Letter From Milo: The Macho Man Has a Bad Day

May 23rd, 2011

I was out on my back porch, enjoying a cigarette with my morning whiskey, when a friend called with the news that the great professional wrestler, The Macho Man, Randy Savage, had died. Although this has to be a sad time for The Macho Man’s wrestling fans, friends and family, it is truly a catastrophic moment for all of the manly men in the world.

The Macho Man was an inspiration to millions. He was a loud, flamboyant peacock of a man, muscle bound and ruggedly average-looking, as fit and healthy as a man pumped up on steroids can be. His lifestyle was one that any real man would envy. He would come to town, kick some ass, dazzle the chicks, then, move on to the next town. I’d give up this rotten blogging job in a minute for an excellent gig like that.

When I walked into the house, the lovely Mrs. Milo said, “You look sad. What’s wrong?”

“The Macho Man died.”

“Who?”

“The Macho Man, Randy Savage.”

“Never heard of him.”

“He was a professional wrestler.”

“That’s why I never heard of him.”

When I was a kid I preferred watching wrestling rather than cartoons on Saturday mornings. The local wrestling program was sponsored by a Western Avenue used car lot and looked like it had been taped in a seedy VFW hall. The production values were worse than Eastern European porn flicks made during the Soviet era. Presiding over the hour-long program was a host/announcer/commentator who was part carnival barker, part con artist and all speed freak. I rarely missed a show.

The great Macho Man….

The main attractions, of course, were the wrestlers. Unlike today’s well-paid, buffed, pampered and steroid addled wrestlers, the grapplers from the late 50s and early 60s were basically working stiffs. Wrestling was a part-time gig, something to do on weekends. Most wrestlers had day jobs. For example, the only wrestler my father ever watched was a guy named Yukon Moose Cholak, whose day job was running a tavern on the South Side. My father spent many of his leisure hours in Moose’s tavern and always had good things to say about the man.

“He’s a nice guy, tells some great stories and pours a good drink.”

I don’t know if Yukon Moose Cholak had actually ever been to the Yukon. My guess is that he probably would have had trouble finding it on a map. The Yukon thing was shtick, a character Mr. Cholak devised to set himself apart from other wrestlers.

Most successful wrestlers, especially villains, need to develop a character. They need a pose that will engage an audience’s attention. There was an Iowa farm boy who called himself Baron Von Bismark and goosestepped into the ring, hoping to draw upon any leftover WW2 anti-German resentment from the fans. There was an Italian kid from Indianapolis who wore a burnoose and called himself The Sheik, hoping to draw the ire of Arab haters in the audience. There were Indian chiefs, cowboys, doctors wrestling in surgical scrubs, uniformed military men and crazed Pacific islanders. And, of course, there were hosts of Russian bad guys, most of them born and raised in the American Midwest and all of them were named Ivan.

The Macho Man’s ring character was a loutish, domineering, insufferable male chauvinist pig. Needless to say, he became wildly popular with wrestling fans, probably because many of them shared the same personality traits.

For a time, The Macho Man employed a valet, Miss Elizabeth, a lovely and obviously refined woman who had the misfortune to OD on alcohol and drugs a few years ago. When The Macho Man entered the arena and strutted toward the ring, Miss Elizabeth would follow a respectful four or five steps behind him. When they reached the ring The Macho Man would tell Miss Elizabeth where to stand, how to act and what to say.

Miss Elizabeth, bless her heart, always tried her best to comply with The Macho Man’s instructions. She didn’t always succeed. Sometimes in the middle of a match, the Macho Man would stop wrestling and loudly berate Miss Elizabeth for not doing exactly what he had ordered her to do. The crowd loved it. They roared their approval every time Miss Elizabeth was put in her proper place.

I don’t care for professional wrestling. I haven’t paid attention to it since I was a kid. That said, the untimely death of The Macho Man struck a nerve. He transcended his sport and became a role model for millions of American men. His passing has left a huge hole in the hearts of male chauvinist pigs everywhere.

