Thursday, December 31, 2009

Malamud on expectations

"...She stroked his brow slowly with her fingers.

'What happened fifteen years ago, Roy?'

Roy felt like crying, yet he told her -- the first one he ever had. 'I was just a kid and I got shot by this batty dame on the night before my tryout, and after that I just couldn't get started again. I lost my confidence and everything I did flopped.'

He said this was the shame of his life, that his fate, somehow, had always been the same (on the train going nowhere) -- defeat in sight of his goal."

-- from "The Natural" (1952) by Bernard Malamud

Fitzgerald on considering a decade

“…Now once more the belt is tight and we summon the proper expression of horror as we look back at our wasted youth. Sometimes, though, there is a ghostly rumble among the drums, an asthmatic whisper in the trombones that swings me back into the early twenties when we drank wood alcohol and every day in every way grew better and better, and there was a first abortive shortening of the skirts, and girls all looked alike in sweater dresses, and people you didn’t want to know said ‘Yes, we have no bananas,’ and it seemed only a question of a few years before the older people would step aside and let the world be run by those who saw things as they were — and it all seems rosy and romantic to us who were young then, because we will never feel quite so intensely about our surroundings any more.”

– from “Echoes of the Jazz Age” (1931) by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Un-Wildering in 2009

A new piece I wrote about Richmond's year in politics is up at
...Former-Mayor Doug Wilder delighted in the constant attention he earned from the working press during his four years in office. As mayor, in 2009, Jones has been nearly as quiet and invisible as Wilder was omnipresent. In that respect, Richmonders have lived through a year in which they experienced a noteworthy reduction in overcooked drama and raw bombast. Still, are we better off than we were a year ago?
Click here to read the entire OpEd.

Monday, December 28, 2009

SLANTblog's VA Top Five: Dec. 28

Each Monday morning during the rest of the men's college basketball regular season, SLANTblog will publish its new Virginia Top Five. For the third consecutive season it will attempt to rank what seems at the moment to be the best five from among the 14 Division I programs in the Commonwealth. Only games against Division I opponents are counted in won/loss records.

SLANTblog's VA Top Five

1. Wm. & Mary (7-2, 1-0 in CAA, No. 7 RPI)
2. VCU (7-2, 0-1 in CAA, No. 9 RPI)
3. Richmond (10-3, 0-0 in A-10, No. 24 RPI)
4. Va. Tech (10-1, 0-0 in ACC, No. 67 RPI)
5. ODU (8-4, 1-0 in CAA, No. 34 RPI)

-- RPI numbers, which are updated frequently, from CBS Sports

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Aughts: Awash in Scams

As the last 10 years has been an era in which fake has too frequently been admired as better than real, it's also been a decade awash in scams.

Isn't that a fair way to characterize the aughts? After all, the decade began with the Y2K hoax that had people believing the computer world was going seize up. So-called "reality TV," a totally contrived genre of entertainment, has dominated television ratings. Over the last ten years who hasn't received a ton of emails crying for help in getting money out of Nigeria? Or, about winning lotteries they never entered?

Remember the hunt for weapons of mass destruction that launched the war in Iraq? Remember Enron? Remember the federal government's phony investigation of the anthrax-in-the-mail crimes? Remember Sen. Larry Craig's wide stance? Remember former-Sen. John Edwards' pious talk about Two America's? Remember the sworn juicing denials of bloated baseball stars, such as Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Roger Clemons?

What about the lineup of greedy chumps who believed in the investments wizardry of Bernie Madoff? And, to cap it off, what did it take for everyone to have believed in pitchman Tiger Woods' flawless image?

What was in the Kool-Aid one had to swallow to have been shocked when it came out that yet another ridiculously wealthy pro athlete had been a randy dog with cocktail waitresses he met on the road?

Frank Rich writes entertainingly on this topic in his OpEd piece "Tiger Woods, Person of the Year."
If there’s been a consistent narrative to this year and every other in this decade, it’s that most of us, Bernanke included, have been so easily bamboozled. The men who played us for suckers, whether at Citigroup or Fannie Mae, at the White House or Ted Haggard’s megachurch, are the real movers and shakers of this century’s history so far. That’s why the obvious person of the year is Tiger Woods. His sham beatific image, questioned by almost no one until it collapsed, is nothing if not the farcical reductio ad absurdum of the decade’s flimflams, from the cancerous (the subprime mortgage) to the inane (balloon boy).
Click here to read it.

Perhaps the only thing left to say is, "Bah! Humbug!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Redskins in death spiral

This season SLANTblog has mostly avoided mentioning the Washington Redskins. They've played such pathetic football I haven't felt moved to give voice to the way I've been feeling about the team I've rooted for since I was a kid. The 'Skins were terrible in the late-'50s and early-'60s, so I can take it. But I haven't had to write about it.

Until now.

Watching the Redskins performance against the New York Giants has forced on me an undeniable need to do a little venting: Alas, with two games remaining in the season the Redskins appear poised to establish a new standard in the all-time laughing stock of the league department. They have the Dallas Cowboys coming to DeeCee next; then a trip to San Diego will cap off the season.

There's no reason to even hope Washington will win either of those games. The best 'Skins fans can hope for is that none of the players who will be on the team next year get hurt in two games that are beyond meaningless. Then again, maybe none of them will be back.

That might set another new record, to go with that laughingstock thing. Has any front office ever fired all of its players in an off-season?

Redskins owner (since 1999) Daniel Snyder has created a perfect storm of chaos. This version of football chaos is beyond Jeff George, with his worst deer-in-the-headlights look.

The ordeal The Danny has put his head coach Jim Zorn through this year has been especially ugly. Finally, it all came crashing down last night as Washington lost badly at home to division-rival New York, 45-12.

The game was nowhere near as close as the score might suggest. At least half of the Washington players quit. It appeared they just stopped caring. The others, who still wanted to play the game, perhaps out of personal pride, were in a dangerous situation. They could no longer count on some of their teammates to even make an effort to carry out their assignments properly.

Sounds dangerous, doesn't it? It was. And, from here on it will be. So, Bruce Allen being on board for the last three games of the season isn't likely to prove all that useful. Evaluating talent in such a mess won't be easy.

Eventually, hiring Allen as the general manager of the franchise may look good. But bringing him in at this point, just when the team had started to play well, was stupid. It created a disruption that destroyed the positive momentum the coaches and players had established in the last month of steady improvement.

What Snyder can't take away from longtime Redskins fans is the sense of pride that used to exist at RFK, when we knew it was the toughest place on visiting teams in the NFL. I saw a few Monday night games at RFK in the '70s and '80s. Saw Ken Houston stop Walt Garrison short of the goal line in '73.

