Friday, September 12, 2003

Regal beagle

My favorite exchange from "Three's Company" involves Mr. and Mrs. Roper.

She is leafing through the Sears catalog. We can't see what she is looking at, but she apparently happens on some sexy linger�e and, gesturing at the pages, purrs seductively, "Stanley, what would you think if I came to bed in that?"

Mr. Roper glances at the famously variegated catalog and says, "What, a golf cart?"
Worlds collide

Check out the slideshow of Cash pictures on the Nashville Tennessean web site. They are great.

The passing of John Ritter has prompted me to play my old Tex Ritter records. They are sad and wonderful.
Paupers, punks and millionaires and me

The death of Johnny Cash makes me sad, but it's gratifying that he leaves behind such an awesome, fully realized body of work. Many great artists don't get that chance.

I saw Johnny perform twice, both times in Chicago: once with the Highwaymen at Rosemont Horizon, and once in a club show at the Cubby Bear. The latter was spectacular: it was October 30, and when the clock struck midnight he observed Halloween with a terrific version of "Ghost Riders in the Sky."

I went to grammar school and junior high with Johnny's son, John Carter, and the Man in Black had a big presence at the school. In sixth grade it was, for some reason, my duty and privilege to ring the 8:00 bell in the principal's office, and I remember the morning Johnny walked in at about 7:58 for a word. There he was, inches from me and Mrs. Caruthers, the secretary. She and I both were awed. He was dressed in black.

Here are the lyrics to one of my favorite Johnny Cash songs, "Backstage Pass" from his extremely overlooked 1989 CD Boom Chicka Boom. And here is a letter I wrote to the Chicago Reader about the Man in Black in 1992.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

The Omen

Choosing a mechanic is like choosing a doctor: you don't want to pick one at random. But I have been putting off getting some scheduled maintenance done on my truck, Red Boy, and finally decided just to go to Seversin's Citgo on Milwaukee at Fair Oaks, which recommends itself chiefly by the fact that it's close. Okay, not great reasoning.

Imagine my delight, though, when I discovered the reception area is done all up in Corvair memorabilia, and their business card even has a wee Corvair on it. Turns out Mike Seversin is a Corvair nut. I have very, very good feelings about Seversin's now: my first car was a Corvair, and I know all too well that if they can fix Corvairs, they can fix anything.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Cute rads

Saw The Weather Underground tonight. I have to say, some of those revolutionaries were kinda hot.
Your humble scribe

If you're interested, I just added links to the right there for several articles I wrote for Isthmus newspaper. Most of the articles are about musicians.

I've written lots more for the paper, but for some reason only the music articles seem to end up on the web. Maybe some Isthmus insider (e.g. J.J.) can explain why that is. People ask me that a lot.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

More from the health beat

I was wrong, fooled by a carefully worded Associated Press story which reported that Warren Zevon had died from lung cancer, and noted also that he was a lifelong smoker, but did not actually propose a causal relationship between these facts. That's pretty sneaky and, editorially speaking, questionable, if you ask me. But I am again reminded of a Woody Allen line from Annie Hall to the effect that he's a bigot for the left, so it's okay--i.e., it's okay for the AP to stretch the truth if it's for a good cause. Or something. Hmm.

So as Charles noted in his comment on my last, Zevon died of mesothelioma, a lung cancer associated with asbestos, not tobacco. (My stepmother's grandfather also died of lung cancer stemming from asbestosis.)

For what it's worth, I became a regular smoker in eighth grade. I remember the pack of Marlboro reds I bought then, probably from a cigarette machine in a restaurant. I waited till one afternoon when no one else was home, and then I went outside and smoked a cowboy killer. It made me nauseous. But I was a diligent addict even then, and I knew that with perseverance I could overcome the nausea and attain that glittering title: Smoker. And so I did.

Freshman year in high school was when my habit really kicked in. I started attending a prep school in downtown Nashville and took the city bus there, so for the first time I had whole afternoons of unsupervised time in parts of the city distant from my family. So I smoked a lot waiting for the bus. I had a friend at the time I admired a lot who smoked filterless brands--Luckies, Camels, Chesterfields, Pall Malls--so I picked up this habit, too. I was a pack-a-day Lucky smoker throughout high school. When I started driving I had a classic car, a 1964 Corvair, and I imagined that the filterless smokes and the old Chevy combined to give me an undeniable retro sex appeal. In high school I also enjoyed trying various esoteric brands, imported brands, and whatnot: Gitanes, Gauloises, Rothmans, Nat Shermans, English Ovals. One pleasure back then was to scan the cigarette racks of the tiniest, most out of the way drugstores and grocery stores I could find--often deep in rural Tennessee--to see what obscure American brands of filterless smokes I could turn up. This is how I got introduced to the Raleigh and Philip Morris brands.

