A Tribute To Bobby “The Brain” Heenan

“You listen to me, you’ll go straight to the top!  You don’t listen to me, you’ll never be heard from again!”

In the golden era of the manager, played by usually retired or semi-retired wrestlers who were exceptional talkers and could advocate for younger talent who couldn’t do it themselves, no one was more exceptional than Bobby Heenan.  Although, few remember his matches, everybody remembers his promos and colour commentary.  He would go on to inspire a legion of imitators, none of whom could top him.

Nicknaming himself “The Brain” for his supposed managerial genius (he was originally Pretty Boy but had to change it because that was also Larry Hennig’s gimmick), the fans preferred “Weasel” thanks to Dick The Bruiser who kept calling him that during his first year in the American Wrestling Association way back in 1974.  (Heenan’s career as a wrestler/manager began almost a decade earlier.)  Bruiser and his tag team partner The Crusher were feuding with Heenan’s team of Nick Bockwinkel and Ray “The Crippler” Stevens at the time.  Both monikers would survive the entirety of Heenan’s career in professional wrestling.

A natural heel with a very sharp sense of humour, the blonde motormouth who often wore glittery sports jackets had an uncanny knack of drawing heat for himself and the numerous wrestlers he represented.  When Bockwinkel and Stevens split, Heenan guided the former to several AWA world titles.  (He also advocated for the AWA tag champions Bobby Duncum Sr. and Blackjack Lanza.)  In 1983, Bockwinkel faced a popular new challenger in Hulk Hogan.  It began a long-running storyline feud between The Brain and the future megastar which carried over into the WWF shortly thereafter.  (Ironically, they were friends in real-life although they did have their tense moments.)

It was there in New York that Heenan truly shined.  In 1984, he stood in the corner for Ken Patera (who he also managed in the AWA) and Big John Studd as they took on Andre The Giant and S.D. Jones in an infamous TV tag match.  At one point, Heenan climbed onto the apron and handed Studd a pair of scissors.  What followed was the humiliation of The Eighth Wonder Of The World as his unruly head of curly hair was severely cut by both Studd & Patera who claimed his long locks as trophies.  Vince McMahon oversold the moment as the “raping” of Andre’s dignity.

Studd’s ongoing gimmick of offering $15000 (it was originally $10000) to anyone who could slam him (and then reneging on the deal when a few were able to do it) led to a match with Andre at the first WrestleMania.  If Andre couldn’t slam Studd within an hour time limit, he’d have to retire.  He scooped him up and threw him to the mat in less than 10 minutes.  As Andre was trying to throw the money to the ringside fans from a tiny WWF gym bag it was stored in, a frantic Heenan flew into the ring to snatch it from him before it was all gone.

The Heenan/Andre feud would carry on into the summer of 1985 when during a match with Studd in Toronto’s old Maple Leaf Gardens, King Kong Bundy would jump into the ring to prevent The Giant from giving Studd a haircut of his own.  Heenan ordered the bald Bundy to splash Andre whose legs were being held down by Studd.  As Bundy jumped into the air, The Brain would sometimes give him an extra push while he was in mid-air as he repeatedly landed on the helpless Giant’s chest.

A similar moment occurred during a TV segment that same year when Heenan was announced as the Manager Of The Year but because Hillbilly Jim gave his votes to Lou Albano, the “Captain” became the official winner instead.

Rightly infuriated, Heenan demanded his own brand of justice.  Studd tackled Jim and held down his legs as Bundy splashed him several times before the ring was cleared by babyface wrestlers from the backstage area, just like in Toronto.

During Hogan’s title defense against The Magnificent Muraco on Saturday Night’s Main Event in early 1986, Heenan mysteriously replaced Mr. Fuji as his cornerman.  And after he caused the beach bum’s disqualification, Bundy saved him from being choked out by the world champion.  Heenan then instructed Bundy and Muraco to do their worst to Hogan.  Lots of avalanches and splashes followed.  This set up the steel cage match between Hogan & Bundy at WrestleMania 2.  After he retained the title, Hogan got his revenge by atomic dropping, punching and whipping The Brain against the steel structure.  Nothing pleased a crowd more than watching The Weasel get his long overdue comeuppance.  It happened a lot.

When Andre returned, he would find a succession of partners to challenge Studd & Bundy for more than a year.  When The Masked Superstar (the future Demolition Ax) and Blackjack Mulligan (Bray Wyatt and Bo Dallas’ grandfather) were repackaged as The Super and Big Machines in 1986, Andre donned a mask himself and became The Giant Machine, a gimmick he recycled for stints in Japan.  The Machines & “Captain” Lou Albano (with a masked Andre in their corner) took on Studd, Bundy & Heenan himself in a six-man encounter at The Big Event in Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium.  The Heenan Family won by DQ.

In a surprise twist at the start of 1987, Andre would turn heel by aligning with Heenan in the build to his world title match against former friend Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania 3.  Andre would famously lose that match (The Brain desperately complained for a year that the early false finish was really a three-count) but after Heenan sold his contract to Ted DiBiase he would win the rematch through a screw-job during the live Main Event broadcast the following year.

During this same period, Heenan managed Paul “Mr. Wonderful” Orndorff.  After Orndorff & Roddy Piper lost to Hogan & Mr. T in the main event of the first WrestleMania, The Brain accidentally noted on TNT that he talked match strategy without the presence of his client.  Deeply offended and already feeling humiliated by being abandoned by Piper and bodyguard Bob Orton in Madison Square Garden, Mr. Wonderful fired him.  But the following year, after Orndorff turned on Hogan during a TV tag match against Studd & Bundy, they reconciled.  Orndorff would unsuccessfully challenge Hogan in a series of world title matches which included the main event of The Big Event and the steel cage match on Saturday Night’s Main Event.

When Heenan started representing “Ravishing” Rick Rude and started comparing Orndorff unfavourably to him, Mr. Wonderful fired him again and briefly aligned with Oliver Humperdink before leaving the company following the first Survivor Series where he once again became a Hogan ally.

After spending almost two years in prison under questionable circumstances, a now babyface and no longer blonde Ken Patera returned to feud with The Brain, his former manager, and various members of The Heenan Family in the summer of 1987.  In the storyline, Heenan abandoned his former charge, leaving him to rot.  The former Olympic strongman challenged him to a TV debate which led to Heenan ultimately wearing a neck brace long after he needed to.

When former eight-time NWA world champion Harley Race joined the WWF in 1986 and eventually became The King, Heenan stood in his corner until an accident during a Hulk Hogan match led to his retirement two and a half years later.  And no, he didn’t have surgery at the hands of The Immortal One, as The Brain humourously unintentionally asserted in a promo.

At the end of 1988, Heenan made another questionable deal with DiBiase.  He sold Hercules to him so The Million Dollar Man could have a slave which led to a mercifully brief program.

After nearly five years without managing a champion, Heenan finally had something to brag about in 1989.  He helped Rude beat The Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania 5 for the InterContinental Championship (Warrior regained it at SummerSlam thanks to the antics of Piper who became an enemy of The Heenan Family) while The Brain Busters (Tully Blanchard & Arn Anderson) were able to dethrone the then-longest reigning world tag title holders Demolition during a Saturday Night’s Main Event taping.

When Ax & Smash regained the belts shortly thereafter, Heenan teamed Andre with Haku (who previously teamed with another Heenan Family member Tama) to form The Colossal Connection who won back the straps at the end of the year.  During a WrestleMania 6 rematch in 1990, after Demoltion won the titles for a third and final time, a pissed off Andre who was never tagged in (he was too hurt to bump) finally disassociated from The Brain, a routine that was repeated in a series of subsequent house shows that ended The Giant’s long in-ring career.

Another client who turned on Heenan was Terry Taylor who The Brain renamed The Red Rooster, one of the lamer nicknames in wrestling history.  Taking credit for his early undefeated streak while frequently knocking his abilities, a boiling point was reached during Saturday Night’s Main Event when Heenan’s tirades were aired during the match.  (He was miked for the whole segment.)

After Tito Santana beat him, Heenan ripped into Taylor who retaliated by decking him.  During a later Prime Time Wrestling interview with Gorilla Monsoon, Heenan’s new protégé Steve Lombardi (renamed The Brooklyn Brawler) attacked both men setting up a long series of matches between the two that were mostly won by Taylor.  At WrestleMania 5, Taylor, still going by the Rooster name and now with a silly dyed red faux hawk, easily defeated his former manager in a very quick in-ring encounter.

Things got a lot better for Heenan when he started managing Mr. Perfect Curt Hennig (Pretty Boy Larry’s son later known as The Ax) and guided him to two InterContinental Championship reigns in 1990.  That is, until he started feuding with Ric Flair.  The Nature Boy lost a losers leaves WWF match on Raw to Hennig in 1993 and so The Brain started representing “The Narcissist” Lex Luger who went after Hennig in his place.

Because of his quick wit and intelligent promos, Heenan was paired with both Gorilla Monsoon, his real-life pal, and later Vince McMahon at the commentary table.  The self-professed broadcast journalist would playfully antagonize an always exasperated Monsoon during their many appearances on Wrestling Challenge, Prime Time Wrestling (which spawned The Bobby Heenan Show) and taped house shows at Maple Leaf Gardens, Boston Garden and Madison Square Garden.  Monsoon’s constant refrain of “Would you stop?” whenever The Brain would get under his skin, lie or say something that bothered him was a staple of their endlessly entertaining schtick.

As a kid, I tended to prefer Monsoon and Jesse Ventura, incidentally the first guy Heenan managed in the WWF.  But as a man, there’s no question that Heenan and Monsoon were the best of their era.  When he wasn’t being the Rickles of wrestling, Heenan could masterfully and succinctly assess a wrestler whether he liked them or not.  When he noted The Undertaker’s Frankenstein-like invincibility, he famously asserted, “He’s not human.”  His outspokenness often got him into trouble like the many times he upset The Big Boss Man for mocking his mother which led to a brief storyline.

