Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Seven Deadly Sins: Then and Now

Parishoner receiving the sacrament of Confession.
Western Catholicism has always had trouble explaining the problem of evil in a world created by a benevolent god. Medieval theologians personified sin in the guise of Satan, an angel who rebelled against God and was cast from Heaven. It was Satan who unleashed sin upon the earth and poisoned men's minds. The struggle between obedience to God and a human beings' free will became the battleground for man's immortal soul. The stakes couldn't be higher--salvation or perdition.

Though not explicitly mentioned in the Bible, the Seven Deadly Sins became fundamental to Roman Catholic doctrinal and confessional practices in Medieval Europe. The Catholic church promoted the concept of the Seven Deadly Sins in church sermons and religious artwork encouraging the faithful to curb their sinful ways.
 
The origin of the Seven Deadly Sins is linked to the works of fourth-century Greek monk Evagrius Ponticus. One of his disciples--John Cassian--brought these categories to Europe and translated them into Latin--the common language of the Roman Catholic Church. The sins were Pride, Greed, Gluttony, Wrath, Envy, Sloth, and Lust.

Medieval priests studied the Seven Deadly Sins in penitential manuals training them to hear confessions. After a parishioner's admission of sin, priests assigned prayers for penance usually involving the recitation of Hail Marys and Our Fathers and an Act of Contrition before the priest would absolve your sins. Sometimes wealthy patrons made contributions to the church hoping to buy their way into heaven.

The Seven Deadly Sins were given popular expression during the Renaissance in Dante's Inferno (1320 AD), an anonymous writer's The Summoning of Everyman (1510), and Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus (1604). Each fictional treatment was a cautionary, morality tale.


Dante envisioned the nine circles of Hell in his Inferno. The lustful are condemned to the 2nd circle; the gluttonous are grouped in the 3rd circle; the greedy inhabit the 4th circle; and the wrathful are imprisoned in the 5th circle. Four of the nine circles are dedicated to the Seven Deadly Sins. Though Hell is never mentioned explicitly in the Bible, Dante and the clergy did not mind scaring it out of people.

After a lifetime of sinning, the main character in The Summoning of Everyman must make an accounting of his life which is sorely wanting. Everyman's eternal soul is not in a state of grace. Death summons Everyman, but Everyman is unprepared to face his judgement and tries to delay his fate. To make amends, he confesses his sins to a priest, does his penance, and is administered the Last Rites. All his worldly goods, his friends, and family give him no comfort in his time of greatest need. Only his Good Deeds follow Everyman to the grave. The moral, of course, is prepare in this life for the next.

The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus is the most subversive play of the period. Faustus is a heretical priest who dares to study the forbidden secrets of necromacy (conjuring demons). His excessive pride prompts him to brag that he has studied every subject and finds them all wanting. He denounces Logic as merely a tool for arguing; he proclaims that Medicine is useless unless it can conjure up the dead; he feels that the Law is mercenary and beneath him; and that Divinity is useless, which is blasphemy against God.

Corrupted by practicing the black arts, Faustus creates a magic circle and attempts to summon Satan. Instead, the devil Mephistophilis (sic) appears and strikes a deal with Faustus giving him magical powers for twenty-four years until he must surrender his soul. Faustus is introduced to the Seven Deadly Sins and lives a self-indulgent life until it is time to pay for his devil's bargain. His corrupted soul is drawn to the everlasting bonfire of Hell.

*** 

In our more secular age, the Seven Deadly Sins have lost their power to shock or discourage many wayward sinners, but they haven't lost their power to captivate the popular imagination and produce box office gold for filmmakers. Though many twentieth-century films clearly deal with the concept of sin and morality, the theme is often implied rather than expressed.
 
Dracula
One of the earliest Hollywood morality tales was the 1931 horror film Dracula, about a vampire who attacks godfearing humans and robs them of their souls. Lust and sacrilege are the movie's subtext as Dracula is hunted down and destroyed
with a wooden stake driven through to his heart while in his coffin. This film made an international sex symbol of Hungarian Bela Lagosi, and it started the era of the Universal Pictures costume monsters.
 
