Thursday, January 28, 2016

Emperor Trump 's Clothes

One way to look at the biggest political story of the 2016 presidential campaign is to see that Donald Trump sure as hell knows how to play the press. Hasn't he proven he's chock full of savvy about how to capture the spotlight? Isn't everyone impressed with his skill for holding its attention? 

Conveniently, those rhetorical questions set up the concept that Conductor Trump has orchestrated his big lead in the opinion polls. Not votes. Polls. While that is a good story, it's not the complete picture. 

Front-runner Trump is competing with a particularly unattractive and bumbling group of rivals. Jeb Bush's zillion-dollar ineptitude has been stunning.

On top of that, a lot of Americans now hate the federal government and they aren't so happy with whoever seems to be in charge of Team Elephant, either. Yes, Trump is good at appealing to the passions that fuels those grievances. Plus, there's another angle to consider. 

The establishment media presenting the story of the 2016 campaign have a big stake in creating the impression that they can still have a lot of impact on the making of a president. They want us to blindly believe in the credibility of their polls. Their polls results are frequently at the top of the news. They also don't want us to question whether political advertising is still working as well as it ever did. Thus, stories about clever or ham-handed political ads also fill up time and space.

Those stories about polls and ads work together to boost us into buying their crafted in-house truths. They also help to promulgate a sense that today's editors and news directors and adverting executives have as much influence on society as their predecessors did.

But my take on this scam-in-progress is that the advertising world is desperate to reverse a dangerous trend. Every day more people can tell the advertising industry just isn't producing such predictably profitable results. Ask Jeb Bush how well the fortune that's been spent in advertising on his behalf has boosted his campaign this year. He's not the only candidate whose ads are not delivering. And, who hasn't noticed that today's press-release-driven news business has lost its charm on consumers? In well appointed board rooms, both entities' fear of the potential of social media has to be escalating.

So the manufactured story the establishment media are selling this chilly season is that Emperor Trump's fascinating success is living and breathing proof the folks who brought us our lovable consumer culture are still in charge of shaping perception. After all, haven't they just put front-runner's clothes on the newest poobah? 

As always, readers are advised to believe what they will.  

Friday, January 22, 2016

Recollections in High Contrast

 

Snow brings back memories. When we see the way snow makes the world around us resemble a high contrast black and white photograph, we can't help but connect to when we saw that distinctive look before. It's a look we don't see every year in Richmond, Virginia.

We remember when a happy puppy first encountered snow. We remember snowball fights and the raised-glass revelry in crowded Fan District bars. We remember particular people we associate with yesteryear's snowy landscapes.

In the winter of 1958-59 I had just turned 11. Buster was probably six or seven months old when he saw his first snow. He was a white mutt, supposedly he had some Spitz in him. Watching him rooting in the snow, barking at it, rolling in it, was hilarious. He seemed to absolutely love the smell and feel of snow.

Maybe the best snowball shot I ever made was in the early '80s on West Grace Street. Rebby Sharp and I were across the street from the Biograph Theatre, ducked down behind some parked cars. It was after dark but I can't say how late it was. There was a snowfall underway and it was sticking. Rebby and I were battling some friends, who were in front of Don's Hot Nuts, next door to the cinema, which I managed in those days.

Rebby and her band, the Orthotonics, used to practice sometimes in the theater's large auditorium during off-hours. Some of Rebby's fans might not know it, but she wasn't a bad athlete; she pitched for the Biograph's women's softball team had a decent throwing arm.

When some snowballs thumped off of Donald Cooper's peculiar bright green candy business storefront, he came out on his porch to tell the snowball fighters to scram. As everyone associated with the Biograph knew Cooper to be an utter pest and the worst neighbor in the world, there was no need for a plan.

Rebby threw first. My throw left with dispatch a split second later. Both were superbly well put shots. When Cooper extended his hand to block Rebby's incoming snowball it shattered to shower him. Then my throw hit him square in the face ... ba-da-bing!

Cooper abruptly quit his stance and retired for the night.

The best rides in the snow I can remember were at Libby Hill Park. In the late-'70s and early-'80s I spent a lot of time up there. Used to play Frisbee-golf in that park quite a bit. And, there were a few heavy snows in that same period, which drew thrill-riders to what was then called the Slide of Death.

We rode inflated inner tubes from the top of a series of hills in the radically sloped park down to Main Street below, next to Poe's Pub. When the snow was right those tubes went airborne at least a couple of times; the fast ride was quite exhilarating.

There was a particular time that stands out. Dennison Macdonald, who died in 1984, had hosed down the first hill, so it would freeze in the frigid air and make the track as slick and quick as greased lightning.

Eventually, that night, the run to the bottom got so fast you had to be drunk to take the risk of riding, which wasn't a problem for those of us standing around a fire-barrel passing a bottle of Bushmills around between wild rides.

Chuck Wrenn still lives across the street from the launching point of the old Slide of Death. After a snowfall a few years ago he and I laughing recalled that night. The sight of Duck Baker pretending he was going to ride a big shaggy dog down the chute was cited. For whatever reason, the dog happily went along with the gag each time Duck hoisted him up. Please note Duck didn't really ride the dog down the hill, but that pair of comics had us laughing so hard, it's still funny thirty-some years later.

Of course, to fully appreciate this story, you should be standing in snow up to mid-calf ... drinking Irish whiskey.

-- 30 --

-- Words and photo by F.T. Rea

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Color Radio (1982-84)


On August 26, 1982, Color Radio began beaming its signal to what its creators hoped would be an eager listening audience in Richmond and Henrico County. Those listeners needed to have a TV hookup via Continental Cablevision. That was the day Color Radio became the soundtrack behind Continental's color bars test pattern at Channel 36 ... so watching the television screen was optional.

To launch the station’s journey, Les Smith signed on with his show -- Music Appreciation 101. In his college days Smith had been a disc jockey (1969-72) at WJRB, VCU’s radio station. Then he performed the same role (1972-75) at WGOE, the daytime AM station that owned the hippie audience in Richmond for most of the 1970s.

Smith probably had the most on-air experience of the original cast of characters who breathed life into the venture, which was the brainchild of Burt Blackburn. He had been a program director at Virginia Tech’s radio station (1977-79). In Blacksburg the cable TV provider had carried Tech’s station on one of its blank channels. Color Radio's first studio was in Blackburn's Fan District basement. It was linked to Continental’s facility by an ordinary telephone line.

“In June, 1982 [Burt Blackburn] conceived the idea of a ‘radio station’ utilizing one of Continental Cablevision’s empty channels,” wrote Smith in a 2001 remembrance of Channel 36. “He approached Continental’s Virginia marketing manager, Matt Zoller, who liked the idea and encouraged Blackburn to proceed. Zoller himself had been involved in college radio [at William & Mary].”

By the time I came aboard as a disc jokey in October the station had situated its studio on the second floor over The Track, a popular Carytown restaurant (1978-2009) owned by Chris Liles. The studio was made up mostly of secondhand audio equipment acquired by donation or from yard sales.

While all the staff members were volunteers, it was really more like you had to be asked. Donna Parker asked me to come aboard to alternate with her for one shift every other week. Subsequently, my show, “Number 9,” was on the air, I mean cable, for three hours, on alternating Thursday afternoons.

Later, when Donna changed the time for her show, I asked Chuck Wrenn to replace her.

In April of 1983 the studio was moved downtown to the second floor of 7 E. Broad St. As the station had been acquired by the corporation that owned Throttle magazine (1981-1999), the two entities began awkwardly sharing a huge office space over what was then the Neopolitan Gallery (1983-85).

Along the way, I eventually took charge of advertising sales and promotions for the station. The handbill above was for a 1983 fundraiser that I booked into Rockitz, to benefit Color Radio. The headliner, 10,000 Maniacs, was a group out of Jamestown, N.Y. The band had been building a following from its well received appearances at two of the most popular clubs in the Fan, Benny’s and Hard Times. The lead singer was a 19-year-old Natalie Merchant.

A few weeks prior to the live show at Rockitz, I taped an interview with Merchant for my Number 9 program. What follows is the text of the beginning of that 1983 interview; Merchant starts by answering my question about what it was she and her friends in the band were looking to gain from touring and recording their music. Was it all for fun, or did they want to spread some message, or get rich, or what?

