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Archive for June, 2009

Michael Jackson, 1958-2009

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I am very surprised to hear of Michael Jackson’s passing. Jackson, who had heart problems and was trying to make a comeback amidst financial insolvency, apparently died from cardiac arrest.

His enigmatic personal life notwithstanding, he no doubt made a tremendous impact on music. His 1982 album, Thriller, is the number-one selling album of all time.

It amazes me how a man behind such a successful album (not to mention other albums like Off the Wall and Bad could leave behind an estate that, by many accounts, is flat broke. I’m 36, and I suspect that when I’m 50 his estate will probably still be in legal dispute.

Yes, I liked a few of his songs and remember how in grade school, Thriller (along with Van Halen’s 1984 album) was the album to have. I often think his outlandish behavior in the past 15 or so years came from never having had a childhood due to his performing with the Jackson 5.

And, of course, Jackson did do something that shows how nice a guy he was: twice he gave his blessing for “Weird Al” Yankovic to parody his songs. “Beat It” became “Eat It” and “Bad” became “Fat”. Weird Al even released an album spoofing Jackson’s Bad album, titled Even Worse. It shows that Jackson had something that neither Prince nor Eminem* have: a self-deprecating sense of humor.

There will be a period of mourning, despite all the controversy surrounding the accusations of child molestation on his part. Down the road, I suspect we’ll start learning far more about his personal life than we cared to know.

* I’ve never understood why Eminem, who spoofs people all the time in his songs and videos, can’t handle others spoofing him.

My all-time favorite bad guy wrestler, Rick ‘The Model’ Martel

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I always thought he sounded a little strained when he spoke, and now I know why.

Retired professional bad guy wrestler Rick “The Model” Martel was born Richard Vigneault in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. He’s one of the Quebecois, or a French Canadian, and his first language is French. According to his website, early in his wrestling career, he spoke practically no English.

(For non-native English speakers, English tends to be a difficult language to learn).

I remember his megawatt smile, his ego and the atomizer filled with cologne called—fittingly—Arrogance. He had a feud with Jake “The Snake” Roberts in which he sprayed Arrogance in Roberts’ face and temporarily blinded him and then gave a lame apology. Martel wasn’t as mean as “Macho Man” Randy Savage (who often spoke as though severely constipated), but he was funny.

Here’s a montage of some of Martel’s commercials:

Some great poetry from my cousin Jeff

Ok, my previous entry contained some cheesy poetry. For some great poetry, visit this site to see some poems posted by my cousin, Jeff. One pertains to the passing of his father (and my uncle).

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Ode to America’s Overexposed: Jon and Kate

Call me mean, call me cruel, call me one given to hate

But I absolutely couldn’t care less about Jon and Kate.

Please, I beg of you, television news reporters

Talk about something relevant, that’s an order!

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My latest FATZ column: Things I’m starting to suspect

My latest “From A to Zowie” column sent to the Beeville Bee-Picayune

By Richard Zowie
Special to the Bee-Picayune
 
As we approach half a year into the Obama Administration, there are some things I’ve been suspecting lately.
 
One: President Obama knew exactly what he was doing when he chose Joe Biden to become his running mate.
 
Many of us have laughed lately at the crazy comments of Vice President Biden, whether it’s been saying nobody should fly during the much-ballyhooed swine flu crisis, joking that his boss President Obama is a deer in the headlights when his teleprompter isn’t working or leaking the location of the vice president’s bunker. Some have started to wonder why Obama chose Biden as his running mate when he could’ve chosen Hillary Clinton, John Kerry or even that brilliant Democratic statesman, Sean Penn.
 
I’ve wondered that, myself. Biden was said to have lots of experience and a handle on foreign policy. But when you consider his erratic, unpredictable gaffes, one has to wonder.
 
I think Obama’s logic can be summed up this way: insurance from impeachment and assassination. Consider this pseudo conversation:
 
Reporter: Mr. President, there have been rumors that you will be impeached and some white supremacy groups have talked of assassinating you. Are you seeking council over this?
 
Obama (after laughing himself to tears for five minutes): Why? Anyone who tries to remove me from office is crazy. I mean, would you want Crazy Joe leading this country?
 
Reporter: Well, I thought you chose him because of his exper—
 
Obama: Actually, that was a rhetorical question. Nobody in their right mind wants him to be president. I mean, if I ever have a late night and need something to keep me going when a triple espresso and Red Bull won’t work, all I have to think of is Joe with his hand anywhere within an area code of the brief case with all the launch codes.
 
The media, meanwhile, treats Biden as a harmless comical diversion. This, of course, means they have a lot of apologizing to do to former Vice President Dan Quayle.
 
Two: When non-stories are the lead stories, you know a paper’s desperate for news.
 
If an autopsy’s ever done on journalism, I suspect the cause of death will be gross mismanagement by people who wouldn’t know a noun from a verb.
 
Especially if we’re talking about newspapers like the Flint Journal. This once-daily paper is now down to three days a week in its print version and is otherwise online only. Those I know who’ve worked there say the newspaper has been killed by incompetent editors. (The infamous “Bandit” edition of the Journal is a stellar example). Basically, the same thing that ails General Motors: take a useless employee and “punish” them by moving them into a management position. Bad management makes for even worse decisions.
 
Right now, Flint is dealing with deficits, urban decay, crime and people moving out of state due to the abhorrent economy we have here.
 
So, in the June 17, 2009 issue of the Journal, what was the lead story?
 
Rush Limbaugh saying Flint should be “bulldozed.”
 
Genesee County (where Flint is) treasurer Daniel Kildee took Limbaugh to task, telling him he didn’t know what he was talking about and how dare he make thoughtless comments.
 