Released nine months later, Frankenstein was another 1931 monster movie that left its mark on the moviegoing public. The film is about an ambitious scientist who dares to emulate God by creating a human life. Pride in his achievement is a direct affront to God. Dr. Frankenstein's transgression creates a monster that unleashes murder and mayhem upon the countyside.
 
This film helped promote the Hollywood cliche of the mad scientist. For his pursuit of the mysteries of life and death, Dr. Frankenstein goes insane. Costume monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein lost their power to scare audiences in the 1950s after Hollywood entered the post World War II era of the psychological thriller.
 
The movie that changed the horror genre forever was 1960's Psycho directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The film was groundbreaking for its unprecendented depiction of sex and violence which set a new standard of acceptability for feature films. The movie ended with a psychologist's evaluation of the killer's motivation and mental state. No attempt was made to provide any religious context for the audience, although the deadly sins of greed, lust, and wrath run throughout the film.
 
Janet Leigh in Psycho

Psycho viewers enjoyed the rush of jumping out of their seats screaming--especially during the famous shower scene. To offer guidance to their parishioners, the Catholic Legion of Decency gave the film a B rating for being "morally objectionable," but the public loved the film and long lines formed wherever it was shown. For a modest capital investment of $806,947, Psycho made $50 million dollars becoming one of the most profitable movies of its era.

 
 
The most explicit treatment of the Seven Deadly Sins in a modern movie is the film Seven--a psychological thriller starring Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Kevin Spacey. Serial killer John Doe drops clues at five murder sites, each resembling a different deadly sin. Two detectives frantically pursue the unknown serial killer before he acts on the final two deadly sins.

By committing horrific murders linked to the deadly sins, a religious zealot wants to incite the public to repent for their sins. John Doe wants to be known as a martyr in service to God's will, despite committing the mortal sin of murder repeatedly. This film had a $33 million dollar budget and earned $327.3 million dollars worldwide making it the fifth most popular American film of 1995. What the movie did for church attendance is unknown.

Today, the problem of evil with its enduring themes of sin and transgression are the stock in trade of writers and movie producers. Rather than morality lessons that lead people to God, these modern films are popular for their ability to thrill and entertain mass audiences.
 

Thursday, September 10, 2020

MAD Magazine Pulls the Plug on Alfred E. Neuman

Alfred E. Neuman

On the occasion of MAD magazine's final issue, the New York Times wrote that Mad was the "Irreverant Baby Boomer's Humor Bible." The publication had a glorious sixty-six-year run with 550 issues serving up a mixture of adolescent humor and social satire of pop culture, advertising, politics, and entertainment. MAD has been called the "class clown of American publishing."

Generations of kids loved MAD, much to the dismay of their parents. Television shows like The Simpsons, Monte Python and Saturday Night Live owe much to MAD and its legion of talented writers and artists, known collectively as "Our Usual Gang of Idiots." People like Mort Drucker, Don Martin, Frank Jacobs, Norman Mingo, Al Jaffee, and hundreds of other talented people over the magazine's long history.

People like Robert Crumb, creator of Zap Comix, standup comedian Jerry Seinfeld, film critic Roger Ebert, and musical satirist Weird Al Yankovic all were influenced by MAD. Upon learning of the magazine's demise, Weird Al tweeted, "I can't begin to describe the impact MAD magazine had on me as a young kid."

MAD originally launched as a comic book in 1952 and became a magazine in 1955. The format was changed in response to the United States Senate hearing to investigate the menace of comic books. The hysteria was based on the research of psychologist Fredric Wertham's best-selling book with the lurid title The Seduction of the Innocent, which purported that comic books contributed to "children's maladjustment." Comic books were banned and burned in some communities.


