Sunday, January 30, 2011

King Tut

I will admit to not knowing a terrible amount about what's going on in Egypt right now. I'm actually quite eager to ask my native-Egyptian coworker tomorrow what her take on all this is. It seems like the world is just going to hell in a handbasket these days. Even a couple of years ago, that would have caused me great anxiety. Now I can look at it from a comfortable distance, recognize that it's probably a big deal, but then realize that nothing I can do - least of all worrying about it - can alter what is going to happen. If only I had been able to do that in late elementary/junior high when I was sure that Russian nukes would rain down on us in the middle of the night! From the sounds of it, events over there are shaping up to be similar to the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, minus the Islamic component. But then again, who really knows?

It was with great interest that I read about the security of all the Egyptian artifacts in the Cairo Museum, which is not far at all from the epicenter of the riots and protests. I remember seeing a documentary once that mentioned how a lot of the artifacts were not under the most ideal of storage in the museum to begin with due to structural defects in the building, but I could see something like what is currently going on over there causing irreparable damage to things that represent 4,000 years of history. Like many other people, I thought of all the treasures recovered from the tomb of King Tutankhamun as many of those are among the most iconic of Egyptian antiquities.

I remember seeing a touring exhibit of The Treasures of Tutankhamun in 1977 when I was five years old. If memory serves me correctly, my dad had gotten discounted tickets through either his work or somewhere and even though we were living on a teacher's salary in the 70s, we found the money to go. It was showing at the Field Museum in late summer and this trip to Chicago is one of my earliest memories of a vacation. My brother got to stay with my grandparents, but I was lucky enough to get to go. I still remember my dad carrying me around on his shoulder, sharing the earpiece with me so that I could listen to the descriptions of the various items. You couldn't take any photos in the exhibit itself, but I can remember the golden funeral mask like it was yesterday - it was the centerpiece of the exhibit. When another exhibition toured the U.S. in the mid 2000s, stopping again at the Field Museum in 2006, I really wanted to try to get to it again but time and circumstance really didn't allow for it. As it turns out, the previously mentioned golden funeral mask was not on that exhibition, as the Egyptian government has decided it is to fragile to withstand the rigors of international travel. So I guess I'm glad I saw it when I did, as the chances of me getting to Egypt are pretty damn slim.

So far, looters have smashed a couple of mummies and damaged some displays. It was initially thought that the artifacts of Tutankhamun were untouched, but this blog shows that this may very well not be the case. The museum is now under 24 hour armed guard, but who knows if it can withstand angry rioters and looters.

Nothing I say or do can change what will happen, but I can only hope that 4000 years of history isn't flushed down the drain during what looks very much like an Egyptian revolution. All of that history is irreplaceable and if it is lost during this time of unrest, it will be a sad state of affairs.

I will say, that if the golden mask had looked like this when I saw it in 1977, I would have been scarred for life.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Kings of the Dead

The UU Church we attend has a small group that meets Wednesday nights that, if memory serves, used to be called "The Gospel Group." Looking to revamp itself for the New Year, they rechristened themselves the "Heretics & Spirituality Group." One of the co-leaders is my friend on Facebook and she encouraged me to attend based on my zombie interest as they were going to be discussing zombies and spirituality. Only if you threw in a trashy 90s Eurodance beat could you have something better suited for me. We have two books we're working from right now and one of them is the book I just finished today, Tony Faville's Kings of the Dead.

Kings of the Dead is the story of the zombie apocalypse. Yes, I know. You're thinking "Dan, how many stories of the zombie apocalypse can you possibly read?" My answer to that question is "how high can you count?" The thing is, despite the fact that all the zombie novels and movies tell more or less the same story, it's how they tell it and the specifics that matter. The source of the zombie apocalypse this time around was the H1N1 vaccine. I'll admit that when I stood in line for mine in the fall of 2009, I couldn't help but think "This is how the end of the world in the movie I Am Legend came about! The cancer vaccine turned everyone into zombies!" The use of H1N1 was both effective and timely and clearly Faville is not the only one with that idea as a book called Mad Swine is on my to-be-read list for the year. Most of the normal zombie rules apply. These are reanimated dead people that shamble around slowly. A bite will infect you and they can only be killed with a shot to the head. As everyone knows, that's the cardinal zombie rule - kill the brain, you kill the ghoul.

The story is told in the form of 91 journal entries by a guy named Tony. It was an interesting way to tell the story but was ultimately rather limiting. Apart from a few journal entries made by others in the group, Tony's is the only head we're allowed inside of. And he's not a terribly sympathetic character - at least not initially. Also, the journal entry way of telling the story made it hard to fit in what I lovingly refer to as "hot zombie action." The zombie encounters were necessarily told in the past tense and lacked the immediacy of a third person omniscient that most of the zombie novels I've read up to this point have adopted. I also found that it made it hard to really flesh out the characters. These are people we were supposed to care about but it was hard for me to care about them when I didn't really feel like I knew them that well.

There was also a tremendous amount of time spent on the weaponry used to fight the zombies. Whenever we got to the parts that involved detailed descriptions of weapons that were being plundered, be it from an abandoned military base, a sporting goods store or wherever, I found myself going "blah blah blah blah guns blah grenades blah blah bazooka." That's certainly not the fault of the author. Tony was a gun guy, so it was only natural that he would be interested in and have a great deal of knowledge regarding firearms and other weapons. I just didn't find it that interesting and certainly not essential to my enjoyment of the story. But do remember that this is coming from a guy that has never even held a gun and has a hard time keeping track of who frequently feels like the most clueless person watching a James Bond film.

Kings of the Dead was written as a NaNoWriMo book (hey, I know another book that was written as a NaNoWriMo book that ultimately got published!) and was self-published by Faville, although it has recently been picked up by Permuted Press which is apparently a house that specializes in allowing you to read about the end of the world to your heart's content. Apparently, Faville has taken a lot of heat for being self-published but you know what? This is a changing world and it looks to me like publishing is changing as fast as the music business has and clearly, the old rules of distribution really no longer apply. I applaud him for writing a book and getting it out there, which is more than most of us will do in our lifetime.

Kings of the Dead had a great beginning and end, but the middle was a bit of a struggle for me. I had a hard time staying engaged with the book and I'm not sure I would have finished it had it not been for the Heretics & Spirituality. But to be fair, I might not have even heard of it had it not been for them either. So I guess it's a three-star book for me. A fairly decent entry into the large amounts of zombie fiction that is out there now but not one that I will be rereading. That said, I'd be open to reading another of his books. Recommended for zombie fans only.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Dating in the cell phone age

Heidi and I had made plans last week to hire a babysitter and go out on a real live date tonight. Originally, we were going to go have dinner and then hit one of the Oscar nominated movies. Then we both slept for shit last night (I probably got 2 hours) and despite the fact that both of us napped prior to going out tonight, we nixed the movie and just decided to go have dinner. We've been like ships passing in the night this week as I've been gone every single night and the idea of sitting in a dark theater watching some depressing Oscar movie when we could be talking to each other was not all that appealing.

The babysitter we have is the older sister of one of Anna's friends and Anna just LOVES to have her come over. I was always a bit less excited to see the babysitter when I was growing up. I remember one time when I was probably 7 or 8 that I cried so inconsolably that my dad ended up coming back from wherever the were (I'm pretty sure it was the Pin Oaks restaurant in Carroll, now defunct) to try to get me calmed down. Naturally, age and the advent of a babysitter that brought Atari cartridges when she came over warmed me up to the whole concept of a babysitter. Then I got old enough to babysit my siblings and we never had another sitter. But Anna is just like Heidi in the respect that she loves having the babysitter come and requires engagement the entire time. Fortunately, Morgan doesn't mind a bit.

