Sunday, December 30, 2012

Hail to the Return of the Rivalry

Tonight the nation’s pro football fans will have their eyes on the season’s finale, featuring what used to be called the greatest rivalry in pro sports – the Dallas Cowboys vs. the Washington Redskins. After toiling in games that hardly mattered for several years, once again the rivals are matched in a do-or-die situation.

The winning team will be the division champ. After celebrating the winners will begin to plan for their next assignment -- a postseason game that is the first step toward the Super Bowl. The team that comes up short will start planning for next season.

The American Professional Football Conference formed in 1920. In 1922 the league’s name was changed to the National Football League. At theaters the public saw silent newsreels featuring action from Major League Baseball, college football and boxing. Professional football was largely ignored outside of the markets in which it was played.

The Redskins began their existence as the Boston Braves in 1932. The Braves went 4-4-2 in their inaugural season. The nickname was changed to Redskins the next year. In their history, to date, the Washington Redskins have accumulated a 561-533 regular season record.

After losing the NFL championship game to the Green Bay Packers at the end of the 1936 season, the franchise was moved to Washington, D.C. So the ‘Skins were already a decent team when they drafted future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Sammy Baugh, out of Texas Christian University, in 1937. Later that year, the Redskins won their first NFL championship game, defeating the Chicago Bears.

The ‘Skins have won five NFL championship games; two of them were prior to the Super Bowl era.

The Dallas Cowboys franchise records began stacking up with a 1960 expansion team that didn’t win a game. Since then Dallas has won five Super Bowls.

My black-and-white recollections of the rivalry between the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins go back to games in the early-1960s, when I was in junior high and both teams were bad. By the mid-1960s the upstart Cowboys had already gotten better; it took the Redskins a few more years to break the spell and catch up in the early-1970s.

Between 1969 and 1989 I attended 20, or so, games at the Redskins much-missed home stadium in those days – affectionately known as RFK. In all those trips to DeeCee two splendid wins over the Cowboys stand out, in particular:
  • Oct. 8, 1973 (Monday Night Football): Washington 14, Dallas 7. The stadium shook more that night than any other time I was in attendance. The hitting during the game was strikingly brutal. The clash ended with Redskins safety Ken Houston bulldogging the Cowboys running back Walt Garrison to the turf, just a step short of the goal line. I saw the game with my father. Hat-tip to my then-wife Valerie’s Uncle Joe, who gave us his tickets.
  • Jan. 22, 1983 (NFC Championship): Washington 31, Dallas 17. For a good 20 minutes before the game started the hungry crowd chanted, "WE WANT DALLAS! WE WANT DALLAS!" The temperature was in the mid-teens. The atmosphere fired up Redskins running back John Riggins to the tune of 140 yards rushing on 36 carries. This trouncing of the Cowboys propelled the ‘Skins on to their first Super Bowl victory. I saw the game with my then-girlfriend, Tana; for warmth we sipped on a bottle of Cointreau. Hat-tip to my pal, Larry, who stood in line for hours to buy the tickets we used.
The most painful Redskins losses to the Cowboys, for me, were all watched on television. No need to dwell on any of them now.

Like Baugh, Houston and Riggins have been inducted into the NFL’s Hall of Fame. Optimistic fans of the Redskins now sense they have a rookie quarterback of that caliber – Robert Griffin III, who was just named as a conference all-star. Only time will tell if he will measure up to HoF standards.

Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell finished his column devoted to the Cowboys/Redskins rivalry with this: 
That’s the longer-term story that hangs over this one dramatic Sunday night game. The Redskins love their future and can’t wait to see the next chapter. More than likely, all the Cowboys can do is read it and weep.
My prediction for today’s game?

Washington 30, Dallas 23.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Giving Peace a Chance

The first pass at telling this tale appeared in SLANT in 1987. 
The version below was updated in 2012.

*

On the occasion of the anniversary of his death, on Dec. 8, 1980, I can’t help but wonder what the founder of the Beatles — John Lennon, a master of word-play and sarcasm — would have to say about today's music, art and politics.

It would be anybody's guess. After all, in his nearly 20 years as a public figure Lennon’s knack for changing before our eyes was dazzling. There's no reason to think such a restless soul wouldn't have kept on changing.

In November, 2008, on the occasion of what was the 40th anniversary of the release of the Beatles’ White Album, the Vatican newspaper praised the groundbreaking British band for its body of work and forgave Lennon for his flippant 1966 quip about sudden success, “[We’re] more popular than Jesus.”

Even the bloody Vatican has changed but peace is still waiting, off-stage, for its chance.

In February of 1964 the Beatles made their initial appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show. At the time most people probably didn’t connect the events, but those two appearances were less than three months after the assassination of President Kennedy. Surely, the somber mood of the nation, still trying to regain its balance, had something to do with why those fresh sounding Beatles songs cut through the airwaves with such verve.

Clearly, there has been no explosion in the American pop music scene since them, with anything near the equivalent impact of Liverpool’s Fab Four.

Then, in 1980, the murder of moody John Lennon had an impact on the public few would have predicted. It was as if a world leader had been gunned down on the street in Manhattan.

Lennon’s obvious contributions as a songwriter and musician were huge. However, it was the working class hero’s sincerity, his sense of humor and delight in taking risks that helped set him apart from his teen idol counterparts, many of whom toyed with politics and social causes as if they were merely hairdos or dance crazes.

With the Vietnam War still underway in the early ‘70s, President Richard Nixon looked at Lennon and saw the raw power to galvanize a generation’s anti-establishment sentiments. Fearful of that potential, the Nixon administration did everything it could to hound Lennon out of the country. The details of that nasty little campaign are just as bewildering as some of the better known abuses that flowed from the Dirty Tricks Department in the White House during those scandal-ridden days.

