Rolling Stone Cold Crazy

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rollingtsonetrash Photo Michelle Jesipaz

Most of my days I can barely remember my kids’ names or what I ate for breakfast but reading about the journalism fiasco involving Rolling Stone magazine and a retracted gang rape story involving a University of Virginia fraternity a twenty-three-year-old memory waved over me and the details reminded of what I believe in to my core.

In early 1992, I was working as a news reporter and producer for two Tuscaloosa radio stations. I was nearing the end of my undergraduate degree in Communications and starting my third year as a working journalist. A friend of a friend told me about a failed drug test of a University of Alabama (where I was enrolled) athlete and it’s alleged cover-up by the school’s powerful athletic forces. My editor, a fellow reporter, and one of my station’s ombudsmen help me fact check and vet the sources. Three days later I had everything for a blockbuster presentation that would have “made me” in the business at the young age of twenty-one. All I needed was one of the sources to go on record and the actual dirty drug test. At the eleventh hour my star whistleblower got cold feet and my story was sunk. We had to kill it because the standards of the day dictated so and no one even thought about going forward.

What makes Rolling Stone’s admission that their reporters and editors didn’t fact check their tale or investigate their main source, an alleged sexual assault victim, so egregious is that in less than a generation, this is even possible. The usual hand-wringing from media-haters make it sound like Rolling Stone’s yellow journalism is common.

It is not.

Seriously, put your faces close to the screen and get what I’m trying to convey to you.

It is not common. Rolling Stone’s bad journalism is not usual.

For over 15 years, on a full and or part-time basis, I’ve worked around the media as reporter, producer, copy writer, blogger, web site owner, or freelance writer. I promise you what I went through in 1992 is the way journalism works and most people in the business are sickened by what’s happened with Rolling Stone. I never once saw someone fake a story or run with something they knew wasn’t true.

That incident from my college days was one of maybe a dozen stories that were dashed because of poor sourcing, lack of evidence or just not enough to run with. You dropped the chase, kept the names on your rolodex, then moved on to the next thing. The majority of reporters do this, most journalism works this way.

For all the sayers of nay out there who will tell you we are in a downward spiral concerning media, I counter with, oh shut up and pay attention.

Sure, opinion and arguing and bloggers who want click bait make the most noise but the maximum amount of information is well-researched, impeccably written, and gorgeously presented but because we want eye-candy gratification we don’t talk about it as much as the other.

Rolling Stone lowered themselves but journalism is fine. It’s still be practiced but you have to have the want to and the need to go find it. Everything else is stone cold crazy.

Unwrapping A Holiday Classic, The True Story Of Christmas Wrapping

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Unwrapping A Holiday Classic, The True Story Of Christmas Wrapping

At some point this Holiday you’ll find yourself in line to pay for your cousin’s gift or driving to that side of the family you only see once a year and that poppy, fun song will come on and you’ll ask questions.

Is this Chrissie Hynde? Does she ever take a breath? Why do they call it Christmas Wrapping, they never mention that in the song? Is she saying Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas, I think I want mittens this year?

The answers are; no it’s The Waitresses’ lead singer Patty Donahue, yes, because songwriter Chris Butler let the record label name it, and it’s “I think I’ll miss this one this year”.

But how did a throwaway song on an alternative Christmas album become a classic, so much so, that it’s been covered by artists as diverse as The Spice Girls, The Donnas and the cast of Glee? The true story’s so improbable it makes the song even more endearing.

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Avant-garde musician Chris Butler (the guy in the bottom left corner of the above picture) grew up in Akron, Ohio. He attended Kent State University in the early 1970s and was on campus, in the crowd, when National Guardsmen fired on student protesters, killing four and wounding nine. He would come up through the Ohio musical ranks with Chrissie Hynde and Devo. He almost became famous with bands The Numbers and Tin Huey, but they both disbanded by the late 1970s.

By 1981, Butler had moved to New York on the strength of a regional hit song, I Know What Boys Like, which caught the attention of upstart new wave/alternative record label ZE Records. Blondie had gone from New York punk clubs to mainstream success with the disco record Heart of Glass and the rap pioneer song Rapture. New Wave music had replaced punk as the likely way for more artistic groups to break through. Butler knew his final shot at success was in front of him when his bosses came to him in August 1981 and said.

“Write a Christmas song. We’ll release it in 3 months.”

Years later, after his contribution became popular, he remarked.

