Tag: Frank Sinatra

Day 998: Crossing Abbey Road

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This Friday marks the 45th anniversary of what I believe to be the greatest album of all time.

Before you flick lint in my beer or pelt me with wads of Big League Chew for not designating this title to Pink Floyd’s Piper At The Gates of Dawn or Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ Too-Rye-Ay, allow me to point out that there are many albums that are flawless – sometimes in spite of a number of actual flaws. Nary a wayward note blemishes Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key of Life, and Paul Simon’s Graceland is among the few utterly perfect slabs of 1980’s vinyl. For me, “the greatest” combines not only artistic and technical brilliance, but the subjective distinction of having served as the soundtrack to many of the most fantastic moments of my life. Your results may (and probably do) vary.

The story of Abbey Road is one of pure, primal mirth, flecked with auburn specks of encroaching melancholy. It is the last glorious and romantic trip to Maui for an otherwise doomed marriage. It marks the greatest rock band in history (an assertion I’ll stand by as wholly factual) producing one final brushstroke upon their legacy before heading their separate ways.

Frustrated-1

This is not a happy group.

In January of 1969, the Beatles were moving in four different directions, and had been for over a year. Their plan was to return to the studio, record a back-to-their-roots album, perform their first concert since the summer of 1966 (the Pyramids in Egypt were a proposed locale, as was a barge adrift in the Atlantic), and film it all for posterity. This attempt to reconnect resulted in a cavalcade of arguments, the grandiose concert reduced to a noon-hour gig on the roof, and the temporary quitting of George Harrison. Read more…

Day 743: Make Way For Madman Muntz!

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While the world heaps its historical praise upon the Thomas Edisons, the Henry Fords, and the Giordi Lobzhanidzes (he invented the modern garlic press), we forget that for each titan of invention who helped to shape our twisted, wicked world, there are many who remain practically anonymous. I’m not talking about the utterly unsung individuals whose names are forever scrubbed from their legacy and lost to the ages. No, these are names that get heralded on some small scale in their time, but are likely to vanish into the fog of obscurity only one generation later.

I’d wager a flask of Ovaltine and my old Donald Fagen 8-track that no one from my generation is going to pipe up and claim that they remember Earl William “Madman” Muntz.

Blank and unimpressed as your face may presently be upon reading this, the topic of today’s probing kilograph, I would argue that, strange as it may seem, Muntz’s life’s work did have some sort of effect on the world around you. Perhaps it’s a tiny ripple, but isn’t that enough? Wouldn’t we all be tickled to know that the fabric of time continues to quiver from our impact some 24 years after we’ve scooted into oblivion?

MadmanMuntz

Earl Muntz spent most of his life one or two steps ahead of his time. He spent his youth disassembling electronics and learning how they work. He might have followed this passion down an academic freeway, but the Great Depression booted him to the curb and forced him to quit school to work in his parents’ hardware store in Elgin, Illinois. A few short years later, a 20-year-old Muntz was ready to open his first business: a car dealership. He relocated to California once observing that used cars sold there for much more than they’d fetch in Elgin. Then Muntz single-handedly changed the industry. Read more…

Day 625: The Notorious Kray Brothers

Header If you have that unquestionably weird itch to be famous, all you need to do to scratch it is make an ass of yourself on a reality show or release a viral sex tape unto the world wide wanking web. But it used to require work. And if you didn’t have the talent to sing, act, or politic yourself into the public eye, you might have had to become a notorious criminal. Or you simply may have wanted to. For Ronnie and Reggie Kray, two twin brothers whose presence dominated the seedy side of Swinging London in the 1960’s, there weren’t really a slew of other career paths beckoning to them. They were born into violence and they carried that violence with them like a second skin. The smashidermis. Only they did it with just enough style to draw the headlines and tickle the public’s guilty fascination. In the early 60’s, America had Charles Starkweather and his underage girlfriend – the real life Mickey & Mallory from that Oliver Stone flick. But as quirkily and repulsively romantic as some may have seen that story, those two had nothing on the Kray twins. KrayTwins On October 24, 1933, Reggie and Ronnie squeezed their way into the world, landing in the crime-heavy area known as East London with all four feet on the ground and their fists in the air. They slid smoothly into the sport of boxing, which clearly helped to hone their ass-whomping skills; when they were nine, a head injury during a brotherly bout almost killed Ronnie. Read more…

Day 566: The 566th Day Stretch

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Regular readers know I don’t devote a lot of my sports-watching time to anything other than NFL football and Olympic shot-put trials. Nothing against the other sports out there – I simply like the fact that I can cram all my vicarious thrill-gaming into Sunday. Well, and Monday night. Thursday Night Football still messes me up.

But I am a lover of all sports, in that I love the drama that comes bundled with them. When my hometown Oilers made it to the Stanley Cup finals back in ’06, I cheered them on. When the Boston Red Sox finally conquered the Curse of the Bambino, I celebrated. And when the Swedish women just barely bested Denmark in the 1997 European Curling Championships I… no, I’m joking.  I’d rather watch Police Academy 6: City Under Siege, dubbed with a painfully nasal, even Drescher-esque Korean soundtrack than watch curling on television.

Baseball is one sport I truly respect. Here’s a sport with maybe a minute and a half of pure action in any game, yet still it can be riveting to watch. It’s a sport based on tension; the Alfred Hitchcock of sports. And it’s the only sport to incorporate well-being and proper circulation right into the game, in the form of a mandated late-game stretch.

Well, they do that in beach volleyball too, but that''s known for being a sport all about the fans.

Well, they do that in beach volleyball too, but that”s known for being a sport all about the fans.

