Monday, April 30, 2007

Kickers vs. Hokies; updated

The notice below just came in from Shelly Sowers of the Richmond Kickers:

“In response to the recent tragedy at Virginia Tech, the Richmond Kickers will host the Virginia Tech Men’s soccer team in an exhibition match to be held at the University of Richmond Stadium tomorrow (Tuesday), May 1, at 7 p.m. All proceeds from the gate will be donated to the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund. General admission tickets are $5.00 and can be purchased in advance until noon tomorrow via RichmondKickers.com or at the gate. Fans are encouraged to wear maroon and orange to show Hokie Spirit.

“‘I think it will be a tremendous opportunity for Hokie fans, soccer fans, and non-soccer and non-Hokie fans in central Virginia to join both teams in honoring the victims of the recent tragedy on our campus’ said Virginia Tech Head Coach Oliver Weiss. ‘It speaks volumes for the Kickers organization to do this on such a short notice. It is our hope to bring people together who want to feel connected to our Virginia Tech world.’”

To visit the Kickers web site click here. To visit the web site for the Hokies memorial fund click here.

Update (Tuesday) from Sowers:

"Thanks to the overwhelming support of the Richmond community (attendance 3,820), the Richmond Kickers were able to raise over $20,000 for the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund during tonight’s exhibition match with the Virginia Tech men’s soccer team. The Kickers narrowly defeated the Hokies 3-2."

Thursday, April 26, 2007

SLANTblog supports the NBC boycott

How do I stand on the move to boycott NBC, stemming from its handling of the package of material it supposedly received from the gunman who shot 32 people to death in Blacksburg last week?

As the publisher of SLANTblog, I am all for it. In this case what NBC did was different than the rest of the press. It alone had the material until it stamped its logo on it and sent it out to the other networks, wire services, etc. To say it had to do what it did is simply not true. Choices were made. Actions were taken.

So, after a few days to cool off and think about it, I still say NBC acted deplorably in rushing to decide what to do, and in rushing to get it done.

While I don’t like what others did afterward, NBC’s role stands out. While I don’t want to muzzle or chill the freedom of the working press, nor do I want to encourage it scream fire! in a crowded theater.

While some of that wretched material NBC received in the mail may have had real newsworthiness, I question that it all did. And, I think that shoving it in the faces of the people who were watching the news on television -- in a state of shock -- trying to find out about people and a school they knew and loved was unbelievably cruel and unnecessary.

No public interest was served and none of that had to happen like it did. Remember, this is the same outfit (MSNBC) that only the week before had 86ed a shock jock -- Don Imus, who is known for his loose lips -- for his over-the-top bad taste in choosing his words. There is some irony in there somewhere...

Yes, there are other issues coming out of the tragedy at Tech that deserve attention. However, in my view this boycott of NBC does not take anything away from those concerns. So, I support the boycott (click here to go to newsboycott.com) and I hope it picks up steam.

If it does, I think such an unprecedented phenomenon would become news itself and encourage a debate about the proper role of the press that’s long overdue.

Update: Now that I’ve said I support it, what form should a boycott of NBC take?

Well, that’s a question that eventually needs to be answered. It first occurred to me on Saturday night. I switched channels to see what Saturday Night Live had on, to see if it was a fresh show, instead of a repeat. A minute later I saw the NBC peacock logo and it hit me, I’d written on my blog that boycotting NBC was a move worth considering.

Feeling guilty, I changed channels. Since then I’ve posted my support of the concept of targeting NBC for punishment. Then it hit me, a vague boycott is one thing, a specific boycott is another.

Now I wonder how long should I boycott NBC? What’s the point?

My experience tells me there needs to be a specific day, or a particular important program to boycott. This concept needs to quickly demonstrate that its actions can be measured. After that, if it works, those who support this maneuver will be in a different position.

So, what should be the next move?

Stay tuned...

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Drake the Flake

It should come as no surprise to most film buffs that there is sometimes a dark side to the business of doing business after dark. While some saw the Biograph Theatre (1972-87) as a beacon in the night, for others it was a place to hide out from a sad reality. Like any business, sometimes things just went wrong.

Although nearly everyone who worked at the Biograph was on the up-and-up, there were a couple of rotten apples that weren’t. Since, as the manager I hired both of them, I have to take the blame there. But that’s another story.

A man in his early-30s died watching a movie called "FIST." He breathed his last sitting in a seat in the small auditorium. The movie was bad, but not that bad. His face was expressionless, he just expired. As the rescue squad guys were shooting jolts of electricity into his heart, and his body was flopping around like a fish out of water on Theater No. 2’s floor, down in Theater No. 1 "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" was on the screen delighting its usual crowd of costumed screwballs.

There was a night someone fired five shots of high-powered ammo through one of the back exits into Theatre No. 1. The bullets came through the two quarter-inch steel plates that formed the door to splinter seats. Amazingly, no one was hit. It happened just as the crowd was exiting the auditorium, about 11:30 p.m. and I don’t think anyone even caught on to what was happening. It was never determined why it happened.

A rat died in the Coca-Cola drain once and clogged it up. Havoc ensued when I poured a powerful drain clearing liquid -- we called it Tampax Dynamite -- into the problem, not knowing about the rat. Well, it started bubbling and backing up to erupt into a horrible flooding mess that smelled wretched!

Then there was Drake the Flake, who was banned from the Biograph for life in 1972. Then 20 years later he turned up in California as a serial killer. Supposedly, Drake, who always had fancied himself as an actor, had made up a long list of people he intended to pay back. He had gotten to only six of them when, as the cops closed in on him, he took his own life. Drake wore grease paint on his face when he committed his murders.

It seems Woody Drake's childhood was straight out of a horror movie. He was always a problem to those around him. The photo above ran in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on November 16, 1992. What follows are excerpts of a piece I wrote for SLANT in December 1992:

"...The November 16th edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch carried Mark Holmberg's sad and sensational story of Woody Drake. As usual, Holmberg did a good job with a bizarre subject. In case you missed the news: Lynwood Drake, who grew up in Richmond, murdered six people in California on November 8 [1992]. Then he turned the gun on himself. His tortured suicide note cited revenge as the motive.

An especially troubling aspect of Holmberg's account was that those Richmonders who remembered the 43 year old Drake weren't at all surprised at the startling news. Nor was I. My memory of the man goes back to the early days of the Biograph Theatre (1972). At the time I managed the West Grace Street cinema. So the unpleasant task of dealing with Drake fell to me.

Owing to his talent for nuisance, the staff dubbed him 'Drake the Flake.' Although he resembled many of the hippie-style hustlers of the times, it was his ineptness at putting over the scam that set him apart. Every time he darkened our door there was trouble. If he didn't try to beat us out of the price of admission or popcorn, there would be a problem in the auditorium. And without fail, his ruse would be transparent.

Then, when confronted, he'd go into a fit of denial that implied a threat. Eventually that led to the incident in Shafer Court (on VCU's campus) when he choked a female student [Susan Kuney] who worked at the Biograph.

That evening he showed up at the theater to see the movie, just like nothing had happened. Shoving his way past those in line, he demanded to be admitted next. An argument ensued that became the last straw. Drake the Flake was physically removed from the building, tossed onto Grace Street, and banned from the Biograph for life.

The next day, Drake made his final appearance at the Biograph. He ran in through the lobby's exit doors and issued a finger-pointing death threat to your narrator. Although I tried to act unruffled by the incident, it made me more than a little uncomfortable. In spite of the anger of his words, there was an emptiness in his eyes. In that moment he had pulled me into his world. It was scary and memorable.

