The Retirement of Michael Jordan reports on the first time Jordan steps down from the Chicago Bulls.

North County 10/13/93

THE NEW JORDAN RULES

Michael JordanMichael Jordan is tired of being Michael Jordan.

Sports version of Elvis Presley has decided to hand in his celebrity card at the expense of the game he loves. A game that has loved him back, like few games have loved an athlete before. It is impossible to believe anybody could have that kind of love affair with a sport again.

For the last three years basketball’s premier attraction has played no less than 120 games a season, won three titles, and captured his second gold medal, which has apparently capped a career that will leave no doubt who was the greatest talent to grace a professional basketball court. But it was never the game that pushed Michael Jordan around the way the glow of his star has, and in the last few years the backlash of fame has pushed him as far as he will go.

Gambling allegations, celebrity golf tournaments, endless endorsements, and finally, the brutal murder of his father this past summer, has pushed the world’s most recognizable personality to retire in his prime.

Since the day he held a basketball in his hand, Michael Jordan has been pushing back. Every challenge has been conquered with that ball in his hand. When the ball was absent, life, was not so simple.

No human being could be that proficient at anything else, have that much control in the outcome of events. Michael Jordan was as close to perfection as any athlete gets between the lines, but real life problems are not the final seconds of a fourth quarter when Jordan would clear the floor, ignore everyone in the jam-packed building, and take charge.

Michael Jordan didn’t become the icon that he is today until well into his pro career as a member of the Chicago Bulls, a mediocre franchise in a league that had been on it last legs until he, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson saved it.

Since the day he held a basketball in his hand, Michael Jordan has been pushing back. Every challenge has been conquered with that ball in his hand. When the ball was absent, life, was not so simple.

As a freshman, he was never the focal point of North Carolina’s 1982 national championship team. Dean Smith was known for coaching teams, not players; and even though it was young Jordan’s jump shot that sealed the win in the final seconds of the final game of the season, his stock seemingly failed to rise when two years later the Houston Rockets and Portland Trailblazers passed him up in the NBA draft.

Jordan won the Rookie of the Year award just the same, turning the act of dunking a basketball into a work of art. How he soared above the crowded lane of giants, disseminating logic of physics, while sliding the ball through the cylinder as if it were an afterthought to his midair ballet.

But those beatific moments paled in comparison to the way he developed into the ultimate compete player. Jordan was a scoring machine, bleeding you with jumper after jumper, only to blow by you off the dribble. Then, when you had the rock, he was as tenacious a defender as the game had ever witnessed.

He was basketball’s Babe Ruth, and as one of the Bambino’s many biographers once told me, “It was as if he had come from another planet.”

Like Ruth, and the century’s most influential athlete, Muhammed Ali, he transcended not only his sport, but the world of sports itself.

But unlike those guys, Jordan calls it quits before the legend outlives the body. In fact, except for Rocky Marciano and Jim Brown, both of whom exited their sport at the pinnacle of excellence, nobody had ever walked away so soon, so good. But Marciano, undefeated in 49 professional bouts, chose to feed off every minute of his celebrity until his untimely death, and Brown, football’s version of Superman, took the first plane to Hollywood and hung his star on the silver screen.

Michael Jordan says he doesn’t want to make movies, or become America’s guest, or sit in a TV booth and stumble through inane analysis of a game he played as if he was imbued with divinity.

No, His Airness is trading in his crown for a golf club and an afternoon with his family. He’s trading in his million-dollar smile for a five-cent laugh with friends.

He walks away, for now. Will he return? I think it’s not as certain as his 15-foot fade away jump shot, but for today, the man will stop being everyone’s expectations of Michael Jordan. He’ll try to find that enthusiastic kid who wanted to take his God-given talent and make a run at a dream.

Then, and only then, will Michael Jordan be back.

For now, he’ll be someone else.

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Reggie White’s free-agent tour of the NFL ‘s analysis on free-agency in pro sports.

North County News 8/17/93

INMATES IN CHARGE

You have to feel for Reggie White. It’s not enough to be the most sought after free agent in the first year of the NFL bidding wars, but he’s currently burdened with attempting to restructure every team that is willing to shell out the big bucks to procure him.

When White blew through Jets’ camp last week, he was hit with the sudden urge to announce that the franchise should go ahead with its proposed trade with Cincinnati to acquire the services of one Boomer Esiason. The next day it was a done deal. On the surface, you might be inclined to view this as a man overstepping the boundaries of decorum, when in essence the guy just was trying to fit into the brand new trend in sport’s etiquette. From the looks of things, the people who sweat for a living are now donning power ties and dictating team policy.

“Athlete Management” is sweeping the New York area. The most influential, and usually the most expensive, player on a local team decides to take over the reigns of command by personal decree.

“Athlete Management” is sweeping the New York area. The most influential, and usually the most expensive, player on a local team decides to take over the reigns of command by personal decree.

Sure, you remember when Rangers’ captain, Mark Messier had philosophical differences with head coach, Roger Nielson. The five-time champion used his clout with Garden management and fans to run Nielson right out of town. Despite the fact that the team was coming off a season where they compiled the best record in the game, it was good-bye and good luck for Nielson.

Who could forget the exploits of Pepper Johnson, who had the bright idea of organizing a coup de tat against Giants’ defensive coordinator, Rod Rust because he and most of the spoiled veterans couldn’t quite get his scheme down. Of course, the simple matter of tackling the opposition with all the ferocity of the Brooklyn Boys Choir was never an issue.

