Blizzard of Oz

Dubya, Ashlee and Bill O'Reilly have spun Racket's mind into the twilight zone; also, two local retro-cool institutions bite the dust

"Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain." -- The Wizard of Oz

Have the last six or so weeks in America been real or just a twisted fever dream? Will all of us and all this weirdness simply vanish when the teenage Judy Garland wakes up?

Life has gotten that bizarre. All of Dubya's debate performances (but especially the first), Ashleegate and the allegations in the Bill O'Reilly lawsuit would seem to support the idea that we're trapped in some freaky farm girl's reverie. And like Dorothy, we've all been granted a couple of peeks behind the curtain, of both the music business and politics, and what's back there ain't pretty.

Little scenes from The Wizard of Oz have been playing themselves out all over the place. There was that cowardly lion Dubya with either the "poorly made shirt" bundled up behind his neck, or his electronic pipeline to the mother lodes of compassionate conservatism, the fiendish cerebral cortexes of Karl Rove and Dick Cheney.

Throughout that first verbal combat, the immensely annoyed and flustered Bush looked as if he was channeling those cranky bastards behind the curtain at every challenge Tin Woodsman Kerry lobbed at him. "Do not arouse the wrath of the great and powerful Oz. I said come back tomorrow," Cheney-Rove spoke through that gabbling, smirking zombie they dispatched to the debate.

A month later, Fox News's own great and powerful pundit, Bill O'Reilly, was alleged in a lawsuit to have had a troublesome little man behind his own curtain as well. According to the suit filed by 33-year-old employee Andrea Mackris, 55-year-old O'Reilly is not really the stolid pillar of the community he pretends to be -- the guy who authors moralistic children's books and is morally outraged by the racy lyrics of guys like Ludacris.

Nope -- the guy in Mackris's lawsuit isn't that type at all. Instead, he's a vibrator-fixated, porn-addicted, hopper of Thai whores who brags about cheating on his pregnant wife with Italian babes, sexually coerces his underlings and masturbates while talking dirty to uninterested women on the phone. And then boasts that if anyone tattles on him for any of the above, he'll get his big brother Roger Ailes to beat 'em up. And oh yeah, if you're a good-looking young woman in his employ, he wants to jet you to the Caribbean, take you to a hotel, literally inject you with wine, stick you in the shower, play with your nipples and then tease your pookie with a "falafel." Or a loofah, he can't decide which, at least while he's masturbating. And you gotta hand it to Luda -- his O'Reilly diss song "Hoes in My Room," in which a horny O'Reilly invites a bunch of groupies to his hotel room, was far more prescient than we ever could have known a year ago. And where was O'Reilly when Chingy, Snoop and Luda cut "Holidae In"? If the suit really represents the man's skillz, he coulda dropped a crunk-ass guest verse on that joint. ("I'm Bill O from the F-O-X / hittin' the inn for some S-E-X / tickle your nipples with a loof-aaahhhh / my no-spin jimmy will make you hit the roof, ungggh.")

If the Cowardly Lion lacked courage, and the Tin Woodsman lacked a heart, and the Scarecrow was short a brain, I guess the O'Reilly described in this lawsuit would be a giant sausage with no conscience.

Fast-forward to October 24, where in mere seconds, one of Judy Garland's teenage brunette pop-singing successors transformed from Dorothy to the Wicked Witch before a gloating nation's eyes. It's too soon to tell if Ashlee Simpson will become another forsaken Milli Vanilli or be forgiven like the Monkees (my money's on the latter), but her disastrous performance sure did make for entertaining television. Simpson took to the stage a golden girl, a pop princess Cinderella who refused to let her prettier sister hog all the limelight, and what's more she allegedly did it all on her own, on more-or-less organic terms. ("I'm totally against and offended" by lip-synching, she once said. "I'm going out to let my real talent show, not to just stand there and dance around. Personally, I'd never lip-synch. It's just not me.") Before it was over, as the wrong track swelled around her and her piped-in vocals bellowed out all the wrong words, she clicked her ruby shoes together and wished she was home, danced like the Scarecrow, and then wound up melllll-tttiiing like the Wicked Witch.

