Category: San Francisco
The #RallyZito Phenomenon
Tonight Giants pitcher Barry Zito was as magical as the unicorns that he claims to keep in a stable.
#RallyZito was trending on Twitter all day–not just in San Francisco, but worldwide. It made an odd kind of sense that Giants fans would turn to the micro-blogging site to will their team to victory. After all, it’s only about a 15-minute walk from Twitter’s HQ to AT&T Park, where the Giants play ball. Giants fans understand this social networking thing.
And right now, all of those thousands of hashtags seem to have worked. Barry Zito, the one that all of those hashtags were directed towards, took the mound in St. Louis and won a do-or-die game five of the National League Championship Series. Zito has never lived up to expectations since signing a big contract with the Giants, but tonight he defied them.
All of those tweets, memes and changed profile pics may have had little real effect on the outcome of this game, but it’s still pretty amazing that Giants fans could impact the 50 million tweets that are posted on a daily basis to keep their virtual rally going all day long (and probably into tomorrow). St. Louis was on the verge of going into the World Series if they won tonight, but only a smattering of their players trended at all, and then it was only fleeting.
Cardinals starter Lance Lynn matched Zito’s shutout performance—at least for the first three innings—but St. Louis fans didn’t take to their laptops and Smartphones the way that Giants fans did for Zito.
Of course some Giants fans experienced some angry tweets from Cardinals fans over this whole thing, and that’s really to be expected. I’m sure that Cardinals fans have encountered more than a few obnoxious SF fans in 148 characters or less. But the Cardinals fan tweeting has seemed to be nothing but this kind of narrowcasting bordering on trolling.
Giants fans embraced the full potential of the medium and created a mini-movement out of it. Through the #RallyZito hashtag, local Giants fans connected with expat San Franciscans. No matter where they were physically, they had their moment of bonding over Zito’s amazing outing.
The Cardinals may still win this thing. Those red birds have been pretty tough this post season, but they’re going to have to go to San Francisco to do it where they’ll be only two miles from Twitter’s HQ.
Jim Kelly: Right Out of a Comic Book Convention
Karate master Jim Kelly signs an expansive “Enter the Dragon” poster presented to him by a fan at WonderCon in San Francisco on April 2, 2010.
In the section of WonderCon in San Francisco reserved for cult TV and movie actors, Lou Ferrigno flexed his muscles across from Peter Mayhew, the 7′ tall Englishman who played Chewbacca in a thick fur suit before Lucas gave us digitized Wookiees. Lindsay “The Bionic Woman” Wagner sat one table down from Erin Gray from “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century,” and strangely, Mo Mallady, the voice of the animated pitch lady in a series of Esurance commercials, was on hand to sign 8x10s of her pink-haired avatar. But the biggest surprise among the tables in autograph alley at this year’s WonderCon was the appearance by Jim “Enter the Dragon” Kelly, the “baddest mother ever to hit the big screen.”
As the Afro topped badass named Williams in “Enter the Dragon” (1973), Kelly has some of the most quotable lines in a movie filled with them. He’s “too busy lookin’ good,” Mr. Han-man comes “right out of a comic book” and, “ghettoes are the same all over the world– they stink.” After Kelly was done kicking it (literally) with Bruce Lee in what the Warner Brothers ad campaign trumpeted as “the first martial arts film produced by a major Hollywood studio,” Kelly had continued success in lower budgeted blacksploitation flicks such as “Black Belt Jones” (1974) and “Black Samurai (1977). He also joined Jim Brown and Fred Williamson for the triple threat slugfest “Three the Hard Way” (1974) and reteamed with Brown and Williamson (with Lee Van Cleef thrown in for good measure) in the Spaghetti Western “Take a Hard Ride” in 1975.
After some minor roles in a couple of episodes of “Highway to Heaven” in the mid-1980s, Kelly mostly faded away from acting, but he’s let his presence be known with recent signings at the San Diego Comic-Con and WonderCon. Though he has yet to cash in on any kind of Quentin Tarantino gravy train, he is far from forgotten. At WonderCon, his signing table sported a steady stream of admirers, many of them too young to have seen “Enter the Dragon” during its initial release. After receiving an autographed photo of Kelly, many addressed him as sensei or sifu as they thanked him. During a very rare lull in business, I was able to score the following interview with Kelly where we discussed how he landed the role of Williams, the early days of the American martial arts scene, and his reunion with his other “Enter the Dragon” co-star, John Saxon, which was appropriately in a dojo.
BC: “Enter the Dragon,” How did you come on board that?
JK: It was my second movie actually. My first movie was “Melinda” (1972). I was at my karate studio and my agent called me. She said, “Jim, I want you to go down to Warner Bros and interview for this fight film.” She called it a fight film. I said, “Okay.” She said, “You won’t get the part, but go out there. I want you to meet the producers. They’re going to be doing more fight films. They have a guy they want already, but they’re just having a little problem with him so they’re interviewing other people.” So I went out there and talked to Fred Weintraub and Paul Heller and looked at the script for a second. They asked me what I thought of the script. I said, “I love it. I think it’s a great script.” They said, “How soon can you leave for Hong Kong?”
