The blog of Chicago-based freelance writer David Johnsen.
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Farewell to a Boyhood Hero
I was saddened last night to learn that baseball player Bobby Murcer died. Everyone remembers him as a Yankee, but I remember him as a Cub.

My first sports memories are from the late 1970s. Baseball was my favorite, and in my family there was -- and is -- only one team that matters. Murcer played for the Cubs for only two and a half seasons, 1977-1979, but those were critical years for me, a brief time when athletes were heroes (I think I started to become cynical around fifth grade). I remember Murcer as the Cubs' leading home run hitter in 1977. In fact, his 27 homers were more than twice as many as anyone else on the team hit.

Then the Cubs got Dave Kingman. I think I liked him better than Murcer mostly because we shared a name, the sort of thing that matters to an eight-year-old. Kingman had a great year in 1979, leading the National League in home runs, runs batted in, runs scored, and slugging percentage. Now I know everybody hates Kingman, but I was too young to understand it then.

In mid-1979, Murcer was traded back to the Yankees, where he finished a solid career. Since that was long before inter-league play*, he disappeared from my world except on Topps baseball cards (this columnist's Murcer memories began when mine ended). I didn't even know he became a broadcaster until I read his obituary. By all accounts, he was a great guy, a Yankee legend, and he will be missed.

* Except for the World Series, of course, but that's unknown territory to a Cubs fan.

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Friday, April 18, 2008
Two Musicians
Two lines of lyrics come to mind today:

I woke up this mornin' and none of the news was good
--"Jerusalem" by Steve Earle

Seems everyone I know is gettin' cancer every year
--"Puttin' People On The Moon" by Drive-By Truckers
I got up at 7 AM and saw the second most viewed story on the Chicago Tribune's Web site: E Street Band member Danny Federici dies at 58. Federici wasn't the most famous member of the band, but he was one of the first to work with Springsteen -- they started playing together before I was born. I haven't kept up with the band since I saw them at U.S. Cellular Field in 2003, but I learned from the obituary that Federici had been fighting melanoma for three years.

While reading e-mail, I learned that another talented musician, guitarist Chris Gaffney, died yesterday of liver cancer at age 57. My familiarity with this relatively obscure Californian stems mainly from his playing with Dave Alvin, the former Blaster who is one of my favorite songwriters. I knew Gaffney was sick because I had read about the "Help Gaff" site soliciting donations for his costly treatment, but I had no idea the end was so near.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008
Road House Blues
I saw the movie Road House many years ago. To be honest, I only remember two things about it:
  1. It starred Patrick Swayze.
  2. It featured a young, talented, blind guitarist named Jeff Healey.

Last night, my brother mentioned that Swayze is suffering from pancreatic cancer. While his doctor states that he is "responding well to treatment thus far," the odds are against him. The American Cancer Society says that only 23% of pancreatic cancer patients survive more than a year.

In a morbid coincidence, I had some news to share with my brother. This week I have been mourning the loss of Jeff Healey, who died of cancer on Sunday at the too-young age of 41. Healey lost his eyes to a cancer called retinoblastoma when he was eight months old. He thought that was the end of it, but in 2005 he learned that retinoblastoma causes a blood mutation that makes the victim susceptible to other forms of cancer. Last year, he had cancerous tissue removed from his legs and lungs, but the disease continued unabated.

Healey began playing guitar at age three and performed his first gigs at age six. He had a distinctive style, sitting with the guitar flat across his lap. His first album, See The Light by the Jeff Healey Band, was by far his most popular. The first single, "Confidence Man," was a great rocker, but the ballad "Angel Eyes" became his biggest hit, peaking at number five on the Billboard charts (incidentally, John Hiatt wrote both songs). He released several more blues/rock albums which had progressively less success in the U.S.

Early jazz was Healey's true passion. In the new millennium, he released a series of early jazz-style records, playing trumpet and acoustic guitar in Jeff Healey's Jazz Wizards. He also hosted jazz programs on Canadian radio featuring songs from his personal collection of more than 30,000 78 RPM records.

A new album returning to blues/rock is scheduled for release on April 22 in the U.S. For curious listeners, I recommend See The Light and/or The Very Best of the Jeff Healey Band (oddly, this UK import does not include "Angel Eyes" -- maybe it wasn't a hit there?).

