NY Toll Madness – Pop Culture satirist and author, James Campion slams the EZ-Pass.

Reality Check Classics 11/18/97

NY TOLL MADNESS

A ’79 Mercury Cougar, a six pack of Bud cans, warm raspberry Margaritas, three $12 cigars, and an EZ-Pass; for two long hours it was all we had, my burly friend, Willie and myself. We were stuck in a major traffic jam on the approach to the Whitestone Bridge against a backdrop of snow flurries and an angry Mexican on our tail laying on his horn as if a battle ship were about to ram him. It was an education in patience and the art of the swerve. We did not surrender our wits, but sold the better part of our senses to the highest bidder, and it was not the Transit Police.

“Goddammit!” Willie yelled over the pumping radio noise. “What is the fucking point of this EZ-Pass if we have to sit here like trapped rats?!” He had conveniently forgotten he was the one who insisted on driving earlier that day. “You have no cassette deck,” was his reasoning. I did not argue.

“We might as well start on the beer,” I suggested, following closely the agitated tone in Willie’s voice and carefully placing it within the parameters of my own growing rancor.

Yes, of course, drink beer in a traffic jam. This seemed like the right thing to do at the time. It was just a bridge, and, after all, we were crawling. There was little we could do in the way of real damage.

Yes, of course, drink beer in a traffic jam. This seemed like the right thing to do at the time. It was just a bridge, and, after all, we were crawling. There was little we could do in the way of real damage. Desperate times call for desperate measures. The only problem, I was to learn, was that Willie did not handle pressure like the rest of us weary New York travelers.

That’s when we decided to hit the tepid Margaritas.

The Mexican was still leaning down on his horn. Willie rolled down his window. I can still hear its droning squeak. “How about I get out of this car and cram that fucking horn up your ass?!” Willie screamed. The Mexican could not hear him over the horn and the distortion blaring from the overworked speakers in our dashboard. Unfortunately, two sharply dressed black guys in the left lane heard him. They jerked back, immediately thinking the expletive-driven tirade was directed toward them. Down came their window.

By now a yellow-haired woman with thick glasses, driving a blood red Toyota of some kind, began waving her EZ-Pass at us, and started to edge her way in front of the Cougar. Willie did not see her. He had other concerns. “What did you say, fat boy?” the black guy in the passenger seat yelled as steam rose from his gritting teeth. “I’m not talking to you, asshole!” Willie yelled back, flailing his arms and causing his beer to spill about the front seat. I quietly sipped my Margarita, chased it with a cold shot of Bud, and sparked a cigar for us both. It was becoming painfully apparent we were not moving toward any bridge.

“Willie?” I called.

“What?” he blurted, refusing to take his eyes from the two angered black guys. “What do you think that woman’s doing up there?”

Eyeing the woman in the Toyota slipping ahead just inches from our bumper, Willie was incensed. Just as I asked the question, his head turned to watch the wave of her EZ-Pass in thanks for letting her in. It was then that events became hazy.

It took the Mexican 45 minutes to stop blowing his horn, but far less for one of the black guys to exit his car and start pounding on our roof. By now Willie’s bravado had peaked and appeared to take on the mellowing effect of mainlined Prozac. The two of them must have discussed the “asshole” thing and decided it needed physical restitution. But by the looks of the man’s face it would not be without the sacrifice of pain on someone’s part. My cigar was almost done, and through a slight afternoon buzz, I could not think of one solid reason for saving Willie from his own stupid anger. And, most importantly, I could not help but think why in hell we needed an EZ-Pass in the first place?

Willie offered the riled black guy a beer if he’d smack the Mexican, who was back to leaning on his horn.

He accepted.

Willie smiled.

It was time for another Margarita and one last drag on my $12 cigar. I didn’t know anything about an EZ-Pass, but there was nothing hard about this.

First published on 12/1/97 in The Aquarian Weekly. It is included with many others in jc’s new book, Fear No Art available now on jamescampion.com!

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Sinead O’Connor Live at the Beacon Theater – Concert Review by James Campion

Aquarian Weekly 9/13/97

REDEMPTION Sinead O’Connor Beacon Theater 8/26/97

New York City

It is not particularly unusual to find the sheer raw talent of a singer stripped naked by the glare of the spotlight with her only weapon a wonderful voice piercing through a darkened hall like a siren of distinctionSinead O'Connor. It is only unusual if you consider Sinead O’Connor’s tempestuous career, filled with songs raging in blatant discourse, an appearance and demeanor of raucous rebellion, and questionable tactics budding from an unforgettable aura. Yet, on this night, an oblique, if not attractive woman; draped in an elegant white dress moving sinuously around the stage, served as a testament to a body of work as diverse and edgy as any hard-driving punk outfit.

Having seen O’Connor at the genesis of her baldheaded, black-army booted, in-yo-face run seven years ago, it was quite a change. Gone were her demonstrative movements, declaring an inner rant which bore clarity to the ugly truth of her lyrics. Only the sting of the lyrics remained, buoyed by the beauty of the melodies and the incredible range and control of a voice that could raise goose bumps on a cadaver.

Sinead O'ConnorA six-piece band, including cello and accordion, enabled O’Connor to stand guitar-free, clutching her ever-present controls for an ear-monitor she uses as a crutch for perfection. The four piece band known as The Screaming Orphans from Northern Ireland, opened the show and more than ably slid into their roles as back-up singers for the evening. At key points their five part harmonies lifted otherwise dreary dirges into sweet moments of orchestra, culminating in the vortex of an Irish folk revival.

Swerving through her entire, new six-song collection, Gospel Oak, and touching on choice numbers from her last two original studio works, O’Connor was visibly overwhelmed by the roof-raising ovations she received from the more than capacity crowd. (both side aisles were jammed with people standing and applauding throughout). Responding with a wave, a giggle, and a brush of her hand through a full head of brown locks, Sinead O’Connor put away the tantrums and overt displeasure her songs evoke, to merely sing them. And to those who recall her being mercilessly booed off the stage at the Bob Dylan tribute five years earlier, it was the best kind of redemption.

