Friday, July 26, 2013

Hey Victor!

(From the movie "Smoke Signals," starring Adam Beach and written by Sherman Alexie, based on one of his short stories. I saw this movie when it came out in 1998 and to this day whenever the name Victor comes up anywhere, I imitate the goofy, braided dude in these clips.)

Sometimes it takes a long time, and a little bit of persistence, to prove you're not crazy. Not right, perhaps, but also not insane.

Roughly 20 years ago I maintained to just about anybody who would listen, that international pop superstar Prince had changed his name to Victor. This was just prior to the Purple One's decision to become known as an unpronounceable symbol. Obviously, my voice was ridiculed, lost in the clamor about how ridiculous (or awesome, depending on how you felt about Mr. Little Red Corvette's music, fashion and attitude) it was that Prince was changing his name to a provocative glyph.

Some people thought Prince made the change just to prove how Prince-y he was, that he didn't care about names and that, dammit, he could do whatever he wanted. I wasn't a Prince fan at the time, but even I had to admit that he seemed somehow sexier now that he'd shed the name that us mere mortals used, in favor of an otherworldly emblem.

Why did Prince change his name? In part because, under terms of his contract with Warner Bros., he owed the label five albums. He wanted the freedom to explore, to not toil under the demand of creating hits. So he figured by using the symbol, he could release music on a smaller label, and fulfill his Warner contract with music from his massive vault.

For more on the contract tussle, read this.

An artist as prolific and talented as Prince (I've come around on him since the early '90s, although I don't own a lick of his music) needs to constantly challenge himself. He has no desire to do the same thing, or be called the same thing, forever.

But nobody believed me when I said I'd heard that Mr. Purple Rain had at one point decided to change his name to Victor. I couldn't cite my source, but I knew I'd heard it somewhere. Over the years, this just became one of those things that made me "me." Oh, Dave's the guy who thinks Prince was going to change his name to Victor. Dave's the guy who saw "Brother From Another Planet." Dave's the guy who's into Phantom Tollbooth.

I had a chance to ask the Man himself about this, years ago, but I chickened out.

I was working at Webnoize, where I was a writer and editor. The details of how I was put in touch with His Purple Highness are lost to me, but I may have been working on a story related to the launch of Prince's paid online music club.

I was told that I could only communicate with Prince via AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), an account I didn't have. One of my coworkers, however, did and was more than happy to let me use it. My coworker's last name was Karp, and his AIM screen name incorporated the name. At one point, Prince (who was supposedly using AIM through an associate as well) asked something along the lines of, "Who is this person who's named after a fish?"

I recall that his answers to my questions varied between silly and generally useless, and somewhat helpful. I printed out a partial transcript (I was unable to capture the entire text) and saved that print-out for quite a while. I wish I had kept it, so I could quote from it.

I don't remember whether I seriously considered asking him about the whole Victor thing, but I'm sure I joked about it, and I seem to recall people giving me a hard time after the fact for not broaching the subject.

With all the talk this week about the The Woman Formerly Known as Kate Middleton (now the Duchess of Cambridge) having given the British monarchy an heir to the throne, I got to thinking about good ol' Prince Rogers Nelson.

So I decided, for the first time in a long time, to seek confirmation for my Victor theory. Past efforts on Google, Yahoo! and AltaVista (I told you I've been at this a long time) were fruitless.

Finally this week Google gave me a few hits.

I found an article written by the pop music critic for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Jim Walsh, on August 16, 1994:

In writing about Prince's song, "The Sacrifice of Victor," which is about abuse the Purple One suffered as a child, Walsh concludes this way: "Wait a sec. Did I say Prince? Scratch that. And forget all those other ones - Symbolina, TAFKAP, Victor; I think I just figured out what to call the guy.

"His name is Lazarus. And he is funky."

And from

"Since the album (with the unpronounceable symbol) began with 'My Name Is Prince' and ended with Prince stating " name will be Victor", many media outlets reported that (the symbol) could be referred to as Victor, some fans even going so far as to show how the symbol could be broken to form the letters V-I-C-T-O-R."

On tour around that time, however, TAFKAP made comments that "my name ain't Prince, and it damn well ain't Victor."

So I was wrong, but I still claim vindication.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Going On the DL

I'm having arthroscopic hip surgery tomorrow, and will be on crutches for as many as six weeks. I will also need physical therapy for roughly the same amount of time. So that translates to perhaps three months of being on the disabled list.

Yesterday I went for a four-mile walk, something I will miss in the next few months. I haven't been able to run in a long time, and my surgeon told me that since I'm not an elite 48-year-old runner, I shouldn't return to that activity. So I've been enjoying walking over the last several months, two or three times a week.

