...Just purchased from Nieman Marcus, Nordstrom and T.J. Maxx. This is exciting!
Recently I was at a public place and in the vicinity of an instructor who was teaching her student English (sorry--if someone's trailing me on Steve Bannon's behalf, I didn't notice the ethnicity of the student).
I overheard the teacher say, "We have a bad President now--very, very bad."
I had to quietly and firmly tell the instructor, "thank you!"
On his last day in office, I want to thank President Barack Obama for his service to our country.
On Obama's first day in office (2009), I remember Mitch McConnell saying that the number one priority of the Republican Party was to make Obama a one-term President. That was their number one priority. Not repairing the crashing economy. Not stabilizing world affairs. And of course, nothing about the looming environmental crisis or fair treatment of every citizen. That sums up the repulsiveness of the relentless political right in just a few words.
It was constantly a rough road for our 44th President. I was disappointed that he couldn't break the stalemate with Congress that so characterized his two terms, but whose fault is that? There were plenty of great things that Obama accomplished, and perhaps first and foremost was that he listened. Listened to people who thought that pipelines would damage the environment, for one thing. Listened to the majority of the country, who were demanding equal opportunity for all (all genders, cultures, religions, sexual preferences), advancing past decades, even centuries, of prejudice. And he got twenty to thirty million people to take advantage of the Affordable Health Care Act.
The Health Care Act was huge for my family--my wife had no health insurance before the measure was passed. I lost a decent job in 2010 and was soon paying those COBRA scammers well over $800 a month to keep our coverage intact, which sucked the life out of our savings because I wasn't working. We decided that I couldn't stop carrying insurance because of my diabetes. It took a few years, and was a huge sigh of relief for me--and I'm not talking about money here--when Gina qualified for health coverage.
I appreciate your caring, your grace, your intelligence and beautiful articulation, sir. Your respect for others was remarkable in a time where other "leaders" choose to fan the flames in our hotheaded, divided nation. I loved how you were a true patron of the arts and I don't doubt that you'll continue to address the divisive issues of our time. I appreciate that you brought us Michelle, perhaps the most accomplished First Lady since Eleanor Roosevelt, and a jaw-dropping speaker (I use that term mostly because of the way she connects her delivery to what's in her heart). To my mind, you and your family are the epitomy of class. Thank you, Mr. President.
We just received a really cool Christmas card from my lifelong friends Vic and Cindy: It's Santa Claus spray painting a big portrait of his royal funkiness on a wall and it reads "Happy Holidays from Detroit."
It got me to thinking that these wonderful people have always included my wife Gina in their greetings--and I'd be willing to bet that they did this even before meeting her.
It's such an important thing to include loved ones in correspondence, but in this era of thoughtlessness and diminished manners, I should tell you about a holiday card I got in the mail that can accurately be labeled Bah! Humbug! This one was addressed to only me, which was annoying because for years I've made sure that I included both the husband and wife's names when I would mail them a quick holiday note--in the card's message and even on the envelope.
So my dilemma is...should I try to nicely ask them to include Gina in next year's card, or should I let it go? I can't just roll with that omission. This woman is my life partner and my equal--and sometimes I am not her equal, falling far short.
Several years back, I was miffed in similar fashion when some friends I met back in the '80s kept sending us stuff addressed to "Mr. & Mrs. Syrja." Sure, there are many who prefer that sort of formality, but I was rather bummed that they didn't just use our names. My marriage is sacred to me, yet I don't need the Mr. & Mrs. designation any more than I want to hear that "man and wife" crap term rather than "husband and wife." (Sorry, John Lennon, but I always change your line to the latter when I sing "Grow Old With Me.")
Anyway, I thought it was time to address the issue of this couple not using our names in their greeting cards, especially when I know that I introduced them to Gina in 2001 and again in 2002 on the two trips where I first brought her to Michigan. "Please jot down her name in your address book and include her the next time you write," is probably the way I phrased that request.
I've never heard from them again.
...And even if you're a guy, you will find out that you don't matter, either.
The President-Elect, low on integrity, self-centered and lacking any idea of what it's like to be a public servant, cares even less about mothers, wives and daughters. How is that okay, America?
Addendumb: I can hardly wait for the classy inauguration ceremony: The brilliant music of Toby Keith! Megasuperstarquitter Sarah Palin will be there! And the new Pres gets to pinch Stacey Dash's ass!
