Saturday, January 27, 2018

When An Epic Case of 'Night Fever' Proved Fatal

SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, the epochal soundtrack to the landmark movie, took the number one spot on the Billboard Top 200 on January 21, 1978, stayin' alive there for 24 weeks. 

Buoying and buoyed by the late 70s cultural phenomenon that was disco, the album catapulted its primary artists -- the Bee Gees -- to global superstardom.

But even titanic waves crash after they crest, and this one was no different.

Disco's origins, European, urban, black and gay, challenged conventional orthodoxies. It was rhythmic, sexual, sleek, and often symphonic. It enticed entries from non-disco acts as diverse as the Rolling Stones, the EaglesRod Stewart and Kiss. While it turned many people on, many others were turned off.

The number one album in the U.S. for 24 weeks in 1978
The ensuing backlash was vicious.

Only a year after Gerry Rafferty's City to City dislodged the award-winning, multi-hit, multi-platinum double LP from the top slot, disco was not only no longer tres chic, it was literally under assault, morphing from Disco Duck to Disco Sucks seemingly overnight. 

Nothing epitomized the change in mood more than Disco Demolition Night, an ill-conceived July 1979 Chicago White Sox promotion that turned into a game-forfeiting riot.

Conceived by Chicago disc jockey Steve Dahl with the blessing of Sox promoter Mike Veeck, the idea of blasting to bits a crate full of vinyl disco records in centerfield between games of a Comiskey Park double-header drew a raucous crowd. Admission was 98 cents and a sacrificial record. 

After the pyrotechnics, attendees stormed the playing field and wouldn't leave until police descended. At least 37 people were arrested. The field, wrecked. The second game, canceled.

Between the soundtrack's ascent to the top of the charts, and the era's catastrophic end, the hedonistic disco lifestyle became the stuff of legend, epitomized by a pair of Manhattan night spots, the drug-laden danceteria Studio 54 and the steamy sex playpen, Plato's Retreat.

The Bee Gees -- brothers Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb -- had hit the charts a decade earlier crooning melancholy songs with titles like To Love Somebody, I Started a Joke and I've Gotta Get A Message To You before fading from view. They re-emerged in 1975 with the edgy rhythmic Jive Talkin' and the riff-heavy, falsetto laden Nights on Broadway.

The Brothers Gibb
When impresario Robert Stigwood summoned them to lay down tracks for his new film inspired by a 1976 New York Magazine article titled Tribal Rights of the New Saturday Night, they were primed and ready. And so was the world.

The Saturday Night Fever, the soundtrack, tossed off a torrent of hits. The brothers wrote and performed four, Stayin' AliveNight Fever, How Deep Is Your Love and More Than a Woman, and composed Yvonne Elliman's If I Can't Have You.

Suddenly -- and with no apologies to the Beatles -- the Bee Gees were here, there and everywhere, their sound simultaneously inimitable and ubiquitous.

Saturday Night Fever, the film, made a bankable star out of John Travolta, an actor whose high water mark had previously been a TV sitcom where he played one of four high school degenerates known as the Sweat Hogs. Within a year, he'd portray Danny Zuko, male lead and top greaser in Stigwood's Hollywood adaptation of the hit Broadway show Grease. Fever had made $237.1 million at the box office. Grease was bigger still, raking in $395 million.

Still, for a segment of the public, Travolta's Tony Manero was un-relatable. Disconcerting even. He was a proto-metrosexual, a nice pretty boy obsessed with his hair, his clothes, his shoes and with dancing. Manero may have worked in a paint store, scraping together money to buy a blue shirt he spied while window shopping, but he wasn't blue collar.

Manero's ups and downs forecast Travolta's long career
Other musical forces spoke directly to that ethos: country and punk. The latter being everything disco wasn't: loud, discordant, deliberately abrasive and ugly. It's practitioners wore leather jackets and ripped clothes. They pierced their faces for shock value. And they were angry.

Disco Demolition Night, which drew an estimated crowd of at least 50,000, put that same kind of latent hostility on public display.

