Monday, December 31, 2007

Things of the Year! Things of the Year!

1. Black Lips, Good Bad Not Evil
2. Detroit Cobras, Tied & True
3. Bruce Springsteen, Magic
4. King Khan & the Shrines, What Is?!
5. Stereo Total, Paris-Berlin
6. Dinosaur Jr., Beyond
7. White Stripes, Icky Thump
8. I'm Not There soundtrack
9. The New Pornographers, Challengers
10. Arcade Fire, Neon Bible
Notes: These are all good, but none of 'em killed. The Weirdness by the Stooges wins Stinker of the Year™.

Against Me!, "Thrash Unreal"
Beck, "Timebomb"
The Chesterfield Kings, "Up and Down"
Feist, "1234"
Iron & Wine, "The Devil Never Sleeps"
Liars, "Freak Out"
Mudhoney, "I Like to Make Noise and Break Things"
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, "Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)"
Patti Smith, "Changing of the Guards"
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, "Down Boy"
Notes: To avoid redundancy, these unassorted tunes don't include anything from the albums listed above... I also like the Plant/Krauss song's snappy video, but what I'd really like to see is a crucified Jesus "wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube man."

1. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
2. No Country for Old Men
3. The Simpsons Movie
4. 3:10 to Yuma
5. Ghost Rider
6. Hot Rod
7. Blades of Glory
8. Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters
9. Balls of Fury
10. Juno
Notes: I only saw 21 released-in-2007 movies this year. There are many more promising movies I've yet to see, so this list is far from complete.

1. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
2. The Office: Season Three
3. The Simpsons: The Complete Tenth Season
4. The Sergio Leone Anthology
Little Children
6. Two-Lane Blacktop
Deadwood: The Complete Third Season
Heart of the Game
9. Blades of Glory
10. Half Nelson
Notes: None.

1. Our Dumb World: The Onion's Atlas of the Planet Earth
2. Zach Hample, Watching Baseball Smarter
3. Jim Walsh, The Replacements: All Over But the Shouting: An Oral History
4. Adrian Tomine, Shortcomings
5. Mark Ovenden, Transit Maps of the World
6. Steven J. Pickens, Ferries of Puget Sound
7. Stephen Colbert, I Am America (And So Can You!)
8. Ron Carlson, Five Skies
9. Kirby Arnold, Tales from the Mariners Dugout
10. Derek Zumsteg The Cheater’s Guide to Baseball
Notes: My favorite reads of the year actually came out before 2007, in particular: Peter Blackstock's Blackstock's Collection: The Drawings of an Artistic Savant, Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Douglas Coupland's Souvenir of Canada and Souvenir of Canada 2, Timothy Egan's The Good Rain, David Guterson's Snow Falling on Cedars, and especially Roger Kahn's The Boys of Summer.

It's a book-like compilation of 40 years of magazines presented in DVD format: Rolling Stone: Cover to Cover. I've barely scratched the surface of the tip of the iceberg, yet this is my single favorite, um, thing of the year.

The Anatomy of a Coma

Forty years ago today, December 31, 1967, Paul Westerberg's eighth birthday: Evel Knievel clears the Caesars Palace fountains, but the ensuing wipeout nearly kills him. He was hospitalized for the next 37 days, 29 of which spent in a supposed coma. Though mentioned in nearly every obit published since his death last month, this coma story is total bullshit.

The January 2, 1968 Las Vegas Review-Journal reported "multiple fractures in the pelvic area" and that Evel was listed in "fair" condition, but addressed no head injuries. Two days after the crash, his surgeon said he “was conscious and his outlook was cheerful.” Four days after the crash, Evel was moved out of intensive care. Two weeks later, Tom Diskin of the Las Vegas Sun observed Evel's “remarkable recovery." Diskin's interview was frequently interrupted by usual hospital business, Evel's multiple phone calls to plan upcoming stunts, and “an NBC-TV crew from Los Angeles had cables and lights crowding his tiny room as it shot film for the network.” But, no coma. "Other than having the usual hospital pallor, Knievel looks fine... (he's) alert and restless.”

