new record for points scored by a player at ODU's Ted Constant Center. Scott Smith, a good but not great center from my time in Williamsburg, still owns the EagleBank Arena, nee Patriot Center, scoring record. He dropped 39 on George Mason in their building in 1990.)

I do believe that'll be this year's story. Tony Shaver's got a weird group. They're capable of scoring in bunches, averaging 81.0 points per game. And they'll give up a whole lot, as well (opponents are getting 72.1 ppg against the Tribe). More oddly, though, is the manner in which they're accruing their offense. In their first five games, five different players led the team in scoring. All told, through 11 contests, seven different guys have topped the team in points. Eight different dudes have led in rebounding, now that we're looking for oddities.

On the one hand, that bespeaks balance. After Dixon's 14.2 ppg, and fellow senior Omar Prewitt's 13.8, there are six guys averaging between 5.8 and 10.8 points per contest. Eight players average 2.8 or more boards, led by Jack Whitman's 6.0 per game. Any given night, a lot of Tribesman are capable of stepping up.

That balance also papers over some inconsistency, though. Despite their team-leading scoring output, both Dixon and Prewitt have inexplicable lapses in performance. Each senior has had a game this season where he scored zero points. Prewitt's scored five or fewer three times. Prewitt sat out a big part of the game against Milligan because he'd violated team rules. Senior leadership that's inconsistent could be a giant red flag.

We thought last year's team was going to the NCAA Tournament, and in Terry Tarpey and Sean Sheldon, it had terrific and visible leadership. This year's team probably isn't, and doesn't (at least not in the same way). But lightning finds its way into bottles.

And we've definitively proven that we know fuck all, so let's roll the balls out and see what happens. CAA play starts tomorrow at Northeastern. Let's go Wrens.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Twelve Days of Gheorghemas: Day Nine

On the sixth day of Gheorghemas
Big Gheorghe gave to me

Nine cheers for Mike
Eight Miscellaneous Items - Probably for Next Christmas (or for yourself, or perhaps a fellow GTB'r right now, just cuz)
Seven (Give or Take) Voters (Should Be) Voting
Six Simpler Memories
Five shows to binge watch on TV
Four Random Thoughts
Three Punk Rock Playlists
Two Digits Throughout History
And the debut of Mac McFis-ty

I'm going to practice what I preach this Gheorghemas and celebrate someone, inhale him like a breath of fresh air, while he's still with us.

My father-in-law, Mike, is a remarkable guy. He was born 74 years ago in central Pennsylvania. His father left shortly thereafter and never returned. Mike never met him. Mike's mother divorced the bum and they moved to Brooklyn. She married a man named Morris who accrued a moderate amount of wealth by inventing some sort of packaging for tomatoes. Morris was not a good guy and he treated Mike poorly. Tremendously poorly, in fact. As a result, he vowed that to be the best husband and the best father he could possibly be. And he did. But before that he had some wild times.

If you've ever met Mike, and a few of you have, you know that he loves wine, vodka gimlets, and telling stories. And if you've heard his stories you know they aren't all sad. For example, he has several stories about playing stickball in Brooklyn. The best of which involves the time he was pitching and had two strikes on Rico Petricelli, only to give up a home run with a full count. The story is fucking awesome and I encourage you to seek Mike out and ask him to tell it.

Mike was crushed when the Dodgers moved to LA. He finally shook off his malaise and wrote a pointed letter to Walter O'Malley in which he explained why O'Malley was a horse's ass, with a quarter and the closing line "I have enclosed a quarter so that you can ride the subway out to Brooklyn when you are next in Manhattan, if you so deign, so that you can see the pain and heartbreak you have inflicted upon us." In 1962 he became a Mets fan, which he still is today, including all the associated pain and heartbreak. He will gladly explain why they are a third-rate organization if you give him a bottle of Cakebread Cabernet Sauvignon.

At some point in middle school, Mike heard that NYC had a handful of specialized high schools that admitted students based on their ability to pass a test. His guidance counselor told him that he had no shot. Ripshit, Mike took and crushed the exam. He wound up going to Brooklyn Tech. Those of you who know me best understand why I love this guy.

Mike graduated from Tech but had no money for college, so he went to Brooklyn College which was free for Brooklyn residents. His psychology degree cost him $20 (the application fee). Along the way he joined a frat, met his best friend, learned to ski, drove an ice cream truck, and drank a metric shit-ton of beer. He graduated with a degree in psychology and then made a living driving cabs, hot dog trucks, and anything else with four wheels he could get his hands on. Again, I love this guy. At some point he decided to treat himself to a cool watch and paid $225 for a timepiece that has, well, accrued in value. So Mike had some luck along the way.

More luck: Mike eventually met a lovely lady named Shirley and they got married and settled down. He got a job as a psychologist in the local public school system. Over the next 15 years he had two daughters and earned his PhD at night at his own expense, working multiple jobs to pay for the degree. At the same time, he saved enough money to send both of his girls to two of the best private colleges in the country. They earned five degrees between the two of them, including advanced degrees from some of the most prestigious universities in America.

Once Mike completed his PhD he hung out a shingle, counseling countless patients in addition to his workload as a child psychologist for the public school system. Shirley didn't have to work; they owned (and added on to) a house in a fancy Long Island neighborhood; and neither child incurred college debt. To this day, this is a tremendous source of pride for Mike.

Mike is also a proud Bills fan, whose ranks he joined when the Jets and Giants moved to New Jersey. "They're the only team left in New York, goddamn it" was his rationale. If you haven't sensed the trend yet, Mike does not like to be abandoned. In 1990 he got his younger daughter a Cornelius Bennett jersey for Christmas. His background and temperament have led him to detest people who "got something for nothing." He thus detests Jim Dolan and Jeff Wilpon, and is happy to speak at length in justification of this view. You can see how I fit in here.

Mike reached retirement age shortly after I started dating his older daughter. I didn't attend his retirement party, but by all accounts it was a raucous affair with excessive drinking, wild dancing, and tearful toasts and storytelling. He and Shirl looked forward to years of the things they enjoyed most: good food and drink; theater; travel; live music; time with family and friends. Between his savings and pension, they were sure they could enjoy all of this and more for decades.

A few months later Mike was diagnosed with multiple myeloma.

Rather than succumb, Mike stared the dreaded disease in the face and beat the goddamn thing back. Never once did he say "Woe is me." Instead he fought his way to show after show, meal after meal, gathering after gathering. You know who saw Hamilton at the Public Theater before anyone else? Mike and Shirl. You know who saw Willie Nelson in Newark? Mike and Shirl. Mike was particularly enthused to hear "Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die," but that's a whole other post. Today Mike's blood does not contain detectable levels of the cancer. He won.

But the fight was too much. The treatments and the illness led to congestive heart failure. Which eventually led to hospitalization to drain the fluid on his heart. Which led to nosocomial infection (pneumonia). Which has taken too much from a man who deserves much more.

He's half of what he was before the last time he went to the hospital. He sleeps a lot now and has almost no short term memory. He has barely enough strength to move from his recliner. But he still dotes on my kids, especially my son. They're so damn tight, coloring together for hours and delving deeply into the nuances of loose teeth and tooth fairies. I pray that my son remembers this time with Mike. Anyone who lays eyes on him can see that he doesn't have much left.

My wife's family is resigned to the fact that this Christmas will be her father's last. Few people have done so much with so little to start with. His story deserves more than the 150-words-or-less the local newspaper will give him for an obituary. I hope I've done him justice, or at least some semblance thereof.

So I ask you, please, the next time you raise a glass, raise it to Mike. Especially if it's a glass of good red wine. He's earned it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Twelve Days of Gheorghemas - Day Eight

On the eighth day of Gheorghemas
Big Gheorghe gave to me

Eight Miscellaneous Items - Probably for Next Christmas (or for yourself, or perhaps a fellow GTB'r right now, just cuz)
Seven (Give or Take) Voters (Should Be) Voting
Six Simpler Memories
Five shows to binge watch on TV
Four Random Thoughts
Three Punk Rock Playlists
Two Digits Throughout History

And the debut of Mac McFis-ty

In an ideal world, this would have been up prior to the birthday of Baby Jesus. Apologies, for the timing and the usual font/formatting. It's my computer.

