Monthly Archives: November 2009

Short Attention Span Theatre

Sometimes I am easily distracted.  That is what happened with my last post.  I am very aware that I have a somewhat strange writing style, but I can usually reel it in on most cases. I lost it on that one.  You see, I don’t really plan out or outline my writing here, I just sort of start with an idea and see where it takes me.  The idea for the last post was to show how television has evolved over the last thirty to forty years, but I got myself side tracked with the whole kids programing thing, and before I knew it, I had a very lengthy description of a few shows I remembered as a kid, and I hadn’t even mentioned most of the things that actually sparked the idea.  Knowing my own short attention span when reading, I try to keep the posts relatively short.  Just today as I was walking around the house, I realized I had to have at least five books in various states of read, each with some sort of scrap of paper holding my spot, patiently waiting for me to pick it back up.  On my dresser there is a book called Don’t Scream by Wendy Corsi Staub, and of them all, this is the one I just wont get back to.  I completely lost interest at page 162 where my ticket from that dismal Van Halen concert probably has found a permanent home.   In the bathroom I have Playing the Moldovans at Tennis by Tony Hawks.  Not the skateboarding video games guy, the English comedian and TV personality.  His first book, Round Ireland With a Fridge, is a must read for anyone planning to take a trip to the Emerald Isle.  This book I am still reading, but only a few pages at a sitting when I am not trying to finish the Monster Sokuko from the Sunday Sun-Times.  Alex has been trying to get me to read a book called Everlost by Neal Shusterman, and I have started it twice now.  I got a little further the second time than I did the first, but considering that it is sitting in the front room next to the Halloween decorations I have still not walked back down to the basement, odds are I am going to have to start it again.  Maybe the third time will be the charm.  The last two books I really do want to finish, but I seem to get distracted every time I pick them up.  The first is a non-fiction book called Barbarians to Angels by Peter S. Wells and the first two chapters have promised to re-examine the notion that the Dark Ages were really not that dark, and that our perception has been jaded by the known writings from the new Roman era beginning around 800 AD.  And the final book is one of those serial killer thrillers called Immoral by Brian Freeman.  I actually got to read a chapter today at Molly’s ice skating lessons despite the fact that Alex felt the need to explain to me how bored he was each time I looked down at the page.

The basic idea for my last post was sparked a couple of weeks ago when I stayed home from work for a day.  I had caught that virus thing that had been passed around, and I decided that I needed a trip to the red couch for the day rather than a trip to the office.  As I settled in with the remote that only a 13-year-old can truly understand, I realized I had a whole bunch of choices for viewing.  As a kid, when you stayed home sick from school, you were basically stuck watching the soap operas with your mom.  My mom liked the ABC soaps which included All My Children, One Life to Live, and General Hospital.  But the first one each afternoon was Ryan’s Hope.  As the title may indicate, Ryan’s Hope was about a group of Irish Americans living in New York.  This may come as a shock, but this particular group of people were involved in law enforcement, and the parents, Johnny and Maeve Ryan ran a bar.  One year while in Junior High, I was sick enough to stay home for a week, and lucky for me, this was also the week that a white blond character named Delia was kidnaped by a gorilla.  I kid you not, not only was she taken by a gorilla, but somehow they ended up on the top of an office building somewhere in New York.  Rest assured, this was a regular sized gorilla, not a King Kong wanna be.  On that Monday’s show, the gorilla dropped Delia from the roof of the building, and that blond lady fell, for and entire week.  The rest of the show just continued on as if nothing was happening, and every once in a while they would cut back to a slow motion shot of Delia falling.  I never did find out what happened to her because I went back to school the next week, but she must have been ok, because come the summer she was still on the show.

Back in the present, or at least the more recent past of a couple of weeks ago, I had a much broader range of choices for my sick day couch potato viewing.  Once I figured out the whole remote thing, I settled on a marathon of Cold Case Files with Bill Curtis.  And it actually turned out to be just what I needed.  Bill Curtis has that voice that is just so darn soothing, and before I knew what was happening, he had lulled me right to sleep.  Every once in a while I would open one eye, and there would be a whole new story of a missing wife or mysterious death, but the one constant was that voice.  Like a child with a favorite blanket, it reassured me and made me feel safe, and then right back to slumberland.  It finally came to an end when Alex came home and switched the channel. My safe place was gone. 

You see, this was the whole point I wanted to make during the last post.  Kids have it too easy these days.  All of my children have completely lost the ability to wait through a commercial break, and they all flip through the stations as soon as one comes on.  They have no patience.  We have bred a whole new generation with DVR and On Demand, video games and the internet, and anything they want right at their fingertips.  The closest thing my dad had to a remote control was to tell one of the kids to get up and change the channel.  And we would have to walk all the way across the room and manually turn a knob to get to the next station.  My kids are wimps.  Alex could not sit still or keep his mouth shut for just the 40 minutes that we were waiting for Molly to finish up her skating lessons.  And when I told them we could stop somewhere to get something to eat after the lesson was over, the two of them instantly started to argue over where we would go, as if I had nothing to say in the matter.  How the hell did they think they were getting there?  And who did they think was going to be paying?  And on the way to the car it was a shoving match over who got to sit in the front seat.  I grabbed Molly by the wrist to pull her away from her brother, and I was instantly greeted by “Stop, You’re hurting me.”  Then something deep inside me snapped for just a second and the ghost of fatherhood past took over.  I looked her straight in the face and said, “You think that hurt?” I then pinched that little bit of skin on the back of her arm just below pit.  We all know the spot, because each of our mothers has used it to get our attention when we were a child.  Molly jumped away very quickly and let out a little shriek.  “Now that hurts,” I proudly announced.

Sure, later I felt a little guilty about the pinch, but as long as I had their attention I got the back yard cleared of the deck furniture, the hammock and a whole lot of garbage that had blown around from the last windy garbage day.  They of course grumbled the whole time, and Alex complained that the metal of the table was too cold.  Like I said, my kids are wimps.  They have very short attention spans and they are easily distracted.

Just like their father.