Look familiar?
The Comics Magazine Association of America was formed in 1954 by the comic book industry to avoid threatened government regulation, despite being a censorship First Amendment issue. The CEOs ran scared and formed the self-governing Comic Code Authority (CCA) and set up a series of standards before they would grant their Seal of Approval on a comic's front cover if it met the Authority's standards. Scenes of graphic violence, gore, sexual innuendo, and disrespect of police, government officials, politicians, celebrities, and respected institutions were banned. Satire, free speech, and political dissent were endangered.


MAD publisher William Gaines and editor Harvey Kurtzman were having none of it. They recreated their satiric comic book into a large format magazine in 1955 and avoided the CCA constraints which were limited specifically to comic books. MAD survived the comic book purges and protected its independence. By not accepting any advertising, the magazine was also freed from any conflicts of interest.

The new format allowed for larger, more complex illustrations, filmlike sequences, and expanded text. Recurring features like movie and television show parodies, "Spy vs. Spy," the fold-in on the back cover, "The Lighter Side," and MAD Libs were popular. Full page faux advertising appeared on the inside and rear covers mimicking ads found in upscale slick magazines. MAD became a runaway success and the second most successful magazine of the 1950s, second only to Hugh Hefner's Playboy magazine.

Original postcard image of the Idiot Kid.
Alfred E. Neuman's original likeness was found by editor Harvey Kurtzman in 1954 on an old postcard with the caption "ME WORRY?". The image of the "idiot kid" and his never-may care attitude stuck with Kurtzman. He asked master artist Norman Mingo to punch up the artwork with some minor details. Kurtzman also decided to change the motto slightly. Now it read "What, Me Worry?" Being a parody magazine made the blatant plagiarism less onerous one supposes.

Alfred E. Neuman's official cover debut was in 1956 as a write-in candidate for president. In the interest of full disclosure, Dwight David Eisenhower won that race, but Neuman became MAD's mascot and official trademark. The idiot kid with a head shaped like home plate, misaligned eyes, big ears, and gap-toothed smile was so iconic that once a letter bearing only Neuman's image without an address was delivered to MAD's offices on Madison Avenue in Manhattan.

MAD magazine shut down in April 2018. Times have changed and the magazine lost its audience to more modern forms of media entertainment. I'm gonna miss that idiot kid.

Ten Things the Comics Code Authority Banned

Friday, September 4, 2020

Detroit Boxer Joe Louis's Place in American History


During the height of the Great Depression in the 1935-1936 sports season, Detroit's professional sports teams accomplished a feat unrivaled in American sports history. The Detroit Lions, the Detroit Tigers, and the Detroit Red Wings all won their championships the same year. The season was called by the Windsor Star "...the most amazing sweep of sports achievement ever credited to any single city." That prompted Michigan Governor Frank Fitzgerald to proclaim and designate April 18th, 1936 as "Champions Day" in Michigan. Champions throughout the state were honored.


The White House honored Detroit as the "City of Champions" in 1936 presenting the city with a wooden plaque signed by President Franklin Roosevelt and the forty-eight sitting governors. The plaque included five medallions at the bottom representing the Tigers, Lions, Red Wings, and standout individuals speedboat racer Gar Wood for winning the international Harmsworth Trophy and boxer Joe Louis for bursting onto the national boxing scene after a successful amateur career. The plaque was presented at a banquet on July 16th in Traverse City during the 1936 Cherry Festival. 

Locally, a banquet was held in Detroit attended by over 600 fans at the Masonic Temple with the event broadcast over WXYZ radio. Many of the athletes from the sports teams gave speeches, however, Joe Louis did not speak because Louis lost a heavyweight championship fight to German Max Schmeling later that year. His boxing medallion was removed and replaced by a diver representing Amature Athletic Union (AAU) high dive champion Dirk Degener. Anyone remember Dirk? I didn't think so.

*** 

Joseph Louis Barrow was best known as the "Brown Bomber." He boxed from 1934 until 1951 and reigned as heavyweight champion from 1937 to 1949. Joe was born in Chambers County, Alabama--the seventh of eight children. Both of his parents were children of former slaves.

