Stuff I Didn’t Get To: Bowie, Barack and Billionaires

David Bowie (1947-2016)

Cancer sucks. You may not agree with everything I’m about to post, but I’ll gladly open with something we can all agree on.

To wit, if you’re a fan of legendary 69-year-old British entertainers, losing two of them to cancer surely made this past week a sobering one for you. Just as the world of cinematic villainy will be a lesser place without Nottingham sheriff and Hogwarts professor extraordinaire Alan Rickman, the world of entertainment, as a whole, will be a lesser place without David Bowie.

Dr. Simon V. Anderson, my wonderful, colorful jazz and pop history professor at the University of Cincinnati, once described David Bowie as a “very shrewd businessman.” He’d have to be in order to stay so hip for so long.

This happened because, for Bowie, like all good artists, any pressure to innovate was intrinsic. Inspired by Elvis Presley, he took the theater of live rock-and-roll to new levels not just by his own name, but also with the Ziggy Stardust alter ego that served him so well. Furthermore, Bowie was a social innovator by owning his true sexual orientation back when such a thing was widely considered a threat to America’s status quo.

“…And these children
that you spit on
as they try to change their worlds
are immune to your consultations.
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through…”
-David Bowie

You could say the same about Queen’s Freddie Mercury, with whom Bowie collaborated on the 1982 hit “Under Pressure.” Of both men’s most popular works, that one ranks quite highly on my own chart. A year later, Let’s Dance became one of the premier albums of the decade; roughly 20 years later, it became one of the premier albums of my own obsessive Eighties collection. Two years after that, Bowie’s message-sending lyrics from his 1972 hit single Changes became the opening shot of The Breakfast Club, one of the most iconic and resonant movies of its decade.

But perhaps my favorite Bowie song of all time was another collaboration: his “Little Drummer Boy” duet with Bing Crosby on the latter’s 1977 CBS Christmas special. It is, quite possibly, my favorite Christmas song, a classic hodgepodge of old school and new school. It is also the last TV appearance Crosby ever made, which later proved to be one of American television’s most popular moments of all time. Note how Crosby was comfortable enough in his own celebrity to defer to, at the time, the less established star:

Dr. Anderson taught me more than just music history; he taught me music appreciation. The greatness of David Bowie is that you don’t have to be of any particular generation to appreciate him.

Whether you need the perfect song for a blind date, or just someone to judge a walk-off, never forget:

Crying Over Crying is Just Plain Sad

Even with a personal soapbox like this, I will aim not to be controversial, nor will I go out of my way to be political. However, after a lifetime of living in a hoity-toity school district, plus four years of college in Ohio, I only have so much tongue to bite.

Recently President Obama was attacked by conservative people and pundits for allegedly fake-crying about the Sandy Hook tragedy during a speech about executive orders aimed toward gun control:

There is always an element of theater in politics, like when President Bush dressed as a soldier and held court on an aircraft carrier beneath a giant banner that screamed “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED” amid Middle East turmoil, and just as certainly, ad hominem attacks, from all pockets of society, will always come with that territory. That said, this particular attack is pretty low, even for the attackers.

There was nothing fake about the President’s show of emotion here. Furthermore, who are they to say there was? Did they get a taped confession from the White House prop department? Is there hidden camera footage of Biden sneaking a couple onions under the podium? If you’re reading this and you were one of the finger-wagging Fox News employees who cried foul–just to name one of those aforementioned pockets of society–do some actual research and go back to when news of the Sandy Hook tragedy first broke.

Obama was just as visibly upset then as he was when he announced those executive orders. As a parent, and as a living, breathing organism with something other than ice water in his veins, and not just as a world leader, he has a right to be. Our government dropped the ball in the immediate aftermath of Sandy Hook, and those weren’t just voters, or protesters, or lobbyists they let down.

Those were children.

