Tales of Rock – The Best Band You Never Heard – Dust for Life

Dust for Life was a post-grunge band from Memphis, Tennessee formed in 1999.

Formation and initial success

After the dissolution of the Memphis grunge band Bacchanal, Jason Hughes recruited three members from the local Memphis rock band Spaceman to form DFL.[1] Chris Gavin of the band Burning Blue was added and became the second main songwriter of the group.[2]

In late 1999, DFL self-released a nine-track eponymous album.[3] Then in April 2000, DFL recorded four songs (“Step into the Light”, “Dirt into Dust”, “Dragonfly”, and “Where the Freaks Go”) at Ardent Studios. This demo was overnighted to Jeff Hanson, manager of the band Creed, and they were subsequently signed to Wind-Up Records.

In October 2000, DFL released a second eponymous album containing all new songs with the exception of two re-recorded songs from their 1999 album. The album reached No. 26 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart. Two singles from the album also charted. In 2001, drummer Rick Shelton left DFL to join Course of Nature.[4]

Touring and money troubles

For much of 2001, DFL toured with Creed, 3 Doors DownThe CultTantricDisturbedOrgyCold and Saliva.

In May 2001, DFL discovered its publishing money had been spent frivolously by their management and subsequently released the company. In July, they parted ways with Wind-Up Records due to contractual elements not being honored.[5] At the end of the year, Jason Hughes also released an album with the band Third Harmonic Distortion.[6] In early 2002, DFL embarked upon a headlining national tour with Tantric.[5] The song “Poison” was used in the movie Dragonball Z Cooler’s Revenge.

Separate ways and reformation

After taking a break, the band’s two primary songwriters (Hughes and Gavin) began work on the band’s next release in July 2003.[7] Later that year, DFL self-released an eight-song EP titled Degrees of Black.

Eventually DFL went on an indefinite hiatus. Chris Gavin formed the band Memphis Sound. Vocalist Jason Hughes formed the band Dark Things with Saving Abel guitarist Scott Bartlett in late 2006 with the intention of releasing an album on Warner Bros. Records.[8] Yet the project never came to fruition. Instead, Hughes and Gavin announced on their MySpace blog in 2007 that DFL was to begin recording new material.[9] In April 2008, the band released The Consequence Of Vanishing.[10] Scott Bartlett was featured on the album.[11] Hughes announced a line of clothing based on the title of the song “Dark Things Betray”.[12] The song “Release The Flood” was used by TNA Wrestling as the theme song for Slammiversary (2008).[13]

Another indefinite hiatus

In 2009, Jason Hughes released an album with the band Driving Eternity.[14] The band later changed its name to Driving Into Eternity and released a 5-song EP in 2010.[15]

Chris Gavin currently plays in the bands Kings Trio, White Noise Theory, and the cover band Hi-Fi Allstars.[16][17] In 2009, White Noise Theory released his first full-length album, Self Titled. The album consists of some tracks from the Degrees Of Black album. In April 2011, White Noise Theory released Dust, a collection of re-recorded DFL songs. In 2011, he released his third album Soul Of The Machine. All albums were released digitally.

DFL is presumably on another indefinite hiatus as their current projects list them as former members of DFL and dustforlifemusic.com is inactive.

 

So sad… I loved this band.

 

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Tales of Rock – The 6 Most (Certifiably) Insane Tales of Rock Star Behavior

We expect our rock stars to be a little crazy. Sex, drugs and trashed hotel rooms are all part of the rocking package.

But even in the crazy-ass world these artists live in, sometimes there’s an incident that makes everybody stop and say, “Dude.”

For instance…

Prince Assaults Sinead O’Connor … For Cursing

 

In the early 90s, Sinead O’Connor scored a massive hit with her cover of the Prince-penned “Nothing Compares To You.” Sorry, that should probably read “Nothing Compares 2 U.” We are talking about Prince after all. At any rate, according to O’Connor, His Purpleness was less than thrilled with her decision to cover the song since he was already planning to give it to a female protege of his, perhaps in exchange for a series of unthinkable sex acts.

When he met with Sinead to discuss the situation, things got a bit out of hand. And by “out of hand” we mean “they got in a goddamned fistfight.”

It started with Prince berating the shorn-locked singer for, of all things, cursing in interviews. She replied with a diplomatic and sympathetic “go fuck yourself.” At that point, O’Connor claims Prince became physically threatening, or at least to the extent Prince can physically threaten anyone.

