Alex Trebek, passed away at 80 of pancreatic cancer.
And there goes one of my bucket list dreams.
Alex Trebek, passed away at 80 of pancreatic cancer.
And there goes one of my bucket list dreams.
Sometimes it seems like everyone in the Twin Cties has a Sid Hartman story.
I had one – 34 years ago. And I can’t believe I never wrote about it in my “Twenty Years Ago Today” series.
I was working as a stringer – an ad-hoc freelance reporter – for WGN in Chicago. My job was to send reports on the game back to WGN – actually, to the show that Dana Carvey, Mike Meyers, John Goodman and Chris Farley lampooned a few years later, in the immortal “Da Bearss” bit – at halftime and at the end of the game.
This game happened to be Tommy Kramer’s best throwing game ever – five touchdowns against Forrest Gregg’s hapless ’86 Packers.
After the game, I walked down into the locker room and was interviewing Kramer, when I saw a mike creep up in front of the quarterback’s face. It was Sid. And he was bogarting the answer to my question.
And I felt a little flattered.
There are other, better Sid stories. This one may be my favorite
Neal Peart, drummer for prog-rock and high school sci-fi-nerd-rock mainstays Rush, died of brain cancer last week. He was 67.
He’s iconic for his technical prowess on the skins, of course – and that’s nothing to sneeze at.
And along with those immense technical chops came a taste for really, really big drum kits.
Big enough to serve as a cultural punchline for people from a certain generation – in this case, one of the kids in Freaks and Geeks, perhaps the only retrospective sit-com my generation is ever going to get. It sure got this right:
Over the years, when looking for drummers in bands, when I hear from people claiming to be influenced by Peart’s style, I can feel the back-ache setting in from a long, kit-heavy load-in and load-out even on the phone.
But for me, the most important thing about Peart – who replaced John Rutsey, who died even longer before his time – had little to do with drum technique.
My favorite drummers have tended to be either the human metronomes (Charlie Watts, Max Weinberg) or power-driving madmen (Keith Moon, Johnny Badanjak, Kenny Aronoff). Technical virtuosi like Peart, and Stuart Copeland of the Police, interested me less for their drum chops than for their place in the chemistry of theit various bands. Copeland took the edge off of some of Sting’s interminal pretension and self-importance…
…and in a genre where bloated pretense was the coin of the realm (Yes, Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, King Krimson), Peart was part of an ensemble that simultaneously wrote some great prog-rock (admittedly a genre I care very little about) and had a rollicking sense of humor on the subject, about the genre, and about themselves:
RIP Neal Peart
Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:
All my old heroes are passing. A Moonshiner turned NASCAR racer? Now THAT is the Resistance!
Wow. Shows what I know – I thought Johnson died in the seventies – and that he’d have been a lot older than that. He was a legend when I was a little kid and followed auto racing.
Ric Ocasek, founder and driving force behind seventies new-wave/pop earth-movers the Cars, died yesterday. He was…
…75? Yep. Apparently he spent the better part of 45 years lying about his age. He was well apparently a member of the Class of 1963, and halfway through his thirties and a veteran of years and years of playing in bars in Cleveland, Columbus, Ann Arbor and finally Boston by the time The Cars, their incandescent first album, landed in 1978.
It’d apparently been a rollercoaster year for Ocasek – inducted into the Rock and Roll Halll of Fame in 2018, in the middle of being separated from his wife of nearly 30 years, onetime supermodel Paulina Porizhkova – a marriage that was the subject of myriad “Beauty and the Beast” jokes when the 45 year old Ocasek and the then-23 year old Porizhkova married in ’89.
Oh, well. We’ll always have the good times.
I read the news the other day about the escalating violence along the Indo-Pakistani border, and out of curiosity, went over to Facebook to check in on some friends. Specifically, a former co-worker whose husband was a fighter pilot in the Indian Air Force.
Bit of a good news/bad news situation. Nobody’s been shot down…
…but my former colleague’s husband, a pilot in “Surya Kiran”, the Indian equivalent to the Thunderbirds, was killed during a rehearsal for an exhibition last week.