Using a fine turn of phrase, Holmberg suggested that, 'Whatever poisoned the heart of Woody Drake happened in Richmond...'

If you want more evidence of the origins of the poisoning, take the time to look him up in his high school yearbooks (Thomas Jefferson 1967/68). Pay particular attention to the odd expression in his eyes. Looking at Drake’s old yearbook photos reminded me of a line in the movie 'Silence of the Lambs.' In reference to the serial-killer who was being sought by the FBI throughout the film, Dr. Lechter (a psychiatrist turned murderer himself) tells an investigator that such a man is not born; he is created.

There is no doubt in my mind. Someone close to Lynwood Drake III, when he was a child, systematically destroyed his soul. So while we can avert our eyes from the painful truth, we basically know where the poison is administered to the Woody Drakes of the world..."

Yes, we do.

The assembly line for such monsters runs usually through their homes. Woody Drake liked to beat up women. After I threw him out of the Biograph and he disappeared, several people told us about various females he had hurt. His last act before he shot himself to death was to whack a 60-year-old former landlady in her head with a blackjack.

She lived to tell her story.

-- 30 --

FDSL Hall of Fame

The Fan District Softball League (1975-94) established a Hall of Fame in 1986. The first class was elected by the 12-team league’s designated franchise representatives prior to the annual All-Star game/picnic. To be eligible then one had to have retired. Ten names were selected.

The same rule held true in 1987, but by 1988 a few of those who had been inducted into the Hall had unretired. So, in 1988 it was opened up to anyone who seemed deserving and those already in the Hall got to vote, as well.

For 1989 no one was voted in. In 1990, ‘91 and ‘92 additional names were added. In all, 41 players and two umpires were tapped. The list leans heavily toward those who made significant contributions to the league’s lore in the early years of play.Those in the FDSL HoF are: Ricardo Adams, Herbie Atkinson, Howard Awad, Boogie Bailey, Yogi Bair, Jay Barrows, Otto Brauer, Ernie Brooks, Hank Brown, Bobby Cassell, Jack Colan, Willie Collins, Dickie deTreville, Jack deTreville, Henry Ford (depicted below right), Danny Gammon, Donald Greshham, James Jackson, Dennis Johnson (depicted top left as the batter), Mike Kittle, Leo Koury, Jim Letizia, Junie Loving, Tony Martin, Kenny Meyer, Cliff Mowells, Buddy Noble, Randy Noble, Henry Pollard, Artie Probst, Terry Rea, John Richardson, Jerry Robinson, Larry Rohr (depicted above as the pitcher), Billy Snead, Jim Story, Hook Shepherd, Pudy Stallard, Durwood Usry, Jumpy White, Barry Winn, Chuck Wrenn.

This year the Derby Day party (the 28th annual reunion) for the Biograph softball team and friends will incorporate into its format a FDSL reunion, which will enlarge the gathering. So, players and fans associated with any of the league’s teams over the years will be welcome. The event will take place on May 5th. Contact the event chief Larry Rohr, (804) 233-2295, for details.

Art by F.T. Rea, the illustrations are from the old Sports Fan (1977-81).

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

'The Tale of the Allergist's Wife' to open at Firehouse

Jessica Fulbright sent us a notice from the Firehouse Theatre Project about a new play to open Thursday night at 8 p.m. The essentials are below:

The Firehouse Theatre Project (at 1609 W. Broad St.) is set to present a play by Charles Busch, “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife.” It opens on Thurs., Apr. 26 and runs through May 19.

Tickets are $20 for general admission; discounts are available for seniors and students; tickets are available online at the Firehouse Theatre website, or by calling the 24-hour ticket line, 1-800-595-4TIX (595-4849).

Directed by Daniel Ruth, and featuring Melissa Johnston Price, John Moon, Alice Schreiner, Harriett Traylor, and Joey Chahine, the “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife” promises to be a hilarious roller coaster ride that you won’t forget.

Note: Thurs., Apr. 26 -- Opening Night Reception provided by DD33 Asian Bistro. Fri., Apr. 27 is Talk Back Night; join the director, cast, and designers after the show for a discussion about the production.

Founded in 1993 the Firehouse Theatre Project is a non-profit theater company that operates in a building that once was Richmond’s Fire Station No.10. Its mission continues to be to present important contemporary pieces with an emphasis on plays which have not previously played in the metro Richmond area. For more info call Jessica at 355-2001, or email her at Jessica@firehousetheatre.org.

Image from the Firehouse Theatre Project

Color Radio and 10,000 Maniacs

Twenty-five years ago, a forerunner to WRIR-FM was born. It was called “Color Radio” or “Channel 36.”

On August 26, 1982 Color Radio began beaming its signal, via Continental Cablevision’s cable TV hookups, to what its creators hoped would be a listening audience in Richmond and Henrico County. It existed as the soundtrack that could be heard when a viewer tuned his television to Channel 36, which was the channel for Continental’s color bars test pattern. Les Smith signed on with his “Music Appreciation 101,” to launch the station’s existence.

In his college days Smith had been a DJ at VCU’s radio station. Then he played the same role at WGOE, the daytime AM station that owned the hippie audience in Richmond for most of the 1970s. He 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.

“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.”

By the time your narrator came aboard as a volunteer DJ, in October of that same year, the station had situated its studio over Plan 9 in Carytown (this was Plan 9’s old location where Chop Suey Tuey is now). My show, “Number 9,” was on for three hours on Thursday afternoons. All the DJs and the staff were volunteers -- but it was really like you had to be asked.

At times Color Radio was cool. At its peak, its programming covered 96 hours a week. At times it was silly and a waste of time, or worse. Always, it danced on the edge like no other radio station it Richmond’s history. It lasted about two years.

The image above was the main element of a handbill for a 1983 fundraiser that I booked into Rockitz to benefit Color Radio. The headliner was a group out of Jamestown, N.Y. that was building a following here from appearances at Benny’s and Hard Times. They called their act 10,000 Maniacs. Lead singer Natalie Merchant was 19-years-old then. The opening act for the show was a local group -- Ten Ten.

A few weeks prior to the live show at Rockitz, I taped an interview with Merchant for my radio program. What follows is the beginning of that 24-year-old interview; she 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, did they want to get rich, or what? She laughed.

*

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.

*

Color Radio was part of the last gasp of the Baby Boomer-driven freewheeling underground-oriented art and music scene which had been centered in the Fan District for nearly 20 years, from the end of the beat era through the last of the punks at the party.

At Color Radio when the microphones switched on there was no filter. There was no corporate-think limit. It was wilder than WGOE-AM had been in it rather freewheeling days in the '70s, before it got busted by the FCC. Color Radio had no FCC oversight.

The programming at Color Radio was left to the DJs, many of whom were connected to the local live music scene in some way. Several were in bands. Others were Rock 'n' Roll promoters or worked at record stores.

The format, in unrelated blocks, ranged from Rock to Bach and beyond. Some shows were all talk. There were comedy programs and, yes, sometimes things got raunchy, or weird. Like an offshore station, Color Radio flew below the radar; the ride lasted two years.

Art and words by F.T. Rea

Boycott of NBC growing

Here’s a development that will be interesting to watch -- newsboycott.com. It’s a new web site devoted to punishing NBC (MSNBC, etc.) for its terrible judgment in its handling of the material mailed to it by the April 16th shooter at Virginia Tech, which had the effect of promoting the suicidal gunman as a celebrity.

