Monthly Archives: October 2009

The Worst Song On Radio

With many apologies to my sister Amy, I have got to say that the Miley Cyrus song Party in the USA has to be the absolute worst song I have heard in a long time.  I have listened to it a number of times, mostly because I have a 10-year-old daughter, but I have also listened to it on my own when it has come across my radio dial.  I have tried to like it, I really have, but the distorted vocals just keep reminding me of the Johnny Bravo episode of The Brady Bunch where Greg was hired because he fit the suit.  Other than the fact that is seems to put a smile on Molly’s face when she sings along, I can’t really find any other redeeming value to this song.  It is just plain irritating.  Having three kids, I have been subjected to a lot of bad music over the years, and for the most part I just grit my teeth and let them listen.  Stephanie was a big Britney fan, and at one time I could recite almost all the words to Oops, I Did it Again in my sleep, and I have had to watch the video to Lucky more times than I really care to remember.  Some of the music I didn’t mind so much, like when Alex got the Jonas Brother’s CD and had me play it every time he was in the car.  I also don’t mind Taylor Swift, but that song of hers about Romeo and Juliet get stuck in the brain for hours as soon as I hear it.  The other song that often gets stuck in my head is the LeAnn Rimes song from Coyote Ugly, but I think in that case it is not so much the song, but the movie I find irritating.  It is one of Stephanie’s favorite still, and I have a feeling Maureen would be a tad bit embarrassed to admit she likes it too.

So, I wanted to try and give Miley the benefit of the doubt, and I started a list in my head of the most irritating songs I could think of.  Please do not try this at home.  I am a trained, self-proclaimed specialist in this field.  You will only hurt yourself if you try.  Instead, let me do the work for you.  If you choose to keep reading, I have included for you my list of the Top 10 most irritating songs to me.  There are no magic criteria here, it is just my opinion.  I have restricted my choices based on the effect the song has had on my life personally, and also on the songs place in American Pop Culture.  Although there is any number of songs by Yoko Ono that would literally tear my spine out, the chances of me having to listen to them, accidentally or otherwise, are very slim.  For that reason they are not included.  Mostly the list will include songs that you know so be warned.  There is a good chance that you will be humming one of these tunes later today or tomorrow.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

So here we go, starting with number 10, let the countdown begin:

#10 Friends in Low Place –  Garth Brooks

This one makes the number 10 spot not so much for the original song, but for the sheer number of times I have been subjected to drunken karaoke versions of the song.  For some reason, this is also a popular song at wedding receptions.  The playing of the song is usually instigated by the Best Man or one of the other grooms men, as they circle around the groom to bellow out the chorus at him.  Most of the other lyrics seem to be muddled or forgotten, as this usually takes place towards the end of the night when the chance of sobriety is completely lost.  Also completely lost is the fact that the song is inappropriate for a wedding.  Listen to the lyrics guys.  They are dumping on the bride.  If you find yourself at a wedding and this song is suggested, just say no.  That is unless your intent is to break up the marriage before it even starts.  The bride will be pissed.

#9 – The Sweet Escape – Gwen Stefani w/Akon

Gwen can go ahead and send her thank you note directly to Akon for landing her on this list.  Although she did have a runner-up song of her own that could have easily made this list on its own merit with Hollaback Girl, it was Akon’s unrelenting “Woo Hoo” throughout this song that won it the number nine position.  Another favorite of my daughter Molly, it takes a quick hand and an even quicker ear to get it off the radio before she notices it.  But since the song starts right out with that damn “Woo Hoo,” it is an almost impossible task.  Alex will often try and help me out by talking very loudly directly at Molly when he hears the song begin to give me a chance to change the station, but as Molly gets older she has become wise to this ploy.  Woo Hoo.

#8 – Who Let the Dogs Out – Baha Men

For many people, this song would probably rate higher on the list, but two factors keep it relatively low on my list.  First, this song truly was just a fad song.  The highest it climbed on the Billboard Pop chart was only #40, and second it faded almost as fast as it arrived.  The only reason I have included it at all is because of its rampant use at sporting events.  The Baltimore Raven most notable used the song on their way to winning the Super Bowl in 2000, and while with the Seattle Mariners, Alex Rodriguez used the song as his walk up music.  Most people don’t even remember that there was an actual song beyond the catch phrase, and I doubt that anyone has heard or played the entire song in a very long time.  The song has basically become a joke, but is still often used in television and film for a quick laugh, most recently in the hit film The Hangover.  I believe you would have a very hard time finding anyone who would actually admit to liking the song, but the fact that the basic tag line has survived and is so recognizable, I feel it has earned it’s spot here on my list.

#7 – Barbie Girl – Aqua

I would never have thought it possible to get two equally annoying yet different voices on one record until I heard this song.  And I heard it a lot.  It only reached #7 on the American charts, but it was a number one hit all over the world.  It was also a hit with my oldest daughter and can unfortunately still be heard on the radio today.  The first time I heard the song myself, I actually thought it was some kind of radio joke.  But Mattel didn’t think it was a joke and the company filed a lawsuit claiming copyright infringement.  But the courts ruled that the song was protected under the First Amendment and that Barbie’s existence in the public domain left her open to parody.  So it was a joke, right?  Without the lawsuit, this song probably would not have gotten the airplay it did, and possibly would not have made it on the list.  It can be argued that Barbie Girl is a classic piece of Bubble Gum Pop, but for me the song is as irritating as a mosquito bite, so it will remain on my list.

#6 – Poker Face – Lady Gaga

I am pretty sure I just heard a collective gasp from all the Lady Gaga fans out there, but trust me on this one; ten years from now this song is Barbie Girl.  It is the only current song that appears on my list, and that might be the main reason it is here.  I still hear the song way too much.  And it was annoying from the very first time I heard it.  I will admit that I do enjoy Lady Gaga’s other hit song Just Dance, but it lacks that same mind numbing repetitiveness that Poker Face subjects us with.  Only time will tell for sure if this song will live up to its irritating legacy, but for now it is not going to disappear from my list.

#5 – The Chicken Dance – Werner Thomas

I credit Werner Thomas with creating this up-tempo polka tune because that seems to be the only thing that most people seem to agree upon about this song.  The tune itself is more than 50 years old, but the story and actual title of the piece varies from source to source.  It is the only instrumental tune on the list (don’t give me that crap about lyrics, I have yet to hear a recorded version with lyrics) and as far as I can tell the tune has never appeared on any music charts here in the United States.  But the fact that everyone reading this can hum the tune and knows when to flap their arms, shake their butts, and make little chirping beak faces with their hands, proves that the song meets the criteria I set of American Pop Culture, so it lands right here at number five.  My inclusion of The Chicken Dance is bound to bring distain form some readers, probably even more so than my inclusion of Lady Gaga.  But damn it, it’s my list.  It stays!

#4 – Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm – Crash Test Dummies

Dumb title, dumb song, dumb band.   The Billy Bob Thornton, Sling Blade, Karl Childers asinine mumbling chorus makes this song bad enough, but have you ever really tried to listen to the lyrics?  The song just makes no sense.  There’s a boy whose hair turns from black to white because of a car accident and a girl with birthmarks all over her body.  What the hell is this song about?  I can’t quite explain it.  Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm.  It very easily could have been number one.

#3 – Tubthumper – Chumbawumba

This song makes the number three spot because just like a cold sore on a prom queen, it just keeps popping up.  I have to admit, when I first came up with the idea of this list I couldn’t even remember the name of the song, but I knew it had to be included.  What I can never forget is the mish-mosh of nonsense lyrics.  “I get knocked down, but I get up again, no you’re never gonna keep me down.”  Please, for God’s sake.  Stay Down!  Even the name of the band is irritating.  I know very little about this band, and to be honest I don’t want to know anything about them.  I get the general idea that the song is about the working man and that no matter what “the man” does to him he’s just going to keep coming.  It is basically flipping a giant middle finger at the establishment, but Johnny Paycheck did it much better with Take This Job and Shove It and it didn’t make me want to stab my eardrums with knitting needles. 