With a pleasant mixture of shyness and confidence, she laughed, then dealt with the question.
Merchant: We haven’t yet assumed our adult responsibilities. We don’t have enough income to live away from our parents yet. Sure, I’d like to be independent of my parents. After that, anything … any success that comes, I’ll accept that. I’m not intimidated by the mass media. I think it would be a great tool to reach more people.

Rea: Reach them with what?

Merchant: With what we’re saying … with what I’m saying.

Rea: What are you saying?

Merchant: I write the words. Most of what I’m saying is that music should be instructive.

Rea: Instructive?

Merchant: It should teach you something, even if it’s just building your vocabulary and making you realize you feel good when you dance. Anything you can learn … I don’t know (she laughs). Probably by the time we can reach more people, I’ll be more sure of what I’m trying to say.
Later in the interview, I asked Natalie about the name of the band. She said one of the guys took it from a movie, a 1960s low-budget gore fest. Ever the incurable movie expert, I laughed and suggested the actual name of the film was “2,000 Maniacs.”

Natalie barely smiled and almost shrugged, as if to say — 10,000 sounds better, so who cares?

Others I interviewed for the Number 9 show included movie director Penelope Spheeris and former adman and WGOE personality, now known as the Pope of Peppers, Dave DeWitt.

We didn’t know it then, but Color Radio was an aspect of the last gasp of the Baby Boomer-driven, live music scene that had been centered in the Fan District for nearly 20 years. That time spanned the sunset of the Beat Era, through the heyday of the hippies, to the last of the punks at the party. As the 1980s wore on Shockoe Bottom became the happening part of town for clubs featuring live music.

At Color Radio, when the microphones were switched on there was no filter. Authorities at Continental Cabelvision seemed unconcerned with what went on. It was wilder than WGOE had been in its rather freewheeling days in the early ’70s, before it got busted by the Federal Communications Commission.

Unlike WGOE, Color Radio had no FCC oversight.

The programming at Color Radio was left totally to the DJs, many of whom were connected to the local live music scene in some way. It was sort of like an offshore pirate station; the ride lasted two years. That nobody got sued or went to jail was amazing.

The format, in unrelated blocks, ranged from Punk to Funk, from Rock to Bach and beyond. Some shows were all talk. There were comedy programs and, yes, sometimes things got raunchy, or weird. What follows is a list of the shows that made up the 92 hours of programming a week that Color Radio offered its listeners in February of 1984.
Sunday
9 a.m. – 10 a.m.: World Watchers International
10 a.m. – 1 p.m.: World Traditions
1 p.m. – 4 p.m.: Out to Lunch
4 p.m. – 7 p.m.: Kaleidophonic Merry-Go-Sound World
7 p.m. – 10 p.m.: The Bedlam Broadcast
10 p.m. – 1 a.m.: Fontana Mix

Monday
1 p.m. – 4 p.m.: Like What You’re Told
4 p.m. – 7 p.m.: The Bubba Show
7 p.m. – 10 p.m.: Hardcore Skate
10 p.m. – 1 a.m.: Mark Mumford

Tuesday
1 p.m. – 4 p.m.: Down on the Collective
4 p.m. – 7 p.m.: Big Music
7 p.m. – 10 p.m.: Heavy Metal for Housewives
10 p.m. – 1 a.m.: Beef Lips Special

Wednesday
1 p.m. – 4 p.m.: Life in the Gladhouse
4 p.m. – 7 p.m.: All My Tapes
7 p.m. – 10 p.m.: Tommy the Rock
10 p.m. – 1 a.m.: Blood Blister, alternating w/ Georgeann
1 a.m. – 2 a.m.: World Watchers International

Thursday
1 p.m. – 4 p.m.: D-Virg Anti-Fascist Radioshoe
4 p.m. – 7 p.m.: Number 9, alternating w/ Rockin’ Daddy & the Cold Ones
7 p.m. – 10 p.m.: Music Appreciation 101, alternating w/ Test Bands
10 p.m. – 1 a.m.: The Arash Show

Friday
1 p.m. – 4 p.m.: Hardcore Skate
4 p.m. – 7 p.m.: The Hiding from Suburbia Show
7 p.m. – 10 p.m.: Hardcore Hour of Power
10 p.m. – 1 a.m.: Down on the Collective

Saturday
10 a.m. – 1 p.m.: Two-Tone Tony’s Lost Highway
1 p.m. – 4 p.m.: Frontline
4 p.m. – 7 p.m.: Chasin’ the Bird
7 p.m. – 10 p.m.: Music I Like
10 p.m. – 1 a.m.: The Kenny Substitute Show
*

One of the things Color Radio did, much more so than any other local station, was to support local bands. So low-budget recordings were played and musicians were interviewed. Thus, Color Radio contributed to the feeling there was an authentic scene with a keen awareness of itself. It was a loose scene that orbited tightly around VCU.

Some of the locally-based bands that were heard on/promoted by Color Radio were: Awareness Art Ensemble, Beex, The Bop Cats, The Bowties, Burma Jam, The Dads, Death Piggy, The Degenerate Blind Boys, The Good Guys, The Good Humor Band, The Fabulous Daturas, The Heretics, Honor Role, L’Amour, The Megatonz, The Millionaires, The New York Dux, The Non-Dairy Screamers, The Offenders, The Orthotonics, The Prevaricators, Shake and the Drakes, Single Bullet Theory, Surrender Dorothy, Ten Ten, The Tom and Marty Band, The Toronados, White Cross.


All rights reserved by the author.  

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

'Napoleon' in Manhattan

Note from Rebus: In 1978 and 1981 Rea was dispatched to Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively, to work on projects for his bosses. They owned a couple of other theaters and sometimes acted as regional sub-distributors of independently produced American movies, as well as some foreign films. And, they had other movie-related interests.

This story is about another business trip, this time to New York City. To get there Rea drove his Volvo wagon to Washington and took the train to New York. That way he got to visit a grand old train station and he avoided using the sad little station in Henrico County. Which, in 1981, was a good idea for anyone wanting to take along an appropriate supply of already rolled reefers.


'Napoleon' in Manhattan 
by F.T. Rea
A chat about old cinemas with a master projection booth technician I met a couple of years ago brought to mind a special movie-watching experience of mine. Later, I laughed to myself about the related eye-pain memory it had dusted off.  

The conversation was with Chapin Cutler. He told me he had worked in the booth at the old Orson Welles Cinema in Cambridge in his youth. In my early days as manager at the Biograph I had a few telephone conversations with that famous movie theater’s manager (I don‘t recall his name). Occasionally I talked with my counterparts at repertory cinemas/art houses in other cities about shipping prints back and forth, etc. The Orson Welles was known as a trend-setter.

Cutler also said he was working in the booth at Radio City Music Hall when I saw Abel Gance‘s “Napoleon” on October 24, 1981. He had supervised the installation of the synchronized three-projector system it took to present Gance’s restored 1927 masterpiece in a fashion that was faithful to what Gance had called “polyvision,” which entailed split screen images and other effects, including some color.

The restoration of the film was a great story, itself. It had been a 20-year project supervised by film historian Kevin Brownlow. Then the film, which had been released over the years at various lengths -- with versions that ran over five hours and some that ran under two -- was edited down to a four-hour version by Francis Ford Coppola, whose company, American Zoetrope, released it.

Just as the French filmmaker had originally envisioned, a live orchestra accompanied the silent film. It played a new score that had been written by Carmine Coppola, father of Francis Ford Coppola. The power the music added to the overall experience would be difficult to overstate.

Throughout the 1920s Abel Gance had been seen as a great innovator, even a genius. Then came the mammoth production, “Napoleon,” and its abysmal failure at the box office. It cost a theater a lot of money to install all the equipment it took to present it properly, with three projectors working in unison. So its first run didn’t go well. Talkies soon came along and silent films, no matter how avant-garde, were shelved.