1. Underwear, Man. Have you taken notice of the options available as it pertains to drawhs these days? Underwear choices are a plenty sort of like lotions schlepped by Chuck Woolery. I’ve been a boxer guy large-in-part for my adult life, save for the occasional boxer-brief for those hot-pants wearing occasions when a little more hug is needed. Just a little. This year I’ve purged many of my old boxers based on necessity. Old, worn ragged and torn. When in need you pay more attention to advertisements – Duluth Trading Company, Tommy John, MeUndies, Mack Weldon and so on and so on. So this year I bit on one of the incessant Tommy John commercials and tried out a few pair with differing styles & cuts. Overall, I like. They’ve got boxer brief types of drawhs and brief boxer types…go with the latter. They don’t ride up, they hug the quads, helping to avoid the awkward walk in the airport when you’re trying to adjust without sticking your hand down your pants. You know what I mean.

On a recent trip to Medinah CC outside of Chicago, which boasts one of the great golf shops in the country, I stumbled upon a brand I had not heard of – SAXX. Get it? As in....SACKS? Buncha jokers over there. Well, I had never seen underwear sold in a golf shop. So I asked, “hey, what’s the deal here?” The response – “we can’t keep them in stock.” I didn’t bite. Then two weeks later I see them displayed at a local men’s store I frequent. I bought a pair. I’m wearing them now. They are very, very comfortable, but, they ride up with certain pants. Granted I only bought one pair and like every other brand, they do have different cuts. The next buy will be the slightly more constricting around the trunk and buttocks like the ones shown below. I anticipate great things here and will let you know promptly.

2. Anything YETI. I’m guessing everyone here is familiar with the YETI phenomenon? Pricey but very durable and effective coolers, tumblers, thermoses. I know Mark is because he lives in Florida where the value placed on a top-notch cooler exceeds that of our friends in the Yankee states. Plus we are probably exposed to a hell of a lot more fisher people and boaters who wear Yeti hats and place their stickers on the back of their pick-ups. A couple of outdoorsmen, brothers in fact, founded the company back in ’06. They were tired of replacing their cheaply made coolers that didn’t keep their trout and beer chilly. As they say, necessity is the mother of all invention. Now they are a $500M company that sells $400 coolers and $20 beer cozies. Are they that much better than a normal cooler? Yeah. Why? Because science. They are looking at a public offering which some jackasses have valued at more than $3B. That’s a B as in BILL-YON! Folks, I’m not here to discuss and debate the merits of that valuation. What I am here to tell you is YETI makes SUPERIOR products. Don’t feel like dropping $299 on a soft cooler, shown here?
Hey, I don’t blame you. I haven’t either. But do you like cozies or little tumblers for your whiskey while you sit outside getting your sip on? Me too. So go spend a few more dollars than you would normally for your guy or gal pal, or for yourself this holiday season.

3. Johnny-O. Looking for a comfortable casual polo that offers you the versatility to wear with swim trunks or khakis? Go to Johnny-O. Along with me undies, I’ve been purging golf shirts too. Johnny O is one John O’Donnell, brother of Chris. He grew up a big golf guy as did the rest of his sibs…walked on to UCLA in fact if not mistaken. Started a golf apparel business and here we are. It’s kind of a California lifestyle brand. Whatever they are, they’re comfortable and fairly priced. Meet Johnny here. Doesn't he look comfy? And damned if he doesn't look like his brother.
4. Samsung S7 Edge – What a nightmare Samsung has had this year w/their exploding Galaxy Note followed by reports of the S7 Edge doing the same. Can you imagine owning a phone that has been known to explode catch fire? Well, I can. I just bought one! Technically a few have exploded but let’s not let that get in the way of taking advantage of a great deal. For the last two+ years I’ve been using an outdated S4. When it comes to adopting technology, I’m a laggard. During the smartphone era, other than the very first unit I owned, I’ve never since said about a new device, “Man I really dig this phone.” Well, that has all changed with the S7 Edge! Man I really dig this phone. It is likely more a function of what it is being compared to in the S4 than being that terrific a product. But I’m not so sure…I’ve toyed around with others. This looks and feels slick and has the handy Edge Panel feature. What else is better about this phone than others? The front of the phone. The screen is much smoother. Like warm ice. It also resists smudges entirely. It is as if my phone has never been touched, oddly. I can’t say the same about my S4. If looking to switch from Apple, or upgrade your Android, be Edgey. (you’re welcome Samsung)
5. VR GOGGLES! Dude, I'm no gamer or techy by any stretch. Never been into it. With my phone purchase last month the dealer threw in the Virtual Reality goggles. Whatevs. They remained in the box until Christmas afternoon when I was in the mode of putting things together and reading instructions. Holy shit are these things unreal. I wish I had the gumption to throw them on during my next flight. This is what you look like once you put 'em on. Hilarious right? I mean, this might as well be me, but with great hair.
The day after Christmas I purchased a roller coaster app. Having just eaten and while nursing a small hangover, immediately I almost puked. Despite the directive to not allow kids under the age of 13 wear them, my son wasn't taking no for an answer. Watching him and my wife wear these while experiencing a virtual reality roller coaster is almost as entertaining as wearing them yourself.  For a more subtle but very real experience, I later entered a video that was included in the VR app, Ocular. It put me on a naval aircraft carrier, a real one (the roller coasters are animated). It is just a few minutes long where you are aboard this ship while the host interviews the Commander as well as other officers on board and in different areas of the vessel. It was pretty awesome. If your phone provider sells the VR goggles, you need to try them out for grins and giggles. I haven't even scratched the surface but hope to over the New Year weekend. A movie is on the next-up list for sure. Sure you look like a complete tool with them on, but don't most of us anyway?

6. Dillon's Small Batch Rose Gin. We usually flip flop Christmas dinner with our next door neighbors. They have 3 young kids too and they are pretty tight and we the parents get along well also. The dads like to booze. Mike enjoys trying new foods and drink so we often will buy a bottle of something that we wouldn't typically buy with the other in mind. He brought this stuff over on Sunday.
We both very much like a good Martini. But this isn't for a Martini....Drink it straight. Even my wife says so which is a terrific barometer. If a whiskey she can drink straight while enjoying it, you will also. It's cheap too. In a blind taste test your palate would tell you this is something other than a gin. It's smooth, pleasant, and no bite whatsoever at a mere 60 proof. It tastes good. 'Tis a classy looking bottle too.

7. Amazon Echo Dot - AKA "Alexa". Caution! The Echo Dot can be more of an annoyance if you have young children. Sure, the gift was meant for daddy, but daddy can't get near the thing.
How many bones does a dog have?
How many bones does a dog have?
Alexa - how many bones does a dog have?
Alexa - how many bones does a cat have?
Alexa - how far away is the sun?
Do you have a boyfriend?
Do you have a boyfriend?
Alexa - do you have a boyfriend?
Alexa - play Bad Blood by Taylor Swift.
Alexa - are you smart?
Alexa - how many calories are in a Big Mac?
Alexa - how old are you?
How many seconds are in a year?
How many seconds are in a year?
Alexa - how many seconds are in a year?
Alexa - sing a Christmas song.
Alexa - are you married?
And on and on and on on end until you finally have to shut Alexa off and throw the kids outside got dammitttttt!!!!!! Other than that, the jury is out. Like most of the technology at our disposal, we won't use it to its true potential. For example, we have no idea what the true potential is with this thing and that is because we won't take the time to discern. But it's handy for the little things. My wife is heading to Ohio this week with the kids. Yesterday my son asked about the weather there. I told him to ask Alexa. And he did. And she told him. Say Hi to Alexa. She purty.
8. Am I buggin you? I didn't mean to...bug ya. I should have lobbied for Day 4 or 5. I'd be done by now. So would you. The struggle for an 8th item is real. So will go with this...As I zoom through the middle-aged years, see the cliché that is death and destruction in the world, speak with or hear about those who have lost loved ones, witness loved ones losing other loved ones to fates other than death, absorb the never-ending cynicism and hate on social media whether it political, sports, tv-show, or insert any other topic here centric, reflect back on the people that died this year, see family members and their family members deal with serious health issues, see people all over this country and around the world deal with shit I never had to and won't have to, as I realize my parents grew up dirt poor with not much of a chance, I recognize the fortune I have to be able to approach the onset of another calendar year with me and my immediate family in good health, with them still loving me and I them, to hang out with my brothers of yesteryear every so often, visit with the virtual family here on GTB quite often (but I need to change that), hang out with siblings, nieces, nephews, and parents that dote on me 46 years later, never (knocking on wood) to this day having lost someone close to me, while I have a job of 20 some years affording my family items last recommendation know it....appreciation. As some say in the deep south...."Appreciate ya".