#2 – Macarena – Los Del Rio

The only thing that kept this song from being number one was the fact that I have actually not had to listen to it in quite some time.  But taking into account its place in American Pop Culture, this song takes the cake.  This song spent 14 weeks at number one on the Billboard charts, tied for second as the most weeks ever.  The song still retains the number five position on Billboard’s All Time Top 100.  And who can forget the robotic Al Gore attempt at the dance during the 1996 Democratic National Convention.  Unlike the equally irritating Who Let the Dogs Out, this song was not a fad, and it still enjoys airplay at wedding receptions and bar-mitzvahs all across the country.  Grandmothers and young children everywhere are still willing to jump out onto the dance floor to give this one a try.  I will be waiting it out at the bar.  Better make it a double.

#1 – Mambo # 5 – Lou Bega

Another hot hit with the wedding reception crowd, this one I still hear all the time.  Besides the fact that I just heard this song again about a week ago, the main reason this makes the number one spot is that I find the artist just as irritating as the song.  Lou Bega is not Hispanic.  He is not even Spanish.  He’s German.  Ok, so his mother was from Sicily and his father was Ugandan, which did give him a somewhat exotic look, but he is about as Latino as me.  His real name is David Lubega, see how he cleverly just dropped the whole David thing, and he was born raised and still lives in Germany.  The song was “sampled” in its entirety for a 1949 song of the same name, and all Mr. Lubega did was provide his own lyrics.  And aren’t we all happy he did.  The main portion of the song is the “little bit” lyrics that also provide most of the irritation.  I do remember that the show Friends used the song extensively in their advertising because the first woman named on the list was Monica.  Myself, I prefer my German artist angry yet stoic.  Give me those 99 Luftballoons any day.

So, there you have it.  My 10 most irritating songs.  Take a little time to digest them and let me know what you think.  I actually had a lot of fun putting this list together, and I suppose I should give credit to another of my favorite blog sites, Listverse.  I have added them to my Blog Roll if you care to visit them, but it can be very addicting.  I might even visit this format again sometime myself.   But remember, this was all just for fun.  Please don’t threaten my life if I made fun of one of your favorite songs.  If one of your favorite songs was on this list, you have a lot more to worry about than just me.

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A Day in the Life (or at least a morning)

I have been a little down lately.  I guess it’s an early start to the winter time blues.  Maureen, smart girl that she is, seems to have picked up on this and has been putting up with my somewhat foul mood, but I can’t expect her to continue.  As with all couples, we have our up and our down moments, and at this point I seem to be dragging us into one of those down moments.  I have to do something to snap out of it.

6:30 – Maureen’s alarm on her phone goes off.  Usually, my alarm is first at 6:15 but since I forgot my phone at work last night our first hint at the dark morning comes fifteen minutes later than normal.  Oh, we never get up at 6:15, it is just sort of a warning that the morning is about to begin and that we should prepare ourselves for the inevitable.  We take our extra fifteen minutes anyway.

6:45 – Maureen announces that she now needs to get up since they are showing snakes on the morning news.  And then something about the Shed Aquarium and fish not being able to live in the studio.  Then it all fades to black again as I double check the insides of my eyelids for cracks.  None are found.

7:00 – Matt Lauer’s voice tells me I cheated and stole another fifteen minutes.  I hunt for a sweatshirt to guard against the morning cold and have it stuck halfway over my head when Maureen tells me she is perfectly capable of making her own coffee and that I should lie back down for a few more minutes.  As tempting as that invitation was, I manage to pop my head through the sweatshirt and slug across the floor, but as I make my way to the door in the dark, the left lens of my glasses pops out and flies off into nowhere.  Maureen tells me to stand still and flips on the light.  I’m awake now.  She hands me the wayward lens and I head down the stairs. 

7:12 – That’s what the clock on the stove says, but the microwave is willing to give me an extra minute.  Either way, I pass them both as I head to the coffee maker.  I grab for a filter but of course get two, and for some reason the two do not want to be separated this morning.  In frustration I almost just use them both, but I have had to clean that mess up before.  Coffee just doesn’t flow though two filters as quickly as through one, and the resulting overflow of brown water and grounds would just delay the needed caffeine jolt.  After much finger rubbing, I finally separate the two and proceed to make six cups, which of course in the real world means only four.  With that complex task finished, I turn to the task of fixing my glasses.  I have one of those eyeglass screwdrivers in the car.  I leave it in the car because whenever I bring it in the house it seems to disappear into that black hole that also sucks up socks, pens, and Alex’s underwear.  This way I always know where it is.  It’s in the car.  And I’m in my underwear and a sweatshirt.  So I use a kitchen knife to tighten the tiny little screw that hold my glasses together.

7:17 – Coffee!  Maureen has been kind enough to pour me a cup, and then she heads to the computer to kill a few people.  Mafia Wars.  It’s an addiction almost as bad as coffee.  I finally tell her that Dyani had called to ask if we were coming to her daughter’s birthday party on the 8th.  She actually called on Sunday while Maureen was at the store, but my bad mood and a certain football game had wiped it from my memory until that very moment.  This is where the life of a divorced parent becomes difficult.  You have to plan your life around this other person who most of the time you don’t even want to talk to, so if we go to the party, I have to make arrangements to drop the kids off later than usual.  It should not be that big of a deal, but it has become a big deal on enough occasions that I tend to put off these conversations.

7:33 – After a quick trip upstairs to retrieve her phone and brush her teeth, Maureen is out the door.  I give her a kiss and tell her to drive carefully.  She rolls her eyes at me and tells me she will.  I should head right up the stairs and get in the shower, but it’s my turn to kill a few people.

7:54 – I rush up the stairs and throw myself in the shower.  More than likely, I am now going to be late, and since I left my phone at work, I won’t be able to call in and let them know of my tardiness.  After a quick once over of all the important parts, I jump into my pants, grab some socks and head downstairs to finish dressing, because although I did fold some laundry last night, the shirt I want to wear is still sitting on the back of the chair where I placed it after I folded it.  I dress and then check to make sure I have turned off the coffee pot, another mistake I have made on one too many occasions, and I head for the door.

8:13 – On my way out the door, I run into my son Alex on his way in.  It seems he had forgotten his gym uniform and needed to retrieve it.  Since today is now Tuesday, I can only assume he did not dress for gym yesterday, and since he also did not present me with a dirty gym uniform to wash over the weekend, I can also assume it is still dirty.  And since Alex has to be at school at 8:15, his appearance in my doorway means he too is late.  It also means that my ex-wife is parked in my driveway.

8:15 – I give a short nod towards the green Windstar Van and attempt to make a quick getaway.  She rolls down her window. Damn!  She tells me that they tried to call me, and I tell her I had left my phone at work the night before.  She tells me that she doesn’t even know if Alex’s gym uniform is in my house, but that he “thinks” he knows where it is.  I should probably take this time to ask her about the party and dropping the kids off late, but my gut tells me it’s not a good time.  I wave at Molly in the back of the van next to their dog, and jump in the car.  As I start the car, the radio blasts back at me just a little too loud.  Eric & Kathy.  I am so not in the mood for that right now, and just turn it off.  As I pull out of the driveway, my front door is wide open, and there is still no sign of Alex and the errant gym uniform.