With so many years of perspective on Lennon’s death, I have to say that even if that particular nut-case (a man I choose not to name because I refuse to add in any way to his celebrity) hadn’t pulled the trigger, it could easily have been another one; surely there were other bullets out there with John Lennon’s name on them.

Like the comets of each generation are bound to do, sometimes Lennon burned too bright for his own good. And, speaking of assassinations, at this time I’m also reminded of an item that ran in the Nashville Banner on Feb. 24, 1987. The article began with this:
Two Nashville musicians remained free on $500 bond today after they went on a magazine-shredding tear …to protest People magazine’s current cover story.
The two musicians were Gregg Wetzel, and Mike McAdam. As members of the Good Humor Band they were fixtures in Richmond’s Rock ‘n’ Roll scene in the early ‘80s. By the time the story mentioned above was published, the pair had established themselves as respected sidemen in Nashville — Wetzel on piano and McAdam on guitar.

In a nutshell, Gregg and Mike became incensed at seeing the magazine with a cover story about John Lennon’s murderer. They felt spotlighting the killer in that way might encourage another deranged wannabe to take gun in hand to go after whoever. So they fortified themselves with an adequate dose of what-it-takes — legend has it they were drinking out of an Elvis decanter — and set out on a mission to destroy the cover of every copy of the offensive publication they could find on the strip.

As the reader may know, this sort of endeavor is frequently best undertaken in the wee hours. In the course of their fifth stop, at a Nashville convenience store, the avenging angels were stopped by the cops and charged with “malicious mischief.”

Shortly afterwards, in a interview about the incident, McAdam said at the time, “If another guy like [name withheld again] sees that, he might think he can get on the cover of People magazine by killing a politician or artist.”

Bravo!

Primary among the reasons John Lennon was selected for the kill by his stalking murderer was he had a rare ability to move people. In that sense, Lennon was slain for the same reason as political figures such as Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy. Two thousand years ago Jesus H. Christ was taken out of the game for much the same reason: He challenged people to change; to take a chance on a life based on something better than might making right.

Although Nixon miscalculated Lennon’s intentions, the soon-to-be-disgraced president was probably right about the former Beatle’s potential to focus the anti-establishment sentiments in the air. What Nixon didn’t grasp was that Lennon — in spite of his mischievous streak — was really more interested in promoting peace than fomenting revolution.

“The cops looked at me and McAdam,” said Wetzel recently, to flesh out the 25-year-old tale, “decided we weren’t exactly flight risks and entrusted our transport to the pokey with an attractive female officer, all by her lonesome. On the way to the hoosegow, Mickey hit on the cop. True story.”

After listening to a John Lennon compilation CD, even today, some of his best post-Beatles cuts seem fresh, they still have the feeling of being experimental.

Well into what are strange days, indeed, 32 years after Lennon's departure from the realm of the living, this grizzled scribbler can smile, wondering what more he would have imagined.

Peace.

-- 30 --

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Blood Isn’t Just Red

Each time we ask basically the same questions: Did the mayhem stem from a humiliating rejection? Why is it almost always a young white male? Was it television or video games that made an already disturbed man into a crazy shooter? The Internet? What role did his family life play in bending his mind? Were there some words of celebrities also rattling around in the shooter's head? Did a dog tell him to do it?

Sorry, I can't offer a conclusive answer. But pretending that people do things, even strange things, for a single reason doesn't usually get us closer to the truth. Searching for an overriding motive for spraying bullets into a schoolroom or a movie theater -- some clue to make sense of it -- doesn't usually lead to any sort of satisfaction .... but to ease our pain we always look, anyway.

We will never really understand how someone could do such a thing. But our common sense tells us there's something in America's culture that has been contributing to these massacres. Certainly, the availability of the rapid-fire weapons facilitates the slaughter, but else can be said to be a common denominator? 

The piece that follows was published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch on its May 1, 1999 OpEd Page (thanks to the OpEd editor at that time, Robert G. Holland). The point it makes about the long-term effects of repeated violent images on television still seems apt to me.
Blood Isn’t Just Red
by F.T. Rea

Television has dominated the American cultural landscape for the past 50 years. A boon to modern life in many ways, television is nonetheless transmitting an endless stream of cruel and bloody images into everyone’s head.

However, if you’re still waiting for absolute proof that a steady diet of video violence can be harmful to the viewer, forget it. We’ll all be dead before such a thing can be proven. This is a common sense call that can and should be made without benefit of dueling experts. Short of blinding denial, any serious person can see that the influence television has on young minds is among the factors playing a role in the crime statistics.

How significant that role has been/is can be debated.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m as dedicated to protecting freedom of speech as the next guy. So perish the thought that I’m calling for the government to regulate violence on television. It’s not a matter of preventing a particular scene, or act, from being aired. The problem is that the flow of virtual mayhem is constant.

Eventually splattered blood becomes ambient: just another option for the art director.

My angle here is that in the marketplace of ideas, the repeated image has a decided advantage. The significance of repetition in advertising was taught to me over 25 years ago by a man named Lee Jackoway. He was a master salesman, veteran broadcaster, and my boss at WRNL-AM. And, like many in the advertising business, he enjoyed holding court and telling war stories.

He had found me struggling with the writing of some copy for a radio commercial. At the time he asked me a few questions and let it go. But later, in front of a group of salesmen and disc jockeys, Jackoway explained to his audience what I was doing was wrong. Basically, he said that instead of stretching to write good copy, the real effort should be focused on selling the client more time, so the ad spot would get additional exposure.

Essentially, Jackoway told us to forget about trying to be the next Stan Freeberg. Forget about cute copy and far-flung schemes. What matters is results. If you know the target audience and you have the right vehicle to reach it, then all you have to do is saturate that audience. If you hit that target often enough, the results are money in the bank.

Jackoway told us most of the large money spent on production went to satisfying the ego of the client, or to promoting the ad agency’s creativity. While he might have oversimplified the way ad biz works to make his point, my experience with media has brought me to the same bottom line: When all else fails, saturation works.

