Archive for May 2008

Just shut up and sing

May 30, 2008


I personally don’t want to hear your political views.

Same for you, Peter, Paul and Mary.

I resent the fact that you’ve used your concerts – where myself and many others have come and bought a ticket to hear you perform – to force upon us your personal political treatises that, odds are, aren’t shared by many people here in attendance.

Ah, but that’s the point, isn’t it; to take advantage of the situation to confront those of us who may not agree?

There are indeed many of us who don’t agree with you. We outnumber you and your band of three, four, five… But you have a mike and amplifiers. You also have (well, had) our respect.

Your song lyrics hold the messages we came to hear. Music, itself, is healing, stirring. So just shut up and sing.

Dixie Chicks, too. In fact, just shut up!

Soccer’s place in the world, versus US television

May 28, 2008

At the journalism symposium I mentioned previously, one of the panelists was the News Director of WHAM-TV, Rochester NY’s CBS affiliate. I found a comment of his eye-opening. Someone in the audience asked him why soccer didn’t get the same television coverage in America that baseball, football and basketball enjoy.

He answered to the affect, and I’m paraphrasing from memory, “People who work in sports promotion and announcing tend to have come up through the ranks of their particular sport. Football announcers generally played or coached that game; it’s the same with baseball and basketball. There still aren’t enough people who’ve come up through the ranks of professional soccer – still relatively new to the US – to promote it and announce it to the degree of these other sports.”

I’m not a sports fan; I don’t know the rules of basketball or even how to play football. But I can see that sports announcing is vital; it brings a new level of engagement and meaning to a game, even for a non-jock like me who just happens upon a televised game. Shouldn’t soccer be getting its fair share of coverage? After all, soccer is played in more countries than most other sports; it could facilitate the bringing together of countries, at least on the playing field.

Why wait for soccer players to come up through the ranks, retire, and take jobs in promotions and announcing? We’ve never needed former stock brokers to present the financial news, or ex-cons to cover crime.

You call that “journalism?”

May 27, 2008

Awhile back I was invited by Dr. Susan Barnes, Journalism Professor, to participate in a symposium she was coordinating at Rochester Institute of Technology, called Journalism in the Digital Age. There were several panel discussions and presentations that day, given by local and national media folks. I and five other bloggers participated on a panel discussion: Is Blogging Journalism? We fielded some really good questions from an audience that represented a broad mix of ages and cultures.

I felt particularly honored when I looked up and realized that J. Ford Huffman, Deputy Managing Editor of USA Today was in our audience. I had attended a presentation he had given that morning. When asked by an audience member what he thought of blogs, he had briskly discounted them as “unreliable,” and it was obvious he wasn’t happy with the advantage that blogs – electronic sites – had over newspapers, the latter of which cost a lot of money to print and distribute. So I was surprised to have him sitting ten feet in front of me and my fellow bloggers listening to us articulate our niche in 21st century journalism. Over six feet tall, in his suit and white hair, sitting among the more casual college community, he stood out like a US Senator might in a supermarket checkout line.

I was taken aback, but somewhat tickled, when he suddenly stood in a huff and walked out in the middle of our panel discussion.

This is your chance…

May 23, 2008

To save!

Up to half off!

Plus (are you ready for this?) – plus free delivery in three days or less!

It seems like Memorial Day has become a chance for the hundreds of thousands of Americans who wake up every morning and don military uniforms to stop for a moment and pay tribute to the sales, barbeques, and three-day weekends that make it possible for them to enjoy the freedom of serving.

Make mine rare, please.

Arthur Shawcross: the aftermath (Part III)

May 21, 2008

I should be castrated or have an electrode in my head to stop me…I am a lost soul looking for release of my madness” – Arthur Shawcross, 1990

One night about 9:30, Fran woke to loud knocking at her front door. Living on Alexander Street in the heart of the City of Rochester, she was accustomed to seeing panhandlers, disoriented mental patients from Genesee Hospital – directly across the street – and other characters of dubious intent in her front yard. Pulling her bathrobe securely around her she cautiously opened her door…to a porch full of police.

“We need you to let us in Arthur Shawcross’ apartment,” they said, presenting a search warrant.

“He’s asleep up there; I think he’s working midnights this week; I don’t want to go up there and disturb him,” the dumbfounded Fran said of her ‘perfect tenant’ who was friendly, prepared venison soup for her, and paid his rent on time.

“M’am, we need you to let us in…”

Fran grabbed a  key, led the police across the driveway and up the stairs. She knocked on Shawcross’ door. Silence. She knocked again. Nothing. She opened the door. Shawcross and his live-in girlfriend were gone. Although Fran lived virtually on top of him for five years, she was as oblivious as everyone else who knew him to the fact that he was The Genesee River Killer, brutal murderer of eleven women.

These last three posts come from conversations I had with Shawcross’ landlady, who I’ve called Fran. She had agreed to let me do a newspaper story about her time as Shawcross’ landlady. She then reneged – would not return my phone calls. It seems the power of Shawcross’ neck strangling arm and bat smashing hand reach 18 long years, all the way from violence in 1990 to inflicting reticence – maybe even fear – in 2008.

Arthur Shawcross: the aftermath (Part II)

May 19, 2008

Arthur Shawcross hunted deer, enjoyed butchering them, and was fascinated with their necks. So said Fran, the superintendent of the apartment complex where he lived. There was an actual apartment building, where Fran had her office, and an old mansion, where Shawcross had his apartment…right across the driveway from Fran. The two spoke almost daily – Fran, a former exotic dancer who looked like a professional model, and Shawcross, the man who’d murdered eleven women with his bare hands. Their exchanges ranged from “Hellos,” to Arthur bringing her soup he’d made using a deer’s neck.