The site went up on April 20th. While this example of spontaneous righteous indignation may blow over, it might not. With the unpredictable but awesome power of the Internet to connect the likeminded, and the fact that millions must be more than a little fed up with way the 25-hours-a-day news networks tend to throw fuel on fires, maybe we’ve reached the tipping point.

Maybe like the Howard Beale character played by Peter Finch (who won a posthumous Oscar for his perfromance) in the brilliantly bitter 1976 feature “Network,” enough Americans have gotten to the point they, too, agree with Beale’s signature rant -- “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any more!”

Click here to visit newsboycott.com. to read more about this movement and to see an online petition you may want to sign.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Pocketful of polonium-210? No problem

In the post-Virginia Tech tragedy atmosphere of the last week, the most ardent defenders of the familiar gun manufacturers’ position -- as championed by the NRA -- which claims private citizens ought to be able to own whatever exotic firepower they can afford, fell back on their most basic spin/scam.

Thus, once again we are reading and hearing, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

It’s going to be interesting watching that convenient assertion/slogan stretched around the scary idea that even mentally ill people still have second amendment rights to own rapid-fire weapons that must be defended against all slippery slope suggestions to limit what they can legally buy in the name of self-defense or sport.

If we take the line of thinking of that simplistic slogan and begin to apply it to a few other situations it underlines the absurdity of it: Bombs strapped around terrorists’ waists don’t kill people, people kill people. Weaponized anthrax in the mail doesn’t poison postal workers, no, people poison postal workers. Giant sports utility vehicles don’t flip over way too easily, it’s people who flip them over way too easily.

In this world of denial and I want what I want, a dangerous thing isn’t dangerous. The danger is only in how certain people use those dangerous things. So, if I’ve got a pocketful of polonium-210, there’s no problem with that until I pour it into your Bloody Mary.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Tech students give media a deadline to scram

On Tuesday one of MSNBC’s rent-an-expert talking heads told Tucker Carlson the Virginia Tech students were being comforted by the wall-to-wall presence of the media in Blacksburg. Carlson had set up the comment by saying he’d never seen quite such an gathering of the working press with all their accouterments.

“It’s seen as more of a show of respect,” said the shill, “this isn’t a media circus.”

Well, now the students have apparently had enough of that brand of respect. The Washington Post reports that the students at Virginia Tech have given the inquisitors with their media trucks a deadline to leave their campus:

“Virginia Tech’s student government has asked that all journalists leave campus by 5 a.m. tomorrow [Monday], according to a statement issued by a spokeswoman.”

Yet another parade

Yesterday afternoon a parade celebrating Confederate History and Heritage Month proceeded from the Division of Motor Vehicles on West Broad Street, then east on Monument Avenue, and it ended in Hollywood Cemetery. Why it started at DMV, I can’t say, but they picked a beautiful day for a parade.The photographs in this post were shot at the foot of the Robert E. Lee Monument, here in the Fan District.

The parade/march, coordinated by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, also commemorated Lee’s 200th birthday (he was born on Jan. 19, 1807). Since Lee is buried in Lexington, I’m not sure why the parade ended in the ancient cemetery over in Oregon Hill, overlooking the James River.There weren’t many spectators for the parade, at least not at this location. Instead of a crowd watching a few people march by, in this instance it was the other way around.As far as how I feel about such demonstrations, well, I’m used to it. I’ve lived in this neighborhood a long time. So, I’ve seen all sorts of groups use the Lee Monument as a rallying point. In the summer sunbathers and Frisbee-throwers will likely use the same area as if it's a beach.

On just as a pretty day a few years ago a curious commotion was underway at the statue’s pedestal. About 25 adults were milling about; some were propping large posters against the base itself. Upon closer examination the posters proved to be pro-life propaganda.

So, why would anti-abortion activists be rallying in the shadow of a piece of heroic sculpture that fondly remembers a Confederate general mounted on his horse?

In response to my inquiry it was explained to me that they were there to picket an “abortionist” with an office in the medical office building, just across the street. Then, with that mission accomplished, apparently the group opted to take some keepsake photographs, using the oldest of Monument Avenue’s statues -- it was dedicated in 1890 -- as a backdrop.

Standing next to identical placards displaying a blown-up depiction of a bloody fetus they posed with easy smiles; it could have been a company picnic or a class reunion.

Today, I had to wonder -- how many of those in the passing parade would have objected to the pro-lifers’ rather bizarre use of the statue of old General Lee? And, how many would have happily joined them?
-- My photos.

Friday, April 20, 2007

...Walk with Patsy Cline at the Byrd

The Byrd Theatre Foundation will present its own production of “Just a Closer Walk with Patsy Cline,” starring Julie Johnson (pictured right), for four performances over three days next month -- May 18-20.

The Byrd Theatre Foundation is made up of volunteers dedicated to the purchase and restoration of the Byrd, a genuine 1928 movie palace Richmonders are fortunate to still have in their midst. Proceeds from these benefit performances will be applied to the cost of a new roof and other such essential preservation moves that need to be made, ASAP.

Tickets are $37.00 (group discounts are available) and they can be purchased at the Byrd Theatre’s box office, or at Plan 9 Music. For more information, or to contact the foundation, please call Bertie Selvey at (804) 358-9901.

Image from www.juliejohnsonmusic.com

Thursday, April 19, 2007

NBC boycott?

In response to NBC’s bad citizen act in promptly airing the Virginia Tech campus killer’s depraved promotional presentation, what if bloggers of all stripes banned together, coast-to-coast, to promote a total viewing boycott of NBC for the rest of April?

Could that happen? Would it make a difference?

There’s only one way to find out...

What should NBC have done?

Once it was in possession of the radioactive package of material mailed to it by the man who shot as many people as he could on Virginia Tech’s campus on Monday, what should NBC have done?

No doubt, it should have contacted the cops immediately, if not sooner.

We’re told the network did something along those lines. Whether it did so before it shamelessly stamped its corporate mark on all the images, to serve as promos for NBC wherever they would be seen, I don’t know.

Then the network’s bosses and wise heads should have had a private powwow. At that meeting it should have been decided that before the controversial material would be aired there would be a 24-hour period of study to see how the network should proceed.

So, the existence of the package would be publicly acknowledged, but NBC would tell its audience that in deference to many concerns, some with many facets, it would not be presenting or sharing any of the material until further notice.

That’s what the network should have done yesterday.

Today its smartest people should have met with law enforcement reps, officials from Virginia Tech, people who could speak for some of the families of the dead, and others. Discussions should have covered when some, if not all, of the material should/might be aired. They should have covered what value the material had, if any, beyond its ability to reveal depravity.

Furthermore, what time of day might be avoided? How could it be done without seeming to promote the publicity-seeking shooter? When and how could it be done in a way to minimize the pain it might inflict on the victims’ families, etc.?

Perhaps it would have been decided to release some material on Friday, or Saturday. Then, next week, maybe more of it could be available on Internet sites, or only on television after 10 p.m., or whatever. Perhaps it should have been decided to just wait and see. The key is to think it over for a day, or so, and try to be careful.

Instead, NBC acted like a giddy 19-year-old political blogger, wannabe shock jock, looking to have his biggest day ever for hits. Instead, NBC looked after its own greedy short-term interests, to do with promoting itself. Sadly, the other networks all followed suit.

In a better world, NBC would be boycotted for its headlong rush to cash in on creating a sensation, by using the shock and grief of the Virginia Tech community as a backdrop. In a better world...

Silence?


Then, there’s this idea for April 30th -- a day of silence.

To hell with promoting Monday’s shooter

What if a writer deliberately wrote a short story he knew would humiliate a particular person if it got published? This story would make a certain person’s life miserable because it would reveal something a few selected people would be able to decode and understand as having a special meaning.