“A Christmas album? On a hipster label? With a bunch of junkies on it? Eurotrash? Come on. Never happen…..OK, they were not all junkies and Eurotrash. But they were extreme individuals.”

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The artists on ZE Records included Material with Nona Hendrix (who was infamous for performing nude), Was Not Was (many years before Walk With A Dinosaur), Suicide (known for songs so dark and depressing they were banned from many venues in the late 1970s), and Butler’s struggling new band, The Waitresses. ZE Records eventual LP, A Christmas Record, is so “out there” that it went out of print several times and the only way The Waitresses’ Christmas Wrapping could be found was through their own Greatest Hits. This made Christmas Wrapping’s climb to the top of people’s Holiday playlists even more improbable

Butler, singer Patty Donahue and the rest of the Waitresses culled guitar riffs, sax solos, piano parts, and melodies involving bells and drums from unrecorded songs, made Christmas Wrapping in less than two days, then went back out on the road in the Fall of 1981 trying to make I Know What Boys Like the tune that made them famous. But when Butler called his girlfriend from a Rochester, New York tour stop in late November her news shocked him.

“Chris, you’re all over the radio! Your song made it!”

Butler swelled with pride and said.

“Great, I knew “Boys” would do it.”

Then the girlfriend responded.

“No, the Christmas one.”

Five minutes and twenty two seconds about a girl living in the big city, wanting nothing to do with Christmas because she’s alone, puts the world’s smallest turkey in the oven but forgets the cranberries and runs to the store where she finds that guy she’s been chasing all year and they both end up spending the Holiday alone, together and wa la – happy ending. It sounds like a Lifetime Network movie my wife watches. But instead, it’s the most relatable Christmas song ever written.

After the initial success of Christmas Wrapping, The Waitresses got the attention of former Saturday Night Live writers then producers of the 1982 television show, Square Pegs, writing and performing the theme song. I Know What Boys Like hit MTV in 1982 becoming popular enough to be put on many “Best of The 1980s” compilations. But the group broke up in 1984. Butler and Donahue found success as studio musicians and singers but times got lean until the mid 1990s. That’s when The Spice Girls covered Christmas Wrapping and the royalties started kicking in for Butler.

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The real star of Christmas Wrapping was and still is, Donahue. Her “devil may care but I sure as hell don’t” vocals are so perfect, they’ve been impossible to mimic. None of the covers have captured her emotional detachment that allows for the listener to attach themselves to the tune. She died of lung cancer at the age of 40 in 1996, never knowing the vast cultural impact of Christmas Wrapping.

It’s my favorite Christmas song. The real life, gritty lyrics about being too busy for the Holiday came from an intellectual honest place. Butler is a self-described “Scrooge” who just did what his boss wanted but created a world truer than Paul McCartney’s “we’re all having a wonderful Christmas time.” If early 1980s New Wave music and ZE Records’ intentions were about irony, then Christmas Wrapping is their finest achievement.

I’ll take my hot chocolate, socks and underwear presents, and post-Holiday debt just fine as long as Christmas Wrapping is playing.

(an edited version of this piece originally ran on Raisedontheradio.com on December 5, 2013.

Superunknown, A Rant In The Key Of Grunge

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It’s a horrible, morbid, and superunknown thought that I know so many people my age think; maybe Kurt Cobain saw the future and that’s why he took the easy way out. That’s an explanation for the awful situation and unfathomable set of circumstances that make up this dark, cold, and unforgiving world we’re supposed to be running, and by we, I mean middle-aged people born between 1965 and 1980, aka, ridiculously, Generation X.

We were supposed to be better, smarter, more enlightened than our parents and grandparents. Sure, they lived through a Depression, won a World War, navigated the turbulent 1960s and survived the Watergate, energy crisis 1970s. In doing so, they turned their backs to racism, allowed Jim Crow laws, treating women as an underclass and ignoring gay people. They also gave us skyrocketing divorce rates, drug abuse, and exceptional narcissism that turned their kids and grandkids into pill popping misery-filled jerks on which they could blame everything. The problem is, we’re just as bad as they are, maybe worse, because we became like them.

Police and minorities are still in trouble with each other, women are losing rights to their bodies, and while we’re kicking all kinds of righteous civil-rights ass in getting same-sex marriage in 30 states and counting, homophobia is so out of control, it’s infected both houses of Congress and turned our social media accounts into spit-ball contests that treat friendship like those key parties some of our parents attended in 1973 while snorting their coke at discos a few years later.