BC: Where was your karate studio and how long were you training in the martial arts prior to “Enter the Dragon"?
JK: I started training in the martial arts in 1964. I started training in Okinawan Shorin-Ryu style with an instructor by the name of Parker Shelton in Lexington, Kentucky.
BC: That whole Midwest martial arts scene…
JK: Yeah, yeah, exactly. I think they were all involved with this guy named Robert Trias. They were all in connection with that, the Okinawan Sorin-Ryu system. Then I went to Chicago; trained in Chicago for a while. I got a green belt in Kentucky and got a brown belt in Chicago and taught in Chicago. Then I came to San Diego and got my black belt under Sgt. LeRoy Edwards, a Marine Corps sergeant.
BC: Did you have any idea in the late 1960s/early 70s that martial arts was going to lead to a film career for you or for anybody?
JK: In 1969, after I got my black belt from Sgt. LeRoy Edwards in San Diego, I had to make a decision about what I wanted to do with my life. I said, “What will make me happy?” I said, “I need to make a lot of money, I need to be very famous, and I need to be motivational for kids.” Since I wasn’t going to play professional football, and I was a very good football player. I played college football and I could have gone on to play pro. Since I wasn’t going to do that, how was I going to get these needs of mine of met? I said, “Why don’t I become an actor?” What I had to do was become world karate champion and use that as a stepping-stone and maybe get into the movies. Maybe by the time I did this, they wouldn’t be doing John Wayne fights anymore. Maybe karate would be popular. Bruce Lee had already been Kato in “The Green Hornet” so I thought that maybe one day this stuff would be popular in movies. So if I became world karate champion, maybe I’d get a break to get into the movie business. My super goal was to become an actor. So I left San Diego, moved to Los Angeles, and started my mission towards becoming world karate champ.
BC: What year did you achieve that?
JK: I went to the international championships in 69, no 70. I sat there and watched the matches with my friends and I told them, “Next year when I come back here, I will be the middleweight international karate champion.” They said, “Oh you can do it Jim but it’s going to take you longer than one year to do that.” But I came back the next year and I won the international middleweight karate championship. One year.
BC: What about working with Bruce Lee? Working with him both as an actor and a martial artist on “Enter the Dragon"?
JK: That would take me a long time to explain all of that to you. I’ll tell you quickly: it was one of the best experiences in my life. Bruce was just incredible, absolutely fantastic. I learned so much from working with him. I probably enjoyed working with Bruce more than anyone else I’d ever worked with in movies because we were both martial artists. And he was a great, great martial artist. It was very good.
BC: And John Saxon, everyone thinks he was just an actor but he had some judo training.
JK: Karate with (Hidetaka) Nishiyama. When Nishiyama opened a school down in LA, John was one of his first students in the shotokan system.
BC: When people watch that movie, they think that you and Saxon are the characters that you are in the movie; that you’re as thick as thieves and you’re running around gambling and karate fighting together. They believe you’re Williams and Roper from that movie.
JK: I saw John in 1991. It was the first time I saw him since “Enter the Dragon.” I was working out at the Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Academy. I was taking private lessons down there. I was leaving one of my classes and (early UFC champion) Royce (Gracie) said, “Hey Jim, guess who’s in the other room taking a private lesson?” I said, “Who?” He said, “John Saxon.” I went in and said hello to him.
BC: Did you spar with John Saxon?
JK: No, we didn’t spar. He was busy training and taking a private lesson. I just wanted to touch base. It was the first time I’d seen him since “Enter the Dragon.”
BC: What about “Black Belt Jones” and “Black Samurai” and those starring vehicles, those exploitation type pictures in the 1970s?
JK: Actually, it was a good experience. I did pretty good financially with them because at the time, my agent was able to negotiate some pretty good deals. I also had great experience working. That’s one thing about the films from that time, a lot of the actors, especially minority actors, it gave them a chance to work. They made money and also got the experience working.
There was still so much more to ask Kelly about the filming of “Enter the Dragon” in Hong Kong, working with Brown and Williamson in “Three the Hard Way,” as well as his take on mixed martial arts and any future projects. Unfortunately for this interview, the line of fans hungry for his autograph was starting to extend down the aisle. One admirer even brought this huge, two-sheet “Enter the Dragon” poster that was too big to use as a tablecloth. When I checked back with Kelly, there was never another break in the action long enough for me to ask some follow-up questions. Jim Kelly was too busy looking good.
Et Tu, SF Bay Guardian?
The framed photograph of El Homo Loco standing triumphant in the middle of the Incredibly Strange Wrestling ring that still hangs in the hallowed lobby of The Fillmore in San Francisco, in between pictures of Jim Morrison and The Charlatans. This picture of a picture was taken last Friday during the Lucha VaVoom show.
