Rictile unleashed

About a month ago, my old radio pal Ric “The Rictile” Cengeri was unceremoniously dumped from his Vermont Public Radio gig, after 12 years of faithful service.

Full story is here.

I worked with Ric for three years at 97X. We were roommates for much of that time, and morning show co-hosts for a year. So we spent a ton of time together. You won’t find a nicer guy, or one more passionate about creating great radio programs.

His energy was off the charts. His sense of humor was keen. His joie de vivre was contagious. His ability to remember listeners’ names was Rain Man-like. The way he mentored our college co-ops was admirable.

You could drop Rictile onto an uncharted desert isle (not Gilligan’s Island) and come back in three weeks to find a full blown party with hundreds of people. (He earned his Dirty Mayor nickname from his local pub, where he made so many fast friends that they called him “the Mayor.” He even has a cider named in his honor.)

After such a shock, Ric could’ve chosen to wallow in self-pity. But that’s not the Way of the Rictile. Instead, he’s doing what he’s always done. Going to concerts, to museums, to sporting events, to restaurants, to the symphony, to poetry readings, to the pub, to farmer’s markets, and volunteering in the community… The Man stole his livelihood, but he’s not going to mess up his life.

The Facebook post below from a former co-worker — and Ric’s reply — speak volumes about the kind of person he is.

Ric’s VPR job ended on a sour note, but the Dirty Mayor’s life is a thing of beauty. I can’t wait to hear about his next adventure.

Sedaris. Rhymes with hilarious.

I attended a performance by author David Sedaris last night. You may think it’s a bit of a stretch to call it a “performance” when he was merely reading his stories, followed by an audience Q&A. But that means you’ve never seen David Sedaris live. And I was in that group prior to last night.

I’ve read most of his books, and love them. I knew he’d be funny, insightful, witty, [insert other adjective for a writer of humorous, satirical essays here]. But I didn’t expect it to be bust-a-gut, rolling in the aisles, laughing-so-hard-I’m-crying funny. Yet it was. I haven’t laughed that much, or that hard, in ages. He’s not just a masterful writer, but also a powerful performer.

The promo blurb for the show was spot-on:

If you love David Sedaris’s cheerfully misanthropic stories, you might think that you know what you’re getting into at his live readings.  You’d be wrong.  To see him read his own work on stage allows his autobiographical narrative to reveal a uniquely personal narrative that will keep you laughing throughout the evening.  

Best of all for a hack like me was the fact that the laughs were powered by David’s written words. No props, no fog machines, no show business shtick. Just short essays read by a 62-year-old man standing at a podium on an otherwise bare stage. Observant. Trenchant. Moving. And Hilarious.

David’s tour continues in the U.S. through early December. If he’s performing anywhere near you, you simply must go.

[David also used a bit of his stage time to promote another writer’s latest book. He raved about Ann Patchett’s new novel The Dutch House. I’ll have to check that one out.]

R.I.P. Johnny Clegg

Below is a post that originally ran in November of 2017… reposting today after hearing the news about Johnny Clegg passing away. He will be missed. 

Johnny B. Good. Very good.

“Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.”

“Hello, I’m Johnny Clegg.”

No doubt you’ve heard of (and heard the music of) the former. Chances are, you’re not familiar with the latter. But Johnny Cash is to country music as Johnny Clegg is to South African music. A pioneer, a trailblazer, a true icon. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to call him the Nelson Mandela of music. Back in the Apartheid era, teenage Johnny crossed color lines to learn music and dancing from Zulu men in Johannesburg, and eventually brought it to the world.

“They knew something about being a man, which they could communicate physically in the way that they danced and carried themselves. And I wanted to be able to do the same thing. Basically, I wanted to become a Zulu warrior. And in a very deep sense, it offered me an African identity. It was like a homecoming for me; I don’t know why, but I felt that.”

When he formed an integrated band – Juluka – with Sipho Mchunu, they couldn’t even play in public at first.  Eventually they landed a record deal and toured the world.

When Sipho got homesick and left for his Zululand home, Johnny formed a new band called Savuka, which means “We Have Risen” in Zulu. His songs were at the forefront of the fight for equality in South Africa.

“You could not ignore what was going on. The entire Savuka project was based in the South African experience and the fight for a better quality of life and freedom for all.”