Glad I've never been at a game when the Redskins played like they did last night. And, Snyder is a perfect example of one of the worst things about raw and capricious capitalism -- it has created too many characters the likes of him. And, it gives such pissants too much power over other people's lives.

The week leading up to a Dallas game at RFK used to be special. The games mattered, perhaps more than they should have. As much as a half-hour before the game started fired-up fans would chant, "We want Dallas!"

Now Redskins fans just want the season in a death spiral to end. This year Snyder is the Grinch would stole the Redskins self esteem.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Drinkin' Wine Spo Dee O Dee

Jerry Lee Lewis' version of "Drinkin' Wine Spo Dee O Dee."

"When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading."

-- Henny Youngman

SLANTblog's VA Top Five: Dec. 21

Each Monday morning during the rest of the men's college basketball regular season, SLANTblog will publish its new Virginia Top Five. For the third consecutive season it will attempt to rank what seems at the moment to be the best five from among the 14 Division I programs in the Commonwealth. Only games against Division I opponents are counted in won/loss records.

SLANTblog's VA Top Five

1. Wm. & Mary (6-2, 1-0 in CAA, No. 14 RPI)
2. VCU (7-2, 0-1 in CAA, No. 19 RPI.)
3. Richmond (8-3, 0-0 in A-10, No. 21 RPI)
4. Va. Tech (9-1, 0-0 in ACC, No. 49 RPI)
5. ODU (7-4, 1-0 in CAA, No. 56 RPI)

-- RPI numbers, which are updated frequently, from CBS Sports.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Louis Ledford

Louis Ledford's band Used Charlotta played at the Biograph Theatre's 30th anniversary bash at Poe's Pub in 2002. Also on the bill were Page Wilson with Reckless Abandon and The (Burnt) Taters. With the short films between sets it was quite a show.

Since then Louis has moved to New Orleans. Still, he was in Richmond last month. Here's evidence.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Want a 2010 SLANT calendar?

Been doing calendars since the mid-'90s. Here's this year's model. It costs $5.00 for one. Each print is hand-tinted. It's 11" by 17" on heavy cardstock. (Click on the image to enlarge it.)

Looking for a few cheap, last-minute gifts? Five of them go for $20.00, if you come and get 'em, or I can deliver them in the Fan/Carytown area). Or, add whatever it costs for me to mail five or more of them to you. Or, I'll send you the file, you print them out and send the dough to me by check, or PayPal.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Lieberman Socks

This video (click here) may act as a balm, if you're having a hard time coping with Sen. Joe Lieberman, these days. If there is a face on the frustration millions of citizens who voted Democratic last year are feeling it is Lieberman's. The cynicism his high-profile game is sowing will probably discourage some young voters, who were energized by last year's campaign.

But there's nothing new about Lieberman's antics. Like many a politician before him, he is serving his master well. And, it's easy enough to see Lieberman's mission -- to kill health care reform this year -- has everything to do with perpetuating a system that funnels large money toward that master.

Now Joe "What, me care?" Liberman is orchestrating a windfall for insurance companies, to take the place of the hope America's workers had that dependable health care be available for a fair price.

-- H/T to Katey

Cerrato kaput!

It gives me great pleasure to pass on this news -- Vinny Cerrato, front office boss for the Washington Redskins has resigned.
Executive vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato, owner Dan Snyder's right-hand man for much of the last decade, quit with three games remaining in a season in which his personnel choices again came under heavy scrutiny.
Click here to read the AP story.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What, Me Care?

Joe "What, Me Care?" Lieberman

-- 'Toon by F.T. Rea

The Aughts:

A new piece I wrote that looks back at the aughts, 2000-2009, is up at
Throttle Magazine ended its 20 years of publishing with the passing of the century. Since then we have lived through a time during which technology has rocked the world of publishing. Online ‘zines, such as, paved the new way, then came Richmond’s blogosphere and more recently newer forms of social media.

Today even the most stubborn of Luddites has a cell phone, even if they haven‘t joined the Facebook and Twitter crowd.
Click here to read "The Aughts: A Decade of Storms and Hype."

Sunday, December 13, 2009

SLANTblog's VA Top Five

Fresh for each Monday morning during the rest of the men's college basketball regular season, SLANTblog will publish its new Virginia Top Five. For the third consecutive season it will attempt to rank what seems at the moment to be the best five from among the 14 Division I programs in the Commonwealth.

In spite of past abuses, comments are still welcomed.

SLANTblog's VA Top Five

1. Wm. & Mary (6-2, 1-0 in CAA, No. 18 RPI)
2. VCU (6-2, 0-1 in CAA, No. 19 RPI)
3. Va. Tech (8-1, 0-0 in ACC, No. 45 RPI)
4. Richmond (7-2, 0-0 in A-10, No. 35 RPI)
5. ODU (6-4, 1-0 in CAA, No. 108 RPI)

Click here to read "Rams over Spiders, again" at the Fan District Hub.

-- RPI numbers, which are updated frequently, from CBS Sports.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Snyder is City Paper's 'Unsportsman'

Justice for The Danny: The woeful Washington Redskins (3-9) owner Dan Snyder has won the Washington City Paper's "Unsportsman of the Year Award."
Our news hole isn’t big enough to relive all the bad moves—such transcendent Snyder deeds as the public emasculation of Jim Zorn and the broke-grandmother lawsuit are left out—but here are a few of the horrors Snyder unleashed on our community in these last 12 months.
Click here to read the entire article by Dave McKenna

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

1990 Flashback: Mondo Softball

The video promo above ran on local television in 1990. The voice heard is that of Gayle Carson (now Hudert). She was my girlfriend at the time. The article below, by Paul Woody, which appeared in Richmond's then-afternoon daily's sports section, was about the cable TV show being promoted in the 30-second spot.

Among other things, Mondo Softball was a spoof of ESPN's SportsCenter. My on-camera sidekick was Paul Joyce. I produced the show and hosted it in-character as Mutt De Ville. It was a viewer call-in program that lasted for one softball season, then it moved to radio. Unfortunately, the video highlights segment -- including the blooper of the week -- shot by cameraman Fritz Truffaut, didn't go over as well on radio.

by Paul Woody (Richmond News Leader, July 5, 1990)
Years ago when Terry Rea was manager of the now defunct Biograph Theatre, he organized a softball team for the Fan League.

But this wasn't just any team. This team had two illegal French aliens.

"One spoke no English at all," Rea said. "Neither had ever seen a baseball game. But they went out to a yard sale, found some funky `50s uniforms and they were a laugh riot."

