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Mundane Moments: OHMYGODOHMYGOD LOOKOVERTHERE SOMEBODYANYBODY

Part of an ongoing effort to dredge my grandfathers’ photos out of the family scrapbooks where they sit unappreciated, and bring them out for contemplation.

Another installment, then:

Top 10 Things My Brother Might Have Seen In December 1973
That Would Have Had Him Spellbound
But Were Apparently Invisible To The Rest Of The Family

xmas731. Santa Claus removing his suit to reveal … Ronald McDonald.

2. Secretariat cantering across the front lawn.

3. The Tardis.

4. The inexplicable but fast-approaching popularity of “Seasons In The Sun.”

5. The endless psychedelic wonderland of lights caused by the silver-foil Christmas tree reflecting in the big front window.

6. Danny Glick, asking to be let in.

7. Up With People.

8. A time traveler with an iPhone, blithely looking up the address of the nearest Thai takeaway.

9. The Black Winterqueen.

10. The sum of all human toil.

5K at a time.

In the past few weeks, I’ve done something I’ve wanted to do for a while: Compile a spreadsheet listing every race I’ve ever run since high school.

I tend to favor small local 5Ks — no New York City Marathons for me — so it’s been fun trying to find my results from unknown races that happened a decade ago.

Many results are still out there, surprisingly, and I’ve been reminded of more than one race I’d totally forgotten. A few races seem to have vanished from history.

Using my old race T-shirts — some of which were converted into a quilt by my mom — as reminders, I thought I’d write down my memories of some of these races, before I forget all about them again.

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Schofield School 5K, May 31, 1998, Wellesley, Mass.: Only my second competitive 5K since graduating from high school seven years before. I ran my best-ever post-HS 5K time, then didn’t race again for three years. Nice plan.

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Marino Lookout Farm 5K, May 20, 2001, Natick, Mass.: Some co-workers got me back into running in the spring of 2001, and this was the first of seven 5Ks I ran that year. I ran an abysmal time and got beaten by an active NFL quarterback. (No prizes for guessing who it was.)

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High Tech Classic 5K, Sept. 16, 2001, Waltham, Mass.: This race happened the weekend after the Sept. 11 attacks. My main memory is the race organizers playing “God Bless The U.S.A.” over the PA before the start of the race, and me feeling like a lousy unpatriotic jerk as I rocked back and forth impatiently and thought, “Are we gonna have to hear this treacly shit before every single American public event now?”

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Marlborough Police 5K Police Chase, Marlboro, Mass., Oct. 7, 2001: This was a weird little race. Supposedly 110 people finished but I remember about one-quarter that many; and I know they measured the course wrong ’cause I finished impossibly fast. I wonder if anyone else even remembers this one.

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Halloween Hustle 5K, Newton, Mass., Oct. 27, 2001: I ran this one pushing my year-old son in a jog-stroller. I did OK except for one point where his blanket fell out on the road and I had to duck back and get it. I think this was also the race where I ran into a high school friend, totally out of the blue; I was kind of honored she recognized me.

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Turkey Classic 3.5-Mile Road Race, Framingham, Mass., Nov. 22, 2001: The race went OK. I mention it here mainly b/c I’m a little ashamed to admit I still have the long-sleeve T-shirt, 13 years later. It escaped being rounded up for the quilt and is still on my shelf. (In fairness to me, I always seem to have a whole bunch of T-shirts, and I tend to keep some in regular rotation, so it’s not impossible for one to land on the bottom of the stack and stay there … for 13 years.)

This was also the last race I ran in Massachusetts before moving to Pennsylvania the following spring. Perhaps someday I will return to Massachusetts, and I will sign up for some tiny local 5K in the fall, and I will toe the line wearing this shirt like a real townie.

A man can dream.

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Jefferson Hospital Philadelphia Distance Run, Philadelphia, Pa., September 2003: My first, last and only half-marathon. It was somewhat disappointing — I didn’t really train hard enough, was seduced by a flat course into going out too fast, and did a bunch of walking. But, still, I got “half-marathon” off the bucket list.

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Kutztown Fools’ Run, Kutztown, Pa., March 31, 2007: A lovely 5K out in farm country; I would do it again except Kutztown’s an hour from my house. The post-race spread for this one included bagels, oranges, bananas … and pots of apparently homemade chicken noodle soup, which is just about the Berks Countiest thing ever.