Derrick Coleman spent all of the previous NBA season deciding when he felt like playing because in his mind his coach, Bill Fitch, was a lost puppy, and there would be no use trying for a guy that was headed for the unemployment line. So, when New Jersey Nets’ GM, Willis Reed sent Fitch packing, he asked Chuck Daly to consult with Coleman for approval..

Then of course there was the request that Jeff Torborg quit having all those meetings by the infamous, Vince Coleman. When the Mets’ invisible man led the rest of the team in his mini-revolt they were a few games under .500, and in some semblance of a pennant race. The meetings subsided and the Mets dropped out of sight.

So when you take a step back, you discover that Mr. White is just the new kid on the block trying to assimilate and pitch in for the greater good of the metropolitan sports scene. Apparently, when Reggie returns to talk to the Giants, he plans to address the long lines to the bathroom at half time.

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1993 Phillies ‘s on the scene lockerroom meeting with baseball’s wild bunch

North County 6/16/93

THE 1993 PHILLIES: AS ANIMATED AS THEY COME

Last weekend the first-place Philadelphia Phillies, the team with the best record in baseball, invaded Shea Stadium. I’d been hearing tall tales about this wild bunch; but as often happens in sports, a team is straddled with an animal image by the media that falls far short of its bite. It is always incumbent on beat writers to manipulate that vision of an animated bunch and turn them into a maniacal clan of loons crashing through the league like a band of pirates out of control. But although it sells newspapers and makes for interesting headlines, it is far from anything resembling the truth. So I decided to stop by the visitor’s clubhouse at Shea Stadium before a game to see for myself.

When I approached the door of the place I could already hear music blaring from within. The security guard leaning back on his chair skipped me as a look as if to say, “Are you sure you want to go in there?” But I’d heard loud rock music emanating from a winning clubhouses before, in fact, last year’s Braves locker room could have doubled for the set of Saturday Night Fever. Never mind the inner sanctum of the 1990 Cincinnati Reds when the Nasty Boys were romping their way to a title.

On cue, Kruk leapt to his feet, grabbed a ball, wound up and hurled an out-of-control pitch across the crowded clubhouse. This sent players, reporters and shocked witnesses scurrying for safety.

Once inside I was quickly, if not painfully, able to ascertain that this was no ordinary sound system; unless, of course, I wandered on stage at a Mettalica show. But even though the volume was close to excruciating, I had little trouble picking up the booming voice of catcher, Darren Daulton with amazing clarity.

“How many people are coming tonight?” he asked an unsuspecting clubhouse boy.

“About fifteen, sixteen thousand; I think,” the shaken young man answered meekly. Daulton then stood on a stool in front of his messy locker, a hulking man of 6’2 and 220 pounds, and bellowed. “That’s all that’s showing to see the battlin’ Phils?!”

Suddenly, a breeze blew by my ear. When I tuned to notice, Mickey Morandini, the pesky little second baseman sporting the ugliest goat-tee since Robin Hood, was swinging the biggest bat I’d ever seen just inches from my head. Above the din I could hear him mumbling, “Stay down on the ball” over and over with each swing.

Things were getting dangerous, so I moved to the corner lockers of feisty, Lenny Dyksra and burly, John Kruk; both in different stages of undress. The man they call “Nails”, back when he was patrolling centerfield for the New York Mets, was preoccupied with throwing his clothes in a feverish search for his lucky batting gloves. Where are my batting gloves?” Dykstra began to scream, his face getting more red with anger. “Don’t tell me I made this trip without my gloves?!”

Meanwhile, Kruk was busy entertaining Philly beat writers, who collectively seemed oblivious to this chaos, and spitting what I believed to be huge wads of tobacco from his gruff, portly face anywhere he deemed appropriate. The gregarious first baseman is not your basic finally tuned major leaguer, but a man born to play the lead role in a caveman flick. Yet he leads the National League in just about every offensive category, looking right at home with this biker gang masquerading as a baseball team.

Just then, former Phillies shortstop, and present third base coach Larry Bowa stormed in the scene to address Kruk’s pitching prowess. “Johnny,” he cracked. “Show us that backdoor slider.” On cue, Kruk leapt to his feet, grabbed a ball, wound up and hurled an out-of-control pitch across the crowded clubhouse. This sent players, reporters and shocked witnesses scurrying for safety.

This was about all I needed to see, when out of the back room sauntered Mitch Williams, the man who carries the moniker of “Wild Thing” like a badge of courage. He is an expert closer and a big reason this team is where it’s at in the standings. He also looked as though he’d just escaped from a mental institution. Just like everyone in this room, he has wild flowing hair, a ragged beard and what looked like a headband right out of Rambo wrapped around his sweaty forehead.

“Everybody shut-up!” he shouted. “Let’s play this game already, I’m gonna explode!”

As I was running out of there I could still hear him scream in that high-pitched squeal. “Take no prisoners!” And I couldn’t help thinking of three words of advice for the rest of the National League: Give up now.

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Remembering Jim Valvano ‘s moving eulogy for Jimmy V.

North County 5/5/93

REMEMBERING JIMMY V

Jim ValvanoWhen word came over my car radio last Wednesday that Jim Valvano had succumbed to cancer after a two-year battle that ended in a room at Duke University hospital, I immediately stopped to notice my surroundings. It just so happens that I found myself in a neighborhood much like the one in which Jimmy V grew up. I rolled to a stop across from a school yard where some kids were shooting hoops behind a twenty-foot fence.

