Friday, June 29, 2012

Rant #767: I Will Not Be Swayed

My son is a good looking kid, a young man who my wife and I are quite proud of.

He is our son.

Our son likes rap music.

He listens to it all the time, for hours on end.

He is trying to convince me that rap music is a legitimate musical form, and that I should like it as much as he does.

Sorry, kid, I will not be swayed.

I hate the music. It has no worth to me and it really should be called C-rap, as in garbage.

Look, being the musicologist that I am, I know that every generation has to have its own music.

For years, older people looked down on my music, rock and roll, as worthless garbage, but rock and roll emerged, and now, is really part of our culture.

Admittedly, it took years for that to happen, but pretty much by the 1980s, rock and roll entered the mainstream, where it resides today and forever.

Rap music is another thing.

It can trace its lineage back to the same 1950s era that spawned rock and roll, but it has taken a bumpy route to where it is now.

It probably started with the poetic rantings of black disk jockeys on urban stations that were the first ones to play black rhythm and blues, which kind of morphed into rock and roll once white performers--like Elvis Presley--got into it and kind of mixed it with country and western to get a whole new genre.

Black artists picked up on this, and certainly, many of James Brown's 1960s recordings were almost raps, more melodic than what you hear today, but he spoke melodically as much as he sang.

And let's not forget those coffee shops with those funny looking beatniks, who would get up on stage and talk about anything on their minds, often while background music played in the background.

Bongo, bongo.

Other artists "rapped," and I think the first true, hit "rap" record, although it wasn't called that, was comedian Pigmeat Markham's "Here Comes the Judge," which hit the Hot 100 and later the Top 20 as a result of the veteran of the Chitlin' Circuit finally getting the national recognition that he deserved, as a cast member on "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In."

Anyway, other artists also rapped as much as they sang, and fast forwarding to the 1980s, artists like Grandmaster Flash and Kurtis Blow plowed the path that later artists, including 50 Cent and Eninem, now proudly walk.

My problem with rap music is that it is anti-social, anti-woman, pro-violence, and pretty much very disturbing.

It is not uplifting music, it is music to get riled by.

It uses gutter language, makes that language legitimate, and uses the N-word regularly, just about legitimizing it for the younger generation.

It is not music, it is beats, and very repetitious beats at that.

It has little form at all, and every song kind of sounds alike.

But it is the negativity that gets me. For every Will Smith rapping about next to nothing, you have others who rap about raping women and doing other horrible things.

And a whole generation seemingly loves this music, if that is what you want to call it.

Sorry, my son, but I don't like this music, and I don't care how popular it is.

It is not my music, it is not really music at all.

If my son and his generation like it, that's fine with me.

But please, please, don't try to justify its existence to me.

Growing up when I grew up, when you had the British Invasion, Motown, and the great sounds we heard coast to coast, I guess I am spoiled.

Today's kids don't have that frame of reference, so they think that what they are listening to is "real" music.

Sorry, but this old fuddy duddy thinks your music stinks, in plain English--and I don't have to use any X-rated words to describe that feeling.

I don't care how popular the music is, how many records (or whatever they call it today) sell, how many songs get Grammy Awards.

Like the title says, I will not be swayed.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Rant #766: Goodbye, Don

Don Grady died yesterday at age 68 after a four-year battle with cancer.

I feel like I have lost a friend.

Yes, I was Facebook friends with him, and yes, he often wrote back to me about various things that I had commented on.

No, he wasn't a Hollywood phony, having up a Facebook page just to have one, but never really reading anything anybody put up.

He read everything I wrote, and when he wrote back to me using my first name, I knew that something I wrote to him had hit home.

But that was Grady, and that was a personality he honed growing up on the long-running "My Three Sons" sitcom.

The show was on from 1960-1972, and Grady was one of the stars of the show up until the last season, when he left to pursue his life-long dream of becoming a full-time musician.

The show was about the Douglas family, led by Fred MacMurray's Steve Douglas, a widower, Bub, played by William Frawley (and later Uncle Charley, played by William Demarest), and sons Mike, Robby (Grady) and little Chip.

Mike, played by Tim Considine, was very serious, very deep, very handsome and was just about the perfect young man.

Chip, played by Stanley Livingston, was the baby, the cute kid who got into all kinds of trouble.

Robby was the middle child, and as most middle kids do, he had a bit of the older child and a bit of the younger child in him.

He was good looking, but he wasn't the greatest at most things, unlike his older brother. He also had one foot into still being a little kid, getting into scraps on an almost episode by episode basis.

But Grady's character matured as Grady himself got older.

In fact, when Considine left the series in 1965 to pursue his life-lomg dream to be a photographer, Grady kind of morphed into the older son, with all the attributes Mike had.

All of a sudden, he became responsible, went to college, got married to the most beautiful actress on television at that time (Tina Cole), had triplets, and became, like his dad, an engineer.

Chip took on the middle kid's role, and Barry Livingston, Stanley's real brother, became a full-time cast member, moving from the next door neighbor to father Steve Douglas' adopted son after little Ernie's parents died in a car crash.

Anyway, Grady stayed with that role for a couple of years, but when the music struck him, he left while the show was still at the top of its game, with several new characters, including Steve's wife and adopted daughter.

Music had been with Grady since he was a child on the Mouseketeers. He was overshadowed by Annette Funicello and some of the other kids, but he was probably one of the more talented kids to come out of that series.

He also continued his love of music on "My Three Sons." The family was often seen playing as a makeshift band, and Grady's character also warbled "Good Man to Have Around the House" on one of the episodes. His band, the Greefs, appeared in an episode.

He also had a music career aside from the show.

Grady was a member of a group called the Yellow Balloon, who had one hit entitled, of course, "Yellow Balloon." He had to keep his identity in the band secret for a variety of reasons, so few knew he was part of that group.

He also recorded as a solo artist, and as part of a group called Windupwatchband.

When he left the show to pursue his musical dream, he recorded numerous soundtrack scores for movies and documentaries, but he will always be remembered for composing the theme to the "Donohue" TV talk show.

During the past 40 years or so, he also released a number of albums--often under his real name, Don Agrati--and worked with a variety of musicians who helped him realize his musical dream.

He was the brother of Lani O'Grady, the actress on "Eight Is Enough," who died of a drug overdose some years ago.

And he got along famously with his old castmates.

In real life, Grady was married for years, had a few kids, and was a grandfather.

I wondered why he had been off his Facebook site for so long, and he never let on about the cancer that was eating away at him for years.

He returned briefly, but then left again.

I honestly didn't think anything was wrong, but then this morning, I read the terrible news.

This guy was as down to earth as anybody I have ever met.

He knew his place in life, his place in the annals of TV history, and he let it go at that. He wasn't pompous, and I think that had to do with the fact that he loved what he had done, and loved what he was currently doing.

R.I.P. Don Grady. You truly had a wonderful life.

