Pure Evel

I don’t know why people are sad about the Great Deathwave of 2016. It’s a remarkable opportunity to make a stranger’s life all about yourself.

Muhammad Ali, The Greatest, 1942-2016. A multifarious and complex personality that's tough to categorize, not a prop for your opinions.

Muhammad Ali, The Greatest, 1942-2016. A multifarious and complex personality that’s tough to categorize (especially for a pugilist), not a prop for your opinions.

When a celebrity dies, you now own them. You can take the life’s work of someone you never encountered and reduce it to a personal inspiration. You can interpret their efforts as empowerment for your own agendas. Oh, and you can cherry-pick the qualities of their persona that you agree with, and ignore everything else. A corpse will never call your bluff.

Think of what Prince Rogers Nelson saw in his life. Try to picture the acres of cheering faces he looked out upon, wholly as a result of his own creative success and talent. Imagine that sensation and satisfaction, the waves of positive energy cresting at his feet on stage.

Now imagine that same man in a hospital bed, at the mercy of wolves, as parasites bicker over the legal nonsense regarding the distribution of his music. A fickle public wants nothing to do with you unless you’re replaying songs they know. The industry that made you is now carving your box-set tombstone. Why keep on living?

Elvis Presley’s death has been a joke for so long that nobody spares a thought to its sad inspirations. Elvis saw the top of the mountain, and it was good. Then times changed, and he was reduced to a symbol, a bloated metaphor for the outdated style he embodied. There is absolutely nothing you or I could accomplish in this lifetime that would equal the positive energy that Elvis was exposed to on stage, unless you happen to be the Dalai Lama.

Do you honestly believe that you could experience the mass adulation he did, see it co-opted, and not turn into a grotesque monster? When you have seen the top of the mountain, what’s left?

Did you ever notice that outside of Prince’s fans, people acted like his prodigious output was weird and suspicious? Al Gore’s wife Tipper, elected to no office whatsoever, was inspired to form the censor collective called “Parents Music Resource Center”, after seeing her pre-pubescent daughters enjoying Prince’s “Darling Nikki”. Thanks to this robe-clutching harridan, we’ve had “parental advisory” labels on music for 30+ years, and I’m trying very, very hard not to call her a cunt. One of the Gore daughters stank up Futurama a few years ago, and Al embarrassed global warming so much they changed the name to “climate change”.

Oh, and Al Gore was vice-president to a impeached reprobate, whose loveless virago of an ex-wife is now running for high office. Even though she’s a criminal under federal investigation, who beat her husband after the fucking bumpkin got blown by a fat intern in the Oval Office. Even though she’s all about censorship, particularly when it comes to video games or anything that goes against her whore corporate interests. And sure as the sun will set, there will be idiots who contest me on every single one of these points. Because their life is owned by a corporation connected to an oligarch, and they had to buy the lie.

Why the fuck go on living?

Here are three things you have in common with every single person on earth:

  1. birth
  2. life
  3. death

Watch out for people who try to control any one of those. Who controls how you are born? Who controls how you live? Who controls what happens after you die?

Bill Cosby will never be truly exonerated, even if he is in court. People look at him now and see their negative suspicions confirmed, regardless of their basis in reality. His character has been irrevocably stained in the public eye. It’s probably sheer coincidence that Cosby was attempting to establish a television network in the late 1980s. Black entertainers do that all the time, right?

Probably just a rumor that both Michael Jackson and Prince bought back their catalogs before they suddenly and mysteriously perished, too. I mean, that would imply that it’s against someone’s interests for a black man to become too wealthy or powerful. Does Tyler Perry have any problems? What do you mean, “he’s religious”?

In 2003, the TNN channel was renamed “Spike TV” (it’s now just called “Spike”). Director Spike Lee filed suit, claiming that people would erroneously associate him with the network. The case was settled, but a lot of people thought Lee was overreacting. The same was thought of Prince, when, in 1985, he sued the Prince spaghetti company. That’s because people assume he did it because of the name, when in fact, it was a commercial (written by Stan Freberg) with a box of pasta on a stage, bathed in purple lights, with the announcement “Ladies and gentlemen, in concert- Prince!”

Bit more of an infringement, yes?

Freberg laughed it off in the press, because he hails from the very dawn of television advertising, when it was jingle dates and sponsor reads. It’s impossible to determine whether an industry is naturally changing, or if it’s the law of diminishing returns. I imagine that for Stan Freberg, contemporary TV is analogous to waterboarding. There’s no balance with quiet or respect for silence; silence no longer exists. Why do you think your headaches never go away?

When I was a toddler, I had a pair of toys, briefly. They were taken away from me because where at first they represented a good crazy man, they came instead to represent a bad crazy man. A “bad influence”.

Evel Knievel.


Just off the top of my head, here’s how this warped me:

  1. Too many Huffy-and-ramp incidents to count.
  2. A weird subliminal craving for the sound of bumpers colliding at high speed, that must be suppressed at all times.
  3. An unrealistic attitude about the probability of walking away from a brutal crash, or landing safely on the other side of a crevasse.

My cousins and I had those little metal cars that flipped a panel to reveal “damage”, when you rolled them into a wall. It was the same technology as those terrific old He-man figures, with the spring-loaded dents in the chest.

Appropriate gimmick for the concept, high play value, beautiful use of materials/resources, freakin' SWEET. (Skeletor was even cooler, of course.)

Appropriate gimmick for the concept, high play value, beautiful use of materials/resources, freakin’ SWEET. (Skeletor was even cooler, of course.)

