So the wife and son are out of town this weekend, leaving me solo with Casey, our 15-year-old daughter.
Which is fantastic.
Through the years, I’ve heard 10,000 warnings about teenagers and, particularly, teenage girls. They’re bratty, they’re selfish, they’re emotional, they’re demanding. On and on—all this awfulness of the post-13 years.
Only, to be honest, I’ve never enjoyed Casey more than I do now. When a child is growing and developing and morphing, it’s largely a one-way relationship of you giving and them taking. Yes, you receive hugs and kisses. But no one’s asking about your day, or your emotions. No one is showing much interest in you. If you cut your finger, it’s on you to fetch a Band-Aid.
At 15, my daughter is a fully developed person. Today, for example, we didn’t have much to do, so we drove 30 miles to IKEA for her first love, IKEA meatballs. We entered the store, found the restaurant, snagged our meatballs, sat down and … talked. She asked questions, I asked questions. She told stories, I told stories. At the table to our right, a young couple was sitting with a boy of maybe four or five years. He was whiny and fidgety, and I thought to myself, “God, this is sooooo much better.” Tomorrow we decided we’re having an all-day cookoff. Me vs. Her—a main course and a dessert. I can’t wait.
Also, Casey now has a job. She’s a lifeguard, which means we drive her to various area pools to sit in a chair and observe elderly swimmers. The trips have become my personal gold—just one-on-one time that, sadly, is fleeting.
See, that’s the sad part of it all. In a few weeks Casey takes her driving test. If she passes, those rides to and fro largely come to an end.
So, a few months ago a friend named Mike Moodian accompanied me to the Blind Melon show at a small nearby club, the Coach House. We arrived early, and heard those dreaded four words, “First, an opening act …”
Only, this opening act kicked ass. It was a three-man rock group, the John McCloy Band, and their set was electrifying, refreshing, edgy. The member who particularly caught my eye was Sammy Burke, the veteran bass player. Why did he catch my eye? Well, to be honest, I’ve always been fascinated by the bass. It’s the obscure instrument of most groups, but also a necessary factor toward any good unit. We may well all overlook the bass player. But can a gang like the John McCloy Band survive without him? No.
So I invited Sammy here to talk Bass, to talk Van Halen, to talk gigs in front of six people and John Oates’ presidential ambitions. One can visit his Facebook page here, and check out his band here.
Sammy Burke, you are The Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN:OK, Sammy, so about two hours ago I saw you and the John McCloy Band perform as the opening act for Blind Melon at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano. And during the show Travis Warren, Melon’s lead singer, thanked “the band that opened for us—I can’t remember their name, but I have a bad memory.” And I was wondering—truly wondering—whether that bothered you guys, whether it was no big deal, whether it was funny. And if there’s an actual protocol how the headliner is supposed to address/acknowledge the opening act.
SAMMY BURKE: We have a working relationship with the venue’s local talent representative. His job is to find acts that are willing to handle pre-sale tickets in exchange for ‘exposure.’ Some places require a guaranteed number of tickets, while others just go on how well you do in selling what you’ve got. Th Coach House is the latter; they don’t require a minimum, however getting asked to come back does depend a bit on your marketing performance.
J.P.:You’re a bass player, and I’ve always wanted to ask a bass player this question: How do I, the casual music fan who attends a show, know the difference between good bass, great bass and otherworldly bass? Are there telltale signs? Do you always know?
S.B.: Great question! Great bass players are a lot like Olympic divers; the better their performance, the less splash you’ll see when they enter the water. Imagine for a minute what the song would sound like without the bass line—if it would sound empty, then the bass player is doing his job. The truly great players have such iconic hooks to very simple lines. Think of tunes like ‘Sitting on the Dock of the Bay’ or ‘Good Vibrations.’ With those simple lines, the songs simply wouldn’t exist.
S.B.: Yes, it was a bullshit move. Not just because of Anthony’s tone—I believe he is one of the most gritty, driving bassists around. But also his vocals were what made the ‘voice’ of VH so unique. All that high stuff on ‘Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love’ and ‘Jamie’s Cryin” are Michael, and he’s doing it while driving that low end. I saw them at a house party back in the mid 70s and I knew that I was watching something extraordinary.
J.P.: You’ve been with the band Echo Love Chamber since 1995. That’s 24 years. How is that possible? And what I mean is—don’t you get tired of one another? Aren’t bands meant to die on the relative quick?
S.B.: I’ve known Mark (Cardinal) since the late ’80s when we were both in different cover bands. The secret is this; we don’t get involved in each other’s lives outside of music. We will occasionally go out for a meal or a show, but that’s about it. Musically, we never have a set list—our running repertoire is about 500 songs, so we can pull out an old favorite every now and then just to challenge our brains. I really don’t know the magic behind ELC’s 24-year career … We’re just three guys having fun making music. However, I will tell you one way to know how a band is going to last. Watch them during load in and load out. If there’s a lot of communication going on about what or how to do things, then they’re doing it wrong. When ELC loads in or out, its 20 minutes of ultimate efficiency. We will oftentimes beat the patrons in getting out the door before the 2 a.m. closing bell.
