Wednesday, September 07, 2011

A new home

That's right folks - I'm pulling up stakes and relocating to Wordpress.  All the posts here have been moved to the new Wordpress blog.  All further updates will be there.  This blog will remain open indefinitely but all operations will cease and you need but follow this link to continue to follow along.

http://dancpharmd.wordpress.com

Hope to see everyone there.  Now that Blogger has made itself look more like Wordpress, the time just seems right.  Plus I'm no longer a stats whore and am not nearly as annoyed by the fact that Wordpress won't let me put a third-party counter in.

See you at Wordpress.

Monday, August 29, 2011

An impressive instant - ten years on

Ten years ago tonight, at the time I'm writing this very blog post, I had my first audience with The Queen, otherwise known as her Madgesty, Madonna. August 29th, 2001 was the night I attended the Drowned World Tour at the United Center in Chicago. I went with my good friend and accomplice in all things Madonna related, Jeff. Heidi went along too, but she didn't go to the concert. At the time, she was almost 7 months pregnant and, on the advice of our doctor, she sat the concert out.

I remember it like it was yesterday. We started calling in to Ticketmaster (who the hell does that anymore?) about 30 minutes prior to the on sale time. You hoped and prayed that you remained on hold until after the tickets went on sale, but not too long so that you didn't miss your shot at good seats. Heidi was on our cell phone, I was on our landline, and Jeff, living in Williamsburg at the time was on his phone. We all were trying to get tickets and the instant that someone got through, the others were to stop trying. The fact that I was the one that ultimately got through to Ticketmaster (after having connected 5 freaking minutes before the on sale time...back to the queue for me) was fortunate because I'm not sure how Jeff, who lived alone at the time, would have been able to call us and stay on the phone with Ticketmaster. In any event, I got through and amazingly, I got tickets.

We got seats in section 332. I don't remember the row number, but here's a map of the arena, which I amazingly and not surprisingly still have saved on my computer. Here it is.

Check out the prices of those seats! I remember blanching at the thought of spending $85 for a concert ticket and could not even fathom spending $250 even if I could have gotten one of those rock-star floor seats. Clearly, I didn't remember that 5 years later when I spent $265 for my Confessions Tour ticket in Las Vegas.

I took a couple days off work and we drove to Chicago. Since Heidi wasn't going to the concert, she got to pick the hotel. She chose the downtown Marriott. It ended up being okay because it was a pretty quick cab ride from there to the United Center. I had been regaled with stories of what a terrible part of town the United Center is in (it is kind of a scary part of town, as I was reminded in 2009 when we saw Sticky & Sweet there) The show had been broadcast on HBO the a couple of nights before and Jeff had taped it but not watched it. I was on total tour blackout - I knew next to nothing about it, not even the opening number. It was fairly easy in those days to avoid tour spoilers. Nowadays, I've totally given up and do just about everything but watch crappy fan shot video of tour and download audience recordings before seeing the show myself. Anyway, Jeff had brought the VHS tape of the tour with him and the idea was that Heidi would watch the show while we were at it. Only problem was the room didn't have a VCR. We walked all over downtown Chicago trying to rent a VCR, only to end up in a slightly frightening part of town, at which point we gave up. I don't think Heidi cared enough for us to have gone to all that effort, but she was a good sport, especially as she walked around downtown Chicago on a hot late summer day, pregnant and uncomfortable.

We hit Pizzeria Uno prior to the concert. I found these pictures which really blew my mind when I saw them. We were babies!!

Me, squinting into the sun or something with apparently rimless glasses.

Heidi is the only one drinking pop.

Jeff doing what he does best - being Jeff.

Heidi rode with us in the cab down to the show and dropped us off, then headed back to the hotel. We found our seats and, as I'm so fond of saying when I tell this story, there was nothing above us but ceiling. Seriously, we were as far away as you can get from the stage without being behind it. No matter though, we were in the arena!! We sat next to a nice couple from Chicago that were not real huge Madonna fans but the fact that she hadn't toured in so long drew them both in. They hadn't purchased the last couple albums but knew enough that they thought they'd enjoy it.

I bet they left wishing they'd have purchased those albums. The Drowned World Tour was many things. A hit parade it was not. There were only two bona-fide 80s hits performed on that tour - "Holiday" and "La Isla Bonita." The rest were primarily tracks from Ray of Light and Music. And many MANY album tracks at that. This was not a show for the casual fan, at least from a song selection standpoint. Sure we got some great recent hits - notably "Frozen," "Ray of Light," and, to my great delight, "Secret." But we also got the self-indulgent Madonna track "Mer Girl" not once but twice and the autotune mess of "Nobody's Perfect." She was also a bit cold with the audience, as if she was annoyed to be performing. None of that bothered us at the time because we were finally at a Madonna concert!

The crowd really came to live when the familiar keyboards of "Holiday" started. It's still my favorite performance of this old warhorse of a song. I love Donna's introduction - "you know they try to imitate her but they just can't duplicate her!" And the "I say pimp! You say ho! Pimp! Ho! Pimp! Ho!"



In the end, it was a good thing that Heidi didn't come with us. When we left the show, there wasn't a taxi to be found so we really had no way back to the hotel. So no problem, we called her at the hotel and she came down to the United Center in a cab to pick us up. This is notable because the cabbie, upon hearing that her husband was at a Madonna concert with his male friend, was apparently convinced that I had to work through my unacknowledged homosexuality, since obviously that's the only reason I would go to a Madonna concert with another guy. Whatever. We all got a good laugh out of it and it was just another in a long list of hilarious things that have happened on trips to see Madonna. That said, the gay guy contingent at every Madonna concert is, as you might expect, very heavy but not nearly as heavy as at the Kylie show. That show took the gay cake.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention our little trip to the Museum of Science & Industry the next day, where we re-enacted scenes from Superman II.

Heidi as Ursa and Jeff as the hapless astronaut. "I tore it like paper!"

Me doing my best General Zod.

We've seen Madonna three other times since - The Re-Invention Tour which found us jetting to Washington D.C., The Confessions Tour for which we traveled to Las Vegas and back in less than 24 hours (never again.) For the Sticky & Sweet Tour, we were back at the United Center in much better seats. We waved at the people in our Drowned World seats which were probably twice the price by the time Sticky & Sweet rolled around. And you can bet I'll be there with bells on again. Her live shows are never disappointing. Like pizza and sex, even when they're not so great, they're still better than most things.

And to the 10 years that have passed, why in the hell have you gone so damn quickly?

Monday, August 22, 2011

State Fair Janet

Let's get this much out of the way - there was no wardrobe malfunction.

Really, there were no malfunctions of any sort at the Janet Jackson concert last night. Even though I was there, I'm still kind of incredulous that she played the Iowa State Fair, but hey, who am I to complain. I got to scratch another name off my must-see-live bucket list and got to be in the company of some of my nearest and dearest friends. I also got to participate in the unique experience of the Iowa State Fair (unique, even though it's pretty much the same thing year after year) in a very small dose, which is about all I can handle of it. We ate all the crappy fair food, including red velvet funnel cake, breaded green peppers, polish sausage with everything on it and, of course, corn dogs. We even snapped a couple pictures of us going all Michelle Bachmann on the corn dogs, but those will never see the light of day on any social media EVER. We did, however, pass on the fried butter. Just thinking about it makes me want to hurl.

In all honesty, for as much mileage as I have gotten out of "Janet Jackson's playing the State Fair? How the mighty have fallen!" over the last few months, I was very glad to see her in a setting like this. The Grandstand has about a 10,000 seat capacity and I'd say that a good chunk of those were filled last night, although the show was not sold out. The older I get, the less I like spending tons of cash on arena shows where the performer is so far away from me you can barely make them out. And stadium shows? Forget it. Obviously, Madonna is a huge exception to this blanket statement. The day she plays the state fair will probably be the day I fall over dead.

