Monday, February 20, 2012

'HAIL TO THE CHIEF' ON PRESIDENTS' DAY


Today, in honor of Presidents' Day, I'm posting a picture that my daughter drew last year in her pre-K three class. Perhaps you recall doing similar sketches when you were in school? It's a nice tradition and I'm glad that Mary Ann is learning about the history of her country at such an early age.

I have lived under many Presidents: Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II and Obama. And I think all of them did something important - even the ones that might not be as beloved as some of the others. President Johnson was very supportive of Civil Rights and President Nixon, for all of his many flaws, greatly helped relations with China. President Ford offered calm and healing when the country needed calm and healing, President Carter brought people together in the Middle East, President Bush (the first) was a man of his word during the Gulf War and President Clinton let the good times roll with a thriving economy. And President Bush (the second) kept us safe for eight more years after 9/11. He declared war on terror, and though that war took some odd twists and turns under his office, there has never been another attack on U.S. soil.

I think this is what we should do on Presidents' Day. We should look at what each leader brought to the table. My favorite quote from a President in my lifetime came from Ronald Reagan, who pretty much ended the Cold War and who said, "You'd be amazed what can be accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit." I have thought of those words many times in my life, especially when a team of some 100 people worked on "Concert For A Cause" for 12 straight years with no other motive than to try and help others. And I think of it now in my work with Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Obviously, the two men that my daughter drew in this picture also made significant contributions to the presidency. And this is really their holiday. One was "The Father of Our Country." The other was "The Great Emancipator." And I'm glad that my daughter - through her little drawing - helped remind me of that today, and helped remind me of some of the others that came later. I thank Teddy Roosevelt for our national parks. I thank Dwight Eisenhower for the American highway system. I thank John Kennedy for putting a man on the moon, even if he didn't live to see it. And I thank Barrack Obama for helping fulfill MLK's dream.

Happy Presidents' Day, America.

Some have been great. Some have not. All tried their best. And, most importantly, all were elected by the people. We don't say "Long live the king" in the United States. We don't care for kings very much.

But we do say "Hail to the Chief."

Sunday, February 5, 2012

14 REASONS WHY I'LL ALWAYS LOVE THE SUPER BOWL


Fortunately, because I'm not trying to promote anything, I believe I'm allowed to use the term "Super Bowl" on this blog. Perhaps you've heard some of the recent fuss about "trademark" issues and the term "Super Bowl," and how places such as supermarkets and bars aren't allowed to use the term "Super Bowl" in their advertisements.

Having a special sale on snacks for the Super Bowl? Showing the Super Bowl on a big screen at your club? If so, you've got to refer to it as "The Big Game," or whatever else you can come up with to let people know that you are, of course, simply referring to the Super Bowl.

It's silly. And for a league that always does everything smart and markets itself so well, it's one of the dumbest things the NFL has ever done. The Super Bowl is pretty much a national holiday. Everybody should be allowed to refer to it by its proper name, and the league should be grateful for the added exposure and that there is always so much interest in its championship contest.

There is no question that Americans love the Super Bowl. We always have. My favorite team, the Dallas Cowboys, has played in eight of them and won five. And as has become my tradition every few years, I'll share some of the reasons why I will always love Super Sunday, and why even though I'm on the sidelines as a fan this year, I still can't wait for Super Bowl XLVIII.

1) For men, it is generally accepted that we are completely sovereign on Super Sunday. If the women in our lives would like to watch the game, great. They are more than welcome. We enjoy their company. But if not, who cares? Go to the mall. Shop. Do whatever it is that you do. We men appreciate the fact that on this day, you understand that we will be fairly consumed by this event. If we want to start watching the pre-game show 10 hours before kickoff, you will understand. We will eat. We will drink. And if it's just the guys and not a family-style gathering, we will swear. And, we may gamble. You will simply accept it.

2) During the Super Bowl, if our own favorite team is not playing, we may torment people whose teams are playing. My rule is this: If you are my friend, and you are not a Dallas Cowboys fan, but you once rooted for them in the Super Bowl anyway, simply because you wanted me to be happy, then I will return the favor and root for your team. But, if you taunted me all week before the game about how my Boys were going to get dusted, I will hope that your team is completely humiliated and loses by a margin of at least 45 points.

3) The Super Bowl allows us the chance to revel in past glories. Almost always, on the day of the game, one of the ESPN networks will show a marathon of the official "NFL Films" Super Bowl highlights. These 30-minute gems have always been shot on real film, not the cheap stuff, so even if you're watching highlights from the very first Super Bowl, the picture is always perfect. In just 24 hours, you can get yourself one hell of a Super Sunday history lesson, and since they're always run in order, you can usually figure out what time your own team's triumphs will be shown, and when you'll need to tune out and switch channels to avoid the retelling of painful defeats.