The San Francisco Bay Guardian has a big cover story on San Francisco alt/indie pro wrestling that doesn’t contain a single mention of Incredibly Strange Wrestling. Making matters even worse, their cover image is of a Los Angeles based lucha show (Lucha VaVoom!), not a Bay Area one. While not every article on today’s Bay Area wrestling scene need mention my old dog and pony show, I felt that the Guardian’s take, promising a history of non-mainstream pro wrestling in San Francisco, was left with a gigantic hole made by its exclusion of what was the Bay Area’s most successful alternative wrestling show. (The classic Roy Shire promotion that’s mentioned in the article was mainstream wrestling in Northern California during its pre-WWE heyday.) Below is my letter to the San Francisco Bay Guardian editorial staff, pointing out their oversight followed by some additional thoughts on the article:
Dear Andre Torrez, Tony Papanikolas and SFBG editorial staff:
It was strange, maybe even incredibly strange to see an SFBG cover article touting “pro wrestling’s past and present stronghold on the Bay Area” that didn’t contain a single mention of Incredibly Strange Wrestling. ISW ran from 1995 until about the mid-2000s and was the first promotion to run alternative wrestling shows that played with “the politics of mainstream wrestling” in both the Fillmore and the DNA Lounge. We also had GLBT baby faces (good guys) and grown men wrestling in chicken suits long before Lucha VaVoom brought its LA based show to our old stomping grounds. A picture of ISW “softcore” champ El Homo Loco standing triumphant in the middle of our rickety ring still hangs among the framed photos of rock legends in the Fillmore’s lobby. The reporting on Fog City and LVV in your two pieces was good, but any look back at SF’s history of envelope-pushing pro wrestling shows without a sentence or two on ISW is wholly inadequate.
Count Dante AKA Bob Calhoun
former Incredibly Strange Wrestling ring announcer and performer
and author of “Beer, Blood and Cornmeal: Seven Years of Incredibly Strange Wrestling”
In the Bay Guardian piece, author Tony Papanikolas reports with a sense of surprise that the Fog City Wrestling grappler Angel the Hardcore Homo “is clearly the hero in the contest, reconfiguring some of the mainstream’s predictable gay panic tropes into a slapstick offensive that plays off his opponent’s increasingly comical discomfort.” While Fog City Wrestling is commendable for being willing to play with the paradigm here, Papanikolas and the Guardian make it sound like this is something new when ISW was pushing El Homo Loco as it’s number one fan attraction over a decade earlier (albeit also “minstrelsy” as Papanikolas says of FCW’s Angel).
Papanikolas also notices “a sizeable number of bohemian types” while scanning the audience at an FCW show at the DNA Lounge and again seems surprised by their attendance although ISW sold out both the DNA and the Fillmore with “bohemian types” as a large part of its fan base. Papanikolas hedges a little as he writes, “San Francisco doesn’t seem like the kind of community that goes in for (nonironic [sic]) professional wrestling.” The use parenthesis is his and the word “nonironic” is his only thin reference to any previous Bay Area wrestling entertainment that may or may not be ISW. And that’s always the knock by other wrestling promotions (that do make use of thematic irony whenever it suits them) against ISW – that it was ironic. It wasn’t “real” professional wrestling, whatever that is.
It’s sad that the Bay Guardian is so quick to cover up or ignore San Francisco’s homegrown, underground, subversive, DIY wrestling show. Sure we had our moments of utterly craven tastelessness (which I write about regretfully in “Beer, Blood and Cornmeal”) but we also brought matches that tackled religion, local politics and gentrification and we did more than our share of “reconfiguring” of the “mainstream’s predictable gay panic tropes.”
In closing, I leave you with this shaky footage of ISW’s gay panic trope the Cruiser dropkicking and violating an effigy of Mayor Willie Brown in front of San Francisco’s city hall while Tom Amiano, Kirk Hammett and Green Day watched from the side of the stage. It’s doubtful that the workers of Lucha VaVoom or Fog City Wrestling will ever find themselves so politically active. For those of you who feel more than slightly nervous at the sight of a white man abusing an effigy of a black politician in this age of town hall disruptions, please remember that The Cruiser was the original tea bagger, in the traditional sense of the word:
The Arnold Budget Bash-O-Rama: The Prequel
If he hasn’t done so already, Governator Schwarzenegger is going to sign a real shite-bomb of a budget this morning. Since I’ve given you blogs on the lamentation of my salary and my guide to Arnold-free action flicks, I figure it’s time to make my Arnold Budget Bash-O-Rama a true trilogy. They love trilogies in the sci-fi/fantasy/action genre. But not only is this the third installment of the series, it’s also a prequel! We’re going all the way back to 1977 for Arnold’s appearance in a later season episode of Streets of San Francisco where he plays a crazed Austrian bodybuilder with a major case of ‘roid rage. Somewhat disturbingly, it’s also Schwarzenegger’s most autobiographical work this side of Pumping Iron. We can call this trip down memory lane a reboot and blame it all on time traveling Romulans. Hey Romulans, can you reboot the California Constitution while you’re at it? Just a thought.
