Thursday, September 25, 2008

Up the Funky Unknown

When last we left David R. Busse, the intrepid everyman was scanning the Klan. But distilling idiocy is just one facet of television photojournalism. Sometimes, you get to go on boat rides!
Such was the case in July of 1982, when our hero strapped on a moustache and pulled up his tube socks for three weeks of flooding coverage on the Colorado River. I haven't seen a stitch of footage from that particular scene, but there is much to glean from this Reed Saxon AP photo: The trusty BVU-110 in the foreground, reporter Bill Van Amburg's unironic trucker hat, the strobing wake behind them, sound guy Tom Morris' youthful gaze ... those Jim Dangle shorts. Anyway, before I bogart any more details, let's hear from David R. Busse himself - a raconteur in his own right...
Most of our other memories of those trips were 115-degree heat, horse flies the size of canned hams, increasingly irritated property owners becoming even more irritated as they drank more cold beer to slake both thirst and anger. Local cops on the river were, of course, happy to take us for “guided tours” of the flood area for the first week or so, and those times on the water became our salvation from the hellish heat. The boat rides became so common, that we almost used them as scheduled respite from the midday heat. After a couple days of this flood duty, I dispensed with any sort of dress code and decided that cut off jeans and tee shirts were the way to go. This made me look like a local and simplified the “afternoon swim” that also became part of our flood-coverage ritual.
Hey, don't apologize. I'd have killed for a moustache like that in '82. I was but a schoolyard punk at the time; not yet even dreaming of the kind of adventures you were already racking up. Now, tell me about the space shuttle again...

Battling Bishop

Eric BishopYou know that wonderfully awful movie Highlander - where immortal swordsmen drop everything to engage one another in highly choreographed battle? Shooting news is nothing like that. Still, there is a certain medieval kinship among TV photogs - especially those of us who see a lot of each other. Take this morning, when I once again crossed metal with Eric Bishop. You’ve met Eric before, loitering at train wrecks, stalking the freshly shackled, running like hell from a psycho truck. Yes, for the better part of eleven years I’ve looked up from one unlikely scenario or another and seen the man known as “Eeeeb” hove into view. Which is why it didn't surprise me one iota to see him tumbling down the same hillside this morning, wishing (like me) he'd pursued that degree in molecular engineering, instead of earning his Masters in Shoot and Move. But I'm getting ahead of myself - which is dangerous, since I don't know where I'm going...

Yet another trekThe morning began leisurely enough, with a languid drive into the very heart of nowhere - otherwise known as outer Stokesdale. It was there that a lovely woman from far off Santa Barbara, CA was doing my home state a a real solid, by donating 140-some acres of pristine woodland to the Piedmont Land Conservancy. A staunch environmentalist herself, she almost swallowed her tongue when she saw the F(ox)-Word on my fancycam. I tried to assuage her concerns and she did eventually talk to me - but not before I chased a couple dozen school kids deep into the acreage at hand. Hmm? I didn't mention the jacked-up bunch of Montessori students shipped in to serve as warm props? Hey, no fleeting blurb about nature conservation is complete without a horde of fourth graders trampling the undergrowth, right? Throw in the fact that it's Take a Child Outdoors month and you've got some serious synergy scampering down that twisty path. Hey kids - WAIT UP!

Are we there yet?Fat chance. By the time I fell in behind them, the pack of ten year olds were acting like, well - ten year olds. Though there was no pot of gold awaiting them in that babbling brook at the bottom of the hill, the kids took to the trail with the kind of abandon that would make a leprechaun choke on his Newport. Being something of a child myself, I needlessly matched their pace; my camera jostling on my shoulder as I tried in vain to slow my controlled fall. That's when I saw Eric, his feet planted just off the path, face buried in eyecup. Rocketing past him, I was already too exhausted to hold a steady shot. Unfazed by the papparazzi, the kids flowed past us, including one boy who took a tumble that would have crippled most stuntmen. I was searching for the boy's remains when I once again ran across Eric (who I could have sworn was behind me). I was trying to decide which tree to upchuck on when a chaperone caught a glimpse of the two competing cameramen gasping for their collective breath. "Ya'll seem friendly!", he said, turning to me. " You know this guy?"