Like any piece of baseball tradition, the seventh inning stretch dates back to the 19th century. And like any piece of history from the 19th century that wasn’t recorded in an official Congressional record, the specific details are a little sketchy. One story claims that Brother Jasper, the holy man credited with bringing baseball to Manhattan College, decreed during a particularly suspenseful game that all players and fans should give their muscles some much-needed movement.

That’s about as dull an origin story as anyone could come up with. Read more…

Day 418: The Titans Of Vegas

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Every city has its share of oddities, but a city like Las Vegas – sewn together by the forsaken dollar bills lost to an unsatisfied inside straight, fortified by sticky plastic novelty cups and souvenir snowglobes, and ultimately cemented with a seductive plaster made up of $1.99 shrimp cocktail and the tears of the quickie-divorced – has a vault-full.

The last time I basked in the perpetual weirdness of Vegas, I spent a couple hours wandering around the Neon Boneyard / Museum just north of the unending downtown fracas of Fremont Street. In a city hell-bent on shaking the Etch-A-Sketch of its history for every fresh generation, the Boneyard is a refreshing glimpse at some of the signs, symbols and even the funky La Concha Motel from Vegas past. This place is a must-see.

This brings me to today’s topic: the great monuments that have defined, and will define Vegas.

VegasVic

Like Vegas Vic. When the Pioneer Club on Fremont Street wanted something that would attract the open wallets of passers-by, they decided to employ glitzy neon technology in a fresh way: a massive cowboy. Vic was based on a mid-40’s mascot commissioned by the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, and already in use on postcards. Around this time the old west was the dominant theme in Vegas; a cowboy mascot made sense. Read more…

Day 417: Vegas & The Cash-a Nostra

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Thirteen years ago, during my second trip as an adult to that star-spew oasis in the armpit of the desert known as Las Vegas, I got stuck on a monorail. On this particular August night, a wicked storm was wreaking havoc along the famous Strip, with flash floods sending confused waves onto the sidewalk and into our shoes. My wife and I were en route from the Motown Café at the New York New York resort (we’re suckers for singing waitresses) to the Flamingo. The monorail in question ran between the Monte Carlo and Bellagio hotels – it’s still there, except now it passes through the monstrous City Center complex along the way. When we got stuck, there was nothing but a parking lot some fifty feet below us.

I wasn’t worried. The angry rain was kept at bay, and besides, I had a plastic football filled with delicious ale from the little brewery in the basement of the Monte Carlo.

Much more fun when it's full.

Much more fun when it’s full.

And besides, after we’d leapt from our car to the back-up monorail on the other track, I was sure someone would be waiting to greet us at the Bellagio, handing out a small stack of chips or a pair of complimentary show tickets for our troubles.

I was wrong. Mob-era Vegas was over. 2000 was taint-deep in the corporate era, and while they took down our information, they had no intention of compensating us for the hour of further intoxication we’d lost.

Las Vegas was built on a foundation of mob-money. Even though the family-friendly resorts of modern Vegas do their best to come across as honest, considerate corporate entities (so… people, technically), most of them hide a dark secret. It’s Vegas – you should probably try to stay somewhere with a dark secret or two. It’s more fun that way. Read more…

Day 360: Take The Quiz You Can’t Refuse

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Christmas, as we all know from saccharine TV commercials for pasta side dishes, is a time for family. Major calendar holidays are, as regular readers of this project may recall, also a perfect opportunity for a quiz. And rather than cash in on the Christmas tropes – I’m sure I’m not the only one who will snap if they have to envision dashing through the snow on one more fucking one-horse open sleigh – I’m going to do a quiz about family.

One of America’s finest families. The Corleones.

If you’ve never seen the Godfather movies nor read the novel by Mario Puzo, then now might be a good time to read up on a crappy Edgar Allen Poe play instead. But if you think you know those films, read on.

(NOTE: answering “that guy… whassisname” is acceptable. I want my wife to have a chance at some of these.) Read more…

Day 119: He Fought The Law, But Who Won?

My fingers spent a good five minutes dangling above my keyboard before beginning this article. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure there’s enough story here to make a story. This isn’t the tale of a music legend, or an American folk hero. It’s just about a guy who started his climb into the most exciting era of popular music, then vanished so suddenly and mysteriously, he now resides in the lonely little cubbyhole of the One-Hit Wonders.

Bobby Fuller was born in Baytown, Texas, also the birthplace of Renee Zellweger and Romany Malco, also known as the guy who played Conrad on Weeds. Bobby moved to El Paso right around the time that a fellow West Texan, Buddy Holly, was ramping up his tragically short career. Bobby fell in love with the guitar.

Don't be dirty, that's an expression.

Almost every 1960s rocker story starts out this way. It’s either Holly or Elvis that plants the seed of inspiration, a kid gets his first guitar, and so on. Bobby was more than just a wanna-be rock ‘n roll star though.

He wrote music, and performed regularly around El Paso with a rotating lineup of musician friends, but always with his brother Randy playing bass. He snagged an old mixing board from a local radio station, then set up a studio in his home and recorded a number of independent records for himself. Recording at home in the early 1960s was not an easy task; if you’ve ever heard the earliest Beatles home recordings from 1959, you’ll hear a typical result: tinny, scratchy, and with about as much pounding bass as a castrati choir. But Bobby knew what he was doing.

He let local acts use his studio for the cost of materials; Bobby wanted the practice. By 1964 he was confident enough to pack up his things and his brother (well, I assume he didn’t literally pack his brother, but then the article doesn’t specify), and move to Los Angeles. Read more…