We had pretty decent seats, although there was a pole next to us. Still, I think most everyone had a pretty decent view of the stage.

Another goddamn unnecessary apostrophe!

Despite the proclamations on Twitter of the local Top 40 radio station saying she would start promptly at 8pm, she didn't actually take the stage until around 8:30. Even with that late start, she was still earlier than Madonna ever is. This, of course, did not stop my friend Jeff and me from making a joke about how Janet had to quick run to the local Walgreens that we could see from our seats. That joke has its origins in a 1991 Whitney Houston concert that he and I attended in which we said "Whitney had to quick run to Target to get some Lee Press Ons."

Jeff (right) and me giving Janet some pre-show tips.

As for the concert itself? Well, it was a bit of a mixed bag for me. Overall, I really enjoyed it. Janet looks good and she's one of those people that's been off the pop music radar for so long that you really do forget how many bonafide hits she's had. Rhythm Nation alone had something like seven top 10 hits. And even though I didn't care much for it at the time, Janet spun off many hits as well. It wasn't until about 2003-2004 (the time of the infamous Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction) that her hit-making luck seemed to run out. She did not cheat us either on the hits. Pulling songs only from her 2-disc greatest hits record, Number Ones, she played all the fan favorites. Most of these songs were not in their full versions, but rather medleys of hits. On the surface, this might seem like a bad idea or kind of a cheat way of cramming a ton of songs into a concert. However, it really worked well and served as a bit of a sampler of the 25 years of songs she has to choose from. The only real bone I had to pick with the song selection was that there was no "Black Cat" and the shitty "Feedback" was included ("something heavy like my first day period." SERIOUSLY.)

I took about 12 pictures and only about 3 actually came out! This is the best one.

She was in good physical form and, as I said, looked good and had a lot of energy. That said, I couldn't help but notice the presence of a VERY significant backing track during the concert. This isn't surprising in shows like this. But the thing is, the backing track should be there to support the live vocals, not to be the substitute for live vocals. It was hard to pin down whether or not she was singing live of lip syncing in many places, but I would say that at least half the songs were primarily lip synced or the live vocals were drowned out by the backing track. Normally, this would bother me - it bugs me when Madonna does it, but with her, you can usually hear her very live vocals over the backing track. With Janet, she's always had kind of a paper thin voice and I've heard stories of her previous tours being primarily lip synced so I wasn't terribly surprised. Still, I wouldn't have cared if the dancing had been toned down a little bit to provide for a little bit more of a live experience. (For the record, the second part of the show, which featured several of her ballads, was very much performed live. She has some vocal chops, but I just don't think that she can dance and sing well at the same time.)

The show had a fun energy, even though the video interludes threatened to bring the show's forward momentum to a screeching halt. For someone who's been in the touring business for so long, that amateurish move surprised me. And usually those interludes provide a chance for a outfit change. Not this time - Janet never changed her clothes once. If this had been a Cher show and there were no costume changes, as Cher herself has said, drag queens everywhere would think she'd lost the will to live.

She ended with a great version of a song I had forgotten about - "Together Again" which wrapped up with pictures of her and Michael. The song has clearly taken on a new meaning for her and you could tell by her enthusiasm in performing it.

While the show was fun, let me take a minute to talk a bit about the venue. I don't know that I'll go to another Grandstand show. For one, the chance that your view is going to be obscured by a pole is just too high. Also, the seats SUCK. As Heidi mentioned, since it's an outdoor arena, the seats have to be at least a little bit industrial, but they could still be comfortable! All in all, we'd have rather sat on benches.

It's one of the first concerts I've been to that I feel I slightly overpaid for, but still. It was fun to sing along with all those songs that were a huge part of my high school and college soundtrack. I was also glad that Heidi went along with me even though Janet was only sort of her thing. She and I usually don't go to concerts together, and now we've hit two this year.

In the end, I was just glad to finally get the answer to the question posed by Janet. "Who's that eating that nasty food?" Without a doubt, it's State Fair attendees. I'm going to have to do double time at the gym this week.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Cut the cord

So for all my bitching about how I hate yardwork and don't want to do it, I finally relented and between last night and early this afternoon, I got the yard completely mowed. Although I was sweating from every pore when I was done, it is done and now I can get off my case about it. Because here's the thing. I had a real "come to Jesus" moment today when it comes to the yard.

My name is Dan. My backyard looks like holy hell. AND I DON'T CARE.

There, I said it. I remember how owning the story of eating alone in college really helped me feel better about it, like I was finally able to get rid of the shame that was dogging me about it even twenty years later. I thought that perhaps, if I write a little bit here about my relationship with yardwork, something similar might happen.

I say I don't care about how the yard looks, and that's only half true. I do care, but I also don't. I fight a losing battle with it every summer, so much so that I'm sure people are sick of me complaining about it. Yardwork seldom gets done because I am constantly tired or working weird shifts or *insert excuse here*. I have this imaginary, mildly paranoid scenario that plays in my head that involves everyone in the neighborhood saying "dear God, WHEN is he going to mow?" When I do pick a day to do it, invariably, the weather sucks or I feel like crap because I'm in my day-off funk and then it doesn't get done. Again. I'm embarrassed by the overgrowth and don't want to have people over or anything because I hate how the backyard looks and what it says about me (BAD HOMEOWNER). So then I proceed to beat myself up over it and feel bad about it, which only causes me to be in even more of a funk that then makes me less likely to have the energy to go out and do it. It's not unlike the vicious cycle that seems to crop up in a lot of areas of my life over the last nearly 4 decades.

Well, I want to be done with that shit. Yes, the backyard was starting to look like the forest moon of Endor, but there is only so much I can do. In the grand scheme of things, it's much more important that I take care of myself than the yard. When it comes to a choice between those two things, I'm going to stop sacrificing my own mental and physical health for th
e sake of something I honestly don't even care that much about. I think a lot of this has to do with being male. Men are supposed to care about how their yards look. For Christ's sake, I should be out there making diagonal rows and spraying pesticide all over it so that it looks like Teletubby land with nary a weed in sight. A guy that doesn't go out and mow every weekend is someone that maybe you shouldn't trust. Or at least that's what my brain tells me.

I think part of the reason I have so spectacularly burned out this summer is because I haven't been taking very good care of myself, either physically or mentally. Oh sure, I've been going to the gym and that's going pretty well. I've fallen off the wagon
a time or two, but sometimes I swear the point of the wagon is to be there to fall off of. My weight is holding its own and I feel like cardiovascular-wise, I'm in much better shape than I was a few months ago. But I'm not sleeping well. And I'm doubling back at work and working long stretches. All this would be fine if I were taking care of myself, but I'm not. Mentally, I haven't been giving myself the time that I really need to recharge. This is what happens when I don't do that. I end up obsessing about something (the yard) that I really don't give one iota of shit about. I have plans to get to the bottom of this constant fatigue crap, but that's another post altogether.

In the end, I am happy that I got some of the yardwork done today. It does have to be done, but it doesn't have to rule my life. I managed to cut down most of the forest moon of Endor this afternoon (no Ewoks though) and this is what I was left with.


No, it still doesn't look great. The pavement cracks are teeming with life and I missed a few spots in the yard. I would have done more, but as per usual, I managed to slice through my extension cord with the hedge clippers.


The lack of an extension cord meant I couldn't get the weed whip out so nothing else got done. But hey, it's more than I thought I'd get done and now that I've helped (with the help of someone with the initials H and C) free myself from the guilt and shame of the yard, I'm not even that upset that I wasn't able to finish.

(Dad, can you fix my extension cord when you get back from Arizona??)

The cheese-ball is back

Anna started school on Thursday and somehow, the planets aligned and the first day of school coincided with my day off. So not only did I get to see her off to school in the morning, but I also got to spend time being a layabout around the house, in control of the TV for what seems like the first time in forever.