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Families First 5K, Wind Gap, Pa., Oct. 10, 2009: Three memories of this race:
1. I died hard.
2. This was the first race where I ever got a T-shirt in one of those fancy sweat-wicking fabrics, rather than cotton.
3. Never run a race in a place with “Wind” in the name.

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Giving Thanks 5K, Vienna, Va., Nov. 24, 2011: Ran this one while visiting the in-laws for Thanksgiving. You could dedicate your race to a fallen or wounded soldier, and on the spur of the moment, I decided to run in honor of my great-uncle, who died in World War II. My performance did not honor his memory.

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Allentown St. Pat’s 5K, Allentown, Pa., March 18, 2012: I’ve run this one every year since 2011; it’s the only race I’ve ever formed that kind of bond with. It’s a fun race, and a challenging race, and sometimes a cold race, and every year my time gets a little better. Plus, the race director is a nice guy.

In 2011, I was beaten in the St. Pat’s 5K by a sitting U.S. Congressman. In 2012, I beat him. I do not think the Congressman has been back since. Perhaps losing to me was the ultimate indignity.

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Concordia Lutheran Academy Pheasant 5K, Slatington, Pa., April 20, 2013: Another one of those great little races I tend to sign up for. Sixty-one people finished the 2013 race and probably one-third of them were walking. I like the color of this shirt, and also the menacing, vaguely fungool!-ish gesture the pheasant is making.

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Centennial School 5K, Bethlehem, Pa., May 2014: Sixty people took part in this one; I finished ninth. Contrary to the image on the shirt, the race did not end in a furious sprint between Zooey Deschanel, G. Gordon Liddy, and Yertle the Turtle.

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Forever Young 5K, Seneca Falls, N.Y., Oct. 11, 2014: The most recent 5K I have run. There are currently no others on my dance card, though I might like to get one in on Thanksgiving if time allows. This race honors a middle-schooler who died of some uncommon illness.

While the cause is noble, I don’t love the design of the T-shirt. I suspect this one will land at the bottom of the pile. Maybe I will find it again in a decade and be reminded of a flat, fast course on a crisp fall morning in central New York.

You can dress in pink and blue just like a child.

My man Jim Bartlett has written a number of times about how certain seasons from his youth still come through to him with crystal clarity, while other seasons didn’t leave many memory tracks to speak of.

(If you want to know which seasons registered with him and which didn’t, go search his archives. It’ll probably be more interesting than tonight’s post here.)

The fall of 1982 seems to stay with me more than other seasons. A couple of chance encounters have brought it to mind, so I think I’ll kill a couple hundred words summoning some of the impressions it left.

- I would have been nine years old then. As best I can remember, there was no particular reason the fall of ’82 would have left a special imprint. I was cruising happily through elementary school. There were no family events, good or bad, that changed my life in any great direction.

- I was at an age when news and ideas from the grown-up world were starting to filter down to me. Perhaps that made the season noteworthy.

I remember hearing about some of the season’s big news stories — Poland’s Solidarity movement; the Chicago Tylenol poisonings; the dedication of the stark, controversial Vietnam Veterans Memorial; and the death of Leonid Brezhnev and his replacement by Yuri Andropov.

- Or maybe my older brother’s listening to pop radio in general, and Men at Work specifically, helped fix the season in my mind. He was a huge fan of the Australian band, which came out of left field to fascinate American audiences that fall as “Who Can It Be Now?” duked it out with “Jack and Diane” for Number One.

To this day, the sound of Colin Hay’s voice has a capacity to transport and relax me that is rivaled by few other singers (Robert Lamm comes to mind.) Which must mean the fall of ’82 was a good time.

- As a baseball fan, I was quite interested in that year’s playoffs and World Series. The eternal Yankees and Dodgers, who’d done battle in October 1981, had been replaced on the national stage by the St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers — two clubs not commonly seen in the Series. (The Cardinals won. My loyalties ran vaguely to the Brewers,  but I didn’t lose sleep.)

Pop music intruded here, too. Game Two of the National League Championship Series, between the Cardinals and Atlanta Braves on Oct. 9, had been a closely fought affair, won by the Cardinals in the bottom of the ninth. The next day — and it could only have been one day, because the Cards clinched the series on Oct. 10 — ABC aired a promo for the third game set to Billy Joel’s then-current hit, “Pressure.”

