Blues for Jumbo Cummings

Blues for Jumbo Cummings

Jumbo Cummings was a hard-luck guy.  He’d done 12 years on a murder beef in Joliet when, in the late ’70s, he rose to some prominence as a heavyweight fighter.  Boxing had just finished its golden age of great heavyweights–Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Jimmy Young, Ronnie Lyle, Earnie Shavers–the list goes on and on. The early ’70s had, perhaps, the greatest line up of heavyweights in the history of the sport .  If one took a look at the top ten heavyweight fighters of that period, one would quickly realize that the clowns wearing those belts today would not have gotten employment sparring with those guys.

In truth, there were some bad decisions in the ’70s in order not to upset the money machines that were both Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali; the most egregious of them being the robbery Earnie Shavers endured after beating Ali like a drum.  The decision went to Ali out of deference to the champ.  I’ve always felt Shavers to be the greatest heavyweight to never hold the title.  Years later, it was all downhill for Ernie.  His final, embarrassing bout was on the deck of an aircraft carrier and the once-great Shavers was overweight, nearly blind in one eye, and engaging in gutter tactics out of desperation.  The great boxing writer, John Schulian, wrote a harrowing and heart-breaking account of this fight in one of his final boxing columns for the Chicago Sun-Times.  This is when the Sun-Times had a couple of great sportswriters–Schulian and Ron Rappoport–who’ve both since found their second acts as distinguished authors and television writers.

Both men got out of newspapers at about the right time as far as boxing goes.  Larry Holmes had some good fights and Mike Tyson became the ring’s version of Grendel; trading his once impeccable skills for an animistic  selfishness that one can only remember as tragedy.

Jumbo is less well-remembered.  In fact, he was treated more as a novelty than as a serious fighter, which was a shame.  Joe Frazier came out of retirement in an attempt at a comeback, only to have Jumbo pound him around Chicago’s old Amphitheater.  Joe fucked up.  He underestimated a man who’d managed to keep himself alive in one of the nation’s worst prisons for 12 years.  If Floyd “Jumbo” Cummings was somewhat artless as a fighter, he did not lack for power.  I saw this fight and more than once Jumbo rang his bell but good; so good that they couldn’t screw Jumbo completely.  They awarded him and Frazier a draw.  In my book, Jumbo beat him.  Frazier never fought again.

In the following years, Jumbo got beat by every swinging-dick in the village–Mitch “Blood” Green, Tim Witherspoon, Renaldo Snipes and Frank Bruno to name a few–though to his credit, he nailed Bruno in the first round it almost ended the fight, further evidence that English heavyweights ought to be wearing dresses.  Jumbo ended his odd career with 15 wins, six losses and no small amount of heartbreak.  In 2002, Jumbo went down for the bitch–a habitual criminal, 3-strikes conviction for stealing 250 dollars and a VCR–for this he will spend the remainder of his life in prison.  I’d like to think though, that on a March night in 1981, Jumbo came close to a moment of grace when he damn near knocked out the former heavyweight champion of the world.  That night Jumbo transcended his jailhouse stripes and for a moment the world took notice.

This one is for him.

Published in: on August 31, 2010 at 1:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Star Fish

The Star FishI’m a mile and a half above sea-level in Snowmass, Colorado, about five miles from Aspen; home of much Botox, spray-on tans and cut-rate tit-jobs.

I’m a visiting artist at Anderson Ranch, a wonderful place full of talented people and committed artists. Despite my trepidation about going to an art camp, I’m enjoying it immensely and making a lot of work. You get a beautiful studio here and the people are marvelous.

I’ve moseyed into Aspen a couple of times and am not much of a fan. It is a culture of rich types and designer labels, and some of the art-world types are walking regurgitants. I know this appraisal reeks of unfair class-bigotry but there it is. Around the zip codes of affluence I always wonder how much misery was ladled out onto those not at the top of the scrotum pole.

Anderson Ranch was built in the late 1960’s on land donated by Atlantic Richfield, the oil company. It was somewhat heartening to hear that an oil company did something for a community, especially since oil companies have rat-fucked the American people since their inception. Nothing has degraded the American landscape like the oil business. No one industry has more consistently held an economic gun to the heads of working people like they have.

The BP and Exxon Valdez disasters come to mind when one examines the atrocity ethic of the fossil fuel business. My friends in south Louisiana quietly tell me that the Gulf is destined to be a dead sea; that aquatic life will no longer be sustainable in those waters. No more tarpon or sailfish or flying fish. It is an act of corporate cruelty unrivaled in the history of American business. There are no shortage of oil business executives in Aspen. They love the clean air and unspoiled natural beauty that they so ravenously despoil in other communities; where the rest of us live.

This piece is called The Star Fish. It is a portrait of what the trophy fish of the future will look like.