As I watched them play, I thought about Jimmy dribbling around a similar school yard years ago. How he put his first shot through the orange cylinder, snapping the net.

How his father, already a successful coach, must have tutored him in the nuances of the game. The hours of practice that turns casual interest into a fanaticism that convinces a young man that life would no longer be worth living without it.

As the cool breeze of the day swept through my car window, I was frozen by the thought of all the impressionable minds a coach or teacher touch by handing down the love and passion for a sport; not just the nuts and bolts of it, but the way it feels to impart the knowledge of experience. To push a little farther ahead than perhaps even the student thinks he may go. To win the battle within, before the battle with the opposition can be won.

What Jim Valvano realized in the last weeks of his 47 years among us is that he had been hugging people all along. After all, isn’t that what teaching is all about? To embrace the eager mind, and mold it into a sculpture that reflects the devotion of their spirit.

In the last two years of his life, Jim Valvano was even better at touching us with his love and passion for life. Basketball was merely his metaphor, a vehicle to make us stand and take notice of his extraordinary personality. He cajoled us to witness his suffering while he smiled and joked his way through endless antidotes the way he always had before cancer had taken hold of his body.

He took on the fight the way he took his North Carolina State Wolfpack miracle team all the way past the powerful Houston Cougars in Albuquerque to win the 1983 National Championship.

It was not only the finest example of coaching in the history of the sport, pro or otherwise, it solidified the NCAA Tournament into the second biggest sporting event behind only the Super Bowl, but what we remember most about that night is the image of him running helplessly around the mass of elated humanity looking desperately for someone to hug.

What Jim Valvano realized in the last weeks of his 47 years among us is that he had been hugging people all along. After all, isn’t that what teaching is all about? To embrace the eager mind, and mold it into a sculpture that reflects the devotion of their spirit.

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It was then that I realized what Jimmy V was saying when uttered, “Never give up,” his rallying cry those last few months. “Cancer can take my body, but it can’t take my mind and my heart and my soul.”

Jim Valvano is gone now, but his soul lives on in every kid who may pick up a basketball, or a bat, or a pencil. And even though they may never know his name, like those kids who were playing just outside my car on that cool spring afternoon, they will pass it on forever.

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Bob Klapish vs. Bobby Bonilla ‘s report on a baseball beat writer’s clash with N.Y. Mets player.

North County 4/14/93

CLUBHOUSE ETIQUETTE

Bob Klapish and John Harper were beat writers covering the pitiful 1992 Mets for rival newspapers in New York. Through years of work, and a network of contacts, they decided to jot down the various daily unmentionables a good reporter is normally privy to. Their combined efforts are documented in a new book entitled, “The Worst Team Money Could Buy.”

Fortuitously, Harper moved from the Post to the Yankees beat at the Daily News while Klapish was promoted to baseball columnist at the very same paper this off-season. Immediate retribution for the book from angered ball players was postponed.

As luck would have it, my co-host, Tom Ragone and myself welcomed Mr. Klapish as one of our many guests on last week’s “Sports Nite” radio program. After discussing the varied sexploits, back-stabbing, and name-calling mentioned in the tome, I posed this question: “When you cross paths with the gentlemen depicted in your book, what do expect from them?”

Having spent a considerable part of the past four summers in Major League locker rooms, I’m here to tell you it is no picnic. The players can be intimidating, and their humor and antics can often seem mean-spirited to an outsider. But you’re there to do a job, so you get your interview and move on.

“Believe me, they’re well aware of what’s in the book,” Klapish answered. “And as you can imagine, some of them are taking it pretty hard. But John and I didn’t write the thing to win any popularity contests.”

As fate would have it, Kaplish was pressed into Mets beat duty subbing for Steve Serby last Saturday, and while attempting to appropriate a quote from Dwight Gooden, he went toe to toe with Bobby Bonilla. Fresh off his own personal season in hell, Bonilla was extra surly, and decided to bodily threaten the writer on his turf; the clubhouse.

Having spent a considerable part of the past four summers in Major League locker rooms, I’m here to tell you it is no picnic. The players can be intimidating, and their humor and antics can often seem mean-spirited to an outsider. But you’re there to do a job, so you get your interview and move on.

When you look at this from a matter of trust, you probably side with Bonilla. Let’s face it, when players smile at us, and tell us that money has nothing to do with their motivation for playing the game while they rake in the dough, we rip them good. So what’s fair is fair, and Klapish and his buddy took trusted relationships built from off-the-record quotes and outside-the-lines activity and turned it into a profit-making proposition.

Is it wrong? Absolutely not. Is it a standup nice thing to do? Probably not. But Klapish doesn’t care either way. Can you blame any player for becoming a bit perturbed?

This, of course, does not absolve Bonilla from childish act of threatening another man with bodily harm, but just like when the Mets’ right-fielder strikes out with the bases loaded, Klapish must face the music.

The prediction here is that Bobby Bo and his tormentor will kiss and make up. Klapish is a fine baseball writer with great influence, connections, and a foothold in New York sports; and Bonilla, who is obviously overwhelmed by the pressures of playing for big money in the Big Apple, won’t be around nearly as long.

Which illustrates once again that the pen is mightier than the bat.

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The Future of Comedy By The Numbers – Gonzo author, James Campion dissects underground comedy of late 90s’ local access television.