At that point the two went at it, in what was probably the most effeminate fistfight of all time. Prince used his fists, O’Connor used loogies. “All I could do was spit. I spat on him quite a bit,” she said. Classy! Not that beating women is any classier, but seriously, how would you feel if you were robbed of the chance to pass one of your most enduring tunes onto one of your talented proteges? Imagine the possibilities!

Oh, shit!

Ozzy Osbourne Impresses Record Execs… By Biting the Head Off a Dove

 

That Ozzy Osbourne once bit the head off a bat is old news. To the credit of his sanity, he apparently didn’t know it was a real bat. Plus, he was in Des Moines, Iowa at the time. When you’re spending an evening in a place like Iowa, you find your fun however you can.

A slightly less famous incident happened at CBS Records’ Los Angeles office shortly after Ozzy left Black Sabbath to embark on a solo career. Sensing that CBS was not overly interested in her husband or his music, Sharon Osbourne decided it would be a good idea for Ozzy to show up at a meeting with CBS executives with a couple of live doves in pockets. The idea was that he would release them into the air when he walked in. And who wouldn’t be impressed by having a couple of albino birds hurled into the air at their place of employment?

But Ozzy, ever the showman, decided that instead of releasing the doves, he would take one out of his pocket and delightfully bite its head off as CBS employees looked on in horror. According to an eyewitness, the reaction was an understandably stunned silence followed by Ozzy being hastily removed from the room, presumably while little spurts of blood shot from the bird’s ragged neck stump.

This is the kind of story that, over the years, becomes so shrouded in legend that people start to question whether it is even true, us included. But, admittedly, this picture of Ozzy Osbourne biting off the head of a dove while shocked record execs look on is pretty damning evidence.

Carlos Santana Gives All Glory to… Metatron?

 

It’s not unusual these days for an artist to score a huge album and, in later interviews, give all the credit for their success to God. Ok, it’s not unusual for rappers and R&B singers at least. But in a 1999 interview with Rolling Stone, Carlos Santana awesomely took things a step further.

Those skeptics among us would be tempted to credit the success of the album largely to the fact that it consisted mostly of Carlos playing guitar on songs that, otherwise, didn’t resemble Santana songs in the least. But when asked about the inspiration for his comeback album Supernatural (of course) Carlos credited a mystical spirit named Metatron.

In Carlos’ own words:

“I know it sounds New Age… but in my meditation, this entity – which is called Metatron – he said, ‘we want to hook you back to the radio airwave frequency. We want you to reach junior high schools, high schools and universities. Once you reach them – because we are going to connect you with the best artists of the day, then we want you to present them a new menu. Let them know that they are themselves, multidimensional spirits with enormous possibilities and opportunities. We want you to present them with a new form of existence that transcends religion, politics or the modus operandi of education today'”

Alrighty then!

He also went on to say, “Metatron is the architect of physical life. Because of him, we can French-kiss, we can hug, we can get a hot dog, wiggle our toe.” Well, we do certainly dig hot dogs. And we like a god who may possibly be a Transformer. Then again … Metatron claimed the album would feature “the best artists of the day.” This would be an album that featured both Rob Thomas and Everlast.

We’d have to say we’re non-believers, Santana.

Serge Gainsbourg Sings About Incest… With His Daughter

 

Legendary (to French people) pop singer Serge Gainsbourg was never any stranger to odd behavio(u)r. But the line between strange and crazy is a fine one. Take, for example, the time he appeared with Whitney Houston on what amounted to the European version of The View and said, and we quote, “I want to fuck you.” Strange? Sure. Crazy? No, it was 1985, who didn’t want to nail Whitney Houston in 1985?

No, the Whitney incident was downright boring compared to Gainsbourg’s single “Lemon Incest.” There is nothing inherently strange about singing about incest, we suppose. Aerosmith had a huge hit that was about incest (“Janie’s Got A Gun”). But it’s not like anyone thought any differently about Steven Tyler because of the song.

OK, bad example

But to sing about incest with Joe Perry on lead guitar is one thing. To sing about it with your daughter on co-lead vocals, that’s some whole other shit altogether.

And that’s exactly what Gainsbourg did on “Lemon Incest,” a duet with his quite young daughter Charlotte. It’s at this point that our European readers will scold us for being “dumb Americans” who “misunderstood” the song. And hey, that may be. Or maybe Europeans just have hotter kids than we do. Whatever the case, it’s hard to read these lyrics without getting a bit of the heebie jeebies:

The love that we will never together,

Is the most beautiful, the most violent, the purest, the most intoxicating,

Exquisite outline, delicious child, my flesh and my blood,

Oh my baby my soul,

Incest lemon, lemon incest

But surely, seeing the video for the song will dispel any misunderstandings about the meaning of the song, right? What father doesn’t croon about incest over sleazy electronic music while laying shirtless in bed with his kid? In a perfect world, fucking all of them.