During the 1992 30-man Royal Rumble match, Heenan was at his memorable best when he shamelessly shilled for The Real World’s Champion Ric Flair who drew number 3 in the draw and ultimately won the vacant world title by being the last man standing.  Heenan’s humourously pleading “be fair to Flair” routine was so good (he’s in a perpetual panic for the entire hour), the entire match was included on a WWE DVD dedicated to his career.  (The entertaining accompanying documentary reveals his utterly charming devotion to his wife and daughter, quite the contrast from his roasty on-camera persona.)

In December 1993, Heenan was literally tossed off Monday Night Raw so he could take a break and recover from a longstanding neck injury.  But in early 1994, he would start working for WCW which allowed him to be closer to his family.  The Brain’s commentary stint there wasn’t nearly as effective as it was in the WWF.  With no Monsoon to drive crazy, it just wasn’t the same.  Dusty Rhodes, Larry Zbyszko, Mongo McMichael and Tony Schiavone were all unsuitable replacements.  The chemistry so easily achieved with his old friend just wasn’t there in the new environment.

The most memorable moments involved an accident and an impromptu eulogy.  Brian Pillman didn’t realize that Heenan was not to be touched which led to a live on-air expletive (Pillman later apologized) and when Gorilla Monsoon died in 1999, Heenan insisted this be acknowledged on the air even though his longtime friend wasn’t a WCW employee.  He later left the commentary table and wept.  (During his 2004 WWE Hall of Fame speech, in a touching conclusion, he wished that Monsoon had been there to see him be inducted.)

As he noted in one of his two autobiographies, Heenan’s experience in WCW was far from positive.  He was let go in early 2000, a year before the struggling company was bought out by Vince McMahon.

After that, The Brain would make infrequent on-camera appearances.  He did guest commentary with Mean Gene Okerlund at WrestleMania 17 during the very short gimmick battle royal (they also found themselves caught in the act with The Fabulous Moolah and Mae Young) and also worked brief stints with the XWF (where he reunited with Curt Hennig), Ring Of Honor (where he feuded with Jim Cornette) and TNA (where he attempted to represent Bobby Roode).

In 2002, Heenan’s charmed life changed forever when he was first diagnosed with throat cancer, a cruel twist of fate for a talented man who depended so much on the strength and bluster of his voice.  The consequences of that diagnosis would greatly affect his physical appearance and the sounds emanating from his lightning quick mind.  He would never fully recover.

Earlier today, after years of surgeries to repair his jaw and numerous damaging falls, Heenan died suddenly at the age of 72 surrounded by close family including his wife of nearly 40 years, Cynthia, and his only child, Jessica, who bore him his only grandchild, Austin, who is not yet 10.

As expected, tributes from some of the biggest names in wrestling past and present have been glowing and with good reason.  Bobby Heenan played a major role in the evolution of the business.  He began working in the WWF just as it was about to make its national expansion.  He helped elevate numerous talents whether they could speak or not.  And he could take a bump over and over again even if most of them were as a manager.  No one could turn an audience against him quite as quickly and as effectively as The Brain did.

Heenan never had a five-star classic as an in-ring grappler.  You can’t achieve that with Weasel Suit matches.  But he didn’t need to.  Heenan was first and foremost a talker, a great talker, one you looked forward to hearing every week.  Sure, he derided you as a humanoid and ham ‘n egger for rooting for the babyfaces that often went to war with his Family members and did dastardly things to make his clients happy and successful.  But he kept you laughing and laughing some more.  And he was smart.  Every time he offered an observation, you listened.  The WWE would not be where it is today were it not for him.

Throughout the history of wrestling, there have been great talkers, managers and commentators.  Bobby “The Brain” Heenan was all three at once.

Rest in peace, Weasel.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, September 18, 2017
2:14 a.m.

CORRECTIONS:  Bobby Heenan was actually 72, not 73.  And he married his wife Cynthia in 1978, not 1974.  The text has been corrected.  My apologies for the mistakes.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, September 18, 2017
11:41 p.m.

UPDATE:  The cause of death, according to The Tampa Bay Times, was “organ failure caused by throat cancer”.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, September 21, 2017
4:04 a.m.

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Published in: on September 18, 2017 at 2:14 am  Leave a Comment  

Morning Joe’s Donald Trump Problem

Maybe they shouldn’t have put him on the air so much.  Maybe they shouldn’t have privately advised his campaign.  And maybe they shouldn’t have been so chummy with him for all these years.

When Donald Trump declared himself a candidate for President in June 2015, few were more enthusiastic about it than Joe Scarborough.  The former Republican Congressman was an early champion of the future President as was Mika Brzezinski, his fiancé and co-host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe.  Trump was a frequent guest on their program during the early days of the overlong 2016 federal election campaign.  The interviews were not noted for their toughness.

Considering his routinely inflammatory, xenophobic, sexist, contradictory, revisionist and often blatantly dishonest rhetoric, Scarborough & Brzezinski’s shameless, early shilling for Trump had long been a source of ridicule and criticism, especially within their own cable news network.

Not helping matters was a leaked piece of audio that illustrated their penchant for subservience, not to mention Scarborough’s initial reluctance to turn down a possible Vice Presidential candidacy as Trump’s running mate.  Scarborough even went so far as to publicly brag about advising Trump “to speak in complete sentences at debates.”

Even after publicly criticizing his proposal for a Muslim travel ban in late 2015, Scarborough & Brzezinski continued to see Trump socially.  (They stayed at Mar-A-Lago over the Christmas/New Year’s holidays that same year.)  The day after it was first announced as public policy through a highly condemned & legally contested executive order this past January, there they were having lunch with the man in the Oval Officethe same man who offered to officiate their wedding during their Mar-A-Lago stay.  (Scarborough has been a frequent guest at the Florida resort.)

After Trump had won the election, as he sheepishly admitted recently to Rolling Stone, Scarborough told him over the phone, “I hope we’ll be friends after this.”

Despite occasionally spatting at each other on Twitter and TV over the last year, their off-air social engagements resumed unabated, at least up until a few months ago.

This week, after once again poking the beast by foolishly questioning his mental health, President Trump responded in his favourite forum by lambasting Scarborough & Brzezinski the only way he knows how, by cruelly lying.  (Do we really believe anyone still recuperating from a facelift (that appears not to have actually happened) would ever be in the vicinity of the most judgmental man on the planet?)

The backlash was predictable.  And then, the Morning Joe hosts countered Trump’s laughable tweets by claiming that the White House wanted an apology for their public criticism.  If they sufficiently grovelled, a National Enquirer story exposing their then-secret relationship would be killed.  (They came out as an engaged couple in Vanity Fair in May.)  They didn’t and true to the threat, it ran.  That raises a whole lot of abuse of power questions.  (The National Enquirer officially endorsed him for President.  Trump has a close, longstanding relationship with its owner, David Pecker.)

But what about Scarborough & Brzezinski’s own embarrassing conduct in this whole mess?  In the early goings of the 2016 campaign, they gave Trump a lot of free publicity and not a lot of scrutiny, inexcusable behaviour for broadcasters on a national news channel.  (As Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi reported on the campaign trail last year, Trump gave them a warm shout-out during a New Hampshire rally.)  Even after they started questioning some of his worst ideas on Morning Joe, they maintained their already established off-camera relationship with him right up until January this year (as far as we know) which was far less hostile.

Scarborough is now claiming, with a straight face, that the man he and his fiancé stupidly sucked up to in 2015 and 2016, for the purpose of getting exclusive access, is not the same man currently occupying the White House.  Has he really forgotten Trump’s original campaign announcement where he smeared most Mexicans as criminals, rapists & murderers?  Was he not aware of Ivana Trump’s claim that her husband raped her (later retracted because of considerable pressure from his legal team)?  Did he miss how Trump and his father wouldn’t allow black people to rent apartments in their buildings back in the 1970s?  I could go on but you get the idea.

You’d have to be a complete dunderhead to believe that 2015 Trump was more reasonable than 2017 Trump.  You don’t even have to do any research to realize Scarborough is completely full of shit.  I’ll use the most obvious example.  2015 Trump suggested a Muslim travel ban.  2017 Trump has tried three times to implement it.  Explain to me again how the 2015 version was more acceptable.

As for Trump brutalizing the Morning Joe couple on Twitter, I have next to no sympathy for them, mean tweets notwithstanding.  When you make the decision to roll around in the mud with a pig, expect to be corrupted by the filth.  No amount of washing will make you clean.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, June 30, 2017
11:23 p.m.

Published in: on June 30, 2017 at 11:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

Warren Beatty’s Secret Post-Oscars Playlist

Poor Warren Beatty.  He had one job to do at the 89th annual Academy Awards and it proved too difficult a task.  No, it wasn’t La La Land that had won Best Picture but Moonlight.  (Somehow, he was holding a duplicate Best Actress envelope.)  Not helping matters was the fact that it took forever to make the necessary correction.  By that point, the La La Land team had already delivered most of their acceptance speeches.

Feeling embarrassed by the whole preventable debacle, Beatty has been privately nursing his wounds through music, relentlessly punishing himself for his unfortunate error.  I happened to have gotten a hold of the playlist:

It’s A Mistake (MEN AT WORK)

Screwed It Up (LIMBLIFTER)

I Was Wrong (SOCIAL DISTORTION)

Fuckin’ Up (NEIL YOUNG)

I Started A Joke (BEE GEES)

Dare To Be Stupid (WEIRD AL YANKOVIC)

Karma Police (RADIOHEAD)

Not Right (THE STOOGES)

How Bizarre (OMC)

Dazed & Confused (LED ZEPPELIN)

Out Of Touch (HALL & OATES)

Help! (THE BEATLES)

Foolish Games (JEWEL)

No, No, No (DESTINY’S CHILD)

I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (U2)

Wrong (DEPECHE MODE)

For Your Eyes Only (SHEENA EASTON)

Gotta Stop (Messin’ About) (PRINCE)

Do You Really Want To Hurt Me? (CULTURE CLUB)

Where’s The Love? (HANSON)

Something To Talk About (BONNIE RAITT)

Blurred Lines (ROBIN THICKE)

Causing A Commotion (MADONNA)

One Slip (PINK FLOYD)

Been Caught Stealin’ (JANE’S ADDICTION)

King Of Wishful Thinking (GO WEST)

I Missed The Bus (KRIS KROSS)

I Just Died In Your Arms Tonight (CUTTING CREW)

Thunderstruck (AC/DC)

Numb (U2)

Tragedy (BEE GEES)

My Favourite Mistake (SHERYL CROW)

Mr. Moonlight (THE BEATLES)

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, February 27, 2017
6:28 p.m.