Genesis Magazine 1/98

PAST IS PRESENT(The Future of Comedy by the Numbers)

The world of comedy television is not unlike several other corners of the entertainment business. From music to radio, commercial literature to Broadway shows, the influence of one amalgamates into the other to form hybrids of unique art to which theme and style begin to fade into several like colors in the wash. However, the origin and destiny of their movements often lie in the darkest corners of America, and develop in the obscurity of a cult world bubbling over with the kind of originality networks could only dream about.

Today, a large portion of the comedy seed is grown in the garden of local and public access television, where the fantasy guffaw of Wayne’s World comes alive nightly throughout the fruited plain. Starving entertainers fill the free air space with the bizarre slant of life that longs to leap out of their heads. In the two biggest media sponges this country has to offer, New York and Los Angeles, the irreverent and the wise-cracking emerge from literally nowhere to gain notoriety.

Two classic examples of the type of programming that may seem frightening to network executives now, but will probably be the flavor of the 21st century are West L.A. Cable’s Colin’s Sleazy Friends and Time Warner Cable of Manhattan’s Exactly 29 Minutes.

Back in 1992, Colin Malone, a struggling stand-up comic, and his friend, Dino Everett, were two young men bored out of their minds working at a video store in L.A. when they decided to cause a ruckus talking about their bizarre personal lives on a half-hour television program of their own devise. The idea began with barely a whimper, then Malone decided to invite porn star, Ron Jeremy with the promise of a free lunch, and Colin’s Sleazy Friends was born. Five years, and a host of porn guests later, the show is one of the most talked about in Southern California, and now with the help of the True Blue Network, and satellite television, it is potentially viewed by millions.

“I’m the most famous poor guy in America, ” Malone laughs today. Every Wednesday at midnight on Channel 3 out of West L.A., a time slot which enables the twisted duo to steal from the Leno/Letterman channel surfers, the show pushes the obscenity envelope with X-Rated film clips and scantily clad porn actresses discussing the inner workings of the genre. But it isn’t just about smut for Malone. “It’s really a comedy show,” he says. “But we’re getting a lot of crap from the cable companies who try and force the obscenity issue.”

Malone, a sloppy, corpulent, long-haired slick talker with a rabid personality and keen sense of audience seduction, has built a mini-entertainment empire. Now mainstream celebrities Drew Carey and Jeanene Garafilo join cutting edge music acts like Danzig and Insane Clown Posse in calling themselves sleazy friends. “We’re hot right now,” Malone notes proudly. “Almost everywhere fans are having these ‘Colin Parties’ and I’ve already taken meetings with people from Fox to HBO.” Malone has even parlayed his infamy into a cameo on an upcoming episode of the number one sitcom on television, Seinfeld.

Exactly 29 Minutes, although no less inventive and determined, is on the other end of the popularity totem pole. Producer, writer, and head nut-case, Al Quagliata’s monthly character-driven romp through themes such as flem, masturbation, and old security guards whining about “the good old days” has been seen in New York homes from Manhattan to Westchester since the mid-80s’. Originally titled Zodiacs, Maniacs, & Just Plain Yaks, the half-hour sketch show has taken a page from the Monty Python-Second City style of featuring bit players willing to take on any character and attack subject.

“The show is a great source of exposure for my other work as an actor and stand-up comic,” says the 32 year-old Quagliata, who sites the late-great, Ernie Kovacks as his main influence. “But although we’re proud of the work we’ve done, dealing with cable outlets and bicycling the tapes all over becomes far too much work.”

Sometimes huge national fame and fortune is not the only legacy for the talented and ignored. Long before there was such a thing as local access, in fact, before cable became a household necessity and satirical comedy sketch shows ruled airwaves, a New Jersey native by the name of Floyd Vivino decided to branch out from his burlesque comedy roots and parody kiddie show format with his wild and wholly entertaining Uncle Floyd Show. Vivino and a cast of crazies worked, as he describes, “like animals” taping five straight hours weekly; sometimes in the middle of the night in order to fill a daily one-hour show packed with music, laughter, and mostly mayhem. “After awhile we realized the kids hated me, ” Uncle Floyd says today. kids, “They were frightened of us, but the adults and the older the college kids, they loved us.”

The Uncle Floyd Show was a pioneering effort in the world of local television. Vivino and his cast rented studio time and air-brokered space on channel 68 out of Newark. “I hate the word local access, ” he says. “We were professional all the way. Booked the time, brokered the space, and sold the time. We did it all.” It’s live to tape format with people screaming off camera and flubbing lines has now become a familiar staple on Saturday Night Live, Mad TV, and even wacky morning radio shows. Hip rock acts like the Ramones and David Johanson along with up-and-comers like Cindy Lauper and Bon Jovi frequented the tiny studio. “We had no idea that we were influencing a whole comedy generation,” Vivino says.”We were just trying to survive.”

Not only did it survive, but when it was all done The Uncle Floyd Show produced 6,000 programs of which only 300 still exist. “The people.at Shaneckie Video found about 84 shows from 980 that they’ve released regionally in two volumes,” Vivino, whose brother, Jerry plays in Conan O’Brien’s Max Weinberh Seven Band, delightfully announces, while remembering what it was like in those chatoic days of near banckruptcy and abuse from his detractors. “At least it was fun,” he chuckles. “It was always fun.”

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Elvis Presley – The Bad, The Sweet And The Boogie – Author James Campion Rates the King’s effect on the 20th century

Summer 7/1996 The 25 Most Influential Americans of the 20th Century: #5

ELVIS PRESLEYThe Bad, the Sweet and the Boogie

“Before Elvis,, there was nothing.” -John Lennon

The great irony of the twentieth century is how Americans north of the Mason Dixon Line have viewed their Southern brethren as often comical, less-than-hip hicks, far removed from the cutting-edge cultural hub wrestled so vigorously in cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Yet, in this subtle bread basket of culture, the lines of musical, and consequently, societal challenge have been repeatedly drawn in the generational sands of America. And the man that will forever rise to the top of the legendary pioneers roll call is an ex-trucker from Memphis Tennessee named Elvis Aaron Presley.