J.P.:I know you started playing music when you were 11. But what got you going? How did it all begin? When did you realize this was your love? That you could be especially good at it?
S.B.: I ‘borrowed’ my sister’s guitar and started hammering out some notes, and I sucked. Then I got together with a friend and we started playing together in his garage, and we sucked. Then I got together with some friends and played ‘Stairway to Heaven’ at a school performance, and it sucked. But by then music was in my blood. And that performance got me together with (now internationally known jazz pianist) Ron Kobayashi. He told me what I would have to do if I didn’t want to suck. So he gave me a cassette tape—Count Basie, Ray Brown, Oscar Peterson, Louis Bellson, Buddy Rich, Charlie Parker… he told me to absorb every note, and when I did, he would give me another tape, and then another. I would just practice hours and hours with those tapes, learn my scales and keep up with the rhythms. In April, 1980, when we performed at the big Fullerton College Jazz Festival, Ron, our drummer Loren South and I were given the Outstanding Rhythm Section Award. That was when I knew I could play and not suck.
J.P.: Since 2013 you’ve worked heavily in the tribute band market, performing with such acts as REMitation, The Faux Fighters, The Pink Floyd Sound, KISSed Alive!, The Rising, Cheapest Trick and Petty or Not. And I’m interested how it feels, doing, say a series of Tom Petty songs as opposed to your own music? And, when you’re doing a tribute, are you trying to channel those other players? Or are you just being you?
S.B.: Being in a tribute is more playing a role—like an actor—than being a musician. Your mannerisms on stage, the look and sound, and even the playing style are studied and mimicked to give the audience a sensation that they’re watching a one-act play, rather than just listening to a bunch of tunes by an artist. So yeah, I try to channel Howie Epstein, Nate Mendel, Roger Waters, Tom Petersson, and Gene Simmons when I perform. Although I must confess a little of me naturally comes out—sometimes, I just can’t help that part.
J.P.:Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?
S.B.: Greatest? So many … Playing with the Fooz Fighters to a packed House of Blues is a blast. I remember taking a limo from Atlantic City to Long Island with the boys thinking, ‘This is the shit!’ And then there a special personal moments —playing a song or two in front of my heroes … guys like Dug Pinnick (King’s X), Chris Wyse (Ace Frehley, Hollywood Vampires), Divinity Roxx (Beyonce), and Stu Hamm (Steve Vai, Joe Satriani), and then chatting with them afterwards. But I think the moment with John McCloy when we first walked onto a stage to perform our own music—that was magic. The irony of that is we still feel the same feeling before every show, including our last show at the Coach House.
Lowest? So many. Playing some godawful place with three other musicians who didn’t do their homework. You just want to go home and swear you’ll never do that again. And then you do it again. Some things we just never learn from. After all—musicians are the very definition of insanity.
J.P.:When you’re not performing, you’re a high school math teacher. Can you bring the same passion to teaching as you do music? Is it a means to an end? And do your students know of your musical career?
S.B.: For 30 years I kept the two completely separate. I didn’t bring my music to school, and I didn’t bring my school to my performing. It was this separation that helped keep me from going insane. I am passionate about teaching math—I love the subject, and I try to let my students know how enjoyable it can really be, if they just give it a try. Now, as I see more in my rear-iew mirror than my windshield, I’ve been more open about both. It gives me a chance to reflect, and to consider what lies ahead after I retire from my teaching job. I’m on a one-year contract (as Vin Scully would say), although my principal knows that if the Foo Fighters, Gin Blossoms, or some other national act calls (or maybe John McCloy gets signed?!?), I’m gone …
J.P.:As I was listening to you guys play tonight I was thinking, “Jesus, this is a hard sell.” And what I mean is—y’all were great. Truly fantastic. But you’re playing songs few attendees have yet heard to people there for a different band. So what’s the approach? What’s the goal? How do you win audiences over?
S.B.: That is exactly the approach. Make music that people who’ve never heard us before, be able to sing along by the end of our set. If we win over one Blind Melon (or Fuel, Berlin, Spandau Ballet, or Marcy Playground) fan at each show we play, then we’ll have like … 20 new fans a year. At that rate we’ll be overnight sensations in about 15,000 years. Seriously though, hopefully one of those new fans will have some connection to something bigger, and we can cut our timeline down. At least in half …
J.P.:A lot has been made of late of groups like Kiss and Motley Crue singing over recorded audios. It’s a thing in rock that didn’t seem as common decades ago. And I wonder—are you OK with it? I mean, as guys like Paul Stanley and Vince Neil age, is it kosher for us to expect they get a little help? Or is it dishonest bullshit?