Anyway, before we left, we wrote our cell phone numbers on the board in the unlikely event that she would need to get a hold of us. They are also programmed into Anna's new cell phone - a Christmas gift from my parents. To my great surprise, my phone range not once but twice tonight. Both times it was not the babysitter. Instead, it was Anna, calling from her cell phone. The first conversation went something like this:

Anna: Hey Dad. I was playing Zelda on the Wii and my ears got red. They went back to normal but now they look pink. Should I be worried?
Me: Well, what exactly were you doing?
Anna: Well, I was jumping up and down trying to kill this spider on Zelda and was all active.
Me: Well, there you go. Do your ears hurt?
Anna: No.
Me: I think you'll be fine.
Anna: Well, I just wanted to call and make sure.

The second one was even less critical.

Anna: Dad, hey, the Wii Nunchuck isn't working and even though we tried to tell the game to quit, it wouldn't do it.
Me: Did you try unplugging the nunchuck from the Wi-mote?
Anna: No, I didn't. But we were getting kind of tired of Zelda anyway so I think we'll just do something else.

Honestly, I didn't really mind the calls. They were kind of cute and caused us to muse about how heaven forbid if she really DID have something to worry about. It struck me as so different from when I was growing up - like so many things are. Calling is just so easy now, whereas back then, you had to call the place where the parents were, then they would have to be paged or whatever and God help you if it wasn't an emergency.

I think a part of it was that Anna just likes using her new cell phone, but I think next time Heidi and I go out on a date, we'll talk to her first about what good reasons for calling are. Note: the babysitter never once called us, but I certainly don't blame her for not being able to talk Anna out of it. That child has an iron will. Heaven help me when she's a teenager.

(Of note, this is the 1,500th post on this blog! YAY! That is what I call perseverance. Or maybe just plain stubbornness and an undying desire to hear myself talk.)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Solid gold camp

I was thinking about Dwayne's comment in the Dionne Warwick post and how her 80s career was helped immeasurably by her appearance as the host of Solid Gold. I watched Solid Gold quite a bit when I was a kid growing up in the 80s and I had completely forgotten that she had hosted. I, for one, remember Marilyn McCoo hosting and too bad it didn't resuscitate her career like it did Warwick's. Anyway, because my brain works this way, it got me to thinking about Wayland Flowers and his puppet Madame that also were on Solid Gold. A quick YouTube search of "solid gold madame" turns up a ton of videos from her time on the show. I was also reminded of her show "Madame's Place" which ran briefly in the early 80s. Who knew frickin' Corey Feldman was on that show?

As camp goes, you don't get much campier than Madame. Nowadays, there would be no secret of Flowers' sexuality but back then I'm sure it was not mentioned in polite circles but I highly doubt that Madame's humor was meant for the polite (or the easily offended or the faint of heart.) I was surprised to find out that Flowers actually cleaned up Madame's saucy, suggestive language for TV - what would a REAL Madame performance be like?

Flowers died from HIV-related cancer in 1988, but he lives on - like everyone will - on YouTube. I had read once that Madame was buried with him, but as it turns out, that's not true. In any event. here's Madame with Bea Arthur talking about Rock Hudson and how he would never EVER take advantage of a woman. It's quite possibly the campiest thing I've ever witnessed on the entire internet.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Her love is stronger than the universe

I am on a Dionne Warwick kick these days that kind of came out of nowhere. Actually, it didn't come out of nowhere - it was the result of me looking for Gladys Knight songs on eMusic and Dionne Warwick was a "similar artist" which I subsequently clicked on and well, the rest is history. I also blame my mom because I remember listening to her 45 of "I Say A Little Prayer" when I was growing up, probably sitting at a desk doing math problems or something. Anyway, I am not a Dionne Warwick fan by any stretch of the imagination, but I have a couple greatest hits collections, one that has all her 60s Bacharach/David songs and then another that has more of her 80s adult contemporary hits. I think a Dionne Warwick studio album would be pretty superfluous - she's mostly defined by her hit singles.

Anyway, one of my favorite Dionne Warwick songs is 1982's "Heartbreaker." The album of the same name was produced by Barry Gibb, who worked music gold on so many artists in the 80s - Barbra Streisand, Dolly Parton, Diana Ross - when he found his own singing career in a bit of a shambles after the disco backlash of the late 70s/early 80s. Anyway, my favorite part of "Heartbreaker" is the chorus because you can hear that trademark Bee Gees falsetto. It makes you forgive the horrendous album cover.

And seriously, those cliched 80s synthesizers do my heart good. Barry Gibb also recorded his own (inferior) version to serve as a demo of sorts to Warwick and then performed it with his brothers in a live concert that was probably on VH1.

The only other thing I have to say about Dionne Warwick is I can't think of her song "I'll Never Love This Way Again" without thinking of an autistic kid that was at a summer day camp at which Heidi served as a counselor very early on in our marriage. I had it on a mix tape in our car and every time it came on, he would sing it at the top of his lungs. It was also rather rudely used on Rush Limbaugh's radio show as the introductory music for AIDS updates. Asshole. I have a soft spot for it as it's one of those late 70s adult contemporary songs that my mom loved (and probably still loves) so much and I absorbed by osmosis. Little did I know that 30 years later, I'd still be listening.

And so ends the first (and likely last) post about Dionne Warwick on this blog.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Insignificant Others

I haven't read any Stephen McCauley in a long time. The only other book of his that I've read is The Object of My Affection. I read it after I saw the movie starring Jennifer Aniston and the always-great and guy-I-wish-I-were Paul Rudd. The movie version was a cute little romantic comedy with just the right amount of bittersweet infused. Just thinking about it makes me want to watch it again. The book was another animal altogether. It is a well written book and certainly worth the read, but I was in no way prepared for the incredible melancholy that inhabited the book. Even for someone like me who is ok with melancholy and bittersweet, it was too much and mostly made me depressed. But I saw his latest novel, Insignificant Others, on Amazon and thought that I'd give it a whirl. Surely, it couldn't be as depressing as The Object of My Affection was.

Boy, I couldn't have been more wrong.

The plot of the book revolves around two coupled gay men, Richard and Conrad and their "insignificant others." Richard, the narrator of the story, is a 50+ man that is obsessed with fitness and oddly matched with the narcissistic and moderately younger Conrad. In the book's first chapter, Richard discovers a text message to Conrad from someone with an Ohio area code. Conrad, whose business requires him to travel quite frequently, has been making more and more trips to Columbus, OH. The arrangement of their relationship allows for dalliances, but they are never allowed to become anything that would threaten the main relationship. As it turns out, this Columbus rendezvous of Conrad's is just that.

Not that Richard is blameless, sitting in the middle of the room with a halo over his head. He has an insignificant other as well in the form of closeted married guy Ben. They meet for "long lunches" every now and then at a leased apartment that Richard has close to his work. The trouble is that, despite his assertion that Ben is an insignificant other, now he's beginning to wonder.

