30
Apr
14

Sam Holden, The Gonzo light is out, but the fire burns on.

Sam Holden with his Hasselblat

Sam Holden with his Hasselblat

By Charles Cohen

The fact that Sam Holden was a studio photographer in a smudgy newsprint world immediately distinguished him from the photojournalists who dedicated their lives to capturing life in motion.

 

But Sam wasn’t interested in lucking or timing himself into a great image. He believed that the image lies within or below the surface, and he was going to pry it out one way or another.  Sam Holden entered a room big, a loveable Bluto carting a massive case, holding not one, but two Hasselblad cameras. His Hasselblads were the size of a V-8 carburetor and about as heavy.  No one used a Hasselblad in the field.  But Holden was into plying the sacrilegious road as a way of searing his own art.  He worshipped at the altar of style as many a modern artist from Miro to Warhol understood, as advertising geniuses also knew and even photojournalists recognized but would rarely admit.

 

Not only did Sam wield the German box camera, but he’d haul in lights, stands, reflectors and hanging globes, threatening to commit the cardinal sin of swamping a story with yourself. But somehow, Holden showed up big but sat quiet …. for at least awhile … as I would scribble and blather away. Then he had enough, “Cohen are you done,” and not waiting for an answer he’d heave himself up and take over, click clacking the gear together like a machine gunner taking the hill under heavy fire. Truly his setup was amazing to behold.

 

Normally mobile studio photographers with such outfits in tow have to scout a place out, demand a half an hour to set up, and then still go into an anxiety jitter fit when the remote sensor goes ballistic. Holden had his shit together. He prided himself on this and no doubt like a good grunt practiced the drill at home. Within minutes he’d have a room, a warehouse, a mechanic’s shop transformed in the classic three point lighting system, lights blinking and the power packs doing that sci fi winding. Holden was a master of presentation. Could Holden have taken a picture with a 35 mm Canon with a removable flash? Hell, yes. But he wasn’t looking to snap an image; he was looking for transformation. This kind of utterance would never spill from his grinning pumpkin slit mouth.  But there can be no denying when you were standing at the receiving end, holding his taekwondo stance, all in black biting down as if some kind physical convergence was about to ensue. If that wasn’t enough surely the inappropriate comment would put you on notice

 

Whether it was a down-and-out homeless vet or a CEO of Legg Mason, sooner or later the F-bomb would explode. Could you put your ass against the wall.  Fuck yeah. That’s great. Hold it. Hold it.

 

This was shock technique similar to that of the 80s New York photographers who would throw balls at their subjects to slap them out of their world. In most cases, Holden’s subjects would follow, sometimes uncomfortable, and that’s because his tone would suddenly ratchet down to a tenderness, hold it, hold, eyes right here man, that’s it, beautiful and they got it. This was no glossy in the making.

 

But getting the shot is only half the equation. Sam saved his wizardry for the dark room, as he told Mary Rose Madden for The Signal, “You are standing inside my darkroom and to look around here you are kind of like inside my soul.” Even as early as the 90s, newspapers and magazines were using developing machines hooked up to Macs. Holden for the most part was doing his alchemy by hand — a mad scientist of color saturation.  Much has been detailed on the web/Facebook eulogies about his rock esthetic where he uncannily grabbed the glory of the jell lights and infused his images with lava pushed color saturation. He loved rust and corrugated steel or maybe just an excessive spew of white paper. Anyone who has ever pushed their way up to the stage to gaze dreamily at their hero got Holden’s patented hue-heavy style immediately. The reds, greens and cobalts of black room clubs swirling in smoke is what dreams are made of.

 

At their best, Sam’s portraits worked as landscapes, the colors were not visual adjectives, but pieces of nature, life forces.  Faces in big lens detail picked up the tone the way a gritty building picks up the last shards of sunset, their eyes glinted with the hunger of the stage or with lust or madness. (Holden’s website)

 

When critics write about artists, they like to study their environs — the French countryside or Hopper’s Chicago rail yard patinas. Well, in Holden’s case his natural palette was no doubt the Indian summer gloaming of Baltimore. Apparently piss poor air quality does wonders for an orange splash fest across over West Baltimore. Case and point for me was when he did a cover shot of a chess hustler on the verge of becoming a grandmaster. As a rule, I tried hard not to see his photos before they hit the press so I could enjoy the rush of seeing it the box. I was shocked when I saw how he not only captured this guy–sweat on the brow, a maniacal killer from his shades –but he was swimming in a crazed burning orange around him. This cover came out during a heat wave and like any acutely released publication does, the cover needs to reflect both the pages within and the world it’s entering. The New Yorker carved out its foothold by doing this.  Holden relished the impact, but moved on his never ending list of cool shit he was doing.

 

 

I rode shotgun with Holden in his oversized Suburban  then Tahoe for a solid six years when he was my assigned photographer for a City Paper column. It didn’t take long to realize that we were having one of those cop car relationships. Just like the clichés we’d both talk about dreams. But unlike 99 percent of us in this pathetic mulch pile that is print journalism, there was no stench of little lives of quiet desperation in his plans. He put out his plans like nails waiting for a hammer, and how he went at it. I watched him jump from a decent studio on Fort Avenue to a massive space that could easily play as a stage set. It was a brazen move, borrowing heavily just as the city was approaching its third Renaissance that would see the rise of Harbor East.  Holden had to get those big accounts pronto to pay for that studio, which he was opening just as Baltimore’s major advertising agencies were shutting down, due to the first heave of the digital revolution of the late 1990s. But he fortified his move by saying that if you wanted to be nationally recognized – hell internationally known– then you must set yourself on a top tier.Sam Holden Hasselblat

 

The first sign of Holden’s gambit could actually work was that his buddies were stepping up for him. He and his father did all the work they could themselves, and a slew of artisans filled in the detailed stuff. His eye for sparse design was apparent when he retrieved stainless steel medical cabinets from Church Hospital, the place were Edgar Allan Poe died, as it shut down for demolition. This he used for well paying food photography gigs.