The Biograph team also had a life-size, cardboard figure of Mr. Natural, a comic-book character created by R. Crumb of Zap Comics. Rea and his teammates took Mr. Natural to every game. They would carry him onto the field and chant to him.

"Some thought it was funny," Rea said. "Some thought we were mocking them. Some thought we were mocking the game."

All Rea was trying to do was enjoy a little softball and make the team and the league, "a rolling comedy show," he said. "I'm not sure everybody on the team was 100 percent behind me on that."

Rea began playing softball in 1976, but now, at the age of 42, he's in semi-retirement. "I try in the offseason to lower my expectations, but I'm losing my game faster than I can lower my expectations," Rea said.

Rea, however, is hardly done with softball. In fact, he may be contributing more to the game than he ever did as a player. Rea, a freelance graphic artist by trade, is the originator, host and creative force behind "Mondo Softball," a weekly, one-hour talk and call-in show seen Tuesday nights at 9 o'clock on BLAB-TV (Continental Ch. 7, Storer Ch. 8).

Mondo is Italian for "world." Rea took it from the drive-in movies of his youth that were all the rage.

"There were a bunch of `Mondo' films," Rea said. "Then, you started to see it thrown in front of almost anything to give it a bizarre connotation. People just know it has some sort of bizarre edge to it. "And, of course, I'm using that."

Rea isn't the host of "Mondo Softball."

The host is Mutt deVille, a man of mysterious origin who always wears a baseball cap, sunglasses and softball jersey. Mutt deVille is Rea's alter ego. Mutt deVille was created by Rea as a pen name for the sports writer in Slant, the twice-monthly newsletter of commentary that Rea publishes, writes and edits.

DeVille initially existed to give some diversity to the pages of Slant, "and to create the illusion there was a staff of writers," Rea said.. But the more Rea wrote as deVille, the more he liked it.

"My name, and my approach to things, like anyone who stays in his hometown long enough, carries a certain amount of baggage with it," Rea said. "I could move more freely as Mutt deVille.

"When I decided to do a show and it was a sports show, it seemed like a good idea to use Mutt. That led to the idea that Mutt should become a character and the time I was on camera should be a performance. Mutt is a device to make me feel at ease on stage."

"Mondo Softball" is not like any other show you'll see on BLAB. It's a one-hour play, softball as kitsch. It's part news -- standings, results and tournament highlights provided by Paul Joyce, the `field' reporter and a veteran local player -- part conversation with a guest, questions from callers and wisecracks, subtle humor and outright gags whenever possible. It's clever, and it's as entertaining as a show on recreational softball can be.

Rea said he has borrowed from shows he's seen. From the "Tonight Show," Rea took the idea that Johnny Carson is at his best and funniest when things go wrong.

"Part of live TV is that there are a lot of glitches," Rea said. "I've tried to incorporate the production values of an old `50s sci-fi movie and try to go with whatever goes wrong."

Each week, there is a great uproar over the magic word. If a caller says the word, he or she receives a $20 gift certificate from a local restaurant. The magic word is straight out of "You Bet Your Life" with the late Groucho Marx. In that show, it was called the secret word.

"If you're going to steal, steal from the best," Rea said.

Part of the attraction of "Mondo Softball" is that you can never be sure what will happen next.

"I think some people watch shows on BLAB just to see if the set will fall over," Rea said.

Rea brings a unique element of surprise to the screen. He isn't afraid to take a chance or play a little joke. When he was manager of the Biograph, a repertory theatre located near Virginia Commonwealth University, Rea once offered free admission to "The Devil and Miss Jones."

The line for the show, which most believed to be a well-known X-rated movie, stretched around the 800 block of West Grace Street. But the X-rated movie was "The Devil in Miss Jones." "The Devil and Miss Jones" was a 1941 comedy.

"Most people thought it was funny," Rea said. "But you always have some who get mad about something like that."

"Mondo Softball" has something of the same problem. Hard-core softball players don't always appreciate Rea's attempts at humor.

"I've heard some don't like Mutt's approach," Rea said. "But that's the reason Paul is there. Overall, though, the reaction I get is that they (the hardcore players) like Mutt."

BLAB-TV likes Mutt so much that another show already is in the works. "Mondo Pops," covering everything from sports to who knows what will premier this fall.

It should be an interesting experience. Who knows, maybe even Mr. Natural will make an appearance.

* * *

Monday, December 07, 2009

Fan Tacky Flashback

Fan Tacky Walk to Happy Hour, No. 1

Since everybody in the publishing game in Richmond recycles their Tacky Lights Tour articles each holiday season, here's a flashback to a four-year-old SLANTblog post. It still works. Bogart's has moved. The rest of it works for any year.


DEC. 17, 2005: Writing for the Richmond Times-Dispatch in 1996 Bill McKelway offered readers a brief history of a seasonal tradition in Richmond since 1986, when the Tacky Lights Tour was launched by its creator, Barry "Mad Dog" Gottlieb.
...His fondest memories will be of the outpouring of interest when the tacky house tour began 10 years ago. "I figured I could rent one of those trolleys for about 15 people," said Gottlieb. "That filled up right away. Then I rented a bus and that filled up in an hour. Then I rented another bus and that filled up."

At one house decked out in blue lights, tour members spontaneously broke into Elvis' "Blue Christmas." At another house, they marveled at the lifelike figures on the roof wrapped in lights. "After a while, we realized that the lifelike figures were real people," Gottlieb said, laughing.
The tour of way lit up houses still goes on, although Gottlieb moved to San Francisco nine years ago. This year a group of local bicycle enthusiasts in the Fan District did their own lights tour, a knockoff of a more urban persuasion than the original, which usually focuses on the efforts of crazed suburbanites determined to outdo one another in pure wattage.

Back in 1989, or maybe it was 1990, yours truly was one of four, maybe five judges, for Mad Dog's annual stunt. We rode around in a limousine drinking beer, looking at houses made up to resemble amusement parks, or perhaps houses of ill fame in a Fellini film. I remember the all-blue-lights house that McKelway mentioned in his piece (which is a good read).

It was by far the smallest house on the list. To me it was a little creepy, too, so I stayed in the limo while the others went in.

Barry greatly enjoyed meeting the people, getting their stories and so forth. Some he already knew because he saw them every year, others were new. At the end of the tour we judges voted and may have gone to a bar.

After that same night, I came to see that stretch limos were just not for me. Although I enjoyed my chance to judge tackiness, I’m happy to report I haven’t been in one since then.