Although he kept working on film-making projects, Gance sometimes spiraled into dark periods of despair. There was a point when he was said to have burned some of the footage from his original cut of “Napoleon.” Who knows what its true running time ought to be? I’ve read accounts that suggest Gance wanted it to run nine hours. And, he wanted to make sequels.

Eventually, Gance became somewhat obsessed with re-editing “Napoleon,” perpetually trying to transform some version of it into an important film that could be watched and appreciated by a wide audience. Some observers must have seen him as a washed up crackpot and anything but a good risk.  

To get to Manhattan I drove to DeeCee and took the train to New York. During the Metroliner trip from Union Station to Penn Station I read several Charles Bukowski stories from a paperback edition of “Erections, Ejaculations, Exhibitions, and General Tales of Ordinary Madness.” It had been purchased at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco eight months earlier that year, but I hadn‘t read much of it since the airplane trip home.

Reading several of Bukowski’s tight, briefly-told tales back-to-back on a fast-moving train really knocked me out. The feeling I had about the story called “The Most Beautiful Woman in Town,” is still easy to conjure up. To top it off, the whole trip was part of a business project -- I was traveling on other people’s money!

My Biograph bosses in Georgetown wanted me to assess the commercial potential of “Napoleon” for smaller markets in the mid-Atlantic region, because they were considering a bold move to become a sub-distributor of the film. 

Then, bad luck flung a cinder into my eye during my walk to the theater. When the movie started I couldn’t watch it because I couldn’t get the damn thing out of my eye. It felt like a sharp-edged boulder. Since my mission was to WATCH the movie I had to do something, fast, so I went out to the lobby.

Corny as it sounds I asked the first Radio City Music Hall employee I encountered if there was a doctor in the house.

The answer was, “Yes.”

Hey this was Manhattan. Of course there was a doctor on duty to take care of medical emergencies and yes, to flush blinding cinders out of the patrons’ eyes; although the cinder had packed quite a punch, the thing actually weighed less than a pound.

The movie was spectacular. It was overwhelming. I returned to Richmond more than a little enthusiastic about the possibility of being associated with screening the movie at the Mosque in Richmond and in other large theaters in the region.

Unfortunately, the notion of playing Gance’s greatest film in cities all over the country, accompanied by live orchestras, withered and died. When it went into general release the sound was put on the film in a conventional way. Cinemascope was used to show the triptych effect.     

So the deal my bosses had in mind never materialized. Still, the new four-hour version of “Napoleon” did run at the Biograph in February of 1983, to mark the theater’s 11th anniversary. It was still impressive, but not at all what it had been like at my first viewing. At least I got to see the part I had missed before.  

Abel Gance died at the age of 92. He had lived long enough to see his reputation as a great filmmaker totally rehabilitated. His death came just three weeks after I saw “Napoleon.” Once again, critics were calling him a genius. Which, to me, represents a happy ending to this meandering story. 

*

Fan Free Funnies

About this time of year in 1973, I was working on the inking of my page in the first issue of Fan Free Funnies. It featured a nine-panel strip starring Rebus and at the bottom of the page I did a political cartoon hammering Nixon. At the time I was playing a lot of chess, so I used that context. What follows is an excerpt of Biograph Times -- a work in progress.
Note from Rebus: During the spring semester of 1973 the student newspaper at Virginia Commonwealth University published three tabloid supplements that were inspired by the underground comix of that age. The first of these issues featured my breakthrough role in an edgy strip in which Rea presented me for the first time as just Rebus, an everyman character apart from the Biograph spokesdog persona. A version of this story appeared in STYLE Weekly in 2009. 
Fan Free Funnies
by F.T. Rea
Rebus was having a bad day; detail from the first
Rebus strip in Fan Free Funnies.
The timing was perfect for Fan Free Funnies, as this was the zenith of the hippie era in the Fan District neighborhood VCU's academic campus is part of.  

In the Fan, in the early-1970s, there was a group of young, mostly VCU-trained artists, who created paintings and prints in a style that owed much to old animated cartoons. Some of them were also making short films in Super 8 and 16mm and hung out at the Biograph.

Due to his well-honed talent for drawing cartoons, the most obvious of this pack was Phil Trumbo. “We were all influenced by the amazing work of sixties underground cartoonists," said Trumbo, “like Robert Crumb, Rick Griffith, S. Clay Wilson and Trina Robbins.”

R. Crumb was the most celebrated of the underground artists from the days when cartoonists bitterly lampooning the tastes and values of middle class America were having a noticeable impact on popular culture. Spontaneously, Crumb launched the movement in 1967, selling his Zap Comix No. 1 out of a baby carriage on San Francisco sidewalks. 

"Ed Slipek, the editor of VCU's student newspaper, Commonwealth Times, approached me to help create an underground-comix-style supplement,” said Trumbo. “I suppose he contacted me because I had done some independent comics and was exhibiting paintings influenced by comics imagery.” 

Slipek asked each of the invited artists to create a full page, drawn to proportion, in black and white. Some submitted a page of images set within traditional comic strip frames; others wandered into loose, more avant-garde styles.

For me, it meant creating the first strip for Rebus. Before Rebus even had a name, he had been appearing in my flyers touting midnight shows at the Biograph Theatre. I went to school on how R. Crumb used Mr. Natural as a spokesman, sometimes like a carnival barker.  But Rebus wasn't a holy man, he was a schlemiel with a dog's head.

Not long after the first issue of Fan Free Funnies came out, my three-year-old daughter, Katey, asked me a question. Pointing at her most recent birthday card pinned to her bedroom wall -- with Rebus on it -- she asked, “Is Rebus real?”

I shrugged. “What do you mean?”

She said, “Like Bugs Bunny and Donald Duck.”

“Sure,” I said, “Rebus is real. But only the cool people know about him.”

Phil left Richmond in 1984 to pursue a career in animation, which eventually led him to the West Coast and being the Art Director of Entertainment Media at Hidden City Games. Along the way he picked up an Emmy Award for his art direction on Pee Wee’s Playhouse. 

Charles Vess was another of the artists who participated in the Fan Free Funnies project, who has made a name as an award-winning illustrator. Vess’ art has been seen in Heavy Metal and National Lampoon. He has worked for comic book publishers such as Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, and Epic.

The other featured FFF artists were: Bruce Barnes, Damian Bennett, Eric Bowman, Michael Cody, Jeff Davis, Joanne Fridley, Stanley Garth, Gregg Kemp, John McWillaims, Nancy Mead, Dale Milford, Bill Nelson, Trent Nicholas, Alan R. O’Neal, Ragan Reaves and Verlon Vrana.

“Fan Free Funnies was a really diverse collection, representing vastly different graphic styles and inventive, experimental approaches to sequential storytelling,” said Trumbo.
Phil Trumbo's cover art (from VCU Libraries) 

Monday, January 18, 2016

VCU and Its RPI

Unlike the AP Poll, which is based on supposedly expert opinions, the computer-generated RPI numbers are calculated to reflect the relative strengths of the 351 college basketball teams in Division I. By their nature the numbers are expected to steadily become more reliable as the season wears on.

At the end of the regular season in March, those numbers will weigh heavily on decisions to invite 36 at-large teams to the NCAA championship tournament. At-large, in this context, means teams that didn't win their conference's championship but are nonetheless deemed worthy, based on their records and the perception of their conference's strength among the 32 conferences in D-I.

So 68 teams get to go to the Big Dance. Every season pundits stimulate fans to argue about which teams have been unjustly snubbed. And, so it goes...

As of today, VCU (13-5, 5-0 in A-10) is sitting at No. 71 in the CBS Sports RPI. If it's still about the same place in March that won't bode well. To date, the Rams have only beaten two teams with a better RPI – Mid. Tenn. St. (No. 56) and St. Joe's (No. 33). VCU has lost to three teams with a better RPI – Duke (No. 19), Fla. St. (No. 49) and Georgia Tech (No. 60).

Beating teams with a worse RPI doesn't reward you much in this game, it might even hurt your rating, because strength of schedule is a big factor. So convincing wins over the likes of American (No. 336), Prairie View (No. 342) and Liberty (No. 343) don't convince the NCAA powers that be of anything that helps the Rams' cause. However with VCU riding an eight-game winning streak, its RPI has slowly improved during that stint. Slowly, because for the most part the Rams haven't been beating more respected teams.

