Saturday, July 19, 2008

“FATHER’S DAY WITH THE CRUSHER”



c. 2008 Rod Ice
All rights reserved
(6-08)





Father’s Day: A moment to pause in reflection… and cheerfully give neckties that may never again see the world outside of a dresser drawer.

Predictably, this moment of manly celebration arrived as I was in the midst of a writing project. My research centered on an obscure Rock ‘n’ Roll group from the 1960’s. They were a mysterious bunch with an anthem of historic note called ‘The Crusher.’ Yet after forty years of collecting, I still didn’t have a copy of the single.

The record haunted my thoughts, like a pirate’s chest of buried treasure.

Still, our household gladly welcomed the special occasion. As ever, I thought about my own dad – in his late seventies, and still active as a gospel advocate. A Renaissance Man in plain clothes. I pondered the influence his dual nature provided for my life. He had grown up on a farm outside of Columbus, building radios, hot-rodding cars, riding motorcycles, and playing music. Yet his passion to explore soon turned toward duty, and faith. He instilled this zeal for living and learning into each of his children, in different ways. It was the fertile soil from which I grew.

Liz, my wife, also reflected on her father. He had been able to overcome cancer during the year, an achievement attained through patience and prayer. She thought a unique present was needed to express our joy over his good health. The result came from a divine burst of inspiration – to rent him a brand-new Harley!

Her dad had also been an avid rider in days of yore, while growing up outside of Milwaukee. It was a habit that fit perfectly with my own heritage. But fiscal needs had forced him off the road, many years before.

Now, our gift would revive that freewheeling lifestyle, for a weekend!

While Liz made the arrangements, I continued investigating my wordsmithing task. A package arrived from New York City. It contained a vinyl re-issue of the tune I’d been chasing for so long. Immediately, words began to flow from my computer:

KNOCKED OUT BY THE NOVAS

Thank you, Norton Records.

I've sought a copy of this 45 for years, after first hearing the song courtesy of 'Doctor Demento' in the early 70's. At the time, it was barely eight or ten years old... a novelty recording from the recent past. Yet even then, mystery had fortified their legend. WHO WERE THE NOVAS?

All we knew was that they came from Minnesota. Information on the band was tantalizingly scarce. The track ended up on a couple of vinyl collections throughout the years. But an actual copy of the single eluded my grasp.

Then, I stumbled across an ad for the Norton Records catalog. Yes, true believers, an honest-to-goodness newsprint catalog on paper! Just like in the Hippie-Era that preceded technology's overwhelming information tide.

There, amid the small-type entries was... a NOVAS EP! (Okay, I actually saw it first on their website, but the 'feel' of their printed literature still evoked many pleasant memories of those bygone days.)

I was spellbound. Soon enough, I had ordered the 7-inch, vinyl platter. It was a revelation to receive!

In the process of locating this record, I learned that the group had only been together for a couple of years. And, other bits of Novas trivia:

1.) Their inspiration was - Reggie 'The Crusher' Lisowski, a real pro wrestler
2.) Their historic anthem was recorded in the summer of 1964
3.) They were high school kids from Edina, Minnesota
4.) Drummer Jeff Raymond was only 13 at the time!
5.) The tune made Billboard's Hot 100 for three weeks in a row, selling around 250,00
copies!
6.) They were inducted into the Minnesota R & R Hall of Fame on April 28, 2007

My vinyl thrill-ride had been completed, at last.

Thank you, Norton Records!


I took a two-wheeled tour with Liz’s father on Sunday. His bike was appealingly similar to mine, yet faster. It carried the new ninety-six cubic-inch motor. Later, after a family meal at A&W, I returned to my home-office work. Upon finishing the music update, I looked for personal information about Mr. Lisowski. Enlightenment came from Patricia Sullivan of the Washington Post, who reflected with care on his legacy, in a 2005 obituary:

“Reggie ‘The Crusher’ Lisowski, 79, a professional wrestler whose blue-collar bona fides made him beloved among working class fans for 40 years, died of a brain tumor Oct. 22 at the Bradford Terrace Convalescent Center in Milwaukee. A 6-foot, 260-pound specimen with a cement-mixer voice, Mr. Lisowski performed in the days before vitamin supplements and anabolic steroids were widely used. Dubbed "The Wrestler Who Made Milwaukee Famous," the barrel-chested bulldozer bragged that he worked out by running along the Lake Michigan waterfront with a keg of beer on each shoulder, building his stamina to polka all night with the local ‘Polish dollies.’ He was often photographed relaxing before a match by drinking a beer and smoking a cigar. He was marketed as a villain, but the public loved him. He once drew 8,000 fans in the 1970s and often sold out arenas a week in advance. Earlier this year, Mr. Lisowski was inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame with his most famous tag-team partner, the late Dick ‘The Bruiser’ Afflis. The pair collected five American Wrestling Association world tag titles; Mr. Lisowski, paired with other wrestlers, won three more. He also won the AWA's world heavyweight title three times. ‘I think working people identify with me because years ago I worked when I wrestled, too,’ Mr. Lisowski told the Milwaukee papers in 1985. ‘I worked at Ladish, Drop Forge, Cudahy Packing House. I was a bricklayer. But finally, I got away from punching the clock.’”

I was struck with a gentle bit of irony. The weekend had been filled with stories of Wisconsin and its most famous export, Harley-Davidson. Additionally, I had ‘The Crusher’ playing in my head as we rode. But now, I had stumbled across the compelling story of this folk hero from the Dairy State, with a steelworker’s physique and pride in his polish ancestry… a coincidence I couldn’t ignore…

“Ladish?” I said out loud. “Didn’t Liz say her father worked at Ladish?” Founded in 1905, the company had long been a provider of specialized forgings, to customers around the world. The name reverberated in my head, like words from The Novas’ timeless classic.

“Do the hammerlock, you turkey necks! Yeahhhhhhhhhhhh!”

Later, a telephone conversation finished the story. My wife’s father confirmed that he had indeed worked for the notable Wisconsin company. And, that he’d been fortunate enough to see Lisowski in person:

“He would go from bar to bar with a beer keg on his shoulder,” Papa Cheesehead remembered. “To hear polka music, and be with his people. And his voice really sounded like gravel.”

Contentment made me grin. His quote finished the story, perfectly.

Rest in peace, Big Reggie!

Postscript: Our prayers and condolences go out to the family of NBC ‘Meet the Press’ host Tim Russert, who passed away on June 13th. He embodied the positive spirit, work ethic, and devotion that helped build America. We are better for having shared his journey.

Comments about Thoughts At Large may be sent to: icewritesforyou@gmail.com
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