Well, that would be mean.

Still, it happens. Sad as it may be, it’s one of the reasons some people write fiction -- to get revenge on those they think have it coming to them.

If the names in the mean writer’s story were changed to put a slightly new face on the damaging details, would the target who got fired, or lost a spouse, or was ruined in some other way, have any chance of getting relief or satisfaction in a court?

Well, if the payback-seeking writer did enough to camouflage the specifics of what he wrote about, so the general public wouldn’t be able to discern the hidden meaning of the key information, I doubt the victim would get anywhere in court. Maybe a lawyer will tell me I’m wrong about that, but I think it happens like that plenty of times.

So, some writers use this easy license to get back at old girlfriends and rivals, and so forth. On the other hand, everyday writers with good judgment, and a moral compass in working order, usually know where to draw the lines.

OK. Let’s take it further down that dark road. What if a writer knew the script he’d written for a television soap opera would get a person killed?

Well, if the writer covered himself in the same way as described above, he’d probably not be punished by the courts system. But what about the stinking morality of such a calculated act?

To me, that’s about where we are with NBC broadcasting the tape sent to the network, supposedly by the mass murderer who snuffed out all those lives at Virginia Tech on Monday. By making this killer into a celebrity villain of the first order -- with tiny details blown up large -- NBC and others running that depraved material every ten minutes are hastening the day yet another tortured sicko will do something to top Monday’s gun-wielding madman ... just to be remembered as “somebody.”

Therefore, at SLANTblog, the shooter will not be named. No. I don’t have to promote him, and I won’t. His name will not appear in this space. To hell with him.

There can be no doubt the wicked desire for hall-of-infamy status is part of what’s in play here. That’s why NBC got the tape. And, we all know there are too many sickos out there right now fantasizing about a crime spree to dwarf Monday’s carnage.

So, what if a broadcast network deliberately presented material -- in the name of reporting the news -- that its bosses knew perfectly well would eventually contribute to getting a bunch of people killed? What if those bosses knew they were helping to create the next tragedy by hyping the author of the Virginia Tech disaster of April 16th to the max?

Legally, who knows the answer?

Morally, I know the answer. Do you?

*

Update: Instead of promoting the posing gunman, maybe on Friday we should wear the colors, as suggested by Don Harrison at Save Richmond.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Madness can't be explained by reasons

CNN and MSNBC thrive on tragedy. About an hour ago I heard one of those rent-an-expert talking heads telling a windblown Tucker Carlson that the Virginia Tech students are being comforted by the overflowing presence of the media in Blacksburg. That was in response to Carlson’s noting that he’d never seen quite such an assemblage of the working press.

“It’s seen as more of a show of respect,” said the shill, “this isn’t a media circus.”

A distinctive Virginia Tech gray stone building served as the authenticity backdrop for the cable news “reporters,” as they plied their trade between commercials and promos for more "massacre" coverage.

If you’re watching the cable news channels, among other things, you’re being led on a wild goose chase. But when they can add an element of suspense to their blood red story of aberrant mayhem, then it can be a ratings bonanza for them. Thus, viewers who leave their televisions tuned to 24-hour news channels for the next few days will be hearing a lot about the motive of the shooter, now said to have been a 23-year-old Korean English major at Tech.

The talking heads are asking: Why did he do it? Was it revenge? What about his writings? Was he out to hurt the university? Was he a loner? Were there clues? Is this somebody’s fault? Or, was it just another byproduct of America’s violent culture?

Why is that a wild goose chase?

Looking for one paramount reason that will explain a morning’s outburst of sudden madness may be good for ratings, but it’s not likely to allay anxiety, or to lead to anything akin to satisfaction. Madness doesn’t need a reason. It is the opposite of reason.

So, for what it’s worth, my advice is this -- don’t leave your TV on CNN or MSNBC for hours at a time. And, don’t dwell on finding something that will make sense of this tragedy. In time, we’ll know more about the culprit. Still, that doesn’t mean we’ll ever really grasp the motives of a crazy man on a suicide-run in a way that will make us feel any better.

Me?

Well, now I’m watching the Atlanta Braves pound the Washington Nationals -- 3-0 in the top of the third. Tonight the Nats players are wearing maroon Hokies baseball caps. No doubt, there will be other touching gestures along these lines. At this extreme mood-swinging time that’s my kind of story. Yes, I want to know more about who set that up.

And, perhaps like you, I keep thinking about some of the guys I know who went to Tech...

Monday, April 16, 2007

Kudos to Millsaps

Since I was only nine when Jackie Robinson retired, it took years before I could begin to understand what he meant to so many people who lived in the parts of Richmond I knew little about then. As a kid I was a Yankees fan (my excuse -- they had a Triple A farm club here, then), so Robinson was mostly another player for the National League enemy Brooklyn Dodgers to me.

At that age, although I was a devout baseball fan, there was just no way I could fathom what Robinson had accomplished in breaking the color line in 1947. In truth, I’m still learning about what a genuine hero Robinson was in that time, over eight years before Rosa Parks and the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott put Martin Luther King, Jr. on the map.

The recently retired executive editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Bill Millsaps (who was the sports editor of that same newspaper from 1973-91), used his personal view of what Jackie Robinson’s impact had on the black person he knew best when he was a boy, to shed some light on what a source of pride Robinson was in the African-American community all those years ago.

“To Neet, Dodger Ranked a Source of Pride,” is an elegant sports remembrance by one of the best sportswriters I’ve known. Click here to read the whole piece; an except is below:

“...As young children, we didn’t know a lot about Neet, except we knew she was a wonderfully gentle soul. We knew she and her husband Glenzon lived over in The Ridges on the other side of the Southern Railroad tracks, that they raised a family of four children, that they were people of deep religious faith, and that Neet answered most questions one of two ways: ‘Yessum’ and ‘Nome.’ To say that Neet kept her feelings and opinions under wraps is to say that the Grand Canyon is a very big ditch. Then Jackie Robinson came to the major leagues 60 years ago today as a member of the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers, and Neet couldn’t hide her pride.”

Now I'm strictly a National League fan, and I routinely pull for anybody to beat the Yankees. Anybody!

Death in Blacksburg

A tragedy of yet-to-be-understood proportions has taken place at Virginia Tech today. Early news reports disagree about the numbers, but it appears that perhaps over 30 people are dead, stemming from a shooting spree on two locations of the campus.

“‘This is a tragedy of monumental proportions,’ Virginia Tech president Charles Steger told reporters.’

Naturally, for those of us old enough to remember it, this brings to mind the Aug. 1, 1966 shootings by gunman Charles Whitman on the University of Texas campus, which left 15 people dead. And, no matter how old one is this unfolding story from Blacksburg sets the mind reeling.

While I realize this will likely create another tidal wave of angry opinions, accusations, name-callings, and you-name-it in the blogosphere, for today, I’m going to stay out of that rush to hurl quick takes on the story of a mass murder before the facts have been established.

Moreover, to me, it is a bad idea for a blogger (or anyone) to try to score points on their usual rivals at this time by using a preexisting set of political opinions. Hell, the facts are still coming in; the bodies aren’t even cold yet. It’s just too soon for drawing conclusions and being a know-it-all about what this will/should mean in the world of politics.

Some might say it’s rather indecent to be bloviating on gun control, and such, while the families and friends of the dead and wounded are still in the process of learning the sad truth. Some parents are probably still trying to find out if their kids are alive.

Thus, my advice to my readers and fellow bloggers is to hold off on all that for a day or so. It will keep.

