Milwaukee lost one of its most fortunate sons this week, Lightning of Milwaukee's--well, "America's"--Singing Sweethearts, Lightning and Thunder (check out this website, it's a fussy, antiquated delight. Like divnity fudge).
Lightning was a singer who entertained countless thousands of Wisconsin State Fair munchers and, back in The Day, hundreds of hipster (for Milwaukee) types like myself who'd heard about their jaw-droppingly cheesy and footstomping sets at Alioto's on Jackson downtown. Lightning, in fact, married his partner, Thunder, in a widely-recounted and fondly-remembered ceremony during a set break in front of their fans at the 1994 State Fair. I think I knew someone who knew someone who was there. Hell, everybody did.
Thunder sings the best of Patsy Cline with a sweet, clear treble, and expanded her repetoire to ABBA and some Blondie as more and more chain-smoking, Leinie's-chugging kids showed up to their Saturday (or was it Friday?) Alioto's gigs.
But it was Lightning, short and sequined, voice graveled just so by Pall Malls or Newports (I may be taking bloggers license because my memory is shoddy, but--someone back me up, dude smoked, didn't he?), inhabiting Neil Diamond and his sonorous repetoire so thoroughly that you'd be on your feet, jumping in the air, spilling your vodka-cranberry and shouting TODAY! TODAY! Toooooo-DAAAAAAAAAY! when he'd end the set with "America," stomping his Beatle boots on top of Alioto's formica bar. Lightning always had an endless supply of Bartz's Party Store costume scarves to hand out to all the pretty girls and drunk guys (cause Robert has at least one).
Oh sure, they opened for Urge Overkill at the Metro (which we called "Cabaret Metro" back then) in 1993--and, hey, simmer down, that's no small feat since that was the peak of Saturation's saturation, that "UO" rising like a nefarious spaceship not only over a perfunctory skyline on the album cover, but everywhere--and sang "Forever In Bluejeans" with Eddie Vedder at the Marcus Ampitheatre Pearl Jam show in '95, and--this just in--played to the real hipster kids at Danny's in Bucktown in Chicago. And the Sun-Times paid tribute to the man known on his South-side Milwaukee streets and his Vietnam vet buddies as Mike Sardina. But Lightning and Thunder were, way back then, and, because I felt such a surprising gasp and gloom at the news of Lightning's passing to that great America in the sky, always, ours.
God, next thing you know, the Pepperoni/Cannoli Guy's gonna go.