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Monday, February 04, 2008
R.I.P. Sheldon Brown
According to a message posted on the Touring e-mail list, Sheldon Brown died of a heart attack last night. Brown is best known for his informative Web site, and I hope someone will continue to host it in his memory (like Ken Kifer's site). A visit to is like sitting down with a friendly mechanic and picking his brain over beers. It's easy to lose track of time and spend hours reading all the material.

Brown was always a welcome presence on the Touring list, whether for his detailed knowledge of bicycles or his sense of humor evident in annual April Fool's Day products such as the Real MAN saddle made of granite. How many bike mechanics are listed on Wikipedia? There might be someone out there who knows more about bicycles, but I doubt there is anyone who has shared so much of that knowledge freely with others.

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Friday, April 27, 2007
Bad Week for Borises
On Monday we lost former Russian leader Boris Yeltsin, and Wednesday Bobby "Boris" Pickett died at age 69. Pickett is best known -- okay, pretty much only known -- as the guy who sang the annual Halloween hit, "Monster Mash." Pickett's nickname came from his impression of actor Boris Karloff.

His AP obituary contains some interesting trivia. The piano on "Monster Mash" was played by Leon Russell, who was 20 years old at the time. Also the song was turned down by four record labels before it was finally released.

Pickett managed to build a touring career around "Monster Mash" until the end:
He continued performing through his final gig in November. He remained in demand for Halloween performances, including a memorable 1973 show where his bus broke down outside Frankenstein, Missouri.
The obit did not mention whether Pickett had been sharing that bus with Edgar Winter.


Sunday, February 18, 2007
Lyrics of the Day
Today's lyrics are from Rod Stewart...

The morning sun when it's in your face really shows your age
But that don't worry me none, in my eyes you're everything

This picture was taken in June 2005 the last time Maggie stayed with us, the couple she brought together.

Rest in peace Maggie Mae Johnsen. Thanks for everything. Give Teddy a sniff for us.


Thursday, February 01, 2007
Molly Ivins, 1944-2007
I was saddened this morning to learn that Molly Ivins, one of my favorite columnists, died last night of breast cancer. An unabashed liberal, Ivins had a writing style all her own. She could make you laugh out loud with one sentence yet give you a thoughtful insight with the next. Her language was sprinkled with Texan slang. As her syndication editor writes today

Shortly after becoming editor of Molly's syndicated column, I learned one of my most important jobs was to tell her newspaper clients that, yes, Molly meant to write it that way. We called her linguistic peculiarities "Molly-isms." Administration officials were "Bushies," government was in fact spelled "guvment," business was "bidness." And if someone was "madder than a peach orchard boar," well, he was quite mad indeed.

Of course, having grown up in Texas, all of this made sense to me. But to newspaper editors in Seattle, Chicago, Detroit and beyond--Yankee land, as Molly would say--her folksy language could be a mystery. "That's just Molly being Molly," I would explain and leave it at that.

He explains the importance of her presence: "She was an authentic female voice on opinion pages across the country with her passionate and eloquent defense of the poorest and the weakest among us and her glee in exposing the corruption of the most powerful."

Ivins was a constant needle in the President's side, having co-authored Shrub: The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush and Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush's America with Lou Dubose. Even as a nationwide syndicated columnist, she kept firmly rooted in Texan politics. An admonishment she often repeated was something along the lines of, "Trust me the next time I warn you not to vote for somebody from Texas." Regardless, Bush issued a statement late last night:
Molly Ivins was a Texas original. She was loved by her readers and by her many friends, particularly in Central Texas. I respected her convictions, her passionate belief in the power of words, and her ability to turn a phrase. She fought her illness with that same passion. Her quick wit and commitment to her beliefs will be missed. Laura and I send our condolences to Molly Ivins’ family and friends.
But Ivins wasn't strictly pro-Democrat either. She took pride in speaking truth to power. Her Associated Press obituary says

"The trouble with blaming powerless people is that although it's not nearly as scary as blaming the powerful, it does miss the point," she wrote in a 1997 column. "Poor people do not shut down factories ... Poor people didn't decide to use 'contract employees' because they cost less and don't get any benefits."

In an Austin speech last year, former President Clinton described Ivins as someone who was "good when she praised me and who was painfully good when she criticized me."