8:20 – The entrance to the expressway is jammed, so I decide to slip past and take the frontage road, which will mean making an illegal u-turn to double back to it.  But there is a semi-truck trying to do the same thing so I go past it to the next road.  The light is green but the left turn arrow is red, so in order to make the turn I would have to wait through an entire light cycle.  I decide to take the next left.  At the next corner, I am greeted by those infamous golden arches, and I can see clearly that the drive thru line is empty.  What the hell, I am already late, so I take the right.  I order a sausage muffin without the egg, a hash brown, and a bottle of water since I had already had two cups of coffee at home.  The friendly voice comes back over the speaker and asks me if I would like two hash browns with my order.  It would only be an extra quarter.  What a silly question.  Of course I would!

8:30 – I finally make my way onto the Stevenson Expressway by way of Joliet Road.  My “short cut” has worked and the traffic is moving at a pretty good pace here.  I had already wolfed down the first hash brown when I decide to turn on the radio.  Eric & Kathy still.  No.  I flip over to JACK-FM and catch the middle of Spirit of the Radio by Rush.  A good stopping point.  The sausage muffin and other hash brown found a happy home in my belly as I weaved my way down the road.  A woman in a BMW pulls up behind me and starts flashing her brights at me.  Because she’s the only person on the road in a hurry, and there are not another dozen car in front of me.  After passing a truck, I pull into the center lane so the BMW lady can pass.  As she passes me, she instantly starts flashing her brights at the car that was in front of me, but he is not so quick to pull over for her.  The left lane starts to slow, and I soon find myself whisking passed the BMW lady.  The traffic gods are with me.

8:44 – I spoke too soon.  Traffic has slowed to a more expected pace, but not quite what I would call stop and go.  The lighted sign that spans the roadway tells me it is still 39 minutes until I reach the Dan Ryan Expressway where I will make my way south to 35th Street.  Some quick math tells me I will not be arriving at work on time, and I start to wish I had dropped off the payroll before I left last night instead of leaving it on my desk next to my phone.  It is not due until 10, but I don’t like rushing it down to the accounting department at the last minute.  I fumble with the radio to find a more reliable traffic report, but I stop when a conversation about Mark McGuire being hired as the Cardinal’s new hitting coach peaks my interest.

9:04 – I pass that obnoxious billboard of George Lopez advertising his new late night talk show that is starting in November.  Like he really needs a billboard to make his head look any bigger.  I start to wonder who will be cancelled faster from the late night slot, him or Wanda Sykes.  I am hoping it is him since I like Wanda quite a bit better, but I really don’t give either show much of a chance.  I’m certainly not going to miss my late night re-runs of CSI:Wherever

9:08 – The sport station is taking too long in commercial break, so I start the radio flip game again and settle on U2.  Maureen and I had just seen them in September out at Soldier Field and they have already announced a return trip for July 6th.  I know this because Maureen asked me to put this into our summer schedule.  That means another call to Rob to get tickets.  I think he still owes me a few favors from all the help I gave in 2005.  Shouldn’t be a problem.  Where the Streets Have No Name faded right into Somebody by Kings of Leon as I made the southbound ramp. 

9:17 – Pulled into the parking lot just as the song was ending.  Not as late as I thought I would be.  I jump out of the car with the empty muffin bag and water bottle.  I wave at Marianne who is also just getting out of her car.  I toss the empties in the trash as I enter the lobby, a quick hello to Joe the security guy.  Another quick good morning exchange with Jen and Laura at the front desk.  Joe, Charles, Laura and Mary as I walk into the office.  Hello, hello, hello, hello.  I turn on my computer and check my phone.

9:20 – Two missed calls but no messages.  I guess the gym uniform wasn’t important enough to leave a message over.  I grab the payroll sheet and head for the door.  It will take my computer a few minutes to warm up, so I might as well start the hike down to accounting while it does.  I meet Mina in the hallway and wish her a Happy Birthday.  It is not until tomorrow, but I know this because Facebook told me about it when I logged in to kill a few people this morning.  A fast wave to the ladies at the switchboard, and a good morning to Jerae who is making the morning mail run.  Morning Tommy Boy.  I’m not sure why she calls me that.  I am hoping it’s not because Chris Farley and I are of the same build. As I climb the stairs to accounting, I run into Terry. Morning.  Then past Meg and Chris in their offices, but they are looking down and miss the wave.  Marianne again, but this time an actual hello.  Then I literally run into Nancy.  She is who gets the payroll, and we both turned the corner at the exact time.  She tells me to just leave it on her desk as she heads off down the hall.  A brief conversation with John about the pension fund, and I promise to e-mail him the information he needs as soon as I get back to my desk.  Hello and hello to Kathy and Kristy and I head back down the stairs.  The smell of fresh coffee draws me into the break room where I run into Terry again.  As I pour my third cup of Joe for the morning, I say good morning to the third person named Joe today.  He makes a comment about it being a bad day to quit crack.  Like there is ever a good day to quit crack.  Cup in hand, I cut through the sales department to stop and see Dakin.  We were having some internet problem yesterday and I wanted to make sure everything was up and running correctly.  Past Tami, Julie and Mina again and it was back to the office.

9:35 – After a brief conversation with Ken about service charges, I finally arrive back at my desk.  I drink my coffee as I run the morning reports and answer a few e-mails.  Three cups of coffee and a bottle of water have finally kicked in, so I make my way past Mary and Laura to the little boy’s room in the back of the office.  As I cozy on up to the urinal.  I reach for my fly, but soon I discover my work has already been done.  No need to open the barn door if it is already standing wide open.

9:40 – While sitting somewhat sheepishly back at my desk, I realize what an ass I am.  Not because I just paraded around the entire building with my pants undone.  Unfortunately, I have not learned my lesson there, and have done that a few time before.  I just did it last week, not realizing it until after I returned from the cafeteria.  No, I was an ass because I had let a rotten mood get the better part of me for the past few days.  I think I owe a few people a big hug and a smile.  I will start with Alex and Molly tonight when I get home.  I was supposed to have a parent/teacher conference, but it was cancelled.  I think I will let them pick someplace for dinner and just enjoy spending some time listening to them tell me all about their day.  I might even give Alex a pass on the whole gym clothes thing.  And then later tonight when Maureen gets home, I will humbly grovel at her feet.  If she had a bad day, I sure do have a story to lighten the mood.  I hope she can find it in her heart to forgive me.

Love you, Babe.

Autumn Missed

Celebrity deaths are always big news, and none this year were bigger than Michael Jackson, but I find that all the attention spent on his passing, along with this upcoming movie about his final days, have overshadowed the loss of some other very noteworthy people.  Sure we still remember that this was the year we lost Patrick Swayze, John Hughes, Billy Mays, and Farrah Fawcett, whose passing was most overshadowed my Michael Jackson, since they both happened to pass on the same day.  There was the strange death of David Carradine, and the sudden passing of Natasha Richardson, along with the quiet passing of such great stars as Walter Cronkite, Karl Malden, Bea Arthur, Dom Deluise, Ed McMahon, James Whitmore, and Ricardo Montalban to name just a few.  A special mention also for the queen of the blues and one of the best performers I was ever honored to see, Koko Taylor.  In one of her last performances here in Chicago, I watch her get escorted on stage by two handsome young men barely able to walk.  But the second they let go of her, the music started and her voice echoed through the room and she gave one hell of a performance.  It only lasted about 45 minutes, and it ended with her signature rendition of Hound Dog, but she gave it her all and received a well deserved standing ovation.  Then the two young men returned to escort her back off the stage.

I know I have missed some others, but one passing in particular seemed to be missed all together.  I don’t even recall any mention of it in the mainstream media.  Sadly, I only came across this news because of an AARP newsletter I seem to receive by mistake.  On September 16 of this year, Mary Travers died at the age of 72 after a lengthy battle with Leukemia.  She was a wife, a mother, and a grandmother, and by all accounts she was respected and loved by all who knew her.  And more people knew of her, than I assume knew her name.  If you are of a similar age to me, Mary Travers was a part of your childhood that you will long remember.  So if you are one of those people asking yourself, “Who is Mary Travers?”  I can sum it up in just four words.