By the time I started college in Chicago I had switched brands permanently: Winston Lights, with occasional forays into the world of Marlboro Lights. The filterless squares had gotten to be too much, and I couldn't really even handle regular cowboy killers anymore. (What's the marketing term for those? Full flavor? Doesn't matter.) I still smoked a pack a day for the first couple of years of college and then stopped for about three years. I had a steady girlfriend at the time, and I think I stopped for her. (N.B.: Confirmed addicts like occasionally to curtail their habit "for" someone else--this brings a keen sense of martyrdom that is itself addictive.)

At about age 24 I started back, though never again at a pack a day. By now my brand of choice was what is sometimes called OPs: other people's. I mooched for about seven years. At first, I was spending a lot of time with a very accomodating friend who bought rolling tobacco in giant tins, and he was always happy to share. But when I moved to Madison to start graduate school, my mooching habits endured. I continued bumming despite the fact that my new friends bought regular cigarettes, which were more and more costly, and my smoking chums conveyed to me--with words, with body language--that they resented the mooching. In this period I smoked probably five to ten cigarettes a week, sometimes as many as five a day.

I tried quitting several times in this interval, but the problem was always the same: it was very difficult not to smoke when I was drinking, and I drank a lot. Even so, when I quit drinking in August 2001, my smoking increased a bit, and I even bought a pack or two before I reverted to OPs. But the cost of smokes continued to spiral upward, and as I worked on trying to become a better person I realized that my mooching was grotesquely unfair, especially inasmuch as the burden of it fell mostly on the one or two confirmed smokers I saw most regularly. When New York City banned most public smoking last year, I read an article the Times ran about New Yorkers who smoke OPs, and I remember thinking: These people are pathetic. And then I thought: So am I. So in August 2002, a year after I hopped on the wagon, I quit smoking. I read somewhere that one useful method is to pick a day, and so I did. That day I just quit, though admittedly I'd had something like a seven-year tapering off.

And so I'm an ex-smoker again, this time for a little more than a year. I do inhale a lot of secondhand smoke, though: I play a weekly gig at a bar that at times is so smoky it looks as though the London fog has crept in. And I suspect this is taking a toll. I often feel just awful afterward, and sometimes the effects of the secondhand smoke linger well into the next day. I suspect this can't be good for my health in the long run. Something may have to give.

Monday, September 08, 2003

And from the health desk

First a little news, and then a homily.

Warren Zevon, Singer-Songwriter, Dies at 56

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Warren Zevon, who wrote and sang the rock hit "Werewolves of London" and was among the wittiest and most original of a broad circle of singer-songwriters to emerge from Los Angeles in the 1970s, died Sunday. He was 56.

A lifelong smoker until quitting several years ago, Zevon announced in September 2002 that he had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and had only months to live. He spent much of that time visiting with his two grown children and working on a final album.

Zevon died Sunday of lung cancer at his home, his manager Irving Azoff told the Los Angeles Times.

Hey you smokers: stop. I did. You'll feel better. You'll all but eliminate the chances of dying of your habit at 56, the fate that befell the brilliant Zevon. (This is a really terrible and senseless loss.) You'll stop putting money in the pockets of corrupt, lying tobacco companies. And last but most definitely not least, you won't age as quickly. Young people who smoke look great; 20 or 30 years later, they look like Katherine Helmond in Brazil.

Here endeth the lesson.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Not that I'm sports-obsessed

Because I'm not, really I'm not. But as a former Chicagoan, I was curious enough about this year's Bears to flip on today's season opener against the Niners. There was much (okay, a small amount) of preseason hype surrounding the Bears' new quarterback, Kordell Stewart, late of the Steelers (and reputedly gay--but then, what NFL quarterback isn't?).

I watched the broadcast for about four seconds. This was enough time to see that the Bears were losing by 26 points in the second quarter, and it was enough time to watch Stewart throw an interception, whereupon one of the announcers yelled, "He did it again!"

Looks like it's going to be a long fall for the Monsters of the Midway. But there's always next year.

On the other hand, my Vols and my Badgers have won all their games so far.