Yet, at some point, the coma story gained life, then momentum. The first hint I found was in the September 1969 Science & Mechanics: "he suffered a severe brain concussion." Then, in the January 1970 Esquire, Evel recalled, “I was conscious all the way to the hospital. Then I was out for two weeks.”

Two weeks somehow turned into 29 days. When Sports Illustrated asked Evel in 2002 what a 29-day coma felt like, he replied, “How the fuck do I know? I was in a coma.”

Evel continued to lie about his coma, even after finding Jesus last spring, and right up until his death. In one of his final interviews, published in the December 2007 Maxim Evel maintained, "I was unconscious 30 days."

I regret erroneously perpetuating this coma story in my Evel bio without checking it out first. Though the book debunked a few other Evel stories, it still makes me wonder how many more Knievel "facts" that I've accepted are indeed myths.

In any case, here's the crash, as brutal as ever.


Happy 48th, Paul!

Former Replacement Paul Westerberg hits the big four-eight today.

I met him a few years ago, and just finished reading this fine new book about his old band.

Color me impressed!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Postage Stamp of the Week: Inverted Jenny

A rare 1918 Inverted Jenny stamp sold this past week for $825,000, after another one sold last month for $977,500. In contrast, I don't think I've ever spent more than a few dollars on a single stamp.

Homer Simpson once found a sheet of 40 Inverted Jenny stamps at a swap meet--he foolishly tossed it aside, muttering "airplane's upside down."

BWT, I'm in Washington, D.C., home of the National Postal Museum and the Old Post Office, which has a killer observation deck.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Bad Baby Jesus

For Christmas, Eliza gave me a Bigfoot ornament and this.

I gave her this and this.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Postage Stamp of the Week: Pioneer Probe

Last week I won a 7" record on eBay ("Jumpin' the Gates of Heaven" by Marcus Terry, something for the Knievel Rock collection). It arrived a few days ago in a manila envelope, plastered with 22 stamps. Crazy thing is, 14 of those stamps were ten-centers, all issued in 1975! You'd think they'd be selling those on eBay too, but whatever. The coolest one depicts Pioneer 10 flying toward Jupiter. Here's more.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

We Hardly Knew Ye: Chris Farley

Ten years ago yesterday, the world lost its funniest fat guy.

Chris Farley played the obese, sweaty, out-of-control, yelling-and-screaming doofus better than anyone.

Local note: Black Sheep was set in Washington. In the film, after Mudhoney plays "Poisoned Water," Farley's character runs up to the band yelling "I love you guys!" It was supposedly the only movie Gene Siskel ever walked out on.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Happy 64th, Keith!

Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards hits the big six-four today.

He's the third-oldest Stone.

Ethan Russell snapped this photo at Sea-Tac customs, as the Stones had just flown in from Vancouver on their legendary '72 tour.

Read more here.

Monday, December 17, 2007

We Hardly Knew Ye: Crocodile Cafe

The Crocodile has sadly closed.

It seemed unusual when I drove by last Friday night, as the place was dark and empty. Now I know.

Among the bands I've seen there in its 16 years: the Detroit Cobras, the Dirtbombs, Girl Trouble, Mudhoney, the Young Fresh Fellows and the New Strychnines, a Sonics tribute supergroup starring members of Gas Huffer, Girl Trouble, Mudhoney and the Young Fresh Fellows.

Not that I was much help, since I rarely see live music anymore.

I Am Burgermaster (And So Can You!)

Because you are what you eat.

Here is my second-ever blog post, the second of fifty posts I wrote for Seattlest between September 2005 and April 2006. Then I decided to do my own blog instead.

Though I wish they had wifi, I still love Burgermaster, and I eat there probably twice a month. Today I had coffee and the grilled chee, and then I took the above photo.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Ticket (Not) to Ride

Tomorrow was supposed to be the grand opening of Seattle's new monorail, before the project was sadly scrapped. Doubly sad because for several years Eliza has had this ticket for a free opening-day cruise. (She was even more enthusiastic about it than I was!) However, the ticket doubles as a refrigerator magnet, so I guess it's not a total loss. Besides, we can always ride the SLUT.