Ivins' columns stuck out in the conservative Chicago Tribune. I can recall many "letters to the editor" expressing outrage at her column. A Tribune editorial notes today that Ivins inspired love or vitriol depending on one's politics. It begins

For six years, the trenchant columns of Molly Ivins have raised Cain on the Commentary page of this newspaper. In that too-brief span of time, not one of the many fine writers who share that real estate infuriated so many Tribune readers--or won the adoration of so many others.

When her column didn't appear, the former group had a good blood-pressure day, and the latter group suspected that, yep, it finally had happened: A newspaper that had twice endorsed the American president she most loathed had squelched her column. The great right-wing conspiracy had caught up with Molly.

If only. That would have been the better fate.

In fact, her illness was the reason her columns were sporadic recently. In an interview with the San Antonio Express-News last fall, she gave a decidedly un-Lance-Armstrong-like perspective of her disease: "I'm sorry to say (cancer) can kill you, but it doesn't make you a better person." Still, cancer had to take three shots at Ivins to bring her down, beginning in 1999.

The Texas Observer, where Ivins served as co-editor in the 1970s, has turned its Web site into a tribute to her. She supported the newspaper long after she moved on to bigger venues:
She remained convinced that Texas needed a progressive, independent voice to call the powerful to account and to stand up for the common folk. She kept our voice alive. More than once, when the paper was on the brink of insolvency, she delivered speeches and gave us the honorariums. She donated royalties from her best-selling book Shrub to keep the doors open. Her determination and efforts sustained the Observer as a magazine, as a family, and as a community.
Some of her work is collected here.

It's been written more than once that Ivins wouldn't want us to mourn her passing. As the Tribune put it, "You can bet, too, that there'll be quite a party in Austin, because Molly would want that and probably left instructions." Among them is likely a command to use her many awards as trivets, which she often did. When her editor asked her about this, she replied, "Well, what else am I going to do with 'em?"

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Monday, January 29, 2007
R.I.P. Barbaro
Today's news that Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro has been euthanized really hit me hard. I feel a kinship with Roy and Gretchen Jackson, Barbaro's owners, because we went through a similar trial with our dog Teddy. To suddenly and unexpectedly be faced with a critically ill/injured animal. To spend a lot of money on medical care despite the slim chances for success. To have the initial treatment apparently succeed. To have your animal be such a good patient, one who does everything he should to get well. To get your hopes up every time you hear good news yet always be bracing yourself for bad news. To have complications arise. To do everything possible to heal your animal and still fail. And ultimately, to decide to let go for the animal's sake. For that experience to go on for eight months instead of the four weeks that we endured is that much more heartbreaking.


Tuesday, December 26, 2006
More About JB
Greg Kot has an excellent tribute to James Brown, including an impressive list of hit singles spanning four decades. If you don't know why JB matters, and why so many music fans are mourning today, you should read it. It's a shame that younger generations know him better for substance abuse and prison time than for his music and lyrics.

The Swamp blog reports President Bush's message about JB:
Laura and I are saddened by the death of James Brown. For half a century, the innovative talent of the "Godfather of Soul" enriched our culture and influenced generations of musicians. An American original, his fans came from all walks of life and backgrounds. James Brown's family and friends are in our thoughts and prayers this Christmas.
While I'm glad Bush took the time to remember and honor the man (see, I can say something nice about the president), I can't help thinking of the Neil Young song "Campaigner" with the lyric "where even Richard Nixon has got soul." For some reason, I just can't imagine GWB gettin' funky to JB's grooves!


Monday, December 25, 2006
"Do you see the light?"
R.I.P. James Brown: Godfather of Soul, Hardest Working Man in Show Business, and Reverend Cleophus James in The Blues Brothers.


Monday, July 17, 2006
Requiem for a Record Store
I suppose I visited Crow's Nest Records & Tapes in Crest Hill before I could drive. But it was after I got my license that the store became legendary, indelible in my mind. My best friend and I were both record fanatics -- I'm talking about vinyl -- and Crow's Nest was our favorite local store. Although we went to Rose Records more often (and bought more there since they had an extensive bargain bin, especially when the major labels were liquidating LPs as CDs came to the fore), going to Crow's Nest was always something special, the sort of trip we saved for a Saturday night.