Published in: on February 27, 2017 at 6:28 pm  Leave a Comment  

La La Land Wins Best Picture…Wait, No, It’s Moonlight…Bizarre Ending To Mostly Predictable, Political And Often Funny 2017 Oscars

What the fuck was that, Faye Dunaway?  What in the holy hell were you thinking, Warren Beatty?

The 89th Annual Academy Awards ended in a total embarrassment with the botched announcement for Best Picture.  After curiously stalling and staring and stalling and staring, a confused Beatty handed over the opened envelope to his oblivious Bonnie & Clyde co-star who claimed La La Land had won the final award of the evening.

After a number of acceptance speeches by the film’s thrilled producers, someone backstage came out to try to stop their presentation.  Why?  Because it turned out Moonlight had actually won.  Beatty & Dunaway apparently did not have the right envelope.

At one point, an incredulous Jimmy Kimmel, the host of the event, asked Beatty directly, “Warren, what did you do?”

A sheepish Beatty said that when he saw Emma Stone’s name, he got bewildered.  But instead of having the wherewithal to say, hey, wait a minute, I don’t think this is the right envelope, he put Dunaway in the awful position of reading the wrong name for Best Picture.  Good God, what a fiasco.  Considering how the show saved those clips of the nominees for the actual presentation, there was more than enough time to switch envelopes without anyone at home noticing.

Moonlight’s surprise win for Best Picture was its third award of the night.  New father Mahershala Ali, as expected, took home Best Supporting Actor.  He mentioned the birth of his baby daughter four days ago as he graciously acknowledged his wife’s patience through all the awards he’s been collecting for his well regarded performance.  He also thanked his teachers for all they taught him.  Moonlight also won Best Adapted Screenplay.

Despite the Best Picture screw-up, La La Land still managed to take home six golden gongs.  The aforementioned Emma Stone, who delivered a sweet, charming speech thanking friends, family and the people who worked on the film, took home Best Actress (Beatty had a duplicate envelope, apparently) and Damien Chazelle was named Best Director.  Neither victory was a surprise.  It also won for its original score, its production design, its cinematography and in a bit of an upset, for the song City Of Stars, over the number one smash hit Can’t Stop The Feeling!, the Trolls track that Justin Timberlake performed at the beginning of the broadcast.

Also unsurprising was sexual harasser Casey Affleck’s win for Best Actor for his work in Manchester By The Sea.  Is he planning a sequel to I’m Still Here?  For some reason, he was sporting Joaquin Phoenix’s bearded slob look.  Kenneth Lonergan, the director of the film, won for writing its original screenplay.

Best Supporting Actress Viola Davis (Fences) gave the most impassioned acceptance speech of the night as she spoke about the forgotten laying in their graves, their stories of love & loss and failure otherwise left untold were it not for artists who take up their cause.  She urged the business to “exhume” their experiences for the cinema.

Other predictable results included the excellent OJ: Made In America taking Best Documentary Feature and Zootopia winning Best Animated Feature.  Hacksaw Ridge, racist misogynist Mel Gibson’s comeback movie, managed to take two technical prizes of its own for its film editing and its sound mixing.  (The full list of winners is at the end of this piece.)

Next to Best Picture, the biggest surprise for me was Suicide Squad taking home Best Make-Up & Hairstyling over Star Trek Beyond.  That’s one more Oscar than Lion, Hidden Figures and Hell Or High Water received combined.  They were the only Best Picture nominees to get completely shut out of any golden eunuchs.

In the midst of the expected political speeches from some of the honorees (including one presenter who openly opposed President Stupid’s racist border wall) were some pretty funny moments courtesy of host Jimmy Kimmel who started strong with his monologue (he mocked Mel Gibson’s ghastly appearance quipping that Scientology was agreeing with him and sarcastically knocked the “overrated” Meryl Streep for “phoning it in” her entire career by listing a number of her acclaimed films), had a few off moments but then got funnier as the night progressed.  His response to the crowd’s cool reception to his OJ joke was better than the joke itself.

The constant ribbing of longtime good-natured punching bag Matt Damon continued as expected with the best gag happening during the Best Original Screenplay presentation.  Kimmel actually conducted the orchestra to play very loudly whenever Damon talked.  This followed him and fellow presenter Ben Affleck being announced as “Ben Affleck and guest”.  That followed Kimmel goofing on We Bought A Zoo during a spoof of stars honouring their favourite movies, a recurring segment throughout the show.  When Damon tried defending the performance on stage, Affleck humourously responded, “Really?”  If you want to see how self-deprecating these guys can really get about their movies, check out their very funny Good Will Hunting 2 spoof in the underappreciated Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back.

There was also a funny Oscars edition of celebrities reading Mean Tweets, a silly bit involving an unsuspecting tour group getting to meet some stars while passing through the Dolby Theatre’s sprawling auditorium and a failed attempt to get Donald Trump to tweet about the show.  Oh, and food fell from the sky a few times.  Plus, there was a cute tribute to The Lion King with the adorable kid from Lion.

All in all, Kimmel was a good host who didn’t have too many missteps.  But, by God, what the fuck happened with Best Picture?  Jesus, you had one job, guys.  One.  Come on!

THE FULL LIST OF WINNERS:

BEST PICTURE – MOONLIGHT

BEST DIRECTOR – Damien Chazelle (LA LA LAND)

BEST ACTRESS – Emma Stone (LA LA LAND)

BEST ACTOR – Casey Affleck (MANCHESTER BY THE SEA)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS – Viola Davis (FENCES)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – Mahershala Ali (MOONLIGHT)

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE – OJ: MADE IN AMERICA

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM – THE SALESMAN

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE – ZOOTOPIA

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY – MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY – MOONLIGHT

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE – LA LA LAND

BEST ORIGINAL SONG – City Of Stars (LA LA LAND)

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS – THE JUNGLE BOOK

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY – LA LA LAND

BEST FILM EDITING – HACKSAW RIDGE

BEST COSTUME DESIGN – FANTASTIC BEASTS & WHERE TO FIND THEM

BEST MAKE-UP & HAIRSTYLING – SUICIDE SQUAD

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN – LA LA LAND

BEST ANIMATED SHORT – PIPER

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT – SING

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT – THE WHITE HELMETS

BEST SOUND EDITING – ARRIVAL

BEST SOUND MIXING – HACKSAW RIDGE

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, February 27, 2017
1:27 a.m.

CORRECTION:  The Oscars took place in the Dolby Theatre, not the Kodak Theatre as I erroneously stated. The text has been corrected.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, February 27, 2017
11:25 p.m.

Published in: on February 27, 2017 at 1:27 am  Leave a Comment  

Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka Dies Without Facing Justice For Murdering Nancy Argentino

When I became a pro wrestling fan in the summer of 1985, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka was one of my favourites.  He looked wild in his leopard-printed trunks with his unkempt mane of curly, dark hair, and chiselled, tanned physique.  He didn’t wear boots.  He wasn’t much of a technical wrestler but his finisher was fantastic.  Near the end of a match, he would climb the top rope, give the double devil-horned salute (which he rechristened the “I love you” sign), leap halfway across the ring and splash his downed opponent waiting helplessly on the mat.  Three seconds later, victory was his.

He played a major role in the evolution of the WWF from a Northeastern territory once part of the NWA into an independent global phenomenon.  When “Rowdy” Roddy Piper smashed a coconut into his face and brutalized him verbally and physically during his second and most infamous appearance on Piper’s Pit, it led to one of the hottest feuds of the mid-80s.  Snuka ended up being in the corner of Mr. T and Hulk Hogan during their tag team match with Piper and Paul Orndorff in the main event of the first WrestleMania.

Then, he disappeared from the company.  Vince McMahon Jr. openly referred to him as a “basket case”.  After a long stint in the AWA (where he feuded with the racist Apartheid South African supporter Col. DeBeers), Snuka would make a surprise return at WrestleMania 5.  His second run which lasted until the early 90s was a huge letdown.  (He eventually started wearing traditional boots.)  The most memorable thing he did was put over The Undertaker at WrestleMania 7 which began The Dead Man’s 21-match winning streak at the event.

Before he became a popular babyface, though, he was a notorious heel managed at one point by Captain Lou Albano.  (There’s a hilarious YouTube video of him flipping out while being interviewed by McMahon at ringside in an empty arena during a TV taping.)  He challenged WWF Champion Bob Backlund in a famous steel cage match in Madison Square Garden.  He lost shortly after performing the Superfly Splash from the top of the 15-foot structure.  Backlund got out of the way in time and escaped to victory.

But after Albano violently screwed him over, another former heel “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers became his new cornerman.  Snuka started challenging The Guiding Light’s protégé, Don Muraco, for his InterContinental title which he would never attain.  After a fluky steel cage win by the champion in 1983 at Madison Square Garden, a bloodied, infuriated Snuka dragged Muraco back in, suplexed him into position, climbed to the very top with his bare feet touching the barbed wire and jumped off.  This time, he landed right on The Magnificent One, who was also a bloody mess.  This classic moment was witnessed by a young kid from New York who went on to surpass this dangerous bump in 1998.  When Mick Foley was thrown off the top of the Hell In A Cell structure by The Undertaker at the King Of The Ring event landing quite roughly on a breakable announce table, it was clearly an homage to his hero.