(And also R.I.P. to Doris Singleton, the character actress who played Carolyn Appleby on "I Love Lucy." She was in her 90s. One of her most memorable roles away from Lucy was on "All in the Family," where she shared a room with Edith Bunker during jury duty. Singleton's character was ready to convict a young man for doing something that Edith eventually convinced the jury that he did not do. A great episode, and this actress had a pretty fabulous career, starting off as a big band singer in the 1940s. She, like Grady, will be missed.)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Rant #765: Keeping Abreast When Eating Out

I just read a report about restaurant dining, which spoke about a type of restaurant that I didn't know existed.

Well, more to the point, I kind of knew that it existed, but I didn't know the "creative" name given to these types of restaurants.

According to reports, what are called "breastaurants"--restaurants that feature scantily clad women as waitresses that offer various food fare to adult customers--are experiencing boobing, err, booming sales, while regular, family oriented restaurants aren't doing as well.

Without getting into specifics, what are breastaurants and why are they doing so well?

Breastaurants are dining out places that cater to an adult psyche, and primarily a male psyche. While not featuring nudity, the waitresses at these places--industry leader Hooters is the top-heavy leader of this type of restaurant--show just enough to get the guys going.

But even Hooters is having to adapt to an environment where a voluptuous economy isn't in place anymore. The chain has had to vary its menu, adding on new things for customers to bust open their wallets for.

Frankly, I have never been to one of these restaurants, but there is a Hooters in my vicinity, and I figured that when my son was old enough, maybe for an upcoming birthday, that might be a place to go to celebrate.

There is nothing wrong with these places at all. I mean, they aren't strip joints or massage parlors.

The waitresses show a little cleavage, and a little leg, and that is really about it.

It's not like walking into a trashy venue, either. A lot of these places are pretty uplifting types of establishments, if you know what I mean.

They are often situated in college towns, so they employ lots of college kids--not just the waitresses, but other staff too.

They are generally doing well because, I guess, people need an extra reason--or in this case, reasons--to go out and spend their hard-earned cash.

And the summer is the season to do it.

Those that knock these places as selling sex as well as chicken breast sandwiches are missing the point. You can see more nudity at any public beach than you can at these places.

So carry on. And even though I hate chicken, I like breasts, so maybe I will actually dig in one day.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Rant #764: 38 Is Great

Derek Jeter turns 38 today.

As a Yankees fan my whole life, Derek Jeter has defined the team for the past 16 years.

He is this generation's Mr. Yankee, every bit as much as Joe DiMaggio was an earlier generation's Mr. Yankee.

And like DiMaggio, he has a presence and grace which is incredible, especially in this day and age of Facebook, Twitter, the Internet, and everybody knowing everything about everybody.

Sure, he has been linked with lots of starlets, but somehow, no dirt comes out of these dalliances.

And he is the one guy that the other teams in baseball would give their right arm for. Although not the player he was several years ago, when you need a big hit, or a big play made in the field, this is the guy you want on your team.

Some--and even, some of his fellow ballplayers--believe he is the most overrated player to ever play the game. They say that if he played in, say, Cleveland, Jeter would just be another ballplayer.

But he plays in New York, and he knows just how to handle himself the right way.

He probably learned that from his parents, educators that don't look like they took much guff from their son when he was growing up.

He also learned from his sister, who battled cancer and won.

He has five World Series rings to show for his hard work and dedication to the game.

There really isn't much else to say about Jeter. Even non-baseball fans know his name, know what he looks like from the incredible array of endorsements he has, and of course, he is baseball's perennial teenybopper star, with his boy-next-door looks, so every teenage girl knows him and loves him.

He started off like a house on fire this season, but he has tailed off, still over .300 but teetering to fall below that mark. He probably will be in the All-Star game once again, and the way the Yankees are playing, the post season is beckoning for Jeter, and that is where he shines brighter than just about any other player.

So, as Jeter celebrates another birthday--and with no end in sight to his career as he goes for another milestone after hitting, and exceeding many other milestones--this Yankee fan wishes him the best.

Because let's face it, he is the best at what he does, even as he approaches 40.

And in my best Bob Sheppard interpretation ...

"Happy No. 38 and many more ... number two, Derek Jeter ... ."

Monday, June 25, 2012

Rant #763: Slam Dunk On a Lost Spaceship

Growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, I was greatly influenced by what I saw on television, much the same way today's kids are mesmerized by the Internet.

That box in our living room--and later, a smaller box in my room--brought the world to me, opened me up to new ideas, and yes, entertained me too.

And two of those people that entertained me celebrate birthdays today.

On the slam dunk side is Willis Reed, the New York Knicks legend who helped that team win two NBA championships, who turns 70 today.

The other is actress June Lockhart, who many viewers like myself fell in love with as the quintessential mom, first in "Lassie," and later, on that lost spaceship, on "Lost in Space." She turns 87 today.

Reed was the center on those great, intellectual, team-concept Knicks teams. He wasn't as tall as the other centers in the league--he was 6'8", maybe 6'9" on a good day--but he knew how to play guys like Wilt Chamberlain and Lew Alcindor. He particularly gave fits to Alcindor--later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar--and he took these other centers to school with his defensive and shooting prowess.

But one day sticks in my mind. I have talked about it many times, so I am going to summarize it here.

In the 1969-70 season, the Knicks and Lakers were tussling for the championship. Reed was injured, could barely walk, wasn't supposed to play the game on May 8, 1970, but somehow, he came out for warmups, which gave the Knicks the psychological edge they needed.

When Reed actually started the game and made his first two shots, the Lakers had had it. The Knicks won the championship, and me, in my sick bed, made a vow that if Reed could do it, I could too. I did my bar mitzvah the very next day, and the rest for me is history.

Lockhart made her name on TV as the mom to Timmy on "Lassie" and the mom to the three kids on "Lost in Space."

She was one of the first of the long line of TV moms that have entertained us through the decades, everyone from Lucy Ricardo to Peg Bundy.

But Lockhart did it on ground and in space--the settings for her two most memorable shows--which made her something special.

On "Lassie," she helped Timmy through all his struggles of growing up, living a somewhat simple life on a farm, and on "Lost in Space," she helped her kids grow up too, albeit on one orb after another.

Although she kind of had to dress down for both roles, Lockhart was really a very pretty woman, with a nice figure and perfect composure for both roles.

She knew she wasn't the star of each show, basically a supporting actor, first, to a dog, and second, to a robot, but she did her bit with a lot of panache.

Reed and Lockhart are parts of my childhood, stirring memories that will live with me forever. I salute them both on their birthdays, and wish them many, many more.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Rant #762: Crazy From the Heat

It's hot outside.

To that we all agree.

But it's summer. It's supposed to be hot.

With temperatures reaching 90-plus degrees today in the northeast for the third straight day today, weathermen are calling what we are going through a heat wave.

But for all of those who are complaining about the heat, would you rather it be 20 degrees with snow?

Smart people know how to keep cool when it is so hot outside.

First of all, if you can't bear the heat, stay inside, in air conditioning.

If you must be outside, drink lots of fluids, and I don't mean beer and soda. Water is the right choice for a day like today, because it hydrates you and quenches your thirst and cools you down, all at the same time.