I made a big deal to Heidi about how this book was sad and yes, it really was. I was really caught up in the story and the characters but I couldn't shake the feeling of despair that hung over them as well. All the relationships seemed so unsustainable. They were fraught with all the problems that go along with intimate relationships and then complicated by the insignificant others. Richard was also an eternal pessimist, always able to find the flaws in everything. He assuaged this part of himself by keeping an "at least..." list i.e. "at least I'm not doing this...or that..." He had a lot of wry observations in life that were depressing but also rang at least slightly true. Although perhaps the only reason they rang true was because I was stuck in Richard's head which wasn't always the best place to be.

The character for whom I felt the most empathy was Ben, the closeted married man that Richard was having an affair with. This is impressive because how can someone whose life is basically one big deception of those he claims to love - his wife, his children - be sympathetic? He's basically a shithead for doing this, right? Well, I don't think it's quite as simple as that. No one knows him completely - not his friends, not his family, not even Richard (although he probably comes closest.) Basically, his life is a well-constructed lie built on sinking sand. By compartmentalizing himself so much, he's living as less than a whole person and living like that will eventually catch up with you. It's this kind of thing that I mean when I talk about how we're the sum of all of our parts, even the parts we don't like. Yes, he's a shithead for lying to his wife and deceiving her all these years, but the way his character is drawn in the book, you really can understand why and you end up really feeling for him.

The book wrapped up tidily at the end after I had been afraid there would be no resolution at all, especially the Richard/Ben relationship. Ultimately, this book was less than adept at balancing bittersweet with just plain bitter and for that reason it loses points with me. I was still very engaged in the book and the characters even though most of them were not very redeemable, but I was kind of glad when it was over. I'm not sure I could have taken any more melodrama.

I simply MUST find something happy to read.

Karaoke as bravery

A few weeks back, I watched several people that I follow on Twitter tweet about being at a karaoke event in Des Moines. I remember trying to figure out if this was a big thing or if it was just a bar that was having karaoke that several people happened to be at. I have never done karaoke - not even one time, but it's one of those things that I wouldn't mind doing some day.

For me, karaoke is one of those things that would require me to be extremely brave to do it. It's not that I've never sung in public before, it's just that the last time I did that I was in 6th grade and playing Santa in the school Christmas play. My voice hadn't changed yet so it sounded like Santa was a eunuch. I remember having to sing a song about a Super TV Set that would broadcast Santa's travels to the entirety of the North Pole. There was also a part that required me to pretend that I was on the phone and I put the microphone up to my ear instead of my mouth before I started talking. I was mortified because, naturally, that was the performance that was recorded and that we had to watch in music class after the program was over.

I sing in the shower, in the car and around the house doing chores. Anna and I take turns singing on Guitar Hero. Heidi always says that she can tell I'm doing well and feeling good by the amount of singing in falsetto that I do. It's true. I don't know that I sing particularly well, but it's fun. I don't really remember my dad singing around the house when I was a kid. He famously didn't like to sing hymns in church or anything like that. I want my daughter to have as one of her childhood memories a dad that sang in the car with her or around the house or whatever.

I've toyed with the idea of going out to do karaoke many times. In 2003, I went to visit a friend in Cincinnati and that was totally on the agenda. Well, I got sick with a cold toward the end of the trip and for a million other reasons, it didn't work out. My friend Jess, whose bravery I admire on a nearly daily basis, does karaoke quite a bit. She's a really good singer though and even does it in places outside the confines of her own home. She has even invited me out with her several times when she has gone but for whatever reason, it just has never worked out.

I always used to say that I would need to consume a considerable amount of alcohol to do karaoke. The trouble with that is that alcohol may be liquid courage but it's also liquid brain mush. It also causes me to talk non-stop and for those of you that know me, I know that's hard to believe, but it's true. How can you be expected to do a decent job singing a song when you're sloshed? You can't. It's just impossible. Some people would say that performing a song badly is the point of bar karaoke. I would disagree. If you're going to do something, why deliberately do it badly? Even the people that made Mommie Dearest thought they were making a classic - that it turned out to be a camp classic is beside the point. And if I ever do karaoke, I would hope to God that it sounds something like the episode of House where Chase, Foreman and House all sing Gladys Knight & The Pips' "Midnight Train To Georgia" at a karaoke bar. The actual video from the show is fucking embedding disabled, but watch it here (really, do it. It's worth it and essential viewing.) Here's the audio of it that is embeddable. Chase is Gladys and Foreman & House are the Pips.

I suffer from no delusion that I would sound as good (or look as good) as Chase does in that clip. But I'll admit it - there's a Chase in me dying to get out. I push him to the side or squash him down with relative frequency, because it doesn't fit in with the image I've cultivated over the years. But you know what? Fuck that. Heidi and I have been talking a lot about bravery lately and really, to be brave means you really have to take the chance. I may be pushing 40, but I'm not dead yet.

The thing I've learned over the last year is that, like it or not, I am the sum of all my parts, even those parts I would rather bury in a tub of cement a la True Blood. The trouble with that is that even when you do that, it's still a part of you. Better to just embrace it all and be a whole person. I would love to not have to deal with anxiety issues. I would love to be more outgoing and less tentative. The fact of the matter is that those things are who I am. Period. That doesn't mean I can't change them, but at this point in my life, those things are pretty hard wired. And if there's something like a songbird version of Chase ramming around in me, I'd best pay attention to it as well as the parts of me that I'm accustomed to dealing with.

So who's with me? Who among you are ready to be the Pips to my Gladys Knight? I know that if my brother Ryan were here, he'd totally do it. But he's been singing the Pips' part of "Midnight Train To Georgia" for the better part of a decade now. Now that I've done shots, maybe I need to cross karaoke off my list as well. And who knows? I might just like it. And then again I might not. Regardless, it's called living and I intend to be doing more of that.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

One more gay diva down

We secured tickets to Kylie's live show in Dallas, TX this morning. I had put in for time off the week of the show when we were first debating it (glad I did, I narrowly beat another time off request and would have likely been denied.) We have friends in Dallas where we can likely stay while we are there and if you put in one day of serious driving, you can get there in a day from here. I was still not completely sold as I was doing my required waffling on whether or not we could afford it and whether or not I wanted to travel that far. I had concocted all sorts of scenarios that would be deal breakers - shitty seats being the biggest one. Let me tell you, I'm not driving all the way to Dallas just to sit so far away that I can't even see the stage.

We decided this week, after passing on the presale that we would give it a try and see what we got. If it worked out, great. If not, we were just going to chalk it up to it not being in the cards this time around and we wouldn't be too disappointed.

Tickets went on sale this morning at 10AM and despite discussing this with Heidi last night, she completely forgot. Clearly a higher force was at work because I woke up & looked at the clock saying 9:52AM and I leaped out of bed, a man on a mission. On my way downstairs, I told Heidi "Kylie tickets in T-minus 5 minutes!!" I loaded the page to get ready. 10AM passed and still no opportunity to buy tickets. Refresh, refresh, refresh. I always hate the purchase of concert tickets, it's high stress when really, the 2010 version of buying tickets beats the heck out of how we did it for our first Madonna concert with everyone on the phone a half an hour prior to tickets going on sale hoping you didn't get off hold before the on-sale time.

When I finally got in and put in my request and front and center (but back a ways) reserved seating came up, we wasted no time. At $80 a ticket, it was a bargain. The cost of three of us to go is slightly less expensive than my one ticket to The Confessions Tour in Vegas in 2006. So YAY. We're going. I guess we were in that 25% chance of going that I predicted. This will be Anna's very first "grown up" concert so she's especially excited.

