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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Rant #1,823: The Show Must (Not) Go On

It was announced last week that the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus would soon go out of business.

Falling ticket sales--certainly generated by changing societal mores--doomed the circus, and later this year, it will give its final show, ironically at the new Nassau Coliseum on Long Island.

Why has it come to this? Why has this venue demonstrating old-style Americana fallen on such hard times?

I guess it was inevitable in these days of short attention spans and so many other big events to watch and attend that the circus was thought of as truly old school, not really primed for the 21st century.

But it took generations for that conclusion to come, and yes, it has to do with changing societal mores really more than anything else.

And the demise was slow and gradual.

First came the sideshows, which became verboten since about the 1960s.

Sideshows were once a big draw for the circus, and when the circus came to town, seemingly everyone wanted to see the newest attraction, whether it was the height challenged Tom Thumb or the bearded lady.

But about 50 years ago, people kind of wised up that watching Siamese twins or the guy who could eat glass really was not much more than gawking, and not entertainment.

So that faded away, but it took more than 50 more years for the scrutiny the circus has come under in recent times to finally halt it.

Since the 1970s, animal rights groups have claimed that the circus treats its true star attractions--its animal menagerie, including lions, tigers, elephants and the like--very poorly.

Honestly, you would get arguments on both sides about this, with the animal rights people stating that the circus was barbaric to their animals, while the circus people would counter by saying that they treated them better than they would be treated in zoos and other places where they would be in captivity.

Honestly, I don't know who is right in this case, but without the animal attractions, the circus cannot survive. Once Ringling Brothers pulled their elephants from performing, you just knew that the end was near.

Heck, they tried to turn the public away from that omission by hiring their first female ringmaster, but even that couldn't turn the public on to the circus again. It was a good last ditch effort, but it failed to muster the enthusiasm that was its intention.

Ringling Brothers will soon go out of business, but the circus will, in one form or another, live on.

The circus, even in the big cities, has small-town atmosphere written all over it, and smaller traveling circuses will continue to entertain millions of people each year.

But the days of the big-time circus entertaining people in big-time venues appears to be over, and thus, a part of Americana will have bitten the dust.

Personally, I have not been to the circus in quite a while. I can't remember if I took my daughter or son to the circus when they were toddlers, but I know that I did go with them at least once.

Today, the modern circus is not a three-ring one, but a one-ring one, in the form of the WWE. I have often said in this column that the WWE is today's circus, and certainly, Vince McMahon has the same spirit that P.T. Barnum had, with his traveling show hitting all the stops and entertaining millions of people each year.

There are also other variations of the circus, like Cirque De Soleil, which keeps that spirit alive to a degree, but well, it's not the circus that I remember going to as a kid.

But for this 21st century generation, these variations of the original theme will have to do.

Classic Rant #476 (April 4, 2011): Comedy Tonight

I have thousands of records at home ... 45s, LPs, CDs, cassette tapes ... you name it, I have it.

I am pretty proud of my collection. It mainly spans the years 1964-to about 1990 or so, or from when the Beatles took over the world to when CDs finally overtook vinyl as the recording medium of choice. I have recordings prior to 1964 and after 1990, but the majority of what I have spans that period.

I also have compilations that were produced after that period that include music made during my prime period, but generally, most of the stuff I have was made, executed and performed during the 1964-1990 period.

I have a lot of comedy albums in my collection. Comedy albums are sort of a forgotten art form. What these albums were were basically recorded live performances from top, middle and lower-level comedians of the day.

For every Bill Cosby, you had your Joey Forman, if you know what I mean.

Anyway, I really enjoy the comedy albums I have from the late 1950s to the early 1970s, or really the golden age of comedy records.

These LPs basically brought the Las Vegas act right into your living room, and were often played during dinner parties, where men wore suits and ladies wore dresses. As coffee was being served by the hostess, the host would take out his new comedy LP and say he wanted to play it for his guests.

They would gather around the Hi-Fi and listen to--and laugh--along with comics who dressed in tuxedos and often smoked on stage. No bottled water on stage like today!