S.B.: Another great question. I feel it’s dishonest if you lie about it. Bands like U2 make no bones about using tracks, and people still buy up their tickets at record numbers. What I do have a beef about is when artists insist that they’re not using tracks when you can clearly hear background vocals, extra guitars, cowbells, and strings. ELC uses tracks for about 5-to-6 songs, and we make fun about our ‘keyboard player,’ but we don’t try to deceive our audience. Now if Paul and Vince want to say they use tracks, say it. Nothing wrong with it—just ‘fess up and let’s get on with the music.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH SAMMY BURKE:
• Rank in order (favorite to least): Shaquille O’Neal, Blue Oyster Cult, nachos with jalapenos, $5 cover charges, Tammi Terrell, the old testament, Black-Scholes Equation, John F. Kennedy, Jr., Bo Jackson, your left foot: Blue Oyster Cult (c’mon … Godzilla!!!), Nachos with Jalapenos (liquid cheese at its best), The Old Testament (The Greatest Story, right???), Tammi Terrell (The sound of Motown with one of my favorite bassists ever (see below)), Black-Scholes Equation (maybe if I’d use it I wouldn’t have lost so much money on penny stocks like ICOM), John Kennedy, Jr. (iconic vision of him as a boy saluting his dad), Bo Jackson (Bo Knows … baseball more than football), Shaq (The Great Aristotle was no Kareem), $5 Cover Charges (If that money actually went to the bands, then I rank it higher), My left foot (Even though I am left-footed, it still ranks below everything else).
• Five all-time greatest bass players: James Jamerson, Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn, Carol Kaye, Leland Sklar, Carol Kaye, Dug Pinnick. Together, they make up about 90 percent of my music catalog.
• Five songs you never need to hear again:Sweet home Alabama, Mustang Sally, Stairway to Heaven, Jesse’s Girl, Don’t Stop Believin’
• One question you would ask Peter Criss were he here right now: Do you prefer the 9mm Beretta over a classic 45 Magnum for target shooting, and why?
• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: No, but I would probably try to make out with the flight attendant on the way down…
• What’s the smallest crowd you’ve ever played before?: Six. And it was worth every moment.
• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and Nas? What’s the outcome?: I’d get my ass kicked. My reflexes are way too slow to fight. I think my record is 1-5 in fights.
• Celine Dion calls. She’ll pay you $10 million to move to Las Vegas for a year and sing background vocals on her new album, titled, “Sammy Burke is a Pimple on the Ass of an Ass.” You also have to live on the floor of her guest house, while only eating cat food, mint Oreos and beet juice. Oh, and your name will be changed to Ruppert Jones. You in?: If I can just eat the creme filling on the Oreos (I can’t eat chocolate), then I’m in. Draw up the contract.
• Who has the greatest singing voice you’ve ever heard live?: Damn. That’s a good one … I’ll have to say Chris Cornell. I’ve heard him sing three times; ’93 at Lollapalooza, ’13 at The Wiltern, and one of his last shows back in ’16 at the Forum. I was amazed to hear him sing every time. That range, and the soulfulness in his tone.
We actually met back in 1988; I was hanging out at a place called the Off Ramp in Seattle, having a beer and chatting with this guy at the bar. Some band like Mudhoney was playing in the room next door, while we were talking about the Sonics, or why there’s no NHL team in Seattle… anyway, about six months later my friend shares a CD with me and I look at the picture and I see the guy who I met at the Off Ramp. I said, “is his name Chris?” and my friend said, “yeah, that’s Chris Cornell”… Like I said, Damn.
• In exactly 17 words, make an argument for John Oates’ 2020 presidential run: So many came to see, what you think — get it for free! Vote John Oates in 2020!!!
When I was a kid, growing up in Mahopac, N.Y., a cross was set aflame in the front yard of my best friend’s house.
The Powells were an African-American family in a 98-percent white town, and while cross burnings weren’t regular happenings, it didn’t seem nearly as shocking as it probably should have. The local newspaper ran a piece, local authorities offered up dismayed quotations (“This isn’t the Mahopac I know”) and life moved on. Which was weird, in hindsight, because SOMEONE BURNED A CROSS IN FRONT OF SOMEONE’S HOME!!!
But here’s the thing, in hindsight: It probably didn’t strike many as a big deal because, in Mahopac, it wasn’t a big deal. Racism was a thing there. Using the n-word was a thing there. Insisting your daughter never date a black kid was a thing there. Referring to the African-American athletes on visiting high school football teams as “thugs” was a thing there. The linguistics and behaviors weren’t merely accepted, but embraced. And anyone from my hometown who’s honest would admit such. We were not an open-minded community. We did not speak out when we should have. We sucked.
