Tuesday, March 31, 2009

It's, It's a Ballroom Blitz: Part Two: The Public Address System

This story, like any story involving disparate characters (and some desperate characters), could be told from a number of different points of view. But I'm telling it here, so I'm telling it from mine.

And from my point of view, it's a story about a short-lived alternative newspaper a few friends of mine and I perpetrated upon the campus and surrounding environs of Northern Illinois University in DeKalb between 1988 and 1990, called The Public Address System. We only managed to publish four issues of the PAS -- and this story is, in large part, the story of why our output was stifled ... but I don't want to get ahead of myself.

A little bit news, a little bit political commentary, a little bit post-"Realist" satire, and a little bit pre-"Onion" fake-news comedy, The Public Address System had a decidedly leftist bent, but we were more about having fun than anything else. I'd have to say we were more "bent" than "left," but a very positive "Factsheet Five" review gave us credit for returning humor to the otherwise then-humorless left-wing underground press scene, or words very close to that.

At the time, I was heavily influenced by Discordianism (I even corresponded with Kerry Thornley for a while, and published a couple of his things in the paper), and Eris knows the NIU community needed some good-natured chaos.

Bill Griffith let us run a few "Zippy" comics free of charge, and we ran a couple poems and comics by somewhat-known small-press artists of the day, but it was otherwise entirely home-grown. The real goal was to make our own fun at a place that had (and still has) a bad rap as a "suitcase school" where nothing much was going on.

The truth, of course, was that lots was going on at and around NIU. We had a small but vibrant music scene, many amazingly talented visual artists, and a political activist community that, for a time, outshone Madison's for sheer guts and energy.

The official campus paper (this was before it became the college home of famous "Daily Kos" blogger Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, who was editor in chief of that rag in 1995) was almost entirely indifferent to all of this -- when it wasn't blatantly disdainful. Which rubbed me exactly the wrong way -- not the smallest reason for which being that I was a journalism major and attended classes every day with these jerks, and I had lasted about three days as a reporter on that paper before cussing out an editor and stomping off (I used to do that sort of thing a lot back then).

Frustrated with living on a one-paper campus -- and a drab stick in the mud of a paper it was -- a few of us got together and ... skipping ahead through several chapters, false starts, bitter fights, and hard lessons (maybe to be detailed here someday later), The Public Address System was born.

This is the above-the-fold view of the "Special Collector's Edition First Issue," November/December 1988:

This was before the era of affordable computers, kids, and desktop publishing software itself was still new and prohibitively expensive. So our paper was a very, very low-budget and very, very labor-intensive product. Every single character of every single line of text and every headline was typed, by yours truly, on an electric typewriter. We dragged headlines to Kinko's and, after calculating the size we needed, blew the typewritten text up on photocopiers. We cut the text columns into strips and pasted them with rubber cement onto tabloid-size layout sheets purchased from the campus bookstore (where they were sold for newspaper layout classes).

It used to take a solid weekend of no sleep -- double all-nighters, yes, I shit you not -- to physically put together one eight-page issue, which we would then schlepp over to a plant in Naperville to be printed on good old-fashioned honest to goodness newsprint ... and then we'd load 5,000 fresh, hot copies into the car to lug back to DeKalb to dump at dawn in every major building on campus, as well as several student haunts around town.

It was a lot of work, but of course it was all more than worth it when people would tell me, "I love this!"

Over the paper's short life, we developed a few running jokes. The most successful was a parody of something that used to run in a local advertising rag, "The DeKalb Nite Weekly," called "Coed of the Week," featuring cheesecake photos of local wanna-be models (that publication's claim to fame: very early swimsuit pix of pre-famous supermodel Cindy Crawford) -- only our coeds were men. Generally tattooed, pierced, or otherwise ... uh ... nonconventional men.

Another running joke was falsely reporting the death of Gavin MacLeod. I think that was my fault. I'm not sure why I thought that was hilarious, but I did. In that jugular vein, here's a scan of the very beaten up but still extant original of a collage-cartoon we ran (by me) shortly after the death of Andy Warhol, titled "Love Boatmen on the River Styx":

But I digress.