I had seen that Phantasm II had been added to Netflix Streaming recently. I've always enjoyed the original Phantasm, even though it's absolutely nuts and incomprehensible on so many levels. A creepy tall man undertaker that is robbing graves to turn into midgets so that he can send them back as slaves to his planet (or is it another dimension) is just too strange for words. His secret is safe until small town kid catches a glimpse of The Tall Man picking up a casket all by himself. From that point on, it's an at time creepy, other times cheesy thrill ride that works with its obviously small budget. While not as overtly dreamlike as the Nightmare on Elm Street movies, I think that part of the appeal of Phantasm is its mystery - the "what the hell is actually going on here?" quality makes it worth sitting through 90 minutes of pretty bad acting (except for The Tall Man, of course) and very bad late 70s hair.

Fast forward 10 years and Phantasm finally got the sequel that fans were clamoring for. I remember watching parts of this movie on HBO as a teenager - or maybe it was home video, I really can't recall. But at the time I watched it, I had not seen the original film, so I was interested in it from a horror movie fan standpoint, but not so much as a fan of the original movie. So how does it stack up against the original? Well, in many ways it's a bit of a remake of the original movie, only with a bigger budget while also serving as a sequel. It picks up right where the original left off. Some of the original cast is back, but the actor who played Mike in the original was not back. But obviously, Angus Scrimm had to return as The Tall Man. Just as there is no Blondie without Debbie Harry, there is no Phantasm without Angus Scrimm.

I tweeted the title of this post when I was about half way through the movie - the tag line really should have been "the cheese-ball is back." All the excesses of 80s horror cheesiness are on full display. The women all have hair that has been Aqua-Netted within an inch of its life, there are more "gotcha" moments than you can shake a stick at, and the acting, while passable, is still pretty bad. But all is saved by The Tall Man. All Angus Scrimm has to do is walk on the screen and all is forgiven. Naturally, he has the best lines of the film which is saying something because he really doesn't talk that much. My favorite line was when he was holding the Catholic priest up by his inverted crucifix necklace and he says with patented Tall Man menace "You think that when you die you go to Heaven...you come to US!" Apparently Angus Scrimm, who is still alive and kicking, has embraced his role as The Tall Man and appears at horror cons across the country. If I played the Tall Man, I totally would. *sigh* If only Faye Dunaway would embrace her role as Joan Crawfod in the same way.

The spheres are also given an 80s update. They're capable of much worse than they were in 1979. One sphere digs its way through a guy's back, spinal column and up through his internal organs, only to get stuck on its way out his mouth. I had a hard time with this - not because of the gore, but seriously, anything capable of boring through the bones of the spinal column would certainly not get stuck at something like a jaw. But I'm sure that it was so they could show the goriness that resulted from the ball getting stuck, with blades continuing to turn as it shreds more facial flesh.

Even though it was cheesy, I really enjoyed watching it again, and naturally, the end set up for another sequel. Phantasm 3: Lord of the Dead and Phantasm 4: Oblivion are already out there, but sadly, not available on Netflix Streaming (DAMN YOU SALAZAR!) and apparently, there's a fifth one on the way.

Phantasm II is a fun and cheesy 80s take on a classic 70s horror film. It's well worth your hour and 39 minutes. Long live Angus Scrimm! (even though he's assured immortality already.)




Thursday, August 18, 2011

Saying "uncle"

Folks, I'm going to just go ahead and call August a wash. It is kicking my ass. Nothing specific, but just like the way the little expenses add up to one hell of a lot of money, the collective crap has finally broken me.

As I said in a previous post, the fact that I took my summer vacation in May is really starting to hurt. I am taking a 6 day vacation around Labor Day for the price of only two vacation days so there's that to look forward to. But that's September. And right now, September seems so far away.

There's Janet Jackson at the Iowa State Fair to look forward to on Sunday - as well as artery hardening foods that you can only eat once a year (and probably should eat less than once a year, but what the hell?) And I'm officially going to Blondie on Labor Day with my friend Kyl.

Apart from that, I'll be over here waiting for Mercury to turn the hell around and for life to straighten out a little bit. I think that after the summer I've had, I'd deserve a September that's a little bit easier to take.

A report from the Janet concert will be here next week. That is, if I don't have an acute coronary syndrome from fair food.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Happy 53rd, Madgedonna!

Today is Madonna's 53rd birthday. There's something surreal about saying that. It doesn't seem possible that she should be nearly mid-way through her fifties. Alas, she has been entertaining (and periodically aggravating) me for 26 years now so I guess it is possible.

I'm fond of saying that my Madonna fandom has worked its way into my DNA. No matter what she does, I will always be a fan until the day I shuffle off this mortal coil. I also don't have anything particularly profound to say about Madonna this morning as my blog is littered with many many posts about her, her music and her career in general. Everyone, it seems, knows what Madonna should do next and in the age of the internet, that kind of armchair analysis has finally been given a voice.

I honestly don't want to think about the person I would be today without the effect that following her career and being a fan has had on me. I still shock people a little bit when they find out I am such a die hard Madonna fan. It honestly doesn't fit in well with my Midwestern sensibility. But then what Madonna has done with herself definitely involved, if not breaking, at least re-inventing the Midwestern sensibility mold. I may not always love what she's doing, but I will always be a fan and I'll always feel like the 14 year old giddily holding the True Blue album in my hand at Sernett's department store every time she has a new release.

Happy Birthday Madgedonna. May you always create the kind of pop music that I can feel in my bones.

For a more inspired post than this - go here. Fans, you will eat this up with a spoon.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Then Everything Changed

I like and don't like "alternate history." On the one hand, I find it interesting to contemplate what might have happened had certain events happened or not happened. But more often than not, alternate history fiction is handled very clumsily and is usually reduced to "what would happen if someone showed up at the US Civil War with automatic weapons?" THAT kind of alternate history doesn't intrigue me in the slightest and honestly, that's probably more science fiction than anything else. But as is pointed out in Jeff Greenfield's Then Everything Changed, history is made up of series of events that, had things gone just slightly differently, we might be living in a world that is very bears little resemblance to the one we know now.

Or would we?

That's the crux of this book that takes three late 20th century events - an unsuccessful attempt on President-elect John Kennedy's life in 1960, the assassination of Robert Kennedy in 1968 and the 1976 election between Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter - and turns them on their head. In these alternate histories, there is never a President John F. Kennedy, never a President Richard Nixon and never a President Jimmy Carter (or Ronald Reagan for that matter.) The three alternate histories are interesting to me as someone who laps up late 20th century history like a cat at a bowl of milk. Crucial events of the last 50 years play out very differently with just the slightest of change. With LBJ as President, the Cuban Missile Crisis ends dramatically differently. RFK surviving his assassination attempt spares the country the agonies of Watergate - maybe. And when Ford recovers from his debate fumble of "there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration" and wins the 1976 election, the economic troubles attributed to Jimmy Carter are instead, blamed on a failed Republican presidency, opening the doors to a Democratic win in 1980.

These are not spoilers - most of this is detailed in the product description of the book. The book succeeds amazingly with details, names and faces and semi-imaginary quotes. I was riveted and, at times, had to remind myself that I wasn't reading actual history - that's how convincing the writing is. The only fault I could really find was that Greenfield tended to go for the cutesy ha-ha moments a few too many times. For example, in the 1976 election, Ford wins the electoral college and Carter wins the popular vote. This leads freshman Congressman Albert Gore, Jr. to champion a bill stating that the presidency would go to the winner of the popular vote. There's an even better one, but I wouldn't dream of spoiling it and depriving you of the "ugh" moment I had.

