Dec 07

New book is a grave reminder of rock star mortality

In 1996, Tiny Tim had just performed his trademark tune — “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” — for a women’s benefit in Minnesota when he was stricken with a fatal heart attack.

Many would say it was the perfect way for him to go. Except at age 64, Tim might have protested.

Nonetheless, his demise is one of more than 1,300 chronicled in “The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars: Heroin, Handguns and Ham Sandwiches”(Chicago Review Press, Nov 2012, $24.95) by Jeremy Simmonds.

When his publishers contacted me about a review copy, my curiosity was piqued because, well — I’m a little morbid, I guess. And, let’s face it, the lifestyle automatically puts rock stars on a fast track to mortality, and that mortality is often reached in a much more dramatic fashion than say, your average reporter (Not that I’m complaining — I’m happy to be still alive*, thank you.)

So this 800-page book is certainly a good way to discover how some of your favorites met their final encore.

There are a few problems, though, including:

* It’s outdated as soon as the next rock star keels over. This book is, in fact, an update of the 2008 original, and since that time we’ve lost Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, Heavy D and many more. (They’re included in this version.) But let’s be honest here: One of the Stones could drop by the time I publish this blog entry.
* It doesn’t focus on their deaths. I know — sort of a morbid request, right? But this is “The Encyclopedia of Dead Rock Stars,” right? The entries here all begin with the artist’s life, a la the All Music Guide, then at the end we discover how they died. I’d prefer the reverse — with more details on the death. You know — since I’m morbid.
* They’re arranged chronologically. The thing that makes the website Dead or Alive? so interesting is that it categorizes celebrity deaths by engaging categories, like “By Cause of Death,” “Lived to 100″ and “Died Before Age 30.” A chronological account just isn’t as interesting.
* It’s not really that witty. While the pitch I received heralds its dry humor, I found the writing to be pretty straightforward and not especially engaging.

That said, this is a pretty comprehensive book, and at 800 pages, it’s a nice reference guide. Better yet, it provides for good bathroom reading since you can skip around to your favorite dead rock star.
*******

* As of this post

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Nov 06

“The Simpsons” on the election

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On Election Day, here’s how Montgomery Burnssees it.

Nov 05

Local surfer’s hurricane surf photos

You don’t usually expect to see 15- to 20-foot waves in Maryland. Or people tow-in surfing in Miami. But hurricanes do weird things.

Local surfer/photographer Mike Jones, who owns the Azhiaziam surf shop in Morro Bay, always gets to places where the action is in the surf world, and last week was no exception. He was there, for instance, when Kelly Slater was towing in to surf in Miami — which is not normally known for having surf.

Check out some of his pics here. Meanwhile, here’s another website with some amazing hurricane surf shots.

The natural disaster — which, of course, caused devastation on the East Coast — also created waves for surfers in Chicago.

Oct 31

Expecting another email from Mom

As soon as I heard that a surfer had been killed by a great white shark in Lompoc last week, I said, “Well, I guess I’ll be hearing from my mom soon.”

Because she does follow the news. And even when there isn’t news of a shark-induced fatality 40-50 miles away, she tells me I shouldn’t be surfing. And, sure enough, the day after the attack, I got an email from my mom, saying she’d read the news.

“I wish you could find another sport,” she wrote.

Well, I do play basketball, I told her. And I could just as easily keel over and croak of a heart attack while playing hoops. (I realize, of course, that this blog entry will be wickedly ironic if I get mauled by a shark or I drop dead while playing basketball.)

But now there’s been a second shark attack off the coast of California in two weeks — and I’m starting to think my odds are better at basketball.

This one occurred in Northern California, generally viewed as a pretty sharky place. And, again, a great white was the culprit. And yet again a surfer was the victim.

Fortunately, this surfer lived, which is hard to believe when you see the photo of his board, which looks even worse than the board (pictured above) ridden by Francisco Javier Solorio Jr., 39, of Orcutt, last week. (See video of Solorio’s memorial paddle-out here.)

But the fact that the Northern California surfer survived probably won’t be enough to dissuade my mother — or to make me feel any better about being in the water with giant predators.

Oct 29

More cartoon love for Pismo

Many SLO County locals are familiar with the “Ali Baba Bunny” cartoon in which Bugs Bunny memorably pays homage to Pismo Beach.

But a year later, a Hanna-Barbera favorite — Yogi Bear — paid tribute to Pismo in a 1958 episode titled “Tally Ho Ho Ho.” I know this thanks to my daughter, Sunny, who’s into old TV shows and happened to be watching “Tally Ho Ho Ho” when she heard the Pismo reference.

