Monday, March 31, 2014

Candlelight, AM Radio, & You

Last Thursday night, we were preparing for a gourmet dinner of Super-Lo fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and basketball, when a lightning bolt exploded like a neutron bomb in my back yard and knocked out all the power. I screamed a spontaneous epithet regarding the almighty, which was probably unwise in this situation, and my wife felt an ozone wave shoot down her left arm. Our neighbor across the street was outside with her daughter and not only felt the same sensation, but the child was knocked off of her feet. She claimed that she could "hear the sizzle." Suffice it to say, it was the closest bolt of lightning to come my way. We were prepared for a power outage ever since the hysterical "Snowpocalypse 2014" forecasts our local TV weathermen predicted last month and our flashlights were nearby, so after we checked our drawers and pried the dogs off the ceiling, Melody lit a candle while I cursed the darkness.
I immediately suggested that we go to a sports bar, but Melody envisioned scenes of rowdy, college jersied superfans chugging pitchers of beer, and there was still time enough for Light, Gas, and Water to be on the case. Besides, everyone expects the electricity to return soon, even with an hour or so inconvenience. So, candles burning and fresh batteries in the radio, we settled in to wait for those guys to do what they do. It had been awhile since I had rolled up and down the AM dial, but we found a station playing romantic music from the forties, made more nostalgic by the static caused by the storm outside. The music seemed to grow cornier the longer we listened, but after darkness had fallen and they played "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree," I couldn't take it anymore and preferred silence to Tony Orlando and Dawn. Melody and I were forced to talk to each other without the television in the background serving as white noise. We discussed many things while waiting for Godot to restore the power, but he never came. While I am usually calm in a crisis, my wife tends to become a bit fidgety. While I was relaxing in my chair, she was peeking out the windows searching for a truck with lights on it. I reminded her of the "watched pot" proverb, but it didn't help.
The only thing that worked on my cell phone were the games, so I began playing Bejeweled Blitz as a form of Zen meditation during the terrible thunderstorm. Melody inquired, "So, now you're playing a game?," to which I replied, "What else should I be doing?" We laughed at the ridiculousness of it, but I put the phone down when I realized that someone's nerves were on edge. I found the NCAA Tourney game on the radio, but since we didn't know the players, we might as well have been listening in Bulgaria. We had resigned ourselves to the possibility of days without power and were only opening the refrigerator sparingly to save the frozen food when we heard the loud talk of rough men in the driveway. It was LG&W to the rescue and soon power began returning to the houses all around us, just not ours. I remained calm but my wife forged out into the storm to talk with the crew. As it turned out, they were about to leave when Melody pointed out three additional houses still in the dark. She even showed them the utility pole closest to the strike. A brave, raincoated soul began ascending the pole and located the problem. "Only a matter of time," I thought, "and I can still catch the second game." A sudden blast shattered my anticipation. It wasn't like the bunker bomb shock of the lightning strike. It was more like incoming artillery. But the transformer had exploded and thrown the entire neighborhood back into total darkness.
While Melody apologized to our neighbor over the phone for the renewed blackout, I was thinking about which friends I could impose upon to slouch on their couch and ask them to turn on the game. But it was late now and we may as well face the darkness. It would be hours before a maintenance crew could fix the damage. At least assured that the process was underway, Melody grew calmer. She even danced in the dark to the big band music. In what seemed like waiting out a nine inning ballgame, the lamps finally came alive and the coolerator began humming. One problem remained. We had no cable or Internet. This meant dealing with Comcast, which was more frightening than the thunderstorm. After spending half the night on the phone with a service rep who sent continuous, useless signals to the cable box, I was assured that if I called first thing in the morning, a field technician would come right over to fix the problem. That was Thursday. Our cable TV and Internet service were finally restored on Sunday, just in time for me to write about this little slice of life. I was disappointed to have missed the basketball games until I heard the results. Both the Vols and Grizzlies lost and Kentucky won. I would have been more depressed had I watched the games. It's good to be rewired now that the storm has passed. Maybe next time the TV weather guys could give us a "heads up."

Monday, March 17, 2014

Spring Cleaning

Now that warmer weather has arrived, it's time for our annual spring cleaning of the people and things that were the most annoying during the past year. We're not attempting to silence anyone or discourage anybody's artistic expression, but there are a few people that might be wise to just back up a few steps. These are the folks and events that frazzled the nerves unnecessarily and generally made life more frustrating to fathom. Among the most puzzling aspects of American culture is our obsession with making morons famous and our insatiable appetite for celebrity gossip. Naturally, this combination places one celebrity couple in the nexus of ignorance and arrogance. They go by the collective name of Kimye.

