Monday, October 14, 2013

Just Some of the Wrestlers Who Passed - October/November - R.I.P.

Brian William Pillman (May 22, 1962 – October 5, 1997)

Joseph Magliano (July 1969 – October 15, 2006)

Michael James Hegstrand (September 12, 1957 – October 19, 2003)

Rodney Agatupu Anoaʻi (October 2, 1966 – October 23, 2000)

Richard McGraw (March 19, 1955 – November 1, 1985)

Michael John Lockwood (August 25, 1971 – November 6, 2003)

Anthony David Magliaro (November 6, 1956 – November 13, 1999)

Eduardo Gory Guerrero Llanes (October 9, 1967 – November 13, 2005)

Gary K. "Billy" Travis (August 31, 1961 – November 23, 2002)

Arthur Leon Barr (October 8, 1966 – November 23, 1994)

Larry Booker (January 6, 1952 - November 29, 2003)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

For Everybody?

As we age we often look back at our lives - sometimes in fondness, sometimes perhaps in dread. Sometimes we look at movies or songs we enjoyed in our youth and can’t believe how different they seem now.

For example, the movie Back to the Future. Did I realize at age 11, when it was my favorite film, that it contained incidents of racism, incest and attempted rape? Certainly not. Did it occur to me at age 10 that The NeverEnding Story appears to be an appropriate film to screen at NAMBLA movie night? No way, Jose.

And what about music? Could I have possibly known as a young boy what Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax” was really about? Or Cyndi Lauper’s “She Bop?” Cyndi wasn’t quite as blatant about it as Divinyls would be a few years later; although, today it seems completely obvious.

I recently thought of the classic line from “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “One More Minute”:

            ‘Cause I’m stranded all alone in the gas station of love
            And I have to use the self-service pumps.

I didn’t know what that meant as a 10-year-old. Who was Yankovic to throw such PG-13 lines out there when so many of his fans were little kids? Booger jokes, Al! That’s what kids want. Not thinly-veiled masturbation material.

And then there was The Wrestling Album. Anyone thumbing through my small vinyl collection at the time would immediately have noticed the standouts: a couple of Sha Na Na records, an absurd number of Al Yankovic albums, and the two famous World Wrestling Federation albums.

They were the pride of my young record collection, particularly that first one, the cover of which was like Sgt. Pepper for wrestling, featuring the likes of “Macho Man” Randy Savage and his valet Elizabeth, the Junkyard Dog, the Killer Bees, Captain Lou Albano, Hillbilly Jim, Jesse “the Body” Ventura, and Vince McMahon himself. Then even the back cover featured “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff, Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat, Brutus Beefcake, The Missing Link, and more. It was marvelous.

My favorite song on that album, of course, was the cover of “Land of 1,000 Dances,” an inexplicable idea for a recording, featuring practically every wrestler on the WWF roster at the time on vocals, from Bobby “the Brain” Heenan to King Kong Bundy to “Special Delivery” Jones.

There were other great songs: the classic “Real American,” performed by Rick Derringer, and the at-the-time-of-the-recording theme song for the U.S. Express tag team of Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo. That was until they both left for the rival National Wrestling Alliance and the song was given to Hulk Hogan.

There was “The Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart’s tune “Eat Your Heart Out, Rick Springfield,” a song I remember playing for a friend, to which she said, “Is this Sesame Street?”

But my favorite, after “Land of 1,000 Dances,” of course, had to be “Rowdy” Roddy Piper’s “For Everybody,” a wonderful tune for a wonderful heel. At the time that this record came out, I had requested that my guitar teacher transcribe this song for me so I could play it. He chuckled upon hearing it and I didn’t understand why at the time.

It wasn’t until adulthood that I realized that the title of this song wasn’t supposed to be “For Everybody.” That made no sense in the context of the song. What was supposed to be understood was that Piper and everyone contributing to the background vocals were really saying, “Fuck everybody.”

Fast forward another few years and I learned that “For Everybody,” like the WWF’s recording of “Land of 1,000 Dances,” and other songs on the album, including “Mean” Gene Okerlund’s “Tutti Frutti” and Nikolai Volkoff’s “Cara Mia,” was a cover.