It was an apt choice to follow a nail-biter of a game. And, while I don’t have proof of this, it struck me at the time as unique and unprecedented and cool that a network had used a hit song for an ad like that, rather than the lofty purpose-written instrumentals that usually seemed to show up as sports broadcast themes.

- Speaking of BJ, his album The Nylon Curtain was released on Sept. 23 of that year. My folks were big Billy Joel fans, and I’m sure the new album would have been on regular play in our house throughout the fall.

The Nylon Curtain arrived between the Lennonesque watch-me-rawk moves of Glass Houses and the feel-good ‘5os and ’60s pastiches of An Innocent Man, without the easily grasped pleasures of either. This was the album that produced “Pressure,” “Allentown” and “Goodnight Saigon” as singles.

Looking back over Joel’s discography — which I knew quite well as a child — The Nylon Curtain seems darker, more difficult and challenging, an outlier. And if I were sitting in front of my folks’ BJ albums, it’s probably the one I’d pull out first, specifically for that reason.

- I’m gonna cheat a little bit here. I don’t honestly associate Joe Jackson’s gleaming “Steppin’ Out” with the fall of ’82, the way I can specifically peg other songs to that season.

But I’ve always liked it; and just a few days ago, as I was beginning to nurse the idea of this post, I went to YouTube for no clear reason and dialed it up and listened to it again and again. So perhaps it is a more subliminal remnant of that fall.

I used to have (maybe still do) a Musician magazine from fall ’82 in which Jackson expressed his fondness for the likes of Cole Porter, and made fun of the monochromatic melodies of other songs on the pop charts (particularly Steve Miller’s “Abracadabra”). He was, of course, absolutely right.

- Speaking of Jackson and Men at Work, both performed that fall on season eight of Saturday Night Live, the season that introduced Brad Hall and Julia Louis-Dreyfus to the cast.

I was too young to be a regular viewer, or to get all the jokes; but I was also a night owl, and when my dad would stay up to watch, I’d often be there too. As a result, this is the first SNL cast of which I have clear memories — another sort of American pop-cultural milestone.

- The heroes of fall 1982 would go in any number of directions.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus became a star on “Seinfeld”; Joe Jackson a journeyman cult hero; Billy Joel the house headliner at Madison Square Garden.

World Series MVP Darrell Porter and Men at Work’s Greg Ham, whose saxophone heralded the beginning of “Who Can It Be Now?,” struggled with drugs and alcohol and died too young.

- A final mental image from the fall of ’82 shows the Milwaukee Brewers’ backup catcher, captured in a wire-service photograph, burying his head in his hands after his team’s Game 7 loss.

His name was Ned Yost; and tomorrow night, he will once again be center stage at the World Series, as manager of the upstart Kansas City Royals.

For Ned Yost, and perhaps for me, it might again be an autumn to remember.

Raising the ante.

You’ve probably seen it by now — one of those creative media stunts that make the Internet a wondrous place.

An artist named Michael David Murphy stitched together the Grateful Dead’s unhurried between-song tunings from 1977 concerts into a single 90-minute collage.

The result — sort of the Having Fun With Elvis On Stage of the space-rock set — has been featured on the Onion’s AV Club (“insanely unlistenable”) and Dangerous Minds (“Please, God, make it stop.”)

A friend of mine, knowing my predilection for the Dead, tweeted me the link today. He didn’t seem overly surprised when I told him I’d already listened to more than 40 minutes of it … as I had, without breaking a sweat.

The truth is, 90 minutes of Jerry Garcia smoking cigarettes and discussing the next tune is positively relaxing, compared to some of the music the Dead fed its audiences.

Like the Phil and Ned segments — one of my favorite side alleys in the band’s long history.

Around 1970, the Dead made the acquaintance of Ned Lagin, a keyboardist-slash-electronics-buff who’d studied at both MIT and the Berklee College of Music. Lagin sat in at a number of Dead shows, and became particularly close over time to bassist Phil Lesh.

During Dead concerts in the summer and fall of 1974, the duo would frequently take the stage between sets and subject the crowd to experimental electronic noise — Lagin on a variety of synthesizers, Lesh on heavily processed electric bass.