While understanding rock'n'roll well enough to write about it since the age of sixteen, I can't say the same thing for film.
Even my minor league status as a rock authority doesn't transfer to what used to be celluloid, because Gina and I loved seeing Samba (Gaumont Film Company/France, 2014) this week, and then looking to see what others thought about it...well, the online reviews are generally blase. Mine is rather glowing, as it captured my interest for two solid hours, and so I'm writing about it anyway.
The story is about an illegal immigrant (played by Oliver Sy) trying to remain in France with the help of a burned out caseworker trying to reignite her love of life (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg). If you've seen The Intouchables, you're aware of Sy's sex appeal, and yet that's only the surface, as in Samba, he portrays someone with warmth, kindness, humor, street smarts, bitterness--and tumbles into lapses in judgement. Directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, Samba depicts the awful truth that there isn't enough employment to go around, either for citizens or illegal immigrants, and this gritty landscape--in sharp contrast to a romanticized Paris--adds to the film's dark edges.
I have a Gainsbourg album that's just so-so and had never seen her in a movie before; again, another terrific performance: her portrayal is full of depth, as a hesitant cheeriness, compassion and self-inflicted wounds stand side by side.
Samba is just too moving (and often funny) to rate just six points out of ten.
Who knows what was going on at Costco yesterday, but I'd never seen it so crowded before, not even just before the gorgefest known as Thanksgiving. I parked the farthest from the entrance possible while still in their parking lot, and waded my way in because we needed a kind of local laundry detergent that has worked well for us.
It was a madhouse. The lines to get to the register were way out into the merchandise area, and thankfully, most everyone was laughing about it, although one dude ran his shopping cart into my butt, totally oblivious. I loved hearing this gal in her 30s--with red painted hair (so Olympia!)--saying, "This is it--this is where it all ends. We're all going to die at Costco."
After suffering for years with a poorly named stadium, U.S. Cellular Field, baseball's Chicago White Sox will sink to a new low in 2017. Their home park will be named Guaranteed Rate Field, after the Chicago Mortgage company.
Bring back Comiskey Park, please! As someone wrote about naming stadiums after commercial products or companies, "What's next...Tampax? Viagra?"
How about a list of my ten favorite announcers in the broadcast medium?
I'm omitting the names of anyone I've ever worked with, although many of those colleagues would be in my Top 20 or 30. And it's obvious that spending my young
years in Michigan and Texas ignited my passion for radio and shaped my own
on-air style, so that's why those two states are represented so frequently.
It was fairly easy to come up with ten personalities for this list and leave out others, as I've admired the work of so many but couldn't overlook their biggest flaws. I recall someone on public radio with a great voice and strong approach to music but he was a lazy programmer, repeating the same songs and artists way too often ("that's the only song you like from that album?," I'd be thinking). That was part of my criteria for eliminating some of the DJs or announcers that had a shot at making my Top Ten: anyone who plans their show in a perfunctory manner or merely fills up time--no matter how smooth they sound--doesn't resonate with me. Here's my list...
10. Scott Regen (WKNR-AM/Detroit, 1960s): One of the most likable personalities in
the business, Regen had a few tricks up his sleeve (he got Edwin Starr and the Woolies to re-record part of their hit singles to promote his program--in the middle of the latter's only hit, the Woolies sang "Scott Regen Show! Scott Regen Show!" where the "Who Do You Love" part would be). However, this "Keener 13" DJ transcended gimmicks because he had a genuine love for rock and soul, portraying it as an art form. At the end of the Four Tops' "Bernadette," for instance, Regen would be reciting those great Holland-Dozier-Holland lyrics as Levi Stubbs was emphatically singing them: "Bernadette, you mean more to me/than a woman was ever meant to be!"
9. Dave Dixon (WABX-FM/Detroit, 1960s-'70s; WDET-FM/Detroit, 1980s): It's a surprise to me that I'd list Dixon, who was not known to be a pleasant person. He insulted listeners and callers (and colleagues, I've heard), yet on the air, when he was good, he was very good. I've documented his WABX tenure before, so fast forward to 1986 on public radio and WDET; his return to the Motor City from Florida was a huge boost for me, as I thought creative radio programming had all but vanished by then. Here was someone who promoted the small labels (like Marcia Ball on Rounder Records), while not forgetting artists with a huge reach: he played the Rolling Stones! There are a few notable exceptions--such as Mike Halloran's post-punk "Radios In Motion" on WDET,
circa 1980--but the public radio I'd heard in the past was in general musically stodgy and long-winded until Dixon's reemergence in Detroit in the '80s. It's possible that I better appreciated his work the second time around because his competition had shrunk.