I learned a valuable lesson a few years back.

My family and I were at Yankee Stadium, and it was 97 degrees that day, which means on the field and in the stands, it was probably even hotter.

I thought I was hydrating myself by drinking my usual liquid of choice at the time, soda. But all I was doing was ramping up the heat for myself.

In the middle of the game, I felt sick and dizzy, and ran to the bathroom, where I proceeded to pass out.

My son called for help, and the Yankee Stadium security crew did a great job at getting me going again, spraying me with water, and getting my body temperature down.

They even allowed us to sit in one of the exclusive restaurants there so I could really cool down with the air conditioning in there.

I was better almost immediately, and later that week, they even called me to find out how I was doing.

Many years earlier, when I was a teenager, I passed out during a very hot day while riding my bicycle to a friend's house.

I was ready to cross a crowded intersection, and the next thing I know, I was on my back on the island in the middle of the street. To this day, I have no idea how I got there, but somebody must have dragged me over there, basically saving me from getting run over.

I am smarter now. Sure, I have a sugary stuff every now and again, but when we go to an outdoor event like a baseball game, I drink water.

The best thing about water is that unlike soda, I don't feel that I have to go to the bathroom every once in a while when drinking it, so I can concentrate on the game.

So to stay cool, drink water, stay in the air conditioning, and don't do anything too strenuous.

I'm not much for the heat, and the heat doesn't do much for me.

But you have to respect it, and you do that by respecting what your own body can and can't do when it is this hot. I learned my lesson and hopefully, I won't ever have a problem again with the heat.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Rant #761: Portrait of an Artist

LeRoy Neiman passed away yesterday at age 91.

Many of you probably recognize the name, but don't know much him.

He was a painter and a sketch artist, and probably, if you had asked him what he did for a living, that is probably what he would have told you.

But Neiman was a bit more complex than that.

Let's face it, I don't usually go over the careers of painters. But this guy was something well beyond that.

For decades, Neiman was most widely known as a sports artist.

Using quick strokes, he was able to capture movement, in a painting, which is something incredible in itself.

When you looked at a Neiman painting, of a Muhammad Ali, or of some other athlete, you really felt that you were seeing movement even though the picture was stationary.

He painted them all, from Ali to Namath to Jordan to Tiger Woods to numerous baseball players and Olympic athletes, will certainly outlive him. They are cherished pieces, commanding lots of money to own one.

You would often see him out at the ballfield, sitting in the stands, with his ubiquitous mustache jumping up and down as he sketched an athlete in motion.

He also was well known for the art he produced for Playboy magazine, but it is in sports that he really became most known for.

I can't write much more about him because, quite frankly, I am not one of those people who go to art galleries and marvel at what I see. I kind of find that a bit boring and, well, a bit snobby, too.

Heck, one of my art teachers in school, when I was about 11 or 12, actually told me that I had no artistic talent at all.

Based on that, you can say, "What do I know about art," and maybe I know very little, but I knew Neiman.

As a sports fan myself, I know that he was able to transfer the kinetic energy of sport onto a canvas better than anyone.

So in passing, Neiman's legacy will live on in his paintings, his etchings, and his sense of sport.

If you are unfamiliar with his works, check them out on the Internet.

I think you will be surprised, and quite pleased with what you find.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Rant #760: Wrestling With My Thoughts

Happy summer, and good to be back after a day of tests on my eyes, which, I am happy to say, are doing quite well, thank you.

Now onto a pressing matter:

Professional wrestling.

No, I am not going to argue about the merits of professional wrestling. I can do that until I am blue in the face, and that's not from a choke hold being applied to my neck.

On Monday night, my son and I attended Monday Night RAW at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island.

Whatever you want to say about professional wrestling, consider this:

RAW is approaching its 1,000th show.

That's right, more shows than "Gunsmoke," "Lassie," and even "The Simpsons."

I think "Meet the Press" has it beat by a lot, but 1,000 shows is a lot, especially when they are two to three hours in length each and many are live.

So we went, we saw, and we conquered.

WWE puts on a great show. This is the circus, basically, without the three rings.

In its place is what they call "the squared circle," and that is where most of the action takes place, although a lot happens outside the ring, too.

On this night, not only were most of the WWE's top wrestlers, including John Cena and Cain, in attendance, but in a nod to the past, Cindy Lauper, Wendy Richter and Rowdy Roddy Piper also appeared, basically to appear in one sketch to take the proceedings to a comical turn.

You might remember that in the mid 1980s, wrestling was still basically its own best kept secret. People had been flocking to wrestling matches for generations, but it wasn't yet mainstream.

Cindy Lauper came onto the music scene, an overnight sensation who had worked years before she hit the big time. "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" was her biggest hit, and she had a kind of tomboy/girl next door personality--with all the 1980s glitz thrown in--to make her very endearing through her music and her MTV-hot videos.

Someone got the extremely bright idea to mix rock and roll and wrestling, and Lauper was the leader of this brigade, eventually becoming the "manager" of Wendy Richter, who toppled the Fabulous Moolah and became champion. Moolah had held the women's title for eons, and Richter was tall, good looking and became a fan favorite.

Anyway, on Monday night, the WWE, through Roddy Piper, acknowledged the fact--and it really is one--that Lauper, Richter, and their alliance with the WWE moved professional wrestling into a loftier mode, helping make it mainstream and the global phenomenon it is today.

To make a long story short, Lauper leveled a current wrestler who showed no reverence for the past by hitting him over the head with one of her gold records that was in a glass plaque.

'Nuff said about that.

Anyway, the two-plus hours of wrestling moved at a brisk pace, and my son and I had a good time among the sold-out house.

Professional wrestling is a funny thing. You either love it or hate it, there really is no in between.

On this night, my son and I had lots of fun, as did seemingly everyone else who attended.

Professional wrestling has become a family thing, with more kids than adults in attendance.

As a bonding tool, you really can't knock it, and I don't. I take it for what it is--a chance for my 16 year old son and I to share something together--and leave it at that.

I leave the analysis to people who think they know a lot more than they actually do.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Rant #759: Bacon and ...

Burger King is now the third most popular hamburger fast food joint in the United States.

It recently fell from the number two spot, which it seemingly held for generations, and was replaced by Wendy's.

Of course, McDonald's is number one.

Anyway, back to Burger King.

Burger King generally appeals to a core audience of males from their mid-teens through their mid 20s, or people who think that they are still in that age group.

But falling to third place isn't to be tolerated by Burger King, no matter who their core audience is.

So Burger King brought in some new people into its fold, and tasked them with developing new and exciting offerings for their audience, and more importantly, for those who they hoped to interest in their menu offerings.

Expand the audience, and expand your profits.

So they've brought in some new salads, some new breakfast items, and some other things as they compete in the torrid fast food wars.

But there is one item that they brought in that is garnering all the publicity above anything else:

The Bacon Sundae.

Taking a page from higher, upscale restaurants offering this type of fare to guests, Burger King is offering diners a concoction of vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup, and bacon as a new taste treat.