I'm excited to go to Dallas. My blogging friend Robbie, who I met up with in 2009 in L.A., will be at the show as well. It'll be fun all around. And we're going to try to sneak in a trip to see Heidi's sister in McAllen, although that will require me being able to get just a little bit more time off work.

So with Kylie, I can add one more gay diva to the list that I've seen live (and if there's any doubt about her being a gay diva, one need look only at the fact that LOGO TV is cosponsoring the American leg of the tour.) That got me to thinking about how many and which gay divas I've seen live. With the help of my friend Kyl (who I will be seeing Lady Gaga/Scissor Sisters with in March) we came up with this list.

1) Madonna (x4 - 2001, 2004, 2006, 2008)
2) Cher (x2 - 1990, 2002)
3) Dolly Parton (x2 - both in 2008)
4) Deborah Harry (2007)
5) Olivia Newton-John (2005)
6) Whitney Houston (1991) - admittedly a bit of a stretch, but Kyl thought she qualified pre-crackhead. I would agree.)
7) Stevie Nicks (with Fleetwood Mac x2 - 1987 and 1997)
8) Cyndi Lauper (x2 - opened for Cher in 2002 and then on the True Colors tour in 2007)
9) Lady Gaga (coming soon, March 2011)

Who's left? Well, there's Donna Summer, Diana Ross, Janet Jackson, Patti LaBelle, Bette Midler, and of course, Streisand. But as Kyl said, you have to be willing to sell a kidney for a ticket. Also, I can't help but think that a Streisand show would be a bit of a let down as I'm used to "spectacle" arena shows and the thought of her standing in place all night is not super-appealing. But if she lets loose with the F-bomb, I'm totally there. Of those listed, the one I would pay to see in a heartbeat is Donna Summer, but who knows.

Did we miss any? It doesn't really matter because we are going to Kylie!! The Sam Keller in me is over the moon (because you know she got the Kylie fanaticism from somewhere.)

(all the footage is from other tours but is pretty indicative of what to expect from the Aphrodite Tour!)

Friday, January 21, 2011

You Couldn't Ignore Me If You Tried

Like so many people my age, the teenage films of John Hughes loomed very large on the cultural landscape of my adolescence. Unlike so many people my age, there are many I haven't seen. For example, Sixteen Candles still eludes me, as does Pretty In Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful. But I have seen The Breakfast Club more times than I can count and surely that should count for something, right? Because I hadn't seen some of these essential films, I wasn't sure how Susannah Gora's comprehensive history of Hughes and his films, You Couldn't Ignore Me If You Tried, would play with me. On one hand, I'm a sucker for this kind of pop culture stuff, but on the other, would my lack of familiarity with some of these movies detract from the reading experience? I needn't have been worried because familiarity with the subject matter, while helpful, was hardly required.

The first thing I want to say about this book is that it very deftly avoided being a book that was all full of itself, chock full of essays about how this character or that character represented the greed of the 80s or some other bullshit thing. Books that take pop culture touchstones like Hughes' movies and then suck all the life out of the subject matter by attaching meanings that aren't there are almost always more interesting in theory than they are in actual practice. I have plenty of Madonna books of this ilk that, while admirable, are nearly unreadable as books. Instead, what Gora has done here is give us a living and breathing history of not just Hughes' movies, but of the so-called Brat Pack and other teen movies of that time period. Each movie gets its own chapter and she has definitely got the goods on the making of each movie. Reading this book made me want to finally sit down and watch Sixteen Candles and Pretty In Pink. It made me want to put the book down and rewatch The Breakfast Club.

I still remember the first time I saw The Breakfast Club. I was 15 and over at a friend's house watching movies on VHS with him and his girlfriend. I was the eternal third wheel in their relationship, but he didn't seem to mind mostly because a part of him really wanted to break up with her but he couldn't bring himself to do it. Looking back, I was pretty clearly being used there - not that he didn't like me or enjoy my company, it was just that my presence defused things to some degree. Me, I was just elated to be included regardless of my role. But I remember watching that movie and yes, it is cliched to say so but I saw myself in that movie. Who among us has watched that movie and not seen ourselves mirrored back at us? That's the genius of that movie - teenagers everywhere, from different walks of life and different high school cliques could watch that movie and see themselves. We saw not only ourselves but our friends as well. What I saw that night in that movie was a balls-out honesty that seems to only exist in movies. I think that movie taps into the loneliness of adolescence and how what we really want then, what I really wanted then, more than even a girlfriend was a good friend. I had one sitting across the room from me and others that weren't there that night, but even amongst that, the loneliness of those years were a heavy weight. Seeing that kind of connection in a movie was both reassuring and depressing - reassuring because you were given hope that it could happen and depressing because, well, it was "only a movie."

Without getting too psychobabble, most of us still have those lonely teenagers inside us. Some of them speak a lot more loudly than others. As adults, we tell them to shut up and don't treat them very well. I really think that's why life can be so completely unfulfilling. We lose touch with those teenagers that craved human connection. We get busy with our overscheduled lives and we forget about the people around us that give life its color. Facebook and Twitter, while nice are not enough. I can speak for at least myself when I say that as nice as our interconnected world is, nothing beats a face to face meeting with a friend, be it for a night out, a lunch or having them over to the house for a night of listening to music and telling the same stories over and over again. That, to me, is where it really is at. That kind of connection is why these movies still resonate with so many of us 25 years later.

This post kind of went in a different direction than I intended. I haven't said very much about the book! But what I will say about the book is that it is very readable and not at all drowning in academese or anything like that. However, as it progressed, it did tend to become a bit repetitive which is usually the case with books like these, but I didn't feel like that detracted horribly from the book. New interviews with all the expected cast of characters helped make this book feel less like a piece of nostalgia and more a fun look back at movies that shaped a lot of people from our generation.

One sidenote: despite a great deal of effort on the part of the book to convince me otherwise, I am still not a Ferris Bueller's Day Off fan. From the way they talked about it, you would have thought that it cured cancer. I still think Ferris is a spoiled piece of shit. That's just what I think. The book did, however, cause me to get over my general eye-rolling at the boombox/"In Your Eyes" scene in Say Anything and now I kind of want to watch it.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Best reading spot in town

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am powering through books this year so far. I finished my fourth one of the year today and am nearly finished with my fifth. This morning, I got an e-mail from the library that told me a book I had put on hold was in. So may books, so little time.

Actually, the funny thing is that I have had LOTS of time for books recently. A year ago I made a conscious effort to step away from the computer and read more. I had limited success with that as I was scrambling to get 25 books read during 2010. Well, this year, I'm doing much better. Plus being away from the internet helps to center my life a little bit more. It's so easy for me to get lost in clicks - when I am randomly clicking on bookmarks I was just at 2 minutes ago is a sure sign I need to be done.

It helps that I've started off with some great books - which brings me to the real point of this post. If you're reading and you're not on GoodReads, you're missing the party. GoodReads is kind of like Visual Bookshelf or whatever the hell on Facebook. Hell, it's kind of like Facebook, only for books. What I love about GoodReads is that it helps me to keep track of what I've read and, more importantly, what I want to read. It's easy for me to say, "oh, yeah, I want to read that!" and then two weeks later have no recollections whatsoever of that thought. By adding books to the "to-read" shelf on GoodReads, I'm never without an idea for something to read.

