Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Cheers to Gary Portnoy! Who's Gary Portnoy?

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.

Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot. Wouldn’t you like to get away?

By now, I’d say about three-quarters if you jumped right to the chorus. Sing it with me!

“Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name! And they’re always glad you came! You wanna go where people know, people are all the same. You wanna go where everybody knows you name.”

In a time of chaste isolation and self-quarantine, could there be a more poignant and tuneful lyrical yearn than Gary Portnoy’s “Where Everybody Knows Your Name,” the 1982 bar anthem he co-wrote with Judy Hart Angelo?

While much of America is binge-watching the blood-drenched duplicity of “Ozarks” or the bizzaro appeal of “Tiger King,” my wife and I settle in each night to enjoy a nearly 40-year-old network sitcom that  only once dared to broadcast a pair of nipples (they were Woody’s).

The show still holds up. It’s still hilarious. And a big part of its charm will forever be Portnoy’s understated, yet euphoric theme song, the slender 91-word ditty  that TV Guide editors in 2013 declared the “Greatest TV Theme of All-Time.”

Given the pandemic backdrop, I think it deserves even better than that.

“Where Everybody Knows Your Name” is to sitcom theme songs what John Lennon’s “Imagine” is to humanity.

It’s an aspirational reflection on the flawed yet jubilant communal transactions that take place when, well, a bunch of mostly dysfunctional white people who like to drink and bitch get together.

And, damn, if that son of a bitch isn’t catchy as hell.

I wonder about Portnoy, 63. He and Hart Angelo also share writing credit for sitcom theme songs that kicked off “Mr. Belevedere” and “Punky Brewster.” Portnoy wrote songs for Air Supply (“I’ll Never Get Enough of You”), Dolly Parton (“Say Goodnight,”) and Cheryl Ladd (too murky for my meager research purposes).

He’s released four albums, the most recent being “Songs Along The Way,” from 2010. His must be a peculiar kind of fame. Or is it the opposite, a peculiar kind of obscurity?

He’s best known for performing what is arguably one of the most popular songs in history. A whopping 84.4 million viewers watched the May 20, 1993, “Cheers” finale — double “All in the Family” finale and second only to M*A*S*H (105.9 million). And guaranteed most of us at least hummed along with Portnoy.

I saw a pre-COVID-19 item that listed dates where you could see Portnoy live.

So he’s still performing “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” in places full of people who don’t know his.

I doubt the song’s made him rich, which is a pity because circumstances may lead him to resent it.

Portnoy on Stage: “Any requests?”

Rude Drunk: “Yeah, play the theme from ‘Cheers!’”

Portnoy: “I just played it.”

Rude Drunk: “I know. Play it again. Then play it again after that!”

It’s narrow-minded of me, I admit, but I’m with the drunk. I could listen to that song over and over. It makes me feel good. It makes me feel welcome. It makes me feel optimistic.

You could say it makes me, er, cheerful!

We’re so hyper-focused, justifiably so, on social distancing I wonder if we’ll ever be able to return to the days when there was no hesitancy in shaking a hand offered in friendship.

I wonder if we’ll ever feel comfortable congregating in rooms full of strangers on the faithful belief that we’re in a happy place where people go because we intuitively know our troubles are all the same.

They’re places where people think it’s a valuable use of time to spend hours discussing the irony of a man writing a song about everybody knowing your name toiling in anonymity.

So cheers to Gary Portnoy!

“Cheers!” just wouldn’t be the same without you.

Related …

Sunday, April 5, 2020

COVID now worse than DISCO

I guess I was about 25 when I confided to an older friend my sheepish confession of my generational uselessness.

He and his peers valiantly marched in protests against racial hatred, voter inequality, gender discrimination, unjust Far East wars and Watergate corruptions.

“Geez,” I complained, “all my generation has to brag about is we rid the world of disco.”

His response forever endeared himself to me and led to a lifelong conviction that my life mattered.

“Well, Chris, that was very important. I thank you for your service.”

It ain’t exactly like I helped conquer Mount Suribachi but ever since I’ve always felt a quiet kinship to the honorees on Veterans Day.

If you switch just one letter COVID could be an evil anagram of DISCO.