The kinetic and jazzy opening theme starts. We’re treated to a credit sequence that leans heavily on the zoom lens. The voiceover almost becomes the song’s lyrics: “The Streets of San Francisco/A Quinn Martin Production/ Starring Karl Malden.” For original Battlestar Galactica fans, this episode also stars Richard Hatch as Inspector Dan Robbins. Michael Douglas, Malden’s original co-star, had already left the series in order to produce One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975). The split must have been amicable because Steve Keller (Douglas’ character) didn’t die in an exploding helicopter or anything. Keller did leave the force to teach at something called the “Berkeley College.” I bet he’s getting furloughed right about now. Tonight’s episode is called “DEAD LIFT.” You’ve gotta’ love those Quinn Martin titles.
There’s a quirk to the construction of 70s crime dramas. They usually begin by following the antagonist as he/she/they commit a criminal act, with our main characters only joining the story once they are called in to investigate. If an episode of Streets or Starsky and Hutch begins by focusing on the show’s leads, it usually means that one of them is going to be taken hostage by the middle of act two. This episode follows the standard form however. Arnold as Josef Schmidt is jogging around the lake in Golden Gate Park. An out of breath but still aloof liberal chick catches up to him and persuades Arnie to go back to her off-campus apartment. Once at her pad, she gets him to take off his shirt, rub baby oil on his pecks and give her an impromptu pose-down. She giggles at Arnie uncontrollably while he’s flexing. “I am not a freak! I am not ugly! It’s what a body is supposed to look like!” he rages as he violently shakes that cultural elitist to death before hightailing it out of the apartment.
Arnold is not a freak!
Stone (Malden) and Robbins arrive on the scene of the crime. The murdered woman’s doormat of a boyfriend is on hand to fill the investigators in on the details. She had just graduated from SF State which means she at least avoided CSU’s 20% tuition hike before our Governor squeezed the life out of her. The boyfriend also tells us that she “had this thing for sociology” which led her to bring home construction workers, firemen, and trash collectors to “see what they were thinking.” Stone and Robbins find a cassette tape that she had made of Arnold yelling “I am not a freak” before she died. They also find traces of baby oil.
The day starts out crappy and just keeps getting worse for Arnold. After committing accidental homicide, he shows up to his job lifting empty beer kegs at the Anchor Steam brewery to find out that he’s going to be fired because he works too hard. He’s putting too much pressure on those bearded and lazy union types by being too good. Something called “efficiency experts” are also to blame for this. “I’m here to work!” Arnie rages as he tosses around more empty beer kegs and cases of beer. It’s worth noting that this scene seems to have shaped Arnold’s political views as if this really happened to him. Since becoming governor, he’s launched several ballot initiatives to bust the unions. During Reagan’s second term as president, the early effects of Alzheimer’s disease led him to recount scenes from his movies as if they were real. If Arnold follows in the footsteps of the Gipper and starts to suffer from some kind of human growth hormone induced dementia later in his political career, this is the sequence that he will mistake for reality.
Left: Karl Malden. Right: Arnold gets canned at by Anchor Steam. They may have been onto something over there.
Stone and Robbins find a witness who saw Arnold and the victim leaving Golden Gate Park together. The wit also shows the inspectors that Arnold lumbers around like some kind of constipated robot. Stone asks the SFPD judo instructor about guys who walk around like constipated robots. The judoka tells him that he’s looking for someone with “over-developed lats.” Stone and Robbins then question a cigar chomping carnie at a pro wrestling gym. “Good lookin’ strong guys can make a fortune in the rasslin game,” he informs Stone. Stone then asks if any of his grapplers use baby oil. “Baby oil,” the wrestling promoter sneers, “You know you’re looking for a pretty boy. One of those Mr. America types. They rub the oil on, you know, to show off their meat.”
Arnold goes home to have a have a heart-to-heart with his alcoholic landlord who tells him that guzzling bourbon sure beats pumping iron. “Don’t you know that your body’s a temple?” Arnold asks the old codger in frustration. The landlord says that he’s “worshipping the spirits” and that the rent’s still due. Arnie is forced to earn some scratch as an artist’s model, posing in strange, tan-colored man panties. Another liberal woman (Diana Muldaur), this one older and more desperate takes him home to her apartment where she tells Arnold that he is an artist who “uses his own body as clay.” Arnold gets lucky this time.
Stone and Robbins’ investigation leads them to a claustrophobic body builder gym where grimy muscle heads with bad hair pump iron and are hustled by a skinny grifter in an old school jogging suit. The huckster running the gym (Bert Freed) is a Joe Weider type who is only slightly more trustworthy than the wrestling promoter. Still, he helps Stone and Robbins narrow down their leads and once they pull some military records, they’re hot on the trail of the Governator. They go to an old address of Arnie’s and question his previous drunken landlord. She tells them that she had to throw him out because of all the “clangin’ and bangin.’” Remember when San Francisco was filled with cranky, boozehound landlords instead of the yuppie property speculators the city is plagued by today? Ah, the good ol’ days.
Arnold’s new lady friend (man she moves fast) convinces him to sign up for the “Mr. San Francisco” contest that is conveniently being held later that afternoon in order to boost his confidence. If there’s one thing Arnold lacks, I guess, it’s confidence. She mistakenly brings some college-educated, wine drinking, Nancy Pelosi loving, Gavin Newsom hugging pals of hers to the tournament to meet her new man. One of the libs refers to Arnold as “ferocious, jungle-like.” He then chortles loudly as Arnie strikes a pose and quips, “I can see why you didn’t want me to have that fourth cocktail. You were afraid I would throw up.” Arnold catches wind of this but manages to take second place anyway.