In fact, I still remember being at a town picnic, and one of our neighbors complaining about more and more “city people” moving to Mahopac. We knew exactly what the code meant—”city people” was “black people.” But while we didn’t agree with his fucking point, we said nothing. Another time, a resident on a neighboring street actually started a petition to keep a black family from moving in. People signed it. We were horrified. Disgusted. But I don’t believe we uttered a word. Shameful.
I bring this up because, in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s shameful rants about four United States congresswomen needing to return to their countries, the vast majority of Republican officeholders have said nothing. Not a peep. Not a gripe. Not. A. Word. They’ve remained silent, which—like Mahopac in the 1980s—is the equivalent of agreeing and signing off on the sentiment.
Read an obituary a few minutes ago for Walt Michaels, the long-ago New York Jets coach who died two days ago at age 89.
The piece, written by Frank Litsky, was perfect. Michaels’ was your prototypical old-school gridiron man’s man who would berate his players, demand his guys practice through 120-degree days, never flinch when it came to confrontation. He was shaped like a keg, walked like a bull, took shit from no one and believed in a certain life codes like the one his father once offered him—”Don’t tell me if the sea was stormy. Just tell me if you brought home the ship.”
Anyhow, as much as I loved the final look at Walt Michaels, I also found myself hung up on one line. Namely: “… died on Wednesday at a nursing home in Plains, Pa.”
The image of Walt Michaels in a nursing home breaks my heart. And maybe it shouldn’t. Maybe Walt Michaels was the happiest nursing home resident on the planet. Maybe his final years were spent playing shuffle board and taking cha-cha lessons and leading a Joe Klecko-themed discussion group. Maybe Walt Michaels fell in love with a fellow resident. Maube they were the cute old couple waddling down the hall, holding hands as they prepared for canasta.
More likely, however, is that Walt Michaels—like so many football players before him—was a shell. That he was broken and battered and half aware. I’ve seen it so many times. In and of itself, the senior citizen years are tough. But add on a decade of having your brain beaten in; your body ravaged; your fingers crushed and your toes trampled. I’ve witnessed many sad things in 47 years. But the image of the thrown-aside aged football player? The worst.
I read those words—”… died on Wednesday at a nursing home in Plains, Pa.”—and immediately pictured Walt Michaels mumbling to himself, a nurse saying in that pre-school teacher type of way, “Walt here used to be a football coach!” as he sat slouched in a wheelchair, thinking of nothing, a bit of lunch’s pea soup dribbling off his chin.
Walt Michaels died on Wednesday at a nursing home in Plains, Pa.
Over the past few days the liberal Yankee media elitists have been disparaging my decision to not allow a woman to ride unaccompanied in my car. I find this offensive. First, because I’m doing this to honor the three people I love most: 1. God. 2. Gabriela Sabatini’s foot pimple. 3 My wife. And second, because they have it all wrong. The reporter, Larrison Campbell of Mississippi Today, is certainly welcome to drive along with me. I just ask that she leave her vagina, breasts and any alluring perfume scents, specifically placed piercings or toe rings home where they belong and can’t be used against me as a trap to do all sorts of sexual stuff.
See, I am a man. A Christian man. A Christian man with a smallish penis. And my penis only wiggles and jiggles for my wife. I mean, what if I get a boner, like the time we stopped at Kennedy Fried Chicken a few weeks ago and the girl cleaning the trays asked if I needed napkins? Or the time I read about Pee Wee Herman in that movie threater? Or the time I watched Baker Mayfield throw his first pass? Or the time Juan, our pool boy, rubbed coconut oil along the small of my back? Or …
Let me begin again.
When I was a boy, growing up in Hernando, we had an annual town fair. And there was this prize-winning pig. We called him Ellis. And one day, our mayor had to run to buy some Hellman’s Mayonnaise for his wife. So he asked if I could watch Ellis. I was 11, maybe 12. And that pig looked at me like I was a naked Martina McBride. And that scared me. It really scared me. The moment Mayor McComb returned with that Hellman’s Mayonnaise for his wife, I sprinted from the barn and took a cold shower. I told myself I would never again sit alone with a pig while a mayor buys mayonnaise.
Even though I’m a journalist who grew up desperately wanting to attend professional sporting events, and even though I’ve chronicles some amazing athletic achievements through the decades, and even though I know the smell of garlic fries in San Francisco, the bellowing of “Beer here!” in New York—well, I have no interest in seeing a game in every American stadium.
I just don’t. Because, to me, it’d all blend together into one overpriced mishmosh of hits and runs and tackles and slapshots and dunks. I dig games. Like, I truly, truly dig games. But is there anything particularly special in seeing, oh, Tigers-Rays at the Tropicana Dome? Or Raiders-Jets at MetLife? Meh. I’m not feeling it.