I met WIng Commander Gandhi a few times, when he was visiting his wife – I was struck by the irony that in the US, it’s usually the military spouse that spends their time overseas; among Indians, it’s the spouse who works in technology that does the globetrotting while the military spouse stays in India and watches the borders). I was struck – as were many others – by his passion for flying jet fighters, shared with everyone I’ve ever known who took up that vocation (including longtime friend and occasional commenter “Fingers”, who’s so passionate about it he did it in both the Navy and the Air Force).
I’m not so young that I don’t expect people I know, even obliquely, to die unexpectedly. I’m not so old that it doesn’t shock me a little, still.
Aretha Franklin passed away yesterday. She was 78.
The first real exposure to Franklin I ever got, growing up in the middle of country-western country, was working at my first radio job. Where I heard “Respect” for the first time – and felt a chill that the human voice could do…that.
My favorite is still “I Never Loved A Man (The Way That I Loved You).
But perhaps my ultimate testimonial? When my oldest was born, “Aretha” was on the short list of names.
Tom Wolfe, author of a shelf full of seminal American journalism and literature, dead at 88.
And later yesterday, word circulated on social media (although I’ve found no confirmation yet in the dead-tree media) that Nick Coleman, longtime columnist (as with all columnists in the Twin Cities, it seems) for both the Strib and the PiPress, had suffered a massive stroke and passed away.
More on that when more details are available.
He may have been the greatest evangelist in history, claiming to have preached to over 200 million in person over the years. Billy Graham passed away yesterday at age 99.
Like Charlton Heston, he broke a lot of Big Left’s narratives:
In the 1960s, he ardently opposed segregation, refusing to speak to segregated audiences.
“The ground at the foot of the cross is level,” he once said, “and it touches my heart when I see whites standing shoulder to shoulder with blacks at the cross.”
He was incredibly influential:
Graham also was noted for consulting and praying with every U.S. president from Dwight Eisenhower to Barack Obama, who in April 2010 visited Graham at his mountaintop cabin in North Carolina. He also met with President Harry Truman in what was initially a contentious meeting after Graham spoke to the press, but the two men later viewed the episode as a humorous incident.
Modern times tangent; I’ll be staying away from Twitter today. I can imagine the left’s comments about Graham will be down to their usual standard.
Pat DiNizio of the Smitherens is dead at 66.
The Smithereens, from Carteret, NJ, need no introduction to anyone who was listening to the radio in the mid-eighties. Crisp, taut melodic power-pop with just enough garage to make it fun and just enough polish to make it memorable,
And against the stereotype backdrop of eighties music – glossy stylied synth-pop, slick hair metal, and of course the golden age of the Big Arena Rock Anthem, it was defiantly retro, not as a stylistic statement, but for the sheer love of the sound.
“Blood and Roses” was first:
“Only a Memory” was probably my favorite:
“A Girl Like You” was, if memory serves, their biggest hit:
But I’ve learned the hard way; never ask if it could get worse.
I ‘m shocked and a little depressed to see that Caleb Palmiter died over the summer.
Caleb Palmiter has been in a “who’s who” of seminal Twin Cities bands-that-made-it-regionally-big-but-never-broke-out; a founder of the Jayhawks, Bash & Pop, as well as stints in the Mighty Mofos and the Magnolias.
I remember him best for a couple of bands well before that; The Law and A Single Love, both of which heavily featured his quirky, claw-hammer finger-style guitar style that was too articulate to be Doc Watson but was simpler and less ornate than the obvious comparisons, Richard Thompson and Mark Knopfler. Whatever you want to call it – I’d catch every gig I could, entranced by his mesmerising guitar style.
Here’s a sample: he was always this good:
He died of heart failure, says the Strib. Decades of booze and drugs. Same old same old.
And now I feel a lot older.
When I was a kid, the cosmology of the musical world was Pete Townsend, Joe Strummer, Bruce Springsteen, Ray Davies, Tom Petty (Bono and the Edge joined when I was in college)…
…with everyone else trailing far behind.
But now Tom Petty is dead at 66.
