Going, going… Gong!

Chuck Barris, the creator and host of one of my favorite childhood shows, The Gong Show, passed away a couple of weeks ago. The Gong Show was unlike anything else on TV back then, and I loved the complete wackiness of the entire thing. It was like a sideshow version of America’s Got Talent. Amateurs would perform all sorts of weird vaudeville-style acts (or “stuff” as Chuck would call it), and three celebrity judges (a roster that included Jaye P. Morgan, Rex Reed, Rip Taylor, Jamie Farr, Arte Johnson and David Letterman) could either hit a giant gong to end the awfulness, or give the acts a score if they liked them.

  

Chuck didn’t fit the mold of a classic game show host – he wore wacky hats, cracked up instead of staying in character, brought out stagehands to dance… he was in on the joke and brought us along for the ride.

Barris’ original idea had been to create a show that featured fine performers, but in his search for talent, he frequently encountered awful acts. “I came back and said, ‘Let’s change the show, have all bad acts and one or two good ones, and people can make a judgment,’ ” he said in a 2010 interview with The Archive of American Television.

“Everybody could relate to somebody wearing a lampshade and dancing around,” Barris said. “Bad acts are inherent in everyone.”

[from this obit in The Hollywood Reporter – well worth a read]

Chuck also boosted the careers of folks like composer Danny Elfman (as part of Oingo Boingo), Paul “Pee Wee Herman” Reubens and The Unknown Comic.

 

Chuck seemed a bit crazy, and he probably was (later he wrote a book Confessions of a Dangerous Mind where he claimed to be a CIA assassin). But he was crazy like a fox. He wrote a hit song in 1962, “Palisades Park” (a now-defunct amusement park that was close to my birthplace of Jersey City, NJ).

He was the creator of two other classic game shows, The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game. He wrote two bestselling books, and was a pioneer of first-run syndication, selling The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game to TV stations after ABC cancelled them. In 1986 he sold his shares in Chuck Barris Productions for a cool $86 million. So he was dancing all the way to the bank.

So long, Chuck, and thanks for all the great stuff!

 

 

 

 

Cheaters never prosper… except at the University of North Carolina

Tonight the University of North Carolina will take on Gonzaga for the NCAA Division I men’s basketball championship. The Tarheels are favored to win. And speaking of favoritism, there’s been very little press about the UNC decades-long cheating scandal where hundreds of athletes (especially in the revenue-generating sports of basketball and football) took sham/non-existent classes to boost their GPAs and maintain their eligibility.

News of the scandal broke way back in 2011, thanks to Raleigh’s News & Observer newspaper, which reported that an incoming freshman football player had been enrolled in an upper-level African studies class and received a high grade. That transcript ultimately exposed 18 years of fake classes, most of them created by Deborah Crowder, a clerical employee in the African and Afro-American Studies Department. UNC’s internal investigation blamed Crowder and a “rogue professor,” Julius Nyang’oro, and claimed that no one on the athletic side (AD, coaches, tutors, athletic advisors, et al.) knew anything about it. Which just ain’t so. The latest NCAA allegations (which came out in December of last year) say UNC and the athletics department “leveraged the relationship with Crowder and Nyang’oro to obtain special arrangements for student-athletes in violation of extra-benefit legislation.”

“Many at-risk student-athletes, particularly in the sports of football and men’s basketball, used these courses for purposes of ensuring their continuing NCAA academic eligibility,” the notice said.

But the only current article I can find about it is from the New York Times – it’s a great read. You’d think there’d be more talk of it, especially in light of the fact that UNC won two national championships during the years in question. This year’s group of athletes wasn’t part of the scandal, but you could rightly argue that if the NCAA had handed down any sanctions (postseason bans, scholarship reductions, etc.), this year’s team might not even be playing.
Funny how the NCAA is so quick to slap penalties on players and programs for the most minor of infractions, but in this case, with widespread, systemic cheating, it’s been radio silence. “Too big to fail”?
 

