History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Monday, April 28, 2014

"I could write a book" but probably will not

I do a lot of writing but could I write a book? I remember buying a book by Dave Barry and being disappointed. Dave gained fame as a column writer. He's funny. Often he makes serious points under that humor.
Perhaps all writers have illusions about being a novelist. It didn't seem to work with Barry, at least not with the book I tried.
I am trying not to harbor any illusions. I did no writing at all in the three and a half years after I left the Morris newspaper. Maybe it took me that long to realize that writing could be fun again. Reflecting on my newspaper "career," I would hardly know where to begin. I use quotes with "career" because it was cut short.
The newspaper job allowed me to say I was not unemployed. Beyond that I'm not sure the dividends were much beyond marginal. I made my rounds on the weekend of the UMM goalpost incident, just trying to mind my own business, and got swept up in the vortex of ill feeling in the aftermath of that. It might have led to my departure from the newspaper. If you say "hooray" to that, good for you. You can now enjoy your once-a-week Morris newspaper with its mountain of advertising pulling everyone to shop in Alexandria. Sometimes I feel like I might be the only sane person in an insane asylum.
Which reminds me, I will be posting soon about the Kirkbride building in Fergus Falls - a fascinating subject. I have occasion to visit Fergus Falls because a family member is seeing a medical specialist there for a non-life-threatening situation. It's a nice trip - a straight shot north on Highway 59.
Click on the permalink below to read a 2010 post I wrote reflecting about the horribly infamous UMM goalpost incident:
http://ilovemorris73.blogspot.com/2010/09/goalpost-incident-was-day-of-infamy.html
 
I had fair opportunity to show my writing ability in the first five (or so) years of being with the Morris newspaper. The first big iceberg that came along, was being burdened with an unreasonable amount of photographic darkroom work. When I started at the paper, the paper literally owned just one camera. It was a Pentax SLR and it was already obsolete. It had a light meter system where you looked for a little "needle" getting into a "notch" which told you the camera had its exposure set right.
I will always feel bitter about how rapidly photo technology changed with both the cameras and that notorious "darkroom." Photography then was what we'd call an "analog" system today. It was a pre-digital world. Put it on a level with caveman paintings.
I had taken 3-4 photography courses while in college. I learned to develop prints using a series of pans. That system was already obsolete when I started at the paper. "Stabilization processing" was underway. No one ever told me that the deactivator was so potent, if you spilled a drop on the floor it would eat a hole all the way to China. OK I exaggerate a little.
These same chemicals were used for phototypesetting paper. We had typesetters dump exhausted chemicals down the sink all at once, which likely explains why we had plumbing problems. One day the plumber put some chemical down the sink that caused a major reaction through the back shop. We had layout pages in front of us. The phototypesetting paper on those pages almost instantly began turning brown. We literally finished our layout outside the building. Our custodian wondered whether we might have had health effects.
Chemicals and their limited lifespans were on the corner of our mind always. I remember a salesman coming into the darkroom once and telling me "every chemical in this room is deteriorating every minute."
It's interesting to remember this "analog" world because today, in the blissful digital scene, there are no chemicals. You can take a hundred photos at Prom and sift through them on a computer screen with really no labor at all. I used to have to change clothes before going into the darkroom.
For some reason, when I first started at the paper in 1979, we were taking very few pictures. Was the Jimmy Carter economy that bad? A car dealer ad might include only 5-6 pictures. Years later an ad might include 50. I visited these car dealers every week. Sometimes I got a little impatient because I just had to - I had other work to try to get done. I got a dressing-down more than once from car salesmen who got fed up with me.
Sometimes I'm amazed at how often people buy cars. I once asked a car salesman, after I had taken about 40 pictures of cars many of which were only 2-3 years old, why such seemingly still-new cars were being traded in. The nice man gave me an answer that had something to do with finances. I guess I'm eccentric because I drive a car until it's too old to drive anymore.
It is amazing the Morris Sun Tribune even pretended to get by with one camera for a time. The onset of the "point and shoot" camera changed that. Previously, cameras were clunky and expensive. A new chapter was about to open. New cameras would be cheaper and more portable. The point and shoot camera had the look of an "amateur" camera. People assumed that a professional newspaper photographer would be above that.
I remember when Matt Blair of the Minnesota Vikings was a guest at the county fair, and he smiled and teased me a little for having a point and shoot.
Forget the knee-jerk impression, the new cameras were quite practical. Well, pretty soon the Sun Tribune came into possession of 3-4 of these, and the unfortunate result was staffers taking too many pictures on too many cameras. I developed countless rolls of film that had only 3-4 shots on them. It was inefficient and expensive.
We didn't have deadlines during the week for when film would be developed. Because we were putting out "special sections" more frequently, pictures had to be developed more often. The end result was that I became considerably bogged down in the darkroom. Writing became almost an afterthought to me. After a while I just thought in terms of getting my paycheck every two weeks and abandoned all standards completely. You might say I spent the last 20 years of my career in this resigned sort of mode.
 