Instead, it may be better to look to less literal modes of expression than dwelling on news stories, or opinion-writing, to connect with how you feel in your gut. It’s at a time such as this that music, art and even poetry maybe come closer to expressing our feelings, or comforting us.

My thought upon hearing the news of the shootings in Blacksburg?

It brought to mind the picture of modern madness that was painted by Irish poet W.B. Yeats in his “The Second Coming” (1921).

*

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
-- William Butler Yeats

*

In the days to come we will hear/read a lot about this shock to our sense of what is possible, and what is not. The identity of the now dead culprit, who is thought to have acted alone -- but who knows? -- may reveal clues to his motive. On the other hand, we may never really understand why this thing happened in Blacksburg. Whatever else it was ... it was an act of utter madness.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The trouble with words

Two stories that involve college team sports have been in the news this week. Both have caused such a stir that they’ve escaped the confines of the sports page to become above-the-fold front page stories. Of course, they are the Don Imus/Rutgers women’s basketball team story and the Mike Nifong/Duke lacrosse players story.

As anyone who’s been on the planet knows, radio personality Don Imus has been in the spotlight all week trying to apologize hard enough to put out the fire he started by calling the Rutgers team “nappy-headed hos.” Yesterday, in spite of Imus’ efforts at damage control CBS Radio fired him.

That Imus had been fired doesn’t bother me a bit. I don’t listen to Imus. In fact, talk radio -- whether it’s politics or sports -- gives me a headache, so I don’t listen to any of it. The closest I get is to listen to ’Fresh Air” on NPR. So, blather kings Jim Rome, Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh could get fired tomorrow and I wouldn’t care about them either.

The only reason for me to comment on the Imus brouhaha is to say this -- I don’t think anyone is better off for what has happened to Imus, who is essentially a topical comedian. I don’t believe the cause of reducing so-called “hate crimes” has been served. Nor do I think a single bigot has seen the light and been reformed by the spectacle of Imus’ fall from his syndicated lofty perch.

For some folks it’s always fun to see the mighty fall. So, that crowd has been entertained. Imus’ crack was so off-the-wall and lowbrow it made some people mad. I can certainly understand that, but he was trying to be funny. Just as Chris Rock, Bill Maher, and any number of other comedians say things to be funny that make some people angry.

Are such comedians sometimes too mean, so mean that it keeps the joke from being funny?

Yes, but so what. The last thing this country needs is a law against jokes that don’t work.

Basically, jokes all have fall guys. We’re either laughing at the other guy, or at ourselves. Imus’ remark about those young female athletes was mean-spirited. But in a culture that tolerates gangster rap and outrageous violence in primetime television programs, how egregious was Imus’ decent into racist/misogynist lingo?

Not very.

We live in a cynical time in which lots of people write and say “the n-word,” as if they have shown some deference to the historically trampled-upon dignity of black citizens by not using the attention-getting word that code represents.

Well, I don’t happen to believe they have, so that prissy, politically correct way of using a word that seems to be forbidden to some people, but not others, is of no use to me. It’s not in my repertoire.

Words are symbols of thoughts. And, they can only be understood in the context and manner in which they are used. Usually, it’s not so much what you say, as it is when you say it, where you say it, and how you say it.

Tone of voice can mean much more than dictionary definitions. Thus, the old saw -- “you better smile when you say that.”

Moving on to the ill-chosen words of another man, when North Carolina prosecutor Mike Nifong called the Duke lacrosse players “a bunch of hooligans,” he was speaking as a public official. Nifong apparently had nothing more to go on than the wacky ramblings of the woman who claimed to be the victim, and his own bad hunch, when he decided to charge the lacrosse players with rape. There was no evidence.

Now we know there was no case at all.

Then to make matters worse Nifong recklessly characterized young men who were still legally presumed to be innocent as perhaps being the sort who could easily rape an exotic dancer.

Now Nifong is being called “a rogue prosecutor,” and for good reason. His “hooligans” was said in a way, in a time and in a place that injured people. Since he deliberately did that injury, firing him is not enough.

Nifong may lose his license to practice law. He will probably be sued. Good. Moreover, I think there ought to be a law against what he did. He should do time for what he did to injure the lacrosse players, their families and Duke University.

Rogue prosecutors are not as rare as they should be. And, one reason for that is they usually only get slapped on the wrist when they get caught.

When elected or appointed officials say something that offends/injures innocent citizens, they should be called upon to account for themselves. In this age of focusing on forced apologies that can get silly, but the standard for what public officials say on the record should be high. Sometimes they should be fired; sometimes they should go to jail.

On the other hand, if we want to stop comedians from occasionally being mean in their attempts at humor, we’re going against human nature.

Furthermore, the marketplace of ideas will take care of comedians who aren’t funny enough to justify their meanness. The recent flap over Michael “Cosmo Kramer” Richards’ much-publicized racist tirade in a nightclub, and his series of awkward/lame apologies is an example of that. He’s not funny, anymore, and he’s on his way to the dustbin.

You can’t take certain words away from writers. Outlawing certain topics will never work. You can’t stop artists from using certain colors, or musicians from playing certain notes. Because, in truth, it’s not the words, or the colors, or the notes that matter. It’s when, where and how they are used.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Byrd’s antiwar speech, four years later

As the war in Iraq has gone increasingly sour Democrats have been criticized for not having challenged President George Bush vigorously enough before the invasion. Indeed, too many who now stand against Bush’s war policy were curiously quiet in 2003. But there was one quite notable exception -- US Sen. Robert Byrd.

Now, over four years later, Byrd’s speech delivered on the floor of the US Senate on March 19, 2003 -- the text of which is below -- makes for an interesting read. His words were dismissed by hawks as the ramblings of an old man who was out of touch. In light of what has happened in Iraq in the last four years, now Byrd’s eloquent warning should be compared to the careless, made-up-out-of-thin-air words of those same hawks who told us it would be a “cakewalk.”

*

"I believe in this beautiful country. I have studied its roots and gloried in the wisdom of its magnificent Constitution. I have marveled at the wisdom of its founders and framers. Generation after generation of Americans has understood the lofty ideals that underlie our great Republic. I have been inspired by the story of their sacrifice and their strength.

"But, today I weep for my country. I have watched the events of recent months with a heavy, heavy heart. No more is the image of America one of strong, yet benevolent peacekeeper. The image of America has changed. Around the globe, our friends mistrust us, our word is disputed, our intentions are questioned.

"Instead of reasoning with those with whom we disagree, we demand obedience or threaten recrimination. Instead of isolating Saddam Hussein, we seem to have isolated ourselves. We proclaim a new doctrine of preemption which is understood by few and feared by many. We say that the United States has the right to turn its firepower on any corner of the globe which might be suspect in the war on terrorism. We assert that right without the sanction of any international body. As a result, the world has become a much more dangerous place.

"We flaunt our superpower status with arrogance. We treat UN Security Council members like ingrates who offend our princely dignity by lifting their heads from the carpet. Valuable alliances are split.

"After war has ended, the United States will have to rebuild much more than the country of Iraq. We will have to rebuild America's image around the globe.

"The case this Administration tries to make to justify its fixation with war is tainted by charges of falsified documents and circumstantial evidence. We cannot convince the world of the necessity of this war for one simple reason. This is a war of choice.

"There is no credible information to connect Saddam Hussein to 9/11. The twin towers fell because a world-wide terrorist group, Al Qaeda, with cells in over 60 nations, struck at our wealth and our influence by turning our own planes into missiles, one of which would likely have slammed into the dome of this beautiful Capitol except for the brave sacrifice of the passengers on board.