I had no clue. The other songs, of course they were covers. Everyone knows those songs. Everyone knows Little Richard, Wilson Pickett and Jay & the Americans. But, at 11, and even well into my 30s, I had no idea who Mike Angelo & The Idols were, or that they had recorded a song a year before The Wrestling Album was released called “Fuck Everybody.” 

Vince McMahon allowed a profane song to be sung by his second-biggest star as long as he stripped out the profanity. Angelo’s “kick my ass” became “kiss my trash.” Other not-as profane lyrics Piper mumbled, but I do remember the clear line about how people won’t be happy until he commits suicide. Well, then, stop shaving the Haiti Kid’s head and hitting Jimmy Snuka on the bean with coconuts, Roddy!

So I am left with questions. Why? Why on an album with a number of cartoonish songs, did Piper record, essentially, “Fuck Everybody?” Never mind that. Why did the Junkyard Dog record a song called “Grab Them Cakes?” I didn’t know what “cakes” were supposed to be as a pre-teen.

Of course, fast forward 12 years to the “Attitude Era” of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s middle finger and D-Generation X’s cries of “Suck it!” and Piper’s “For Everybody” was way ahead of its time.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Just a Few Wrestler Death Anniversaries in August

08/01/1972      Ray Gunkel                             48
08/01/1993      Jimmy Beal                             20s
08/01/2004      Ken Timbs                               53                   
08/02/1984      Vittorio “Argentina” Apollo   46
08/03/2000      Mitch Snow                            ??


08/05/2000      Rick Davidson                        47
08/05/2000      Tony Nash                               30
08/05/2009      DJ Rizz                                   26
08/06/1986      Bulldog Gannon                     46
08/07/1966      Ed “Strangler” Lewis              76
08/07/1999      Jonathan Boyd                        56
08/07/2007      Scotty Williams                       44
08/08/2001      Bad Business Brown              31
08/08/2002      El Sanguinario                         33
08/08/2003      Giant Ochiai                            30
08/09/1999      Jackie Sato                              41
08/11/1968      Oklahoma Kid                        30        

08/12/2010      Lance Cade                             29
08/13/1978      Moondog Lonnie Mayne        34
08/13/2007      Brian “Crush” Adams             44
08/14/1972      Mr. X                                      30
08/15/1990      Pat O’Connor                          65
08/15/2002      Little Frankie                          44
08/16/1891      Sorakichi Matsuda                  32

08/16/1997      Plum Mariko                           29
08/16/2007      The Missing Link                    68
08/18/1997      Jeep Swenson                          40
08/18/1998      Shane Shamrock                     23       
08/18/2010      Chris Cash                               23
08/19/2010      Nightmare Ted Allen              54
08/19/2010      Skandar Akbar                        75
08/20/1970      Jerry London                           41
08/22/2000      Prof. Toru Tanaka                   70
08/23/1996      Neil Superior                           33
08/24/1987      King Kong Kirk                      51
08/24/1995      Killer Karl Krupp                    61
08/24/1991      Vivian Vachon                        40
08/25/2000      Chris Duffy                             35
08/26/2005      Moondog King                       56
08/27/2010      Luna Vachon                          48
08/30/1996      Chris Colt                                50
08/30/2008      Killer Kowalski                       81
08/30/2010      J.C. Bailey                               27

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Fifteen Years Without Phil Hartman

This is a piece I wrote for Flak Magazine back in 2008 for the ten-year anniversary of Phil Hartman’s murder. With Flak no longer existing, I thought I’d post it here for the 15-year. R.I.P. Phil Hartman.


