Wednesday, September 10, 2008

VINYL DESTINATION



I'm a nostalgic kind of guy. I like old fashioned things. I have antique radios lying around (they work and look better), collect older things that may not quite qualify as antiques (sports memorabilia, old movies, et al), and in some ways I feel like the keeper of some sort of misplaced guard, because it seems very much like the generation after mine has lost touch with the deep past. They strike me as lacking interest in events of the past as they chuckle at things they regard as "old", and are obsessed with the technological. I was late to the dinner table with almost every advancement in that department. I didn't go "CD" until 1989, DVD until 2003, and high speed broadband til last summer.

A couple of winters ago, I became the owner of a nice Emerson entertainment unit, complete with AM/FM tuner, vinyl turntable, and cassette deck, allowing me to pull out my moldy oldies and dig in to stuff that's been hanging in my musical limbo for about a decade. Now that my sister-in-law's furniture-style hi-fi with built in 8-track is a fixture in my basement, all my audio bases are indeed covered.

I do have a soft spot for vinyl records. Don't get me wrong, the sound superiority of the compact disc is leaps and bounds better obviously, and I have very many of those. While late on the uptake in the CD conversion, I'm wasn't stupid enough to be one of those stubborn hangers-on in the vinyl downsizing. (You could still get vinyl recordings of new releases, but boy, will they cost you!) They even have specially made discs that have superior sound compared to the old method, and high quality turntables are still manufactured.

But periodically, I still pop into my local retro record store, Fox Music in Watertown, Wisconsin. (www.foxmusiccompany.com) Why? I'm not sure. There is something supremely tactile about the 33 and 1/3 RPM record. It's great to look at, as the artwork is large enough to really examine it. While giving kudos to CD booklets and "digipacks", I must say some vinyl liner notes and fold-outs are unsurpassed. This is something during the beginning onslaught of compact discs that Frank Zappa himself alluded to. If you buy a used LP, which I often do, it gives you a chance to try out an artist from the past that you may be somewhat unfamiliar with, and at half the price. In addition, they can make pretty cool wall art. At the perilous risk of sounding like Martha Stewart, they are suitable for framing.

Plus they smell great. They smell like 1982. And that lull crackle before track one starts is a soothing sound to me. Maybe someday they will release a relaxation CD of vinyl buzz, like Whale song or thunderstorms, that's looped to fall asleep to. That would be metaphysical balm to an old soul like me.

On the CD side of the coin, newer updated releases come out, super-remastered, with unreleased tracks, extensive (and sometimes excessive) written information, and weblink dohickeys. But as time passes, if you like that particular CD enough, buying what is essentially a DVD-styled "special edition" more often than not elicits a double dip. Not to mention that the price of a new release CD more often than not is the same price I was paying for them in 1987. That is much unlike their visual counterparts, the DVD, that pricewise have come down exponentially, with bargain bin selection of DVDs being tremendous and ultra low-cost. That's something not true with CDs to date.

I have recently acquired my vinyl ultra jewel, The Spinal Tap soundtrack, resplendent in solid black, complete with the hilarious faux past album cover art on the inside. Uncertain of the british punk band, The Jam, I picked up "Setting Sons" for $4.00, and damn, if it doesn't rock the house. Roy Orbison's "Only the Lonely" doesn't sound right anymore without a little crackle preceding the opening bars.

I hope vinyl never completely disappears, because as the past becomes even more of what it is, the past, I'm afraid they will be forgotten.

To me, it's possible we may be moving too far too fast.

Friday, September 5, 2008

KING KONG AINT GOT NOTHING ON LYNN


Aaron Rodgers is fast, quick thinking, smart, and accurate on the deep ball, and with some of the unflagged cheap shots he's taken, pretty tough.

Though he was an unruly miscreant at the end, Brett Favre's a legend, no arguing that. A tough son of a gun as well, as evidenced by the fact that he has blown away the record for most consecutive starts by a quarterback. Shattered it. We've seen him throw 5 touchdowns in one game playing on a severely sprained ankle. He's stepped back onto the field and played well after having his shoulder seperated by Reggie White. Thrown slews of touchdown passes with damaged fingers.


When it comes to tough quarterbacks, man, Brett is King Kong.

Lynn Dickey is the terminator.

THE FORGOTTEN SHADOW

There are Packer fans that have known no other quarterback but Brett Favre, and many have jumped ship with him when he was traded to the Jets. Those youngsters are unaware of a giant looming shadow that has all but been forgotten.
After Vince Lombardi's Packers won 5 championships in 7 years, Vince retired and left a giant legacy that couldn't possibly be matched. That legacy left a shadow that existed from 1968 to 1992, when Ron Wolf was hired as GM and made the incredibly wise decisions to hire Mike Holmgren and trade for Brett Favre. With those individuals that shadow burned away like a morning fog as the sun continues to rise further and further in the sky.