You have Shelley Berman, Bill Dana, Bob Newhart, Allan Sherman, and of course Bill Cosby, but you also have Don Adams, Marty Allen and Steve Rossi, Jack Burns and Avery Schreiber and Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara.

Most of these acts you could find on "The Ed Sullivan Show," and that is probably how I first became familiar with most of these artists.

Comedy albums during this period--certainly up to when acts like George Carlin and Richard Pryor let it all hang out in the early to mid-1970s--were pretty staid, mostly G-rated, but some comedy albums were a bit more risque.

Many of these artists got away with a lot of double entendres because they played the "chitlin circuit," or what was known as the black circuit of theaters, playing to almost 100 percent black audiences.

You had Redd Foxx, Lawanda Page, Nipsey Russell, and a whole load of artists whose LPs you really had to search out way back when. Many of them you had to ask for, and they were kept behind the counter.

Funny, many of these artists crossed into the mainstream as comedy opened up a bit in the mid 1960s and early 1970s.

How different the world is today? Is there a comedian who doesn't spout four letter words as quickly as the ears will allow?

Anyway, I have recently rediscovered my comedy albums after a long hiatus of having them but not listening to them. I am trying to digitize each one, and listening to the likes of the acts I've previously mentioned have been a revelation.

Although a lot of the comedy is topical and for the time, a lot of it is timeless.

I was listening to a Pigmeat Markham album the other day--another chitlin circuit performer who crossed over into the mainstream--and the stuff was kind of risque, but not dirty at all, maybe PG.

But it was funny--really funny.

I have to tell you, the comedians today don't do too much for me. I just don't laugh when every word begins with an F. It's sort of using the lowest common denominator to get the cheapest laugh.

I like laughs that are well crafted, like the stuff from the time period I most prefer.

Sure, a lot of it is corny and dated, but it is funny.

Rather than use the F word like they do today, I like comedy that works around that but gets the maximum bang for the buck.

Anyway, if you have any comedy LPs in your own collection, take them out and listen to them again.

Sure, you'll remember a lot of the stuff, but listen to the craftsmanship at hand.

I am sorry to say you don't hear that today.

And as I listen to my comedy LPs, I find that I kind of miss that era of comedy, miss it a lot.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Rant #1,822: Bits and Pieces

My allergies continue to bother me today, but not to the extent that they did yesterday, so today is already a better day.

Anyway, today I look at a couple of items that I don't think deserve a full column mention. The first item actually could have been spoken about in yesterday's Rant, but I decided to give it its own smaller mention here.

U2 Delays Album, Blames Trump's Win: In probably what is the early leader in the dumbest story of 2017, the Irish band U2 announced late last week that their new album would be delayed, as they "digested" (my word) Donald Trump's victory as our next president.

U2, once the critics' darlings but lately discarded by the critics that once loved their music, made news with this announcement, and any publicity is good publicity, even if it is completely ridiculous, which this announcement was.

Rock albums are often delayed for one reason or another, but to pin it on Donald Trump? C'mon now, they could do better than that.

Was every song on the album about Hillary Clinton? Now, do they have to write songs criticizing Donald Trump?

U2 should be grateful for America. They take our money, have done so for years, no matter who the president happens to be. They don't like Trump? That is fine. But to blame an album's delay on him?

They aren't citizens of our country, but they live here and abroad, probably mainly on the money they have made here. Shut up and sing.

Knicks Stink: Yes, the New York Knickerbockers, playing in their 70th year in the NBA, truly are an awful team, even though we were promised better by team president Phil Jackson and by the team's one true star Carmelo Anthony.

The Knicks brought in more than a half dozen new players, of various levels of ability, and they have never jelled as a real team, just a collection of players making a lot of money and not delivering.

Last week, one of their key acquisitions, Derrick Rose, decided to bolt the team without telling anyone. He was fine a considerable amount, and reports are that he was considering early retirement during his absence, talked to his mother about it, and returned as if nothing happened. I repeat, he left without permission and what made the incident much worse is that he didn't tell anyone where he was going to, and would not answer phone calls.

