A new word for these times


Portmanteau is a concept that we all live with everyday. It’s taking two–or sometimes more–words and combining them to form a new word. My dog, for example, is a schnoodle, or a cross between a schnauzer and a poodle. Other portmanteu words include jeggings, listicle, and threepeat. The malleability of English guarantees that new words of this sort will always be created.

In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election as president, a wave of aberrant behavior swept across this country. One of the more publicized acts–because it occurred in New York and had to do with well-known artists–was painting swastikas and the words “Go Trump” in Adam Yauch Park, which is named for a member of the Beastie Boys, the late Adam “MCA” Yauch.

Yauch was Jewish by birth, but he was a practicing Buddhist from 1996 until his death. With this in mind, the swastikas don’t make any sense–there or anywhere else–other than to identify religious animus in the hearts of whoever committed this act.

In trying to cope with this stupid act, a gathering was held in Adam Yauch Park on November 20. Adam “AdRock” Horovitz addressed the crowd, and advised them to fight back in any way that they could. “If you’re a writer, write” was one of the bits of advice he gave. So consider this an attempt to live up to AdRock’s advice and speak out against the Trump-inspired acts of hate that are taking place in this country.

“Antipathy” is a word that someone who isn’t a writer doesn’t normally use. If you don’t like somebody, it is usually enough to call them a name and be done with it. The saltier and more profane the terms used are, the more it gets the speaker or writer’s sense of antipathy toward that person across.

In thinking about my feelings toward Donald Trump, and the divisions and fears he exploited in order to appeal to millions of voters across this country, I realized that “antipathy” is a fitting word to describe them. But I also realized that the word “Trump” can be dropped into the middle of the word, and the general feeling of both words would still make sense. Thus, antipathy directed toward Donald Trump will be forever known–at least by me–as “antrumpathy.”

Whether I’m the only person who ever uses this word, or it spreads like wildfire and gets added to a dictionary someday, is secondary to the idea that Trump’s election will lead–and already has led–this country into places I’ve never seen go before. Hate crimes are on the rise, and this is before Trump even takes office. Trump’s never going to explicitly call for any attacks, of course, but some who look on his election approvingly are now acting in ways that they would not have done just two months ago. So fight back we must, and I’m using creativity and my humble blog to do exactly that.

So please use this new word in whatever setting works best. Don’t try making any money from it, though, because I’m not and I don’t want anyone else to, either. This word hopefully won’t be needed in four years, when Trump leaves the White House after a single term in office. But for now, consider it a nonviolent addition to the language of our protest. And the Beastie Boys would certainly approve of that turn of events.


You Just Never Know, Part 2


I’ve written about the Beastie Boys several times, including here and here. The death of Adam Yauch in 2012 (a/k/a MCA) came as a shock, since he is the same age that I am now. In fact, I’m about the same age as he was when the cancer that did him in was diagnosed. And if that doesn’t grab my attention, not much will.

When the Beastie Boys released Licensed to Ill back in 1986, it offered lots of silly, goofy rhymes. No subject was too off-kilter, so long as it made for a rhyme with another, equally off-kilter topic. The very first song on the record had a rhyme that went “If I played guitar I’d be Jimmy Page/ The girlies I like are underage.” Having read Hammer of the Gods not too long before that, and knowing that Page had in fact engaged in such behavior, their words seemed brilliant and provocative at the same time. And there were many more where that came from.

The death of Abe Vigoda yesterday, at the age of 94, can linked to the Beastie Boys, if only in the most crazy, backhanded way. He was nearly 70 years old when MCA, at the age of 22, rapped “I got a girl in the castle and one in the pagoda/ You know I got rhymes like Abe Vigoda.” I suppose admitting that Abe Vigoda has rhymes like yours wouldn’t help your rap career very much, would it?

So who would you expect to live longer back in 1986, the almost 70 year-old Abe Vigoda, or the still-in-his-early 20s Adam Yauch/MCA? You wouldn’t pick Vigoda, would you? And yet that’s what happened.