 

Sure enough, Holden did bring in the top talent from Ray Lewis to shooting Iggy Pop, but he always kept his one foot local, driving with me to City Paper gigs.   He used to rip me at times for chattering like a runaway organ grinder monkey and I’d counter by calling him a superstar who didn’t know whether he wanted to be behind or in front of the camera. The fact is, Holden uniquely pulled off this non-negotiable edge being both a gonzo character as well as an observer.  He’d do the LA thing, but also dug deep roots that sprouted way beyond Baltimore but always felt local.

 

No doubt Holden aspired for the large as in Annie Leibovitz large, but the truth is his amazing network reveals his homeboy connects ran deep. His Facebook page shows the widest range of folk who bypass posting the usual sympathies, instead offering testimony of how an interaction with him imprinted their lives. There is a lot of “I knew him when”  at play, but this is out of the desperate yearning to keep someone like Holden around for just a little bit longer. Sam Holden was a kind of force that propelled us all.

 

 

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09
Jan
14

The Ravens Circle the Wagons and drink the Koolaide

Who could dream this up.

Who could dream this up.

Apparently, Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti has a home in Jupiter, Fla. where General Manager Ozzie Newsome, Coach Harbaugh  Dick Cass will soon get together for a few days to plot the coordinates for the teams’ now up-coming season with the play-offs on mute on the flat screen of course. The question is will the brain trust’s trip to Jupiter put them woefully out of touch as it did this year. Ten days and counting to ponder Baltimore miserable end to a sputtering season leaves much to wonder about the decision making. Everything from the pre-season roster juggling to game time decisions did as much as anything to put the Ravens out of the playoffs as the players performance.   And the one glaring clarion cry that the Ravens leadership may have dipped too much into the purple Koolaide was the trade of Anquan Boldin for a six round draft pick to Harbaugh’s brother’s team the 49ers, now a serious contender as any for a Super Bowl slot..  The jettison of Boldin is the single worst decision in Baltimore Sports history and one wonders if the same thought process is alive and well with this team.  You got to wonder how such a decision comes to pass. How Bisciotti who portrays himself as the average fan with a little bit more background, could ever let such a deal go down boggles the mind. And Yesterday’s state of the union conference did nothing to quell this sense of unease despite a steller  PR show featuring Harbaugh playing devil’s advocate with himself.In fact media and the fans, who venture onto the Ravens site, got a window into the all too familiar corporate culture that allowed American Automobile Industry to laugh at the Japanese back in the 1970s, when Detroit was about to get their butts handed to them.

Although no one in the press corps, a soft bunch as one could get, addressed Boldin debacle, (Preston never asked a question despite the taunts) Newsome spoke on it when he reminded everyone that he’s willing to let a good player walk. He was referring to Terrell Suggs presumed inflated contract considering his disappearing act in the last half of the season.

“We let a good football player go last year,” Newsome said. “I’m not adverse when it comes to letting guys walk out the door.”

This statement may reveal a GM completely lost in his ways that he’s using it as a point of pride when in fact it’s a flaw. But that’s not all, woven throughout the hour presser, he and Harbaugh referred to this mystical receiver that they’ve recently drawn a composite. Get this: He gets Yac and is a third and long guy.

Again, I go back to owner and wonder what he could be thinking, especially after being convinced that Boldin is 32 and washed up and too costly for a two million increase.

He offered a glimpse into the decision making process: “I think your heart wants to react quickly. If you are a wise business man , you take time to listen to a lot of people and contemplate a lot of different things.”

What does Bisciotti has to make of all that talk and contemplation now that Boldin’s two games away from back to back Super Bowl appearances. His stock and shape looks a hell a lot better than the big money stars he left behind here in Baltimore. Suggs, Ngata or Yanda.

As far as what Bisciotti had to say, he talked more like a corporate executive should, spinning positive no matter what. He said, he was comfortable with where we were headed, that basically be glad we’re not the Falcons, but slightly disturbing was his assessment of the team: “A half short of getting into the playoffs.” You mean the Cincinnati game where the Bungles did everything they could to give their game away. Actually the most reliable barometer of the Ravens was the at home against New England where the Ravens were out-classed on every facet.

I guess what would have been useful is some kind of indication that the Ravens were going to not go down the road making the same derailing decisions, that they have broken free of the insipid mindset that propelled this team to the edge of disaster. All we know is they are off to Jupiter.

16
Jul
13

Proposed Harbor Point Tower on Chromium site could make Baltimore an Environmental Crash Test Dummy with real lives at stake

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Underneath lies stored Chromium 6, a carcinogen that officials say will be contained when builders are allowed to penetrate the cap.

Opinion *copyright and published by Eyesore Productions*

Baltimore may be the first  city in the country to knowingly puncture a capped chromium dump in order to build a 23 story tower, making city folks either guinea pigs or participants in a pioneering remidation project, depending on your perspective.