Published in: on August 25, 2010 at 8:05 pm  Comments (1)  

The Soul Rebel

The Soul RebelAs a kid I remember the sound of America changing; the assassination of Dr. King and the back drop of the anti-war and civil rights movements raging at the close of a tumultuous decade.  This churn of the cultural zeitgeist came with a soundtrack.  For the anti-war movement, it was the protest song like Neil Young’s, “Ohio.”  For the  civil rights movement it was the ferocious funk of James Brown, Sly Stone and the great Curtis Mayfield.

The other night, I was watching an episode of “The Wire” and they’d sampled a bit of Mayfield’s chestnut, “Come on Up” and it sounded as primary, urgent and fierce as the day it was written and that made me happy.  It is sometimes easy to forget the great Curtis Mayfield; and we should never let it happen.  His album, “Superfly,” was as musically tide-changing as Isaac Hayes’, “Hot Buttered Soul” in that these records were the aural wallpaper of a culture in flux–and they were records perfectly suited to their time.

When I was in high school, my friends and I would often ditch school and go downtown to see kung-fu and blaxploitation films.  The best thing about “Superfly” was its magnificent and revolutionary soundtrack.  It is a ridiculous film with a macho coke-head kind of ethos (though Ron O’Neal’s pimp-lid hat was kind of cool and launched a whole new rash of questionable head-gear).

Curtis Mayfield came out of Cabrini-Green in Chicago.  He dropped out of Wells High School and joined the Roosters, his first band where he met Jerry “Iceman” Butler, another great soul singer and future Chicago alderman.  He later joined the Impressions for whom he wrote the soul-stirring, “People Get Ready,” which was a huge hit.  In Chicago, he also collaborated with the Staple Singers, specifically the great Mavis Staples, who recently tore it up at Lollapalooza, hurling that heaven-kissed voice around the stars and back.

I always loved Mayfield’s voice; an angelic falsetto which seemed, almost, to float above the muscular music itself, particularly in songs like, “Freddy’s Dead” and the rest of the soundtrack of “Superfly.”  It was always a reminder that Mayfield’s chops as a vocal stylist had its roots in the Baptist Church; singing, like a great many soul artists, gospel music.
Mayfield’s songs ran counter to the message of the movie.  They were sharply critical of the drugs, as well as the stupid and glorified violence, central to the film.

Last year, my friend, film director, John McNaughton and I were at a Mardi Gras Indian gathering in Uptown, New Orleans.  We met a young man who looked like he was sculpted out of black  marble.  He was the “boneman” for a Mardi Gras Indian gang; the one who, along with the Spy-Boy and the flag-boy, makes way for the chief with a stutter-step dance and a shaking rhythmic procession.  In the park there was the pungent-sweet smell of reefer and beer and it was blazingly hot.  On someone’s box, a sweet echo of “People Get Ready” was emenating just above the crowd.  The bone man had a fearsome head mask adorned with white and red slashes and small screens for eyes.  He tood this apprenticeship seriously, saying that a great many Mardi Gras Indian Chiefs start as bone men.  The whole time he was speaking, the Curtis Mayfield song floated in the atmosphere like a loving musical talisman of community.  It cemented in my head that these songs are timeless.

My friend, Don McCleese, the great music writer, reminds me that Jerry Butler once remarked that Mayfield was the only guy he knew of in the music world who came fully formed; guitarist, singer, songwriter, producer.  He did everything well; a true renaissance man.

I wish that here in Chicago there were a statue or mural or street named for him.  Even after the great Mayfield was paralyzed in 1990, he continued on like a bull producing, singing and writing songs; often while lying on his back.  Art always finds a way.  Curtis Mayfield grew up about one mile from where I am writing this.   As a Chicagoan, his music has a special kind of resonance for me.  When  people discuss the great soul music and slow jams of the ’60s and ’70s,  the inevitable locations are always Memphis, Detroit and Muscle Shoals, Alabama.  Curtis Mayfield was one of ours.  A Chicagoan.

This one is for him .  It’s called, “The Soul Rebel.”

Published in: on August 14, 2010 at 4:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Tool

The ToolOn  occasion, in life, one meets the irredeemable shithead.

The asshole’s asshole.

The ass-hat who cannot find his better self.

The slack-jawed dip-shit, who is convinced they know a lot more than they do.

The  Tool.

I remember the first time I heard this word used to cast aspersion.

I was 15 and I lied about my age to get a job at the local Taco Bell in Lombard Illinois.

The parking lot was the  preening ground for the last generation of actual greasers; a collection of monosyllabic asswipes who’d dropped out of high school.  The cops ate free at Taco Bell, which, given the amount of trouble in the parking lot, was actually not a bad idea.  They responded quickly and mostly fairly.  You’d have the odd cop-on-greaser beating here and there, but I never minded those.

My manager was a twitchy hillbilly named Bill who had knocked-up his ill tempered 17 year old girlfriend and was preparing to marry her and go as far as he could in the Taco Bell organization.  Bill was an okay guy; a little naive about his job, but basically decent.  For about a hundred and a quarter a week they ran Bill like a fucking sled dog.  The guy worked 60-70 hours a week and on occasion would slip into the walk-in and nap standing up.  I felt bad for the guy.