Llife can be painfully short, or surprisingly long. There’s no way of knowing just how much of a shelf life any of us will have. But if life is being enjoyed, that’s what matters the most. Everything else works itself out, eventually.

NOTE: This is a retread of a piece I wrote about Phyllis Diller when she died in 2012. The only differences are in bold italics for Abe Vigoda. Is this recycling? Of course it is. But the wheel of life–and death–keeps on turning, all the same.

MCA got it right


Today the term “MCA” came up in a work-related context, and it reminded me of Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys. I googled “MCA Beastie Boys” and came upon many interesting things, and two images in particular that I wanted to share.

The first was a shot of the Beastie Boys and Run-DMC (and Jam Master Jay) on the roof of a building, probably in New York, and probably somewhere around 1986 or thereabouts. There were six artists–two of them no longer with us–who made some of my favorite music, then and now. I appreciate their musical legacy, and the lesson that life is a fragile thing. Jam Master Jay was shot to death in 2002 at the age of 37, and MCA died of cancer in 2012 at the age of 47. But their music lives on.


The second image is of a quote from Yauch/MCA. According to him, everything we do, and everything we say, is a chance to bring change to the world. We would all do well to remember this in our everyday lives. Thanks to him for putting this idea into words

I may be freakin’ or peakin’


I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t get Paul’s Boutique right away. I loved Licensed to Ill, the first Beastie Boys album, when it dropped in 1986. A couple of years later, I was expecting the follow-up to be Licensed to Ill, Part 2. And I was frankly disappointed when that didn’t happen.

The band went in a whole different direction, instead. The sampling was off the charts, and the lyrical references came so fast and furious that it was impossible to keep up, at first. The record needs multiple listens before it makes any sense, and I didn’t give it that. The vibe was different, and different wasn’t what I wanted. Most people didn’t want different, either, and the record tanked, at least when compared to the first record, saleswise.

If it wasn’t for the internet, I doubt I would have ever come around to getting Paul’s Boutique. But YouTube videos pulled me into Hey Ladies, they only thing resembling a single on the album, and also got me into Shake Your Rump. The rest of the album came to me over time, and I realize today that it’s groundbreaking, and funky as all hell, too. Whether intentionally or not, they followed an old quotation from Abraham Lincoln: “Towering genius disdains a beaten path. It seeks out regions hitherto unexplored.” They did exactly that with Paul’s Boutique, and I, for one, am glad that I eventually caught up to them.

You just never know

I’ve written about the Beastie Boys several times, including here and here. The death of Adam Yauch last spring (a/k/a MCA) came as a shock, since he was just a couple of years older than I am now. In fact, I’m about the same age as he was when the cancer that did him in was diagnosed. And if that doesn’t grab my attention, not much will.

When the Beastie Boys released Licensed to Ill back in 1986, it offered lots of silly, goofy rhymes. No subject was too off-kilter, so long as it made for a rhyme with another, equally off-kilter topic. The very first song on the record had a rhyme that went “If I played guitar I’d be Jimmy Page/ The girlies I like are underage.” Having read Hammer of the Gods not too long before that, and knowing that Page had in fact engaged in such behavior, their words seemed brilliant and provocative at the same time. And there were many more where that came from.

The death of Phyllis Diller today, at the age of 95, can linked to the Beastie Boys, if only in the most crazy, backhanded way. She was nearly 70 years old, and past the age that someone my age would have known much about her career, when MCA, at the age of 22, rapped ” I got rhymes galime, I got rhymes galilla/ I got more rhymes than Phyllis Diller.” I suppose admitting that Phyllis Diller had more rhymes than you do wouldn’t help your rap career very much, would it? And what are “rhymes galilla”? Your guess is as good as mine.

So who would you expect to live longer back in 1986, the almost 70 year-old Phyllis Diller, or the still-in-his-early 20s Adam Yauch/MCA? You wouldn’t pick Ms. Diller, would you? And yet that’s what happened. She outlived him by a few months, and then they both died in the same year. Crazy, isn’t it?

Llife can be painfully short, or surprisingly long. There’s no way of knowing just how much of a shelf life any of us will have. But if life is being enjoyed, that’s what matters the most. Everything else works itself out, eventually.

