By GORDON GLANTZ
GORDONVILLE — Weird thing with me, and I’m sure a lot of you, is that I can recall happenings from decades ago while needing to be repeatedly reminded to take out the trash every Monday night.
A certain song, as much as anything, can provide a ride in a time machine to other events.
This brings me to the song “Dirty Laundry,” released by Don Henley in a solo effort back in 1982.
It was a sharp condemnation of the media, particularly on the television side, as it came at a time when CNN was still a toddler learning to walk as a round-the-clock entity.
Because I listen to retro radio whenever Sofia isn’t in the car to dictate otherwise, I still hear “Dirty Laundry” from time to time.
Just the other day, I realized that as on-point as the song – written by Henley and Danny Kortchmar – was in 1982, when I had decided to major in journalism (primarily to avoid taking more than one math and one science class at Temple), it has proven only more ominous over the decades.
It was this verse that got the few marbles I have left to rattle around:
“We got the bubble-headed-bleach-blond
Who comes on at five
She can tell you ’bout the plane crash with a gleam in her eye
It’s interesting when people die
Give us dirty laundry”
There is a later reference to the boys in the newsroom having a running bet about when someone will die.
It sounds unreal and callous, but it rings true. Sadly. The only real way to stay sane behind the curtain in the business is to become insensitive.
It took only events the magnitude of a 9/11 or a Sandy Hook — or a horrific local murder, like that of Lisa Manderach and her 19-month-old daughter, Devon — to cast a pall over the newsroom.
Not being a full-time newspaper guy in recent years, coupled with the birth of Sofia, has greatly softened my veneer.
When news affects me personally, it not only hits me, but I’m not afraid to show it.
When I cry at the end of the movie, which happens a lot, I’m that guy who has to watch all the credits roll in case someone sees me when I leave.
And when breaking news breaks my heart, it’s increasingly difficult to get up off the canvas.
Such was the case when Tom Petty died last year and, more recently, when the death of Neil Peart was followed closely by that of dear friend Hank Cisco.
These days, news just hits you in an instant.
On Sunday, for example, I was sitting where I am right now – at my laptop – when my cellphone flashed: “Kobe Bryant dead at 41.”
There was no other information, as it was one of the first initial reports.
“Oh, my God,” bellowed this atheist. “Kobe Bryant just died.”
“Oh, my God,” my wife, a practicing Catholic, replied.
When MSNBC was unable to provide much in the way of detail, we turned to CNN.
The news trickled in slow, and with a lot of the misinformation we didn’t run with back in the day, when we needed confirming sources and getting 2-3 people of authority on the record, and I took Sofia to her indoor softball practice not knowing for sure who else was on the private helicopter and how many people were on board.
Reports ranged from Bryant and daughter, Gianna, to the whole family to another teammate of Gianna and her parent.
We since learned the heartbreaking details, and the identities of all the nine victims beyond Bryant and his daughter.
The fact that Gianna was 13 (the age Sofia will be in two months, almost to the day) is enough to give me chills. Sports icon or not, I try not to think about what must have been going through Kobe’s mind knowing he couldn’t protect his daughter as the crash happened.
It was also personal on other levels.
Like an old song on the radio, the tragedy brought back a flood of memories.
Weaned on the Philadelphia Big 5, I remember his dad — Joe “Jelly Bean” Bryant — starring for La Salle before playing for the hometown 76ers (and later the then-San Diego Clippers) before moving on Europe (Kobe was born in Italy).
Back when I was a sports writer (1988-2001, with some comebacks after), the Bryant family had moved back to the area.
By the time Bryant was in high school, you only needed to say “Kobe” to know who was being spoken about. He starred at nearby Lower Merion High School, and was the area’s greatest scholastic player – in an area of many great ones – since the days of Wilt Chamberlain.
I saw him play in the Donofrio tournament at the Fellowship House of Conshohocken, at Norristown High, on his home court at Lower Merion and on the same hallowed Palestra hardwood where I saw his father.
Later on, as fate would have it, I had the opportunity to cover the NBA when Bryant was cutting his teeth with the same Los Angeles Lakers team that he stayed with his entire Hall of Fame career after coming straight to the NBA out of Lower Merion and being drafted 13th overall by Charlotte and traded to Los Angeles for Vlade Divac (after he made it clear he didn’t want to play in Charlotte).
Through this relatively short time interval, I rarely found myself alone – or even in a small group – of reporters around Bryant (including at The Fellowship House).
I know I asked a pre-game question, when he was playing for the Lakers, but I’d be lying if I said I remember what it was (it was possibly about getting booed in his hometown, but don’t quote me).
I just remember that patented smile of his as he looked back over his shoulder and answered.
For now, as the shock waves subside and morph into the dirty laundry of impeachment hearings, it will have to be enough.
This column ran in The Times Herald on January 29, 2020.