I recommend this book wholeheartedly for political junkies and anyone who loves 20th century American history. The last part of the book, which I admittedly skimmed, gives information as to how Greenfield constructed quotes and gives evidence of things that actually happened to support his version of events. A fascinating read.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde

I'm not sure what possessed me to read Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. I remember reading it when I was in high school (not for a class) but I remembered next to nothing about it save the details that everyone already knows. Even then, I found that I knew less about the novella than I thought I did. The story that everyone knows is that Dr. Jekyll IS Mr. Hyde or rather, Mr. Hyde is the nefarious, evil side of the good doctor which is unleashed by a potion that Dr. Jekyll creates in his lab. Under the guise of Mr. Hyde, Jekyll is able to explore his evil side, only to find himself horrified by it.

I was intrigued by the exploration of the dual nature of man - how even an upstanding man of science with all the right friends can have another side that no one sees. This isn't surprising as this kind of thing is right up my Gemini alley. No one does dual nature quite like Geminis although they usually aren't as tortured by it as Jekyll was by his. What was most interesting to me is how Jekyll was fascinated with Hyde but after a fashion, he almost became a prisoner to him. Is this a cautionary tale about indulging in your less respectable side, that the chances of being completely consumed by it are simply too great? Is it true that once that genie is out of the bottle, it's impossible to contain it? I think it's much more subtle than that, although the broad strokes that Stevenson used in Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde make it easy to relate to and enhance the story.

I think it's not uncommon for people to experience the kind of thing that Jekyll was experiencing, to become obsessed with the side of them that doesn't follow the rules, that spits on polite society. I think it's important to have a relationship with that part of yourself, much like it's important to be in touch with all parts of yourself. I don't think that means you have to indulge in debauchery, but it's important to acknowledge and respect the part of you that doesn't want to be hemmed in by what you should do, no matter how much you might ultimately play by the rules.

The story took me about two and a half minutes to read - it was only about 70 pages long, but it was steeped in a lot of the 19th century turns of phrase that can make reading books of this type a challenge for modern audiences. Still, it was an easy read and worth the time. Also, I couldn't help but think of this song while I was reading it.


Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Loneliness is a cloak you wear

As I was doing dishes tonight, I was listening to my iPod and a Cher song I had completely forgotten about played. Taken from what is probably my favorite Cher album, It's A Man's World, "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore" is one of those Cher songs that, when you think about it, is perfect for Cher. Made famous in 1966 by The Walker Brothers, it's a melancholy song that makes great use Cher's lower register. It was used to great effect in The X-Files episode "The Post-Modern Prometheus," an episode in which Cher (as well as Roseanne Barr) was asked to appear, but she declined. Cher later regretted that decision, although probably not as much as she regretted the Lori Davis informercials.

As I said, the song has a melancholy streak a half a mile wide, and it is very autumnal. As my friend Steve said, I am over this summer shit. I want cold bones and moods and rain. This song fits in very well alongside other such autumnal hits of Dan like October Project and Madonna's Erotica album. The first line alone gets me "Loneliness is a cloak you wear/A deep shade of blue is always there." Let's have a listen. This version is clearly not live, which is a shame because Cher really can sing live.



Not one to forget where her bread is buttered, Cher also commissioned a couple of dance remixes for the clubs. I have a few remixes of this song in my iTunes library, but I don't know that any of them are official remixes. They are a bit hit and miss, which is par for the course with Cher remixes. For every "Believe (Almighty Definitive Mix)" you get at least two completely unlistenable remixes. These aren't bad, but they kind of wreck the melancholy of the song, even though sometimes melancholy mixed with a driving dance beat works much better than you might imagine.

While I was listening to this song, I got to thinking about all the other people that have recorded it. Of course, you have the Walker Brothers original. Another worthy version is by Keane, who usually can nail melodic melancholy pop. They do a pretty good job on this one.



It's not quite Cher, but really, what can be? The only other version of this song I have "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore" is the high-nrg version by Quantize from the Gay Classics series which puts together a bunch of songs that really don't go all that well together if you think about it . Anyway, I'm pretty sure I snagged this song off of Audioscrobbler back in the day. I'm not sure this works any better than Cher's attempts to rework this for the gay clubs, but you certainly can't fault them for trying. And besides, I have kind of a soft spot for those high-nrg covers of popular songs by unknown artists.



Still, for my money, Cher has the best version. Why? Because, as is pointed out on Twitter nearly daily, she's fucking Cher.

Related posts: Cher's It's A Man's World album revisited, as well as my post on "The Post-Modern Prometheus" episode of The X-Files.

Monday, August 08, 2011

People who eat people

Having survived 9 straight days of work, I came home tonight holding my brain in my hand. What I need beyond words is a day off during which nothing is planned. Sadly, that's not tomorrow as I promised to take Anna to Body Worlds at the Des Moines Science Center. It'll be fun and I'm looking forward to being with her tomorrow. We've been anticipating this all summer and since she starts school in a scant 10 days, time is running low.

So to say I was tired and a bit on the cranky side was pretty darn accurate. But it all got better when I saw what the postman delivered for me today.


That's right - hot on the heels of saying how I really needed Streisand's People album on vinyl, I went to Amazon and found a used copy for sale. $4.75 including ths shipping. It is probably my favorite of her early albums (although Simply Streisand is a close second) and having getting it on vinyl was just a matter of time. When we were on the last leg of our trip back from Texas in May, I was crabby and wanting to be home and Heidi** put on People and suddenly, I was transformed into a better mood. I think it had something to do with Barbra's diction - that always makes me so happy. There's no "chewing the yous" when it comes to Barbra. And really, the song selection is so good.

I could have spent more for a copy in better condition, but this one works just fine. The vinyl is a little more scratchy and poppy than the ones I've been listening to, but on an album this old, the crystal clear quality of the CD has always seemed a little bit wrong.

I was trying to think of my favorite moments on People, and surprisingly, it's not the song "People." Although I will always remember being in Chicago with Heidi and Jeff, trying to find our hotel and Heidi and I were getting kind of short with each other. Suddenly, from the backseat, Jeff begins to sing "People/people who need people" which then morphed into "People/people who eat people" and then, inexplicably, "Kooka/Kooka kooka maaka/Kooka maaka, kooka maaka/Kooka mo." But really, the Italian spoken part in "When In Rome (I Do As The Romans Do)", the mournful saxophone in "Suppertime" and the wicked vibes at the beginning of "I'm All Smiles" all outshine Barbra's signature song in my book.

But the song that I have the most fondness for is "How Does The Wine Taste?" Again, Barbra's incredible diction is on display as the final "t" in "taste" is accentuated more than it might be by a lesser singer. There are also timpanis and little clicky things. Well, here's a video of it from her TV special My Name Is Barbra. Heidi and I are prone to saying "How does the wine taste?" and then the other will say "Does it sting your lips?" Yes, we are made for each other.



I've been listening to this album while I typed this blog post, and now that "People" is on, I know the album is almost over. I think it's barely 35 minutes - imagine how ripped off we'd feel if an album clocked in at under 40 minutes in this day and age. I guess the trade off was that she released albums practically every year during the 60s.

Now, if only I could get my hands on THIS.

**I should point out that People is one of the only Barbra Streisand albums that Heidi can stomach. She says anything from the late 70s on sounds like someone's grandmother.

Friday, August 05, 2011

The best dancer with the worst reputation

I was saddened to read that Annette Charles passed away yesterday at age 63 of complications from cancer. Annette Charles, for those of you that don't know, is perhaps best known for her portrayal of bad girl Cha Cha DiGregorio in the film adaptation of Grease.

I think you need scientific notation to most succinctly express how many times I watched Grease as a kid. It was on HBO every other day and I swear I watched it every time it was on. Most of that was due to my intense love of Olivia Newton-John during that time, but I also loved the music and the melodrama that the movie version of Grease delivers. I've owned the soundtrack on just about every possible format and I know for a fact that we had multiple copies of the record album growing up. Simply put, it was a very influential movie for me even though now it is kind of dismissed as lightweight and "girly." WTFE.