The Boob Tube

Television was so much simpler thirty years ago.  Things have gotten way too complicated.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I am not willing to give back my 42″ wide-screen with HD capabilities, although we did just recently switch from ComCast to DIRECTV.  It was basic economics, the new service is like half the price.  And I don’t really have any complaints yet, other than I have to re-learn were all the channels are.  You see, TV is just too complicated these days.  I used to have a feature called On Demand, but that is now gone.  What I have now is this DVR thing that allows me to record any show I want, in effect creating my own On Demand, but I can only record up to two shows at a time, and I have to be watching one of them to do this.  The only time this really causes me a problem is on Thursday nights.  As anyone who has read any of my past blogs knows, I am a big CSI:Wherever fan.  I have recently added NCIS and NCIS:Los Angeles to that list.  Although I just can’t look at Linda Hunt’s character without thinking she looks just like Edna E. Mode from The Incredibles

You get the idea, so anyway, on Thursdays Maureen has school, so I need to record Project Runway and The Office for her, but I also need to record CSI:New York because I have hooked her into my addition to anything with the letters C, S, and I in them.  So I have to watch one of the programs at the same time I record, or I have to at least leave the TV on while the two shows are recording.  I tried to set the Record Series button for both of these shows, but since they both have syndication versions running on other networks, the DVR wants to record all of the shows anytime they appear.  This would have filled up the memory very quickly.  To make matters worse, last Thursday the Bears were playing at the same time, so I had to ditch The Office.  I would have been gracious and passed on CSI, but it was the second part of the CSI:Trilogy, and that was just a must!  See, it is all very, very complicated.

There are other parts of the DVR thing that I do really like, mostly that pause and rewind live TV thing.  No need to hold it in anymore, just pause and run to the restroom.  And on those rare occasions when you are in there a little longer than expected, no need to try and fit it all into just that two and a half minute break. Take your time.  The TV will wait.   Even better still is the rewind feature.  If something should happen during a ballgame, and you want to take a second look, no more waiting until the replay, you can create your own replay.  A couple of weeks ago, Alex and I must have watch Brett Favre blowing out a snot rocket a couple dozen times.  Then it became a game, me trying to hit the pause button fast enough to catch it in mid-air.  Isn’t technology great?

But it also made me think about how much simpler TV was back when I was a kid.  We only had the three major networks, and then channel 9, WGN before it became a “super station” and channel 32, WFLD before it was Fox.  And for a more educational turn, there was always channel 11, our local PBS station.  The closest thing we had to Reality TV back then was the evening news with the likes of Joel Daly and Fahey Flynn with his custom bowtie.   And there were a handful of daytime talk shows hosted by people like Mike Douglas and Phil Donahue.  This was all pre-Oprah, it wasn’t until 1983 that she took over the flailing AM Chicago and rode it all the way up to mega-millions street.  We didn’t have Survivor back then, but we would did have Battle of the Network Stars.  Hosted by Howard Cosell, the stars of the three networks would compete in various athletic events, although they would also throw in a few less strenuous events like the “Simon Says” competition.  But the stars really took this seriously.  I remember Robert Conrad getting pissed off when LeVar Burton blew pasted him in the final leg of a relay race.  Although Burton had been on the ABC Network as a part of the mini-series Roots, Conrad felt he didn’t really qualify as a “star” for the network.  Battle of the Network Stars always concluded with a Tug-o-War between the top two networks to see who the winner would be.  The losers would be pulled into a pit of mud.  Maybe they should revive that with all the various Housewives.  I might watch that.

There are almost too many choices these days.  With all the different cable stations and networks you never seem to be shy of choices, and if you want to watch a movie, the choices in movie stations start with HBO and Showtime, and branch out from there.  Classic films on AMC and Turner Classic Movies or a variety of independent films on IFC and the Sundance Channel.  And don’t even get me started on children’s programing.  Noggin, The Disney Channel, and Nickelodeon all cater 24 hours to just kids programing with hits like Hannah Montana and iCarley.  And although Cartoon Network does take a more adult turn at night, their daytime schedule is filled with kid themed shows including this thing called Chowder that Molly watches every now and then.  As a child, my choices for TV watching was fairly limited.  In the morning, you would have various kids programing offered up by WGN, and as I understand things, most cities had these local shows and they would be customized to the market they were in.  I am not entirely sure of what time things started, but I believe the day would start with Garfield GooseGarfield was basically a sock puppet with a beak, and a little crown on top of his head.  He didn’t actually speak, but just clapped his beak together like a castanet.  The only person who seemed to understand Garfield was the human host to the show, Frazier Thomas, who also hosted the WGN weekend movie series Family Classics.  There were other puppet characters as well, a rabbit and a moose I believe, but I can’t remember their names anymore.  What I do remember is that between visits with the puppets, they would cut to cartoons featuring The Funny Company and other short features on the screen below the puppet stand.  The most popular was of course the now classic Clutch Cargo.  The most distinct feature of this cartoon was that actual human lips were used on all of the characters.  Even the dog Paddlefoot would on occasion bark out a few “Arfs” with a set of human lips.  The stories were done in series, so sometimes it would take a whole week of watching to finish a storyline.  They would do the same thing with other shorts, both live and animated.  My favorite was a story about a group of kids who follow a river back in time.  I don’t recall the name of the series, but I do recall that they journey all the way back to the dinosaurs, and I was amazed by the actual moving creatures that they found.  Of course, if I saw it today, I would probably laugh at the lack of production quality, but it was very impressive to my young mind.  During the holiday season, they would also show other family favorites like Suzy Snowflake, about a snow fairy who comes tapping on your window sill, and Hardrock, Coco, and Joe three of Santa’s elves who take that ride with him around the world on Christmas Eve. 