The photo essay that follows is my effort to get in the Christmas spirit. It is made up of a series of stills I shot in the twilight today, on my way to happy hour at the Baja Bean. Ho! Ho! Ho! It's a SLANT exclusive -- The Fan Tacky Walk to Happy Hour 2005:

Fan Tacky Walk to Happy Hour, No. 2

Fan Tacky Walk to Happy Hour, No. 3

Fan Tacky Walk to Happy Hour, No. 4

Fan Tacky Walk to Happy Hour, No. 5

Fan Tacky Walk to Happy Hour, No. 6

Fan Tacky Walk to Happy Hour, No. 7

Fan Tacky Walk to Happy Hour, No. 8

Fan Tacky Walk to Happy Hour, No. 9

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Eric E: Jukebox of Americana

Eric E. Stanley, known as "Eric E" to his fans and "Rick" to some of his friends, died six years ago. The year before Rick died I wrote this profile of him for FiftyPlus, a local magazine. After his death reprinted it.


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."�


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. 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 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 free-form 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, etc. 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

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Smoking Speakeasies

Well, the new smoking ban in Virginia’s restaurants has started. Unless the dive has a separate room for smokers, and that space has its own air supply, smoking in the place is now against the law. Violators will be fined. We can expect the new law to be tested in court.

Meanwhile, in the Fan District, I expect to see this new prohibition spawn a burgeoning of private clubs, or speakeasies, in the neighborhood’s basements. Some will be properly registered, others probably not. The smartest operators will locate close to existing clusters of restaurants. That way a customer at the Bamboo Cafe can slip down the street for a quick smoke break in the speakeasy, then go back to the above-ground bar.

These new underground joints will serve beers out of coolers. They will pours shots. The fancy ones might serve highballs. Most importantly, they will allow smoking. And get this -- the most daring of them will allow any kind of smoking. So, no kids allowed.

My guess is, the daring spots will be much more popular.

This phenomenon will establish a subculture, folks using both tobacco and marijuana, who gather in private spaces to smoke and drink what they please. Some of them enjoy a smoke-filled room so much, they don’t care about the health risk. However foolish it might sound to do-gooders who want to promote healthy life choices, the hardcore smokers might say the health risks they take every day breathing polluted air, and so forth, worry them more than being in smoke-filled rooms.

The pot smokers will just say, “Huh?”


All of this would have been hard to predict 40 years ago. In that time marijuana was viewed as a hard drug in Virginia. Tobacco was still king -- in 1969 UVa. beat VMI 28-10 in the Tobacco Bowl at City Stadium.

When marijuana-smoking became central to the hippie lifestyle in the late-1960s, getting caught with it was serious business -- two joints could get you 40 years. In the Fan District, as in college neighborhoods all over the country, a subculture formed around smoking pot, to avoid the law.

Happy Hour for the stoned set was practiced in private rooms, hopefully with no narcs on hand. Draconian prohibition or not, history tells us pot-smoking flourished, anyway.

While most of those who experimented with smoking weed four decades ago eventually gave it up, there are still some old hippies alive who never quit. Other than when their supplies ran out, some have smoked marijuana on a daily basis since that 1969 Tobacco Bowl game.

Thus, whatever would happen to human beings for subjecting their bodies to such an ordeal has happened by now. Whatever damage to society that widespread marijuana smoking for decades would cause has happened, too.

So, let’s see the evidence. Where are the legions of 60-year-old pot-smokers who have contracted a nasty disease or developed a pitiful condition that shows the terrible dangers of too many bong hits?

When those convivial adults are smoking and drinking in the new speakeasy smoking clubs I’m saying will soon exist -- medically speaking -- those drinking alcohol or smoking tobacco will likely be doing themselves more harm than those smoking pot. And, I believe honest statistics would confirm that both tobacco smoking and alcohol consumption, especially when done in excess, have done far more harm to society that any amount of marijuana smoking ever has.

So, if we’re going to get real about tobacco in 2009, let’s get real about marijuana, too. It’s about time!

Virginia has absolutely no compelling interest in preventing adults from smoking marijuana in their homes, or in private clubs. Moreover, Virginia’s cities and counties can no longer afford to have their police forces and courts tied up with prosecuting people for marijuana-associated crimes.

How much money could Virginia save today, by releasing everyone incarcerated for crimes to do with pot?

Taxing legal marijuana sold to adults, in the same way legal alcohol and legal tobacco are taxed, would be a major windfall to Virginia’s depleted treasury.

So, ironically, trying to do the right thing about tobacco may be what pushes us to actually do the right thing about marijuana. The sudden existence of a new kind of night club -- where adults smoke ’em if they’ve got ’em -- may be what opens our collective eyes, even if they are a little bloodshot.


The prohibition of alcohol consumption in the Roaring Twenties created an underground culture in which speakeasies flourished. Now the tobacco smoking ban in restaurants is likely to do the same thing.

Keeping children away from tobacco smoke is obviously a righteous cause. It should be backed by the force of law. But protecting adults who choose to smoke tobacco from themselves may be little more than folly.

No doubt, to go on pretending that marijuana is anything like cocaine, heroin, or their synthetic substitutes, danger-wise, one must completely ignore the 40 years of evidence that proves it is not.

Freewheeling basement speakeasies will mean jobs, too. Makes me wonder how many of them existed in Fan District basements back in the days of Prohibition, 80 years ago.

-- 30 --

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Tiger's game

So, now we are left to imagine: Tiger Woods was ducking flying golf clubs as he jumped into his SUV in the middle of the night; maybe one of them smashing through his back window distracted him so much he ran over a fire hydrant ... then into a tree.

Tiger wants his privacy. After making zillions from endorsements that have come to him for one reason, because he’s a public figure/television star, now he wants to be able to keep his dirty laundry away from public scrutiny.

Good luck with that, Tiger. It won’t be long before the speculation about his “accident” will be so outrageous that whatever the truth is will be tame in comparison. Then we’ll see if he stays mum.

Well, Tiger may be the smartest player in his game, but maybe he chose the wrong game if he’s still worried that his wife might use the equipment to settle a score with him.

Maybe Tiger should switch to Frisbee-golf.

The photo above shows the target on the second hole of the GRFGA’s Back Nine at the Carillon. My group plays on several unmarked object courses in that area. We throw our discs at trees and light poles and such, rather than lobbing them into metal baskets. Our style predates the baskets. And, when one of us gets accidentally hit by a flying disc, it doesn't hurt as much as a being clobbered by a two iron.

Moreover, we don’t run over fire hydrants with motor vehicles; we just hit them with our plastic Frisbees and count up how many strokes it took to do it.