Late 1970s popular music -- particularly American pop -- had become big, corporate and toothlessly inoffensive. Punk stripped away all that, returning rock to its rebellious roots. Trailing close behind was another reconstructionist format, new wave. Suddenly disco was worse than dead, it was passe´, relegated to a nostalgic purgatory from which it never quite returned.

Four decades down the road, the soundtrack and the movie have been archived at the Library of Congress as cultural museum pieces, time capsules, artifacts from a short-lived empire long since vanished.

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Rangers, Isles, Devils and the Birth of a Hockeyopolis

WARROAD, MINNESOTA, has long identified as Hockeytown USA, a title claimed by octopi-hurling Detroit Red Wings fans and ursine black and gold Bostonians too. Even Minnesota's capital, St. Paul, has been so nominated.

But none of them hosted eight Stanley Cup champions in just 24 years.

For that we turn to... hockey city. Hockey region? Hockey metropolitan area? We turn to nothing that readily trips off the tongue, the metropolis known as greater New York City, home of the 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1994, 1995, 2000 and 2003 Stanley Cup champions.

Hockeyopolis USA.

Established with the 1982-83 National Hockey League season, the 38-mile wide bi-state swath of land and water encompassed more than 13 million people and three NHL teams, even as the rest of the North America had just 18 more.

Anchoring the west end were the ragtag New Jersey Devils, who'd just moved from Denver to the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford. At the east end in Uniondale, Long Island, sat the precocious three-time defending Stanley Cup champion New York Islanders. In between was the axis around which the region's hockey enmity turned: the New York Rangers of Manhattan, one of the league's fabled original six franchises.

Together, they were half of the NHL's Patrick Division, joining the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals in a forerunner of today's Metropolitan Division.

It was a major league concentration unseen since 1957, when baseball's Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants and Yankees had called Gotham home. And, over the next quarter century, Ranger, Devil and Islander fortunes would dramatically rise and fall, often at the hands of one another.

But who were these first season pioneers of Hockeyopolis?

The Rangers

Herb Brooks, the hero coach
  • Coached a collection of virtually unknown college hockey players to an Olympic gold medal in 1980, beating a vastly superior Soviet Union squad along the way
  • Rangers bench boss for 3 1/2 seasons, peaking in 83-84 with a 42-29-3 record before being dismissed midway through the next campaign after a 15-22-8 start
  • Also had brief stints behind-the-bench for the Minnesota North Stars, Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins
  • Inducted into the the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in Eveleth, Minnesota, in 1990 and -- posthumously -- into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto in 2006
  • Beck
  • Killed in a single-car accident in 2003 at age 66

Barry Beck, the captain
    • Rock-solid 6'-3" 205-pound defenseman
    • Acquired from the Colorado Rockies in 1979 for five other players including former first-round draft pick Lucien DeBlois and defenseman Mike McEwen
    • Two-time All-Star Game selection
    • Six seasons as Rangers' captain, target of announcer Bill Chadwick's exhortation, "Shoot the puck, Barry! Shoot the puck!"

    Mark Pavelich, the Olympian
    • Had 37 goals and 38 assists for 82-83 squad
    • One of four members of Brooks' gold medal team to play for the Rangers, joining Rob McClanahan, Dave Silk and Bill Baker.
    • Native of Eveleth, MN, home of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame
    • His diminutive size, 5'8", 170-lbs and that of others led to some blue-jerseyed Rangers to be dubbed the Smurfs.

    Reijo Ruotsalainen, the fleet Finn
    • Speedy, elusive defenseman followed his 56-point rookie campaign with even better numbers in 82-83, 16 goals and 53 assists for 69 points in what was only his second-best season of a six-year Rangers career
    • Led the Rangers in scoring two years later with 73 points, 28 goals and 45 assists
    • Later played for the Edmonton Oilers and Devils
    Ruotsalainen in action
    Other Rangers notables that year, goalie Eddie Mio, defenseman Dave Maloney and his brother forward Don Maloney, plus Mike Rogers, Ron Duguay, Eddie Johnstone and Anders Hedberg.