If it works then the nation’s developers will suddenly have a way to build heavy on what was seen as taboo territory, highly toxic brown fields such as the 25 acre Allied Signal Chromium site on the Harbor. But if it fails the city, the Maryland Department of Environment and the EPA would have willingly broken open the cap designed to protect the public from hexavalent chromium or Chromium 6, an officially recognized carcinogen. And that public has gotten increasingly crowded around this site as the city’s waterfront has been built up since the cap was completed in the early 1990s with corporate headquarters, condominiums and a high end shopping district, Inner Harbor East pressing on all sides.

Dubbed Harbor Point, the proposed development comes in at $1 billions for the Exelon Headquarters and has generated much rumbling from City Councilman Carl Stokes after a last minute proposal asks for 108 million in bond advance to draw investors.

Harbor Point sits on a political fault line that could draw diverse interest from civil rights advocates angered that developers are utilizing incentives but giving nothing and environmentalists to whatever is left of the Occupy Movement, but Baltimore’s street politics is a pretty tepid place to be sure.

The project, under the aspices of developer Michael S. Beatty’s Harbor Point Development Group LLC, with 9 acres of  green space, is a far cry from the original perceptions of relatively low impact develoment and more than 11 acres of development.

Indeed the bewildering pace of  the  win-win push behind the  proposal ,at least as seen from citizens of the streets , can be summed up by  the gushing of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings -Blake official statement in the Baltimore Sun on June 3.   “Like the Inner Harbor revitalization effort of 30 years ago, the Harbor Point project represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to grow Baltimore by attracting new jobs, new residents, new tax revenue, and new public amenities,”

But Baltimore may be breaking ground in more ways than one.

Baltimore’s distinction as a trailblazer or guinea pig, depending on your perspective, has yet to be varrified,but that hasn’t gone without trying. For the last several months I have gone to the EPA as a citizen, a resident who lives two blocks asking if there is an example of any development of this size that has been completed  on an urban toxic site. They have offered none. In the meantime I’ve searched libraries and the internet for development protocols such as exist for say lead paint removal, detailing how can builders send 27 foot pilings safely into a clay cap and found nothing.

Image

Developers informally presented plans to the Fells Point Homeowners Association

I had a chance to ask representatives of the developers of the proposed new home for the new Exelon Headquarters, The Beatty Group. He said that the pilings will have a point that would reduce any dust. Just how the pillions will be inserted into a toxic site without disturbing the containment system that prevents groundwater contamination that remains to be seen.

EPA officials assured that strict monitors will be in place and although the developers have gotten preliminary approval, the procedure of how the site will be development has yet to get final approval.

But that doesn’t fill me with confidence especially since Baltimore seems to be set up as a test case.

In fact in Jersey City, which was facing a similar chromium site, owned by Honeywell, the same company charged with overseeing the Allied site, the contents of the toxic dump was  removed. That is in Jersey, there is no issue of buiding on or penetrating a cap because the chromium was shipped off to an already established  toxic waste site. Of course the removal only  occurred after a law suite forced New Jersey’s government to remove the site.

Known as the former Rosevelt Drive-in, the site encompassed 30 acres of chromium and slag. The slag would pop up or heave from the chromium underneath, according to reports in the New York TImes.  Concerns were both about  air-born contamination as well as groundwater.

Rev.Willard Ashley,pastor of the Abundant Joy Community Church in Jersey City part of the group that successfully sued Honeywell, told the New York Times in 2006,

“I very much believe in economic development, but I want it done in a way that’s safe,” Mr. Ashley says that allowing developers to cap a site, build housing on it which serves as a cap, is asimilar  to description put forth by the Baltimore group and Maryland Department of The Environment officials. He said dubbing the development as a working cap is what  environmentalists call “pave and wave” and just postpones the problems.  He wanted all the hazardous waste removed.

In 2003,  a federal court found that the way chromium waste heaved under the slag made capping impossible and ordered the contaminants, a half million tons worth,  removed.  That didn’t stop Honeywell from appealing the  decision, coming up with a containment solution to prevent the slag from heaving.  According to the New York Times article, they said ground water was making the chromium bond together pushing up against the surface. In the end the courts were not buying it and ordered Honeywell to remove all the chromium (see link to law suit).

And yet in Baltimore right in the middle of the City’s gold coast, with Harbor East on one side, Fells Point on the  other and Inner Harbor to the West and Tide Point and Federal Hill to the South, that’s exactly what we get. We get the very toxic site that the courts in New Jersey found unacceptable.

The question is why did Baltimore  which was hammering out a remedial plan with Honeywell in 1989, allow a toxic waste dump to be built on such prime real estate, a peninsula in the Harbor.

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A law suite forced Honeywell to remove Chromium to make way for development in Jersey City, but in Baltimore the same company was allowed to cap the waste, a process that was rejected in Jersey Courts.

According to a source who worked in New Jersey government and has knowledge of the Baltimore sites,  the government understood that the Maryland Port Authority, which oversaw other  chromium sites, could be made liable. The person indicated that the Maryland  enforcement was soft but  also noted in Jersey, “it took a suite by  a citizen group.”

Thus far in  Baltimore, the environmental concern is at best on the fringe of public discussion. While many talk about the promise, the jobs, the risk of doing what amounts to be exploratory surgery in the cap of  a chromium six is getting scant public airing and no talk of the risks.

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04
Feb
13

A Good Party Spoiled

Fells Point Square Swept Clean. A spontaneous Super Party wasn't going to happen

Fells Point Square Swept Clean. A spontaneous Super Party wasn’t going to happen

Fans take refuge in the Fells Point Bars. As the Cops corral the streets..

Fans take refuge in the Fells Point Bars. As the Cops corral the streets..