Soon the opportunity to change that factor will present itself. Upcoming match-ups with St. Bonaventure (No. 54) and Dayton (No. 10), and two games apiece with George Washington (No. 34) and Davidson (No. 35) will be watched closely by the selection committee.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Obama Was Too Happy

When I watched Obama's speech on Tuesday night I was struck by one thing more than any other and it wasn't anything in particular he said. It was his relaxed tone. How much it reflected his state of mind and how much of it was projected – a performance – I'll resist speculating about. 

However, Obama's words weren't nearly as sharply partisan as they have been at times. He wasn't as entertainingly sarcastic as he can be. I think that may be part of why we aren't hearing Republicans complain so much about his proposals. Obama seemed more a president and less the Democrat's top dog. And, so far, the fury of the GOP's spokespersons and presidential candidates has been directed at Obama's manner more than the substance of his speech. 

Obama didn't use his last State of the Union speech to fume at opponents and it pissed some of them off. He seemed optimistic, almost lighthearted. He wasn't threatening enemies, real and imagined; he wasn't issuing ultimatums.

Moreover, Obama seemed so genuinely comfortable in his shoes that it provided a rather stark contrast to how uncomfortable and phony most of the Republican hopefuls seemed last night. So, I'm guessing Obama isn't much surprised that Republicans are inventing apologies to Iran that were never made.

It makes me think that with his mild-mannered speech Obama deliberately set up the angry Republicans he figured would jump at the bait 48 hours later. Interestingly, with her response, the poised Nikki Haley didn't.

As time goes by we'll see how that plays out, but I think Haley was wisely looking at the future – when some of the trash-talking Republican on stage in South Carolina last night will have been assigned their proper place in the dustbin of history. 

In the meantime, we'll all have to put up with Republicans on the make who are outraged about Obama's speech, because he was just too damn happy.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Enter Eugene Trani

This time columnist Mark Holmberg is right -- whether Eugene Trani's train station becomes a part of what happens, or not, for several sound reasons baseball should stay on the Boulevard.
Enter Eugene Trani, the grizzled warrior who has saved Richmond before. He is revered by many and reviled by others, so his 76-year-old voice carries across the battle lines. This week, his opinion piece on the matter — published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch — got lots of attention. He proposed renovating The Diamond on the Boulevard, but make it a state-of-the-art multiuse facility so we can have concerts and other events there.
Click here to read the entire piece in the Richmond Times-Dispatch (and as painful as it might be, glance over the comments under it).

The train station component sounds interesting, but I'll have to see more information about it before I hop aboard the bandwagon for that aspect of Trani's proposal. However, the notion of making that neighborhood into a transportation hub makes sense to me.

Beyond its apt commentary, Holmberg's column (online) offers a chance for all of us to see an aspect of why this debate has gone on for over 10 years. Take a look at the blustery comments section. Yes, it's typical, in that much of what appears under the article amounts to useless venting by people who post the same sort of guff under any article. However, one comment, in particular, stands out as a perfect example of why many of the people in Richmond who agree with Trani about where to play baseball haven't been able to build a consensus, to work in concert to settle this controversy.

Please note: the writer of the aforementioned comment under Holmberg's piece couldn't resist bashing Eugene Trani (pictured above), even if the commenter basically agrees with the thrust of Trani's proposal to keep baseball on the Boulevard. The commenter says Trani's support for keeping baseball on the Boulevard is late in coming. Problem is, that's simply not true. Beyond that false charge, this commenter is suffering because Trani didn't give activists – like him! – credit for opposing baseball in The Bottom; then the sufferer digresses into pure character assassination.

This sort of pettiness poisons the debate. And, it's been going on for most of the 10 years this brouhaha has been underway. If this particular commenter were the only one dwelling on his own personal grudges, under the guise of community activism, it wouldn't matter all that much.

Unfortunately, the baseball stadium issue has drawn so many vociferous poisoners to it – on all sides of the issue – that the Save The Diamond movement has been somewhat tainted by the splatter of poison. Likewise, the movement to build a museum devoted to telling the story of Richmond's slave market has been slowed by that same sort of poisonous splatter.

In no way should my observations here be construed to be anti-activist. What I'm against is hurling poison into debates, based on one's personal grudges. Calling such mean-spirited mischief "activism," sometimes puts a bad face on the sincere efforts of a lot of good people who are working in earnest to solve problems, rather than perpetuate them.   

-- 30 --

Monday, January 04, 2016

Saying Goodbye to the R-Braves

 Paul DiPasquale's "Connecticut"

Reading former-VCU president Gene Trani's piece in yesterday's RT-D was interesting. Wisely, Trani seems to think baseball ought to stay on The Boulevard. While reading it, I chuckled thinking of some regular bashers of Trani and all things VCU, who now find themselves on the same side of the stadium issue.

Rather than the frustrating politics of the longstanding brouhaha, sometimes mulling over the baseball stadium issue brings to mind memories of particular games. In 2008 I covered the last game the Richmond Braves played at The Diamond. Here’s what I wrote for Richmond.com:
Saying Goodbye

F.T. Rea
Richmond.com
Tuesday, September 02, 2008


On a warm sunlit Labor Day afternoon, before a nearly packed house (12,167 officially), the Richmond Braves put on a crowd-pleasing display, soundly defeating the visiting Norfolk Tides by a score of 9-3.

After the second out of the ninth was recorded the fans came to their feet in anticipation of the final out. Braves pitcher Brad Nelson walked Brandon Fahey. Then leftfielder Scott Thorman lost a routine popup in the sun and there were two on base. The last putout was made by R-Braves centerfielder Carl Loadenthal, who caught a fly ball off the bat of Luis Terrero.

With that last putout, 42 years (43 seasons) of Braves baseball on the Boulevard ended. Basically, the team’s owner, the Atlanta Braves, decided it would rather its Triple A farm club play its home games in Gwinnett County, a suburb of Atlanta.    

A sign of the change was in the press box, as a reporter for the Gwinnett Daily Post, Guy Curtwright, was covering the game.  

Leonard Alley, who was the official scorer for Braves games for 30 years (1977 to 2006) sat to my left. Alley’s familiar presence added to the sense of history that was in the air throughout the stadium. There were lots of reminders in the signage. Sitting to my right, Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter Paul Woody recalled the last game played at Parker Field in 1984.

That night fans were allowed to grab souvenirs, because the grandstands were going to be demolished soon, anyway, to make way for what became the Diamond. Lots of people walked out of there carrying old wooden seats, signs and so forth, they had liberated. We laughed remembering the mood of that bizarre scene, which may have been somewhat wilder than the Braves management had imagined it would be.

After a few innings in the press box, I left to walk around the stadium to take in the sights from different angles. Behind home plate, next to the camera platform, a young woman wearing a No. 18 Ryan Klesko jersey walked by, which for one fan brought to mind the night at the Diamond 15 summers ago, when Klesko (who played for the R-Braves in 1992-93) won an extra-innings game with a home run.

"It was my birthday," said Jack Richardson.

Naturally, longtime fans were waxing nostalgic. Charlie Diradour said he’d been coming to Braves games since the late ‘60s. His favorite player, or moment?

"Seeing Chico Ruiz play baseball the way it’s supposed to be played," said Diradour, "at his age! That’s what Triple A baseball is all about. Players on their way up ... and, on their way down."

Ruiz was an extremely popular R-Brave who played here for what was most of his career (1973, 74, 76-84). While he wasn’t on hand for the occasion, several other popular former R-Braves were. Among them were: Ralph Garr (1969-70), David Justice (1988-90), Dale Murphy (1976-77), Tommy Greene (1988-90) and Johnny Grubb (1988). There were long lines to get their autographs.

There was a silent auction underway during the game. Autographed baseballs and jerseys drew bids from fans, with the proceeds going to Children’s Hospital. Murphy’s jersey beat Lopez’s $435 to $425.

After the game some of the former Braves players came onto the infield to unfurl a banner for the fans to see.

"Thanks for the memories," it said.