Puff, the Magic Dragon

Mary Travers was of course, the “Mary” in the classic folk trio, Peter, Paul and Mary.  Her straight long blond hair and square-cut bangs pretty much set the look for the late 60’s folk crowd, and she along with her partners Peter Yarrow and Noel “Paul” Stookey became one of the last folk singing groups to reach success on the pop charts.  Much of the trio’s popularity came from cover versions of other classic or well-known folk songs by writers such as Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger.  Their cover of Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind reached #2 on the pop charts, and Mary’s voice brought the song and its message to an audience that was not willing to put up with Dylan’s nasal tones.  And their version of the Pete Seeger song If I Had a Hammer became a civil rights anthem, and they performed it at the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech.  The trio’s only number one hit came at the very end of their career in 1969 with the John Denver penned song Leaving on a Jet Plane.  The group broke up a year later in 1970 to pursue solo projects.

But for me and many people of my generation, Puff, the Magic Dragon is still the song that we most associate with Peter, Paul and Mary.  It was a staple of our childhood, and often it was included in our grade school music classes.  For those who need a little refreshing, Puff was a mythical dragon who lived by an unnamed sea, but could often be seen frolicking in the autumn mist in the far off land of Honah Lee.  (If that didn’t just get a tune stuck in your head, then you are either too young or dead.)  The song tells of the adventures Puff has with his human friend, a boy named Jackie Paper.  They are respected and revered by both kings and pirates alike as they travel the land in a boat with billowed sails.  The song also tells the story of childhood lost, as Jackie outgrows his dragon friend and no longer returns to that part of his imagination where Puff still lives, and it is the adult world that quiets the once mighty dragon.

Although many have speculated that the song was actually an overt reference to drugs and smoking marijuana, where Jackie was actually the rolling paper used as a vessel to take a drag or “puff” on the magic substance, the singers have always contended that this was not the case.  For me, the song is a childhood memory of sitting at my grandmother’s house and my Uncle Pete singing the song to all of his nieces and nephews.  He played the guitar and we would all join in on the chorus.  It wasn’t until years later that I came to appreciate what the song was really about.  That as adults we tend to lose our dragons as we get caught up in the real world, and our adult lives, and then Jackie Paper is no more. We don’t take the time to enjoy the simple things like the imagination of a child, or to hum the tune of a long forgotten song.   As I now watch my own kids grow up, I want to fight against that grey night, and hold onto the innocents as long as possible.  Teach them that the wonder of their youth doesn’t need to sadly slip into a cave to never be seen again.  That youth doesn’t have to be wasted on the young, and that we can play along that cherry lane for as long as we wish.

Tonight, try and be brave and let your dragon out of it’s cave, and in the memory of Mary Travers and your own childhood, why not frolic in that autumn mist.  Find a little happiness of your own, in a land called Honah Lee

Time to Change

The days are getting shorter and the air has turned cold.  The greens of the summer have started that annual change to the gold, red, and brown of the fall.  Our short sleeved shirts and bathing suits have lost their place on our bodies, only to be replaced by sweatshirts and long pants.  Here in Chicago, we have already had our first frost, and only the most hardy of out door plants have not started wilting.  It is that time of year again when the seasons pass the torch and we prepair ourselves for the winter to come.  Halloween is just around the corner, and Thanksgiving is not too far behind.  Some ambitious stores have even started to get ready for the Christmas season.  As with the seasons, so too must our sports teams also pass onto the next season.  The boys of summer are taking their last bow, and it is time for the grid iron heros to take their place in the sports world.  It is football season.

So let’s talk a little baseball.

For most of the fans in Chicago, the baseball season ended sometime in August, but for those of us who work in and around the sport, we had to hang on to the bitter end.  And believe me it was bitter this year.  Oh sure, there were a few bright spots for the south side with Jake Peavy finally making it to the mound to win three games in his only three starts since being acquired in late July, and with Freddy Garcia  making it back to the big leagues to solidify a spot as the fifth starter.  And of course there was the emergence of a potential future All-Star and possible Rookie-of-the-Year in Gordon Beckham, who actually made my son forget about the loss of Joe Crede by mid-season.  But you won’t hear the words “Wait til next year” cross my lips. I will leave that battle cry to the other team in town and wish them luck as they try to get rid of the problems that plague their line-up. 

I turn my attention now to the post season, and my desire to continue watching baseball.  For me, it is a habit that is hard to break, and I have been desperately looking for a reason to keep watching.  For a team to get behind and someone to root for here in October.  Although I find myself not hating the Yankees as I have in past years, there are still plenty of reason to want to see them to miss the World Series again, and I find myself  hoping the Angels can pull things together and knock the Yankees off.  But the Angels are not the team I will be rooting for this year.  This year I will be pulling for the other team from California, the Dodgers.  And despite the fact that Manny Ramirez makes this a very hard team to root for, I am pulling for them for another reason, and his name is Jim Thome

When Thome was traded to the Dodgers late in the season, it was one of those moves that you understand from a baseball perspective, but you hate to see happen as a fan.  The truth is, Thome is 39 years old, has back, knee, and foot problems, and his ability to play the field is almost non-existant.  His role with the Dodgers has been reduced to a left-handed pinch hitter, but when he gets on base he is almost always lifted for a pinch runner.  If the Dodgers do make it to the World Series, I would imagine he would be their DH when playing in the American League park, and I would like to see him get that chance.  Thome has made it very clear that he does not intend to retire after this year, but given his limited playing ability, the chances that he will land with another contending team in the next few years seems somewhat unlikely.  So this may be his last chance at a World Series ring.  And I can’t think of another player in the post season this year who deserves one more.

Thome has already put together a nineteen year career that will guarantee him a spot in the Hall of Fame.  While with the Indians, he was part of a team that played in six post seasons in seven years, including two World Series appearances, but unfortunately they were beaten by Atlanta in 1995 and the Florida Marlins in 1997.  When Thome came to the White Sox in 2006 he said it was because he wanted a chance to compete with a team that could bring him back to the World Series, and although they won 90 games that year they failed to return to the post season until 2008.  But despite his career numbers as a player, there is another reason I would like to see Jim Thome get a World Series ring, it is because he is a genuinely nice person.  From what I have seen personally, in a world full of selfish players who don’t really care for the fans, Thome is the type of player you would want your kids to have as a role model.  He is a family man and his charity work speaks for itself.  Not just financially, but Thome has actually put a hammer in his hand and helped build homes for people less fortunate than himself. 

In the current NLCS, Thome has only had a chance to bat twice, but both times he did his job,drawing a walk in the first game and hitting a single in the second.  And he did it humbly, not like Manny, who hit a home run in the first game and then puffed out his chest and strutted that cocky walk of his halfway up the baseline watching the ball go out before he began to trot around the bases.  I guess he forgot they were still losing the game at that time.  And before anyone gives me that crap about Manny just being Manny, it’s really just Manny being an ass.  And I don’t even have to mention his 50 game suspension. There is nothing like that t tarnish Jim Thome’s career.  But who was the first person out of the dugout to greet Manny after that home run, you guessed it, Jim Thome.

So for this post season, I’m a Dodger fan.  Or really a Jim Thome fan.  That is unless the Bears are playing.  Afterall, it is football season.

Does This Beat Go On?

I had another one of those driving and music moments this morning, but this one kind of pissed me off.  I have found a few “oldies” stations that I listen to on and off when I am not listening to sports radio or a newly rediscovered old CD.  There are three basic stations with non-current music that I enjoy listening to.  Jack-FM, WLS-FM, and the one I was listening to this morning 100.3.  I have no idea what their call letter are, but they claim to be an 80’s and early 90’s station.  Their tag line is Feel Good Favorites.  Well I wasn’t feeling so good after what I heard this morning.  As I was pulling out of the gas station, they were just coming out of a commercial break and the next song started up.