Now, with yesterday's buzzer beater loss to the Atlanta Hawks, murmurs are again getting louder that both Anthony and Jackson will be gone by season's end.

At this point, Knicks fans would have to say good riddance to one or both of them leaving. There is a black cloud hanging over this team, and the stench often comes from these two individuals.

Enough is enough already. Thanks goodness I was around more than 40 years ago when they won their two championships, because there might not be another one coming during my lifetime.

Not even close.

Taco Bell Introduces Taco Made Out of Chicken: Give it to Taco Bell for trying something new, even if you don't necessarily like their food.

They have concocted a taco whose shell is made out of fried chicken, and which is shaped into a taco shell. It will be stuffed with the usual ingredients that make up their tacos. and this new concoction will start to be sold around the country on January 26.

I think that this new offering will either entice Taco Bell customers to try something new or revolt them, or maybe even both.

I don't like chicken, so I won't be trying this thing, but I am sure that plenty of people will. To me, the thought of the shell actually being made of fried chicken is kind of intriguing and kind of off-putting at the same time.

My son likes chicken, so he will be the one who I will buy this for the next time we have the urge for Taco Bell.

But heck, if the thing bombs, we may never get the chance to try this concoction, so we better get this urge soon.

That is it for now. I mean, what other regular column in the world will give you U2, Donald Trump, Phil Jackson, Carmelo Anthony, and Taco Bell in one day?

Heck, all of this might turn your stomach more than the Taco Bell concoction could ever do.

Speak to you again tomorrow.

Classic Rant #475 (April 1, 2011): Not Enough ... Well You Know What I Mean

The National Center For Health Statistics just released a report, and the baby-making business has seemingly gone the way of 8-tracks and videotapes ... well, not quite, but the findings aren't encouraging.

Births fell 4 percent from 2007 to 2009, the largest drop for any two-year period since the mid-1970s, when Zero Population Growth (ZPG) was in vogue.

The rate--66.7 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44--isn't as bad as the 1997 rate, which was at an all-time low of 63.6 per 1,000 women. But that record could be eclipsed via the 2010 findings, say the researchers.

Among the findings of the report are that births fell for all women--except for those 40 years old an older--and that birth rate pushed up the percentage, because the rate for women ages 20 to 24 was the lowest recorded for that age group, 96.3 per 1,000.

I guess ZPG has come back into vogue, because fewer families are having more than two kids. The report found that almost 75 percent of the births in 2009 were first or second births.

Now, you have to ask yourself why this is the way it is.

Well, the economy has a lot to do with it. People simply can't afford to have kids--or more kids--and are waiting until they are more financially stable to have them.

I guess that is pretty obvious.

But what other factors are playing into this?

I think many women are putting their careers before parenthood.

Even though we like to think--because of all the media madness about this--that women can be "superwomen", not only doing their jobs but having children and rearing them too--that just isn't true across the board.

Women are looking at their careers first, motherhood second.

What this means is that we are going to have a graying generation of parents coming up real soon.

It won't be that outlandish to see mothers--and dads for that matter--who have young kids but are themselves in their 50s and 60s.

I don't know if that is good or bad, but I always had the youngest parents on the block, and when I became a teenager, my parents weren't even 40 yet.

Today, women aren't having kids until they are in their 40s.

Hmmm ... pretty strange how things have changed, huh?

Monday, January 16, 2017

Rant #1,821: Fake Friends

Good morning to everyone. My allergies are really bothering me today--I can barely see out of my right eye--and I have to prepare for another wonderful day at that toxic place I call work.

What a wonderful day I have ahead of me!

As I often do, I think about topics for this column during off moments, like on the weekend when I am reading the newspaper and eating breakfast.

One story popped out at me this weekend, and while it is just one of a number of similar stories--and I hadn't really planned to talk about this subject--I feel that I must go against my better judgment, and write about a topic that I really don't want to get into.

Singer/Actress Jennifer Holliday pulled out of performing at this Friday's inauguration because she basically said it would make her look bad in front of many members of her audience.