Elvis Presley never wrote a published song, designed a stitch of clothing, sculpted a single hair style or invented one dance step; but the man forever known as The King certainly sang, modeled, coifed and hoofed his way to the pinnacle of fame and fortune the world over. Presley was the package: the swooping, greasy pompadour, sneering smile, the slightest shake of his pant leg and an indescribable, godly voice meshed in sweet tones and snarling grit, all added up to arguably the most recognizable personality in the history of pop culture.

Somewhere on the edge of black and white, male and female, young and old, innocence and evil; the skinny kid from nowhere still sits straddling the fence of genre, style and celebrity. With a name for the ages, and a look of an alien creature sent to earth on a twist of fate, Elvis Presley, by his mere presence, changed everything Americans knew or imagined about iconoclasm.

The country bumpkin image of Lil’ Abner, Hee Haw and the mellow world of Andy Griffith has forever defined the South as a vacuous, backward desert of culture and progress. These images usually followed the alarming pictures of a nation dependent on farms and old-fashioned tradition for life-blood. The core battle for civil rights and religious morals seemed to drag well behind what the times, and the rest of America, dictated. But the fact is for decades before and after World War II the warm simplicity of the American South produced nearly all of the country’s original music; Jazz, Country, Folk, and Rock-N-Roll. In towns like New Orleans, Louisiana, Memphis, Tennessee and Mobile, Alabama, simple “county folk” were tearing down the walls of musical expectation and setting the standards by which the rest of the country would copy for evermore.

The South produced Blues originators like Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, who were laying down the lyrical and musical bedrock for the future of modern music, folk legends like Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly, who began to set the mood of the nation to three-chord ballads with a satirical twist, country icons such as Hank Williams, who wrote the Bible of musical musings, fore fathers of Jazz like Louis Armstrong and John Coltraine, who simply created the genre, and the young pistols of rock-n-roll like Buddy Holly and Little Richard, who influenced a billion-dollar legacy that has dominated the world.

When a 20 year-old Elvis Presley wandered into the now-famous Sun Studios, the eventual stable for rock-n-roll originals and now one of the most frequented tourist sights in America, he was not only unaware of the impact his voice, face, and demeanor would have for the future of modern celebrity, he hardly knew if he’d like the results of the visit himself.

It was the spring of 1955, and the affluent winds of modern America were blowing. The first wave of Baby Boomers were ready and willing to spend their daddy’s money on the Next Big Thing. The only son of Vernon Presley, an out-of-work ex-con, and his overly-affectionate, chubby wife, Gladys, Elvis quickly tired of wading through the sludge of poverty and busting his fragile back in the dust bowl of anonymity. All of his teachers, school mates and fellow Sunday gospel singers down at the local church had told him that he possessed a beautiful voice and a certain boyish, naive charm that could settle a song deep within his chest and pour over the ears like the molasses in their cuppards. So, he collected part of his measly weekly earnings driving a delivery truck and decided to record his untrained, lilting voice onto an actual vinyl disc.

Sam Phillips, owner and proprietor of Sun Studios, fancied himself a producer and manager of unknown local acts. His connection with disc jockeys and larger record companies made him a magnet for talented young boys fed up with their dead-end lives. Legend has it that Elvis walked into the waiting arms of fate by pure chance, that he wanted to record a song for his beloved mother’s birthday. But the young budding star knew full well what a stunning maiden performance could bring him, or more precisely, get him; far away for Memphis.

Phillips was mesmerized by the kid’s raw, yet surprisingly, refined talent. Presley’s impeccable punching of the notes, elastic range, and above all, natural ability to sound like a blues-based, old-time-gospel-hour black man, had the old pro’s wheels spinning. The man knew the goods and the dollar sign when he saw it. The very idea of a young, strange-looking white boy who could croon and bark like a country Negro could set the world on its ear and subsequently bridge the racial gap between the struggling, but eminently gifted, black songsters, and the ultra-conservative landscape of post-war America.

Phillips almost immediately set Presley up with three local musicians; guitarist, Scotty Moore, drummer, D.J. Fantanna, and bass player, Bill Black. Between the quartet and Sun’s cramped, muggy studio with its old microphone hanging from the dusty ceiling, they created a sound dripping with jazzy turns, bluesy riffs and biting country-folk drawl. Yet, the music was as new and compelling as the tightly wound figure of angst and rebellion who would eventually bare its name.

Elvis Presley, and his tight, little group, recorded over twenty songs for Mr. Phillips’ tiny Sun Records, went on small tours of the South and appeared on local television and radio shows for the next year. Presley’s impact was immediate and far reaching. Before 1956 was over, he would hook up with the notorious and pompous Colonel Tom Parker, appear on enormously popular variety network television shows including Steve Allen and Ed Sullivan and sign a lucrative contract with the largest record company in America, RCA.

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Elvis Presley was truly an overnight success story of epic proportions,. the American Dream of fortune and fame unchained. Not only was he recognized as the next teeny bopper pin-up boy in the mold of Frank Sinatra, but his uncanny and innate ability to cause a stir through his constant gyrations while singing, coupled with his long, greasy crop of hair and baggy, colorful clothes simultaneously served as a figurehead for the look of the rest of the decade and the early part of the next.