Their sound system usually blasted hardcore, which matched the dress and hairstyles of the staff. That wasn't our scene, but we tolerated it to comb through the broadest selection of music around. There really was a crow's nest inside, attached to one of the thick wooden posts that supported the roof. But the store was named for owner Floyd Crow. Most of the records at Crow's Nest had two prices, a regular selling price and a discounted "3 for..." price. As compulsive collectors, we appreciated the encouragement to buy more (in fact, the store later subtitled itself "The Collector's Choice"). The more obscure our tastes became, the more we enjoyed perusing the bins, flipping through thousands of records in several genres. Eventually we got to know each other so well that we cut our flipping time in half -- each of us knew what the other was looking for.

We instinctively headed for Crow's Nest the night of the prom. The closest we came to getting lucky was lusting over the punked-out, dangerous-looking cashiers, but we could have done worse: a classmate sat at home and watched a Facts of Life reunion show. At least we were in the presence of live females, even if they had black fingernails and skeleton earrings.

My friend moved out of the state as Crow's Nest expanded to Naperville and then Aurora with CD-only stores. Although the Aurora store was half the distance, I still preferred to shop at Crest Hill for the ambiance as much as the selection. When I moved to Chicago after college, Crow's Nest followed me, opening downtown at the DePaul University campus. A few years later they opened a Lincoln Park store, but it didn't stand a chance. It was poorly located, too far west and too isolated to get the foot traffic that helps Lincoln Park stores pay the high rent. I shopped there a couple of times, but when I returned a year later it was closed.

In the meantime, the Aurora store quietly locked its doors, followed by the Naperville location. In January 1999, my best friend came to visit as my best man. We went to Crow's Nest with my brother for my "bachelor party." I bought them classic white-on-black Crow's Nest t-shirts as groomsman gifts.

Two years ago my friend returned to Chicago on business and we went to Crow's Nest downtown. After flipping through CDs for a while, I noticed the sale signs -- this location was closing, and everything was marked down. It was bittersweet; as bargain hunters we appreciated the savings, but we knew it didn't bode well for the business. I found an article saying that Crow bought out Rock Records in the Loop, but if he did, he didn't change its name. The Crow's Nest chain of five Chicagoland stores was scaled back to only Crest Hill, where it all began.

Last year when my friend came on another business trip, it was his turn for a bachelor party. Once again the three of us made a pilgrimage to Crow's Nest in Crest Hill. It was still the best record store around. And yes, the young women at the registers were still punky, although they didn't look as dangerous now that multiple piercings had become de rigueur.

Last Friday, my wife and I were driving from my parents' house to Champaign via U.S. 30 through Plainfield and Joliet. While dodging construction horses in Crest Hill, I looked across the road to see the venerable Crow's Nest. But something wasn't right. The parking lot was empty, and a sign advertised the property for sale.

"Come Dancing" isn't one of my favorite songs. Heck, it's not even one of my favorite Kinks songs. Ray Davies describes how when he was a kid, his older sister would often go dancing at the local palais (actually, he has six older sisters). Then comes the song's climax:

The day they knocked down the palais
My sister stood and cried.
The day they knocked down the palais
Part of my childhood died, just died.

I've seen a lot of record stores come and mostly go. Appletree Records in Aurora closed not long after I got my driver's license, and a few years later the DeKalb location shut its doors. The entire Rose Records chain collapsed, as did Flipside. Small chains were devoured by larger chains, and independent stores disappeared one by one. Even the mall stores where our less savvy friends shopped fell victim to consolidation.

Big box retailers have taken the high-volume business of selling the hits for less, and Internet sites offer breadth and depth that we never even dreamed of in the 1980s. As both proliferate, independent shops get squeezed more and more. They can't compete on price, and the thrill of the hunt that my friend and I relished is gone with the click of a mouse. A few years ago I was disappointed by the closure of Record Swap in Homewood, a mecca for new and used recordings where we had discovered many gems. But when I saw Crow's Nest on Friday, the sense of loss was palpable. I sent an e-mail with the real estate listing to my friend and wrote, "I feel like Ray Davies' sister."

Appendix: Crow's Nest Honor Roll

These are the artists whose music I bought at Crow's Nest on vinyl in the late 1980s. I wish I could say I remembered them all, but I had to look them up in my files. I used to fill out an index card for every record I bought, including purchase location, date, and price (I stopped keeping track with CDs).