Whitney Houston Gets the Christmas Spirit… By Joining a Cult

 

Speaking of Whitney …

It takes a lot to out-crazy Bobby Brown. But time and again, Whitney rises to the occasion. In a stunt that Bobby couldn’t dream up in a hundred crack-filled years, Houston traveled to Israel in 2003 to spend time with a cult group known as the Black Hebrews. Her reasoning for the trip? To find inspiration for her upcoming Christmas album.

Hanging out with Jews to get inspired for Christmas? Hey, why the hell not? But the group, on the surface just a run-of-the-mill religious group, is purported by some to be more like a cult. Given their unorthodox policies of polygamy (men are allowed seven wives) and, much more ominously, strict vegetarianism, it’s not much of a stretch.

“Crack is vegetarian, right?”

According to some former members, the group believes so heavily in discipline that, not only have children died while being beaten by their parents, but adults are also beaten for failing to abide by the laws of the group’s settlement. Adults who have fallen ill due to the strict diet imposed on them have refused medical attention due to their refusal to visit “heathen doctors” in Europe and American.

Needless to say, Houston was sold. By the time she left, Whitney was referring to Israel as “my land.” And Bobby was probably on the hunt for six more wives. What a bunch of lucky ladies!

Phil Spector Kidnaps The Ramones

 

Legendary producer and songwriter Phil Spector is one of those guys who is batshit insane, but you’d never know it from his calm, reassuring exterior.

You can’t judge a book by its cover.

The above photo is what he looked like when he showed up to his trial for murder charges, looking as sane as possible to impress the jury. Anyway, what is so surprising is how successful he managed to become while spewing the crazy on damn near everyone around him.

Like the time he put a loaded gun to Leonard Cohen’s head. Or that one time when he fired a shot in the studio while he was working with John Lennon. Or all of the other times he allegedly pulled guns on the artists he worked with. But if one incident takes the cake over all of them, it would be the time when Phil allegedly held The Ramones at gunpoint, while working on their End of the Century album.

According to bassist Dee Dee Ramone, while in the studio Phil pulled Joey Ramone away for a private meeting. Dee Dee went off in search of the pair, at which point he says Spector emerged at the top of a staircase, waving a pistol around.

After Dee Dee objected to, you know, having a gun pulled on him and shit, he told Phil he was leaving. That he did this instead of, say, diving behind a piece of furniture while screaming, indicates that the sight of Spector with a gun wasn’t all that uncommon.

At that point, Spector allegedly pointed the gun at Dee Dee’s chest and motioned for the rest of the band to return to the piano room. Then, with the band captive in the locked room, he sat at a piano and made the band listen to him sing “Baby, I Love You.”

Repeatedly.

Until 4:30 in the morning.

But on the bright side, at least nobody got shot in the face!

 

 

Tales of Rock: The Quiet One review – controversial and evasive Bill Wyman documentary

An underdeveloped look at the life of the former Rolling Stone has led to outrage over its portrayal of an alleged sexual predator

It should probably surprise no one that a new documentary about “the quiet” Rolling Stone, Bill Wyman, has kicked up a controversy over what it doesn’t say rather than what it does. Last month, a planned showing of the Oliver Murray-directed film The Quiet One at the Sheffield Doc/Fest drew outrage, and was cancelled, due to what was seen as its insufficient probing of Wyman’s 1989 marriage to Mandy Smith, who was 18 at the time, but whom he began allegedly grooming when she was five years younger than that. (At that time, he was 47). Back then, the story raised some eyebrows in the US, and inspired reams of harrumphing coverage in the British tabloids, but not quite the censorious outrage it might have received today.

In fact, the documentary, which is being shown as part of this year’s Tribeca film festival, does allude to part of the controversy. Fleetingly, Wyman defends his relationship with Smith by saying “it was from the heart. It wasn’t lust, which people were seeing it as.” Notably, he does not talk about how old she was when they first had sex. Of the marriage – which resulted in a separation three years later, and a divorce two years after that – he says, “I was really stupid to ever think it could possibly work. She was too young. I felt she had to go out and see life for a bit.”

In Wyman’s 1991 autobiography, A Stone Alone, he was more forthcoming. “She was a woman at 13,” he wrote. “Everyone accepted her as an adult without question.”