Take it from me, dear reader, it doesn’t matter how much you think you’re ignoring the commercials that are beamed your way; more often than not repetition bores the message into your head. Ask the average self-absorbed consumer why he chooses a particular motor oil or breakfast cereal, and chances are he’ll claim the thousands of commercials he paid no heed had nothing to do with his choices.

Meanwhile, good old Lee Jackoway knows that same chump is pouring Pennzoil on his Frosted Flakes because he has been influenced by aggressive advertising all day long, every day.

OK, if repetition works so well in television’s advertising, why would repetition fail to sell whatever messages stem from the rest of its fare? When you consider all the murders, all the rapes, all the malevolence that television dishes out 24 hours a day, it adds up. It has to.

What to do?

I have to believe that if the sponsors of the worst, most pointless violent programs felt the sting of a boycott from time to time, they would react. Check your history; boycotts work.

It’s not as though advertisers are intrinsically evil. No, they are merely trying to reach their target audience as cheaply as possible. The company that produces a commercial has no real interest in pickling your child’s brain with violence; it just wants to reach the kid with a promotional message.

If enough consumers eschew worthless programs and stop buying the products that sponsor them, the advertiser will change its strategy. It really is that simple.

As we all know: A day passes whether anything is accomplished or not. Well, parents, a childhood passes, too, whether anything of value is learned or not.

Maybe television is blocking your child off from a lesson that needs to be learned firsthand -- in the real world where blood isn’t just red, it’s wet.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The End Always Surprises the Bully

As stupefyingly powerful as world-class bullies Rush Limbaugh and Grover Norquist have become over the last 20 years, I'm guessing both of them vividly imagined the political clout they coveted before they acquired it. And, since amassing that hefty say-so, like a couple of little poobahs, they certainly have both reveled in it.

Still, bullies are always cowards at heart. Furthermore, once the position on high is assumed, recognizing what an approaching downfall will look like inevitably becomes difficult for a bully out of touch with everyday people. That sort of indifference used to be called "riding for a fall."

Limbaugh and Norquist aren't alone. In general, it seems, rightwing political bosses who have prospered from throwing sand in the gears of progress can’t yet grasp the truth -- change has happened.

Although no one should mistake most of today’s Democrats for staunch defenders of what the liberal champions of the previous century accomplished, the nation’s long slow drift to the right -- away from its moorings -- appears to have ended.

The culture has shifted. Now the people seem to be leading the so-called leaders. With 2013 on the horizon a goodly portion of the electorate suddenly appears to be more left-leaning than most elected Democrats. 

It’s obvious the noisy influence of the Tea Party is shriveling like a drenched witch. Rush and Grover are in denial -- they still don’t see the lengthening shadows creeping over their day in the sun as bosses.

The end always surprises the bully.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

On the Money

On Nov. 6 Richmonders in nine districts voted for their choices to represent them on City Council. Seven of the incumbents faced challengers, two incumbents ran unopposed. Three of the incumbents lost their bids for reelection. But before the votes were cast the candidates raised and spent a lot of money, all to try to win a job that pays just $25,000 per year.

According to the Virginia Public Access Project, of the seven contests the candidate who spent the most money won four times and lost three times. For what it’s worth, the candidate who spent the most money, Charlie Diradour, lost. The one who spent the least, Jimmy Ray Hart, also lost.

The winners in the seven contested districts were:
  • First District: challenger Jon Baliles spent $66,316. He got 6,183 votes.
  • Second District: incumbent Charles Samuels spent $61,995. He got 5,179 votes. 
  • Third District: incumbent Chris Hilbert spent $41,060. He got 8,037 votes.
  • Fourth District: incumbent Kathy Graziano spent $95,855. She got 7,974 votes. 
  • Fifth District: challenger Parker Agelasto spent $38,066. He got 4,995 votes.
  • Eighth District: incumbent Reva Trammell spent $64,192. She got 4,933 votes.
  • Ninth District: challenger Michelle Mosby spent $13,403. She got 3,662 votes.
Without opposition, incumbents Ellen Robertson and Cynthia Newbille won reelection in the Sixth and Seventh Districts, respectively. 

The losers in the seven contested races were:
  • First District: incumbent Bruce Tyler spent $77,850. He got 6,159 votes.
  • Second District: challenger Charlie Diradour spent $115,375. He got 4,700 votes. 
  • Third District: challenger Erin Delp spent $599. She got 1,739 votes. 
  • Fourth District: challenger Johnny Walker spent $13,254. He got 3,756 votes. 
  • Fifth District: incumbent Marty Jewell spent $24,530. He got 4,995 votes. And, challenger Lee Shewmake spent $4,775. She got 921 votes. 
  • Eighth District: challenger Jimmy Ray Hart spent zero. He got 220 votes. And, challenger Dawn Page spent $15,022. She got 3,292 votes. 
  • Ninth District: incumbent Doug Conner spent $76,314. He got 2,032 votes.
It’s also worth noting that three of the five candidates who spent the most money per vote lost. Conner spent $37.56 per vote and lost. Diradour spent $24.55 per vote and lost. Trammell spent $13.01 per vote and won. Tyler spent $12.64 per vote and lost*. Graziano spent $12.02 per vote and won.

The best bargain?

Mosby upset Conner by spending just $3.66 per vote. Outspent by Conner by over five-to-one, Mosby took 64 percent of the vote.

Now, dear Richmonders, the nine winners get to spend your tax money as they see fit.

* Tyler is still not sure he lost. Consequently, instead of conceding, he has filed a lawsuit challenging the results of the election.  

Friday, December 07, 2012

Fiscal Cliff from the Id


The "fiscal cliff" was created by Congress in 2011 to get itself out of a debt ceiling jam it also created. Now, as the due date approaches, this invention -- its own device -- is what some in Congress seem to fear like an approaching movie monster.