 

 

Traveling Music

My wife and two youngest children are on a Spring Break trip out west, with our friend Heather and her two kids. Meanwhile I’m stuck in rainy Cincinnati with our teenage sons. (I’m not bitter.) The way my music-loving mind is wired, every time my wife sends me a photo of their adventures, it makes me think of a song.

They started their trip in Las Vegas (where my Raiders are moving):

So naturally that makes me think of “Viva Las Vegas” – but not the Elvis version, the Shawn Colvin version from the Doc Pomus tribute album (and The Big Lebowski credits).

Next up was the Hoover Dam:

I cannot hear the words “Hoover Dam” without thinking of Sugar’s song by the same name.

They spent some time on Route 66:

Then they headed to the Grand Canyon:

That’s your cue, Drive By Truckers…

They’ve been spending a lot of time in Arizona

That calls for a double-shot, twin spin:

 

Yesterday they were in Sedona:

Great scenery… great tune by Houndmouth too!

And tonight they’ll get to Phoenix.

 

Looks like they’re really enjoying their time way out west:

 

And I am too, vicariously, via the soundtrack in my head.

Rock & Roll Never Forgets… or does it?

Here’s a great article on NPR about Bob Seger’s presence (or lack thereof) in the age of digital music.

His influence appears to be diminishing (along with his sales and airplay) and his legacy is losing a bit of luster because you can’t find many of his albums and/or songs on digital and streaming platforms. So he’s missing out on a chance to gain new fans.

I found the article fascinating… and I was also fascinated by the fact that it was written by Tim Quirk, who was the lead singer of the band Too Much Joy, a group I remember from my early 90s days at 97X, mostly for their fun (and funny) songs like “Long Haired Guys from England” and “That’s a Lie.”

Check out the article. Then check your dad’s record collection for some vintage Seger.

 

 

 

 

X Marches On!

My beloved Xavier Musketeers pulled off another upset last night (actually one a.m. this morning for most of us), rallying from 8 down in the second half to knock off #2 seed Arizona, 73-71.

Speaking of Bill Murray, his son Luke is an assistant coach for XU, and Bill has attended every tourney game, cheering on the Muskies. After they won last night, Bill celebrated by giving a good-natured “noogie” to the elderly woman in front of him…

That woman happens to be a nun – Sister Rose Ann Fleming, who as the longtime academic advisor to Xavier athletes, has as much to do with their success in the classroom as the coaches have to do with their success on the court.

Xavier has graduated every senior men’s b-ball player since 1986. (That’s the year I graduated… concidence? I think not!)

After the game, Bill Murray summed up how the game played out very well.

Beating Arizona in the Sweet 16 was pretty sweet too. Their coach, Sean Miller, left Xavier for Arizona several seasons ago. He was, and still is, a fantastic coach, and I have a ton of respect for him. Xavier coach Chris Mack was an assistant under Miller and they are great friends. Mack was less than thrilled about having to face his mentor for the 2nd time in 3 years:

But there’s one comment Sean Miller made that sticks in the craw of many XU fans. After he left Xavier for Arizona, he told a recruit it was like going from a Buick to a Lexus. Grandma has a message for him:

Now Xavier plays Gonzaga in the Elite 8. Two small Jesuit schools that have had great basketball programs for the past couple of decades… and one of them will finally reach the Final Four for the first time. So either way, I’ll be happy, but I’ll be happier if X marks the spot.

 

How Sweet 16 it is

Xavier pulled off another upset in the NCAA tourney last night, trouncing #3 seed Florida State 91-66 to punch their ticket to the Sweet 16. It’s been a rough season for the X-men. Senior guard Myles Davis started the season with an indefinite suspension, missed the first 15 games, returned for 3 and then left the program for good. Their super soph point guard Edmond Sumner blew out his ACL halfway through the year, and leading scorer Trevon Bluiett hurt his ankle and missed a couple of games and was ineffective in a few more after returning. Not surprisingly, those injuries led to a six-game losing streak toward the end of the regular season in the brutal Big East.

However, the Musketeers showed signs of life in the conference tournament and squeaked into the NCAAs as a #11 seed. They upset #6 Maryland in the first round, and yesterday they played what was easily their best game of the season.