Upbeat revelation
Today I actually like writing. Gee, it really does appeal to me.
I could have delivered virtually thousands of well-written feature articles for the Morris community through the years. I had the potential. A number of my critics are still around and they'd scoff at that. I became handicapped by a horrible controversy that developed in this town in the late 1980s. The intensity of those feelings is hard to understand now, when you think back to how innocuous, really, the focus of the controversy was - it was public school extracurricular or co-curricular activities.
An appreciable number of "insurgents" in the community, holding meetings at the Holiday Cafe (formerly Trailways, where McDonald's is now), decided to rise up and try to make a statement. It turns out this action on the face of it violated community mores. Often, living in a small town simply means "don't rock the boat."
In the instance I'm citing, many people of high standing in the community, good churchgoers and the like, decided they just couldn't follow the "quiet" credo anymore.
And the other side? They were the self-interested incumbents in a system that had become ossified but still gave many of them a nice paycheck and benefits. They had personal/social friends outside the school. I have written before about the "house parties" that were a catalyst for their efforts. As I look back, I am astonished at the level of venom these people could project, over a subject that really does not seem like that big a deal.
We needed a new underlying philosophy with our extracurricular activities. We needed to drift more toward the "AAU" model rather than the "glorified P.E." model.
We had a system where seniors got too much of the benefit of the doubt for starting positions and playing time. The seniors became less motivated because they weren't "pushed" as much. Teams full of seniors would lose, and the coach would get up at the sports banquet and say "we lacked experience." How do you get experience when seniors are starting all the time?
I remember when one of the magnificent Libbon boys was a sophomore and I asked the coach in an off-the-cuff conversation about whether we might see the young man playing varsity. His response: "We don't do that here."
Sports banquets themselves could be quite the issue of those days. On a couple occasions the speaker took subtle jabs at me. What really took the cake was when an administrator or quasi-administrator used the podium to lash out at his real or imagined critics, back in about 1988. Of course, no one should ever have used a sports banquet to make any kind of political statement.
I guess maybe we should have blamed the superintendent. It's his job to solve small problems before they become big ones. It's his job, difficult I know, to keep the tone among staff reasonably idealistic, not devolving into pitched battles and dripping cynicism. We were not a model in the late 1980s.
 
Peace pipe in the end?
The insurgents did not win completely. I think many of them felt a number of head coaches had to be replaced. We eventually learned that the problems in the systems were underlying and not necessarily connected to certain head coaches, who I felt all along were competent professional educators.
There was a letter to the editor in the Morris paper praising the outgoing athletic director. Administrator Dennis Rettke in a private conversation with me referred to it as "that damn letter," and said he told the new boys basketball coach (promoted from before) that the letter almost cost him that appointment. Mary Holmberg did not sign the letter.
 
Shadow followed me, unfortunately
From this point on, I had to watch my back as I attempted doing my newspaper work in the community. I had never attended those meetings at the Holiday Cafe, nor had I ever done anything outside of being congenial and respectful with some of the known insurgents, people like Merlin Beyer. (Rettke in a memo to the board, leaked to me, referred to one of them with the pejorative term "ringleader.")
Many of the defenders of the previous flawed system kept their teaching positions and platform for asserting themselves. The notorious "house parties" continued.
I don't know if the house party today is a prime vehicle for political assertiveness in Morris. I hope the overall climate is better. I suspect it is. I take great pleasure continuing to cover MACA Tiger athletics on my two websites. But of course I'm not compensated and I haven't even had health insurance for the past eight years. I didn't sign up for MNsure because I don't want my Republican friends mad at me - they want to wipe out "Obamacare." What if I sign up and then Republicans take back the U.S. Senate?
My future is totally uncertain. And I probably won't write a book.
"Life of Brian" - apologies to Monty Python - has a cloudy denouement. Then again, those guys getting crucified were able to sing (and whistle) "Look on the Bright Side of Life."
I have the tools at hand for practicing the wonderful craft of journalism. At the end of a day when I feel I have put up a blog post with merit, I feel 100 per cent contented with life.
 
Addendum: If I work again, maybe I can try one of those simple jobs that are offered to those punch-drunk former football players. We read about this occasionally, the groggy ex-NFLer who gets a job like "soil tester." He probably is asked to go around a field pulling up toothpicks or something. He might require an adult diaper. Maybe I can try one of those jobs. Otherwise I have a little PTSD. Have a nice day.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Nate Wright, Drew Pearson and agony of defeat in 1975

First, some background:
I was among the teeming masses of boomers in college in 1975. We were still reveling in the lowered drinking age, a move we as a society later saw as folly. We inhaled from "cigarettes" that weren't really cigarettes. Today we want to legalize that stuff for medical purposes, at least. Oh, but that wouldn't be any fun - it needs to be illicit to be fun.
We turned the volume way up on our "stereos" to blast rock music (like Uriah Heep). Outside of these activities just listed, I'm not sure what we did or stood for. Sex of some kind was a goal. I had a psych professor at St. Cloud State who said each new generation that comes along "is the first to discover sex." (I would suggest that kids today get access to "inappropriate images" on the Internet to the point where they get sick of it - a good thing.)
Wedged in among our diversions was Minnesota Vikings football. Nothing was more "cool" in Minnesota in the 1970s than the Vikes.
Today the biggest threat to football might be saturation or overexposure. Mark Cuban aired this clarion call for the game. He's not the first. Troy Aikman, the former player and now commentator, made a strong point about this before. For us boomer college kids in the 1970s, big-time football was "appointment TV." It was far more restricted in its availability. Us males would get goosebumps just listening to the opening theme music for "Monday Night Football."
The supply of football was shy of the demand. Breakthroughs in media technology sure solved that. It's a whole different world now, one which young people take for granted. We used to change channels using a "knob." When I was a young kid, we only had one channel available to us where we lived: the Alexandria channel, an NBC affiliate. We watched "The Virginian" and not "Gunsmoke," "Huntley and Brinkley" and not Walter Cronkite.
Minneotans in the 1970s were highly emotionally invested in the Minnesota Vikings. It was a tie not like today. It was a defensive kind of loyalty, an effort to show the world we can be just as flashy, successful and "cool" as the teams from major media markets.
Today we can consume a substantial amount of sports on TV not involving the Minnesota teams, if we choose. Up through the 1970s, to the extent we got TV coverage of sports, it was almost exclusively focused on the Minnesota teams. "Monday Night Football" was an exception.
One reason we watched Monday Night Football and the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, is that we could see star players who we read about all the time, and see what they actually looked like in live action. On Many Sundays the Alexandria TV channel would give us only one NFL game. It was a treat to get those "doubleheaders" when we might see some marquee players who were familiar to us through the print media. Finally we could see them play. I remember a friend calling me on a Sunday once seeing if I was available to play some tennis, but I said "no" because of a chance to watch Dan Fouts play for San Diego. Fouts was putting up big numbers for that time. It seems foolish now that I would choose that way.
With the wisdom coming from age - I'm 59 - I'm trying to live without being distracted by sports at all. All those Vikings players of yore whom we lionized, well, they weren't Greek gods or anything out of this world - they were most definitely human beings who in their post-football lives have struggled in significant ways. I was the lucky one, just watching them on TV.
 
