Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Casualty of the Economy: Guitar Shop Down

Vintage Manny's.jpg
"Excuse me for a minute, let me play my guitar a little bit..."
Jimi Hendrix

Two months ago, I left a downtown Manhattan office late in the evening. It had been a long, stressful, creatively taxing day. My brain ached from trying to be clever for 11 hours.

The 3 Train rumbled through midtown. "You taking the express all the way uptown?" my co-worker asked. I thought for a moment. "No. I'm stopping at Times Square and going to play guitars at Manny's for a while. It'll make me feel better."

Browsing and playing rare/cool guitars serves as an antiseptic to the sore. That indescribable therapeutic quality of holding a Martin 000-15 in your hands and playing "Folsom County Prison Blues." Johnny Cash is musical Alka-Seltzer.

Up the subway steps, onto Broadway, left turn, 6 blocks north to 48th Street and hang a right. That's how you get to Manny's Music, the greatest guitar shop I have ever been in. As I walked, I was looking for the familiar green awning that marked the entrance to a musical museum with a helluva gift shop. Where is the green awning? Am I on the wrong street? Is this 47th? I walked right by the place. Not even realizing it. Turning around I saw the doors to the shop, but the green awning was gone. So was the Manny's sign. A new sign said "Sam Ash Guitars."

Something is not right. I stepped inside. It was much worse than I thought. In fact, it was a nightmare.

I was witnessing firsthand the symbolism of the bad economy. The loss of family owned businesses. Is this as serious as people losing jobs, insurance, cars and homes being foreclosed? Of course not. This is only a metaphor for what the current economic depression is costing us. A sad side note of the Bram Stoker-like horror story that is our national economy.

Little did I know that a couple months before, Manny's Music, the guitar store that both the most gifted players in the world and the hobbyist hackers had flocked to for 74 years, had been sold. The building was still there, but the guitar store I revered was all but gone. Bought by national music chain Sam Ash.

There is nothing evil about Sam Ash guitar shops. They're just selling instruments at competitive prices. Nothing wrong with that.

However, inside the former Manny's Music was a much different place. The soul had escaped. Manny's, as she once was, had given up the ghost.

Dylan at Manny's.jpg
The most famous and endearing feature of Manny's was the Wall(s) of Fame. All along the walls were hundreds of autographed pictures from artists that created the music you have on your iPod. (Or at least you should have.) You wouldn't believe who was up there. Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, The Beatles, Keith Richards and the rest of The Stones, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Buddy Holly, Nirvana, The Byrds, The Kinks, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Simon and Garfunkel, The Ramones, even Conan O'Brien. Hundreds of musicians' inked photos covered the walls.

They're gone.

Cleared away to make room for more awful clich├ęd guitars. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's autographs were removed to make room for ridiculous "Dimebag" Darrell guitars and pathetic Slipknot signature editions. It looks sad.

Less Gretsch. More Garbage.

Not only was the layout of the store different - displays were moved, counters added - it felt different. Smelled different. Like your grandparents house after they have died. You can't quite describe the difference, but it isn't the same in there. And a bit creepy.

Immediately, I was sad. Though I am a hobbyist hacker and only play for fun (though if I had a band, we would be Johnny the Kid & the Gunslingers) and for the therapeutic qualities strumming a guitar holds, going into Manny's was exciting. I felt like Augustus Gloop heading into Wonka's Chocolate Factory. Magic a lived in those walls.


The only real surviving artifact of Manny's is the smashed Danelectro 59 DC that is stored in a glass case. (A guitar that I own a modern replica of.) The Dano was the official store demo guitar. When an artist wanted to test an amp or effect, the staff plugged in the Danelectro. Legend says that Dylan, Clapton and John Lennon loved the sound so much they tried to but her and were sternly told the instrument was not for sale. Imagine telling those three you're not selling them a guitar. Now the broken-in-half Dano rests in her glass case that seems to serve as a tombstone for a once great guitar shop.


oldyellow.gif


Here Lies Musical History
1935-2009
"If There's a Rock & Roll Heaven, You Know They Have a Helluva Band"
R.I.P.


There are some legendary tales from Manny's. Hendrix bought his first Stratocaster there. Then over the next few years he bought about a dozen more. Sometimes switching necks, bodies, pickups and other parts to get unique sounds. (Only 6 of Jimi's Strat's are accounted for today.) Another story is about Pete Towshend's one day order. According to the legend, Pete bought 15 Strats, 10 Telecasters, 5 Gibson Jaguars, 5 Gibson Jazzmasters, 3 Gibson SG's and 3 Gibson ES-355's.

I don't know how many of those Pete smashed into kindling. Let's guess 7. It will be fun.

Looking around, I got the eerie feeling that musical history had been hijacked.

