The mercy of the rising water.

My water heater went this morning, causing a minor basement flood and a few hours of irritation.

The flood didn’t destroy nearly as much crap as it should have, but there are a few wetted-down bits and scraps that are headed for the trash.

One of them is the back cover of a guitar magazine from sometime around 1985. I couldn’t let it go without posting it here, as a memorial to everything that was wrong with 1980s music.

What we have here is an ad for Kahler tremolos — the pitch-melting guitar devices more popularly known as “whammy bars.”

The impeccably coiffed gent at right, Kahler tells us, is Jeff Loven, and he’s just won something called the Kahler National Tremolo Competition.


Before we go any further, let’s think back to the ’80s, and the offenses against taste committed by whammy bar-wielding hard-rockers in the age of lead guitar worship.

Eddie Van Halen pioneered the extreme use of whammy bars, and he at least was the first to do it; but he cleared a path for a whole decade’s worth of flashy, unmusical dive-bomb retching, usually paired with fingertapping and hyper-fast gnat-swarm picking.

Now imagine a national tremolo competition. Imagine every basement and corner-bar Eddie Van Halen wannabe whipping out their hottest licks. Imagine listening to all those tapes and trying to pick a winner. It makes one of those ten-day jam-band cruises seem heavenly by comparison.

(In the text of the ad, Loven enthuses: “Whether I need an air raid siren or a subtle tremolo effect, I can depend on my Kahler to deliver and stay in tune.” How wonderfully ’80s. Let us be glad we have escaped the days when lead guitar players felt like air-raid sirens were necessary parts of their repertoire.)

We will also take a look at Loven’s group, Obsession, because … well, the bass player seems to want us to look elsewhere, but we’re not so easily fooled.


This is a full-on dork-off, locked in a four-way tie for last, and no drummer has ever been happier to be far away from the camera.

Jeff Loven, who still plays in the Midwest and apparently turned down an audition with the latter-day Guns n’ Roses, seems to have a sense of humor about the period. On his website, he says, “Looking back-why did we use that gawdawful Aquanet-yuck!

(When he met the mighty Van Halen, Eddie’s response was apparently: “Ya look like a woman, dude.” I can only imagine that was a comedown … and I can only imagine that Jeff Loven wasn’t the only young guitarslinger who heard that line from Eddie during the ’80s.)

To be fair, Loven is probably a great guitar player, and his bands have surely entertained a lot of people over the years. (More people than my writing ever has.)

And he was far from the only person to show up in the spotlight with poodly hair and whammy bar at the ready.

Look in any guitar magazine from that period (I’ve still got a bunch of them, so I speak from experience), and you’ll see multiple photos and articles that have dated just as poorly, all suffused with that ’80s absurdity.

Unfortunately for Jeff Loven and his bandmates, their photo just happened to be closest to the floor when my water heater spit the bit.

And they happened to be identified by name — unlike the finger-tapping, spandex-wearing gent (not a celebrity; probably a model) who showed up in a guitar ad on the other side of the page:


An affront to public decency.

No particular point to tonight’s entry … just offloading a radio-related memory that goes all the way back to my elementary school days.

In the late ’70s and early ’80s, two stations in Rochester, N.Y., faced off in the hard-rock/album-oriented radio market — WCMF 96.5, and WMJQ “Magic 92” 92.5.

WCMF was winning the battle, and WMJQ was starting to get desperate.

So — I’m guessing this was sometime around 1982 — Magic 92 decided to play a little blue, adopting the slogan “Kick-Ass Rock and Roll.”

(It didn’t use the slogan on this October 1980 airplay chart, so it must have come along a little bit later.)

I saw a mention of that online tonight, and it reminded me of the infamous Magic 92 T-shirts that circulated around town for a season or two, bearing the “Kick-Ass Rock and Roll” slogan.

In my memory, they are classic early-’80s softball-style shirts, though they might really have been short-sleeved Ts. I cannot find a picture of one online for the life of me.

Every so often I would see one in a public place, and to an impressionable lad like myself, they carried a certain frisson of the forbidden.

Certainly, my parents — and all my friends’ parents — would not have let their kids walk out of the house with a Kick-Ass Rock and Roll T-shirt on.

I have a vague recollection that the shirts were banned in the schools of my hometown, as well. (Again, I was in elementary school at the time; this was the sort of rumor that magically trickled down from the exciting, distant world of the big kids.)