Louis's family moved to Detroit after a brush with the Ku Klux Klan when Joe was twelve. The Louis family was part of the Great Migration after World War I. His family settled on 2700 Catherine Street in the now defunct neighborhood of Black Bottom. When old enough, Joe and his older brother worked at the Rouge Plant for the Ford Motor Company.

During the Great Depression, Joe spent time at a local youth recreation center at 637 Brewster Street in Detroit and made his boxing debut early in 1932 at the age of seventeen. In 1933, Louis won the Detroit-area Golden Gloves Novice Division. In 1934, he won the Chicago Golden Gloves championship and later that year became the United States Amateur Champion in a national AAU tournament in St. Louis, Missouri. By the summer of 1934, Joe had gone pro with a management team.

In 1936, Louis got a title shot versus world heavyweight champion Max Schmeling in Yankee Stadium. The German trained hard while Louis seemed more interested in his golf game--his new hobby. Schmeling knocked Louis out in the 12th round handing Joe his first professional loss. Schmeling became a national hero in Nazi Germany as an example of Aryan superiority.


Max Schmeling and Joe Louis rematch.
No path to a rematch was open to Louis until June 22, 1938. Louis and Schmeling met for a second time at Yankee Stadium before a crowd of 70,043. The fight was broadcast worldwide in English, German, Spanish, and Portuguese. It should be noted that Max Schmeling was not a Nazi, but the Nazi party propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels hyped the match proclaiming a black man could not defeat Herr Schmeling.

The American press promoted the match as an epic battle between Nazi ideology and American democratic ideals. Louis became the embodiment of anti-Nazi sentiment. After the big media buildup, the fight lasted only two minutes and four seconds. Schmeling went down three times before his trainer threw in the towel ending the match. For the first time in American history, every black person and white person in the country celebrated the same event at the same time. Not until the end of World War II would that happen again.

Joe Louis became the first African-American national hero. He reigned as heavyweight champion from 1937 until 1949--longer than anyone else. In 1951, Louis was beaten by Rocky Marciano and retired from the ring. The following year, he was responsible for breaking the color line integrating the game of golf. He appeared as a celebrity golfer under a sponsor's exemption at a PGA event in 1952. How many people know that?


Joe Louis and Max Schmeling
Joe Louis died on April 12, 1981 of cardiac arrest at the age of sixty-six in Desert Springs Hospital near Las Vegas after a public appearance at the Larry Holmes-Trevor Berbick heavyweight battle. President Ronald Reagan waived eligibility rules for Joe Louis to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors on April 21st. His funeral was paid for by his friend Max Schmeling, who also acted as a pallbearer.

In his professional boxing career, Joe Louis won virtually every boxing award there is and was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously in 1982. The City of Detroit honored Joe Louis with a monument on October 16, 1989. When drivers look left at Woodward Avenue from Jefferson Avenue (now a No Left Turn), they are confronted with a colossal fist and forearm suspended from a triangular superstructure--a testament to the regard and respect Detroiters hold for their hometown hero.


Link to the Joe Louis/Max Schmeling 1937 heavyweight fight
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2LNzWHuygpw

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Connie Kalitta "The Bounty Hunter" vs. Shirley "Cha-Cha" Muldowney


Baby Boomers who grew up in the Detroit area and listened to Windsor radio station CKLW were familiar with advertisements for the Detroit Dragway located at Sibley and Dix. The ads always began with "Saturday, SATURDAY NIGHT, at the DETROIT DRAGWAY." Then the card for the automotive duels would be hyped. If you don't remember or aren't old enough to know what I'm talking about, I have a link to an audio at the end of this post.

Connie Kalitta with top fuel dragster in 1967.
Two of the most popular drag racers of the 1970s and 1980s were Connie Kalitta "The Bounty Hunter" and Shirley "Cha-Cha" Muldowney. Connie was from Mount Clemens, Michigan, and Shirley was from Schenectady, New York. They shared a professional and personal relationship from 1972-1977. Connie gave Shirley a Funny Car he no longer raced, and he acted as her crew chief for many of her early races. In those days, Shirley was known as "The Huntress." 