Mid-1970s drama at the "Met"
In 1975 I was glued to the tube like countless others, watching our Minnesota Vikings play those dastardly Dallas Cowboys and Roger Staubach. Dallas was a nemesis. Damn "America's team." The Vikings seemed at the height of their 1970s glory. All the signature names were at the forefront.
I surely could have found better things to do with my time on that December 28 afternoon. The holiday spirit was prime and we should have just let that prevail. But no, we had to park ourselves close to the tube and see how "the purple people" were going to fare in the NFC divisional playoff. The action was at our Metropolitan Stadium.
Games were more low-scoring then than now. Passing success was a little harder to come by. Our Fran Tarkenton was able to overcome that to a large extent. This he did with a "nickel and dime" passing approach that at times seemed like a glorified running game (and sure built up his completion percentage). It was an overcast day, 27 degrees, with winds out of the south at 9 MPH.
I am profoundly embarrassed to think how emotionally attached I was to the Vikings then. We were lemmings with our loyalty.
Our bad habit of investing our hopes and dreams in a football team was punished by God, it would seem, as Minnesota was dealt perhaps the most heartbreaking loss in its history. The game went into historical annals as "the Drew Pearson miracle catch game." The Vikings may have had their best team of the decade but we lost 17-14. With 24 seconds remaining, Staubach threw a 50-yard touchdown pass to Pearson, who beat cornerback Nate Wright.
Some will forever insist that Pearson pushed Wright in order to catch the ball, creating an act of offensive interference. We were stunned for days in the aftermath. But we sure came back for more in the fall of 1976. We also watched TV shows like "Happy Days," "Mork and Mindy" (with the young Robin Williams in his breakthrough role) and "Laverne and Shirley." "Laverne and Shirley" was just a spinoff but now, in retrospect, it seems to reflect 1970s tastes more than any other show. It was escapist tripe. We wanted to escape the economy of the 1970s. The TV sitcoms of the previous decade, those '60s, were innocent and funny. The shows of the '70s were funny (sometimes) but not quite so innocent. A more earthy, blunt or cynical tone was setting in.
 
On to the Super Bowl in 1977
Escapism was also furthered by our Vikings, who in 1976-77 broke through to the Super Bowl. How we reveled in that, like on December 18, 1976, when not only did the Vikings win, they did so amidst perfect fall weather at Metropolitan Stadium. It was 38 degrees, clear and sunny, with a southeast wind at 8 MPH.
Minnesota beat the Redskins 35-20. There was no raging debate about the "Redskins" name then. Buoyed by that game, the Vikings took the field at "the Met" again on December 26 (the date of my parents' wedding anniversary) and beat the Los Angeles Rams 24-13.
Today Los Angeles doesn't even have a football team, which seems absolutely incredible. Life can go on as normal in a huge metropolitan market without an NFL football team. So, is it a myth that an NFL team is an essential amenity? I'd say "yes." But we in Minnesota got led along by the nose and by Governor Mark Dayton, approving an opulent new football palace for our team owned by (shady) New Jersey real estate interests. Again, incredible. Again, we're lemmings.
We were all quite content with our Met Stadium on the Bloomington prairie in 1976. Beating the Rams on December 26 put the Vikings in their fourth Super Bowl. What ecstasy we felt on December 26 of 1976, as Bobby Bryant made a 90-yard touchdown return of a blocked L.A. field goal attempt. The day was beautiful by December standards: sunny, clear and 12 degrees at game time, with a northwest wind at 13 MPH.
Jack Youngblood of the Rams didn't like the weather. He said "eskimos don't go out in weather like this." Wasn't it Youngblood who later slammed Tommy Kramer to the ground so hard it looked like Kramer was dead, with his hands even quivering? The media behave like they want to forget that. Today the media are easily awakening to the barbaric and inhuman nature of the pro football game. There is a cloud over the sport.
I can completely live without the sport.
We remember the days when we loved the Minnesota Vikings of those four Super Bowls. We never got "one for the thumb" (LOL).
Boomers may still nurse a subconscious element of defeatism, although maybe our baseball Twins cured that in 1987 and 1991. Have we forgotten the four dagger-like Super Bowl losses? Have we forgotten our young boomer lifestyle/vices which may have canceled out a large number of our brain cells?
Have we put "Laverne and Shirley" behind us? Or, "Smokey and the Bandit?" We blend the good and bad in our memories.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, April 18, 2014