Monday, December 26, 2016

Boxing Day Celebration

The Teej celebrated this on Facebook, but since I don't have anything better, and it's a vacation week for the G:TB editorial staff, enjoy this filler until something else comes to mind.

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Twelve Days of Gheorghemas: Day Seven

On the seventh day of Gheorghemas
Big Gheorghe gave to me

Seven (Give or Take) Voters (Should Be) Voting
Six Simpler Memories
Five shows to binge watch on TV
Four Random Thoughts
Three Punk Rock Playlists
Two Digits Throughout History
And the debut of Mac McFis-ty

The season of guest surprises continues today, as FOGTB Dave Fairbank wandered off the beach, swigged a Red Stripe at Tortuga's, and continued one of the quests he embarked upon years ago in his days as a mild-mannered ink-stained wretch. Our JMU readership will dig it.

He was born on Dec. 25 in humble surroundings to parents of modest means. His life’s work was a calling that took him to homes and venues far and wide. His message and success brought him great recognition and many followers. His methods weren’t embraced by everyone, and he had plenty of detractors. He was a larger than life figure known by one name.

I speak, of course, of Charles Grice Driesell – coach, character, showman, raconteur, pioneer. Lefty, who turns 85 on Christmas Day, is again a finalist for the Naismith Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. This often evokes the response: You mean he’s not already in?

Nope. Lefty has been passed over by the Springfield selectors for years, despite one of the mountainous careers in college basketball history. In my prior life as a keyboard jockey at a daily newspaper, it became kind of a small ‘c’ cause of mine to stump for Lefty. I fear that as the years pass, his accomplishments and stature will fade into old photos and dry numbers on a ledger, which is the polar opposite of the man.

Lefty was a presence, a big man whose steely determination was offset by a southern drawl and manners that charmed young and old. A Norfolk, Va., native, he was blunt and funny and combative and maddening. He was generous and big-hearted, but not above calling reporters who he didn’t think were fair to him. In an era of buttoned-down coaches with carefully crafted images, he is a throwback we are unlikely to see again.

I have my suspicions about why Lefty has been rejected by the voters, but his resume’ and contributions to the game speak for themselves – or should, anyway. Start with the numbers: In 41 years, Lefty’s teams went 786-394. He is the only coach in history to win at least 100 games at four different schools. He took all four of those schools to the NCAA tournament, one of only two coaches to do so (the other is Eddie Sutton).

When he retired in 2003, he stood fourth in career victories, behind only Bob Knight, Dean Smith and Adolph Rupp. He is still ninth on the all-time list, as coaches such as Krzyzewski, Boeheim and Roy Williams passed him in recent years.

More remarkable, Lefty never walked into a situation with a stacked deck. He carved out wins and made basketball matter at schools where that wasn’t the case: Davidson, Maryland, James Madison, Georgia State. Davidson hadn’t had a winning season in the 11 years before Lefty arrived in 1960. Maryland won just eight games each of the two years before he came to College Park in 1969. At JMU, then school prez Dr. Ron Carrier saw a chance to elevate the program’s, and the school’s, profile with a big-name coach a couple of years removed from his tenure at Maryland. He more than delivered, elevating not only JMU, but the entire CAA. His four predecessors at Georgia State had a combined .295 winning percentage. Lefty more than doubled that, going 103-59 at a downtown Atlanta commuter school that was barely on the local sporting radar.

Lefty invented Midnight Madness, which ought to be worth at least a plaque in Springfield by itself. College basketball practice traditionally started Oct. 15. Lefty usually had his teams run a timed mile on the track to begin the first practice. But because many of the players were gassed, they often weren’t sharp afterward. To begin his third season at Maryland, he decided to have the players run their mile just after midnight on Oct. 15. Hundreds of students lined up around the track to watch. Lefty saw an opportunity, and he and other coaches eventually turned midnight practices on opening day into parties and spectacles.

Full disclosure: I’m a Maryland native and College Park grad (Class of 1980) who spent many hours in the Terps’ great old barn of a gym, Cole Field House, watching Lefty’s teams. The joint buzzed and Maryland games were a hot ticket. Later, I covered a bunch of his games when he was at JMU, and the Convocation Center rocked.

Terry Holland, Lefty’s first recruit at Davidson and later a coaching rival at Virginia, was emphatic that his former college coach and mentor belonged in Springfield.

“There are many coaches with lesser credentials who are in the Hall,” Holland wrote to me in an email, “but I am not sure there are ANY with his credentials who are not in the Hall.”

For all of his success, some people thought that Lefty should have won more. His rep was as a terrific recruiter and assembler of talent, but an inferior tactician. Duke students held up photos of Lefty with a gas gauge superimposed on his bald noggin and the needle pointing to E. He won only one ACC tournament title and one CAA tournament championship. His JMU teams were often the kings of January, but flamed out in March.

The hole in Lefty’s resume’ for Springfield appears to be a national championship, though there are other coaches enshrined who didn’t win titles. Lefty didn’t make good on his vow to make Maryland “the UCLA of the East.” He never even got to a Final Four, though as Holland pointed out, the system denied some of Lefty’s best teams at Davidson and Maryland the chance to compete for a championship. Before the NCAA field expanded, only conference tournament winners were invited. Lefty’s famously talented 1974 Maryland team (Tom McMillen, John Lucas, Len Elmore) stayed home after losing to David Thompson and eventual NCAA champ N.C. State 103-100 in the ACC title game in what many folks in these parts still consider the greatest college game ever played.

I suspect that Lefty isn’t in Springfield due to perception and poor exits. He was forced to resign at Maryland in the aftermath of All-American Len Bias’ death from a cocaine overdose in 1986. At JMU, he announced following the 1996 season that he intended to coach just one more year. He was fired less than 24 hours later. He stepped down at Georgia State, and for good, in Dec. 2003, when he couldn’t shake a cold that sapped his energy and stamina. One of the giant careers in college coaching history ended with a quiet, mid-season departure. No farewell tours, no victory laps, no testimonials.

Maryland announced that it planned to honor him with a banner in the rafters of its arena during a ceremony in February. Georgia State named its court after him. Worthy gestures. But the game’s greatest honor inexplicably eludes him. The man ought to be in Springfield. Here’s hoping that the award isn’t posthumous.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Twelve Days of Gheorghemas: Day Six

On the sixth day of Gheorghemas
Big Gheorghe gave to me

Six Simpler Memories
Five shows to binge watch on TV
Four Random Thoughts
Three Punk Rock Playlists 
Two Digits Throughout History 
And the debut of Mac McFis-ty

It's a cliche to wish for simpler times, to lament the complexity that comes with prosperity, family, college savings, and increased responsibility. Cliche, but I'm feeling it this holiday season. 2016, in a final salvo of perfectly gratuitous knife-twisting, refuses to go quietly into that good night. On top of a year-end grind of planning and preparation for a significant organizational change on January 1, our largest prospect dropped a Request for Proposal (RFP) on December 14 with a due date of January 6. And don't bother asking for an extension, because we really need to make an award as soon as possible.

I can't tell which stress-induced discomfort is worse, the constant nausea or the headaches.