It’s our prerogative not to respect the man or his policies, but can’t we at least show some respect for the issue itself? Party politics, in my lifetime, have reached new depths of sadness, and you know it’s getting even more pathetic when Paul Ryan, a leading member of the opposing party, can’t even loosen up his poker face enough to express approval when Obama says something like this:

Jesus, even McCain stood for that one.

A Million Bucks Shy of Being a Millionaire…

As long as I’m in the middle of sharing potentially unpopular sentiments, count me among those who didn’t want to buy a Powerball ticket for the recent record-breaking billion-dollar drawing. In further, fuller disclosure, my mother bought a ticket for the preceding one that yielded an unclaimed grand prize, but that’s it.

For me, it was never about the money; it was about what does and doesn’t come with it. Although there are ongoing trends toward reversing this position elsewhere, Pennsylvania is still one of the majority that do not grant anonymity to jackpot winners. The wealth may be attractive, but the permanent forfeiture of peace is not.

Martin Mull had a very apt line on the episode of Roseanne in which a toast is proposed after the Conners have won the lottery: “To know what God thinks of money, one only has to look at those to whom He has given it.”

Powerball ticketThat quote actually originated from American writer Dorothy Parker. I’ll save you the time of explaining who she is (I had to check Wikipedia myself), but let’s just say jabs at the rich were not uncommon for her. Still, I’m sure even Ms. Parker, like me, would be at ease knowing who shared Powerball’s billion–er, hundreds of millions: this mild-mannered Tennessee couple.

On the other hand, I would have invoked Ms. Parker’s and Mr. Mull’s shared wit, while throwing up in my mouth a little, had rumor of a hedge fund manager holding California’s winning ticket been proven true. In addition, I hope there’s a special room in Hell reserved for the same fake media outlet that perpetrated that rumor, because it later punked me and others into believing a Florida military widow held one of the three winning tickets.

Okay, bad job by me falling for clickbait. Worse job by them to think toying with people like that is anything more than wasteful–or anything less than wrong. They must have the same warped moral compass as this guy.

Scratch the idea for the special room in Hell. It’ll be much cheaper to rent from him.

Anyway, I was brought up to believe that money earned is better than money gifted, although I was also brought up not to look a gift horse in the mouth. So I admit I wouldn’t mind winning just a few million. I can stretch a few million. I would share it with family and friends just as quickly as I would make my own (mostly) practical investments. I don’t need an eight-car garage and an umbrella holder made of Martha Stewart’s private parts. I’m not greedy, just desirous of living comfortably.

Half a billion, however, let alone a full billion, is truly more money than I would ever know what to do with–and having something I don’t know what to do with has never ended well.

Holy Half-Century, Batman!

Tuesday marked the 50th anniversary of a pop culture phenomenon that forever changed television, my childhood and, to a lesser extent, the world.

Hyperbole, sure, but hyperbole befitting the occasion; it was exactly one half-century ago that audiences tuned in to the network television premiere of Batman.

While it was ABC who raised the curtain on this revolutionary incarnation of the Dynamic Duo, my first exposure to Batman came in syndication. I was in first grade, and I stumbled into the episode “The Joker’s Hard Times” on The Family Channel (which, coincidentally, later became ABC Family before its more recent name change). The rest, as they say, is Bat-history. My father, ever vigilant of what I was watching, stopped to watched some too. He almost always did.

Here’s all you need to know: It was the middle episode of a rare three-parter in which Batman and Robin were trying to thwart an equally rare team-up of villains dujour–in this case, the Joker and the Penguin. The Joker trapped them and Robin was about to get swallowed whole by a giant, cartoonish clam. From that moment on I was hooked.

Batman became after-school appointment television. I was eating birthday cake in Batman’s likeness, dressing up as Batman and Robin with my older cousin on play dates and playing with Batman action figures, including the elusive Robin figure by Toy Biz that I just had to have before my cousin did (usually, back when that stuff mattered to me, it was the other way around). My parents, looking over my shoulder to catch a glimpse of a “POW!”, “ZAP!” or “BIFF!”, were always happy to oblige, or so I hope.