But Jimmy Snuka was not a hero.  Despite his accomplishments in the ring, he was a despicable misogynist, an underreported fact during his heyday.  In 1983, while married, he started dating Nancy Argentino.  He would routinely beat her.  During one fateful night in May of that year, he murdered her.  According to the autopsy, she “died of traumatic brain injuries consistent with a moving head striking a stationary object.”  The coroner further noted that she had “suffered more than two dozen cuts and bruises — a possible sign of ‘mate abuse’ — on her head, ear, chin, arms, hands, back, buttocks, legs and feet.” He argued that it “should be investigated as a homicide until proven otherwise.”

It was never proven otherwise and Snuka was the only suspect.  (He preposterously claimed it was an accident.)  But at the time, he was never arrested nor put on trial.  Ask Vince McMahon Jr. why that didn’t happen.  More than 30 years later, however, thanks to decades of dogged reporting by Irv Muchnick, Snuka was finally arrested.  But his health had deteriorated considerably.  Diagnosed with dementia and later, terminal stomach cancer, the case was dismissed late last year without any real resolution.  Much earlier, Argentino’s family successfully sued him in 1985, receiving a half a million judgment but Snuka claimed poverty and never paid.  Just a month after being told he had six months to live, he’s dead.

And now the disgusting spectacle of WWE Superstars singing The Superfly’s praises on Twitter has begun.  And I’m sure glowing tributes are being prepared right this second for tomorrow night’s Raw and Tuesday night’s Smackdown Live.  Expect a dedication at the very start of each program.  How sickening, how sexist, how appalling.

It’s Chris Benoit all over again.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, January 15, 2017
5:15 p.m.

UPDATE & CORRECTION:  There was no 10-bell salute but as expected, tonight’s Raw was dedicated to him in his memory.  There was an overly glowing video tribute that made no mention of his violent misogyny.  Smackdown Live will likely feature the same material on Tuesday.

I misspelled the name of Snuka’s long forgotten victim.  It’s Nancy Argentino, not Argento.  I’ve made all the necessary corrections in the title and text but because hyperlinks are permanent, unfortunately, that mistake will remain.  My apologies for the error.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, January 16, 2017
10:15 p.m.

Published in: on January 15, 2017 at 5:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Lows Of 2016

1. David Bowie died of cancer two days after releasing his final studio album.  First, there was collective denial, then absolute shock and sadness.  His unexpected death set the tone for a miserable year.

2. Donald Trump is the 45th President of the United States.  How much considerable, irreparable harm will he cause to the world?

3. Daniel Bryan retired from the WWE due to severe, unrecoverable injuries.  He was looking like the next John Cena.  Now he’s reduced to being a powerless “authority” figure on Smackdown, a supporting player on a reality show and a punching bag for The Miz.

4. Jian Ghomeshi isn’t in prison.  Rape culture is real.

5. The Fort McMurray fire in Alberta.  Such devastation.  It will takes years to rebuild.

6. Fifty Shades Of Black.  A horrifically unfunny “parody” of Fifty Shades Of Grey.  No more Marlon Wayans movies.  Please.

7. Gord Downie’s terminal brain cancer diagnosis.  May he live as long as he can and make as much good music as he is able.

8. The armed protest at the Oregon Wildlife Refuge.  What exactly did it accomplish other than mass ridicule?

9. The rise in racist hate crimes against Muslims, trans people, gays, Black people, Jews, Palestinians and Indigenous communities worldwide.  White supremacy needs to die already.

10. Mr. Fuji died.

11. Gitmo is still open.

12. CM Punk lost his first UFC fight in the first round.  Years ago, Brock Lesnar lost his first fight as well and went on to become World Champion.  So there’s still hope for The Straight Edge Superstar.  He’ll be back.

13. Krystal on Canada’s Worst Driver 12.  An unrepentant narcissist who is an absolute maniac on the road.  The sooner her license is permanently suspended, the better.  Host Andrew Younghusband deserves a Nobel Peace Prize for tolerating this phone-addicted brat as well and for as long as he did.

14. The phony “Bernie Bro” smear from Clintonistas desperate to keep the Vermont Senator from becoming the Democratic nominee for President.  Not only did this erase the millions of women who supported Bernie Sanders (especially Hillary Clinton’s numerous feminist critics and women of colour), it was dastardly and downright insulting.  In the end, Donald Trump is the next US President, so good job, you stupid idiots.

15. Gawker went bankrupt after losing a court case to balding, overtanned racist Hulk Hogan.  Fuck you, Peter Thiel.

16. The very funny Garry Shandling died.  He spearheaded two of the most influential sitcoms of all time:  It’s Garry Shandling’s Show and The Larry Sanders Show.  He was a great Emmys host, too, and a quiet mentor to so many other comics in need.

17. Prince died of a prescription drug overdose.  The incredible legacy he leaves behind which doesn’t even include the thousands of songs he never released.

18. Zack Ryder’s one and only InterContinental title reign lasted exactly one day.  Why do his pushes always seem like ribs?

19. Doris Roberts died.  Both Barones are gone now.

20. Brexit.  The United Kingdom isn’t so united anymore.  What other European nations will follow Ol’ Blimey’s risky lead?

21. George Michael died on Christmas Day.

22. The endless civil war in Syria.  So many villains who should be prosecuted for war crimes.

23. Palestine is still illegally occupied by Apartheid Israel.

24. Matt DeHart is still in prison.

25. The lack of justice for mostly Black and Indigenous victims of police brutality.  The racist status quo cannot and must not continue to protect murderers and torturers of the state.

26. James Ellsworth.  Enough.

27. Chelsea Manning attempted suicide twice (which she was punished for) as she continues to be persecuted and tortured with solitary confinement for exposing deplorable war crimes by the American government.  Release her immediately and let her transition already.  She’s suffered enough for her uncommon courage and conviction.

28. All the terrible films I saw this year:  Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, Pixels, Hot Pursuit, Bad Teacher, The Lazarus Effect, Get Hard, the Black Christmas remake, Johnny English, Johnny English Reborn, Damien: Omen II, Born In East LA, The Wedding Ringer, Identity Thief, The Heat, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, No One Lives, Night Of The Creeps, Bending The Rules, The Last American Virgin, Bloodsport, The Last Exorcism Part II, Killer Klowns From Outer Space, Basket Case, Krampus, Dolls, Jessabelle, Brain Damage, Wolfcop, The Haunting In Connecticut 2: Ghosts Of Georgia, Street Trash, Zombie High, We’re The Millers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990), Masters Of The Universe, Observe And Report, National Lampoon’s Van Wilder, Silent Night Deadly Night, Silent Night Deadly Night Part 2, Here Comes The Boom, Let’s Be Cops, Death Wish II, Death Wish 3, Death Wish 4: The Crackdown, Death Wish: The Face Of Death, Three Fugitives, Evilspeak, Ride Along, Ride Along 2, Knucklehead, Hatchet, Meatballs, Meatballs Part II, The Gallows, Daddy’s Home, The Out-Of-Towners remake, 22 Jump Street, Ted, Hotel Transylvania, Hotel Transylvania 2, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, The Funhouse, Critters, Critters 2, the Conan The Barbarian remake, Swing Parade, Africa Screams, At War With The Army, Check And Double Check, The Flying Deuces, Deathouse (AKA Silent Night, Bloody Night), The Smallest Show On Earth, My Favourite Brunette, The Perfect Score, Cheech & Chong’s Animated Movie!, And Now For Something Completely Different and The Great Rupert.

29. Only some Russian Olympians were banned from competition in the Summer Games in Brazil.  Why not all of them?  All their Paralympians were barred.  Why the double standard?

30. Cody Rhodes left the WWE.  Even he got sick of being Stardust.

31. MuchMoreMusic was yanked off the air.

32. New2You quietly closed its Lime Ridge location.  I bought so many cheap CDs there over the years.  I will miss it dearly.

33. Ryan Lochte.  What the hell was he thinking?  Oh right.  He wasn’t.

34. Russ Feingold wasn’t able to get elected back to the Senate.

35. “Iron” Mike Sharpe died.  Why isn’t he in the WWE Hall of Fame as a jobber?

36. Amber Heard’s damning testimony about her abusive ex-husband Johnny Depp.  She deserves better and he should be ashamed of himself.

37. The desperate campaign to outlaw the peaceful #BDS movement against Apartheid Israel.  Try as they may, AI and their Western governmental allies cannot stop the inevitable end of violent colonial Zionism.

38. Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds both died during the same week over the Christmas holidays.  Doubly sad.

39. Montreal lost in the MLS final to Seattle.  Boring game.  Penalty kicks are a terrible way to settle a scoreless draw.

40. The Chris Jericho/Dean Ambrose asylum match at Extreme Rules.  Too long and too slow.  No wonder the audience in attendance stayed quiet for most of it.  If it wasn’t for the thumbtacks, the ending would’ve been terrible, too.  Don’t expect this silly concept to be repeated.

41. The overcrowded announce table on Smackdown Live.  Does the WWE not realize that we don’t need three terrible colour commentators all at once?

42. 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers Of Benghazi.  Michael Bay reimagines the most politicized moment of the misbegotten Libyan invasion as a long-winded action epic.  No thanks.

43. The Undertaker vs. Shane McMahon at WrestleMania 32.  If McMahon hadn’t jumped off the top of Hell In A Cell, would anybody be even talking about this match?  And what was the point of the stipulation if it was never going to be honoured?

44. Radiohead finally released a studio version of True Love Waits and it’s dreary.  I prefer the more moving live version from the I Might Be Wrong EP.

45. My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2.  Exceedingly manipulative and annoyingly sexist.  I only laughed twice.

46. Ride Along 2.  Will Kevin Hart ever make a good comedy?  Just as bad as the original.

47. The constant, dangerous scaremongering about Vladimir Putin and Russia.  Democrats will blame anybody but themselves for their pathetic electoral performance this year.  Soul searching is not their strong suit.