It’s a tricky business comparing a lethal pandemic to a widely disparaged but otherwise harmless musical genre, but readers have plenty of doomsday options on the web. If you’d prefer to focus on sadness, here’s a good weeper from today’s Washington Post: “I’m a funeral director: The pandemic has made saying goodbye painfully lonely.

Perhaps I’d advance my career if I learned some earnest perspective, like don’t write that vanquishing disco music was equivalent to fighting the Japanese on Iwo Jima. But I just can’t help it.

I guess I’d describe myself right now three parts fearful/one part hopeful — sort of an Arnold Palmer Tea of emotions. Or to put it with some paraphrasing to music …

At first I was afraid, I was petrified
Kept thinking I could never live without you by my side
But then I spent so many nights thinking how COVID did me wrong
And I grew strong
And I learned how to get along …

Even someone who hates disco has to admit, Gloria Gaynor’s 1979 anthem, “I Will Survive,” is pretty catchy.

Highly infectious, you might say.

I’m heartened by all the human goofiness we see flourishing in a time of death and fear.

I wonder if during the pre-internet days of the deadly 1918 Spanish flu outbreak the still-healthy frittered away their remaining days teaching the cat stupid tricks or if they just moped around till symptoms left them bedridden.

I’m sure once they eliminated that scourge no one dreamed it could return to ravage anew. They were mistaken …

And so you're back
From outer space
I just walked in to find you here with that pandemic look upon your face
I should have changed that stupid lock, I should have made you leave your key
If I'd known for just one second you'd be back to bother me and Doc Fauci

I think part of the reason I remain cheerfully optimistic, which is superior to stubbornly optimistic, is because I still feel some control over my outcome. I’m home and get along well with the cellmates I used to call family.

It is spring, the season when Mother Nature puts on her make-up.

And I with my whole heart believe in the men and women who are working to vanquish COVID. I can in my mind see them sitting crowded elbow-to-elbow at the press conference table — screw social distancing! — announcing the vaccine.

I see them laughing with relief at their historic achievement. One of them is holding a stick with a novelty coronavirus beach ball dangling from a string.

The whole room erupts in song …

Go on now, go! Walk out the door!
Just turn around now
'Cause you're not welcome anymore!
Weren't you the one who tried to hurt us with goodbye
Do you think we'd crumble
Did you think we'd lay down and die?
Oh no, not I, I will survive

So disco lives. 

And, for now, so do you and I.

What choice do we have?

I believe it’s our duty to press on, to love the ones we’re with, encourage the others and support the front line essentials we’re relying on to get us through this.

It’d be presumptuous of a heathen like me to declare our doctors and nurses godforsaken, but as a taxpayer I’d sure say those in the hospitals are govforsaken.

Me, I’ll try and do all those worthy things, the whole time trying to get the disco to quit running over and over through my head.

It’s all part of stayin’ alive.

Stayin’ alive

Stayin’ alive

Ah, ha, ha, ha …

Related …

Thursday, April 2, 2020

My thoughts on Dylan & "Murder Most Foul"

So here’s my gut reaction to “Murder Most Foul,” Bob Dylan’s divisive new 17-minute song primarily about the Kennedy assassination.

• It’s like listening to four mediocre Bob Dylan songs strung together.

• Might as well call it “Pee Break Most Foul” because if he ever plays this live, every concert goer will at the first notes head straight to their designated restroom.

• The idea of riffing over an era with evocative phrasing has already been done and done better by Billy Joel with “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” only Billy scattered his observations over four impactful decades — and he only needed 4 minutes, 51 seconds to get it done! Even better, albeit more narrowly focused, is Don McLean’s “American Pie.”

Of course in 30 years, I might disavow this judgment, and declare the song utter genius, an essential stitch in the American fabric.

It is my contention that everyone who becomes a Dylan devotee starts out by mocking him. That’s how it started with me.

In fact, for me to begin appreciating Bob Dylan he had to cease being Bob Dylan and become some one else entirely.

He became Lucky Wilbury.

Yes, it wasn’t until I heard him with the Traveling Wilburys that a light went off. He didn’t take himself as seriously as every one else did.

And if you’re today having a bad day (welcome to the club!), realize that once upon a time Jeff Lynne, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan were sitting around and one of them said, “I have an idea. Maybe we should start a band.”