Kalitta began drag racing when he was a sixteen-year-old student at Mount Clemens High School. He worked himself up the ranks of the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) to become one of the sport's top drivers. Known as The Bounty Hunter, Kalitta was the first driver to reach 200 mph in a sanctioned NHRA event. In 1989 at the Winter Nationals, Kalitta was the first driver to break the 290 mph barrier with a 291.54 mph qualifying run.

In all, Kalitta won ten national titles and was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1992. The NHRA compiled a list of the Top 50 Drivers for their fiftieth-anniversary in 2001. Kalitta ranked 21st on the all-time list, and in 2016, he became the first recipient of the NHRA's Lifetime Achievement Award.

Kalitta's first NHRA win came in 1964 in Bakersfield, California. In 1967, he won his first NHRA title. With the prize money, he bought his first airplane--a Cessna 310--and started his company Kalitta Air at the Willow Run Airport shipping freight for the Ford Motor Company (FoMoCo)--his racing sponsor. 

Kalitta Air and Kalitta Motorsports company photograph.
For a time, Kalitta retired from racing and directed his attention toward building up his air freight business. Now he has a fleet of about 100 planes, many of them 747s. In addition to a bread-and-butter FoMoCo parts distribution contract, Kalitta Air provides charter flights for Medical Flight Services, Air Ambulance Specialists, the Shriners' Children's Hospital and the United States Department of Defense, to name a few. It is not generally known that Kalitta Air keeps a 747 on standby to work with the military to return fallen service men and women to their homes.

Kalitta no longer races, but he is the CEO of Kalitta Motorsports in Ypsilanti, Michigan which sponsors four cars and drivers. His love of racing became a lifelong pursuit and a way of life.

***

Shirley Muldowney
Connie Katilla first met Shirley Muldowney in 1966 at Raceway Park in Illinois when she was racing a dragster with her husband as her mechanic. In 1972, Shirley divorced Jack Muldowney when she wanted to advance to top fuel funny cars, and he refused to live the life of a Gypsy to compete on the NHRA circuit. Doubtless, there were other personal issues as Shirley moved in with Kalitta in 1972. Kalitta was The Bounty Hunter and Muldowney became The Huntress. Connie soon tagged Shirley with the nickname "Cha-Cha" which she never liked, but it became part of her NHRA branding.

After her split from Kalitta, Shirley went on to make a name for herself in this macho male sport. At first, she had trouble attracting sponsors and finding a crew that would work with a woman. But when Shirley "Cha-Cha" Muldowney showed up at the track with her hot pink car, cowboy boots, and crash helmet, she started filling the grandstands. Even her pit crew wore hot pink team shirts.

Muldowney defied traditional gender stereotypes head-on and challenged sexism in the racing culture like Billie Jean King had for tennis in 1973's Battle of the Sexes against Bobby Riggs. Both ladies proved women can compete in a man's world.

Shirley Muldowney was the first woman to receive a NHRA license to drive top fuel dragsters. She was the first person--man or woman--to win three NHRA national events in a row. In 1980, Shirley won the World Finals by beating her nemesis Connie Kalitta, and in 1982, she won an unprecedented third NHRA Top Fuel Championship.

Muldowney's achievements were not lost on Hollywood. She got the big screen treatment in 1983's Heart Like a Wheel starring Bonnie Bedelia as Muldowney and Beau Bridges as Connie Kalitta. Muldowney has said the film didn't capture her real life very well but was good for the sport.

On the heels of her celebrity, Muldowney was faced with her biggest challenge. In June of 1984, her dragster crashed at over 250 mph at Sanair Speedway near Montreal, Canada. A front tire shredded and got twisted up in a wheel causing the car to lose control for 600 feet before crashing. Shirley was left with broken legs, crushed hands, a shattered pelvis, and a severed thumb. Determined to race again, she undertook two years of grueling physical therapy and recovery. Her first race back was against "Big Daddy" Don Garlits--a personal friend of hers. She lost.