The film is even more circumspect about the most improbable aspect of this story. There’s no mention that, in 1993 – the same year Wyman divorced Smith – his 30-year-old son Stephen married Smith’s mother, who was then 46. (That couple split two years later.)

Such oversights demonstrate the depth of the director’s deference to his subject. But, in return, it would have been nice if he got meatier, or rarer, material from Wyman regarding what the film’s potential audience cares about most – the story of the Stones. Other than one extraordinary scene at the movie’s end, and a few choice bits along the way, The Quiet One skims the surface of the band’s history, alighting mainly on the dramatic highlights – the early riots the band inspired, their contrary image in the press, the 60s drug bust, Altamont. There’s real reason to have expected more fresh material given Wyman’s well-known role as the Stones’ most dedicated, and informed, archivist. He has filmed, saved or collected more about the band than anyone else on Earth. The film positions this fact as a central part of Wyman’s character and even features many scenes of him in his archive where, puzzlingly, he’s shot from behind and in voiceover rather than while speaking directly to the camera.

Perhaps that set-up is meant to underscore the enigmatic nature of his character, something the film provides ample evidence of. Newspaper clippings amplify his reputation as “stone face” based on his affect, which is so deadpan, it could make a corpse look like the life of the party. Wyman also tends to stand stick-stiff on-stage, holding his bass like a soldier with his weapon at rest. In terms of his instrument, there’s a brief allusion to how Wyman wound up inadvertently creating the world’s first fretless bass, an important enough innovation to have merited more discussion.

There is, however, some nice testimony about his unfussy, but highly effective, approach to the bass from informed observers like Eric Clapton and the producer Glyn Johns. He modeled his work on that of Donald “Duck” Dunn of Booker T and the MGs. Clapton calls Wyman’s bass lines “fantastic, unique. It was so precise and so contained. It was just right,” he says.

“Leave space, don’t fill it up,” Wyman says of his approach. “You’re not a fucking lead guitarist. Focus on the drums, so you’ve got a solid foundation that everyone can draw upon.”

The film features some telling quotes from the star about his frightening childhood in the 1940s, when German bombs rained down on his London neighborhood, killing classmates. There’s also important stuff about his relationship with his family. His parents had a “children should be seen and not heard” approach to rearing. Wyman says his father hated his son’s ambition to rise above the family’s poor status, viewing it as a betrayal. Though Wyman says he later forgave his father, scars seem to remain. There’s choice footage, too, of the early days of the band, though, like his childhood years, it’s sometimes padded with stock footage or, when all else fails, animation. As they progressed, Wyman stood apart from the other Stones through his lack of interest in drugs. Instead, he admits, he “probably had an addiction to sex”.

That addiction merits about two sentences in the film. In Stone Alone, the bassist was more effusive on the subject, while also tipping off his talent for chronicling. “I fared much better than the others in the girl department,” he wrote. “In 1965, we sat down one evening in a hotel and worked that out. Since the band had started two years earlier, I’d had 278 girls, Brian (Jones) 130, Mick (Jagger) about thirty, Keith (Richards) six, and Charlie (Watts) none.”

More detail of this sort would have been a useful addition for the film. Many of the subject’s observations are bland. He describes the Stone’s historic concert in Hyde Park, directly after the death of Brian Jones, simply as “extraordinary”.

He’s more colorful about the Stones’ time as tax exiles living in France, where he met James Baldwin, who introduced him to the music of Ray Charles, who became his idol. There’s also rare footage of Wyman creating his hilarious, new wave novelty, solo hit in 1981, Je Suis Un Rock Star, as well as of his heady time backing Howlin’ Wolf, along with Clapton and Charlie Watts.

Of his dramatic decision to leave the Stones, after the 1990 Steel Wheels tour, he says, “I loved what we achieved. But I needed to sort out my personal life – and my future.”

Observers say he has used his time well since then, becoming more appreciative of life and more connected to others. That’s evidenced by a seemingly strong relationship with his third wife, Suzanne Acosta, whom he married in 1993 and with whom he has three children. In the last part of the film, Acosta appears with him in the only scene where he speaks directly to the camera. What follows is as beautifully honest as much of the rest is vague. Wyman tells a story about meeting Ray Charles with such passion, he has to halt several times to keep the tears from flowing. What he finally describes of that meeting offers the first true insight into the hurt, and insecurity, that lies behind the cool front he put up with the Stones and in much of the film. Still, it’s left to his current wife to provide insight into his seminal need for collecting. That desire, she says, reflects a “need to relive his life and find out who he was”.