Stomp, stomp, clap.   Stomp, stomp, clap.

In high school, you couldn’t go to a basketball or football game without the classic beginning to Queen’s We will Rock You exciting the crowd at various points during the night.  I was quite surprised years later when my oldest daughter was a member of her high school dance squad (I learned very quickly that they are not called pom-pom squads anymore) that they still use the same tactic to rile up the crowd even now.  I had really not been feeling good, and I wasn’t quite in the mood for that type of up lifting, so I was about to change the station when Freddie Mercury started his a cappella lyrics.

Buddy you’re a boy make a big noise,
Playin’ in the streets gonna be a big man some day

For some reason I stopped.  Not necessarily because I like the song, but because I remembered the crossover.  As we all know, We Will Rock You was just half of the anthem.  After a great Brian May guitar solo to finish the first song, we are instantly thrust into We Are the Champions.

I’ve paid my dues,
Time after time,
I’ve done my sentence,
But committed no crime.

Although I never thought these songs were some of Queen’s best, the David Bowie/Queen collaboration Under Pressure tops the list for me, they maintain a place in history where times were much simpler and they were indeed “Feel Good Favorites” as the station had promised.  So I turned up the radio waited for the crossover.  Brian May’s guitar was now screaming so I turned it up even more, and then;

Kelly Clarkson?  What the………

Since U Been Gone?  You have got to be kidding me.  There was nothing feeling very good just then.  I had been cheated!  Was Kelly Clarkson even alive in the 80’s?  Where were my Champions?  Like Peanut butter & Jelly or Batman & Robin, the two songs go together.  In my personal world of music history, there are three recording of “paired” songs that should never be broken apart.  We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions would definitely be one of them.  My sister Carrie had a 45 with the two songs, one on each side, and it used to aggravate me just having to flip it over to hear the other side.  In total, both songs were less than five minutes.  Would it have killed them to put them together and choose another B-Side?

In frustration, I reached down in the car and grabbed one of those old CDs I was mentioning.  This one just happened to have the second of my song duos that should not be broken up, and I desperately needed to hear my crossover and to get Kelly Clarkson the hell off my radio.  The album is Journey’s Infinity and the songs are of course Feeling That Way and Anytime.  This was actually the first album I ever bought with my own money, and much of the reason that I bought it was because of these two songs.  I skipped right past Lights, another great early Journey song and started my songs.  First a little piano and then;

Opened my eyes to a new kind of day,
All of the good times that you saved,
Are you feeling,
You feeling that way too,
Or am I just,  
Am I just a fool

Many people don’t know this, but that is not Steve Perry singing.  Steve Perry only sang the chorus of the song, with the rest of the vocals being provided by Gregg Rolie.  In fact, Rolie also sings the lead vocals on Anytime with Perry just adding back-up along with the rest of the band.  Infinity was actually Journey’s fourth album, but the first to feature Steve Perry.  The band was originally formed in 1973 by former Santana members Rolie and guitarist Neal Schon, but they produced little sales and almost no airplay from their first three albums.  Steve Perry was added to the band at the suggestion of the record label in an effort to boost sales, and Rolie eventually left the band before the height of their popularity in the 80’s.  But despite the mega sales of many of the band’s future endeavours, Infinity still stands in my opinion as the band greatest accomplishment.

I was actually quite please with myself for having the songs so close at hand to save my day, and as the second song finished I suddenly remembered the third song.  For some reason that I have never been able to explain to myself, this one hit wonder has always been an all time favorite of mine.  Like a pizza puff, there is really no value to the song other than it is just a lot of fun.  The lyrics were goofy and hard to understand, and there was really nothing new or innovative about the music.  I am not even sure if the band really qualifies as a one hit wonder since there were actually two songs, although unlike the previous two combos, these two were always intended to be played together.  The band was The Kings, and their debut album was simply entitled The Kings Are Here.  The songs were the fast paced and irrefutably enjoyable This Beat Goes On/Switching to Glide.  The song hit the airwaves like a bulldozer back in 1980, and was played just as heavily on the hard rock stations like WLUP as it was on the more mainstream pop stations like WLS.  I remember that they made quite a splash on American Bandstand even though they were Canadian and that the camera had a hard time following them because they jumped around so much.  I actually saw this band live way back when, out on Navy Pier before it was remodeled.  Back then it was the host to Chicago Fest, and The Kings played on the Rock Stage earlier in the day, but my friend Jimmy and I had actually hopped the train from Wheaton that day to see Alice Cooper on the Main Stage.  I don’t even think I told my mom were I was going.

But just as quickly as The Kings hit the airwaves, they also disappeared.  And the song seemed to disappear with them.  Unlike Queen’s  We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions or Journey’s Feeling That Way/Anytime, This Beat Goes On/Switching to Glide seemed to just vanish.  You don’t even hear it on those “oldies” stations.  So when I got to work, I had to give it a try, and I looked up the band and song, and you will never believe what I found.  The Kings are still at it.  They still play shows and turn out music in and around their home base of Toronto.  They are even available on iTunes if you care to look them up.  But for those like me who still don’t own an I-Pod, here is a link to the band’s website and a video for the song.  It is a compilation of the band playing the tune over the years including footage from that American Bandstand show.

http://www.thekingsarehere.com/thisbeatswitchin.php

Enjoy it.  Because this beat does go on.

Connecting the Dot’s

I spent a good portion of the mid-eighties in DeKalb, wandering aimlessly around the campus of Northern Illinois University.  I had a lot of good friends, and I have had a chance to catch up with many of them through the marvel of the internet known as Facebook.  As I have reconnected with various people from my old college days, I once again find that many of those memories seem to be connected to food.  They include picnics and parties, The Cornball, and our first Thanksgiving dinner at Laura and Patty’s place.  And of course, as with most college campuses, there were the various restaurants and bars that became our hangouts and meeting spots.

Being a Theatre Major, my home base on campus was the Stevens Building, and more importantly, the smelly old couches by the call board.  This was also the backstage area for our main theatre, O’Connell.  At almost any time of the day, students and sometime faculty could be found here talking or resting or studying.  And almost certainly smoking.  Although I myself am not a smoker, it would seem very strange to me to return to that spot now that smoking is no longer allowed inside the building.  It was just a part of the ambiance of the call board.  I guess back in those days, I was too dumb to realize my lungs needed saving.

Out the back door of the Stevens Building was a small parking lot which then led to a strip mall and our main source of food on most days.  There was a McDonald’s on one side, but at least for me, it was not a place I would visit very often, mostly only when they were having a fifty cent cheeseburger sale.  There were other fast food restaurants in the area, a Burger King and a Pizza Hut, but these types of establishments really lend nothing special to any area.  It is the smaller local favorites that truly defined our eating habits.  Our first choice if you were in a hurry and had to get back to class was a small hotdog stand called PJ’s Red Hots.  It was much smaller than Tom and Jerry’s, the competition further down Lincoln Highway, but in my opinion, they had the better fries.  Simply cut from whole potatoes and deep fried with the skin still intact.  And for a little extra a glob of cheese or chili or both could be piled on top.  PJ’s served the basic Chicago Style hotdogs and burgers.  It is also where I first fell in love with that deep fried pastry known to many as the pizza puff.  It has absolutely no redeeming dietary value, but come on, cheese and sausage and pizza sauce all wrapped up in a crispy crust that was soaked in scalding oil for two minutes, what on earth could be wrong with that?  That is unless you bit into it too quickly and burnt the roof of your mouth.

A few doors down, if you had more time and felt like a deli sandwich or some good soup, there was The Dill Pickle.  Considering that they actually named themselves after a pickle, I always thought they should have the best pickles, but they were really only ok at best.  What they did have was some very good pastrami, and the best potato salad that ever came in a small condiment cup.  Unfortunately, they were usually too expensive for my college budget, and the extra dark interior did not make it a good place to study.  Study sessions were reserved for The Junction.