As I was saying, it was hard work putting out an issue, but the positive reception we got was worth it. Of course, not all the reception was positive. Far from it. My fellow journalism students -- once I was outed -- were colder than cold about it. I think the word I took from them (and a few professors, too) was "shit." And the NIU administration was not terribly crazy about us at all. The bureaucrat in charge of the campus student center, in fact, ordered the janitors to throw out all the copies of the paper we tried to distribute there. So we just dumped more.

By and large, the feedback was good, though. And after someone said "I love this," they'd invariably ask, "When's the next issue coming out?"

To which I'd reply with a sigh and say, "As soon as we can."

In a perfect world, we'd have published monthly, or even more often. But it wasn't a perfect world. The problem was not with the amount of work involved -- the problem was money.

Which is what really drives this story.

And we'll get into that in the next part, later this week.

Friday, March 27, 2009

“To” is a preposition; “cancel” is a verb: It’s 1989, OK, all across the USA: It’s, It’s a Ballroom Blitz: Part One: Very funny, fellas, let’s go!

In the annals of rock history, along with the magnificent success stories, there have been many spectacular disasters. Altamont. The Who in Cincinnati. Sly Stone.

And in the annals of the postwar American struggle for freedom of expression, there have been many casualties. Lenny Bruce. George Carlin. Larry Flynt. Terry Southern. Paul Krassner.

But there is only one event I know of that brutally combines rock and roll mayhem with blistering, inappropriate obscenity, and that is the event – or series of events – known to savvy historians as “The Ballroom Blitz of DeKalb 1989.”

Over the course of these following days and weeks will unfold, here and elsewhere, that story.

It’s a complicated story, with many players, and events and conflicts, and to those not directly involved, it might seem a little bit “inside” at times, but the major elements are more or less universal. Fun, sex, hate, strife, money, passion, work, play, immortality, tears, laughter, music, Jesus, hope, fear, youth, violence, art, rebellion, confusion – the whole human condition.

With the exception of, perhaps, death. Nobody died. Not literally, anyway. But I can give you injuries. Oh yes, there were injuries. (Cue the mysteriously foreshadowing Foley effect of various objects shattering over skulls, at various times, in various places.)

Next time around, we’ll set the stage. Introduce some of the characters and situations, get the ball really rolling. But for now, first, we need a theme song. So here that is. Let’s go!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Take This, Rick Steves: Travel Blog Report: This Wheel's on Fire: From D.C. to Newark in Three Beautiful, Appalling Hours

So, last time around I promised exciting tales of foreign lands ... which I can't exactly deliver. But while I was gone from here I did spend a week in two damned strange places -- three and a half days each in Washington, D.C. and Jersey City, New Jersey.

Strange places, yes. Yet familiar, since I've made about half a dozen business trips to D.C. in the last decade, and I've visited J.C. what? a dozen or so times? in the same time span. Close to that number, anyway.

This was the first time I linked the two, though -- which was hella convenient and not at all expensive, thanks to the subsidized folks over by Amtrak, the passenger train people.

If Amtrak is short on money -- and of course it is -- I have a suggestion. Sponsor a reality TV show called "America's Most Fucking Squalid Views." All they'd have to do is stick a goddamn video camera in the window on the Amtrak route from Washington, D.C. to Newark, New Jersey. And let the shit tell the story.

Like some kind of twisted anti-Arlo Guthrie tour-de-feces, the Amtrak "Regional" leaves the truly pretty Union Station in D.C. (I'm not kidding -- it's a dazzling, cavernous, dramatic building) and winds northward through a litany of fucked-up eastern seaboard towns -- Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia, Trenton. The train heads all the way up to Boston, but my destination was Newark's downtown Penn Station, exactly three hours from Washington.

"All aboard!" Everyone queues up ... sort of ... if a queue can be semicircular in shape. This is travel in some kind of hybrid casual-yet-efficient mode. They glance at your I.D., but there are no metal detectors. No TSA to be seen at all. And -- by Benito's ghost -- the damn train left on time.

About five minutes outside Our Nation's Crapital, the first thing that struck me was how quickly the landscape hicked the hell up. One second it was tagged bridges and brick walls. The next second ... it was like the outskirts of Peoria, or some hamlet named after a "Crik" in the Allegheny Mountains of central Pennsylvania. Rotting shacks and rusted pick-em-up trucks ... and lots of trees and empty spaces between what passed for dwellings.