I asked a couple of staff, including the guy I had bought my Martin LXK2 from, what had happened and they just shook their head. "I don't know what to tell you, dude."

1938 Gibson L-5.jpeg


Still, even though I was shocked and bummed at this news, I still wanted to clumsily play some guitars. I played a few, The aforementioned Martin. A couple Taylor's. A Gretsch Double Cutaway Electromatic. Then I saw a very old axe on the wall. With caution, I took her in my hands. She was beautiful. A 1938 Gibson L-5. (The exact one I played is pictured above.) Battered and beaten. Scars of the road and travel. It is a guitar that has been played by Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Paul Simon and Django Reinhardt. Man, she sounded amazing.

There I sat, in the corner by myself, and played the blues for about an hour. I plucked Robert Johnson's "Malted Milk" on that amazing instrument. That helped a little. But it wasn't the same.

Again, this is less about guitars and more about the economy in microcosm. The mom and pop, family owned businesses are endangered species. And the privately owned guitar shops are the Black Rhino.

I have read that Eddie Vedder and others made a final pilgrimage to Manny's before she changed hands to say goodbye.

I wish I had been able to do that.

Spin the black circle...

Johnny Wright


Post Script: If you would like to learn more about Manny's Music, I highly recommend the book The Wall of Fame: New York City's Legendary Manny's Music. I have a copy in the stacks of the J-Dub Memorial Library.


Manny's.jpg

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

YouTube Gems Volume #X

"X marks the spot."
Dr. Henry "Indiana" Jones Jr.

Well, five gems mark the spot.


ALL MONKEY WESTERN! Three of the sweetest words ever uttered. This is Lonesome Stranger from 1946. Should have won the Oscar for "Best Film WIth Monkeys as the Principle Cast." They were robbed.


Elvis just killing "If I Can Dream." Chills will follow.


Ever wondered how to shrink a head? Of course you have. Grab a notebook, here's how you do it.


The New York sequence from On the Town. Sinatra cannot hid his New Jersey accent not matter how hard he tries.


The esteemed Dr. Thompson visits David Letterman in 1988.

Okay...

Cherry Picking Nostalgia

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"Nostalgia: It's delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek nostalgia literally means 'the pain from an old wound.' It's a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn't a spaceship, it's a time machine. It goes backwards, and forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again."
Don Draper


There are a few bucks in my pocket. I'd be willing to wager all those Benjamins... okay, fine Hamiltons, that more than a few of you suffer from one of my afflictions. That of a fascination with and love of the past. World history, dusty museums, scratchy heartfelt music, black and white films, weathered and rusty relics, Billy the Kid, Humphrey Bogart.



There is a power in the parts of culture that live on, no matter how long it has been. Mozart isn't going anywhere. Neither is Muddy Waters. In nature, species evolve because they can adapt and grow. With history, art and culture, the opposite happens. We adapt to them. The past stays the same. It is constant. That's why we love it.

This is the reason why we're mad for Mad Men. That amazing bit of television inspires so much passion because it perfectly shows a piece of the past. Like a wooly mammoth preserved in ice. Same with Happy Days in the 70's. The public longed for a "simpler time" when the jukebox turned on when you smacked it. That doesn't really happen anymore.

However, over the last few months, there has been a few news stories that have caused me to reevaluate my romanticism of the 40's, 50's and 60's. A handful of annoying sex scandals, some D-list personalities that somehow keep finding a microphone and that damn runaway Jiffy Pop balloon.

Perhaps I don't have this quite right.

1943 SPRING TRAINING WITH MILTON BERLE  DUROCHER  2.jpg


How many television personalities were diddling the staff before David Letterman's mistakes? I'll bet it's a healthy percentage. Why do you think many of them became TV hosts in the first place? Legend says Milton Berle almost constantly had his oversized junk out back stage. Parading the beast around like a prized zucchini at the county fair. Uncle Miltie's wiener flashes didn't lead the evening news. Or Steve Philips, the baseball analyst at ESPN. He had to pull the old "I'm checking into sex rehab" scam to try to put his affair behind him. Let's be honest though, Phillips' story wouldn't have the legs that it did if the girl was attractive. Not chubby, homely and bonkers.

SIDENOTE TO CELEBRITIES: We have figured out the Rehab Gambit. It's in there with the Exhaustion Ruse. "I'm so exhausted and tired ... from cocaine." You lot need a new smokescreen. How about the shingles or rickets? Nobody knows what those actually are. "Yes, I broke the bonds of my marriage. For that I am sorry. But I have the gout and lupus. I'm checking into the clinic for treatment. We'll get through this together."