The official name was The Junction Eating Place, and since the idea of a coffee house had not quite caught on yet back in 1984 to 1987, it was the closest thing we had to a Central Perk.  As the name would indicate, the theme of the restaurant was a train depot, and there was an actual working model train that ran around the restaurant close to the ceiling.  We almost always met at The Junction in a group, so the little Greek owner would mostly sit us in the back.  Our favorite corner was one of those half booths where those who sat against the wall sat on an orange pleather bench, and those in front of the table got chairs.  I myself preferred the very corner of the bench where I could rest against the wall and put a foot up if no-one was sitting right next to me.  But the Junction was not just a student hang out.  I actually had a class one semester that met at the Junction.  It was a playwriting class, and we would all sit around drinking coffee, eating giant cinnamon rolls, and reading our scripts.  Many years later, I stopped at the Junction with my daughter Stephanie, who at that time could only have been four or five years old, and to my surprise, the little old Greek man at the counter recognized me.  He offered to sit me in the back like the old days, but since it was just the two of us, we opted to be sat in one of the booths by the front windows.  That way we had a great view of the Pizza Villa across the parking lot.

There are really just two words needed to describe The Pizza Villa.  Beer Nuggets.  Anyone who spent any time as a student at NIU just had a flashback to a late night munchies fest.  Anyone who has never been to DeKalb just thought “Huh?”  Beer Nuggets were originally made from left over pizza dough.  It would be chopped up into rectangular cubes or nuggets, and then they were deep fried.  That’s it.  Deep fried pizza dough.  The proper way to eat them was with a side of sauce.  I enjoyed rolling them in parmesan cheese after they had been adequately dipped.  At two in the morning, the best way to eat them was as quickly as possible.  Pizza Villa cornered the market on late night munching with these little balls of deep fried dough.  They had a fleet of trucks that could be seen weaving in and around campus, and besides delivering pizza, they also carried extra bags of Beer Nuggets.  All you had to do was flag down a truck and present the driver with whatever crumpled up bills were still left in your pocket, and you had an instant late night snack.

For the more adventurous late night eater, there was one final stop that could be taken, but only the most fool hardy all-nighters would ever survive to actually see a visit to Dot’s.  Just off the corner of Lincoln Highway and 1st Street, almost undetected by most passer-by, there was a small little restaurant that almost never seemed to be open.  Its tiny green awning and window simply said “Dot’s”.  The story as I heard it was that Dot’s late husband was a truck driver, and he would often have to make overnight hauls.  When he would return in the morning Dot would get up early and make him breakfast.  Over the years, this habit became a business, and Dot’s grew into a popular stop for overnight truckers and early morning delivery people.  This is why the restaurant would open at 4 am, and then be closed before most inhabitants were even aware it had opened.  Dot was a slight woman with short platinum blond hair.  She was the cook and did not seem to ever come out from behind the counter.  In front of the counter serving the food was a chunkier woman with dark hair and the standard waitress outfit like you would see Flo wear on Alice.  I don’t recall her name, but I want to say it was Velma or Thelma or something like that.  Or I might just be stretching it a bit in my memory because it seems like that’s what her name should have been.  There was really no reason for a menu in Dot’s since the only thing she served was the Special.  Two eggs, two strips of bacon, two sausage links and hash browns, all cooked in its own slab of butter.  The coffee was awful but hot, and the food was greasy and good.  Or as good as one can remember considering it was four in the morning.

I have to be honest and say that I probably only made it to Dot’s twice during my years at NIU.  It always seemed like a good idea, but since my basement apartment was only a few blocks away on the curve of College Avenue and Linden Place, see it wasn’t really a corner, the two streets just sort of forked off each other, my apartment was often the meeting ground from where we would wait until Dot’s would open at 4.  Most nights we didn’t make it, and I would wake up the next day with a floor full of people and an empty stomach.  Dot’s closed down a few years later and got swallowed up by the mega bar next door called Otto’s.  Dot passed away and it would seem a piece of history passed with her.  But her story lives on in part because of people like me and my old college friends who also made it once or twice to the little place simply known as Dot’s.  And because someone in DeKalb had the right idea to name the little ally that runs behind the building where Dot’s restaurant was once located.  Go ahead and MapQuest it now. 

It’s called Dot’s Way.

You Never Know Unless You Try

We are heading up to Wisconsin for the weekend, or as my sister Marney likes to call it, the Happy Place.  This will be a very rare Fall trip to the Happy Place, and I really don’t know why we don’t go in the Fall more often.  There will be no swimming at the back of the lake, but my dad already told me there were plenty of cold beverages left over from the summer.  The Fall colors should be perfect, and the cool weather will make for a great bonfire, someplace to sit and enjoy a few of those cool beverages.  I just have to remember not to play the rhyming game with Alex after a few of those beverages.  I am planning to bring one of the final zucchini from the garden, and I will be frying some up for my mom this time.  We are also planning to do something that we have never done before, in all the years we have been going up there.  We are going to go apple picking.

This was Maureen’s idea, and I have no idea why we never thought of it before.  Like I said, we don’t seem to make too many Fall trips up there, so I guess no-one ever looked into Fall activities.  It took someone with a fresh look at thing to figure it out.  This is one of the truly great things about having brought Maureen into my kids lives.  Because of her background as a librarian, she often come up with the best idea’s for activities for the kids.  Two winters ago she found a children’s workshop where kids were invited to make films on a portable digital camera.  I have to admit that when she first mentioned it to me I kind of shrugged it off, but she mentioned it several times and showed me how she could register them online.  I believe it was late February or early March, and it was a cold day having  just snowed the night before, and the idea of driving downtown on a Sunday morning was the last thing I really wanted to do.  In my head, the whole thing had failure written all over it.  I came dangerously close to calling the whole thing off, and I don’t think the kids would have really minded. 

Maureen was working that day at the United Center, one of those long all day events, probably the winter ice show.  Somewhat sluggishly, I bundled the kids and myself up and off we headed to Millenium Park.  We were supposed to meet the group at the now famous Bean sculpture, or as it is properly called Cloud Gate.  For some reason, there was no street parking anywhere that day, and I ended up parking in a garage a few blocks away.  As we walked through the slush on our way to the park, the wind picked up a little and I grumbled to myself for lugging everyone out on this miserable day.  Molly was excited to be out and about, but Alex complained the whole way.  “It’s too cold.  Why are we doing this?  Is this going to take long?”  He seemed to br vocalizing everything I was thinking. 

As we arrived at the park,the clouds started to pass and the sun started to shine.  Because of the weather there were very few people around, just a few workmen busy clearing the wet heavy snow from around the sculpture.  We didn’t see any thing that looked like a group of people getting ready to conduct a workshop for kids.  The three of us wandered over to the Bean.  The polished, curved surface had the effect of a House of Mirrors.  Suddenly the smiles started.  From different angles we were tall or small, skinny or fat, upside down or split in two.  From under the Bean, in the direct center of the sculpture, there was a sort of infinity effect.  Looking straight up, our image reflected off itself like a kaleidoscope and multiple reflections seem to go on forever.