    Swede Ulf Nilsson played just 10 games that year before calling it an NHL career after an array of injuries. None were more notorious than an ankle fracture sustained on a check from the Islanders' Denis Potvin in February 1979, giving rise to the eternal Madison Square Garden chant, "Potvin sucks!"

    Rangers finished their season in fourth place, 35-35-10 and lost to the Islanders in the Patrick Division finals, 4 games to 2. It was the third straight year of four that Long Island eliminated Manhattan. In 1990, the Rangers would finally return the favor and four years later, they captured the cup.

    The Islanders

    Al Arbour, the coach
    • Behind the bench for 1500 Islanders games, including Stanley Cup victories in 1980, 81, 82 and 83. During that skein, the team won 19 straight post-season series
    • His 782 coaching victories are the fourth most in NHL history
    • Stay at home defenseman during a 14-year career with the Detroit Red Wings,  Chicago Blackhawks, Toronto Maple Leafs, winning the cup with each team. Also captained the St. Louis Blues to the finals three years straight.
    • Member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Islanders Hall of Fame and the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame
    • Died in 2015. He was 82

    Denis Potvin, the captain
    • Overall first pick in the 1973 amateur draft, won the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie for the 1973-74 season
    • Three-time Norris Trophy winner as the league's best defenseman, including 78-79 when he had 31 goals and 101 points
    • Nine-time all-star
    • Captained the Islanders for eight seasons
    • Retired in 1988 with 1,052 points, an NHL record for defensemen at the time
    • Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1991

    Mike Bossy, the scorer
    • Arguably the best player of his generation not named Wayne Gretzky
    • Scored 50 or more goals nine consecutive years, topping 60 five times and leading the league in goals scored twice
    • 1977-78 Calder Trophy winner, 1981-82 Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff most valuable player and three time recipient of the Lady Byng Trophy for gentlemanly play, including 82-83
    • In 82-83, led the Islanders with 60 goals -- fourth best in the league -- and 58 assists
    • Scored 147 points a year earlier, a record for right wingers at the time, but good for just second in the league behind Gretzky, as the Edmonton Oilers' center notched a then-record 212 points
    • First all time in goals per game, .76, and third all time in points per game, 1.50, behind Gretzky and the Pittsburgh Penguins' Mario Lemieux
    • Made the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1991

    Bob Bourne, the unsung hero
    • Led the Islanders in post-season scoring with eight goals and 20 assists as they won their fourth consecutive cup in 1983, though the Conn Smythe Trophy went to goaltender Billy Smith
    • Three-time 30-goal scorer, played 12 seasons on Long Island including all four championships
    • Epic career-highlight rink-length dash against the Rangers in the 1983 Patrick Division finals
    • Won the Bill Masterton Trophy for sportsmanship and perseverance, and was one of eight chosen as Sports Illustrated's 1987 Sportsmen of the Year for dedication to helping others.
    • Inducted into the Islanders' Hall of Fame in 2006
    • Drafted by the Kansas City Scouts -- who became the Rockies, then the Devils -- in 1974
    Other Islanders notables that year, center Bryan Trottier, winger John Tonelli, brothers Brent and Duane Sutter, Swedish defensemen Stefan Persson and Tomas Jonsson. The goaltending tandem of Smith and Roland Melanson won the William M. Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed.

    Melanson finished second in Vezina Trophy balloting for best goalie, behind Pete Peeters of the Boston Bruins. The Islanders went 42-26-12 on the season before powering through the playoffs, beating the Capitals, Rangers and Bruins. They swept Gretzky and Edmonton in the finals, 4-0, for their fourth, and thus far last, Stanley Cup