One of the best concerts I’ve ever seen was Johnny Clegg & Savuka at a club in Cincinnati, circa 1993. For some strange, mystical reason, I too wanted to become a Zulu warrior that night. And I can’t dance worth a damn. The passion, the energy, the “goodness” emanating from Johnny and his band was palpable, and the tsunami of positive vibes swept up the whole crowd. “I don’t know why, but I felt that.”

Johnny Cash is gone. Johnny Clegg will be gone soon – he’s battling pancreatic cancer. He just wrapped up a brief U.S. tour and has headed home to South Africa, with one more gig in Cape Town lined up for this year.

NPR has a nice profile of Johnny’s career. (The quotes in this post are from that piece.) Please check it out.

Thank you Johnny, for sharing your music and your love with the world. Don’t stop dancing.

Are you ready for some (non-American) football?

Soccer had its moment in the sun yesterday. The U.S. Women’s National Team claimed their second consecutive Women’s World Cup title, giving them a record four titles overall.

Meanwhile the men’s team made the finals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup. (Don’t ask me what CONCACAF stands for – I think it’s a coffee brand.) They lost to Mexico, 1-0, but hey, they made the finals!

Mmm, that’s some mighty tasty Concacaf!

Now, most of America will shrug its collective shoulders, yawn, and go back to watching all the other sports for a few years. Yes, I know that football (the kind actually played with the foot) is “the beautiful game” and that it’s wildly popular in nearly every other corner of the globe. And yes, I know it’s picking up steam stateside… including here in Cincinnati, where FC Cincinnati, a newly-minted member of Major League Soccer, regularly draws crowds in excess of 25,000. Oh, and Rose Lavelle, who scored that beautiful goal for the USA Women yesterday? She’s from the ‘nati!

https://twitter.com/i/status/1147906367383977984

Still, something seems to be missing… a certain je ne sais quoi. Maybe it’s the traumatic brain injuries and consistent maimings that happen in American football. The interminable wait between pitches of baseball. The meaningless regular season of the NHL… or the meaningless regular season AND meaningless first three quarters of every game in the NBA. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t provide a handy excuse for taking a nice three-hour nap every Sunday like professional golf.

My college buddy Tom always used to claim “soccer is a communist sport” because it could end in a tie.

Roll tied!

(He still claims this, even though both his daughters got full-ride scholarships to SEC schools for… you guessed it… soccer!) But after watching the women’s semifinals and final, I know the real problem: “stoppage time.”

Stoppage time (also called injury time) is the time added on at the end of each half at the discretion of the referee.

https://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Football_(Soccer)/The_Basics

What other sport has such a ridiculous and mysterious method for running (or not running) the clock? Can’t they just stop the clock anytime there’s an injury? Heck, I’ve worked the scoreboard at more than my fair share of kiddie basketball games, I’ll show ’em how it’s done.

We love two-minute drills and buzzer beaters, and soccer cheats us out of this by making the timing of the game rather random, and by not showing the crowd exactly how much time is left in the contest.

Until they fix stoppage time, soccer will be a sport whose time will never come in the U.S.

Life imitates comic strip art

My son Peter has his final day of high school today. I imagine his last couple of weeks have gone something like this:

And then there’s Peter’s old man, the aspiring writer. This strip sums things up nicely:

Have a wonderful weekend, and keep chasing those dreams!

Grounded at last

A recent blog post from The Current, an indie radio station in Minneapolis, made me smile.

I’ve always loved that song, it has great lyrics…

Sanitation expert and a maintenance engineer

Garbage man, a janitor and you my dear

A real union flight attendant, my oh my

You ain’t nothing but a waitress in the sky

But as the blog post explains, Replacements leader Paul Westerberg wasn’t channeling his own inner rude passenger when he wrote it:

In Bob Mehr’s Trouble Boys, he explains that the song was actually inspired by stories songwriter Paul Westerberg heard from his sister Julie, a flight attendant. “I was playing the character of the creep who demands to be treated like a king,” Westerberg told Mehr. “I’d heard all the stories from my sister about how [passengers] would yell at the flight attendants and then how they’d ‘accidentally’ spill something on them.”

Now Paul’s sister has retired after four decades of putting up with all manner of passenger problems. I’m sure the stories would be even worse if Paul wrote the song today.

Congrats Julie… and thanks for sharing your stories with Paul, so he could share them with us.

Second place = first loser

Imagine you are a pretty smart dude or dudette. (I can’t even imagine that so you’ll have to do it for me.) If so, you’ve probably dreamed (or at least daydreamed) about getting onto the TV game show Jeopardy. You play along at home and do pretty well with the answers… yeah, you could totally be on the show and show that pompous Alex Trebek a few things.