Buddy Rich on drums had boomer musicians mesmerized

The concept of "big bands" changed markedly between the 1940s and 1970s. "Ballroom dancing" helped us through World War II. We watch movies with that pastime like we're at a museum. The music catered to adults, not teenagers. Where were the teens? They were not empowered with entertainment decisions.
Adults gathered at night clubs, assembled at their little tables, with no aversion of course to consuming alcohol to excess. I'm sure the drummer Buddy Rich took for granted secondhand cigarette smoke. Common sense should have suggested cigarettes were an abomination. Instead the drive against tobacco use proceeded at a snail's pace.
We loved the Prom Ballroom.
I remember listening to Sherwin Linton and his band at the Old No. 1 in Morris, and practically choking at the smoke. I remember the same experience at the Morris American Legion where the Morris Sun Tribune was "celebrating" its relocation to a new building. One of the Forum Communications higher-ups was there and was a prime offender with his "coffin nails." It was the kind of experience where, once I got home, I wanted to strip my clothes off and toss them in a corner of the basement.
The big bands of the 1940s played their wonderful music amidst an environment of uninhibited booze and cigarette consumption. The practitioners were that grand "Greatest Generation," showing how human they really were. I believe the WWII GIs were given complimentary cigarettes. Hook 'em when they're young.
The world of the big bands is presented nostalgically and romantically in popular culture. A movie like "Sunrise Serenade" could hardly be more nostalgic. One thing about nostalgia, is that it accents what we find pleasant and obscures the unpleasant stuff, the latter including how powerless and dull were the lives of teens. Boys approached adulthood with the fear they'd get dragged into some war. And, don't tell me this thought was any more appealing in WWII times than 20 or so years later when we got mired in Southeast Asia. Dying is dying. Suffering is suffering.
The old nightclub scenes in movies gave an image contradicted by the hell of world war.
 
Drummer "morphed" with the times
Buddy Rich was around with his drumsticks for the transformation of those big band times into completely new musical chapters. Teens gained empowerment in the 1950s. Popular entertainment reached out to all demographics. Those stuffed-shirt adults at their little tables at nightclubs no longer monopolized things. Along came "Little Richard."
Would Glenn Miller have adjusted somehow? It's one of the great unanswered questions.
Buddy Rich was around to see a kaleidoscope of varied music and entertainment tastes. Music and entertainment were his life. He perhaps nurtured the fundamental skill of adjusting. He perhaps knew his world would never stand pat.
The "nightclub scene" of the WWII years was actually a middle chapter for drummer Rich. He was born in 1917. His first chapter was the very charming vaudeville scene. The old veterans of vaudeville were shown in the movie "The Sunshine Boys." Rich would have fit right in. He gained self-discipline as a tireless (and very young) vaudeville performer. He was born in Manhattan, NYC, to Jewish vaudevillians.
Buddy showed at the age of one that he could keep a steady beat with spoons. Drumming is a very competitive musical activity, and that's because each band has only one drummer. A band might have five saxophones or four trumpets but the drummer stands alone. He'd better be good. The rhythm section is the foundation for any musical group.
Rich began playing drums in vaudeville when he was 18 months old. He was about to embark on quite the life in music. I was privileged to hear him several times.
Buddy's band was a prime attraction for high school-age youth who were getting exposed to jazz in school. Jazz took off in popularity in the mid-1970s. Typically it wasn't called "jazz." As Del Sarlette of Morris pointed out when sharing some remarks during the UMM Jazz Fest several years ago, the term was "stage band" and not "jazz band." The reason? It was cultural, due to the shady (in the minds of some) connotations with "jazz." I would hope those connotations were not racial.
Pop music blossomed with totally transformative energy due to the breakdown of racial and cultural barriers. The safe and sanitized world of Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman, with the subdued base line, became quaint. Glenn Miller in his biopic, in which Jimmy Stewart played him, had no problem going to a nightclub with his fiance and playing with Louis Armstrong. All those musicians were "hip." But they produced sounds that catered to the conservative white culture.
The big bands "died," as they say. They never literally died, of course. They retreated to the wings for a while. The 1960s were notorious for being a bad economic climate for big bands. The sounds just couldn't be tailored to appeal to a new generation.
The year 1970 or thereabouts brought a breakthrough: Maynard Ferguson released his "M.F. Horn" album. High school band musicians, mostly male, got on board with the new "cool" sound of the big band.
Maynard recorded in England which was known to have a more advanced recording industry than here. A visiting speaker at our University of Minnesota-Morris talked about this once. What held back the U.S.? One factor the speaker cited, was that the young men who might be interested in the recording industry "had to worry about the (military) draft." We can forget about this horrible specter.
Maynard made a triumphant return to the U.S. 
 
How we loved the old Prom Ballroom
Big bands in the 1970s were no longer concerned about nightclub entertainment. A few fossils stuck around like Jules Herman who played traditional dances in the Twin Cities. We saw ads for "Jules" who would play the old St. Paul Prom Ballroom. My generation had no interest in listening to Jules there. But the old "Prom" was most certainly a mecca for us, for it was the place where Maynard and Buddy would come with their musicians.
These weren't dances, they were concerts. No sitting around at those little tables like in the 1940s movies (Gary Cooper and others). High school and college-age musicians flocked to the Prom Center to hear concerts in the manner of rock concerts. We sat or stood en masse. We could be unruly. You couldn't tell the difference from a rock concert. We "dug it." We cheered constantly.
Maynard played his trumpet in his unconventional high-note style. Buddy Rich was "the world's greatest drummer" and lived up to that totally. I can't think of any more special memories from my youth.
The Prom didn't look very special from the outside. It was probably the kind of St. Paul institution that critics of the city would cite as making it "second class." St. Paul was the city with the confusing street layout. St. Paul developed a defensiveness that resulted in our big league baseball team bending over backward with political accommodations when it came here. I always saw that "rivalry" as being somewhat odd. The "Twin Cities" are really a singular entity, aren't they?
We got the "Minnesota Twins" with the logo having the two dudes shaking hands across the river. They had to hit people over the head with the message that St. Paul was just as viable as the obvious "big city" of Minneapolis. Are those notions still out there?
To understand the Prom, imagine a much bigger version of the old Lakeside Ballroom in Glenwood. The old Lakeside had a "trough" in the men's room for urination. Holy code violation, Batman!
The Prom might have been put down for the boxing matches it hosted. Boxing of course was a quite earthy sport. It was a very high-profile sport once, with horse racing and baseball, in that earlier era in U.S. history when football was a fringe sport engaged in by ruffians. TV made football into King Football.
Maynard and Buddy were the top attractions for young band musicians in the 1970s. Behind them were some other attractions: Woody Herman, Stan Kenton and Count Basie. I also visited the Prom once to take in the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis big band.
The first time I ever heard Buddy at the Prom was the best. I remember a trombone player with a Van Dyke moustache. All the musicians had their heart in it. Years later when my parents and I heard Buddy and his band at Orchestra Hall, I was disappointed in the band's lowered intensity. I remember Buddy coming out front and saying that his band of that time was "the epitome." He did not say the epitome of what. The trombone players "swept the floor" - an expression that might be unique to me. Brass players ought to have the bells of their horns pointed fairly up. I taught my expression to Del Sarlette.
Del and I were part of little groups of big band aficionados that would travel from Morris to the Twin Cities. Adults like Doug Garberick would drive the cars. Doug "recruited" some of us to make these trips, enthused about how we'd react to hearing a truly exciting big band. He played his Stan Kenton 8-track tapes for us. Doug would look back at us kids to see our reaction sometimes. Del got worried that Doug might not be concentrating on his driving enough. It was a different kind of "distracted driving."
 