 

It’s so true that in college basketball, “it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.” Now Xavier will take on Arizona, coached by Sean Miller… who left XU for ‘zona about 8 years ago. The odds are against them once again, but I don’t care, because they’re playing with house money now.

I don’t know why they call it “March Madness”

Taking two days off work and setting up 4 TVs (and a laptop) in your living room to binge watch college basketball games for 12 hours straight each day sounds perfectly sane to me.

Just remember to root for the team favored by award-winning actors everywhere:

So far, so good…

 

 

Mad at Bad Dad

My 13-year-0ld daughter Leah is not what I’d call a “morning person.” I suppose very few teenagers are, but she’s the poster child for pre-dawn sluggishness. And guess who gets to wake her up every school day, at the ungodly hour of 6 a.m.? That’s right, her dear old dad. It’s somewhat akin to poking your bare hands into a rattlesnake den, or opening a hornet’s nest with a head-butt. If there’s a right side of the bed for her, we haven’t found it yet.

I try to wake her as gently as possibly, because I know that according to research, teens naturally need a later wake-up schedule. But we’re under the gun if she and her brother are going to catch the school bus at the end of our street at 6:32 (not 6:33… we’ve learned the hard way). Here’s how it usually goes:

6:00 a.m. “Leah, honey, it’s time to wake up…”

6:10 a.m. “Leah, it’s 6:10… I’m going to turn your light on now.”

6:15 a.m. “C’mon Leah, we have to get going.”

6:18 a.m. I stomp up the stairs from the kitchen, and that’s usually her signal to get up and shut her door in my face. I don’t care, because at least she’s up.

But now I have a secret weapon, a brand new musical alarm. It was inspired by my college buddy Vinnie, who used to wake up his teenage daughter Alana by playing the first 12 seconds of Carole King’s “Beautiful” on repeat until she got out of bed.

So I’ve put together my own little morning mashup medley for my precious only daughter, as a reminder that we need to catch the bus:

Yeah, it’s not as sweet and harmonious as a Carole King song, but it gets the job done. Better yet, it combines classic indie rock tunes from the fantastic Royal Crescent Mob and The Replacements (one of my all-time favorite bands) with a snippet from a new song called “Old Friends” from an up-and-coming band out of New Jersey called Pinegrove. (Check out their debut album here.)

Sure, Leah might be psychologically scarred for life, but at least she could turn out to be an indie rock fan!

 

 

All I ever needed to know I learned from the funny pages

I’m part of a dying breed: I still get a Sunday newspaper. And the first section I read is always the comics. Probably because my brain is so feeble. But you can find some profound wisdom in the funny pages too. Here’s a Pearls Before Swine strip from last year that I found very enlightening.

It puts the rat race in perspective, doesn’t it?

If you don’t get a newspaper but still want to keep up with the comics (an underappreciated art form, sez me), you can check out some decent ones at GoComics.com. A list of popular strips is here. They just re-ran the great week of Calvin & Hobbes daily strips where Calvin finds a hurt baby raccoon. Start here and read six days’ worth and you’ll see how Bill Watterson could convey more about the human experience in three black-and-white panels than most folks could do in a thousand-page novel.

 

Now hear this… and this… oh, and this too!

NPR Music’s “First Listen” allows you to stream entire albums prior to their official release date (usually about a week in advance). This week, it’s a sonic smorgasbord of tasty tunes, featuring new releases from:

Hurray For The Riff Raff – The Navigator

Alynda Segarra, a.k.a. Hurray For The Riff Raff

 

The Magnetic Fields – 50 Song Memoir

(it’s one song for each year of Stephin Merritt’s life, NPR streams the first 20)

Stephin Merritt, not a UPS driver.

Valerie June – The Order of Time

Valerie June, not Medusa

Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives – Way Out West 

(produced by Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers)

They sound as good as they look.

First Listen also features an original Broadway cast recording, an Afro-Cuban album and the new release from Jay Som, a 22-year-old indie rock artist from Oakland who plays every instrument on the album. Get your ears over there now, add them all to your listening queue and have a harmonious Hump Day.