It really is the perfect show to pass down from generation to generation; that same cousin, who has been screening the series on DVD for his own kids, will corroborate. As a boy, I loved the action, the adventure and the comic-book pizzazz. It’s what inspired me to start buying actual comic books on my parents’ dime. As an adult, I learned to love the melodrama, the innuendo, the occasional homoerotic undertones and the sheer camp of it all. Michael Keaton may be my favorite movie Batman, but there’s just something about Adam West bursting into a room in full Bat-costume and asking, with palpable concern, “Have you seen any unusual-looking people around here lately?”

Batman taught me, among other things, the importance of dental hygiene, feeding parking meters–“Good citizenship, you know”–staying in school and keeping both hands on the rope during a Bat-climb. (Despite having an endless supply of string and a trusty Batarang from my Batman accessory playset, that last one was one of the times my parents were not happy to oblige.) Then, one day, after seeing Batgirl asleep in the Batmobile and going through those first oncoming thrusts of manhood, a light bulb went on and I realized, “Holy shit, this is funny!”

I looked up to Batman. But I wanted to be Robin. In addition to asking my childhood barber to cut my hair like a young Burt Ward, I randomly repeated my favorite “Holy” phrases within earshot of anyone who wouldn’t be Burt Ward's autographterribly annoyed, and I dressed as the Boy Wonder before, during and after Halloween. While Batman put on the morality play, captured the bad guy (or girl, sometimes) and got all the glory, Robin, with his puzzle-solving and Bat-fighting skills, proved that Batman couldn’t have done it without him. Robin taught me that sometimes, age really is just a number, and that young people can make a difference in the world.

Receiving my copy of the complete series from my girlfriend was one of the greatest Christmas presents I’ve ever received. Receiving my copy of Ward’s tell-all book, My Life in Tights, from her parents–with a special surprise inside–was equally fantastic.

So imagine my surprise when this news was shared with me by West and Ward themselves, whom I saw in the flesh for the first time ever at Steel City Con over the summer (video courtesy of Screen Rant, via Mad Monster):

In the meantime, while I enjoy my special edition copy of the Batman movie from my mother and have a drink to toast my heroes, feel free to take a look at a few of my own hand-picked, definitive Bat-moments below.

Bartender! One large, fresh orange juice, please…

Episode #1: “Hi Diddle Riddle” –

Batman and Robin trace the Riddler to the new discotheque in town. Robin monitors while Batman investigates. It’s the scene that made the Batusi world-famous, but even before that, Batman’s answer to the manager’s question perfectly sets the tone for the entire series:

Episode #28: “The Pharaoh’s in a Rut” –

Speaking of the Batusi, the title of this clip says it all:

Batman (The Movie) –

Before it knew what the future held, 20th Century Fox wanted to premiere the movie to help sell the show. Instead, the show became an overnight sensation, and the movie, filmed shortly after the first season, capitalized on that. I apologize for the spoilery title of this clip, but I could not, in good conscience, leave the film’s best line off this list:

Episode #93: “Ice Spy” –

For my money, there’s just too much to choose from in Season Two. The highest-rated pair of episodes, which begin with Bruce and Dick skipping out on an all-male camping trip and a date, respectively, to chase Liberace (you draw your own conclusions) was just the tip of the iceberg. But speaking of icebergs (and money), Mr. Freeze concocted a plan that involves kidnapping a figure skater for a hefty ransom, and Batman, with the help of Bruce Wayne, is trying to pull a fast one on the frosty felon. So then this happened:

Episode #104: “Surf’s Up! Joker’s Under!” –

The decline of the ratings coincided with the height of the camp.