Chortling libs mock Arnold’s physique.
Arnold makes it back to the lady friend’s pad before totally losing it. “What good is it being best at something if nobody understands what you’re best at?” he emotes before shattering a bunch of vases and punching holes in paintings. “It is progressive resistance! In progressive resistance you go from something light to something heavy like this!” he says as he busts up a coffee table. Some uniformed police officers arrive but the sight of public employees only sends Arnold into more of a rage. He easily bats one away and subdues the other.
Governor Schwarzenegger appropriates city-owned assets by physically grabbing their police personnel.
Robbins and Stone show up on the scene with their guns drawn. There is mild disappointment that we don’t get to see Karl Malden go one-on-one with the Austrian Oak, but it isn’t to be. If it were an episode of Cannon, you know we’d be seeing William Conrad opening up a can of blubbery whup-ass all over Schwarzenegger. Instead, Stone/Malden gets a handle on the situation by asking: “How many times are you going to hurt people?”
“Until they stop laughing!” Arnold answers while clutching a middle aged cop in his vice-like grip. And there’s the problem. We laugh at Arnold’s accent, his muscles and his gap-toothed grin. We laugh at his movies when we’re supposed to as he delivers one liners in Kindergarten Cop (1990) and when we’re not as he’s badly dubbed in Hercules Goes Bananas (1970). We laugh at his commentary track on the Conan DVD (thanks Holzfeuer) and we laugh at Dead Lift. We just can’t stop laughing at Arnold. But until we do, he’s going to keep on cutting with that big fucking knife of his and hurting the elderly, poor kids without medical care, students at all levels, cities, counties and everyone who works for them. And as Streets of San Francisco brings me insight into one of the most captivating figures of my lifetime, I realize that ArnoCorps, a punk metal band devoted to ruthlessly mocking Arnold at every turn has a new EP ready to drop. Arnold’s gonna’ slash and burn no matter how much Malden lays into him with a stern talking to.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, Streets of San Francisco airs weekdays at 11am on KOFY TV-20 (cable channel 13). They’ll show Dead Lift sooner or later. Watch for it.
Detective Mike Stone (AKA Karl Malden), San Francisco Needs You
Karl Malden was Detective Mike Stone. He patrolled the Streets of San Francisco (A Quinn Martin Production) around the same time that Clint’s Dirty Harry Callahan and McQueen’s Bullitt were plugging perps and getting into rad car chases respectively. But Stone/Malden wasn’t into such hot dogging. He wasn’t the rebel. He wasn’t the inconoclast. Stone probably came up on the force around the same time that Jimmy Stewart’s Det. Scottie Ferguson nearly fell off a building and discovered that he suffered from a bad case of vertigo in the process. Scottie was saddled with a desk job but couldn’t even hack that. Stone must have learned some hard lessons from Ferguson’s plight there. Stone was the father figure. He was the cement that kept the streets from cracking apart from so much Bay Area seismic activity. Stone was more likely to give you a stern talking to than draw his gun. I think the entire state of California could use one of those stern talkings to right about now.
Malden was just as much the mentor offscreen as Stone was on it. In 2006 I interviewed local character actor and florist Al Nalbandian for the San Francisco Chronicle about his long acting career. Being a Bay Area actor, he appeared in a few episodes of Streets (about four by my count). “(Malden) was a very capable man,” Al told me as he sold long stem roses and other fine flowers at his Union Square stand, “One time, when the director didn’t know what he was doing, Malden went out there and told him what to do. He helped Michael Douglas out in those episodes. Douglas is lucky to have had such a partner.” Douglas has always given more credit to Malden as an acting teacher than to his father, Kirk Douglas. While Stone was showing Steve Keller the ropes on the force, Malden was teaching Douglas how to act. (Al is still out there selling flowers by the way.)
A friend of mine works at a pretty good video store in the Mission District. He tells me that there are a handful of young, hipster types who have become obsessed with Streets. A couple of them have even found Mike Stone’s house on DeHaro Street. The city in those episodes of Streets is long since gone, replaced by high tech gulches, new ballparks and biotech hubs. Still, Malden pumped so much life into that character that anyone passing by that house on DeHaro would half expect Mike Stone to stroll out of that front door of his and regale you with tales of the best hotdogs in the Potrero or the best chili in the Tenderloin.
Karl Malden passed away today at the age of 97. He will be missed.
In addition to the Streets boxsets and the Kazan/Brando movies, you should also check out Karl Malden’s job as a Tony Perkin’s hardassed dad in the baseball/mental health drama Fear Strikes Out. It’s one of Malden’s best roles in a career of best roles. Bay Area residents can still watch Streets on KOFY TV-20 weekdays at 11am.