When I heard that he’d been found in his Malibu home unresponsive, with a cardiac arrest mere days after the end of what was reputed to be the last Heartbreakers tour, I couldn’t help but think of Charles Schultz, the “Peanuts” comic artist who passed away mere hours after the last panel of his seminal strip ran in papers around the country; their life’s artistic work over, they retired for real, for good.
I wrote about Tom Petty years ago; my abrupt conversion from doubter to fan 38 years ago next month. I was watching Saturday Night Live, looking to mock and scoff at the singer I’d heard about – for reasons I can’t begin to remember four decades later. Buck Henry introduced Petty; by the time they got three counts into “Refugee”, I had reconsidered my skepticism, and become a fan
(NBC blocked access to that original SNL video years ago; someone needs to die in a grease fire. This one is close):
. The next morning, after sunday school, I skipped church and ran to the drug store to pick up Damn the Torpedoes; me andMike Aylmer and Matt Anderson and Keri Kleingartner listened to it on a record player in one of the classrooms. And that night, I sat down with my guitar and started learning every single song, every lick Mike Campbell played; every flourish Benmonth Tench played on the organ; I didn’t so much listen to it as I absorbed it.
Because when you were a little too tall and coulda used a few pounds, and were hardly renowned, it was revelation to know that even the losers – tramps like us – could get lucky sometimes:
It was like a musical flash-bang grenade went off in my brain, blowing it open to a phalanx of new influences: the Byrds, Del Shannon, the whole canon of post-Beatles American rock and roll – it was all there.
Indeed, given that Petty, like his contemporaries Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seger was such a traditionalist, it’s hard to remember sometimes what a radical departure from the 1970s’ mainstream he was. Music radio lumped him in with the New Wave (as they did with many acts and artists that didn’t fit neatly into 1970s’ radio formats, from Dire Straits to AC/DC to The Police); in a half-decade of American pop music dominated by disco, sixties-holdovers from the “singer/songwriter” genre like James Taylor and Jackson Browne, arena acts like Styx and REO Speedwagon, and top-40 machines like Fleetwood Mac, Linda Ronstadt and the Eagles, the idea of a singer doing perfectly crafted homage to the Byrds, Stax/Volt (Duck Dunn sits in on bass on Damn the Torpedoes’ “You Tell Me”) and all that was great about early-sixties American rock and roll, and turning in into something vital, funny, crisp, fierce, was kind of radical.
It sure felt radical at the time.
His cardiac arrest yesterday was Petty’s worst medical problem, obviously – but it wasn’t his first medical issue, as he relates in this stunning 1985 version of “The Waiting”:
And as the years unwound, he had the same personal issues a lot of us fans had when we grew up; the girl who Petty told not to do him like that, did him like that in 1999, leading to one of his best albums (and the one from which he never played anything live), Echo, full of world-weary anthems about profound loss:
But maybe my favorite thing Petty did? He wore that Dixie chip on his shoulder with pride – and wrote one of the best songs every about that chip:
And that – the idea of putting the chip on my own shoulder out there in the form of music, the one art form I ever failed to completely fail at – led to one of my life’s great adventures, writing music and playing it for people, an adventure that’s still going on today.
If you told me to take a Tom Petty song to a desert island, it’d be…well, “Even the Losers”. But I’d sneak “Southern Accents” along under the table anyway.
UPDATE: Mr. D adds his own musical obit.
When people talk about what is wrong with American education today, at the end of the day most of the answers come back as some variation of “there aren’t more teachers out there like George Barron used to be”.
George Barron was my high school chemistry teacher…sort of. He passed away late last month.
I say he was “sort of” my chemistry teacher because it didn’t really go well. I mention this lest you think that this is going to turn into one of those Pollyanna-ish stories about teachers – Stand and Deliver or Mister Holland’s Opus or Watch Misplaced Teacher Turn The Meth-Heads Into Math-Heads or whatever – where some plucky teacher triumphs over the recalcitrant kid (and the system that keeps them down, natch) and teaches everyone the Big Lesson by the end of the story. It’s not.
Well, not directly. Indirectly, it very much is. But we’ll come back to that.