48. Damien Sandow was fired from the WWE.  That’s not the way you treat The Intellectual Savior Of The Unwashed Masses.

49. The Forest.  The concept is far better than the execution, unfortunately.

50. Rodrigo Duterte, the psychotic leader of The Philippines, who openly admitted to murdering his citizens as part of his horrific War on Drugs.  No wonder he’s an ally of the American government.

51. The Liberals lied about the deal to sell weaponry to Saudi Arabia.  Now it’s up to a Canadian court to decide whether it should be honoured.  It shouldn’t.

52. The overblown incident in the House of Commons when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accidentally elbowed an MP from the NDP during a contentious vote.  Trudeau wasn’t the one who needed to apologize repeatedly.  When even feminists criticized the controversy, you know it was nothing.

53. Kellie Leitch.  Loathsome, dishonest, racist, elitist.  The perfect face for the modern Conservative Party of Canada.

54. Obama & Congress will give 40 billion dollars to Apartheid Israel to help it continue propping up its endless, illegal occupation of oppressed Palestinians over the next decade.  If Netanyahu’s truly upset about the Iran Deal and the USG’s refusal to veto the latest UN condemnation of illegal settlements, he’ll reject the money.  You know he won’t, though.  Because #BDS is hurting Apartheid Israel’s economy.  And Zionism needs welfare to survive.

55. The ongoing, heartless persecution of Palestinian activist and torture survivor Rasmeh Odeh.  End her ordeal and clear her name already.

56. No one has gone to prison for murdering Baltimore resident Freddie Gray.

57. One stubborn juror led to the mistrial of North Carolina police officer Michael Slager who murdered Walter Scott as captured on video.  It’s Rodney King all over again.  Even actual footage isn’t enough to get a conviction for a white cop killing a black man in America.

58. 49 people were murdered at a gay club in Florida by a man who may have been gay himself.  Awful, just awful.

59. The news media’s early, constant coverage of Donald Trump and his long-winded rallies without much scrutiny of his record during the Republican primaries.  Are you happy now, Les Moonves?

60. The ongoing suicide crisis in the Canadian Indigenous community.  We are failing these kids.  We must do better.  We must listen to their concerns and directly address them.

61. Kurt Eichenwald.  He supported the wrong Democrat.  He’s not to be trusted.  And he’s a whiny bitch, too.

62. For the first time in about half a decade, the WWE split its roster again by putting half on Raw and half on Smackdown.  Not only that, they’ve added more championships so now each show has its own World Champion, mid-card-Champion, Tag Team Champions and Womens Champion, plus show-centric pay-per-views.  So lame.  Why return to such a failed concept?  The Raw vs. Smackdown rivalry is phony.  You all work for the same goddamn company!  No wonder your TV ratings suck so bad.

63. The failed coup in Turkey.  It gave authoritarian Erdogan every excuse to crack down on whatever democracy was still left in his troubled country.  Why hasn’t he been kicked out of NATO?

64. There wasn’t a single person of colour nominated for an acting Oscar.  Because of the public outcry, I suspect 2017 will be very different.

65. Media Matters For America going all in for a loser.  Still with Hill, jackwads?

66. Alberto Del Rio left the WWE.  Again.

67. The moral cowardice of Aung San Suu Kyi.  She doesn’t give a damn about the ruthless persecution of Rohingya Muslims in her own country.  Despicable.

68. Nat Turner and Casey Affleck are in contention for Academy Awards next year but face serious accusations of sexual assault and sexual harassment, respectively.  Turner faced a lot of scrutiny and didn’t handle it particularly well, while Affleck, a likely Best Actor nominee, just hosted Saturday Night Live and has routinely been given a free pass.  After decades of protecting Bill Cosby, the entertainment press needs to address this with Affleck directly.  Innocent lives are at stake.  Turner’s victim committed suicide.

69. The Nightly Show was cancelled just as it was finding its satirical voice in the insane world of American politics.  Comedy Central should’ve had more faith in it.

70. Bowie’s Blackstar wasn’t nominated for the Album Of The Year Grammy.  A huge, insulting oversight.

71. Muhammad Ali died.  He was an asshole to Joe Frazier but I’ll always respect his opposition to Vietnam.

72. Corey Graves and Byron Saxton at the Raw commentary table.  Absolutely no chemistry whatsoever.

73. Alan Rickman died.  He may have been a villain on-screen but he was a mensch in real life.  His public support for Rachel Corrie, an activist murdered by Apartheid Israel, should always be remembered.

74. The Wars on Drugs, Black people, Indigenous communities, trans, gay, lesbian & bisexual folks, sexual assault survivors, journalists, whistleblowers, prisoners, women, Sikhs and Muslims continues unabated.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, December 31, 2016
1:38 a.m.

The Highs Of 2016

1. Hillary Clinton will never be President of the United States.  When you run an incompetent, uninspired, foolhardy campaign, screw over your Democratic opponent and his left-wing supporters thanks to your corrupt political and media allies and then blame everybody else for your own neoliberal stupidity, you get what you deserve:  utter and complete humiliation.

2. Game 7 of The World Series.  One of the most competitive, unpredictable and exciting championship games not only in baseball history, but in the entire history of sports.  It is a damn shame Harry Caray never lived long enough to see his beloved Chicago Cubs end their notoriously brutal 107-year slump.  Cleveland blew it.

3. David Bowie’s Blackstar.  Released 8 days into the new year, I never heard a better album.  Poignant, cathartic, masterful.  He couldn’t have ended his recording career on a higher note.

4. OJ: Made In America.  An epic, thoroughly revelatory documentary miniseries that puts the travesty of the OJ Simpson double murder case in illuminating and often uncomfortable historical context.  Infuriatingly fascinating.

5. Mauro Ranallo joined the WWE as a play-by-play commentator.  It’s so refreshing to hear the actual names of wrestling holds being called again.  Now if only the company would find him a decent colour man instead of saddling him with three unimaginative seat fillers.  Where’s his Bobby Heenan?

6. Jerry “The King” Lawler blocked me on Twitter and no longer does colour commentary for the WWE.  This misogynistic sleaze wasn’t worth following or listening to in the first place.  He did me a favour.

7. Persecuted journalist Barrett Brown was finally released from prison.  May he continue to sing like the proverbial canary.

8. Iggy Pop’s Post Pop Depression.  You can never go wrong writing songs with Josh Homme.  Too bad he’s going to lose the Best Alternative Rock Album Grammy to Bowie’s Blackstar next year.

9. Leah Remini’s Scientology & The Aftermath series on A&E.  A fittingly skeptical companion to the excellent, eye-opening Going Clear movie I finally screened this year.  David Miscavige’s cult is in serious shit.  Time to stop treating it like a religion.  Revoke its tax-exempt status and start making indictments.

10. Portugal won Euro.  Ronaldo’s redemption 12 years in the making.

11. Roger Ailes was forced out of Fox News after being sued for sexual harassment.  Is his most famous political operation going to survive?  Let’s hope not.

12. Despite hundreds of ill-fated attempts, the CIA could not kill Fidel Castro who died of natural causes as an old man.  Will Cuba continue to fight against the scourge of imperialist capitalism?

13. Rob Riggle’s set during The Rob Lowe Roast on Comedy Central.  Absolutely killer.  The wretched Ann Coulter got it the worst.

14. Batman: The Killing Joke.  A surprisingly dark animated version of the graphic novel that deserved a more traditional and longer theatrical release.  Far superior to the disappointing Mask Of The Phantasm, it features a much stronger performance from longtime Joker Mark Hamill.  We could be spared the mercifully brief musical number, though.

15.  The #NoDAPL protest at Standing Rock in North Dakota.  A noble cause that is literally life and death for an already marginalized and brutalized Indigenous community.  We must all rally around these heroic water protectors.

16. Mohamedou Slahi was finally released from Gitmo.  The best-selling author deserves reparations and an apology for his disgusting torture at the hands of the United States government.  Absolutely shameful.

17. The Getaway by The Red Hot Chili Peppers.  They take five years now to put out new albums but the wait is always worth it.  Still funky and instantly accessible, even in middle age.

18. Corrupt, decrepit racist Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio lost his latest bid for re-election and was indicted by the Department of Justice.  The end is near for this fascist monster.  Finally.

19. The Triple Threat number one contender’s match between Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar at Fastlane.  Fantastic action despite the expected outcome.

20. Green Day’s Revolution Radio.  I’m glad Billie Joe Armstrong got sober.

21. The List Of Jericho.  Sheldon Cooper called.  He wants his funny gimmick back.  Uh oh.  I just made the list.

22. The Lazarus soundtrack.  Three more David Bowie gems.  Plus, Dexter sings!  A genuine surprise.

23. Canada won 22 medals at the Summer Olympics, 16 of which were earned by women including the hardworking soccer and rugby squads, their best effort in 20 years.  Penny Oleksiak, Andre De Grasse, Rosie McLennan and Derek Drouin were among the standout individual athletes who excelled in Brazil.

24. AJ Styles’ debuted at the Royal Rumble, feuded with Chris Jericho, Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns and John Cena, and became WWE Champion.  Superstar of the year.  His Extreme Rules match with Reigns in particular was filled with entertaining spots.

25. The AIDS Crisis and Greed Is Good episodes of CNN’s The Eighties.  There remains no cure for both.

26. Weezer’s “White Album”.  Their record sales may have plummeted but Rivers Cuomo hasn’t forgotten how to craft a catchy alt-rock sing-a-long.

27. All the good films I screened this year:  The Omen (1976), Misery, The Visit, Anthony Shaffer’s The Wicker Man (first version), Ginger Snaps, Crimson Peak, Fantasia 2000, Rockshow, Elvis: That’s The Way It Is, Mission: Impossible III, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, The Maltese Falcon (1931), Satan Met A Lady, The Desert Trail, the original Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, the original D.O.A., the original Psycho, Monterey Pop and Shock.

28. The Miz’ passionate promo on Daniel Bryan during Talking Smack.  The most entertaining mic work he’s ever done.  The Yes Man could’ve easily shut down his argument.  He walked off the set instead.  What a mistake.  The segment may have single-handedly revived the fortunes of the InterContinental Champion.