Kwai Chang Caine, RIP
DAVID CARRADINE has been found dead in a Bangkok hotel room. The reports of his death are getting more and more lurid. He may have hanged himself with a cord of some kind. The US Embassy in Thailand is only confirming his death right now. Reports of suicide or mysterious circumstances could just be the results of the Bangkok rumor mill. Carradine lived hard and fast but still made it to 72. In an interview in Psychotronic from the 1990s, Carradine discusses dropping acid and doing other hard drugs like it’s a regular occurrence for him. While Dennis Hopper left his days of easy ridin’ behind him, cleaned himself up and started plugging GOP candidates like both Bushes and Bob Dole at Republican conventions, Carradine lead the rebel life until the end.
Three weeks ago I posted a blog comparing my one run-in with Carradine to my more recent meeting with Bruce Dern (another frequent star of Roger Corman exploitation movies in the 1960s and 70s). I ended up casting Carradine in a bad light. I feel kind of bad about that now, or at least weird about it. On the train ride this morning I even had some thoughts of taking the thing down, but hell, it all happened (plus, it’s only a goddamned blog). And even though Carradine just sat there at his merch table and couldn’t even look up at me, I’m still a fan. I’ll still throw on Death Race 2000 (1975), Death Sport (1978) or even episodes of Kung Fu The Legend Continues every now and then. And you’ve gotta’ be a fan to love Kung Fu the Legend Continues.
Carradine has his SF Bay Area roots. Like me, he went to San Francisco State University. He dropped out and hung out with the Beatniks in North Beach. He chased his espressos with weed. He also held down a job cleaning out the brewing tanks at the Lucky Lager Brewery in San Mateo back when that cheap brew’s bottle caps had weird visual puzzles printed on them.
Carradine beat out Bruce Lee for the role of Kwai Chang Caine in TVs Kung Fu the 70s. Adding insult to injury, Lee created the concept for the show, a fact that Kung Fu’s producers seem to conveniently forget in so many DVD “making of” documentaries. Carradine became the first mainstream martial arts star without being a martial artist. When American Shaolin author Matthew Polly brought some video tapes of old Kung Fu episodes to THE actual Shaolin Temple in China, the monks all thought that the lofan (Carradine) was making fun of them with his bad technique. Bruce Lee went to Hong Kong, made kung fu classics, and became a tragic movie legend on par with James Dean. Like his father, John Carradine, David had brushes of cinematic greatness mixed together with heaps of low budget dreck and an occasional cult classic thrown in. John was in Grapes of Wrath (1940), Stagecoach (1939) and The Ten Commandments (1956) to name a few. He was also in the Astro Zombies (1968) and Blood of Ghastly Horror (1972). David was in the early Scorsese films Boxcar Bertha (1972) and Mean Streets (1973) as well as Hal Ashby’s Woody Guthrie biopic Bound for Glory (1976). He was also in Dead and Breakfast (2004). While not on the level of Bruce Lee as a cultural phenomenon, Carradine still carried enough mystique to play the title in Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies.
For whatever reason, I’m still hoping that rumors of suicide are just that and that David Carradine went the way I always thought he would: from partying just a little too hard for a man his age. While the urge to practice tai chi moves to his old how-to videos may be hard to resist, you should also make the time to check out some of Carradine’s more interesting films. Larry Cohen’s Q: The Winged Serpent (1982) comes to mind, where Carradine chews the scenery along with Michael Moriarty as a mythical Mexican flying snake god menaces New York City. Also see Lone Wolf McQuade (1983), the movie where Carradine dukes it out with none other than Chuck Norris (!) to a soundtrack by Spaghetti Western maestro Francesco De Masi. Also check out Circle of Iron (1978), another project originally created by Bruce Lee but realized by Carradine, this time posthumously. Lee came up with the concept but Carradine was cast in the picture a few years after the Enter the Dragon star’s untimely death. Although Lee may have preferred it differently, the two actors will always be linked and both will be equally missed.
You can leave a comment for David Carradine’s family on his website.
Rag-Na-Rocking My Way to Fitness with Thor
I set up a 75-lb. TKO brand heavy bag in my garage and started sparring again. I’m feeling the effects already – my hands hurt.
My band, Count Dante and the Black Dragon Fighting Society, is backing up Thor, the Rock Warrior, bender of steel bars, destroyer of hot water bottles and singer of such metal anthems as Let the Blood Run Red and Thunder on the Tundra at Slim’s (333 11th St., SF, CA) again this coming Wednesday May 27th at 8pm. Roughly translated this means that me, Jim and The General are going to be Thor’s band for the night. We did this about a year ago and many headbangers and even lowly hipsters came away from Slim’s that night exclaiming that it was the show of the year. We’re also playing an opening set so there’s going to be a whole lotta Count Dante and the Black Dragon Society at Slim’s next Wednesday. If the appearance of the Thunder God who lives to rock wasn’t enough to draw you out on a school night, ArnoCorps is headlining. They headlined last years’ dose of Thor/Dante merged Rag-Na-Rocking and the results were historic if not truly epic.