An air raid siren blasts, with the caption "Important Homeland Security Message," as a man dressed in military fatigues and holding a rifle, while standing behind a toilet, says: "Did you know that, in the event of a natural disaster, there's enough water in your toilet to sustain you for three whole days? So, at the first sign of danger, whatever you do — don't shit."
In this 11-second sketch from the comedy troupe The Groundlings in the late '70s, the talent of the late comedian Phil Hartman was already apparent. It only took a few seconds to see something special in Hartman, whether it was in his brief appearance as a gun-toting airport pest to Chuck Barris in The Gong Show Movie in 1980, or as a crazed video game fan in an ad for Activision's Ice Hockey for the Atari 2600 in 1981, or as Captain Carl on Pee-wee's Playhouse. (Pee-wee Herman was, incidentally, a character Hartman co-created with Paul Reubens.) From there, throughout the early '80s, appeared other short examples of Hartman's talent. Then came Saturday Night Live, and everyone saw that it wasn't merely talent. It was genius.
On May 28, 1998 the world lost one of its greatest comedic talents. Fifteen years ago the Emmy-winning writer and comedy legend was shot multiple times by his wife Brynn, who later turned the gun on herself. Hartman left behind a Belushi-like legacy with his work on Saturday Night Live, The Simpsons, and the sitcom NewsRadio. The man affectionately referred to as "Glue" and "The Sultan of Smarm" by his peers was not only wonderfully talented, but, by all accounts, he was always a joy to work with.
As great as the Wayne's World or "Church Lady" SNL sketches were in the late 80s and early 90s, I was always most excited when a Phil Hartman sketch came on: his dead-on President Clinton impression, eating the food of patrons at McDonald's; the Anal Retentive Chef showing us how to properly dispose of perfectly good red bell peppers; and the doddering former Vice-Presidential candidate Admiral James Stockdale, out for a joyride with Ross Perot. And there was hardly anything more brilliant than Hartman as Frank Sinatra in The Sinatra Group, shouting at his guests, calling Sinead O'Connor "cue ball," "Sine- Aid," and "Uncle Fester" and telling Billy Idol, "I have chunks of guys like you in my stool."
In his eight seasons on SNL, Hartman was arguably the greatest talent of the shows' second golden era. His impressions were always spot-on, from Charlton Heston to Phil Donahue to Telly Savalas. His characters were no less ingenious, and often completely bizarre, such as Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer and the host of Robot Repair.
During his stint on SNL Hartman began voicing characters on the FOX animated comedy The Simpsons. A master voice artist, Hartman spent seven seasons on the show, voicing shyster attorney Lionel Hutz and B-Movie actor Troy McClure. He voiced 17 others on a one-time basis, including Lyle Lanley from the Monorail episode; indeed Hartman became the key go-to guy for The Simpsons' writers.
Hartman's voice was unmistakable; yet, he brought something different to each character. In his career Hartman would do voice work on programs as diverse as children's animation (Scooby-Doo, The Smurfs), adult animation (The Simpsons, Ren & Stimpy), and live action series (Magnum P.I., Seinfeld). Prior to his death, Hartman was slated to lend his voice to the character Zapp Brannigan on Futurama. The character was eventually voiced by Billy West.
Upon departing from SNL, Hartman signed on to what would become one of the funniest sitcoms of the '90s, NewsRadio. Playing news anchor Bill McNeal, he was again part of an ensemble cast. It was a tremendous group of actors, but, like he was on SNL, Hartman was the glue. It was on NewsRadio that he got to show his acting chops.
The show was definitely not the same without Hartman, and indeed lasted only one season after his death, with Phil being replaced by fellow-SNL cast member Jon Lovitz. And Hartman's acting was finally acknowledged with a posthumous Emmy nomination in 1998.
One need only view the third episode of the series, titled "Smoking," in which McNeal tries to quit smoking, to see what a truly great comedic actor Hartman was. His portrayal of addiction, the hyperbole with which he played it, cemented this as Hartman's show. If it wasn't evident in the five-minute SNL sketches, surely it was here. NewsRadio was on par with the great American sitcoms of the last 25 years, from Cheers and Seinfeld to The Office and 30 Rock. Minus Phil's passing, the show could have gone on for years.
Hartman's characters, particularly Hutz, McClure, and McNeal, shared similar traits. They contained bluster, sometimes arrogance, which often masked other, unenviable characteristics. Hutz and McClure, though different in their own right, each had a self-conceit that concealed a sort of incompetence: Hutz the crooked, inept lawyer; McClure the hacky has-been actor. McNeal's bombast seemed to mask a rather sad insecurity, making the mask all the more comical.
The dichotomy in these traits was part of what brought the humor with Hartman. Similar clashes have been portrayed in comedy since the days of the Marx Brothers and W.C. Fields. But Hartman made the style his own, almost reinventing it. Watching his characters try to fool everyone, unlike, say, Woody Allen’s characters, which were just open mental wrecks, was always a joy and what made Hartman "The Sultan," with his picture perfect voice and cloak of sincerity and confidence.
The recent heirs to the throne, and to an extent the Hartman style, can be found in the  funniest television comedies of the last few years. The lead characters in both versions of The Office, David Brent and Michael Scott, have the same sort of pompous ineffectiveness that both Hutz and McClure showed, each to the point of being uncomfortable. While Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock, as well as Stan Smith of the animated series American Dad each bring McNeal's cavalier instability.
For whatever reason, Hartman's movie appearances were usually brief cameos. He never starred in his own film comedy, like so many other SNL alums, but his mark on the world of comedy remains varied and unquestionable. While Hartman never received top billing in a television program or movie, he brought hilarity and style to even the briefest of cameos, from playing the Alcatraz Tour Guide in So I Married an Axe Murderer, and his cameos in high-profile films such as Three Amigos! and Fletch Lives.
Having passed on at only 49, Hartman certainly had a lot of laughs still to deliver, whether it would have been by continuing his roles on The Simpsons and NewsRadio, starring in his own network variety show (his original post-SNL plan until fellow castmate Dana Carvey announced his variety show), or landing starring roles in feature films.
He was a multitalented man, fluent in German and an accomplished graphic artist. Hartman designed album covers for rock bands such as Poco and America, as well as the Crosby, Stills & Nash logo.
Former NBC West Coast President Don Ohlmeyer said about Hartman after his murder that he "was blessed with a tremendous gift for creating characters that made people laugh. But more importantly, everyone who had the pleasure of working with Phil knows that he was a man of tremendous warmth, a true professional and a loyal friend."
Fifteen years later he is still dearly missed, and he's still making people laugh.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Remembering the Road to the Celtics' 2007-2008 Championship