Very few remember that shadow anymore, or at least for those of us that do, it exists comfortably blanketed by a layer of success that dull the pain it caused.
That cannot be said however for the many souls that walked upon the turf of Lambeau field in the era of head coach Bart Starr. Quarterback Lynn Dickey was the captain of that wobbly ship.

BULLETPROOF

Lynn was buried for five years on the bench of the Houston Oilers, before being traded to Green Bay. In an era before sports medicine reached the level it's at today, the injuries he suffered would have sent lesser men to retirement.
Not Lynn, he had games to try to win.

Envisioning himself as "the arms and legs" of his polio-stricken brother Larry, Lynn soldiered back from some scary injuries. In his second year he had a preseason injury to his hip that then Houston Oilers doctor Robert Fain called "the worst nerve injury I've ever seen". According to a 1983 Sports Illustrated article it was closer to what emergency room physicians call a "dashboard injury".

In 1977, when with the Packers he suffered a shattered tibia and fibula in his left leg, a second surgery was required to fully repair it, resulting in severe tendonitis. The pain was all-encompassing.

After missing almost all of 33 consecutive games, Lynn strolled back onto the field in 1979. In 1980 he began to light up the league. Even with the successes he achieved after coming back, there were painful and nagging injuries that occurred, but of the kind that could be played through. By Lynn Dickey anyway.

THE TRUE GUNSLINGER

In his nine year stint in Green Bay, Lynn threw for 21,369 yards, and 133 touchdowns. In 1983 he threw for a staggering 4458 yards. The offense he ran for Bart Starr in the early 80's was swashbuckling, groundbreaking, and intense. Lynn's accuracy with passes that most quarterbacks would find too difficult to even attempt was awe-inspiring at times. His arm strength was unsurpassed. On the mainstage of Monday Night Football in October of '83, he beat Joe Theismann and the Redskins in a 48-47 track meet that still ranks as one of the greatest Monday Nighters ever played, and to this day, is the highest scoring.

The Dickey-led Pack only made the playoffs once, in the strike shortened 1982 season, and lost in the NFC finale to Dallas. As high-octane as their offense was, their defense was equally as weak, and the Lynn, James Lofton, John Jefferson, Paul Coffman, and Gerry Ellis-led offensive machine would often have to try to be perfect to beat their opponents. They never saw the playoffs again.

Dickey still put up some good numbers after the 1983 season, but thanks to his injury-induced lack of mobility, and sieve-like offensive line, it all caught up to him eventually.

He also had the devil in his eyes.

In a 1985 blizzard-encrusted game, his last, Lynn threw for over 300 yards and helped beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 21-0.  In the classic DVD "Legends of Lambeau", that boyish grin is still in his eyes as he recounts telling offensive coordinator Bob Schnelker prior to that game in an historic Wisconsin white-out, "We're gonna throw the hell out of the ball."


  An injury incurred while lifting weights brought about the end. 10 surgeries, some highlight reel throws, and hugely exciting moments that are often forgotten due to their association with teams that more often than not finished under .500 are what was left behind.


Often in the face of these injuries and questions about them, Lynn gave answers that were right in keeping with the swaggering wink and grin he shot to the sideline after throwing the winning pinpoint catch and run TD pass to Mike Meade in the Monday Night Redskin shootout. "What's one more torpedo in a sinking ship?"


You can hear his slight drawl saying, "You've just got to roll with it, after a while who cares?" These are his words, not mine. Lynn Dickey defined Warrior. In the era of the injuries he suffered, combined with the severity of them, it's stunning he accomplished what he did. If he had been remotely healthy his numbers most likely would have been comparable to Dan Fouts. He would have been a hall-of -famer.

A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article in 2001 stated, "Dickey Remembers Green Bay Fondly". Well we remember him pretty fondly as well. I have a custom made road white Lynn Dickey #12 jersey and I wore it to a Brewers game last night. I could not believe the positive reaction I got. Complete strangers were coming up to me to tell me about their memories of Lynn, or just flat out compliment me on the jersey. Some guys in the ticket office gave me a free copy of the Brewers Media Guide I was trying to buy, if I simply promised to keep wearing it.

That shouldn't be a problem.

Lynn Dickey was and is my hero for what he gave to the game. His bravery and incredible need to compete at all costs was inspiring and kept me attached to the Green Bay Packers in even their darkest hours.

Oh, no, I haven't forgotten Lynn Dickey. And judging by my cohorts at Miller Park last night, it appears most Wisconsin sports fans haven't either.

DIRTY GLASS

Last month was the 28th anniversary of the death of my Dad. I was 9 when it happened so I don't have a lot of memories that don't involve his battle with his illness.

What I do have are glimpses. They are like short reels of film unspooling, and being viewed through dirty glass. They have a bright, fuzzy glow, and looking at them is not altogether unpleasant, but they do leave me feeling a little sad.

They are quick flashes. Like the way he walked carrying a five gallon bucket of water, left arm jutted straight out for balance, a slight wobble to his gait. How he sat on the floor watching Packer games, both elbows resting on the chair behind him with his bright white-socked feet criss-crossed over one another. Dad in complete relaxation.