“The neck is the best part of the deer,” he said one day as he came into her apartment and put the pot on her stove.

One day a bat got into an empty apartment Fran was showing. The handyman couldn’t catch it. Fran mentioned this to Arthur as he was leaving for his job as a security guard that afternoon. He said, “Let’s go up there.” They walked into the apartment and there was the bat, clinging to the wall. Arthur walked over and slapped him dead, flattening him like a fly.

“He had hands as big as a baseball mitt,” Fran said.

Late one summer night Fran was working in her garden in the front yard. She liked to garden at night, out of the hot sun, using her yard floodlight. This particular night she looked up and there was Arthur standing next to her in the grass, in the dark. He said, “You shouldn’t be doing this; you don’t know who might be out here walking around at this time of night.”

Arthur Shawcross: the aftermath (Part I)

May 17, 2008

In 1990 Arthur Shawcross, a.k.a. The Genesee River Killer, was sentenced to 250 years in prison for the murder of eleven women, here in Rochester, NY. His victims were strangled or beaten to death; many were mutilated. Prior to coming to Rochester, he had sexually abused and murdered a ten-year-old boy and an eight-year-old girl, in separate incidents in the 1970s, in Watertown, NY. Through plea bargaining, he got a 25-year sentence, of which he served fifteen. He also claims to have murdered and cannibalized two Vietnamese girls while serving there.

Shawcross, who’d been married four times, lived in an apartment with his girlfriend in a 19th-century mansion on Rochester’s popular “Restaurant Row” – the 200-block of Alexander Street. I was interviewing a resume client recently (I’ll call her Fran) who mentioned that as an apartment superintendent, she had been his landlord. She proceeded to share with me several vignettes of his daily life that only a landlord-tenant relationship might reveal.

I asked her if I could do a story on her for City Newspaper; I periodically do features for them on a freelance basis. She consented. I contacted the editor, who expressed interest. I then tried unsuccessfully to contact Fran, leaving three messages before I decided she must have had a change of heart. Perhaps she was afraid to expose herself as someone associated with this serial killer. Perhaps she was afraid of him.

So there would be no story, at least not for City. But, starting next post I’d like to share with you some interesting glimpses into the life of someone Fran termed “the perfect tenant.”

Phillip Seymour Hoffman: the high school years

May 15, 2008

In 2006 I wrote an article on Phillip Seymour Hoffman, on the eve of his Capote Oscar, for the arts magazine, Metropolitan, in Rochester, NY – his and my hometown.

I interviewed his former high school drama teacher from the suburb of Fairport, a quiet town with solid neighborhoods, where parents and teachers communicate with each other. Phillip’s drama teacher knew his mother because she already had his older brother, Gordon, as a student. She knew Phillip’s main reason for enrolling in drama was that he’d hurt himself wrestling and could no longer pursue sports.

His teacher soon found Hoffman to be serious and hardworking. His first role, in tenth grade, was Radar, in MASH. She admitted the play had a bad script and was likely the worst she’d ever directed. But Hoffman had immediate audience appeal. “He came out with his push broom and swept his way accross the stage,” she said.

As a senior, he played the lead role in Death of a Salesman. In case of disciplinary problems arising from 700 students having to sit through a two-and-one-half-hour play about an old man, extra teachers were stationed in the auditorium. Hoffman, however, held the audience and at curtain call won a spontaneous standing ovation.

His teacher then referred him – at 17 – to the director of the Shipping Dock Theatre, in Rochester. There, he landed his first paid part as the teenage son of dysfunctional parents in Breeze from the Gulf, an intense three-character drama.

The director recalled that the local newspaper critic didn’t care for the play but liked Hoffman. “When I saw how he handled that part, I knew he’d make it,” the Director said. “I don’t mean in terms of winning awards but in terms of doing something well that he was passionate about. He had talent and talent can’t be taught. You can’t teach someone to feel. It has to come from the artist.”

Did Tom Petty kill Del Shannon?

May 13, 2008

Nope. Del committed suicide. But I see a question mark on the wall. Tom Petty released the album Full Moon Fever in April 1989, which included the single, Runnin’ Down the Dream. In the song Tom describes driving down the highway and “…me and Del were singin’ Little Runaway,” as in, Del was singing on the radio and Tom was singing along, in real life. Runnin’ Down the Dream received heavy airplay. Almost anywhere you or I (or Del) turned the song could be heard.

Tom Petty is a popular musician but in the big picture his artistic contributions are insignificant compared to the innovative efforts of Del Shannon. In the early 1960s, with bandmate Max Crook, Del introduced to modern music a new sound, including what was essentially the first synthesizer. Shannon was a forerunner in re-couching the music of youth and changing the landscape of the entire music market, one 89-cent single at a time. Over the years he made comeback attempts but failed.

Nine months after Petty released Me ‘n’ Del were singin’ Del shot himself. He was a forgotten hero, an unappreciated pioneer watching younger, mediocre musicians come along and, using sophisticated production techniques, create music that sold millions of albums. Tom Petty’s song drove home to Shannon the realization that he would never come back from the past. Petty’s widely played song was the final blow, rendering Shannon an irreversible anachronism.

The furniture store commercial promised no payments, no interest, ’til 2012

May 12, 2008

In 2012 Charles Manson will be 78 and eligible for parole again.