The wagon awaitsThe wagon awaits

On one hand you got to give the cops props for anticipating what could be mass destruction if Super Bowl party had gone bad. But on the other hand, you got to wonder about the excessive show of force. It’s not like I saw any abuse or anything, but it did snuff any spontaneous joy that this one fan craves. It got to the point where a stupid night at Bond Street Social unleashes more asshole, well off folks who don’t give a damn as they scream into rowhouse windows throughout the neighborhood. I’d rather see Ravens fans full of good will and smiles and all walks hugging each other.  The spontaneity is the true joy of sports — the whole thing with Seven Nation Army — and when the Ravens beat the Patriots, punching their ticket to the Super Bowl, there was the moment when the Police Commander was all smiles and his unit stood down allowing about 500 kids moshing with joy.  But that beauty was stymied with this win as the square stood erriely empty and cops on horseback chased down a group of fans down Lancaster Street. As a resident I would love to see that same attitude applied to the well off Revelers who scream into windows just to hear their voices.

Here’s an open plea to the Mayor. Could you please allow the Citizens of Baltimore to have some fun during the Parade next Monday.

Twelve years ago under Martin O’Malley, the Super Bowl party was pretty paltry, just an appearance from the team and they sent the crowd on their way. It was like people showing up ready to party and being sent to the door. Please aspire for something better.

The Calvery keeps it clean

The Calvery keeps it clean

02
Feb
13

Why The Ravens will Win the Super Bowl — Winning Ugly

Of course this is purple glasses homer talk, but I see the Ravens winning this game and rather decisively. Truthfully,  each team I believe has an equal chance. At this point the odds makers, and experts have no inkling and can’t represent reality. (They have been wrong about the Ravens all through the post-season) But the real reason for me putting my name down behind the Ravens is all the hype they’re given Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers Pistol Offense. They act like  San Fran has dominated every team in the post season, befuddling offenses. But truthfully San Fran barely made their way past Seattle and Atlanta. Against Falcons, Matt Ryan and his two picks and fumble did as much for San Francisco as Kaepernick’s  gutsy throws.

The same can be said about the Ravens – Denver game when The Bronco chose to run the ball in the last two minutes.  Guaranteeing the Baltimore to get the ball back no doubt played in the Ravens hands. But the Ravens aren’t trying befuddle anyone. They are winning by any means necessary either by winning ugly or just wearing down a team like they did to New England.

As far as The Ravens not seeing anything like Kaepernick, I say balderdash. The Ravens did a fine job forcing R.G. III to beat them in the air (which ummm, yikes, he did),but the defense was pretty gimpy at that point and now safely in hindsight, Baltimore pretty much should have won that game.

Now Suggs and Nagta has had two weeks rest and Krugger is grinding at a high level. The Ravens have also have experience with Roethlisberger, who may not be as fleet footed as Kaepernick but is every bit as tough to bring down , devastated defenses with his last second passes.  But the Ravens have gotten past all those days at least for this year.(Insert Suggs hanging off of Big Ben as the Beast hits Ward to win game Ugggg).

But let’s talk Right here, right now. The amazing thing about the Ravens is they can beat you in so many ways. The offense is so stacked that it could actually be a problem for the coaches in that they call the wrong plays. Anquan Boldin, as pointed out by  Kris Jones, in Russell Street Reporter has emerged as must cover threat allowing the Ravens to break out their other receivers. Tory Smith, Jones and less not forget Ray Rice in the backfield or hey diddle diddle up the middle.And if that’s not enough add this year’s breakout Raven, running back  Pierce. He should be mended enough after two weeks rest that he will be sorting up the D-line with his power runs.  But like a soothsayer, I envision the games before they are played. I’m not saying I have any mojo, but sometimes I swear these vision come true. It’s more like finally my fantasy play a boyhood quirk that has never left gets actualized is more like it. But for the first time I’m going to put it on the line. I foresee, a big game for Suggs as he for the first time this year, emerges as 95 percent himself and causes mayhem in the backfield. I also see Ed Reed doing the hometown hero thing,  tipping a brazened pass in the middle, to himself and taking it to the house and of course he won’t be able to resist holding the ball out like he used to do in the early years. (We love Ed Reed. Gonna miss him). I also see Flacco just tearing up the field. If he gets that smile on his face watch out. (BTW to all those folks who say Flacco doesn’t have emotion, they must have missed that smile. You ever see a quarterback grin so freely in the heat of battle?)

The real threat to the Ravens is the distraction. Can the Ravens maintain their focus, can they somehow pace themselves through that excruciating long Sunday and not wear down emotionally. Because if they can time their intensity I think  San Francisco isn’t gonna see this one coming freight train before its too late. I predict the Ravens win by two scores.

10
Jan
13

Winning Ugly — The beauty of being Not Pretty — an Essay about psyche of a Ravens Fan

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The heart and soul of Baltimore’s now nationally famous tailgate scene is NOT on the official lots  at M&T Bank Stadium.  Nothing wrong with those lots of well-healed spectators. They surely put out a great spread one more outlandish than the next. From the stainless steel grill the size of a bass boat to the gramps bunkered down in a van with three tier rotating carousel of liquor,  M&T offers up a might buffet that doesn’t welcome my kind — peddlers.