Because of trouble attracting sponsors, Shirley retired from racing in 2003. During her career, she won eighteen NHRA National events and was ranked 5th on NHRA's 2001 list of its Top 50 Drivers earning her the title of "First Lady of Drag Racing." Her memoir Shirley Muldowney: Tales from the Track was released in 2005 depicting her drag racing life. The same year, Muldowney was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame.

***
CKLW radio commercial for the Detroit Dragway from 1966: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BbrdImfvFmQ

1982 U.S. Nationals Championship drag race between Kalitta and Muldowney: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-Q8f6bsfI0  

Muldowney on the Johnny Carson Show in 1986 after her 1984 catastrophic car crash: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1FeaqiczHzI

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Alex Karras’ Made-In-Detroit Movie—Jimmy B. and Andre (1980)

Alex Karras proves there is life after professional football.

When Alex Karras retired from the Detroit Lions in 1970, he left town for the bright lights of Hollywood. Alex first caught the acting bug as a senior at Emerson High School in Gary, Indiana when he performed in South Pacific. When he played college football at the University of Iowa, Karras wrestled professionally as villain George Brown donning a full mask and earning $50 a match. He relished playing the bad guy and acting crazy. It beat working in the steel mills.

After Karras was drafted by the Detroit Lions, he supplemented his ridiculously low NFL salary by wrestling in the off-season to help pay the bills for his growing family. He formed a tag team called Killer Karras and Krusher Konovski that performed to boos and sneers while winning all of their matches in the Midwest. While still a Detroit Lion, Karras played himself in the Hollywood film, Paper Lion. He garnered good reviews that led him to pursue an acting career.

Karras with Susan Clark in BABE.
Karras cut his teeth on several minor roles before he landed a co-star role in The Babe Didrikson Zaharias Story with actress Susan Clark, who won a best-actress Emmy for her excellent performance. They began performing regularly together and eventually married. In 1979, they jointly formed a Hollywood production company named Georgian Bay Productions.

Their first full length movie project was Jimmy B. and Andre which debuted on CBS on March 19, 1980. It was based on the true story of Jimmy Butsicaris, co-owner with his brother Johnny of the popular Lindell AC (Athletic Club) sports bar. The Lindell AC was frequented by Detroit Lion and Tiger athletes, sports writers, and sports fans from every level of Detroit society. Alex wanted to make a made-for-TV movie about his friend Jimmy B. trying to adopt a nine-year-old, African-American street kid named Andre Reynolds.

Andre was an elementary school dropout who shined shoes at Jim’s barber shop next door to the Lindel AC to pick up some extra money. But an older, local bully named Billy began harassing Andre for his hard-earned cash. Jimmy Butsicaris rescued the ragged, nine-year-old Andre from a beating one afternoon, finding him in desperate need of a bath, a meal, and some guidance. Over a cheese burger, fries, and a Coke, Jimmy learned the boy’s story. Andre’s mother was a widow who was also a heroin addict in poor health. Much of the money Andre turned over to her ended up in her arm. There was also an older sister and brother in the household.

Jimmy took the kid under his wing and gave him work doing odd jobs and a place to stay in the basement storeroom of the bar. Johnny Butsicaris converted a photo darkroom into a safe place for Andre to stay. He lived there for nine years. After the death of Andre’s mother from an overdose, Jimmy tried to adopt Andre but ran into trouble with the boy’s aunt who wanted him and his siblings as dependents to earn extra welfare money.

Detroit Free Press - March 20, 1980.
Undeterred by the court’s decision to deny him guardianship, Jimmy became Andre’s foster father and treated him like a son. As Andre grew into manhood, he called Jimmy “Pop.” To show his appreciation, Andre had a shirt made that read “I Am a Black Greek.” Jimmy took Andre to Detroit Lion and Tiger games and introduced him everywhere as his son. Jimmy helped Andre get back in public school where he earned a high school diploma from Western High School when he was twenty years old.