Postage Stamp of the Week: 747

The Boeing 747 is as old as I am. The Jumbo Jet was first flown in 1969, and then commemorated on this stamp in 1999. In 2004 we took a factory tour of the massive Everett plant, where a massive image of the stamp is painted on the hangar doors, and where I bought this cool souvenir. The original is on display at Boeing field.

I've never actually flown on one.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Evel Dead II

Evel’s funeral was an open-casket affair, so I got some pre-ceremony face time with his ten-day-old corpse. He was dressed in a white leather jacket, his visage wan and waxy. I also got a press pass, but arrived too late for the press conference featuring Robert Schuller, Spanky Spangler and Joe Frazier. Smokin’ Joe was wheeled out in his chair just as I walked in; he playfully punched my thigh as we passed.

From my seat in the press area, the 7,500-seat Civic Center appeared two-thirds to halfway full. Seated in the front rows were Evel’s family and longtime Butte pals, who served as pallbearers in their matching black leather “Evel” team jackets. Besides Evel’s fans (mostly motorcyclists), the rest of the crowd appeared largely local. A few bored-looking teenagers sat by themselves in the back row, while Matthew McConaughey seemed to be the only reason a few starstruck girls showed up.

Schuller began the 90-minute ceremony with a prayer, then Evel’s daughter Tracy read a bible passage and granddaughter Krysten sang “Amazing Grace." Son Robbie started his rambling eulogy by joking “I’m Minister Schuller,” and reflected on how Evel would take young Robbie and brother Kelly on area fishing trips in his V-12 Ferrari at 100 mph.

McConaughey told how he and his older brother were inspired by Evel to jump their bikes over a barbed-wire fence when they were kids. He wasn’t able to meet the press before the ceremony because his plane landed in Butte shortly before the proceedings began. Afterwards, he shunned the press to hit a local sports bar.

Otherwise, the themes of the other eulogies were heavy on Evel’s spring conversion, with lots of applause most every time it was mentioned. Doug Wilson of ABC Sports said that Evel had recent phone chats about Jesus with Kathie Lee Gifford, and that Frank Gifford mailed Evel a copy of Christian apologist Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ. Jumps for Jesus minister Gene Sullivan said that Evel asked him to address the people at his funeral who’ d been “Evel Knieveled,” relaying, “I’ve offended a lot of people in my life. If I offended you, I’m sorry. Forgive me.”

Former Montana governor Judy Martz, long-time friend and Knievel Days coordinator Bill Rundle, Evel’s eldest son Kelly, and Evel’s son-in-law Matt Vincent also spoke. Finally, Schuller delivered his own eulogy (which prompted a standing ovation) and closed with a prayer. Bagpipes played "Amazing Grace" as the pallbearers moved Evel's casket out of the building and into a hearse, which drove him via the Evel Knievel Loop to a private burial.

I was the only visitor I saw at Evel’s grave the next day, less than 24 hours after he was put in the ground. He’s buried next to his grandparents (who raised him, and whose joint headstone is in the foreground above), but a cemetery worker said the frozen ground was too hard to properly install his one-ton headstone. The grave is right across the street from the Wal-Mart where his ex-wife Linda works.

So I would've posted this sooner but I was otherwise busy poring over microfilm at the Butte library and digging through stuff at the public archives. From the police blotter I found this nugget, a May 9, 1956 arrest of 17-year-old Evel. From the police report: "We picked up Bob Knievel again for reckless driving. He was going as fast as his car could go out over Harrison Ave. He turned off his lights at Dewey, then went over to Oregon and almost to Cobban wide open and without lights. Knievel's grandfather took the automobile."

Interesting trip. Glad I went.


Sunday, December 09, 2007

Evel Dead

I used the money I got for this Slate obit to finance a trip to Butte, Montana, where I am again tonight after my visit just last summer. Tomorrow is Evel Knievel's funeral, at a hockey arena where he used to motor his cycle around on the ice.