The thing that always gets me about the movie is how watching it now, you realize that all the leads (and, to be honest, pretty much all the actors playing high schoolers) were too old for these roles. Rather than being high school students at the dance, they look like they should be chaperones for the dance. I never really noticed that during any of my umpteen viewings of Grease until I got older. I remember being a kid and wondering what my high school years would be like and if they would be anything like those in Grease. Let me assure you that they were most decidedly NOT. No one every spontaneously broke into song in my lunchroom.

The most surprising thing I read in hearing about Annette Charles' death is that she became a speech professor at California State University, Northridge. I'm always fascinated when celebrities return to the real world so-to-speak. I wonder how many of her students knew that she was Cha Cha to so many of our generation. I can't imagine that she broadcast that information. She certainly didn't need to be ashamed of it though. We loved to hate her in that role.

RIP Cha Cha. Because of that small role in a major movie musical, you will never be forgotten by anyone in my generation.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Absent minded me

For someone who can focus so intensely on life-and-death things on a day-to-day basis, I swear somedays if my head was not attached to my body, I would lose track of it. My wife always calls me her "absent-minded professor." And it's true. It's the little things in life that will ultimately trip me up. I am eternally looking for my keys, my work badge, my shoes, my headphones. The only thing I manage to keep a pretty good eye on is my phone, but that's mostly because it doesn't really leave my side. I never thought I'd become the kind of person whose cell phone is an extension of their arm, but sadly, I have. I said the other day to Anna, while I was frantically looking for my car keys as I was getting ready to walk out the door to work, "Anna, guess what I'm looking for?" Her reply was "Your keys? That's not that hard of a question, Dad."

Yeah, I'm perfectly willing to admit that I am absent-minded. The older I get, the more I'm trying to just embrace who I am, flaws and all. And believe me, there are plenty of them. A perfect example of my absent-mindedness was last night's Search For The iPod.

After work, I got all the way down to my truck before I realized that I'd left my iPod in my work mailbox. Too tired and lazy to go back up then, I went home without it and figured I'd run back later and get it as I was going to be out and about. I went back to get it when I went to pick Anna up from a friend's house because I knew I was going to take her to her horse lesson and I didn't want to be without it. As it turned out, I slept pretty much the entire time I was there - 4 hours of sleep the night before and busy day at work had completely fried my brain. I got home, zonked out on the couch some more. We ate dinner and then I assumed my normal spot in the kitchen to do the dishes. I went to look for my iPod, which I thought was in the pants I wore to work. It wasn't there. It wasn't in any of the usual spots either (the island in the kitchen, the dining room table, my desk.) I became focused on the fact that it must have fallen out of my pocket while I slept at Anna's horse lesson and dropped down into the couch cushions. In my defense, my glasses had done just that - I had to pull the couch cushions up to find them before we left.

So I drove the almost 5 miles out to the horse barn and looked all through the couch. Not there. I tried to Zen myself out about it, saying that the more likely scenario was that I'd taken it out of my pocket, set it down absentmindedly in some strange spot (helped not one bit by my dubious consciousness) and now I just couldn't remember where I'd put it down. And that's exactly what I did. I found it on my dresser - approximately 5 feet from where I'd changed into shorts after work.

When things like this happen, I've adopted the strategy of using the line from The Wizard of Oz that the Tin Man says to the Scarecrow after he's been torn apart by Flying Monkeys in the Haunted Forest - "that's you all over!" I maintain that my absentmindedness stems from the fact that I am so focused in my job. The consequences of absentmindedness in my job are severe and when I leave it, my brain disengages just enough to keep it from being in a constantly fried. This means that I can't keep track of keys and badges and yes, sometimes iPods. I get mad at myself when I do that, but I've kind of come to the conclusion that pretty much all I can do is aspire to a state of "less absentmindedness." It is as much a part of me as my brown brownish-gray hair and my height. I can make noise about how I'm going to always put my badge where I can find it so I don't have to spend the last 5 minutes frantically trying to figure out where it is, but there's really only so much I can do.

I am who I am, I am my own special creation. Absentmindedness and all.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Balloons and beavers and record players

I have a fondness for old vinyl album covers - there's just something about them that a CD cover or (God forbid) an mp3 album artwork file cannot capture. I'm usually not one for "holding the music in my hand" but I will admit to loving the feel of a 12" record album in my hand. Perhaps it's because I had so many of them when I was growing up. I bought vinyl long after it was on it's way out - the last vinyl album I bought new was Bananarama's The Greatest Hits Collection in late 1988 - and even then, I'd gone almost exclusively to cassette tapes. Christmas of 1988 saw the arrival of the CD player so who in the hell needed vinyl?

I've turned a lot of the vinyl albums I have into artwork in my home office (see the post "Vinyl trim") but that's left me with a lot of vinyl albums that I can't play. Usually this is no big whoop as most everything I have on vinyl I have on iTunes. But for some reason, I've really had a hankering recently to get a record player and play some of those vinyl albums. I haven't had a record player in 20 years and although vinyl's making a comeback, I just could never justify the expense of buying a turntable to be able to play records again.

Yesterday we went down to Indianola where our friend Jeff was hosting a party for the National Balloon Classic. He has a front row seat to the Mass Ascension of the balloons. The whole thing sounds vaguely religious to me, but trust me, with the company we were keeping, it was as irreverent as ever. Last year was highlighted by the presence of the Beaver Balloon.

Attack of the killer beaver!!

This year, the Beaver Balloon was back, but it turned it's back on us. You can see it in this photo - it's the lowest balloon about 2/3rds of the way across the picture.


That's right, we were snubbed by the beaver (ironically enough, also the title of my college memoirs.) As we said, if there are any beaver jokes that are not inappropriate, we're not interested in knowing them.

But more than that, Jeff was having a garage sale of sorts - selling stuff he had painted as well as some of his personal belongings. One of those was a complete stereo system WITH TURNTABLE (and speakers) for a lousy 20 bucks. I hemmed and hawed as per my usual and then ultimately purchased it after he assured me that the turntable still worked. I set it up today and have not turned on iTunes all night. Here I sit with 21,000 songs in iTunes and I'm happy as a clam to be sitting listening to record albums, just like I did 30 years ago. No, the sound isn't like it is from a CD or an mp3, but there's just something about it.

Click to make it bigger! It's Stevie Nicks!

I've also listened to Barbra Streisand's Stoney End and it's just made me more determined then ever to get more Barbra vinyl. If nothing else, I need to get the People album and probably Simply Streisand which are both albums I had on CD in college, in addition to Stoney End. Jeez, having had all those albums in college, it's not surprising no girls wanted to date me! (not really true, but boy I sure couldn't see through the fog of self-doubt and low self-esteem enough to see it.) It's truly amazing my wife said yes when I asked her to marry me.


Barbra crimped her hair and went down the stoney end. She never wanted to go down the stoney end!

There's something about vinyl, especially the really old albums, that just seems so right. The acquisition of the turntable for the rock bottom price of twenty bucks makes me want to head to ZZZ Records in Des Moines and see if I can score some Joni Mitchell vinyl, or Laura Nyro's Eli & The Thirteenth Confession. As I've said before, if there's an album that begs to be played on vinyl, it's that one.

So everything old is new again. The only thing I wish it did is keep track of play counts. I guess you can't win 'em all. Now if you'll excuse me, I think I'll listen to some Bananarama. ON VINYL.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Doing something right

Those of you in my most intimate circle may (or may not) know that the last couple weeks have completely kicked my ass. Work's been stressful, there was the whole tire debacle, and then there's other shiz going on that I'm not going to go in here. But when you combine it all with the fact I'm just starting to burn out after having taken my summer vacation in May, there's no denying that I've been going through a bit of a rough patch. The other night when Heidi and Anna came out to have supper with me at work, Heidi must have really noticed it and I told her that I'd "talk to her when I got home." Her eyebrow arched and she wondered if something specific had happened and I assured her no but that I just "wasn't feeling very good about myself."