Rich O’Malley, on the other hand, feels it. The former New York Daily News editor is the new author of “One Lucky Fan,” a chronicling of his experiences catching a home game in every NHL, MLB, NFL and NBA stadium. Which is crackalicious crazy and bonkers and … riveting. It’s the sort of bucket list dream that nobody accomplishes. But Rich, well—Rich accomplished it. And here he is.
JEFF PEARLMAN:OK, Rich, so you’re the author of a new book, “One Lucky Fan,” that chronicles your efforts to see a home game in every Major League, NFL, NBA and NHL stadium. And, to be honest, that sounds sorta hellish. So … why? Why was this a goal?
RICH O’MALLEY: It started back in college, when some friends and I took a few road trips to see baseball stadiums. And that’s where most “stadium chasers” call it a day, because baseball parks are the most unique sports venues and each one (ok, not all of them) has its own little cool twist. But over 20-plus years, I started building a pretty impressive collection in the other sports, too. I had always wanted to write a book about my experiences, so once I knew I was going to do that, I decided my hook would be to get ‘em all. Every sport. No one else had ever written that book.
But I wanted a travelogue to be a big part of the book too. I wanted the reader to come along for the ride with me.
Now that kind of trip, nearly eight straight weeks, I would not recommend to anyone, because hellish isn’t even the word. It was mind-numbing, but as I say in the book, fun as heck at the same time. However, if you are really into seeing sports venues and exploring cities, running from airport to train to hotel to arena to hotel to sleep for a few hours to train to airport to the next place is not conducive to appreciating them. Take your time, as much as you’re able.
And my ultimate goal in OLF two-fold: I want readers to contemplate their own background as a fan, and then think about their own personal “what’s next?”
J.P.: These days book deals are pretty friggin’ hard to come by. Your book was published by Post Hill Press. So what was the process? How did you go about landing it?
R.O.: This industry is indeed brutal, as I was warned by many going into this. I am fortunate to have one of those professors who didn’t stop fulfilling his role as a mentor when I walked out of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism with a master’s degree in my hand in 1998. Chicago journo and former Medill assistant dean Jon Ziomek has been a friend and ally for more than 20 years now, always encouraging me and advising me. He spent more than 30 freaking years shopping his gripping book about the 1977 Tenerife airline disaster, the deadliest in history, and finally signed a deal with Post Hill Press while I was working on OLF. I had received a number of rejections already and fully expected to self-publish from the get-go—and would have been fine with that. But he connected me to Debby Englander over there and she loved the idea and brought it to the president of the company, who also loved it. Suddenly, I had a publisher. The lucky in my title is no accident. That all said, self-publishing is a perfectly acceptable road for anyone thinking about writing a book and can be just as successful and fulfilling. The point is to get that damn book out of your head and into the world.
J.P.:Bluntly, what’s the worst stadium in America to catch a professional sporting event? And what makes it so bad?
R.O.: I call MetLife Stadium, home to my Jets (and the Giants), “a $1.6 billion gray pile of puke.” I ban it for life in the book, which is no small thing when your own team plays there! It is soulless and in the middle of nowhere. It has zero aesthetic appeal. Zero home-field advantage. It is a … Generic. Sports. Venue. Yet the jaw-dropping Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta was built for essentially the same price tag and is a modern marvel. What a boondoggle that dump in New Jersey is! The. Worst.
J.P.:Bluntly, what’s the best stadium in America to catch a professional sporting event? And what makes it so tremendous?
R.O.: You simply cannot get the gameday experience you will have in Green Bay anywhere else in North American sports, nor I’m guessing the entire world. First of all, the stadium itself is iconic; the Packers fans and traditions unmatched. And the experience spills out the gates of the stadium and into the tiny town where Lambeau Field seems like it was dropped from the heavens right in the middle of it. As I say in OLF, every sense is engaged. You see all the cars parked on lawns amid myriad BBQs taking place and all the garages open with giant TVs blaring the other games. You smell the brats cooking. You hear the “Go Pack Go” chant. And I’d encourage anyone wanting to go to Green Bay do so when it’s gonna be frigid out. Go for the ultimate Frozen Tundra experience. You will walk away knowing you’ve seen sports nirvana. And everyone is just so damn nice! Funny story: I needed to print a ticket and the box office couldn’t do it, so I walked up the block to a random door (I’m a New Yorker, I don’t normally do things like that, but desperate times and all) and knocked and a complete stranger let me in and set me up on her computer and went back to the kitchen to finish dinner while I printed out my ticket. Just unbelievable kindness.
