Jay Meehan: Rumble in the Jungle
The Teletype at KPRQ-AM down in Salt Lake clattered all month-long that 45-year-ago August. Rumor and innuendo burst through doors of perception with the flair and explosiveness of one of those Ralph Steadman psychedelic Rorschach illustrations that tagged along to the gonzo beat of Hunter S. Thompson in those days.
For many bohemians roaming Park City’s subculture, one moment would stand out, however. Aug. 9, 1974, resonates down through time as few others. It was the day Nixon took his trembling jowls and rode out of Dodge.
At around 4:00 p.m., an actual impromptu dance party unfolded inside the Post Office. And that was just in response to the rumor that the President had asked for time on all the major networks that evening.
A quite-small conga line, featuring the chant “Bye Bye Dickey, Bye Bye” weaved its way through traffic to the Alamo Saloon. Being melodically challenged, I lip synced.
As I had parked out front of that auspicious watering-hole and, having just arrived into Park City from my daily labors down in the valley, I was forced to call the wife at home up on Sand Ridge a few hours later to inform her that assistance would indeed be needed to return said vehicle to its normal angle of repose on the driveway.
I can see Virg now, coaching and urging Smokey on their roundabout trek down to Main Street. He didn’t need no stinkin’ stroller. Lucky for me, her friends at the “Mo” wouldn’t let her leave without a few attitude enhancers.
To put the timeframe context in-line literary-wise, bookending that August would be Thomas Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow,” John LeCarre’s “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” Peter Benchley’s “Jaws,” Bernstein and Woodward’s “All the President’s Men,” and Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s “The Gulag Archipelago.”
Monumental events, to be sure! However, for those of us toiling near the bottom of the AM-Radio food chain, our apogee, at least by our cultural perspective, would blow them all out of the water.
Sometime during mid-summer of that year, in an assortment of, if not smoky back rooms, at least Formica-rich haunts, Dick Sadler, the then current owner of KPRQ-AM and on-again/off-again manager of the then Heavyweight Boxing Champion George Foreman, put together a huge boxing-icon fundraiser to aid Bangladesh.
I mean, if you were to put together a fundraiser to aid the flood and famine-ravaged starving and homeless in Bangladesh during the mid-‘70s, wouldn’t Salt Lake City be your obvious venue of choice.
Although we Disc Jockeys were dressed in matching double-knit cowpoke blazers and over-the-boot slacks, I couldn’t shake the feeling that we more closely resembled a Spade Cooley Big Band look-alike contest. Especially once they opened the bar. If I’m not mistaken, I think we even got a request for “Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette.”
I mean, here were Joe Louis, Jersey Joe Walcott, Rocky Graziano, Sugar Ray Robinson, Archie Moore, Carmen Basilio, Gene Fullmer, Kid Galivan, Emile Griffith, Sandy Sadler, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, and Emcee Bob Hope, legends all, trying to keep a straight face as, throughout the evening they came upon us either as a solo act or an ensemble.
No doubt about it, the fact that “The Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire featuring a Heavyweight Title matchup between Foreman and Ali being only a month off added flavor and zest to the evenings events. Ali, of course, would rope-a-dope him into the land of wobbly by round eight.
For us DJs, we were allowed to select our favorite fighter participating in the sparring matches and be in their corner for the three-round exhibitions. Lucky for me, the fact that Utah was filled to the brim with anti-draft protester mindsets made Muhammad a wide-open pick. Although I “had served,” I was “in his corner,” as it were.
So, when it became time for Muhammad and his entourage to enter the ring, there I stood, one Tony Lama on the lower rope while pulling-up on the other two. And, of course, I didn’t blow my opportunity to look directly into his glaring eyes and inform him in a voice loud enough for him to hear: “You Are My Champ!”
Angelo Dundee had presumably heard it all before so he went about his business preparing his fighter’s corner. But Drew “Bundini” Brown, after dancing through the ropes, walked over to give me a thumbs-up and one of his impish grins. I fought the rising ecstasy! I was in heaven.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social and political scenes for more than 40 years.
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