She stated that since so many people in her audience are gay, LGBT, and people of color, she simply could not perform at this gala, because she would be insulting her audience, the audience that she feels made her into the star she is today.

Look, this is America, and she can do what she wants.

But coupled with the Meryl Streep fiasco at the Golden Globes, don't you think that Hollywood--which preaches inclusion in every breath it takes--is showing what a bunch of hypocrites they really are? Don't you think with recent actions, where many personalities refuse to appear and/or perform at the inauguration, that they, themselves, are preaching exclusion, since performers are pulling out because they worry about their careers if they appear and/or perform?

I just found it so hilarious when Streep took to the stage to accept her award, and in all her bangles, baubles and beads and pricey gown, told the audience and the worldwide audience that was viewing that the side that won the presidential election--she never mentioned the president-elect by name--preached everything that everyone should be against, and that we should not support such a president.

Yes, in all her baubles, bangles and beads.

And her brethren sit there, like robots, and sit at the edges of their seats for every syllable this person says, as if she was quoting from scripture, rather than talking down to not only these fools, but the worldwide audience, she herself spreading distrust and hate with every word she said.

Hollywood has a problem with Donald Trump, and it goes way beyond what they think he stands for.

I do believe that they, in their positions looking down from the ivory towers that success has afforded them, feel betrayed by this guy, who they, at least at one time, thought was one of their own.

Trump has been a ubiquitous presence on the national and Hollywood scene for more than 40 years. He has hobnobbed with the high and mighty, he has been an A-list celebrity, and he was seemingly one of the so-called "elite" in this country for many years, fully accepted by the Hollywood community as one of their own.

Then things abruptly changed. Trump--who has actually appeared on a number of TV shows as himself over the years, including "The Jeffersons"--has his own political reawakening, and felt so strongly about his beliefs, that this kid from Queens, New York, decided to believe what we were all taught as kids, that anybody in this great land can become president, and he decided to do just that.

Sure, many in Hollywood--and us common folk too--thought this was all a joke, but he kept running, and running and running, and based on his beliefs--which were more down to earth than a lot of people thought they could be, including those in Hollywood--he was able to catch the ear of those in the American public who have felt left out during the past eight years.

And he had the nerve to run against another elitist, one who was fully embraced by Hollywood, Hillary Clinton.

Hollywood felt completely betrayed by Trump, because even though they thought he was one of them, he was actually, even with his fortune, not a member of their exclusive club. He spoke to the grassroots, the people that the Hollywood elite could never speak to, only speak down to.

And now he is going to be president on January 20, and well, they feel as betrayed as all heck about this, and have pretty much decided to blackball any of their own who will appear and/or perform at the gala festivities during the inauguration.

This is inclusion?

Yes, the Hollywood crowd is really showing their true colors about this, how phony they really are, and how entitled they truly feel that they are.

I will repeat again what I have already said time and time again.

I am not a Trump lover, but I felt that under the circumstances, he was the candidate that I supported against four more years of Obama, which I do feel we would have gotten with Clinton at the helm.

That would have been four more years of feeling left out, of feeling that my voice wasn't being heard.

Trump is not perfect. Sometimes he puts his emotions before his brain. But he is generally a good man, and the right person to run our country right now, even if he only fulfills a quarter of the promises he made during the campaign.

People tend to forget--or do so purposely--that during the real estate fall during the early to mid 1990s, Trump was just about the only major American real estate figure to actually invest in the United States.

When foreign investors were buying up half of Manhattan and its landmarks, Trump invested his money in America, keeping his dollars on our soil.

That alone does not make him a great man, but it adds to his legacy of putting America first. Sure, he invested his money elsewhere, too, but he put enough money into the U.S. when his fellow real estate magnates were selling off their assets to those with tons of money abroad.

The latest actions by Hollywood show that they do, in fact, talk out of two sides of their mouths, preaching inclusion, yet creating an environment and atmosphere where any of their brethren who decide to take a different tack has to worry about their futures.