Lucky for me hauling around a massive bag of newly minted T-Shirts, there’s the wilds of the Baltimore hinterlands that sprawls through what is the city’s oldest industrial sites.  To the South was the B&O Warehouse, made a museum  to the North was the Mount Clare House, which oversaw a colonial forge one of Baltimore’s first. Lost in the middle is  this flatland of rubble, weeds and harsh hughed buildings along Ostand Street snaking up Warner Street and slivers and lots under bridges in-between. The Mad-Max revelers unleash their twisted take on the family picnic. Booze presented on checkered table clothes.  Kids play catch alongside the railroad tracks before a nervous security guard looking for the flashing signal lights listening for tale-tell moan of the rail. In fact the tracks is littered with the purple-cladded doing a hobos stroll, taking  pisses while guzzling urine-colored beer at the same time.  More times than expected a train pushes oafishly through, the wheels grinding in a fist pumping camaraderie. The blast of the horn definitely so.

A D.J. sets up his mobile studio and mashes up country-western with hip-hop. Absorbing it all like he’s done for years is  T sitting like a kingpin reading the paper — who reads the paper at a tailgate?

“Without the football team a lot of people of different races would not have met,” he said. “ They have their differences and the whole nine but there’s one common denominators, the Baltimore Ravens, the purple and black.”

And with my T-shirts I was hoping to plug into this common  denominator not just into the Ravens, but the definition of the season and hell why not – the city.

 

Winning Ugly is a Beautiful Thing — Laying down a concept is ruckus that is Baltimore Tailgate scene not an easy thing especially when the competition gets to sell trademarked protected and lawyer enforced emblems and player’s jerseys, which has become a required uniform for the football fan.  But every once in a while a rouge t-shirt comes along that sums of the moment. I believed that Winning Ugly was that next big thing.  Like Ball So Hard  University was last year.

Winning Ugly surely would make a connect – I thought. While the Ravens forged a reputation for not winning pretty, this season has been particularly vexing. The Ravens vaunted Defense loomed at the bottum of ranking and the high-hoped anticipated high powered offense played like  Joe Cool has been supplanted by Flaky Flacco and yet were playoff bound, I was hoping to give the fan to embrace the team’s inner-ugly for a bargin price of ten dollars. Then Ray Lewis had to go mess this whole spleen venting indulgence up and announce his retirement. Hours before the Ravens played the Colts nobody mentioned the old tired history of the Baltimore Colts leaving town. It was all about Ray.  Nobody wanted to hear about Winning Ugly with  the return of Ray Lewis. After being out for nearly eight weeks due to an injury, Ray Lewis presence was conjuring up images of days of yore when he and his fellow hunters terrorized offenses to the point it wasn’t even physical. The quarterback would become mired in his own mind game.

 

It’s a  simple T-shirt with high aspirations, a newly minted slogan, a get rich quick scheme, a chance to experience that hustler’s rush of peddling on the streets, a chance to step away from being a passive spectator and ride back-drafts of a team plunging into post-season glory. What I got was a crass view of Baltimore’s psyche, the collective unease of being the step-child of the Mid-Atlantic, a harsh view that comes ever clear with a butt whipping when I hit the streets.

You know that character Bubbles in the Wire> Well I was like his shopping cart  buddy who we all know was doomed for an ugly end all caught on a little video.winning ugly under bridge

This project wasn’t all about selling shirts, but also engaging the crowd, a little subversive instigating in the guise of  a street hustle for a short film. As a low-end documentary filmmaker,  I’ve always been attracted to dynamic of old school peddling. I’ve done more than my share of A-rabbing stories and videos. I did a film about  a successful New York street musician. I followed around Fancy Clancy, beer vendor extraordinaire for two years. But this t-shirt scheme has fermented for years until I could stand it no more.

I figure the shirt not only fits this team, particularly this season, but if embraced — that is if you embrace the inner ugly — than you’ll experience a  transcendence and isn’t what we all want in a football team or as fan of any sport. You’re hoping to experience transcendence or more accurately live vicariously through the players. But the ugly truth that very little if anything that happens on the field will fix the lives of those up in the stands and out in media land.  We are stuck with our selves like a hangover while the players go on to their exclusive euphoria capped with hundreds of thousands if not millions,   that us fans manufacture for them – that is unless you got a stake, a wager, a business, 150 t-shirts that needs to be sold.

Finding the good in the ugly was what I was preaching to  the fine folks  tailgating in the nooks and crannied remnants of South Baltimore’s old world industry — vacant lots festooned with purple tassels and obscene suggestions for Ben Roethlisberger — It was Steelers Week and the fan base stewed, hellishly, enflamed further with each yield of the bottle.  And there I was, the short misfit among gunslingers, talking some nonsense about benefits of winning ugly.

“Winning Ugly is a beautiful thing. Winning is a beautiful thing. Embrace it and if you do we’ll ride this horse to the Super Bowl. Give up on the dream of being a Peyton Manning Team. Fuck that. I wanna win ugly all the way and piss the whole world off. “

At this point it was no longer about selling a t-shirt for ten bucks. It was about if  these boys were thinking about kicking my ass.

Winning Ugly selling on streets

But I still, at this writing defend my actions.  I am going down believing that  Winning Ugly is beautiful thing is the Ravens true identity whether the team crushes their  opponents or is given a gift-win. In fact I believe that winning ugly is where they find  their glory.

“They are not the most esthetically pleasing team to watch — they can put up 55 points one game and not get 8 points the next,”

Bob Haynie, a Sports Radio Talk Show Host for 105.7 the Fan, who  offers a point of reason on the airwaves particularly after a loss,  but does so  in a scratchy voice one suspects is forged from yelling at the TV, cured by cigs and distilled by libation

Ever since the Ravens ugly Super Bowl Win in 2001 where a historic defense lead by then four year Linebacker Ray Lewis, Haynie and the rest of the sports show hosts have fielded irate calls about lame play calling, inept quarterback play be it  Kyle Boller to Joe Flacco, who by many accounts takes extra heat,  and a general offense that can look clueless at times.