Anna must have heard me say this because this is what I found when I came home from work that night, exhausted and spent.


As Heidi pointed out, I shouldn't feel bad about myself because I had a hand in helping mold this child who knows enough at age nine the thing that I still frequently forget at age 39 - always like yourself! Much of that for me is an old pattern that I'm working on changing, but still, I'm glad that I've helped arm her with that kind of internal monologue.

So here's to a reboot today. We're going down to Indianola for the National Balloon Classic and good times with friends and may-as-well-be-family. I slept till 10:30 and skipped my cardio because clearly, I needed the unconsciousness more than the aerobic workout. There's always tomorrow.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Book of Awesome

I don't even know where to start with The Book of Awesome. I guess the best place to start is how I acquired this book. My friend Mary sent it to me in the mail last week, thinking I might like it. This isn't the first time that Mary has recommended a book to me, but it is the first time she's ever given me the book she was recommending, with the instructions to pass it on to someone else that might enjoy it when I was done with it.

I can see why you'd want to pass it on after reading it. It's not really rereadable - once you've read through Neil Pasricha's list of awesome things, you really don't need to go back and read them again. My understanding of how this book came to be is that it grew out of the blog 1000 Awesome Things which Pasricha started in order to chronicle the little awesome things in life that often get taken for granted but are, nonetheless, pretty fantastic. When I started the book, I rolled with it and enjoyed it, but he started to lose me about 20 pages in when I realized that every single entry is going to end with the the one word sentence (in all caps, no less) - AWESOME!! And it wasn't long before his writing style started to irritate the hell out of me. You can tell that these things are lifted from a blog as you can pretty much hear Pasricha talking when you read the various items. It was as if the words just poured out of him without so much as a second read through to make sure that his writing didn't sound douchey. Actually, I take that back because he must have gone through it a second time so that he could put in random bold face type that made little to no sense.

I think that's my biggest trouble with this book. Even though I have never met the author and who knows, if we did meet or we had a history together or something, I might feel differently, but this book made me feel like there's no way on God's green Earth I could handle being in his presence. I got this image of him sitting at his computer, rubbing his hands together and laughing uproariously at his latest play on words, made up word (gasholenorememberitis is one that springs to mind), or appropriating of dude culture in his writing. By the end, I was seriously skimming because I just couldn't handle him being not as funny nor as clever as he thought he was being.

*sigh* I kind of feel like an asshole for not liking a book that is all about celebrating the little things in life that are great. There's no doubt that many of the things he mentioned are awesome. I love the cool side of the pillow, finding old mix tapes and let me tell you how I watched The Price Is Right religiously every time I was home sick. However, to be frank, if I hear anyone use the word "awesome" for a while, I may start twitching. I stand behind my assertion that it's the writing style of the author that turned me off to the book. That, and the fact that all these entries are still posted on his blog so you could read them for free on the internet and not content with 36 million blog hits, he cashed in on his free material by putting it in book form. I can't say that I blame him, but it still kind of pisses me off.

Maybe I'm just being cranky. I have to admit that I'm mildly intrigued by the parody The Book of Awful, but even I'm not that cynical. Plus it might be written in a style to approximate his and really, I can't handle that!

(Sorry Mary - if it hadn't been for his writing style, I would have totally eaten this book up!)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Seven songs from my summer (so far)

The one good thing about having a computer crash that requires you to completely reinstall everything is that, even though you lose your iTunes play counts *sob*, you find yourself in the unique position of totally shaking up the Top 25 Most Played playlist. Some of the most interesting songs are in mine right now - the top song has a mere seven plays. So I thought, what the hell, let's do another seven songs post. They're always fun and if you aren't careful, some of you might find a present in your inbox. Here we go.

1) Carrie Newcomer / Before & After
Very much in the vein of Mary Chapin Carpenter, this is so much more a fall song than a summer song. If you listen closely, you'll even hear MC squared on harmony vocals.
Choice lyric: I've lived on fumes and religious corn flakes.



2) Madonna /Run
If the "Broken" demo didn't exist, it'd be the hands down best Madonna demo out there. A nice mix of William Orbit blips and bleeps with a very rocky guitar. Straight forward vocals by Madonna make this better than anything on Hard Candy. I read somewhere once that Madonna's voice is remarkable only in its familiarity and I feel like that's so true here.
Choice lyric: Don't ask me to slow down/I don't wanna go down/You won't catch me lookin' back/Coz people like me don't live like that.



3) Annie / Me Plus One
Probably my favorite song that spells (which is a post all its own), I've never cared much for most of Annie's other stuff, but this is perfection.
Choice lyric: Mrs. D, Mrs. I, Mrs. F-F-I, Mrs. C, Mrs. U-L-T. If ever there's a girl that could rock your world/Then that girl sure is me.



4) Blondie / Love Doesn't Frighten Me
My favorite song on Blondie's fanfuckingtastic new album (I like it 100 times more than No Exit and The Curse of Blondie combined), I still can't get over how little Debbie Harry's voice has aged.
Choice lyric: All this nothing is real something/It's time spent.



5) Duran Duran / (Reach Up For The) Sunrise
I have gone on record in several places that Astronaut is my favorite DD album - heresy in DD circles, I'm sure. But there simply isn't a bad song on that album and the first single is very indicative of the album as a whole.
Choice lyric: You can touch the sunrise/Feel the new day enter your life.



6) Erick Macek / Aries Man
I have my friend Bess to thank for introducing me to Erick Macek. He's kind of a cross between Jason Mraz and Eric Hutchinson and although that's kind of the last thing this world needs, his stuff really works for me. I downloaded this on a whim because of the astrology reference. Now if someone would just do a song called "Gemini Man."
Choice lyric: You gotta learn to be patient/And feel the pride/Cuz I'm an Aries Man inside.


7) Chesney Hawkes / The One & Only
Total soft spot for this song. It feels like an 80s song even though technically it's 90s. We never heard from Chesney Hawkes again, but this was enough for me. I always love a song that makes you feel good and this one does it for me. I remember listening to it during my darkest moments trying desperately to make myself believe it. And what do you know? It finally worked.
Choice lyric: No one can be myself like I can/For this job, I'm the best man.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Flat tires update

A quick follow-up to last night's car shenanigans.

The car is fixed. 443 dollars, two new tires and an alignment later, it's like the nothing never was. Funny thing is I just got a bonus at work and although it's not poetic and exactly 443 dollars, it does put a serious dent in it so it proves the adage "easy come easy go" quite nicely.

In any event, it's done. As my father says, "don't get money ahead, because a kid will get sick." Or you'll run your car into a median and trash two tires.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Double flat

I have to be up at 5AM tomorrow but this story must be told - partially because it's too good not to tell and partially because I have to own it in order to stop the negative monologue that is trying like crazy to go at full bore.

The short version is that I went to Hy-Vee tonight to pick up some milk and coffee. I added some Diet Rite Zero to the list as well, then swung by Hy-Vee Gas and got my 8 cent per gallon discount. After that, I headed northbound on Grand Avenue and that's where the fun started.

Somehow, some way, I ended up hitting the median right by the Ames Veterans Memorial and flattened both my driver's side tires. Like most car accidents, looking back on it is like looking through etched glass into a foggy night. I can't, for the life of me, figure out HOW I did it. Clearly, I was driving too close to the median (you think?) but I hit it and the next thing I know, I'm pulled off to the side of the road with two flat tires. I'm lucky I didn't hit a sign, or careen into oncoming traffic. This, of course, makes me sound like someone who routinely drives recklessly which, let me assure you, I am not. The worst part was that I was mere blocks from home, but far enough that I can't make it without doing more serious damage to my car.

