The Decade the Music Died

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We’re a few days away from February 3rd. It’s a day that forever lives in Rock and Roll infamy.

It was on a cold winter’s night precisely sixty years ago – February 3, 1959 – that Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson boarded a Beechcraft Bonanza and found Rock and Roll heaven in a barren cornfield outside of Clear Lake, Iowa.

Much has been written about this, including two film biopics (The Buddy Holly Story in 1978 starring Gary Busey and La Bamba in 1987 starring Lou Diamond Phillips). Perhaps the seminal tribute, though, remains Don McLean’s 1971 hit “American Pie.” It was his song that first used the phrase “the day the music died” to describe the plane crash that took the lives of those young rock stars.

I’m not going to add to the litany of previously published thoughts on “the day the music died.” Rather, I’m going to share with you a conversation I had with a reporter. We sat at a high table in The Menches Brothers Restaurant in Green, Ohio (between Akron and Canton, for those using a GPS). I sipped my Diet Pepsi as the reporter asked me questions about what inspired me to write Hamburger Dreams (my latest book that looks at the evidence refuting and supporting the various hamburger origin stories).

At one point, he asked if I had written any other “food” books. I mentioned A Pizza The Action (albeit it’s more about business than food). Then I added that I had penned a short article on my grandfather’s pizzeria, mapping its beginning to the emergence of Rock and Roll.

That’s when the fun started. Little did I know this reporter, though nearly my age, still Continue Reading “The Decade the Music Died”

Would You Rather Be Free or Equal?

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I call it the “Dichotomy Game.” It acts as a great conversation starter. I use it for more than that. But that’s another story. I will, however, explain how you can play it at home with your friends and family.

First, everyone must remove any self-imposed restrictions on their imagination. You need to think with complete freedom, without the artificial constraints of peer pressure, political correctness, of fear of being made fun of. In other words, you must be completely honest with yourself and with the other folks playing the game.

Ok, have you limbered up those rusty synapses in your brain? Now it’s time to create a list of dichotomies. A dichotomy is a pair of words. In the game you look at each pair of words presented and choose one. Then the game begins.

A word about dichotomies: these aren’t randomly selected pairs of words. They are carefully chosen to cause those aforementioned synapses to fire intensely. (Don’t worry, this mental heat is what fuels the fun in the game).

Here’s a trick that will help you choose enticing dichotomies. To get the gist of this trick, Continue Reading “Would You Rather Be Free or Equal?”

The Aging Curse

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I sit here watching as Rob Lowe tells us in so many words of the highs and lows of the decade of the 1980s. As I view old news clips of thin ties and big bouncing perms with their constant fluttering curls, I sadly lament the innocence lost, the people lost, the dreams lost. I see in those once thin and optimistic faces the images of people I have known. Not all of them, but far too many.

In those faces I saw the hope for the future, a future that would never be. I lament those souls of time past. Perhaps it’s the Continue Reading “The Aging Curse”

Uncertainty Breeds Opportunity

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Uncertainty creates anxiety. It doesn’t have to be that way. For gamblers, warriors, and investors, uncertainty signals opportunity.

Your opponents sitting across the card table from you don’t know the hand you’re holding. Skilled players learn to take advantage of this uncertainty by bluffing their way to higher jackpots. These players accomplish this by both encouraging those with lesser hands to call their bets and intimidating those with better hands to fold. Expert poker players study how to marshall, disguise, and portray their emotions in ways to fool their opponents. That’s how gamblers win.

Similarly, seasoned generals understand the fog of war offers the opportunity to mask Continue Reading “Uncertainty Breeds Opportunity”

Thanksgiving Leftovers

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If your family is like our family, you’ve no doubt dined on Thanksgiving dinner for, oh, about five days. Nothing says “Thanksgiving” more than “leftovers.” It is in that spirit that I offer these remnants that somehow never were able to make a complete plate:

Why is it we always end up with more turkey than we started with (as in, a 21-pound turkey yields 25 pounds of leftovers)?

Will the Redskins ever beat Dallas on Thanksgiving?