My son--who at 16 is in Burger King's prime demographic--wanted Burger King this Father's Day weekend, so I thought I would take the splurge, ordering this interesting sounding dessert and tasting it for myself.

I figured, I could only die once, since on the next day, we were having a group of people over for for our annual Father's Day barbecue (it was a good day, by the way), so if it was putrid, the taste wouldn't last too long--24 hours--maybe until I cranked up the grill and started cooking.

Well, I did, and here is my appraisal of it.

The ice cream is their usual soft serve, which reminds me of the old Mister Softee ice cream I had as a kid. It goes down real quick, and is kind of tasty without being utltra sweet.

The syrup plops to the bottom, so you don't get that taste until you have eaten a couple of spoon fulls of the ice cream. It is gooey, sweet, and mixed in with the ice cream, it is a pretty good sundae as it is.

But now for the fat of the matter ...

Burger King mixes in some small pieces of bacon into the ice cream, topped off with a larger, thicker piece of bacon which sticks out of the top of this concoction.

Eating the ice cream and the syrup with the bacon is kind of a weird experience. You get the sweet mixed with the salty and smokey, and that is kind of different, to say the least.

The problem is that the bacon really isn't that good of a piece of bacon, so the sweet kind of overrides the salty and smokey.

Basically, what you get is sweet mixed with chewy, and their bacon is very chewy.

The ice cream, which normally slides down your throat easily, has to wait a few seconds until you chew up the bacon.

This is nothing more than a novelty, and I will bet that a lot of people will initially buy it out of curiosity. But will they buy it again, and again, and again?

I seriously doubt it.

Burger King could have aced this if they used a better piece of bacon in the mix, something lighter, and maybe a little more tender.

What you have is a sundae that you have to chew, and that really isn't that good.

On a hot day, you want your sundae to go down easy. This sundae needs chewing to go down, so what is the point of having this on a hot summer day?

The point is simple, and it has nothing to do with taste.

Burger King has gotten an incredible amount of publicity about this dessert, a lot of free publicity because of its uniqueness.

You can't get this dessert in McDonald's, and you can't get it in Wendy's.

With the fast food wars always revving up during the summer, now Burger King has a game changer; people who might go to McDonald's or Wendy's might veer off to Burger King to try this concoction, so the curiosity factor will win out here, at least initially.

The problem is that it won't be sustained. Once the novelty wears off, people will bypass Burger King and go to the other places--but Burger King is counting on their other menu items to win over the populace, and this is just one element of their menu changeover.

Buy the sundae, and buy another menu offering, and maybe that menu offering will engage you enough that you will come in again.

I give them an A for effort, an A for uniqueness, but only a C for execution.

But you know, that might just be enough for Burger King to jump start their move ahead of Wendy's. They will never catch McDonald's, but Wendy's might be ripe for the catching. It probably is doable.

So here is to the Bacon Sundae, an idea we will be talking about in the years to come as a noble idea, but ultimately, nothing more.

But I hope Burger King and the other fast foods continue to think out of the box like this, and come up with menu items that make we want to try out their new fare.

I mean, how much more can you do with a hamburger than what you have already done?

Let me digest my thoughts, and I will speak to you again on Wednesday, as tomorrow, I have to go for another eye exam and will be out of pocket, so to speak.

See you again on Wednesday.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Rant #758: See You, Sue

Today is Sue Simmons' final day as news anchor for WNBC-TV Channel 4 in New York.

Most of the rest of the country outside of the New York Metropolitan Area probably doesn't know who Sue Simmons is, but to people on the East Coast, it is safe to say that a legend leaves the airwaves today.

It's not by her own design; her contract, after 32 years, is not being picked up.

Since 1980s, she has been paired with Chuck Scarborough as news anchors on the station. And what a pairing it has been!

He, the handsome, waspy, straight forward newsman, she is ethnic, pretty, bubbly, funny, and also, extremely talented one.

She came to the station while in her late 30s, and leaves it as she approaches 70. There are so many memories during her 32 years at the station that it is hard to choose just one.

Simmons was the perfect person to lead the then-red hot "Live at Five" show, a pioneering showcase for not only news, but also for features and entertainment.

Her engaging personality helped catapult the show to lofty heights. At one time, it was the news show to watch in New York City, the place to be and to be seen.

After that concept ran out of steam, she and Scarborough continued to handle the news with much aplomb ... most of the time.

One major gaffe in later years was when Simmons let out an expletive for all to hear on the air.

But it was Sue Simmons, one of the most popular news personalities in New York, so all was forgiven pretty quickly.

And viewers have ridden her ups and downs as if we were all her next door neighbors.

She has had off and on health problems, most recently back surgery, but she has always bounced back.

But not this time.

WNBC announced in March that her contract would not be renewed, and today, one of the longest tenured anchor teams in local news history will end its historic run.

Scarborough, who came to the station a few years earlier than Simmons, just had his contract renewed, so he isn't going anywhere.

But what will happen to Simmons once all the tributes run out today?

For one of the few times in her life, she has been quiet, keeping mum on this. The daughter of a jazz musician isn't tooting her own horn on her future, but I will bet she turns up somewhere, maybe not on a regular basis, but I bet we haven't seen the last of her.

Thanks, Sue, for all the memories, the ups and downs, the gaffes, the guffaws, and everything else.

It has been quite a run, hasn't it?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Rant #757: Flag Day

Today is Flag Day.

Does anyone even know what Flag Day is all about?

Since the first Flag Day in 1861, the holiday signifies the day that the flag of the United States was adopted by this country, in 1777.

The familiar "Stars and Stripes" has undergone many alterations over the past 235 years, but not much has happened to change Old Glory since 1959, when Alaska and Hawaii were welcomed into the Union.

But certainly, the flag has changed a lot since it was launched in the days of the American Revolution.

Today is also cited as the birthday of the U.S. Army. Congress adopted the American Continental Army on this day in 1775, and that Army was the forerunner of the modern U.S. Army, so today is the Army's birthday.

And the Army has always upheld our flag with honor and grace.

I don't ever remember Flag Day being that big a holiday, but when I was a kid, it was certainly more visible.

Flags were hung out on many residences, including apartment buildings, where people displayed their flags outside their windows.

But it was never celebrated like July 4th was, and is, and it was never celebrated like other holidays that honor our country.

Parades are held in some places, and actually, Flag Day has been partially usurped by Flag Week, which begins today. The President annually issues a declaration stating the every American should display the flag for the duration of that week, so this year, flags should be displayed through Saturday, June 16.

But there isn't much more to say about Flag Day.

Everyone works on Flag Day, there are no cookouts, and generally, no special observances.

It is kind of a poor stepchild to July 4, I guess.

But when you see the Stars and Stripes today, take a second to think about what it represents, what it stands for, and how important it is in our lives.

Sure, we all take it for granted, but our flag is really the greatest work of art mankind has ever created.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Rant #756: Not a New Problem

We constantly read about people getting addicted to pills.

Whether the pills are used for some emotional problems, to alleviate pain, or to help people to get to sleep, addiction to pills is something of an epidemic.