Yes, Hollywood is often called Tinsel Town, and they are proving that they are as valid as Christmas tinsel on the tree after the holiday is over.

It is time that these elitists show some respect for the person who is going to be leading this country for the next four years--whether they like it or not.

Show some respect, because right now, the Hollywood elite are acting like brats.

Classic Rant #474 (March 31, 2011): Play Ball

New York is slated for rain, snow, a perfectly miserable day weather-wise, maybe we'll get into the high 40s and it will just be rain.

As the drops fall, players won't be lacing up their cleats for football.

Baseball season is finally here, and while the season opens around the country, the real opening of the season will be in Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York, when the New York Yankees take on the Detroit Tigers.

Game time is approximately 1:09 p.m. for the Yankees' 109th season.

I can't wait.

The winter is wonderful if you are a kid, but you know that when baseball season opens, the warm weather is right around the corner.

And with the warm weather comes dreams of all sorts, mostly good ones.

The winter is dreary. The spring and summer revitalize you.

And when baseball ends in the fall with the World Series, you are totally spent.

And that's even true when you watch a good team like the Yankees.

It's a six-month roller coaster ride that I have been taking for most of my life. I just got published in Long Island Newsday newspaper yesterday with some thoughts about my first game.

It was 1965, I was barely eight, and my friend's father had some tickets to a day game at old Yankee Stadium. It was the tail end of the school year in June, so we played hooky from school for a day and went to the game.

The Yankees played the old Kansas City Athletics, and I think the Yankees lost 6-5 or 6-4 or something like that.

But it didn't really matter to me.

I was taken by the grandeur of the Stadium, the largeness of it all. The photo with this rant is the old Yankee Stadium, not the facsimile we have to live with today.

Back to the old Stadium ... It really took my breath away, and the whole experience made me a fan for life.

There is nothing like actually being at a baseball game in person, and my family and I will be going to two Yankees games this year--in June, of course.

But today begins it all, and I am all revved up for the season to start.

I think the Yankees will do just fine, certainly getting into the playoffs at least, and yes, I expect them to get into the World Series too.

Heck, if I was a Kansas City Royals or Pittsburgh Pirates fan, I would probably say the same thing.

Hope springs eternal, the saying goes. "Springs" is the operative word.

In the spring, everyone has a chance.

Play ball!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Rant #1,820: Friday (the 13th) On My Mind

No, it isn't Halloween yet, but it is Friday the 13th, the first Friday the 13th of the year.

I don't remember a Friday the 13th ever coming so early in the year, but I could be wrong about that.

Am I scared about today, what today will bring, what today will unfold?

No, but it's funny the memories Friday the 13th brings to me.

I remember one year at my present work, the powers that be fired several of my fellow employees that day.

One of the higher ups actually had a bathroom meeting with me--yes, right in the bathroom--where he told me that my managing editor was being let go.

And that is all that happened during that meeting, or it would have really been a Friday the 13th to remember (or better yet, forget).

Yesterday at work, as I was leaving for the day, I mentioned to a fellow worker upon my exit that I would see him again today, and it just happened to be Friday the 13th.

He said something like, "Oh, really!" and then I heard another of my fellow employees say, "Par for the course," or something like that.

I really had to hold back from saying, "Every day is Friday the 13th here," but I did manage to hold that in.

For many, Friday the 13th conjures up that horror movie franchise, but honestly, I never got into those movies at all, nor the "Halloween" films. I much prefer other types of horror films, but those never did anything for me because they were so obvious.

But that aside, what does the 13th day of the year--which just happens to be Friday the 13th--mean to me?

Well, it is pretty much another day at the salt mines, if you know what I mean.

I know to always expect the unexpected, but I don't think there will be any fireworks today. It will just be another day.

Well, I am at least hoping that, as my heart can't take an further provocations. It really can't.

I know it is going to be 20 to 30 degrees colder today than it was yesterday, so we are going back to winter.

If that is the only alteration in my day on Friday the 13th, it is something I can accept.

Anything else ... nah, I don't even want to think about it.

I hope your Friday the 13th is a good one. Speak to you again on Monday.