After playing for a while, I took another look around, but still nothing.  It looked like the event was not going to happen, but at least the day wasn’t a total loss.  We had our fun with the Bean.  I was just about to give up and head home when we spotted a group of people coming our way, mylar animal balloons floating in the air behind them.  Our group had arrived.  They quickly set up a table and portable tent, and I realized a crowd of kids had started to gather around them.  It seemed that while we were playing with our images, other participants who had also registered online had also arrived.  The group running the event were art students from Columbia College.  The head of the group was a flamboyant older woman who reminded me a lot of Edna Garrett, only without the red hair.  They gathered up all the kids and gave them a crash course in how to use the tiny digital cameras, while all the dads and moms had to fill out forms giving the student’s permission to post the kids movies on a website.  After that, Mrs. Garrett explained to the kids that they were going to be given a list of words, and they were to explore all of Millenium Park to film little vignettes of what they thought best expressed the words on their list.  The entire project could only be up to three minutes long.  The words were descriptive words like humorous, ballance, and circular.  I belive it was ten words total.  After filming for each of the kids an opening segment where they stated their first names and age, they both ran off to film their movies.  All of the clouds from earlier in the day had cleared out, and the day was getting warm.  The snow that had collected on the top of the Bean was sliding down the shinny sculpture and splashing with a loud plop on the pavement below.  The kids were having a great time and what I anticipated was going to be a miserable day, had turned into a great afternoon.

Neither of the kids won the contest, but they had a good time watching their films online.  We had a great day and they had something to talk about to friends and family.  Having someone new looking in on us, sent our day in a direction we would never have anticipated.  And so now we are going apple picking this weekend.  Molly is all excited, and Alex is grumbling again.  But this time I am more optimistic.  Maureen has added a new dimension to our lives and I know the kids appreciate it.  From the beginning, we alway tried to express to the kids that Maureen  was not going to replace their mother, but become an addition to our half of their family.  She has shown them love and guidance, and more importantly, become something very special to them.  A friend.

It’s Not Unusual. Is It?

After last night’s game between Detroit and Minnesota, I anticipated that I would be writing today about the start of the baseball playoffs, but on the ride into work, I quickly got tired hearing about Brandon Inge and the pitch that grazed his uniform with the bases loaded in the top of the 12th.  This was not the deciding factor in the game.  Jim Leyland’s decision to keep Fernando Rodney in the game to pitch in the bottom of that same inning after already pitching three innings is why Detroit lost.  Rodney had never pitched more than two innings all year, and the last time he pitched more than one inning was back on August 16.  And guess what, he lost that game.  So Detroit, stop you’re whining.

But enough of that, as I was bouncing around the radio dial trying to find something to listen to, I was stopped dead by a song I had not heard in some time.  This happens to me quite often, but usually it is one of those embarrassing songs that you don’t want anyone catching you listening to.  For some reason the Andy Kim song Rock Me Gently comes immediately to mind.  This is one of those songs that I crank up on the radio and sing along with as soon as I hear it.  I do this for two reasons, one because it is a song I just enjoy singing, and second it brings back fond memories of my college days and my apartment hidden in the basement of a converted old home.  I had a crappy little turntable for a stereo in those days, basically just one step above a Close-N-Play, and during any number of parties that I had hosted there, an old 45 version of Rock Me Gently was bound to be played.

But the song that stopped me this morning was one that I think would garnish a more universal acceptance.  It was the late 80’s Art of Noise cover of Prince’s Kiss featuring Tom Jones.  I have been a long time fan of Tom Jones, dating back to my very early childhood.  I think it would be safe to say that my mother had a healthy obsession with Tom Jones back in the day, and it is through her that I was introduced to his musical styling.  Back in those days, we lived in Villa Park, and our home contained what used to be known as a stereo cabinet.  It looked a lot like a cross between a coffee table and a dresser, and as I recall it was a prominent piece of furniture in our front room.  By today’s standards, with I-Pods and all the various portable digital docking stations, this thing was a monstrosity.  Even by the 80’s Boom Box standard, this thing was big.  Years later when we moved to Wheaton, it was eventually banished to the basement, but it was this behemoth that first introduced me to Tom Jones.

My mom had what I recall was a live album containing versions of many of Tom Jones best songs.  Delilah, Green Green Grass of Home, Help Yourself, and of course It’s Not Unusual, just to name a few.  I seem to recall it being a live album because the cover had a picture of Mr. Jones singing on stage in front of a giant light up prop of his name.  This was also what I remember being the backdrop for his TV variety show back in the early 70’s.  I don’t remember a lot about that particular show, but I do recall he would often do duets with beautiful young up and coming female stars like Lulu (think To Sir With Love) or Dusty Springfield (Son of a Preacher Man).  And of course there would be comedy bits with the likes of Phyllis Diller or Jo Anne Worley.

As time went on, my mom did not break out the old Tom Jones record as often as she used to, but I do remember that if she did, perhaps as background music while cleaning the house or getting ready for guest, she always had a little bounce in her step as she listened.  It wasn’t so much a dance as it was a tapping of her toes or swaying of her hip.  I had heard just enough of the songs over the years to have them tattooed into my memory.  As I got older, his songs would pop up in the most unusual of places.  (Pun Intended.)  Back to those college years and my basement apartment, I could very often be heard asking my friend Linda “What’s New Pussycat?”  And she would of course respond back with the appropriate “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.” 

After the late 80’s revival of Kiss, Tom Jones once again disappeared from my life, only to re-emerge in a series of movies in the mid 90’s.  At the time I was working as a manager for a chain of movie theaters, and I got to see a lot of movies back then, and Tom Jones showed up in three very different films during that time.  The first was the Jackie Chan film SupercopSupercop was actually an older film that was filmed in China and then dubbed in English.  It was actually the third in a series of films, the original title in Chinese was Police Story 3, but to capitalize on the growing popularity of Jackie Chan in the United States at the time, the film was re-named and shipped off to our local Cineplex.  To go along with the new English title and misaligned lip syncing, a hip American soundtrack was added.   This is where Tom Jones comes in.  His remake of the 70’s classic Kung Fu Fighting was featured in the film as well as over the credits, where if the audience stayed they got to see some of the failed stunts that were performed during filming.  This was actually the best part of the film, and I got to see it several times as we opened the doors to let the sparse crowd out.  The second was the closing scene in what I can honestly say is one of my all time favorite films, The Full Monty.  For anyone who hasn’t seen the film, first of all, shame on you.  It’s a great film.  Run out to Blockbuster tonight and rent it.  And second, I don’t feel any guilt at all spoiling the ending by telling you that the Tom Jones version of You Can Leave Your Hat On is the grand finale when the group of unemployed workers finally bares all.

Tom Jones played a much larger role in the final film, where he actually got to act, playing of all things, a Las Vegas singer named Tom Jones.  The film was of course the widely misunderstood dark comedy Mars Attacks! by even more widely misunderstood director Tim Burton.  The film had an all star cast including Glenn Close (sorry, Marney, two n’s), Jack Nicholson, Michael J. Fox, and Sarah Jessica Parker among others.  But for me, the two actors that stole the show in this film were Jim Brown and Tom Jones.  In both cases, these two had a lot of fun making fun of themselves, Tom Jones even more so since he was essentially playing himself.  The film ends with Tom and a group of survivors in the desert, and of course he finishes the film breaking into his signature song It’s Not Unusual.

It had always been a hope of mine to see Tom Jones perform live, and I finally got the chance to do so a few years ago.  Well, kind of.  When we first started dating, Maureen decided to take me up to Ravinia for my birthday to see Tom Jones perform.  Having never been there and being less than punctual, we finally managed to make it into the park in time to hear about five songs.  And if you have ever been to Ravinia, you know that unless you are one of the first people there, you cannot get a lawn seat with a view of the pavilion.  But that is sort of the beauty of Ravinia.  It is more of like attending a party with music rather than an actual concert.  In preparation for the concert, I re-acquainted myself with the music, and Maureen, being far more technical than I am, burned me a copy of Tom Jones 1999 album Reload.  Similar to the Frank Sinatra album Duets, Reload is a collection of duets featuring Tom with various artists, but unlike the Sinatra album, Tom Jones steps out of his safe zone and crosses over into several different musical genres ranging from the traditional slavery anthem Motherless Child to the Ultra Club Mix Sexbomb.  Also unlike Sinatra, I believe Tom was actually in the room with the people he was recording with, or he had a much better production crew, because with these songs there is an actual connection between the artists.  For me, the best tracks were the cover of the INXS hit Never Tear Us Apart with Natalie Imbruglia and the duet Sometimes We Cry with one of my other all time favorites Van Morrison.