If you feel so inclined, sign up for GoodReads. It's free. And then friend me on there. They do send you a spammish e-mail every now and again with "updates on your friends" but they're easy enough to ignore or not. I can think of at least a couple people who read this space that might like it. Or not. You never know.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Medicare Part DD

At break this morning, I realized that not only is today the one and only Dolly Parton's birthday, it's also a bit of a milestone for her. Today, Dolly turns 65 and with that, she is now eligible for Medicare! The jury is out on whether or not the Medicare Part A premiums will be waived, but I have a sneaking suspicion that old Carl Dean has worked a job that has paid Medicare taxes in some capacity, so there you go.

Does Medicare cover plastic surgery? Will Dolly's further attempts to nip, tuck and suck anything saggin', baggin' or draggin' be on the tab of the US taxpayer? My hunch is probably not, but man, I sure got a lot of mileage out of that joke today at work. I did have one of my coworkers tell me that she was "worried about me." Oh well, always keep 'em guessing, that's my motto.

To take it one step further, I got this image of Dolly going down to the Pigeon Forge Walgreens store to try to figure out what Medicare D plan would work for her. Let me tell you, if I were working retail pharmacy and Dolly Parton came into my store, I might have to be resuscitated. Do you think Dolly would mispronounce all the drug names like most people do when she ordered her refills? Do you think she'd refer to them as "subscriptions" or "genetic drugs?" (that actually happened to me in my retail days.) Maybe she doesn't have any prescriptions to worry about? She seems pretty healthy overall, but you just never can tell.

Well, whatever the case, I don't think she's going to be collecting any retirement benefits any time soon as she's still hard at work. She has a new album out this year, although not the often talked about all-dance album that would put a Believe spin on Dolly's career. The clock is ticking, Dolly. She's also headed out on the road again this year and even though I saw her twice in 2008, I'd go again in a heartbeat.

And Medicare Part DD? When she works that joke into her live shows sandwiched in between "momma had one on her and one in her at all times" and "you'd be amazed at how much it costs to look this cheap," remember you saw it here first.

Bless you Dolly, you're an American original. Ever since 9 to 5 and the Dolly: Live in London concert played a zillion times on HBO growing up, I've been hooked. The more cornpone she gets, the more I love her. Here's one of the 13 essential Dolly songs I blogged a few years back.

Monday, January 17, 2011

So Now You're A Zombie

It's January 17th and I've already read three books! If this were the 2010 Book Challenge, I'd be off to a great start. At this time last year, I was still mired in Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, a book I thought I would like but ultimately didn't care for much.

Admittedly, the third book of the year was pretty lightweight, but hey, it still counts. So Now You're A Zombie: A Handbook for the Newly Undead is kind of the zombie counterpart to Max Brooks' The Zombie Survival Guide. Rather than serving as a manual for surviving the zombie apocalypse, this book guides reanimated corpses through some lessons on how to maximize carnage

As you might expect, it only took me a couple days to read and it only took that long because I was juggling another book along with and trying not to lose it - a distinct possibility any time I have more than one book going. But just because it was as light as a feather doesn't mean that it was bad. For zombie fans, it's more than an adequate read. The text is funny and informative and also kind of gross. The illustrations are also pretty cool and the pages have faux blood splatter on many of them, as if the book you're holding a manuscript rescued from a zombie-human skirmish.

The method of zombification in this book is the "z-virus" which is not only responsible for reanimation but also for the unquenchable desire for human flesh (especially brains) that zombies have. This is pretty in line with many current zombie films and books - infection seems to be the most popular way to make a zombie these days. There were also chapters about how the zombie's gastrointestinal tract still functioned so as to "feed" the z-virus which I scoffed at. Everyone knows that the major organ systems of a zombie are completely non-functional. However, using this book's theory, it would answer the question "does a zombie have to eat?" This was also the first time I had ever heard of zombies projectile vomiting as a means of spreading infection.

Also included were many lessons on human buildings, vehicles and strategies for killing and/or infecting. It was a good read that I'd recommend for any zombie fan. It'll take hardly any time to read at all and the last page was worth the price tag alone. I totally didn't expect it and provided a good laugh at the end of what was a very tongue-in-cheek book to start with.

Thanks for the present Mary! It's taking its place on my bookshelf next to the other zombie books.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Revisionist Ray

I was looking at Slant Magazine's 100 Best Singles of the 90s with quite a bit of interest today. The biggest reason for this is I've been on a huge 90s kick recently, which culminated the other day in the purchase of Deee-lite's World Clique album. Famous for the infectious (and #11 on Slant's list) single "Groove Is In The Heart," I'm happy to report that the rest of the album is just as good. It'll sit along side the La Bouche, Corona, and Real McCoy in my iTunes library quite nicely. The whole list is a fascinating read and while I more appreciate the #1 song than enjoy it, I certainly can't argue with its right to be at the pole position for the decade.

There are - count 'em - FIVE Madonna songs on this list, more than any other artist on the list. I found this really odd because, for all of her longevity, I tend to think of Madonna as an 80s artist. The Immaculate Collection, released in 1990, contains some of her best known hits and some of the best known hits of the 80s - period. I tend to think of her 90s work as more mature but less popular and certainly less well-remembered as the songs from her glory days of the 80s. A lot of this was self-inflicted as the Sex/Erotica/Body of Evidence backlash really hit her hard at the beginning of the decade and she never really recovered from it until Evita and Ray of Light. The five songs listed on Slant's list are as follows:

#42 - Secret (1994)
#36 - Deeper & Deeper (1992)
#34 - Erotica (1992)
#16 - Ray of Light (1998)
#10 - Vogue (1990)

Looking at that list, it's hard to deny "Vogue" the #10 spot and the highest ranking of any of Madonna's 90s singles. It's practically an 80s single anyway and there's no denying the lasting impact its had on pop culture. You need look no further than Glee's shot-by-shot reenactment of the "Vogue" video to see this. I was a senior in high school when "Vogue" came out and I was **this close** to getting our class motto changed to "Strike a pose!" (we ended up with "today we follow, tomorrow we lead." BORING.) I also loved this line from the "Vogue" entry in the Slant article: If disco died a decade earlier, what the fuck was this big, gay, fuschia drag-queen boa of a dance song sitting on top of the charts for a month for? Because it was 1990 and Madonna was at the top of her game, that's why!

I also think that "Deeper & Deeper," "Erotica," and "Secret" are all deserving of their spots, but my big gripe is that "Ray of Light" outranks all of them, and true classics like "Frozen," "Rain," and "Human Nature" are omitted completely. While I have no quarrel with the Ray of Light album aside from the fact that sometimes it took itself a little too seriously and was a little too earnest in spots, was "Ray of Light" the song really that popular? As I recall, the record company had to work especially hard to get this song to chart as high as it did. The first week that it was on the Billboard chart, it debuted at #5 and went no higher. It is lauded as "Madonna's highest Hot 100 debut" but the late 90s were a time during which #1 debuts were more the rule than the exception. It was also the time in which singles were deeply discounted as record companies blew their wad all in the first week of chart eligibility to guarantee a huge splash on the Billboard Hot 100. If I recall correctly, "Ray of Light" was the first of Madonna's singles to receive this kind of record company PR push. The week it debuted at #5, I distinctly remember thinking to myself "there's no way this song is the #5 song in the country right now." Pretty sure its radio airplay was abysmal (Chart people, feel free to back me up or refute me on this.) So if this is the case, why is this song so fondly remembered when "Frozen" doesn't even get a nod?