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Quadrophenia Show 1996 – Concert Review by James Campion

East Coast Rocker 7/30/97

RESURRECTIONQuadrophenia Madison Square Garden 7/16/96

New York City

For whom it may concern; Pete is God.

Of course that is the kind of statement that might have spewed forth from my days of raucous adolescence when passionate angst coursed through my burgeoning hormones. But for a few hours, during the opening night Pete Townshendperformance of The Who’s Quadrophenia last Tuesday, that is where I returned.

Townshend, (the aforementioned Pete) songster, guitar-smasher, and part-time publisher, fresh from his successes with the resurrection of Tommy on Broadway, and his last theatrical composition, Psychoderelic, took the time to relive arguably his finest work. And for six nights at the Garden last week he, the other to surviving members of Who–Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle–and a sixteen piece band, including four background singers, a full brass section, and percussionist, presented his magnificent musical story like never before.

When The Who released Quadrophenia in 1973, playing its intricate arrangements with four musicians turned out to be a Herculean task never conquered. The double album, (they had records in those days as you know) with its well-timed sound effects, tape loops, and involved orchestrations, had always been beloved and revered by Who fans and the rock community, but could never be properly performed.

However, from the opened notes of “The Real Me” amid the booming strains of an angry ocean and full screen of visuals, The Quadrophenia Show set the musical record straight.

Daltrey, dressed casually in a tank top and jeans, was in full voice and sounding better than even the distant past. Aided by a monitor earpiece, his vocals on such challenging numbers as “I’ve Had Enough” and “Love Reign O’er Me” were near perfection, and in some cases a newer and sharper voicing could be heard. Entwistle, still looming and stoic on stage left, lent interpretive bass lines long buried in the psyche of what Townshend himself has always said was “the last great Who album.”

The band, including Ringo Starr’s kid, Zak on drums and Pete’s brother Simon on rhythm guitar, did their homework. Culling every key lick and chop from the massive collection of songs, they provided a meticulous backdrop for the emotional theatrics of the story.

Daltrey and TownshendThe sound, a stark separation of vocals and intricate instrumentation, was flawless; pumping at top volume without the loss of clarity needed in the dramatic renderings of such songs as “Dr. Jimmy,” “The Punk and the Godfather,” and the haunting “Is It in My Head?” Guest appearances by Garry Glitter as the gruff Rocker and Billy Idol as the pretentious, yet sad, Ace Face helped breathe renewed life into heretofore uncharted character development. And to move the plot along Townshend and co-producer/manager, Bill Curbishley recruited the acting talents of Phil Daniels, who played the protagonist, Jimmy in the 1979 movie, as narrator.

It was a show for the rabid fan as well as the interested observer, doing the haunting libretto and sonic orchestration proud. Due to the cohesive aspect of the work, and the consistent pace of the show, there were few specific highlights save for the explosion of audience and act during Quadrophenia’s cornerstone number, “5:15.” It was one of the rare times a rock show captures the essence of the material and translates it to perfection.

Townshend, who through the years has been known as a hard-ass perfectionist and whining pessimist when approaching his work, could be seen grinning during the band’s four encores, which combined sweet nostalgia with hard-edged force. With an acoustic guitar slung over his shoulder, he was in fine voice and ecstatic temperament; singing and cavorting through the show with a fervor rarely seen in his more recent performances, solo or with the group.

For many fans of the genre, including myself, Townshend’s second and most endearing full-length “rock opera” is his greatest legacy as a composer. The universal story of a confused teenager railing against the hypocrisy of society, which helped many of us get through our similar quandary, has resonated for two decades. To see it revived as a road show could’ve been disappointing at best, but was brilliant and entertaining at the very least.

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Counting Crows and The WallFlowers Live at PNC Arts Center – Concert Review by James Campion

Aquarian Weekly 7/28/97

IN THEIR PRIME Counting Crows/ The Wallflowers PNC Arts Center 7/14/97

Holmdel, New Jersey

Rarely do headlining rock acts take a step to the side to allow for shared equality in popularity. But with the rise of Bob Dylan’s kid and the nostalgic combo, The Wallflowers, Counting Crows leveled the playing field for one balmy night in New Jersey. Both bands received similar ovations, producing inspired encores, while slicing into the pocket of understated licks and subtle energy to pump out two sets of uneven intensity.

Duritz & DylanJakob Dylan led his five-piece band through an hour-plus show of their second CD, Bringing Down The Horse, which has sold over three million copies and has been pumped through modern rock and pop radio ad nauseum for close to a year. Almost forgettable in appearance and nearly devoid of any stage histrionics, the band was tight and extremely composed while sounding eerily like a 90s’ version of The Band, who ironically backed Bob Dylan’s oft celebrated electric phase of the mid 60s’. This was made abundantly clear during a fine rendition of the classic group’s biggest single, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” which served as the set’s highlight, along with a soulful reading of The Wallflower’s first hit, “6th Avenue Heartbreak.” with accompaniment by Counting Crows’ lead singer, Adam Duritz.

Although looking frighteningly close to his father’s once imposing stage presence, Dylan, now considered the latest in a line of reluctant sex symbols, seemed a little embarrassed by the screams from the predominantly female audience; going as far as to playfully berating them for not standing and dancing.

The Counting Crows, also touring their second effort, Recovering The Satellites, which unlike The Wallflowers disc has been a step back to its riveting predecessor, August And Everything After, eased slowly into the evening’s proceedings with broad and humble strokes. With wonderful texture and remarkable dynamics, the more energetic of the two bands looked to be in their prime; moving through a healthy catalogue of lyrically packed musical vignettes.