"The brutality seen on September 11th and in other terrorist attacks we have witnessed around the globe are the violent and desperate efforts by extremists to stop the daily encroachment of western values upon their cultures. That is what we fight. It is a force not confined to borders. It is a shadowy entity with many faces, many names, and many addresses.

"But, this Administration has directed all of the anger, fear, and grief which emerged from the ashes of the twin towers and the twisted metal of the Pentagon towards a tangible villain, one we can see and hate and attack. And villain he is. But, he is the wrong villain. And this is the wrong war. If we attack Saddam Hussein, we will probably drive him from power. But, the zeal of our friends to assist our global war on terrorism may have already taken flight.

"The general unease surrounding this war is not just due to "orange alert." There is a pervasive sense of rush and risk and too many questions unanswered. How long will we be in Iraq? What will be the cost? What is the ultimate mission? How great is the danger at home?

"A pall has fallen over the Senate Chamber. We avoid our solemn duty to debate the one topic on the minds of all Americans, even while scores of thousands of our sons and daughters faithfully do their duty in Iraq.

"What is happening to this country? When did we become a nation which ignores and berates our friends? When did we decide to risk undermining international order by adopting a radical and doctrinaire approach to using our awesome military might? How can we abandon diplomatic efforts when the turmoil in the world cries out for diplomacy?

"Why can this President not seem to see that America's true power lies not in its will to intimidate, but in its ability to inspire?

"War appears inevitable. But, I continue to hope that the cloud will lift. Perhaps Saddam will yet turn tail and run. Perhaps reason will somehow still prevail. I along with millions of Americans will pray for the safety of our troops, for the innocent civilians in Iraq, and for the security of our homeland. May God continue to bless the United States of America in the troubled days ahead, and may we somehow recapture the vision which for the present eludes us."

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Eyes that would follow the viewer

With SLANT coming back from its hibernation some readers may want to enhance the pleasure of reading the upcoming May issue by wearing a brand new SLANT T-shirt. Not to worry ... here’s what you need to know to make that dream come true:This is the art for the first SLANT T-shirt to be available to the T-shirt-loving public since the early-‘90s. The oil painting was done in the mid-‘90s for a SLANT calendar. My goal for that piece was to figure out how to paint eyes that would follow the viewer, no matter where he stood. We’ve all seen those paintings where the eyes seem to do that.

It was an interesting challenge and it took a lot of testing and slight changes, but I was satisfied with the result. Click here to go to F.T. Rea’s Inkbites to learn how to own a T-shirt bearing the art above.

Bush seen as anxious and irrelevant

Georgie Anne Geyer’s “President Keeps Low Profile in Days of High Anxiety” tells the story of an isolated president who isn’t showing his face in DeeCee these days.

“George W. is the man who isn’t there this spring in Washington. Oh, you can easily glimpse him on TV, his increasingly troubled visage close to obsessive as he repeats the same old message that we will win in Iraq and then.... But it is becoming increasingly clear that no one pays attention to the Texan with the destructive ambitions anymore -- and that the nation’s view of Iraq has undergone a massive and important transformation.

“Anecdotally, I happen to be a member of the journalists’ club the Gridiron, which puts on a satiric dinner show of American politicos every spring. Because the presence and speeches of American presidents are a staple of the dinner, it is usually a matter of considerable voiced disappointment, and indignation, when one does not attend.

“President Bush did not come this year, yet in weeks of rehearsals, I heard not a single word about his decision. It mattered that Vice President Cheney, considered the real power broker, came and spoke -- and he did -- but the president was irrelevant...

Click here to read the whole piece.

VCU signs two all-state guards

Coming off of its 28-7 season (a school record for wins), today Virginia Commonwealth University announced the signing of a pair of guards to next year’s recruiting class. Brandon Rozzell from Richmond (Highland Springs HS) and Ed Nixon from St. Petersburg, Fla. have signed national letters of intent.

“We are very excited about the addition of Brandon Rozzell and Ed Nixon to our program,” VCU head coach Anthony Grant said. “These young men are great additions to an outstanding 2006-07 recruiting class. Both are very outstanding basketball players and possess very good character and work ethic. They are proven winners.”

Rozzell, 6-2, led Highland Springs to the Virginia AAA state title. He was named AAA state player of the year. Rozzell averaged 20.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.3 steals. “Brandon provides us athleticism, skill and competitiveness at the combo guard position,” said Grant.

Nixon, 6-3, who led Lakewood HS to the Florida 5A state championship game, was named first team all-state. Along the way he averaged 17.8 points, 4.8 assists, 4.2 steals and 5.0 rebounds per game. “Ed will be one of the more athletic wing players in our region,” Grant said, “he possesses size and skill to be outstanding in our system and our style of play.”

During the early signing period in November VCU signed four Florida players: Joey Rodriguez (5-10 guard, first team all-state); Lance Kearse (6-6 forward, second team all-state); Larry Sanders (6-9 forward, second team all-state); Myk Brown (6-4 guard). Grant has also already signed center/forward Kirill Pischalnikov, 6-8, a transfer from Russia who will have three years of eligibility. Thus, VCU has seven new players coming in next year.

At the conclusion of his first season as head coach at VCU Grant was named as the Colonial Athletic Association’s Coach of the Year. In postseason play the Rams won the CAA tournament in Richmond, then went on to pick up their first NCAA tournament victory in 22 years when they defeated Duke (79-77) in Buffalo.

Richmond Zine Fest

Here’s some information about an upcoming event that should be of interest to those with a taste for alternative media. Written by Peter Szijarto, this notice appears on The Camel’s web site.

"The Richmond Zine Fest, to be held on Saturday, April 28th will be the first ever in the city in 13 years. A zine fest is being held in hopes of creating a network amongst current zine writers and distro owners in Richmond and Virginia (plus the Southern/Mid-Atlantic regions) and raising awareness and encouraging the creation of zines, independent press, and other D.I.Y. endeavors in Richmond. Forty zine writers and distros will be vending at the zine fest, which will be held at two venues on the 1600 block of West Broad Street.

"The Firehouse Theatre (1609 West Broad Street) and The Camel (1621 West Broad Street, a new community space and restaurant). The majority of the zine writers vending are from Richmond and Virginia, although there are several vendors who are from the Mid-Atlantic region, as well as New York, and the West Coast..."

Click here to read more about the Richmond Zine Fest

(Hat-tip to Snoopy at River City Rapids.)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Apologies a la carte

Today is no different than any other day. Once again the landscape is littered with lame demands from the deeply offended for apologies, which, however contrived, inevitably become news stories.

The surest way to create a news event out of thin air is to call upon a politician to apologize. The second surest way seems to be to call upon a talking head, even if the professional talker is mostly a comedian, to apologize. Then the story goes through its predictable cycle.

The most recent such scandal has been the Don Imus imbroglio which has earned him a two-week suspension from CBS Radio and MSNBC. But it won’t be long before another brouhaha will erupt over a wisecrack from another high-profile celebrity and it will supplant Imus’ lowbrow attempt at humor, to create another tidal wave of demands for an apology.

It usually goes something like this:

The Demander: Sir, I demand an apology. When you said, “war is hell,” you demeaned every single young American in uniform today, particularly those serving on the Iraqi battlefield of this nation’s War on Terror. You were saying they’ve gone to hell, which is to say they do not deserve to go to heaven. Who are you to judge?

The Offender: What in heaven’s name are you talking about? “War is hell,” is a quote from General William Tecumseh Sherman.

The Demander: That’s your opinion.