After Garfield was over, there was The Ray Rayner Show.  Every kid in Chicago knew the song The Unicorn by the Irish Rovers thanks to Ray Rayner.  The song was played as the opening to the Ark in the Park segment of the show, where someone from the Lincoln Park Zoo would tell about one of the animals via a taped visit.  There were also cartoons to keep the kids attention, but the best parts of this show were all the live interactions.  Ray would give the news and weather, complete with an umbrella hat if it was going to rain, and boots and mittens if it was snowing.   And during the baseball season, he had a hat with one side Cubs and the other side Sox, and he would flip it around depending on which team he was talking about.  I also believe he should have gotten credit for inventing the post-it-note, because he used to tape little pieces of paper to his colorful jump suites to remind him of what he had to do next.  He would pull off one of the notes and then announce that it was time to visit Chelveston the duck, or head over to Cuddly Dudley’s house for the mail.  Cuddly Dudley was more of a stuffed animal than an actual puppet, but they would read the mail from the kids who watched and would often read jokes that were sent in.  Ray usually messed them up.  Chelveston on the other hand was an actual real duck, and he would often nip at Ray Rayners feet causing him to dance around a little.  Chelveston was also a wizz at art projects.  He would always have some sort of “easy” project on hand, and Ray would then try and reproduce the art project which usually included cutting felt and glueing things together.  Very often there was more glue on his hands and on the duck than there was on the project.  They always ended the segment by putting Ray’s project next to Chelveston’s original so we could all see what a good job he did.  And finally, you just couldn’t be part of the in crowd if you didn’t send in a postcard each year with your guess as to how many jelly beans were in Ray’s jar.  And they actually counted them on air.

Other notable kids shows of the time included Zoom and The Electric Company over on PBS, as well as Bozo Circus and the pre-school classic Romper Room.  Hasbro actually sold Romper Stompers for many years, basically just a plastic yellow cup with green handles and you walked on them making a clomping noise as you went.  But there was also a mostly forgotten kids show that was overpowered by the WGN kids programing, and that was a little show I remember as The BJ and Dirty Dragon Show.  When it originally aired, it did so under the title of Cartoon Town, but most people I talk to most remember it as a Sunday morning show on WLS called Gigglesnort Hotel.  The puppet characters remained the same from each show, and it was hosted by their human creator Bill Jackson.  Dirty Dragon was the postmaster and actual smoke would come out of his snout.  Other characters included Mother Plumtree, Dr. Doompuss, and W.C. Cornfield to name just a few.  The puppets were very unique and were works of art in their own right, and maybe this was why it failed to catch an audience.  The more simple Muppets of Sesame Street were gaining popularity at the time, so maybe these characters were a little a head of their time.  I do find it interesting that what most people remember about Gigglesnort Hotel is the most simple fun-loving of the characters.  A giant lump of clay known only as The Blob.  Similar to Garfield Goose, the Blob didn’t speak, he only grunted and groaned, and only Bill Jackson seemed to know what he was saying.  But the truly amazing part about The Blob was that depending on weather the grunts were happy or sad, Jackson would mold Blob right in font of our faces to match the mood of the groans.  With relative ease, the Blob would be transformed, usually in just one camera shot.   It was actually quit amazing to see.

 Unfortunately, many of these programs have been lost to time.  In the early days of television, tape was very expensive and many of the early shows were never saved.  But there is still a chance to re-visit your childhood one more time.  On Saturday, December 5th, Bill Jackson will be performing a live version of the old show one more time.  It will be held at The Lake Theatre in Oak Park, and it benefits the Museum of Broadcast Communications.  I have included a link at the bottom of this page for more information.  I am not sure how my kids would react to this type of entertainment.  It would be nostalgic for me, but I have a feeling they would be looking for the remote.  Television has spoiled them.  It is way too complicated these days.

Live Like You Were Living

As I was still in bed this morning trying to figure out if my body was actually going to allow me to get going for the day, I caught a glimps at the news and was suddenly awestruck by the story of Eleanor Cunningham.  At first glance, Eleanor looks just like any other grandmother, a slight woman with grey hair and glasses, a face full of wrinkles, but also a great big smile.  Eleanor turned 95 this past week, and to celebrate, this weekend she jumped out of an airplane.  This was in fact the second time she undertook this feat, the first time was five years ago when she was a young spring chicken of just 90.  In the story, her family laughed and called her daffy for doing this, but in the world I live in, Eleanor just became my biggest hero. 

I wouldn’t say that I am an adventurous type, but I have always wanted to skydive.  There are in fact, certain members of my own family that think I am a little daffy myself just for thinking about it, but that does not stop the desire to give it a try some time.  My only fear is that it would become an addictive habit.  Once I try it I would want to do it again and again.  I have a little bit of history to back me up on this one, you see I waited until I was over 40 before I finally got a tattoo, it was something I had thought about since college, and since that first time I have now been inked almost a dozen times.  And I have a feeling there will be a number more before too long.  I did come very close to taking the big leap a few years ago, a few friends from work were all making the trip together and I was rearing to go.  Unfortunately that was also the summer I twisted my knee up playing a catch in the lake with my kids, and I had surgery just a few days before the jump date.  Something tells me my doctor would not have been too happy with me if I came back the next week with it all messed up again.  So I missed that chance, but I will indeed one day jump out of a perfectly good airplane.  Hopefully before I am 95.

Eleanor’s story is an inspiration to me, and a reminder that you are never too old to live your dreams.  Sure, not all dreams are as high-flying as hers or mine, but we all have those things we have always wanted to try, but for some reason or another we have not gotten around to them.  But I never want fear to be that factor for me.  Sure, the idea of free-falling face first towards the ground does make me nervous, but so does that wait in the line for a rollercoaster.  But I love rollercoasters.  And once I get on and start that climb to the top the nervousness becomes excitement, and as I plummet from that first drop, the smile on my face can not be stopped.  I have to imagine that I would experience the same type of up and down emotions when getting ready to skydive, but I would hate to think that I would let my fears prevent me from doing something I really want to do.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that everyone should jump out of a plane to face their fears, this particular situation works for me, but if you have no desire to jump out of a plane, then doing it would just be asinine.  A friend of mine just ran the Sears Tower race this weekend.  It is 103 flights up the tower from the lobby to the observation deck.  This seems like pure stupidity to me, but that is because I don’t want to climb the stairs in my own house most of the time, why would I want to run UP the Sears Tower.  And before I get any complaints, yes, I know it is now called the Willis Tower, but until the day that Gary Coleman grows more than six-foot tall, I will continue to call it the Sears Tower.  That’s what I’m talking about Willis.