A solid generation before I took his chemistry class, George Barron was – or so I was told – a Navy dive-bomber pilot. He didn’t talk about the war – none of the small group of teachers that were WWII veterans ever did – although he did make sure we knew that, during the war, he trusted his life to a tailgunner not much older than we. Us, on the other hand? He didn’t trust us to fetch donuts from the bakery. We had a way to go before we got there.
Judging by old high school annuals, Mr. Barron got out of the Navy, came to Jamestown, and became a chemistry teacher. I know he was teaching when my father was a student, back in the fifties; he was still there when my dad came back to teach in the mid-sixties, and he was still teaching in 1979 when I was a sophomore in high school. His legend preceded him; you learned a lot from his classes (Jamestown High School produced an inordinate number of doctors and scientists in those days, all of them alums of Barron’s classes), but he was tough. .
I was not. Not academically, at least. I’d spent 9th and 10th grade bored out of my skull; English was a mind-numbing reiteration of grammar classes; History was taught by football coaches who had read less of the material than I had; but for languages (three years of German), Orchestra and Stage Band, I had pretty well checked out.
Which wasn’t a great start.
Toward the end of my sophomore year, as we were signing up for next year’s classes, we got a mimeographed sheet from Mr. Barron explaining that:
The page included a list of students who’d succeeded, and students who’d dropped the class – which struck me as a little odd at the time. But I signed up anyway.
Of course, on top of everything else my junior year, Chemistry hit me like a truck. Oh, Mr. Barron’s class hit everyone like a truck – but I was really, truly not ready for that. I was disorganized, didn’t really have the math down, and just could not keep up.
I’d love to say there was an inspirational speech, or some moment standing at the blackboard trying to calculate a reaction where I had a blinding flash of epiphany that would be presented in a movie with a montage of late-night studying, slow improvement, and cutaway shots of Mr. Barron’s implacable grimace slowly softening into the hint of a smile.
But that’s Hollywood. Me? I cratered. After my first six-weeks’ grade (a solid “F”), I dropped the class. No, I didn’t switch to study hall; I managed to talk my way into Latin I; I started seven weeks behind the rest of the class, and caught up by the end of the semester.
My other classes? I jumped from the C’s and D’s and occasional F’s of my first two years of high school to mostly A’s and B’s. This was also my first year at the radio station – and I threw myself into that as well, and learned a lot of radio by the end of the year. Part of it was that I was finally taking classes I cared about, and taking them from teachers who actually cared about the material themselves – my dad’s speech class, writing and a few others in particular.
Part of it was to not only live down, but expunge the stench of “quitting”.
Toward the end of my junior year, a sophomore friend handed me a copy of Mr. Barron’s mimeograph for the next year’s class. My stomach fell down my leg in an icy ball of confusion; I was listed among the kids who’d dropped the class.
My first reaction was to hunt him down and make him eat a bunson burner. But the girl who’d sat behind me in class – let’s call her Lori – said “he’s just putting you out there as an example of a smart kid who didn’t gel with the class”. It may have been BS, but I felt a little better.
The main point being, I spent the rest of that year, and the next, living that scarlet “Q” down. And through four years of college, where I averaged over 20 credits a semester. And the decades since, where in trial after trial, “don’t quit” has been the only real palatable solution.
And I owe that to Mr. Barron.
His “practical chem” colleague, another former Barron student, and my dad’s chess partner, Mr. Scherbenske, wrote a memorial to Mr. Barron in my hometown paper that sums the man up pretty well.
I’ve never much cared for science fiction. Not sure why – it just never took for me.
The exception was always Jerry Pournelle – pretty much the only person who ever wrote sci-fi that ever grabbed me.
That goes back almost forty years, to reading, among others, Lucifer’s Hammer – a book that probably grabbed me in the same way The Walking Dead does today.
There was more; fifteen years ago, during the heyday of the blog, Pournelle had an influential site – and he read and frequently llinked to Shot In The Dark; I’m not sure if any of you in my audience today found me through Pournelle, but I know he gave me a good boost in traffic back in the day.
Anyway – rest in peace, Jerry Pournelle.