For what its worth, much like Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," "Ray of Light" is a song that I more appreciate than actually enjoy. It's always been a little too spastic for my taste and for all the awards that the video won, I find it to be one of her least inspired of the decade, certainly from that album. I think its elevation in the Madonna canon may be in part due to efforts of Madonna herself. She can't seem to resist an opportunity to haul it out on tour, probably because it serves as one of the "okay breathe now" songs during which she plants her feet and plays the guitar for 5 minutes. It was great to hear on the Drowned World Tour, a surprising choice on the Confessions Tour but an appallingly boring choice for Sticky & Sweet, especially since it was basically a retread of the Confessions Tour performance. It was also performed at both Live 8 and Live Earth. The one live performance of "Ray of Light" that I really love is the one from The Oprah Winfrey Show. Although clearly singing with a backing track, has she ever sounded better? (not to mention that she looked fantastic.)

Watching that performance and listening to her belt it out make me want to reconsider my harsh position of "Ray of Light" but no. I only need rewatch the Sticky & Sweet performance of it and I'm reminded all over again.

But really, for my money, this is probably my favorite version of "Ray of Light." When Anna was in preschool, we watched this over and over and over again. I thought of it again as I was getting ready to write this post. "The Wheels on the Bus" vs. "Ray of Light."

So Madonna fans, casual and not-so-much and especially those that really don't follow her career - I'm curious. Am I alone in my assessment or is "Ray of Light" really not all that?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Gas, car wash, subway, don't walk

On the way home from lunch today, I was stopped at a stop sign and I couldn't make a left turn that I wanted to. Heidi was with me and I said "no left turn?" which immediately made me start singing "no right left turn...what can you do?"

Heidi was floored when I continued with the following bit that I think she hadn't thought of in 30 years.

This is the kind of stuff that if I could get it out of my brain, I'd be thousands of times smarter. And probably be able to find my car keys.

(This video has a scandalously low 33 views on YouTube. This needs to be remedied.)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Yellow Dirt

Yellow Dirt was the second book I read while on vacation this January. The first was Torment - a piece of post-apocalyptic zombie fiction, and then this book which tells the story of how we basically raped the land in Navajo Nation of uranium, left the radioactive crap laying around to contaminate everything in sight and are just now getting around to making restitution to the Navajo. Not exactly the feel-good books of the year. But as I always say, the funny thing about feeling is don't always expect it to tickle.

I can't remember how I came across Yellow Dirt, although now that I think about it, it might have been the "people who bought this book also bought..." thing on Amazon. In any event, I was pleased (and surprised) to discover that the library had it. So I trekked down there to get it, along with five other books. It was one of those trips to the library where I got a crapload of books just to see if anything will stick.

Yellow Dirt, as I said, is about uranium mining in the Navajo Nation during the 40s and 50s and the effects it had on the people and the land. We drove through Navajo Nation on our trip west last summer. I have never in my life seen a more desolate and depressing place. In many ways, it resembled the Martian landscape. Considering our nation's treatment of the Native Americans, it's not surprising that we gave them the crappiest land to live on. Granted, it was their homeland from which they were forcibly removed in 1864, only to return to 4 years later. But it was of not much use for farming or anything else and was not desirable real estate until uranium was discovered on the reservation in the 1940s during the race to build the world's first atom bomb.

The book follows one Navajo family through the generations. It specifically talks about a mine known as Monument No. 2, which was a mesa that was almost completely destroyed due to uranium mining. Navajos mined uranium without even the most rudimentary of precautions, despite mounting evidence that exposure to uranium (and all the radioactive elements that it breaks down to) was detrimental to human health. Once the boom of uranium mining started to fade in the 1960s, the mines and uranium mills were mostly abandoned, leaving piles of radioactive waste to contaminate the ground and the water. For a people that depend on the land for a living, the short term monetary gains provided by uranium mining - which the mining companies mostly cheated them out of - were not worth the long term effects on the environment and their health. Cancer, relatively unknown in the Navajo, began to show up in levels several times that in the general population, starting with the miners themselves and then, as waste contaminated the water, the rest of their families.

When I read books like this, I am always amazed at how horribly we've treated our nation's first inhabitants. At the end of the book, I was more convinced than ever that the United States has one hell of a karmic payback headed its way based solely on our treatment of the Native Americans. Yellow Dirt is a riveting account of people deliberately poisoned because no one gave a crap about them. It is also pretty easy to read in that it does not get bogged down in facts and figures. It also ends with some hope, as cleanup efforts are underway.

As one who was not really aware of this, I can't recommend this very tragic book enough.

Grousing about Kylie

The good news: YAY! Kylie's touring North America.
The bad news: She's skipping the Midwest.

I was expecting to have to travel to see this show. As my friend Kyl said, we weren't exactly expecting her to play Wells Fargo Arena. I really didn't even expect a Minneapolis or Kansas City date. But the fact that there isn't even a Chicago date really burns me up. The argument has been made that she played Chicago on the last mini-tour in 2009, so she's skipping it this time around. OK, if that's the case, skip New York, L.A. and San Francisco as well.

The cities that she is playing really seem very random. Yes, all the major coastal cities are included - San Francisco, L.A., Boston, New York, Washington - but when you look closely at it, some of them make no sense whatsoever. I take exceptional issue with the fact that she is stopping in Atlanta, Orlando AND Ft. Lauderdale. What the hell? Three stops in two states but not a single one in the Midwest? And I know that Texas is practically its own country when it comes to size, but both Dallas and Houston? But still no Chicago.

Heidi and I were talking about it last night. OK, we were kind of spazzing about it, but give us a break. Heidi is staunchly opposed to flying, so the most reasonable city for us to go to is Dallas which is, oh, a THIRTEEN HOUR DRIVE from here. Doable, but is it really?

There are so many unknowns in this anyway. I may not be able to get the time off work. We may not even be able to get tickets. Then there is always the very real possibility that we simply won't be able to swing it financially. It's one thing for me to hop in an airplane and fly in for a concert, but when you factor in all three of us and meals and accommodations and what not, it gets pricey in a hurry.

I can't be mad at cute little Kylie, I mean really, how can you be? But the fact that I stand probably a 25% chance of seeing her live does burn my butt a little bit.

And if this is not the definition of a first world problem, I don't know what is.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Staycation is over

As of tomorrow at 9AM, the real world will start hassling me again. It's probably more than time. It's been fun being off work for 13 days, but I am ready to get back in the swing of things. I think Heidi's ready for me to be back to work as well. I know she loves us dearly, but there is something to be said about having the house all to yourself.

There's a snowstorm that's creeping its way across Iowa right now. It's kind of stalled out over western Iowa so my folks are probably getting covered in the white stuff. It hasn't showed up here yet but they're predicting anywhere between 5 and 9 inches by the time it's all said and done. I took Tuesday off (nothing like wading back into the real world) to go to Lobby Day down at the State Capitol but judging from the forecast, it looks like it's a toss up as to whether we'll go or stay home.

We also got the tree down today and all the Christmas stuff is awaiting its annual trip back down to the basement. It actually wasn't a terrible job - we all worked together and it went pretty smoothly. I'm not sure when it'll actually get to the basement, but I'm sure it will eventually.