It is kind of a "person next door" epidemic.

When someone is addicted to some illegal drug, you have a vision of them in some alley or some corner, shaking like the Dickens, foaming at the mouth and looking like they haven't washed in months.

Not so with addiction to pills, or at least, not to the outside world. Some of these people look as normal as you and I do.

Some just go off the deep end, as the recent incidents on Long Island involving painkillers and pharmacies being attacked have illustrated.

Yesterday, while riding my stationery bike for a little exercise, I turned on Antenna TV, a wonderful, oldies TV show rerun station that is on the air in New York via WPIX Channel 11.

I watched an old episode of "Adam-12," the buddy cop show with Martin Milner and Kent McChord that ran on NBC in the late 1960s and the 1970s.

The story seemed to be right out of today's headlines.

A mother is struggling to understand her young teenage son, who the cops are investigating for dealing pills. The mom says that it can't be her son, he is so young and innocent, so it can't be him.

He does very well in school, so it can't be him, she claims. "I have heard that the first thing that happens when a kid is addicted to drugs is that his grades go down," she exclaims, and her son's grades are just fine, she says, so he can't be doing drugs.

Well, one thing leads to another, and the kid is apprehended. He is a smart kid, and tells the police that he knows his rights, and he doesn't have to tell the police anything.

And, of course, he is right about that, so they take him down to the station, and his mother is called.

With the two policemen and the mom and son together, the show's climactic scene unfolds.

Finally, the kid breaks down, and tells the police he has been getting the pills illegally. But he really isn't the main culprit here.

"It was me, officers," the mom says. "I haven't been able to get to sleep. Someone I play bridge with has a husband who is a physician, and she has been writing the requests on his stationery, and sending them out to the manufacturer. I have been using 18 pills a day."

To me, 18 pills would sink a water elephant, but the woman needs that amount of pills a day to sleep.

Sure, this is a dramatization based on an actual case, or so we are told, but that show was filmed probably 40 years ago.

The problem still exists today.

People get hooked on these things and can't get off. They justify it by saying that it's not heroin, so they aren't drug addicts.

But they are.

And in some instances, the need for these things not only hurts the person and their families, but many others. Some would kill for these things.

When I had my kidney stone problem last summer, I was given a pain killer, and told to only use it if I was in some discomfort.

My discomfort was relatively mild, but I decided to use it anyway, just to see why people would literally commit murder to get some.

I knew almost immediately why.

Within about three seconds, I felt no discomfort, no pain, heck, I didn't feel much of anything.

And yes, soon after I threw those pills out.

Those pills were so strong that they should be made illegal.

But back to the show.

That show opened up my eyes. I guess I was a little naive to think this type of behavior started maybe in the last 25 years or so, but it's probably been going on for decades.

It's just that now, the pills are stronger, and people will go to any means to get them.

How sad. To have your life run by little, but potent pills.

Happily, I never really have had the need for such things. But I know others swear by them.

But you have to watch yourself. They are so good, so strong, that they are very addicting.

Just think, do you want your lives run by a pill?

I think not. I would hope that others would feel the same way.

And the P.S. to this rant is that the very next show, an episode of "Dragnet" with Jack Webb and Harry Morgan, had a back story about one of the detectives popping pills to ward off his allergies.

He eats them like candy throughout the show, and finally, Friday pops some of the pills too.

Look, I know that 40 some odd years ago, these types of pills were looked at differently than they are today, they were much less potent, and if there was an ailment, there was a pill.

Even television advertising followed suit, showing pills like sleeping pills in almost a heavenly light.

But I just found it interesting that one show, made in 1967, showed cops popping pills like candy, and the other show, made in 1973 or so, shows cops pursuing citizens who are popping pills like candy.

And the shows were produced by the same guy, Jack Webb.

Very strange bedfellows indeed.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Rant #755: Accidents Will Happen

Last Friday, while I was at work, I said "Hello" to a co-worker, and the co-worker replied in kind.

But then she hit me with a bombshell.

Evidently, trying to back into a space in our company's parking lot, she hit my car (not the one in the photo).

Of course, I wasn't in it, having parked much earlier when I got to work.

She said that she had to maneuver her car because "a truck was parked in the parking lot," and she maneuvered it so well that, well, she hit my car.

She said the accident could have been even worse, if not for her driving prowess. And, "why was the truck parked in the parking lot anyway?"

Oh, the pain, the pain.

I ran out to survey the damage, and quite frankly, it is only on the front bumper on the passenger side. There appears to be a gash in the bumper, and paint was ripped off.

Obviously, this idiot tried to wedge her way into a space, and instead, she wedged her way into my car.

I told her I would take the car in for a damage estimate the next day, on Saturday, which I did.

The damage was estimated at slightly more than $600.

Several problems have arisen because of her ineptitude.

First of all, she told me later that Friday that she "could only pay" with her Discover card. Go find an auto body place that takes Discover (believe it or not, I did).

Second, after presenting her with the estimate yesterday, it took her nearly four hours to come over to me and tell me that she wasn't satisfied with what I gave her, and she "had a place that she could trust" which was close to work. Heck, she would even drive me there, or drive my car there because it was so convenient.

This is a sham, begging for time and speaking out of the side of her mouth. The convenience is supposed to be for me, not for her. I went to a highly rated auto body shop in my area, near my house. I want to get this done when it is convenient for me, not for her. She doesn't live that far away from me, so it should be no big deal for her to get to an auto body place that I trust.

The one she trusts was recommended to her by the auto repair shop across the street. She's never used them; why trust them?

And to have to use the Discover card ... give me a break!

So today, I am leaving work early to get her as many estimates as I can. I am going to places in my community. It is simply easier for me. I would like the work to be done next Tuesday, because I am not in need of a car that day. I have to go for one of my periodic eye exams, have taken the day off, and can drop the car off before the exam.

Or I can get it done on Saturday. My wife isn't working this weekend, so we can use her car instead of mine.

So it is easier for me to do it this way, whether my co-worker thinks it is or not.

I don't understand people, I really don't. I give her credit for telling me about the accident, although I probably would have figured out who did it myself even if she didn't tell me.

But don't justify your actions by telling me, like she did, that the accident "could have been worse."

Look, I don't want to go through insurance. I am sure many of you are wondering why I haven't mentioned this yet.

The reason is that in New York State, we have something called no fault.

What that means is that if there is a car accident, no fault is placed on either party or any of the parties involved.

And what that also means is that no matter who caused the accident, both of our rates are going to go up, because even though there was an accident, and no fault was placed on either of us, the accident has to count against us, anyway.

So here I am, at work, doing my job, and this idiot hits me.

According to New York State, I am at fault too.

So my rates will go up.

I am trying to avoid this. It isn't worth it to me to have my rates accelerate. I am a good driver and haven't had an accident in decades.

So today, I have to go for some estimates. I need at least one more, and I plan on getting it today.

It makes for something of a bad vibe at work, because the woman works on my floor and she is in plain site of me.

But the aggravation of trying to fix something that I didn't do is even worse.