By the way, what does this fiscal cliff thing look like?

As the clock ticks down to doomsday, millions fear what will happen if/when we do confront the dreaded fiscal cliff. As the pendulum swings back and forth so many questions are dangling: When we take the plunge into the forbidden abyss, will the planet survive? Is there any hope for mankind? Is this a fate even worse than death?

And, what the hell does the fiscal cliff look like?

See above for the only known depiction of the scariest man-made monster since 1956 -- the Fiscal Cliff from the Id.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

The Lamest Duck in Town

Virginia is unique in that it doesn’t allow a sitting governor to run for reelection. So once they’re done with their gubernatorial gig, in recent cycles former governors have been tending to run for the U.S. Senate … with varying degrees of success.

Elected governor in 1989, Doug Wilder split with the Democratic Party and ran for the Senate as an Independent in a wild four-way race in 1994. About a month before Election Day, the mercurial Wilder suddenly withdrew and the incumbent, Chuck Robb, a former Democratic governor, himself, was reelected.

Robb then lost the next time out to George Allen, who took the seat from him in 2000. In 2006 Allen lost his bid for reelection to Sen. Jim Webb, who is enjoying his last month at that job. With the seat opening back up, this year, Allen thought he saw an opportunity for redemption, but it turned out Virginians had already had more than enough of him.

You can stick a fork in Allen's career as a politician who can raise money to run for office in Virginia; it's done.    

Over the last four years the senatorial races have matched the commonwealth‘s last four governors: Jim Gilmore lost to Mark Warner in 2008. This year Allen lost to Tim Kaine, who will be replacing Webb.

So, counting Webb’s rather surprising victory six years ago, with regard to the Senate, that’s a trend. Three statewide elections over six years is a winning streak and the next time up in 2014 isn’t looking so good for Republicans, either.

Put together with the fact that Barack Obama has carried Virginia twice, and it makes Bob McDonnell’s win in 2009 look like it was perhaps a fluke. It was the year of the Tea Party’s noisy emergence and the Democrats nominated a nice guy who proved to be an exceptionally weak candidate.

Given the most recent election results to consider, the Tea Party's influence in Virginia, and elsewhere, seems to be declining. And, like it or not, Virginia’s thought-to-be purple electorate is looking more bluish every day.

As a Republican governor going into his last year in office, no doubt, McDonnell must wonder about his future. His blatant campaigning to be Mitt Romney’s running mate this year left McDonnell looking more foolish than eager.

With the emergence of Ken Cuccinelli as the presumptive gubernatorial nominee for the GOP, instead of McDonnell’s man -- Bill, ah, what’s his name? -- Gov. McDonnell doesn’t even seem to be wielding much power within his own political party. And, running against the ever popular Warner in 2014 can’t look but so inviting to McDonnell.

How much influence McDonnell -- the lamest duck in town -- will have over the upcoming General Assembly session remains to be seen. With stubbornness being what it is, no one should be surprised to see more demonstrations in Capitol Square protesting his party's most controversial proposals. All of which will probably put the clumsy McDonnell in a bad light, again.

As far as the Flat-Earth-ers are concerned, they’ve got one of their stars, The Cooch, in place to carry their heavy, backward-looking brand of conservatism forth. With his various failed legal actions, supposedly done in the interests of all Virginians, he has become a partisan hero to those on the Tea Party side of the split within the Republican Party.

Which, speaking of political history in the Old Dominion, will bitterly divide the Virginia GOP, once again. Don't forget what Ollie North and Marshall Coleman did in 1994 to help reelect Robb. This fault line in the GOP has been there for decades. And, the way it looks now, there's not much this sitting governor can do to prevent the divide from widening again in 2013. He will probably even have to suck up some of the for it.

Quack!  

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Eric E: Jukebox of Americana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His silent black harmonica was there.

*

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

Eric E: Jukebox of Americana

By F. T. Rea


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Path to Radio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Color Radio

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

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

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

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

From WANT to WVGO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diagnosis and Recovery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday Night Live

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

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

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

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

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

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

-- 30 --

-- Photo by Al Wekelo

Friday, November 30, 2012

Fan District Softball League Nostalgia

The Biograph Naturals in 1980. (Original photo by Phil Trumbo.)

Referred to as the “hippie league” by softball players who played in the polyester-clad softball world governed by recreation and parks departments, the Fan District Softball League had its own style, which leaned toward cotton, silk-screened T-shirts. Its games were played on “open fields,” rather than in softball complexes with fences. Among other things that meant the Fan League featured a style that put more emphasis on defensive play, rather than simply a home-run derby, with big-bellied Bubbas trotting around the bases.

It also meant the league’s activities received less scrutiny by authorities outside of itself, which was viewed then as a good thing.

The somewhat unorthodox Fan League bubbled up out of the pop culture ooze of the summer of 1973, which was the heyday of WGOE, the daytime AM radio station that then dominated the Fan District in a way that's never been equaled. Its sound could be heard in the shops and on the sidewalks of the bohemian commercial strip of West Grace Street, adjacent to Virginia Commonwealth University. Anyway, it was WGOE that set what eventually became the Fan League in motion, when its promotional softball team of deejays and a few ringers -- the ‘Nads -- played a few games against impromptu squads representing a few regular advertisers on the station, mostly bars.

By the next summer teams began to jell into rosters, but there was no formal schedule. Fields were still being commandeered, rather than secured by arrangement with any proper authority.

By 1975 the name Fan District Softball League had come into use and the six-team organization had its first commissioner — Van “Hook” Shepherd. Cassell’s Upholstery beat the Bamboo Cafe in a one-game playoff for the first season’s championship finale. The four other teams in the league that inaugural season were the Back Door, Sea Dream Leather, Uptop Sub Shop and WGOE.