From the evidence here, it seems that need remains unfulfilled. “It’s bizarre,” Wyman says at the end of the film. “It’s a bizarre life I’ve had.”

  • The Quiet One is showing on Hulu right now.

 

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Tales of Rock – Van Halen and the Craziest, Most Debaucherous Party of 1984

“Lost Weekend” directors Bradford Thomason and Brett Whitcomb on all the sex, drugs and rock and roll you’d expect from Diamond Dave and Co.

In 1984, at the height of the arena rock era of big hair, bigger egos, lots of sex and drugs and all sorts of debauchery, MTV held a contest promising a “Lost Weekend With Van Halen.” Over a million contestants submitted their entries via postcard in an attempt to win a chance to spend a weekend in Detroit partying with the band and their entourage during the band’s infamous 1984 Tour, singer David Lee Roth’s last (for a while at least).

Kurt Jefferis, a 20-year-old department store loading dock employee from Pennsylvania, mailed in more than 10 postcards and had one of them pulled from the lot to win the contest.

“You’ll have no idea where you are, you’ll have no idea where you’re going, and probably, no memory of it after you go,” Lee Roth claimed in the promo for the contest. A promise that lined up with the reputation of the band who laid the groundwork for other hard-partying hair bands from Poison to Mötley Crüe.

Well, DLR wasn’t quite right about lost memories as Jefferis and the buddy who accompanied him, Tom Winnick, actually remember a lot about their trip to Detroit Rock City. What they recall is a two-day binge featuring, among other X-rated happenings, Jack Daniels, beer, champagne, lobster, filet mignon, cocaine, a food fight and a groupie named Tammy.

The pair’s recollections, as well as many others, are captured in Lost Weekend, a new short documentary film from directors Bradford Thomason and Brett Whitcomb (GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of WrestlingA Life in Waves) which recently screened at the Tribeca Film Festival.

The film weaves together clips of the band, interviews with Jefferis and Winnick, and plenty of archival footage from the weekend to create a visual time capsule which will likely evoke feelings of nostalgia whether or not you’re a fan of Van Halen or not.

That makes sense considering how the idea for the project came about Thomason and Whitcomb — neither of whom were actually huge Van Halen fans — tell InsideHook.

“Brett and I have always had a love for all things nostalgia,” Thomason says. “We grew up in the ’80s, so we have explored that in our previous films and this was really kind of born out of late-night watching YouTube clips of old MTV videos and stuff like that and just kind of having a wild idea. We saw the bumper for The Last Weekend trailer and it was like, ‘Well, let’s do a doc about that guy.’ It was kind of a joke and then I did more research and read a bit more his story thought, ‘Oh, this would actually make a good short doc’ so we pursued it.”

Keeping the film short (less than 15 minutes) was intentional and allowed them to capture a snapshot of Jefferis’ 15 minutes of fame as well as the period of time when it occurred.

“Even though we are predominantly feature documentary filmmakers, this one just seemed like a fun one to make,” Whitcomb says. “We’ve been to festivals where we’ve had really good experiences watching short documentaries and they have never left our minds. We kind of wanted to make something like that. Where people can have a good time in 15 minutes and then think back on and go ‘Oh, I remember that Van Halen documentary.’ It’s something short and entertaining. You can get in and out and have a good time.”

Kurt Jefferis and David Lee Roth in “Lost Weekend.” (Window Pictures)
Kurt Jefferis and David Lee Roth in “Lost Weekend.” (Window Pictures)

Despite the film’s reduced length, Thomason and Whitcomb didn’t have to leave much on the cutting room floor and found Jefferis and Winnick to be very forthcoming about everything that went down on April 5th and 6th in ’84.

“Kurt was much younger then so there were things that took place I think he was a little coy about with us but it ends up working out in the film because the viewers aren’t dumb,” Thomason says. “There are some things left to the imagination but I think we explored most of what happened and what they were open to discussing. I think it was a wild weekend, but not so wild that we couldn’t get those stories. It was kind of perfect. Today it would be a lot more sterile, obviously. But yeah, back then it was the wild weekend they promised.”

“It was almost on par with what MTV said they would be doing,” Whitcomb adds. “The experience MTV advertised was pretty much exactly the experience that they had.”

But probably not one MTV would be able of offer in a similar contest today.

“Bands partied differently back in the day than they do now,” Thomason points out. “And obviously that comes with some things that might be frowned upon or might be difficult to deal with today. With our guys Kurt and Tom, they were so young … It’s definitely not something that’s in the forefront of the film but we were definitely aware there would probably be people watching who have those thoughts and we definitely wouldn’t hide from that or anything.”