The Beat Farmers, David Byrne, Camper Van Beethoven, the Church, Eric Clapton, Bruce Cockburn, the Cramps, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jim Croce, Bob Dylan, Steve Earle, Melissa Etheridge, Steve Forbert, the Grass Roots, Guns N' Roses, Howlin' Wolf, Husker Du, Jethro Tull, Louis Jordan, Love, James McMurtry, Steve Miller Band, Bob Mould, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Pink Floyd, Chris Rea, Lou Reed, the Reivers, Jimmy Rogers, Skid Roper and the Whirlin' Spurs, Rush, the Smithereens, Soul Asylum, Talking Heads, George Thorogood and the Destroyers, Big Joe Turner, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, Tom Waits, Joe Walsh, the Who, Webb Wilder, Link Wray, X, Neil Young, Warren Zevon, and the Zombies.


Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Lyrics of the Day
A spokesperson announced today that Syd Barrett, a founding member of Pink Floyd, died recently at age 60. Barrett suffered a mental breakdown and left Pink Floyd in 1968, but he inspired some of their most famous work after his departure, including "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" from the album Wish You Were Here, which was dedicated to him. When I heard of Barrett's passing, my first thought was of Dark Side of the Moon and its climax, "Brain Damage:"
The lunatic is in my head.
The lunatic is in my head.
You raise the blade, you make the change,
You rearrange me till I'm sane.
You lock the door and throw away the key,
There's someone in my head but it's not me.

And if the cloud bursts, thunder in your ear,
You shout and no one seems to hear,
And if the band you're in starts playing different tunes,
I'll see you on the dark side of the moon.
Roger Waters wrote those lyrics for his former bandmate: "The lunatic was Syd, really. He was obviously in my mind." The line about the band playing different tunes could be interpreted several ways. Pink Floyd indeed played different tunes and changed their style after Barrett left, but it could also be about one of the symptoms of Barrett's mental illness and/or drug use -- he would literally play different songs from the rest of the band onstage.

And yes, I do realize there is a "Floyd" theme to my posts today.

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Friday, April 14, 2006
Bert Weinman Ford
We bought our Focus from Bert Weinman Ford on Ashland Avenue. I have been annoyed by many a car dealer in the past, but they were good to us. I liked everybody there and how they did business. To top it off, their location was perfect. I took our car in for its first oil change last week, and it was only a short walk to the L to come home. Then my wife took the L to pick the car up, and she was already halfway to work. I thought it was unusual for a car dealership to sprawl across so much land in a rapidly appreciating area like West Lakeview, but I figured after nearly 40 years they were a neighborhood institution and wouldn't be going anywhere.

Yesterday Bert Weinman Ford announced that they have made a deal with a real estate developer and will be closing up shop. Damn. They stopped accepting service appointments last Thursday, which means we got one of the last oil changes performed on the premises. Fortunately the scheduled maintenance plan I purchased that day is good at all Ford dealers.

Our nearest Ford dealer is actually 0.3 mile closer than Weinman, but it's straight north on Western Avenue, which isn't as convenient for us. It's been only four months since we bought the Focus so I've hardly known Bert Weinman Ford, but I'll miss them. I wish their 40 employees luck in finding another place to work.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2005
RIP Link Wray 1929-2005
Rock and roll legend Link Wray died November 5 in Copenhagen. He's the most important guitarist you probably never heard of. His Los Angeles Times obituary (published yesterday) lists many of the most famous names in rock who were profoundly influenced by him. Pete Townshend once wrote, "He is the king; if it hadn't been for Link Wray and 'Rumble,' I would have never picked up a guitar." And Neil Young said, "If I could go back in time and see any band, it would be Link Wray and the Wraymen." Bob Dylan, who first saw Wray live in Duluth in 1958, opened his November 20 concert in London with "Rumble" in his honor.

The obituary tells the story of "Rumble," his biggest hit. To get the raw, distorted guitar sound, Wray used a pencil to punch holes in the speakers of his amplifier. In some places it was banned from the radio -- and it was an instrumental! That's some serious rock and roll that can threaten the Establishment without using any words.

Alas, the LA Times' obituary for Wray peters out in the mid-1960s. In fact, Wray was just getting started. He returned to religion (his parents were preachers) and turned his home into a commune. Then he channneled his energies into crafting the greatest hippie Jesus freak music ever made. He had a recording studio in an old chicken coop called "Wray's Three Track Shack."