8. The Electrifying Mojo (WGPR-FM/Detroit, 1980s): In the mid-'80s, there was quite a rebound in rock and soul music. Once again, for the first time in 15 years, what was really popular was really good, with Prince leading the charge. I've mentioned before that one would hear the Time with Morris Day and Fleetwood Mac's "Seven Wonders" on Mojo's (Charles Johnson) delightful show, but how about the Go-Gos' "This Town" (with that deep, killer guitar riff)? On the eve of the Gulf War in 1990, Mojo played the entire What's Going On album by Marvin Gaye, adding sound effects of planes flying overhead that would be deploying solders or preparing to drop bombs (Mojo is a military veteran, by the way). It was an incredible listening experience, and Gaye's album, already a masterpiece with 20 years of history, never sounded so contemporary.
7. Martha Martinez (KEXL-FM/San Antonio, 1970s): For many radio followers growing up when I did, it was a rare thing to hear female voices on the air. In the '50s, there was Memphis station WDIA-AM (with several women announcers), including Martha Jean "The Queen" Steinberg, who moved from Memphis to Detroit's WCHB-AM in 1963 (in 1967, Martha Jean spent a lot of airtime trying to calm tempers down during the Detroit riots). On the FM side, several years later, WABX had Ann Christ (last name pronounced like Crisco). But I got to hear San Antonio's great announcer more often than any other female DJ, and MM was wonderful. Martha Martinez's programming incorporated jazz and blues elements into rock and folk--and there was Stevie Wonder, too. I heard Bonnie Raitt and Medusa regularly. Martinez had a terrific voice with all the right inflections, like the time in 1975 when KEXL (who aired an LP in its entirety every evening) played what she called, "the fantastic new album by Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run." No hype, just restrained, conversational enthusiasm.
6. Amy Goodman ("Democracy Now!"--syndicated radio, 1996-present): Sure, I'd say that Goodman is so relentless that she sometimes sounds uptight, even in the show's lighter moments when they cover the arts (artists with a social message, usually). Almost all the time, she and co-host Juan Gonzales aren't afraid to ask tough questions of anybody, though I detected a bit of rare schmoozing when AG accompanied former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide when he returned to Haiti in 2011 after living in exile. The KAOS announcer running the soundboard dropped in this cutting live message in the middle of the program: "Now back to the Aristide Admiration Society show." What Goodman does is hard-hitting and inspiring, and those skills cannot be over-emphasized. I won't forget the time when Bill Clinton called WBAI in New York, "Democracy Now" 's flagship station, in 2000 to recruit votes for Al Gore's run at the White House. Clinton wasn't expecting Amy Goodman or anyone with her intensity to pick up the phone, and she let him have it about NAFTA, racial profiling and the Middle East crisis. It was an amazing, surprising exchange.
5. Walter Cronkite (CBS Television, 1950-1981): I could certainly have chosen Bill Moyers, the last of the responsible, old school announcers, but I've got a soft spot for Cronkite, whose retirement left a huge hole in the field of news reporting. He most certainly was pooh-poohed by young people in the 1960s, thought to be too establishment or just plain square, yet Cronkite was reassuring and his approach beautifully measured--he was the solid rock that is so sorely missing from today's broadcast journalism. Following a 1968 trip to Vietnam, Cronkite had the nerve to say that there was no way the U.S. was going to be able to win the war, and he got us through our personal grief following the JFK assassination. And when Chicago police were beating up anyone in sight during the 1968 Democratic Convention, security pushed CBS reporter Dan Rather to the floor on live television. Cronkite came right back with, "I think we have a bunch of thugs here, Dan."