Eric rolled his eyes as I answered the man. "We run into each other."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


I like this old photo of Charles Ewing and me, if only because we look like museum pieces. I can just hear the tour guide now...

Kids and camera
"Now kids. next up is a life-size replica of a once common sight: the video news crew. Believe it or not, simple news footage used to be acquired by more than one person! Teams of two would use bulky recording equipment to pursue all sorts of minutia for their evening newscasts. Can you say 'evening newscast'? Good... Usually clad in colorful logos, these early interlopers would produce feverish dispatches that often featured extended on-camera appearances by the prettier of the pair. It seems strange now, but this form of reportage flourished in the last half of the Twentieth Century, when average citizens only had 500 or so 'Tee-Vee' channels to choose from. Of course everything changed when Saint Albert Gore invented the internet and revolutionized telecommunications. Despite the explosion of electrnic outlets, the tenacious news crew held on for quite some time, far surpassing the decline of American newspapers. Does anyone know what killed the video star? Hmmm? That's right - the live decapitation of Geraldo Rivera by a flying piece of weed-eater string during Hurricane Virgil in 2017. That event went on to become YouTube's most watched video of all time, but eventually soured the viewing public on the idea of narrated news altogether. Which brings me to our next exhibit, the Rosenblum Institute of Fuzzy Coverage. Follow me class - but be careful! The ceilings - and standards - are very low in there..."

Monday, September 22, 2008

Fans of Calamity

DSCF0572I was counting police cars when the lump on the lady’s shoulder moved. “How old is that baby?’ I asked “Seventeen days,” she said with no small amount of pride, before turning her attention back to the fracas beyond the yellow tape. I nodded silently before following her gaze across the street. There, blue lights swirled and men in black milled about with heavy weapons held low. A few dozen feet away, a cluster of plainclothes huddled under a tree and fondled their walkie-talkies. Beyond them a K-9 officer and his dog stood ready as two SWAT team honchos gestured toward a yellow clapboard house on the corner. Through my viewfinder I could see what I thought was movement in the front window, but it may have been wishful thinking. Having circled the three block radius no less than four times, I was jonesin’ for some closure.

But police standoffs don’t come with itineraries; nor invitations, for that matter. Instead, they occur spontaneously , drawing the usual crowd of constabulatory, cameras and calamity fans. The inaction can stretch on for hours, until the individual in demand wisens up, falls asleep, or sucks in enough tear gas. Once in a while however, said bad guy can lose his grip on the spiraling situation and comes out guns a blazin’. While this happens far more regularly in hour long TV dramas, it’s not out of the realm of possibility in real life - especially with several dozen officers chafing under their Kevlar vests. Several years ago, I watched a deranged man run out onto his porch with a rifle in his hand. By the time I hit the pavement, several cops twitched their fingers and the man was crumpled down his humble home’s stoop, blood darkening the dirt…

“Don’t you think you oughta take her inside?” I asked the woman with the newborn on her shoulder. “Naaaah,” she said - as if I’d suggested she wrap the kid in tinfoil. Pointing toward the house on the other side of that not so thin blue line, she leaned over and whispered “It’s just Larry in there. Cops tried to serve papers on him and he didn’t wanna go. He’ll come out when he runs outta dope.”

Of course. How silly of me. Guess I’m one of those helicopter parents who swoops in on their offspring every time a SWAT team invades the block. Next thing you know I’ll be insisting they stop licking the asbestos from the walls of that old crack-house down by the broken glass factory. Of course I said nothing of kind to that young mother, but as we both stood there waiting for Larry to reenter incarceration, I marveled at the rifts of opinion that expose themselves along socio-economic faults. Hey, I’m no Dr. Phil, but I got sense enough to keep my babies safe should the neighborhood turn into a made for TV movie. I know people who slather bugspray on their kid every time he flips by the Nature Channel. Yet there are plenty of folks (white, black, plaid- don't matter) who’ll pour out of their homes and into the streets each and every time the blue lights began to dance. Just ask any photog who’s responded to a midnight murder. I’ve seen folks tailgate at drive-by shootings, clamor around dangerous barricades and heckle approaching coroner vans. But nothing got my goat like last week’s mother of the year, who drug her brand new baby to a violent felon’s going away party. Eee-diot!