Ali Baba and the 40 thieves

I remember what goofy fun the first Beastie Boys album, Licensed to Ill, was when it first appeared in 1987. It wasn’t their first record, but it was the first time that I, a college kid in Chicago, had ever heard of them. And one of the songs from that album, Rhymin’ and Stealin‘, had, apparently for no reason, the line that’s the title to this post repeated over and over again, as a sort of break from their nautical-themed rhymes about Davy Jones’ locker and, of course, alcohol consumption. Lots and lots of alcohol consumption, which was exactly where I was at back in those days.

The Beastie Boys changed a lot since then. Actually, the whole world’s changed a lot since then. As for myself, I’d hardly even know what to say to the person that I was back in 1987, if I were to ever have a chance to see him again. It’s probably better that I won’t, because that guy needed some serious attitude readjustment, and the 2012 version of me wouldn’t have been shy about giving it to him, either.

I bring all this up as a segue into the number 40. I realized this morning that I’ve written 40 posts in this space in July, and this one will be the 41st. The month’s not over yet, and I can add a couple more to that total before August rolls around. (NOTE: I wound up at 45 posts for the month.) It’s fair to say that I’ve been more productive–at least in this space–than I have been for quite some time.

I doubt that I’ll ever top the productive output that I had last October, when I somehow found the time to get 79 of these little word bubbles out into cyberspace. By those standards, I’m just barely halfway to that total with the 41 posts I’ve done this month. It’s all a matter of perspective, as always; More posts have been created in August than in previous months, but how did I ever get any sleep back in October?

And now, it’s off to see if I can’t put on some old Beastie Boys this morning, just to appreciate how much things have changed since then.

I’m feeling good to play a little music

Earlier this month, MCA from the Beastie Boys passed away after a fight against cancer. He was just a couple of years older than I am now, and it reminded me once again of how short life can be. I fear getting old more than I fear dying young, but that doesn’t mean early deaths aren’t hard.

I was in Cleveland when I learned of MCA’s passing, and the day after it happened I went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the first time. I was originally down on the idea, because of some groups that have been left out, but I realize that’s just silly. Rock and roll has always been a big part of my life, from the time that I heard the guitar solo on Styx’ Renegade back when I was ten years old. If this place is where the history of this artform is being preserved, then so be it. As I was looking at some of the artifacts on display, I felt like such a place is needed, in order to remind us of who has made this music and why.

And so it was that I came to the rounded hallway where all of the inductees’ signature are displayed, and then to the display for new inductees. That’s me on the left above, with the Beastie Boys’ exhibit. Pictures weren’t allowed inside the display, but rock and roll is about bending the rules, so I enlisted my daughter and we waited for an opportune moment. I don’t think I could have staged a better shot if they allowed me to.

There were already four pictures commemorating Rock hall inductees who had passed away, in the first few months of this year. Dick Clark was there, along with three others. MCA would have been the fifth picture on the wall, but they hadn’t had time yet to find a suitable picture. And Robin Gibb has passed away since then, bringing to six the number of Rock Hall members that have died in the first five months of this year. You can say that rock is dying right before our eyes. That’s a bit dramatic, but it hasn’t been the best of years so far.

I listened to the Beastie Boys in college, and  haven’t stopped since. I’m glad they moved away from the juvenile stuff on Licensed to Ill, but kept the weird references in their lyrics. Nobody ever did what they could do, and that’s what made them unique. Their absence will be a big void, not the least of which is a 2009 Lollapalooza show that they pulled out of due to MCA’s condition. They had bigger issues to deal with than playing a concert in Chicago, but the release of a new disc last year made me think we might see them on stage somehow. But it was not meant to be.

I wrote this piece tonight because, as my daughter was listening to Radio Disney in the car this evening, I heard the opening bars of “Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun” in the background during some meaningless DJ chatter. There were no lyrics in what I heard, but it was if I was being reminded to get some thoughts about MCA and the Beastie Boys out to the wider world.