It was at Holes for Heroes back in 2016 that Brad Carlson and me got to interview Greg Thomas, a man in Montgomery, MN who, when given a terminal diagnosis and mere weeks to live, decided to restore a crumbling country church.
His story was spellbinding – it was one of the most interesting interviews I’ve ever done. And it chronicled a quest that had gone on (if I recall correctly) for seven years, at that time.
Which isn’t bad for a guy who’d been given, as I recall, three months to live.
As we parted ways, I told him to come by next year and update us. He said he hoped he could – but he’d just gotten more bad news about his prognosis, and would be lucky to be around in months, rather than a full year.
He was finally right.
— Boyd Huppert (@BoydHuppert) July 16, 2017
But then we all are, eventually.
Thanks for the amazing story, Greg, RIP.
Over the weekend, I heard about the passing of June Smith.
You’ve heard about her in this space before; she was the wife of Dick Smith, my college choir director, about whose passing I wrote six years ago.
And while I spent less time with Mrs. Smith, she was just as important a figure in my life as her husband was. And I don’t suispect I was the only one.
Junior high was a miserable time. I suspect it is for pretty much everyone that’s not an early bloomer – and I was certainly not that.
The worst part? Most of the things that had let me coast through elementary school – a way with words, a moderate facility with and enjoyment of wriring – had been turned into penal drudgery by years of needing to learn the right way to do it. I’d always loved writing – but between seventh and tenth grade, the only “writing” that happened was slogging through grammar, diagramming sentences, beating rules into our heads that I, honestly, didn’t know, but practiced just fine.
And then, in 11th grade, I finally got to take “Creative Writing”, with Mrs. Smith – a longtime English department colleague of my dad’s at the high school.
I came very close to writing “And suddenly, writing was fun again!”.
It was. But to leave it there would leave out half of the story. Because – l like her husband did with music – she taught us how good writing could be with a little bit of discipline.
And she did it with one enduring concept: Engfish.
She described it as “English that is so full of soggy, rotten, cliched, pompous, pretentious dead weight that it stinks like a dead, rotting fish”. Her stated mission was to teach us how to write without Engfish.
Her class included some writing exercises I still remember. When our essays included any cliches, redundancy or pomposity, they’d come back marked with a penciled in fish, with “x” eyes and little vapor lines radiating upward. That was the Engfish sign; you’d written something that stank, and needed to rewrite it.
The real acid test? We’d turn in an essay; when she hit a phrase that made her lose internest – a big of Engfish, a soggy parenthetical, a diversion from the thesis – she drew a line at that point and stopped reading. She’d had it back to us to rewrite, as many times as it took for her to get through the essay with no Engfish. Getting an essay past her without getting it sent back was one of the highlights of my junior year.
And that – learning how to write tight, to-the-point English – made writing not just fun, but truly absorbing, something I finally felt like I was in command of.
I wasn’t, of course – it’d take my college writing prof, Dr. Blake (who also passed away in the past year and a half) and years of practice to get there, and truth be told I still work at it, hard, every day. It’s half the reason I plug away on this blog every weekday.
But ever since Mrs. Smith’s class, I’ve genuinely enjoyed it.
Mrs. Smith taught a lot of good writers, including her daughter and my high school classmate Kathryn, who wrote this essay last week about caring for June this past few months, while she’s been ailing.
This? Just my way of saying thanks. All that teaching actually changed a kid’s life, and is still doing it.
Nat Hentoff passed away over the weekend. He was 91.
After getting his start as a jazz critic with the Village Voice, Hentoff swerved into a career as a civil liberties activist. Probably 25 years ago, I read Free Speech For Me, But Not For Thee – a book about free speech, but even moreso a treatise on how protecting freedom for the unpopular and unsavory was as important, or more important, than protecting it for “the good guys”. It also warned of today’s campus totalitarianism. Hentoff, a longtime ACLU activist, lived out what the organization was back before it turned into the “Manhattan Civil Liberties Union.