“Everybody wants to identify with the team’s hard working smash mouth grind it out — throw out any cliché you wanna to use but at the end of the day they want Joe Flacco to be Joe Montana. And when he’s not that’s when the complaints roll in.”

No doubt Baltimore dug deep in their Ravens Defense street cred. As Warren Sapp put it, when his team won Tampa Bay Buccaneers team won the Super Bowl the next year, “The Ravens made defense cool.”

But you get the feeling the NFL wasn’t too keen on games being won on Defense. Before The Ravens Super Bowl win over the New York Giants, Ray Lewis stated that all they all needed was for the Offense was to put up 3 points and Defense would take care of the rest.) Rules were instated that hampered defense play including preventing cornerbacks from “ touching” receivers five yards off the line of scrimmage. The word was that the NFL was looking for more scoring and flags for illegal hits start flying. Even the Ravens the next year didn’t believe in their Winning Ugly M.O.  and jettisoned Game Managing Quarterback Trent Dilfer for Glory Boy Elvis Grbac, a decision that came back to haunt the Ravens like a curse. Grbac left the team and the game in tears and the Baltimore fan base  was driven to tears by watching the clown shoes footwork of Kyle Boller. The team was either by design or  out of survival stuck with keeping the Defense stout, despite a doomsday chorus of prognosticator declaring the end of the ancient adage “Defense Wins Championships.” According to the NFL stats, The Ravens produced a Top 5 defense eight out its last ten years.winning ugly stadium

Players like Ed Reed, Bart Scott, Adalous Thomas, Kelly Gregg, Jerrett Johnson,   and Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, and Ladarous Webb to name too, powered a fierce Baltimore’s defense. It didn’t seem to matter who was the defense coordinator,  Marvin Lewis,  Mike Nolan Rex Ryan now Dean Pees, the Ravens consistently inflicted  its will on opposing offenses. And  Baltimore, with a rich sports heritage but one fraught with some horrible losses (The Colts 68 Loss New York Jets has been the greatest upset.), not to mention step child status to cities like New York, Philadelphia Boston and Washington, D.C. ate ugly defense identity up.  Even Pittsburgh, the Ravens arch-rivals, , at times would top the Ravens in Defense standing, with Baltimore taking number, has had a dynamic offense ever since Ben Roethlisberger came into the league and made magic with tenacious receiver Hynes Ward. It can be easy to pair the defense with Baltimore’s blue collar vibe.

Talk to Ernie Ernie Grecco, 70 year old native, who watched when an upstart Colt Team beat the Giants in what now has been called the Greatest Game Ever Played, because of the first use of Sudden Death and the dynamic play of Johnny Unitas. Back then Sparrows Point had 35,000 workers. There was a General Motors Plant. Armco Steel and Continental Can. Baltimore was second to New York in the garment industry. The city was chalked full of Breweries. Grecco, now the President of the AFL-CIO in Metropolitan Baltimore got his start at the Seagram Distillery. “Now it’s all gone,” he said.

But Grecco bails before going down life was sweeter in the good ole days brattle. He marvels that Baltimore, a town that people drove through to get from D.C. to Philadelphia, pointed out in a National Geographic article – has emerged as a destination point. “I’d rather have the jobs the good manufacturing jobs,” he said.  “But people love Baltimore.”

Baltimore’s hard climb as a destination point for artists and those looking to break out on their own has surprised yours truly. I remember my dad driving me around as a kid pointing out the few hot spots in other dreary streets — Louis Bookstore, Bread and Roses Coffee House, Peabody’s Bookstore. Now city pulsates tailights from Woodberry, Hamden down through the Charles Street Arts district into Fed Hill and Fells Point, Canton and beyond. I remember when you couldn’t find a cab now the streets team with taxis and you still can’t find one — empty.

But last week came a new realization. I was out in LA desperate for something on the radio when I came to a DJ gushing about Dan Deacon’s America. He talked how he was out to Baltimore and how those places that Deacon refers to like “Guilford Avenue Bridge” really do exist and that he could see why Deacon doesn’t wanna leave.

Never in my dreams did I think Baltimore would get such recognition, much of which has already been documented in this paper.

It’s gotten to the point that natives like myself have become a bit rare, maybe not like Formstone, but maybe like Berger Cookies. We around but you got to know where to find us. And for the last 10 years I’ve heard from the new settlers an appreciation of the feel of history. Sports Talk Show Host Rob Long noted that many blue colar towns like Cleveland or East Coast cities like Boston have rich sports heritage with teams that pre-date ours by more than half a century, Baltimore keeps its history close to the surface.

It’s the difference someone who keeps the family heirlooms in a cherry wood box or someone who displays the great, grand-dads fiddle on the wall or even plays it. .In fact, Long takes it another step further and says that Baltimore’s revels in the under-dog snub.

“I don’t know if it’s an inferiority complex or our edge,” Long said. Long warns that people shouldn’t interpret the complaints about snubs or National Coverage conspiracies as self hatred. “We don’t believe it.”