*                    *                    *

Bohemian Rhapsody (the story of the rock band Queen) was much more enjoyable than Continue Reading “Thanksgiving Leftovers”

The Glorious Road to the Memorable 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair

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Panem et Circenses. It’s a philosophy that goes back to ancient Rome. Literally translates from the original Latin as “Breads and Circuses,” it defines a strategy to mollify a potentially unruly populace by distracting them with basic needs and entertainment. It’s what you do if you’re not sure the sudden surge in pitchfork sales are destined for farms across your nation or a dense mob about to knock on your front door.

Such was the condition of France throughout the period of the French Revolution. The new government, recognizing its tenuous position, organized a series of festivities beginning with the Festival of the Federation held on July 14, 1790, a year to the day about that aforementioned mob stormed the Bastille. During the final stages of Révolution française, well after the Reign of Terror, the Directory ruled France. In 1798, a little more than a year before the coup d’état that ushered in a new triumvirate that included Napoleon Bonaparte, the Directory decided Continue Reading “The Glorious Road to the Memorable 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair”

What’s More (Italian) American Than Baseball?

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It’s that time of year. “One, two, three strikes your out at the old ball game.” As we wallow in the World Series, who can help but remember the greatest of the greats. The line is long, but for some reason a lot of uniforms in that line sport pinstripes. Sandwiched in between Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig on one side and Micky Mantle on the other side is the Yankee Clipper himself, Joe DiMaggio.

Joltin’ Joe was long retired and within a few months of renewing his relationship with Marilyn Monroe by the time I was born. Still, for some reason I always felt an affinity to him. In sixth grade the teacher gave us the assignment to write the biography of our hero. I chose Joe DiMaggio. What could I say. He’s Sicilian.

Continue Reading “What’s More (Italian) American Than Baseball?”

Charles Angelo Siringo, The Cowboy Detective – A Classic (Italian) American Archetype

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Ah, you’re wasting your time,” said the self-assured Butch. “They can’t track us over rocks.”

Sundance peered into the distance from behind the large boulder. “Tell them that,” he said, almost ashamed to disrespect the wisdom of his mentor.

Butch turned around to see for himself. He couldn’t believe what he saw. “They’re beginning to get on my nerves,” he said with a tinge of anger. Then, after a pause, added with heartfelt curiosity, “Who are those guys?”

“Those guys,” as they referred to in the 1969 classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, were Pinkerton Detectives. In the film, the Pinkertons chase the outlaws after their gang had robbed the Union Pacific train. Butch Cassidy identifies one of them as Joe LeFors. No matter how hard they try, they can’t escape the posse.

In real life, the Wilcox Train Robbery, as it has come to be known, took place in the early morning hours of a rainy June 2, 1899. At 2:09 AM, a number of masked robbers – from three to six, the accounts vary – held up the first section of the westbound Union Pacific Overland Flyer about a mile west of Wilcox, Wyoming. Officials immediately suspected Continue Reading “Charles Angelo Siringo, The Cowboy Detective – A Classic (Italian) American Archetype”

Declaration of (Italian) American Independence

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“They all laughed at Christopher Columbus/When he said the world was round…” So begins the lyrics of Ira Gershwin for brother George’s 1937 composition “They All Laughed.” The Gershwins wrote the song for the movie Shall We Dance, starring Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Frank Sinatra famously included the tune in his masterpiece Trilogy album, where he sings the closing lyrics “Who’s got the last laugh now?” with a knowing wink.

From Christopher Columbus to Frank Sinatra, it’s clear that Italians and Italian-Americans have had a tremendous impact on America. Over the next three weeks, we’ll focus on those names history books seem to have neglected.

Did you know Italian-Americans played a prominent role in the founding of America? For example, three of the first five American warships were named after Italians. These were Continue Reading “Declaration of (Italian) American Independence”

John Cleese and the Affectionate Tease

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Many, many years ago, most likely 1985 but possibly 1986, I decided to do something different. I was living on Oliver Street in downtown Rochester. I hadn’t taken a vacation in a while and I needed to spend those precious vacation days or risk losing them. What to do… what to do…

Even now, I’m not the kind of person who dreams of the traditional vacation. In fact, I Continue Reading “John Cleese and the Affectionate Tease”