Only Simpson didn't fizzle as fast. She blamed her band for her not being able to sing live, and for her inability to grasp the basic fact that the show must go on, even when the computers that provide your viability as a pop entity go haywire.

And now, at this remove, it all seems like some awful malaria-inspired delusion. All these scandals and debacles are running together in my head. George Bush told John Kerry that he wanted to tickle Ashlee Simpson's nipples with a shawarma…No that's not it…Bill O'Reilly stuck a vibrator up Luda's butt in Rome, while O'Reilly's pregnant wife had lesbian sex with Ashlee Simpson in the shower…No that's wrong, too…Karl Rove talks dirty to Dubya through a little transmitter embedded in his ear…That can't be right…George Bush's lip-synching went awry at the debates and all he could say was "Global test!" and"It's a hard job" over and over again…That sounds like it might have happened, but who can be sure?

All I know for sure is this: Like Dorothy said to Toto, I don't think we're in Kansas anymore.

Scuttlebutt Caboose

Good-bye and na shledanou, Bill Mraz Dance Hall, and thanks from all of us for all the memories. The 56-year-old Czech dance hall hosted its last dance on October 23. Early the next morning, an electrical fire broke out and the historic polka palace burned to the ground.

And it wasn't the only super-retro-cool institution to get some bad news last week. Two years after the dance hall opened its doors, in 1950, the 19-year-old Paul Berlin started spinning records on Houston radio. Fifty-four years later, Berlin, who is in the Texas Radio Hall of Fame and has been honored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, stood in the way of Clear Channel Radio's determined drive to rid Houston's airwaves of all that is local and unique. Berlin, the midday host on "beautiful music" station KBME-AM 790, was given his walking papers effective December 15, when the station flips to a sports talk format dominated by national shows courtesy of ESPN Radio and Fox Sports Radio. Which will spell bigger ratings among much-coveted 18- to 35-year-old men, Clear Channel believes.

David Beebe of the El Orbits, for one, is furious. "I can't believe they're doing that," Beebe says. "I think it's ridiculous that a station that obviously had such a loyal audience can be shut down."

Sure, Beebe isn't a typical 33-year-old, but there's no denying that during the daytime, the mix concocted by Berlin and his cohorts Scott Arthur and Bob Elliott -- which often ranged from Ray Charles to the Beatles to Nat "King" Cole to the Carpenters to Louis Armstrong -- was as intoxicating as any to be found on Houston's arid airwaves. "I know Clear Channel will say that they aren't getting the 18-to-35s, but you kind of are," Beebe says. "Guys like me -- I haven't listened to anything besides KPFT and that for, like, the last five years. No other stations at all -- not even the classic country station, which is okay. Weekends I do KPFT, weekdays I do KBME, and that's it, all day long, all the time."

And so another subscriber to satellite radio has been born. "For me, I've just accepted that I'm just gonna have to start paying another monthly bill," Beebe says. "I don't want to have to listen to the shittiest of the shit, so I'm gonna have to get satellite radio."

And for the record, Beebe is pretty torn up about the Bill Mraz Dance Hall as well. "When something like that happens, it just makes me feel helpless," he says. "I can bitch about 790, but the Mraz thing is just sad. Nobody wins on that deal. People who are doing things with their lives that create soul for the world -- guys like Grady Gaines or whoever -- they really need to keep doing it, because it's harder to do. It's harder to do in today's world. It's discouraged today. It makes me kinda mad. It makes me say, 'Man, I'm not gonna play "Brick House" tonight. If y'all wanna hear disco, I'm gonna play "Hollywood Swingers." 'Cause you don't hear that on the radio all the time, and it's just as good as "Brick House." ' It just makes me realize that special things are special."

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