But change does come even for a town that has a firm grip on the past and old fashion smash mouth football. For one, Baltimore is in the mists of its fifth straight playoff birth but also racking up at least one win  in the post-season. And during this run there’s been a seismic shift from defense is king to offense led by Joe Flacco, who came in as an under-dog, from a below the radar school University of Delaware and looking to be a second stringer at least at first until Troy Smith got sick right before opening season. The problem is for a whole host of reasons, the offense hasn’t hit the heights of the Ravens defense. Last year it looked like Flacco and The Ravens was about to plateau at beautiful heights with a spot in the Super Bowl. The Season careened from brilliant play — from opening day beat-down against the dreaded Pittsburgh Steelers to the  head scratching bungle in Jacksonville. But in the AFC Championship  Flacco did what everyone out their in radio and web-land  have been clamoring for: Flacco put the team on his shoulders and marched the team down the field. With less than a minute, Tom Brady was on the bench, his head in his hands and Flacco reared back and found Lee Evans in the End Zone. What followed is one of the ugliest drops – somehow a New England defender managed to lurch two steps in the endzone and knock the ball out before Evan could but the second foot down to be called a touchdown. Two plays later Billy Cunduff shanks a gimmie field goal to at least send the game into overtime. Talk about an ugly loss. Man put that one on the NFL top ten why don’t cha.

Honestly it’s surprisingly the Ravens could even muster the nerve to be contender this year.  Long is convinced that Ravens 5-11 showing in 2007 was a hangover from the Ravens 13-3, throwing a dismal and ill-advised pic in the Playoffs against the dreaded Colts, losing their chance to get to the Super Bowl.

The Ravens have ridden  the top of our division the entire season and it felt like we’ve been in a tail spin. Hell at 9-3 we fired our offensive coordinator. Who fires an offensive coordinator when the playoffs seemed almost certain and the losses could have been put on the defense who allow The Steelers and then the Washington Redskins to drive the field and win.

“We’ve become spoiled,” Haynie said. Drew Breeze threw a ton of touchdowns and he will be home watching the playoffs with everybody else. The fan base, fans in all cities they tend to harp on the negative more than the positive.”

the competition was not only fierce but wise.

the competition was not only fierce but wise.

So Winning Ugly is a Beautiful Thing. Right. No way to dress this season up — the miracle 4 and 29, 30 yard run by Ray Rice in San Diego was as ugly win as anything. The next day Flacco got mocked for not daring to throw down field like a real quarterback, instead he dumped it off to running back in the flat with a lot of real estate to make up. No way to dress this season up. Might as well give it an ugly kiss and feel better about ourselves.

Ah Theories look much better on paper, but as soon as they hit the air they start to tarnish. It wasn’t pretty for this little peddler out there folks. I never felt so short.

I sold 14 shirts and everyone was tough and took a lot a patter.  There was a time I got a bunch of grissled fans engaged in some conversation, the first step to a sale.

“Hey Buddy, Hey Buddy. You’re selling to the wrong crowd.

“What

This is a homeless shelter.

I played the fool well. Doing a hard sell to a woman who wondered if I would be there after a game, while a stranger freaked her. I turn around and spot tons of  Pittsburgh Sucks shirts everywhere. A bail bonds company was giving them away.  Ten dollars can’t compete for Free. One  woman mocked me and said I needed to change the saying to “A win’s a win.”

“A win’s a win?”

Her eyes spoke loud as any jeer  — you doofus.

“You’re never going to sell shirts with that.”

Next stop a man heckled during a near sale. “I’ll give you two cookies and two dollars. This heckler owned the massive lot and demanded a five dollar shirt if I wanted to keep selling on his lot, the only lot that I had made multiple sales.

He already called me a fuck up and “You don’t know what you’re doing.”

But in this business you can’t have any pride and when I’m saying this business, I’m referring to journalism. A journalist has to eat it for a story. Many cases I’m intruding or at the very least culling their world and if you want truth, you got to seek pain. Tom Nugent, a teacher told me that back in J-school at U of Maryland. If it was  not for him I’d never be a journalist, which isn’t such a good idea these days with the written word and the newspapers in such straights. He would urge us to “seek pain,” look for the truth by throwing off the cliché’s and the formulaic. He inspired me to aim to be a great writer, not that I am or ever be, but to aim for it anyway. Why not go high, but to do so would be an ugly road. He warned me. He also hated sports, football especially. He thought sports was an opiate for the masses, a place where people took their broken lives and dreams and hung them on a team that would do nothing but take their money, get them drunk and feed their shortcomings that many times exploded into violence and abuse. That’s the truth of sports, he’d say.  “I used to see blood run down the steps of Memorial Stadium.”

His father was Tom Nugent (Sr.), The Football Coach at University of Maryland, back in the 50s. Through his access due to his father, Tom was struck by the brutality  on the student athletes — not the physical impact but the lie that aspiring athletes were left along with their shattered knees and no hope of getting into the NFL. But worse,he says, is how sport obliterates people’s view of the ills of society. As sports engulf the culture he says, society has become, “so degraded and vile, it’s hard to look at.”

“By roaring at this abstraction that we call our team in the stadium, we avoid the big problem of community mainly the killings that go on forever in the ghettos of Baltimore,” he told in a phone interview.

I believe he spoke the truth. PSLs is a crock after we the people paid millions to build that stadium and what’s worse is the time – weekend quality time – that I spend away from wife and kids. More than once I’ve come back from the stadium with this sick feeling that I’ve been had, that why am I putting so much physical, monitory effort in something that means nothing while my life could use such effort.  Each summer I proclaim I’m not going to be into it that much, my friends and family laugh.

But I love football. Can’t help it. I love it. I loved The Baltimore Colts, got my heard broken and stayed away from it until the Ravens showed up in very ugly fashion I might add.

Football to me is about the struggle, seek pain — it plays out the hassles of the day to day of living.