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25 Unexpected Valentine’s Day 2020 Date Ideas

On Valentine’s Day, the last thing you want to do is get stuck in a Netflix and takeout rut—or, worse, end up at a cheesy, overpriced, and decidedly unoriginal prix-fixe dinner. Whether you’re single, coupled up, or somewhere in between, ensure your V-Day is free of clichés with these non-boring ideas, below.

Have a Bonfire

image
Stocksy

If you live in the suburbs, grab some marshmallows, chocolates, and s’mores, then spend the night cuddling up by the fire. Bonus points if you can make one on the beach.


Chocolate Tasting and Truffle Making

Instead of buying crappy chocolates from the drugstore, sign up for a masterclass in chocolate-making. If you’re in the tri-state area, spend the night learning directly from the pros of NYC’s Roni-Sue’s and bring home 12 delicious truffles to eat in bed.

Proceeds from the class will support the Waterkeeper Alliance, which “aims to preserve and protect water by connecting local Waterkeeper organizations worldwide and promoting outspoken, citizen-led advocacy. “


Dancing

Not at the club—we mean real dancing. You can take a class, hit a salsa club, or go see live music that makes you want to groove. For the former, we suggest something like the Valentine’s Day Dirty Dancing Party in Chicago.


A Ghost Tour

The convenient thing about ghosts is that they tend to hang around old cities everywhere. Bonus points if you find a spooky event that includes booze like Portland’s Haunted Brewery Crawl, which comes with beer samples and a guided tour. (Two awesome reasons to sign up.)


Ice Skating and Après Skate

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Getty Images

There’s a reason why couples are always hitting the rink in our favorite rom-coms—you’re pretty much guaranteed to get close to each other. Once you’ve had your fill of the ice, you can enjoy some hard-earned drinks. (Hot toddies, anyone?)


A Wine Bar Crawl

Instead of sticking to just one spot, hop from place-to-place and order different kinds of wine and tapas along the way. It’s waaay more interesting than a boring ol’ sit-down dinner. Of course, it doesn’t hurt stashing one away for later too.


A Scavenger Hunt

You can make up your own, complete with creative challenges, photo missions, and sexy prizes.


A Night at the Museum

A view of the interior walkways May 14,
STAN HONDAGetty Images

When museums stay open after hours, they tend to spice things up by throwing a party or holding a special event—especially on V-Day. Take an after-dark art tour for two like the one offered at the Guggenheim complete with chocolate truffles and champagne, accompanied by live music.


A Themed Dinner and Movie Night at Home

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Getty Images

Watching Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck fall in love in Roman Holiday is definitely more satisfying when accompanied by a big plate of homemade spaghetti and meatballs.


Go to a Basketball or Hockey Game

Use the night as an excuse to cheer on your favorite teams. For the more competitive couples, take a bet on the winning team and see who’s really buying dinner for the next week.

 

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Philadelphia’s New Year’s Tradition Reflects Our Racist Past — And May Overcome It

The Mummers Parade is growing more diverse, showing how longtime traditions can be recast.

Correction: An earlier version of this post stated that Frank Rizzo’s quoted comments came during a 1978 mayoral campaign. In reality, they came during a campaign to change the city charter so that Rizzo could run for a third consecutive term the following year.

 

For more than a century, Philadelphia has celebrated New Year’s Day with the Mummers Parade, a regional tradition that brings thousands into the streets to wear costumes, play music, dance and perform satirical sketches on local and national politics.

Almost every year, however, the parade sparks controversy. In 2019, for example, City Council President Darrell L. Clarke denounced the mummers because he incorrectly thought that the rapper Jay-Z had been portrayed by a white man in blackface, not an African American. While Clarke was wrong, the mistake was plausible, given that black Philadelphians, who make up more than 40 percent of the city’s population, have never participated in the parade in large numbers. And until the city imposed a ban on blackface makeup in the parade in 1963, many mummers marched in blackface, a practice inherited from the 19th-century minstrel show.

Even today, the Mummers Parade is imbued with performances reminiscent of blackface minstrelsy. The “strut,” the mummers’ signature dance step, for example, can be traced to the cakewalk, an antebellum plantation dance adopted by the minstrel show.

In many ways, the history of the Mummers Parade is a microcosm of the halting movement toward racial integration in the United States. The persistence of minstrel-show stereotypes in the parade mirrors and magnifies the persistence of racism in American society at large. But the parade is also one of the most prominent expressions of Philadelphia’s distinctive history and culture and, thus, also a potential source of civic strength in an increasingly diverse city.