In the "good old days," JFK's, RFK's, MLK's, and LBJ's dalliances outside of the bonds of matrimony weren't front page news. They were hushed up no-so-much-secrets by the press that had the scuttlebutt. Nowadays you can't meander down the ol' Appalachian Trail without news crews camping in your front yard. In the days of yore you could assume a wide stance in the bathroom stall at the Minneapolis airport without it becoming a homosexual hail storm. Thirty years ago that was just a sturdy position to poop.

The Flight of the Balloon Boy saga doesn't happen twenty years ago. Not only would Cronkite veto it before it got to air, there was more than 15 minutes to vet the story and calculate it was bogus. The Hypocritical Former Beauty Queen or The Meathead Former Potential Son-In-Law of a Professional Facebook Updater aren't given a platform either. "Yes, person with no qualifications or original ideas that is so stick-a-fork-in-a-toaster stupid you had to read the instructions on shampoo three times, tell Larry King what you think about the corporate bailout and the War in Afghanistan. This should be fascinating."

SIDENOTE #2: Maybe those two dopes should have their own talk show. A rundown of the day's events, hot button issues and pithy attempts at full sentences. "Brought to you by Hot Pockets, Mensa and Sadness."

The easy counter-argument here is "you don't have to watch or read about these people." Sort of. That's almost true. However, quick show of hands: how many of you own a Lady Gaga record? Okay, seven. Shame on you. Now, how many have heard of Lady Gaga? See where I'm going here? Like it or not, you can't avoid a great deal of popular culture. I couldn't pick a Chris Brown song out of a lineup, but I know he beat the fire out of that "Umbrella" girl. Unfortunately, Jon and Kate What's-Their-Name has soaked into our psyche by osmosis. Burrowed in like a botfly. You'd have to pry them out with tweezers now.

Those examples make me think maybe I am just in the right place but the wrong time. Let's get back to the way it was.

Then I thought about that a little more. There's flip side to the coin.

Along with the soda fountains and sock hops, were tolerated racial slurs and out of control sexism. Educated men/Presidents of the United States could drop an "N-Bomb" in casual conversation and no one batted an eye. "That Richard, he's just a folksy good ol' boy."

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When we talk about the nostalgic America of the last 50 years, which is it? The idyllic Leave it to Beaver and Norman Rockwell images? Choosing sides for vacant lot baseball and a hot apple pie cooling on the window sill? Or when wives were second class servants and young black men were getting sprayed by Niagara-like fire hoses? Oh, I almost forgot about the viscous dogs. There were also viscous dogs.

This is why we have to carefully select what parts of the past we hang onto. Love the fedoras, suits and language in Mad Men. But abhor the rampant alcoholism and the married men boffing secretaries.

I'll keep: Music, film, literature, real journalism (Fox News wouldn't exist in the 60's, Cronkite or Eric Sevareid would expose it for what it is in two nightly segments and the channel would die on the gurney), newspapers, the cars, art deco, Elvis, white picket fences and TV jingles.

I'll leave behind: Bigotry, ignorance, wars that occur for no or cooked up reasons (oops, we haven't learned from that one yet...), the belief in Old Wives Tales, sexism, cooking with liver, Andy Warhol (I hate Andy Warhol. Absolute overrated garbage. The goon that recently paid $43 million for one of Napoleon in Rags' paintings should have to pay a $44 million penalty for bad taste), segregation and the Cuba embargo.

Sadly, many of those problems still exist. But with a flawed human species, we have to accept significant progress in those issues a win. A "moral victory," sure, but we have take what we can get.

Maybe Glenn Beck is a return to the "good old days." Of course, he's a time machine back to Joseph McCarthy, but still, back to the way it was. Communists! Be afraid! Red Scare! Boogity boogity boo! Ah, the warmth of a simpler time. Let's have us a good old fashioned Black Ballin'! Get that evil Dalton Trumbo! Just like the happy 1940's and 50's. Hula hoops, coonskin caps, The Honeymooners and writers ostracized from society for reading a Communist pamphlet. The way it used to be.

We need to select what we romanticize is if we are drafting for an NFL franchise. Be careful what you pick. A bad selection could cost you in the long run. The Blues and Chuck Berry are Peyton Manning. Opposing the Civil Rights Act and supporting Vietnam are Ryan Leaf. You can do the math from there.

Going back to Don Draper, he is nostalgia in microcosm. Half king of cool, half rotten scoundrel. Maybe that's why we love him so much.


Selah...

Don Draper Fedora.jpg

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Pearl Jam Covers Devo

It was Halloween in Philadelphia. Pearl Jam was playing one of the last shows at the Spectrum. It was an epic set-list. There needed to be some recognition of the holiday.

So, for one song, Pearl Jam dressed up as Devo, lego hats and all, and rocked the classic cut "Whip It." Ed even brought along a bullwhip as a prop to crack.

Crack it boys...