Rich had us boomers spellbound
It was in 1966 that Buddy Rich left Harry James to form the big band that would excite the boomer generation of musicians. Like Maynard, Buddy Rich found enthusiastic "customers" in colleges and high schools. I remember Del saying he felt sorry for those bands' bus drivers who'd have to find all those high schools.
There was irony here as both Rich and Ferguson became virtuosos without having to depend on a formal education.
Rich showed unparalleled speed, execution and precision on the drums. His "West Side Story" medley became his signature arrangement, with "Channel One Suite" a close second. Buddy went on TV as guest of Steve Allen, Johnny Carson and Merv Griffin. In 1967 he even starred in a summer replacement TV series, "Away We Go," with singer Buddy Greco and comedian George Carlin. Carlin adjusted to changing entertainment tastes 100 per cent.
A jewel from Rich's career was when he went on "The Muppet Show" in 1981 and engaged drummer "Animal" in a drum battle!
Rich was famous for having a short temper. Part of this became caricature and thus exaggerated. We like revisionist analyses that "he wasn't that bad."
 
Dusty Springfield not fazed!
Remember when Judy Garland slapped "the cowardly lion" when they first met? Well, Dusty Springfield once slapped Rich after several days of Rich's insults and "show business sabotage." Rich had a black belt in karate. The "Beastie Boys" had a song with the lyrics "I'm Buddy Rich when I fly off the handle."
Today's analysis is that Rich just had very high standards and thus got sensitive and agitated easily. Band member David Lucas said "Rich had a soft heart underneath it all."
Today Rich plays in heaven where he has no negative distractions. He died on April 2, 1987, after surgery for a malignant brain tumor. He was 69. He had a heart attack in 1959 and underwent bypass surgery after a heart attack in 1983.
 
UMM jazz kindles memories
I was reminded of Rich's career recently when UMM jazz performed "Sophisticated Lady." This was a tune on Rich's 1976 album "Speak No Evil." The album presented funky and soulful jazz music. It "bordered" on disco, especially the "Sophisticated Lady" chart. The tune that most stuck in my mind was "Games People Play" (the Spinners' version, which was '70s all the way).
Rich was actually restrained in his drumming on "Speak No Evil." Unfortunately the album did not sell well.
Rich was grouchy, maybe, but he could also be funny. I remember when he stepped forward to address the audience at Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis. He gazed around for a few moments and then said: "Isn't it something what they've done to the Prom Ballroom."
Rich instructed a 14-year-old Mel Brooks in drumming at the time when Rich played for Artie Shaw. Brooks held forth as comedy king for the boomers in the 1970s.
Buddy Rich and Maynard Ferguson had their boomer audiences absolutely transfixed, to the point where these artists probably thought we were a little nuts, in that disco decade. I can close my eyes and re-imagine it all, just as I can still see Doug Garberick peering back at us in the back seat. Del felt like saying "Uh. . .Doug?" It couldn't be any worse than texting.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tigers of softball, baseball get going on firm note

Softball: Tigers 11, Minneota 3
MACA softball picked up its second win Friday (4/11) in non-conference play, plating eleven runs in the success vs. Minneota.
The offense looks robust but the Tigers didn't need to knock the cover off the ball. Minneota pitching was marked by wildness. MACA batters tossed their bats aside and trotted down to first base eight times. In fact, MACA bats generated just three hits. These were off the bats of Nicole Strobel, Brianna Abril and Megan Gillespie. Strobel's hit was a triple.
Brook Bauman had a pair of hits for Minneota, one a double. Alex DeSmet also hit safely for the loser.
The winning Tigers had two pitchers share the load. Lacee Maanum was the pitcher of record with her relief appearance of four and a third innings. Lacee set down four Minneota batters on strikes. She allowed one hit and walked two. Kayla Pring was the other Tiger working on the pitching rubber. Kayla fanned four batters and walked none in her two and two-thirds innings. She allowed four hits and the three Minneota runs which were earned.
Bauman was the losing pitcher.
MACA led 2-0 after two innings. Minneota broke through to score three runs in the third to go up on the Tigers. Morris Area Chokio Alberta got its engines humming again to score one run in the fifth, five in the sixth and three in the seventh, pulling away to win in the 11-3 final. Our line score was eleven runs, three hits and two errors, while Minneota put up 3-5-3 numbers.
 