In 1976, in addition to the regular season the league staged two tournaments. Teams representing the Biograph Theatre, Hababas, J.W. Rayle, deTreville, the Pinheads (the VCU sculpture department and friends) and the Rainbow Inn were formed in 1976.

As the years wore on more bars, and whatnot, came and went. During the first decade of summers of the league’s existence, next to the music and bar scene, softball-related activities were at the heart of the Baby Boomer-driven culture in the Fan District.

Unlike most softball leagues in those days, the FDSL usually had lots of fans at its games. Of course, the kegs of beer that were around — which meant free beer — probably had something to do with that. The freewheeling FDSL was also the only organized-yet-independent softball league in the Richmond area.

Thus, the Fan League governed itself, made its own schedule, cut its own deal with the umpires, etc. It remained so through its last season in 1994.

*

On the first Saturday of May, every year since 1980, a softball reunion is held. Anyone who ever played on one of the Biograph softball teams from any year has been welcome, along with their families, friends, etc.

Serendipitously, that first reunion/old timers game was staged on the afternoon in which the Kentucky Derby would be run. The game was played at Thomas Jefferson HS. Afterward, most of us went to the Track Restaurant to join a Derby-watching party already underway.

The reunion subsequently became an institution and it’s been Derby Day ever since. Over the years, the game has moved around to various locations. Several of the guys at the most recent gathering were teammates of mine in 1976, the first summer of organized softball at the Biograph.

We called our team the Swordfish, after a joke in a Marx Brothers movie. That first year the Swordfish played a schedule that was not set in advance. Instead, our practice was to challenge established teams to play us for a keg of beer.

The lucky Swordfish won 15 games of the 17 we played that initial season. In spite of having few experienced softball players on a roster made up of employees, old friends and a few film buffs -- including two French guys who'd never seen a baseball game -- we probably won half of those keg games by coming from behind in late innings.

Typically, our opponents saw themselves as more experienced/athletically superior, which only made it more fun when they bumbled their way into handing us the victory. That first year, it was uncanny how often those supposedly better teams seemed willing to overplay their hands.

Now, having played and observed a lot of organized softball, I know that virgin Swordfish squad was absolutely charmed. In any sport, it was the loosest team with which I’ve ever been associated.

Both of the Swordfish’s losses came in extreme situations. The first was the championship game of one of the two tournaments we entered. Yes, we won the other one.

The second was played inside the walls of the old state penitentiary. Located at Belvidere and Spring Streets, the fortress prison loomed over the rocky falls of the James River for nearly 200 years (it was demolished in the early-1990s).

As it happened the guy in charge of recreation at the pen frequented J.W. Rayle, a popular bar of the era, located at Pine and Cary. During a conversation there he asked me if the Biograph team — I played outfield and served as the coach — would consider taking on the prison’s softball team on a Saturday afternoon. Chuck Wrenn, the bar manager at Rayle, had already told the guy the restaurant's team would do it. So I went along with it, too.

As it turned out the first date the prison guy set up was canceled, due to something about a small riot.

OK.

A couple of weeks later the Swordfish entered the Big House. To get into the prison yard we had to go through a process, which included a cursory search. We had been told to bring nothing in our pockets.

As we worked our way through the ancient passageways, sets of bars were unlocked and then locked behind us. Each of us got a stamp on our hands that could only be seen under a special light. Someone asked what would happen if the ink got wiped off, inadvertently, during the game. He was told that was not a good idea.

OK.

The umpire for the games — Rayle played the prison team first, then the Biograph -- was Dennis “Dr. Death” Johnson, a rather high-profile Fan District character, at the time, who played on yet another team. Among other things, Johnson did some professional wrestling, so he was good as hamming up the umpire's role.

The fence in left field was the same high brick wall that ran along Belvidere Street. It was only about 230 to 240 feet from home plate. Yet, because of its height, maybe 30 feet, a lot of hard-hit balls caromed off of it. What would have been a routine fly ball on most fields was a home run there. It was a red brick version of Boston’s Green Monster.

The prison team, known as the Raiders, was quite good at launching softballs over that towering brick wall. They seemed to have an unlimited budget for softballs, too. Under the supervision of watchful guards, about a hundred other prisoners seated in stands cheered for the home team. Actually, they cheered the loudest for good plays in the field and sliding collisions on the base paths.

During a conversation with a couple of my teammates behind the backstop, I referred to the home team as “the prisoners.” Our opponents’ coach, who was within earshot, immediately stepped toward me. Like his teammates, he was wearing a typical softball uniform of that era with “Raiders” printed across the chest in a script and a number on the back.

“Call us the Raiders,” he advised, somewhat sternly, as he pointed to an awkward-looking mural on the prison wall that said, “Home of the Raiders.” It looked like a jailhouse tattoo, blown up large.

OK ... it was obvious, I had made a faux pas.

“While we are on this ball-field, we’re not The Prisoners,” he said with, ahem, conviction. “We’re the Raiders.”

“Raiders,” I said. “Right.”

“And, all our games ... are home games,” he deadpanned.

We all laughed, grateful the tension had been broken. The Raiders coach patted me on the back and thanked us for being there, for agreeing to play them.

In a tight, high-scoring affair the Raiders prevailed. Johnson knew how to play to the crowd with his calls, too. Afterward, I was glad the Swordfish had met the Raiders. And, I was glad to leave them, too. Located smack dab in the middle of Richmond that prison was a perpetual nightmare in our midst. 

In terms of winning and losing, the Biograph teams that played on in the FDSL through 1994 never found anything close to the success that first year's team knew. Still, popups and bad hops aside, I'll wager most of the guys from the 1976 team remember more details about their meeting with the Raiders than many of the games we won playing at Chandler Ballfield, the home of the "hippie league" for 18 years.

*
In 1978 the league expanded to 12 teams. That's the year the FDSL began throwing a party draped around its All-Star Game, in the middle of each season. Each summer in mid- to late-June, the stars of the Mars Division played the stars of the Jupiter Division. As I remember it, Buddy Noble came up with the notion of using planets for the names of the two six-team divisions.

