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.

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 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.