29. Game two of the Montreal/Toronto MLS semifinal series.  The first time Canada has gotten legitimately excited about mens soccer in 30 years.  An atmospheric juggernaut with plenty of goals, rain, smoky flares and suspense.

30. The Tragically Hip’s final concert on CBC.  Bittersweet and engaging from start to finish.

31. The Tragically Hip’s Man Machine Poem.  Certainly not their best offering but if it’s their final musical statement, it will certainly suffice.  After 30 years, they’re not afraid to experiment with new sounds and ideas.

32. The term “Divas” was finally retired by the WWE.  All women who wrestle for the company are now superstars like the men.  It’s about goddamn time.

33. Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair for the renamed Womens Championship at WrestleMania 32.  Incredible spots, high drama, tremendous workmanship.  It should’ve been the main event.  An honourable mention to the ladder match for the InterContinental strap.  A fine exhibition for the future of the company.

34. The hour-long debate between “Donald Trump” and “Bernie Sanders” on @Midnight.  Hilarious.

35. Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool.  More melodic elegance as Thom Yorke beautifully mourns the end of his relationship to Rachel Owen who sadly died of cancer this year.

36. Kevin Owens.  Bam Bam Bigelow without the tattoos and better promos.  His elevation to the main event in just two years is a testament to his considerable skill as a performer.  And he’s Canadian.

37. Braun Strowman.  Turns out he’s much more effective without Bray Wyatt.  And he might be the fastest big man in the business today.  A monster heel with great potential.  He looks like he belongs.

38. WikiLeaks.  The #DNCLeaks and the #PodestaEmails exposed The Democratic Party for what it actually is:  cynical, snobby, clueless and neoliberal.

39. Watching Blu-rays for the first time.  Man, oh man, what a world of wonder I’ve been missing.  Thanks Mom and Dad!

40. The guy from Edmonton who found an escaped cat under a train and took him home before reuniting him with his relieved owner from Saskatchewan.  A Festivus miracle.

41. Hot Hot Heat’s final album.  A hooky farewell from one of Vancouver’s finest.

42. Nancy Grace’s Headline News show was finally cancelled.  Even CNN can’t stand her anymore.

43. The Last Man Standing match between Kevin Owens & Dean Ambrose at the Royal Rumble for the InterContinental title.  It’s no wonder Owens is World Champion on Raw now.  Stellar.

44. Kings Of Leon’s Walls which stands for We Are Like Love Songs.  It should be doing brisker business.  Not a bad song in the mix.

45. Smackdown started broadcasting live.  No more spoilers leaking out days in advance.

46. Billy Talent’s Afraid Of Heights.  Punchy and political at times, rocking and rolling all of the time.

47. Tom Mulcair was given a no-confidence vote by the NDP.  He was never a true socialist.

48. Bernie Sanders’ historic campaign for President, the most successful Jewish candidate in American history.  If it wasn’t for the Clintonistas, he would be moving into the White House next month.  They screwed him like the ignorant assholes they are.

49. Brooke Henderson won a major LPGA tournament as a teenager.  More success coming in 2017?  Let’s hope so.

50. Milos Raonic made the Wimbledon finals, a first for a Canadian tennis player.  Too bad he didn’t win.

51. The Golden State Warriors record-setting regular season win-loss record.  Unfortunately, Cleveland came from behind to snag the NBA Championship from them in the finals.  LeBron James will not be denied.

52. Mark Rylance upset Sylvester Stallone for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar.  Score one for the anti-Zionists.

53. Dean Ambrose cut up Chris Jericho’s silly Lite Brite jacket.  The Scarf Era has begun.  Drink it in, man.

54. Every Womens Championship match on Raw between Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair.  The best TV rivalry of the year.  I don’t understand why the WWE doesn’t allow The Boss a longer title run.  She deserves one.

55. Pearl Jam is going into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame next year.

56. The #CureForKenza campaign.  This adorable little girl has a second chance at life.  May she make the most of it and thoroughly enjoy her childhood.

57. San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s National Anthem protest.  It’s a shitty, racist song and we don’t need to hear it anymore.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, December 30, 2016
11:41 p.m.

Did Donald Trump Get His Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric From Howard Stern?

On a Tuesday morning in mid-June last year, Donald Trump stunned the world by announcing in a longwinded televised address that after decades of endless teasing, he was officially running for President of The United States of America.

Only smart, observant viewers took him seriously.  Everybody else (including me) thought it was a joke, a transparent publicity stunt.  But more than a year later, Trump is the Republican nominee having cleaned up more than enough delegates during the 2016 primaries.

The most memorable moment during his instantly infamous speech was this:

“When do we beat Mexico at the border?  They’re laughing at us, at our stupidity.  And now they are beating us economically.  They are not our friend, believe me.  But they’re killing us economically.

The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems.

[snip]

…It’s true, and these are the best and the finest.  When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best.  They’re not sending you.  They’re not sending you.  They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us.  They’re bringing drugs.  They’re bringing crime.  They’re rapists.  And some, I assume, are good people.

[snip]

Because we have no protection and we have no competence, we don’t know what’s happening.  And it’s got to stop and it’s got to stop fast.”

For decades, Trump has been a favoured guest of Howard Stern.  In recent months, his appearances on the long running morning radio staple have been fodder for numerous media reports as the Republican Presidential candidate’s routinely awful comments about women first made on live radio and long forgotten have suddenly been disseminating widely.

Although he’s said to be a Hillary Clinton supporter, Stern has often defended Trump throughout this endless campaign.  As recently as last week, as noted by the invaluable MarksFriggin.com, he claimed that much of what his longtime friend says can’t be taken seriously because “he’s doing it for fun.”

In his 1993 memoir Private Parts, Stern praised Trump as being “always one of our best guests”.  On pages 307 and 308 of the paperback edition, the radio comedian laid out what he called “My Immigration Policy”.  See if some of this sounds familiar:

“Wherever I’m born, I stay, that’s my rule of thumb.  I don’t try to go anywhere else.  I’m happy where I am.  The problem is, nobody else feels the same.  Take the Mexicans.  They’re nice people.  I got nothing against Mexicans, but if they’re Mexicans, they should be in Mexico.  And the ones who come here are so angry.  Of course, I’d be confused and angry, too, if I had dark skin and white people’s hair.  Speaking of hair, how do you like those Hispanic chicks who dye their hair blond?  That’s an attractive look.  No wonder some Spanish guys are ready to rape any white woman who comes along.

Look, if it was up to me, I would open the world’s borders to everyone so they could go anywhere.  The only problem is that the United States is the only good country in the world.  I don’t see the Japanese opening their borders.  The Germans try to rout anyone else out.  Even Australia, a nation of criminals, keeps immigrants out.  We take everybody’s trash.  We used to have an immigration policy in this country.  During WWII a boat of nine hundred Jews tried to get into this country and we turned them away.  Now no one’s turned away.  We used to get lawyers and professors coming here, fleeing intolerance.  We got German rocket scientists, the crème de la crème.  Now we get guys who aren’t fit to be janitors.

We’re bankrupt because it costs a fortune to assimilate all these immigrants.  We’re spending a fortune on social programs for people who come here with no skills, no jobs, and nothing to do.  They have to be put on welfare.  And we have to hire special bilingual teachers.  Then they want signs in Spanish.  Excuse me, this is America.  We speak English here.

It’s not just the Mexicans.  A lot of people who come to this country don’t want to assimilate.

[snip]

When my grandparents came here, this was a huge, underpopulated country.  Now it’s filled up.  But people still come and it’s the fault of the damn French.  They gave us that stupid Statue of Liberty to trick us.  Some gift.  Look at what it’s attracting.”

By the way, those “German rocket scientists” Stern praised?  They worked for the Nazis.

At any event, if you think he’s evolved on the issue of immigration, I direct you to a MarksFriggin.com write-up of a Sirius/XM Satellite radio broadcast from November 16, 2015.  Through site owner Mark Mercer’s reporting, here’s what Stern said in the aftermath of the Paris massacre:

“Howard said the first thing they should do is immediately cancel all visas to this country.  Howard said put a moratorium on it for a while.

[snip]

Howard said his idea is to cancel all visas.  He said no one comes in.  Howard said then the people who are here on visas are thrown out if they have expired…Howard said no one comes in right now.  He said we’re under attack so we keep people out for a year or year and a half…Howard said go study in your country.

[snip]

Howard said he’s not sure why people are so anxious to take in refugees.  Howard said they should throw them back into Syria.  Howard said then clear out that viper’s nest.”

By the way, Stern’s guest that morning was former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly.  As Marksfriggin reported, “Howard said Ray was into stop and frisk and he doesn’t understand why they stopped it. Howard said it seems like a great way to know what’s going on and develop intelligence.”

In early December, just a few weeks after this broadcast, Donald Trump announced that he was advocating for a temporary, unconstitutional ban on Muslims coming to the United States.  Nine months later, he publicly supported the largely abandoned and mostly ineffective & discriminatory Stop and Frisk during his first debate with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

In Private Parts, Trump is quoted as saying, “I tune into Howard to hear what you rarely get these days – straight talk and very close to the mark.”  Has he been getting policy ideas from his show?

What will Stern say about Trump’s recently exposed remarks from a 2005 Access Hollywood shoot where he claimed his fame gave him immunity from violating the boundaries of women he found attractive?  When he comes back from vacation next week, claiming “he’s doing it for fun” when Trump has been accused of the very things he bragged about in that video isn’t going to cut it.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Tuesday, October 11, 2016
3:05 a.m.

Published in: on October 11, 2016 at 3:05 am  Comments (1)  

What Daniel Bryan Should’ve Said To The Miz

Last week, Talking Smack lived up to its name.  Airing right after Smackdown Live every Tuesday night on The WWE Network, the show allows wrestlers a chance to further their storylines outside of the ring and vent if they so desire.  (They must’ve gotten the idea from The Talking Dead, the wrap-up show that follows The Walking Dead on AMC.)

