When Hans Riegel, the founder of Haribo Candies died at age 90 last fall, the world mourned. I took it especially hard. Haribo’s crowning creation–the Gummi Bear–is of course, the most delicious, pleasingly tactile candy on Earth. There’s a reason the Haribo jingle goes “kids and grown-ups love it so.” It is because their appeal is universal. Herr Riegel lived a long, fulfilling life, but he once ruefully admitted to his official biographer that his biggest regret was signing away the television rights to his beloved bears to the American company The Walt Disney Corporation.
To put it bluntly, this corporation took something sacred and defiled it. Gummi Bears were CRYING OUT to be rendered as unimaginably cute Pikachu-like blobs and yet the public was force-fed a bunch of tossed-off “furry” bears that looked like any other run-of-the-mill anthropomorphic animated ursi. In fact, for all we know, their matted coats might have been the remnants of shot and skinned Berenstain Bears. An outrage. It was if the project had been delivered unto the hands of morons and I wouldn’t at all be surprised if that great simpleton Michael Eisner had personally been in charge of developing this program.
Disney had received a real treasure, a franchise that could have conceivably grown into something that would have given that filthy rodent and pantsless duck and all the other grotesque WDC characters a run for their money in media, toys, apparel and beyond. But Disney only owned the rights to this one cartoon. Haribo would have profited from all the rest. So, despite what I said above, it’s entirely possible that Disney was actually being crafty as a fox by purposely making a bad cartoon that they knew nobody would care about. They simply didn’t want the competition. In any case, this cartoon was a failure on every level.
Sidenote: While traveling in Germany I once witnessed a spiky-haired German anarchist spray paint (in English) “Haribo for the people!! Trolli is shit!!!” across the front window of a confectionary in the Sankt Pauli quarter of Hamburg. (Trolli is a Johnny-come-lately candy company that produces inferior, disgusting Haribo knock-offs.) I wanted to marry her on the spot.
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.
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.
If you are ever doing something you know is wrong, like, say, publicly masturbating across the street from a middle school or waving a Jennings Arms .25 ACP caliber pistol in the face of some hapless BevMo! clerk, and you suddenly hear the watered-down reggae song “Bad Boys” start emanating out of thin air, well, you’d best put on your camera-ready face because you are about to be a television star! Back in 1989, the fly-on-the-wall aspect of peeking over the shoulders of police officers as they chased, tackled and then struggled to communicate with a bunch of fucked-up fuck-ups lying through their teeth in answer to every single question asked of them was a unique and somewhat guilty indulgence. Were we supposed to be seeing this stuff? Was it okay to enjoy watching it?? Those kind of questions were legitimate concerns back then, but we as a people quickly got over it, so much so that these days “reality television” dominates the dial with a bounty of lowest common denominator-fueled trash that is, quite frankly, hard to stomach.
I used to wonder if the powers that be in counties like Broward, King and Multnomah felt they’d made a deal with the devil soon after signing their contracts with Barbour/Langley Productions as viewers from coast to coast witnessed the antics of their local street vermin and undoubtedly made personal pledges to never get within several hundred miles of their respective municipalities. Now, I don’t think it really made a difference. Every community has its “bad apples.” The funny thing about COPS was that it always ran at 8pm on Saturday nights, making it the perfect background entertainment for groups of friends to watch while “pre-gaming” at someone’s house before heading out to get even more smashed at nearby bars and nightclubs. Whether these broadcasts served as a deterrent or an inspiration to the evening’s subsequent behavior is a difficult question to answer…