-- Photo by Colleen Dee

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Stretch

Originally published by STYLE Weekly in October of 1999

With the turning of the leaves, The Fan District of Richmond, Va., will again be transformed into a living impressionistic cityscape. As they always do, the season’s wistful breezes will facilitate reflection.

All of which leads to the fact that yet another baseball season has come and gone. After 6,783 games, the last game ever has been played at Detroit’s fabled Tiger Stadium. The Giants and the Astros will be playing in new parks next season, as well. The World Series, first played in 1903, will soon be upon us. Although baseball’s claim as the National Pastime may no longer hold up, the colorful lore generated by the magic of events at baseball parks probably outweighs that of all the other sports, put together.

I began going to the Richmond V's (for Virginians) games at Parker Field with my grandfather when I was about seven. I eagerly drank in all I could of the atmosphere, especially the stories told about legendary players and discussions on the strategy of the game.

As I got older I began to go with my friends, most of whom played baseball. We usually took our baseball gloves with us to the game. We’d go early so we could watch the V’s warm up. As often as possible we talked with the players. If one of them remembered your name it was a source of pride.

When we cheered the heroics we witnessed and rose for the seventh inning stretch and stayed until the last out, regardless of the score, it was tantamount to exercising religious rites.

A few seasons before they tore Parker Field down (it was dismantled in 1984 and in its place stands The Diamond), I experienced one last thrill at the old ballpark. This was when my daughter, Katey, was about seven or eight.

The home team by then — as it is now — was The Braves. Katey, her mother, and I were sitting in box seats as guests of neighbors who had gotten comps from a radio station. It was Katey’s first trip to Parker Field.

The spectacle itself was interesting to her for a while. As it was a night game, the bright lights were dazzling. The roar of the crowd was exhilarating. Being old enough to go along on such an outing, instead of staying at home with a baby sitter, was a boost to her morale. Nonetheless, by the middle of the game Katey (pictured above at about the age of this story) was getting tired of sitting still and bored with baseball.

During the sixth inning it fell to me to entertain, or at least restrain her, so the others could enjoy the game. I tried telling her more about the object of baseball, hoping that would help her pay some attention to the game.

That didn’t work for very long. She was soon climbing across seats again and this time she knocked a man’s beer into his lap. As the visiting team began their turn at bat, in the top of the seventh, I got an idea and asked Katey if she wanted to see some magic. Of course she did.

Then I got her to promise to be good if I showed her a big magic trick. She agreed to the terms without qualification. Making sure she alone could hear me, I pulled her in close and whispered my instructions.

The gist of it was that she and I, using our combined powers of concentration, were going to make everyone in the ballpark stand up at the same time. Katey was thrilled at the mere prospect of such a feat. I told her to face the ongoing game, close her eyes, and begin thinking about making the crowd stand up.

After the visiting team made their third out, I cupped my hand to her ear and reminded her to think, “stand up, stand up …”

As baseball fans know, when the home team comes to bat in the bottom of the seventh inning everyone stands up, ostensibly to stretch their legs. It’s a longtime tradition called “the seventh inning stretch.” There’s a mention of the practice in a report about a Cincinnati Red Stockings (baseball’s first professional team) game that took place in 1869.

Tradition aside — when Katey turned around, opened her big blue eyes and saw thousands of people standing up — it was pure magic in her book.

No one in the group gave me away when she told them what we had done. As I remember it, she stayed true to her word and was well-behaved the rest of the game.

It was a few years later that Katey confronted me, having learned how the trick worked. We still laugh about it.

Sports dilettantes today complain that baseball games are too slow and meandering. While I admit baseball has its lulls, nonetheless there are textures and layers of information present at baseball parks that are just too subtle and ephemeral for the lens of a TV camera to capture. To appreciate them you have to be there, and you have to bother to notice.

Sometimes there’s even a hint of magic in the air.

-- Words and photo by F.T. Rea

– 30 –

Crumb and Mouly in SF video

Last month I had the pleasure of attending the Crumb/Mouly gabfest at the Carpenter Theater. It was my first time inside the newly renovated theater. As far as what I thought of the new face on what was the old Loew's, it looked nice but I'll have to go back and see the place when it's not so crowded.

Still, I'm happy to say a substantial audience turned out for the originator of Zap Comix, R. Crumb.

As Crumb is an artist I greatly admire, but don't know, personally, it was gratifying to see that he seemed as I have perceived him to be. His onstage conversation with with his old friend, Fran├žoise Mouly, a New Yorker art director, was quite entertaining.

At least it was to a guy who still has a precious stack of Zap Comix in the top drawer of a sturdy oak file cabinet, only a few feet from his keyboard.

Anyway, to read more of what I thought about the show that night please click here. However, the reason for this post is to call attention to a video I found this morning.

It is a half-hour excerpt of the same basic presentation, with noticeable differences, so it was fun to watch. But this was recorded at their San Francisco show. The show here in Richmond was maybe a little over an hour, with about 20 minutes of questions from the audience and Crumb's answers.

Although I've never met Crumb, I did receive a post card from him in 1980. It was when he was living in Winters, CA. I had written to him six or seven weeks before the arrival of his brief message:
Dear Terry Rea:

Your letter was only just lately forwarded to me.... So, that's why this is so late...

So use Mr. Natural if you still want to use him.... Okay by me...

-- R. Crumb
My letter to him was probably sent to an address in one of his comic books. In it I had asked him for permission to use Mr. Natural as the mascot for the Biograph Naturals, the theater's softball team in the Fan District Softball League. I didn't want to rip off his character without his permission.

While I had wanted to put Mr. Natural's image on our T-shirts, the note from him came too late. Our shirts just said "Biograph Naturals" on the front. So, once Crumb had said we could use his dormant character -- he had stopped drawing The Natch in 1977 -- I made a five-foot-tall foamcore Mr. Natural and we took him out to the game to see what would develop.

At the end of each game we would hold up our Mr. Natural and chant, "Two, four, six, eight, who do we appreciate? Fred! Fred! Fred!"

What the other softball teams didn't know was that Fred was Mr. Natural's first name. Nor could they fathom why in heaven's name we were doing that ritual ... which was nothing but a goof on any sort of sports chanting.

So, some of them figured we were mocking them. And, of course, when you think you're being mocked ... then there's no end to the clues that you might be right. Naturally, we didn't do much to quash those fears. Fred! Fred! Fred!

Finally, one team, known as the deTreville devils, got their fill of it. They kidnapped Mr. Natural when some of us were too busy catching a post-game buzz and they set fire to him. For proof of this claim, click here to watch a short video I made a year ago, using some visual souvenirs. There's a quick shot of poor Mr. Natural in flames.