Let's see what happens.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Rant #754: A Close Shave?

I am one of those people who really should shave each and every day, maybe twice a day, to keep my beard off my face.

I don't shave so often, but even after shaving, it doesn't take long for me to feel the hair pop up on my face again.

I also have sensitive skin, so a blade is pretty much out. I used one when I was younger, but it ripped up my face so much that I decided to go with an electric shaver, and for pretty much the past 40 years, that is what I've used when I shave.

As happens every few years, I need a new razor, so I went to the store to get one (not the one shown). After paying about $40 for one, getting it home, and preparing to use it, I found that one part of the razor--which had been standard for years--isn't anymore.

The sideburn trimmer on the back of the electric razor is gone. I didn't even realize this until I started to shave, and tried to pop it up from the back when I was ready to cut by sideburns.

The companies that make these types of razors are pushing trimmers now, smaller electric razors that are more maneuverable on your face.

By using a trimmer, not only can you easily trim your sideburns, you can do the same for your mustache and your beard. And, in this day and age of real vanity, I guess men can use these trimmers to trim hair on other parts of their bodies too.

But again, getting a trimmer is another expense, and after spending what I did for the least expensive razor  I could find, I now see that at least on this razor, the trimmer has been relegated to an extra that doesn't come with these models.

I mean, it really isn't a big deal--I used the regular razor to trim my sideburns. But it's almost akin to a new car not coming with a side-view mirror. You can drive the car, but it sure makes it easier to have one.

The same thing with the trimmer.

I almost believe that this is one of the those things that is happening to things we took for granted, with companies trying to push up sales of certain items over others.

Have you been to the dentist lately? In the old days, you had a cavity, it was taken care of, and that was the end of that.

Today, each tooth has four sides, and cavities--and prices--are taken care of that way. Thus, if you have a cavity that infiltrates more than one side, your price escalates.

Airline passengers are being told that if they want a window or an aisle seat, they have to pay extra, and, of course, the extra charge for baggage has been going on for years now.

In the supermarket, we can still get our favorite grocery items, but they have all been downsized. Have you seen a Yodel lately? They are like half the size that they used to be.

So the consumer is getting hit on every side. We have to take it because that is the way it is, and as consumers, we really don't have much of a comeback.

So here I am, with an electric razor without a sideburn trimmer, something that was standard for years and years. And by the way, this razor comes from a major manufacturer of these things, not some non-brand that you've never heard of.

It's not a total loss. The rest of the razor works just fine, so I will learn to live without this device.

But it just goes to show you the extent that manufacturers are going to to cut corners in hopes of boosting their bottom line.

Sad, real sad.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Rant #753: Birthdays, We've Got More Birthdays

And you thought that yesterday's Rant about the birthdays of Tom Jones and Ken Osmond would be the last of them for this week, didn't you?

Well, let's add three more to the list.

Comedians Jerry Stiller and Joan Rivers celebrate birthdays today. Stiller is 85, and Rivers is 79.

And let's not forget that today is also the birthday of singer Nancy Sinatra, who turns 72.

Stiller is a comic for the ages. He has redirected himself so many times, but he continues to be one of the funniest comics on television to this day.

I first was introduced to Stiller through his comic partnership with his wife, Ann Meara.

As part of the Stiller and Meara comedy team, the two helped to redefine comedy in the 1960s. Their real-life stories--him, a Jewish guy from the Lower East Side, she of Irish personage--brought comedy to another level. Most of their comedy played off the differences between the two--including that he is a short guy and she is kind of tall--but the love they felt for each other was demonstrated every time they performed.

Their magic was most widely seen on "The Ed Sullivan Show," and their comedy was universal.

Stiller went on to star on the stage, in movies, and most prominently, on TV, in shows such as "Seinfeld" and "The King of Queens."

And he is as active today as he was 50 years ago.

The same thing can be said for Joan Rivers. Don't go by her public persona today.

Rivers is actually one of the funniest comics that there ever was or ever will be.

She also honed her craft on "The Ed Sullivan Show" way back when. She, along with Totie Fields, Phyllis Diller and others, brought female comedy to new heights.

Most of her comedy revolved around her family, and specifically, her husband Edgar. All the trials and travails of being a Jewish American Princess were brought out in the open by Rivers, and at that time, that personage was not necessarily the negative that it is today.

She was what she was, and she let us have it. And we laughed and laughed and laughed some more.

She changed after her husband's suicide. Although she, like Stiller, has transformed with the times, today, Rivers is nothing but a parody of herself. She is nasty, snide, and has had as many surgical procedures as Michael Jackson had during his lifetime.

But when she just tries to be funny, withoiut the guile, she can still be very, very funny.

Now onto another person who helped define another time, Nancy Sinatra.

Sure, Sinatra was daddy's girl, but she managed to carve out quite a career for herself as an actress, and most notably, as a singer, during the Swinging 1960s.

"These Boots Are Made For Walking" stands as perhaps one of the first women's rights song, and she had all the razzle and dazzle to carry quite a list of hit songs during her career, including "Sugar Town" and "You Only Live Twice."

And her duets with Lee Hazlewood are legendary, too.

And although she was daddy's girl, she had her own career to pursue, and she pursued it with a lot of glamor, bikinis, and incredible sex appeal--with and without her boots on.

Yes, she posed for Playboy, and it was that incredible figure that she had that carried her there, too.

She continues to record every once in a while, but that look that she had in the 1960s helped to define the era.

Stiller, Rivers and Sinatra share one thing: staying power. It's as if their careers began 50 years ago and they have never gone away.

And that's good, real good, because these people are very, very talented, and they know how to entertain.

They are entertainers, entertainers for the ages.

Speak to you next week.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Rant #752: "It's Not Unusual," Eddie

Two people who have enlivened Baby Boomers' lives are celebrating birthdays today, and my, how the time has flown.

Today, singer Tom Jones is 72 and actor Ken Osmond is 69.

Jones is the rugged-looking Welsh performer who first came onto the American scene in the mid-1960s with hits like "What's New Pussycat," "It's Not Unusual" and "Thunderball."

His very presence turned many women into virtual wrecks, throwing their undergarments on stage to try to dazzle him.

His sex symbol phase continued with his weekly show, "Tom Jones," where he sung and shook like no one, except perhaps Elvis Presley.

The hits continued into the 1970s, including "Daughter of Darkness" and "She's a Lady," and while he is pretty much thought of as little more than an oldies performer now, making a good living in Las Vegas, he continues to record new material in Europe, where he and Cliff Richard are pretty much the standard bearers for old school rock and pop.

He recently came out with a new album mixing rock, pop and religion, and he actively promotes that album in Europe, where his icon status has never wavered.

No, he doesn't wear those tight pants anymore, but yes, the women--and many men--still get into his music.

Osmond may be a somewhat lesser name, but he was the first bad boy on TV, predating all the younger villains that followed him.

But he really wasn't all that bad, was he?

As Eddie Haskell on "Leave It To Beaver," Haskell was the devil to Beaver and Wally's angels. He was the guy who said "do it," and that's where the trouble usually began.