After leaving the Beastie Boys display, I came to a jukebox  where you can put on some headphones and pick out any song by any of the Rock Hall artists. I did this for at least a half an hour with Beastie Boys tunes, and I would have liked to do it for even longer,  but impatient children had other ideas. I didn’t know half as many rhymes as I thought I did, but it was fun anyway. And the band that provides that to its fans is rare, indeed.

NOTE: The title of this post comes from an MCA lyric toward the end of Root Down, which can be seen and heard here.

I might be freakin or peakin, but I rock well

The passing of MCA is terribly sad news. The Beastie Boys can’t continue on as they were without him, and I’m sure they know this.

The Beastie Boys directly inspired me to start writing this blog last year. A line from “Too Many Rappers” from their latest release advises listeners that “If you’ve got something on your mind, let it out.” Two days after hearing this, I wrote the first post for this blog, and I’ve written hundreds more since then. So thanks to MCA, not only for the beats, but for the advice as well.

I’m in Cleveland now, and tomorrow will include my first trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It should be a weird scene, since MCA was inducted not even a month ago, and it’s probably safe to say he didn’t get to see his band’s exhibit before he died. I’ll take pictures, and say the rhymes that I know by heart, and try to see if others are there for the same reason. A full report will appear here before too long, but I wanted to get something out before then.

MCA was older than me, but not by very much. Life is indeed short. All the best to the surviving Beasties, and all their fans, like me, who will play a few tunes and remember all of the love that they’ve spread into society.

Boycotts and mullets

It could very well be that nobody else would ever think to write about a topic like this, and I’m fine with that. But I’m having fun with this, and if coming to this space is fun for you, too, then come on along. This post will be over soon enough, one way or the other.

My third grader brought home a worksheet for social studies homework tonight. Since I once was a social studies teacher, and I’ve put together more of these worksheets than I could tell you about here, I took an interest in this sheet. And sure enough, I did find something amusing to write about.

The sheet is a little crossword puzzle, where there’s a list of 10 words given, and for each of the clues, you have to pick the right word from the list and fill it in on the puzzle. My daughter tends to transpose letters sometimes, so filling the words in is not as straightforward as it could be. But it’s my job to catch that sort of thing, and I’m happy to do it.

Clue number 5 Down on tonight’s Revolutionary War-themed puzzle read as follows: “The colonists decided to _______ British tea when a tax was placed on it.” Anyone who has ever studied American history knows that the word to fill in here is “boycott,” but it’s not quite as simple as that.

The events that the puzzle talks about took place in the 1760s, well before the battles at Lexington and Concord and the signing of the Declaration of Independence. And in the 1760s, nobody on earth–in the British colonies or otherwise–had any idea about what a “boycott” was. The word itself comes from the name of Captain Charles Boycott, who ran afoul of Irish tenant farmers during a land war in 1880. Click here if you want to know the full story about it.

My point is that a hundred years earlier, in 1780, the American Revolution was still going on, and the deliberate, coordinated actions of the American colonists to not buy any tea were a thing of the past. Whatever the colonists were doing at the time, they weren’t calling it a “boycott” because the meaning of the term was still a hundred years and more off in the future.

A few years ago, the Disney Channel was a regular item on the TV in our house. And no show was more popular than Hannah Montana. I remember very clearly one episode where Hannah’s father, played by Billy Ray Cyrus, sang a song about the 80s called “I want my mullet back.” I remember the hair he had back then, as well as a lot of professional athletes, rock stars, and even guys I went to high school and college with. Longish in the back, and shorter in the front.

But here’s the problem: we all know this as a “mullet” today, but the term for it hadn’t been coined yet. The first actual reference to a “mullet” as a hairstyle dates back to 1992, when the Beastie Boys published an article about it in Grand Royal magazine. So whatever Billy Ray Cyrus and various members of  Night Ranger and thousands of dudes had back in the 80s, they didn’t call it a mullet quite yet.

I wrote a small note to the teacher on the back of my daughter’s worksheet. In two short sentences, I sketched out the origin of the word “boycott” and its proximity (or lack thereof) to what the American colonists were doing in the 1760s. I left out the whole mullet thing, though. She already has to put up with enough nonsense as it is.

