As much as we dislike Tom Cruise, we really love to loathe the so-called "sultan of smut" and all-around arrogant local blowhard David Hans Schmidt. So much so that when word reached us about how the Scientologist screwball and actor played a part in getting Schmidt thrown in the federal lockup on charges of alleged attempted extortion, our revulsion toward Mr. Top Gun diminished, if only temporarily.

As the story goes, Schmidt was busted by FBI agents in July after Cruise claimed the former Valley PR flack offered to not publish a series of stolen wedding photographs from TomKat's 2006 marriage in exchange for more than $1 million. The actor called in the G-men. This isn't the first time that Schmidt, who's built a career out of peddling celebrity sex tapes and helping fame whores like Tonya Harding get naked in skin rags like Playboy, has approached celebrities and offered to disappear some embarrassing material. Nor is it the first time he's seen the inside of a jail cell, as Schmidt did several stints in state and Maricopa County lockups for (among other charges) aggravated harassment of an ex-girlfriend over their children. This just in: In August, Schmidt entered in to a plea agreement, and now faces two years in the pen and a $250,000 fine. Let's just hope that this time, we won't be hearing about him for a long, long time.

Just when we thought ol' Joe Arpaio couldn't get any fruitier, the Maricopa County Sheriff came up with something that out-cheesed even the legendary pink underwear he forces inmates to wear in Tent City: an "Inmate Idle" competition in which non-violent offenders would sing bad karaoke in hopes of winning, uh, nothing. Media instantly went ga-ga for the gag. Maybe the puns were just too irresistible — "What a con-test!" quipped TMZ.com. What a con, indeed! Here's how it worked: Sheriff Joke started by launching K-Joe radio in Tent City, which would broadcast "wholesome" music for inmates ("Rhinestone Cowboy," anyone?). Then, he launched the competition and aired preliminary rounds on the station, so other inmates could vote for their favorites. But Joe still needed judges, so he enlisted his publicist (natch), Lisa Allen, and Bret Kaiser, formerly of cheesy, bad '80s metal band Madame X. For the big finale, he got resident rock legend Alice Cooper to serve as the judge. It was all so gratuitously hyped that even our sister publication, LA Weekly, got lured into a masturbatory, seven-page cover story on the debacle. In case you're curious, an inmate named Corey Brothers won the final competition with a rendition of The Temptations' "My Girl." Joe gave him a vanilla cake. Really.

BEST UNLIKELY CHAMPION OF THE FIRST AMENDMENT

Heart Attack Grill

Heart Attack Grill
Heroes come from the strangest places. For instance, about a year ago, when Valley restaurateur Jon Basso opened the doors of the Heart Attack Grill — where sexy young waitresses dressed as naughty nurses serve up über-greasy burgers like the "Triple Bypass" and "Quadruple Bypass" — the eatery entrepreneur never thought he'd wind up battling the government and becoming the poster boy for the First Amendment. But that's just what happened last fall when the Arizona State Board of Nursing and the Maryland-based Center for Nursing Advocacy took umbrage with the joint's usage of medical costumes and its flaunting the sexy nurse stereotype. The Arizona attorney general's office even got involved, sending out threatening letters to Basso indicating he was in possible violation of state laws designed to keep quacks and con artists from passing themselves off as legitimate health care professionals since his servers were using the title of "nurse."

It was a laughable attempt at a legal smackdown, since no one in their right mind thought they were going to the Heart Attack Grill for medical attention (other than clogging their arteries). The brouhaha got worldwide media coverage — including appearances on Fox News, 20/20, Geraldo Rivera, and German and Japanese television — where Basso made like Hustler founder Larry Flynt and maintained the issue was one of free expression (albeit a rather salacious one) versus a misuse of power by the government. Eventually, the state backed off and Heart Attack Grill was free to keep slinging greasy beef and sexual innuendo at its new location in east Phoenix (the Chandler location closed in June). While we're not particular fans of Basso's burgers (they're really quite so-so), we dig the fact the dude's willing to stand up for free speech.

When writing about public-information officers, we're often reminded of the late baseball pitcher Lefty Grove, who won 300 games in his career despite throwing only about as hard as an average high-schooler. Someone once asked Lefty how in the world he'd been so successful when he threw so slowly.

"I guess I just try to keep their eye off the ball," he replied.

That's pretty much how most PIOs around these parts do their jobs — spinning, delaying, dancing, weaving, and keeping the likes of us at bay for as long as legally possible (and even after that, in certain, well-documented instances). Lord knows, we are loath to say anything too nice about a PIO, but if it's right, we write. Cari Gerchick works for the Supremes (no, not Diana Ross and company, those other big shots in the black robes).

An attorney herself (ASU College of Law, class of 2000), Gerchick is helpful to the max about the status of cases, where those cases may fit into the big scheme of things, and most attentive to our ever-impending deadlines. She's also super-friendly, and not in that phony way we reporters know too well. Gerchick has a terrific memory for detail, and consistently remembers to pass along the update she promised six months earlier. We like that!

