Cheeseburger Gothic

Champion hoaxer dies. For real this time. Seriously. We mean it

Posted September 20 by John Birmingham

I've never been one to pore over the obituary columns. I did do a column about obituaries recently, because they are an acknowledged art form and you get some pretty brilliant examples of the form every now and then.
This one, from the New York Times, is almost perfect.

Alan Abel, a professional hoaxer who for more than half a century gleefully hoodwinked the American public — not least of all by making himself the subject of an earnest news obituary in The New York Times in 1980 — apparently actually did die, on Friday, at his home in Southbury, Conn. He was 94.

The Times piece recounts the life and misadventures of renowned prankster, Alan Abel, who died recently at the age of 94. But if you read the obit closely you will see how carefully it is worded to avoid the possibility that he is bullshitting them again.

"According to records in the National Archives, Mr. Abel enlisted in the Army in 1943," the writer hedges carefully. And after the war he resumed his college education, earning a bachelor’s degree in education from Ohio State University in 1950... "university records indicate".

The italics are mine. The caution was all the Times.

Alan Abel faked his own death in 1980. Not for insurance money, not to escape the complications of life that sometimes lead people to try this on, but for the sheer fun of it. He loved making newspapers and magazines and old school media in general look like idiots. They loved revealing his hoaxes, when they weren't directly victimised by them. He pulled off dozens of scams over the years, from his very first effort running a political organisation with the sole aim of passing laws making it compulsory for animals to wear pants, to running a phantom candidate in the 1964 presidential election, Yetta Bronstein, a Jewish grandmother from the Bronx.

“Vote for Yetta and things will get betta,”

The Times recalls Abel telling the Washington Post in 2006 that “Walter Cronkite is still mad at me. He’s not mad at Hitler. He’s not mad at Castro. He’s mad at me because I fooled him with ‘A nude horse is a rude horse.’ ”

The whole thing is a joy to read, and yet a little sad too. Nowadays Abel would probably be a YouTube millionaire. But his devotion to the purity of his art, and it really was an art, found him living out his days in poverty. He didn't need to. Some of his pranks and hoaxes attracted true believers who would have been happy to give him all their money. The Times recalls him returning a cheque worth $40,000 to a supporter of the campaign put pants on animals. He did admit to staring at it for a while before sending it back.

If you are looking to divert yourself for a couple of minutes, and have a sad smile at a gentle soul, now departed, go read the whole thing. It's wonderful.

4 Responses to ‘Champion hoaxer dies. For real this time. Seriously. We mean it’

Rhino mutters...

Posted September 20
He’s probably related to Boylan in some convoluted way.

John Birmingham mutters...

Posted September 21
This was my first thought.

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Nocturnalist has opinions thus...

Posted September 21
Hah, I had a book about this guy when I was a teenager called "Don't Get Mad, Get Even", which was full of stories about stuff like this that he'd pulled. I had no idea how much of it to believe, but this post corroborates a couple of the weirder ones so I guess I can believe most of them, which is awesome.

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FormerlyKnownAsSimon asserts...

Posted September 21
Not sure if i'm getting more cynical as i get older but that seems like a guy from a completely different time. Shame there isn't more of it - my father in law wanted to hire a boat and get dressed up as an arab and sail/row into the harbour once . . . this was before 2001. But still just to stick it to the xenophobes even back then. He scoffed at the ridiculousness of his sister's pride of place photo of her and the Pope (they were actually salvation army background and not catholic) and one his brother treasured of his brother, George W jnr, John Winston H and Steve Irwin. Wanted me to photoshop one of him and Yasser Arafat of all people.

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Marvel at the Captain

Posted September 19 into Movies by John Birmingham

This looks great.

1 Responses to ‘Marvel at the Captain’

jl mutters...

Posted September 19
Agreed, this looks amazing. Shame it's so far out.

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Our new Constitution

Posted September 18 by John Birmingham

Somebody planted this very official looking sign in Belmore Park. These are all excellent rules and would make a much better Constitution than the load of old cods we have now.