    The Devils

    Billy MacMillan, the coach
    • Ex-Islanders player and assistant coach, also served as New Jersey's general manager
    • Led the then-Colorado Rockies to a franchise-best 22-45-13 record in 1980-81 before taking a season off to focus on GM duties
    • Notched just 19 more victories over next 100 games before being axed
    • Had 22 goals, 41 points as a Toronto Maple Leafs rookie in 1970-71
    • Older brother of Devils winger Bob MacMillan
    Don Lever, the captain
    • Acquired with Bob MacMillan from the Calgary Flames for 66-goal scorer Lanny McDonald in November 1981
    • Devil's first ever captain, had 23 goals and 30 assists for the Devils in their inaugural season
    • Born in South Porcupine, Ontario
    • Also played for the Vancouver Canucks, Flames in Atlanta and Calgary, and Buffalo Sabres

    Glenn Resch, goalie-in-exile
    • Acquired from the Islanders with center Steve Tambellini late in 1980-81 season in exchange for Mike McEwen and minor league goalie Jari Kaarela
    • Won 81-82 Masterton Trophy for dedication and perseverance
    • Famously kissed the goalposts as a rookie netminder for the Islanders following a playoff series victory in 1975
    • Became expendable after an injury during the 1980-81 campaign opened the door for emergence of rookie Melanson
    • Later played for the Philadelphia Flyers
    Resch receiving the Masterton Trophy from the widow of its namesake, Minnesota North Star Bill Masterton

    Aaron Broten, Kid Line pivot
    • Led the Devils with 59 points -- 16 goals, 39 assists -- in their first season in New Jersey, his first full year in the NHL
    • Centered for rookie Jeff Larmer and winger Paul Gagne, both 20, on what came to be called "the Kid Line." Oldest of the trio, Broten, was 24
    • Had a career best 26/57/83 as franchise made the playoffs for the first time in Spring 1988
    • Played 10 years for Devils, then one each for the Minnesota North Stars, Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets

    Carol Vadnais, blue line veteran
    • Claimed by New Jersey in waiver draft just before the start of the 82-83 campaign, ending a seven year career with the Rangers
    • Won the Stanley Cup as a member of the Montreal Canadiens -- with whom he broke in in 1966-67 -- and Boston Bruins. Also captained the California Golden Seals
    • Dealt to Rangers by Bruins together with Phil Esposito for Brad Park, Jean Ratelle and Joe Zanussi in November 1975
    • Retired after first Devils season, died in 2014 at age 68
    Other Devils first season notables, Finnish defenseman Tapio Levo, winger Hector Marini, who went to the NHL All-Star Game and rookie Pat Verbeek, who later became the team's first 40-goal scorer. Defenseman Joel Quenneville later directed the Chicago Blackhawks to three Stanley Cups as a coach and is second winningest NHL coach in history behind Scotty Bowman.

    Team finished inaugural year at the Meadowlands at 17-49-14, finishing fifth ahead of the moribund Pittsburgh Penguins. Better days were ahead as the team, built largely through the draft by uncompromising general manager Lou Lamoriello, finally made the post-season in 1987-88 and later won a trio of championships

    The Rivalry

    Each metro area team played the others seven times during that inaugural season of Hockeyopolis. The Islanders took four of seven from the Rangers. The Rangers went 3-3-1 against the Devils who, in turn, were swept by the Islanders.

    Eventually, the tables would turn. The Islanders returned to the finals once more in 1984, where they lost to the Oilers, 4 games to 1, ending their championship era as a 12-year-old franchise and already a former dynasty. Constant management upheavals and arena issues would render them an also-ran for the ensuing 35 years.

    Meanwhile the Rangers broke their 54-year-old drought by winning the Stanley Cup in 1994, but only after disposing of the Devils after a seven-game series that saw three of the contests -- including the finale -- decided in double-overtime, neutralizing Islander fans' favorite chant, "1940!"

    A year later, the Devils ended a strike-shortened 94-95 season by winning their first title. Five year later, they'd win the cup again, then lose it in a seven-game final against their Denver replacements -- the Colorado Avalanche -- and win it again in 2003.

    New Jersey played for Lord Stanley's hardware again in 2012 as did the Rangers in 2014. The Islanders, for all their early success, haven't advanced that far in 33 years.

    Time, the great equalizer.

    -- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

    Credits: all photos and images drawn from the New York Rangers, New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils media guides.