So I was happy to drift away for a minute or two earlier this week. Whitney's tribute to one of the Gheorghiest people of all-time took me back to a simpler era, when the Magnificent Seven seemed like a good idea - and not a recipe for a week-long hangover. I've got guffaw-inducing memories (and some hazy spots) from those events. And for the sixth day of Gheorghemas, here are a half-dozen other things from that era that still make me smile.

Dietary Roulette

As most of the audience knows, I spent much of my twenties living with Whitney, Clarence, and our friend Spoid, among a few others. We were young, dumb, relatively broke, and really lazy, and our diets testified (and contributed to the broke part). I don't have the exact figures, but I estimate that 43% of our meals consisted of delivery from Arlington's legendary Lost Dog Cafe. Another significant portion came from the 7-11 down the street. And when we tired of those things, there was always this:

That right there's a Hot Diggity Dogger, Clark. I think Whitney got that for Christmas, or maybe gave it to me as a gift. But I can still taste the perfectly toasted rolls and roasted hot dogs that genius invention delivered me on the regular.

Dumb & Dumber

Whitney and I saw the Farrelly Brothers' opus on a Tuesday evening one winter (last Friday was the 22nd anniversary of its release). To this day, I've never laughed harder in a theater. The fact that I was half-drunk certainly contributed to my enjoyment of the film, but never did a cinematic moment so fully align with my personal funnybone. Obviously, we bought it as soon as it was available on video. Over the roughly two more years we lived together, I estimate that we watched all or part of it 150 times. You may think that sounds preposterous. I think it might be low.

You da Man

If we didn't come home drunk and put on Lloyd and Harry, then we put on this video:

Little did we know that the producers would become some of our best internet friends. Poor Jim McIlvaine.

Wednesday Morning Coming Down

If 43% of our meals came from Lost Dog, then at least 14% of our dinners came from Cowboy Cafe. The one on Lee Highway. We're not jerks.

The reason Whitney and I were drunk on a Tuesday night while at the movies was because we started at Cowboy, where half-price burger night made us regulars, and being regulars begat no-price pitchers night. Again, estimating conservatively, I'd bet that I was still drunk at work on at least 20 Wednesday mornings in 1994. And the community that we developed at that little dive bar (which numbered close to 20 people at its zenith, complete with weekly e-magazine) was like a dipshit Cheers without the cameras. Whitney and I will be attending the wedding of one of our Cowboy compadres in Mexico this May, likely sans partners. I say we try to relive some of the good ol' days.

Chris Damon from the Damons

We saw a bunch of music during our salad days. (Ain't that a misnomer.) Some of it kinda runs together, if I'm being honest. Seeing Pearl Jam close out the second day of the Tibetan Freedom Festival at RFK doesn't, though. Nor does starting the conga line at a They Might Be Giants show so we could move from the back of the venue to the front. Bad form, that. Bygones.

It was a moment at a different TMBG show at the old Radio Music Hall (now the 9:30 Club) that makes me laugh to this day. Spoid drove us to the show, which gave Whitney and I ample opportunity to prepare ourselves, pharmaceutically speaking. We made it into the building, but weren't capable of doing much more than holding ourselves upright for the first few songs of the opening act. An act with which none of us was familiar. As Whit and I slowly regained focus, Spoid figured it out.

"It's Chris Damon. From the Damons."

"Oh. Do you mean Chris Stamey? From the dB's?"

The fact that that memory seared its way through the haze of that evening and sticks still nearly 25 years later is a testament to both the vagaries of the human memory and the number of times that Whitney and I repeated it in a stoned fit of giggles.

Odds, Ends, and Ephemera

Man, I've enjoyed this. I can feel my mood lifting. Thanks, Gheorghies!

I could go on for a while, too. There were epic Wiffle Ball games in the backyard of our nearly-perfect rental house in North Arlington. Bachelor parties at the same place, a few of which devolved in ways we didn't necessarily see coming. (It's not what you think. Unless you're thinking about 15 morons trying to crowd into a very small bathroom to watch a stripper take a shower.)

There were multiple Sunday night parties on the eve of Monday holidays, which paradoxically
endeared us to the older neighbors on either side of us. The lesson: tell your neighbors when you're planning to be assholes, and don't do it too often. House parties at Evan's place just a short drive away  I remember our 'bananas for everyone' rule when one of us hooked up. We didn't have bananas all that often. I recall not being able to use our indoor plumbing for a week during a wicked cold snap - we pissed outside and we took our other 'business' to the Wendy's up the road a bit. We boycotted that Wendy's for some reason that's been lost to time.

There were lazy Sundays with groups of friends watching sports, and the winning ways of the early Angry Men. Whitney got a concussion playing football on frozen tundra, then skipped the hospital to drink at a wedding. In retrospect, that might've had lasting consequences.

I took my then-girlfriend to the aforementioned 7-11 for ham and cheese rollups on our first Valentine's Day. And she still married me.

I'm lucky she did. But I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss that time in my life, when I was essentially responsibility-free, and my job was easy enough that I could fake my way through it - even when I was basically still drunk.

I wonder if that job's still open.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Gheorghemas Carol: Play it Dark

When my favorite band puts out a new record, I'm constitutionally obligated to post about it here. Old 97's follow up their rollicking 2014 release, 'Most Messed Up', with 'Graveyard Whistling' on February 24. Based on the title, and the first single, Good With God, this set of tracks may well have a darker edge than many.

Seems fitting, given the age in which we live.

Here's Good With God, featuring Brandi Carlile. It's got the now-familiar Old 97's guitar sound, persistent and driving, and Rhett Miller's wry turn of phrase, but it's somehow ominous in a way that we haven't heard from the 97's in a while.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Half a Century, Wholly Missed

Today, December 15, 2016, would have been Evan Lloyd's 50th birthday.  Man.  That woulda been some throwdown.

For the uninitiated, though you've certainly heard this guy's name tossed about here and there. . . Evan was a senior in Tribeville when Rob, Dave, Hightower, Dougie Fish, and I were freshman idiots on the same hall, and he took us under his wing right away.  He ushered me into his fraternal family, then grad-ee-ated and went off to Hokie Land, at first to become an Art Vandelay style architect; then, when the mini-recession of the time hit, his fate was to move into construction management.  Anyway, his subsequent tours of booty in Arlington, sLower Maryland, and Atlanta included stupendous episodes of utter dipshittery.  As a rule.

In the early to mid-nineties, Ol' Ev -- or Earl, as he was called by some -- helped found both the Magnificent 7 keg croquet extravaganzas (7-person teams competed at croquet and had to each finish a full keg) AND the Santa Stumble bar crawls; he himself turned each of these marvelously intoxicated events into all-timers on an annual basis because of audacity, puckish humor, stubborn dedication to arbitrary, silly regulations he'd impose, passion for friendship, and his genuine article sense of humility and wonderment at the world and the comrades who populated it.

Homecomings, birthday outings, Springsteen shows, NASCAR races, Ohio State football losses -- any reason to hope in his red Dodge Ram and drive 8 hours would be more than cause to be there in fine form, cases of Pabst in tow (pre-hipster-resurgence).  God bless Evan Lloyd, he loved me like a little brother and I'll not know his like again.

Today, on his 50th, I'll drink 50 beers for him.

Okay, fine, that's not feasible, even for me.  Whatever I do, I'll do him proud and salute him all the way.  I already put the Ev-dent into every can of beer I consume, total force of habit at this point.  I'll incorporate more of the many Evanisms into the night's activities.  Where did I put that croquet set?

Here's to Ev.  May those you love linger longer than he, but may they impart upon you nearly as much entertainment and appreciation.  Or, as he would borrow from Quint, "Here's to swimmin' with bow-legged women."

I'll close with two emails sent from the man himself, one for whom technology like electronic mail was a passing lark.  The first is simply goofy Evan, the second is one of the more bittersweet things I keep handy.  Here goes:

Evan Lloyd  11/08/99 at 10:24 AM
Howdy Fellows,
Here goes my first LammieNet transmittal.  'Tis nice to be here (on the net, that is, not in the Dekalb County Public Library which is my closest computer since some lowlifes broke into our job trailers and swiped our computers). Although I haven't the time to get on here much, I've enjoyed reading your recent rants and will try to pipe in when I can.  Yes, Mr. Softie, I said 'pipe in'.