No band outside of the 60s’ genre, and certainly none in the cookie-cutter age of video, so consistently reinvents a song like Counting Crows. There was no better example than on this night. Beginning with many new songs including, “Daylight Fading” and Catapult” through emotionally dynamic renditions of “Anna Begins,” “Rain King,” and the enigmatic, “Mr. Jones” the audience was treated to a band in constant creative motion, like an open jam or private rehearsal stripped bare and caressed with smooth melody. Much like The Wallflowers’ set, which seemed to drag in the mire of mid-tempo, there were moments of spontaneous beauty as in the closing numbers, “Round Here” and “A Long December,” when singer and primary songwriter, Duritz pranced around poetry and overt longing to explode into pure adrenaline and purpose.

To his credit, Duritz effectively toes the line of pretension without sinking into helpless melodrama. Thanks to a band made up of excellent musicians and even better interpreters of sense and style.

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Ani DiFranco Live at the Capitol Theater – Concert Review by James Campion

East Coast Rocker 4/5/97

A FIERCE GRACEAni DiFranco The Capitol Theater 3/21/97

PORCHESTER NY

It is the angry angel serenade; this fireball of female seduction with an Ani DiFranco acoustic guitar slung over a round shoulder below the spray of bright blue hair. She welcomes the bulging audience like a whimsical lover; crossed between reason and distraction. Ani DiFranco has spent the decade, seven albums, and a touring life proving she is arguably the finest singer/songwriter today. Her latest show is quite simply a gorgeous example of this.

With her usual passion and purpose she stalked the relatively empty stage of the small venue, save for the drums (Andy Stochansky) off to stage left, and bass (Jason Mercer) on the right. The ambiance of the classic theater, and the sparse accompaniment, lent a surreal intimacy to her signature jerky movements in and out of the multicolored spotlight which radiantly reflected off her distant stare. No performer demands such total attention when winding through an impressive catalogue of musical stories as when DiFranco is face first in the swirl of her talent. On this night, only the fifth date of a five-month tour through the U.S. and Europe, she slid effortlessly through her more recent numbers with a fierce grace. The highlights included a slithering version of “Shy”, a soulful rendering of “Untouchable Face”, and a riveting exhibition of her brilliant, “Dilate” which ended in an explosion of applause.

Ani DiFrancoDiFranco explored the many layers of her growth from a 19 year-old folkie to the original meld of punk, hip-hop, and lyrically driven rambles; resting easily in the various rhythmic changes. The aisles filled with dancing kids caught in the rapture of sexually charged songs like “Shameless,” which drives off the pulse of her unique picking/strumming style. The woman wields the finest right hand since Pete Townshend jammed his wrist through the whammy bar of an abused Stratocaster. All the while her voice hovers, roaming her register for notes and the noteworthy, scraping around a quirky shrill with an assault of phrasing.

Not since Dylan had a prime has one artist captured the displaced voice of the “other side” quite like Ani DiFranco. When she sings, “The butter melts out of habit, the bread isn’t even warm,” the irony induces a smile and a tear. When she sings, “I am a work in progress,” you anxiously await the next phase.

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Prince at the Roseland Ballroom – Concert Review by James Campion

East Coast Rocker 1/25/97

UNLEASHING BEINGS
The Artist Formerly Known As Prince
Roseland Ballroom 1/11/97

New York City

It was sometime around 10:30 PM huddled behind a sizable sound board amidst the screaming throng, when a bolt of memory crashed into the side of my skull with the sheer force of a gale wind. It was something Tori Amos had told The Chicago Tribune in response to a question about the source of creativity.

The words jumped off the page that day as clearly as they rammed a particularly tender side of my brain, which was being throttled by the second hour of another high-octane show by The Artist, the first musical event staged in New York City since the appellative death of Prince Rogers Nelson. ““This is what my life is”,” Amos said. ““These beings. They come in and out like fragments.””

My eyes were transfixed by the five-foot dynamo dressed in a black pinstripe outfit with tails and a high collar, who hadn’’t stopped moving to the push and pull of the rhythms pulsating from his five-piece band, as if he were willed by the music like a marionette dangling from invisible strings.

Surely The Artist had reinvented himself for the duration of his 17-year career, changing fashion and hairstyle with the same schizophrenic passion as David Bowie, but most of all he had continually transformed himself musically; crawling inside various genres and striking its muse like the second and third comings of Frank Zappa. These songs, hundreds a year, were pouring out of him like separate beings, many fragments of one man.

The other words which came to mind just then were the ones written in bold print on the press pass folded in the breast pocket of my winter coat: EMANCIPATION CELEBRATION. The show was in every sense an outpouring of freedom and intense expression from the opening note of “”Jam Of The Year”,” which by no coincidence is the overture to The Artist’’s latest collection of “beings.” The 36-song opus, arguably his finest and most consistent body of work since the brilliant, Sign ‘’O’ The Times nine years ago, marks the end of his epic battle with Warner Bros. and supposedly heralds the long-awaited DAWN; first promised on the inside jacket of his most popular record, Purple Rain.

“This is not a promotion for anything,” The Artist told the eclectic, sold-out crowd. “From now on this is all about love for one another.” This prompted even the most cynical among us, who might have raised an eyebrow or two when first hearing about the man’’s name becoming a self-styled symbol, to feel the effusive energy and burning spirit.

What was more of an impromptu show than his polished tours, it pulsated without the usual pretense. Unlike the stage epics I’’d seen in the past, dating back to the original Revolution, this was an isolated event, less contrived and vibrating with a looser array of songs and jams.

The latest incarnation of The Artist’’s New Power Generation band featured two keyboards, drums, and exceptional female guitar and bass players. Tight as a glove and responding to the slightest movement of The Artist’’s hip grind, or wave of his hand, this musical ensemble, like so many of his in the past, was akin to a collection of sonic pinball ornaments throwing around staccato breaks and flowing changes in key and tempo. Each song segued perfectly into another with The Artist as the disc-jockey; conjuring up an invisible conductor to some triumphant symphony in his head. He jumped onto piano, guitar, and bass, to initially spice up the musical soup, but would inevitably explode over the top as if the entire song was written for its purpose.