Many fans lingered as the shadows lengthened, clearly not wanting the day at the ballpark to end. Kids crowded up the fence just behind the Braves dugout, hoping to pick up souvenir bats or balls. A few of them were rewarded. Invited guests posed in groups on the field for pictures.

The Diamond’s giant sound system switched from its usual peppy pop music to "Auld Lang Syne."

The Governor’s Cup is the International League’s prize which goes to its champion. The R-Braves won it five times: 1978, 1986, 1989, 1994 and most recently in 2007.

Richmond’s two winners of the circuit’s Most Valuable Player award have been Tommie Aaron in 1967 and Brett Butler in 1981. Winners of the Rookie of the Year award were Dale Murphy in 1977, Glenn Hubbard in 1978, Brook Jacoby in 1982, Brad Komminsk in 1983 and Chipper Jones in 1993.

Winners of the Manager of the Year award were Eddie Haas in 1982 and ‘83; Grady Little won it in 1994.

How long the City of Richmond will go without a professional baseball team to call its own is anybody’s guess. At this point the regional cooperation it will take to make that happen seems out of the picture. Tomorrow the fiberglass Indian figure (a sculpture by Paul DiPasquale) that has peered over a concession stand roof for all of the Braves games at the Diamond will watch the franchise pack up its balls and bats, and fade into the sunset.

Richmond finished its final season on the Boulevard with a 63-78 record.

Note:  Here's a short list of some of the standout players who have worn the uniform of the Richmond Braves: Tommy Aaron, Sandy Alomar, Steve Avery, Dusty Baker, Jim Beauchamp, Steve Bedrosian, Wilson Betemit, Jeff Blauser, Curt Blefary, Jim Breazeale, Tony Brizzolara, Brett Butler, Paul Byrd, Francisco Cabrera, Vinny Castilla, Bobby Cox, Mark DeRosa, Joey Devine, Jermaine Dye, Johnny Estrada, Darrell Evans, Ron Gant, Jesse Garcia, Ralph Garr, Marcus Giles, Tom Glavine, Tony Graffanino, Tommy Green, Johnny Grubb, Albert Hall, Wes Helms, Mike Hessman, Glenn Hubbard, Andruw Jones, Chipper Jones, David Justice, Ryan Klesko, Brad Komminsk, Javy Lopez, Adam LaRoche, Mark Lemke, Rick Mahler, Andy Marte, Kent Merker, Dale Murphy, Joe Niekro, Phil Niekro, Larry Owen, Gerald Perry, Chico Ruiz, Paul Runge, Harry Saferight, Jason Schmidt, Randall Simon, John Smoltz, Mark Wohlers, Brad Woodall, Tracy Woodson, Ned Yost and Paul Zuvella.

-- My photo. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Five Favorites for 2015

Looking back on 2015, as years have gone, it was a better year than some. Watching my friends growing old was startling, at times. Still, it beats burying them. For me, the year that is about to end has been busier than any in a good while. That's chiefly because of my work to do with the Bijou Film Center.

Mostly because of The Bijou, I've met a lot of people and made some new friends over the year. That's been quite a departure from recent years. At 68, with so many of my memories fading into the mists, I've found the challenge that new friends have presented to be invigorating. And I discovered that stretching to navigate those challenges could be fun, even comforting. Maybe I didn't know if I could still stretch.

On top of that, it's been a pleasant surprise to learn firsthand – in some cases learning from new friends – how much Richmond has evolved, culturally, since my old days managing the Biograph, publishing Slant, etc. For that reason, as much as anything else, it's no stretch for me to be optimistic about The Bijou's chances to become more than an imaginary cinema.

As an artist/writer who likes to see his signature and byline in print, fortunately I've had plenty of years when I sold more work. But I've also endured the gloom of years in which I was less productive and sold less. Of the pieces I created in 2015, not counting stuff associated with The Bijou, here are my five favorites:

"Cream Pies for Bullies: The Importance of Satire" (my suggested title was "Avoiding Dead Wrong") was published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Jan. 25. My illustration accompanied the text. 
In such a world without maybes, should we now be denouncing the murderers of cartoonists in Paris? Or should we be denouncing the insulting work of irresponsible provocateurs who bent the wrong people out of shape?
Click here to read it.

"Brand Wringing" (my suggested title was "To Havoc, or Not To...") was published by Style Weekly on April 14.

This one is about Will Wade, VCU's basketball coach, and the pressure on him to extend "Havoc" as a slogan/motto/brand for the Rams style of play. Click here to read it.

"Maybe We Should Wrap Those Monuments" (my suggested title was "About Those Monuments") was published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Jun. 27.

In light of simmering controversies in other parts of the country, to do with Confederate memorials and flags, etc., this one is about Richmond's Confederate heroes monuments on Monument Ave -- propaganda in bronze. Click here to read it.

"The Bluster Meister" (my title was used) was published by Style Weekly on July 21. My illustration accompanied the text.  
Like a movie monster created by a mad scientist, the candidate that Donald Trump has become was created semi-unwittingly by mischievous ultra-conservative Republicans who’ve relished annoying Democrats to distraction for the last six and a half years. Naturally, when the monster came alive, its creators marveled at their work and assumed they could control the creature when the time came for it.
Click here to read it. 

"Bernie's Bandwagon" (my title "Bernie's Bandwagon" was used in the paper edition, but not online) was published by Style Weekly on Sept. 29. My illustration accompanied the text.

This one looks at the presidential race with summer in the rear-view mirror. Mostly it's about Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, with a little bit of Donald Trump thrown in. Had to put a dash of Trump in there so people would read it. By autumn the Bluster Meister had grown into a monster that was dominating nearly every news story about the race. Click here to read it.

From my drawing table and keyboard to you, dear viewer/reader -- Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Drive Trump Off Before It's Too Late


Rank and file Republicans are rapidly approaching decision time: Is their dislike for Democrats – Barack Obama, in particular – going to lead them into allowing Donald Trump (depicted above) to destroy their chances of electing a Republican president, 11 months from now?

If the leadership of the party permits him to dominate the early primaries, THEN they try to cobble together a Stop Trump coalition, in March or April, it may be too late to avoid a virtual bloodbath in November.

Not so much too late to stop Trump from getting the nomination, which I suspect he can't accomplish. No. Too late to keep his poisonous bluster from dooming the GOP to losing not only the White House, but also control of Congress.

The all-out battle to run Trump out of the Republican Party needs start now. In my view it's a campaign that needs to have been won before springtime sets in. His threat to go third party simply must be laughed off. If Trump wants to spend millions of his own money, just to punish Republicans and win nothing, let him do it.

No doubt Trump will continue to make such threats, but will he really follow though? Plus, reaping-what-you-sow-wise, it's fair to say the Republicans have it coming to them. The extreme rhetoric of their more vociferous, mean-spirited spokespersons in recent years surely set the table for an opportunist like Trump to do exactly what he's been doing.

If the leaders of that movement to drive Trump off do face the music, ASAP, and succeed in a timely fashion, they will look like brave heroes to many people – not just reasonable Republicans, but a lot of people who follow politics. On the other hand, if Republican leaders remain scared of Trump's bluster -- imagine his speech at the convention -- the losses their party could sustain in November could set some new records.

-- words and art by F.T. Rea

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Eric E: Jukebox of Americana

Note: After attending the memorial ceremony for a friend, a man known to many of his fans as Eric E., 12 years ago, I wrote the piece that follows for Richmond.com:

RICHMOND, VA (August 19, 2003): The horns wailed as they entered the Arthur Ashe Center. At about 12:30 p.m. a brass New Orleans-style procession playing "Just A Closer Walk With Thee" led the family, friends and fans of the late L. Eric "Rick" Stanley into the memorial ceremony.

It was a service for the deejay known to his local listeners as Eric E. Stanley died on August 12, 2003.

The program billed the occasion as a "celebration of life." What followed the procession, two hours-plus of music and colorful Rick Stanley anecdotes with a somewhat restrained dose of old-time religion, lived up to the billing.

Many of the faces in the crowd of approximately 1,500 were familiar to anyone who has followed the live music scene in Richmond over the last 20-some years. Interestingly, for a city reputed to be trapped in habits that separate blacks from whites, Stanley once again demonstrated his unique ability to appeal to both sides of Broad Street.