Rapper Kanye West and butt model Kim Kardashian have a gala wedding ceremony planned on May 24, in Paris. Wedding guests will be required to sign confidentiality agreements and surrender their cell phones to security to insure no footage will be leaked until the ceremony is shown on E! Entertainment's "Keeping up With the Kardashians." Their toddler, North West, is to be the crawling flower girl. This is in contrast to Kim's first televised wedding to pro basketballer Kris Humphries, presented as a two-part, four-hour reality special for the same network. The marriage lasted seventy-two days, but the divorce made for great ratings. Thankfully, Kanye is a bit more in line with the Kardashians' publicity machine. For instance, he now wants to be referred to as Yeezus and has admitted with typical modesty, "I am the number one living and breathing rock star. I am Axl Rose; I am Jim Morrison: I am Jimi Hendrix." Once, when Dick Cavett asked Jimi Hendrix if he was the best guitar player in the world, Hendrix bowed his head and said, "Oh no. Let's just say I'm the best guitar player sitting in this chair." Guess who's getting a new postage stamp in their honor, and it ain't Yeezus?

Justin Bieber has had such a year getting acquainted with law enforcement, he's hardly had time to record those hideous songs. First, his California mansion was raided by police after Bieber's neighbor complained the pop star threw eggs at his home causing 20,000 dollars in damages. That's one helluva lot of eggs. He appeared in a Canadian courtroom to testify about an alleged assault by one of his bodyguards on a photographer and was reported to go off on a few paparazzi himself. In February, one of Bieber's security guards and a driver were arrested for felony theft in Atlanta. For Justin's nineteenth birthday celebration, he and his entourage were kicked out of a London nightclub over a disagreement involving underage guests. Then came the arrest in Miami for drunken driving, resisting arrest, and driving without a licence. Police stopped Bieber while he was drag racing in a yellow Lamborghini against a red Ferrari through a residential neighborhood, which all sounds like the makings of a Chuck Berry song. To begin the new year, Bieber was deposed in a Dallas courtroom regarding an assault by one of his bodyguards. Dallas Morning News reporter Leonard Pitts reported on seeing the video; "It was not a pretty picture. Bieber comes across as a twerp so snotty and insolent, even Mother Teresa would want to smack him." If I hear that "Baby" song one more time, I'll smack him my damn self.

Miley Cyrus is reported to have recorded "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," so fans of the Beatles should hunker down for the worst. Her controversial performance at last years' VMA awards was neither provocative nor sexy; it was just nasty. Her vulgarity bordered on child pornography, since Miley lacks the sex appeal of a grown-up. And her so-called "twerking" against the groinal region of Marvin Gaye tribute artist Robin Thicke was a joke. Miley lacks the ass needed to properly twerk and should have offended all real women who possess this ability. A new slogan arose to protest the poseur: "Twerkers of the world, unite." And, please try to keep that revolting tongue to yourself.

Local Weather went berserk this winter with such never before heard terminology like, "polar vortex," "thunder sleet," and "frozen fog." There has never been so much bureaucratic hysteria over so little since the invention of the green screen. Channels 3 and 5 went wall-to-wall weather so many times, with headlines like Icestorm 2014 and Snowmageddon, that you could have closed your eyes and imagined you were in Buffalo. And then, nothing happened, except maybe a milk sellout at Kroger's. The stations claim all this coverage is in the interest of public safety, but I think maybe it gives the meteorologists a chance to dazzle everyone with their new technologies, and even the network news can't stop them. If you give them the toys, they will play with them. This past winter proved it, and a lot of credibility went the way of that five inches of snow we were certain to receive.

Twitter once had the potential to be an invaluable tool in the dissemination of information. Now, it's become a graveyard for news accuracy and has been transformed into a platform for celebrity feuds, mindless gossip, and trash talk. The twitter user with the most followers is Katy Perry with 50.2 million, as compared to 41.3 million for Barack Obama. Of the 500 million registered users, 750 tweets are shared per second, or 64,800,000 per day. Every cynic, crank, and crackpot can spew their poison into the "twitterverse" under the guise of anonymity and never have to be accountable for their words. This is a world of rage and spite that I choose to avoid. When I want to read truly humorous tweets, I just check out Dave Cousar on Facebook.