5 Responses to ‘Our new Constitution’

FormerlyKnownAsSimon mumbles...

Posted September 18
the pedant in me says i have to point out they spelled strategising and fraternisers with a z. Then the civil mindedness in me wants to obey No unnecessary shade throwing (unless it is a literal meaning of shade then i'm all good). I applaud their commitment to a joke though.

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Bondiboy66 asserts...

Posted September 18
'Prolonged' nudity?

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Murphy_of_Missouri is gonna tell you...

Posted September 18
On this American Constitution Day, surely you Strayans have some hot, miserable, late 1700s era building you can lock a bunch of hung over, foul tempered, wool clothing clad politicians to knock about some new Constitution.

I mean, it more or less has worked for us.

More or less.

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Dave W swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted September 19
Don't get me started on paella.

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sibeen puts forth...

Posted September 19
They can fuck off with the excessive profanity rule.

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Burger not so lite

Posted September 17 into House keeping by John Birmingham

At some point in the last year or two a couple of discs at the base of my spine began to fuse together. It happens. I wanted to keep up my jujitsu training and, even more importantly, I didn't want to stop doing exercise altogether. There were days when that felt like a real possibility. As the discs grew together, they trapped a couple of nerves between them causing some exciting side effects that felt at times as though one side of my body was on fire.
Anyway this is a long, roundabout way of fessing up that I really stacked on the weight. It was only partly down to physical incapacity. I did a lot of comfort eating after my dad passed away, too. I think I probably wrote about this at end of last year, when the ladies were about to take off for a couple of weeks overseas and I had plans to get to the gym every day.
I managed that. And I lost about 4 kilos. Huzzah for me. But the disc issue never really went away, and I had a couple of months off the mat and out of the gym with illness and more injury at the start of the year.
The weight came crashing back.
It's currently sitting at just over 94 kg. And that is down 2 kg from my peak.
I feel like I'm getting it back under control, however. It's the same old secret formula, exercise more/eat less; especially baked goods and red wine.
The big difference however is my back. I've been using sort of torture rack that I bought online to stretch it out at least four or five times every day, and that's made a big difference. I also got some massage done directly over the affected discs a short while ago and that was amazing. It gave me about two weeks without any pain at all. So I'll definitely be doing that again.
Unfortunately I got the massage on the beach up at Noosa and I can't be driving back and forth to use those guys again.

But there is a spinal massage specialist in my local neighbourhood, so I'm gonna give them a try.
One of the odd problems I've had is that the back stretcher is so effective that after a couple of days of using it I feel fine... and I forget to use it.
You can see where that's going.
So now, I've made the back-stretching sessions part of my work day. When I finish a pomordoro sesh (I'm routinely working 50 minute intervals now), I do a three minute spinal reset.
It seems to work.
I'd happily recommended this thing below for anyone with the same problem as me—fusing of the lower discs. But I don't think it's much good for problems further up the column. It's called a True Back.

16 Responses to ‘Burger not so lite’

Rob mutters...

Posted September 17
10 kilos down... 15 to go. I'm down to 107 kgs now. 2 day fasts per week. well its about 2500 kilojoules 2 out of 7 days. The rest of the week is just normal eating but you tend not to over do it as you're just not as hungry as you were carbing it up 7 days a week,

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insomniac reckons...

Posted September 17
I suffer from gout and one of the side effects of the meds appeared to assist weight loss so I got down to 106 from 119 but now I'm back close to 115, and suffering again. I am so slack with lunch and I'm overindulging which doesn't help. I'm hoping enforced working from home for most of the week associated with an office move and refit at the end of this year will encourage me to eat better, and less, and provide time for exercise because I won't be commuting for 4 hours each day. My goal is to get into 2 figures.
On the back thing, my father suffered for years until getting some sort of electric massage pad that sits on a chair, and using it every day, and it made things a lot better.
I have a couple of bulging disks and the exercises are mainly related to improving core strength. Some of the stretches are in the opposite direction to your device as well.