So I get my car off Grand Avenue and pull it onto 5th Street. At this point, there's no doubt that I'm going to need a tow. Finally, AAA is worth more than just hotel discounts. They send me a guy from the local Amoco who takes nearly an hour to arrive. He puts the donut on and tows me to CarX which is who does all our car work. Once we get there, I ask him if he can give me a ride home and he either couldn't or wouldn't - I can't figure out which. He said he had another call to go to and acted like driving me a couple miles back home was like driving me from the south side of Chicago to the northern outskirts. WTFE, I walked from CarX. He was kind of a jerk, but a jerk that towed my car so he gets points for that.

It was at about this point that my evil twin really started in on me. He started with the old reliable "stupid" and then moved on to "klutzy" and "absent-minded" and "you just don't pay attention!" For him, it's like the word "accident" doesn't exist. I did it deliberately and because I was an idiot. At other times in my life, this evil twin, who really is a shithead to me, would have won the argument. I would have felt terrible and awful and beat myself up for something that was clearly accidental. Yes, it's a big deal, but no, I didn't do it on purpose and just because I had an accident does NOT make me "stupid." Nice try. Moron.

Anyway, the best part of the story is that I was texting Heidi this whole time. As I started to walk home, she tried to get someone on Twitter to give me a ride home since Anna was already in bed. By the time I noticed this, I was nearly half way home, so I texted her to let her know this. I must not have turned my phone off before I slipped it back in my pocket because the next text I got from her was "??" As it turns out, I had pocket-texted her and as random pocket texts go, this one was a doozy. Of all the possible letter combinations, the text I sent her was "Fu" which made her think I was saying "f*** you." We had a good laugh about that.

So yeah, it sucks. But it could be worse. At least I didn't get hurt. At least I didn't hurt someone else. At least there wasn't any more damage to the car. It probably won't be cheap, but as I always say about money, easy come, easy go. My dad always says you don't want to be the richest guy in the graveyard and at the rate I'm going I'm sure that will be no problem. I did, however, get the great joy of drinking Diet Rite Zero right out of the 2 liter bottle while sitting at the Ames Veterans Memorial. I know - classy.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A losing game

As a friend of mine said on Facebook today, "Today I learned that the internet is only for insensitive assholes. That's nice." While that's a bit of an overstatement, I have to say that I agree with the sentiment.

As we all know, Amy Winehouse met an untimely end at the age of 27 this afternoon. I was at the gym when I found out - actually I was in the locker room sweating from every pore in my body. While I had been on the treadmill, my Twitterfeed exploded with news of her death. There were tweets galore, many expressed sadness combined with a lack of surprise - understandable considering her very public struggles with substance abuse. But it didn't take long for the jokes about rehab to start and the judgmental "why should I feel sympathy for her" tweets and posts to start to pile up. Many people, rather than understanding that a 27 year old woman with family and loved ones - someone's daughter for Pete's sake - had died this afternoon, insisted on providing a snarky commentary based on their own presumptions and the version of her story that they created in their head. Perhaps their version of events may ultimately prove to be true. But at the time, it was completely inappropriate.

I was sickened by the jokes and snarky comments people made, by people's selfish behavior and refusal to understand that while Winehouse's death was certainly not surprising, it is no less tragic than if it had come as a complete surprise. A tremendous talent (admittedly, one that I didn't appreciate completely) was silenced and, as I said before, a woman not even 30 has had her life cut short.

I'll admit that back in 1994, when Kurt Cobain met a similar end, I was probably among the snarky ones. It didn't help that I was certainly no fan of Nirvana and I'm sure my take on it was "he was a junkie that deserved it." Well, I was 21 then, and with the benefit of 18 years, I'm ashamed of my behavior then, just like I'm sickened by those implying Winehouse "deserved" her fate or that somehow Winehouse's drug use made her death worth less or not worth mourning. To those people, I only have to remember the internet mantra..."too many anonymous internet assholes, not enough time." Only this time, they weren't so anonymous.

The world is full of pain and shit happens on a daily basis. Life is full of tragedies, large and small. It's how we deal with them that defines us. But more than that, it's how we feel for other people's tragedies, even if they don't seem that big to us that make us human. As I so frequently say, we just need to treat each other a little nicer. I wish I could say that in death, Amy Winehouse has received that respect that the dead deserve. Instead, it's been mostly vitriol and jokes that are simply, way too soon.

Her music will live on forever and there will certainly be a spike in interest. She won't be the first artist more celebrated after her death than while she was alive. Her short and tragic life is a reminder of the destructive effects of addiction and how, even though it shouldn't be, sometimes the addiction is stronger than the addict.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Solo Blondie?

There are only a few artists left on my bucket list of people I really want to see live before I die. I'll have checked at least two off the list by the time the year's out (Kylie and Janet Jackson) and between those two concerts and Lady Gaga earlier this year, I figured I had already spent beyond my concert budget for the year. But when I found out that Blondie was going to be playing at Harrah's Council Bluffs (I always kind of laugh a little bit when I say that), I was seriously tempted.

Technically, I've seen Debbie Harry perform live once and that was at the True Colors concert in Chicago. However, she was a bit disappointing as she played no Blondie hits at all and most of the solo songs she did perform were from her at-that-time unreleased new album. Talk about a prescription for a disastrous set! She didn't even play "I Want That Man" which would have gone over like gangbusters! Plus, she had a very unfortunate hairstyle and, as Heidi so classically put it, looked like "Anne Murray gone hard."

I couldn't help but wonder how different her performance would have been had she been there with the rest of Blondie and because I've been listening to Blondie's music for 22 years now, I really gave it some thought. Then I found out that it was general admission. Strike one. And that it was at an outdoor venue. Strike two. I am too freaking old for general admission shows. I just don't have the energy to fight people for 1 sqaure foot spot of property to stand all night. The National, who we saw at First Avenue in Minneapolis, would have been million times better had it not been general admission. Kylie's first U.S. tour was general admission at the Chicago date, which was one of the biggest reason we didn't go. And my experience with outdoor venues has been decidedly mixed. Most of the time, the weather works out great, but the times it doesn't, it's miserable. But the ticket prices were appropriately adjusted - 30 bucks and some change. Still, I decided against it.

This last week though, I really got it in my head that I wanted to go. At 65, how much longer is Debbie Harry going to want to tour with Blondie? And seriously, Blondie with no Debbie Harry is no Blondie at all. They're not one of those bands that can just replace their lead singer and go on touring a la Journey. During Blondie's heyday, the common catchpharse was "Blondie is the name of the band" so that people took in the whole package vs. just Debbie, but I think there is definitely something to her being the frontwoman of the band.

So I set about trying to find someone to go with. I was pretty sure that Heidi wouldn't want to go, so I asked my friend Matt who pleaded not being a big enough fan. Fair enough, I can get behind that. Then I asked my sister, who has always been a bit of a Blondie fan, but she texted me back this morning saying that she wasn't sure she'd be around that weekend so had to pass. Again, fair enough. My friend Kyl had been the one that alerted me to Blondie's Iowa presence, and I still haven't heard back from him, but I'm starting to think I'll have to go to this concert alone. That is, if I go at all.

I would have no problem going alone if it weren't a general admission show. I do not want to awkwardly hang around the venue for two hours (at least) from when the doors open and the show starts. And also, it's more fun to do stuff like this with a friend. So who knows what will happen. I may ultimately decide against it. I'm still not sold on this general admission shit.

Still, it's Blondie. They're no spring chickens, but Debbie's voice has magically not aged a bit.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Madonna...at her most underrated

I have been a VERY bad blogger this summer. Too much to do, no time to do it in. However, hopefully what I'm about to offer makes up for it just a little bit.