The world becomes a poorer place when a great ladies’ man dies. People like Errol Flynn, the immortal Porfirio Rubirosa, Richard Burton and the soon-to-be-dead Mickey Rooney are irreplaceable. And now, sadly and forever, The Macho Man is gone.

He’ll be dearly missed, but his legacy will never be forgotten. The Macho Man really knew how to treat a lady.

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Benny Jay: My Head’s In The Gutter

May 22nd, 2011

I’m trying to keep my head out of the gutter, but….

Every day the papers bring me the latest details in the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal.

That’s the one in which Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund and one of the most powerful politicians in France, allegedly attacked the maid who was trying to clean the room.

She had entered his penthouse room in this super fancy Manhattan hotel, and the flabby fuck jumped out of the bathroom stark naked and attacked her.

That’s the maid’s story anyway. And I can’t for the life of me imagine why she’d make it up.

Afterward he dashed out of the hotel and ran to the airport and boarded a plane set to fly to France, when some cops pulled him off the plane and hauled his ass off to jail.

I never was a big fan of Arnie’s movies….

And now Strauss-Kahn’s wife, who’s the rich-as-hell granddaughter of a famous Parisian art dealer, says she believes him and has put up his bail and secured him a place to live while he waits for his trial, where most assuredly his high-priced lawyers will do what they can to annihilate the reputation of the chambermaid by saying the sex was consensual.

I mean, this shit is so perverted it’s almost surreal.

I’m usually pretty good at avoiding this stuff, by the way. I hardly paid any attention to the O.J. Simpson case. Big Mike – who paid enough attention for both of us – assured me that O.J. was guilty. And that’s pretty much all I needed to know.

I’m also hooked on the Schwarzenegger situation. Which is, of course, the one where Governor Arnold had a baby with the housekeeper years ago and the kid was born around the time that Arnold’s wife, Maria Shriver, had one of their babies. And Arnold supposedly never told Maria or their kids he had a second family with the housekeeper.

By the way — and apropos to nothing — go Bulls!

I was talking to my mom about this the other day and she said there’s no way Maria didn’t know.

And I told her the story about the friend of a friend (call her Mary) who was living with her boyfriend (call him Jim).

And one day a strange woman came to the door, handed Mary an envelope and turned around and left.

In the envelope Mary found a letter that said: “Jim is not the man you think he is. He’s my husband.”

Or something like that.

And when Jim came home, Mary told him about the strange lady and showed him the letter and he said: “That lady’s nuts – ignore her.”

Then he said – “I gotta get something out of the car. Be right back.”

Only he walked out the door and never returned — left his clothes in the apartment and everything. Mary never saw him again.

The happy ending is that Mary got over it and married a really great man who is who he says he is.

But the pertinent point is that Mary never knew that Jim had a secret life — until the lady showed up at her door.

Anyway, I told my mother the story and concluded by saying: “So, maybe it’s the same with Maria and Governor Arnold….”

And my mother said, “great story, but….”

“But what?”

“I think she knew.”

And, you know, I think my mother’s right – as she usually is.

But I’m not going to say another word about this cause, like I said, I want to keep my head out of the gutter….

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Big Mike: What Happened, Marvin?

May 21st, 2011

So, by the time I was 15, I was certain that the world was about to be remade.

The year was 1971. Dick Nixon was in office. The Vietnam War was dragging on. We were fouling our air and our water. Another Dick, Daley, was sitting smug and Buddha-like in his Fifth Floor City Hall office, enjoying the support of all those Chicagoans who were thrilled his cops had busted protesters’ heads in 1968 and ’69.

Revolting: Spiro Agnew And Dick Nixon

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I was a hippie — albeit a sometime-secret one. I had to pin my longish hair up during the day at Fenwick High School in an effort to circumvent its strict appearance code. I had a “Stoned Agin” black light poster on one wall of my bedroom and another of Lenny Bruce on the opposite wall.

I was ready for the Revolution. All we needed was an anthem.

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And 40 years ago today, we got one.

It turned out to be the greatest package of music in the history of American pop music. At least as far as I’m concerned. And in this space at this moment, mine’s the only opinion that counts.

I’m speaking, of course, of the album “What’s Going On?” by Marvin Gaye.