But back to boxing: since I have to relearn an entire set’s worth of Thor’s music in a little less than two months, I’ve had to listen to a mega dose of Thor. Call it total emersion into the art of the man who brought us the classic film Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare. Last week I started boxing to the same Thor CD that I use to pick up bass riffs from and, thus, found the perfect use for Thor’s straight ahead metal. Songs such as Thunder Hawk drive me to plunge my heavy fits ever deeper into the bag’s canvas and sand mass. When I am wavering, Thor’s lyrics offer affirmation, urging me to keep my arms up and throw leather as the bag sways back in forth in a futile effort to avoid my blows. “Thunder Hawk/I am the Thunder Hawk,” Thor’s voice tells me from the CD boombox on top of my washing machine. Yes, at that moment as I double the right hook into the side of the bag as if I am sinking those blows into an opponent’s ribcage, I am the Thunder Hawk! “In the sewers and the stench/Feeling sweaty, feeling drenched.” Thor, o ancient predator, you truly understand. Thunder Hawk ends. I take a break for a minute and lift my arms above my head and take deep breaths. Knock Them Down starts with its grinding power riff. Another round begins.
“I was born a fighter/Survivor of the street/Only Rage and Fists/Kept me on my feet.” Again Jon Mikl Thor understands the pugilistic urge better than even Jack London or Norman Mailer. “Knock them Down/Oh Yeah Knock Them Down/Rub all their dirty faces into the ground.” No one says it better than Thor.
It only stands to reason that Thor’s muscle rock would be the perfect soundtrack to manly physical pursuits such as boxing, judo or weight lifting. He is the first man to hold both the Mr. USA and Mr. Canada bodybuilding titles. The question now becomes, why doesn’t Thor open a chain of Thor’s Gyms across the US and Canada? With his godlike powers, he has revived a long dead Vancouver hockey team. He has done, and continues to do, feats of strength most of us schleps can only dream of. He has a new record label, Vulcan Sky, which has singed ArnoCorps. Your average Thor’s Gym can pump the music of Thor and other Vulcan Sky artists 24/7 and deliver us from the techo and disco usually played at your average 24 Hour Fitness. I’ll have to ask him about this at practice on Tuesday. Maybe I should write a business proposal.
You can buy tickets for next Wednesday’s show by clicking here.
Wed. May 27, 2009, 8pm
Count Dante & the Black Dragon Fighting Society
Freddie Flex & the Heavy Eric Si-Fi Show
333 11th St.
San Francisco, CA 94103
Here’s a video of last year’s mayhem:
The Bad Times for Monster Men Continue
I was really shocked to see the obit for former Creature Features producer Bob Shaw on SFGate.com today. This is so soon after Creature Features host Bob Wilkins passed away – way too soon. Shaw was only 56. Bob Shaw was a monster nerd who broke into television by assisting Bob Wilkins on Creature Features. Shaw helped Wilkins (along with future CF host John Stanley and ISW co-founder August Ragone) with the research into classic (and not so classic) horror and sci-fi movies. He also pieced together the crackerjack title montage of movie clips that played under the beloved Creature Features theme song during the show’s opening. “Stylishly done,” were George Takei’s remarks about Shaw’s work when the Trek star was a guest on the show. After Creature Features, Shaw became KTVU’s resident Roger Ebert, but I always liked him better. He went out of his way to give a glowing review to Godzilla 1985 when other lazy critics were content to just let it head up their year’s worst lists. He pointed out that Pearl Harbor contained no Pacific Islanders in it but had lots of scenes of truckloads of white actors yelling “Go! Go! Go!.” He understood the artistic value of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. I just watched Bob in the Creature Features documentary, Watch Horror Films Keep America Strong. He’s really funny in it. It’s hard to believe he’s gone.
Shaw passed away last Friday from liver failure and complications from Crohn’s disease.
He was one of us, one of us (and he’d know the reason for the repeat better than anyone).
The hard times for monster men continue.
Here’s some of Shaw’s handiwork…
Beer, Blood and Burns Night
THE EDINBURGH CASTLE on Geary Street has been dubbed “a literary fortress in the Tenderloin,” but rumors that the Castle would no longer host lit readings have been swirling around for a while now. While these rumors are not true (Alan Black is planning a Sunday afternoon reading series and the next Bond night will actually feature readings of Ian Flemming’s prose) this beleaguered atmosphere made last Saturday’s Burns Night more special than usual.
It was the Edinburgh Castle’s 14th annual whisky soaked celebration of the poetry and hard living of Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns and the 250th anniversary of his birthday. Burns Night weds the pub’s increasingly distant past as an ethnic bar (where bagpipes were played every Friday and Saturday night and the jukebox was filled with vinyl 45s of Highland favorites) with its recent history as a watering hole for the city’s literati. There were bagpipes. There was haggis. There were humorous explanations of the haggis delivered by Janis, a kilt wearing Buddhist nun with a soft Scottish brogue. There was strange performance art that involved fucia wigs, swords, shields and the music of Simple Minds. And there was the part where Alan Black reads To a Haggis over the roasted sheep’s stomach before cutting into it with a ceremonial dagger, my favorite part of any Burns Night.