4. Dennis Frawley (WABX-FM/Detroit, 1960s-'70s): Frawley first kicked radio ass at
one of the first free form stations in the country, WFMU-FM at Upsala College in East Orange, NJ. There, he co-hosted the "Kokaine Karma" program with Bob Rudnick. By the early '70s, his early evening show (it followed Mark Parenteau's) at WABX/Detroit was overflowing with gritty punch. He aired lots of the Stooges and John Lee Hooker in addition to plenty of choice West Coast rock (I knew the Byrds, but not Arthur Lee's band Love--save for their hit single in Detroit, "My Little Red Book"--quite an awakening). Frawley was so in tune with the black undercurrent in rock that around 1974, he played current R&B almost exclusively. The last time I heard him was on a summer 1980 trip to Michigan, where in the midst of the corporate rock he was forced to play, he snuck in Martha & the Vandellas' still-explosive and joyous "Dancing In the Street."
3. Tom Quarles (KLBJ-FM/Austin, 1970s-'80s): He called himself "TQ" and provided sparkling listening with a relaxed but fervent approach. In fact, I appreciated his style so much that I sent Quarles some music columns I'd written, and he phoned me from KLBJ one night. He was way ahead of the game on, for instance, Elvis Costello and Squeeze, getting the latter's 1980 record Argybargy on the air almost immediately. A year later, when Squeeze's "Tempted" and the LP East Side Story captured the imagination of a much bigger audience, TQ said, "We told you so" without a shred of bragging. We talked about Talking Heads on the phone and the big, live sound Springsteen got on The River, which made Bruce's earlier records sound claustrophobic by comparison. And TQ related some of the nasty, racially intolerant calls he would get when playing a Stevie Wonder album track (I wonder if Martha Martinez caught the same crap in San Antonio). The album features hosted by TQ showed a lot of knowledge of whatever artist he was playing. A truly great DJ.
2. Ernie Harwell (the voice of the Detroit Tigers, WJR-AM/Detroit, 1960-1991; 1993-2002): Those who complain about baseball's sometimes leisurely pace don't understand that it's so much like life, full of quiet pleasures until something big happens. Ernie Harwell rode that wave so well, raising his voice when he needed to, telling stories in a calm but engaging matter. The times he was silent and just let the sounds around the stadium melt into the microphone are so special to me. Please see my full blog entry on him dated 5/5/10. Ernie was a true gentleman, the best friend I never met.
1. Mark Parenteau (WABX-FM/Detroit, 1970s): I have a more complete description of MP's work on my blog of 4/9/10, but let me say that for whatever crimes he may have committed, Mark Parenteau on the radio was both cutting edge and respectful of the past, with a hip, concise way of getting a message across. He wasn't afraid to play Captain Beefheart and the Jackson 5 's walloping "I Want You Back" in the same set, for one thing--which is the kind of crazed contrast I would not hear again until 20 years later at KAOS, when a few DJs would follow a set of throttling punk rock with a piece of easy listening they picked up at Goodwill. Full of energy on the air, Parenteau was also far ahead of the curve with one of the most exciting bands of the 1970s, Roxy Music; among other tunes, he went for their edgy, inflatable doll fantasy, "In Every Dream Home a Heartache." There was also Jack Kittel's sick version of the already macabre country song, "Psycho," and Sparks' "Whippings and Apologies." Need I say more? Another huge plus: Parenteau was not a musical snob. Upon playing a reissue of the '60s group the Orlons, for instance, he would inform those serious "album freaks"--who may have frowned upon their "heavy" FM station playing a pre-Beatles AM radio hit--about
"That old Philadelphia rock'n'roll; it qualifies as rock'n'roll because you can dance to it and it makes you feel good."
The death of disc jockey Mark Parenteau at age 66 on June 3 asks some big questions about the relationship of art and real life.
How much does the man's biggest moral failure--he was convicted of child sexual abuse about 12 years ago--diminish what he did behind the microphone at legendary stations WBCN/Boston for 20 years and WABX/Detroit, where I followed his afternoon show from 1970 to 1974?
Should his radio work even matter in light of such a sordid, unspeakable act? It's something I've been weighing, as MP was my favorite rock'n'roll DJ of all-time.
This column will be updated over the course of June, as I'm thinking that it's time to list my top ten broadcasters in radio and television.
So now you know who is #1 on my list, or perhaps I should refer to him as Public Enemy #1. As far as I know, the other nine characters can't be called guilty pleasures.
The J2 Blog
J.J. Syrja (born in Detroit, 1955) is a veteran rock
(Playlists--all KAOS shows)
(The history of soul music)
(Rock and Rap Confidential)
(Gina's fabulous work)
(Their refurbished design looks like a big, desperate ad for what's left of the music industry, but the info is still helpful)