I had a swell time in the 'Burg last weekend.  Surely y'all noticed whose family had the best showing and hung the toughest.  That was my family.  In fact, between Gym Bitner, myself, Whit and Rodell, our clan showed some 30 years of alumni status, 24 of which was still up & at it at the house at 4 AM. Quick-Draw Mo Lester didn't last near that late, but everyone there surely noticed how skillfully he shoe-horns 20 hours of drinking into 14 hours of consciousness.

Those current brothers were alright.  At 4:45 when I left, they still had some 30 cases of beer in the cave shitter and were breaking shit like ceiling tiles and the commode on the bar, AC/DC loud and proud.  Nice collection of young chicks, too.  Surprising, in fact.  My favorites were the knee-socked, pony-tailed little girl costumes - about 4 of them and way hot hot.  Another thing I enjoyed was the fact that Unit L is no longer Sigma Nu, but full of girls, yet at 6@9, the brothers still fence off our back porch turf - Lord help them if some coeds should walk through.

Now, the point of my writing:  The 5th Annual Santa Stumble will take place on December 11th in Richmond. This is probably the most unique and amusing gala I know.  It was started by Chris Blake, VA Psi 1989's younger brother Doug (whose maroon neck makes Chris look like a fargin' preppie) in '95 with 9 igits in Santa suits staggering bar to bar.  It has steadily grown (like kudzu in Mrs Tell) to last year's 122 and is truly a joyous time.  Some establishments like us, some simply don't.  A few arrests about every other year. Past Lammie participants include Stewbacca, Lester, Overton, Elmo, Spoid, Squirrel, Gormley and Saunders.  They'll surely recommend that the $25 Wal-Mart seasonal costume investment is all worthwhile (and re-usable - this'll be  Stumble #5 for my chirp-stained, cigar stanked uniform). We meet at a bar in the Fan called Easy Street, where the owner donates a few kegs, and then a bus or 2 takes us downtown.  It's cool.  Elmo one year was late, missed the bus, yet easily found what bar we were in because the DJ on the radio told him where we were.  The bus takes you back to Easy Street at closing time; it's pretty well organized.  I'll report later on the exact free beer meeting time.
Merry Christmas,
Earl  09/22/00 at 9:15 AM
Subject: Happy #30

Well wishes to you on your 30th birthday!
My good friend, your presence in my world has brought me magnificent enjoyment.  Comfortable comraderie, abundant humor, loyal companionship, millions of terrific memories;  I treasure your friendship a great, great deal.  May the next two-thirds of your life be filled with love, happiness, World Series titles, and everything you want.  I'm looking forward to celebrating your day with you this weekend, as well as your 40th, 50th, 75th, . . . birthdays.
Your Big Brother, and your friend,

Cheers, people.
Lester Polyester

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Gheorghemas Carol: Play It Loud

Like most right-thinking Americans these days, I've been spending some time studying Canada. Real estate, mostly, but cultural stuff, as well. And like most fans of indie power-pop, I've been eagerly awaiting the new Japandroids record.

I love it when a plan comes together.

The first single from the Vancouver band's new record is called Near to the Wild Heart of Life, and it kicks some ass. Those of you with long musical memories and obscure tastes might hear a little bit of The Sidewinders in it - and that's a really good thing.

This lyric sticks out to me, jammed full of a young man's bravado and fantasy:

It was last call at my local
And I stalled saying goodbye
So the girl behind the bar came over
And she took me aside
She kissed me like a chorus, said
"Give ‘em hell for us
The last drink of the night, last night in town
Baby, this one is on the house"

Dig the single here. As Jason Sawyer says in the YouTube comments, "This is anthemic and catchy as all fuck." It got me all fired up.

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Twelve Days of Gheorghemas: Day Five

On the fifth day of Gheorghemas
Big Gheorghe gave to me

Five shows to binge watch on TV
Four Random Thoughts
Three Punk Rock Playlists 
Two Digits Throughout History 
And the debut of Mac McFis-ty

(We're spreading our wings, and the Gheorghemas cheer, this festive season. We're pleased and honored to have Shlara pen a post in celebration.)

There's a lot of great TV these days. (For example, if you and your family aren't watching black-ish on ABC, you're doing it wrong.)

And, if the Farmers Almanac is correct, we'll be getting a lot of rough weather this winter, so you'll need to hunker down and find some good teevee to pass the time. And if it's not the crappy weather you need to avoid (I'm looking at you, Mark and Danimal), then these shows are still good for a distraction from the daily grind or the shit-show that is the nightly news these days.

I'm not a critic and I don't have an English Lit course-style analysis on what makes each of these shows great. What I can tell you is that good TV = fascinating characters and complicated relationships. And these five golden Gheorghemas shows have all of that.

These cats are laugh out loud funny.
These are shows you can watch with your wife and you'll both enjoy them. And, these shows may encourage or invite you to have an interesting conversation with her. You're welcome.

Some of you watch a few of these shows and I'm sure there's at least one show on this list that you have never seen. So trust me, and try it. I have good taste--I like Desus & Mero (which you should also be watching, so set your DVRs)

UnREAL (two seasons, originally aired on Lifetime, streaming on Hulu. I hate Lifetime too--get over it.)

This is a parody of the Bachelor, created by a woman who was a producer on the real ABC show, The Bachelor. (Which is also TV gold b/c of the weekly emotional car wrecks.) The main characters in UnREAL are two power bitch women--Quinn (Constance Zimmer) + Rachel (Shiri Appleby)--and it takes you through the evil, complicated mind games they play with the "suitor" and contestants to make "great TV," while their own real lives implode. There's an OMG moment every show. And it makes you feel better about your own life and work environment, because it's not THIS rough. Fun fact: the fake Bachelor show in UnREAL is more progressive than the real Bachelor show because they had a black suitor in season two.

Bonus pick: I haven't watched it yet, but it's on my list: Real Husbands of Hollywood--it's a parody by Kevin Hart. And regardless what you think of his ubiquity, you know he makes you laugh. Also, the new season of the Bachelor starts in January and Nick is back for a fourth time--let's hope he finds love so he can stop showing up on our TVs.

Casual (two seasons, created for Hulu, streams on Hulu)

I discovered this show on a flight to LA a few months ago. Mr. Robot was a choice on the plane menu, but they only had episodes from the middle of season 2--and I wanted to start from the beginning. So, I thought--the lead guy in Casual (Tommy Dewey) played the d-bag sports agent on The Mindy Project and I liked him there, so 'why not.'  In this show, he plays a d-bag tech guy who created a dating app. It's an awkward dramatic comedy about a middle-aged brother (Dewey) and sister (Michaela Watkins) and her teenage daughter, all slogging through real life with many cringe-worthy moments that keep you watching--it's not as sharp as Louie, but it's in the same spirit. Fun fact: Tommy Dewey and I attended the same wedding of a mutual friend last year.

Bonus pick: Love, from the Judd Apatow comedy cabal. This one was created by Paul Rust and it's an awkward-charming 20-something millenial story that's much more enjoyable than GIRLS. You roll your eyes at them but don't want to throw anything at the TV, like you do when watching GIRLS.

(one season, Netflix original, streams on Netflix)

Aziz Ansari is a funny dude. And his show is excellent. And multi-cultural. It's a NYC-based show with characters that seem like real people and scenarios and settings that actually seem plausible. Watch season one now, before season two is up on Netflix in April. Fun fact: Ansari is a foodie and used to date a chef--so he name drops a lot of real NYC restaurants and Thrillist complied a list of those places.

A Chef's Life (four seasons, airs on PBS, streams on PBS)

My sister and her husband introduced me to this show. It's a docu-cooking show about Vivian, a Carolina woman who left her fancy chef life in NYC to return home to eastern NC and open a restaurant in Kinston, with her city husband and kids in tow. They are charming and the food looks delicious and it's a really soothing show--it's the opposite of all of those frenetic cooking competition/reality shows. Good fun for the whole family. 