He also had a collection of delinquent assholes working for him, including me.  We were impossible.  We gave away free food to our friends.  One guy dealt pot out the back door and very often there were feel-up sessions in the place after hours.  Bill was as cool as he could be with us given his job title.  You had to screw up pretty badly to get canned.  He was easygoing most of the time.

One Day a dickhead named Bill Holby came into our midst.  He was a goody two-shoes, D-bag who would rat us out to Roger,  the other manager who was a former marine.  He was a tough Mexican guy who didn’t like us much but let Bill deal with us (the night shift) whom he referred to as “The Animals.”   Bill followed Roger around kissing his ass and brown-nosing every chance he got. Even Roger thought the guy was an asshole.  The worst thing about Bill Holby was that he yukked it up with the cops.  He’d make them special Enchiritos and verbally cup their balls every time they came in.  And once Bill Holby got there, they came in all the time, because  now the fuckers felt welcome.  Needless to say, we fucking hated Bill Holby.  My friend Z used to  spit hockers in Bill’s burritos when he wasn’t looking and then we would watch this pork-sword take his dinner break with the cops when they came in, acting like one of them.

The worst job in the place was frying taco shells.  One guy would stand there all fucking day frying shells.  It was hot and dirty and you’d get splashed by droplets of 550 degree grease when you dropped the basket in the fryer.  It sucked.  The taco shells got fried six at a time and if you loaded one wrong, they’d be uneven and Roger would make you do it over and over and over.  Needless to say  it was the suck detail at Taco Bell.  We always made sure Bill Holby had to do it, arguing that he was the new guy so, tough shit.  The FNG  (Fucking New Guy)  always got the lousy jobs; that was the way this particular Scrotum Pole worked.

One day asshole was frying and one of the taco shells got loose.  Bill Holby decides to be a hero and save the taco shell.  He  sticks his hand into the deep fryer to attempt retrieval and winds up with one giant 3rd degree burn for a right hand.  At least we acted fast.  He passed out from the pain and we grabbed him and got his hand into a pitcher of iced-water, packing it with ice while he went into shock.  Poor asshole.   Our manager, Bill, watched the ambulance pull away in disbelief.  He said, “The guy put his hand in a deep fryer to save a 3-cent taco shell.  What a TOOL.”  We laughed for a half an hour straight.

This piece is dedicated to that rare hero who could fuck up  a one car funeral.

Published in: on August 9, 2010 at 10:24 pm  Comments (1)  

The White Gator

The White GatorThere is an old folk truism about baby alligators.

The story goes that all kinds of dangers befall baby alligators.  Big fish eat them.  Snapping turtles eat them.  Flamingos eat them.  Ospreys eat them.  Adult alligators eat them.  Racoons.  Otters.  Panthers.  Herons.  Water snakes.  You name it; every creature in the swamp eats baby alligators.  Less than 10 per cent of them live until their first birthday.  If they do?  Well, by that time they’re about 5 feet long…and they spend the rest of their lives getting even.

I love alligators–our living relics of prehistory.  I love that every year some asshole in Florida gets eaten by one.  They get it into their booze-addled brains that you can swim on up on one of these dinosaurs like they’re pets or something.  It’s always some jerk-off and his asshole friend with the video camera who winds up recording the joyous carnage.  I also love the footage of the crying old ladies who can’t find their chihuahuas or yorkies, and they just happen to live next to the inter-coastal canal.

The smart golfer in Florida?  He gets the fuck OFF the course when he sees an alligator lounging in the fairway.  They look slow; they’re no.  They can run about 30 miles an hour in short bursts.  In other words, long enough to catch my pasty white ass.

Albino alligators are rare but they DO occur in nature and are astoundingly beautiful in their own weird way.

The American alligator was damned near extinct years ago and were put on the endangered list.  They recovered quickly and now the fuckers are everywhere.  My advice is stay the fuck out of their way.  Don’t try to feed them.  They eat better than you do.  Don’t try to get close; buy a telephoto lens.  When you see a  baby alligator, get the fuck gone.  Mom’s around and protective as hell; she will eat your ass.  When they ask for volunteers at the alligator farm to wrestle the alligator, don’t do it.   The alligator will kick your ass and may whack you with its tail which can break your spine like a Triscuit.

What can a Gator Girl superhero do?  Who knows.  She could for sure eat your ass if you cocked off to her and maybe she could be useful in the area of asshole removal.  I just thought she would make a really boss superhero who would have no problems with basic superhero skills like intimidation and persuasion.  I’m guessing she could pretty much sit wherever she wants and could probably discourage any ass-hat behavior in her presence.

Albino alligators in captivity must be kept in the dark to protect them from the sun.  The albino gene leaves them defenseless from sunlight.  They also have pinkish eyes.  There is one in the Knoxville Zoo and people don’t believe they are real until they slide into the water or blink their eyes.   It is an odd dichotomy; a deadly creature, rendered as vulnerable as an infant by sunlight.  Odd, beautiful, lethal and biologically flawed–like all of us.

Published in: on August 5, 2010 at 12:23 am  Leave a Comment  
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