Although he never expected it, Presley became the quintessential figurehead for the evils of music and frivolity in the young, restless hordes of the post-war generation bloated with dreams and time their parents never knew. The strange, hypnotic rhythms of black country blues and the raw sexuality of the performance literally sent shock waves through the core of a patently conservative America. For the first time since WWII, young Americans thumbed their noses at their parents’ beliefs and ideological foundation. All the freedom provided by the country’s post war boom had given the spoiled, wild youth the avenue to search for figures of rebellion. The solid temple of values and tradition, of growing up, working hard and raising a family, gave way to unbridled, unabashed boogie woogie, “feelin’ fine” mantra of the next generation. And standing in the crossfire as the shining symbol of this uncharted path was Elvis Presley.

It mattered little that Presley spent the remainder of his career defending his old-fashioned, God-fearing, momma’s-boy Southern background. The image of the young Elvis; mean and strong, standing in the defiant spotlight was, by definition, the very essence of the American cultural rebellion experience. James Dean, Marlon Brando, Tony Curtis were all heroes, and in some cases, influences on Presley. But they eventually took a back seat to him. Elvis was the product of a brand new wave of popularity and revolution, one he would eventually come to represent as its most royal participant.

Rock-n-roll, this new and exciting musical amalgamation of sped-up blues and raucous country-folk, sweeping the nation from the streets of Cleveland and Detroit to the skyscrapers of New York and Philadelphia, rode the crest of radio and household record players. Unlike movies or even television, any kid could own a transistor radio, spin a 45 record or run down to the local skating rink or sock hop and dance their adolescent troubles away. It was raucous simplicity coming in compact and movable forms, just like the evolving world all around. Not unlike the power and impact of the automobile and fast food, these quick two-minute songs, singing the praises of young love, lost love, and the frustrations of mommy and daddy’s world succinctly set to dance patterns provided the soundtrack for an era, a generation and the genesis of modern American music. All of these points would have been harder to slip into the mainstream, or might not ever existed in quite the same way or reached quite the same number of people, if not for Elvis Presley.

His contemporaries, especially the talent-laden black artists, who invented and authored the anthems of the time, like Chuck Berry and Little Richard, often complain about Presley’s legacy as the King of rock-n-roll. Berry’s bouncy four-bar blues set in different keys, curved in counter rhythms, and laced with searing solos that surrounded the biting and witty lyrics of good times and wild rides has been adopted as the living primer for modern American music. He was the poet of middle class dreams and fears. However, Chuck Berry, with all his shining smiles and cutesy charm was still an aggressive, egotistical black man with a stud-like aggression. His art was far too alien and threatening for lilly white Johnny Blue Jeans or Lucy Curls, who made up the bulk of the record buying public. If Elvis doesn’t smooth the road and chop down the brush of fear and resentment, ignorance and bigotry so prevelant in the mid-1950s’, brilliant artists such as Berry might have floated in relative obscurity, forced to keep his music within the sociatal boundaries of “his own kind.”

By merely being Caucasian, Presley, like an eager salesman, was able to make his noisy stand by sticking his foot in the door before it closed . The black artists and song writers, who penned a great deal of Presley’s hits were lucky he truly loved their work with an unique passion. Instead of stripping the melodies and rawness of their thump and pop, his interpretations exploded from the depths of its meaning. While Pat Boone and Perry Como were busy “whitening” the kick and bellow of their craft, Elvis Presley was doing it justice.

By virtue of his unprecedented rising popularity, the thousands of gold records, millions of dollars in merchandising and image conscious pruning, Elvis Presley stands as the father of all pop stars. Frank Sinatra merely stepped to the beat of the current times, wearing the proper attire of any dapper man of his era. Sinatra fit his world like a glove. Presley looked like someone dropped out of a spaceship. The crossover sexuality of the hot pinks and jet blacks, thin ties, baggy pants and white shoes that would hang from his lithe body like a uniform of peculiarity were the precursor of every pop star who followed him from the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix of the 60s’, to Elton John and David Bowie of the ’70s, to Boy George and Prince of the 80s’, and finally almost every musical figure rounding out the century. Elvis was America’s first male freak– mainstream and macho– yet effeminate and docile. He was the inspiration for a generation of rock stars who took misfit alienation to new levels. Before Elvis there were codes and standards by which unknown acts had to capitulate or be sent back to obscurity. Within months of his explosion on the national scene, Presley became the standard.

He might not have been the century’s only marketable personality, but Elvis Presley was certainly the biggest. His likeness has donned almost every product know to humankind. Toward the end of his short life it was widely understood that Elvis was the most photographed person in history. Even today his face is used to sell more junk the world over than anyone. In an odd way, his image transformed the way celebrities are sold to the public. Today a look or image is imperative to a performer, in most cases more influential than the music itself. For good or bad, Elvis Presley became a legend beyond the reach of his talents. The wave of pretty boys and glamour queens that dominated the record business for the following decades relied heavily on the selling of Elvis.

For all the impact and influence on his time, the future of music and celebrity, Elvis Presley’s star burnt as quickly as it did brightly. By 1959 Elvis was becoming more of a movie star than trend setter or musical force. Within a year he would join the army, followed by the passing of his beloved mother and his doomed marriage to Priscilla. In the process, the young pistol gave way to the savvy, cute Hollywood hunk. He would never again be a significant voice in the landscape of popular music.