During last week’s broadcast, The Miz was a guest.  One of the hosts, Daniel Bryan, made a pointed criticism about his in-ring work.  The former four-time World Champion claimed that the current InterContinental Champion was “soft” (or did he mean “sawft”?) and that he seemed less than eager to take bumps, particularly punches to the face.  He bluntly called him a “coward”.

In the past, when he was knocked for any number of reasons, The Miz would simply laugh off and diminish such negative views as the work of “haters”.  He even turned it into a T-shirt.  In all the years I’ve been watching him in the WWE, he has never let this get to him.

But judging by his ferocious reaction on Talking Smack, Bryan clearly touched a nerve.  Shaking so much with rage, The Miz passionately defended himself, claiming in his decade-long run with the WWE, he had never gotten seriously hurt.  He went on to hammer Bryan for telling the fans he would return but then retiring instead.

The Yes Man had a very good reason for ending his pro wrestling career, as Miz well knows.  He accumulated so many concussions, among other serious injuries, the WWE would no longer clear him to wrestle.  As he noted to The Miz, he would be back if the company would let him.

That wasn’t good enough for the star of Christmas Bounty.  The Miz suggested that if he was serious about coming back, he’d return to the “bingo halls” where he got his start.  Sticking the proverbial knife ever deeper, the IC Champ claimed that he loves the WWE fans (he’s currently a self-absorbed heel) and would make his title (which he has won on four previous occasions) mean something again.  (Bryan’s last title run in 2015 was with the same belt.)

Daniel Bryan eventually walked off the set which added even more fuel to The Miz’s venom.  With a very noticeable vein bulging out of his shiny forehead, he pointed out the obvious.  When vigourously challenged, ironically, Bryan was the one who showed fear.

But was The Miz right about everything else he said?  Is his “safe” style of wrestling, as Bryan derisively called it, the best way to work?

Bryan could’ve easily demolished his argument but because he abandoned this heated conversation while an agitated Miz was still lashing out at him in mid-sentence he missed a glorious opportunity to do so.  There are so many things he could’ve said instead of just walking away in disgust.

First off, he could’ve asked the IC Champ if he had ever had a classic match?  The Miz would probably respond with his two main event matches with John Cena for the WWE Championship back in 2011.  To which Bryan would’ve noted that his match with Cena at SummerSlam 2013 was better than both of them put together.

Miz would’ve countered that he was Champion that night for just a few minutes thanks to Randy Orton cashing in his Money In The Bank briefcase with a big assist from Triple H.  Bryan would’ve reminded him that the only reason he remained WWE Champion at WrestleMania 27 is because of The Rock.  And that Miz only became the champion in the first place because he cashed in his own MITB briefcase on a fallen Orton during a November episode of Monday Night Raw in 2010.  The only way he was able to keep the title in a 2011 Royal Rumble rematch with The Viper is because of the interference of CM Punk.

Miz would likely go on to mock Bryan for losing the World Heavyweight Championship to Sheamus in the opening match of WrestleMania 28 in less than 20 seconds, to which Bryan would note that his loss led to his eventual babyface push as the fans began enthusiastically chanting “Yes!”, his once purposefully obnoxious catchphrase, in protest that night.  When Miz would take credit for that success, as he did in an interview in 2012, Bryan would argue that despite his love of the fans, they didn’t love The Miz back during his own ill-fated, mercifully brief babyface turn.

The Yes Man could list a whole slew of great matches in his career.  A Money In The Bank ladder match in 2011 (which led to his first world title push), the 2012 Elimination Chamber match for the WHC, the three WWE title bouts on pay-per-view with CM Punk (including one that featured Kane) during the Spring and Summer of 2012, his Royal Rumble 2014 match with Bray Wyatt and that stellar encounter with Triple H at WrestleMania 30 which directly led to him regaining the WWE Championship in a 3-way with Orton and Batista in the main event of that same show.  Both encounters lasted 30 minutes apiece. Could The Miz have accomplished any of this with his “safer” approach?

Bottom line, Daniel Bryan can easily say he had more memorable, important matches in his six years in the WWE than The Miz has had in his entire career even if he did suffer serious physical setbacks that ended his wonderfully inspiring run all too quickly.

As for the IC Champ’s assertion that he’s never been seriously hurt, I can think of two instances where things went wrong at his expense.  The original finish of the Cena match at WrestleMania 27 ended in a double count-out where Miz hit the back of his head hard on the concrete while taking a bump at ringside.  If memory serves, I do believe he suffered a concussion from that.

And then, there was the Raw match he had with Kofi Kingston where he got struck so forcefully with the Trouble In Paradise (basically a spinning kick to the head), you could hear the loud thump of the impact.  Miz looked dazed for a bit after he was pinned.

Interestingly, if Bryan had brought up these instances during their Talking Smack interview, Miz could’ve used them as proof he can take a serious bump and not lose his spot.  To which Bryan would’ve instantly countered that these were rare, unfortunate accidents and he doesn’t handle genuinely safe but tough-looking bumps on a regular basis.

On this week’s Smackdown Live, The Miz delivered another blistering heat-seeking promo that seemed slightly inspired by CM Punk’s brilliant “pipe bomb” promo in 2011.  Once again sounding very defensive, especially when he was booed, he talked about how great a team player he is for WWE.  Whenever the company needs him for PR work, he’s there, dignity be damned.

Daniel Bryan’s promised direct response to last week’s Talking Smack segment, on the other hand, was a huge letdown.  Bryan and The Miz never actually had a follow-up face-to-face encounter which is baffling.  In fact, as Bryan noted on this week’s Talking Smack, it was decided by WWE management to keep them apart on-camera from this point forward.  (Ridiculous.  Talk about poor creative judgment.)  For his part, Bryan apologized for abandoning co-host Renee Young during a hot segment and for pissing off The Miz, although on Smackdown Live, it was more than clear he stands by his original criticisms, as he should.

It’s such a shame he didn’t go further last week because had he done so, he would’ve won the argument.  Handily.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, August 31, 2016
7:34 p.m.

Published in: on August 31, 2016 at 7:34 pm  Comments (2)  

Prince: An Appreciation

He was signed by Warner Bros. when he was 20.  But they lied to the world when they promoted him as an 18-year-old prodigy.  Flamboyant like Little Richard, a colourful showman like James Brown, and a devastating shredder like Jimi Hendrix, Prince Rogers Nelson further bridged the musical gaps between funk, soul and rock as he would go on to become one of the most prolific singer/songwriters of all time.

And now he’s dead. Recently sent to hospital for what was reportedly the flu (new reports claim he was suffering from “severe dehydration”), his 57-year-old body was found earlier today at his home in Minnesota.  It’s not clear yet what exactly happened.  Surely, it wasn’t influenza.

When I was a kid in the 80s, Prince was all over the Television and radio airwaves.  Not a year went by when he didn’t have either a new studio album, a new live album, a new movie, a new soundtrack to that movie or a new song and video out.  Looking back, you wonder if the man did anything besides create and play music.  He must’ve been a light sleeper.

After releasing a couple of soul albums in the late 70s, one ignored and one that went platinum thanks to his first big hit, I Wanna Be Your Lover, Prince’s first full-length critical breakthrough was 1980’s Dirty Mind.  Village Voice critic Robert Christgau famously noted in his exuberant rave of the LP, “Mick Jagger should fold up his penis and go home.”

Prince never looked back after that.  The following year, he offered Controversy.  The superior single edit of the overlong, rather warped title cut intensified his already highly sexualized, religious fervor as he addresses rumours of his sexual identity.  (He was often presumed to be gay because of his fondness for falsetto vocals and seemingly feminine presentation.  He wasn’t.)  The single edit remains one of his greatest songs.

By 1982, after building a strong black following, he finally started appealing to white kids thanks to his highly acclaimed double album, 1999, which spawned numerous smash hits like Little Red Corvette, Delirious and of course, the political title song.   (Like David Bowie’s Fantastic Voyage, it warned of the still real danger of a nuclear holocaust.)  Speaking of the latter, every verse was originally supposed to be harmonized with members of The Revolution, his second backing band.  (The Time preceded them.)  But Prince decided to individualize the vocals so that each harmony part would get a line of its own to sing which made all the difference.  The apolocalyptic 1999 would go on to become one of his most enduring musical signatures.

In 1984, Prince was ready for the big screen as he unveiled Purple Rain, his only fictional film to receive praise.  (Under The Cherry Moon and Graffiti Bridge did not fare as well.  The concert picture, Sign O’ The Times, however, was critically acclaimed.  It played on MuchMusic for years after its 1987 theatrical run.)  The fantastic soundtrack became his Thriller, his most popular collection of recordings, some of which were captured live.  (It has sold about 15 million copies in North America alone.)  Just before the album’s unveiling, Prince felt it lacked an anthem, so he quickly put together a new song that would feature his best guitar solos, most especially the one that ends the track.  Long before he became a Jehovah’s Witness, Let’s Go Crazy cheekily addresses The Rapture without being annoyingly overt (unlike the full version of Controversy which directly references The Lord’s Prayer).  The result was Prince’s second number one single.  (When Doves Cry, which also features his first-rate guitar playing, was his first.)

The Purple Rain soundtrack, the first one that gave credit to The Revolution, was loaded with other memorable songs like the beautifully epic title track (which peaked at number 2), I Would Die 4 U and the lascivious Darling Nikki which bothered Tipper Gore so much it ended up on the Filthy Fifteen list.  Foo Fighters later covered it in 2002 and it became a minor alt-rock radio hit despite being a B-Side.  (As a thank you, during his Super Bowl halftime show in 2007, Prince covered their 2005 single, Best Of You.)  In 1985, the soundtrack would win the Best Original Song Score Oscar and would be nominated for the Album Of The Year Grammy.