Saturday, October 31, 2009

3 Chords & the Truth:Happy Halloween

Vader Pumpkin.png
From The Emerald City...

For this special edition of 3 Chords & the Truth, I am joined by my rascally nephews. These lads have surprising insight on the virtues of Halloween. What they love may surprise you. Especially since they are my blood.

Also, since they are Wright's they give you all a rather cheeky sendoff. I have no idea where they learn this sort of behavior.



Happy Halloween.

Go set a bag of dog boom-boom ablaze on a cranky old guy's porch. You know, celebrate in style. And class.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Strumming a Vintage Axe


On my way home tonight, I stopped by the guitar shops on 48th Street. It has been a stressful few days and browsing and playing rare guitars serves as an antiseptic to the sore. That magical therapeutic quality of holding a Martin 000-15 in your hands and playing "Folsom County Prison Blues."

There was a shocking discovery made that I am going to write a column about this weekend. A sad allegory about what the recession is costing us. That to come later on YesButNoButYes.

However, before that tale, a little about a guitar. I played a few guitars tonight. The aforementioned Martin. A couple Taylor's. A Gretsch Double Cutaway Electromatic. Then I saw a very old axe on the wall. With caution, I took her in my hands. She was beautiful. A 1938 Gibson L-5. (Pictured above.) Battered and beaten. Scars of the road and travel. It is a guitar that has been played by Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Paul Simon and Django Reinhardt.

There I sat, in the corner by myself, and played the blues for about an hour. I played Robert Johnson's "Malted Milk" on that amazing instrument. And, for a few brief moments, the worries of life melted away.

Long live The Blues...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Vinyl In the Mail


I opened the mailbox the other day to a surprise. A generic looking brown envelope. The return address was from Seattle, my beloved hometown. "10 Club." It's from Pearl Jam.

Inside was a white vinyl single for "The Fixer" (B-side is "Supersonic") from the upcoming record Backspacer. The record doesn't come out for another month.

It felt like when I was a kid and would order limited edition G.I. Joe figures with the "Flag Points" that I had collected. A little rush of excitement for a grown up toy: rock and roll on wax. Never grow up, my friends.

Spin the black circle...

Viva la vinyl...


The video is directed by Cameron Crowe. Shot at one of my childhood haunts, the Showbox in downtown Seattle.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Bob Dylan Graffiti


Reason 3,711 I love New York City...

On my way to meet my buddies Mike and Brent for lunch, I was walking through the Upper West Side. On 76th Street there was a building under construction. One of those beautiful pre-war brownstones that will sell for $5 million bucks when finished. On the door of the building was a familiar figure.

A painting of one my heroes. The folk singer bard Bob Dylan. The image shows Bob from about 1966, when the incredible documentary Don't Look Back was shot. And the records "Highway 61 Revisited,""Blonde On Blonde" and "John Wesley Harding" were recorded. That was when Dylan was rarely seen without his Ray-Ban Wayfarers. He would pose for shots like this one.

Nothing like a little of Bob Dylan's presence to make a Manhattan Saturday better.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Baby, It's Freaking Hot As Hades Outside


Man, it has been hot this past summer in New York City. Beyond hot. The kind of hot where Bugs Bunny would be crawling through the desert, hallucinate and see a lush tropical oasis in the distance. Bugs would sprint toward the mirage and jump into the non-existent pool of water only to snap out of his heat-induced delusion and realize he’s drinking sand.

Scientists – or witch doctors and astrologists depending on your viewpoint – are telling us that the rise in temperature and all-around freaky weather is a result of global warming. That is why the icebergs are melting like the ocean is hot chocolate. Muskoxen are bartering with Eskimos for air conditioners. Polar bears are having difficulty finding areas to hunt. Sharks have begun sweating in the Atlantic Ocean. Even the cute little penguins are dancing less than they do on television. I’m not a scientist, but I heard that is true.

My point it has been bloody hot this summer.

There are people like myself that run hot. There isn't anything I can do about it. I'm a human heat pump. "Johnny! Dude, were you doing step-aerobics in the sauna?!? You're dripping." "Uh, no, I brushed my teeth 20 minutes ago."

I dread the summer. One uncomfortable overheated day after another.

The picture above was taken this morning during a meeting at Comedy Central. I had just walked 9 blocks from the train and was nearing a stroke. My boy Adam put that pic on his Twitter with the caption "When it gets above 50 degrees, Johnny sweats like R Kelly at a Girl Scout camp." That's not bad. Cheeky monkey.

Okay, I need a Gatorade...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

YouTube Gems Volume #9, #9, #9

A couple vids that entertained me last week.