Specifically, Yogi is trying to elude a hunter and hides behind a rock, disguised as a deer. The hunter sees him and says, “Say, haven’t I seen you someplace before?”

“I don’t know,” Yogi replies. “Ever been to Pismo Beach?”

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, Pismo had a reputation as a bawdy place where celebrities — many on their way to Hearst Castle — had decadent fun. As a result, there were many wink-wink jokes about Pismo — sort of a what happens in Pismo stays in Pismo kind of gag — most notably by Jack Benny back in the 40s.

That naughty reputation explains why the hunter’s answer to Yogi’s question — “Ever been to Pismo?” — is a wholesome, “Heavens, no.”

Oct 23

Central Coast’s shark reputation

With news of today’s fatal shark attack in Lompoc, the Central Coast is sure to get a reputation as being a deadly shark zone, considering the fact that three of the last five shark fatalities from the Pacific Ocean have occured in a 50-mile stretch between Avila Beach and Lompoc.

According to our story, a 38-year-old surfer was killed at Surf Beach around noon in circumstances oddly similar to a fatal shark attack at that same beach just two years ago — almost to the day: October 22, 2010.

In 2003, Deborah Franzman was killed while swiming in Avila Beach.

This is the 13th shark fatality recorded along the Pacific coast in North America since 1952. Of those, three have been surfers.

Photo: AP

Sep 11

Local big wave surfer dies — memorial paddle-out planned


In 2006, I wrote a story about some of our county’s top surfers, which began “If you’re a surfer, you’ll recognize names like Greg Noll, Kelly Slater and Rob Machado. But you might not have heard of Dustin Ray, even though he’s a terrific surfer who lives in your neighborhood.”

Ray not only had success as a competetive surfer, but he was also one of the county’s better known big wave riders, a guy who had tackled large swells in Cayucos and 20 footers in Hawaii.

Ray — whose life had already been stricken with tragedy — died last weekend, leaving three young children behind.

There’s no official word yet on how he died, though he was known to struggle with addictions.

A fixture of the Morro Bay surfing scene, he started surfing when his dad introduced him to the waves at age 10.

“I just look forward to surf every day, ” Ray said in 2006.

In 2005, the mother of two of Ray’s children, Marcel Sueann Groesbeck, was on her way to pick up the kids when her car soared off the east side of Highway 1 in Cayucos. The car fell 50 to 60 feet, crashing through two pine trees and rolling in midair to land on 13th Street — about 200 feet away from the highway. Groesbeck was killed on impact.

She was a week away from her 24th birthday.

Longtime friend Mike Jones has set up a memorial page on Facebook. Donations are requested to help Ray’s mother, who will care for the children, who now have no parents.

Meanwhile, Jones writes, a paddle-out for Ray is being discussed for the end of the month.

UPDATE (From Mike Jone’s Facebook page): Dustin Ray paddle out and memorial to be held at Morro Rock on September 29th at 11 am. Please dress warm as it can get pretty cold down there, bring your boards, boats, kayaks, boogie boards, etc and join in on the paddle out. Please share this with any of your friends that would like to be involved in saying good bye to an Icon of the Central Coast. Here is the link to his family fundraiser page.

Tribune file photo (top): Joe Johnston
Bottom photo: Mike Jones, Azhiaziam

Aug 29

The Malibu of the Midwest


I was listening to comic Tim Bedore on the radio this morning, and he had an entire bit about this billboard he saw while driving through Chicago. The Billboard extolled the virtues of surfing in Sheboygan.

As in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Home of the Dairyland Classic.

After looking up more info about it, he learned they call Sheboygan “The Malibu of the Midwest.”

You can imagine some of the jokes he came up with.

Anyway, I tried to find photos of the Chicago billboard online, but I couldn’t find anything. I did, however, find this photo of a billboard in Milwaukee, announcing the 2011 Dairyland Classic. And speaking of the Dairyland Classic, for those of you wanting to get away from California for a little surf, this year’s Dairyland Classic begins tomorrow in Sheboygan.

As the website notes, there will be surf contests through the weekend — waves permitting.

Aug 24

Jeff Bridges abides at SLO Brew show


Jeff Bridges is The Dude.

Sure, he’s starred in many great films, many of which fared better critically and financially than “The Big Lebowski,” the movie that spawned His Dudeness. But when he performed the first of two shows at SLO Brew Thursday night, fans didn’t shout “Bad Blake!” the name of the country singer he portrayed in “Crazy Heart.” They didn’t shout “JACK!” as in Jack Baker, the lounge singer from “The Fabulous Baker Boys.” They shouted, “DUDE!”

Because 1.) The Dude touched on something we need — he was a character that told us it was okay to be lazy sometimes and enjoy the simple things in life, like a round of bowling or a bubble bath. And because 2.) Jeff Bridges is The Dude. (See first line.)

