Wednesday, April 25, 2012

S'More of My Back Pages

Or: One Man's Clippings Are Another Man's Kindling

Pandora's Box (the one on the right!) is nothin' compared to my bottom drawer!

I opened the Pandora's Box that is the bottom drawer of my bedroom dresser and - buried beneath the whip, handcuffs and nude Polaroids of all my ex-GFs (just kidding!)(they're all clothed!) - ran across more yellowing clips from my days in the late '70s as a writer-editor at Towson State's student newspaper, The Towerlight (or The Towerblight, as we called it). Looking through the assorted cognitive clutter, I recalled I was somewhat of an ass, routinely making up news stories (for instance, I wrote that Elton John was assassinated by a bazooka-toting circus clown at his Capital Centre show - and later had to write a retraction!) and offending more people than I entertained. (Some things never change!) No wonder I enlisted the contributions of fellow trouble-maker "Crazy Arthur" Campbell to the mix; I also found some more of his provocative comics ("Strait Comics" and "Normal Comics") in my Towerlight files.

Thurl Ravenscroft: The Voice of a Generation!

Thurly You Jest!
I also wrote under many noms de plume, including "Thomas Gunn" ("Tommy Gunn" was my punk band nom de stage in Thee Katatonix), "Dot Polka," "Demi Petrol," and especially "Thurl Ravenscroft" - an homage to the real-life "Voice of Disney" best known as Tony the Tiger (They're grrrrrreat!!!") whose deep, bombastic voice on my coveted album Songs of the National Parks ("Behold the Mighty Sequoia - which dwarfs even Man's imagination!") was the hit of many high school stoner parties (for some reason we found him hilarious every time he opened his mouth, as he had that epic tone of hyperbole and pomposity like Charlton Heston "emoting" in movies).

His Name is Legend: Bronze plaque at Disney Studios honoring Thurl Ravenscroft

Though he didn't sing along with Stan Jones and the Ranger Chorus on Songs of the National Parks, Thurl sure punched his narrative copy with elan. Thurl did sing (albeit uncredited) on "You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch" in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. (Thurl passed away at age 91 in 2005, but his memory - and magnificent voice - live on at

Listen to Thurl the "Voice of Disney"

OK, enough Hero Worship. Following are some of the scraps from the hidden fire-hazard heap o' trash buried in that drawer.


My literary/journalistic heroes during college were William Burroughs (who I later grew to loath - ah, the follies of Youth!), Hunter S. Thompson (Fear and Loathing inspired a generation of "explorers" hoping to "break on through to the other side"), J. G. Ballard (my hero to this day!), and especially provocateur-auteur Paul Krassner (founder of The Realist, founding member of The Yippies, and a former member of Ken Kesey's Merry Pranksters) - the guy who penned perhaps the most transgressive-offensive faux article ever when he reported in "The Parts That Were Left Out of the Kennedy Book" (referring to William Manchester's book The Death of a President) that following JFK's assassination, LBJ was caught having sexual intercourse with the (dead) Kennedy's throat wound on Air Force One. I mean, wow. (I feel dirty just typing that last sentence!)

(Damn) Yankee Ingenuity
Inspired by Krassner, I invented fake death scenarios, like during the 1978 World Series in which the Dodgers - inspired to "Win One for the Gipper" following the death of coach Jim Gilliam - defeated the Yankees in six games. After the black armband-wearing Dodgers jumped to a quick 2-0 lead, I wrote that the Yankees were considering offsetting LA's momentum by having one of their coaches or players "offed" - the ultimate Sacrifice Bunt, the ultimate "taking one for the team." The names of Yogi Berra, Gene Michaels, Craig Nettles, Reggie Jackson and even batboy "Billy Greengenes" were reportedly all thrown in the hat. People around these parts hate the Yankees so much that the offensive piece barely caused a stir. True that.

Laying down a Sacrifice Stunt: "Dodger inspiration vs. Yankee machination"

A Bad Joke: Down the John
Riffing on a joke about lax security at the Capital Centre, where I reported that an Elton John concert goer was dressed as Bozo the Clown and let in with what guards thought was merely "a large bong," I wrote something about how John's head was blown off (Bang, that's wild!) by a direct bazooka hit during "Rocket Man." Or something to that effect, as I can't locate the original would-be "War of the Worlds" media hoax. People - or at least Elton John fan Karen Wolf - actually believed it! Those TSU scholars! The media-naive Ms. Wolf wrote a letter to the editor saying "Writers should be concerned with reporting the news accurately and with dignity," clearly not anticipating Fox News and the coming onset of 24/7 cable news "infotainment" that is today's high-band frequency lingua franca.