I recall it staying pretty 'billy-pastoral until Baltimore ... happened. Oh man. I don't have the powers of hyperbole to capture it. Just take the trip. It won't cost you much. Totally worth the price of admission, provided you get to watch it from the relative comfort and safety of an Amtrak train.

Baltimore is the place where, apparently, every dilapidated, burnt out, busted, rat infested row house came to die. And before dying, to reproduce like Irish rabbits and cluster together alongside the railroad tracks, perhaps on the off chance that the train might derail and take them out of their misery.

After Baltimore, it's all gravy, really ... gravy studded with cigarette butts and used condoms and slicked with the grease of a million corpses' unwashed pubic deltas ... but there's about two and a half hours to go, and there's much more shittiness to come.

Actually, from Baltimore all the way to Newark, with a few rural interruptions and river bridges, it's pretty much more of the same. Graffiti tags, sickly Suessian row houses, and empty factory buildings. Broken glass, broken bricks. Decay.

Yeah, I know -- pretty things don't get built next to the train tracks. Not in recent history, anyway. I've traveled by train enough to know that that's the score. And I imagine that most railway journeys give you a good look at the seedy side of things. This particular route, I have to believe, offers one of the more densely concentrated visual obituaries for Modern Industrialism available.

For that reason, I recommend it. Not to mention that it's a pretty cheap, easy, and fairly quick way to hoist your carcass from D.C. to the NYC area, if you're so inclined. And apparently a fair number of people are, because the goddamn train was packed.

Sorry, but I don't have a solid finish to this one. So I'll embed up a vid ... which, even though it's not really thematically related very much, it's my goddamn blog.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Outage Report

Don't bother checking for updates for about a week. I'll be out of posting range.

After that, bob's yer uncle. Gonna be updates from hyah to ... thyah. (In pseudo-mathematical terms: from hyah to (hyah + n).) Updates and updates. Posts and posts. Tales of distant shores and strange lands. And all that kinda stuff.

Until then, if you're looking for a website to kill some time on, check out English Russia -- "just because something cool happens daily on 1/6 of the Earth surface." It's definitely Russia ... and it's sort of English. Need enticement before you click on that hyperlink? OK, how else you gonna see the photos to go with this caption?
This dog is going for a walk with a car. Some people were joking that they have got out of fuel in Ukraine so now use dogs as a pull force for cars.
Or, even better:
Miss Russia contest, once again. Now the most fresh as of 2009.
And this post description, seemingly devoid of cognizance of the Yakov Smirnoffiness of it:
In Soviet times they had parties too.
OK, comrades. See you next week. Ish.

POSTSCRIPT: No, I'm not taking a trip to Soviet Russia. I'm told, though, that where I'm going, there be socialists, arrrgh. Which I don't believe is true (I wish it were) ... but apparently most people get through whatever public and/or parochial education they endure these days, without learning what the word "socialist" means. It does not, despite common (mis)usage in this manner, mean "of, characterized by, or having cooties." The proper word for that, as you know, is "Republican."

Friday, March 06, 2009

G'Dye, mate! Can o' grog! Bludger'll grab some billabong!

The White Sox are playing Team Australia later this afternoon at the Cameltoe. I think streaming will be available online for free, but I'm more likely to be playing hooky outdoors, since it's one of the 20 nice weather days we get per annum in Chicago.

Anyway, it's all I can do to keep from filling this post full of wacky Aussie slang ... takes a fair dinkum amount of matilda-waltzing willpower to resist ... a veritable baby-eating dingo's supply ... must ... resist ... stupid Aussie ... slang ... resistance ... slipping ... shrimp on barbie ... shrimp on barbie ...

Krikey, I give.

G'Dye Jermaine, where's the Sheilas? The Foster's on ice and the Vegemite's on me!

So get a good pozzy, veg out, and strap it down under. It's a ripper day for baseball!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Hot Cactus Report: Space-sharing at Cameltoe: "Will you quit touching me?! Mommm!!! He keeps touching me!!!": Key-Party in the Broadcast Booth

Well, all right.