There are many others in the running: Vlad "The Invader" Putin, Louie Gohmert, George Zimmerman, all the Bush's, Janis Fullilove, and the perennial continental queen of venom, Sarah Palin, but you get the picture. All these folks need to back off a bit so another assortment of goons can step forward to aggravate us with meaningless, mindless, offensive behavior. I think it may be just about time for another Mel Gibson eruption, so I believe I'll dust my broom.

Monday, March 03, 2014


There's a new Grammy exhibit at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music titled "The Grammy Goes to Memphis" that is both interesting and revealing. The actual statues presented to Elvis, Otis Redding, Bobby "Blue" Bland, and others are collected and displayed for the first time. A highlight film of area Grammy winning moments is featured along with a wall listing all the great artists from the Memphis area who have received the coveted award. Full disclosure requires me to tell you that the Stax Museum is also my place of employment, but it  explains why I've had the chance to sit and stare at that wall for several hours at a time. All the names you would expect are there: Sam Phillips, Johnny Cash, Al Greene, even Sheryl Crow from Sikeston, Missouri. An impressive number of Grammy awards have been bestowed upon the Stax family of artists, including Isaac Hayes, Booker T. & the MGs, The Staples Singers, and Sam and Dave. The prestigious Grammy Trustees' Award has gone to Stax President Al Bell and company co-founder Estelle Axton. There is one glaring omission, however: the name of Jim Stewart is missing. I first thought it was an oversight and hastened to try and correct the error, but the co-founder and contributor of the first two letters of the name "Stax," has never been recognized or celebrated by the Recording Academy.
Perhaps Mr. Stewart prefers it that way since I understand that he is a private person, but it seems odd that his sister, Estelle, and his partner, Al Bell, would each receive one of the Academy's highest awards, but not Stewart. I don't know Jim Stewart personally and have only met him once, so I have no axe to grind here for anyone, but if not for Stewart, all those famous names on that Grammy wall would have never been known. Stewart and Axton's leasing of the Capitol Theatre in South Memphis in 1958 and opening the doors to the talent in the neighborhood began a renaissance in Soul music that still reverberates in the popular culture. The former banker and country fiddler who fell in love with Ray Charles' music, supervised and produced some of the most unique sounding recordings of the twentieth century. And he did it by working with musicians, singers, talent, and administrators who were both white and black, right in the middle of the Jim Crow era of race relations in the South. For people like me, who grew up under segregation but never understood it, this rich and untried collaborative effort was, and is, a source of great pride. Watching films of the MGs and the Memphis Horns backing up the Stax stars and driving audiences crazy all over the world is still a thrilling experience. It's not just the Recording Academy that owes Stewart long overdue accolades and appreciation, so does the city of Memphis.
Mr. Stewart's contributions to popular music have not gone unrecognized. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002, but sent two granddaughters to receive the award in his behalf. This may be of great interest to visitors of the Cleveland museum, but what about the old hometown? Along with Sun Records scion Knox Phillips, Stewart's persuasion was instrumental in bringing the chapter of the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences to Memphis, which celebrated its twentieth anniversary last year. The local organization also recognizes its most vibrant and vital contributors to what has become known as the "Memphis Sound." In annual programs and ceremonies over the years, NARAS Memphis has paid special tribute to Rufus and Carla Thomas, Eddie Floyd, Albert King, and the legacies of both Sun and Hi Records. It's highest honor, the Governor's Award, has been presented to Rufus Thomas and Estelle Axton, but no Jim Stewart. The man who produced Otis Redding's "Respect," can't seem to get any from the same chapter he helped to establish. Either Stewart called and personally insisted that he not be further involved in these awards and such, or somebody's asleep at the switch.
In Robert Gordon's perfectly pitched, new Stax biography, "Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion," he describes Stewart selling his interest in Stax to Al Bell in 1972. Yet two years later, when the company began feeling a financial squeeze from all quarters, Stewart re-invested his assets in an attempt to save what he had helped to create. In the resulting bankruptcy and padlocking of Stax by the same bank for which Stewart once worked, he lost his fortune and his home. Stewart has remained retired from the music business and semi-reclusive in his private life, yet he attended the opening of the Stax Music Academy and has generously advised and assisted the young musical talents who were not yet born during Stax's heyday. I have always believed in sending your flowers to the living, because afterward, you can't smell them. Estelle Axton's Trustee's Award from the Recording Academy was given posthumously. Jim Stewart is 84 years old. A man who has touched so many lives and literally altered the social fabric of the cosmos deserves at least an "attaboy" from his acolytes; can I get a witness?