Batman surfs. Enough said:

Episode #119: “The Entrancing Dr. Cassandra” –

An alchemist develops a ray gun that turns Batman, Robin and Batgirl into cardboard. Alfred comes to their rescue. But there’s a problem: Batman has to anesthetize Batgirl, lest she learn the location of the Batcave, thus piercing the secret of his and Robin’s identity. What started as a harmless whiff of Bat-sleep beget one of the all-time great ad libs in television history:

How the NFL, for One Night, Sucked Less Than the NHL

I want to love the Steelers as much as I used to just like I want to love the NFL as much as I used to. Sports have always been and always will be part of my livelihood. But first and foremost, I’m a hockey person. And hockey people, by nature, don’t like to lose. I don’t like that hockey fans, like football fans, have lost respect from a league that insists upon insulting their intelligence.

That’s not to say I don’t care about Saturday’s result. If anything, historically, I’ve made the common yinzer mistake of caring too much. Sure, I was happy the Steelers won, and I would’ve gone to bed that night kind of bummed if they hadn’t, because I’m a Pittsburgher by blood, and it’s in my blood to wish my town–and all its teams–prosperity. Where I come from, winning football, economically, has always been better for the greater good than the alternative. But between the oversaturation of pro football (I can count on one hand the number of Thursday night games that have actually been good) and its overly ostentatious players, the ethically questionable player signings amid hypocritical bleating about “The Steeler Way”™ and the things I now know about Roger Goodell, I just can’t be as emotionally invested as I once was. Having said that, maybe, just this once, I should stop shaking my fist, and instead, clap my hands.

Maybe I should give the NFL, the most corrupt outfit in North American sports besides the NCAA, its ironically due credit for doing something the NHL hasn’t had the spine to do.

I realize sports were never meant to be a morality play. But I have been told repeatedly that they are entertainment. I am not alone in saying that, as a fundamental principle of entertainment, I am entertained when the victim gets justice, and the villain gets what he has coming. Don’t expect that to happen in Gary Bettman’s NHL.

To be fair, until the very (merciful) end of a Wild Card game at Paul Brown Stadium that would make its namesake spin in his grave, I wasn’t expecting it to happen there, either.

Don’t get me wrong. Bettman and Goodell are two sides of the same wooden nickel. They’re tricky political tycoons and shameless corporate apologists who have only really worked to make their respective products better when they’ve absolutely had to. But there’s a reason why pro hockey, in most places beyond Pittsburgh, is treated as a second-class citizen, and why pro football, universally, is not.

Let’s briefly shift our attention to the other corner of Ohio, where Brandon Dubinsky has shown flashes of brilliance as an assistant captain of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Still, Brandon Dubinsky doesn’t draw ratings and put asses in the seats like Sidney Crosby does. For all his flashy moves, Dubinsky has an equally robust history of dick moves, especially against Crosby.

Go ahead, Columbus. Bang your narrative drums and troll Crosby all you want for so-called petulance; God knows Dubinsky’s delusional head coach did. What Dubinsky did here is unacceptable (also, water is wet, and your team, last I checked, is still in last place):

In any context, it was a cheap shot, and based on where on his body Crosby absorbed the blow, it could have aggravated the concussion problems he’s had. Dubinsky knew what he was doing. He should have known better.

In summary, a player with a dirty reputation who made a dirty play, and who should have gotten five minutes at best and an ejection at worst was allowed to stay in the game, which gave him the opportunity to do this:

No books thrown at the villain. No justice for the victim. Just follow-up discipline tantamount to a speeding ticket–a one-game suspension–after an elite player was unnecessarily targeted. Sadly, I’ve come to expect nothing less from the NHL; as a result, we, the fans, all become victims. This is where the NFL picked up the ball–or puck, as it were–than the NHL constantly drops, and ran with it to the bank.

I’m not going to anoint Ben Roethlisberger for sainthood, for widely-cited reasons, to say nothing of a number of his teammates. But let’s be honest: What grinds the gears of beer-tossing Bengals fans more than Milledgeville these days is Big Ben’s stardom. He’s one of the NFL’s modern greats, and on top of that, he’s a northeast Ohio native who, historically, has terrorized both of Ohio’s NFL teams. Antonio Brown, meanwhile, is a man-amongst-boys wide receiver who has been a subject of best-in-the-league-at-his-position debates all season long as Ben’s primary target.