Those who dared wear them — at the grocery store, or Silver Stadium, or at the Fourth of July celebration — seemed just a little dangerous, a little devil-may-care. The sorts of people who listened to loud, clangorous, treasonous rock music that only existed at the very edges of my imagination.

Today, of course, I know the shirt-wearing lumpen were listening to nothing more dangerous than Foreigner and For Those About To Rock We Salute You. Which is to say, nothing particularly dangerous at all.

And the whole “edgy” stunt seems kinda silly in retrospect … both in regards to the people who dreamed it up, and the people who saw it as an affront to the public good.

Still, seeing the “Kick-Ass Rock and Roll” slogan reminded me of growing up — of being that age when you’re just starting to collect diverse information from the teenage and grown-up worlds, and trying to make sense of it all.

As for the radio competition, WCMF won — and in fact is still on the air today, playing hard rock of various vintages.

Having lost the album-rock battle, WMJQ switched sometime around 1984 to a Top 40 format — only to get its arse kicked in that format by Rochester’s preferred Top 40 station, WPXY.

(I was a Q92 listener during the year or two of my life when I liked Top 40, sometime around middle school. Didn’t seem like it helped them much.)

The 92.5 FM frequency finally got occupied by a station capable of owning its niche: country station WBEE.

(The joke around Rochester, apparently, is that the station’s call letters stand for “We’ve Been Everything Else.” It’s a fair cop.)

I guess WBEE’s success means it won’t have to resort to cheap tricks (or Cheap Trick) to attract attention.

Which is good: The high-school principals of Rochester have enough to worry about these days without having to deal with “92.5 FM: Shitkicking Country Hits” T-shirts.

You eat yet?

It’s the first week of the year. Roughly nine out of every 10 Americans are hating themselves for overindulging in rich or otherwise non-nutritive foods over the past month.

So I think I’ll write about … packaged food.

Earlier this week I stumbled on the Flickr account of Jason Liebig, who collects food labels, wrappers and packaging. He has kindly scanned in hundreds of items from his collection.

It has never occurred to me that someone might see fit to collect, say, empty potato-chip bags. Just never thought of things like that as something people might save.

But some people do. And it’s kinda cool to spend a few minutes paging through the scans — both to recognize products from my youth, and to compare and contrast the finer points of packaging design through the ages.

A few of my favorites from the Liebig collection, then:

Welch’s grape-jelly donuts: Can’t say I remember these from the freezer aisle. (Yes, they were sold frozen.) I love the colors and design, though.

Grapefruit Tang: I had no idea this existed either. I imagine combining it with $7.99-a-bottle gin for an evening of drinking that would buckle my knees, muddle my brain, but provide me roughly 1,550 percent of my daily quota of Vitamin C.

Minute Rice fried rice mix: Does anyone still use the Standard Oriental Typeface any more with a straight face?

Hi-C Apple Cranberry Drink: In my newspapering days, I covered Lynn Swann for a couple hours during a local stop as part of his quixotic campaign for governor of Pennsylvania. I should have asked him if Hi-C still cut through his thirst. Alas, I hadn’t seen this label at the time.

(Since I went back to the newsroom after the event and wrote a story for the paper, that means I can claim to have successfully covered Lynn Swann. A lot of NFL cornerbacks and defensive backs would love to say as much.)

Pillsbury Milk Break milk bars: I remember once having the Chocolate Mint flavor of these. I liked them, though my palate as a 10-year-old was not especially refined. I suppose I have that half-cup of powdered milk to thank for my sturdy, erect bearing today.

Morton beef pot pies: I ate a whole bunch of frozen pot pies as a kid, though not necessarily Morton; they might also have been Swanson or store-brand. If I keel over out of the blue one of these years, that might be a contributing factor.

Andy Capp’s Pub Fries: The “Andy Capp” cartoon had roughly one-and-a-half jokes (layabout squabbles with wife, goes to pub). I was always astonished, not only by its longevity, but at the longevity of its apparently successful spinoff in America’s snack aisles. I think I had Andy Capp’s Pub Fries once; I remember them as being amazingly salty (even by my standards then) and perhaps also spicy as well.

Underwood Deviled Ham: Can’t remember ever having Underwood tinned meat as a kid. But I remember it stood out on the shelf because it was canned, and the cans were wrapped in white paper. Always seemed weird to me.

Uncle Ben’s Stuff n’ Such: A remarkably noncommittal product — the “anytime stuffing mix for the outside of things.” Peanut-butter sammiches? White Castle sliders? Beached whales? Bring ’em on.