The method for selecting the all-stars varied with the year. Occasionally there were votes held, more times there were caucuses of the bossiest guys; the best teams always put more men on those squads. Other times, each manger just named three players from his team. No matter how it was done, popularity, or the lack of it, always influenced the results. 

In 1980, blonde bombshell Donna Parker and the aforementioned Dennis Johnson made a memorable appearance at one of the All-Star Games at Chandler Ballfield. The ever-outrageous Johnson was dressed in his Dr. Death mask and wrestling costume. His date was outfitted in a black leather bikini. Space limitations don't allow for elaboration at this time, but Johnson left town soon afterward.

In 1982, the Bamboo Cafe went through the regular season undefeated, 33-0, but lost to its bitter rival, Hababas, in the finals of the playoffs. Throughout the decade of the '80s one of those two outfits won the playoffs every time.  

For several years during the ‘80s the all-star exhibition/party was staged at the Colombian Center in Henrico County. That era had the largest turnouts for the annual event, as between 200 and 300 people paid five bucks each to attend. Once admitted the beer was free and the food was plentiful.

 In the foreground: Artie Probst, Fitz Marston and Paul Sobel at the 1985 All-Star Game at the Colombian Center.  

One particularly hot day for the party, according to the Budweiser truck guy, the attendees went through 22 kegs of beer. Figuring 200 beer drinkers, do the math.

For music, a couple of years Chuck Wrenn deejayed the parties. In 1986 the Motovators played live. The softball games were played on what was a field always in poor shape -- rocks in the infield and overgrown clumps of weeds in the outfield. We played with a rule against sliding on the base paths, to prevent injuries. The late Pudy Stallard was once called out, when, out of habit, he slid into second to beat a throw from the outfield.   

In 1987 and ’88 the food contest was at the center of festivities. Each team put out a spread to share and the consumers voted for the best of them. Some teams went to great lengths to coordinate their overall entry, others simply had people bring out covered dishes and whatnot.

The most talked about of all the efforts was the 3rd Street Diner’s 100 pound hamburger in ‘88. The beef was packed into a giant patty at the Diner. It was hauled around with great care, so as not to break it apart. The huge bun was put together at the Tobacco Company and baked in one of its large ovens.

Cooking the burger on an open grill at the picnic site turned out to be the best part of the ordeal. There must have been 25 experts and assistant experts standing around that grill, opining on how to go about doing the the job. The burger itself was a good six inches thick. The flipping of the thing, to cook it all the way through -- without having it fall apart -- turned out to be an engineering task.

After all the kibitzing, it was done without mishap, much to the delight of one and all. A spontaneous celebration ensued ... smoke-um-if-ya-got-um. 

The FDSL also established its Hall of Fame in 1986. The first class was elected by the 12-team outfit’s designated franchise representatives. To be eligible then one had to have retired from play and considered to be among the founders. Ten names were selected as the first class of Hall-of-Famers.

The same rule held true in 1987, when six new names were put on the plaque. However, by 1988, a few of those who had been inducted into the Hall had un-retired.

So, in 1988, eligibility to the Hall was opened up to anyone who seemed deserving. Those already in got to vote, as well. Nine new members were selected. The meetings to select new inductees were always quite lively, as were most FDSL meetings, the voting process was probably no more twisted than any hall of fame’s way of choosing new names.

For 1989 six additional names were added. The class of ‘90 included seven names, and in ‘92 the last five names were tacked on. 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 its early years.

Those men who were inducted into the FDSL’s Hall between 1986 and 1992 are as follows: 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, Danny Gammon, Donald Greshham, James Jackson, Dennis Johnson, 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, Billy Snead, Jim Story, Hook Shepherd, Pudy Stallard, Durwood Usry, Jumpy White, Barry Winn, Chuck Wrenn.

At this writing, by my count, nine guys one the list above have died, with Henry Ford being the most recent to pass away. 

As an organization, the Fan District Softball League lasted 20 years, which was a wonder in itself. There are plenty of true stories from those years that are almost unbelievable. 

-- 30 --
This story is part of a collection of stories at Biograph Times

Thursday, November 29, 2012

What binds the Virginia GOP together?

Looking at the squabbling Virginia Republicans makes me wonder what does really unite them as they face 2013. At this writing, they seem to be turning on one another. So, as a supposedly like-minded group, when push comes to shove, what do the members believe in?

Judging by the most recent elections, with so much emphasis on “we built it,” “legitimate rape” and “Benghazi-gate,” now it’s not so easy to say what’s what within the Grand Old Party.

In 2012 Republicans talked a lot about ideology. Religion. Money. Yet, whether they would agree, or not, here’s my take: One thing that bound them together through the election season has been that Republicans no longer believe in people.

Ouch!

Furthermore, the voters in Virginia noticed. 

OK, I just thought of another thing almost all of the country club Republicans probably agree about: They are cocksure their political party should be holding the levers of governmental power. Longtime Republicans still know they don’t want the community-organizing Democrats to hold the power.

And, whether Virginia’s GOP holds a convention or a primary to nominate its gubernatorial candidate next year won't matter much on Election Day in 2013. The voters will be more interested in knowing whether the candidate believes in people, as in "we the people."

Not a percentage ... all of the people.  

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Chasing Dignity

-- A version of this piece was first published by STYLE Weekly in 2006
“…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
In the summer of 1978, with “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” playing to the delight of a midnight show packed house, a fight broke out in the middle of Grace Street. Insults, rocks and bottles flew back and forth between the two factions of four each: VCU frat boys vs. an Oregon Hill crew. Their battle was unfolding a perilous 25 to 30 yards from the Cinemascopic all-glass front of the Biograph Theatre.