The unexpected treat of the relaxed atmosphere was the passionate rediscovery of older numbers like “”Purple Rain”,” and B-side rarities like “’17 Days”,” and “”How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?”” The latter becoming an all-out gospel rendition complete with searing organ yelps and jazzy chords played by The Artist, who leaned purposely over a powder-blue baby grand piano while playfully camping with the audience. Having disdained his bulging catalog the last few years there seemed–on the night– to be also an emancipation of fan favorites like ““If I Was Your Girlfriend”,” ““The Cross”,” ““Sexy MF”,” “Take Me With You”,” and “”Raspberry Beret”,” to which he let the crowd sing the infectious chorus and asked genuinely surprised, “”You remember this?””

The highlight of the memory-lane portion of the show rested in a soulful and sexually charged medley of The Artist’’s finest romantic ballads, beginning with a 10-minute instrumental wherein every member of the band took a solo. The almost half-hour ride through songs like ““Do Me Baby”,” ““Adore”,” and ““Scandalous”” presented a side of The Artist which is often taken for granted, since these are the tunes he can seemingly pen during a lengthy yawn. But the joint truly imploded whenever one of his new songs would crash the party with a savage kick drum and an ungodly groove, illustrating some of The Artist’’s slickest and funkiest licks in years. Through each scorching number he looked reborn, not just as an artist, but as a person; removing the screen he’’d so carefully built between himself and the audience for so many years.

Songs like “”Get Yo Groove On”,” ““Right Back Here in Your Arms”,” and ““Mr. Happy”,” which recall the sounds of James Brown, Stevie Wonder, and Earth Wind an Fire, still leaves his stamp in the equation; proving his exceptional songwriting prowess, while exhibiting why he is the perfect performer; an amalgamation of talent and gall enough to carry an abuse of boundaries to a new level.

Before the night was over he took a moment to address his new “Love 4 One Another” foundation, which will help the needy while imploring everyone to leave a better person. This may be commonplace at a Bruce Springsteen outing, but is downright shocking coming from a man who has had his share of positive messages draped with flash and metaphor.

There was a moment during the particularly scathing “”Face Down”” in which he rapped vitriol against the cold, bottom-line of the music business, but by leading the audience inside his fight for creative freedom of expression, the fragments became one. He was free, at least that’’s what he kept telling us; developing brand new counter melodies and rhythms by coaching us through sing-a-longs and chants. It was then, allowed to peer into the mind of one of pop music’’s true geniuses, those lucky enough to attend could clearly see all the fragments and beings forever binding the music with the composer.

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The Top 25 Sports Personalities – Author James Campion’s list for the most influential athletes ever.

East Coast Rocker 7/3/96 The Last Shot

THE TOP 25 SPORTS PERSONALITIES OF THE 20TH CENTURY

Just a little Star Spangled food for thought this Fourth of July. I submit the list that will launch a thousand Independence Day picnic arguments Upon the festival celebrating our nation’s birthday the roll call of the 25 most influential, celebrated, infamous, and far reaching figures of the 20th Century in American sports.

Now, before you break out the heavy verbal artillery and call me those names usually left for those really ugly donnybrooks, I only spent 24 hours on this list. So don’t be calling the poor editors of this paper up around Christmas time to tell them what form of torture I should be subjected to before snuffing me out all together. I might have left somebody out who might otherwise belong, but that’s the beauty of lists, and more importantly, the beauty of sports lists. So read along at your own risk and just try and dispute the greatness before thee.

1. Muhammad Ali – Transcended all sports and was the most recognizable and influential figure in the latter half of a century dominated by the black athlete. Saved the sport of boxing and used the lofty pulpit of the heavyweight championship to exalt the underdog, express his freedom, and spread his love of God and man. Ali not only belongs at the top of this list, but near the top of any list of Americans period.

2. Babe Ruth – Professional sports first superstar. The most famous man on the planet who didn’t commandeer an army. Saved the national pasttime after the 1919 World Series gambling allegations and then proceeded to change the game by introducing a little thing called the home run. The Bambino was not only the best everyday baseball player ever, he was probably the best pitcher as well. He practically invented the American sports hero as celebrity.

3. Jackie Robinson – The bravest man to ever don a uniform in any sport or era. He not only changed a game, but an entire country, by just stepping on a field. His pulling on a Brooklyn Dodgers hat was the most important event in American sports history. And, by the way, he was a damn good ballplayer who scared the hell out of oponents the moment he hit first base.

4. Billie Jean King – The mother of all modern women athletes. She stood in the face of pressures way beyond tennis and was always the rock from which respect was built. King stopped the nation cold when she wiped up Bobby Riggs in the Astrodome. She came a long way, baby.

5. Jim Thorpe – Arguably the greatest pure athlete this country has ever produced. A true American who re-invented any sport you’d put in front of him. Thorpe became a martyr for all amateur athletes and Olympic hopefuls when the government stripped him of his medals. The century’s shining beacon and hero of native Americans for eighty years.

6. Knute Rockne – The quintessential American coach. Invented modern football and the author of more inspirational speeches than anyone before or since. Ask the Gipper.

7. Joe Namath – Changed the pay structure of modern sport. A rebel, a hippie, a late night ladies’ man with a thirst for whiskey and mink coats. My first hero and the last hero to sport white shoes. There is no #12 or Super Bowl without him. I guarantee it.

8. Howard Cosell – The most hated man in America for an entire decade. Still the only true journalist in the history of sports, Cosell attended and commented on nearly every important sporting event of his time. There is no Monday Night Football without him. Just telling it like it is

9. Michael Jordan – Biggest sports star on the planet today. Solidified top ten status after the incredible events of this past year when he returned from a two-year hiatus after the death of his father to reclaim his kingdom as champion and finest to play the game. Nobody ever dominated a team sport more completely.