The point is, that too many people don’t do things because they are afraid.  I see this sometimes in my own kids, and it makes me nuts.  If you want to run a marathon, then just do it.  If you want to travel around Europe, then save the money and plot the time and do it.  Life is too short to spend all this time wishing you would have done something.  Of course, also take into account your other responsibilities in life.  Part of the reason I started writing this blog is because I had always wanted to try my hand at writing, but I did not quit my job to persue the writing of the all American novel.  I still have a mortgage to pay, and kids to feed.  Sure, it may lead me to writing other things, perhaps a short story or script, I may even one day try to get something published.  And even if I should get turned down, at least I would have tried.  And I would have no regrets.

Back in 2004, Tim McGraw had a hit with a song entitled Live Like You Were Dying.  The song was dedicated to his father, the late “Tug” McGraw, who was a major league pitcher for the Mets and Phillies for almost 20 years, and had passed away earlier that year.  The song was to honor his father’s free spirit mentality and to express the idea that if you lived each day like it was your last, you would then experience your life to the fullest.  Although I commend the idea behind the song, I have always had just one little problem with this idea.  Rather than living my life like it was coming towards the end, I would rather celebrate each day as a new beginning.  I would rather live like I was living, each day full of possibilities and adventure.  Sure, not every adventure is as thrilling as jumping out of an airplane, but there is also a lot of joy and excitement to be had knowing that when you get home tonight, someone has taken the time to make Sloppy Joes and Tater Tots for you just because it is one of your favorite meals.  Living your life to the fullest doesn’t mean that you give up on the everyday parts of life, but enhance them with those extra adventures from time to time.  Ride a rollercoaster.  Sing out loud, even when others are listening.  Take a trip somewhere you always wanted to go.  Kiss your kids and hug your friends.  Live like you were living.

After she had safely landed back on solid ground, Eleanor Cunningham told all of the press gathered that she hoped when she turned 100 she would be able to celebrate that birthday by taking a trip to the moon.  So maybe the old broad is a little daffy, but she is still my hero.  And who knows, with a spirit and a heart as big as hers, she might just make it there.  She doesn’t strike me as one who tends to give up easily.  Maybe we should all take a cue from Eleanor.  Do the things we want to do, be happy and spread that happiness to others.  Be a little daffy every now and then, and most importantly, live.  Just live each day as if it is a great adventure, and then let that adventure be your life.

Crank It Up: Part Deux

Please!  I am begging you.  DO NOT READ THIS!  Please leave me with just a little bit of my dignity.  I will explain.

As most people who know me will tell you, I am not a very religious person.  I was raised as a Catholic, but much to my father’s anguish, I never really took that well to it.  But just because I did not follow in my families designated religion, does not mean I am without faith.  I actually do believe in God.  Or I guess I might be better off saying Gods.  You see, very similar to that guy Earl on the television, I believe that there is such a thing as Karma, only I didn’t need Carson Daily to explain it all to me.  He got the general idea correct, the whole do good things, and good things will happen to you thing, but in the world as I see it, Karma is kind of the big god, the Zeus or Odin of this modern world, and she (Oh, did I forget to mention that in my world, God is a woman) dispenses the lesser gods out into the world to do her bidding.  Have you ever wondered why it always seems that the expressway is always the most crowded when you are in the biggest hurry?  That is because you have done something to anger the Traffic Gods.  If you sufficiently piss off the Traffic Gods, they will make your lane crawl while the other lanes move at full speed.  This is also referred to by many as The Michael Bolton Effect, after the character in Office Space, not the formerly long-haired singer. 

Well, I am here today to confess, that in my last post, I lied.  And my misuse of this forum in this way has angered the Radio Gods.  During my search for the top ten songs I would crank up on the radio while driving in my car, I intentionally left several songs off my list for contention.  These were all songs that I honestly do listen to in my car, and they are all songs I will crank up, but of course only when I am in the car alone, and the windows are up and I am absolutely sure the guy in the next car over cannot hear what I am singing along to.  I am not even sure if some of these songs would have made that top ten, but the truth is I didn’t even give them a chance.  These songs were eliminated simply for the fact that I was too embarrassed to admit that they exist in my automobile stereo system.  And as punishment, the Radio Gods have caused these castaway songs to plague my ride to and from work for the last two days, creating such guilt, that I am now forced to come clean.

I reach out to each and every one of you for forgiveness, and I present to you, my top ten list of songs I was too embarrassed to admit I listen to at very high volume while driving my car alone.  I hope this list will give me the peace and serenity I seek, and make amends for the grave injustice I have done to you all.

#10 – Sunshine On My Shoulders – John Denver

I have actually been a very big fan of John Denver ever since his 1979 Christmas Special with the Muppets.  To be totally truthful, I actually thought he was one of the Muppets for quite some time.  This song was his first number one hit, Take Me Home, Country Roads only managed to peak at number two a few years earlier.  I also have to admit that I could have also chosen Annie’s Song for this list, but since I limited the original list to just one song per artist, I should probably follow the same rule here.

#9 – Cool Change – The Little River Band

Long before Men At Work invaded the states from the land down under, this Australian import graced our airwaves with such top hits as Reminiscing and Lonesome Loser, but it was this song that first really caught my attention.  The song itself is like a piece of theatre when performed, the singer lamenting at great lengths about his love for the open sea, and spending time out on the water staring at the full moon.  Once again, I have to be completely honest and say, I really have no idea what a cool change is, but from what this song tells me, it is time for one. 

#8 – Photograph – Nickleback

Not to be confused with the much cooler Def Leppard song of the same title, I can literally hear Maureen’s eyes rolling back up into her head as she reads this.  I know almost nothing about this band other than they seem to be universally despised yet still very popular.  I cannot name another single song of theirs, but for some reason I can recognize their sound when I hear it on the radio.  Possible because all of their other songs sound exactly like this one. 

