Off Limits

Life at Colorado Free University, a local institution that offers hundreds of classes in everything from Spanish to painting to flirting each month, isn't quite as free and easy these days. The problem started with CFU's September course catalogue, which features a ninja wearing a hood and sword. To those familiar with the school, the image clearly promotes one of CFU's typically wacky offerings, in this case "Samurai swordsmanship."

But to the casual observer -- not that anything's been casual since September 11 -- the cover shot could look like a terrorist. Or an Arab. Something worth complaining about, anyway.

"The picture depicts an Arab with a sword, and the caption says 'Get Into the Action,'" said one of the more coherent people who called CFU to complain. "I think you might want to consider withdrawing these out of all the stores...It would be a very considerate thing to do."

"When I first saw the piece on the newsstand," another person e-mailed, "I thought it was a terrorist publication."

"I'm going to protest your college until you don't have no more college students going to your college," threatened one Burt Buford, who identified himself as an ex-Navy Seal, ex-state trooper and very strong Christian. "I'm going to make sure y'all change the front cover of your book all the way across the country. Have you ever heard of the Bible? And putting things on there where people don't kill people?"

By the time he was done wading through the messages, CFU president John Hand was about ready to fall on his samurai sword. "All these people are talking about being theoretically offended. I want to ask, 'Why don't you be offended for yourself?'" he says.

"In the general scheme of things," he adds, "it's hard to moan and whine." But it's easy to feel more than a little picked on, particularly since the cover image was chosen months ago, featured an Asian, and was intended to play off of the popularity of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon -- not to endorse terrorism. And, in fact, the swordsmanship class, taught by stuntmen, proved quite popular with students. But the catalogue itself quickly became a public-relations disaster. "It shows you how the world changes, turns on a dime," Hand says.

In addition to fielding complaint calls, Hand has been tracking down rumors that some of CFU's 700 distribution points might have tossed the catalogue without even bothering to contact the school. One local supermarket, for example, threw out a stack after a single customer complained about the cover. "It's almost like burning a book," Hand says.

The school, which caters to about 30,000 students interested in lifelong learning and practical skills, learned a valuable lesson of its own -- the hard way. Hand has hurried up production of the October catalogue and hopes to have it on the streets next Friday. The cover image? An acrylic painting of lilies, he promises, "in nice fall tones."

Penalty -- holding: Over two weeks after Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? kicked off its sports superstars edition tied to the season premiere of Monday Night Football, John Elway hasn't gotten off the bench. By midnight this past Monday, when the installment shown after this week's game finally ended (after the debut episode, the rest of the superstar series, along with all prime-time programming, was pushed back by the events of September 11), the former Broncos quarterback was still sitting on the sidelines, alongside basketball (but not mental) giant Charles Barkley.

Will Elway, a Stanford grad, ever gain enough speed to pass the "Fastest Finger" test and make it to the hot seat? Although early promos for the series showed Elway chatting it up with Regis Philbin, the final answer isn't in.

A bitter pill: George Clinton of P-Funk once referred to Earth, Wind and Fire as "Earth, hot air and no fire." But that was before the group, which includes Denver native Philip Bailey, got a boost for its thirtieth-anniversary tour.

Which is sponsored by Viagra.

The Earth, Wind and Fire Web site concedes that it's hard to know "whether some of the guys are in need" of the potency-boosting pill. Still, the funky fit could be perfect: Red-hot back in 1981, when the Earth, Wind and Firemen had the foresight to name their album Raise, the soulful singers' sax appeal soon waned, and ultimately the group was jilted by its record label after sales went limp.

The group started its comeback a few years ago after the creation of the Jammin' Oldies -- a radio format that worked on EW&F's career much like Viagra is supposed to work on male genitalia. As Clinton (both the ex-prez and George) would agree, you can't stop the funk -- and the band rose to the occasion at Red Rocks Monday night, performing such Viagra-endorsing tunes as "Can't Hide Love" and "Miracles."

Much of the rest of the band's repertoire could use some updating. While "Here Today and Gone Tomorrow" and "You Went Away" accurately capture the group's rise and fall, other songs could easily take note of its rise and fall and rise. Imagine "Mighty, Mighty" amended to "Mighty, Mighty (Quick, Grab the Sexy Nighty)," or "After the Love Has Gone" updated as "After the Love Has Gone -- It Can Come Back, Jack!"

Although the Viagra sponsorship has been billed as groundbreaking, the marriage of pharmaceuticals and music makes perfect sense from a promotional standpoint. After all, illegal drugs have been rock-and-roll's unofficial sponsor since Chuck Berry first started duck-walking. And the drug industry's commercials are increasingly difficult to distinguish from music videos: Sure, you may have asthma, allergies, irritable bowels or an overactive bladder, but a prescription to Alluvial will ensure that you never stop dancin' your way through it all!

No doubt the success of Earth, Wind and Fire's pill-pushing outing will be a prescription for other artist/drug company pairings. Consider, for example, 'N Sync sponsored by Ritalin (to be sure the kiddies stay alert and attentive through the entire show). Or Mariah Carey sponsored by Prozac (to keep the blues away while the angst-ridden, flaxen-haired songbird bares her soul -- and her midriff), or Britney Spears sponsored by the Ortho Tri-Cyclen birth-control pill (just in case the joy of cola isn't the only thing Spears's fans are inspired to experience -- plus, it keeps your skin looking great!).

And about the time Earth, Wind and Fire finally turns to ashes, another band should be ready for a boost. How about: "Viagra can turn your Limp Bizkit into a Sex Pistol"?


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