10. Joe Louis – Pound for pound the greatest pure boxer of all time? Yes. Threw the first punch of World War II when he dropped Max Schmelling in a title bout.

11. Curt Flood – Decided he wasn’t anyone’s property one hundred years after the Civil War, and as a result, established the voice of the professional athlete. Free agents of all sports owe him a feast of thanks.

12. Jesse Owens – The father of American track and field. Joined Joe Louis in running circles around racist dogma.

13. Joe Dimaggio – Elegance, grace, and power. Defined a nation and married Marilyn Monroe. Where have you gone…?

14. Mickey Mantle – The only man who could have followed Joltin’ Joe. The Hercules of the Baby Boomer Generation.

15. Willie Mays – The human highlight reel.

16. Red Auerbach – Eleven consecutive championships? Look it up

17. Secretariat – The crown jewel in the sport of kings.

18. Pete Rozelle – Fall, Sunday afternoons, pro football

19. Red Smith – THE American sportswriter.

20. Walter O’Malley – Villain.

21. Rocky Marciano – Undefeated.

22. Arthur Ashe – Hero of humankind.

23. Arnold Palmer – Don’t care about golf. Cared about Arnie.

24. Jim Brown – Unstoppable.

25. O.J. Simpson -Notorious

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james campion.com

Journalism Review 4/15/96

ON THE TRAIL OF A KIDNAPPED JOURNALIST

Part One (Thrust into the angry mouth of the ’96 campaign on a hunch and a prayer)

“Do you see what those bastards are trying to do to my party?” The voice on the other end of a cellular phone screeched. It was the determined rant of an angered female named Joannie, one with a boulder-chip on her shoulder and probably the same disturbing gleam in a right eye that never seemed to blink. In all the time I’d taken her frenzied calls, I’d never heard her so all-hell riled up. It was a voice, yes, but more like the disturbing, repetitive screech of a rabid ferret gnawing its way through a metal cage. “In the holy name of Ronald Reagan,” she bellowed, “the idea is to win!”

Friends like Joannie come around once in a lifetime; well versed in political rhetoric and amped-up on fourteen cups of java a day, railing about one injustice after another. That’s the way true underground journalists work: a phone in one hand and a micro cassette recorder in the other, freelancing like a Times Square hooker for every twisted story dangling on the professional bate line.

But Joannie is just a child in this business; squeaky clean and emerald green from the sprawling fields of Michigan, thrust into the shark-infested waters of Washington DC like a bleeding minnow. She is one of those beautiful examples of wide-eyed optimists running rampart through the new world of the Fourth Estate.

I, on the other hand, have seen the ugly truth of real politics, foul dealings and back-room rugby scrums for the removal of a traffic light, much less the increase on tariffs or the deployment of troops. Joannie and me had always made an interesting team.

I first met her at a Trenton State campus rally for unfair parking permits back in 1982. Fresh from winning a journalism award for an expose on pregnant women’s abuse of certain grain alcohol’s and the effects on their fetuses, Joannie already exuded a ravenous appetite for a story. I had won a similar, meaningless award from the American Cancer Society for a story I’d written about a middle-aged man who refused to quit smoking even after his wife had died of lung cancer from his second hand smoke. The judges were especially impressed with my description of the deranged cretin smoking no-filter Lucky Strikes through the tracheotomy hole in his neck.

Joannie was a whiny liberal then, so full of passion for helping the destitute and saving whatever aquatic creature was rumored to be endangered. Although struggling with the morality of abortion, she found it almost impossible to balance her fervent defense of women’s rights and the power of any government to demand that a thirteen year-old, freckled-faced girl carry her rapist’s love child for nine months. In the end, though, it was economics and the charm of Ronald Reagan that convinced her to register Republican in 1984, ironically opposing the first presidential ticket with a woman on it. “Ferraro is a goddamn mobster’s wife,” she hissed, that fateful November day.

On a professional level, politics was never Joannie’s bag. She chose instead to delve into movie reviews and cooking blurbs, nailing the odd interview with a Midwestern town comptroller or local congressman for most of the 1980s’. But then, as with most newspaper work, the money dried up. “I’m going to the heart of journalism now,” she told me four short years ago.

Once in our nation’s capitol, Joannie found herself in the mouth of the dragon with nothing but her valiant heart. There was little covered in her Civics 101 or Introduction of Mass Media that prepared her for such a vile disregard for humanity, and on one particularly humorous call, I received in her first month there, she told me that only Dante himself could find the proper adjectives to describe the netherworld lurking inside the Beltway.

Certainly, nowhere in the text of any respected college course could one find the type of vitriol Joannie was presently spewing into my right ear as I surfed the cable channels for a decent sports highlight show. “There is no direction in the Grand Old Party anymore,” she continued, building mind-bending momentum. “Too many frightened people crawling behind a veil of weak apathy and phony posturing. Too many goddamn polls on fucking CNN! Who the hell runs these wretched things?!”

“Calm down,” I pleaded, attempting to swing the conversation into innocuous banter about spring fashions and the royal divorce. “How can you bark about such banal crap when Princess Di is left all alone,” I began. “This is a gender issue of grave importance.”

“Fuck that English cunt,” she blurted. “The Republican Party is imploding quietly under the weight of stale boredom, and that scumbag Clinton is going to rule the free world for four more fucking years!”

I knew her tantrum would lead to it. Every manic conversation with her lately had gone the way of the loyal opposition. Slick talking southern Democrats with the lilt of a country carnival barker always rubbed Joannie’s skin raw like fresh sandpaper on an open wound. Even above the incessant crackling of our conversation and the drone of the television I could hear her teeth grinding.

But she had it all wrong this time. “Bill Clinton is not the enemy,” I told her, carefully considering her fragile state of mind. “Oh I know that,” she said. “The enemy is bullshit! How to manufacture it, market it, and sell it. The Grand Old Party has forgotten how! Where have you gone Ronnie, our nation’s turns its lonely eyes to you!”