In the meantime, Karras and Clark pitched their story idea to CBS and sold them on it. Karras portrayed his friend Jimmy Butsicaris as a gruff restaurant owner with a big heart, and Susan Clark played his long-suffering girlfriend Stevie. In the movie, Jimmy keeps finding reasons not to marry her. Karras’ son, Alex Karras Jr, played a cameo role as the bully who beats up the young Andre, the real Andre played a restaurant employee called Bubba, and local Detroit weatherman Sonny Eliot played a drunk in the movie.

The movie project was shot entirely in Detroit at the Lindell AC, Jim’s Barber Shop next door, the Greektown restaurant district downtown, Belle Isle Park, and the Renaissance Center. The film was notable because of the heart-rending performance of twelve-year-old Curtis Yates, a student at Country Day School in Birmingham, Michigan. The real Andre Reynolds said he cried every time he saw the movie about his life and his foster father Jimmy Butsicaris.

Johnny Butsicaris in front of the Lindell AC sports bar.

After Andre’s high school graduation, Jimmy urged him to attend Grand Rapids Community College where he played football for one semester, but at 5’ 9” and 185#, Andre wasn’t big enough for college ball, so he dropped out. When Andre returned to Detroit, he left the influence of his mentor and drifted into Detroit’s drug culture. When he was busted for possession and drug trafficking, Andre served his sentence in Marquette Branch Prison.

In a prison cell at Marquette Branch Prison in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on November 21, 1996, thirty-six-year-old Andre learned that his foster father and mentor Jimmy Butsicaris had died the evening before at the age of seventy-five from a massive heart attack. Reynolds wasn’t eligible for parole, so he couldn’t attend the funeral, but he agreed to be interviewed by Detroit News reporter Thomas BeVier.

Andre Reynolds at Lindell AC in 1979.
“(Jimmy) Butsicaris took me in when I was a nine-year-old, punk kid living in a drug infested environment. I had a few moments of fame when the movie Jimmy B. and Andre came out. I was nineteen and wanted to be an adult, but I didn’t know how to do that. I was paid $15,000 for my story, and I used it to buy two cars and go to Grand Rapids Community College. But along the way, I fell in with a rough crowd and was in and out of trouble most of my twenties. I’m ashamed of the life I’ve lived.”

Andre served his sentence and was released. A few days before Thanksgiving in 2000, Andre Reynolds was brutally attacked by an unknown person or persons who beat and stomped him mercilessly. Detroit Police posited that Andre ran afoul of a local drug gang, but no charges were ever brought in his murder. He spent his final days in a coma at Detroit’s Receiving Hospital before succumbing. His body was unidentified in the Wayne County Morgue for four days before he was buried. What seemed on screen like a promising future for Andre became a nightmare in real life.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Eastern Michigan University Student Queried - "Is Paul (McCartney) Dead?"

The biggest hoax in the history of Rock & Roll is surely the "Is Paul Dead?" controversy. On Sunday afternoon, October 12, 1969, Thomas Zarski, an Eastern Michigan University student, called [Uncle Russ] Gibb, a concert promoter and popular D.J. for Detroit's underground music radio station - WKNR-FM.

On the air, Zarski asked Gibb what he knew about the death of Paul McCartney. This was the first the D.J. heard of it. "Have you ever played "Revolution 9" from the The White Album backwards?" Zarski asked.

Gibb hadn't. Skeptical, he humored his call-in listener and played the song backwards. For the first time his audience heard, "Turn me on, dead man." Then WKNR's phone started ringing off the hook.

Apparently, the rumor started when Tim Harper wrote an article on September 17, 1969 in the Drake University (Iowa) newspaper. The story circulated by word of mouth through the counter culture underground for a month until Zarski caught wind of it. He called Uncle Russ asking about it. Gibb had solid connections with the local Detroit and British rock scene because he was a concert promoter at the Grande Ballroom--Detroit's rock Mecca.