R.O.: So many reasons. All of them ridiculously sad. And maddening. Because journalism was (and still kinda is?) a shitshow. Because the 2016 election cycle, which lasted about as long as the Ming Dynasty, took an absolute beating on my soul and psyche. Because my boss, Jim Rich, who was kicking ass, was shown the door days before Election Day. And that was a sign to me that what we were doing, which was shining as bright a light as we could on the huckster who was about to become president, was no longer being appreciated by the front office and was probably going to take a severe hit. And I wasn’t interested in covering him and his soon-to-be administration like everyone else. I wanted the screaming front pages and truth-to-power coverage we were always known for, even if Archie and Edith in Queens cancelled their subscription. (A great business model? Probably not, but who the hell has figured out one that works anyway?) So I made the most difficult decision of my life and joined about 25 or so other colleagues who took the buyout and left my dream job. But again, I’m lucky—I had that chance. So many way-more-talented journos have since been sacked at the Daily News and outlets across the country. And the ones who still survive work daily with the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. And these giant E-Corp (for all my fellow Mr. Robot fans) type ownerships reap in and dole out millions in dividends. And yet every year there are still more mass layoffs of on-the-ground journos. It’s monstrous.
By the way, it’s not my opinion that the newsroom under Jim’s leadership was kicking ass—less than six months after his departure, the NYDN newsroom was celebrating a Pulitzer Prize for a series that he led on NYPD abuses of power. That series and the changing of laws that resulted from it improved people’s lives. Years later, another cause The News championed ferociously under Jim, the Child Victims Act, passed into New York state law. Politicians literally (I mean it) hid from our reporters when we were demanding action in Albany seeking justice for people sexually abused as children. Everyone remembers the Trump front pages, but both of those series were going on concurrently with the 2016 campaign, and they are the most important things we can do as journalists. I was proud to be a small part of both. And while the betterment of society should be the end goal and reward, I certainly appreciated the validity that those ultimate victories provided in confirming in my mind that, yes, indeed, we were on the right track and doing exactly what we were supposed to be doing. Assholes.
J.P.:Part II of that—on your way out you thanked a bunch of people on Twitter, then absolutely unloaded on Donald Trump. Um, I’m as big a loather of the man as you are. But why then? Why at that moment?
R.O.: When our leaders or systems fail us or threaten the general welfare, journalists need to play sentinel and expose it. That’s the job, and the crux of why I did it.
I just had to go back and look because I don’t even remember the specifics of what I said anymore! Pretty prescient, but not particularly perspicacious (how’s that for alliteration?!). It was the coming together of a perfect “Tweet” storm, I guess — of things that had weighed heavily on me for years, and I needed them out of my head and thought maybe they’d help people having similar internal struggles.
I had been mentioned in a couple of stories with a number of other folks about our departures. So I jumped on the fact that for about six seconds my name might mean anything to anyone and what I had to say might mean something to someone too. So I put down my thoughts and decided to post them (sometimes I write stuff just to write it). But here I definitely wanted to 1. Thank people, most importantly. 2. Give people a little insight into the decision making processes of The News with our Trump coverage 3. Confirm to people that journalists do know Trump is indeed a megalomaniacal lying piece of shit, even if other outlets were tying themselves in knots to write around that fact and normalize him, and 4. Warn people that things were gonna get real ugly and vigilance was needed.
My phone blew up with friends saying, “Umm … you might wanna check The Hollywood Reporter,” and other places who were writing about it. I didn’t expect that at all. Oops! I got a good laugh from right wing media tearing their hair out that “THIS is the guy behind so much of the BIASED coverage of Trump! WITHER JOURNALISTIC INTEGRITY!” As if truth is biased … we gave Hillary and Bernie front page whacks when we believed they earned it. We had plenty of blistering Obama ones over eight years, too. We shit on the Democratic mayor of NYC daily! But “integrity” only mattered when we attacked their guy. Believe you me though, they’d be happy to plaster their sites or airwaves with our front pages the days we’d go the other way.
But anyway, it wasn’t hard to see any of what’s going on today barreling down the pike. And that was the essence of my Tweetstorm rally cry, because that was an all-hands-on-deck moment to me. And it’s been inspiring to see the level of activism in this country since that election. Go us!
But in the end, there are kids in cages and tanks on the Mall and airports in the 1700s. Our nation’s government is a Fellini film. Nothing matters.
Meanwhile, I wrote a fun sports book to try and take people’s minds off of End Times – ta-da!
No, really, that was part of my motivation. People need the fun and the funny to live through this disaster. So I almost avoid politics entirely in the book. Almost.
Ok, I’m getting grumpy and I’m on the verge of going full-on Farty McOldTimer and yelling at clouds. And this is why I’m not back in journalism. Why’d you pull my politics string?! To paraphrase Jefferson in Hamilton, “Can we get back to sports now?”
J.P.:So in order to reach your stadium goal, the book wraps with a 25,000-mile, two-month whirlwind tour from stadium to stadium. Why? How? Was it amazing? Awful? And what were you eating?
R.O.: The answer is yes, all of it. Every one of those emotions plus curse words plus tears plus fist-pumps.