Baseball: Tigers 7, LQPV 3
The headline in the Willmar newspaper said "Morris/CA trips up Lac qui Parle Valley." I don't think I've ever used the expression "tripping up" among the thousands of headlines I've written. It sounds kind of mean. Headlines can test your capacity to be gentle. I remember once referring to a loss as a "debacle." I got needled about that. We don't want to become sadistic. "Steamrolls" borders on the sadistic.
Our Tigers of baseball "tripped up" the Eagles of Lac qui Parle Valley Friday in Madison. The fourth inning saw our orange and black get into the driver's seat with a four-run rally. We scored single runs in the first, sixth and seventh.
The Tiger line score was seven runs, five hits and a nice "zero" under errors (always great to see in early-season). LQPV had a line score of 3-8-2. 
That big four-run rally was highlighted by a Nick Solvie three-run double.
Lac qui Parle scored single runs in the second, third and seventh.
Noah Grove turned in a workmanlike performance on the mound. Working the full seven innings, Grove fanned four batters and walked three while scattering eight hits and giving up the three LQPV runs which were earned. Austin Haas took the loss for the host. Dylan Lillejord also pitched.
Corey Storck had a multiple-hit game for the Tigers. Corey had a double while going two-for-four, and he drove in two runs. Brady Jergenson scored two runs while going one-for-three. Solvie had a nice RBI output of three. Bryce Jergenson had a one-for-four day.
Brandon Hill paced the LQPV offense, going two-for-three with a double and driving in two runs. Lillejord picked up an RBI.
Morris Area Chokio Alberta could feel satisfied with its 7-3 road win. We'd all be more satisfied if the temperature could climb a little. Why do we live here?
 
Softball: Tigers 5, BOLD 4
The Olivia diamond was the site for a 5-4 triumph by the MACA softball girls on Thursday, 4/10. The game marked the start of the conference slate.
MACA made a statement right away, plating two runs each in the first and second innings. BOLD got going with a three-run third. It was going to be a hard-fought diamond battle. MACA plated its fifth run in the fourth. BOLD answered with one in the sixth but the MACA defense and the pitching of Kayla Pring proved sufficient to slam the door on the Warriors. MACA could savor its 5-4 win in conference wars.
Pring scattered nine hits. Two of the four runs she gave up were unearned. She baffled the Warrior batters much of the time as she accumulated nine strikeouts. She walked just two.
Morgan Flann was the losing pitcher, also going the distance.
The Warriors did the Tigers some favors with eight stranded baserunners and four errors in the field. The MACA line score was five runs, six hits and three errors. BOLD's numbers: 4-9-4. Lauren Reimers had the hot bat for the Tigers. Lauren went two-for-four with three RBIs and two runs scored. Becca Holland had a hit and crossed home plate twice. Abby Daly went one-for-three with a run-batted-in. Sam Henrichs had a hit and a run scored, and Lacee Maanum went one-for-three.
Three BOLD batters had two hits each: Lauren Kopel, Paige Larson and Elsa Skeie.
Now let's have the sun come out to make the conditions more pleasant as the schedule picks up steam!
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, April 11, 2014

Ahmad Rashad miracle catch of 12/14/80: "priceless"

Remember when "Dr. Evil" intoned "one million dollars" like he thought it was an unfathomable fortune? We laughed because "Dr. Evil" was stuck in the 1960s.
You can read "Ball Four" by Jim Bouton, about baseball in the late 1960s, and be struck by the minuscule amounts of money being haggled over. Today of course the sums are what the late Willie Martin of Morris would call "astronomical." Maybe we were better off when a dollar went further, I don't know.
These thoughts are germane as I launch into the subject of a famous Minnesota Vikings pass and catch. Ahmad Rashad made the catch. I remember following his career when his name was Bobby Moore. He was "Ahmad Rashad" as a Viking and he had great impact. And never more so than on December 14, 1980.
Jimmy Carter was a lame duck president. The nation had elected Ronald Reagan a month earlier. The Vikings were still playing outdoors at Metropolitan Stadium, Bloomington. If only those bleachers could talk. It was "the Met" that brought Minnesota into the big leagues. Remember, before 1961 the state really only coalesced around the "Minnesota Golden Gophers."
 
"The Met" on its last legs
In 1980 the history of our beloved "Met" was winding down. My generation, the boomers, had clearly gotten tired of it. Us spoiled boomers should have appreciated that stadium as the means for us even getting the Vikings and Twins, so we wouldn't be the "cold Omaha" which was always the visage held over our heads if we were to lose these teams. The boomers always get their way.
Now we're set to embark on the adventure of seeing the obscenely opulent new Vikings stadium be erected. It'll be quite an erection.
 
Dramatics amidst the cold in '80
Let's step in the Way-Back Machine and go back to December 14 of 1980. The temperature is 20 degrees. We were likely living up to our image of rows of fans wearing snowmobile suits. Fans consumed booze with the excuse of "keeping the cold out." Silly rabbit, we were just a more booze-oriented culture back then. Wasn't it a booze bottle that struck a referee after the infamous Drew Pearson catch in 1975?
Anyway, wintry conditions prevailed on the Bloomington prairie on that mid-December day of 1980, as dusk began to make its presence felt. The Solstice was nigh. Christmas was of course a week away. And for those who loved the Vikings, a big "present" was going to be afforded them by game's end.
Chalk this game up as among the most memorable for the purple faithful. Those who had consumed booze to excess might have wondered if they took everything in properly. Such were the odds against us, legend has it many fans left prematurely. I seem to recall a well-known Morris banker and his wife or girlfriend being among those exiting early.
I do remember vividly a giddy mood out and about in Morris on Monday. In those days before the more fragmented media made our entertainment consumption more diverse, we had a shared culture and tended to live or die with the Vikings. Mike Lynn was the team's puppetmaster with personnel and he became like a lightning rod, being perceived negatively more than positively. I remember being amused by his comment, "If you think my wife is attractive now, you should have seen her 15 years ago."
On Monday after that remarkable game, I was making my usual rounds and stopped by the restaurant where Riverwood Bank is now. What was its name then? It went through several incarnations, so I'm not sure. At first it was "Del Monico" which was a name transferred from when the restaurant was across the street, where Thrifty White Drug is now. Then it was "Kelly's Fine Foods" with the dynamic Kelly McCann in charge (and her quiet husband Fred). And then, "Ardelle's Eatery" with the grouchy Ardelle Anderson presiding (whose husband unfortunately died not long after they acquired the place).
This is a restaurant that I feel Morris misses. It has never really been replaced.
 