And they all agreed!

Petty said: “The whole experience was some of the best days of my life, really, and I think it probably was for us all ... The thing I guess would be hardest for people to understand is what good friends we were. It really had very little to do with combining a bunch of famous people. It was a bunch of friends that just happened to be really good at making music.”

Okay, enough sunshine. Back to disparaging “Murder Most Foul.”

Some of the rhyming is just lazy, and the song contains what to me is the single worth lyric he’s ever composed. Maybe worst in history.

Wolfman, Oh, Wolfman, Oh Wolfman Howl!


It’s Murder Most Foul!

This is not satire. It’s not a put on. This is factual.

This from the man who on “Thunder on the Mountain” managed to convincingly rhyme “Sons of Bitches” with “orphanages.” So I expect more from him.

I know many people disdain the idea of a 16:57 song (everyone feels obliged to round it up).
Not me. Some of my favorite Dylan masterpieces (“Desolation Row,” “Highlands,” “Brownsville Girl”) exceed 10 minutes.

This one just feels bloated. At least it’s a welcome reprieve from covering old Frank Sinatra tunes, a trend I’ve facetiously said was a factor in Petty’s accidental overdose.

So I don’t like “Murder Most Foul.”

But who knows?

Give me another two decades and I might change my mind and hail it as genius, just like I did with its composer.

Interested in spending roughly the equivalent time on three Dylan songs I contend are bound to break down the walls that separate mockery from appreciation?

Check out “When the Night Comes Falling from the Sky,” “Working Man’s Blues #2,” and “Where Are You Tonight?”

The songs are evidence of a transcendent artist who can be exasperating, tender, charming, infuriating and with every release volcanically compelling.

Just like a woman?


Just like Bob Dylan.

Related …

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

If I should die before I wake ...

Give my shoes, the tri-colored Giorgio Brutini dandies, to the funeral director. I want to go my great reward in stylish footwear. I don’t understand the how or why, but in the past two years I’ve developed an odd shoe fetish. I now  look at the Johnston & Murphy catalogue the way I used to look at Playboy. Either way, I imagine proper afterlife footwear will matter and I want to make a good first impression.

Donate my golf clubs to the First Tee organization so they’ll go to some less fortunate. Nothing has made me more persistently miserable than trying to properly strike a golf ball. Conversely, few things have made me as happy as the time I’ve spent either anticipating golf or talking about playing golf after we’re done. First Tee’s a wonderful organization for perpetuating the furies and joys of this confounding game.

I have two quality Cross pens. Give the gold one to Josie, the pearl one to Lucy. Tell them the pens are sentimentally significant to the old man. I commemorated the publication of my two most recent books with the splurge and signed lots of books with each. Then tell them that one day, guaranteed, each will lose these pricey pens. They will feel bad, like they let me down. Tell them not to fret. They’re just pens. I like my pens, but I love my daughters.

I have about 15 Tommy Bahama camp shirts. Wearing one makes me feel perfectly relaxed. Perhaps because it’s rare I’m wearing one when I’m not holding a bourbon on the rocks. Have a party at the Tin Lizzy and let all my friends fight over their favorites.

Please give my wife an introduction to a handsome handyman who’s good with a wrench. After 25 years with me, she’s deserving of a man who can fix a leaky toilet, mobilize a busted vacuum cleaner and is eager to wage war with nature when the lawn gets a shade past shaggy. Please, too, preserve the dignity of my memory by keeping the courtship chaste through at least 2027.

Give all my Winston Churchill books to some bone-headed liberal so that he may absorb some of the warmth, wit and wisdom of one of history’s great conservatives, to me the most interesting man since Jesus Christ.

Give all my FDR books to some bone-headed conservative so that she can absorb some of the warmth, wit and wisdom of one of history’s great liberals and see why Churchill with an open-heart revered him more than he did any other man alive.

Am I forgetting anything?

I am.

My internal organs!

Give my kidneys to a pair of young single mothers who without the donation would orphan darling children who need their mommies. Give my liver to the army vet who’s struggled both physically and spiritually since the goddamned war. Let it be my liver that leads to a change of heart and may he grow beloved as he devotes his life to helping others.