Daniel Johnston is a fascinating musician. If not for the mental illness that has plagued him all his adult life, he may have been regarded as one of the great singer-songwriters of his era. Perhaps along the lines of Brian Wilson or Tom Waits. Here a disturbed Daniel sings/wails his song "Don't Play Cards With Satan." There has been times where Daniel's music has moved me to tears.



I put this on YesButNoButYes as Monkeyana Jones and the Temple of Hilarity. It's just gobsmackingly hysterical.



Audio of Ernest Hemingway is hard to come by. There isn't very much of it. However, Papa's brief and poignant speech as he accepted the Nobel Prize in 1954 makes up for the lack of material. Powerful words from my hero.



When Andy Kaufman appeared on The Dating Game, how many people knew he was doing a character? The character that would become Latka on Taxi. "What do you want for Christmas?" "Food." Amazing.



I'm not sure what it is about this song that makes me so happy. Perhaps it's the memories of Saturday mornings tucked in sleeping bags eating cereal while we watched cartoons. School House Rock is an institution. Bringing this full circle, Daniel Johnston covered this song ("Unpack Your Adjectives") on the record Schoolhouse Rock! Rocks.



Good night and good luck.

Friday, July 17, 2009

A Goodbye to Walter Cronkite

My first job out of college here in Manhattan was a CBS Page. After bouncing around various shows for a few weeks and a little maneuvering, I was put into the CBS newsroom. There I assisted where I could and watched Dan Rather and Bob Schieffer put together the nightly newscast.

On the one year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I was in the newsroom. It was a marathon day. 20 hours. People were running ragged, chugging coffee, barely holding it together. Late in the afternoon, the bustling newsroom got quiet. In succession, one by one, people stopped working. Then they stood up. Walter Cronkite had walked into the room. Slowly. Cronkite waved his hand and smiled warmly. Then disappeared into the hallway. Why did everyone stand? Why did we all pause on the busiest news day of the year?

Out of respect. Respect for the greatest newsman there ever was. That's the way it is, friends.

Walter Cronkite passed away today at the age of 92.

While his most famous broadcast is probably announcing the death of President Kennedy, it's Cronkite bringing America sights and sounds of the moon landing in 1969 that is his most endearing moment.



Goodnight Uncle Walter. Sleep warm. And thank you...

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Frenzied Waters Tells Me I Was Eaten By a Shark

Friends, there are some strange events happening here in Gotham. Apparently I am dead. Eaten by a great white shark.

That is according to frenziedwaters.com.

Here's what happened:





I am dead...

Friday, June 19, 2009

YouTube Gems Volume 8

On a slow Friday, it's time for a few videos I have enjoyed recently on the YouTube. A little peek into pop culture history.

The first time the great detective Sherlock Holmes was featured on the silver screen was in 1900. A silent short called Sherlock Holmes Baffled.(The copyright on the film is 1903, but it was shot in 1900.) A taste:


Those special effects ain't bad for 1900.

I had this bit on VHS as a teen. Recorded off CBS. Steve Martin and David Letterman at their best in "Dave and Steve's Gay Vacation." It really is an homage to silent film comics like Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton.



Pearl Jam covered Elvis' "Little Sister" live in Vegas. Incredible.



Some vintage nature photography. An epic battle. Tiger versus crocodile.



In 1956 the mystery guest on What's My Line was none other than the great Walt Disney. Jerry Lewis is here as well. I often feel that I am in the right place, just the wrong time.



Have a solid weekend...

JW

Friday, May 29, 2009

Adam & Johnny Go To Vampire Party

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Last night my buddy Adam and I hopped a downtown train and attended Gawker Media's shindig promoting the HBO show True Blood. Joining other media elite and entertainment dignitaries. We think this means that Adam and I are now going to be featured on the Gawker Stalker. "Johnny Wright is going back to Gray's Papaya hot dogs. He had breakfast there this morning. What a jerk."

You'll see in the picture that we both have a shoulder bag on. This is beacuse we were unsure just how many vampires would be in attendance. Thus, we needed to pack along vampire hunter kits. I had the crucifix's and wooden mallet, Adam had the garlic and holy water. Thankfully, we only had to dispatch of three vampires. Slow night.

You can read more about the party here.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to head out to a regatta gala. Where's my boat shoes?

Monday, May 18, 2009

3 Chords & the Truth Podcast

For the last few weeks, my buddy Adam and I have been doing video podcasts called 3 Chords & the Truth. The title is a phrase that I used over the years. Bono said it in U2's live version of "All Along the Watchtower." It's an old blues expression. Sometimes 3 chords and passion is all your need.

If you would like to see me and Adam rant and rave about complete nonsense, you can go to our YouTube page.

I'll put a sample down below. Where I express my disgust that a movie star can't have a good old fashioned barroom scrap with the fuzz and publicists getting involved.



More 3 Chords & the Truth to come...