So could the colonists’ actions be retrofitted with the term “boycott,” in the same way that Billy Ray Cyrus’ hair from the 80s can be retrofitted with the term “mullet”? I suppose so, since no better word for them seems to exist. But let’s at least understand that the colonists didn’t consider themselves to be “boycotting” anything, and they would have looked at you funny if you tried to suggest they were doing this.

And now it’s time to go back to the world of important things. Thanks for reading, as always.

A Sure Shot for the Rock Hall

To me, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a fraud. Rock and roll began as an expression of rebellion, and that gleaming building on the waterfront in Cleveland is anything but rebellion. Some of the bluesmen who helped to create rock and roll are enshrined there, but too many of them have been lost to history, unrecognized for their contributions.

Rock and roll was born when white folks began dabbling in “colored” music during the 1950s. The best Broadway show I’ve ever seen, Memphis, tells a fictionalized story about this time and place. It’s still playing in New York, and there’s also a touring company out there somewhere, but it’s well worth spending some time and money on if you have the chance.

But back to the hall of fame for a moment. The continued exclusion of KISS from the hall makes no sense at all. If there’s any better expression of the rock ethos than “Rock and Roll all nite,” please tell me what it is. But beyond that song, there’s a whole Army (literally) of fans out there who go to the concerts (with or without face paint on), buy the merchandise that has made Gene Simmons and the others rich, and keep the band going so that they’re more than an REO Speedwagon-type nostalgia act.

The first concert I went to as a 13-year old was KISS and the Plasmatics, and the clothes I wore that night probably still reek of pot. And the most recent concert I’ve seen was also KISS, at the United Center in Chicago. That might change when the Wall comes to Wrigley next summer, though. I’ve seen a lot of shows in between, but KISS brings it to the stage as well as anybody, and better than most. Why that’s not hall-worthy is beyond me.

But with this year’s nominees, there’s one I feel strongly about in a good way, and one I feel strongly about in a bad way. The good way goes first. With my non-existent vote for the Rock hall, I would put the Beastie Boys in, without a doubt.

A rock purist might disagree with me on this, because they aren’t a band in the Led Zeppelin mode of drums, guitars, and bass. That’s true, but they sampled Led Zeppelin repeatedly on their first album (which was my introduction to the group, even if I can’t listen to it anymore, since catchy and goofy isn’t a good mix). They clearly appreciate Zeppelin, and I can appreciate that.

They’ve also sampled the Beatles, Bob Marley, AC/DC, the Ramones, and many others. Their song “High Plains Drifter” is essentially the Eagles’ “Those Shoes” with a story told over it. They’re brilliant at what they do, and they couldn’t do it without rock records to draw from. Grandmaster Flash is already in, and Bono has given his blessing to Public Enemy, so there’s no reason why the B-E-A-S-T-I-Es shouldn’t be there, as well.

The one I feel strongly against is Guns n’ Roses. If you could just put one album in, I’d be fine with Appetite for Destruction being enshrined. Start to finish, it’s as good as anything that’s ever been released when it comes to rock and roll. And if you could put one video in, I’d cast my vote for “November Rain.” It’s head and shoulders above any video that’s ever been made. But the band itself now seems to consist of Axl Rose (which is an anagram for “oral sex” by the way) and whoever he can find to play with him.

Slash, Duff MacKagan, Steven Adler/Matt Sorum, and Izzy Stradlin are the band’s so-called “classic lineup,” but I promise you that not one of them would show up for the induction ceremony. No, it would just be a vanity night for the cornrowed Axl Rose, and a night in the spotlight for guys who didn’t write or record any of their classic work. Can you name any of them? I sure can’t. It gives me no great joy to say this, but putting Axl and his traveling sideshow in the Rock hall would be a mistake.

I’m curious to know how it all turns out, though. Heart is also on the ballot, along with Donna Summer (a true WTF moment for me), Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and others I can’t think of right now. But there’s only two that matter to me this time around.