His 1971 album Link Wray is legendary among music collectors. Wray was able to stretch out as a guitarist, moving deftly from rock to blues, electric to acoustic. His lyrics were deeply moral but came across as heartfelt warnings more than preaching. And for the first time, he was the featured vocalist. He lost a lung to tuberculosis in the Army in 1953 and lacked range, but he had enthusiasm and intensity that suited the material perfectly. Put it on your Christmas list if you don't have it yet. (If you can't find it alone, it is included in the Wray's Three Track Shack and Guitar Preacher: The Polydor Years compilations.)

Wray found new success in the late 1970s when he paired up with retro crooner Robert Gordon for a pair of albums (most notably including Bruce Springsteen's "Fire"). He moved to Denmark and kept recording both live and in the studio. Numerous American bands touring Europe were privileged to have Wray join them onstage for a song or two. Cowpunk legend Jason Ringenberg wrote an eponymous tribute to Wray for his latest album, Empire Builders. In liner notes, he writes
I've known Link Wray for 20 years now and his enthusiasm and commitment to performance never cease to amaze me... In my opinion, he possesses THE soul of the rock and roll guitar. One of my main long-range career goals is to still be able to rock lke he does when I am 70 something.
Wray really did rock right until the end. He finished a lengthy US tour four months ago at age 76.

Tonight Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra played "Rumble" during one of David Letterman's commercial breaks, showing once again why they are undeniably the greatest band on television. I wonder how many viewers noticed and how many recognized this as a farewell tribute to a guitar legend.

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Saturday, June 18, 2005
R.I.P. Karl Mueller
I found out today that Soul Asylum bass player Karl Mueller died Friday morning at home in Minneapolis at age 41. He was diagnosed with throat cancer last year, endured chemotherapy, and went into remission. He was well enough to join his bandmates at a benefit concert held in his honor last October (which featured the reunion of Husker Du's Bob Mould and Grant Hart), but he was in and out of the hospital this year.

Most people remember the band for their hit "Runaway Train" or perhaps for playing at President Clinton's inaugural ball. I have been a fan since I heard the album Hang Time some 17 years ago. They were always a great live band; I have seen them in concert more times than any other artist. Even as their fame waned over the past few years, Soul Asylum managed to come down to Chicago for a gig or two every year. The future of the band, which was searching for a label to put out their next album, is now uncertain.

Karl was the quiet member of the band, but he was a steady bass player. He also must have had a good sense of humor. When Soul Asylum created Clam Dip And Other Delights as a parody of Herb Alpert's Whipped Cream And Other Delights shortly after signing with Alpert's A&M Records, Karl was the one who appeared on the record sleeve covered with clam dip.

My thoughts go out to Karl's wife and his bandmates, Dave Pirner and Dan Murphy, who played with him for nearly a quarter of a century.

UPDATE 06/19/2005: In recent years, Karl donated many Soul Asylum souvenirs to the Minnesota Historical Society. See them here.

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Monday, January 24, 2005
So Long, Johnny
Like almost everyone over the age of 25 or so, I was saddened to hear of Johnny Carson's death on Sunday. My parents watched him all the time; for all I knew, the other channels played "The Star-Spangled Banner" after the 10:00 news and went off the air. I grew up with Johnny. For a while, my bedtime was 10:30 when he came on. Sometimes I was allowed to stay up to see his monologue. When I got older, my bedtime shifted to 11:30 so I could watch the whole show. Johnny was a constant through my teenage years, and he retired as I graduated from college.

I still recite bits from his show. Just the other day I repeated one of my favorites, a spoof on the Ernest and Julio Gallo wine commercials. After "we will sell no wine before its time," they cut to Johnny dressed up as a bum with a brown paper bag in hand. "It's time!" he exclaimed, taking a swig from the sack.

I'll never forget when Julio Iglesias was on the Tonight Show, and Johnny came out dressed as Willie Nelson to sing the duet "To All The Girls I've Loved Before." That was especially appropriate considering that Johnny was married four times!

Another area where Johnny stood above other talk shows was in developing (and playing) recurring characters, like Carnac the Magnificent and Floyd R. Turbo (of whom I am reminded every time I see a hat with ear flaps). I also remember recurring gags like the Slawson Cutoff and the law firm of Dewey, Cheatham & Howe.

Johnny was such a great all-around entertainer, someone who could tell jokes, do interviews, and perform in sketches. Just look at how many people have failed with talk shows and remember that Johnny succeeded for 30 years. There will be many tributes this week, and the Tribune has an excellent obituary. A few years ago I bought my parents a "Johnny Carson Collection" video set. I wish I had my own to watch tonight.

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