My heart? Let’s give that to the dear granny whose own, though full of love, is weakened by hereditary defect. Let it be my heart that beats for her as she delights yet another generation of lapped loved ones.

Save the best for my eyes. Give them to the boy born blind and let him see the exact same things I saw. Let him see all the glory, the smiles, the kindness, the beauty and the all the hope that’s hidden in the pessimistic darkness.

Lastly, bestow upon the whole world my native optimism which has sustained me through so much unbidden tumult. It’s useful even when it’s foolhardy, giving birth as it does to the conviction that we’ll beat this and what will emerge in its ugly shadow will be a better, more tolerant place of cheer we can all share.

And on that day let there be a grand jubilee like the world’s never seen, a party of universal revelry  …

On second thought, screw it.

Gimme all my shit back. Right now — starting with the shoes.

I’m not done kicking ass and, by God, I intend to look sharp while I’m at it.

And tell Mr. Fix-It to stop staring at my wife or he’s first!

Related …

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

March Tweets of the Month (Covfefe!)

This is the 10th original blog post since the Covid-19 catalyst really demanded all our attention. The 10th, in fact, since March 12, prior to which I had never even typed the word and was likely to have confused it with Covfefe-22. And 10 is the most in any month of blogging since May 17. Lesson:
The virus may kill millions, but it’s revived “Eight Days to Amish!”

Tweets of the month from

The picture? It was from a ’15 Vegas press junket to Strip Gun Club. I remain flabbergasted I was around all those lethal weapons and all that ammo and couldn’t find one person who didn’t deserve killing.

Also, please understand this blog and my books are commerce masquerading as carefree fun. Any donations or book purchases will be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

• If I were a true believer in the inevitability of the zombie apocalypse, I'd take the utmost care in selecting my daily footwear. A quality shoe is in so many ways beneficial to your typical walker. Never hurts to be stylish either!

• I wonder if any of the forward-thinkers at PETA have game-planned a pro-active position paper anticipating Jurassic scenarios where the organization defends the dinosaur's absolute right to roam free in the cities and the countrysides.

• Researchers point out coronavirus disproportionately afflicting Fox News demographic. I wonder what the reaction of Fox News hosts will be if researchers declare watching Fox News CAUSES Corona Virus.

• If Jeremiah was, indeed, a bullfrog, who drove him to the liquor store to get his mighty fine wine? So much of the story remains untold.

• It infuriates me when I realize I'm 57 and my idea of a really great day is one that involves me finding a quarter. 

• Need something to read while self-quarantining? Social-distancing book special! All books $15 -- plus free shipping continental US! Read all about people being social until you can be social again, too! 

• The word quarantine refers to a period of time spent in isolation to determine healthfulness. It has been in use since the 15th century. The word Qur'antine refers to a period of isolation spent converting to Islam. It's been in use for about a minute.

• The trouble with most conspiracy theories is that while they make you feel smart they're simultaneously making you look dumb.

• It’s heartening to see so many people being kind, encouraging and working toward shared goals. The pity is it always takes the world coming apart to bring people together.

• To save humanity, The Greatest Generation was tasked to go overseas and spill blood to fight tyrannical fascism. Today, our generations in order to save humanity, are being tasked to stay at home and binge watch Netflix. I'm perfectly fine with that.

• I’m surprised by how many people who seem to think if they disparage #COVID19 loudly and brashly enough, they need not fear it. People, it's a germ. You can't hurt its feelings.

• If they gave the death sentence for killing time could you live forever? 

• Podiatrists with empty appointment calendars are light on their feet.

• How will you feel if you avoid #COVID2019 and live to be 103 and get to heaven and find all the good parking spaces have been taken?

• My greatest fear is that the only "sport" contested all summer involves excessive hot dog consumption and that by then I’ll be so bereft I’ll actually give a damn ... Well, that's not my greatest fear. But it's in the Top 500!

• I guess I can understand the rationale, but it's still jarring. Wikipedia lists Charles Manson's occupation as "singer-songwriter" and he is thus in their eyes professional peers with Taylor Swift.

• I’m amazed to learn germs can jump nearly 6 feet. This would be remarkable if germs had legs. But they do not. How do they do it? Six feet! It would be like me broad jumping from here and landing in Denver. ESPN ought to organize germ olympics. I'd watch.