It’s become a traffic-worn cliche to say an old-time conservative, a Ronald Reagan or a Jack Kemp, “..couldn’t get elected in today’s GOP” – but it’s actually true that Nat Hentoff couldn’t get arrested in today’s power-mad hard left. We know this because today’s left literally did, in fact, reject him:
In 2009, after 50 years, Hentoff lost his job at the Village Voice. He was told it was due to “budget” concerns, but most believe he had been fired because his libertarianism was increasingly controversial on the left. In the years that followed, he wrote for numerous publications, including The Washington Times, and worked with the Cato Institute. He was honored by and spoke on free speech and privacy at a Conservative Political Action Conference and served on the advisory board of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which fights for free speech on our campuses.
When the Village Voice cast him adrift, he observed that he would just have to put on his “skunk suit” and saunter off to someone else’s “garden party.” And he did just that. He supported the Iraq war, but was a dogged critic of the Bush administration’s assault on privacy rights in the name of the “War on Terror.” He said he was going to support Barack Obama in 2008, but couldn’t because of the man’s views on partial-birth abortion. Last year he was to be found in the camp of Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. He had not become a conservative, but remained Nat Hentoff. He was a man who could get up in the morning, look himself in the mirror and see the face of one who had, regardless of what others might say, remained true to his convictions.
He may have been the last liberal who actually was a liberal.
Jimmy Breslin died over the weekend. He was 88.
We’ll come back to that.
The media today – or at least, people of a certain age (i.e. older than me) who are still in the media – remind me of circus performers telling inside jokes about what the ringmaster did after that one show in Lincoln, or of mailmen amongst themselves about the worst breeds of dog to encounter, or city bus drivers reminiscing about the foibles of that old model of bus that got retired a couple of decades ago, unlamented by anyone but, well, them. They remind me of any group of clubby, beleaguered insiders who turn the foibles, peccadillos and petty miseries of their callings into legends in their own minds. Not like World War II veterans telling niche anecdotes from a little tiny window of the fight to save freedom. Just guys who did something most people don’t care about all that much, building it in their minds into something worthy of the life they built around it.
Unlike arthritic old circus hands, mailmen and bus drivers, journalists buy newsprint by the rail car and ink by the barrel – so they can inflict their particular tales, traditions and argot onto the rest us. And lest anyone accuse me of ridiculing other people, I am one of them, at least as regards the radio industry.
I remember hearing some longtime Twin Cities journalists talk about Nick Coleman leaving the Star/Tribune. “He was a great, old-time newspaperman”, one of them said. “One of the best”.
Why, I asked.
What followed was an explanation I can’t possibly reproduce here – but it boiled down to Coleman epitomizing what an old-school “ink-stained wretch” was supposed to look, act and write like.
And I thought “this is the Nick Coleman who made an outsized contribution to the decline and fall of journalism. If he didn’t like you, he’d just make s**t up; he’d conjure up community groups from his imagination, or make up facts when he didn’t know enough to dig, ask or wait for the real ones. And he played a bigger-than-average role in the financial ruination of the field he, and the journos who reminisce about him, try to earn a living in.
But no matter. Journalists are like those hold each other to a standard that only they understand, and really only makes sense, or matters, really, to them.
And so Nick Coleman is a hero, while journalists who actually do what journalists are supposed to do but don’t know the secret handshake get mocked and derided by the bus drivers. Er, circus geeks.
Damn. I mean journos.
Along those lines, Journos like to tells themselves their mission nis to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”.
It’s pretty inevitably b******t. Most reporters spend their careers covering city council meetings and one-car crashes and writing obits and, today, probably selling ads to help their outlet get by. Their biases are irrelevant, because their beats are all about the mundanities of civic and public life that are just too boring for partisanship.
But Jimmy Breslin, like Studs Terkel and Jim Klobuchar and, heaven help us, Nick Coleman, was on a different plane. A columnist as well as a reporter, or maybe a reporter who got to have opinions, a pioneer in what they used to call “New Journalism” – subjective, advocacy-oriented, opinionated, journalism that put white and black hats on its subjects…
…rather than letting the reader do it for themselves.
To journos – and consumers of a certain outlook – it was brilliant, pioneering stuff. And it certainly did pioneer the idea of the journalist as the crusader rather than the crier, the seeker of goals rather than the reporter of facts – as the ones who could comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable. As being able to fight, as one of Breslin’s obituary writers said, for the little guy.