The box office had just closed and the cashier had started her count-up. At the same time a group of my Biograph Swordfish softball teammates was in the lobby playing a pinball machine. As manager, I felt obliged to drive the danger away, so I opened an exit door and yelled that the cops were already on the way, which they were.

That was good enough for the frat boys, who scampered off. Their opposites simply switched over to bombing me. As they advanced rocks bounced closer. A tumbling bottle shattered on the sidewalk. I closed the door, then a piece of brick smashed through its bottom panel of glass to strike my right shin.

When we lit out after them, there were six or seven men running in the impromptu posse of employees and pinball players. The hooligans scattered, but my focus was on the one who’d plunked me. Hemmed in by three of us in a parking lot, he faked one way, then cut to the other. His traction gave way slightly in the gravel paving. As he stumbled to regain his balance I tackled him by the legs.

The others got away. With some help from my friends, we marched the captured 19-year-old back toward the theater. I could feel the adrenaline coursing through my limbs. During the trek east on Grace, the culprit said something that provoked one in my group to suddenly punch him. That, while the punchee’s arms were being held.

A policeman, who had just arrived, saw it. He sarcastically complimented the puncher for his aggressive “technique” before the street-fighting man was hauled off in the paddy wagon. In contrast, I told the vigilante puncher he had overreached in hitting the kid unnecessarily, especially while he was helpless.
Surprised by my reaction, my softball teammate laughed.

Which prompted me to say something like, “Hey, we’re no better than the fascist bullies we’ve claimed to deplore if we resort to their tactics.” He disagreed, saying essentially this — that his summary punishment would likely be the only price the little thug would ever pay for his crime. Another in the group agreed with him. Others saw it my way, or they said nothing.

It wasn’t long after that night I found myself poring over an essay by F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Echoes of the Jazz Age.” The excerpt above is the evocative piece’s last paragraph. During that rereading, it occurred to me the shattering glass door had been the sound of the hippie era ending for me.

Yes, as the '70s fizzled away we baby boomers were about to discover that our sweetest day in the sun -- with its righteous causes and rock ’n’ roll anthems -- had been another dollop of time, a period with its look and sound. In some ways, the Roaring ’20s redux.

A month later I agreed to the court’s proposal to drop the assault charge, provided the brick-thrower was convicted of a misdemeanor for breaking the glass and paid for the damage. A payment schedule was set up. As we spoke several times after that, I came to see the “hooligan” wasn’t really such a bad guy. Payment was made on time. Eventually, he asked for the name of the man who’d punched him. While withholding the name, I agreed with him that the blow had been a cheap shot.

About a year later, on a late summer afternoon, a thief snatched a handful of dollar bills from a Biograph cashier, then bolted out the front door. The cashier’s frightened look triggered an alarm in your narrator’s sense of duty/propriety; her face was quite expressive.

As this happened half of my lifetime ago, I was still young enough to think chasing criminals down the street was normal. Quaint as it may sound now, it seemed then that some collective sense of dignity was at stake.

In short, it took less than 10 minutes to discover the thief’s hiding place, then turn him over to the policemen who’d shown up. During the search I received some unexpected help in cornering the thief. As I had run west on Grace Street behind the 20-year-old grab-and-run artist, another young man — a total stranger — had jumped out of his pickup truck to join in the chase.

Later, when the dust settled, I thanked the volunteer and asked him why he’d stopped. He answered that he knew I was the Biograph’s manager, because a buddy of his had once pointed me out. His friend? It was the same Oregon Hill street-fighter I’d tackled a year before.

My assistant thief-chaser also told me his friend assured him I’d dealt fairly with him. Consequently, a favor was owed to me. Before he left, my collaborator said that in his neighborhood the guys stick together. Thus, he’d supported me in my time of need, to help pay off his friend’s debt. We shook hands.

Over the years what connects those two chase scenes has become increasingly more satisfying. No doubt that’s because so many times over the years, in dealing with bad luck and other ordinary tests of character, I’ve done nothing to write home about — even the wrong thing.

At least in this story, maybe, I got it right.

The point?

Dear reader, in spite of the wall-to-wall cynicism of our current age, there really was a time when cheap shots were seen in a bad light. Moreover, returning favors was part of what held things together. Through the mist of “ghostly rumbles” and “asthmatic whispers,” to some graying hippies, that hasn’t changed.

-- 30 --
Click here to read more stories from this collection at Biograph Times

Who Needs The Bijou?

Some people, those who want to do more than survive -- by consuming and discarding indiscriminately -- need art in their lives. Beyond their basic needs and material comfort, their happiness is tied to appreciating artistic expressions -- paintings, sculpture, music, dance, writing, movies, etc.

Of course, once folks are exposed to art in its various forms, they inevitably make comparisons and develop preferences. While many will continuously attempt to duplicate pleasant experiences with art, in whatever medium, others will look more deeply into it and ask questions. They are the seekers.

To amuse themselves, persistent seekers will uncover and follow what seem to be threads to different manifestations of art, sometimes it's experimental art that challenges the establishment. The most relentless of seekers sometimes band together to share their quests for finding better entertainment, perhaps even a touch of enlightenment.

In Richmond, the most devout seekers of art on film currently need to have a place to gather their energies to focus on their common quest. They need a center for the appreciation of cinematic art. They need a new place to watch good movies, old and new, and exchange their thoughts with one another over beer or coffee ... maybe even a wee bite to eat.

They need The Bijou.

Yes, film buffs, this is a teaser; it’s the first post about a project that’s in the works. Soon, more posts will follow at SLANTblog to explain what, when and where The Bijou will be.

Maybe the who will include you?

Etch-A-Sketch campaigns don’t work

It seems many of the noisiest Republicans want to blame their failure to win the White House on having nominated a bad candidate. The same was said of McCain last time.