He was a slinky looking kid, a boaster who talked more than he carried out what he wanted everyone else to to. He hooked up with Wally because Wally was better looking, a better athlete, and got all the girls. Eddie wasn't any of these, but his hookup with Wally made him almost feel that he was Wally's equal.

And in the Beav, he had a younger foil to do his dastardly deeds with.

And, of course, Ward and June Cleaver rolled their eyes whenever Haskell gave them a compliment. They saw through him, and knew he was sucking up to them big time.

That portrayal was right on, but Osmond had much more to do in life than just act.

When that pretty much dried up, Osmond became a real life Los Angeles police officer. He was shot on the job, and left the police force in the 1980s.

He also fought, and lost, a fight against late porn king John Holmes, who ads claimed was actually Eddie Haskell. Believe it or not, the judgment ruled against Osmond, because, at least in part, Holmes did not make the claims himself, although he never denied them.

Go figure.

There was also a rumor that Osmond, as an adult, morphed into Alice Cooper, but that was nothing more than an urban legend.

Osmond is in real estate now, and returns to acting on occasion.

But anyway, happy birthday to Jones and Osmond. They have added to our lives and will always be remembered by the Baby Boomers as icons of our clan.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Rant #751: Happy Anniversary

Since probably none of you know about this, today is a very special day in my life.

Today is my 19th wedding anniversary, so I am going to wish myself, and my wife, a happy anniversary.

Nineteen years ... my, the years have gone very quickly indeed.

Nineteen years ago, I was 36 years old. With one bad marriage under my belt, I was ready to take the plunge again, searching for the happiness that I did not have in my first union.

But I wouldn't do it with just anybody. The girl had to be bright and beautiful from head to toe.

And yes, I was damn lucky. I found that girl, and knew that this was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.

Things happen during your life, and once in a while, you get lucky.

And I got lucky with this woman.

No, not the way you think.

I was working as a real estate writer, my first marriage was done, and I thought it was time to start to date again.

I hooked up with a dating service (pre-Internet), and they fixed me up with some decent and nice girls who simply weren't my type.

Finally, they got it right with this one. No, I don't think I knew it from the onset, or maybe I did, but this girl was the one I had been searching for. She met all the criteria I had, and we proceeded to fall in love.

One thing led to another, and here it is, 19 years later, and things are as good as they have always been with us.

We have a son, which makes us something of a "nuclear" family with my daughter from my first marriage. It is kind of my daughter's doing that I actually started to date again, because when she was little, about four years old, I was playing with her one day in her room on one of my visitation days. We were having fun, and then it dawned on me, as I was playing with her, that it was time for me to date again. Yes, it happened just like that.

And I went out and did just that, and thank God I met the right girl almost from the get go.

Every day, I feel that I am the luckiest man in the world to have found this woman.

So happy anniversary to me, and to her, and even though she has the day off from work and I have to work today, it is still a happy day. Nothing will make it the reverse.

I love my wife, and I always will.

And like Ralph Kramden used to say to Alice on "The Honeymooners," "Baby, you're the greatest."

And yes, she really is.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Rant #750: Gunned Down

Today is the 44th anniversary of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.

It is hard to believe that so many years have passed, but they have.

1968 was a tough year.

The Martin Luther King assassination was followed by this senseless act.

Kennedy was running for President, and a lot of people thought that he would be a shoo-in for the job. He was making a speech in California, and Sirhan Sirhan came out of nowhere and shot him.

Sirhan was tackled by a number of people, including athletes Roosevelt Grier and Rafer Johnson, and due to these efforts, was apprehended immediately.

I still remember the picture of Kennedy on the cover of the New York Daily News. He was on the floor, and he was hurt, badly hurt.

The next morning, everyone brought their transistor radios to school, keeping an almost minute-by-minute watch on Kennedy's condition.

He succumbed, and we wondered where this world was going.

And we wondered about the Kennedy curse. Three Kennedy brothers gone, two by assassins' bullets.

To this day, Sirhan pleads his innocence. His latest ploy from a few years ago was that he was hypnotized into doing the shooting, and it was some sort of conspiracy.

He, like Charles Manson, will never leave a jail cell. Both will probably outlive us all, but they won't ever get out of prison. Their acts are simply too heinous to allow them back into the general population.

The Kennedy saga has continued on and on, with Ted having his own personal demons. He is gone now, too, of course, but the family has had numerous dealings with the dark side. Just a few weeks ago, and estranged Kennedy spouse hung herself.

It never ends.

On that day in 1968, like when his brother was assassinated, we lost a bit more of our innocence. The Summer of Love was just a memory, the Year of Assassinations wasn't even half over yet.

But we have survived, we have moved on, and the doldrums that were reached in 1968 gave way to 1969, the year of the moon walk, one of JFK's visions when he was President.

We can't ever forget the past, but we can move on and make the present and future better, and by and large, that is what we have done.

But we must never forget 1968. It was a year that should be engrained in our very beings.

And we must not forget RFK. There is no telling where we would be today if he hadn't left us so soon.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Rant #749: "Survey Says ... "

Funny how things work out.

I just finished a Rant about perpetual game show player Ruta Lee, when one of the all-time game show personalities passes away.

Richard Dawson, the amiable--and very kissy kissy--host of "Family Feud," died on Saturday at age 79 from complications of espohageal cancer.

Although best known for hosting the long-running ABC daytime game show (1976-1985 during his tenure on the show), Dawson had a long career as a comedian, actor and game show guest prior to his hosting duties on Family Feud.

The British-born Dawson--whose father was American--was a presence on television years before he became something of a household name. He guested on numerous sitcoms in the early 1960s, including "The Dick Van Dyke Show," but a controversial show first put him in the limelight.

"Hogan's Heroes," about prisoners of war in a Nazi-run prisoner of war camp, wouldn't be anyone's guess for a sitcom, but when it was proposed in the early 1960s, Dawson went for the role of Col. Hogan, the leader of the troop of street-smart POWs. Dawson went out for the top role, disguising his British accent for an American one.

Legend has it that as the show was sharpened into what it finally became, the role of Col. Hogan was developed for an American, and Bob Crane, a West Coast disk jockey who had some acting credits as the neighbor of the Stone family on "The Donna Reed Show," was pegged for the part.

The producers felt that Dawson sounded too British--even with his American accent--to pull of the Hogan role.

Reports are that Dawson was somewhat devastated by this turn of events, but his consolation prize was the role of the smart Britisher Newkirk, the smart-alecky, pick-pocket, magician and jack of all trades. And he put on a strong, British accent for that role to accentuate the fact that Newkirk was British.

Although the role was a step down from that of the suave Col. Hogan, Dawson lasted the entire run of the show, which was a surprise hit for CBS from 1965-1971.

When the show went off the air, Dawson and another Hogan alumni, Larry Hovis, segued over to "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In," where they stayed for a short time as part of the cast of one of the top shows of its time.

Dawson continued to appear on TV when he left that show, and was an occasional guest on the revamped "Match Game," which began its saucy run with Gene Rayburn as its host during the early 1970s.