"I fell off the davenport"
On Monday morning, Dec. 15, I was at this quintessential main street diner and was amused to see good ol' Fritz Schmidt and the typically giddy mood of Vikings fans. Fritz wore a little Vikings hat complete with a couple little horns protruding out. He thrust up his "No. 1" finger and I snapped a photo of him, which ended up on the Morris newspaper front page. This was during the heyday of the Morris Sun Tribune, when it was larger and provided a real public service, not an appendage for the Alexandria business community.
I chatted with ol' Fritz (who is still with us) and got a quote: "I fell off the davenport."
The Vikings game of the day before, ended with Ahmad Rashad saying to a teammate "Do you like money?"
The Vikings' sudden and dramatic win did have a financial reward. I remember one Minneapolis media columnist complaining that Rashad was just too materialistic with his comment, and should have just reveled in the joy of the moment, a moment of defying steep odds to win.
What kind of reward was Rashad celebrating? "Five thousand dollars a man," which prompts me to remember the "Dr. Evil" statement about "one million dollars!"
Five thousand dollars? That's couch change by the standards of big league sports today. They could lose that by sneezing.
Five thousand dollars! Yes, prices were lower then. Big league sports have squeezed every possible benefit from the burgeoning U.S. economy that eventually took hold with Ronald Reagan in office.
NFL owners have unapologetically exploited us salivating fans. It has come to where Jerry Jones has put up a football stadium/palace that makes me think of Sodom and Gomorrah. We haven't been punished by God yet.
Mark Dayton of Minnesota has gotten on the bandwagon for such things, showing virtually no restraint in acquiescing to the wishes of Zygi Wilf, our smarmy owner. Pay no attention to Zygi's ethical lapses out east, out in Chris Christie country. We bow at the altar of Vikings football regardless of the owner's standing. The team has teased us all along with success and dramatics sufficient to keep us salivating.
The game of December 14, 1980, ranks way up there. The fan turnout was 42,202, a grand assemblage to be sure. But many had headed to the exits with hopes low near the end of this game vs. Cleveland (the "old" Browns).
Whenever I think of the Browns, I think of how they have no symbol or logo on the side of the helmet. I remember when a prominent Vikings blogger, using the name "Mr. Cheer or Die," pulled an impressive April Fool's joke by reporting that the Vikings were changing the logo on the side of the helmet, from the horn to the letter "V." I bought it for a while. This blogger, sort of a pioneer at the time, eventually "retired" because he felt his online venture was taking more time than it was worth to him. He wrote a "farewell" post complete with an image of "The Four Horsemen." This was back when I thought starting a blog was a big and complicated deal, that you'd have to get a big thick book called "Blogging for Idiots" (which I actually saw once).
Silly rabbit, I eventually found I could launch online writing by spending 15 minutes, in which I could even get my first post up.
Today I'm writing about the famous Ahmad Rashad catch, what Joe Soucheray called the "I was there" catch. The hardy and reverential fans who stayed 'til the end could say "I was there."
The Vikings trailed Cleveland 23-22 and only four seconds were left. Tommy Kramer called the signals with the ball at the Cleveland 46 yard line. Time for one play. You know the routine. Doug Flutie got famous in a situation like this. Three Vikings receivers lined up wide right: Terry LeCount, Rashad and Sammy White. The Browns flooded the right corner with six deep backs.
 
Rashad backed into the end zone
Many of the fans watched from the exit ramps, almost disbelieving, about what transpired. Legend has it that Rashad caught the ball off a tip by White. But a Cleveland back name of Thom Darden insisted he got a hand on the ball. Rashad was at the two yard line when he "reached across himself" and snared the ball with his left hand. He was facing the opposite end of the field when he backed into the end zone. He fell and sat there clutching the touchdown, probably wondering how he did it.
The win gave the Vikings their eleventh NFC Central Division title in 13 years. In the celebration that erupted, Rashad looked to LeCount and said "Do you like money?" Did the players really have dollar signs in their eyes over $5000? Well, I would, but that's a different matter.
"One million dollars!" Dr. Evil said. We laughed, just as we're inclined to smile as we read the account of that cold December day in 1980, Ronald Reagan waiting in the wings, when "purple pride" ballooned.
Rashad would later say the big play had a sandlot quality to it, remindful of how Fran Tarkenton orchestrated things in his heyday. I prefer this post-game quote, obviously, to the money-oriented one.
We're building the new stadium because the Metrodome apparently wasn't enough of a money-generating machine for the NFL. Do we have to believe everything Zygi Wilf and his minions tell us? At least one judge in New Jersey doesn't readily believe this man. And every day we take another bite.
To date I don't think anything has come out about Zygi having a connection to the George Washington Bridge closing (LOL).
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Sealed in time: memories of our MN Vikings of the 1970s

Minnesota Vikings football was magic in the 1970s. We hardly gave a thought to the catastrophic health consequences of the pro game.
We certainly knew about such things as knee injuries. We read about the Oakland Raiders center who had a laundry list of problems like that. We thought it was a little cute: all those bumps, bruises and tired joints that resulted from the commitment to this "man's game." We heard hardly a thing about brain problems. So today, I'm not inclined to write anything that bestows special thoughts about (contemporary) football.
What happened in the 1970s is shelved away in archives and fondly in our memories. We can't wipe it away. Also, players were not as big and fast, not like the virtual missiles they seem today.
The pro game is desperately trying to protect players now, because the horror stories could catch up to this golden goose. Where money is concerned, no one involved in pro football is going to care if it continues being a "man's game" (i.e. macho). They are learning how to welcome gay players. The gestures likely fall short, leaving NFL owners essentially whistling through the graveyard.
And yet we in Minnesota have committed ourselves to a spectacular stadium, a gesture to opulence and a salute to our unapologetic materialism.
 