Five years ago when the Boston Celtics won their last championship, and first since 1986, I wrote a little piece for the now-defunct Flak Magazine about the breaking of the Curse of Len Bias and Reggie Lewis. Since that mini-dynasty is now over, and since it's no longer online, I thought I'd post that story here.

The Curse of Len and Reggie is Broken

by Michael Frissore
Flak Magazine

In October 2004 a curse was finally broken. A curse placed many, many years ago by a man who was often too drunk to put his own pants on, let alone a hex on an entire baseball franchise, was lifted thanks to a bunch of self-proclaimed "idiots." The Boston Red Sox had somehow won the World Series. Then they did it again in 2007.

Only occasionally would those celebrating the wicked pissah victories of the Sox and the three-time "Big Game" champion New England Patriots stop and ask each other, "Hey, remember the Celtics?"
Lately, Boston's longing for the yesteryear of Bird/Magic, McHale/Worthy, and Parish/Kareem has given way to the excitement over Pierce/Kobe, Garnett/Gasol, and Allen/the Slovenian with the girl's name. How has this happened when the Celtics were basement dwellers last year? And the year before?

As the season progressed, some wondered: Could the Celts' own 22-year championship drought also be attributed to some kind of curse? A spell? An execration? Were the Celtics, like the Red Sox and Darrin Stephens, the victims of the voodoo that you do? It was obviously black magic that brought them 16 titles in the first place. The same can be said for the Lakers' 14 championships, but everyone knows longtime Lakers GM and NBA logo silhouette Jerry West is evil.

It was only days after the Celts' last championship win in 1986 against the Houston Rockets, and just 48 hours after the Celtics drafted him, that #2 pick Len Bias of the University of Maryland dropped dead from a cocaine overdose. And the mad genius with the giant cigar in his mouth quietly said: "Oh, shit."