Overall, this has been one of the more relaxing staycations I've had in a while. And it wasn't because I was completely lazy and did nothing. As I said, I got a lot of continuing ed done (final tally = 22 hours) and did some stuff around the house. We decluttered a significant section of our basement (miles to go.) I watched a shitload of Netflix which included all four Eddie Izzard shows that are on Netflix streaming. I swear, those get better with each viewing. We've seen them so many times that it's the anticipation of the joke that is funny rather than the joke itself.

But all good things must come to an end and all in all I'm just glad I have a job to go back to. So many people in this economy don't and, well, I will be thankful that I'm not one of them. Time off wouldn't be time off it you didn't go back at some point. As Mary Chapin Carpenter said (more accurately, Mark Knopfler, but whatever) - you gotta know happy, you gotta know glad/because you're gonna know lonely and you're gonna know sad. And vacation without a job to go back to is unemployment and let me just say that I'm not super interested in that right now.

But for now, I'll leave you with these sage words of advice -- never put a sock in a toaster, never put jam on a magnet, never throw your granny in a bag, never suck all the juice out of a vampire and never lean over on Tuesday (unless you're covered in bees.) Just watch this:

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Facebook me

In an attempt to see as many Oscar nominated films as possible this year, Heidi, Caryle and I went out to see The Social Network at the dollar theater. (Jeff was there in spirit - his strep throat is back with a vengeance.) Yes, I know the nominations aren't out till January 25th, but I have a pretty good feeling that The Social Network will make the cut and wind up with one of the ten Best Picture nominations. I had almost seen this movie when I was in Kansas City at the end of October, but the $25 per ticket price tag put the kibosh on that - it was one of those AMC Cinema Suites theaters. Yeah, no dice - are you there to eat or watch the movie?? In the end, I'm glad I only paid a dollar to see it.

Being glad that I only paid a dollar to see it would imply that I didn't like it. On the contrary, the movie was certainly better than most. The screenplay was well written, the acting well done and the story more than engaging. I was always interested in what was going on and was never bored. I like most of David Fincher's movies, including the underrated Zodiac and the much maligned Alien 3 and was really interested in hearing the story of what would one day become the biggest social network in the world. So why, when the movie was over, did I feel so empty? It was like I'd just spent 2 hours watching a story that I enjoyed and was intrigued by, but when the lights came up in the theater, it was the cinematic equivalent of a fast food meal.

What I loved about the movie was its atmosphere - and in hindsight, that's what I love about most of Fincher's movies. I really felt like I was in college with Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin. One thing I will say is if that's Harvard, I'm glad I had no part of it. It certainly didn't reflect my college experience socially, academically or any other "ly" you can think of, but it felt very authentic. It was exciting to watch Facebook start out as "The Facebook" (which sounds like something my grandmother might have called it) and morph slowly into what many of us use on a daily basis. The flashback way of telling the story was a smart way to tell the story too, as this effectively spread the drama throughout the movie rather than having a big build up that explodes at the end.

Still, as good as it was, it left me feeling empty. And I think that is probably not the fault of The Social Network or any of the people involved in it. I think that what it really caused problems with it were my expectations of the film and how I watch movies nowadays. I was talking to Heidi after the movie was over and I reiterated my statement that I was glad I only spent a dollar for it. We got to talking and honestly, I am so happy to wait for just about any movie to come to either the dollar theater or DVD prior to seeing it. This feeling would shock the shit out of my 20-year-old self. In fact, if I had known that it was coming out on DVD on Tuesday, I probably would have just skipped it altogether as it required a Herculean effort just to get to the theater.

I was looking back over the movies I've seen in the last year and I don't think that I really and truly enjoyed any that were not at least a little bit campy, leaning hard into the so-bad-it's-good territory. And that's what the dollar theater is all about. It remains the site of the only movie I have actually heard people "boo" at the end of (Silent Hill - it deserved it.) And I think that in the end, what made it hard for me to completely enjoy the movie is that I felt like I "should" like it more. If there's anything that pisses me off pop culture-wise, it's being told what I should or shouldn't like. I can make up my own mind, thanks. And movies like this, that have a 99% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and are universally lauded for their perfection always make me a little bit leery.

Trust me, I don't need splashy effects or car chases to get me involved in a movie (they help, but aren't essential.) But at the end of The Social Network, I didn't really feel like I knew anybody any better than in the first frame of the movie. I also didn't feel like there was a terrible amount of development of the characters either. They pretty much were as they started, just richer.

So I remain conflicted on The Social Network. I think it might deserve a rewatch at home once the DVD is released. I won't mind if it gets the Best Picture Oscar (David Fincher is long overdue - he should have at least been nominated for Zodiac) but I'm only part way through Inception and I already like it better.

Pop culture collision

Anna helped me set up the Fisher-Price farm that arrived on Christmas morning tonight. We, of course, had to video the resulting work on our new Kodak PlaySport video camera that was a gift from Wendy & Andrew.

Here it is. Of course, it is my office, so various items from the pop culture inevitably share space.

I was thinking of doing a video blog this weekend. This might be as ambitious as I get.

Friday, January 07, 2011

SAW (non-Kylie)

I was on my way home this morning after dropping Anna off at school and a song came on my iPod that got me to thinking about Stock, Aitken & Waterman. Most of those who read will immediately recognize SAW as the UK songwriting and production team that was responsible, most notably, for Kylie's first four albums. When I was in high school, it was amazing how much SAW I gravitated towards, most of the time not even realizing it. The song that I heard on the way back this morning was a SAW song and it got me to thinking about my favorite non-Kylie SAW songs. There are so many to choose from, but I narrowed the field pretty successfully. There are four and if I really wanted to subject Matt and Bess to unfiltered Dan music, I would submit all four for the next DMB CD. (speaking of, when are we doing that?)

Donna Summer / This Time I Know It's For Real
This is the song that prompted this post, so I guess you can thank 1989 Donna Summer for it. I was always impressed that Donna Summer got radio airplay in 1989 as it was well past her disco heyday. She was a natural fit for SAW and her bigger than life voice complemented the rather simple melodies and songs surprisingly well. Say what you will about SAW, but can they write a chorus or what?

Boy Krazy / That's What Love Can Do
Released in 1993, I always thought that this sounded like Kylie. You see, I was completely oblivious to Kylie's continued success overseas so I figured she had completely disappeared. I don't think I actually figured out it wasn't until many years later, although I think I knew in my heart of hearts that it wasn't - not squeaky enough! (said with love and affection.) I always loved this song but don't think I got my hands on it till the Napster free-for-all.

Laura Branigan / Shattered Glass
I think this was probably the first SAW song I ever heard. I bought Laura Branigan's Touch album on the strength of "Shattered Glass." Too bad it ended up being one of only two SAW tracks - the other being "Whatever I Do." I always felt kind of bad for Laura Branigan. The record company really never knew what to do with her. Was she a power ballad belter? Was she a dancefloor, high NRG diva? Regardless, "Shattered Glass" is a highlight even though it stalled out just outside the top 40.

Bananarama / I Can't Help It
Fresh off the success of "Venus," Bananarama turned their follow-up album WOW! over to SAW. The best track off that album is still the first song and kick-off single "I Can't Help It." Containing my classic misheard lyric "I got debated by your heartache" (it's really "I'm captivated by you honey"), the cheesiness is sealed by the line "Boys say, they say I'm good enough to eat (manger)" How can you resist French in a song? Watching this video now, I'm amazed at how much they were clearly playing to their main demographic even in 1989.