When I look back at the history of music, Tom Jones may not be up there with some of the all time greats like the Beatles or the Rolling Stones or Elvis Presley, and he certainly was not as influential as the likes of the Velvet Underground or Bob Dylan, but his longevity and his ability to entertain have placed him on my list of unforgettable artists.  I will have to go back to that box of old CDs from my apartment and try and dig him up again.

No Reality in TV

Because of a current financial situation, I have found myself a little less than inspired to write.  Since the whole idea behind starting this blog was to use it as a sounding board or some form of stress release, I figured I would have a lot to say right now.  But I don’t.

In this particular case, I think that is best, and I find myself thinking that maybe there are more people who should learn to keep their mouths shut.  Almost every member of any Housewives comes to mind, whether it is Atlanta, Orange County, or New Jersey.  Note to the blond gal, no amount of money spent by Big Papa will make you able to sing.  I am increasingly amazed by the reality based shows filled with whining rich people.  What is the draw?  Why do people watch them?  Don’t take this as an attack on reality shows; I am actually quite fond of the contest based shows.  My girlfriend and I make a small wager each year over Top Chef.  Personally, I think I have her this year.  And although there is a bit of drama with the show, the enjoyment comes from watching these people try and create elaborate meals in various tough situations.  A few weeks ago they had to cook in the desert over an open flame in the same style as the cowboys on the range.  Some wowed the judges, and others failed.  But it is the challenges and eventual winner getting a chance to make their personal goals come true that make the show so much fun to watch.  That and the food.  Have I ever mentioned before that I like to eat?

This is why I can’t understand the draw of watching rich people complaining about their miserable lives.  These are not people who are grounded in reality, even though we call it Reality TV.  I suppose we have to thank MTV for much of the hype, since we can trace all this whining and sniveling back to the original Real World and its cast of know nothing ,do nothing, early twenty-something complainers.  But at least in the early days of that show, the producers tried to touch on some relevant social themes, including an entire season featuring a cast member battling with AIDS.  But these new shows seem to draw more from Jerry Springer than MTV. 

Do I really care if that guy can flip that house?  And can anyone really explain to me what project Rachel Zoe is working on?  Really, if your life is really that stressed out over trying to find the right accessories, then I welcome you to call my bank and sit on hold for forty minutes, get bounced around form person to person only to be stuck in some hold queue until a pre-recorded voice finally appears out of nowhere to tell you, “I’m sorry.  We cannot continue to process your call.  Please hang up.”

As I read just recently in another blog, these people need to get real jobs.  They need to see what it is like for real people to scrape by and make ends meet.  They need to work the customer service desk at Wal-Mart or the drive-up window at Arby’s to understand first hand what there really is to complain about.   Watching grown women shaking their fingers in the air, bitching about not being shown the proper respect sounds and looks ridiculous.  As parents, we have all said at one time or another to one of our children, “If only you could see yourself.”  Well these people are on TV.  It’s all on film.  Can they not see it for themselves?

So now it’s time to go back to my real life.  No big birthday parties to plan.  No charity fashion show to stress out about.  No camera crew hanging around to film it all.  Just me and Maureen and the kids.  And a never ending load of laundry.

Now that’s reality.

When 8 IS Enough

Well, I really can’t believe I am saying this, but I agree with Jon Gosselin.  Don’t get me wrong, the man is a complete and total ass, but he has a point, even if it is for what are probably the wrong reasons.  I have never seen the show Jon & Kate Plus 8, but I already know way more than I should about these two people and their family.  The timing of his announcement that he wanted his children off of the TLC show does not sit well with me.  He seemed to be perfectly ok with exploiting his children when there was a big payday attached, but now that he has been mostly removed from the show, and TLC announced it would now be called Kate Plus 8, he suddenly is concerned for the welfare of his children?  But like I said, I do agree with him.  Those kids need to be taken off TV.

Divorce is already hard enough as it is on both the parents and the children involved.  I had a front row seat myself, and I watched it tear the little lives apart.  Children who are normally quiet and reserved are suddenly being sent home from school because of fighting.  Grades will drop and behavior will get bad.  When mom and dad are not at their best, you can’t expect that the kids will behave any better.  And something tells me that these two clowns will not be setting a real good example. 

I was reminded just this morning of the effects a divorce can have on a child.  I was looking for some fresh music to play on the car ride into work.  I just randomly grabbed three CDs out of a box.  The box just happened to be left over from when I was living on my own in an apartment during my divorce.  One of the CDs was Gordon by The Bare Naked Ladies.  Recorded before they reached the height of their popularity, it contains one of Molly and Maureen’s favorite songs, If I Had $1,000,000 and also has some of my favorites including Brian Wilson and Be My Yoko Ono.  As I drove along, I opened the case and quickly discovered two CDs inside.  The first was the very Pepsi cap like CD that belonged to the cover, and the other was a green CD, like from one of those packs of blank CDs you get at Best Buy.  On the front of the CD were the hand written words, The Kick @$$ Mix.  I am not editing here, that is how it was actually written out on the CD.  I recognized the writing as my daughter Stephanie’s.  Knowing that the CD had to be over 3 years old, I was interested to see what she thought was Kick @$$ when she was 14 or 15.  I knew Stephanie had liked another Canadian Band called Hawk Nelson, as I remember all three of the kids singing along to some song about going to California on one of our drives up to Wisconsin in my old black pick-up truck.  Molly in a car seat next to me, Alex in a booster next to her, and Stephanie in the jumper seat behind us.

As I popped the CD in, I was a little surprised by what I heard.  The first song was the Kenny Rogers/Kim Carnes duet Don’t Fall in Love With a Dreamer.  Nothing really Kick @$$ about that if you ask me.  The second was Elton John and Kiki Dee singing Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.  I was starting to think Stephanie was a little bit lame with her qualifications for Kick @$$.  As I started to shuffle through the remaining songs, a theme started to emerge.  The Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson version of Beauty & the Beast, Endless Love by Lionel Richie and Diana Ross, Linda Ronstadt and Aaron Neville singing Don’t Know Much.  Stephanie had compiled a full CD of duets, all male/female songs and most having to do with love or relationships.  Sixteen songs in total. 

I don’t know what the intent of the CD was, but it was obvious to me that it was some sort of attempt to deal with how her parents were getting along.  I found some of the songs a little strange.  I’m not sure how a kid that age finds the Johnny Mathis/Deniece Williams song Too Much, Too Little, Too Late.  Other songs were more obvious.  She included the song Suddenly Seymour from the musical Little Shop of Horrors.  This was the first song played at the reception when her mother and I got married.  There were also a couple of country songs that I didn’t know, and I assumed they were ones she knew from her mother, who knows more of that music than I do.

The point is you don’t know how kids are going to react during a divorce.  Having it broadcast for the whole world to see cannot make it any better.  In part I am a little upset with TLC for not pulling the plug themselves.  The producers of the show had to know much more about the state of Jon and Kate’s marriage than was being shown on TV.  I am certain sometime in the future, out-takes that show the dissolution of this family will be leaked.  Where was the concern for the kids by the producers?  The general idea of basing a show off of the difficulties of raising eight kids may have been cute at first, but Dick Van Patten was not going to come in and save this family.  Someone should have put a stop to this long before dad was getting caught by the poperotsi out on the town without his wedding ring on.

Although I am probably not the best person to give advice in this situation, I do have some for Jon and Kate.  In the divorce as you are splitting up the assets, make sure you put two accounts aside for those kids.  One to help pay for their education, and another to pay for their therapists.