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Leftarc puts forth...

Posted September 18
What's the point of a gold plated hovercraft if you can't park it on the beach whilst getting your massage?

John Birmingham is gonna tell you...

Posted September 18
You make a strong case.

NBlob mumbles...

Posted September 29
We had Sea Shepard's Steve Irwin parked in Laguna Bay recently. If those dreadlocked ferals are allowed, surely uber authors are.

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FormerlyKnownAsSimon mutters...

Posted September 18
Must be that time of year when thoughts turn to wearing less. I'd just done a mammoth 45 days without alcohol passing my lips then broke the seal by attending oktoberfest in Redfern on the weekend. Hoo boy what a way to break a drought. Was complaining to my mates there that clothes are starting to get tight. The days off the alcohol didn't drop weight because i found myself eating more . . and exercise had stopped over that time because my usual allotment was taken up each morning stirring a broken septic tank to stop it backing up (so the girls and the wife could have showers and use a toilet). I guess it helped with upper body strength : ) Tank getting fixed tomorrow and dogs are thanking me for the extra attention again. It feels good to get back into it though.

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John Birmingham would have you know...

Posted September 18
But I hate it.

Murphy_of_Missouri ducks in to say...

Posted September 20

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Brother PorkChop asserts...

Posted September 19
Hows it work? I'm interested as I have a protruding disk in lower back from more than 20 years ago. Neuro at the time took an xray and said to come back in next Friday and he'd "snip it off." Frightened the shit out of me with that blase approach to my spine. Second opinion said to manage it cos after the 1st snip, the second step is fusing 2 together and then its a shitty slope to continuous pain and discomfort. I've managed it with occasional stupidity causing temporary immobilisation and considerable pain but over all its good.
Weight wise I am at 86KG, down from 92 but I cannot budge it any further. I like food too much, and red wine.

John Birmingham puts forth...

Posted September 19
I can't vouch fr how it will work for you, but it gives me a lot of relief WHEN i remember to use it regularly. Which reminds me...

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Bangar mumbles...

Posted September 20
I've got an inversion table, but the thing to be aware of is they can induce a heart attack from the weight of the lower organs pushing on the heart.

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DarrenBloomfield has opinions thus...

Posted September 25
What is the name/brand of the back stretcher thingy? it is exactly what I need!

And, to chip in, brag, under the guise of showing support - I'm down 10Kgs since April. More (required) to go.

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HAVOCK21 is gonna tell you...

Posted September 25
mm well what can i say. Down to 80 kgs and been there for about 8 months I guess. FKN HOVERING THERE LIKE A MUTHA FKR GOD THAT I AM!!!!

Dave W mutters...

Posted September 26
I am in awe of the machine that is Havock.

John Birmingham mumbles...

Posted September 26
I know, right!?! Science tells us that perpetual motion machines are impossible, and yet this one seems capable of pumping out an infinite stream of bullshit!

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Neuroplasticity and musical taste

Posted September 14 into Music by John Birmingham

Neuroplasticity is a ten buck word for a simple idea; the brain is designed to keep learning things.

That seems pretty fucking unremarkable. A brain that won't learn new stuff is pretty useless. But it does fly in the face of our very human habit of refusing to learn anything that conflicts with whatever ignorant codswallop we stuffed into the old wrinkly grey head-pudding first.

I'm not specifically thinking about politics here, but rather music.

There's a wealth of anecdata about people giving up on new music from their late twenties. One study of Spotify users nailed the exact age as 33. That research, written up in NME, found that, while teens’ music taste is heavily dominated by popular music, this influence drops steadily through their 20s, before their tastes ‘mature’ (read: turn to stone) in their early 30s. "For the average listener, by their mid-30s, their tastes have matured, and they are who they’re going to be.”