By the time Elvis Presley returned to the stage in the mid-60s’, the generation he had borne would be well ensconced in the pop fabric. The Beatles and Bob Dylan had taken the torch of rebellion to another, more intellectual place. They paid homage to his lasting influence by simply admitting that the only motivation for picking up a guitar in the first place and setting their own fates in motion was to simply be the next Elvis.

Had Presley never sung a note he might have still caused a stir, but sing he did. Along with serving as a conduit of musical styles and bridging the chasm between black artists and a hit-dominated record industry, the simple greatness of his original voice puts him at the top of any century list.

Watershed hits such as “Heartbreak Hotel”, “All Shook Up”, “Hound Dog”, “Jailhouse Rock”, and “Are You Lonesome Tonight” were eminately Presley’s from the moment he put his stamp on them. His jagged, bubbly highs and Southern baritone jump from those recordings like spirits from a cauldren. Elvis crooned romantically, then screeched relentlessly; always pouring his heart into the lyric and melody. His blood, sweat and tears are on each and every song he recorded, even those less-recognized for their influence. His range of emotion and excitement speak honestly about the singer. After Elvis, the male vocalist could no longer just sing a song, especially in the new world of rock-n-roll. The “feel” of a performance far out-weighed the perfection of the take.

Moreover, there is a timeless quality to those early songs, and yet they also bring us back to a more innocent age when being wild and free meant that the world was an open book for the young. It was a time when America boomed economically and the rest of the world looked to our shores for support and guidance.

The true measure of Elvis Presley’s impact on society and memory is his indelible link to the expansive decade of the 50s’. All the politicians, inventors and celebrities pale in comparison. Although he was so young, and his time had come later in the decade, Elvis still stands as the defining figure of his time. And his legacy continues to effect and influence the music business today. Every year RCA delivers a new package of his hits, the sound and fury of the performances have a similar ring. Many of today’s artists, even those who write their own material, have learned a thing or two from The King’s passion in expressing the message of a song, and the infinite marriage it holds for its singer.

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music

 

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100 Favorite Films

100 FAVORITE FILMS(and a few additions)

Bloomed from a discussion started on the way to his 1/1999 nuptials with the demented, but well-meaning members of his wedding party, this list has been discussed, argued and playfully enjoyed over many cups of coffee and mugs of beer from New York to Los Angeles with a series of obsessives and shut-ins. It appears together for the first time for jamescampion.com with commentary from the author. This includes only English speaking films or documentaries, and just like the 100 Favorite Albums List jc reserves the right to edit at anytime due to not only new films, but difficult decisions.

1. The Graduate – 1968The Graduate“I want to be…different.” A flawless work of art. Buck Henry’s screenplay is a masterpiece of generational apathy leaping into the sexual abyss, while also being damn funny. Director, Mike Nichols, a prolific writer and satirist himself, uses the camera as a window into the psyches of three perfectly cast actors; Dustin Hoffman, Ann Bancroft and Katherine Ross, set to the haunting songs of Paul Simon, and tied together with a memorable quilt of visual montages puncturing at the heart of alienation.

2. Oliver – 1968Oliver!“Consider yourself one of us.”

The first film I ever saw, and saw it often. The songs are fantastic and the choreography is mesmerizing, while also being a very worthy adaptation of Charles Dickens’s moving novel. A tale dominated by rogues and villains played aptly vicious and ironically lovable by Jack Wild as the Artful Dodger, Ron Moody as the venerable Fagin and Oliver Reed as the brooding and murderous Bill Sykes.

3. Annie Hall – 1977Annie Hall“Most of us need the eggs.”

If there is a better artistic example of the American male/female relationship in the latter half of the 20th century, you’d have quite a story. The best, most compact soup-to-nuts production by the genius of Woody Allen rolled into a film. If it wouldn’t be totally maudlin I’d put twenty of his films in here, but everyone needs a turn. Diane Keaton is as good as it gets here.

4. The Sting – 1973 The Sting“But my money’s in there!”

Until “Hannah And Her Sisters” and then years later, “Shakespeare In Love”, the finest of movie scripts. Its plot is flawless, while perfectly capturing the period of desperation and survival that was The Great Depression. Paul Newman and Robert Redford’s best work and a world-class soundtrack. I give my father full credit for not only taking me to see this against my prepubescent will, but for figuring out the dense setup before the sting.

5. The Godfather/Godfather II – 1972/1974The GodfatherThe Godfather Part II“I believe in America.”

If you were to put two films in a timecapsule for purposes of explaining the American dream’s foul underbelly, and the endearingly dark subculture of family life in the growth of the American century, then you’ve come to the right place. There is far too little time and adjectives to describe their beauty, but suffice to say Francis Ford Coppolla’s two-part anxiety-ridden opus coupled with his faith in the brilliant performances of the entire cast, including Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, James Caan, Robert Duvall, Robert Deniro et al, is a thing to behold.

6. Jaws – 1975Jaws“We need a bigger boat.”

Steven Speilberg has made better films, but none with the concise storytelling and humorous impact of this one. The plot is airtight, if not wonderfully predictable, with its battle between man and nature, but the visual delights buoyed by the film’s fantastic John William’s score and the Hitchcockian subterfuge of the looming villainous shark, make this a perennial thriller. Robert Shaw’s Quint is legendary stuff.