Righteous indignation can be great, unless it’s misplaced. Reading over the article and over the transcripts from Rush’s show, it looks like Journal reporter Ron Fonger just grabbed comments out of context and wrote the article. After all, why let the facts get in the way of a great news article?
 
Earlier that week on Limbaugh’s show, a caller from Flushing, Mich. (a Flint suburb) called and talked about the crime in Flint and how the city could deal with crime and save money in the process by bulldozing the decrepit houses and buildings nobody lives in or uses. Limbaugh had referenced a story that called for the bulldozing of 40 percent of Flint for these reasons. Later in the transcript, Rush does say bulldoze the whole city, but if you examine it you can clearly see it’s said tongue-in-cheek—something Limbaugh is notorious for doing.
 
Folks, I live about 30 miles outside Flint and have been there countless times. While Flint bears some sentimentality since it’s my wife Jennifer’s birthplace, I go there these days only when absolutely necessary. Frankly, there are indeed lots of places that could stand to be torn down to give drug users and dealers, gangs and other unsavory people fewer places to congregate.
 
What’s more, the headline and story was done in white print on a black background with red used in the headline. For a newspaper that’s done buyouts, layoffs and is cutting back to thrice weekly print editions, that seems like a frivolous way to spend money on what amounts as an entertainment section story. I understand when the editors of the Journal decided to go with this as a lead story, there was much consternation in the news room …
 
Three: Within the next 20 years, Iran will go through a revolution that’ll make the French Revolution pale in comparison.
 
We remember from the French Revolution that both King Louis XIV and his wife Marie Antoinette were beheaded as the country deposed the monarchy. Some say the younger Iranian generation is getting very fed up with how the Islamic regime rules the country. Is it possible someday soon we could see current president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad publicly executed and portraits of the late Ayatollah Khomeini and the current Ayatollah Khamenei spat or urinated upon?
 
Richard Zowie grew up in Beeville and now works as a writer in Michigan. His column’s blog is at www.fromatozowie.wordpress.com, and he can be reached at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Respecting Shaquille O’Neal

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I must admit it. One of my favorite teams in basketball is the San Antonio Spurs. So, it goes without saying I used to loathe Shaquille O’Neal. When the Big Aristotle called the Spurs’ 1999 NBA championship one that should have an asterisk, it steamed me. When he’d gripe about referees actually making foul calls on him, I’d get angry.

But, I must say, I’ve mellowed on him.

One: unlike many NBA stars, O’Neal has no criminal record. He’s never been arrested for DUI, never been arrested for rape or assault.

Two: He seems to be a smart guy with his money, and he keeps it in perspective. O’Neal told Sports Illustrated in 2002 how he has one guy who watches his money, a few people who watch that guy and trusts nobody outside his trusted circle of family and friends.

What’s wrong with that? Absolutely nothing.

O’Neal also talked about the stress he has and the problems he deals with. He admitted he’s moody and hates talking on the phone. He’s mature enough to realize that while money can be nice, it won’t solve all your problems.

Third: I’ve come to understand his attitude on the court more. O’Neal told SI about how the Houston Rockets swept the Orlando Magic early in his career when he played for the Magic, and from that he realized he’d never make it in the NBA by being a nice guy. He’d have to get more aggressive.

From this article, which I uncovered from an old issue of the magazine, I saw O’Neal’s a far more complex person than I’d imagined. I thought it was interesting how he says he was to the point in his career where he doesn’t enjoy playing basketball anymore because of all the stress. It reminds me a lot of Joe DiMaggio and why he retired: baseball’s no longer fun, and therefore, no longer a game.

Richard Zowie, guitarist?!

One of my secret ambitions in life is to someday play the guitar. I’ve always struggled with this since I’m left-handed and since chord books are difficult for me to read. One thing that has motivated me in recent years was learning my paternal grandmother and my maternal great-grandfather both played guitars or similar instruments.

So, we recently visited Bauman’s Music in Clio, Michigan and looked around. Acoustics and electric guitars. Both four and five-string basses. I saw Fenders and even a Gretsch. Some had whammy bars on them (it’s probably my OCD proclivities, but I’ve always been fascinated by whammies). I spoke with the owner and had a great chat. Among his tidbits of advice:

1) Having small hands (which I do) does not mean you can’t play guitar.

2) Even if you’re left-handed, don’t be afraid to try a right-handed guitar. Try playing both ways and see which works best for you. Joe Perry of Aerosmith and Michael Anthony (formerly of Van Halen) of Chickenfoot are two examples of natural left-handers who play right-handed. There are also natural righties who play left-handed simply because they like having their dominant hand holding the chords.

Also, since lefty guitars are hard to find (especially if you play the bass), they tend to be more expensive. The lefty Fender they had at the shop was on consignment and was on sale for about $800.

3) What kind of guitar? Gretsch (the late Beatle, George Harrison, used them)? Fender (Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens)? Gibson (Slash, Marlon Young of Kid Rock’s Twisted Brown Trucker band and Billy Joe Armstrong of Green Day)? Try out the different kinds and find one you feel the most comfortable with.

4) Whammy or not? It can be fun to “bend” the sound with vibratto, but I’ve also heard they can be a pain to keep tuned. I read once that the Les Paul Gibson-playing Ace Frehley, the longtime lead guitarist of KISS, experimented with a whammy but then discarded it because it wasn’t his style.

4) While some I’ve spoken to advise learning on an acoustic, this gent told me that if a person wants to learn the electric guitar, it doesn’t hurt to learn on electric. Besides, the electric guitar strings tend to be thinner than an acoustic, making the chords easier to hold.