#7 – Kyrie – Mr. Mister

Basically, this is the Latin mass set to 80’s pop music.  I am not entirely sure if Mr. Mister was indeed a Christian Rock group, but this song along with their other hit, Broken Wings, would certainly lead one to believe that were the case.  I could find no existence of them in the Christian Rock genre outside of this song.  As all good Catholic children are taught, Kyrie eleison translates as Lord, have mercy, so the song is a prayer for a safe journey during a dark night.  My only problem with including this song on the list, is that I can never be truly sure if I listen to the song because I actually like it, or if it is some sort of misplaced guilt because of my falling away from the church.

#6 – Holding Out For a Hero – Bonnie Tyler

Once again, it is confession time.  I have never seen Footloose.  It almost seems as blasphemous as turning off the last song, but it is true.  Flashdance and Fame both managed to make my viewing list back when we got our VHS rentals at President Video, but never Footloose.  And the chances of me seeing the upcoming re-make based on the successful Broadway show are almost nil now that Zac Efron has turned down the leading role first made popular by Kevin Bacon.  The song was written by Jim Steinman, most noted for his work with Meat Loaf, but he also penned Bonnie Tyler’s other big hit Total Eclipse of the Heart.

#5 – Rock-n-roll Dreams Come Through – Meat Loaf

Once again, I find myself in a bit of a conundrum.  I had already set up that rule about not choosing more than one song by an artist, but does that extend to a song writer?  Although there is a very distinct style to Jim Steinman’s song writing, and the songs do have similar sound, they are indeed two distinctly different singers.  The reason I am second guessing myself on this one is because before Meat Loaf released this song in 1993, Jim Steinman also had a hit with the song back in 1981.  The song was not nearly as produced as the Meat Loaf version is, and Steinman does not bellow the tune quite as well as Mr. Loaf, but the two versions are very similar.  The song was actually going to be included on the follow-up album to Meat Loaf’s highly successful Bat Out of Hell, but when Meat was unable to finish that album, Steinman included it on his own solo project.  As one more added side note, if you look up the video on-line, you get to see Angelina Jolie make her film debut.  When you do, do me a favor and turn up the volume.

#4 – Single Ladies – Beyonce

This one is for Maureen to make up for that whole Nickelback thing.  I am cashing in my man card and openly admitting I enjoy the song.  And by the way, I watch Project Runway too.  Until very recently, the song was used to torment me about the lack of a ring in our own relationship, but I only feigned distain.  It’s a fun little tune.  On a very rare occasion, and viewed only by a few, I will actually break into my own little Beyonce dance.  But much like the elusive Loch Ness Monster, that is one sight that may never be caught on film.  You will just have to listen for the tales that have been passed around by the few that have actually seen it.

#3 – Time After Time – Cyndi Lauper

Well, I already tossed out the man card with the last one, so what does it hurt to add this one in too.  Of all the songs on this list, this is the one that had the best chance to make it to the original list if I had kept it in consideration.  Let’s face it, it is a chick song.  But it is also a very well written song.  The song has been covered both live and recorded in a variety of style from rap to country, and by artist as diverse as the punk rock cover group The Gimme Gimmes.  But this is the version I most enjoy.  Simple, sweet and a tad sentimental.  Well at least it wasn’t Wilson Philips.

#2 – Let Her Cry – Hootie and the Blowfish

I am not really sure when it became so uncool to like Hootie and the Blowfish, but I obviously missed that boat.  Cracked Rear View, the album that the song came from, was the top selling record of 1995, selling more than ten and a half million copies.  Not bad for a new, relatively unknown band.  The song itself won a Grammy for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group, and the band also won a Grammy for Best New Artist.  And although I can logically rationalize that sales and awards don’t necessarily mean it is good, there were certainly an awful lot of people in the mid-nineties that thought this was a really good song.  What changed?  Well, I am not hiding out anymore.  I am coming out of the closet and proclaiming myself a Hootie and the Blowfish fan.  Oh, and one more thing.  Last night on the Country Music Awards, you will not believe who won the award for New Artist of the Year.  Darius Rucker.  You got it, the same guy who was the lead singer on this exact song.  It turns out Rucker has racked up three number one hits on the country charts in the last year.  Where have I been?  I really did miss the boat on this one.

#1 – Paparazzi – Lady Gaga

Ok, this one I just can’t explain.  Never have I been so repulsed yet so attracted to a song at the same time.  I’m like Faye Dunaway in Chinatown.  It’s a good song, it’s a bad song, it’s a good song, it’s a bad song.  It’s like watching a car wreck.  You want to look away, but something just slows you down and you have to take a look.  And the video is not much better.  The whole dance sequence on crutches strangely reminds me of the opening number to Springtime For Hitler.  When you’re done watching it, you just sit there with your mouth open, not sure what to do.  And maybe that’s the attraction.  I can’t tell if it’s a joke or not.  And quite honestly, I’m not sure if Lady Gaga can anymore.

Well, I feel so much better now that I got that off my chest. I hope the Traffic Gods are pleased with me and provide me with a smooth ride home.  And I also hope the Food Fairies left something in the refrigerator for me.  Maureen and the kids are gone.

Crank It Up

As soon as I wrote my entry on the ten worst songs on the radio, I knew there would have to be a companion piece about the ten best songs on the radio, but I soon discovered that it is much easier to find ten really bad songs that are almost universally despised, then it is to narrow down a list to just ten songs that make you want to crank up the radio.  Outside of the few choices I knew would garnish some negative feedback, most of the songs on the first list were pretty much accepted as really bad music.  Although I did have one person defend Who Let the Dogs Out.  (Sorry, Meg.  You seem to stand alone on this one.)  The music we each choose to like as individuals is much more subjective and can be affected by time, place and mood much more than the music that we don’t like.  I also discovered that compiling this list was a bit of an eye-opening experience for me.  I have always considered myself to have a fairly eclectic range of musical enjoyment, so I had to be very honest with myself, and only pick songs that truly fit the category.  I quickly discovered that many of my choices were somewhat mundane and shallow.  I am also very surprised by my number one song, but no matter how often I reworked the order in my head, it always came out as number one.  There were a lot of songs that could have easily made this list for me, but I was determined to keep it at just ten, and my desire to be honest with myself kept some really great music off this list.