Throughout much of northern Europe and colonial North America, groups of costumed “mummers” roved from house to house during the Christmas season, entertaining their hosts and expecting food, drink or a small tip in return. As early as the 17th century, immigrants from England and Sweden introduced this custom to southeastern Pennsylvania.

By the 19th century, most mummers were young, working-class white men, and their streetside antics were infused with forms of racial impersonation borrowed from the Indian melodramas and blackface minstrel shows popular in the contemporary theater. According to the Philadelphia Public Ledger, New Year’s Day 1876 witnessed impromptu parades by men dressed as “Indians and squaws, princes and princesses, clowns … [and] Negroes of the minstrel hall type.”

Philadelphia’s new, central police force eventually cracked down on unruly holiday celebrations, and H. Bart McHugh — a newspaper reporter and theatrical agent — led the effort to corral the mummers into an organized parade, with prizes funded by the city. In 1901, the city government sponsored the first official Mummers Parade, and the Public Ledger reported that “three thousand men and boys in outlandish garb frolicked, cavorted, grimaced, and whooped while the Mayor and members of Councils, Judges, and other officials, State and municipal, looked on.”

From the beginning, most mummers’ clubs specialized in fancy dress, music, dance or comedy, leading to an elaborate structure for judging a varied assortment of parade performances. Three African American groups competed for prizes in Philadelphia’s first city-sponsored Mummers Parade, and regular African American participation in the parade continued through 1929, when the Octavius V. Catto String Band (named for a martyred 19th-century civil rights leader) made its final appearance.

Sociologist Patricia Anne Masters attributes the withdrawal of independent African American clubs from the 1930 Mummers Parade to the Depression, which hit Philadelphia’s black community especially hard. Deteriorating economic conditions, along with the Catto String Band’s last-place finish in 1928 and 1929, clearly discouraged African American groups from competing, but black brass bands continued to march as paid accompanists for white mummers’ groups through the 1930s, a practice that remains common today.

Yet, Mummers documentarian E.A. Kennedy III suggests that the prolific use of blackface by white mummers also contributed to black disillusionment with the parade. This disillusionment erupted into full-blown conflict in December 1963, when Cecil B. Moore, head of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP, and Louis Smith of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) successfully pressured parade director Elias Myers, a city official, to ban blackface from the Mummers Parade. This ban precipitated an unsuccessful legal challenge, as well as protests and counter-protests by mummers and civil rights activists.

The result was an uneasy detente over the issue of race in the Mummers Parade. Even in 1975, 12 years after the blackface ban, the New York Times described it as “essentially a white man’s event,” overseen by Mayor Frank Rizzo, who famously enjoined his white working-class base to “vote white” during a 1978 campaign to change the city charter so he could run for a third consecutive term.

 

Over the past six decades the parade has grown considerably more inclusive, even as brownface, redface and yellowface makeup have remained common sights in the parade, and blackface still appeared at the nighttime party after the official parade has ended. In the 1970s, most mummers’ clubs began admitting women for the first time. (Women had long worked behind the scenes, helping to stitch costumes but rarely appeared as performers). In 1984, the Goodtimers Comic Club, with an African American president and hundreds of minority members, started competing in the parade, just as W. Wilson Goode, Philadelphia’s first African American mayor, took office. And in 1992, a group of Cambodian American artists and students teamed up with the Golden Sunrise Fancy Brigade to stage a Khmer dance drama along the parade route, reflecting the rapid growth of the city’s Cambodian American population.

Over the past six decades, the Mummers Parade has grown considerably more inclusive. (Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images)
Over the past six decades, the Mummers Parade has grown considerably more inclusive. (Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images)

By 2016, participants in the Mummers Parade included a Caribbean steel band, a Mexican American carnival organization, an African American drill team, a Puerto Rican bomba group and a brigade of drag queens — even as videos of individual mummers using racist and homophobic slurs along the parade route have also gone viral in recent years.

This bifurcation captures the complex state of the parade when it comes to race as we enter a new decade. Some mummers embrace the growing diversity of the parade out of conviction, whereas others view it as a pragmatic antidote to the declining participation and attendance that have afflicted the parade since the 1990s. Indeed, many if not most new mummers over the past decade have come from outside the white ethnic communities that traditionally sustained the parade.

 

Progressive and racially integrated mummers’ groups like the Vaudevillains, the Rabble Rousers and the Lobster Club have sought to change the political tenor of the parade, with performances that confront climate change, nuclear proliferation, big agriculture, student loan debt, access to health care and fracking in rural Pennsylvania. (Full disclosure: I was a member of the Vaudevillains from 2009 to 2012). These groups have realized that joining the parade is the only way to bring about a more pluralistic future for the mummers, offering a local lesson in direct political action that applies to struggles over diversity, equity and inclusion at the national level.