Screw them, let’s talk about us. Why can’t we get our act together? For those of us who can’t make it through a day without a cocktail of meds and a trip to a CrossFit box just so we don’t go off on some buffoon in line at the big box store we vote for in every election that kills our economy and makes poor people even poorer, then the other lot is acting out against anything that isn’t white, red, white again, and blue.

We were supposed to question authority. Michael Stipe, Henry Rollins, Morrissey, Eddie Vedder and Kurt all told us we could. Yet, too many of us are watching Fox News, listening to Rush Limbaugh and posting right-wing blogs on Facebook with posts filled with so many lies and chockfull of so much racist, bigoted, misogynist and homophobic rhetoric it churns the stomachs of, well, anyone reasonable.

I sat at a table at some Bar-B-Q place in the middle of the Deep South, today, at 44-years-old, the youngest person of 8 diners, and heard 7 others rip the millennial generation or whatever we’re calling my 3 daughters’ age group, as lazy, shiftless and stupid. Have they looked in the mirror lately? Have they seen who they keep voting for? Have they read their Facebook walls? They’re the problem, too.

If I hear one more person bitch about rock and roll being dead, I’m going to make a citizen’s arrest, impound their CD collection, and expose their country music contraband. Florida-Georgia Line, the Nickelback of contemporary not really country music has the number one album this week. Have you heard them? They’re what you get when your high school friends’ media that are social accounts learn how to play guitar and crap out worthless things that are sort of not really songs.

It’s all our fault.

Are you reading this “friends?” Of course you’re not. It’s not on InforWars or Obamasucks.com or downloaded from Sean Hannity or Paul Finebaum’s radio shows.

How bad are things? I walked through my living room last night and two “stars” of the 1990s music era, Gwen Stefani of No Doubt and Gavin Rossdale of Bush were on a reality show for singers giving career advice. Yeah, Kurt knew. It wasn’t just the drugs and depression, it was the future.

It’s how we react to injustice and then refuse to get along with those who disagree with us that makes us so terrible. A cop maybe, possibly, kills a black man and we run to our grandparents and find out what Fox News said is wrong with America then vomit the word “liberals” like my golden retriever rejecting that week old cereal bar he found under the couch. Then you don’t care that one of your best friend’s is a black, I mean liberal guy.

Kurt, forgive us, whereever you are. We failed you. Nothing we do Smells Like Teen Spirit, it’s all just Superunknown, like that other Seattle band whose singer ended up doing a James Bond theme.

Bittersweet Symphony

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Sipping a Diet Coke, eating lukewarm Chinese take out in a two and a half star hotel room in the middle of Massachusetts is how I unceremoniously reached middle-age, 44-years-old, a little over two weeks ago, while taking an inventory of the first half of my life.

Like so much of my time as a “grown-up”, I laughed at the lack of pomp or circumstance of my birthday and searched for the nugget of gratefulness at being alive, at least for another day, month, and hopefully, year.

When my dad was 44, he had a 23-year-old recent college graduate son, to whom he seemed like a very old man, clad in country club golfer attire and perpetually preaching about insurance, getting a good job, and settling down.

As I embrace the dub 4s, I’m just hoping this CrossFit knee injury heals soon, I can find time to write, rock and roll makes a comeback before I think it’s too loud to listen to and my wife and three daughters allow my key to work when I get home at the end of each day.

I’ve been traveling for work, thus why I recognized mid-life a thousand miles from home earlier this month, and not writing as much I usually do.

I like to say I’m on year 8 of my mid-life crisis, but the truth is closer to the fact that my 44 is completely different from my dad’s and I’m slowly getting use to it and will one day be okay with it all.

I’m not the man I thought I’d be. I work only part-time in journalism, writing is more of glorified hobby, and my day job pays the bills and equates to the analogy as an overthinking busybody lighthouse keeper guiding ships along their way through my home, my writing commitments, and whatever friends have decided to stick around, even after knowing the mess that is me.

Over the past year, I’ve been hanging around old high school friends. This is something I never thought would happen. After re-establishing contact with fellow forty-somethings through the media that are social, we reunited, and found how much we viewed our lives differently, but through a common scope.

There are days I feel ancient like after a workout because body maintenance is important but harder than ever, or hanging with my college freshman daughter, or being in line at the grocery store with twenty-somethings who prattle on about staying out all night.

Recently, I was in one of those places and the 1997 alternative music anthem, Bittersweet Symphony by The Verve came on the sound system. I found myself grooving in the aisle with an impromptu five-minute therapy session. It felt amazing and assumed my dad or his friends never did that at my age.