The Offender: OK. I regret accidentally offending anyone who agrees with you, if it is actually true that they were offended.

The Demander: If? I demand you apologize for issuing an insulting apology, and I also call upon you to apologize to Maria Shriver Schwarzenegger.

The Offender: What’s she got to do with this?

The Demander: When you say “war is hell” it has to remind her of the assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, because that was the title of the war movie he slipped into a Dallas theater to see, after he alone shot President Kennedy. Why do you hate poor Maria and the rest of the Kennedy family?

The Offender: How about I just hate Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movies?

The Demander: Your un-apology apologies reek of sarcasm, which is outrageously disrespectful of our troops in Iraq, and brave veterans such as President Bush.

The Offender: Does saying, “war is the h-word,” make it any better? How about “war is heck?”

The Demander: The hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers” should convince you that saying war is hell, while we are engaged in righteous war against heathen terrorists is tantamount to blasphemous treason.

The Offender: How about I say “war is so dangerous it can be hell-like?”

The Demander: You’d be emboldening the enemy.

The Offender: To hell with the enemy!

The Demander: Better.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Kool-Aid fast lane

Watching the story of the bizarre poison Kool-Aid deaths in Jonesville on a PBS American Experience program tonight reminded me of where and when I first heard the mind-boggling news of that tragedy.

It was past midnight in the wee hours of Nov. 19, 1978. I was driving my yellow Volvo wagon south on Interstate 95. My wife and daughter had both fallen asleep. We were somewhere between Woodbridge and Fredericksburg and up ahead on the road I saw headlights approaching in the distance. The lights seemed to be on my side of the highway but I figured it was an illusion.

It wasn’t.

The car coming at me must have been doing 100 miles-an-hour down the center of the highway. The only other cars in sight were in my rear view mirror. With no time to muddle over the problem I picked a side and steered right. The car passed in a blur. In the mirror I saw the mystery car heading toward the headlights behind me. There were no collisions, then it was over like nothing had happened.

Except for the radio the whole crisis happened without a sound. My passengers didn’t stir. Seconds later I heard a wire service report coming in -- it was the first news about Jonestown. To say it was an unbelievable story doesn‘t do the moment justice. Hundreds of people from San Francisco had committed suicide in a religious community in the tropics?

Could that be true?

It was all way too spooky to go on driving without waking up the sleeping girls, who probably would rather have stayed unaware of it all. The sense of absurdity in the Volvo was palpable.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Monument Ave. Easter Parade

The annual Easter Parade took place on Monument Avenue this afternoon. It was a bright, crisp day in the Fan District, and as is the custom that had thousands of people milling around on a quarter-mile, closed-to-motor-traffic stretch of Richmond’s most famous street to take in the sights. But this parade is a participatory event. So, the lookers were also the lookees. Funny hats, fancy outfits and costumes and were plentiful, which made this ritual -- as always -- a paradise for people-watchers:
There was dancing in the street.

The Taters were harmonizing.

The accompanist appeared on the balcony.

Sami and Kevin made the best of the day.

Big Daddy was on the job.

Hats were judged on a platform in front of the Lee Monument.

Amplified gospel music filled the spring air in the Fan District.

Since there were almost as many dogs on hand as people, dogs in costumes were judged, too.

For lots of old friends who ran into one another on Monument Avenue the citizens parade became a reunion.

Photos by SLANT. Click on any picture to enlarge it.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

James River Film Festival

The notice below came in from the Richmond Moving Image Coop’s James Parrish, about the 14th annual James River Film Festival, which will take place at various locations in Richmond throughout the upcoming week (April 9-15).

“We’ve got another great lineup this year featuring Chuck Statler, the godfather of the music video, with two jam-packed programs featuring ground-breaking music videos for Devo, Elvis Costello, Pere Ubu, Tiny Tim and many others; Jeff Krulik, filmmaker and lover of all things wacky, strange, quirky, and eccentric with a double feature screening of his cult classic "Heavy Metal Parking Lot" and his latest, "The Legend of Merv Conn" about the D.C.-based accordionist extraordinaire Merv Conn; Toronto-based King of Super 8 John Porter, our 2007 JRFF filmmaker-in-residence, will present a screening of his work, do some film-busking on the street and lead a filmmaking workshop; locally-based but internationally renowned filmmaker David Williams with a work-in-progress screening of his latest film project, Kawashima's Curve; and VCU professor Laura Browder screening her first film (as writer/producer) Gone to Texas: The Lives of Forrest Carter.

“Plus, we’ve got a program dedicated to remembering the lives of artists/friends who passed away recently -- Richmonders Dika Newlin and Bryan Harvey and past RMIC-featured filmmakers Diane Bonder and Helen Hill; John Porter’s workshop Fifty Dollars: The Super 8 Budget; the Virginia Production Alliance’s panel discussion on low-budget independent filmmaking; a screening of films by the finalists in our annual juried competition for short films; a screening of American Hardcore, with a bonus slide show presentation by Richmond-based photographer Thurston Howes featuring his photos of the Richmond punk scene of that decade; a screening of past JRFF guest Charles Burnett's newly remastered (and for the first time distributed) independent classic Killer of Sheep; a program of short films by students at the Maggie L. Walker Governor's School for the Arts and much, much more!

“[Click here to] visit RMIC for a complete schedule, including show dates/times, locations, and descriptions. Many of events are free -- all are a deal, especially considering the filmmakers themselves will be on hand to introduce their programs and answer questions afterward.”

Grant staying at VCU

Anthony Grant is staying at VCU, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. Which comes as good news to the still-celebrating fans of the Blue-Devils-beating Rams.

Yes, the same Rams who play a stylish brand of hoops, designed by first-year head coach Grant (pictured right), with a trapping defense that is a thing of beauty. Grant’s coaching allowed a team perhaps greater than the sum of its parts to show a prime time March Madness TV audience that tournament basketball games are still contests between teams, not necessarily platforms for dueling NBA prospects.

Grant has a recruiting class coming in that has been given high marks by the most outspoken avid Rams fans/boosters I know, basketball junkies who sometimes know it all. Now they can breathe a sign of relief. Billy Donovan is staying put at Florida and Grant says he’s happy to be here.

Grant is a wonder, he earned his raise. In 20 years of covering college basketball I’ve not seen a more talented and focused basketball coach. So, I fully expect he will coach a Final Four team in the next few years.

But where?

*

Update: Speaking of Grant, the message below from Phil Stanton, VCU’s sports information director, came in today:

"The VCU SportsCenter is set to host a panel of influential members of the sports field, headlined by Washington Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell and VCU men’s basketball head coach Anthony Grant. The event, which is free and open to the public, will be held April 17 at 7 p.m. in the Alltel Pavilion at the Stuart C. Siegel Center.

"'This is an unbelievable opportunity for every young athlete to have a chance to hear in person about the journey to success of great athletes and people,'
VCU SportsCenter Director Dr. Richard Sander said. 'These are athletes and coaches who have great stories and are people who young athletes can learn great lessons. As a parent I would want my child to witness these individuals.'

"Other panelists will include local Varina High School football star and current San Francisco 49er Michael Robinson along with Randolph-Macon College three-time All-American Megan Silva. Rounding out the panel will be Virginia’s standout point-guard Sean Singletary, VCU baseball alum and former member of the Boston Red Sox organization Brian Marshall, former VCU track and field All-American Tankia Brown, along with U.S. Olympic gold medalist and recently hired VCU women’s soccer co-head coach Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak.

