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Man Of The Century

Now That The 20th Century Is Really Ending, It's Time To Mop Up.

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Remember last year at this time? People were scurrying around stockpiling six-month supplies of water. Promoters were canceling over-priced New Year's Eve concerts because of slow ticket sales. Late-night talk-radio god Art Bell was scaring all of the insomniac alien abductees with dire predictions of Y2Kaos. And every media outlet in the world was presenting lists of the biggest people, events and record albums of the decade/century/millennium.

We here at the Weekly were way too smart for that. We knew that it wasn't the end of the decade/century/ millennium. This year is. We didn't promote any concerts and we had all of our alien abductees on staff de-programmed well in advance.

My personal favorite last year was A&E's "Top 100 People of the Millennium." I guessed that Isaac Newton would be No. 1, but he finished second to Johann Gutenberg, who, upon reflection, was probably a better choice.

But I remember being bummed that people smart enough to be associated with the History Channel wouldn't wait until the real end of the millennium before making their picks. I mean, what if somebody really important emerged in 2000? What if Jesus Christ also misread the calendar and came back in 2000? Or Tupac Shakur? That certainly would've left egg on the faces of the people at the network. But they got lucky and nobody really significant popped up this year, so their list remains intact.

Having been burned by all the hoopla last year, people are even less willing to hear the word "millennium" this year, even though it's actually appropriate now. That's why, when I pitched my big Millennium Cover Story idea, it went over like a grenade in a birthday cake. I then pitched Century Cover Story and Decade Cover Story, but they, too, got the hombro helado (That's "cold shoulder" for all you people who voted for Prop 203) from El Jefe Grande. So I had to cut down the list of all the things I'd been saving for years to make what's left of this column.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE CENTURY: Halley's Comet (the second time). Do you realize how many Baby Boomer kids learned about the comet in school back in the '50s and '60s and couldn't wait for 1986 to roll around, only to find that this particular event wouldn't be nearly as spectacular as previous ones had been? I wanted to see this bad-ass comet, one you could read by at night, the monster light that marked the birth (in 1835) and death (in 1910) of Mark Twain. Instead we needed telescopes to even see the puny sucker. I'm so mad I'm almost tempted to stay alive until 2061 so I can see it next time.

(In this category my friend Stew placed the comet second behind his having to sit through all of the movie Striptease just in order to catch a two-second glimpse of Demi Moore's obviously fake breasts.)

MOST IMPORTANT RECORD ALBUM OF ALL TIME: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles. Never before or since has anything so clearly demonstrated the destructive power of drugs. Before this album came out, The Beatles had been a fairly competent cover band, cranking out remakes of American R&B tunes and a few innocuous ballads of their own. But then they discovered drugs and this happened! All of a sudden, it's "Lovely Rita, Meter Maid" and singing about how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall. It's like they humiliated themselves in public just to save others from going down that destructive path.

Oh sure, some listeners actually liked that piece of crap, but they were probably on drugs already. A few other small-minded sheep may have even been inspired to try drugs after hearing it. But think how many people were warned away from the mind-consuming substances after hearing what drugs had done to a group that had once been able to do a really cool version of the Isley Brothers' "Twist and Shout."

Another spillover effect was that Sgt. Pepper's ended any speculation that The Beatles could actually hang with the Rolling Stones. While The Beatles were embarrassing themselves with "I Am the Walrus" and "Mr. Kite," the Stones were cranking out "Honky-Tonk Women" and "Brown Sugar." Game, set and match.

MOST IMPORTANT AMERICANS OF THE 20th CENTURY: Without a doubt, Philo T. Farnsworth and Vladimir K. Zworykin. While it was obviously more of a collaborative effort than with most inventions, Farnsworth and Zworykin were most responsible for the development of the television, which is clearly the biggest invention of the century.

Farnsworth was a 16-year-old high-school student in Utah when he invented the image dissection tube in 1923. The Russian-born American physicist Zworykin invented the iconoscope that same year. I've always been amazed that people know who invented the cotton gin and the telegraph, but not the television.

CELEBRITY OF THE CENTURY: Madonna. No other celebrity in history has made more money or lasted so long in the spotlight with absolutely no discernible talent whatsoever. She is a shining beacon for all of the Christina Aguileras and Patsy Ramseys of the world. She will also be credited with the post-feminist ideal of SWAP--Slutty With A Purpose.

Recently she wanted to get married near Princess Diana's gravesite, but first they had the televised (damn you, Farnsworth and Zworykin!) christening of her second bastard child. This is what passes for fame these days.

Finally, I'm reminded of the story of the college professor who tells his class that the sun will burn out in a billion years or so. One excited student shouts, "What?!" After the professor repeats himself, the student says, "Whew! I thought you said a million years."

Enjoy the Millennium. It's the only one you've got.

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