• Irony of living in these uncertain times is how so much uncertainty could produce so many who are absolutely certain they're never wrong

• Reading newspapers on-line is to reading actual newspapers what phone sex is to actual lovemaking. Gone is the soul, the serendipity and chance to get your hands good and dirty during the touchy endeavor.

• People are critical of hoarders and those trying to make an indecent profit off their stash, but to me it makes perfect sense. The biggest assholes are always going to need the most toilet paper.

• I’m amazed that weeks into this crisis and many partisans still think Coronavirus has a scoreboard with tallies for Republicans and Democrats.

Monday, March 30, 2020

TP art in a time of TP hoarding

I believe most people use toilet paper without ever devoting even a minute of thought to the men and women who make toilet paper.

I think that stinks — and I’m talking about thoughtlessness, not the reason behind the need for TP.

Not me.

I think about them often.

I wonder if they’re coy about telling strangers how they earn their daily bread. Like do they say they’re bakers or florists.

Me, I think I’d try and glamorize it.

Bar stranger: “I work in a bank. What do you do?”

Me: “I’m a superhero. I wipe out assholes!”

I’m most curious about the people who work in the toilet paper art department

Never noticed the art? Look carefully. Most every name brand roll has a decorative imprint on it. It may be flowers, patterns or simple grids. And for every one some young go-getter was tasked to bring some soulful creativity to the job.

TP Boss: “Johnnie, I want you to summon your inner Michelangelo and come up with a pattern that’ll really move our customers after their bowels have been really moving. Something playful and warm. I want to see some samples by 5 o’clock.”

Maybe Johnnie has always dreamed of being an artist. Maybe he thinks this is his big chance. And maybe he’s crushed when the boss says, “Sorry, Johnnie, but we’re going to go with the paisley number that Johnnie came up with.”

(I imagine every guy who works at TP factory is named Johnnie).

Hamburg-based Turkish toilet paper artist Sakir Gkebag — and try fitting that and a studio  address on a business card — uses toilet paper as his medium. He
says he seeks to “find the poetry in the everyday.” He uses — some would say misuses — hundreds of rolls of toilet paper to create his whimsical works.

I imagine his Hamburg studio is today being guarded like Fort Knox. And, guaranteed, the name Sakir Gkebag will pop unkindly in my head next time I’m low on paper and we’ve just returned from a family meal at the local Don Patron.

Toilet paper is, as it turns out, yet another reminder of how our innovations have made us softer than our predecessors. 

Not only would they ridicule our panic toilet paper hoarding, they’d advise us that just about any object would do for a scrape in a pinch. 

Ancient Romans in their communal lavatories used to use a sponge on a stick, which they would pass on to their neighboring squatter.

The notion and given what I know about skid marks it makes me question the Caesarian wisdom of making all the togas from white cloth.

It wasn’t long ago that those answering nature’s call would use leaves, corn cobs, moss — even sea shells:

Young boy: “Hey Nana! It sounds like the ocean in this sea shell.”

Nana: “And it smells like Carson Street after the bars close!”

I gleaned these insights from this revealing Washington Post Ronald Blumer article. Blumer is the author of, “Wiped: “The Curious History of Toilet Paper.”

He says there’s no need to hoard, that TP is a locally grown and processed product that rakes in $2.5 billion each year. You could say it’s on a roll.

“We shall have many problems in the coming months, but a shortage of this ‘greatest necessity of the age’ is not something we have to worry about,” Blumer says.

As we conclude for the day, my thoughts keep returning to the fable of Johnny and his nemesis, also Johnny.

For clarity, I should maybe dub them Johnnie No. 1 and Johnnie No. 2, but given we’re talking about bodily functions, it might only further confuse.

One is bound to be disappointed.

Bummed out, even.

The other will be happy. Bummed in, I guess you could say.

I’d hope Johnnie wouldn’t let it go to his head. 

Of course, even the winning Johnnie must come to terms that most people will ignore his creative labors and use it to wipe their asses.

When it comes to toilet paper art, truly everyones a critic in the end, which I guess makes sense because eventually all TP winds up in the end.