If you can name a better piece of music you’re either lying or deluded.

Gaye’s opus was a concept album, the story of a black man coming back home from a stint in Nam, returning to a world he no longer recognized. Ergo, the title track.

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This man goes through all the post-trauma horrors, insecurities, and paranoias we’ve all become so familiar with since Southeast Asia.

Southeast Asia. When’s the last time you heard that term?

For people my age, we heard it every day for a decade or so.

Gaye’s returning vet sees his buddies fall victim to cheap drugs. He begins to wonder why it’s even worth going on anymore, what with the ugliness he’s seen in battle overseas and in the ghetto here.

After the initial happiness of seeing his old friends and the old neighborhood again, the album slips into the moody, nearly oppressive, dark blues notes of “Flyin’ High (In The Friendly Skies),  recounting the vet’s slide into dissipation. “I go to the place where danger awaits me,” Gaye sings, with backup singers from the Detroit Lions defensive backfield whispering a moment later, “I can’t help it.” He realizes he’s falling into a hole he can’t climb out of — “But I go crazy when I can’t find it.”

Soon, Gaye sings of the virtual hour-to-hour existence of the junkie — “In the morning, it’ll be alright/ But soon that night will bring the pain/ The awful pain.” He (and we) wish, hope, hell, pray for salvation.

Now the man is empty: “Self-destruction’s in my hand,” again with the backup singers whispering “Help me/ Please help me.” Gaye goes on to sing, “Well, I know I’m hooked, my friend/ To the boy who makes slaves out of men.”

The vet will either find redemption or he will die. He begins to step outside of himself. In the next track, “Save the Children,” he asks, “Who really cares/ To save a world in despair.” An angelic chorus pushes the the vet’s mood (and ours) higher by degrees as their voices soar. Still, Gaye hasn’t found what he’s looking for. Still, his existence is pointless.

And, really, it’s Gaye who’s searching, not just his fictional veteran.

“When I look at the world,” Gaye sings, “it fills me with sorrow.”

Soon, Gaye’s vet concludes, “We can’t stop livin’.”

Now the tempo increases. The female chorus shouts toward the heavens.  Gaye has an epiphany: “Live! Live for life! Live life for the children!”

He becomes part of the whole again — “If you’re one of us/ You got to save the babies!”

The hole is filling up. Then again, Gaye’s vet has doubts. Is anyone able to fix all that is broken?

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Who’s willing to try/

To save our sweet world/

That is destined to die?

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Gaye, in a brilliant piece of arranging, has led us to a confluent crescendo of thought, emotion, and melody. My big, heavy, box speakers throbbed at this point some four decades ago. Now my white little iPod earbuds do the same. Marvin Gaye’s answer is coming — “Aw, dig it everybody!”

This next track may be one of the most upbeat songs you’ve ever heard, especially when heard in quick succession after the previous few tracks. It is filled with gospel, hymnal joy. It’s a release, a liberation, a throwing off of cares and guilts and blames. It’s an embrace.

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God is my friend/

(Jesus is my friend)/

He made this world/

For us to live in

(He made this world)/

And gave us everything/

(Forgave us everything.)

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At last, Gaye’s veteran has repaired his life and his soul. Rather than self-destruction, he holds in his hand the answer.

“All He asks of us, ” Gaye sings — with that angelic chorus adding, “Peace!” — “is we give each other love.”

I must admit it, despite the fact I’m an old, curmudgeonly, atheist, my eyes well up almost every time I hear “God Is Love.”

It all sounds so good, so seductive, so right, whether on vinyl, on tape, on compact disc, and even on an array of electrons.

Too bad — too damned bad — Marvin Gaye couldn’t keep those songs in his heart and soul. You know as well as I do he drifted into drug use and deep depression in the years after the phenomenal success of “What’s Goin’ On.”

By 1984, his life was an utter mess. And then one night Marvin beat his father. The old man pointed a pistol at him and shot him dead.

That a man can create something as glorious as “What’s Going On?” and then become such a beast that his own father could kill him is a definitive tale of human nature.

Thanks, Marvin.

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