Now, for a stark contrast, let’s look at the other side of the ball. One of the chief antagonists on this night were Pacman Jones, the gum-flapping cornerback who, among other things, has shot up a strip club before. His attitude has negated whatever talent he’s possessed since he played at West Virginia, and when the Cowboys had to put up with him, Jerry Jones tried to idiot-proof Pacman by hiring what he called “bodyguards,” but were really the grown-ass man equivalent of babysitters.

The other one was Vontaze Burfict, who, like Jones, has been a suspect player dating back to his college days. Today, Burfict enjoys(?) a reputation as one of the dirtiest linebackers in the game. Dennis Erickson, who was once head coach at Miami, benched him at Arizona State for taking too many personal fouls. That’s like getting kicked out of the KKK for being a bigot.

Again, I can’t exempt my team from criticism. Ryan Shazier should be ashamed of himself for celebrating Gio Bernard’s injury, as should Antwon Blake (keep your eye on the upper right-hand corner):

And I loathe to play the “he started it” card…but:

The loose cannon kept firing Saturday, right into Roethlisberger’s shoulder, then, inexplicably, with a shot straight to Brown’s head. That’s not even counting the aftermath, in which Steelers offensive linemen claim Burfict spit at them. In Brown’s case, a flag was thrown and the appropriate penalty assessed at a time when NHL referees would have kept their whistles in their pockets and let the inmates run the asylum–not that they already weren’t to some degree.

I call B.S. on anyone who says Joey Porter came out onto the field to “check on” Brown. Porter and Jones are of the same generation. They’ve played on the same fields. Porter, like Mr. Dubinsky, knew what he was doing and waited until just the right time to do it. He deserves every penny of his fine, and he should have been penalized at the time. Perhaps, while Peezy was being Peezy, he would have been eventually, if not for Pacman being Pacman.

Hey, Mister Instagram, you know how they say the delete key is your friend? Pro tip: the “ignore” button, when available, is also your friend.

Then again, it’s clear that the Steelers and UPMC have collaborated on a genetic mutation that turned Chris Boswell into Gary Anderson, so who’s to say a 47-yard Boswell kick would have had an outcome different from his textbook 32-yarder? And besides, glass houses and stones:

I don’t know who those officials were, though, regardless which dog you had in this fight (not an expression I’m comfortable using in a year that saw the Steelers voluntarily take on Mike Vick’s baggage), you’d think they were the same 90-year-old knuckleheads who mangled that Steelers-Colts game ten years ago. Nevertheless, the NFL, even if just accidentally, managed to send a clear message Saturday night.

The NFL will embrace its stars unconditionally. The NFL will enforce its rules in a manner that allows its most skilled players to show off those skills, and makes middling and/or openly insubordinate players pay a price–literally, in Burfict’s case, next season–for taking liberties with stars. The NHL is too busy playing antiquated politics and fondling itself to visions of Vegas (the Los Angeles of pro hockey’s parallel universe) to do either of those things. Guess which league, for all the negative attention it has deservedly drawn, has also, deservedly, drawn more of the positive kind?

Saturday’s wild Wild Card was one of two football games I saw over the weekend in which no team had any business winning. But even if they were merely the lesser of two evils, the Pittsburgh Steelers got justice for their stars, while the Cincinnati Bengals got their own football-equivalent Sid Bream moment shoved down their collective throat.

Now that’s entertainment.

Maybe the Steelers, who did not win without cost, will surprise us and gut out another one in Denver? Maybe the Steelers, who have extended their season in spite of themselves and their coaches, will see their good karma run out against the Broncos? Either way, we know both teams will get what they deserve this approaching Sunday. Hell, that might be enough to make me flip over from Pens-Canes at quarter to 5:00.

Wow, did I really just say that? Sorry, fellow hockey people. It’s wrong of me to give you the cold shoulder.

But hey, nobody’s Burfict.