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Midget Michael Jackson Impersonator

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Whenever someone asks me why I love Manhattan as much as I do, I may begin telling this story.

Out and about on a sunny Saturday, I passed through the Times Square station to change trains. I heard something in the distance. A familiar refrain. Is that "Smooth Criminal?" Damn right it was. There was also cheering. Better investigate.

Coming around the corner in the dank subway station I froze in my tracks. Is that what I think it is? By Odin's beard ... It is. That's a midget Michael Jackson impersonator shaking his tail feather. The crowd was loving it. Little MJ grabbed his little ballsack and everything.

The song ended and then I heard something that made this even more surreal. A local mother wanted to capture the moment in pictures. She directed her son to approach the performer. The child's name was amazing. "Messiah! Go stand next to midget Michael Jackson so I can get a picture!"

That's a sentence I never thought I'd hear.

Good luck topping that weekend sight, Planet Earth.

Freaking love New York...

The Notebook and the Handwriting












For years I have lugged around a Mead Composition Notebook with me. It's an obsessive habit. The notes for columns and articles go in them. As do the rough drafts of letters. (Yes, sometimes letters get a rough draft when you are ridiculous.) Part of this habit is inspired by Eddie Vedder, who uses the same tool to write songs and set lists in. My Notebook is often covered with stickers and Sharpied phrases and quotes.

The Notebook travels with me. (I know I'm capitalizing it. The Notebook is my good friend.) You never know when a good A-Rod joke could pop into your brain. You need to jot that puppy down.

Which leads us to this short anecdote. I was on the subway this morning. Pretty early for a Saturday. I was seated near the door, scribbling some notes about an upcoming YesButNoButYes column. A Chinese gentleman was standing next to me, looking over my shoulder. Sensing his presence, as one does when someone is reading over your shoulder, I looked up. The chap cocked his head to the side and asked "You're trying to write Arabic?"

For crying out loud ... "Uh, no, that's English."

"Oh," he said.

Should have lied. "Yep, that's Arabic. No big deal."

My handwriting is notoriously bad. It's a strange twisting beast that is usually only legible to myself. If I slow down and concentrate it's not that bad. However the only time I do that is if I am writing a letter to my Mum or to the female object of my affection. The fairer sex has always received letters from yours truly. Always will. I feel it's a lost art; the good love letter. Those, for the most part are legible. Every so often I have been asked "Uh, sweetheart, is this word 'adorable?'" "Oh, that's actually 'trousers.'"

So shut up Jackie Chan reading over my shoulder on the subway. I'm the only one reading this. So what if one needs the forces of divination to decipher my President Obama joke.

You can see the Notebook in a recent 3 Chords & the Truth podcast:


Monday, May 11, 2009

YouTube Gems Volume 7

I haven't put anything up here in a while because I have been busy with other writing. So, why not a few YouTube vids that have caught my attention recently.

In 1955 Gene Kelly starred in a film called It's Always Fair Weather. Certainly not a box office hit or as famous as his other song and dance hootenannies, but the show has on of the most incredible sequences you'll ever see. Gene Kelly tap-dancing on freaking roller skates.



Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali was a bit nuts. The word eccentric doesn't begin to cover his antics. But he was amazing. Check out his work. Not the melting clock nonsense or the Lobster Telephone, try Swans Reflecting Elephants or The Face of War. Brilliant. Here Dali was a guest on the classic TV show What's My Line.



Ricky Jay is a master magician. He is also a talented writer and knowledgeable show bidness historian. I'm a fan of his books as they cover the history of the odd and bizarre. In the stacks of the J-Dub Memorial Library you'll find Jay's Journal of Anomalies, Dice: Deception, Fate and Rotten Luck and Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women.His skills and patter are really entertaining.



When it comes to theatrical freaks, few can top Prince Randian. He was a chap that was just a torso. No arms or legs. He was sometimes known as The Pillow Man or The Human Caterpillar. Believe it or not, Prince Randain was married and had five children. He was quite capable. See him fire up a cigarette with just his mouth from the film Freaks.



Extra tidbit: Freaks was banned in the United Kingdom for 30 years due to "shocking content."

And finally...

Just watch John Lee Hooker work his mojo. I saw John at the Seattle-based Bumbershoot festival in 1992. I was 17 and already obsessed with the blues. Sing it John...



Good night and good luck.

Mahalo,

JW

Friday, March 27, 2009

Rock & Roll Memories


In December I pre-ordered Pearl Jam's Super Deluxe Box Set of their debut album, "Ten." It wasn't going to be shipped until March. So it was to be a birthday present to myself. When you're older you can do that and it's not weird.