Eric Stanley, who was 53 when cancer took his life, was the host and producer of the Bebop, Boogie, & Blues Review, a radio show of his own invention that was heard most recently on WJMO-105.7FM on Sunday nights. As well, he was a promoter/producer of many live shows.

Stanley's bright-eyed daughter, Erin Stanley, closed her remarks with her father's trademark radio sign-off: "Gotta go ... gotta go."

Tears flowed – of course they did – but the overall mood in the room was decidedly upbeat. Stanley's presence was symbolized throughout the cavernous space by photographs and other traditional remembrances on display, which included his own harmonica – a Hohner Pro Harp, a 10-hole diatonic with black cover-plates.

For the recessional the musicians played "When the Saints Go Marching In" to lead the gathering into the sunlight.

Those who were so disposed went to the closest restaurant/bar, Dabney's, where a lively reception ensued, and lingered. No doubt, it was a crowd Rick Stanley would have enjoyed being a part of.

His silent black harmonica was there.

*

Note: A year-and-a-half before that ceremony I wrote this profile of Rick Stanley for
Fifty Plus, a local magazine.

Eric E: Jukebox of Americana

By F. T. Rea


FEBRUARY 2002: Richmond’s Eric E is a jukebox of colorful anecdotes about American music. Push any button and out comes another of his takes on some aspect of the music he has found in his midst. Then you get a set that might include a mix of Jazz, Blues, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Rhythm & Blues, Zydeco, Rockabilly, Country & Western, Hip Hop, Soul, Gospel, or Du-Wop. You name it.

Otherwise known as Eric E. Stanley, Eric E has made a lifelong study of American working-man’s music styles and the connections between them. His understanding of those integral connections -- synapses between genres -- lies at the core of his own authentic style.

All that said, Stanley is on the air, again, with a better-than-ever version of his trademark radio show: the Bebop Boogie & Blues Revue. He’s back after dodging a bullet that came at him out of blue -- prostate cancer. After a routine test alerted him to his situation, he was basically out of the game for a year.

With that ordeal behind him, what comes out of his listeners’ speakers on Sunday nights, between 7 p.m. and midnight, is the Eric E jukebox of Americana. His free-association decision of what recording to play next can be as improvised as a jazz musician landing on just the right note and quirky pause to justify the experimental riff he just played.

Seamlessly, Eric E moves from Jimi Hendrix to Patsy Cline to Muddy Waters to Li’l Ronnie and the Grand Dukes to Stanley Turentine, all, without worrying about why.

In an age of ubiquitous ticky-tacky radio programming, Stanley’s variety-oriented ideas can’t be packaged into a standard format. Thus, his current arrangement with WJMO, 105.7FM, allows him to do as he pleases with the five-hour block of time. He not only hosts the show and selects the music, but he also arranges for the program’s underwriting. In effect, Eric E. is his own boss.

The product, the Bebop Boogie & Blues Revue, is an utter delight. Typical of the Eric E style, he also does the commercials live. With no canned hype, the ads come off more as endorsements than intrusions. At this writing, BB&BR’s five sponsorships, one for each hour, are the Richmond Jazz Society, Plan 9 Music, Kuba Kuba restaurant, the Commercial Taphouse, and Creole Arts.

“If you advertise with me, I’m going in your business,” says Stanley. “If I haven’t been in the place, I don’t accept the ad.”

The Path to Radio

As a child, Eric Stanley spent as much time as he could at his aunt’s restaurant, a spacious old log-house with a stone fireplace. The Hilltop Restaurant, located on US Route 1 in Ashland, catered mostly to a rural black clientele. In the summer he’d cook hamburgers and do what he could to seem useful.

The Hilltop featured live entertainment, mostly acts from what was known as the Chitlin’ Circuit. Down in the basement, Stanley’s uncle poured off-the-record shots of liquor. Fascinated with the raw music and the natural scene surrounding it, Ricky -- a skinny kid with glasses -- soaked up all he could from traveling bluesmen such as Jimmy Reed and Elmore James.

Sometimes Reed would baby-sit for precocious Ricky (who tended to ask too many questions) when his aunt and uncle were running errands for the business. “I remember it from the late '50s to early '60s,” says Stanley with his easy smile. Of the legendary Reed, Stanley recalls: “He’d give me a quarter for the vibrating [lounge] chair, drink whiskey from a little bottle, and play his guitar.”

Stanley’s favorite hit tunes from his childhood? Off the top of his head he answers, “‘In the Still of the Night,’ ‘It’s All in the Game,’ and ‘Twist and Shout,’ the Isley Brothers version.”

During his high school days, playing drums and harmonica in bands, together with performing as a dancing drum major, Stanley leaned that he enjoyed performing in front of a crowd. That yen would resurface.

In 1968, after Stanley finished Virginia Randolph, he went on to study advertising at Virginia Commonwealth University for a couple of years. For the next nine years he was away from the Richmond area, for the most part, studying Early Childhood Education at Bowie State College in Maryland and working as a day-care teacher in Washington. It was during his period in D.C. that he fell into broadcasting.

A friend was hosting a radio program with commentary about prison life. He helped her with the project and began playing some jazz here and there to broaden the narrowly focused show’s appeal. That led to Eric Stanley’s first program of his own, a 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. gig on WPFW-FM.

Color Radio

In 1979 Stanley returned to Richmond, and in 1982, while managing a Reggae band, Awareness Art Ensemble, he found his way to Color Radio. “I got involved with Color Radio because Charles Williams, of the Good Guys band [bass guitar], called and told me they were starting a station on Continental Cablevision and I should get involved,” says Stanley.

Color Radio (1982-84) was the sound heard behind cable television company’s static color-bar test pattern on Channel 36. The station was started by alternative music enthusiasts who were, for the most part, neophyte broadcasters. Some had had experience at college stations.

The sound traveled by phone line from a makeshift studio over Plan 9 record store in Carytown to Continental, which sent the signal out on its lines. The DJs were invited volunteers -- several were musicians -- and they essentially played and said whatever they liked.

The eclectic, spontaneous style Stanley developed then is what he has used when he could ever since. He dubbed his show, “The Frontline -- 360 degrees of Ba-Lack Music.” Stanley closed each show with what has become his signature sign-off as Eric E, the performer: “Gotta go … Gotta go.”

From WANT to WVGO

In the radio business some things change fast, others never change. One day you’re the toast of the town. The next week your front door key doesn’t work because the station’s locks have been changed; you’ve been sacked. Eric Stanley, like anyone who has hung around for any time in the radio biz, has been buffeted about by a variety of stations through all sorts of changes in ownership and format.

The story of how he came to his present gig on Sunday nights picks up in 1988, when WRNL, 910-AM, hired Eric Stanley to host an oldies midday show. Later, he expanded into Saturday nights, with an R&B-oriented oldies show.

In 1990 Harriet McLeod, popular music writer for the Richmond News Leader wrote:
Stanley, music director since January, has set out to make it [WRNL] Richmond’s funkiest radio station, adding to the oldies format B-sides, album cuts, tunes that never charted in the era when sales in black-owned record stores, and often sales of black artists, weren’t counted for the charts. Stanley draws much of his playlist from a personal collection of 5,000 albums, singles, tapes, CDs.
His move to WRXL-FM marked the beginning of the Bebop Boogie & Blues Revue, which Eric E hosted on Sunday nights. Although it was Blues-based, this time he got the freedom to do something closer to what he had done with his Color Radio show. At this point he called his format “free-form.”

Among other things freeform meant taking risks in stride. In speaking of two of his favorite musicians, Miles Davis and John Coltrane, Stanley says, “The ones [musicians] who got the most respect took chances.”

His next move, in 1992, was to WVGO, 106.5-FM. The new station positioned itself as an alternative to "classic rock" and took the Richmond market by storm. Soon Stanley was recognized widely for his amazing crossover success: in other words, a black radio personality appealing to a white audience. Suddenly he was everywhere; hosting live events for the station and the darling of local entertainment writers.