I started out writing OLF with about 80 teams under my belt. So I needed to take the mother of all trips to get the final third in less than two months after two decades amassing the first two-thirds. I spent a coffee-fueled day in front of the computer hashing it out, but it was easier than I expected once I hit the right route. So starting Nov. 9, 2017, I would live out of a carry-on bag for 36 days in a row, hopscotching time zones 15 times before I got home for a one-night break. Then it was eight days in the southeast, four days back for Christmas, by which point I was deathly ill and couldn’t even celebrate, but then back out for the five final games in Texas and Oklahoma, culminating in Houston on New Year’s Eve 2017. The turning of a new year and the completion of my 123-team journey—synergy. I counted down the ball drop en Espanol watching Univision and passed out for four hours before I had to get to the airport for my flight home and return to real life. And, you know, write the book. It took weeks to process it all before I could even get one word down. I thought I’d be writing every day on the road, but the reality of a trip like that just didn’t allow me the time or mental space to do so. I mean, I gave up a free day in Seattle to pop up to Juneau, Alaska, for lunch to chalk up my 50th state. It was that kinda trip (and thank goodness for airline miles!).
What was I eating? Whatever, man! I had to remember to eat at times, my pace was so kinetic. My most common destination, because they’re often near stadiums, was Yard House. Their Poke Nachos were my go-to—a little healthy protein mixed with grains, perfect sustenance. Didn’t hurt that it meant I’d get to wash it down with some local brews wherever I was. Sometimes I’d eat at the arena, but knowing where I was going often dictated that decision: Crummy old dungeon? Find me some grub before I go. Brand-spanking-new pleasure palace? Let’s see what they’ve cooked up for me. Options are much better than they used to be across the board. For pete’s sake, I had great Indian food at a Twins game!
But on the whole, yes, it was a blur while I was out there. It all came into focus, slowly, in my rear view mirror, once I sat down to write though. It was like I actually got to relive the trip. I knew what I was getting into, and honestly I embraced the crazy because that was the tale I wanted to tell. Frenetic and unpredictable make for a better story. There’s a reason cat-chases-laser-light videos go viral, but snails crossing a garden do not. I enjoyed being that cat for other people’s amusement.
J.P.:What is it about the live sports experience that does it for you? Like, what gets you going at a stadium?
R.O.: My mantra is, “At every game you attend, you will see something you have never seen before.” It is 100 percent true. Even the dullest game will contain a magic/weird/funny/amazing moment.
On the whole, I love the energy of the crowd. I love wondering why they are all there on that particular night. This is especially true of fans of a bad team. The Suns won like nine home games the season I was there. Why on earth would anyone go see that?! The answer is usually: 1. That’s just what fans do, and 2. The promise of tomorrow. That armchair psychology is cool to me. I love watching their customs and traditions. The electricity that emanates from a fan base is what I live off at games where I don’t care about the teams or result. Therefore the flip-side answer to your question is: “Sometimes nothing gets me going!” There were places I went where I just couldn’t summon the will to care less about the game I was watching. Hey, it happens. So when that energy is lacking, I’ll have nothing to give either. But when it’s there, it’s magic and you can suddenly find yourself a huge St. Louis Blues or Winnipeg Jets fan. You can’t get that mojo on your couch unless it’s your team, and the ultimate is an elimination playoff game involving your own team. If you have any way to chalk up that experience, you have to do it at least once in your life. That stays with you forever.
J.P.: Along those lines, I’m wondering how you feel about the Disney-fication of stadiums. Used to be dogs, beer, game. Now it’s 10,000 different types of food, slides, games, etc. As an old guy, I sorta hate it. As a parent, I get it. You?
R.O.: You’re right, this is soooo much more a part of venues across the country now, and I think it’s mainly for the better. And you nailed the why: kids. I don’t have, but I know that kids at a long game can be a recipe for disaster. Diversions can only help. Let Junior go see how fast he can throw a ball or let your daughter shoot a few hoops for a little while. That said, I hope parents also don’t just default to that and forget that teaching kids about the game by watching it is important too—if the kid wants to be into it! If they don’t, why are you there at all?
Look, I spend a lot of games just wandering, too. That’s my diversion. I wanna take in all the nooks and crannies and find the best seats and food and beer options. Once I’ve explored a place, I just like sitting and keeping score (if baseball) or watching maybe one particular player if it’s hoops or hockey. I don’t need bells and whistles, but I don’t mind some, especially well considered ones like Bernie Brewer’s slide. I do mind overbearing announcers goading fans to act. If the game is exciting, fans will make noise. They know how this works. STAND UP/PLEASE CLAP is an abomination against the very code of fan conduct. I wish venues would let fans dictate the atmosphere more. That would a good thing. Also please ban YMCA at Yankee Stadium. And “Seven Nation Army.”