The package came today. Along with all the goodies -- 2 CD's, a DVD, 3 vinyl records, a book and other assorted goodies -- was the prized possession; A vinyl copy of my first rock concert and one of the seminal moments of my childhood. Pearl Jam's legendary free show, Drop in the Park in 1992. I was there.

As I opened the package and saw the record, I couldn't believe what I saw. There is Ed swinging over the crowd from his microphone cord. A story that I have told countless times to anyone that will listen and am thrilled I now have visual proof of the story's validity. And in the middle of the photo, adjacent to Ed's ankle, there I am, looking on in awe. Right where my finger is. That's me, wearing a Who t-shirt.

That day in Magnusson Park was a momentous occasion for a 17-year-old obsessed with music. I remember the entire day in great detail. Detail that was confirmed as I poured over the accompanying photos in the box set. Right down to what the band was wearing, I remembered.

The magic that spilled from the speakers that day still exists. I'm quite proud that I can still get that feeling from music. It's the same feeling I had as a teenager. It's more rare than it was, but it's a carbon copy. The hairs on my neck stand at attention, my head bobs instinctually and I lose myself in a musical moment.

Truthfully, I'd rather be dead than not feel it ever again.

"Hey hey, my my, rock and roll will never die,"

JW


MTV's coverage of Drop in the Park

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Sour Ball B-Day Package


A berfday package from my brothers arrived in the post today. Freaking awesome.

There was an iTunes gift card (that's good, I need some more Blind Lemon Jefferson and Big Bill Broonzy), a DVD of In the Shadow of the Moon, a documentary I've really wanted to see, and one more item. The most important of them all.

Goofy's Sour Balls candy from Disneyland. One of the great candies in the world. An underrated and rare candy.

They can only be found in the Disney theme parks. The family was there a couple weeks ago. They had the foresight to lug a "family sized" bag of Sour Balls back for my birthday. That's how easy it is to please me. Appease the childlike sweet-tooth and I'm happy as Larry.

Candy. It's as simple as that.

Oh yeah, the Sour Balls? They're already half gone...

Monday, March 23, 2009

Birthday with a Movie Star

I got a call from my buddy Jon Heder last week. He's here in New York doing reshoots for a film called When In Rome. We've been able to hang out a few times. They have been good times.

When I asked Jon where he was staying he paused. "You're going to laugh. I'm at the Trump Tower." Wow. When I headed to the Trump, it was just as you'd expect. Gaudy as the day is long. Pink and gold. The trash can in the loo is gold. The joint looks like Melanie Griffith threw up.

As we were leaving the hotel, and joking about how ridiculous it is that he was staying there, (and on the top floor) the Kardashian sisters passed us in the lobby. Incredibly funny.

For my fourth annual 30th birthday, Jon took me to dinner. He found a perfect joint to go to. A steak house called Quality Meats. It was spot on. Not some annoying place called Exhale or Smoke or Prey. You get what's advertised. Quality meats.

While there, I found that I have some new restaurant goals. Jon had been to the place before. So, the manager says, "Welcome back, sir." After we ordered the server brought over a tray of fine meats and cheeses. "Compliments of the chef, sir." That's two things I want to hear at a restaurant. "Welcome back" and "compliments of the chef."

The steak we both had was a "still on the bone" cut. Coming out of the delicious monster was seven inches on bone. It looked like it could have toppled Fred Flintsone's car. Then the waiter made steak sauce from scratch right there at the table. Quite impressive.

Best steak I ever had.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Returning to Manhattan


I have come home to New York City. A land where life makes sense.

As I have been out and about the first few days home, I have seen some amazing sights. The kind of oddities that make me love this city like I love the blues.

-On the 3 train was an African American man in his 40's, reading a sports article in Look Magazine from the ... 1940's. I saw an ad for Lucky Strike cigarettes. Where did he buy it?

-As I got off the train at 72nd street to go to Gray's Papaya for a hot dog breakfast -- seriously -- a Mexican mariachi band got off with me. They had been strumming away for 3 stops. I gave them a buck. Anyhoo, as they got off the train, standing on the platform, was an identical Mexican mariachi band. A mirror image. Accordion guy, short guy, fat guy, big nose guy, all with mustaches, all with dinner plate-sized belt buckles and ostrich boots, the exact same band. The two groups paused and stared at each other, both frozen with a strange fascination. I was transfixed. Would they start an accordion battle? Breakdance style. I was hoping so. Alas, nothing happened. No battle. They just nodded to one another and moved on.

-On 59th street, there was a midget whose head and face looked exactly like Jaws from the James Bond series. It was uncanny.

-While I was walking through Central Park, down Literary Walk and right next to the statue of Scottish hero Robert Burns, was a gentleman with "T-Rex arms." That is, the chap's hands were placed at the elbow. I remained perfectly still, testing if his visual acuity was based on movement. I think he still saw me.