What the chattering blame-assigners can’t seem to grasp is that the mean-spirited rightwing positions a Republican candidate has to swear allegiance to during the presidential primary season makes the eventual nominee unacceptable to a growing majority of America’s voters.

Romney just proved Etch-A-Sketch campaigns don’t work, anymore. And, suppressing the vote with gimmicks didn’t work, either.

Instead of planning more dirty tricks and planning to dump more Super Pac money into misleading ads, GOP strategists ought to take a fresh look at their out-of-date policies. What Republicans really ought to think about is WHY they haven’t been able to nominate a better candidate in the last two presidential races. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

1993: SLANT Forum

After the article below, by Charles Slack (Richmond Times-Dispatch, Jan., 31, 1993), appeared in the RT-D, my concept for conducting ad lib live discussions in a coffee shop was briefly adapted to radio.

It lasted only a couple of months, because the advertising time wouldn't sell. I bought the hour from WTVR and then brokered the 30- and 60-second time slots I sold for advertising. But the jaded merchants I tied to sell that commercial time to mostly wouldn't believe a topical talk-show could be successful without a clearly rightwing, or a clearly leftwing, host dominating it.

My thinking was that it was more interesting if the host was more a provocateur than a partisan.

The reluctant clients would tell me they actually liked the show, but they still thought most listeners would prefer a different kind of show. Basically, they didn't see the need for the live audience in a restaurant and they thought the public wanted to hear a wiseguy insulting callers on the telephone.

That wasn't what I wanted to do.

While it lasted, doing the SLANT Forum show live -- with an opinionated audience on hand -- was great fun. Katey, my daughter, was in on it as a regular commentator. The programs were staged at Coffee & Co. in Carytown and World Cup on Robinson St. I still have tapes of them.
SLANT FORUM: TALK ABOUT A GREAT IDEA
'INFORMATION PARTY' REDISCOVERS LOST ART OF CONVERSATION 
This is the MTV generation, right? Generation X. Raised on "The Brady Bunch." Life reduced to sound bite. Conversation is as old-fashioned as doctors' house calls and the milkman delivering a pint of cream to your door. Everybody knows that nobody talks anymore.

Then what are the 30 or so patrons of The Bidder's Suite on West Grace Street, many in their early 20s, doing here on a Monday night with the music turned down?

As it turns out, they've paid a 99-cent cover charge for the sole purpose of doing what everyone says people just don't do anymore -- having a conversation. Welcome to the Slant Forum, billed as an "Information Party."

At the microphone is F.T. "Terry" Rea, publisher of Slant, one of the city's longest-running alternative publications. Some of the topics are straight out of the headlines -- date rape, gun control, gays in the military. Others take a lighter look at popular culture.

Rea says the idea came to him late at night. He jotted down a few notes. "When the idea hit me, I got very excited. The next day I looked at my notes. I was still excited."

That being his acid test for ideas conceived in the dead of night. He contacted his friends at The Bidder's Suite, a coffee house/restaurant/ bar on West Grace Street. The restaurant was closed on Monday nights. How about opening it up for weekly discussion nights? Rea would charge the 99-cent cover, the restaurant would serve its usual menu of sandwiches, appetizers, coffee and drinks.

"I'm from the `60s generation," says Linda Beales, who owns the restaurant with her son, Jame-Paul Owens. Ms. Beales says she'd like the place to capture the atmosphere of coffeehouses that flourished around the country in the `60s.

The Bidder's Suite already features poetry readings and acoustic guitars. So why not discussions? Rea and The Bidder's Suite vow to hold the discussion nights each Monday as long as interest is sufficient.

A little after 8 p.m., Rea gets the evening under way with a trivia contest and the first of three pre-set discussion topics. If you've followed Slant magazine's iconoclastic take on Richmond life but never met Rea, you expect the 45-year-old to look sort of funky, with long hair, perhaps, a full beard, and a T-shirt with some anti-establishment slogan.

Instead, Rea appears with short hair, button-down shirt and a striped sweater. He looks more like a schoolteacher than a rebel. And that's exactly his function in these discussions. He's like a teacher -- one of those cool ones who lets the kids express themselves without fear of reprisal.

Except it's better than a classroom here, according to patron Paul Hudert, a student at VCU. "You get to voice your opinion. It's more personal."

Hudert's friend, Lisa Clayton, says she prefers the give and take of the discussion over simply absorbing facts from the media. "The media give you one opinion. They tell me the same thing over and over." The first subject Rea has selected for the evening is "anti-classics," meaning those aspects of popular culture that seem prevalent today but are destined for history's dustbin with the likes of the Hula Hoop and Pet Rocks.

The discussion starts promisingly, but soon degenerates into a personal listing by patrons of likes and dislikes. Smoking is on the way out, one patron declares. Anti-smokers are on the way out, says another. When the subject runs out of steam, Rea declares a short recess, then returns with a discussion about what Bill Clinton should do with Saddam Hussein.

What follows is a literate, informed debate with opinion ranging from lay off the Iraqis to finish the job that George Bush started. Gregory Maitland, who has served in the Army and is now a cook at The Bidder's Suite, was working the night the first forum was held in December. He was so intrigued by the discussion that he requested Monday nights off and has returned every week to participate.

Maitland says he comes "not just to state my opinions, but to hear others." He believes, "We're in a new age, from `This is what I think and that's all that matters' to `What's your opinion?'"

Many of the participants are regulars, but new faces have been appearing each week, Rea says.

VCU students Amy McGahan and Hugh Apple dropped in after seeing a Slant ad posted in another restaurant.

Ms. McGahan says, "The thought of people coming together and talking seemed really cool. It's encouraging. You get so tired of watching TV and going to the movies."

Though the crowd leaned toward students in their early 20s, the mix is not limited by age. Gayle Carson, who returned to college after leaving 20 years ago, says, "I'm one of those people who like to voice an opinion.

"Even though we've had some intense discussions, it's never gotten to the point that it's beyond polite conversation."