University of Michigan student Fred LaBour heard the October 12th radio broadcast and published an article two days later in the October 14th edition of The Michigan Daily as a record review parody of the Beatles' latest album Abbey Road. This article was credited for giving the story legs and was the key exposure that propelled the hoax nationally and internationally.

The legend goes that Paul died in November of 1966 in a car crash. The three categories of clues were:
  1. Clues found on the album covers and liner sleeve notes,
  2. Clues found playing the records forward, and
  3. Clues found playing the records backwards.
The clues came from the albums:
  1. Yesterday and Today,
  2. Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band,
  3. Magical Mystery Tour,
  4. The Beatles [the White Album], and
  5. Abbey Road.
Some people thought the Beatles masterminded the hoax because of the large number of clues. They thought there were too many for this story to be merely coincidental. 

The story peaked in America on November 7th, 1969, when Life magazine ran an interview with Paul McCartney at his farm in Scotland, debunking the myth.

For more detailed information on the myth and the clues, check out these links: 

http://turnmeondeadman.com/the-paul-is-dead-rumor/ 

http://keenerpodcast.com/?page_id=602

Video link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xqBf6iNPVOg

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Danse Macabre (The Dance of the Dead)

Climax of Igmar Bergman's film The Seventh Seal.

The Danse Macabre was a religious allegory of the late Middle Ages calculated to turn men's thoughts to a Christian preparation for death. It was a reaction to the horrors of the 14th century's recurring famines, the Hundred Year War in France, and the scourge of the Black Death (plague). Millions of Europeans persished during this period. Estimates run as high as 50 million people or 60% of the population.

Produced by the church fathers as a "memento mori" to remind people that all human life is fragile and life's petty pleasures are fleeting, the Danse Macabre summons people from all stages and walks of life whether pope or layman, young or old, male or female, rich or poor. The universality of death is the great leveler that unites all.

Dutch Flagellants scourging themselves as penance.

The spectre of sudden death during this period of history increased the religious practice of saying penance and/or self-flagellation (whipping) by the faithful, but it also created a secular desire for amusement and diversion while people could still enjoy life's creature comforts. This expression of the struggle between the sacred and the profane played itself out in medieval society.

Outside of St. Peter and St. Paul Church in Lithuania.
Many paintings, book illustrations, and sculptures were commissioned by the Catholic Church to act as penitential lessons that even the illiterate majority could understand. Cathedrals often portrayed danse macabre images in sculptures adorning their exterior architecture.

The medieval morality play called The Summoning of Everyman was first performed in 1510 in front of church entrances to draw in the crowd. In the play, Everyman uses every argument he can to avoid his impending death before he gives up and seeks out the sacrament of the Last Rites. Only his good deeds go with him to the grave--a sober reminder to the faithful that worldly goods count for nothing in the next world.

The Pedlar from Hans Holbein's "Figure de la Morte." The pedlar seems to say, "I'm busy. Gotta run!" Death replies, "Not this day!"

Hans Holbein, the Younger created a series of forty-one woodcuts between 1523-1526 depicting the danse macabre morality tale. His work broadened the concept from its Catholic and Protestant origins into a more secular interpretation which eventually became the inspiration for Halloween.

On All Hallow's Eve (shortened to Halloween), the medieval Catholic church promoted the idea that the veil between the material world and the afterlife lifted. Annual harvest celebrations and village pageants drew revellers wearing masks and costumes dressed as corpses representing all strata of society. After a night of feasting and celebrating, a procession was led by priests to the church graveyard at midnight to lay flowers, leave votive candles, and pray for the souls of the dearly departed in preparation for fasting on All Saint's Day.

In Edgar Allen Poe's short story The Masque of the Red Death written in 1842, medieval Prince Prospero and his wealthy and influential friends attempt to outsmart Death during the plague by hiding out in the prince's abbey. The results are predictable and serve as a cautionary tale for our own time as we struggle with the corona virus and the predictability of human behavior.