I found out Breslin’s regard for the little guy, straight from the horse’s mouth. I met Breslin once, back in 1986. He was doing a book tour, back when book tours meant traveling the country and doing radio live in the studio; I booked him on the Don Vogel show.
This was in the wake of one of Bernard Goetz’s trials. Vogel asked him a question about Goetz – an electrician who’d been mugged, over and over, and reacted famously by shooting a group of muggers in the subway with an unregistered gun (only celebrities and politicians could get handgun license in New York – and that’s still pretty much true).
Breslin oozed contempt for Goetz. It was sneering, visceral, hateful – as if the thought that a mere hoi polloi’s life was worth defending itself violated the public order.
But Goetz wasn’t “the little guy” to Breslin or the “journalism” establishment who aped him. The criminals – with whom the purveyors of the myth of New York in the sixties and seventies had long since made fitful peace – were the little guys; not predators, not even pests; part of a zen-like symbiosis that one had to tolerate to “be a New Yorker”.
To the likes of Breslin and his many many imitators.
He was there for the right little guys.
Like most journos.
But never let it be said I speak ill of the dead. Breslin did write one thing in his long career that rocked me back on my heels; the piece he wrote about the surgery he underwent a few decades back for an aneurysm. Positively brilliant. I can’t find it, but I will keep looking.
There’s an ugly, stupid fringe on the edge of all political movements.
Of course, in remembering the deaths of Ronald Reagan, Tony Snow, Gerald Ford, Antonin Scalia and others, it’s seemed like that deranged fringe cuts very close to the center of the Democrat party.
But for one of their own?
Alan Colmes was always the weaker half of the “Hannity and Colmes” line-up. I suspect that was by design. Television and radio shows featuring two equals tend to make wonky audiences happy, and bore everyone else silly. Alan Colmes, I suspect, was supposed to be the New York Generals, to Sean Hannity’s Harlem Globetrotters; the Mister Electricity to Hannity’s Crusher.
Also, and more importantly, he was a human being.
Anyway – that fringe, isolated crank liberal site, Salon, gives Colmes the same treatment Janeane Garofalo and Rosie O’Donnell give departed conservative figures in this incredibly nasty, snarky little obit:
And while one should usually view tributes to the recently departed with a forgiving cynicism[well, no – “one should” ideally not – Ed] in this case they are all too believable: Colmes was the most absurd, useless, and mocked television personality in America for many years, precisely because he was nice. In the context of Fox News, being a nice guy—and a “liberal” nice guy at that—meant being a buffoon, and a patsy. Colmes not only played the part to perfection—he defined it.
Salon “writer” Isaac Chotiner continues the left’s noxious, toxic habit of whizzing on graves.
What a wonderful world.
Bill Cooper, former chair of the Minnesota GOP and longtime CEO at TCF Bank, passed away earlier this week at 73.
In addition to leading the MNGOP during the Carlson years, Cooper did two things that made him a hero to me.
Nick-Slapped: Back in 2005, then-Strib columnist Nick Coleman wrote a deeply dumb column wondering how Scott Johnson of Power Line managed to blog during his work day (Johnson was at the time TCF’s corporate counsel), and urging TCF customers to pull their money out of the bank in protest over employing an “out” conservative.
Cooper pulled TCF’s ad money from the Strib – $250K a year – and followed up by cutting off the City Pages as well.
And the whining and carping lulled me to a sound, happy nap. I’d like to think that costing the Strib a cool quarter mill had a lot to do with Coleman’s retirement. For that alone, we should thank Cooper.
Friends: In a more serious and productive vein, Cooper was one of the movers and shakers behind “Friends of Education”, a chain of charter schools that were focused on specific communities and educational models.
Friends of Education schools were, and perpetually remain, among the top-performing charters in the state. And that was in part due to Cooper’s business sense; “Friends” charters that didn’t succeed got shut down; the successful ones carried on.
Say what you will about Russia and its history: not good for the proverbial little guy, lots of death and misery, in a demographic death spiral…
…but if they do something well, it’s massed choral music.