I walk along a path that for much of the time is adjacent to the Charles River. I really enjoy hearing the birds, seeing other walkers, runners, cyclists and kids playing along the banks. I've been monitoring the progress of a new apartment development behind the Stop & Shop.

Simple things like walking up and down the stairs, going to the grocery store and hanging out in the neighborhood will be much more difficult for the next several weeks. I won't be able to amble about taking photos as much, either, which is why I went out today and snapped a bunch of pictures in Chelsea, a small, blue collar city just north of Boston. I'll be posting pictures broken out into a few series on my other blog, The Backside of America, in the near future.

My brother and his family, along with my sister, will be visiting here two weeks after my operation. We plan on doing some things in Boston, but I'll have to take it easy, unfortunately. I'm hoping we can do a duck boat tour and a few other things that won't tax me too much.

I'm going to miss the annual golf tournament in my hometown that I attend every year -- another bummer. I'm going to miss going to a Red Sox game with Owen on August 1st.

And I have no idea how much better I'll feel after the surgery, recovery and therapy. At this point, I'm not even sure exactly what the surgeon will do. I know he'll be cleaning out some torn cartilage that's gumming up my hip. I don't believe he's repairing the tear, but it's conceivable that he will.

The doctor told me I won't be back to 100% at any point, so I don't know what that means. Will I be able to do four-mile walks, three times a week, and not feel the discomfort in my groin, hip and lower back that I often feel? Will I be able to play softball and run the bases a bit?

Only time will tell. What I do know, is that I'm gonna have plenty of time on my hands to post updates here, and to read books, and to write a short story that I promised my buddy Jim Corrigan for his next anthology. Stay tuned....

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Vacation reading?

I don't consult best-seller lists, and rarely read book reviews, whether they be in the Boston Globe or Entertainment Weekly, the only two publications I read regularly that offer such things. And when the hot weather descends and it's time to hit Cape Cod for a week, I don't confer with summer reading suggestions either.

What did I read last week while hanging out on the Cape with Beth, the kids and Beth's family? A light mystery or upbeat biography? A collection of humorous short stories or a memoir about how swimming with dolphins can change your life? Not quite.

I took on Stewart O'Nan's The Circus Fire. An easy, breezy read this ain't.

The book, which came out in 2000, is an achingly complete reconstruction of the events leading up to, during and after the 1944 circus fire in Hartford, CT, that killed 167 people.

I forgot we had the book, and I don't remember who gave it to either Beth or me. I found it in the attic a while ago and put it in my pile of "to read" books. I'd cruised through August Kleinzahler's memoir, Cutty, One Rock, recently, and wanted to take on something a little weightier.

I could've chosen Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns, but I knew I'd never finish it in a week. That will be my next book, after Bill Bryson's I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away, which is a collection of essays that are funny, insightful and easy on the brain.

O'Nan (author of, among many other books, Faithful, a chronicle of the Red Sox' historic 2004 season, which he co-wrote with Stephen King) obviously did a lot of research for The Circus Fire, his first major nonfiction work.

At times, I got lost in the minute details he provides about various victims, both before, during and after the fire. But for the most part, I was engrossed by the history of fires in the circus industry, the details of circus life, the individual stories of courage and heartbreak, and the amazing work investigators did to try and identify victims and solve the case.

I was born in Hartford's St. Francis Hospital in 1965, and grew up 10 miles north of the city. I recall hearing about the fire during the course of my life, but I never knew just how awful it was. Here's a video that will give you just a very basic idea of the horror:

This book is obviously not for everyone. It's a tough read a lot of the time. O'Nan gives in-depth descriptions of the horrendous scenes of struggle and escape from inside the tent; the condition of the survivors and the dead; the agonizing attempt by family members to identify the charred and mangled bodies at the makeshift morgue.

But as a history lesson, it's fascinating. O'Nan details how negligence on the circus operators' parts -- ranging from narrow entrances/exits to animal chutes that blocked easy egress -- led to so many people dying. He also spends time analyzing how people react to unexpected, traumatic situations such as fires, and how they may see flames but since it's so out of the ordinary, their brains don't register the situation right away. O'Nan also talks about how in mob scenes too many people act only in their own interest, and how they too often blindly follow what everyone else is doing, instead of considering other options of escape.

Unfortunately not enough people have learned the lessons that the circus fire offered, as evidenced by events such as the Beverly Hills Supper Club fire in Kentucky in 1977, and The Station nightclub fire in Rhode Island in 2003.