“Ronald Reagan dies in 1983,” I barked. “Everyone in Washington knew it at the time. They stuffed him and spliced together old tapes of speeches whenever they wheeled the carcass in front of the press. Do you think for one minute the Gipper would have let a dullard like Ollie North embarrass him like that?”

“Just how do you suppose a dottering old fool like Bob Dole will fare in a debate with the likes of Bill Clinton?” she asked, becoming more frantic. “Dole couldn’t debate that idiot Steve Forbes and he never even ran for school board!”

Just then, I happened by a news channel running the same tired footage of Pat Buchanan on the stump down South where he was repeatedly slaughtered by Rappin’ Robert Dole in practically every state that held a primary. Uncle Pat was busy waving his fist like some televangilist demanding money to keep Jesus from stealing the Statue of Liberty. God bless his mangled heart, I thought to myself, he is the only man demented enough to topple a vicious professional like Bill Clinton.

Uncle Pat was a pit bull with a spiked collar and a lusty taste for blood long before Big Bill even dreamed of running for class hall monitor. Not even the long arm of Dick Nixon could keep him from whipping up a few venomous lines for Spiro Agnew to read as part of a harmless ribbon cutting ceremony in Demoins, Iowa for the Knights of Columbus.

Oh, how the tiny hairs on the back of Bob Halderman’s neck would stand at attention when he would be forced to brief the president of some speech Buchanan handed Agnew. No target was too small for Uncle Pat’s sharp ideological arrows. He would proudly stand in the wings cackling as each sentence angered anyone within earshot who even remotely used their conscience.

After all, it was Uncle Pat who told a frazzled Nixon to “start a bonfire with those goddamn tapes,” when the Supreme Court came-a-knockin’ for the president’s impeachment. It was Uncle Pat who nestled at the bosom of such evil brutes like John Mitchell and Ed Meese during the bulk of the Nixon and Reagan empires, displaying sheer brilliance at keeping his hands clean and his fat ass out of jail. These are key assets for a candidate who entertains the challenge for the ultimate office.

Bob Dole couldn’t get a sniff of those type of activities. Nixon’s top aids would laugh like mischievous school boys whenever Rappin’ Rob would leave the room. He was a small player at the crap table and never did like to get his hands dirty. No one who gives half a shit about the future of the Republican Party would seriously cast a vote for Bob Dole. I know it, and apparently Joannie had come similar conclusions. Rappin’ Rob might have been a wounded in the Big One, but he would be lucky to come out of a real hard political battle with Big Bill with his dick still attached.

The president was even now revving up his campaign engines, stopping in the Lincoln bedroom to spark a joint and hold his breath. The truly connected people can tell its party time when a political bagman like James Carvillle starts spending quality time on every talk show from Ophra to Larry King, giggling like a mental patient at the thought of stomping a nice, bland old man like Bob Dole.

“It had better be Dole,” Carville shuttered. “Cause Buchanan’s got full color photos of the president screwing half the street walkers on Pennsylvania Avenue, Larry! Christ, we can’t deal with that bastard without serious ammunition!”

The more I thought about it, Joannie was right. But the further she raged on, the more muddled and diluted her thoughts had become, like a feverish child babbling about the cute purple dinosaur ripping up through the box spring to eat her alive. “I’m working for the party,” she whispered, when I concocted an excuse to hang up. “What?” I cried. “You’ve slipped into the abyss, never to return! No tabloid, or television station will have you now. Look what happened to that fucker at channel four! Your soiled, corrupted, finished in this business!”

A sudden clicking sound interrupted my tirade.

“Your other line is ringing,” I offered.

“I don’t have call-waiting,” she said nervously.

I knew it wasn’t me, having dropped that particular service as part of a tantrum I pulled during tempestuous negotiations with NYNEX not long after they tried to charge me for running six computers out of my house when I didn’t even own a computer. I remember frantically trying to call the FCC in a huff, but the lines were busy.

“Your fucking phone is tapped,” I barked, quickly slamming down the receiver.

I ran to my car and yanked the gear shift into first, grinding up one of the many hills surrounding my house in the thicket of Putnam County, New York. The nearest pay phone is a twenty-minute ride in any direction, but I managed to make it in ten, ignoring the double yellow lines and two stop signs.

On ring. Two rings. There was no answer. Whomever had tapped her line obviously alerted someone of her dangerous babbling and gotten to her. The chances were very good those involved had traced my number and would certainly be coming after me. If Bob Woodward had to carry a pistol around downtown Washington D.C., only God knows how easy it would be to get to a relative novice like Joannie. Especially if the Republican Party had her address, phone number and vital information.

As I stood in that phone booth, listening to one unanswered ring after the other, her predicament became clearer to me. She’d probably been stewing for days, maybe weeks, throwing back martinis in a bar across the street from the FBI building and going on and on about the party imploding while Bill Clinton ruled the world. It could easily have been the type of hysterical outburst that would perk the ear of any official in the know. For all Joannie knew, she was under surveillance for months and had given them all the evidence they needed for a covert kidnapping.

I fumbled through my wallet for the number of several publications that I’d freelanced for before, but it was late and I was having trouble trying to find the right words to present my reasons for running off to Washington DC in an attempt to rescue a crazed journalist from committing professional suicide. Not mention the possible ugly results of going toe to toe with angry Republican insiders.

That’s when the name Dan Davis popped into my swimming head. After all, it was Dirty Dan, who as a young reporter, had brought the Pet Rock industry to its knees. He was the editor of the leading underground newspaper on the East Coast, known far and wide for his profound drunken boasts on how he’d stretched the credibility of the First Amendment further than Howard Stern, Lenny Bruce and Cybersmut junkies. Luckily, his card was still in my wallet.

“It’s two o’clock in the goddamn morning, Campion!” he bellowed from the other end.

“Important feces has hit the fan, Davis,” I began.

“I have no money,” he interrupted, quickly surmising my train of thought.

