The Man Who Met Norman Chad

Have I mentioned I enjoy playing poker? I continue playing online almost every night and my deposit of three years ago is still there.

For poker players, our ‘world series’ is the World Series of Poker. Conveniently named, isn’t it?

The WSOP is the biggest tournament in the world. Actually, it’s a series of tournaments, culminating in the ‘Main Event.’

Anyone can enter. All you need is a $10,000 ticket. This year, a $10,000 ticket turned into $12,000,000 for Jamie Gold of California.

I’ve never been to the World Series. C’mon – $10,000 is a lot of money and you’re playing against all the best (and some of the luckiest) players around.

My friend Rick played this year. He won his $10,000 entry playing in a satellite tournament. It cost him $1!

Though Rick had a great time, he came home with little more than memories and some tchotchkes for me. One of them is pictured on the left. It’s an autograph from Norman Chad.

OK – it’s on a piece of paper ripped out of a spiral notepad. Can’t it still be a cherished memento?

Chad is a newspaper columnist. He’s also written books and for TV, including a pretty funny episode of Arli$$. Mostly, I know him as the color commentator on the World Series broadcasts.

Rick has had the autograph for months. Tonight was finally time to pick it up.

I don’t have many friends I can visit at midnight besides Rick. He is a professional announcer and sets his own schedule. His business is primarily carried on from a studio in his basement.

If you’re in Connecticut, you’ve heard Rick say “99-1, WPLR” or voice commercials for Bob’s Stores (the clothing, not the furniture stores). If you’re elsewhere, you’ve heard him too, on commercials and promos too numerous count.

He has one of those voices that is just too darned deep. It is accented by gravely side tones which make it mellifluous and friendly.

My voice is so lacking in bass, a program director I worked for in Philadelphia considered using a ‘Harmonizer’ to electronically lower the pitch! I will be eternally envious of Rick’s pipes.

There was actually more waiting for me than the autograph (though that will be my most cherished piece of swag). Rick also gave me a deck of WSOP playing cards, a WSOP chip, t-shirt, and the ‘souvenir’ room key from his Vegas hotel.

We were down in his studio talking when I noticed the full wall of record albums. These were real 33 1/3 rpm vinyl disks. They’re the kind that scratched, popped and hissed when you played them. Looking at the collection was like going back in time.

I started pulling albums off the wall and, on two vintage Technics turntables, Rick began playing cuts. There was early Hendrix and Janis Joplin. I read the technical notes on the cover of the Beach Boys seminal Holland LP. There were more obscure groups like The Buoys&#185 and The Easybeats.

Some cuts, like Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream, I hadn’t heard in 40 years or so! I remembered conversations with friends in the 60s, trying to figure out why Dylan starting the song acoustically, stopped to laugh, and then began again, this time with electric guitar and electrified accompaniment.

Our musical tastes are very different. Rick has a more eclectic, more discerning ear for artistry. I gravitate to pop and ‘the hits.’ Still, there was a lot to share and, as former disk jockeys, stories to tell.

I got home around 3:00 AM, carrying my loot with me.

Forget my WSOP take. I can’t begin to tell you how much fun I had just schmoozing and listening to those old songs.

&#185 – The Buoys hit “Timothy” is probably the best top-40 song about cannibalism ever!

Eagles Get To Go To Jacksonville

If I wouldn’t have seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it. The Philadelphia Eagles beat the Atlanta Falcons today, and will play the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX. This was a very convincing win.

Helaine and I sat in the family room to watch the game. We were more than a little pleased to be joined by Stefanie. I’m not going to call her a football fan, because she’d deny it on principle, but she’s getting awfully close.

The Eagles looked great from the the first series. On defense, they kept Michael Vick – a quarterback known for his athleticism and mobility, immobile.

I’m not going to write more about the game, because if you’re a football fan you already know. If you’re not a fan, you don’t care.

Two things do need addressing. Earlier last week, Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb (who wears his hair tightly braided) showed up with it totally ‘free.’ I commented on the air, it looked like Oscar Gamble’s. Luckily, thanks to the net, Oscar Gamble photos are available.

Then there’s Eagles tight end Chad Lewis. As a Mormon, Lewis performed missionary work in China. So, of course, he learned to speak the Mandarin dialect of Chinese.

Last year when the Super Bowl was broadcast in China, he worked the telecast as the color commentator, in Chinese. This year he’ll be busy on Super Bowl Sunday.

Helaine and the Cult People

I kid Helaine, saying she’s in a cult. It sometimes seems that way. This is all because she’s a huge fan of Rick Springfield, and has been for over 30 years.

Rick Springfield had some big hits: Jessie’s Girl, Don’t Talk to Strangers. He’s got enough for a decent ‘hit medley’ in concert. Still, it’s been a long time since he had concentrated airplay.

Over the years, Helaine took me to see his early 80’s movie, “Hard to Hold” and later to see him in concert. After a while he became the ‘house act’ act the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, starring in EFX.

He is talented and charismatic on stage. He’s my age, but in much better shape (damn you Rick Springfield). A few years ago, in Las Vegas, Helaine convinced Steffie to go to see Rick in EFX and now she’s hooked too. After the show she told Helaine, “You never said he was hot.” Since then, Steffie has taken loads of photos at his concerts (here and here) and was even published in his Tour Book and 2004 Calendar.

With the Internet, acts like Springfield have been better able to sustain their careers and maintain a sizable fan base without continuous radio airplay. Helaine subscribes to a Rick Springfield group on Yahoo and receives dozens (sometimes hundreds) of emails daily. Some of these women analyze the nuances of his stage act with the detail of a color commentator going over a touchdown pass on the fifth replay.

Helaine has mostly lurked in the shadows, reading and not writing. She has made some friends through the group and kept current on what Rick’s doing. All that changed a few months ago.

Rick was in the process of finishing a new album and would be promoting it by appearing at concerts, doing interviews and making personal appearances. The fan club members decided they would help. They organized ‘street teams’ in defined geographic areas and set out to spread the word.

Helaine got to be manager for the New York region, though we live about 100 miles from New York City. For the past month or more, I’ve been watching her, amazingly organized, on the laptop, piles of paper at her side, planning strategies. Day-by-day she consulted and cajoled the members of her team.

I was a skeptic. I was wrong.

A few days ago, Rick appeared on WPLJ radio in New York. At street level, unseen by the radio crew, dozens of street team members congregated with signs and pamphlets and a whole lot of genuine spirit. Somehow, word got up to the studio and down came someone with a microphone and recorder.

Today, Rick was on “Fox and Friends” on Fox News Channel (click to watch the interview – high speed access only). Again, the fan club was outside. As I watched the broadcast, it was obvious the hosts were impressed by this show of strength. You could see posters and people through the window behind the interview set. Their presence gave Rick Springfield ‘street cred’ in the present tense.

As it turns out, one of our former technical directors is now a TD at Fox. With a few emails, I was able to get Helaine and Stefanie inside, where they watched the interview and schmoozed a little with Rick, his road manager and personal manager. I’m sure some of the other fans were jealous, but this was my doing – not Helaine’s.

Speaking of jealousy, I would be lying if I didn’t say I was a little jealous of Rick’s fans and their ‘street team’ mentality. How wonderful to have a fan base that is so dedicated that they’ll come and stand outside in the bitter cold or do whatever else is necessary to continue your success. Actually, that in and of itself might be more meaningful success than CD sales figures alone could ever show.

Helaine and Steffie are back on the road tomorrow, seeing Rick in concert in Toms River, NJ. All the other girls in the cult are going too.