Yes, the devils had their fun that night. Some of them told me they even pissed on the smoldering ashes. So what! I made another big foamcore Mr. Natural the next day, and he finished the season without further injury ... Fred!

Even though I didn't use Mr. Natural on the team's T-shirt, I sent one of them out to Fred's creator, anyway. Later, the team adopted Natural Bridge as its mascot. I did do a softball T-shirt with that image on it.


Most controversial 'zine covers

Webdesigner Depot has an interesting post up with 30 American magazine covers it calls "the most controversial of all-time." I'm sure I bought at least five of the magazines when they came out (maybe still have a couple of them) and I remember about half of them.

Click here to look at the covers.
H/T to Bert Holland

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Groh's parting poem

Here's a bizarre twist to the postgame scene that followed the drubbing head coach Al Groh's Virginia Cavaliers absorbed from their arch-rival (Va. Tech 42, UVa 13) today at Scott Stadium. Virginia finished its season, losing six games in a row, to establish a 3-9 record for the season.

With many in Charlottesville saying Groh will soon be fired, he read a poem to his team in the locker room, then apparently walked out without further explanation.
When you get what you want in your struggle for self,
And the world makes you King for a day,
Then go to the mirror and look at yourself,
And see what that guy has to say.
For it isn’t your Father, or Mother, or Wife,
Who judgement upon you must pass.
The feller whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the guy staring back from the glass.

Click here to read the entire poem, etc.

Sounds like a frustrated Groh thinks he did his job ... but he was betrayed by bad luck or others not doing their job.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


In 1998, with impeachment in the air and the Clinton administration being hobbled by the investigation of the nature of the president’s relationships with various women -- most notoriously, Monica Lewinsky -- eventually, I felt called upon to lampoon the scandal. So I created a series of caricatures featuring some of the main characters and wrote goofy captions for them.

That was "Splattergate," my fifth series of collectible cards on a theme. Below the reader will see seven of the nine frames for the Splattergate cards (click on an image to enlarge it).

However, by the time I got this set on the market -- in my regular shops in Carytown and the Fan -- a lot of people were way tired of hearing about the never-ending investigation. So, for that reason and perhaps others, it didn’t get the amount of publicity my earlier card sets had enjoyed, and it didn’t sell as well either.

Wachapreague Reflection

Wachapreague Reflection
(August 1977)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Kaine on rights restoration

Tim Kaine's time as the Commonwealth of Virginia's chief executive is winding down and this morning on his WTOP radio show he had a message for Virginians who have old felony convictions.
Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, who leaves office in January, today encouraged people with nonviolent felony convictions who have paid their debt to society to apply to have their voting rights restored.
Click here to read the entire article by Jim Nolan at the RT-D.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

81 seasons at UR Stadium

At there’s a story up about Richmond beating Wm. & Mary on Saturday (13-10) that I wrote; the piece also looks at some of the colorful history of UR Stadium. For instance:

The advance notices for the two-day rock festival announced it would be a “No Hassles” event, which in the vernacular of the day meant marijuana-smoking would be ignored by the authorities. However, it seems nobody told The City’s policemen on duty at the stadium about ignoring anything, especially marijuana smoking. So, on the event’s first day there were hassles aplenty. When the cops began pulling what they saw as law-breaking pot smokers out of the stands, some of the bare-chested hippies resisted. Other young attendees came to the rescue and a battle started. A full-fledged four-hour riot ensued. Police cars were destroyed and heads were bloodied.

Click here to read the story, “Spiders Outlast Tribe: Ending an era at UR Stadium.”

Black Knights of Health Care Reform

You've got to give it to them, the shameless shills for the health insurance industry are delivering on their end of a deal with the devil. They are going to resist health care reform as long as they have the capacity to do so.

Like some of their forerunners in the age of Massive Resistance knew, they know their side is eventually going to lose. While some see they're on the wrong side of history, they're going to keep on kicking that reform can down the road, as long as they have feet.

In the marketplace of ideas, when the reform resisters' limbs have all finally been chopped off the resisters will still try to fight on, like Monty Python's Black Knight (in the video above).



Every day billions of dollars are being sucked toward the owners of heath insurance companies; dollars that don't really have much to do with protecting America's greatest asset -- its workforce.

Furthermore, until we, as a people, understand that in the long run that's fundamentally why the government has to act now -- to protect society's interests -- we're likely to keep on spinning and spinning and getting nowhere. Nonetheless, if a lot of people get too sick to work that will be a major problem.

With the potential for an epidemic to break all the banks, one day, the government now has a duty to oversee the delivery of timely health care to all of us. That also means once we finally do move around the noisy Black Knights of the reform resistance movement, to establish a single-payer system, we'll all have to get occasional checkups.

Legs to stand on, or no legs, the health care reform resisters are never going to quit.

So, whatever lofty notions of compromise and bipartisan consensus President Barack Obama may have envisioned, when the debate started, has become yesterday's news.

Now it's time for Democrats to do the job without Republicans. It'll a lot easier to walk around Black Knight resisters once Democrats give up on trying to appeal to the good sense of people who know only one thing -- never quit.

Flying disc news: Hoppers trounce Nichs

Hoppers captain Jack Richardson with the Easy Rider Cup in hand

The group of disc golfers (some of us still call the game Frisbee-golf) that I've been a part of since the mid-1970s is known as the GRFGA. We play on unmarked object courses (trees, poles, etc., serve as targets) in Byrd Park and Maymont.

Once a year the group divides into two teams to play a tournament modeled after the Ryder Cup in professional golf. Our tournament is called the Easy Rider Cup; it consists of three nine-hole rounds, both partners and singles, played over two days. One player on a team serves as the captain each time. The two team captains decide which courses to play and assign the individual match-ups.

With baffling consistency, the four previous Easy Rider tournaments were won by the Nichs team (after Jack Nicholson).

On Sunday, November 22, for the first time, the Hoppers (after Dennis Hopper) won: 13 matches won to 11 matches won. It was the singles round, which is always the last to be played, that made the difference. By the way, your reporter and the photographer are Hoppers.

After the tournament some of the disc-throwing golfers went over to Colleen Dee's to consume a feast and watch the Redskins at Cowboys game fizzle. For desert we gobbled up the winners' cake, baked just for the occasion by Andrew Potterfield, who won all three of his matches. Both Colleen and Andrew are Hoppers, too.