“Hear me out,” I argued, feeling my final solution slipping through the cracks. I hurriedly explained the crisis while dumping a slew of change into the cold coin slot.

“I’ve never heard of this Joannie character,” he barked. “Call me when they beat up Dan Rather again.”

“This is a story that could lead to the steps of the Republican Convention in San Diego,” I cried pounding my hand on the glass in from of me. “There is trouble and there will be hell to pay by November!” Can you imagine a kidnapping in the heart of our nation’s capitol? Possible ties to the FBI, the CIA and most likely the fucking Kennedy assassination! It’s not O.J., but it’s gound-floor insurrection!”

“Sober up and call a psychatrist,” he calmly retorted. “I’m going back to sleep.”

“Joannie is a ticking time bomb,” I said, trying desperately to keep him on the line. “Even if nothing happened to her there’s a great chance she’ll do something bizarre. I’ll be in the eye of the storm I tell you. The whole presidential campaign could break wide open!”

“O.K., I’ll tell you what,” he slowly exhaled. “I’m not giving you dime-one to get to Washington. But if you find this chick, get to California, and manage credentials to the convention…” he hesitated, bringing my sense of urgency to dangerous levels of pure fear. “…then I’ll pay for the story as it develops.” Then he hung up.

That’s really all I needed to hear. Once a journalist has the pulpit in which to scratch the bloody surface of a story, the details become minutiae. I had just enough gasoline to get to an airport and plenty of plastic credit to get to DC, but one question remained: would Joannie still be there when I arrived?

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The Legacy and Legend of Howard Cosell ‘s eulogy to an American broadcasting icon.

North County 4/26/95

“TELL IT LIKE IT IS” – THE LEGACY AND LEGEND OF HOWARD COSELL

Howard CosellThis country has not known a more influential journalist than Howard Cosell. His innate ability to dissect an event, infiltrate a personality and offer honest analysis at the point of attack made him a unique voice in an otherwise antiseptic profession. The resonance of his talent is an echo in the world of reporting today, but it is a faint reminder of the man whose voice served as a sonic boom that shook the walls and shattered the windows of broadcasting.

Ironically, Cosell died quietly this past weekend after a private three-year battle with cancer at the age of 77. The doctor’s report told the world it was a heart embolism, but anyone who knew anything about the attorney with a microphone and the massive chip on his hunched shoulder was convinced that he was too stubborn to succumb to anything, much less a deadly disease.

His staccato delivery was immediate legend, his hawkish looks an instant caricature and his powerful ego a massive hammer swung sometimes with little control, if not definite, direction. These were the odd attributes that combined to make Cosell a superstar among faceless haircuts and scribbling notepads. But his greatest asset was that he was utterly fearless. There was no crusade too big, no injustice too imposing, and no human power too intimidating for his prodding sarcasm and razor-sharp wit. “I tell it like it is,” was his catch-phrase.

“I did what I believed in,” he reflected to a reporter a few years ago. “I saw myself as a person who wanted to bring to public attention that which I thought was wrong. No more. No less.”

Throughout the 60s’ and 70s’ the appearance of Cosell at a sporting event signified its importance. If there was ever a question of its relevance, it was answered by his presence alone.

He was the living embodiment of the first amendment and the shining example of what truths can be uncovered by the oft-challenged “freedom of press”.

Not unlike John F. Kennedy and the Beatles, Howard Cosell was a figure perfectly fit for the times in which he found himself. Ten years earlier, or perhaps, even ten years later, an editorial voice like Cosell’s might have been shoved aside as too assertive, or worse yet, ignored altogether. But in the age following McCarthyism and the Red Scare, a country swirling in the tornado of events from Vietnam to Watergate we were just cynical and thick-skinned enough to handle him.

He could have covered any corner of the news, but chose sports because of the immediacy and likelihood of the impossible to explode at anytime. Moreover, he precociously knew sports needed him. “If ever a broadcaster sought to bring sports out of the banal,” he once mused, “this, you see, is my mission.”

Throughout the 60s’ and 70s’ the appearance of Cosell at a sporting event signified its importance. If there was ever a question of its relevance, it was answered by his presence alone. In one predictably pompous moment, he once compared his celebrity to Walter Cronkite. But unlike the security and warmth of Uncle Walty at the time of breaking news or crisis, Cosell exuded the fastidious tension of a literate watch dog that needed not only an answer, but the answer.

If there was no Howard Cosell, Muhammad Ali would have still been an icon for a generation locked in turbulence, people would’ve still crowded into bars on Monday nights to watch prime time football, the tragedy of the 1972 Munich Olympics would’ve had the same impact on a stunned and riveted television audience, Joe Willie Namath would still have his middle name, Chris Chambliss would’ve probably hit that homer to win the pennant for the Yankees, and Joe Frazier still would have tumbled to the canvas under the thunderous blow of the brooding force of young George Foreman.

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The difference is that Cosell was there, and for some strange reason, we remember that. Cosell and the event seemed to take on an inseparable quality as time passed. Yet, despite his propensity to find a space in the spotlight of a sporting event, like an annoying relative trying to squeeze into a family snapshot, Cosell never usurped the game itself. He somehow joined its magnitude by riding along, often times actually becoming the only voice that mattered when the dust settled.

He could sense a story as it unfolded and enlarge its aura as if it were a moment already recorded, digested and reflected in history.

In this way, Cosell clung to the light and fury that was Muhammad Ali, arguably the largest sports figure of the 20th century. When the young heavyweight, Cassius Clay embraced the Muslim faith and changed his name, only Cosell would honor it by calling him Ali during interviews. When Ali fought the draft because of his religious beliefs, and was stripped of his championship belt, Cosell was there beside him.

Cosell’s interviews with the always poetic and vociferous Ali were masterpieces in entertainment. “I’ll take you out Cosell,” Ali would pronounce with that ever-present smile biting down on his bottom lip. “I’ll knock you out and take that rug off your head.”