We can't stop watching Patti Kirkpatrick. We've tried switching. We tried Kent on 5 and Lin Sue on 12. Couldn't make it to the first commercial. We even tried Fox 10 News, but Troy Hayden is just a Patti Pretender. We want our Patti, and thanks to Channel 3's groovalicious variety-hour news format, we can have her for two whole hours every day. We love the stylish way Patti plays ringmistress, tossing out story after story to an endless parade of sexy bimbettes stationed to cover what's happening out in the world, or to Mike Watkiss, one of the few remaining old-school newsmen in town. And we especially love how Patti subtly telegraphs to her viewers that she thinks some of her stories are horseshit, which you'd never find Linda Williams doing at 5 p.m. Channel 3's tagline may be "The Place With More News," but we've permanently set our TiVo to KTVK because, for us, it's "The Place With More Patti."
A few years ago, the only place you could peep the screwball Far Side-style sarcasm of Tony Carrillo's comic F Minus was in the pages of ASU's student newspaper, The State Press, where the Tempe ink-slinger churned out single-panel strips filled with twisted visual puns and perversely ironic situations. (Two of our favorites back in the day featured a Golfland-like water park displaying the sign "Today's Urine Level: Moderate," and a blind woman telling her equally impaired boyfriend, "Listen Bill, I don't think we should hear each other anymore.")

These days, however, Carillo's scribblings are eyeballed by a much larger audience, to the tune of several million readers daily, as F Minus is syndicated to 125 newspapers across the country. Carrillo got his big break in 2004 when the strip won a contest sponsored by MTVu (a subsidiary of the music video giant aimed at college campuses) and nabbed a six-month developmental deal with United Features Syndicate, which eventually became a full-fledged gig in the funny papers.

Move over, Bil Keane, there's a new circus in town.

The Rhythm Room
For some local concert promoters, creating a flier for an upcoming gig is a quick and dirty operation, usually consisting of an hour in Photoshop followed by 90 minutes at Kinko's running off copies. Not so with the folks at the Rhythm Room.

The cats at Bob Corritore's jazz and blues joint turn out some quality posters plugging their upcoming gigs. These promotional placards are so eye-catching, you'll wanna hang them on your wall after the show. For instance, the poster for a Robert Johnson Memorial Jam last November features a pulchritudinous portrait of the legendary bluesman strumming a guitar while taking a drag on a smoke. Another great one has rocker Ian Moore striking a soulful pose, while an ad for sultry singer Candye Kane uses an amusing caricature of the beyond-buxom blues artist in white-trash wear.

Then there's our favorite poster — created for Corritore's 50th Birthday Gala — where the studly Rhythm Room owner is decked out like Hugh Hefner, sporting some honeys in Playboy Bunny outfits under each arm. Some guys have all the luck.

Weddle's acoustic cover of Outkast's "Hey Ya!" was one of the most widely viewed YouTube clips in not just Arizona, but the world.

The video — which splices clips from Outkast's video with footage of Weddle performing the song — has been viewed more than a million times by people all over the world, including as far away as Australia and Japan.

It gained enough attention that local radio station The Edge 103.9 started playing the song and booking the band to play its shows, including the station's annual Edgefest. This led to a slew of high-profile shows for Obadiah Parker, like opening slots for the Gin Blossoms and Lifehouse, as well as an upcoming December gig alongside alt-rock pioneers the Violent Femmes. Google the words "Obadiah Parker 'Hey Ya!'" and you'll get more than 23,000 hits, most of them from Web pages in which someone's singing the clip's praises.

But perhaps the biggest impact of the YouTube clip has manifested itself in the form of radio crossover — Obadiah Parker's version of "Hey Ya!" was the most-requested song at Chicago radio station Q101 during the month of February, and they were a featured band on Tucson's KMFA 92.1 and Phoenix's Free FM 101.5.

Thanks to that YouTube clip, the band's even popped up on radar-wrangler Web site www.last.fm.

For a street graffiti artist, anonymity is of paramount importance. One might assume that to stay incognito, the visual vigilantes would avoid exposing Web sites like MySpace. Not so for Phoenix's Disposable Hero. The dude's art is everywhere and you've likely seen his anime-inspired panda posters, since they're stuck to almost every abandoned building in Phoenix and Tempe. This panda-pasting pirate is a marketing master, and embraces the exposure MySpace can provide while keeping us guessing about his true identity. With 7,000 friends from Phoenix to the UK, the page provides the perfect springboard for poking around to find local young artists and musicians and is great for sneaking peeks at the street art scene of other cities. That is, if you can gain access. The profile is so popular that the artist had to reset the profile view counter a couple of times and then go private to cut down on the hordes of friendship requests he received each day. And all this without even knowing who the guy is.
Big-time Valley concert promoters Live Nation and Lucky Man Productions boast dozens of employees, boffo budgets, multimillion-dollar venues, and connections to a slew of chart-topping acts across the country. So what does the smaller-scale indie-show organizer President Gator Presents have going for it? A one-man promoting powerhouse named Jeremiah Gratza, that's what. The 24-year-old scenester constantly impresses us with his tireless work ethic and sense of style in presenting some of the coolest music events in the PHX. Gratza — who also manages P-Town popsters Peachcake, and Skybox — probably won't be booking such Billboard-busters as Panic! at the Disco or Modest Mouse anytime soon. That ain't how he rolls. The dude specializes in landing more intimate gigs for up-and-coming alt-press darlings like E for Explosion, Steel Train, or Lola Ray before they get big enough to play the Marquee Theatre. (He's backed the right horses, as previous bookees like Chidos, Riverboat Gamblers, and The Polysics have gone on to greater fame). Since his shoestring income as a waiter doesn't afford full-page ads, Gratza commissions local artists to create gorgeous posters and fliers, which he pastes up around town. Basically, we wanna say grazie, Gratza, you make the Phoenix music scene that much cooler.

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