(The Phil and Ned segments were the ancestors of Seastones, an electronic album released in spring 1975 featuring Lagin, Lesh, Garcia and other contributors. Some Dead setlists from ’74 refer to the electronic space segments as “Seastones,” but I’ve always preferred the more convivial-sounding “Phil and Ned.”)

The results of Phil and Ned’s confabs were weirder and more challenging than the Dead’s well-known nightly “space” segments. Indeed, I’d venture that the Phil and Ned segments were weirder and more challenging than just about any other noise any well-established rock band has ever made.

Imagine the noise emitted by a 200-foot-tall cross between a foghorn and a pipe organ as it bends and lurches and threatens to break its metal scaffolding … and, well, you’ve imagined a single 10-second snapshot of Lagin and Lesh at work.

Back when you could still download soundboard recordings of the Dead from archive.org, I pillaged the site for every Phil and Ned segment I could find. I couldn’t always stand to listen to it. But, like Albert Ayler and Metal Machine Music, it seemed like something I needed to have on hand.

To this day, I still have my homemade four-CD box set of Phil and Ned.

You think I’m joking?

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If someone ever really wants to string together 90 minutes of the Dead getting up people’s noses, this is where they ought to start. The massed gadgets of Phil and Ned are just waiting to be sliced, diced and processed into all manner of even wilder creative projects.

Until then, here are a few tastes of the glory:

\m/ \m/

It’s a great time to be a heavy metal fan. A new Golden Age. Or a Silver Age, maybe.

This might not be a new development — it might be a decade old. But it didn’t hit me until last night, when I joined maybe 4,000 others in watching the 2014 incarnation of Judas Priest at Allentown’s new PPL Center.

Forty-one years after its first album, and 20 or so past its greatest mainstream success, the veteran British metal band is once again on the road to support a new record.

I’ve never been a huge fan, but a free ticket beckoned, so I decided to go just for yucks and see what happened.

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Having grown up in the ’80s, I remembered Priest’s original glory days — and all the nonsense that surrounded heavy metal as it elbowed its way to mainstream prominence in those years:

- AC/DC (who are more hard rock than metal, but would have been lumped in with metal by casual ’80s observers) were tenuously and rather unfairly linked to the crimes of rapist and murderer Richard “the Night Stalker” Ramirez.

- Ozzy Osbourne was staggering around under a cloud of alleged Satanism (with songs like “Mr. Crowley” in his recent past), as well as a pair of well-publicized incidents in which he bit the heads off a dove (at a meeting of record industry executives) and a bat (at a concert). He was also sued for allegedly encouraging the suicide of a young fan through his music.

- Tipper Gore cherry-picked some of metal’s lewdest moments as part of her Parents Music Resource Center campaign against violent and overly sexualized music. (In the long run, the PMRC’s greatest contribution to the world would be to turn the otherwise forgettable W.A.S.P. into short-term superstars.)

- Priest was also sued for allegedly using hidden messages to encourage the suicide attempts of two young men in 1985. The suit, like Ozzy’s, was dismissed.

That was metal in the ’80s — marginalized, demonized, and not heard all that often on the radio, except when the likes of Priest stumbled into a Big Chorus (viz. “Livin’ After Midnight”) or the likes of Quiet Riot made conscious attempts to court an audience with borrowed shout-alongs.

That Public Enemy Number One status was still better than what awaited the music in the Nineties, when the Great Grunge Revolution rendered everything reeking of arena-rock passe and undesirable. Headbanging, horn-throwing and drum-riser jumping were suddenly actions to be undertaken with tongue firmly in cheek.

Watching Priest in 2014 — from the comfort of a corporate suite — it felt easy and right to believe that the froth had boiled off.

Priest and their cohorts have survived both demonization and mockery. What’s left is craft and a solid core of identity. They know who they are and what they do. And, given a level playing field at last, they can still serve it up.

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Their fans appear to have matured with them. There were no visible fights, nor any smoke to speak of, legal or otherwise. The old image of a hard-rock concert as a cesspool of drugs, beer and male aggression was nowhere to be seen. (Perhaps twentysomething metal bands, with correspondingly younger fans, still have this problem.)