“You wouldn’t dare lay a hand on me,” Cosell would quip in his laconic drone.

His powerful radio show, “Speaking of Sports” lasted the longest of any of his projects. Probably because he didn’t have to share the spotlight with anyone else. And when I was a kid, it punched its way through the mono speaker on my little portable every Sunday morning. He took on racism, the wrongful treatment of pro athletes by monolithic leagues, the absence of a commissioner for prize fighting; but it what made those shows special, was those priceless moments when a unsuspecting guest would need to wiggle out of a finger-pointing diatribe on the hypocrisy of something somewhere.

Cosell’s best-known pulpit was the crowded booth on of the most popular experiments in network history. Monday Night Football was the perfect place for his pedantry and bluster, and he made it his stage. A man who had never played the sport, offering strong commentary, most of it derisive, led to a TV Guide poll that during the mid 70s’ had him the most hated and most loved sportscaster of all.

After denouncing boxing as a “disgusting mess” and pro football as a “stagnant bore”, Howard Cosell rode off into the sunset, leaving a 35-year body of work in his indignant wake. His last public jab came in the form of his fourth book, What’s Wrong with Sports, a truculent attack on everything he ever encountered along the way. Cosell went out the way he came in–swinging.

Howard Cosell never received a big sendoff like Johnny Carson of Cronkite, but one would have to wonder if he would’ve either expected or embraced it. But every one of us who have ever offered an opinion or covered an event, or tried to procure a quote from a newsworthy subject have a debt to pay to Howard Cosell. Because in the end, reporting is the search for truth, and as a reporter, you’d hope a little justice prevails. Right or wrong, the reporter strives to, at the very least, make people think. That is Howard Cosell’s legacy.

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Yorktown Football – Undefeated NY State Champs reviews one of the most exciting high school championship games ever.

North County 11/30/94

YORKTOWN STILL UNCONQUERED AND UNBEATEN

“My head is bloody, but unbowed… I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.”
– from the poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley

When Mr. Henley sat down to write his poem on the strength of an individual against all adversity, it was hardly the turn of the century, and chances are old Willie never saw an American football game; but if he could have made it to the Syracuse Carrier Dome last Saturday night, he would have witnessed his words come to life in the form of the young men that make up the 1994 Yorktown Cornhuskers.

For four quarters, the defending Class B state champs put a perfect season, a 20-game win streak and another title on the line. All night the line was precariously thin. It was not a blowout like last year. In fact their biggest lead of the evening was eight points. The smallest lead was all of one point three different times. It was the first time all year the strength of the team’s soul was tested, and there’s a plaque sitting somewhere at the High School that says the Yorktown soul passed with flying colors.

The final was Yorktown 25, William South 24, and at crucial times during the contest it felt even closer. The Section 6 champs brought their own soul on the arm of a terrific quarterback named Mike Lester, who kept coming at the brick-hard Huskers defense like some wild-eyed Gunga Din in a helmet. When the evening was done he would accumulate some gaudy passing stats (10 of 17 for 190 yards and three touchdowns), including a wild third-and-27 heave that put an apple into the throat of everyone waving a green pom pom.

It was the first time all year the strength of the team’s soul was tested, and there’s a plaque sitting somewhere at the High School that says the Yorktown soul passed with flying colors.

But the black and silver blur with a #13 on his back nullified these considerable feats time and time again. Don Weese, the game’s MVP-with-the-ball would unveil the Yorktown soul before anyone had both cheeks planted into a Dome seat. His opening kickoff return made short work of 85 yards, and the team that had not trailed a single football game for 44 quarters had a 7-0 lead. Every touchdown the boy wonder QB from Williamsville South could muster, Weese had some answer; a 15-yard pass reception for a score followed by a 20-yard touchdown run.

All season long the vaunted Yorktown defense (number one in the league with six shutouts) did not allow a team to force a deficit on them, and the only team to so much as manage a tie-game into the fourth quarter, the Somers Tuskers, never scored at all. But throughout the game both offenses seemed locked in a trance-like dance of death, running up and down the field with reckless abandon.

However, Williamsville South was unable to attach the extra point to any of their four touchdowns. The Cornhuskers missed the kick on their second. In fact, with all the yards amassed by both teams (350 for South and 240 for ‘Town) the defining moments of the game were played within ten feet of the Yorktown goal line.

It was 13-12 Cornhuskers with one minute left in the first half, and the only thing standing between Williamsville South and the lead were four downs, four yards, and the Yorktown defense. They ran four plays, gained three yards, and went into the locker room down by one. Forty-six quarters without trailing.

The second half featured more of the same. Yorktown would score and back came the other guys, neither team able to buy the point-after. A football version of Ali-Frqazier in Manilla hitting and taking hits and standing for the next round. The winner would earn it, the loser would be disappointed, but proud to have played.

With less than 40 seconds remaining in the game, and faced with their last down from the Yorktown 16, the Williamsville South offense stepped to the line of scrimmage. The Huskers dug deep on defense. A fired up Adam Lodewick, who would earn Defensive Player of the Game honors for his relentless pursuit of anything that moved in this game, screamed to his teammates to make a stand.

Lester faded back from center and tossed the ball out to the left about two yards deep in the end zone to his receiver, Doug Goeckil, who would beat out his quarterback for Offensive Player of the Game. Touchdown. Williamsville South would go for two points. Two points they could not get three times before. Yorktown’s perfect season of leading all the way was three yards from becoming a one point deficit with 15 seconds left.

The fans stood on both sides of the field and cheered wildly. Both coaches bellowed instructions. Ten feet for the championship.

Once again Lester pulled out from center, rolled right, looked at the front line of the Huskers breaking through the wall, cocked his arm, and threw into the corner of the end zone. It was there the ball found the thrusting arm of Pete Cariello and fell to the ground.

The 1994 Yorktown Cornhuskers, state champs again. Twelve games played, twelve wins. Unconquered. Invictus. Amen.

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