There. I feel better.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

For Those About to Rock...

In just a few short weeks AC/DC, that charming little rock combo from Down Unda, will unleash their first studio album in eight years. The masses will clamor, the critics will sniff and the world will once again RAWK. I, however, probably won’t rush out for a copy - for in my mind AC/DC belongs to another time and place...

Fall, 1980. In a rare display of sibling bliss, my older brother was allowing me to sit in the shotgun seat of his parked Camaro. I was earning my keep, however. Having recently discovered the band Queen, I was eager to share with him what I deemed to be the coolest tune ever recorded. We’d just finished listening to ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ for the third straight time when my brother’s friend ‘Jesse’ walked up. “Dude, check out this song.”, my brother Richard said as he rewound the cassette and pressed PLAY. Jesse leaned in to the window and nodded quietly as Freddy Mercury and the boys ripped through what was to be their best selling single ever. He was not impressed and with a knowing sneer, immediately demonstrated why. Pulling a cassette from the inner pocket of his jean jacket, he thrust it forward. “That’s weak. Put THIS in.”

What followed was an incredibly loud screening of Back in Black, AC/DC‘s blistering tribute to a singer I‘d never heard of .By the time Side One ended, I was dizzy, frightened and fully converted. Quite simply, I’d never heard anything like it. From the unrelenting thunderhead of the Young Brothers’ guitar work to the hell-bent screech of Brian Johnson’s vocal, Back in Black - both the song and the album - changed my burgeoning musical taste, made me feel tougher than I was and proved the shadow of a doubt that Rock n Roll ain’t noise pollution. Soon, I was turning on my own friends to this new wonder, extending Jesse’s evangelism by brazenly playing an album I didn’t dare let my parents hear. One friend in particular, Jon Harrison, was equally blown away and together we rocked hard, loud and long like only prepubescent boys can. The aural assault of AC/DC’s potent, populists anthems convinced me once and for all that Aerosmith were addled junkies, Van Halen were mere crowd pleasers and KISS was quite simply, an abomination. Heavy stuff for a kid who worshiped David Bowie.

If my new love for AC/DC pleased Jesse, he didn’t show it.. In truth, he could barely tolerate me. Long of hair and short of patience for his buddy’s nerdy little brother, Jesse was the first subversive I ever met. I liked him a lot - even if he and my brother regularly threatened to beat my ass should I not immediately am-scray. Trust me, had you known me back then, you’d have chased me away too. No one likes a little kid with coke bottle glasses and wider vocabulary than them. A year or so after my Back in Black baptism, Jesse walked by my room and saw me singing along to a track from newest musical discovery: Billy Joel’s Glass Houses. It was as if he caught me masturbating. I still remember the look of disgust on Jesse’s face as You May Be Right sputtered to a close. “You got this on your wall“, he said pointing to an AC/DC mirror I’d won at a county fair, “and you’re listening to THAT?” I had no answer for him, but his simple reprimand delayed the purchase of my first skinny tie for a good three years.

Of course, I wasn’t the only teenager who fell under the spell of AC/DC’s landmark album. For the better part of the early 80’s those songs were everywhere your parents didn’t want you to be. My high school parking lot regularly reverberated with Hells’ Bells, Givin’ the Dog a Bone and that paramour’s ode ’You Shook Me All Night Long. I myself memorized every unsophisticated syllable, long before I grasped all the unconcealed entendres. When I took my first long swig of Jack Daniel‘s, I told a friend in a choking voice it tastes like AC/DC sounds. (It still does.) And like hard liquor, Back in Black was something you kept away from Mom and Dad - who seemed unable to understand that all those satanic allusions were mostly smart marketing. Whereas my elders saw Angus Young’s schoolboy shtick and Brian Johnson’s netherworld caterwaul as sure signs of possession, I recognized them as boozy step-uncles who never took themselves all that seriously. We should all be so demonic.

As for ‘Jesse‘, he died a very young man, in a car crash too horrible to describe. He was a dear friend of my brothers and an early influence on own my personal metal quest. I’d like to think he’d be proud of that.

I sure am.