-- Photos by Steve Macaulay

Cat People

In its day RKO was known for its ability to produce well-crafted, sometimes artsy or offbeat features using a smaller budget than the other so-called major studios. Nonetheless, it was almost always in trouble, financially.
Founded in 1929, RKO stopped making movies in 1953 and eventually sold its lot and production facilities to television’s Desilu Productions.

Twenty-seven years ago, as manager of the Biograph Theatre, I booked a festival of 24 titles to play at the Fan District's twin cinema, all from RKO, which was still operating in a Los Angeles office as the distributor of its original library.

The 12 double features in the RKO Festival were:

“Top Hat” (1935) and “Damsel in Distress” (1936); “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” (1939) and “The Informer” (1935); “King Kong” (1933) and “Mighty Joe Young” (1949); “Suspicion” (1941) and “The Live By Night” (1948); “Sylvia Scarlett” (1936) and “Mister Blandings Builds His Dream House” (1948); “Murder My Sweet” (1945) and “Macao” (1952); “The Mexican Spitfire” (1939) and “Room Service” (1938); “Journey Into Fear” (1942) and “This Land Is Mine” (1943); “The Thing” (1951) and “Cat People” (1942); “The Boy With Green Hair” (1948) and “Woman on the Beach” (1947); “Citizen Kane” (1941) and “Fort Apache” (1948); “The Curse of the Cat People” (1944) and “The Body Snatcher” (1945).

One feature, “Cat People,” which was later remade as a vehicle to present the youthful Nastassja Kinski’s naked form in all of its lithe glory, was a low-budget black-and-white thriller. Unlike the florid remake, the original was a lean and subtle production that left much to the viewer’s imagination.

Still, any film of the monster movie genre, no matter how subtle, can be disturbing to a sensitive viewer.

For some reason the Val Lewton classic,“Cat People,” got under one such viewer’s skin. He was a solitary man who walked around the VCU neighborhood during daylight hours. He stayed in some sort of subsidized group home at night. Night or day, he was always medicated to the hilt.

At the theater we used to let him in free. Then, of course, he would complain about everything. We joked around about him when he wasn’t there, sometimes, but we treated him with respect when he was -- always at matinees.

“Are there really any cat people?” the man would ask, in his forced, cartoon way of speaking, as he scratched his head. “No,” he would be gently assured.

Then, with his hands flexing and twitching, a few minutes later he would ask the same thing again. His eyes would wander. We figured a lot of it was his medication.

He would get the same answer. Then he’d take his free popcorn and go into the dark auditorium to watch the movie for a while. He always walked with an odd, exaggerated shifting of his weight.

When I created the image above of a cat named Zeke in a coat and tie, for a calendar in 1996, I thought of that same man. And, I smiled, thinking he probably still remembered that movie, if he was still alive.

Well, I saw him a few years ago. He was totally gray and must have been well into his 60s. He still walked with his distinctive, swaying gait.

There are no movie theaters in the Fan District now, but there probably are still cat people left. Although some of them might be dangerous, most of them just look at you ... pretending they know something you don’t.

-- 30 --

Monday, November 23, 2009

SLANTblog Video Report No. 1

SLANTblog's Video Report No. 1 looks at two big games on one Saturday in Richmond -- Wm. & Mary vs. Richmond (football) and Oklahoma vs. VCU (basketball). Richmond won 13-10. VCU won 82-69.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Still Crazy

The avalanche of happy birthday wishes I received yesterday via Facebook, and otherwise, calls for an answer. After saying "thanks," my cousin Ray will supply the rest.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Psalm 109 as a weapon

Some of my readers aren't old enough to remember when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Well, I am. Here's something most of the TV documentaries don't dwell on -- some people openly expressed their pleasure that Kennedy was dead.

And, before Nov. 22, 1963 there were plenty of people who openly expressed their hatred for President Kennedy; some who saw him as too Catholic, too much of a pinko liberal and too determined to desegregate Southern public schools, said he should be killed.

Well, somebody was listening.

Now some of the crazy rightwingers who like to say President Barack Obama was born on Mars and is a secret Muslim, etc., have taken another step toward the dangerous game of calling for his assassination.

The newest gimmick is to use Psalm 109 in the Old Testament. T-shirts and bumper stickers are being circulated with this message on them: "Pray for Obama Psalm 109:8."

Psalm 109 is very Old Testament. Take a look at verses six through ten and I think you'll get the picture:
:6 Set thou a wicked man over him: and let Satan stand at his right hand.
:7 When he shall be judged, let him be condemned: and let his prayer become sin.
:8 Let his days be few; and let another take his office.
:9 Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.
:10 Let his children be continually vagabonds, and beg: let them seek their bread also out of their desolate places.
Yes, it's hard not to notice the verse that follows the one cited on the T-shirts. Are the people behind this sicko campaign glad it scares some of us who would rather not see Obama's children fatherless?

Of course they are.

Do they hope some unhinged Bible-thumper will see the words in verse nine as marching orders and try to kill Obama?

What do you think?

If deliberately inciting lunatics to commit murder isn't evil, what is? Are there any Republicans, Christians or otherwise, who will step forward to condemn such tactics?

What do you think?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Would we be safer with an atheist president?

SLANT's spokesdog, Rebus, wonders: All other considerations equal, would it be safer for us to have an atheist president with his finger on the button -- nuclear oblivion! -- than to have a Christian president, who truly believes in an afterlife? Wouldn't an atheist president, who couldn't hedge his bet, care more about the life we are living now on Earth?

GOP talking points

-- Words and photo by F.T. Rea

Monday, November 16, 2009

VCU men's basketball

VCU basketball fans can follow the Rams' 2009/10 season at the Fan District Hub.

Click here for a report on VCU's first regular season game, a win over Bethune-Cookman at the Siegel Center.

Click here for CAA Monday Notes.

Head on a Pole Solution

Republicans are having a good time with their anti-tax tea parties. It has even brought out the creative side of some right-wingers, as they have staged various stunts to demonstrate their contempt for certain Democrats and what they see as excessive government spending, in general.

While this staging-stunts strategy may have seemed silly to people who disagree with the sentiments behind this movement, so far, it seems to me they have received so much attention from the media that they have been effective. Republicans mocking their opponents and raising hell in the street like anti-war demonstrators in the 1960s has been something to see ... and think about.

Emboldened by their success, such as it has been, now more creativity is emerging from the flat-earth side of the aisle.
The Danville TEA Party plans a “Fired Up For Freedom” rally Nov. 21, which will end in burning Rep. Tom Perriello, D-5th District, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in effigy, according to a news release from organizer Nigel Coleman.
Click here to read the rest of the story at

Like cross-burning, effigy-burning sends an attention-getting message to a particular person, and then all those who might sympathize with the targeted individual. In the good old days governments used public executions to send clear messages to those who witnessed them. I’ve heard people say a return to that practice might curb crime today.