On my way out of the Park, I walked past Strawberry Fields, next to the Dakota. There was a group of Australian tourists engaged on an impromptu John Lennon sing-along with a local busker. They were butchering "All You Need Is Love." It was great.

Moses smell the roses do I love this city.

Good night and good luck.

JW

Sunday, February 15, 2009

What I Miss About Sports

Magic Larry.jpgMaybe it's a generational tendency. Or a natural human emotion. Maybe it just means I'm getting older. Whatever the reason, and there may not be one, I often find myself reminiscing about the good old days of being a sports fan. My brothers and buddies and I have made it a sport unto itself. "Remember Kelly Tripuka? Loved that guy."

The practice isn't uncommon and certainly not limited to something as trivial as a grown men putting a leather ball into an iron hoop. (That's a Hoosiers reference, kids. You should re-watch Hoosiers.) My father speaks as fondly about cheeseburgers at Bunk's Drive In as a teenager in Bellingham Washington and Jack Kennedy as much as he waxes poetic about Muhammad Ali and Johnny Unitas.

The bear trap of the glory days continues to ensnare me, and she won't pry loose. I miss when sports were better. When they were magical.

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I miss when steroids were a rare occurrence, limited to Lyle Alzado and the East German woman's swim team. Not the horrible plague that they are. I miss the innocence of the pre- Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa era in baseball when the numbers were sacred and real.

I miss when the layup-laden WNBA "highlights" did not get any airtime during Sportscenter. A finger-roll is not a highlight.

I miss when boxing was relevant. Not the beyond-broken mess that it is.

I miss when stadiums were revered cathedrals of sport, full of tradition and wonder. Not hideous monstrosities that cater to the rich and douchey who are only there for a social outing not the watch the game. (The new Yankee Stadium has a martini bar for crying in the night.)

I miss when we could watch sports on the telly without overbearing graphics that swooshed around the screen like crazed bats, were literally on fire and there was no dancing robots. I don't need dancing robots.

Speaking of dancing...

I miss when more stadiums had pipe organs than out-of-work-porn-star, sluttified "dance teams."

I miss when NBA players smoked opposing defenders, not the chronic.

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I miss Converse Weapons, Walter Payton, Johnny Most and Chick Hearn, when families could go to the ballpark for less than the cost of a Volvo, "Marvelous" Marvin Hagler and Tommy "The Hitman" Hearns, Steve Largent, the "NBA on NBA" theme song, Tom Landry's hat, when no uniforms had the color teal in them, Bobby Hurley, Bo Jackson, The Boston Garden, Ozzie Smith, Ronnie Lott, ABC's "Wide World of Sports," Joe Dumars, Chris Mullin, Pat Summerall doing games with John Madden, when there wasn't much mention of the police blotter in the sports section and Steve Young.

I miss when I cared so much that when the Seahawks would lose, I would cry.

I miss when college bowls not only mattered and weren't determined in part by computers, but had cool names like the Gator Bowl, Freedom Bowl and Holiday Bowl, not the Poulan Weed Eater Bowl.

I miss when an athlete knew when to hang up the cleats and ride off into the sunset with dignity not embarrass themselves when they were way past their prime. Yep, looking at you MJ. And good riddance Brett Favre, please go away now.

Speaking of Michael Jordan...

When he was in his prime, I miss the excitement and lethal competiveness of #23, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. We'll never see the NBA as good as it was in the 80's and early 90's. Never.

I miss when winning mattered above all.

Do you remember that? When it was still a game?

Yeah, I miss that.



Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Why the New York Post Cracks Me Up

As the sports world and morality police continue to hammer A-Rod's admitted steroid use, the New York Post brought it to the next level. Nobody in New York will defend Alex. The city has never embraced him. Now, never will.






That is amazing.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A-Rod To Get His Comeuppance

A-Rod Syringe.jpeg


From The Sports Desk...

Attention Alex Rodriguez! You all around phony and fiend! The bell tolls for thee!

In one of the least shocking and most satisfying sports stories in quite some time, Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids and testosterone in 2003. A year that he won the AL MVP.

Pay-Rod's response, you may be wondering? "You'll have to talk to the union. I'm not saying anything." Not exactly a passionate, Clemens-like denial.

Joining Sammy "I Forgot How To Speak English" Sosa, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, finger pointing Raphael Palmeiro and Barry "Holy Crap This Stuff Makes Your Head Huge" Bonds, A-Rods has pissed away his reputation, legacy and hall of fame numbers in a matter of hours.

Justice, kids. Sweet justice.

Alex wants nothing more than to be loved and revered like Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods. However, his thinly veiled act has always been sniffed out by the astute observer. We weren't buyin' it.

Someone tell the fat lady she's on in five.