The Mummers Parade offers a carnivalesque bully pulpit to communicate directly with one’s fellow citizens, and as a city-sponsored event, participation is open to anyone. The reach of the parade has diminished from its peak, but roughly 8,000 marchers and 50,000 spectators crowd the parade route each New Year’s Day, and hundreds of thousands watch the parade on local television. Because Philadelphia is the largest city in America’s second-largest swing state, the vibrancy of the city’s political life has national implications, especially in a presidential election year.

A populist tradition like the Mummers Parade has the potential to point the way toward a more inclusive future or to remain mired in the racism that has characterized America’s past. Rather than abandon or decry the parade for its attachment to minstrel-show stereotypes and its history of racial exclusion, Philadelphians of all backgrounds would do well to embrace mummery as a powerful civic rite, with the potential to make the city’s growing diversity a force to be reckoned with.

 

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‘We’re All Wearing Diapers’: Shocking New Year’s Eve Truth

There are only a handful of cities with celebrations so spectacular on New Year’s Eve that they’ve built an international reputation on it.

At the top of the list, arguably, is Sydney – for it’s magnificent and world-class fireworks display on the city’s sparkling harbour.

Perhaps the most iconic, however, is the ball drop in New York’s Times Square – otherwise known as “the Crossroads of the World”.

It’s where some two million people pack the streets in the core of the Big Apple up to 16 hours before the clock strikes midnight. They come for the spectacle: a free concert featuring some of the world’s biggest stars; an illuminated ball that drops from above a high-rise building, marking the end of one year and the start of the next; and an explosion of confetti, with handwritten wishes written on each piece from members of the public, fluttering through the skies above the bustling streets. To be a part of it and feel the electricity in person is on the bucket list of many people all over the world. The celebration is so popular that revellers arrive in the morning to secure prime position before it fills up and police block access.

But there’s a catch that most tourists who flock to the city for New Year’s Eve are largely unaware of: There are no bathroom facilities. Zilch. No Portaloos, no public rest rooms, and no access to restaurant or bar facilities for non-customers. And in a place so packed that it can take hours just to shuffle from one block to the next – and that’s outside of police pen “lock-in” periods – it’s a discovery many revellers don’t make until it’s too late.

Those privy to the set-up, however, have a secret: adult nappies.

New Year's Eve fireworks display over Times Square, New York, USA.
New Year’s Eve fireworks display over Times Square, New York, USA.

It’s said that the streets of New York City will “make you feel brand new” – a line immortalised in Alicia Keys’ hit song Empire State of Mind.

Just don’t expect to get that on New Year’s Eve when the streets are lined with thousands of adults wetting their “diapers” and thousands more urinating directly onto the street.

“So far, it’s dry, and I’m hoping to keep it that way,” nappy-wearing Dallas teacher Heather Feist, 33, who began lining up at 9.30am, told the NY Post at last year’s event.

Others were not so lucky.

“I’ll definitely need to shower after peeing my pants all day,” Ayame Yamakawa, 22, told the newspaper after travelling 22 hours from Okinawa, Japan, just for New Year’s Eve this time last year.

She had already wet herself once by 2.41pm after lining up at 10am, according to The Post.

 

Crowds celebrate new year on Times Square, NYC. Picture: iStock
Crowds celebrate new year on Times Square, NYC. Picture: iStock

 

The celebration lights up New York. Picture: iStock
The celebration lights up New York. Picture: iStock

At a previous NYE street celebration in Times Square, Jeryl Lippe, from New Jersey, got a bad case of karma after she smuggled vodka into the alcohol-free zone inside a water bottle. She didn’t eat anything other than a breakfast bagel and didn’t have her illicit drink until the end of the day, she told local The Post. But, “by the time it was turning midnight, I had drunk a lot and was desperate to go to the bathroom,” she continued. “I tried to find some place to go – hotels, restaurants,” she said, but she was denied.

Chuck Pappas travelled from interstate for NYE at the “Crossroads of the World” in 2014, at the time telling Business Insider: “We have Red Bull, energy shots, lots of snacks, water, playing cards, we’re all wearing several layers and … we’re all wearing diapers.”

Brian Alvarado, from Westchester, New York, last year recalled how one of his friends gave up and urinated in the street, adding, “I’ve heard stories of people who wear (adult) diapers.”

 

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