Dawson became so popular on the show that he became the most popular of the guest stars, and soon became a regular on the show.

But he itched for more, and asked the producers to create a game show around him.

And in 1976, "Family Feud" was created for him, a game show that used surveys to obtain answers about a variety of subjects. Contestants had to guess what the top answers were to win cash and prizes.

It was a simple show, and attracted an incredible following. It has been on the air in various incarnations to this day, but the glory years of the show was when Dawson was the host.

His British sense of humor was shown off the hilt on this show, and his reaction to some of the players' answers were legendary.

And he also became the most popular game show host perhaps of all-time during this period, winning an Emmy for his performance.

But what most people remember is his kissy-kissy attitude with the female contestants. He kissed, with a peck on the lips, thousands of women on the show, and while this turned off a lot of people, it endeared him to many more.

In fact, he met his second wife, who was a contestant on the show, and she went through the kissy-kissy routine like just about every female did on the show.

But behind the scenes, legend has it that Dawson was difficult, had a large ego, threatened to walk off the show several times, and finally called it a day in 1985.

He had kept something of a low profile since leaving the show. He married for a second time, had a child (along with children from his first marriage), and later became a grandfather. He also was a heavy smoker, which may have led to him getting, and finally succumbing to, cancer.

Reruns of classic "Family Feud" still can be seen on TV, along with the newer versions of the show.

Personally, although I watched "Family Feud" in its earliest incarnation during its first year or two, I will always remember Dawson from one of the favorite shows of my youth, "Hogan's Heroes." As probably the cleverest show of its time--it had to be with a premise like it had--Dawson fit into the show perfectly. He was a major part of the strong ensemble cast, and he played his role as the wily Englishman with a lot of aplomb.

I will miss Richard Dawson. He was one of TV's biggest stars from the mid-1960s through the mid-1980s, and he will forever live in rerun heaven.

R.I.P. Richard Dawson. You did really good.

"The answer is ... !"

Friday, June 1, 2012

Rant #748: Pepper Spray

Forty-five years ago today, the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album was released.

It captured the spirit of the time. With the heralded "Summer of 1967" just days away, this album was to the burgeoning youth culture what perhaps "War and Peace" was to that earlier culture.

When released, the album shot up the charts, and became the No. 1 album in the U.S. right away.

Cited as the first real concept album--the first use of the expanse of an LP as more of a story-telling device than simply a collection of songs and singles--the record has often been called the greatest LP of all time, being a sound shot of Paul, George, John and Ringo at their creative peaks.

Paul McCartney has often said that the album was the Beatles' response to the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds" LP, but "Sgt. Pepper" probably took the album concept one step further, melding pop, rock and psychedelics into a stew that no one could have predicted would have such an impact on music and culture.

But let's look at some other interesting facts revolving around that LP.

Yes, the LP came out in 1967, and the world was changing very rapidly then. Youth culture was starting to make its name known in society, and old was out, new was in--and that meant in everything, including music, fashion and even thinking.

The Beatles had come from seemingly nowhere to lead the youth brigade. The band that just three years earlier had chimed in with "She Loves You," "I Want To Hold Your Hand," and "A Hard Day's Night" had expanded itself musically--and probably chemically--during this period, and now was churning out tunes that were light years beyond those bouncy ditties.

"With a Little Help From My Friends," "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds," and "A Day in the Life" were eons beyond their early work, and the album influenced countless musicians to expand their reach and many others to expand their thinking.

But who was the most popular band in the world at the time?

It wasn't the Beatles, and it still wasn't the Beatles after this LP came out.

The Monkees were the world's number one rock group at that time. With the benefit of a weekly TV show and their Beatles-inspired hijinks, personalities and music, the Pre-Fab Four were selling millions of records, propelled by their reason for creation: the corporate need to tap into the burgeoning youth culture of the day.

They had had several hit singles and two number one songs by that time, "Last Train to Clarksville" and "I'm a Believer," and everything with their name on it was turning to gold.

Their first two LPs, "The Monkees" and "More of the Monkees" had already topped the charts, and their third LP, "Headquarters," followed suit.

Although they were the same ages as most of the other hip musicians of the period--in their early 20s--Davy, Micky, Mike and Peter were thought to be unhip because they were created by a corporation to produce a corporate counterpart to the Beatles.

No, I don't think the kids really cared about this (I certainly didn't), but the fact of the matter is that in the age of "Flower Power," the Monkees--the corporate creation--were outselling both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones combined.

"Headquarters"--the LP where the Monkees took control of their own musical destinies, and probably their best album--sat at the top of the LP chart in May 1967. No singles were released off the LP in the U.S., perhaps an attempt to make the album hip in the eyes of those supposedly in the know.

"Sgt. Pepper" pretty much followed suit. No singles were released off this album, either.

And when this LP was released today in 1967, youth culture made its mark, as the LP succeeded the Monkees' LP as the top album on the chart.

So Flower Power bested corporate power in this instance, but the fact of the matter is that during the heralded Summer of 1967, where Flower Power was being felt throughout the world, the Monkees remained the top recording act in the world.

"Sgt. Pepper" spent 15 weeks at number one on the U.S. album charts, and it has often been cited as the greatest, most influential LP of the rock era. The songs work together as a pastiche of the times, and listening from beginning to end, the listener also gets wrapped up in the music, much like a reader gets entwined in the words of a novel.

"Headquarters" only spent that one week at the top of the charts. The Monkees would have several other big hit singles and LPs, but by early 1969, they were pretty much done.

The Beatles, of course, continued on, and their breakup in 1970 was seen by some as the real end of the 1960s.

In 2012, we are far removed from the Summer of 1967, the time of the height of Flower Power.

But "Sgt. Pepper" still marches on, the Beatles are still in our collective hearts, and yes, the Monkees are too.

Honestly, "Sgt. Pepper" is not my personal favorite Beatles LP. I always preferred their earlier, pre-Pepper music, but I especially enjoyed their non-album LP "Magical Mystery Tour," which really was the collection of a few singles augmented by a few previously unreleased tracks.

Released in England as an extended play disk, in America, it was released as a full album. The songs don't flow as they do on "Sgt. Pepper," and that is why I think I kind of like this LP.

To me, "Sgt. Pepper" was burdened by its importance, while "Magical Mystery Tour" moves to its own beat.

But I do like "Sgt. Pepper." It is a testament to a time when we, as part of the youth culture, thought everything was possible.

Just a few months later, we found out that that was kind of a naive thought--what with the murders of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy kind of taking the wind out of our sails, and the Vietnam War raging on--but "Sgt. Pepper" at least helped to put that thought into our minds.

I give it credit for doing at least that. The other stuff that some people credit to that LP is a bit out there, but as a remnant of a different time, it has stood the test of time, and new generations are still discovering it as we speak ...

Even 45 years after the fact.

And the fact that more than four decades after it debuted, it is still being talked about, still being discussed, and still being discovered.

That, above everything else, is the real testament to its greatness, and yes, its importance.

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