The Americans (four seasons so far, airs on FX and streams on AmazonPrime)

OK, I've talked about this show before in Gheorghe-land. Why aren't you watching yet?? This show is AH-MAY-ZING. It's a period piece (1980s) about a couple--Phillip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell)--who are illegal immigrant Russian spies living as Americans in suburban Washington DC during the Cold War. Elizabeth is a bad-ass, they have many disguises and alter-egos and affairs, their favorite neighbor is an FBI agent, their teenage daughter becomes a Christian...there are too many good things to list about this show, so I'll stop now. Just watch the pilot tonight--you will be hooked. And, I realize that most of you did NOT grow up in suburban Washington DC in the 1980s like I did, so you may not have the same attachment to this show--but you will like it a lot, I promise. Fun fact: Matthew and Keri started dating in real life after a few seasons of the show and they now have a baby boy and live in Brooklyn Heights. They are spotted around the 'hood riding bikes all the time.

Happy watching, Gheorghies!

Friday, December 09, 2016

The Twelve Days of Gheorgemas: Day Four

On the fourth day of Gheorghemas, Big Gheorghe gave to me 

Four Random Thoughts
Three Punk Rock Playlists 
Two Digits Throughout History 
And the debut of Mac McFis-ty

I get to follow Clarence's opuses (opi?). Sweet. No way my effort comes across as half-assed after his anthology of punk. But let's plow ahead, shall we? I have four random thoughts I want to share. Some are long, some are profound, some are sophomoric. You get the drill by this point. This is TR you're reading, after all.

Thought 1: 2016 was a year of ups and downs, but was also a year that brought me three weeks of bliss. 

2016 was the first calendar year in a long, long time for my wife and I that we did not have to deal with a parent that was severely ill or passed away. Our family is now, sadly, much much smaller and it's still heartbreaking to acknowledge that. 2016 was also a year with one big suckfest of a job loss for me. It was an odd, protracted affair with a company slowly and visibly combusting in front of me, where I needed to formally be fired to extract the maximum amount of nickels from my employer. So yeah, that kinda sucked.

But you know what didn't suck? Getting lucky and landing a new gig as the old one smoldered away. By July 4th, I had inked a new contract. That left me three weeks of staycation time with the family. Since we had already committed to a family vacation in August, and since the kids were committed to camps, I just kinda hung out. I did a bunch of AM hot yoga, I chatted up the moms at the pool club during the day, I watched Zman's kids chillax in the baby pool of said club. I cranked Lionel Richie with my kids in the afternoon. The weather was mostly perfect during that stretch too. It made me long to not have to work, assuming the weather could perpetually be 80 degrees. Making lemons out of lemonade was a real joy in 2016.  And yes, I want to move to San Diego.

Thought 2: I found some great old and new tunes to dig into this year. I've said this here before, but there is no rhyme or reason to when I encounter new music. And by "new", I mean something I haven't listened to a lot yet.

Here's one example, from a YouTube mix I made to signify the decay of my old job. I cranked it almost every day for a few weeks in my office while strategizing about how to best pillage the supply closet for my personal gain. It comes from a nearly 20 year-old Dylan album that I own on CD, but I needed some real life experience to absorb the profundity of the song. This is a song that you almost have to be "olidish" to fully absorb:

Here's another one I may have referred to in a post before that gains poignancy as I age. While I like Bruce's original (even if he is a hack), the tragedy of The Band adds extra meaning to this tune. My wife and I had an epic night many years ago watching The Last Waltz, and she decided (very late in the night) that she loved Rick Danko. I was cool with that because, um, because he was no longer living.

We swore that night to name the first dog we would buy Danko. We have yet to buy a dog, and I might overrule her to name our first dog Dave Winfield. But The Band, and their bassist, remain epic. Everything dies baby, that's a fact, but maybe everything that dies someday comes back.

And here's one last one because we all need to be lifted up after this death and layoff chatter. One of the closing bookends of my three weeks of glorious unemployment was a mid-week concert in Brooklyn. The wife and I went to see Broken Social Scene, the indie rock gods of the aughts who went their separate ways for many years.

The show was beyond tremendous and was the highlight of my 2016 concert experiences (although I'm crossing my fingers about the two Phish shows I'm hitting at MSG later this month).  The quality of this video is questionable, and it may mean little to you if you are not familiar with this eclectic Canadian musical collective, but it sums up the majesty of this band: 8-12 musicians on stage at any time, lots of harmonies, and a real sense of musical profundity, at least to me. As a somber book-end, this was one of two bands I listened to a lot in 2004, when my wife and I first encountered severe family health issues. It was the first time I really felt like a grown-up and listened to music as a grown-up. Fuck you, cancer.

Thought 3: Yes, I still think about my alter-ego's porn name. In Miami over Thanksgiving, one of my most vivid memories is of being at Hard Rock Stadium and hearing the PA announce the Dolphins' starting guard, Jermon Bushrod. My son who likes the Fins blindly cheered, as he did all the starters, but I stood up and started clapping, wondering why we haven't heard the Bushrod surname before in the annals of erotica. Way to go, Jermon.

Thought 4: I can't wait for my mid-life crisis to peak. 

This may only appeal to Mark, but I recently indulged in tattoo number two, after several years of apathy and sporadic consternation. This new ink is another result of my glorious three weeks of unemployment. The work was not done until October, but I laid the groundwork with the tattoo parlor (Bang Bang, which is headed by LeBron's personal tattoo guy!) in July. I'm now officially too old to give a fuck about my ink and any professional consequences. And I am already planning number three. Zero. Fucks. Given.

The enjoyment of bucking the traditional aging yuppie trend as a 40-something dude is quite enjoyable. While I still foresee a traditional mid-life crisis-type purchase on my horizon (looking at you, German convertible), I think there will be more bold, eclectic decisions. I told my wife that after our youngest goes to college, I want to sell as many of my possessions as I can, maintain a very modest home, and become a citizen of the world, traveling as much as physically possible. A 55 y/o man can take an ayahuasca journey in South America, right?

Happy Gheorghemas, ladies and gents. Let me know if you have an ayahuasca hook-up.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

The Twelve Days of Gheorghemas: Day Three Finale

On the third day of Gheorghemas, Big Gheorghe gave to me 

Three Punk Rock Playlists 
Two Digits Throughout History 
And the debut of Mac McFis-ty

Rounding out Day Three. I'm exhausted, but I enjoyed working on this.  You're forgiven if you gloss over my meandering text, but listen to the music.  If music could talk...
  1. 1970’s punk, excepting three pillars
  2. The Ramones
  3. The Clash
  4. The Sex Pistols
  5. 1980’s through today’s punk
This Is Radio Clarence: Punk Chronicles Vol. 5 

I could talk all day about The Clash. (I won’t.) They are known internationally as The Only Band That Matters. Mattered, I guess, though they seem alive and well when you’re cranking “Clash City Rockers” at a high volume. I consider Joe Strummer to be, in addition to punk rock warlord, a high prophet and one of the coolest guys not just to rock a Mohawk but ever to roam the planet. The Clash are, and have been since the 1980’s, my favorite band of all time. Bar none.

Essential Facts 

Joe Strummer (née John Mellor) – sang and played guitar
Mick Jones – sang and played guitar
Paul Simonon – played bass and sang on rare occasions
Nicky “Topper” Headon – drummed (like a mf)

[There were others: Terry Chimes, the original drummer who plays on the first album, and the three younger dudes who stepped in and filled out what would later be called The Clash II when Joe sacked most everyone, a subsequently disavowed record and lineup. But the four above comprise The Clash to most.]