For the rest of the 80s, Prince would continue to offer quirky, mass appeal singles:  the anti-drug Pop Life, Rasberry Beret, Kiss (another number one later covered by Tom Jones & The Art Of Noise), I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man, U Got The Look (with Sheena Easton) and the funky Alphabet St.  In 1987, the same year he presented Sign O’ The Times, Prince produced his darkest collection of songs.  Growing fascinated with the burgeoning hip hop movement, The Black Album was going to be his Christmas release.  Warner Bros. balked at putting out another Prince album so quickly after the multi-platinum double release of Sign O’ The Times.  But, in the end, he second-guessed himself.  Despite the production of a small number of vinyl copies (the survivors of which became very valuable collector’s items fetching thousands of dollars each), The Black Album would be cancelled.  It would go on to become one of the most bootlegged lost albums over the next 7 years.

Lovesexy would take its place in 1988.  (The Alphabet St. video urged fans to not buy The Black Album bootlegs.)  It included a rerecorded version of When 2 R In Love, the only Black Album track to see official release at the time.

With the hope of finally taking a break, Warner instead convinced him to do another soundtrack, this one for a new Tim Burton film.  Red hot after the overrated Beetlejuice, he directed Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger and Jack Nicholson in Batman, the biggest hit of 1989.  Prince’s stellar soundtrack, which I originally had on tape but is now very hard to find on CD (I’ve managed to locate three used copies in recent years, though, two of which I bought for a buck apiece), ended the decade with an emphatic exclamation point.  Batdance, an exhilarating, film dialogue-heavy montage of many of the soundtrack’s songs (including non-album B-Side 200 Balloons) and featuring yet another classic rip roaring solo, would also hit number one.  Another single, Scandalous!, didn’t fare nearly as well chart-wise but it is a lovely ballad nonetheless, another vivid showcase for his trademark falsetto.  Curiously, the video for Partyman would feature the full 7-minute version whereas the soundtrack only has the 4-minute single edit.

After Graffiti Bridge flopped in 1990 (Thieves In The Temple did crack the Top 10, however), Prince rebounded with his new backing band, The New Power Generation, in 1991 with Diamonds & Pearls.  The orgasmic Cream would be his final number one smash.  The pretty title cut would peak in the Top 5.

In 1992, Prince signed a lucrative multi-album deal with Warner, his longtime label.  He would immediately regret it.  Despite learning about copyright law in high school, Prince belatedly realized he didn’t own any of his masters.  His next album that year (Prince logo.svg) would become his new identity in 1993 (along with The Artist and The Artist Formerly Known As Prince), an unpronounceable symbol (referred to as the Love Symbol) that references both sexes.  (To be fair, it inspired cool guitar and stage designs.)  Prince logo.svg featured his last great single for Warner, the jazz-inflected Sexy M.F., one of the rare times he rapped on record.

After announcing his new identity, which baffled the music world and gave comedians plenty of material, Prince decided to get out of his contract by offering a succession of albums within a three-year period which deeply annoyed Warner.  They hated the idea of flooding the marketplace because it meant lower profits.

Prince didn’t care if they sold or not.  He just wanted out.  Some of the music he released during this period had been languishing in the vaults for years including The Black Album which finally surfaced officially in November 1994 but with a catch.  It would only be on sale for 2 months before being supposedly pulled from record shops in late January 1995.  (5 years after its release I still managed to find a new copy for 6 bucks.  I’ve seen at least one used copy available for 20 but that was a while ago.)

Just a few months before that, Prince released the acclaimed Come which finally corrected a longstanding error.  The cover revealed he had in fact been born in 1958, not 1960 as Warner had falsely promoted for years.

During a memorable September 1993 performance on The Late Show With David Letterman, Prince performed a track from The Gold Experience, an album that wouldn’t be available until 1995.  (I would love to own the damn thing on CD but good luck finding it today.)  The word “SLAVE” was written on his cheek, his way of protesting what he saw as an unfair arrangement with Warner.  Gold Experience included The Most Beautiful Girl In The World, another falsetto ballad that hit the Top 5 in 1994 and was previously issued on an EP that year, the Top 20 hit I Hate U and P Control, yet another hooky ode to the vagina.

After the releases of the unloved Chaos & Disorder and the Girl 6 soundtrack (curiously released under his old name) in 1996, Prince released his first post-Warner collection, the three-hour Emancipation, which featured his last Top 40 hits, a cover of The Stylistics’ Betcha By Golly Wow! and The Holy River.  Instead of signing with another major, he starting shipping CDs of his music over the Internet (they would eventually surface in stores not always with the same track listings, though) including Crystal Ball (available in three, four and five-disc incarnations) which captured numerous outtakes from past album sessions for a number of scrapped projects including a few that featured his child-like alter ego Camille (not including previously released rejects like non-album B-sides Shockadelica and the catchy Feel U Up which could’ve been a hit like U Got The Look, all of which are on The Hits/The B-Sides).

Meanwhile, Warner would continue to occasionally release new Prince material leftover in their vaults (one such collection was actually called The Vault) plus a number of hits packages, the best of which remains The Hits/The B-Sides in 1993.  It features Nothing Compares 2 U (which Sinead O’Connor famously covered in 1990) and the original version of I Feel For You (a big hit for post-Rufus Chaka Khan in 1984).   I guess he never recorded Manic Monday, the hit song he wrote for The Bangles.

Although the two discs of hits were also available as individual releases (The Hits 1 and The Hits 2), the 20 non-album B-Sides were exclusive to the three-disc set.  I was personally very lucky to finally nab a new copy at HMV just a few years ago.  It’s another hard-to-find release, but even when you do spot it, it’s not always affordable.  (I once saw a used copy that cost 30 bucks.  New ones can run as much as 60 to 70.  My copy was 10 but free with a gift card.)

In 2000, by this point long past his commercial and artistic prime, Prince belatedly announced he was reverting back to his birth name, although he would continue to incorporate his highly mocked symbol in his live shows.  No longer a Top 40 fixture, he would however have one last multi-platinum hurrah in 2004.  (To be fair, he would also have two final Gold albums in 2006 & 2009.)  Musicology received his best reviews in years and thanks to a clever promotion (it was given away with concert tickets), it charted well.  His performance with Beyonce at the Grammys that same year inspired a recurring Saturday Night Live sketch.

In the final 12 years of his life, Prince never stopped creating and performing, although he would considerably dial down the lust in his lyrics because of his new found religion.  He continued to churn out new records on an annual basis and he remained a popular concert attraction.  (He had just played a couple of shows in Toronto a few weeks ago.  His last concert, part of his Paisley Park After Dark series at his home estate, happened over the weekend.)

His sudden death comes just three months after the shocking demise of David Bowie.  Like the creator of Ziggy Stardust and The Thin White Duke, Prince was a major influence on subsequent generations of performers, both black and white, trans, gay and straight.  His sexually charged lyrics pushed the boundaries of acceptability way more than Madonna ever could. (There’s no way she could’ve gotten away with writing songs like Jack U Off, Head and Scarlet Pussy.)

Prince’s often horny songs were ubiquitous and brilliantly accessible to a mass audience, never more so than in the 80s and early 90s.  For someone so weird, soft-spoken and distant (he rarely gave interviews), he had surprisingly global appeal.  He was unusual enough to excite young audiences thirsting for something unique.  And yet his decision to sing more often than not in an inoffensive high register (a huge risk that could’ve resulted in unintentional laughter, although he did come close to becoming a self-parody at times) and his remarkable gift for well-crafted arrangements allowed him to win over more conservative pop traditionalists.  There’s no denying he had flat out, incredible musicianship.  He was as much as master of the electric six-string as more celebrated axmen like Eddie Van Halen and Jeff Beck.

But he could also be prickly.  Owners of Prince fan sites and bootleg distributors of his long coveted and voluminous unreleased recordings often felt his wrath in the form of lawsuits and public criticism.  A unrepentant control freak, he was not pro-Napster.  (He also didn’t want any of his songs parodied by Weird Al Yankovic who gave up asking for permission after a while.)  And although he would eventually return to work within the major label system, he wisely avoided traditional, longterm deals.  He would continue to offer new material online right up until last year.

And now he’s gone.  My reaction to his death is curiously more subdued than Bowie’s.  I hadn’t heard a Prince album since Musicology.  (The library copy I once borrowed I unfortunately broke by accident.  Not a good way to spend 20 bucks.)  And while I greatly admire many of his singles and especially his Batman & Purple Rain soundtracks, I have never felt the need to own everything he did.  On the contrary, I never stopped listening to Bowie.  (I’m loving Blackstar at the moment, his last release.)  In the last several years, I made it a point to add as many of his CDs to my collection that I could find for as little money as possible with a few more still to seek out.  With the exception of that elusive Gold Experience, on the other hand, I have all the Prince I need.

In the days and weeks to come we will surely learn more about his sudden death, as mysterious and odd as the man himself.  But for those grieving for the early end of another 80s icon, there is the warm comfort of the vast legacy he leaves behind.  Plus, now that the stern gatekeeper of so many unheard goodies is no more, how soon before that enormous trove of material long buried from the prying eyes and curious ears of a soon-to-be insatiable public begins to be unearthed?

More than 45 years after the death of Jimi Hendrix, we’re still getting new albums from him.  Prince is about to give him some much needed competition.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, April 21, 2016
7:28 p.m.

CORRECTIONS:  Only Prince’s debut release was ignored.  His second album went platinum and spawned his first Top 40 hit, I Wanna Be Your Lover.  It was 2000, not 1999, when Prince announced he was Prince again.  P Control from The Gold Experience was wrongly listed as P Patrol.  Musicology was his last “multi-platinum” success but by no means his last certified album.  He would acquire two more Gold records by the end of The Aughts.  And sadly, having rewatched the Controversy video a couple of times today, I realize that Prince isn’t wearing his infamous assless chaps, just leggings and bikini underwear.  All of these corrections have since been incorporated into the original piece.  I regret all the errors.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, April 24, 2016
9:45 p.m.

UPDATE:  It was a drug overdose.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, June 3, 2016
1:54 a.m.

Published in: on April 21, 2016 at 7:28 pm  Comments (2)