Is he a ballplayer or a candy striper?

I got the card you see above in a trade with Josh Wilker of cardboardgods.net. It’s really a great blog, and on some level he inspired me to start writing this blog. I enjoy baseball cards, because they connect me to both the game I love and to my long-gone youth, but I wouldn’t have considered them to be a source of inspiration until I read Josh’s blog. If you haven’t read it before, please check it out. You’ll end up in 1970s baseball card heaven, if that’s a destination you’re trying to find.

We completed a trade of sorts recently, where I gave him a few cards I had pulled out of a large box I bought at a flea market, followed up by a few more from a large set of Cubs cards I had received in the mail, and topped off (no pun intended) by a Dave Roberts card from the end of his playing career. Josh indicated that he needed Roberts’ steely resolve to help him through the tenuous final days of the Red Sox’ season. My earlier post about Dave Roberts is here, if you’re interested.

A couple of days ago, Josh brought me a few of the doubles he had in his collection. They were vintage Topps cards from the 1970s, when Fleer, Donruss, Upper Deck and the other brands that came along later were hardly a thought in anybody’s mind. The only alternatives to Topps cards back then were Hostess boxes, Kellogg’s cereal, and any other sort of regional promo sets you could find. But I was glad to get them, and we spent a few minutes looking them over and pointing out some things. I didn’t know it right away, but one of the cards he gave me was hugely important, and my thoughts about that card are here. But the visuals of this card were also interesting to me.

By posting a scan of an old baseball card and then ruminating about it a bit, I feel like I’m setting myself up to be the Scott Stapp to Josh’s Eddie Vedder. But at the same time, a rhyme from the latest Beastie Boys release has motivated many of the posts that have already appeared here: “If you’ve got something on your mind, let it out.” So here we go, and Josh, if you were ever thinking about writing about Terry Forster, go right ahead. There’s probably much more to say about him after I’m finished.

I recently completed a baseball cards trade with Jeff at My Sports Obsession. I found his blog, and noticed he was a White Sox fan. I sent him an email, told him I appreciated his blog, and asked if he wanted to trade his Cubs cards for my Sox cards. He was fine with that, so before I packed up my Sox cards to send out to him, I sorted through the stack one last time. None of the players meant anything to me personally, but it was still fun to do.

What struck me were some of the crazy White Sox uniforms over the years. My favorite ones were the early 80s Greg Luzinski/Ron Kittle look, with the word “SOX” in rounded, space age-type lettering. I thought nothing could top that for being a distinctively bad look for a baseball team to wear for nine innings at a time. But then I found a look that was even more inexplicable on the Terry Forster card above.

The red hats were the first thing I noticed. The Sox logo itself is the one that they’ve since rebranded against a black background. But why the red? There is already another team called the Sox, and they even have “Red” in their team name. You can forgive me for finding it strange that a team named the White Sox would choose to wear red uniforms. Did they ever play against the Red Sox wearing those hats? It might have been a bit awkward if they did.

But to add to this confusion, the white uniform with red pinstripes just looks ridiculous. And the red sleeves underneath the jersey are the icing on this peppermint morass. I hope that this look was confined to baseball card poses, and never made it onto the actual field of play.

“Candy stripers” are volunteers–usually girls, but not always–who spend time in hospitals, in the hope of gaining some exposure to the medical industry. The practice began in the 1940s, and was once more common than it is today. Candy stripers got their name because of the distinctive red-and-white striped vests they wore while on duty. It looked like–you guessed it–a big candy cane.

Someone in the White Sox organization must have been in the hospital at some point, where a candy striper helped him out by reading the mail or delivering a telegram or whatever else it was that they did. That’s the only explanation I can think of for for why professional baseball players once suited up in the togs that Terry Forster is sporting here.

Thanks for coming along on this sweetly sentimental look at a baseball uniform we’ll hopefully never see again.

UPDATE: The White Sox did pull the candy-striping look out today, on a Sunday Throwback day on August 12, 2012. Robin Ventura and his team looked about the same as Terry Forster did. I’ll leave it at that.