The study also shows that there’s a slight gender gap at play (“Women show a slow and steady decline in pop music listening from 13-49, while men drop precipitously starting from their teens until their early 30s, at which point they encounter the ‘lock-in’ effect”), also stating that becoming a parent “has an equivalent impact on your ‘music relevancy’ as aging about 4 years”.

I'm not gonna put myself out there as a counterpoint. They totally got my number. With tens of millions of songs on the Fruit Company's streaming service, I find myself defaulting again and again to stuff I've listened to before.

I do make an effort. Most weekends I'll flick through the new music playlist and save the tracks that really grab my attention, moing them to a separate playlist that I usually listen to as I drive around in the car.

It's a long list and it's got some great tracks on it now.

But I couldn't tell you the name of the songs or their artists who performed them if my fucking life depended on it.

Even more telling, if I really like a single I'll add the album to my library and give it solid flogging, just like I used to when I could only afford a couple of albums a year.

While I'm actively listening to this discovery, I'm all over it, thinking "Yeah! Look at this guy, listening to new music."

And two weeks later I've usually forgotten to play the new thing and it recedes into the fog of lost memories, only ever to be recalled by accident, usually on shuffle play.

I'm not sure what any of this means but now I think I'm gonna go play some Bachman Turner Overdrive.

5 Responses to ‘Neuroplasticity and musical taste’

Rob reckons...

Posted September 15
I'm not so locked in to the same songs and artists, but definitely the genres of music stays the same. If its heavy and fast then I'm there. If I go see a live band and I engage with them its because they play the genre I like. Like I saw a great band from Wisconsin called Conveyer, The singer, a short super polite American boy, came across like the non Henry Rollins singers from Black Flag. The music was brilliant but it was basically just very well played Hardcore punk, so I was bound to like it. I think you have to work a bit hard at finding new music, I prefer live music, which is great until you go to a Metal camping festival only to be congratulated by young people for being older and going to see Deez Nuts. We were like, 'shut up you little fat punk , we paved the way for you grow a hobo beard and sit in your tent drinking beer all day and not see the bands'

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ShaneAlpha has opinions thus...

Posted September 15
Yeah, they've got my number. The amount of 80's songs shitting up my iPod is ridiculous and I was the Triple M demographic until the sheer bloody repetition drove me away.

A couple of years ago I was introduced to Babymetal which, thanks to the wonders of the Youtube algorithm, led me to Bandmaid and I have been a fan of both groups since then.

Luckily for me Bandmaid have a pretty active release cycle so they usually have a new single/mini-album/full album released before I wear out their last release.

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Barnesm reckons...

Posted September 16
The challenge for me is how to get exposed to new music to try, though watching anime has exposed me to a few artists I wouldn't have known about who I will keep listening to now.

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jason asserts...

Posted September 17
Two points:
Music is about more than the music, it's about the time and the place you heard it and the people you were with. Very hard to recreate that feel when you just hear a song somewhere.

Kids. Mine introduce me to new music all the time. When we travel anywhere we play Spotify roulette where they play me a new song and I play them an old one (often one which is the precursor to the song they played me) and we keep swapping.

I would recommend the following: Pierce Brothers, better live but still good recorded, DMAs listen to In the Air.

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Brother PorkChop puts forth...

Posted September 19
Interesting read!! I don't quite fit the mould then, as I am still finding new music all the time. My son also appears to differ to the norm. His 16th birthday present last week was a turntable and 6 records - Queen, Eagles, Cat Stevens, Popular Classicals, Melanie and one other I've forgotten. He loves it and is now on the hunt for more - Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, Def Leppard, Pink Floyd, Led Zep and so on. He doesn't have a single current pop/R&B/HipHop track on his playlist and its quite a big playlist. He loves classic rock and classical music and even better, the school has a rock symphony combining the 2 - he plays the bassoon.