It's flattering how, in the past week, so many people have contacted me after hearing Evel died, though I often have to explain that it's not like I suffered any great personal loss. Of course, it's sad when most anyone dies, and with Evel it's no different. However, I'd feel sadder if the Mariners traded Ichiro away, or if our fish died, or if I lost my iPod (heaven forbid, on all counts). Still, I'll miss following Evel's ongoing exploits. He was, first and foremost, an entertainer, and he entertained me right up until the end. Besides his eleventh-hour Kanye West summit, he also had a rollercoaster in the works, and he just launched his new social networking site. Unfortunately, Evel has gone offline forever.

Anyway, since his passing, the Internets have produced a dizzying wealth of information--obituaries, remembrances, and blog posts, most of which inspiring exponential numbers of reader comments. An obit by columnist Adrian Ryan in The Stranger, combined with this column of his from last summer, implies that he lost his gay virginity with Evel's nephew. Gallows humor often follows a high-profile death, though with the Hollywood writers' strike, there hasn't been much beyond this feature on The Onion. (However, there have been lots of blog commenters' jokes about Kanye encounters being a kiss of death, seeing how his mom died a few weeks before Evel.) A Vanity Fair teaser for an upcoming article quotes Evel on our president: "We need this Bush like we need a hole in the head. This guy made a terrible mistake going into Iraq. Why we left it up to him to make that decision is beyond me. What is the matter with the sheep in this goddamn country?!”

Some seriously rare stuff has turned up on eBay (which featured Evel in a recent ad), and there's now some amazing YouTube footage that I hadn't seen before. Incidentally, I've noticed lots of news stories on Evel's death mistakenly showing file footage of son Robbie's jumps--not surprising, considering how Robbie does essentially the same act in the same costume with the same last name.

My day today was fairly uneventful. Spanky Spangler was on my flight from Seattle, and there was a smattering of Knievel relatives milling about at the Butte airport. I drove my rental car around town--my first time at the wheel of a hybrid--and ate a "wop chop" (a deep-fried pork chop served on a hamburger bun with raw onion and pickle slices) at Muzzy Feroni's Freeway Tavern. (Evel's longtime pal Muzzy will be a pallbearer tomorrow.) Tonight in 22-degree weather I saw a three-minute, low-altitude fireworks display set off after Evel's body was delivered to the Civic Center, which had me thinking, "I missed King of the Hill for this?"

Alright, more tomorrow.

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Friday, December 07, 2007

Postage Stamp of the Week: Roberto Clemente

The word "hero" gets tossed around an awful lot these days, especially in many of the tributes I've read over the last week.

Sure, it's a relative term, but when I think of a hero, I think of someone like Roberto Clemente.

Read this.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Crossword Report: November '07

Home stretch. Shooting for 600. Gotta stay strong.

Crosswords in Pop Culture:

Acme Novelty Library No. 10 by Chris Ware (Fantagraphics, 1998).
Mimicking tiny magazine ads, this graphic reads in part, "Spend the entire day trying to think of words that will fit in little boxes, and then sigh with a satisfying sense of accomplishment when all the squares are filled in... Just the thing for the elderly, or anyone who feels a nagging sense of dread, failure, or has suffered painful personal loss. Also for those who simply can't seem to meet anyone, either because of ugliness or mental illness... A great way to spend your last years, sitting at the kitchen table, doing puzzle books. Get lots -- who knows how long you'll last."

Hell Drivers: America's Original Crash Test Dummies (2007).
I was lucky enough to screen an early cut of this fun documentary about the dying breed of traveling auto daredevils, previously mentioned here. Among the four featured stuntmen is Rocky Hardcore, who relaxes between flaming garbage truck divebomber crashes by doing crosswords. As he explains his puzzle preferences while sitting on a camping chair outside his tent, "I like something with a challenge. I don't like crossword puzzles with little three-letter answers, but then I don't like ones, you gotta be Mensa to figure out. Somewhere medium to semi-expert range."

Crossword Report: January '07
Crossword Report: February '07
Crossword Report: March '07
Crossword Report: April '07
Crossword Report: May '07
Crossword Report: June '07
Crossword Report: July '07
Crossword Report: August '07
Crossword Report: September '07
Crossword Report: October '07
Total crosswords solved in November 2007: 47
Total crosswords solved in 2007: 555
On pace to solve in 2007: 607