You might remember back in March of 2010, my friend and stalwart Madonna fan Jeff and I did a podcast about what our most memorable Madonna moments were in our lives. We were clearly amateurs at it, but we had a good time and the plus side was we got to spend an hour plus talking about one of our favorite mutual interests. That podcast is still up and available so if you weren't around then and are so inclined, feel free to download it.

Last week I got a wild hair to do another podcast with Jeff. This time, I decided that the topic would be the most underrated or underappreciated Madonna songs. I split it into three categories - songs that we thought were underrated by Madonna, songs that are underrated by Madonna fans, and songs that are underrated by each other. As I say in the podcast, so much of the time, when there is substantial discussion about Madonna, it is not about her music but rather about her image and her controversy. This, I believe, does a disservice to the mammoth amount of work that she's managed to put out over the course of nearly *gulp* 30 years now.

So if you have an hour and some change to kill, I'd say definitely give us a listen. I even got all professional and added some song clips so hopefully Madonna doesn't send me a cease and desist letter (and if she does, I hope she hand signs it.) If you are a fan, you'll probably enjoy it. If you know one or (better yet) both of us, you need to download it and listen. This is what happens when you talk Madonna with someone for 25 years.

Here's the link - get to listening! I would love to hear what you think, even if it's negative. I thought about doing solo podcasts in the future, but I have no idea what I'd talk about and honestly, it's easier to play off Jeff.

Download the madness that is Jeff and me here.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Papa, can you hear me now?

I don't know what made me do it, but last night while doing dishes, I got a huge yen to listen to the soundtrack from the 1983 Barbra Streisand film Yentl. When I was a kid, Yentl was the butt of a thousand jokes, none of which really progressed much past "Barbra Streisand is playing a man!!" Whether or not she pulled it off successfully is up for debate, but there's certainly no doubt that Streisand OWNS that movie. I never saw the movie during the 80s but when I started listening to Streisand's music in earnest in the early 90s, I found myself really wanting to see it. I can't remember which came first - buying the soundtrack or watching the movie. It really doesn't matter in the final analysis because I took no end of grief from my brother and sister (mostly my brother) for buying the soundtrack.

The funny thing is, when you think about Streisand's bazillion albums, Yentl is probably one of her finest. Granted, it's not the folky fun of Stoney End or even the cheesy bombast of Guilty. It is, however, what I feel to be Streisand at her vocal peak. Simply put, she sounds great on this album. Heidi always prefers Streisand's 1960s albums, saying that anything much past the early 80s sounds like someone's grandmother singing, albeit someone's exceptionally vocally gifted grandmother. I don't really agree with her assessment - the grandmotherly voice wouldn't arrive until the early 2000s and I would argue it's more of a change in the timbre of her voice but whatever. One listen to Yentl and you can hear just what a gifted vocalist Streisand really is. An actress who sings? Who is she kidding?

So yeah, I puchased the Yentl CD on winter break in 1993 and I listened to it like crazy during January of that year. I think it's pretty safe to say that I was the only straight 20 year-old male college student listening to the Yentl soundtrack in his dorm room at the University of Iowa, although at that point I had not made the connection between Streisand and her legion of gay male fans of a certain age. It was music that spoke to my soul and, much like I do now, whenever I find that, I hang on tight to it. The cool thing about the CD is that listening to it, you almost don't need to watch the film. Why watch the 2+ hour film when you can get the Cliffs Notes version in ~40 minutes on the CD. Thanks to the liner notes, a lot of the gaps are filled in and now, looking back, the CD must have come first because I remember learning the story of Yentl via those liner notes.

The story, for those that don't know it takes place in late 19th century Poland. Yentl is the only daughter of a rabbi who is teaching Yentl the Talmud and other religious teachings, despite the fact that women are not allowed to do so. When her father dies, she disguises herself as a man, takes the name Anshel, and enrolls in a yeshiva to continue her studies. She meets Avigdor at the school, who is engaged to marry Hadass. As Anshel, she gets to know both of them, but falls in love with Avigdor. When the engagement between Avigdor and Hadass falls apart (a silly reason that could only happen in the late 19th century), Hadass's parents conspire to get Anshel and Hadass together. During the time, however, Yentl has fallen in love with Avigdor. Oy vey!

As you might imagine, Hollywood didn't exactly jump on this idea. I remember reading in a Streisand biography that after she finished filming Funny Girl in 1968, she brought the idea for Yentl to her agent or somebody and said "I've found my second film role." Their response was "you just got done playing a Jewish girl, now you want to play a Jewish boy?" The film was in development hell for 25 years, but eventually Streisand got it filmed, starring Streisand, co-produced by Streisand, co-written by Streisand and directed by Streisand. It's starting to sound a little bit like Lindsay Buckingham credits on a Fleetwood Mac album. I'm pretty sure that the movie got turned into a musical at the insistence of studio heads. I can't imagine that they would be willing to take a chance on this kind of material without Streisand music to push.

Thankfully she agreed, because, as I've said, the story is told so well through the songs by Michel LeGrand and Marilyn & Alan Bergman. In many ways, it's like a Broadway libretto, with themes that recur throughout and, most importantly, lyrics that push the plot forward and are not simply musical interludes to endure. The best known of the songs is probably "Papa Can You Hear Me?" which was exposed to a whole new generation when it was used on Glee last season. And like the best music, you can take your own meaning from the lyrics that tell the story of Yentl/Anshel, Avigdor and Hadass. Without that universality, it wouldn't have the appeal to me that it does.

You can take a lot out of this story and its music. I think the most obvious one, listening to the lyrics, is that the entire story could serve as an allegory for a "coming out" experience. When Yentl becomes Anshel and falls in love with Avigdor, her feelings for him (as a female pretending to be a male) that are expressed in the songs are what I could imagine a young gay man (or woman, for that matter) would think. The song "The Way He Makes Me Feel" is a good example of this - with lyrics like "Why is it that every time I close my eyes, he's there/The water shining on his skin/The sunlight in his hair/And all the while I'm thinking things that I can never share with him." "Tomorrow Night," in which Yentl describes her feelings as she's about to wed Hadass screams to me how a man marrying a woman might feel if his heart was not really in it, so-to-speak. And the song "No Matter What Happens" plays like the best song of self-assurance after the eventual coming out occurs. I've always felt like this story of a "repressed love" speaks to that kind of situation. But maybe it's just me because a quick and dirty Google search turned up only a few message board results that agree with my assessment.

For me, the song that always got me in my early 20s was "Will Someone Ever Look At Me That Way." My story of being a lonely early 20-something who felt like he had nothing in common with most men and no qualities that would make members of the opposite sex want to date me is well documented in this space. In hindsight, which is always 20/20, I had many friends and actually, there were more than a few women that liked me and were probably waiting for me to make the first move - some of whom I actually had crushes on or whatever. The fact that my self-image was in the ashcan and I struggled with undiagnosed depression is probably why I saw my life through the lens that I did. When you don't even like yourself, it's really easy to concoct a narrative in your head that no one else does either. Even now, at nearly 40 years of age, on my worst days I can see vestiges of that. In any event, the line in "Will Someone Ever Look At Me That Way" that always resonated to dateless Dan was "Even though it's crazy, still I can't help wondering if I'll ever live to see the day/When by some miracle of miracles/You'll turn around and look at me that way." As I saw everyone pairing up, especially late in my college years, I felt like that would never happen and wondered what I was missing that everyone else had. As it turned out, I just hadn't met the right person yet. Fortunately, in November of 1995, I did just that.

Anyway, I will always view the Yentl soundtrack with a little bit more fondness than most guys at my age and station in life might. Maybe this post helps explain that. Maybe it just confirms your suspicion that I was REALLY weird. Whatever. This is who I am. Like it or not. Never gonna stop.

And honestly, every time I hear the Lady Gaga song "Paparazzi" I wait for her to sing "I'm your biggest fan/I'll follow you until you love me/Papa-papa-papa can you hear me?"