Now imagine you do take the Jeopardy online test, and do well enough that you make it through to the live auditions. And then you beat the odds once again and survive the live auditions. You’ve made it – it’s a dream come true… you’re finally going to have your moment in the sun on Jeopardy!

Then, when you finally get on the show, you have to go up against James Holzhauer. Dude is a total beast. As announcer Johnny Gilbert would say it, “…and our returning champion, a professional gambler from Las Vegas, Nevada whose 17-day cash winnings total $1,275,587…”

James isn’t just winning, he’s winning in spectacular, runaway, big money fashion. Because he’s so smart and quick, he typically has control of the board most of the game, which means he usually finds all the daily doubles. Then, because he’s a gambler, he’s not risk-averse, so he goes all-in on the daily doubles, gets those right nearly every time… and for all intents and purposes the game is a rout before the second round even begins.

The other contestants aren’t stiffs. Sometimes they’ll go into Final Jeopardy with eight or nine grand, which is no small feat. But in nearly every game so far, James has an insurmountable lead.

The other players have the brainpower. If they were on the show at a different time of year, they might wind up as multi-day champs. But if you’re on during James’ roll, you have the unfortunate luck of bad timing. The only thing to do is to go out with a bang:


Don’t sleep on these teams… or do.

Virginia beat Texas Tech in overtime to claim the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship last night. Or so I heard. The game tipped off at 9:26 PM EDT. I had to wake my kids at 6 AM this morning. by the time the clock struck zero, I was fast asleep.

Image result for virginia basketball wins

I’m sure it was “one for the ages” or some other nugget of hyperbole from Jim Nantz (who seems to think every word that comes from his mouth is pure gold). But at my age, my beauty rest is more important. (To be clear, I’m not gaining any ground in the beauty department, just trying to keep the ugly at bay.)

Image result for beauty sleep meme

But even if I didn’t have to get up at the crack of dawn today, why bother with live feed? It’s a Netflix/YouTube world now. This morning, on my bus ride to work, I was able to watch a 12-minute recap that showed all the field goals from the game. So what did I really miss by not staying up an extra two hours, other than a gazillion Spike-Samuel-Barkley commercials, a bunch of free throw attempts, the always-scintillating “refs going to the monitor for five minutes” and maybe a few Bill Raftery “with the kiss” lines? I’m good.

Image result for watch what happens live logo

There’s no need to watch what happens live anymore. I’ll wait for the recap movie.

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There are no second acts in American lives

I spent some time crate-digging over the weekend, looking through the albums at the thrift shops near my house. (Yes, thrift shops – plural – we live in a classy neighborhood!) Two albums from 70s pop idols caught my eye.

Donny Osmond and David Cassidy… it doesn’t get any more 70s than that. No, I did NOT purchase them! Mainly because I don’t care for bubblegum pop… and also because the Donny album cover seems a bit too, shall we say, pedophile?

But those album covers gave me a chance to contemplate a few things:

  1. Why am I spending weekends in thrift shops?
  2. Why is Donny’s album twice the price of David’s?
  3. What’s the price of fame?

Donny and David had a lot in common. Hit songs, hit TV shows, multiple TigerBeat covers, huge fan clubs… and amazing hairstyles. But they wound up on different paths. Donny fell off the pop culture radar for most of the 80s, but has had top 10 songs since then, done musical theater, hosted TV game shows and syndicated radio shows, won a season of Dancing with the Stars, and has been appearing in Vegas (where else?) with his sister Marie since 2008.

https://twitter.com/i/status/1088191265148006400

David Cassidy‘s post-teen-idol path was a bit rockier. He had modest Top 40 success after the Partridge Family, dabbled in musical theater and acting… and had the requisite reality TV appearance (Celebrity Apprentice, 2011). He also had multiple drunk driving charges from 2010 on, filed for bankruptcy in 2015, and died of liver failure (due to alcoholism) in 2017.

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote “there are no second acts in American lives.” In Donny’s case, he was wrong. In David’s, he was correct. Fame is fleeting, and it can extract a heavy toll from your life. Gaining fame is great fun… but losing it isn’t.

Some are born to move the world
To live their fantasies
But most of us just dream about
The things we’d like to be

Sadder still to watch it die
Than never to have known it
For you, the blind who once could see
The bell tolls for thee….