They say soccer is a beautiful game. That may be true in real time. But in slow mo there’s nothing more beautiful than Football. Even baseball — besides Brooks Robinson watching clips of him scooping up balls, still sends chills up my spine). But the struggle as violent as it is what I relate to ….  Between the rants of the God-talk Ray Lewis  personifies the struggle.

The shoe of Johnny U kept shinny by folks rubbing for good luck

The shoe of Johnny U kept shinny by folks rubbing for good luck

I not much for hero-worship, but I dig Ray Lewis work ethic, how he stresses working on the little things. That’s all in the work you put in or as Jackson Pollack put it, “Work is Art.” How amazing it must be to go to Ray’s house and do film study with him and Ed Reed and whom ever else. I once met an ex-linebacker who had dreams of making it back into the league. He never did, but he kept himself in shape and the day after The Ravens horrible loss (worse than  ugly) to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2010 playoffs when the Ravens went from 24-7 in the half to losing with a series of dropped passes on Flacco’s last drive, the day after that, Ray Lewis called this guy up and asked him to work out throughout the afternoon. That’s all I need to hear about the man.

But my misgivings about Old 52 retiring had nothing to do with missing his presence. No. I had a feeling it was going to throw static in my Winning Ugly vibe. And when I parked my car for an extra ten bucks, I knew it was over. I gave t-shirts to the parking lot attendants and invaded people personal space, re-working my pitch:

I know we’re going to win pretty today. But in Denver we’re going to scratch and claw, so you might as well sit on your coach next week with this t-shirt on.

Not one sale.

I found myself on the Southside of the tracks penned in by a slow moving freighter and security fencing. The train wheels screeched something fierce and I sold one shirt. I turned to get a number of a guy who says he would buy one but he’s leaving the country on account of Obama winning the elections and the taxes.  His wife verified that they were packing boxes to move to South America.

When I got his name turns out this bail bondsman was in my class in Mount Washington Elementary School. Everything changed. He brought his dad over, gave me a drink and we talked about the fights down by Falls Road. This wasn’t Whole Foods Baltimore.  The train was gone but I wasn’t going anywhere as he marveled over Baltimore’s small town vibe.

“This is a blue colar working hard team, that’s gonna do what it takes to win, just like Baltimore Cty , unemployed taxes through the roof, but they are gonna make it work. When you see Ray Lewis come out you’re gonna see the real Baltimore City.

I went to see Ray’s last game and as Rob Long predicted the story line has changed – It’s no longer about the dreaded Colts (the ones who scorned us via Mayflower Trucks) coming to town. It’s about a Raven leaving.”

Sitting next to me was  Minnie Niazi, who forgo her club seats to sit with her daughter.

“They are a hardnosed fighting battling  guys, that give us all they have and we love them,” said Minnie Niazi of Annapolis with a dog named Lewis.

The game started out ugly – exchanging turnovers, but finished in a noble way. Not a beat-down, but a hard fought win that at time was closer than the 24-9 implied.

When I got back the parking lot attendant looked up and said, “Hey I got a lot of comments on your shirt. If you leave some with me, I’ll make some sales for you.”

Sure thing, Next Year/.

Check out the five minute film at http://vimeo.com/55525096

And for a David Lynch look — https://vimeo.com/54908743

password winning

Bryan Bello camera man.

Bryan Bello camera man.

02
Dec
12

Taking it to the streets — Winning Ugly is a Beautiful Thing

I’ve tried getting my message out through newspapers, tv, movie, the internet radio and now with a T-Shirt. And I’m going to film the whole thing, from me getting a Baltimore Peddler’s License, which still ain’t legal supposedly for downtown Baltimore, to me working out the design with the factory to hitting the streets with the T-shirts.
This aren’t any T-Shirts. These have been designed by yours truly: Baltimore, where winning ugly is a beautiful thing. This slogan should hit a sweet spot with Ravens fans. Despite being 9-2, the second best record in the AFC, the leader in their division, The Ravens gets little love by the National Media. That’s because their wins are so damned ugly. Even the fans say so. We barely beat bad teams on the road and yet at home The Ravens have the longest winning streak in the NFL, nearly two years running. The problem is that Ravens fans know that sooner or later Baltimore will have to win on the road to make it to the Superbowl and so far despite all the coach bluster of a win is a win, they have not shown anything. In fact they got their butts kicked by Houston, the very team they beat in last year’s post-season in ugly fashion at home, drawing the wrath of commentators.
Winning Ugly in Baltimore has been a tradition going back to the Ravens improbably Superbowl Win in 2001 when their now legendary defense got the job done. (Is it a coincidence that the NFL soon after changed the rules making it harder for defenses to get physical?)

Last year, the team faced the same ugliness criticism, but seemed to overcome their demons with decisive wins late in the season,only to loose in one of the ugliest ways against a much hyped but by in the end an inferior New England Patriots Team in the Championship. How ugly you ask? Lee Evens drops a Super Bowl ticket pass in the endzone and then our go – to kicker misses a gimmie game tier as the seconds and the season tics off. Heartbreaking.

So this year the cloud hangs thick. Yet after an ugly but courageous win on the road against the hapless San Diego Chargers last week, will the fans embrace this identity?
I’m going to find out by putting my money where my mouth is. By going out and trying to sell these shirts in one of the most famous tailgating scene in the country. And by the way this against the Ravens arch Rival The Steelers which the national media declares the best rivalry in football. This game is a guaranteed catalyst, bringing out character and some stupidity as well. But this may even bring up some first amendment issues as I won’t be surprised the Cops might
winning ugly stoop shot




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