Alan Black reads “To a Mouse” at the 14th Annual Burns Night at the Edinburgh Castle, SF, 1/24/2009.
At last year’s Burns Night, I read Birthday Ode for George Washington, which was something that I’d always wanted to do. Rabbie Burns was quite a supporter of the American side of the Revolutionary War seeing it as a Scottish rebellion by proxy where the second sons in the New World claimed the freedom that eluded them in the Old. This year I decided to highlight the works where Burns bags on the pretention of wealthy elites. With the current economic meltdown I felt this material is just as relevant as it was 200 years ago. I read The Book Worms, Written on a Bank Note and The Toad Eater. They were all short (unlike the piece on George Washington) and were easily delivered without copping a fake brogue.
Bob Calhoun reading short Burns poems that bag on rich people at the Edinburgh Castle on 1/24/2009.
The evening, like any of the best events at the Castle that I’ve witnessed, mixed strangeness with a sincerity not often found in the city these days. Strangeness we have plenty of but the latter element is in short supply.
I’d like to close this with the first two stanzas of Burns’ Scotch Drink. With all the trendy wine bars opening in the Tenderloin these days, these words are most appropriate:
Let other poets raise a fracas
‘Bout vines, an’ wines, an’ dru’ken Bacchus,
An’ crabbit names and stories wrack us,
An’ grate our lug,
I sing the juice Scotch bear can mak us,
In glass or jug.
O, thou, my Muse! guid auld Scotch drink;
Whether thro’ wimplin’ worms thou jink,
Or, richly brown, ream o’er the brink,
In glorious faem,
Inspire me, till I lisp an’ wink,
To sing thy name!
And Your Host Bob Wilkins...
Bob Wilkins interviews an actual cyclops on “Creature Features” in the 1970s.
I JUST GOT AN EMAIL FROM JOHN STANLEY telling me that Bob Wilkins passed away in Reno yesterday. First Forry Ackerman and now Bob Wilkins; it’s been a bad time for monster men.
Wilkins was the host of Creature Features on Oakland’s KTVU Channel 2 when I was a kid in the 1970s. Wilkins never wore a cape or put on any ghoulish make-up. He looked more like a swingin’ 70s insurance salesman than the horror hosts that haunted the airwaves of other American cities. He had horn-rimmed glasses and always smoked a stogie. His set did have the pre-requisite cobwebs and cardboard dungeon walls, however, but there were plenty of post modern touches like a sign on the back wall that read: “Watch Horror Films. Keep America Strong.” The placard looked like it should be staked into some Republican’s lawn somewhere in Concord or San Mateo.
Bob’s sense of humor about films like Monster from the Ocean Floor (he claimed that the film was delivered to the station in a brown paper bag) or Attack of the Mushroom People (the first film he showed) was filled with the kind of wry sarcasm that would become more mainstream in later years with such late-night talk show hosts at Letterman or Conan O’Brien or even John Stewart. In the 1970s, the Bay Area was maybe the only place that got this sort of thing. But Wilkins did not poke fun at every film he showed like other horror hosts. Bob knew the classics from utter crap and treated the 30s Universal Monster movies or Night of the Living Dead with a kind of respect.
Wilkins, a former weather man, came from the news department of KTVU and his monster movie show was filled with strange news segments. He interviewed local weirdoes like the hippy who built a robot (pronounced “robit” by Wilkins) and people who claimed to be vampires or psychics. Wilkins also interviewed such big stars as Christopher Lee, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and George Takei. When I laid my hands on some video tapes of Creature Features interviews, me and my friends played the Takei interview over and over again. It was about 15 minutes long and it was amazing. Takei was the head of LA’s mass transit authority at the time and Wilkins actually asked him about this. “Don’t talk to me about BART,” the man who played Mr. Sulu said waving his hands, “That’s a real hot seat. It’s very contentious issue.” It still is George, it still is.
When I got those tapes of Creature Features, I actually ordered them directly from Wilkins in Reno. He accidentally sent me two tapes of volume two but no copy of volume three. I sent him a letter explaining the situation with SASE so he could send me the right tape. He actually called my house to make sure he got my story straight. My girlfriend at the time answered the phone. Me and my Bay Area nostalgia addled friends were driving her nuts by repeatedly watching those Creature Features tapes. Wilkins voice was constantly coming from our TV and now she was hearing it on the phone. She nearly passed out. But getting a phone call from Wilkins, that really meant something.
By having all of those interviews on his show and making a big deal about re-running 30s Flash Gordon serials with Buster Crabbe* Wilkins made me realize that the offbeat was important or even desirable. I think that I have done things like wrestling guys in Sasquatch suits and writing two books with the subconscious desire to be one of those local weirdoes interviewed by Wilkins as he puffed on that cigar and sat in his trademark yellow rocking chair.
Bob, you’ll be missed. There will never be another one like you.
* Wilkins interviewed Crabbe on the show as well and the former matinee idol pushed his new workout method called “Energistics”).
Condolences can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org and he will pass them along to the Wilkins family.
For more info, please go to August Ragone’s blog
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Beer, Blood and Piecemeal.
The rock and reading odyssey of a 300-pound hulk.