Vikes captivated at "the Met" 
The number of people who can remember attending Vikings games at Met Stadium can only dwindle. Metropolitan Stadium was that grand "castle" on the Bloomington prairie. There was never any doubt it was built for the Twins, not the Vikings. But by the time of the 1970s, the Vikings were clearly the more fashionable team.
The people in the Vikings braintrust had to wink at each other as they realized how boundlessly popular this attraction was. The boomers reveled in the fun. We had a grand winning team - the "purple people eaters" - but with one huge asterisk. Perhaps there was poetic justice in this asterisk, as we in Minnesota have always been a little defensive or defeatist about our weather challenges. We weren't ever destined to have a pro football team "win it all."
The Vikings teased us and excited us with their winning exploits up to a point. In four different seasons, we reached the apex known as the Super Bowl. We'd have two weeks prior to the big game to soak in all that excitement. But let's be honest: Did we ever feel supremely confident we were going to win any of those games? Maybe the first one, the one with Joe Kapp as our quarterback, called for some of that optimism. I hadn't become a strong Vikings fan yet.
I was a full-fledged fan for the next three Super Bowls with the Vikes. I wanted to envision Fran Tarkenton leading the Minnesota team to victory and glory. We here in Minnesota could feel truly special. Radio personality Steve Cannon, RIP, used the term "frozen tundra." It was this imagery we tried to wipe out when we went ahead with the Metrodome.
The boomers of Minnesota ended up crestfallen four times, as Minnesota came up short in the most disappointing fashion. The Oakland Raiders in particular killed us.
Hank Stram used a quite politically incorrect phrase describing our defense, our disarray. Don Shula had matters quite under control vs. us. The Super Bowl versus Pittsburgh seemed closer than it really was. A fumble by Bill Brown on a kick return killed us vs. Pittsburgh and Chuck Noll.
Maybe the four losses didn't cause outright fatalism among us Minnesotans. But under the surface, scars were unmistakable. Wasn't the gloom kind of an undertone in the movie "Fargo?" The Twins blossomed in the late 1980s and finally rescued us from much of that. But was it enough?
Four Super Bowl losses represent considerable psychological adversity to try to overcome. For each Super Bowl there was a league or conference championship game that we won. I have suggested that it would be therapeutic having a DVD or tape put together with highlights of those four games, each ending with such a feeling of exhilaration among us all. But that's not our nature. We are attuned to seeking No. 1. It's in our DNA as Americans. We remember the Super Bowls.
We remember Hank Stram, Don Shula, Chuck Noll and John Madden beating us. And we're still able to revere our own Bud Grant, the stoic man who discouraged heat devices on the sidelines. Grant seemed the epitome of stability. He just couldn't coax that one Super Bowl win that would have put us at the mountaintop.
 
Most memorable game?
I recently wrote that a Harmon Killebrew home run just before the All-Star break, vs. the Yankees in 1965 may have been the most memorable Twins homer ever. It was in a regular season game.
My hallowed game with the Minnesota Vikings was in the regular season in 1977. This was going to be Fred Cox's last game at "the Met" as the kicker. That might have been the main story line going in, but not coming out, even though the venerated kicker (distinctive because he was straight-on and not soccer-style) kicked the PAT that gave Minnesota the 28-27 edge.
Our thoughts were with Fred. But the scintillating aspect of that December 4 game was the comeback ignited by our young quarterback Tommy Kramer, my age (high school class of '73). About a decade later, Tommy would come to Morris to be grand marshal in our Prairie Pioneer Days parade. He rode in a golf cart driven by Brett Weber.
Tommy called the signals on December 4, 1977, against the San Francisco 49ers. Over 40,000 fans were at "the Met" amidst cold and snow. The gray afternoon might have been depressing. But. . .
Kramer entered the game with 12 1/2 minutes left and threw three touchdown passes to bring victory. I remember watching that evening's WCCO Television news, and someone remarking that the stoic Grant appeared unchanged through all the dramatics. Mark Rosen then chirped: "Oh, I think his eyes were open a little wider." I laughed at that.
Fran Tarkenton was out of action with a broken leg. Bob Lee was ineffective with his play. Grant turned to the rookie, Kramer, who was out of Rice University, taken in the draft's first round. Kramer completed nine of 13 passes for 188 yards over that 12-minute span, and he tossed the winning touchdown pass to the fleet Sammy White with 1:38 left. I can still visualize it.
Cox trotted out and kicked the PAT for the 28-27 win.
Cox left football after establishing the NFL record for kicking field goals in 31 consecutive games and for scoring in 151 consecutive games. He made that final PAT on a day with weather contributing to our desolate "Fargo" image: 15 degrees, snowy and with swirling winds.
Cox recalled feeling pressure because he had to kick for the win. If only this scenario could have unfolded at the end of a Super Bowl game. Only in our dreams.
Today there is no sentiment to be called for in connection to football. Big-time football is so dangerous for the participants, it's unconscionable that we still support it. Do a Hail Mary.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com