And so I pay my regards to the Alexandrow Ensemble – known to generations as the Red Army Choir, during the Soviet era – whose military plane crashed in the Black Sea en route to entertain the troops in Syria.
As the big choirs go, they were bigger than most:
And the land of Tolstoy, Solzhenitzyn and Dostoyevskii writes even does jingo as an epic production:
RIP, Alexandrow Ensemble.
It’s been a long, long time since I’ve been punched in the stomach. But I remember what it feels like with this news: Dr. Jim Blake, my college advisor, died a few months ago in Oil City, PA. He was 68. That I’m hearing about it a few seasons late shows how life’s sturm und drang will have its way.
Dr. Blake was one of the two best teachers I ever had, and one of the most influential people in my life in many ways. It was he who passed on to me his love of analysis and of fairly relentless logic, yes – but also how to find joy, stimulation and meaning in how words were put together; the packing of meaning into every word of a great poem, the layers of symbols and meaning in a great book, the ruthless economy of a well-honed phrase. And he showed a lot of us how four years of studying literature could be a good, powerful and important force in ones’ *real life* – which is, I’m afraid, a lost art in the modern college.
Beyond that? Incredible as it may seem in this age, it was Dr. Blake – an English professor who called himself a “monarchist” – who showed me that I really wasn’t the bobblehead I had been when I started college; “Mitch, you’re not a liberal”, he said in his Queens accent during out of our hours of talking about policis, philosophy, current events; he shook his head and made me read Solzhenitzyn, Paul Johnson, P.J. O’Rourke, Dostoevskii and Tolstoii. And by golly, he was right; once my brain turned on, I was a conservative after all. When I pulled punched my ballot for Ronald Reagan in 1984 (albeit without telling my parents), and started my first conservative talk show in 1986, and every day I do the NARN or write my blog today, Dr. Blake was and is there.
I’ve thought a lot over the years; would the modern humanities academy know what to do about a Dr. Blake – an English prof with a fearsome BS detector and no patience for the PC fripperies of the modern humanities academy?
Oh, it would be an epic battle indeed.
The only tragedy in his death is that not every college kid had or will have the opportunity to learn from him.
RIP Buddy Ryan:
The defensive mastermind that was, perhaps even more than Mike Ditka, behind the greatest team in the history of NFL football, Ryan had a long, long career:
Beloved by his players and hated by opposing offenses (and sometimes hated even by his own offenses), Ryan masterminded Chicago’s 46 defense that won Super Bowl XX. He later served as head coach of an Eagles team that had a great defense in its own right, and ended his coaching career as head coach of the Cardinals in 1994 and 1995.
Ryan’s 35-year career as a football coach began in 1961 as a defensive line coach with the University at Buffalo Bulls, and in 1968 he moved to the Jets, helping them win Super Bowl III. He spent two years with the Vikings in 1976 and 1977 before George Halas hired him to coach the Bears’ defense in 1978.
He and his ’85 Bears were the subject of an ESPN biopic last year; he really wasn’t looking good (and either was Jim McMahon).
But we’ll always have ’85.
Word came this past week of the passing of broadcasting legend Jim Rohn – or, if you grew up within 100 miles of Fargo in the sixties and early seventies, “Captain Jim”:
Rohn got his start in 1946 on the radio at KSJB-AM in Jamestown following his service in World War II.
He was radioman/gunner on Navy dive bombers during the war.
KSJB was the “enemy”, the station across Main Street from the station I grew up at.
After a few years, he moved to Fargo when sisterstation KXJB-TV was launched, where he was a fixture for many years as a weatherman, among other roles.
He was known to viewers who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s as “Captain Jim,” his persona in a children’s show, a name that stuck among viewers of a certain age for years afterward.
Rohn also hosted “Polka Party” on Saturdays, dressed in a Bavarian lederhosen outfit.
“He was a real character,” said Al Aamodt, a veteran broadcaster at KVLY and KXJB’s Valley News Live.
I had lost track of Rohn when he left KXJB when I was in probably second grade – and was amazed to hear him on the air when I was driving through the Lakes area probably ten years back.