7. The Wizard Of Oz – 1939The Wizard of Oz“There’s no place like home.”

After 60+ years this still stands as the most satisfying fantasy in film history. Musically, it has few peers, and visually it not only dwarfed its time, but still influences generations of set designers and special effects gurus. Frank L. Baum’s novel is still the standard barer for satirical depth, but the film has merit in its splendid morality play, not to mention sporting the finest song ever written, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”. Terrific performances and legendary moments, it cannot be left off anyone’s top ten list without denial or serious explanation.

8. Field Of Dreams – 1989Field of Dreams“Hey dad…wanna have a catch?”

Personally, this may be the finest film I ever saw in the theater. It touched me on so many levels it’s hard to say I’ve fully recovered. It is a magnificent story about the faith of oneself to achieve reconciliation and forgiveness in a world bent on keeping those concepts at bay. Simultaneously, it is a fun romp of commentary and fantasy with chilling moments of recognition for anyone who has missed oneself for even a minute. “Hey dad, you wanna have a catch?” is the best line in the history of American cinema.

9. Hannah And Her Sisters – 1986Hannah and Her Sisters“I cannot fathom my own heart.”

Probably Woody Allen’s best humor/drama effort, it is a plot/dialogue masterpiece infused with metaphor and literal imagery for ten more films. Michael Kane is ridiculously good in his roll as a middle-aged, sheepish lovelorn, stammering through an illicit affair on his doting wife (Mia Farrow). Her sisters, played ably neurotic by Barbara Hershey and Dianne Wiest run the gamut of Allen’s best female character flaws and strengths, while being author/director’s most accomplished of work on the celebration of life.

10. A Clockwork Orange – 1970A Clockwork Orange“I was cured all right.”

One of the few films, if not the only one, that expands, even improves on a significant novel. Eerily crafted in the best Stanely Kubrick style, this futuristic study of violence inside the fragile human spirit, and the way emotions are swept under the societal rug by the cold hand of progress, has never failed to cull the word “disturbing” from a single person I turn onto it. The use of liberally adapted Beethoven music into an eerie score makes this a timeless classic of contemporary satire.

11. American Beauty – 1999American Beauty

12. Sideways -2004

13. E.T. – 1982

14. JFK – 1991

15. Manhattan – 1979

16. Network – 1976

17. Forrest Gump – 1994

18. Magnolia – 1999

19. Planet Of The Apes – 1968

20. Gangs of New York – 2002

21. Monty Python And The Holy Grail – 1979Shakespeare In Love

22. Broadcast News – 1987

23.Shakespeare In Love – 1998

24. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – 2004

25. Do The Right Thing – 1989

26. Goodfellas – 1990Good Fellas

27. Saving Private Ryan – 1998

28. Raging Bull – 1980

29. Night Shift – 1982

30. Schindler’s List – 1993

31. The Great Escape – 1963 Malcolm X

32. Malcolm X – 1992

33. Being John Malkovich – 1999

34. Crimes And Misdermeaners – 1989

35. Elephant – 2003

36. Kelly’s Heroes – 1970Apocalypse Now

37. Immortal Beloved – 1994

38. Apocalypse Now – 1979

39. Pulp Fiction – 1994

40. The Hours – 2002

41. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – 1975One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

42. Barton Fink – 1992

43. Napoleon Dynamite – 2004

44. Modern Romance – 1982

45. Midnight Cowboy – 1969

46. Star Wars – 1977Taxi Driver

47. Lost In America – 1985

48. Taxi Driver – 1976

49. Dummy – 2003

50. Natural Born Killers – 1994

51. The Royal Tenenbaums – 2001

Raising Arizona52. Sweet And Lowdown – 1999

53. Love Actually – 2003

54. Rain Man – 1988

55. Raising Arizona – 1987

56. 2001 A Space Odyssey – 1968

The Virgin Suicides57. Reservoir Dogs – 1992

58. Boogie Nights – 1997

59. The Virgin Suicides – 1999

60. Leaving Las Vegas – 1995

61. Broken Flowers – 2005

The Big Lebowski

62. The Purple Rose of Cairo – 1985

63. The Big Lebowski – 1998

64. World’s Greatest Dad – 2009

65. Dandelion -2005

66. A Very Long Engagement – 2004

My Life Without Me67. My Life Without Me -2003

68. Husbands and Wives – 1992

69. Miracle – 2004

70. Sling Blade – 1996

71. Talk Radio – 1988

My Own Private Idaho72. My Own Private Idaho – 1991

73. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – 1969

74. Around the Bend – 2004

75. Criminal – 2004

76. What the #$*! Do We Know!? – 2004

Hoosiers77. Hoosiers – 1986

78. Party Girl – 1995

79. In The Bedroom – 2001

80. Garden State – 2004

81. Straw Dogs – 1971

Straw Dogs

82. Persopolis – 2007

83. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three – 1974

84. O Brother, Where Art Thou? 2000

85. Brick – 2005

86. Dopamine – 2003

Dopamine

87. Bully – 2001

88. Fargo – 1996

89. Defending Your Life – 1991

90. Grand Canyon – 1991

91. Pieces of April – 2003

Pieces Of April92. Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas – 1998

93. The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio – 2005

94. American Splendor – 2003

95. Searching For Bobby Fischer – 1993

96. The Station Agent – 2003

Station Agent97. Rocket Science – 2007

98. Frida – 2002

99. Spiderman – 2002

100. The Dead Girl – 2006

101. Breaking Upwards – 2010

Breaking Upwards102. HappyThankYouMorePlease – 2010

103. An Education – 2009

104. Two Lovers – 2008

105. Elegy – 2008

106. In Bruges – 2008

107. The Trotsky – 2010

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