So, with all that in mind I had to set up some rules for myself when compiling this list.  The first rule was the most difficult to keep to.  The song had to be readily available on major market radio.  In the Chicago area, this still gave me a wide range of station choice, but it also eliminated the college or independent music of my past that I would crank up “IF” by chance I ever found it on the radio.  The biggest fatality of this rule included anything by the Sex Pistols or the Ramones.  It also eliminated one of my favorite songs of all time, the rockabilly tune Someday, Someway by Marshall Crenshaw.  His self titled debut album was a mainstay of my college playlist, and a CD copy of it still remains in my car right now.  Want to get yourself out of a bad mood, just put this one on and crank the volume.  You just can’t sit still.

And that was my second rule.  It had to move me, literally.  In a recent Entertainment Weekly article, Steven King refers to this as “seat-bopping” and he contends it is his main form of exercise.  Since most of my radio play comes while in traffic to and from work, I have adopted this criteria and this workout regiment as a part of this list.  The more calories I burn while listening, the better the rating.  The final self-imposed rule was that each artist could only appear once.  I very quickly discovered that once I came up with a song that qualified for this list, a number of other songs by the same artist or band would flood into my brain.  When this happened, I would then pick the one song from that list to best represent that particular band or artist.  I will openly admit that this gave some songs a distinct advantage, but it also made the whole process a little easier.

So, strap yourself in and get ready to bop in your seat.  This is my list of the top ten radio songs that make me want to crank it up.  Once again, this is my personal list, and if you disagree, you are more that welcome to tell me what an idiot you think I am.  This is simply my opinion; any similarity to other opinions, real or imagined is purely coincidental.  Once again, starting with number ten, they are:

#10 – Still the One – Orleans

Ok, I have to start by saying this was one of my sentimental choices.  There is really no good reason for the song to be on the list other than it makes me feel good.  I was only 11 years old when this tune first hit the airwaves, and for anyone in the Chicago area back in 1976, that meant listening to WLS.  The catchy tune and upbeat tempo made it a great song to listen to in the car.  A few years later, the ABC Network picked up the song as their theme for a few season, with the catch phrase being sung by various stars of their hit shows at the time.  ABC was killing the other networks with such hits as Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Charlie’s Angels, and Three’s Company, and the song was used to emphasize their number one ratings.  Unfortunately for the band, it would also be their swan song.  Orleans only other top ten hit had been the year before with the slow moving Dance With Me which lacked any of the same spunk that make this song so memorable.  And thanks to my re-discovery of WLS, but this time on the FM dial, many of these old classics have become a part of my morning drive again.

#9 – Use Somebody – Kings of Leon

Under any other situation, this song would have played its course by now, but for some reason I still find myself turning it up every time I hear it.  It is the only current song on my list, and I find it fascinating that it has come full circle back to WXRT.  That was where I first heard the song, and I liked it from the start.  As more pop and top ten stations started to pick it up, it became a song the whole family could enjoy.  There would never be an argument or complaint from the kids in the back seat as I turned up the volume.  I sing along and almost always make a little hop in my seat right as the guitar solo starts.  I have a feeling that soon the appeal of this song may start to fade, but similar to Still the One, years from now I will still find myself cranking up the radio when it comes on.

#8 – (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding – Elvis Costello

This was the one song that I struggled with the most.  After already banishing Someday, Someway from the list, I had to include this ultimate rockabilly classic, and thanks to WRXT and the Saturday Morning Flashback I feel justified in keeping it.  I will never understand why Elvis never gained a more popular following  on the radio, but almost everyone my age can name a dozen of his songs.  This one was actually written and originally recorded by Nick Lowe (Cruel to be Kind) who was the producer for Elvis Costello and this version of the song.  It may not grace the airwaves as often as some of the other songs on this list, but to make up for it, I turn it up twice as loud.

#7 – Walking On Sunshine – Katrina and the Waves

What can I say.  Pure guilty pleasure!  And another family favorite.  When my niece Hanna was young I used to torment her with a version of this song but singing about walking on Hanna.  She would laugh and as soon as I stopped she would be right back asking me to do it again.  It is pure ’80’s and just a lot of fun.  For those who care to give it a try, this can be a high energy all out dance til you drop song.  But I will stick to just car dancing.  I wouldn’t want to embarrass my kids too much.

#6 – Kiss You All Over – Exile

Has a single song in history ever been so sweet, yet so dirty?  This one would also qualify as a guilty pleasure, but not quite in the same way.  Once again, I can thank WLS-FM for re-acquainting me with this song.  I hear it at least two or three times a week, and each and every time I crank it up, sing along, and send Maureen a text message to let her know the song is on.  One of those little inside jokes that all couples have.  I have decided that the next time we are up in Wisconsin on a Friday night, I might just have to check and see if Karaoke Bob over at The Boondocks carries this one.  I was actually ready to write Exile off as a one hit wonder, when I discovered something that I did not know.  After hitting number one with this song in 1978, Exile released a two more albums with a more disco theme to disastrous results, but the band never broke up.  They pushed on through several line-up changes, and re-emerged in the 80’s on the country music charts with a string of ten number one hits between 1984 and 1987.  Of these ten songs, I know absolutely none of them, but I will have to ask my sister Amy about it, because she is the resident country music fan in our family. 

#5 – Why Can’t This Be Love – Van Halen

This is where that benefit of just one song by a band may have helped the most.  This song is basically taking credit for all of the Sammy Hagar sung hits of the late 80’s and early 90’s.  It could very easily have been When It’s Love, Right Now or even Best of Both Worlds.  Please note that I am only including the post David Lee Roth recordings as part of this ranking, and that is intentional.  In 1997 when David Lee Roth rejoined the band, I had the displeasure to attend their concert at the United Center.  The night was a disaster in more ways than one.  At one point in the concert, Roth actually stopped singing and just said, “I can’t remember the fucking words.”  But the band just played on as if nothing had happened.  This was a chance for some of the bands older fans to hear the great early songs from before Hagar joined the band performed live.  Songs like Running with the Devil and Jamie’s Cryin’ had been missing from their live shows since that time, and this could have been a chance to really wow the fans, both old and new.  The lame result soured me to the older songs, but I still find myself turning up the Hagar tracks.