Arnold "Red" Auerbach, former President and vice chairman of the Celtics, had dabbled in the black arts one too many times. And it killed young Leonard Kevin Bias. Crazy? Maybe. But we're talking about a city that dumped crates of tea into its own harbor. And how else could the Celtics get Dennis Johnson for Rick Robey? Or Kevin McHale and Robert Parish for whatever garbage they sent to the Golden State Warriors?

About Bias's death, Red himself would say that the city of Boston hadn't been so shaken since the assassination of JFK (which includes Bucky Dent's home run, but not the Bill Buckner unpleasantness). No less an authority that the Reverend Jesse Jackson compared Bias's passing to those of Mozart, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jackson said each of these men was "young, gifted, strong and militant, all taken in the prime of their lives...Lenny was vulnerable because all of us are vulnerable. He is being used by God to save a generation."

What could possibly take down such a man? Other than cocaine, of course.

Whether or not God saved Bias's generation, He stopped looking out for the C's. Between 1986 and 1993 the Celtics remained quite competitive, even after Larry Bird retired in '92. But then tragedy struck again in '93 when the heir apparent to the Big 3 (Bird, McHale and Parish), All-Star small forward Reggie Lewis, died of a heart attack. How could two talented men like Bias and Lewis both be struck down so young? Especially when old timers Russell, Cousy, Heinsohn, Havlicek, and especially Red, were all still alive?

After this one-two punch, the basketball gods had another idea: let's get rid of McHale and Parish and really watch this team sink.

And sink they did. McHale retired, and Parish signed with the Charlotte Hornets. Do you know how many losing seasons followed? Try eight. That's L.A. Clippers territory. Kansas City Royals even! The Celtics even brought in Dominique Wilkins and Rick Pitino, for Pete's sake. Nothing could help. They went 15-67 during the 1996-97 season! After that the Celts somehow lost out on drafting Tim Duncan, and then traded future all-star Chauncey Billups! How could the team of the aforementioned lopsided trades have this happen to them?

Eventually, in 2002, thanks to their holding onto young stars Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker, and getting Kenny Anderson in the Billups deal, the Celtics made it to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1988. They lost to the New Jersey Nets, but it seemed the Curse of Len and Reggie was losing its power.

After this close call, the gods regrouped. That's when they sent former Celtics star and new Executive Director of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge to come in and make so many trades that the team, especially remaining star Pierce, wouldn't know who they were playing with on any given night. Walker came and went twice, Anderson was gone, and the likes of Vin Baker, Ricky Davis, Gary Payton, and Tom Gugliotta all appeared in green and then vanished in the blink of an eye.

After God knows how many trades, including one huge one with Ainge's buddy and former teammate McHale, now the Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Celtics finished 33-49 in 2005-06. They were back to their losing ways. The gods smiled.
Alas, they wouldn't be smiling for too long, because on October 28, 2006 Red Auerbach died at the age of 89. The gods panicked briefly. How would the curse continue without Red? The gods (which consists of, I don't know, "Pistol" Pete Maravich and several former Harlem Globetrotters) did manage to kill 52-year-old former Celtic point guard Dennis Johnson in February 2007 and give the team a 24-58 record, good for the second worst in the NBA that season.

But Ainge, the starting shooting guard on the 1984 and 1986 Celtics championship teams, was a trading machine. Undaunted by all the death and the losing, he sent practically the entire Celtics team to Seattle and Minneapolis for eight-time All-Star Ray Allen and 11-time All-Star and former MVP Kevin Garnett. "Thank you, Kevin McHale," Boston said. A new Big Three was born, and Boston was again praising Ainge, just as they did in his playing days.

Joining starters Pierce, Kendrick Perkins, and Rajon Rondo, Allen and Garnett brought the Celtics back to their former glory, winning 66 games, a 42-win turnaround from the previous year. Ainge added the likes of James Posey, Eddie House, P.J. Brown and Sam Cassell to build a team that was surely the greatest collection of Celtics since '86.

After three grueling rounds of Eastern Conference play, the Celts were on their way to their first NBA Finals in 21 years, and against their old rivals, the Los Angeles Lakers, to whom they lost in the '87 Finals.