Readers were relieved that Elton John's head was NOT blown off by a bazooka-wielding circus clown

Snide TeeWee Guide
More letters to the editor followed whenever I published a "TeeWee Guide" (yes, the title is a reference to Chuck Barris' preferred term for the medium, as uttered on my favorite program of the time, The Gong Show) TV Guide parody. Rhonda Cooperstein (clearly a pre-Law student) took me to task for belittling "Freddie Prinze's suicide, [Lt.] William Calley's derangement, and Duane Allman's addiction" in my "tasteless piece of trash." You go girl!

Typical TeeWee Guide

Rhonda Cooperstein was offended by my snide guide

Speaking of Chucky Barris...

Do Not Ask for Whom the Gong Tolls, It Tolls For TeeWee
From March 1977...I remember having to battle soap opera-addicted coeds in the Rec Room to gain control of the remote so we Gongheads could watch Chucky Baby, J.P. Morgan and other assorted washed-up celebs on The Gong Show. I recall Pee-Wee Herman was on a lot, under various names and in multiple guises; one time I'm pretty sure he came out with two Hispanic guys wearing sombreros and they played "Mexican Hat Dance" on their trouser zippers. And "The Unknown Comic" was my Comedic God back then.

Gong Show page 1

Gong Show page 2

The Marble Bar's Gala Punkfest
I also found a review of some Marble Bar "gala punkfest" from 1980, wherein I singled out Food For Worms...

Food For Worms: Gothic Pop, Slavic Funk & Balkan Bop at its best!

...and The Beaters (both bands featuring keyboardist Mark O'Connor) for praise. My snide comments about the other bands have since been modified, as I now love all the bands mentioned here. (Did I mention I was an opinionated asshole back then?)(Was?)

The Marble Bar's New Wave Gala Punkest

Of Da Moronics I wrote: "Da Moronics were the headliners and played a lot of new material, not surprising since this band is always fresh with ideas. Bill Moriarty sang a few songs after returning from a self-imposed exile, splitting the vocals with his summer replacement Don White. The Moronics have an incredible drummer in Hoppy Hopkins, an excellent new bassist, Chuck F [Freeman] (from Scratch 'n' Sniff), a happily married percussionist in Jamie Wilson, and a guitarist Tommy (Dog) Davinti, who advocates disco as a means to economic and moral depression. It is no wonder that they are Baltimore's best New Wave band (despite what all those Bludgeons fanatics think)."

Da Moronics: Pesty Punks

Bravo! Balto Weirdos
Some of those Marble Bar bands were represented on the Best of Baltimore's Buried LP that came out around this time, and which I reviewed in the May 2, 1980 Towerlight.

"Best of Baltimore's Buried" LP

Apologies to all the bands appearing on the Best of Baltimore's Buried album, but at the time I thought it wasn't up to snuff as far as representing the Baltimore music scene. But then, I was only into Punk/New Wave stuff then, and didn't appreciate the prog and non-punk music on offer here. At the time I lauded the efforts of OHO, Outrageous, Da Moronics, and Neige - the latter mainly because thanks to my friend Tom Lehr I had discovered the similar prog-psych stylings of Anglo-Franco pothead pixies Gong.

"Best of Baltimore Buried" review (May 2, 1980)

Neige featuring Mike Gehl on guitar

The cream of the crop on BoBB was Da Moronics' "Flying Saucers" - which was about "real Science-Fi like on Channel 45."

Watch Da Moronics' "Flying Saucers"

I also loved the Gyro J. Scope and Tommy Reed-penned Outrageous opus "Who Am I? Where Am I?"

Watch "Who Am I? Where Am I?"