Given heavy metal’s longstanding image for ultra-hetero “retarded sexuality and bad poetry” (thank you, Marty DiBergi), it’s also worth noting that Priest frontman Rob Halford came out as gay many years ago, and it appears to affect his relationship with his fans not in the slightest. Most of them stood for the entire show, eagerly engaging in call-and-response; and when he nodded, bestowing his approval on the faithful, the solidarity hung thick in the air.

Kinda like dry ice. Speaking of which: Yes, Judas Priest still engages in the stage schtick we’ve come to expect from metal bands.

They climb up on the drum riser, and headbang in unison, and wave their instruments around like axes. Halford still rides a Harley-Davidson onstage before “Hell Bent For Leather,” while lead guitarist Richie Faulkner gets time for a long, indulgent solo.

But, really, what band doesn’t do some equivalent of that?

Picture a performer in your mind — a power-pop band in skinny ties, or a blues guitarist pulling every-lick-is-a-gut-stab Guitar Faces, or a hip-hop MC, or a college-rock/indie singer — and they’ll all have certain performance tics you expect from them. Except for the dopey oversexed mike-stand grind (not part of Halford’s repertoire, for what it’s worth), metal bands don’t have much more to apologize for than any other acts.

All of which is not to say I became a raving Priest fan overnight. Halford’s voice, while still strong, can be grating on its high end.

And some of their songs seem constructed, not for lyrics or melody, but simply as lengthy temples to the crunch of a Flying V run through a glowing set of tubes. (It’s a nice place to worship — I’ve been on my knees there myself — but unless you’re a rabid loyalist, it doesn’t hold up as well as songcraft does over time.)

The old guard of hard rock and heavy metal may not have much time to enjoy the current equilibrium. Some of the veteran campaigners are disappearing. Ronnie James Dio is gone, for instance, and AC/DC recently lost guitarist Malcolm Young to dementia. Others, like Priest’s retired guitarist K.K. Downing, have simply tired of the business (or their bandmates) and stepped away.

But those who are up to the grind can still find a satisfying reward in the state of metal in 2014.

There’s nothing to prove and no charges to dodge … just a few thousand people in any given town with the music in their blood.

And on a good night, that’s enough to win over even a deadheading skeptic in a corporate box.

The truth.

Posted on

In exchange for the price of admission to the Lehigh Valley Phantoms’ first preseason hockey game, I got to scope out Allentown’s new hockey arena; watch three periods of decent-to-sloppy shinny; and learn something about myself.

I’m only gonna write about one of those things today … and yeah, I’m picking the choice that’s of no real interest to anyone but me. (Sorry.)

First, some background:

One thing that’s always, always, always set me off is trivia questions that are sloppily worded or flat-out incorrect. I come across them in public settings from time to time, and they invariably fill me with rage.

I have always credited this to a desire to be Correct, and a wish that all the world should know the right information. It seemed like a logical thing to get righteously peeved about. Who would argue for inaccuracy, laziness or slop?

The other night at the hockey game, the Phantoms picked a fan out of the cheap seats between periods and threw three music trivia questions at him. The prize was a set of tickets to an upcoming pro wrestling match. He missed all three questions but they gave him the tickets anyway, which says something about their eagerness to fill the seats.

The three questions were similar in construction — brief, blunt and delivered in an overheated, hucksterish answer-in-three-seconds-or-else tone.

We’ll focus on Question 2, which set me off:

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The pop geeks in the crowd are thinking the same thing I was: Three of the four songs listed were U.S. Number One hits in 1980. Thus, there should be three possible correct answers to this question — three chart-topping singles — not one.

The correct answer was “Call Me,” and it wasn’t ’til I got home and hit Wikipedia that I figured out the logic behind the question.

“Call Me,” as it turned out, was the Number One U.S. hit single for all of 1980 — the most popular song of that year. So by that criterion, it “topped the charts in 1980″ where the other songs didn’t.

It seemed like an exceedingly fine line, and a case where meaning had been sacrificed for brevity. (The copy editor in me suggests that “Who topped the charts for 1980?” might have been a better word choice.)

It bothered me, and I kept chewing on it, trying to figure out why I cared at all. The guy got his free tickets, after all. And most people in the crowd didn’t even see the question: They were in line to piss or buy beer.

Then I realized how the whole thing tied in to the anal-retentive/Asperger’s side of my personality. (I am fairly certain I would have been diagnosed with Asperger’s as a child, had it been widely recognized back when Queen, Blondie and Olivia Newton-John — but not Air Supply — were topping the charts.)

