mike and jerry.


I didn’t watch a second of the Michael Jackson service today.

I haven’t said anything here about what I think about the biggest pop musician of my lifetime, the one who shaped what my contemporaries listened to while we grew up. Back then, I was chasing a different kind of musical buzz, and Mike’s stuff never did much for me. Later on, my skepticism about his personal life — and some of the things he was accused of doing — kept me from even a nostalgic appreciation of his music.

I haven’t said anything about it here. Beyond the previous paragraph, I won’t.

It’s easy to look at the mobs of people wandering around LA for the last couple days and wonder about what they’re thinking and how genuine their grief for a person they’ve never met can be.

I think about Aug. 9, 1995, and I understand.


I certainly didn’t know Jerry Garcia, and I never had a chance to interact with him beyond the confines of Richfield Coliseum, Deer Creek, the Omni or, a little more than a month before he died, at Three Rivers Stadium. But it would be insane for me to try to deny the impact that he, or his band, or the group of people who used to follow him around the country, had on me. I followed the Grateful Dead around the eastern half on the country for 11 years, in hopes of finding that elusive moment when music and energy and luck and timing all converged — BAM — on the stage in front of me. When it did? There was nothing better. Experiencing that just once was enough to keep me coming back for another dozen more.

When I see a clip of someone sobbing outside the MJ service, I understand. I was in a complete daze for about 48 hours after learning about Garcia’s death; it took an assignment to do a local obit about him to get me to shake the funk.

My friend Dawn posted a Facebook status earlier today, after reading the endless snark — much of which made me laugh, I admit — that rolled by today in our Twitter streams. In part, she said:

I’m seriously about to go postal on holier-than-thou people who think they’re above appreciating a person for the joy they brought to the lives of others. You don’t like it or him? Fine. Keep it to yourself and show some respect for others.

She’s right. Fourteen years ago, I was one of those people. The day after Garcia died, I was heartbroken to listen to young guys on our sports staff joking about the dead hippie and all the dirty hippies who were upset about his passing.

But I understand the response, then and now. You think the people gathered around the Staples Center looked a little odd? Imagine a group of old hippies and younger Deadheads gathered in Golden Gate Park on a late summer afternoon, to mourn another flawed idol, one who had a heroin habit that contributed to his early death, one who couldn’t maintain a long-term relationship with any of his wives, one who came close to killing himself on two different occasions because of his horrible personal choices.

Sound familiar? It does to me.

twenty five.

I’ve been tagged for this over and over and over, so it’s a little hard to ignore. I am, however, ignoring most of the rules:

Rules: Once you’ve been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it’s because I want to know more about you.

Just about everyone I know has been tagged already, so I’m skipping that part. If you haven’t yet been tagged, consider this as your big chance.

1. I saw the Grateful Dead 39 times between 1984 and 1995. Eight different states. By far the most shows at the old Richfield Coliseum south of Cleveland.

2. The best show? Could be Atlanta or Hampton ’88, could be one of a couple shows at Deer Creek, could be night one of the run at Chapel Hill. The worst? A clunker at the Palace of Auburn Hills in 1992. I should have known better than go to Detroit for spring break.

3. I wasted a lot of time mourning Garcia’s death in 1995 when I could have been seeing some kickass Phish shows.

4. My Pittsburgh friends assume I know much more about technology than I actually do.

5. I never had a craft beer epiphany — no one single moment when I realized I had been wasting my life drinking Budweiser and Old Milwaukee.

6. My favorite beer? Way too difficult. My favorite brewery? Also difficult; let’s go with East End for now.

7. I realized that writing might be the way to go for me when I researched and wrote my first-ever term paper — for a composition class during my junior year of high school — the night before it was due. I got an A minus, after being docked a few points for typos.

8. If I had to give up every single other sport I watch in favor of just one, the one I would pick would be college football. And it’s not even close.

9. I still think journalism is important. I’m not yet sure where I’ll be doing my thing in the near future, though.

10. I went through a vodka phase when I was younger. That’s over now, for the most part. I’ll have bourbon or Irish whiskey, please.

11. I am proud to carry on my father’s fondness for Manhattans.

12. I love cooking. I don’t do it enough.

13. I’m pretty good with Italian food, too, although I have absolutely no Italian in me whatsoever. I make better spaghetti and meatballs than you do.

14. Sometime during the mid-1990s, I stopped skiing. For no reason. There was still snow, and I still had skis; I just didn’t go. That changed a few years ago, when I did a story about the little tiny ski hill at Boyce Park, a county park east of Pittsburgh. I haven’t stopped since. I don’t think I could stop ever again.

15. I used to be a pretty good water skiier too, good enough that I made OU’s team the first time I tried out. I know why I stopped that, though — I got fat and it hurt my back.

16. I think Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are both abysmal as solo artists. If there was ever a musical couple who needed each other, it’s those two.

17. I recently became a homeowner. After three months, I still wonder how that happened. And I’m still thrilled that it did.

18. I’m a cat person. Always have been.

19. I hope I always have some kind of homemade jewelry hanging on my wrists.

20. I hate spiders. And I’m afraid of heights.

21. I declared myself an NFL free agent fan in 1996, after the Browns left for Baltimore. It’s possible I could do that again, if I am forced to endure another few seasons like the one that just finished.

22. If Athens, Ohio, had a newspaper worth a shit, I might still be there. I loved that town that much.

23. I love jazz in all its flavors. if you ask me to choose a genre, I’m going to pick Dixieland. Every time.

24. I don’t think I’ll ever learn to dress like a grownup.

25. I’m lucky. I married the person I was supposed to spend my life with.


I’ll have a lot more to say about Mr. Vonnegut in a day or two. For now, it’s sufficient to say only this:

So it goes.


Imagine three junior-high aged boys — all of the extremely white, suburban variety — locked in one of their bedrooms, conspiratorially huddled around … a record player.

We — Uncle Crappy, Juan and Carolina Boy — had come across a copy of Richard Pryor’s Wanted. None of us were certain that our mothers would approve, so this was one of those things that we held as a secret from the parents.

And we listened over and over and over. We came to know Pryor as Rich. Carolina Boy had the entire double album memorized, and Juan and I were close behind:

“Jim Brown say, ‘Anything outside the facemask belong to you. Anything inside the facemask belong to me.'” His dogs. Shooting the car.

Subversive. Profane — at least we imagined that would be the take of our mothers. Endlessly, screamingly funny. We were young, teenaged boys, each with a typically rebellious nature, and we listened over and over and over.

I also remember seeing the Sunset Strip concert film with my mom and dad a few years later. Rich was a little more thoughtful, after the suicide attempt and the trip to Africa that convinced him to strike the n-word from his routines — and his everyday vocabulary — forever. But he wasn’t any less funny. And I was happy to learn that my folks laughed as hard as I did at every “motherfucker” in the film.

There are other comedians I discovered before Rich. Dr. History and I found a bunch of old Cosby standup albums, and their stories about VW Beetles and the invention of basketball. Steve Martin: “How many times have I taken the Lord’s name in vain? A million six? Jesus Chri…” Robin Williams and the William Morris Child Care Center.

Originals all. But none more so than Richard Pryor.