There are things I’m fine with and wish my fellow forties would be as well.

It’s okay I’m not as conservative as my parents and grandparents. My open-mindedness has made me friends and acquaintances that have made my life more interesting.

I don’t think my eight tattoos, all received between the ages of 35 and 42, will make me look stupid later in life. Each one has a story.

I’m glad I sold my golf clubs a few years ago and started blogging. You can do it in your underwear and it costs a lot less than a round of eighteen.

I still hate most country music as much as I did when I was a teenager and this means I’m not giving in. Nothing says you’re getting old than listening to the same music as your parents and grandparents.

The Verve’s Urban Hymns album contains Bittersweet Symphony is a wiser person’s guide. It predicts the future, puts the past in perspective, and soothes the savage that is aging.

“‘Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony, this life try to make ends meet, you’re a slave to money then you die I’ll take you down the only road I’ve ever been down you know the one that takes you to the places where all the veins meet yeah”.

I have to end this post because it’s time to get my youngest daughter on the bus and go to work. But do me and many others my age a favor. The next time you see one of us lost in the grooves of Bittersweet Symphony in a store or at a kids’ ballgame, don’t bug us. We’re in a cathartic, profound moment that qualifies as intense psychoanalysis.

That’s forty-four, these days.

 

I wrote two books. They got good reviews. The third one, a sequel to the first, Woman Of Troy, is on the way, very soon.

The Ballad of Helene Troy, an underdog story about a female musician in New York City, and Soul To Body, about an ex-1990s guitar player trying to raise his teenage daughter after the death of his wife, her mother, are available, digitally, on Amazon.com for your kindles, and in paperback from Lulu.com

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Cartoon

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Last time: https://lancemyblogcanbeatupyourblog.wordpress.com/2014/09/16/heaven-knows/

I needed something to stop the tears after leaving my daughter at college and the rock song of her generation blaring from a nearby dorm made me feel even older, so stopped at the red light and tapped my iPhone music library. The opening lyric, “now everybody’s looking after me,
If I’m dragging by some coat tail“, in front of twangy late 1980s college rock guitar brought on a 26-year-old memory I didn’t realize was there.

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Dude, like really, could you give us a minute! She’s upset!”

I surveyed the uncomfortable situation and didn’t know what to do. With two minutes before my 10th ever freshman DJ shift at the student radio station, I was being ordered out of the studio so some guy I didn’t know could console a crying girl I did know. The room was small, dark, and suffocating with more than two people inside. I tried to please two masters, my radio gig duty and their wishes to be rid of me. I decided to cue up my first record on the turntable next to the girl so I leaned into the thin, pale sophomore named Jule. I suspected her name it was Julie or maybe Julianne and she was reinventing herself like the rest of us social rejects at college. Those were the types that inhabited the University of Alabama student radio station, WVUA, in the fall of 1988.

“Why do you keep doing this to us? Leave us alone for five f**king minutes, a**hole!”

I thought I was a melodramatic bad actor but this guy blew me off the stage. The  vinyl record was ready with needle on groove, all that had to be done was push a button and the world would hear staion approved college rock for the top of the hour of 1am.

Before I walked out, I turned to Jule and placed my hand on her shoulder. We’d hung out for a few minutes at a time during station meetings. She was from suburban Atlanta, Georgia like me, but a town about an hour away. I muttered over my shoulder as I reached the door.

“Hang in there, I hope you’re okay.”

The guy started to scream at me again.

“Get the fu…..”

Jule placed one hand over his mouth and pointed to the door with the other. When he pushed away from her and stayed in his chair, she growled, low and intentional.

“The music comes first, here. It’s his shift, you leave and don’t call me, again.”

He got up, threw the rickety black office chair back into the radio console with his butt, then glared at me. He elbowed my chest like a rebounding basketball power forward and cursed into the hallway. I looked at the clock in the studio then at Jule. She wiped her eyes, rubbed her hands on her dirty jeans, then asked.

“What are you starting your show with?”

Her lips trembled. I wanted to ask her what happened. Instead, I just answered.

“Soul Asylum, Cartoon, it’s my favorite song right now, well, you know, until tomorrow.”

She laughed and leaned back in her chair as I pushed the button.

Like my teenager, I had a different life one month into my college career. I owe her a huge thanks for instant recall.