Well, I agree, but my idea of what might constitute a crime worthy of a public execution is probably different from what the Danville TEA Party would consider as such. In fact, my idea is much more innovative than anything the Republicans have come up with yet. And, it won't cost the taxpayers a cent.

My plan would call for just one public execution a year. It’s purpose would be to end famine, cure diseases, educate the poor and prevent wars. One person would die each year, in order to facilitate solutions for the worst problems facing not only America, but societies all over the world.

Here's how it would work:

First you make a list of all the billionaires in the world; their names would be put on a ballot. The ballots and ballot boxes would be put in convenience stores all over the world. The same ballots would be available online, as would be the virtual ballot boxes.

Each person would get to vote for the bad billionaire they choose once each month, by paper or online. The unfortunate billionaire who gets the most votes, for being the worst billionaire in the world (hat-tip to Keith Olbermann), would be executed on New Year’s Eve at midnight in the city that wins the bid, sort of like how the Olympics rotates.

The method of putting the billionaire to death would be up to the city. Still, however it’s done, the chosen billionaire’s head must not be physically damaged (on the outside), because it will be put on a pole in the same city.

The selected billionaire’s head would stay on that pole for one year, then, out of respect for the dead, it would sent wherever the late billionaire requested before his or her demise.

Meanwhile, the rest of the billionaires in the world would take note, no doubt. They would basically have two choices to keep their head from being selected to be the next one to sit on the pole:

1: Give away (no tricks) enough money to good causes (again, no tricks) to get off the list of billionaires. 2: Use some of their money to do good works and curry favor with voters who hang around convenience stores or stay online all day.

So, if you are a billionaire, let’s say you’ve got $50 billion, you could choose to give away $49.1 billion, or you could take a chance on spending a billion or two on curing cancer, or AIDS. Or, you could spend a few billion on feeding orphans, or on bringing peace to the Mideast. Maybe you’d pick a particular line of work, say all the musicians in a state or province, and pay their taxes for one year.

Busy billionaires would naturally buy lots of ads in magazines and newspapers, to promote what good deeds they’re doing, in order to increase their chances of keeping their heads on their respective shoulders. So, this deal would save the inky wretches from extinction, too.

Of course there would be lots of blogs calling for the death of every single billionaire. So, the smart billionaires would have no choice but to hire plenty of other bloggers to plead their cases, in order to avoid being the top voter-getter that year.

So, crime rates would drop. Every kid who wants one would get new puppy. The research for new green-friendly technologies would be fully funded. Better recreational drugs with no hangovers ought to be developed. And, publishers would have enough money to pay freelance writers a decent fee for their work.

Each year would start out with a visible symbol atop a tall pole, showing us why we should be good to one another. Just one person would have to die to pour some relief on all our pains, especially those embarrassing pains stemming from the consequences of our own bad works.

Now here’s the reward for reading this far, you get to decide for yourself which billionaire would get your vote, this year.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

What's wrong with justice in Manhattan?

Other than the fact that the Bush administration chose not to prosecute Khalid Sheikh Mohammed -- the supposed mastermind of 9/11 -- in a courtroom in New York, what is wrong with it?

Yes, I understand that many Republicans automatically backed whatever the previous president did during his time in the White House, but now he's gone. So, at this point, is it just a matter of automatically opposing whatever the Obama administration does? Or,
in this case are there actually good reasons to object to seeking justice in a federal courtroom?
“I am really disgusted by it,” [Rep. Peter] King told POLITICO Friday morning. “To me, it’s truly an insult to the memory of those killed on 9/11.”
Disgusted? Insult?

Do Republicans still believe in justice? Or, has fear and payback politics trumped all other concerns?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Jumping the gun, again

Jumping the gun, to turn the Ft. Hood shootings into a political issue, is a shameless game. It's also a dangerous game -- it could get more people killed.

With much of what will eventually be known about the background and crimes of the shooter -- Major Nidal Hasan, a psychiatrist in the U.S. Army, has been charged -- still to be revealed, some folks are already forging the shooting spree into a tool with which to bludgeon President Barack Obama.

Rather than look at the shooter's acts, they are focusing on what words he was saying as he mowed down his victims. Rather than seeing the mayhem as perhaps similar to the madman's massacre that happened on Virginia Tech's campus, on April 16, 2007, they seem to prefer to cast it as more like 9/11.

Maybe they will turn out to be right. Maybe not.

Rather than seeing Hasan as another crazy religious guy who turned violent, they seem to be saying Hasan has the wrong religion. It's like they want to charge him with a "hate crime."

It reminds me of the events of April 19, 1995, when we listened to cable news experts telling us that the still smoldering Oklahoma City bombing was a terrorist act, most likely perpetrated by dark forces based in the Middle East. When the evidence began to go against those early accusations all we got was "oops!"

If it turns out Hasan was working with a network of accomplices then fine, let's unravel the entire conspiracy. If the outcome of the investigation reflects badly on Obama's Defense Department, then let the blame fall where it should. Until then, there's no good reason to assume that the tragedy at Ft. Hood unfolded chiefly because of changes in the way the U.S. Army has been doing its business since Obama took office.

Since it happened on Obama's watch, it's his job to find out as much as he can about what happened and tell the American people the truth about what is uncovered. Which will be an improvement over what came before him.

Moreover, it will be Obama's job to make it more difficult for the next crazy guy/terrorist to do the same thing on an army base ... if he can.

What Obama should not do is use this situation to give the Muslim world the idea that Hasan is going to be dealt with according to his religion, rather than according to what he did. Which is exactly what some of the gun-jumpers seem to want to do -- stick it to Islam, again, as if it is the only religion with blood on its hands.

The Nazis were Christians, but most people don't blame Christianity for their atrocities.

Was Timothy McVeigh's role in murdering 168 people in Oklahoma City a greater or lesser crime because his motive might have been to avenge the deaths of the Branch Davidians at the bizarre Waco Siege in 1993?

Regardless of what they tell us, or what we discover, do we ever really understand why murderous madmen do what they do?

Meanwhile, the very people who have turned a blind eye on the crimes of abortion clinic bombers and cross-burners in the past should probably be more careful about jumping the gun, again, over which god certain unhinged criminals worship.

In conclusion, let's note that al Qaeda is not a leftist organization. America's trouble with Muslim extremists who are bent on destroying our way of life is not coming from the left side of the political spectrum. Generally, religious fanatics are rightwingers, regardless of where they live or what they call their god.