4) The Super Bowl allows you to succumb to superstition. You must wear your "lucky" jersey. You must sit in "your spot." You must stick with the same snacks and beverages, especially if your team won when you had them last. During one Super Bowl, I decided to do a shot of Jack Daniels every time Dallas scored, and every time they kicked off. They won 52-17. Not good. That same year, I did not shave on the morning of the first round of the playoffs. Dallas won that day, so I didn't shave all week, until the NFC Championship Game. They won that game, too, so I didn't shave for two more weeks, until the Super Bowl. By the time the game came around, I had a beard. My friends actually took a picture of me shaving it off about an hour after the game, as we continued to party in victory. Laugh as you may, but I know the beard was a big part of the win.

5) The Super Bowl allows us the chance to use Roman numerals. Roman numerals are cool.

6) The Super Bowl sometimes allows us the chance to not fully recognize the current Super Bowl. A few years ago, I was invited to a Super Bowl party, so I took a cake with the a big blue star on it and the Roman numerals VI, XII, XXVII, XXVIII and XXX. These were the Super Bowls the Cowboys had won. The fact that Dallas was not playing in the Super Bowl that year was completely irrelevant.

7) The same concept applies to what we wear to Super Bowl parties. Many of us will wear our team's jersey to any such gathering, even if they are not playing in the game. Frankly, I believe this is how it should be. Yes, it's the day we crown a new champion, but it's also a day for us all to celebrate the greatness of the (insert Howard Cosell voice here) National Football League.

8) Those that are perceived as "bandwagon fans" during the Super Bowl will be unmercifully ridiculed and vilified. If you went out this week and bought a Broncos or Seahawks jersey, and you have never mentioned any allegiance to these teams before, you will no longer be respected by any of your friends.

9) The Super Bowl allows us the chance to gain perspective on greatness and to appreciate people that we once disliked. Example: When I was a kid, I hated Terry Bradshaw because he thumped Dallas in the Super Bowl, twice. But, thinking back, the guy was simply excellent. Same goes for Joe Montana. Two guys. Eight rings. Respect.

10) The Super Bowl allows us the opportunity to strike revenge and purge ourselves of old demons. For example, I always hated the old disco song "The Hustle" because it reminded me of when, in 1976 , Dallas lost Super Bowl X to Pittsburgh. It was a huge hit at the time, and I think they actually used the song during the broadcast of the game. Though I was just a kid, the tune always bothered me, and every time I heard it over the years, it put a little twinge of pain in my heart. Flash ahead to 1996. Super Bowl XXX. Twenty years later, Dallas gets its rematch with Pittsburgh. A few days before the game, I go out and buy one of those disco compilation CDs that contains "The Hustle," and when Dallas wins the game - which I knew they would - I blast that baby all though my apartment, dancing in joyous victory. Closure.

11) The Super Bowl is the time to observe proper Super Sunday etiquette. Some may need to be reminded that this is not a social event for everyone. This is World Championship football. Some people's hearts are on the line. Here are some tips:

a) If anyone at the party you're attending this year is a fan of the Broncos or Seahawks, you must show them courtesy and respect. This is their day, not yours. They get the best seats in proximity to the TV. Period. This is not debatable.

b) Do not ever - ever - stand in front of the television. If you do, you risk being sworn at and pelted with flying objects, which you fully deserve.

c) Do not try to chitchat with those focused on the game. If you're just at the party to hangout and socialize, go into another room. Or, even better, take it upon yourself to serve food and drinks to those watching the game.

d) If you don't know a damn thing about football, Super Sunday is not the day to learn. Don't ask a bunch of folks glued to their seats how many home runs Peyton Manning hit this year or what a first down is. You will be ignored.

e) Don't ask anyone who cares about the game to run and pick up the pizza. They will not. And if you have it delivered, tip the guy big time. Remember, this poor dude is missing the game.

f) Appreciate the well-intended contributions of the non-football people. If someone who doesn't care about the game shows up with a big bucket of wings and a case of beer, gladly accept it. This is their way of trying to get involved. Always thank these people accordingly and encourage them to run back out and return with more food and drinks if they'd like.

12) The Super Bowl allows us the opportunity to buy cool stuff during the weeks after the game. If your team wins, it's going to cost you some money. You'll need the obligatory boisterous championship t-shirts and pennants, which are usually in stores just a few days after the game, and later, you'll of course need the required commemorative championship steins and plaques.

13) The Super Bowl allows us the chance to show off to our friends all of the cool stats that we know about the Super Bowl. For example, Dallas lost three Super Bowls by a total of only 11 points. Even in defeat, they have never embarrassed themselves, and with a little luck, they could have won eight championships, not just five. Other stuff I know: The '85 Bears, at the time, put the worst beating on somebody in the Super Bowl, walloping the Patriots 46-10. The greatest whipping ever was San Fran's 55-10 lambasting of the Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV. Pennsylvania teams? The Steelers have won the most Super Bowls with six. The Eagles are 0-2. I could go on, but that would probably get annoying. It's cool to throw out a few of these during the game, but don't overdo it.