If it's on TV, then it's real. Therefore, spring training is officially in existence.

Like most pre-season contests, today's game was pretty unremarkable qua baseball, but there are several things to note. For one, it was the first scrimmage between the Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers of Los Angeles since they started sharing the fancy-shmancy Cameltoe ... er ... Camelback Ranch spring training facility in Glendale, Arizona, and you have to imagine there was a touch of sibling rivalry, or something like that.

Who got the bottom bunk, I wonder? The Sox were the "visitors," so I guess they did. Wait ... which one is the worse bunk? Top or bottom? I forget. I guess it depends on whether your little brother wets the bed or not.

A.J.? We're lookin' at you. And don't try to say Toby Hall put your hand in a bowl of warm water. Toby's not with the club anymore.

Actually, I prefer to think of the White Sox and Dodgers as the Odd Couple ... two professional baseball clubs, sharing an apartment, driving each other crazy.

Which one's Oscar?

Come on. You shouldn't even have to ask that question.

Imagine, if you will, that some kind of crazy science fiction calamity happened -- like an asteroid collided with a wormhole and a super-string and a cosmic Slinky and caused a massive explosion that knocked Los Angeles and Chicago into outer space, and somehow glommed the cities onto the surface of a comet that barely could fit them both, and they had to share that inadequate space.

You know damn well which town would be Felix, and which would be Oscar.

It's not that L.A. isn't wild and crazy and all that. It certainly is. But it is in California -- a very, very uptight state. California has more rules, regulations, warning labels, and disclaimers than all other places on planet Earth combined, times a million.

Chicago, on the other hand, is a slob. Sure, it's repressed and touchy and Midwestern ... but mostly about the subject of being a slob. There are plenty of rules and fascistic bullshits ... all aimed at enforcing and maintaining the general slobbiness.

So ... anyway. There's that subtext. To Cameltoe Ranch, that is. Crispy-cleany, polished-teethy Dodgers versus ... the Chicago White Sox.

Nuff said?

Well, there is one other complication. They had to tell their landlord that they were gay, or else he wouldn't sign the lease. So ... that could be interesting.


Another new beginning that started to begin to take effect for the first time today was the broadcasting partner-swap between Hawk Harrelson on the TV side and Ed Farmer on the radio side. Yep, DJ Darrin Jackson has switched places with MC Steve Stone.

Here's a prediction. At some point in July, watch for the square dance caller to shout "Allemande left!," at which time DJ and Stone will do-si-do with Jimmy Piersall and the ghost of Anthony Perkins, and will promenade offstage long enough for Steve Dahl and Garry Meier to take places in either and/or both booths for 30-year-anniversary retrospectives on Disco Demolition. It's almost bankable.

But, for now, the new partnerings seemed adequate today. I don't have any worries about Stone on TV. And on radio, Farmer's already proven that he can handle working with a lummox. So ... no worries.

Really, worry more about shortstop. And third base. And center field. And leadoff.

And what about PECOTA? That Baseball Prospectus bastard fucker computer fucker bastard.

In 2008, PECOTA predicted that the Sox would finish in third. The Sox, in fact, as you recall, finished in first. This year, after much booping and beeping and flashing of lights, the slip of paper the computer spat out said, in no ambiguous terms, "Last place."

Last place. After Minnesota. After Cleveland. After Detroit. After Kansas City.

OK, so Detroit oughta rebound. Cleveland should contend. And Minnesota is always in there. But Kansas City?

Say it ain't so, robotic baseball nerd!

The good news is that I operate entirely on guesswork, and my record is about the same as PECOTA's. And my best guess is that the Sox will finish no worse than third place, and have a better chance of finishing on the very top than the very bottom.

Which could be worse. And look on the extra bright side -- every rule of probability says that the Cubs are going to have a sucktastical year this year. Lots of freak injuries, endless rounds of slapstick on the infield, controversy and acrimony in the clubhouse. Hell, this could be the year that the upper deck of Wrigley Field collapses during a nationally televised game. (Of course, I'd hope and pray that, miraculously, no deaths or serious injuries would result -- just sweet, sweet property damage.)

Yes. Much to look forward to.