Heaven Knows

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Walking the streets of downtown Atlanta on a weekend afternoon is an assault on the senses as the sights, sounds, and smells of the previous night’s sins are prominent with a college campus the featured resident. I strolled out of the parking garage and began texting my Georgia State freshman daughter because I knew she wouldn’t answer a call since it’s 2014 and she has twitter. Before I could finish the message, I’d reached the courtyard of her dorm and looked up to see a little blond thing in a sweatshirt, shorts, and long golden hair greet her dumb dad.

“Hey, you. T (her roommate) saw you get out of your car so I just came on down. Let’s walk to my favorite Chinese food place.”

I held back a tear, as I hadn’t seen her in two weeks, traveling for work, missing her return home a few days, before. She let me lean on her shoulder at a cross section while we waited for a truck to turn right. I whispered.

“I missed you.”

I knew not to say it too loud as four boys she was familiar with approached us and everyone exchanged hellos.  She knew them from class, I assured myself.

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The Chinese food place was closed so we opted for plan B, wings and French Fries at a sports bar type joint, two storefronts down. She turned and smiled.

“I knew you’d pick wings.”

I started with a list of questions I’d mentally written down on the drive. We delved into her favorite class at the moment, philosophy, which was mine, too, when I was a college freshman, 126, I mean 26 years earlier, at the University of Alabama.

A few minutes after the food arrived, she started opening up about her life, slightly less than a month old. She’d changed a set of friends, found a church she liked, gotten off to a great start with her roommate, and figured out how to get to class without being too terribly late. I couldn’t stop looking at her face. Her smile was intentional and infectious. The dour, mean high school girl had changed. She was something totally different. She even slipped and said she missed me. It must have been the Mountain Dew talking.

I almost didn’t go back to her dorm. I was afraid of evidence like dirty clothes, old pizza boxes, maybe a beer can that didn’t belong or something that would make a worried, fussy father even worse. As rock music played from one dorm room we walked by, I braced for something nerve-wracking, instead, the discovery I made was much more profound.

Her roommate had the same face, smiley and anxious. The room was clean. They looked like young women not girls. After a while, I realized I didn’t belong and my stomach was already hurting. My welcome was worn out between the greasy food and cursory laughs at my bad jokes when I walked into their new home. She had homework piled up on her desk and a meet up with church friends in less than 2 hours. She sighed.

“I have an essay to write.”

I’m increasingly impatient with the attitudes of people my age towards those of my daughter’s. Maybe at other guys’ girls’ dorms at other colleges there were signs of immaturity and laziness, but at least for this day, my kid and her roomie had put on an excellent show. She had a new life, and it was going well. She didn’t ask for money and the hug and kiss she returned were sincere.

I waited till I got back to my car in the five dollar garage before I broke down. That, my daughter had earned. Heaven knows whether or not she’s making wise choices and taking advantage of her college opportunity. The mutual respect and shared trust taught me a lot. I haven’t screwed this up, so far.

Here’s The Pretty Reckless

100 Word Song – Cup Of Coffee

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I’m living in an alternate dimension right now, teetering on mental breakdown because of real world wildness of my oldest daughter moving into college tomorrow and my real job, outside of the blog, book writing and Lefty Pop (www.leftypop.com), becoming overwhelming. I apologize for the lateness of this week’s 100 word song.

My writing friend, Valerie The Word Pirate of http://thewordpirate.wordpress.com/ selected this week’s tune, Cup Of Coffee by Garbage. My 100 will be connected to Velvet Verbosity’s 100 word prompt, Wharf, as well http://www.velvetverbosity.com/.

Back to Silas in the garage, now unarmed and vulnerable.

Last time: https://lancemyblogcanbeatupyourblog.wordpress.com/2014/08/12/100-word-song-worrisome-heart/

“Silas, pick up the money and the gun. They’re yours.”
Archie held back Roscoe and Kenny, who stared in amazement.
Silas kept his eyes on all 3 men, scooped up the cash and gun, holding it down to the garage floor. He spoke.
“I know how to end this.”
Roscoe yelled.
“Yeah, we kick the shi…!”
Archie pushed him then motioned for Silas to continue.
“I have Bart’s stash, all of it.”
Archie shook his head at Roscoe, who growled.
“Meet at Tampa wharf in 2 hours. I’ll give you 3 grand, then you put a million miles between us.”

My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog

You have six days from NOW, to write 100 words inspired by Valerie’s pick of Garbage’s Cup Of Coffee. Use the media that are social to advertise you magic, then link up with the green mr.linky button at the bottom.