Joanie Loves Chachi

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Each Happy Days spinoff seemed to get weaker and weaker as they mounted in number and this one is no exception. The premise of this show is that the two Milwaukee lovebirds move south to the big city of Chicago to chase their musical dreams. Chachi legally changes his name to Chachicago! (complete with exclamation point) in a rather daft attempt to create a unique identity and the group Chachicago! and The Joanies is born.  Being outsiders and damn near penniless, they initially have a tough time breaking into the “pay to play” live music scene. But Joanie will do anything for her man and using her feminine wiles she soon manages to secure gigs all over town for them. Unfortunately, public interest in these shenanigans was low and the series was cancelled before the storyline progressed even as far as them landing a record deal, but they do manage to have a few memorable musical moments along the way. Their live version of “Beer Barrel Polka” in Episode 6 is delivered with sudsy Wisconsin brio.

The one notable thing about this show was the desire of the producers to film on location as much as possible—and the milieu in this case was early 80’s Chicago Indie Rock. So fans of this era will see a lot of famous musical faces seamlessly integrated into the action. In fact, the episode where Joanie attempts suicide three times after accidently overhearing Chachicago! exchanging graphic “groupie stories” with notorious Windy City musical studs Steve Bjorklund of Strike Under and Jeff Pezzatti of Naked Raygun is just about worth the price of the entire box set. Another memorable episode is when Chachicago! beats the shit out of scrawny rock journalist Steve Albini after the latter gives Chachicago! and the Joanies a scathing review in the Daily Northwestern student newspaper. He uses a hammer to administer this—Albini would later cop the idea for the title and cover of an album released by his own group, the infamous Big Black.

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The Morton Downey, Jr. Show

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He came out of nowhere and captured the country’s attention almost overnight.  He sported pleated pants, bright red socks, kiltie tassel loafers and a three pack an hour cigarette habit.  A frat boy all grown up into a “manhood” of intolerance, jingoism and unbridled, loud-mouth aggression. Up until his debut even the most irascible TV talking heads had striven to present themselves with at least a sheen of civility. Morton had about as much polish as a sand-blasted cinder block.  His was the Donahue-style talk show set recast as a modern-day bear-baiting pit.  Morton’s bookers served up an endless parade of liberal straw men and women willing to sit on his stage and be verbally berated, assaulted by carefully aimed clouds of secondhand smoke and maybe even tipped out of their chairs by the man. All while the audience howled blue murder like a bunch of villagers with pitchforks and torches. It made for great television, but it couldn’t last. Shouting matches quickly become exhausting and soon even his own fans were losing interest.

Morton had one last throw of the dice but it came up snake eyes. The mirror in the bathroom at San Francisco Airport betrayed him, and the backwards swastika on his face that had purportedly been applied by crazed skinheads brandishing magic markers and hairdressing shears was eventually revealed to be the emblem of a desperate act of self-abuse. So the whole world laughed at him. And once you became a laughingstock, you certainly aren’t going to keep earning a living as a bully because bullies need fear and intimidation to succeed. So that was it.

The whole thing lasted less than eighteen months.

Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka

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In the early 80s, few sights were more electrifying than the spectacle of Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka perched atop a turnbuckle about to live up to his name and, seemingly, break the bonds of gravity. The one time I saw him live, in some run-down high school gymnasium on a bible black and freezing Tuesday night in February of 1982, I rushed home and re-wrote Tennyson’s “The Eagle” in a spiral notebook I still have to this day.

He grasps the ‘buckle with crooked hands
Undisputed hero of the minor market lands
Ring’d with the faces of yahoos he stands

The injured opponent beneath him crawls
While the haughty climber nods to our calls
And like a thunderbolt he falls

I took a picture of him that night, too, from about five feet away as he strode back to the dingy locker room that served as a dressing room. It’s a bit blurry, but there’s no mistaking his power and charisma–he looks larger than life—and in the background you can see rows of people going absolutely apeshit as he moves past. It didn’t matter who the belt-holder was at that time–some lame-ass doughboy named Bob Backlund, I think–Jimmy Snuka was the people’s champ, and it was because he was doing things all the rest of us could only dream of. He really did fly.

Alas, everything that flies must at some point return to earth and it turned out that Jimmy was no better than the next palooka, and maybe a bit worse. He loved to drink and snort coke and he had some anger management problems that were no doubt exacerbated by the chemicals he was taking to keep that bronze physique so chiseled. He played a solo game of handball one night with some young woman’s head against the walls of a $29.99 Allentown, Pennsylvania motel room and she ended up dying from it. He managed to “wrestle free” of any legal consequences, and indeed, the upstanding people who run pro wrestling managed to keep a pretty tight lid on the whole abhorrent affair, but it’s not exactly the kind of thing that keeps you in a guy’s corner once you find out about it.

He hasn’t done much wrestling-wise since the mid 90s, but he still puts on an occasional show in sleepy rat-hole towns here and there. If you look at the fairly recently-taken pictures that accompany his Wikipedia page, you can pretty much see exactly what Glenn Danzig is going to look like in a decade or so. It ain’t pretty. But hey, professional wrestling is a tough racket and so is punk rock.

J. Danforth Quayle

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He moved–like a tiger on Vaseline. He could lick ‘em by smiling, his ass was God-given, he was the nazz. A  southpaw with a tan as white as Midwestern snow, the fact of the matter is, if you were anywhere near Greencastle, Indiana in the late 60s you couldn’t spend a day in that place without picking up the vibe of the hippest hepcat in town, a college student, a fraternity member even, who nonetheless exuded the gravity of a guru and the sex appeal of a silent movie sheik.