Basically, I’ve always wanted to know everything, at least on subjects that interest me, including pop music. I have an urge to be able to hold forth authoritatively on anything and everything. And that’s why poorly done trivia questions set me off: It’s because they’re feeding me incorrect information, and getting in the way of my quest to Know It All. Every nugget that goes into my brain needs to be correct so I can be 100 percent confident when I regurgitate it.

In the past few years I have started to recognize my know-it-all streak and to try to hold it back. I find it increasingly annoying in others, and it makes me think of how many thousands of times I have surely annoyed others over the years.

(From time to time it is useful. I have a reputation in my office as the guy who knows everything. People throw questions at me, both work-related and pop-cultural, and I get just enough of them right to seem like a resource. I am sure I annoy people there, too; but in that setting, I can at least play it off as an asset, an institutional memory thing. And anyway, copy editors are supposed to carry the sum of human knowledge around in their heads.)

Diagnosing why the hockey-rink trivia question made me feel the way it did is an ongoing part of my transition to becoming, hopefully, a more reasonable human being.

I care less and less each day about being able to name every Rolling Stones studio album, for instance, or being able to tell you where the Grateful Dead were playing on such-and-such a date — examples of the sort of info I have either actively pursued over the years, or have simply absorbed casually.

Perhaps at some point I will be free of any interest in any of that sort of trivia, and I will be able to put on albums without caring about the record’s personnel, backstory or history in the slightest bit. Sounds appealing to me.

The other side of the coin is that, the less I care about being seen as a know-it-all, the less I care about expressing my opinions on this blog.

I recognize the difference between facts (Ron Wood is one of three guest guitarists on the Stones’ Black and Blue album) and my opinions (Black and Blue is a curiously satisfying, beguiling and enjoyable album despite its many internal weaknesses.) I know that stating one is not the same as stating the other.

I’m not sure it means as much to me as it once did to state either. Maybe I just want to sit in the corner and let the music travel between my ears. (Which is also an echt-Asperger’s thing to want, I suppose.)

The world is awash more than ever in trivia knowledge. Every day, it seems, I see well-written and thoughtful essays dissecting some album from 25 or 30 years ago. Or, I learn that yet another album from my favorite years has been examined in book form. I fully expect that every single pop-culture rock, even those considered to be fool’s-gold, will be picked up, turned over, held up to the light, thought, re-thought, and chronicled in detail.

I find it overwhelming; I want to know less and less, not more and more. I want to find my own relationships with music and art and define them on any terms I choose … and keep them to myself, unless they really make words want to come out of my fingers.

So, we’ll see where I end up. I might be silent, or nearly so. Or I may continue to write, but it might take different forms and perspectives.

I don’t know.

(It feels good to say that.)

Material girl.

I keep going past the corner of Eighth and Chew streets in Allentown every morning. And I keep seeing the ever-changing parade of Latino music performers featured there, showcased on posters on the wall of a neighborhood grocery.

(I wrote about this earlier this year in a post that you might want to go read, just ’cause it’s better than this one.)

I’d mentioned in the first post that the artists featured on the concert posters always seem to be male.

Well, a bold trailblazer has broken the pattern:

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She’s called La Materialista, which seems curious, as she does not have a whole lot of material covering her ista.

I said in my prior post that I like to imagine the individual performers’ styles just from looking at their pictures, and the same goes for La Materialista.

Do you think she sings about nothing but gold-digging, or does she slip a few heartfelt ballads into the party-and-bling rotation?

Is she unashamedly all about the good times, or does she have a well-hidden (by what I’m not sure) heart of gold?

And what about Chimbala? Is he an equal partner onstage — portraying the sugar daddy, perhaps — or does he just stand in the back and work the turntables? (He gets top billing without having to burst out of his clothes, so he must do something fantastic.)

Are they someday going to end up in a relationship reminiscent of the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me?,” with Chimbala insisting he made La Materialista a star, and La Materialista insisting she would have made it without him?

If I wanted to go to Allentown’s Maingate nightclub on Oct. 3, I suppose I could find out most of this stuff for real.

But it is more fun to fill in the blanks myself.

Because even a poster that leaves little to the imagination can get my creative juices flowing.

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