They are all still alive except Joe. Joe Strummer died right before Christmas in 2002 at age 52. I know some folks were bummed at the recent deaths of Bowie, Prince, and others they grew up listening to; I talked to our pal Otis, another huge Clash fan, right after Strummer died. The sentiment exchanged was disbelief. Not just that Joe died from an undiagnosed congenital heart defect right as he was trying to re-form The Clash, months before they would be honored at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame . . . but disbelief that the passing of someone we’d never met saddened us that overwhelmingly. It sucked, it still sucks. Years later, this article depicted people who'd obviously been hit harder by it.  Life is short. Live well. Please read this interview and listen to Joe’s BBC words to keep you on the righteous path: Without people, you’re nothing. Amen.
Whitney and Joe, NYC
The Clash began as a band owing some small credit to The Sex Pistols (and The Damned and others who get less obvious credit), a London punk band in 1976. Refusing to rest on those laurels or be caged inside hi-fi stereotype, however, they almost immediately rose above punk’s three chord din and infused a number of other elements into their mix. If you can imagine the Pistols covering “Police and Thieves,” which the Clash did in 1977, as anything but a snide send-up, your imagination is more inventive than mine. Time has been kind to The Clash; my earliest education of the band made them seem runners-up to the Pistols in the punk movement, but by now, the reputation and credibility of The Clash lapped the loutish lads in Lydon’s lot long ago.

That said, their presence on the airwaves is still nearly completely limited to the Big 4:
  1. “London Calling” (omnipresent backdrop to any TV show or movie scene where people travel to the UK…ugh)
  2. “Rock the Casbah” (I’d be sick of it and change the station at first note if it weren’t so damn good)
  3. “Train in Vain (Stand By Me)” still a classic with an oft-sampled Topper drum track
  4. “Should I Stay or Should I Go” (more on this later)
If it unspools, use a pencil
That's all you hear.  Just silly, as there are many more Clash tunes deserving of airplay. I’ll throw some at you below. When I was a kid, I had heard two of the Big 4 on the radio but didn’t know much of the band beyond that.

Then Combat Rock hit in 1982, and it was one of my earliest cassette purchases. Wore it out. Side 1 was aces, Side 2 was deuces. Rewind button hit frequently. Thinking about doing that takes me back.

Wish I’d been old/smart/cool enough to see them at William and Mary Hall that year. Dammit.
Seven years later, I took a job working for part of the summer at Willoughby Bay Marina. The once huge marina facility is now gone, leveled to make room for condos that never got built thanks to recessive times, but you see the land where it was every time you ascend from the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel heading westbound. Crap job I had. I scraped barnacles off the bottom of sailboats and repainted the hulls, did odd jobs, and invented stupid games that the lifers who worked there picked up on immediately. Long hours in the summer swelter with my brain in dry-dock storage. The best hours of the day were in my folks’ car going to and fro. With AC. And a tape deck.

A somewhat random purchase at the start of the summer proved to be a real highlight and an introduction to a back catalogue that made me think that I was way late to the party, but one has kept me entertained for going on three decades since. The Story of The Clash Volume 1, on two clear cassettes. (Vol. 2 never happened.) First listens of “Complete Control,” “Tommy Gun,” "(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais,” and the like all thoroughly intrigued. Loved it. Put it in the Walkman while I painted. Wore it out.

*  *  *  *  *

The Clash formed in 1976 as a supergroup with members from the London SS and the 101ers.  The latter band actually had an album of raw but enjoyable materials.  "Keys to Your Heart" and "Letsagetabitarockin" entertain but foreshadow very little of what would come next.

The Clash's eponymously titled first record is pure punk rock. It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up. Give 'Em Enough Rope followed, including Dave's favorite Clash song.  Softened some of the rough edges.  Once again, no hint at what would follow.

London Calling was released this month, 1979. And then it was on.  19 songs. 2 LP's.  5 million copies sold. Enough has been written on this record.  Rolling Stone named it the best album since ever, back when they wrote articles about music.  Just get it, sit down, and spend an hour with the volume way up.  ("Elevator, goin' up!")

Sandinista! followed the next year, a bloated 3-LP mixed bag of reggae, pop, experimental, dub, children singing, maybe a little punk, what have you.  Critiqued less glowingly.  Underrated.  I sent Otis a list of what it could have been as a single album.  Damn fine:
  1. Police on My Back
  2. Rebel Waltz 
  3. Somebody Got Murdered 
  4. The Leader
  5. The Call Up 
  6. Up In Heaven (Not Only Here) 
  7.  The Magnificent Seven
  8. Charlie Don't Surf 
  9. Lose This Skin 
  10. One More Time 
  11. Let's Go Crazy 
  12. If Music Could Talk
The aforementioned Combat Rock followed, after a few one-off singles.  New popular heights, which absolutely killed the band. Trust Clarence, it's hard to handle such acclaim.


Topper gets punted for being a junkie's junkie.  "The Human Drum Machine" wallows in his misery for decades.  This story here is well told and has a happy ending, but not until after some depravity. One particularly sad scene is told by Topper when he saw Terry Chimes mimicking drums in the video for "Rock the Casbah," released after Topper had been clipped from the band.  That song was Topper's own; he'd been in the studio without his mates one day and had laid down the drums, bass and piano (which comprise most of the music in the song).  Joe added new lyrics later.  Arguably the Clash's biggest hit, "Rock the Casbah" wasn't a Strummer/Jones composition for once, but Topper's brainchild, and watching Chimes at the kit for all the world to see sent him spiraling further downward.

Mick, the Keith to Joe's Mick or the John to Joe's Paul, is sent packing while Paul stays.  Follow?  Joe and Paul then pick up three young blokes to round out a pseudo-Clash that produces Cut the Crap but loses remaining street cred and is later considered to never have happened, like Rocky V, Jaws 3-D, or Highlander II.  (It did produce two songs I enjoy.  Guilty pleasure.)

And then they're done.  Big Audio Dynamite, Havana 3AM, The Good Bad and the Queen, Carbon/Silicon, and The Mescaleros ensue.  Decent to very good.  But not The Clash.  They told us lightning strikes not once but twice, but they had it in a bottle for seven years and once it was gone, it was gone for good.  Especially now that Joe is up in heaven.

*  *  *  *  *
Rob knows that I have somewhat obsessively populated my Clash library in the years that followed. Disc and digital acquisitions of every studio album, live material galore, b-sides, rarities, outtakes, demos, compilations of every sort. A bit over the top, actually. (I don't have these.) Here’s what you “need”:

Essential Viewing: I loved The Future Is Unwritten, the documentary about Joe Strummer. Trailer here. Westway to the World and The Rise and Fall of The Clash also entertain and educate. Would like to see the tangentially related London Town, out this year.  Pre-release showings in London, NYC, Norfolk, VA, and I fucking missed it.  Clarence can fail.

Essential Reading: There are dozens of books about The Only Band That Matters, including at least one with that title. Way too many. Enough cashing in already. I’ve read a few. I liked Last Gang in Town by Marcus Gray, A Riot of Our Own by former roadie and road manager Johnny Green, and the huge neon pink tome simply titled The Clash.

Essential Listening: In the album-buying era, you could do plenty worse than that Story of the Clash Volume 1 grab bag. Clash on Broadway expanded upon that. As far as studio albums, it generally goes without saying that you start with London Calling and travel wherever you want from there. That album brings it well beyond any hype about it.

Honestly, they have five albums, six if you count that the US version of the first album is markedly different than the UK.  Throw in Black Market Clash and you have a 7-pack of the best stuff ever composed and compiled.  I have tried to shy away from good/bad/better/best when it comes to artistic opinion, but come now, children.  This shit is the best.  Listening to all this music while penning this post has reminded me just how much that's true.

Anyway… in August of this year, Dave posted a Stranger Things clip at SoD that featured “Should I Stay or Should I Go.” In a tremendously pompous and music snobby retort, someone commented:
“The Clash is indeed the only band that matters. Though I would put SISOSIG at about my 37th favorite Clash tune.

I can list 1-36 if you run out of content here.”
Dave, after much consideration, here’s the list. Enjoy. And remember: without people, you're nothing.

The Twelve Days of Gheorghemas: Day Three Continued

On the third day of Gheorghemas, Big Gheorghe gave to me 

 Three Punk Rock Playlists 
 Two Digits Throughout History 
 And the debut of Mac McFis-ty

Hope everyone enjoyed a morning full of Social D, Local H, and X.  More Day 3.  Postcount!