J.P.:You worked with Mike Lupica. I can’t stand the man. But I’ve only observed and heard stories. Am I wrong? Right? What was he like to work with?
R.O.: Believe it or not, I never met him. Never saw him. I worked with him tangentially like three times in my whole time at NYDN. That said, Mike graciously agreed to blurb “One Lucky Fan” for me as soon as I asked him. Which shocked the hell out of me since he didn’t really know me. However, I never received another answer to three follow-up emails I sent him, including attaching the digital review copy to the last one. So. Yeah. That was disappointing. Luckily, my other ask was of Sarah Spain at ESPN and she is the awesomest person ever and penned the awesomest blurb ever and I was able to give that a good ride on the back cover. She nailed the spirit of OLF in a few grafs. Not easy.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH RICH O’MALLEY:
• Rank in order (favorite to least): Desmond and the Tutus, Pete Alonso, the Alf puppet, Air Pods, lamb, aluminum baseball bats, “Kramer vs. Kramer,” Mark Kriegel: I love Kriegel! And his Daily News commercials in the 90s were the best. Alonso and Alf right behind him. If you mean lamb the animal, great. The meat? No. The rest, meh.
• Five greatest writers you’ve ever worked with: Breslin tops my list. Then every member of the rewrite desk in my entire time at The News. What unsung talent they all have.
• Three things we need to know about your wife: 1. She’s wicked smart, but she married me. 2. She’s sweet, but sassy as heck. 3. I owe her everything I am, which is markedly improved by her love.
• Five foods to cure life’s ills: My grandma’s/mom’s/sister’s lasagna. Those Poke Nachos at Yard House. My wife’s cobblers and pies. The pesto anywhere in Cinque Terre. My own cocktail creations.
• Who should the Democrats run on the ticket in 2020?: I really wish I could say Amal Clooney – not kidding. Honestly, I’m gonna need to hear a lot more and see performance under pressure from all of the announced Democratic candidates before I know who I most closely align with and I think has the best chance to win. And win they must.
• Tell me a solid joke: That’d be a gas.
• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: No, but I commonly dream I’m watching one happen. Just arcs right out of the sky in front of me. Terrifying.
• The four athletes one should see in person are …: Greek Freak. Usain Bolt. Lukaku. Your favorite.
• How did you feel when Johnny Lozada left Menudo?: I feel like this is a trick question. [Googles] It isn’t! Ok, I’ll play along: Not nearly as bad as when New Edition kicked out Bobby Brown.
• One question you would ask Michael Sam were he here right now: May I shake your hand, sir?
I’m a pretty happy UD grad. The school was great, the newspaper experience was life changing. So I called, because I’d also received two postcards asking that I update the information.
Guy answered the phone. Started talking. “As you know, we’re putting together an alumni directory dating back through the years. So I just want to verify some information, and of course at the end you’ll have an opportunity to order your own copy of—”
I hung up.
I fucking hung up.
I know that, deep down, alumni relations are are all money. Do people at Delaware see us as valuable beyond donations? No. But this felt slicker and grosser than usual. It was using provided-in-good-faith information to coerce me into buying something. It was a “HEY, THANKS FOR BEING AN ALUM. WE VALUE YOU” disguise, with a “HEY, GIVE US MORE DOUGH!” slickster beneath.
So the son and I watched “Predator” last night, a film I (unwisely, in hindsight) built up to far too great a level. I mean, it’s fun and exciting and filled with a boatload of preposterously joyful blood-related one-liners (“If it bleeds, we can kill it!” is better than anything that’s ever been uttered on the planet—save for, “I ain’t got time to bleed!”). But Emmett seemed a bit mystified by my love of the flick. He liked it, but didn’t fully embrace it.
One thing, in particular, really bothered him and—32 years after its initial release—me, too. So there’s one woman in the entire movie. The character is named Anna (played by Elpidia Carrillo). And throughout the first, oh, 40 percent of the movie, Anna only speaks Spanish. Which makes sense—she’s captured from a small South American village in the middle of the jungle, where the man have guns and, I believe, make drugs and kill people for sport. So, yeah, she’s captured, and because “Dutch” (Arnold’s character) speaks no Spanish, he has another soldier translate.
And that’s what he does: He translates. He asks Anna questions, she responds in Spanish. Because, well, she’s South American born and raised, and Spanish is her language.
Then, however, “Dutch” grows frustrated. Anna has witnessed the death of Apollo Creed, and he wants to know what happened. So he says something like, “I’m tired of this!” Then grabs Anna and says, “What did you see?”
And she tells him the whole story—in near-flawless English.
It was a preposterous turnaround in a preposterous movie, and when Anna and Arnold are the last two characters remaining, I’m genuinely happy.
Because they can communicate over lunch.
PS: Just learned there was a different original Predator costume. It wasn’t good …
Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.