On the air Eric E pushed the envelope, even for a station with a so-called “alternative” format. In addition to his “almost anything but opera” style of presentation he made a point of playing the recordings of local acts, too; such as Boy O Boy, the Good Guys and Theories of the Old School.

In 1994, having acted as DJ/host of a blues night at Mulligan’s Sports Bar for five years, he moved his act to Memphis Bar & Grill in Shockoe Bottom. There he played records and presented live music on Wednesday night for two years. But in October of 1995 the wind shifted in the market once again. Eric E and WVGO went their separate ways. And the next year he moved his live version of Bebop Boogie & Blues Revue to the Moondance Saloon. At this point he was also busy doing voice-overs for commercials and acting as a consultant and/or executive producer for several area bands' recording projects.

Diagnosis and Recovery

Over the years the resourceful Eric Stanley has worked a number of jobs to fill in and around his show business activities. It was in one of those situations that he suddenly learned of a totally unexpected problem. A screening for prostate cancer, conducted through his workplace, Haley Pontiac, revealed that he had no viable option to surgery, which took place in July of 2000.

Since this meant no work for a lengthy spell and his insurance was inadequate to cover all the ramifications, money problems loomed, not to mention the natural worry about his prognosis. Although these were dark days, there was a shaft of light at the end of the tunnel.

Enter two friends: Marilyn Marable and Lee Pillsbury. Overnight they organized a benefit show at Alley Katz, a Shockoe Bottom live stage. The all-star lineup included; Plunky & Oneness, Rene Marie, Jazz Poets Society, Bio Ritmo, The Deprogrammers/Good Guys (a combination of the two bands), Car Bomb, Inc., The Nighthawks, Helel, and Fighting Gravity.

Of the night of the Alley Katz extravaganza, Stanley says: "The most humbling thing was when they put that benefit on."

Today, cancer free and undergoing no cancer-related treatment, he laughs at an unflattering photograph of a somewhat wan-looking Eric E that accompanied an article about the benefit. "When I saw that picture of me I thought I was dying."

Since then the American Cancer Society has approached him about acting as a spokesman for the organization, speaking to groups of men on the importance of testing.

“Since I’m exercising and eating better, I may be healthier than I was,” says the ever upbeat Stanley. “Last year, I was diagnosed and treated for cancer. Thanks to God, a real good woman [the previously mentioned Marilyn Marable], a good doctor, and the mojo [a green bag of mysterious herbs, bone powder and who-knows-what? he picked up in New Orleans years ago] I keep in my pocket, I'm still here and laughing at you."

Sunday Night Live

Now that Eric E is back in the saddle, the last Arbitron ratings book [as of this writing] reported that the Bebop Boogie & Blues Revue had already shot to a close second to WCDX-FM, Power 92, in his time-slot, among listeners in the 25-to-54 demographic.

So instead of complaining about how lame radio in Richmond can be, the reader is advised to tune in to Eric E for an escape from the ordinary. On top of its entertainment value, his show is not unlike a class in music history. Yes, Stanley sounds very much the professor as he explains, for example, how Muddy Waters put together the traditional electrified blues ensemble of two guitars, drums and harmonica, with piano on occasion.

In fact, Professor Eric E is teaching a class, American Music: Blues, Hip Hop, Jazz, and Rock 'n' Roll, at St. Catherine’s School this semester. So the young ladies on Grove Avenue, nestled up to the Country Club of Virginia, are learning how Chuck Berry took Country & Western songs and gave them a Blues shuffle-beat in order to become a Rock ‘n’ Roll pioneer.

Those private school students will also be exposed to Eric E. Stanley’s well-honed thoughts on the power of music to reach across cultural barriers. Of music’s ability to bring people of different backgrounds together he says: “Many times it’s the hammer that breaks the wall down.”

From the Hilltop Restaurant, by way of countless hours of platter-spinning air-time, Eric Stanley, 52-years-old on February 26 (a birthday he shares with music legends Fats Domino and Johnny Cash), is at the top of his game, again.

Meanwhile, as the former hamburger flipper and dancing drum major would no doubt say at this point, “Gotta go … gotta go.”

-- 30 --

-- Photo by Al Wekelo

Tipping Point for Poison Rhetoric?

"You take that back!" says a red-faced boy, as he pushes up his sleeves. His command is directed at a smirking kid, who just lobbed an insulting remark his way. They're facing one another on an asphalt basketball court, surrounded by a forming circle of witnesses. "Take it back!"

Trouble is, nothing we say can ever be taken back. As much as we might want to unsay words, adults know it can't really be done. We can be truly sorry we said those damn words. We can apologize until we're blue in the face. We can claim our words were misunderstood. So what?

Words can't be unsaid. Moreover, adults also know the reckless use of words, whether it's a blunder or it's designed to inflame a situation, can get people killed. So, regardless of our beliefs and philosophies, there's really no point in pretending we don't all know that.

Thus, when unscrupulous right-wing politicians on-the-make inflamed their most unstable followers – by demonizing Planned Parenthood, using bogus videos and rhetoric like, “baby parts” – they knew it amounted to throwing lit matches at an open box of cherry bombs.

Of course, beyond words used recklessly, manipulative language and is nothing new. French diplomat Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord’s (1754-1838) words on the topic of language remain crisp today. Talleyrand offered: “Speech was given to man to disguise his thoughts.”

Talleyrand's wisdom recognized the artful use of language. Using words to throw gasoline on a fire is different. In the new millennium the raw meanness of words we routinely see/hear strung together, to express political and religious ideas, seems to be escalating. Civility is becoming a quaint notion.

The outrageously insulting comments that regularly appear under any editorial or article published about politics have been accepted as a sign of the times. Then throw in all the insults that flash before our eyes on social media. It's hard to see much good in the role those modern ways of venting anger play in our lives. 

When it comes to flinging poison rhetoric to and fro into public discourse, as a society, are we getting close to reaching a tipping point? Since we know words can't be taken back, can the poisonous rhetoric keep getting more potent without it delivering us to a day of reckoning? With mass murders becoming daily occurrences, can it get any worse?

Of course it can. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Save the Diamond Breakthrough?

Ed. Note: Can't say whether this will turn out to be a real breakthrough, or just another level of discordancy. But I'm glad somebody outside of City Hall has continued to work on a plan that makes sense for the neighborhood The Diamond is a part of now, and for the rest of the city, as well.

Owned by Richmond's citizens, The Diamond is far too great of an asset to sweep away without such a plan. The Flying Squirrels made a mistake when they backed Mayor Dwight Jones' rejected plan to build a ballpark, etc., in Shockoe Bottom. Now the management of the Squirrels obviously regrets it. Still, no one should hold that against them too much. Their arms were being twisted. The push for Baseball in the Bottom twisted a lot of arms before it crashed and burned.

Now the Squirrels want to stay on the Boulevard. That seems to be what baseball fans prefer. And, for what it's worth I support that concept ... for now. As far as how important minor league baseball really is to the whole community, well, maybe that's what ought to be considered -- maybe even voted upon -- before we commit to spending a lot of money on it down the road. Anyway, I got this info in the form of a press release, by way of email today.

SAVE THE DIAMOND COMMITTEE
Media Announcement
Nov. 24, 2015, For Immediate Release 
Richmond Group Announces Plan To Transform The Diamond and Spark Economic Development In Surrounding North Boulevard Area (Richmond, Va.)

Calling itself “The Save The Diamond Committee,” a local group of citizens, architects, and developers has created a proposal – Live. Work. Play Ball. A New Vision for North Boulevard – to transform the existing Diamond baseball stadium into a 21st century minor-league ballpark. The proposal also includes a multi-use development plan for the contiguous 50 +/- acres that can provide needed significant tax revenue to the City of Richmond.

Committee representatives – Harry H. Warner, Jr, committee chairman, Randy Holmes of Glavé & Holmes, and Steve Terrill of AECOM – will present the plans and ideas to the media and the public on Wed., Dec. 2, 2015, 2 p.m., at the Richmond Public Library auditorium, 101 E. Franklin St. 
Contact: Harry H. Warner, Jr., (804) 357-8157; NewBoulevardVision@Outlook.com

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Five Film Favorites: French Films

From 'Breathless'

My trips to France have been vicarious: words written by others, pictures created by others. For the most part, what I know -- or think I know -- about France has been gathered and presented to me by filmmakers. Moreover, a good part of what I know -- or think I know -- about good movies has been shaped by countless hours spent watching French films.