In 1967, a struggling young British troubadour named David Jones passed through town and played an acoustic show in the coffee nook at the Student Center at DePauw University. After the show he was introduced to “Dan the Man”—and he talked with this man; he got stoned with this man; he was changed by this man. Jones, who at Quayle’s suggestion would soon change his surname to Bowie, returned to England and ruminated on his profound experience for an entire five years, but by 1972 he had come to grips with what he had learned enough to create an alter-ego based on the life of this American sage who had exerted so much influence on him. And rock and roll was never the same.

Lloyd Bentsen, you are no Ziggy Stardust!!!

Home Shopping Network

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In 1985, a hammer blow from Florida put the first cracks in the foundation of a centuries-old brick and mortar hegemony that has since crumbled entirely. Home Shopping Network allowed people to shop while they were watching TV, and just like that, commerce had suddenly become entertainment! All you needed was a television, a telephone, and an overwhelming desire to own cheap jewelry, hand-knitted “theme” sweaters, 400-in-1 kitchen gadgets, celebrity-endorsed fragrances, supposedly rare baseball cards, soda-making machines, hermit crab colonies–the list went on forever. If you sat there long enough, just about anything you could think of would come parading into view, its wondrous merits detailed in breathless hyperbole by one of the HSN hosts.

Home Shopping Network also wreaked havoc on a little thing called the MSRP, or Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price. Before HSN, if you wanted to purchase something like an officially-licensed The Golden Girls Christmas Tree Ornament set, you went to F.W. Woolworth or your local equivalent, paid $9.99 for it and went home. On HSN, that same item was now “worth” $79.99, marked down 70% (for the next hour only!) so the final cost to you had now ballooned to $23.99. Plus shipping. A terrible deal when compared to the old way, but it seemed like a good deal so legions of HSN viewers burned up the phone lines as if the Hindenburg had just brushed up against them.

FUN FACT: Home Shopping Network is based in St. Petersburg, Florida and they have always fostered a friendly rivalry with the Church of Scientology, which is based just up the road in neighboring Clearwater. Every year in February the two corporations deploy their warships out onto Tampa Bay to battle for the rights to the Thetan Cup, a beautiful sterling silver trophy that was designed and smithed by L. Ron Hubbard himself. This is not a reenactment or field exercise but an actual naval engagement using real ordnance and participants on both sides do perish every year, but all the money raised from ticket receipts and sales of replica Thetan Cups sold on HSN goes to charity, so it is most certainly worth it.

Lowenbrau

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The foreign beer that wasn’t really foreign. At some point, Miller Brewing Company thought it would be cute or whatever to brew a replica German beer in America and sell it for two or three bucks more than the going rate for its domestics. Even though it was a domestic. They wrapped it in a handsome sky blue label and even put silver foil around the neck like you would a bottle of fine champagne. And yet it never really caught on. It just didn’t have the “it” factor of a real foreign beer, because let’s face it, Milwaukee is hardly Amsterdam or Munich.

Lowenbrau was a pretender stepping into the ring with giants like Heineken and Molson Golden, and it got pummeled. Even smaller players had its number. Canada’s Moosehead had cool “Moose is Loose” T-Shirts and Germany’s St. Pauli Girl had buxom Bavarian (no matter the beer was actually brewed in the Hanseatic city of Bremen) barmaids that looked great on huge posters. Lowenbrau had a lame version of Wham’s “Last Christmas” video. I remember leaving a six pack in the refrigerator at a high school party once, (which would pretty much guarantee you getting a couple of bottles nicked) and no one stole even one of them. So if it couldn’t even tempt a bunch of punk kids walking around with swill like Little Kings Cream Ale and Mickey’s Big Mouths in their hands, which chance did it have when the Michael Milkens and Ivan Boeskys of the world sat down for a cold brew?

Oxford Blues

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It sounds crazy, but I’m convinced that way back in 1986, when Andre Agassi was just a skinny kid boarding at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, he and a couple of his fellow racket brats saw this movie somewhere like the DeSoto Square Mall in Bradenton one night, and just like that, the rebel “ANDRE AGASSI” was born.

In Oxford Blues, a cocky kid from Las Vegas with outrageous hair and a love of acid-washed denim falls through the looking glass and ends up at Oxford University in England. He doesn’t exactly fit in, and by refusing to give even an inch to his host country’s traditions and mores, he makes things extremely difficult for himself until he ends up being shunned and reviled by all. Then after a period of time, he realizes he was wrong, learns to embrace all those stuffy conventions he had once fought tooth and nail, eventually claiming victory in true underdog Yankee style.

I’m telling you, it’s the story of Andre Agassi and Wimbledon! Las Vegas native Andre saw this movie, immediately identified with Rob Lowe’s character Nick DeAngelo, and decided to be that character. Right from the start, he wielded a big Prince tennis racket of contention with the All-England Club—the dress code was “depersonalizing,” bowing towards the royal box “degrading,” forcing world-class athletes to subsist wholly on strawberries and cream for two weeks “downright dangerous.” He refused to even go there for a couple years, but he eventually (just like Nick!) came around, started behaving himself, and in 1992 won his first Grand Slam victory at the very Major he seemed least likely to.

Hooray for Hollywood!