Did I miss anything? I'm sure ChartRigger might have a thing or two to say.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Documentaries, Part 1

I have been on staycation all week this week. It's been the best thing that's ever happened to me. OK, perhaps that's a bit of an overstatement, but it has been EXACTLY what I needed after all the traveling that goes with the holiday season. It has been so worth it that I may do this again next year. Anyway, I've been massively productive in many ways that don't appear upon first glance to be productive. I've over half way through my continuing ed that I need to do for my license renewal in June, we've made tremendous headway on our Hoarders-ish basement, and I'm nearing the end of a second book. Crap, I wish I were doing the 25 book challenge this year!

I've also done a lot of sitting on my ass and watching TV. Loads of it, in fact. This is notable as I'm not usually one to selfishly sit in front of the TV. We don't have cable so my temptation to do so is not what it might be if we did. But between Netflix, Hulu and Roku, I have found a shitload to watch this week. And really, all I've watched is documentaries. I was going to give each one of them their own blog post, but really, that's just overkill. But I did want to highlight the ones that I've deemed worthy of my staycation time, so here we go with the first three.

My friend Matt recommended Cropsey to me which is a good thing because I'm pretty sure I never would have discovered it on my own. The name "cropsey" refers to an urban legend of a Boogeyman like killer, some say he has a hook for a hand, others say he was a crazed Boy Scout counselor, other versions have him living in a subterranean series of tunnels. Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio, both raised on Staten Island, tell the tale of a series of child abductions that might have been (or might not have been) perpetrated by a man named Andre Rand, who worked at the Willowbrook State School - a home for children with mental disabilities famously exposed by Geraldo Rivera in 1972. The story unfolds slowly but never too much so. I watched this from midnight till about 2AM one night and I had myself so freaked out that I really didn't want to turn the lights off to go to bed. So in other words, it was right up my alley, as most true-crime stories are. Highly recommended.

Unforgotten: 25 Years After Willowbrook
I was inspired to watch this partially because of the role Willowbrook State School played in Cropsey but also because I was scouring the net looking for Geraldo's original documentary footage from 1972 when he exposed Willowbrook as being basically a cess pool and dumping ground for kids that had nowhere else to go. This documentary highlighted four different families that had a family member, either a son or daughter or a sibling, that was in Willowbrook prior to its closure in 1987. Consisting primarily of new interview footage (although there was some Geraldo footage in there as well), this was a good but not great documentary. I think I was expecting more dirt on Willowbrook and less of the personal family drama. It was still worth watching as it barely clocked in at 60 minutes, but not exactly what I was expecting. One of the things that impressed me was how much care for the mentally disabled has improved over the last 25 years. This film was made in 1996, so it is pretty old by documentary standards, but I still felt that the message was relevant. May we never forget the atrocities of Willowbrook so that we are not doomed to repeat them.

A League of Ordinary Gentlemen
I stumbled across this in the documentary section of Netflix Streaming. I'm not a big sports guy (no, really?) so I usually shy away from sports documentaries, but I figured that I was at least sporty enough for bowling. A League of Ordinary Gentlemen is all about how bowling lost its cool and the steps the Professional Bowlers Association (PBA) was taking to get professional televised bowling back on the map. The film followed four pro bowlers - three seasoned professionals from pro bowling's hey day (Pete Weber, Walter Ray Williams, Jr., and Wayne Webb) as well as a younger, less well known bowler (Chris Barnes.) The documentary followed these men for a year culminating in the 2003 PBA World Championship in suburban Detroit - the first time pro bowling had been on TV since 1997.

Like I said, not being a big sporty guy, I wasn't sure what to expect, but I have to say that it was very entertaining. The guys take their bowling VERY seriously. I think I felt most sorry for Wayne Webb, who won over a million dollars in prize money in the 80s but squandered it all away, marrying and divorcing multiple times and declaring bankruptcy twice. The world championship round was a nail-biter and I was really engaged so I guess they accomplished what they wanted. I also learned more about pro bowling than I thought there was to know.

See how much you can learn just watching TV? I have a few more to watch before I head back to work next week and I'm still trying to decide if I have it in me to watch 8: The Mormon Proposition which is streaming on Netflix. We'll see what happens.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Pre-wedding video

For those of you that missed it on Facebook (or can't see it because you're not my friend on Facebook), here's a portion of the video that played prior to my sister's wedding on New Year's Eve. It was completely done by my all-sorts-of-awesome brother-in-law Andrew. If you're a Doctor Who fan, you'll love this. Even if you aren't I guarantee you'll at least be entertained.

Welcome to the family, Andrew. You're gonna fit in just fine.


I just finished Jeremy Bishop's debut novel, Torment and even before I was done reading it, I knew that it would be a blog post. I can't remember exactly how I stumbled across it. I think I followed a link to another book that was in the bargain bin for Kindle books and this was one of the "similar books." I downloaded the sample and was so hooked that I didn't hesitate coughing up $2.99 for the whole thing. Not since the last Brian Keene book have I been so enthralled by a piece of horror fiction.

I'm finding that it's really hard to write about Torment without spoiling it, but I'll do my best. Nuclear war between Russia and the US breaks out and a handful of people including the President, Secret Service people, White House staff and some visitors to the White House for a Medal of Honor ceremony manage to escape the carnage by being launched into space in nuclear powered space ships in the vein of Project Orion. From there, they watch the destruction of Earth. The onboard computers monitor the conditions on Earth and are programmed to bring them back down when radiation has reached a safe level and the atmosphere is breathable. Imagine their surprise when a few hours after the whole thing starts, the escape ships start their descent back to Earth.

What they return to is a scorched Earth filled with the living dead. These are not Romero zombies (or even Boyle zombies.) In fact, I hesitate to call them zombies at all - too many of the canonical zombie rules are broken. But like the zombies of Keene's The Rising and City of the Dead, they really do work despite all the rule breaking even though they couldn't be more different.

Saying any more about the plot really would spoil it, so I'll stop there. The subtitle for Torment is "a novel of dark horror" and they are NOT kidding. The body count is high and the gore factor, while not off the charts, is quite elevated as well. Reading this book was like peeling back layers on an onion. Just when you thought you had it all figured out, the book would take a hard right turn and confound your expectations yet again. This is a good thing. While many zombie story cliches are present, the most prominent being the constant running from danger, the people, places and things encountered during the running more than make up for it.

While being sold as a zombie novel, I think it's more accurately qualifies as post-apocalyptic fiction that happens to feature undead people of sorts. While I am as serious as a heart attack about zombie rules for the most part, I am not so anal that I can't appreciate different takes on my most beloved of all monsters. What Torment delivers on is scares and that's good enough for me.

One thing I found kind of funny in reading reviews of Torment on both Amazon and Goodreads was that many people declared the book "fundamentalist" and "too Christian." I didn't get this vibe at all. While there is definitely a spiritual component of the novel (to say one little bit more will completely spoil it), I didn't find it to be heavy-handed at all.

Bishop is a writer to watch. I've said before that novels involving any form of the undead are a tough nut to crack because the visuals are so important. Bishop, like Keene before him, makes up for the lack of visuals in a crisp writing style and compelling narrative. In a world in which horror novels are 90% less-than-satisfying, I am happy to report that Torment is more than worth any horror (or zombie) fan's time.

Buy it here - you won't regret it. And to quote the book, you're ready.