And finally ...

14) The Super Bowl allows us the chance to put down the remote control. For four hours, the station stays set. Sometimes it's a great game, sometimes it's a blow out. But for fans of the winner, it's a day they will always savor. Even the commercials are fun, and in recent years, everyone from Paul McCartney to Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Madonna, Tom Petty and Prince have performed at halftime. This year, it's Bruno Mars. He's good. Really good.

Again, I give you my big-five: VI, XII, XXVII. XXVIII and XXX. Tom Landry, Roger Staubach, Tony Dorsett, Jimmy Johnson, Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith ... these are the men that, on those days, made some and my Super Sundays most super, and for that I am still very grateful.

It is why I will always love the Super Bowl.

Now, who's running for the pizza? ...

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A 'GALLERY' OF MEMORIES


When the Gallery of Sound recently announced that it would be closing its store at the Gateway Shopping Center in Edwardsville, I was both saddened and reflective. I was saddened because I’ve come to know both Joe Nardone Sr. and Joe Nardone Jr. pretty well over the years, and I know how dedicated they are to the record business. I’d done quite a few stories about them, I’d worked with them on a few projects, and in this age of generic superstores and digital downloading, I was pulling for them to weather the iTunes and Walmart storm and survive.

Fortunately, they’ve still got a few more stores in the Gallery of Sound chain, which I hope are around for a long, long time.

Other Gallery of Sound stores have closed in recent years, including locations in Pittston and Dallas. But the closing of the Edwardsville store hit me the hardest. For as long as I can remember, it was my spot to buy records. And even though it had moved within the shopping center a few times, I still felt l like I grew up there. And thus, I became reflective.

I thought of the time, in the fall of 1982, that I went in to buy the new KISS album. It was $8.95, and I can still recall pushing my last nickel across the counter to pay for it. I can still remember the clerk and what she looked like. It’s hard to believe it was nearly 30 years ago.

The store was also a place of discovery. It was a place where you could easily learn more about your favorite artists simply by browsing around. In the early ‘80s, when I was in my early teens, I was just discovering the music of acts such as The Who, The Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen and was delighted to learn that by that time, they each had a great catalog of material. I’d leaf through their albums, taking each one out of the bin to read the songs titles and examine the artwork. I’d check to see what year they were first released, and eventually, I started to buy them all. I built a record collection. Later it was cassettes, and then CDs. The format didn’t matter. The fact was I learned a lot about music in that store.

And I know I’m not alone. Thousands of kids that grew up on the West Side did the same. We even got to know most of the clerks by name, and they knew us. And we were always made to feel welcome. Sometimes, they'd be playing something so good when you went into the store, you'd end up buying it.

At one point when my friends and I were about 16, we would make an entire afternoon out of visiting the record store. We’d save up our money until we had about $25 bucks, then we’d walk over to the shopping center, have lunch at Antonio’s, and then go buy two or three albums. This was a big deal. Buying more than one album on one day was almost magical, and we’d take our time while browsing through the store and choosing between bands such as The Police and Van Halen. For me, an old Who album was almost always on the agenda. I really didn’t discover the band until its 1982 “Farewell Tour,” but thanks to the Gallery of Sound, I learned all about them pretty fast.

Of course, there was more than just music at the store. Rock posters, pins, t-shirts, videos … it was all there. There was an image to music – a vibe, if you will – that doesn’t exist today. These things also added to the simple fun of a record store and the “Gallery Of Sound” was indeed very well-named. Later, in the '90s, the "midnight sale" became popular for major releases, and it was not uncommon to see a long line of music fans standing outside the store late at night, often talking with one another about their favorite artists. You must admit, there's something pretty cool about that.

My last visit to the Edwardsville Gallery of Sound came just before Christmas. I was looking to add to my collection of classic holiday music and was looking for a few CDs by Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. Of course, the store had both albums I was looking for and I was not surprised. If I knew at the time it would be my last time there, perhaps I would have the perused the aisles a bit longer.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve downloaded some songs from iTunes and I love my iPod. But I just don’t understand why anyone would rather download a CD instead of just buying it. The cost is about the same, and it’s easy enough to take the music from the CD and add it to your iPod, so why not own the actual product, complete with artwork and liner notes? Why not have the actual recording just in case your hard drive crashes? Should I ever lose my iPod or crash my hard drive, my music collection will remain intact. And that’s because it's mostly on CD.

There’s a new Springsteen album coming out next month. And though I plan to upload it to my iPod, the first thing I’ll need to do is go buy it. Not download it. Go get the record.

Thankfully, right around the corner from my office on Public Square, there’s still a Gallery of Sound.