#4 – Spirit of the Radio – Rush

Although I could compile a very long list of Rush songs I would listen to at very high volume, this is the one song that truly fits this list.  It stands on its own.  The song still makes the rounds on both JACK-FM and WLUP, and in case I haven’t heard it in a while I also have it on a Monsters of Rock CD Molly gave me for my birthday a few years ago.  This is actually one of those songs that I get pissed off about if I catch just the end of it.  Whatever I was listening to on another station could not have been any better.  I am not one of those old Rush fans that would actually attend a concert at this point in my life, although I did get a chance to peek in on them a few years ago at the United Center, but I will take the time to break out some of the old music now and again.  2112 is still a fantastic listen, even if I can’t achieve the same state of mind I did way back when I first bought the album on vinyl.  And I would have to believe I am not the only one who thinks Spirit of the Radio needs to be enjoyed cranked up to 11.

#3 – Take Me Home Tonight – Eddie Money

I could have compiled an entire top ten list of Eddie Money songs to crank up, but I will settle on just this one.  It would be number one on that list, although Two Tickets to Paradise would be a close number two.   The funny thing is I never owned an Eddie Money album.  Sure, much later on I picked up the Greatest Hits CD, and that also has a permanent home in my car.  Eddie Money was strictly a radio and MTV pleasure.  I have never seen him in concert, and although I understand he still makes the rounds of the state fairs and summer festivals, I am not even sure if I would like to see him at this point.  His songs still get plenty of air play, and I stop whenever I hear one.  With as much airplay as his music continues to receive, I am very surprised by how few of the songs reached the top ten.  This was his highest charting hit, peaking at number four.  I am sure that sexy walk by Ronnie Spector in the video didn’t hurt. 

#2 – I Want You to Want Me – Cheap Trick

Oh for God’s sakes, they were from Rockford, Illinois.  And they made one of their biggest splashes Live at Budokan.  The studio version of the song was originally on the In Color album, and although it was released as a single in 1977, it never made it to the Billboard Charts.  But it was a number one hit in Japan, so when the band recorded their famous live album that next year, the crowd really helped sell the song to the American audience.  The live version was re-released in 1979, and the song raced up the charts all the way to number seven.  The energy that flows from this song is infectious, and it takes a very large stick in the mud to keep still or not sing along.  This is also the only group I really wanted to break my one song limit with, but I will settle for a quick honorable mention for Cheap Trick’s runner-up song, Surrender.  Not mentioning it would just seem a little weird.

#1 – Modern Love – David Bowie

This one catches me by surprise every time I hear it.  As soon as that opening riff starts, my hand subconsciously moves to the volume knob.  It is arguably not even one of Bowie’s best songs, but it is by far the one that most makes me want to dance in my pants.  The combination of the fast tempo and the basic simplicity of the song are too much of a temptation.  Under Pressure, his duet with Queen could also qualify for this list, but that damn Vanilla Ice thing keeps it from getting any airplay.  Modern Love is just one of those songs that plays well in almost any format, so it can still be heard today on a number of stations throughout the Chicago airwaves.  And every time I hear it, I burn off about a thousand calories still strapped into my car seat.

Once again, that brings to an end my top ten list.  As I said at the beginning, this is a much more subjective list.  I hope you enjoyed it, and let me know what song on your radio makes you boogie while driving your car.  Consider it my contribution to a thinner America.

Congratulations, I Guess

Well, the baseball season is officially over now, and I guess I should extend a formal congratulation to the Yankees, the City of New York, and all the Yankee fans.  This is what my rational brain tells me I should do, but there is still that immature part of my brain that keeps saying the same thing over and over again.

The Yankees Suck!

Winning the World Series in any one season is an accomplishment that should not be taken lightly.  Doing it 27 times is a feat that will never be matched by any other team.  Ever.  The next closest team currently is the St. Louis Cardinals with 10 World Series wins.  In all of sports, the only team to come close is the Montreal Canadiens of the National Hockey League with 24 Stanley Cup championships.  But unlike the Yankees, the Canadiens won most of their championships over a 27 year period from 1953 to 1979, winning 16 times.  And to be fair to the Yankees, when this streak began there were only six teams in the NHL, but a series of expansions through the late sixties and seventies, raised the number of teams to 21 by 1980.  Since then, the Canadiens have only won the Stanley Cup twice, in 1986 and 1993.  The NHL currently has 30 teams, the same number as are currently active in the MLB.

The Yankees have made it to the World Series at least once in every decade since 1921, a total of 40 times, but they did not start out so well.  They actually began playing in 1901 as the Baltimore Orioles, and then moved to New York in 1903 where they adopted the name Highlanders because of the location of their ballpark, but the New York press quickly dubbed them the Yanks and then the Yankees, but the team didn’t officially change their name until 1913 when they moved into the Polo Grounds were they shared the facilities with the National League New York Giants.  But it wasn’t until the infamous December 26, 1919 acquisition of the Sultan of Swat that the Yankee legend was born.  The rest as they say is history, and other than about a 15 year period during the eighties and early nineties, the Yankees have been the most dominate team in baseball.   So when faced with the facts, why doesn’t my brain agree?

The Yankees Suck!

With winning there comes a certain amount of swagger, the White Sox certainly had it after the 2005 season, and after 27 World Series victories the Yankees and their fans have developed way too much swagger.  Since turning things around during the strike year of 1994, the Yankees have been a part of post season play every year since 1995 excluding last year, making it to the World Series seven times, and winning it five.  When a team is consistently that good, you either become a fan, or you begin to deeply despise them.  It is jealousy, pure and simple.  All fans wish their teams were as good as the Yankees.  And their fans, especially the one from New York, take an ownership of the team’s success that becomes outright obnoxious.  In a recent run in with a Yankee fan at a White Sox game, a lady from New York got quite upset because she wanted to sit in the Yankee section.  When the customer service person tried to explained to the lady that there was no Yankee section, the lady got even more upset.  She was at the game with her kids, and she didn’t want her children to be subjected to all these Chicago fan.  The customer service person pointed out the fact that she was in Chicago, so there would be Chicago fans in any section she tried to move to.  The lady refused to believe this and demanded to talk to a supervisor.