"In his first year as the head coach at VCU, Grant made quite an impression – collecting a CAA regular season title, the program’s third CAA Tournament crown, a school-record 28 wins, and a coach-of-year selection. Most notably, Grant led the Rams to their first NCAA Tournament win in more than 20 years, a stunning upset of sixth-seeded Duke in the first round.

"The VCU SportsCenter-sponsored event will allow the speakers an opportunity to share their own individual athletic stories and accomplishments, while providing the young athletes in attendance guidance on their own future endeavors. A question-and-answer session will follow the presentation. For more information please contact the VCU SportsCenter office at (804) 828-7821."
Photo: SLANT

Friday, April 06, 2007

Cool's Stretch

Note: An earlier version of this piece was published by STYLE Weekly in 2002. In part, this piece is about an adolescent boy’s yearning to be both cool and popular. Moreover, it attempts to shed some light on what was the nature of true cool, when being true to your school was important to a certain breed of cat.

Cool’s Stretch
by F.T. Rea

The prototype was assembled during a lull in seventh grade shop class. After tying some 15 rubber bands together to make a chain, a collaborator held one end of the contraption as I stepped back to stretch it out for a test. Squinting to sight along the taut line to take proper aim, finally, I let go.

The whole thing gathered itself and shot past the holder. The released tip smartly struck a target several feet beyond the holder. While the satisfaction I felt was a rush, the encouragement from the boys who witnessed that launching felt transforming.

Through a pleasant sequence of trial-and-error experiments, it was soon determined how to best maximize distance and accuracy. Once guys across the room were getting popped with the bitter end of my brainchild -- dubbed The Stretch -- the spitballs that routinely flew around classrooms in 1960 at Albert H. Hill Junior High -- were strictly old news.

The following morning, uncharacteristically, I appeared on the schoolyard an hour before the first bell. Inside a brown paper bag I had with me an updated version of the previous day’s invention. This one was some 60 links long -- the Big Stretch.

Once it was tested on the schoolyard, demonstrating its amazing new range, boys were soon shoving one another aside just to act as holders. Most of the time I did the shooting. Occasionally, one of the guys from my inner circle was permitted to be the shooter. As the wonder whizzed by it made such a splendid noise that just standing close by the holder was a thrill, too. On the asphalt playground behind the yellow brick school building an enthusiastic throng cheered each flight.

The Big Stretch went on to make an appearance at an afternoon football game, where its operators established to the delight of the audience that cheerleaders on the sideline at a football game could be zapped on their bouncing butts with impunity from more than 25 yards away. After a couple of days of demonstrations around the neighborhood and at Willow Lawn shopping center, again, I significantly lengthened the chain of rubber bands.

But the new version -- about 100 rubber bands long -- proved too heavy for its own good. It was not as accurate or powerful as the previous model. Then came the morning a couple of beefy ninth-grade football players weren’t content with taking a single turn with the new Big Stretch. Although there was a line behind them they demanded another go.

Surrounded by seventh-grade devotees of the Big Stretch, I stood my ground and refused. But my fair-weather-friend entourage was useless in a pinch. Faced with no good options, I fled with my claim-to-fame in hand. In short order I was cornered and pounded until the determined thieves got the loot they wanted. They fooled around for a while trying to hit their buddies with it. Eventually, several rubber bands broke and the Big Stretch was literally pulled to pieces and scattered.

By then my nose had stopped bleeding, so I gathered my dignity and shrugged off the whole affair, as best I could. I choose not to make another version of the Big Stretch. A couple of other kids copied it, but nobody seemed to care. Just as abruptly as it gotten underway, the connected-rubber-band craze ran out of gas at Hill School.

It was over.

At that time the slang meaning of “cool” had an underground cachet which has been stretched out of shape since. We’re told the concept of cool, and the term itself, seeped out of the early bebop scene in Manhattan in the ‘40s. That may be, but to me the same delightful sense of spontaneity and understated defiance seems abundantly evident in forms of expression that predate the Dizzy Gillespie/Thelonious Monk era at Minton’s, on 118th Street.

Wasn’t that Round Table scene at the Algonquin Hotel, back in the ‘20s, something akin to cool? If Dorothy Parker wasn’t cool, who the hell was? And, in the decades that preceded the advent of bebop jazz, surely modern art -- with its cubism, surrealism, constructivism, and so forth -- was laying down some of the rules for what became known as cool.

Cool’s zenith had probably been passed by the time I became enamored with the Beats, via national magazines. Widespread exposure and cool were more or less incompatible. Significantly, cool -- with its ability to be flippant and profound in the same gesture -- rose and fell without the encouragement of the ruling class. Underdogs invented cool out of thin air. It was a style that was beyond what money could buy.

The artful grasping of a moment’s unique truth was cool. However, just as the one-time-only perfect notes blown in a jam session can’t be duplicated, authentic cool was difficult to harness; even more difficult to mass-produce.

By the ‘70s, the mobs of Hippies attuned to stadium Rock ‘n’ Roll shrugged nothing off. Cool was probably too subtle for them to appreciate. The Disco craze ignored cool. Punk Rockers searched for it in all the wrong places, then caught a buzz and gave up.

Eventually, in targeting self-absorbed Baby Boomers as a market, Madison Avenue promoted everything under the sun -- including schmaltz, and worse -- as cool. The expression subsequently lost its moorings and dissolved into the soup of mainstream vernacular. Time tends to stretch slang expressions thin as they are assimilated; pronunciations and definitions come and go.

Now people say, “ku-ul,” simply to express ordinary approval of routine things.

The process of becoming cool, then popular, pulled the Big Stretch to pieces. Once the experimental aspect of it was over it got old, like any worn out joke. Then it began to play as just another showoff gimmick, which was something less-than-cool, even to seventh-graders a long time ago.

Bottom line: Cool was illusive by its nature; fresh could be cool. Stale was usually uncool. Being a copycat was never cool.

-- 30 --

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Cheaters

As baseball season has just begun, my grandfather has been brought to mind. Fifty years ago he was taking me to baseball games at Parker Field, where I saw the Richmond Virginians, affectionately known as the “V’s,” play their International League rivals.

The photograph of him below was shot in 1916 when he was in the Richmond Light Infantry Blues, who were stationed in Brownsville, Texas. He was part of a contingent assigned to protect the border, because Mexican revolutionary/bandit Pancho Villa had been crossing over to raid small towns. Later the Blues were thrown into WWI in France. The story under the old photo is about my grandfather, F.W. Owen (1893-1968), the best story teller I‘ve ever known. 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 he was in his day, maybe even more so. And, as it was for him, the blue jay has always been my favorite bird.

-- 30 --

A media day look at the R-Braves

The Richmond Braves open their International League season today in Buffalo. Click here to read my piece on the 2007 R-Braves on Richmond.com.

“...Brundage remains somewhat of a sports legend in his home state of Oregon. In high school he made all-state in football, basketball and baseball. On the practice field, the 42-year-old Brundage looked like a man who still wanted to play the game, rather than sit in the dugout and manage. As a nine-year minor league manager in the Seattle Mariners system, his overall record was 653-605.

“The field itself looked marvelous. Braves general manager Bruce Baldwin was happy to go on record regarding its condition: ‘It’s in the best shape I’ve seen it in, ever. That’s due to Gerry Huppmann [the manager of field maintenance].’

“As the players tossed baseballs back and forth and then took fielding practice, in the stands among the fans the watchful eye of Andrew J. Tutka, Sr. scanned the familiar scene. Tutka has taken in a lot of Braves baseball during his 21 years as a box seat customer at The Diamond. Hey, since he turns 91 next month, Tutka has seen a lot of baseball, period.”
Photo: F.T. Rea