Like many baby boomers who grew up loving movies, once I discovered foreign films the French New Wave films exerted a big influence on me. So, for me, the memories of Paris that were stirred up by the terrorist attacks on Nov. 13, 2015, weren't based on times I actually spent there, soaking up the milieu.

Instead, films I've loved have been brought to mind. Today, Nov. 14, 2015, my five favorite French feature films are as follows:

“The 400 Blows” (1959): B&W. Directed by François Truffaut. Cast: Jean-Pierre Léaud, Claire Maurier, Albert Rémy. Note: This story’s deft portrayal of a brave boy’s yearning for dignity in an indifferent world kicked in the door for the New Wave’s filmmakers.

"Breathless" (1960): B&W. Directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Cast: Jean-Paul Belmondo, Jean Seberg. Note: An opportunistic thief on the lam becomes irresistible to a pretty American journalism student in Paris. Uh-oh, the guy is dangerous. How long can it last?

"Day for Night" (1973): Color. Directed by François Truffaut. Cast: Jacqueline Bisset, Valentina Cortese, François Truffaut. Note: An engaging look at the process of making of a movie, with the private lives of the cast and crew intermingling with the production.

"The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie" (1972): Color. Directed by Luis Buñuel. Cast: Fernando Rey, Paul Frankeur, Delphine Seyrig. Note: Probably prankster Buñuel’s most accessible film, this dream within a joke, within a dream, sparkles with its dry wit.

“Lacombe, Lucien” (1974): Color. Directed by Louis Malle. Cast: Pierre Blaise, Auroe Clement, Holger Lowenadler. Note: How does a naive, nihilistic teenager in France, just looking for a way to fit in, end up running with the Nazi invaders? Hey, why not?

That list of sweet flicks includes only feature-length movies. But today I just can't resist mentioning two of my favorite short films that happen to be French:

“La Jetée” (1962): B&W. Directed by Chris Marker. Cast: Davos Hanich, Hélène Chatelain, Jen Négroni. Note: A stunning example of how less can be way more. This short New Wave classic about memory, imagination, longing and time is unforgettable.

“The Red Balloon” (1956): Color. Directed by Albert Lamorisse. Cast: Pascal Lamorisse, Sabine Lamorisse, Georges Sellier. Note: Using little dialogue, this utterly charming 34-minute French fantasy follows a boy and his balloon friend along the streets of Paris.

From 'The Red Balloon'

To wind up, allow me to quote Rick Blaine (played by Humphrey Bogart), the protagonist in "Casablanca" (1942). Speaking to Ilsa Lund (played by Ingrid Bergman), Rick says: "We'll always have Paris."

Indeed. 

*

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Cheaters


A Veterans Day Remembrance: This 1916 photograph of my grandfather, Frank W. Owen (1893-1968), was shot when he was in the Richmond Light Infantry Blues. At the time he was stationed in Brownsville, Texas, as part of a contingent called up and assigned to protect the border. Mexican revolutionary/bandit Pancho Villa had been crossing over to raid small towns ... or so it was said. The next year the Richmond Blues were thrown into WWI in France. 

The story below is about my grandfather. It's set in the summer of 1959. I wrote it 25 years ago for SLANT. A version of it was later published in STYLE Weekly in 2000.

The Cheaters
by F.T. Rea
Having devoted countless hours to competitive sports and games of all sorts, nothing in that realm is quite as galling to this grizzled scribbler as the cheater’s averted eye of denial, or the practiced tones of his shameless spiel.
In the middle of a pick-up basketball game, or a friendly Frisbee-golf round, too often, my barbed outspokenness over what I have perceived as deliberate cheating has ruffled feathers. Alas, it's my nature. I can't help it any more than a watchful blue jay can resist dive-bombing an alley cat.

The reader might wonder about whether I'm overcompensating for dishonest aspects of myself, or if I could be dwelling on memories of feeling cheated out of something dear.

OK, fair enough, I don't deny any of that. Still, truth be told, it mostly goes back to a particular afternoon's mischief gone wrong.

*

A blue-collar architect with the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway for decades, my maternal grandfather, Frank Wingo Owen was a natural entertainer. Blessed with a resonant baritone/bass voice, he began singing professionally in his teens and continued performing, as a soloist and with barbershop quartets, into his mid-60s.

Shortly after his retirement, at 65, the lifelong grip on good health he had enjoyed failed; an infection he picked up during a routine hernia surgery at a VA hospital nearly killed him. It left him with no sense of touch in his extremities. Once he got some of his strength back, he found comfort in returning to his role as umpire of the baseball games played in his yard by the neighborhood's boys. He couldn't stand up behind home plate, anymore, but he did alright sitting in the shade of the plum tree, some 25 feet away.

This was the summer he taught me, along with a few of my friends, the fundamentals of poker. To learn the game we didn’t play for real money. Each player got so many poker chips. If his chips ran out, he became a spectator.

The poker professor said he’d never let us beat him, claiming he owed it to the game itself to win if he could, which he always did. Woven throughout his lessons on betting strategy were stories about poker hands and football games from his cavalry days, serving with the Richmond Blues during World War I.

As likely as not, the stories he told would end up underlining points he saw as standards: He challenged us to expose the true coward at the heart of every bully. "Punch him in the nose," he'd chuckle, "and even if you get whipped he'll never bother you again." In team sports, the success of the team trumped all else. Moreover, withholding one’s best effort in any game, no matter the score, was beyond the pale.

Such lazy afternoons came and went so easily that summer there was no way then, at 11, I could have appreciated how precious they would seem looking back on them.

On the other hand, there were occasions he would make it tough on me. Especially when he spotted a boy breaking the yard's rules or playing dirty. It was more than a little embarrassing when he would wave his cane and bellow his rulings. For flagrant violations, or protesting his call too much, he barred the guilty boy from the yard for a day or two.

F. W. Owen’s hard-edged opinions about fair play, and looking directly in the eye at whatever comes along, were not particularly modern. Nor were they always easy for know-it-all adolescent boys to swallow.

Predictably, the day came when a plot was hatched. We decided to see if artful subterfuge could beat him at poker just once. The conspirators practiced in secret for hours, passing cards under the table with bare feet and developing signals. It was accepted that we would not get away with it for long, but to pull it off for a few hands would be pure fun.

Following baseball, with the post-game watermelon consumed, I fetched the cards and chips. Then the four card sharks moved in to put the caper in play.

To our amazement, the plan went off smoothly. After hands of what we saw as sly tricks we went blatant, expecting/needing to get caught, so we could gloat over having tricked the great master. Later, as he told the boys' favorite story -- the one about a Spanish women who bit him on the arm at a train station in France -- one-eyed jacks tucked between dirty toes were being passed under the table.

Then the joy began to drain out of the adventure rapidly. With semi-secret gestures I called the ruse off. A couple of hands were played with no shenanigans but he ran out of chips, anyway.

Head bowed, he sighed, “Today I can’t win for loosing; you boys are just too good for me.” Utterly dependent on his cane for balance he slowly walked into the shadows toward the back porch. It was agonizing.

The game was over; we were no longer pranksters. We were cheaters.

As he carefully negotiated the steps, my last chance to save the day came and went without a syllable out of me to set the record straight. It was hard to believe that he hadn’t seen what we were doing, but my guilt burned so deeply I didn't wonder enough about that, then.

*

My grandfather didn’t play poker with us again. He went on umpiring, and telling his salty stories afterwards over watermelon. We tried playing poker the same way without him, but it didn’t work; the value the chips had magically represented was gone. The boys had outgrown poker without real money on the line.

Although I thought about that afternoon's shame many times before he died nine years later, neither of us ever mentioned it. For my part, when I tried to bring it up, to clear the air, the words always stuck in my throat.

Eventually, I grew to become as intolerant of petty cheating as F.W. Owen was in his day, maybe even more so. And, as it was for him, the blue jay has always been my favorite bird.
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