My urge to crash and damage metal vehicles was so uncontrollable that I destroyed my Hot Wheels collection, by whacking them one-by-one on stone steps, at 9. I was entranced by the way the paint would flake off the twisting metal. In 1992, I went bonkers purchasing Crash Test Dummies toys, including the resettable sedan that you plowed into a wall, sending the titular dummies flying through the windshield. I had the Crash Test Baby! He came in a launchable car seat!!! I had the dog and cat you could flatten, with the tire tracks!!!



Sometime in the late 90s, on a slick road near Hardeeville SC, I hydroplaned in my Honda Accord, spinning out of control before alighting backwards in a six-foot ditch. Even after spinning several times, I was going fast enough sideways that a tree sheared the roof off, before miraculously stopping behind my headrest. As the windows shattered and the car filled with a torrent of glass, I shut my eyes and thought to myself, “it’s been a good run.”

I walked away from the crash in good enough shape to be ticketed by an officer (“driving too fast for conditions”). It put a damper on my career as an actor, for a while. Can you imagine the direction my life would have taken if I didn’t stick with drawing? I’d be dead. I’m inherently reckless with vehicles. I’ve heard the phrase “you drive like a fucking maniac” so often it’s lost all meaning. Yet here I am. I haven’t killed myself or anyone else. (Well, not yet, anyway.)

“Daredevil” means only one thing now; a cartoon character created by Wally Wood, co-opted by corporations. It used to mean a man who did unbelievably stupid and dangerous things for money and fame. They were done away with because kids invariably imitate them, especially when told not to. Oh, also, daredevils are psychotic.

We weren’t psychoanalyzing entertainers back when daredevils were accepted members of society. Nobody ever guessed that a guy who thinks he can jump a canyon on a custom bike might actually be stark raving mad; it was just chutzpah. Cojones. But now, “daredevil” has become “future Darwin Award recipient”.

Evel Knievel was born Robert Craig Knievel in 1938; he was dubbed “Evil” to rhyme with his surname, early on when incarcerated next to “Awful” Knofel. Knievel was jailed in 1958 after crashing his motorcycle, following a police chase. In high school, he did a wheelie in an earth mover, and knocked out Butte, Montana’s electricity for hours by crashing into the main power line.

When Evel’s first son was born, he feathered his nest outside of stunts, by taking money to guide big game hunters… in Yellowstone National Park. You read that right- this fucking asshole set up a business (called Sur-Kill) to lead poachers into a conservation preserve and hunt down the animals sequestered there. Knievel guaranteed kills, hence the title, and how could you not? Fish in a barrel, bears in a cave; what’s the difference?

Once caught, Evel Knievel hitchhiked from Butte to Washington DC in 1961, to draw attention to elk culling at Yellowstone. Despite wearing antlers on the trek, he was successful, and since then extra elk are relocated from Yellowstone to hunting preserves. Renewed from this victory, when Evel returned home in 1962 he vowed to go straight.

But the straight life and that of the daredevil are parallel lines. The mind of a family man doesn’t decide to jump a canyon. So as his career skyrocketed, Evel kept his harsher qualities quiet. He gave it a good go, too; in time, he might have attended the same TV fraternity as the Fonz and Vinnie Barbarino.

In 1971, the impeccably tanned George Hamilton portrayed Evel Knievel in a film rewritten by the great John (Conan the Barbarian) Milius. Hamilton found the original script to be offal, and Milius threw it into the pool and beat it with a paddle. Walter Sobchak, John Goodman’s classic role in The Big Lebowski, is based on Milius. Now you know why this is such a great yarn.

John Milius.

John Milius.

According to George Hamil-tan in 2008:

“Milius made me read the script to Evel. I realized he was kind of a sociopath and was totally messed. Then all of sudden Evel started to adopt lines out of the movie for himself. So his persona in the movie became more of his persona in real life. He would have been every kid’s hero on one hand, but then he went and took that baseball bat and broke that guy’s legs and that finished his career in the toy business. Evel was very, very difficult and he was jealous of anybody that was gonna play him. He wanted to portray himself and he did go and make his own movie later on. He had a great perception of this warrior that he thought he was and that was good. Then he had this other side of himself where he’d turn on you in a minute. Success is something that you have to earn. You have to have a humility for it, because it can leave you in a second. It may remember you but it can sure leave you. I think if you don’t get that and you don’t have gratitude for what you are and where you are it doesn’t come back and it goes away forever.”

An actor only gives what the role requires; a daredevil gives everything. Both utilize differing degrees of detachment from humanity. A daredevil who isn’t a sociopath is one who swerves for safety just before they hit the jump.

In 1977, Dell Publishing released a book called Evel Knievel On Tour, written by Shelly Saltman, a sports promoter and vice president at 20th Century Fox. Saltman was the promoter of Evel’s notorious Snake River stunt, where he tried and failed to jump the canyon on a dangerous rocket-cycle. Knievel found the book to be damaging to his image, so like any performer concerned about such things, he calmly aired his grievances with Saltman.

Oh, I’m sorry- Evel Knievel strode onto the Fox lot with a couple of buddies, ambushed Shelly Saltman with a baseball bat and beat the shit out of him. When Saltman’s mother saw this on the news, she had a heart attack, and died three months later. Knievel got six months work furlough, and when Saltman filed a civil suit, the judge called Evel’s acts “cowardly” and awarded Saltman $12.75 million in damages. Evel declared bankruptcy, and not a cent was ever paid. Saltman continues to sue Knievel’s estate after the daredevil’s 2007 demise, claiming damages now amount to over $100 million.

Early in his career, Bobby Knievel began using the spelling “Evel”, so that he wouldn’t be associated with “evil”, like the Hell’s Angels.

Maybe my parents were right to take away my Evel Knievel toys.

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