The Green took the first two games in Boston. Then, with celebrities like Jack Nicholson, Will Smith, Humphrey Bogart, Lizzie Borden, Magellan and more looking on, the Celtics took one of three games in L.A. and left the West Coast up 3-2 amid all of these powerful celeb Lakers fans, especially Jack (Apparently one of the bullets on Nicholson's bucket list is to be knocked back to Cuckoo's Nest by Celtic Head Coach Doc Rivers.)

Then the series went back to Boston and the Celtics destroyed the Lakers in Game 6. And so the curse was broken for good, and everyone lived happily ever after.

Or did they?


If you still don't believe there was a Celtics curse, consider this: Lewis, Bias, and George Herman "Babe" Ruth, were all born in Maryland.

What does this mean?

Nobody knows.

Maybe there was never a curse

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Praise for Puppet Shows

Praise for Puppet Shows 
by Michael Frissore 

The stories in (Puppet Shows) are all randomly odd and bizarre. There is no whatsoever logic in it and strangely enough, you don't really need logic while reading this book. This in itself is what sets this book apart from all others. It ventures into the weird, the funny and sometimes, the gruesomely insane…Puppet Shows is like a brave foray into a well-defined territory in an attempt to bring something different, and indeed, this book really brings something entirely different!” – Dia Pelaez, Book Junkie Joint, 

“These are the short stories that you would read to your teenage kid before bed…and the type of stories that you would read to just have a bit of a laugh once in a while. You could pick the book up, read a story, and it will brighten your day with its indirect humor. It's brilliant for spontaneous reading.”  

“Frissore has managed to create a very unusual collection of short stories indeed. Full of the imaginative and bizarre and just plain ridiculous and yet, he somehow pulls it all off and it just works. Go into this with the expectation of having some fun and keep your mind open and you will truly be taken on a magical ride where anything is possible and almost everything happens.”  
- Ali, My Guilty Obsession, 

“A fun collection of crazy short stories. They are very well-written and entertaining, if a little out-there. Read this if you have a good sense of humor and an appreciation for the ridiculous.”  
Brinda, WiLoveBooks, 

Only a mind that has somehow slipped the mold of what we deem normal could create such a deliciously twisted collection of ideas and combine them into this treat for the mind.” – Jeanette Kempton, Author of the Karynja series 

“This is not mainstream fiction. It’s not mainstream anything. This guy is weird, and the stories he tells are every bit as bizarre. But from page 1, they’re fun. The stories are so far off the wall they’re in the garden somewhere.  

Frissore should be praised for more than just his sense of humour though. There’s an incredibly fluent turn of phrase here; you can hear every word smoothly, without effort. The language is spare in places, but often lively and always interesting. It’s conversational, but if that conversation was being held by the two sharpest, wittiest people you know (who also happen to be loony tunes).  

I don’t know if Frissore bangs this stuff out without sweat, or if he agonises over each syllable, but the effect is prose that’s as rewarding to read as it is funny 

It’s a difficult plate to spin though, creating something both worthwhile and absurd. And in many of these stories, Frissore nails it. One or two heart strings are even plucked subtly, with a three word flash of emotion dropped in amongst a chaotic tale.  

But let’s not take for granted the most important point - the funny. Every story amused me, and all of them were cut off at just about the right time. .. Frissore reaffirmed my belief that such whimsy (that’s right, I used the word whimsy, what of it?), screams loudest and most perfectly in rich, short bursts.” 

- Gav’s Book Reviews, 

"This was a nice side step from my normal genres that normally lack a lot of humor.
The stories did make me "lol," which was great. I kept wanting to know what silly
thing would happen next. And as a writer myself, I appreciated the fact that Frissore
poured his weird and boundless imagination onto the pages of this book seemingly
without holding back. Even his character names were hilarious."

"This is a great read for someone who just needs to relax and shed their
'taking life too seriously' skin. The stories were well written and nicely compiled."

"Buy it. Read it. Laugh a lot, and be grateful there are writers out there who can
create this type of material."

Neesha from Novellarella

Puppet Shows 
Stories by Michael Frissore 
Writers AMuse Me Publishing