Things That Go Bump in the Nite
Following is my Nite City concert review. This band (pictured at left) featured ex-Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek (who pulled my leg when I asked him if Lizard King Jim Morrison had faked his death and was still alive in West Berlin, as a popular "urban legend" had it at the time) and future Blondie bassist Nigel Harrison (who I called "Niggle" - "No mate, it's pronounced 'Nye-gel'" the affable bassist corrected me!), with a would-be Morrison singer in Noah James. They played the Hollywood Palace off Route 40 (The Doors, Zappa's Mothers of Invention and Iggy Pop played the Palace back in the day). We started covering a lot more area concerts when charismatic German photographer Oliver Dziggle joined the Towerlight staff. He was all about getting in free to rock shows and getting comped LPs (the only option back then, folks!) from the record companies, and he built up an impressive personal library collection as a result. Somebody on staff gave me Nite City's album to listen to and I made the mistake of reviewing it after smoking a bowl of flakes (for some reason these were always on offer and ingested during Deadline Tuesdays at the office!). Never smoke flakes when making critical decisions. It makes anything crappy sound good and vice versa. You could listen to the most off-note Neil Young vocal warbling and think he was a veritable Vienna Choir Boy. Live and learn.

Nite City did it in the dark at the Hollywood Palace

Nite City's Noah James and Nigel Harrison

Yeah, Right!: Ray Manzarek said Jim Morrison lives in West Berlin

And speaking of that warbling Neil Young...

Young at Heart
Oliver Dziggle scored us tix to see his surreal "Rust Never Sleep" tour in 1979 at the Cap Centre in Largo, MD. This was the one in which Neil embraced both Punk and Devo, with weird little hooded critters with glowing gremlin eyes (and this was pre-Lord of the Rings film franchise!) coming out to set up huge, oversized amps and mics and Neil name-checking Johnny Rotten.

Neil Young rocks Cap Centre in 1979 (photo by Oliver Dziggle)

Neil Young's "Rust Never Sleeps" Tour

The WASP Woodstock: The Hunt Cup
Now as a card-carrying White Anglo-Saxon Protestant born into middle class surburban privilege, I felt uniquely qualified to talk about our preppy, Izod-clad answer to Woodstock: The Maryland Hunt Cup. Hence my May 1980 review "WASPs and alligators at the Hunt Cup."

The WASP Woodstock, page 1

The WASP Woodstock, page 2

The WASP Woodstock, page 3

I Dream of Little Rascals: A Teleplay
Needless to say, this "teleplay" about the icons of TV Land was heavily influenced by my (then-reigning) comedic idols and masters of audio-oddities, The Firesign Theatre (especially Proctor and Bergman's TV Or Not TV and Phil Austin's Roller Maidens From Outer Space).

Phil Austin's "Roller Maidens From Outer Space" (1974)

"I Dream of Little Rascals" was yet another piece penned by "Thurl Ravenscroft."

Was I a Dramaturg or a Dramaturd: you decide!

"Rascals" folio, left column

"Rascals" folio, right column

OK, that's enough scanning of my back pages. This means I can throw some of the clutter out and attain plausible deniability. Except for those handcuffs...

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Blogger Deiter said...

I have always been a huge Doors fan. They were literally the first band I got into @ 6 y.o. Mind you this was when all of my peers were still listening to The Monkees and Bobby Sherman off of the backs of cereal boxes and the Partridge Family.

Anyway, I'd eventually--tho, it took me years to readapt--buy all of the post-Morrison Doors albums, the Manzarek solo albums, and even Nite City. I saw them at the Whiskey Au Go Go once (post Noah James, Paul Warren was singing). Manzarek's playing was still great but it's amazing in retrospect that he couldn't hear how crappy the band was or what a poser James was. Maybe he didn't want to believe it. Maybe he wasn't ready to accept a life of being an ex-Door, a role he later learned to love w/ relish.

Thanks for the memories. Nice blog! (I drove through Baltimore once. Otherwise, have been a life-long Angeleno.)

10:35 AM  
Blogger doug denslowe said...

I was in a band with Noah James a.k.a.Donald Crane before he went to L.A.After rehearing for over a year,we played a gig at the famous Mr.D's on Broadway.Noah (and his singing/writing partner both got stage fright so bad,we almost broke up on stage!We were suppose to play a second set but let another band take our place due to the first sets fiasco.We played another gig in Berkeley,same story,singing wrong lyrics and playing bad guitar(Noah thought he could play guitar back then)It's a shame,Noah could write songs and sing them,just not "to anybody."

9:53 PM  

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