I recall as a very small boy, and these may be my earliest memories, I would nestle my face against his clean white Jockey T-shirts, as he called me "his little armadillo" or "Robber-Dobb". Those shirts, to this day, were the softest things in the world and nothing smelled more pleasant. I chuckle when thinking about how I would climb into a wicker-mesh clothes hamper every day and "hide" on him. I can still see little gasps of light filtering through the base of the hamper, where the years had broken the bond between the side and the bottom, and I can remember yelling for him to come and find me. When you hide in the same place every day, it's not a hard thing for someone to do.

But that's all I got.

I was always jealous of my older siblings. Dad's stepchildren, who when in groups, alway had these extended, often shriek-of-laughter inducing stories to tell about him as I'd sit there and smile, on the outside looking in, too young to recall more than my glimpses through the smeared glass of my memory.

For a long time I hated them for that. That's something they never knew.

But that is no longer, for I've come to realize as I've grown older that we all have demons, often stupid, that we wrestle with in the MMA tournaments of our emotions. It's not their fault that I was too young to have vivid memories of the guy that out of all of us, I was the only one who could be called his "blood" child. Not fair maybe, but certainly not their fault, either.

And something else I've realized is those flashes of memory that I have, though they may be brittle and lacking substance, are indeed mine.

Monday, September 1, 2008

A LITTLE BIT OF KISMET & GEORGE KOONCE

Many area firm believers that everything happens for a reason. I never agreed with that. Despite the fact that events in my life that were unrelated led directly to other important things in my world. I sometimes do and sometimes do not believe in God, but feel that everything that happens is random, and he, existing or not, has no major written in stone and filed under "individual itinerary for Rob Will's life"dossier.
Even though I lost my father to cancer in 1980. My mom remarried in 82, an in 89 the new family moved to a town that we never would have moved to without the second marriage. Wherein circumstances pinwheeled my life in bizarre directions.  The second time I lived there, that is. I'm getting off track here. And writing stilted sentences.
Last week, I had errands to run, and living in the sticks, requires me to drive 15 minutes to the nearest town. I packed my 13 year old son into my Ford Taurus (the Red Bull, as I sarcastically call it), and headed off to do the prementioned errand. Three quarters of the way there, I realized, with great emoted vocalizations, that I had forgotten my wallet. Despite the fact that over the years I had practiced the Jedi Mind Trick, I had little faith in my brain's ability to convince the town's vendors to give me my goods without payment.
I had no other choice but to turn around and burn a couple of useless gallons of gas going all the way back home to retrieve my wallet. I asked my son to go in and get it, not wanting to answer questions from others as to what I was doing back so soon. Having retrieved the wallet, I realized approximately 60 seconds on the road that I had forgottent to prepare lunch for my boy.
There's a gas station in the barren void (Trust me, it's barren. With no rain to speak of since the flooding deluge of June, tumbleweeds have begun to move freely about Dodge County) of Ashippun, Wisconsin that is the hub of it's thriving metroplex. Yes, deep sarcasm. This gas station has a pretty decent delicatessen, so I figured I'd stop there to grab my young teenager a couple of fried chicken filets (He needs them minus the bun. Don't ask me, he eats tacos without cheese) and I had to pause as we walked through the door.


There he was standing before me. An NFL giant. Super Bowl XXXI member of the Green Bay Packers, linebacker George Koonce. Well, back in 1996, George, along with Craig Newsome and Don Beebe, was my favorite Packer. He was just buying a soda and asking for directions, (Who could blame him. I live here and I am not always sure where I am) so I had to think fast. I quickly pulled an extra Packer schedule ( I always carry three) , borrowed a Sharpie from the clerk, and asked him if I could have his autograph.
I'm not one of those jaded sports fans, that shell out hundreds of dollars to stand in line and get a baseball or a jersey signed. I feel it's much cooler to get someone to sign something when you meet face to face in the real world. So, despite what some would say, this was kind of a cool moment.
Until a couple of other people started asking me who he was, and then, of course for his autograph. Now, George Koonce probably had things he wanted to do that Friday, and was stuck signing some autographs for people. To his credit, he was nice about it and signed all of them. I apologized, to which he just turned and quickly glanced at me mid-signature. I began to think, "Oh, no, I've just ticked off one of my heroes." But on his way out, he looked over his shoulder at me and said "Hey, see you later, man."
"See you later, man."

 He wasn't mad at me at all! Super!! And what a nice guy, he was kind, signed for me, and shook my hand. Unlike a lot of former greats, they only do that at pre-arranged shows and autograph sessions. Not G.K. He's the man.
And just think, as my son pointed out, if I hadn't forgotten my wallet, none of the above would have happened.
Every thing happens for a reason?
I don't know if something as trivial as a signature from a hero for a big Packer fan could qualify as a twist or turn in the Universe, but it did make my day.
 Things were looking up. Kismet?
I bought a lottery ticket.