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The truth about Van Halen's green M&Ms

Posted September 12 by John Birmingham

Everybody knows about contract riders; those bizarre clauses in the entertainment industry that require a venue or producer to jump through fiery hoops on behalf of the talent. I heard of one author... oh all right it was Jeffrey Archer... who demanded that a freshly peeled Mars Bar appear in his dressing room less than a minute before he arrived.

Not good enough!

A showrunner of the Nine Network told me about hiring a chocolatier to strip away the outer shell of milk chocolate for Lord Archer, who had a second contract rider–he was never to see the confronting moment when the chocolate was removed, or the lonely minion who removed it.

So this guy allegedly had to strip away the chocolate in less than a minute, and then hide behind the door when Lord Archer appeared.

I don't know if was true, but I trust the guy who told me the story, and I desperately want it to be true, which is all you need on the internet.

One of the most famous contract riders was the demand by Van Halen that there be a gigantic bowl of M&Ms in their dressing room, BUT not a single green M&M could defile the bowl.

It's often cited as a perfect example of the selfishness and craziness of mega-celebrities. Turns out, not so much.

There was actually a method to this madness.

I was listening to one of my favourite podcast this morning—Pod Save America—and a country music star I’d never heard of before spelled out the reasoning behind Van Halen’s demand.

This guy, Jason Isbell, explained that because the staging requirements for a Van Halen show involved a lot of dangerous pyrotechnics and heavy equipment, the band’s lawyers added pages and pages of contract riders to the usual boilerplate to ensure that nobody was going to be hurt during the show (or before or afterward during set up and bump out) because some piece of equipment hadn’t been installed to spec.

Having a silly little clause about removing green M&Ms gave them a way of telling very quickly whether or not the venue managers had read the contract and adhered to all of the riders, most of which were about Occupational Health& Safety issues. If they saw green M&Ms in the bowl they knew somebody had cut corners.


Also brilliant? This Isbell guy. I'm not much of a country music fan and I'd never heard of him before. Pod Save America is a political podcast and I was sort of wondering why they interviewed him. Five minutes in and I wondered no more. Jason Isbell Is one of the smartest, funniest and purely clued in guys they had ever had on that show. I sat there listening to him, absolutely stunned by his self possession and wider awareness. I don't want to make this blog entry about Isbell, but if you have a few minutes and access to a streaming service you could do yourself a favour.

Warning, the song below has all the feels.

7 Responses to ‘The truth about Van Halen's green M&Ms’

insomniac mutters...

Posted September 12
I find it a little too convenient that you have hidden behind others and not revealed your own, most likely completely outrageous, riders.

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Rhino ducks in to say...

Posted September 12
I’m still waiting for the one that stipulates that Boylan and I must be flown there’, first class and expense account, to act as physical and litigious security.

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Bondiboy66 swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted September 12
Interesting! Look up Iggy Pop's legendary rider sheets, most humourous!

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Barnesm is gonna tell you...

Posted September 12
Jason Isbell is an interesting fellow, I agree well worth having a listen thanks for the suggestion.

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Brother PorkChop swirls their brandy and claims...

Posted September 20
I'd heard the M&Ms story before and it makes sense. Some riders do not though. Back in the 90s we had Mariah Carey stay at the hotel I was working at. She wanted everything in her suite to be white - a piece we did not comply with but she stayed anyways and another thing was unsalted potato chips, an item that did not exist so our chefs spent hours making the bloody things by hand.
I also got stuck in a lift with Tina Turner, a lovely lady, and ended up making her boiled eggs myself since the chefs could not get it right.
Then there was the RHCPs...... and the Baby Animals.....

Nocturnalist mumbles...

Posted September 20
Okay, c'mon, spill, I want to know what the Baby Animals were like.

Brother PorkChop would have you know...

Posted September 20
They were great when sober. Hung out with MaryJane a real lot, ordered Nachos from Room Service, then threw them at me. Admittedly they were shit and I wouldn't have eaten them either but I was a night manger not a chef so....
But the Chillis were ever so cool and great to hang out with. So very laid back, but they were on holidays so you could expect that.

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