You could see that during the show — not just because he struck up a Dude-like pose. Not because he cited a Dude line. Or even that he performed one of the Dude’s most jamming songs. You could tell just by the look on his face.

Remember the scene in “The Big Lebowski” when the Dude is soaking in Mr. Bubble, enjoying his “Sounds of the Whale” cassette and lighting up a J? Remember that look on his face when he said, “Far out, man. Far f—ing out!”

That was the look he had on stage. And how can you not get drawn into that feeling?

Jeff Bridges the actor is way more successful — the millionaire Jeffrey Bridges, if you will — than Jeffrey Lebowski the character. But he’s got the same mellow spirit, the same appreciation for the little things, like surfing, taking photos on set or jamming to a small group of people in San Luis Obispo, which included his sister.

Sure, not every song he did was a winner. (Read Trib writer Sarah Linn’s review here.) Some of the songs were a little slow, maybe even a little dull. This is country music we’re talking about. And not that new, polished stuff the young, handsome guys sing — those pre-fab pop songs with a twang thrown in. We’re talking Merle Haggard stuff. The kind of country you listen to when you’re sad and alone and so drunk you hardly notice when you accidentally bite your lip.

But “What a Little Bit of Love Can Do” is a legitimate, up-tempo country hit. Meanwhile, the ballad “The Weary Kind” won the Oscar for Best Original Song.

And Bridges isn’t just playing the part any more — he really can sing country. His band The Abiders, meanwhile, are not exactly lightweights.

But, really, honestly, the musical stuff is an aside. Because the people who came to the show — mostly older people, who could have seen “The Last Picture Show” when it came out — they were there to see The Dude.

And Bridges — bless his heart — he never shies from it. So when his guitarist commented that Bridges was giving the best vocal performance he’d heard, Bridges responded with, “That’s, like, your opinion, man” — a line often repeated by Achievers. And when he closed the show with the Creedence Clearwater Revival song “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” — the song The Dude got all sublime to before wrecking his jalopy — that too was a gift. Because America is a troubled place now. A divided place, where a line in the sand has been drawn between the haves and the have nots. And as the economy continues to look bleak and the upcoming election makes you fear for even worse, it all makes you want to check out a little.

To bowl. To jam to Creedence.

Or to Jeff Bridges, who isn’t really Bridges. Just call him The Dude. Or El Duderino. Or whatever. Just know that he’s there for us.

Abiding.

*************

Tribune photo: Bert Etling

Aug 23

Don’t expect to see any Eagles at SLO Brew’s Jeff Bridges show

In one of many memorable scenes from “The Big Lebowski,” The Dude — played by Jeff Bridges — is sitting in a cab after an encounter with Malibu’s chief of police.

As “Peaceful Easy Feeling” by the Eagles plays on the stereo, the Dude complains, “Jesus, man — can you change the channel?” Then he adds, “I had a rough night, and I hate the f—ing Eagles, man!”

The cab driver — obviously an Eagles fan — kicks the Dude out of his cab, making a bad day even worse. It was a funny scene — but apparently not necessarilly for members of the Eagles, who have been known to have ego issues.

“Whenever I run into one of the Eagles, they give me some sh–,” Bridges said when I interviewed him last week. “I’d do the same if I were them. But it’s all good fun. We laugh at it.”

During his two sold-out shows at SLO Brew tonight (Thursday), Bridges will play some covers. But he’s more likely to play songs by Creedence — a favorite of the Dude — than the Eagles. As Bridges said in our Ticket story, he personally is a fan of CCR.

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“I love Creedence,” he said. “They were one of my favorite bands.”

Bridges is, of course, the Oscar-winning actor known for roles in “The Last Picture Show,” “The Fisher King,” “Seabiscuit” and many more. But his role as a down-and-out country singer in “Crazy Heart” inspired him to take a break from acting to perform music.

His band’s first shows were in Santa Ynez, near his home.

“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “Music is very dear to my heart. And when you put some shows on your calendar, you’ve got to prep for those, and you’ve got to play music with your friends. What a terrible thing.”

In our Ticket story, we noted that Bridges often jams on set with fellow actors. But he also jams with Loyd Catlett, who has served as the actor’s stand-in for 40 years.

“It’s funny, we play some, but I ended up playing more with my daughter because when I’m not working on the set, Loyd’s working. And when I’m working, he’s not working. So we don’t play as much as we’d like. But he’s a good guitar player, and we do enjoy playing together.”

In addition to cover songs and tunes from the “Crazy Heart” soundtrack, Bridges will perform music from his major label debut, “Jeff Bridges.”

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