  1. 1970’s punk, excepting three pillars 
  2. The Ramones 
  3. The Clash 
  4. The Sex Pistols 
  5. 1980’s through today’s punk

God Save the Clarence: Punk Chronicles Vol.4
- The Sex Pistols -

The Sex Pistols.  It would be hard to name any band in history as surrounded with mythology, misinformation, and made-up memories.  Maybe Spinal Tap or The Rutles.

Most music fans fall into one of two categories:
  1. The Sex Pistols invented punk.  They were the first punk band to make it big, and they were pioneers for all the rest.  Their songs like "Anarchy in the U.K." stand the test of time, and their influence remains visible across the industry.
  2. The Sex Pistols were all hype.  They couldn't play their instruments, but their form of vulgar shock rock made them heroes of the underground, immortalized by public acts of rudeness like the infamous Bill Grundy interview on English television.  They were merely puppets of Malcolm McLaren, and their diminutive half-life is evidence that they were talentless hacks acting the part.

The truth, as usual, is somewhere in between.  There is some actuality in each camp:
  • They were one of the first punk bands to break through into commercial success.
  • While their output is extremely limited, songs like "Anarchy" and "God Save the Queen" are among the very best of punk's heyday.
  • Some of them couldn't play their instruments worth a damn. ('ello, Sid.)
  • They were certainly thrust into the public spotlight by that TV spot and other acts of extreme vulgarity.
There are just as many myths needing debunking, though:
  • They didn't invent anything (musically speaking).  The Ramones' debut, The Damned, and a number of other albums predated Never Mind the Bollocks.  And you could argue that Iggy and others from a decade prior fathered them all.
  • They were not devoid of talent; Steve Jones is a respected guitarist, and Glen Matlock did write good songs.
Let's take a step back and provide some overview.

Essential Facts (I say "facts," but any truths about this band are debatable and usually at least embellished.)

The Players
  • John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, sang and whined and shouted and postured (sod off)
  • Steve Jones, played guitars and bass when Sid sucked too bad
  • Paul Cook, drummed
  • Glen Matlock, played bass and wrote music; jettisoned mid-launch
  • John Simon Ritchie or Simon John Ritchie or John Beverley or Simon Beverley, aka Sid Vicious, smacked his bass around and sang a few bits
  • Malcolm McLaren, shop owner (called SEX) and manager of the band, master manipulator
  • Nancy Spungen, screechy girlfriend who was Yoko x 100 but suffered a terrible fate
The Stats and Story
  • Number of studio albums: 1 (Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols)
  • Number of RnR Hall of Fame inductions: 1 (sort of... they rejected it)
  • Formed in 1975
  • In 1977, Glen Matlock left. Cited reasons vary, the one I like best is that he was sacked because he said he liked The Beatles.
  • Enter Sid Vicious, Johnny Rotten's buddy who'd been window dressing in Siouxsie and the Banshees and just a fan who got in fights at shows. He played bass, but the consensus was among everyone that ever played with him that he had zero skill at it.  No matter, as he wasn't really hired to play bass, but rather complete the look, attitude, and reputation of The Sex Pistols.  Cursing, spitting, sneering, fighting, self-mutilating, and doing extraordinary amounts of very hard narcotics were all part of the job description, and Sid's performance evals were tip-top.
  • Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols released 10/28/1977.  1.3 million copies sold worldwide.
  • The Pistols imploded in January 1978.  D-bag McLaren had booked them gigs in redneck bars in the American deep south, then waited to see what would happen.  Sid's heroin habit had ballooned and he brawled with fans.  A number of dates were cancelled.  Not one month into the tour, they split, with Johnny Rotten formally announcing the end. Cited reasons vary, as always.
There were a number of reasons why they couldn't sustain this carnival: it was never about the music to at least half the band; they had a self-serving weasel of a manager who fueled chaos without the experience or inclination to actually lead the band somewhere beneficial; a reputation that become bigger than the band, one they had to live up to at every moment, and which elicited hatred from the mainstream masses and violent fanaticism from the disenfranchised. (Sound familiar?)
  • Sid went solo, silly as that is to say.  His take on Sinatra's "My Way" is everything you'd guess it would be and much, much less.  Worth a cringy listen (below).  
  • Johnny Rotten reverted to John Lydon and formed Public Image Ltd (PiL), an eighties band you'd file under "alternative" more than "punk rock." I like "This Is Not a Love Song," "Rise," and "Seattle." He's now 60.
  • Steve Jones and Paul Cook formed a band called The Professionals, then Jones did some solo work plus some acting and disc jockeying in LA.  Pre-Sentence Dave bought his solo album Fire and Gasoline, mainly because it had Ian and Billy on a song or two.  It wasn't terrible, as I recall. Jones is now 61, Cook is 60.  Steve Jones also did a brooding PSA about not doing drugs, the kind of ad that was de rigeur in the 80's. Drugs suck.
  • Glen Matlock formed the Rich Kids upon his departure, and has subsequently been a member of a whopping 15 different bands.  Honestly, it reads like the Monty Python "Rock Notes" sketch that was the genesis of Toad the Wet Sprocket's name. He is 60.
  • Malcolm McLaren created something called The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle, a film and accompanying "album" in 1980 that tried to make one last buck off their name, reunion tours in 1996, 2006, etc. notwithstanding. He died in 2010 at 64.
No one involved ever became part of anything that overshadowed their 2+ years as The Sex Pistols. Some parlayed it into serviceable careers in the music and adjacent industries.  John Lydon even has a very reputable body of work behind him.  Malcolm McLaren should've made this list when it came out, and he went on to propel/wreck Adam and the Ants and Bow Wow Wow along the way, but it's worth saying that he somewhat intentionally, somewhat inadvertently created the largest punk rock sensation that ever was.

The legacy of the Pistols was less in punk music but more in the style-over-substance engineered fame for fame's sake that was sadly repeatable through the ages.  How many bands could we name who fit that description?  It was never really about the music.  We're lucky we got a few great songs out of the whole affair.

All of that didn't come without a significant casualty.  Simon/John/Sid.  After the Pistols disintegrated, Sid went to New York with Nancy.  Bad times ensued.  Of all the unknown/mistold stories of the Sex Pistols, what happened the night of October 12, 1978 remains the biggest mystery to most.  Nancy was stabbed in the stomach and died.  Sid found her when he awoke from a heroin-induced slumber. Hypotheses vary greatly, ranging from the Occam's razor postulation (no pun intended) that she was annoying and he was a blithering idiot and killed her, to some interesting third party accusations, to the utterly ridiculous, but the scene has been much investigated and leaves some room for doubt.

After bail and legal counsel (aided by Mick Jagger), some more legal trouble, and an ominous sense of a prison sentence, Sid was hanging with family and some junkie buddies on 1 Feb 1979.  He partied, OD'ed, was resuscitated, and partied some more.  Then some more.  And then he passed out and died.  Allegations include the one that his mom gave him the lethal dose, fearing a worse fate for him in prison. A suicide note was found in his pocket, one which read, "We had a death pact, and I have to keep my half of the bargain. Please bury me next to my baby. Bury me in my leather jacket, jeans and motorcycle boots. Goodbye." Horrible all around.  His ashes were scattered on Nancy's grave.  He was 21.

Depraved and disgusting, utterly romantic, pathetic, or sadly tragic, depending on your worldview.

Essential Listening: Never Mind the Bollocks.  That's it.
Essential Viewing: Sid and Nancy.  Gary Oldman,  Chloe Webb.  Ebert gave it 4 stars.  It's gritty, well-acted, and pretty cool. Good soundtrack that includes Joe Strummer.

If you haven't seen it, watch the whole movie, but if you have, and liked it, and want to be reminded of a phenomenal last scene that gave me chills, watch this 2:37 clip again.  I don't know, I used to err on the Sid was pathetic side, but I now think he was victimized pretty fully in it all, and in the end he was just a romantic fool in love with someone who was bad for him but who loved him warts and all in a way that cost them both everything.  Wow.  All right.

Here's your playlist, you stupid gits.