The Yankee Fans Suck!

So when a team and its fan base reach this level of expected victory, other fans from other teams begin to root against them.  It is the typical David and Goliath situation.  It is a basic human instinct to root for the underdog, unless you are Goliath.  The Yankees have more money to spend, can buy better players, can keep the players who do well, and on the rare occasion when one of their highly paid players does indeed suck, they can afford to dump them or trade them or buy out their contract.  The days when a small market club can compete consistently with the likes of the Yankees are long gone.  Sure, we may see an occasional Florida Marlins like in 2003, but once a small market team wins, they can no longer afford the high price tag of the players who took them there, and teams with more money snap up those players. 

Of course, money does not guaranty success, a certain team on the North side of town can attest to that, but it certainly increases the chances and opportunity.  Which brings me back to my original statement.  It is no small task to win a World Series.  And the Yankees have set themselves up again to take a run at that success for years to come.  With a payroll this year of over $201 million, the Yankees outspent even their closest competition by over $65 million.  The amount they spent on player’s salaries was more than doubled what 22 of the remaining 29 teams spent.  With a disparity of that amount, it is no wonder the Yankees continue to succeed.  This is why I have a hard time congratulating the Yankees for their victory this year.  And this is why I will continue to root against the Yankees for years to come.  Call it immature, call it envy, call it whatever you like, even when I was sure that the Yankees were going to win this year, I could not get myself to cheer for them.  But now that they have won, I will do the proper thing and offer my congratulations to them.  It is what an adult should do, and it is what I would teach my children to do.  The best team did indeed win. 





The Yankees Still Suck.

Weekend Warrior

I am gimping around this Monday, because once again I have forgotten how old I am.  Maureen had made Molly a cute cupcake outfit for Halloween, and Molly wanted to wear it at an ice skating party on Saturday.  We met her over at the ice arena after her lesson and I got talked into skating.  Both Alex and Molly had wanted to see me skate for some time, so what the hell.  I gave it a shot.  The first step onto the ice was terrifying, but I quickly got my feet below me and I was off and skating.  I did remember from my youth, that it is actually easier when you pick up a little speed.  So that’s what I did, and I was getting pretty good.  Then I remembered I had to stop.  That is where the spill took place.  I was cut off by some young punk in a Transformers outfit, and I had to make a quick decision.  Smash into the punk, or dump myself.  I should have run over the kid.  I tried to land on the most padded part I could, aiming my Gluteus Maximus at the ice below, but I over spun and ended up landing right on my right knee and hip.  The spill itself was really not that bad, and I popped right back up and gave it my best Pee Wee Herman.

I meant to do that!

We continued to skate for about a half hour more, and Maureen and I only stopped because the arches in our feet were killing us from the flat bottoms of the rental skates.  We said good-bye to the kids, since they would be heading off with their mother to Trick-or-Treat in her neighborhood this year, and headed about our day, visiting people, giving out candy to costumed little ones, and trying to figure out what we were going to wear that night at my sister Laura’s party.  It wasn’t until the car ride back into the city that I really had any inclination that anything was wrong.  Maureen and I had decided to just do a quick white “zombie” face plus some blood and gore, so when we got out of the car at my sister’s place, Maureen laughed because she thought I was adding a limp for effect.  But it was no effect.  It was quite sore by then.

We partied like dead rock stars, which is something we really don’t do that often anymore, (this was actually our second night in a row, we had gone out for a date the night before too) and by the time we arrived home we were two tired ghouls.  After a quick shower to get rid of the blood and make-up, I hit the bed pretty hard and fell right to sleep.  But just a few hours later, I would be jolted awake from a jabbing pain in my knee.  By nature, I am a roller at night, and it seemed in one of my rolls, my knee decided it was staying put.  When I tried to get up to stretch it out a bit, I quickly discovered that I could not put any weight on it.  What the hell had I done to myself? I got back in bed and tried very hard not to wake Maureen up.  I’m not sure how long I sat there in the dark swearing at myself for being such a butthead, but as that hint of daylight started to creep in the windows, I finally fell back to sleep.

That Sunday we were supposed to move Maureen’s bed set from her condo to the house.  I had already made arrangements to borrow a friend’s truck that day so that we could get the stuff over.  It was way overdue and should have been done months ago.  Her bed is a lot nicer than the one I had, so I too would like to get it moved.  But I could tell already that my knee was not going to co-operate.  Maureen was feeling a little guilty about the whole skating thing, and she gave me an out right away.  Big tough guy that I am, I told her we would see how it felt.  The smile I got back told me right away that she knew I was full of shit.

So it ended up as a day of rest, Maureen made me her cream of spinach soup and some oatmeal raisin chocolate chip cookies, and I got to sit on the couch with a bag of ice on my knee watching football.  During the halftime of the Bears game they talked about Walter Payton, it has been 10 years since he passed away and they had a special halftime dedication.  They talked about how back in 1993 when Payton was elected into the Football Hall of Fame, he concluded his speech by saying that life was short, but was also very sweet.  Did he know then that in just six more years he and his family would truly understand just how short life can be?  Walter was a man who knew how to live his life to the fullest, and he touched so many lives in his short time here on earth.  Remembering the type of man he was, and the family he raised, made me feel very good about the events of the past weekend.

You see, before the skating or the fall or the Halloween party at my sister Laura’s, Maureen and I had a nice little date on Friday night, and after three years of dating I asked her to marry me.  She actually said no at first.  But that was more out of disbelief than anything else.  She took the ring anyway and then with a great big smile gave me one of those five great kisses right from out of The Princess Bride, and after that, nothing could go wrong with the weekend.  Walter was right, life is sweet.  And too short to not take advantage of all the good things. 

It just got sweeter.