French’s Chicken Fixns Sweet n’ Sour Sauce Mix: Only included here because it dates to the days when French’s corporate headquarters were in Rochester. When one set of my grandparents bought their house in the Rochester area circa 1986, I remember them finding a manila envelope or poster tube with some French’s materials that had belonged to the prior owner. (It wasn’t a recipe for the perfect dijon chicken or anything useful like that … just a couple of random documents the guy had brought home from work and lost down the back of a cabinet or something.)

Hi-C Florida Punch: No idea what this stuff tasted like. But if it had existed during my childhood, I’m sure I would have craved it, just because of the evocatively sun-drenched name and the surprisingly effective green and dark red of the packaging.

Irischer Fruhling: Early-’70s Irish Spring soap package for the German market. This is baader than Meinhof.

Quaker Peanut Butter Granola Dipps: Obligatory pop music content: Check out the box, which promises one of five free records about the history of rock n’ roll. (I assume no actual rock n’ roll was included, for cost/licensing reasons.) This particular box included a record about Live Aid; other subjects included “Rock’s Greatest Guitar Heroes” and “A Tribute to John Lennon.”

I am trying to imagine a young-ish kid sitting down in front of the family stereo and getting a potted (and, probably, at least partially incorrect) history of John Lennon from a record that came with his granola bars.

Dentyne Dynamints: 40-year-old Wonder Bread goes moldy. 40-year-old Twinkies go green. But 40-year-old breath mints look as shiny and effective as ever. Maybe the weirdest stuff in your cupboard isn’t what you thought it was.

Today’s score: 84-70.

We got three or four inches of snow in the Lehigh Valley today, which brought the kids out to frolic in the yard.

It also reminded me of one of my favorite snowy-Saturday pastimes growing up — one that, as far as I know, is unknown to my kids.

My friends and I would play football for hours in the yard, buoyed by kids’ remarkable ability to stay out in the cold and slush long after adults give up and go inside.

I figured I’d write down the basic rules of yard football as we played it, just in case somebody out there in Netland is writing a master’s thesis on childhood games of 1980s America:

– Yard football can be played with either a Nerf football or a real ball. Both have disadvantages in the winter: Nerf balls get soggy and heavy and don’t fly as far, whereas real footballs may not be covered in an all-weather material.

– Two completions equal a first down. It is generally not considered sporting to throw two tiny dink-passes just to get the first down. However, desperate quarterbacks are allowed to resort to this measure if they do not abuse it.

– The shotgun formation is allowed.

– There is essentially no such thing as a rush, since they don’t count toward first downs.

– If both sides have the same number of players, one defensive player will be assigned to guard the quarterback. He is allowed to cross the line of scrimmage and blitz the quarterback after counting aloud to five-mississippi.

– The quarterback-guarding position is ideal for a player who is younger or smaller than all the others; or one who has turned an ankle and lost a little mobility; or one who took a pass to the house on the previous possession and needs to catch his breath for a couple of plays.

– A quarterback under pressure will sometimes take off running down the field to avoid being sacked. This is the only “ground game” in yard football. (The threat of a long run is why the extra defender is assigned to guard the quarterback, rather than dropping back into pass protection as might be expected in a heavily pass-oriented game.)

– Despite what I wrote in the title of this post, the score in yard-football games is generally measured by the number of touchdowns (e.g. 14-12), not the number of points. This is because yard-football games go on so long — even in an upstate New York winter — that the winning team’s point total can get close to 100.

– A touchdown is seven points. There are no extra points or two-point conversions. There aren’t really safeties, either, since adding two points to the score complicates scorekeeping. A quarterback in trouble in his own end zone can be counted on to avoid the sack by throwing long and hoping for the best, anyway.

– Sideline boundaries are roughly settled on by gentlemen’s agreement. The boundaries of an end zone — at least at the front — are usually more formally defined, and are marked on either side by frisbees, traffic cones or any other object on hand.

– Punts and kickoffs are thrown, not kicked.

– It is legal for offensive players to block defenders by standing in front of them and sort of generically tangling them up. Blatant holds, however, are illegal.

– Yard football can be either tackle or two-hand touch, depending on the whim of the players.

– It is not uncommon for a yard-football game to incorporate both tackle *and* two-hand touch. For instance, a game can be tackle in the open grass but two-hand touch near the street. If a driveway is used as an end zone, action there is likely to be two-hand touch as well.

And finally … not a rule, just a helpful tip:

– A yard-football player’s performance, especially on offense, will be at least 40 percent better if he is fully convinced that he is the second coming of Billy “White Shoes” Johnson.